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- The Reign Of Terror - 2/50 -
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 favour 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 neighbours 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 around 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 door 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 behaviour.
"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.
"Be natural and simple, giving yourself no airs, and permitting none on the part of the lads you are with; their father says you are to be treated as their equal. But, upon the other hand, do not be ever on the lookout for small slights, and bear with perfect good temper any little ridicule your, to them foreign, ways and manners may excite. I need not tell you to be always straightforward, honest, and true, for of those qualities I think you possess a fair share. Above all things restrain any tendency to use your fists; fighting comes naturally to English boys, but in France it is considered as brutal and degrading - a blow is a deadly insult, and would never be forgiven.
"So, whatever the provocation, abstain from striking anyone. Should you find that in any way your position is made intolerable, you will of course appeal to the marquis, and unless you obtain redress you will come home - you will find no difficulty in travelling when you once understand the language - but avoid anything like petty complaints. I trust there will be no reason for complaints at all, and that you will find your position an exceedingly pleasant one as soon as you become accustomed to it; but should occasion arise bear my words in mind."
Harry promised to follow his father's advice implicitly, but in his own mind he wondered what fellows did when they quarrelled if they were not allowed to fight; however, he supposed that he should, under the circumstances, do the same as French boys, whatever that might be.
As soon as the packet was once fairly beyond the harbour Harry's thoughts were effectually diverted from all other matters by the motion of the sailing boat, and he was soon in a state of prostration, in which he remained until, seven hours later, the packet entered Calais harbour.
Dr. Sandwith had requested the captain to allow one of his men to show Harry the way to the Lion door. Harry had pulled himself together a little as the vessel entered the still water in the harbour, and was staring at the men in their blue blouses and wooden shoes, at the women in their quaint and picturesque attire, when a sailor touched him on the shoulder:
"Now, young sir, the captain tells me I am to show you the way to your hotel. Which is your box?"
Harry pointed out his trunk; the sailor threw it on his shoulder, and Harry, with a feeling of bewilderment, followed him along the
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