I WAS born at Drnyes-les-Belles-Fontaines, in the Department of the Yonne, August I6, 1776.
My father had three wives. The first left two daughters; the second, four children—a girl and three boys. The youngest was six years old, my sister seven, I was eight, and my eldest brother nine, when we had the misfortune to lose our dear mother. My father married again the third time. He married his servant, who bore him seven children. Here is my father’s portrait: he was good natured, sober, and liked nothing so much as shooting, fishing, and law-suits; and girls and women of all classes succumbed to his charms. Apart from his three wives, he was the recognised sire of twenty-eight boys and four girls, or thirty-two extra children in all. Enough for any man, in my opinion
His second wife, as I have said, was my mother; the third was our servant. She was eighteen years old, and known as The Beauty; consequently she was with child in a fortnight, and therefore mistress of the house. As you may suppose, this stepmother ruled everything.
We poor little orphans were beaten night and day. She choked us to give us a good colour. This had been the state of affairs for two months when my father married her. And so it went on.
Every day, when my father returned from hunting, he would ask, “My dear, where are the children ?” and my stepmother answered, “They are asleep.”
Every day it was the same thing. We never saw our father. She took every means to prevent our finding an opportunity to complain. However, her vigilance was at fault one morning, and my father found my brother and me with tears on our cheeks. “What is the matter ?” he asked. “We are dying of hunger. She beats us every day.”—“Come with me. I will see about this.”
But the result of our complaint was terrible. The whippings did not cease, and the bread was curtailed. At last, not being able to stand it any longer, my elder brother took me by the hand and said, “If you are willing, we will go away. Let us each take a shirt, and say good-bye to no one.”
Early in the morning we set out, and went to Étais, a place about an hour’s walk from our home. It was the day of a fair. My brother put a bunch of oak leaves in my little hat, and hired me out for a shepherd. I earned twenty-four francs a year, and a pair of wooden shoes.
I went to a village called Chamois. It was surrounded by a forest. I served as a watch-dog for the shepherdess. “Go yonder,” said the woman to me. As I was going along the edge of the wood so as to keep the sheep away from it, a big wolf ran out, drove the sheep back, and seized upon one of the finest in the flock. I had never had any experience with such a beast. The shepherdess screamed, and told me to run. I hastened to the spot. The wolf could not throw the sheep on its back, so I had time to catch hold of its hind feet, and the wolf pulled one way and I the other.
But Providence came to my assistance. Two enormous dogs, wearing iron collars, rushed out, and in a moment the wolf was killed. Imagine my joy at having saved my sheep, and seeing the beast stretched dead upon the ground.
I served the shepherdess as watch-dog for a year. From there I went to the fair at Entrains. I hired myself out, for thirty francs, a blouse, and a pair of wooden shoes, to two old farmers of Les Bardins, near Menon, who sold wood on the wharves, and who made from twelve to fifteen hundred francs by my labour.
They had twelve head of cattle, of which six were oxen. In the winter I threshed in the barn, and slept on the straw. I became covered with vermin, and was perfectly wretched.
On the first of May I began hauling wood to the wharves with my three wagons, and always returned to the fields. Every evening my master came and brought me my piece of bread and an omelet made of two eggs cooked with leeks and hemp-seed oil. I only went to the house on Martinmas Day, when they did me the honour to give me a bit of salt pork.
In fine weather I slept in the beautiful wood belonging to Madame de Damas. I had my favourite, the gentlest of my six oxen. As soon as he lay down for the night I was beside him. First I pulled off my sabots, and then I poked my feet under his hind legs and put my head down on his neck.
But about two o’clock in the morning my six oxen arose without noise, and my comrade got up without my knowing it. Then the poor herdsman was left on the ground. Not knowing where to find my oxen in the darkness, I put on my wooden shoes and listened. I wandered along the edge of the young wood, torn by briers, which made the blood run down into my sabots. I cried, for my ankles were cut to the bone. Often, on my way, I used to encounter wolves, with eyes shining like sparks, but my courage never abandoned me.
At last I would find my six oxen, then I would make the sign of, the cross. How glad I was! I led the deserters back to my three wagons, which were loaded with cord-wood, and then waited till my master came, to hitch up and set off for the wharf. Then I returned to the pasture, and the master left me there in the evening. I received my piece of bread, and always the two eggs cooked with leeks and hemp-seed oil. And this happened every day for three years. The pot was empty under the kneading-trough. But the worst of it was the vermin that had taken possession of me.
Not being able to endure it any longer; in spite of all possible entreaties, I left the village. I went back to my native place to see if they would recognize me, but no one remembered the lost child. Four years of absence had made a great change in me, and no one any longer knew me.
I reached Druyes on Sunday; I went to see its beautiful fountains which flowed near my father’s garden. I began to cry, but after a moment’s struggle with my grief, I determined what to do. I washed my face in the clear water where formerly I had paddled with my brothers and sisters.
At last the hour sounded for mass. I went to the church, my little handkerchief in my hand, for my heart was swelling. But I held out. I went to mass, and knelt down. I said my little prayer looking down. No one paid any attention to me. However I heard a woman say, “There is a little Morvandian who prays earnestly to the good God.” I was so changed that no one knew me, but I knew everybody. I spoke to no one; when mass was over I went out of the church. I had at once recognized my father who sung among the choristers; little did he know that one of his children whom he had abandoned was so near him.
I had walked three leagues, and was very hungry when I left the church after mass. I went to the house of my half-sister, the child of the first marriage, who kept an inn; I asked her for something to eat.
“What do you want for dinner, boy ?”
“Half a bottle of wine and a little meat and bread, madame, if you please.”
A bit of stew was brought to me; I ate like an ogre, and got into a corner so that I could see all the country people who came in doing the same. When I had finished my dinner I asked, “How much do I owe you, madame ?”—”Fifteen sous, child.”—”There they are, madame.”— “You are from Morvan, are you not ?”—”Yes, madame, I have come to try to find a place.”
She called her husband. “Granger,” said she, “here is a little boy who wants to hire himself out.”—“How old are you ?”—“Twelve, sir.”—“Where do you come from ?”—“From Menon.”—“Ah, you are from Morvan ?”—“Yes, sir.”—”Do you know how to thresh in the barn ?”—”Yes, sir”—“Have you worked at it already ?”—“Four years, sir.”—“How much do you ask by the year ?”—“In our country, sir, we are paid in grain and money.”—“Very well, if you like, you shall stay here, you shall be the stable-boy; all the tips shall be yours. Are you accustomed to sleep on straw ?”— “Yes, sir.”—“If you suit me I will give you a louts a year.”—”That is sufficient, I will stay; shall I pay for my dinner ?”—“No,” said he, “I am going to set you to work.”
He took me into the garden, which I had known long before he had, and in which I had enjoyed all my childish frolics. I was the most boisterous one in the neighbourhood, and my companions used to throw stones at me and call me “red head.” I always came out best, being never afraid of blows; our stepmother had accustomed us to them. I remember once my nose was dirty; she took hold of it with the tweezers to wipe it, and was wicked enough to hurt me. “I will pull it off,” she said. Consequently the tweezers were thrown into the well.
My brother-in-law, then, took me into his garden and gave me a spade. I worked a quarter of an hour; then he said, “Well done; but that’s enough; we don’t work on Sunday.”—“Well,” said my sister, “what shall he do ?”—“He shall wait at table; go and fetch some wine from the cellar.” I brought a basket of bottles and handed them round. I ran about like a young partridge.
In the evening they gave me some bread and cheese. At ten o’clock, my brother-in-law took me to the barn to sleep, and said, “You must get up early so as to thresh the grain, then put the bread into the oven and clean the stables nicely.”—“All right, it shall all be done.”
I bade my master good night and rolled myself up in the straw. Imagine how I cried! If anyone could have seen me he would have found my eyes as red as a rabbit’s, so great was my mortification at the idea of being a servant in my sister’s house and that at my father’s door.
I awoke easily; there was nothing to do but crawl out of my hole and give myself a shake. I set to work to thresh the grain so as to make the bread by eight o’clock; then I went into the stable and put everything in order, and at nine o’clock I saw my master appear. “Well, Jean, how does the work go ?”—“Not badly, sir.”— “Let us see the barn. Your work is well done,” said he; “these bundles of skew are well made.”—“Ah, sir, at Menon I threshed the whole winter.”—“Come along, my boy, come to breakfast.”
At last with a swelling heart I went into the house of that sister whom my mother had raised as her own child. I took off my hat. “Wife,” said he, “here is a little boy who works well, we must give him some breakfast.” They gave me some bread and cheese and a glass of wine. My brother-in-law said, “You must make some soup for him.”—“Very well, I will to-morrow; I got up too late this morning.”
The next day I set to work, and at the regular hour I had my meal. Ah! what a surprise; I found some onion soup and cheese with a bottle of wine. “Do not be bashful, my boy,” said the master; “you are to dig in the garden.”—“Yes, sir.”
At nine o’clock I started off to my work with my spade on my shoulder. What was my surprise to see my father watering his cabbages! He looked at me; I took off my hat, my heart was bursting, but I tried to be brave. He spoke to me, asking, “Are you living with my son-in-law ?”—“Yes, sir; so he is your son-in-law ?”— “Yes my boy. Where do you come from ?”—”From Monran”—“From what town ?”—”From Menon; I worked in the village of Les Bardins.”—“Ah! I am well acquainted with all that country. Do you know the village of the Coignets ?”—“Yes, sir; oh! yes.”— “Well, it was built by my ancestors.”—“Indeed, sir! ”—”Have you seen the splendid forests which belong to Madame de Damas ?”—“I know them well. I kept my master’s oxen there for three years; every night in summer I slept under the fine old oaks.”—“But, my boy, you will be happier with my daughter.”—“I hope so.”—“What is your name ?”—“Jean.”—“And your father’s ?”—“In his neighbourhood they call him ‘The lover.’ I don’t know if that is his real name.”—“Has he any children ?”—“There are four of us.”—“What does your father do ?”—“He hunts in the woods; there is much game thereabout, any number of stags and hinds and deer. And as for wolves, it is full of them; sometimes I was very much afraid of them. Oh! I suffered too much, so I came away.”—“You did right, my boy; work away, you will be happy with my son-in-law.”
