Chapter VI.

Occupation is a blessed relief to the miserable. Of all the ingenious modes of torture that have ever been invented, that of solitary confinement is probably the most cruel — the mind feeding on itself with the rapacity of a cormorant, when the conscience quickens its activity and feeds its longings. Happily for Adrienne, she had too many positive cares, to be enabled to waste many minutes either in retrospection, or in endeavors to conjecture the future. Far — far more happily for herself, her conscience was clear, for never had a purer mind, or a gentler spirit dwelt in female breast. Still she could blame her own oversight, and it was days before her self-upbraidings, for thus trifling with what she conceived to be the resources of her beloved grandmother, were driven from her thoughts by the pressure of other and greater ills.

Were I to last a thousand years, and rise to the dignity of being the handkerchief that the Grand Turk is said to toss toward his favorite, I could not forget the interest with which I accompanied Adrienne to the door of her little apartment, in the entresol. She was in the habit of hiring little Nathalie, the porter’s daughter, to remain with her grandmother during her own necessary but brief absences, and this girl was found at the entrance, eager to be relieved.

“Has my grandmother asked for me, Nathalie?” demanded Adrienne, anxiously, the moment they met.

“Non, mademoiselle; madame has done nothing but sleep, and I was getting so tired!”

The sou was given, and the porter’s daughter disappeared, leaving Adrienne alone in the ante-chamber. The furniture of this little apartment was very respectable, for Madame de la Rocheaimard, besides paying a pretty fair rent, had hired it just after the revolution, when the prices had fallen quite half, and the place had, by no means, the appearance of that poverty which actually reigned within. Adrienne went through the ante-chamber, which served also as a salle à manger, and passed a small saloon, into the bed-chamber of her parent. Here her mind was relieved by finding all right. She gave her grandmother some nourishment, inquired tenderly as to her wishes, executed several little necessary offices, and then sat down to work for her own daily bread; every moment being precious to one so situated. I expected to be examined — perhaps caressed, fondled, or praised, but no such attention awaited me. Adrienne had arranged every thing in her own mind, and I was to be produced only at those extra hours in the morning, when she had been accustomed to take exercise in the open air. For the moment I was laid aside, though in a place that enabled me to be a witness of all that occurred. The day passed in patient toil, on the part of the poor girl, the only relief she enjoyed being those moments when she was called on to attend to the wants of her grandmother. A light potâge, with a few grapes and bread, composed her dinner; even of these I observed that she laid aside nearly half for the succeeding day, doubts of her having the means of supporting her parent until the handkerchief was completed beginning to beset her mind. It was these painful and obtrusive doubts that most distressed the dear girl, now, for the expectation of reaping a reward comparatively brilliant, from the ingenious device to repair her means on which she had fallen, was strong within her. Poor child! her misgivings were the overflowings of a tender heart, while her hopes partook of the sanguine character of youth and inexperience!

{ salle à manger = dining room; salon = living room; potâge = soup}

My turn came the following morning. It was now spring, and this is a season of natural delights at Paris. We were already in April, and the flowers had begun to shed their fragrance on the air, and to brighten the aspect of the public gardens. Mad. de la Rocheaimard usually slept the soundest at this hour, and, hitherto, Adrienne had not hesitated to leave her, while she went herself to the nearest public promenade, to breathe the pure air and to gain strength for the day. In future, she was to deny herself this sweet gratification. It was such a sacrifice, as the innocent and virtuous, and I may add the tasteful, who are cooped up amid the unnatural restraints of a town, will best know how to appreciate. Still it was made without a murmur, though not without a sigh.

When Adrienne laid me on the frame where I was to be ornamented by her own pretty hands, she regarded me with a look of delight, nay, even of affection, that I shall never forget. As yet she felt none of the malign consequences of the self-denial she was about to exert. If not blooming, her cheeks still retained some of their native color, and her eye, thoughtful and even sad, was not yet anxious and sunken. She was pleased with her purchase, and she contemplated prodigies in the way of results. Adrienne was unusually skillful with the needle, and her taste had been so highly cultivated, as to make her a perfect mistress of all the proprieties of patterns. At the time it was thought of making an offering of all our family to the dauphine, the idea of working the handkerchiefs was entertained, and some designs of exquisite beauty and neatness had been prepared. They were not simple, vulgar, unmeaning ornaments, such as the uncultivated seize upon with avidity on account of their florid appearance, but well devised drawings, that were replete with taste and thought, and afforded some apology for the otherwise senseless luxury contemplated, by aiding in refining the imagination, and cultivating the intellect. She had chosen one of the simplest and most beautiful of these designs, intending to transfer it to my face, by means of the needle.

