Memoirs of a Recluse
Being the seventh and newest member of our fraternity, I was required to speak last in the usual order of succession; and my narrative began with only this brief preface—“Gentlemen, our friend Clanharold has opened the volume of romance, and my own experience enables me to add another page.
Whoever has seen the town of Tarbes, must remember the rich valley, sheltered between pyramids of rock, which secludes it. One of this valley’s deepest windings conceals and old chateau seated on an abrupt knoll, from whence it claims the title of Rougemont. When I visited the South of France, this mansion was tenanted by a stranger seldom seen, and known still less. The occasional remittances he received from a Swiss banker, were addressed to the Sieur Lamorne; but either the name of his habitation, or the colour of a large military cloak which he always wore, gained him among his neighbours the appellation of the “Red Man.”—No one guessed from whence he came, though he was suspected to be an Englishman, because he gave shelter to a young officer whose deplorable wounds compelled him to remain at Tarbes long after the short campaign of 1813. This English officer lingered four months in the chateau of Rougemont, without receiving medical aid from any hand except his mysterious host’s; but the Red Man’s science was fully equal to his task, and his utter abhorrence of all visitors rendered him obstinate in executing it without aid. Ensign Bertram, for so I chuse to call his guest, submitted to his caprices with the patience supported by gratitude, and perhaps by curiosity to see more of a recluse whose household seemed the subject of general inquisition. Only three rooms in his chateau were ever inhabited; their chief furniture was a pile of ancient books fit for the study of an alchymist; and his only domestic appeared to be a creature of hardly human aspect, in the rude attire peculiar to that wild class of shepherds found only in the Landes de Bourdeaux. Berger, as his master called him, though not beyond his seventeenth year, had features bronzed and almost bristled with the hardships of his childhood; but the wild light of his eye, the sudden smile which displayed his broad white teeth when he shook back his matted locks, almost of the same species as the uncombed wool which covered him, were such as indicate the fierceness and the cunning of a savage. “Might a guest be allowed to speak bluntly under a hospitable roof,” said Bertram to his host, “I should express my deep surprise at your selection of such a domestic in a spot which seems to afford no other companion”—“When you have reached my age,” replied Lamorne, “you will know that a wise man requires only a domestic animal in his household, and can find a sufficient companion in himself. This brute is silent, useful, and tame; and has nothing in him to remind me of the world, except that he is unthankful.”—The young soldier smiled, and answered, “I shall never live, I hope, to understand by what a man can be induced to shelter himself like a water-spider under the stream of life, among bubbles of his own creation. But let me ask for what Berger ought to be thankful?”—Lamorne’s dark eyes seemed to hide themselves in their caverns while he spoke—“Your question is an apt one:—I injured him, perhaps, by taking him from the morass he could not tread without stilts, and the hut which hardly divided him from the herds he fed among, to this mansion, where he might have learned human language and human affections—if indeed any thing human can be affectionate:—But Nature locked up both his head and heart, and threw away the keys.”
“We seldom try the chissel or the axe,” said Bertram, “till every key has been attempted. Let us make him the subject of an experiment to justify our disprove your system. If he can be made acquainted with pleasure, he will soon learn gratitude—if he has no capacity for happiness, he has none for virtue.”
Bertram did not immediately perceive how keen a sarcasm might have been gathered from this last speech by a man, who, like Lamorne, professed himself incapable of finding pleasure any where. Yet Lamorne only smiled sourly, “as in scorn,” and led his guest back to his chamber in sullen silence, which the Englishman, though of a most proud and irritable spirit, had reasons to endure. These reasons held him in deep meditation after his usual hour of sleep; and a moonbeam that “had lost its way,” as modern bards tell us, revealed a spectacle not well calculated to compose him. From beneath the large oak structure which our ancestors called a bedstead, crept the domestic Caliban kept by Lamorne; and his eyes, gleaming in the fitful moonlight, had all the wild malice ascribed to goblins. He stole slowly to the small trunk in which Bertram’s property was lodged; and lifting the lid from its hinges with a couteau-de-chasse, drew out a leathern bag full of gold coins from which he took several. “Berger!” said Bertram, without raising himself from the pillow—“take all—there is not sufficient for us both.”—Berger made no motion of dismay:—he grasped the purse and his long knife instinctively, but the Englishman’s eye was rivetted on him; and the power of a fixed eye on guilt, and even ferocity, has been proved magical. It did not fail at this crisis: the felon hid his plunder in his shaggy vest, and crawled away.
