Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

No wonder then that my friend was so precocious in his ideas, or that he too, on every occasion when we were alone together expatiated on the tyranny and rapacity of kings and nobles, and gradually revealed the fact that wide-spread discontent prevailed through France, and that a conspiracy was being slowly organized once more to give her a Republican form of Government. This secret, however, was not told at once.

I spent several Sundays at his uncle's house, and the old gentleman won my heart by praising our national character in no measured strain. When he felt that my confidence was gained, he began to talk of the state of parties in England, of which I knew literally nothing. The picture he drew was anything but a pleasant one. A tyrannous sorereign, a powerful and united aristocracy, a luxurious and corrupted clergy, and the mass of the people oppressed by all three, toiling day and night for their masters, and studiously kept back from all knowledge and chance of wealth. Such he informed me was the state of England. At first I could scarcely credit his statements, but as I got further advanced he showed me letters from his English correspondents all breathing the same spirit, telling of bread riots, of famine, destitution, of inhuman treatment in coal mines and factories, of incendiarism in the farming districts, and of oppression and cruelty in the army and navy. I could not disbelieve these assertions. I could not then understand how the privations of the noble English people had been taken advantage of by these very men to involve the country into trouble, how each slight incident had been laid hold of, coloured and distorted in order to goad uneducated wretches into madness. Thank heaven, but few such exist in our day; and when they have dared to lift their voices to promulgate injurious falsehoods, the good sense of the suffering workmen has allowed their noisy interference to pass by without notice. The people have learned that the would-be demagogues who Jay every national calamity, every dispensation of Providence, at the door of the high-born and wealthy, are themselves actuated by the basest of motives, the desire to turn the sufferings of thousands to their own private good. Yes, the people of Lancashire have shown an example to the world in patience and long suffering. The natural course for me to have followed was of course to speak to my father ; but during the first part of the intercourse Eugene had begged me not to mention the subject to my family, and before I had acquired anything like a clear view into the subject, my family had started for Italy. I wrote to my father and asked him his opinion on the present state of England, expatiating on the hardships of the working classes, and received an answer which wounded me more than any rebuke could have done. He pooh-poohed the whole affair ; bade me stick to Homer and Virgil --wondered who could possibly have put such nonsense into my head, and ended by telling me that I was still but a child, and unable to understand the machinery by which states were governed, and that, if he heard any more such balderdash from me, he would take me away from Paris, and send me to an English school.

This threat weighed heavily with me. For a long time I had associated with hardly any but Frenchmen and I had become essentially French in taste and habits : yet, strange to say, among my companions I had acquired the name of " Le fier Anglais," so eager was I to resent any allusion to my nation, and so proud was I of being the only Englishman in the school. Above all I was influenced by the dread of parting

VOL. I.-No. 10.

[ocr errors]

with Eugene, and so I wrote to my father that I would no more think of such matters, but obey his injunctions. The return post brought me, I remember, a bank note for 100 francs (£1), a huge sum to possess in a French school, and my father's forgiveness coupled with some sound advice. I think I may here venture on a description of the life we led in the College Henri Quatre, so different from that of an Eton or Harrow boy. We were in round numbers 250 boys all living together in the same house, which had a dingy, dirty front looking on the street of the same name as the school. The pupils were divided into dormitories, 20 in each, under the superintendence of a preéfet, a head boy answering to a "monitor” at home. We rose at six in summer, seven in winter, washed in turn in a yard surrounded by a large wooden trough, then had a cup of milk and water, and some bread. Studies till ten, then breakfasted on coffee and bread and butter. At two we dined on soup (such soup !) and meat, except on Fridays and special fast days, when salt fish was served up instead of beef or mutton. From half-past two to four we were allowed récréation, that is, we walked about in the playground, practised gymaastics, trundled hoops, or played at marbles, and occasionally were marched out two and two under an assistant master : but as for games there was none; there was no cricket, no rounders, and no football. Certainly we had an inflated bladder which now and then received an odd kick, but any one attempting to get up a “Phinning ring ” or a “ bully” would have got 18 hours black hole. The chief amusement of the grown-up boys was talk-talk ; and, though I soon got used to it, I at first wondered much at the precociousness of these lads, who at fifteen or seventeen spoke of women in a way that would make an Oxford man blush. At five we had bread and milk, and at eight what was called supper, a square inch of meat with dry bread and water ; by nine we were all in bed. Saturday was a half-holiday, and those boys who had friends or relations in Paris were allowed to visit them two Sundays in each month. The punishments differed widely from those in vogue among us; they were,-solitary confinement to one's room, bread and water at all meals, stoppage of play hours, and the black hole. The latter is bad enough when inflicted on a full grown man, and Charles Reade has well shewn its effects in his “ Never too late to Mend;" but, when the sufferer is a child, its punishment becomes simply atrocious. A boy's mind is so easily affected, any tale of horror it may have

. heard sinks so deeply into it, that it is no wonder, if when left to itself in palpable darkness for two whole days its imagination conjures up visions too dreadful to be borne. I have seen boys come out of the blackhole perfectly livid, their eyes almost starting out of their head, and their whole body shaking as if in a fit of ague.