One day some travellers came in two carriages. I put their horses in the stable, and the next day I got a franc for a tip. How pleased I was! I was sent to the cellar to rinse some bottles, and I did it well. After that the little stable-boy was set at all sorts of work; they made me trot around. It was, “Jean, come here,” and “Jean, go there; “I waited on the table, I did duty in the cellar, the stable, the barn, and the garden. I often saw my father and said, “Good morning, M. Coignet.” (I could not forget that name, it was graven on my heart.) “Good morning, Jean; are you getting tired, my boy ?”—”No, sir, not at all.”
Best of all, I earned money every day. At the end of two months I got entirely rid of the vermin, and was really clean. My Sunday fees and the stable fees together amounted to six francs a week. This life lasted three months, during which, to my great grief, I had heard nothing of my two younger brothers and my sister.
Every day I saw two of the companions of my infancy who lived next door. I spoke to them; the younger of the two came to see me. I was digging, and my father was in the garden. “Good morning, M. Coignet,” said young Allard to him. “Ah I that you, Filine ?” That was my companion’s name. And my father went away.
Then we entered into conversation. “You came from some distance away, didn’t you ?” said he to me. “I came from Morvan.”—“Is Morvan very far ?” —“Oh, no; only five leagues. M. Coignet knows all about my country. There is a village near us called the village of the Coignets.”—“Ah, that wicked man has lost four of his children. We grieved for them, my brother and I, they were such jolly companions. We were always together. They lost their mother when they were very young, and they were so unfortunate as to have a stepmother who beat them every day. They used to come to our house, and we gave them some bread, for they had had nothing to eat and were crying. That grieved us very much. We used to take bread in our pockets and carry it out to divide between them. It was pitiful to see how they devoured it. One day my brother said to me, ‘ Come, let us go to see the little Coignets, and take them some bread.’ To our surprise, we found that the two elder ones had gone away, and no one could find them. The next day there was no news of them. We told our father about it, and he said, ‘ Poor children, they were so unhappy: always getting beaten! ‘ I asked the little one and his sister where their two brothers were. They answered that they had gone away. ‘ But where? ’—‘ Ah, I cannot tell.’ My father went over to inquire of Coignet, their father. ‘ I hear that your boys have gone away? ’ He answered, ‘ I believe that they have gone to see some relatives near the Alouettes mountains. They are little runaways. I shall thrash them when they come back.’ ”
But this was not all. Here is what I afterwards learned. There were little Alexander and Marianne still left to stand in this wicked woman’s way. She was anxious to lose no time in getting rid of them, and one fine day, when my father was in the country, she called the two poor little ones down, and late in the evening she took them by the hand and led them as far as she could into the forest of Druyes, where she left them, saying she would return. But she never went back; she abandoned them to the mercy of the good Lord. Think of their wretchedness, those poor little things in the midst of the forest, in the dark, with nothing to eat, and not knowing how to find the way out! They remained three days in this pitiful situation, living upon wild fruits, crying and calling for help. At last God sent them a liberator. He was known as Father Thibault, a miller of Beauvoir. I knew him afterwards, in 1804.
My two companions next told me that the two youngest were no longer at home. “Poor little things! ” said they, “nobody knows what has become of them. Every one talks about father Coignet and his wife.” This story brought the tears to my eyes. “You are crying,” said they. “It is very painful to hear such tales as this.”— “Bless me! they got beaten every day, and their father has never tried to find them.”
It was time, however, to stop talking, for I had heard all that I could bear. I returned to the barn, not knowing what I ought to do, whether or not I should rush into the house and overwhelm my father with reproaches, and attack that fury of a stepmother, who was the cause of all our misfortune. I turned the matter over in my little head, and decided not to create a scandal. I took my spade, and went to work in the garden. I was greatly surprised to see my stepmother appear holding a little brat by the hand. I could not restrain myself at the sight of this horrible woman. I came very near betraying myself. I left the garden as she approached me, and sneaked out behind the stables to cry to my heart’s content. I began to have a horror of the garden. Every time I went there I found either my father or my mother, whom I wished to avoid as much as possible. Many a time I was tempted to creep through the fence which separated the two gardens, and strike the mother and her child a blow over the head with my spade. But God restrained me, and I escaped.
Now the scene changes. Providence came to my assistance. Two horse-traders came to spend the night at M. Bomain’s (he kept the large inn), but the host and hostess were having a fight with pitchforks, so the men came to my sister’s. How glad I was to see two such fine gentlemen come to the house, and on such fine horses! What a godsend it was! “Little fellow,” said they, “put our horses in the stable and give them some bran.”—“Very well, gentlemen; it shall be attended to.”
Then they went into the house and ordered a good supper, and after that they came to the stable to see their nags, which were well groomed, and standing up to their bellies in straw. “All right, my lad, we are quite satisfied.”
The smaller one said to me, “Young man, could you go with us to-morrow to show us the road to Entrains? We are going to the fair, but our horses must be ready at three o’clock in the morning.”—“Very well, gentlemen; I promise you they shall be ready.”—“It is three leagues off, is it not ?”—“Yes, gentlemen, but you must ask madame’s permission for me to go with you.”—“That is so. We will ask it of her.”
I gave some oats and hay to the horses while the gentlemen stood there, and then they went to bed, so as to get up at three o’clock in the morning to go to the fair at Entrains, which is called Les Brandons. At two o’clock the horses were saddled. I went to waken the gentlemen, and told them their nags were ready.
I saw on the table two pistols and a watch; they made it strike. “Half-past two! Very well, little fellow. Give them some oats, and we will set out. Tell madame that we should like to have some boiled eggs for breakfast.” I went to rouse my sister, who hurried as fast as possible. Then I returned to the stable to get my nags ready. The gentlemen came and mounted. “Madame, will you permit us to take your servant along to guide us through the wood? ”—“Certainly, go with these gentlemen,” said she.
So I started off. As soon as we were out of sight the men dismounted, and getting on each side of me asked how much I earned a year. “I can tell you readily; a little money, some shirts, a blouse, and a pair of sabots. Besides, I have some tips; I cannot tell exactly how much they amount to.”—“Very well, is it worth a hundred francs to you ?”—“Oh, yes, gentlemen.”— “Since you seem to be an intelligent boy, if you will come with us, we will take you along with us, give you thirty sous a day, and buy you a horse and saddle. We will take you along as we come by on our return. If you get tired of us we will pay your way back.”—“Gentlemen, I would like it very much, but you do not know anything about me, and neither do the people in the inn. So I will tell you my history. I am the brother of the tall woman at whose house you spent the night.”—“It is not possible! ”—“I swear it is true! ”
“How did this happen ?”—“If you will allow me I will explain it to you.”
Then they came nearer to me; they took me by the arm. I assure you they were all attention. “Four years ago I was lost. There were four of us children. The bad treatment of our stepmother caused us to leave our father’s house, and no one has recognized me. I am a servant in the house of my half-sister by a former marriage; you can assure yourself of the fact the next time you come by.” And here I began to cry.
“Come, do not cry; we will write a line which you shall take to madame, who will send you to Auxerre for one of our horses which fell sick at the inn of M. Paquet, near the Temple Gate. Here is money and assignats to pay the veterinary surgeon and inn-keeper; it amounts to thirty francs. Bring him slowly along, give him some bran at Courson, and do not mount him.”—“No, gentlemen. But you must not speak of me to my sister.”— “Make yourself easy, my little fellow. Take this note to her, and to-morrow you shall set out for Auxerre. Take good care of our horse. We shall be at Entrains for three days. When you see our horses coming, hold yourself in readiness. Take only a shirt in your pocket.”— “All right.”
I parted from these gentlemen with a beating heart. When I reached home they said, “You have been gone a long time.”—“Yes, truly; those gentlemen took me a great distance. Here is a letter which they gave me for you, and money and assignats to go to Auxerre for a horse that is sick there.”—“Well, they are pretty free.”—“But here is the letter; that is your affair.” He read the letter. “Very well, you must start at three o’clock in the morning; you will have to make fourteen leagues to-morrow.”
That night I did not close my eyes; my little head was turned upside down by all that had just happened to me. I made my seven leagues in five hours, and at eight o’clock I reached the house of M. Paquet. I found my horse in good condition, presented my letter and was directed to the house of the veterinary, who gave me a receipt for his payment. Then I returned to the hotel, settled with M. Paquet, set off for Druyes, and reached home at seven o’clock exceedingly tired. To make fourteen leagues in one day was too much for a child of my age. However I groomed my horse, made him a good bed, and went to my supper. I put away the receipts and three francs remaining of the gentlemen’s money, and then laid myself down in my straw. Oh, how I slept. I lay there like a log.
The next day I groomed my horse in the best possible manner and then went to breakfast. “You must go and thresh in the barn,” said my brother-in-law. “Very well.” I threshed until dinner-time, and then he said, “You must go and dig in the garden.”
