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- The Reign Of Terror - 5/50 -
"That is the true spirit of the French nobility, Marie," her father said sarcastically. "Outside our own circle the whole human race is nothing to us; they are animals who supply our wants, voila tour. I tell you, my dear, that the time is coming when this will not suffice. The nation is stirring; that France which we have so long ignored is lifting its head and muttering; the news from Paris is more and more grave. The Assembly has assumed the supreme authority, and the king is a puppet in its power. The air is dark as with a thunder-cloud, and there may be such a storm sweep over France as there has not been since the days of the Jacquerie."
"But the people should be contented," M. du Tillet said; "they have had all the privileges they ever possessed given back to them."
"Yes," the marquis assented, "and there lies the danger. It is one thing or the other. If as soon as the temper of the third estate had been seen the king's guards had entered and cleared the place and closed the door, as Cromwell did when the parliament was troublesome to him in England, that would have been one way. Paris would have been troublesome, we might have had again the days of the Fronde, but in the end the king's party would have won.
"However, that was not the way tried. They began by concessions, they go on with concessions, and each concession is made the ground for more. It is like sliding down a hill; when you have once begun you cannot stop yourself, and you go on until there is a crash; then it may be you pick yourself up sorely wounded and bruised, and begin to reclimb the hill slowly and painfully; it may be that you are dashed to pieces. I am not a politician. I do not care much for the life of Paris, and am well content to live quietly here on our estates; but even I can see that a storm is gathering; and as for my brother Auguste, he goes about shaking his head and wringing his hands, his anticipations are of the darkest. What can one expect when fellows like Voltaire and Rousseau were permitted by their poisonous preaching to corrupt and inflame the imagination of the people? Both those men's heads should have been cut off the instant they began to write.
"The scribblers are at the root of all the trouble with their pestilent doctrines; but it is too late now, the mischief is done. If we had a king strong and determined all might yet be well; but Louis is weak in decision, he listens one moment to Mirabeau and the next to the queen, who is more firm and courageous. And so things drift on from bad to worse, and the Assembly, backed by the turbulent scum of Paris, are masters of the situation."
For some time Harry lived a quiet life at the chateau. He found his position a very pleasant one. The orders of the marquis that he should be treated as one of the family were obeyed, and there was no distinction made between himself and Ernest. In the morning the two boys and himself worked with the abbe, a quiet and gentle old man; in the afternoon they rode and fenced, under the instructions of M. du Tillet or one or other of the gentlemen of the marquis establishment; and on holidays shot or fished as they chose on the preserves or streams of the estate. For an hour each morning the two younger girls shared in their studies, learning Latin and history with their brothers. Harry got on very well with Ernest, but there was no real cordiality between them. The hauteur and insolence with which the young count treated his inferiors were a constant source of exasperation to Harry.
"He thinks himself a little god," he would often mutter to himself. "I would give a good deal to have him for three months at Westminster. Wouldn't he get his conceit and nonsense knocked out of him!"
At the same time he was always scrupulously polite and courteous to his English companion - much too polite, indeed, to please Harry. He had good qualities too: he was generous with his money, and if during their rides a woman came up with a tale of distress he was always ready to assist her. He was clever, and Harry, to his surprise, found that his knowledge of Latin was far beyond his own, and that Ernest could construct passages with the greatest ease which altogether puzzled him. He was a splendid rider, and could keep his seat with ease and grace on the most fiery animals in his father's stables.
When they went out with their guns Harry felt his inferiority keenly. Not only was Ernest an excellent shot, but at the end of a long day's sport he would come in apparently fresh and untired, while Harry, although bodily far the most powerful, would be completely done up; and at gymnastic exercises he could do with ease feats which Harry could at first not even attempt. In this respect, however, the English lad in three months' time was able to rival him. His disgust at finding himself so easily beaten by a French boy nerved him to the greatest exertions, and his muscles, practised in all sorts of games, soon adapted themselves to the new exercises.
Harry picked up French very rapidly. The absolute necessity there was to express himself in that language caused him to make a progress which surprised himself, and at the end of three months he was able to converse with little difficulty, and having learned it entirely by ear he spoke with a fair accent and pronunciation. M. du Tillet, who was the principal instructor of the boys in their outdoor exercises, took much pains to assist him in his French, and helped him on in every way in his power.
