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TRAITS OF CHARACTER.
Judge not, that ye be not judged; for, with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. MATT. vii. 1, 2.
THERE was one English girl, lately arrived in the school, whose manners, from the first, made her the object of general dislike. She had resided in France from her earliest childhood, and had naturally imbibed much of the French character; so much so, indeed, that she frequently expressed the utmost contempt for the English, and would scarcely acknowledge herself a native of England. This conduct, as may be supposed, prejudiced all the English against her; but, to Emily's surprise, it seemed to procure her but little favor, even among the French girls. Their national feeling of patriotism led them to despise a person, who spoke thus slightingly of her native country; and, as Miss Leslie had not embraced the Popish religion, there was no sympathy existing on that subject, to counterbalance the impression produced by her unpopular expressions. Thus, she was disliked by one party, and avoided by the other, and soon found herself an isolated being, acknowledged as belonging to neither.
A few there were, indeed, among the English, who pitied the poor girl, and were convinced that her eccentricities arose entirely from a defective education. Emily and one or two others resolved, from the first, to be kind to her; and they were soon repaid by her grateful affection, and a visible improvement in her mind and manners. Maria Leslie was a girl of considerable abilities, and very warm feelings; but she had been spoiled by a French education, and the mismanagement of a mother who did not understand her character. There was an originality about her, which led her into a thousand errors, and made her commit a thousand absurdities; but her mind only required direction, and might easily have been guided into such paths as would, under the Divine blessing, have made her both a shining and a useful character. But, alas! she was left to wander in wild disorder, like a star that has lost its orbit.
She was considerably mortified, by the contempt she experienced from every one around her; and, when Emily explained the cause of it, and reasoned with her on the foolishness and impropriety of her conduct, she professed herself convinced, and expressed her resolution to adopt a more rational line of proceeding. This promise she fulfilled, as far as her habitual eccentricities would allow her; but the mischief was done, and could not
easily be repaired, even by her partial reformation. She could never hope to be a favorite with any one; and the prejudice she had herself excited continually displayed itself, in the conduct pursued towards her, as well by the teachers as the pupils. Her actions were always construed with more severity than those of any other, and her faults generally visited with heavier punishment. This, indeed, was chiefly owing to the extremely unfavorable character given of her to Madame d'Elfort by her mother, who, being unable to manage her, had sent her to school, with a request that she might be watched with monastic strictness, and treated with unbending severity. Emily felt that this exposure of her faults reflected more disgrace on the mother, than it did on the daughter; but she was almost the only one who had the candor to perceive that poor Maria's defects were really not such as could at all justify the account given of her.
Such, indeed, was the impression produced to her disadvantage, in the minds of the heads of the establishment, that Madame d'Elfort told Emily, the first Sunday after her arrival, that she felt some hesitation in sending her to chapel with the others.
"Do me the favor, my dear young friend," added that lady, "to cast an observing look at her now and then, during the services of your church, and to tell me candidly, when you return, how she has behaved. I can trust implicitly to your piety and good sense for an opinion; and if this unhappy girl is guilty of any indecorous behavior, I shall not suffer her to attend again."
Emily felt the task thus laid upon her an unpleasant one, and could not altogether repress a certain degree of apprehension, with regard to the conduct of girl entrusted to her care under such unfavorable auspices. Her attention was, during the service, so fearfully bent on Miss Leslie, that she found it impossible to listen to either the prayers or the sermon with anything like devotion; but she was agreeably reassured by the quiet and unoffending demeanor of the poor girl. When several Sundays had passed in this manner, and she was still enabled to give a favorable account of her conduct to Madame d'Elfort, she ventured to express her conviction, that Mrs. Leslie had greatly exaggerated her daughter's faults; but the governess shook her head, and Emily saw that it was impossible, at least for the present, to lessen the prejudice that existed against her protégée, as Miss Leslie was frequently called in the school.
Perhaps a better description cannot be given, either of her character, or of the extreme severity with which her actions were judged, than by relating the following little incidents.
Maria had been deficient in her lessons one Saturday afternoon, and the penalty of her disobedience was a prohibition against her attending public worship the next day. The English girls were astonished and alarmed at this punishment, for it was one which
had never yet been inflicted on any pupil. Emily attempted to remonstrate with Madame d'Elfort; but she was inflexible, and alleged, as her reason, that she was convinced this privation would be a greater mortification to Miss Leslie, than any other she could condemn her to. Emily was, therefore, obliged to give up the point; and poor Maria had a long task, of several pages in her French grammar, given her first to copy three times over, and then to commit to memory, before the French girls and teachers returned from Mass.
The Protestants departed, and their conversation, during the walk, naturally turned on the new mode of punishment adopted by Madame d'Elfort.
"It is very shameful," said Anna Lushington, with more indignation than seemed consistent with her easy, indolent, and goodnatured character. "But I am sure it is not of her own invention; I feel almost certain that it came first from Mademoiselle Mornay's suggestion."
"What makes you think so?" inquired Emily.
"Madame d'Elfort's general character and conduct," replied Anna. "She is too dévote herself, and attaches too much importance to the performance of every religious duty, to wish to throw any impediment in the way of our doing the same. But does not that disagreeable Mornay always do everything she can to interfere with our religion?"
"That is true," said Emily, "but even Madame d'Elfort, kind and comparatively liberal as she is, cannot have many scruples on the subject; for, as she believes us to be under the influence of the most dangerous heresy, her conscience is more likely to approve than condemn any hindrance, which does not amount to a positive breach of her promised non-interference."