I went, and there I found my father and my stepmother. “Well, here you are, Jean.”—“Yes, M. Coignet.”— “You have come back from Auxerre ?”—“Yes, sir.”— “You walked fast. Did you go over the town ?”— “No, sir, I did not have time to see much of it.”—“That’s true.” As I was about to leave them I heard my stepmother say to my father, “Granger is very fortunate to have such an intelligent young fellow.”—“He is indeed,” said my father. “How old are you ?”—“Twelve years, sir.”—“Ah, I think you will make a fine man.”—“I hope so.”—“Continue as you have begun; every one is pleased with you.”—“Thank you, sir.”
Then I retired with a beating heart.
Every day I went into the garden to see if I could see the horses of the merchants coming; they could be seen half a league off. At last on the eighth day, I saw on the great white road a large number of horses coming towards the town. Each man led only one horse; they were not yet put in pairs. There were forty-five of them, and perhaps more. I hastened at once to the house to get my best waistcoat, put on one shirt, and another in my pocket, and then I went quickly to the stable to saddle the gentlemen’s horse.
I had scarcely finished when I saw all those beautiful horses go by, all of them dappled grey. I did not dare speak to those Morvandians, I was brimming over with joy. The last one had still not passed by when the gentlemen rode into the courtyard with three horses. “Well, my little boy, how does our horse come on ?”— “It is in splendid condition.”—“We will dismount and take a look at him. Ah, he is entirely well. Give him to our boy to take him along; he has not yet gone by.” The horses continued to go by. As their stud-groom passed: “Francis, take your nag, follow the horses.”
My sister appeared, and the gentlemen bowed to her. “Madame, how much do we owe you for the feeding of our horse ?”—“Twelve francs, gentlemen.”—“Here they are, madame.”—“Do not forget the boy.”—“We will attend to that.”
My sister looked at me as I went out with the horse. “What’s this ?” said she, “you have on your Sunday clothes.”—”As you see.”—“Come, who are you speaking to ?”—“To you.”—“What’s that ?”—“Yes, to you. You don’t understand that your servant is your brother?”—“What?”—”It’s the truth. You are a bad sister. You allowed me and my little brothers and sister to go away. Do you not remember that my mother paid three hundred francs for you to learn the linen-draper’s trade under Madame Morin? You have no heart. My mother loved you as she did us, and you allowed us to go away.”
At this my sister cried aloud. “Well, madame, is what this little boy says true? If so, it was a cruel thing.”— “Gentlemen, it was not I who let them go away and get lost, it was my father. Ah, the miserable man, he lost four of his children.”
Hearing the cries and lamentations of my sister, the neighbours came running in to see me. “This is one of father Coignet’s children. One of them is found.” And my sister and I wept. One of the gentlemen who held me by the hand, said, “Don’t cry, my little fellow, we will never abandon you.”
My little companions came and embraced me. My father, who heard the hubbub, came in. All cried out, “Here is this M. Coignet who has lost his four children.” And I said to the gentlemen, “That is my father, gentlemen.”—”Here is one of your children, sir, and we are going to take him away with us.” Then said I, “O heartless father, what have you done with my two brothers and my sister? Go and find that wretch of a stepmother who beat us.”—“That is so,” they all cried out, “he is a bad father, and their stepmother is still worse.”
Every one continued to crowd around me, but these gentlemen kept hold of my arm. “Come, let us mount,” said M. Potier (the smaller of the two), “we have had enough of this. Let us go; get on your nag.” Then all followed me out, crying, “Good-bye, little fellow, a happy journey to you! ” My little companions came and embraced me, and the scalding tears flowed down my cheeks as I said, “Good-bye, my good friends.”
The gentlemen placed me between them, and we rode along between two rows of people. The men took off their hats, and the women courtesied to the gentlemen. As for me, I cried, with my little hat in my hand.
“We will trot up the hill,” said the gentlemen. “Let us catch up with our horses. Come, little fellow, be brave! ” We passed the horses as they were coming out of the wood, reached Courson, and went to the great hotel of M. Raveneau, where I visited the stables and had all necessary preparations made for forty-nine horses. The gentlemen ordered supper for forty-five men, not including the masters.
On arriving, the horses were divided into groups of four, so as to pair them off the next day, and they were attached to two tethers. This was the first time that these horses had been placed side by side. It was time to give them their hay and oats; I was afraid we should not be able to manage them, for they were rearing like mad creatures. I began to beat them; I did not leave them a moment, and the masters laughed as they saw me strike first one and then another. At seven o’clock the gentlemen came to look after and order supper for their men, who numbered forty-five; they paid them their day’s wages, retaining as many of them as they needed for the next day, set a watch in the stables for the night, and took me away with them. “Let us go to supper,” said they; “come with us, boy; we will come back and see them again after awhile.”
To my astonishment I saw a table served as if for princes; soup, boiled beef, a duck cooked with turnips, a chicken, salad, dessert, and bottled wine. “Sit there between us and eat as heartily as you work.” The king was not happier than I. “See here,” said M. Potier, “you must put a leg of chicken and some bread in a piece of paper to eat as you go along, for we shall not stop until bed-time. You will find boys at the inns who will hand each man a large glass of wine as he passes, without stopping him, and all will be paid for. You must keep behind as much as possible.”
Next morning we divided the horses into groups of four, fastened them together with poles padded with straw (this took a good deal of time), and then started off. Every day I was treated just as I had been the first day. What a change in my condition! How glad I was to sleep in a good bed! The poor little orphan no longer slept in the straw. And I had a good supper every day. I regarded these gentlemen as messengers sent by God to help me.
We reached Nangis-en-Brie a week before the fair, and I had time to become acquainted with my two masters. One was named M. Potier and the other M. Huzé. The latter was good-natured, witty, and polite; M. Potier was small and ugly. “If I could only live with M. Huzé,” I thought. But I was mistaken; it was at the house of M. Potier that a happy fate awaited me.
On Friday I left Nangis for Coulommiers. At three o’clock I rode into the great courtyard, mounted on my pretty nag, as proud as a pacha with three pig-tails. Madame came out and said, “Well, my boy, is your master not coming this evening ?” —“No, madame, he will not be here till to-morrow.”—“Have your horse put in the stable, and you come with me.” As I went in walking by madame’s side, four big housemaids cried out, “Ah! there he is, there is the little Morvandian.” This hurt my feelings, but with my little hat in my hand I followed madame. “Go away,” said she, “let the child alone. Go to your work. Come, child.”
How beautiful she was, this Madame Potier! for it was in fact the wife of the little man concerning whom I had had misgivings. I did not know it till the next day. I was so astonished to see such a beautiful wife, and such an ugly husband.
“Come,” she added, “you must eat something, and have a glass of wine, for we do not have supper till seven o’clock.”
Then madame made me tell her all about our journey, and I also told her that all the horses were sold. “Are you pleased with your master ?”—“Oh, madame, I am delighted.”—“Well, I am very glad to hear it; my husband has written me that you are a very promising boy.”—“Thank you, madame.”
At seven in the evening, supper was served. That was Friday. I was called and told to seat myself at the table. I found before me a table served as if for a great feast, a service of silver, silver goblets, and two baskets of wine. I was surprised also to find-twelve servants: a miller, wagoners, a farm-hand, milkmaid, chambermaid, bakerwoman, and maid of all work. Six others had gone to Paris with wagons to take flour to the bakers; they went there for this purpose every week. Coulommiers is fifteen leagues from Paris. There were two dishes of matelote on the table. The feast seemed ordered to suit my especial taste.
A seat was given me beside a big, good-natured fellow, and madame asked him to help me. He gave me a piece of carp; I felt mortified to see my plate so full of fish. I could have made two meals on the quantity he gave me. He saw that I ate very little, so he put a piece of bread in his pocket, and gave it to me when he came to the stable, saying, “You did not eat anything, you were too bashful.” Ah! how I devoured it then, at my leisure, that nice piece of white bread! At nine o’clock, a big maid came to make a bed for me in the stable. I was comfortably lodged; a feather bed, a mattress, and nice white sheets. I felt very happy.
Next morning my big comrade took me to the dininghall, where I breakfasted off my half-bottle of wine and cheese. Mon Dieu, what cheese it was! It was like cream. And Gonesse bread and local wine. I asked him what I should do. “Wait till madame gets up, she will tell you.”—“Well, I will go and groom and water my nag, and clean out the stable.” I was eager to be at work. The stable-boy had gone to town, so I took advantage of the opportunity to clean out all the stables.
Madame came out and found me with my coat off, and a broom in my hand. “Who told you to do that ?”—“No one, madame.”—“Very well, but that is not your work; come with me. Each one has his special work to do in this house; but you have done this well. When my husband comes, he will tell you what you must do. Let us go into the garden; take this basket, we will gather some vegetables. Do you know how to dig ?”— “Yes, madame.”—“So much the better. You will have to dig in our garden sometimes, for at our house each one has his own work; they do not interfere with one another.”
I went back to the house, and paid a visit to the mills of Chamois. On my return, I was surprised to find my two masters, who were looking for madame. “So, here you are, my dear,” said Madame Potier to her ugly husband, for it was indeed the one to whom I had least desire to belong. He was, however, the superior man of the two, both in fortune and in heart. M. Huzé bade me good morning and went away. I was sent for. “Wife,” said my master, “here is a child whom I have brought you from Burgundy: he is a promising boy, and I can recommend him to you. I will tell you his history later.” And there I stood, much abashed.
“Well,” said he, “are you feeling shy, my lad? Come, let us go and see the horses.” Then he showed me all the stables and mills. All the servants bade their master good morning. He did not seem like a master, he was a father to every one. A disagreeable word never fell from his lips.
