“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-à-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 coupé 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 élite 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 “première 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 Honoré, 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.”