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The result of these extraordinary accounts is, that the iron-mask must have been a person of great consequence; and what person could have been of sufficient consequence, excepting this prince, io give rise to the above-mentioned precautions to prerent any discovery of his face and rank. For on the slightest probability of a discovery, the governor expressed the greatest consternation; and the effectual steps which he took to silence all those who were so unfortunate as to find any thing on which the poor prisoner had written, was another striking proof that his being concealed was of the utmost consequence to the king and the ministry.
From the French of MADAME GENLIS.
kingdom, and to takerefuge in France; where, at the palace of St. Germain, Louis XIV. afforded him an asylum. A few loyal subjects followed him in his retreal, and settled at St. Germain ; among whom was Mladame de Varonne, descended from one of the best families in Ireland, and whose history I am going to recount.
During the life of her husband this lady lived in ease and affluence; but, after his death, being left in a foreign country without protection, she had not sufficient interest at court to obtain any part of the pension on which they had before subsisted. She neglected not, however, to present petitions to the ministers, who always answered, they would lay them before the king; and she continued in suspence for more than two years ; till at last, on a renewal of her request, she received a denial, in so fornal and positive a style, that she could no longer be blind to the fate that attended her.
Her situation was dreadful; ever since the death of M. de Varonne she had subsisted by selling her plate, and part of her furniture, till she had no longer any resource. Her love of solitude, her piety, and ill health, had always prevented her mixing much with the world; and still less than ever since the death of her husband. She found herself then without support, without friends, without hope; stript of every thing, plunged into a state of frighiful misery; and, that the measure of her woes might be full, she was fifty years of age, and her constitution was feeble and infirm.
In this lier day of distress, she had recourse to him who best could grant her consolation and relief; who soonest could change the severity of her destiny ; who most certainly could give her fortitude to support calamity : she cast herself, at the feet of the Almighiy, and arose with confidence, fortified and exalted above herself, and with the full assurance of a calm resignation reviving in the soul. She looked with a steady eye on the deplorable scene before her, and said to herself. Since it is the inevi. table lot of mortals to die, of what importance is it whether we die by by famine or disease; whether we sink to rest under a golden canopy or upon a bed of straw? Will death be less welcome, because I have nothing to regret? Oh no! I shall need neither exhortations nor fortitude; I have no sacrifices to make; abandoned by the world, I shall think only of him who rules the world ; shall behold him ready to receive, to recompence me, and shall accept death as the most precious of all his gifts.
While she was in the midst of these reflections, Ambrose, her foot, man, entered the chamber. It is necessary you should know something of Ambrose, I will therefore give you a few traits of his character.
Ambrose was forty years of age, and had lived with Madame de Varonne twenty. He could neither read nor write, was naturally blunt, apt to find fault, spoke little, and always appeared to look with contempt on his equals, and with a degree of haughtiness on his masters. His sullen deportment and dissatisfied air, made his attendance not very agreeable; but his punctuality, good conduct, and perfect fidelity, had always made him esteemed as a most excellent and valua! servant, His good qualities, however, were only known in part; for he possessed the most sublime virtue : 'under a rough exterior was concealed an elevated and generous soul.
Madame de Varonne had discharged the servants of her husband soon after his decease, and had only kept one maid, a 'cook, and Ambrose ; but the time was now come, in which she must part with these likewise.
Ambrosé, as I have said; entered her chamber with a log of wood, it being winter, which he was going to put on the fire, when Madame de Varonne said to him, I want to speak to you Ambrose. The tone of voice in which she pronounced these words, struck Ambrose, who flinging down his log upon the hearth, exclaimed, Good God! Madam!--What is the matter? Do you know how much I owe the cook-maid, Ambrose? -You neither owe her, bor me, nor Mary any thing, you paid us all yesterday.---- True; that was not what I meant to say-----Ambrose, you must tell the cook and Mary, I have no further occasion for their services -And you my good Ambrose- you ńust seek another place---Another place! What do you mean? No: I will live and die in your service: let what will happen, I will never quit you
-You do not know my situation, Ambrose Madam -You do not know Ambrose...... If they have lessened your pension so that you cannot maintain your other scrvants, so be it; you must part with them; it cannot be helped: but I hope I have not deserved to be turned away too. I am not mercenary, inadam, and......But I am ruined, Ambrose......totally rnined. I have sold every thing I had to sell, and they have taken away my pension... Taken away your pension! That cannot be......it cannot be ....... It is nevertheless very true....... Taken away your pension! Oh God!...... We must adore the decrees of Pro. vidence, Ambrose, and submit without repining: the greatest consolation I find amidst my misfortunes, is to be perfectly resigned. Alas ! How many other unhappy beings, on the wide surface of this earth, how many virtuous families are in my situation! I have no children ; my sufferings will be few, for I shall suffer alone........ No......10...... no...... replied Ambrose, with a broken voice...... No...... You shall not suffer......I have an arm and I can work.......My good Ambrose ! andear,
swered Madame de Varonne, I never doubted of your attachment to me but I will not abuse your kindness: all that I desire you to do for me” is to hire a small chamber, a garret; I have still money enough to support me for two or three months; I can work, I can spin; find some employment for me, if you can, and that is all I wish; all I can admit......
