Escal Vigor/Part I/Chapter IV

IV.

Blandine, the young woman who unconsciously gave so much umbrage to ambitious Claudie, she whom the Count had styled, not without banter, the "housekeeper," the "steward" of Escal-Vigor, was nearing her thirtieth year. To see her, white, delicate, with reserved manners, features of extreme nobility, a proud melancholy expression, and attired in a neat dress, no one would have ever suspected her humble origin.

Eldest daughter of quite poor peasants, milkmen and kitchen-gardeners, and native, up to her sixteenth year, of one of those rude Flemish provinces, which France, Holland and Belgium share among them, she might have rivalled in exuberance of body and grossness of manners the young farm-girl of Les Pèlerins! Her father re-married and, to complete the ill fortune of his little daughter, sole offspring of his first marriage, he did not die before bestowing upon her a number of brothers and sisters. Blandine's stepmother wore her out with work and blows. She was plucky and stoical, a perfect drudge not only did she assist her second mother in the household work, washing, watching over, and attending to the children, but she worked besides in the kitchen-garden, looked after the cows, and went every week on foot to the town to market, laden with pitchers of milk and hampers of vegetables.

In the solitary hours of later years, bent over her sewing, Blandine must have often recalled her native village, and above all her father's thatch-roofed cottage.

This was covered with moss and house-leeks; the weather-eaten walls concealing their cracks behind an entanglement of honeysuckle and wild vine. In the yard the pigs gambolled by the dung-heap, among fowls which they scare and white pigeons which fly away on to the roof, making a plaintive rustle with their wings, a black dog, closely clipped, of the race of spits, at once a good watch-dog and a strong beast of burden, was yawning in its kennel, and through the open cat-hole in the stable door two cows might be seen chewing fresh clover.

Blandine will remember for many years yet at Smaragdis the surroundings of the family farm in the Campine land.[1] The Nethe runs not far from there, indulging in truant meanderings, one of its short branches disappears behind the little garden and loses itself in the marshy pastures. The green drevilles, or little alleys of hirsute alders and gibbous willows, which are surrounded in the season by sweet-smelling honeysuckle, accompany like jealous chaperons the course of the silvery stream, which, down below on the borders of the village, turns a water mill, to the great delight of a throng of children.

The manageress of Escal-Vigor recalls, behind the meadows and the farmlands, a melancholy stretch of heath, in the midst of which rises a round hillock, whereon black, unshapely junipers crouched, like an assembly of spooks, like will o'the wisps of the waste, around a solitary beech,—a tree so rare in this region, that a bird of passage alone must have let fall the seed.

This miraculous tree would have been a fitting subject for one of those small figures of the Virgin, placed under glass, on a miniature altar, which simple folk set up, with an astonishing instinct, in the most romantic places in their parishes. This little eminence reminds one of the open air oratory nearby which Joan of Arc heard her "voices."

Little Blandine presented from the most tender age a strange mixture of exalted feeling and intelligence, of sentiment and reason. She had been brought up in the Catholic religion, but, from the days of her catechism had ever refused the strict letter to cleave only to the spirit which gives life.

As she grew older she identified the idea of God with conscience. This may be enough to show that so long as she held the faith her religion had nothing in it of bigotry or cant, but was of a generous and chivalrous character. In Blandine a poetic disposition and fancy was united to a large and honest sense of life. Brave and clever, if she had the imagination of a good fairy, she also had a fairy's industrious fingers.

A woman to-day, controlling the economy of a lordly domain, she looks back upon herself as a young girl, a little milkmaid, standing in the shadow of the beech which commanded the vast plain of Campine. Blandine hears again the frogs croaking in the ponds and ditches, and her heart delights, as long ago, in the scent of burning newly-clipped wood, that the breeze carries leagues away from those localities. Shepherds' bivouacs, betrayed in the twilight by their spirals of smoke, and at night, by their thin pale flames! Soul of the infinite plain! Barbaric perfume, herald of the region, that none who has once breathed it can ever forget!

It was with this poetry, if somewhat wild and sad, yet hearty and energetic, inspiritress of duty and even of sacrifices aye, and of unknown acts of heroism, that Blandine was impregnated. She was then a small, hard-worked peasant, but one who found time to dream and to wonder, notwithstanding the hard and continual toils to which her stepmother harnessed her.

There was above all one climacteric period which induced in the pseudo-mistress of Escal-Vigor a sort of homesickness for the past: it was towards the twenty-ninth of June, the day of St. Peter and St. Paul, the day on which contracts between masters and servants come to an end.

