Mary or the angel of the earth
by Mlle FANNY DE V***
TOURS: ALFRED MAME AND SON, PUBLISHERS 1871
Piety is useful for everything. St.Paul.
A young traveler. - A happy meeting.
On a beautiful July evening, when a charming coolness replaces the heat of the day, when on all sides the herds return to their stables, and the rays of the setting sun play through the trees even more gracefully than at any time. At another hour, a young girl was walking alone, and with a slow step, the road that led to the village of Semicourt. She looked about eighteen years old. His height, a little above the average, was well proportioned; his gait, frank and easy. Ebony hair shaded his already sunburnt forehead; and eyes of the same shade embellished by their naive and touching expression features otherwise unremarkable for their regularity. Her costume, poor but clean, was that of the young peasant girls of Maine, the province in which she was born.
She was walking, as we have just said, towards the village of Sémicourt, which could be seen at a short distance, when, after casting her eyes to the left, she left the path where she was, and suddenly took a short path that presented itself to her: it was because she had just caught a glimpse in the middle of the tall poplars of a mound of grass on which stood a cross, a pledge of salvation for all, and a source of consolation and hope for sorrowing hearts.
The walk of the young traveler had accelerated since she had seen the sign of our salvation, and she seemed to draw from this sight a redoubled courage. She was heading in that direction like a weary pilgrim hastening his steps as he approaches the asylum where he hopes to enjoy some rest and draw new strength.
Arrived at the top of the hill, she placed beside her the light package which she held in her hand, and, kneeling at the foot of the cross, prayed fervently. She then sat down on the ga-
zon, looked around her sad and worried, and seemed absorbed by painful thoughts. His features, on which youth shone, already bore the imprint of suffering and grief: his pallor was extreme, and his eyes, swollen and downcast, betrayed tears recently shed.
Suddenly she got up, as if a sudden reflection had made her feel the necessity of continuing on her way; but, before leaving this venerated place, she knelt down again and murmured these words: “O my God! have pity on them; console them with your divine grace. Have compassion on me too, and deign to guide my steps in the abandonment in which I find myself on this earth, O Mary! I throw myself into your arms; you have always protected me since I was born: watch over your child, O my tender mother!...”
Her heart filled with sweet confidence, she was getting ready to descend the hill, when turning round she saw that she was not alone, and that a young girl was watching her attentively. This newcomer appeared to be of the same age as our traveller; her hair was chestnut, her eyes blue; his look was usually cheerful and animated; but at this moment his countenance expressed above all a gentle compassion.
She carried a basket filled with freshly picked cherries hanging from her arm, and, motionless in the middle of the path, gazed with interest at the young stranger.
When their eyes met, the first feeling of the two young girls was that of embarrassment. One was confused at having had, without knowing it, any other witness than God to her grief and her tears; the other, to see herself surprised in an examination which might seem indiscreet to the one who was the object of it.
They both blushed, and only thought at first of going away; but after a few moments, the one who had played the role of observer suddenly retraced her steps: she seemed agitated, uncertain, and frequently looked at the stranger, who, on her side, was slowly descending the hill, as if she were would have liked to give his traveling companion time to get away.
What, then, brought this young girl back to her, and what was singular about her costume to excite curiosity in this way? Such were the questions that the poor traveler asked herself inwardly. It was because she did not know the one who seemed to follow her steps; she did not know that curiosity was very foreign to the examination of which she appeared to be the object; that Felicie joined to the most amiable qualities a sensitive and compassionate heart, and that after having seen the tears and heard the sighs she could not make up her mind to go away without having tried to remedy them.
Finally overcoming her shyness, this young girl spoke to the stranger just as she had just left the path that led to the cross. "You look very tired to me," she said gently as she approached him. If you would accept some of these fruits, they would refresh you a little; they are offered to you with a good heart. »
Anyone who had been tempted to doubt the sincerity of these words would have had, to be convinced, only to cast their eyes on the one who uttered them. This is what the stranger did; and though no such suspicion had crossed her mind, on meeting the look of full interest with which Felicie accompanied her offer, she felt a sweet emotion penetrate her heart.
You have to have been alone and neglected on earth, to have seen yourself indifferent to all that breathes around you, to appreciate all the charm of a benevolent word, of a sign of interest. So Felicie, encouraged by the expression of gratitude which shone in her companion's eyes, hastened to forestall any refusal by insisting in the most pressing manner.
'If you go to Semicourt,' she told him, 'here is the road that leads there: it is also mine up to a short distance from the village at least. If you want, we can walk together for a few moments and rest in that little wood over there, where you'll eat my cherries, won't you? she added with a naive and questioning smile.
The young traveler took her hand affectionately, and raising to heaven her eyes wet with tears: “I thank you, O my God! of the consolation you are sending me at this moment. You are the first person, she added, addressing Felicie, who, for the three days that I have been left to myself, has spoken a word of kindness to me. Everywhere I found disdain, indifference and often rejection, accompanied by harsh and offensive expressions. No doubt you also have a good mother, good parents, who taught you to love God; for he alone renders good and charitable as you appear to be.
"I no longer have a mother," continued Felicie, sadly lowering her eyes; two years ago God took her away from us, and she was such as you have just said. But I still have good parents who work to make me like her. »
The conversation thus continued for a few minutes between the two young girls, and, having reached the wood in question, they sat down at the foot of a thick oak, which protected them from the last rays of the setting sun. The fresh and fragrant evening air, the graceful song of the birds, all this smiling and peaceful nature, exerted their gentle influence even on the sad traveller. His melancholy seemed less bitter, his brow regained serenity, and his heart seemed to open to confidence. She could not have explained to herself whence came the difference she felt in her feelings so painful just now; but the secret and so indefinable charm that the Creator, in his infinite goodness, spread over all the wonders that came from his hands, acted on his soul and brought back hope.
The one who was currently sitting next to him could only maintain this sweet impression. She carefully chose the most beautiful cherries, and presented them successively to the stranger with amiable eagerness, while seeming preoccupied with a thought which she seemed afraid to bring to light. However, seeing the stranger ready to leave, Felicie felt that she could no longer put off explaining herself, and said to her: “I don't know you; but nevertheless I would experience great happiness in being useful to you, if that were possible. You are sad, I'm sure of it, don't say the contrary... Didn't I see you praying and crying beside the cross? I will never forget that moment, nor the pain I felt watching you. Now it is impossible for me to leave you alone and desolate, as you seem to be. »
The stranger, for only answer, hugged her new friend to her heart, and, leaning her head on her shoulder, wept for a few moments in silence. Finally she said to him: “I cannot doubt it, it is God, it is Mary my protector who sent you to me; be blessed for the good you have done me, for the good you would like to do to me, and believe that I will never forget you.
"So do you absolutely have to go away?" said Félicie: where are you going so alone, at your age? have you neither parents nor protectors? Forgive these questions; but ... they are not inspired by curiosity, she added, blushing.
- Oh ! I don't doubt it, exclaimed his companion quickly; so I am very grateful; but my story would be too long to tell at this moment, for, see, the night is already coming, and I have no assured asylum yet.
- What do you say ? exclaimed Félibie: oh! don't worry about it, you have one
certain, I promise you: my parents live on a small farm not far from here, and they will receive you with joy, I have no doubt. But you are therefore without support, without family?
"No," replied the stranger; my misfortune is not so great; God has favored me more than a thousand others: I have parents, excellent parents, and it is to support them, to relieve them, that I am forced to distance myself from them. But... be patient, here is the night... We must...
'Listen,' Felicie went on with extreme liveliness, 'I understand everything, we have no time to lose: come with me, I'll answer for the welcome you'll receive. »
The stranger hesitated; she had received such harsh, offensive answers in the houses where, the night before, she had asked for hospitality! Felicie's family might not resemble this excellent young girl; besides, her position, she felt, gave rise to suspicion and justified mistrust.
Felicie, seeing her hesitate, said to her: “Promise me only one thing, and that is not to leave this place before my return, before a quarter of an hour at the most; if by then I do not appear, well and good; but wait until then. Saying these words, she sprang forward lightly, and disappeared among the foliage,
What were the thoughts of the young stranger then? They thronged in his mind, and his heart, full of God's goodness towards her and Felicie's touching ways towards her, overflowed in a way with gratitude and felt the need to express all that he felt. . "My God," she would say, "how great is your kindness!" and how did I deserve it? It was when I thought I was the most abandoned that you send me an angel to console and support me! be a thousand times blessed... O Mary! you have hitherto led your child as if by the hand, do not cease to be her support, and do not allow her to ever forget your benefits. »
A few moments later, Felicie was back with her protegee, who, leaning on her and laden with her light bundle, wasted no time in disappearing down a little path which wound its way through the thick of the wood.
Arrival at the farm.
The farm towards which the two young girls were heading was situated on the opposite edge of the wood in which they had just entered. Everything revealed order, ease and even a kind of research that one does not usually find in simple farmers. The stables, the chicken coops, the manure, often the only ornament of these kinds of dwellings, in a word, everything that could harm cleanliness and offend the eye was relegated to a vast courtyard which was behind the house, and which had its own entrance. Nature seemed to have wanted to favor the inhabitants of this place, and to have taken pleasure in gathering around their modest abode the charms which she ordinarily disseminates in various places. Nothing fresher, more cheerful than the valley at the bottom of which it was situated; nothing more limpid than the stream which crossed it, and which, meandering with rapidity, formed a thousand detours, disappeared and rose constantly through the poplars, willows and birches which shaded its banks.
It was there that the farm of Beauval stood, backing on one side to a wood of hazelnut trees and young oaks, and dominating on the other side a meadow watered by the stream of which we have just spoken. A small orchard full of fruit trees surrounded the house, which was carpeted with jasmine and clematis, and two stately beeches shaded a long stone bench near the door.
It was towards this charming stay that our stranger was advancing, guided by Felicie. Approaching the house, all his shyness reawakened. Unaccustomed to appearing as a supplicant in front of strangers, the idea alone made her heart beat violently. The two young girls finally arrived on the threshold of the door, which was ajar. Night, having fallen completely, would not have allowed her to distinguish anything around her, if a brilliant flame which rose from the chimney had not spread a bright light in the vast kitchen of the farmhouse. At this sight, the memory of the paternal hearth, near which she had once been so impatiently awaited, so tenderly received, crossed for an instant the heart of the young traveller; but she forced herself to push him away, he was overwhelming her too much at the moment.
"Enter without fear, young lady, and be welcome," said an old woman, hoarsely, seated by the fireside; hospitality has never been refused at Beauval, and it will not be for you that we shall begin; but, my child, another time, don't wait so late to seek asylum, you would run a great risk of not finding one. As for this evening, I repeat to you, welcome. »
These words, pronounced with more frankness than gentleness, nevertheless reassured the stranger a little. She approached the old woman, and wished to express her gratitude to her; but she was interrupted at the first words: "Enough, enough, my child, let there be no more question of it." If you are a good and honest person, as I am inclined to believe, we are well rewarded in rendering you service. Then, perceiving the blush that this mere doubt had brought to the pale and downcast features of the young stranger, and fearing to have afflicted her: "Sit down," she said to him kindly, "and while waiting supper, which will not be long, tell me your name, and by what misfortune you wander thus without protection, young as you are. Perhaps I can be of some use to you, and it would really be a good thing.
— My name is Marie, replied the young girl timidly, and it is, I have no doubt, the one whose name I bear who led me under your hospitable roof. »
The simplicity with which these words were pronounced, and the pious accent which animated the voice of poor Marie, seemed to strike the old woman and excite her interest. She inquired about the young girl's parents, their place of residence, the purpose of her journey, and received in a few words the same answers that had been given to Felicie.
Jeanne, as the farmer's wife was called, could not understand how a father and a mother could have resolved to separate themselves from their only daughter, and to allow her to expose herself to a thousand dangers, alone and helpless. She knew, however, that unfortunately there are only too many denatured parents who, ignoring the duties that religion and nature impose on them, attract, by their unworthy conduct towards their children, public contempt and the chastisements of God.
But if it had been so with regard to Marie, his voice would not have trembled with emotion when speaking of his separation from his family; moreover, brought up in such a school, her demeanor and her whole ensemble would not have borne the stamp of virtue and of the loveliest qualities which struck poor Marie.
These reflections were occupying Mother Jeanne, when outside they heard the footsteps of a man approaching, whistling a gay refrain. In spite of his advanced age, the old woman arose at once, and walked to meet him: she joined him just as he was about to enter the house, and, having whispered a word in his ear, led him into the garden.
Marie thought that this new character was part of the family, and that we probably wanted to warn him of the arrival of the stranger, perhaps to communicate to him the conjectures that could be made on his account. The fear that they were not to his advantage, and the shame of undergoing a new examination, came at once to agitate him: his soul, naturally brought up, suffered greatly from the uncertainty of his position with regard to his guests. In the midst of his agitation, his eyes fell on a large black wooden crucifix hanging above the fireplace. This sight then recalled to her heart the pious sentiments which usually constituted her strength, and she inwardly prayed this prayer: “O my God! you who are holiness itself, you were willing, out of love for us, to be calumniated and to suffer the most dreadful outrages; and I, who have so often offended you, would fear humiliation! No, my God, I want to submit to whatever you order. »
This prayer having restored calm to her soul, she cast her eyes around her and examined the room in which she found herself: everything there indicated order and great cleanliness; a bed with curtains of green serge occupied the back of it, and a good armchair, covered with the same material, was placed near the hearth. The fireplace, built as in ancient times, was large enough to hold several people on cold winter evenings, and the rays of the moon, which then entered the room, showed outside the clematis and the jasmine which intertwined around the windows, "How happy I would be," thought Marie inwardly, "if my good parents had such an establishment!" My poor father, who can't get up, why doesn't he have a bed like this to rest his suffering limbs! But let the will of God be done; may he give me the means to relieve my family, and my most ardent wishes will be satisfied.”
At this moment a child of twelve or thirteen entered, and approaching the fire, lit
a candle, then she busied herself with putting the finishing touches to the preparations for supper. She added a new place setting, moved chairs forward and discovered a large pot boiling in front of the fire. She took out a succulent piece of bacon, which she placed on a dish, and surrounded with tasty cabbages, then poured the broth into a soup tureen filled with slices of bread, and then seasoned a lettuce salad, which seemed to complete the dinner.
All these preparations finished, the little girl headed for the garden, to warn those who were walking there that it was time to go home for supper.
Marie then felt all her apprehensions revive; she regretted that Felicie was not with her at this moment, and thought that she had found encouragement in the compassionate looks of this young girl. But, since her arrival at the farm, she had disappeared, and was probably occupied with some care which she could not delay.
At last Mother Jeanne reappeared; she was followed by a tall, vigorous man who looked about forty years old. His features were regular, his eyes lively and piercing, his dark and thick eyebrows, and hair of the same color gave his countenance something rather hard. However, outside were never more deceptive, because this somewhat wild aspect hid a generous heart and an extreme kindness.
This man was the son of mother Jeanne, the owner of the farm, Bernard Dumont, in a nutshell. His reputation as an excellent farmer spread far and wide; and he was considered the most upright and active farmer in the country. To these qualities, which were generally recognized in him, he believed to add another which was not so universally granted to him: he believed himself endowed with an extraordinary penetration, and which, according to him, had never been found wanting. . He had always had a very pronounced confidence in the superiority of his judgment, and this disposition was strengthened in him by the deference which his neighbors showed him. Two or three fools who, according to the prophecy he had pronounced, were to become bad subjects one day, having, in fact, turned out badly, Bernard believed himself from then on infallible in his forecasts and succeeded in communicating this persuasion to those who 'surrounded, so that in more than one cottage in the neighborhood his judgments were regarded as final.
Besides, this little weakness aside, no one was more frank, more disinterested, more joyful.
vial with his friends, more ardent in defending them, more dreaded by the wicked, and more generally loved than Bernard Dumont.
The words he uttered in a low voice, as he followed his mother into the house, were well calculated to justify Marie's conjectures on the subject of their conversation. Fortunately she did not hear them; for his embarrassment would have increased. 'Don't worry,' he whispered in Jeanne's ear, 'I'll soon tell you what's going on; my look is worth another, God
As he entered, he saluted the stranger, and welcomed her in a tone that indicated a mixture of kindness and mistrust. This nuance did not escape Marie, who, confused and troubled, accepted Jeanne's invitation and sat down to table. The meal was a little quiet at first; and each time Marie looked up, she met Bernard's scrutinizing gaze fixed on her. Supper was already quite advanced, and Felicie did not appear. Jeanne often looked in the direction of a door placed at the end of the room, and seemed annoyed at this delay; his countenance, like that of his son, although severe at first sight, revealed, after an attentive examination, a great fund of kindness and even of sensitivity.
Her chair was placed at the high end of the table, and she seemed accustomed to the respect and regard of all around her. Through the ample butterflies of her cap, one could see hair white as snow, forming a thick chignon on her neck, following the fashion of her youth.
"Geneviève," she said, finally breaking the silence, "go and see, my child, what is keeping Félicie like this: her supper will be cold, and we're almost done." »
She addressed these words to the same child who had previously taken care of the preparations for the meal. Marie had been struck by the resemblance of this little girl to Félicie, and had well suspected that they were sisters; but her present position made her so timid that she had not dared to question even this young child. However, the name of Felicie tearing her from the silence she had kept until then, she could not resist the need to bring to light some of the feelings with which her heart was full for her kind protectress. She did so with all the warmth that gratitude can lend to an elevated soul, whose virtuous impressions, still in all their force, have never been altered by the passions, nor by the poisoned breath of the wicked. Her black eyes, hitherto dull and dejected, brightened as she spoke, and finally
paint his whole soul. Gratitude and many other virtues were read there alternatively, and were raised by an expression of candor which could not leave any doubt about their sincerity.
So it was under the double influence of these irresistible charms and of the joy that his father's heart had felt on hearing the praise of his darling daughter, that Bernard, stretching out his large hand across the table, presented her to Marie in saying: "You are, on my faith, an excellent daughter, and I am now as certain of it as if I had known you since you were born. Yes, mother, he said, turning to Jeanne, who was smiling at this abrupt declaration, as soon as I saw her, my judgment was arrested; but, on my word, the examination has spoiled nothing. And now, young lady, excuse me if my first reception was a little cold: the strongest friendships, you see, are not those that are formed in the blink of an eye. Moreover, everyone knows that as Bernard Dumont is at first reserved and rough, he is then good-natured and devoted to those who earn his esteem. But we are friends now; you deserve it, I answer for it; and, thank God, that is something Bernard Dumont guarantees. »
Marie was at first a little bewildered by this singular apostrophe; but afterwards, detecting in the midst of this abrupt frankness the excellent heart and the good intentions of the farmer, she recognized the goodness of God, who, when appearances were so little to his advantage, nevertheless disposed hearts in his favour; and she blesses him internally with this new blessing.
At this moment Genevieve and Felicie appeared. She was flushed and short of breath. "I thought Paul would never calm down," she said as she entered, "he's been crying nonstop for nearly an hour." I sang him my prettiest songs without being able to console him; but finally he is asleep.
"Would he be ill?" exclaimed both father and grandmother; for it is needless to add that Paul was the brother of the two young girls. Bernard's masculine and stern features already expressed his paternal solicitude.
"He's doing wonderfully well," replied Felicie, laughing, and there was nothing but mischief in his cries.
"And who is to blame," replied Bernard cheerfully, "if not the one who spoils him as long as the day lasts?" Also the little funny knows how to take advantage of it, and cry about when he wants a song or a treat. »
It was to Marie that the good farmer addressed these last words; and the tone in which he pronounced them proved that, far from inwardly blaming Felicie's fraternal indulgence, he took pleasure in it and thought he saw in it a new proof of the goodness of his heart.
As for Jeanne, the moment she understood that the child was not ill, she turned to Marie and asked her in a tone full of interest how long ago she had left her parents, and how. side she was going.
Marie replied that three days had already passed since the last time she had kissed her father, her mother and two brothers who were still children. As she spoke these words, her eyes filled with tears, and it was only with difficulty that she overcame her emotion enough to answer the questions addressed to her.
She had, she continued, already covered sixty kilometers since her departure from Romont, the village where her parents lived; and as she was going to Le Mans, she still had eighty kilometers to go; in each place where she had stopped to sleep, she had had to knock on several doors before finding one that opened to receive her. barn was often the only grace she obtained. She had also suffered cruelly from the heat during her long days of walking. Finally, a few hours before, having seen a cross, she had immediately turned in that direction, to ask God for the courage to brave new humiliations and to resign herself to them with patience. She then sat down to take some rest; for her feet, already very swollen, made her suffer a great deal. Then, looking at Felicie with a charming expression of gratitude, "You know the rest," she added, extending her hand affectionately.
Felicie, who felt drawn to this sweet young girl by an irresistible sympathy, leaned towards her and kissed her heartily.
Bernard and old Jeanne contemplated this scene with a tenderness of which they were not masters, and felt even the shadow of their suspicions vanish before the simple and candid gaze of Marie. Putting all reservations aside, they overwhelmed her with marks of interest, and would not allow her to retire for the night before she had engaged to rest several days with them.
Marie, touched to the bottom of her heart by so much kindness and above all so much confidence, added to it herself the promise to inform them the next day of the misfortunes of her family, and the reasons which had determined her to leave it momentarily. . They seemed flattered and satisfied. Felicie, delighted with the favorable feelings her parents showed towards her protegee, observed that it was already late, and that Marie must be very tired. They agreed, and after kindly wishing her a sweet rest, they urged her to follow Felicie, who immediately led her to her little room.
One reached it by a narrow staircase, and it was precisely above that where one had supped. A connecting door led to a closet occupied by Geneviève, where a child's cradle had been taken. It was placed near the window, and the moon, breaking through the branches of jasmine which surrounded it, lit up the peaceful face of the little angel who rested there.
Marie could not take her eyes off this charming child. She felt seized with a kind of respect in thinking that this weak and graceful creature was then the temple of the Holy Spirit; he also seemed to see the tutelary angel of this child watching over him and warding off any danger from the precious deposit entrusted to his care. Completely transported by these thoughts: "My God," she said inwardly, "how great your kindness is for your poor creatures!" Not content with having redeemed them with your blood, you wanted to give them a celestial guide, so that they could walk in safety amidst the pitfalls of life. May this poor little one always be docile to the one under whose wing he is resting at this moment, and may this so pure brow always be, as now, the emblem of the innocence of his heart. »
At that moment Felicie came to join Marie; and, leaning over the cradle, gazed at the child with an almost maternal tenderness; then, after a moment of silence, she said with great emotion: “You see this child, Marie, he has cost us dearly! But you entrusted it to me, oh my good mother! and, as long as she lives, your daughter will justify your confidence. Poor little! he hardly suspects the bitter tears he shed when he entered this world. As she finished these words, she lightly kissed the rosy cheek on which a tear had just fallen. Marie did the same, and they went to Felicie's room. Everything there indicated the same order, the same cleanliness as in Mother Jeanne's room, and the furnishings, although coarse, were those of well-to-do and careful peasants.
Felicie told her new companion that her little brother usually slept in her room, and showed her a sling bed set up in the place usually occupied by the child's cradle. There were two good mattresses there, and they had just been put in sheets as white as snow. Felicie, despite all her desire to enter into conversation with the young traveller, did not want to delay the moment of her rest. Before going to bed, Mary knelt down and prayed for a few moments beside her bed. She knew that the longest prayers are not always the most pleasing to God, and felt the impossibility of prolonging her vigil any longer. But if this prayer was short, how fervent it was! How profound were his outbursts of gratitude, and how touching and filial were his expressions of love! It was with these feelings, and after having invoked Mary, her mother and protector, that she fell asleep for the first time under the hospitable roof of the Beauval farm.
The Dumont family.
The Dumont family was not new to Beauval; For nearly two centuries this farm had passed, from father to son, to successive generations, up to Bernard, who currently owned it. This seniority was regarded in the country as a kind of nobility, and gave the Dumont family a consideration which it justified on many other grounds as well. Probity and honor seemed to be hereditary there, and if, at long intervals, a young man more thoughtless than wicked had alarmed the paternal supervision and caused some anxiety about his future, at least the family had never had to deplore in any of its members a dishonorable fault. Also the most recommendable inhabitants of the village of Sémicourt, located a kilometer from the farm, made it a point of honor to be admitted there on the footing of intimacy.
What had kept the Dumont family for so many years on the path of duty and honor was undoubtedly their respect for religion and their fidelity to observing its precepts; for any virtue which does not have this basis will be fragile and of short duration.
Piety, however, had seen more flourishing days there, and the voluntary practices which it inspires in those whose hearts it fills had been followed in the past with greater accuracy than at the time when our story begins.
Where did this difference come from? Fortunately, it did not come from the inhabitants of this place, neither from a less upright will, nor from less pure intentions; but this disastrous revolution which brought so many evils in its wake had extended its ravages even to this solitary abode. Old Jeanne had barely emerged from childhood when the church of Sémicourt had been pillaged, devastated and forbidden to the piety of the faithful. The minister of the Lord whose voice had so often resounded in this temple, who had touched so many hardened hearts there, consoled so many afflicted, supported and strengthened so many virtues still tottering, this venerable minister had also disappeared. His divine Master no doubt wanted to add to the rewards he reserved for him at the end of this long career entirely devoted to his glory, the crown of martyrdom, and he obtained it on the very day when three hundred of his colleagues perished under the sword. revolutionary. The country therefore remained, in religious respect, in a state of complete abandonment, and that for many years. Consequently, the youth then rising knew of their obligations to God only what could be taught to them by Christian parents. Several children had the happiness of finding in their fathers and mothers the advice and examples which were to make them know the path of virtue and encourage them to walk it. Among this number was Jeanne, who belonged to a truly Christian family; but if the instructions which were given to her at that disastrous period taught her to respect religion and to obey its laws, the agitation and turmoil in the midst of which she received them harmed the numerous fruits which she might have derived from them in her life. other circumstances. Indeed, how could she have understood all the happiness there is in visiting Our Lord in his tabernacle, in paying him our homage, in expressing our love to him, in explaining to him our needs and our miseries, she who since her childhood had not been able to penetrate into its temples, she who was unaware of the consolations which he knows how to spread in the hearts which come to seek them from him, she finally who had never heard his ineffable goodness exalted by those voices which received from Heaven itself the mission of enlightening and touching hearts.
Thus, deprived of these precious resources which so many others abuse, she could not taste all the sweetness of the Lord's yoke. Nevertheless, true to the portion of grace she had received, Joan constantly practiced what she had known from her duties. As the abuse of graces attracts on the soul which is guilty of them the abandonment of Him who acquired them for it at the price of his blood, so the fidelity to correspond to them obtains new and even more precious ones. Let's hope that this happiness will one day be shared by Jeanne and her family.
Married, at the height of the revolution, to a brave man from Semicourt, Jeanne brought up her children as well as she could, and inculcated in them the principles which she had received herself; they had the same results for them, but did not lead them further in the paths of piety. How could it have been otherwise? On all sides, and for many years, the churches had been returned to worship, while that of Sémicourt had remained closed. No minister of religion had replaced him who had once so gloriously picked the palm of martyrdom, and those of the faithful who still wished to participate in the holy mysteries were forced to travel a considerable distance to arrive at this desired end. Although the parish of Sémicourt suffered greatly from the abandonment in which it found itself, and the holy prelate of the diocese to which it belonged had ardently desired to remedy the evil, nevertheless he had not yet been able to do so. Too many evangelical workers had been harvested by the revolutionary scythe for him to be able to send them wherever he was needed.
Finally, after a long wait, the inhabitants of Sémicourt had the joy of seeing a worthy pastor arrive among them. Unfortunately his numerous infirmities, even more than his great age, harmed the good he wished to achieve; his old age was prolonged beyond the ordinary term, and, when he died, the principal inhabitants of the country united to conjure their bishop to grant them a priest who could repair the disastrous consequences of so many years of abandonment.
Their prayer was not in vain: a pious and zealous priest, still in the prime of life, was sent to them, and he had been installed only a few weeks when the events of which we have just spoken took place on the farm.
But back to Mary. The next day, when she opened her eyes, the sun was already shining through the windows; she had slept all night, and was for a few moments remembering the incidents of the previous day, and even the place where she was then. As soon as she had collected her ideas, her heart rose to God with a lively feeling of love and gratitude. Then looking for Felicie with her eyes, she noticed with surprise that she had already disappeared. She then feared that it was getting late, and remembering that it was Sunday, she prepared to get up and then go to mass. At this moment the door opened, and Felicie appeared, a smile on her lips; in both hands she held a large terrine filled with lukewarm water which exhaled a thousand aromatic perfumes.
“And why are you in such a hurry? she said cheerfully to Marie. Oh! I see, it's the fear of missing mass that sets you on the move so early. But don't you know that it's still only six o'clock, and that it won't be said before nine-thirty? You see that we have time before us, and to use it usefully, you are going to begin by bathing your bruised feet; such is the prescription of my grandmother, who has always used this remedy with success when she was more tired than usual. Saying these words, Felicie placed the vase beside the bed, and with a light leap sat down beside Marie, who thanked her a thousand times for the kind attentions with which she had showered her since their first meeting.
"Above all, don't think I'm better than I am," Felicie went on quickly; it is far from being, I assure you, that I am like that for everyone. No, it wasn't just because you looked sad and tired that I tried to console you, but because, you see, as soon as I saw you, I loved you. Besides, I'm not the only one here, and I know what my mother was saying this morning,” she added in an affectionate tone with an air of childish mystery. She then told him that her father had gone with Genevieve to Furmy, a large town four kilometers from the village, where two masses were said on Sundays, one at seven o'clock. He wanted to be back in time to stay with his mother, who had been suffering from severe rheumatism for eight days and could not go to the church at Semicourt that day. Geneviève had to look after her little brother during the service, whose noise greatly tired Jeanne when she was inconvenienced.
While talking thus, Marie bathed her feet in the water prepared by her young hostess, and soon she felt them refreshed and rested. Felicie, delighted with the success of her treatment, left her to take care of her father's lunch, who would doubtless need it when he returned from his morning run.
Half an hour later, Marie went down to the room where they had supped the night before. Jeanne, tired from a long night of agitation and insomnia, had felt in a hurry to leave this bed where she had suffered so much; and, already up and dressed, she was occupying her big armchair by the fireplace. Despite the beauty of the season, her limbs, numb with age, felt the warmth of the hearth with pleasure. The room was made, the table laid, and an enormous pan full of milk was heating on a stove placed between the two windows. One of them, a little open, let in the perfume of the flowers, all still laden with the morning dew; the rising sun shone through the foliage of the garden, and enlivened everything by its presence.
Félicie, active and satisfied, went from one detail to another, and seemed to have devoted all her happiness to contributing to the well-being of her family. All the good order that reigned in the house was the fruit of her care, from the table so well cleaned to the bonnet pleated with such perfection and placed by her on the venerated head of her grandmother.
“I believe,” said Marie as she entered, “I heard the little one wake up; but I did not want to introduce myself to him, for fear that the sight of a stranger would frighten him and make him cry.