While she expressed herself in this manner, Ambrose stood fixed in silence, contemplating his mistress; and when she had finished, casting himself at her feet, exclaimed, oh, my my honoured mistress, hear the determination, the oath of your poor Ambrose, who here vows to serve you to the end of his life; and more willingly, with more respect more ready obedience than ever he did before. You have fed me, clothed me, and given me the means of living happy for more than twenty years ; I have often abused your bounty, and trespassed on your patience. Pardon, madam, the errors which a defective temper has occasioned me to commit, and assure yourself I will make you reparation. It is for that purpose only I pray the Father of mercies to spare my life....... When he had ended, he rose, bathed in tears, and suddenly ran out of the room, without waiting for a reply.
You will easily imagine the lively and deep gratitude with which the heart of Madanne de Varonne was penetrated, by a discourse like that she had heard; she found there were no evils so great, but might be alleviated by the feelings of benevolence: Ambrose returned in a few minutes, bringing in a little bag, which he laid upon the table. Thanks to God, to you, madam, and to my late master, I have saved these thirty guineas; from you they came, and to you of right they return....... What, Ambrose ! rob you of the labour of twenty years! Oh heaven !...... When you had money, madam, you gave it to me; now you have none, I give it back again; and this is all money is good for. I dare say, madam, you have not forgot that I am the son of a brazier; this was my first profession, which I still am master of; for at those moments when I had nothing to do in the family, I have gone and assisted Nicault, one of my countrymen, rather than be idle. I will now return to my trade in earnest, and with a hearty good will....... This is too much, cried Madame de Varrone, how greatly unworthy of virtues is the lot in which fortune has cast you, noble Ambrose !...... I shall be happy, said Ambrose, if you, madam, can but reconcile
yourself to such a change in your once happy condition....... Your attachment, Ambrose, consoles me for the loss of all, but how can I endure you should suffer thus for me?...... Suffer, madam, in labouring, and when
labour is so useful, so necessary! no; it will be happiness. Nicault is a good,» a worthy man, and will not let me want; his reputation is established in the town, and he is in need of just such an assistant; I am strong, I can do as much work as two men; we shall do very well. Madame de Varonne had not power to reply, she lifted up her eyes and hands to heaven, and answered with her tears.
The day following, however, the other two servants were discharged, and Ambrose hired a small, light, and neat room, up three pair of stairs, which he furnished with the remainder of his mistress's furniture. Thither he conducted her. She had a good bed, an easy chair, a small table, a writing desk, with pen, ink, and paper, a few books, which were arranged on four or five shelves, and a large wardrobe, in which was
contained her linen, her wearing apparel, a provision of thread for her work, a silver fork and spoon, for Ambrose would not suffer her to eat with pewter, and the leathern purse which contained the thirty guineas. There were besides, in one corner of the room, behind the curtain, such earthen vessels as were necessary for her cookery.
This, madam, said Ambrose, is the best chamber I have been able to get, for the price you mentioned; there is but one room, but the girl will sleep upon a mattress, which lies rolled up under your bed......How! a girl Ambrose !......Certainly, madam, how could you do without She will go of errands, help to dress and undress you, and do other necessary offices....... Nay, but Ambrose......She will cost you little, she is only thirteen, desires no wages, and will live very well on what you leave. As for me, I have settled every thing with Nicault; I told him I was obliged to leave you, was out of eniployment, and should be glad of work; he is well to do, is an honest man, and my countryman; it is only a step from this, and he is to give me ten-pence a day, and my board and lodging. Living is cheap in this town, and you, madam, will, I hope, be able to live on the ten-pence a day, and the ready money you have to supply extraordinary occasions. I did not chuse to say all this before your new servant, Susannah, but I will now go and bring her.
