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LITTLE SAINT ELIZABETH
And Other Stories
BY FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT
LITTLE SAINT ELIZABETH
She had not been brought up in America at all. She had been born in France, in a beautiful
"There she is," they would cry, flying to their windows to look at her. "She is going out in her carriage." "She is dressed all in black velvet and splendid fur." "That is her own, own, carriage." "She has millions of money; and she can have anything she wants-Jane says so!" "She is very pretty, too; but she is so pale and has such big, sorrowful, black eyes. I should not be sorrowful if I were in her place; but Jane says the servants say she is always quiet and looks sad." "Her maid says she lived with her aunt, and her aunt made her too religious."
She rarely lifted her large dark eyes to look at them with any curiosity. She was not accustomed to the society of children. She had never had a child companion in her life, and these little Americans, who were so very rosy and gay, and who went out to walk or drive with groups of brothers and sisters, and even ran in the street, laughing and playing and squabbling healthily-these children amazed her.
Poor little Saint Elizabeth! She had not lived a very natural or healthy life herself, and she knew absolutely nothing of real childish pleasures. You see, it had occurred in this way: When she was a baby of two years her young father and mother died, within a week of each other, of a terrible fever, and the only near relatives the little one had were her Aunt Clotilde and Uncle Bertrand. Her Aunt Clotilde lived in Normandy-her Uncle Bertrand in New York. As these two were her only guardians, and as Bertrand de Rochemont was a gay bachelor, fond of pleasure and knowing nothing of babies, it was natural that he should be very willing that his elder sister should undertake the rearing and education of the child.
"Only," he wrote to Mademoiselle de Rochemont, "don't end by training her for an abbess, my dear Clotilde."
[Illustration: "THERE SHE IS," THEY WOULD CRY.]
There was a very great difference between these two people-the distance between the gray stone
"Ah! she is good-she is a saint Mademoiselle," the poor people always said when speaking of her; but they also always looked a little awe-stricken when she appeared, and never were sorry when she left them.
She was a tall woman, with a pale, rigid, handsome face, which never smiled. She did nothing but good deeds, but however grateful her pensioners might be, nobody would ever have dared to dream of loving her. She was just and cold and severe. She wore always a straight black serge gown, broad bands of white linen, and a rosary and crucifix at her waist. She read nothing but religious works and legends of the saints and martyrs, and adjoining her private apartments was a little stone chapel, where the servants said she used to kneel on the cold floor before the altar and pray for hours in the middle of the night.
"One must not let one's self become the stone image of goodness," he said once. "Since one is really of flesh and blood, and lives among flesh and blood, that is not best. No, no; it is not best."
But Mademoiselle de Rochemont never seemed exactly of flesh and blood-she was more like a marble female saint who had descended from her pedestal to walk upon the earth.
And she did not change, even when the baby Elizabeth was brought to her. She attended strictly to the child's comfort and prayed many prayers for her innocent soul, but it can be scarcely said that her manner was any softer or that she smiled more. At first Elizabeth used to scream at the sight of the black, nun-like dress and the rigid, handsome face, but in course of time she became accustomed to them, and, through living in an atmosphere so silent and without brightness, a few months changed her from a laughing, romping baby into a pale, quiet child, who rarely made any childish noise at all.
In this quiet way she became fond of her aunt. She saw little of anyone but the servants, who were all trained to quietness also. As soon as she was old enough her aunt began her religious training. Before she could speak plainly she heard legends of saints and stories of martyrs. She was taken into the little chapel and taught to pray there. She believed in miracles, and would not have been surprised at any moment if she had met the Child Jesus or the Virgin in the beautiful rambling gardens which surrounded the
"The little Mademoiselle," they said, "she is a child saint. I have heard them say so. Sometimes there is a little light round her head. One day her little white robe will begin to shine too, and her long sleeves will be wings, and she will spread them and ascend through the blue sky to Paradise. You will see if it is not so."
So, in this secluded world in the gray old
Elizabeth went. Her aunt was not in her room. Then she must be in the chapel. The child entered the sacred little place. The morning sun was streaming in through the stained-glass windows above the altar-a broad ray of mingled brilliant colors slanted to the stone floor and warmly touched a dark figure lying there. It was Aunt Clotilde, who had sunk forward while kneeling at prayer and had died in the night.
That was what the doctors said when they were sent for. She had been dead some hours-she had died of disease of the heart, and apparently without any pain or knowledge of the change coming to her. Her face was serene and beautiful, and the rigid look had melted away. Someone said she looked like little Mademoiselle Elizabeth; and her old servant Alice wept very much, and said, "Yes-yes-it was so when she was young, before her unhappiness came. She had the same beautiful little face, but she was more gay, more of the world. Yes, they were much alike then."
Less than two months from that time Elizabeth was living in the home of her Uncle Bertrand, in New York. He had come to Normandy for her himself, and taken her back with him across the Atlantic. She was richer than ever now, as a great deal of her Aunt Clotilde's money had been left to her, and Uncle Bertrand was her guardian. He was a handsome, elegant, clever man, who, having lived long in America and being fond of American life, did not appear very much like a Frenchman-at least he did not appear so to Elizabeth, who had only seen the
[Illustration: It was Aunt Clotilde, who had sunk forward while kneeling at prayer.]
She entered the room, when she was sent for, clad in a strange little nun-like robe of black serge, made as like her-dead aunt's as possible. At her small waist were the rosary and crucifix, and in her hand she held a missal she had forgotten in her agitation to lay down-
"But, my dear child," exclaimed Uncle Bertrand, staring at her aghast.
