Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

noon.

the foot of the tower staircase. A cup of coffee was taken to him at five o'clock; he then occupied himself in his study till

My mother and sister both breakfasted in their own rooms at eight o'clock. I had no fixed hour, either for getting up or for breakfasting: I was understood to be studying till noon, but the greater part of the time I did nothing whatever.

At half-past eleven a bell was rung, and dinner was served at twelve. The great saloon was at once a dining-room and a drawing-room ; for we dined and supped at its eastern extremity, and, after meals, we went to the western end, and sat round an enormous fire. This apartment was wainscotted, painted in grey, and adorned with old portraits from the reign of Francis I. to that of Louis XIV. Conspicuous amongst these portraits were those of Condé and Turenne; and a painting, representing Hector killed by Achilles under the walls of Troy, was hung over the fire-place.

Dinner over, we remained together till two o'clock; then, if it was summer, my father amused himself in fishing, visiting his kitchen-garden, and walking in the grounds of the château. In autumn and winter, he went out to hunt: and my mother retired to the chapel, where she spent some hours in prayer. This chapel was a solemn oratory, embellished by some good paintings of the great masters; such pictures as one could scarcely expect to find in a feudal castle in the heart of Bretagne. I have at present in my possession a Holy Family, by Albano, painted on copper, which was taken from this chapel ; it is the only memorial I have of Combourg.

My father being gone out, my mother gone to prayers, and
Lucile shut up in her chamber, I either returned to my little
cell, or went out and ran about the fields.
At eight o'clock, the bell

rang
for
supper.

After that was over, in fine weather, we sat at the door.

My father, armed with his gun, shot the owls as they flew out from the battlements at nightfall. My mother, Lucile and I, gazed at the sky, the woods, the last rays of the sun, and the first-appearing stars. At ten o'clock, we re-entered the house, and retired to rest.

The evenings in autumn and winter were quite different. When supper was over, and the party of four had removed from the table to the chimney, my mother would throw herself, with a sigh, upon an old cotton-covered sofa, and near her was placed a little stand with a light. I sat down by the fire with Lucile ; the servants removed the supper-things, and retired. My father then began to walk up and down, and never ceased until his bedtime. He wore a kind of white woollen gown, or rather cloak, such as I have never seen with any one else. His head, partly bald, was covered with a large white cap, which stood bolt upright. When, in the course of his walk, he got to a distance from the fire, the vast apartment was so ill lighted by a single candle, that he could be no longer seen ; he could still be heard marching about in the dark, however, and presently returned slowly towards the light, and emerged by degrees from obscurity, looking like a spectre, with his white robe and cap, and his tall, thin figure. Lucile and I used to venture upon the exchange of a few words, in a low voice, when he was at the other end of the room ; but were silent as soon as he again approached us. He would say to us in passing, “Of what were you speaking ?” Seized with terror, we made no reply, and he continued his walk. During the remainder of the evening, no sound struck the ear but the measured noise of his steps, my mother's sighs, and the moaning of the wind.

When the castle clock struck ten, my father would stop ; the same spring which touched the hammer of the clock seemed to have arrested his steps. He would draw out his watch, wind it up, take a great silver candlestick, surmounted by a long candle, go for a few moments into the little tower to the west, then return, candle in hand, and advance towards his sleeping-room in the little tower at the east. Lucile and I placed ourselves in his way, embraced him, and wished him good night. He bent down to us his withered and hollow cheek, without giving us any reply, continued his course, and retired into his tower, the doors of which we could hear shut

upon him.

The charm was broken; my mother, my sister, and I, who had been transformed into statues by my father's presence, now recovered the functions of life. The first effect of our disenchantment was manifested by an inundation of words ; if silence had oppressed us, we paid it in full.

When this torrent of words had flowed by, I summoned the maid, and accompanied my mother and sister to their apartments. Before I came away, I was obliged to look under all the beds, up the chimneys, behind the doors, and to examine the staircases, passages, and galleries, in the vicinity. The various traditions of the château, about thieves and spectres, were recalled to memory. The belief was pretty general, that a certain Count de Combourg, with a wooden leg, who had died about three centuries before, appeared at stated times, and had been met on the great staircase of the tower; his wooden leg walked about also, sometimes in company

with a black cat.