“To-morrow,” said he to me, “we will go out on horseback, and I will show you my farms and the labourers. You must become acquainted with everything that belongs to me.” I said to myself, “What is he going to do with me ?” He spoke to his farm-hands and to all his workmen in the pleasantest manner. Then he said to me, “Come, let us go and see my meadows.” And all the time he talked to me most kindly. “Pay attention to everything I show you, and to the landmarks, for I may send you sometimes to go the rounds among my farmhands and other workmen, so as to inform me of what is going on.”—“You may rest assured that I shall render you a faithful account of everything.”—“I shall have to make you thoroughly acquainted with everything. You must always take your horse, for the distances are great.” We had been out more than three hours, when he said, “Come, let us return to the house. To-morrow we will go somewhere else.”
In this way he made me familiar with all the details of his business. We spent eight days in going from one place to another. The ninth day a terrible storm arose. Water came from every direction, and surrounded the house; no one could get out. The horses were all in the stables. Neither master nor miller could go out. I ran from one stable to the other, for the water was rising rapidly. At last I was obliged to paddle like a duck. The horses stood in it up to their haunches, but it still had not penetrated the house.
There were three pig-sties in which the pigs ran great risk of being drowned, as they were in the basement. M. Potier sent for me, and said, “Try to save the pigs.”—“All right, I will go at once,” said I. I plunged into the water. At first I thought it would be impossible to do it, but upon reaching the first door, I punched a hole, and the water helped me to open it. In a moment my six big pigs were out and swimming like ducks. I did the same thing to the two other sties, and thus saved all of the eighteen pigs. Every one in the house was looking at me from the windows. M. Potier, who did not lose sight of me for a moment, directed me all the time. “Is the small gate of the courtyard closed ?”—“No, sir.”— “Then the pigs will go through, they will follow the course of the waters.”
I set out to cross the courtyard, but the water was too strong for me: I was too late. One of the pigs was just going through the gate, borne on by the current. M. Potier’ who saw that one pig had escaped me, ran to the corner of the house, and called to me, “Take your nag, and try to get ahead of him.”
I ran to the stable, put a bridle on my nag, and dashed into the water to catch my deserter. M. Potier cried to me, “Carefully, bear to the right.” But his words were lost. I went too far to the left. I plunged into a hole where lime had been slacked. With one bound my horse went in and then out of the hole. I could see nothing. Holding my horse firmly with the right hand, I wiped my face, and followed my pig which was going swiftly down the meadow. Finally, though I had a hard struggle with the water, I got ahead of my pig. When I got his snout turned towards the house, he went as I directed. On reaching the courtyard, I slipped off my horse, perfectly stiff with cold. My masters were waiting for me on the stairway, and the stout maids stared at the poor little orphan all dripping and pale as death. But I had saved my master’s pig.
“Come, my dear,” said my host and hostess, “come and change your clothes.” They took me into their beautiful chamber, where a bright fire was burning, and stripped me as naked as I came into the world. “Drink,” said they, “some of this warm wine.” Then they wiped me dry as tenderly as if I had been their own child, and wrapped me in a blanket. M. Potier said to his wife, “My dear, if you would bring him one of my new shirts, he might try it on.”—“Sure enough, the poor little fellow has only two of his own.”—“Very well, we must give him half a dozen. He must be rewarded for his good conduct. I shall make him a present of that pair of breeches and round waistcoat you had made for me. He shall be dressed entirely in a new suit.”—“You are right, my dear. I shall be delighted.” M. Potier added. “You shall be paid eighteen francs a month, and the fees, three francs a horse.”—“Monsieur and madame, how much I thank you.”—“You deserve the reward. Just suppose you had been drowned trying to save the pig!”
I imagined myself dressed like the master of the house. Lord, how proud I felt! I was no longer the little Morvandian. But as they were getting ready to dress me up, I said, “Master, I must not put on those clothes. I shall have to go back to my work. The horses and pigs must be cared for, and I should spoil them all.”—“You are right, my child.”
Then they went for some clothes belonging to their nephew, and soon I was dressed in a working suit. There was no one at the stables. The stable-boy had gone to town, and the millers would not set foot into the water. They gave me a large glass of Burgundy, well sweetened, and I waded in again. I gave the horses their hay. I stopped my pigs up in an empty stable. In order to accomplish this, I got a long pole, drove all my fat fellows before me, and finally got them under control. I am sure I must have paddled about in the water two hours that day. By the evening, the water had disappeared, and the wagoners came in from all directions. I returned to the house, changed all my clothes, and went immediately to bed. The sweet wine made me sleep. Next day I thought no more about it.
My master and mistress sent for me, took me into their chamber, and put an entirely new suit on me. After breakfast, M. Potier said to the stable-boy, “Saddle our nags.” Then we set off to see the large farmers, and buy grain. My master bought ten thousand francs worth, and they treated us as friends. Doubtless M. Potier had spoken to these farmers; for they paid me much attention, and I was seated at table next my master. I must say I had been much smartened up. I looked like a secretary. If they had only known that I did not know a letter in the alphabet! However, M. Potier’s clothes served me as a passport with these gentlemen. All went well, and after dinner we started off at a gallop, and reached home at seven o’clock. I found that my place at table had been changed; my plate was beside M. Potier on the left, while madame’s was on the right. Then the head miller was next to madame, who served our masters first. I ought to observe that my master and mistress always sat at the end of the table. It was like a family table. We never said “thee” to any one, always “you.” On Sunday the master asked, “Who wants his wages advanced?”
When all the servants were assembled, M. Potier said to them, “I have appointed this young man to take my orders to you. I shall give him the keys to the hay and oats. He is to distribute to all the teams. “Every one looked at me, and I, knowing nothing of all this arrangement, was overcome with confusion, and could not look up. At last my master said to me, “Get ready to go to town with me;” I was glad to get away from the table.
M. Potier gave me his keys, saying, “I must be off, we are going to see some large wheat-barns. Tell me, are you satisfied with what I have done for you? My wife will take care of you.”—“I will do everything I possibly can to please you.” The next day, the bell rang to call me to give the order which I was to transmit to all the servants. The head man said to me, “What is it, sir ?”—“I am not ‘ sir.’ I am your good comrade; and tell them all so. I am hired as you are. I do my work. I shall never abuse the confidence of my master and misstress, and I have need of your counsels.”—“As I am the oldest one in the house, you can rely on me,” he replied
I can truly say that every one was pleasant to me. As I had charge of the distribution of the bran and oats and hay, each one paid court to me so as to be sure of good measure. M. Potier scolded me when he found bran left in the troughs. “My horses are too fat; I must see to it that this does not happen again. They must not give them such big feeds.”—“Tell me the quantity of bran and oats, and I will measure it out myself. They take their baskets and go to the mill to fill them. From now on not one of them shall go there. Each man’s feed shall be placed at his stalls.”—“That is a good idea,” said my master. When the wagoners and farm-hands returned, and found each man’s feed measured out, they asked,” Who measured out our feed ?”—“You got me a scolding. The master himself measured the bran and the oats, and told me to allow no other person to do it, and I shall see to it, you may be sure.”
The next day two big farmers came to breakfast. M. Potier rang for me, and said, “Go to my office, and bring me ten bags of money.” I brought them. Good Lord, what piles of crowns there were in those bags! I stood hat in hand. “Jean,” said he, “have the nags saddled. We shall go away with these gentlemen.” And madame said, “Dress yourself neatly. Here is a handkerchief and a cravat.” She was so good as to arrange my dress, and said, “Now go, my little fellow, you are all right.”
How proud I was! I brought out my master’s horse, and held the bridle. This flattered him, in presence of the gentlemen: he told me so afterwards. They all mounted and started off. I followed behind, plunged in own little reflections. We went to a fine farm, where our horses were put in the stable, and I remained in the courtyard looking at the beautiful mows of wheat and hay. A servant came to call me to dinner. I excused myself with thanks. But the master of the house came and took me by the arm, and said to my master, “Have him placed near you at the table.” I was not at my ease. After the first course, I rose from the table. “Where are you going ?” said the host. “M. Potier has permitted me to retire.”—“Then we excuse you.”
I was flattered at being seated at a table so well appointed. I shall always remember it. After dinner, the farmer’s wife invited me to see her dairy. I never saw anything so neat. There were spigots everywhere. “Every fortnight,” said she, “I sell a wagon-load of cheeses. I have eighty cows.” She took me into the dining-room to show me her cooking arrangements. Everything was bright and clean. The table and benches were all polished. Scarcely knowing what to say to this kind woman, I remarked, “I will tell Madame Potier of all that I have seen.”—“We go to her house three times during the winter to dine and spend the evening. How pleasant M. and Madame Potier are in their own house!”
The gentlemen then came in, and I retired. M. Potier beckoned to me and put twenty-four sous in my hand.” Give that to the stable-boy; have the horses saddled, we must go. “Our two nags were brought out. The handsome farmer’s wife said to M. Potier,” Your servant’s horse is beautiful. It would just suit me. If my husband were as gallant as he should be, he would buy it for me, for mine is very old.”—“Very well,” said the latter, “we will see about it. Do you want to try it? Have your saddle put on it, and get on. You can see how it goes.”
The side-saddle was brought. I said, “Madame, he is very gentle, you can mount without fear.”