Notwithstanding the monotonousness of our life, Eugene and I had struck up such a friendship that I could not bear the idea of parting from him; so, as I have said, I promised no more to vex my father by useless questions. Time passed on. The discipline of the school seemed to agree with me, and by the time I had attained my sixteenth birthday my appearance and strength were beyond my years. I still frequented the house of M. François Lautour (Eugene's uncle,) and, one Sunday evening, fired by the tales of oppression I had that day heard, and moved beyond measure by the wrongs of my countrymen, I exclaimed. “Oh, that I were but a man, that I night strike one blow for liberty!"

M. Lautour took me at my word.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a

a

“ Henri Cancellor," you are a man, if not in years, yet in intelligence. I think it is now time for you to know more of us; I can trust you, can I not?"

With boyish fervour I answered, “ To the death! I swear henceforth to be true to the one great cause, and to devote my life to the freedom of the people !”

There were present three or four friends of Lautour, and these came round and shook me cordially by the hand whilst applauding my noble ambition, and Eugene threw his arms round me and whispered as he kissed me, “ You and I, Henri, the two boys, we will shew the way to these laggards."

Lautour called me to him, and leaning back in his chair, his eyes half closed as if indulging in some ideal vision of the future, his long white hair streaming down nearly to his shoulders uttered his thoughts aloud, “ Yes, mon fils, I foresee for you a noble career. To you will be reserved the task of infusing life and spirit into the inert masses of Eng. land. Yours it will be to teach them their strength and the means of of applying it; yours to lead them against the proud aristocracy that has fattened on their life-blood. Yours will be a glorious fate. He paused for a moment,-—" What a future! What a magnificent realisation of all our hopes ! Only persevere, and by freeing your country you will aid to give liberty to mine. Then shall we see that ancient enmity, fostered by the accursed nobles, vanish like morning mist before the lifegiving rays of the glorious sun. No more wars between us; no more strife. Two Republics leagued together in brotherly amity, we will spread over the world our watch words, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, and at their very sound tyrants will leave their throne and fly for their lives. My years forbid that I should behold the end, but you, boy, you will see it and my words of this night will then come clearly back to your memory." Then turning to one of his friends, “M. Maurigny, do you not think our young friend ought to be affiliated at once? I myself would propose him and be his surety at once.”.

“And I,” said Maurigny, a young man, thirty or thereabouts, with a countenance grave and solemn beyond his years, “ I shall be most happy to second his nomination."

A third person now joined in. I had previously remarked him as a frequent guest at Lautour; and, though he had ever been most friendly to me, I had somehow conceived for him an intense dislike. He always flattered me, and praised my words and actions, yet all the time the downward glance of his eyes, his slow and seemingly studied speeches, took away all belief in his meaning. He was a tall, swarthy complexioned man, close shaved all but moustache and imperial, and had adopted the style of wearing his hair so common among the Rougesclose cropped. He had the thorough Southern type of countenance, the hook-nose, the high cheek bones, and the black piercing eye. I afterwards found that he was a Provençal ; but he had the peculiarity of never looking any one straight in the face, and even when he spoke in the most honeyed accents, there was a lurking smile in the corners of his mouth, and a twitching movement of the eyebrows, that always made me think that the man was internally laughing at the gullibility of his auditors. Mr. Renaud de la Renaudiere, for that was his name, now put in his objections :

"I doubt not the young gentleman's intelligence," said he, “but

[ocr errors]

a

really I am of opinion we should exercise more caution before we admit to our councils so very juvenile a brother. My head sits quite loosely enough on my shoulders as it is, and I care not to have it still more endangered."

"Do you mean that you doubt my truth and honesty ?" I exclaimed, starting up in anger. Remember, reader, I was sixteen, and had just been styled--a man.

“ By no manner of means, mon petit monsieur; but still, -you have a mother, you have sisters, I presume your age precludes your yet boasting of any other ties, and you know not what female influence will not do to extract a secret from the innermost heart. One moment's tenderness on your mother's lap,"—and the mocking smile on his lips gave the words their full meaning of a bitter sneer; and we should have to pay our respects to Père Guillotine, or at best have an excellent opportunity of studying the manners of the people as exemplified in the Galleys of Brest or Toulon."

