When he again saw the old man the next day, the stranger found him calm, and surprisingly recovered from the scene and sufferings of the night. He expressed his gratitude to his preserver with tearful fervour, and stated that he had already sent for a relation who would make arrangements for his future safety and mode of life. “For I have money yet left,” said the old man; “and henceforth have no motive to be a miser.” He proceeded then briefly to relate the origin and circumstances of his connection with his intended murderer.
It seems that in earlier life he had quarrelled with his relations,—from a difference in opinions of belief. Rejecting all religion as a fable, he yet cultivated feelings that inclined him—for though his intellect was weak, his dispositions were good—to that false and exaggerated sensibility which its dupes so often mistake for benevolence. He had no children; he resolved to adopt an enfant du peuple. He resolved to educate this boy according to “reason.” He selected an orphan of the lowest extraction, whose defects of person and constitution only yet the more moved his pity, and finally engrossed his affection. In this outcast he not only loved a son, he loved a theory! He brought him up most philosophically. Helvetius had proved to him that education can do all; and before he was eight years old, the little Jean’s favourite expressions were, “La lumiere et la vertu.” (Light and virtue.) The boy showed talents, especially in art.
The protector sought for a master who was as free from “superstition” as himself, and selected the painter David. That person, as hideous as his pupil, and whose dispositions were as vicious as his professional abilities were undeniable, was certainly as free from “superstition” as the protector could desire. It was reserved for Robespierre hereafter to make the sanguinary painter believe in the Etre Supreme. The boy was early sensible of his ugliness, which was almost preternatural. His benefactor found it in vain to reconcile him to the malice of Nature by his philosophical aphorisms; but when he pointed out to him that in this world money, like charity, covers a multitude of defects, the boy listened eagerly and was consoled. To save money for his protege,—for the only thing in the world he loved,—this became the patron’s passion. Verily, he had met with his reward.
“But I am thankful he has escaped,” said the old man, wiping his eyes. “Had he left me a beggar, I could never have accused him.”
“No, for you are the author of his crimes.”
“How! I, who never ceased to inculcate the beauty of virtue? Explain yourself.”
“Alas! if thy pupil did not make this clear to thee last night from his own lips, an angel might come from heaven to preach to thee in vain.”
The old man moved uneasily, and was about to reply, when the relative he had sent for—and who, a native of Nancy, happened to be at Paris at the time—entered the room. He was a man somewhat past thirty, and of a dry, saturnine, meagre countenance, restless eyes, and compressed lips. He listened, with many ejaculations of horror, to his relation’s recital, and sought earnestly, but in vain, to induce him to give information against his protege.