'If that were so,' Jeanne went on cheerfully, extending her hand to him kindly, 'one could say that the little brat would be the only one who would not see you here with pleasure; it is I who tell you, young lady; and when Mother Jeanne speaks, everyone knows that one can believe her. And the poor feet, how are they? I'm not talking about the night; because I know it was good. »
Felicie had disappeared during this speech, and Marie, sitting down beside Jeanne, thanked her for her interest and care. The conversation then fell on Felicie, and Jeanne spoke of her granddaughter in such a way as to fully confirm the good opinion Marie had at first formed of her. They were interrupted by the return of Bernard and his little companion. He approached Marie with the same cordiality that he had shown her the night before when he left her. Little by little Genevieve, overcoming her timidity, approached the stranger (that is what she called her), and tried to prove to her by her friendly manners that she too saw her with pleasure in the house; then, as all children quickly become familiar: "You are so beautiful today," she said, looking at her naively from head to foot, "that I hardly recognized you at first." »
Marie smiled, and, to put an end to an examination which dealt in detail with each article of her toilette, she urged her to go and ask her sister if it was not soon time to go to church.
The child went out, and Marie, wanting to leave her guests a little freedom, went into the garden to breathe the morning air.
"At last we shall know her story," exclaimed Bernard, watching her walk away. My faith! he added in a tone of interest, this child has something in her air which I cannot explain, and which is unlike anything I have seen before.
"What is singular, Bernard," resumed Mother Jeanne, "is that I have lived longer than you, my friend, and I can say the same about this young girl." I have seen (although in small numbers) such gentle, such modest ones; but this angelic gaze, I have never met it.
"Not to mention," resumed Bernard, "that with all this gentleness the little person has a certain
an imposing air; I would not advise our young starlings to say anything to her that she should not hear; I don't think they would be well received. »
This reflection brings Jeanne back to the singularity of the circumstances in which Marie found herself placed: “All of this, she says, makes it more inexplicable to me the sort of abandonment in which we see her. She didn't look miserable; nothing about his person announces indigence; see how neat and nice she is in her Sunday clothes. »
At this moment the young girl was crossing one of the little paths in the garden, and the dazzling red of the apron which almost entirely surrounded her delicate waist, her snow-white bonnet, a large white neckerchief too, a dress of a dark color, but still very fresh, all this exterior was far from giving the idea of misery. On his chest shone a golden cross suspended from his neck by a little black ribbon; this cross, which only appeared on fine days, was the gift of her mother, who had carried it throughout her youth: that is to say how dear she was to Mary.
Lunch over, the two girls went to church. It was the first time since leaving Romont that Mary had entered a temple of the Lord. The thought of
august mysteries to which she was about to assist occupied at first her entire attention, and plunged her into deep recollection; but then turning back to this family which she had left so desolate, so dejected, she poured out her heart before the Lord with the touching simplicity of a child who speaks of his sorrows to a good father. She explained to him her regrets, her forecasts, her alarms, and joined to them the ardent prayer never to forget, in whatever circumstances she might find herself, neither the benefits of her God, nor the duties which they imposed on her. . Oh ! How sweet were the tears she shed while praying thus! how they relieved his oppressed heart! It is that as these humble supplications ascended to heaven, the soul of the pious child was filled with an ineffable feeling of peace and hope.
However, on returning to her home, a painful reflection mingled with the inner satisfaction she felt: Félicie, so good, so compassionate; Félicie, whom she had endowed in her heart with all the virtues of her age, she had just seen him with pain, Félicie was not pious! Several times, during the divine mysteries, his wandering and distracted glances had astonished his companion; then, on the way, numerous remarks about all the people who had been in the church proved to Marie that her new friend's attention had been directed to everything except the one object which should have fixed her. This discovery distressed him. She no longer felt the same confidence in Felicie's amiable qualities, and at least feared that, deprived of the only basis which could have made them solid, they would not later resist the dangerous seduction of bad examples. But, seizing keenly on a thought which excused her young protectress; Oh! If, like me, she said to herself, she had had a saint to instruct and advise her, her heart, so good, so compassionate for creatures, would not have remained indifferent with regard to her God. ! His divine word would have borne abundant fruit there, while mine has often been nothing but barren and sterile ground in which it has come to bury itself. If Félicie cannot yet be counted among the faithful servants of the Lord, at least, I am sure of it, she has not abused his graces. How happy I would be, oh my God! if only I could make you known to this heart so worthy of you, and thus render to it a hundredfold the good that it wished to do me.
Far from feeling cold for this amiable girl, towards whom gratitude drew her, the most tender charity came to unite with all the feelings she already inspired in her, and she was distressed to think that her stay with 'it wouldn't last long enough for her to be of as much use to him as she would have liked.
Let's pass quickly over this day, and come to the moment which preceded supper, and when the whole family reunited reminded Marie of the promise she had made the day before. She began without further delay the account of the various events which had brought about the ruin of her family and of the misfortunes which still weighed on her. Unable to render natural the naive and touching language in which her whole soul painted itself, we will, in the following chapter, make a short summary of what she taught her new friends during this evening.
Story of Mary.
The mother of our heroine, Marcelline Dupont, was the seventh child of Marguerite Dupont, a rich farmer, who had brought up her large family in the fear of God and the love of virtue. Marcelline never knew her father, who died when she was only two years old; of his five brothers, four were buried in the snows of Russia; the youngest, preserved by his age from such a fate, had remained with his mother, and provided, as well as his two daughters, all his consolation. This mother, made fearful by the painful losses she had already suffered, always dreaded new misfortunes, and was not at peace until she saw around her her three children, on whom all her affections were then concentrated.
A short distance from the village of Romont, inhabited by this family, was a house of these venerable daughters of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, who divide all their time between the instruction of children and the care of the sick. Like so many other religious establishments, this one had been the target of revolutionary fury, and the holy daughters had been forced to leave the cherished asylum which separated them from a world whose corruption and nothingness. Thus forced to abandon their peaceful retreat, those of them who still had relatives sought refuge with them from the dangers that threatened them. Among these angels ready to disperse themselves in the world to go and pay him in benefits for the evils with which he had overwhelmed them, was a still young nun, named Sister Beatrix; she added to the sweetest virtues the sentiment which forms and nourishes them, a piety at once profound and enlightened. Following a violent illness she had fallen into a state of languor for which no remedy could be found, and for several years skilful doctors had given up on a cure which seemed to them beyond all power. human.
Orphaned almost from birth, all she had left, in a distant province, were parents who were very uncomfortable; she therefore found herself, as a result of the misfortunes of that time, without resources and without asylum; but He in whom she had placed all her confidence did not fail her at the moment of her ordeal: he raised up for her among her most honorable servants a support and a consoler. Marguerite Dupont, led, apparently by chance, near the nuns' house the day it was invaded, witnessed the distress of the poor nun, and conjured her to accept an asylum in her house. Her words and the expression that accompanied them announced such a lively faith, such a great respect for the holy state of the one she wanted to receive, that she seemed, the worthy woman, to ask for a favor rather than to grant it. Sister Béatrix, touched to the bottom of her heart by his charitable and pressing solicitations, accepted them with tender gratitude, and, supported by the widow Dupont, went to her modest residence. To say with what respect, with what care she was surrounded there, would be too long a task. Marguerite had not deceived herself in believing that the presence of this angel would attract all the blessings of Heaven to her house, and the charity which had associated Beatrix with her family was rewarded a hundredfold from this world.
Let us quickly pass over the ten years which then passed; it will be enough for us to say
that during this time Sister Beatrix was the counsel, the support, the consolation of all, and became as necessary to the happiness of her guests as she was herself happy with their care and devotion.
However, the moment came when Marguerite, overwhelmed with various infirmities, felt that she was approaching her end, and divided her property among her three children, after having settled them properly. Marcelline, his youngest daughter, married a weaver who was not very fortunate, but whose religious principles, character and conduct were to ensure his happiness. She obtained from Sister Beatrix the promise of settling down with her when her poor mother had left this vale of tears and misery, and believed that she had thus secured the most precious part of her inheritance. It was, indeed, a great favor that she had asked for, for this favor was coveted by her brother and sister as well as by herself; so she recognized the full value of it.
If we were astonished that the worthy sister was not, in the calmer times which followed the revolutionary storm, returned to the holy functions which she had been forced to interrupt, let us recall the state of suffering and languor in which she was reduced, and which made it impossible for her to follow in this respect the dearest wishes of her heart.
Often pained to find herself the burden of people who were not well off, and whose only fortune was their work, she offered to God this affliction and the kind of humiliation which was sometimes mingled with it; then she consoled herself by spreading around her treasures of a different nature, it is true, but much more precious; for these were eternal goods which she helped her guests to amass, by her gentle and pious advice as much as by her examples.
However Marcelline, to her great regret, had separated from her mother immediately after her marriage, and had gone to live with Joseph Perrin, her husband, in the little house which he owned, and which, joined to a fairly large garden , with two beautiful cows, a fairly well-furnished poultry yard, and a small field situated at a short distance, made up their whole fortune. It was there that, living by the love of God and their duties, they spent a few happy years, united by the bonds of tender affection, which the birth of three children had come to tighten. Marie, our heroine, was the eldest.
His father, diligent at work, cultivated his garden, and every week went to the market in the neighboring town to bring his fruits and vegetables. Marcelline looked after the young children, as well as her household, and their life passed peacefully in innocence and frugal ease. But a constant happiness is not made for this world, and even less for the beloved children of the God who knocks only to save, and only tries to reward with eternal joys the tears shed with humble resignation. .
The first affliction of these pious spouses was the death of Marguerite, beloved as well as respected by her children; and the consolation brought to them by the arrival under their roof of the worthy Sister Beatrix did not prevent them from feeling bitterly such a painful separation. Shortly afterwards they lost their eldest son, aged six, who was very dear to them. Oh ! how useful the consoling angel they possessed was to them in these distressing circumstances! He knew the way to their hearts, and knew how to penetrate there with the balm which was to soften their sorrows. Finally, to shorten this story, which we extend almost as much as Marie, whose most tender memories it awakened, we will only say that brought up under the eyes of Sister Beatrix, instructed and formed by her, constant object of her care and her zeal, this young girl acquired all the qualities which might seem above her extreme youth and the humble situation in which she was placed in this world. Not only had her heart, so pure, so innocent, like a sapling cultivated with care, had borne the most precious fruits, but her mind had also acquired, in the constant company of a truly superior woman, a breadth and an exactness. very rare ideas at any age and in all conditions.
Marie had reached her seventeenth year, when misfortune again came to visit her family. His father, whose health had always been robust, was attacked by an illness the violence of which gave great alarm to his life; he received in his family the most assiduous and tender care. At last the prayers of his children and of his wife were heard and answered; he was restored to life; but his convalescence was long. A long suspension of work and the expenses necessitated by illness brought hardship into the household: a portion of the little field was forced to be sold to pay off debts which had accumulated and to provide for daily expenses. The unfortunate father of the family went back to work too soon i and a stormy rain that surprised him just as he was returning overwhelmed with sweat and fatigue again laid him on a bed of pain, but this time for an indefinite time. A rheumatism joined other sufferings, and deprived him of the use of his arms. He was even less afflicted by his ills than by those they brought upon his family. They successively sold all that they possessed, and the garden became the sole resource of these unfortunates. Georges, the eldest son, fourteen years old, worked with a courage beyond his age and even his strength, but could not meet everyone's needs. Poor Marcelline devoted all her time to the care required by her sick husband and a last child who was only fifteen months old.
In the midst of this disaster, Sister Beatrix, who suffered cruelly at seeing that she added by her presence to the very heavy burdens of this poor family, made vain efforts to obtain permission to leave her; nothing could have made his friends consent to this separation. She was for them what the evening star is for the sailor when the storm threatens him, a hope and a pledge of salvation.
One morning, Mary, returning from church, where she had prayed fervently to know what God was asking of her in this painful extremity, rolled around in her head an idea which she regarded as an inspiration from this mother of mercy in whom she had such touching confidence. When the family was assembled to take the frugal morning meal together, she announced that she had a proposal to make, and begged her parents not to reject it until she had fully explained to them her motives and her hopes. After explaining the demands of the present situation, the delicacy of her temperament, which prevented her from giving herself up to work in the countryside, she reminded her father that he had a sister in Le Mans whom he had often spoken to her about; perhaps she could become a protector for her, and procure for her in this town the means of being useful to her family by her work. The time had come, she said, to show them her gratitude for the care and tenderness with which she had been showered, and she would die of grief if she had to remain a useless witness to their distress and their sufferings. Then anticipating the objections so natural to their solicitude on the dangers she might run in this new situation, and pointing to Sister Beatrix, who was looking at her tenderly: "Don't worry," she said to them; it will not be in vain that she will have taught me to know my God and to taste the sweetness of his yoke; perhaps he only allowed me to be so well instructed in his holy law because he reserved me for particular combats and trials. Besides, it was at Marie's feet that this thought came to me; if she inspired it in me, it can only be for our greater good. »
We will pass over in silence the alarms of Marie's mother, and the objections she raised against her plan, the anguish of the poor father, whose condition necessitated this terrible sacrifice, and those of the venerable sister who cherished her as her own. daughter.
Her courage and filial tenderness overcame all difficulties. They wrote to her aunt, and a fortnight after this morning which we have just described, Marie, provided with a small packet in which her mother had enclosed what was best for her, and with a sum no less we had taken for the needs of the road, entered one morning in the patient's room. On her knees beside this bed of suffering, she felt her father's burning and wasted hand stretch out on her forehead and call upon it heavenly blessings. Through her sobs and those of her dear parents, she received with their last advice those of Sister Beatrix, who was for her a second mother; and, tearing herself away at last from the arms which embraced her so tenderly, she rushed towards the door. As she closed it, she heard her excellent mother exclaim: “O holy Mother of God, it is to you that I commend it; all my confidence is in your powerful protection. »
"She won't be disappointed," whispered the poor child.
We too will repeat with her: What can we fear for her who leaves under the auspices of Mary?
Marie settles on the farm.
As Marie finished the last words of her story, she felt herself drawn into the arms of Mother Jeanne, and noticed that tears were rolling in the eyelids of the excellent woman. “Dear child! she exclaimed, pressing her to her heart; Oh ! why can't we read hearts, and thus avoid afflicting those who so little deserve to be so! But rest easy, my child, a father's blessing always brings good luck, and the one you received from yours when you sacrificed everything for him has already been confirmed in heaven."
While Jeanne was talking thus, Felicie kissed her companion without saying a word to her; for she saw clearly that she would strive in vain to repress the strong feelings aroused in Marie's heart by the story she had just told. In spite of her efforts, abundant tears escaped from her eyes, while she shook Felicie's hand affectionately, to make her understand that in the midst of her affliction she was not insensitive to the sweet sympathy that she this testified to him.
At this moment Bernard, who more than once during his narration had seemed touched, and who since it was finished seemed to be thinking deeply, suddenly rose and, going straight to Marie, expressed to her with the sudden frankness which characterized him by the interest she had inspired in him. A thought had occurred to him, he added, and, if it could be serialized, it would be for the happiness and benefit of all. Why would Marie go further? She only wanted to use her time to be able to help her parents. Well, for a long time he had wanted to find a reliable person who could help Felicie with the housework and the barnyard: if she wanted to stay with them, he wouldn't. would not offer him large wages, in truth; but at Le Mans she wouldn't find any either, being still so young and never having served. Besides, Mother Jeanne's infirmities increased every day, and he would be delighted to know Marie with her during the moments when Felicie was obliged to leave her to supervise all the details with which she was responsible. He dwelt at length on the advantages which this arrangement would have for everyone, thus wishing to remove from Marie the fear of being rather held back by compassion and charity than by a real need of her services.
"Well, young lady," he said, ending his speech, "you seem to me completely seized of my offer: if you don't like it, assume that I haven't said anything." God knows, however, that I would have great regret. But it's not about that, it has to suit you: you're too tired now to be able to think about it, tomorrow you'll give me an answer. Poor child! there she is, red as a beet, and her eyes as big as a fist. Go and take some air in the garden while waiting for supper; it will clarify your ideas. »
Marie got up to follow a piece of advice which she felt was useful. Felicie wanted to accompany him; but his father and Jeanne prevented him. "Leave her alone, my child," said her grandmother to her; you would like, I see, to make her understand how much you want her to stay with us; but it is useless; she must know what to expect from that. »
Marie cast a look full of gratitude at the reunited family, and went out, wiping her eyes still bathed in tears. On entering the garden, she followed a small path which led to the edge of the water, and sat down on a bench placed at the end of the enclosure. There his deliberation was not long. She saw at a glance that Bernard's proposal brought together everything she would have hardly dared to hope for in her most flattering dreams. In fact, this journey so long and so tiring that he still had to make, it is over; these embarrassments, these dangers which threatened her way, she need fear no longer; this unknown aunt, perhaps deprived of the means of being useful to him, perhaps indifferent to his pain, she will not be forced to tell him of her misery, and to importune him to arouse his compassion. She was spared all these trials, and it was no doubt the submission with which she had accepted them in advance that earned her this new proof of God's goodness towards her: for this mercy is so great that he is willing to accept the sacrifice of our repugnance, notwithstanding our powerlessness to escape his decrees.
Here, then, is Marie admitted into an honest family, where, according to the most ardent wish of her poor parents, she will be sheltered from all danger, and where she will earn, by work without fatigue beyond her strength, enough to relieve a suffering father, an exhausted mother, all those finally whom she left with so much pain. This is not all yet: a gentle and amiable companion will come to lighten his sorrows by sympathizing with them, and to supplement in some way the advantages which his new position presents to him. Raising her eyes to heaven in the outpouring of her gratitude: “O Mary! she exclaimed, O my mother! what have I done to make you protect me in such a special way? Since I left my father's house, you have led me as if by the hand. May you be blessed a thousand times, and also protect the generous and hospitable family that welcomes me. »
Mary then gets up, and, as she walks towards the house, remembers the indifference which she thought she noticed as a new companion in the service of God; her heart, full of a charity that still animates her deep gratitude, forms sweet and pious projects for the future, on which she calls the blessings of her powerful patroness and her divine son,
I will not paint the way in which Marie's consent to Bernard's proposals was received on the farm,
The reader now knows the characters of our story well enough to supplement what we would say about them. I will only say that the supper was very gay, and that before leaving the table Bernard, having a bottle brought of a certain wine which was tasted only on great occasions, drank and gave everyone a drink to welcome the Marie, to the recovery of her good father and to that, even less likely, of the venerable sister Béatrix,
" Oh! exclaimed Marie, hearing this last health, if you believe me worthy of any interest, it is indeed to her that I have the obligation; and when I owe her only good friends like you, what rights would she not have to my gratitude! »
Everyone was touched by these words and the accent that animated them. It was in these reciprocal sentiments that the evening passed; then they withdrew, with joyful hearts, to enjoy the rest of the night.
Mother Jeanne had not been the least satisfied with the arrangements concluded between Bernard and Marie; for she had been able to quickly discern the merit and qualities of this young girl, Jeanne joined to a lot of intelligence a fund of penetration and originality which would have made her quite remarkable if education had come to develop and extend her natural faculties; but, deprived of all culture, her mind, as often happens, was imbued with a thousand false ideas, a thousand prejudices, the absurdity of which she could not feel. For example, instructed only in the general precepts of religion, she only knew piety by name, or from ignorant people who sometimes seem to have taken it upon themselves to disfigure it by the ridiculous manner in which they practice it. Jeanne imagined that it belonged only to people who have nothing else to do but run from church to church and spend hours there in prayer which they would not be able to use otherwise. And what use would that be to them? Was such a person who would not have wanted to break a certain pious practice more charitable, kinder to his family, more hard-working, less vain? Not at all: often on her return from church, where she had spent hours demanded by her duties as a mother or a wife, she disturbed the interior of her household by the sourness of her words. From these true or false examples, but always reported by malignity, Jeanne, without further examination, had concluded that
religion should be known and respected by all, but care should be taken not to let the heads of young people be exalted on this point. The poor woman, whose ignorance was the best excuse, repeated in good faith against piety the reproaches addressed to her, with perfidious intentions, by the enemies of all good and of all religion. If she had known how to use her judgment, she would have easily understood that a thing so excellent in itself may well be disfigured in certain cases, but that deep down it always remains what it really is, beautiful, admirable, in a word, always herself. The painting of a great master covered with a light veil, placed in an unfavorable light, is it not always a masterpiece, although one cannot momentarily appreciate the work? In the same way true piety, source of so much good, insurmountable rampart against evil, strength, light, consolation, life of the faithful soul, will nonetheless be an invaluable treasure, although vulgar souls or narrow minds in misunderstand the divine inspirations. Let them know, however, those who, by an insane alloy, unite the most sublime practices of Christianity with faults that reason alone should have reformed in them, let them know it well, they will answer before God for the errors of these souls. weak or ignorant whom their examples have scandalized and estranged from religion.
As we have just seen, Jeanne, unfortunately witness to these deplorable abuses, never having had the happiness of knowing true piety, nourished against the phantom to which she gave the name of it the most absurd prejudices, and yet her upright intentions and her heart drawn to good made her more apt than any other to appreciate its sweetness and charm. , who feared to find her more disposed to go to church than to occupy herself with the cares which were to be confided to her. What was his astonishment, then, during the first days following his admission to the farm, to see the indefatigable ardor of this young girl for work, her activity in carrying out her various employments, her constant eagerness to oblige all world, to repair an oversight, to make up for an oversight! She herself. sometimes asked what could give this child the serenity that shone on her brow, is this evenness of character that nothing could alter. She knew very well that the happiest nature does not protect against a few variations of mood; for Felicie herself, though generally gentle and kind, had her difficult moments. Jeanne, until then convinced that nothing could be compared to her granddaughter, noticed every day that the parallel between Marie and Félicie was always to the advantage of the former. This enigma of which we have the word, she could not guess it; for she did not know that the dissimilarity which existed between them on a single point explained quite naturally what seemed to her inexplicable. Felicie had been just as fortunately endowed by nature as her pious companion; but this epithet, which she so well deserved, contained the secret charm whose marvelous influence somehow perfumed all her actions, while the natural virtues of Felicie resembled those wild plants whose colors are vivid and whose form is graceful, but which exhale no perfume, and whose fragile stem, deprived of nourishing juices, threatens to fall at the slightest wind.
The affection which had first arisen between the two young girls had always been growing; and although Marie, well aware that she would not be understood, never poured out her heart with Felicie on all that filled it, nevertheless she found sweet consolations in his intimacy. She constantly received from him the marks of a true friendship and an unlimited confidence; for, without yet imitating her companion, Felicie could not tire of admiring her virtues, so simple, mingled with so much candor and gaiety. Marie did not have that dark and austere piety, fit to inspire only disgust: accessible to all the innocent pleasures of her age, no one indulged in it with more abandon and no longer mixed playfulness with it. . A walk on Sunday, a story at the wake, a surprise prepared for Jeanne for her birthday, everything enchanted her, and, the peace of a pure conscience adding to her natural gaiety, made this virtuous child a true image of happiness. .
It was because Sister Beatrix had taught him to offer to the Lord not only his sorrows and his trials, but also his pleasures; she had often repeated that he would deign to accept her homage, and that she must at all times of her life be under his eyes as under those of a tender father, who watches with a benevolent eye the innocent games of their children. It was still the worthy sister who had taught him that the surest way to honor God and to please him is to faithfully fulfill the duties of his state, and that the most consoling practices of piety would have no price in his eyes, if, in order to indulge in it, we omitted the obligations which he himself had imposed by placing us in such and such a situation. She had also warned her against the danger of overloading herself, in moments of exaggerated fervor, with too great a multitude of pious habits, which sometimes tire, and are then abandoned with a kind of remorse that is always unfortunate. to overcome; but, wishing to make him avoid another no less dangerous snag, which would have been the negligence of his religious exercises, she had traced for him a rule of life so simple and easy, that it could not become burdensome to follow in any position. She therefore demanded boundless exactness and fidelity on this point; for she knew that if one allows oneself to be suppressed by a sort of spiritual laziness, which is a very dangerous temptation, sometimes one practice, sometimes another, indifference insensibly creeps into the heart, prayer is neglected, and this rampart, behind which a pious soul was sheltered from the darts of the enemy, crumbles and leaves it defenseless exposed to his blows.
Marie, protected by her holy governess against these various dangers, walked
not in the way of salvation, and but for the estrangement of her dear parents, which weighed heavily on her heart, she would have found herself perfectly happy in her new position,
We have omitted to say, what the reader has no doubt guessed, that as soon as she settled on the farm, Marie hastened to inform her family of the new mark of protection she had received from Heaven. A response from Sister Beatrix, the only one who could maintain their correspondence, was filled with expressions of touching gratitude and the most salutary advice; then she informed him that his father, revived by the happy outcome of his darling daughter's trip, had experienced a perceptible improvement in his health, without, however, it was still possible to foresee the moment when he would resume his work, which was the object of all his wishes.
Félicie's young neighbor.
Three months had passed since Marie's arrival at the farm, and every day we appreciate her.
was talking more. From the grandmother to little Paul, who seemed as happy in her arms as in those of Felicie, everyone loved her; for her part, Marie became more and more attached to this good family, to which she owed such a pleasant existence; but an unmixed happiness could not be the share of a soul as privileged as his, and his divine Master wished, by temporarily associating him with his cross, to offer him new merits to collect. It was from the side where she least expected it that a blow came which hurt her sensibly; but to instruct the reader, it is necessary to take the story a little higher, and introduce here a new character whom we are going to introduce to him.
About six weeks before Marie's arrival, the young girls of Sémicourt had seen a companion return to their midst from whom they had been separated for several years: it was Alexandrine Gerard. She was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, who, widowed since the birth of this child, had attached himself to her as the only tie that remained to him. He had brought her up as best he could until the age of twelve; but at that time a fairly considerable and unexpected inheritance came to change his position and pride entered his heart after riches. He was no longer occupied except with the care of making disappear whatever might recall his first condition; he had a pretty house built at the end of the village, surrounded it with a beautiful garden, took on a servant to take care of his household, and the tailor of the nearest town effected a notable change in his toilet. Established in his new home, he only deigned to see the rich farmers of the village and the surrounding area; yet he received them with an air of haughtiness and importance which, unwittingly, covered him with ridicule: so true is it that pride, blind in its own interests, almost always delivers its slaves not only to hatred of God, but still in contempt of men! As for M. Gérard, for then one should not have forgotten to call him that, he resolved to give his daughter an education analogous to his position, and wanted her to surpass all her former friends by her education and his talents. He did not know, the fool, that he was digging with his hands the abyss into which his happiness and that of his daughter would be swallowed up.
Instead of bringing her up in the simplicity of her first state, and above all of instilling in her the religious principles which alone could fix her in the good, he imagined placing her at N***, in a rather badly run boarding school, and where she soon lost the few good dispositions
that she owned. If she did not acquire a single knowledge there that could have been useful to her, she learned on the other hand a thousand things which she would have been happy not to know. The mercenaries to whom she and her young companions were entrusted had undertaken the task, so noble in itself and so interesting, of enlightening the youth, except with views of sordid interest. Once this goal was achieved, they saw the faults of their pupils with great indifference, and too often even did not hesitate to flatter their vanity and their bad inclinations, when they could hope for some fruit from their base complaisance. Those, for example, whose parents were rich, and whose generosity could be useful to them, were certain to find themselves beyond reproach, and to be habitually the objects of marked preference and adulation. . Alexandrine, thanks to her father's fortune and the ease with which he let her dip into his purse, was not long in being among the privileged ones, which can give the reader a fair idea of the education she received. she received. We will not go into any detail in this respect, and we will draw the curtain on a repulsive picture; for if there is anything odious in this world which seems to defy the mercy of God, it is the conduct of those who, by perishing themselves, drag into their ruin the innocent souls entrusted to their custody. . They will be asked for a rigorous account of it by Him who said: “Woe to those who scandalize one of these little ones! Not only is this crime great for its malice, but it is irreparable, and we have often seen sinners returned to God moaning all their lives, but in vain, over the loss of those they could not bring them back to repentance after leading them into evil
To return to Alexandrine, when she returned to her father's home at the age of eighteen, she presented the assemblage of all the faults that a rather bad nature, joined to an even worse education, could produce. His exterior would have offered nothing remarkable had it not been for the expression of haughtiness and smugness which animated features which were otherwise fairly common. As for the spirit, she had only too much of it, if one can thus qualify the finesse which made her insinuate herself into the good graces of those she wished to captivate. Besides, her imagination, nourished by the worst as well as the most absurd novels, only suggested completely false ideas to her about a world she knew only through her insipid readings. Imbued with a thousand ridiculous notions, she believed, on entering the world, to play there herself the role of one of those heroines who charmed her, and to become the object of the adoration and homage of all around her. Her disappointment was therefore great when she found herself alone in the country with an aged father, whose origin she had in her heart the indignity to despise, and over whom she believed that her education gave her a great superiority. Poor father! how he was punished for the impulse of pride which had led him to raise his daughter from the condition in which Providence had caused her to be born! What bitter tears caused him to shed this child, on whom he counted for the consolation of his old age, and who paid for the care given to his childhood only by disdain, indifference, and abandonment!
Hoping at first that frequent visits from her school friends would help her pass the time, Alexandrine had received with insulting haughtiness those of her former companions from Semicourt who had come to renew their acquaintance with her. What, then, was his pain and his annoyance when his father showed him his intention of not admitting any visitors from outside, and especially those who might come from his boarding house; for his eyes were soon opened to the manner in which his confidence had been answered. To make matters worse, Alexandrine had no taste for any occupation, and, always idle, she was dying of boredom.
Finally, for want of anything better, she resolved to humanize herself with a few young girls from Semicourt, with those at least who seemed to her the most worthy of being brought up to her level. Unfortunately, it was around this time that she met Félicie. The gaiety and amiable vivacity of this young girl pleased her extremely: she resolved to make her her intimate friend, that is to say, according to her ideas, the companion of her dangerous readings and the confidante of follies and deviations of a disordered imagination. For her part, Felicie was flattered by the preference granted to her by a person who, thanks to her city education, seemed to her very superior to her. She began to look for pretexts to go to Sémicourt, knowing full well that Alexandrine, very idle, and constantly leaning on a small wall which overlooked the road, would not fail to see her and call her, which always happened. In effect. Then she would take her to her room, talk to her about fashions and pleasures, display her prettiest dresses before her, and lament that she had no occasion to adorn herself with them. All these things, new to the young village girl, astonished her, amused her, and gave her an idea of the vain pleasures she had never known and consequently never dreamed of regretting. Alexandrine kept repeating to him that it was very unfortunate that an amiable young girl like her should see her youth spent in a solitary farm, while everywhere else she would be celebrated, sought after, and would enjoy all the amusements of her age. All these flattering remarks charmed Felicie's inexperience, and insinuated themselves into her heart like a subtle poison. What horrible ravages they would have wrought there, if God, in his infinite goodness, had not raised up an angel to keep her on the edge of the precipice! And that angel was the humble, gentle, charitable Mary.
