The Tales of the Castle
dedicated to young people of both sexes
by MB D'EXAUVILLEZ
TOURS: ALFRED MAME AND SON, EDITORS. 13th edition - 1869
In an ancient castle located in one of the most beautiful valleys of Auvergne, peacefully lived the happiest and most closely united family. M. de Nanteuil, who was its chief, had served his king and his country for a long time, and had afterwards come to seek in the bosom of domestic joys the reward of his fatigues and his devotion. A virtuous wife shared his sweet retirement and joined him in bringing up three children Christianly granted to them by Heaven. Georges, the eldest, aged sixteen, was endowed with the most solid qualities. Destined to serve at sea, he had hastened to cultivate his mind and to adorn it with the knowledge necessary for his advancement. The pastor of the neighboring village, M. Lecointe, had also applied himself to instructing him, and, thanks to his lessons, the studious young man was soon to be in a condition to present himself successfully at a royal school. His brother, Ernest, aged fifteen, was less lively, less hot; he possessed such a well-cultivated mind, such a beautiful, generous soul. Tender, affectionate, he promised himself to spend his days with his parents, to be their support, their support, and to console them for the absence of their eldest son. Anna was M. de Nanteuil's youngest child, and this amiable girl, who was barely entering her fourteenth year, was the delight of the whole family by her gentleness and grace. Nothing was wanting to the happiness of the inhabitants of the chateau of Nanteuil; contentment was their habitual guest, and boredom had never entered their home, for they knew how to keep it away by work and innocent amusements. Pleasant and instructive stories were their sweetest pastimes; every evening a few were made, and they were always listened to with lively interest and deep contemplation.
Anna especially loved stories, and she was usually the first to ask her father or her mother, or M. Lecointe, to tell her some interesting fact. One day, it was at the beginning of winter, she said to M. de Nanteuil:
“My dear papa, I think that our big Sunday evenings are going to start again, and that, better than ever, the winter stories will go their way. Alas! in the spring our brother Georges will leave us to go to Paris. From then on he would never again attend our meetings; for when he returns he will be too old to listen to mere stories.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
My dear child, I am ready to tell and listen. It's Sunday tomorrow, we'll resume our evening stories, if it pleases you all.
Can you doubt it, my dear father? You know that our meetings have always had an infinite charm for us; and, whatever my little Anna says, I will always love them.
As for me, I ardently wished for them, and I had already spoken of them to M. Lecointe, who was to come that very evening to make the proposal.
Come on, it's a settled thing: I run to warn my good mother and tell her to examine her memories carefully, because in her turn she will have to pay her tribute. »
Jeans. — flooding.
The next day, at precisely seven o'clock in the evening, M. de Nanteuil's whole family was gathered around a good fire, in a well-closed room. M. le curé made himself wait there, and yet he had promised to be punctual, for he was to speak first; so Anna reproached him when at last he arrived. He listened to them with a smile; then he replied: "I am sure, my dear child, that you will forgive me for being late, when you know that my time has been employed in the service of an unfortunate person." I will explain myself in a few words: after vespers, I heard a voice cry out to me weakly: "Monsieur le curé, have compassion on an unfortunate man.'..." I turned around and saw a young man about eighteen years old, who barely dragged himself; his clothes were clean, but messy; a great pallor covered her face, and tears welled up in her eyes. I immediately held out my hands to him; but he dared not take them for support, he threw himself at my knees; I lifted him up, and taking his arm, led him to the presbytery, where dinner was waiting for us. When his appetite had calmed down a little, I asked him what misfortune threw him so young on the high roads, and he told me his story.
“My father is an honest farmer, whose hard and constant work has been rewarded with success for many years; but for some time now happiness has fled him; his crops were bad, his cattle perished from disease, and he was unable to pay his dues. Its owner did not want to wait; he had him put in prison and demanded the sale of the little property we possessed. My poor mother finds herself in the most dreadful position: alone, without help, she remains responsible for several children unable to earn their living. I am Jean, their eldest: sent very young to Clermont in a trading house, I had succeeded in amassing some money which I carefully put in reserve to employ it usefully one day. And what sweeter use could I make of it than to give it to my unfortunate parents! So, hardly informed of the misfortunes of my family, I set out with the permission of the merchant where I work, after having stuffed all my savings into a small bag and my safest pocket. I walked the first two days with extraordinary ardor, without experiencing the slightest accident. Yesterday my strength diminished, and about three o'clock in the evening I entered a modest inn to take a little food and rest; after eating, I fell asleep leaning on a table. I thought I could sleep in safety; I was mistaken: a few moments after my arrival, still a young man had sat down opposite me at the same table and had engaged in a conversation in which I concealed nothing of my affairs. I spoke of the amount of money I carried, and I was cruelly punished for my imprudence, for when I awoke my precious treasure had disappeared. I accused the stranger, who alone knew my secret, but without hope of obtaining restitution, since he had fled. The innkeeper could only pity me, and I left him in despair. What to do now? what does it matter to me to be no more than seven leagues from my family? how shall I relieve her? I am as poor as she..."
As he finished these words, Jean began to weep bitterly, and I had great difficulty in consoling him; I had to talk to him for a long time, that's why I came so late. You would not, my children, have wanted me to leave someone in distress at home; you would have reproached me for my conduct, and with good reason. Are you still mad at me, Miss Anna?
Ah! really no; I am infinitely grateful to you for having been so kind to this unfortunate young man. But you did not tell us how much money was taken from him.
He lost a hundred crowns.
This loss is reparable if we want it. I have fifteen francs in my possession, I offer them to you: Mama promised me a hat for this week, I can easily make the sacrifice, because I don't need it; I'm also offering you the fifteen francs it may cost: in all, it's thirty francs recovered.
I have a fine louis d'or, here it is, Monsieur le cure; I took it out of my pocket while listening to you.
My purse contains thirty francs; I give them with all my heart to poor Jean.
Dear children, be a thousand times blessed. I accept your donations, they will increase the small sum of money that I was able to dispose of myself; however, I need your parents' consent.
Madame de Nantes
My sons and my daughter offered what belonged to them, and I am very happy; much more, I want
imitate them: I give a hundred francs to Jean, and I impose on M. de Nanteuil a similar contribution. A brave soldier willingly allows himself to be held to ransom when it comes to rescuing an unfortunate person.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
You said the truth, my dear friend. I will therefore also in turn promise something. I don't know Jean's father's master, but I do my best to reconcile the owner and the farmer. Sunday I will report to you on my steps.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
Now let me kiss you, dear Anna; you sacrificed your pretty hat, I'll give you another one. I will also remember the conduct of Georges and Ernest, although they only did their duty.
Everyone complies here with such good grace that I am quite ashamed of not fulfilling my promise of yesterday. You expect a story; it will be short, because the time has passed quickly. But what do you care? everything that has just happened has caused us all, I am sure, more pleasure than the most beautiful story; and I even think I perceive that you want me to go and bring Jean all the good news I know.
Without a doubt. Let's go all, you will compensate us next Sunday.
All of this can be done without inconvenience. Jean will soon know his happiness, I am going to introduce him here so that he can show you all his gratitude himself. He accompanied me to your home. He awaits his fate in the next room. »
M. Lecointe went out at these words, and returned a moment later with Jean. This good young man ran to throw himself at the feet of his benefactors, who were not a little astonished at his sudden appearance.
“Do you know, Father, that it is very wrong to have acted in this way! cried Anna; you did not see the position you would have thrown us into if we had been merciless. M. Jean would have been a hundred times more unhappy than before.
I knew your good heart too well. Besides, I perfectly remembered that your mother had often advised me to bring her at once the unfortunate people who needed her help.
You are always right, and you definitely have too high an opinion of your flock. But, no matter what you say, we'll never be as human as you are. My mother and my father are however very good.
I am sure that M. Lecointe has made a vow never to let an unfortunate person pass without relieving him; for he acquits himself of this duty with rigorous exactness.
I do what a Christian should do. You say, my young friend, that I promised never to let an unfortunate person pass without relieving him, and you told the truth.
All this tells me a story.
You guess right. This story is that of my youth; it may be worth another. If you wish, I will tell it to you after having escorted Jean to the presbytery.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
I object to Jean leaving us. It is not too much here: that he benefits with us from the story that you are willing to grant us.
I submit and begin:
My parents enjoyed great ease and had only me as a child. They lived in the North of France, and every year they used to make a trip to the South, where their family lived. They did not leave home the year I was born; they waited until I could support myself on my legs, before going to offer myself to the caresses and embraces of their friends. When they thought I was in a condition to bear the fatigues of a long journey, they departed gaily, occupied with the pleasant reception and the amusements prepared for them. I seemed to share their joy, and in my childish language, intelligible only to my mother, I expressed a satisfaction which increased their contentment not a little. Fortunately we arrived on the banks of the Loire; but there was to begin a long series of misfortunes. It happened that, one stormy night, the river overflowed and spread with frightful rapidity in the countryside where we were stopped. Our house was invaded by the waves; my father, suddenly awakened and informed of the danger that threatened us, threw me into a fisherman's boat and then ran to my mother's aid. Alas! I was never to see her again! No sooner had he moved away than a horrible creak was heard and the house sank into the waters. The fisherman managed, in the midst of the darkness, to save a few people; but he retired without the authors of my days.
The next day I cried in my savior's cabin, not knowing too much of the cruel loss
I had done, when a young woman entered who took me in her arms and tried to console me. After chatting a few moments with the fisherman, she went out to place me in one of the two baskets supported by her donkey, and to put in the other a casket which had belonged to my parents; then she set off towards a small farm some distance away. There I found a new family, and soon I no longer asked for those to whom I owed my life, and whose memory I was too young to retain for long.
My childhood was spent in games, on the hillsides, in the valleys. At six years old, I sat down every day on the benches of the village school, and without too much difficulty I learned to read and write. Later I made myself useful, by small rural work, to those who took care of me, until at last I could move the earth, sow, plant, then reap. While the wars covered France and the rest of Europe with mourning, I grew up happy under cool shadows; I took shelter under a peaceful roof, I cheerfully ate the bread that I had earned by the sweat of my brow. I was then fifteen years old; I enjoyed vigorous health, and to live always as I had lived until then was the only wish I had to form. Or had never spoken to me of my family, whom no one knew, because the tape had offered no information in this regard; I was unaware of the dreadful event which had taken me away from my parents, and I had to live naturally without sadness, without regrets. The farmer's wife was my mother; her husband, my father, and their son André, my brother..."
Here Jean made an involuntary movement which Madame de Nanteuil alone noticed. But, not guessing the cause, she was careful not to interrupt M. Lecointe, who continued his story thus:
"One day when after my rustic work I was taking some rest, sitting by the side of a small path, before going to the farm, I heard a noise that it was impossible for me to define, then a woman's cry. very acute. Sensing an accident happened to travelers, I rush on the road, and at a hundred paces I discover a broken car and a very neatly dressed lady trying in vain to get up from her fall. I ran to her, and, helping the postillion to pull her out of the deep rut into which she had fallen, I led her to a mound against which she leaned with a sigh. I thought she was hurt, she reassured me and said:
“You see, my friend, that I cannot continue my journey; could you tell me a place where I would find a refuge for the night?
"My father's farm is not far away," I replied. Do not be afraid to lean on my arm, I will lead you there. Be sure that we will receive you with a good heart. You will miss nothing and tomorrow you will be able to continue your journey, because this very evening I will go and ask the wheelwright of the neighboring village to come and mend your car. »
The rich lady cast a sad but gentle look on me and, leaning on my arm, followed the path which led to the farm.
As she walked along, she asked me long questions which I answered as she pleased. When she found out my age, she told me bitterly: "My son would also be fifteen today... He would be strong and handsome like you... He could help travelers, and he would be the support, the consolation of his poor mother. »
She fell silent and said no more until we reached our farm, where everything was turned upside down to do her honor. I left it when I saw it in good hands, to fetch the wheelwright, whom the postilion was impatiently awaiting. On my return I saw the farmer's wife who seemed to be spying on my arrival. When she saw me, she ran up to me, and, hugging me crying in her arms, she exclaimed: "Julien, do you want to leave me?" must I stop calling you my son?
"I don't understand you, mother. Leave you! Me ! Oh ! Never !
"And yet my conscience commands me to give you back where you belong." My poor Julien, you are not my son, André is not your brother...
_ I am not your son! André is not my brother!
Alas! No. Listen, Julien, listen; this beautiful lady you took to the farm told us that just fifteen years ago she lost her child and her husband in a flood of the Loire. She owed her own salvation only to the courage of a young peasant who, seeing her close to disappearing under the waters, delayed her flight for a moment to save her from certain death. This son she thought was lost is you, Julien: I have all the proof. She is still unaware of her happiness, this poor mother; and if I have hidden everything from him up to now, it is, my dear Julien, the affection I have for you that is the cause. I wanted to delay an explanation that would tear you from my arms... But you have to make this sacrifice. Come kiss your mother...
The good farmer's wife dragged me away, and exclaimed on entering her room and introducing me to the stranger: "Madame, don't cry for your son, there he is... Look at this green cassette, he was saved with him. waters by a poor fisherman. »
She then related all the details you already know, and broke off more than once to give free rein to her tears. My mother hugged me convulsively in her arms: one would have said that she was afraid, as she listened to the sad story of the farmer's wife, that I might be snatched from her again. She then applied herself to consoling the farmer's wife, and she succeeded with great difficulty. Before giving ourselves up to sleep, we talked for a long time, and more than one fine project was decided upon. I wanted André to come with me so as not to leave me again, but his mother was against it; she only promised to send him every year to spend a month with us. My mother had lost most of her fortune; but she had enough to do some good: she immediately sent several thousand francs to the fisherman to whom I owed my salvation, and compelled the farmer to accept a larger sum.
The next day I left the country where I had spent such fortunate days, to return to the place of my birth. I stayed two months with my mother, who could not bring herself to part with her son; I was then taken to the college in the neighboring town, for my education was not very advanced, and I had no time to lose.
Three years passed quickly. The successes I obtained in my first classes made my mother proud and were the cause of our loss. She dreamed for me the most brilliant future, and wanted to recapture the riches she no longer had, in order to prepare more surely for my advancement in the world. Alone, she had contented herself with the remains of her fortune; on finding me she thought herself poor, sold her possessions, and, in the hope of increasing them, she successively placed the proceeds of them in a host of undertakings which ruined her entirely. Sorrow made her ill, and a few months later she passed away in my arms.
I therefore remained alone on earth. I thought of my old work in the fields, of my second mother, of André, who hadn't come to see me this year, who hadn't even answered the letters I had written to him, and I set off. for the farm where the unfortunate was always well received. I saw her again after many fatigues, and, one fine summer evening, my heart beating with hope, I knocked softly at the door, I called André and his family; other voices answered me, other people opened the door to me, saying to me: "The farmer of whom you speak died six months ago, his wife followed him a few days later to the tomb." André has left the country, and we don't know where he is. »
And the door closed. I could not obtain hospitality. Worn out with fatigue, I lay down under a nearby tree. The next day I left before dawn without really knowing where to take my steps. A fairground merchant whom I fortunately met relieved me of my pain by offering to accompany me on his errands. I gladly accepted, and went from village to village carrying the bale filled with various country luxuries. I thus arrived in Auvergne. Here the small fortune that had shown itself to
I suddenly abandoned myself; for the traveling merchant, seeing that business was languishing, honestly gave me my leave. When I left him, I was no richer than the day I had made his acquaintance; but, without losing courage, I thought of finding some occupation, and immediately set off for Clermont, from which I was only about fifteen leagues distant. After having traversed seven of them fairly quickly, fatigue brought me down, and I only dragged myself on the road; it took me four hours to reach the village next to that of which I am parish priest, that is to say, to travel two leagues. It was night; Not daring to knock on the doors, which I found all closed, I did like Jean, I addressed myself to the pastor, who was leaving the church. He was a good old man, who greeted me with a smile on his face. He questioned me a lot while I devoured my supper; I no longer wanted him, and when I awoke the next day he offered to complete my education. I need not tell you that his proposal was infinitely agreeable to me. He therefore installed me in his home, where I remained for several years under his very personal direction: I then went to complete my ecclesiastical studies in Clermont. Immediately after being elevated to the priesthood, I became the vicar of my benefactor, who several years later fell ill without hope of recovery. Here are the last words he addressed to me on his deathbed: “My son, you will be my successor, my lord the bishop gave me the promise. You will also inherit the little property that I possess: I leave it to you as a pledge of my affection, and so that it may help you to discharge the small debts that you have contracted towards Christian charity, it is she who has lifted up, who nourished you, who consoled you; promise me that you will not be ungrateful, and that you will meet every unfortunate person she places in your way. »
I promised it with joy; the good old man kissed me tenderly, and peacefully returned his spirit into my arms.
It has been many years since these words were spoken, and I try every day to fulfill my promise... To every unfortunate whom I relieve, I repeat the advice of my venerable predecessor, and I hope that Jean will also one day to others what we have done today for him. »
M. Lecointe stopped. Georges and Ernest thanked him for his story, and Anna said to him: "You forgot, monsieur le cure, to tell us if you had seen André again."
He was lost to me. A few years ago I made a new trip to the banks of the Loire, in the hope of discovering him; but I have been unable to obtain any satisfactory information about him. It would, however, be a very sweet joy to my old age if I were given the chance to kiss her once more.
We must not despair of anything. Your brother has no doubt gone to seek his fortune beyond the seas. When I am a sailor, I will inquire about him everywhere, and if I find him, I will not fail to bring him back to you.
It may not be as far from us as we think.
Ernest is right, and one fine morning I may meet him while picking flowers in the countryside.
God willing! if you were lucky enough to point it out to me, you could count on all my gratitude and on a multitude of tales and stories. While waiting for this sweet dream to come true, sleep well, my young friends. »
M. Lecointe saluted M. and Mme. de Nanteuil, and slowly returned with Jean to his modest presbytery.
Stephen, or the Misfortunes of an Ambitious.
It only took a day for M. Lecointe and M. de Nanteuil to remove the obstacles which stood in the way of the release of the farmer and the happiness of the whole family of Jean. When they reappeared at the castle, their faces bore the mark of the liveliest joy; Anna and her brothers remarked on this. The two travelers tried in vain to conceal it: it betrayed itself in their looks, in their gestures and in their words. Their answers, somewhat mysterious, aroused the curiosity of Georges, Ernest and above all of Anna, and made them long for Sunday, when any explanation was to be given about the steps taken in favor of Jean. So the evening meeting took place early. When everyone had taken their place around the fire, Anna said to her father and to M. Lecointe:
“You have been doing the mysterious all this week, leaving us on the thorns for five days; mother herself, who certainly knew nothing, was very reserved towards her daughter: it is very bad, I assure you; but at least you have to break the silence now.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
Since we must carry out our conventions, I will begin the account of our exploits; The priest will finish it. Early Monday morning, I left you, my dear children, to go with M. Lecointe to Jean's family. We found her retired in a poor hut, exposed to all the rigors of the season, without fire, without bread, and plunged in pain. But this pain soon turned to joy, when Jean had explained to his mother who we were and the purpose of our trip. We had great difficulty in calming the outbursts of gratitude of the mother and the children. During this time, Jean did not remain idle; he ran to buy provisions, then returned promptly to place them on a worm-eaten table in front of the inhabitants of the cottage. We shared the improvised meal, and I can assure you, my children, that no feast has given me a pleasure similar to the one I tasted then. You should have seen the satisfaction of our guests, which each bite brought back to life! They all became sad again for a moment; because their mother had stopped eating to cry.
"What's the matter, mother? said Jean, approaching her affectionately.
- Alas! my son, I am thinking of your father. While happiness comes to visit us, abundance enters our homes from all sides, he is alone in his dungeon, he eats black bread which he waters with his tears.
'Don't worry, my mother; my father will soon experience our joy, he will reap his share of it. Thinking of you, I haven't forgotten: Pierre, our neighbor, has left for the city, where he will see our dear prisoner, to whom he is charged with carrying money and learning of our approaching arrival.
These reassuring words dispelled the sadness of the family, and the meal was continued cheerfully. I did not wait for the end to go to the owner of the farm, who received me very well. But when he learned the reason for my visit, his expression changed, and to my entreaties for the farmer he replied:
“I can do nothing for André. He owes me, let him pay me, and he will be free.
“It is cruel to treat like this,” I replied, “an honest man who for many years made your lands prosper, a father of a family whom misfortunes have ruined.
'I'm sorry about that. A farmer must bring me his dues exactly. I only worry about that. I waited a year, that's enough, I think; I cannot push complacency and generosity any further.
"Would it be very hard for you to wait for a second year?" a good harvest would give the industrious André the means to acquit himself to you.
— If I acted thus, I would soon have to work myself; for I would no longer be permitted to count on my income. I behaved as I should: André was my debtor for four thousand francs; the sale of the little property he possessed produced three thousand, I learned just now; I still claim a thousand francs, neither more nor less.
'But he won't send them to you from prison. Again, I assure you that he would pay you if you let him work.
“All your reasons will not change my resolution. I don't want André any more as a farmer: he's an honest man; but it has ceased to be exact and to be favored by fortune.
— I hope that you will find in whoever replaces him more accuracy, and above all more probity. Now it only remains for me to ask you for the receipts for André's rent; because I pay for this brave ploughman.
- Without a doubt. The rich must come to the aid of the poor, the honest man to the honest man. Besides, I need a good farmer; I take yours into my service, and I hope never to have reason to repent of it. »
Here ends our conversation. Your excellent mother, my children, had urged me to complete the good work we had begun, and to provide myself with a fairly large sum of money; I counted out a thousand francs to the inhuman owner, and without wasting time I returned to the cottage where I was immediately expected. Without affirming anything, I announced that it was hoped that André would be free before sunset; then taking our good pastor aside, I begged him to bring the prisoner the news of his deliverance; I handed him all the receipts at the same time, and he left. I knew that this mission would have a special charm for him; for he was going to see a man he had missed for many years.
It is undoubtedly André, his brother at heart, his childhood friend that you want to designate?
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
Little curious one, wait until Monsieur Lecointe teaches you himself, because it is now up to him to report to you on his conduct; my role is over, his begins.
My role was certainly the most pleasant to fulfill. I didn't have to lecture its ruthless owner. I was in charge of going to tell a poor prisoner that he was free. So I cheerfully set off. Near to reach the city, I wanted to know the name of the farmer to whom I brought such good news; I unfolded the receipts and read, judge of my astonishment! that of André Robille, my childhood friend. I remained motionless for a moment, not knowing whether I should retreat or advance, return to instruct M. de Nanteuil on this precious discovery, or rush immediately to the prison: the latter course was certainly the best, and I took it.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
And you did well; for M. de Nanteuil had known everything for a long time. Only I surprised, last Sunday, a movement of Jean, when in the middle of your story you pronounced the name of André. At first I could not penetrate the cause of this involuntary movement; but, after reflecting for a moment, I had no doubt that Providence had spared you a very sweet satisfaction. Indeed, before we separated, I learned the whole truth from Jean's mouth; I advised him to conceal his father's surname from you, and informed my husband of this. That's why the latter asked you to go and open the prison yourself to your old friend.
I thank him with all my heart for this delicate intention and for the happiness he brought me. I won't describe André's transports of joy on learning that he was free; they redoubled when he found out who I was. He had not recognized me at first; we were both so changed. He fell into my arms, and our tears flowed in abundance.
“O my dear Julien! cried he, O my liberator! It is indeed you that Heaven sends me to rescue me from misfortune! That's too much bliss in one day! Was I worthy of so much kindness, of so much benefit! How can I ever recognize them!...
'André,' I replied, 'the generous man to whom you owe all this joy is not here; he awaits you with your family in an isolated cottage. Come, come with me: your wife, your children, are still unaware of your deliverance; they only hope so. Come on, why delay? What do you want?
— My friend, I want to pray for a moment! I don't feel strong enough to follow you. May God give me the courage to bear all my happiness, he who supported me in my sorrows, who never ceased to make a celestial voice heard in my heart in this prison. "Hope, hope..."
He threw himself on his knees, I imitated him, and our confused prayers rose to heaven, and we
We thanked the Lord for the favors he granted us on this day.
The teller came to interrupt us to tell us that the doors were open, and we left with a heart full of joy. Along the way I asked André about what he had done during his youth.
"Julien," he told me, "it's all quite sad to tell. I spent most of my youth very miserably. The third year of our separation my parents died, and I remained left to myself, to my thoughts of ambition. I was offered the lease of the farm my father had operated; I refused; I had several projects in mind that I loved. I sold the goods which my family had acquired by their work and thanks to the benefits of your mother, then I ran to Paris, where I soon fell prey to an intriguer whom it was not difficult to seize. from the mind of a simple countryman. Excited by his perfidious advice, I bought a small business which he liked to run himself to help me, he said. But he made me pay dearly for his assistance and my inexperience: he secretly appropriated all my profits, ruined my business and abandoned me when he saw me destitute. I was forced to resell my business at a great loss, and, possessing a very small sum of money, I returned to the fields whence I had madly left. I went straight to your country, with the intention of kissing you and telling you about my troubles; but you were no longer there, and they told me that you had not been happier than me. I then came to settle here, where for a long time I led a quiet and laborious life. It then only took a disastrous year to plunge me into new misfortunes; but I do not complain of my ills, since they are the cause that I see you again, that I have pressed you to my heart. »
I wanted a more detailed narrative; André willingly complied with my wishes, and he still said that we were nearing the threshold of the cottage. I will tell you nothing of the touching scene which we witnessed then, M. de Nanteuil and myself; my words, trying to describe it, would weaken its sweetness and charms. When M. de Nanteuil announced, amid the shouts of joy from the whole family, that André was becoming his farmer, joy was at its height, and I mingled my grateful voice with that of the inhabitants of the cottage; for my noble friend knows perfectly well that by bringing André closer to my presbytery, he is fulfilling my most ardent wishes.
So we will see this good farmer and his kind family?
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
Yes, my daughter; they will live not far from here.
When you visit them, my dear child, you will meet a young and sweet girl of thirteen who, playing with you in the meadows, will help you to form your bouquets of daisies.
And will Jean return to Clermont? I don't want it.
Yes, my friend, he will return to his boss; but the youngest of his brothers will henceforth live with me and become my pupil. You will have in him, I hope, a very agreeable companion; for he is an intrepid runner, and, like you, a great lover of wood, hunting, and fishing. In a few days I will bring the whole family to you; she longs to thank you for all the benefits with which you have been pleased to shower her.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
To hear you, Father, it would seem that we have done a very extraordinary thing. I don't know that much gratitude is due to us; for in the end we gain the most in all this business: for a slight sacrifice of a thousand francs, we acquire, my wife and I, an honest farmer; you, a friend; and my children, merry companions... Now I come to the story promised since this morning. Madame de Nanteuil has given me the floor. My story will have some relevance; for it will be a question of this accursed ambition, of this excessive, insatiable desire for lucre, which ruins so many young people, and to which André Robille owed the misfortunes of his youth. »
The deepest silence settles in the living room. M. Lecointe put a log on the fire, and M. de Nanteuil, after plunging his fingers into his snuffbox, spoke in these terms:
“Stéphen was a young man of eighteen, full of excellent qualities which unfortunately tarnished by excessive ambition. His family was rich, and lived, like us, within a peaceful countryside, having concern only for his happiness; Stéphen did not understand this happiness, and his greedy heart wandered beyond the fields which had seen him born. He often said to his younger brother Émile: “I would like to possess an immense fortune; I'll have to get it sooner or later.
"What would you do with it?" replied Emile.
- Nice request! with wealth one can acquire everything, one can shine in the world, satisfy all one's wishes and live amidst delights.
"So do you count our existence for nothing?" You want to shine in the world; but do you think the brightness is better than the darkness of a sweet and quiet life? Can't you fulfill your wishes here? What are you missing in your family? Go, believe me, with all your wealth you would be less happy than with the ease we enjoy. Our father spoke to us many times of his friend, M. Maugis. Where is this unfortunate man? What did he get out of his hard work? It is said that after the loss of a hard-earned fortune, he found death at the bottom of the sea. If he lives, it can only be in sadness and boredom. It is while regretting this that my father often repeats to us: “My children, all I ask of you is that you never separate yourself from me to run after deceptive illusions. »
"You see things on their bad side, my dear Emile." As for me, I think of the future, and I want to assure myself of a fate.
— It's all done, this fate you dream so beautiful. Why think of leaving these places, where true bliss reigns? why seek happiness so far away, when it is so near? »
Stéphen did not respond to these words, he changed the conversation. But his heart remained the same, and his ambition grew more and more every day.
About this time a very wealthy merchant, named M. Hervé, was visited at M. Dermond's. He was an old friend of the family, whom we did not fail to celebrate and caress. He spent eight days in the bosom of that happiness which one finds only in the depths of the countryside. The day before his departure, and at the end of a farewell dinner, he said to the mother of Stéphen and Emile: “I am curious, Madame Dermond, to know what you will do with your two sons. They are old enough to think of a state.
I believe their intention is not to leave us. They will find enough occupation here.
Mothers always say the same. But the young people must take the trouble and work with courage. Rest is made for middle age.
My children, I repeat after my wife, will not stay here with folded arms - I will take advantage of their youth to give another direction to our rural work.
But all this will not increase your fortune very much. It is not by doing so that you will increase your income a hundredfold.
Thank God we have enough to be able to live comfortably. Besides, if my sons wish to embrace a career other than that of agriculture, I will leave them free, without approving them; for the misfortunes of several friends have taught me that one is never happier than working on one's own land.
Let's see what Ëmile thinks.
I think absolutely like my father: all my desires are limited; to stay with my parents, to seek means of increasing the products of our fields, to live in peace and to die in the same way: such are my wishes.
Oh ! Oh ! you are a philosopher.
I don't know: I only want happiness.
Stephen, I'm sure, doesn't agree with you. He looks at things from another point of view. He has already confided to me that his happiness would be to travel the world and undertake one day, as I did, a vast business which would then provide him with the means to figure prominently in society. Am I telling the truth, Stephen?
Yes sir. If my father and my mother allow me, I will travel, and I will be a trader.
The request is addressed to you in the rules, my dear Dermond: what do you decide?
Stéphen will not be upset in his tastes. If his vocation calls him into commerce, let him be a merchant; but it is easy to understand that ambition is the motive of his conduct. Stay, Hervé, one more day, please, and we'll settle this matter. In the meantime, I urge Stéphen to meditate on the story of M. Maugis.
I will stay, since you wish, and I warn you that I will take care of placing Stephen properly. »
The conversation went no further; we separated, for the night was already far advanced. Before going to sleep, Stéphen told Emile of all his plans. His joy was extreme; he saw himself already, in the future, rich as Croesus. His dreams could not be more cheerful. He left his bed before dawn rose, ran into the garden, where in a sonorous voice he began to proclaim his great future deeds. He reasoned like the milkmaid in the fable.
"We are leaving on a magnificent ship," he said to himself. We majestically cross the waves of the ocean; no storm stops us, and, joyous, we disembark in an American port. With me I bring a well-chosen junk; I put it up for sale right away, it's taken away in the blink of an eye, and I realize huge profits all at once. Without wasting time, I make considerable purchases of American products, I cross the ocean again, I approach Le Havre, and without difficulty I sell my cargo for four times as much as it cost me. Here I am at the head of a fairly heavy sum. I rest for a moment; I embrace my family, my friends; then, resuming my course, I cross the seas a third time with a large number of boxes filled with objects of all kinds. The merchants of America hold out their arms and their crowns to me, I let go of my coffers and decide to found a colossal house in New York. On all sides my relations extend, I am exact, honest, active, everything succeeds me. My fortune swells and becomes monstrous. My ships cover the seas, and my family and friends learn that I am the first merchant of the new world. After ten years of work, I give up my establishments for three to four million, and one fine morning I set sail for the beautiful country of France. I have all my fortune with me. Oh! how happy I will be! I will spend the rest of my life in pleasures and opulence. I'm late to arrive! when will they cry Land!...land!...Courage, patience: we are no more than three leagues from the port. Ah! what joy; I can see the shore..."
Stéphen stopped here, a loud voice interrupted him saying: “You can see the shore; but unfortunately ! a storm suddenly rises, the ship is swept away, thrown against the rocks, it breaks and sinks into the abyss of the sea. All is lost, and it is with great difficulty that you reach the shore. , owning nothing. »
Having thus spoken, M. Dermond's gardener came out of a neighboring grove, and showed himself to the astonished ambitious young man.
