Billeder på siden

courteous a manner that I felt prompted to continue the conversation, and made with that view several inquiries which implied I was a Catholic. This pleased her very much. She said it was a real joy to see an English person of her religion. I told her I was a convert, and for the first time in a Catholic country since I had been received into the Church. "No words can express," I added, "what a joy it is to feel oneself at home in God's house;" and as I said this, my eyes turned with reverence towards the sacred building I had just quitted. "I can well understand that feeling," the lady answered; "a return to our true home is such a blessing, even though the estrangement may have been, as it probably was in your case, involuntary."

the table covered with circulars, pamphlets, books, and packets of clothes tied up and ticketed. An old bureau with a surprising num ber of drawers, a writing desk, and a shelf for books completed the furniture of this apartment. Above the writing-desk was a crucifix; over the chimney an image of our Lady. Pictures of saints, in wooden frames, adorned the otherwise bare walls. Among them I noticed prints of St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Ignatius, St. Alphonsus Liguori with his pen in his hand, and also of St. Cecilia and St. Teresa. When the mistress of the house returned, I felt, in consequence of this inspection, still better acquainted with her than before. We sat down by the open window drinking our coffee, and enjoying the evening air and the delicious perfume of the mignonette. A conversation ensued, such as seldom takes place between persons meeting for the first time and never likely to meet again. I will not detail the process by which we were led on to speak to one another with an extraordinary unreserve, or analyze the reasons of the deep sympathy that seemed at once to spring up between us. Not often in life can this occur, but when it does, there is something very delightful in it. There were circumstances which, in our case, perhaps accounted for this mutual attraction. Be that as it may, we poured forth (I did at least to her) thoughts and feelings which I had never communicated to those nearest and dearest to me. What she told me of her life and history I have preserved in writing. I sat up all night at the hotel, transcribing it almost word for word. I wish I could have rendered the earnestness, the simplicity, the absence of self-consciousness with which she related a story, which she fancied, from what I had said

My heart warmed towards my new acquaintance. I suppose my face showed it, for she invited me into her house and offered me a cup of coffee. Whilst it was getting ready, we went on conversing. She said the state of religion in England had always greatly interested her; and she made inquiries which surprised me by the knowledge they evinced of what was going on in that country. She spoke also of Ireland, of her past sufferings and actual struggles, with the most intelligent sympathy. She seemed also well acquainted with our literature. I could hardly conceal my surprise at the amount of common subjects of interest which existed between us. And when she left the room for a moment, to hasten the preparations for our meal, I looked curiously at the furniture and arrangements of the room where I was sitting. It had no comforts, in the English sense of the word. There was no carpet on the red-brick floor, no sofa or arm-chair worthy of the name. The chairs and footstools were of the commonest description; to her of my past life and my

thoughts for the future, might be of use to me. But I must begin by mentioning what immediately led up to this communication. We had been speaking of French books, and I had remarked how few French authors, comparatively speaking, used fiction as a means of doing good, or, if they did write in that line, possessed the talent of powerfully interesting their readers.

"Yes," she answered; "few attempt it, and fewer succeed."

"How do you account for this?" I asked. "Is it the strong prejudice amongst good people in France, against whatever resembles a novel, that causes this failure?"

66 In

measure, perhaps," she replied; "and yet I think that when attempts are made to write stories in a good spirit, encouragement is not wanting, even to feeble efforts of the kind."

"Almost the only French writer who seems to me to have devoted real genius to the cause of religion,” I said, “is Madame N."

"You have read her works?" my companion asked.

"Yes," I answered. "I admire them immensely. There is a strength in her writings which must arise, I think, from an intense desire to make others feel as she does, and a consciousness of her power to influence. Do you not like her books?" I asked, surprised at receiving no answer. I repeated my questions. My hand was taken between those of my kind hostess, and, with something between a smile and a sigh, she pressed it and said, “I am Madame N., and I am very glad you like my books."

I was astonished and delighted. If before this disclosure I had been disposed to look on this lady as a friend, I now felt as if I had met with a person I knew and loved. It seemed to me that I had a thousand questions to ask her. I looked about me with renewed interest.

Everything about that little abode tallied with the impression I had received from Madame N.'s writings. A love of poverty and a love for the beautiful were strongly combined together in this humble abode. Everything about it was simple, calm, intellectual, and harmonious. Almost severe in its simplicity-and yet, what with the abundance of flowers in and outside of it, the fine engravings, the books which filled every unoccupied corner of the walls, the fine old trees in the back court, the picturesque old church with its windows of painted glass towering above it, and the wall of the hospice richly lined with a fringe of yellow flowers over the way,—there was something about it that gave me a wish to live and die in some such corner of the wide world.