These transmutations of servants every year serve as pretext for a festival, which Blandine remembers with a sort of voluptuous, soothing melancholy. At Smaragdis, the odour of the elders and syringas was sufficient to call up again before her the circumstances and the actors in these rustic festivities.

A warm sun excites the sweet fragrance of the hedges and thickets. The quail, squatting amid the corn, whines a love-call. No one is any longer working in the freshly-laboured plains. In their haste to go holiday-making, men have thrown down here and there scythe and pruning-bill, hoe and harrow. If the fields are deserted, all along the neighbouring roads on the contrary, there is a long procession of kitchen-gardeners' carts, overhung with white canvas, not laden, as on Fridays, with vegetables and milk, but newly painted, tapestried with flowers, the arches entwined with ribbons, and driven at a good speed by drivers decked out in their Sunday clothes, astonished at their own fine get-up, and in the interior of which are jostled together a crowd of rustic lasses, no less blooming, adorned in their most coquettish attire.

These varlets would come to fetch in the morning, and in a ceremonious manner, the women servants from their former abode, in order to conduct them to the residences of their new masters, and, as the men were not obliged to be at their destination till the evening, they took advantage of the long summer day, to make acquaintance with their future companions in seed-sowing, in field labours, and in harvest.

Often the day-labourers of a parish, the servants of small peasants, borrow a hay-waggon from a large farmer and subscribe for the hire of the horses. All the gangs: thrashers, winnowers, harvestmen, milkmaids, women-haymakers, take their place in the cart, transformed into a perambulating orchard wherein the red puffy faces stand out shining like ruddy apples in the branches.

The fly-net caparisons the cart-horses, for the horse-flies rage all along the oak-drives; but the meshes of the net are hidden under the buttercups, daisies, and roses. Cavalcades are formed. The waggons going to the same villages or returning from the same parishes, jolt along in file, dragging along in company their new legion of servant girls.

A gaudy and noisy defile, a sort of apotheosis of farm-work by the sons of the soil. During their passage the air vibrates with perfume, light, and music.

Cowherds and ploughboys,—the blue smock festooned with a scarlet ribbon, the cap girt with a leafy twig, a branch for goad,—precede the procession like postillions, or else caracole alongside, some astride with short spurs, their legs wide apart owing to the broad backs of their mounts, others seated sideways on the saddle their legs swinging over the horse's left side, just as they may be met in the twilight, going home through narrow path-ways, when the day's work is done.

Their loud voices reverberate from one village to another.

"See there another Roseland!" exclaim the urchins, whom their approach gathers around near the church, for the nickname of "Roseland" has been given to these triumphal cars, on account of the refrain of the ballad sung only by the swains on these occasions:—

"To the country of roses we wend our way,
To the land of the rose of a day;
The flowers so fair like hay we'll mow down,
And such high stacks make of'em fine-smelling and gay,
That the eye, they'll put out, of the man in the moon
And the sun they'll make sneeze for ever and aye."

Knots of dancers crowd round the doors of the inns. The "Roselanders" invade the bar with a riot like a witches' sabbath. At each stage an enormous watering can is filled with a mixture of beer and sugar and after having taken out the rose, it is passed round from couple to couple.

The girl, assisted by the man accompanying her, moistens her lips the first in the beverage; then, with a gesture derived from the heroic times of old, she bends her body backwards, and with her bared arm, as strong as those of the males, seizes the huge vessel by the handle, brandishes it, raises it above her head, and ends by lowering it to her cavalier.

With one knee on the ground, the thirsty one plunges the pipe of the reservoir in his mouth, and pumps unceasingly, with a face of beatitude, which little Blandine could not help comparing to the ecstasy of communicants receiving the sacrament at solemn festival times. The groups have a fiddler, or an organ-player to accompany them, but indifferent to the melody or rhythm, scraped or ground out, the wenches always dance the same clog-dance, and their voices bray out monotonously the same eternal chorus:

"To the country of roses we wend etc."

To day the serfs are the lords and the poor are the rich.

A whole year's wages resounds against their knee in a pocket as deep as a corn-drill.

Day of good cheer; Fair-day revolutionising the patient priests of the soil! Warm mornings that hatch idylls: stormy evenings that stir up bloodshed!

It is not without reason that the police, from a distance, watch the proceedings of the "Roselanders."

