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La Vallée-aux-Loups, June, 1812.
GESRIL-HERVINE MAGON-FIGHT WITH TWO SAILOR BOYS.
I have already said that my premature revolt against the bonnes who ruled Lucile, was the commencement of my disgrace; it was completed by one of my companions.
My uncle, M. de Chateaubriand du Plessis, who, like his brother, was settled at St Malo, had, like him, four daughters and two sons. My two cousins, Pierre and Armand, at first constituted all my society, but Pierre was appointed page to the Queen, and Armand, being destined for the ecclesiastical state, was sent to college. Pierre, on quitting the Queen's service, entered the navy, and was drowned on the coast of Africa. Armand, after having been shut up for many years at college, left France in 1790, served throughout the whole of the emigration, undauntedly made five voyages in a sloop to the coast of Bretagne, and afterwards died for his King on the plains of Grenelle, on Good Friday, 1810. I have already mentioned this, and shall again have occasion to revert to it when recounting his untimely fate.*
Being thus deprived of the society of my two cousins, I endeavoured to fill up the void by a new acquantance.
A gentleman named Gesril, lived on the second floor of the hotel which inhabited; he had one son and two daughters. The education of this son was diametrically opposite to mine. He was a thoroughly spoiled child, and everything that he did was thought charming. His great delight was fighting, and especially exciting quarrels, of which he constituted himself umpire. He was constantly playing
* Armand left an only son, named Frederic, whom I first placed in the service of Monsieur, and who afterwards entered a regiment of Cuiras. siers. He was married at Nancy to Mademoiselle de Gastaldi, by whom he had two sons; he has now retired from service. The eldest sister of my cousin Armand has for many years been the superior of the Convent of La Trappe. (Note of 1831. Geneva.)
pranks upon the bonnes when they walked out with the children; the main subject of their gossip was his frolics which they magnified into deadly crimes. His father merely laughed at these pranks, and Joson Gesril was not a whit the less beloved. He soon became my most intimate friend, and exercised unbounded sway over me.
I made great progress under such a master, although my character was entirely opposite to his. I was fond of solitary sports, and never sought a quarrel with any one, whereas Gesril was mad after pleasure and clamour, and childish squabbles were the joy of his heart. If any of the young polissons came up to speak to me, Gesril would exclaim, Do you permit that ?" At these words, I thought my honour compromised, and I would fly at the head of the audacious intruder. Age or height was nothing to
My friend would look on and applaud my courage, but he never came to my assistance. Sometimes, he would raise an army of all the young idlers whom we met, and then, dividing his conscripts into two bands, we commenced a regular skirmish with volleys of stones on the beach.
Another game invented by Gesril was of a more dangerous nature. When the sea ran high, and there was a storm, the waves lashed the foundations of the ancient château, rushed upon the shore, and dashed even as high as the large towers. About twenty feet above the elevation of the base of these towers was a parapet of granite, straight, slippery, and sloping, which communicated with the ravelin that defended the moat : the point to be accomplished was to seize the instant between the two waves, and clear the perilous slope before the wave could break and cover the tower. Behold a mountain of water, rapidly advancing with a roaring voice,—if you delay one single moment, the monster will either engulph you, or dash you against the wall! Not one of us ever refused this hazardous feat, but I have seen many a boy turn pale before he attempted it.
This penchant of Gesril to thrust others into dangerous adventures, while he remained an idle spectator, induced the impression that he did not, on the whole, display a very
It was he, nevertheless, who, on a very
small scale, has perhaps outdone the heroism of Regulus, Rome and Titus Livius alone were wanting to complete his glory. In after life he became a naval officer, and was taken prisoner at the engagement of Quiberon. The action was finished, and the English continued to cannonade the republican army; Gesril threw himself into the sea, swam up to the vessel, told the English to cease their fire, and announced to them the misfortune and capitulation of the emigrants. The English wished to save him, and, throwing out a rope, conjured him to lay hold of it, and come on board : “ I am a prisoner on parole,” cried he from the bosom of the waves, and swam back to the shore. He was shot with Sombreuil and his companions.
Gesril was my first friend : we were both ill understood in our childhood; we were bound together by an instinct, the value of which we learned at a future day.
Two adventures put a stop to this first part of my history, and produced a complete change in the system of my education.
