“Who now will guard bewilder’d youth
Safe from the fierce assault of hostile rage? —
Such war can Virtue wage?”
At the very moment when this order was going to be put in execution, Mad. de Fleury was sitting in the midst of the children, listening to Babet, who was reading Æsop’s fable of The old man and his sons. Whilst her sister was reading, Victoire collected a number of twigs from the garden: she had just tied them together; and was going, by Sister Frances’ desire, to let her companions try if they could break the bundle, when the attention of the moral of the fable was interrupted by the entrance of an old woman, whose countenance expressed the utmost terror and haste, to tell what she had not breath to utter. To Mad. de Fleury she was a stranger; but the children immediately recollected her to be the chestnut woman, to whom Babet had some years ago restored certain purloined chestnuts. “Fly!” said she, the moment she had breath to speak: “Fly! — they are coming to seize every thing here — carry off what you can — make haste — make haste! — I came through a by-street. A man was eating chestnuts at my stall, and I saw him show one that was with him the order from Citoyen Tracassier. They’ll be here in five minutes — quick! — quick! — You, in particular,” continued she, turning to the nun, “else you’ll be in prison.” At these words, the children, who had clung round Sister Frances, loosed their hold, exclaiming, “Go! go quick: but where? where? — we will go with her.” “No, no!” said Madame de Fleury, “she shall come home with me — my carriage is at the door.” “Ma belle dame!” cried the chestnut woman, “your house is the worst place she can go to — let her come to my cellar — the poorest cellar in these days is safer than the grandest palace.” So saying, she seized the nun with honest roughness, and hurried her away. As soon as she was gone, the children ran different ways, each to collect some favourite thing, which they thought they could not leave behind. Victoire alone stood motionless beside Mad. de Fleury; her whole thoughts absorbed by the fear that her benefactress would be imprisoned. “Oh, madame! dear, dear Madame de Fleury, don’t stay! don’t stay!”
“Oh, children, never mind these things.”
“Don’t stay, madame, don’t stay! I will stay with them — I will stay — do you go.”
The children hearing these words, and recollecting Mad. de Fleury’s danger, abandoned all their little property, and instantly obeyed her orders to go home to their parents. Victoire at last saw Mad. de Fleury safe in her carriage. The coachman drove off at a great rate; and a few minutes afterwards Tracassier’s myrmidons arrived at the school-house. Great was their surprise, when they found only the poor children’s little books, unfinished samplers, and half-hemmed handkerchiefs. They ran into the garden to search for the nun. They were men of brutal habits; yet as they looked at every thing round them, which bespoke peace, innocence, and childish happiness, they could not help thinking it was a pity to destroy what could do the nation no great harm after all. They were even glad that the nun had made her escape, since they were not answerable for it; and they returned to their employer, satisfied for once without doing any mischief: but Citizen Tracassier was of too vindictive a temper to suffer the objects of his hatred thus to elude his vengeance. The next day Mad. de Fleury was summoned before his tribunal, and ordered to give up the nun, against whom, as a suspected person, a decree of the law had been obtained.
Mad. de Fleury refused to betray the innocent woman: the gentle firmness of this lady’s answers to a brutal interrogatory was termed insolence; she was pronounced a refractory aristocrat, dangerous to the state; and an order was made out to seal up her goods, and to keep her a prisoner in her own house.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08