Volume 1, Chapter 10
Volume 1, Chapter 10
DURING our journey, Ruffigny communicated to me at large the particulars of his connection with my family, of which I had before heard in general terms, but knew nothing distinctly.
"While I was yet a child," said my fellow-traveler, " I had the misfortune to lose both my parents. By this event I fell under the care of an uncle, a brother of my father. Hypocrisy- and fraud are natives of every climate; and there are villains even in Switzerland. My uncle was copious in his professions of affection and fidelity during the last illness of my father, and protested a thousand times that he would in all respects treat me as if I had been sprung of his own loins. It was at about seven years of age that I was delivered to his guardianship. Unfortunately this uncle of mine had a numerous family, and had been unprosperous in several of his attempts for the improvement of his property. He was naturally of an impatient, discontented, and reserved disposition, yet with a considerable mixture of vanity. He had disbursed in several instances more money than he could well command. He had been restless, and eager to engage in various projects ; and his projects had failed. My father, on the contrary, who was of an open and free disposition, cool in his temper, and sagacious in his determinations, had constantly prospered. Beside which, my father was greatly and universally beloved; every one consulted, every one distinguished him; he was courted by all his neighbors, made an umpire in every controversy, and on all bands admitted to be the most enlightened citizen in the canton of which be was a native. His brother, sullen in his disposition, perplexed and obscure in his intellect, and rude and unconciliating in his manners, was as generally avoided. The common observation respecting him among the candid and goodhumored Swiss was, 'Our dislike is more than we can give a reason for; we agree to look upon him as a bad man ; but where is the guilt he has committed?'"
"Such was the guardian, into whose family I was at this time removed. He saw me in the circle of his own children with a scowling eye. 'Why,' said he to himself, 'should this little vagabond be entitled to more property than all my children put together ? He will come into possession of superfluity, while his cousins, not less worthy than he, will see their lives withered, by the scantiness of means which I have in vain exerted myself to increase.'"
"The observations my uncle had occasion to make upon me in the sequel, did not by any means tend to tranquilize the storm already swelling in his bosom. His children inherited the same slowness and perplexity of intellect which characterized their father; I was remarked, to have that facility of apprehension and quickness of parts which distinguished my deceased parent. Whatever we learned as pupils, we learned together; but I excelled them all. Whenever, which was not often, any visiter honored our roof, we put ourselves forward with the easy frankness of Swiss manners, but I constantly bore away the prize. In the little exercises of the adjoining hamlet, in the questions proposed, and the remarks delivered, by the aged peasantry of the vicinage, the preference still fell to me."
"This was too much for my uncle's unquiet temper to endure.
"'Does the same fate,' murmured he in his meditations, 'still pursue me ? As I was constantly eclipsed by this urchin's father, so shall my children be for ever surpassed by the son? Is there a fatality entailed upon our race? Surely from the womb there has been an antipathy between us; and, as long as the descendants of either exist, my progeny will for ever be made slaves to that of my brother !'
"About twelve months after the death of my father, my uncle had occasion to make a journey into France, and to my great surprise proposed to take me with him. My father had so disposed of his property, as to vest in his brother the full possession of the income during my minority, under the notion of a compensation for his expense and trouble in the care of my education. Other parents in other countries would have been anxious that the greater part of the income should accumulate, for the purpose of supplying me with a more ample fortune when I came of age. But this idea is foreign to the simplicity of the country in which I was born. The property of which my father died possessed was, without farther improvement, fully equal to any estate in the canton; and it would have been more agreeable to his modes of thinking, that I should, when arrived at years of discretion, come into possession of the very income that he had received, than of a larger.
One evil, however, originated in this mode of settling his estate. My guardian found, immediately after the decease of my father, a considerable improvement to his own resources. The expenses which were in any way necessary to me at this tender age were extremely small, and my uncle had of consequence the whole present emolument of my property. This circumstance increased the strong dislike he entertained for me. His avaricious disposition caused him to look forward with horror to the time when it would be required of him to disburse large sums in the progress of my education, and with still greater horror to the period when it would be necessary to resign the whole."
"In our journey to France we were also accompanied by my eldest cousin, a youth of about seventeen years of age. This lad had always treated me with singular unkindness; and at his age he was less under restraint from the laws of decorum, and less capable of disguising his antipathies, than his father was. He never looked upon me but with a scowl of dislike ; he never spoke to me but in a tone of severity and harshness. Some of his brothers were as young as myself, and to these he was a sour and unripened tyrant. Nevertheless, when it was my misfortune to have any difference with them (and indeed we never agreed), he was always, when appealed to, of the party against me, and his decisions were announced by cuffs and blows innumerable."
