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THE ENTRANCE INTO LIFE OF ALEXANDER
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY A. R. R.
I was about entering my twenty-first year, when my mother, coming into my chamber one morning, embraced me with tears, and said,
“My dear, I have just sold all we possessed in order to pay our debts.” “Well, my mother!”
Well, my poor child, our debts paid there remain two hundred and fifty-three francs.”
“Per annum ?”
Very well, mother ; I will this evening take the fifty-three francs and set out for Paris.”
“What will you do there, my poor boy?”
“I will see the friends of my father-Sebastiani and the Duke of Belluna, the Minister of War. My father, who was an older general than them all, and who commanded four armies, has seen them nearly all under his orders. We have a letter from Belluna, in which he says that it is to my father he owes his favour with Buonaparte; a letter from Sebastiani, in which he thanks him for having permission for his joining the army of Egypt ; letters of Jourdan, Bernadotte also. Very well; I will go even to Sweden, if necessary, and having found the king, will appeal to his souvenir as a soldier."
“And what shall I do during that time ?”
“You are right—but be easy; I shall have no need to go further than Paris. I set out this evening.”
“Do what you will,” said my mother, embracing me a second time; “it is perhaps an inspiration of God," and she left me.
I leaped out of bed, more proud than saddened by the news I had just heard, for I was about to be good for something, and to return to my mother—not the cares she had lavished on me, for that was impossible, but to spare her those daily torments which narrow means always drag after them, and to support her aged years by my labour. I was now a man; because the existence of a woman was about to depend on me. A thousand projects, a
thousand hopes, passed through my mind; besides, it was impossible that I should not obtain all I asked for when I said to those men on whom my future hung, “That which I demand is for my mother; for the widow of your old companion in arms; for my mother----my good mother."
Born at Villers Coterets, a little town of about two thousand inhabitants, it may be easily guessed that it did not possess any great resources for education. A good and worthy abbé, loved and respected by everybody, had given me lessons in Latin for five or six years; as for arithmetic, three schoolmasters in succession had given up all hope of driving the first four rules of arithmetic into my head. Instead of this I possessed a rustic education-that is to say, I rode every horse that came in my way, would go thirty miles to a ball, fenced pretty well, played tennis like Saint George, and rarely missed a hare or partridge at thirty paces. All my preparations made--an affair of no great length-1 went to all my acquaintance, to announce my departure to Paris.
in the café adjoining the diligence office there was an old friend of my father, and he had besides this friendship some gratitude to our family; for when he was wounded one day out shooting, he caused himself to be carried to our house, and the attentions he had received from my mother and sister remained on his memory. Of great influence from his fortune and probity, he had carried by assault the election of General Foy, his schoolfellow. He offered me a letter for the honcurable deputy. I accepted it, embraced him, and went to say adieu to the worthy abbé, who approved of my design, embraced me, with tears in his eyes, and when I asked him for advice he opened the Bible, and pointed with his finger to these words —" Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you."
That evening I left and arrived in Paris, where I put up in a modest hotel in the Rue Saint Germain Auxerrois. Convinced that society was calumniated, that the world was a garden of golden flowers, of which all the gates were about to open before me, and that I had only, like Ali Baba, to pronounce the word sesame to cleave rocks, that same evening I wrote to the Minister of War, asking for an audience, and detailing my right to this favour in the name of my father, through delicacy passing over in silence the service that had been rendered, but which a letter of the marshal, that I had at all hazards brought with me, incontestibly proved. I then went to bed, and dreamt dreams of the thousand and one nights. The next morning I bought an almanac containing twenty-five thousand addresses, and then I set out on my travels.
My first visit was to Marshal Jourdan. He had very vague remembrances that there ever had existed a General Alexander Dumas, but he had never heard that he had a son. In spite of all
I could say I left him at the end of ten minutes, appearing very little persuaded of my existence.
I next went to General Sebastiani. He was in his office: fuur or five secretaries were writing to his dictation. Each of them had on his desk, besides his pen, paper, and penknives, a gold snuffbox, which he presented, open, to the general when he stopped before him. The general delicately introduced his fore finger and thumb, voluptuously tasted the Spanish snuff, and recommenced walking about the room, now lengthways, now across. My visit was short, for whatever respect I might have for the general, I felt little inclination to become a snuff box holder.
