Sunday, July 10, 2011

Margot The Martyr - The Lives of Even Educated Young Ladies Was Often Harsh

Margot The Martyr
Adapted From A Story By
“Mademoiselle Margot, Professor Revere’s daughter, who has come to share your English studies, girls,” said Miss Melford, presenting a tall, clear-complexioned, sweet-faced girl one May morning on the opening of school.

The new-comer bowed gracefully, and then took a vacant seat next to me, and we all took good-natured notice of her, for her black frock was worn for her newly lost mother, and her father, our popular French master, was an exile, who for a supposed political offence had forfeited his estate, near La Ville Sonnante, as the old city of Avignon is often called. Margot would have been une grande demoiselle in her own country had not monsieur fallen under the displeasure of a powerful cabinet minister during a change of régime, and Miss Melford’s girls were of opinion that the position would have suited her, and she the position.
Mademoiselle Margot soon interested us all, not only in herself, but in her antecedents and prospects. She was never tired of talking of her old associations, and that with an enthusiasm that aroused our sympathy and inspired our hopes.

“Picture to yourself,” she would say, “Mon Désir on a summer’s day, the lawns spreading out their lovely carpet for the feet, the trees waving their glorious foliage overhead, the birds singing in the branches, the bees humming in the parterre, and the water plashing in the fountains. Maman loved it, as I did, and the country people loved us as we loved them. Maman used to say, ‘A little sunshine, a little love, a little self-denial, that is life.’ Even had we been poor there, walked instead of ridden, ate brown bread in lieu of white, we should have been amongst our own people. But now—-”

Then we would all crowd round her and spin romances about the Prince Charming who would come her way, and present her with Mon Désir, with all its dear delights, and with it–his own hand.

Margot’s failing was a too sensitive pride. She was proud both of and for the professor. She could not forget that he was, as she would say, un grand gentilhomme, that his ancestors had fought with Bayard and Turenne, had been gentlemen-in-waiting to kings, had wedded women who were ladies of the court.

I discovered this slight fault of my darling’s on one occasion in this way: as we girls were going our usual noonday walk, we came to a large, red-brick house, standing alone in its own grounds; it was not a cottage of gentility, but a place which an estate agent would have described as a desirable mansion. Everything about it, mutely, but eloquently, said money. Big glass-houses, big coach-houses, big plate glass windows, spacious gardens, trim lawns, etc., etc., etc.

As the school filed past, an elaborate barouche drew up to the iron gateway, and a lady, who was about entering it, stared at our party, and then looked keenly at Margot. She was a pretty woman, blonde, with a mass of fluffy, honey-coloured hair, and a cold, pale blue pair of eyes. Her costume was of smooth, blue-grey cloth, the flowing cloak lined with ermine, and her hat a marvel of millinery; indeed, she presented a striking contrast to the professor’s daughter in her plain, neat black coat and frock, and small toque, with its trimming of white narcissi, and I cannot say that I was favourably impressed by the unknown, she was far too cold and purse-proud looking to please me.

After a close and none too polite scrutiny, the lady bowed, approached, and held out her hand.

“Good-morning, Miss Revere,” she said graciously, yet with more than a suspicion of patronage, “I trust the professor is well,” and without waiting for an answer, “and your mother? We have been so busy entertaining, that I have been quite unable to call, or send! However, tell her that I am going to send for her to Bellevue, the very first day I’m alone, the very first!”

We two girls were alone (the rest having gone on with Fräulein Schwartze), and there was silence for a moment, during which the lady turned toward her well-appointed carriage; then Margot spoke, with some asperity, though I heard the tears in her silvery voice.

“Mrs. Seawood,” she said, “there is no more need to trouble; maman has gone where no one will be ashamed of her because she was poor.”

The lady turned a little pale, and expressed herself as shocked, and then, having offered some cold condolences, spoke to the coachman; and as we passed on we heard the quick rattle of the horses’ hoofs, as the barouche rolled down the long drive.

There are times when silence is golden, and this was one! I did not speak until we came to a five-barred gate, on the topmost rung of which Margot laid her arms, bent her head, and sobbed like a little child.
I put my arm round her neck to comfort her.

“Margot, chérie,” I whispered, “tell me why you weep.”

It appeared that the professor had been used to teach the little delicate son of the purse-proud lady, and that he had taken great interest in the little fellow both on account of his backwardness and frail health.
“After he died,” said Margot, “his mother seemed grateful for these small kindnesses, and called upon us. Sometimes she sent the carriage for maman to spend a few hours at Bellevue, but always when the weather was unpleasant. Then, you see, I used to go to the Seawoods for my mother, take bouquets of violets, Easter eggs, and other small complimentary tokens of regard, and madame would exclaim, ‘How sweet!’ or ‘How lovely!’ but always in a patronising manner. I only told the ‘How sweet!’ and ‘How beautiful!’ to mother, because she used to look wistfully at me, and say how glad she was that I had some English friends.

“Once, I remember, I was passing Bellevue at night with papa; it was a cold, January evening, with snow falling, and we shivered a little. They were giving a grand party, the house was lit up like an enchanted palace, and papa (who is often as sweetly simple as Don Quixote) said:

“‘I cannot understand why your friends have overlooked you, petite, you could have worn the little grey frock with blue trimmings, eh?’

