The young workers
trial and reward
by Ms WOILLEZ
Author of the Robinson des Demoiselles, of the Orphan of Moscow, of the two Educations, of the Brother and the Sister, etc.
tenth edition - TOURS: alfred mame and son, publishers 1868
Christianity placed charity as a well of abundance in the desert of life.
M. de Chateaubriand, Genius of Christianity.
On a beautiful September morning in 1815, a man whose appearance announced poverty was making his way with great strides towards Paris, by the road to Vincennes. He carried in his arms a charming little girl of about six years old, who slept peacefully, and on whom from time to time his eyes were fixed with affection. An anxious hesitation then appeared on the pale face of this man; he stopped short, pressed the child gently to his breast, and, as if a painful memory had made it a law for him to continue on his way, he began to walk hastily again.
Tired, no doubt, of this interior struggle, and finding himself near the Barrière du Trône, he laid down his burden on a lawn of greenery which bordered one side of the road, then he sat down in deep depression. Soon afterwards the child awoke, and, looking around her with an air of astonishment, she exclaimed:
"Where are we, Father Maurice?" I don't see your house, nor my brothers, nor my sisters. »
At this question, so simple, but which surely had a painful significance for the traveler, he started; his eyes filled with tears, and, without answering, he took from his pocket a thin piece of brown bread, which he presented to the child, making a sign to him to eat.
'I'm not hungry, father,' resumed the latter. 'You are crying! »
At the same time she rose to throw herself on the neck of the poor man, who could not restrain his sobs.
After a few moments he seemed to make a new effort on himself; then taking the child back in his arms, he crossed the barrier, walked quickly to the Foundling Hospital in the rue Saint-Antoine, and did not stop until he had entered the courtyard of this establishment. There a Sister of Charity, accompanied by a young girl of fifteen or sixteen years of age, came to meet him, and ushered him into the parlor, where he threw himself on the first chair that was within his reach.
"You look very tired," said the nun in a sympathetic tone.
- Oh! no, my sister, he replied, it's not weariness, you see: I only come from Saint-Maur, very close to here; but here is a poor little girl whom I am forced to bring into your house; that's what robs me of my strength, that's what makes me sad... Dear child! she is so kind, so good, so caressing!
"It must indeed be a great sorrow for you," replied Sister Madeleine; and one needs quite legitimate reasons to come to such an extremity.
- Alas! resumed Maurice, it is not the reasons that I lack; for there are hardly any men more unhappy than I on earth. I had a field which fed my family, a hut which sheltered it; the Cossacks ravaged everything, because I did not want to submit to them like a slave; then, to add to the bargain, I lost my Toinette, the mother of my four children, who have only me in the world.
"This is the youngest, no doubt," asked the nun, looking at the little girl with ever-increasing interest.
"No, it doesn't belong to me," replied Maurice; yet, if I could keep her, the
good God knows very well that I would do it with all my heart; but when already my work cannot suffice to sustain mine, I must not diminish their share in order to feed a stranger: is that not so, my sister?
"How is this child in your hands?" You understand that to get her admitted here you must give exactly all the details concerning her. Who are his parents?
'I can't say more about that than I know,' replied Maurice, 'and the story I have to tell about him won't be very long. About six and a half years ago my wife, having recently given birth, wanted to take an infant. He was promised one which was to be handsomely paid for. We were then living in Paris, at the top of the rue Rochechouart; and my position as a gardener not bringing in much, we waited impatiently for this infant, in order to extricate ourselves a little from the distress; but the child who was to be entrusted to us died at birth, which saddened my Toinette; for misery then gripped us more closely every day. Finally, after a few months, while the poor creature was saddened one evening by our bad fate, a breathless woman came into our house and said to her, placing a newborn baby in her arms: "I know that you are good, that you have probity, and I bring this child to you with confidence; take good care of it; your sorrows will not be wasted. In the meantime, here is a purse containing 500 francs. “Buy whatever will be needed; in a few days I will return; until then be discreet, do not talk about your baby to anyone. Farewell ; I count on you. »
And she disappeared without waiting for the consent of Toinette, who, quite bewildered by the adventure, could not even see in which direction this woman had turned her steps. Since then we have never seen her again.
On such an occasion there was no swaying. The child cried; Toinette, to appease her, offered her the breast, and my dear, when she had taken it, it was immediately an attachment; there would have been no purse, that it would have been all the same: it must be confessed, however, that that did not spoil anything.
“I came home at this moment: Toinette told me the story, and then began to arrange the little girl. She was wrapped over her swaddling clothes in this shawl, continued the honest Maurice, pulling from under his torn coat a very fine Indian cashmere; for you have already guessed, haven't you, that the infant and the little girl that I am bringing to you are all one? A fashioned ring had been hung round his neck, which I also give to you, together with the purse. As for the sum it contained, lady! you can well imagine that we used it with a clear conscience, since we were keeping the child. As for the other things, we have carefully preserved them for her, thinking that one day she might be very happy to have them so that she can be recognized by her family, if God wants her to find them again. So I'm bringing it all to you, so that you, in turn, can keep it for him. »
At the same time Maurice took the ring and an empty purse from his pocket. Each of these two objects was adorned with a number. He also gave Sister Madeleine a certificate drawn up by the authorities, then the child's baptismal certificate.
"By these papers," he went on, "you will see that it was my wife and I who held the little one on the font, and that we named her Louise, because it is August 25, Saint's Day. -Louis, that she fell like the sky into the arms of Toinette. Lady! since then we have loved her like our own child... Why must I be forced to part with her! I had left Paris to go to Saint-Maur, hoping that there I would manage to give them all bread; and first of all, as I told you, we lived there, if not quite at ease, at least with contentment of heart; but the accursed Cossacks came, I lost Toinette; from then on everything turned out badly for me, and from that you can clearly see, my sister, that I can no longer keep the poor little one..."
Here Maurice stopped, suffocated by his sobs. He was, however, obliged afterwards to repeat the story he had just told; for the administration of the hospice demanded that this account be recorded in Louise's admission certificate. Finally, when all the formalities were completed, the good foster-father lifted the child, pressed her for a moment to his bosom; then, handing it over to Sister Madeleine, he escaped in real despair.
This scene had deeply touched those in front of whom it had happened. The young girl who accompanied the nun was especially moved by it, that her excellent heart carried her from that moment, by an irresistible attraction, towards the abandoned child. She persuaded Sister Madeleine to devote herself all day to this unfortunate little girl, and lavished so much attention on her that she soon managed to dry up the tears that Maurice's departure had caused her to shed.
- A poised, almost serious air, a face in which intelligence, gentleness and kindness were depicted at the same time in their most touching expression, such were the distinctive features of the woman who was to become Louise's companion. We called her Cecile. Deprived of her parents from an early age, the poor young girl had never known the affections of the family, which her loving soul was so worthy to feel. On the other hand, her charming qualities had won her the attachment of the nuns so much since her entry into the hospice that they had become tender friends for her, adoptive mothers, who took great pleasure in training her. to all the virtues with which they themselves were endowed.
Oh ! who would not admire these noble girls, whom a pious devotion leads to the cradle of neglected childhood as to the bed of suffering of the poor? For them, life has attractions only in the relief of all human miseries. They leave cherished parents, they move away from their native land; they renounce the world, its pleasures, the joys of the family, to devote themselves undividedly to this great, this sublime mission which makes them adopt as brothers all the unfortunate. Seeking them, assisting them unceasingly, is their sweetest, their sole occupation; they count the hours only by new benefits; also, when one of them presents itself to our gaze, we can say: She has just accomplished a good deed, or else she is going to do it.
Among these holy women whom such high virtues commend to our respect as well as our admiration, Sister Madeleine distinguished herself by a solid education, an enlightened mind, and by a sensitivity that the exercise of good works seemed to make every day deeper. . Each child entrusted to his care was the object of special solicitude; also her happiness, like her reward, was to discover in these unfortunate young people some happy disposition which she could make fruitful for their future happiness. In this respect, Cécile, as we have said, left nothing to be desired: tender and sincere piety, perfect docility, sound judgment, love of work and study, she united everything; also the good sister felt a secret predilection for her, which she took pleasure in showing her whenever her duties were not opposed to it.
The young pupil had acquired by this excellent manners, and the habit of nobly expressing her thoughts; besides, she possessed a host of little talents, which she would perhaps not have acquired to the same degree if her education had been limited to that received by the other children of the hospice. She was constantly offered to her companions as a model of piety, obedience, good manners, and she showed herself so gentle, so considerate towards them, that they easily got used to treating her with so much devotion. deference than friendship.
It was therefore impossible for Louise to fall into better hands. The child doubtless felt it instinctively; for she had scarcely passed a few hours with her young protectress, than she no longer wished to leave her. When the end of the day arrived, it was thought of taking her to the division of which she was to form a part; but she shed so many tears, and her young friend also seemed so sorry to have to part with her, that Sister Madeleine, touched by their mutual grief, persuaded the superior to reunite them in the same dormitory.
It would be hard to imagine the joy that Cecile felt when someone came to tell her that she was allowed to keep her little protegee.
"Remark, however," Sister Madeleine told her, "that you are going to take on too heavy a burden, my dear Cécile." Our Mother Superior intends that by leaving you this child, no one but you will have to take care of her, and your work as well as your usual studies will have to suffer in no way. This condition seems to me difficult to fulfill, think about it.
'I'll hurry a little more,' replied the girl without hesitation, 'and I dare to hope that nothing will be neglected in my duties.
- GOOD ; but I must tell you again that by taking charge of this child you are going up to a certain point to make yourself responsible for the faults that she may commit, for the faults of character that she may show later on, and that this will compel you to watch at all times.
- I will devote myself to it, my sister, replied Cecile, and I will do my best to prevent this dear little one from attracting reproaches. She is so nice!
— Come on, continued the nun with a smile, since your resolution on this point is firmly fixed, I wish you complete success: may the Lord bless your care! »
At the same time, Sister Madeleine showed her protegee the bed that Louise was to occupy, and then retired, fully convinced that the latter could not be entrusted to better hands.
Moreover, it was not uncommon for the nuns to grant other pupils of Cécile's age and showing dispositions analogous to hers, the favor she had just obtained; several were charged with supervising a certain number of children, and this surveillance, or rather this solicitude which they inspired for their young companions in misfortune, almost always produced happy effects on themselves.
It was like a kind of apprenticeship in maternal duties which made them more careful to correct their own faults, and more disposed to acquire the qualities which they were forced to demand in children whose direction seemed to be left to them. .
This means, perhaps too neglected in the education of young people, was so powerful in stimulating Cécile's zeal that, from the moment she adopted Louise, she was seen daily making new progress in virtue, as in the various little talents that the nuns liked to teach him. While perfecting herself, she also became so skilful at work that she always had enough leisure to give assiduous care to Louise, and to cultivate her intelligence usefully.
'Poor child,' she would say sometimes, looking at her, 'you are doomed like me to misfortune; like me, you are deprived of the caresses of a mother, and that is very hard on the heart. Go, I will replace the one from whom you are separated, I will love you as if you were my sister; we will never leave each other; when your reason is formed, and you are capable of judging my affection, we will lean on each other in this life, where we will always be well isolated no doubt, but where the good God will deign to protect us, if we let us remain faithful to virtue. »
While making these reflections, the young girl often let out tears which Louise hastened to dry up by redoubled her kindness; so their mutual attachment grew stronger day by day. The child had several illnesses which put her in danger; Cécile, during these various accidents, knew no longer a single moment of rest: she shared with indefatigable assiduity all the cares of the good nuns, begged them to always leave her with her dear little patient, and the most tender mother never could not have shown a more ingenious solicitude, nor a more absolute devotion.
Such generous sentiments were rewarded: Louise overcame all the illnesses common to childhood, and even ended by acquiring such flourishing health that her young friend was entirely reassured.
With the joy she conceived at the prosperous state of her good little sister, as she often called her, she had that of seeing her grow in spirit and beauty. In this last respect especially, Louise had exceeded Cecile's hopes, for it seemed that nature wanted to spread all her perfections over her charming face at the same time. At the sight of her, everyone was in admiration, and the first impulse was to exclaim: "How beautiful she is!" »
However, this beauty, which one could not help noticing, ended up becoming a subject of concern for the worthy nuns. They saw that as she grew up, Louise was much too sensitive to praise, that she even tried to provoke it by putting herself in the spotlight whenever she found the opportunity; and this penchant for vanity alarmed them
so much so, that they redoubled their vigilance, and demanded from Cécile more severity towards her young protegee.
“Take care, my daughter,” Sister Madeleine told her, “your friendship for this child blinds you; you do not see the faults it contracts. Unfortunately she is beautiful, and these faults which you allow to grow in her heart will acquire more seriousness each day; they can become an obstacle to his salvation and prepare him many troubles.
"But, my sister," replied Cecile, "is it then a misfortune to be beautiful?" I thought, on the contrary, that it was a great advantage, and, I confess, I have sometimes happened to regret it for myself.
“If we only considered this advantage according to the world,” replied the sister, “it might indeed appear desirable, since it attracts to the woman who possesses it an almost universal favour; everywhere beauty receives an incense which flatters it; men are generally so superficial that they often prefer it to merit and virtue; but the successes it obtains are, like it, ephemeral: time, which destroys everything in its rapid course, withers it in passing, takes away all its illusions, and woe then to those who have not been able to prepare for submit to this common law! That is not all, continued Sister Madeleine; if now we consider beauty in relation to salvation, what seductions, what dangers surround it! Always new pitfalls present themselves under her feet: one would say that the spirit of evil considers her as its prey; he pursues her, he envelops her in his traps, and if she does not emerge victorious from these incessant struggles, not only does she prepare herself in this life for many disappointments, bitter sorrows, but she alienates all her rights to future rewards. , which must be the main object of our wishes.
"So you believe," said Cecile, "that beauty and virtue are incompatible."
_ No, certainly, replied the sister: if I could conceive such a thought, there are a host of examples that would come every day to prove the contrary to me; yet I say that this temporary advantage will always be a temptation, a dangerous pitfall for people of our sex who will not have enough reason and wisdom to consider it as a means of making themselves more pleasing to God by their modesty, their humility, and finally by all the virtues that can draw his blessings to us.
'How then,' asked the young girl eagerly, 'to give these precious virtues to our dear Louise? I thought nothing was so easy as raising a child, and now I see that it is a very difficult task.
“Yes,” resumed Sister Madeleine, “this important mission does indeed present innumerable difficulties; it is necessary to bring to it as much reflection as perseverance, because the means must vary according to the age, the condition and the character of the pupil whom one is called upon to lead; then the modifications to be put into practice in the diversity of cases require such sagacity that few people can flatter themselves that they possess it to the necessary degree. However, continued the sister, there is a principle in education which, once adopted, leads us infallibly to success. Based on this principle, we can misunderstand a few points, but never enough to fail in the essentials.
"So what is this principle, my sister?" asked the young girl again, redoubled attention.
— It is the knowledge of God as well as that of all the duties that he himself has laid down for us.
"It seems to me that the idea of God is so grand, so lofty, that it cannot enter completely into the feeble intelligence of a child," objected Cecile.
"So it's not a one-day affair," continued Sister Madeleine. It is little by little, it is by reasoning as clear as it is precise, always appropriate to the age, to the level of understanding of the pupil, that we manage to instill in him this sublime idea, without which we let us walk blindly towards an immense abyss. There is, moreover, a proper means of enlightening the mind of a child, whatever it may be, and of leading it to the love of good: it is wisdom, it is the purity of the actions that the we do in his presence. Without this condition, not only is no repression possible, but no principle can be established. The pupil must constantly find in the conduct of his teachers practical lessons which are always effective: the example is a master whose precepts are never lost; good or bad, they bear fruit in those who receive them.
- Oh ! I understand you ! exclaimed Cecile; henceforth I will endeavor to be so expectant-
tive to say well and do well, so that my little Louise can imitate me without danger. But how can you manage to snatch from your heart that disastrous vanity that you noticed there, my good sister!
'You must first,' replied the latter, 'get rid of the habit of admiring her, and at the same time abstain from showing her the excessive affection you have for her. Childhood undoubtedly needs caresses; but one must be very sober with her, and grant them as a reward, never as a right, which she is always ready to abuse. Then I saw you take particular care in your pupil's dress, even regret in front of her that you only had a homespun dress and a black cap to adorn her. My child, this is a serious wrong which you have corrected yourself, I agree, but which has already borne fruit, do not doubt it; coquetry among young girls would be much less precocious and less widespread if those around them did not give them the first lessons of it; they are inconsiderately showered with praise; they are entertained with futile objects, in their presence a great value is attached to adornment; then one is surprised at the one they end up attaching to it themselves. Ah! what should be surprising is that all those who are exposed to receiving such fatal lessons do not entirely lose the taste for modesty.
"But, my sister," said Cécile, "a young girl, to be modest and wise, must she totally neglect the care of her person?" Yet I seem to have heard you blame this kind of negligence
— I blame her indeed; for the exterior of a woman, whatever her condition, must always announce order and cleanliness: her body must be in some way the reflection of the purity of her soul; but from this care for those inspired by vanity there is a long way, my dear child: and
it is the latter alone that I condemn. »
Here the worthy governess was interrupted; nevertheless, the advice she had just given her pupil produced the effect she had hoped for. Cecile, as we have said, was endowed with as much docility as intelligence; she had the courage to show herself more severe for the faults of her young protegee; and the latter made from that time such progress in virtue, that it was impossible to see, in an analogous position, a child who united more amiable qualities.
Friendship is enriched by everything it gives. V***
Several years passed thus. Louise made her first communion - and it was at this time, at the moment when God, enlightening her young soul, poured out on her the profusion of his graces, that she understood even better all that she owed to the pious women who had taken in, as well as to the generous friend who had dedicated herself to caring for her childhood. It is only for bad hearts that gratitude is a burden; for the good ones, on the contrary, this feeling is so full of charms, that it continually needs to pour itself out; so Louise was only happy when she expressed to her young protectress all the gratitude she felt. She knew that the latter had long since reached the age at which she would have been permitted to quit the asylum which charity had opened for her; she knew that several favorable opportunities had presented themselves; that everywhere he was offered advantageous employment, because his talent for needlework was known abroad; and in the rush of her heart, Louise exclaimed:
“How good you are, my Cécile! It is for me that you stay here; it is for me that you sacrifice your future! How then shall I acquit myself to you? how will I also prove to you how much I love you?
"Don't despair," replied Cecile, smiling; my affection will never be very exacting; it will always go half way. Later, moreover, circumstances will undoubtedly put you in a position to give me these proofs of friendship of which you speak, and I promise to ask you for them if need be. In the meantime, work with courage. Our sisters have allowed me to stay here with you as long as I want: you know that for a long time already I am no longer a burden here. When you have become a good worker, we will leave this hospice together, and by uniting our labors we will escape poverty, which is most often caused only by the lack of a profession or by laziness. »
These projects were well calculated to stimulate Louise's zeal. The thought of living forever with her friend, the hope also of working for her poor foster father, who came to see her every month, so redoubled her ardor that at the age of fourteen she had become almost as skilful as her father. companion.
It was then that the good sister Madeleine, who for a long time had already taken care of the
of the latter by preparing for him a situation analogous to his tastes, thought of putting into execution the project which she had formed. It was about the management of a workshop.
Cécile, then twenty-four years old, was in fact very fit, by the solidity of her principles, by her education and her talents, to fulfill the mission which they wished to confide to her. Several ladies attached to a charitable association seconded the benevolent views of the nun. Modest but complete furnishings were placed in a room adjoining the hospice; it could contain twelve pupils whom Cécile was to direct, and the excellent girl was installed in triumph at the head of this little herd.
One can imagine the joy, the emotions she felt when she saw herself established with her Louise, whom she had been allowed to take, into a house which was to become her own. Until then she had known only by hearsay the charm which is attached to the domestic hearth, and this although she had always ardently desired, she suddenly found it with her young friend, with this child of her adoption, to which she had devoted herself so generously! This was a happiness that surpassed all his hopes.
For her part, Louise, no less happy, looked around her in a kind of ecstasy. It seemed to him that to be thus with his young benefactress was to no longer feel the yoke imposed on him by misfortune; so, unable to express all the thoughts which crowded into her heart, she threw herself on Cécile's neck, shedding soft tears.
"Yes," said the latter, who understood her perfectly; yes, we have a roof that belongs to us. O my Louise! here is all my ambition satisfied, here are all my dreams of happiness realized; for since Providence brought you to me, since I took for you the attachment of a sister, I have no longer formed any other wish than that of obtaining by work the stability of my life. our meeting. Before I saw you, continued the excellent girl, pressing the hand of her young companion, the world seemed to me a vast desert, where I was condemned to vegetate without affection; but you came; your friendship answered mine; I understood then that the good Lord, by making me an orphan, had wanted to give me in you a sweet compensation, and I accepted you as a blessing of his mercy.
"Dear Cecile," replied Louise, "it was with this thought that you sacrificed the best years of your youth for me, that you refused every opportunity, every means that offered itself to create a happy situation for you." Deprived of my mother, I found one in you; your cares, your vigils, you have given me everything! Ah! the more I owe you, the more I fear I will never be able to show you enough gratitude.
- What are you saying ! don't you love me interrupted Cecile tenderly.
- If I love you ! you don't need to ask that question; you know my heart better than I know it myself: is it not you who formed it, who inspired in it all the feelings it contains?
"Well then, I have everything I wanted," resumed Cécile; and now let us think of the children entrusted to us; they too will have a right to our care and solicitude; it is by fulfilling our duties towards them with dignity that we will deserve to achieve the success of our business. »
After these words, Cécile went to attend to the arrangement of her house: everything was regulated there with so much order and intelligence that the next day her young apprentices could already begin their exercises and their work in a useful way.
The establishment of the two friends was therefore from the beginning on the way to prosperity. They had been accustomed from their earliest years to a simple, frugal, and laborious life; they excelled, moreover, in all the kinds of work in which women commonly devote themselves; and they put so much zeal into perfecting those confided to them, that soon the requests abounded in their workroom, and they saw themselves forced to associate themselves with several workers from outside who were in a position to assist them.
Happy with such success, Cécile at the same time took the greatest care to give the young girls she directed examples capable of leading them to virtue. With her a frank gaiety was always combined with the accomplishment of duty: they served God there with joy, with love, because the way which led to him was as easy as it was pleasant.
Ah! if all the people responsible for directing childhood understood religion well, there is no doubt that all also succeeded, like Cécile, in making it cherished: its yoke is so soft, so light, especially when the passions have not yet come to stir in these young hearts contrary feelings! But too often they are shown this sublime religion under the darkest aspect; one makes of its laws, always so well in harmony with our needs, tyrannical laws which, consequently, seem incompatible with our happiness. Then fear, discouragement, sometimes even odious hypocrisy, come to replace the pure love that God has placed in the soul of his creatures; and the road to good is forever closed, unless repentance leads back to it.
For the pupils of our good Cécile, on the contrary, this road grew more beautiful every day; they all walked in her tracks, and this gentle emulation filled her with so much joy that she never tired of giving thanks to Heaven for all the blessings with which she saw herself filled.
Louise at first savored, like her friend, the charms of their new situation, and during the first year her heart formed no other wish than to make herself worthy of this dear friend.
Until then the ideas of the young orphan in relation to the world had scarcely extended beyond the narrow sphere in which she had lived; thinking little of the past, not worrying about the future, she flowed, amidst peace and friendship, days full of sweetness. However, when the scenes of life began to unfold before her eyes, when her relationships, multiplying, enabled her to establish comparisons, to grasp some of the astonishing contrasts that this life unceasingly offers us, her ideas gradually took another course: she became preoccupied with the mystery that shrouded her birth, she thought of the kind of disdain that this mystery could attract to her; then, revolting in advance against an injustice which had not yet reached her, she began to be saddened, to find her lot less fortunate.
