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Villette

10. Dr. John
Madame Beck was a most consistent character; forbearing with all the world, and tender
to no part of it. Her own children drew her into no deviation from the even tenor of her
stoic calm. She was solicitous about her family, vigilant for their interests and physical
well-being; but she never seemed to know the wish to take her little children upon her
lap, to press their rosy lips with her own, to gather them in a genial embrace, to shower
on them softly the benignant caress, the loving word.
I have watched her sometimes sitting in the garden, viewing the little ones afar off, as
they walked in a distant alley with Trinette, their bonne; in her mien spoke care and
prudence. I know she often pondered anxiously what she called 'leur avenir'; but if the
youngest, a puny and delicate but engaging child, chancing to spy her, broke from its
nurse, and toddling down the walk, came all eager and laughing and panting to clasp her
knee, madame would just calmly put out one hand, so as to prevent inconvenient
concussion from the child's sudden onset: 'Prends garde, mon enfant!' she would say
unmoved, patiently permit it to stand near her a few moments, and then, without smile or
kiss, or endearing syllable, rise and lead it back to Trinette.
Her demeanour to the eldest girl was equally characteristic in another way. This was a
vicious child. 'Quelle peste que cette Désirée! Quel poison que cet enfant-là!' were the
expressions dedicated to her, alike in kitchen and in school-room. Amongst her other
endowments she boasted an exquisite skill in the art of provocation, sometimes driving
her bonne and the servants almost wild. She would steal to their attics, open their drawers
and boxes, wantonly tear their best caps and soil their best shawls; she would watch her
opportunity to get at the beaufet of the salle à manger, where she would smash articles of
porcelain or glass - or to the cupboard of the storeroom, where she would plunder the
preserves, drink the sweet wine, break jars and bottles, and so contrive as to throw the
onus of suspicion on the cook and the kitchenmaid. All this when Madame saw, and of
which when she received report, her sole observation, uttered with matchless serenity,
was -
'Désirée a besoin d'une surveillance toute particulière.' Accordingly she kept this
promising olive-branch a good deal at her side. Never once, I believe, did she tell her
faithfully of her faults, explain the evil of such habits, and show the results which must
thence ensue. Surveillance must work the whole cure. It failed of course. Désirée was
kept in some measure from the servants, but she teased and pillaged her mamma instead.
Whatever belonging to madame's work-table or toilet she could lay her hands on, she
stole and hid. Madame saw all this, but she still pretended not to see. She had not
rectitude of soul to confront the child with her vices. When an article disappeared whose
value rendered restitution necessary, she would profess to think that Désirée had taken it
away in play, and beg her to restore it. Désirée was not to be so cheated: she had learned
to bring falsehood to the aid of theft, and would deny having touched the brooch, ring, or
scissors. Carrying on the hollow system, the mother would calmly assume an air of belief
and afterwards, ceaselessly watch and dog the child till she tracked her to her hiding-
 
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