- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
A Journey to France
"I don't know what to say, my dear."
"Why, surely, James, you are not thinking for a moment of letting him go?"
"Well, I don't know. Yes, I am certainly thinking of it, though I haven't at all made up my mind. There are advantages and disadvantages."
"Oh, but it is such a long way, and to live among those French people, who have been doing such dreadful things, attacking the Bastille, and, as I have heard you say, passing all sorts of revolutionary laws, and holding their king and queen almost as prisoners in Paris!"
"Well, they won't eat him, my dear. The French Assembly, or the National Assembly, or whatever it ought to be called, has certainly been passing laws limiting the power of the king and abolishing many of the rights and privileges of the nobility and clergy; but you must remember that the condition of the vast body of the French nation has been terrible. We have long conquered our liberties, and, indeed, never even in the height of the feudal system were the mass of the English people more enslaved as have been the peasants of France.
"We must not be surprised, therefore, if in their newly-recovered freedom they push matters to an excess at first; but all this will right itself, and no doubt a constitutional form of government, somewhat similar to our own, will be established. But all this is no reason against Harry's going out there. You don't suppose that the French people are going to fly at the throats of the nobility. Why, even in the heat of the civil war here there was no instance of any personal wrong being done to the families of those engaged in the struggle, and in only two or three cases, after repeated risings, were any even of the leaders executed.
"No; Harry will be just as safe there as he would be here. As to the distance, it's nothing like so far as if he went to India, for example. I don't see any great chance of his setting the Thames on fire at home. His school report is always the same—'Conduct fair; progress in study moderate'—which means, as I take it, that he just scrapes along. That's it, isn't it, Harry?"
"Yes, father, I think so. You see every one cannot be at the top of the form."
"That's a very true observation, my boy. It is clear that if there are twenty boys in a class, nineteen fathers have to be disappointed. Still, of course, one would like to be the father who is not disappointed."
"I stick to my work," the boy said; "but there are always fellows who seem to know just the right words without taking any trouble about it. It comes to them, I suppose."
"What do you say to this idea yourself, Harry?"
"I don't know, sir," the boy said doubtfully.
"And I don't know," his father agreed. "At any rate we will sleep upon it. I am clear that the offer is not to be lightly rejected."
Dr. Sandwith was a doctor in Chelsea. Chelsea in the year 1790 was a very different place to Chelsea of the present day. It was a pretty suburban hamlet, and was indeed a very fashionable quarter. Here many of the nobility and personages connected with the court had their houses, and broad country fields and lanes separated it from the stir and din of London. Dr. Sandwith had a good practice, but he had also a large family. Harry was at Westminster, going backwards and forwards across the fields to school. So far he had evinced no predilection for any special career. He was a sturdy, well-built lad of some sixteen years old. He was, as his father said, not likely to set the Thames on fire in any way. He was as undistinguished in the various sports popular among boys in those days as he was in his lessons. He was as good as the average, but no better; had fought some tough fights with boys of his own age, and had shown endurance rather than brilliancy.
In the ordinary course of things he would probably in three or four years' time have chosen some profession; and, indeed, his father had already settled in his mind that as Harry was not likely to make any great figure in life in the way of intellectual capacity, the best thing would be to obtain for him a commission in his Majesty's service, as to which, with the doctor's connection among people of influence, there would not be any difficulty. He had, however, said nothing as yet to the boy on the subject.
The fact that Harry had three younger brothers and four sisters, and that Dr. Sandwith, who was obliged to keep up a good position, sometimes found it difficult to meet his various expenses, made him perhaps more inclined to view favorably the offer he had that morning received than would otherwise have been the case. Two years before he had attended professionally a young French nobleman attached to the embassy. It was from him that the letter which had been the subject of conversation had been received. It ran as follows:—
"Dear Doctor Sandwith,—Since my return from Paris I have frequently spoken to my brother, the Marquis of St. Caux, respecting the difference of education between your English boys and our own. Nothing struck me more when I was in London than your great schools. With us the children of good families are almost always brought up at home. They learn to dance and to fence, but have no other exercise for their limbs, and they lack the air of manly independence which struck me in English boys. They are more gentil—I do not know the word in your language which expresses it—they carry themselves better; they are not so rough; they are more polite. There are advantages in both systems, but for myself I like yours much the best. My brother is, to some extent, a convert to my view. There are no such schools to which he could send his sons in France, for what large schools we have are under the management of the fathers, and the boys have none of that freedom which is the distinguishing point of the English system of education. Even if there were such schools, I am sure that madame my sister-in-law would never hear of her sons being sent there.
