Madame de Fleury, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 11.

“Cosi rozzo diamante appena splende

Dalla rupe natìa quand’ esce fuora,

E a poco a poco lucido se rende

Sotto l’attenta che lo lavora.”

Mad. de Fleury joined her husband, who was in London; and they both lived in the most retired and frugal manner. They had too much of the pride of independence to become burthensome to their generous English friends. Notwithstanding the variety of difficulties they had to encounter, and the number of daily privations to which they were forced to submit, yet they were happy — in a tranquil conscience, in their mutual affection, and the attachment of many poor but grateful friends. A few months after she came to England, Mad. de Fleury received, by a private hand, a packet of letters from her little pupils. Each of them, even the youngest, who had but just begun to learn joining-hand, would write a few lines in this packet.

In various hands, of various sizes, the changes were rung upon these simple words:

“MY DEAR MADAME DE FLEURY,

“I love you — I wish you were here again — I will be very very good whilst you are away. If you stay away ever so long, I shall never forget you, nor your goodness; but I hope you will soon be able to come back, and this is what I pray for every night. Sister Frances says I may tell you that I am very good, and Victoire thinks so too.”

This was the substance of several of their little letters. Victoire’s contained rather more information:—

“You will be glad to learn that dear Sister Frances is safe, and that the good chestnut woman, in whose cellar she took refuge, did not get into any difficulty. After you were gone, M. T—— said that he did not think it worth while to pursue her, as it was only you he wanted to humble. Manon, who has, I do not know how, means of knowing, told me this. Sister Frances is now with her abbess, who, as well as every body else that knows her, is very fond of her. What was a convent is no longer a convent: the nuns are turned out of it. Sister Frances’ health is not so good as it used to be, though she never complains; I am sure she suffers much; she has never been the same person since that day when we were driven from our happy school-room. It is all destroyed — the garden and every thing. It is now a dismal sight. Your absence also afflicts Sister Frances much, and she is in great anxiety about all of us. She has the six little ones with her every day, in her own apartment, and goes on teaching them as she used to do. We six eldest go to see her as often as we can. I should have begun, my dear Mad. de Fleury, by telling you, that, the day after you left Paris, I went to deliver all the letters you were so very kind to write for us in the midst of your hurry. Your friends have been exceedingly good to us, and have got places for us all. Rose is with Mad. la Grace, your mantua-maker, who says she is more handy and more expert at cutting out than girls she has had these three years. Marianne is in the service of Mad. de V—— who has lost a great part of her large fortune, and cannot afford to keep her former waiting-maid. Mad. de V—— is well pleased with Marianne, and bids me tell you that she thanks you for her. Indeed, Marianne, though she is only fourteen, can do every thing her lady wants. Susanne is with a confectioner; she gave Sister Frances a box of bonbons of her own making this morning; and Sister Frances, who is a judge, says they are excellent; she only wishes you could taste them. Annette and I (thanks to your kindness!) are in the same service, with Mad. Feuillot, the brodeuse, to whom you recommended us: she is not discontented with our work, and indeed sent a very civil message yesterday to Sister Frances on this subject; but I believe it is too flattering for me to repeat in this letter. We shall do our best to give her satisfaction. She is glad to find that we can write tolerably, and that we can make out bills and keep accounts; this being particularly convenient to her at present, as the young man she had in the shop is become an orator, and good for nothing but la chose publique: her son, who could have supplied his place, is ill; and Mad. Feuillot herself, not having had, as she says, the advantage of such a good education as we have been blessed with, writes but badly, and knows nothing of arithmetic. Dear Mad. de Fleury, how much, how very much we are obliged to you! We feel it every day more and more: in these times what would have become of us, if we could do nothing useful? Who would, who could be burdened with us? Dear madame, we owe every thing to you — and we can do nothing, not the least thing, for you! — My mother is still in bad health, and I fear will never recover: Babet is with her always, and Sister Frances is very good to her. My brother Maurice is now so good a workman that he earns a louis a week. He is very steady to his business, and never goes to the revolutionary meetings, though once he had a great mind to be an orator of the people, but never since the day that you explained to him that he knew nothing about equality and the rights of men, &c. How could I forget to tell you, that his master the smith, who was one of your guards, and who assisted you to escape, has returned without suspicion to his former trade? and he declares that he will never more meddle with public affairs. I gave him the money you left with me for him. He is very kind to my brother — yesterday Maurice mended for Annette’s mistress the lock of an English writing-desk, and he mended it so astonishingly well, that an English gentleman, who saw it, could not believe the work was done by a Frenchman; so my brother was sent for, to prove it, and they were forced to believe it. To-day he has more work than he can finish this twelvemonth — all this we owe to you. I shall never forget the day when you promised that you would grant my brother’s wish to be apprenticed to the smith, if I was not in a passion for a month — that cured me of being so passionate.

“Dear Mad. de Fleury, I have written you too long a letter, and not so well as I can write when I am not in a hurry; but I wanted to tell you every thing at once, because, may be, I shall not for a long time have so safe an opportunity of sending a letter to you.

“VICTOIRE.”

Several months elapsed before Mad. de Fleury received another letter from Victoire: it was short, and evidently written in great distress of mind. It contained an account of her mother’s death. She was now left at the early age of sixteen an orphan. Mad. Feuillot, the brodeuse, with whom she lived, added a few lines to her letter, penned with difficulty and strangely spelled, but expressive of her being highly pleased with both the girls recommended to her by Mad. de Fleury, especially Victoire, who she said was such a treasure to her, that she would not part with her on any account, and should consider her as a daughter. “I tell her not to grieve so much; for though she has lost one mother, she has gained another for herself, who will always love her: and besides, she is so useful, and in so many ways, with her pen and her needle, in accounts, and every thing that is wanted in a family or a shop, she can never want employment or friends in the worst times; and none can be worse than these, especially for such pretty girls as she is, who have all their heads turned, and are taught to consider nothing a sin that used to be sins. Many gentlemen, who come to our shop, have found out that Victoire is very handsome, and tell her so; but she is so modest and prudent, that I am not afraid for her. I could tell you, madame, a good anecdote on this subject, but my paper will not allow, and besides, my writing is so difficult.”

Above a year elapsed before Mad. de Fleury received another letter from Victoire: this was in a parcel, of which an emigrant took charge: it contained a variety of little offerings from her pupils, instances of their ingenuity, their industry, and their affection: the last thing in the packet was a small purse labelled in this manner —

Savings from our wages and earnings, for her who taught us all we know.”

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Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 13:58