A Convent School of the Last Century

DURING the greater part of the eighteenth century, two famous convents disputed the palm of popularity in Paris as places of education for the daughters of the highest nobility. These were the Abbaye de Penthemont, and the Abbaye aux Bois in the Rue de Séve, known since the Revolution as the Rue de Sévre. St. Cyr, founded by Madame de Maintenon to furnish gratuitous instruction to girls of poor but noble families, was already out of favor, and contained but a pitiful sprinkling of scholars, while the two fashionable convents were crowded to excess.

It was in the month of December, 1771, that a little pupil entered the Abbaye aux Bois, who, happily for us, had a turn for keeping a diary. Her copybooks are still extant, — a pile of small volumes bound in faded black leather and levant morocco, written in ink which has grown pale with time, and with saucy, childish caricatures adorning the margins of their pages. The earlier records are in a large, almost illegible round hand, which in the later ones changes to precision and elegance. The childish entries, almost infantile in their simplicity, relating to cats and punishments and goodies, and the scrapes into which temper and greediness led the little narrator, give place in their turn to description and analyses of a very mature sort for so young an observer. These droll little cahiers afford a glimpse of the educational ideas of the time and of the interior life of a great convent, such as no other record has given us or could give. It is an epoch in civilization depicted by a child. Only a child could be so audaciously frank, only a child of remarkable parts so discriminating and analytical.

This small journalist was the Princesse Hélène Massalski, of a renowned Lithuanian family. Her uncle and guardian, the Prince-Bishop of Wilna, having embroiled himself with the Russian authorities during the Polish outbreak in 1768-1770, found it convenient to leave hastily for Paris, taking his niece with him. She was just eight years old when she entered as a pupil of the Abbaye aux Bois.

The inmates of the convent at that time included sixty-three professed nuns, one hundred and four lay sisters, one hundred and seventy-eight pensionnaires, eight novices, and four spiritual directors. For the accommodation of this large family an immense establishment was kept up, with innumerable schoolrooms, chapels, refectories, dormitories, an infirmary (often required), a pharmacy, a library occupying three enormous rooms, gardens, cloisters, guestchambers, a theatre, — everything on a profuse scale. The abbess’s appartement alone consisted of eleven rooms, besides quarters for her attendants. The professed sisters were all of high rank, and among their pupils the noblest families of France were represented.

“ It was on a Thursday that I entered the abbaye,” writes the small eight-year-old Hélène. “Madame Geoffrin, the friend of my uncle, took me in, and led me to the parlor of Madame l’Abbesse, which was very pretty, all in white and gold. There Madame de Rochehouart met us, and La Mère Quatre Temps, who was head teacher of the younger class, in which I was to be placed. They were so good as to say that I was tall for my age and a pretty child, and that my hair was beautiful; but I uttered not a word in reply, because I had forgotten all my French during the long journey I had lately taken. I understood very well what was said to me, however. After Madame Geoffrin went away they took me to another room, and the abbess, who was dressed in blue and white damask, put on my convent dress. When I saw that it was black, I began to weep so bitterly that they made haste to pacify me with blue ribbons and a quantity of sweetmeats, assuring me that in the abbaye they had nice things, like that every day.

“ Unfortunately, I heard them say, as they petted me, ‘ Poor little thing, she speaks no French. Make her talk Polish a little, that we may hear what sort of a language it is. Oh, how droll to be a Pole ! ’ Then I knew that they were laughing at me, and I would not say a word. Mademoiselle de Montmorenci ” (one of the older scholars) “ took me on her knees, and asked if I wished her to be my 'little mamma.’ I made a sign that I did, but I would not speak.”

The blue ribbons with which Hélène was consoled were the badge of the Classe Bleu, or youngest scholars : its members were from seven to ten years of age. Next in order came the Classe Blanche, which included those girls who were preparing for confirmation and their first communion ; and lastly the Classe Rouge, or big girls, between whom and the little Blues a perpetual warfare existed.

