The old parish church stood as it had done for some hundreds of years, grey and quiet, near to a picturesque house which bore the date of the last century, and was cheerily surrounded by gardens, on one side of which a belt of fir trees caught the rays of the setting sun.
That is to say, they did so when no envious clouds intercepted the rosy light. But there were evenings when the children of the house declared that the sun did not set at all.
Then, instead of glowing with the rich red that so well became them, the poor trees looked somber and almost sulky as they had to take their rest without the parting recognition.
I have called the church grey and quiet, yet there was colour on its roof of that mellow orange, so delicately shaded and blended with other hues, such as Time alone holds the secret of painting. Then as to quiet, there were days when the clang of its bells caught the ear of distant villages; and if I add that more young lives had been reared beneath its shelter by far than the old house could boast of, any one will guess that it was not so very quiet after all.
Even now two very young creatures, named Bunting and Snunting, are sitting in a hollow of the woodwork in the belfry. They are covered with soft white down, and are sometimes snoring in a curious manner, though they are awake, as they ask numerous questions of their father, who, like most fond parents, is ready to respond to the wish of his little ones to be enlightened about the wonderful world into which they have lately come; but who differs from most parents, in that he stands with one leg completely tucked up out of sight while he converses, his head turned comically to one side as he looks down on the nestlings.
They see nothing strange in the attitude, however, for instinct already tells them that such is the manner of the race of owls to which they belong. To which, moreover, they are very proud of belonging, having learned in the last half-hour how, in the dim poetry of the past, Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, had chosen the owl for her companion and emblem; how, even in the present day, their form was portrayed in various useful or ornamental designs by man. Man, that mysterious being of whom all they had been able to gather from the description given them was that he was an enormous something, who, being almost entirely unfledged, was forced to make garments for himself, the pattern and colour of them being evidently suggested by the blackbird and thrush; that his head, the only part nature had protected and beautified with a covering, was often disguised in a ludicrous manner.
Of woman they could understand still less. She was so dissatisfied with her form, the old owl had told them, that for centuries she had devised all sorts of schemes for improving it and had not yet come to a conclusion on the matter.
What the owlets did understand and thoroughly appreciate was, that though mankind took for food of most creatures, they, at least, would never be called to appear as dainties on his table.
By some lucky chance, too, men had never discovered the delicious flavour of a mouse.
Father, said Bunting, the elder nestling, you promised to tell us about the people who live in the house close by.
Yes, yes, replied the old bird, all in good time. The master of the house is called an ornithologist, which means that he is learned about birds. His people were so in times past, too; therefore we and our ancestors have for generations been safe and honoured here. Here our value is known, for we are direct benefactors in clearing off the mice that would soon infest the whole place. But I could show you villages where no sooner does a fine specimen of a bird appear, than some dunderhead of a fellow thinks he does finely well in shooting it; after which he has it stuffed to ornament his roomby which act he has an unnatural staring monotony beside him, when he might have been solaced by seeing the same bird with his progeny, in all their varied beauty, winging through the free air.
I would rather keep away from those villages, remarked Snunting, drowsily.
You said there were some young ones in the house, father; have they that long name, too? inquired Bunting.
The biggest of them certainly has a right to the dignity, replied the old owl; he is following in the same line. Just now he is collecting specimens of eggs; and if, as I believe is the case when done in a right spirit, these collections make a boy take more interest in the feathered tribe and more humane, why, I would not grudge them.
What do you mean by a boy? asked Snunting.
Ah, considered his father, untucking his leg and stretching, that is a difficult question to answer. I am afraid I could never make you understand what a boy is, for he is ten times more ridiculous than man, and as many times more dangerous; but I will say for this particular boy that I am proud to call him my friend. Though he has many saucy antics, they are not hurtful, and he loves our race.
What are the other young ones called? inquired Bunting.
Their brother has named them the Greater Fidge and the Lesser Fidge, on account of the restlessness of these merry little oddities, whom you will see up here one day, no doubt. You need have no fear of them, for they are quite harmless.
Mousing-time, did you say, my dear? suddenly asked the mother owl as she woke up from a long doze.
Why, mother, you have been asleep! said the owlets, laughing. For though owls appear so solemn, do not suppose that they have not their moments of mirth like other mortals.