It is thus that the price of most things in this world varies in our eyes, according to the disposition in which we are when we examine them. It often only takes a fortuitous circumstance, a memory, a simple thought, to disenchant us with what once delighted us. We absolutely want to be happy: to seek happiness is a need inherent in our nature, and when Heaven deigns to grant us the object we desire, our insatiable desires hasten to go beyond; we disdain the present good in order to create for ourselves chimeras which perhaps would cease to smile upon us if it were possible for them to become realities.
Nevertheless Louise, while abandoning herself to thoughts which tended to disturb her peaceful existence, already possessed religious principles too firmly established not to force herself to resign herself to what she called her misfortune. The pious examples of her friend, moreover, could only daily increase her taste for virtue; but the mistake she made was to hide her sorrows, whatever they were, from this friend who was so wise, so devoted, and to affect in her presence a gaiety which she no longer felt.
It must be said, this wrong of Louise is that of many young people of her age. Often bizarre, thoughtless ideas take hold of their imagination; they create a thousand dreams for themselves, sometimes giving way to a vague sadness, over which experience has not yet taught them to triumph, and instead of using complete confidence in those who direct them, instead of provoking their by pouring out freely before them thoughts or feelings which may trouble them, they prefer, either out of human respect or out of false delicacy, to painfully contain them in the depths of their confide them only to persons incapable of enlightening them, and for that very reason very often inclined to give them pernicious advice.
Moreover, this danger, against which one cannot protect young people too much, could not
to be seen by the naive child whose story we are tracing. Until then she had thought so little of making a secret of her impressions from her young protectress that the latter, in her turn, had not deemed it necessary to warn her that such a mystery would be a fault. So it was in the good faith of her heart that Louise kept silent about thoughts that might afflict the one she loved, and it was also with the best resolutions that she strove to banish them from her mind. But at sixteen one must, in order to triumph over certain ideas, certain dispositions, seek support elsewhere than within oneself, and the poor child, relying too much on her own strength, could not manage to overcome either the grief that the deprivation of his parents caused him, nor the kind of disgust that his humble condition was beginning to inspire in him.
Flattery is like counterfeit money, it impoverishes the one who receives it. V***.
It was in this state of mind, always so dangerous when reason lacks the strength to fight it, that Louise made friends with two new workers introduced to Cécile to help her in her numerous tasks.
One, named Fanchette, having been brought up by a Christian mother, joined to a certain education the most amiable qualities, sound judgment, solid virtues.
The other, on the contrary, born of irreligious parents, had only a superficial spirit, full of exaltation, and hid under a feigned modesty an excessive vanity, which had already developed in her the worst inclinations.
Forced to diligent work, on pain of lacking the basic necessities of life, the proud Julie only consoled herself for this subjection, so opposed to her tastes, by the hope of escaping it as soon as chance provided it. the occasion.
This chance, which she invoked in the secret of her heart as the sole master of human destinies, she saw unceasingly bring about the most astonishing metamorphoses in the novels which she only read; and, comparing herself to all the young heroines who passed in turn before her eyes, she had no doubt that one day she too would have marvelous adventures to tell. In the meantime, she posed in her own imagination as a noble victim, or as one of those misunderstood beings made to despise the gross intelligences around them, and she endured her fate only by abandoning herself to the fantastic illusions presented to her by her dreams.
Unfortunately, the character of this romantic girl is not invented: one meets her type every day in the various ranks of society, especially in the lower classes; it is there above all that it brings about the most disastrous results.
Formerly the honest worker was unaware of this need for artificial emotions which she finds today in a crowd of books thrown before her like bait, and which, by disgusting her with the realities of life, are only fit to mislead her. his reason and his heart. Closer to nature, before getting drunk on these dangerous chimeras, closer above all to the thought of God, always so well in harmony with our true intellectual needs, she then created innocent distractions which neither diverted her nor neither of her work nor of her homework, which made her neither envy the luxury of opulence, nor dream for herself of those mad adventures of which her current reading constantly presents her with the disappointing image. Happy in her modest condition, she did not blush; she was careful not to seek in a more elevated state a consideration which she could easily acquire by the regularity of her morals, by the honesty of her feelings, and which almost always escapes her, when, leaving her sphere, success does not crown his efforts. For the rest, I will not dwell any longer on these reflections, which will come quite naturally from my subject; And. I hasten to return to Julie.
This dangerous girl had barely spent a few days in Cécile's workroom when she claimed to feel an irresistible sympathy for the young Louise: the exaltation of the spirit always leads to an exaggeration of language, which becomes a lure for credulity. or for inexperience.
Careful, however, to hide this excitement from Cécile, it was only during the frequent absences to which the latter found herself obliged for her work that Julie conversed with the naive child whose confidence she wanted to gain. Such behavior would perhaps have been less reprehensible, if friendship had impelled this artful girl to it; but she was drawn to the orphan only by the culpable desire to lead her astray. Unfortunately, there are souls to whom virtue is importunate, and who are eager to propagate evil, as honest souls are eager to propagate good; Julie was among the first. Already greatly annoyed at finding no echo in the workroom that responded to her ideas, it seemed piquant to inculcate them in Cecile's dearest friend, and from that moment everything was put to use to achieve this culpable goal.
Without her appearance being attractive, Julie had in her features, and especially in her voice, a certain expression of sensitivity which naturally favored her. She also possessed to the highest degree the art of bringing out all the advantages of those she wished to captivate; and she lavished so much incense on the overconfident Louise that she soon succeeded in reawakening in her the fund of vanity which the nuns of the hospice and her friend had endeavored to stifle there.
Alas! this vanity which seizes us in the cradle, so to speak, and which still clings to the sad remnants of our old age, how can a poor young girl escape it, if she is not shown all the evils to which this disease of the soul can lead it, and if one does not continually take care to fortify it against the flatteries with which it is surrounded even in the midst of its companions? Even in the age of reason people smile at the flatterer, while despising him; in youth we do more than smile, we believe him, we persuade ourselves that he cannot deceive, and the enslaved soul remains defenseless against his traps.
Thus, in comparing the two young girls newly admitted to the workroom, Louise allowed herself to be led towards the one who best knew how to lavish praise on her, while instinctively she preferred the gentle and good Fauchette, who also showed herself very willing to seek his friendship. If in this second circumstance the imprudent young girl had consulted her benefactress, there is no doubt that her choice would have been wiser; but the first effect of a lack of confidence in those who have the right to give us advice is obviously to lead us to dissimulation: we hide a first thought, a first action; soon the habit is formed, the heart withdraws into itself, one goes towards objects less worthy of attaching it; often then ingratitude comes to replace the holy affections with which the soul loved to nourish itself, and which were already a pathway to virtue.
Louise therefore made a mystery to Cécile of the double inclination which drew her to her new companions, and found this mystery sufficiently justified by the fear that the old friendship would be hurt by a division which, indeed, might seem offensive to her.
After all, she said to herself, I still love her, this good and dear Cécile: why should I tell her that the ten years that she is older than me impose on me a respect that restricts the confession of my thoughts? secrets?... With Fauchette, on the contrary, and especially with Julie, whose age is closer to mine, I feel completely at ease; I experience pleasure when I am alone with the latter, because I can talk about whatever comes to mind, without her commenting on me; besides, she teaches me a host of things that I did not know; and since she's been here I feel less sad.
We see that the clever creature had already made the credulous child come a long way, whom she wanted to captivate. Also, taking advantage of all of Cécile's absences, she was so good at arranging opportunities to talk privately with Louise, that she soon knew even the smallest feelings of her heart.
“Poor friend! she said to him one day in her romantic language, I alone here could understand you, because, like you, I felt early on that I was below my condition. Alas! Fortune has shown herself very unjust towards us! This work which is constantly renewed, this routine of life so common, so boring in its regularity, could not suit souls like ours; we needed more varied scenes, less down to earth than those we are witnessing; but it is to be hoped that one day we can both shake off such a burden.
"I don't see," interrupted Louise, "what could get rid of them." Our situation is one of those which hardly varies: a little more or less gain in our work, that, it seems to me, is all we can expect.
"If you knew the world," resumed the perfidious, "or at least if you had read those charming books of which I spoke to you, you would know that many other changes can occur in the life of a woman who unites beauty to youth; and assuredly no one has more right to hope for these changes than my amiable Louise. »
At this flattery, the young girl blushed with pleasure; however, still supported by the principles of virtue engraved in her heart, she replied:
“I believe, my dear Julie, that everything sort of works out like this in your novels, but that it can be very dangerous to stop there. Cécile told me several times that these sorts of works are only fit to mislead the mind, constantly putting chimeras in the place of reality. These readings, in fact, must be very harmful, especially at our age; for nothing in the world would I want to give myself up to it: for, by showing me young girls who are better divided than I am, they would further increase my sadness.
"Agree at least that this unequal division is very distressing for hearts which have some elevation."
"If the good Lord has ordered it that way, we must submit to his will."
- All in good time ; but I confess that I am not so resigned, and if I glimpsed a better condition, assuredly I would do everything to obtain it. »
The two friends were still discussing this subject, which often arose between them, when Fanchette came up. Immediately Julie wanted to break off the conversation; but Louise, desiring to be enlightened, continued him, saying:
“Come on, good Fanchette, what do you think of our situation? Would you also like to be free from work?
- Me! replied the young girl with astonishment: why would I no longer want to earn my living? That's a great question!
“But,” resumed Louise, “if, instead of sending you poverty, God had given you riches, surely you wouldn't be sorry?
- Bah ! there must be poor and rich in this world, replied Fanchette, smiling; otherwise, if we were all on the same level, we would cross our arms, and we wouldn't want to do anything for each other. So Providence has arranged everything for the best, to probe its designs is madness.
"That's not the answer to Louise's question," interrupted Julie sourly: she was asking you if prosperity wouldn't please you better than the necessity of work.
'If I had had the choice, it is probable that I would have preferred one to the other. Yet it is something that I have never examined enough to say exactly how I feel about it. To what
good, besides, to put such questions to oneself, when one has no power to change what is? Me, I thought only of learning a state that made me earn bread honestly: it is there that my ambition was limited.
"In the midst of it, were you happy?"
- Why not? replied Fanchette again; I work cheerfully, I sleep soundly, and sadness only enters my heart at the sight of a suffering that I cannot relieve.
"And your relaxations, your pleasures?" because after all it is necessary, added Julie.
"My pleasures!" Oh! I don't miss it, I assure you: first, every Sunday, after having fulfilled our religious duties, we get together as a family, we chat, we laugh; then often my mother drives us, my sisters and me, in the countryside; my brothers come there with us: and then how not to be happy? We are all so well together next to our good mother! It is with her that we breathe the balmy air of the fields, that we talk about our projects, our hopes! So the day passes too quickly: that is our only sorrow! but we say to ourselves: In a week the same happiness will return; and we are comforted. Listening to this naive depiction of the joys enjoyed by the family, Louise's eyes filled with tears, while her new friend replied ironically to Fanchette: "I see that when it comes to pleasures you are not demanding ; however, you will allow me to believe that if fortune had treated you better, you would be happier.
"I don't think so," resumed Fanchette; for my mother told me that the golden house of the rich often contains greater sorrows than that of the poor, and that the people who are called happy create for themselves a host of needs and cares which are unknown to us.
-Yes ; and do you count for nothing the pleasures that these people taste in the midst of the balls and parties where they attend so brilliantly dressed? Whereas we, poor wretches, are only good at best to prepare for them these magnificent toilets whose brilliance insults our misery.
"My God, poor Julie, how passionate you are!" Hey ! what do these feasts matter to us, if we can do without them? As for those who gather there, their joys, I repeat, should not make us envious, since ours are purer, more exempt from anxiety.
'But they have what you don't have: the pleasure of being, when they please, helpful in misfortune.
- Oh ! for that I grant you, answered the excellent girl quickly; yes, that is a great enjoyment that I have often desired; but the good Lord said: Whoever gives a glass of water in my name, will receive the reward; however, this glass of water, we can always offer it; we can also sometimes share our bread with the hungry needy; we can help him in his labors, or relieve him in his illnesses, by devoting some of our vigils to him; thus the happiness of charity is not forbidden us: he who does all he can does all he should, and before the Lord the intention is worth the action.
'To hear you,' cried Julie, evidently annoyed, 'everything is for the best in this world; however, when your mother was left a widow with her eight children, you must have known a little better the pains of poverty. »
Here Fanchette, still more astonished at Julie's bitterness and language, stared at her fixedly, and resumed at once:
"I did not deny the pains that accompany poverty, I only wanted to say that each condition has its own, and that the obligation to work cannot be regarded as a misfortune, since it saves us from boredom, idleness, and makes our life purer. As for the hardships suffered by my family, they prove that honest poverty is not always neglected. My mother, who remained a widow with her eight children, found charitable souls who came to her aid; we were all placed successively; and as each of us had learned, by the example of a courageous mother, to fulfill his duty, we redoubled our efforts; the older ones supported the younger ones, and today, far from being a burden to our mother, we can work for her, make her life pleasant. This is his reward, it is also ours; because nothing does so much good to the heart as to contribute to the happiness of the one who gave us life: to see her smile, to obtain her blessings, are enjoyments that the lack of wealth cannot take away from us, and that the pleasures of the world certainly wouldn't give us. »
The honest workman had uttered these last words in such a dignified and at the same time touching tone that Louise, greatly moved, held out her hand to him, saying: "Yes, good Fanchette, I now understand that in your humble condition you may find yourself happy; but this sweet happiness is not within the reach of all those who know how to appreciate it. There is a crowd of poor young girls in the world who, like me, are without parents, without support, and who, in the midst of their labors, have no consolation, no real pleasure to hope for.
'Dear Louise,' replied Fanchette, 'if these young people have good feelings like you, if they regard virtue as the first of goods, they will not be, as you say, deprived of all consolation; for the testimony of a good conscience gives us a joy which sustains us in the midst of the pains of life: however much misfortune strikes us, it overcomes it; while the joy of the wicked vanishes at the slightest annoyance, because he has forgotten God.
"No doubt," resumed Louise, "if we were still thinking about that, we would be less distressed; but in the interval of these salutary thoughts one dwells in spite of oneself on one's fate; one thinks of the pleasures of the world of which one is deprived, and the heart falls back into sadness.
"Poor child!" interrupted Fanchette, only inexperience can regret these deceptive pleasures; religion forbids them, because they are harmful to our rest as well as to our salvation; to desire them is therefore already to violate the duties it imposes on us, and woe to those who dare to inspire these desires with innocence! »
As she spoke thus, Fanchette cast a stern look at Julie, which made her blush. She was defeated, and was reduced to silence; but his wounded pride had aroused in his heart a lively animosity against his companion: hatred is always the weapon of vice when it is not triumphant. Fanchette knew it, and yet she was not afraid to show the whole truth to the young orphan.
'Look, my lovely Louise,' she said to him the next day, 'you are much younger than me, so I think I must warn you that there are liaisons which can have their dangers. Yesterday Julie allowed herself some strange reflections in front of you, which she assuredly would not have dared to make in front of Mlle. Cécile; however, when we must hide our thoughts and our speeches with the people who have on us of the authority, it is that we are in the error, or that our intentions miss purity. I always heard my mother say that, to be virtuous, our heart must always be able to show itself naked. Besides, I do not claim to judge Julie's character here, I must only blame her words for what is dangerous for you. One must not, dear Louise, create ideas and tastes beyond one's condition; in my opinion, it is indulging in pride to believe oneself superior to an obscure condition, when one possesses neither the talents nor the merit necessary to come out of it honorably; and this is where Julie is.
"So you think," said Louise, "that we must be content with our position, even though we have ceased to like it."
— When this position is bad, to seek to restore it, the better is a duty; but when it is good, or at least bearable, when above all it has nothing degrading about it, you will agree that there is great vanity or great imprudence in looking higher for something better that one rarely obtains. Besides, I cannot, continued the excellent girl, reason thoroughly on these things; only I have heard people capable of judging it say that ambition is a very bad adviser. They did not speak of the emulation which leads the workman to make himself superior to his labors; this feeling is, on the contrary, very laudable; but they deplored the blindness of those who, being able to arrive at the first rank in their modest state, go to seek another where they will be forced to remain at the bottom. Now, if this reasoning is true for the majority of men, how much more is it not for poor young girls whom their obscurity protects, and who are so often lost in the light of broad daylight? So I beg you, my dear Louise, give up these bad ideas, they only tend to make you envy false goods and disturb your rest.
- Alas! replied the orphan, this rest has been far from me for a long time already: it is not the necessity of work that has deprived me of it, but rather my ignorance of my parents. You, Fanchette, have a family that cherishes you, while I, a poor abandoned child, such happiness was taken away from me at birth; my mother will never bless me, press me to her bosom. Ah! you don't know what one suffers from such deprivation! you don't know what it's like to see children surround their mothers, and not have hers any more! »
Here Louise burst into tears, and her listener wept with her; however, inspired by her heart, she then said to him:
“Yes, your pain is quite legitimate; nevertheless you must not despair of the goodness of God: he can restore your parents to you; pray to him without ceasing, abandon yourself to his will; and do not doubt that he blesses your prayers as well as your resignation.
"I really want to follow your advice," replied Louise; but, as I told you, too often sadness overwhelms me, and I lack courage.
"You will find some at the foot of the cross," replied the pious Fanchette; it is also there that you will better understand what kinds of consolations remain to you: you have a true friend; Miss Cécile is a second mother to you; then you will no longer conceal your thoughts from him; then you will no longer unknowingly form bonds that can have real dangers, and you will find the strength to overcome your grief. »
The honest worker, in articulating these words, was animated by such deep conviction, her accent was so persuasive, that the orphan promised her to conform to her advice henceforth, and to avoid any private interview with Julie. She demanded, however, that the imprudent speeches that escaped the latter should not be reported to the mistress of the workroom. The secrecy demanded in this circumstance evidently stemming from a laudable intention, Fanchette pledged all the more willingly to keep it, as it would have been very painful for her to provoke the dismissal of one of her companions.
From then on everything went according to the will of the excellent girl. Happy to have protected the orphan against a bad affair, she saw her happily overcome her melancholy, and at the same time show herself to be more affectionate towards the one who had brought up her childhood. Friendship cemented by virtue is a bond which enlarges the soul and disposes it to the noblest feelings. It was therefore with real joy that Louise gave up her vain reveries to return to the pious ideas she once cherished; and she found such a sweet peace in the depths of her soul that she did not understand how she had been able to give herself up for a single moment to other thoughts.
At that time, moreover, everything seemed to conspire to improve his situation still further. As we have said, the workshop was on the way to prosperity: work abounded there on all sides; and Cécile directed them with so much intelligence and perfection, that after having reimbursed the advances which had been made to her to found this house, she was able to begin to deduct from the monthly expenses various small sums which she placed in the name of Louise. like his.
If order and thrift are the indispensable supports of a well-to-do fortune, how many
are they not even more necessary to those who have no other good than the work of their hands? For the latter, any kind of frivolous expense is an irremediable prejudice, just as any economy, however small, brings with it immense advantages if it is often repeated. For the workman to be happy, his expenditure must always be below the product of his labours. No doubt there are a host of cases in which this bonus is impossible; there are still others, and this is the greatest number, where it can only be obtained at the cost of a multitude of privations; but these privations cease to be so painful when it is for reason that one imposes them on oneself; it is better, moreover, to have to bear them in one's youth than to be condemned to them when age comes to make them a real suffering.
Convinced of this truth, Cécile, without being parsimonious, therefore made herself a rigorous law of economy, and she constantly gave an example of it to her pupils.
"Believe me," she often told them, "work courageously, then let's be housewives, in order to assure ourselves of honest independence and thus prepare some resources for our old age, which would otherwise be doomed to misfortune." Above all, let us never imitate those vain young girls who apply themselves to work only to put themselves in a position to buy a host of trinkets with which they think themselves beautiful, and which often only make them ugly. Simplicity and modesty are the true ornaments that suit us; when we seek others, not only do we expose our salvation, but we are the butt of bitter censures, often also of insults which it is not always in our power to repel, and which, in all the cases, are for us a subject of shame. »
Passing from there to other considerations, Cécile again pointed out to her pupils what a fatal habit young people have adopted who love to shine and attract attention.
"Look at these imprudent young people," she said, "they convince themselves that a woman's figure can only have graces as long as she resembles a spindle, and it's who among them will hug hers more closely: what does it matter to them to breathe, provided their coquetry is satisfied? It is thus, however, that we see so many flourishing healths being irretrievably destroyed. The blood, constantly compressed towards the heart, leads to irreparable disorders in the constitution: diseases of the chest and aneurysms, which were almost unknown to us in the past, are multiplying today in a completely frightening way: in vain the doctors report the danger;
we ignore their warnings, or else we try to deceive them, and it is only after having thus dug our tomb, it is only about to descend into it, that we finally recognize the fatal consequences of the vanity. »
This advice, these wise reflections from Cécile, usually produced the most salutary effects on her pupils, especially on Louise, whose heart became more and more attached to virtue. She even became so reasonable and industrious that her friend appointed her from then on as second mistress of the workroom, and further demanded that she deduct each month, for her personal use, a small sum of which she would have no account. to give back to the community.
This second favor touched Louise so deeply that her gratitude for her generous friend always increased. It was the first time she could have something of her own; and this faculty, always flattering, however disinterested one may be, made her so joyous that she often did not go to bed until after having contemplated her little treasure.
Several months passed; various gratuities came to swell this precious treasure, and
the one who owned it soon thought that it could be converted into a pretty gold watch. Cécile, while recommending economy, did not demand that we deprive ourselves of objects that could be useful: and what could be more useful than a watch! However, the friend is consulted; it allows purchase; so, without further ado, it was decided that it would take place the next day.
All day, the happy young girl thinks only of the charming jewel; at night she sees him in a dream, and as soon as day breaks she is on her feet, begging her friend to hurry to follow her to the merchant, whose shop is soon to open. Finally Cécile is ready, the two friends are about to go out, when Maurice, Louise's foster father, suddenly appears. He is sad, dejected, like the day when he had to drop her off at the hospital. Struck by the change in her features, the orphan questions her with tender solicitude; and at first he wants to evade her questions, but she insists.
“Father Maurice,” she said to him, “if you are sad, you must not hide it from me; you know very well that I will take part in it.
"That's just what I don't want," replies the excellent man; I have not come to afflict you, my dear Louise; and look, besides, seeing you, I already feel relieved in my heart:
"Never mind, you must tell me your trouble... We bet you lack work."
“When that would be, a bad week is soon past; I was promised to occupy myself in eight days.
"And during those eight days you would lack bread!" No ! No ! exclaims Louise, advancing towards her foster father, and slipping him the money she intended for the purchase of his watch.
"What is that? asked Maurice, quivering with emotion.
—It is his gain; you can accept it,” answers Cécile; at the same time she
turns to his pupil and presses him to his heart.
The latter is radiant. In vain Maurice begs her to resume her benefaction.
"What! do you want to deprive me of the joy I feel? O my good father! you don't know how happy I am!
“But,” replied the latter, “with a quarter of that sum I would already be rich; let me give you the surplus, my good Louise.
- I will not take anything back, I want you to keep everything.
"And your privations, dear child, do you think I wouldn't feel them?"
"Are there privations when the heart is happy?" interrupted the girl with a soft smile. Here, do not insist any longer, or you will make me sad. »
Finally the brave man yields to such touching entreaties; he hastened to return to his children, to share with them the benefits of his dear Louise, whom he blessed a thousand times, shedding tears of tenderness.
“How much happiness there is in doing a little good in this way! said the latter to her friend, when Maurice had gone away. How did I not think of this sooner?
"So you've deprived yourself of a watch," answered Cecile, who found it charming to read to the bottom of her mind.