" What ! Is it you, Father François, who interrupts me so inappropriately?
- Certainly; you know that dreams never end well; they always stop at the most beautiful place.
"Do you think I'm dreaming?"
'Absolutely like me when in my youth I left my spade one day to become a soldier in the hope of grabbing the epaulets of a general. I only caught a bullet and two saber thrusts which sent me back to the fields, and I thank them for that. My young master, you go quickly to work, and you are terribly greedy of fortune.
'But it's allowed, I suppose.
“No doubt it is permissible to seek to make a spell for oneself; but it is not necessary that the ambition
be the motive of our actions. Let us amass some wealth to relieve the unfortunate, and not to satisfy our vanity and our passions. I preach a little, Mr. Stéphen, because I have experience. Besides, here is M. Dermond approaching, he knows more than I do, he can tell you more. »
Stephen, for the first time in his life, felt embarrassed by his father's presence. The latter noticed this, and hastened to reassure his son:
"My friend," he said to him, "I no longer regard you as a child whom fear must make act and speak. I am only an affectionate father to you who comes to talk to you for a moment. Are you still resolving to get away, to travel far away?
“Yes, father, if you don't object.
"I tell you again, my son, I no longer want to command you." If your resolve is unshakeable, you will leave. But tell me, wouldn't it be simpler, since business has so many charms for you, to exercise it in a neighboring town; there I have friends from whom you would learn all the details of business before establishing yourself honourably. If after a while your travel plans were the same, it would always be easy for you to carry them out. »
Stephen hesitated to answer. M. Dermand understood this; he hastened to add: “My son, I read your heart; tomorrow you can leave with M. Hervé, who will entrust you to the care of one of his former associates. Everything is over, you only have goodbyes to say to us..."
Stephen had a good heart; he threw himself into the arms of his saddened father: "No, my father, I'm not leaving you, I don't want to upset you."
'Don't worry about my pain, my child. It is true that I cannot think of our separation, of your long absence, without shedding tears... But it is your mother who must be consoled..." And M. Dcrmond went with his son to the his wife's room, who did not learn of Stephen's resolution without great pain. She gave her consent, but after shedding a lot of tears.
The next day, Stéphen was on his way with Mr. Hervé. Little by little he forgot the sadness of farewells; arrived at Le Havre, he recovered his gaiety in the midst of the bustle of that city. Soon he had his own occupations, and he managed perfectly. His boss, M. Dénié, had received him with pleasure, presented by his former partner, and he promised himself to make him an excellent merchant. "We shall go far, young man," he said to him; we will need perseverance, and we must not be frightened; a good position is acquired only with great difficulty, and the fortune, after which we run, is changeable like the waves which will carry us in three days. »
These three days of waiting were a century for Stephen. Finally, the moment of departure arrived. M. Hervé said to the young clerk, bidding him farewell: “Never leave M. Dénié, whatever happens. With him sooner or later you will arrive at your destination. "I promise you," Stephen replied, shaking hands with his father's friend.
A moment later, the ship moved away rapidly, leaving on the shore afflicted relatives, worried friends, who followed it with their eyes until it had disappeared over the horizon.
Five months later, Mr. Dermond received a letter from Mexico from his son. Stéphen, after talking at length about the crossing and about a storm that had nearly lost the ship, said to his parents: "We have been in Mexico for a few days, and my boss is carrying out some big business, which courage and confirms me more and more in my resolutions. Mr. Dénié is a very gentle man; he treats me like his son, and I try to show myself grateful for all his kindness. My life here is very active; but I am far from complaining about it. I would rather complain about the heat, which is excessive. Soon we will make an excursion inland, and Mr. Dénié hopes to derive considerable benefit from it. I will keep you faithfully informed of all that will happen to us, happy or unhappy, during this long walk. »
Stéphen continued to talk about his position, and ended his letter with words always dear to a father and a mother. Emile was not forgotten, his brother sent him a picturesque description of the country, and promised to describe in this way the beauties of the towns and regions he traveled through.
Other letters followed the first at short intervals. For four years Stéphen kept repeating that he had nothing but praise for his position. At the end of this time the correspondence slows down noticeably. One evening, after several months of waiting, his family finally received one of his letters: everyone approached and listened attentively to the traveller's news. This news was sad, and caused a painful impression; for Stéphen announced that he had just left M. Dénié to go into partnership with a young merchant.
"My future with M. Dénié," he said, "could not become very brilliant." A very skilful Frenchman, already solidly established, offers me, on favorable terms, to unite my efforts with his to fight together against the most famous houses. I accepted; but I expect, my father, that you will be kind enough to grant me the sum of money which you intend for my establishment, so that we can immediately begin our operations. »
M. Dermond nodded as he read this letter: “Stéphen is an ingrate, he said to himself, he is leaving M. Dénié; I fear that God will punish him for it. He joins forces with a person he knows very little about: bad things will happen to him. But I cannot refuse him what I propose to give to each of my children. Stephen! Stephen! imprudent son, you are lost. »
The family retired sad and pensive, and the next day it was recognized that Madame Dermond had shed many tears during the night.
Forty thousand francs were sent to Stephen. A few months later such a sum was paid into the hands of Emile, who married one of the most virtuous and richest girls in the country. The marriage was celebrated with pomp; but Stephen was missing, and his absence spread bitterness over the joy of this fine day.
From that time, no more letters were received from the young merchant. What was the cause of his silence? We are going to make it known: he had not been long in realizing that his associate had only asked him to join him to restore his faltering business. Mr. Durien, that was the name of this partner, was a gambler. When Stephen's presence and money had consolidated his business, he again gave himself up to the passion which had been so fatal to him, to gambling, in which he lost considerable sums of money. Stephen then had to deplore, but belatedly, his mad haste; he made vain efforts to keep his partner on the edge of the abyss; his entreaties, his threats were not heeded, and soon his forty thousand francs were devoured and his ruin consummated. Thus disappointed in his bright hopes, he felt a violent chagrin; and, wanting everyone to ignore him, because he believed his self-respect was interested in it, he refrained from writing to his friends and family. Stripped of all his possessions, he only found resources to live on in a rather unprofitable job as a clerk. He vegetated there for a year, and only came out by a sort of miracle.
One day when he was busy writing in his office, he was accosted by someone who, tapping him lightly on the shoulder, said to him: “What are you doing there, Stephen? Stéphen turned around and blushed when he saw Mr. Dénié. The honest tradesman did not want to enjoy the misfortune of his ungrateful companion; he questioned him very friendly and begged him to confide his troubles to him. Stephen concealed nothing from him, and told him of what misfortunes he had been struck since his association.
M. Dénié was touched by his story, and taking his hand: “My friend,” he said to him, “I am not at all angry with you; you were reckless, and you were punished, it was justice. I predicted everything for you; but let's forget the past, there is still time to repair your losses; because you are young. Come back with me, this is not your place. »
You can easily understand with what gratitude these generous words were received by Stéphen; it was giving him life to snatch him from the darkness in which he groaned. Will it please God that he takes advantage of the lesson he has received?
Mr. Dénié knew perfectly the activity, the talents of his young companion; he employed them usefully, and Stephen, let us confess, conducted himself in the most commendable manner, neglecting nothing that might cause his first proceedings to be forgotten. He succeeded so well that Mr. Dénié appointed him his partner, without requiring any contribution from him other than the zeal of which he had given proof until then. Stephen was overjoyed; he no longer doubted that his fortune would soon be restored: indeed, at the end of eight years, he saw himself master of considerable wealth.
About this time the country he inhabited was threatened with war; a dull agitation manifested itself on all sides; sinister rumors circulated in all directions, and the alarm was soon general. Prudent and wise merchants, foreseeing misfortunes not far off, hastened to finish their business and sell their goods; foreigners, especially, were the first to empty their stores to return home. M. Dénié, no less cautious than the others, judged that it was time to abandon the trade and return to France. He spoke of it to his associate, and said to him as he walked with him in the countryside:
“You are not unaware, Stephen, of the evils which threaten us; we will act wisely by taking the road to our homeland as soon as possible. We both have a pretty good fortune, I think that should be enough for us. Everyone is taking their measurements right now; let's not be the last to take shelter from the storm rumbling above our heads.
'We are frightened prematurely,' replied Stephen, 'war will not take place, and even if it should break out, we will suffer little from it, because it will not last long; I will even confess to you that, far from frightening me, it seems to me that it should serve us usefully. The timid move away, we remain the masters of commerce; once peace is restored, we will sell at the weight of gold what fear has given us almost for nothing. I have made great calculations on this, and if I am not mistaken, in two years we will be more than millionaires.
— My friend, I repeat to you, what I have is enough for me and beyond; I have run enough chances in my life, I stop. I urge you to imitate me: don't be too ambitious; if you want to succeed
sir, don't come back here any more, speculate in our country; there you will find a quiet country, where your money will be able to bear fruit; in this city you can only lose it. I am older than you, Stephen; I have some experience; listen to me, you will not regret it.
'I cannot relish your advice, Monsieur Dénié, although it is disinterested and although it is the advice of my benefactor, of my most precious friend.
'I am sorry to see you in such a disposition: but you are your master: stay, if it is your good pleasure; I am leaving in five days.
— I will join you in France shortly. You will see my family: they already know the happy change which, thanks to you, has taken place in my position: you will give them my letters, and tell them that I will probably be in their bosom within two years.
“May Heaven hear you, my friend! but unfortunately! Very rarely are the reckless and the ambitious happy until the end..."
Mr. Dénié left America five days after this conversation, as he had declared. Stephen remained alone on foreign soil, left to his own devices and determined to attempt one of those bold strokes which throw a man into misery or bring him immense wealth. He bought a large
part of the goods which the frightened merchants hastened to sell at low prices, stored up the whole and calmly awaited the result of the struggle which the public dreaded. The war finally broke out with fury, anxiety was general, everyone trembled and feared a defeat, for the preparations had been badly directed, and the army was commanded by a general who inspired little confidence. Stephen, however, counted on the success of the troops; but they were beaten in their first engagement with the enemy. He began to realize that he might have made a mistake by not following M. Dénié's advice; he conceived fears; but his anxieties were cruelly redoubled when he learned that the victors were advancing in great marches against the town where he resided. The few merchants who had not yet fled hurriedly departed; Stephen could not follow their example, for his entire fortune consisted in his goods, and to abandon them was to risk losing everything. He therefore remained given over to all the agitations of the ambitious man threatened by approaching ruin. Dreading the capture of the city more than the others, he powerfully aided in an obstinate defense, and put himself at the head of a small body of citizens determined to fight to the last extremity. Meanwhile the enemies were approaching, they soon appeared at the foot of the walls. The assault was not long in coming; but he was gallantly repulsed. The besiegers were not discouraged; they returned to the charge a second time, then a third; finally they triumphed in a fourth attack, where most of the besieged lost their lives in combat. Angered by the resistance they had been met with, the victors delivered up part of the city to pillage and burning, and all of Stephen's stores were entirely consumed. »
M. de Nanteuil stopped at this point in his story, to the great regret of his listeners, and postponed until the following Sunday the continuation of Stephen's story.
Continuation of Stephen's story.
When the time for Sunday stories had come, M. de Nanteuil said to his listeners: "You are impatient to know the rest of Stéphen's story, I will take it up again without preamble."
What happened to Stephen while all his wealth went up in flames? Grievously wounded defending the city, he lay among the dead and dying; he passed part of the night in painful agony, and he would have breathed his last before the return of the dawn, if an old woman, named Martha, who from her house had seen him fight bravely and fall at the moment of the general assault, was not interested in his fate, to the point of coming secretly to make sure of his condition. She found him still breathing; his joy was extreme; she made him drink a little wine, which gave him back some strength.
“Can you follow me? she said to him; with me you will be safe. »
Stephen got up with difficulty, and, leaning on Martha, he was able to take refuge in the asylum offered him. He was not lacking in care; after a few days he was able to walk on his own. He then learned of the disastrous consequences of the siege and the loss of everything he owned. This news hit him so hard that he fell dangerously ill again. Martha saved him a second time. As soon as he could bear the conversation, she said to him:
“In this house is hidden a man whom you will not be sorry to see again. It is the governor of the city, Mr. Balmesada.
- What! Mr. Balmesada! He escaped the enemy iron! Bless God! this city will be able to recover from its losses.
“He has run many perils, and it is not without difficulty that he has come this far. My house is a safe haven. The greedy soldier has always respected it because of its puny appearance, and until a happy revolution drives out our victors, you and he will live peacefully in this asylum.
"May I know, Madam, what motive could have led you to withdraw me from the midst of the dead?" I am ruined, and you have no reward to expect from me.
'I don't do good for money; I am not rich, yet I can show myself generous towards the unfortunate. I love my country and those who serve it with warmth and devotion. The manner in which you behaved filled me with esteem and admiration for you; I knew you were a foreigner, and yet you were our enemies' most formidable adversary. When you fell pierced by several bullets, I was watching over you, and I waited until nightfall to help you, in case you were still breathing. I have been favored enough to find you alive; I am sufficiently rewarded, for I have kept one more defender for my country.
“Mr. Balmesada's greeting caused me more pain than yours. The town had been in the power of the enemy for two days when I learned that our governor had not had time to flee, and that, having retired to a friend's house, he was at every moment in danger of being arrested. His death was certain then; for it was he who had always opposed the pretensions of our neighbors, and who had constantly shown himself their implacable enemy. I went to find his friend, to whom I told of my plans; he approved of them, and it was agreed that during the night I would pick up M. Balmesada to take him to my house. I was punctual, and the governor, dressed as a woman, followed me through the silent streets. We flattered ourselves that we had reached my house, which was not very far away, without accident, when at the entrance to a crossroads we found ourselves in the presence of four soldiers. The meeting was not pleasant; I did not fail to appear flattered. To the questions that were put to me, I answered with assurance and happiness. M. Balmesada wanted to imitate me; but by his voice they recognized him as a man, and they wanted to be sure of his person. In this extreme danger, he did not lose courage, he took two loaded pistols from under his clothes; and, letting them go at once, he killed two soldiers. Their comrades rushed furiously at him, and charged him roughly; he resisted them vigorously, and in this unequal struggle won a complete victory: his aggressors fell lifeless at his feet. After this exploit, which I could only witness, we were soon safe in this house. M. Balmesada was wounded, I took care of him at the same time as you, and his recovery is almost complete. He wanted me to warn you of his presence here. You will dine together. Don't get too excited talking, speak quietly because of the state of your health, and so as not to awaken the tigers who hold us captive. »
Stéphen emerged from his first interview with M. Balmesada full of ambitious ideas quite new, and determined to play a political role in the country where he had been a merchant. The governor, in telling him of his projects, had confessed to him that his intention, on the return of peace, was to declare himself head of state, and that he counted on him in this audacious enterprise.
I will take advantage, thought Stephen, of this circumstance to elevate myself. I will find a way to make good all my misfortunes. I want to add glory and honors to riches. »
Every evening the governor and his companion had secret conversations, where they settled the fate of the state and determined the role they would have to play. Martha watched with pain as their lectures dragged on well into the night. "You will betray yourself," she said. There is no more looting in the city, calm is restored, all that is sought is to seize the powerful men of the fallen government. The public knows that Martha doesn't stay up all night, the enemies will eventually know it too, and it will happen that on seeing the light of your lamp there will be a sudden knock at our door. »
This warning was ignored; the lectures and nightly labors continued, and the event soon proved that Martha's fears were well founded.
One night when M. de Balmesada and Stéphen were immersed in their great work, Martha, terrified, suddenly opened their door and said to them: "Your imprudence is ruining you." Someone's knocking at the door. Do you hear?... your light has betrayed you. What to do?
“Open, Martha,” resumed the governor; we will fight like lions before we die.
"Yes... before he died," repeated Stephen, the memory of his family wringing a sigh from him.
'No, no,' said Martha, recovering from her fright, 'you won't die, it's still too early. Burn your papers... burn quickly... the noise increases... cries are heard... Is it done?
"Everything is annihilated," replied M. Balmesada. Now turn off the lamp.
— Take good care of it. Take your weapons. Climb into a small attic, of which this is the secret door, and be still. »
Stéphen and Balmesada obeyed, and the secret door closed behind them. Martha, left alone, hastily arranged everything in her own way, turned the beds upside down, placed a spinning wheel and a work-table near the lamp, and then opened her little window.
“What do you want from me at this hour? she cried.
"Open," answered several soldiers; open quickly, or we'll break down the door.
— Less noise, please. When we want to visit we are more polite. »
Marthe closed her window and went down to open it to a patrol composed of eight soldiers.
“Why light so late in your upper room? said the sergeant of the little troop.
"My dear sir," replied Martha, "please tell me beforehand why
you come to disturb the work of a poor old woman. My question is worth yours, because after all I have the right, it seems to me, to earn my bread by working day and night, and you are not allowed to worry honest people at this hour.
“You deceive us, good lady; you do not work alone, there are culprits, conspirators in your house.
"Conspirators!" But what do you take me for, my good people? Certainly, the place would be beautiful to conspire! Come, examine, seek; you will find in this house only Martha and provisions in a cupboard.
It's good, it's good, old gossip, shouted a soldier with a long mustache. No stories, please. Take us to all your rooms.
- It's easy; the tour will not be long: four bedrooms and a study make up my accommodation. Did you return everything here?
"Why do you not use these two mattresses?" resumed the soldier with the long mustaches.
- For what? can't I have two unoccupied mattresses? I had children, gentlemen. Alas! they are dead, as well as their father, who was a noble soldier, I assure you. He wouldn't have tormented a poor widow, believe me. That's all I have left of him, misery has devoured my other riches.
"Don't cry, good lady," said the sergeant.
We won't take your mattresses away from you. We picked up better than this in the city. Let's go up to your upper room now.
— Of course... What do you see here? a spinning wheel, a small work table and a dying lamp.
"Where did the noise we heard come from?" asked the old soldier.
— It was my spinning wheel.
"But we were talking," repeated the same soldier.
- You are wrong, I was humming. Would you like to visit the cellar? it won't be very pleasant for you, there is now only a rather small wine.
“It's useless. We are tired of drinking good ones...Let's go, soldiers. »
As he spoke these words, the sergeant looked directly at Martha, with a searching eye. Martha remained impassive and smiling. The sergeant also smiled as he cast his eyes over the secret door. Martha started; he reassured her by saying: “Be careful. We may be back...
"No doubt we'll be back," repeated the old soldier; for we will make our report: I suspect that one of these days there will be something to take here. »
Martha smiled again, and politely led the soldiers to the door. She then returned to her hosts, who had heard everything.
'I don't need,' she told them, 'to urge you to flee without delay. The sergeant discovered you; but he is a human man, who wanted to give you time to escape. He will come back; for he will be forced to do so by his companion, the old soldier with the long mustaches. It is easy for you to arrive without danger in the countryside, we are neighbors. Listen to me, the time to act has come. Enough lectures: Gather an army and return to deliver the city. This is what a poor old woman advises you, who knows better about household matters than about affairs of state, but who sometimes gives excellent advice: you already have proof of that. Do not waste time, eat this piece of cold meat without ceremony, draw some strength from this precious bottle of wine, and go..."
While M. Balmesada and Stéphen hastened to take some food, Martha placed herself at the window of the upper room to listen outside. A quarter of an hour later, she withdrew hastily and exclaimed:
“I hear them in the distance. They come back, disappear. »
Stephen and his companion left the table and fled the way Martha had told them.
They had scarcely left the town when the house which had served them as a refuge was invaded by a troop of soldiers much more numerous than the first. All the rooms were scanned with scrupulous attention; the small attic was not spared this time, and the cellar itself received a thorough inspection.
Martha was unfazed. They tried in vain to frighten him; she succeeded in persuading the soldier with the long mustache that he was mistaken. The troop moved away. The sergeant, who was part of this second visit, when he gave no more orders, said in a low voice to Martha, as he left her: “You had two men in your house; but I didn't want to lose them.
“You are a good man. If you ever need a refuge, you will find it here”.
Thus delivered, Martha knelt to give thanks to God for the protection He had granted her. She also prayed for the two fugitives whom dangers surrounded on all sides in their nocturnal march.
The sentries posted in the countryside often fired on them, and it was only after having escaped death several times that they reached safety. They then learned that the remnants of the defeated army were beginning to reorganize; this news caused them great joy. M. Balmesada made himself known, and easily gathered around him a crowd of volunteers. Little by little an army was formed, and became respectable by its junction with that which had previously succumbed. When the governor saw himself in a condition to hold the campaign, he advanced against the city, which he besieged. The enemies, who at first had despised him, and had allowed him time to make his preparations, awoke too late to fight him; the city was stormed, and most of them lost their lives. This triumph bore the name of Balmesada very high. This clever and cunning man profited by the enthusiasm which he had excited, and by his intrigues succeeded in having himself appointed dictator or supreme head of the state. Stéphen shared his good fortune, and obtained one of the most brilliant jobs in the country; he could not be content with it, he wanted to climb higher and hold the first rank after Balmesada; but it was necessary to overthrow powerful men, surrounded by popular favour; he dared to undertake it, and succumbed. The people, who had seen with difficulty his elevation because of his status as a foreigner, forgot the services he had rendered them, rose up against him and condemned him to prison. Balmesada would have liked to save him; but his authority began to decline: he was afraid of attracting the hatred of the inhabitants, and abandoned his friend to watch over the preservation of his power.
Stephen, pursued, needed a refuge; he ran to Martha. This benevolent woman said to him on seeing him: “I know everything. You had too much ambition, Monsieur Stéphen; always be welcome. Here you will find a companion...; here it is: it's the sergeant who didn't want to ruin you. After the defeat of his companions, he remembered what I had told him, he asked me for a retreat. He leaves me tomorrow; for I obtained complete freedom from Balmesada for him and for two of his friends. But let us think of you now. Do you stay here?
"Only until nightfall." The people know what you have already done for me.
“He might worry you, and Balmesada, already trembling on his fleeting throne, wouldn't be strong enough to protect you. And who knows if he himself won't need Martha before long? Where do you want to go?
"Out of this country."
- It is prudent of you. Listen to me. Beyond our border, you will meet a Frenchman who will welcome you fraternally. He is a former trader a little less unfortunate than you. He lives in retirement with his only daughter, and his name is Pedro Ferrono. He has already rendered service to several of your compatriots. He will help you with all his might, especially after reading the letter I will entrust to you for him. Believe me, Monsieur Stéphen, return to your homeland and live there in peace; you must be cured of all the chimeras of ambition, and you, sergeant, do not think, on returning to your country, of becoming a general; remain a simple sergeant, at most be an officer; then take your leave, and go and die in your campaigns. »
Martha then gave Stephen all the information he needed for his journey, and when it was dark the fugitive left the town and headed for the frontier, from which he was only forty leagues distant. Although he knew the roads perfectly, he lost his way more than once during the darkness, but without running any great danger, for the farmers whom he met on his way hastened to render him service and to guide him; so he completed his journey without accident. It was almost dark when he came knocking at the door of the isolated house where M. Ferrono lived. They opened the door to him immediately, and he saw only a young girl of the greatest beauty and angelic modesty. He hesitated to enter, she begged him to fear nothing, and, preparing a seat for him by the fire, she told him that her father would not be long in returning from the neighboring town, where he had gone to see some acquaintances.
'In the meantime,' she added, 'you will take a little food; because you must be hungry. »
Stephen agreed. Instantly the table was covered with simple but appetizing dishes. The conversation then began between Stephen and the young girl.
"You live here alone with your father?" asked the traveler.
- Yes sir. My mother died five years ago.
"Do you like this country?"
— I was born there, I like to live there; it would be more pleasing to me if my father could love him. But he is French, he misses his beautiful homeland, where he left friends.
"Your father was a merchant?"
'And he wasn't always happy in his undertakings. After having gained a great deal, he has lost a great deal, and has only been able to retain a small part of his great wealth: it is not these losses that he deplores, it is France that he demands back. Ambition is forever driven from his heart.
"Why doesn't he return to his homeland?"
— Every day he formulates the project, and every day passes without his carrying it out. He wants, and does not want anymore. He fears perhaps a last accident which would deprive him of the little good that remains to him. It would require a firm resolve to lead it; I want it to be so, so that he may finally be consoled. I will make, be sure of it, Mademoiselle, all my efforts to persuade him to accompany me. May you succeed, Monsieur! you will have saved him from sadness and boredom. I will no longer see him moan in secret. This hurts her child so much! But here it is: don't forget your promise. »
— An old man of about sixty advanced towards Stephen, holding out a friendly hand.
“Be a blessed guest! he said.
Stephen bowed to the old man, and handed him Martha's letter.
“Your name is Stéphen Dermond! cried Ferrono with deep emotion, after having read this letter. Would you be the parent, the son perhaps of Félix Dermond, owner in Normandy?
“I am his son.
"God be praised a thousand times!" he sends under my roof the son of my best friend, of the one I never cease to miss. Has he forgotten me? Has he ever spoken of me to his children?
— He often talked to us about a friend called Maugis; that's not your name.
- Think again, my friend, the name I bear is not mine. I am Maugis. I called myself Ferrono to live in peace in this foreign country. O my son! come into my arms, come, and talk to me for a long time about Felix, about your family and about yourself. »
Stéphen willingly yielded to M. Maugis' wishes, and, after long details about his family, related his own misfortunes. The old man, who had listened to him with tenderness, said to him, when he had stopped: "I was like you carried away by ambition beyond the seas." I paid dearly for my madness; because after all my work I live and I will die in a kind of exile. You, you will see a country, a family, you will be less to be pitied than me. Ah! now that I learn that a dear friend has remained faithful to me, my country has become sweeter to me: I feel that, when you are gone, these places will be more odious to me: and yet I will always have my Sophie near me. , my guardian angel. Without it, alas! I would have died long ago of sadness.
"Why don't you go back to your country?"
— My son, age and misfortunes have made me fearful, timid, even fearful: I dread a long crossing. And then, could I ever expose this child, the only treasure I possess, to danger? shall I bring myself to make him run the risks of a perilous journey?
"I will be your companion, his defender: no misfortune, you may be sure, will befall you." Your darling daughter does not like these places, where you suffer, and once at least she had to tell you, as she told me, that she would live in France with pleasure.
“She tells me that every day. The poor child would sacrifice everything for me, her desires, her tastes, her happiness.
— Yes, my father, for you nothing would cost me; but, believe me, leaving this place would not be a sacrifice for me. I also love this France that you have spoken to me about so much: am I not French?
“No doubt, my daughter; listen, we may see this much missed homeland again. Mr Stéphen, you have given me courage, vigor. Yes, I can still be happy, I feel it... In two months my resolution will be fixed.
"But then I'll be gone."
"Leaving in two months!" you will not cause me this grief. I understand that you have a strong desire to see those whom you have left for thirteen or fourteen years; but shouldn't you do something for your father's friend? This affectionate father will not reproach you for having delayed your arrival for two months to spend a few days with his old compatriot.
Stephen promised to stay for two months. He had been a fortnight with M. Maugis when he received a letter from M. Balmesada, and fifty thousand francs which the State, which he had served, sent him by way of indemnity. M. Balmesada strongly urged him to return to him, assuring him that he could do so in complete safety, for his enemies were in disgrace. Stephen, completely disenchanted with glory, wrote to his friend to thank him for his offers, and to inform him of his resolution to live henceforth far from popular tumult and favour. When his letter was sent, he said to M. Maugis, with whom he had for a few days past very interesting discussions for his happiness: "Without your lovely daughter, I would not have resisted new temptations." You have cured me of all mad ambition by allowing me to unite with my fate that of your Sophie. If you knew with what happiness you have filled my heart, and with what salutary balm you have covered all the wounds of my soul! I will have lost nothing by leaving my homeland, I will have found a treasure more precious than all the riches of the earth. We will hasten, will we not, your departure? Your resolution is well taken now. Your daughter wishes like me that we leave these places promptly.
“Rest easy, Stephen. This property is already sold, the one next to it will be tomorrow. We will leave in a few days.
'And in a few months we'll be in France: you, in the arms of your friend; me, in the arms of a father, with a tenderly loved mother and a dear brother. Come, my father, inform Sophie of our approaching departure. She is currently walking in the countryside. Together let us visit, on a last summer evening, these admirable places, which we will soon salute with a last look. »
Let us now wait for Stéphen in his father's house, and learn briefly what has happened there since his departure. The same calm had never ceased to reign there; and the happiness there would always have been perfect if the thought of a son, of an absent brother, had not altered it a little. At the time of Emile's marriage, a pretty house had risen beside that of M. Dermond. Emile and his young wife lived there; for you know that Stephen's brother had promised never to leave his parents. He had also promised to make the lands of his family bear fruit before his eyes; he had again kept his promise, and, without tormenting himself much, he had very happily succeeded in rounding up his estates and those of his father. When M. Denié, Stéphen's partner, presented himself at M. Dermond's, people learned with pleasure of the success obtained by the audacious traveller; but it was unanimously agreed with M. Denié that he had acted imprudently in persisting in remaining in America. Also, when it was learned from the public journals that the war had brought flame and desolation to the city in which he lived, there was no longer any doubt of his ruin, which was confirmed by private letters. We waited a long time for news of Stephen; but none came, and they mourned him as dead; for it was well known that he had taken an active part in the war. Sadness and mourning therefore reigned in M. Dermond's house and in that of Emile. We often talked about Stephen, and we wept bitterly. One evening, it was towards the end of autumn, the whole family gathered together talking in the living room and discussing the cruel loss they thought they had suffered; the postman was announced, bringing a letter from Stephen. It came from Le Havre and contained these words:
“To my beloved family.
“You will all see your son, your brother again, in a short time. After many shipwrecks, it finally touches the port. It will come back to you rich with only fifty thousand francs; but he is consoled, and you will be consoled also, by learning that he has discovered the most precious treasure, a virtuous woman, and that he will present to his father a gift he has long desired. . Yes, father, I'm bringing you M. Maugis, your friend, whom I met in America. You will no longer separate; because he becomes a member of our family, since it is Sophie, his daughter, whom I have chosen as my wife. All of you will approve of my choice; and you above all, my mother, you will love her as your daughter, as you love my brother's wife. Rejoice then, O my friends! let us combine our transports, our joys, and bless Heaven, which, after having punished me for my foolish ambition, finally leads me to you. Emile, my dear brother, I will henceforth be your inseparable companion. I will no longer leave our fields; we will still spend long days together full of peace and bliss. To all of you forever... M. Maugis and Sophie greet you and embrace you.
“Stephen Dermamond. »
This unexpected letter caused a general shock of joy. Everyone wanted to read it, reread it several times, and when everyone was convinced that it was by Stephen, there was only a cry of joy, only transports, only tears of tenderness.
“My son and my friend! exclaimed M. Dermond, I shall not die without seeing them again! Oh ! how late they come! How long is the distance that still separates us!
— Father, said Emile, don't worry. I leave tomorrow for Le Havre, and the fugitives will be here in three days. »
Emile kept his word. Before the expiration of the three days a post-chaise stopped in M. Dermond's yard. Stéphen and M. Maugis ran to throw themselves on the neck of a father, of a friend, and sweet Sophie was drawn into the arms of Mme Dermond, who called her daughter, and into those of the
Émile's wife, who gave her the name of sister.
We will stop here, my children; we will leave the honorable family of Stéphen to enjoy without witnesses all its happiness; we only know that, two weeks after this touching reunion, Stéphen led Sophie to the foot of the altars. The marriage was celebrated with magnificence; but this magnificence did not consist in a display of useless luxury; it was the poor who collected the largesse of M. Dermond: a hundred unfortunate villagers received help; three young girls designated by the parish priest were endowed, and several children dressed. Other gifts were still scattered everywhere. This is how Mr. Dermond and his children were able to show their gratitude to God. I won't add that Stephen never moved away from his parents. He had a house built next to that of Émile, and lived with his family in a union that nothing has ever disturbed.
This is a story that I enjoyed immensely.
Personally, I find that we blamed Stéphen a little too much. He was ambitious, I confess; but in the end he was allowed to try his luck. The reproaches addressed to him fall on me; for one day I shall leave my family, and I have the desire to distinguish myself in the career of arms.
