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.
From ‘Simon’
By George Sand (1804–1876)
          [The Count de Fougères had emigrated before the Revolution. During his exile he had been a merchant in Istria, had married an Italian, and when he returned brought a daughter, Fiamma, with him. She having republican blood in her veins,—the blood of those brave bandits who had held out against Austria to the death,—does not want to have the old aristocratic privileges revived in her favor. The novel closes by her marrying Simon,—a young lawyer, the son of peasants,—who typifies all the sufferings of the Intelligent and generous déclassé of society.]

MEANWHILE the Count de Fougères came to take possession of his new home. The villagers were too anxious to make him pay a sort of “earnest money,” to spare him the infliction of new merry-makings and new honors. When he saw there was no escape, he yielded gracefully and presented his “dear vassals” with a barrel of wine, at the same time wishing with all his heart that their warm affection towards him might cool a little. But that was not the way to do it. He was welcomed, extolled, complimented, awakened at dawn to the sound of bagpipes a second time, and re-bombarded with fire-crackers. He took it in good part, shook hands an incredible number of times, raised his hat even to the village dogs, composed an infinite quantity of variations on the invariable words of his gracious replies, endured the interminable and fatiguing conversations with evangelic patience; and having made himself as popular a sovereign as possible, went to bed worn out with fatigue, infected by proletarian miasmas, while his administrative brain calculated by how much he could raise this one’s rent and lower that one’s wages, on account of all these loans of paternal affability. Mademoiselle de Fougères displayed a disposition which was pronounced haughty and impertinent, by shutting herself up in her room during all these sentimental pasquinades. She remained invisible, and her father could not make her retiring sincerity bend to the politic considerations due to his position; she had a mute and respectful way of opposing him that broke him like a straw—him, so mean in thought, feeling, and language. He felt that he could rule that iron soul by conviction alone, and that the power to convince was precisely what he lacked. Feeling that it would be a hopeless task to punish his daughter, he was obliged to allow her to hide or be silent.  1
  A few days after these extraordinary festivals, the village patron saint’s day was to be celebrated. Monsieur de Fougères had gone to a cattle fair in Bourbonnais the previous day; for no sooner had he been made lord of the manor than he became a dealer again. Among all the persons who had testified their zeal, one thought he had not sufficiently bent the knee before his name and title. This was the village priest; a young man with neither judgment nor true piety, but who, having read some old ecclesiastical documents, wanted to resuscitate a singular custom at the earliest opportunity. On the patron saint’s day the sexton was sent to Mademoiselle de Fougères, requesting her not to fail to be present at the blessing of the Holy Sacrament. This message surprised the young Italian very much. She thought it strange for a priest to arrogate to himself the right to point out her duty in such a manner. Nevertheless, she did not think she could be excused from performing what her education rendered sacred. Still, fearing some such snare as she had hitherto been able to avoid, she did not go into the raised pew reserved for the ancient lords of Fougères,—a pew placed in full sight to the right of the choir, and now furnished with a rug and several arm-chairs at the priest’s own expense. Fiamma waited until vespers had begun; then slipped into church in the plainest garments, and mingled with the crowd of women who in that part of the country kneel on the church pavement. She hated the flattery paid to any special class; but thought that before God she could not bow down with too much humility.  2
  It was vain for her to hope to escape the village priest’s scrutinizing glance, or the sexton’s, who had been told to find her. The church was very small; and besides, the custom of the country separates the women from the men, and gathers the former in one of the naves. Between the ‘Magnificat’ and the ‘Pange Lingua,’ in the interval used by the officiating priest for putting on his pontifical vestments, the sexton passed through the feminine crowd, and in the priest’s name came to beg Mademoiselle de Fougères to take a place more suited to her rank. When she refused to go to the pew, the obstinate assistant had an arm-chair and a hassock placed near the railing separating the two sexes at the entrance to the choir, just as he would have done for his bishop. He thought that Mademoiselle de Fougères would not be able to resist this flattering invitation, and concluded to go back to the altar.  3
  In the mean time the rows of women separating Mademoiselle de Fougères from the insolent arm-chair had opened, and every eye seemed to be requesting her to condescend to take possession of it. Jeanne Féline alone, whose fervent prayer was somewhat disturbed, and whose honest and incorruptible good-sense was no less shocked, by what was going on, lowered her prayer-book, raised her hood, and fixed on Mademoiselle de Fougères a look in which the pride of virtue and the fire of youth shone amidst all the ravages of age and sorrow. Fiamma saw her, and recognized Simon’s mother by a distant likeness of features and a striking similarity of expression. She had heard this woman’s merit praised, and had wished for an opportunity to make her acquaintance. She therefore bore the look quietly, and by her own expressed that she was ready to enter into communication with her.  4
  Madame Féline, as bold and ingenuous as truth itself, addressed her at once, and whispered:—  5
  “Well, mademoiselle, what does your conscience bid you do?”  6
  “My conscience,” replied Fiamma unhesitatingly, “bids me stay here and offer you the arm-chair as a mark of respect due you.”  7
  Jeanne Féline was so far from expecting this answer that she was dumbfounded.  8
  Mademoiselle de Fougères was not, like her father, a person who could be accused of courting popularity. She was said to have the opposite failing, and Jeanne could not understand why she had remained in the general crowd from the beginning of the ceremony. At length her face softened; and resisting Fiamma, who wanted to lead her to the arm-chair, she said:—  9
  “No, not I: it would ill become me to take a place of honor before God, who sees the depths of all hearts and our weakness. But look! there is the oldest woman in the village,—one who has known four generations; she usually has a chair, but is kneeling on the ground to-day. They forgot her on your account.”  10
  Mademoiselle de Fougères followed the direction of Jeanne’s gesture, and saw a centenarian, for whom some young girls had made a sort of cushion with their fustian cloaks. She went towards her, and with Madame Féline’s assistance, helped her to rise and sit down in the arm-chair. The old woman did not resist, not understanding what was taking place, and thanked them by nodding her trembling head.  11
  Mademoiselle de Fougères knelt on the pavement close to Jeanne, so as to be entirely hidden by the back of the great arm-chair; in which the ancient dame, who performed her religious duties by mere force of habit, owing to her age soon fell quietly asleep.  12
  The priest, however, knowing that downcast eyes harmonize with the fervor of an officiator, could just see a woman with a white head-covering in the arm-chair. He fancied that his negotiations had been successful, and began to officiate calmly; but when the time came for the explosion of his great project,—when he had descended the three steps of the altar and knelt to burn incense before the Holy Sacrament, crossed the choir and walked towards the arm-chair to render the same honor to Mademoisellede Fougères according to ancient feudal custom,—he noticed his mistake, and his arm remained suspended between heaven and earth; while all the congregation of the faithful, eyes and mouths wide open, were wondering why these unusual honors were being paid to Mother Mathurin.  13
  The young priest did not lose his composure: but seeing that Mademoiselle de Fougères had carried her point, with a little obstinacy and malice showed her that she was not to have it all her own way; for turning briskly to the other side, he swung the censers towards the seignorial pew, thus giving the empty place the honors due more to the title than to its bearers. The whole village was amazed; and it took more than six months to make the commentators, who were worn out by inquiries and discussions, adopt the true version of the event. The relatives of the centenarian did not fail to say that she had been blessed in virtue of an ancient custom giving this preference to persons a hundred years old; and that the priest had found it in the archives of the commune. As for the old woman, being nearly blind and more than half asleep when she was thus honored, as her ear was fortunate enough to be forever closed to all human speech and all worldly noise, she died without ever knowing that she had had incense burned before her.  14

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