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of Christian convictions with the disorders of the heart, I am persuaded that I owe this success to the chance which made me acquainted, at the same moment, with two opposing empires. The ravages which a bad book produced in my imagination found their corrective in the terrors inspired by another book, and which spoke the more forcibly from the softness excited by undisguised representations.
Dieppe, end of October, 1812.
ADVENTURE WITH A MAGPIE'S NEST-THIRD VACATION AT COMBOURG
-THE QUACK-RETURN TO COLLEGE.
That which is said of misfortunes, that they never come singly, may be equally applied to the passions—they arrive together, like the Muses or the Furies. With the sentiment which had begun to torment me, a feeling of horror arose within me—an elevation of soul which keeps the heart incorruptible in the midst of corruption--a corrective principle, springing up by the side of a devouring impulse, as the inexhaustible source of those prodigies which love demands of youth, and of those sacrifices which it imposes.
The students of the college always took walks on Thursdays and Sundays, when the weather was fine. We were often conducted to Mount Dol, on the summit of which were some Gallic-Roman ruins. From this isolated hill, the eye wandered over the sea and the wide marshes, where, during the night, danced those will-o'-the-wisps-kindred spirits of those magic lights which now burn in our lamps. Another favourite walk was to the meadows which surrounded the seminary of Eudistes, so called from Eudes, a brother of the historian Mézerai, and the founder of their congregation.
One morning in the month of May, the Abbé Egault, Prefect for the week, had conducted us to this seminary. We were allowed great liberty at play, but were expressly forbidden
to climb the trees. The Prefect, after having brought us to a grassy spot, quitted us, to repeat his breviary.
The road was lined with elms; at the very summit of the tallest of these trees, a magpie's nest caught our eye ; we were in ecstacies, pointing out to each other the mother sitting upon her eggs, and were seized with an overwhelming desire to obtain possession of this splendid prize. But who would dare to risk the adventure? The orders were so peremptory, the Prefect so near, the tree so high! All hopes were centred in me. I could climb like a cat. I hesitated, but the love of glory prevailed. I took off my jacket, and, clasping the elm, commenced the ascent. The trunk was without branches until about two-thirds of its height, from which issued a forked branch. On one of the points rested the nest.
My comrades assembled beneath the tree applauded my efforts, looking alternately at me and in the direction whence the Abbé might surprise us. Fluttering with joy at the hope of obtaining the eggs, and trembling with fear at the possibility of punishment, I approached the nest, the magpie took flight, I seized the eggs, put them into my bosom, and descended. Unfortunately, I attempted to slide down, my feet slipped round the elm, and I lost my footing. The tree being lopped, I could not rest my feet either on the right side or on the left, in order to raise myself and catch hold of the upper branch : and there I stuck fifty feet in the air.
All at once, there was a cry of“ the Prefect !—the Prefect !" and, as is usually the case, I saw myself faithlessly abandoned by my friends. One alone, named Le Gobbien, endeavoured to assist me, but he was soon obliged to give up his
generous attempt. There was but one means of escaping from my vexatious position, which was that of suspending myself backwards by catching, with my hands, one of the forks of the branch, and then endeavouring to seize with my feet the trunk of the tree below the bifurcation. This maneuvre I executed at the peril of my life. In the midst of my distress, I did not cast away my treasure; it would however have been wiser to have thrown it away
others that I have since flung from me. In descending the trunk I skinned my hands, scratched he, “
my legs and breast, and broke the eggs ; it was this that betrayed me. The Prefect had not seen me on the elm; I could have concealed from him that my hands were bleeding, but there was no possibility of hiding the bright golden colour with which I was besmeared. “Come along, Sir,” exclaimed
you must be caned.” Had he announced to me, that he would commute this punishment into a sentence of death, I should have felt a sensation of joy. I had never experienced such an ignominy throughout my wild education. At any period of my life, I should have preferred any punishment to the horror of being put to the blush before a fellow mortal. My breast heaved with indignation. I replied to the Abbé, in the tone of a man and not of a child, “that neither he nor any other person should ever dare to raise his hand against me.”
This answer provoked him; he called me a rebel, and promised to make an example of me. “ We shall see,” I replied, and began to play at ball with a sang-froid which confounded him.
