Valerie, by Captain Marryat.
This book was the last one that Marryat was working on in his last days. It is unusual for him in that the story concerned the life of a lady, whereas he normally wrote about the rough-and-tumble of life aboard ship. There is a preface which explains more about the way in which this book was conceived and written. It was completed by someone whom I think may well have been Marryat's wife.
There are some interesting episodes, particularly the way in which the young Lionel is raised from being a junior servant to regain an estate which is rightfully his.
What is not so easy to cope with these days is the quantity of reported speech in the last few chapters. But try it, and see how you get on.
VALERIE, BY CAPTAIN MARRYAT.
On August 10, 1845, Marryat wrote to Mrs S., a lady for whom, to the time of his death, he retained the highest sentiments of friendship and esteem:—
"I really wish you would write your confessions, I will publish them. I have a beautiful opening in some memoranda I have made of the early life of a Frenchwoman, that is, up to the age of seventeen, when she is cast adrift upon the world, and I would work it all up together. Let us commence, and divide the tin; it is better than doing nothing. I have been helping Ainsworth in the New Monthly, and I told him that I had commenced a work called Mademoiselle Virginie, which he might perhaps have. Without my knowing it, he has announced its coming forth; but it does not follow that he is to have it, nevertheless, and indeed he now wishes me to continue one" (The Privateersman) "that I have already begun in the magazine."
However, Mrs S., with whom at one time Washington Irving also wished to collaborate, declined the offer; and Mademoiselle Virginie was ultimately published in the New Monthly under the title of Valerie. The first eleven chapters appeared in the magazine 1846, 1847, and the remaining pages were added—according to The Life and Letters of Captain Marryat—by another hand, when it came out in book form.
There are two special features in Valerie, beyond its actual merits, that inevitably excite our attention. It is Marryat's last work, and the only one in which the interest centres entirely on women. For this reason, and from the eighteenth century flavour in some of its characters, the book inevitably recalls Miss Burney and her little-read The Wanderer, in which, as in Valerie, a proud and sensitive girl is thrown on the world, and discovers—by bitter experience as governess, companion, and music mistress—the sneer that lurks beneath the smile of fashion and prosperity.
The subject is well handled, on the old familiar lines, and supplies the groundwork of an eminently readable story, peopled by many life-like "humours" and an attractive, spirited heroine. The adventures of Valerie are various and well-sustained; her bearing throughout secures the reader's sympathy, and he is conscious of a genuine pleasure in her ultimate prosperity and happiness.
Valerie, an autobiography, is here reprinted from the first edition in two volumes. Henry Colburn, 1849.
After Marryat's death a fragment of a story for the "Juvenile Library" was found in his desk, and has been published in the Life and Letters by Florence Marryat. It describes the experience of a man who, like Marryat himself, was compelled by the failure of speculations to live in the country and manage his own estate. It was projected "because few young people have any knowledge of farming, and there are no books written by which any knowledge of it may be imparted to children." Marryat himself was not a very successful farmer, but probably his theory was in advance of his practice.
I have titled these pages with nothing more than my baptismal name. If the reader finds sufficient interest in them to read to the end, he will discover the position that I am in, after an eventful life. I shall, however, not trespass upon his time by making many introductory remarks; but commence at once with my birth, parentage, and education. This is necessary, as although the two first are, perhaps, of little comparative consequence, still the latter is of importance, as it will prepare the reader for many events in my after-life. I may add, that much depends upon birth and parentage; at all events, it is necessary to complete a perfect picture. Let me, therefore, begin at the beginning.
I was born in France. My father, who was of the ancienne noblesse of France, by a younger branch of the best blood, and was a most splendid specimen of the outward man, was the son of an old officer, and an officer himself in the army of Napoleon. In the conquest of Italy, he had served in the ranks, and continuing to follow Napoleon through all his campaigns, had arrived to the grade of captain of cavalry. He had distinguished himself on many occasions, was a favourite of the Emperor's, wore the cross of the Legion of Honour, and was considered in a fair way to rapid promotion, when he committed a great error. During the time that his squadron was occupying a small German town, situated on the river Erbach, called Deux Ponts, he saw my mother, fell desperately in love, and married. There was some excuse for him, for a more beautiful woman than my mother I never beheld; moreover, she was highly talented, and a most perfect musician; of a good family, and with a dower by no means contemptible.
The reader may say that, in marrying such a woman, my father could hardly be said to have committed a very great error. This is true, the error was not in marrying, but in allowing his wife's influence over him to stop his future advancement. He wished to leave her with her father and mother until the campaign was over. She refused to be left, and he yielded to her wishes. Now, Napoleon had no objection to his officers being married, but a very great dislike to their wives accompanying the army; and this was the fault which my father committed, and which lost him the favour of his general. My mother was too beautiful a woman not to be noticed, and immediately inquired about, and the knowledge soon came to Napoleon's ears, and militated against my father's future advancement.
During the first year of their marriage, my eldest brother, Auguste, was born, and shortly afterwards my mother promised an increase to the family, which was the occasion of great satisfaction to my father, who now that he had been married more than a year, would at times look at my mother, and, beautiful as she was, calculate in his mind whether the possession of her was indemnification sufficient for the loss of the brigade which she had cost him.
To account for my father's satisfaction, I must acquaint the reader with circumstances which are not very well known. As I before observed, Napoleon had no objection to marriage, because he required men for his army; and because he required men, and not women, he thought very poorly of a married couple who produced a plurality of girls. If, on the contrary, a woman presented her husband with six or seven boys, if he was an officer in the army, he was certain of a pension for life. Now, as my mother had commenced with a boy, and it is well known that there is every chance of a woman continuing to produce the sex which first makes its appearance, she was much complimented and congratulated by the officers when she so soon gave signs of an increase, and they prophesied that she would, by her fruitfulness, in a few years obtain a pension for her husband. My father hoped so, and thought that if he had lost the brigade, he would be indemnified by the pension. My mother was certain of it; and declared it was a boy.
But prophesies, hopes, and declarations, were all falsified and overthrown by my unfortunate appearance. The disappointment of my father was great; but he bore it like a man. My mother was not only disappointed, but indignant. She felt mortified after all her declarations, that I should have appeared and disproved them. She was a woman of violent temper, a discovery which my father made too late. To me, as the cause of her humiliation and disappointment, she took an aversion, which only increased as I grew up, and which, as will be hereafter shown, was the main spring of all my vicissitudes in after-life.
Surely, there is an error in asserting that there is no feeling so strong as maternal love. How often do we witness instances like mine, in which disappointed vanity, ambition, or interest, have changed this love into deadly hate!
My father, who felt the inconvenience of my mother accompanying him on forced marches, and who, perhaps, being disappointed in his hopes of a pension, thought that he might as well recover the Emperor's favour, and look for the brigade, now proposed that my mother should return with her two children to her parents. This my mother, who had always gained the upper-hand, positively refused to accede to. She did, however, allow me and my brother Auguste to be sent to her parents' care at Deux Ponts, and there we remained while my father followed the fortunes of the Emperor, and my mother followed the fortunes of my father. I have little or no recollection of my maternal grandfather and grandmother. I remember that I lived with them, as I remained there with my brother till I was seven years old, at which period my paternal grandmother offered to receive my brother and me, and take charge of our education. This offer was accepted, and we both went to Luneville where she resided.
I have said that my paternal grandmother offered to receive us, and not my paternal grandfather, who was still alive. Such was the case; as, could he have had his own way, he would not have allowed us to come to Luneville, for he had a great dislike to children; but my grandmother had property of her own, independent of her husband, and she insisted upon our coming. Very often, after we had been received into her house, I would hear remonstrance on his part relative to the expense of keeping us, and the reply of my grandmother, which would be, "Eh bien, Monsieur Chatenoeuf, c'est mon argent que je depense." I must describe Monsieur Chatenoeuf. As I before stated, he had been an officer in the French army; but had now retired upon his pension, with the rank of major, and decorated with the Legion of Honour. At the time that I first saw him, he was a tall, elegant old man, with hair as white as silver. I heard it said, that when young he was considered one of the bravest and handsomest officers in the French army. He was very quiet in his manners, spoke very little, and took a large quantity of snuff. He was egotistic to excess, attending wholly to himself and his own comforts, and it was because the noise of children interfered with his comfort, that he disliked them so much. We saw little of him, and cared less. If I came into his room when he was alone, he promised me a good whipping, I therefore avoided him as much as I could; the association was not pleasant.
