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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSix To Sixteen: A Story For Girls - Chapter 8. A Family History
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Six To Sixteen: A Story For Girls - Chapter 8. A Family History Post by :kayak33 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :957

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Six To Sixteen: A Story For Girls - Chapter 8. A Family History

CHAPTER VIII. A FAMILY HISTORY

"We are not really connected," Mrs. Buller began. "She is Margery's great-grandmother, and Margery and I are second cousins. That's all. But I knew her long ago, before my poor cousin Alice married Captain Vandaleur. And I have heard the whole story over and over again."

I have heard the story more than once also. I listened with open mouth to Aunt Theresa at this time, and often afterwards questioned her about my "ancestors," as I may almost call them.

Years later I used to repeat these histories to girls I was with. When we were on good terms they were interested to hear, as I was proud to tell, and would say, "Tell us about your ancestors, Margery." And if we fell out there was no surer method of annoying me than to slight the memory of my great-great-grandparents.

I have told their story pretty often. I shall put it down here in my own way, for Aunt Theresa told a story rather disconnectedly.

The de Vandaleurs (we have dropped the _de now) were an old French family. There was a Duke in it who was killed in the Revolution of '92, and most of the family emigrated, and were very poor. The title was restored afterwards, and some of the property. It went to a cousin of the Duke who was murdered, he having no surviving children; but they say it went in the wrong line. The cousin who had remained in France, and always managed to keep the favour of the ruling powers, got the title, and remade his fortunes; the others remained in England, very poor and very proud. They would not have accepted any favours from the new royal family, but still they considered themselves deprived of their rights. One of these Vandaleur _emigres (the one who ought to have been the Duke) had married his cousin. They suffered great hardships in their escape, I fancy, and on the birth of their son, shortly after their arrival in England, the wife died.

There was an old woman, Aunt Theresa said, who used to be her nurse when she was a child, in London, who had lived, as a girl, in the wretched lodgings where these poor people were when they came over, and she used to tell her wonderful stories about them. How, in her delirium (she was insane for some little time before her son was born), Madame de Vandaleur fancied herself in her old home, "with all her finery about her," as Nurse Brown used to say.

Nurse Brown seems to have had very little sympathy with nervous diseases. She could understand a broken leg, or a fever, "when folks kept their beds"; but the disordered fancies of a brain tried just too far, the mad whims of a lady who could "go about," and who insisted upon going about, and changing her dress two or three times a day, and receiving imaginary visitors, and ordering her faithful nurse up and down under the names of half-a-dozen servants she no longer possessed, were beyond her comprehension.

Aunt Theresa said that she and her brothers and sisters had the deepest pity for the poor lady. They thought it so romantic that she should cry for fresh flowers and dress herself to meet the Queen in a dirty little lodging at the back of Leicester Square, and they were always begging to hear "what else she did." But Nurse Brown seems to have been fondest of relating the smart speeches in which she endeavoured to "put sense into" the devoted French servant who toiled to humour every whim of her unhappy mistress, instead of being "sharp with her," as Nurse Brown advised. Aunt Theresa had some doubts whether Mrs. Brown ever did make the speeches she reported; but when people say they said this or that, they often only mean that this or that is what they wish they had said.

"If she's mad, I says, shave her head, instead of dressing her hair all day long. I've knowed mad people as foamed at the mouth and rolled their eyes, and would have done themselves a injury but for a strait-jacket; and I've knowed folks in fevers unreasonable enough, but they kept their beds in a dark room, and didn't know their own mothers. Madame's ways is beyond me, I says. _You calls it madness: _I calls it temper. Tem--per, and no--thing else."

Aunt Theresa used to make us laugh by repeating Nurse Brown's sayings, and the little shake of herself with which she emphasized the last sentence.