So madame mounted, and started off at a trot, leading first with, the right foot, and then with the left, saying, “He has an easy trot. Do, husband, make me a present of this horse.”—“Well, M. Potier, she must have it,” said her husband. “We will arrange it. How much will you take for it?”—“Three hundred francs.”—“That’s fair. There, wife, you are satisfied; now you must give the boy his fee.”—“I will at once. Come here,” said she to me. She put six francs in my hand, and made me put my saddle on her old horse. Then we started off at a good trot. What a happy day it had been for me! M. Potier said to me, “I am very well pleased with you.”—“Thank you, sir. The lady showed me her dairy and her kitchen arrangements. How nice it all was! They are true friends; and the lady is not proud.”
Next day, the old horse was sent for, and M. Potier said to me, “You must take the one we brought from your country. To-morrow we shall go and put the flour in bags. We shall have to take a hundred bags to Paris. You must hold the bushel measure. I will show you how. To-morrow you must drink your wine without water. You must learn to do everything. Here you will never do the work of a servant, but I will teach you how to do various kinds of work. I want you to know how everything is done.”
The next morning, he introduced me to the miller, and said to him, “Baptiste, here is Jean, I wish you to show him how to handle the bushel measure. He will be at your disposal whenever you need him, and you will find him always willing to work.”—“But, sir, is he strong enough to handle the bushel measure ?”—“Do not fear, I will stand by and see to that.”
Then M. Potier took the bushel measure and showed me. “This is the way,” said he; and when I wanted to take the measure in my own hands, “No,” said he, “let me finish this bag.” Then I took hold of the measure, and handled it as if it had been a feather, After I had filled my first bag, Baptiste said to M. Potier, “We shall make a man of him.”—“ I will help you,” said my master. “ That is unnecessary,” said Baptiste, “ we two can manage it.”
So I did my best, under the direction of this somewhat stern man. We worked all day. How my sides ached ! We had only made fifty loads, and we were obliged to go at it again the next morning. At last, however, we finished, and I had done myself credit.
My master and mistress, perceiving some jealousy towards me on the part of the other servants, took advantage of my absence to tell them of my misfortunes. They told them that I had not been born to be a servant, and that my father was wealthy, and had lost four of his children. “I,” said M. Potier, “found this one. The others are lost. I want him to learn how to do everything.”—“I will show him how to handle the plough,” said the head farm-hand. “Very well, I shall be obliged to you.”—“I will take charge of him whenever you wish.”—“Take him under your charge. I confide him to you. Do not let him fatigue himself: he is very energetic.”—“Do not be anxious. I will show him how to sow grain, and I will give him my three horses.”
That evening I came back after carrying messages to three different places, and brought back the replies. When I came to the table, my master and mistress asked me a good many questions about the persons to whom I had taken the messages. I told them that everywhere refreshments had been offered me, but that I had not accepted anything. I saw all the servants looking at me.
The head farm-hand said at the table, “Jean, if you wish, I will take you with me to-morrow, and I will show you how to make a furrow with my plough.”—“Ah, you are very kind, Father Pron” (that was the good man’s name); “if monsieur will permit me, I will go with you.”—“No,” said M. Potier, “we will go together.”
As we went along, my master told me that this good man had offered of his own accord to teach me to plough, and he added, “You must take advantage of his offer, for he is the best ploughman in the country.” When we arrived, my master said to him, “Here is your pupil: try to make a good farm-hand of him.”—“I will take charge of him, sir.”—“Come, let us see, show him how to make the first furrow.” Then Father Pron harnessed up his plough, putting his three horses in a line, one before another, and made me take note of certain distant points, and other points intermediate. Then he said to me, “Look between the two ears of your lead horse, at the points I have showed you; do not look at your plough, hold your reins tight, and keep your eye on your three points of sight. As soon as you pass by one of them, look to the next.”
As soon as I reached the end of the field, I looked at my first furrow. It was straight. “That is very well,” said M. Potier, “it does not waver. I am satisfied; that will do very well; go on.” He had the kindness to stay with me two hours, and then took me back to the house, where madame was expecting him. “Well,” said she, “how about the plough, how did he manage it ?”— “Very well. I assure you, Pron is delighted with him; he will make a good farm-hand.”—“So much the better, poor child.”—“That was a good idea of Pron’s showing him how to handle the plough. I shall have him taught how to sow grain. He shall begin by sowing vetch, and afterwards he can sow wheat.”
The next day I perceived that all the servants were specially gracious to me. I did not understand the reason of this, but it was because they had heard my history from-my master and mistress; every one had in consequence become a friend to me. M. Potier had seven children. I used to go to the boarding-schools for them, and take them back again. Those were holidays for me and for them. I was with them wherever they went, whether on foot or in the carriage. I settled all the little squabbles between the girls and their brothers.
One day M. Potier said to me, “We shall start tomorrow for the fair at Reims. I want some horses to sell in Paris. They must be well matched, as they are for some of the peers of France. They wish them to be well trained, and four or five years old. You will have a chance to try your skill.” He called his horse-trader and said to him, “I want you to go with me on horseback to-morrow morning to the fair at Reims. I want fifty horses. Here is a list of the sizes and colours. I don’t need to say anything more to you, you know your business.’
M. Huzé was notified to be ready to go with us, and told to take with him a servant to lead the horse which was to carry the valises. We started at noon, and reached Reims three days before the fair. M. Potier’s old groom scoured the country round for horses which might be suitable for our purposes, and returned with the description of thirty, upon which he had already paid an instalment. The old fellow said, “I think I have done well. I have a list of a hundred horses that I have spoken for, and I have taken down the names of their owners.”
The fair lasted three days. There were in all fifty-eight horses. We had the pick of the fair. The gentlemen were well pleased with their trip; in two days everything had been accomplished, and we were on our way back to Coulommiers, where we arrived without accident.
Then I was put to my wits’ end to train all those horses. Two days after we reached home the training began; twenty horses a day were brought out with halters on their heads. How they reared! But at last they were, conquered and made obedient. There was not a day of rest during the whole month of training. We trained them to coaches, to cabriolets, and under the saddle. How glad they were afterwards to stretch themselves on their straw! They slept like beggars who had their wallets full of bread. We took then to the fields, where at first they were restive in the ploughed ground. I rode first one and then another, and had to be very strict with all the beasts. I punished the unruly, and petted the gentle ones. This training lasted two months without intermission. At the end of that time I was worn out; my lungs were affected, I spat blood, but I had acquitted myself with honour.
M. Potier wrote to the swells in Paris that their horses were ready. Instead of returning an answer by letter, they came themselves, in beautiful open carriages, with servants in livery. Their horses were put in the stables, and M. Potier, hat in hand, led them to the dining-hall, and madame appeared. What a fine manner she had I The portly gentlemen arose and bowed to her. She retired, and ordered refreshments. She asked if the gentlemen would do her the honour to dine with her, and they replied that they would do so with pleasure. The dinner was magnificent. M. Potier called me to him and said, “Tell all the grooms to have the horses ready. I shall bring these gentlemen to look at them.” I gave the orders, and everything was in readiness. The gentlemen wished to look over the establishment, with which they were charmed, and then went to the stables to have the horses brought out. “There they are,” said M. Potier, “all in a row. Bring them out.”
They called for number one, with snaffle-bridle and blanket. The horse was handed over to me, and I made him trot. “Mount him,” said the gentlemen. I made him walk a few paces, holding him by the bridle, and then getting a good hold, I sprang on his back so quickly that they scarcely saw me mount. I made him trot, and then presented him before the gentlemen, who praised him, saying, “Very good.”—“Number two,” said my master. The horse was brought to me. “Mount him,” said the gentlemen, “ walk, trot. That will do. Bring another.”
And so on, till they had seen twelve. They asked me, “Are they all as well trained as these twelve ?”—“I assure you they are.” —“That will do, then. This young man rides well.”—“He’s a plucky lad,” said my master. “To-morrow we will hitch them to the coach. Have you suitable harness ?”—“ Everything is at hand.” —“Well, we have had enough for to-day. We should like to see the town.” —“Would you like us to put horses to your carriage ?”—“Yes, that would be better. We ask your permission to bring two friends back with us.”—“Whatever is agreeable to you. Jean, put the horses to the open carriage.”
Then they started off. My master was well pleased. “Jean,” said he, “we will do a good job to-day; all goes well. You have done yourself credit. I want you to wait at table, so dress yourself with care. Go, consult my wife. You must go to the town for things I have ordered; have your hair dressed, and put on your Sunday clothes.” I returned, well powdered. Madame explained my duties to me, and when the table was set, she went and made a magnificent toilet. How beautiful she was!
The gentlemen returned at six o’clock. There were six of them. My master received them hat in hand. “Well, sir, we have done as we said, we have brought you two guests.”—“You are welcome, gentlemen.” My master recognized the sub-prefect and the procureur of the Republic. They sat down to the table. Madame did the honours; nothing was wanting, neither I, with my napkin on my arm, nor the gentlemen’s footmen, who stood behind their masters. They all ate without speaking during the first course. One of the footmen acted as carver, and gave us the meats already cut up, which we handed to the gentlemen, and which they often declined. For the second course, there was an enormous pike and delicious crayfish. “Ah, madame,” said one of the guests, “this is a great rarity.”—“ It is indeed,” said all of them. But the prefect added, “M. Potier has a splendid pond. He gets magnificent eels from it.” And thus the praises resounded on all sides. The champagne came on; every one became lively. My master said, “I laid in a little stock of it as I came through Epernay.” -“It is perfect,” said the sub-prefect.
When the dessert was brought in, the servants were sent out of the room, and madame asked permission to withdraw for a moment. “Certainly, madame,” they replied. Madame gave her orders, and then said to her husband, “Would these gentlemen like some punch to finish the evening ?”—“That would be truly admirable.” The sub-prefect said, “I beg that you will use my house as a stopping-place; and I invite you and your husband, madame, to give me the pleasure of your company at dinner. To-morrow we will come to see your beautiful horses.”