Do not confuse, my friend, ambition with the noble emulation of duty. We can desire wealth moderately in order to make good use of it, as M. Dermond's gardener said to Stéphen; but one should not seek it greedily to satisfy only one's vanity and passions. You will leave your family, my dear Georges; but it will be to serve your country and your king, to fulfill a sacred duty imposed on all good citizens. You will distinguish yourself by your good deeds, and you still owe it, because the Lord does not want us to leave the qualities with which he has endowed us useless. Believe then that there is a great difference between serving one's brothers, one's prince, one's country, and serving one's own interests; and, because ambition, greed, have been justly blamed in Stephen, do not think that one wanted to attack the zeal, the noble desires of glory of the warrior and of all those who serve the State and the humanity. Your father, you know, has done great and fine deeds; he loved the glory and the honors reserved for our brave men; and yet, you see, he lives without ambition in the repose of the sage; this is what he always wanted, even in the midst of camps and cries of victory.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
Do you know, my dear pastor, that you hardly spare my self-respect. I don't think I've done anything so grand, so beautiful. I fought for my country, it was natural.
So, I stand by my words. I will even add that you fought valiantly for religion, and that is not the less beautiful title of your glory. For the rest, I am of your opinion, I see in all this nothing but very natural; it is a pure duty. You have acted, I like to say, not as an ambitious man, but as a Christian. May Georges one day follow your example! »
At these words, M. Lecointe rose and took leave of M. de Nanteuil's family.
Providence and resignation.
"A lot of things have happened this week," said Madame de Nanteuil to her assembled children. You attended the installation of our new farmer. You have witnessed the joy, the gratitude of this brave man. But do you remember what he told us when talking about his short captivity? “I always hoped, he repeated to us. I felt innocent, and I knew that God would not abandon me. Providence is powerful, it has never failed the unfortunate. »
These words, striking me, reminded me of a story I learned from my mother. I promised to tell it to you on Sunday evening, I do so with pleasure, and I call my story: Providence and Resignation.
In a small provincial town famous for its great commerce, lived in pleasant comfort Mr. Robert and his children, Jules and Cécile, one aged twenty-one, the other seventeen. M. Robert was the most honest man who existed; his life had always been noble and pure, and hitherto he had been held up as a model of honour. He deserved general esteem in all respects, and this esteem was his happiness and his joy.
However, it is not so fine a reputation that misfortune sometimes tarnishes it, only to give it more luster afterwards. So it was with that of M. Robert.
He was employed in the first business house in the town, and his salary, amounting to five thousand francs a year, sufficiently indicated what services he rendered and what consideration he enjoyed with Mr. Lucas, his employer. It was on him that all things rested in the absence of the master, it was he who supervised the correspondence and held the cash register. Jules, his son, employed under his orders, was destined to replace him one day.
M. Lucas had complete confidence in M. Robert; he asked him for the accounts, but without verifying them. It happened one year that the profits fell noticeably; then a considerable deficit which had arisen in his cash-box, during the absence of the honest employee, rendered him unjust. He spoke aloud about it to M. Robert, and gave him to understand that he suspected him of having stolen thirty-two thousand francs from him.
M. Robert repelled this suspicion with indignation, and replied: “Monsieur, I agree with you that thirty-two thousand francs have disappeared from the cash-box, I do not know how; I am responsible for them, and they will be returned to you out of my own money. »
These words confirmed Mr. Lucas in his first judgment; he was no longer afraid to openly accuse his employee. Malice took hold of the whole affair; the hidden enemies of M. Robert, enchanted at being able to lower a virtue which had been raised so high, persevered, to the ruin of the tacit censor of their conduct; among other perfidious remarks, they pointed out that, only three months ago, M. Robert had acquired a rather fine country house, which he lived in because it was near the town. That was all it took to finish irritating Mr. Lucas. It made such a noise that the case went to the ears of justice, which immediately seized on it. The accused M. Robert defended himself as a man who is conscious of his probity; but he was found guilty. He was not condemned to prison, in favor of his background, but to the restitution of the sum stolen. He then wrote these words to Mr. Lucas: "I have always served you loyally, and you have treated me with the greatest cruelty." I offered you to sell what I owned, you had to keep silent accepting, you had to
to spare myself the infamy of passing for a thief, and to have pity on two children no less innocent than their father. You made it a crime for me to have bought a house and some land worth in all thirty thousand francs; before that you had to remind you that I have been working for sixteen years to acquire them: it was economy that gave them to me, and not the theft with which you charged me. Of all that has happened you will one day be more distressed than I; for I have too much confidence in Providence not to hope that sooner or later you will discover the truth. These reproaches that I make to you are the only ones that I will address to you. Your behavior towards me is completely forgiven you; for, in this painful affair, I know that you listened rather to your anger and to perfidious friends than to your heart and your memories. »
After writing this letter, he said to Jules and Cécile in dismay: “My children, let us be resigned. Everything has been taken from us here, honor and our modest fortune; let's leave as soon as possible, let's go in the dark to start another career. I am not guilty, you know it as well as I; May this thought console and sustain us. It is no longer in men that we must place our hope; they have just proved to us how changeable and subject to error they are; it is to God alone that we must have recourse, it is in him alone that we will have confidence”.
Paris was the city where M. Robert retired with his children. It was in one of the most obscure neighborhoods that he chose a poor room before taking care of the means of subsistence. He presented himself in several houses, either to keep the books, or to do the correspondence: everywhere he was repulsed, for he could not send for the honorable certificates which were asked of him in the business house from which he came. He descended to more humble places, he was no happier: everywhere they wanted an honest man, and his only recommendation was a judgment which made him incapable of any employment. His son fared no better; he shared his father's disgrace. Cecile alone was listened to. She found work, and from morning till evening she was able to work tirelessly, to feed her father and her brother. But soon she succumbed to fatigue and fell ill. Misery then, hideous misery, settled in the room of the three unfortunates. Jules succumbed to grief, and only the father remained standing, already blanched by the pain he stifled in his heart, and by the privations which wrinkled his brow and ruined his health. The very day his son fell ill on the pallet, he learned that a few men were needed to work the land. He ran to offer his arms, and he was accepted; for here only the unfortunate were needed, whom they would treat without ceremony, who would be made to sweat all day for the lure of a small salary.
Work, however hard it was, was a bit of bread, it was life for M. Robert; also
he rejoiced at the evils he was about to endure. He returned satisfied to his children, from whom his devotion drew many tears.
The next day before dawn he was dragging a heavy wheelbarrow, he was digging in the heat of the sun. He did not return home until nightfall. But he had earned a few sous that day; at the end of the week, he brought back a small sum of money, he could now provide relief to his children. Jules, recovered in a short time, wanted to work with his father; there was no more room; everything was taken; there had been competition: the unfortunate are so numerous on earth!
" What to do? he said then, slapping his chest. Will I let my father work alone? they don't even want me to take his wheelbarrow, to dig for him; we still think he's good... They're probably waiting for him to die before taking me into their service! However, the unfortunate! how he has aged! he is only forty-five years old, and his whole body is stooped, and his hair is falling out, and those that remain are turning white! At this sight he does not want me to cry! he wants me to be resigned like him, to hope like him! Oh my God ! hasten the end of our troubles, I beg you. Come to our rescue, come and pull us out of the abyss where we are perishing..."
His sick sister heard him; she got up on her bed, and said in a weak voice: "Jules, my
brother, our father is right: hope, hope without ceasing. I feel better, in a few days I will be able to get up, I will be able to work, and our father will rest. I had such a sweet dream last night! I no longer saw around me, as in my previous dreams, ghosts, hideous specters, but angels come from heaven who consoled us, who promised us a happy future: one of them transported us to our house of fields, and there we found our friends and our former happiness. Go, my brother, not all dreams are deceptive; they are often a harbinger of better weather..."
Jules reflected, he answered nothing; a project occupied him: he went out the same day to carry it out. When the father returned in the evening, a large sum of money was spread out on the table.
“Where does this money come from? asked M. Robert, astonished.
— It is your son who gives it to you; in a year you will receive as much: there are six hundred francs. My father, I sold myself, I am a soldier.
'No, my son, I will never accept the price of such devotion.
- It must; I cannot retreat, I signed, I received the money. Would I be so unhappy to serve my country! you won't live alone during my absence: Cécile will stay with you to take care of you, to talk to you sometimes about me.
"Poor Jules!" repeated M. Robert, shedding tears; and he fell into the arms of his son.
A few days later, Cecile could walk; she was in a state to receive the farewells of Jules leaving to join the regiment in which he was incorporated. M. Robert quit his hard work to start a small business.
“My son,” he said, “will not be far from us for long. I will make money; as soon as I have amassed the necessary sum, I will call him back to me. »
In Paris there is not so little industry that does not support its inventor. M. Robert knew it; he became a perfumer. Don't think he had a magnificent shop, a well-appointed store; he took it more modestly: before undertaking anything, he had carefully consulted the state of his purse. Having provided himself, at a very moderate price, with perfumed soap, eau de Cologne, and other toilet articles of almost certain supply, he put the whole thing in a portable box, and began to visit the few people he knew. He began with the porters, who recommended him to some young people; these to others; it sold fairly well during the first months; he sold the following ones better; then ends up creating a sufficient clientele to support him and his daughter. Cécile, while her father went hither and thither in the big city, worked, sewed, embroidered with ardor, and her earnings were carefully put aside for her brother. Such a change of position was already a great deal; M. Robert never ceased to thank Heaven, which spared him sweeter compensations for his past misfortunes.
Time, which lulled her sorrows, increased, on the contrary, the regrets and remorse of those who had caused her misfortunes. The more the honest employee hid himself from the eyes of his fellow citizens, the more they took care of him; we had never talked about it so much. Condemned, he was pitied; his enemies themselves ceased to calumniate him; little by little there was a change in public opinion, and people began to feel that a man who had lived upright for so many years could not suddenly have become an infamous man; it was also understood that he had indeed been able, after sixteen years of work, to buy some land for his children, for his life had always been regulated, his home had never ceased to be modest for a single day.
Mr. Lucas had been the first to deplore his haste, which had thrown into misery the most valuable, the most faithful of his employes. M. Robert's letter had touched him deeply, and from that moment he had resolved to repair the harm he had done. He dared not publish his designs immediately; he thought he had to act slowly, forgetting that the longer he delayed, the more criminal he would become. It had already been a year since he had lost M. Robert, when he noticed new embezzlements. He had no doubt that the culprit was the author of the preceding theft; consequently he resolved to seize it, and thus to prepare a striking reparation for his first cashier. Until that day, he had in no way distrusted a person attached to his house, because she knew how to hide perfectly, under the veil of hypocrisy, his feelings and his actions: he began to suspect her. He inquired secretly about his conduct, and he learned that it was very irregular. From then on he was on his guard, and finally saw the moment come when he caught the culprit in the act; he put it in the hands of justice. The whole town was moved by this news, and impatiently awaited the outcome of this affair. The accused, pressed with questions, confessed everything, and declared himself the author of the embezzlement committed in the cash-box, principally the theft of thirty-two thousand francs. He was condemned, and M. Robert rehabilitated by the same judgment. The joy was great throughout the city. Mr. Lucas shared it; but he would not indulge in it publicly before he had repaired his wrongs and found the victim of his haste. He hastened to Paris in the hope of meeting her there: all his efforts were in vain; obliged to apply to the police, he assured a rather large sum of money to the agents who would discover the retirement of M. Robert. We promised to send it to him within a month.
While these things were going on, Mr. Robert and his daughter continued to live laboriously in their ignored retirement. For a month they had been doubling their activity, because Jules having announced to them that he had obtained leave, they wanted to receive him with dignity. May the day they were able to hold him in their arms was a beautiful day for them! What pleasant things they said to each other! What charming projects they dared to form for him!
"In a year, you'll be free to come back here," M. Robert would tell him. My little business is flourishing, I will need a companion, you will help me, we will form a modest establishment, and, thank God, I hope we will succeed. It will suit you better than the military state.
'Certainly, it is better to live near you than in the midst of the camps; but I also like the career of arms. You see I wasted no time, I'm a sergeant; I would soon have obtained a higher rank, if I had not asked for leave. I could wait; but at the time of leaving for the camp, where a general review was to take place, I learned that we would pass through our town, that we would even stay there; you understand how much I would have suffered in a country from which such cruel memories exile us forever, and I have come to embrace you. »
Jules' arrival did not interrupt the small business of perfumery; Mr. Robert only worked
only with more courage. Never had his practices seen him so exact, so hasty, so affable; to all the questions put to him, he answered: "My son has arrived!" »
One evening he was crossing the rue Saint-Jacques on his way home, when he was suddenly accosted by a stranger who had been following him for some time, and who cried curtly:
"Mister Charles Robert!..."
The honest perfumer stopped in surprise.
“I was not mistaken, added the stranger, it is indeed you that I am looking for. Do you still live on rue Saint-Victor?
- Yes sir. What's in it for your service?
'I shall have the honor of telling you tomorrow; I have something rather important to communicate to you.
'You will always meet me at my house in the morning until nine o'clock; don't come later, I'm racing.
"Very well, sir, I will be very exact." »
The stranger bowed deeply to M. Robert and disappeared. When he got home, M. Robert told his children what had just happened to him. Their astonishment equaled his. Who was this man? what did he want? They formed a crowd of conjectures; but, as neither of them was probable, they ended up not bothering with them.
The next day the three solitaries were at lunch when there was a light knock at the door. Cécile opened the door, the stranger from the day before introduced himself very politely:
"Monsieur Robert," he said, "I have orders to take you and your children away." Here is that order.
"He is in order, sir," resumed the honest perfumer. But where are we going? why are we being stopped?
- I must be silent. Don't worry, only good will happen to you; wash up, if you please; but hurry.
— Let us obey, my children, I augur well from all this mystery; put on our best clothes, because we are probably leaving for some party. »
The toilet was soon done, and they went downstairs. A post chaise was below the door; the police officer, for he was one, made M. Robert go up there; he then placed himself in the seat behind, and bade the postillion go. The whip cracked, and the carriage carried away with the rapidity of lightning our travelers, agitated by various thoughts.
“O my father, said Cécile, would a new misfortune threaten us?
This time it wouldn't come cheap to us.
My son, you won't bother to draw your sword. I repeat, we are going to some party.
See, my father, they are taking the road to the barrier through which we passed a year ago.
I see it, and I'm only the happier.
They follow the road that goes straight to our hometown.
It's a good sign. We are not going there for a condemnation; it's done.
Why joke like that, my father, in such a situation?
Do not worry. We have embarked on an excellent journey. If I'm not too bad a prophet, I announce to you that we will never see our perfumes again. Come on, my children, I have repeated it to you many times, God is just, his providence watches over us. »
The carriage went on all day with the same rapidity, and stopped in the evening in a charming countryside at the foot of M. Robert's house. There was a great meeting in the salon, and the travelers were received by M. Lucas, who, embracing his former cashier with emotion, begged him to forget everything. "The culprit is known," he told her, "and your rehabilitation is complete." It is a pardon that I ask now.
“All is forgiven, forgotten, Mr. Lucas. And the ex-perfumer affectionately shook hands with the merchant. A respectful crowd surrounded M. Robert and his children, and each addressed their congratulations. A feast had been prepared, joy reigned there, and more than one toast was raised to M. Robert. When the crowd had retired well into the night, Mr. Lucas said to Jules's father: “I hope, my friend, that you will come back to my house. I need a partner, I'm counting on you. Jules was to succeed you one day; that day has arrived, unless he prefers to become an officer. »
M. Robert therefore became the partner of his former boss. Jules left the saber for the key to a well-stocked box. Three months after her return, Mademoiselle Cécile married M. Lucas' son.
M. Robert said the day after the celebrations celebrated on the occasion of this marriage:
“My dear children, you see that all things have gone better than you expected. Always remember that Providence is a good mother who never abandons those who place their trust and love in her. »
That, Mom, is a very touching story. I thank you with all my heart. I feel that I really like this Providence which watches over the persecuted innocents with so much solicitude. But, since you tell such beautiful things, good mother, could you not continue?
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
It's late, my daughter. But console yourself: on Sunday you will listen to much longer stories than mine, because these days we will all have the pleasure of possessing M. and Mme de Versan. You know that your uncle has traveled a lot, and that he tells the most interesting stories as well as possible. So, my daughter, patience and good night, until Sunday. »
Remorse. — Passion for the game.
Monsieur and Madame de Versan, whose next arrival Madame de Nanteuil had announced at the end of her story. had, in fact, gone down to the chateau the following Saturday. Having learned how the evening of the Lord's Day was used, they did not want the enjoyments to be interrupted because of them: they came to increase its charm by their presence. All eyes were fixed on M. de Versan, who wasted no time in telling a story.
“My children,” he said to his nephews and his niece, “you seem to me very much to want me to tell you about some of my travel adventures; listen to me then, for I am ready to satisfy you.
There is an old proverb which says: Be virtuous, and you will be happy; another adds: Remorse is the brother of theft; and a third warns us that ill-gotten gains never profit. That's the whole moral of the next story.
You know, my friends, that I have circumnavigated the world twice, that I have visited all the nations of Europe one after the other, and that my first journey was undertaken at the age of twenty five years. I was master of a considerable fortune left to me by my parents, taken too soon from my love: weary of using it in the noisy pleasures of Paris, where I lived, I resolved to seek outside noble, more durable, and to visit Switzerland and Italy. My project was soon known to my friends; many companions offered themselves to me; but I put them aside, for I did not want to associate myself with one of those frivolous young people who take a trip as they go to a ball, to amuse themselves and not to study. You will perhaps find that I was very serious at twenty-five; it was the consequence of the firm and wise education my father had given me; I've never found it wrong. But back to our trip.
After driving away my elegant friends, I looked for a companion who shared my tastes and my way of seeing. The first person I spoke to was a talented young musician who lived in the same house as me. I had had occasion to meet him often in society, and little by little we had become intimately connected. His name was Adrian. Raised in Italy, he did not know where he was born and had only a faint memory of his mother and father, whom he must have lost in the early years of his childhood. His whole family consisted of his sister Maria and an elderly woman, called Marina, both living not far from Florence, in a pretty countryside. It was he who supported his family with his talent; for his reputation as a pianist was very well established, although he was only nineteen years old. He was gentle, affable, and of a modesty rare among artists today. His education was sound and varied; he was a good poet, and every month he did not fail to send a piece of verse to his sister, for whom he had the liveliest affection. I knew his intention was to return to Italy, where his name was beginning to spread; I suggested that he travel together.
"I accept with joy," he told me; but I won't be able to leave for two months, because I have contracted here some commitments which I want to fulfill with precision. If you are in a hurry to leave Paris, go and visit Switzerland alone; I will join you when I am free, and we will penetrate together into the country of the fine arts.
— I would like to have a companion for Switzerland.
- Hey! Why don't you ask that poor Baron de Juliers, of whom you have spoken so much to me, to leave with you! The time of his pilgrimage is approaching, it seems to me. He must know Switzerland perfectly.
'I never thought of it. I cannot, indeed, choose a better guide than the Baron. His sadness does not frighten me. I run to him. »
As I finished these words, I left Adrien. M. de Juliers, to whom I went, was a very rich man and always immersed in sad and profound reflections. I had known him at my father's, and I had always seen him the same, melancholy and anxious. He saw little of society, where he found neither pleasure nor a remedy for the hidden pain that gnawed at him. Her life was a mystery to everyone, and malignity delighted in bitterly criticizing those of her actions which she could get hold of. He was said to be miserly because he did not flaunt his great wealth; but he was not, for half of his income was poured into the bosom of the destitute. He cared little for the strange and ridiculous rumors which were made about him; his conduct did not change in any way; the same grief continued to gnaw at his heart. Day by day, however, he isolated himself more, his troubles seemed to increase with age; he was then forty-eight years old; but the deep wrinkles of his face, the leanness of his body, the white hair which multiplied on his bald head, his dull and suffering eyes, his slow and painful walk, indicated at least sixty years of age. He had three residences: in the spring and summer he lived in Switzerland, he spent the autumn in a chateau he owned a few leagues from Tours, and the winter in one of his houses in Paris.
It was towards this last abode that I headed after leaving Adrien. I was sure of being well received; the Baron de Juliers was very fond of me, and once a week at least I visited him when he was in Paris. I found him seated in a large armchair, in front of his fire, and absorbed in his thoughts.
"Is it you, Ernest de Versan?" he said, holding out his hand to me. I haven't seen you this week. Doubtless the winter pleasures of Paris have kept you busy; because they are coming to an end. The beautiful days are coming back to us: what will you be doing this spring?
"I will travel, Monsieur le Baron."
"Are you going to travel?" You don't have to dispel any sorrows, I suppose!
- None. But traveling is studying.
- You are right. Where are you going?
- In Swiss.
- In Swiss! A beautiful country, my dear Ernest. »
The baron sighed.
'Monsieur de Juliers,' I went on immediately, 'I would have been very happy to be able to accompany you there; I know that you will not be long in visiting this country of your predilection.
— In fact, this morning I looked at the sky for a long time; seeing him so beautiful, I thought of this trip. We'll go together, if that pleases you; but I set conditions. You will often have to do without me in your rural excursions, and not concern yourself with my way of life. You know that I have sadness in my heart, in vain I try to hide it; if you don't want us to separate, you won't pay any attention to it. You will sometimes hear me sigh, don't worry about it, don't ask me why. I have confidence in you, although you are very young, if you were not the son of the friend who was dearest to me, I would certainly not travel with you.
"Be sure, Monsieur de Juliers, that I will respect your grief." But promise me that if one day it weighs too much on you, you'll tell me. I am very young, you said it; but I think I have the strength to keep a secret, to console a friend.
— Thank you, Ernest; but never hope to console the Baron de Juliers; men, those I esteem most, can do nothing about my ills. So let's talk no more about it, let's think about our trip. We will leave Paris in eight days.
Alas! you will have in me a very bad companion; but you wanted it. »
We left for Switzerland eight days after this brief interview, towards the middle of May. I found in the Baron a much more agreeable companion than I had hoped. He was really amiable as soon as we were away from the capital, and I barely noticed that deep sadness that I had constantly noticed in him. But this ray of satisfaction, which had shone for some time, disappeared on our arrival in Geneva. He became more melancholy than before and more dejected, more worried than ever. We took up residence with a wealthy merchant, who each year placed an apartment at the baron's disposal. I witnessed the affection everyone had for him and the care he received.
“He is so good! the merchant's wife said to me one day; we would really like to cure him of the pain that is silently undermining him. In the seven years that he has been coming here every year, we have never seen him gay. He smiled sometimes; but his smile was always filled with bitterness. To be so rich, and to live so miserably! He returns to us each spring more afflicted, darker and more suffering. If this continues, he will soon die. Try to distract him, Monsieur de Versan. He seems to like you very much. Your words will be sweeter to him than ours. »
Distracting M. de Juliers was not an easy thing: so I tried weakly. He was obliging enough to visit with me the most famous places in Switzerland, and his information on others that I went to see alone was of great use to me. Towards the end of June. I was called back to Geneva by the news I received of a sudden illness which had struck him. Sorrow bore, alas! its bitter fruits; I found my unfortunate companion in the most alarming state. My efforts and those of the merchant's family were useless; it went from bad to worse, and quickly declined towards the tomb.
Adrien arrived meanwhile; I presented it to the patient, who at the sight of it experienced great emotion. He looked at him attentively, and said to me in a low voice, squeezing my hand firmly: "Ernest, will this young man stay with us?"
"As long as you want," I replied. When you're better, we'll leave together for Italy, where he wants to go and embrace his family.
- Who is he?
'He's a distinguished young pianist named Adrien.
"How much pleasure I take in seeing him!" his face reminds me of a brother who is no more. Ask him to make me some music. I think that would relieve me. »
That same evening a piano was brought to a room adjoining that of the patient. Adrien touched him and sang, and I saw the patient get up to listen to him. Sadness left her face, her eyes expressed satisfaction, and smile appeared on her lips. When Adrien stopped making himself heard, his face became gloomy again, and his head fell back on the pillow.
The next morning he said to me: "I am much better, my dear Ernest." Will I hear your friend today? He did me so much good last night! my sleep has been peaceful, and my dreams less dismal. » '
Adrien sang every evening, and every evening the patient smiled: we saw him come back to life, and soon he was able to get up and walk.
“Monsieur Adrien,” he said to the young pianist one day, “I owe you my health; the sound of your voice has blessed me, it has given me a little hope.
- If you heard my sister, you would experience a completely different pleasure.
"So you have a sister?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Baron, a beloved sister, who sings like the angels."
"Is she younger than you?"
“Only a year younger. Come to Italy with us: his songs and his care will restore you completely. »
M. de Juliers made no answer; he had fallen back into his deep reflections. A few hours later he sent for me, and said to me: "We will go to Florence, my dear Ernest... it is there perhaps that my troubles will end... I believe that God, who knows all my life, will still have happy days in store. Hope has returned to my heart, and its wounds have closed a little...”
From that day on, the baron was less sad, he no longer isolated himself, and accompanied us on all our walks.
I noticed that he liked talking to Adrien, asking him about his life as an artist. He asked him one day to give him details of his childhood.
"My story is not long," replied Adrien; at the tenderest age, I lost my family. Taken to Switzerland, my sister and I, by one of our servants, we were abandoned by him in a house situated on the shores of Lake Geneva. Marina, who became our second mother, was the mistress. She was absent when we were left at her house; on her return, she took pity on our tears, and resolved to bring us up as if we had been her children. A purse full of louis and two diamonds of great value, placed on the mantelpiece by the guilty servant, helped him to meet our needs. I was only six and a half when she left Switzerland to live in Florence, where she had a small estate to collect. She sacrificed it to our education, and soon put me in a position to do honor to her benefits. Under the direction of a skilful master, I became a fairly good musician; I earned some money which I used to build a pleasant little house, where Marina and my sister have lived for two years. But, whatever I do, I will never be able to repay the debt I have contracted with the excellent Marina. »
M. de Juliers had listened to this story with keen interest; I even saw tears in his eyes. From then on he showed himself more attentive to Adrien, and when he found himself alone with me he took pleasure in bringing the conversation to bear on this young artist. I suspected some mystery; but all my insight was at fault: the suppositions I made on this subject were all as unfounded as each other.
In the meantime, Adrien received a letter from his sister, and charged me to inform the Baron of it, for it was a question of him. I said to M. de Juliers as I approached him: “Here is Maria declaring war on us because we are still in Switzerland; if you allow me, my dear baron, I will read you the letter which she writes to her brother. »
A smile was M. de Juliers' reply; I read these words:
“Why delay so long, my dear Adrien? Would your companions, of whom you speak to me with praise in your last letter, hesitate to come and pay a short visit to Maria and Marina, our good mother? They would, however, be well received, I assure you. M. Ernest de Versan, of whom your letters from Paris so often mention, could dream in peace in my garden and work deliciously under my pretty cradle, where I have placed a table and some books. And that poor invalid, M. de Juliers, how good he would be sitting on our foam bench! Every day, while waiting for him, I rake and sand our paths, so that they will be easier for him to walk on. I also watch over my flowers, whose freshness and beauty will be full of charms for him. Let him come, and he will no longer be sad. We will return it to joy, to happiness; he will forget all his troubles in our little house. It is so pretty, our little house! we are so good there! the days spent there are so pure, so tranquil, so fragrant! It is to you, my dear Adrien, that we owe all this happiness we enjoy here. How you must have suffered to bring us so much well-being! You come back with a lot of money, you tell us: good brother! you have done the stewardship; you avoided pleasures because of us. How I would like to hold you in my arms to thank you for your tenderness, for your love for us!
“We talk a lot about you, we are waiting for you in Florence with extreme impatience; the Paris newspapers have done you justice, and everyone takes pleasure in repeating the praises they give you. Farewell, my dear Adrien; you know that glory and friendship call you to our side; hurry to arrive. Marina, who embraces you with all her heart, proposes to go every morning to wait for you with me on the main road. Above all, bring us your two companions; if you come alone, I will sulk you for three hours.
“Your sister Makia. »
M. de Juliers asked me for this letter; he glanced through it several times in succession with tenderness, and said to me as he handed it to me:
“Let's leave tomorrow, my dear Ernest; happiness awaits me in Italy. »
We left the next day, and a few days later entered Florence. We only stopped there to change horses; for we were longing to reach Maria's house, situated two and a half leagues from the town. It was ten o'clock in the morning when Adrien cried out, on seeing a little garden on our right:
“This is our domain. The postillion held back the horses, and we dismounted.
"I don't see anyone," added the young pianist: "where is my sister, where is Marina?" They are, however, informed of our arrival, unless they have not received my letter. Let's go ahead of them. »
We entered the prettiest little garden in the world.
“Here,” said Adrien, “is the cradle where Ernest will find solitude, a table and books; here is the bench of moss prepared for M. de Juliers, and the paths well sanded, well raked, which he will be able to follow without injuring his feet. But we'll look at all these things later, let's go inside. »
We had arrived at the door of a gracious green cottage, sitting on the slope of a low hill. We entered casually: no one was there to receive us. It was easy for us to see that we were expected; for a simple, but plentiful breakfast was all served.
"I don't understand any of that," repeated Adrien. Marina and my sister went ahead of us, I can't doubt it. What route did they take? we did not, however, take a wrong turn. Sit down, gentlemen; and, to wait for them more patiently, let us sit down at table and have breakfast. »
No sooner had Adrien finished these words than a young girl rushed into the room, into her brother's arms. It was Maria. She reproached us kindly, and said to us:
"Which road did you follow, gentlemen?"
"The ordinary route," replied Adrien.
- Oh ! then we would have waited for you long and in vain on the new road. Didn't you know, my brother, that we had recently traced a path more pleasant and shorter than the old one?
“I didn't know that at all.
'Marina told me so; I didn't want to sell it, I was wrong; we waited for you for more than two hours; not seeing you, we came back, very angry with you.
"But you will forgive our ignorance," said M. de Juliers.
"If we will forgive you?" I am solely guilty, am I not, Marina?
"No doubt, my daughter, you did not want to believe me," replied a very old woman whom Adrien had received in his arms when she entered the cottage.
This little debate stopped there; we had more pressing business to finish. I had an appetite whetted by the morning air, and I busied myself honoring the dishes prepared by Maria and her companion. Adrien behaved as well as I; as for M. de Juliers, he was nourished by the sight of Maria, who bore a rather great resemblance to his brother. Something strange, mysterious, pleasant was going on in his soul; he wanted to speak, he said a few words, then suddenly stopped. I had great difficulty in bringing him back to his composure and getting him to eat something. Apart from the distractions of the baron, the luncheon was very gay, very cheerful. When it was finished, we all went under the cradle, and there the projects were put on the carpet.
"Come, gentlemen," said Maria, "how shall we employ our time here?" It is good that I know your intentions and that you give me your orders.
"My child," continued the baron in a solemn tone, "if you allow me, I will regulate the pleasures of this season myself." Ernest and your brother will visit all of Italy together; you, Marina and I will go straight to Paris. I will add that we will never separate. These words surprise you, I realize; but you will be much more surprised to learn that the one who speaks to you is your mother's brother, your only relative, the uncle who has been mourning you for many years... Come into my arms, my dear children; I am now the happiest of men! »
Our astonishment was great, as you can imagine: there was a moment of hesitation; then Adrien and his sister fell into the arms of M. de Juliers, who, at last giving free rein to his long suppressed emotions, shed abundant tears. When his tears had stopped, he said to his nephew and his niece, whose hands he still pressed tenderly between his:
“My dear children, the guilty servant who abandoned you must be forgotten. Let us think only of enjoying our happiness; seeing you for the first time, my dear Adrien, I recognized the features of your father, who died in America; I needed a lot of strength to wait until this day before making myself known. By entering here I still wanted to delay the moment when I had to declare everything; but the sight of you, sweet Maria, has changed my mind, and you know everything. O my children! how good your embraces do me! We will never leave each other, and the beneficent Marina will share our joys and our happiness. You were happy, you are rich now: may fortune not alter your happiness! Your father left you great wealth, and my riches are yours. Come, my dear Maria, you are permitted to form great plans. As for you, my Adrien, you must give up Florence; for France is your homeland, it is for her alone that your glory must grow..."
You can easily imagine that this happy recognition brought about changes in the lives of Adrien and his sister. After spending a month in the little house, M. de Juliers, his niece and Marina left for Paris; Adrien stayed in Italy with me. We traversed this beautiful country together before going to rejoin the baron; eight months later we undertook a trip around the world, and it was on our return that I finally learned the mystery of this story.