Luneville is a beautiful town in the Department of Meurthe. The castle, or rather palace, is a very splendid and spacious building, in which formerly the Dukes of Lorraine held their court. It was afterwards inhabited by King Stanislaus, who founded a military school, a library and a hospital. The palace was a square building, with a handsome facade facing the town, and in front of it there was a fountain. There was a large square in the centre of the palace, and behind it an extensive garden, which was well kept up and carefully attended to. One side of the palace was occupied by the officers of the regiments quartered in Luneville; the opposite side, by the soldiery; and the remainder of the building was appropriated to the reception of old retired officers who had been pensioned. It was in this beautiful building, that my grandfather and grandmother were established for the remainder of their lives. Except the Tuileries, I know of no palace in France equal to that of Luneville. Here it was that, at seven years old, I took up my quarters; and it is from that period that I have always dated my existence.
I have described my grandfather and my residence, but now I must introduce my grandmother; my dear, excellent, grandmother, whom I loved so much when she was living, and whose memory I shall ever revere. In person she was rather diminutive, but, although sixty years of age, she still retained her figure, which was remarkably pretty, and she was as straight as an arrow. Never had age pressed more lightly upon the human frame; for, strange to say, her hair was black as jet, and fell down to her knees. It was considered a great curiosity, and she was not a little proud of it, for there was not a grey hair to be seen. Although she had lost many of her teeth, her skin was not wrinkled, but had a freshness most remarkable in a person so advanced in years. Her mind was as young as her body; she was very witty and coquettish, and the officers living in the palace were continually in her apartments, preferring her company to that of younger women. Partial to children, she would join in all our sports, and sit down to play "hunt the slipper," with us and our young companions. But with all her vivacity, she was a strictly moral and religious woman. She could be lenient to indiscretion and carelessness, but any deviation from truth and honesty on the part of my brother or myself, was certain to be visited with severe punishment. She argued, that there could be no virtue, where there was deceit, which she considered as the hot-bed from which every vice would spring out spontaneously; that truth was the basis of all that was good and noble, and that every other branch of education was, comparatively speaking, of no importance, and, without truth, of no value. She was right.
My brother and I were both sent to day-schools. The maid Catherine always took me to school after breakfast, and came to fetch me home about four o'clock in the afternoon. Those were happy times. With what joy I used to return to the palace, bounding into my grandmother's apartment on the ground floor, sometimes to frighten her, leaping in at the window and dropping at her feet, the old lady scolding and laughing at the same time. My grandmother was, as I observed, religious, but she was not a devotee. The great object was to instil into me a love of truth, and in this she was indefatigable. When I did wrong, it was not the fault I had committed which caused her concern; it was the fear that I should deny it, which worried and alarmed her. To prevent this, the old lady had a curious method—she dreamed for my benefit. If I had done wrong, and she suspected me, she would not accuse me until she had made such inquiries as convinced her that I was the guilty person; and then, perhaps, the next morning, she would say, as I stood by her side: "Valerie, I had a dream last night; I can't get it out of my head. I dreamt that my little girl had forgotten her promise to me, and when she went to the store-room had eaten a large piece of the cake."
She would fix her eyes upon me as she narrated the events of her dream, and, as she proceeded, my face would be covered with blushes, and my eyes cast down in confusion; I dared not look at her, and by the time that she had finished, I was down on my knees, with my face buried in her lap. If my offence was great, I had to say my prayers, and implore the Divine forgiveness, and was sent to prison, that is, locked up for a few hours in my bedroom. Catherine, the maid, had been many years with my grandmother, and was, to a certain degree, a privileged person; at all events, she considered herself warranted in giving her opinion, and grumbling as much as she pleased, and such was invariably the case whenever I was locked up. "Toujours en prison, cette pauvre petite. It is too bad, madam; you must let her out." My grandmother would quietly reply, "Catherine, you are a good woman, but you understand nothing about the education of children." Sometimes, however, she obtained the key from my grandmother, and I was released sooner than was originally intended.
The fact is, that being put in prison was a very heavy punishment, as it invariably took place in the evenings, after my return from school, so that I lost my play-hours. There were a great many officers with their wives located in the palace, and, of course, no want of playmates. The girls used to go to the bosquet, which adjoined the gardens of the palace, collect flowers, and make a garland, which they hung on a rope stretched across the court-yard of the palace. As the day closed in, the party from each house, or apartments rather, brought out a lantern, and having thus illuminated our ballroom by subscription, the boys and girls danced the "ronde," and other games, until it was bedtime. As the window of my bedroom looked out upon the court, whenever I was put into prison, I had the mortification of witnessing all these joyous games, without being permitted to join in them.
To prove the effect of my grandmother's system of dreaming upon me, I will narrate a circumstance which occurred. My grandfather had a landed property about four miles from Luneville. A portion of this land was let to a farmer, and the remainder he farmed on his own account, and the produce was consumed in the house-keeping. From this farm we received milk, butter, cheese, all kinds of fruit, and indeed everything which a farm produces. In that part of France they have a method of melting down and clarifying butter for winter use, instead of salting it. This not only preserves it, but, to most people, makes it more palatable; at all events I can answer for myself, for I was inordinately fond of it. There were eighteen or twenty jars of it in the store-room, which were used up in rotation. I dared not take any out of the jar in use, as I should be certain to be discovered; so I went to the last jar, and by my repeated assaults upon it, it was nearly empty before my grandmother discovered it. As usual, she had a dream. She commenced with counting over the number of jars of butter; and how she opened such a one, and it was full; and then the next, and it was full; but before her dream was half over, and while she was still a long way from the jar which I had despoiled, I was on my knees, telling her the end of the dream, of my own accord, for I could not bear the suspense of having all the jars examined. From that time, I generally made a full confession before the dream was ended.
But when I was about nine years old, I was guilty of a very heavy offence, which I shall narrate, on account of the peculiar punishment which I received, and which might be advantageously pursued by the parents of the present day, who may happen to cast their eyes over these memoirs. It was the custom for the children of the officers who lived in the palace, that is, the girls, to club together occasionally, that they might have a little fete in the garden of the palace. It was a sort of pic-nic, to which every one contributed; some would bring cakes, some fruit; some would bring money (a few sous) to purchase bon-bons, or anything else which might be agreed upon.
On those occasions, my grandmother invariably gave me fruit, a very liberal allowance of apples and pears, from the store-room; for we had plenty from the orchard of the farm. But one day, one of the elder girls told me that they had plenty of fruit, and that I must bring some money. I asked my grandmother, but she refused me; and then this girl proposed that I should steal some from my grandfather. I objected; but she ridiculed my objections, and pressed me until she overcame my scruples, and I consented. But when I left her after she had obtained my promise, I was in a sad state. I knew it was wicked to steal, and the girl had taken care to point out to me how wicked it was to break a promise. I did not know what to do: all that evening I was in such a state of feverish excitement, that my grandmother was quite astonished. The fact was, that I was ashamed to retract my promise, and yet I trembled at the deed that I was about to do. I went into my room and got into bed. I remained awake; and about midnight I got up, and creeping softly into my grandfather's room, I went to his clothes, which were on a chair, and rifled his pockets of—two sous!
Having effected my purpose, I retired stealthily, and gained my own room. What my feelings were when I was again in bed I cannot well describe—they were horrible—I could not shut my eyes for the remainder of the night and the next morning I made my appearance, haggard, pale, and trembling. It proved, however, that my grandfather who was awake, had witnessed the theft in silence, and informed my grandmother of it. Before I went to school, my grandmother called me in to her, for I had avoided her.
"Come here, Valerie," said she, "I have had a dream—a most dreadful dream—it was about a little girl, who, in the middle of the night, crept into her grandfather's room—"
I could bear no more. I threw myself on the floor, and, in agony, screamed out—
"Yes, grandmamma, and stole two sous."
A paroxysm of tears followed the confession, and for more than an hour I remained on the floor, hiding my face and sobbing. My grandmother allowed me to remain there—she was very much annoyed—I had committed a crime of the first magnitude—my punishment was severe. I was locked up in my room for ten days: but this was the smallest portion of the punishment: every visitor that came in, I was sent for, and on my making my appearance, my grandmother would take me by the hand, and leading me up, would formally present me to the visitors.
"Permettez, madame (ou monsieur), que je vous presente Mademoiselle Valerie, qui est enfermee dans sa chambre, pour avoir vole deux sous de son grand-pere."
Oh! the shame, the mortification that I felt. This would take place at least ten times a day; and each succeeding presentation was followed by a burst of tears, as I was again led back to my chamber. Severe as this punishment was, the effect of it was excellent. I would have endured martyrdom, after what I had gone through, before I would have taken what was not my own. It was a painful, but a judicious, and most radical cure.
