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THE MYRTLE. ABOUT fifty-three years ago, in that part of Paris called Notre Dame de Lorette, there were only to be seen a few marshy fields and kitchen gardens, useful to the poor people who inhabited the humble cottages in that locality, for the produce of strawberries, melons, and vegetables. Their life was one of poverty, hard work, and devoid of all comfort. Who could believe, on beholding the splendid edifices, the sepultures, and magnificence of this quarter, which have risen as by enchantment, that so much misery formerly prevailed on this spot?
The widow of a republican soldier named Barrois possessed one of these gardens or marshes. By dint of hard labour and rigid economy she had managed to earn enough to support herself and her child"; and so good, so honest, and so civil was the poor widow, that she had conciliated the interests of her customers, and always found a quick sale for her wares, so that she lived without owing anything, and without asking charity of anybody.
Her son, having attained the age of eighteen, longed to join the army. His mother's widowhood absolved him from this otherwise imperative duty, but the blood of the soldier flowed in his veins, and the accounts of the victories of the great army made his young heart bound with a thirst for glory. One day he said to his mother
N. S. VOL. XXX.
“ I am now eighteen-I am a man-and I am determined that we shall not remain poor all our life, dear mother; I will become a soldier like my father, and seek on the battle-field the means of providing for your old age.”
“No, dear child, you are all I have in the world to comfort me, and I would rather be poor for the rest of my life, and have you near me. What would become of me, if you were to leave me alone here?”
“But think, mother; you will soon be deprived of our small garden; as others have already; and as I know nothing but a little gardening, what would become of us ? Far from being of use to you, I should be only an expense, while substitutes are well paid. I shall offer myself as one, and with the money I shall get, and the sale of our piece of land, you will be able to live comfortably during my absence. If any remains when I return, added to what I shall earn in the mean time, we may both be rich and happy for the rest of our lives.”
“ But, unhappy boy," objected the mother, weeping, “if you should never return ?"
“Oh, but that's impossible, because only cowards get killed, or those who forget that they have a good, dear mother."
It was in 1811; at this time a substitute fetched at least from four to five hundred pounds. The widow's son was a very fine young man, so he received for his services the above sum, which he proudly counted into his mother's apron ; then, with the knapsack on his back, he bid farewell to his sorrowing parent, and folding her in his arms, said, with tears in his eyes,
Adieu, dearest mother! we shall soon meet again. Be happy, and think sometimes of me; above all, fear not ; I shall not expose myself to too much danger for your sake ; and if you do not hear from me, remember that it is because my regiment will be very far off. Take good care of yourself; you have money, do not spare it.”.
“ That money,” said the poor mother, sobbing, “you will find it untouched at your return. I would rather die of hunger than spend one farthing of that which is the price of my child !”
He departed, and the following year he shared the fate of the hundred thousand brave hearts buried beneath the snows of Russia.
In losing her son, the poor widow had lost her all. Having sold her small garden, she went to live in a small garret, near the Jardin des Plantes. The vicinity of a garden was necessary to a woman like her, who had always been in the habit of living amid vegetation, and now her only happiness consisted in coming every day to sit under the shade of the trees near the flower-beds. She loved to see the gardeners at work, to watch them sowing the seeds, and trimming the plants. They sometimes chatted with her, and often reminded her of her lost son, which remembrance always brought sad tears into her eyes.
In losing her son, the poor widow imagined she had lost all hope of affection. Heaven, however, willed it otherwise.
On the same floor she inhabited lived a young girl named Marguerite. She was laborious at her needle, and as busy as a bee ; simple-hearted, gay, and frolicsome as the goldfinch she had tamed, and which was her only companion. She seemed to have assimilated her existence to that of the bird; for both rose before daybreak, sung together till night, and together partook of their repasts, at which the goldfinch often ate nearly as much as the frugal young girl.
Such near neighbours could not fail to become soon acquainted. The goodness of the one, and the sweet and lively disposition of the other, soon formed the first links of their intimacy, and the kind widow soon became a second mother to Marguerite, who returned this affection with the fondness and care of a daughter. If the poor widow, now old and feeble, found the five stories too much for her to ascend with her little marketing,-if she required a little nourishing broth made, or a friendly arm to lean on in her daily walk to the garden,-Marguerite was always ready, always on the watch ; silencing her own song and that of her favourite when the poor invalid wished to sleep; and frequently sacrificing her hours of work to the pleasure of leading the poor widow out, to be revived by the genial sun in May or September.
The invalid had been confined to her bed for some days, when, thanks to the care and attention of her kind little neighbour, the good widow recovered so far as to be enabled to resume her daily walks ; and they once more wandered along slowly in the sun, when the old woman thus apostrophised the young girl :
Marguerite, my child, since you are an orphan, and have chosen to accept me as a second mother, I must now assume a mother's privilege, and begin by scolding you."
“And for what, good mother ?” said the young girl, much astonished.
“Can you not guess what I mean?” said the widow. “Not in the least," said Marguerite.
“ Think well, my child; when one has a fault, let it be ever so little, on one's conscience, remorse always brings it to one's memory."
“Oh, tell me quickly what it is ! I should so regret causing you the least uneasiness; it must have been quite involuntary, I assure you ; oh, let me, then, hasten to repair it.”
“The other night, when I was in bed, thinking that I slept, you went into your own room.'
“Yes, mother; but both doors were open, and I still watched you."
“ Did not some one come to see you that night ? did not Henri return?”
At this question Marguerite blushed; she remembered that Henri had come in spite of the widow's advice to the contrary; and she added in some confusion:
“ It is true; and I meant to speak to you about it; I will now tell you all, dear mother; and if you think me no longer worthy of your esteem, you will see that you have been much mistaken."