The first stitch was made just as the clocks were striking the hour of five, on the morning of the fourteenth of April, 1831. The last was drawn that day two months, precisely as the same clocks struck twelve. For four hours Adrienne sat bending over her toil, deeply engrossed in the occupation, and flattering herself with the fruits of her success. I learned much of the excellent child’s true character in these brief hours. Her mind wandered over her hopes and fears, recurring to her other labors, and the prices she received for occupations so wearying and slavish. By the milliner, she was paid merely as a common sewing-girl, though her neatness, skill and taste might well have entitled her to double wages. A franc a day was the usual price for girls of an inferior caste, and out of this they were expected to find their own lodgings and food. But the poor revolution had still a great deal of private misery to answer for, in the way of reduced wages. Those who live on the frivolities of mankind, or, what is the same thing, their luxuries, have two sets of victims to plunder — the consumer, and the real producer, or the operative. This is true where men are employed, but much truer in the case of females. The last are usually so helpless, that they often cling to oppression and wrong, rather than submit to be cast entirely upon the world. The marchande de mode who employed Adrienne was as rusée as a politician who had followed all the tergiversations of Gallic policy, since the year ‘89. She was fully aware of what a prize she possessed in the unpracticed girl, and she felt the importance of keeping her in ignorance of her own value. By paying the franc, it might give her assistant premature notions of her own importance; but, by bringing her down to fifteen sous, humility could be inculcated, and the chance of keeping her doubled. This, which would have defeated a bargain with any common couturière, succeeded perfectly with Adrienne. She received her fifteen sous with humble thankfulness, in constant apprehension of losing even that miserable pittance. Nor would her employer consent to let her work by the piece, at which the dear child might have earned at least thirty sous, for she discovered that she had to deal with a person of conscience, and that in no mode could as much be possibly extracted from the assistant, as by confiding to her own honor. At nine each day she was to breakfast. At a quarter past nine, precisely, to commence work for her employer; at one, she had a remission of half an hour; and at six, she became her own mistress.

{ marchande de mode = milliner; rusée = crafty; couturière = seamstress}

“I put confidence in you, mademoiselle,” said the marchande de mode,, “and leave you to yourself entirely. You will bring home the work as it is finished, and your money will be always ready. Should your grandmother occupy more of your time than common, on any occasion, you can make it up of yourself, by working a little earlier, or a little later; or, once in a while, you can throw in a day, to make up for lost time. You would not do as well at piecework, and I wish to deal generously by you. When certain things are wanted in a hurry, you will not mind working an hour or two beyond time, and I will always find lights with the greatest pleasure. Permit me to advise you to take the intermissions as much as possible for your attentions to your grandmother, who must be attended to properly. Si — the care of our parents is one of our most solemn duties! Adieu, mademoiselle; au revoir!

{find lights = supply candles; si = yes indeed}

This was one of the speeches of the marchande de mode to Adrienne, and the dear girl repeated it in her mind, as she sat at work on me, without the slightest distrust of the heartless selfishness it so ill concealed. On fifteen sous she found she could live without encroaching on the little stock set apart for the support of her grandmother, and she was content. Alas! The poor girl had not entered into any calculation of the expense of lodgings, of fuel, of clothes, of health impaired, and as for any resources for illness or accidents, she was totally without them. Still Adrienne thought herself the obliged party, in times as critical as those which then hung over France, in being permitted to toil for a sum that would barely supply a grisette, accustomed all her life to privations, with the coarsest necessaries.

{ grisette = working-class girl}

I have little to say of the succeeding fortnight. Mad. De la Rocheaimard gradually grew feebler, but she might still live months. No one could tell, and Adrienne hoped she would never die. Happily, her real wants were few; though her appetite was capricious, and her temper querulous. Love for her grandchild, however, shone in all she said and did, and so long as she was loved by this, the only being on earth she had ever been taught to love herself, Adrienne would not think an instant of the ills caused by the infirmities of age. She husbanded her money, with the utmost frugality, and contrived to save even a few sous daily, out of her own wages, to add to her grandmother’s stock. This she could not have done, but for the circumstance of there being so much in the house of their early stores, to help eke out the supplies of the moment. But, at the end of a fortnight, Adrienne found herself reduced to her last franc, including all her own savings. Something must be done, and that without delay, or Madame de la Rocheaimard would be without the means of support.