The gendarmes are pale and twist nerously their moustaches, for, as the evening advances, and the time of reaction comes along, these savage and jealous peasants are often the cause of blood-spilling. These goodfellows, drinking freely with every comer, are ready, for a mere nothing, to throw pewter pots at each other's skulls, and to tear each other into rags like so many bantam-cocks. By dint of embracing his neighbour, the demonstrative gossip winds up by pressing him so tightly to his heart as to lug him down to the ground and more than maul him.

The holiday-makers do not all become violent, but all commit acts of folly. They drown their care in beer and stifle it in noise. They drink: some in order to forget, perhaps to relieve the regret they feel at leaving a familiar abode and familiar faces; others, on the contrary, to celebrate their disenfranchisement from the old yoke and to hail, full of confidence, the new fireside.

The greater part fraternise at once with their companions of tomorrow, and lose no time in paying their respects to the gawky females enlisted with them.

And these excellent natures, these irresponsible beings, whom reflection would fatigue, enjoy almost to the verge of licence in a headlong manner, without afterthought and without sparing themselves, the powerful charm of this truce during which they are free in their speech, in their gestures, and of their bodies. They are frantic like dogs let loose, they experience the intoxication that a bird born in a cage must feel when it first flies in the open; and the boundlessness of their felicity makes it almost as poignant as extreme suffering. At times one could not know whether they are weeping, or laughing with tears in their eyes; whether they are fluttering with pleasure, or twisting in convulsions.

As the journey is long, and the day a full one, they stop towards noon before the principal inn of the market town and unyoke the horses. The blouse-clad workmen throw themselves down on the benches in the big room and smoking dishes are placed before them. But in spite of their sharp appetite and the intoxicating joy of their freedom, which vents itself, the livelong day, in rough challenges of ferocious coarseness addressed to God, the Virgin, and the Saints, they neither omit to clasp together their thick callous hands nor to make twice the sign of the cross.

All the sentiments and sensations connected with these festivities were impressed upon the mind of Blandine by the recollection of one of those memorable days of St. Peter and St. Paul. Although only thirteen years old at that time, she suffered more outrages in her own home than the most wretched servant. Her stepmother, either showing by chance a trace of humanity, or perhaps desiring to humiliate her by confounding her with varlets and hirelings, permitted her to take her place in an immense "Roseland," chartered by subscription. The little, chubby-cheeked girl, with eyes of an opaline hue, varying from sky-blue to sea-green, was grateful for her share in these valets and handmaids' amusements; the open good humour of these poor fellows rejoiced her; she enjoyed a childish pleasure at being seated on the flowery and noisy chariot, and at drinking the sugared beer at the stages appointed by the head of the party. The men paid for the beer, the girls furnished the sugaring; Blandine contributed in her turn her share of powdered sugar. She laughed, sang, and danced like her male and female companions. Not thinking of evil, the liberties which were being taken all about her frightened her no more than the twittering of the birds in the trees or the dance of insects in a sunbeam. At the dinner hour she shared the meal of the other Roselanders; afterwards she followed in their train, led away by the atmosphere of good cheer and caresses, feeling herself their little friend, and unable to make up her mind to leave them.

However, towards the evening, a languor, a morbidesse, a strange agitation took hold upon her. The kisses and the love-embraces going on all around her seemed like the extravaganza of a dream. Nothing alarmed her. She found herself in a very agreeable frame of mind.

Night has fallen. Nobody pays any further attention to Blandine. Every servant girl is provided for. But Blandine will have to wait at least three summers before an honest youth would think of her. Her turn will come! That may be what is meant by a certain anticipated homage in the shape of tender glances, or light touches of the body, which some of the gay sparks bestow upon her, as they press slightly against her with their thighs in passing. The child sees no more in the looks, feels no more in the touches than a somewhat rough sympathy, that is all! Around her the tepid air pricks and stimulates their heated bodies. The atmosphere of desire in which they have passed so many hours becomes intensified. Soon Blandine will be unable to recollect the last drinks and sarabands in which she took part. But what enervates her is much more the fermentation of hardy youth a-bustling around her than the scent of roses and the sweet beer. Half-somnambulant, well-nigh swooning from pure felicity, she takes her place with the others in the "Roseland" for the journey homewards, and the chorus ever-more repeated contributes to her half-sleepy condition.