One Sunday we were on the shore, at the portcullis of the gate of St. Thomas, and along the Sillon ; huge piles, rammed into the sand, protected the walls against the sea. We used to climb to the top of these piles, and watch the first undulations of the coming tide, as they passed beneath us. We had taken our places as usual, and several little girls had joined us. I was seated nearly at the outer extremity, having before me a pretty little girl, Hervine Magon, who laughed with joy, and wept with fear. Gesril was seated on the land-side of these piles. The wave approached, and there was a good deal of wind; the bonnes and other servants cried out, “Come down, Miss !” Come down, Sir!" Gesril, however, waited for a huge wave; and, as soon as it had rushed beneath the piles, he gave
the child that was seated just before him a good push ; she, of course, fell forward upon the next, and that one again upon her neighbour, and thus the whole file fell forward, as if moved by machinery. Each was upheld by the one in advance, except the little girl at the extremity of the line. I fell forward upon her; and not having any one to support her, she, of course, fell down : the tide carried her away ; shrieks resounded on every side; and the nurses, tucking up their gowns, rushed into the water, and each seizing her charge, gave it a slap. Hervine was fished up again, and declared it was François who had thrown her down. The bonnes fell upon me, but I made my escape; and, rushing home, with an army of women at my heels, barricaded myself in the cellar. Happily my father and mother were not within. Villeneuve valiantly defended the door, and heartily cuffed the avant guard of the enemy. The real author of all this mischief, Gesril, at last brought me succour: he rushed up stairs to his own apartment, and with his two sisters threw down pitchers-full of water and boiled potatoes upon the heads of the assailants : they raised the siege with the approach of night ; but the story spread like wildfire through the city ; and the Chevalier de Chateaubriand, aged nine years, passed for an atrocious man,-a remnant of those pirates, of whom the Holy Aaron had purged his rocky island.
And now for another adventure. I was going with Gesril to St. Servan, a suburb of St. Malo, from which it is divided by the trading port. In order to get there when the tide was out, we had to clear the little streams of water by passing over narrow bridges of flat stones, which were covered at high tide. The servants who accompanied us had remained a long way behind. At the extremity of one of these bridges, we saw two sailor-boys coming towards us. Gesril cried out, “What, shall we suffer these young scoundrels to pass us?” And then, calling to them, exclaimed, “ Get into the water, you ducks.” The said ducks, however, having the quality of sailors, and not understanding his raillery, continued to ad
Gesril drew back: we placed ourselves at the end of the bridge, and began pelting them with stones. They threw themselves upon us, compelled us to take to our heels, and furnishing themselves with pebbles, they continued pelting us till we fell back upon our reserve corps ; that is to say, our nursery-maids. I was not, indeed, like Horatius, struck in the eye ; but one of the stones hit my left ear so forcibly, that it was half cut off, and hung down upon my shoulder.
I thought not of my misfortune, but of the reception which I should meet with at home. If my friend got a black eye, a torn jacket, or a bruised shin, in his adventures, he was pitied, caressed, and fondled, and supplied with new clothes; but, as for me, when I was in a similar plight, I was severely scolded and punished. The wound which I had received was dangerous; but I was so excessively frightened, that La France, with all her entreaty, could not prevail upon me to return home. I went up stairs, and took shelter in my friend's apartments. Gesril bound up my head with a napkin, but this napkin again set him off. It looked to him like a mitre, and he accordingly transformed me into a bishop, and made me sing high mass with him and his sisters till supper-time. The pontiff was then compelled to go down ; but, oh! how did my heart beat! My father, surprised at my disordered look, and the blood upon my face, said not a word ; but my mother uttered a shriek. La France related my piteous tale, in which she contrived so completely to exculpate me, that I happily escaped all punishment. My ear was dressed, and Monsieur and Madame de Chateaubriand resolved to separate me from Gesril as soon as possible.*
I do not recollect whether it was this year that Count d'Artois came to St. Malo; on which occasion a naval engagement was given in his honour. I saw the young Prince standing on the bastion of the powder-mill, while I was among the crowd on the sea-shore. What unknown destinies were involved in his splendour, and in my obscurity! If my memory does not mislead me, St. Malo has been visited by only two of the kings of France, Charles IX. and Charles X.
Such is the picture of my early childhood. I know not whether the severe education which I received be good in principle, but it was adopted by my relations without design, and
* I have already spoken of Gesril in my Works. One of his sisters; Angélique Gesril de la Trochardais, wrote to me 1818, requesting me to obtain permission that the name of Gesril might be added to that of her husband and of her sister's husband. I failed in my negotiations.(Note of 1831, Geneva.)