It had sufficed for him to see Alexandrine sometimes to get a just idea of her principles and her character. So it was not without great pain that she noticed the intimacy that was beginning to develop between her and Felicie. She had often been told that an affair with a perverse friend was enough to destroy the happiest dispositions; she remembered this sentence from the holy books: He who loves peril will perish there, and this thought filled her heart with uneasiness and sadness, making her understand the danger which threatened Felicie. She was all the more distressed because she thought she was on the point of reaping the fruit of the pains she had been giving herself for a long time to engender piety in her heart. As he opened himself to the knowledge of his divine Master and of the love of God for men, gratitude entered him with the desire to fulfill more faithfully in the future the duties which his law imposes on us. Wasn't this happy progress going to be checked by the examples and advice she received? Marie had too much reason to fear him; for already Felicie, from whom she usually received so many proofs of affection, seemed to be happier only with Alexandrine, neglected for her sake this companion whom she had seemed to cherish, and at times even showed her an unaccustomed coldness. To what should she attribute this change? It was perhaps, alas! to the attempts she had made to open his eyes to the dangers of this new affair. But wasn't it enough that she disregarded his charitable warnings, without still distressing her friend with apparent indifference? How many tears she often shed, in the midst of her occupations, over this friend whose tenderness was her most tender consolation in the grief caused her by the distance from her family, and to whom she owed the happy situation in which she found herself. SO ! But this sweet friendship which once united them was now only in his heart. She could not doubt it, and her tears redoubled as this conviction took root in her mind.
However, Marie was mistaken in judging Felicie's heart in this way: it was very far from the indifference towards her which she supposed, and which her outward manner seemed to indicate; but she momentarily allowed herself to be caught in snares which her inexperience had not allowed her to recognize, and, without ceasing to love Marie, she had vaguely welcomed some suspicions which odious insinuations against her character, so noble and so pure, had raised. in his mind. However, the time has not yet come to reveal to the eyes of the reader the unworthy plot hatched against the innocent Marie, and which should perhaps excite pity rather than indignation against her whose imprudence nearly brought about the loss .
The cooling of which we have spoken becoming more marked every day, Marie resolved to express herself frankly with her friend; and she waited impatiently for Sunday, when they were in the habit of taking a charming walk together after services: both of them had hitherto regarded that day as the most agreeable of the week, because it afforded them, with the pleasure of admire together the beauties of nature, that of soft and in -
nocent talks. Although Felicie's unfortunate dispositions had made these Sunday excursions lose a great deal of their charm, she had not yet thought she could dispense with them; but this new grief awaited Marie at the moment when she flattered herself that she would regain her friend's heart by the attempt she was meditating.
Filled with this sweet hope and completely occupied with what she was going to say to him, she was waiting for Félicie while walking slowly in the garden, when she saw him leaving the house hastily and crossing a little wooden gate to head towards Semicourt.
" Where are you going ? exclaimed Marie in a gentle but alarmed tone. Won't we go out together?
"That's impossible for me," Felicie went on rather abruptly, "I'm expected." As she said these words she quickly walked away, and Alexandrine's voice, which Marie heard at some distance, soon told her the cause of the abandonment in which she had been left. Her emotion was so strong that she did not feel the strength to compress it enough to go back into the house. She crossed, at the extremity of the garden, a little plank bridge thrown over the river, or rather the brook which surrounded it, entered a not far away wood, where she was not long in sinking, entirely given over to his sad daydreams.
Dangers of poor knowledge.
However, our poor Marie, immersed in very sad thoughts, was walking at random in the wood of which we have just spoken, and following indiscriminately various paths which presented themselves to her, when the appearance of a small building rising in the middle foliage struck his sight; she rushed in that direction, and soon recognized that it was a chapel. Its construction appeared Gothic, and the trees which covered it with their majestic shade seemed almost as old as its walls, blackened by time and covered with a thick ivy which extended in all directions its flexible and climbing branches. A closed gate prevented entry into the chapel, but made it possible to distinguish the objects it contained. Mary therefore approaches with eagerness, and sees a statue of the Blessed Virgin which was lighted up at this moment by a golden ray of the setting sun. She kneels before this sacred image, and feels deep in her heart the intimate and consoling conviction that chance alone did not lead her to this place. “O my mother! she exclaims effusively, you are always extending a helping hand to me! You will be my consolation in sorrow, as you have been my safeguard in the hour of danger. How could I ever recognize such constant and ineffable goodness? It will be by striving to make myself more and more worthy of the glorious title of your child, of this title which is a thousand times more precious to me than all the treasures of the earth. Then, with a pious and naive simplicity, Marie poured out her sorrows and her alarms in the presence of the one she had always regarded as the most powerful of consolers.
Far from feeling in her heart that vexation and discontent that so many others would have thought well justified by Felicie's harsh and inexplicable conduct towards her, she found there only the painful feeling of this abandonment; but no gall, no bitterness mingled with his grief, and it was all the more acute, as for the first time it came to him from a person tenderly loved. Hitherto the objects of her affections had paid her in a way with her feelings for them with a no less ardent tenderness, and now she was beginning to experience the inconsistencies and disappointments so common in a world still quite new to her. Mary was also unaware that a friendship in which God is not the bond is fragile and short-lived; otherwise she would have understood why her heart was still filled with her friend, while the latter was so cruelly neglecting her. She would have understood that a gentle charity, united with the natural affection that Felicie inspired in her, had given her feelings a strength and a depth unknown to souls guided by their sympathies alone. Also with what ardor did she not desire to conquer her friend to piety, to associate her with her holy practices, with her sweet talks with Heaven, finally with the ineffable happiness that a young heart tastes, consecrated without reserve to the service of her God ! To achieve this desired goal, what efforts already, what pains!... following a liaison which the enemy of salvation then used as a sure means of retaining his prey.
Penetrated by this sad thought, the good and generous Marie, forgetting herself, remained prostrate for a long time before the threshold of the chapel, praying for her friend, and striving by her fervent supplications to draw upon her the special protection of the Queen of Angels. The rest will tell us if his wishes were granted.
On leaving the chapel, Marie felt a sweet hope penetrating her soul, and mingling with the calm of a blameless conscience. Comforted and strengthened by prayer, she slowly returned to the farmhouse, enjoying the fragrant evening breeze, which gently cooled her brow, still burning from the emotions she had experienced at Mary's feet.
During this time, what was Felicie doing? Seated with Alexandrine at the bottom of M. Gerard's garden, she listened with eager ears to the reading of one of those novels so highly praised by her new friend. The many adventures it contained and the marvelousness with which they were clothed charmed his young and lively imagination. She was not shocked either by the implausibilities which were accumulated there, nor by the extravagance of the characters which were depicted there, nor by the ridiculous exaggeration of the feelings that were attributed to them. The poor child's ignorance extended to everything, and did not allow her to appreciate what was false and absurd in the scenes which charmed her; and certainly she who read it was hardly calculated to destroy its bad effects. Now, it must be said, these disastrous results were already making themselves felt, and these dangerous works were beginning to bear their usual fruits: disgust for solid things, useful occupations, and love of vanity and pleasures. Until then Alexandrine, respecting, in spite of herself in a way, the extreme simplicity and innocence of Félicie, fearing moreover to lose a conquest that she wanted to secure, had put in the choice of her readings enough care to prune anything that might have alarmed the principles of his young friend. She wanted to lead her by a more circuitous, slower, but no less sure path towards the dreadful goal she had in mind. And this goal, what was it? To snatch from God the soul created to love him eternally, and to plunge it into an abyss of evil.
But where could this cruel rage come from, which seems to belong only to demons? It proceeded from the same principle which excites against us the fury of these spirits of darkness: from envy, that odious motive from which flow the numberless efforts of the wicked to procure approvers and accomplices in their crimes. The aspect of virtue is unbearable to them: it is a tacit condemnation, which, joining the cry of their conscience, excites there importunate remorse which they strive in vain to stifle. Besides, this secret and ravishing charm of a soul still clothed in the robe of innocence which it received from the hands of its Creator, penetrates even to their corrupt hearts, and fills them with a bitter gall against the possessors of the treasure which they have foolishly dissipated.
If such had not been Alexandrine's feelings at first, at least her conduct must have had the same result; for she tended to alienate Felicie from her duties by withdrawing her from the wise advice of Marie, and above all from the obedience she owed her parents. This is what we will prove by developing the various plans which she had successively conceived and abandoned, and by explaining the motives which influenced her determinations. This story will not be without utility, since it can serve to enlighten youth on the danger of an imprudent liaison, and on the frightening and rapid progress that one makes in evil as soon as one has set foot in it. the beginning of this deplorable career.
For a long time Alexandrine had hoped to persuade her father, and obtain permission to receive some of her former companions; but, seeing that all her efforts on this point remained without success, she resolved to obtain, without the knowledge of this father, who seemed to her tyrannical, the distractions which he refused her, and, for that, to take her share of the pleasures and parties which one of her friends, who had recently married and who lived only eight kilometers from Semicourt, gave quite frequently. For that it was necessary to multiply, with regard to this old and unhappy father, deceits and dissimulations; it was necessary to defy all convenience, to set out alone and without support in the midst of a frivolous youth without solid principles. But the one unstoppable by the fear of the Lord and respect for her parents will easily overcome any other barrier.
From then on Alexandrine had only one care left, that of removing anything that might have harmed the success of her projects. Consequently, a reliable and devoted woman to her father, who had served him since the increase of his fortune, and compensated him a little by her care and her attachment for the pains which her daughter caused him, was the first victim of his culpable projects. . Alexandrine felt the need to have in her who served him, not an opportune and perhaps accusing witness, but an accomplice in his faults and an auxiliary to ensure their execution and impunity. Gertrude, therefore, unworthily slandered, was dismissed by her too credulous master, and replaced by a young girl named Manette, worthy in every way of her new mistress. She was happy to find refuge with M. Gerard; for, having already been driven from several houses, without money and without hope of finding a place in the neighborhood, she was returning to her village to seek work there. Alexandrine's father, deceived by false reports, admitted her to his service, and she was not long in gaining the highest degree of good graces with the imprudent young girl, whose inclinations and vanity she flattered on all occasions.
This girl without principles and without religion finished, by her pernicious lessons, to spoil the heart, already so ill-disposed, of the unhappy young girl: so true it is that when we once arrived by our imprudence on the edge of the the abyss, the slightest effort of the enemy suffices to plunge us into it!
It was between these two people, so well made to get along, that the measures were concerted which were to deceive the supervision of a father and a master, to facilitate a correspondence with the friend established in the neighborhood: soon even Means were found to go and spend whole days with this friend and to receive her in her turn, she and her dangerous company. All the skilful maneuvers necessary to cover these secret pleasures were due to the inventive spirit of Manette, who, more skilful in this way than her mistress, knew by a thousand ingenious tales how to deceive her master, and engage him under false pretexts, sometimes to stay, sometimes to go away, for a day, according to the interest of the moment.
Without going any further into the way of life of this Alexandrine, which concerns us only because of the relations that were established between her and our poor Felicie, we will only say that, although her time was devoted to vanity, to coquetry, on reading novels, boredom and often even remorse made themselves felt in the short moments of solitude which she could not always avoid. At first it was only to avoid it that she sought out Felicie. But, soon struck by the innocence and fine qualities of this young person, humiliated by the parallel that her conscience constantly placed before her eyes, she resolved to work to level their moral position, and to drag her finally after her into this abyss at the bottom of which she often couldn't help fearing and moaning.
We must now also speak of another feeling which crept into his heart; although it was originally worthy of a nobler soul, it soon degenerated, and was transformed into an ardent and base jealousy. There are few hearts, however depraved, where the desire to attach themselves to a being whose qualities justify their affection has not sometimes penetrated with the hope of obtaining a sincere return. Tired of vain liaisons where they have still found only envy in their successes and abandonment in their misfortunes, they feel the need to found their new affections on a deserved esteem, and recognize that they have been foolish in counting on the faithfulness of those who despised the laws of the Lord, his threats and his consoling promises.
All these thoughts crossed Alexandrine's soul; witness to the tender friendship which united Marie and Felicie, a sad return to her isolation, to the unworthy confidante she had chosen, embittered and distressed her. She did not tell herself, as she should have, that her conduct alone brought her from her father the inflexibility whose consequences she deplored, she did not tell herself that she could have found in this father, who had brought up her childhood with so much solicitude and tenderness, a worthy object of affection and care, and that instead of quenching her old days with bitterness she could have procured her happiness, and drawn it herself abundantly to this sacred source. Oh ! no, she said nothing of all that to herself, and continued to give in her inner life the odious spectacle of an ungrateful and thereby denatured child; finally she heaped on her head the chastisements that God often reserves in this world for this sort of prevarication.
However, she was not long in perceiving that Marie had known how to guess her character, and even glimpsed the fears she inspired in her with regard to Felicie. From then on a real hatred took root in her heart, and she resolved not only to disunite the two friends, but also to lose Marie in the opinion of her benefactors, and to have her driven from the farm, if possible. . Fearing, however, to betray her perfidious intentions, she resolved to act with great circumspection. Thanks to Manette's advice and help, she even thought for a moment that she was close to achieving the odious goal she had in mind, and would have succeeded infallibly, if Heaven, touched by the prayers and virtues of an innocent victim, had not himself averted the arrows directed against her.
Malicious insinuations, but brought forward with skill and even with apparent candor, on the account of poor Marie and the sincerity of her virtues, had succeeded positive accusations, although at first light. Later they worked to convince Félicie that the one she had taken in with a feeling of piety so honorable for her heart secretly employed a thousand means to captivate the esteem and confidence of her worthy guests; that she would not stop there, and that she aimed to establish her empire in an absolute manner, and then to exercise it without consideration over all the actions of Felicie; it was added later that, after all that had been learned by Marie from her own family, it might well have been a pure invention, and that the day would come when her friend would groan at the imprudent compassion which had made her bring with her parents a daughter may be wandering, or at least unknown.
We feel that it was not in a day that these insulting suppositions were presented to Felicie. They had revolted her at first, and she had loudly expressed the indignation with which they inspired her; but the astute Alexandrine, far from insisting, showed great indifference to what she had insinuated, and thus removed from the mind of her innocent dupe the suspicions which would have overturned all his projects. The latter contented herself with supposing that she had been misled, and that her friendship alone kept her alert to what might harm her. Gradually these same accusations, adroitly brought back, astonished her less, then made more of an impression on her; Doubt crept into his soul, and somewhat undermined his hitherto unbounded confidence in Mary's virtue.
However, when Félicie went over in her mind all that she herself had seen of Marie's behavior, her touching gratitude, her angelic gentleness, her modesty, her charity, she could no longer believe the attacks directed against her friend. ; nevertheless, as we have said, that confidence, the soul of all friendship, and which shed such sweet charm on theirs, was, if not destroyed, at least momentarily withered by the poisonous breath of calumny. The wicked can be compared to that evil reptile whose passage is dreaded by all nature: a single drop of venom which it spreads suffices to wither the brilliance of the most beautiful flower: formerly its brilliant colors attracted admiration; now, leaning over its stem, it will perish if a beneficent dew does not come to refresh it and bring it back to life. Let us hope that the heart of Félicie, after having also suffered from the contagious influence of the wicked, finally penetrated by the celestial dew, will understand its errors and take all its care to repair them. But back to our story.
Alexandrine was devouring that very day, in secret with Felicie, a novel that her former companion had lent her. The reading had gone on indefinitely when Manette ran up, out of breath.
" Good news ! she exclaimed with a satisfied air, the whole merry band is coming to us: Mrs.me Servin, his sister, M.lle Olympe, and several gentlemen whom I do not know.
— O Heaven, said, Alexandrine, we are lost! my father will see them or hear them!
- Oh! Well yes, said Manette, laughing out loud; So you think I don't know how to turn around: ah! you hardly know me! Know that it is always at the moment of danger that I show myself most skilful. You'll see. I had just taken out of the oven the large pancake that you had ordered me to make secretly for you two, when I heard the doorbell ringing loudly at the garden gate which overlooks the road! Isn't it very pleasant to deal with scatterbrains who, rather than taking two minutes of patience, give you a useless headache? I run to open it, and I see our entire world from the other day; without wasting a moment, I make them feel their imprudence, and send them back into the woods to wait until I can summon them. From there I go up to my master, and I tell him about it so well, I moved him so deeply, that he left five minutes ago with his cane and his hat, to go and help Denis Barnan, who broke his leg the other day. The patient lives far enough away that it will take Mr. Gérard some time to get there. Denis will be wonderfully happy with the adventure, and will be less indebted to Monsieur's charity than to the boredom with which he seemed devoured. Then I sent little André, who is active and intelligent, to fetch a large bowl of cream from the farm, which, together with the galette and Monsieur's famous peaches, which I have just picked, will make up a very presentable snack. . Tomorrow I'll compensate him for his peaches with a pretty little story that I'll fix by then. André went to the wood to bring back the fugitives. Say now that I don't know how to steer my boat, and find, if you can, some girl to compare to Manette. »
While saying these words, her hands on Her hips and in the attitude of the most vulgar triumph, the expression of the eyes of the wicked girl was so false and so bold, that Félicie, already revolted by her speech, turned away hers with disgust. . Alexandrine, on the contrary, delighted with her servant's skill, thanked her warmly, and promised her that her zeal would not go unrewarded.
At the same moment we heard the shouts and the laughter of the new arrivals. Alexandrine ran to meet them, and Felicie, left alone, felt her natural shyness dominating her, and regretted not having returned to the farm sooner. An instinct of honor and delicacy warned him that young girls of his age and that of his companion should not receive, thus alone and without the supervision of their natural protectors, young men whose principles were at least very ambiguous. She therefore resolved to escape unnoticed, and, slipping along a winding path which led to a little back door, she reached it and closed it promptly, fully convinced that she had not been seen. But1st Olympe, who brought up the rear, had caught a glimpse of her and exclaimed, addressing Alexandrine: "Who is this charming little person who has just come out?" What freshness! what pretty blue eyes! It is a great pity that she is dressed as a peasant.
"And a greater pity that she is one," resumed Alexandrine curtly, whose pretensions and vanity were a little hurt by the praise accorded to Felicie. If it had been otherwise, I would have already introduced her to you, she added, addressing the rest of the company.
"Yes, I believe so, if it had been otherwise," said Olympe in a low voice to a young man in a hunter's costume who happened to be near her. Alexandrine's pale complexion. »
As we see, Olympe was not very inclined to indulgence poor Alexandrine, whose ridiculous and too visible pretensions excited derision. Everyone regretted the absence of that nice Felicie, whose gaiety and amiable vivacity she had sometimes praised. It was resolved that she would be at a charming party which Mme.me Servin was to give the following Sunday, and Alexandrine, devoured by jealousy and trying to conceal this feeling, undertook with feigned joy to take him there; but from that moment she associated him inwardly with the hatred she had vowed for the gentle Marie.
Meanwhile, Felicie slowly returned to the farm, as her pious friend had done a few hours earlier. But, during this solitary return, how his feelings, how his thoughts differed from those which had occupied Marie! The latter had left sad and dejected; she had prayed, and had come back revived and comforted. On the contrary, Felicie's soul, once so peaceful, was now a real chaos, and she found there only trouble and agitation. Her imagination, filled with romantic and strange scenes, presented to her her position, hitherto so happy, as devoid of all that she had heard called the comforts of life. Her self-respect had been successively flattered, then cruelly wounded by Olympe's exclamation, which had reached her ears; for a mere hedge separated it from her when she had taken the road back to the farm. What would she have thought of her new friend, if she had heard her reply?
So then she was pretty, she had just heard him remark; she therefore possessed those physical advantages which her new readings and Alexandrine's speeches had taught her to regard as so precious. How could she have doubted it? The praises of a stranger had come to confirm those of her dangerous friend, whom she might have thought blinded by her affection. But it was regretted that she was dressed as a peasant; anything that could reveal her humble condition was therefore humiliating and unfortunate for her. She was almost tempted to curse her too common birth in her heart; and if Heaven had not already granted the fervent supplications of Mary, perhaps she would have come to this monstrous excess of blushing for her good, her respectable parents, those who showered her daily with proofs of their tenderness. . Alas! the depravity of the heart has more than once been carried to this point; but the contempt of men and heavenly chastisements came sooner or later to overwhelm the culprits. As I was saying earlier, the Lord took pity on her and spared her this remorse. There was already too much of it in her heart, and more than once that evening she had thought she heard the soft voice of Marie calling her to begin their usual walk, at the moment when she was thinking only of the avoid and reach Alexandrine; then the abominable Manette came back to her mind, and she could not help feeling sorry for the unfortunate father who had been so unworthily deceived.
All these circumstances could not be explained to the advantage of Alexandrine, whom she had believed until then incapable of such conduct. His eyes were beginning to open; she was sad, agitated, worried, and bitter tears covered her cheeks when she arrived at the farm. She hastened to wipe them off, and appeared before her grandmother, who coldly asked her why her absence had been so long. She then added that fortunately Marie, having been more exact, had been able to do what Félicie was usually responsible for, that she had made little Paul supper, and, after having put him to bed, had gone to bed. with a severe headache.
Jeanne, who at first had been rather flattered by her granddaughter's new affair with Alexandrine, was beginning to see this intimacy in a different light. She had learned of the dismissal of the faithful Gertrude; then a few details of Alexandrine's behavior with regard to her father had come to her, and finally Félicie had changed a great deal for some time: less attentive to her grandmother, less industrious, less occupied with her younger brother, she seemed continually absorbed in thoughts alien to those around her. Everything was affected by the indifference she showed in the performance of her duties; the dispersion of all the others.
Jeanne had also noticed Marie's sadness, whom she loved and esteemed more each day; Felicie's coldness towards him afflicted her, and she was resolved to dry up the source from which it seemed to her to come all the evil; but she wanted to act with caution and avoid everything
glow. Also, without positively forbidding her granddaughter to continue to see Alexandrine, she told her that her visits to her house were too frequent, and that she should henceforth go there more rarely. Felicie, ordinarily so gentle, took on a bad temper; the disadvantageous insinuations to Marie again crossed her mind, she believed that her grandmother's defense had been suggested to her. From then on, insensitive to Marie's indisposition, the cause of which she well guessed, after a sad and silent supper, she hastened to leave her parents, to seek a rest which the agitation of her day made very necessary to her.
However, Jeanne, who remained with Bernard near the large fireplace, seemed dejected, and from time to time sighed painfully. Hoping each day to see Félicie return to her old, tender and submissive ways, she had not wanted to upset a father who had
placed all his consolation in his children, by telling them of his sad remarks about his daughter, whom a paternal pride made him regard as incomparable and far superior to all his young companions. As excellent a son as a good father, it was with affliction and surprise that he observed the grief painted on his mother's features, and that he saw tears escaping from her eyes sadly fixed on the flame of the hearth. He anxiously inquired about the cause of his mother's grief, and the good Jeanne then discharged into her son's heart the bitterness which for some time had filled hers.
I will not describe Bernard's astonishment and pain. His character, naturally severe, exaggerating to him the still slight faults of Félicie with regard to his mother, he experienced such lively discontent that poor Jeanne, terrified of the consequences which might result from it, employed all her efforts to calm him down. She succeeded after a long interview, and even managed to make him promise to let another week go by without telling his daughter anything: he would then be free, if things had not changed, to complain about it and to remediate. She hoped, this good mother, by the various means she proposed to employ, to avert from her child the storm which was rumbling over her head.
The vigil continued between Bernard and the good Jeanne, much later than usual. They spoke of Marie, of her virtues, and could not stop talking about her gentleness, her modesty, her kindness, her tireless activity. They began to understand that piety alone can produce such fruits, and felt their respect redoubled for the religion which is its source. They blessed the day which had brought the poor young girl home; indeed, not much time had yet elapsed since his admission into this family, and what good had already been done through him! Mother Jeanne, until then so little instructed in the truths and practices of the faith, had learned to regard the matter of salvation as the most important, or, to put it better, as the only important one in this world. She then devoted all her care and all her efforts to it. She had also learned what immense advantage she could derive from the evils which often overwhelmed her, and, knowing at last all that her God had done for her and suffered for his love, she had replaced by a pious resignation to the divine will the murmurs which once often arose in his heart. To whom did she owe this happy change and the sweet peace that followed? She was indebted for it to the zeal with which Mary had worked to make her know God, the holy obligations which his law imposes on us, the supernatural strengths which we draw from prayer, and the eternal rewards promised to fidelity. To achieve this goal, the pious young girl had neglected no means, no opportunity: sometimes it was an attractive conversation, but in which there found their place some salutary reflections skilfully introduced; sometimes a reading chosen and appropriate to Jeanne's situation was offered to shorten the time she spent sadly by her fire; at other times Mary related to him holy actions, touching traits, which she made even more interesting by the simplicity of her accounts. It was from Sister Beatrix that she had received these precious teachings, and she was desirous of spreading around her the precious seed which had so
marvelously fruitful in his heart.
How useful his instructions had also been to little Geneviève, who the following spring was to make her first communion! This child, of an excellent nature, needed only to be instructed in her duties and directed in the path of virtue in order to walk there rapidly. We can well imagine that Marie gave herself up with ardor to this important task, without stopping for a moment at what she could offer that was painful. One could have seen her, while carrying out the work entrusted to her care, talking at length with Geneviève, and striving by ingenious comparisons, by examples analogous to the subject she was treating, and within the reach of her young age, to make her understand the greatness of the action for which she was preparing herself and the touching goodness of God, who wanted to descend into her heart to establish his reign there. The rays of grace did not light up this pure soul in vain, which had not yet abused any of its gifts, and everyone admired in little Geneviève the gentleness, the obedience, the assiduity at work, finally the simple and touching virtues which spread so much charm over pious childhood. Marie was not the last to observe the happy effect of her care, and she felt a delicious joy; for, after the happiness of serving God, she knew no sweeter happiness than that of attracting other souls to her service; she knew that no work was more pleasing to the Lord, and often remembered these words of the Holy Scriptures: "He that shall contribute to the salvation of his brethren... shall save his soul from death, and cover the multitude of their sins." »
She sometimes found herself regretting the wealth and influence they procured as a powerful means of doing good, and it seemed to her then that she had devoted them entirely to this use; but reflection soon made her understand the danger she might have found in a brilliant situation, and, fearing her weakness, she thanked God for having caused her to be born under the shelter of her pitfalls, and fortified herself in the resolution of her to do in his humble sphere all the good that would be within his reach. How many times had Sister Beatrix encouraged her in this, saying to her: "Remember, my child, that however obscure one may be in this world, there is no one who cannot contribute to the salvation of his brothers, either by advice, or by examples, and above all by prayers. How many souls lost forever would have had a different fate if they had found more charity in persons who, while professing piety, are unfortunately foreign to this virtue, from which nevertheless all the others derive their value! How many, believing to have fulfilled the whole law, will render a severe account of these faults of omission to Him who not only said: Abstain from evil, but added: Do good? »
Let's get back to our story.
Alexandrine, left alone after the departure of her numerous company, went back up to her room and began to reflect on all that had passed during the evening. She remembered with annoyance the desire that everyone had shown, at Olympe's instigation, to owe the pretty peasant girl, and the mocking air with which her friends had reproached her for having shielded her from their admiration until then. She understood very well that the secret fears of her vanity had been divined, and cursed in her heart and Olympe, and Felicie, and the fatality which had led her to befriend a little peasant girl so unworthy to associate with her, and moreover so proper to eclipse it. But the die was cast; it was necessary to present this new rival to her friends, or fully justify Olympe's suspicions, and expose herself to the jokes of which she would become the object.
She had reached that point in her thoughts when Manette entered her room. At a glance the latter perceived the cloud which darkened the forehead of her young mistress, and eagerly entered into her accustomed role of comforter and flatterer. When she had learned from her the subject of her trouble, far from calming her down, she kindled with all her might the fire of her jealousy and her malevolent disposition towards Felicie. She thought she had something to complain about Felicie personally, and one can imagine what the desire for revenge must have produced in such a base soul. The fact is that Manette's scrutinizing and practiced gaze had, a few hours earlier, unraveled in the eyes of Félicie, who was not very skilful in concealing, the virtuous indignation which her odious speeches and her repulsive boasts aroused in her heart. She understood, what the wicked never forgive, the contempt she inspired, and resolved to treat as an enemy the one who, without her knowing it, had mortally wounded her.
We will not relate in all its details the odious conversation which took place between these worthy interlocutors; we will only say that Manette, after having increased Alexandrine's vexation with poor Félicie by exaggerating her beauty, her kindness, and the successes which these advantages were necessarily to assure her, offered her as a consolation the thought that this party where one was so afraid to lead her could become a fruitful source of petty revenge, if she put their patience to too severe a test. Bernard's well-known severity on anything that could, directly or indirectly, touch the honor of his family would soon be brought into play. paint in such colors as one would like the behavior of his daughter, of this daughter of whom he was so ridiculously proud? It was then that she would expiate her past triumphs. Besides, before coming to this extremity, we would at least use this fear to assure ourselves of his silence, and we would soon have made him thus lose the greatest of his charms, this sincerity, this simplicity in the manners that everyone admired in her. He would then be dragged into new meetings; a few words of praise would turn the head of this little savage; we would take advantage of this to make him desire some ornaments incompatible with his position; they would attribute ridiculous ones to it, which would delight the poor girl, and they would be amused at the comic vanity these ornaments must have inspired in her. If such were not the words of Manette, it was at least the meaning of his speech. This last thought seemed to her so amusing that she laughed out loud; his gaiety was imperceptibly shared by Alexandrine, who at first had recoiled before such base wickedness; and from that moment the only thought was given to the means of deciding Felicie, whose resistance was feared.
“If only for this once,” said Manette, “she absolutely must be one of us, or watch out Ms.lle Olympus! »
Alexandrine, excited by these last words, wrote to Felicie that she was afraid of not seeing her for a few days; she only expressed to him the desire to talk to him about something that would bother them.
interested both of them, and gave him an appointment in his room for the following day, at eight o'clock in the morning. Manette undertook to seize a favorable moment to give him the note, and the next day, towards sunset, she headed towards the farm. Poor Felicia! if she had been able to know into whose hands she had fallen, what would have been her horror for the perfidious and false friend who had estranged her from the one whose tenderness was so sincere and had already been so useful to her! But pride, or rather flattered vanity, that dangerous guide which ordinarily leads so far along the path of evil, and which had first drawn her close to Alexandrine, continued to blind her judgment and held her in bonds. that she already wanted to break off, although she was far from knowing all the danger.
After that sad Sunday evening supper of which we spoke in the preceding chapter, Felicie had gone to bed, but had been unable to sleep there. It was the first time since her emergence from childhood that she had left her dear parents under the impression of bad temper and discontent. She had continued each evening to kiss her grandmother, and if, during the day, some light cloud rose between them, this moment effaced even the least trace of it; but that evening she had contented herself with coldly wishing her parents a good night, and had retired with tears in her eyes; for as he went out his gaze had met that of Mother Jeanne, who depicted the pain caused to her by her granddaughter's conduct. A heart like Félicie's cannot without suffering see the sorrow of those she loves, especially when it is the cause. So, torn between remorse and repentance, she spent a sad night. After having wept for a long time, she took the resolution to repair her behavior of the day before, and to indemnify her venerable grandmother for the pains she had caused her during the past few days. Calmer after a determination that was a need for her heart, she finally fell asleep towards the middle of the night. She did not know, poor child, that resolutions which have not been taken in view of God, and on which the help of his grace has not been called upon, are not long in vanishing, and thus sharing the fate of all that is due to our fragile and inconstant nature. But, on more than one subject still, she lacked an experience which she had to acquire at her own expense.