However, across the country, the chariots, roofed over with white canvas, and festooned with flowers, roll along more slowly. The valets and maid-servants hear a rustle and feel something akin to a light equinoctial breeze run along their necks. It is the warm breath of the couples behind them leaning in their direction away on the benches at the back. They sigh; they pant! The little girl falls at last asleep, stupefied by the hot, amorous atmosphere, much more heady than the scent of the hay-fields.

Nobody offers to accompany her home, yet it must surely be time for her to descend from the waggon, and start to get back home, for the others have no thoughts yet of return, and the "Roseland" is still as far from its last stage of pilgrimage as from its last drinking chapel. For, truth to tell, the band of gay sparks know well enough that the real pleasure is now only about to commence.

The company therefore, decides to awaken the little bantling. One of them will set her on her way and then catch up with the Roseland at the next stage. But the girl thanks the complaisant youth and says it is unnecessary for him to trouble himself. She can very well walk alone to her father's cottage. Sometimes, on market days she returns even later, and in what weather and through what roads! The young chap accordingly contents himself with pointing out to her the road she must take,

"Listen, little one, thou'lt cross the heath there, sloping from right to left; then thou'lt reach a fir-grove which thou'lt leave on the right and—"

Blandine hardly heeds him, his voice soon fails to reach her, for she has walked off with a deliberate step. "Good night to all," she cries boldly. Their reply is lost in the cracking of the whip and the noise of the Roseland continuing its road onwards.

Blandine had never felt fear. And then this evening everybody was merry-making. Who would think of doing harm to a child?

Just before, however, at table, after the attack on the grub, they had related plenty of painful, terrifying adventures. Thus, someone expressing surprise that a certain Ariaan, nicknamed the King of Winnowers, long in the service of a farmer of the parish was not of the party, one of the absent man's comrades informed the company that the young fellow had turned out rather badly since their last festival, so badly indeed, that his employer had not thought fit to wait for St. Peter's day to dispense with his services. In spite of all his talents, the King of Winnowers had been dismissed in a hurry for entering into competition with martlets, weasels, polecats and other fanciers of poultry. Not having found a master to whom he could hire his stout arms he had doubtless taken shelter for the time in one or other of those refuges which the generosity of the State opens to dusty feet.

For the sake of form, but not without yawning and stretching, the table uttered a few words of pity for the bad luck of an old companion, such a lively spark too, a good trencher-man, and the rest! But as one of the boys, lighting his pipe, pointed out, it was not the moment to foster black ideas, and so taking his advice, the company made haste to change the subject of conversation.

How happens it that, in crossing the heath, Blandine's thoughts keep obstinately running on the misadventure of the King of Winnowers? Although Ariaan was not wholely unknown to her, he had nothing to do with her in any way. It was a fact that during one season he had dwelt not far from her home. Through the barndoor Blandine used to catch furtive glimpses of him at his work, as he stood there nude to the girdle, ruddy fleshed and humid with moisture but, notwithstanding, attractive in the half-shadow. In measured time the winnowing-fan used to strike his hardened knee, and ended by wearing out his thick breeches, which were always patched in the same place.

Blandine, as she trotted along, left off humming the refrain of the day, to take up that of the winnower!—

Van! Vanne! Vanvarla!
Balle!
Vole!
Vanci! Vanla!

If her heart contracts a little, while she hastens her steps, it is not at all from anxiety for herself, but from a sort of pity for the wastrel. The softened night lends itself to such vague thoughts. The transparent darkness reminds us of dark-hued jewels. There are scintillations in the air, as though the perfumes with which it is saturated have become too vehement and have suddenly taken fire. The intermittent flashes of phosphorescence from the glow-worms harmonise with the chirp-chirp of the crickets.

All at once, while it seems to the belated young girl that the crickets accentuate their irritating music, Blandine is hustled, clasped, and overturned on to a hillock by a human figure, which runs out from behind a broombush. The assailant pulls up her petticoats, forages between her soft, adolescent limbs, handles and strokes her flesh, sighing and panting meanwhile, energetically but not brutally, and finishes by taking entire possession of her.

"Ariaan!" The name, which she would have cried out on recognising the King of the Winnowers, remains stuck in her throat, checked by fright. She experiences a brief pain, like a rending of her belly, and this is followed almost immediately by a strange happiness. Was her being doubled? Endowed with a new sympathy, she was projected out of herself to melt away in an immeasurable sea of delight.

While he holds her under him, she feels herself strongly hypnotised by the expression in the winnower's eyes, and ever afterwards will she associate the mute entreaty in those eyes with the livid sparkling of the glowworms, the scraping of the crickets, the expiring notes of the Roseland chorus, and the rhythm of the old-world song of Ariaan:

Van! Vanne!
Vanci! Vanla!