"No doubt," replied the orphan; but what a difference with the pleasure that the possession of this jewel would have given me and the one that I taste at this moment! Ah! I am very happy that Maurice arrived before this purchase; it would have given me nothing but regrets, whereas now I think with happiness of the joy of this poor family. »
At these words, the good Cécile embraced her pupil again.
"Yes," she told him; yes, I find you very happy to know how to taste the sweetness of charity; it's a pleasure that never wears out, my Louise; the more one experiences it, the more one becomes eager for it; it is above all through him that the soul is enlarged, that it comes closest to its divine author.
-Oh ! I don't want to look for another, replied the young girl: henceforth all that I can save on my upkeep will be for good Maurice, who, despite his poverty, was for so long the sole support of my childhood. »
These last words awakened in Louise's heart the sad thoughts which too often came to assail her when thinking of the parents who had abandoned her; but little by little she overcame this painful impression, and she was the rest of the day with a gaiety which enchanted her friend.
Vice seduces us by so many artifices, wins us over by so many attractions, penetrates us by so many avenues, that it requires infinite foresight, boundless power and unrelenting support to save us from its traps.
However Julie, whom we left for some time, continued to be part of the workshop. It was the one where the work was best paid, and necessity made it a law for him to adhere to it; but the madwoman cursed such an obligation more than ever. Forced, by the coldness shown to her by Louise, to confine herself within the bounds of a great reserve, she was bored to death, and yet had not given up her culpable projects of seduction. It even seemed that the deep boredom she felt gave them a new tenacity; but until then Fanchette had shown herself such an attentive overseer that they could not be put into execution.
Unfortunately this supervision, which had been so useful to the young orphan, suddenly came to an end: Fanchette was obliged to go to the provinces, to see a sister of her mother who was ready to provide her with a dower. She left without having barely time to take leave of the two friends, and her departure left poor Louise defenceless.
Julie, however, was careful not to employ means similar to those she had used previously. More prudent this time, it was with a feigned sadness, with a thousand little cares, that she began to attack the innocent child's sensibility, and soon
she succeeded in reawakening in his heart the interest which she had aroused there at the beginning of their affair.
Thus, little by little, the mysterious chats were resumed. At first they turned only on unimportant generalities; but then a thousand attractive stories came to animate them and give them a more intimate character. Julie spoke of balls, of shows: she confessed that one of her brothers, who was self-indulgence, gave her one of those pleasures every Sunday, where, moreover, decency reigned in all its purity, where the ear the most chaste could not find the slightest word to repeat; then she ended by lamenting the fate of the poor young people whom a too austere education deprived of these charming distractions.
It is understandable that such speeches, managed with art and repeated in a thousand different forms, could not miss their disastrous effect on the one who lent themselves to listen to them. It is almost always in these kinds of talks that people without experience become familiar with the thought of evil. It shows itself there under such a candid, so seductive appearance, and virtue is painted there at the same time under such lugubrious colors, that it does not take long to excite a murmur against it, and too often to make it desert.
Thus Louise, attracted once again to Julie, imperceptibly regained her disgust for her profession, and came to desire her share of the pleasures of which they painted such an attractive picture for her, persuading herself that the danger had been exaggerated far too much for her.
From there to the will to enjoy it there was not far; also this will did not take long to manifest itself; only one did not know how to satisfy her. The slightest word said on this subject would undoubtedly lose Julie in Cécile's mind, and her dismissal would be the result of such imprudence. On the other hand, resorting to skill, to lying, was something to which Louise could not consent; in this, at least, she still had the courage to resist her perfidious companion; but an unexpected circumstance favored the projects of the latter.
The making of a rich outfit forced Cécile to take a trip forty kilometers from Paris; she left, leaving her young friend at the head of the workroom; from then on all the difficulties were ironed out.
Many fears, however, assailed the orphan at the time of the execution; it was a ball for the next evening; she still recoiled from the idea of attending it without the knowledge of her benefactress; but the odious Julie, whose zeal was stimulated on this occasion by a secret motive, combated her scruples with so much art, and she forced her to occupy herself so actively with the necessary preparations, that the reflections yielded at first. to this fatal ascendancy.
Finally the hour has arrived, the toilet begins, and a thousand different feelings come from
to agitate the heart of the unhappy child again... Hey! why so much emotion? It is a very ordinary thing to go to a ball, some of our young readers will perhaps say, who indulge in this kind of amusement without believing that it can offer them the slightest danger.
Yes, no doubt, it is a very ordinary thing; but habit does not exclude danger: when the sailor voluntarily confronts the reefs, he exposes himself to being broken by them, and to imitate him is folly. Louise, moreover, had no one near her who could protect her against the attacks to which her youth was about to be subjected. She vaguely felt that shame awaited her in the midst of this swarm of fools and young debauchees who usually make up the meetings where everyone is free to be admitted; and the blush that already covered her forehead seemed to warn her that she was about to make a mistake.
However Julie, having finished adorning her, led her before a large mirror, and there her repugnance was overcome; the dangers of the place where they were going to take her, the grief she was preparing for the friend of her childhood, if the latter were to discover her reckless action, all disappeared before the pleasure she tasted in contemplating her beauty.
Yes, she told herself to herself, Julie is right; it would really be a pity if they didn't see me. These flowers, these ribbons, look great on me. What a difference between this charming hairstyle and the one Cécile made me wear! Really, I hardly recognize myself... Oh! that at least once in my life I have the joy of showing myself thus!
And, in her impatience for triumph, she urges her companion to hasten her departure. The latter, however, has not yet put the finishing touches to her toilette.
While she is finishing it, Louise thinks she hears some noise in the dormitory of the young girls entrusted to her care. Worried, she takes a light, walks lightly into an oratory adjoining this room; then, having listened attentively, she recognizes that everything is quiet, and goes to return to Julie, when suddenly an irresistible power stops her. As she passed, she cast a furtive glance at a large Christ before whom she used to prostrate herself every day, and there she is now, trembling, bewildered, no longer daring to raise her eyes to the sacred sign of our redemption: she wants flee, and remain motionless; a cold sweat floods his face, a profound terror freezes his soul; she tries to fight against this invincible force which holds her back; but a thousand thoughts come to overwhelm her at once, she hears the cry of her conscience, she sees the abyss into which she was about to plunge; then, falling on his knees and throwing away from her the flowers that adorn her head:
" Grace! grace ! my God, she said, I forgot you; I was going to offend you; forgive me this moment of error! I am still your child; my heart has heard your merciful voice; it is still entirely yours and forever. »
As she finished these words, she finally dared to contemplate the image of the Saviour, and the tears she shed returned to her a delicious peace.
It is at this moment that Julie appears.
“What does this posture mean, these flowers, these scattered ribbons! she said in amazement. Do you forget, dear Louise, that we have to leave, that my brother is already waiting for us downstairs, with the other people who are to accompany us to the ball?
“I don't want to go there anymore,” the orphan replies, remaining on her knees, “and I ask God's forgiveness for having been able to give in to such a culpable project. Get out of here; your pleasures no longer tempt me.
"Let me retire!" you don't think about it; you must follow me; you promised it, your present refusal is an unexampled whim: you don't play people that way.
Come on, no childishness; come, I beg you. »
At the same time the wretch tries to get Louise up; but she pushes her away saying:
“Leave me, or I'll call all the girls in the workroom right away.
- Well ! I'll call too,” replies Julie furiously.
At the same time she rushes into the next room, then onto the stairs, no doubt intending to have her brother come upstairs to help her drag Louise away.
Fortunately this design could not be accomplished; she had scarcely gone out, when the latter ran towards the door, and barricaded it so well, that any attempt to open it without was rendered impossible. However, the poor child's fears were only appeased after Julie's departure, and it was only after a quarter of an hour of useless entreaties that she decided to leave.
Delivered from her importunities, Louise immediately returned to the foot of the cross to pour out her heart there. She understood that the sudden change which had just taken place in her was a celestial inspiration, and this thought touched her so deeply that her emotion could only be translated into tears.
The impious who read these lines would no doubt tax them with exaggeration; for he is unaware of the ineffable joy which spreads in a Christian soul when God deigns to make him feel a movement of his grace; but this delicious joy experienced by Louise, the pure hearts will understand; they will find in it a new example of the efficacy of faith, and new motives for persisting in religious principles, without which virtue is but an empty word, and the world a vast reef.
Thus returning entirely to that sublime faith which alone can carry us through life with certainty, the orphan recognized all that she owed to the goodness of God, and her conviction on this point became all the more profound, as little Moments later a letter fell into her hand and completely enlightened her as to the danger she had run.
We remember that for a long time the odious Julie sought to emerge from the obscurity which hurt her pride. To achieve this, she had vainly tried the vilest means, when suddenly she imagined making the innocent Louise serve the success of her plans. It was a question of entering as an extra in the pay of a theater director who was difficult in the choice of his subjects. He had already refused to admit Julie because her appearance did not seem attractive enough to him; but they came to speak to him of the young orphan: they extolled to him her graces, her beauty, and he promised to receive the two companions at the same time, if the youngest was such as she was represented to him. As a result of this agreement made without the knowledge of the too credulous child, he had therefore made every effort to induce her to go to the ball, where the infamous bargain was to be concluded, and her loss was assured, if she had had the misfortune to give in to the wretch who had resolved to bring her down to his level.
Louise had not yet recovered from her first emotions when Providence dropped into her hand the letter in which this horrible intrigue was explained. In her haste, Julie had doubtless let this paper slip. It bore no address, and the orphan unfolded it without suspecting anything. Seeing her own name from the first line, however, she continued reading, and nothing could capture what she felt after finishing it. In her shock, she remained at first as if annihilated; then, picking up the fatal writing, which she had dropped at her feet, she read it again, still trying to convince herself that she had misinterpreted its meaning; but the project of debasing her, of taking her away from her friend, from her innocent and peaceful life, to make her a theater girl, was too clearly explained for the shadow of a doubt to remain in her long on this subject. point ; and it was then above all that she realized the full gravity of the fault she had committed in renewing with such a perverse creature the liaison of which the honest Fanchette had shown her the danger. Recalling at the same time her ingratitude towards the generous Cécile, the breach of trust of which she had been on the point of committing herself by furtively leaving a house entrusted to her care, she remained overwhelmed under the weight of these bitter thoughts, and abandoned himself to the deepest grief.
However, she soon had to compose her features to appear before the young workers, who assembled at daybreak, and who came to speak to her of their beloved mistress, who was expected that very evening.
Cecile had always been so kind, so fair to her students; that she had obtained an almost filial attachment from it. So it was by mutual agreement that they improvised a small party to celebrate his return. The seat where she was to sit was surrounded by flowers; the most skilful of the merry band composed couplets, which were found charming; they were learned and repeated in chorus with all the dash of frank gaiety, and they then went back to work with such ardor that the interests of the house suffered in no way from the time we had. lost.
During these various preparations, Louise, increasingly overwhelmed with grief, remained suspended between the desire to see her friend again and the fear of approaching her.
“Alas! she said to herself bitterly, all these young girls are going to embrace her with joy, for they have nothing to reproach themselves for. Protected by their humility, they have escaped the gaze of vice; while I, unhappy, I was designated by him as easy prey... O you who showered me with so much care, so many benefits, what will you say when you know in what trap your sister has fallen? adoption was going to fall, Ah! Isn't it already stigmatized to have given rise to such infamous undertakings! »
It was in the midst of these sad thoughts that the poor child saw Cécile arrive. Nevertheless, she succeeded in the first moment in concealing her confusion; but when the pupils had retired, when she found herself alone in the presence of this friend, whose generous affection she had wounded, her tears, held back too long, flowed in abundance, and the painful avowal escaped her. Painting by turns, without any disguise, her intentions, her inner combats, her imprudent confidence in the perfidious Julie, she came to recount all the circumstances of the preceding night, and ended by showing her friend the letter which she had found. As she read it, the latter felt such intense indignation, her features painted at the same time such deep pain, that the orphan thought herself forever lost in her heart; but, immediately reassured by the sweetest tokens of attachment, she exclaimed through her tears:
"What! you forgive me, you reproach me neither for the inconsistency of my conduct, nor for the black ingratitude with which I paid for your benefits?
"Poor child," answered Cecile, "what reproaches could I address to you, that you haven't already made yourself?" Am I then more severe than this God of goodness who has condescended to keep you at the edge of the abyss! No, however painful this ordeal may be for me, far from altering my feelings for you, it will redouble my concern. In all this, moreover, I am not exempt from imprudence: I should have admitted the wretched Julie less lightly, and watched more carefully over the deposit that Providence entrusted to me; it is a duty that I undertake to fulfill better henceforth. So do not grieve any longer; Heaven is for us; we will know how to thwart the traps of the wicked. However do not forget that the choice of a friend is a very important thing, especially at your age: if this choice is good, it keeps us on the path of honor and virtue; if it is bad, it almost infallibly opens up to us that of vice. Thus the hope of the perfidious one who deceived you was indeed to lead you there. Once in his hands and in those of his accomplices, you would have tried in vain to escape them; such people do not shy away from crime, and your doom was certain. »
These last words, although pronounced in the sweetest tone, bore in themselves such a character of truth, that they added still more to Louise's fears as well as to her regrets; however, her friend reassured her again with so much affection that she finally regained a little calm.
The day after these various scenes, Julie presented herself at the workroom. She had noticed the disappearance of her letter; so, cursing her imprudence, she arrived very early, hoping to find a favorable moment to speak in secret to the orphan: her expectation was disappointed; she only saw Cecile.
" What do you want? she asked him in a severe tone; and how dare you present yourself again in a house where I reproach myself bitterly for having admitted you? Withdraw, and above all never have the boldness to approach any of the young people entrusted to my care; otherwise the proof of your infamy would instantly pass into the hands of authority, and you know what your punishment would be. »
Julie wanted to reply with a bold lie; but Cécile, indignant, resumed at once: “You cannot deceive me; your traps are known to me; get out, I tell you, if you don't prefer to be shamefully chased away. »
Here Julie, hoping to touch the excellent girl, fell at Her feet and burst into tears. Cécile, in fact, yielding to a movement of pity, said to him in a softer accent:
“It is not before me that you must prostrate yourself, it is before Him who punishes the wicked, and who can also show him mercy, if he sees him abjure his faults. If, then, it were true that repentance entered your soul, speak without fear; I can still help you, not by employing you here, but by making you open a holy house where you can return to the path of good and repair your disastrous errors. »
At this proposal, Julie smiled disdainfully.
“I hear you,” resumed Cécile; it was not to such an end that your feigned tears tended; you were laying a new trap for me, hoping thus to renew with an innocent child the liaison which nearly ruined her. Go then, since vice has taken hold of your heart to such an extent; remain his slave. I warn you, however, that one day you will bitterly regret having rejected my offers, because sooner or later the hand of God will weigh on you; then your tears will be sincere; but they will not remedy the evils which you will have so voluntarily brought upon yourselves. »
More irritated than moved by this language, she to whom he was addressing hastened to leave; and the good Cécile, who deplored such callousness, went to tell Louise what had just happened. The latter, listening to him, still blushed at having been able to become attached to such a perverse girl, and renewed to her friend the promise she had made to herself never to contract any affair without her knowledge. .
This promise she kept religiously, and the reflections suggested to her by the danger she had run fortified her reason and her piety so much that she no longer had to make any effort to remove entirely from her heart the movements of vanity. who had almost drawn him towards the pleasures of the world.
Until then, too, Louise had not been able to make sufficient use of her leisure time to devote herself to reading which could interest her and at the same time develop her intelligence. Guided by the
advice from her excellent friend, she made up for lost time; and these readings became so profitable to him that boredom was henceforth banished from his mind.
“In truth,” she said sometimes to Cécile, “I don't understand the indifference I showed at first for this kind of relaxation; it is nevertheless the easiest and the most fruitful; it is within everyone's reach, and, far from leaving regrets behind, it always enriches us with something. By reading a good book, thought rises, expands; it is associated with the noble sentiments which are there expressed, and one feels oneself to become better the more one studies it. »
We see from these words that henceforth the ideas of the young worker were no longer confined to traversing the narrow circle in which they had hitherto been confined. Was she happier? you might ask. Certainly ; for the readings on which she nourished herself, far from arousing bad inclinations in her heart, far from awakening hopes or chimerical projects, showed her the vanity of things that pass and which tear us apart in their course. fast; they protected her against the dangers of the world, against its artifices, its deceptions; they made her cherish virtue, taste the charm of the interior life, and prepared her at the same time to undergo with courage the trials that it would please God to send her.
It was therefore without any effort that Louise from then on got used to her humble condition. Stripped of all pride, but stimulated by a noble emulation, she took advantage of the numerous relations that her friend had succeeded in establishing, to multiply the type of work executed in their workshop, and to give them all an equal perfection. Thanks to her exquisite taste, she invented, in lingerie and embroidery, several fashions which were adopted by opulence; and the prosperity of the establishment still increased.
However, Louise was neither prouder nor more refined in her dress: her only luxury consisted in pretty furnishings and the possession of a few good books. When she was satisfied on this point, she restricted her personal expenses so much that Cécile often asked her what she was using the money for which she continued to give her free use. “I place it,” she replied with a laugh, adding quietly, “Yes, I place it without interest on earth, but for usury in heaven. Indeed, the private savings of the pious child passed almost entirely into the hands of the poor, of whom the most interesting in her eyes was always her good foster father. Each month he received the best part of it; the remainder of her modest alms was given to unfortunate mothers, for whom, by another sentiment, Louise also felt a great predilection. Thus multiplying her pleasures, she then thought without any desire of the world she had so longed to know, and she said:
“There we agitate, we laugh, we cry in turn, and life rushes like a torrent, without having time to foresee where it must end; here, on the contrary, it flows noiselessly, without agitation, but full of innocent pleasures, of holy hopes. Oh my God! Thank you ; you have done me the best batch. »
Besides these pure pleasures that the young worker had managed to create for herself, she had the satisfaction of contributing to the happiness of all around her, and of seeing the good Fanchette, for whom she always felt a sincere attachment, in a position quite prosperous.
Endowed by her mother's sister, and married for some months to a workman as honest as he was industrious, this excellent woman continued to work for the workshop of the two friends, and thus enjoyed a kind of ease in her household. For her, this situation was bliss in all its fullness; so she never tired of saying to Louise:
"My mother was quite right: the fate of a worker who possesses the health, courage and intelligence of her work is a thousand times happier than that of all those great ladies who wear themselves out looking for joys where too often there is only lies and madness. There are, however, Fanchette continued, many young girls who could live contentedly in their position, and who persist in leaving it to seek higher the happiness they hold in their hands. Often they even abandon without regret the parents, the friends who have showered them with affection, and sometimes go so far as to deny them... Oh! this is an excess of ingratitude and pride which cannot go unpunished. As for us, my dear Louise, let us remain peacefully on the path that Providence has marked out for us; if it appears obscure in the eyes of the world, it is most certainly pleasing to the good Lord, and that is enough to make us prefer it. »
These conversations, in which Cécile often took part, were always charming for the orphan, because they satisfied her reason and her heart at the same time. On the other hand, Fanchette's family overwhelmed her with so much consideration, so much thoughtfulness, that she no longer felt isolated in life.
There reigns, in general, in the relations of the lower classes an abandon, a warmth of devotion which is not always to be found in the same degree among persons of a higher rank. It is not assuredly that the culture of the mind can alter the generosity of our feelings; it only tends, on the contrary, to elevate and ennoble them; but contact with the world, where so many different passions float, sometimes comes to destroy what instruction, what a good education have built up; while for the honest artisan this inconvenience is less to be feared. Simpler, less demanding in his tastes as well as in his needs, he usually carries deep in his heart a calm, a cheerfulness which dispose him more favorably towards his fellows, especially when religious instruction has come to regulate his inclinations and inspire him the love of good. Understanding then all the price of virtue,. he practices it without effort as without ostentation, and his friendships are as frank as they are solid.
Louise, surrounded by these good people, therefore experienced that sweet security, that interior contentment of the soul, which makes life flow without storms. If sometimes her mind sought to pierce the mystery of her birth, if her tears still flowed at the thought that she was deprived of maternal caress, she immediately recapitulated the consolations that had been granted her in her misfortune, and her grief soon subsided. .
The least equivocal test of a solid virtue is adversity.
MASSILLON, Funeral Orations.
The orphan reached her twentieth year without any other concern disturbing the peace she enjoyed in the midst of friendship; and everything until then, as we have said, prospered so well for the two companions, that they could already glimpse the time when they would be allowed, if not to abandon their work, at least to slow down a little. activity. But unfortunately ! here below happiness never lasts long, and its sweetest smiles are often only false promises. Cecile and Louise felt this truth only too well; for the hardest trials came to strike them in the very midst of all their hopes. The first had a serious illness, the effect of which was to deprive her almost entirely of her sight. From then on, a deep sorrow seized her soul, and her organs weakened to the point that her young companion could no longer leave her for a single moment without finding her bathed in tears.
The latter, however, far from losing courage, multiplied her efforts to make him bear such great affliction; day and night she nursed her with indefatigable zeal; at the same time she brought such assiduity to the supervision of the workroom that nothing suffered from Cecile's sad state. Thus the misfortune over which the latter groaned did not entail the loss of her ease, and it was a powerful consolation for Louise. But the fatigues, the painful cares to which she condemned herself were only the weak prelude to the misfortunes which awaited her.
One night when she had prolonged her work with her languid friend who slept, sinister cries, fire! fire ! suddenly come to freeze her with terror. At the same moment she sees thick smoke invading the room of the poor patient. Distraught, she flies to her students' dormitory, calls them, then returns to her friend, takes her in her arms, and finds the strength to carry her to the stairs; but already this way of salvation is invaded by flames; the hearth of the fire is on the ground floor, and there is no other way out...
“O Heaven! what to become? said Cecile in a lamentable voice; leave me, Louise, leave me! try to save yourself with these poor children, there is only one floor to cross...
"You will cross it with us, or I will die with you," replies Louise, opening a window which looks out on the street, and under which the crowd is already gathered.
“Help us! cried the unfortunate woman with the energy of despair.
At the same moment the ladders are erected. Driven by fear, the young workers rush on it, but the two friends are still in the room, the floor of which threatens to collapse.
“Courage, Cecile! said Louise; put your feet on the ladder, don't be afraid, I'll hold it until you're down.
-" Impossible ! replies the poor cripple, who tries in vain to obey; and it would have been the end of these two faithful friends if a generous man, witness of their distress, had not devoted himself to save them. Crossing the floor, and seizing the patient with a vigorous arm, he manages to lower her amid the lively cheers of the crowd.
In her turn, Louise rushes up the rungs; it has already crossed several, when it is
sees him come up hastily, and then reappear holding a small casket. Then the flames swirl around her like a volcano, the smoke suffocates her, her head is lost, her body staggers, and cries of terror are emitted from all sides; but the same man who has already devoted himself flies to his aid; he directs her, he supports her on her perilous journey, and then carries her in Cécile's arms.
How to express the emotions of these two unfortunates, when, coming back to themselves a little and having made sure that all their pupils were out of danger, they tried to express their gratitude to the one who had so generously rescued them from death? ?
"Don't thank me," said this one to them; I am sufficiently repaid by the happiness I experience. Please just let me know where you want to be taken.
- With us! with us! exclaim several people from the neighborhood who have run up to the two friends; and a few minutes later they find themselves established in a lodging, where everyone hastens to bring them the objects of prime necessity. All these benefits are due only to poor artisans; but, as we have said, the absence of riches does not exclude goodness of heart; to undergo the test of misfortune is often to learn to empathize with it.
It was therefore surrounded by the sweetest compassion, the most active charity, that the two friends passed the first moments which followed the frightful catastrophe of which they had almost been victims. Their liberator had made himself known as a doctor, and the prescriptions he left for Cécile on his departure produced such a salutary effect on her that after a few hours of sleep she found herself in a better state than event did not allow us to hope for it.