The education given at the Abbaye aux Bois was distinctly different from that provided for the daughters of bourgeois families. Its aim was to fit the recipients for the rôle of grandes dames, to shine in the fashionable world. With this view, great stress was laid upon accomplishments. Music, dancing, and acting were taught with especial care. The first dancers at the opera directed the ballets which from time to time were given in the theatre of the convent. The older pupils were allowed occasionally to appear in society, and even to take part in plays enacted in the great salons of Paris, before Large audiences. In contrast to these accomplishments and to the more ornamental studies of the younger classes, the Classe Rouge was subjected to a most practical training. Its members were taught cooking, sweeping, book-keeping, the care of linen and stores, the compounding of medicines. This was to fit them to rule properly over great establishments and direct large expenditures with a discreet economy ; the music and dancing to qualify them to adorn society.

On her first arrival, the little Pole was placed in a dormitory occupied by larger girls. These “ young ladies,” as she considered them, were in the habit of supping on contraband dainties after they were locked in for the night. Hélène, who had suffered in health, — from the air of Paris, as she says, but, as we should suspect, from the defective drainage of the convent, — was ordered one night to take a powder; but the sister in charge forgot, and left the dormitory without having administered it. The big girls produced a pâté, and fell to work to devour it. Hélène demanded a piece, threatening to tell of them unless they gave it her. She had just begun upon the portion thus extorted when a rattle was heard at the lock. Sister Sainte Bathilde had recollected the powder. Every girl was fast asleep in a minute, and Hélène was forced to swallow her dose, sandwiched between two mouthfuls of pâté. The sister disappeared. Instantly the big girls with one voice began to upbraid Hélène as the cause of this untimely interruption. It was too much, they declared, quite too much, that a spoiled little brat like that should be put into their room. They then brought out a bottle of cider, and began to drink. The “spoiled little brat ” insisted on having a share, and when they refused set herself to roar in such a loud and exasperating manner that they were forced to give her a glassful, which she drank at one gulp. This feat nearly cost her her life. Its result was an attack of fever, which kept her for two months in the infirmary. After this she was pronounced too delicate for the ordinary life of the place, and was transferred to a separate appartement of her own, with a nurse and maid to herself. The Prince Massalski had given carte blanche for her expenses, and his banker had instructions to furnish thirty thousand livres a year, if need were, to secure the comfort of his niece.

Madame Marie Magdeleine de Chabrillan was abbess of the convent when our little princess entered it. Next to her in authority, and far more influential, was the maîtresse générale, Madame de Rochehouart. — sister of the former Due de Mortemart, — who had control of the studies and largely of the discipline of the pensionnaires, and was regarded by them with an admiration and respect which were mixed with a sort of adoring fear. From the first she seems to have exercised a great influence over Hélène, and her name appears on nearly every page of the journal.

This beautiful and noble creature was but twenty-seven years old. She and her two equally beautiful sisters had taken the vows before they were fifteen years of age, in order that, according to the cruel custom of the time, the fortune of the Mortemarts might pass intact to the heir of the name.

“ She was tall and finely made,” is the portrait drawn of her by her favorite scholar. “ She had a pretty foot, a white and delicate hand, superb teeth, large black eyes, an air at once serious and proud, and a smile full of enchantment. She filled with the duties of her position the days — which else might have seemed overlong —of a vocation which had never been her own choice.

“ I was extremely afraid of her. When she passed through the schoolroom, if by chance she spoke to me, I was so abashed that I could scarcely muster strength to answer. All the class trembled before her. If she entered when we were all tumbling over each other, pell-mell, in the recess before breakfast, it was only necessary for her to clap her hands once, and instantly every girl was in her seat, and you could have heard the buzzing of a fly.

“ When we bent before her on entering the choir, I always tried to read her eyes, and if I detected a look of displeasure I was much cast down. She possessed the love and respect of every pupil in the convent. A little severe at times, she was always just. We adored her and we feared her. She seldom caressed us, but a single word from her lips had an extraordinary effect. Madame de Sainte Delphine, her sister, used to say that no monarch in Asia exerted a more despotic power than she, and it was true that the homage we rendered her was a sort of culte ; but I must say to her glory that her influence was stronger over our minds than over our bodies, for she rarely scolded, and she punished with justice. We were absolutely convinced that it was impossible that she should do wrong in any respect, and the confidence with which she inspired us was boundless.”