I returned to my hotel a little disappointed-my golden dreams were tarnished. I took up my almanac, and was turning over the leaves at hazard, when I saw a name I had so often heard pronounced by my mother with so much praise that I trembled with joy; it was that of General Verdier, who had served in Egypt under my father. I drove to the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, No. 4-it was there he lived.
“General Verdier," I asked at the lodge. “The fourth story; the little door on the left.” I made the porter repeat it-yes, I had heard properly. “Parblieu !” said I to myself, while I was mounting the stairs; "this, at all events, does not resemble the footmen of Marshal Jourdan, or the Swiss of the Hotel Sebastiani. General Verdier; the fourth foor; the door on the left. This man ought to remember my father."
I reached the top of the stairs. A modest green cord hung by the door. I rang-waiting this third proof in order to know how much I might depend upon mankind. The door opened ; a man of about sixty appeared. He had on a cap bordered with fur, an old-fashioned waistcoat and trousers falling about his shoes; in one hand he held a palette charged with colours, and in the other a brush. I thought I had made a mistake, and looked at the other doors.
“What do you want, sir ? ” said he.
“To present my respects to General Verdier ; but perhaps I am mistaken.”
“No, no, you are not mistaken, it is here.” I entered into an atelier.
“With your permission, sir?” said the man in the cap to me, setting to work at a battle piece, in the painting of which I had interrupted him.
“Certainly, if you will have the kindness to tell me where I shall find the general."
The painter turned round.
I fixed my eyes upon him with a look so full of astonishment that he began to laugh.
“General,” said I to him, “I am the son of your old comrade in arms in Egypt-of Alexander Dumas.”
He looked steadily at me, and after a moment's silence, said, “ 'Tis true ; you are the picture of him.”
Two tears started into his eyes, and throwing down his brush he extended a hand, which I had a greater desire to kiss than to grasp.
“What brings you to Paris, my poor boy ?" said he ; " for if I recollect rightly, you are living with your mother in I don't know what village.'
“True, general; but my mother is growing old, and we are “Two songs of which I know the air," murmured he.
“I am therefore come to Paris in the hope of obtaining some small situation in order to support her in my turn, as she has supported me until now."
Very proper; but a place is a thing not easily got now-d
“But, general, I have reckoned on your protection."
“My protection!” He smiled bitterly. “My poor child, if you wish to take lessons in painting, my protection can go so far as to give you some, and yet you'll be no great painter if you
do not excel your master. My protection ! there is not anybody in the world besides yourself who would think of asking me for it."
“Is it not because those rascals have cashiered me under the pretext of I know not what conspiracy? so that, as you perceive, I paint pictures ; do you wish to do so too ?”
“Thank you, general, I do not know how to draw a stroke, and the apprenticeship would be too long."
“What do you wish, my friend; this is all I can offer you. Ah! there's the half of my purse; I didn't remember it, for it is hardly worth the trouble.
He opened the drawer of a small cabinet, in which there were, I well recollect, two pieces of gold, and about forty francs in silver.
“I thank you, general, I am almost as rich as yourself." Tears were in my eyes.
“ I thank you, but you will give me some advice as to the proceedings I ought to take."
“Oh! as much of that as you like.”
done ?" “ I have written to Marshal the Duke of Belluna.” The general, while painting a Cossack's face, made a grimace
which might be translated into, “ If you have nothing else to depend upon, my poor fellow.”
“I have also,” added I, replying to his thought, "an introduction to General Foy, the deputy of our department.”
“Ah, ah, this is another affair ; very well, my child, don't wait for the answer of the minister, carry your letter to the general and be easy, for he will receive you well. Now then, will you dine with me? and we will chat about
father.” “With much pleasure, general. “Come back at six o'clock." I took leave of General Verdier.
On the morrow I presented myself at the honourable deputy's. He turned round, hearing the door of his sanctuary open, and, with his natural vivacity, fixed his piercing eyes on me.
“ M. Alexander Dumas ? " said he. “ Yes, general."
“Are you the son of him who commanded the army of the Alps ?"
“He was a brave man. Can I be of any assistance to you ? I shall be most happy to do all in my power.”
“ I thank you for the interest you take. I have to give you a letter from M. Danré.”
“Let us see what my good friend says." He began to read.
“He recommends you to me most particularly ; he loves you, then, well.”
“ As a son."
“You have at least some idea of algebra ---of geometry-of physics ?"
He paused between each word, and at each word I felt the perspiration rolling off my forehead.
“ No, general," said I, stammering.
“I will then place you in Laffitte's office. You understand accounts ?”