The night-prowler raised himself from off her, still panting, his breath coming quicker than at his work aforetime, and having helped her to rise in her turn, he held her a few moments by the wrists, gave her a look of gratitude mingled with penitence, and walked away on trembling limbs, adjusting his dress as he went. She never forgot his sorrel face nor the zigzags that his silhouette traced in the motionless space into which he finally disappeared.

Blandine dragged herself, more distressed than indignant, towards her home, and on going to bed, she vowed to herself never to reveal what had happened to her. An instinct of solidarity more than of modesty dictated this silence. In truth, she could not bring herself to be angry with this ruffian, at first so commanding, and then so dejected, almost sheepish; she was persuaded even, that he would have asked pardon, had he dared, but tenderness and a certain gratitude made him almost as timid as violent desire had rendered him unbridled. A few days later Blandine heard that big Ariaan had been arrested in the environs, captured by the police as he was swimming across the Nethe. Her pitiable violator had become a formidable criminal. She was resolved more than ever to keep silence, anxious not to involve him in new difficulties or to bring upon him a heavier punishment.

But the unfortunate girl had counted without considering the tell-tale denunciations of nature. She became pregnant.

Her stepmother, pharisaically virtuous, burst out into loud outcries, tore her hair, pretended to be in despair; but inwardly she was delighted with this plausible occasion to rage against her victim, and to give free course to her unnatural instincts. Perhaps even, in sending this child with the Roseland had she hoped some such thing might happen.

"Day of judgment and damnation!" shouted the vixen. "Shame and treble scandal! Our good name gone for ever! Double-dyed whore! What an example for thy brothers and sisters! It is a good thing for thee that thy good honest father is dead. He would have ripped thee open like the bitch thou art."

She demanded full information. "His name? Tell me his name."

"Never; do forgive me for not obeying thee, mother."

"His name? Out with it! Wilt thou not speak?"

A blow followed. Then a second.

"His name?"

"No, Mother!"

"Thou refusest! Ah! we'll see about that! His name I say? For he's got to marry thee."

"Nay, thou would'st not have him for son-in-law, Mother."

"Thou rotten swine? Thou admit'st thyself that he's no good. He is then so low, thy gallant, that we, lousy as we are, are too decent for him? But it's all very fine talking of marriage. The villain who has debauched thee shall have rather a taste of prison, for thou'rt a minor, although marriageable, and as precocious as a gutter cat. Let us see! It is no doubt one of the Roselanders; some drunken swineherd, who must have taken thee for his favourite sow. Don't hope to save him, for the magistrates will soon wring a confession out of him, or his own comrades will sell him in the end."

This time she replied with courage and not without pity:

"No, 'twas none of the Roselanders. It was a poor man, a passer-by more miserable than any of them. I had never seen him before and he does not even belong to these parts. He was sad, it seemed to me; one of those to whom we are glad to give alms. I would not have refused him aught, but I did not even know till these last days what I had granted him."

"Thou two-faced hypocrite, thou liest!"

The fury rained more blows on the unfortunate, ordering her at each blow to speak; then, as Blandine persisted in her refusal, she fell upon her with fists and feet. To support her courage under this treatment Blandine with a smile on her lips recalled to her mind the tall youth with the bronze complexion and the sad, beseeching eyes. She found it sweet to bear hardship for the sake of this hunted outcast. The stepmother dragged her along the ground, utterly exasperated at so much calmness.

Then, indifferent to suffering and obstinate in her self-sacrifice, Blandine began to sing the Ave Maris Stella, one of the canticles for the month of May. Under the blows which rained upon her, the child recalled to her memory the dry sound of the fan on Ariaan's knee. Fainting, but morally unconquerable, she mixed the two songs, the church canticle and the labourer's song, and closing her eyes she confounded in one fervent memory the fumes of incense and the dust arising from the fan, the perfumes of the church with the odour of the rustic's sweat:—

Van!… Vanne!… Vanvarla!
Balle!… Vole!… Vanci!… Vanla!
Vanne!… Ave … Maris … Stella!

Seeing her covered with blood, the wretch dragged her into the pigsty, shut her up there, making one of the children take her a pitcher of water and a chunk of bread. The next day the rough market-woman endeavoured to return to the charge, but she would have herself broken down sooner than succeed in wresting from Blandine what she wished to know.

