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Good Words 1860
Lady Somerville's Maidens


(Continued from, page 463.)

Euphame discovered Madam Romieu in her bare room, which had no carpet, no curtains—but the chairs painted in white with gilt edges, and an alabaster clock of Master Paul's among the innumerable brown pipkins of all shapes and sizes on the shelves. Madam Romieu lay on her bed in her offensive cherry-coloured gown and uncovered head; only she was marked as an invalid by her white flannel camisole over her boddice—such a camisole as poor Queen Mary wore under her velvet for her execution at Fotheringay. But Madam was not alone; Master Paul sat by her side with his dark eyes looking out keenly from under their shaggy brows, his light-coloured wig pushed back in his intensity of attention, and his arm in the sleeve of his brown coat with its broad buckram-lined skirts and its frogs, flung down on the table, with a pair of pincers hanging idly between his fingers.

"My son," Euphame heard Madam say faintly, "I am recovered. I am as well as a strong man. Go back to thy business; yes, yes, to thy clocks and thy instruments, and permit me to be content."

"No, no, Susette,"answered Master Paul hastily, "thou knowest I was near losing thee this morning. Hold! my child, that would have been worse than the last sight of Languedoc—than the recantation of Jean Cavalier. What would have become of me? But, no, no, thou wast not very ill, Susette; thou hadst a little sickness, thou wilt do well since Master Mark has warned me, and I will have great care of thee."

''I fear Master Mark frighted thee, my son; he is a good boy, Master Mark, a very good boy, but he is sombre and he is brusque, very brusque. Do not mind him, mind me, and rest tranquil. But, my son, do not say Jean Cavalier recanted; he left the cause when he could do no more for it; he laid down his arms to save life, without doubt; I do not like to hear him blamed—a friend, a brother, one of the children of God—not him above all, and none other, unless when we cannot forbid it."

"I believe thee, Susette, I believe thee, my girl, I bow to thee; but here comes a visitor."

Madam's eyes expressed great surprise and gratitude for Euphame Napier's inquiries and offers. Madam smote Euphame's generous heart when she did not reject her pity, but accepted it simply, and agreed to her presence till she should pass the crisis of her malady, though Euphame saw that the complaisance was on Master Paul's account. "See," she whispered, "he cannot sit here; he is not accustomed to want his trade any more than his prayers; he will do without it yonder, but here, see, he is used to be occupied with his figures, his mouldings, his filings, his fine touches. Master Paul is a great man; his trade is his, and he is his trade's. See, they are one, they are made for each other; it is not that we cannot confide all to Master Mark, but Master Paul is the heart, the soul of his calling; it is the shell, the outer case of his existence on earth, and he is its main-spring. He would be lost without it; that is to say, he would not murmur or complain, for he is one of the children of God, but he would be restless; ah! he would remember Languedoc. I will say yes to your goodness, for you are a child of God also, mademoiselle; you will not grudge to break me my bit of galette and hand me my cup of water, until a few days, until my health is re-established, or till I am gone to brighter heights than the mountains of the Cevennes. Mademoiselle, ah! I would see their pines, and hear the fall of their waters, and gather their chestnuts again. Will I do that yonder, mademoiselle, as well as meet our pastors and our prophets, Claude Brousson, and the delicate little Maid of Cassell, who saw the angel, and rough old Jeanne, the peasant, who herded our cattle and drew our water till she was forty, and then preached to us like an apostle? If it were not for my poor little son, and the will of the Lord., I die of envy to see them all again—my friends murdered on earth, glorified in heaven, and our Lord whom they loved unto blood. Yes, and Jean Cavalier, our young David whom they will have a traitor "—and the poor woman sobbed and wept—"so that even my son believes them, and he has a good heart, so good a heart you cannot think! But our brave boy, David, he will show yet that he was not false, though he left us. Yes, see, we are sometimes compelled to blame the tyrant and the man of violence, but why should he refuse charity to our young captain?"

Euphame found her always in this spirit, caring for her son, escaping from herself, judging no man.

