Madame de Fleury, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 4.

“You she preferr’d to all the gay resorts,

Where female vanity might wish to shine,

The pomp of cities, and the pride of courts.”

LYTTELTON.

At the end of the time prescribed, the judges, including Victoire herself, who was the most severe of them all, agreed she had justly deserved her reward. Maurice obtained his wish; and Victoire’s temper never relapsed into its former bad habits — so powerful is the effect of a well-chosen motive! — Perhaps the historian may be blamed for dwelling on such trivial anecdotes; yet a lady, who was accustomed to the conversation of deep philosophers and polished courtiers, listened without disdain to these simple annals. Nothing appeared to her a trifle that could tend to form the habits of temper, truth, honesty, order, and industry; — habits which are to be early induced, not by solemn precepts, but by practical lessons. A few more examples of these shall be recorded, notwithstanding the fear of being tiresome.

One day little Babet, who was now five years old, saw, as she was coming to school, an old woman, sitting at a corner of the street, beside a large black brazier full of roasted chestnuts. Babet thought that the chestnuts looked and smelled very good; the old woman was talking earnestly to some people, who were on her other side; Babet filled her work-bag with chestnuts, and then ran after her mother and sister, who, having turned the corner of the street, had not seen what passed. When Babet came to the school-room, she opened her bag with triumph, displayed her treasure, and offered to divide it with her companions. “Here, Victoire,” said she, “here is the largest chestnut for you.”

But Victoire would not take it; for she said that Babet had no money, and that she could not have come honestly by these chestnuts. She spoke so forcibly upon this point, that even those who had the tempting morsel actually at their lips, forbore to bite; those who had bitten laid down their half-eaten prize; and those who had their hands full of chestnuts, rolled them, back again towards the bag, Babet cried with vexation.

“I burned my fingers in getting them for you, and now you won’t eat them! — And I must not eat them!” said she: then curbing her passion, she added, “But at any rate, I won’t be a thief. I am sure I did not think it was being a thief just to, take a few chestnuts from an old woman, who had such heaps and heaps: but Victoire says it is wrong, and I would not be a thief for all the chestnuts in the world — I’ll throw them all into the fire this minute!”

“No; give them back again to the old woman,” said Victoire.

“But, may be, she would scold me for having taken them,” said Babet; “or who knows but she might whip me?”

“And if she did, could not you bear it?” said Victoire: “I am sure I would rather bear twenty whippings than be a thief.”

“Twenty whippings! that’s a great many,” said Babet; “and I am so little, consider — and that woman has such a monstrous arm! — Now, if it was Sister Frances, it would be another thing. But come! if you will go with me, Victoire, you shall see how I will behave.”

“We will all go with you,” said Victoire.

“Yes, all!” said the children; “and Sister Frances, I dare say, would go, if you asked her.”

Babet ran and told her, and she readily consented to accompany the little penitent to make restitution. The chestnut woman did not whip Babet, nor even scold her; but said she was sure, that since the child was so honest as to return what she had taken, she would never steal again. This was the most glorious day of Babet’s life, and the happiest. When the circumstance was told to Mad. de Fleury, she gave the little girl a bag of the best chestnuts the old woman could select, and Babet with great delight shared her reward with her companions.

“But, alas! these chestnuts are not roasted. Oh, if we could but roast them!” said the children.

Sister Frances placed in the middle of the table, on which the chestnuts were spread, a small earthenware furnace — a delightful toy, commonly used by children in Paris to cook their little feasts.

“This can be bought for sixpence,” said she: “and if each of you twelve earn one halfpenny a-piece to-day, you can purchase it to-night, and I will put a little fire into it, and you will then he able to roast your chestnuts.”

The children ran eagerly to their work — some to wind worsted for a woman who paid them a liard for each ball, others to shell peas for a neighbouring traiteur— all rejoicing that they were able to earn something. The elder girls, under the directions and with the assistance of Sister Frances, completed making, washing, and ironing, half a dozen little caps, to supply a baby-linen warehouse. At the end of the day, when the sum of the produce of their labours was added together, they were surprised to find, that, instead of one, they could purchase two furnaces. They received and enjoyed the reward of their united industry. The success of their first efforts was fixed in their memory: for they were very happy roasting the chestnuts, and they were all (Sister Frances inclusive) unanimous in opinion that no chestnuts ever were so good, or so well roasted. Sister Frances always partook in their little innocent amusements; and it was her great delight to be the dispenser of rewards, which at once conferred present pleasure, and cherished future virtue.

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