“Shall I relate to you the history of that particular louis, — all the adventures it has met with, and to how many uses it has been applied?”
The writings of Madame Guizot are highly celebrated in France, and though something of this celebrity may be due to her position as the wife of an illustrious statesman and historian, it must also be remembered, that this very position was calculated to draw forth a severer criticism than would usually be passed on one less favourably circumstanced. But the works themselves have merits of far too decided an order not to command attention in any case, and they especially deserve the notice of English parents, from their entire freedom from the exaggeration of sentiment and love of effect, so often justly complained of in a certain portion of the Literature of France.
In her Tales, it has been the aim of Madame Guizot to secure the attention of her youthful readers by an attractive narrative, in which the chief personages are children like themselves, and the events and situations such as might occur in their own experience, and then to lead their minds to important conclusions by the natural course of the story, and without the repulsive intervention of mere lecturing or argumentation; and we think it will be admitted, that in the present series, she has been eminently successful. These Tales are so simple and natural, that they may be understood by even younger children than they are actually intended for, while at the same time they are so full of good sense, and touch so vividly those springs of action which influence alike both the young and the old, that many of them will be read with as much interest, and sometimes even with as much advantage, by the parent as by the child. Though perfectly unpretending in structure and language, the most fastidious taste will acknowledge them to be the productions of a highly refined and cultivated mind, while they equally display all the charms of an affectionate and parental disposition, conjoined with a lofty, though a gentle and rational morality.
It is only necessary to observe, in conclusion, that the Translator has endeavoured to preserve throughout the simplicity of style which distinguishes the original, and to convey its meaning with all the fidelity which the difference of the two idioms would permit. A few unimportant expressions have been modified or omitted as unsuitable to English taste, or likely to convey, in translation, a different impression from that actually intended, but beyond this no liberty has been taken with the text.
Ernestine was passing with her mother through the arcades of the Palais Royal, stopping at every shop, longing for all she saw, now and then sighing heavily, and at each moment making the happiness of life consist in the possession of some attractive object, the remembrance of which was effaced the moment after by some other, destined in like manner to be as speedily forgotten. She was, however, more especially interested by a toy-shop; not that Ernestine had any wish for dolls, little carts, or bureaus, in which she could not even have put her thimble, the drawers were so small: she was, indeed, too old for that, for she was already eleven; but the sight of a moving picture, in which were to be seen two men fighting, a dog turning a spit, a laundress, a paviour, and a stonecutter, inspired her with a fancy, which appeared to her much more reasonable. She stopped her mamma in order to examine it more leisurely, and her mother was kind enough to indulge her; but the picture was then motionless. Ernestine thought it would be delightful to see all those figures in action, especially the dog turning the spit, and asked if it would not be possible to beg of the shopkeeper to wind it up.
“Certainly not,” replied Madame de Cideville, “he did not place it there for the amusement of the passers-by; he would think I wished to purchase it.”
“It would surely be very dear?” said Ernestine.
“One louis,” replied the shopkeeper, who had overheard her.
“Oh! mamma,” whispered Ernestine, “how cheap!” for she had imagined that a thing so beautiful, and so ingenious, must have cost an enormous sum. “How delightful it would be,” she continued, “to obtain that for one louis!”
“There are,” said her mother, “many better ways of employing it;” and she passed on, to the great vexation of Ernestine, who wondered to herself how it could happen that her parents, who were so rich, did not think it proper to spend a louis on so charming a thing as a moving picture, in which a dog was to be seen turning a spit: for Ernestine, like all children, and upon this point she was more than usually inconsiderate even for her age, thought her parents much richer than they really were; besides, she was not aware that there is no fortune, however large, which justifies unnecessary expense. On reaching home, she spoke to her father about the picture.
“Only fancy, papa, it might have been had for one louis. Oh! how happy I should have been if I had had a louis of my own!”
“You would not surely have spent it upon that?” replied her father.
“Oh! papa, how could I have spent it on anything more delightful?”
“Doubtless,” replied M. de Cideville, “it would have been quite impossible to have found anything more delightful; but you might have found something more useful.”
“For a louis, papa! What is there so very useful that can be bought for one louis?”
As she said these words, Ernestine tossed in her hands her mamma’s purse, which Madame de Cideville, on entering, had laid upon the table. A louis d’or fell out of it. “See,” said Ernestine, as she picked it up, “to what very important use can this little yellow thing be put?”
“To what use?” replied her father; “if I were to tell you all the important uses to which it might be applied, all the trouble that is sometimes required to gain it, all the danger there is in spending it badly, all the good it may do to those who are in want of it, all the evil it may make them commit in order to obtain it, you would wonder how any one could be even tempted to throw it away upon useless objects. Shall I relate to you the history of that particular louis, all the adventures it has met with, and to how many uses it has been applied?”
“Oh! yes, papa; but how came you to know all this?”
“That I will tell you afterwards. At present I want you to look at it merely; it is not very ancient, it belongs to the coinage of 1787, so that it is scarcely five-and-twenty years old. Now, listen to all that has happened to it.”