It was then the beginning of November, and at this time of the year the sun no longer appears early on the horizon. So Felicie, on opening her eyes, was surprised to see it shining brightly through the windows. Its rays then penetrated without obstacle into his little room; for the trellis around which the flowers and the foliage had once intertwined so gracefully, now appeared bare and bare. A few perfumeless roses, scattered here and there, still charmed the view, and presented a last memory of the delicious season which had just passed. Felicie dressed hastily, and, eager to go to see her grandmother, came down quickly; but on entering she saw that Marie had preceded her, and no doubt long before; for Jeanne, up and seated near her fire, was getting ready to eat a milk soup which the young girl had just placed on the little table placed within her reach. This sight irritated Felicie inwardly; instead of being touched to always find Marie there to repair her apparent or real negligence, she reproached her in her heart for her eager care for Mother Jeanne, which seemed to her a mute criticism of her own conduct.
On these occasions, Alexandrine's insinuations always came to mind, and were not rebuffed as they should have been. It is that a neglected duty disposes to temper, and the latter renders unjust and usually develops secret and blameworthy feelings which we would like to keep hidden in our hearts. So Felicie was in no way touched by the open and natural air with which Marie greeted her, and by the sad but gentle look with which she accompanied her words. She approached her grandmother, who received her kindly. Encouraged by this indulgence, she resumed her ordinary functions and fulfilled them with zeal and activity.
Towards the end of this day, which had been one of the most beautiful of the autumn, Jeanne wished to visit her garden, a pleasure which henceforth she could very rarely enjoy. Leaning on Felicie's arm and accompanied by Marie, she went to the end of the orchard and sat down on the bench near the little river. Marie became pensive when she remembered that it was on this same bench that a few months earlier she had determined to accept the offers of the good inhabitants of the farm: she could not help comparing sadly Félicie's current dispositions to her respect with those who animated it then.
These reflections were interrupted by the arrival of Genevieve, who ran up as quickly as Paul's little legs would allow, whose hand she was holding. She seemed overjoyed at the pleasure she was about to cause Marie, and gave her with a triumphant air a letter from Sister Beatrix. Marie, indeed charmed, got up to go and read it aside, and after a few minutes returned to rejoin the family, who, with the exception of Bernard, were then reunited.
It was an interesting sight to see this venerable grandmother seated between her two granddaughters, while her only grandson rolled at her feet on the grass. From time to time he raised himself on tiptoe, and rested his fresh, rosy cheek on that of his grandmother, whose silver hair mingled with the pretty blond curls of her dear child. Marie contemplated this family group with a secret charm, and found those who could remain together in this way very happy.
However, she too was happy at the moment; for the letter she had just received contained good news. Everyone in her home was doing well, and her father's health continued to improve. He was no longer restrained to his chair except by the poor condition of his legs, which still refused him any service; the doctor gave hope, however, that later he would recover the use of it. After the fears they had had for their lives, they were happy with their present situation, however painful it was. In the meantime, Marcelline, no longer constrained by the thousand cares she had given to her husband during his long illness, could attend to her occupations and get back to work. He himself had returned to his first trade as a weaver, which then suited him better than any other, since he could exercise it without changing places and without standing. Thus, not only did he make use of his time, but he was sheltered from the mortal boredom which an idleness to which he was so little accustomed would have caused him. In short, he was far from being absolutely unhappy; for he drew from an entire resignation to the will of God, with the courage to patiently suffer his ills, feelings full of sweetness and consolation.
Such was the fruit of the touching instructions and even more touching examples of Sister Beatrix, who, as we have said, was the angel of this family, where she made the love of the Lord reign, the observance of her law, and the happy peace of the children of God. Only one thing in this letter greatly distressed Marie. The venerable sister spoke to her of the numerous debts that her poor parents had been forced to contract during the calamitous times they had just passed through. The most assiduous work could alone, subsequently, put them in a position to pay them little by little, and, with the approach of winter, a thousand needs were going to be felt. Marie resolved to send them, as soon as possible, the small sum which she had already earned since her stay at the farm, and of which she had not spent an obol on her own account. Very different from so many young people whose whole savings are spent on objects of adornment and superfluities which vanity makes them need, it was without any difficulty that Marie sacrificed even what could have been called her necessities, to the happiness of relieve his parents and show them his tenderness and his gratitude.
The rest of the letter she had just received contained so much wise advice, so many pious thoughts, that she took pleasure in reading it to Jeanne and the two sisters gathered in the garden. Félicie was moved by this, and felt in the bottom of her heart how unjust Alexandrine's charges were. If Marie had been an abandoned vagrant, as she had been insinuated, would she receive such letters, and would she be the object of the tender solicitude of this worthy sister? The coldness that she had let establish between her and her friend now seemed unbearable to her. Deep down, Felicie had always loved Marie, and more than once she would have liked to throw herself on her neck, confess her wrongs; but an embarrassment caused by self-love had always restrained her: she resolved to overcome it, and, while taking this good determination, she returned to the house, where she was going to occupy herself with the preparations for supper, when she He heard himself calling cautiously through the little garden gate. She ran there, and recognized Manette.
“Come on, then,” she said to him, “I've been prowling around your house for an hour to give you this note. And she presented him with Alexandrine's letter. "I wasn't curious to show myself," she added; because I thought that the old grandmother might have found your return a little late last night, and that she might well be after us... But why this frown? what did I say that you don't like? Nothing at all, it seems to me. But, good evening, here is my commission done; I flee very quickly, for I only have time to reach our house before nightfall. »
Felicie, indignant at the manner in which this insolent girl had spoken of her grandmother, whom she had been so accustomed to respect from her childhood, remained for some moments stupefied and motionless at the little door where she found herself. It's over, she thought to herself; if Alexandrine does not part with this detestable girl, I will break off all association with her.
She then read the note, and resolved to go early the next morning to her pretended friend, not only to find out what she had to say to her, but also to persuade her to get rid of her dangerous servant.
This last intention was laudable, no doubt; but if, instead of directing herself, she had consulted those who were naturally to serve her as guides, she would have learned that it is always imprudent, at the age of inexperience, to communicate with the wicked, for any reason; that more than once those who, on their own authority, set themselves up as missionaries, have paid dearly for their presumption, and that instead of converting they have been perverted; that there are less risky and more effective means of making oneself useful to one's brothers, and that finally religion takes on those of its children whom it places in dangerous posts with a force that Félicie had never dreamed of to ask him.
Pitfalls, alarms, reconciliation.
The next day, at daybreak, Felicie got up and hastened to go to Semicourt, where she had some errands to do for the house, so as to be able, on her return, to stop for a while at her friend's.
Shall I relate all the entreaties to which Alexandrine had recourse to induce Felicie, under the veil of a deceptive friendship, to accompany her the following Sunday? These details would be too painful to recount and too off-putting for the reader. I will content myself with telling her that after a long resistance and a positive refusal came a sort of hesitation which the wicked girl noticed; she redoubled her efforts, and finally triumphed over her who, confident in her own strength, had come with joy of heart to expose herself to peril.
Félicie, who that very morning had left the farm in a better mood than she had been
then for a long time, returned there agitated by a thousand fears, her heart full of remorse, but decided, for the first time in her life, to deceive her grandmother, in a circumstance the gravity of which she did not hide from herself. Who would have thought that this young girl, of such a frank, candid nature, incapable, a few months before, of the slightest dissimulation, could have come so quickly to abuse the confidence and the granted? Such, then, can be the consequences of a dangerous liaison!
It must be said, however, to excuse poor Félicie a little, that the courage she had displayed at first in rejecting Alexandrine's proposals had only yielded to the fear of really distressing her, so much did she showed grief at a refusal which, she said, robbed her of all her pleasure. In speaking thus, she overwhelmed her friend with caresses; then, her consent having been obtained, she had Manette show off a pretty toilet she had prepared for him. This sight alone would have been quite insufficient to decide Felicie; but, once she had made up her mind, this finery was not without attraction for her vanity; all the more so since the following perfidious woman and her mistress were crying out loud about the effect that Felicie would produce with this pretty costume.
It was agreed that the rest of the week would be used to complete the preparations for the toilet of the two friends, and that the following Saturday Alexandrine would ask Jeanne to allow her granddaughter to come the next day to spend the afternoon with her; to be more sure of obtaining Jeanne's consent, Alexandrine had to add that she would find herself completely isolated, because her father was absent for several days.
All these arrangements made, Felicie, as we have said, returned to the farm a prey to a thousand agitations hitherto unknown to her heart. Naturally true, she felt a horrible reluctance to deceive, and especially to deceive parents like hers. She could not deceive herself about the impropriety of running thus alone, with a girl as young as herself, to a meeting where, to all appearance, there would be many young foreign people, and whose character and manners were quite unknown to him. Then the possibility of meeting someone from Sémicourt who could learn everything on the farm; the displeasure of her father, whose somewhat severe disposition she knew: all these thoughts, and this last one especially, threw her into a cruel perplexity. If at times his vanity showed through his
anxiety, and gave her a few flashes of pleasure when she thought of the ornaments intended for her, these short moments of enjoyment that was very empty in itself were quickly replaced by a kind of shock inseparable, in her mind, from the thought of this fatal Sunday: so true it is that innocent pleasures are the only real ones, and that all enjoyment is poisoned when the slightest feeling of fear or remorse can slip in!
The whole week passed for Félicie in the torments we have just described, and to which was added one which we have not yet mentioned, and which however was not the least: it was the embarrassment that she felt the pain of being constantly with her parents, obliged to meet their confident and affectionate gaze, while in her heart she was preparing to betray that security which she had hitherto justified. Every moment her eyes filled with tears, and a blush rose to her forehead, when she thought of the discontent which would have immediately replaced the affection shown her, if her secret projects had been able to be penetrated. There is no greater torture for an upright and elevated soul than to be accorded a degree of esteem and confidence of which it recognizes itself unworthy. The confusion she feels, sometimes becoming salutary, awakens in her a virtuous energy which repels every obstacle to good, and thereby annihilates every interior cause of reproach.
It is therefore easy to imagine what Félicie had to suffer when Alexandrine, according to the concerted plan, arrived the following Saturday, and presented to Jeanne, with a relaxed air, the agreed request. She hypocritically insisted on the sad solitude in which her father's absence left her, and obtained, not without some difficulty, what she wanted. Jeanne, always inclined to oblige, did not have the courage to refuse the proposal outright, and having only very vague suspicions about the causes of the change she noticed in her granddaughter, once again followed the inclination who always induced her to give him pleasure when it was in her power. However, in this circumstance, she reproached herself a little for her weakness, and, looking at Felicie with an air full of tenderness, she seemed to expect at least some thanks; but the latter lowered her eyes in embarrassment, and did not find in her heart the fatal courage to thank her good grandmother for what would have been such a great cause of grief to her, if she had known the truth.
Alexandrine acquitted herself for two, and, worthy emulator of Manette, on leaving she made fun of Felicie's blushes and her confused looks; then she added in a low voice that all the preparations were finished, and that, since they had fallen into the trap, they would have a charming day the next day.
These last words produced in the tormented soul of the guilty child the effect of a drop of water in an already too full vase. A prey for several days to apprehensions, shame, remorse, his heart could contain nothing more. Several times during Ale-
xandrine, confounded by her assurance, her falseness, she had felt her eyes open up: and she finally understood that her conduct at this moment could not be a first attempt, because it is not in a day that one acquires such deplorable confidence in committing evil. It was therefore a perverted heart, worthy in everything of this Manette whom she had chosen as confidante. The last words she addressed to him, and which we have related above, put the height of her indignation.
Yet it is with these despicable beings that I have associated myself! she thought with horror; and, bursting into tears, she hastily went back up to her room to hide from all
the eyes her tears and her agitation. Oh ! how she was suffering at this moment! how she deplored the day on which she had met Alexandrine for the first time, especially that on which she had consented to the imprudent step of the morrow, the mere thought of which humiliated her for the present and alarmed her for the future! She saw no way of getting out of the mess in which she had been engaged: for following her first project was impossible for her; to give it up would be to draw upon her the anger and perhaps the revenge of the unworthy couple whom she had come to know too late. Oh ! if only she had one person left in whom she dared to confide and ask advice! But no, she had placed herself in this cruel isolation. Oh! how she now regretted the friend truly worthy of the name whose affection she had so ingratitudely rejected and heart saddened! Her gentle virtues recurred in her mind with all their charm, and made the contrast offered by Alexandrine's faults and conduct appear more hideous. She could not understand the blindness that had prevented her from seeing earlier what struck her then so clearly. She felt doubly the value of the treasure she had lost, and her feelings for Marie, suppressed only by Alexandrine's wicked insinuations, revived in her heart with new force and vivacity.
At this moment a slight noise made her raise her head, which she held hidden in her two hands; the door opened softly, and Marie appeared. She came forward timidly and, sitting down beside Felicie, took one of her hands, which she pressed affectionately in hers.
“I don't know,” she said to him, “if you understand the reason for my visit; but I can no longer, my dear Félicie, bear alone the grief of seeing You unhappy; for you are, I know: don't try to hide it. And what did the one you once treated with so much friendship do to you that you took her away from you? Oh ! How much trouble you have given me for several days!
"Could it be possible," said Felicie quickly, throwing herself on the neck of her first and true friend, "would it be possible that I still had a little part in your affection?" But if you knew how unworthy I am, if you knew all my faults, oh! I am certain of it, Marie, you would have nothing but indifference and contempt for me.
"I know everything," resumed Marie warmly, "and more than ever I have the ardent desire to console
my dear Félicie, and to work to spare her further trouble. »
After a few moments devoted to the happiness of such a sweet reconciliation, Félicie, entirely in her repentance and touched to the bottom of her heart by Marie's generous behavior, prepared, with the amiable frankness of her character, to a detailed confession of all that had happened to her: she was going to paint her wrongs in all their extent without trying to weaken any of them, when, to her great astonishment, Marie, eager to spare her the embarrassment she must have experienced , repeated to him that she knew everything; and, to convince him of it, she herself told him the following:
Gertrude, that faithful servant expelled from M. Gerard's house as a result of the calumnies debited to her account, was a poor widow, having no other fortune than a meager cabin and the wages she received from her master. Reduced, by the wickedness of which she had been the object and the victim, to a veritable misery, grief seized her, and she fell seriously ill. Her good reputation interested everyone in her favour, her neighbors gathered to look after her. Marie, informed of these sad accidents, had hastened to offer him all the consolations that were in her power. Finally, thanks to so many charitable cares, she recovered more quickly than one would have thought, and, recommended by Mother Jeanne, she had been admitted as a barnyard girl by the intendant of M. de Beauval. . But she still regretted her master Gerard, whom she had served for a long time, and to whom she was very attached.
A few days before, this same Gertrude had come to the farm, and had told Marie that she had unfortunate news to tell her; a worker friend of hers had been called to M. Gerard's to work for several days in a row arranging dresses for Alexandrine and one of her friends. She had been placed in a closet adjoining her bedroom, and separated from it only by a thin partition; from there, without any effort on her part, she heard the whisperings of Manette and her mistress, who were discussing sometimes the means they were employing to deceive Monsieur Gérard, sometimes about their desire to lead Félicie into their traps, and also of the spite and even of the hatred that for different reasons each one had conceived towards him. This girl had understood by their taunts that the poor child, still good and virtuous, had only allowed herself to be deceived, and, completely preoccupied with such a sad discovery (for she loved and respected Bernard and his family), she had spoken about it. to Gertrude, whose attachment to Marie she knew; the latter, for her part, knowing how much Marie was devoted to Felicie, had decided to come and inform her of the danger that her friend was running. Thus Marie had learned, with as much astonishment as pain, what the reader is already aware of.
During this story, Felicie's eyes and her whole attitude had painted successively indignation, pain, shame at having allowed herself to be dragged into such a society. She still found it hard to believe in the excess of falsity and darkness she had just discovered in the one to whom, just the day before, she had given the name of friend. In her turn, she told Marie what she could not know about the consequences of this fatal liaison, and, shedding very bitter tears, made her an entire confession of her faults. Oh! it was then that she was able to recognize the sweet goodness of a heart she had misunderstood. Mary carefully avoided anything in her words that might have added to Felicie's confusion! what tender compassion for the sorrows she felt at that moment! what forgetfulness of the offenses she had received, to think only of excusing her friend in her own eyes! But in showing such complete indulgence for all that was personal to her, she
did not imitate those friends according to the world, who, in their culpable weakness, hide the precipice instead of diverting from it those who do not know the danger which threatens them. Far from it, Marie, while sharing her friend's pain, thought she had to enlighten her with all her power on the forgetfulness she had done of her homework, on her already so rapid progress in the way of pride. and disobedience, and the dangers to which she had so lightly exposed herself. Then she spoke to her of that divine support which was lacking in her weakness, and which would have protected her from the pitfalls against which she had nearly crashed. She made him admire the goodness of God, who made him feel his weakness only to force her in some way to take refuge in his bosom: like a tender father who, holding his child's hand, leads him to the brink. from the precipice he wants him to avoid, lets him measure its depth, then at the moment when fear seizes him and when he feels dizzy, lifts him with a vigorous arm and moves him away from a place so perilous.
The heart of Marie, always animated by a charitable zeal, and, at this moment, quite occupied besides with the desire to be useful to her friend, suggested to her words so touching and so persuasive, that Félicie, truly repentant, did not felt no other desire than that of repairing his past faults. As may well be imagined, she began by renouncing her plans for the next day, and by taking measures to avoid Alexandrine's solicitations; but what pretext could be imagined with Jeanne for not accepting an invitation with which she had seemed charmed? While the two friends were reflecting on this difficulty, Geneviève came to tell them that supper was on the table, and they got up to follow her.
Night had quite fallen during this long conference, and the moon alone cast a faint light in the room: one of its rays falling on a large crucifix hanging on the wall attracted Felicie's attention; a sign is enough for Mary to understand it, and both, immediately kneeling at the foot of the cross, remained there for a few moments, one entirely in her repentance, the other in the ineffable joy of having brought back to her divine Master the sheep who was beginning to move away from the fold.
Getting up, Mary held out her hand to her companion and said to her: "It was at the foot of a cross that we met for the first time on earth: let it be again at the foot of the cross and under its divine auspices that our friendship is renewed, and that it is henceforth unalterable. »
For all answer, Felicie kissed him tenderly; but how expressive his silence was! They then hurried downstairs and joined the rest of the family, gathered for the evening meal.
When the young girls returned, Jeanne and Bernard were already at the table.
" What ! you too late! said the latter to Marie, in a tone half reproachful and half laughing: this morning again, I would have wagered that it was impossible to find you at fault. Good thing I did not; for it is a mistake, on my faith, to keep an honest man waiting for his supper, who has worked in the open air all day, and who comes back half-starved. »
While speaking thus, he proved the veracity of his words by the astonishing speed with which he had just made an enormous plate of soup disappear. Marie responded to this attack with her usual gentleness and good humor, and the conversation continued, to everyone's satisfaction, until the end of the meal.
Bernard, since the conversation he had had with his mother about Felicie, had ceased to give her those tokens of affection to which she was accustomed. Every day he had recognized, by his own observations, the justice of his good mother's complaints; and her discontent, increasing in proportion, would have burst out sooner had it not been for the promise she had wrung from him to be patient a little while longer. To this reason was added the extreme pain he felt at having to take so severely a daughter so dear, and who until then had not deserved any reproach.
Bernard's unaccustomed coldness had not escaped the truly filial heart of his child, and at that moment the stern face of the head of the family disturbed the sweet peace which Marie's angelic guidance had restored to the mind of his friend. How many wise projects crossed his mind for the future! what happiness she expected from the union which was about to be reborn, sweeter and more solid than ever, between her and this precious guide whose inestimable value she now appreciated! A few hours earlier, under the influence of perverse advice and examples, at the moment of being dragged down to her ruin, her face, once so smiling, bore the imprint of the trouble which agitated her soul: it was enough for this soul to turn to heaven and implore it; the resolution to leave the bad path and to walk henceforth in that of his duties restored calm to his heart, and a sweet serenity to his looks. Her eyes turn alternately to her parents, whom she regrets having afflicted so much, and to the author of her happy change; from time to time tears come to her eyelids in spite of herself; but they have nothing bitter about them, and spring from the best, the sweetest feelings.
None of his emotions, however, passed unnoticed in the eyes of Jeanne, whose natural perspicacity was powerfully seconded on this occasion by her maternal solicitude. She guessed that some explanation had taken place between the young girls, seeing an air of affection replacing the coldness which had reigned between them for some time. She drew happy omens from it, and during the meal showed a gaiety which communicated itself to Bernard and the rest of the family. There was a long wake after supper, and it was filled entirely with the tales of the good farmer, who was very fond of telling. Everyone then retired less sad than the previous days, and with good hope for the future.
There is a virtue whose irresistible charm makes itself felt in all hearts, which embellishes, if possible, innocence, and which clothes repentance in the most touching form. This virtue that everyone admires, even those who do not possess it, is sincerity, this noble feeling which makes us fear and reject an undeserved praise, an unfounded esteem, which makes us frankly recognize our wrongs and make them confess. generously without restriction and without detour. A base soul will never know this virtue; but she who has been endowed with noble feelings will never be unaware of it.
Retired to their room, the young girls, instead of taking their rest, busied themselves in concerting the plan which was to be adopted for the next day. There was no time to lose, since in the morning they had to warn Alexandrine not to count on Felicie. After some hesitation on the kind of pretext to which one would have recourse vis-à-vis her, Félicie suddenly exclaimed: “Hey! why so many detours and consideration? why should I be afraid to repair as much as is in my power the fault I committed by participating in Alexandrine's deceptions against her father! Yes, I want her to know how sorry I am, how much my first projects horrify me now; and perhaps the good Lord, who kept me on the edge of the abyss, will touch his heart by this means. It is true, she added, shaking Marie's hand, that she does not have, like me, a friend to watch over her.
"Perhaps," resumed the latter, smiling; but she has what is above all help here below, a celestial messenger constantly at her side, and whose inspirations will never fail her, if she wishes to open her heart to them. »
The two friends continued thus to pour out their souls in sweet confidence. They found a great charm in these communications, of which they had been deprived for so long. Félicie's tears flowed again when Marie described to her the affliction her poor grandmother felt when her absences were prolonged to the detriment of the care she was accustomed to receiving from her.
This long conversation was not without results, and when the young girls fell asleep, all their measures were taken to assure the good so happily begun.
The next morning, Marie was greatly surprised when, opening her eyes, she saw Felicie, kneeling by her bed, waiting for her to wake up. Across the joy spread over her countenance, one could read the traces of a recent emotion; his eyes, still red and moist, left no doubt about it.
" What ! already lifted! said Marie with astonishment; I'm afraid it's a little late; but our long vigil is the cause of it.
- Calm down! the hour is by no means late, resumed Felicie: get ready to listen to me patiently, for I have a whole story to tell you before allowing you to get up.
“You will know first of all that, having woken up very early in the morning, everything that had happened yesterday came back to me, and it was impossible for me to go back to sleep; then I turned my thoughts back to the use I had made of these last months: and I felt more than ever all my faults towards God, and his goodness towards me; I wept, but without bitterness.
- Oh! he himself spoke to your heart, exclaimed Marie, and his voice is never accompanied by terror or trouble.
"That's what I felt," resumed Felicie; for, after having implored from the bottom of my heart the forgiveness of my faults, I felt a great calm, and it seemed to me that I had been heard. Then my thoughts turned to my father, to my poor grandmother, and to the grief I had caused them. How ungrateful I felt to have paid for all their testimonies of tenderness in this way! I longed to see the light of day so that I could make them understand, through my care and my eagerness, the change that had taken place in my heart and my desire to repair my wrongs. Suddenly came back to me all my odious plans of deceit for that same day; I knew very well that it was easy for me to keep them hidden, and that no one would ever suppose me capable either of forming them or of associating myself with them. But it was precisely this thought that afflicted me, and I felt in advance that this sad secret would be like an enormous weight on my heart as long as it remained locked up there; I felt that the confidence of my parents, instead of rejoicing me, would cover me with confusion. Then the good Lord inspired me with a courageous resolution; I got up immediately, quite sure that my grandmother was awake; I descended slowly, and opened her door cautiously. She asked me with a smile what made me so early; I approached her bed and kissed her, praying to God inwardly to sustain me in my good resolution. I was heard, Mary; you guess the rest. Yes, my dear, now my good grandmother knows everything. I didn't disguise anything, attenuate anything. Oh ! how light my heart is now! If you only knew how my good grandmother heard the story of all my faults! I could never have believed it; at every moment I awaited the marks of his displeasure; but she did not reproach me. Abundant tears flowed down her venerable face, and when I had finished she opened her arms to me and hugged me to her heart, telling me that I was compensating her for all that I had made her suffer for some time past. ; that, if she had learned from others of my faults and my dissimulation, it would never have been possible for her to restore her affection and her confidence in me; that I had been very guilty, in truth, but that my frankness consoled her and reassured her altogether. For example, she seemed very indignant against Alexandrine and her odious Manette: I don't remember ever having heard her speak of anyone with such contempt and severity. Poor mother, how she blessed God for having rescued me from their hands, and you, Mary, for having been an instrument of salvation for me!
"Finally my father came in, and she immediately said to him with a satisfied air: 'Come, Bernard, kiss your daughter, she deserves it now.' He still hesitated; but I threw myself into his arms, and he pressed me there as tenderly as before. We were all three so moved that no one thought of breaking the silence. After a few moments my grandmother said to me: "Come on, my child, go and wake up Marie and bring her to me, because I can't wait to see her." So rise now, so that I can carry out my commission.
I will not dwell on the lively and pure joy which Marie felt at her friend's story, nor on the welcome which the two young girls received on reuniting with the family; I will only say that they were not content to bless in this circumstance, as they had done in a thousand others, the arrival of Marie under this hospitable roof, but that she was looked at and treated from then on as a cherished daughter. , which has become necessary for the happiness of the inhabitants of the farm.
Faithful to her resolution, on leaving the church that same day, Félicie joined Alexandrine,
who marched in front, and told her in a few words, but with firmness, her new resolution, and the reasons which had decided her to give up their first project. The latter seemed at first quite stupefied, but was not long in recovering her usual self-assurance, and with a burst of forced laughter: “All that is very beautiful, my dear; but your reflections seem to me a little too late to attribute the glory to you. I can easily guess who put them in your head, and I will be able to pay for it, as well as you, for the pleasure they give me. »
Felicie walked away without responding to this sarcasm, and was in no way worried about the threat it contained. Devoted entirely to her duties towards God and to the interior cares of the house, this day was one of the happiest she had passed for a long time. She felt that she could safely bear the tender and satisfied looks of her dear parents, and congratulated herself at all times on the happy efforts she had made to dare to enjoy them.
Although it was already the beginning of November, the weather had been wonderful all day; after vespers, the air, warmed by the rays of the sun, which had not darkened for a moment, invited one to take a stroll. No cold was felt, all nature was calm, and the two friends resumed with delight these Sunday walks, so sadly suspended. Marie intentionally walked towards the little wood where was the chapel of the Blessed Virgin before which she had so often wept for the abandonment of her friend. It was not without great tenderness that Felicie then learned from Marie's own mouth all that she had suffered on her occasion. But there was so little reproach in her tone, the expression of her present joy was so lively and so well felt, that it penetrated the heart of the poor culprit, and filled it with sweet consolation. It would have been touching to contemplate these two young girls, prostrate before the altar of Mary, promising each other at her feet to always remain united in heart, and to encourage each other to imitate her virtues and to merit her protection. Doubtless their wishes were granted, and the one who is never invoked in vain looked with an eye of complacency on this friendship, of which piety was to be the guarantor and the support. Their prayer over, the two companions got up and sat down at the foot of an oak whose shade once extended majestically over the Gothic chapel. After having admired the pretty mosses with which they were surrounded, and which are, at this time of the year, in all their charming freshness, and the varied tints of some trees scattered in the countryside, and which were not yet quite stripped, they shared a light snack, chatted joyfully about a thousand subjects which equally interested them, and which they had not been able to discuss for a long time; then they returned together to their home.
The supper and the evening passed off in a charming manner; each bore on his face the joy with which his heart was too full. A cheerful conversation seasoned with stories from Bernard, who was never short of them, made the evening pass more quickly than we would have liked.
Going to bed, after having timidly kissed her parents, Félicie could not help comparing the current situation of her soul with that which she would have been on her return from the party where she was to accompany Alexandrine, and she fell asleep. blessing God for the mercy he had shown her, and the evils from which he had saved her.
Let us now say a word about a long conversation that took place between Bernard and his mother immediately after Felicie's confession. Nothing can depict the indignation caused them by Alexandrine's conduct: this poor father deceived and then mocked by his own child; the honest Gertrude slandered, then driven out, as her unworthy mistress had herself boasted of; the traps set in cold blood and with such malice for their dear child: as all these circumstances presented themselves to their minds, they felt more their happiness that she had escaped such dangers, and the gratitude that they owed first to God, then to that gentle Mary, who had fulfilled the role of guardian angel so well for their daughter.
They then wondered what they could be obligated to this poor father so unworthily abused; and, after much reflection, they thought they ought to warn him of what was going on in his house and of the manner in which one responded to his confidence: would become so, on the contrary, by allowing, by its silence, to subsist disorders that could have been prevented. It was therefore decided that as soon as M. Gérard returned, Bernard would go and see him and inform him of everything he had learned. And now, not to return to this sad incident and its consequences, we will anticipate events a little, and we will say that Bernard followed his plan; that M. Gérard's indignation and grief were at their height, that he bitterly repented of not having brought up his daughter in the simplicity and love of his duties, and cursed a thousand times the vanity that had lost. Manette was ignominiously dismissed, Gertrude recalled; Alexandrine, whom her father wanted to keep away from the dangerous society of her neighbor Mme Servin was sent to Le Mans to spend two or three years there with a sister of her mother, whose severity, and even one might say harshness, gave her a lot to suffer. She drew some fruit from the comparison she often had to make between her father's kindness and indulgence and the rigor to which she had become the object. A young cousin, daughter of this more virtuous than amiable aunt, succeeded, by her pious advice and example, in reforming Alexandrine's bad inclinations; she introduced him to the religion of which she had hitherto been so completely ignorant, accustomed him to her holy practices, and, on returning to his father's house, this girl, of whom he had had so much to complain, procured him every consolation. what he could expect. Doubtless divine goodness had shown itself so great towards her out of pity for the ignorance which had made her neglect her duties, her obligations, and because she had not added to her faults the one whom the Lord punishes the more severely, the abuse of his graces.
