Dr. John

Madame Beck was a most consistent character—forbearing with all the world, and tender to no part of it. Her own children drew her into no deviation from the even tenor of her stoic calm. She was solicitous about her family, vigilant for their interests and physical well-being; but she never seemed to know the wish to take her little children upon her lap, to press their rosy lips with her own, to gather them in a genial embrace, to shower on them softly the benignant caress, the loving word.

I have watched her sometimes sitting in the garden, viewing the little ones afar off, as they walked in a distant alley with Trinette, their bonne; in her mien spoke care and prudence. I know she often pondered anxiously what she called “leur avenir;” but if the youngest, a puny and delicate but engaging child, chancing to spy her, broke from its nurse, and toddling down the walk, came all eager and laughing and panting to clasp her knee, madame would just calmly put out one hand, so as to prevent inconvenient concussion from the child’s sudden onset. “Prends garde, mon enfant!” she would say unmoved, patiently permit it to stand near her a few moments, and then, without smile or kiss or endearing syllable, rise and lead it back to Trinette.

Her demeanour to the eldest girl was equally characteristic in another way. This was a vicious child. “Quelle peste que cette Désirée! Quel poison que cet enfant là!” were the expressions dedicated to her, alike in kitchen and in schoolroom. Amongst her other endowments she boasted an exquisite skill in the art of provocation, sometimes driving her bonne and the servants almost wild. She would steal to their attics, open their drawers and boxes, wantonly tear their best caps and soil their best shawls; she would watch her opportunity to get at the beaufet of the salle à manger, where she would smash articles of porcelain or glass—or to the cupboard of the storeroom, where she would plunder the preserves, drink the sweet wine, break jars and bottles, and so contrive as to throw the onus of suspicion on the cook and the kitchen-maid. All this when madame saw, and of which when she received report, her sole observation, uttered with matchless serenity, was,—

“Désirée a besoin d’une surveillance toute particulière.” Accordingly she kept this promising olive-branch a good deal at her side. Never once, I believe, did she tell her faithfully of her faults, explain the evil of such habits, and show the results which must thence ensue. Surveillance must work the whole cure. It failed, of course. Désirée was kept in some measure from the servants, but she teased and pillaged her mamma instead. Whatever belonging to madame’s work-table or toilet she could lay her hands on, she stole and hid. Madame saw all this, but she still pretended not to see. She had not rectitude of soul to confront the child with her vices. When an article disappeared whose value rendered restitution necessary, she would profess to think that Désirée had taken it away in play, and beg her to restore it. Désirée was not to be so cheated. She had learned to bring falsehood to the aid of theft, and would deny having touched the brooch, ring, or scissors. Carrying on the hollow system, the mother would calmly assume an air of belief, and afterwards ceaselessly watch and dog the child till she tracked her to her hiding-places—some hole in the garden wall, some chink or cranny in garret or out-house. This done, madame would send Désirée out for a walk with her bonne, and profit by her absence to rob the robber. Désirée proved herself the true daughter of her astute parent by never suffering either her countenance or manner to betray the least sign of mortification on discovering the loss.

The second child, Fifine, was said to be like its dead father. Certainly, though the mother had given it her healthy frame, her blue eye, and ruddy cheek, not from her was derived its moral being. It was an honest, gleeful little soul. A passionate, warm-tempered, bustling creature it was too, and of the sort likely to blunder often into perils and difficulties. One day it bethought itself to fall from top to bottom of a steep flight of stone steps; and when madame, hearing the noise (she always heard every noise), issued from the salle à manger and picked it up, she said quietly,—

“Cet enfant a un os de cassé.”

At first we hoped this was not the case. It was, however, but too true: one little plump arm hung powerless.

“Let meess” (meaning me) “take her,” said madame; “et qu’on aille tout de suite chercher un fiacre.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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