Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Home in Martinique
By Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814)
From ‘Paul and Virginia’

IN the rainy season the two families met together in the cottage, and employed themselves in weaving mats of grass and baskets of bamboo. Rakes, spades, and hatchets were ranged along the walls in the most perfect order; and near these instruments of agriculture were placed its products,—sacks of rice, sheaves of corn, and baskets of plantains. Some degree of luxury is usually united with plenty; and Virginia was taught by her mother and Margaret to prepare sherbet and cordials from the juice of the sugar-cane, the lemon, and the citron.  1
  When night came, they all supped together by the light of a lamp: after which Madame de la Tour or Margaret told stories of travelers lost during the night in forests of Europe infested by banditti; or of some shipwrecked vessel, thrown by the tempest upon the rocks of a desert island. To these recitals their children listened with eager sensibility, and earnestly begged that Heaven would grant they might one day have the joy of showing their hospitality toward such unfortunate persons. At length the two families would separate and retire to rest, impatient to meet again the next morning. Sometimes they were lulled to repose by the beating rains which fell in torrents upon the roofs of their cottages; and sometimes by the hollow winds, which brought to their ear the distant murmur of the waves breaking upon the shore. They blessed God for their own safety, of which their feeling became stronger from the idea of remote danger.  2
  Madame de la Tour occasionally read aloud some affecting history of the Old or New Testament. Her auditors reasoned but little upon these sacred books, for their theology consisted in sentiment, like that of Nature; and their morality in action, like that of the gospel. Those families had no particular days devoted to pleasure, and others to sadness. Every day was to them a holiday, and all which surrounded them one holy temple, where they forever adored an Infinite Intelligence, Almighty, and the friend of human kind. A sentiment of confidence in his supreme power filled their minds with consolation for the past, with fortitude for the present, and with hope for the future. Behold how these women, compelled by misfortune to return to a state of nature, had unfolded in their own bosoms, and in those of their children, the feelings which Nature gives us, our best support under evil.  3
  But as clouds sometimes arise which cast a gloom over the best-regulated tempers, whenever any member of this little society appeared sad the rest gathered around, endeavoring to banish painful thoughts rather by sentiment than by arguments. Each used in this their especial character. Margaret exerted her gayety, Madame de la Tour employed her mild theology, Virginia her tender caresses, Paul his cordial frankness. Even Mary and Domingo hastened to offer their succor, and to weep with those that wept. Thus weak plants are interwoven in order to resist the tempests.  4
  During the fine season they went every Sunday to the church of the Shaddock Grove, the steeple of which you see yonder upon the plain. Rich planters used to come to church in their palanquins; these several times sought the acquaintance of families so bound up in each other, and would have invited them to parties of pleasure. But they always declined such overtures with respectful politeness; persuaded that the powerful seek the weak only to feed their own complacency, and that the weak cannot please them without flattering them, whether they are good or evil. On the other hand, they avoided with equal care too intimate an acquaintance with the small planters, who are as a class jealous, calumniating, and gross. They thus acquired with some the character of being timid, and with others of being proud; but their reserve was accompanied with so much obliging politeness, above all toward the unfortunate, that they insensibly acquired the respect of the rich and the confidence of the poor. After service the poor often came to require some kind office at their hands. Perhaps it was a person troubled in mind who sought their advice, or a child led them to its sick mother in the neighborhood. They always took with them remedies for the ordinary diseases of the country, which they administered in that soothing manner which stamps so much value upon the smallest favors. Above all, they succeeded in banishing the disorders of the mind, which are so intolerable in solitude and under the infirmities of a weakened frame. Madame de la Tour spoke with such sublime confidence of the Divinity, that the sick, while listening to her, believed that he was present. Virginia often returned home with her eyes wet with tears, and her heart overflowing with delight, at having had an opportunity of doing good. After these visits of charity, they sometimes prolonged their walk by the valley of the Sloping Mountain, till they reached my dwelling, where I used to prepare dinner for them upon the banks of the little river which glides near my cottage. I procured