"Since this is so, the marquis has concluded that the best thing would be to have an English boy of good family as their companion. He would, of course, study with them under their masters. He would play and ride with them, and would be treated as one of themselves. They would learn something of English from him, which would be useful if they adopt the diplomatic profession. He would learn French, which might also be useful to him; but of course the great point which my brother desires is that his sons should acquire something of the manly independence of thought and action which distinguishes English boys.
"Having arranged this much, I thought of you. I know that you have several sons. If you have one of from fourteen to sixteen years, and you would like him to take such a position for two or three years, I should be glad indeed to secure such a companion for my nephews. If not, would you do me the favor of looking round among your acquaintances and find us a lad such as we need. He must be a gentleman and a fair type of the boy we are speaking of. I may say that my brother authorizes me to offer in his name, in addition to all expenses, two thousand francs a year to the young gentleman who will thus benefit his sons. I do not think that the political excitement which is agitating Paris need be taken into consideration. Now that great concessions have been made to the representatives of the nation, it is not at all probable that there will be any recurrence of such popular tumults as that which brought about the capture of the Bastille. But in any case this need not weigh in the decision, as my brother resides for the greater part of the year in his chateau near Dijon in Burgundy, far removed from the troubles in the capital."
The more Dr. Sandwith thought over the matter the more he liked it. There were comparatively few Englishmen in those days who spoke the French language. It was, indeed, considered part of the education of a young man of good family to make what was called the grand tour of Europe under the charge of a tutor, after leaving the university. But these formed a very small proportion of society, and, indeed, the frequent wars which had, since the Stuarts lost the throne of England, occurred between the two countries had greatly interfered with continental travel.
Even now the subjects of France and England were engaged in a desperate struggle in India, although there was peace between the courts of Versailles and St. James's. A knowledge of the French language then would be likely to be of great utility to Harry if he entered the army; his expenses at Westminster would be saved, and the two hundred and forty pounds which he would acquire during his three years' stay in France would be very useful to him on his first start in life. After breakfast next morning Dr. Sandwith asked Harry to take a turn in the garden with him, for the holidays had just begun.
"What do you think of this, Harry?"
"I have not thought much about it one way or the other, sir," Harry said, looking up with a smile. "It seemed to me better that you should do the thinking for both of us."
"I might perhaps be better able to judge whether it would be advantageous or otherwise for you to accept the offer, but you must be the best judge as to whether you would like to accept it or not."
"I can't quite make up my mind as to that, sir. I like school very much and I like being at home. I don't want to learn Frenchified ways, nor to eat frogs and snails and all sorts of nastiness; still, it would be fun going to a place so different to England, and hearing no English spoken, and learning all their rum ways, and getting to jabber French."
"It might be very useful to you in the army, Harry"; and then the doctor stopped suddenly.
"The army!" Harry exclaimed in a tone of astonished delight. "Oh, sir, do you really think of my going into the army? You never said a word about that before. I should like that immensely."
"That slipped out, Harry, for I did not mean to say anything about it until you had left school; still, if you go to France I do not know why you should not keep that before you. I don't think the army is a very good profession, but you do not seem to have any marked talent for anything else. You don't like the idea of medicine or the church, and you were almost heart-broken when I wanted you to accept the offer of your uncle John of a seat in his counting-house. It seems to me that the army would suit you better than anything else, and I have no doubt that I could get you a commission. Now, whenever we fight France is sure to be on the other side, and I think that it would be of great advantage to you to have a thorough knowledge of French—a thing which very few officers in our army possess. If you accept this offer you will have the opportunity of attaining this, and at the same time of earning a nice little sum, which would pay for your outfit and supply you with pocket-money for some time."
"Yes, sir, it would be first rate!" Harry exclaimed excitedly. "Oh, please, accept the offer; I should like it of all things; and even if I do get ever so skinny on frogs and thin soup, I can get fat on roast beef again when I get back."