Ernestine drew a chair to her father’s side, that she might listen more attentively, and M. de Cideville began thus: —
I will not tell you how much labour and time were required to extract from the earth the small quantity of gold of which this louis is composed, to separate it from the other substances which are generally found mixed with it, to melt it, to coin it, &c. It was in the year 1787, that it came for the first time into the Royal treasury, and that it was afterwards given out, in payment of a regiment, to which, I know not by what chance, several months’ arrears were due. As the soldiers received five sous a day, this louis served to discharge what was owing for more than three months’ pay to a poor fellow who, had there been war, might, during this time, have fought in a dozen battles, have been killed, or at least wounded, have died of hunger in a besieged city, perished at sea, or been eaten by savages, had he been sent to fight in America. But as it was a time of peace, he had only caught an inflammation on the chest, in consequence of having had to mount guard during one of the severest nights of winter, and afterwards a cutaneous disease, from having slept in the hospital in the same bed with a comrade who had it. At length he recovered, and as he was an industrious and well-conducted man, and had managed by his occupation of barber to the regiment, to make some little savings, he was able, notwithstanding what I have mentioned, to send this louis to his father, a poor peasant, at that very moment on the point of being imprisoned for a debt of one louis, which he could not pay. The creditor was on the spot, threatening him, and announcing his determination of sending for the sheriff’s officer: the peasant’s second son, the brother of the soldier, furious at seeing his father thus menaced, had taken up a hatchet with which he was going to kill the creditor, notwithstanding the interposition of his mother, who, uttering piercing cries, rushed forward to prevent him, and was thrown down by him, without his perceiving it, so violent was his passion. The person who had brought the louis from the soldier, arrived in the midst of this tumult. She had, at first, much difficulty in making herself heard; but when they did begin to understand what she was saying, peace was restored. The father paid his creditor, the son rejoiced that he had not killed him, and thus this louis d’or saved a man’s life, probably the lives of two men; for the son would have been punished for his crime: perhaps, indeed, it saved a whole family, for the father and mother, who had only this son to assist them in their labours, would, in all probability, have died of misery and grief.
The creditor who had exacted this louis with so much severity, belonged to the same village, and was really in absolute want of the money, because, his harvest having failed, he had not the necessary provisions for his family during the winter. Had the soldier’s louis not arrived, however, it would have been useless for him to have put the father in prison; he would have gained nothing, as the old man possessed nothing; but with this louis he bought twenty or five-and-twenty bushels of potatoes, which were then very cheap, and these served to support himself and his children.
The woman, however, from whom he had purchased the potatoes, and who belonged to another village, having the imprudence to cross in the dark a wood, through which the road to her house lay, three villains of the neighbourhood in which she had sold her potatoes, who had seen her receive the louis, agreed to wait for her in the wood, and rob her of it. When, therefore, she had penetrated into the thicket, they burst upon her, threw her from her horse, took the louis, and were about to tear off her clothes, and perhaps kill her, when, fancying they heard a noise, they ran off in different directions. He who held the louis, endeavoured to escape from his companions, that he might not share it with them; but they met him that same evening at a tavern where he was spending it in drink. They demanded their share, quarrelled, fought, and discovered all their secrets. They were arrested and sent to the galleys. The tavern-keeper interposed in the lawsuit; he wished to have the louis, as it had been spent at his house; the woman who sold the potatoes, and who had recovered and again mounted her horse, also claimed it, as it had been stolen from her. I know not whether they were indemnified, but the louis, after having served as a proof of the theft, because it was the only one in the country, none of this particular coinage having been before introduced there, passed into the hands of an old lawyer, who quarrelled with an elderly lady, after a friendship of thirty years, because she had won it of him at piquet, during the course of six months, and had told him, besides, that he did not know how to play. This old lady sent it as a new-year’s gift to one of her little granddaughters in Paris, who was saved by it from a very considerable annoyance. Her brother, who, though treated with a good deal of severity, was, nevertheless, very disobedient and ill-behaved, had taken from her father’s library, notwithstanding his having been forbidden to touch it, a book which contained prints; while reading it, he had let an inkstand fall upon it, and in order that he might not be suspected, had carried it into the anteroom. All this he communicated to his sister, as a great secret, making her solemnly promise to say nothing about it, so that the servant might be suspected. As her father was very particular about his books, the young girl knew that the servant would be dismissed; still she could not denounce her brother. The book had been put in the anteroom, during the evening, and she wept all night at the thought of what was to happen next day; for she was extremely kind and just. In the morning, on awaking, the first thing she beheld was the louis, which had been put upon her bed as a present from her grandmamma; her joy was extreme, and she immediately sent for a copy of the book, as her brother, who had also received a louis, finding himself screened, would not spend his in this manner. However, she consoled herself, by thinking of the terrible pain she would have experienced in seeing an innocent person punished, without daring to justify him. The book cost exactly one louis; this louis passed into the hands of a librarian, and had a great influence on the destiny of a little boy, whose history I am about to relate to you.
