Volume 2, Chapter 04
Volume 2, Chapter 04
'I should have told you, that about the time of my original departure for Lisbon, your grandfather settled with my consent a correspondence with a citizen of Zurich, upon whose: integrity and discretion he could perfectly rely: he observed, that whatever forbearance I might think proper to exercise toward my uncle and his family, it was but I reasonable that I should obtain, from time to time, information of his affairs. and learn which of the family were living and dead. 1 have already said that my uncle had been unprosperous in all his undertakings: the estate of my father. which he so wickedly seized, by no means introduced a better fortune into his affairs. One by one his children died; he survived them, but survived not long; and the estate fell, in the twentieth year of my residence at Lisbon (for it was understood that I was dead, and my uncle procured vouchers to establish the fact) to a distant branch of my father's family.
'Circumstances were now sufficiently favorable to the project upon which my wishes were bent, of returning t0 my native country, and spending the remainder of my days in the valley which had given me birth. I communicated my purpose to my correspondent at Zurich; but I was somewhat divided in my mind, whether I should purchase my paternal estate, and live upon it as a stranger, or should openly claim it as my rightful inheritance. What inclined me to the former, was, that hy this expedient I should avoid casting any slur upon the memory of my false guardian. Our family had always ranked among the most patriotic families of the Union, and had never sustained any dishonor, except in the person of my uncle. On the other hand, I could not hear the idea of appearing as a foreigner in my own country: this was but a half restoration. Why did I love my country? Not merely for that its scenes had been familiar to my infancy; hut that the human mind Irresistibly wishes to connect itself with something. I had ancestors, the ornaments of the people among whom they were born. These ancestors had married and given in marriage, had received and conferred obligations and benefits, and their memory was in odor and in favor through the neighboring districts. I wished to adorn my ancestors, and to be adorned by them. This is the genuine idea of going to one's home.
'I was averse, however, to the idea of appearing in my own country in the character of a litigant, an individual unexpectedly calling his neighbor into contest about a I property of which he believed himself to be lawfully possessed. I therefore instructed my correspondent to bring this question to a full decision, before I should. take my departure. My resolution was formed, as soon as I received intelligence of the death of my uncle. I immediately transmitted documents to Zurich, proving my parentage and identity, and directed my correspondent to serve the new claimant with a notice, that the true heir, who was supposed to be dead, was still living. He was exceedingly surprised, and somewhat chagrined with the intelligence, as he was a poor man, and burdened with a numerous family. He consented, however, after the manner of the country, to go before the chief court of the canton, for the decision of the question. After a full and minute investigation of the evidences, my claim was ultimately established. This point being gained, I dispatched to Zurich an instrument: settling on the losing party in the contest, an annuity to one half of the value of the property of which he was dispossessed) accompanied with bills of exchange destined to repurchase the lands which my uncle had sold, and to redeem them from the burdens he had laid upon them. These objects were, in most instances, happily accomplished.
'While my affairs were going on thus auspiciously in Switzerland, I employed the time necessary for maturing them, in adjusting and transferring in the most advantageous manner the commercial undertakings, in which more than twenty years of my life had been consumed, in Portugal. When every concern of this sort was now completed, and all things prepared for my reception in my native canton, I bade farewell to Lisbon, and prepared to return to Switzerland by way of London.
'My business in England was to visit your father. I found him the same in tastes, in moral dispositions, and in affection, as his father's death had left him. In many respects he was different. Ten years of added life had brought him to a nearer resemblance of my original preserver; and, as I remarked in him the tokens of advancing age, I felt the agreeable sentiment of contemplating my / venerable benefactor and my schoolboy associate blending themselves, as it were, in one person. Your father had also married since I was in England, and yourself was born. I think I never saw so affectionate a husband and a father. In domestic life it was impossible to be more fortunate than I found my beloved friend.
'He was not equally fortunate in every thing. He had experienced twO or three severe miscarriages in his commercial concerns; and this, so far as I could understand, without the smallest fault on his part. In one instance he had connected himself with, and given large credit to, a house, where all appearances were fair, but where extravagance and secret gaming brought about a ruin, the most sudden and unforeseen. In another instance, a war had broken out at a rime when he apprehended no such thing; his transactions were multiplied in the country which was now declared an enemy; and all his investments failed. At a different time, bankruptcy upon an extensive scale took place in Holland, one great house drawing on the ruin of another, till half the most opulent merchants of the republic were destroyed: your father suffered deeply in this calamity.
'I soon discovered a cast of melancholy in the demeanor of my quondam playmate, and that there was something which hung painfully on his mind. In truth, I had somewhat suspected his real situation before I left Lisbon, and this contributed, with other circumstances, to hasten my conclusion of my affairs in that city. With difficulty and effort I wrung from your father a full confession of his misfortune.
"'Ruffigny," said he, "I am a beggar. You and I set out together in life, but under different auspices." -He paused.
'''No matter," added he. "I hope I shall be able to discharge all my debts to the uttermost. A trifle will remain to me from the wreck. I will venture no more upon the treacherous sea of commerce. What is the value of riches? I shall still have enough left to retire with to some remote corner of the island, and cultivate a small / farm in tranquility. My dear wife will be perfectly contented with the exchange. She will give up her equipage and her liveries without a murmur. She will not sigh for the amusements of the court and the metropolis; and she will look more beautiful in my eyes, clad in the plain attire of a rural housewife, than hung round, as I have seen her, with diamonds and rubies. My son shall be a peasant swain, not ignorant, not ambitious, viewing the storms of life from a distance, and fearless of bankruptcies, shipwrecks, and war. Is not this happiness?"