By this time Adrienne had little to dispose of, except the lace. This exquisite piece of human ingenuity had originally cost five louis d’or, and Adrienne had once shown it to her employer, who had generously offered to give two napoleons for it. But the lace must be kept for my gala dress, and it was hoped that it would bring at least its original cost when properly bestowed as an ornament on a fabric of my quality. There was the silver thimble, and that had cost five francs. Adrienne sent for the porter’s daughter, and she went forth to dispose of this, almost the only article of luxury that remained to her.

{louis d’or = gold coin worth 20 francs}

Un dé, ma bonne demoiselle!“ exclaimed the woman to whom the thimble was offered for sale; this is so common an article as scarcely

{ Un dé. ... = A thimble, young lady!}

Adrienne had made her calculations, as she fancied, with some attention to the ways of the world. Bitter experience was teaching her severe lessons, and she felt the necessity of paying more attention than had been her wont to the practices of men. She had hoped to receive three francs for her thimble, which was quite new, and which, being pretty, was cheap at five, as sold in the shops. She ventured, therefore, to express as much to the woman in question.

“Three francs, Mademoiselle!” exclaimed the other — “Jamais, since the three days! All our commerce was then destroyed, and no one would think of giving such a price. If I get three for it myself I shall be too happy. Cependant, as the thimble is pretty, and the metal looks good, we will say five and thirty sous, and have no more words about it.”

{ Jamais = never; three days = the three days of the July Revolution; Cependant = nevertheless}

Adrienne sighed, and then she received the money and returned home. Two hours later the woman of the shop met with an idle customer who had more money than discretion, and she sold this very thimble for six francs, under the plea that it was a new fashion that had sprung out of the Revolution of July. That illustrious event, however, produced other results that were quite as hard to be reduced to the known connection between cause and effect as this.

Adrienne found that by using the wine which still remained, as well as some sugar and arrowroot, her grandmother could be made comfortable for just ten sous a day. She had been able to save of her own wages three, and here, then, were the means of maintaining Madame de la Rocheaimard, including the franc on hand, for just a week longer. To do this, however, some little extra economy would be necessary. Adrienne had conscientiously taken the time used to sell the thimble from her morning’s work on me. As she sat down, on her return, she went over these calculations in her mind, and when they were ended, she cast a look at her work, as if to calculate its duration by what she had so far finished. Her eye assured her that not more than one fourth of her labor was, as yet, completed. Could she get over the next six weeks, however, she would be comparatively rich, and, as her lease would be out in two months, she determined to get cheaper lodgings in the country, remove her grandmother, purchase another handkerchief — if possible one of my family — and while she lived on the fruits of her present labors, to earn the means for a still more remote day. It is true, she had no more lace with which to decorate another handkerchief, but the sale of this would supply the money to purchase anew, and in this way the simple minded girl saw no reason why she might not continue on as long as health and strength would allow — at least as long as her grandmother lived.

Hope is as blessed a provision for the poor and unhappy as occupation. While oppressed with present ills they struggle to obtain a fancied existence under happier auspices, furnishing a healthful and important lesson to man, that never ceases to remind him of a future that is to repair every wrong, apply a balm to every wound, if he will only make a timely provision for its wants.

Again did Adrienne resume her customary round of duties. Four hours each morning were devoted to me. Then followed the frugal breakfast, when her commoner toil for the milliner succeeded. The rest of the day was occupied with this latter work, for which she received the customary fifteen sous. When she retired at night, which the ailings and complaints of her grandmother seldom permitted before eleven, it was with a sense of weariness that began to destroy sleep; still the dear girl thought herself happy, for I more than equaled her expectations, and she had latterly worked on me with so much zeal as to have literally thrown the fruits of two weeks’ work into one.

But the few francs Adrienne possessed diminished with alarming rapidity. She began to calculate her ways and means once more, and this was no longer done as readily as before. Her own wardrobe would not bear any drain upon it. Early in the indisposition of her grandmother, all of that had been sold which she could spare; for, with the disinterestedness of her nature, when sacrifices became necessary her first thoughts were of her own little stock of clothes. Of jewelry she never had been the mistress of much, though the vicomtesse had managed to save a few relics of her own ancient magnificence. Nevertheless, they were articles of but little value, the days of her exile having made many demands on all such resources.