He managed to recover himself very quickly, and was, in his way, very kind to her; but the first thing he did was to send to Paris for a fashionable maid and fashionable mourning.
"Because, as you will see," he remarked to Alice, "we cannot travel as we are. It is a costume for a convent or the stage."
Before she took off her little conventual robe, Elizabeth went to the village to visit all her poor. The
She felt as if she was living in a dream when all the old life was left behind and she found herself in the big luxurious house in the gay New York street. Nothing that could be done for her comfort had been left undone. She had several beautiful rooms, a wonderful governess, different masters to teach her, her own retinue of servants as, indeed, has been already said.
But, secretly, she felt bewildered and almost terrified, everything was so new, so strange, so noisy, and so brilliant. The dress she wore made her feel unlike herself; the books they gave her were full of pictures and stories of worldly things of which she knew nothing. Her carriage was brought to the door and she went out with her governess, driving round and round the park with scores of other people who looked at her curiously, she did not know why. The truth was that her refined little face was very beautiful indeed, and her soft dark eyes still wore the dreamy spiritual look which made her unlike the rest of the world.
"She looks like a little princess," she heard her uncle say one day. "She will be some day a beautiful, an enchanting woman-her mother was so when she died at twenty, but she had been brought up differently. This one is a little devotee. I am afraid of her. Her governess tells me she rises in the night to pray." He said it with light laughter to some of his gay friends by whom he had wished the child to be seen. He did not know that his gayety filled her with fear and pain. She had been taught to believe gayety worldly and sinful, and his whole life was filled with it. He had brilliant parties-he did not go to church-he had no pensioners-he seemed to think of nothing but pleasure. Poor little Saint Elizabeth prayed for his soul many an hour when he was asleep after a grand dinner or supper party.
He could not possibly have dreamed that there was no one of whom she stood in such dread; her timidity increased tenfold in his presence. When he sent for her and she went into the library to find him luxurious in his arm chair, a novel on his knee, a cigar in his white hand, a tolerant, half cynical smile on his handsome mouth, she could scarcely answer his questions, and could never find courage to tell what she so earnestly desired. She had found out early that Aunt Clotilde and the
But when she found herself face to face with him and he said some witty thing to her and seemed to find her only amusing, all her courage failed her. Sometimes she thought she would throw herself upon her knees before him and beg him to send her back to Normandy-to let her live alone in the
One morning she arose very early, and knelt a long time before the little altar she had made for herself in her dressing room. It was only a table with some black velvet thrown over it, a crucifix, a saintly image, and some flowers standing upon it. She had put on, when she got up, the quaint black serge robe, because she felt more at home in it, and her heart was full of determination. The night before she had received a letter from the
[Illustration: The villagers did not stand in awe of her.]
The poor child had scarcely slept at all. Her dear village! Her dear people! The children would be hungry; the cows would die; there would be no fires to warm those who were old.
"I must go to uncle," she said, pale and trembling. "I must ask him to give me money. I am afraid, but it is right to mortify the spirit. The martyrs went to the stake. The holy Saint Elizabeth was ready to endure anything that she might do her duty and help the poor."
Because she had been called Elizabeth she had thought and read a great deal of the saint whose namesake she was-the saintly Elizabeth whose husband was so wicked and cruel, and who wished to prevent her from doing good deeds. And oftenest of all she had read the legend which told that one day as Elizabeth went out with a basket of food to give to the poor and hungry, she had met her savage husband, who had demanded that she should tell him what she was carrying, and when she replied "Roses," and he tore the cover from the basket to see if she spoke the truth, a miracle had been performed, and the basket was filled with roses, so that she had been saved from her husband's cruelty, and also from telling an untruth. To little Elizabeth this legend had been beautiful and quite real-it proved that if one were doing good, the saints would take care of one. Since she had been in her new home, she had, half consciously, compared her Uncle Bertrand with the wicked Landgrave, though she was too gentle and just to think he was really cruel, as Saint Elizabeth's husband had been, only he did not care for the poor, and loved only the world-and surely that was wicked. She had been taught that to care for the world at all was a fatal sin.
She did not eat any breakfast. She thought she would fast until she had done what she intended to do. It had been her Aunt Clotilde's habit to fast very often.
She waited anxiously to hear that her Uncle Bertrand had left his room. He always rose late, and this morning he was later than usual as he had had a long gay dinner party the night before.
It was nearly twelve before she heard his door open. Then she went quickly to the staircase. Her heart was beating so fast that she put her little hand to her side and waited a moment to regain her breath. She felt quite cold.
"Perhaps I must wait until he has eaten his breakfast," she said. "Perhaps I must not disturb him yet. It would, make him displeased. I will wait-yes, for a little while."
She did not return to her room, but waited upon the stairs. It seemed to be a long time. It appeared that a friend breakfasted with him. She heard a gentleman come in and recognized his voice, which she had heard before. She did not know what the gentleman's name was, but she had met him going in and out with her uncle once or twice, and had thought he had a kind face and kind eyes. He had looked at her in an interested way when he spoke to her-even as if he were a little curious, and she had wondered why he did so.
When the door of the breakfast room opened and shut as the servants went in, she could hear the two laughing and talking. They seemed to be enjoying themselves very much. Once she heard an order given for the mail phaeton. They were evidently going out as soon as the meal was over.