When she awoke, Louise alone was sitting beside her, and their tears mingled in a long, painful embrace.
“Ruined! ruined helplessly! then said the poor cripple in a broken voice.
— Yes, answered Louise, yes, everything was engulfed in flames! but the good Lord remains with us, dear Cécile!
'No doubt,' replied the latter, 'and I give thanks to her kindness; it was she who sent to us this noble young man whose courage saved us from such a frightful peril; but what a miserable life is left to us! Impotent, almost blind, what can I do now to earn my bread?
"Shall I not earn it for you?" answered the young girl quickly. Listen, Cécile: the Lord sends us, it is true, a great, a terrible trial; but it is up to us to bear it with resignation, if we want to be blessed. Offer him your sufferings, I will offer him my daily work, and he will deign to support our efforts; you know well that he loves those who suffer in his name and who abandon themselves to his will.
"Louise, how good you are!" How I love to hear you speak like this! However let me express my fears to you; forgive me if I cannot, without a mortal sorrow, see me as a charge for you...
"Did I have such fears myself," interrupted the orphan, "when, to look after my childhood, you sacrificed your best years, and then showered me with so many benefits?" Ah! when two existences have merged in this way, everything is leveled between them: they belong to each other, they no longer have the right to calculate which takes precedence in its devotion; and friendship makes it a law for you to accept today that of your Louise. »
After these words, the two friends again threw themselves into each other's arms, and this time their tears flowed with less bitterness: they felt that under the weight of adversity there are affections which console , especially when it is virtue that cements them.
Seeing her friend calmer, Louise thought of showing her the little box she had so bravely saved from the fire. It contained the various objects which could serve to make her recognised, if Heaven allowed her to find her parents; so it was with profound joy that she displayed these various objects in front of her friend.
"Here, you see," she said to him, "how good God is: he let me take away my dear treasure." Oh ! if you only knew how the sight of all this moves my heart! Look at this beautiful shawl; it probably belonged to my mother; happier than me, he touched her! »
As she spoke thus, the poor child lifted the shawl to her lips with a mixture of tenderness and respect; then examining, perhaps for the hundredth time, the cipher which adorned the purse, as well as the ring found hanging round her neck by her nurse, she resolved to wear this latter object habitually.
'Now,' she continued, 'I can well adorn my hand with this ring; it was at the risk of my life that I disputed it with the flames; she is doubly my good, and the sight of her will sustain my hopes. »
Having then carefully put the rest of her treasure back into the little box, she thought
to procure, as well as to her friend, some clothes which were indispensable to them. Providence had provided for it: Fanchette, having learned of their misfortune, entered at that moment charged with all that was necessary for them, and soon both were suitably dressed for their situation.
“Come,” the excellent woman then said to them, weeping bitterly, “come to our house; you will find there hearts which will sympathize with your sorrows, and which will endeavor to lighten them. »
Deeply touched by these offers, the two friends thanked her profusely; but not wishing to be a burden on the young couple, they only consented to rent in its vicinity a modest place which was vacant, and the same evening they went to establish themselves there.
Alas! it was no longer that cheerful dwelling where they had once enjoyed all the amenities, all the well-being that comfort affords: they were poor rooms, all bare, where they would only accept from the compassionate Fanchette the furniture. indispensable ; and this destitution seemed at first very painful to the unfortunate Cécile. The orphan, perceiving the tears she was trying to hide from her, also felt her courage fail; little by little, however, she regained all her natural energy. Examining then with reflection their present situation, she saw that by withdrawing the funds produced by the savings which they had made for five years, they could pay for the goods destroyed by the fire, and that none of the trading houses which entrusted to them would not lose by this disaster.
This was one of the most powerful consolations she could offer Cecile. After having established her calculations in a manner as clear as precise, she communicated them to her, and thus managed to reassure her about the continuity of their work.
They no longer had, it is true, the good Sister Madeleine to protect them in a new establishment: the charitable girl had long since been sent to the provinces, and her former pupils could only expect good wishes from her; but they had placed their hope in God, and they soon experienced that this hope is never disappointed when it emanates from true piety.
The next day all the young people whom the fire had driven from the workroom came, followed by their mothers, to offer the two friends to work at home for free until part of their disaster was repaired. Such a proposal was too honorable to the two mistresses for vain pride to make them reject it; both of them opened their arms to these worthy mothers who shared so generously in their misfortune, and it was agreed that until the workroom was once again on the way to prosperity, the young workers who composed it would come to work there as externs, without any kind of remuneration. In the meantime, two of them asked to stay with Cécile, while Louise would go outside to tend to common interests; and from that moment grief was almost banished from the homes of the burned poor.
Yes, when it is God who consoles, adversity cannot bring down the soul: he who incessantly raises his gaze to this supreme consoler soon finds the strength to climb the asperities of his path, however difficult it may be; through his misfortunes, he smiles at the hope of a better future, and he sometimes feels within himself ineffable joys which the happy of the earth cannot taste, because they do not know how to understand them.
These convictions were engraved too deep in the heart of the young worker for her not to seek from them all the resignation she needed; so his first impulse, on leaving Cécile, was to go and steep himself again in prayer at the foot of the altars. There her tears still flowed profusely; but already there were tears of gratitude, and those are always without bitterness.
However Louise suddenly felt, on leaving the church, a great perplexity: it was a question for her of regulating several matters of interest of which she had never occupied herself directly. So it was not without difficulty that she conquered her shyness. Finally, driven by the ardent desire to reassure her companion, she went to the custodian of their modest assets. Fortunately this one was a good man; although the poor child no longer had any claim to assert, he consented, on her simple receipt and that of Cécile, to make her the immediate reimbursement of the funds deposited, even offering to open a loan for her afterwards, if she deemed it necessary. restoring his home.
Such a generous offer was of a nature to fortify Louise's courage; for, if on the one hand she was resolved not to make use of them, on the other, she found there the proof that our acts of virtue, always rewarded in heaven, are also rewarded, more often than not. believes, among men. Doubtless there are many faults and many vices in this world: bad faith, perversity and selfishness show themselves in turn in a very odious manner; but, side by side with these degrading vices, how many good actions, how many noble hearts reconcile us with humanity, and force us to admire it, while bemoaning its weaknesses!
Thus the orphan, since the misfortune which had befallen her, met with nothing but sympathy; poor and rich, all took pleasure in giving her signs of compassion and esteem, and this concurrence of generous feelings was for her such a sweet reward, that in her heart the joy almost equaled the pain.
The same day, all the goods entrusted to the two friends, and which had been the prey of the flames, were paid in full; then the various trading houses to which they belonged hastened to offer Louise new objects to make, and promised to never let her lack work.
Calm about the future, she hastened to return to her beloved Cécile. He had barely enough of their savings to last for a week; but she said to herself in a low voice: "We owe nothing more, and in a week, I hope, I shall have earned enough to live on the following week: how many honest workmen are less happy!" »
When the orphan returned to her home, the noblest inspirations of virtue were reflected in her charming face, and her demeanor was at once so gentle, so modest, that it was impossible to see her without showing her the keenest interest. . So that was the impression she made on the man who had saved her. He was with Cecile when she returned; and, seeing the pious resignation with which this young girl had armed herself in her misfortune, he felt himself filled with real respect for her, and doubly congratulated himself on having been her liberator.
Besides, M. Derban was worthy in all respects of appreciating Louise. Born of a very honorable family, where virtue was hereditary, he had drawn from his early education the religious beliefs which complete the good man, and the serious studies to which he had since devoted himself, as a physician, had only developed in him his happy dispositions. About thirty years old, M. Derban was grave in his manners as well as in his speeches; a kind of melancholy seemed to be the dominant feature of his character; it was even easy to see, from the mobile expression of his countenance, that a lively sensibility animated his soul, and this remark, which could not escape observation, restored confidence to those whom the severity of his bearing would have could move away first.
While perfectly grasping this nuance, Louise could not testify to her liberator the lively
gratitude with which she was imbued: she had dared to express it to him at the moment when he had just delivered her from the flames, because then emotion had prevailed over her natural timidity; but, having become calmer, and finding herself in the presence of the grave doctor, she suddenly felt so bewildered that words failed her to express her feelings.
Astonished at his apparent coldness, Cécile then reproached him with vivacity; for M. Derban, by saving the life of this excellent girl, then relieving her ills by learned prescriptions, had placed himself so high in her mind, that she could not tire of admiring him, and found it very strange. that each one does not experience for so much merit an enthusiasm equal to his own.
Nothing so common, however, as this disposition of the good Cécile: one generally likes to share one's impressions or feelings with others, because the heart and self-esteem are equally interested in this approval.
It was therefore necessary that poor Louise, already very vexed with herself, had to endure the reproaches of her companion. The latter, however, ends up realizing that her admiration for their liberator had made her forget for a moment the rights of friendship, and peace was immediately restored.
The little virtues are like the violets, which delight in the coolness of the shade, which feed on the dew, and which, although of little brilliancy, do not fail to spread a good odor.
Spirit of Saint Francis de Sales.
Finally Louise resumed her work; her pupils, faithful to their promises, seconded her with so much ardor that the disaster experienced seemed to be repaired little by little: already the poor invalid lacked nothing; his room is restocked; her food is appropriate to her condition, and Louise can pay her workers suitably. But, while everything seems thus to prosper around her, the generous child does not say by how many sacrifices, by how many secret privations she buys this apparent prosperity. Almost prodigal for her companion, she barely affords her own necessities, works tirelessly, often prolongs her vigils for entire nights, and, in the midst of this painfully laborious life, it is to God alone that she entrusts her penalties.
There is one in particular which weighs on her cruelly: she can no longer give alms; she can no longer alleviate the misery of her good foster father, and this deprivation, so hard on her heart, often brings involuntary tears from her.
After some time, however, a great consolation came to him. Thanks to the attentive care of M. Derban, Cécile's sufferings were appeased, and she was able to do without the continual assistance of her young companion. This was a sensible improvement for both of them; Louise was then able to take care only of work in the workroom, which she
had restored to its former footing, and the gains multiplied. She also found ample compensation in the affection of the young people entrusted to her care. All admired his courage, his virtues, and it was without any effort that they obeyed his slightest orders.
By taking the full direction of these young girls, Louise, enlightened both by her reading and by wise advice, had had the good sense to establish a regulation which she knew how to make stable by the scrupulous accuracy with which she set it. pointed out and complied with it herself. In public or private education one cannot be too rigid on this point; for the good order of ideas almost always depends on that which is introduced into the common habits of life. The child who has submitted himself early to an invariable rule rarely becomes a dissipated or rebellious child, because the discipline which is imposed on him forces him to watch over himself, and prepares him imperceptibly to submit to the obligations more difficulties that will be imposed on him in life.
Moreover, it was never by means of rigor that Louise maintained the spirit of submission among her pupils. Like Cécile, she led them there by gentleness, persuasion, and above all by the in-depth study of the precepts of religion, which always correspond to our real needs and our happiness. The exact observance of these precepts being the basis of all her system of education, it was to make them well known, to make them loved, that she chiefly devoted her care.
Solid reading done together during work, pleasant conversations at certain moments of recreation, also contributed not a little to form the hearts and minds of these young girls. Also committed to gaining their confidence, Louise allowed them to express their impressions and their feelings without constraint before her, and this method was all the more effective in that, by accustoming them to a noble sincerity, it at the same time gave them an ease of elocution which is almost always lacking in young people whose instruction is limited to simple elements, and who are forced to banish confidence by impressing fear upon them.
In addition to the moments consecrated to these familiar conversations, but which were never without use, the young mistress had reserved others for contemplation. These were not the least fruitful: to meditate often on the greatness of God, then to descend to the bottom of one's own heart, is to sincerely want to repair one's faults. Also Louise never allowed her pupils to fail in this pious exercise.
Following these meditations, the subjects of which she usually provided them with, she still took pleasure in relating to them with that eloquence of the heart, always so touching and so persuasive, some noble action calculated to elevate their souls and make them cherish virtue. . Choosing her examples in preference from the lower ranks of society, she managed more easily to arouse the emulation of the young girls who listened to her; and if she afterwards saw them exercising themselves for good in the ordinary things of life, she hastened to encourage their efforts by praises or rewards, for she knew that the exact practice of the little virtues leads infallibly to love of the greatest. Indeed, the soul which knows how to dominate itself, the soul which studies itself unceasingly to become better, which suffers with humility, with patience, its own evils and those which come to it from others, will know how to rise when necessary. to heroism.
"Be gentle, obliging towards each other," said Louise to her pupils; attach yourself to correcting your own faults, without concerning yourself with those of your companions; flee slander, hate lies; be discreet, sober, industrious, simple and modest in your speeches as in your clothes; in a word, cherish humility, charity, and you will be at the source of all virtues. »
The orphan also taught her workers to make a good use of their time, whose misfortune and reflection taught her better each day to know the price. She was careful, however, not to demand of these poor young girls continual assiduity in needlework; this uninterrupted assiduity is an abuse that humanity condemns, and of which Louise could certainly not be guilty. Wishing therefore to reconcile the interests of her house with the care due to her pupils, she had so wisely distributed their moments of recreation, that salutary exercises always came to usefully interrupt the immobility which could be harmful to them, and, however in a hurry she was by her labors, she never allowed one of these recreations to be omitted. On the other hand, when we resumed work, she demanded that all softness be banished; for she had a horror of laziness and would not tolerate it in her workroom.
'You know,' she said to her workers, 'lazy people are an object of disgust to everyone; everyone speaks of it with contempt, and his path is encumbered with thorns. Let's not imitate him; work with courage, with perseverance, in order to fulfill the law of God, and we will be blessed. »
Exercised at an early age in the care of the household, the orphan still demanded that her pupils learn in turn order and domestic economy, which they were one day to be called upon to make use of in their own homes. Moreover, no young person, whatever her rank and fortune, can dispense with this kind of apprenticeship, since it leads her to fulfill with dignity the duties that will be imposed on her. Any incapacity or carelessness on this point could not be redeemed by education and talents: above all a woman must know her duties, and there is nothing more important for her than to devote herself to the care of his family, to the order, to the economy of his household.
Vainly would a mad pride claim to rank these duties among those of domesticity: they are part of the mission that God has given us in this world; to disdain or neglect them is to betray this mission, to renounce the most beautiful attribute of our sex. No doubt a rich woman can be replaced in the service of her household; but none the less she must know, she must none the less watch over all the smallest details, so that her people cannot take advantage of her ignorance or disregard her orders. The interior of a family is a government where the woman who wants to be respected must always hold the reins with a gentle and skilful hand. Now, if these obligations are strictly imposed on us, even in the bosom of opulence, what gravity do they not acquire when fortune has refused us its gifts! It is in this case above all that inertia and negligence become irreparable faults: the rich woman can sometimes remedy her bad administration; the poor woman who lacks activity, who does not know how to put everything to good use in her household, infallibly brings about its ruin.
These reflections, which simple common sense suggests, had too often occupied our Louise in her humble condition for her not to make it a rule to transmit them to the workers whom she directed, and it is conceivable that such teachings, always supported by example, which itself is such an effective lesson, could not fail to bear fruit in these young minds. Also the establishment of the two friends was regarded as a model house of its kind, and its prosperity was always increasing.
However Cécile, whatever care was lavished on her, had not yet arrived at a complete cure; his eyesight was still weak, and his long sufferings had changed into a state of habitual languor which exercised the saddest influence on his character. So often she afflicted her young companion by saying to her:
“Alas! I am nothing more to you than a burdensome burden, poor child! it is truly abusing your generous friendship. Your hand has already been requested several times, you have refused all the offers that have been made to you, and I have cowardly suffered from such sacrifices.
"Don't call my refusals that," answered the orphan; I have already told you that my reason and my heart dictated them, and that you owe me no kind of gratitude for them; for, independently of the lively affection which attaches me to you, I am resolved, as long as I do not know who my parents are, to abstain from the bonds of marriage. So don't come back, I beg you, on such a subject, and above all don't talk to me about charges: when friendship counts, it becomes impoverished, and your calculations cause me real pain. What does it matter to you, after all, whether it is your work or mine that provides for our needs? It is enough that God has left to one of us health and strength to share: she uses them for the benefit of both, in this she is only doing her duty. »
These words, so calculated to reassure poor Cécile, usually caused her so much joy that, in spite of herself, she always tried to provoke them. Suddenly she changed her system, without any apparent reason, and gave herself up to preoccupations the cause of which she left unaware to the orphan. The latter, using the right of friendship, questioned her several times without being able to obtain any confession from her, and this unusual mystery was beginning to give her anxiety, when one evening, Cécile, having called her to she said to him with deep emotion:
“Finally I can speak, all obstacles have been ironed out, all my wishes have been fulfilled! My Louise is going to be happy: she will have an honorable position in the world, affections, an entourage worthy of her...
- What are you saying? cried the orphan, mistaking the meaning of her words: have you discovered my parents? Speak, hurry, I implore you!
— No, it's not about your family, replies Cécile, but about a husband who will be able to replace her. »
At these words, which destroyed all her illusions, the poor child sank into a seat, saying:
“Why then deceive me like this? why arouse by an exaggeration of language the bitter sorrow which pursues me? You know very well that finding my family is my only desire, the only happiness to which I can aspire!
"Yet there's another one waiting for you," Cecilia replied with indescribable joy. Listen: For a long time already your virtues, your pious resignation in adversity, had produced a lively impression on our liberator; he ardently wished to offer you a sweeter fate by choosing you for his companion; but family considerations checked the impulse of his generous heart. His mother, having been deprived by a lawsuit of a considerable fortune, wished to make him contract an advantageous marriage, which she had arranged for him for a long time in his province, and he dared not confess to her the feelings which thwarted his views; but maternal love finally enlightened Madame Derban; she questioned her son, wrested his secret from him, and, far from using her authority to bring him to the accomplishment of his plans, she confined herself to wise observations, and finally had the generosity to consent to the union. that he desires. By asking me for your hand, Mr. Derban showed me this consent. A few regrets still emerge there, it is true; however each word is the expression of a noble heart, and I am convinced that on seeing my Louise the excellent mother will forget the advantages she will have sacrificed... But what is the matter? resumed Cécile, fixing her young companion with astonished eyes; what does this sad, dejected look mean when you should feel only joy? Is it the surprise that gives you such a strange impression? Indeed, I taught you all this too abruptly; I was so troubled, so happy myself! Finally, what do you think, what do you say about this request?
"I say that she honors me, and that I cannot accept her," replied the young girl, forcing herself to overcome her confusion.
"That is impossible!" exclaimed Cecile impatiently. - Up to now I have understood your refusals, I even secretly rejoiced at it, because the parties which presented themselves seemed to me not very regrettable, and I was frightened at the mere thought of our separation; but today I would be without excuse if I did not urge you to accept such offers. Consider, moreover, that we will still be, if not under the same roof, at least within reach of seeing each other every day; M. Derban, having to continue the exercise of his profession in Paris, will complete my cure; I will lodge near you; you will often come to visit the workshop; you will always be the good, the faithful friend of your Cécile, and the happiness which she will see you enjoy will make her overcome all her ills.
"Enough," the orphan interrupted here, "don't dwell any longer on such images: this project cannot be realized." In any other position I would have gladly borne the name offered to me; but for a union to be happy, it must be matched, and this would only present shocking disparities. M. Derban, by his family, by his profession, by his talents in short, holds an honorable rank in the world; he enjoys there a deserved consideration: do you want then that, abusing his inclination for me, as well as his lack of foresight, I go and make him lose this consideration which the good man must always desire and respect?
"Why would he lose her?" interrupted Cecile: aren't you worthy of him by your virtues?
"His choice proves that he thinks so," replied the orphan; and I myself perhaps dare to believe that my feelings justify his esteem; but this is not enough for the world: he who lives in society must conform to the usages, to the proprieties which are established there; when he deviates from it, he attracts just blame, and that is what I must spare Mr. Derban. My poverty, the mystery that shrouds my birth, all make it a law for me to refuse his offers. If Heaven allows me that one day I find my parents, and that they are in a bad situation, no one other than me will at least have to suffer from their misfortune; I could devote myself to them without being stopped by considerations that my heart could not admit.
"But," replied Cecile, "don't you also owe the man who saved your life?" and since his happiness is attached to this marriage, do you want, as the price of his generous action, to make him unhappy, to wound him in his dearest wishes?
“Reflection will come to his aid,” replied the orphan; then, approving my refusal, he will find the courage to overcome an inclination that reason condemns; he will also think of his mother, whose rest he must above all respect.
The consent she gives him in this circumstance is obviously a painful sacrifice which he cannot accept without betraying his duty. Woe to the child who saddens the heart of her who gave birth to him! and woe also to the imprudent who dares to take advantage of her blindness! a union formed under such auspices would only disturb my life. »
Here the orphan stopped, her emotion betraying the painful efforts of her soul, and yet the feeling of duty exercised such power in her that she soon resumed with firmness, looking at her companion:
“Cécile, I cannot hide from you the pain I feel: it is possible that this union would have made me happy; but I have to give it up. I therefore charge you to declare my refusal to M. Derban; tell him that poor Louise, brought up in a hospital, and not knowing to whom she belongs, will never agree to associate him with her abandonment and her poverty. This resolution is unshakable; any attempt to make me change it would be useless. I count on your friendship to spare me struggles which would have no other result than to afflict me. Spare me also in the future any importunate encounter: when reason and conscience impose a sacrifice on us, it must be accomplished without weakness; and I am resolved to flee the presence of Mr. Derban until he is engaged in the bonds of marriage. »
After these words, Louise left, leaving Cécile as if petrified. Until then the excellent girl, blinded by her heart, had seen only the seductive side of the proposed union, and very nearly in the bitterness of her regrets she taxed the noble feelings with obstinacy. of his companion. Soon, however, the reflection reached her, and the reasons for refusal given by Louise took on in her own eyes a character of gravity which had not struck her at first.
She understood that if already the inequality of conditions, like that of fortune, becomes
often a source of trouble and disunity in families, much more so the exceptional situation of his young friend could cause him a host of even more significant sorrows; and from then on she promised herself that she would no longer insist on making her change her resolution. But how to announce to Mr. Derban that his wishes have been rejected? This was the subject of great anxiety for the good Cécile. We know what admiration, what gratitude she had for the man who had twice saved her life; so she spent the rest of the night looking for words that might soften the grief she was forced to cause him.
While she tormented herself thus, the orphan was no more tranquil; and it was hardly daylight when she went to church to ask God to sustain her in the midst of such a severe trial. She knew, moreover, that M. Derban was to come very early to Cécile's to find out the result of her request, and, not wishing to risk meeting him, she resolved to spend the whole morning away from the office. open.
Alas! there are very painful hours in life! our poor Louise felt it on this occasion. However, when she had spent a few moments at the foot of the altar, she found herself less oppressed: prayer is for the pious soul like a gentle dew which vivifies it; so one cannot too much pity the unfortunate deprived of such help on the day of affliction.
This help was so effective for the orphan, that on leaving the holy place, not yet daring to rejoin her friend, she had the courage to go to a store very far from her home, where she had been called the watch to entrust him with various works.
She had been there about an hour, when an elegantly dressed woman alighted from a brilliant carriage, and entered the same house with a deliberate step. Draped in a magnificent cashmere, and surrounded by a swarm of clerks running to meet her, this woman passed majestically in front of the humble worker without noticing her.