For five years I remained under the care of this most estimable woman, and, under her guidance, had become a truthful and religious girl; and I may conscientiously add, that I was as innocent as a lamb—but a change was at hand. The Emperor had been hurled from his throne, and was shut up on a barren rock, and soon great alterations were made in the French army. My father's regiment of huzzars had been disbanded, and he was now appointed to a dragoon regiment, which was ordered to Luneville. He arrived with my mother and a numerous family, she having presented him with seven more children; so that, with Auguste and me, he had now nine children. I may as well here observe that my mother continued to add yearly to the family, till she had fourteen in all, and out of these there were seven boys; so that, had the Emperor remained on the throne of France, my father would certainly have secured the pension.
The arrival of my family was a source both of pleasure and pain to me. I was most anxious to see all my brothers and sisters, and my heart yearned towards my father and mother, although I had no recollection of them; but I was fearful that I should be removed from my grandmother's care, and she was equally alarmed at the chance of our separation. Unfortunately for me, it turned out as we had anticipated. My mother was anything but gracious to my grandmother, notwithstanding the obligations she was under to her, and very soon took an opportunity of quarrelling with her. The cause of the quarrel was very absurd, and proved that it was predetermined on the part of my mother. My grandmother had some curious old carved furniture, which my mother coveted, and requested my grandmother to let her have it. This my grandmother would not consent to, and my mother took offence at her refusal. I and my brother were immediately ordered home, my mother asserting that we had been both very badly brought up; and this was all the thanks that my grandmother received for her kindness to us, and defraying all our expenses for five years. I had not been at home more than a week, when my father's regiment was ordered to Nance; but, during this short period, I had sufficient to convince me that I should be very miserable. My mother's dislike to me, which I have referred to before, now assumed the character of positive hatred, and I was very ill-treated. I was employed as a servant, and as nurse to the younger children; and hardly a day passed without my feeling the weight of her hand. We set off for Nance, and I thought my heart would break as I quitted the arms of my grandmother, who wept over me. My father was very willing to leave me with my grandmother, who promised to leave her property to me; but this offer in my favour enraged my mother still more; she declared that I should not remain; and my father had long succumbed to her termagant disposition, and yielded implicit obedience to her authority. It was lamentable to see such a fine soldierlike man afraid even to speak before this woman; but he was completely under her thraldom, and never dared to contradict.
As soon as we were settled in the barracks at Nance, my mother commenced her system of persecution in downright earnest. I had to make all the beds, wash the children, carry out the baby, and do every menial office for my brothers and sisters, who were encouraged to order me about. I had very good clothes, which had been provided me by my grandmother; they were all taken away, and altered for my younger sisters; but what was still more mortifying, all my sisters had lessons in music, dancing, and other accomplishments, from various masters, whose instructions I was not permitted to take advantage of, although there would have been no addition to the expense.
"Oh! my father," cried I, "why is this?—what have I done?—am not I your daughter—your eldest daughter?"
"I will speak to your mother," replied he.
And he did venture to do so; but by so doing, he raised up such a tempest, that he was glad to drop the subject, and apologise for an act of justice. Poor man! he could do no more than pity me.
I well remember my feelings at that time. I felt that I could love my mother, love her dearly, if she would have allowed me so to do. I had tried to obtain her good-will, but I received nothing in return but blows, and at last I became so alarmed when in her presence that I almost lost my reason. My ears were boxed till I could not recollect where I was, and I became stupefied with fear. All I thought of, all my anxiety, at last, was to get out of the room where my mother was. My terror was so great that her voice made me tremble, and at the sight of her I caught my breath and gasped from alarm. My brother Auguste was very nearly as much an object of dislike to my mother as I was, chiefly because he had been brought up by my grandmother, and moreover because he would take my part.
The great favourite of my mother was my second brother Nicolas; he was a wonderful musician, could play upon any instrument and the most difficult music at sight. This talent endeared him to my mother, who was herself a first-rate musician. He was permitted to order me about just as he pleased, and if I did not please him, to beat me without mercy, and very often my mother would fly at me and assist him. But Auguste took my part, and Nicolas received very severe chastisement from him, but this did not help me; on the contrary, if Auguste interfered in my behalf, my mother would pounce upon me, and I may say that I was stunned with her blows. Auguste appealed to his father, but he dared not interfere. He was coward enough to sit by and see his daughter treated in this way without remonstrance; and, in a short time, I was fast approaching to what my mother declared me to be—a perfect idiot.
I trust that my own sex will not think me a renegade when I say, that, if ever there was a proof that woman was intended by the Creator to be subject to man, it is, that once place power in the hands of woman, and there is not one out of a hundred who will not abuse it. We hear much of the rights of woman, and their wrongs; but this is certain, that in a family, as in a State, there can be no divided rule—no equality. One must be master, and no family is so badly managed, or so badly brought up, as where the law of nature is reversed, and we contemplate that most despicable of all lusi naturae—a hen-pecked husband. To proceed, the consequence of my mother's treatment, was to undermine in me all the precepts of my worthy grandmother. I was a slave; and a slave under the continual influence of fear cannot be honest. The fear of punishment produced deceit to avoid it. Even my brother Auguste, from his regard and pity for me, would fall into the same error. "Valerie," he would say, running out to me as I was coming home with my little brother in my arms, "your mother will beat you on your return. You must say so and so." This so and so was, of course, an untruth; and, in consequence, my fibs were so awkward, and accompanied by so much hesitation and blushing, that I was invariably found out, and then punished for what I did not deserve to be; and when my mother obtained such triumphant proof against me, she did not fail to make the most of it with my father, who, by degrees, began to consider that my treatment was merited, and that I was a bad and deceitful child.
My only happiness was to be out in the open air, away from my mother's presence, and this was only to be obtained when I was ordered out with my little brother Pierre, whom I had to carry as soon as I had done the household work. If Pierre was fractious, my mother would order me out of the house with him immediately. This I knew, and I used to pinch the poor child to make him cry, that I might gain my object, and be sent away; so that to duplicity I added cruelty. Six months before this, had any one told me that I ever would be guilty of such a thing, with what indignation I should have denied it!
Although my mother flattered herself that it was only in her own domestic circle that her unnatural conduct towards me was known, such was not the case, and the treatment which I received from her was the occasion of much sympathy on the part of the officers and their wives, who were quartered in the barracks. Some of them ventured to remonstrate with my father for his consenting to it; but although he was cowed by a woman, he had no fear of men, and as he told them candidly that any future interference in his domestic concerns must be answered by the sword, no more was said to him on the subject. Strange, that a man should risk his life with such indifference, rather than remedy an evil, and yet be under such thraldom to a woman!—that one who was always distinguished in action as the most forward and the most brave, should be a trembling coward before an imperious wife! But this is a world of sad contradictions.
There was a lady in the barracks, wife to one of the superior officers, who was very partial to me. She had a daughter, a very sweet girl, who was also named Valerie. When I could escape from the house, I used to be constantly with them; and when I saw my name-sake caressing and caressed, in the arms of her mother, as I was sitting by on a stool, the tears would run down at the thoughts that such pleasure was debarred from me.
"Why do you cry, Valerie?"
"Oh! madam, why have I not a mother like your Valerie? Why am I to be beat instead of being caressed and fondled like her? What have I done?—But she is not my mother—I'm sure she cannot be—I will never believe it!"
And such had really become my conviction, and in consequence I never would address her by the title of mother. This my mother perceived, and it only added to her ill-will. Only permit any one feeling or passion to master you—allow it to increase by never being in the slightest degree checked, and it is horrible to what an excess it will carry you. About this time, my mother proved the truth of the above observation, by saying to me, as she struck me to the ground—
"I'll kill you," cried she; and then, catching her breath, said in a low, determined tone, "Oh! I only wish that I dared."
One day, a short time after this, I was walking out as usual with my little brother Pierre in my arms; I was deep in thought; in imagination I was at Luneville with my dear grandmother, when my foot slipped and I fell. In trying to save my brother I hurt myself very much, and he, poor child, was unfortunately very much hurt as well as myself. He cried and moaned piteously, and I did all that I could to console him, but he was in too much pain to be comforted. I remained out for an hour or two, not daring to go home, but the evening was closing in and I returned at last. The child, who could not yet speak, still moaned and cried, and I told the truth as to the cause of it. My mother flew at me, and I received such chastisement that I could be patient no longer, and I pushed my mother from me; I was felled to the ground and left there bleeding profusely.