M. de Juliers came to see me one day; he was happier than usual. He took my hand affectionately, and said to me: "My friend, I confessed everything to my nephew and my niece, and they will love me none the less." Alas! I have well expiated my fault, and fifteen years of remorse well deserved a pardon. »
This beginning surprised me greatly; the baron noticed it, and continued thus: "These words have surprised you, and you will be much more so when you listen to what I am about to tell you." My confidence in you is so great, Ernest, that I don't want to hide anything from you, that I am not afraid to reveal to you a crime, the cause of my long sufferings. You have seen me unhappy for a long time, fleeing pleasures, the world and my friends; but you did not know that I was the guiltiest of men... About sixteen years ago, I learned that my brother, who was a captain, had just died in New York, where his wife then resided. and her two infant children; three months later, I received a letter from my sister, announcing her imminent arrival. She was returning to live in France, after having sold all the property she owned in America. But she was to see her homeland again only to die there soon; for, hardly landed, she succumbed to an illness of languor. I had run to her before she died, and, dying, she entrusted her children and all her fortune to me. When I had given him the last duties, a horrible design was suggested to me by greed. I had made great losses at play, I found myself for the moment in a very difficult position; I resolved to seize my brother's immense fortune. Nothing could be easier, it was all in my hands, entrusted to my sole delicacy. My nephew and my niece, whose fate no one was interested in, bothered me a great deal; I ordered an overzealous servant to mislead them, and they were secretly deposited in Marina's house. You know what became of them. No one suspected their existence, so my conduct towards them was unknown, so I was never bothered by men. But my conscience had taken it upon itself to punish me. For several years I tried to stifle the remorse that tormented me; my efforts were useless; they grew every day, they became more cruel every moment, they triumphed over me, and I was their slave. Sadness, despair, dwelt from then on in my heart: I no longer knew happiness, I fled society and the enjoyments of life. For seven years I lived like this, going to Switzerland on my return each spring, to look in vain for my victims, who were no longer there. Finally Heaven took pity on my ills, my regrets touched it, and it gave me back happiness and peace by giving me Adrian and Maria back. I will never forget, my friend, that after God it is to you that I owe my happiness. Without you, would I have met Adrien? It was time for me to see it; without his presence and his songs, I was dying of sadness in the last illness I had in Switzerland. We have no more cruel enemies than our remorse; for they poison our life and lead us to the tomb by frightful tortures and by a long martyrdom. »
I have seen Baron de Juliers very often since he confided in me, and satisfaction always shone on his face; he had expiated his crime, and God granted him happy days.
I have provided my story, my dear listeners, it is for another to speak.
Your stories have too much charm, Monsieur de Versan, not to be asked to continue. Look at your young listeners, they are waiting, they are begging you for a second story.
Mr. DE VERSAN.
Come on, since they listen to me with so much benevolence, I must not shrink from a new story. Let us transport ourselves to the Indian Sea; this is where the scene will take place. Adrien and I were going to Pondicherry, on a French ship called the Veloce. So he didn't justify his title; for he was held back in the open sea by a calm which vexed us greatly. The crew and passengers, finding nothing better to do, passed the time gambling and drinking. The captain, named Fucigny, was a keen gambler, so he promptly put the cards into fashion. Four of the wealthiest passengers formed the circle where they passed the days and nights, and considerable sums of money were lost and gained between these five men. Adrien, who until then had remained, like me, indifferent to the ardor shown for gambling by our traveling companions, tasted imperceptibly the disastrous pleasures to which we indulged before our eyes; I tried in vain to hold him back on the edge of the abyss where he wanted to throw himself.
"I'm careful," he told me; if I lose, it will be a small thing, be sure of it.
"One begins," I replied, "by losing small sums of money, and one ends up ruining oneself."
— Ruining me is impossible; I can only sacrifice the money I have on me; and certainly this money is not all my fortune.
"But don't you reflect that the taste for gambling, which you will acquire here, will follow you everywhere, and will return with you to Europe to throw you into misfortune."
'You are wrongly frightened, my dear Ernest, I don't want to get into the habit of gambling, I only want to amuse myself; do you know that it's a bit monotonous to constantly look at the sky and the sea, arms crossed? Instead of lecturing me, my dear friend, follow my example: here is your place at this table, next to me. »
At these words, Adrien, encouraged by the players, joined the captain's circle. His opponents were skilful, experienced men; so he was not long in perceiving his fault; when the game was suspended for some time, he had left in the hands of his companions the sum of seven thousand francs. I thought the moment favorable for making fresh remonstrances to him; he interrupted them by saying: "Ernest, your lesson is useless." Don't get angry if I don't want to hear about wisdom, moderation, prudence. I've lost seven thousand francs, that's too little to be distressed about; but, as I see no reason why I should abandon them to my adversaries without having fought bravely before, I will try to return them to their first possessor."
Adrien felt a violent vexation; but he hid it out of self-love. He returned to the game with apparent calm. Fortune seemed to want to smile on him, he had won 4000 francs at nightfall; instead of giving himself up to sleep, he continued to play, and I learned the next day that he had lost eleven thousand francs in all: that was all he had at the moment. I did not reproach him; but I noticed with pain that, far from being cured of the passion which had seized him so suddenly, he was burning with an insane desire to give himself up to it with a new fury. A great change had already taken place in him: his face, usually so pure, so smiling, had turned pale and breathed uneasiness, concern and sometimes anger. His eyes were haggard, uncertain, they seemed afraid to meet mine. He did not confide his misfortune to me, he doubtless hoped to hide it from me by repairing it. After a few hours of rest, the players assembled, and the game began again with great activity. We saw that there were losses to be repaired and considerable gains to be accumulated. Those who had won were cheerful, affable; their victims, in striving to imitate them, showed a discontent which further losses could change into fury and despair. I followed in silence the progress of the disease, and all day I witnessed a very distressing spectacle. I saw no anger or outburst; I heard no insults or threats: everything passed in a lugubrious silence; there was something solemn about the sadness and despondency of people who were ruining themselves that terrified me. The resignation they affected smacked of despair, and I sensed that their silent pain would be followed by a terrible explosion of furious transports, cries of rage and mortal blows.
The gamblers whom fortune continued to favor had ceased to be affable, gay, laughing; the dark sadness of the losers had made them anxious, uneasy; they won as if with regret: perhaps, like me, they foresaw the approach of a storm of which they might in turn be the victims. Adrien, whose fate interested me deeply, made neither loss nor gain; that's all he got until nightfall, after tiring his mind and body all day. Captain Fucigny was less fortunate: he saw large sums of money taken from him; a passenger shared his misfortune; his defeat cost him twenty-five thousand francs. I believed that the night would put an end to all this madness; Nothing came of it, the game revived in the silence of the darkness that enveloped the vessel. Seeing Adrien persist in not separating from his dangerous companions, I went to bed. I was sound asleep when an awful noise suddenly woke me up in the middle of the night; I dressed hastily and ran with the frightened crew towards the captain's room, whence issued threatening cries which had frightened us. There, a very sad spectacle met our eyes. All the players were on their feet, some furious, others calm, but with despair on their faces. The passenger, who had lost twenty-five thousand francs during the day, held one of his adversaries by the throat, shouting to him:
“You deserve death, infamous! you robbed me, you deceived us all. Admit it, or I'll kill you..."
While the sailors were trying to separate these two men, I approached Adrien, who stood aside, gloomy and pensive. I held out my hand; he squeezed it tightly, and said to me in a dull voice:
“Ernest, why didn't I listen to you! I would not at this moment be reduced to despair.
"Console yourself, my dear Adrien," I replied; let's get out of here; come and confide your sorrows to me. He followed me. When we were alone, I questioned him about what was happening, he said to me: “During the night our losses have increased; the English passenger, Mr. Spincery, lost everything he owned; Seeing himself ruined, patience eluded him, his phlegm gave way to fury, and you saw how he treated the most favored of gamblers. The captain also lost his temper for a moment, then depression took hold of him; he has become a dreamer... And I, my dear Ernest, am even more unhappy than all of them; because I sacrificed the portrait of my sister enriched with diamonds. If you love me, you will return it to me by lending me the amount of money I need to buy it back. It is priceless to me; but the players estimated it at eight thousand francs.
"That's all I have, but here they are." God grant, my friend, that your misfortune benefits you!
'I'm cured, Ernest, don't doubt it. »
At this moment our servant informed us that the struggle had ceased in the captain's room, and that calm reigned everywhere.
"This calm is deceptive," Adrien told me, "the rest of the night won't pass without some terrible event happening."
“You see everything black now, my friend.
— The game makes you sad, it's true; however my fears are not the fruit of a burning, misguided imagination. I saw such terrible faces a few moments ago!
"At least you won't be disturbing my sleep?"
- No really, it's enough to take away your purse, you can sleep in peace next to me. While you dream, I will think; for, in spite of the fatigue I feel, I am not disposed to give myself up to sleep.
“In that case I will keep you company; my eyes no longer want to close; but, since there are two of us, we had better talk instead of think.
- Either. It is so sweet to watch in the midst of the seas! are you ready to listen to some story?
“I am all ears.
- I begin :
Bondorini was one of the richest lords in Italy. Young, witty, amiable, he was sought after on all sides, and his days passed in joy and the pleasures permitted to any honest man. At twenty-two, he thought of marriage, and a young Neapolitan girl of the greatest beauty was the one he chose for his companion. Everything was soon settled on both sides, and Bondorini left for his chateau to prepare everything for the reception of his fiancee. His friends, the neighboring lords, learning of his arrival, hastened to congratulate him; he kept them at home, and wished to treat them one last time as a young man.
"It's an excellent idea you have there," said one of his friends, named Caraccioli. Before you are bound by the knots of marriage, this castle must witness all our follies for the last time. Here we are ten, eager for pleasure; let us exhaust the cup of all pleasures, then we will separate. »
All the lords applauded at these words. Caraccioli continued, "How soon is your fiancée's family to get here?"
"In nine days," replied Bondorini.
"Nine days!" it's a bit too early; but whatever? one can have fun for nine days; I can even ruin you all. »
Caraccioli was an avid gambler; twice his great fortune had been compromised by gambling, twice gambling had restored it. Several times he had tried to inspire his disastrous tastes in Bondorini, but in vain. When he learned of the future marriage of his host, he conceived a violent vexation at it, for his bad behavior had caused him to have been previously refused the hand of the young girl granted to Bondorini; he carefully hid his displeasure, and resolved to lose his favorite rival.
Meanwhile the entertainments had begun in the chateau, and little by little the heads of the young lords grew warm. It was necessary to vary the pleasures. Caraccioli, in a moment of general elation, offered to play. All accepted, Bondorini alone made some difficulties; his friends dragged him away, he was weak enough to yield. He won a lot that day, and the next day he was the first to sit down at the fatal gambling table: he hoped to win again. But Caraccioli, who had sworn his ruin, suddenly arrested him in the midst of his triumph, and took from him first the fruits of his victory the day before, then a considerable sum of money. Bondorini, dissatisfied, persisted; his infernal enemy quivered with joy, and began to undermine the fortune of his unfortunate victim; it only took him four days to snatch half of it. What will Bondorini do? will he stop? "I can't," he cried, burning with fever and beating his chest. What a shame for me to confess my losses to the family which gives me the richest heiress of the kingdom of Naples! Will she want a gentleman half ruined by gambling? Oh ! No ! No ! it will never be; I need all my fortune or death!..."
The unfortunate man had just pronounced his sentence; he returned to sit down opposite his enemy, and he always lost: his houses, his lands, his woods, everything came to be engulfed in the abyss into which he himself had fallen. The day before his fiancée was to join him, he only owned his castle!
“Do you play it? said Caraccioli coldly.
- Yes, I play it! and may your soul be damned! How much is it worth to you?
— One hundred thousand crowns.
— It is worth double; but what does it matter?... I deliver it to you. »
The next day the chateau was deserted; the parties had ended, and all the young lords had disappeared...
The guardian of the castle remained alone. Seated on the stone bench near the drawbridge, he wept bitterly. Soon a loud noise was heard, cars were driving on the road and heading towards Bondorini's house. They stopped at the door, and several people got out of it all happy. The young bride, for it was she, asked the master of the chateau. The guard did not answer; he had himself followed in silence. Arrived near the great hall of honour, he stopped and said to those who accompanied him: "You have come too late, the fiancé is no longer..." Saying these words, he opened the door, and a dreadful sight presented itself to the gaze: Bondorini and Caraccioli were stretched dead, one close to the other...
Bondorini had lost the castle he had staked; not wanting to survive his complete ruin, he seized two pistols, and turning to the man who had lost him, he exclaimed: "Infamous, you will not enjoy your triumph!" And with a pistol shot he had laid him dead at his feet; at the same instant a second shot was heard, and the unfortunate Bondorini fell lifeless beside the one he had killed..."
Adrian stopped. “Into what frightful misfortunes does the passion for gambling not lead us? I say to my friend. Bondorini loses in one week all his fortune, a whole life of happiness; this young and imprudent lord is not the only one whom the game has lost; the examples are numerous, and several times in Paris I have witnessed the saddest scenes. I've seen too much to ever succumb to the most terrible of our passions...' I was interrupted in my thoughts by the sound of a gunshot. A few moments later, a sailor exclaimed: "Mr. Spincery has blown his brains out!... We ran to the scene of the crime, and we saw the unfortunate Englishman bathed in his blood: after giving himself a with a dagger in the chest, he had shot himself... He was still breathing; a young doctor who happened to be among the passengers wanted to give him help; he pushed him away saying, "It's useless." I can't come back...” He couldn't say more and expired.
The captain then said bitterly: “We needed a victim tonight; I wanted to die, now I reject suicide: what I see connects me to life: I will know how to take advantage of this terrible example. »
Mr. Spincery had left two letters on the table: one was addressed to his brother, Mr. Thomas Spincery; the other to the captain who read it aloud in the presence of the assembled crew. It contained only these words: “I make a last wish before killing myself; if there is one among the passengers who proposes to go one day to England, I beg him to take to my brother the letter which I wrote for him. I do not know the place where he resides today; but, after some research, one can meet him in the countryside of Manchester. Farewell, captain; farewell, my traveling companions; May my misfortune benefit you, and may a good wind bring you back to the port where I could not reach!...
My intention, on my return from Asia, was to travel through England: I asked for the letter which was recommended to us, promising to deliver it myself to the brother of the suicide. Next Sunday, my dear listeners, I will tell you if I have succeeded in meeting Mr. Thomas Spincery. To my account I will add this evening that we arrived in Pondicherry without further disaster, and that during the crossing everyone refrained from playing. As for my friend Adrien, he was forever corrected for the passion that had seized him so suddenly. »
Avarice and prodigality.
M. deVersan thus resumed the thread of his narration the following Sunday: “A year after my trip to the East I was in England. one evening when I was walking in the neighborhood of Manchester, in the hope of discovering the retreat of Mr. Thomas Spincery, I was surprised by a terrible storm, which compelled me to take refuge in a modest inn, situated at some distance from a sizeable village. The mistress of the house received me very politely, made me sit down near a big fire, and left me to answer the impertinent questions addressed to her by the only man who was in the inn on my arrival. Before reporting to you the conversation between the hostess and the stranger, I think I should give you an idea of the costume of the latter.
He was a man of about fifty-five; his attire was a model of disorder and uncleanliness: a wide-brimmed hat hid part of his long hair, which the wig-maker often did not take care of; his patched coat was almost diaphanous, he had been so used; a shabby gray canvas pant barely reached below the knee; he had no stockings, and his shoes, which had been mended twenty times at least, were held at his feet by four long ends of rope tightly tied around his legs. He held a gnarled stick in his hand, which he often waved as he spoke, to lend more authority to his speeches. His voice was shrill, but a little quivering, for he was very moved when I entered the inn. He said to the hostess: "Madame, your late mother did not ransom honest people as you do." You should have more regard for an old practice. I pay well, it seems.
“Father Thomas, your complaints are really laughable.
- Without a doubt. Why do you come back here every day? Where one is malnourished, where one is held to ransom, one no longer shows oneself. You are too puny a practitioner to be regretted. You pay well, I understand; who could not give cash three French sous for his breakfast?
"Three French sous, disbursed by me each day, get you fifty-four francs seventy-five centimes a year, French currency." You get a third of the profit, a penny a luncheon; a penny, mark it well; at the end of the year, eighteen francs twenty-five centimes. If all the subjects of Great Britain consumed with you as much as I do, you would soon be richer than the king himself.
“You count perfectly; but leave me in peace, please.
“You fear my just reproaches; you tremble lest I reveal your greed in front of this young stranger who is coming to you..."
He showed me by speaking thus. He kept murmuring as long as the hostess stood beside me. When she approached him, he cried out in a threatening voice: "May the curse of Heaven fall on those who despoil the needy!" Ah! Gentlemen of the House of Commons, while you are ranting, we are being ruined! Soon it will no longer be possible for me to eat; bread, beer and water increase every year.
'But you won't ruin yourself on food, Father Thomas.
'Because I'll be prudent, thrifty; because I'll end up spending only two cents on lunch. I leave you, Madam. Squeeze the rest of my bread carefully, and take care that it does not fall under the teeth of the greedy villagers or your voracious dog... But there is a terrible storm. My poor shoes! it's still mud that you will pick up! Bad times will therefore never end in this accursed country... We have to wait... Good morning, Sir, continued the old miser, addressing me. You're French ; your language makes me guess it.
“You are not mistaken.
'I've been told that people live cheaply in your country.
— The price of food varies with us according to the provinces. But in general you can eat cheaply there.
"Why wasn't I born in France?" I may end up going there to spend my old age. We are starving here. The money does not stay in the pocket for long. You are rich, no doubt, young traveler? Your dress is that of the opulent man.
- I am comfortable, indeed.
“You are very happy. There was a time when I too was rolling in gold. Lucky days, what have you become? The age of bronze has come for me, poor victim! everyone was bent on ruining me; and an inhuman brother reduced me to misery.
— Allow me a question, Mr. Thomas. Wasn't that brother you complain about called Spincery, and isn't that name also yours?
“Yes sir, I am Thomas Spincery. Do you happen to know where my brother is? YOU
would he have ordered to give me back the fortune he stole from me?
"I am not charged with such a gentle commission." The news I bring you is sad; because your brother is dead.
- Dead! are you sure? 'I saw him die.
"Am I his heir?" where is the money he took from me?
“The game probably devoured him. Here is the letter he wrote to you before killing himself, and which I promised to deliver to you myself.
'It's fortunate that he didn't know my address; he was capable, the wretch, of making me pay postage, even after he had ceased to exist. Let's see what he tells us:
“My dear Thomas, a skillful player has taken it upon himself to avenge you. He won me everything I stole from you..."
“Revenge is beautiful, indeed. It would take a long time to plead before being reimbursed by this player. Let's go on :
“My death cannot make you richer; so I hope you won't be happy about it. »
“Certainly his death will not drive away poverty from my home. However, I have a right to possession of what my brother may have left after his death. It must have been beautifully fitted in clothes. He had a gold watch, probably a few diamonds, I'm sure, because he liked luxury. Could you tell me, Monsieur le Français, what all this has become?
- I do not know.
“I will write a word about it to the Governor of the Great Indies. I don't want to die without having my brother's remains in my possession. Besides, let's not get overheated; perhaps I shall find a word on this subject at the end of this letter; let's finish reading it:
“If fortune smiles on you again, be generous enough to erect a small monument to my memory. Farewell, in a few minutes I will cease to exist.
“J. Spincery. »
“Can we push boldness further? cried the old miser, crumpling his brother's letter in his hands. Ask me for a monument! it is a mockery, a final infamy to add to all those he has committed against me. If I become a millionaire again, John Spincery, I will erect a gallows in the place where you were born, I will engrave your name on it, it will be the only trophy I will erect for your glory. So it's over!... No more hope of recovering anything from what he took from me! It's all in the hands of one player! Oh my God!... "
Old Thomas stood as if devastated for a moment, then rushed furiously into the countryside, where he disappeared.
"Such a being," said the hostess to me as she approached, "doesn't he not raise the heart with indignation?" Is it possible that man falls into such stupefaction? Shouldn't he be crying over the fate of his unfortunate brother? But the miser has no entrails; he is more cruel than the tiger, more callous than the rock..."
The hostess sat down by the fire to talk more at ease. She immediately resumed:
“He is a very despicable man, this Mr. Thomas Spincery; her whole life has been sullied by avarice and by the crimes she gives birth to. Would you believe, sir, that he let his old nurse die of misery? Listen, please: it's quite a story to tell. Thomas Spincery and his brother John, whom you knew while travelling, were parents of the most honest people on earth. They lived about ten leagues from here, and lived, in silence and the practice of good works, from the fruit of their long labors, for they had been merchants in Manchester. Unfortunately they had two sons who hardly resembled them, and who by their bad behavior shortened their days by half. They left, in dying, a pretty good fortune. Thomas Spincery took his share of it with a joy that outraged everyone; for the infamous had ardently desired the death of his parents in order to throw himself greedily on their property. M. Spincery senior had recommended to his children, before dying, to reward his servants and to assure a lot to their nurse, who had never left them; the worthy man should have done this himself, and not depended on his heirs. John, it must be said to his praise, did not forget his father's last wish; but he took it very badly to execute it. John was a prodigal, a gambler, burning to run to London and Paris to lose his heritage there. He charged Thomas, his brother, to see to the happiness of the servants and the nurse: he made him promise never to send them away from the paternal house, and gave him a fairly large sum of money intended to ensure some income for these brave folks. Thomas took the money, promised mountains and wonders. But when John was far away, he said to himself: I would be very good to grant annuities to servants who have perfectly fulfilled their duties, it is true, but who have also been paid very generously and very regularly by fire. my father. I don't see that they deserved so much. They want me to assure them a fate; but it seems to me that I must first think of myself. I am rich, it will be said; it is possible: however, will anyone answer me for the future? If I keep in my house servants who eat well, a nurse who will outlive me, I run the risk of ruining myself, of taking away the piece of bread that my parents have earned me; if I make them income, they will become proud, haughty; they won't give them back to me when I need them. So let's be prepared: what I won't give is so much gained. It will be objected that John did not entrust me with money to put in my coffers; I will answer: John is a prodigal, he did not reflect when he asked me to divide between my father's servants and his nurse. I want to be wise for him. I treasure his money to return it to him when he needs it. And the unfortunate will be, in a few years, only too happy to find it in my hands. This is what I will say to the curious, to people who meddle in what does not concern them. If by misfortune John came back to ask me for his deposit, I would refuse it and repeat to him in a friendly voice: "My dear John, I have distributed it to the poor and to our good and old servants." How will he know the truth?
In fact, Thomas cleaned the house and succeeded in sending the servants and the nurse away, after having distributed a small sum of money to them. When he was alone at home, he lived like all misers. He surrounded himself with precautions to track down thieves; he bought a safe truly worthy of his name, and locked his gold coins in it one by one. Each day he increased his wealth by the privations he imposed on himself, without dreaming that he amassed not for himself, but for a prodigal who did not lose sight of him. John Spincery, after a few years, came to not have a penny, which compelled him to come and visit his brother. When he saw him, he turned pale.
Is that you John? he said with emotion.
- Yes, my dear Thomas, it is myself. Don't you see me with pleasure?
How ! but with extreme joy.
- I realize it, indeed, you are seized with happiness. Let's start by having dinner served to me, I'm cruelly hungry, because I came here on foot from Manchester.
- So you don't have a car anymore?
- No, it's too embarrassing, and then I'll admit that walking is very beneficial to me. All the doctors order me to.
- Is it the doctors who advise you to wear torn clothes?
- You like questions, brother; but I don't lack answers. Listen, I wanted to follow your example, I became thrifty. I wore this coat for two years, and at the end of that time it is still in better condition than yours, which no doubt has more than two years of service. Let's compare, my dear brother.
- You would dare! Learn that the coat I wear belongs to our father; I flipped it three times. Now would you dare talk to me about economics?
- I bow... I recognize you as my master; also to take some lessons from you that I come here to spend a week or two. But tell me, brother, is dinner getting ready?
- You're in a hurry.
- I think so, I haven't eaten all day yet. I'm going to the kitchen to hurry your servants a bit.
- My servants, stop, I don't have any more.
- So you are your own cook?
- You said it.
- In that case, cook me dinner; because after all I suppose you don't push the economy so far as not to eat anymore.
- I haven't been able to get that far yet; but I hope...
- My dear Thomas, if you can subsist without food, you will have solved a big problem, and you will deserve a statue. In the meantime, you will do well to feed me, I am hungry, I repeat it to you for the third time.
- You can wait a bit
: we'll have a bite to eat in an hour, not sooner, because I'm used to having dinner very late.
- Listen, my friend, I'll leave you your bite, you can eat it in an hour, if you like, but I need something else, and on the spot or I'll break this ice cream into a thousand pieces. How ! a brother who loves you tenderly comes to embrace you after seven years of absence, and you dare to receive him meanly! You're not in a hurry to go up the whole cellar here, to take down your whole attic, to empty all your cupboards, finally to light all the stoves to prepare him a meal worthy of his appetite! Thomas, I thought you were more of a man of heart, more sensitive, more amiable, more generous. You have to be thrifty, very thrifty, but never when it comes to a brother like me. Well ! you don't move! You don't steal from your kitchen! unhappy! If in a second the table doesn't sag under the food, I'll break everything here... Well, I'll start with this clock.
- Thanks for her, criminal! I will satisfy your devouring hunger. Do you come here to disturb my rest, to ruin me? ...
Thomas closed all the cupboards, put the keys in his pocket, and groaned out to order dinner at the inn next door to him.
When John saw this dinner on the table, he embraced his brother effusively, and said to him, helping himself abundantly: Let's forget what has just happened, let's eat merrily. I hope you won't be asked like that again to give me my four meals a day.
- Four meals! you are capable of starving the country! how could I satisfy your appetite?
- Ah! Thomas, you are rich enough to feed twenty good children like me.
- Me ! rich ! you are wrong.
- Everyone told me on the road.
– Everyone has declared themselves my enemy. Trust me, John, I'm not happy I did
- Smaller than mine, no doubt.
- So what have you lost?
- Alas! all my wealth.
- All ?
- Without exception. Fate, still indulgent for me, left me this coat that I wear without
stop, and a brother who will be careful not to leave me in need. »
Thomas wanted to answer, the word died on his lips; he remained motionless, annihilated for nearly a quarter of an hour. John took the opportunity to ravage the table and empty all the bottles. When Thomas came back to life, there was nothing around him but perfectly clean flat surfaces. He almost fainted again; but fearing greater misfortunes, he kept his eyes wide open and cried:
“I am a lost man! and it's John who gives me the death blow!
- Console yourself, you will not die: those who do good deserve to live long. Let's reason a little, my dear Thomas: if you gave me a hundred gold pieces, that would certainly not ruin you, because after all I know that your safe is well stocked.
- You stab me, cruel, in appearing thus to me.
I have nothing, I am poor and the most unfortunate of men!
"So what did you do with the money I entrusted to you?" I was told that you had not returned it
— to my father's old servants and to our nurse. I claim it from you, do you hear?
'You haven't been told the truth; your money has been poured into the hands of those you protected.
"Can I believe you when I see that you have chased away all the friends of our house, all those who brought us up, despite your solemn promise to keep them with you?"
"If you don't believe my words, go yourself and question the nurse and our former servants."
- Where are they?
- I do not know.
— Unfortunate, you ordered them not to appear again in this country. But what do I care? I need my money, since you refuse me a hundred pieces of gold, that is to say the tenth part of what you owe me.
— Prodigal, listen to me, I'll give you a hundred gold pieces; but promise me to leave as soon as you receive them.
- I promise you with all my heart.
"Promise me, too, that you won't come back here again."
“I promise you anything you want.
"Wait for me here, I'll fetch you your treasure."
Thomas walked away. John, unable to follow him, contented himself with listening to the sound of his footsteps, in order to discover where in his house he was hiding his safe. It was soon certain that Thomas had deposited it in the attic, contrary to the custom of misers, who entrust their money to the darkness of the cellars. This discovery fills him with joy. When his brother reappeared, he gave him a thousand caresses, and obtained permission to stay until the next day. Thomas made him sleep at the back of the house, in an isolated room; that was what John wanted, he found himself much freer to act. About one o'clock in the morning, he rose noiselessly, and by ingenious means managed to climb onto the roof. Arrived there, not without difficulty, he disturbed the tiles, and made an opening large enough to enter the attic. He had soon discovered the safe; several false keys which he had taken care to bring from London were tried, the last only opened. John took as much gold as he could carry, and retraced his steps. You can well imagine that he did not wait for the big day to flee; when he had arranged everything, he escaped by scaling a wall which separated him from the countryside, and followed the road to London. He had the good fortune to meet a carriage at dawn; he took his place there, and was able to go without fatigue to the capital of England.
Thomas was much surprised, on waking, to find his brother no longer where he had made him sleep; but astonishment soon gave way to fear, and, more dead than alive, he ran to the attic...
You must understand how great was his pain at the sight of his safe opened and stripped of half of his wealth! He only had time to close it, take it down to the cellar and then come to bed, for he was ill: he had a fever for several days. His first care, after his recovery, was to raise the walls of his house and put a new lock on his safe.
Six months after this sad adventure, a poor old woman knocked at his door. He opened his window and recognized his nurse, bent under the weight of years and misery.
" What do you want? he told her sharply.
“A little bread, my son. Remember that I fed you, that I raised you, my dear Thomas.
"I am too poor today to help you."
"Give me at least a bed to rest on, I'm so weak!" I won't bother you for long, my dear Thomas, because I feel like I'm dying; I would like to expire in your father's house...
- Go to the neighbor, he has several beds; I only have one left. »
The window closed. The poor nurse went to beg pity elsewhere; a charitable farmer received her, and she breathed her last a few days later, without having cursed the ungrateful Spincery!
But he was soon to be cruelly punished for his inhumanity. John reappeared one evening in the country with a devoted man; his design was to seize the miser's safe. He had no doubt that he had been hidden in the cellar, and he acted accordingly. He took advantage of a dark night and the heavy rain to break through the garden wall. He then entered a narrow courtyard, and thence came, through a secret door which Thomas neglected, into a dark corridor which led straight to the cellar. Instead of wasting his time uselessly in opening a door held in place by several very solid padlocks, he set fire to it with a candle, which he lighted noiselessly. When the flame had made a hole large enough for him to comfortably pass through with the safe, he tried to put it out, but to no avail. Seeing this, his intrepid companion said to him: “Your brother will soon be up; if you persist in wanting to stifle this flame, we will lose the fruit of our labors. I'll go into the cellar and I'll take care of bringing you the safe, even if it weighs a thousand pounds. »
Indeed, the daring thief crossed the fire and reappeared with the safe, which abandoned Thomas' house forever. A car was waiting for him in the countryside, he was placed on it and directed towards London. John took the precaution, before leaving, of knocking loudly on one of the windows of his brother's house; for he foresaw that the whole building would be engulfed in flames, and he did not want Thomas to perish suffocated in his bed. He therefore waited until the latter had awakened; as soon as he heard her approach the window, he said to her: "Thomas, fly to your cellar, the door that closes the entrance has been set on fire!" Then he immediately disappeared.
Thomas, frightened, wanted to leave his room; a thick smoke compelled him to return suddenly and call for help through the window; but the villagers were in no hurry to come to his aid, and his house was entirely devoured by the flames, he only escaped the fire himself by jumping out of the window into the street. A few days later, he put up for sale the property he owned in the country and came to live here. His brother's robbery and the fire robbed him of most of his fortune. He is still rich enough, however, to be able to spend more than three sous on his meal each morning; but his avarice increases every day, and he calls himself the most unhappy of men. It will end badly, be sure of it; he will not kill himself, like the unfortunate John; but he will receive death at the hand of thieves. Several times the malefactors of this country have tried to enter his house; they failed because he is more vigilant than ever;
however, a day will come when he will succumb, for he is growing old, and his strength is gradually failing him. God grant that I am wrong! I am far from being Thomas's enemy: he is to be pitied, and I often pray for him.
That's my story, Monsieur le Français; she is as sad as time; I don't think the storm will pass any time soon. If you're careful, you'll stay here tonight; I promise you a good bed, a good meal; you will never have been better served in Manchester and London; I do French cuisine to perfection.
- I will stay with you, I replied to the friendly hostess, but on one condition.
- Everything you want, you will have it, I promise everything in advance. Just talk.
"You must know many stories, legends, and the most curious tales?"
— Without a doubt, they call me in the country the story-teller and the scholar; for I am never at a loss when speaking, and I have the gift of narrating quite pleasantly.
'I've already seen that.