Nay, fledglings, replied she; I was but shutting my eyes to think. There are some things that take a good deal of thinking over. You have only to look down through the chinks, when our bells have called the people in to church to sit with our good pastor, to know it. He talks while many of them shut their eyes to think; but you may be sure they are not asleep.
Your mothers thinking bout has come to an end in a good moment, said her mate slily; she has sniffed the cool twilight air. And, to be sure, there is Mademoiselle Maries voice calling in the little people; that is a signal to us that hunting-time has come.
I thought it had, said Snunting, for I am so hungry.
Do tell us who is Mademoiselle Marie before you go, begged Bunting.
Cannot we wait till to-morrow for that? said Snunting.
Your father will never miss an opportunity of a talk about his favourite. Remarked the mother, and there is yet time to rest a little longer. We shall have enough of hunting to tire us before the morning.
Ah, yes, assented the old owl, we may wait a few minutes. But how can I tell you of mademoiselle? You must see her for yourselves to know her worth. She is not of this country, he continued reflectively; she is from France, the nightingales say, and belongs to a family nearly as ancient as our own. But unruly times have driven her into exile to make her own living. Ah, poor child! When the little ones are asleep, her slight noble form may be seen as she walks under the yews by the old wall to the rose-bower that looks to the south. There she pours out her heart to the thoughtful night. And, as though the intervening distance were not, she gazes till she seems to behold her far-off home. I do not know all her history, but I can read enough from her tearful eyes to learn that she is as a captive bird, away from all she loves best. Yet she fronts her sorrows so bravely that when with her young charges no one is more mirthful than she. Pretty soul! She knows me well. My loudest screech never scares her as it does the silly housemaid, who, though she has the bad taste to call my note an ugly one, is contented with a most discordant cry for herself. But see, the moths are all astir; we must be going.
With these words the owls fly on soft noiseless wing to the meadows and cornfields to take no more rest until some scores of mice are captured to feed their growing young. Poor, nimble little mice! Run as you will you cannot escape your destiny; but it comforts me to feel that no foreboding of your fate has troubled youthat the abundance of the earth has been yours until in one moment your little lives are ended.
The owlets have a lonely, timid feeling when their parents leave them, and, coming closer together, lean drolly upon one another for sympathy. They are not alone for long. Once in five minutes food is brought them by the owls.
That last mouse was most delicious, said Snunting, snapping his beak.
Mine was very good, too, this time, said Bunting, but the last was tough. When I go hunting I shall take care only to catch tender game.
Then you will have to be often hungry, remarked his mother, who flew in just then with more food in her claw. You must take what you can get and be thankful for it.
The hunger of the owlets was nearly satisfied as the beautiful night wore on. A night when surely the owls must have pitied the inmates of the old house, who, shut up in their rooms, little knew what joy it was to breathe the wholesome air; little knew what dulcet sounds were coming from out the copses mysterious shadethough perchance in their dreams the nightingales note might mingle; little knew what myriads of insects were rapturously speeding through their little span of life; little knew that what had happened only once before in a round of many years was again being enacted on their grounds.
Just on the side of the orchard leading away to the downs beyond, the fairies were holding their revels among the wild thymes scent. And more than that, they little would have guessed that after some melodious roundels had been sung, and many freakish tricks gone through, the fairy queen had actually invited the old owl to dance with her the stately minuet. It was with great pride that the wise bird went through the regular movements of the dance. He was reckoned to have a good leg in his youth for such exercises, and would fain show to the elfin court that his elasticity had not deserted him. His mate looked on admiringly, and thought that in all her long life she had never been present at an entertainment so exquisite, where the cool moonbeams sent just sufficient light through the flowery-scented vapour to illumine the whole without being in the least disturbing by too much brilliancy.
But all things have an end. This scene passed away at the first slight gleam of dawn, for only the silver moon may send her beams to touch the dancing fairy folk. The sun, they hold, is well enough for rough, coarse man, and may scorch and brown him as he wills; but for them, they flee away at his approach, leaving nothing to tell of their visit save some rings of richer grass which sprung to life beneath their tripping feet.
HE morning came, arousing those to activity who had rested in the night, and sending those to rest who had toiled or taken their pleasure while the sun was away.
Who shall say whether night or morning was the more beautiful?