After a time I rose up and crawled to bed. I reflected upon all I had suffered, and made up my mind that I would no longer remain under my father's roof. At daybreak I dressed myself, hastened out of the barracks, and set off for Luneville, which was fifteen miles distant. I had gained about half the way when I was met by a soldier of the regiment who had once been our servant. I tried to avoid him, but he recognised me. I then begged him not to interfere with me, and told him that I was running away to my grandmother's. Jacques, for that was his name, replied that I was right, and that he would say nothing about it.
"But, mademoiselle," continued he, "you will be tired before you get to Luneville, and may have a chance of a conveyance if you have money to pay for it."
He then slipped a five-franc piece into my hand, and left me to pursue my way. I continued my journey, and at last arrived at the farm belonging to my grandfather, which I have before mentioned, as being about four miles from the town. I was afraid to go direct to Luneville, on account of my grandfather, who, I knew from motives of parsimony, would be unwilling to receive me. I told my history to the farmer's wife, showing her my face covered with bruises and scars, and entreated her to go to my grandmother's and tell her where I was. She put me to bed, and the next morning set off for Luneville, and acquainted my grandmother with the circumstances. The old lady immediately ordered her char-a-banc and drove out for me. There was proof positive of my mother's cruelty, and the good old woman shed tears over me when she had pulled off the humble blue cotton dress which I wore and examined my wounds and bruises. When we arrived at Luneville, we met with much opposition from my grandfather, but my grandmother was resolute.
"Since you object to my receiving her in the house," said she, "at all events you cannot prevent my doing my duty towards her, and doing as I please with my own money. I shall, therefore, send her to school and pay her expenses."
As soon as new clothes could be made for me, I was sent to the best pension in Luneville. Shortly afterwards my father arrived; he had been despatched by my mother to reclaim me and bring me back with him, but he found the tide too strong against him, and my grandmother threatened to appeal to the authorities and make an exposure; this he knew would be a serious injury to his character, and he was therefore compelled to go back without me, and I remained a year and a half at the pension, very happy and improving very fast in my education and my personal appearance.
But I was not destined to be so happy long. True it was, that during this year and a half of tranquillity and happiness, the feelings created by my mother's treatment had softened down, and all animosity had long been discarded, but I was too happy to want to return home again. At the expiration of this year and a half, my father's regiment was again ordered to shift their quarters to a small town, the name of which I now forget, but Luneville lay in their route. My mother had for some time ceased to importune my father about my return. The fact was, that she had been so coldly treated by the other ladies at Nance, in consequence of her behaviour to me, that she did not think it advisable; but now that they were about to remove, she insisted upon my father taking me with him, promising that I should be well-treated, and have the same instruction as my sisters; in fact, she promised everything; acknowledging to my grandmother that she had been too hasty to me, and was very sorry for it. Even my brother Auguste thought that she was now sincere, and my father, my brother, and even my dear grandmother, persuaded me to consent. My mother was now very kind and affectionate towards me, and as I really wanted to love her, I left the pension and accompanied the family to their new quarters.
But this was all treachery on the part of my mother. Regardless of my advantage, as she had shown herself on every occasion, she had played her part that she might have an opportunity of discharging an accumulated debt of revenge, which had been heaped up in consequence of the slights she had received from other people on account of her treatment of me. We had hardly been settled in our new abode, before my mother burst out again with a virulence which exceeded all her former cruelty. But I was no longer the frightened victim that I had been; I complained to my father, and insisted upon justice; but that was useless. My brother Auguste now took my part in defiance of his father, and it was one scene of continual family discord. I had made many friends, and used to remain at their houses all day. As for doing household work, notwithstanding her blows, I refused it. One morning my mother was chastising me severely, when my brother Auguste, who was dressed in his hussar uniform, came in and hastened to my assistance, interposing himself between us. My mother's rage was beyond all bounds.
"Wretch," cried she, "would you strike your mother?"
"No," replied he, "but I will protect my sister. You barbarous woman, why do you not kill her at once, it would be a kindness?"
It was after this scene that I resolved that I would again return to Luneville. I did not confide my intentions to anyone, not even to Auguste. There was a great difficulty in getting out of the front door without being perceived, and my bundle would have created suspicion; by the back of the house the only exit was through a barred window. I was then fourteen years old but very slight in figure. I tried if my head would pass through the bars, and succeeding, I soon forced my body through, and seizing my bundle, made all haste to the diligence office. I found that it was about to start for Luneville, which was more than half a day's journey distant. I got in very quickly, and the conducteur knowing me, thought that all was right, and the diligence drove off.
There were two people in the coupe with me, an officer and his wife; before we had proceeded far they asked me where I was going, I replied to my grandmother's at Luneville. Thinking it, however, strange that I should be unaccompanied, they questioned, until they extracted the whole history from me. The lady wished me to come to her on a visit, but the husband, more prudent, said that I was better under the care of my grandmother.
About mid-day we stopped to change horses at an auberge called the Louis d'Or, about a quarter of a mile from Luneville. Here I alighted without offering any explanation to the conducteur; but as he knew me and my grandmother well, that was of no consequence. My reason for alighting was, that the diligence would have put me down at the front of the palace, where I was certain to meet my grandfather, who passed the major portion of the day there, basking on one of the seats, and I was afraid to see him until I had communicated with my grandmother. I had an uncle in the town, and I had been very intimate with my cousin Marie, who was a pretty, kind-hearted girl, and I resolved that I would go there, and beg her to go to my grandmother. The difficulty was, how to get to the house without passing the front of the palace, or even the bridge across the river. At last I decided that I would walk down by the river side until I was opposite to the bosquet, which adjoined the garden of the palace, and there wait till it was low water, when I knew that the river could be forded, as I had often seen others do so.
When I arrived opposite to the bosquet I sat down on my bundle, by the banks of the river for two or three hours, watching the long feathery weeds at the bottom, which moved gently from one side to the other with the current of the stream. As soon as it was low water, I pulled off my shoes and stockings, put them into my bundle, and raising my petticoats, I gained the opposite shore without difficulty. I then replaced my shoes and stockings, crossed the bosquet, and gained my uncle's house. My uncle was not at home, but I told my story and showed my bruises to Marie, who immediately put on her bonnet and went to my grandmother. That night I was again installed in my own little bedroom, and most gratefully did I pray before I went to sleep.
This time my grandmother took more decided steps. She went to the commandant of the town, taking me with her, pointing out the treatment which I had received, and claiming his protection; she stated that she had educated me and brought me up, and that she had a claim upon me. My mother's treatment of me was so notorious, that the commandant immediately decided that my grandmother had a right to detain me; and when my father came a day or two after to take me back, he was ordered home by the commandant, with a severe rebuke, and the assurance that I should not return to a father who could permit such cruelty and injustice.
I was now once more happy; but as I remained in the house, my grandfather was continually vexing my grandmother on my account; nevertheless, I remained there more than a year, during which I learnt a great deal, particularly lace-work and fine embroidery, at which I became very expert. But now there was another opposition raised, which was on the part of my uncle, who joined my grandfather in annoying the old lady. The fact was, that when I was not there, my grandmother was very kind and generous to my cousin Marie, who certainly deserved it; but now that I was again with her, all her presents and expenses were lavished upon me, and poor Marie was neglected.
My uncle was not pleased at this; he joined my grandfather, and they pointed out that I was now more than fifteen, and my mother dare not beat me, and as my father was continually writing for me to return, it was her duty not to oppose. Between the two, my poor grandmother was so annoyed and perplexed that she hardly knew what to do. They made her miserable, and at last they worried her into consenting that I should return to my family which had now removed to Colmar. I did not know this. It was my grandmother's birthday. I had worked for her a beautiful sachet in lace and embroidery, which, with a large bouquet, I brought to her as a present. The old lady folded me in her arms and burst into tears. She then told me that we must part, and that I must return to my father's. Had a dagger been thrust to my heart, I could not have received more anguish.
"Yes, dear Valerie," continued she, "you must leave me to-morrow; I can no longer prevent it. I have not the health and spirits that I had. I am growing old—very old."
I did not remonstrate or try to make her alter her decision. I knew how much she had been annoyed and worried for my sake, and I felt that I would bear everything for hers. I cried bitterly. The next morning my father made his appearance and embraced me with great affection. He was much pleased with my personal improvement. I was now fast budding into womanhood, although I had the feelings of a mere child. I bade farewell to my grandmother, and also to my grandfather, whom I never saw again, as he died three months after I quitted Luneville.