A room opening from that of the little Massalski was occupied by another favored pupil, Mademoiselle de Choiseul, daughter of the duke of that name. The two children became intimates and confederates in all manner of mischievous pranks. La Grise, a cat who figures largely in the earlier portion of the diary, was their first victim. They shod her with walnut shells, and watched delightedly her efforts to walk in this unpleasant chaussure. Then, finding a bottle of oil on the mantelpiece, they discovered that by rubbing it on the lock and hinges of their door it could be made to open without the least noise.

“My nurse slept in the chamber beyond,” writes Hélène, “and it was her custom to turn the key at night and leave it in the lock. Mademoiselle de Choiseul would wait till all was quiet, and then would get up, creep to my bedside, and rouse me, after which, slipping on our dressing-gowns, we would open the door softly and run all over the convent; amusing ourselves by playing all manner of tricks, such as blowing out the lamps, rapping on the doors of the cells, gossiping with the novices, and eating sweetmeats and bonbons which we had privately procured.” His Grace of Wilna’s liberality in the matter of the thirty thousand a year seems to have been duly appreciated by his niece.

“One night,” she goes on, “we emptied a bottle of ink into the holy-water vessel at the door of the church. When the sisters came together for matins, at two in the morning, it was their custom, as they knew the place by heart, to dispense with lights, except one small lamp, which lit the benétier only feebly. Each crossed herself with the holy water, and went in without noticing the effect it produced. But as the day dawned toward the close of the service, each sister saw all the others striped in such a singular way that first one, and then another, began to laugh, and the service was interrupted. No one doubted for a moment that this piece of mischief was done by some pupil, but it was never discovered which it was.

“ A few days later we tried something else. The smaller bell, which is called Le Gondi, because it was blessed by the archbishop of that name, was used for striking the hours of the early service, because the great bells and solemn chimes were in another clocktower, which opened beyond the choir. These ropes hung just behind the abbess’s chair. We contrived to climb up and to tie our handkerchiefs firmly round the clapper of the bell. When the novice came whose duty it was to sound the call for matins, she had fine work. The bell swung this way and that. She thought she was ringing, but not a sound proceeded from it; and the sisters, who were waiting their summons, did not come down. At last, some one, perceiving that the hour was long passed, came to see what had happened; and there was the poor novice still vainly tugging away at the rope. They examined, and lo, our handkerchiefs! Unluckily they were marked ‘ H. M.’ and ‘ J. C.’

“ The handkerchiefs were carried to Madame de Rochehouart, who, in the school-room, next day, demanded to know to whom those initials belonged. Then, indeed, we wished that the earth might open and swallow us up ! Madame de Rochehouart ordered us to come forward. We advanced, and fell on our knees, trembling. She asked severely if we supposed that the ladies of the convent were proper persons to play such foolish jokes upon, and said that she must beg that for the future we would exercise our imaginations in a different direction; and to cause us to remember this request, we were to kneel, in our night-caps, in the middle of the choir, during the grand mass on the following Sunday, to offer an humble apology to the ladies we had insulted. And as we must make up to God for the prayers that had not been said that day, we were to spend the hour of recreation in repeating the seven Penitential Psalms aloud in the hearing of the school.”

Some of the more ill-tempered sisters attempted to stir up the abbess to punish the offenders more severely, and to treat the affair of the ink as a sacrilege. But Madame de Rochehouart, “ who hated mummeries,” told her that the act was. indeed, a black one, because it had to do with ink, but no one with sense could see anything worse in it than a bit of childish mischief, a little naughtier than usual. “ She then left the abbess in rather a bad humor.”

“ All these scrapes,” writes Hélène, “ had the effect of delaying my first communion. Mademoiselle de Choiseul had been admitted to the White Class some time previously, and by good rights I should have been there too, for I had at my fingers’ ends all that the Classe Bleu had to teach.”