"Oh! yes," observed Lydia, "and that, I suppose, is the reason why we are always prevented from going to church whenever a cloud in the sky, a little wind, or any other pretext, can be found for detaining us at school. This is not the system she pursues for herself, nor would she suffer the French to stay away from their church for such trifling causes; for I heard her once tell you, Emily, that she would take them to mass even if it were raining stones from heaven."
"It is a matter of conscience with Madame d'Elfort," observed Caroline; "for her religion teaches her that it is a deadly sin to absent one's self from public worship, for any other cause than illness, or some very serious obstacle."
"They are very conscientious in the discharge of religious duties," remarked Eliza Kaimes, an interesting girl of thirteen; "I saw Madame d'Elfort, last winter, take the French girls to mass, at six o'clock, on a dreadfully inclement morning, when the snow was lying thick and deep on the ground. It was piercingly cold,
and so dark that they were obliged to carry small tapers in their hands to light them to the cathedral; and it struck me then that it would be well if we were all as zealous in the exercise of our religion as they are in theirs."
"You are right, my love," rejoined Emily, "they never once neglected the morning mass, whatever might be the inclemency of the weather; and their conduct in this, as well as in many other particulars, certainly holds out a most impressive lesson to us, who are blessed with the knowledge of a purer faith, and the possession of very superior advantages."
They were now arrived at the small English chapel, and the conversation ceased. On their return, they did not see Miss Leslie; but, on Emily's retiring to her room, one of the servants put into her hands the following note from that young lady :
MY DEAR MISS MORTIMER,
I certainly fear that I am becoming a lunatic, and my folly involves me in numerous difficulties. I was this morning spending my time very quietly in your room, reading a sermon, and the church service. I went down to dinner, and was afterwards sent to finish copying my grammar, in the school-room; but, before I began, I went to carry my Prayer Book and Bible from your room into the small school-room, where the afternoon prayers are generally read. I had to pass through Miss Graham's chamber, and I observed a large blue-covered book, which excited my curiosity, and I carried it into the classe, to examine its title. Mademoiselle St. André came in, and immediately conveyed it to Madame d'Elfort; and now I am locked up for the rest of the day, because they say I had no right to touch the book, and that perhaps I intended to steal it, though I am sure I never had any such design. I do think the devil is constantly at my elbow, to lead me to do evil; but I wish he could have the goodness to let me alone. I am fully convinced how very wrong I am, but I may say an irresistible fate lures me to my destruction. Oh! my dear Miss Mortimer, when shall I adhere firmly to my resolutions, and become pious, virtuous, amiable, and accomplished? I fear never! for how often do I form good resolutions, and the next day they are vanished. I certainly am chaff,-only fit to be burned. Adieu, my dear Miss Mortimer; be assured of the gratitude of your affectionate MARIA LESLIE.
P. S. By my own fault, I have most probably incurred the displeasure and dislike of Miss Graham. How bitter to think I have deserved it all! Will you tell her I am sensible of this, and that I solicit her forgiveness?
Emily was grieved on reading this strange, wild epistle, to find that the thoughtless writer had involved herself in fresh disgrace
with Madame d'Elfort; though she could see nothing very criminal in the fault of which she had been guilty. It was evident that an insurmountable prejudice existed against her; and, as it would have been useless to attempt any mitigation of her sentence, poor Miss Leslie remained in close confinement the whole of the day.
The next Sunday, soon after their return from chapel, several of the English girls ran up to Emily, to entreat her intercession in favor of the same unfortunate young lady.
"She has fallen into greater disgrace than even last Sunday," said Lydia." She and one of the English day-scholars had, somehow, got possession of one of those little pictures which the French call images, and which are given to the younger children, as rewards for learning the popish catechism. It represented Saint Thérèsa, with a cross in her hand, a glory round her head, and a number of angels clustering around her. The two girls amused themselves with laughing at it, and the day-scholar suggested that they should write something on the back of it. Maria Leslie, who is ever ready to do anything foolish, instantly caught at the idea, and wrote, St. Thérèsa, you are as much a saint as I am.' And to this she had the madness to sign her name, and then left it somewhere in the school-room. Mademoiselle St. André has just found it, and you may imagine what a rage she is in. She has sent the culprit to her room, and declares, in spite of all our entreaties, that she will put the picture into Madame d'Elfort's hands, the moment she returns from church. You may guess that the result will be some dreadful punishment; but it is not so much for her we care, for she deserves it, and her thoughtlessness is enough to put any one out of patience; but we know that the mischief will not stop there. It will create a prejudice, in Madame d'Elfort's mind, against us all; and we shall be exposed to more taunts and vexations than ever from the Roman Catholics. Do, Emily, go down and try to soften Mademoiselle St. André, or Miss Leslie's offence will be visited upon us all, by the loss of some of our privileges."
"Maria has, indeed, acted wrong," replied Emily, "for she had no right to cast insult on the religion of those with whom she resides, and if we wish the Romanists not to interfere with our faith, we must remember that it is our duty to show the same forbearance towards theirs. I am very loth to ask any favor of Mademoiselle St. André, for I know she dislikes me; but I will endeavor to forget self, and see if I can persuade her not to mention the circumstance to Madame d'Elfort"
She was, however, completely unsuccessful in this attempt; the teacher was, perhaps, not sorry to have an opportunity of mortifying her; and she declared that her conscience would not allow of her passing over so great an insult in silence. The ut