I trust my readers will not think that I dwell too long upon this portion of my life. I do it because I consider it is necessary they should know in what manner I was brought up, and also the cause of my leaving my family, as I afterwards did. If I had stated merely that I could not agree with my mother who treated me cruelly, they might have imagined that I was not warranted, in a moment of irritation, in taking such a decided step; but when they learn that my persecutions were renewed the moment that I was again in my mother's power, and that nothing could conquer her inveteracy against me, neither time, nor absence, nor submission on my part, nor remonstrance from others; not even a regard for her own character, nor the loss of her friends and acquaintances, they will then acknowledge that I could have done no otherwise, unless I preferred being in daily risk of my life. On my arrival at Colmar, my mother received me graciously, but her politeness did not last long. I now gave a new cause of offence—one that a woman, proud of her beauty and jealous of its decay, does not easily forgive. I was admired and paid great attention to by the officers, much more attention than she received herself.
"M. Chatenoeuf," the officers would say, "you have begotten a daughter much handsomer than yourself." My mother considered this as a polite way to avoid saying that I was much handsomer than she was. If she thought so, she did herself a great injustice, for I could not be compared to what she was, when she was of my age. She was even then a most splendid matron. But I had youth in my favour, which is more than half the battle. At all events, the remarks and attentions of the officers aroused my mother's spleen, and she was more harsh in language than ever, although I admit that it was but seldom that she resorted to blows.
I recollect that one day, when I was not supposed to be in hearing, one of the officers said to another, "Ma foi, elle est jolie—elle a besoin de deux ans, et elle sera parfaite." So childish and innocent was I at that time, that I could not imagine what they meant.
"Why was I to be two years older?" I thought, and puzzled over it till I fell fast asleep. The attentions of the officers, and the flattery he received from them on my account, appeared to have more effect on my father than I could have imagined. Perhaps he felt that I was somebody to be proud of, and his vanity gave him that courage to oppose my mother, which his paternal feelings had not roused. I recollect one instance particularly. There was a great ceremony to be performed in the church, no less than the christening of the two new bells, previous to their being hoisted up in the belfry. The officers told my father that I must be present, and on his return home he stated to my mother his intention of taking me with him on the following day to see the ceremony.
"She can't go—she has no clothes fit to wear," cried my mother.
"Why has she not, madame?" replied my father, sternly. "Let her have some ready for to-morrow, and without fail."
My mother perceived that my father was not to be trifled with, and therefore thought proper to acquiesce. Pity it was that he did not use his authority a little more, after he had discovered that he could regain it if he pleased.
On the following day I accompanied my father, who was one of the officers on duty in the interior of the church, and as he stood in advance of his men, I remained at his side, and of course had a very complete view of the whole ceremony. I was very neatly-dressed, and my father received many compliments upon my appearance. At last the ceremony began. The church was lined with troops to keep back the crowd, and the procession entered the church, the bishop walking under a canopy, attended by the priests, then the banners, and pretty children, dressed as angels, tossing frankincense from silver censers. The two bells were in the centre of the church, both of them dressed in white petticoats, which covered them completely, ornamented with ribbons, and a garland of flowers upon the head of each—if I may so designate their tops. The godmothers, dressed in white as on baptismal ceremonies, and the godfathers in court suits, stood on each side. They had been selected from the elite of the families in the town. The organ and the military band relieved each other until the service commenced. The bishop read the formula; the godmothers and godfathers gave the customary security; the holy water was sprinkled over the bells, and thus were they regularly baptised. One was named Eulalie and the other Lucile. It was a very pretty ceremony, and I should have liked to have been present at their "premiere communion" if it ever took place.
My English readers may consider this as a piece of mummery. At the time I did not. As a good Catholic, which I was at that time, and a pretty Frenchwoman, I thought that nothing could be more correct than the decoration des belles. I believe that it has always been the custom to name bells—to consecrate them most certainly—and if we call to mind what an important part they perform in our religion, I do not wonder at it. By being consecrated, they receive the rites of the church. Why, therefore, should they not receive the same rites in baptism? But why baptise them? Because they speak to us in many ways, and with their loud tongues express the feelings, and make known the duties imposed upon us. Is there cause for the nation to rejoice, their merry notes proclaim it from afar; in solemn tones they summon us to the house of prayer, to the lifting of the Host, and to the blessing of the priest; and it is their mournful notes which announce to us that one of our generation has been summoned away, and has quitted this transitory abode. Their offices are Christian offices, and therefore are they received into the church.
An elder sister of my mother's resided at Colmar, and I passed most of my time with her during our stay. When my father's regiment was ordered to Paris, this lady requested that I might remain with her; but my mother refused, telling her sister that she could not, conscientiously as a mother, allow any of her daughters to quit her care for any worldly advantage. That this was mere hypocrisy, the reader will imagine; indeed, it was fully proved so to be in two hours afterwards, by my mother telling my father that if her sister had offered to take Clara, my second sister, she would have consented. The fact was, that the old lady had promised to dower me very handsomely (for she was rich), and my mother could not bear any good fortune to come to me.
We passed through Luneville on our road to Paris, and I saw my dear grandmother for the last time. She requested that I might be left with her, making the same offer as she did before, of leaving me all her property at her death, but my mother would not listen to any solicitation. Now as our family was now fourteen in number, she surely might, in either of the above instances, have well spared me, and it would have been a relief to my father; but this is certain, she would not spare me, although she never disguised her dislike, and would, if she had dared, have treated me as she had formerly done. I was very anxious to stay with my dear grandmother. She had altered very much since my grandfather's death, and was evidently breaking up fast; but my mother was inexorable. We continued our route, and arrived at Paris, where we took up our quarters in the barracks close to the Boulevards.
My mother was as harsh as ever, and now recommenced her boxes of the ear—which during the time we were at Colmar had but seldom been applied. In all my troubles I never was without friends. I now made an acquaintance with the wife of the colonel of the regiment who joined us at Paris. She had no children. I imparted all my troubles to her, and she used to console me. She was a very religious woman, and as I had been brought up in the same way by my grandmother, she was pleased to find piety in one so young, and became much attached to me. She had a sister, a widow of large fortune, who lived in the Rue St Honore, a very pleasant, lively woman, but very sarcastic when she pleased, and not caring what she said if her feelings prompted her. I constantly met her at the colonel's house, and she invited me to come and see her at her own, but I knew that my mother would not permit me, so I did not ask. As the colonel was my father's superior officer, all attempts to break off my intimacy with her which my mother made, were unavailing, and I passed as usual all my time in any other house except my home.
I have now to record but two more beatings. The reader may think that I have recorded enough already, but as these were the two last, and they were peculiar, I must beg him to allow me so to do. The first beating was given me for the following cause: A very gentlemanlike young officer in the regiment was very particular in his attentions to me. I liked his company, but my thoughts had never been directed towards marriage, for I was too childish and innocent. One morning it appeared that he proposed to my father, who immediately gave his consent, provided that I was agreeable, and this he ventured to do without consulting my mother. Perhaps he thought it a good opportunity to remove me from my mother's persecution. At all events when he made known to her what he had done, and requested her to sound me on the subject, she was in no pleasant humour. When she did so, my reply was (he being a very dark-complexioned man, although well-featured), "Non, maman, je ne veux pas. Il est trop noir."
To my astonishment, my mother flew at me, and I received such an avalanche of boxes on the ears for this reply, that I was glad to make my escape as fast as I could, and locked myself up in my own room. Now I really believe that I was almost a single instance of a young lady having her ears well boxed for refusing to marry a man that she did not care for—but such was my fate.
The treatment I received in this instance got wind in the barracks, and my cause was warmly taken up by every one. Finding myself thus supported, I one day ventured to refuse to do a very menial and unpleasant office, and for this refusal I received the second beating. It was the last certainly, but it was the most severe, for my mother caught up a hearth-brush, and struck me for several minutes such a succession of severe blows, that my face was so disfigured that I was hardly to be recognised, my head cut open in several places, and the blood pouring down me in every direction. At last she left me for dead on the floor. After a time I recovered my recollection, and when I did so, I sprang away from the servants who had been supporting me, and with my hair flying in the wind, and my face and dress streaming with blood, I ran across the barrack-yard to the colonel's house, and entering the room in which she was sitting with her sister, sank at her feet, choking with the blood which poured out of my mouth.
"Who is it?" exclaimed she, springing up in horror and amazement.
"Valerie—pauvre Valerie," moaned I, with my face on the floor.
