Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


The Friend of the Prefect.*

(From the French.)

* We have not of late given any light reading for the amusement of our younger readers; we therefore take advantage of the kindness of a friend, who has sent us the above translation of a tale which appeared some time since in the Archives Israelites, in the absence of a story from one of our regular correspondents, which we have expected in vain for some time. The story now presented is somewhat in the style of the French Jews of the present day; but it has nevertheless interest and point enough to please persons on this side of the Atlantic.—Ed. Oc.

Towards the end of last August, I dined with a friend at a charming villa, situated at Châtillon, near the pleasant wood of Verrière, in company with a curate of the neighbourhood; the <<452>>evening being advanced, we were assembled in a summer-house looking on the high road, waiting  the passing  of the vehicle which was to convey me back to Paris. A religious discussion which had commenced at table was continued with much vivacity; the Abbé reproached me in good set terms for my obstinate incredulity, and demonstrated with the most incontestable arguments, (in his opinion,) that it was a folly for us to expect the Messiah, since he had already come eighteen centuries ago. The discussion was growing warm, when the mistress of the house, wishing to give another turn to the conversation, requested me, with that brace which admits of no refusal, to relate something which might occupy the evening more agreeably. I submitted, and began the following recital:


In the midst of the Reign of Terror, on the morning of the first decade of Vendémiaire, 1793, an osier car, drawn by a lean horse, issued from the barriere St. Martin, directed towards the road to Meaux. In this vehicle of mean appearance were seated two fat countrywomen, each having an infant on her knees; and the worn hack was excited by frequent blows of the whip by Brutus Léveillé, conveyer of nurses. These two infants, thus brought out in the air by the same means, were a living proof of the forced equality whose level weighed upon the children of the republic, one and indivisible. Eight days before, at the hour when the Marchioness of Vieuxmenil was delivered of a boy, Susan Samuel gave birth to a son also. The Marchioness inhabited one of the sumptuous hotels of the Rue des Tournelles, Susan dwelt in a garret in the Rue St. Antoine; the rich family of Vieuxmenil, forced to emigrate, had been obliged to leave the noble Marchioness to be confined at Paris under an assumed name; and the husband of Susan, put into requisition for the service of the country, was in the ranks of the army of the Sambre and the Meuse, whilst his wife was expiring in giving life to an orphan, disinherited from its birth of the sweetest of worldly enjoyments. The two new-born infants deprived thus forcibly of the maternal breast, were intrusted to the mercenary <<453>>cares of country nurses; and as at that time the worship of the Supreme Being was alone tolerated, and in that period of liberty it had been dangerous to avow religious opinions of any kind, the heir of the Marquis of Vieuxmenil was not baptized, just as the son of Susan was not circumcised. Our two infants then rolled tranquilly along towards the capital of Brie, when at the entrance of a village, the citizen Brutus Léveillé felt the want of moistening his throat with the small wine of the country, of whose good qualities he boasted; the two nurses even, seduced by his words, alighted to seat themselves at table with him, in the poor inn which was situated at an angle of the high road; not, however, before softly arranging their two nurslings in a well-cushioned osier basket, for which they were indebted to the maternal cares of the Marchioness.

After a long sitting spent in numerous libations, they re-entered their vehicle, the nurses fell asleep each in her corner, and the citizen Brutus did the same upon his seat, trusting to the instinct of his horse to follow the road to Meaux. A quarter of an hour had not passed before the carriole, ascending slowly a little hill, met the post-chaise of a representative of the people going to Paris at full speed, to give important information to the Committee of Public Safety. What passed in this fatal encounter no one ever knew, only in the afternoon, some peasants who were returning from the fields found the carriole overturned on the high road, the two nurses dead, the fall having broken their heads against the pavement, Brutus Léveillé in a swoon, and bathed in a pool of blood, and the two children safe by a miracle, thanks to the shelter which they had found in their little basket, but covered with bruises, and uttering piercing cries. Brutus was conveyed to a neighbouring farm, and the surgeon of the place found that he had no bones broken; as for the children, they were immediately put into a hath, and all sorts of cares lavished upon them, and at the end of some days, the three patients, completely restored, resumed their journey to Meaux. But in the trouble and disorder inseparable from such an accident, a thing of serious importance had occurred: when the infants were hurriedly undressed for the hath, the proper separation of their clothing had not been attended to, so that through a deplorable confusion, Brutus Léveillé could no longer distinguish between <<454>>those frail creatures, who resembled each other as do all infants, as to which was the son of the Jewess, Susan Samuel, or which was the descendant of the Marquis of Vieuxmenil.

