This volume contains four stories, different in kind, but alike in the grace and spirit of their handling. The pretty tale from which the book borrows its name has for heroine a little French girl brought up in an old chateau in Normandy by an aunt who is recluse and denote. Little Saint Elizabeth is educated very much as her great namesake may have been, in a round of religious observances varied by acts of charity,and is trained to meditate much on the state of her soul and the woes of other people. Her head is filled with legends of saints and martyrs, her heart with zeal to emulate their good examples, and also with deep and tender pity, a real hunger after helpfulness for all human suffering. A child of this type transplanted suddenly while still in childhood to the realistic atmosphere of prosperous New York, must inevitably have much to suffer. She is puzzled ; she is lonely; she has no one to direct her conscience. The quaint little figure blindly trying to guess the riddle of duty under these unfamiliar conditions is pathetic, and Mrs. Burnett touches it in with delicate strokes. We are all glad when at last she finds a friend, and when Uncle Bertrand learns to recognize and allow for the spiritual need which is the mainspring of her nature.
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LITTLE SAINT ELIZABETH
And other Stories
FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT
Little Saint Elizabeth, F. Hodgson Burnett
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Little Saint Elizabeth.1
The Story Of Prince Fairyfoot.18
The Proud Little Grain Of Wheat.36
Behind The White Brick.45
SHE had not been brought up in America at all. She had been born in France, in a beautiful château, and she had been born heiress to a real fortune, but, nevertheless, just now she felt as if she was very poor, indeed. And yet her home was in one of the most splendid houses in New York. She had a lovely suite of apartments of her own, though she was only eleven years old. She had her own carriage and a saddle horse, a train of masters, and governesses, and servants, and was regarded by all the children of the neighbourhood as a sort of grand and mysterious little princess, whose incomings and outgoings were to be watched with the greatest interest.
"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."
There was a very great difference between these two people–the distance between the grey stone château in Normandy and the brown stone mansion in New York was not nearly so great as the distance and difference between the two lives. And yet it was said that in her first youth Mademoiselle de Rochemont had been as gay and fond of pleasure as either of her brothers. And then, when her life was at its brightest and gayest–when she was a beautiful and brilliant young woman–she had had a great and bitter sorrow, which had changed her for ever. From that time she had never left the house in which she had been born, and had lived the life of a nun in everything but being inclosed in convent walls. At first she had had her parents to take care of, but when they died she had been left entirely alone in the great château, and devoted herself to prayer and works of charity among the villagers and country people.
"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 very 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.
The little curé of the village, who was plump and comfortable, and who had the kindest heart and the most cheerful soul in the world, used to remonstrate with her, always in a roundabout way, however, never quite as if he were referring directly to herself.
"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 château. She was a sensitive, imaginative child, and the sacred romances she heard filled all her mind and made up her little life. She wished to be a saint herself, and spent hours in wandering in the terraced rose gardens wondering if such a thing was possible in modern days, and what she must do to obtain such holy victory. Her chief sorrow was that she knew herself to be delicate and very timid–so timid that she often suffered when people did not suspect it–and she was afraid that she was not brave enough to be a martyr. Once, poor little one! when she was alone in her room, she held her hand over a burning wax candle, but the pain was so terrible that she could not keep it there. Indeed, she fell back white and faint, and sank upon her chair, breathless and in tears, because she felt sure that she could not chant holy songs if she were being burned at the stake. She had been vowed to the Virgin in her babyhood, and was always dressed in white and blue, but her little dress was a small conventual robe, straight and narrow cut, of white woollen stuff, and banded plainly with blue at the waist. She did not look like other children, but she was very sweet and gentle, and her pure little pale face and large, dark eyes had a lovely dreamy look. When she was old enough to visit the poor with her Aunt Clotilde–and she was hardly seven years old when it was considered proper that she should begin–the villagers did not stand in awe of her. They began to adore her, almost to worship her, as if she had, indeed, been a sacred child. The little ones delighted to look at her, to draw near her sometimes and touch her soft white and blue robe. And, when they did so, she always returned their looks with such a tender, sympathetic smile, and spoke to them in so gentle a voice, that they were in ecstasies. They used to talk her over, tell stories about her when they were playing together afterwards.
"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 grey old château, with no companion but her aunt, with no occupation but her studies and her charities, with no thoughts but those of saints and religious exercises, Elizabeth lived until she was eleven years old. Then a great grief befell her. One morning, Mademoiselle de Rochemont did not leave her room at the regular hour. As she never broke a rule she had made for herself and her household, this occasioned great wonder. Her old maid servant waited half an hour–went to her door, and took the liberty of listening to hear if she was up and moving about her room. There was no sound. Old Alice returned, looking quite agitated. "Would Mademoiselle Elizabeth mind entering to see if all was well? Mademoiselle her aunt might be in the chapel."
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 colours 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 curé and the doctor of the village. Secretly he was very much embarrassed at the prospect of taking care of a little girl, but family pride, and the fact that such a very little girl, who was also such a very great heiress, must be taken care of sustained him. But when he first saw Elizabeth he could not restrain an exclamation of consternation.
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 curé went with her and shed tears himself when the people wept and kissed her little hand. When the child returned, she went into the chapel and remained there alone for a long time.
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 gaiety filled her with fear and pain. She had been taught to believe gaiety 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 him what she so earnestly desired. She had found out early that Aunt Clotilde and the curé
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