My Ten Years' Imprisonment/Chapter 20

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CHAPTER XX.

All this he related with an air of remarkable frankness and truth. Although not justified in believing him, I nevertheless was astonished at his knowledge of the most minute facts connected with the revolution. He spoke with much natural fluency, and his conversation abounded with a variety of curious anecdotes. There was something also of the soldier in his expression, without showing any want of that sort of elegance resulting from an intercourse with the best society.

"Will it be permitted me," I inquired, "to converse with you on equal terms, without making use of any titles?"

"That is what I myself wish you to do," was the reply. "I have at least reaped one advantage from adversity; I have learnt to smile at all these vanities. I assure you that I value myself more upon being a man, than having been born a prince."

We were in the habit of conversing together both night and morning, for a considerable time; and, in spite of what I considered the comic part of his character, he appeared to be of a good disposition, frank, affable, and interested in the virtue and happiness of mankind. More than once I was on the point of saying, "Pardon me; I wish I could believe you were Louis XVII., but I frankly confess I cannot prevail on myself to believe it; be equally sincere, I entreat you, and renounce this singular fiction of yours." I had even prepared to introduce the subject with an edifying discourse upon the vanity of all imposture, even of such untruths as may appear in themselves harmless.

I put off my purpose from day to day; I partly expected that we should grow still more friendly and confidential, but I had never the heart really to try the experiment upon his feelings. When I reflect upon this want of resolution, I sometimes attempt to reconcile myself to it on the ground of proper urbanity, unwillingness to give offence, and other reasons of the kind. Still these excuses are far from satisfying me; I cannot disguise that I ought not to have permitted my dislike to preaching him a sermon to stand in the way of speaking my real sentiments. To affect to give credit to imposture of any kind is miserable weakness, such as I think I should not, even in similar circumstances, exhibit again. At the same time, it must be confessed that, preface it as you will, it is a harsh thing to say to any one, "I don't believe you!" He will naturally resent it; it would deprive us of his friendship or regard: nay it would, perhaps, make him hate us. Yet it is better to run every risk than to sanction an untruth. Possibly, the man capable of it, upon finding that his imposture is known, will himself admire our sincerity, and afterwards be induced to reflect in a manner that may produce the best results.

The under-jailers were unanimously of opinion that he was really Louis XVII., and having already seen so many strange changes of fortune, they were not without hopes that he would some day ascend the throne of France, and remember the good treatment and attentions he had met with. With the exception of assisting in his escape, they made it their object to comply with all his wishes. It was by such means I had the honour of forming an acquaintance with this grand personage. He was of the middle height, between forty and forty-five years of age, rather inclined to corpulency, and had features strikingly like those of the Bourbons. It is very probable that this accidental resemblance may have led him to assume the character he did, and play so melancholy a part in it.