Montboissier, August, 1817.

MY PRISON.

These tales completely engaged the attention of my mother and sister whilst preparing for bed ; and they retired to rest, almost dying with fear. I went to my turret; the cook retired to the great tower, and the servants went down to their subterranean abode.

The window of my room opened into the inner court; by day, I had a view of the battlements of the opposite curtain, which was covered with spleen-wort, and afforded sustenance to a wild plum-tree. The martlets, which during the summer screeched and buried themselves in the holes of the walls, were my only companions. By night, I only saw a small portion of the sky, and a few stars. When the moon shone, I was warned of its decline towards the west by the direction of its rays, which then fell upon my bed through the lozenge panes of my window. The jackdaws, flying from one tower to another, as they passed and repassed between myself and the moon, threw the fleeting shadow of their wings upon my curtains. Banished to the most remote corner at the entrance of the galleries, I did not lose the slightest murmur during the hours of darkness. Sometimes the wind appeared to course at a rapid pace; sometimes it uttered melancholy wailings ; suddenly my door was violently shaken, and the vaults of the castle sent forth their howlings ; anon the noise gradually subsided, only to re-commence anew. At four o'clock, the voice of the master of the castle, calling his valet-de-chambre at the entrance to the cellars, sounded like the last phantom of the departing night. This voice served me as the substitute for that sweet harmony, by the sound of which the father of Montaigne awaked his son.

The obstinacy of Count Chateaubriand, in forcing a child to sleep alone at the summit of a tower, might have been attended with evil consequences ; but it turned out to my advantage. This violent manner of treating me left me the courage of a man, without taking from me that liveliness of imagination, of which people now attempt to deprive our youth. Instead of endeavouring to convince me that there were no ghosts, I was forced to brave them. When

my

father said to me, with an ironical smile, “Would Monsieur le Chevalier be afraid ?” it would have compelled me to lie down

When

my

excellent mother said to me, “My son, nothing happens without the permission of God; you have nothing to fear from evil spirits, as long as you are a good christian,” I gained much greater confidence than I could have derived from all the arguments of philosophy. My success was so complete, that the night-winds, in my solitary tower, merely served as the sport of my caprices, aud as wings to my dreams. My imagination once kindled, extended to everything around, but nowhere found sufficient aliment; it could have devoured heaven and earth. Such is the moral condition, which I must now endeavour to describe. Plunging again into the days of my youth, I am about to try and recall myself from the past, to exhibit myself such as I was, such perhaps as I regret being no longer, in spite of the torments I then endured.

with a corpse.

excess ;

TRANSITION FROM YOUTH TO MANHOOD. I had scarcely returned from Brest to Combourg, when a revolution took place in my existence; the boy disappeared, and the man came into view, with his joys that flee away, and his vexations which remain.

At first, everything within me became passion, whilst awaiting the passions themselves. When, after a silent dinner, during which I had not dared either to speak or eat, the moment arrived when I could escape, my delight was incredible ; it was impossible to go leisurely down the steps ; I was eager to bound down at a leap. I was obliged to sit down on one of the steps to allow my agitation to subside ; but I had no sooner gained the green lawn and the woods, than I began to run, leap, and bound, to skip and enjoy myself, till I fell down exhausted, panting, and intoxicated with exultation and freedom.

My father took me shooting with him. A taste for the chase seized upon me,

and I carried it to I still see before me the very field where I killed my first hare. In autumn, I have often remained four or five hours up to the middle in water, watching for wild ducks by the banks of a pond; even till this hour, I cannot remain free from excitement when a dog scents game. My first ardour for the chase developed a spirit of independence; and it was my custom to clear the ditches, to stride over the fields, to traverse marshes and brushwood to be alone with my gun in a desert place-in solitude and power. In my excursions I often went on so far, that I could no longer walk, and the keepers were obliged to convey me home on a couch of branches woven together.

The pleasures of the chase, however, no longer sufficed : I was urged on by a desire of happiness, which I could neither regulate nor understand; my mind and my heart at length became like two empty temples without altars or sacrifice; and no one knew yet what God was to be adored. I grew up with my sister Lucile; our friendship constituted the whole of our lives.

« AnteriorContinuar »