Chapter III. A corner not dipped into the styx
Was such a man in very deed a man? Could the servant of all men feel a personal affection? Was he not too much of a soul to possess a heart? That vast embrace, enfolding everything and everybody, could it be limited to one? Could Cimourdain love? We answer, yes.
In his youth, when he was a tutor in an almost princely family, he had a pupil, the son and heir of the house, whom he loved. It is easy to love a child. What is there that one cannot forgive a child? One forgives him for being a lord, a prince, a king. His innocent age and his weakness make one forget the crimes of his race and the arrogance of his rank. He is so little that one pardons him for being great, the slave forgives him for being the master. The old negro idolizes the white nursling. Cimourdain had conceived a passionate love for his pupil. Childhood is so ineffably charming, it absorbs all love. All the power of loving in Cimourdain’s nature had, so to speak, concentrated itself upon that child; the heart, condemned to solitude, fed upon this sweet and innocent creature, which it loved with the combined tenderness of a father, a brother, a friend, and a creator. To him he was indeed a son, – not of the flesh, but of the soul; he was not his father, the author of his being, but he was his master, and this was his masterpiece. He had made a man of this little lord, – possibly a great man, who knows? Thus run our dreams. Without the knowledge of the family, – for does one require permission to create an intelligence, a well-directed will, and an upright character? – he had communicated to the young viscount, his pupil, all the advanced ideas that he himself held; he had inoculated him with the dread virus of his own virtue; he had infused into his veins his belief, his conscience, his ideal; into the brain of this aristocrat, as into a mould, he had poured the soul of the people. Mind seeks nourishment; intelligence is a breast. There is an analogy between the nurse who gives her milk and the tutor who gives his thought. Sometimes the tutor is more of a father than the actual father himself, just as the nurse is more like a mother than the natural mother. Cimourdain was closely bound to his pupil by the profound paternity of the soul. The very sight of the child touched him.
Let us add this: it was an easy matter to replace the father, since the child had none, he was an orphan; his father and mother were both dead; there was only a blind grandmother, and a great-uncle who did not live at home to watch over him. The grandmother died; the great-uncle, who was the head of the family, was a military man, a member of the high nobility, who held various appointments at Court; he avoided the old family dungeon, living at Versailles, changing his quarters with the army, and leaving the orphan alone in the solitary castle. Thus the preceptor was the master in every sense of the word. Furthermore, let us add, Cimourdain had witnessed the birth of his pupil. When almost a baby, the child had a serious illness; during the crisis Cimourdain had watched over him night and day. The doctor prescribes, but it is the nurse who saves, and Cimourdain had saved the child. Not only was his pupil indebted to him for his instruction, his education, and his knowledge, he also owed him his convalescence and his health; over and above the development of his mind he owed him his very life. We worship those who are indebted to us for everything; hence Cimourdain worshipped the child.
In the course of time the natural separation between them took place. Having finished his education, Cimourdain was obliged to leave the child, who had now become a young man. With what cold and careless cruelty such separations are planned! How calmly do families discharge the tutor, who leaves his soul behind him with the child, and the nurse who leaves her heart’s blood! Cimourdain, having received his salary and his dismissal, had left the higher for the lower sphere; the partition that separates the great from the little had closed once more. The young lord, an officer by birth, received a captain’s commission at the outset, and had departed to join some garrison. The humble tutor, already a rebellious priest in his secret heart, had lost no time in returning to the obscure ground-floor of the church, among the inferior clergy, and thus lost sight of his pupil.
Revolution came. The recollection still brooding within him of that creature whom he had transformed into a man was by no means lost, although buried beneath the immense accumulation of public affairs.
It is a noble deed to model a statue and breathe into it the breath of life; but to mould an intelligence and inspire it with the spirit of truth is far nobler. Cimourdain was the Pygmalion of a soul.
The mind may possess its offspring.
The only being on earth whom he loved was this pupil, – child and orphan as he was. Is such a man vulnerable to the influence of any affection whatsoever? We shall see.
A pan meaning a Turkish republic, and the republic expelled. – TR.