She then gives this curriculum of her studies: —

“ I knew ancient history, the history of France, and the mythology very well. I knew by heart the poem entitled La Religion, the Fables of La Fontaine, two chants out of La Henriade, and the whole of the tragedy of Athalie, in which I had once played the part, of Joas. I had studied Solfeggio. I played a little on the clavecin ” (protoplastic piano) “ and a little on the harp. Drawing was the study in which I was most deficient. But the perpetual mischief into which I was led by Mademoiselle de Choiseul did me great harm. Everything that went wrong in the convent was laid to our charge. I loved Mademoiselle de Choiseul so much that I liked better to be in disgrace with her than to see her punished without me. She loved me reciprocally, so that if I were in disgrace for any fault she would plague the teachers till they ended by punishing her with me. The day was never long enough for what we had to say to each other. Everything was in common between us, — our books, our ornaments. We had a key to each other’s drawers, even to each other’s writing-cases.”

Presently we hear of another adventure : —

“ We were playing in the garden one day, when we heard a subterranean voice speaking. We began to search out the cause, and found that the voice came from the opening of a sort of drain which communicated with the kitchens of the Comte de Beaumanoir, whose house adjoined the grounds of the abbaye. At once half the class ran to distract the attention of the teacher in charge, while the other half began to call down the hole.

“ It was the voice of a little boy that we heard. We asked his name, and were informed that it was Jaccquot, and that he had the honor to serve in the kitchens of M. de Beaumanoir. We called back that the play hour was over, but that we would return next day at the same time.

“We were terribly afraid that some one would discover our precious hole during the interval, but no such misfortune happened. Next day Jaccquot was so good as to sing for us, and play an air on the flute. As often as one of us spoke he would demand to know who it was, and whether she were blonde or brunette. In the course of two or three interviews he had learned all our voices, and would call us by name: 'Hé! Daumont, Damas, Mortemart, hé ! ’ He wished to learn what we were going to do ; and when we said that it was the lunch hour, he remarked that, except for the iron grating across the mouth of the drain, he could easily manage to smuggle in some good things for us. We all screamed in chorus that he absolutely must contrive some way to get rid of the grating, and were so absorbed in the conversation that Madame de Sainte Pierre, one of the mistresses, was in our midst without any one having seen her coming. We all fled in haste at the sight, but Jaccquot, quite unconscious of his change of audience, continued to shout, ‘ Hé ! Choiseul, Damas, — do you hear ? The grating shall be opened before to-morrow ! ’

“Madame de Sainte Pierre hastened to Madame de Roehehouart with her tale. She in her turn wrote at once to M. de Beaumanoir to say that she must ask permission to wall up the mouth of a water-spout, through which some of his servants had been talking to the children under her charge. The Comte replied that he was in despair that such a thing should have occurred, and that he would at once dismiss every servant in his kitchen. Madame de Rochehouart begged him to do nothing of the sort, but she sent for masons, and had the drain-pipe effectually sealed that very day.

“ She did not consider the adventure worth a formal reprimand, neither did she think it wise to make it seem of too much importance ; so she contented herself with indulging, that evening, at rollcall, in a few satirical allusions to the charming conquest which some of us had made, and the good taste and delicacy which we had exhibited in forming an intimacy with a little scullion; adding, for the benefit of those who had told their names to Jaccquot, that she thought a day would come when we would be very glad to recall our confidences, especially as our families were not at all likely to be gratified with them. Thus she lowered our conceit without a word of individual reproof to any one.”

Next we find the little princess wearing “ asses’ ears in paper ” and two tongues, a red one and a black one, for having told a lie about writing copies. Then she incurs the enmity of the Classe Rouge by complaining to a teacher of one of its members, who had forcibly carried away a book which Hélène was reading. All the class set itself to punish the offense after a somewhat brutal fashion. The big girls would push her slyly and throw her down, apologizing hypocritically: “ Mademoiselle, a thousand pardons. I did not see you.” She was so hurt by one of these falls that she had to go to bed. Madame de Rochehouart came to her room, and Hélène poured into her ears all her troubles and grievances. The reply is an indication of the quality of the great influence exerted by this lady over her pupils. “ Nothing of this sort could happen if your companions loved you,” she said. “ You must, indeed, have grave faults of character to have all the classes turn against you in this way.”“ From that time,” says little Hélène artlessly, “ I never repeated the least thing to the teachers, and I became so good that everybody loved me.”