"She's one of our best customers," whispered to the latter the young girl at the counter charged with distributing the work; to see his expenses, one would really believe that all the mines of Peru belong to him; but in vain she lavishes gold, affects great airs, she is none the better for that: she is a person of ill repute, who associates with people of her kind. Moreover, as she pays cash, we welcome her eagerly at the store, that's all clear. »
Louise made no reply on this subject: she had recognized Julie in the elegant woman of whom she had been so bitterly criticized; Desiring to escape his gaze, she hastened to finish with the young merchant, and went out. Nevertheless, this unexpected encounter troubled her painfully. While lamenting the fate of her former companion, who probably bought opulence only at the price of dishonor, she made a sad comeback on herself, and the sacrifice she had imposed on herself by refusing the hand of M. Derban then seemed to her so painful that for a moment she was violently tempted to reconsider her generous resolution.
It must be said, the human heart is subject to very strange variations: it seems that its destiny is to fight incessantly against itself. Already our Louise had had to combat her inclinations many times, and always her reason as her piety had made her triumph over it; she again triumphed over it on this occasion. After dwelling for a few moments on the advantages of the union offered to her, she again considered all the reasons for refusal which prudence and delicacy had suggested to her, and said to herself:
“No, no, I will not bring trouble and disunity to an honorable family, I will not hinder the future of the generous man who saved my life; I will not expose him to blush at his choice, perhaps to regret it... Providence wanted me to be poor, obscure, neglected by my family: if I must obey it, I must bear my fate as it is. that it is ; God will give me the courage: is he not the support of those who invoke him with confidence? »
It was thus speaking to herself that the orphan reached her home. When she arrived there, M. Derban had just left Cécile, who had remained alone in her room; and the two friends were so disturbed on seeing each other again, that neither of them could at first articulate a single word. Louise, however, ended up overcoming this emotion, and said to her companion: "From the traces of sorrow that I see in your features, my good Cécile, I judge that everything is over, that you have fulfilled the office of a generous friendship ; I thank you. Now let us both spare the details of an interview which must have been very painful; tell me only if I can hope that no attempt
will henceforth be made to shake my resolve.
"M. Derban is leaving in a few days," answered Cecile in a changed voice. I had to invoke his mother's name several times to determine him for this departure, which seems to me necessary for his rest and yours. Finally he decided on it, and I think that if later he returns to Paris, it is because then he will be married according to the wishes of his family. »
After these words, the two friends were silent, and from that moment both refrained from pronouncing the name of their liberator.
Since then, too, Louise's character took on a more serious, graver tone, without, however, her usual gentleness being altered. The accomplishment of a difficult duty is a test which strengthens the soul instead of bringing it down: once it has entered the path of virtue, it overcomes the difficulties, or at least becomes accustomed to them; leaning on God, she walks, she advances, however tired she may be; and the nearer she approaches the goal, the more her sorrow softens.
Thus the young worker, by refusing an alliance which would have removed her from her obscurity, had immolated her tastes, her most intimate feelings, and after her refusal all that remained to her in perspective was an isolated life and the continual obligation of work; but from this very situation were born for her powerful consolations: she had restored peace to a respectable family; she had ensured the well-being of the man who wanted to sacrifice everything to her; she had finally earned the esteem of good people, and, for a soul truly attached to its duties, these are considerations which can bear many evils. So Louise endured hers with unfailing courage: faithful to her generous resolution, she forbade herself any complaint, any useless recrimination, and her friend herself was always unaware of what it cost her in efforts to to show that calm, that equanimity that everyone admired.
For the rest, fleeing in good faith from thoughts which might sadden her heart, she resumed her reading with new eagerness; and, as before, she found there a thousand charms.
There is still another kind of pleasure which a soul like his was well worthy to taste. Thanks to her skill and to a severe economy, she had again succeeded in deducting from her earnings the part of poverty, and each benefit which she thus distributed was a real alleviation for her troubles. Ah! when tribulations strike us, when sad realities come to replace disappointing illusions, if we have the possibility of doing some good, let us not be discouraged: charity opens to us a source of enjoyment that satiety cannot attain; the more you taste them, the more you crave them.
It was therefore above all through good works, through the exercise of this touching virtue which the goodness of the Creator has placed in our souls like a foretaste of celestial joys, that Louise succeeded in overcoming her sadness. One uneasiness remained to her, however: she wanted to make sure whether M. Derban had complied with her mother's wishes, and dared not question Cécile on this point, although she assumed she had been informed of what interested him.
Finally one evening, finding herself alone with her, and noticing in his features a despondency which seemed to come from a secret pain rather than from physical suffering, she ventured, for the first time since her refusal, to pronounce the name of the doctor, and ask if he was married.
"He's not yet," Cecile replied with a sigh, "but soon...in a week, I think."
"In a week it will be Saint-Louis," said the orphan; it will also be the anniversary of the day I was abandoned by my parents. Is it then on this date that M. Derban fixed his marriage?
— Yes, precisely. Do we understand that he could have chosen her?
- Why not? Dispatches the orphan; God wills it that way no doubt, so that during this day I will remember even better that he is my only support, my only hope on earth... Until then, my dear Cécile, let us try to deserve, by complete resignation to his will, that he hear the prayers that we must address to him for our liberator. »
After these words she was silent, and wasted no time in leaving her friend, who herself seemed to wish not to prolong this topic of discussion. It must be admitted, the good Cécile, while approving the reasons given by her young companion, while admiring the delicacy of feelings which had determined her refusal, could not be consoled to see her lose such an honorable establishment, and little She was far from making it a crime for M. Derban to have yielded so soon to the wishes of his family. It is thus too often that our purest affections, when we do not know how to give them just limits, can mislead our judgment and lead us to injustice.
As for Louise, her thoughts were very different. No doubt she suffered at the bottom of her heart; but she blessed Heaven for having enlightened her, for having given her the courage to act according to reason, and, far from blaming the conduct of the generous Derban, she esteemed him more, and ardently wished that he would find in his next union all the happiness of which he was worthy.
A benefit is never lost.
Finally the Saint-Louis has arrived. On that day, all the young girls who made up the workroom used to celebrate the orphan. So in the morning they set off to complete the preparations begun the day before. Cecile would have liked to be able to stop the noisy expression of their joy; for she foresaw how painful these demonstrations would be for her friend at such a time. But the latter, having guessed her intention, begged her not to
not to disturb the pleasure that their pupils promised themselves, and to let them act in complete freedom. Only she escaped before admitting them to her, and went to a nearby church, where she went every day before starting her work.
It was only eight o'clock when she left the holy place. As she crossed the porch, several poor people surrounded her; she eagerly distributed the contents of her purse to them, and she had scarcely taken a hundred paces in the street, when she saw another unfortunate woman whose eyes seemed to implore her compassion, without her mouth daring to formulate a request. The features of this woman announced more honesty than distinction; but the suffering was imprinted there in such a touching manner, that the orphan, yielding to the impulse of her heart, approached her at once, and asked her if she could be useful to him.
“A little bread, please! then said the stranger in a heartrending voice; since yesterday morning I haven't taken anything, and I feel that my strength is exhausted.
Unfortunate! follow me ; my home is near here, I will take you there. »
At the same time, the charitable girl holds out her hand to the destitute, sustains her tottering steps, and thus leads her to the door of the workroom. Cécile runs up with the students; the work room is carpeted with flowers, an excellent lunch is served there: it is the feast of friendship.
"Thank you," said Louise effusively, looking at her friend and her companions; then, hurrying to seat the poor woman at her side, she offers her some food, and sees with joy her features revive.
" My God ! I give you thanks! whispers the stranger; you did not want to let your poor creature perish of hunger; you sent her an angel who led her to a hospitable table, and Saint-Louis' day is no longer an unhappy day for me...
— No, no, exclaimed all the pupils at once, it is, on the contrary, a very fine day; it is the birthday of our dear mistress. Long live Louise! long live our good, our excellent friend! »
At the same time they surround the orphan, they kiss her tenderly. The latter receives with delight these touching testimonies of affection; Then wanting these young girls to amuse themselves freely, she leads the stranger, after lunch, to an adjoining room, and then inquires with the sweetest benevolence of her situation.
“Oh! first of all allow me, said the unfortunate woman, her eyes bathing in tears, that I thank you for your compassionate welcome; Heaven will reward you for it; he is never deaf to the prayer of the poor; all the days of my life I will ask him to bless you, to fill you with his most precious favors. »
While pronouncing these words, she affectionately takes the hand of her young benefactress, the
press with the deepest gratitude; then suddenly, casting her eyes on the ring which the orphan habitually wears, she remains seized with astonishment, examines with attention the shape of this jewel, the number with which it is adorned, and seems prey to extraordinary agitation.
“What is the matter with you, madam? asks Louise, who herself is beginning to be very moved by this strange scene.
- That I have ? Alas! it may just be an illusion; but, in the name of Heaven, tell me where this ring comes from?
'It's been twenty-two years since she was found hanging from my neck by my nurse . . . so I had just been born.
"Finish!" who was this nurse?
— The wife of a gardener then living in the rue Rochechouart.
"Who entrusted you to his care?"
— An unknown woman deposited me one evening in her arms, handed her the sum of five hundred francs, then disappeared, announcing that she would return in a few days; but this promise she did not keep.
"And that was August 25, wasn't it?" replied the stranger quickly; you were wrapped in amaranth-colored Indian cashmere; the purse in which the five hundred francs were kept bore a figure similar to that of the ring?
- No more doubt! here cried the orphan; the mystery of my birth is known to you; Speak, I implore you! Who are you?
“I am the unfortunate woman who placed you in the hands of this woman; at this moment fear led me astray, I was afraid of being pursued; you had to save yourself from the hands of a cruel enemy.
"And my mother, what has become of her?" interrupts Louise in the most painful anxiety.
- My God! I don't know, resumes the stranger, shedding tears; we were violently separated, because I served her with too much affection.. . Since then I have sought it in vain, and so have you, poor child! for your abandonment weighed on my heart like remorse. »
As she finished these words, the poor woman seemed entirely exhausted by the violence of her emotion. Louise herself, unable to help her, was obliged to call her friend, to whom she explained what had just happened.
When the stranger had recovered some strength, she understood with what impatience the orphan waited for new light on her family, and she then told the story that we are about to read.
"Before talking to you about what interests you," she said to her, "permit me, Mademoiselle, to enter into a few details which will explain to you how I was called upon to know of your mother's misfortune." At the time when I saw her, I myself had just experienced great afflictions: death had taken my husband and my children away from me; like today, I was in the most dreadful poverty, and my only resource consisted in the position of nurse, which I had exercised for a long time, but which I had seen myself forced to abandon to devote myself to the care of my family.
“Fearing, then, that I would not be able to take advantage of this profession soon enough to save myself from need, I resolved to seek, in the meantime, employment in some wealthy house, and I had recourse to an employment office, where I went to register. I was about to leave this office when a man of about fifty, perfectly dressed, presented himself there. He said his name was M. de Nervin, and asked if they could find him without delay a trustworthy person who could be both maid and nurse. I hastened to offer him my services. He immediately examined me attentively, asked me various questions about my family, my relations; and when he had learned of my complete isolation, as well as my sad situation, he consented to take me, granted me a few moments to fetch the few effects which remained to me, and took me away, after having generously paid the double salary of the agent with whom our treaty was made.
“My eagerness to take advantage of this position, which in my distress I looked upon as a blessing from Heaven, had not yet allowed me to notice the hardness of my new master's features; I was only struck by it when I found myself opposite him in the cab which was taking us away. Then his countenance, usually gloomy and severe, inspired me with a kind of fear which suddenly altered my joy. He no doubt noticed the disagreeable impression he produced; for I thought I saw his pale, thin lips twitch under a bitter smile, which he suppressed, however, by asking me new questions which I answered as best I could.
“He then asked me my name; I told him my name was Elisabeth Duval. Then he resumed:
“It is my niece you are going to serve; your stay with her will bring you nothing
painful, if you know how to conform to the retirement habits she has adopted. Although still very young, she is under the weight of an irremediable misfortune: her husband has just perished on a battlefield; she is close to being a mother, and sometimes abandons herself to fits of despair which alter her reason. Often you will hear him articulate absurd complaints, create a thousand chimeras, and accuse the very people who have the most real interest in him... But these sad hallucinations will only last for a while, I hope; his deliverance will bring about some happy change in so deplorable a situation. Until then your only occupation will be to serve her with zeal and to give me an exact account of her actions, even of her speeches, so that I may better follow the various periods of the mental illness with which she is affected... If you faithfully fulfill my orders on this point, I will increase your wages, and you will even be able, if your services are prolonged, to obtain thereafter a reward which will put you above the need. »
“Such promises,” Elisabeth continued, “were no doubt very attractive, especially in the position in which I found myself; and yet what I had just heard had so broken my heart, the man who was in front of me had something so strange and so mysterious about his whole person, that I was on the point of breaking off my engagement. Alas! the thought of the misery into which I was about to fall again stopped this movement.
'After all,' I said to myself, 'if it's only a question of caring for a distressed and sick woman, it won't be difficult; for, better than anyone else, I will know how to sympathize with the grief of the poor lady, and my care will perhaps alleviate her sufferings.
“While I was making these reflections inwardly, we arrived at the end of the Faubourg Poissonnière; the cab turned into a deserted street, then stopped in front of a house which looked rather handsome, but all the shutters of which were closed; the door opened; we went down.
“I cannot tell you what a feeling of vague terror I once again experienced when, the car having left, I heard the heavy door through which I had entered close behind me. The courtyard which we had to cross to reach the main building was very large; but grass was growing everywhere; a deathly silence reigned in the house, and the face of the servant who had ushered in was more repulsive, even more sinister than that of the master. The latter gave him his orders in a low voice; then, having led me through the left wing of the building, the view of which overlooked a vast garden, he led me at last to my mistress's apartment.
“. O Mademoiselle, continued the good Duval, it is here that I would like to be able to describe to you what passed in me at the sight of this unfortunate woman: her beauty, her youth, her mourning clothes, the profound dejection in which she seemed plunged Everything about her inspired me with so much interest that I immediately felt disposed to serve her with the greatest devotion.
“When we entered, she was seated, her head resting on one of her hands. Her eyes, laden with tears, barely rose; only I thought I saw in her features a movement of repulsion when M. de Nervin advanced towards her.
“Edma,” he said to her, “here is a woman whom I place at your service; I desire that it suit you, and that it diminishes by its care your sufferings and your sadness. »
“He seemed to be waiting for an answer; not having received any, he turned away angrily and went out. A fairly long silence followed his departure; I was banned. Finally I ventured to ask my mistress's orders, and I did so in the most respectful tone.
" Orders! she said bitterly, I have nothing to give in this house, where I am a prisoner. »
“At the same time she looked up at me; my air apparently did not displease her, for she went on: "If, however, you want to arrange this room a little, you will oblige me." »
“Everything, in fact, was around her in great confusion: several scattered trunks announced a recent arrival, and the furniture, although very beautiful, was covered with dust. So I hastened to put everything in order. While I was finishing this work, the servant whom I had already seen came to ask my mistress if she would like us to serve her: she replied with a careless gesture; he nevertheless brought his dinner, placed it in front of her, and left. At my request, she consented to take a little food; then, when she had finished this light meal, she kindly told me to take mine; but she was silent the rest of the day, and did not cease to cry.
"It was truly a heartbreaking sight to see this unfortunate woman under the weight
of such pain, and I would have given anything to dare to offer him some consolation.
“Until then, however, nothing in her announced to me the symptoms of bewilderment of which M. de Nervin had spoken to me; it was a deep affliction, with which there was no sign of insanity mingled: so from that moment I suspected that they had sought to deceive me as to the moral state of my poor mistress.
“In the evening, when I had undressed her, she knelt down and prayed with a contemplation that made my tears flow; his action, so pious and so calm at the same time, added to my doubts still more: I had none more the following days, because I recognized that this being so interesting enjoyed an entire lucidity, and I promised myself then of all put into use to discover the cause of the absurd lie that had been told to me.
"I first tried to make the species of Cerberus who brought us our food speak: he sometimes showed himself to be a little less harsh in the relations of the service we had together, and one evening I dared to venture to make him a question; but he had scarcely understood my intention, when, looking at me with a gloomy air:
" - What ! my dear, he said to me, are you talkative and curious? Oh! of that brood, you see, we don't need any here. You are paid to serve and be silent; obey or renounce in your place, which however is not to be despised, you know it well.
“The tone that this brute took in pronouncing this speech froze me with such fear that I did not have the courage to reply a single word to him. He left me delighted, no doubt, with the effect he had produced, and since then all talk between us ceased.
"On the other hand, M. de Nervin never appeared at my mistress's house, and the latter, in the overwhelm of her grief, showed herself so reserved towards me that it became impossible for me to penetrate the mystery which surrounded him. surrounded. Although she treated me with great kindness, it was evident that she believed me to be devoted to her enemy, and, I confess, such suspicion affected me sensibly.
“Finally, one day when we had walked for quite a long time in the garden without her addressing a single word to me, my heart was so swollen that, on the way up, I retired to my room to await her orders; she came to find me there half an hour later, and noticed that I was shedding tears.
"Poor woman," she said to me immediately, "are you crying too?" »
“I was close to answering him that his mistrust was at the moment causing my grief; but, on reflection, I preferred to attribute it only to my misfortunes, and I said to him:
“For a long time already, Madame, sadness and I have not left each other; I have seen my husband and my children go down to the tomb, and I have no other consolation left than to think of them. »
“Then the noble woman approached me; her whole body was throbbing, and she cried out with a
heartrending voice: “And I, too, have lost the husband I cherished; my happiness vanished like a vain phantom, and the maternal joys which I glimpsed were transformed into frightful tortures..."
“These thoughts made her so shaky that she had to sit up. I placed myself at his feet, and finally dared to express to him the keen interest I took in his pain. She doubtless believed in the sincerity of my words; for, after having listened to me, she looked at me again, saying:
“No, no, falsity cannot have this language or this accent; it is that of the heart. Elisabeth, I believe you: if you deceived me, you would be a monster, and everything in you, on the contrary, announces a soul as honest as it is compassionate. »
"From that moment, which made me very happy, my mistress was completely at ease
with me, and this change, I cannot doubt, brought some alleviation to his troubles.
“Soon she asked me if, by placing me in her service, I had been allowed the freedom to go out sometimes. I replied that, far from it, I had been given orders not to leave her for a single moment; but that, if she wished, I would allege a pretext for obtaining permission. She urged me to do so, and I presented myself to this effect before M. de Nervin. Alas! I had barely expressed my desire when his scrutinizing gaze fell on me, and made me lose all my confidence.
Didn't you tell me, he said to me in a severe tone, that you have neither relatives nor friends left, and that you will easily conform to our habits of retirement? So what does this whim mean? No serious business can call you out. If you need anything, make a note, we'll bring you what you ask for; as for going out, they are absolutely forbidden to you for the moment; see if it suits you. »
“While he spoke to me thus, reflection came to my aid; I recovered a little, and managed to persuade him that my mistress had nothing to do with the desire I had just expressed. Softening then, he sought to captivate me with the lure of gain, and by paying me the month's wages he owed me, he added a gratuity with which I showed myself very satisfied. My other answers to his questions about his niece having then made him believe that I was "always fooled by the lie he had told me, he was completely reassured, and left me, promising me new profits.
“When I told my unfortunate mistress of the refusal I had just experienced, she said to me, turning pale:
" I expected that! then, clasping her hands in despair, she exclaimed: "My poor child!" how to save it?
"What! Madam, I asked her immediately, would you have anything to fear for him?
" - All ! dear Elisabeth, everything! she resumed quickly. The man who keeps me prisoner here was the husband of an aunt who bequeathed me considerable property which he was to inherit in turn if I died childless. This fatal disposition has made him harbor a hatred for me which he tries in vain to conceal under the appearance of an affection to which my inexperience at first confided. Struck in what I held most dear, a prey to the most dreadful despair after the death of my unfortunate husband, I did not see the traps with which the greedy Nervin surrounded me; I believed in his compassion, in his feigned solicitude, and he took advantage of my blindness to remove me to the places where I was born, in order to be able later to secure my poor child more easily. Of himself, perhaps, he would not go so far as to commit such a crime; but the miserable Arnoult, who is in his service, governs it entirely: it is he who formed the terrible project that Providence made me discover; I heard this man advise his master to abandon the unfortunate being to whom I must give birth to the hospital, and the complete isolation in which I have been kept since our arrival in this place proves to me sufficiently that this horrible plan will be carried out, if first I do not find some way to escape so much iniquity. »
"My poor mistress," Elisabeth continued, "could not finish these words without breaking heart-rending sobs; but I see, Mademoiselle, that this story causes you too painful emotions, allow me to suspend it until you have the strength to hear it to the end. »
Louise, indeed, was in a state which we will not attempt to describe. However, she insisted that the good Duval should continue her story; the latter obeys.
'I would like,' she went on, 'to be able to spare you the picture of your unfortunate mother's anguish; but I owe you a faithful account of the motives which made me act. The danger was pressing: she had to be reassured or see her succumb under the weight of her pains, her fears, which grew every minute; and, without yet knowing how I would go about it, I promised to save you, even at the risk of my life.
a From then on I sought to form a plan for myself, and above all I invoked God, who condescended to lend me his assistance.
“The next evening, having gone downstairs, still occupied with the same thought, in a kind of shed where I put water to cool, I was surprised to hear very distinctly from the place where I was barking which was not those of the dog who served as guard at the house. Struck by this circumstance, I approached the place from which the cries seemed to come from. Obviously they came from outside, and the shed leaning on the surrounding wall, which was very high and very thick, I did not understand how these same cries reached my ears so easily.
There was barely enough light left for me to be able to make out the objects around me; the side of the shed which attracted my attention was moreover encumbered with a mass of tree branches which, to all appearance, had been there for a very long time. However, impelled by a kind of instinct, I hastened to disturb some of these branches, and, having slipped against the part of the wall which I had just laid bare, my hand wandered there and met there a door. It was locked, but the key was in the lock; and the dog, which scratched and barked on the other side with redoubled fury, confirmed my idea that this door gave on to the street which skirted the garden. In my joy, I was about to open it; then, fearing to be surprised by Arnoult, I contented myself with taking the key; and, having carefully put the branches back in the place they had previously occupied, I left the shed, promising myself to return there the next morning, as soon as our jailer, who locked us up every evening, had set me free.
“You can guess how moved I was when I returned to my dear mistress. Nevertheless, as she had been experiencing a redoubled suffering for several days, I dared not share my discovery with her for fear of giving her false hope. When I had left it, I gave myself up again to my conjectures, and all of them persuaded me that this secret door, hitherto remained hidden from M. de Nervin and his worthy servant, was a means of deliverance which Heaven gave us. had spared.
“To say with what impatience I awaited the morrow would be impossible for me; the hope of saving my mistress made my heart palpitate so much that I could not sleep for a single minute.
“Finally the day appeared. Having risen silently, I went to see the one who was at that moment the sole object of my thoughts. She was not asleep, and I even found her in such agitation that a thousand fears suddenly assailed me. However, the moment having come to show courage, I first gave all the care necessary to the poor lady; then, when I was able to get out, I went down to the shed, where I saw with happiness that all my conjectures were justified: the door, which I opened this time, led into an entirely deserted alley, and nothing was so easy as to go out without being seen, if I could bring my mistress that far.
“Having therefore put everything in order, I hastened to go up to her, and hid nothing from her. In her joy, she kissed me effusively, then she tried to get up; but she was seized at the same moment by such violent pains, that any attempt to make her escape then became absolutely impossible.
"God does not want it," she said to me in a voice that tore my heart, "I feel that I am going to become a mother... will have emerged; knowing him out of the hands of his enemies will give me courage to join him soon. »
“Distraught, but resolved to try everything to obey him, I formed the plan from then on, of which I could not, alas! put only half in execution.
“Before entering service I had heard of an excellent nanny living at the top of rue Rochechouart. The proximity of his residence, which I knew perfectly well, could favor my enterprise, if the event which came to surprise us remained hidden from our jailers.