As for Felicie, she soon acquired a new proof of the advantage one always finds, even for one's temporal interest, in acting with candor and uprightness; for, at the instigation of Manette, furious at what had happened, Alexandrine, to avenge herself for Félicie's abandonment, wrote to her grandmother all the details of what had been planned between her and her little one. -daughter, believing well that by denouncing it this one had not failed to disguise the share that she had wanted to take in her faults. Jeanne gave this letter to this dear child, to make her understand still better what pitfalls she had just escaped; then, laying her hand on the head of the young girl then on her knees before her: “Thank God,” she said to him, “for having been so sincere; for, if you had been able to receive my caresses with such a secret on your heart, never, no, never would I have been able to restore my confidence in you and love you as I do now, she added, imprinting on her forehead the tenderest maternal kiss.
Happiness had reappeared under this patriarchal roof, and it was to be hoped that it would settle there; because it rested on a solid foundation. Led by Mary to the feet of this worthy pastor whom they had received with so much joy at Semicourt, Felicie was reconciled with her God; she had possessed in her heart the strength of the weak, the joy of angels, and, after having tasted the celestial sweetness of piety, it seemed to her impossible ever to fall back into her former indifference.
A month after all these events, Marie, seated near Jeanne, was reading to her piously, Felicie was trying to put her little brother to sleep on her knees; the day was about to end, and Geneviève had not returned. The hour at which she usually returned from school had passed some time ago, and people were beginning to worry about this prolonged delay, when at last she arrived, all out of breath and barely able to speak. When she had caught her breath, she related that on leaving the school she had noticed a fairly large gathering on the road; and that, having approached to find out what gave rise to it, she had seen an old woman who seemed unconscious, and whom the peasants were carrying on a stretcher. They had seen her stretched out at the foot of a tree, and they were going to deposit her in a stable, to shelter her from the already very bitter cold which it had been that evening. We wanted to question him when
she had seemed to come to her senses; but she had not been able to articulate a single word. Geneviève, driven a little by curiosity, but also by the compassion inspired in her by this unfortunate woman, had turned from her route to follow her, then, noticing that it was late, she had run without stopping until 'at the farm.
Everyone felt sorry for the sad fate of the poor woman, and Marie asked where she had been taken. Having learned that it was among fairly good people, but whose religious indifference was too well known, she communicated to Jeanne her fear that no one would take the trouble to procure for her the kind of help of which she was perhaps most desperate. need ; perhaps death was going to strike her; perhaps her poor soul was about to fall into eternity, without anyone having tried to speak to her of God ready to judge her! Alarmed by this thought, Marie asked permission to go to her to try to be useful to her. At first, some obstacles were opposed to her, such as the difficulty of presenting herself at this hour to people with whom she was not intimate, and from whom she would perhaps be unwelcome; but above all they objected to the darkness then complete, which made it unwise to cover quite a considerable distance alone.
Marie seemed so distressed at not being able to follow her charitable wish, that Bernard, having returned during Geneviève's story, removed all the difficulties by offering to accompany her, bringing a bottle of old wine to the poor patient, to excuse this nocturnal visit. . In acting thus, Bernard was following the impulse of his naturally compassionate heart, and he was moreover delighted to please the charitable young girl; for he had always appreciated her since her arrival at Beauval, and the thought that she had rescued Felicie from the greatest of all dangers had made Marie as dear to him as his own child.
Things thus arranged, Marie and Bernard, armed with a lantern, set out. Félicie would have liked to accompany them; but she was indispensable to the house, and too well instructed in her true duties not to understand that she was more pleasing to God by fulfilling those which he had laid down for her, than by neglecting them in order to follow the impulse of a charity which, in this case, would have been irrelevant.
Arriving in the stable where the patient had been placed, Marie saw her stretched out on a few bales of straw; only the half-burnt remnant of a candle lighted up this bed of suffering and cast a pale gleam in this wretched place.
While Bernard entered the house to tell its inhabitants the reason for his visit, Marie approached the poor abandoned woman. A cup with broken edges and a bowl of herbal tea were placed near her. Her short, hurried breathing, as well as the flush of her cheeks and the fire which animated her eyes, sufficiently announced that she was in the grip of a burning fever. The stranger seemed astonished at the sight of the gentle face which approached her, and deeply touched by the tone of interest in which she questioned her about her condition. She answered him in a few words, and Marie learned with pleasure that a doctor, then in the village, had come to see her, and had not found any dangerous symptoms in her, at least for the moment; he thought, however, that they indicated the beginning of an illness which could become serious because of the exhaustion in which the poor woman appeared.
Marie was astonished at the tone in which these words were pronounced and at the manner in which this woman expressed herself; for she was hardly in harmony with the situation in which she found herself reduced. After a few moments of reflection, Marie went to find Bernard, and conjured him to let her pass the night with this unfortunate woman; for, she said, this will perhaps be the only occasion I will find to speak to her of God and of his conscience, if, as the doctor has announced, his illness should be prolonged and worsen. Not wishing to afflict him with a refusal, Bernard, not without some difficulty, took the road to Beauval alone.
Back at the patient's bedside, Marie saw tears of gratitude shining in her eyes when she told her that she intended to watch over her during that night. Her young nurse was not long in ascertaining, by questions asked with measure and prudence, that the soul of this unfortunate woman was in a more deplorable state than her body.
Oh ! How well that night was spent by the charitable Marie! How touching were his exhortations! how lively and pressing they were! She had not begun them without ardently entreating the Lord to place on her lips words of persuasion and salvation. He had received in his mercy such merciful wishes; for the patient, whose features and words had previously expressed desolation and almost despair, suddenly exclaimed, clasping her hands: “Ah! my God, then, you have not yet abandoned me, since you are sending me a consoling angel! My child, she continued, addressing Marie
would have horror of me if you knew me, if my faults, or rather my crimes were revealed to you! And she covered her face with her hands, sobbing heartrendingly.
" Oh! no, don't be afraid of him, resumed Marie, touched with a lively compassion; rather remember these words of our divine Saviour: "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who does penance, than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of penance...I I have come to save what was lost...” The Holy Gospels are filled with these consoling promises: it is for sinners that they were pronounced. It seems that among the divine perfections, mercy is that which our God is most pleased to make us admire.
The patient continued to weep silently; but his looks already announced a less painful agitation. Mary, fearing to tire her by speaking to her too long, sat down beside her and prayed inwardly that her heart might be touched by the repentance which alone could obtain forgiveness for her crimes; for his poor soul seemed overwhelmed with remorse and alarm. After short, frequently repeated exhortations, Marie had the happiness of seeing her disposed to receive a visit the next day from the worthy parish priest of Semicourt, and this success of her care made her forget all the fatigues of such a painful night.
Taking advantage of a moment when Therese (that was the patient's name) seemed drowsy, Marie left the stable; the first rays of day were beginning to appear. She went to the priest; after having acquitted herself of the charitable mission which she had imposed on herself, and having given him an account of the state of the poor neglected woman and of the words which had escaped her, she placed this affair in more skilful hands than her own. , and immediately returned to Beauval.
When she got there she was in consternation: little Paul had been attacked with croup during the night, and was still causing grave anxiety. The doctor, however, had not lost hope of saving him; but Bernard, who had only this one son, who had cost him so dear, was overwhelmed with anxiety. Mother Jeanne, whose age no longer permitted her to act, was kept in bed by a redoubled infirmity. Marie multiplied herself on this sad occasion: everyone had a share in her care. Finally Heaven took pity on this afflicted family: the child recovered, and peace and gratitude replaced cruel alarms; but for almost eight days Marie had not been able to return to the unfortunate Thérèse.
However, she had learned with the liveliest joy, from the parish priest of Sémicourt, of the success of his charity with the poor stranger. He had found her, he said, ready to take advantage of his care. Since her reconciliation with Heaven, she seemed relieved of such a great weight that her health even improved. His illness had only lasted a few days; but his weakness was extreme, and the doctor thought that his temperament was too exhausted for his life to be prolonged much:
As soon as it had been possible, the good priest had had the patient taken to his house; and when Marie and Felicie went to see her the following Sunday, they found her lying in a good bed, surrounded by care and a cleanliness which contrasted greatly with the state in which she had been a few days before. The priest's sister was near her, supporting the plate from which she was eating a tasty soup. It was in this way that the charitable doctor of his soul still wished to alleviate the ills of this poor body so exhausted by the fatigues and privations endured for long years. He intended to keep her at home until she recovered, or the good Lord put an end to her miserable existence.
On perceiving Marie, Therese uttered a cry of joy, and, drawing her towards her, expressed to her with effusion the most touching gratitude; She owed him, she said, more than her life, since she had been the first to bring a ray of hope into his soul, so long plunged in the darkness of despair. Marie gazed with emotion at this now calm and resigned face, and was edified, like Felicie, by all that the patient said to her of the goodness of God towards her and of the charity of her minister. They asked her, with moderation and precaution, a few questions about the place where she usually lived, and about the circumstances which had brought her to Semicourt. The patient sighed, and, after a few moments of reflection: “I want,” she said to them, “my dear children, to undergo the profound humiliation which I have deserved, by telling you the sad story of my life; it will be a useful lesson for your youth, and will furnish you with an experience which I bought at the price of long sufferings, and which without you perhaps I would have paid for at the price of my poor soul! I have only this means of proving my gratitude to you. May God deign to bless my intention, and give me the strength to reveal to you, to begin to expiate them, all the faults and all the misfortunes of my life! »
They agreed to meet the following Sunday to hear this story which they so desired to know, and the young girls returned to Beauval, promising each other to be punctual at a rendezvous which excited all their interest.
Story of Therese Bontour.
“I was born near the small town of Orbec in Normandy. My father had grown old in the service of a family whose ancestors had lived in the Château de Furville for more than a century, and which was adored by the inhabitants of the village, whom it showered with blessings. My mother, charged with the care of the house during the stay which her masters made at Rouen every winter, and with several domestic details when they were at the chateau, had earned their esteem by her attachment and her excellent conduct. Mme de Furville had a thousand kindnesses for me, taught me the catechism herself, taught me to read, to work, and, charmed by the intelligence that I announced, often kept me with her, especially since the loss of of her two children, with whom she once allowed me to play, and whose lessons I shared. His piety alone helped him bear misfortunes which had seriously affected his health.
“I had benefited enough from his care to be able to read, write and work better than many children of my age at the age of twelve. I was much loved by the servants, to whom I rendered with great complaisance all the little services of which I was capable. My heart was good, and the sight of an unfortunate person gave me so much pain that I importuned all those with whom I happened to be to obtain permission and the means to relieve him.
“My dear mistress observed all these arrangements, and believed that she would find in them the assurance of seeing one day her care rewarded, and her little protegee becoming a good and honest girl, whom she intended to keep in her service. She had an elderly housekeeper, who was beginning to become crippled; her long services well deserved the rest which her mistress intended to grant her as soon as she had initiated me into all the little talents which had rendered her so useful in her household. At the age of sixteen, I found myself quite capable of replacing her.
“Two years ago I had lost my father; my mother, that the kindness of Mme de Furville had supported since that misfortune, was also taken from me following a fall which had deprived her of the use of her legs, and had kept her for several months on a bed of pain.
"About this time I was installed, as chambermaid, with my benefactress, and the one who had done her duties no longer had any other job than that of instructing me well in my new duties, and of monitor achievement. Thus was rewarded a lifetime of loyalty and attachment to his masters, the ordinary fate of servants who, by their good service and devotion, deserved to be considered at the end of their career as members of a family to whom their strengths and their youth have been consecrated.
“My future was announced in the most prosperous way; and, without an unfortunate fault which perhaps had not been corrected severely enough, I could have led a gentle and above all innocent life, instead of falling into the aberrations of which the humiliating confession will, I hope, be a beginning of atonement.
"This defect, the consequences of which have been so disastrous to me,; was at first only the annoying faculty of inventing, when I was a child, a thousand little stories in which I counted the truth for nothing. After having seemed more amusing than dangerous in a child, this faculty later turned into a habit of lying, which became incorrigible. I never worried whether a thing was true or false in order to deny it or to affirm it, and, as long as I did no wrong to anyone, I persuaded myself that I was not guilty by uttering a lie; I believed myself even more irreproachable, if this lie was intended to justify me, me or my comrades;
“If I could allow myself a reproach towards my good mistress, it would be to have shown too much indulgence for this fatal disposition, which has been the origin of all the misfortunes and all the faults of my life. Terrible example, which should teach all those who are responsible for bringing up childhood; that the first virtue to be cultivated in young hearts is the love of truth; even in the smallest things!
“My comrades were the first to realize that I was what they called a storyteller and to be wary of my stories. The good Juliette, in spite of her friendship for me, could not refrain from informing her mistress of this, hoping that her reproaches would have more effect on me than the remonstrances full of kindness which she had so often addressed to me.
“Mme de Furville, whose piety was great, hoped to correct me by remembering the instructions I had received at the time of my first communion, she reminded me of the commitment I had made then never to spend more a month without approaching the sacraments, and tried to make me understand that the habit of lying was an absolute obstacle to the accomplishment of this resolution.
“Although quite intimidated by his dissatisfaction and his reproaches, I ventured to represent to him that until then I had never invented anything that could harm anyone, and that lying to excuse his faults or those of others did not seem to me a great evil.
"If you had remembered better, my child," she said to me, "what I have often said to you about the horror that every sin must inspire in a Christian, you would not regard today as a trivial thing a habit which without cease to cause you to offend God; for you cannot ignore that the slightest lie displeases him; and if you get used to committing a fault without repugnance because it does not seem serious to you, you are very far from having the feelings towards God that I have always tried to inspire in you. Be certain, moreover, that if you accustom yourself to wounding the truth in things which seem trivial to you, the day will come when this detestable habit will lead you into faults, and perhaps crimes which today are very far from your mind and your heart.
“These words made me burst into tears; for at bottom my intentions were not bad, and the idea of becoming a bad subject caused me inexpressible shame and dread.
“After this warning, I watched myself for some time; but if I succeeded in several circumstances in mastering this unfortunate inclination, I cannot think without deep sorrow of the one which about this time began to develop, and the consequences of which made me for so many years as unhappy as they were guilty.
“I was approaching my twentieth year; until then the life I had led had been marked neither by great vices nor by true virtues. Never having been what one might call a pious girl, I fulfilled with a sort of indifference the indispensable duties of religion, and, although the thought of committing a sacrilege would have horrified me, I was too little thoughtful to understand that I was exposing myself to this dreadful misfortune by neglecting, as I usually did, the pious practices to which I had been accustomed. The occasion alone had failed to develop my passions; when it presented itself I found myself without the strength to overcome them.
“There was in the chateau a young girl of my age whose delicate health gave great concern for her life; my good mistress, always occupied with the unfortunate, had made her leave the wretched dwelling of her poor parents, and supervised herself the care that was rendered to her, the fatigue of which she often shared. Valentine's gentleness and gratitude attached her not only to her benefactress, but to all those who had cared for her during her long illness. It was then that for the first time in my life the unworthy feeling of jealousy arose in my heart. If I had had the salutary habit of listening to the warnings of my conscience, I would have repressed from their birth the fatal impressions which began to agitate me; but, light, thoughtless, and having no fear of offending God, I gave myself up; without even noticing it, to all the bad feelings which rose within me against my poor companion. Despite my carelessness and thoughtlessness, I could not help making a comparison between her and myself that was not to my advantage; for she had none of the faults with which I was reproached. The facility I had in arranging stories which, although false, were not implausible, came to the aid of my wickedness, and this time the lies no longer had the excuse I usually gave them: that of not harm anyone;
“I invented a story about poor Valentine which, while attacking her probity, could not fail to raise the most injurious suspicions against her. I had the misfortune to give such plausible appearances there that my mistress and the good Juliette were deceived there, and the innocent girl was sent back to her parents; but the latter, humiliated and irritated by the fault of which he was accused, refused to accept it. They came to report to the chateau that they had found her with a thin bundle on her arm, making her way sadly towards the town of Orbec; As my heart was not yet hardened, I experienced a feeling of horror on seeing the terrible effect my calumny had produced, and my first impulse was to go to my mistress and confess my fault to her; for its terrible consequences filled me with dread. I left my room to follow this salutary thought; but unfortunately! you had to go through a long corridor, go down the grand staircase, then cross several rooms; all this took a few minutes; they sufficed to shake my resolution, for the shame of my odious lie appeared before me like a phantom. I saw in an instant all the reproaches and humiliations that were going to attract me, and, weak as one is when one does not seek in God the strength to overcome oneself, I ran back to lock myself in my room: I spent two hours there in anguish which is still present to me, and in combats impossible to describe.
“All the lessons of our worthy parish priest, of my mistress and of Juliette, crowded into my memory. How many times had I been told that the shame of a lie, of a calumny, is effaced by the confession one makes of it; what a solid proof of a repentance which always obtains forgiveness, and a remedy for the deplorable habit whose fatal consequences I then experienced so terribly! I felt in the bottom of my heart that I would be reconciled with God and restore peace to my conscience, by restoring to this innocent girl a possession more precious than all the treasures of the world, her good reputation. Miserable that I was! I would not then have wanted to unjustly appropriate to myself the smallest thing that had belonged to him, and I knowingly deprived him of the honor, the love of his parents, and the esteem of honest people!
“All these thoughts pierced my heart; but my weakness prevailed: I maintained a culpable silence; and what today puts the height of my remorse is that I have since learned that the unfortunate Valentine, rejected, without asylum, without protection, after having struggled for some time against her sad fate, ends up deserving the humiliating reproaches that I had brought to bear on her. I have never been able to know if later repentance entered his heart; but I learned that she had died, in a fairly distant town, of a contagious disease which prevailed at the time when she had just taken refuge there to flee the prosecution of justice. And here is the fruit of my first blackness!... O my God, how great is your mercy, since you do not refuse it to a wretched creature like me!
“A few months passed during which remorse deprived me of all rest, and the fear that my wickedness might come to light kept me in a state of continual fear. If a stranger entered the courtyard of the castle, it seemed to me that it was an informer who was going to reveal my imposture; if my masters spent a few days with neighbors, I had no doubt that they would return informed of my conduct, and their return made me tremble. How miserable my life was during that time! If I had had the courage to accuse myself, I would have appeased my remorse, and my confession would have disposed my masters to indulgence; but pride restrained me, and God permitted that at the moment when I was beginning to reassure myself, chance, or, to put it better, divine justice, revealed the odious secret which made me so unhappy.
“I have already told you that I had accused the probity of my companion. My mistress having lost a purse containing a few pieces of gold, I had the indignity to insinuate that Valentine had stolen it from her. My imagination made all the charges of circumstances which seemed quite plausible, and this last accusation, by confirming several other charges which I had already ventured, was like the drop of water which made the overfilled glass overflow. The unfortunate girl was shamefully driven from a house where she had found so much help and kindness.
"Eight months after this fatal incident, M. de Furvile returned one day from hunting in
so much a cambric handkerchief which he had found in a copse not far from the chateau; this handkerchief, for so long in the middle of the brushwood and the humidity, had only attracted his attention because while rummaging with the end of his gun in the middle of a pile of dead leaves where a partridge had just fallen, he had hung it; and, to his great astonishment, he had thought he heard, as he threw him back into the brushwood, the sound of a few coins striking against stones. He bent down, examined the handkerchief more closely, and found tied in one of its corners a small purse containing four louis d'or. He could not have failed to recognize the one my mistress had lost, and soon remembered that the previous spring, on returning from a walk, she had sat down in the same place, at the foot of a large oak tree which stood at the entrance to the copse. It was easy to understand that her handkerchief had been forgotten there, and that, not having noticed at first that she was missing it, the moment of rest she had taken in the woods had no longer presented itself to her. his memory to explain to him the loss of his scholarship.
“As soon as my master returns, Mrs.me de Furville sent for me, and in the presence of this positive proof of the falsity of the circumstances I had invented, my imagination, usually so fruitful, furnishes me with no excuse. I remained motionless, mute, and in such horrible confusion that, if I lived another hundred years, the memory could not be erased.
“My masters, indignant, did not want to keep me any longer with them; out of compassion they added fifty francs to what was due to me from my wages, and paid for my place in a carriage which was to take me to Rouen; but they were too fair to give me a certificate of good conduct. They had, however, the charity of recommending me to a seamstress, a good woman, who employed several workers. I could still emerge from the abyss into which I was beginning to be drawn; but you will see, my dear children, from the rest of my story, how guilty one can become when one has lost the fear of God and only listens to the voice of the passions. It is already late, you must leave me. If you can come back tomorrow, I will continue a very humiliating story, and which the desire to expiate my wrongs and also the hope of being useful to you can alone give me the strength to finish. »
A first fault.
The young girls, whose interest and curiosity were almost equally aroused by the story of the unfortunate Thérèse, did not fail to come and see her the next day, and after a few moments she resumed her story in these terms:
“Mmo Martin, into whose house I had been received on the recommendation of my good masters, was a widow of fifty years of age, full of benevolence and charity as well as piety, treating her workers as her children, and providing them with all the innocent pleasures which suitable for their age and condition. Do you not recognize the goodness of God towards me, miserable as I was, in seeing that he had led me as if by the hand to one of his most faithful servants? O my dear children, what an enemy of one's own happiness when one despises the benefits of God and the means that his providence employs to pull us out of the bad path in which we are engaged!
“I could have led a sweet and innocent life in this house; but the vices of which I spoke to you never work alone: lies and jealousy soon lead to other excesses. I will not detail to you the circumstances which forced Mr.me Martin to expel me from her house, despite the recommendation of my former masters.
"When I left this house, I did not look for one that could offer me the same guarantees. Every day I lost my way more, and desired only the freedom to follow my evil inclinations. The mistress I went to cared very little about the behavior of the young girls she employed, and, provided they worked well, thought it very good that they did not go to church, because she could make them work on Sunday mornings when she was in a hurry. Nor did she object to our going in the evening to those meeting places so dangerous for people of our condition. I had then a pleasant face; as a result of the education given to me by M.me de Furville, my manners and my language had nothing coarse about them, and my exterior was far from announcing the vices which disfigured my poor soul.
“At these workers' balls, I was very flattered by the preference I generally obtained over my companions; so, instead of employing the product of my labor in useful things, I devoted all my attention to procuring myself the prettiest dress, the most elegant bonnet in the assembly: and when I had succeeded in spreading out some rags, with whom I thought myself fitted like a great lady, my joy was at its height.
“Several months went by like this. It is useless to tell you that I neglected all my religious duties; I never prayed to God; I never heard his holy word; much less still would I have thought of approaching the sacraments. The previous year, the priest of Furville had not allowed me to celebrate my Easter because of the dreadful calumny which I did not want to retract. Holy Week was approaching, and although I felt just as unworthy and much more, alas! that I had not been until then, to be admitted to the participation of the sacraments, I could not, without great interior fights, fail to present myself to the tribunal of penance; for I had been too well instructed not to know that at Easter, at least, it is an indispensable duty. The holy days had already passed; but the solemnity of Easter drew me to the church, and I heard there such a touching exhortation addressed to those who had not yet fulfilled the duty imposed by this holy time, that I left the church almost determined to come back the same evening to find the one whose words had touched me.
“Unfortunately, on returning home, I met a young girl whose company had already been fatal to me in more than one respect; she induced me, by her entreaties and her flattery, to take part in a great meeting projected for the evening, and that day, which might have been the time of my conversion, only induced me further into the fatal career from which your charity withdrew me: new proof that one does not reject, without irritating God and without thereby deserving his abandonment, the good movements he inspires.
“For a long time, this probity which was once so dear to me had suffered more than one failure, and, to procure the ornaments with which I was so occupied, I had not always been afraid to appropriate either pieces of The fabric was expensive lace, which was used at my mistress's, and until then I had succeeded in escaping all suspicion. Emboldened by impunity, I finally went to an excess that a few months earlier would have made me shudder with horror.
“A young man whom I was soon to marry, having lost at gambling the sum of fifty crowns, which his master, a jeweler, had entrusted to him to pay for a memorandum, came to find me, hoping that I could lend it to him; but, although I earned enough to save a little, my toilet expenses always exceeded what I received, and I had not ten francs to offer to a friend or an unfortunate person. This young man, reduced to despair on seeing himself lost, suggested to me the fatal thought of taking this sum from my mistress, who often entrusted me with her keys, and he assured me at the same time that it would be faithfully returned to me in a short time. days. Subjugated by his entreaties, I was miserable enough to procure for him in this culpable manner the sum which, he said, would save him from dishonour. But whoever could induce me to commit such an action certainly had no sense of the duties imposed by the simplest honesty, and did not dream of extricating me from the horrible embarrassment in which he had plunged me. To tell you what I suffered for three days, while waiting, as he had so promised me, for the fatal sum to be brought back to me, would be impossible. At last time brought the discovery of my crime, and, had it not been for a charitable warning which I received from one of my companions, I should have fallen into the hands of justice, to which my mistress had denounced me.
“Leaving home with five francs and ten sous for my entire fortune, and a package containing a little linen, I walked for four hours straight through the countryside, without knowing which way I was going. Finally, overwhelmed with fatigue and a prey to the liveliest terrors, I listened for a long time to see if, in the middle of the silence of the night, some distant noise might not strike my ear... No...; it seemed that I was alone in nature. Alas! I was there alone with my bad conscience, and that is a kind of torment that you will never experience, I hope, my dear children. I dared not raise my eyes to the sky, which I would have implored with so much confidence if I had only had to fear the ordinary accidents which one may encounter in a journey! My strength completely failing me, I lay down in a wood, about thirty paces from the road which it bordered; despite my alarms, sleep came to my rescue, and when I awoke it was already broad daylight. Hunger pressed me; I had eaten nothing since the morning of the previous day. Determined to enter the first village I came across, I set off again; and at the end of two hours, perceiving a steeple, I went towards a large village which stretched out in front of me on a hill, about two kilometers from the place where I was. On arriving there, I soon saw, from the extraordinary movement that was taking place there, that I had fallen into the midst of the preparations for a village festival; it was to take place two days later. I offered my services as a worker to several young girls who were sorry not to have been able to finish their bonnets or their dresses, and they were accepted with joy.
“The next day, Saturday, the eve of the feast, we saw merchants arriving in toys, even earthenware and toiletries. Their shops were spread out, to the great joy of the children and also of all the inhabitants. But what charmed them above all was to see a large wagon enclosing a theatre, or, to put it better, the trestles of a charlatan who came not only to cure all illnesses, but also to perform a thousand tricks of sleight of hand, to which he unfortunately joined others less innocent.
“The family of this man, named Taurin, consisted of his mother, his wife and three children, a boy aged sixteen, and two girls a few years younger. Each had his role: the father sold drugs and did a few tricks with his son; the little girls danced on the rope, walked on their hands and twisted their bodies in a hundred ways that made one shudder to see, because it was always believed that they were going to kill themselves or cripple themselves for their lives; it was to the grandmother that was entrusted the important and lucrative job of telling fortunes, and of taking advantage of the simplicity and ignorance of these poor people, of whom some accomplice had always taught her to brings forward past stories or plans for the future.
“Sunday was a day of joy and amusement, which great care was taken to renew the following day, Monday. The whole village was in motion, and we had had so much fun, we had seen so many beautiful things, that no one was in a hurry to get back to work. We would have liked to be able to retain for another day or two the troop which had procured so much pleasure; but Taurin was unwilling to prolong his stay; for, had we been late in leaving, we might have noticed that some article of adornment or some silver snuff-box had changed masters. So on Monday evening, before everyone had gone home, the troop got ready to leave. I was astonished to see Taurin, who had heard many praises of my skill, come and offer me to accompany them; his wife and daughters had little time to work; his mother was often in need of care, and if I wanted to associate with them, they would give me a share in their profits. Alas! I have since learned too well, at the expense of my conscience, what he meant, the unfortunate, by his profits! The proposal seemed to me too advantageous for me to hesitate to accept it.
“So here I am sitting in their cart. They told me that they were going to leave the road to Paris and go towards Lorraine, which charmed me; for the further I got from Rouen, the more relieved I felt. In the first moments, I had thought only of rejoicing in seeing that I was going to avoid the punishments that threatened me. Once reassured about the fear of falling into the hands of justice, I had great difficulty in consoling myself for having lost in a moment all that I had amassed over so many years of work. My thin package could not contain, as you can well imagine, all that I needed; not only all those pretty dresses of which I was so proud, but the objects of first necessity were lost to me, and this absolute destitution was doubtless a first punishment for the way in which I had acquired formerly
many of the things I regretted.
“Tomorrow, my dear children, I will inform you of the continuation of my sad adventures; but now I need rest, for it cannot be without great difficulty that one replays in his memory a life like mine. »
A family of wanderers.
“I traveled with my new masters,” continued Therese the evening of the following day, “many towns, many villages; Promptly instructed in the art of deception, I helped the mother marvelously in her lies, and I replaced her when she could not tell them herself. Moreover, as I was not lacking in skill, it happened to me more than once to bring back to the common treasury valuable objects, obtained with enough dexterity so that suspicion did not fall on us. But if the good Lord allows us to escape for some time the punishments that crime deserves, I have clearly seen, in the rest of my life, that the moment always comes when his justice makes itself felt.
“I spent many years in this fatal way of life, and, as you can imagine, it had destroyed what few good feelings I had left, or rather good memories. I sank every day in the deplorable path of crime, and I myself would not have believed that I could henceforth be touched by the desire to do a good deed, when a circumstance came to prove to me that God, that I had offended so much, had not allowed all good feeling to be extinguished helplessly in his wretched creature.
"The unfortunate Taurin, without pity as without remorse, had found a way to attract to him and take away a poor little girl whom he intended, at the risk of seeing her perish in exercising her, to replace his daughters, outgrown to perform many of the tricks he had trained them in. My compassion for this child and for the pains of her mother made me form the project of having her returned to her, despite the dangers I might run in undertaking this difficult task. At the end of a few months, during which I had softened as far as I could the sad fate of this poor little girl, I succeeded in having her placed by a reliable man in the arms of her parents.
“After this action I felt relieved of a great weight, and although it could not have much merit in the eyes of God, because I had followed in accomplishing it only the natural movement of a compassionate heart, I have always believed that she had won me some graces; for, very often since, the thought of my life so culpable excited in me burning remorse, and one is not abandoned without resource when remorse still troubles us; I know today to what point I pushed ingratitude by not taking advantage, to convert myself, of those whom God sent me. Taurin never knew that it was through me that the child had been delivered.
“Several more years passed, and I still followed the unhappy kind of life that I have described to you. At last the moment came when Taurin's mother, aged eighty-six, was forced by her infirmities to renounce her odious role as pretended witch. His daughters had married; the son, a clever trickster, could not endure this itinerant life, and wanted to settle in a big city, where he thought he was sure of making a fortune. Taurin, who had amassed enough money, went to live in Lyons, and offered to stay with his mother and take care of her, promising me not to leave me in trouble later.
“I had myself put aside a small sum, and as at that time I was not yet fifty years old, I thought that, when the poor mother died, I could still work; moreover, naturally carefree, I was not worried about the future. Nor did I reflect on the manner in which I had acquired the little that I possessed: it could not have left me the hope of enjoying it and of being happy, for the justice of God ordinarily pursues and attains the guilty when they think they are safest from it.