Ambrose here stept out, and presently returned, leading in a pretty innocent girl, whom he presented to Madame de Varonne, informing her that was the young person concerning whom he had spoken to her. Her parents," said he, are poor, but industrious; they have six children, and you, madam, will do a good action, by taking this their eldest into your service.” After this preface, Ambrose exhorted Susan, with a grave and commanding tone, to be good, and do her duty; then taking his leave of Madame de Varonne, went to his new employment with his friend Nicault.
Who may pretend to describe what passed in the soul of Madame de Varonne., Gratitude, admiration, astonishment overwhelmed her, not only at the generosity, but the sudden change of temper and behaviour in Ambrose. No man could shew greater respect than he did, who so lately was so blunt and peevish: since he had become her benefactor, he was no longer the same; he added humility to benevolence, and delicacy to heroism; his heart instantly inspired him with every gentle precaution, lest he should wound the feelings of sensibility and misfortune; he understood the sacred duty of imposing obligations upon others, and felt that no person is truly generous, who humbles, or even puts to the blush, those whom they assist.
The next day Madame de Varonne saw nothing of Ambrose till the erening, when he just called, contriving to have Susan sent out for a moment, he drew from his pocket a bit of paper, in which his day's wages were wrapped, laid it on the table, and said, there, Madam is muy small mite; then calling in Susan, staid not for an answer, but returned to his friend Nicault. How sweet must have been his sleep after such labour! how pleasing his dreams after a day so spent! how chear, ful was he when he awaked! If we are so happy after doing a good deet, how inexpressible must be the pleasure of an heroic action.
Ambrose, faithful to the sublime duties he had imposed upon himself, paid every day a visit to Madame de Varonne, to leave with her the fruits of his industry; he only received as much at the end of each
month as would pay his washer woman, and some bottles of beer drank on Sundays and holidays; nor would he retain that small sum, but asked it as a gift of his mistress. In vain did Madame de Varonne, sensibly afflicted at thus robbing the generous Ambrose, persude him she could live op less; he would not hear her, or if he did, it was with such evident distress of heart that she was soon obliged to be silent.
Madame de Varonne on her part, hoping to give some respite to the labours of Ambrose, worked without ceasing at netting. Susan assisted her, and went to sell the product of her industry ; but when she spoke to Ambrose of this, and exaggerated the profits, he would only reply, So much the better, I am glad of it, and immediately change the subject. Time produced no alteration in his conduct; during four years he never in the least varied from the virtuous ardour with which
The moment at length approached, in which Madame de Varonne was to experience remorse the most bitter, and pangs the most afflicting:
One night as she sat expecting Ambrose, as usual, she saw the servant of Nicault enter her chamber, who came to tell her Ambrose was so ill he was obliged to be put to bed. Madame de Varonne instantly desired the girl to conduct her to her master's house, and at the same time ordered Susan to go for a physician. Nicault, who had never seen her before, was a good deal surprized; she desired him to shew her the apartment of Ambrose....... The apartment, my lady! its impossible...... Impossible? how? why?...... One's obliged to go up a ladder to get into the loft where he lies, your ladyship...... A ladder! ...and a loft .......poor Ambrose......go......shew me where it is...... But your ladyship will break your ladyship's neck, besides its such a hote ...your ladyship can't stand upright...... Madame de Varonne could not restrain her tears, she begged Nicault would instantly shew her the way, and he brought her to the foot of a little ladder, which she had much difficulty to climb; this led her into a dismal loft, in one corner of which Ambrose was lying upon a bed of straw......Ah! my dear Ambrose, cried she, in what a situation do I find you! And you told me you had a good lodging, that you were perfectly satisfied......
Ambrose was not in a condition to reply, he had been light-headed some time, which she presently perceived, and was most sensibly and justly afflicted at the sight.
Susan at last arrived, followed by the physician, who was evidently surprized, at entering such an apartment, to see a lady, whose mien and superior deportment bespoke her rank, weeping in despair over a poor journey-man brazier in a straw-bed.—He approached the sick person, examined him attentively, and said they had called him too late.
Imagine the condition of Madame de Varonne when she heard this sentence pronounced,
Ah, poor Ambrose, said Nicault, but it's all his own fault...... he has been ill for these eight days past, but he would keep on; there was no persuading him, he would work. At last he could not hold his head up any longer, but for all that we had much ado to get him to bed...... He undertook more than he could go through, that he might board and lodge with us, and so now he has killed himself with downright labour.