This particular morning had a special attraction for the little people of the house, and awoke them earlier than usual, as though the sun would say, Here have I been a long time ready to light you to the town, and yet you forget to rise.
It was not to the town for its own sake that the little ones longed to go, but because a circus had established itself there for a few days; and though the journey was a long one, they had been promised to make an expedition to see it.
Mademoiselle Marie was fully as excited as they about the treat. It seemed like a little festival after the tedious round of lesson-giving, and she minded no more than the children did the two hours drive in the heat.
How gaily they talked as the horses trotted on their way, quite unconscious of the clouds of dust that enveloped them, only amused by the flies that had constituted themselves their escort!
Could it be that mademoiselle was ever sad? No one, to see her now, would have been able to believe it.
If the journey had been twice as long, the heat even greater than it was, surely the visitors thought, when seated in view of all its wonders, the circus was well worth it.
How the children laughed when the sagacious pony drew from the clowns pocket a handkerchief which that irresistibly comic person had just slily stolen? How they clapped when the Little Flying Wonder took his leaps through the hoops! But when a real French clown appeared, and, putting on an air of droll stupidity, said, Je nai le Coeur solide, mademoiselle was fairly overcome with emotion.
She had not heard her own tongue spoken for four years excepting from halting English lips, and I am sure you would not have thought the worse of her, lady of ancient lineage though she was, if you had seen her, on leaving the place, go up to a side partition and shake hands heartily with her countryman, her eyes meanwhile dimmed with tears.
A starving soul takes thankfully of bread which is not of the very finest quality.
If the circus had been delightful, its consequences were decidedly harassing; for the whole of the evening after the return home was spent by the children in perilous attempts at performing the various feats they had been witnessing. For want of a better steed one of them ran off for the donkey, who surely must have felt very much astonished at the accomplishments suddenly expected of him, his life hitherto having been spent in a much less exciting round of duties. But when he saw his little masters perseveringly making attempts to jump from his back through one of the wooden hoops which they were in the habit of trundling, I suppose he felt that ordinary, everyday behavior was not the etiquette of the occasion. So he gave a prolonged Hee-haw! scratched up the ground with his hoofs, and then kneeling down proceeded to roll vigorously. After which he cantered off briskly to his paddock, which he reached through a gap in the hedgea line of conduct which perfectly enchanted the little boys, who thought they saw in it a very decided talent for public life. When their bedtime came, with a welcome feeling of relief, at least to the elders of the party, they went off with magnificent plans in their heads of performances in which they and the donkey played a conspicuous and brilliant part.
HE day that had proved so eventful for the children and their governess had passed in the quietest manner possible within the belfry of the church. Sleep, which is the friend of all animals, and nearly always a welcome guest, though sometimes it comes in at inopportune moments uninvited, had paid the owl family a longer visit than usual. They all fell an easy prey to its charm.
The young owls were overcome by sleep, mainly, I believe, on account of overeating, though of course they had to make up for the wakeful hours of the night. Their parents slept longer than usual on account of the labours they had undergone on their hunting expedition, and the extraordinary excitement and exertion they had passed through among the fairies.
The old owl was the first to return to consciousness.
Why, Minerva bless us! exclaimed he, whats the matter? Im as stiff as if I were stuffed.
Hush-sh! murmured his mate dreamily. Im just catching a fat fairy for supper.
Tee-whit! laughed the old owl; a mouse you mean, I suppose.
A mouse, my dear! where? asked the mother owl, now thoroughly awake.
Youve been talking in your sleep, dearie, said her mate kindly, about fairies for supper, and that reminds me of how stiff I am. I suppose it must be the effect of my dance last night.
Well, well, replied his mate, a dance like that is worth some soreness afterwards. It was the loveliest sight I ever beheld. The fairy queen was grace itself, of course; but you, my dear, pleased my taste best. I only wish our little ones could have seen you.
It would have been a lesson for them, said the father proudly; but this night, I fear, is to be a very different one from last. Do you not hear a distant roll of thunder? We must be off hunting at once, or we shall get no mice; they stay at home on wet and stormy nights.
To be sure, said the mother; let us go.
Leaving the owlets still asleep, the parents went off on their quest for food; but it was, as they feared, going to be a bad night. A strong wind had sprung up, causing the pine trees to strew their cones about, the flowers their blossoms, as though they would make a peace-offering to the spirit of the storm. The song of birds, the grasshoppers shrill pipe, the buzz of the beetle, all were stilled alike.
