Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

beheld on my return to the paternal roof. Could I ever have conceived that she would one day be adorned with the talent and beauty which distinguished Lucile ?

She was my playmate; or, rather, I was allowed to make her my plaything. I did not abuse my power. Instead of being her tyrant, I became her defender. Every morning, Lucile and I were taken to the Sisters Couppart, two old hunchbacked women dressed in black, who taught children to read. Lucile was a bad scholar, and I, a worse one.

The governesses scolded Lucile; I attacked the governesses. Serious complaints were, in consequence, carried to my mother. I began to be looked upon as a rebel, an idler, and a dunce. This ill opinion of me took a firm hold of the minds of my parents. My father used to say, that not one of the Chevaliers de Chateaubriand had ever been remarkable for anything but sporting, drinking and brawling. My mother sighed and groaned when she happened to see my coat torn. My father's ill-temper disgusted me, and, when my mother suinmed

up her remonstrances with the eulogy of my brother, calling him a Cato and a hero, I felt inclined to make myself as bad as it seemed I was expected to be.

My writing-master, M. Després, who wore a sailor's wig, was not better satisfied with me than my parents. He made me eternally transcribe from a copy of his setting, the two following lines, which I heartily detest, though not simply for their own demerits :

“C'est à vous mon esprit, à qui je veux parler :

Vous avez des défauts que je ne puis celer.” St. Malo is merely a rock. It formerly rose in the midst of a marsh, and became an island by the irruption of the sea, which in 709 worked out the gulf, and placed Mount St. Michel in the midst of waves. At present, the rock of St. Malo is connected with the main land only by an embankment, poetically called the Sillon. This Sillon is exposed on one side to the open sea, and on the other is washed by the flood-tide when it enters the harbour.

It was almost entirely destroyed during a hurricane in 1730. At

ebb-tide the harbour is dry, and on the margin of the sea, east and north, is a beach of the finest sand. At that time it was possible to make the circuit of my paternal home in the course of a walk. Far and near, the eye ranges over rocks, forts, and inhabited islets.-Fort Royal, La Conchée, Cézembre, and the Grand Bé which is to be my last resting place. I chose an appropriate spot without being aware of it, for bé, in the Breton language, signifies tomb.

At the extremity of the Sillon, where a Calvary is erected, there is a sand-bank on the very margin of the sea. This bank is called the Hoguette, and on it are the remains of an old gibbet, round the posts of which we children used to play at quatre-coin, disputing our places with the sea-birds. But, it was not without a certain feeling of terror that we loitered on this dismal spot.

Here, too, are the Miels, or downs, affording good pasturage for sheep. On the right are meadows stretching along the foot of the Paramé ;-the post-road to St. Servan ;—the new cemetery,--another Calvary, and some windmills on little hillocks like those which rise above the tomb of Achilles at the entrance to the Hellespont.

MY MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER AND HER SISTER-THEIR MODE OF LIFE

AT PLANCOUET-MY UNCLE, COUNT DE BEDEE, AT MONCHOIX-MY NURSE's vow.

When nearly seven years of age, I was taken by my mother to Plancouët, to be released from my nurse's vow. We went to the house of my grandmother; and, if ever I knew happiness, it was certainly during the time I remained under her roof.

My grandmother resided in the village of l’Abbaye, in a house with an adjoining garden. This garden descended in terraces to a little dell, in the depth of which there was a fountain surrounded by willows. Madame de Bedée was no longer able to walk, but with that exception she suffered none of the infirmities of age. She was an agreeable old lady, fat, fair and comely ; her air was dignified and her manners were elegant. Her dresses were made in a very old fashioned style, and she wore a black lace cap tied under the chin. Her mind was cultivated, and her conversation and manners were marked by gravity. Her sister, Madame de Boisteilleul resided with her. This lady resembled my grandmother in nothing but in goodness. She was small and thin, lively and talkative, with a turn for raillery. She had once been attached to a certain Count de Trémigon, whom she had promised to marry ; but she did not fulfil her promise. My aunt was a poetess, and she used to amuse herself by inditing verses to the memory of her youthful love. I well recollect her, as she sat, spectacles on nose,-embroidering a pair of double ruffles for her sister, and, whilst plying the busy needle, she would partly hum, partly sing a quaint ditty commencing thus :

“ Un épervier aimait une fauvette,
Et, ce dit-on, il en était aimé."