Little Peter, when ten years old, had entered the service of M. Dubourg, a worthy man, who passed his life in the study of Greek and Latin, and was so much taken up with what happened three thousand years ago, that he did not even think of troubling himself with what was actually passing around him; for he was consoled for every inconvenience, provided he could apply to it an example or a maxim drawn from antiquity. If he cut his finger, or hurt his foot, his first movement was an exclamation of impatience, but immediately afterwards he checked himself and grew calm, saying, “The philosopher Epictetus suffered his leg to be broken by his master, who was beating him, without making any complaint beyond these words: ‘I told you you would break my leg.’” One day, while dining in town, he found himself in company with some very ill-bred military men, who could talk of nothing but the stories of their regiment, and the number of bottles of wine they had drunk at a mess dinner. The mistress of the house, in order to make him some kind of apology for a conversation which wearied him, said, laughing, “You must allow, M. Dubourg, that I have made you dine in very bad company.”
“Madame,” replied M. Dubourg, “Alcibiades knew how to accommodate himself to every grade of society, to every company, and even to the customs of every nation;” and in order to follow the example of Alcibiades, he commenced talking to them of the battle of Salamis, and the feasts of Bacchus. As to the rest, M. Dubourg only dined out six times a year; this was a rule which he had laid down for himself, however numerous might be the invitations which he received. The only irregularity he allowed himself was in the periods. Thus, for instance, he might one year dine out on the 6th of March, and the following year on the 7th or the 10th; it might even happen that he accepted two invitations in the same month, though as a general rule he placed them as nearly as possible at equal distances; but if by any extraordinary chance, the six dinners were expended by the month of July, no consideration would induce him to dine away from home during the rest of the year. His expenditure was regulated as strictly as his manner of life. With a very small income, M. Dubourg wished to live in such a manner as to be perfectly independent of every one, and especially so as never to be reduced to the necessity of borrowing, which he regarded as the greatest of all faults; “for,” said he, “one can never be sufficiently sure of repaying.” Thus, his dinners were furnished by a restaurateur, who, for the same sum, brought him every day the same thing. On one occasion the restaurateur wished to increase his charge. “It is all the same to me,” said M. Dubourg, “I shall take less; Diogenes was able, by mere philosophy, to bring himself to drink out of his hand, although he had still a wooden cup of which he might have made use.” It was probably less out of respect for philosophy, than from the fear of disobliging a customer, that the restaurateur, by the means of certain arrangements, agreed to furnish him, for the old price, a dinner of pretty nearly the same kind.
The other expenses of the day were calculated with the same precision, so that, without ever counting, M. Dubourg, had always a year’s income in advance, and was consequently never inconvenienced by having to wait for his returns. He had, besides, a sum in reserve for extraordinary cases; such as an illness, an accident, or even a goblet broken, or a bottle of ink overturned, &c. It might also happen, on a rainy day, that he had to pay for crossing a stream upon a plank, or, in winter, to give a sous to the little sweeper who cleaned the crossing; all these expenses fell upon the extraordinary fund, for as to coaches, M. Dubourg had only hired two during the whole course of thirty years. One was to pay a visit to a rich man from whom he had accepted an invitation to dinner, and to whose house he was told he must not go splashed. This broke off their acquaintance, and he never would go again, however much he was pressed. The other he took when going to declare his sentiments to a young lady whom he had been persuaded to fancy himself desirous of marrying. He took it for fear that the wind should shake the powder out of his hair, and it gave him an opportunity of reflecting, as he proceeded, on the disorders into which the passions lead us. On arriving at the young lady’s house, he paid the coachman, returned home on foot, and renounced for ever the idea of marrying. His reserved fund was always maintained in the same state, by means of a portion of his income regularly set apart for this purpose. When it did not happen to be all spent by the end of the year, M. Dubourg gave the remainder to the poor, otherwise, he neither gave nor lent; for he said that “it is not proper to give unless we are certain of not being obliged to ask, and that he who, in order to lend, exposes himself to the chance of being obliged to borrow, places his integrity at the mercy of a bad paymaster.” It may be seen then, that with some follies, M. Dubourg was a man highly to be esteemed for his integrity.
Little Peter passed with him the happiest of lives. Provided he was careful not to arrange the books that were scattered or heaped together upon the desk or floor, which M. Dubourg called disarranging them; provided he took care to sweep the room only once a fortnight, when M. Dubourg had taken away certain fine editions, which he did not wish to have exposed to the dust; provided he was careful never to remove the cobwebs, that he might not run the risk of upsetting the busts of Homer, of Plato, of Aristotle, of Cicero, of Virgil, &c., which adorned the top of the library, little Peter might do pretty nearly what he pleased. If he happened to be out at the hour at which the restaurateur brought, every day, M. Dubourg’s dinner, so that it had to be left at the door, M. Dubourg having forbidden the man ever to ring, for fear of interrupting his studies, and if M. Dubourg found his dinner quite cold, or partly eaten by the cat, Peter merely excused himself by saying, that he had been detained by some business. Then M. Dubourg would say to him: “It is quite natural, Peter, that you should occupy yourself principally with your own affairs; you are not my slave; I have not purchased you with my money: but were you my slave, the case would be very different.” Then, whilst taking his dinner, he would explain to him the duties and condition of slaves; and how it was that their masters possessed over them the power of life and death, which was indeed but just, since they had purchased them; “But as for me, Peter,” he would add, “I am not permitted to do you the least harm, for you are not my slave.” And, in fact, he would not give him a caning, even when he learned his Latin grammar badly; this was, nevertheless, the greatest annoyance Peter could cause M. Dubourg; who, on this point, sometimes got into violent passions, quite at variance with his general character; for he could not understand how it was possible for any one to dislike so excellent a thing as the Latin grammar. This dislike, however, was very sincere on the part of little Peter, who had no fancy for study, and who, though he had learned to read and to write, had done so much against his will. When M. Dubourg, who did not wish any one to live with him without understanding Latin, first put an Accidence into his hand, his parents were delighted at the idea of his making, as they thought, little Peter a learned man like himself; but Peter had not the slightest wish to resemble M. Dubourg, who passed the whole day in poring over books; who often only half dined, for fear of allowing a Greek passage to escape him, the meaning of which he was beginning to seize; who took water, scarcely coloured, because wine disturbed the judgment, and had, he said, caused Alexander the Great to commit many crimes; and who, finally, as his only pleasure, walked for two hours every day in the gardens of the Tuileries, with three other learned men, who, on their part, met there for the purpose of conversing together, after the manner of the Peripaticians.