The mice cowered in their holes and nests so that if it had not been for a few who had ventured out and now scurried home again, beyond a doubt the owls would have fared badly enough.
Poor little Bunting and his brother are huddled together in their nest in a woeful plight. The flashes of lightning come down upon them through the openings of the belfry, the thunder shakes the very bells. What can they do but quake and fear, all ignorant as they are of what a tempest is?
At last their parents return, with food and comforting words.
But do not expect us back again for some time, said their father, and think yourselves lucky if you get as much as another mouthful to-night.
Oh, Snunting, said Bunting, when they were along again, we shall not mind how tough the mice are if we only get some, shall we?
No, indeed, replied Snunting; any old grandfather mouse would be welcome now.
So it is with us all. When in the midst of plenty, even dainties scarcely content us; but let Fortune turn us adrift for awhile, and we are glad to eat the dry crusts from her table.
An hour passes by, but the old owls are still away. The storm has not yet reached the height of its fury. Down come large drops of rain upon the poor fledglings, who wonder what the uncomfortable fluid is, and begin to think themselves destined for some horrible fate. The thunder resounds through all the country side. What if their parents have been killed in this dreadful storm? they think.
The noise comes nearer; it even seems to be at the church door itself. Then at a window a curious sound is heard, as of some one trying to enter.
Bunting, said his brother, trembling with terror, the storm itself is afraid to be outside any more, and is coming here. What shall we do? Oh dear! oh dear!
Bunting shook the rain from his poor downy little body, trying to be valiant and to think of something cheering to reply; but his words were choked with fear, so that the only sound he uttered was something between a hiss and a snore.
The noise at the window continued; soon some glass came with a crash upon the stone pavement beneath.
At the same moment the parent owls returned, but such pitiable objects, all drenched with rain, and with no food in their claws. Their nestlings soon told them their troubles and of the breaking of the window. While they were speaking other voices were heard below, whispering strangely.
There are people here, said the mother; what an odd time to come to church!
The bells have made a very little sound, said Bunting; perhaps the people thought it was meant for them to come.
Ah, said the old owl reverently, it must be that in a storm like this the people come to ask help form the great Father who watches over us all.
Nay, said his mate, but I fear there is something wrong. These must be robbers. See, they are opening the strong chest where the treasures are.
If that is it, cried the old owl, let them look out for themselves. I can soon stop that business. You come too, my dear, prepared to use beak and claws as you never used them before.
Oh, father, you will be killed! whimpered Bunting.
Oh, mother, stay with us! implored Snunting.
But the owls did their duty at all risks. What a battle it was!quite terrific in its character. It is true there was no roar of cannon, no bursting of shells, no sound of the trumpet-call. Yet it was quite like a real battle in fierceness and commotion, and the savage screech of the enraged owls was in every way worthy of the whoop of the wildest wild Indian. There were the wounded, too though I am glad to say they were from the ranks of the enemy, who were so completely routed that they were forced to beat a disorderly retreat. They had gone through many dangers in their thieving career but never before had encountered such desperate assailants.
Having finished their work of victory, the parent owls returned to the nest to shelter their little ones, receiving on their own backs the pitiless rain that fell through the roof, and soothing the fledglings to sleep with the warmth of their well-covered bodies. All was at rest with them, no disturbing dreams annoyed them now, and though the gusty winds were tossing about some ugly words, the sound did not come near their dwelling. What if it had, would it have had any fear for them, all sheltered as they were beneath those wings? Yes! It must have struck terror even there; for the words were those of the enemy in retreat, one of whom, a mere boy, was uttering them in revengeful tones. And this was what they sounded as they were scattered by the blast of the storm
Them howlsyoung unsstealnighthold howls away.
Poor Bunting! Poor Snunting! Enjoy yourselves while there are some moments of repose left for you. How fortunate you are in being all unconscious of the future, which, if you could have read, would have dismayed you with the story of disaster marked out for your fresh young lives!
The time of trouble came without delay.