"You are very honest, Monsieur le Français." You are not the only one who does me justice; the antique dealers of Manchester always come to my house on their scientific excursions, for they know that I know nothing of all that has passed in the country since the most remote times.
I put them on the path to a host of discoveries, and they have always shown me great gratitude.
What you are telling me there gives me real satisfaction; so I repeat to you, I will stay here, but on the condition that you bring me, before and after my meal, one of the hundred stories, the thousand legends that you know.
“I am at your command. Let's see, what do you want? is it a legend?
- Your selection.
“Then I will tell you two; the longest will come after your meal; you'll have the other one in a minute. I run to take a look at the kitchen, and recommend my servant to surpass herself to satisfy you. »
The hostess went away, and returned a few moments later to sit down near the fire. Seeing me well disposed, she told me a legend which I will bring back to you on our last evening. Anna, Georges and Ernest expressed a great desire to know her immediately; but Madame de Nanteuil was of M. de Versan's opinion, and the children insisted no longer.
Georges, Ernest and Anna had gathered early in the living room to listen to the legend of the hostess. M. de Versan, detained in the adjoining room by an animated conversation he was having with M. Lecointe and M. de Nanteuil, forgot that his nephews and niece were waiting for him impatiently. Anna especially could not hide her displeasure and spite. "In truth," she said, "it's cruel to leave us waiting like this." Isn't it, Ernest?
I am no less impatient than you, my dear Anna; but how to put an end to the conversation taking place in the adjoining room?
It is not for us to upset our friends. It is likely that they are serious matters between them.
But then we do not promise an early legend. I'm sure they cause trifles.
If I dared, I would interrupt them mercilessly.
I don't recommend it to you.
Well ! I will face danger. Without making much noise, I will remind my uncle that he has a legend to tell us... Ah! this is mom and my aunt.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
So the stories haven't started yet?
Alas! No. We wait until my uncle has stopped talking in the next room.
MADAME DE VERSAN.
Had this case you will wait a long time. Once he starts a conversation, it doesn't end. I am going, my dear children, to remind him of his promise of last Sunday.
Madame de Versan went out and returned soon after, followed by her husband, her brother-in-law, and M. Lecointe.
"I am truly guilty," cried M. de Versan, embracing his niece, "of having thus forgotten you." But take comfort, I won't go to bed until my legend has been fully told to you. Sit down comfortably, and I'll tell you exactly the story of my hostess.
The good woman spoke thus: “Monsieur le Français, this country is rich in memories. When my grandfather was in this world, he used to have me sit next to him every day to tell me about the most extraordinary events that had happened in these places. I would like to remember everything he said to me, you would be in awe, and sometimes I would give you goosebumps; but it is useless to have recourse to tales that are too dark when one knows others; so you will listen to me, I hope, with pleasure and without fear.
There was formerly, two leagues from this village, a rich lord, called the Comte de Grivel, who lived in a castle of admirable construction. He was a man of extreme avarice when it came to helping the unfortunate. Generous, magnificent towards the other lords of the region, he would not have granted a glass of water, a piece of bread to the weary traveler. The door of his great mansion was only opened to the powerful, and remained constantly closed for the unfortunate who, in the evening, came to implore the bed of hospitality. He was therefore generally despised.
Half a league from his chateau stood a modest house inhabited by the honest laborer Villy and his family. This house was the refuge of the poor travelers whom the castle of the count of Grivel did not welcome. There they were always well received; they were offered plentiful but simple food, and they prepared for them, without their having asked for it, a bed, not very elegant, but very clean. Villy was the providence of the needy; God, without having made him rich, had granted him ease: fertile meadows, fertile fields and some thick woods. When a peasant who had no wheat said to him: "Villy, here is winter, I lack bread to feed my family," Villy replied: "My friend, come with me to the barn, you will take from my wheat what you will need. You will return this to me when you have had a better harvest. »
When the widow was without wood to warm herself in the cold season, he sent her a little wood, a little coal, to cheer her up.
Villy had received from public recognition the name of Villy le Charitable; the count, his neighbour, was referred to as that of Grivel l'Orgueilleux.
One evening when the storm was more violent than the one that forced you to stay here, a traveler knocked at the door of the Comte de Grivel's manor. At this moment there was a feast in the great hall, where the richest lords of the country were assembled. They were celebrating the anniversary of the count's birth. A servant told the traveler that there was no room for him at the banquet, and that he would have to continue on his way without stopping.
'Open,' replied the stranger, 'or expect some misfortune.
"I cannot, my master has forbidden a poor man to set foot in his chateau."
'Go and announce my arrival to him, and warn him that I am all-powerful. If he does not give me hospitality, he will regret it. »
The intimidated servant ran to tell his master.
" How! exclaimed the count, exasperated by the story of his servant, a peasant dares to threaten me! Let him enter, and let me pronounce his condemnation..."
So the door was opened to the mysterious traveller. When he had arrived in the hall of the feast, the count rose threateningly, and said to him: "Who are you, audacious slave?"
"More powerful than you," replied the stranger calmly.
Universal laughter greeted this response. But at the same moment a great noise resounded in the room, a celestial ray lit up the face of the traveler, who, stretching out his hand towards the assembly, exclaimed in a voice louder than thunder: "You laughed at the unfortunate , you refused him hospitality, be punished...”
And all the guests noticed immediately that their left arm was paralyzed. The Comte de Grivel felt anger inflame him; he sprang from his place to strike the stranger with his sword; but that sword had disappeared with the mysterious traveler.
A few minutes later, Villy heard a light knock at his door; he was then seated with all his family around the fire which shone and crackled in a large fireplace; he told, as I do, instructive legends to his children; he immediately interrupted his story to open the door to anyone who had come to ask him for hospitality. It was the same traveler who had punished the guests of the Comte de Grivel; Villy received him with his usual kindness.
“Come in, please,” he said to her; the storm has wet you: here is a good fire, dry your clothes while waiting for us to prepare the meal for you. »
Before sitting down, the traveler presented a sword to the plowman, and said to him: “Take it, place it in the most secret place of your house; it will be the first title of your future power. »
Villy did not understand these words. He accepted the sword nonetheless, and ran to hide it in the darkest place of his house. When he returned, the traveler was chatting amicably with the laborer's children. He had noticed that one of them was paralyzed in the left arm; he said to his father: "Villy, this child will be cured before I leave."
- Hey! my dear host, I believe in all the good that is announced to me; but I find it hard to hope
my son can ever use his arm.
“It will be otherwise, I promise you.
— Be a thousand times blessed if you give us such joy. Let us now think of the meal; here it is on the table; take the place of honour, and let us eat merrily, my dear guest, after having addressed our prayer to the Lord.
The modest feast began, and the stranger took his share of the constant rejoicing. When it was finished, the beds were made ready, and Villy's guest was led to the finest.
The next day, the plowman was in the greatest astonishment when, approaching the alcove of his host, he noticed that the latter had disappeared. The doors had, however, remained firmly closed: no sound had been heard at night; it was impossible for him to explain this singular event. The surprise increased when his wife ran up to him all joyful, and said to him: “My dear Villy, our second son is cured, he waves his left arm as easily as his right arm.
This pleasant news filled Villy with gratitude: he knelt down to thank Heaven, and getting up he said to his children, who had come running to him -. “My friends, you see, hospitality is always rewarded by the Lord. I don't know what marvelous guest we lodged, but he must be a very powerful man; it may even be a celestial spirit. Don't say any of this in the country, because ignorant people might harm us by falsely accusing us of having relations with sorcerers.
The children promised to keep it a secret, and the night's adventure remained, indeed, hidden from everyone. But it was not so with the misfortune befalling the Comte de Grivel and his guests: the news of it spread rapidly through the country, and became the subject of all conversation. A few lords who were not too much hated were pitied, but everyone applauded the count's punishment.
“He has finally found his master, said the good people. The lesson he has received will no doubt benefit him; he will show himself more generous towards the poor travellers. »
Nothing came of it, however. The Comte de Grivel, far from becoming more humane, more charitable, manifested an implacable hatred against the unfortunate. Anyone who dared approach his castle was cruelly abused and driven out with ignominy. It is even said that several foreigners who were unaware of his cruelty were put to death for having asked too urgently for a retreat for the night. The inhabitants of the countryside dreaded him; soon they no longer pronounced his name without trembling; but in the bottom of their heart they cursed him, they called on him the vengeance of Heaven.
One evening when this dreaded lord was quietly warming himself by his fireside, he heard a plaintive voice cry out beyond the moat that surrounded his castle! “Open, I beg you, Comte de Grivel; Open to the poor pilgrim: it is night, the wind is blowing violently, and snow is covering the fields. Have mercy on me...
"You have to be very audacious," said the Count, "to dare to disturb my peace in this way and challenge me in this way." Bring me the wretch who takes my mansion for a hotel, he will pay dearly for his insolence. »
These words were overheard by over-faithful servants, who soon returned with a pale-faced, suffering young pilgrim.
“Bold! cried the count to him when he saw him enter, don't you know that there is no retreat here for beggars of your kind? Don't you know that I severely punish the one who does not fear importuning me with his misery?
'I was told so, but I didn't want to believe it; I have come to insure whether the annoying rumors which circulated about your account were true or supposed.
- I'm going to prove to you that you were not deceived. Servants, take hold of this unbeliever, and lash his body to pieces.
The servants wanted to come forward to take the stranger, but it was impossible for them to move; they felt like they were nailed to the ground. Then the pilgrim said to the Comte de Grivel: “The lesson you have already received has not benefited you; may a second punishment remind you of your duty! You lose half of your castle at this moment when you refuse to receive the unfortunate. »
At these words, the manor shook on its foundations, and a whole wing collapsed with a terrible crash.
The pilgrim had fled; he reappeared a moment later at the Porte de Villy. This good plowman was dozing when a loud voice cried out: "Villy, open your door to the poor traveler." »
Villy got up immediately, awakened by the voice of the pilgrim. He opened it eagerly, and said to the stranger, "Welcome, I'll rekindle my already extinguished fire, and then we'll make sure to treat you as a friend."
"Villy," resumed the pilgrim, "I only ask you for a piece of bread, because I have to walk all night."
“But the snow covers the ground.
— The road is all the smoother to follow.
'But it's very windy.
— There is no abyss in this country, the weatherlight cannot destroy me. It blows behind me; it will make me lighter.
"But it's bitterly cold."
— The movement will warm me up.
“You pain me, my poor traveler; you will suffer much tonight. Listen ; you are probably going to Manchester?
- You said it.
- Well ! tomorrow I have to go there to take a cart full of wheat, we will travel together.
— Villy, you are a good Christian, but I cannot accept your charitable offer. Just give me a piece of bread.
- Here it is.
“Now I have to give you some advice. I realized that this house was not solid.
“It is only too true.
"Perhaps it's time to think about building another one."
'I couldn't ask for more, but money is a bit scarce this year; next year we will see; if the harvest is good, I will build a house larger than this in the neighboring field.
"It will be easier for me to accommodate travelers who do me the honor of coming to ask for hospitality." It was sometimes too small.
"Villy, I'll be your architect." I take care of all the costs. Tomorrow, at dawn, you will see half a castle rising for you in the neighboring field.
"Half a castle for me." You are kidding, my dear traveler.
- I tell you the truth. Remember your host who cured your son, it is still he who speaks to you. »
At these words the pilgrim disappeared.
"I don't understand any of that," cried Villy. I don't know if I should grieve or rejoice at what is happening to me. In short, I don't think anyone wants me any harm in this world; I have always done my duty: what have I to fear? In case of misfortune I will have Heaven and honest people on my side.
"What are you saying, Villy?" cried the ploughman's wife, who was just waking up.
'Woman, I say that some very extraordinary things are happening here. The pilgrim who saved our son has just told me that tomorrow we will have half a castle in our service.
- You dreamt.
"But look at me: do I look like I'm dreaming?"
"When I have seen, I will believe."
“You are incredulous, my dear wife. Yet we have proof of the power of our mysterious host.
"It may be, but what does it matter?" I am quite permitted to doubt such a surprise. Besides, if the chateau comes to us, we'll live there, and I'll certainly be glad, because I don't sleep as well as I used to in this house threatened with ruin.
Villy went back to bed; but he could not close his eyes, the chateau occupied him all night. When it was day, he ran to his window.
" Women! women! he exclaimed in a voice of emotion, we have that half of the castle. If I'm not mistaken, the building looks like one of the wings of the Comte de Grivel's manor. That's right, nothing is missing, its end is flanked by two magnificent towers. Oh! Oh! it is too beautiful! women! women! We will never dare to live in such a house.
"What is it, Villy?" said the woman, rubbing her eyes.
"It's the castle...
“Welcome. Tonight we will sleep there.
In fact, that very evening Madame Villy had brought her bed and her household goods into the house which had been so miraculously built for her. This great event caused a stir in the country; it was thought quite natural that Villy, who received travelers under his roof, should be lodged at ease, and that the Comte de Grivel, whose inhumanity was cursed, should be deprived of part of his splendid residence. This marvelous adventure spread as far as Manchester; a crowd of curious people came, and it was from this time that there were lovers of novelties and antiques in Manchester. A few gossips spoke of a spell; but they were soon compelled to keep silence in the presence of the intact reputation of the Catholic Villy, for then England had the happiness of being subject to the true Church of Jesus Christ. Let's say it in passing, Monsieur le Français, times have changed a lot: in this country you don't meet a Catholic woman but me alone; but back to my story. The Comte de Grivel, as you can well imagine, was exasperated by the misfortune which had befallen him and by the reward granted to Villy, his neighbour. He wanted the wing of the castle erected on the field of the honest ploughman to be demolished; he pleaded accordingly, and lost his suit.
This great affair continued to occupy the country, when a much more extraordinary event attracted the attention of all England.
It was still evening. The fine season had returned, it had been stiflingly hot all day; the villagers walked in the countryside to breathe a bit of fresh air.
"Let's not get too close," said one of them, "to the manor of the Count of Grivel le Méchant, we might regret it, because he is more cruel than ever."
- You think? said a small child who suddenly appeared among the villagers.
'He gave us proof of it a few days ago; he caused two children to be beaten until they bled when they had gone to play in the pretty meadow which adjoins the chateau.
— Soon he will no longer be to be feared; I will find it.
"You, little child?" but aren't you afraid of dying? You will not be spared any more than the others.
- Maybe. Stay here, before an hour you will know who was defeated, him or me.
The unknown child walked towards the chateau and, in a soft, frail voice, begged one of the guards to go and tell the Comte de Grivel that he wanted to speak to him.
" Are you crazy? replied the keeper; le Comte de Grivel to trouble himself for you, he who would not move to please the King of England!
“Do as I command you.
“Child, be less bold.
'Don't worry about my fate; I know what I say, what I do.
— I obey you; because I'm curious to know what will happen.
The Comte de Grivel, warned, was not long in appearing; he was laughing out loud. When he was near the child, he told him jokingly:
“Did you come by chance to ask me for some correction?
- I come to see if you are as inhuman as in the past. I am an orphan; will you be charitable enough to have pity on me?
"I'll have you flogged until you bleed, if that smiles on you."
“Comte de Grivel, it is time, however, for you to come to your senses; Heaven has seen the measure of your crimes fill up; and he is preparing a very terrible punishment for you, if you are not ready to repair your past faults,
"I fear neither heaven, nor earth, nor hell!"
A dreadful noise was heard when these dreadful words were spoken; long groans issued from the neighboring woods, terrible phantoms rose in the air, and a lamentable voice pronounced these words, which echoed in the distance from the hills: "Comte de Grivel, you are lost!" look behind you ; your castle is collapsing..."
At the same time the ancient manor was no more than a heap of ruins.
The lugubrious voice continued: “Tomorrow Villy will see these ruins change for him into a superb castle; for Villy, the good plowman, will inherit your power. You are nothing now on earth, you are going to perish. »
The voice remained silent, and the child, who had listened to it with respect, suddenly disappeared. Then we saw whirlwinds of flame rising from all sides from the bowels of the earth; a plain of fire spread around the overthrown mansion, and from its bosom sprang a hideous monster. The Comte de Grivel, on seeing her, felt his courage abandon him; he ceased to be impious, he threw himself on his knees, and said to God: "Lord, have pity on me, I regret my faults!" may your hand chasten me, but may it not deliver me to the flames of hell. »
This prayer, made with fervor, was favorably heard by the Lord: the hideous monster returned to the bowels of the earth, everything became calm again in the countryside. The child who had already presented himself to the Count reappeared, joy painted on his face; he took the hand of the repentant culprit, and said to him: “Count de Grivel, your repentance was true, and you will be taken into account; however, you will die, but your soul will not suffer eternal pain. »
The Count looked up at heaven with eyes full of tears; he exclaimed: "Thank you, my God!..." And he exhaled softly.
The next day, Villy had a magnificent castle. The lords of the country saw it with pain, and they joined together to destroy it and put to death the virtuous plowman. But the king of England, having learned all that had passed, came himself to stop their perverse designs; Villy was confirmed in the possession of his castle and was rewarded with half of the property of the Count of Grivel; the other half was given to the poor.
That, my dear guest, is the whole legend of Grivel le Méchant; it teaches us that if we want to be pleasing to the Lord, we must do good, show ourselves humane, charitable and prompt in exercising all the duties of hospitality. You may ask me if you can still see the place where the Count's castle was, and if the magnificent residence of Villy still exists. I will answer you that the centuries have made everything disappear; one would search in vain for the slightest trace of it. I will add that this legend was a very simple story in principle: the Comte de Grivel was wicked and cruel; to punish him for his culpable actions, the King of England will have given his castle and half of his wealth to an honest plowman, whose life was spent in the practice of good works; the imagination will have been pleased to embellish this so natural fact, which will have become a marvelous event as it passes from mouth to mouth. That at least is my thought, Monsieur le Français. Now I believe you have nothing better to do than sit down to table; after your meal, I will tell you another legend, if it will be agreeable to you.
'Tell me right away,' I replied, 'I'm too satisfied with your first story not to want a second as soon as possible. »
The hostess coughed lightly, and told me the legend of the farmer and his daughters.
My dear uncle, will you not imitate this excellent woman? We would be very happy, my brothers and I, to know as soon as possible this legend of the farmer and his daughters. When will you tell us? you want to leave us tomorrow!
Mr. DE VERSAN.
I wrote it in my youth on my album, I'll leave it to you; Georges will read it to you at your next party.
Indeed, when the eighth evening had arrived, Georges read the following caption.
The Scottish farmer and his daughters.
Barton was an honest farmer, living off the fruits of his labor. He had lost his wife, whom he had always loved tenderly, because she had been, like him, simple, gentle and virtuous. He had two daughters of the greatest beauty: the eldest was called Lucile, the youngest Anna; but these children, far from adding to his happiness, were destroying him little by little by their senseless behavior and their excessive pride. Because they were beautiful, they believed themselves called to shine in the world, and found themselves very unhappy, very humiliated to remain hidden from the gaze of society in their solitary countryside. Their father was so good that he forgave them all their whims and submitted too easily to their wishes. Sometimes he took them to town on the days of great festivals, and did not return to his farm until he had bought them new dresses. Their fancies and requirements increased with age, and soon the honest farmer found himself unable to satisfy all their tastes.
“My dear daughters, he said to them one day, do you know that you are very proud; your mother was more modest than you. I remember that she often repeated to you: “Let's not try to climb too high, for fear of falling; let us be simple in our ways and moderate in our desires. She was right, worthy woman, and you did not benefit from her lessons. You're just a farmer's daughters; therefore do not affect the tunes of great ladies. We talk about your account in the country; everyone repeats: "Anna and Lucile are flirtatious, they will ruin their father." »
If we had to listen to gossip, we would soon be condemned to never leave our room.
Our neighbors the villagers wouldn't be so mean to us if we were weak enough to dress roughly.
Dress neatly, but without pomp. I have given you some education; but it was not intended to make you impertinent towards your fellow men... Remember once again that you are the daughters of a simple farmer, villagers destined not to live on their to help their father in his daily work. Hey! my dear daughters, you do me no great service, you do not even take care of the housework; you were not born, however, to show off in my house.
You are becoming very severe, my father.
It is because I realize that you are on the verge of your ruin.
Don't be so frightened. You will one day change your language; for a time will come when you will be proud of your daughters. They have a bright and glorious future ahead of them.
I do not know; but, if you believe me, you will leave your illusions there to think of the present and to live modestly like your fellows. Follow the example of your brother Richard. He doesn't stay at my house with his arms crossed; he does not spend all his days wearing perfume, taking care of his hair and dressing.
Richard entered at this moment, the gut over his shoulder. His father said to him:
“Richard, I berate your sisters a bit; I urge them not to entertain claims that
don't suit them at all. Am I wrong, my son?
Father, you are only too right; but I fear your lesson will be lost.
When this were so, what great misfortune would ensue?
We are old enough to know what we have to do.
Alas! I realize that I have been too indulgent: I want to straighten the oak when it has become large and robust. But, be that as it may, from to-day I put some reform in your toilette. Whatever is denied to my prayers, my will will obtain.
Anna and Lucile, irritated by their father's words, went out without answering a single word, and plunged into a little nearby wood to chat at their ease.
" Well ! my dear Anna, said Lucile, what do you think of the threats addressed to us?
"Let them not frighten me at all."
"As for me, I can assure you that they won't make me change my behavior." It would be nice to see Lucile dress up as a villager, running around the fields to harvest or cut the grass!
“Our white hands would soon be blackened.
“And our fresh faces would soon be scorched by the sun.
"What would be the use of being beautiful?"
"Why would we have taken so much trouble to be amiable, frivolous, to have graceful and seductive manners?"
- Oh! I will never be able to bring myself to lose the fruit of so many years of work.
— I love my beautiful dresses and my scented waters too much.
"Our father and Richard know very little of our merit...
"They doubtless believe that we must vegetate all our lives in a sad countryside...
— May fate destine us to be farmers...
"That's nice, really!...
"It's enough to lift one's shoulders with pity...
“I groan with all my heart; for in the end how can we escape from the will of our father?
'It's embarrassing, I admit; but they will have to give in to us.
"Or I leave the paternal roof."
— Yes, let's live in the cities.
— May this happiness come to us soon! but what do I hear? the foliage is agitated. O my sister! who is this brilliant horseman advancing towards us?
A cavalier had indeed shown himself; he followed a narrow path which led him to the two sisters. He stopped, dismounted, and said to them, respectfully removing his hood:
"Am I still away from Farmer Barton's house?"
You are only three hundred paces away.
I am very glad, because I have been looking for her home for a long time without being able to find it; he is said to have two charming daughters; but I am sure they are less beautiful than you.
They look a lot like us.
We will even tell you the truth right away, we are the farmer's daughters; we will guide you to our father.
It is completely useless now. I only came to this country for you alone. They talk afar of your beauty, of your spirit; I wanted to judge for myself, and I see that your reputation is well below your merit.
You are too honest.
Can you live in such solitude, you who deserve the homage of all the earth? Why don't you go to the big cities and take your place? If you will follow me, I promise you the most pleasant and glorious existence. You will swim within the delights. Around you, there will be only brilliant celebrations, magnificent feasts. You will live in a superb palace; you will have many servants at your command; your wishes will be carried out more promptly than those of queens, finally your finery will be the richest in the universe; diamonds will adorn your heads, and your feet will be encased in boots of gold. I am Lord Culloden, the most generous, powerful baron in all Britain. I leave you ten minutes to reflect: consult each other, because I do not want you to follow me reluctantly. »
The horseman retired aside.
“My dear Anna, said Lucile, our merit is finally recognized. We triumph today; will we profit from our victory? Will we stay in this dreadful solitude, or will we go with the rich stranger?
"Lucile, uncertainty would be a crime: between misfortune and happiness, between obscurity and glory, should one ever waver?" Let's go! let's leave as soon as possible. Our father no longer needs us.
"However, we can serve him and send him from the bosom of our opulence enough to build a house a little more comfortable than his."
'No doubt, but we'll never get him to come and visit us in town.
— He would put us to shame; for he has manners which are not accepted in the fashionable world.
— Our resolution is well taken; we follow Lord Culloden. Have you ever heard of that name?
- Never. How could we know him in this poor countryside? It is not by living with a few little village girls that one learns the names of the great lords of England.
"But where is our saviour?" he can come, we are ready. Ah! here it is; he is anxious, he seems to fear an unfavorable response to his desires. Let us go to him, and make him happy by letting him know our resolution.
The two sisters rose and said to the horseman: “Lord, your proposal is gratefully accepted. We are all ready to follow you.
'I knew,' replied the cavalier, 'that you would respond to my wishes; you have too much wit to reject the happiness that presents itself to you... Thomas, come here..."
A young page immediately came out of the woods, leading by the bridle two superb palfreys, on whom the two sisters placed themselves. We then moved away, following the path which ended in a main road. Arrived on this road, the couriers set off at a gallop towards the residence of Lord Culloden.
However, Farmer Barton became uneasy about the absence of his daughters towards evening; he said to his son Richard:
"I'm afraid your sisters have done something crazy: they will have gone to the festival in the neighboring town to console themselves for the reproaches I addressed to them. You would act like a good brother if you went to the town, so that nothing bad happened to them on their return.
- I'm leaving right away; but I despair of meeting them. For several days, they gave me to understand that, if the opportunity arose, they would not hesitate to leave us; because, alas! let's not delude ourselves, they no longer love us; vanity and the love of finery and pleasures have destroyed the sweetest feelings in their hearts.
- Oh ! no, my son, they are not so guilty; I hope that they will gradually abandon their bad habits, that they will become again what they were in their childhood, modest, industrious and simple like their companions.
Richard shook his head sadly, and started for the town where his father was sending him; he came back early the next morning, but without having been able to discover his sisters, as you can well imagine. The farmer, seeing him return alone to his house, uttered a cry of pain, and falling into the arms of his son: "My dear Richard," he said, "we are abandoned!" Unhappy girls, may Heaven not punish you! may you not groan one day over your criminal conduct! - I shall die of grief, my friend; because I love them so much! O Lucile! Oh Anna! Is it then forever that you have distanced yourself from me?..."
Richard had great difficulty in calming his father's grief; he succeeded only by promising to bring his fugitive sisters back sooner or later under the paternal roof. But he had promised a very difficult thing; for, after several years of research, he still did not know the place where Lucile and Anna had retired. Perhaps he would have discovered them had it not been for a new misfortune which struck the farmer's family. War then afflicted England; several powerful parties desolated the whole island, and spread terror on all sides. A few troops advanced into the countryside where the farmer and his son lived, and set fire to the crops. The villagers rose up and wanted to push them back; but they were vanquished and henceforth treated as real enemies. Incendiary flames rose on all sides, and Barton's farm was not spared; to crown his misfortune, Richard was forced to enlist and embark for Great India with the cruel soldiers who had ruined his father.
Barton, left alone, from that moment led a very sad and miserable life. One day when he was felling wood in a forest near the poor hut he had built on the site of the farm, an old woman of a rather agreeable aspect approached him, and questioned him about his existence.
“I am, good lady,” he answered, “the most unfortunate of men. My two daughters have abandoned me, the soldiers have ruined me and taken away the best of my sons.
"You don't have any more support, then?"
“None, and yet I am very old.
"Your daughters are guilty!" you cursed them, no doubt?
"Curse them!" I never had the strength.
“They deserve it, and they must be punished. Listen! on the day when, in your righteous anger, you speak evil words against them, their punishment will begin; their life of softness and pleasure will be succeeded by a laborious life full of suffering.
“They have nothing to fear from my wrath; for a long time they will be able to enjoy their bliss, if, however, it is bliss to live far from one's family.
“You are indulgent, brave Barton; but you will change: within a year you will have cursed your children.
“I would rather die.
“You will not die, honest farmer, and you will be avenged. It is I, Famma, who assure you..."
Old Barton went on chopping wood, caring little about the prediction of the unknown. A few months later, finding himself alone in the countryside, busy harvesting, he experienced such great fatigue that he fell to the ground and began to lament his sad fate. Insensibly his complaints became bitter, and in a moment of indignation he exclaimed: "Damn the children who have abandoned me!" It is you, Lucile and Anna, who are the cause of all my misfortunes..."
Scarcely were these words spoken, when the old woman named Famma, who had spoken to him in the wood a short time before, came to him, saying, “Barton, you have just cursed your daughters; they are now much to be pitied. The parties have ceased for them; their beauty has disappeared; they groan in the hard work of the fields.
"How unhappy I am!" in a moment of oblivion I lost my poor children! Alas! I suffered so much! Unfortunate Barton! here is a new pain added to your sorrows...
“Your troubles will end, good farmer, and before long you will see your son again.
- My son !
— Yes, Richard, your beloved child.
"But he is in India!" It is immense, the sea that separates us...
“It's only a stream in the eyes of the Lord, and his powerful breath can carry us across it in a few hours. Courage and patience. I will come back to see you.
Barton, however, could not console himself for cursing his daughters, and sighing he returned to his cabin. He was about to go to bed when his son's voice was heard outside. The farmer ran to his door, and saw no one. He thought he was mistaken, and he went back; but scarcely had he climbed onto his bed, when the same voice struck his ears; but this time she was plaintive.
So what is it! said the farmer to himself. Would my poor Richard, by any chance, be attacked by brigands? Let's go to his rescue...
Barton covered himself with his clothes, took a pickaxe and set off into the countryside. The groans redoubled; he ran towards the place from which they seemed to be leaving, and after a few minutes he arrived in a wood. By the light of a weak light, he saw his son stretched out on the ground and on the point of succumbing under the blows of several brigands: at this sight, indignation seized him; he rushes at the assassins, knocks them down and strikes two of them mortally. Richard was then able to get up and put the other thieves out of action. He then falls into his father's arms, exclaiming: “You have rescued me from certain death. But you don't know that these robbers intended to go and stab you in your bed after making me breathe my last. Let's garrote those who are still breathing, tomorrow we will deliver them to justice.
“I have no ropes here; let's go, my dear Richard, to look for some in my cabin.
Richard followed the farmer, who begged him on the way to tell him of his adventures.
They are not long, answered the young soldier. You know that I was carried away by ferocious soldiers on vessels which were sailing for the Indies; For a long time it was impossible for me to resign myself to my fate, and the abandonment in which you remained drew many bitter tears from me. However, having arrived in India, I bravely did my duty and showed myself a worthy soldier; I had the opportunity to show myself in a war, and I obtained, a year later, the rank of officer; look, I have the sword at my side. I could have risen higher; but I always thought of you, my good father, and I refused what fortune offered me. I asked for my leave; I obtained it with great difficulty, and embarked for England. When I arrived in London, I did not stay there long; I longed to kiss you, I was only a short distance from your little house, which I had been shown in the neighboring village, when I was attacked by a band of brigands who threw me to the ground saying that it was necessary to die; that so had been commanded by Lord Culloden, whom I know by no means, and to whom I have never done the slightest harm. All resistance was forbidden to me: I implored you, you heard me, I don't know how, and you delivered me from the hands of brigands. God be praised for his mercy; we will be happy now, my dear father, for I am bringing back a little money, which will help us to rebuild our old house and to buy back the fields that misery has forced you to sell.
— O my son, may I embrace you! You cannot believe how happy I am. What pain I would have felt if the monsters had given you the mortal blow! Oh! no, I would not have survived this last misfortune! I confess to you that I understand nothing of the adventure of this night. Who is this Lord Culloden? it is an unknown name in this country. Moreover, all this mystery will be cleared up in the presence of justice. Here we are; let us take strong cords, and quickly return to bind the culprits.
Armed with ropes, the farmer and his son returned to the wood; but they searched in vain for the brigands, they had disappeared. Not even a single drop of blood remained where the struggle had taken place.
“That is prodigious! cried the farmer.
"I don't understand much about it," added Richard. No doubt this wood is enchanted.
“Lord Culloden must be very powerful, to save his accomplices from the justice of men. If he has declared himself our enemy, we are lost; we will have to quilt this country.
'Don't worry,' resumed a thin, broken voice, 'Lord Culloden can do nothing about you; he and his people have left this land forever.
Barton and Richard, astonished, turned round, and saw a very old woman a few steps away, supported by a cane with an ivory head. Barton recognized Famma, who had already given him several predictions, and he greeted her deeply.
“It is well, it is well, Master Barton, you always recognize the one who was
some useful. You are reunited with your son. I hope you will henceforth be the happiest of men, you lack nothing more to be perfectly happy.
"And my poor daughters, Lucile and Anna?"
"Are you still thinking about it?"
"So you forgive them for their past conduct?"