Great at first was the perplexity of the citizen Brutus; but as the evil was without remedy, he drew lots which of the two nurslings should be a marquis, and which should become a Jew; that done, he returned tranquilly to Meaux, confided the children to new nurses, and wrote to Paris to the Marchioness, that her offspring had arrived without accident and in perfect health. Eighteen months passed; and the revolutionary storm being somewhat calmed, the Marchioness of Vieuxmenil sent a confidential agent to withdraw her little Paul from nurse; and as Samuel was dead on the battle-field, distant relatives of his in Lorraine assumed the charitable care of bringing up his son Jacob, left all orphan at an age when paternal aid is so necessary.


The education given to these two children was such as probably to separate them for ever. Jacob Samuel learned to read and to write, he was then placed in apprenticeship, and one day, as he felt himself strong in the possession of his fifteen years, he began to wander through the world in the practice of his trade of pedler. But there was in him a fund of frankness and probity, which prevented his attaining to fortune; he had been endowed by nature with a mildness and resignation which acquired for him friends wherever he exercised his wandering calling.—The family of Vieuxmenil, being retired at Vienna, caused the most brilliant and solid education to be given to Paul. It was one of the first to cause its name to be erased from the list of emigrants, returned to France, and resumed its titles, as soon as Napoleon desired the revival of the ancient noblesse. Paul, placed at an imperial school, distinguished himself there, and at eighteen became an officer.

But it happened that his regiment was sent into garrison at Meaux, and there the young lieutenant, handsome, rich, and much courted, led a dissipated life, and had some adventures which  made a noise in the town. One morning, he was accosted <<455>>in the cathedral square by a priest, who said to him in a low tone, “Are you not the son of the Marquis of Vieuxmenil, an emigrant during the revolution?”


“Have you not heard that you were born at Paris, Rue des Tournelles?”


“Have you not passed eighteen months at Meaux at nurse?”

“All that is true,” replied Paul, in astonishment; “but why these questions?”

“Do you wish to do a good action?”

“Yes, here is my purse.”

“This is no affair of alms; a wretch on his deathbed wishes to speak to you.”

“With what object?’’

“It is a favour he solicits; he must see you that he may be enabled to die reconciled to his God.”

Paul, making an infinity of conjectures, followed to the end of the town, into a narrow lane, the priest, who conducted him before a wretched cot, upon which Brutus Léveillé, already in the grasp of death, seemed to await him, to yield his last sigh. At sight of the young officer, the former conveyer of nurses made an effort to raise himself, and with a broken voice, made to him the recital of the fatal accident which had happened twenty years previously, on the route from Paris to Meaux; indicated to him, where he could find the clothes which at that period covered the two nurslings confided to his care, told him how often he had since made confession to a worthy priest, but that he had been a prey to remorse; and after having recovered strength sufficient to supplicate his pardon, he raised his eyes to heaven, and fell back lifeless on his miserable couch.

Paul fled from the chamber of death, his head confused and heart broken; it seemed to him that he was become mad; he was assailed by the most sombre thoughts, and for a long time he was unable to calm the tumult of his mind. honourable as are generally those who bear the glorious names of the ancient nobility of France, honest and frank as every young man worthy of wearing the epaulette, he said to himself in despair, “Can it be that the name I bear is not mine? can it be that I have <<456>>stolen my titles and my fortune? My God! my God! who shall put an end to this perplexity? who shall tell me whether I be the son of the Jew Samuel or  the veritable descendant of the Marquis of Vieuxmenil? My God! who knows if, whilst I usurp a fortune and a name which are not mine, their real owner be not a prey to misery and shame?” and a cold sweat ran from his brow when he thought that if the truth should be discovered, he must descend from the high rank which he occupied; and he shuddered whilst thinking on what the future might reserve for him, of shame and deceit.  From that day his character was changed; the young man, once lively and careless, became a cold, grave, and sad man; he renounced pleasure, abandoned the world, and quitted the military career; but as some aliment was necessary to the devouring activity of his mind, he passed a year in seeking Jacob, and his search having been fruitless, he consented to enter into the service of the administration, where his capacity and his integrity were soon appreciated, and some years after, the government of the restoration named him prefect of one of the most important departments of France.

(To be continued)