Story type: Literature
OUR married life had commenced, and this was HOME. As I opened my eyes in our new abode, the rays of the morning sun were penetrating the muslin curtains, the air was, fill with the fragrance of mignionette, and in the adjoining room I heard a loved voice warbling my favourite air.
On the different articles of furniture lay a hundred things to remind me the change which had taken place in mode of life. There lay the bouquet of orange flowers worn by Micelle on our wedding day; here stood her work basket; a little further on, and my eye fell on her small bookcase, ornamented with her school prizes and several other volumes, recent offerings from myself. Thus all my surroundings indicated that I was no longer alone. Till then in my independence I had merely skirted the great army of humanity, measuring all things with regard to my own strength only. I had now entered its ranks; accompanied by a fellow traveller, whose powers and feelings must be consulted, and whose tenderness must be equalled by the protecting love shed around her. A few weeks ago I should have fallen unnoticed and left no void, henceforward my lot lay bound in that of others. I had taken root in life, and for the future must fortify and strengthen myself for the protection of the nests which would in time be formed beneath my shade.
Sweet sense of responsibility, which elevated without alarming me! What had Marcelle and I to fear? Was not our departure on the voyage of life like that of Athenian Theori for the island of Delos, sailing to the sound of harps and songs while crowned with flowers? Did not our hearts beat responsive to the chorus of youth’s protecting genii?
Strength said, “What matters the task? Feel you not that to you it will all be easy? It is the weak alone who weigh the burden. Atlas smiled, though he bore the world on his shoulders.”
Faith added, “Have confidence, and the mountains which obstruct your path shall vanish like clouds; the sea shall bear you up, and the rainbow shall become a bridge for your feet.”
Hope whispered, “Behold, before lies repose after fatigue; plenty will follow after scarcity. On, on, for the desert leads to the promised land.”
And lastly, a voice more fascinating than any, added, “Love one another; there is not on earth a surer talisman; it is the ‘Open Sesame’ which will put you in the possession of all the treasures of creation.”
Why not listen to these sweet assurances? “Cherished companions of our opening career, my faith in you is strong; you, who, like unto the military music which animates the soldier’s courage, lead us, intoxicated by your melody, on to the battle field of life.” What can I fear from a life through which I shall pass with Marcelle’s arm entwined in mine? The sun shines on the commencement of our journey; forward over flowery fields, by hedges alive with song, through ever-verdant forests! Let one horizon succeed another! The day is so lovely, and the night yet so distant!
While thus occupied with my newborn happiness, I had risen and joined Marcelle, who had already taken possession of her domestic kingdom.
Everything must be visited with her; her precocious housewifery must be admired; her arrangements must be applauded. First she showed me the little ‘salle à manger,’ dedicated to the meals which would unite us in the intervals of business: to this cause it owed the air of opulence and brightness which Marcelle had carefully striven to impart to it. China, silver, and glass, sparkled on the shelves. Here lay rich fruits half hidden in moss; there, stood freshly-gathered flowers–everything spoke of the reign of grace and plenty. From thence we passed into the salon, the closed curtains of which admitted only a soft and subdued light, which fell on statuettes ornamenting the consoles, and the gilt frames on the walls: on the tables lay scattered in graceful negligence, albums, elegancies of papier mache, and carved ivory; precious nothings which had constituted the young girl’s treasures. At the farther end, the folds of a heavy curtain concealed the bower, sacred to the lady of the castle. Here admittance was at first denied me, and I was obliged to have recourse to entreaty before the drapery was raised for our entrance.
The cabinet was lighted by a small window, over which hung a blind, representing a gothic casement of painted glass, the bright colours of which were now rendered more brilliant by the sunlight which streamed through. The principal furniture consisted of a pretty lounging chair and the work table, near which I had so often seen Marcelle seated with her embroidery when I passed under her aunt’s window. Her pretty flower-stand, gay with her favourite flowers, occupied the window in which hung a gilt-wire cage, the melodious prison-house of her pet bird; and lastly, there stood fronting the window, the bureau, consecrated since her school-days, to her intimate correspondence.
She showed it to me with an almost tearful gravity. Everything it contained was a relic, or souvenir. That agate inkstand had belonged to her elder sister, who died just when Marcelle was old enough to know and love her; this mother-of-pearl paper-cutter was a present to her from her aunt, before she became her adopted child; this seal had belonged to her father! She half-opened the different drawers, for me to peep at the treasures they contained. In one were the letters of her dearest school-friend, now married, gone abroad, and therefore lost to her; in another, were family papers; lower down, her certificates for the performance of religious obligations, prizes obtained, and examinations passed–the young girl’s humble patent of nobility!–and last of all, in the most secret corner, lay some faded flowers, and the correspondence which, with the consent of her Aunt Roubert, we had interchanged when absent from each other.
