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We must furnish the little brain,” was Mme. 여우알바 Seron’s favourite expression. She herself had never acquired much book learning. But, in order to educate her grandchild, she for a while put on one side her adored novels and studied French history, of which she was most eager that Juliette should take a correct view. That correct view was, of course, Mme. Seron’s own, and was the contradiction of her husband’s and son-in-law’s opinions. Juliette’s grandmother taught her to regard the French middle-class, the bourgeoisie, as the salt of the earth, and the government of Louis Philippe as the only possible government, infinitely superior to the Buonapartism which Dr. Seron and to the Jacobinism which Dr. Lambert would have liked to restore.
So Juliette, surrounded by piles of lesson-books, was kept hard at work till late in the evening, while her grandfather laughed at her for being a blue-stocking, and dubbed her “Mlle. Phénomène.”
But even the jocular Dr. Seron could sometimes be serious: and he gravely warned his wife that if she continued thus to press the little girl beyond her years misfortune would follow.
His warning being unheeded, the prognostication came true. Its fulfilment was hastened by three weeks at Blérancourt, where Dr. Lambert talked to his little daughter as if she were grown up, and by a tempestuous journey home with her mother, followed by an even stormier drame de famille on her arrival at Chauny.
Juliette fell seriously ill. On her recovery, Dr. Seron, who seems to have been the only member of the family endowed with common sense, insisted on his granddaughter being removed from the atmosphere of school-books and drames de famille to a serener and healthier air.
The child was sent to visit her grandmother’s three step-sisters, three maiden ladies who lived with their mother, [Pg 14] in the heart of the country, at a village called Chivres, not far from Soissons.
“My aunts! Ah! you must love my aunts!” exclaimed Mme. Adam, as one day, in the salon at Gif, we talked of these delectable virgins. And indeed one could not help loving the charming, though eccentric ladies, les demoiselles Sophie, Constance and Anastasie Raincourt. They represent a type totally unknown in Great Britain, though I suspect it might not at that time have been altogether impossible to discover their counterparts in other French country districts, or perhaps in remote corners of New England.
The aunts were a bundle of contradictions and surprises. In their short gathered print skirts, aprons and kerchiefs, they looked like peasant women, and they worked like peasant women too, at hay-making, poultry-keeping and fruit-farming. But so distinguished was their bearing that in their humble attire they had the air of great ladies in disguise, while their discussion during hay-making of Sismondi’s Italian Republics showed them to be veritable femmes savantes. Though living in the heart of the country, these original spinsters took a deep interest in all the literary and political movements of the town. Though, with their step-sister, Mme. Seron, they were firmly convinced that a constitutional monarchy was the only ideal form of government, they did not altogether share Mme. Seron’s admiration for Louis Philippe. They criticised his policy and approved of the opposition led by M. Odillon Barot.
In almost every respect Juliette’s life at Chivres was a complete contrast to her life at Chauny or Blérancourt. Instead of, as at Chauny, sitting up late over her books and then going to bed in her grandmother’s stuffy chamber, with the windows tightly closed and the atmosphere infested by the midnight oil burnt to enable Mme. Seron to read her romances, Juliette at Chivres, after a day spent in healthy open-air exercise, lay down with the lamb and rose with the lark, having slept by herself in a large airy room with the windows wide open.
Whereas at Chauny no interest was taken in house arrangement, while picturesque old family heirlooms were regarded as lumber and relegated to the attic, and any artistic feeling found its only expression in personal adornment, [Pg 15] at Chivres it was just the opposite: Juliette’s fine clothes were all folded away, and she was dressed like her aunts in peasant costume; but her natural love of the beautiful was gratified by the daintiness and artistry of all the household arrangements, by the handsome old chests and commodes, the embroidered draperies, the nosegays of fresh wild flowers, and the beautifully bound books ranged trimly on their shelves.
The intellectual atmosphere of Chivres was likewise entirely different from that of Chauny and Blérancourt. Dr. Lambert’s heroes, Louis Blanc and Proudhon, were anathema to such worshippers of the established order as the aunts. In the light of her aunts’ wide interest in all manifestations of nature, her grandmother’s concentration on the merely human aspect of life suddenly appeared to Juliette as intensely narrow. It was at Chivres that Juliette first acquired that passionate love of nature which she was later to express so eloquently in her books. It was at Chivres that Juliette learnt to take an interest in birds and beasts and flowers, and also in inanimate things, to find—