Madame de Fleury, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 12.

“Dans sa pompe élégante, admirez Chantilly,

De héros en héros, d’âge en âge, embelli.”


The health of the good Sister Frances, which had suffered much from the shock her mind received at the commencement of the revolution, declined so rapidly in the course of the two succeeding years, that she was obliged to leave Paris, and she retired to a little village in the neighbourhood of Chantilly. She chose this situation, because here she was within a morning’s walk of Mad. de Fleury’s country-seat. The Château de Fleury had not yet been seized as national property, nor had it suffered from the attacks of the mob, though it was in a perilous situation, within view of the high road to Paris. The Parisian populace had not yet extended their outrages to this distance from the city; and the poor people who lived on the estate of Fleury, attached from habit, principle, and gratitude to their lord, were not disposed to take advantage of the disorder of the times, to injure the property of those from whom they had all their lives received favours and protection. A faithful old steward had the care of the castle and the grounds. Sister Frances was impatient to talk to him, and to visit the château, which she had never seen; but for some days after her arrival in the village, she was so much fatigued and so weak, that she could not attempt so long a walk. Victoire had obtained permission from her mistress to accompany the nun for a few days to the country, as Annette undertook to do all the business of the shop during the absence of her companion. Victoire was fully as eager as Sister Frances to see the faithful steward and the Château de Fleury, and the morning was now fixed for their walk: but in the middle of the night they were awakened by the shouts of a mob, who had just entered the village fresh from the destruction of a neighbouring castle. The nun and Victoire listened; but in the midst of the horrid yells of joy, no human voice, no intelligible word, could be distinguished: they looked through a chink in the window-shutter, and they saw the street below filled with a crowd of men, whose countenances were by turns illuminated by the glare of the torches which they brandished.

“Good Heavens!” whispered the nun to Victoire: “I should know the face of that man who is loading his musket — the very man whom I nursed ten years ago, when he was ill with a jail fever!”

This man, who stood in the midst of the crowd, taller by the head than the others, seemed to be the leader of the party; they were disputing whether they should proceed further, spend the remainder of the night in the village alehouse, or return to Paris. Their leader ordered spirits to be distributed to his associates, and exhorted them in a loud voice to proceed in their glorious work. Tossing his firebrand over his head, he declared that he would never return to Paris till he had razed to the ground the Château de Fleury. At these words, Victoire, forgetful of all personal danger, ran out into the midst of the mob, pressed her way up to the leader of these ruffians, caught him by the arm, exclaiming, “You will not touch a stone in the Château de Fleury — I have my reasons — I say you will not suffer a stone in the Château de Fleury to be touched.”

“And why not?” cried the man, turning astonished; “and who are you, that I should listen to you?”

“No matter who I am,” said Victoire; “follow me, and I will show you one to whom you will not refuse to listen. Here! — here she is,” continued Victoire, pointing to the nun, who had followed her in amazement; “here is one to whom you will listen — yes, look at her well: hold the light to her face.”

The nun, in a supplicating attitude, stood in speechless expectation.

“Ay, I see you have gratitude, I know you will have mercy,” cried Victoire, watching the workings in the countenance of the man; “you will save the Château de Fleury, for her sake — who saved your life.”

“I will,” cried this astonished chief of a mob, fired with sudden generosity. “By my faith you are a brave girl, and a fine girl, and know how to speak to the heart, and in the right moment. Friends, citizens! this nun, though she is a nun, is good for something. When I lay ill with a fever, and not a soul else to help me, she came and gave me medicines and food — in short, I owe my life to her. ’Tis ten years ago, but I remember it well; and now it is our turn to rule, and she shall be paid as she deserves. Not a stone of the Château de Fleury shall be touched!”

With loud acclamations, the mob joined in the generous enthusiasm of the moment, and followed their leader peaceably out of the village. All this passed with such rapidity as scarcely to leave the impression of reality upon the mind. As soon as the sun rose in the morning, Victoire looked out for the turrets of the Château de Fleury, and she saw that they were safe — safe in the midst of the surrounding devastation. Nothing remained of the superb palace of Chantilly but the white arches of its foundation!

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54