Madam Romieu had something of the cast of face of one of her preachers and prophets, Isabella Vincent, though hers was a far humbler and safer path in life. Her face, too, was '' irregular, thin, and brown, by the weather;" " her forehead large, with great black eyes of a sweet expression," [The Camisards.] and her temper reflected that of another Camisard worthy, who never addressed an audience without dealing with them in the end as "sheep" and " doves," and gazing at her hour after hour in her unconscious patience and goodness. Euphame wondered that she could ever have deemed Madam a scarecrow. Madam's mind could not brood on injuries; she did not like to mention the dragon-nades which like a whirlwind raged through the valleys, or Louvois, who, like a French Claverse, set them on; she turned with horror from the murder of the priests, though she would own meekly that she had not the exaltation of those who announced themselves the appointed soldiers of God's vengeance. No ; she had none of the four degrees of ecstasy—the "warning," the "breath," the "prophesy," the "gift;" she was nothing but a poor sinner, who would not worship stocks and stones, and who trusted in God's mercy and the Redeemer's sacrifice, and who was sent into the world to solace and tend her little son—a great man, a very great man, who refuted the curates when they averred of the Cevennoises that Balaam's ass spoke again, refuted them clean by his parts and learning, as did old Palissy the potter in the evil days of Queen Catherine and the massacre of St. Bartholomew; who would not acquire a ticket of conversion along with count and baron, who baffled the guards, who trundled a wheelbarrow (he was always fond of wheels, her. little son) to the coast, she walking after him as his daughter— think of that, her little son's daughter!—who established himself cheerfully a stranger in a strange land.

Master Paul was a single-hearted, impassioned artist, as well as a loyal man ; he was, let us say, a tenth part as excellent as his wife-mother reckoned him, and that is declaring a great deal. Also he was one of those men who stand in urgent need of constant affectionate attention and direction. An accurate and elegant, as well as an eager mind in his profession, he was, as his Susette said, " lost" out of it, bewildered among ordinary concerns and indifferent events, so careless, rash, awkward, and forgetful, that, as you have observed, when he was out of Susette's presence, Mark Crichton was impelled to constitute himself his champion, walk after him with an apprentices' stout stick, lest he should ramble into the wild outpourings of the clubs and the smugglers' houses, the Alsatias of the city, pluck him by the sleeve when he would fling away his crowns, bring him back when he would go a star-gazing and neglecting his meals till Madam was beside herself, not with rage for the slight to herself, but with anxiety lest the stomach of the offender should suffer.

Master Paul had a fervent regard for his Susette, and was tender of her when he remembered her; but Master Paul was not a woman, and Master Paul was his trade's, and his trade was Master Paul's. With some difficulty Euphame induced Master Paul to vacate his post, and the next day he took it for granted that she should minister to Madam, and was quite comfortable in the assurance, and no more thought of interfering with Mademoiselle at the sick-bed than he would have expected Mademoiselle to meddle with his workman's bench or his magnifying glasses. Still, when he came up stairs to dinner or supper, and during the evenings, he would start forward and ask such wistful questions, and raise Madam's pillow so gently, that the tears would come into Madam's sweet black eyes while she laughed at her little son, and even Euphame thought it was nicely done, and Mark Crichton neither laughed nor shrugged his shoulders.

Happily Madam's malady proved to be an aggravation of an old complaint which was not mortal, though it was painful and tedious; and it yielded under Euphame's watchfulness and wisdom, and soon poor Master Paul was no longer in the danger which, good man and brave man as he was, he refused to admit, of losing his Susette. Ah! our God who pardons many an error, did not punish this tacit rebellion of the exiled clockmaker, and Master Paul lay more prostrate at his footstool for this act of his Divine mercy, than for any former deliverance from these shambles in Languedoc.

Euphame Napier moved very softly about Madam Romieu, and hung her head near her; it was not that she was still offended by the cherry-coloured gown or the exposure of the sallow face. Alas ! the cherry-coloured gown was in too pitiful a contrast to the dark shadows hollowed out by illness, and the pinched, unshaded features were set off and beautified by the mildness and disinterestedness of their constant voice and speech. But Euphame had come there to relieve the fantastic body of a disguised Frenchman, such as the sturdy Englishman Hogarth saw enter the French chapel in Hog Lane, when the great artist, like the inexperienced girl, stared broadly at the cherry-coloured gown, and she found herself serving a saint; and Euphame, in place of reaping the applause of a good conscience, was at first disturbed, ashamed, and unhappy, particularly when Madam would exalt Euphame in her active benevolence, and disparage herself as a poor helpless sinner, to whom everybody was over kind. Euphame could not bear that, and she first contradicted Madam flatly, and declared, "No, Madam Romieu, you are a great deal better lying there than I am working here, or than I shall ever be, serving or served;" and then when Madam would protest and disclaim, and continue to overvalue her, Euphame submitted, with fire in her face, that she had been guilty of thinking lightly of Madam, and begged her forgiveness and solicited her blessing,—and Madam Romieu was very much touched, and riveted in the conviction that Mademoiselle was a distinguished child of God, and must have the gift about her somehow, though she experienced no trances;—but she said no more about it to please her, and blessed her solemnly, kissed her on both cheeks, and assured her volubly of her everlasting friendship.