In the evening there were dancing lessons, and although very far from exhibiting the stately grace with which Ernest could perform the minuet or other courtly dances then in fashion, Harry came in time to perform his part fairly. Two hours were spent in the evening in the salon. This part of the day Harry at first found the most tedious; but as soon as he began to speak fluently the marquis addressed most of his conversation to him, asking him questions about the life of English boys at school and about English manners and customs, and Harry soon found himself chatting at his ease.
"The distinction of classes is clearly very much less with you in England than it is here," the marquis said one day when Harry had been describing a great fight which had taken place between a party of Westminster boys and those of the neighbourhood. "It seems extraordinary to me that sons of gentlemen should engage in a personal fight with boys of the lowest class. Such a thing could not happen here. If you were insulted by such a boy, what would you do, Ernest?"
"I should run him through the body," Ernest said quietly.
"Just so," his father replied, "and I don't say you would be wrong according to our notions; but I do not say that the English plan is not the best. The English gentleman - for Monsieur Sandwith says that even among grown-up people the same habits prevail - does not disdain to show the canaille that even with their own rough weapons he is their superior, and he thus holds their respect. It is a coarse way and altogether at variance with our notions, but there is much to be said for it."
"But it altogether does away with the reverence that the lower class should feel for the upper," Ernest objected.
"That is true, Ernest. So long as that feeling generally exists, so long as there is, as it were, a wide chasm between the two classes, as there has always existed in France, it would be unwise perhaps for one of the upper to admit that in any respect there could be any equality between them; but this is not so in England, where a certain equality has always been allowed to exist. The Englishman of all ranks has a certain feeling of self-respect and independence, and the result is shown in the history of the wars which have been fought between the two nations.
"France in early days always relied upon her chivalry. The horde of footmen she placed in the field counted for little. England, upon the other hand, relied principally upon her archers and her pikemen, and it must be admitted that they beat us handsomely. Then again in the wars in Flanders, under the English general Marlborough their infantry always proved themselves superior to ours. It is galling to admit it, but there is no blinking the facts of history. It seems to me that the feeling of independence and self-respect which this English system gives rise to, even among the lowest class, must render them man for man better soldiers than those drawn from a peasantry whose very lives are at the mercy of their lords."
"I think, du Tillet," the marquis said later on on the same evening, when the young people had retired, "I have done very well in taking my brother Auguste's advice as to having an English companion for Ernest. If things were as they were under the Grand Monarque, I do not say that it would have been wise to allow a young French nobleman to get these English ideas into his head, but it is different now.
"We are on the eve of great changes. What will come of it no one can say; but there will certainly be changes, and it is a good thing that my children should get broader ideas than those in which we were brought up. This lad is quiet and modest, but he ventures to think for himself. It scarce entered the head of a French nobleman a generation back that the mass of the people had any feelings or wishes, much less rights. They were useful in their way, just as the animals are, but needed no more consideration. They have never counted for anything.
"In England the people have rights and liberties; they won them years ago. It would be well for us in the present day had they done so in France. I fancy the next generation will have to adapt themselves to changed circumstances, and the ideas that Ernest and Jules will learn from this English lad will be a great advantage to them, and will fit them for the new state of things."
It was only during lessons, when their gouvernante was always present, at meal times, and in the salon in the evening, that Harry had any communication with the young ladies of the family. If they met in the grounds they were saluted by the boys with as much formal courtesy as if they had been the most distant acquaintances, returning the bows with deep curtsies.
These meetings were a source of great amusement to Harry, who could scarcely preserve his gravity at these formal and distant greetings. On one occasion, however, the even course of these meetings was broken. The boys had just left the tennis-court where they had been playing, and had laid aside the swords which they carried when walking or riding.
The tennis-court was at some little distance from the house, and they were walking across the garden when they heard a scream. At a short distance was the governess with her two young charges. She had thrown her arms round them, and stood the picture of terror, uttering loud screams.
Looking round in astonishment to discover the cause of her terror, Harry saw a large wolf-hound running towards them at a trot. Its tongue was hanging out, and there was a white foam on its jaws. He
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