“Fortunately, a few days ago, my mistress had ordered Arnoult, whose sight was odious to him, to deposit the food he brought us in an adjoining room, where I was going to receive it; and M. de Nervin rarely daring to appear before his victim, we enjoyed complete freedom within the interior of the apartment.
“Nevertheless, I was a prey to mortal anxieties: on the one hand the sufferings of my unfortunate mistress, on the other the obstacles which could prevent the execution of our plans, finally the fear which inspired in me for myself the enemies of this angelic woman sometimes threw me into such trouble that my head was in real chaos.
“However, I took all the necessary precautions. My mistress possessed the sum of a thousand francs in gold; she gave me half of it, which we intended for the nurse, and then we waited for the event.
“It went much better than I dared to hope. God allowed your courageous mother to give birth to you, Mademoiselle, without any untoward accident occurring. I waved you, and then put you back in his arms. She looked at you for a few moments, shedding tears in which all the tenderness and all the maternal pain were mingled; then, having been blessed and pressed to her bosom, she hung around your neck this ring which made me recognize you, and made a sign to me to take you away.
“Oh! without the hope of rejoining you soon, the unfortunate woman would never have had the strength to accomplish such a terrible sacrifice; and even with this hope, since so cruelly deceived, I do not know how she was capable of it.
“I felt all his anguish, but you had to save yourself; the hour was favourable; darkness was beginning to spread, and our jailers, suspecting nothing, were at table at the moment. So I went down with you, having taken the precaution of wrapping you in your mother's shawl; and when I had crossed the secret door, I began to run with such rapidity that I arrived panting at the nurse's.
“Few words were enough for this woman to make her understand what I expected of her; I handed him the purse containing the five hundred francs, and immediately escaped to return where duty called me.
“I will not tell you what were the new fears that assailed me at the moment of returning to M. de Nervin. About to open the secret door, I wondered if it would not be wiser to first go and inform some magistrate; but I thought at the same time of the state in which I had left my unfortunate mistress, of her mortal anxieties, if I delayed in reassuring her about her dear daughter; and this thought carrying it in my heart, I opened hastily, and went up close to her without having been noticed.
“When she saw me, she held out her arms to me, and this mute testimony of gratitude was a thousand times more precious to me than all the thanks she could have given me. Fearing, however, that her strong emotion might become harmful to her, I begged her earnestly to calm down, and then I endeavored to confirm her hopes.
“My good and dear mistress, I said to her, take courage, in a few days you will see this child again, whose absence makes your tears flow; it is in safe hands; nothing untoward can happen to him, and, on the other hand, your enemies do not suspect the means of deliverance which is at your disposal; to enjoy it sooner, drive out of your mind any sad thought; think only of recovering. “She listened to me, and a few moments later she fell into such a deep sleep that she did not hear our jailer when he came to lock us up.
“The night that followed was perfectly calm. Thanks to a long practice of my profession, I was able to give all the necessary care to my interesting patient, and the desire to join you supported her so powerfully, that a few days later she said to me:
“Let us hesitate no longer, dear Elisabeth, I implore you; everything can be discovered from one moment to another; and my poor child, what would become of her if our captivity were prolonged? Ah! this thought is awful! to bear it any longer would be impossible for me. Let's flee, snatch me from here; God will give me the strength to follow you, and, if necessary, I will invoke the support of the laws to save my daughter from my cruel enemy. »
“This resolution was too much in accord with my own wishes for me not to lend myself to seconding it with all my power. Your mother, moreover, reassured me by her courage, and we decided to escape that very evening. But unfortunately! a single moment suffices to overthrow all our plans, to ruin all our hopes, and that horrible moment I still cannot recall without shuddering.
“The hour had come when our jailers used to take their meal; I had used all the precautions indicated by prudence, I believed myself sure that we could cross the staircase without being seen, when at the moment when we were about to leave the apartment, a knock struck outside came to us. freeze in terror.
“My mistress recoiled, telling me to open; I obeyed, and M. de Nervin appeared, holding a light. Approaching then his victim, he remained silent at first with astonishment; then seizing the hand of the unfortunate:
"What happened here?" where is your child? "'Away from your hatred,' she answered with a firmness of which I assuredly did not believe her capable. You were awaiting her birth to take away her rights, to snatch her from my tenderness and abandon her to abandonment: God, by saving her, spared you this atrocious crime; and now what do you want? what do you claim? My wealth? Well ! it is entirely in your hands; keep it, I undertake not to claim anything from it as long as you live; at this price restore my freedom, and from the bosom of my misery I will still be able to forgive you the odious abuse you have made of my confidence. »
“The noble woman had uttered these words in a tone so dignified and at the same time so heartrending, that her persecutor remained for a few moments as if overwhelmed under the weight of shame; soon, however, turning towards me eyes sparkling with fury, he was perhaps going to some extremity, when your courageous mother, throwing herself between us, exclaimed indignantly:
"What! Would you have the cowardice to take it out on this woman, and, after having made her a prisoner like me, make her also responsible for my actions? Once again I declare to you that the salvation of my child is due to the goodness of God. Question then, if you dare, this divine protector; he alone will henceforth know the fate of the innocent victim whom your horrible greed coveted..."
“The unfortunate could not finish these words without shedding tears. His enemy dared not reply to him; but, having rung his worthy valet, he showed him the apartment with minute care, then double-locked the door of the closet which I had occupied until then, took the key, and, after ordering Arnould to establish himself in the antechamber, he withdrew.
“I then hastened to put my poor mistress to bed, whose situation broke my heart. She kindly received the testimonies of my lively affection; but in the grip of despair, she murmured incessantly:
" My daughter ! my beloved daughter! I thought I was saving her, and I lost her. My God, don't give up! »
“I tried to make him hear a few words of consolation, and promised to try everything to escape me in order to watch over you. This promise seemed to restore some calm to her, and she demanded that I take upon myself at once the little gold she had left. She also authorized me, in case I could regain my freedom, to make my deposition before a magistrate; but at the moment when she was about to give me all the instructions necessary to support my revelations, the infamous Arnould, who no doubt then had consulted with his master, suddenly opened the door and ordered me to follow him.
" Oh ! Miss ! continued the good Duval, that moment will remain forever etched in my memory; because I guessed that they were going to separate me from my dear mistress, and this thought annihilated me... Overwhelmed, I wanted to resist the wretch: abusing his strength, he pushed me roughly out of the room making me atrocious threats. , and he led me to the other side of the house where he locked me up.
“I will not tell you of my sufferings during the three days that followed; they are nothing compared to those which your excellent mother must have experienced; and I would abstain
even to mention the persecutions which I then had to undergo, if I did not make a point of showing you the impossibility where I was to acquit the promise which I had made to him in relation to you. Ah! at least, if I could not save you from abandonment, I had the courage to resist your enemies. After having vainly tried every means of seduction towards me, they had recourse to the most odious treatment to tear from me the secret which it was in their interest to discover, and, seeing at last that nothing would persuade me to speak, they made me take a narcotic drink, and thus succeeded in transporting me thirty myriameters from Paris, to an isolated house, where no help could reach me.
“There one of their accomplices undertook to keep me prisoner, and he was the only human being I saw in this dreadful solitude. They had taken from me the gold of which my mistress had made me the depositary, and everything proved to me that the intention of these criminal men was to sequester me forever, in order thus to ensure impunity.
“I must say, however, that the unworthy treatment which they had at first used towards me was greatly softened when I was in the hands of Armand, my new jailer; apart from his passive obedience to the master, whom he served, this man had nothing cruel in his character, and during all the time that I was in his power, I had to complain only of the deprivation of my freedom. But this privation was unbearable to me; lacking all religious consolation, all support and all advice, constantly in the presence of my sad memories, I abandoned myself to grief; my health deteriorated; my organs weakened, and little by little I fell into a kind of idiocy.
“However disorderly my ideas were, there was one that I never entirely lost sight of, it was that of my deliverance. I remember that she
followed in all the walks that Armand allowed me to take around the solitary pavilion he had assigned me as a prison, and that I found her again even in my dreams.
“On the other hand, since I had fallen into this miserable state, which made me look like a poor idiot, my guardian had relaxed a great deal in his supervision; he clearly saw that I could no longer harm his master, since the almost continual incoherence of my speeches would naturally have destroyed the effect of my revelations; and, be it pity or carelessness, if he did not set me entirely free, he at least extended the limits of my prison enough for me at last to find the occasion to escape.
“To tell you what I became immediately after recovering my freedom would be impossible for me; because the disease which I was experiencing the first attacks suddenly made such progress, that its duration forms a gap in my memories: I only know that I was taken to a hospital where I was treated with great care, and where they succeeded in curing me.
“Afterwards, unable to earn my living, because my long sufferings had destroyed my strength, I entered, to save me from misery, the house of a charitable woman who was willing to feed me in exchange for my weak services, and this It was thus, Mademoiselle, that the years passed without my knowing your fate.
“Nevertheless, I wrote several letters to your nurse; all went unanswered. I also made my statement to a magistrate in the small town where I lived; but your unfortunate mother, in giving me her confidence so belatedly, had told me neither her surname nor her country, and it was, as you know, at the moment when she was about to give me these various instructions that the I had been abruptly torn away from her; so that I could not give my revelations a sufficiently authentic character to direct the research. It was only known that the house in Paris that I was referring to had, in fact, been inhabited for a few months by an individual named de Nervin; but this man, after having paid a year's rent, had left the house never to return, and, no one being interested in following in his footsteps, no one knew what had become of him.
“Poor and without any support, I could therefore not continue with the steps that the authorities themselves believed should be suspended. However, I did not stop thinking of my good mistress, as well as of you, and my first care on arriving in Paris a month ago was to go and find out about your nurse, rue Rochechouart: no one knows her. knew ; I myself had become a stranger in the midst of all these new faces, and no one took pity on my troubles. Vainly I tried to create some occupation for myself; my rags and my sixty years made me push back on all sides: when adversity pursues us until this age, it is almost always without remedy. God has deigned, however, to give me great consolation by making me meet you, Mademoiselle; now that he has just granted my most ardent wish, I feel a new courage, and I no longer despair of one day finding my good and dear mistress. »
There is a divine power in heaven, an assiduous companion of religion and virtue; she helps us to endure life, embarks with us to show us the port in storms, equally gentle and helpful to the famous traveler, to the unknown passenger. Although his eyes are covered with a blindfold, his gaze penetrates the future; sometimes she holds budding flowers in her hand, sometimes a goblet full of an enchanting liquor; nothing comes close to the charm of her voice, the grace of her smile... Faith and Charity say to her: My sister! and her name is Hope.
Chateaubriand, The Martyrs.
We will not attempt to describe the heartbreaking emotions that Louise experienced during the story we have just read; there are feelings that one weakens by trying to paint them, and the young girl herself would have been incapable of translating what was going on in her soul at the time. However, one thought dominated there, that of trying everything, of undertaking everything to discover her unfortunate mother, and when she had testified her deep gratitude to the faithful Elisabeth, she asked her if, according to her old depositions, they had made a investigation in the place from which she had escaped.
“I don't think,” replied the woman, “that the research was very accurate: at that time, my poor head was still very weak, and I distinctly remembered only the house in Paris where you were born, Mademoiselle; Even today, it would be impossible for me to specify the place where Armand held me prisoner. However, by collecting my memories and the circumstances of my admission to the hospital, which have since been faithfully reported to me, I believe I can affirm that it was in the department of the Ardennes, near Givet: it is at least near this town I was found giving signs of insanity. I was told that I seemed overwhelmed with need as well as fatigue, and when they asked me where I came from, I turned my gaze towards the chain of rocks which borders the Meuse, going up towards Fumay. Long afterwards I also remembered a small chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin where I had stopped for a few moments in my flight: I seem to still see her. It is located in the middle of a charming valley dominated by a fairly high mountain, on the plateau of which I believe I saw a mill. I cannot, however, be entirely sure of the truth of these details; for all that pertains to that disastrous period has remained confused in my memory.
"Do you at least think," asked Louise eagerly, "that it would be possible for you to recognize the places you have just described, if they presented themselves to your sight?"
'Yes,' Elisabeth went on, 'and I also think I'd recognize the isolated house where Armand kept me prisoner.
"And this man himself, do you remember his features?"
- Oh ! perfectly. Nor have I forgotten those of Arnoult; but where to find this wretch?
'Nothing is hidden from God,' replied the young girl. 'Let us therefore trust in his justice, in his goodness; he must bless the child who devotes himself to his mother, and I am resolved not to take any rest until I have found my own; tomorrow my steps will begin: can I count on you to assist them, my dear Elisabeth?
"You wouldn't doubt it for a moment!" cried the latter; your pious plan revives my courage, and I feel capable of undertaking anything for its success. »
Eight days after this interview, two modestly dressed women were descending the Meuse, below Charleville, in a large boat driven by an old sailor and his two
son. These enlivened their nautical labors with laughter and songs repeated by the echoes of the surroundings; but suddenly, at a sign from their father, they looked at the younger of the two women, and immediately their noisy gaiety ceased.
“Our father is right,” said one of them, “we must not interrupt this beautiful child; she seems to be praying softly, and that will bring us luck during the trip.
"Yes," replied the other; but, you see, Antoine, I would wager that there is sorrow in the soul of this young girl; look how sad she looks, and the old woman too.
"That's why we mustn't laugh or sing any more, as we were doing just now, without thinking about it," Antoine went on. It was not good; it is only bad hearts who dare to show their cheerfulness in front of people who are afflicted or who are suffering. »
After exchanging these few words, the two boatmen seemed to take no further notice of the passengers.
geuses, which the reader has no doubt already recognized.
It was, in fact, Madame Duval and Louise. The latter, while praying, as the honest sailor thought, furtively wiped away her tears from time to time, for a bitter grief overwhelmed her; she had just left the friend of her childhood, she had just for the first time moved away from the places where she had been brought up sheltered from the storms of the world; and however pressing the motive of her journey, she felt none the less that sadness, that immense emptiness, the inevitable consequence of all the separations in which the heart is interested.
“Good and dear Cécile,” she said in a low voice, “your thoughts follow me on this sad pilgrimage where everything up to now appears to me like a vast desert...; you mourn my absence, and yet, always devoted, always generous, far from combating my resolution, you encouraged it, you made the greatest sacrifices so that it could be accomplished. Oh! may Heaven, that you will implore
every day for your Louise, allow her to return soon to you with her mother!... My God, it is not greatness, riches, that I am asking of you; you taught me long ago how to find peace in the midst of poverty and work; but give me back that dear mother who has suffered so much! Have pity on her; May my care, my tenderness, give him a few more happy days! »
It is understandable that the pious child could not articulate such a confession without the lively emotion which she felt being produced on her expressive face, and never perhaps had sadness shown itself under more touching features.
Soon, however, the picturesque scenes which presented themselves to her eyes ended by distracting her from these painful thoughts. No one in general contemplates the beauties of nature with more delight than the inhabitant of the great cities. For him, fields, trees and flowers always have a new attraction; he savors with delight the fragrant air they bring him, and the rural sites, hardly noticed by the villager, are for the city-dweller magical pictures which astonish him, which electrify him, and bring him back to the idea of the Almighty, too often lost in the middle of the noise of the cities.
Doubtless this sublime thought did not need to be awakened in Louise's soul; but she felt it increase at the sight of the magnificence displayed to her eyes by the banks of the river she was traversing. Here are immense valleys, where nature has been pleased to spread all the variety of her riches; there lovely hills, on which could be seen through the trees elegant villas, pretty cottages, which seem to invite the weary traveler to rest. Everywhere silence, everywhere a deep, delicious peace that leads to contemplation.
“How happy the inhabitants of this country must be! said Louise to her companion, "and how I wish it were given to me to share their fate!"
'If they were questioned,' replied the latter, 'perhaps they would envy yours, Mademoiselle; for, you see, man here below is never content with his lot; his desires always go beyond what he possesses.
"It is impossible," resumed the young enthusiast, "that such a charming solitude should not fulfill the wishes of those who inhabit it: I feel at least that, if I were there with all those I love, life would have for me a thousand sweetnesses, whereas in Paris, even in the midst of darkness, it almost always has nothing but agitations: carried away ceaselessly by the torrent, it passes swiftly like it, without our enjoying it. »
This conversation was interrupted by a lively exclamation from Elisabeth: stretching out her hand, she showed Louise two chains of enormous rocks which could be seen in the distance, and towards which the boat was heading. Immediately guessing the thought of her companion, the young girl asked the old boatman, who was then at the helm, if in the vicinity of these rocks
he knew a chapel of the Blessed Virgin.
“There is one, in fact,” he answered, “which is very old; it is dedicated to Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours; but we are still very far from it, for it is situated in a valley beyond Fumay, where we shall not arrive until this evening.
"Could you tell me," resumed Louise, forcing herself to hide her emotion, "if this chapel is the only one in these parts, as far as Givet?"
“I know of no other; and I'm from the country. I used to go there very often to pray with my mother... Oh! it was good times then; the men had faith, and God blessed them.”
Here Elisabeth spoke, and asked the old man if he remembered having seen a mill near the chapel.
“In my youth there were none,” he resumed; since then he. about twenty years ago
five years, they built one that's way up on the hill; the path leading to it is above Fumay, a little to the right. »
After having given the two travelers this precious information, the old boatman fell silent, thinking only of his maneuver; because he then needed great care to avoid the many pitfalls that the river contains, especially when approaching Fumay.
Finally the boat advanced between the two chains of rocks which had long attracted the eyes of Madame Duval and Louise. Never had the latter seen such an imposing sight. Measuring with her eyes the prodigious height of these rocks, whose crest seems to touch the clouds, and at the foot of which the foaming waters form an immense abyss, she remained at first frozen with terror, and her gaze was averted for a moment from the formidable walls. which robbed him of the sight of heaven; but soon after his terrors gave way to deep admiration. This wild place presents, in fact, beauties so astonishing, so majestic, that one cannot contemplate them without feeling the need to pay homage to their divine author.
This tribute Louise paid with all the warmth of the feelings which animated her. She was still under this impression when the old boatman announced that in a few moments they would arrive at Fumay. Already the darkness was beginning to spread, and the young traveler, to her great regret, lost some of the delightful views offered by the surroundings of this little town, where she and her companion spent the night.
Impelled on both by equal impatience, they left their inn the next day at sunrise, and, following with exactness the indications given by the honest mariner, they explored the surroundings on foot, without Louise being disturbed. once again ecstatic over the beauty of the sites, because then only one thought occupied him.
Unfortunately, the places she traveled with Elisabeth were so deserted that a large part of the day passed in vain research as in vain fatigue, and both began to despair of success when, at the bend of a small wood hen they had to cross, the good Duval exclaimed: "Here is the mill, and here is the chapel!" yes, I recognize her; Oh ! soon we will also discover the house where they held me prisoner; I believe I can see from here the path that I followed while escaping...
"Let us go first to invoke the Blessed Virgin," said the young girl, deeply moved; these indications would not be enough for us, if we did not obtain his assistance. »
And immediately, dragging her companion, she went to kneel with her in front of this venerated chapel which they had come to look for from so far away.
There, her forehead prostrate in the dust, the poor child poured out all her worries,
all the fears she felt; for, in undertaking to look for her unfortunate mother, she had by no means deceived herself as to the numerous difficulties which such an undertaking was going to present to her. The information Elisabeth had given her was as vague as it was uncertain, and filial love had had to speak very loudly in her heart to determine her for a trip which presented so little chance of success. However, even in the midst of so many obstacles, she had always felt a hope which seemed to come to her from Heaven, and even at this moment it was to this impulse that she obeyed, trustingly asking the Blessed Virgin to protect her. .
It was therefore with much more calm that she followed her companion. But the night was advancing; shelter had to be procured, and both were already thinking of climbing the hill, to go and ask for one at the mill, when an old peasant woman, suddenly emerging from a field of oats, from which she had seen them kneeling in front of the chapel, said to them in passing:
“May the good Lord and Our Lady help you, and bless your journey!
"Thank you, Madame," replied the young girl; your meeting is already a good omen for us. We are strangers in this country, and you will no doubt have the charity to show us a shelter for the approaching night.
"It won't be very difficult," replied the villager.
"And it is with great gratitude that we accept it," said Louise, delighted with the open manners of the good old woman.
From that moment a sort of friendly confidence was established between them; for pure souls can easily guess, and Gertrude, as the peasant woman was called, had been so touched on seeing the devotion of the two strangers, that she already felt disposed to wish them well.
It was therefore with pleasure that, after having established them in her cabin, she hastened to prepare supper for them, saying:
“I'm really happy to have found myself there just in time to offer you a lodging; for there are hardly any in this valley. It's only a shame not to be able to treat you better: in the past, when my son Baptiste was with me, he went hunting, and from time to time we ate good thrushes or some other small game; but that time is already far away; Since then, my poor life has been very heavy to bear! Oh ! the children do not know, when they leave, what it costs their mother.
"So your son has left you, Madame?" asked Louise in the most sympathetic tone.
- Alas! yes, said Gertrude, he found that his days were not bringing us much, and as one of his friends, married to my niece, has a job which is worth a lot of money to him, he
wanted to earn some too, and put himself in the service of the same master; it was that naughty Armand and his wife who put that into his head: without them he would still be with me..."
At this name that Gertrude had just pronounced, the two travelers looked at each other, and, eager to learn more, they asked the latter if it was in the vicinity that her son served.
"My God no," she went on, "that's really what worries me. Formerly the master had a rather fine house here; but it must be believed that he did not find it to his liking, for he had never lived there. Armand, who was its guardian long before his marriage, remained there afterwards, and it was when he left with his wife to go and join his master, that he took Baptiste with him, promising him large wages. As for that, he spoke the truth, and also my poor child is very careful not to let me want for anything; but money alone does not bring happiness.
"Have you heard from him?" you know where he is, said Louise.
'Yes, no doubt, and yet that doesn't get me very far: up to now they haven't allowed her to come, nor my niece either, and I'm too old to go find them; then to go back here alone, it seems to me that would cause me too much grief.
"Perhaps they are far away?"
'Near Dinant, which is on the banks of the Meuse, about forty kilometers from here: that is not a great distance, you will tell me; however, considering my age, it's still too... Well! so what am I doing? Is it not that while speaking to you of my sorrow I forget to give you supper! Oh ! it's that, you see, when I'm on that chapter, I can't stop. »
And while speaking thus Gertrude hastened to place before her two guests an enormous platter of potatoes, dairy and fruit, urging them to do honor to this meal, which
would have seemed delicious to them, if the desire to bring the good woman back to the subject which interested them had not prevailed over their appetite.
What they had just heard left them with almost no doubt as to the identity of Gertrude's nephew and the one who had been Elisabeth's jailer. To acquire a complete conviction on this point, it was only a question of going the next day to reconnoitre the house he had lived in, and since he was still in the service of the same master, they hoped to discover the latter soon, and finally penetrate the dreadful mystery with which he had shrouded his victim. The new details which they subsequently obtained from their old hostess, who asked nothing better than to prolong this subject of conversation, confirmed them more and more in this hope.
"I spoke to you of my grief," she told them, "and since you sympathize with it, I must also speak to you of my consolations." After all, seeing your family prosper is
good at heart, and my Baptist is advanced in rank, as he says in his letter which I received the day before yesterday. It seems that there was at the Château de la Roche, where he lives, another servant, named Arnoult, who wanted to have authority all to himself, to the point that he often frightened the very one who paid his wages. This wicked man did not know what to invent to torment the world, and my Baptiste the very first. Finally the good Lord got tired of it, and punished him all at once. Recently, as he was returning from Namur with his master, the horses took the bit between their teeth, the carriage fell into the Meuse, and Arnoult drowned there. As for the gentleman, he was fortunate enough to be able to swim, and the boatmen saved him; but the poor fellow, it seems, was rescued from there in a pitiful state; it is even said that he is very ill, and it is feared that he will not recover. However to something misfortune is good: since then all its people are calm and happy.