The question which of all others I wished to put to Madame, or rather to Mdlle. N.,-for I found that she had never been married, and that it was only as an authoress that she went by the name of Madame N.,-related to her first attempts at writing, and her début in the literary world. I timidly expressed that desire. She remained silent a moment, and then said,

"It is just possible that the history of my childhood and youth may be useful to you. God has been very good to me. I had a great escape at the outset of my life; one for which there is no day that I do not thank him, especially when I take up my pen to write."

"Do," I said, "begin at the beginning, and tell me all your history as far back as you can remember."

What she told me is contained in the following pages.

I was an only child; both my parents died during my infancy, and I was left to the care of my grandmother, who was sixty years

of age when she took charge of me. Her family, once a wealthy one, had been ruined at the time of the first revolution, and nothing remained to her, the sole survivor of many brothers and sisters, except this little house and a small capital, on the interest of which we lived. None of her relatives except my parents had left any children. I was therefore the last of my race, and the doom of loneliness, in every sense of the word, seemed to rest upon me. My dear old grandmother was deaf, and very nervous. To get through the day without any sort of agitation or disturbance was the one object of her ambition. She had few visitors, and never would let me visit any one, out of fear, she said, that something might happen to me. For some years a lady in the town gave me lessons. She had been a teacher in Madame Campan's school, and had retired on a small annuity. She instructed me in all the elementary branches of education, and died when I was ten years of age. As far as learning went, this was no great loss to me. I had by that time learned almost everything she was capable of teaching. But I missed the hours 1 used to spend at her house, the walks to and fro across the promenade, the occasional researches in her drawers, which contained many curiosities, exhibited to me when I had been particularly good; and, above all, a large gray cat, who disappeared from the neighborhood on the day his mistress was buried. From that time forward my principal occupation was reading. My grandmother had very few books, and they were all devotional, but my kind teacher had bequeathed to me her little library, and it contained some works of a less exclusively religious character. Three of these, Le Génie du Christianisme, Télémaque, and Paul et Virginie, became my constant study and de

light. I read and re-read and pored over them till I literally knew them by heart. I used to sit on the grass in that little corner near the cloister, repeating aloud my favorite passages, or, shutting my eyes, I tried to transport myself in imagination to the places described in my beloved books. Soon I began to scribble myself. The franc my grandmother always gave me on New Year's Day was spent, not in bonbons, as she supposed, but in sheets of coarse paper, which by dint of crossing lasted me a long time, and served for a large amount of desultory composition in every possible line. Ink and pens I sometimes obtained from our servant Nanon, or for a sou I bought a pencil. My old slate came also into use. I wrote verses upon it, which I learned by heart before rubbing them out. Amongst my grandmother's books those I liked best were Royaumont's History of the Old and New Testament, and some volumes of the Lives of the Saints-especially those of martyrs and hermits. When I was in a pious mood I always fixed upon some particular saint as my model, but this did not last long enough to secure any sensible progress towards perfection. And I was apt to get out of temper because my grandmother and Nanon did not act towards me at those times the parts I mentally assigned to them. Once, when I was personating St. Catherine of Siena, I stayed all day in church, not coming home even at dinner-time, in hopes that they would scold me terribly and send me to work all the next day in the kitchen. But my grandmother said nothing-she had dozed, I believe, during the hours I had been away; and Nanon only laughed and set before me some cold soup, which did not at all suit my taste. I soon grew tired of being a saint. Then I thought I would be Virginia, and fixed on a

little boy who sang in the choir as the representative of Paul. The first thing necessary was to explain to him who Paul was, and for that purpose I began one day-when he was weeding the path up to the back entrance of the church, and I was leaning against our garden palisade to read, or rather to tell him the story of the two children in the island. After I had gone on with this for some time, I stopped and said,


Isidore, would you like to be Paul, and I to be Virginia?"

He looked up with a doubtful expression of countenance, and said, "Mamzelle, I'd rather be myself, and not somebody else; and then I don't think it's right to say Paul tout court; you should say St. Paul, as M. le Curé always does."

"O, but, Isidore," I exclaimed, quite shocked, "I am not speaking of the Apostle St. Paul. Did you not hear what I said about Paul being a little boy in an island?"