Thus Euphame was enlisted as great an ally of Madam Paul's, as work admitted Mark Crichton to be of Master Paul's. Afterwards, in her fine foreign tact indicating how fully and freely she forgave her, Madam, as soon as she had breath, would roguishly pester Euphame with more and queerer fables,—how an egg opened and let out an elephant, how a lizard found wings to fly like a bird, how the mouse, cat, and fox, kept house together, and, finally, what splendid feats of hunting were performed by grim King Dagobert—his horses and hounds; and she explained how she first used to her great Master Paul the term "my son," which French wives apply to athletic and' vigorous, as well as to drooping and delicate spouses.

V.

Madam Romieu was descended from people of wealth and rank, whose fortune and position went in the very dawn of the attack on Calvinism, who supplied the buckets of wine and milk, and the bales of wool, silk, and lace with which the brutal and licentious dragoons boasted they fed and foddered their horses. They had been glad to retire to the fastnesses of the Cevennes, and buy partial immunity by pasturing cattle and weaving coarse cloth, and living in obscurity with the frugal hardy natives of the district. There Madam was reared, where a great part of her education, after studying her Bible, was learning by heart and repeating those grotesque, pretty fables; and she thought no meal daintier than the boiled chestnuts, no sight braver than the pine-woods and the blue misty mountains which ascend, up and up, on both sides, as they retreat, until they vanish among the white-bonneted, giant Alps and Pyrenees; no mirth more joyous than the gaiety of the girls whom they started to gather the scented pine-tops, or the jests of the young men when they helped them over the snowed-up path, and the rifts in the ice in the sharp winter; no sound more sweetly solemn, no chants grander than the echo of the holy hymns of Clement Marot among the everlasting hills,—these hymns which the Cevennoises were wont to use as a church bell to attract a proscribed congregation of the desert to an inaccessible preaching-ground at the dead hour, of the night.

Master Paul had belonged to Madam's village. Master Paul had returned there after his wanderings to Geneva and Nuremberg, and impressed the simple country folks at once with his marvellous ability, his manly steadfastness, and his gentle condescension. Madame recounted with delight how he was reverenced and admired, how every one came to style him Father Paul, not in reference to his age, for he was hardly in his prime, but with respect to his great attainments.

Right womanly was the line of argument by which Madam Romieu owned that she was gradually impressed with the conviction that it was a bleak and barren height which Master Paul had reached, that of being Father to all—their patron, protector, and instructor, with none to bend over him, to keep watch and ward for him, and he a passionate reckless man for all his wisdom —and she had protested almost angrily against the universal election; and as Master Paul had been always very gracious towards her weakness and ignorance, she had ventured to denominate him Brother Paul, and Master Paul had paused and listened to the unwonted sound, and let his lustrous eyes fall from the sparkling, fixed, immoveable stars down on the brown, agitated, kind, pertinacious young face raised to his; and then Master Paul had not been pleased with the appellation, and so she had become his wife, and ' my son' had been substituted in its stead, and there never had been any confusion therefrom, since Madam's little child had died on their toilsome precarious passage to the coast—and they escaped the Barbary pirates, they reached this secure Scotland, they were spared together; one was not committed to a hated convent, and the other seized in the Mediterranean, and subjected to the chains and blows, and pining misery of the galley slave; and Madam never reflected on the blank in her heart,—she said he was safe at home, and while she had her first son to care for, she counted herself well off; but Master Paxil would allude with compunction to the season's having been winter when he proposed their flight, and to Madam's having objected that the weather was too severe for the little child,—and truly the little child, hidden in her bosom, shivered and grew cold and stiff as stone an hour or two before they reached their first station. He had meant it for the best, but he had been a wilful, presumptuous man, and so his little child was taken up to heaven, that he might not try and torture him further, and he and his Susette were doomed to be called childless for the rest of their pilgrimage.