The gentlemen came at noon to see them harnessed up. Everything was ready. They looked on, following the list. “Take both the coach and the open carriage, that will save time. Lead the horses out by fours.” We soon had them hitched up. I drove the coach, and the head groom the open carriage. “Drive round in front of the house, so that we can see you.”—“They are very handsome,” said the gentlemen. “Are they all as well broken as these four ?”—“Yes, gentlemen,” answered M. Potier. “Would you like to see a very beautiful horse? If so, I will show you one I went wild over at Reims.”—“Let us see him.”—“Jean, go and bring him.” He was all ready. I brought him out before the gentlemen. “Ah! “ they exclaimed, “that’s a fine beast! Make him mount him.”
I said to the footman, “Take hold of my foot, so that I can jump up; he is too high.” When I was on the back of this proud creature, I made him walk and trot, and then presented him. “Excellent,” said the master to his footman, “now you mount him, so that I can see him better.”
The young man was more skilful than I. How beautifully he managed him! “Lead him here; that will do.” The footman presented him to his master, hat in hand. “Monsieur,” said he, “he moves very easily.”—“I have found an owner for him,” said the peer of France. “He will suit the president of the Assembly; put him at the head of your list. All your horses are accepted. I will send you an order when I wish you to start for Paris. Come with them yourself, and this young man will accompany you as guide. If he would like to enter my service, I will employ him.”—“Thank you, sir, but I will not leave my master.”—“Very well, I will give you your fee.” They got into their carriage, and bowing to my master and mistress drove off. “At six o’clock, without fail,” called out the sub-prefect. My master ordered the carriage to be ready at five o’clock. “Jean,” said he, “dress yourself, you are to drive.”
My master and mistress were received with cordiality by all the gentlemen. All the town authorities dined with them that day, and my mistress’s seat was beside the host. The party was kept up till midnight, and the next day they set out for Paris. M. Potier received an order-to start on Friday so as to reach the École Militaire on Sunday, where they would meet him at noon precisely, and receive the horses. My master informed M. Huzé that all the horses had been sold. “Can it be possible! “ said he.
We set out next day at six o’clock with ninety-three horses and a wagon-load of bran for the journey. I led the handsome horse alone. At ten o’clock we reached the École Militaire, where we found an aide-de-camp and equerries. We fed and groomed the horses, and blackened their feet nicely. At noon all was in readiness.
The aide-de-camp made provision for our breakfast, and set a guard of the servants. M. Huzé breakfasted with the aide-de-camp, and my master went off to inform the noble gentlemen that their horses were ready. At two o’clock precisely, all those swells descended from their carriages and went to look at the horses, ordering them out in sets of four. “Those are fine horses,” said the president, “now you can renew your supply for the carriages. Where is the one you spoke to me about? Have him brought out.”
I brought him to the aide-de-camp, who mounted the proud-looking animal, put him through his paces, and took him to the president. “That’s a fine horse,” said he, “take him back.” The aide-de-camp then retired with M. Potier and M. Huzé to provide for our dinner, and meantime men were sent to groom the horses, a man for every four horses.
The gentlemen sold twenty of their own horses to my master at the price fixed by the horse-copers. After this splendid transaction was completed, he sent me back with the gentlemen’s fine carriage horses. M. Potier and M. Huzé remained a week in Paris settling up their accounts. They were invited to the house of the great peer of France who had been entertained at Coulommiers. In order to assist the gentlemen in choosing their teams from among the new horses, it was decided that each should draw by lot, four at a time, and that each should fee the servants
These gentlemen were so pleased with the fair dealing of my master that the president spoke of him to the minister of war. The latter sent for M. Potier to offer him an order of two hundred horses for the artillery service. “There is the price and the size. How soon could you furnish them ?”—“I can deliver them in two months, sir.”—“I can assure you they are very strict as to what horses are received. Those which are rejected will be left on your hands.”—“That is all right, you have warned me.”—“They will be received at the École Militaire. You know the age: from four to five years, and no stallions. Are you able to advance the money for the purchase ?”—“Yes, sir.”—“Where will you get them ?”—“From Normandy and the Lower Rhine.”— “Ah! very well, those are good stocks.”
M. Potier arrived at Coulommiers in excellent spirits, and found his twenty horses in the best possible condition. “I should not know them,” said he. “We must take them to the fair at Nangis, we shall be able to sell them. They were bought for a mere song, and we can make fifty per cent on them. Have them ready to-morrow, and we will be ready at six o’clock. There is no time to lose. We shall have to go to Normandy; I have taken an order from the minister of war.”
The fair at Nangis was a success, and the horses were all sold. M. Potier said, “I have doubled my money.” Four days after, he set out for Caen in Normandy, where he made some of his purchases. He sent them home, and we went on to Colmar, where he made more good bargains, and at Strasbourg he bought all the rest that he needed. M. Huzé was commissioned to take all the horses home. My master went to Paris, and informed the minister that in a fortnight his horses would arrive. “Very well,” said the minister, “have them brought direct to Paris, you will save much expense Give orders at once to have them sent on; you have been very prompt. Give me notice, and lose no time.”
M. Potier took the diligence, had the three hundred horses brought to Paris, and wrote to his wife to start me off for Saint Denis with a wagon-load of bran, as the horses would stop there four days to rest. I was fortunate enough to arrive first at Saint Denis, and had everything ready for them. We had time in the four days to put new shoes on all the horses, and when we reached the École Militaire, they looked as fresh as if they had just stepped out of a band-box.
The load of bran was well paid for. All the horses were accepted. I was four hours trotting them out before the artillery officers, inspectors, and a general, but I got no fee for myself. I was greatly disappointed at this. My master said to me, “You shall lose nothing by it. I will make you a present of a watch.” Accordingly, he gave me a beautiful one, and also two hundred francs for the horses of the representatives, and two louts for the handsomest horse. What a fortune it was for me! When I reached home I gave all my money to my mistress, and the next Sunday she made me a present of six cravats. My master said, “My two trips have been worth thirty thousand francs to me.” He had also disposed of five hundred bags of flour.
We resumed our usual employments. I grew strong and intelligent. I rode the most fiery horses and broke them in. I also did more ploughing, and made my farm-hand master a present of a blouse beautifully embroidered on the collar, with which he was much pleased. At sixteen I could lift a bag like a man. At eighteen I could lift a bag weighing three hundred and twenty-five pounds. Nothing daunted me, but the position of a servant began to be exceedingly distasteful to me. My thoughts turned towards a soldier’s life. I often saw fine-looking soldiers with long sabres and handsome plumes, and the sight of them would set my little head working all night. Afterwards I would reproach myself,—I who was so fortunate already. Those soldiers had turned my head. I cursed them. Then the love of work would resume its power over me, and I would think no more about them.
The farmers came from every direction to deliver the grain sold to M. Potier. Each farmer had a sample of his wheat at the house. “Jean,” my master would say, “ go and bring me ten money-bags.”How many bags of a thousand francs went out of that cabinet of his ! This went on till Christmas came.
I used up a big pile of a hundred bags in two months. Then my master said to his wife, “Write your invitations for this day week. I am going to Paris. I am going in the open carriage. We shall go and see our children, and Jean will bring some empty sacks, for there is a great deal of money due me. We will return on Saturday, and on Sunday you can give your grand dinner.”—“You must bring me some sea fish,” said my mistress, “and whatever you wish for two dishes of meat and some oysters.”—“Very well, madame.”
The money had all been received and well invested by Thursday. “See what good luck you have brought me,” said my master. “All our business is transacted satisfactorily. We will make our purchases, and start for home to-morrow.”
We arrived at five o’clock. My mistress was delighted that we came so early. The next day at five o’clock open carriages and jaunting-cars came in from every direction. I did not know which to attend to first. “Jean, go to town and bring M. and Madame Brodart and their daughter.”—“Jean, go back again immediately for my son-in-law and my daughter.” And I made the carriage spin along the road, with the horses always at a gallop. “Jean, you must wait at table.” And poor Jean was everywhere.
The party was magnificent, and my mistress put by a portion of the dainties for me. At eleven o’clock I was told to be ready to take everybody home. I began at midnight, and made three trips, which were worth eighteen francs to me. My master and mistress called me in to give me something to drink. “Take a good glass of our own wine and a bit of cake; we are much pleased with you.”—“Ah, I have put his portion aside,” said madame. The next day I received my good things, which I divided with my comrades; and I took the bushel measure, and went with the miller to Paris for a week to bag flour. And so I learned to do all sorts of things.
My mistress begged me to pay great attention to her garden. At first I made her a pretty arbour at the bottom of it, in front of the gate, and laid off two beautiful borders. I dug a path four inches deep, so as to set off my borders, and replaced the earth I dug out with sand.
My master and mistress came out to see me. “Why, Jean,” said my master, “are you going to make us a road in our garden ?”—“No, sir, but a fine path.”—“You cannot do that all alone, I will call the gardener.” —“But, sir, the worst part is done.”—“What do you mean by that ?”—“See the three lines I have made, and the sticks I have driven in; that is the middle of my walk.” —“You have taken all my wagon lines.”—“I could not make a straight line without them.”—“That is true.”— “At the last stick near the arbour, I shall make a flowerbed for madame.”—“Ah! that is a good thought, Jean. It is an excellent idea to make me a flower-bed.”—“I must have some box to plant along the walk, and a great deal of sand, and some plank to make benches in madame’s arbour.”—“And what will you make for your master ?” —“The master will sit beside the mistress.”—“Well, go to work; but, Jean, where will you get the sand ?”— “I have found it, sir.”—“Where ?”—“Under the little bridge near the place where the horses go to water. I have just been there, and I found it three feet deep.”— “You will have to draw it up.”—“No, sir; we can load up under the bridge this summer; you know that all the bend of the river is dry, and we can drive out by the watering-place.”—“That is so.”—“We shall need about twenty loads. You see the walk is eight feet wide.”— “Wife,” said my master, “call your gardener, for Jean is going to make a road in your garden.”—“Please, madame, will you let me have some box and rose-bushes to plant along the walk?”