The blood had been gradually rushing to my face as he spoke, and it was with great difficulty that I restrained myself and allowed him to go on. Before he could finish, I burst out into entreaties to be permitted to join the society:

“Oh, I beseech you,” I cried, “heed not the disparaging remarks of that cold, heartless man, who cannot sympathise with the warm aspirations of a true soul. Mr. de la Renaudiere tells you I am but a boy, and not to be trusted. Which do you think, Mr. Lautour, you would repose most confidence in, the artless, guileless youth whose heait is filled with but one image, that of Liberty, or the man of mature age who in his battle of life has perchance banished from his mind all thought but of self?” and I looked de la Renaudiere full in the face. The hit seemed to have told, and as a smile went round the room, it seemed to me that those assembled were not sorry to see him thus opposed by a boy. For a moment he lost his usually calm countenance. He compressed his lips, and gave me one glance that told me, unskilled as I was in reading the human heart, that he would not forget the implied insult. The cloud was over his features but for a second; in a moment it was gone, and he spoke

again in a soft tone of voice with such an apparent air of sincerity, that I thought I must have been mistaken in the import of that one glance.

“My dear sir,” said he, “ I did say you were but a boy, and you have proved my words. I merely objected to you, as a youth, being admitted to our secret councils, and I think you will admit that at such none ought to be present who cannot restrain their temper better than you. You could have no personal meaning in what you said, and therefore I frankly forgive your ebullition of temper. Nay, I see you have a spirit beyond your years, which, if rightly led, will much advance our good cause, and I therefore retract my objection, and beg to add that I shall, for one, give my voice in your favour. Will you now give me your hand ?"

I took his at once.
" We are friends now?" said he.

"Of course," was my answer, "we were never anything else," but though his seeming frankness had caused a reaction in his favor in my mind, I still felt some inward dread of the man, and distrust of his professions.

CHAP. II.

The next week I managed with some dfficulty to obtain a special holiday, and with a beating heart hastened by myself, for Eugene was detained on account of some trifling infraction of College rules, to the Rue de la Cloche, where on a third flat, resided Mr. Lautour. On my entering his room he asked me whether I still felt in the same mood, whether I had carefully weighed all the probable consequences of the step I was about to take, and whether I could heart and soul devote myself to the cause. My mind was fully made up--- Even had l not been imbued with the principles of Republicanisin my pride at the chance of being associated with men of repute in France would have prevented my drawing back. I answered that I was ready to go through any test or ordeal which might be required of me. The old gentleinan put both his hands on my shoulders and looked me full in the face. He saw the bright smile of hope and pride playing on my lips and pressed me to his breast. “I have no fears for you, my brave boy,” said he. “Before this night is passed you will be one of the future liberators of the world. I have proposed your name for election, but my age precludes my attendance at the ceremony. Maurigny will however act for you in my place; you must however just go upstairs and change your dress; you will find one ready for you as your college uniform would be too remarkable.” I was not long in slipping on a plain suit of mourning clothes, and about seven in the evening, Maurigny and I set out. Ah me! how well I remember each incident of that evening! Every trifling detail is as fresh in my memory as if the scenes had been enacted but yesterday. The responsibility I was about to undergo, the feeling that the timo had come when I was to shake off all boyish ideas and assume the cares of manhood, that undefinable sense of wrong-doing and danger always accompanied by an accelerated pulse and quickened intelleet ; all, despite the gloominess of the night tended to excite me and keep my faculties stretched to the utmost. It was with a determination carefully to note each event and to impress on my memory the appearance of my future associates that I started on that memorable evening of November 1812. It had rained all day, and now a dense mist had settled over the town, not London fog ; no Paris mists are far different ; a cold drizzling rain, accompanied by a cutting east wind, chilled us as we made our way along the deserted thoroughfares. But few people were about the streets, and till we reached the Pont Neuf my guide paid no attention to them. I asked where we were going and I then learnt that we were about to visit a quarter I knew but by reputation. There was at the time I am speaking of a cluster of houses round the Cathedral of Notre Dame intersected by narrow dirty and badly lighted streets, the few lamps that shed a doubtful gleam on the muddy way, being slung from the houses on either side ; this quarter enjoyed the unpleasant repute of being the den of the Paris evildoers; it was to that City what Duck Lane was to London, a spot oft visited by the police in search of criminals and supposed to be solely inhabited by them. This was our destination. I know not for what reason it had been selected as the meeting place of a revolutionary committee. Perhaps the mere fact. of the constant descent of the police upon tho houses to arrest criminals

« VorigeDoorgaan »