Madame de Rochehouart took advantage of this interval of reformation to advance Hélène into the Classe Blanche.

“ She was really very fond of me, and laughed much more than she scolded at my mischievousness. Madame de Sainte Delphine loved me, also. She used to say that it would be a real loss to the convent if Choiseul and I reformed and became well behaved, and insisted that my worst pranks had a cachet of spirit and humor about them. In fact, my frolics never did real harm to any one; they only made people laugh.

“ When the time came for me to leave the Classe Bleu, I asked pardon of La Mère Quatre Temps for all the trouble I had given, and thanked her for her goodness. She replied that she grieved to have me pass from under her daily care ; for though I had often made her angry, the good moments more than made up for the naughty ones. She then embraced me. Many of my companions had tears in their eyes when she untied my blue ribbon.”

Hélène was now a member of the White Class, and made her first confession and “ retreat.” After this her character developed in a remarkable way. She seems to have left her childish mischief behind her in the Classe Bleu, and her observations on people and events evince a singular maturity of understanding.

Two deaths which took place in the community about this time made a deep impression on her mind. One was that of Mademoiselle de Chaponay, “ nine years old, and with a beautiful face,” who was borne to the grave by four of her school-fellows, her pall covered with white roses, and the church completely hung with white. The other death, that of Mademoiselle de Montmorenci, was far more terrible, and the account given by Hélène of her ailments, her sufferings, and the tortures to which she was subjected by an ill-judging mother has extraordinary descriptive power for such a child.

This poor girl, the first match in France as to rank and fortune, seems to have fallen a victim to the ignorant medical practice of the day. She died at the Val d’Ajouc, in Lorraine, to which she had been dragged as a last resort for treatment at the hands of an empiric, who called himself “the Doctor of the Mountains.” Some one told her at the end that she must have courage. “ Yes,” she replied, “ I feel the necessity of it. It requires courage to die at fifteen.’ Mademoiselle de Montmorenci was Hélène Massalski’s “ little or school mamma.” It was told of her that on her first arrival at the abbaye, at the age of eight, she had a violent dispute with the then abbess, Madame de Richelieu. “ If you dare to do that again I will kill you ” said the angry abbess. “ It would not be the first time that a Richelieu has been the executioner of a Montmorenci,” replied, undauntedly, this fiery little scion of a long line of preux chevaliers.

Hélène was still a member of the Classe Blanche when a revolt, which almost amounted to a revolution, broke out against a teacher named Madame de Sainte Jerome. This lady possessed a violent temper and little personal dignity. When irritated, she would shake and cuff her pupils, or beat their heads against walls and doors. Madame de Rochehouart perceived her unsuitability, and remonstrated with the abbess for retaining her; but the abbess only said in reply that it was a matter about which she could not possibly trouble herself, and that she would better speak to the prioress. The prioress, in her turn, replied that Madame de Sainte Jerome could not be discharged without calling together a chapter of the order, which was not worth while, and that the affair must wait till the time of the regular meeting. So, to Madame de Rochehouart’s displeasure, nothing was done, and Madame de Sainte Jerome remained.

Secrets are ill kept in convents, and the sharp-witted little pensionnaires were not long in finding out that their beloved grande maîtresse was in sympathy with their dislike of Madame de Sainte Jerome, and had been snubbed by the other convent authorities on the subject. This knowledge was like the addition of fuel to flame. An organization was at once formed, called Les Verts, because its members wore, as a badge, something green, a leaf or a ribbon. Its aim was to compel the retirement of the obnoxious teacher. Whenever two girls met, they uttered the cabalistic words, “ Produce your green,” which the initiated at once did. They only waited occasion for open rebellion. It came in this wise : —

On the feast of St. Madeleine, which was a general holiday, the teachers being scattered, and only Madame de Sainte Jerome left in charge, two girls fell into a dispute, and one of them struck the other. Madame de Sainte Jerome seized one, and forced her to her knees. The child said, “ Madame, I assure you that it was not my fault,” whereupon Madame de Sainte Jerome, losing all command of herself, gave her a blow which knocked her over, and made her nose bleed violently. Instantly the entire class precipitated themselves upon their mistress. She had killed one of their number, they protested, and they would throw her out of the window!