We returned to the college; the Abbé made me enter his apartment, and ordered me to submit. My lofty bearing gave place to a torrent of tears. I represented to the Abbé that he had taught me Latin ; that I was his pupil, his disciple, his child; that surely he could not dishonour his child, and render the sight of my companions insupportable to me; that he might put me in prison and feed me upon bread and water, deprive me of recreation, load me with “ pensums ;" that I should be grateful for his clemency, and love him all the better. I fell at his feet, clasped my hands, and besought him, in the name of Jesus-Christ, to spare me; but he was inexorable to my prayers and entreaties. I rose in a rage, and gave him such a violent kick on his shins, that he uttered a cry and ran limping to the door, which he double-locked and returned. I intrenched myself behind his bed. He struck at me with his ferula across it. I wrapped the quilt around me, and animating myself to the combat, cried out:
“ Macte animo, generose puer !" This piece of boyish erudition made my opponent laugh in
spite of himself. He proposed an armistice: we concluded a treaty : I agreed to submit to the arbitration of the Principal. Without acquitting me altogether, the Principal made no difficulty in excusing me from the punishment which I held in such utter abhorrence. When the worthy priest pronounced my acquittal, I kissed the sleeve of his robe with so much fervour, and poured forth such heartfelt effusions of gratitude, that the good man could not help giving me his benediction. Thus terminated my first combat in defence of that honour which had become the idol of my life, and to which I have so often sacrificed repose, pleasure, and fortune.
The vacations, during which I entered my twelfth year, were very triste. The Abbé Leprince accompanied me to Combourg. I never went out except with my preceptor: and we took long walks together without aim or object. He was dying of consumption, and was silent and melancholy : and, as . for me, I was scarcely more gay than he was. We would walk for whole hours behind one another without speaking a word. One day we lost our way in the wood. M. Leprince turned to me and said :
“Which road must we take?”' I replied, without hesitation, “The sun is setting ; at this time it always shines on the window of the great tower; let us go in that direction.” In the evening, M. Leprince related this incident to my father, who saw the future traveller in this evidence of intelligence. Often, when I have seen the sun set in the forests of America, I have called to mind the woods of Combourg ; my recollections echo each other.
The Abbé Leprince wished my father to give me a horse ; but, in his opinion, it was not necessary that a naval officer should understand the management of anything except his ship. I was reduced to ride one of the large carriage-horses, an immense piebald. This piebald was not, like that of Turenne, one of that species named by the Romans “ Desultorios equos,” and trained to aid their master ; but a mad Pegasus, who was quite unmanageable at a trot, and almost broke my legs when I obliged him to leap the ditches. I have never cared much for horses, although I have led the life of
a Tartar ; and, in opposition to the effect which my education, in this respect, might naturally have been expected to produce, I sit on horseback with more grace than security.
The tertian ague, of which I had contracted the germs in the marshes of Dol, relieved me of the company of M. Leprince. A man who sold“ infallible remedies” was passing through the village. My father, who had no opinion of physicians, had great faith in charlatans. He sent in search of the quack, who declared he could cure me in four-and-twenty hours. Next morning he returned, dressed in a green coat, laced with gold, a large powdered wig, wide, dirty muslin ruffles, false diamond rings, old black satin breeches, bluish-white silk stockings, and shoes with enormous buckles.
He drew back the curtains of my bed, felt my pulse, told me to put out my tongue, uttered some gibberish, with an Italian accent, on the necessity of drugging me, and then made me swallow a piece of sugared stuff. This met with my father's approval, for he stoutly maintained that all maladies proceeded from indigestion, and that every description of physical suffering might be driven away by clearing a man of everything except his blood.
Half an hour after I had swallowed the drug, I was seized with the most alarming vomitings. M. de Chateaubriand, on being informed of this, was ready to throw the poor devil out of the turret-window. The quack, in his terror, threw off his coat, tucked up his shirt sleeves, and made the most ridiculous gesticulations. At every movement, his wig turned round in every direction ; he re-echoed my cries, and exclaimed : “ Che ? Monsou Lavandier.” This M. Lavandier was the village apothecary, who had been called in to render assistance. In the midst of my agonies, I knew not whether I should die from the drugs of the charlatan, or the fits of laughter into which his absurdities threw me.
The effects of this violent emetic were happily arrested, and I was again set upon my legs.
Life is spent in hovering round our tomb. Our various sicknesses are but the winds which carry us more or less near to the haven. The first death which I witnessed was that of a