Madame de Fleury, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 5.

“To virtue wake the pulses of the heart,

And bid the tear of emulation start.”— ROGERS.

Victoire, who gave constant exercise to the benevolent feelings of the amiable nun, became every day more dear to her. Far from having the selfishness of a favourite, Victoire loved to bring into public notice the good actions of her companions. “Stoop down your ear to me, Sister Frances,” said she, “and I will tell you a secret — I will tell you why my friend Annette is growing so thin — I found it out this morning — she does not eat above half her soup everyday. Look, there’s her porringer covered up in the corner — she carries it home to her mother, who is sick, and who has not bread to eat.”

Mad. de Fleury came in, whilst Sister Frances was yet bending down to hear this secret; it was repeated to her, and she immediately ordered that a certain allowance of bread should be given to Annette every day to carry to her mother during her illness.

“I give it in charge to you, Victoire, to remember this, and I am sure it will never be forgotten. Here is an order for you upon my baker: run and show it to Annette. This is a pleasure you deserve; I am glad that you have chosen for your friend a girl who is so good a daughter. Good daughters make good friends.”

By similar instances of goodness Victoire obtained the love and confidence of her companions, notwithstanding her manifest superiority. In their turn, they were eager to proclaim her merits; and, as Sister Frances and Mad. de Fleury administered justice with invariable impartiality, the hateful passions of envy and jealousy were never excited in this little society. No servile sycophant, no malicious detractor, could rob or defraud their little virtues of their due reward.

“Whom shall I trust to take this to Mad. de Fleury?” said Sister Frances, carrying into the garden where the children were playing a pot of fine jonquils, which she had brought from her convent. —“These are the first jonquils I have seen this year, and finer I never beheld! Whom shall I trust to take them to Mad. de Fleury this evening? — It must be some one who will not stop to stare about on the way, but who will be very, very careful — some one in whom I can place perfect dependence.”

“It must be Victoire, then,” cried every voice.

“Yes, she deserves it to-day particularly,” said Annette, eagerly; “because she was not angry with Babet, when she did what was enough to put any body in a passion. Sister Frances, you know this cherry-tree which you grafted for Victoire last year, and that was yesterday so full of blossoms — now you see, there is not a blossom left! — Babet plucked them all this morning to make a nosegay.”

“But she did not know,” said Victoire, “that pulling off the blossoms would prevent my having any cherries.”

“Oh, I am very sorry I was so foolish,” said Babet; “Victoire did not even say a cross word to me.”

“Though she was excessively anxious about the cherries,” pursued Annette, “because she intended to have given the first she had to Mad. de Fleury.”

“Victoire, take the jonquils — it is but just,” said Sister Frances. “How I do love to hear them all praise her! — I knew what she would be from the first.”

With a joyful heart Victoire took the jonquils, promised to carry them with the utmost care, and not to stop to stare on the way. She set out to Mad. de Fleury’s hotel, which was in La Place de Louis Quinze. It was late in the evening, the lamps were lighting, and as Victoire crossed the Pont de Louis Seize, she stopped to look at the reflection of the lamps in the water, which appeared in succession, as they were lighted, spreading as if by magic along the river. While Victoire leaned over the battlements of the bridge, watching the rising of these stars of fire, a sudden push from the elbow of some rude passenger precipitated her pot of jonquils into the Seine. The sound it made in the water was thunder to the ear of Victoire; she stood for an instant vainly hoping it would rise again, but the waters had closed over it for ever.

“Dans cet êtat affreux, que faire?

Mon devoir.”

Victoire courageously proceeded to Mad. de Fleury’s, and desired to see her.

“D’abord c’est impossible — madame is dressing to go to a concert;” said François. “Cannot you leave your message?”

“Oh, no,” said Victoire; “it is of great consequence — I must see her myself; and she is so good, and you too, Monsieur François, that I am sure you will not refuse.”

“Well, I remember one day you found the seal of my watch, which I dropped at your school-room door — one good turn deserves another. If it is possible, it shall be done — I will inquire of madame’s woman.”—“Follow me up stairs,” said he, returning in a few minutes; “madame will see you.”

She followed him Up the large staircase, and through a suite of apartments sufficiently grand to intimidate her young imagination.

“Madame est dans son cabinet. Entrez — mais entrez done, entrez toujours.”

Mad. de Fleury was more richly dressed than usual; and her image was reflected in the large looking-glass, so that at the first moment Victoire thought she saw many fine ladies, but not one of them the lady she wanted.

“Well, Victoire, my child, what is the matter?”

“Oh, it is her voice! — I know you now, madame, and I am not afraid — not afraid even to tell you how foolish I have been. Sister Frances trusted me to carry for you, madame, a beautiful pot of jonquils, and she desired me not to stop on the way to stare; but I did stop to look at the lamps on the bridge, and I forgot the jonquils, and somebody brushed by me, and threw them into the river — and I am very sorry I was so foolish.”

“And I am very glad that you are so wise as to tell the truth, without attempting to make any paltry excuses. Go home to Sister Frances, and assure her that I am more obliged to her for making you such an honest girl than I could be for a whole bed of jonquils.”

Victoire’s heart was so full that she could not speak — she kissed Mad. de Fleury’s hand in silence, and then seemed to be lost in contemplation of her bracelet.

“Are you thinking, Victoire, that you should be much happier, if you had such bracelets as these? — Believe me, you are mistaken if you think so; many people are unhappy, who wear fine bracelets; so, my child, content yourself.”

“Myself! Oh, madam, I was not thinking of myself — I was not wishing for bracelets, I was only thinking that —”

“That what?”

“That it is a pity you are so very rich; you have every thing in this world that you want, and I can never be of the least use to you— all my life I shall never be able to do you any good — and what,” said Victoire, turning away to hide her tears, “what signifies the gratitude of such a poor little creature as I am?”

“Did you never hear the fable of the lion and the mouse, Victoire?”

“No, madam — never!”

“Then I will tell it to you.”

Victoire looked up with eyes of eager expectation — François opened the door to announce that the Marquis de M—— and the Comte de S—— were in the saloon; but Mad. de Fleury stayed to tell Victoire her fable — she would not lose the opportunity of making an impression upon this child’s heart.

It is whilst the mind is warm that the deepest impressions can be made. Seizing the happy moment sometimes decides the character and the fate of a child. In this respect what advantages have the rich and great in educating the children of the poor! they have the power which their rank, and all its decorations, obtain over the imagination. Their smiles are favours; their words are listened to as oracular; they are looked up to as beings of a superior order. Their powers of working good are almost as great, though not quite so wonderful, as those formerly attributed to beneficent fairies.

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