If she had no sympathy for Madame de Vandaleur, she had a double share for the poor lady's husband: "a _good soul," as she used to call him. It was in vain that Jeanette spoke of the sweet temper and unselfishness of her mistress "before these terrible days"; her conduct towards her husband then was "enough for" Nurse Brown, so she said. No sooner had the poor gentleman gone off on some errand for her pleasure than she called for him to be with her, and was only to be pacified by a fable of Jeanette's devising, who always said that "the King" had summoned Monsieur de Vandaleur. Jeanette was well aware that, the childless old Duke being dead, her master had succeeded to the title, and she often spoke of him as Monsieur le Duc to his wife, which seems to have pleased the poor lady. When he was absent, Jeanette's ready excuse, "_Eh, Madame! Pour Monsieur le Duc--le Roi l'a fait appeller_," was enough, and she waited patiently for his return.

Ever-changing as her whims and fancies were, the poor gentleman sacrificed everything to gratify them. His watch, his rings, his buckles, the lace from his shirt, and all the few trifles secured in their hasty flight, were sold one by one. His face was familiar to the keepers of certain stalls near to where Covent Garden Market now stands. He bought flowers for Madame when he could not afford himself food. He sold his waistcoat, and buttoned his coat across him--and looked thinner than ever.

Then the day came when Madame wished, and he could not gratify her wish. Everything was gone. He said, "This will kill me, Jeanette;" and Jeanette believed him.

Nurse Brown (according to her own account) assured Jeanette that it would not. "Folk doesn't die of such things, says I."

But, in spite of common-sense and experience, Monsieur de Vandaleur did die of grief, or something very like it, within twenty-four hours of the death of his wife, and the birth of their only son.

For some years the faithful Jeanette supported this child by her own industry. She was an exquisite laundress, and she throve where the Duke and Duchess would have starved. As the boy grew up she kept him as far as possible from common companions, treated him with as much deference as if he had succeeded to the family honours, and filled his head with traditions of the deserts and dignity of the de Vandaleurs.

At last a cousin of Monsieur de Vandaleur found them out. He also was an exile, but he had prospered better, had got a small civil appointment, and had married a Scotch lady. It was after he had come to the help of his young kinsman, I think, that an old French lady took a fancy to the boy, and sent him to school in France at her own expense. He was just nineteen when she died, and left him what little money she possessed. He then returned to England, and paid his respects to his cousin and the Scotch Mrs. Vandaleur.

She congratulated herself, I have heard, that her only child, a daughter, was from home when this visit was paid.

Mrs. Janet Vandaleur was a high-minded, hard-headed, north-country woman. She valued long descent, and noble blood, and loyalty to a fallen dynasty like a Scotchwoman, but, like a Scotchwoman, she also respected capability and energy and endurance. She combined a romantic heart with a practical head in a way peculiar to her nation. She knew the pedigree of every family (who had a pedigree) north of the Tweed, and was, probably, the best housekeeper in Great Britain. She devoutly believed her own husband to be as perfect as mortal man may be here below, whilst in some separate compartment of her brain she had the keenest sense of the defects and weaknesses which he inherited, and dreaded nothing more than to see her daughter mated with one of the helpless Vandaleurs.

This daughter, with much of her mother's strong will and practical capacity, had got her father's _physique and a good deal of his artistic temperament. Dreading the development of _de Vandaleur qualities in her, the mother made her education studiously practical and orderly. She had, like most Scotch matrons of her type, too good a gift for telling family stories, and too high a respect for ancestral traditions, to have quite kept herself from amusing her daughter's childhood with tales of the de Vandaleur greatness. But after her husband discovered his young relative, and as their daughter grew up, she purposely avoided the subject, which had, probably, the sole effect of increasing her daughter's interest in the family romance. Mrs. Janet knew the de Vandaleur pedigree as well as her own, and had shown a miniature of the late Duke in his youth to her daughter as a child on many occasions; when she had also alluded to the fact that the title by birth was undoubtedly in the exiled branch of the family. Miss Vandaleur was not ignorant that the young gentleman who had just completed his education was, if every one had their rights, Monsieur le Duc; and she was as much disappointed to have missed seeing him as her mother was glad that they had not met.