In the contents of this bureau, were united all the touching and pleasing reminiscences of her former life; they formed Marcelle’s poetic archives, whither she often retired in her hours of solitude. Often, on my return from business, I found her here, smiling, and seemingly perfumed by memories of the past.
Ah! thought I, why have not men also some spot thus consecrated to like holy and sweet remembrances, a sanctuary replete with tokens of family affection, and relics of youth’s enthusiasm? Our ancestors, in their pride, cut out of the granite rock safe depositories for the proofs of their empty titles and long pedigrees; is it impossible for us to devote some obscure corner to the annals of the heart, to all that recalls to us our former noble aspirations, and generous hopes?
Time has torn from the walls the genealogical trees of noble families, but he has left space for those of the soul. Let us seek the origin of our decisions, our sympathies, our repugnances, and our hopes, and we shall ever find that they spring from some circumstance of by-gone days. The present is rooted in the past. Who has met by chance with some relic of earlier years, and has not been touched by the remembrances called forth? It is by looking back to the starting-point, that we can best calculate the distance traversed; it is in so doing that we feel either pleasure or alarm. Truly happy is the man who, after gazing on the portrait of his youth, can turn towards the original and find it unimpaired by age!
These reflections were interrupted by the sound of my father’s voice, which brought us out of Marcelle’s retreat to welcome him. He came to see our new abode, and add his satisfaction to our happiness. He was a gentle stoic, whose courage had ever served as a bulwark to the weak, and whose inflexibility was but another name for entire self-abnegation; he was indulgent to all, because he never forgave himself, and ever veiled severity in gentleness. His wisdom partook neither of arrogance nor passion; it descended to the level of your comprehension, and while pointing upwards, led you by the hand, and guided the ascent. It was a mother who instructed, never a judge who condemned.
Though pleased with my choice, and happy at seeing us united, he had nevertheless refused a place at our fireside. “These first hours of youth are especially your own,” he had said to me with a paternal embrace; “an old man would throw a shadow over the meridian sunshine of your joy. It is better that you should regret my absence, than for one moment feel my presence a restraint. Besides, solitude is necessary to you, as well as to me–for you to talk of your hopes for the future, for me to recall remembrances of the past. Some time hence, when my strength is failing, I will come to you, and close my eyes in the shadow of your prosperity.”
And all my entreaties had been unavailing: the separation was unavoidable. Now, however, Marcelle sprang forward to meet him, and led him triumphantly across the room, to begin a re-examination of its treasures. My father listened to all, replied to all, and smiled at all. He lent himself to our dreams of happiness, pausing before each new phase, to point out a hope overlooked before, or a joy forgotten. While thus pleasantly occupied, time slipped away unnoticed, until Marcelle’s aunt arrived.
Who was there in our native town who did not know Aunt Roubert? The very mention of her name was sufficient to make one gay. Left a widow in early life, and in involved circumstances, she had, by dint of activity, order, and economy, entirely extricated herself from pecuniary difficulty. Of her might be said with truth, that “sa part d’esprit lui avait été donnee en bon sens.” Taking reality for her guide, she had followed in the beaten track of life, carefully avoiding the many sharp flints which caprice scatters in the way. Always on the move, alternately setting people to rights, and grumbling at either them or herself, she yet found time to manage well her own affairs, and to improve those of others–a faculty which had obtained for her the name of “La Femme de menage de la Providence.” Vulgar in appearance, she was practical in the extreme, and results generally proved her in the right. Her nature was made up of the prose of life, but prose so clear, so consistent, that, but for its simplicity, it would have been profound.
Aunt Roubert arrived, according to custom, a large umbrella in hand, while her arm was loaded with an immense horsehair bag. She entered the little cabinet, where we were seated, like a shower of hail:–“Here you are at last,” she exclaimed, “I have been into every room, in search of you, Do you know, my dear, that the chests of linen have arrived?”
“Very well, I will go and see after it,” said Marcelle, who, with one hand in my father’s, and the other in mine, seemed in no hurry to stir.
“You will go and see after it,” repeated Aunt Roubert, “that will be very useless, for you will find no place to put it in; I have been over your abode, my poor child, and instead of a home I find a ‘salon de theatre.’”
“Why, aunt,” exclaimed Marcelle, “how can you say so? Remi and his father have just been through the rooms, and are delighted with them!”
“Don’t talk of men and housekeeping in the same breath,” replied Madame, in her most peremptory tone; “see that they are provided with a pair of snuffers and a bootjack, and they will not discover the want of anything else; but I, dear friend, know what a house should be. In entering the lobby just now, I looked about for a hook, on which to hang my cloak, and could find nothing, but flowering stocks! My dear, flowers form the principal part of your furniture!”
Marcelle endeavoured to protest against the assertion by enumerating our stock of valuables, but she was interrupted by her aunt.
“I am not talking of what you have, but of what you have not,” she said; “I certainly saw in your salon some little bronze marmozettes.”
