Volume 2, Chapter 02
Volume 2, Chapter 02
" No sooner did the thought occur to me, than I resolved to lose no time to realize it. I arrived at Versailles about the middle of a very hot day, broiling with the sun, and covered with dust. I immediately entered the park ; and, having gained a favorable situation for viewing the palace, protected by the shadow of overhanging trees, I threw myself upon the grass. The first idea that struck me was, Versailles is infinitely grander and more magnificent than Fontainebleau. With my eye I measured the piles, surveyed the architecture, and remarked the movable and immoveable objects around me.
" Shortly, however, I forgot myself, and fell asleep. Yes; arrived at my haven, and with every thing for which I had panted apparently within my ken, I fell asleep ! Heat and fatigue contributed to this ; but I apprehend I should not have been thus overtaken, if it had not been for the misfortunes which that morning had overtaken me. A mitigated and familiar sorrow blunts the faculties, and disposes to lethargy.
" I had not slept long before I was roused from my oblivion by the sound of a fife, and the passing along of a file of soldiers. This was to me a most agreeable moment, I shook myself, and gazed intently upon the men as they passed. I recognized in them, as I stood still to view, the physiognomy of my native country. While I lived at home, in the canton of Uri, I was unaware of the existence of this physiognomy ; the particulars which distinguished the persons around me from each other, were more remarked by me than those in which they resembled. But my residence at Lyons had sharpened my perceptions in this respect. Every man loves his native soil ; and the Swiss are said to have more 'of this sentiment than any other people. I had myself been in a state of banishment, and, as I may phrase it, -a state of solitary imprisonment. Whenever I met a Swiss in the streets of Lyons, my little heart leaped within my bosom, and I could not help hailing him as a brother in the peculiar phraseology of my country. My salutation never failed to call forth a cheerful and affectionate response from the person to whom it was addressed. This was usually all that occurred : we mutually bade each other good day, and passed on. Yet this kind of encounter often furnished me with an intellectual feast for a whole day; it made the sun shine upon me through the opake windows of the silk-mill, and cheered my soul as I stood at the swifts. An accident of this nature did not fail to happen to me twenty times during my abode at Lyons, and, perhaps, with as many different persons.
" It had been one of the motives that secretly stimulated me in my project upon the King of France, that I knew that the favorite guards of his court were Swiss, and that, when I came there, I should feel so much the less a stranger, as I should be able to speak, and address my inquiries to my own countrymen. To a poor, destitute, and pennyless vagabond, it was at this moment like heaven, to gaze upon the countenance of a little cluster of my countrymen, at the same time that I recollected that I was four hundred miles distant from my native home. It was like Macbeth gazing upon the descendants of Banquo, except that, though the view in each instance was pregnant with emotion, my emotions were of a nature opposite to his : every countenance, as it passed in series and succession before me, gave new sting to my pleasure, and elevated my heart an inch the higher. I said to myself, 'These men will surely be my friends ; removed, as we are, from the spot where Nature produced us, they will feel that here I belong to them ; they will not leave a poor Swiss child to perish for hunger within their quarters.' It was a restoration from death to life.
"As they proceeded along in a sort of parade, I dared not, on this occasion, address them with my customary salutation I resolved to wait till I could meet with one of them, not upon duty, and alone. It was not necessary for me to wait long. As I strayed about the park, I met with a respectable looking man, a private, with an infant in his arms. I saluted him, and we entered into conversation. He seemed surprised at seeing me there, and asked me whether I belonged to any of the companies on duty at Versailles. I told him nearly the same particulars of my story as I had communicated to the mayor of Dijon. I said I was the son of a Swiss, and that I was born at home. My parents had brought me up in ease and opulence ; but they were now dead, and, having left me, their only child, to the care of an uncle, this treacherous guardian had turned me adrift upon the world. Agreeably to my former resolution, I did not mention Lyons, and I abstained from violating the secret which my uncle had so tremendously enjoined me. I concluded, however, with my adventure of that morning, and the loss of all that I had.
" The honest Swiss believed my story. He seated me by him on a bench, and put the child on his knee ; and, in token of his sympathy with my adventures, took me affectionately by the hand when I had concluded my little narrative. He uttered several exclamations, and made several remarks upon the particulars as I related them ; but, as his remarks were those of a common soldier, and his understanding, as I presently perceived, was in no respect superior to his station, they are not worth mentioning. He observed, that he was afraid I had not eaten that day.
" ' Not a morsel, except the roll and butter given me by Betty, the bar-maid'
"' God bless you, my boy!' exclaimed he, with some emotion, 'come home along with me, and you shall at least partake of the fare, such as it is, that I have provided for my wife and children.'
" I willingly accepted his invitation, and we went together. As we entered the little apartment of his family, ' My love,' said he, ' here is a poor Swiss boy, just come from his own country, and without a penny in his pocket: you must give him a little supper, and he shall stay with us to-night.' The wife was no less prompt in exercising this small hospitality than her husband. They had three sons, besides the infant; and we sat round a cheerful board together.