They raised me up, sent for the servants, took me into a bedroom, and sent for the surgeon of the regiment, who lived in the barracks. As soon as I was somewhat recovered, I told them that it was my mother's treatment; and I became so excited, that as soon as the surgeon had left the house, I cried, "Never, madam, will I again enter my father's house; never while I live—if you do not protect me—or if nobody else will—if you send me back again, I will throw myself in the Seine. I swear it as I kneel."
"What is to be done, sister?" said the colonel's wife.
"I will see. At all events, Valerie, I will keep you here a few days till something can be arranged. It is now quite dark, and you shall stay here, and sleep on this bed."
"Or the bed of the river," replied I; "I care not if it were that, for I should not rise up to misery. I have made a vow, and I repeat, that I never will enter my father's house again."
"My dear Valerie," said the colonel's wife, in a soothing tone.
"Leave her to me, sister," said the other, who was busy arranging my hair now that my wounds had stopped bleeding, "I will talk to her. The colonel will be home directly, and you must receive him."
Madame Allarde, for that was the colonel's wife's name, left the room. As soon as she was gone, Madame d'Albret, her sister, said to me, "Valerie, I fear that what you have said you will adhere to, and you will throw yourself into the river."
"Yes, if I am taken back again," replied I. "I hope God will forgive me, but I feel I shall, for my mind is overthrown, and I am not sane at times."
"My poor child, you may go back again to your father's house, because my sister and her husband, in their position, cannot prevent it, but believe me, you shall not remain there. As long as I have a home to offer, you shall never want one; but you must listen to me. I wish to serve you and to punish your unnatural mother, and I will do so, but Valerie, you must well weigh circumstances before you decide; I say that I can offer you a home, but recollect life is uncertain, and if it pleases God to summon me, you will have a home no longer. What will you do then?—for you will never be able to return to your father's house."
"You are very kind, madam," replied I, "but my resolution is formed, and I will work for my daily bread in any way that I can, rather than return. Put me but in the way of doing that, and I will for ever bless you."
"You shall never work for your bread while I live, Valerie, but if I die, you will have to do something for your own support, and recollect how friendless you will be, and so young."
"Can I be more friendless than I am at home, madame?" said I, shaking my head, mournfully.
"Your father deserves punishment for his want of moral courage as well as your mother," replied Madame d'Albret. "You had better go to bed now, and to-morrow give me your decision."
"To-morrow will make no change, madame," answered I, "but I fear that there is no chance of my escape. To-morrow my father will arrive for me as usual, and—but I have said it. You may preserve my life, madame, but how I know not," and I threw myself down on the bed in despair.
About an hour afterwards Madame d'Albret, who had left me on the bed while she went down to her sister, came up again, and spoke to me, but from weakness occasioned by the loss of blood and from excitement, I talked for many minutes in the most incoherent manner, and Madame d'Albret was seriously alarmed. In the meantime the colonel had come home, and his wife explained what had happened. She led him up to my room just at the time that I was raving. He took the candle, and looked at my swelled features, and said, "I should not have recognised the poor girl. Mort de ma vie! but this is infamous, and Monsieur de Chatenoeuf is a contemptible coward. I will see him to-morrow morning."
The colonel and his wife then left the room. By this time I had recovered from my paroxysm. Madame d'Albret came to me, and putting her face close to mine, said, "Valerie."
"Yes, madame," replied I.
"Are you more composed now? Do you think that you could listen to me?"
"Yes, madame, and thankfully," replied I.
"Well, then, my plan is this. I am sure that the colonel will take you home to-morrow. Let him do so; in the morning I will tell you how to behave. To-morrow night you shall escape, and I will be with a fiacre at the corner of the street ready to receive you. I will take you to my house, and no one, not even my sister, shall know that you are with me. They will believe that you have thrown yourself into the Seine, and as the regiment is ordered to Lyons, and will leave in ten days or a fortnight, there will be no chance, if you are concealed till their departure, of their knowing that you are alive."
"Thank you, thank you, madame, you know not how happy you have made me," replied I, pressing my hand to my heart, which throbbed painfully with joy. "God bless you, Madame d'Albret. Oh, how I shall pray for you, kind Madame d'Albret!"
Madame d'Albret shed tears over me after I had done speaking, and then wishing me good-night, told me that she would see me in the morning, and let me know what was going on, and then give me further directions for my conduct. She then left me, and I tried to go to sleep, but I was in too much pain. Once I did slumber, and dreamt that my mother was beating me again. I screamed with the pain that the blows gave me and awoke. I slept no more that night. At daylight I rose, and, as may be supposed, the first thing that I did was to look into the glass. I was terrified; my face was swelled so that my features were hardly distinguishable; one eye was closed up, and the blood had oozed out through the handkerchief which had been tied round my head by the surgeon. I was, indeed, an object. The servant brought me up some coffee, which I drank, and then remained till the colonel's wife came up to me.
It was the first and only time that I ever beheld that good woman angry. She called from the top of the stairs for her husband to come up; he did so, looked at me, said nothing, but went down again. About half-an-hour afterwards Madame d'Albret and the surgeon came up together. The latter was interrogated by her as to the effects of the injuries I had received, and after examination, he replied, that although it would take some days for the inflammation and marks of the blows to go away, yet he did not consider that eventually I should be in any way disfigured. This gave me great pleasure, as I suspect it would have done any other pretty girl in my situation. Madame d'Albret waited till the surgeon was gone, and then gave me some further instructions, which I obeyed to the letter. She also brought me a black veil in case I had not one of my own. She then left me, saying, that the colonel had sent for my father, and that she wished to be present at the interview.
My father came, and the colonel, after stating the treatment which I had received, loaded him with reproaches; told him his conduct was that of a coward to allow his wife to be guilty of such cruelty towards his child. Then he sent Madame d'Albret to bring me down; when I entered, my father started back with surprise; he had answered the colonel haughtily, but when he beheld the condition I was in, he said, "Colonel, you are right; I deserve all you have said and even more, but now do me the favour to accompany me home. Come, Valerie, my poor child, your father begs your pardon."
As my father took my hand to lead me away, Madame d'Albret said to the colonel, "My dear Allarde, do you not incur a heavy responsibility in allowing that girl to go back again? You know what she said yesterday."
"Yes, ma chere, I have been told by your sister, but it was said in a state of excitement, and I have no doubt that kindness will remove all such ideas. Monsieur de Chatenoeuf, I am at your orders."
I never said a word during all this interview. Madame d'Albret tied the black veil round my head and let it fall to conceal my features, and I was led home by my father accompanied by the colonel. We went into the room where my mother was sitting. My father lifted the veil from my face.
"Madame," said my father, in a severe tone, "do you see the condition to which your barbarity has reduced this poor girl? I have brought Monsieur Allarde here to tell you before him, that your conduct has been infamous, and that mine has been unpardonable in not having protected her from your cruelty; but I now tell you, that you have bent the bow till it has broken, and your power in this house is ended for ever."
My mother was so much astonished at this severe rebuke before witnesses, that she remained with her mouth open and her eyes staring. At last she gave a sort of chuckling laugh.
"Madame, I am in earnest," continued my father, "and you shall find that in future I command here. To your room, madame, immediately!"
The last word was pronounced in a voice of thunder. My mother rose, and as she retired, burst into a passionate flood of tears. The colonel then took his leave, saying to my father.
My father remained a quarter of an hour with me, consoling me and blaming himself, and promising that in future he would see me done justice to. I heard him without reply. The tears started in my eyes at his kind expressions, but I felt there was no security for his adhering to all he promised, and I trembled as I thought so. He left me and went out. My mother, who had been watching, as soon as she saw that he had left the house, hastened downstairs from her room, and came into the one where I was sitting alone.
"So, mademoiselle," said she, panting, and apparently striving to contain herself, "my power in this house is gone for ever, and all through you. Ha, ha, ha! we shall see, we shall see. D'ye hear me, creature?" continued she, with her clenched hand close to my face. "No, not yet," said she, after a pause, and then she left the room.
If my father's kindness had somewhat staggered my resolution, this conduct of my mother's confirmed it. I felt that she was right in what she said, and that in a month she would regain her sway, and drive me to desperation. During the whole of that day I made no reply to anything that was said to me by my brothers and sisters, who came in by stealth to see me. In this I followed the advice of Madame d'Albret, and at the same time my own feelings and inclinations. The servants who offered me dinner, and coaxed me to take some nourishment, could not get any answer from me, and at last one of them, who was a kind-hearted girl, burst out into tears, crying that mademoiselle was folle. My father did not come home to dinner; my mother remained in her room till he came in in the evening, and then he went up to her. It wanted but half-an-hour of the time that I had agreed to meet Madame d'Albret. I waited that time, during which I heard sounds of high altercation above stairs. I was quite alone, for my mother had prevented the children coming to me, and as the clock struck, I dropped my veil over my face and quietly walking out of the house, made for the rendezvous agreed.