Little Peter, fancying that Latin led to nothing better than this, could not perceive in it anything very attractive, and only learned his Accidence, ill or well as the case might be, for the sake of pleasing M. Dubourg, who wept with joy when he had repeated his lesson well. He read, however, with tolerable pleasure, some books of history which M. Dubourg had lent him, and he passed the remainder of his time with his parents, to whom M. Dubourg had promised to send him for several hours each day, and to whom Peter, according to custom, remitted a very considerable portion of the hundred francs which he annually received as his wages; for they said that, having consented to place him with M. Dubourg at an age in which his labour might have been useful to them in their trade of braziers, they ought to be indemnified, in some other manner, for the expenses he had occasioned them in his childhood. Little Peter, better fed and better clothed than he could have been at home, ought to have considered himself very well off; but he was discontented, because he could not run about like other boys of his age, and because he had not the free disposal of his money; in fact he regretted all the follies which he could not commit, and then the Rudiments greatly disgusted him. Besides, little Peter affected to be ambitious; he must make his fortune, and that was an impossibility so long as he remained with M. Dubourg. He related his troubles to a little groom with whom he became acquainted, from having seen him at the door of a house, situated between the residence of M. Dubourg and his father’s shop. One day this groom, whose name was John, told him that if he wished he would procure him a good situation, with a young gentleman, a friend of his master, who was in want of a groom. He would have to take his meals with the other servants of the family, as long as the young gentleman resided with his parents, and receive a hundred francs a year, as with M. Dubourg, besides a louis d’or for his new-year’s gift, not to mention the perquisites, which, according to John’s account, would amount to three times as much as his wages. Peter felt himself greatly tempted by the louis d’or, which he hoped to keep for himself, and by the livery, which he thought much finer than his grey jacket, forgetting, that from his grey jacket he might pass to a better dress without the change being remarked, whereas livery is a costume which once seen upon a person is never forgotten. John had taught him to groom a horse, and this pleased him much more than the Rudiments; he thought it would be very delightful to have to groom one every day, and, besides, it seemed to him that he should have his own way much more. However, he told John that the thing was impossible; that he could not leave M. Dubourg; but as he went along he could think of nothing else. His parents, seeing him thus preoccupied, said to him a dozen times, “Peter, are you ill?” He replied that he was not, and left them much earlier than usual, to go and find John; not that he knew what answer to give him, but simply that he might hear him talk of the situation, of the louis d’or, of the perquisites, and of the horse.
The desire he felt to obtain the situation increased at every moment. John told him that nothing was easier; that he had only to allow him to speak to M. and Madame Jerôme, — these were the parents of little Peter; and that he would make them listen to reason. Peter took him at his word, and told him to come with him. John went, and as he was a boy of great determination, he represented, in glowing colours, to M. and Madame Jerôme, all the advantages of the situation which he proposed, with the exception, however, of the louis d’or, to which Peter had begged him not to allude, as he wished to keep it for himself. “But see, Madame Jerôme,” said John, “the master he will have, lays aside his clothes almost new, and I will wager that, every year, Peter will be able to bring a suit to M. Jerôme; but that is on condition that you let him have a little more of his wages.”
“We shall see, we shall see,” said Madame Jerôme, who was quite captivated with the idea of her husband’s having a smart coat to walk out with her on a Sunday. M. Jerôme urged that Peter could not leave M. Dubourg, who bestowed so much pains on his education. “Excellent!” replied Madame Jerôme; “no doubt Peter will be very well off when he is as learned as M. Dubourg. They say in the neighbourhood, that that is not the way to get bread.” And as Madame Jerôme always made her husband do just what she pleased, it was agreed that Peter should accept the situation. John went to his master to solicitit; the latter mentioned it to his friend, who sent for little Peter, and as he was without a servant, it was arranged, that if Peter brought him a good character from M. Dubourg, he should enter his service the following day.