Morning came, and, contrary to Bertram’s expectations, Lamorne’s breakfast-table was attended by Berger, whose head hung on his breast when the young soldier’s glance met his, though he returned his master’s scowl with one of mischievous defiance. Three days passed, yet Berger still remained without any preparation for flight, or symptoms of fear or shame. The fourth morning was begun when Bertram saw him enter with two cups full of Bourdeaux-wine; and having emptied the leathern bag of coins into one of them, he laughed grotesquely, and drank of both.—“Well, Berger!” said Bertram, “which excels in flavour?”—“Neither tastes like that I drank before I took this gold,” replied the wild man:—“If I put it in wine, I cannot swallow—if it is under my head, I cannot sleep—Take it back, master, and drink with me.”—Bertram felt the pledge of trust and good will, and laid his hand upon the cup which contained the wine unmixed with gold. “You were mistaken, my good friend, if you hoped these coins would sweeten wine or soften your mattrass. A pillow stuffed with hops would have given you sounder sleep—But have you learnt no other use for gold?”—Berger gazed vacantly with an elfish grimace, and his new friend added—“This coin can be exchanged for a warm hut, two goats, and a little garden, where you may live free and alone, as you once did in the Landes de Bourdeaux. Would these make you happy?”—Berger answered by a bound and a shriek of joy, but presently asked,—“Will not the Red Man see me?”—“No, I promise you,” replied Bertram, half laughing at this implied fear of his old master’s discipline—“you shall live far from us both, and, if you chuse, where I, even I, shall never see you.”—The wild man went off with the curvet of a familiar goat, and was seen no more at the Chateau de Rougemont.
Many months passed away, and the sudden return of the banished Emperor to France caused tumults which reached even the loneliest recesses of its interior. The young Englishman, whose grateful feelings had attached him to an austere and mysterious host, began to fear the inuendoes pointed at his stay in the suspected chateau of Rougemont. A Red Man, according to popular whispers, had been seen in the most private councils of the emperor, and Lamorne was shunned by the wavering loyalists of Tarbes as a spy, by the imperialists as a doubtful friend. Still Bertram lingered with him, not so much because his emaciated arm would have been useless to his country, and his removal fatal to his health, as in hopes that his presence might protect an aged man from the outrages for which pretexts were fast forming. At first these outrages were in the shape of puerile assaults upon his gardens, trees, and cattle; but more serious injuries followed, and pistols were twice discharged through the windows of Lamorne’s mansion. His young guest assisted him in placing its decayed walls in a state more defensive, and constructing a kind of chevaux-de-frize round. Every night the work seemed to be forwarded by unseen hands, and piles of stone, trunks of trees fitly hewn, and even fragments seemingly torn from some disjointed building, were found in the court-yard. But though Lamorne and Bertram, thus assisted, soon placed their castle in a tolerable condition for siege on three sides, the back-entrance never gained any thing from their attempts to fortify it. This entrance was a very narrow window, or loophole, which afforded space for the passage of a slender body, and was therefore thought entitled to the addition of iron bars: but however firmly fixed, no bars remained there twenty-four hours. Lamorne grew furious at this proof of secret malignity, and Bertram himself ceased to jest at his evil-forebodings when he saw this window shattered with the force employed to break a space sufficient for Lamorne’s iron chest, which had disappeared. Of its contents Bertram knew nothing, but his host’s lamentations indicated its unspeakable value, and the fatal danger incurred by its loss. His suspicion and fear instantly dwelt on the political spies whose base agents surrounded every man’s home; but his surprise was deep and indignant when Lamorne led him to view the knife dropped near the broken window, and the rough wooden sandals hid among the bushes below. They were Berger’s; and the Red Man, wringling his lip into a sneer meant for a smile, said, “Look, philanthropist, at this evidence of man’s natural baseness! Brutes seek only what they can devour, and know neither fear nor hatred except when it tends to their own preservation; but revenge, mere profitless revenge, is the peculiar instinct of man!”—Bertram answered with a smile which vouched for one benevolent heart at least—“Man has two or three peculiar instincts, and the most peculiar is his love for all his fellow-creatures. This indeed distinguishes him from his animal-subjects; and this, I think, is his capacity for happiness. Call virtue by what name you will, it is no more than this capacity well-exercised and filled.—And if I mistook the way to Berger’s, I could not have found one more agreeable to mine.”
Lamorne’s eye glared on his guest—“Where, young man, have you, who argue with the sword and discipline with the scourge, learned to talk of educating men by caresses?”—“From myself!” retorted the English officer, sternly; “I have studied my own spirit, and I find it may bend to a kind heart, but never to a wounding tongue.”
Sounds of a strange and terrible kind mingled with the gusts of a midnight storm, and broke off their debate. Two heavy peals upon the outer-gate, and a clamorous ringing of the porch-bell, call all their attention to their present danger from robbers or privileged assassins. Bertram presented himself at a window, and claimed a parley with the leader of the troop whose uniform announced their adherence to the Bourbons. “We demand admittance,” said the stranger, “with orders in the king’s name to arrest the Sieur de Rougemont. His faction is destroyed; our allies are in Paris, and we insist on the surrender of this chateau.”—Lamorne heard this summons with a bleached countenance. Misanthropy has no courage, because it has no confidence; and he shrunk into the darkest recess of his mansion; but Bertram, hastily clothing himself in his British uniform, and belting on his sword and loaded pistols, opened the mansion-gate. He welcomed the troop as friends to his countrymen, and invited them, in his father’s name, to accept refreshment at Rougemont. “Chevalier Bertram!” exclaimed the French commander—“we have met before on a better occasion. A traitor’s hospitality has beguiled you to protect him: there can be no other motive for a brave Englishman’s attempt to shelter an enemy of France.”—“We have met before, perhaps,” said the Ensign, “but not on a more honourable occasion. I am bound by every thing sacred to defend the master of this house. He is an Englishman; mental infirmity, not political intrigues, causes his mysterious conduct; but I surrender myself as hostage for his allegiance.”