I found the fiacre with Madame d'Albret waiting for me, and stepping into it, I was in a few minutes safely lodged in her splendid comfortable apartments. Madame d'Albret put me in a little cabinet inside of her own room, so that no one, except one servant whom she could trust, knew of my being on the premises. There I was left to recover from my bruises, and regain, if possible, my good looks. On the following day she repaired to the barracks, and remained with her sister till the evening, when she returned, and came up to me.
"All has happened as I wished," said she, as she took off her bonnet; "you are nowhere to be found, and they have not the least suspicion that you are here. When you were first missed, they thought you had returned to the colonel's, and your father did not think it advisable to make inquiry until the next morning, when to his surprise he learnt that you had never been there. The dismounted hussar, who was sentry during the evening, was then examined; and he replied, that about half-past eight o'clock, a young person, who by her figure he presumed to be Mademoiselle Chatenoeuf, had gone out of the gates, but that she had a thick veil over her face, and he could not see it. When your father and the colonel had interrogated the man and dismissed him, my poor sister burst into tears and said, 'Alas! alas! then she has kept her word, and has thrown herself into the Seine. Oh, Monsieur Allarde, my sister said you would incur a heavy responsibility by sending that poor girl back, and now it has proved but too true: poor dear Valerie!' Your father and the colonel were almost as much distressed as my sister, and it was just at that time that I came in.
"'Sister,' cried Madame Allarde to me, 'Valerie has left the barracks.'
"'What!' exclaimed I, 'When? oh my fear was too true!' said I, clasping my hands and then taking out my handkerchief, I covered my face and sobbed. I tell you, Valerie, that nothing but my affection for you would have induced me to be so deceitful, but under the circumstances I hope I was justified. My assumed grief and distress quite removed any suspicion of your being here, and shortly afterwards the colonel made a sign to your father, and they both left the barracks; I have no doubt they went down to the Morgue, to ascertain if their fears had already been proved correct."
"What is the Morgue, madame?" said I.
"Do you not know, my child? It is a small building by the side of the Seine, where all bodies which are found in the river are laid out for the examination of the friends of those who are missing. Below the bridges there is a large strong net laid across, which receives all the bodies as they are swept away by the tide; that is, it receives many, if not most of them, but some are never found again."
Madame Allarde did not fail to return to the barracks on the next day, and found that a general excitement prevailed, not only among the officers but the men. My supposed suicide had been made known. My father had visited the Morgue a second time, and the police had been on the search without success. My mother dared not even show herself at the window of her apartments, and found herself avoided even by her own children. As for my father, he was half mad, and never met her but to load her with reproaches, and to curse his own folly in having so long submitted to her imperious will.
"At all events, one good has arisen from your supposed death, Valerie," said Madame d'Albret, "which is, that your father has completely resumed his authority, and I do not think will ever yield it up again."
"My poor father," replied I, shedding tears, "I feel for him."
"He is certainly to be pitied," replied Madame d'Albret, "but it is his own conscience which must be his greatest tormentor. He was selfish enough not to feel for you during your years of persecution, and rather than have his own comforts invaded by domestic brawls for a short period, he allowed you to be sacrificed. But observe, Valerie, if you have still a wish to return to your parents, it is not too late. The regiment does not leave Paris till next Thursday."
"Oh, no, no," cried I, "my mother would kill me; don't mention that again, madame," continued I, trembling.
"I will not, my child, for to tell you the truth, you would not appear in so favourable a light, if you were now to return. You have caused much grief to my sister and husband, and they would not receive you with cordiality after having thus trifled with their feelings. It would also be a victory for your mother; and I doubt not but that in a short time she would again recover that power which for the present she has lost. You never can be happy in your family after what has passed, and I think that what has been done is for the best. Your father can well spare one child out of fourteen, having little more than a long sword for their support. Your supposed death will be the cause of your father retaining his lawful authority, and preventing any of the remaining children receiving such injustice as you have done; and remorse will check, if it does not humanise your mother, and I trust that the latter will be the case. I had well weighed all this in my mind, my dear Valerie, before I made the proposal, and I consider still that for your sake and for the sake of others, it is better that you should be the sacrifice. Nevertheless, I repeat, consult your own feelings, and if you repent the step which you have taken, there is yet time for you to return."
"My dear madame, return I never will, unless I am taken by force. All I feel is, that I should like that my father's bitter anguish was assuaged by his knowledge of my being still in existence."
"And so should I, Valerie, were it possible that the communication could be made, and the same happy results be arrived at; but that cannot be, unless it should please Heaven to summon your mother, and then you might safely inform your father of your existence."
"You are right, madame."
"Yes, I think I am, Valerie; for, after all, your father duly deserves his severe penance, which is, to visit the Morgue every day; but painful as is the remedy, it is necessary for the cure."
"Yes, madame," replied I, sobbing, "all you say is true, but still I cannot help weeping and pitying my poor father; not that it alters my determination, but I cannot command my feelings."
"Your feelings do you honour, Valerie, and I do not blame you for your grief. Do not, however, indulge it to excess, for that is turning a virtue into a failing."
There were still three days remaining previous to the departure of the regiment for Lyons. I was sorely distressed during this time. I pictured to myself my father's remorse, and would gladly have hastened to the barracks and thrown myself into his arms, but my mother's image rose before me, and her last words, "We shall see if my power is gone for ever," rung in my ears; her clenched hand was apparently close to my face, and then my resolution remained fixed. The swelling of my features had now subsided, and I had in some degree recovered my good looks; still my eye and cheeks were tinged black and yellow in various places, and the cuts on my head not quite healed. However, I was satisfied that the surgeon of the regiment was correct in his assertion that I should not be the least disfigured by the treatment which I had received.
"I have news for you," said Madame d'Albret, as she returned from the barracks, where she had been to see her sister off on her journey. "Your brother, Auguste, who you know has been away, has returned to rejoin his regiment, but has since obtained his rank in another, which is stationed at Brest."
"Why has he done so, madame? do you know? have you seen him?"
"Yes; he was at the colonel's; he stated that he could not remain in the regiment if his mother continued with his father; that he should never be able after what had happened to treat his mother with common courtesy, still less with the duty of a son, and therefore he preferred leaving the regiment."
"And my father, madame?"
"Your father allows him to act as he pleases; indeed, he feels the force of what your brother says, and so does my brother-in-law, who has given his assent, as commanding officer, to your brother's exchange. Auguste laments you very much, and the poor fellow looks very ill. I think he has done right, although it is a severe blow to your mother; but for her I have no compassion."
"My mother never liked Auguste, madame."
"No, I believe that; but what annoys her is the cause of his leaving his regiment, as it is open condemnation of her conduct."
"Yes, I can understand that feeling on her part," replied I.
"Well, Valerie, I did not return until the regiment was gone and the barracks cleared. You know the commandant always goes the last. I saw my sister safe off, and now I am here to tell you that you are no longer a prisoner, but may make yourself comfortable by roving through my apartments. But the first affair which we must take in hand is your wardrobe. I am rich enough to furnish you, so that shall be seen to immediately. And, Valerie dear, let me now say once for all, what I do not intend to repeat in words, but I hope to prove by my actions. Look upon me as your mother, for I have not taken you away from your family without the resolution of supplying, as far as I can, not the mother you have lost, but the mother which in your dreams you have fancied. I love you, my child, for you are deserving of love. Treat me, therefore, with that unlimited confidence and affection which your young and pure heart yearns to pour out."
"Bless you, madame, bless you," cried I, bursting into tears, and burying my face in her lap; "I feel that now I have a mother."
For several days I remained quiet in the little ante-chamber, during which Madame d'Albret had been busy every morning driving in her carriage, and ordering me a wardrobe; and as the various articles came in, I was as much surprised as I was pleased at the taste which had been shown, and the expense which must have been incurred.
"My dear madame," cried I, as each parcel was opened, "these are much too good for me; recollect I am but a poor soldier's daughter."
"You were so," replied Madame d'Albret; "but you forget," continued she, kissing my forehead, "that the poor soldier's daughter was drowned in the Seine, and you are now the protegee of Madame d'Albret. I have already mentioned to all my friends that I expect a young cousin from Gascony, whom I have adopted, having no children of my own. Your own name is noble, and you may safely retain it, as there are no want of Chatenoeufs in Gascony, and there have been former alliances between them and the d'Albrets. I have no doubt that if I were to refer back to family records, that I could prove you to be a cousin, some three hundred times removed, and that is quite enough. As soon as you are quite well, and I think in a week all vestiges of your ill-treatment will be effaced, we will go down to my chateau for a few months, and we will return to Paris in the season. Has Madame Paon been here?"