Peter returned home to M. Dubourg, whose dinner had been waiting at the door a quarter of an hour. He was so bewildered, that in laying the cloth, he put the chair on the side of the window instead of on that of the door, a thing which had not been done for five-and-twenty years; and he forgot, when giving M. Dubourg something to drink, that it was an inviolable rule with him to put the wine into the glass before the water. His master looked at him with astonishment, saying, “Are you ill, Peter?” He again replied that he was not, and continued his duties; but he was completely embarrassed, and the more so as M. Dubourg spoke to him with even more than his usual kindness, calling him my child, his term of endearment for those whom he particularly liked. He said to him, “You will soon be thirteen years old; this is precisely the age at which the Romans took the Prætexta. I even think that I might find instances in which it was taken earlier, though, indeed, this may have been in corrupt times. But no matter: I think I can in conscience, allow you to leave off your grey jacket. Since you have been with me, I have made it a rule never to dust the covers of my books with my sleeve, as I was accustomed to do, and I have only failed once, and then through pure forgetfulness. Besides, although this coat has nearly served its time, for I buy one every three years, it is in a sufficiently good condition to be done up for you. And,” added M. Dubourg, patting him on the head with an air of gaiety, “you will look like a little gentleman.”
Little Peter felt extremely troubled; this kindness, and then this coat, which was to make him look like a gentleman, had completely upset all his ideas. He left the room as soon as he could, and did not enter it again that evening. The following morning, Madame Jerôme came to inform M. Dubourg that her son wished to leave him, and to ask him for a character. However great was his astonishment, he only uttered these words: “Little Peter is not my slave; I have no right to detain him against his will.” He promised the character, and when Madame Jerôme was gone, he called Peter, who had not dared to show himself. “Peter,” said he, “if you were my slave, you would deserve to be beaten with rods, or even worse, for wishing to leave your master; but you are not my slave, therefore you may go.”
He said this in a tone of so much feeling, that little Peter, already much moved, began to cry. “Why do you wish to leave me, my child?” continued M. Dubourg; “you will forget all you know, with another master.”
“Oh! Sir,” said Peter, shaking his head, “it is not my lot to be a learned man.”
“You are mistaken, Peter; you are mistaken, my child. If you could once get over the rule of que retranché, you would get on very well.” And thereupon he began to cite to him, with great earnestness, the examples of many celebrated men, who had at first displayed but little talent, but who afterwards astonished the world by the extent of their learning. “You have the opportunity of becoming what they were, Peter,” exclaimed M. Dubourg, “and yet you renounce it.” He was so sure of his case, and spoke with so much enthusiasm, that little Peter, quite carried away, felt himself on the point of losing his fortune.
“Oh! Sir,” he exclaimed, “only consent to give me one louis more a year, and I will remain with you all my life.”
At these words, the enthusiasm of M. Dubourg was changed into consternation. “If that is what is required,” said he, “it is impossible. You know yourself, that it is impossible.” Peter remained silent and confounded, for he knew that his master, before engaging him, had refused a boy who asked him five louis, because this would have occasioned an irregularity of twenty francs in the expenses of the year. He retired in confusion. M. Dubourg, without uttering another word, gave him a favourable character, to which, however, he considered himself obliged, as a matter of conscience, to add, that Peter had always shown but little inclination for the Latin grammar.
Little Peter soon got over his vexation; he thought himself so fine in his livery, especially when John had taught him some of his grand airs, that he was as proud of it as if there had really been some merit or honour in wearing it, and when, by chance, he had to drive his master’s cabriolet through the streets, he would not have exchanged conditions with any of those triumphant heroes whose history M. Dubourg had made him read. One day when he was behind this cabriolet, he saw M. Dubourg in danger of being knocked down by the horse, and cried out, “Take care, take care!” in a louder, though less imperious tone than usual. M. Dubourg recognised the voice, and looked up. Peter did not very well know whether to be pleased or ashamed, that he should thus be seen by him in all his glory. M. Dubourg gave a heavy sigh: “Is it possible,” he said, “that a person who was beginning to understand the Latin grammar could mount behind a cabriolet!” And he continued his way home, in a thoughtful mood.
As for Peter, he did not think of the circumstance very long, he only thought of amusing himself. John had taught him, according to his own account, the best means of doing so; that is, he took him to the public-house, and to places where cards and billiards were played. There he lost his money, and when his master paid him his first quarter’s wages, he owed the whole of it. For three days, he did not dare to go near his parents; for he knew very well that they would require their share. At length, John advised him to say, that he was to be paid only every six months, assuring him that by that time he would regain all that he had lost. On the contrary, he lost more, and only got deeper in debt. At the end of the six months, he said that he had been mistaken, and that his master paid only once a year. His parents began to disbelieve him, and, besides, the coat that John had promised to M. Jerôme was not forthcoming. If Peter had received perquisites, he had sold them to obtain money. Still his debts increased daily; he dared not pass down the street in which a certain tavern-keeper lived, because he had had drink in his house, for which he had not paid; in the neighbouring street a petty dealer in hardware, from whom he had obtained, on credit, a chain of false gold, in order to appear to wear a watch, insulted him every time he saw him. At every moment, he met comrades to whom he was still indebted, for money which they had won from him, while his parents, on the other hand, were very much displeased with him, and threatened to go and ask his master whether he told them the truth. Little Peter knew not where to hide his head.