Armand replaced the deceased, and he promised his wife and Baptiste to let them come a little later. I ask you if I will be happy to see them, to embrace them both! for, you see, I love my niece Marianne as if she were my child, she is a good creature. Before marrying her, Armand was somewhat sly; you never knew what was in his soul; since his marriage he has become quite different. »
Here Gertrude stopped, and, after having received the congratulations of the two travellers, she led them into a small room above hers, where they could at last communicate to each other the various impressions which the words had given rise to in their minds. good old.
Evidently the master of the Chateau de la Roche was none other than Nervin's culprit; and, his odious accomplice no longer existing, everything gave hope that it would be easier to discover the fate of their victim.
However, a dreadful fear had seized Louise as she listened to Gertrude. This woman, whom her son and niece kept so well informed of what was going on at the castle, seemed to have no idea that there were other people there than those she had just mentioned, and the poor child in concludes that perhaps his unfortunate mother had succumbed under the weight of her ailments. No less worried on this point, Elisabeth nevertheless tried to reassure her.
"Let us not despair," she told him; it is Providence itself that has brought us, as if by hand, even to this cottage, so that the mystery in which your enemy wraps himself could finally be unveiled to us, and everything leads us to believe that he will not let his imperfect work. »
These words brought hope back to Louise's heart; so it was hardly daylight the next day when she awoke her companion, with whom she went to the isolated house formerly inhabited by Armand. Elisabeth recognized her, and no longer retaining any doubt as to the identity of this man, they announced to Gertrude that, their intention being to pass through Dinant, they would willingly undertake a letter for his family. The good woman didn't need to be asked; only, as she did not know how to write, she chose Mme Duval as secretary, and, after having affixed a cross, well known to Baptiste, at the bottom of the precious missive, she cordially embraced the two travelers, who hastened to resume their journey. de Fumay, where new boatmen undertook to take them to Dinant.
As she approached this town, Louise needed all her courage not to give in to the gloomy thoughts that once again came to assail her. She understood the difficulties she was going to have to overcome: she had to discover the fate of her mother without exposing this unfortunate woman to some act of violence on the part of her enemy, and the skill alone could be employed, until that events would teach her how she ought to act towards the culprit Nervin. But how to reach him? how to penetrate the mystery of iniquity in which he had enveloped himself for twenty-two years? This was no doubt an immense cause for concern for the poor young girl; also, before making use of the letter addressed to the son of Gertrude, she resolved to make use of a powerful recommendation with which she had provided herself before her departure from Paris, and which was of a nature to assure her everywhere the interest and the protection of good people.
It was therefore provided with this paper, on which a venerable prelate had deigned to affix his signature, that the young traveler presented herself with her companion to the parish priest of Dinant, whose virtues each had praised to her during her trip.
Mr. D*** was, in fact, a true apostle of Christian charity; his venerable face showed so much kindness and wisdom that Louise, filled with respect at the sight of this worthy old man, did not hesitate to speak to him with complete confidence and to ask for his support.
"It is due to you, my daughter," replied M. D"*, after having listened to her with the greatest attention; a law to serve you, and I will dedicate myself to it with all my that he inhabits this domain, that no one knows the slightest peculiarity of his life.Our good Dinantais, astonished at the kind of mystery with which he surrounds himself, at first sought to penetrate it, but they ended by renouncing a curiosity entirely vain in its results. Myself, impelled by the desire to relieve some secret pain, and thinking also of the interest of the poor, whom the rich man must be called upon to relieve, I presented myself several times to the gate of the castle; I have constantly been told that M. de la Roche receives no one; as for his alms, he has always sent them to me very regularly, and, in this respect at least, he has won the esteem of the population. I do not know, continued M. D"*, if the death of his factotum Arnoult, who alone had communications abroad, will bring about some change in the habits of this mysterious man; I dare not believe it: for, having learned the accident of which he was also nearly the victim, I presented myself again at his door, and I was turned away, if not with the same harshness, at least with the same persistence. which makes me fear great difficulties for you. However, let us not be discouraged: if the wicked often succeeds in hiding from men, he can never flee from the justice of God; when it wants to reach him in this life, the most weak reed then becomes in his hands a victorious weapon.”
After these words, the worthy old man invited the two travelers to share the evening meal,
that had just been served to him. Then he put them in possession of a small lodging near his presbytery, where they found the care of the most generous hospitality.
No doubt such a welcome was well calculated to compensate Louise for all the fatigue she had had to endure; but there are situations in life where the preoccupations of our soul outweigh the favorable circumstances which may befall us, and the poor child, although filled with gratitude for the goodness of the holy pastor, could not taste a single moment of rest. .
After a night of anguish, Louise saw the dawn at last; having risen at once to go to the church, where the venerable pastor was already in prayer, she poured out all her thoughts into the bosom of this worthy minister of Jesus Christ and then received Holy Communion. Oh ! it is never without fruit that we have recourse to this divine remedy: by it, our soul expands, grows and rises above the things that pass away; united to her God, she participates in all the consolations, in all the graces reserved for faith; she feels that an eternity of happiness awaits her beyond this valley of miseries called life; Strengthening herself then against trials, she submits to them without a murmur, and draws from her courage the inspirations necessary to overcome them.
Coming out of accomplishing this pious duty, Louise therefore felt stronger to face the difficulties presented by her undertaking; so, barely back at M. D***'s, she decided to go to the Chateau de la Roche; taking for this purpose clothes similar to those usually worn by peasant women in the Ardennes, she hoped, under this more than modest costume, to reach Gertrude's son, and interest him, without his suspecting it, in the success of her purposes.
Until then, however, no plan could be decided upon; first of all, you had to get the entrance
of the castle, no matter what title, and it was towards this end that the efforts of the courageous child should first tend. As for Elisabeth, it was resolved that she should remain at the presbytery, inasmuch as Armand could remember her features, however changed they might be; and M. D*" accompanied his young protegee alone.
We can guess the various emotions that the latter experienced while climbing the steep hill at the top of which was located the mysterious dwelling of her enemy. The neighboring wood at first hid his view of it; but, after a quarter of an hour, M. D* showed it to her, and then she was obliged to stop, so redoubled was the beating of her heart.
" Oh my God ! she said softly, let me find my mother there! help her to bless her Louise again, and all my wishes in this world will be fulfilled! »
When she had recovered a little confidence, her venerable protector left her to enter a nearby copse, where he could follow her to the gate of the castle without being seen. A dead silence reigned in this solitary place, and the part of the buildings that the trees left visible seemed entirely uninhabited. However, at the trembling Louise's movement at the bell, a man appeared. He was about fifty years old; from the portrait Madame Duval had made of Armand, the young girl thought it might be him. She was not mistaken. " Who are you? what do you ask? he said stepping forward.
"I am," replied Louise, "sent by Mother Gertrude; I stayed with her a few days ago, and she asked me to bring a letter to her son, as well as to her nephew and niece, who live, I believe, in this chateau.
"Give me this letter, I'll give it to them."
“Monsieur, I should like to see them themselves; Gertrude ordered me to do so. I would also like to beg them to grant me their protection.
- To do what ?
- Oh ! it would be to have, if possible, some occupation in this chateau. My work is my entire resource; but to find work or a place, recommendations are necessary.
"Aren't you from this country?"
- No sir ; misfortune forced me to leave mine; it would really be a good work to employ a poor orphan like me. I don't ask to earn much; the smallest token will be enough for me, provided I have food. »
Louise had delivered this speech in such a modest and touching tone that Armand could not help feeling some interest in her. He thinks for a moment; then, having let out a shrill sound from the enormous whistle hanging from his buttonhole, he went to meet another servant who was coming towards him, and they talked to each other for some time in a low voice.
During this interval, Louise, who had remained outside the gate, was in agony, and her protector, who had remained hidden in the copse, whence he had not lost a word of his conversation with Armand, was himself experiencing real anxiety. .
Finally the two men approached; the youngest was Gertrude's son; he took the letter, opened it eagerly, and, after having read it aloud, he asked Armand:
" Well ! since this person asks for work, and that it is sent to us by my mother, we can employ it; it seems to me that it is not here that the work is lacking; everyone has their fill.
"Yes, but if the master were to find out!"
- Bah! how would he know? Neither you nor I will tell him, I hope, and if the poor man comes back, he won't be able to see anything for a long time. You know, moreover, that your wife is overwhelmed with fatigue, and that at any moment she asks you for help.
-Well ! make it up, you two,” resumed Armand; for me, I wash my hands of it. Go get her, we'll see what she says. »
Baptiste made only a leap to the chateau, and returned a short time later, bringing with him a woman still young, whose manners recalled those of the good Gertrude; only a shadow of sadness was depicted in his features.
Seeing Louise, who was still outside the gate, she said to her husband reproachfully:
"What! didn't you just open to my aunt's envoy? Will we therefore always be here as in a prison? You know, however, that this slavery does not suit me, and that all this must end. »
Armand didn't answer, but he pulled the bolts. Louise crosses the gate; and her protector, who saw her enter, thanked God for this first success.
Marianne, it is thus, it will be remembered, that Gertrude's niece was called, was all the more eager to welcome the young stranger, as in this she was obeying a double impulse: her natural kindness and her the desire, already expressed, to escape from a way of life that displeased him. Having thus succeeded in overcoming her husband's hesitation in this circumstance, it was with a triumphant air that she took her protegee to the chateau, and loaded her with all sorts of attentions, wishing, as she said, the compensate for the bad reception he had received. The latter understood that the slightest imprudence could betray her; so she tried, on entering this place, to master her strong emotion; and she showed herself so grateful to Marianne that the good woman eagerly consented to associate her with some part of the service with which she was charged. It was there, for the moment, that all Louise's wishes were directed. Determined to entirely captivate the good graces of her who protected her, she brought from then on so much zeal, so much accuracy in her various works, that her favor always went
croissant; Marianne never ceased to rave about her skill, her perfect understanding of the household, and the poor child, for her part, blessed Heaven for having placed her in a position to fulfill the task imposed on her by her new situation.
However, in the midst of her courageous efforts, she saw the days go by without obtaining any certainty of the existence of her mother in this mysterious castle, where her filial devotion had made her accept the title of servant. Although perfectly treated by Armand and his family, she was excluded from the various councils of the family. He had been assigned a certain part of the garden for the walks which he was permitted to take before or after his service; he had also been allowed free access to a few rooms on the ground floor; but until then nothing that passed around her could enlighten her as to the principal object of her research. Only she had heard that the master of the castle was suffering from excruciating pain; every day she saw Armand introducing a doctor to him, and it was there that all his knowledge was limited.
Such a situation became all the more intolerable for Louise, as she guessed the anxiety into which Cécile must have been plunged, as well as Élisabeth and M. D***. The latter had promised her, if she managed to enter the chateau, to come and wait for her every day, at a certain time, near the gate, until he had succeeded in speaking to her, and since then she had been watched so closely that any attempt to see her protector had become impossible for her.
Finally one day, having made sure that no one could surprise her, she ventured to advance towards this place, and, success having crowned her hopes, she drew from the advice of the holy pastor the courage to pursue her enterprise. .
That same evening, a circumstance at first rather insignificant in appearance came to attract all
His attention. Marianne, contrary to her custom, did not appear until the end of supper; her features bore the imprint of a painful preoccupation, which seemed to belong to another cause than to the master's condition, and, expressing the desire to speak to her husband without delay, she ordered Louise to go to sleep. The latter withdrew immediately; but the remarks she had just made preoccupied her in her turn. Feeling no disposition to sleep, she extinguished her light on entering her room, which was situated on the ground floor overlooking the garden, and sat down near her window, the opening of which was concealed by a shutter.
Motionless and pensive, she had been there for about an hour, listening to the slightest noise, when she thought she heard footsteps treading the dry leaves with which autumn was beginning to cover the ground: they were Marianne's. Louise recognized this woman in spite of the darkness, and, not doubting that her nocturnal outing hid some mystery, she did not hesitate to follow her, and saw her go towards a high arbour, where she lost her tracks. This part of the garden was precisely that which had been forbidden to Louise; but, resolved to clear up her suspicions, she braved the defense, and also entered under the arbour, stretching out her arms so as not to bump into each other. However, a lively fear seized her in the midst of this complete darkness; Trembling, she stopped, not knowing which way to turn her steps, then, recovering her courage, she changed direction, and almost immediately she thought she saw a faint light emerging through the trees. Going then in that direction, she saw an open door, passed through it, and found herself in another garden, at the entrance of which was a pavilion, from which escaped the light which she had first seen.
Louise at this moment seemed to obey a superhuman power; for, whatever were her fears, she advanced without hesitation towards one of the windows of this habitation, hitherto unknown to her in the castle, and gazed avidly through the latticework. A curtain prevented him from seeing inside; but she heard Marianne's voice.
“I beg you, Madame, take courage,” said this woman in a compassionate tone, “everything will soon change: I assure you that your enemy cannot go any further; while waiting for him to die, we will take care of you, we will soften your sorrows as much as we can. You know that Armand, although very attached to his master, who showered him with blessings, bears no resemblance to that wretched Arnoult; he is revolted, on the contrary, by all that this wicked man has made you suffer for twenty-two years, and without the fear of compromising M. de la Roche, he would have declared to the magistrates a long time ago that you you are a prisoner in this castle. Finally the good Lord has arranged everything for the best, and in a few days you will become free, and so that until then you will be better served, Armand has just authorized me to bring you tomorrow a young girl whom we now have in pay. ; she is gentle, pleasant, and will take care of you with zeal, I am sure. So no more grief, please; a little more patience, and your misfortune will come to an end..."
A long sob was all the response Marianne received, and this sob resounded so painfully in Louise's heart that she was obliged to lean against the wall of the pavilion in order not to fall from all her height.
No doubt, her mother was there, and the poor child had to contain the impulse of her filial love; she had to repress all her emotions, all her feelings, to wait until the next day for the happiness to which she had aspired for so many years!
For half an hour she remained as if suspended between the ardent desire to enter the pavilion and the fear of causing her mother a surprise which might be fatal to her. At last this fear prevailed, and she withdrew, staggering, towards the arbor, where at least she could give free rein to the tears which oppressed her.
" My mother ! my poor mother! she said, so I finally found her! My God, be blessed! But how to feign tomorrow in his presence? how can I prevent myself from pressing her in my arms! It will be necessary however: yes, still this sacrifice, still this effort on myself, then I will be able to give him this name so dear! I will be able to lavish on him all the testimonies of my tenderness, I will hear him call me his daughter! »
After abandoning herself thus to the various movements of her soul, Louise returned to her room, and, having become a little calmer, she thought of telling Monsieur D*** of the precious discovery she had just made. She had agreed with him that, in case of pressing necessity, she would place a letter at the foot of one of the pillars of the gate; so, as soon as she managed to get some light, she began to write, begging her protector to try everything to finally obtain entry to the chateau. Having then placed her letter in a small metal box which the good priest had given her for this purpose, she carried it at once to the designated place, carefully hid it among the tall grass which grew round the pillar, so as to that no one but Mr. D*** could discover her, then returned home to await daylight. It hardly appeared that Marianne ran to fetch her.
“Come, hurry up,” she told him. You did not know until now that our master's niece lives in this chateau; but, since we are resolved to keep you, you must take your part in my service to her, especially since the poor lady, already crippled for many years, is now falling into fainting spells which force her not to be left alone. I told him you're sweet, considerate, and I don't think you'll lie to me, do you?
- No, no, dear Marianne, don't worry. I'm ready, I'm with you.
-Well! let's walk... But tell me, how pale you are! would you be sick?
— Not at all, I never felt so good; and look, I run better than you...” At the same time Louise tries to drag her companion along; but the latter, wanting to give him all her instructions, walks, on the contrary, with a desperate slowness. Finally they arrive at the pavilion; Marianne goes in first, and says, immediately retracing her steps: "She's asleep." Go and place yourself gently near his bed; soon I will return to give him what he needs myself. If she wakes up before, pull one of the bell cords, they correspond to my kitchen. Finishing these words, Marianne leaves, and Louise, quivering with emotion, enters her mother's room. Trembling, she raises the curtain which still hides her beloved features, contemplates them at first in a sort of ecstasy; but on perceiving the ravages which misfortune and suffering have imprinted on it, she lets out a dull groan, and falls on her knees, suffocated by her tears.
It was in this state that the patient surprised her.
" Who are you? why are you shedding tears? asked the unfortunate.
"Excuse me, Madame," replied Louise, stammering; Brought here by Marianne to serve you, I could not help moaning about your ills, the traces of which are so visible.
"Lovely child!" THANKS! Such a touching interest in a poor woman who is a stranger to you certainly proves that you possess a good heart, and I bless Heaven for having sent you to me. »
Raising herself then in order to better see Louise, who had risen and who came forward to support her, she looked at her fixedly, and soon a strong emotion was painted in her features. “Strange resemblance! " she says ; then she fell back, exhausted, on her daughter's shoulder.
What passed at that moment in the soul of the latter cannot be described; she was holding
between his arms the one to whom she owed the day; her head touched his, she sucked in his breath, and she dared not make herself known, and she dared not utter that sweet name, which so often had made her heart tremble! Oh ! to be capable of such an effort requires a great deal of courage, and the poor child had to think constantly of the state of weakness in which her mother was reduced, so as not to give in immediately to the movement which threatened her. was training. Marianne's presence gave him the strength to control himself for a few more moments; but when she found herself alone with her dear invalid, all her firmness abandoned her.
"In the name of Heaven," she said to her, looking at her with ever-increasing emotion, "explain to me the confusion in which I see you, what I feel myself... No, your resemblance to the husband whom I I lost cannot be an illusion. Speak, speak, I implore you; who are you?
'Your child,' exclaims Louise, carried away by her heart. 'Elisabeth taught me everything; here is the ring that you yourself hung around my neck at the moment when I was snatched from your love... My mother! my good mother! I finally have the pleasure of holding you in my arms! But I've said too much, you're turning pale... I beg you, calm these transports, they can be fatal to you.
"Don't be afraid," cried the tender mother in her turn; go, let me taste this joy that I no longer hoped for; I already feel that she is giving me strength... My daughter! my beloved daughter! forget my sufferings, think only of my happiness! »
- And both then shed delicious tears. Pressed in the arms of her child, the happy mother contemplates her with intoxication; she questions him; she listens to him in a sort of ecstasy; her maternal love makes her eager for the smallest details: she has them repeated to her, always with a new charm, and, as all the treasures of virtue that her daughter's heart contains are unfolded before her, she interiorly renders to God new thanksgiving.
Oh ! for Louise also these outpourings were very sweet! Until then she had known only those of friendship: they had doubtless been a powerful consolation to her; but friendship, however tender, however generous it may be, can never equal maternal affection: the latter is pure love emanating from heaven itself; it makes one capable of all sacrifices, of all devotion, and, after the goodness of God, there is nothing so perfect as the goodness of a mother. Louise understood it. Kneeling in front of hers, she savored with delight all the feelings expressed to her by this dear one. She brought him, moreover, the first of all blessings: a spotless life, whose purity the breath of the world had never altered; this was the reward of his long and painful efforts, and this reward so ardently desired gave him a taste of ineffable joy; for maternal approbation seemed to her at that moment like the voice of God.
After having listened to her daughter with so much happiness, however, the tender mother felt a sudden reawakening in her soul of deep regret, thinking of the husband she had lost.
"O my dear d'Olmeuil," she said, "why haven't I shared such happiness with you!" Ah! at least it is in your name as in mine that I want to bless our child!”
Then placing a trembling hand on her daughter's forehead, she made an ardent prayer. This scene was a new test for Louise's sensibility: it was the first time that she had heard the name of her father, and this name produced a strong impression on her, which she nevertheless repressed; for she perceived that so many successive emotions had completely exhausted her dear patient. Immediately striving to distract her from her sad memories, she finally persuaded her to take a few moments of rest, promising to watch by her side during her sleep.
One can imagine what were then the thoughts of our Louise. Undoubtedly many stinging sorrows had come to overwhelm her since her birth: poor abandoned child, fed on the bread of misery, she had constantly had to fight against poverty through work, triumph over her lesser tastes, and devote herself to the hardest. sacrifice; but all his struggles, all his sufferings, what were they in comparison with the reward accorded to his filial love! Oh ! at that moment the memory of the past was already for her no more than a vain dream. Seated beside her excellent mother, who was then sleeping peacefully, she contemplated her with profound delight, with the hope of seeing her soon restored to health; a new life appeared to her: she was no longer an orphan, she was going to know those sweet family ties she had envied for so long, she was finally going to devote herself to the one who had given her birth; and this idea made her so happy, that all other feelings were at first driven from her heart. Soon, however, she thought of the friend of her childhood, of this devoted friend whom she regarded as a tender sister, and she began to write to her:
“O my Cécile, she said to her, I have finally found her! Yes, I pressed in my arms this dear mother whom I thought was forever lost to me! It is near his bed that I am writing to you; she is sleeping at the moment, and the impression of happiness which is still painted in her features makes me hope that our care will succeed in restoring her health, cruelly altered by her long sufferings... I need to remove the memory of all the evils he has been made to endure in order to be able to forgive his enemies, the last of whom, it is said, will soon appear before the Supreme Judge. What horrible dread must be in that man's heart! But let's talk about him only to God... Immediately we'll flee from here, and we'll unite with you never to leave you again. You will also love my mother; she will have two daughters instead of one. If Heaven does not allow her to regain her fortune, we will work together to feed her, as well as the good Elisabeth, the cause of so much happiness. I have already told my excellent mother what you have been, what you will always be for your Louise. O my Cecile! it is to you, it is to your gentle virtues that I owe my being worthy of your love; be a thousand times blessed! Never have I felt better how much I love you!
Farewell. Tomorrow I will write to you again; I want you to share all my joys. Kiss our dear Fanchette for me, as well as all our dear companions; tell them to pray for my mother. »
Madame d'Olmeuil, having awakened just as her daughter was finishing this letter, asked to read it; and one can guess what were the feelings that filled his heart during this reading.
“Dear Louise,” she said, looking at this one with ineffable tenderness, “I have suffered a great deal, it is true; but in finding a child such as you, all my ills disappear; I only feel the happiness of being your mother. »
As she was pronouncing these words, Marianne came in, her forehead pale, and exclaimed: "Madame, will you have pity on this unfortunate man?" He is going to die, and he asks to hear forgiveness for his crimes come from your mouth. The parish priest of Dinant is with him. This morning, as I was leaving here, the worthy man rang at the gate, I went to speak to him; he ordered me to open the door, and I obeyed him, while hardly hoping that the dying man would hear him, since he had always refused; but the hour had come: when it is God who knocks, we must yield to Him, willy-nilly. Scarcely had the priest appeared near the dying man than the latter, feeling sorry for himself, decided to go to confession; then, having called Armand back, he sent him hastily to fetch a magistrate and his clerk, to whom he made declarations which concern you. These gentlemen are still there; there is also the notary, and it is in front of them that the poor man asks to see you. Madame, please allow us to carry you to her bed. Armand and Baptiste are here; they await your orders.
"Let us hurry then," replied Madame d'Olmeuil immediately, looking at her daughter; now I feel the courage to see it.
Immediately they dressed her, and, having placed her in an arm-chair, they carried her to the room of the dying man, around which a lugubrious silence reigned at that moment. Seated a few feet from his deathbed, the lawyers looked at him with stern expressions, while the priest, kneeling, invoked heavenly mercy for him.
“Edma! it's you ! »
These were the only words that this unfortunate man could utter at first on seeing his life.
time. She held Louise's hand; she pressed it, and said to her enemy:
“I am assured that you are repentant; God be praised! Hope he forgives you as I forgive you.