“They never understood how hollow a friendship it was. They could not realise that others could display a meanness of which they themselves were incapable, and I suppose it was only my own proud heart, less free from the vanity of human weakness than theirs, which made me detect and resent it; and so I had to endure the misery of this proud patronage and let my parents think I was enjoying the friendship of love. To be proud and dependent, Gloria, is to be poor indeed. But I must conquer my pride, if only that I may conquer my poverty, and as Miss Melford told us at scripture this morning, he that conquers his own proud heart is greater than he that taketh a city.”

Then she linked her arm in mine, and said:

“The Good God has allowed me to become poor, but he has given me one talent, I can paint, and if only for papa’s sake I must overcome evil with good and try to win a victory over myself.”

Miss Melford, and a chosen party of the senior girls (of whom I was one), stood in our beautiful Art Gallery attentively studying a water colour on the line. The picture was numbered 379 in the catalogue, was called “Palm-Bearers,” and was painted by Miss Margot Revere! Our Margot, the girl who had been my classmate, whom I had loved as a sister. The scene portrayed was a procession of early Christians entering an Eastern city at Eastertide. There were matrons and maids, golden-haired children, and white-haired men, all bearing green palm branches, under an intense, cerulean sky.

“Well done, Margot,” said Miss Melford softly, with a suspicious dimness in her eyes, and there was a general chorus of approval from all beholders.

Margot, who was much older than I, had left school long since, had studied, worked, copied in the great Art Galleries, exhibited, and sold her works.

She was then in Rome with her father, who had become blind, and I had at that moment a long letter from her in my bag, as I stood looking at her picture. In one passage of it she had written: “the girl with the crown of white roses in my last painting is my little Gloria, my girl comrade, who consoled me when I was sad, who watched next my pillow when I was sick, and when sad memories made me cry at night crept to me through the long dormitory and knelt beside me, like a white-robed ministering angel. Apropos of palms, mama was a palm-bearer; I must win one before I look on her dear, dear face.” As I thought on these words, Miss Melford’s voice speaking to Gurda broke in on my thoughts.

“Dear, dear, how extremely like to Gloria is that figure in the middle of Margot’s painting!”

“Of course, Miss Melford, Margot will have sketched it from her. She was her chum, her soul’s sister.”

“Her soul’s sister!” Those three words went with me through the gallery; into the sculpture room, amidst white marble figures, into the room full of Delia Robbia and majolica ware, everywhere!

Even when we descended the flight of steps, and came into the great white square, I seemed to hear them in the plashing of the fountains.

It was August, and rain had fallen on the hot, parched earth.

The bells in the church tower were ringing a muffled peal, and as I listened to the sad, sweet music, I thought of Margot, lonely Margot, who had seen her father laid under the ilex trees, and then gone to visit a distant relative at Château Belair in the West Indies. It was a strange coincidence, but as I thought of her the servant brought in a card, bearing the name, M. Achille Levasseur, beneath which was pencilled:

“Late of Château Belair, and cousin of the late Mademoiselle Margot Revere.”

So Margot was dead, had gone to join her loved ones where there are no distinctions between rich and poor.
Stunned, and half incredulous, I told the maid to show him in, and in a few minutes a tall, dark, foreign looking man stood in the bright, flower-scented room which (it being recess), I occupied in Miss Melford’s absence.
I rose, bowed, and asked him to be seated, then, with an effort, said:

“M’sieu, I am Gloria, Margot’s chum, and chosen sister. Tell me about her.”

The story was a short one, we had neither of us a desire to dwell upon the details. The island had been subject to the fury rain of a quenchless volcano. Whole villages had been overwhelmed and buried in the burning lava, and hundreds had met with a fiery death. In the midst of the mad confusion, Margot’s calm presence and example inspired the strong, reassured the terrified, aided the feeble, and helped many on the way to safety. How many owed their lives to her, her cousin could not say, but that it was at the cost of her own, was only too terribly true. She had helped her cousin’s family on to the higher ground, which ensured safety from the boiling lava, only to discover that one little one had been left behind peacefully sleeping in her cot, the little baby who had been christened Gloria at Margot’s desire in memory of me. It was a terrible moment to all but Margot, and to her it was the moment of a supreme inspiration. She dashed down the hill before she could be stayed, though the ground shook under her feet, and the burning sea of fiery rain was pouring down the valley below. She reached the house and seized the infant, and started with frenzied speed to ascend the hill again. Her cousin, who had seen to the safety of the others of his family, had now started out to meet her. They saw each other and hurried with all the speed they could to meet. Within touch a terrific explosion deafened them as the father seized his child, and Margot, struck by a boulder belched from the throat of the fierce volcano, sank back into the fiery sea.

As M. Levasseur ceased, there came through the open window the silvery sound of the minster bells. They were playing the lovely air,

Angels ever bright and fair, Take, O take, me to your care.

It came to me that they had taken Margot in a chariot of fire, and I seemed to see her in an angel throng with a palm branch in her hand.

My favourite trinket is a heart-shaped locket, containing a lock of dark brown hair, intermixed with golden threads. It is both a souvenir, and a mascot; for the hair is from the head of my girl chum Margot.

Thirty-five years ago, inspired by the writings of Georgette Heyer, and little more than fresh out of high school, I wrote a Regency Romance novel entitled, A Very Merry Chase, which I finally published last year.  Then and now history in all it’s forms was my first love–especially women’s history. These days I have two degrees in history; however a graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. Thus, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover… and besides the truth of the matter is, most of women’s history was never written, and if was written it was downplayed, so in many cases our only real source of insight into a woman’s station in life were stories and women’s journal articles written by men, and sometimes women, for upper class ladies to read. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon

Author of the Regency Romance novel, A Very Merry Chase

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

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