Terrified, and losing all presence of mind. Madame de Sainte Jerome committed the fatal indiscretion of leaving the class unwatched, while she fled to make complaint. Instantly the little De Mortemart, Madame de Rochehouart’s niece, sprang upon the table. “ All you who belong to the Greens produce your badges ! ” she cried. The leaves, and twigs, and scraps of ribbon were exhibited. incendiary speeches were made, the enthusiasm spread, and finally the entire class decided to take possession of the kitchens and larders, and hold them till the convent authorities, starved out, should concede the dismissal of Madame de Sainte Jerome.

Like a flight of angry birds, the Classe Blanche flew across the courtyard, and precipitated itself into the kitchens, which were basement rooms of great size. Only two or three lay sisters were visible, and these were requested, “fort poliment,” to withdraw, which they did. One little sister, Madame de Sainte Sulpice, sixteen years old, was detained, against her will, as a witness to the proceedings, and an older nun, Sister Clotilde, to serve as cook. The doors were made fast, and the heads of the conspiracy proceeded to draw up a formal recapitulation of grievances and of the terms on which the class would return to its duties. These were : —

(1.) A general amnesty.

(2.) The dismissal of Madame de Sainte Jerome.

(3.) Eight days’ holiday, in order that the class might have time to recover from its fatigues of mind and body.

This last item seems sufficiently amusing !

The little Choiseul was to be the bearer of this paper, and of course her faithful Hélène volunteered to accompany her. The reception they met with was decidedly chilling. Madame de Rochehouart regarded them with the utmost severity.

“ I have nothing to say to you,” she told them. “You have taken the best way to disgust me forever with being the conductress of girls like yourselves, who would seem much more at home in an army regiment than in a place like this, meant to teach the sweetness and modesty which are the charm of womanhood. Go and carry your complaints to whom you will. I am no longer your mistress.”In vain poor little Choiseul knelt at her feet, protesting that all of them loved her, that her word was law to them, but that “ in an affair of honor one would better die at once than to appear like a traitor to one’s comrades.” Madame de Rochehouart did not relent, and the discomfited envoys had to withdraw,. The abbess refused to see them or to read their paper, and they were forced to return to the garrison in the kitchens with the sorry news that nothing had been achieved by the embassy.

This, however, did not deter them from having a merry evening. The locks of the larder and bakery were forced. Sister Clotilde, with much laughter and little protestation, cooked them a good supper, and they drank the health of Madame de Rochehouart unanimously. After supper they played at all sorts of games ; Madame de Sainte Sulpice, the little nun of sixteen, being by no means unwilling to join in the frolic. Then they dragged in some bales of hay from the courtyard, and made up beds for the younger children, pinning napkins and dish-towels over their heads lest they should take cold. Fancy the pretty group in the dark, roomy kitchens, and the quaint little mammas playing at care-taking with their live dolls ! Thirty of the larger girls watched the doors all night for fear of a surprise ; the rest disposed themselves on chairs and settles : and so between snatches of sleep and snatches of talk the hours wore away.

“ It seemed as if we might be going to live like this always,” says Hélène. But early in the morning an unexpected force was brought to bear upon the mutineers, in the shape of various mothers and aunts, who had been hastily summoned by the abbess to subdue the rebellion “without scandal.” The Duchesse de Chatillon, the Duchesse de Mortemart, the Duchesse de Chalêt, and other great ladies appeared before the doors of the kitchen, demanding their daughters and their nieces, who dared not disregard the summons. One by one the ringleaders were led away ; and while this process of disintegration was going on, there appeared a lay sister to say that ten o’clock was at hand and the school-rooms were open, and that a general pardon would be extended to all those who presented themselves there before noon. The revolution was at an end. Every scholar was in her place when the clock struck. No one was punished, and as, a month later, the detested Sainte Jerome was quietly dismissed, the " wearers of the green ” had reason to feel that their efforts had on the whole been tolerably successful; especially as Madame de Rochehouart made no allusion to the matter, and seemed to regard them all exactly as she had done before.