"Well, mamzelle, I thought maybe that was the way St. Paul began before he was converted; but I should not like to be that other Paul, before I asked M. le Curé about it." "M. le Curé would not understand about it; you need not ask him. You don't know enough about books to play at this."

my reach, and that I should never think of opening one; but that, if ever they should come in my way, I was to remember his warning. He saw me so often with a book in my hand, that he thought it necessary to place me on my guard. He would be better pleased, he added, if I was oftener sewing or knitting, than always poring over books.

I asked him if Télémaque and Paul et Virginie were novels. He hesitated a little about the first. It was not, he thought, the best work Fénelon had written, though there were good things in it; as to the last, he was sorry I had read it, and regretted its. being in my possession. The next time I went to confession I brought with me the torn and soiled little book I was so fond of, and told him he was to burn it. He praised me, and said that God would reward me for having made this sacrifice. The dear old man's words came true long after he had breathed his last, for he died some time before I left my home.


On an Easter Sunday, which happened to be my eleventh birthday, I made my First Communion. For some years afterwards my life went on in the same groove, dull and monotonous outwardly, but inwardly full of restless changes and varying moods. studied more than ever the Lives of the Saints, and floating ideas of a religious vocation passed through my mind. Sometimes I helped the Sisters of St. Joseph at the Hospice, and visited with them sick persons in the town, but no lasting impressions seemed to abide in my soul. I made a few acquaintances, but took no interest in any of them. At the time when I was prepar- I was wayward and dreamy, always ing for my First Communion, our living amidst imaginary scenes, good curé spoke to me very earn- holding conversations with imagiestly of the danger of reading bad nary persons, picturing to myself books, and the impossibility of a events in which I took a leading girl remaining pious and virtuous part, and pouring forth on paper if she was fond of novels. He my desultory thoughts and highhoped such works were not within flown aspirations.

And so ended the scheme at personating Virginia. I tell you these things because they will make you understand in what a world of fancy I lived; how my childish imagination worked on the slender materials which fed and excited it, and how it was perpetually casting about for fresh subjects on which to exercise its restlessness.

At last there came a day which changed the whole aspect of my life. An event occurred which, strange to say, took me by surprise. Though my grandmother was nearly eighty years of age, it had never struck me that she was likely to die soon. I never remembered her having been seriously ill; and for many years her infirmities had neither increased nor diminished. So, when one morning Nanon broke to me that her mistress had died suddenly in the night, I was astonished and almost bewildered at the announcement. I felt as if it would be impossible to live in this house without her, and just as impossible to live elsewhere. I could not form an idea of what life would be under these altered circumstances She had loved me in her silent passive manner, and I had loved her more than I was conscious of. She was the only parent, the only relative I had ever known. There had been no intimacy, not even much intercourse between us. Her deafness and habitual reserve had limited it to a few formal remarks, little occasional presents, a kiss night and morning. But she liked to look at me moving about the room, or sitting with a book in the garden. She could not bear me to be long out of her sight. She liked to lean on my arm when we went to church. I could not realize that this was all over, and that I was alone in the world.

The days which intervened between her death and her burial were very sad. My old friend the curé had been dead for some time. I did not care much for his successor. My best friend in this town was an old notary, who had always managed my grandmother's little money-matters, and it was he who informed me that she had left me this little house and the small capital on the interest of which we had lived. He asked what I meant to do.


"What could I do?" was my an


"What would you like to do?" he rejoined.

And I could not tell.

He offered me a home in his house, in case I did not wish to live alone with Nanon; but I did not accept the offer. I stayed here some little time, and then I began to think I should like a change. I was out of health, and the doctor whom Nanon sent for said I ought to have more amusement, and see something of the world, he added. This was just what I wanted him to say. But how was this to be arranged? I consulted my old friend the notary, and he consulted the wife of the prefect. She told him she had a sister who lived at Paris who would have no objection, she thought, to receive me into her house for some months, if proper arrangements were made to that effect.

"Can I afford such arrangement?" I asked.

He considered a little, and said that if Nanon went to live with her friends, which she wished to do, it might be practicable. But I must be very economical; for money did not go nearly as far in Paris as in this place.

Well, I accepted the offer of the prefect's sister-in-law; and, bidding adieu for the first time to the home of my childhood, under the charge of a lady who was leaving D., I went to Paris. I arrived there on a dark cold winter's day in November, and landed at the house in the Chaussée d'Antin which was to be my future abode.

Madame P. received me very kindly, and introduced me to her husband, who she told me was an homme de lettres. He gave me also a very cordial welcome. They were a middle-aged couple, who had never had any children. Their home was the rendezvous of a literary circle. She informed me of

« ForrigeFortsæt »