VI.

It was another awakening to Euphame to find how Mark Crichton was esteemed by these pure-minded, suave Romieus; they might count his humour but Scotch churlishness, only they never seemed to take it into consideration at all—he was worthy Master Mark, trusty Master Mark, well-beloved Master Mark, to his master and mistress; they had such an esteem for him that they gave him, with their penetrating instinct, the " master" of the head craftsman from the day that the raw lad commenced to fulfil his bond. "See," Madam would observe, " how Master Mark's hands are scorched! Prepare thou cotton and oil, for he will not hear of a cure from me. He does not fear the fire, that fine boy! He has been handling the crucible to save my little son, who provokes great burns rather than have the metal a degree cooler, and becomes light-headed with the heat and the fumes." Again, "My good Mademoiselle, Master Paul tells me that Master Mark has executed a set of our spoons with the •handle enclosing the bowl, and he has modelled such a tankard—what symmetry, what proportions, what embossing! A deer and hounds, King Dagobert's, verily. What taste and strength he has! He will be a great goldsmith like his first patron, Master Heriot, of whom Master Paul has heard—munificent he called him; and I have gone to see his palace for poor lads, oh! it is an honour to Master Mark to have come from such a foundation. You think so also, Mademoiselle, and I know he loves it, for he dreams of it sometimes; he told me so. I was merry with him one day on a young man's dreams, and he told me with one of his sighs, 'I dream of nothing but George Heriot's sometimes.' But he will not engrave his own name on the tankards; no, he will not. He says he heard Master Paul describe the design, which is very probable, for my son discourses on all beautiful designs—none that he has not imagined, his mind is full of truth and beauty, and he has seen such sights—crowns of Ghirlandajo before he turned painter, cups by the great Cellini; but why do I speak of them? My son would be such another. Master Mark will only sign his works from the workshop of Paul Romieu, and thou wilt see it will bring orders, and the boy with his mau-vaise honte, and his dignity and his gratitude, he will lose nothing by it, for Master Paul is no jealous master that is forced to fear another's renown."

In the lodging-house in the High Street, Mark was a bugbear, a nuisance, even while he was its chief support. In the workshop and in the narrow flat of the clockmaker, he was a hero, and dealt with tenderly—as heroes, it may be, more than ordinary people, require to be.

"But he is so gruff and sour, Madam Romieu," Euphame exclaimed, bewildered, "I do not ken if you ever heard of a stern, dowff, auld carle; but Mark Crichton may bear the weight of threescore, and have fought no end of battles against the Turks, and seen innocent blood spilled like water, and come home, and been denied and disowned by his kindred, for aught of love and cheer there is in him. Mark Crichton carries no gospel message in his bearing towards his fellow-men."

"Hold! hold! Mademoiselle, thou art unjust," cried Madam with great vivacity, her sweet black eyes glistening with fervour, "this is worse than judging our Cavalier. Thou dost not mean it, my noble Mademoiselle, but whether is a man judged by his words or his works, thinkest thou? Master Mark greets me briefly, but he treads softly lest he should shake my miserable body in my chair or on my paillasse; he makes me no compliments, but he brings me the peaches of France from costly gardens, and the dandelions which you slight from the way side. He does not doff his cap to my little son, yes, he is obstinate enough to contradict him, but he follows him in his evening rambles with his baton, and he would beat down with his strong young arm the first villain who would assail him. He professes, 'I do not love my neighbours; no, no, my neighbours are cowardly and selfish and base, they do not heed me, why should I heed them? no, we are quits, there is no love lost between us,' and thereafter he goes and helps his neighbour, earns money for his gay mother, lives with and holds back his gay sisters, frowns and bestows gifts, cuffs and lifts up the culprits. Now, I do not admire Master Mark's speech, or rather his silence; alas! alas! the good man clogs and poisons his generous deeds, and cleaves himself with the broadsword of his grumbling and his bitterness. But I say, here is one of the living examples of the parable of the two brothers : Master Mark may stand erect for one of the twain; poor, sickly indolent Madam Romieu, may lie and personate the other; she promises, and he performs. See, Mademoiselle, which does the will of the Father?"

Again Euphame felt convicted and compunctious, and some of the chill ice of her isolation and absorption and involuntary self-estimation began to give way.

(To be continued.)


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