One morning his master’s mother, who was almost as precise a person as M. Dubourg, gave him eighteen francs to carry to a shopkeeper, to whom she owed the balance of an account, for some things purchased of him the previous evening. Peter went out, proceeding with great precaution and looking on every side, as he was accustomed to do, since he had become constantly fearful of meeting persons to whom he owed money. He was absolutely obliged to pass through the street in which the hardware-dealer lived; he looked out from a distance, saw him engaged in conversation, and hoped to pass by unperceived. But as he approached, the person with whom he was talking turned round. It was the tavern-keeper, who called to him, and demanded his money, in no very polite terms. The hardware-man joined him, and they placed themselves in the middle of the street, so as to prevent him from passing, telling him that he must pay them. Peter glided between the wall and a carriage, which was standing there, and ran on with all his might; he heard them cry after him, that it was well to have good legs when one had not a good conscience, but that he might spare himself the trouble of running away, as they would catch him again. As he continued his flight, and was rapidly turning a corner, he ran against a man who was coming towards him. This man turned out to be a groom of his acquaintance, to whom he owed some money, won at cards. He was half-intoxicated, and seizing little Peter by the collar, and swearing at him, said that he must have his money, for the publican demanded it of him, and that he would drag Peter before him and beat him until he had paid it. Peter defended himself with all his strength. A crowd gathered round, and allowed them to continue. At length he heard some one cry out, “Villain, leave off beating that child!” He recognised the voice of M. Dubourg, and saw him, with uplifted cane, approaching to his assistance. The fear of being recognised, gave him even more strength than the fear of being beaten; he tore himself out of the hands of the groom, who had likewise turned round, on hearing himself thus spoken to, and whom M. Dubourg, with his cane still upraised, prevented from following Peter.
Peter, who now continued his flight with even greater rapidity than before, came at last to a street where he no longer saw any one likely to recognise him, and sat down trembling, upon a bench, not knowing what was to become of him. He had heard the groom also say that he would catch him, and he had no doubt that he was watching for his return. On raising his eyes, he perceived that he was before a tavern to which his comrades had taken him to play at cards, and where he had seen one of them win a hundred francs. His heart beat high at the idea of gaining as much, and a detestable thought took possession of his mind. Perhaps in hazarding thirty sous only of the eighteen francs with which he had been intrusted, he might regain all that he owed; but if he happened to lose! This reflection made him tremble. He went away; then returned, the temptation increasing every moment. At last, picking up a stone, he said to himself, “If in throwing this against the wall, I hit the mark that I see there, it will be a sign that I shall win!” He placed himself very near the wall, that he might not miss it, threw the stone, hit the spot, and went in. He was so excited, that he scarcely knew what he was about. Never before had he committed so bad an action, nor would he have committed it now, doubtless, had he been in his right mind. But it is one of the consequences of bad actions that they place us in circumstances which disturb the judgment, and deprive it of the strength necessary for directing our conduct. Had any one, at this moment, told Peter that he was committing the act of a thief, he would have trembled from head to foot; yet such was, nevertheless, the fact; but he did not think of it. At first he only hazarded thirty sous, and won: he won again, and fancied himself already rich. Had he stopped there, he would have had, if not sufficient to get out of difficulty, at least enough to satisfy, in some degree, one or two of his creditors; but by doing this, he would have been rewarded for his fault, and by a law of Providence, evil-doers never know how to stop at the point where their faults would be unattended with danger. He who, in doing wrong, relies upon his prudence to protect him from exposure, always finds himself deceived; the love of gain, or of pleasure, ends by dragging him on to the action which is to bring about his punishment. Peter was desirous of gaining more, and he lost not only what he had won, but his stake also. The hopes that he had at first formed, rendered him only the more ardent in the game, and, besides, how was he to replace the thirty sous? He hazarded thirty more, lost them, then more; at last the whole eighteen francs are gone. He left the house in despair, and wandered through the streets unconsciously, neither knowing where he was, nor what he was doing, still less what he intended to do. He heard it strike four o’clock, and remembered that at five he had to wait at table. He would be asked by his mistress’s mother whether he had paid the eighteen francs, and though for some time past he had got into the habit of telling falsehoods, his conscience accused him so vehemently, that he felt he should not be able to reply. However, like a man who throws himself into a river without knowing whether he shall get out of it again, he took, mechanically, the way to the house; but as he approached it, he fancied he saw the shop girl belonging to the tradesman, to whom he had been ordered to carry the eighteen francs, coming out of it. He had no doubt that she had been to ask for the money, and feeling that it would be quite impossible for him to enter again his master’s dwelling, he turned away, and recommenced running, without knowing whither he went. It was winter: night came on, and he at last stopped, and sat down upon a step, and felt that he was without a home. Nothing in the world would have induced him to return to his parents, and it would have been equally impossible for him to expose himself to the look of the honest M. Dubourg. The cold increased with the night, and it began to freeze rather severely. Peter had eaten nothing since the morning, and though his heart was oppressed, yet hunger began to make itself felt at last. All he could do, however, was to weep; for what resource was left to him in the world? At times this hunger, cold, suffering, and despair weighed so heavily upon him, that he would start up, and run away, whither he knew not, but determined to find some spot where he should suffer less. Then again, he would suddenly stop; for he felt that he had not the courage to show himself anywhere, or to endure the questions or the looks of any one; so he would slowly return, sit down again, and weep anew, while the cold wind, blowing upon his face, froze up the traces of his tears.
