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obscure, although the village of Gavrillac had long since dispelled
the cloud of mystery that hung about it. Those simple Brittany folk
were not so simple as to be deceived by a pret ended relationship
which did not even possess the virtue of originality. When a
nobleman, for no apparent reas on, announces himself the godfather of
an infant fetched no man knew whence, and thereafter cares for the
lad’s rearing and education, the most unsophisticated of country
folk perfectly understand the situation. And so the good people of
Gavrillac permitted themselves no illusions on the score of the real
relationship between Andre-Louis Moreau - as the lad had been named
- and Quintin de Kercadiou, Lord of Gavrillac, who dwelt in the
big grey hous e that dominated from its eminence the village
Andre-Louis had learnt his letters at the village school, lodged
the while with old Rabouillet, the attorney, who in the capacity of
ﬁscal intendant, looked after the aﬀairs of M. de Kercadiou.
Thereafter, at the age of ﬁfteen, he had been packed oﬀ to Paris,
to the Lycee of Louis Le Grand, to study the law which he was now
returned to practise in conjunction with Rabouillet. All this at
the charges of his godfat her, M. de Kercadiou, who by placing him
once more under the tutelage of Rabouillet would seem thereby quite
clearly to be making provision for his future.
Andre-Louis, on his side, had made the most of his opportunities.
You behold him at the age of four -and-t wenty stuﬀed with learning
enough to produce an intellectual indigestion in an ordinary mind.
Out of his zestful study of Man, from Thucydides to the
Encyclopaedists, from Seneca to Rousseau, he had conﬁrmed into an
unassailable conviction his earliest conscious impressions of the
general insanity of his own species. Nor can I discover that
anything in his eventful life ever afterwards caused him to waver
in that opinion.
In body he was a slight wisp of a fellow, scarcely above middle
height, with a lean, astute countenance, prominent of nos e and
cheek-bones, and with lank, black hair that reached almost to his
shoulders. His mouth was long, thin-lipped, and humorous. He was
only just redeemed from ugliness by the splendour of a pair of
ever-questing, luminous eyes, so dark as to be almost black. Of
the whimsical quality of his mind and his rare gift of graceful
expression, his writings - unfortunately but too scanty - and
particularly his Confessions, aﬀord us very ample evidence. Of
his gift of oratory he was hardly conscious yet, although he had
already achieved a certain fame for it in the Literary Chamber of
Rennes - one of those clubs by now ubiquit ous in the land, in
which the int ellectual youth of France foregathered to study and
discuss the new philosophies that were permeating social life.
But the fame he had acquired there was hardly enviable. He was
too impish, too caustic, too much disposed - so thought his
colleagues - to ridicule their sublime theories for the regeneration
of mankind. himself he prot ested that he merely held them up to the
mirror of truth, and that it was not his fault if when reﬂected
there they looked ridiculous.
All that he achieved by this was to exasperate; and his expulsion
from a society grown mistrustful of him must already have followed
but for his friend, Philippe de Vilmorin, a divinity student of
Rennes, who, himself, was one of the most popular members of the