Weary of the struggle, the virtuous paysanne induced the vicar to try what he could do. This gentleman was paternal and wheedling:

"What is all this about little Blandine? Must I believe what thy worthy mother tells me? Thou'rt not going to be naughty!… Thou'rt rebellious? After having sinned thou'lt not name thy accomplice?… Ah, that is bad, very bad!"

"Father, I have confessed my wrong to my mother and am ready to confess it to you, but betraying others is hateful to me."

"That's all very well, my daughter! How high and mighty we do get! And if I thy pastor were of opinion that thou ought to give up to us the name of this evildoer."

"I would refuse, all the same, Monsieur le Curé."

And, as the priest, quite taken aback at such insubordination, shot a severe glance at her, Blandine burst into sobs, exclaiming."

"Yes, I would refuse Monsieur le Curé, I would not even tell this name to the good God if he did not know it. This man is already unhappy enough. To name him would bring him into further trouble. They would keep him longer in prison on my account."

The innocent child had during the last few days been greatly enlightened as to human laws and the conventions of right and wrong.

"But," objected the priest, "dost thou love this wretched fellow?"

"I do not know if I love him; but I do not hate him at all."

"He has, however, done thee wrong, my child."

"Perhaps! I am willing to believe it even, since you say so, but Monsieur le Curé, is it not said in the catechism that we must forgive our enemies and cherish even those who hate us?"

The priest raged inwardly, but no longer insisted.

Then the peasant woman curious and salacious, changing her tactics, wished at least to know if the child had been taken by force.

Blandine, in order the better to throw the blood-hounds of the law off the scent, and to palliate the poor fellow's offence, pretended not to have tried to escape from his attempt.

But, for a moment, seeing that her cruel step-mother persisted in suspecting one or another of the Roselanders, poor Blandine felt grievous scruples. In refusing to reveal the name of the real culprit, was she not exposing those brave chaps to being troubled if not to being found perhaps guilty? Fortunately, it was easy for all of them to prove their perfect innocence.

The worthy fellows were extremely sorry for her misadventure, especially the one who had offered to see her home, and who blamed himself now for not having accompanied her in spite of herself.

Sometimes the high-minded child cherished a desire to start and seek out the man who had dishonoured her, and who dared not make reparation, not only because he had committed a crime in the eyes of men, but because in the opinion of the public the condition of a bastard and of an unwedded mother would be better than that of the legal son and the lawful companion of a thief and a vagabond. Blandine, more and more elevated in spirit, felt herself strong enough to go in the teeth of any unjust convention, whether religious or social. Since that fatal day of Saints Peter and Paul her heart had vowed itself to a stern and exacting vocation of devotion and self-sacrifice.

She had made up her mind she would go to the prison. She would see Ariaan in order to pardon him. She would free him from guilt by a sublime falsehood; lay the burden on her own shoulders, say she had surrendered herself to him voluntarily and had concealed her true age. Developed as she was, Ariaan might easily have believed in all good faith that he had seduced a girl who had attained her majority.

So it was decided. She would accept to be the wife of a thief and a jail-bird …

But what mysterious presentiment stopped the young girl in her charitable impulse, and made her understand that her hour was not yet come, and that a being, wretched and anathematised in a far different way from the simple poultry-thief, was waiting for her somewhere?

While she still hesitated and doubtful battles were waging in her heart, an event happened, that rendered any sacrifice, for the time being at least, unnecessary:—Blandine brought into the world a dead child.

This climax disarmed the rancour of the parish and cut short the scandal. Her fault being in this manner expiated, the stepmother treated the poor girl with less barbarity. Her brothers and sisters ceased to torment Blandine and to keep her at a distance like an ill-odoured animal. Her services were accepted and she obtained the favor of being allowed to exert herself for the benefit of the family. Some time after that her step-mother died.

Blandine, at that time fifteen years of age, showed herself of decidedly heroic stamp, although simple in character. She took into her hands the control of the household, busied herself over its multifarious needs, assumed all responsibilities and cares, and looked after the children, not resting until they were all advantageously placed out, the boys as apprentices and the girls as domestic servants. So well did the valiant little mother work that she found her character more than rehabilitated. The first was the parish priest, who could not make it out; his admiration of her was mingled with a sort of stupefaction. The pluck and sturdy character of this brat of a girl quite confused him.


  1. Campine, an extensive plain, east from Antwerp, formerly sterile, but now fertilised by skillful irrigation.