At last, overcome by fatigue and exhaustion, he fell asleep, or rather he became numbed; his state was a kind of half-sleep, which, although leaving him no distinct ideas, still left him the consciousness of the cold and hunger, and grief. In the middle of the night, he was awakened by some one who shook him violently. He opened his eyes, and saw around him several armed men. It was the watch, who finding a child asleep in the street, wanted to know why he was there, and to whom he belonged. Peter had at first some difficulty in collecting his ideas, and when he had succeeded in doing so, he only felt the more vividly the impossibility of replying. He dared not say to whom he belonged. He cried, and entreated them to leave him there, as he was doing no harm to any one. They would not listen to him, but told him that he must go to the guardhouse. One of them took him by the shoulders, and as he resisted, another gave him a blow across the legs to make him proceed. Peter walked on trembling. The snow began to fall so heavily, that they could scarcely see their way, and added to this, the wind was so strong, that it extinguished all the lamps, and drove the snow full into their faces. At length, the soldier who held little Peter had his cap blown off by a violent gust, and left him in order to run after it. The others, blinded by the snow, got dispersed; they sought each other; they called out. As to Peter, stupified by the wind, the snow, and all that had happened to him, he knew not where he was, what he was doing, or what he ought to do. Motionless on the spot where he had been left, he heard the soldiers inquiring for him, and asking whether he had not escaped. This brought him to himself, and finding one of them approaching, he drew back softly, in order to get as near as possible to the wall. As he retired farther and farther, he was still unable to feel the wall, and at last perceived that he had entered a bye-street, which the thickness of the snow had prevented him from seeing. He then walked faster, and soon ceasing to hear the soldiers, he regained a little courage, and after many windings, he at last stopped, and crouched down at the corner of an old building.
After remaining there some time, he again fell asleep, and when he awoke day was breaking. He tried to get up, but the cold and the uneasy posture in which he had remained, had so benumbed his limbs, that he could not move a step, nor even stretch his legs; while the violent effort which he made in order to move forward, threw him to the ground. In falling, his head struck the curbstone so violently that he become unconscious. He did not, however, altogether faint, and after a short time he had a confused perception of persons speaking and acting around him. It also seemed to him that he was taken up and carried away; but all was so indistinct that he had no proper consciousness of anything. He had neither any fear of what was going to happen to him, nor any wish to be better, nor any recollection of what he had done. He came to himself, however, by degrees, and his first sensation was a violent oppression of the heart. Poor little fellow! this is a feeling which he will henceforth always experience, as often as he calls to mind what he has done. At present he does not call this to mind, he simply feels that he has committed a terrible fault. He also feels that he is suffering in every part of his body, but, at the same time, he perceives that he is in a bed, and in a room; at length he regained complete consciousness and saw that he was at M. Dubourg’s, and that M. Dubourg and his mother Madame Jerôme were by his side.
His first impulse on perceiving them was to hide his head in the bedclothes and weep. As soon as his mother saw that he was conscious, she asked him what had happened to him, and why he had fled from his master. She told him that, finding he did not return during the day, they had sent at night to inquire for him at her house; that this had made her very uneasy, and that she had gone to his master’s early in the morning, and learning that he had not slept there, she had run in great terror to M. Dubourg, who told her that he had not seen him; and finally, that on leaving his house, she had found him at the corner of the street stretched upon the ground, totally insensible, and surrounded by several women of the neighbourhood, who were exclaiming, “Oh! it is little Peter! What can have happened to him! What will Mother Jerôme say! He must have been drinking, and got intoxicated, and the cold has seized him.” At the same time, the woman who attended to M. Dubourg’s house had gone to tell him the news, and he in great uneasiness came out in his dressing-gown and nightcap, a thing which had never happened to him before in the whole course of his life.
She had found him at the corner of the street, totally insensible, and surrounded by several women of the neighbourhood — .
At the conclusion of this recital, intermingled with reproofs, Madame Jerôme renewed her questions; but little Peter wept without replying. The physician who had been sent for, now arrived, and told them that he must not be tormented, as a severe fever was coming on; and indeed a violent excitement soon succeeded to the weakness from which he had just recovered. His fault represented itself to him in the most frightful colours, and threw him into fits of despair, of which they were at a loss to conjecture the cause. At length, when Madame Jerôme had gone home to inform her husband of what had happened, and of the necessity there was of her remaining to nurse Peter, he raised himself in his bed, and throwing himself on his knees, with clasped hands called M. Dubourg, and said to him, “Oh! M. Dubourg, I have committed a great crime.” M. Dubourg, thinking him delirious, told him to keep himself quiet, and lie down again. “No, M. Dubourg,” he repeated, “I have committed a great crime.” And then with the quickness and volubility which the fever gave him, he related all that had passed, but with so much minuteness of detail, that it was impossible to consider what he said as the effect of delirium. M. Dubourg made him he down again, and stood before him pale and shocked.
“Oh! Peter, Peter!” said he at last, with a deep sigh, “I had so earnestly hoped to have been able to keep you with me!”