“We had been fixed for no more than two years, and Taurin, who had given himself up to gambling, had lost almost all the fruit of his plunder in such a short time. Far from returning to himself and seeking to repair by work the losses which his misconduct had brought on him, he thought only of doing on a larger scale the sad profession of his whole life, and he associated himself with a band of criminals. However, the time had come when he was finally to experience the rigors of human justice; it weighed on him, and an infamous condemnation separated him forever from his family. I heard that little survived, and that his death had been as impious as his life had been criminal.
“The son of this unfortunate man immediately left the city of Lyons, unable to bear the shame with which his father's condemnation had covered him; and the poor mother was so taken aback on learning of the misfortunes that befell her children, that she fell seriously ill. As I did not have a bad heart, I took care of her as best I could. After many nights spent with her, and without leaving her room for a moment, I felt so much the need to breathe cleaner air that one day I entrusted her to the care of a neighbor for a few hours, and I went out. for the sole purpose of walking. It was a Sunday; but the thought of the duties this day imposes was long lost on me. I saw many people going towards a large church, and, by a mechanical movement, I associated myself with this crowd. As I entered, I saw a venerable old man ascending the pulpit, surrounded by a large audience; my first impulse was to go out, but he began his speech. Her sweet and noble countenance, anointing sound of voice and words caught my attention. Standing, leaning against a pillar, I listened for a few minutes. He preached on scandal, and painted with such force the misfortune of a soul which, in some way or other, contributed to the loss of another, that at the very moment the memory of Valentine came to present itself. in my mind and strike me with real terror. I saw, I heard God asking me to account for this soul so innocent at the moment when my wickedness, by causing it to lose its protectors, had led it first to misery, then to crime.
“I felt my face flooded with tears, and, fearing to be noticed, I left the church in a state of anguish that it is impossible for me to describe to you. God, always merciful towards me, suggested to me the idea of seeking to appease his anger by contributing to the salvation of a guilty soul, after having had the terrible misfortune of causing the loss of an innocent one. I immediately resolved to use all my influence with poor mother Taurin to induce her to see a priest. If the worthy parish priest whom I had just heard had known that she was ill, he would have hastened to come and offer her the consolations of religion; but he didn't know, and I didn't know how to manage to introduce him to her. I confided my embarrassment to the neighbor of whom I have just spoken to you, and who was a good and pious woman. She undertook to warn the priest both of the illness and the dispositions of the poor cripple.
“The next morning, the venerable minister of the Lord came to our lodgings, and it was not without real shock that I heard him knock softly at the door; for I feared that her charity would expose her to a very painful reception. In fact, as soon as the sick woman saw him, a mixture of vexation and terror appeared on her face.
“The worthy priest approached his bed with an air full of kindness; but at first she replied only with a rather abrupt yes or no to the questions he addressed to her about her sufferings. Soon, gathering her strength, she told him that she could see what he was getting at, but that having not confessed for more than sixty years, and having so often heard it said that it was very useless, she was not going, in the state of weakness in which she found herself, to begin to take care of all that; that she thanked him for his visit, but begged him not to prolong it, because she felt very tired.
“The priest replied with so much gentleness and charity to these not very encouraging words that the old woman listened to him quite calmly, and even seemed, at times, touched by what he said to her. This poor creature had grown old in oblivion of her duties; but, if indifference had replaced the good habits of childhood in her, at least she did not have to fight against a reasoned incredulity, which would have flattered her pride, while proving her ignorance. The gentle charity of the good pastor had softened her heart a little, and she did not push him away when he announced to her, as he was leaving her, that he would soon return to see her.
“Mother Taurin's illness lasted longer than expected; the meager resources I had to support her since she no longer received anything from her son were quickly exhausted. I sold my watch and some small jewels, which brought me fifty crowns, with which I continued to help the unfortunate dying woman. The priest came to see her often, and, the good Lord blessing her zeal, after a few days he persuaded her to go to confession. From that moment she gave me as much edification as I had received from bad examples. She was greatly tormented by the impossibility of returning all that she had illegitimately acquired. Her confessor sought to console her by assuring her that God, who had already punished her by depriving her, through the disgrace of her son, of all the profits of her frauds, would accept her present repentance and good will.
“His end was approaching, and they did not want to delay administering the last rites to him any longer. I cannot describe to you what passed in my soul during this touching ceremony: the memory of the lessons of my good mistress, the way in which I had despised them, broke my heart; Remorse consumed me, but it was not yet accompanied by the will to lead a Christian life henceforth. I made up my mind not to steal any more and to try to earn my bread by honest work; but that's all; and I did not feel that I could avoid falling back into my old errors only by reconciling myself with God, who had so mercifully spared me until then.
“Mother Taurin died with very consoling feelings. I wanted to accompany to her final resting place the one to whom I had given so much care. As I entered the cemetery, my foot slipped on the wet grass, for it had rained heavily the day before; I fell hard, and could not get up; I had a broken leg. Judge of my despair: I had only twenty-five francs left in the world. The priest, who had witnessed my behavior towards the poor deceased, had me admitted to the hospital, and I remained there six weeks. At the end of this time, I tried to find my place; but I had no guarantor; and, as it was vaguely known that I had arrived in Lyons with the Taurin family, no one wanted my services.
“I put in a handkerchief all that remained to me of so many years spent in brigandage, and left the city without even knowing which way to go. What did I care where I would be at night? Did I have a single friend in the world to ask to have mercy on me? While slowly following the high road, I compared my situation in myself with that where I could have been if my ingratitude and my wickedness had not forced my excellent mistress to reject me and abandon me to the sad fate of which she wanted to save me.
“I will not tell you in detail, my dear children, of all the sufferings and humiliations that I endured from that moment until the moment you took me in: public charity had become my only resource.
“I continued for many years the sad profession of beggar. Infirmities came with old age. Sometimes I was so weak and so ill that I was received for several days in a hospital; but, having no fixed domicile, I had no title to be admitted to stay in any of these establishments, and I soon had to go again to beg my existence from the charity of passers-by.
“One day, I was leaving a hospital where I had spent a week; as I had been wandering for many years, I was then very far from Lyon, and I was crossing, still very weak, a town in Champagne, when I noticed an extraordinary movement which drew the crowd towards a place where they seemed to be waiting. any show. I asked two poor women who were talking together with a rather sad air what gave rise to this movement. Alas! said one of them to me, it's a horrible thing that is brewing. A man is going to be executed for murdering his master under terrible circumstances.
“My blood froze in my veins, and, wanting to get away from this place of misfortune, I took a side street which led to one of the gates of the city; but scarcely had I entered it than I met a town crier who was spouting out with horrible indifference the details of the assassination.
"I don't know what fatal curiosity led me to stop and listen to him. A universal tremor seizes me on hearing the name of the criminal! It was Thomas Dupré!... But there could only be an unfortunate resemblance in name... More dead than alive, I was waiting for the rest of his story. What became of me when I saw that he had first worked in Rouen for a jeweler! I heard no more. My legs gave way under me; I sat down at the door of an old house which seemed uninhabited, and, filled with horror, pity, dread, I was unable to get up for several minutes to flee this fatal town. Soon, however, I heard a large crowd running hastily; I wanted to avoid it, and turned into the first street I came across, not knowing exactly where I was going; but the fatal procession was crossing it at this very moment, and, in spite of the great change that age had brought on the face of the unfortunate criminal, I could not, on seeing him, fail to recognize this same Thomas who, so many years before , had been the first cause of my faults and misfortunes! I uttered a cry, and fled into a house whose door was open; I was so pale and trembling that a young girl who saw me about to fall came to me and made me breathe vinegar. After a few minutes, the crowd, which was dispersing in all directions, made it clear enough to me that it had
satisfied his cruel curiosity, and that there was nothing left for him to see.
“The young girl, attributing only a very natural compassion the state in which she saw me, wanted to give me a little wine to revive my strength. I thanked her without accepting anything, and as soon as I could support myself on my legs, I left the town and went to mourn alone in the middle of the fields for the deplorable end of an unfortunate man who, like me, had walked from a fault. to another, and who finally, abandoned by God, had drawn upon him, by the most horrible of crimes, his vengeance and that of men!
“I do not remember ever being more unhappy than during the six months which followed this terrible event and preceded the moment which brought me near to you, my dear children. You know the rest, since it is you whom divine goodness has used, without being put off by my hardness, to touch my heart and bring it back to itself. »
End of Therese's story.
Returning to Beauval, the young girls talked only of the interesting story they had just heard. The most striking and most salutary reflections crowded into their minds. The ineffable mercy which God had shown towards Thérèse was what touched them the most, and contributed to redouble their gratitude and their love for the adorable master whom they served. They also admired the chain of circumstances which had brought this poor lost sheep to Sémicourt, who was to find there what she would have sought in vain in many abandoned parishes, a pious and charitable pastor devoured by the desire to bring her back to the sacred fold. from which she had stayed away for so long. Mary felt in the depths of her heart an inexpressible joy at having listened to the celestial voice which spoke to her in favor of this poor abandoned woman; she blessed the Lord a thousand times for having deigned to choose her as an instrument to begin this work of mercy.
Thérèse's story was told to Jeanne, and by itself filled almost all the vigils of the week. Bernard and his mother found great interest in it, and Gertrude herself, despite her extreme youth, shared it keenly and drew useful and lasting lessons from it.
For several weeks, visits to the convalescent were for the two friends the object of all their Sunday walks. Not only did they find much edification in their conversations with Thérèse, whose repentance was more and more touching, but they knew that their arrival brought great consolation to the poor woman, held back in her bed by a weakness that seemed growing every day.
The doctor began to despair of his recovery, and did not believe that his existence could be prolonged beyond a few months. His sad forecasts were not long in being justified, and more promptly even than one had at first supposed. A painful ordeal contributed to hastening this fatal moment: although poor Thérèse had sincerely returned to God, and her confidence in him was equal to her repentance, after having so long misunderstood her divine master and repelled with such callousness his graces the most manifest, she could not taste immediately after her conversion that delicious calm, that untroubled bliss, the happy fruits of innocence or of long expiations. Also frequent reflections on his past life filled his soul with a bitterness to which were often added strong alarms. What excited them most was the memory of the unfortunate Valentine, lost perhaps for eternity, and lost through her fault. He seemed to hear from the depths of the abyss this unfortunate woman reproach her for her crime and curse her as the author of her inexpressible evils. He seemed to see her fury, her tears, her despair! Such were the overwhelming images which pursued her even in her dreams, and prevented her from finding in sleep the rest which it usually procures, and which was so necessary to her. O how useful the worthy pastor who had taken her in with so much charity was to her in those terrible moments! how he helped her to repel the temptations of mistrust and even of despair that the enemy of salvation relentlessly aroused in her! How well he made her feel the danger of the trap set under her feet! Thanks to his care, she avoided him, and understood that to doubt the mercy of God is both a great sin and the greatest of misfortunes by its terrible consequences, since it makes repentance useless and leads to final impenitence, that height of all misery to which no remedy can be applied.
All these moral shocks exhausted the last strength of the patient, and brought for her the supreme moment for which she was then preparing with ardor, and with which she deeply regretted not having occupied herself during her whole life. When she felt her last moments approaching, she expressed the desire to see Marie once again. She wanted to ask him for the powerful help of his prayers, and said that the mere sight of this young girl, who had been the first to give him a glimpse of forgiveness and heaven, revived hope in his heart and filled him with sweet and pious sentiments. . Marie was therefore warned, and, accompanied by Felicie, she hastened to follow the person who had come to fetch her.
When she entered the room of the dying woman, the last rays of the sun lighted up an august and touching scene. On a table covered with a white tablecloth were burning two candles, between which had been placed the image of the Savior on the cross; of the pious faithful on their knees, in the attitude of meditation, the order and the silence which reigned in this place,
announced that He who had come on earth to save the world was soon going to visit his weak creature, and that, not content with having forgiven him his multiplied offenses, he still wanted to descend into his heart, to support him in his last combats and comfort in his last anguish.
The patient's dying eye revived on seeing Marie; she motioned for him to approach her bed. The young girl knelt gently beside her, and, lowering her head, prayed fervently. She contemplated with deep compassion that discolored face, those withered and dejected features, on which could be read, through a sincere resignation, painful anxieties. Marie noticed this, and, unable to control the impulse of her heart, she pressed the hand of the patient, stretched out languidly on her blankets. At the same time she leaned towards her, and asked her in a tone full of interest if she felt worse.
“I suffer cruelly,” replied Therese, looking up at the young girl with eyes filled with tears, “but not perhaps as you hear it. O my child, may you always preserve the innocence of your soul and the delicious peace which is its fruit, and which, being the greatest of blessings during life, doubles in price even at the terrible moment when I arrived! But unfortunately ! how could one share in its sweetness when one can blame oneself for the loss of a soul! O my God, my God, have mercy on me! for this dreadful thought overwhelms and terrifies me. »
As she said these words, the poor invalid covered her face with her hands and shed a torrent of tears. It was then that the consoling angel whom she had called to her, animated by tender charity, suggested to her in a low voice the thoughts best suited to calm her terrors. Suddenly, by a sudden inspiration from that which was never invoked in vain, she wanted to place in her powerful and merciful hands the last interests of the dying woman. After a few minutes of fervent and silent prayers: “Thérèse,” she said with the accent of boundless faith and hope, “an infallible means remains for you to obtain peace. Raise your heart to Mary, to her whom our dying Savior gave us as mother, to the consoler of the afflicted, the refuge of sinners, and your heart will be relieved. Recite with me this beautiful prayer which has already obtained so many and such great wonders. And immediately she began the Memorare, to which the sinner unites herself from the bottom of her heart.
The contrast was great between these two faces then so close together: one shining with freshness, innocence, and animated by an angelic fervor; the other pale, withered and already covered with the shadows of death. Nevertheless, this one lost all that it had that was repulsive in the eyes of nature, when, to Marie's inexpressible joy, a ray of serenity came to change its expression, and taught the young girl that in this circumstance , as in a thousand others, what no human power had done, had just been done through the intervention of the Queen of angels and men.
Thérèse was still praying inwardly, when the sound of the bell carried by an altar boy announced to her the approach of the divine guest she was waiting for. Repentance, love, and profound respect were depicted in turn on his countenance, and did not seem mixed with any other sentiment. The august ceremony over, everyone withdrew, with the exception of Marie and her companion, who remained on their knees, fearing to disturb the touching recollection in which the patient seemed immersed. A considerable amount of time thus passed.
Suddenly, opening her eyes, Therese invited the two young girls to approach her; her voice was so altered that they were frightened by it, and when they reached her bedside, they perceived that the dying woman was struggling against the first pangs of agony. An icy sweat bathed his brow, and the tightness of his chest, the unspeakable suffering expressed by all his features would have touched the most insensitive hearts. So the sweet friends could not, contemplating her, restrain abundant tears.
Realizing this, she said to them solemnly, although in a broken voice: “It is not now that I am to be pitied, my dear children! It is true, a frightful storm broke over my head; but in the midst of my distress, from heaven high, a helping hand stretched out upon me! Yes, my children (and the patient's dim eyes shone for a moment with the fire of gratitude), the Mother of grace and mercy had compassion on my tears; No sooner had I implored his help than my spirit was relieved: confidence replaced fear, and a profound calm succeeded the storm. May all sinners place their hope in her, and experience her benefits as I do! And you, young girl, she continued, addressing Marie, who tenderly pressed her icy hands, listen... to the words... of a dying woman whose tutelary angel you have been: one day will come. where, stretched out as I am now, on a bed of pain, few moments will separate you from eternity. Then, instead of the dreadful image of a soul lost through your fault, the sweet and consoling thought of having contributed to the salvation of a sinner abandoned, and close to perishing forever, will come to offer itself deliciously to your memory. ; and you will bless the use you have made of the days of your youth... Receive the blessings of a dying woman. And... you... Félicie...” Thérèse would have liked to say a few words to Marie's companion; but this effort was not possible for him, and his voice died away at these last words.
Two hours later, on her knees at the foot of this same bed, the gentle Marie fervently recited the prayers of the dead. The following Sunday, the two friends directed their walk towards the cemetery, and knelt down on freshly disturbed earth, near a grave on which, thanks to the care of the worthy pastor, rose the adorable sign of our redemption. There they prayed from the bottom of their hearts for the poor traveler, whose journey on earth had stopped at this place; and, departing from this humble tomb, they exalted together the mercies of the Lord.
Sad news. - First Communion
However, winter and its frosts had completely replaced the last fine days of autumn. The bare trees showed only their branches covered with frost; and yet this veil of sadness, which seemed to envelope all nature, did not carry its influence even into the interior of the Beauval farm. Marie and Felicie could no longer, it is true, cultivate at will the little vegetable garden entrusted to their care, nor go and breathe, while working, the pure air of the fields; they no longer had the pleasure of bringing Jeanne each morning the basket of freshly picked vegetables which were to make up a large part of the evening meal. No more pleasant surprises for this good mother, such as those pretty bouquets still shiny with dew and furtively placed on her bed before the moment she wakes up, or those little baskets filled with strawberries picked in the hope of him to provide an unexpected treat, and whose exquisite perfume informed her, on opening her eyes, that she had already been thought of, and that we had taken care of what might please her. No more of these pleasures, it is true; but other occupations and even other pleasures have replaced them: in the morning, when the interior cares and those of the barnyard are finished, the young girls take their work, and they always have more than they need. enough to occupy two industrious workers; besides that provided by the brave Bernard and the turbulent little Paul, it is also the time of the year destined to put in order all the linen of the house; for one cannot occupy oneself with it in the fine season, devoted entirely to other work. It was then that Jeanne's conversations, sometimes cheerful, sometimes serious, turned to the benefit of the young friends, who drew lessons from a long experience and heard examples of honor and probity recounted, while the good ancestress , constantly surrounded by her children who are so dear to her, sees the hours go by slowly and without boredom.
Sometimes their fresh and pure voices make pious hymns heard, sung with
an outpouring of heart and a charming accent. Towards evening the rosary is said aloud, and these hearts, filled with the same sentiments, unite to celebrate together the praises of Mary. Then comes the moment when Geneviève returns from school; it is precisely this intermediate hour between day and night that is commonly referred to as brown. This is the moment that Marie has reserved for herself to complete the religious instruction of Geneviève, of this amiable child who in a few months must do the most important activity of her life, her first communion.
Mary, who obtained so many favors and lights at that happy time when she received her God for the first time; Mary, who understood so well the delights of the divine banquet to which she was invited, and whose innocent heart opened with so much love and fervor to the touching inspirations of grace, Mary feels today an ardent desire to make participate this young soul with the precious gifts with which she was then filled. Withdrawn each evening to her room with Geneviève, she devoted a considerable amount of time to this work which was useful and so pleasing to her God. So the Lord blessed his efforts, and crowned them with the sweetest success.
There were among the children destined for the same happiness several little girls so completely ignorant and who seemed so devoid of intelligence, that the worthy pastor of Sémicourt found himself obliged to postpone for them until the following year an action of which, at least rest, their habitual conduct would not have rendered them unworthy. These poor children, so greatly afflicted by this decision, and encouraged by the stories that Geneviève told them of Marie's extreme kindness and her talent for teaching, came, led by her, to solicit her charitable care, and, thanks to the pains infinite which she took to enlighten their minds and dispose their young hearts, they avoided the grief with which they were threatened. But back to our good family.
At seven o'clock in the evening she met for supper. Bernard, delighted to have finished the work of the day, then showed himself more cheerful and more talkative than at any other hour of the day. Immediately after supper, and while the brave man makes his little Paul jump on his knees, stroking him heartily, the young girls hasten to remove the place setting and make all traces of the meal disappear. The table, carefully rubbed, receives a new luster; everything returns to its ordinary place; a brilliant flame crackles in the hearth, around which everyone presses; and all that is expected, to begin the stories, is the arrival of three or four privileged personages who are admitted to Mother Jeanne's wakes; for, as we have said, it is a real prerogative, and it is known throughout the country that it is not the first comer who can hope to enjoy it.
So everyone pays their tribute by mingling in the conversation and trying to make it fun, Marie is never the last to say her word; for this amiable young girl, full of playfulness and vivacity, experiences an overabundance of happiness, sharing in the innocent youth, and which she owes in great part to the delicious peace with which her heart is filled. Very different from those fearful or austere souls who seem to make it their task, by the repulsive severity of their manners, to inspire disgust with piety, she gives birth around her to the holy desire to serve this God who spreads so much gentleness in the hearts that are faithful to him. His countenance, in a word, does not announce the fear of a slave who trembles at irritating his master; but the sweet liberty of the children of the Lord shines on his brow.
She shows the same eagerness as Felicie to welcome or often to form herself some plan of innocent amusement.
If anything arises in this little circle that can excite cheerfulness, his is so frank, his cheerful laughter so natural, that all around him are quick to share it.
On the eve of Epiphany, Bernard and his mother announced that the next day they would draw the Kings cake, and that they wanted to bring together their friends and some neighbors on this occasion. Great joy for the youth of Beauval! You should have seen the activity that the young girls displayed in their preparations: Félicie cleaning everything and giving all the furniture a new shine; Marie kneading a superb galette, while little Geneviève made herself useful in her own way by heating the oven. Jeanne watched, with a smile on her face, all this movement, and enjoyed the pleasure that animated these young faces.
The next day, when the service was over, the two friends, instead of taking their usual walk, busied themselves with putting the finishing touches to the arrangements for the evening. The table was set, the collation served: two large bowls of cream, superb well-preserved pears, a fine cheese, chestnuts, walnuts, excellent honey, and in the middle the beautiful galette kneaded by Marie: let's not forget to to mention a few bottles of aged wine placed opposite Bernard, with which he intended to regale his friends. When the guests arrived, Jeanne's large bedroom looked quite festive; for the good mother and all the inhabitants of the farm were dressed in their Sunday clothes, which added to the brilliant appearance of the meeting. Everyone found there the pleasure he had promised himself. A frank, but not tumultuous, gaiety continued as long as the feast lasted: it was among those which the Lord, far from reproving, blessed and contemplated with the indulgence of a tender father who follows the games with his eye. innocent of her children.
Chance, or, according to some, some malice on Bernard's part, caused the bean to fall to Marie, and never queen of these joyous solemnities performed her part with more pleasant dignity. All these brave people parted at last, satisfied with each other, and brought back from the moments they had just spent together a pleasant memory, which was not mingled with any remorse.
We were approaching the first days of spring, when one evening a letter arrived for Marie. She was all the more surprised, as she had recently received news from Romont, and it was not the custom to write to him so frequently. She felt a vague uneasiness on observing that the address was not, as usual, in Sister Beatrix's handwriting. Her first impulse was always to have recourse to God, and at this moment she lifted up her heart to him to ask of him entire submission to his will, whatever it might be. Soon her apprehensions were only too justified: this excellent sister, to whom Marie owed everything, who from birth had been her guide and her model, and had always shown her the tenderness of a mother, had just succumbed to a crisis. violent and sudden. His temperament, worn down by long suffering, had not been able to resist a new shock, which had just snatched him from the love and veneration of all those around him.
Marie's family was plunged into desolation; it seemed to her that she was henceforth isolated on earth, and that she had lost all happiness and all support with the good sister. As we have already made known, she was really for these brave people the luminous star which enlightens, directs and consoles the pilgrim. What shall we say of Mary's pain? It was profound and felt with all the bitterness that his tender and ardent heart was capable of feeling. Nevertheless, the certainty of the happiness of her whom she wept, and the comparison between the life of suffering which she had just lost and the infinite and endless bliss which she now enjoyed, soon spread a consoling balm in the soul of the pious daughter. She understood that one could find in self-forgetfulness, and especially at the foot of the cross, a courage and a resignation unknown to those who, given over to their own weakness, allow themselves to be beaten down under the weight of a often very selfish pain.
Nevertheless poor Marie, in spite of all her efforts, could not find for a long enough time that sweet gaiety which gave her so much charm, and very often tears shone in her eyelids; but never any of her occupations suffered from her grief, and it was for her a new opportunity to merit before God, who does not forbid grief, but only demands complete submission to his adorable will.
However, the passing of winter had brought the first days of spring, and with them the beautiful solemnities of Easter. The moment so desired by Genevieve, and which for a long time had been the goal of all her efforts, was at last approaching. Her exemplary conduct edified all around her, and proved that she understood the greatness of the action for which she was preparing. This amiable child had attached herself to Marie with all the ardor of her soul, still greatly excited by the thought that she owed her the greatest of blessings. So she never tired of publishing her praises, and thus contributed to providing him with opportunities to exercise his pious zeal. We have mentioned all that she had already done in favor of some children whose incapacity would have been truly discouraging for another; but Mary, stimulated by the hope of having the sentence of exclusion passed against them revoked, took all the more pains as she encountered more difficulties. It was interesting to see this young girl, at the age when one usually loves movement and distraction so much, devoting all her moments of leisure to the painful task she had taken on, repeating the same explanation a hundred times, presenting it in different forms, and always with unfailing patience and gentleness. You must not believe that it was without effort that she managed to control herself in this way. Victory is never acquired except by combat, otherwise it would not deserve a reward; but, in these moments of trial for her patience, there was one thought which never failed to revive her courage, she remembered the love of predilection which our Savior always testified to childhood; she saw him surrounded by these innocent creatures, and received from her sacred lips this merciful injunction: "Let these children come to me." " Oh! how deeply it resounded in her heart, and how happy Mary was in smoothing out for them the path which was to lead them to their divine master!
It is therefore easy to understand what was his joy when, after an examination passed again in the presence of the worthy parish priest of Sémicourt, the children who were the objects of his care were declared capable of being admitted to the same happiness as their companions and found themselves in the midst of they. Their young hearts, filled with a sweet gratitude, did not know how to express the full extent of it, and, like their parents, they overwhelmed Marie with the most touching thanks.
This long-awaited day finally arrived. Never had the sun shone more pure in the midst of a cloudless sky. At eight o'clock in the morning, Geneviève, dressed in white and adorned with her innocence, left her father's house, after having asked for and obtained the blessing of her dear parents. She preceded them to the church, led by Mary and accompanied by her sister, both wearing, like her, the white dress, symbol of the purity of their hearts, and having to participate in the same banquet.
How beautiful and touching was this ceremony! What holy and sweet tears were shed on that beautiful day at the foot of the divine altars! We will not follow these dear children in the midst of the various impressions they experienced; Suffice it to say that they were among those whose memory is never erased: they watched with sorrow that day slip away, the most beautiful day of their lives, and which they would have liked to be able to eternalize. When leaving the holy temple where they had tasted unadulterated happiness, they repeated with transport these words from one of our most beautiful hymns:
A single moment that one spends in his temple,
Better than a century in the palaces of mortals.
Towards evening, Marie and Félicie left the house in one of the most delightful weathers in nature, to go towards the chapel in the woods: but this time they were not alone, and had joined a companion: it was Genevieve. Placed between the two friends, she seemed the object of their attention and the center of their thoughts. Their eyes fell alternately on the enchanting spectacle of the countryside, then in all its fresh finery, and on the young child, whose countenance had something celestial about it. Her candid brow bore the impress of the sweet fervor with which daylight had filled her heart, and imprinted on her person a kind of touching dignity; she felt, on seeing her, a tenderness to which respect is not foreign. In fact, there is no more delightful spectacle, in the eyes of heaven and earth, than that of a young soul rushing with love towards the God whom it was able to recognize early as the only source of all good, and bringing him the homage of a heart still adorned with its primitive purity.
Arrived near the ancient chapel, the young girls prostrated themselves at the foot of the Madonna, and there Geneviève crowned all the holy actions of the day by a solemn consecration of her person and her entire life to the Queen of Heaven; she conjured her to be forever her guide, her mother, her support, and got up, like her companions, full of the sweet hope of having been answered. It was again to Marie that Geneviève owed the thought of this pious pilgrimage, which ended in such a consoling manner a day of blessings and graces.
After sitting on the grass for a few moments, the young girls were getting ready to start walking again, when they saw a multitude of pretty violets growing
profusely around a small spring with which they dotted the edges. The thought occurred to them at the same time to form a pretty bouquet, and to place the offering at the feet of the Madonna. They immediately gave themselves up to this pleasant occupation, and to the naive joy which the discovery of new flowers, encountered almost at every step, caused to burst forth: a second bouquet of violets was formed for Mother Jeanne, the perfume of which had a charm for her. particular, and we walked joyfully towards the farm. The evening was spent with the family; then everyone retired with the sole regret of seeing the end of this beautiful day, the memory of which was never to be lost among these happy children.
Miss de Beauval.
The Beauval farm was located a short distance from the Château de Beauval. From its windows one could see the ancient turrets of this beautiful dwelling and the majestic avenue of
chestnut trees leading there. The Comte de Beauval had just arrived there with Blanche, his only daughter, aged seventeen. Widowed for many years, he had concentrated all his affections on the only child left to him: wanting to procure for her all the advantages he thought he would find for her in a brilliant education, he had settled in Paris, and had surrounded his daughter cherished by the most skilful and renowned masters. At the same time he had made the choice of a governess capable of directing his efforts, a difficult task with a child whose intelligence was as precocious as it was distinguished. Blanche, in fact, grasped in a nutshell what they wanted her to hear, and often astonished her masters by the liveliness and accuracy of her replies; so everything that costs ordinary children so much trouble and application was only a game for her. As she advanced through adolescence, her manners developed most brilliantly; finally, having reached the age of eighteen, her father took her from the hands of her governess, and she was presented to the world under the auspices of one of her relatives.
Not only was Blanche, at that time, remarkable for the extent and variety of her knowledge, but she also brought together everything that dazzles and enchants: an unusual beauty, a bearing full of grace and nobility, and a physiognomy where softness and a finesse full of charm were read at the same time. She added to these advantages, which were otherwise so dangerous, a heart full of sensibility and a generous and lofty character. There was, however, one thing which she lacked, and unfortunately it was the most essential of all, the one which alone could have strengthened in her heart the good dispositions which were there, and served as a rampart against the pitfalls from which she was to be. surrounded. Her father, profoundly indifferent to religion, had allowed his daughter to share this mortal lethargy. Led to mass every Sunday by a governess without piety, she had learned of religion only what the world itself hardly allows one to ignore. As for the spirit and the feelings which must animate the Christian, she had no idea of them: she was a stranger to those amiable virtues which the pious soul alone possesses, and whose source is as pure as it is sacred. This humility which fears praise and flees it; this patience which supports pains or annoyances without complaining; that love of God which elevates and ennobles the simplest duties: all this was unknown to Blanche, so instructed, moreover, in so many vain or at least useless things. Her natural and entirely human kindness had not been able to protect her from certain haughty movements and irritability, which did not form the basis of her character, but which often crossed her soul, without any brake being put on. meet there to stop them. However, the Lord, who had great views of mercy on Blanche, did not allow her to find herself exposed without defense to the dangers which were going to threaten her weakness on all sides.
The season of celebrations and pleasures was approaching. The Comte de Beauval, proud of his daughter, was happily preparing to present her to a world where he was sure to see her admired. He enjoyed his successes in advance; for, idolizing his child, he had not a thought, not a feeling, he did not form a project of which she was not the object and the aim. In a word, he breathed only for her, and if he had not sought to enrich her with spiritual treasures, the only precious ones in the eyes of a Christian soul, it is that, more worthy perhaps compassion than blame, he himself was unaware of its inestimable value.