for these occasions some bottles of old wine, in order to heighten the gayety of our Indian repast by the more genial productions of Europe. At other times we met upon the seashore, at the mouth of other little rivers, which are here scarcely larger than brooks. We brought from the plantation our vegetable provisions, to which we added such as the sea furnished in great variety. We caught on these shores the mullet, the roach, and the sea-urchin, lobsters, shrimps, crabs, oysters, and all other kinds of shell-fish. In this way we often enjoyed the most tranquil pleasures in situations the most frightful. Sometimes, seated upon a rock under the shade of the velvet sunflower-tree, we saw the enormous waves of the Indian Ocean break beneath our feet with a tremendous noise. Paul, who could swim like a fish, would advance on the reefs to meet the coming billows; then, at their near approach, would run back to the beach, closely pursued by the foaming breakers, which threw themselves with a roaring noise far on the sands. But Virginia at this sight uttered piercing cries, and said that such sports frightened her too much.  5
  Our repasts were succeeded by the songs and dances of the two young people. Virginia sang the happiness of pastoral life, and the misery of those who were impelled by avarice to cross the furious ocean, rather than cultivate the earth and enjoy its peaceful bounties. Sometimes she performed a pantomime with Paul, in the manner of the negroes. The first language of man is pantomime; it is known to all nations, and is so natural and so expressive that the children of the European inhabitants catch it with facility from the negroes. Virginia, recalling from among the histories which her mother had read to her those which had affected her most, represented the principal events in them with beautiful simplicity. Sometimes at the sound of Domingo’s tamtam she appeared upon the greensward, bearing a pitcher upon her head, and advanced with a timid step toward the source of a neighboring fountain to draw water. Domingo and Mary, who personated the Shepherds of Midian, forbade her to approach, and repulsed her sternly. Upon this Paul flew to her succor, beat away the shepherds, filled Virginia’s pitcher, and placing it upon her head, bound her brows at the same time with a wreath of the red flowers of the Madagascar periwinkle, which served to heighten the delicacy of her complexion. Then, joining their sports, I took upon me the part of Raguel, and bestowed upon Paul my daughter Zephora in marriage.  6
  Another time she represented Ruth, accompanying Naomi who returns poor and widowed to her own country, where she finds herself a stranger after her long absence. Domingo and Mary personated the reapers. Virginia followed their steps, pretending to glean here and there a few ears of corn. She was interrogated by Paul with the gravity of a patriarch, and answered with a faltering voice his questions. Soon, touched with compassion, he granted an asylum to innocence and hospitality to misfortune. He filled Virginia’s lap with all kinds of food; and leading her toward us as before the old men of the city, declared his purpose to take her in marriage. At this scene, Madame de la Tour, recalling her widowhood and the desolate situation in which she had been left by her relations, succeeded by the kind reception she had met with from Margaret, and now by the soothing hope of a happy union between their children, could not forbear weeping; and these mixed recollections of good and evil caused us all to join in her tears of sorrow and of joy.  7
  These dramas were performed with such an air of reality, that you might have fancied yourself transported to the plains of Syria or of Palestine. We were not unfurnished with either decorations, lights, or an orchestra, suitable to the representation. The scene was generally placed in an opening of the forest, where such parts of the wood as were penetrable formed around us numerous arcades of foliage, beneath which we were sheltered from the heat during the whole day; but when the sun descended toward the horizon, its rays, broken by the trunks of the trees, diverged among the shadows of the forest in strong lines of light, which produced the most sublime effect. Sometimes the whole of its broad disk appeared at the end of an avenue, spreading one dazzling mass of brightness. The foliage of the trees, illuminated from beneath by its saffron beams, glowed with the lustre of the topaz and the emerald. Their brown and mossy trunks appeared changed into columns of antique bronze; and the birds, which had retired in silence to their leafy shades to pass the night, surprised to see the radiance of a second morning, hailed the star of day with innumerable carols.  8
  Night soon overtook us during those rural entertainments; but the purity of the air, and the mildness of the climate, admitted of our sleeping in the woods secure from the injuries of the weather, and no less secure from the molestation of robbers. At our return the following day to our respective habitations, we found them exactly in the same state in which they had been left. In this island, which then had no commerce, there was so much simplicity and good faith that the doors of several houses were without a key, and a lock was an object of curiosity to many of the natives.  9