- Oh! with all my heart.
— Come on, a little courage, patience: one day you will see them again.
"Shall I wait long, my benefactress?"
"I don't know, but it is to be hoped that within a year they will be returned to you." Listen, in two words I will tell you their story. They have been dragged away from you by Lord Culloden, who is a mighty baron of Scotland, having a host of evil genies at his command. Arrived in the beautiful domains of the baron, they were feted and treated like princesses; but balls and splendid banquets do not ward off remorse; Lucile and Anna were quick to repent of their fault. Several times they tried to escape from the castle where they were confined; but they were carefully watched over, and all their projects could never be carried out. Then came the day when you cursed them; Hardly had the disastrous words left your mouth than Lucile and Anna were free. They left the castle without being seen, and wandered in the countryside, seeking the road to England. They will tell you, when they are here, how much they have suffered during their long journey; it is enough for you to know that they cruelly expiate their fault, that they have lost all their beauty. You will never be able to recognize them in the form they have taken, in spite of themselves, you must believe it. However, Lord Culloden, hearing of their flight, put all his people on their feet and moved the countryside in all directions to find them. His troubles were wasted. Suspecting at last that they might have been hidden in England, he sent a host of malevolent spirits to that kingdom, charged with bringing them back to him, and above all with preventing Richard's return to Great Britain; for he knew that if your son returned to you, his power would be annihilated, and Lucile and Anna would forever escape his domination. Now you understand why Richard was attacked, why or even solved your loss. Your enemies have failed, rest easy in the future. That, my brave Barton, is what I had to say to you.
"How, my benefactress, can I acquit myself to you?"
“By the way, since you are so well disposed towards me, I will ask you a favor, Master Barton.
"I am at your command. If you even need help from my son Richard, he is ready to defend you against all odds with his fine sword; for he is an officer of the King of England, my dear Richard!
“You two have good hearts, I know; but it's not about fighting for me. I would only like you to take one of my servants into your service; here is why and for what purpose: she understands very badly the work of the campaign; and, as I have fine harvests to harvest in a year, I would like it to be useful to me at that time. You'll train her easily, I'm sure, and you'll send her back to me in four months, skilful, industrious, and familiar with farm work. After her you will receive another servant whom you will also train, and whom I will also take over after four months. Both are deaf-mute. Don't worry about the tears they will often shed looking at you.
"We'll do whatever you want," replied the farmer, "and I think you'll be happy with us."
'I have no doubt about it, so I'm going to entrust Ugly to you right away; she is not beautiful, her name tells you. Ugly-to-see, approach...”
From behind several trees, a young girl, hideous to behold, immediately emerged; she was all bent over, and a big bump appeared on her back. She looked up sadly at the farmer and Richard, then began to cry.
'Console yourself, poor Ugly,' said Barton to him, 'you won't be too bad with us.
"She doesn't hear you," the old woman went on. You can only talk to him by signs. I'm the only person she understands... Farewell, Barton; farewell, Richard. And you Ugly-to-see, obey your new masters exactly.”
The mysterious Famma disappeared.
Barton and his son returned to the cabin, where the unfortunate deaf-mute followed them. When the farmer had bought back all the goods he had sold, he applied himself to instructing the servant who had been entrusted to him. He always treated her with great gentleness, and he never had to complain about it. Ugly-to-See worked with incredible ardour; you could see that his whole desire was to please the farmer and his son; when the latter showed her their satisfaction, she began to look at them with melancholy and to weep bitterly.
After four months, Famma reappeared, followed by her other servant.
'I am pleased with you,' she said to Barton; I know everything that happened, and you have made my servant an excellent worker. I am also very satisfied with you, my dear Ugly-to-See; that is why you are going to come back to my house, where you will be treated well... It is your turn, Wilted Flower, to behave well..."
Wiltedflower, who was as hideous as the servant to whom she succeeded, made a low bow, and could not restrain her tears at the sight of Richard and the farmer. She kissed Laide-à-voir several times, and went to work in the fields as soon as her mistress had left. She was no less active than her companion, and when, after four months of residence with Barton, she returned to the roof where Laide-à-voir lived, Famma said to her: "My daughter, I have nothing but praise for give you. You and your sister deserved to be rewarded. I give you the floor. I promise to take you in a few months to a superb party where you will have a lot of fun.
Alas! mistress, we are so ugly!
What does beauty matter? wisdom is a thousand times better. Didn't the young girls who worked with you in the fields, under Richard's orders, love you?
Oh ! a lot.
It was certainly not your beauty that drew them to you. Your gentleness, your helpfulness and your little attentions alone have been able to reconcile their hearts to you. Come, rest now. Tomorrow we will bring you beautiful fabrics, and you can make elegant dresses.
It no longer appeals to us, believe me, mistress.
I know it; but I want you to be clean. Do not be distressed: I will return all your happiness to you, and you will even obtain what you dare not ask me, the object of your most ardent desires: you will return under the paternal roof...
The time is fixed; but stop being curious. You are crying, I believe.
We cry with joy...
It is well, my daughters, talk about the promise I made to you, and be happy.
We hear you, mistress; how can we, my sister and I...
Ah! ha! that's fair enough; you can speak, you must also be able to hear. I gave you the floor, I restore your hearing, it will be more delicate than ever. Adieu, I don't need to tell you to talk well; the conversation won't languish, I'm sure, you've been dumb for so long! »
Three months after this interview, there was a great rumor around old Barton's farm. The workers had gathered, and were preparing to offer their master a magnificent bouquet, for it was the eve of his feast. As the most learned of them opened his mouth to deliver the customary speech, Famma appeared, young and well-groomed.
Richard and the farmer were greatly astonished at this appearance; to astonishment succeeded joy, and the good Barton, who had made himself superb that evening, offered his hand to the beautiful Famma, and ushered her into his most ornate room. 'Beneficent lady,' he said to her, 'you couldn't have come more timely, it's a holiday here today and tomorrow; we have made some preparations, and it will be our pleasure to treat you properly.
I thank you with all my heart, my dear Barton, I have come with the intention of celebrating your birthday as well. On this occasion, I bring you two bouquets that will be very pleasant to you... Ugly-to-see, Wilted-flower, come closer... »
The door opened, and the poor servants approached slowly. They were ashamed, and dared not raise their eyes.
“Here is my present,” Famma continued, pointing to them. Under this coarse envelope are hidden two charming girls whom you will prefer to Laide-à-voir and Fleur-fanée; so I am going to order them to appear... Lucile, Anna, come and kiss your father and your brother..."
At these words, Laide-à-voir, Fleur-fanée became two beautiful young girls, who, uttering a cry of joy, threw themselves into the arms of the farmer...
“Your two children are returned to you, Master Barton, and I hope you will have nothing but praise for their conduct henceforth. They have sufficiently expiated their faults; they regretted having abandoned you, and full grace was granted to them. May they always live happily with you, and may they repair by their lively affection, by their eager care, the pains they have caused you and your son Richard. Farewell. Tomorrow I will come and take my share of the festivities..."
Famma went away, leaving the workmen in astonishment, and the farmer and his children in a joy that I could not describe to you.
The next day she attended the party as she had promised, and her presence increased the gaiety and the pleasures. In the evening, she kissed Lucile and Anna, graciously greeted Barton and Richard, as well as the villagers who were present, then disappeared into thin air forever.
From then on the farmer was the wealthiest of men. Richard took over the conduct of all affairs, and rapidly increased the income of the farm. As for Lucile and Anna, they made themselves loved by everyone by their gentleness and their modesty; they married the richest villagers in the country, who made them very happy. The legend says no more.
This tale is both very pleasant and very instructive. I'm sorry my uncle only left you this one.
On his next trip, I seize all his papers.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
It will be much better to ask him for them. I undertake myself to obtain from my brother a manuscript which he wrote under my eyes, and which contains, I have no doubt, the most curious legends.
My mother, you are always the same, good, obliging, careful to provide your children with everything that may please them. Go, believe me, they will always be tenderly attached to you; they will be careful not to abandon you, to follow the example of Lucile and her sister. We don't want to have remorse one day.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
Always think so, my dear child, and you will be happy. »
Zinaim and Nidda, or the young Hebrews.
M. de Nanteuil said to his children when they were assembled in the salon: "Who will speak this evening?"
It will be you, my father, since M. Lecointe is absent.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
But you don't pay attention to the violent cough that has taken hold of me since this morning! She will interrupt your speaker more than once today.
I forgot, in fact, that you were taken by the throat. It's a pity that we can't take on the ills of others: I would ask you for your cough, and at the same time would ask you to tell us a story. Since it cannot be so, we will address ourselves to our good
mother ; she always has such sweet things to say to her children, that people keep asking her for them.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
I am sorry, my son; but I will be silent tonight.
Well, that's pretty! nobody wants to tell; if we persist longer, I take the
speak, and I bore you all to sleep standing up.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
We take you at your word.
There is no denying it. We're not leaving here until Anna has given her tale, her legend or her story, it doesn't matter.
You press me hard; Luckily I hear a noise: it's the priest who's approaching, he'll gladly get me out of the danger.
M. Lecointe arrived in effect. He was soon aware of what was happening. Anna was able to interest him easily in her cause; she begged him to save her from the bad situation into which she had fallen by her imprudence, and he consented to speak, but on condition that she would bring her story the following Sunday. Anna made some small difficulties, then surrendered, for she saw a whole week ahead of her, and hoped that during this time her little tale would be forgotten.
Here is the story told by Mr. Lecointe: “The young Hebrew Zinaïm and his sister Nidda wandered at the approach of night in the plains of Assyria. It was in the days of the Lord's wrath, when the Hebrews were dragged into exile and captivity. Sadness was spreading across Zinaim's face, and tears were streaming from Nidda's eyes. From time to time these two unfortunate young people raised their eyes to heaven, and exclaimed painfully, beating their breasts:
" Lord ! Lord ! have pity on our ills. May your anger pursue us no longer in the lands of your enemies! »
At these words, they let their heads fall back on their chests: their steps became more languid; they again gave up their souls to the most distressing thoughts.
For an hour they had been following the course of a stream, when they suddenly left it to go towards a hill whose thick trees must have offered them shelter for the night. Arrived on his tray, they picked some dates to appease their hunger, then sat down on the ground, sighing.
A young girl who was resting some distance away under a cradle, heard them and approached them:
“You groan, young travellers! Get up and come with me. We have a bed for those who don't have one, and my father has consolations for the Hebrews, who are his brothers. »
Zinaim and his sister immediately followed the young girl, who led them to a fairly large house surrounded by thickets. A venerable old man sat some distance from his door on a grass bench. He held a lyre in his hands, and was preparing to sing a hymn to the Lord. His daughter wanted to interrupt him in his prelude; but Zinaim begged her to stop.
“Let come to our soul, I beg you,” he said to her, “the sweet words of your father. It will be so pleasant for us to hear a lyre and a Hebrew repeating a song from our country!...”
The young girl therefore stopped behind a tree, and the old man sang his hymn every evening to God, the creator of all things. When he had finished, his daughter ran to him saying:
“Father, I bring you two young Hebrews. See how sad they are! Alas! they are orphans, no doubt...
"Come, my children," cried the old man, stretching out his arms to Zinaim, while his daughter received Nidda in hers, "come and rest beside me." Everything I own is yours; my dear Eïla will offer you the dishes that you may like. I am Hebrew like you; but I left my country a long time ago. I have found wealth and peace here, and when I can, I render service to my unfortunate compatriots. I know the frightful disasters which have just fallen on Jerusalem, and I pray the Lord to send me some of the exiles whom the victors will drive out in Assyria; for it will be easy for me to protect them and do them good. »
However, Eïla, who had gone away for a moment to arrange everything for the evening meal, reappeared followed by several servants bringing the most delicate dishes. Zinaim and Nidda ate little. When their meal was finished, Elzéar, that was the name of Eïla's father, said to Zinaïm:
“My son, let me know your misfortunes. Relieve yourself of some of your sorrows, in order to make your sleep sweeter. This is the hour when we gladly recount our sorrows: all is quiet around us; talk, a friend is listening. »
Eïla placed herself beside Nidda, and Zinaim began the story of her ills in these terms:
“You already know, venerable old man, the misfortunes of our country: it is useless for me to remind you of the causes of its deplorable ruin. The Lord, angered by our sins, has sent against us our most formidable enemies: we have been defeated, and Jerusalem has been profaned, delivered up to plunder. His children were forced to abandon him, and they left for slavery. My father was one of the most famous among the Hebrews. One of the first, he had rushed to the aid of his homeland in danger. Shut up in Jerusalem, fighting night and day on the walls, he delayed its fall for a few months. When it was necessary to depart from the city of the Lord, he hid his tears, and endeavored to console and revive his unfortunate countrymen heading for Assyria. It was only within his family that he lost all his firmness of soul. Then the future appeared to him sad and threatening; he pressed me to his heart, and repeated to me in tears: "My son, my dear Zinaïm, promise me never to separate you from your sister and to serve as her father, if ever it happens that you are deprived of one of your and the other from your father. »
Touched by his pain, I assured him that nothing could ever take me away from Nidda, and that, to defend it, I would shed to the last drop of my blood. Hearing me speak thus, he pressed me more affectionately to his heart, and lavished upon me the sweetest names.
However, a plot had formed among the captives as we entered Assyria. My father was the leader. Wanting to save us from the danger he was going to run, he made us leave at night in secret with Liana, who had served as our mother since ours was gone.
Alas! we saw him no more; because we got lost. What was the outcome of the plot? I do not know.
THE OLD MAN.
My son, he could not succeed, he only served to tighten the bonds of the unfortunate captives. Some were able to escape, however after having fought valiantly. Your father is probably one of them.
God grant it, and may we see him again! Separated from him, we wandered for some time in the middle of the plains, and then we took shelter from a violent storm which suddenly broke out in a thick wood, where my sister and Liana fell asleep. It was impossible for me to close my eyelids: distressing thoughts tormented me throughout the night. At dawn I went out into the plains to see if my father was coming; I waited for him in vain, and I was no longer permitted to doubt our misfortune. My father had been taken from us, and Heaven henceforth had to be our sole support. I threw myself on my knees, and turning my eyes and my heart towards the Eternal: “God of my fathers, I cried, take pity on our misfortune! Cover my remaining sister and friend with your wings! If you have to punish again, strike me alone; to me alone reserve the suffering and the sorrows. »
I got up, and, more confident, I returned to my sister and Liana, my absence had worried. We began to wander the plains again, longing for a peaceful retreat; when the fatigue and the heat had exhausted our strength, we sat down under some trees which offered us a little shade. We picked fruit to quell the thirst that consumed us, and, as soon as we had enjoyed some rest, we walked again in spite of the ardor of the sun, which was still only in the middle of its course.
More beautiful surroundings were not long in presenting themselves to our eyes, and in the evening we were finally able to finish our long journey at the foot of a mountain. The darkness, which already reigned everywhere, prevented us from discovering the charms of the landscape which surrounded us, and, in the hope of a happy tomorrow, we fell asleep to the flattering sound of a nearby spring.
Scarcely had the dawn chased away the darkness when an enchanting spectacle appeared before our eyes. At the bottom of the mountain was a vast carpet of greenery that covered an endless plain. The mountain was laden with thick trees; its steep slope formed a roof of foliage at the end of which was lost in the air a crenellated tower. This discovery fills us with joy; it was a lot for us to know that we were not alone in this place.
The first desire of the unfortunate is to fix his dwelling where happiness seems to smile upon him: it was ours. This admirable country reminded us of the countryside of our homeland; it was decided that we should stay there for some time under the protection of the master of the mountain. However, I thought it prudent to shelter us from all anxiety in a secluded place.
Towards the middle of the mountain, in a depression in the ground, was a fairly deep grotto entirely covered with greenery. Invisible to all curious eyes, it dominated the countryside in the distance. Trees laden with fruit clustered around her, and an abundant spring spread a pleasant coolness at her foot. I adopted it as the safest retreat in the mountains: it only took me a day's work to make it a comfortable asylum. To live happily there, we needed a father.
Why, you will tell me, not go and knock immediately on the door of the castle you had discovered, instead of remaining hidden in a solitary cave? Prudence forbade us. I was convinced that an Assyrian was its lord: didn't I have everything to fear from him if he was barbarous, inhuman? Alone, I would have dared everything; but a sacred deposit was entrusted to me; I was afraid of exposing it to the sight of those whom I could not call friends.
Every day I took new precautions: I hoped for everything from Heaven, from a favorable opportunity that would teach me sooner or later. Rarely did we sink into the thickness of the wood. We never dared approach the dreaded walls of the mysterious castle. No path presented itself to us to lead us there. Sometimes we stopped to listen from afar; but all remained silent: only the voice of the birds was heard.
One day, however, we caught a few groans, but so faint, so distant, that we could not tell which way they were coming. Only once again the foliage shuddered behind us, Liana and my sister trembled with fright like the bird pursued by the hunter's murderous arrow; I turned pale, then, mastering my deep emotion, I reassured Nidda and her companion by promptly escorting them back to our refuge.
As long as it was daylight, as long as Nidda timidly pressed me with her questions, I affected to appear cheerful; I smiled at his terror, which my mind shared; but when night came, my whole body was in great agitation; my heart throbbed violently; a thousand confused thoughts assailed my soul. Everything was in disorder at home: I suffered like nature at the approach of the storm.
Standing at the entrance to the cave, leaning against its grassy wall, I listened attentively to every murmur, to every breath of the wind, and with my eyes I questioned the sky, searching there in vain in the Jointain for a storm. that I sensed. Frightened sentinel, I dreaded a surprise; for alone I had understood the noise of the foliage... alone I had encountered the piercing looks of a stranger... Alas! I was right to fear and to watch all night.
At dawn I went away under a plausible pretext, and alone I headed for the castle, because of my torments. I had finally resolved to clear up the mystery that until now I had not dared to approach. When, after an hour of painful walking, I discovered the bare castle I was looking for, I was strangely surprised to see before me a residence built with admirable elegance. Surrounded by low walls, it allowed my eyes to embrace it almost entirely, and to wander freely over the roofs adorned with marble balusters and laden with gardens where rose a crowd of groves. At the extremity of one of the wings of the building rose, threatening, this high tower which we had seen on our arrival. Pierced by several narrow windows closed with iron bars, it formed a painful contrast with the rest of the castle. It seemed like a prison in the midst of this enchanted abode, and its sinister and gloomy appearance prevented one from admiring the beauties of the building, whose brilliance it darkened.
I stood aside, vis-à-vis the main gate of the castle. It was closed; but, through these iron gratings, my gaze plunged freely into its vast courtyards. Attentive, like the hunter waiting for his prey, I had only one thought, one desire, one fear; I forgot everything to consider only one object.
I saw the appearance and disappearance of agile slaves belonging to various nations, judging by the variety of their costumes. Some were armed and watched over the safety of their master, but this lord, who must have been so powerful, who was the only object that I desired, that I feared at the same time, I did not see him; always my expectation was deceived. Soon a sudden noise forced me to move away. The doors swung groaning on their hinges, and several slaves came out, hurrying to carry out an order they had just received.
I don't know, but listening to their language, which I didn't understand, I thought I heard a verdict against my sister and her companion. Terror seizes me, I take the alarm and I rush through the forest. I run without knowing the road I must follow. My confusion increases, I get lost and make vain efforts to reach the cave... Alas! evening had come when I found my way.
It was useless then to hurry me; also it was with slowness that I went towards the grotto. She was silent; on the grass bordering the stream, Nidda was not sitting waiting for me, as was her custom...; I dared not enter. I was weak, without courage; with a trembling hand I wiped the cold sweat that covered my forehead. But suddenly I revived at the sound of a few complaints; I rushed into the cave, and, at the sight of Liana sighing and shedding tears, I exclaimed: "You are alone, Liana!... where is my sister?" Speak, please... where is she? maybe lost! I run after her, and I don't come back until I find her..."
Liana did not answer me; I understood my misfortune, and I fell to the ground motionless.
Liana picked me up and managed to call me back to life. I kept asking her for my sister, and, not being able to refuse me for long a story that I demanded, she said to me, bathing me in tears:
“Sorry for your long absence, Nidda wanted to meet you. In vain I undertook to divert her from her disastrous project, friendship spoke to her heart, she did not hear me, and, silencing with caresses the reproaches I addressed to her, she succeeded in dragging me along with her. We wandered for a long time in the middle of the woods; Nidda having moved away from me for a moment, I suddenly heard her utter lamentable cries. Frightened, I run to her; but unfortunately! I arrived too late. Two armed men had seized her, and fled hastily. Nidda moaned like the sheep taken from the fold: she implored you, she implored me too; but my courage and my despair were useless to me. After following for a
fifteen minutes after the trail of the Nidda kidnappers, I stopped overwhelmed with fatigue and pain. O Zinaïm, forgive me if I did not die of regret, if I dare to appear guilty in your eyes: I wanted to inform you of your misfortune, to obtain my pardon from you, to then descend with less bitterness to the tomb..."
At these words, Liana let her tears flow more abundantly. I had listened to her without interrupting her, without heaving a sigh. My eyes, void of tears, were filled with fury. Anger swelled my chest: “Comfort yourself, I said to the sad Liana; you are not guilty. Stop moaning; you will see Nidda again: the cruel ones will give it back to me soon. »
Liana had confidence in my promise; she assured me that she would accompany me in my research. I only accepted his prayers, and alone, every day, I walked through the forest. Not doubting that Nidda had been ravished by the slaves of the castle, I went, at sunrise, to the foot of the mountain dwelling. There I remained motionless, casting my gaze from window to window, in the hope of meeting my sister there. I only returned to the cave as night approached, to console Liana, who day by day became sadder, more ill. Insensibly she had lost hope of seeing Nidda again; unable to live without it any longer, she succumbed under the weight of the pain. One evening, on my return, I received her last farewell and her last sigh. »
Zinaïm paused for a few moments to give free rein to her tears. Nidda was crying too. Her brother spoke to her a few words to console her, and thus resumed his story: "After having groaned for a whole day over the body of the unfortunate Liana, I dug a large pit in the middle of the cave, where I deposited the remains of that who until that day had served as our mother...
From then on all my courage abandoned me. It was too many evils at once! So I did not try to escape from the sadness that overwhelmed me, and to chase from my mind the painful thoughts with which it was filled. I no longer sought the means of delivering Nidda, I only thought of lamenting her loss. Sitting in front of the castle tower, I sighed and didn't want to make any effort to save a dear captive. After crying all day in the same place, I was going to shed new tears on Liana's tomb.
Heaven finally took pity on my troubles, and a moment of happiness was enough to restore my courage. One day when I was sitting opposite the tower, I saw, at one of its windows, a young girl leaning sadly against the iron bars. At this sight, I am reborn, I breathe, I get up transported; I want to speak, the words expire on my lips. I'm not mistaken, it's Nidda that I see; it is her black hair that the wind stirs. Why can't I rush towards my sister! Who will remove the space that separates us? Oh! that I obtain at least a glance, a sign... I rise on highest of the palm trees which surround me; I am in front of Nidda. O joy! she recognized me; her hand is stretched out towards me, she begs me to deliver her. I make a few words heard; but Nidda suddenly withdraws to make me understand my imprudence, then soon returns, and until nightfall a mute conversation takes place between her and me.
The next day, I prepared everything that seemed necessary for the execution of the project that I had conceived. I worked under the eyes of Nidda, and my ardor increased every moment. Everything was ready when night came; I waited until the moon was in the middle of its course to then execute my plan. Supported by a long tree branch, I climbed to the top of the wall, in which I had made several openings large enough to fit my feet through. Without thinking for a moment, I jumped off the wall into the castle garden. Stunned by my fall, I remained stretched out on the ground for some time; then, getting up, I took refuge behind a little wood which I had seen from the top of the wall. It was there that I had resolved to wait for daylight to examine more closely, and without being seen, the exits from the tower; but soon impatience caused me to leave my retreat, and noiselessly I advanced to the foot of the fort, the elevation of which drove me to despair. Judge of my astonishment when I caught a glimpse of a light in one of the rooms of the tower. I dared approach the window, and recoiled in terror at the sight of a shapeless man, with a savage and repulsive appearance. He was watching alone in his dark little room, and near him, on a table, I noticed a bundle of enormous keys. No doubt, I thought, this man is the guardian of this tower. Through him I can obtain the freedom of Nidda. His body is deformed, but perhaps his soul is beautiful, sensitive, perhaps I can flex it with tears and prayers! And besides, what does it matter to me that he keeps me in slavery! I will be with my sister, and we will both comfort each other in our sorrows.
However, I was still hesitating, I was afraid to knock on the door which was a few steps away from me, when the voice of the guardian was heard. It was a song from Jerusalem that he began, and the name of our country was repeated several times by him.
"He's a Hebrew!" I exclaimed. He misses his country; he will have pity on me...” And I knocked at the resounding door.
“What do you want from me at this hour? whispered the guard.
"Give me hospitality," I replied.
— Hospitality! It is here that we must pronounce this word! Who are you, fool?
"I am a Hebrew like you. I am exiled...
"Exiled..." resumed the guard in a softer voice, and the door opened.
"You are mistaken, my son," he said to me, making me sit down. You have crossed the walls of this castle in the hope of finding refuge there, and you will only encounter slavery. Here, here are provisions, appease your hunger; tell me a little about our country, and then flee if you value your freedom. »
I didn't eat, I was in a hurry to paint a picture of my misfortunes for the guardian, in order to soften him and thus prepare him to welcome my request. He listened to me attentively, soon his eyes filled with tears; and when I had finished my story, he said to me, pressing one of my hands to his lips: "The name of Jerusalem, which you have pronounced so many times, resounded in my heart, for it is also my country. Brought here in captivity, I remained in the service of Nicomor, lord of these places. He entrusted me with the custody of this prison, and I faithfully fulfill my sad duties as a jailer. I don't complain about my fate, because every day I see men more unhappy than me: they groan in dismal dungeons, of which here are the fifty keys. "You don't know them?" I said.
'I never speak to them; for when I bring them provisions, Nicomor's confidant accompanies me. Most are Hebrews like us.
"Did you not notice a young girl?"
— Alas! yes, The poor child is reserved for the most distressing fate.
- Oh ! so, save her, because she is my sister! »
While pronouncing these words, I fell at the feet of the guard and begged him to grant me this benefit; but he was inflexible. "An indiscreet step, the slightest attempt," he told me, "would bring me death." I even urge you to flee, it is time; for at any moment my tyrant may appear.
"But haven't you the keys to the dungeons of this tower?" Can't you also take flight after having set free the wretched ones who groan here?
"I cannot... Before reaching the captives, I would be stopped by an attentive sentinel, to whom I would have to respond." She lives above me. Without her, I would have saved my compatriots a long time ago. But, my son, please don't waste time; I will seek to soften the fate of your sister; that's all I can do for her and for you. »
He picked me up with these words. He was about to open the garden gate, when suddenly he stopped in amazement at the sight of a threatening man, who had just noiselessly come up to us through a secret door. The guard's terror was followed by anger; he seized a bow and stretched out a victim at his feet: it was the confidant of the crimes of Nicomor, the sentinel feared by the guardian of the tower. He had caught the whole secret of the night; regarding me as his prey, he rejoiced in cruel joy when death overtook him.
Justly terrified at his fall, I uttered a cry of horror.
"Silence," said the guard to me. Don't lose us. Your enemy is no more; take these keys, this torch, and come with me to free your sister. Moments are precious; let's hurry. »
He says, and hands me the huge bunch of keys. I could barely carry it. We arrive, by a hidden staircase, at the gate of Nidda, who, frightened by the sound of our footsteps, had thrown herself on her knees. She was praying with fear in expectation of death, when suddenly she saw me in her arms...
0 my God! what joy did you not pour into my heart at this delicious moment! How sweet were the tears we shed when we confused them! How long we would have stayed in each other's arms, if our liberator had not reminded us that the minutes fled rapidly!
“Leave, leave, he repeated to us. The storm threatens us; let's avoid it.
- Hey what! I answered him, will you not accompany us? Do you dare to stay in this
- place ?
'Don't worry,' he said to me, 'peril is a game for me. For several years I slept like a coward: you woke me up; I did a good deed; but I still have forty dungeons to visit, I will save the captives they contain. Farewell, children of Jerusalem. Ask about the virtuous Elzéar; he lives fifteen leagues from here: go to him, he will welcome you kindly. Soon I will see you again. »
He led us out of the castle and then back into the tower. We were saved; we fell on our knees to thank Heaven for our deliverance. Before leaving forever the places where we had experienced so much misfortune, we went to pray at the tomb of Liana, to whom we addressed our last farewells, shedding abundant tears.
We then took the road indicated to us by the guardian of the tower; and it was only after three days of fatigue and deprivation that we reached these places. Be blessed, you who have given us hospitality! May the Lord restore to you all the good you do to unfortunate exiles! May he also reward the guardian of the tower to whom we are indebted for our salvation! But unfortunately ! I fear that he failed in his plan, and that he was surprised when he freed the other captives.
"Let's hope until tomorrow," said Elzéar. Let us now think of rest; for you must be tired from your long run. If you like this stay, you will also live in it as much as you want, in perfect tranquillity.
— Venerable Elzéar, my sister will take advantage of your generous offers; as for me, I will leave you the day after tomorrow, at dawn, to go and find out about my father's fate.
"Your research would be in vain, and you will not leave us." Within a month you will have news of your father, and through my care you will soon be reunited. But let us pray to the Lord to help us, it is he who thwarts the projects of men, or who makes them succeed. »
Elzéar, Zinaïm and the young girls prayed with fervor, then went to seek a sweet rest in the arms of sleep.
The next day, before dawn, they were awakened by a loud noise from outside. Travelers had stopped at the Porte d'Elzéar; the door was opened by the orders of this generous old man, who provided them with everything they needed. He soon learned that they were the captives confined in the tower of Lord Nicomor, and then set free by the guardian to whom Zinaim was indebted for the salvation of his sister. They were of different nations; among them there was only a Hebrew, with a noble bearing, with a sad and worried look. Elzéar asked him about his misfortunes, and he answered: “I was one of the Hebrews who were dragged into slavery after the ruin of Jerusalem. I tried to shield my companions from the evils which overwhelmed them; I formed a vast plot for this purpose, but it could not succeed; I was abandoned by many of my friends at the time of execution; I nevertheless dared to revolt against our tyrants, and, supported by a few courageous men, I struggled with them for several hours. The price of the fight was freedom. I escaped from the bonds of slavery; but I had a precious asset to recover: I had lost my children, my Zinaïm and my Nidda, entrusted to the tenderness of a virtuous woman, named Liana. I took advantage of my freedom to go in search of them; I wandered for a long time in the woods, in the plains, but without meeting them. I had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the servants of the cruel Nicomor. I don't know what fate was reserved for me; resigned to the will of my Creator, I was patiently waiting for him to dispose of my days, when one night the guardian of the tower where I was confined came to open the door of my prison to me, saying to me: "You are free. »
“I went down with him into the garden, where I found myself in the midst of a crowd of captives who had become free. We left the castle of Nicomor without delay, under the guidance of our liberator. We marched all night with ardor. A few of us got sick. So, not wanting to tire the women who accompanied us, we slowed our steps during the day; we were also obliged to take long detours to avoid coming under the power of Nicomor, who was bound to send his people in pursuit. We were fortunate enough, however, not to be disturbed on our way. We will stay here a short time; for we always fear our enemy. My companions will return to their homeland, I will once again go in search of my beloved children.
— You have nothing to fear from Lord Nicomor, continued Elzéar, he will not dare pursue you to these places, for he knows that he is guilty, and that I am more powerful than him. Those of your companions who wish to see their country again will leave freely; I will make sure to ease the fatigue of their journey, I will know how to protect them to the frontiers. As for you, I am keeping you in these places, where Zinaim and Nidda await you.
- Follow me, you will surprise them in their sleep.
"God be praised!" cried Zinaim's father, seeing his sleeping children again.
And he fell on his face to the ground, thanking the Lord for his blessings. He then got up to run to his son and daughter, who had awakened with cries of joy, lavishing the sweetest names on their father.
However, EIzéar had returned to the other travellers, whom he encouraged. The former guardian of the tower of Nicomor, called Zean, was the object of his most tender care; he resolved to keep him in his house, and Zean willingly consented. All the foreigners left him successively to return to their country, only Zinaim's father remained with him. As long as the exile of the Hebrews lasted, he did not abandon the retreat so generously offered to him and his children; but when the appeased Lord had reopened to his people the gates of Jerusalem, he left, not without regret, the venerable EIzéar. They promised to meet again one day, and that day soon came.