This attachment on the linnet's part always, I must confess, appeared to me somewhat strange. The burthen of each

verse was :

“Ah ! Trémigon, la fable est-elle obscure ?"

" Ture lure."

She rose

How many things in this world end, like my aunt's love, in ture lure!

My grandmother consigned to her sister the superintendence of the household. She dined at the primitive hour of eleven in the forenoon, and after dinner she took a siesta. again at one o'clock, when she was carried out to the lower terrace of the garden, where, beneath the shade of the willows overhanging the fountain, she used to sit and knit, attended by her sister, her children, and her grandchildren. In those days, old age was a dignity : in these times, it is a burthen. At four in the afternoon, my grandmother was carried into her drawing-room, where the servant, Pierre, used to set out a card table. This being done, Mademoiselle de Boisteilleul would take the fire-tongs, and tap against the back of the chimney, and in a few minutes after this summons, there entered three old maiden ladies who resided in the next house. These were three sisters, the Demoiselles Vildéneux, daughters of a poor nobleman of the olden time. Instead of parcelling out their scanty inheritance into shares, they preferred keeping it undivided, and enjoying it in common with each other. They had always lived together, and had never resided out of their paternal village. They had known my grandmother from their childhood; they lived next door to her, and they regularly came every day when my aunt gave her signal with the fire-tongs, to play a game at quadrille with their aged friend. The game being commenced, the good ladies would sometimes quarrel over it: these little card-table disputes were the only stirring events of their lives ; the only circumstances which disturbed their equanimity of temper. At eight o'clock, the announcement of supper never failed to restore serenity. My uncle de Bedée, with his son and three daughters, frequently came to sup with my grandmother. On these occasions, the old lady would relate some stories of her youth, and my uncle would describe the battle of Fontenoy, in which he had been engaged ; then, having recounted his own deeds of valour, he would tell humorous anecdotes, which made the good ladies almost die of laughter. At nine o'clock, supper being ended, the servants were summoned ; and, whilst all knelt devoutly, Mademoiselle de Boisteilleul repeated the evening prayer. At ten o'clock, the whole household was asleep, with the exception of my grandmother, whose femme-de-chambre used to read to her till one in the morning.

This was the first social circle which I had had the opportunity of seeing and knowing, and it was also the first that was swept away under my observance. I saw death enter that abode of peace and happiness, successively diminishing its inmates ; first one chamber, then another being closed, never again to be opened. I saw my good grandmother renounce her game at quadrille, for want of her usual partners ; I saw the number of her faithful friends gradually diminish, until

some

she herself descended into the grave. She and her sister had mutually promised, that the one who died first should speedily summon the other to follow; this promise was kept, and Madame de Bedée survived Mademoiselle de Boisteilleul only a few months. I am now, perhaps, the only person in the world who knows that all these beings once existed. How many times, in the course of my life, have I witnessed the recurrence of similar circumstances ! How frequently have I seen a circle of friends formed and dissolved around me! The impossibility of prolonging the duration of human attachments; the profound oblivion which follows us ; the unbroken silence that reigns over the grave seem unceasingly to impress on the mind the necessity of retirement. Any hand will serve to present a glass of water to cool the parched lip in the fever of death. It is well when that hand is not too dear to us! when it is not the hand we have covered with kisses, and which we could wish to press eternally to our heart !

The château of the Count de Bedée, which was about a league from Plancouët, stood on an elevated and pleasant site. My uncle's gaiety of spirit was inexhaustible, and its joyous influence was shared by all around him. He had three daughters Caroline, Marie, and Flore: and one son, the Count de la Bouëtardais, a Parliament Cousellor, who inherited his father's cheerful temper. The Chateau of Monchoix was always filled with visitors, chiefly consisting of the youthful cousins of the family. The young people amused themselves with music, dancing, and hunting, and there was a perpetual round of diversion from morning to night. The Countess de Bedée, seeing my uncle thus dissipating his fortune, manifested some reasonable degree of uneasiness. But her remonstrances were not heeded. Indeed, her displeasure served only as a subject of raillery to the other members of the family, for the fact was, my aunt had her own tastes, and she loved to indulge them. These tastes were somewhat whimsical ; for example, she kept an ill-tempered growling dog, which she nursed and fondled; and she had a wild boar, which she was endeavouring to tame, and whose grunting was heard from one end of the château to the other. When I came from my father's house,

« AnteriorContinuar »