  There were, however, some days in the year celebrated by Paul and Virginia in a more peculiar manner; these were the birthdays of their mothers. Virginia never failed the day before to prepare some wheaten cakes, which she distributed among a few poor white families born on the island, who had never eaten European bread; and who, uncared for by the blacks, forced to live in the woods on tapioca roots, had not for the sustaining of their poverty either the stupidity which attends slavery or the courage which springs from education. These cakes were all the gifts that Virginia could offer to ease their condition; but she gave them in so delicate a manner that they were worth vastly more. In the first place Paul was commissioned to take the cakes himself to these families, and get their promise to come and spend the next day at Madame de la Tour’s and Margaret’s. They might then be seen coming: a mother of a family, perhaps, with two or three thin, yellow, miserable-looking daughters, so timid that they dared not lift their eyes from the ground. Virginia soon put them at their ease. She brought them refreshments, the excellence of which she endeavored to heighten by relating some particular circumstance which in her own estimation greatly improved them: this drink had been prepared by Margaret; this other by her mother; her brother had himself picked this fruit from the top of the tree. She would get Paul to dance with them, nor would she leave them till she saw that they were happy. She wished them to partake of the joy of her own family. “We are happy,” she would say, “only when we are seeking the happiness of others.” When they left, she would have them carry away some little thing that appeared to please them; enforcing their acceptance of it by some delicate pretext, that she might not appear to know that they were in want. If she remarked that their clothes were much tattered, she obtained her mother’s permission to give them some of her own, and then sent Paul to leave them secretly at their cottage doors. She followed thus the example of God, concealing the benefactor and revealing only the benefit.  10
  You Europeans, whose minds are imbued from infancy with prejudices at variance with happiness, cannot imagine all the instruction and pleasure which Nature has to give. Your soul, confined to a little round of human knowledge, soon reaches the limit of its artificial enjoyment; but Nature and the heart are inexhaustible.  11
  Paul and Virginia had neither clock nor almanac, nor books of chronology, history, or philosophy. The periods of their lives were regulated by those of nature. They knew the hours of the day by the shadows of the trees, the seasons by the times when those trees bore flowers or fruit, and the years by the number of their harvests. These soothing images diffused an inexpressible charm over their conversation. “It is time to dine,” Virginia would say to the family: “the shadows of the plantain-trees are at their roots;” or, “Night approaches: the tamarinds close their leaves.” “When will you come to see us?” some of her companions in the neighborhood would inquire. “At the time of the sugar-canes,” Virginia would answer. “Your visit will be then still more delightful,” her young acquaintances would reply. When she was asked what was her own age, and that of Paul, “My brother,” said she, “is as old as the great cocoa-tree of the fountain; and I am as old as the little cocoa-tree. The mangoes have borne fruit twelve times, and the orange-trees have flowered four-and-twenty times, since I came into the world.” Their lives seemed linked to the trees like those of fauns or dryads. They knew no other historic epochs than that of the lives of their mothers, no other chronology than that of their orchards, and no other philosophy than that of doing good and resigning themselves to the will of God.  12
  After all, what need had these young people of riches or learning after our sort? Even their necessities and their ignorance added to their happiness. No day passed in which they did not do one another some service or give some knowledge; and while there might be some errors in this last, yet man in a simple state has no dangerous ones to fear.  13
  Thus grew those children of Nature. No care had troubled their peace, no intemperance had corrupted their blood, no misplaced passion had depraved their hearts. Love, innocence, and piety were each day unfolding the beauty of their souls, disclosing matchless grace in their features, their attitudes, and their motions. Still in the morning of life, they had all its blooming freshness; and surely such in the garden of Eden appeared our first parents, when, coming from the hands of God, they first saw, approached, and conversed together, like brother and sister. Virginia was gentle, modest, and confiding as Eve; and Paul, like Adam, united the figure of manhood with the simplicity of a child.  14

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