While the parley passed between the French and English officers, the soldiers chosen to enforce Lamorne’s arrest, were employed in traversing the desolate chateau and unpaving its cellars with their pikes. The result of their search was not made known to Bertram, whose sword had been taken from him with the courtesy and finesse taught by the old school of French chivalry. The commandant having seated his prisoner beside him at the supper-table, and entertained him with all the wit of his regiment, placed sentinels at the door of Bertram’s chamber, begging him to repose in peace on the faith of a loyal captain. Bertram did not admire his security, and stretched himself in no very pacific mood on the stupendous bedstead I have mentioned once before. Presently the touch of a shaggy coat like his favourite dog’s, disturbed, but did not displease him, for the manliest courage is better in society, ever if it is only an animal’s. This shaggy coat seemed to rest upon his hand, and court it with a kind of dumb caress which darkness would not permit him to understand, though he ventured to return it. Sleep, an irresistible sleep, overwhelmed him, and he awoke late in the next day with paralysed limbs and ideas utterly confused by opium. No one approached his bed, and the profound silence informed him that the chateau was deserted by its visitors. He slept involuntarily again, but when he roused himself, goat’s milk and course bread stood by his side. Had Lamorne escaped? was the first clear question asked by his mind, and he hastily traversed the forlorn chambers in which neither furniture nor inhabitant could be found. His sword, watch, and money were gone, and scarcely his personal attire left. But when he returned to his solitary room, a wallet of rough sheepskin, abundantly filled with provision, including two or three rich flasks of wine, was laid on the floor. Bertram paused for an instant to wonder at this token of secret friendship, and renewed his search for Lamorne with better hopes. He spent some days in examining the most secluded spots in the valley and neighbourhood of Tarbes, which, as he learned, had been plundered and abandoned by the brigands who called themselves gens d’armes. Still every night he returned to Rougemont, expecting to find its master; and every night, though disappointed in that hope, found a blazing fire prepared, part of a kid newly roasted, and fresh milk or fruits. It was like the bounty of ancient fairies; and perhaps he had read enough of Provençal romance to create a hope that some damsel yet lived in the land of Troubadours, to realize the legend of Queen Mab’s benevolence. Let romance and fairy tales be blamed, but not the vanity of a young soldier, if he returned more frequently to the chateau with this idea, and found it gave zest to his regale. This flattering fancy tempted him to visit it one night at an earlier hour, and to watch its entrance narrowly. He saw—not a beautiful paysanne, but the shaggy and grotesque head of Berger bent over the gate, loaded with a basket of fuel. On his shoulder hung a wallet, probably of provisions, fastened by a broad remnant of the red cloak worn by Lamorne, and now largely stained with blood. At this spectacle only one thought possessed our Englishman, who instantly clenched his throat, exclaiming, “Wretch!—you have robbed and killed my father!”—Berger’s iron hand soon disengaged him from Bertrams’ grasp, and pointing to a tuft of shrubs at some distance, he walked gently towards it. There was a new, a humanized, I might say a noble expression in the wild man’s countenance, which challenged trust and respect. Bertram felt both, and followed him to the thicket, into which he plunged as if down a steep chasm. The divided branches admitted light enough to shew him a man seated at the bottom of this profound and well concealed recess. It was Lamorne. He sprang to meet Bertram’s hand with tears of rapture. “To you, through this man, I owe my life—Your kindness forced him to love you, and he saved me for your sake. I heard your plea in my defence when the murderers entered Rougemont—you hoped to save me by calling yourself my son, and I claim you from this hour. Berger has preserved both my existence and my fortune, which he brought here secreted in this iron chest; and both shall be dedicated to recompense my deliverers.”
The young Englishman had been an unfriended orphan from his childhood, and his heart had an ample fund of affection, which only wanted a claimant. Berger leaped and carolled with wild joy at the happiness he saw and felt he had created. Not perhaps at that touching and dangerous moment, but at one found in the domestic peace of his native home. Bertram reminded his benefactor of his favorite maxim. “In me,” he said, “and in Berger you have seen that human hearts are better schooled by happiness than misery.—All the generous and most graceful virtues grow from the first; all bitter and unsocial passions from the other. If we can lead men to be rightly happy, if we give them pleasant feelings by gentle and natural means, they must learn to love us, or they cannot keep the felicity we try to give. Even though some hard earth is benefited more by the plough and the harrow than by gentle showers, it must be sometimes warmed and softened, or it will produce nothing. Whoever is capable of happiness is capable of virtue.”
Our president rose to compare and correct the opinions of his seven Brothers, but a strange interruption prevented him.