"When we arrived at Lyons, my uncle laid aside his proper name, and caused himself to be called M. Mouchard. Upon this occasion he called me in, and addressed me in a style of unusual seriousness. He had taken me round the town of Lyons, shown me the best buildings, and the handsomest of the suburbs, conducted me to the public gardens and the theaters, and endeavored by every means to make it appear in my eyes an agreeable residence. It was indeed a perfect contrast to the wild and severe faces exhibited by the canton of Uri ; and to my foolish and inexperienced heart, the populous streets, the thronged exchange, the crowded walks, and the illuminated theaters, appeared like fairy land.
"'When I return home,' said my uncle, 'it is my intention to leave you at Lyons.'
"My heart leaped within me at the intelligence, and I expressed my delight in unequivocal terms. Unfortunate as I was, I had no prepossessions to attach me to my native land. While my parents lived, I indeed loved it. All my hours had been winged with joy, and I experienced those pleasing emotions which arise in the human heart, when we perceive that we are looked on with partiality and affection by all around us. But the last of my parents had now been dead more than a year, and since that time the scene had been completely reversed. It was indeed an irksome and a melancholy year to me. Till then I had been a spoiled child; but in my new situation I was neglected and disliked by all. Wherever I was, I was one too much; whatever I did, my uncle and my cousins were sure to disapprove. I did not feel this so much at first; perhaps the unkindness I experienced was at first not so great as it afterwards became. I made those exertions I have already mentioned, and gained the applause of the neighborhood and the envy of my cousins. But mine, perhaps, was not an age to struggle with discouragement ; nor had the tenderness and indulgence of my first education prepared me for it. The volatility of youthful spirits in part supported me; but I had fits of melancholy and depression greater than might have been expected at so early a period of life. Gradually I came to hate the scenery about me, and to loathe the routine of the passing day."
"'Your father,' continued my uncle, 'left you to my care, and many have been the anxious hours which this guardianship has cost me. My brother was a very foolish man, and has bred you in such a manner that you will be a great trouble to any one who has to do with you. If you had been brought up soberly and strictly, like your cousins, you would have been a very different sort of a boy; but that, poor child, is not your fault. I have tried to bring you into order; but I see it is necessary you should go out into the world. My brother, with all his mistakes, was my brother still; and you must needs think that I will do every thing in my power for the service of his child.'"
"'William, you must be aware that, if I had not a good opinion of your capacity, I should not talk thus to a child of your years. You certainly do not want for capacity, though you are a very perverse and wicked boy. I must own that I do not expect any good of you ; but, if you come to harm, it shall not be through my fault. You will live, I hope, to thank me from the bottom of your heart for what I am now doing for you.'
"'There is one thing more I have to say to you, a part of which you can understand, and a part you cannot. The part you can understand, I will explain to you ; the part you cannot, you must trust to my superior judgment, and to the paternal care I have ever shown for you.'
"'You have observed, that, since I came to this city, I have called myself Mr. Mouchard. That is to be your name; you are to be called William Mouchard. You are a native of Bellinzone ; that is the story I shall tell of you, and that you are to uphold. There are many things that a child of your years cannot comprehend; you do not know what is good for you, and must trust to the better discernment of your elders. This I have to tell you ; you must never on any account mention my real name or your own ; you must never mention the canton of Uri, or any one of the mountains and valleys among which you have been brought up. You must never write to me or to any creature in Switzerland ; you must never make any inquiries, or give the least sign that you are alive. I shall have my eyes upon you; I shall provide generously for your support; and, when I please, shall write to you, or come myself to see how you are going on. Upon this point, boy, I must deal plainly with you. All my attention is directed to your welfare, and I have only this injunction to give you. Upon your observance of it, depends every thing that is dear to you. The moment you break it in the minutest particle, the most terrible misfortunes will instantly overwhelm you. I cannot tell you what they are; they are so great, that your understanding would be wholly unable to comprehend them. But be sure of this, all I do is for your advantage. When you least expect it, you will see that it is so. Remember and tremble! I put the happiness of your whole life into your own disposal.'"
"It is inconceivable with what strange sensations I listened to this harangue. The phrases my uncle bad employed, of the superior judgment of our elders, the incapacity and blindness of children, and every thing that older people do being calculated for our good, was the cant which I had incessantly heard during the last year ; and, though these phrases certainly were never employed upon a more unworthy occasion, they excited in me a mysterious sensation of reverence and awe, -which I felt incapable to shake off. A doubtful opinion, -Was this genuine kindness ? Was it a masked hostility ? -hung about me, and perplexed my resolutions. I was not, however, long in doubt. I was delighted with the city of Lyons; I could not endure the thought of returning to my uncle and his family. I looked upon my native home, now that my parents were removed from the stage of life, with horror ; but I was in the morning of my days, and was inclined to regard every thing new, with hope, with exultation, and a bounding heart.