'Your father never dropped a syllable which should sound toward the asking me to assist him in his adversity. He knew my ability in this respect, and the prosperous event which had crowned my efforts. Perhaps he would have been willing to have made another experiment in the affairs of commerce, and not to have quitted the world a bankrupt, had he known where to have raised a sum adequate to his purpose, and upon terms sufficiently eligible. But all that I had derived from the bounty of your grandfather, and this consideration sealed up his lips toward me.
'One morning I came to him early, and requested him to assist me in casting up the profits of my commerce, and the amount of my fortune. He turned upon me a wistful eye, as I stated my proposal. At first sight it seemed to imply an insulting comparison between my success and his. On the other hand, he, perhaps, half suspected the true meaning of my visit.
'''Come, my dear Fleetwood," said I; "my affairs arc in good order, and the task will not occasion you much trouble."
'Saying this, I opened again the door by which I had entered, and called to my servant to come in. He brought with him three or four pocketbooks and a box. He put them down, and departed.
'''Let us sit down!"
'I opened the pocket-books, and examined their contents. Some were bills of exchange; some were warrants of capital in the English and Dutch stocks; and some securities of various sons. I explained to my friend the nature I of the commerce in which I had been engaged, the profits from year to year, and the particulars of one or two fortunate speculations. I rook pen and ink, and summed together the amount of my bills, warrants, and securities.
'I then pushed aside the pocket-books, and drew toward me the black box. "This," said I, "I regard as peculiarly my own." It contained the evidences of my birth and identity, the sentence of the judge who had awarded to me my estate, the ejectment of the late possessor, and the titles of the Janded property which my agent had purchased for me in Switzerland.
' "As I have now quitted trade," resumed I, "and am going to retire from the world, I have been trying to make my will. Here it is," pulling a pretty large parcel from my pocket: "I will leave it with you, Fleetwood; peruse it at your leisure. One thing only I have to say; I do not show it you to consult you upon it; I am peremptory in its contents, and will not alter a letter; but, between such old friends as we are, I think it right you should be acquainted with all my thoughts."
'''Is it your will?" said your father.
' "Pooh! said I, smiling, "do not let us deal in quibbles and disputes about a word! If, however, I must come to definitions, I will tell you, that by a will understand a paper or parchment, containing my final and irrevocable disposition of that property over which the municipal laws of Europe give me an empire; and to tell you the truth, I hold a man's making his will and the different provisions it contains, to be one of the most sacred and indispensable duties he can perform, and one of those circumstance, which may best serve as a criterion to distinguish the honest man and the knave, the man of narrow, and the man of capacious and liberal, views."
'The parcel tendered to your father contained a regular and formal transfer to him of all the property which I had just put upon his table, with the exception of the contents of the black box.
' "It is not your will," said Fleetwood: "I will not touch a farthinga of your property.
'"You shall not. My property is contained in this black box. The rest is a debt I am come to you to pay. Why will you make many words in a case which common sense decides in a moment?"
"It is yours. The small germ from which it sprung was the gift of my father. The rest is the accumulation of your industry, the fruits of twenty years' occupation and labor. I insist upon it that you take it away."
' "Fleetwood, if I must speak on such a subject, hear me! Good God, it is the plainest question in the world! 1 have been your father's steward, and bring back the fruits of my stewardship to his son. I have abstracted from it a considerable sum, which was necessary to my eligible settlement in my own country. I had always determined to settle exactly in the way I am now executing. You have not disturbed my projects a jot. If I had retained the property which is now yours, I never would have spent an atom of it upon myself or any of my relations. I should have been a trustee for others, and a very laborious office I should have had. As it is, the whole is yours. I have calculated the matter with great niceness, and I .find that you will this day be placed exactly where your father left you. We shall neither of us be the better or the worse for each other, except, as I hope, we shall be both gainers in the possession of each other's friendship and affections. Did I say that we shall neither of us be the better or the worse? Alas! how grievous an error did I commit! I am still indebted to your father and you, for my life, my education, my estimation in the world, the years of respectability and peace I have enjoyed, and the power I have at last exerted to recover the property of my ancestors. When I owe you so vast a debt that I can never repay, how can you be so ungenerous as to endeavor to prevent me from reimbursing this insignificant portion of the obligation I owe you?"
'I was peremptory, and your father was obliged to submit. We had each our place, assigned us by the destiny under which we were born; and the arrangement I now made was restoration to us both. I wanted to end my life / like my father, a citizen of Uri; it was proper that my friend should live like his ancestors, a great English merchant, and, when he retired from active life, an opulent English country gentleman. What had I, a republican of the old model, to do with bonds, warrants, and securities? To me they were an insupportable incumbrance; to your father they were necessary. You perceive with me, my dear Casimir, that all the obligation was on one side. Your father and grandfather had done everything for me; I did nothing for them. Theyhad taken me in an outcast; they had made me one of their family equal with themselves; they had given me my education, and by consequence every quality that made me respectable in the eyes of my fellow beings; I had lived upon them for twenty years in the style of a German sovereign. If the venerable Ambrose Fleetwood had been more actively my friend, I always considered the part your father acted as not a whit less honoruable. Human beings are in all cases so fond of their creatures! In the objects of their generosity they behold the mirror of their own virtues, and are satisfied. Your grandfather made me his child, and doted on me as such. But your father, without the smallest pretense to this original merit, without any stimulus in the gratification of his own complacence, entered into the sentiment of my preserver, never uttered a murmur, never felt a compunction, but fully approved of the lavish which stripped him of so considerable a portion of his fortune. it was this feeling of his heart which made us brothers, brothers by a dearer bond than that of nature, by a more sacred tie than that of a common descent. My soul has always panted for an occasion of showing myself worthy of such a friend, of repaying some small part of the obligation I owe to the name of Fleetwood; but I shall go down to the grave ungratified in this first wish of my heart.'
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