However, the Count de Beauval was going to give a magnificent ball in a few days, where all the young friends of Blanche were to be present, and where she herself was going to appear for the first time at her father's, as the queen of the party, and in all the splendor of the most charming toilet. Already great preparations were beginning on all sides; many workmen filled the house and worked with activity on the brilliant decorations of the various rooms. Blanche had a very pronounced penchant for luxury and elegance; but her mind was of too lofty a temper to attach, like so many young people, excessive importance to the ornaments of her person. She wasn't so indifferent to anything that might give her father's house a touch of grandeur. She walked through the salons, supervising the work, full of joy at the pleasure promised her by a charming party, and above all, her heart filled with gratitude for the multiplied proofs she received of her father's affection. As she was endowed with a lively and delicate sensibility, none of the kindness of this beloved father passed unnoticed, and she returned to him with wear the tenderness from which she was.
As we have already said, Blanche had not yet tasted the cup of the world's pleasures, and was only putting her lips to it, when the merciful hand which wanted to spare her the poisonous bitterness which it always contains struck her with in a way as sudden as it was unexpected. On the very eve of the day fixed for the ball, on returning from a somewhat too long walk, Blanche, unaccustomed to this kind of exercise, experienced great fatigue. A few hours later the shiver and a general malaise joined it; the doctor, summoned with eagerness, saw no other cause than a chill which some care would dissipate. Blanche remembered, in fact, that on her return from her walk she had stopped to take a last look at the work that was being finished, and that she had felt a slight sensation of cold before going back to her room. apartment. The blow was now struck, and she hardly foresaw by what sufferings she would have to redeem a moment of imprudence. All the doctor's predictions were not justified, and when he returned the next day, a burning fever, severe pain in his side, and a sharp cough told him that the disease, which at first had seemed so slight to him, was not was other than chest inflammation, which announced itself with alarming seriousness.
I pass rapidly over the change of scene which has occurred in this house, over the mortal alarms of the poor father, over the physical pains, over the moral anguish of this young girl whom death threatens and already embraces with her icy hand. Still, if some consoling thought came to soften the horror which it always inspires in our nature! But unfortunately ! she has none that can fortify her soul, and lead her with security to the gates of eternity, which were already half-opening before her; the little she has learned from religion and the secret whisper of her conscience tell her inwardly that a life in which God has had no part cannot be innocent in her eyes. She glimpses and even understands truths that until then had barely crossed her mind; his heart is filled with it, and his lips murmur a prayer that his mother, as pious as tender, had made him address in his childhood to the powerful consoler of those who suffer.
However, for several days, the ever-increasing evil left no hope of salvation. A last effort of art is crowned with unexpected success, or rather a cry from the dying woman has penetrated to the heart of the Queen of Heaven, and she has obtained for her, with her life, countless graces of which she will now be filled.
A few months had passed since Blanche's illness, and yet her health was not fully restored. Far from it, a weakness that was first attributed to exhaustion.
momentary moment of nature soon announced that a languor was slowly consuming her. A dry and frequent cough resisted all remedies, and, by greatly tiring the patient, put the climax to the paternal alarms, so lively and so heartrending. Blanche's moral state was no less sad to observe. His natural energy, having first struggled with pain, had been imperceptibly undermined by the strength and duration of the pain. To the vexation of seeing enjoyments which she thought she had attained flee before her, was added the impossibility of following up any occupation, of cultivating any of her talents; she saw herself condemned in spite of herself, and for an indefinite time, to an idleness which was a real torture for her active and ardent soul. So the days went by in a dejection and melancholy that she no longer tried to combat. O sweet piety! how true it is to say that you are useful to everything! Useful in temptation to help overcome it; useful in joy to keep it within just bounds; useful especially in the trials of our sad pilgrimage, to soften its rigors and lighten its fatigue. A single inspiration from you would have sufficed to revive this young plant on the verge of withering, and to give it new sap and new vigor.
However, spring and its charms had succeeded winter without bringing any improvement to Blanche's condition. His father, in despair, wanted to make a last effort to parry the frightful blow with which he thought he was threatened. He called together the most skilful physicians in Paris, and conjured them to bring all their attention, all their light, to the examination of the sad state of his daughter. The result of their conference was to recognize the need for a change of air; it was, according to them, the first thing to think about if we wanted to prevent the patient's dejection from degenerating into a kind of spleen, badly more dangerous than all those which were feared. Moreover, the air and the sight of the countryside, then so pleasant, joined to a mild diet and to the donkey's milk which one would take care to make him take every morning, could produce a perceptible improvement. If these means did not succeed, one last resource would be sought in a complete change of climate and in the mild temperature of Nice or the islands of Hyères. But the first step to take was to leave the theater of his long suffering as soon as possible.
From that moment the Count had but one thought, that of hastening his departure, and it was not without difficulty that he made his daughter share it. Blanche, once so amiable, so eager to satisfy her father's slightest desires, was no longer the same then: her father realized with an increase in pain that the illness had not only diminished her physical strength, but that his character had undergone a sad alteration: the mortal apathy of indifference had replaced towards him the expressions of tenderness of which he had formerly been the object; sour or severe words often came to afflict the good Brigitte, her nurse, who since childhood had never left her, loved her as her own daughter, and who, herself devoured by worries, still shared those of her master. This poor woman went away sad and unhappy when her attentions were poorly recognized by her young mistress, until then so kind and affectionate to her.
Finally we received at Beauval the order to prepare everything for the family. Through the care of M. de Beauval, the most agreeable and beautiful apartment in the chateau, that formerly occupied by his wife, was arranged for Blanche. The windows overlooked a delicious English garden, peopled with nightingales, and from which escaped the sweetest perfumes of lilac, violet, honeysuckle and all the spring flowers. Unbeknownst to his daughter, the Count had had a thousand small objects transported there, which he knew he must please her, and had transformed into a library a pretty cabinet adjoining his bedroom, and formed in one of the turrets of the chateau.
He had assembled a complete collection of Blanche's favorite authors, and the poor father looked forward to the pleasure which these brilliant surprises would give his daughter. Nevertheless, he thought with difficulty that, for some time at least, she would not be able to enjoy her literary riches, since she was unable to devote herself to any occupation. Old Brigitte could be of no use to him in this respect; but he conceived a plan which he promised himself to carry out when he arrived at Beauval.
On leaving Paris, he would have liked to attract some of Blanche's young friends to his home; but she had put up a strong resistance to this idea, and her father had not wanted to thwart her on a project of which she alone could appreciate the usefulness, for his sole object was to provide her with some distraction.
It was on May 16 that the carriage containing M. de Beauval and his dear invalid entered the beautiful avenue of chestnut trees, and stopped in front of the chateau, followed by that in which were the servants brought from Paris. This news soon spread through the country, and Bernard was about to go and pay his respects to his landlord, when he received a message from him summoning him immediately to the chateau. He left immediately, happy to see a family for whom his attachment was unfailing, but preoccupied with the motive which had caused him to be called so hastily.
Mary changes position.
Despite all the precautions that had been taken to make the journey as painless as possible for the young patient, Blanche found herself extremely tired on arriving at Beauval. She thought she should occupy the room she had formerly lived with her governess, and her surprise was extreme on seeing herself introduced into the large apartment, which no one had yet entered for a long time. It was there that the first years of his life had been spent with his mother. Each step recalled to him a scene of that happy age whose memories, always full of charms, are impregnated with something solemn when they are attached to loved ones who have disappeared forever. Leaning on the arm of her father, whose altered features betrayed emotion, she contemplated with a tender and grateful eye the new and numerous proofs of the touching affection of which she was the object. The eyes of this poor father, all filled with tears, met those of Blanche, who felt at that moment that a sweet and sacred task had devolved upon her; she understood that by replacing in these places the one whose loss had destroyed the happiness of a husband, she must neglect nothing to make this heart which had suffered so much taste the only sweetness which it could still enjoy. Her tenderness became such that a few moments later, M. de Beauval showing her, as if to consult her taste, various objects chosen for her, she could find no expression to answer him, and threw herself into his arms. bursting into tears. This mute language, more eloquent than all words, penetrated the tender heart of his father with a thousand different feelings; he saw that, if the illness had brought about some modifications in his daughter's habitual manners, it had in no way weakened her deep affection for him. How deliciously he enjoyed the happiness of being a father, pressing this beloved daughter to his heart! But a sharp streak pierced him again on observing the alteration which long sufferings had left on his charming face, and which the emotion of the moment and the fatigue of the journey rendered still more noticeable.
A dreadful presentiment seized him: he believed that this fatal room must once again witness a kind of misfortune of which he could not think without shuddering. He rang the bell hastily, carried his daughter to a sofa, and begged her to go to bed to make up for her exhausted strength by a rest which was so necessary to her. After leaving it in the hands of the faithful Brigitte, he went down to the garden, in the hope that the cool, pure air of the evening would somewhat calm his extreme agitation. An hour later he sent for Bernard, and the latter, who, as we have seen, wasted no time in yielding to his orders, found him still walking briskly under a long alley of lime trees which bordered the chateau. .
It was nearly nine o'clock when Bernard reappeared at the farm. Nobody had yet
soup ; for Jeanne had wanted us to wait for her son before sitting down to table. During the whole meal he was, unusually, sad and preoccupied. Everyone imitated his silence and questioned him with their eyes. Jeanne spoke first to inquire about the health of the new arrivals. It was then that Bernard's grief broke out; it had its source in the deep attachment which he and his family had always had for the Beauval family, an attachment which was in some way hereditary in that of the good farmer. His boundless devotion had remained intact at a time when this kind of virtue seemed to have become, if not completely misunderstood, at least very rare. The touching grief of M. de Beauval at the time of his wife's death had found an echo in the hearts of the brave inhabitants of the farm. Since that time, not a single day had passed without their wishes having been raised to heaven for the preservation of the unique fruit of a very tender but too brief union.
Bernard responded to his mother's questions with a detailed account of Blanche's alarming state and the worries that consumed his father. He then related that M. de Beauval had only had him called so promptly to entrust him with the task of looking all around for an intelligent, gentle, and attentive young girl who could be placed near Blanche to take care of her. accompany him on his short walks, and read to him. M. de Beauval placed great importance on this discovery; for he saw clearly that poor Brigitte's deafness and sadness made her service unpleasant for her daughter, and might even contribute to maintaining her melancholy.
Turning then to Marie, Bernard said to her without preamble: “I thought of you right away, my child; you are here and in our surroundings the only person capable of fulfilling this delicate task; and, although it costs me a great deal to let you leave my house, it will not be said that Bernard ever recoiled before the possibility of rendering a service to his good masters. However, my child, you are entirely free to act in this circumstance as you see fit; for I have no right to coerce your will. So I didn't want to say anything to M. de Beauval before speaking to you, in order to leave you as entirely as possible mistress of your resolution. I won't hide from you, however, that it would be more pleasant, even more advantageous for you, to be admitted to the chateau than to stay with us. Think about it, my dear child, and tomorrow you will give me an answer, won't you? Now I'm going to talk for a little while with Father Jerome; for I must amuse myself; like many people, I want and fear the same thing, and it doesn't make me very comfortable. As he said these words, he shook Marie's hand vigorously, took his hat, and, without waiting for an answer, went out with a very moved face.
Marie was sensibly touched by the proofs of attachment she received on every occasion from this brave man, apparently severe and even a little rough. As for the proposal he had just made to her, the grief of leaving her dear hosts would have sufficed to dissuade her from accepting it, even if her timidity had not brought a powerful obstacle to it. As eager to hide from the attention of others as some young girls are eager to attract it to themselves, she could not, without a kind of dread, see herself introduced, she poor peasant, simple and ignorant of life, to a young person accomplished in the eyes of the world, filled with the gifts of birth and fortune, and accustomed to finding in her humblest servants a tone and manners unknown to Mary. Felicie, placed near her, kissed her tenderly, and asked her sadly not to abandon them; for she did not share to the same degree her parents' devotion to their masters. Jeanne reproached him gently for diverting her friend from a project which her father seemed to want to see carried out; but she did not have the courage to press her request: for Mary was everything in this family, the consolation of some, the counsel of others, and the joy of all. Everyone said to themselves that she would take with her the happiness of this humble abode.
Marie, too modest to suspect even of her own merit, did not understand how she could, as Bernard said, fulfill the views of M. de Beauval; so, under the influence of her natural timidity, and carried away by the inclination of her heart, she was opening her mouth to express her determination not to leave the farm, when old Brigitte, Jeanne's old friend, entered the cottage.
After a long account of poor Blanche's illness and present state, she exclaimed in conclusion: "If the good Lord wants to take her away from us, or if she must suffer for a long time, may he to give the sentiments which sustained the courage of his excellent mother! Poor dear child! what will become of it without it? »
Struck by these words, Marie inquired with modest anxiety about her religious sentiments.
“Alas! replied Brigitte with a sigh, she was taught everything, except to know and love the good Lord. »
For the young girl it was a ray of light which enlightened her mind and dispelled her uncertainties: she thought she heard Sister Béatrix utter again those words which she had repeated so often to her: "My child, never let the opportunity slip away. to work for the salvation of your neighbour; for happy and a thousand times happy is he who has contributed to the eternal happiness of a single soul! He can confidently hope for the salvation of his own. An interior voice also told him in his heart that the conversion of the world had been the work of twelve humble sinners, and that the Lord is often pleased to manifest his power by the weakest instruments.
From that moment his decision was taken, and all his repugnance yielded to what seemed to him an inspiration from Heaven. When she retired to take her rest, Bernard was already informed of her determination, and shared with his family the deep regrets caused by Marie's approaching departure. Jeanne had known how to read in her heart the reasons for her determination, and they added to her esteem and her tenderness for her adopted daughter.
The next day, led by Bernard, Marie was ushered into the vast salon of the chateau and presented to the Comte de Beauval. He hardly suspected, looking at this young village girl, with her humble demeanor and shy gaze, that with her and through her happiness and safety entered his house. Nevertheless, like all who saw her for the first time, he noted with interest her angelic countenance, and did not doubt that she suited the purpose he had in placing her better than he dared to hope. with his daughter. What Bernard told him only served to confirm this consoling hope, and he thanked him with an expression of well-felt gratitude for the sacrifice his family was making to him on this occasion.
We will not follow Marie in the early days of her stay at the castle; we will paint neither her naive surprises at the sight of so many new objects for her, nor her touching regrets for the good inhabitants of the farm, nor the isolation and sadness of her poor heart, transplanted thus into a circle of individuals and occupations which were so foreign to her: we will not dwell further on the favorable impression she made at first on Blanche, nor on the pleasure she found in receiving her care. We are going to let four months pass, to avoid minute details which would delay our story too much. At this period, Marie was not only kept close to her young mistress by the charitable motives which had first led her there; to this was added a genuine attachment, and she found in it a great compensation for her past sacrifices. As for Blanche, a single look was enough to make it understood that a complete revolution had taken place in her. His attitude was still, it is true, one of weakness and sometimes even of suffering; but on that brow, once discontented and dejected, was imprinted a calm resignation, a sweet serenity; and her complexion, still discolored, was animated with a touching ardor when she heard the eternal truths spoken of, and when she herself exalted the mercies of her God.
Such a change was the work of Mary. How many times she then recalled this reflection of the venerable Sister Béatrix, that the exclusive attention of the children of the century for their temporal interests, their prudence, their activity, in a word, this ardor that nothing can either beat down or slow down, should be used by Christians as a measure of all that concerns the glory of God and the salvation of their brethren! Often lifting up her heart to the Creator, she begged him not to allow her to bring culpable and shameful negligence into the accomplishment of the work which he seemed to have entrusted to her. “You know,” she said to him, “that I didn't count on my own efforts or on my feeble lights; all my trust has been and always will be in you alone. Place then on my lips, XNUMX my God, the proper words to touch and enlighten a soul so well made to love you; may it not be for me alone that I have been taught to know you, and, despite my unworthiness, help me to bring to fruition in other hearts this seed which you have mercifully sown in mine! »
Feelings so humble and so full of charity could not fail to draw down the blessing of God on her who felt them and on her pious enterprise. But how difficult this task was to fulfill vis-à-vis a young person whose superior mind and vast and varied knowledge constantly excited Marie's astonishment and admiration! She found herself near her so ignorant, so incapable, so worthless in short, that she would have given up her project a thousand times over, if she had not felt her courage revived by this thought, that all science is nothing but vanity, that nothing, except that of salvation, the only one which, for his happiness, would have been taught to him. She also often said to herself that he who has the Most High as an auxiliary cannot fear being defeated. She understood, however, that she had to act with extreme caution, and know her mistress's tastes and character well before taking a single step. She remembered all that worthy Sister Beatrix had often told her about the need for great circumspection, and, gifted with a natural tact very rare in all conditions, she knew how to wisely apply the precious lessons that received his youth.
During the first days of her stay at the chateau, she confined herself to observing the young patient tirelessly, to sympathizing heartily with her sufferings, especially her discouragement, and praying to the Lord to manifest himself to this soul, whom he alone could comfort and fill. She hardly suspected that her mere presence and her examples were more powerful in disposing the sad Blanche to receive the good grain of the celestial word than the most eloquent speeches would have been; for, on her side, Blanche also observed her new guard, and she was not long in discovering that a more powerful motive than that of self-interest or of a quite natural goodness directed her conduct. Indeed, this constant and zealous application to fulfilling all one's duties, this unalterable gentleness, this modesty, this equanimity, in a word, a certain perfume of virtue, if one can express oneself thus, spread over this candid and serene brow, everything led to seek elsewhere than on this earth what could give birth to and sustain so many and such rare qualities.
Although a stranger to piety and its secret practices, Blanche knew that certain souls make it their occupation and their delight, and more than once she had envied their peace and happiness without fully appreciating the cause. She therefore had no doubt that Mary drew from a mysterious and hidden source those virtues which made her so lovable and made her a consoling angel. From then on, there was formed, almost without her knowing it, in the heart of Blanche, a great admiration and a deep respect for the religion from which emanated so many goods. She finally resolved to try some means to attract the confidence of Marie. on a subject which powerfully excited his interest and curiosity. More than once, however, when questioning her, a secret shame had restrained her; for she felt confusedly how culpable was the indifference in which she had hitherto lived on her eternal destinies: she feared both the astonishment of Mary and the blame which would result from this sad discovery; but divine Providence, which was watching over her, presented her with a favorable opportunity to accomplish her design, and she made up her mind to seize it, whatever the result.
Blanche had been subject, since her illness, to frequent insomnia which greatly fatigued her and hindered the recovery of her health. After an extremely restless night, she had finally fallen asleep towards morning, and her sleep was still lasting, when Marie, following the order she had received the day before, entered her room at the hour accustomed. After lightly and noiselessly opening a shutter, she noticed that the patient was still resting, and wanted to take advantage of the time that might elapse until she woke up to do some pious reading, an enjoyment of which her numerous occupations often deprived her of time. whole days. She knelt first, at the foot of her young mistress's bed, in front of a painting placed at the back of the alcove, and representing our Savior expiring on Calvary, and the Mother of Sorrows standing and motionless at the foot of the cross. . A look cast from time to time on this sacred image had once sufficed for Blanche's mother, stretched out on this same bed, to soften her sufferings, calm her apprehensions, and fortify her soul during the long and painful struggle she had had. to support. This touching representation of the mystery of grace and salvation could not strike Mary's eyes without resounding at the same time in her heart, and awakening there those feelings of fervor and love with which it was always filled. So the book which she had just taken from her pocket, and in which the pious girl was preparing to read, was instinctively closed when Marie's gaze fell on the picture we have just spoken of. She was absorbed in deep recollection, and the expression of her whole face was that which one gives to those adoring angels placed before our august tabernacles. His eyes were closed, and yet respect and fervor were painted on his face, whose gentleness and serenity were generally admired. At times her lips moved as if to murmur a prayer, and Blanche, awake for a few moments, and deeply moved by the sight before her eyes, thought she heard her name pronounced, and took good care not to make the slightest movement. who could have drawn the touching young girl from her pious contemplation; but the patient, seeing a few tears running down Marie's cheeks, could not restrain a sigh which escaped her in her emotion; he was heard by Marie, and put an end to his deep meditation. She looked up at Blanche, and saw with astonishment his gaze fixed on her.
Mlle de Beauval asked her in a tone full of sweetness, and with a friendly smile, what made her tears flow, and seemed to fear that she would find herself unhappy near her.
" Oh! on the contrary, answered Marie quickly; but, you know, one suffers more for those one loves than for oneself, and it is very cruel to witness misfortunes without consolation, especially, she added timidly, especially when one knows that we could indicate some of them!
- Hey! who could prevent giving, when one believes in power, this precious indication? Blanche asked in a half serious, half playful tone.
Marie saw that she had been understood. Encouraged by the benevolent gaze of the patient, she arrived, still on her knees, at the head of her bed, and, presenting her with the book she held in her hands: "Here," she continued, "the treasure which contains a consolation for all sorrows, a hope in all misfortunes. »
Blanche, casting her eyes on the verse she was showing her, read these words: Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest. They seemed to be addressed directly to him. She closed the book, visibly moved.
“O my dear mistress! exclaimed Marie with fire, forgive me in favor of the attachment which guides me and emboldens me; but, I implore you, do not close your heart to Him who speaks to it at this moment and solicits entrance. Oh ! if you could know his ineffable goodness, his infinite perfections, your soul would rush towards him with transport, and would not then tire of blessing the moment when he had deigned to manifest himself to her. Ah! believe me, although I am only a poor young girl, who often blushes with you for her ignorance, believe me when I assure you that those who taught you everything, except the science of salvation, left you ignorant the only truths capable of satisfying a mind and a heart like yours! »
The tone of conviction in which she uttered these words, the ardent zeal which animated her eyes, astonished Blanche, who had hitherto seen her always so timid and so reserved. A thousand thoughts then crowded into his mind; but, noticing the touching anxiety with which her reply was awaited: "My dear Marie," she said to her, holding out her hand to her, "you give me a real desire to know better than I have hitherto done a religion which inspires the sentiments which I have so often admired in you. But, before going any further, tell me whence comes to yourself the thorough instruction which you seem to possess on this important subject. Who are your parents? where were you raised? Finally, tell me in detail the story of your life. »
We can well imagine that Marie did not need to be asked; for that gave her the very natural opportunity to speak of Sister Beatrix, a happiness which she never neglected; and moreover she foresaw that it would be easy for her to interweave her narration with some of her venerable friend's instructions and sage advice. This story greatly interested the patient, and redoubled her esteem and her attachment to Mary. On the other hand, once the ice was broken on a subject which was so dear to her heart, she was no longer afraid to sometimes offer a pious and instructive reading, to quote a few thoughts of the worthy sister on the subject, and always following times and circumstances, with remarkable discernment. Sometimes, animated by the love of God, enlightened by the lights of his divine Spirit, she spoke with a force and a warmth which made her words truly eloquent. Blanche, struck by the truths new to her that the simple young girl announced to her, touched by her charitable zeal, soon felt herself shaken in her indifference: she glimpsed the dreadful end to which she could lead her, and the solid happiness of which she was depriving her this world. Until then she had been more ignorant than guilty, for no one had tried to dispel the darkness that surrounded her; but now that excuse no longer existed: the light had shone for her, grace had spoken to her heart. Blanche understood that she had reached an important and decisive phase in her life, and, with the natural uprightness and firmness of her character, she resolved, without further delay, to explore with a sure guide the new way in which she wanted to walk.
Marie was therefore pleasantly surprised when one morning she received from her young mistress the order to go and ask the parish priest of Sémicourt to go to the chateau, where his presence was expected and desired. His heart beat with joy; for she drew the most favorable omens from this message. Throughout the journey, she did not cease to thank the Lord, and to conjure him to complete the great work which seemed to her so happily begun. Her presentiments did not deceive her. From that day on, Blanche followed, with the pastor of Semicourt, as learned as he was zealous, a very extensive course of instruction, and gave it an interest and a perseverance worthy of her. God blesses his efforts; and, opening his eyes to the nature and importance of his duties towards him, he condescended to put in his heart a firm will to practice them with fidelity.
Two months after the first visit of the worthy parish priest, Blanche, reconciled with her God, possessed him in her heart, and tasted with delight that peace which surpasses all feeling. She could no longer understand the sad apathy in which she had lived until then with regard to her Creator and his eternal destinies. Life unfolded in his eyes in a new light: everything seemed to him ennobled and sanctified by faith; even her sufferings were no longer without sweetness, for she saw in them the means of expiating the past and of meriting in the eyes of this master whom she had so long disregarded.
It would be difficult to express the attachment she felt for Marie; she felt that she owed him the most precious of goods, and his presence had become almost indispensable to her happiness. For her part, the latter, entirely devoted to her young mistress, could not tire of admiring the prodigious changes wrought in her, and of offering ardent and continual thanksgiving to Heaven.
However, since her stay in the country, Blanche's condition no longer presented the unfortunate symptoms which had sometimes alarmed the doctors; but the nervous system, shaken at first by a long illness and the languor which had followed it, was then seriously attacked. We know that nothing has a greater influence on morale than this kind of suffering, which often leads either to irritation or depression, and leaves without strength to overcome these variations of mood, too natural to the human inconstancy. Blanche, formerly devoid of the only aids by means of which she could have fought it victoriously, had passed from great irritability to excessive discouragement from which nothing had been able to rouse her, not even the entreaties of her distractions in the occupations she formerly loved, nor the threats of the doctors, who predicted to her that by indulging in these sad impressions she would fall into a fatal spleen, a disease which accounts for so many victims every year in England; everything was useless, and the days, following each other, found her plunged into the same inertia.
It was only from the moment when grace, through the organ of Mary, had spoken to her heart, that life was truly revived in her. Her poor father could not understand the change that was taking place so rapidly in his dear child. He contemplated with delight that charming face on which health seemed to be reborn. Indeed, the serious studies which she had undertaken at first with effort had become for her an occupation full of interest, and the hours which she devoted to them, the most pleasant of her day. So boredom and dejection had disappeared, and the Lord was already rewarding, not only with the most precious spiritual gifts, but also with a visible return to health, the efforts undertaken to know him and to approach from him.
However, the young convalescent still had a weakness that the doctors wanted to combat by moderate exercise, and they advised her to take short but frequent walks. She had only been out to go to church by car when, one beautiful autumn morning, she set off, leaning on her dear and faithful Mary, to go and breathe the pure and invigorating air of The plain. The following faithful had provided herself with a portable seat, and, thanks to this precaution, did not fear to make her mistress undertake the pilgrimage to the chapel in the woods, the distance of which was too small for her to be tired. Marie had often sought to inspire in him a tender devotion to her august patroness; she had often spoken to him of her maternal goodness for all men, especially for her faithful servants, and of her benefits, and she had made him share towards the Queen of the angels those feelings of trust and love that so many saints have looked upon. as a mark of predestination.
Blanche had therefore been happy to dedicate her first outing to the Queen of Heaven in a way, by taking as her goal this chapel, where Marie had often drawn strength to bravely endure the trials of life, and where she had also brought the tribute of her gratitude for the benefits she had received from the Lord through her holy mother. This place was filled for her with the sweetest memories, and she wanted to attach something precious to her heart there, by taking her young mistress there, who had become as pious as herself. With what fervor did both of them, prostrate before the image of the mother of our Redeemer, offer her their prayers and their thanksgiving! How their hearts, united in the same sentiment, knew how to bridge the distance that society had placed between them! At the feet of the Mother of God, of the powerful protectress of men, it was no longer the young chatelaine, the poor village girl who was seen imploring her help; they were two sisters having the same destinies, the same hopes, and united by the most touching bonds of charity and gratitude.
Far from this first trip having tired Blanche, a sweet joy shone in her eyes on her return to the chateau. Day by day her strength recovered, and at the end of a few weeks she was restored to health. M. de Beauval dared not believe in his happiness: this darling girl, returned to life, showed herself more amiable than ever, and seemed to wish to compensate him for his past sufferings by daily expressions of the most touching affection. Happiness, by opening the soul to gratitude, disposes it to approach God; also we will be little surprised to learn that a year had hardly elapsed since Blanche's cure, when her father himself returned to the practice of this holy religion which he had so unfortunately neglected since his death. youth, but from which he had been removed by the whirlwind of the world much more than by false and disastrous systems. Doubtless the influence of Blanche and her ardent efforts to bring a beloved father back to the sacred fold, outside of which she could not hope for her eternal happiness, contributed to this conversion; but what was the primary cause of so much good? The humble Marie, who, faithful to the instructions of the venerable Sister Béatrix, had shrunk from no difficulty in contributing to the salvation of a soul. Oh ! if many of those who believe themselves devoted to God seized every opportunity to procure his glory and save their brothers, how many unfortunates who groan in the depths of the abyss would reign in eternity!
However, Marie went frequently to the farm, since the improvement in Blanche's condition gave her more freedom. She was always welcomed there with open arms, and read in everyone's eyes the desire to see her settled there again. Félicie did not try to disguise it from him, and constantly represented to him that, his care being no longer necessary to Mme.Ile de Beauval, she owed her first friends to return among them. This was, indeed, the wish of Marie's heart, in spite of her entire devotion to her young mistress; for she not only considered Jeanne and Bernard as her benefactors; but united to Félicie by the relations of age, condition and feelings, she tasted with her all the charm of confidence and of a friendship which, to be repaid with a just return, always presupposes a kind of equality among those who experience it. The attachment she had for Blanche, although very real, was of an entirely different kind, and too mingled with respect and regard for it to be able to procure her the same comforts.
Seeing that the farmer was beginning to be quite distressed at her prolonged absence, she resolved to speak to Blanche of the project of returning to those who had, in a way, only lent her to her father. She had no idea, the humble young girl, of the value they put on keeping her at the chateau; she did not know how necessary she had become to Blanche's happiness. Indeed, M.lle de Beauval seemed so distressed when Marie asked her permission to return to the farm, that the latter, as surprised as she was touched, no longer even knew what she should want, since in any case she saw herself reduced to chagrining those who wanted to give him their affection.
Blanche spent the whole afternoon of that day in a sadness and preoccupation which she had not shown since her recovery. Suddenly, as if struck by a shaft of light, she raises her hand lightly to her forehead, gets up quite moved, and disappears in an instant. Marie, busy putting a few toilet articles in order in her apartment, was quite amazed at this sudden departure, then retired and awaited with a sort of anxiety the denouement of this singular incident.
An hour later someone comes to tell her that her mistress wants her, and she hastens, not without vague anxiety, to obey her orders. Blanche seemed to be waiting for him impatiently.