"One thing appeared to me singular. My uncle told me that Lyons was to be the place of my abode; but he mentioned nothing to me of the particular situation in which I was to be placed. Was I to be put on pension at a boarding school, or bow ? If I were, methought I should like to have seen beforehand the house in which I was to reside, the master who was to instruct me, the youths who were to be my companions. But I was totally destitute of every sort of knowledge of the world, and was in the hands of my envious and bad-hearted uncle to dispose of as he pleased. This might, for naught I knew, be the established mode of proceeding in all similar cases. It was perhaps one of those points, which were reserved for the wisdom of our elders to decide upon, and which the capacity of a child like me was held unable to comprehend.
"We had been now ten days at Lyons, and the next morning was fixed for my uncle and my cousin to set out upon their return. In the evening a M. Vaublanc visited us in our hotel."
"'This is the gentleman,' said my uncle, ' who is so obliging as to provide an apartment for you in his house.'
"I had never seen him before. He was a little man, with black, straight hair, his countenance clear and sensible, but with muscles that had not often been molded into the expression of pity or tenderness. His dress was exceedingly plain; not without some appearances of negligence and dirt. My uncle and he talked a great deal about the silk manufacturers of Lyons; my guardian seeming to be desirous of information under this head, and the stranger well qualified to afford it. Neither of them took much notice of me, and at an early hour I was directed to go to bed.
"'My little man,' said the Lyonnese, taking me by the hand, but with no expression of kindness, ' you will be very comfortable at my house; I have two little boys just about your age, and you will be nice playmates together. Good night! I shall come for you in the morning.'
"I conceived no flattering augury in behalf of my new landlord. What had pleased me in Lyons were the squares, the public gardens, the theaters. These were exactly calculated to soothe my youthful curiosity. The plainnesss of the appearance of M. Vaublanc, and the dryness of his manners, were in perfect contrast with these. There was something in them which tended to chill the imagination, and inspire a dreary presentiment of the future.
"Yet I was willing to launch on this untried sea. I said, 'No, I will not go back with my uncle!' The morning of our separation was heavy, and presently began to pour down torrents of rain. My uncle, at parting, put a louis d'or into my hand; I thought I never felt any thing so cold as his hand, when I touched it for the last time. My cousin presented me with a three livres piece.
"You wonder, perhaps, at my recollecting so minutely a scene which passed at so early an age; but you will presently perceive what reasons there were that compelled me to recollect it. Accustoming myself to contain my recollections and ruminations in my own bosom, they took so much the deeper root.
"M. Vaublanc was punctual in meeting and receiving me, at the very instant that my uncle was stepping into the carriage which was to convey him to the foot of the mountains. I never saw or heard of my guardian from this moment.
"The wheels of the coach slowly rolled away, and my new landlord led me down another street. Our walk was not short, and we arrived at the meanest part of the city. M. Vaublanc led me up a narrow and silent alley. When we had passed through two thirds of it, ' This,' said he, is my house.'
"We entered, and were received by his wife, a woman plain and neat in her dress, and of a notable appearance. Presently came in the two boys he mentioned to me. They were clothed in remarkably coarse attire; and the rudeness of their countenances, and ungainliness of their carriage, well corresponded to their dress. All together, -the alley, the darkness -of the apartments, the appearance of the family, -exceedingly displeased me. And this, thought I, is my residence in the magnificent city of Lyons! My youthful senses had been idly dazzled with the gaudiness of artificial life, as I had here first seen it. But I could not help saying to myself, ' How preferable are the mountains, and cascades, and cheerful cottages of the Swiss, to this miserable alley!'
"In one respect, however, my situation was better than I began to expect it would be. After two or three days I was conducted to one of the most respectable seminaries of education in the city of Lyons, such as young persons of the rank of the little Vaublancs never entered, where, under masters of great knowledge and humanity, I began to be initiated in every species of learning suitable to my age. What was my uncle's motive for taking this step, so little in consistency with those which afterwards followed, I could never exactly conjecture. Perhaps he was desirous of letting me down by degrees, and had not the courage to drive me to despair at once, and risk the consequences which that state of mind might produce. Perhaps, wicked as he was, he could not himself form ill resolutions immediately, and only by degrees worked up his mind to the plan which was intended to terminate in my ruin.
"Be this as it will, the studies and accomplishments, in the pursuit of which I was now engaged, afforded me much gratification. Though I had at first been dazzled with the splendors of Lyons, I knew that pleasure was not the business of life; and, regarding the acquisition of liberal knowledge as a badge of honor, I was willing to cultivate those improvements which might fit me to discharge with respectability the offices of a man. I recollected that in my native province I had always appeared to advantage in the field of emulation, and this naturally inspired me with an appetite for similar experiments. My parts were quick, my apprehension was clear, and I almost constantly obtained the praise and encouragement of the regents. The only mortification I suffered, during this period, was in going home every evening to M. Vaublanc's There was such a contrast between his manners and those of my instructors ! His children were so sordid and groveling in their habits, compared with the generous minds and spirited tempers of my schoolfellows, with whom I associated in the course of the day !"
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