It was on a Sunday night that, after the congregation had dispersed, a boy, who bore marks of recent wounds upon his face, crouched down in one of those old-fashioned pews where concealment was easy and waited until the old sexton had done his work of putting all in good order. Then, when all was quiet, he began, what was certainly a strange occupation for a sacred edifice, to take a number of small sticks from his pocket and to dexterously entwine them till they assumed the shape of a rude cage. He then began to examine the ladder that led to the belfry, the ascent of which, though rough enough, presented no difficulties to one who was in the habit, as a matter of business, of practicing all the agility of the monkey tribe.
From the bottom to the top was only the work of a few moments with him, the cage slung over his back to be out of his way meanwhile.
From the top a fresh inspection had to be made to know for certain where the owls had fixed their abode; and as the boy saw the old birds fly out almost immediately, he was not left in uncertainty as to the exact spot where the nest was placed. But how to reach it required some thought, for it was far above the ladder in the rafters, and would involve a perilous climb.
The owls had returned twice with food before the plan of attack was arranged. Their owlets were in the highest spirits, for this they felt was to be a night such as they loved; when their table, so to speak, would be bountifully spread, and nothing could interfere with the full enjoyment of the feast.
In the interval of waiting for the courses they engaged in little games such as owlets play, the only fear being that in their frolics they might overleap the boundaries of their domain.
Play on, happy little fledglings, while you can! Play on, even though a malicious face is near you planning your desolation! Play on, though an ill-omened hand is contracting its muscles ready to gasp its prey! Play on in innocence, and enjoy every instant that is left to you!
Bunting, do you hear anything? suddenly inquired his brother.
I think I do, replied he.
Bunting, can you see anything?
I think I can, was the answer.
Bunting, what can it be?
I cannot tell, was the trembling reply, as Hope fled, and Misery took them for her own.
Poor little owlets! You can play no longer now; your prison is so small, there is scarcely room to move within its narrow walls. Ruthlessly you are swung through the mazes of the dangling ropes. In vain you call for your parents help. There is no answer but a mournful, muffled dirge from the old familiar bells. It is not the bells alone that make lament for your sad fate; each member of the house close by is stirred with horror and indignation at the event, which is soon made known throughout the whole village, which shares the general sorrow. The old owls have also departed from their midst, and not even the most aged among the inhabitants can remember a time when the belry had been untenanted.
Surely it bodes no good, say they.
At evening they collect in knots about the village pump to discuss the news.
By the twinges in my knee, said one, I thought something was about to happen.
Ive had a sort of a feeling for a long time, said another, that something dreadful was coming.
This is meant as a warning that the crops will fail, said the most lugubrious of them all.
ILE the gossips were content to spend their time in idle talk, the master of the old house was taking active measures towards the recovery of the owls, if that were possible. He had bills posted about which promised a handsome reward to any one who would bring them back, and he instructed the police to make diligent inquiries. But the days passed by without news of the missing favourites, and the belfry was still deserted and forlorn, though the bells did their part towards bringing back their friends; for when they rang this is what they kept repeating sometimes in loud swelling tones that swept the distant air, sometimes in gently entreating sounds, Owls of the belfry, return to your home; to your home where are friends who all love you.
The little summer breezes came lightly in to search for the inmates of the nest, but when they saw it still coldly bare they went sighing sadly away to tell the news among the fir tree tops; so that the whole air became infected with melancholy. All things seemed changed. The master of the house, no longer content to study in his museum or among his books, wandered restlessly about, annoyed that any one should have dared to break his orders about the birds, and half suspicious that after all they might have been removed by some of the village youths, which would be a hard thing to bear, for hitherto there had been perfect harmony between them and him. He could not remember any time from his earliest childhood when the soft dusky forms of the owls were not to be seen about the place, which began to feel strange and unhomelike without them. In fact, he felt out of sorts and irritable. Any one might have supposed that the owls had been the guardian spirits of the neighbourhood, for now they had gone content seemed to have departed also.
The little boys could no longer persuade Mademoiselle Marie to join them in their games. She had lately received letters with the foreign postmark, which had greatly perturbed her; her wistful eyes grew more pathetic than ever as she took her evening walk, her form drooped languidly, her steps were slow and laboured, and she begged that her little charges might be excused their lessons for a time that she might rest. They, of course, thought it a fine thing to have holidays, but with them also the times were out of tune. How could they play when Mademoiselle sat pale and listless within the house?she whose ready sympathy had ever helped their childish plans, she whose smile they always looked to as the reward of their success. No it is certain they cannot play; they must try what hard work in their little gardens will do for them. But this likewise is a failure. What does it matter whether the flowers grow any more, when mademoiselle is too ill to care for them? What does it matter if weeds do come up? They may come and welcome, since nobody cares.