"Listen to me, Marie," she said to him as soon as she entered; you saw my affliction this morning when you talked to me about leaving me; she must have made you understand enough how attached I am to you. Yes, my dear child, I am not afraid to confess it, I owe you all the happiness which I enjoy now: your presence, your very sight, are linked for me to the dearest memories; I have thought carefully about the means of not being deprived of it, without however exposing you to breaking the laws of recognition, which remind you, I feel it, of our excellent farmers. God has inspired me with an idea which, I hope, will reconcile everything: I needed my father's approval to follow it, and I got it. Here's what it's all about: Your family groans over your estrangement; you also deplore it. She is, you told me, reduced to poverty, owing to the ever-worsening condition of your poor father; their little garden is about to be sold to pay new debts; your savings cannot meet the needs of your parents. Well ! Mary, in future all their misfortunes will be over; my father is giving them the post of caretaker, vacant for a long time, and which he could entrust only to people of proven probity: they will be lodged, fed, amply paid, and you will stay with me, Marie, without offending person ; your poor father will see the tranquility of his old age assured; he will spend them with his darling daughter; your mother will no longer be overloaded with work, nor devoured by worry, and the one who speaks to you, my good Marie, will enjoy with delight an arrangement which, by contributing to the happiness of your parents, will have the great advantage of fixing you near from her. This is what I wanted to offer you. »
Mary, transported with joy, knelt before her mistress in the effusion of her heart, and taking her hands in hers, covered them with kisses and tears. Astonishment, gratitude for so many kindnesses filled his soul; for the well-being and happiness of her parents were the only enjoyments she desired and could keenly appreciate. His thanks were very touching: his tender and filial heart showed itself entirely there.
However, the disappointment that the good inhabitants of the farm were about to experience came for a moment to mix with regret such lively joy; but she dismissed this thought as insulting to them: they were too sincere friends not to rejoice at an arrangement which was to contribute to the happiness of so many good people, hitherto so unhappy.
Leaving her young mistress, Marie returned to her room. As in all the strong emotions of her life, she felt the need to pour them out in the presence of her God, and to bless him with his blessings. After a few minutes passed at the foot of her crucifix, she got up and began to write to her dear parents the letter which was to announce to them such happy news and bring them so much joy; each line was wet with sweet tears, for she thought that soon she would press so many dear ones to her heart. From the moment she could wait for the answer to this letter, her agitation was extreme at the hour when the post was to bring her news of them. Twice only was she disappointed in her hope. On the third day, he was given a letter which, despite everyone's desire, it had not been possible to write sooner, because the eldest son, the only writer in the family since the death of Sister Beatrix, had found himself temporarily absent. Moreover, this letter was such that Marie and Blanche could expect it, and he could easily read in it the happiness and gratitude of those who had dictated it. She ended by announcing that, from this same day in a month, the time necessary to complete their small domestic arrangements and the sale of their cottage, the whole family would arrive at the Château de Beauval.
Marie, filled with joy, ran to the farm to communicate the news that her letter brought; and while she found in her former benefactors, as she had expected, an entire and lively sympathy for her happiness, Blanche, equally satisfied, formed new plans of benevolence for the future, the details of which we shall see in the next chapter.
A foreign family arrives in Beauval.
It is seven o'clock in the evening: standing in front of a nice little house located at the entrance to the avenue de Beauval, we see a young girl whose whole attitude and face express expectation; her eager gaze constantly turns towards the road which passes a short distance away, and her ear seems to spy on the slightest noise she can catch. The interior of the dwelling offers a charming appearance of cleanliness and happy arrangement; a beautiful wardrobe and a large walnut wood table; an excellent bed, a large, comfortable arm-chair: everything indicates that a generous and benevolent hand presided over this whole establishment, and wished, by assisting the indigent, to provide alleviations to the infirmity.
The table is set on a snow-white tablecloth, and a good supper, ready to be served, is placed on the hearth to keep warm. Two people are in the room at this moment, and they seem almost as moved as the one who is standing on the threshold of the door: one, weak and old, occupies the big armchair near the fireplace, where a good fire is burning. fire, because the cold season still exerts its rigors; the other shines with youth, strength and joy: it is because his heart beats for a friend, and overflows with her happiness.
The reader, no doubt, has already recognized our excellent mother Jeanne and the kind Félicie, who, half in the sweet transports of Marie, wanted to welcome this family, which they already regard as a part of their own. Jeanne set out, despite her infirmities and weakness, leaning on Bernard's strong arm; Geneviève and even little Paul take their good share of the general joy: they are ahead on the main road, and watch for the arrival of travellers. But as they can come by two different routes, and we don't know which one they will have chosen, Marie, in spite of her eagerness, thought it safer to wait for them at home; because it would be too sad not to attend such a dear and eagerly awaited moment. She begins to be alarmed by a delay which seems eternal to her, and fears that an accident may be the cause; the minutes seem like hours to him. She raises her heart to God, and implores him for her dear parents.
At this moment the agreed signal is heard; a male and sonorous cry comes from the outpost, it is repeated by a soft young girl's voice, and by that still quite childish of Paul; because he too understands (at least approximately) what it is about. He sees everyone happy, and jumps with pleasure, clapping his hands. Marie did not wait for a second warning; she rushed forward, light and trembling like a leaf. A large cart covered with a thick gray canvas appears at the bend in the road; Marie recognized that of her father, and even the old and faithful Beaver, who sometimes precedes her, and sometimes goes back, as if to make sure that she follows him. Finally, no more doubt, it is them!
How to paint the hour which will follow, the multiplied embraces of the father, the daughter, the brothers, the mother; the touching expressions of tenderness and joy; the exclamations of surprise at the change in each member of the family, and so many questions that intersect confusedly; then the arrival at the little house, the interview between Mother Jeanne and Marcelline; the entrance of the poor father, leaning on one side on his darling daughter, on the other on the robust arm of Bernard, who carries him rather than supports him, and establishes him on the excellent, armchair which is intended for him; the admiration and gratitude of new arrivals at the sight of their new home and all that it contains useful and pleasant; finally, the outpourings of gratitude and friendship exchanged between these two families, so well made to understand and love each other? How can we still paint the touching grace with which Marie draws her dear Felicie into the midst of this circle, and presents her to her parents as her first protectress, and consequently the first cause of their present happiness; the solemn and touching way in which Mother Jeanne, her eyes raised to heaven, attests aloud that she considers Mary's stay in his house a special blessing from the Lord, and that she does not spend a single day without blessing the divine goodness? We will not attempt to describe any of these scenes, much less the feelings of Marcelline and Joseph, on hearing these touching eulogies of their beloved daughter.
Eight days after these first moments, the new arrivals were established in Beauval
as if they had always lived there. In the short intervals left to Joseph by his usual sufferings, he resumed his occupations as a weaver. Marcelline took care of the household, and Georges, the eldest son, cultivated the little piece of land that had been allocated to him. Moreover, he was often busy at the castle, where he was charged with commissions which required activity and intelligence. Little Pierre spent his day at school; Geneviève came every morning to fetch him to take him there, at the same time as her brother Paul. Although they were still hardly capable of learning, they were gladly kept there with the other children, which gave their parents a little leisure.
Marie, now so happy, often repeated to her mistress the effusive thanks which her good parents had offered to their benefactors with such eagerness on their arrival. Blanche asked him one day if the change of air was not favorable to her father; Marie replied that she had not yet observed any very noticeable effect, and that she saw with great difficulty his great melancholy when sufferings kept him idle.
" Well ! my child," replied Blanche, "you will have to occupy yourself with distracting him, and
part of your days with him; for, in keeping you with me, it was never my intention that you should be there on the foot of an ordinary maid: I want your time to be entirely free, with the sole exception of that required by my personal service; for, you know, I only like to receive it from you,” she added, smiling affectionately.
Marie thanked her with all the plenitude of her heart, and told her with naive gaiety that if spoiled children were always importunate, she must be afraid of having to repent one day of her excessive indulgence. But such were not Blanche's fears; she knew Marie thoroughly, and each day added to her attachment and esteem for her.
Misfortune and its consequences.
Two years passed without bringing anything remarkable for any of our characters; the only circumstance worthy of interest is the manner in which this time passed for Mary; because it is particularly his story that we are writing. She had feared at first that she would be forced to follow her young mistress to Paris during the winter; but she liked Beauval very much, and was afraid of finding herself in the midst of a world whose dangers she foresaw. Her father, attached to this place by a thousand memories, was charmed that his daughter expressed the desire to spend a few years there, and he attracted to his house a company of chosen friends, who came to give a little life to this vast dwelling, so long lonely.
Marie was delighted with these arrangements; for she saw herself thus free to devote the greater part of her time to caring for and distracting her poor father, whose infirmities often made him sad and sometimes even a little morose. Every day, after having fulfilled duties towards God which it was so sweet for her to fulfil, she devoted herself entirely to the cares required by her service, then to those demanded by her father. It multiplied, so to speak; and, after having helped her mother in her many labors, she still found means of visiting a few cottages where deep misery and often painful infirmities made themselves felt. For everyone she had words of consolation, and the Lord seemed to take pleasure in giving her words a persuasive sweetness, no doubt to reward her tender and active charity. Knowing, moreover, of the benevolence of her young mistress, she implored her frequently, and never in vain, for the unfortunate. So her visit was expected as happiness, and the blessings of the poor, a priceless treasure in the eyes of God, followed her everywhere. His reputation for goodness, virtue, charity, spread imperceptibly in all the surroundings; and if the need for help or consolation arose, recourse was immediately had to the young girl, whom many already nicknamed the Angel of the country.
Her great happiness, and for her the moment of true relaxation, was when, at the end of such a full day, she went with Félicie to the village church, and poured out there in the presence of her God a heart full of his love. It was at the feet of this divine master, gentle and humble of Heart, that she learned to bear with touching patience the sometimes somewhat harsh demands of a father embittered by long sufferings; it was in these pious exercises that she learned to avoid the pitfalls against which so many others come daily to crash; it was there, finally, that she drew all the virtues which made her the model of her young companions. Sister Beatrix was especially attached, by instructing him in his duties, to make him clearly understand this great truth, that prayer alone can ensure our steps on the way to salvation. "My dear child," she had often told her, "know that all the goods, all the treasures of the Christian are contained in this word prayer, that without it all the other means given to him to sanctify himself would become useless. With what kindness does our divine Savior not receive a simple elevation of our hearts towards him! and how many fruits would men derive from these celestial communications if they had more frequent recourse to them! Most believe they have
satisfies the obligation to pray, when they have uttered, with their minds completely occupied with frivolous thoughts, a multiplicity of words; but it is to them that we can apply these words from our holy books: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." »
Back to Mary. At the end of the two years of which we have just spoken, a great event took place at the Château de Beauval. This was the marriage of Blanche with the Baron de Maurebert, a young man distinguished by his birth, his fortune and above all his personal merit. Blanche, on several occasions, had noticed the noble independence with which he professed, when the occasion demanded it, his Christian principles, a title whose greatness he understood. She believed that she could base solid hopes of happiness on him who, in the midst of the dangers of the world, had been shaken neither by example nor by ridicule, and who had always walked with a firm step in the narrow path of virtue. A few years before, these considerations would perhaps not have presented themselves to her mind, at least they would not have had any influence on her determination, for she was unaware of the truths which then quite naturally suggested them to her. On this occasion, as on many others, his heart returned with gratitude to this humble villager whom Heaven had used to enlighten him, and who thereby had so happily influenced his destinies, even temporal ones.
A few days after her marriage, Blanche left with her husband for the Château de Maurebert, situated a few kilometers from Paris, on the pleasant banks of the Seine: she was to spend six weeks there with her new family, then return to Beauval, 'she wanted to live every year during the summer; such were the arrangements made before his marriage. M. de Beauval could never have made up his mind to always be separated from a daughter who was so tenderly beloved, and she had to meet in Paris in winter with her husband's family, at her mother-in-law's, who occupied a charming hotel.
At the end of autumn they prepared to leave the country, and the day of departure was fixed. Marie was ready to accompany her mistress, when her father was seized almost suddenly with redoubled suffering. Mme De Maurebert did not want to deprive him at this moment of the care of his daughter, and set out without his dear Marie, who was to join her as soon as poor Joseph was somewhat recovered.
Although the latter found herself happy to remain close to her family at that time, she did not see without grief a mistress for whom her attachment grew every day, and who also every day became more worthy of it. If this feeling had not been so sincere, nothing would have decided her to follow her henceforth every year to Paris, and she consoled herself for the necessity of leaving her parents only in the hope of procuring for them, thanks to the considerable wages which would be allocated to him, a thousand comforts which their age rendered very necessary.
But God didn't want her in that position; he permitted an event which overthrew these new plans, and it was a severe trial for the good inhabitants of the farm.
One evening when Marie, seated near her father's bed, was reading to him piously, her younger brother came in hastily, calling his sister with loud cries: “Come quickly, Marie, he said; come and see a beautiful fire rising over there in the fields; it is almost as big as our house! Marie followed him at a run, and saw flames which rose in undulating columns, and which were precisely in the direction of the fields of her friends. His fears increased as the violence of the fire increased; she would have liked to run to the farm, find out what was happening, and make herself useful if possible; but there was no way of thinking about it: Marcelline, at the moment, was absent; she could not leave her father alone. She had recourse to her ordinary resource, to that which had never left her without consolation: she prayed for the present objects of her solicitudes, and felt calmer to await the news. They were not long desired: Georges came in and told him that the fire had actually broken out on Bernard's lands, but that he had arrived in time to prevent him from reaching the house and the wood that surrounded it. was near; however, several stacks of wheat were consumed. This event was attributed to malevolence, which for some time had been pursuing several farmers of this canton, without the police having yet discovered the authors of these abominable crimes.
One understands the whole share that Marie and her parents took in the misfortune of their neighbors; but she was not limited to sterile compassion: gratitude, that feeling innate in every noble and generous soul, could not fail to find an echo in that of Marie and her worthy parents. They therefore concerted as a family on the means of bringing some alleviation to the pain of their poor friends; a very small sum, the fruit of Marie's savings, was going to be offered to those who had been burned, but it could not be of great help to them; although they were not irretrievably ruined, the losses they had just suffered were, for several years, to cause great embarrassment in their interior. Suddenly a happy inspiration crossed Marie's mind, or rather her heart, and, quite joyful, despite the sacrifices that this plan must impose on her feelings and her personal interests, she came to share it with her parents. It is no less a question of renouncing, in favor of Felicie, the numerous advantages which she finds at the chateau, and the happiness which she enjoys near a mistress who had become so dear to her. Marie will interest him in favor of her friend, will introduce her to him, will know how to promote her. She will insist so much on the desire never to leave her father that Blanche will perhaps consent, so as not to upset him, to allow her to be replaced with her by Felicie; the latter will be able, during the years of hardship which threaten her parents, to send them help; she can, moreover, leave the farm without inconvenience; for Geneviève is no longer a child, she is a gentle and amiable young girl, full of submission and devotion for her grandmother, tenderness and respect for her father.
We will not follow Marie in the development of her generous project; suffice it to say that three months later Félicie, admitted as chambermaid to the young Baroness de Maurebert, endeavored to justify her friend's praises, and found herself, thanks to her, placed advantageously and in a safe house, sheltered from the dangers she might encounter in leaving the paternal roof. Good mother Jeanne, thus aided by the same young girl whom her charity had once taken in, saw nothing of the misfortune which had befallen her, and enjoyed, as in happier times, the comforts to which the love of her children had accustomed her.
While agreeing not to take Marie when she left Beauval to go to Paris, Blanche had not given up charging her, during the time she spent in this land, with a thousand interior cares which frequently drew her to the castle. She and Felicie were thus habitually reunited, and each day their mutual affection seemed to increase. As in the past, a long walk, on fine summer evenings, was their sweetest amusement when Sunday services were over, and almost always, either at the beginning or at the end of it, they paid a short visit to this chapel in the woods where they found sweet memories, and where they had promised themselves, at the feet of Mary and under her protection, to be fervent Christians and tender friends all their lives.
Both of them prostrate before the altar, they had just finished their prayer one evening, when on getting up they saw, fairly close to them, an old man on his knees, in an attitude of profound contemplation; her forehead, almost bald, was leaning on the stick that supported it, and rare locks of silver hair fluttered agitated by a stormy wind which had just risen.
At this sight, they felt that feeling of respect which every well-born heart feels instinctively at the sight of old age. As they passed him, they noticed that his efforts to get up were very painful; they eagerly offered him the help of their arms, and led him to a small mound, on which he sat down. Touched by their attentions, he replied to the questions they addressed to him on his fatigue, that he had indeed presumed too much of his strength by venturing so far from his home, and that he was not without anxiety about the way to get there before the storm, because it looked very threatening. “But,” he added, raising his eyes to heaven still moist with tears, “whatever happens, I will not regret this race: the Blessed Virgin will have blessed it; and perhaps she will give me back the son for whom I came to invoke her. »
The face of the old man was so venerable, so stamped at this moment with grief and resignation, that the two friends felt full of respect and interest for him. Marie, after telling Felicie to wait for her, left at a run, and soon returned with a bottle of wine, some bread and an appetizing piece of cold meat. She hadn't forgotten to bring a large umbrella, less elegant no doubt than those of our townspeople, but more convenient and more useful. She urged the old man to restore his strength by a light meal, and was charmingly gracious in pouring him a drink and presenting him with some fruit, which she had added to her little provision.
The old man did not know how to express his astonishment and his gratitude for so much kindness; but, at the first words, Felicie interrupted him, pointing out that the sky was overcast, and that he must not waste time if he wanted to avoid the storm which was already rumbling in the distance. After drinking a glass of good wine, he felt quite revived, and wanted to resume his journey alone; but the young girls declared that they would accompany him to lend him, in case of rain, the help which he would need so much. The old peasant was overwhelmed with thanks that came from the heart and were in no way servile. His clothes, though poor, were perfectly clean, and in his person, as in his countenance, there was an imprint of gentle dignity which in all circumstances belongs only to the virtuous man.
Leaning with one hand on his staff, with the other on Marie's arm, the good old man resumed his journey, and after an hour of slow and painful walking, they arrived in front of his cottage. It was situated halfway up a small hill, and one ascended to it by a narrow and fairly steep path. In this rural dwelling, one noticed an appearance of order, cleanliness, and even the traces of a certain ease. A vine planted alongside the little house covered the walls with its supple and graceful branches, and the little garden which surrounded it seemed carefully maintained; as they approached, an old dog barked; but, on recognizing his master, he hastened to him, and by his cheerful air and his repeated leaps he testified to the pleasure which his return gave him.
The old man caressed him, saying in a low voice: "Poor animal, I have only you to welcome me when I come back here." At this moment a woman of about sixty came out of the cottage and asked the old man abruptly what he had been thinking about while staying outside for so long. She added, murmuring, that she had taken the trouble to wait for him until this hour; but she stopped short on seeing the young girls taking leave of the good peasant, and preparing to leave, in spite of the entreaties of the old man, who urged them to rest for a moment under his roof. Seeing that he could not hold them back, the old man said to them in a moved voice: “May Heaven reward you, young girls, for what you have done for me today! the blessing of an old man always brings good luck, and mine will follow you everywhere! »
Half an hour later, they were home, and tasted deep in their hearts that sweet satisfaction that one always feels when one has followed virtuous impulses. As for Marie, a project worthy of her occupied her mind; perhaps it would be given to her to relieve new misfortunes, and she fell asleep, arranging in her mind a future visit to the cottage.
A story. - A marriage.
The following Sunday, a little before sunset, the two friends arrived at their old friend's house. He was sitting outside his door, under the shade of an apple tree that promised a bountiful harvest; he uttered an exclamation of surprise and joy on perceiving them; and, after having closed a prayer book in which he was reading attentively, he took a few steps in front of them, and asked them, smiling, what could be the reason for their pleasant visit to an old solitary incapable of procuring them the slightest distraction. They replied that they had wanted to know if he had not suffered from the long race the previous Sunday; and Marie added with gentle shyness that they hoped they would not seem indiscreet to him by presenting themselves thus at his house. He reassured them with an outpouring of heart that showed how touched and grateful he was for their visit. We sat down in the garden on a little grass bench, and the poor old man led the conversation to his isolation and the circumstances which had occasioned it. He seemed to feel the need to speak of his sorrows to hearts capable of sympathizing with them. We are going to give an account in a few words of the detailed account he gave of it to the two friends.
His name was Mathurin Duval, he had never known his mother, and at the age of nine he had lost his father, a haberdasher in Paris. Good parents took care of the affairs and education of Mathurin and his only brother, who was four years older than him. This one, finding, still young, the occasion to make a good establishment, went to settle in Alsace, fatherland of his wife, and made there thereafter a rather considerable fortune in the trade.
Mathurin, as soon as he was able, put himself at the head of his father's affairs, which had become his own. His business, conducted with order and intelligence, went at first according to his wishes. Soon he was thinking of getting married, and his choice fell on a young woman, not very fortunate, it is true, but whose gentle and amiable virtues he had long admired. For some years he was perfectly happy; at the end of his days devoted to work, he found between his wife and their only son, named Firmin, the only relaxations his heart desired. Her darling child had just reached his twelfth year when misfortune began to make itself felt in this peaceful interior; considerable losses, occasioned by circumstances too long to detail, came to test the virtuous family, and multiplied so much, that at the end of two years it found itself reduced to a state bordering on poverty. It was necessary to abandon Paris and business; they employed the meager capital which remained to them to buy the small house which the old man now occupied, a field and the garden surrounding the cottage. The poor people resigned themselves to living there with strict economy, with the help of much more arduous work than that to which they were accustomed. Thanks to their entire submission to the will of the Lord and to the touching union which reigned between them, they spent in this humble retreat several years of peace and even of happiness. There they brought up their beloved son in those sentiments and those principles which, after this life of trials, were to lead him to salvation, and which from this world made him the consolation and the glory of his good parents. A sort of noble pride animated the eyes of the venerable old man as he enumerated the virtues and rare qualities of this son, the object of so much love; and when he spoke of the loss of his excellent wife, who died ten years after their arrival in these places, bitter tears flowed in spite of him along his cheeks; for several years which had elapsed since that painful separation had not lessened his regrets. After the death of his wife, his affections were centered on his son, and they mutually devoted their lives to the happiness of one another.
One evening a letter stamped Colmar was brought to Mathurin: it was there that his brother was established. For a long time it had been neglected; but for two or three years his letters had become more frequent, and he habitually complained of his fate. Widowed, elderly, rich and childless, he saw his old age pass away in sad isolation, or exposed to the interested eagerness of two of his wife's nephews, who watched him in the hope of being chosen as his heirs. They often spoke to him of the duty which required persons who had reached a certain age to make their will; but the old uncle felt revolted by their base cupidity, or could no longer bear their presence. The letter of which we have just spoken was therefore intended to ask Mathurin to make him, for a few months, the sacrifice of this son of whom he spoke so highly, so that he too might enjoy a few moments of happiness in his last days. He added that he felt his end approaching, and that it would be a great consolation for him to die in the arms of a loving parent, and not in the midst of greedy and indifferent strangers. Mathurin had not thought it right to refuse a brother who was almost dying his last request, and eight days after receiving this letter Firmin was on the road to Alsace. He went there on foot, after having received the tender blessings of his father, and the injunction not to prolong his absence beyond three months.
Alas! a double space of time had elapsed since his departure, and not only did Firmin not appear, but, after a first letter announcing his arrival, nothing more had been heard of him. It was impossible to suppose such prolonged neglect on the part of this excellent son. Also the most dreadful uneasiness overwhelmed his poor father, and gave his countenance that melancholy character which had so interested the young girls in his favour.
It was to obtain the return of this beloved son that, in spite of his weakness and his great age, he had undertaken his pilgrimage to the chapel in the woods, where he had been seen to invoke with so much fervor the consoler of the afflicted. Will she listen to the wishes of a pleading father? will she give him back his son? The following will teach us; but what we already know is that she had made him find in these places an angel of charity who was to become for him the sweetest consolation.
The old man's story had gone on much later than anyone could have expected. Each time he spoke of his son, he no longer knew how to stop, and repeated in a thousand forms the praises which overflowed from his paternal heart. Night had almost entirely fallen when the two friends parted, after discussing during the journey, with keen interest, what they had just learned.
From then on, every Sunday, Mathurin's cottage became the object of their walks; and, more free than her companion, Marie sometimes went there alone during the course of the week. The touching anointing with which she spoke of God, of the trials he often inflicts on those he loves, of his merciful power to put an end to them, penetrated to the heart of the old man, and filled him with a sweet resignation. She who spoke to him thus seemed to understand his pain so well, her eyes expressed such compassionate charity, so much confidence in divine Providence, that the good father felt revived and full of hope. His gratitude for the one who gave him the only moments of happiness he had enjoyed for a long time cannot be well expressed, and yet he was soon to have even greater obligations to her.
Firmin, at the time of his departure, had commissioned a woman from the neighborhood to take care of his father and to prepare his meals for him. At the same time he had paid in advance, for three months, the price agreed with this woman. At first she acquitted herself fairly well of her duty; but, receiving no more money and not seeing Firmin reappear, she only listened to her hard and selfish heart; and, after having for a long time mingled reproaches and murmurs with her services, she finally declared that it was impossible for her to continue them. This woman's attentions thus failed him at the very moment when the poor old man needed them most; for, following a fall a few days before, he had a wound in his leg which caused him great pain.
Marie arrived one morning near his bed, and found him dejected, discouraged, and not knowing how to
who to resort to. The fever had not left him since his accident, and the bad season which was approaching might render its consequences very serious. Then Marie resolved to devote all her moments of freedom to the care of the good old man, and to take from her sleep, by getting up two hours earlier than usual, the time necessary for none of her duties to suffer from those she was going to impose herself voluntarily. From that moment on, she was seen every day near Mathurin, dressing his wound, preparing his food, putting everything in order in his house, and, above all, strengthening his courage and suggesting to him the most pious sentiments. Through his care, the pastor of Semicourt had been informed of the accident of the good old man, and had also come to console him by his presence and to strengthen him by his advice.
On the other hand, Marie had been able to interest Mme.me de Maurebert in favor of his venerable protege, and frequently brought to the latter marks of the young lady's generosity, so that, no longer able to contain the feelings with which his heart was filled for the sweet young girl to whom he owed so much of benefits, Mathurin often exclaimed: "So nothing happy will happen to me that doesn't come to me through you!" But how can I ever pay all that I owe you? »
The winter had passed, and no news of Firmin had come to console his aged father. We were approaching the first days of the month of May, and the new greenery was beginning to adorn the trees which surrounded Mathurin's cottage. Marie had just returned to her ordinary care. His bed was made, his room well swept, his table laid, and, seated by the fire, he was preparing to breakfast. Marie, on her knees in front of him, was putting the finishing touches to her toilette, wrapping her leg, which was still a little sick, in flannel, when the good old man suddenly uttered a piercing cry, stretched out his arms and seemed on the verge of fainting. Marie turns around quickly, and sees a young man standing on the threshold of the door, whose countenance expresses surprise and deep emotion. At the exclamation of the old man, he rushes into his arms, crying: “My poor father! It was Firmin; it was that son awaited with so much anxiety, recommended to Heaven with such fervent entreaties. When the first outpourings of joy and tenderness had passed, Mathurin wanted to present to his son the one he never called anything but his consoling angel; but she had disappeared, not wanting the presence of a stranger to bring any embarrassment to these first moments of a reunion so long desired.
In recounting to his father all the events which had occurred since his departure, Firmin explained to him this silence which had so afflicted him. Become, by his excellent behavior, the object of all the tenderness of his uncle, he had been named his universal legatee. The old man's fortune, realized since he had left the business, was almost entirely in his wallet. His nephews, clever and greedy men, had a confidant in a former servant of their uncle. Deaf to the voice of probity and conscience, they succeeded in subtracting considerable sums in banknotes, and, on the death of their uncle, which happened a little later, they placed on Firmin the odious suspicion of having appropriated in advance what did not belong to him, and to have supposed a will which could become his justification. All springs of wickedness and slander were brought to bear. Firmin, thrown into a prison and kept incommunicado, had not even been able to inform his father of his dreadful situation. After long months spent in pain and tears, the fate of this honest young man greatly interested a distinguished lawyer of the city. He took his defense in hand, and succeeded in revealing all the guilty frauds of his adversaries; his case was judged, won, and Firmin restored to honor and liberty; but the considerable sums taken by his adversaries had not been recovered, one of them having gone to India, laden with his odious riches, before the death of his uncle.
What remained to Firmin, in cash and in furniture, was enough to assure him in the future an honest comfort, and his old father blessed Providence, which, by giving him with abundance what is necessary, had preserved him in his paternal kindness from the great dangers of opulence. It is believed that after the story of his son the good old man told him in turn how his life had passed during his absence, and certainly Marie played a big role in his story. Mathurin could not stop talking about it, and sent to his son's heart the admiration and gratitude with which his was filled for her. From that time a fixed thought occupied the good Mathurin, and became the object of all his wishes and all his prayers. What would be his happiness if he could call his daughter the one who had so long lavished on him the care and almost the affection! What a treasure for his beloved Firmin that a woman endowed with all the virtues,
all the qualities that can attach and charm!
Marie had often spoken to him of the friendship which united Mother Jeanne and her good parents. He did not know the latter; but as long as he was able to walk he sometimes went to see Bernard, with whom he had formerly had business relations, and who, informed by Marie of his infirmities, came, when he had time, to spend a few moments with him. . Revived by the return of his son, the good old man gathered his strength one day to go and find Mother Jeanne, communicate to her his project, and urge her to use his influence on Marie's parents to obtain from them a treasure which would seemed preferable to all riches. His son desired him no less keenly than he. It is easy to guess with what warmth Mathurin pleaded his case with Mother Jeanne, extolled to her the qualities, the principles, the conduct which made him worthy of the happiness he sought. The good grandmother, who loved Marie as her own daughter, gladly undertook to speak of this project to her parents. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed to her that Providence destined two young people so well suited for each other to spend the time of their pilgrimage on earth together.
The next day, she negotiated this affair with Marie's parents, who, as one can imagine, blessed Heaven with such a happy proposal for their daughter. When they spoke to her about it, she asked for a fortnight to reflect and pray; for, in such an important circumstance, she wanted above all to know the will of God. During this time Firmin, for his part, never ceased to send wishes to Heaven for the success of a project to which he attached all his happiness from then on. Two months later, Marie was the wife of Firmin, and after having been the model of young girls, she was to become that of Christian women.
"Piety is useful for everything," is the epigraph of this work, and this truth has been proved more than once in the course of our narrative. Indeed, neither the advantages of an illustrious birth, nor those of fortune, nor the power which results from it, were the lot of our young heroine. She possessed nothing that, humanly speaking, can help to do much good in this world; but she had received from Heaven the reward which He always grants to the humble heart which places its hope and its confidence in itself; he had endowed her with a solid, tender, enlightened piety, which made her very eloquent in portraying the pure joys one tastes in the service of the Lord. It was this lively and expansive faith that helped him so powerfully to bend the head of the young chatelaine under the yoke of religion, as if to penetrate the heart of a simple villager. It was also to her sincere piety that she owed the tender charity which we have seen her exercise sometimes towards the dying sinner, sometimes towards ignorant childhood, or infirm and neglected old age, for the eternal good and the consolation of all. We would be happy if the example of the simple and touching virtues of Mary gave birth in some young hearts to the desire to follow in her footsteps. Were she to find only one imitator, we would be well rewarded for the work that the story of her story and her virtues cost us!