A little later, the journal is full of the details of a wedding. Mademoiselle de Bourbonne, twelve years of age, is solemnly contracted to the Comte d’Avaux. “ She was so very melancholy,” writes the unsparing Hélène, “ that we asked her if she did not like her husband. She confessed frankly that he was very old and very ugly, and that he was to call on her next day. So we petitioned the abbess for leave to go into the Chambre d’Orléans, which had windows on the court, that we might have a peep at the future spouse of our friend.”

The Chambre d’Orléans was the haunted room of the convent. It had been occupied for eighteen years by a cruel abbess, daughter of the regent Philippe d’ Orlèans, who had made the lives of the nuns miserable through her tyranny and exactions. Her sinful spirit was supposed to hover about the apartment, which no one cared to inhabit, and which was seldom entered, though it was the most beautiful in the abbaye. Curiosity, however, outbalanced superstition, and on the morrow, when the Comte d’Avaux crossed the courtyard to call on his bride, a crowd of pretty and malicious faces gazed out at him from the windows of the room of ill omen. “ We thought him abominable, as he truly was,” remarks Hélène. “ The moment that Mademoiselle de Bourbonne returned, we all cried in chorus, ' Oh, how ugly your husband is! I never would marry him if I were you. Oh, you poor thing! ' To which she replied, ‘I must marry him if papa desires it, but I shall never like him, — that is certain ! ’ ”

Mademoiselle de Bourbonne received her first communion eight days before her wedding, and returned to the convent immediately after the ceremony, covered with diamonds and jewels, and bringing with her a superb corbeille, furnished by Bolard. She was much diverted at being called “Madame,” but her dislike to her husband grew with her growth. She would never see him if she could possibly help it, and on one occasion when he called to ask for her took off her shoes and stockings, that she might not be made to go down. One is not astonished to read in a later footnote that when this reluctant bride left the convent she almost instantly formed an attachment for the young and handsome Vicomte de Segur, which dominated and ruined the rest of her life.

Soon after this event came the important day when, dressed in a robe of white moiré embroidered with silver, Hélène received her first communion and was admitted to the senior class, that of the rubans rouge.

Her practical education now began. She was at first made one of the personal attendants of the abbess. Then she became a helper in the sacristy, then in the storeroom. After that she worked for two months in the refectory, setting tables, and putting in order the glass, china, and silver. Next we find her serving fora fortnight as assistant to the portress ; no light duty, for the nuns of the Abbaye aux Bois lived by no means in seclusion, and there was a continual coming and going of line company through its portals. Still later she was transferred to the pharmacy, where she was taught to compound medicines; thence she went to the library. During all this period she had the advantage of continual intercourse with Madame de Rochehouart, in whose rooms she spent most of her evenings.

It was a gay and charming circle which she met there, with little of the convent atmosphere about it. Madame de Sainte Delphine, fair, indolent, charming, lay back in a reclining-chair, netting purses which were never finislied, and saying droll things in a lazy way which made them infinitely droller. Madame de Rochehouart had a brilliant mind, wit, and wide interests. She read all manner of books, and they and the events of the day and of the society of Paris, with every detail of which she was acquainted, furnished endless subjects of conversation. She and all her circle of intimates had an absolute scorn for the petty gossip of the convent.

“ They rarely spoke ill of their neighbors,” says Hélène, “ yet they were more dreaded than any one else, because everybody knew that they had more mind and were superior in all ways, and they were made a standard of taste and conduct. When I went back to the sacristy, after these evenings with Madame de Rochehouart, the nuns there would ask, ' Well, what have these marvelous beings been saying about us ? ’ ' Nothing at all, madame,’I would reply in good faith. ‘ They have not said a word about you.' This caused undying astonishment, for they themselves ran about the convent gossiping all day long.

“ Madame de Rochehouart and her sisters had a manner and style of their own, which all of us who were so happy as to be admitted into their circle caught in some measure. Intercourse with them, and the advice, full of tact and finesse, which Madame de Rochehouart bestowed on her pupils, had an extraordinary effect in fitting them to play their parts with distinction in the great world.”