The gardener came at evening, and madame brought him into the garden and said, “Jean, come and show your work.” The gardener was surprised. “Well,” said she, “what do you think of Jean’s idea ?”—“Why, madame, it is beautifully laid out. You can walk four abreast on the path, and the children will not tread on the borders.”—“Very true,” said she. “But you come to-morrow, for he will kill himself. He took it into his head to do this to please me.”—“Madame, he has much taste. It is very well designed. We will make you a beautiful garden. We must have forty tall rose-trees, and some box for the walk and the flower-bed. Your garden will be finished in a fortnight. The sand is so handy.”—“But do not leave Jean to work alone. He will hurry so that he will make himself ill.”—“I know it, I will take care of him.”—“Be sure you do, for I found him with his shirt all wet with perspiration.”
Then madame went away, and the gardener said to me, “I like the way you have begun your work. We will arrange a little surprise for her in front of the arbour. Let us make four side beds, and plant four Persian lilacs in them, and honey-suckle all around, and paint the benches green. That will be fine. We must ask madame not to come out to see her garden for a week.” So that evening I told her that the gardener said would she please not come out to see her garden for a week. “Well,” said M. Potier, “I am going to Paris to dispose of some flour and see our children.”—“Ah, that is very good of you.”—“I shall return on Saturday, and I will see what tricks Jean and the gardener have been up to, after I have found out whether my big representative is pleased with his horses or not.”
He returned satisfied with the reception given him by the representative, who said to him, “I am coming with my wife to see you in the spring. I have spoken to her of your lady, and she desires to make her acquaintance.”—“I hope you will let us know beforehand.”—“I will do so; we must not surprise madame, who entertains so well.”
My master and mistress returned, and were surprised to see the great walk finished. “Oh, it is lovely; I am delighted; it is beautifully done. One can walk about and sit down. See these nice benches. Jean will ruin us with his fancies.”—“Do not say a word to him for a week, until he has finished my garden. Pray do not. I wish to have it gravelled.”—“Well, we will give Jean a surprise; we will turn off the water which flows under the little bridge, and he can get as much gravel as he likes. He shall not always be the smartest.”—“He will laugh,” said madame.
At the end of the week the garden was finished, and I went in to say, “Master and mistress, your garden is finished. You can come out and see it. Ah ! if I only had some gravel it would be beautiful.”—“Well, Jean, you shall have some to-morrow; my husband has turned the water on to the other side of the bridge, and left the gravel dry. To-morrow you shall have two carts and some men to load them; you will only have the trouble of putting it on the walk.”—“Ah, madame, that finishes it. In four days all will be completed.”
My master and mistress watched us from the windows without coming out. The gardener went and told them that all was done. “Come, wife, let us go out and see it.” There I stood beside the gate, hat in hand, with my rake on my shoulder. M. Potier took me by the arm, and patted me on the shoulder; “Jean,” said he, “you have made your mistress happy, and I am very glad. This looks much better than the grass which was here before.”—“It is beautiful,” said madame. “If your fashionable people from Paris come to see you, you can bring them out to walk round.”—“You shall see no more grass in your walks.”
I continued to work in the mill, I ploughed, I did everything, and especially I trained horses. My master received a letter from Paris ordering him to come at once to the representative at the Luxembourg on business. “Jean, my boy, we must start for Paris to-morrow morning. I think they want some horses.”—“If that is so, it will pay for our flower-garden idea. “We set out at five o’clock; at eleven we were in Paris. My master went to the address given; the chief of the Directory 1 said to him, “We want twenty horses of first-rate size, all entirely black, without a spot. The price will be forty-five louts. Where can you get them?”—“In the Pays de Caux and at the fair at Beaucaire. I always go there for horses of that size.”—“Very well, go at once. When can you deliver them ?”—“I must have three months, and I cannot guarantee to be ready even then; horses of that size are hard to find.”
We were soon back again at Coulommiers, and my master said, “We must start for Normandy, and we will return by way of Beaucaire, so as to attend the fair. I will send for François at once, so that I may give him my orders, and will tell my wife that we are going.” We went first to Caen, where several horses were offered us. There were only four suitable horses to be found in the whole neighbourhood, and they asked fifty louts for them. “Very well,” said my master, “take them to the fair; we will see about it.” We visited the whole Pays de Caux, found magnificent farms, and a fine breed of horses, and selected four very handsome ones. The fair at Caen was well suited to our purposes. My master bought six superb horses, but we needed ten more. The people of the Pays de Caux are extremely handsome, particularly the women, with their great beautiful high head-dresses. The little women even look tall, for their bonnets are almost a foot high, and this makes their faces seem small. Both the people and the animals are magnificent.
Then we set out for Beaucaire, where we found ten horses. I had never seen such splendid fairs; strangers from all over the world were there. The city is built in a plain, and we found cafes, restaurant-keepers, and everything in the best style. Millions are spent in business there, and the fair lasts six weeks. My master’s purchases being completed, we started on our return, having first collected the horses, and sent them on to Coulommiers. This was a long trip; we had been two months away from home. How glad madame would be to see us again!
My master said to me, “I must make a purchase for the horses. I shall have blankets and ear-pieces made for them; that will set them off. We will have them made of striped stuff. Go at once to M. Brodart. It is a necessary expense toward presenting them properly.” In a week all was done. I was proud to see my fine horses adorned with such beautiful blankets. Then M. Potier set out at once for Paris, rendered the representative an account of his purchase, and informed him that the twenty horses were at his house, and if my lord wished to see them he could do so. “Are they handsome !” said he. “We will come to your house on Sunday at two o’clock. There will be four of us, one of my friends and his wife and mine; tell Madame Potier that I am bringing two ladies with me.”
At two o’clock their handsome post-chaise stood before our door. My master and mistress received them, and conducted them immediately to the dining-hall, where a superb collation was served. The ladies were delighted with madame’s kind reception. M. Potier had invited some friends of the representative. The dinner was elegant. Madame pleased the ladies by asking them to take a walk in her garden, and the gentlemen went to take a look at the fine horses. The blankets had a wonderful effect. “Your horses are extremely handsome, their height is superb; our guards will be well mounted. I thank you very much, and I will write at once to the president of the Directory. They will be received at the Luxembourg. You can send them on in the next twenty-four hours. Two days of rest will be sufficient to put them in condition to be presented for examination; our gentlemen will be satisfied when they see them. Leave their blankets on them, they look well with them on, and you shall be paid for them in addition. How much did they cost you ?”—“Four hundred francs.”—“Very well, you shall be paid for all. Bring them out, for us to see them outside. They are finer than the horses of our grenadiers, these will do for the non-commissioned officers; they are splendid animals. Send them off to-morrow; it will take three days for the trip and two days for rest. I shall be in Paris in time to present them to the officers.”
We reached the Luxembourg on the fourth day, and found all in readiness to receive us. The fine-looking non-commissioned officers and grenadiers surrounded us, took our horses, and put them in what seemed to me a palace. I had never seen such grand stables. M. Potier had us take off their blankets in order to groom them, land the grenadiers took charge of them. “You can leave them to our care,” said an officer, “we will attend to them; you can put the blankets on again afterwards.”
The next day M. Potier received an order to present his horses at one o’clock in the beautiful chestnut avenue in the garden. At two o’clock about twenty men arrived, who admired our horses and made them show their paces. An officer came up to me and said, “Young man, I hear that you know how to ride.”—“A little, sir.”—“Well, let us see; mount the first one there. That will do.” Then he took me to one of the quartermasters, and said to him, “Give your horse to this young fellow, and let him ride him.”— “Thanks,” said I to him. I was delighted. I started off at first at a walk; then my master said, “Trot,” and I came back at a trot. “Go back at a gallop.” I flew like the wind.
I drew my horse up before the gentlemen with all four of his feet in line. “That’s a fine horse,” they said. “They are all equally so,” said M. Potier. “If you wish, my boy will show them all for you.” They consulted together for a moment, and then pointing out a horse which had seemed frightened, they had me called. “Young man,” said the representative who had seen me at Coulommiers, “show this horse to these gentlemen; mount !”
I made him trot, leading from each foot, and then galloped off as before. I brought him back, and they said, “He rides well. He is bold, your young man.” M. Potier said to them, “It was he who trained my lord President’s handsome horse; no one could ride him; he had to be led even on a level road; and he made him as gentle as a lamb.” The President said to one of the officers! “Give this young man a louts for the horse he trained for me, and a hundred francs for these others: he ought to be encouraged.” The officer said to the guards, “See how this boy manages a horse.” I was handsomely feed by every one, and the soldiers shook hands with me, saying, “It is a pleasure to see you on horseback.”—“Oh,” said I, “I make them mind me. I punish the unruly and pet the gentle ones; they have to do my bidding.’