“My dear Eïla, said Ezéar to his daughter one day, boredom has taken hold of me; would you leave these places without regret?
— Far from departing from them with regret, I would leave them with joy; because they are not my homeland.
"I feel it too, my child, and I wouldn't want to die there, among the enemies of the Lord." So we will soon leave for Jerusalem, where our friends are waiting for us, there we will find our brothers, our worship, our temple and our priests, and all the desires of our hearts will be satisfied. »
A few months after this short interview, Elzéar entered the house of Zinaïm's father, which he never left. The two families became one; Eila and Nidda became sisters, and Zinaïm the husband of Eila. All lived in happiness and peace, zealously observing all the laws of the Lord. Zean, the former servant of Nicomor, no longer parted from those whom he had delivered from slavery, and his long old age was happy and honored by all Jerusalem.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
This story offers a fine example of filial love and above all of brotherly love. I am sure that Ernest and Georges would devote themselves, as well as Zinaïm, for their sister, if the Lord allowed her to be in danger.
It is a duty that we would fulfill with zeal. Anna knows how much we love her; she has only to form a wish, we strive to fulfill it as soon as possible: what if she had recourse to us in peril! we would brave anything to save her.
Anna can always count on our complete dedication; but I will not exempt her from telling us when she has promised a story.
It's not about storytelling right now; you are a big bad guy, Ernest.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
Would you get angry, my children?
We! good mother, not the least in the world. Here, I am going to kiss Ernest with all my heart; but let it be discreet. »
Robert or the little fugitive.
Anna thought that the story she had promised the previous evening had been forgotten, and she said to M. Lecointe:
“Your story of Zinaïm and Nidda was very touching, Father; you must have similar stories to relate, and you are too kind to refuse them to us.
I will always hasten to grant you everything that can give you pleasure; but first I want each of you to fulfill your promise.
Anna pretends to be out of memory today. She pretends not to remember the little tale she has agreed to provide us.
I confess that I promised; but I urge You to return my word, for you have no good
to gain by not showing me mercy. What can I tell you? poor little things that won't amuse you much. Isn't that true, dear mother?
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
We don't care. Do it, and we'll be happy.
My dear papa, would you agree with my mother?
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
You must not doubt it. A commitment is sacred.
All right: there's no turning back, Anna. We are all ears, we can't wait for you to start your story.
I am sorry for you, and especially for you, my dear Ernest; because my little tale will recall one of your most famous escapades. Do you still remember the trip you took when you were twelve?
I will always remember it. Believing myself, one morning, the most learned of all the children of my age, I resolved to see the world. Work, study and reproaches displeased me greatly; I wanted to escape it by leaving the paternal roof, where, after two cruel days of absence, I returned more ashamed than a fox that a hen would have caught. You couldn't choose a better subject.
I have no intention of causing you much pain, my dear Ernest; but anyway I am not sorry to teach you not to insist that I tell these stories.
Always speak, I will take my revenge another day.
And I will be your most attentive listener that day. But enough of this long preamble, which M. Lecointe would call chatter; I begin the story of my poor little tale.
Little Robert was only twelve years old, and yet he thought himself the equal of men of twenty-five. He was proud and ambitious. He thought he was called to great things, and yet he was far from educated.
The schoolmaster in his village said to him one day: “You surprise me, Robert; since I have been teaching to read and write, I have not met a child so presumptuous as you. What do you pretend to do in this world, my good little sir? You are ignorant of everything, and you pretend to become something. You want to command, and you don't know how to obey. Believe me, Robert, work hard if you want to make your way, and before dreaming of greatness and riches, start by learning to read fluently and write legibly. »
This little lesson did not please Robert, who got very angry, because someone had hurt his self-esteem by telling him the truth.
'I won't go to school,' he murmured, 'and my master will be well punished. You see how Robert reasoned; he was no better off. Coming out of class, he gathered around him those of his comrades who were no better than him, and he spoke to them in these terms:
“My friends, I am of the opinion that we abandon our schoolmaster, who daily overwhelms us with reproaches and punishments. Really, instead of being bored on our benches, we had better go for a walk in the distance. We are assured that the world is very beautiful and very large; let's visit part of it, and on our return we will be better informed than all the scholars of our village. I will take you to a wonderful country where we will play ball, spinning tops and deadlocks all day, where we will finally be able to eat, drink and sleep without working. Does it smile at you?
- A lot ! cried the lazy schoolboys together.
"In that case, let's leave right away. We will sell our books along the way; it is the means of having some money for the first needs of the road.
A small troop was formed, the young villagers Jacques, Philippe and Jean were the leaders; Robert put himself at the head, and gaily left the hamlet. All went well for two to three hours; but when fatigue and appetite made themselves felt, the travelers changed their resolution.
"It's fine weather," said one of them; but that does not give us food. No one wanted our books. Where will we get money?
Let's not be worried, take courage.
Previously, we would not hurt to take a little food.
When you're as smart as you, Robert, you can easily appease the hunger of those you're dragging after you.
Are we far from your enchanted country? I believe it only exists in your ambitious brain.
My friends, you are wrong to make fun of me. I make a point of satisfying you in a
half an hour, when we will no longer be on the lands of our commune.
The little villagers believed these words, and resumed their march. After half an hour they stopped again to ask their leader for bread.
"Take fruit from the trees here," he replied.
You want us to become thieves?
But these lands belong to everyone, since they no longer belong to our village.
This is a well-educated man! I must tell you, my poor Robert, that every field has its master. If you doubt it, do me the pleasure of entering this enclosure, you will see how you will be welcomed by this rural guard who seems to see us with a bad eye.
Come on, my friends, let's not stay with Robert, who is a liar. Let's go back to our parents. »
This opinion was adopted unanimously, and the children's troop resumed the road to their village. Robert would have liked to follow his companions in his turn; but self-love prevented him. I will be laughed at, he thought, and I will become the fable of the whole country. He felt very embarrassed. Should he go right or left? He looked this way and that for a long time, then walked straight ahead, but with a slow and irresolute step.
He hoped to arrive soon in a place where he could stop to eat; but, unfortunately, he encountered more bushes than cottages on his way. Night came, and he was afraid; for he was not brave. He therefore advanced slowly for fear of awakening the wolves and thieves who existed only in his imagination; then suddenly he halted; he had heard a noise. I'm lost, he thought... He listened attentively, and soon recognized the ticking of a windmill. This restored his strength and his boldness, and in a short time he reached the miller's door. After pausing, he knocked modestly.
"Come in, and be welcome," someone shouted to him from within.
He opened the door and very humbly bowed to the miller's family, who were taking the evening meal.
" What do you want? said the master of the house.
— I'm hungry, replied Robert, and I would like to earn my living by working.
“Sit here and sup with us,” replied the miller. Tomorrow we will put you to grips with the work.
Robert did not have the invitation repeated to him; he sat down, and fully satisfied his devouring appetite. The miller's wife congratulated him greatly, and then sent him to lie down in a good bed.
The next day, they woke him up very early in the morning, which greatly displeased him. Two days later, he was made to get up even earlier, for work was pressing; it was the same the following days. It put him in the mood.
"Really," he cried, "I look like a slave!" It was well worth leaving the paternal house to get out of bed every day before dawn, and to work tirelessly until evening. I will seek my fortune elsewhere. »
This resolution taken, Robert waited for the favorable moment to disappear. One fine morning he breakfasted copiously, then went out to run an errand, and no longer appeared at the mill. He went a long way ahead of him. After two short hours of walking, he met a gardener who addressed him as follows:
“My child, where are you going so fast?
I run after a thousand things I want to know.
So you are very curious?
But finally what is the purpose of your trip?
I walk around seeking fortune.
At your age, fortune is difficult to find: one's legs are too small to reach it. So you are ambitious.
But yes sir.
That's fun. Which country are you from?
I do not know. I was so small when I left him!
Doubtless you no longer have either father or mother?
Alas! you said it. My father died in a great battle, and my mother soon followed him to the grave.
Then you are well to be pitied. I pity you ; if you want to work, I receive you in my house. This will be your usual occupations: you will pull the weeds from my garden, and three times a week you will bring fruit to the town, which is two leagues from here. For the price of your trouble, you will have a good meal, a good bed, little attentions and great friendship at my house.
You are very honest; but I cannot accept your proposal: I was told yesterday about an excellent job, which is vacant; I want to know if it will not suit me.
You lie, little boy; your falsity appears on your face. However, I will not withdraw my offers: go and find a place; if you cannot find any, and if you are tormented by hunger, come back here, and I will welcome you with a good heart.
The gardener returned to his garden humming a favorite tune, and our traveller, terrified by work, went away repeating: "I don't want to become a slave a second time." I do not need anything. Let's walk... "
Robert was talking like that because he wasn't hungry. He changed his way of seeing when his appetite returned: he understood that, to satisfy it, he had to take advantage of the gardener's benevolence as soon as possible: so he retraced his steps with the speed of a fasting horse that the smell of hay attracts to the stable.
The gardener did not reproach him. He immediately gave him something to eat, and then showed him what he had to do.
Robert acquitted himself fairly well of his work, which was neither too difficult nor too tiring; and he had no cause to regret it, for his boss gave him two large pennies to encourage him.
The next day he left for the city, chasing in front of him a donkey laden with fruit intended for a vendor of foodstuffs. When he saw himself alone in the countryside, he made this reflection: I like fruit very much, I have a large quantity of it in my possession: shall I not taste some? We won't see anything, and the donkey, my companion, won't betray me, I'm sure of it.
Robert opened the baskets, and seized the most beautiful apples and the most beautiful pears. Appetite comes with eating, says the proverb, and the proverb does not lie. Robert returned to the charge and took new fruits. The theft was not known. This made him bolder on his second trip. But every fault is revealed, and sooner or later the punishment arrives. She didn't wait for our little thief.
The person in town to whom the fruit had been delivered soon realized that he was being tricked into sending the fruit. She complained to the gardener, who resolved to catch the culprit in the act.
One morning, he followed Robert walking quietly towards the city beside his donkey. The little driver took care not to touch anything as long as he was on his master's estates; but when, after ten minutes' walk, he believed himself protected from all surprise, he stopped his laborious companion, seized, according to his custom, the most beautiful fruits enclosed in the baskets, and sat down without ceremony on the the greenery to eat them at ease.
He was doing very well with his inexpensive meal, when the gardener suddenly appeared, a whip in his hand, a threat in his mouth.
“Oh! ha! little rascal! he exclaimed, this is how you rob me! Wait, wait, I'm going to teach him to respect other people's property.
'Thank you, thank you!' repeated Robert, terrified.
"No, no mercy!..." And the little thief received a fairly harsh beating.
Now you can continue on your way, resumed the gardener after having punished the culprit. But be careful not to deceive me again...
"I don't want to serve you any longer," replied Robert displeased.
"As you wish, one never regrets a bad subject of your kind."
At these words, the gardener seized his donkey by the bridle and went away.
Have a good trip! shouted Robert. You don't regret me, I don't regret you either. And the little mutineer pulled his cap over his ear and left with a determined air.
He had learned, on his first trip to the city, that the sea was only three leagues away; he
wanted to see her. When, after much fatigue, he reached the edge of the water, his surprise was extreme.
" Oh ! Oh ! what a beautiful thing the sea is! he cried. It's bigger than the stream in our village. It must be fun to walk on this endless river! What do I see over there? They are nacelles in the middle of which trees of prodigious height have been planted. How beautiful! how beautiful!
And Robert sat down to contemplate the sea and the ships. While he was admiring the magnificent spectacle which unfolded before his eyes, an old man passed by who said to him: “Good morning, my friend; what are you doing here?
I look at this river which is called the sea, and these large nacelles, higher than our steeple.
THE OLD MAN.
These pods are called vessels.
Where are these ships going?
THE OLD MAN.
In very distant countries, in America, for example.
I have heard of America, of this famous country where one has only to bend down to take gold.
THE OLD MAN.
It's fools who believe that. America is undoubtedly a very rich continent; but all those who go there are far from making a fortune there: a large number of them return unhappy, when death does not surprise them on the way. If I have one advice for young people, it is never to be tempted by the lure of too easy a gain. I advise him to be moderate in his desires, and not always to persist in seeking well-being far from his country. Every country is rich when you know how to move the soil; work is a fertile mine that everyone can exploit, and from which one draws, with time and patience, inexhaustible treasures.
After this little lesson, the old man went on his way.
This man doesn't know what he's saying, exclaimed Robert, who didn't like the advice he had just been given. He claims that work is a fertile mine of treasures, and yet I, who have already worked a lot, what have I obtained that is so precious? I earned two big pennies and lashes from a gardener, and my food from a miller, that's all. I don't think it's a treasure... So maybe I won't do so badly to go to America, because I persist in saying that this country is strewn with diamonds and five-franc pieces. M. Varet, the mayor of our village, has only become so rich since he traveled by sea. and, when I reappear in my country, my pockets will be full of money, I will have a carriage and servants at my orders, everyone will respectfully uncover themselves as I pass, and people will say of me: happy Robert! his fate is worthy of envy! "Seeing me come back with so much wealth, my parents will easily forgive me for having left them..."
Robert got up and approached the port. He listened attentively to all that was said around him, and soon he learned that a ship was going to sail for America. He saw this ship, and succeeded, I don't quite know how, in entering it without being seen. He hid behind several crates filled with goods, and waited for the moment of departure. He didn't wait long; for an hour later the ship majestically left the harbor and sailed for America.
Robert was enchanted; but his joy was short-lived. A ship's boy having discovered him, he was forced to show himself. The sight of it elicited universal laughter.
"What does this pretty little villager want?" cried cabin boys and sailors at the same time. No doubt Monsieur is a seller of spinning tops, which he will sell to little Americans to then buy sweets..."
Robert, humiliated, lowered his head and did not answer a word. He hoped that people would take pity on him, that they would leave him on the ship: he was mistaken. The captain came up, and cried threateningly: "Do I need such a kid in my ship?" We would only need a dozen rats of this species to starve the building; for they are endowed with great laziness and a vast appetite. Quickly the boat, and let them go and put this tramp on the ground. »
This order was promptly executed. I leave you to imagine if our sailor made a sad figure. All his hopes had vanished; all that was left to him was a devouring hunger. Fortunately, a fisherman took pity on his fate, and was good enough to treat him to a frying pan. That was all it took to console Robert and restore his boldness. He related what had just happened to him with enough art, and the hospitable fisherman said to him: "You seem to me to like our superb sea very much, be my companion." This proposal was immediately accepted with the liveliest joy. Robert became a fisherman for the sole purpose of eating fish every day, of which he was very greedy. He ate more than he wanted. When he was sated with it, he announced to his benefactor that the sea was contrary to his health. The fisherman was willing to believe him and do him one more service. "I have," he told her, "a friend who is a farmer a league from here." Go find it from me; he will gladly occupy you, if you are good at something. »
Robert went to the farmer, who received him cheerfully and without ceremony: “What can you do? he asked her. »
A thousand and a thousand things. I have traveled by sea for a very long time; you can imagine that I am not ignorant.
One can travel a lot, and not be more knowledgeable for it. And first of all, do you read very fluently?
I dare not flatter myself.
Oh ! Oh ! at your age, not knowing how to read perfectly is shameful! it was better to listen to the lessons of the schoolmaster than to run around without profit.
I don't know that it is necessary to read very fluently to earn a living.
I'm going to prove you wrong. What will you do at my house if you can't read easily? You are in no condition to drive the plow, to turn the spade usefully in my garden, and to
wield the flail in my barns. You can only serve me as a messenger; but you have to be able to read to do this job well, because I don't want anyone to take the letter addressed to my miller François to Pierre the locksmith. I ask nothing better than to oblige you, and for the moment I see nothing more fitting to offer you than a place as cowherd or turkey.
Me, cowherd! turkey! I prefer a thousand times to return to my village.
Go back to your village. But everywhere you will never be better placed than at the head of a herd of turkeys; for you are the king of the ignorant.
Robert did not want to wait any longer; he retreated hastily.
How unhappy I am! he cried, sitting down at the entrance to a wood by the side of the road; nothing works for me. From all sides I receive the most cruel humiliations. Alas! I'm beginning to see that you have to be better educated than I am to travel the world and prosper..."
Robert at these words abandoned himself to tears and groans. A little Savoyard heard her complaints, and came to address her these words:
“Why are you crying, my young sir? Has anyone hit you or taken away your livelihood?
No really, I'm bored.
THE LITTLE SAVOYARD.
If you were me, you wouldn't have time to get bored. I work all day to collect a few pennies. Today I sweep, tomorrow I will sing, I will make my groundhog dance. When I have thus traveled the beautiful country of France for several years, I will go and see my good mother again, who is waiting for me in her poor cottage in Savoy. She will be very happy to take me in her arms; but I will be happier than she by depositing in her hands a little money destined to relieve her old age. Do you still have a mother, my little sir?
I still have, thank God, my father and my mother.
THE LITTLE SAVOYARD.
And no doubt they asked you to earn a few crowns to help them raise your little brothers and sisters?
They don't need me to work for them; because they are not poor.
THE LITTLE SAVOYARD.
So much the better; I see then that it is of your own free will, out of indocility, that you left the
paternal roof. Oh ! How I pity you for having acted in this way! If my good mother were safe from want, I would not part with her. God does not bless children who leave their parents' home as you did. Believe me, my dear little Monsieur, you are never better off than with your father and your mother; experience has already proven this to you. Return to your village as soon as possible, and be more reasonable in the future. Farewell, and take my advice.
Robert was shaken. The sweet voice of the young Savoyard penetrated to his heart; he regretted his conduct. He was preparing to leave to join his family, when he was accosted by a policeman who asked him his name. He answered tremblingly: “My name is Robert.
"Robert!" resumed the policeman in a cheerful tone, it is the name of the bad subject that I have been looking for in all directions for about a month. Besides, you're trembling, that's enough for me; because I judge you guilty. Follow me.
Robert had no desire to resist. He followed the policeman, who led him back to his mother. Returned under the paternal roof, our traveler had a very severe punishment to undergo. But, let's say it right away, it was the last one he received. Having become wise through his own experience, he knew how to make up for lost time. Disgusted with travel, he only went to church and school, and he was fine with it. He learned quickly, surpassed all his fellow students, and won the friendship and esteem of all who knew him.
Gentlemen and Ladies, Anna added, rising, my little tale is over; I have the honor to greet you and to thank you for the sustained attention with which you were kind enough to listen to me.
Rather, it is we, my child, who should be thanking you for the lovely things you have said to us. Really you were wrong to make you pray a little to speak: when one tells like this, one is always sure to be listened to with pleasure. Besides, your tale contains an excellent moral from which young and old can benefit. Often vanity, the love of mad independence, pushes us from town to town, from project to project, from fall to fall. We think we know a lot and storm the most difficult positions, and we throw ourselves headlong into a career that was not open to us. It is necessary to have learned and studied a long time before dreaming of succeeding, and to know obedience perfectly before claiming to command. It would be easy to draw the most useful lessons from Mellena's tale; but I stop: Ernest has something to tell us.
I waited without impatience, Monsieur le Cure; what I have to say is not nearly as interesting as the reflections you have just made. In little Robert I recognized myself more than once; but there is much to complain about. My adventures were not the same, and I don't know if the advantage is on my side. First, Robert leaves in company, I left alone with a book under my arm, and, let's say it right away, it was completely useless to me; I could not sell it. Robert successively met a miller, a gardener and a fisherman who were full of kindness to him; I did not have this happiness, I had for resource a cooper and a shoemaker, and I will never forget it, thanks to their way of acting towards me. The first made me work at his barrels for half a day, and, on the pretext that I was lazy, he sent me back precisely at dinner time, a very precious hour for me, and which I was impatiently awaiting. extreme. The process was a bit harsh; but what to say? what to do? The cooper was five feet six inches; I had... I don't dare say it... So I had to keep quiet and go get dinner further away. Alas! deaf ears were everywhere turned, and my prayers were not heard; they refused my services, and I was forced to do without dinner, then supper, then finally a bed to sleep. I spent the night in the fields. At dawn I was up. My bad star led me directly to a shoemaker. He was a German. He heard me little; but, from my pale and elongated mien, he understood that I was devouringly hungry. He was kind enough to give me a dish of potatoes and a large piece of black bread, which I made disappear in the twinkling of an eye. This revived me, and I thought of traveling far away. But when it was time to greet my host and leave, I was grabbed by the collar and placed casually on a leather-covered stool.
"My little friend," said the cobbler to me in bad French, "you can't leave me like this." I don't feed anyone for nothing. So you will be working today at my place. »
He put an old shoe in my hand, which I had orders to unstitch. This work did not smile on me, so I was desperately slow. The cobbler grew impatient, and ended up hitting me vigorously with his kicker. The correction seemed cruel to me; I feared for a second, and, profiled by a moment's absence of my new master, I rushed out of the shop and took the key to the fields. It was on the evening of that same day that I met the little Savoyard whose engaging words changed all my resolutions. I dared not return to the chateau, he offered to go and beg pardon; I accepted, and he left. At the end of six o'clock, well before nightfall, you came, my dear father, to fetch me yourself, and, without having received any reproach from you, I took the road back to your house in your carriage, am better advised to leave since; for, like Robert, I was cured of the travel mania.
You forget to tell us that the little Savoyard did not leave without a large reward: you emptied your entire purse into his hands.
I was sufficiently repaid for my slight sacrifice by the joy and gratitude he showed. He had rendered me, moreover, a service which I could not forget without ingratitude.
M. Duronel, or the egoist punished.
“We are unhappy today. Nothing worked for us. This morning our mother was about to tell us a story, when several people suddenly appeared. This afternoon, after vespers, we were to go and have a rustic dinner, a league from here, on a hill where our father has erected such a pretty pavilion: the company that arrived unexpectedly prevented us from doing so. Anyway, tonight we can only have a very short story, because the company left the castle late.
But it seems to me that our misfortunes have been compensated by the visits received by our parents.
I do not believe that ; there was among the people of society someone whom my father never sees with pleasure. It only takes a sinister figure to darken a picture.
Anna just told the whole truth. My father was not gay, far from it; his bad mood even nearly betrayed itself several times. Oh ! Anna and I were taking a good look at our father.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
You were very skilful in discovering traces of discontent on M. de Nanteuil's face. I saw him constantly cheerful and full of kindness. M. Lecointe, who did us the honor of dining with us, is, I believe, of my opinion.
You will allow me, Madam, not to share your sentiment today; for M. de Nanteuil did not seem to me as cheerful this afternoon as usual. I thought I was the only one to notice it, but Anna and Ernest were very clear-sighted.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
Indeed, I have been in a bad mood all day; but as a man who respects others, and who respects himself, I have made every effort not to let it appear. I can let you know the cause. The people who have come to the chateau are very dear to me, with the exception of one. I want to speak of M. de Plassance, whom, moreover, I see very little. You will exempt me from telling you the reason.
We all know that M. de Plassance is known throughout the country for being selfish. I am not slanderous; I would not speak thus, I beg you to believe, if he had not publicly rejected an unfortunate person who had recourse to him. He was afraid, he said, of compromising himself.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
Let us not dwell any longer on this subject; for, while saying that we do not slander, we could little by little fall into the most cruel of faults.
These words are those of a Christian. M. de Plassance, one can quickly say, repels the unfortunates; but it must not be the subject of our conversation. M. de Nanteuil is not fond of her; but he does not hate him: the Lord will be grateful to him for the efforts he makes on himself to receive him with honesty, even with affability. We must have indulgence for the sinner, but not for the sin: thus, let us condemn selfishness, and pity the selfish. I would even ask M. de Nanteuil, who has seen and who still sees the world, to paint for us a portrait of the most common vice of our days and the most widespread in society.
See, my father, we put you on the path of stories.
You cannot recuse yourself, your turn to speak has come.
You will no longer oppose us with your obstinate cough; she gave in to herbal teas and my mother's care.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
And to yours, my children. I believe that we will have nothing to fear from all illnesses as long as you are with us; you know how to treat us with such zeal, such lively affection and such great patience! I have a good memory, you see; I remember what you did for me a year ago.
Don't talk about that, good mother, please.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
Let's talk about selfishness, which I hate with all my heart. I remember an authentic story often told to me by my father, who, like me, never had any sympathy for selfish people. I begin with a few thoughts. Selfishness is the vice of our century. Every man for himself: such is the general maxim, and unfortunately too well put into practice. The egoist has neither family, nor country, nor friends: he relates everything to himself, he sees only himself in the world; he would think himself lost if he had to render the slightest service to his fellows.
M. Duronel was one of these men. He possessed a great fortune, he held a distinguished rank; but he made sure to disappear when there was danger: he always spared resources; and, whenever he did some good, he took care to examine beforehand whether his benevolence would not harm him with such or such person, with such or such party. He had no opinion, he adopted the principles of those who left him in peace: he suffered that his neighbor was persecuted, as long as he was not tormented himself, and he would have taken good care not to run to the rescue of an unfortunate person attacked by brigands, even though his presence might have been useful to the traveller. He had been let through, that was all he wanted. Behind him all crimes could be committed with impunity.
This man, however, loved his daughter Eugenie and his son Charles. For them alone he would have been embarrassed, he would even have endured a few annoyances.
His son reproached him one day for his way of acting.
You have no friends, my father, he said to him.
"And I have no enemies." What do friends do to me who would constantly obsess me, who
would have recourse sometimes to my purse, sometimes to my protection! I would live for them, not for myself. I don't ask anything of others, I don't want anyone to ask me anything.
— With this principle, things can only go very badly in this world. The poor have always needed the rich, the weak the powerful. Take away the affection, the generosity of the earth, and you will find there only crimes, only disorders... You don't need anyone?...
"No one, thank God."
“For now, it's true. But can you answer for the future?
- Certainly. What have I to fear? I haven't hurt anyone, I have no enemies. This is the main. I can always be enough. You yourself, my son, you can, if you want, be like me above all fear, all anxiety.
“I don't agree with you. In a few days I am going to London for my business, and there, as elsewhere, I shall need friends.
- It is an idea. Be loyal, pay well, get paid well, that's all it takes, nothing more. Look at me, I arrived without the help of friendship. I began by being a merchant, shrewd, cunning, but honest; I succeeded: if I made some concessions, they were never disinterested: if I rendered some services, I retained in advance the benefits. In everything I carried the spirit of calculation, and in everything I gained a great deal. When I saw myself rich, I wanted to have an honorable, lucrative, but in no way dangerous job; I got it, and I won't leave it until I die. A thousand governments will be able to pass; I will still have it, because I never show off: I shut my mouth when others are shouting, I listen when others are talking.
"But you made use of the intrigue!"
- Without a doubt ; it was useful to me to arrive. But this intrigue cost me nothing, it in no way compromised me; again, I only worked for myself.
"So you condemn your brother, who, during the French Revolution, often risked his life to save several holy ministers of the Lord whom the rage of the wicked pursued everywhere?"
"If I condemn him, can you doubt it?" Was it his business? In bad times, you have to stay at home, see through the window what is happening in the street, and say nothing; let strangers perish, and think of one's own salvation.
- But, my father, you reason neither as a Christian nor as a friend of the country and of humanity.
"I reason wisely, and what proves it is that I've made a fortune, that I'm in high places, while my brother lives mediocrely, without ever having been able to obtain the smallest job."
“You could have helped him.
“Yes, but I was compromising myself. Your uncle is a fanatic; one does not like to come forward for such people.
'I confess that my uncle's conduct has always seemed admirable to me. What he did during the French Revolution, I would do with ardor, if the crimes that were committed then dared ever happen again.
“You would be a fool. I would be sorry to see your conduct. Besides, you are young, my dear Charles; age will mature you, you will change with experience, and one day you will think like me.
"Never, my father, never!"
A month after this conversation, one of the most notable people in the town came to see M. Duronel to implore his pity on behalf of several exiled nobles reduced to the most dreadful misery.
I can do nothing, was M. Duronel's reply.
- What ! we would abandon these unfortunate people! Among them are several venerable priests bent under the weight of years and fatigues endured in the service of their brethren; they deserve that we Christians come to their aid with the liveliest joy.
- I am sorry; but I said my last word.
At the top of this list, your name would have produced the greatest good.
— It is very possible; but I would compromise myself. These exiles of whom you speak to me are worthy of all our love, of all our respect; but they are frowned upon by the government, I must not know them.
— This is only an act of Christian charity.
“The bad guys might see something else in it: politics, hostile intentions; finally we would talk about it.
“We would bless you.
“The blessings of a few honest people would cost me dearly. So, sir, let's talk no more about this matter. Another time, if you need me, I will be ready to please you.
The honest petitioner withdrew uneducated. M. Duronel's daughter, who had been present at this interview, said to her father:
“You have been ruthless; in your place, I would have quickly given up all my purse. If you allow me, I will send my modest offering.
“I forbid you, my child; you don't know what you would expose yourself to. One would say: “Eugénie gave some money on the advice of her father, who wanted to favor the exiles in secret; this noise would reach powerful ears which lose nothing; and, one fine morning, I would receive the order to leave for my country house: I would be dismissed, there can be no doubt about it.
“I pity you then, my father, if you are not permitted to do a little good in this world; but, in my opinion, your fears are exaggerated.
- My daughter, do not insist. I know better than you everything I have to do. This visit completely changed me. What do I need to be bothered about people I don't know? They are exiled, and what do I care? they had only to behave like me, with wisdom, with prudence; they were not to contradict their government, but to obey without reflection, with complete blindness, the will of their master. Certainly, if we set out to oblige everyone, we would not end it: you would no longer be allowed to breathe for a moment in peace.
- Lets go! lets go! calm down, father.
'Don't be afraid, my bad mood won't last long; I would be very good to take pain for so little! this is not my habit. I am going to walk in the countryside, and quietly spend my afternoon outside while waiting for dinner.
M. Duronel went out and wandered slowly through the fields. When, after a few hours
After a walk, he returned to the town, he heard these words uttered as he passed: "Here is M. Duronel, he doesn't seem to know that his house is on fire." »
"What, my house is on fire!" and no one came to tell me!...
'You don't worry about others, we don't worry about you,' they replied curtly.
The unfortunate man could not hear this reproach without moaning. He ran home; but he arrived too late, the flames enveloped the whole house; it was impossible to save anything.
"And my daughter," he cried in despair, not seeing her near him.
"She is safe with her aunt," replied one of his servants. Only to save her we showed zeal; because everyone loves it. But when it came to putting out the fire to save the house, everyone retreated. We begged in vain, they clearly refused to help us. "I must go back to my work," said one. "I have no time to lose," went on the other; M. Duronel is rich enough to bear this little misfortune..."
"The selfish ones!" murmured M. Duronel, "so they would have let me burn too!" for in this respect it is easy to see that they do not love me..."
He then went to see his daughter, whom the seizure had made ill. A cruel fever had seized her; and soon his life was in danger. M. Duronel neglected nothing to retain her; but she escaped him. God took him out of this world. Imagine the pain that his unfortunate father must have experienced! He kept crying for her night and day. He deserved to be pitied; for he was very unhappy, and yet the public was indifferent to his pain. Only one friend came to console him. M. Duronel opened his heart to him, and said to him: "I have deserved all the misfortune that overwhelms me." I would still have my child if I hadn't been so cruel to others, so selfish. If the fire had been put out from the start, my daughter would still be alive. What killed her was the imminence of the danger she ran, it was the indifference of the public to snatch my property from the flames. O my friend, I am being punished in a very horrible way!... In my sorrow, I only see you as a comforter. We pass in front of me without giving me a tear, a regret...
Some time after the loss of his daughter, he received a letter from London; glancing at the address, he noticed that the handwriting was not his son's. He broke the seal, trembling, and read this dreadful news:
“Sir, I have very sad news to tell you. We had here, a few days ago, a rather serious sedition. A few commoners rose up against the foreigners and publicly insulted them. From insults they came to insults and violence. Your son was passing at this moment with some of his friends in one of the squares where the mutineers had gathered, and the crowd rushed upon him and his companions in the most unworthy manner. A bloody struggle ensued; but fury and force were on the side of the populace, and the foreigners had to think of seeking their safety in flight. They tried in vain to take refuge in the neighboring houses, they were repulsed without pity, because then everyone feared for himself. Your son, already beaten several times, was at first lucky enough to escape his executioners. He fled into a narrow street, and when the forces had abandoned him, he stopped before the door of a rich individual whose pity he implored. But this rich man was an infamous egoist, and he replied to the unfortunate young man: “Go further; I would perhaps run some risks by receiving you in my house. »
'But I'm no longer being prosecuted. No one will see me enter your home. Please, death threatens me; I lose all my blood and my strength. Have mercy on me.