It was at this period of her convent life that Hélène, sitting one day in the room of her admired friend, watched her writing for hours together, with the tears rolling down her cheeks. Her agitation so affected the girl that she wept, too. Madame de Rochehouart took her into her arms, and in a broken voice tried to explain. She was born with too lively an imagination, she told her pupil; it was impossible for her not to create ideal scenes for herself, and sometimes they made her unhappy. The contemplative life which she led gave her fancies too much power over her. The words furnish a pathetic picture of the suffering of a proud and tender spirit, bound to an unlovely destiny, conscious of its chains, disdaining complaint.

Of those tendencies in the life of the convent which Madame de Rochehouart and her intimates so justly scorned we get a sufficiently clear notion in the pages of the journal, — the superstitions, the scandals, the perpetual petty misunderstandings, the occasional coarseness of manners and spirit of irreverence. As a specimen of the paltry quarrels which were constantly going on, take this tale of a sugar-grater.

The grater belonged to Madame de Sainte Romauld, an old nun of eighty, and was lent to Madame de Sainte Germaine, aged seventy-five. These ladies were the oldest sisters of the order. They passed their days, spectacles on nose, reading over old letters, written by dead-and-gone abbesses, and telling every one how things used to be in the former times.

The sugar-grater was not returned. Madame de Sainte Germaine had lost or forgotten it. So one day in chapel, in the midst of high mass, Madame de Sainte Romauld put her withered face round the corner of her stall, and said, " By the way, you never sent back my grater.”

“ What do you mean by your grater ? ”

Comment! Do you pretend that I did n’t lend you my grater ? ”

Madame de Sainte Germaine, grown angry, “I have n’t got your grater.”

Madame de Sainte Romauld, in a rage, “ Give back my grater ! I will have my grater ! ”

Louder and louder grew the dispute. All the pensionnaires were in fits of laughter. The abbess sent to ask an explanation of this unseemly interruption of the service. In the end she was forced to pacify the aged belligerents with the gift of a grater apiece !

And now it was the turn of the little Choiseul to be married.

“ One evening, as we were walking,” says Hélène, “she whispered that she had a great secret to confide to me. She was to be wedded almost at once to M. le Choiseul de Baume, her cousin, who was only seventeen years of age and extremely good-looking. Her title would be the Duchesse de Choiseul-Stainville. Her family were coming on the morrow to announce the affair to the abbess, and she begged me to make the announcement visits to the pensionnaires with her.”

The Classe Rouge again begged the privilege of entering the Chambre d’Orléans for a peep at the bridegroom, whose looks, this time, were much approved of. An immense corbeille — the bridegroom’s gift, contained in a receptacle shaped like a basket — arrived from Madame Bertin, with a parure of diamonds set in blue enamel, and a purse containing two hundred louis d’or. Mademoiselle de Choiseul made presents to all her comrades : " forty fans and forty bags” to the Classe Rouge; to Hélène " a souvenir in gold and hair, a fan, and a reticule.” Then she departed in a blaze of glory, and a fortnight later came back to finish her education, and recount the fine fêtes which had been given in her honor during the time of her absence. " She had to confess that her mother-in-law, who was very disagreeable, had not let one single day pass without a scolding; but as for her bridegroom, she said that she already loved him distractedly, he was so gay and so droll, and that although they had not been left together alone for a moment, yet he had contrived to whisper all sorts of interesting things in her ear, only she did not feel at liberty to repeat them to me ! ”

Hélène had just reached her fourteenth year when the great sorrow of her convent life fell upon her. Madame de Rochehouart sickened of a putrid fever, and twelve days later died, amid the lamentations of the whole community, and the despairing grief of the pupil to whom she had been as a mother. She was buried in one of the chapels of the choir.

A few months later, Hélène Massalski became the wife of the Prince Charles de Ligne. As the Bishop of Wilna had no establishment in Paris, the marriage was celebrated at the abbaye, with much pomp and ceremony. On its conclusion the bride went to change her dress, and, escaping from the friends who were assisting her, ran rapidly by a private way to the chapel, where, drowned in tears, she flung herself upon the grave of her lost friend, and there uttered the last prayer she was to offer as a young girl. When she rejoined the party, her pallor and the tears which still welled from her eyes startled everybody. In that prayer she had bidden adieu not only to her beloved teacher and her convent home, but to her childhood.

Susan Coolidge.