Finally, M. Potier got through showing all of his twenty horses, which were all accepted, with their blankets as a separate item, and all the expenses of the journey were also defrayed. “Without that,” said M. Potier to them, “I should lose by the transaction.” They answered him, “We have perfect confidence in you; the relays of horses which you have furnished us leave nothing to be desired.”—“Thank you, gentlemen,” said M. Potier.— “Make out three bills. They will make you three drafts, which will be paid you at the treasury. They will be signed by the treasurer of the government, and will be paid at sight. Meanwhile, I appoint you to receive six hundred horses which are coming from Germany, suitable for chasseurs and hussars. Do you accept this ? You will receive them within eight or ten days. The fees will be three francs a horse, and this includes the services of your boy, who will ride them all, and be specially strict in training the German horses. You will receive notice as soon as they arrive.”—“You may rely upon me.”— “The officers will be there to receive their horses.”
M. Potier concluded his transactions, and we set out for Coulommiers, where he was heartily welcomed after this long absence of three months. All home affairs had been conducted as the master desired. “Well, my dear,” said Madame Potier to her husband, “have you enjoyed your trip ?”—“I was delighted with those gentlemen. Everything turned out as well as possible. Jean surpassed himself in skilfulness. Every one remarked upon him. He has been asked to come with me to receive six hundred horses for a cavalry supply, and has been appointed to train them. Those gentlemen all included him in the fee they allowed me. You can make him your present, he deserves it. He carried off the palm from the grenadiers of the Directory for the management of horses.”
The next Sunday my mistress took me into the town and made me a present of a suit of clothes. “Send that to my husband, with the receipted bill.” I was greatly flattered at this. M. Potier presented the package to me: “Here is the present which you have so well deserved. We must have his suit made immediately. To-morrow we will resume our work at the mill, and get a hundred bags of flour ready to send to Paris.” The whole week was employed at the mill. On Sunday we reviewed our horses. My master and mistress went to dine in the town, and I entertained all the servants with an account of our travels, telling them of all I had seen in Paris. That evening I went to fetch my master and mistress without their having ordered it. They were pleased at the attention, and I brought them home about midnight. The next day I received my suit of clothes, everything complete. “Come, Jean, we must see if they fit well.” They took me into their chamber, and presided over my toilet, exclaiming, “No one would ever recognize you.”—“See,” said madame, “here are some cravats and pocket-handkerchiefs. I have bought you a trunk to hold all your things.”—“Master and mistress, I am overwhelmed by your kindness.” On Sunday I dressed myself, and made my appearance before the household, looking as if I had just jumped out of a bandbox. All my companions stared at me from head to foot, and every one paid me compliments. I thanked them by a pressure of the hand, and I was ready to wait upon them all.
Thus the years passed away in pleasant though laborious service, for I took part in everything, and watched over all the interests of the house. I thought constantly of my brothers and my sister, and especially of those two who had disappeared from home at so tender an age. I could not help shedding tears over the fate of those two poor little innocent ones, and often wondered what could have become of them. “Could that wicked woman have destroyed them ?” This thought pursued me constantly, and I longed to go and satisfy myself, but dared not ask permission, lest I should lose my place. My presence was necessary at the house. I was obliged to be patient, and resign myself to fate. The years passed by without bringing me any tidings of them. My gay spirits suffered from this. I had no one to whom I could tell my trouble.
I did a great deal of farm work, in which I became very skilful, and was considered so by all. At twenty-one, I could take the place of instructor in ploughing and in driving an eight-horse team.
Orders came from Paris, and we were obliged to start at once for the École Militaire, where we found a general and the officers of the hussars and chasseurs. My master was appointed by the general to review the horses, and his nomination as inspector of the relay was confirmed. The next day, the horses, fifty in number, were brought to the Champ de Mars. I bought a pair of buckskin breeches and a broad belt to strengthen my loins. These cost me thirty francs.
My master walked round with the general, who had me called up: “You are the boy who has been appointed to ride the horses, are you ? Well, let us see. I am hard to please.”—“Make yourself easy, general,” said M. Potier, “he knows his business.”—“Very well, mount; the cavalry horses first.”—“Let him alone; you will be quite satisfied with him. He is only very shy.”—“Very well, go on; begin with the one on the right, and go through them.”
I mounted the first, and so quickly that no one had time to see me do it. The horse shied several times. I gave him two cuts with my whip under his breast, and made him wheel about, and soon got him under control. I led him off at a trot, and brought him back at a gallop. I began again at a walk, as it is the pace most necessary to the cavalry. Then I dismounted, and said to the officer, “Mark this horse number one; he is good.” I said to the veterinary surgeon, “Examine the mouths of all the horses, and particularly their teeth. I will look at them afterwards.”
And so I went on. I divided them into three lots, and had them marked by the captain of chasseurs. When we came to the thirtieth, I asked for a glass of wine, which the general had brought to me, saying, “I have left you alone, young man. Tell me, why these different lots ?”—“The first is for your officers, the second for your chasseurs, and the third is withdrawn.”—“How withdrawn ?”—“Well, general, I will explain. The four horses of the third lot have been done up, and ought not to be accepted without examination by an expert. See how strict I am. This is on your account. Now shall I go on with my examination ?”—“Yes, I approve of your method, which is as just as it is severe.”
Thus I continued at this work all day long. I rode fifty horses: six of the first lot and four of the second were bad. There were forty left for the chasseurs. When the officers saw what I was doing, they took me by the hand, and said, “You understand your business; we shall not be cheated.”—“There are,” said I, “six perfect horses, they will do for the officers.” The general sent for me to come to him as he stood with his aide-de-camp near M. Potier. “You have worked well. I watched you, and am satisfied with you. Go on as you have begun. You must be tired; to-morrow we will examine the horses for the hussars, and you will work in the same way. At eleven o’clock, remember.”—“Very well, general.”—“Can you write ?”—“No, general.”—“I am sorry for that. I would have taken you into my service.” —“I thank you, sir. I shall not leave my master; he has brought me up.”—“You are a faithful boy.” Then he called the officers, and said to them, “Take charge of this young man. Let him dine with you, he works for your interest. Do not allow the contractors to speak to him, and bring him to my house at nine o’clock. The inspector will dine with me.”
I was cordially received by all the officers. The dinner passed off very gaily. At nine o’clock we went to the general’s house, and coffee was served. I received the kindest welcome possible from the general. “Tomorrow,” said he, “we will go and see the horses that you are to ride, and I will send one of the quartermasters, who rides well, to assist you. You will get through sooner.”—“I will make him ride the mares.”—“Why the mares ?”—“General, the mares are better than the geldings; they are not so easily fatigued. I will examine them before he mounts them.”—“I am pleased with your observation, let me tell you. I heartily approve.”— “If your soldier is pleased with his mare, he shall put her in the first lot, and so on. I will do the same.”— “Well, gentlemen, what do you think of all this? We have fallen into good hands, and we shall have no more of those worthless horses which will not last six months.” —“I am not infallible, but I will do my best.”—“Come, then, gentlemen, to-morrow at eleven o’clock precisely.”
We took leave of the general, and my master put me into a carriage to go back to our hotel. “Jean,” said he, “the general is pleased with you, he is really delighted. Try to do a good day’s work to-morrow. As there will be two of you, he will doubtless be able to receive a hundred horses. That will help us a great deal.”— “I will do my best, sir.” The next day at six o’clock, we received a visit from the captain of hussars, and my master said to him, “Do me the kindness to accept a cutlet and a cup of coffee. We are about to be off, the cab is ready.”—“Let us hurry; the general is no jester.” At half past ten we were near the Champ de Mars, ready to examine the horses. My master said, “Have fifty horses ready.” At eleven, the general arrived. We reviewed the horses, and rode them two at a time.
Those. horses were splendid: I was delighted with them, and I said so to the general, who also was satisfied. Only two in a hundred were rejected. The poor horse-copers were not so mortified as they had been the day before. In this way we received a hundred horses a day, and in nine days all was done. I was highly commended by all the officers and by the general, who ordered thirty francs to be paid me for the ten rejected horses. I went with my master to thank the general, who said to us, “I have made a report of the care you have taken in the choice of the horses for the officers, and of the reform which you instituted. It was on this account that I gave the thirty francs as a reward to your young man.” I thanked him, and we went to settle up our business; my master realized eighteen hundred francs from his trip, and we started the next day for Coulommiers. My master said to me, “We have done a first-rate piece of business, and every one is satisfied.”
I said to him, “If ever I am a soldier, I will do my best to get into the hussars; they are so splendid.”— “You must not think of that. We will see about it after a while; that shall be my business. I warn you that the life of a soldier is not all rose-colour.”—“I am sure of it, consequently I have not gone into it; if I ever leave you, it will be because I am obliged to.”—“Very well, I am pleased to hear you say so.”
We reached home on Saturday, and Sunday everybody had a holiday. My master did not worry about me. I returned to my usual duties, but one day I was summoned to the mairie. There they asked me my name and Christian names, my profession and age. I answered that I was named Jean-Roch Coignet, and was born in Druyes-les-Belles-Fontaines, in the Department of the Yonne. “How old are you ?”—“ I was born on the 6th of August, 1776”—“ You can retire.”
This set my head to throbbing. “ What in the world did they want with me ? I had done nothing.” I said this to my master and mistress, who replied, “They wish to enroll you for conscription.”—“Am I then going to be a soldier ?”—“Not yet, but this is one of the preliminary steps. If you wish, we will procure a substitute.”—“Thank you, I will think about it.” I was overwhelmed by this piece of news. I should have been willing to start at once, but I had all the time till the month of August for reflection. My head was at work night and day. I saw myself about to leave the house where I had passed so many happy days, with such a good master and mistress, and such kind companions.
Here I bring to a close the first part of my work, lest such details should grow tiresome. I am about to begin the history of my military career. Compared with that, my sorrowful early life was a bed of roses.