It happened, one evening when Adrienne was receiving her wages from the milliner, that the poor girl overheard a discourse that proved she was not paid at the rate at which others were remunerated. Her eyes told her that her own work was the neatest in the shop, and she also saw that she did more than any other girl employed by the same person. As she knew her own expertness with the needle, this did not surprise her; but she felt some wonder that more and better work should produce the least reward. Little did she understand the artifices of the selfish and calculating, one of the most familiar of their frauds being to conceal from the skillful their own success, lest it should command a price in proportion to its claims. The milliner heard Adrienne’s lady-like and gentle remonstrance with alarm, and she felt that she was in danger of losing a prize. But two expedients suggested themselves; to offer a higher price, or to undervalue the services she was so fearful of losing. Her practiced policy, as well as her selfishness, counseled her to try the latter expedient first.

“You amaze me, mademoiselle,” she answered, when Adrienne, trembling at her own resolution, ceased speaking. “I was thinking myself whether I could afford to pay you fifteen sous, when so many young women who have been regularly brought up to the business are willing to work for less. I am afraid we must part, unless you can consent to receive twelve sous in future.”

Adrienne stood aghast. The very mirror of truth herself, she could not imagine that any one — least of all any woman — could be so false and cruel as to practice the artifice to which the milliner had resorted; and, here, just as she saw a way opened by which she might support both her grandmother and herself until the handkerchief was completed, a change threatened her, by which she was to be left altogether without food. Still her conscience was so tender that she even doubted the propriety of accepting her old wages were she really incompetent to earn them.

“I had hoped, madame,” she said, the color coming and going on cheeks that were now usually pale — “I had hoped, madame, that you found my work profitable. Surely, surely I bring home as much at night as any other demoiselle you employ.”

“In that there is not much difference, I allow, mademoiselle; but you can imagine that work done by one accustomed to the art is more likely to please customers than work done by one who has been educated as a lady. Cependant, I will not throw you off, as I know that your poor dear grandmother — “

Si — si,” eagerly interrupted Adrienne, trembling from head to foot with apprehension.

“I know it all, mademoiselle, and the dear old lady shall not suffer; you shall both be made happy again on fifteen. To ease your mind, mademoiselle, I am willing to make a written contract for a year; at that rate, too, to put your heart at ease.”

Non — non — non,” murmured Adrienne, happy and grateful for the moment, but unwilling to defeat her own plans for the future. “Thank you, thank you, madame; to-morrow you shall see what I can do.”

And Adrienne toiled the succeeding day, not only until her fingers and body ached, but, until her very heart ached. Poor child! Little did she think that she was establishing precedents against herself, by which further and destructive exertions might be required. But the apprehension of losing the pittance she actually received, and thereby blasting all hopes from me, was constantly before her mind, quickening her hand and sustaining her body.

During all this time Madame de la Rocheaimard continued slowly to sink. Old age, disappointments and poverty were working out their usual results, and death was near to close the scene. So gradual were the changes, however, that Adrienne did not note them, and accustomed as she had been to the existence, the presence, the love of this one being, and of this being only, to her the final separation scarce seemed within the bounds of possibility. Surely every thing around the human family inculcates the doctrine of the mysterious future, and the necessity of living principally that they be prepared to die. All they produce perishes, all they imagine perishes, as does all they love. The union of two beings may be so engrossing, in their eyes, have lasted so long, and embraced so many ties, as to seem indissoluble; it is all seeming; the hour will infallibly come when the past becomes as nothing, except as it has opened the way to the future.

Adrienne at length, by dint of excessive toil, by working deep into the nights, by stinting herself of food, and by means of having disposed of the last article with which she could possibly part, had managed to support her grandmother and herself, until she saw me so far done as to be within another day’s work of completion. At such a moment as this all feeling of vanity is out of the question. I was certainly very beautiful. A neater, a more tasteful, a finer, or a more exquisitely laced handkerchief, did not exist within the walls of Paris. In all that she figured to herself, as related to my appearance, the end justified her brightest expectations; but, as that end drew near, she felt how insufficient were human results to meet the desires of human hopes. Now that her painful and exhausting toil was nearly over, she did not experience the happiness she had anticipated. The fault was not in me; but in herself. Hope had exhausted her spirit, and as if merely to teach the vanity of the wishes of men, a near approach to the object that had seemed so desirable in the distance, had stripped off the mask and left the real countenance exposed. There was nothing unusual in this; it was merely following out a known law of nature.