At last a moment of excitement arrives to break the peevish monotony of their lives. A boy with marks of scars upon his face comes walking up the avenue carrying something in his hand. He asks for the master of the house, saying that he has found the young owls and has come to claim the reward. Where did he find them? he is asked in feverish delight; to which he replies that he bought them of a youth who was passing through the town, not knowing that they were stolena fact he had since discovered. And has he seen the old owls? He answers that he has seen them once hovering near the owlets cage, which was hung outside a window, and he thinks they brought food to their young ones.
The reward is gratefully paid, with the addition of what was said to have been expended on the purchase of the owlets, and the boy goes off with a cunning, evil grin upon his countenance.
The fledglings are tenderly handled and carefully examined, but they do not know into what loving hands they have fallen, and fear takes possession of them.
Oh! cried Bunting, what will they do to us now?
Oh that we had addled in the egg! sighed Snunting.
Poor little birds! How their sojourn among strangers had swept away the snowy purity of their garb, dressing them instead in a dull, dirty, bedabbled grey! How stiff were their limbs, which seemed almost to have lost their native power! And no wonder if it were so, since the only exercise they had taken was in changing places, when Bunting took his turn of being at the bottom of the cage with Snunting on the top of him, or when Snuntings time came for doing the same. But the hour of their relief had come, though they knew it not and were only looking for fresh misfortunes when they were removed into a larger cage, which was hung up on the church wall.
For, said the master of the house, their parents may discover them there, after which they shall be removed to the belfry.
They had scarcely been placed in position before the old sexton was seen approaching, dragging by the arm a boythe very boy who had just obtained the offered reward.
Look here, sir, said the old man to the master of the house; do you see theres a piece torn right out of this young vagabones sleeve?
Certainly I do, was the astonished reply. The poor boy is ragged in many places; I hope he will be able to buy some new clothes now.
But what will you say sir, asked the sexton in much triumphant agitation, when I tell you Ive got the piece that just fits that there hole?
What do you mean, Baxter? Pray explain yourself, said the master.
Well, sir, and young gents, replied the old man with much importance, this is what I mean. That there young scamps nothing but a viper in borrowed plumeswhich Ill prove to you. You didnt think I was agoing to let them owlets be taken without I knew the reason why, I suppose; so I had a good saunter all by myself up in that belfry. Up the ladder, over the beams, round the corner, in a way as would have astonished you; and what did I light upon but a bit of torn cloth, and that bit I kept; and that bit fits in this here hole as neat as if it was but out by rule and compass. And whats more, this young rascals let out about the church being robbed, leastways attempted; and it was them old owls as beat off the thieves. And them owls, sir, continued the old man solemnly, deserves the Victoria Cross; and he looked as much as to say, I shall consider you very mean, too, if they dont get it.
The result of this talk, and much more on the same subject, combined with sundry investigations about the boy, led to his being sent to a reformatory, where we will hope he was taught to leave his ways of idleness and wrong-doing, and to spend a useful life.
The owlets cage is not to hang upon the church wall long, for loving eyes have spied them out; large, softly flapping wings have overshadowed them. The old home welcomes them once more. And over the fir tree tops, over the orchard, over the downs beyond, the bells send out the gladsome news.
Some strangers passing through the village stop to ask what marriage there has been; but the gossips say,
No marriage, and eagerly tell the story of the belfry owls.
How odd to ring the bells for such a cause! the strangers say as they laughingly ride on; but to one of them, when far off, the gentle chimes seem to repeat the words of the poet
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
N another home across the sea the sound of welcome has gone forth to one who also has felt the sorrow of the exile. Mademoiselle Marie has returned to her native land, carrying with her the hearty good wishes of her English friends, who all miss her sweet companionship. But no one misses her more than does the old father owl, who, however, is comforted when in the spring the nightingales bring news of her. How they saw her on a sunny terrace that overlooked the orange groves, her countenance transfigured with happiness as she talked with those she loved; how this was one of the fairest spots on earth, and that Mademoiselle Marie was the mistress of it all.