"Go away," resumed the culpable Englishman. It would always be known that I admitted you to my home, and the people of this district would see me in the suite with an evil eye... God protect you! Go further... "
“Your unfortunate son did not utter a single word, he fell to the ground, and, a few moments later, expired under the repeated blows of the people, who came back to his tracks. »
M. Duronel fell backwards after reading this letter. His servants came running and carried him to his bed. A terrible delirium seized him. When he came to his senses a few days later, he saw his son at his bedside.
"Charles, my child! ... so you are not dead?" cried the sick man, getting up on his bed. So the London populace spared you?
“Father, you see, I am saved. I only received a slight injury. The person who sent you this letter was wrong; she took me for another, for it is only too true that a friend of mine had his throat cut by assassins in London, and through the fault of a rich Englishman who refused him entry into his house. House. I would have experienced the same fate if I had spoken to such an egoist. Fortunately, I knew a brave man in the neighborhood where I was attacked; I went to ask him for shelter, and he received me eagerly in his arms, in his house. He knew how to brave the mob who wanted my head, and I was spared. Do you believe he was blamed for his generous conduct? Oh ! no, all the hon-
Your people showered him with praise, and even those who had pursued me were grateful to him for his courage, as soon as they had arrived at more human sentiments. As for him who rejected my poor friend, he is branded, and public indignation has devoted his name to contempt. — I received, my dear son, cruel lessons. I will use it, be sure. I have been selfish; but I am forever corrected of the most odious of all faults. How happy I am to find in you a devoted child, full of affection! If you had listened to my fatal principles, I would not find in you a friend who will soften my ills and cry with me, my poor Eugenie..."
M. Duronel soon recovered his health; but it was a long time before he consoled himself for the cruel loss he had suffered. Having become generous, noble and charitable, he saw himself surrounded by general affection, and he tasted the happiness of being loved.
If the egoist knew all the felicity of which he is depriving himself, he would hasten to act in everything with an independence worthy of a true Christian. When our neighbor needs us, we must help him without worrying about what others may say. We must do good in the sight of God, and not in our interest. The man who fears blame, criticism, who recoils from a good deed, is a coward. However, I will say that one must be careful when it comes to the affairs of one's country; a young man especially must show himself prudent, and distance himself from any discussion which does not concern him. He will avoid throwing himself imprudently into this or that opinion; he will behave wisely, according to the precepts of the Gospel, listening with respect to the advice of people more educated than him... I will not moralize any more today, my children; for next Sunday I propose to give you a long lesson.
Dangers of bad example.
The last evening of winter had arrived. It was for the last time that we were meeting in the drawing-room, around the fire, to listen to the stories of M. Lecointe and M. de Nanteuil. Georges was leaving in a few days, he was sad; Ernest was silent, and Anna had tears in her eyes.
Madame de Nanteuil tried to dissipate the grief of her children; she said to them: "My friends, we mustn't be too distressed at a departure that has become necessary." Georges will not leave us forever; we will take him to Paris together, and if we return to the chateau without him, his thoughts will follow us there, his memory will remain in our hearts; he will receive our letters, we will read together those he writes to us each week, and we will talk about him constantly. We won't be leaving until Thursday, remember to make good use of the first days of the week; it has been used holy, and this evening will be devoted to useful reflections. Stories will not be lacking, however, and M. Lecointe, in promising advice to Georges, has at the same time promised several examples.
M. Lecointe entered at this moment with M. de Nanteuil; He sat down beside Georges, and taking his hand affectionately, he said to him:
“I have the right, my young friend, to give you some advice: I have been your master, I am your pastor; I am old, and the experience has taught me a lot. You are young, we will try to train you. Always be on your guard, and leave no hold on you to the enemy. You have received excellent lessons here, you have not lacked good examples: you would be very guilty if you abandoned yourself to deceptive illusions. Let virtue and religion speak unceasingly to your heart! If successes accompany you, as I have every reason to hope, do not conceive of pride; humbly thank the Lord, and bring all glory to him. Nothing leads a man more quickly to his downfall than self-esteem, than vanity. Nothing is more despicable than one whose mind is full of haughty thoughts and smugness. The world itself laughs; he puts vanity among the ridiculous things he most mocks. A fop is loved by no one; a proud man has only enemies. Act in everything with calm and simplicity. Don't make a lot of noise for nothing; for you would soon be humiliated. I am going to quote you on this subject a little Greek tale which has always seemed to me very instructive.
The great Solomon, after having erected a magnificent temple to the Lord, built for himself a superb palace, where he took pleasure in gathering together a multitude of various birds, to which he had granted the gift of speech. One saw with surprise the immense aviary where this famous king had collected all these winged prisoners; a sparrow stood out there for its boldness and vanity. Old, he was talkative to excess. It is true that a bird is permitted to chatter, but it must never be quarrelsome. But the sparrow was: constantly he got into a bad mood against his timid companion, who regarded him as the most formidable and the most knowledgeable of birds. Solomon liked to hear the reproaches of one and the plaintive answers of another.
One day the sparrow flew into a rage, stormed, threatened, and set the alarm ten inches around him. "Yes," he said to his trembling companion, "you are a villain whom I will know how to punish in the end in an exemplary manner... Take care that my wrath does not be fatal to the whole universe." You will make me lose patience; in my anger, I will overthrow this beautiful palace, and you will remain buried under its ruins. You don't know my strengths; Certainly it matters to you not to see its terrible effects..."
His poor companion believed him, and said not a word. But Solomon had heard; he called the sparrow, put it on his little finger and said to it: "Mighty bird, I would be glad to know how you could annihilate my magnificent palace!" I didn't know you were so powerful! Give me visible evidence, please, of your terrible wrath..."
The sparrow replied quite ashamed: "You have listened to me, great king, and I am very humbled." I confess my weakness and my impotence; but, I beg you, let me show off with my companion. »
Solomon smiled and allowed the bird to retreat, but on the condition that it would be a little less noisy in the future.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
This tale reminds me of several braggarts on whose account there was much joke in the army. According to them, they were capable of putting an entire army to flight by themselves; they were very valiant in exercise; they pranced admirably on a review day; they were proud, superb, solid and foolproof, but as soon as the cannon sounded its lugubrious roar, they grew anxious; when they were in the presence of the enemy, they trembled; when the fight had begun, they were without fire, without vigour, and at the first failure they shamefully fled. A true brave man is modest, he only shines in the field of honour. I have always noticed that a fop never resisted adversity, that he almost always recoiled before the slightest obstacles. The man of heart, the simple man without vanity, is, on the contrary, of a firmness that nothing can shake.
What M. de Nanteuil has just said is very true: the courageous soldier is the honest soldier: the intrepid officer is he who thinks, not of his toilet and his good looks, but of the glory of his country. The most fervent Christians have always been those who practice good without ostentation, in silence and recollection. You will therefore avoid, my dear Georges, appearing better and more worthy of esteem than the others. If it happens that we do not do justice to your qualities; if you realize that your efforts to arrive have been in vain, do not be discouraged: arm yourself against the difficulties, and you will end up overcoming them. Nothing can resist the patient man; twenty times he will be knocked down, and twenty times he will stand up stronger and more terrible. I know many people who have never had the courage to seek recovery from the losses they have experienced. They complained to everyone, but everyone listened to them without emotion, for their indolence was not interesting in their favor. I have seen others, on the contrary, who in their reverse displayed a firmness, an activity truly admirable; so all their acquaintances came to their aid, and they repaired their misfortunes. But I do a little too much moralizing; I still remember a Greek tale which comes very appropriately, and which will suggest to me some useful reflections.
A Greek from Mitylene named Zaphiri was rich and powerful; he was moreover very learned and surrounded by everything that can make a man happy. He had a son and a daughter still young, whose lively affection added new charms to his happiness. But nothing is stable on earth; Zaphiri had the sad experience of this; he happened to lose his wealth, and had the pain of seeing his merit disregarded and his glory faded. Poor, he saw himself despised by those who had once declared him the equal of Socrates and Plato. He could not bear his misfortune, and he fell into gloomy despair. In vain some faithful friends sought to revive his courage, he always answered them with these words of Euripides: “A misfortune which is born with us ceases to be a misfortune, because the heart gets used to it; but it is hard to become the plaything of misery when one has lived in prosperity. »
One day when he was plunged into a deeper sadness than usual, he exclaimed: “O Fortune! Fortune! is this how you leave me? Fortune immediately appeared.
"My son," she said to him, "why do you accuse me?" Men complain of me when they take pleasure in treating me unworthily and abusing my benefits. The warrior whom I rescued from the perils of battle, whom I filled with glory and honour, laughs at me when he has obtained everything; he abandons me, because he thinks he no longer needs my help; or else he treats me like a slave; he pretends to chain me to his chariot, and by his culpable conduct he forces me to move away from him and precipitate him into misfortune.
This greedy mortal, to whose wishes I granted heaps of gold, becomes miserly, inhuman, cruel. He locks me up, hides me from all eyes, and I end up escaping him with the help of a thief who, too, is unworthy of keeping me for long.
Look at this insatiable merchant: nothing can satisfy him. He drags me everywhere; he takes me with him on the inconstant waves. The storm rises, the ship is wrecked, I fly away, and my tyrant curses me by swimming away. And yet is he not the sole cause of his own misfortune?
And you, Zaphiri, are you less guilty? I had given you an honest existence; you had received from Heaven the most precious gifts, science and wisdom; but soon you used these priceless treasures for your ambitious projects; you wanted to be rich, you were, and my benefits have corrupted you. You left the fields to live in the cities, where you hoped to shine your great knowledge. You forgot me, and I fled. Now you call me because you suffer; I ran, but learn that I can only offer you advice. Listen: find the courage you cowardly lost. Go to some famous town to instruct and train the youth. Do not remain idle, and think of preparing a sweet future for your children; maybe one day I will come back to you involuntarily, because I am blind, I spread my favors without discernment, I stop in my way those who meet under my feet. Join the crowd, then, if you still want to get something from me. »
Fortune disappeared at these words.
Zaphiri did not take advantage of these advices. Yielding to the melancholy which drew him to solitude, he moved away from Mitylene and came to live in a small cottage in the country. There he lived peacefully with his son and daughter, of whom he took the greatest care. But these children, alone in the bosom of continual rest, were not excited by emulation, encouraged by example; they grew up with a vice and a fault, laziness and timidity.
Zaphiri was distressed by this, and said to them one day:
“My children, take advantage of the lessons that I am giving you. What will become of you after my death, if you do not apply yourself to work today, if you do not hasten to acquire knowledge, in order to be able to assure yourself of a pleasant fate? You will not be useful to yourself or to others...
'Don't worry, father,' replied Zaphiri's son; if that happens to you, we will at least have the happiness of rejoicing in the old age of him who gave birth to us. Brought up by him in solitude, far from the noise and the crowd, we will act like him: we will walk in the countryside.
These last words were a flash of light for Zaphiri. He felt how disastrous his example might one day be to his children, and, remembering the counsels of Fortune, he immediately left his cottage to go to Corinth.
He was entering this dissolute city, when he suddenly found himself in the midst of a multitude of young people who wept bitterly. He asked the cause of their tears; He was answered: They have just led to the abode of the dead a wise man whose beloved disciples they were.
"Console yourself," said Zaphiri then, addressing the afflicted youth; the sage is no more; but its lessons and its examples remain with you, know how to take advantage of them.
These words aroused the attention of a stranger who, raising his eyes to Zaphiri, recognized him, and exclaimed, showing him to the crowd: “Son of Corinth, here is your master. Eumolpe is no more, Heaven sends you Zaphiri. »
Zaphiri was for a moment surrounded by the disciples of Eumolpe, and carried in triumph to the public school, where in a short time he acquired a great reputation for his moral lessons. Pupils flocked from all sides, and it was easy for him to enrich himself with the gifts sent to him by princes and kings.
"Weird and light fortune," he said one day, "thank you." »
Fortune was passing at this moment; she stopped and answered him: “O mortals! it is you who are strange and inconstant. You remain inactive when it is given to you to accomplish great things. Zaphiri, what use was your laziness? You were preparing the misfortune of your children, whose future you did not dream of. You came to Corinth, I met you on my way, I took you up in my arms. I would have been as kind to any other philosopher as to you; you owe me no thanks, only know how to take advantage of my benefits. Teach your disciples never to complain of me, but to be moderate in their desires. Tell them that I am not happiness: I resemble pleasure; one is lost when one abuses me. »
Zaphiri did not fail to form the hearts of his pupils in virtue; he was fortunate enough to bring about some change in the corrupt morals of the youth of Corinth. As for his children, they benefited still more from his lessons and advice. Her son became an honest trader esteemed by everyone, and her daughter honored her sex by her qualities and her virtues; she married the wisest young man in Corinth. Zaphiri had nothing more to desire. He called his family one evening and said to them: “Enjoy, my children, the sweet happiness that work has brought you. I bid you farewell; because I feel that I will die soon. »
His children fell on their knees, begging him not to leave them; he lifted them up, and, holding them pressed
against his heart, he died peacefully in their arms.
This tale is a lesson for all of us, added Mr. Lecointe: it teaches us not to leave buried in obscurity the gifts that Heaven has given us, not to let ourselves be beaten down by the blows of adversity. Man must always work, whether rich or poor. Each of us has his task to fulfill in this world: one must be a merchant or a warrior, a lawyer or a farmer; the other architect or mechanic, simple carpenter or Minister of State, all are called upon to contribute to the happiness of society. The doctor will cure those who suffer, the scientist will instruct the ignorant.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
And you are forgetting the finest of man's missions here below; you do not speak of the priest, who consoles the unfortunate, who unites earth to heaven, who reconciles the guilty with his divine Creator; you also forget those holy girls who pray for us in their pious retreats, and who serve the poor in their miseries.
I would have a lot to say if I had to talk about all the beautiful things that man can accomplish in this world. Each of us can do good; if he does not, he is guilty.
I don't want to leave my parents; but I do not claim to remain idle: I will imitate those religious saints to whom France is indebted for her agriculture and the clearing of her ungrateful lands; I will make sure to use the soil that has produced nothing so far; I will employ arms, I will multiply the harvests, and I will have thereby, I hope, served my country like any other. While my brother will defend her against her enemies, I will feed her, and between us we will be what our father was, soldier and farmer.
Mr. DE NANTEUIL.
How I love, my dear Ernest, to hear you speak thus! With such feelings, one is sure to be esteemed and to have a happy heart. May nothing ever alter the purity of your projects and the generosity of your noble ideas! I form the same wish for your brother, who will have more to fight than you; because the world quickly loses those who are not on their guard.
If Georges wants to remain what he is, good, amiable, a friend of virtue and a fervent Christian, he will avoid anything that could undermine his innocence and his faith. He will drive away bad books and dangerous friends, the two great pitfalls of youth. Woe to him who gives himself up to those disastrous readings which morals and religion condemn, and to those so-called friends who have neither faith nor generous principles! He gets lost, he infallibly gets lost. We have sad examples of this every day. I could cite a large number of them; I will content myself with reporting to you two rather striking ones.
Théodore studied in the college where I took my first classes. He was in rhetoric. He was cited as the model of all students, and he deserved, indeed, the most honorable distinction. He had all the qualities that make a young man love: he was gentle, complacent, modest, and a devout Christian. Each sought his company, and strove to obtain his esteem and his friendship. He was the most educated of the students of rhetoric: he won all the prizes. We all applauded heartily at his triumph, and then we all wanted to kiss him before he left for the holidays. His family was, so to speak, obliged to tear him from our arms. When the holidays were over and we got back to school, we hastened to call, to look for Theodore; but he did not answer us: it was impossible for us to take him in our arms; he was not back yet. We waited impatiently; the principal was no less surprised than we were; one day, however, he received news from Theodore's family, and in the evening he presented himself, sadness painted on his face, in the room where we were all gathered for prayer.
"My children," he said to us in a voice broken by sobs, "you will never see Theodore again... A terrible misfortune takes him away from us." You knew all his qualities, his virtues, his piety; he lost all that during his holidays, and it was bad books that corrupted him. A person without morals, without religion, lent him bad books; he was guilty enough to read them, and he drew from them a deadly poison. We saw it change from one day to the next. He gave up studying, gave himself up to pleasure and licentiousness. His virtuous parents tried in vain to call him back to virtue, he persisted in walking the path of perdition. A week ago, he experienced some annoyances; some remorse also doubtless troubled his soul, and he made up his mind to get rid of the pains he was experiencing right away. He no longer had any beliefs, religion was no longer there to arrest him from the inclination of his ruin; he had to succumb. He had read in several works the eulogy of suicide, and the unfortunate man took his own life. One morning his family found him lying lifeless in his room; he had suffocated. »
A universal cry of pain greeted this deplorable news. Sobs broke out everywhere. The principal mingled his tears with ours for a long time, then he continued:
“My children, may this terrible lesson benefit you all, and keep you from falling into the same fault as our unfortunate Theodore! Let us pray to the Lord for him, and ask him for the grace to remain until death faithful to the religion and to the good principles that you will receive every day...” Several students who hid bad books to read them in secret, The following day hastened to bring them to the principal, who hastened to burn them. I also remember that from that day onwards, as long as I remained at the college, not a single prohibited work was found in all the visits that were made. The example we knew kept us in duty.
The end of Théodore is really terrible. I believe that if all young people knew it, they would run away from bad books with more horror than the plague itself.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
They are, in fact, more formidable than all the scourges put together; for these only bring death to our body, while the former cause eternal pain to our soul. M. Lecointe, my children, told you that there are many examples of the evils caused by bad books, and he said nothing but the truth. You know that Joseph, our cousin M. de Massac's business man, killed himself two years ago; bad books were the cause. His master had banned them from his house, threatening to expel immediately from his house those who introduced a single one. Joseph eluded the prohibitions of M. de Massac, and, during the latter's absence, did some reading which ruined him. His conduct began by becoming very bad; he gave himself up to pleasures, he neglected his family and his duties. After having spent all his money with the dangerous friends with whom he surrounded himself, he robbed M. de Massac, and then blew his brains out. In the letter he had written before killing himself, he himself attributed all his misfortunes to reading bad books.
Despite all these examples, we see the youth running with ardor to their loss. She doubts nothing; she believes she can face danger with impunity. Yet she should constantly remember these holy words: "He who loves peril will perish in it." Nothing is to be neglected when it is a question of keeping intact the deposit of faith: the least occasions of sin must be avoided with care; for he who despises small faults will gradually fall into large ones. But above all, you have to have a horror of bad company. An unprincipled and libertine friend is even more formidable than a bad book. It brings us many evils, it causes us much remorse. The story I am about to tell you is proof of this.
Jules de Mauré had received the most Christian education. A gentle and pious mother had inspired him from childhood with a love of religion and of all the virtues of which it is the source; his tender heart was entirely turned towards the pure joys which piety, wisdom and the accomplishment of our duties procure for us. The days of his early youth had passed happy and calm, but, alas! To be then agitated by the tumult of the most criminal passions.
At the age of seventeen, he had the misfortune to make the acquaintance, in Paris, of a young man brought up in the school of impiety. Seduced by the gaiety, vivacity and brilliant exterior of his new friend, he became closely attached to him and made him his inseparable companion. He never left him, and little by little he felt near him the faith failing in his heart; he lost all his beliefs one by one, and a day came when our morals and our holy dogmas were entirely forgotten. Religion no longer being able to restrain him, he abandoned himself without reserve to his long-restrained inclinations, and his violent passions overflowed his heart with impetuosity.
Madame de Mauré did not learn without bitter pain the rapid change which had taken place in the conduct of her son. His pious soul was cruelly bruised, and his life, hitherto so happy, was veiled in sadness. She tried to bring her child back to the path he had left. She wrote him the most urgent, the most affectionate letters; she even came to Paris to tear him out of his dangerous habits: exhortations, tears and prayers, everything was used, everything was useless: Jules was a bad Christian, he was a bad son. He repelled his mother and her complaints; and when he saw that maternal tenderness and solicitude left him no rest, he left Paris, and put a long space between him and the author of his days.
So much ingratitude gave Madame de Maure the mortal blow; she returned unwell to her chateau. Jules hastened to run to her; but he had the pain of learning that the evil he had done was beyond remedy.
"My son," his mother told him one evening when he begged her to forget her wrongs and her past conduct, "I have forgiven everything, forgotten everything, and it was not difficult for me, because you know how much I 'like ! You return, my son, to more virtuous feelings, I feel better, I am happy; however I will soon die. How I regret life at this moment! Your repentance promised me such sweet consolations! I would have seen you full of faith, wise, amiable as before. But God does not want it; I must resign myself to his holy will. Jules, my child, may my departure from this world not plunge you back into evil. Promise your dying mother not to forget her lessons, to keep her memory always in your heart. »
Jules was crying; Madame de Mauré kissed him tenderly, and added in a faint voice: “My dear son, in your misfortunes, take care to have recourse to God, to religion; call your good sister near you, and let her replace me here below. She is compassionate and gentle, and will know how to comfort you. »
Madame de Maure was silent, and a moment later died in the arms of her two children, Jules and Sophie.
Jules seemed deeply grieved at the loss he had suffered, and perhaps he inwardly promised himself to change his conduct altogether; but he was not long faithful to his good resolutions; for, two months after the death of his mother, he relapsed into vice.
Sophie, his tender sister, made vain efforts to keep him on the edge of a new abyss; he did not listen to her, he even replied in these terms to one of her letters: "My dear sister, I am old enough to guide myself." You have experience, you are very attached to me; but all that does not give you the right to constantly torment me with moral lessons that I no longer want to listen to. Love me always as I love you; but stop occupying it with my actions: they don't concern anyone in the world. »
The virtuous Sophie wept a great deal on reading this letter, and for the first time she despaired of her brother.
Indeed, Jules abandoned himself without restraint to his former passions, he renewed his disastrous liaisons with his dangerous friends. He became a gambler, a debaucher, and, in extraordinary luxury, he quickly dissipated a large part of his fortune. The man who had led him astray was called Urville; I have already told you that he had the most attractive exterior, but that in his heart he nourished an implacable hatred against religion. He was an impious man whom no curb was capable of arresting in the midst of his wanderings; he made a game of everything, believed neither in honor, nor in probity, nor in domestic virtues, nor in social virtues. He was full of wit, and unfortunately he only used it to stigmatize what was most respectable, most holy in the world. He had had great difficulty at first in leading Jules down the wrong path, in getting him to share his principles; it was easier for him to take possession of it, to attach it strongly to himself after the death of Madame de Maure. The intimacy was great as long as they were both rich, as long as they were able to enjoy the same pleasures together and throw their money everywhere with the same prodigality. But when one of them became poor one morning after an orgy; when he saw himself taken away by creditors; when he had neither carriage, nor elegant servants, nor magnificent apartments; when he was reduced to eating the bread of poverty, intimacy was destroyed, friendship disappeared: people no longer wanted to know him.
Jules was the one whom fortune abandoned, whom pleasures reduced to misery. Urville from that moment rejected him, refused him a place at his table, and despised him. Madame de Mauré's guilty son then knew what to do with these friends who seek you out when you are rich, who forget you when you are unhappy. He had time to lament his wanderings, his fatal liaisons which had plunged him into the precipice. Regrets, alas! were late, and he could not repair now the evils which he had incurred for not having wanted to follow the wise advice of his mother and his sister. How his existence then changed! He was no longer that carefree young man, that amiable libertine, that sumptuous dandy, whom society surrounded with consideration and caresses; he was a man of thirty-seven, dressed more than modestly, sad, pale, thin, walking with fear and carefully fleeing those who had so often drawn him into their drawing-rooms, in the midst of their splendid feasts. Jules lived in retirement, without friends, without a comforter. He ate only after having worked all day in his garret, and what resources could his work procure for him? He copied scriptures, and certainly one does not enrich oneself in this painful occupation. For a year, Jules ate his bread, watering it with his tears. He was not lacking in courage, however; but he could not put away the memories of his childhood, of his youth, and these memories tore his heart. He also thought of his mother, his sister, and regretted them bitterly. He had fled his sister, he had enjoined her not to worry him any more, and the tender Sophie had only too obeyed his cruel injunctions. He called her every day now with his tears and his wishes; but she did not hear him. He dared not write to tell her of his misery; his self-esteem recoiled still further from an admission which he regarded as humiliating. In the end, this superb spirit felt overcome by misfortune, his pride abandoned him, he wrote these words to his sister:
“My dear Sophie, your brother is unhappy. He lives in misery and pain: will you not have pity on him? He knows he offended you, that he deserved to be forgotten forever; but he regrets his faults, he has only you to console him. »
Two weeks after this letter was sent, he saw his sister come into his house one morning, dressed in the costume of a nun.
“My brother, she said to him after receiving his embrace, I will not blame you, misfortune has punished you enough. I come to your rescue and tell you that you were not wrong to appeal to my tenderness for you. Your letter was delivered to me thirteen days ago, I was then a novice in a convent of nuns; eight days later I pronounced my vows with joy at the foot of the altars. I then obtained permission to come and kiss you and give you the titles which authorize you to enjoy the greater part of my fortune.
- What! my sister, for me you were not afraid...
— My dear Jules, don't worry; I took the veil because I love solitude and the sweet joys of religion. Take advantage of the goods that I give you with a good heart, and take care not to misuse them. May the lesson you have received from misfortune be useful to you and teach you to flee from dangerous friends. But I promised not to address you in morality; let's talk about something else, and let's know how to pleasantly fill this day, which I can pass with you. »
Jules wanted to express his gratitude to his sister; she stopped him in the midst of his protests, saying to him: "My friend, you will prove your gratitude to me by your actions." Become again what you were, virtuous and Christian. »
When the angel who had saved him from misfortune had left him at the approach of night, Jules gave himself up to transports of the liveliest joy, and then thought of reappearing soon in the world with brilliance. The astonishment that his return caused at first disappeared quickly to give place to the congratulations, to the protestations of devotion and friendship, with which everyone was pleased to overwhelm him. He was fooled by no one, and if he reacquainted himself with his former companions in pleasure, it was only to live in a world he had not been able to forget, but not to spend his newfound riches there madly. He was told that his old friend Urvile had suffered a fate similar to his, and that he had nevertheless succeeded, no one knew how, in earning enough money to still shine in society. This Urville, so contemptible, had the audacity to hasten to compliment Jules on the restoration of his fortune; the latter received him coldly. Urville seemed not to notice it; he continued to visit it, but with the intention of avenging himself cruelly for the contempt shown him on every occasion. Nothing was easier for him than doing harm: enlisted in the hideous militia of political spies, he watched all of Jules' moves, spied on all his actions, and did his best to find a reason to have him arrested. At this time the state was not at peace, a dull agitation threatened the government and gave rise to fears of a dangerous movement. The leaders of the plot that was being hatched in silence were linked with Jules, who frequented them without knowing all their projects. It is true that he suspected the change which was perhaps about to take place; but he had refused, from the first overtures made to him, to interfere in any way in the meditated plot. He therefore had no reason to be frightened by the search of the police; however, he received secret advice one morning to flee as soon as possible, because the plot had been discovered, and they were preparing to make sure of his person. Rightly frightened, he left Paris and took refuge in the provinces, with a person he had known in the past and whom he believed to be safe. This imprudence caused his loss, he was arrested three days later, betrayed by the one in whom he had put his trust. Led to prison, he had to suffer all kinds of suffering until he was judged. He was innocent; the only proofs that could be produced against him consisted of a few political writings, and yet he was regarded as one of the chiefs of the plot, and, succumbing under the clandestine accusations of the infamous Urville and of some persons attached to his ruin, he was sentenced, like the real culprits, to the death penalty. When he learned of the fate reserved for him, all his courage abandoned him; given over to the most violent despair, he accused men of perfidy, he cursed them; he even dared to raise his audacious cries to Heaven. When the first outbursts of his anger were calmed, he fell to the ground moaning, and resolved to starve himself to death. He was in these sad moods when he was informed of the arrival of his sister.
'I was quite sure, my dear Jules, that you weren't guilty; also trust in God, for he is mightier than men. But before he comes to our aid, shouldn't we be reconciled to him?
— Go, my sister, my heart is prepared for repentance. Misfortunes have restored my faith. Religion alone will give me the strength to bear everything; it is she who sends you to me, and this is the sweetest of her benefits for me. Let a minister of the Lord deign to come here, and I will say to him with regret: My father, I have sinned..."
— With what sweet joy you fill my soul, O my beloved brother! Yes, Heaven has heard my prayers, it has listened to the ardent wishes that I never ceased to make for the salvation of your soul. Return to peace with God immediately, we will know how to justify you in the eyes of men long after. »
Jules therefore became a Christian again, and from then on he was happy even at the moment of death. He was soon told that he had only one day to live. He did not utter a single complaint, he did not heave a single sigh; he repeated with the submitted and persecuted innocents: “Lord, your will be done! »
On the eve of the execution, his sister entered her dungeon very joyfully, and said to him, presenting him with women's clothes:
“You have no time to lose, cover yourself with these clothes, then you can get out of here without being arrested; your escape is favored by powerful people. A carriage awaits you outside the city gates, and it is the holy confessor who reconciled you to God who is responsible for guiding you as soon as you set foot outside this prison. »
Jules obeys his sister. When he was ready, he kissed her, shedding tears of tenderness. This holy girl wept too; she said to him: “O my brother! be a true Christian for life, be virtuous, be faithful to the promises made to your God: avoid dangerous liaisons, and you will be happy the rest of your days. »
Jules then moved away and left the prison without encountering the slightest obstacle. He was already far from the city when his sister had the prison doors opened in her turn, for no one dared to detain her for having foiled the plans of the men; she returned in peace to her convent to pray to God for her brother.
Jules had gone to a foreign country. Once in safety, he published several exculpatory memoirs which drew attention to him, but to no avail. He remained six years away from his homeland, constantly imploring justice from his compatriots; it was only after such a long exile that he obtained the revision of his trial; his innocence was recognized, and he was permitted to return to France. He was able to see his sister again, his liberator. She continued to give him excellent advice, which he profited from until the end of his life. From then on misfortune ceased to pursue him, and he lived the happiest of men.
MADAME DE NANTEUIL.
You will remember this story every day, my dear Georges, because soon you will have bad examples before your eyes every day. You know into what abyss these friends without religion, without principles and without frankness are precipitating us; shun them carefully. Remember that true friends are rare; it is a thousand times better to possess only one sincere good than to have several on which one cannot seriously count. Be complacent for your companions, be honest, affable towards everyone, but do not give yourself up to the first comer. Above all, guard your heart from all defilement, and your soul from all criminal thoughts. Let religion always be your guide. Practice it without fear, in front of everyone, because one day you would be a bad soldier if you were a bad Christian. If you need advice, always turn, as much as possible, to your father, to your mother, or to the best of your friends, M. Lecointe, who surrounded your youth with so much care and so much affection. . If you act like this, my dear Georges, you will always be our beloved son; your thought will always be sweet to our hearts, you will be our glory, and, with the tender Ernest and our good Anna, you will be the consolation of our old age. »
Georges threw himself weeping into Madame de Nanteuil's arms. “My mother, he said to her, the words you have just spoken will be etched in my heart forever. Yes, I promise, I will remain, whatever happens, faithful to the principles I have received, and I will always be worthy to be called your son..."
Here ends our winter evenings, young readers. Georges, Ernest and their sister Anna have never forgotten the lessons given to them by their parents and Mr. Lecointe. Georges distinguished himself in the navy, where he held an important post: his principles have always remained the same, and he observes his religion with remarkable fidelity. Those who do not imitate him esteem and cherish him. He has the confidence of his leaders and his equals, and everyone predicts a bright future for him. Ernest is a farmer; he has not left his father's castle. His works prosper, and the inhabitants of the countryside shower him with blessings; because it increases each day the richnesses of the country, it spreads emulation around him, and, by opening ways of communication, it offers to all the laborers the means of flowing easily the products of their grounds. Anna has become a mother; she lives three leagues from her parents, and her husband is the leading farmer in his province. M. and Mme de Nanteuil grow old doing good, and good M. Lecointe is still the father of his parishioners and the comforter of the afflicted.
Young readers, may you take advantage of the advice contained in this book, and you will be as happy as the children of M. de Nanteuil.