" I seized this opportunity of asking the soldier a variety of questions concerning the King, which be regarded, probably, as the mere curiosity of a stranger. He told me that the King was not at present at Versailles, but had been for some days at Marli, which place he principally frequented for the diversion of hunting. I inquired into the situation of this place, and was pleased to find that it was only four or - five miles from Versailles. I set off for Marli early the next morning.
" When I arrived, I found the King had gone forth already to his hunt, and, probably, would not return till the day was considerably advanced. A Swiss soldier gave me my breakfast at Marli, as the private at Versailles had entertained me the evening before. This man was a being of more reflection than the former; and, when I had owned that I was without money, pressed me to inform him what was my errand at Marli, and what prospects I had for the future. This generous anxiety and forecast warmed my heart: the deliberating benevolence of an ordinary soldier, however narrow may be his power, is not less interesting to the feelings than that of a lord. I begged him, however, to excuse me; I entreated him to give himself no concern about me ; and assured him that, though I was destitute now, I had means of speedily putting an end to my distress.
I broke away from this man as soon as I decently could, and wandered about the park and gardens. I saw him two or three times in the course of the day, and once passed so near a sentry-box where he was on duty, that he had an opportunity, in a low voice, to desire me to come again to his hut, when his business of the day should be over. At length I heard the sound of clarinets and horns, the signal of the return from hunting. I saw the hounds, and heard the trampling 'of horses ; and presently the cavalcade appeared. The sound and the sight were cheerful, and my bosom was in tumults. Suddenly I recollected myself, and started away for the door, of which I had previously gained information, where the King was to alight. Several attendants and lacqueys pressed to the same spot. I saw the persons on horseback alight; and, coming up to one of them, cried, with earnestness and enthusiasm, 'Sire, bear what I have to say, and listen to my prayer!' In the confusion of my mind, I had mistaken the individual, in spite of my precaution of the portrait: it was not the King. The nobleman to whom I spoke, exclaimed, ' What, what is all this ?' The lacqueys hurried me out of the circle ; the King alighted, and the scene was closed.
" I know not whether it will appear incredible that a child as I was should have been capable of this daring. It was in reality, perhaps, because I was a child, that I was capable of it. I understood very imperfectly the distinctions of rank in artificial society. I was wholly ignorant of the forms and fences which are set up to separate one man from the rest of his brethren. A king, to the imagination of a child, is but a man ; and I was accustomed, as perhaps all boys are accustomed, to meet him in fancy in the fields and the highways, and to conceive him a guest in my father's house. The first time I ever beheld a peacock's feather, I found something royal in it; and a man wearing a peacock's feather upon his bosom would to me have been a king. Add to which, I had never disclosed my plan to a human creature. Timidity the child of experience or of admonition. I was not without timidity in the present instance; I understood the degree of presumption therewas in addressing a gentleman and a stranger ; and I understood no more.
" If I set out in my project with these notions, my courage was considerably reinforced as I proceeded. I had meditated my project perpetually, till enthusiasm supplied the place of intrepidity. I had so often acted the scene over in my fancy, that the whole was become perfectly familiar : it was like some situations which perhaps every man has encountered in life, new and extraordinary in themselves, but which feel like recollections, and he ex- claims, ' This is my dream ! Recollect, in addition to these things, the urgency of my condition, the desperateness of my fortune, my hatred to the silk-mills of Lyons, the long journey I had performed, the hard adventures I had encountered, the emptiness of my purse, the immediate cravings of nature. All these things goaded me forward, and made me, look upon the ignominy of deliberation as the worst of evils.
" In the evening the King walked upon the terrace in the gardens. I informed myself exactly of his appearance and insignia, that I might make no second mistake. There was a flight of about fifty steps that led up to the terrace ; and guards were placed upon a landing-place in the middle, and at the bottom. These guards were not Swiss, but French. I had reflected, and found this spot the most favorable in the world for the execution of my project. The King, I was told, usually walked here for an hour, and conversed familiarly with a variety of persons. I approached to ascend, but was stopped by the soldiers. My garb was mean, and they told me, a boy of my appearance could not go up there! I was filled with impatience. There was a similar flight of steps at the other end of the terrace ; I burst away from these persons, and hastened to the second flight. Here I was stopped again. Repeated disappointments now made me desperate, and I struggled with the soldiers, in the vain hope to pass in spite of their efforts. An attendant who passed by, recognized me for the child who had endeavored to speak with the King before dinner. This circumstance induced them to conduct me to the guard-house. A child, as I was, they took it for granted could not be a dangerous intruder ; but it was their business to keep off impertinence, and prevent his Majesty from being disturbed. The soldier who took me under his care, asked me, with some degree of kindness, what I wanted, and what purpose I had in view in speaking to the King? But I was now grown sullen, and would only answer in gloomy monosyllables. After some time, I was conducted to the gate of the park, and thrust out into the high road. The soldiers left me, and I sat down upon a stone.
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