- What ! You deign to grant me this generous pardon! Dear Edma! can it be! But the horrible abuse I made of your confidence, of your misfortune; these twenty-two years during which I held you captive, will you be able to forget them? Is it not to me, moreover, that you must attribute the loss of your child?
"I have found her," cried the noble Edma; yes, my dear d'Olmeuil's daughter has been returned to me. There she is! and, following the example of her mother, she will pray for you.
We would try in vain to describe the effect produced by this unexpected declaration on the assistants as well as on the dying man. The latter, forcing himself to rise, cast a glance at Louise in which all the pangs of remorse were depicted, and he said with a long sob:
" My God ! And I was able to condemn this angel to abandonment!..." Then, addressing himself to the lawyers, he resumed in a firmer voice: the property of Edma de Beldink, Baroness of Olmeuil. I reiterate before her the confession of my crime; I again implore his forgiveness as well as that of his daughter, and I bequeath to the latter all that may belong to me, as too small a compensation for the harm I have caused her. »
Madame d'Olmeuil and Louise wanted at first to oppose this disposition of the dying man; but their refusal seemed to make him feel so much pain that, yielding to the pity he inspired in them, they permitted his will to be done, and a few moments later he expired.
Immediately the mother and the daughter were torn away from this dismal spectacle. Both were
so deeply struck that they only succeeded in overcoming their shock at the sight of their dear Elisabeth, whom the good priest had had secretly summoned to the chateau. Drunk with joy, the excellent woman could not tire of squeezing the hands of her dear mistress; and the latter was herself very happy to see her again. But this eventful day had completely exhausted his strength; they had to hasten to put her back to bed; and the good Duval, restored to her former functions, undertook to watch beside her the rest of the night, while Louise, sure then that her dear patient would be perfectly cared for, consented to also take a few hours' rest.
Happy is the culprit who heeds the salutary cry of his conscience! all is not lost for him: remorse can still bring him back to happiness, by bringing him back to virtue through repentance.
The Dr DESCURET, the Medicine of the Passions.
One can imagine with what joy mother and daughter kissed the next day. It seemed at this moment that the thought of their mutual happiness had acquired a new charm and had penetrated deeper into their souls by reflection. Rather awkwardly Elizabeth came to disturb the sweetness of this thought, by expressing her desire to know what had followed her separation from her dear mistress; the latter returned only with regret to these sad memories.
“My daughter and I,” she said, “we have forgiven our repentant enemy, and henceforth we will speak of him only to commend him to divine mercy. Some good qualities, moreover, existed in this man; a covetous passion has stifled them there, I agree; but this passion itself he would perhaps have conquered had it not been for the perfidious advice of his accomplice. Once he entered the path of evil, he had not the courage to retrace his steps, and he believed, this error is, alas! too common, that the only way to ensure the secrecy of his crime was to persevere in it. The state into which I fell when the hope of finding my daughter was snatched from me only too favored their culpable plans: not only did this state make any attempt to escape impossible, but for several months it took away my ability to appreciate the excess of my misfortune.
“It was this disastrous time that Arnoult chose to transport me here with one of his sisters. I rediscovered there the feeling of my misery, without recovering my health. For some time my limbs had been affected by a convulsive stiffness which rarely left me the use of them, and in this dreadful situation I was only too happy to accept the care of the woman who had accompanied me. Although entirely devoted to her brother, this woman always treated me with a kind of deference, and her zeal to serve me never failed.
His conduct therefore proved to me that the intention of my enemies was not to exercise new cruelties towards me; but it was easy for me to see that they were counting on pain and illness to finally rid them of my frail existence... God sustained me, and he struck them down, let us adore his designs!
"Besides, before Arnoult's death, my fate had already undergone some changes that
I must say happy. This man's sister, tired of being a jailer, had asked to retire, and Armand's wife replaced her. She joined the same punctuality in her service, a real sympathy for my painful situation, and the goodness of her heart, I do not doubt, would have led her to favor my flight, if the infirmities with which I am overwhelmed were not would have paralyzed his generous intentions.
“Finally, continued Madame d'Olmeuil, during these long years of suffering, God did not abandon me: he sustained my faith, he sent me consolations; even in the midst of my most cruel anguish, my soul rose up towards him, and resignation returned there; I felt stronger against my memories, against my isolation, and sometimes I hoped for a better future. »
These words redoubled in Louise's heart the respect she felt for her who had given her life.
“O my beloved mother! she exclaimed, how happy and proud I am to belong to you! How sweet it would be for me to be able to imitate so many virtues!
“My dear child,” said the good priest, who then entered and who had heard the wish she had just expressed, smiling, “be in prosperity what you have been in misfortune, and everything will be given to you in addition. »
Mr. D"* then congratulated the mother and daughter, not with that cold politeness which tries in vain to imitate sentiment, but with all the sensibility of a beautiful soul; and his affectionate language touched Mrs. d 'Olmeuil, that the same day she expressed the desire to deposit her secret thoughts in the bosom of the venerable old man.
Elisabeth and Louise having retired to leave her free, the latter took advantage of this moment of leisure to go and visit the garden of the pavilion, which she had not yet seen in detail. However, this place, pleasant as it was by its disposition, only inspired her with sadness, because she thought how much her mother must have moaned there, and she was about to leave it, when Armand's wife came. by his presence to distract from this painful feeling.
"What's the matter with you, good Marianne?" asked Louise, noticing that she only approached him trembling and with a sort of confusion: what does this strange air mean, these unusual bows?
—What does that mean? alas! it is not difficult to guess, however, answered the good woman. Do you believe then, Mademoiselle, that I do not feel my stupidity! Lady! it's pretty obvious though, and I'm so saddened by it that I couldn't sleep a wink all night... To say that I took you for my equal, for even less, while you are now one of the mistresses of this chateau!
“Your mistake, dear Marianne, was quite natural,” interrupted Louise, “and you shouldn't regret it in any way. As for the change in my fate, I like to believe that it causes you no pain; for no one, assuredly, can appreciate you better than I; and, since you loved me when I was in your eyes only a poor servant, I hope that you will preserve this affection for me, although Providence has condescended to assign me another rank.
- Ah! you deserve it a hundred times over! exclaimed Marianne deeply touched, and now if you want us, it will be to life and death that we will be faithful to you, Armand and me; for, you see, he too has a good heart: if he sinned, it was first out of ignorance, then out of seduction, out of attachment to his master, who was always kind to him. Besides, he never looked like that wretched Arnoult; they had together, on the contrary, terrible crises; that's even why Armand wanted to have Baptiste with him, in order to be two against one; if they stayed there, it was to prevent the wicked Arnoult from doing even more harm; and all that does not cause less grief to my poor man today, for appearances are against him.
"Go and console him," replied Louise; tell him that my mother, in favor of his regrets as of your generous care, will certainly not exclude him from the pardon which she has pronounced. Also tell Baptiste that not only do we want him to stay at the chateau, but that we also want to see the good Gertrude there. It is to the hospitality given me by this excellent woman, to the information she furnished me, that I owe the happiness which I now enjoy; in return, I want to make her happy by enabling her to live with her family from now on. My mother's intention is to keep this estate; and, in establishing Gertrude there, I am counting on you, good Marianne, to make her stay pleasant and make her forget her cottage.
- Ah! it is the good Lord who inspires you with such a thought! exclaimed Armand's wife, overwhelmed with joy; that's called deserving one's riches... Come on, you won't be dealing with ungrateful people..." Then, seizing her young mistress's hand, she pressed it in hers, and set off like an arrow to go. tell the good news to her husband and Baptiste.
When Louise returned to her mother, she found her face so calm, so happy, that the hope of her recovery grew still stronger in her mind. However, the days that followed aroused new agitations in the interesting invalid; a great number of formalities were necessary for her to recover her rights, and for those of her daughter to be regularized; but the good priest showed them so much zeal on this occasion, and was so perfectly seconded by the lawyers responsible for their interests, that they finally saw the difficulties of which Madame d'Olmeuil had been frightened in advance smoothed out. .
During this time, various doctors of the surroundings were successively called near the latter; none of them having succeeded in relieving her ailments, Louise persuaded her to go to Paris, where more effective care would be offered to her. From then on, everything was arranged so that the interesting patient could make the trip without too much fatigue: nevertheless, it was necessary to wait until she had regained some strength, and Louise counted the days with all the more impatience, as at the ardent desire for her mother's recovery was joined in her to that of seeing her beloved Cécile again.
Finally, after a few weeks, Madame d'Olmeuil, thinking herself able to endure the journey, fixed the day of departure herself. But rarely here below our hopes are realized such as we give birth to them; for above us is an active power which regulates everything according to its designs, and not according to our feeble views; Louise then experienced it. On the eve of the day which had been designated for departure, having retired early in order to give her dear invalid a longer rest, she herself was sound asleep, when Marianne's voice suddenly came to tear her away. to this peaceful sleep.
"Hurry up, Mademoiselle," said this tearful woman to her, "hurry up, Madame has another attack, and Madame Duval wanted me to come and tell you... Baptiste and Armand have left, each on their own, to go seek help; one is to bring back the parish priest of Dinant, the other a doctor who arrived yesterday at a chateau quite near here. He is not from this country, and they say he is more learned than all the others put together. »
These last words, Louise does not hear them. Distraught, she rushes into her mother's room, finding her motionless in Elisabeth's arms. At this spectacle, a horrible pain seizes his soul. In a broken voice she calls out to this dear mother, and, seeing that nothing succeeds in reviving her, she cries out, falling on her knees: “Thank you! thank you, my God! do not take it from me, or kill me with it. »
It is at this moment that Armand's footsteps are heard; Louise is informed that the doctor is with him. Getting up immediately, she runs in front of him, and they hardly exchanged a glance, that a lively exclamation escapes them at the same time.
“Mr. Derban! you here ! exclaims the young girl. But no matter, it is God who sends you, no doubt; come, come and save my mother! »
And she leads him to the dying woman's bed. There, her hands clasped, her eyes fixed on the doctor, she shudders as she awaits the judgment he is about to pronounce; but this man, just now so moved, shows in his features at this moment only a despairing impassivity; he questions, he acts, and concludes nothing. However, after about a quarter of an hour, the patient, on whom he has just performed a bloodletting, suddenly makes a movement; her eyelids half open, and Louise wants to come closer. Mr. Derban detains her.
“I conjure you,” he said to her in a low voice, “avoid all emotion; go away, deign to rely on my care; I answer you with his life.
- Oh! May Heaven reward you! answered Louise quickly; and immediately she retired to an adjoining room, where her venerable friend the curé of Dinant soon joined her.
A profound joy had succeeded, in the heart of the tender daughter, to the anguish of fear; and at first it was to this feeling that she abandoned herself; for the high opinion she had formed of M. Derban's medical talent left her in no doubt as to her mother's recovery.
He will save her! she said to herself, he promised me; I must believe his word... Yes, my mother, my good mother will be returned to me!
Soon, however, painful reflections came to disturb this pure joy that
Louisa; she was alarmed at the new relations which were bound to be established between her and this estimable man, whom propriety ordered her to flee. The worthy priest, to whom she confided her worries, promised not to abandon her in this difficult circumstance, and to remain at the castle as long as M. Derban's presence was necessary there.
“It is a new ordeal, my dear child,” said the wise old man to her, “and I agree that it is not the least painful of all those you have had to undergo; nevertheless, with the grace of God, I hope you will bear it worthily. Pray, pray without ceasing: soon you will find the strength to overcome regrets, the duration of which would infallibly alter this purity of soul which has hitherto been your most beautiful prerogative. It is to the conservation of this precious asset that you must attach yourselves; with him no bitterness is without consolation, while without him we no longer have, in this world, either peace or joy to hope for. »
These wise counsels revived Louise's courage. Tracing for herself a plan of conduct which reconciled her keen concern for her mother's health and the reserve she had to impose on M. Derban, she almost always abstained from appearing in his presence during subsequent visits he made to the castle, and in this way she satisfied all the requirements of her position.
Moreover, the patient, who was getting better and better every day, was not long in learning the name of her learned doctor, and, whatever her obligations towards him were, as well as the effectiveness of the care he gave her, she secretly promised herself to give it up; and she was only waiting for a favorable opportunity to let him know her resolution, when he himself came to relieve her of the difficulty by announcing his approaching departure. The gloomy sadness in which he seemed plunged deeply touched Louise's mother; so it was with an expression of deep sensitivity that she said to him: “More than any other, Monsieur, I must deplore the necessity of this sudden departure, and you will assuredly carry away all my gratitude; but it is not only today that it belongs to you: before owing you my life, I have already contracted immense obligations towards you, and if I am condemned to not being able to recognize them as I sense, believe however that my wishes for your happiness will always be those of a true friendship.
“Madame,” replied M. Derban in a stifled voice, “do not show me, I beg you, this touching benevolence; it would deprive me of the courage to go away from here, and yet an imperious duty obliges me to do so...
"You will know how to accomplish it," replied Madame d'Olmeuil, forcing herself to overcome her emotion; and if on leaving these places, where you leave hearts filled with esteem and gratitude for you, you experience regrets, they will soon disappear, I hope, within your
family ; for I suppose it is close to her that you return. "Your wife must be waiting for you with great impatience...
"What are you saying, Madame?" sharply interrupted the one to whom these words were addressed, but I am not married: the union that I had to form to submit to a too dear will has fortunately been broken; this union, the disadvantages of which my family had not sufficiently considered, did not suit me in any respect; it would have been the misfortune of my life, and my mother herself did not hesitate to give it up for me.
"And you are free, entirely free?" said Madame d'Olmeuil here with a profound feeling of joy, the expression of which she nevertheless sought to moderate. But then what obliges you to leave these places? Why are you running away from us?
- In the name of Heaven, Madam, do not question me on this point.
“I will, however, at the risk of being indiscreet; for I confess that this hasty departure, which I approved of earlier, now seems to me inexplicable.
"You are doubtless unaware, Madame," resumed M. Derban with a serious air, "that formerly I dared to claim the hand of Mademoiselle your daughter?"
“I know that, sir. Yes, I know that after having saved the life of my child, you wanted to obtain it for wife, when, without name, without support, she had in share only her courage and her virtues.
- Oh ! Madam, I would have been only too happy if she had then condescended to accept my offers; but she repelled them; she did even more: she demanded that I form other bonds...
"It was a duty for her to act thus," replied Mme. ; but what do these past circumstances do to your present situation?
"What are they doing there?" exclaimed M. Derban! Ah! Madam, this disastrous marriage project has nothing
changed to my feelings; freed by her breakup, I still dared to flatter myself that I would overcome Mademoiselle your daughter's refusals. Touched by her virtues, my excellent mother was to make the trip to Paris without delay to join her entreaties to mine; for we were ignorant then of the change which had taken place in Mlle. Louise's fortune. By learning it here, I understood that all my hopes were dashed; Besides, if I had been able to still retain a single illusion on this point, the constant care she took to avoid me would have taught me only too well the behavior I should impose on myself. So it's over, tomorrow I leave these places: there are cases in life where hesitation is only weakness.
"No doubt," replied Madame d'Olmeuil, "but this cannot be applied to your present situation. to make a false judgment.
- Sky ! what do you give me a glimpse of, madam? asked Derban furiously.
"Which you should have guessed earlier," replied the good mother. You have, I repeat, risked your life to save those of my daughter; you wanted to give her an honorable name when she was poor and neglected; how could you doubt that she and I were not happy to recognize such generous sentiments, when happiness finally deigns to smile upon us, and when we are allowed to show you all our gratitude? In truth, for this doubt alone you deserve to be punished; but forgiveness has its sweetness. Write therefore without fear to your mother; tell him that, having decided not to give him back his son, I am offering him in exchange a good and tender daughter, who will also do her best to deserve his affection.
We will not attempt to describe the transports of the happy Derban on seeing his dearest wishes fulfilled. He suddenly passed from discouragement to boundless bliss; also in the first moment he lacked expressions to translate what he felt.
From that day on, nothing was known at the Chateau de la Roche but lively and pure joys, with which the good Cécile was not long in coming to join. Louise could only be completely happy by sharing her happiness with this faithful friend; so his first care, in embracing her, was to declare to her that they would never leave each other. Thinking at the same time of her old foster father, she sheltered him forever from need, and wished to have him as witness to her marriage. Six of the young girls from the workroom, as well as the good Fanchette, also came to attend, and it was surrounded by this modest procession that our Louise went to the altar. A veil, a crown, a simple white dress similar to that of her young friends, formed her whole adornment; but the virtues which shone on her brow, the joy which one read in her look, seemed to add still more to her touching beauty.
The former prison of Madame d'Olmeuil had been converted into a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and it was in this place so full of memories for mother and daughter that the venerable parish priest of Dinant blessed the couple. After the ceremony, Louise presented to each of her former companions the title of a perpetual annuity of three hundred francs, and said to them, embracing them in turn with effusion:
“It's the gift of friendship, don't refuse it. Formerly you helped me in my work; today that Heaven has deigned to send me wealth, help me to make good use of it. Thus, when poor abandoned children come to your eyes, extend a helping hand to them; take them to our dear workroom, which my dear Fanchette will henceforth take the direction of; this place has long sheltered my youth; I want it to always be the refuge of unhappy childhood, and that my Cécile's name and mine are not forgotten there.
—Ah! we will bless them every day, exclaimed Fanchette and the young workers with equal enthusiasm; but promise us to come sometimes to encourage our work by your presence; we would be too much to be pitied if we were condemned to see you no more.
Here Louise looked at her husband and her mother, who were gazing at her with rapture, and both hastened to promise her frequent visits to the workroom. After having thus expressed her sentiments and distributed her gifts to her former companions, Louise went to sit down with them at the banquet which had been prepared, and a frank gaiety then came to animate all hearts. Soon, however, the young girls asked permission to leave the table to go to explore the gardens of the castle, the beauty of which they never tired of admiring, and they spread there like a swarm of bees, fluttering from flower to flower. to inhale its sweet fragrances.
Their joyous journeys had lasted for about half an hour, when, having approached the gate, they saw a woman outside seated at the foot of a tree, and who, her head bent on her knees, seemed to be crying bitterly. Her dirty and tattered clothes, her almost bare feet, everything about her announced the extremes of misery.
"Let's go get Madame Derban," said the young girls in a low voice, "she will have pity on this unfortunate girl whom the good Lord brings to his door; she will help her. »
Immediately Louise is warned; she runs up, opens the gate, approaches the stranger, and scarcely has she cast a glance at her withered features than she utters a cry of surprise.
"Yes, it's really me," said the latter through her sobs, "it's the unfortunate Julie, whom you must despise, and who nevertheless, from the depths of the abyss into which her disorders have plunged her, dared base its last hope on you.
“Poor Julia! What ! in this state ! But how did you come here? Did you know you would find me there? asked Louise, deeply moved.
'Yes,' replied the unfortunate woman, 'I have heard of your happiness, and whatever my faults were towards you, I did not hesitate to come and implore your help, for your noble heart is known to me. It was on foot, begging my bread, that I made this long journey.
"You had to write to me, let me know your distress," resumed Louise; but come, come. »
And, supporting the tottering steps of her former companion, she led her towards the chateau.
What a contrast these two young women offered at this moment, who formerly seemed destined, by the identity of their position, to walk in the same line! Julie herself was so sadly struck by it that she said, looking at Louise:
“This sparkling robe of whiteness, this crown which adorns your forehead, are the image of the purity of your soul, while these soiled shreds announce the ignominy into which mine has descended. Ah! Heaven is fair; he gave each of us the part we sought. »
"Dear Julie, console yourself," replied Louise with tender pity; the treasury of divine mercy is inexhaustible; he will open himself to your repentance, and then you will bless the hand that will have struck you in order to bring you back sooner to the path of good. »
Speaking thus, they arrived at the castle. Madame Derban wanted to take the unfortunate Julie to a separate room, where she intended to give her other clothes which would have spared her the shame of appearing in such a wretched state in front of Cécile and Fanchette; but before she could carry out her charitable design, the latter, warned by the young girls, came to meet her, and, at the sight of Julie, their revulsion was about to manifest itself, when a look from their young friend disarmed them.
At this moment the good priest, M. Derban and Madame d'Olmeuil also came to meet Louise; she smiled at them with an ineffable sweetness; then, bringing in the poor creature, whose arm she had not yet taken away, she hastened to offer her all the assistance her deplorable situation demanded.
“How good you are! said the latter, deeply touched. Then addressing the young girls who surrounded her, she added: “Two striking examples are before your eyes: may you take advantage of them! You have seen Louise, the butt of misfortune, remain faithful to virtue; you have seen her, disdaining perfidious advice, working with courage, with perseverance; and in the modest condition in which Providence had placed her, you have seen her so honored and cherished: everyone admired her resignation, her noble feelings, her sweet charity towards the unfortunate, to whom, each day, her laborious hands distributed some alms. . Well ! Heaven was to bless her, and it did so generously; but, in sending him the reward, he sent me the punishment... Yes, resumed the unfortunate woman, look at me well, and above all don't forget that vanity and laziness were the only causes of my loss. I was a skilled worker, I could earn my living honestly; like Louise, I could triumph over poverty and deserve general esteem by my good conduct; but I had allowed this miserable vanity to grow in my heart: having become my idol, it disgusted me with work, with my humble condition; it took me away from God, from everything that could sustain my weakness; and, after having delivered me to shame, to remorse, she led me to a prison, where I was locked up for three months, in the midst of the vilest creatures. Ah! at least may this fatal example be profitable to you! I would like all the young people of your age to be able to see me, to be able to hear me, in order to convince themselves that the misfortune is not in poverty, but in forgetting the virtues that religion inspires, and that only she can preserve. »
A few moments of silence followed this speech. All the eyes of the assistants were bathed in tears. Louise took poor Julie's hand, and with gentle words she sought to console her; but the latter immediately said to him:
“Let me weep over my faults; I must expiate them. Just forgive me for having come to disturb such a beautiful day by my presence; I didn't know it was your wedding. In a hurry to escape the dangers that still surrounded me, in a hurry above all to escape the contempt with which everyone heaped upon me, I had but one thought, that of coming to implore your commiseration, hoping that it would deign to to open an asylum where I could earn my bread by serving God. You told me he would deign to take pity on my tears; but if I can still have recourse to his infinite mercies, I have nothing more to expect from my fellow men; they pushed me away, I have to run away from them...
"No, no," said the young workers together; come among us, poor Julie! We will help you in your work, we will sympathize with your pains; each of us will become a sister to you.
- THANKS ! a thousand times thank you for this generous movement! exclaimed the unfortunate woman; he does me good, he consoles me; but I can no longer work or show myself among you; your purity would suffer from my defilements, and I must now desire in this world only a deep retreat where each day I can offer my prayers and my repentance to God.
"Your wishes will be fulfilled, my dear Julie," said Louise immediately. Tomorrow a pious asylum will be opened to you by the care of the venerable parish priest of Dinant, and every day also we will join our prayers to yours so that you may find in this place the peace and happiness of which you show yourself worthy by so much humility and resignation. »
Madame Derban had hardly uttered these words when all the young girls cried out, as they used to do in the workroom: "Long live Louise! long live our dear mistress!" Then, having taken Julie to the room intended for her They overwhelmed her with care, and did not leave her until they had seen calm reborn in her withered features. The next day, the poor repentant, followed by the holy priest who had taken her under his protection, left the castle to enter, eight kilometers away, in a retirement home, where, endowed by Louise, she soon became a model of piety.
Happy with all the good she has poured out on those she loves, the latter continues to practice in the midst of prosperity the virtues that she has learned to acquire in misfortune. Sweet, modest, charitable, thinking only of multiplying her good works, she succeeded in founding, not far from her magnificent castle, a second workshop, intended to take in poor orphans. It is there, it is surrounded by this young adoptive family that Louise likes to recall her first state, and that she likes to repeat that our work offered to God becomes for us a source of enjoyment and happiness.