"Yes, my dear madame, she has, and has taken my measure for the dresses; but don't scold me. I must cry a little, for I am so happy and so grateful. My heart will burst if I do not. Bless you, bless you, dear madame; little did I think before I saw you, that I should ever cry for joy."
Madame d'Albret embraced me with much affection, and allowed me to give vent to my feelings, which I did, bedewing her hands with my tears. A week afterwards, everything was ready, and we set off for the chateau in Brittany, travelling in Madame d'Albret's post-chariot with an avant courier, and without regard to expense.
And now I must make the reader somewhat better acquainted with my kind protectress. I little thought at the time that she offered me her protection, that she was a personage of such consequence, but the fact was, that her sister having made a very inferior match to her own, she, out of delicacy, while the Colonel and his wife were at Paris, avoided anything like state in paying them a visit, and I supposed that she was much in the same rank and society as they were; but such was not the case.
Madame d'Albret had married into one of the highest and most noble families of France. Her husband had died three years after their marriage, and having no children, had left her a large revenue entirely at her own disposal during her life, and wishing her to marry again, had the property entailed upon her children if she had any, if not, after her death, it was to go to a distant brand of the d'Albret family. I was informed that her income amounted to 60,000 livres per annum, besides her chateau in the country, and the hotel in the Rue St Honore, which belonged to her, although she only occupied a portion of it. Her husband had now been dead more than ten years, and Madame d'Albret had not been persuaded by her numerous suitors to marry again. She was still handsome, about thirty-four years of age, and I hardly need say, was in the very best society in Paris. Such was the person who came to the barracks in so unassuming a manner, and whose protection I was so fortunate as to obtain.
I could dwell long upon the happy days that I passed at the chateau. There was no want of society, and the reunions were charming; and being in the country, I was allowed to join them, having been formally introduced by Madame d'Albret to all her visitors, as her cousin. My time was fully occupied. Madame d'Albret, perceiving that I had great talent for music and a fine voice, had procured me good masters, and wishing to prove my gratitude by attention, I was indefatigable, and made so rapid a progress, that my masters were surprised. Music and embroidery, at which I had before mentioned I was very expert, were my only occupations—and on the latter my talents were exerted to please Madame d'Albret, by offering her each piece as they were successively taken from the frame. So far from wishing to return to Paris, I was unhappy at the idea of leaving the chateau. Indeed, if the reader will recall what I have narrated of my former life, he will at once perceive that I could but be in a state of perfect happiness.
Until I was received by Madame d'Albret, I had lived a life of persecution, and had not known kindness. Fear was the passion which had been acted upon, and which, I may say, had crushed both mind and body: now all was kindness and love. Praise, which I had never before received, was now lavished upon me, and I felt my energies and talents roused, and developing themselves in a way that astonished myself. I had not known what I was, or what I was capable of. I had had no confidence in myself, and I had believed myself to be almost as incapable as my mother would have persuaded me, and everybody else. This sudden change of treatment had a most surprising effect. In the course of a few months I had grown nearly three inches taller, and not only my figure, but my features, had become so improved, that, although not vain, it was impossible for me not to believe what every one said, and what my glass told me, that I was very handsome, and that I should make a great sensation when I was introduced at Paris. But although I believed this, I felt no desire. I was too happy as I was, and would not have exchanged the kindness of Madame d'Albret for the best husband that France could produce; and when anything was mentioned by ladies who visited Madame d'Albret, to that effect, and they talked about my future establishment, my reply invariably was, "Je ne veux pas." I had always expressed my regrets that we should be obliged to go to Paris for the season, and Madame d'Albret, who of course had no wish to part with me so soon, and who felt that I was still young enough to remain for some years single, made me very happy by telling me that she did not intend to stay long in the capital, and that although I should appear at her parties, she did not intend that I should be much at public places. And so it proved; we went to Paris, and the best masters were procured for me, but I did not go out with Madame d'Albret, except occasionally, in her morning drives, and once or twice to the Opera and theatres. My music occupied the major portion of my time, and having expressed a wish to learn English, I had a good master; but I had another resource from an intimacy having arisen between me and Madame Paon, whom, I believe, I have before mentioned as the first milliner in Paris.
This intimacy was brought about in the following manner. Being very clever with my needle, and having a great taste for dress, I used to amuse myself at the chateau with inventing something new, not for myself, but for Madame d'Albret, and very often surprised and pleased her by making alterations or additions to her dresses, which were always admired, and declared to be in the best taste. On our arrival at Paris, Madame Paon was visited of course, that the new fashions might be ascertained, and she immediately remarked and admired my little inventions. I was therefore consulted whenever a new dress was to be made for Madame d'Albret, and as Madame Paon was a very lady-like and superior person, of a decayed, but good family, we soon became very intimate. We had been at Paris about two months, when one morning Madame Paon observed to Madame d'Albret, that as I was learning English it would not be a bad plan if Madame d'Albret was to drop me at her establishment when she took her morning airing, as she had two highly respectable English modistes in her employ, who she found were necessary for her English customers, and that I should learn more English by an hour's conversation with them than a master could supply. Madame d'Albret agreed with her, I was pleased at the idea, and consequently three or four mornings in the week were passed at Madame Paon's.
But the reader must be introduced to the establishment of Madame Paon, or he may imagine that it was too condescending for a young lady in my position to visit at a milliner's. Madame Paon was the first milliner at Paris, and as is generally the case, was on the most intimate terms with all the ladies. She made for the court, and, indeed, for every lady to whom she could dedicate her time, as it was almost a favour to be permitted to be one of her customers. Her establishment was in the Rue St Honore, I forget the name of the hotel, but it was one of the largest.
The suite of apartments were magnificent. You passed from one room to another, each displaying every variety of rich and graceful costume. In every room were demoiselles well-dressed to attend to the customers, and everything bespoke a degree of taste and elegance quite unparalleled. At last you arrived at the reception-room of madame, which was spacious and most superbly furnished. There were no men in the establishment except in one room, called the Comptoir, in which were six clerks at their desks. When I add that Madame Paon was elegant in her manners, and handsome in her person, very tall and majestic, that she was rich, kept several servants, a handsome carriage, and had a maison de campagne, to which she retired every Saturday afternoon, the reader may acknowledge that she was a person whom Madame d'Albret might permit me to visit.
This intimacy soon became very great. There was a certain degree of eclat at my being so constantly in the house, and, moreover, as I had a decided taste for dress, I often brought forward some new invention which was not only approved of, but a source of profit to Madame Paon. Everything was submitted to my judgment as Madame Paon more than once observed, "What a first-rate modiste you would make, mademoiselle; but, unfortunately for the fashions, there is no chance of your being so employed."
At last the Paris season was nearly over, and truly glad was I when Madame d'Albret mentioned the day of our departure. I had very much improved in my music and my English during our residence at Paris. I had not been out except to small parties, and had no wish whatever to go out at all. I was satisfied with Madame d'Albret's company, and had no wish to leave her. I may say that I was truly happy, and my countenance was radiant, and proved that I was so. My thoughts would occasionally revert to my father and my brother Auguste, and make me melancholy for the time, but I felt that all was for the best, and I built castles, in which I imagined my suddenly breaking in upon them, throwing myself in my father's arms, and requesting him to share the wealth and luxury with which I fancied myself to be endowed.
I was now nearly eighteen years old. I had been one year under the protection of Madame d'Albret, and the old dowagers who visited us at the chateau were incessantly pointing out to Madame d'Albret that it was time to look out for an establishment for me. Madame d'Albret was, to a certain degree, of their opinion, but she did not wish to part with me, and I was resolute in my determination not to leave her. I had no wish to be married; I had reflected much upon the subject; the few married lives I had witnessed were not to my taste. I had seen my kind-hearted amiable grandmother thwarted by a penurious husband; I had witnessed my father under the control of a revengeful woman; and when I beheld, as I did every day, the peace and happiness in the establishment of Madame d'Albret as a single woman, I felt certain that marriage was a lottery in which there were thousands of blanks to one prize. When, therefore, any of Madame d'Albret's acquaintances brought up the subject, when they left the room I earnestly implored Madame d'Albret not to be influenced by their remarks, as I had made up my mind to remain single, and that all I asked was to remain with her and prove my gratitude.