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- The Reign Of Terror - 1/50 -
IN THE REIGN OF TERROR The Adventures of a Westminster Boy.
by G. A. Henty
MY DEAR LADS,
This time only a few words are needed, for the story speaks for itself. My object has been rather to tell you a tale of interest than to impart historical knowledge, for the facts of the dreadful time when "the terror" reigned supreme in France are well known to all educated lads. I need only say that such historical allusions as are necessary for the sequence of the story will be found correct, except that the Noyades at Nantes did not take place until a somewhat later period than is here assigned to them.
CHAPTER I 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 anyrate 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 favourably 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 favour 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
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