The Hour and the Man Part 38

"I do not think any one looks on me as a tyrant, or would think of hurting poor grandpapa or me. How you shake your head, Pierre! We have lived seven years in peace and quiet--sometimes being afraid, but never having found cause for fear. However, if grandpapa really is uneasy--"

"That is the point, Mademoiselle. He is so."

"Do you suppose I could see the abbess, if I were to go to the convent to consult her? It is not late."

"If the Dumonts were but here still!" said Pierre--"only next door but one! It was a comfort to have them at hand on any difficulty."

"If they were here, I should not consult them. They were so prejudiced against all the mulattoes, and put so little trust in L'Ouverture himself--as indeed their going off in such a hurry with Hedouville proves--that I should not have cared for their opinion to-night.

Suppose you step to the convent, Pierre, and ask whether the lady abbess could see me for half-an-hour on business. If I am to leave grandpapa, I should like to tell him in the morning that it is all settled."

Pierre went with alacrity, and was back in three minutes, when he found Euphrosyne shawled and veiled for the visit. The lady awaited her.

"What can I do for you, my child?" said the abbess, kindly seating Euphrosyne beside her, in her parlour.

"You will tell me what you think it is my duty to do, when I have told you my story. I know I have laughed and joked too much about this very matter; and that partly because I had a will of my own about it. But it is all serious enough now; and I really do wish to find out my duty upon it."

"In order to do your duty, whatever it may cost you?"

"Certainly."

She then told her story. The lady at length smiled, and observed--

"You have no very strong inclination to join us, I perceive."

"Not any," frankly replied Euphrosyne. "I have no doubt the sisters are very happy. They choose their way of life for themselves. I only feel it is one that I should never choose. Nor would grandpapa for me, for more than a short time. I hope, madam, you understand that we neither of us think of my ever becoming a nun."

"I see that there is no present sign of its being your vocation."

"And there never will be," cried Euphrosyne, very earnestly. "I a.s.sure you, I cannot bear the idea of it."

"So I perceive, my dear. I am quite convinced, I a.s.sure you. Have you as great a dislike to being educated?"

"Almost, I am afraid. But I could get over that. I like reading very well, and learning things at my own time, and in my own way; but I feel rather old to begin to be under orders as to what I shall learn, and when and how; and yet rather young to be so grave and regular as the sisters are. I am fifteen, you know."

"You are not aware, I see, how much we laugh when we are by ourselves, nor how we like to see girls of fifteen happy and gay. I think, too, that I may answer for the sisters not quarrelling with you about what you ought to learn. You will comply with the rules of the house as to hours; and your preceptresses will allow you, as far as possible, to follow your bent."

"You are very kind, as you always are. But I think far less of all this than of what grandpapa is to do without me. Consider what long, weary days he will have! He has scarcely any acquaintance left in Cap; and he has been accustomed to do nothing without me. He will sit and cry all day--I know he will."

And Euphrosyne's tears began to overflow at the thought.

"It is a great honour, my child, to have been made such a blessing to an old man."

"It was almost the only one he had left. Up to that terrible ninety-one--"

The abbess shuddered.

"You knew my mother and sisters?"

"Very little. I was then a humble sister, and had little, intercourse with any ladies who might occasionally visit us. But I remember her coming, one day, with her children--three! girls--one who ran about the garden, and two modest, blushing girls, who accepted some of our flowers."

"I must have been the little one who ran about, and the others were my poor sisters. Well, all these, besides my papa, were always about grandpapa; and he never wanted amus.e.m.e.nt or waiting on. Since that dreadful time, he has had only me; and now, in his old age, when he has no strength, and nothing to do, he is going to be all alone! Oh, madam, I think it is wicked to leave him! Had anybody ever a clearer duty than I have--to stay with him?"

"You would be quite right if it was anybody but himself that desired you to leave him. Your first duty, my dear, is to obey his wishes."

"I shall never be able to learn my lessons, for thinking of him, sitting alone there--or perhaps lying in bed, because there is nothing to get up for."

"Now you are presumptuous. You are counting upon what may never happen, and fearing to leave your parent in the hand of Him who gave you to him.