For Bertrand de Vandaleur had all the virtues and the weaknesses of his family in intense proportions. He had a hopeless ignorance of the value of money, which was his strongest condemnation before his Scotch cousin. He was high-minded, chivalrous, in some points accomplished, charming, and tender-hearted. But he was weak of will, merely passive in endurance, and quite without energy. He had a graceful, fanciful, but almost weak intellect. I mean, it just bordered on mental deficiency; and at times his dreamy eyes took a wildness that was said to make him painfully like his mother in her last days. He was an absurd but gracefully romantic idea of his family consequence. He was very handsome, and very like the miniature of the late Duke. It was most desirable that his cousin should not meet him, especially as she was of the sentimental age of seventeen. So Mrs. Janet Vandaleur hastened their return from London to their small property in Scotland.

But there was no law to hinder Monsieur de Vandaleur from making a Scotch tour.

One summer's afternoon, when she had just finished the making of some preserves, Miss Vandaleur strolled down through a little wood behind the house towards a favourite beck that ran in a gorge below. She was singing an old French song in praise of the beauty of a fair lady of the de Vandaleurs of olden time. As she finished the first verse, a voice from a short distance took up the refrain--

"Victoire de Vandaleur! Victoire! Victoire!"

It was her own name as well as that of her ancestress, and she blushed as her eyes met those of a strange young gentleman, with a sketch-book in his hand, and a French poodle at his heels.

"Place aux dames!" said the stranger. On which the white poodle sat up, and his master bowed till his head nearly touched the ground.

They had met once as children, which was introduction enough in the circumstances. Here, at last, for Victoire, was the embodiment of all her dreams of the de Vandaleur race. He was personally so like the miniature, that he might have been the old Duke. He was the young one, as even her mother allowed. For him, he found a companion whose birth did not jar on his aristocratic prejudices, and whose strong character was bone and marrow to his weak one. Before they reached the house Mrs. Janet's precautions were vain.

She grew fond of the lad in spite of herself. The romantic side of her sympathized with his history. He was an orphan, and she had a mother's heart. In the direct line he was a Duke, and she was a Scotchwoman. He freely consented to settle every penny he had upon his wife, and, as his mother-in-law justly remarked, "Many a cannier man wouldn't just have done that."

In fine, the young people were married with not more than the usual difficulties beforehand.

He was nineteen, and she was seventeen. They were my great-grandfather and great-grandmother.

They had only one child--a son. They were very poor, and yet they gave him a good education. I ought to say, _she gave him, for everything that needed effort or energy was done by my great-grandmother. The more it became evident that her Bertrand de Vandaleur was less helpful and practical than any Bertrand de Vandaleur before him, the more there seems to have developed in her the purpose and capability inherited from Mrs. Janet. Like many another poor and ambitious mother, she studied Latin and Greek and algebra that she might teach her son. And at the same time she saved, even out of their small income. She began to "put by" from the boy's birth for his education, and when the time came he was sent to school.

My grandfather did well. I have heard that he inherited his father's beauty, and was not without his mother's sense and energy. He had the de Vandaleur quality of pleasing, with the weakness of being utterly ruled by the woman he loved. At twenty he married an heiress. His parents had themselves married too early to have reasonable ground for complaint at this; but when he left his own Church for that of his wife, there came a terrible breach between them and their only son. His mother soon forgave him; but the father was as immovable in his displeasure as weak people can sometimes be. Happily, however, after the birth of a grandson peace was made, and the young husband brought his wife to visit his parents. The heiress had some property in the West Indies, which they proposed to visit, and they remained with the old people till just before they sailed. It was as a keepsake at parting that my grandfather had restored to his mother the watch which she gave to me. The child was left in England with his mother's relations.

My grandfather and grandmother never returned. They were among the countless victims of the most cruel of all seas. The vessel they went out in was lost during a week of storms. On what day or night, and in what part of the Atlantic, no one survived to tell.

Their orphan child was my dear father.

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