“Marmozettes!” I cried, “you mean statuettes of Schiller and Rousseau.”
“Possibly,” Aunt Roubert quietly replied, “they may at a push serve as match holders; but, dear friend, in the fire-place of your office below, I could see neither tongs nor shovel. On opening the sideboard, I found a charming little silver-gilt service, but no soup ladle, so one can only suppose that you mean to live on sweetmeats; and lastly, though the ‘salle à manger is ornamented with beautifully gilt porcelain, the kitchen unfortunately is minus both roasting-jack and frying-pan! Good heavens, these are most unromantic details, are they not?” added she, noticing the gesture of annoyance which we were unable altogether to repress; “but as you will be obliged to descend to them whenever you want a roast or an omelette, it would perhaps be as well to provide for them.”
“You are right!” I replied, a little out of humour, for I had noticed Marcelle’s confusion, “but such omissions are easily rectified when their need is felt.”
“That is to say, you will wait until bed-time to order the mattrass,” replied Aunt Roubert; “well, well, my children, as you will, but now your attendance is required on your linen, which awaits you in the lobby; I suppose my niece does not propose to arrange it in her birdcage, or flower-stand; can she show me the place destined for it?”
Marcelle had coloured to the roots of her hair, and stood twisting and untwisting her apron-string.
“Ah well! I see you have not thought of that,” said the old aunt; “but never mind, we will find some place to put it in after breakfast; you know we are to breakfast together.”
This was a point Marcelle had not forgotten, and she forthwith led the way to her breakfast-table.
At the sight of it my father gave a start of pleased surprise. In the centre stood a basket of fruit, flowers, and moss, round which were arranged all our favourite dainties; each could recognize the dish prepared to suit his taste. After having given a rapid glance round, Madame Roubert cried out,
“And the bread, my child?”
Marcelle uttered a cry of consternation.
“You have none,” said her aunt, quietly; “send your servant for some.” Then lowering her voice, she added, “As she will pass by my door, she can at the same time tell Baptiste to bring the large easy-chair for your father, and I hope you will keep it. Your gothic chairs are very pretty to look at but when one is old or invalided, what one likes best in a chair, is a comfortable seat.”
While awaiting the servant’s return, Madame Roubert accompanied Marcelle in a tour round our abode. She pointed out what had been forgotten, remedied the inconvenience of several arrangements, or superseded them with better, doing it all with the utmost cheerful simplicity. Her hints never bordered on criticisms; she showed the error without astonishment at its having been committed, and without priding herself on its discovery.
When she had completed her examination, she took her niece aside with her accounts. Marcelle fetched the little rosewood case which served her as a cash box, and sat down to calculate the expenses of the past week. But her efforts to produce a satisfactory balance, seemed useless. It was in vain that she added and subtracted, and counted piece by piece her remaining money, the deficit never varied. Astounded at such a result, and at the amount spent, she began to examine the lock of her box, and to ask herself how its contents could have so rapidly disappeared, when Aunt Roubert interrupted her.
“Take care,” she said in one of her most serious tones. “See, how from want of careful account-keeping you already suspect others; before this evening is here you will be ready to accuse them. It always is so. The want of order engenders suspicion, and it is easier to doubt the probity of others than one’s own memory. No lock can prevent that, my child, because none can shelter you from the results of your own miscalculations. There is no safeguard for the woman at the head of a household, like a housekeeping-book which serves to warn her day by day, and bears faithful witness at the end of the month. I have brought you such a one as your uncle used to give me.”
She drew it from her bag, and presented it to Marcelle.
It was an account-book bound in parchment, the cover of which was separated like a portfolio into three pockets, destined for receipts, bills, and memoranda. The book itself was divided into several parts, distinguished one from the other by markers corresponding to the different species of expenditure, so that a glance was sufficient to form an estimate, not only of the sum total, but also of the amount of expenditure, in each separate branch.
The whole formed a domestic budget as clear as it was complete, in which each portion of the government service had its open account regulated by the supreme comptroller.
M. Roubert, who had been during his life a species of unknown Franklin, solely occupied in the endeavour to make business and, opinions agree with good sense, had written above, each chapter a borrowed or unpublished maxim to serve as warning to its possessor. At the beginning of the book the following words were traced in red ink:–
“Economy is the true source of independence and liberality.”
Farther on, at the head of the division destined to expenses of the table:–
“A Wise man has always three cooks, who season the simplest food: Sobriety, Exercise, and Content.”
Above the chapter devoted to benevolence:–
“Give as thou hast received”
And lastly, on the page destined to receive the amount of each month’s savings, he had copied this saying of a Chinese philosopher:–
“Time and patience convert the mulberry leaf into satin.”
After having given us time to look over the book, and read its wise counsels, Aunt Roubert explained to Marcelle the particulars of its use, and endeavoured to initiate her in domestic book-keeping.