Suppose you were to die to-night, I fear you could not trust him in the hands of Him who wraps us round with old age, before taking us home to Himself."

"Oh, yes, I could so trust him to-night, if I myself had watched him to sleep. But a month hence, if I were to die, I should dread to meet my parents. They would ask me, 'How is our father?' and I should have to answer, 'I do not know--I have left him--I have done nothing for him of late.' The whole time that I am here, madam, I shall be afraid to die and meet my mother."

"We must lead you to doubt your own notions, and to trust more in G.o.d,"

said the lady, gently. "We know not what a day may bring forth; and as you grow older, you will find how, in cases of hard and doubtful duty, our way becomes suddenly clear, so as to make us ashamed of our late anguish. Father Gabriel will tell you that one night he lost his way among the marshes in the plain. The clouds hung thick and low overhead, and there was not a ray of light. He plunged on the one hand into the marsh; and on the other, the reeds grew higher than his head. Behind him was a wood that he had hardly managed to struggle through; and he knew not what might be before him. He groped about for a firm place to stand on, and had no idea which way to move. At last, without his having felt a breath of wind, he found that the clouds had parted to the right, making a c.h.i.n.k through which he saw the Cibao peaks standing up against a starlight sky; and, to the left, there was, on the horizon, a dim white line which he could not understand, till the crescent moon dropped down from behind the cloudy canopy, across a bar of clear sky, and into the sea. This made him look whether the church of Saint Hilaire was not close by. He made out its dim ma.s.s through the darkness, and in a few minutes stood in the porch. So, my child, is our way (even yours, young as you are) sometimes made too dark for our feeble eyes; and thus, from one quarter or another, is a ray permitted to fall that we may not be lost."

"Thank you," said Euphrosyne, softly. "May I come to-morrow?"

"At any hour you shall be welcome, my dear."

"If you will appoint me something to do every morning in the garden, madam, grandpapa might sit in the balcony, to see me, and talk to me.

That will be a reason for his getting up. That, will prevent his lying too long, for want of something to do."

"A very good plan. If you love your grandfather so, Euphrosyne, how would you have loved your mother, if she had lived?"

"Had you a mother, when you were my age?"

"Yes, my dear. But do not let us speak of that. Do you remember your mamma, my dear?"

"Yes--a little. I remember her sitting in a wood--on the ground--with her head bent down upon her knees, and a great many black people about."

"Well--tell me no more. I ought not to have asked you. I was not thinking of that horrid time."

"But I do not mind telling you. I like to speak of it; and I never can to grandpapa--it makes him so ill. Mamma shook so, that I remember putting my arms about her to keep her warm, till I found how burning hot her hands were. My sisters were crying; and they told me not to ask any more why papa did not come to us; for he was dead. I remember being wakened by a noise when I was very sleepy, and seeing some soldiers.

One of them lifted me up, and I was frightened, till I saw that, they were carrying mamma too. They put us both into a cart. I did not see my sisters; and I believe they were both dead then, of grief and hardship. And mamma never spoke again. She looked as pale as her gown, as she lay in the cart, with her eyes shut. She was breathing, however, and I thought she was asleep. I felt very sleepy and odd. The soldiers said I was half-starved, and they gave me a plantain that they pulled by the road-side. I wanted them to give some to mamma too; but they made me no answer. I put mine into her hand, but she let it fall; and I cried because she would not take any notice. Then one of the soldiers bade me eat my plantain; and I thought I must do as I was bid. I forget where we went next."

"You remember more than I had supposed. Your mother was brought on board the ship where we were; and there she presently died."

"You were on board ship, madam?"

"Yes--all the sisters--for the town was not considered safe, even for us."

"And where was--" Euphrosyne stopped abruptly.

"You were going to ask where my mother was," said the lady. "I feel that I was wrong in stopping you as I did just, now--for you might fancy that my mother was in some way to blame. She was a good mother to me-- full of kindness; but I did not make her happy."

"You did not?"

"Indeed I did not. I crossed her in the thing she desired most of all-- that we should live together. I believed it my duty to become a nun, and I left her. She returned to France, being a widow, and having no other child; and there she died, among distant relations."

"Was she angry with you?"

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