"That is all nonsense, Harry, about frogs and starving. The French style of cookery differs from ours, but they eat just as much, and although they may not, as a rule, be as broad and heavy as Englishmen, that is simply a characteristic of race; the Latin peoples are of slighter build than the Teutonic. As to their food, you know that the Romans, who were certainly judges of good living, considered the snail a great luxury, and I dare say ate frogs too. A gentleman who had made the grand tour told me that he had tasted them in Paris and found them very delicate eating. You may not like the living quite at first, but you will soon get over that, and once accustomed to it you will like it quite as well as our solid joints. My principal objection to your going lies quite in another direction. Public opinion in France is much disturbed. In the National Assembly, which is the same as our Parliament, there is a great spirit of resistance to the royal authority, something like a revolution has already been accomplished, and the king is little more than a prisoner."
"But that would surely make no difference to me, sir!"
"No, I don't see that it should, Harry. Still, it would cause your mother a good deal of anxiety."
"I don't see it could make any difference," Harry repeated; "and you see, sir, when I go into the army and there is war, mother would be a great deal more anxious."
"You mean, Harry," the doctor said with a smile, "that whether her anxiety begins a little sooner or later does not make much difference."
"I don't think I quite meant that, sir," Harry said; "but yes," he added frankly, after a moment's thought, "I suppose I did; but I really don't see that supposing there were any troubles in France it could possibly make any difference to me; even if there were a civil war, such as we had in England, they would not interfere with boys."
"No, I don't see that it would make any difference, and the chance is so remote that it need not influence our decision. Of course if war broke out between the two countries the marquis would see that you were sent back safely. Well, then, Harry, I am to consider that your decision is in favor of your accepting this appointment."
"If you please, sir. I am sure it will be a capital thing for me, and I have no doubt it will be great fun. Of course at first it will be strange to hear them all jabbering in French, but I suppose I shall soon pick it up."
And so Mrs. Sandwith was informed by her husband that after talking it over with Harry he had concluded that the proposed arrangement would really be an excellent one, and that it would be a great pity to let such an opportunity slip.
The good lady was for a time tearful in her forebodings that Harry would be starved, for in those days it was a matter of national opinion that our neighbors across the Channel fed on the most meagre of diet; but she was not in the habit of disputing her husband's will, and when the letter of acceptance had been sent off, she busied herself in preparing Harry's clothes for his long absence.
"He ought to be measured for several suits, my dear," she said to her husband, "made bigger and bigger to allow for his growing."
"Nonsense, my dear! You do not suppose that clothes cannot be purchased in France! Give him plenty of under-linen, but the fewer jackets and trousers he takes over the better; it will be much better for him to get clothes out there of the same fashion as other people; the boy will not want to be stared at wherever he goes. The best rule is always to dress like people round you. I shall give him money, and directly he gets there he can get a suit or two made by the tailor who makes for the lads he is going to be with. The English are no more loved in France than the French are here, and though Harry has no reason to be ashamed of his nationality there is no occasion for him to draw the attention of everyone he meets to it by going about in a dress which would seem to them peculiar."
In due time a letter was received from Count Auguste de St. Caux, stating that the marquis had requested him to write and say that he was much gratified to hear that one of the doctor's own sons was coming over to be a companion and friend to his boys, and that he was sending off in the course of two days a gentleman of his household to Calais to meet him and conduct him to Paris. On young Mr. Sandwith's arrival at Calais he was to go at once to the Hotel Lion d'Or and ask for M. du Tillet.
During the intervening time Harry had been very busy, he had to say good-bye to all his friends, who looked, some with envy, some with pity, upon him, for the idea of a three years' residence in France was a novel one to all. He was petted and made much of at home, especially by his sisters, who regarded him in the light of a hero about to undertake a strange and hazardous adventure.
Three days after the arrival of the letter of the marquis, Dr. Sandwith and Harry started by stage for Dover, and the doctor put his son on board the packet sailing for Calais. The evening before, he gave him much good advice as to his behavior.
"You will see much that is new, and perhaps a good deal that you don't like, Harry, but it is better for you never to criticize or give a hostile opinion about things; you would not like it if a French boy came over here and made unpleasant remarks about English ways and manners. Take things as they come and do as others do; avoid all comparisons between French and English customs; fall in with the ways of those around you; and adopt as far as you can the polite and courteous manner which is general among the French, and in which, I must say, they are far ahead of us. If questioned, you will, of course, give your opinion frankly and modestly; it is the independence of thought among English boys which has attracted the attention and approval of Auguste de St. Caux.
Excerpted from In the Reign of Terror by G. A. Henty, J. Shoenberg. Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.