Peter, without listening to him, uttered aloud all that the torments of his conscience dictated; he said that his master’s mother would have him apprehended, and in moments when his reason wandered more than usual, he declared that the guard were in pursuit of him. M. Dubourg, after reflecting for some time, went to his secretary, counted his money, closed his desk again, and Madame Jerôme returning at the same moment, he related to her what he had just learned, adding, “Madame Jerôme, little Peter, according to his own account, has committed a great crime, which prevents my keeping him with me as I had hoped to do, for I had provided the necessary means. My mind has never been easy, from the day I saw him behind a cursed cabriolet. He had offered to remain with me for one louis more a year, and I thought of procuring it by my labour. You see, Madame Jerôme, how valuable and profitable a thing is learning. I had indeed made it a rule never to publish anything; but I considered that there were works which might be written, without compromising one’s tranquillity. I have composed an almanac, in which I have recorded the feasts and epochs of the year among the ancients. It cannot but be very interesting to know, that on such a day began the Ides of March, or, as the case may be, the Feasts of Ceres. I demanded of the publisher one louis for it, that being all I stood in need of. He gave it immediately, and will give me the same every year, for a similar almanac.” M. Dubourg was going on to explain to Madame Jerôme how he would manage to insure accuracy, notwithstanding the irregularity of the ancient calendar; “but,” said he, “it is not necessary for you to know all this:” and then added, “I had intended this louis for little Peter. I can dispose of it in his favour, and the more easily as we are now at the end of the year, and I have in my reserved fund more than sufficient to defray the expenses of his illness. I was afraid at first that I should be encouraging vice; but I have since considered that the evil is now done, and that it is the innocent who has suffered from it. Take, then, this louis, Madame Jerôme, and carry the eighteen francs to the shopkeeper.” This, said M. de Cideville, was the precise louis d’or whose history I am relating to you.
Madame Jerôme, he continued, had been waiting anxiously for the end of this discourse, which she did not very well understand, but which she had not ventured to interrupt. As she was a very honest woman, the conduct of her son had so overwhelmed her with grief and shame, that she almost threw herself at the feet of M. Dubourg, to thank him for affording her the means of repairing it without being obliged to pay a sum very considerable for a poor woman burdened with a family. She hastened out, though not without addressing some reproaches to her son, who scarcely understood them, and ran to pay the shopkeeper. As it happened, no inquiries had been made of him, nor had he, on his part, sent for the money. Peter, therefore, had been mistaken, and as yet nothing was known about the affair. His mother, on her return, found him better; the fever had begun to abate, and he was also comforted by the intelligence she brought. But if he had escaped exposure, he could not escape from the remorse of his own conscience, or from the reproaches of his mother, who was inconsolable. Her lamentations, however, distressed him less than the cold and serious manner of M. Dubourg, who no longer approached his bed, or spoke to him, but took care that he should want for nothing, without ever directly asking him what he wished to have. Little Peter had, more than once, shed bitter tears on this account, and to this grief was added, when he began to recover, the fear of returning to his father, who had come to see him during his illness, and who, being a man of great integrity, had severely reprimanded, and even threatened him.
Peter entreated his mother to ask M. Dubourg to keep him. M. Dubourg at first refused; but Madame Jerôme having promised him that Peter should not go out, and that he should study the whole of the day, he went to consult his Xenophon, and saw that Socrates in his youth had been addicted to every vice; there was reason therefore, for hoping that labour would reform little Peter, as it had reformed Socrates.
Peter was obliged to keep his word. His illness had left a debility which long continued, and he was further restrained from going out by the fear of meeting those to whom he owed money. Study being his only amusement, he ended by becoming fond of it: and as he possessed good abilities, his progress was such as to give his master much satisfaction. But the honest M. Dubourg was ill at ease with Peter, and no longer spoke to him with his accustomed familiarity. Peter felt this, and was unhappy: then he redoubled his efforts to improve. One day, having made a translation which gave M. Dubourg great satisfaction, the latter promised, that if he continued to improve, he would have the coat, which he still kept for him, arranged. Peter, after much hesitation, begged to be allowed to sell it instead, so that its price, together with the louis which he was to receive at the end of the year, might serve to pay a part, at least, of his debts. M. Dubourg consented, and was greatly pleased that this idea had occurred to him. While waiting, therefore, for two years, until the new coat had served its time, he continued to wear his old grey jacket, which he was obliged to mend almost every day, and the sleeves of which had become about four inches too short. But during this time he succeeded in completely gaining the friendship of M. Dubourg, who, having received a small legacy, employed it in increasing the salary of Peter, whom he elevated to the rank of his secretary. From this moment he treated him as a son; but Peter, who was now called M. Jerôme, could not perceive, without profound grief, that whenever any allusion was made in his presence to a defect of probity, M. Dubourg blushed, cast down his eyes, and did not dare to look at him. As for himself, whenever anything was mentioned that could have reference to his fault, he felt a severe pang shoot through his heart. When money was concerned, he was timid, always trembling, lest his honesty should be suspected. He did not dare, for several years, to propose to M. Dubourg that he should spare him the trouble of carrying the money to the restaurateur at the end of each month. The first time his master intrusted him with it, he was delighted, but still felt humiliated by the very pleasure he experienced. However, he became accustomed to it: a life of steady honesty has at last restored to him the confidence which every man of honour ought to possess; but he will not dare to relate this history to his children for their instruction, until he has become so old, and so respectable, that he is no longer the same person as little Peter, and he will always remember, that to M. Dubourg, and his louis d’or, he owes the preservation of his character.