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Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Keren Vergon, Charlie
Kirschner, and Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders












PETER IBBETSON

by George du Maurier

With an Introduction by His Cousin Lady **** ("Madge Plunket")

Edited and Illustrated by George Du Maurier







Part One


INTRODUCTION

The writer of this singular autobiography was my cousin, who died at
the - - - Criminal Lunatic Asylum, of which he had been an inmate
three years.

He had been removed thither after a sudden and violent attack of
homicidal mania (which fortunately led to no serious consequences),
from - - - Jail, where he had spent twenty-five years, having been
condemned to penal servitude for life, for the murder of - - - - ,
his relative.

He had been originally sentenced to death.

It was at - - Lunatic Asylum that he wrote these memoirs, and I received
the MS. soon after his decease, with the most touching letter, appealing
to our early friendship, and appointing me his literary executrix.

It was his wish that the story of his life should be published just as
he had written it.

I have found it unadvisable to do this. It would revive, to no useful
purpose, an old scandal, long buried and forgotten, and thereby give
pain or annoyance to people who are still alive.

Nor does his memory require rehabilitation among those who knew him, or
knew anything of him - the only people really concerned. His dreadful
deed has long been condoned by all (and they are many) who knew the
provocation he had received and the character of the man who had
provoked him.

On mature consideration, and with advice, I resolved (in order that his
dying wishes should not be frustrated altogether) to publish the memoir
with certain alterations and emendations.

I have nearly everywhere changed the names of people and places;
suppressed certain details, and omitted some passages of his life (most
of the story of his school-days, for instance, and that of his brief
career as a private in the Horse Guards) lest they should too easily
lead to the identification and annoyance of people still alive, for he
is strongly personal at times, and perhaps not always just; and some
other events I have carefully paraphrased (notably his trial at the Old
Bailey), and given for them as careful an equivalent as I could manage
without too great a loss of verisimilitude.

I may as well state at once that, allowing for these alterations, every
incident of his _natural_ life as described by himself is absolutely
true, to the minutest detail, as I have been able to ascertain.

For the early part of it - the life at Passy he describes with such
affection - I can vouch personally; I am the Cousin "Madge" to whom he
once or twice refers.

I well remember the genial abode where he lived with his parents (my
dear uncle and aunt); and the lovely "Madame Seraskier," and her husband
and daughter, and their house, "Parva sed Apta," and "Major Duquesnois,"
and the rest.

And although I have never seen him since he was twelve years old, when
his parents died and he went to London (as most of my life has been
spent abroad), I received occasional letters from him.

I have also been able to obtain much information about him from others,
especially from a relative of the late "Mr. and Mrs. Lintot," who knew
him well, and from several officers in his regiment who remembered him;
also from the "Vicar's daughter," whom he met at "Lady Cray's" and who
perfectly recollects the conversation she had with him at dinner, his
sudden indisposition, and his long interview with the "Duchess of
Towers," under the ash-tree next morning; she was one of the
croquet-players.

He was the most beautiful boy I ever saw, and so charming, lively, and
amiable that everybody was fond of him. He had a horror of cruelty,
especially to animals (quite singular in a boy of his age), and was very
truthful and brave.

According to all accounts (and from a photograph in my possession), he
grew up to be as handsome as a man can well be, a personal gift which he
seems to have held of no account whatever, though he thought so much of
it in others. But he also became singularly shy and reserved in manner,
over-diffident and self-distrustful; of a melancholy disposition, loving
solitude, living much alone, and taking nobody into his confidence; and
yet inspiring both affection and respect. For he seems to have always
been thoroughly gentlemanlike in speech, bearing, manner, and aspect.

It is possible, although he does not say so, that having first enlisted,
and then entered upon a professional career under somewhat inauspicious
conditions, he felt himself to have fallen away from the social rank
(such as it was) that belonged to him by birth; and he may have found
his associates uncongenial.

His old letters to me are charmingly open and effusive.

Of the lady whom (keeping her title and altering her name) I have called
the "Duchess of Towers," I find it difficult to speak. That they only
met twice, and in the way he describes, is a fact about which there can
be no doubt.

It is also indubitable that he received in Newgate, on the morning after
his sentence to death, an envelope containing violets, and the strange
message he mentions. Both letter and violets are in my possession, and
the words are in her handwriting; about that there can be no mistake.

It is certain, moreover, that she separated from her husband almost
immediately after my cousin's trial and condemnation, and lived in
comparative retirement from the world, as it is certain that he went
suddenly mad, twenty-five years later, in - - Jail, a few hours after
her tragic death, and before he could possibly have heard of it by the
ordinary channels; and that he was sent to - - Asylum, where, after his
frenzy had subsided, he remained for many days in a state of suicidal
melancholia, until, to the surprise of all, he rose one morning in high
spirits, and apparently cured of all serious symptoms of insanity; so he
remained until his death. It was during the last year of his life that
he wrote his autobiography, in French and English.

There is nothing to be surprised at, taking all the circumstances into
consideration, that even so great a lady, the friend of queens and
empresses, the bearer of a high title and an illustrious name, justly
celebrated for her beauty and charm (and her endless charities), of
blameless repute, and one of the most popular women in English society,
should yet have conceived a very warm regard for my poor cousin; indeed,
it was an open secret in the family of "Lord Cray" that she had done so.
But for them she would have taken the whole world into her confidence.

After her death she left him what money had come to her from her father,
which he disposed of for charitable ends, and an immense quantity of MS.
in cipher - a cipher which is evidently identical with that he used
himself in the annotations he put under innumerable sketches he was
allowed to make during his long period of confinement, which (through
her interest, and no doubt through his own good conduct) was rendered as
bearable to him as possible. These sketches (which are very
extraordinary) and her Grace's MS. are now in my possession.

They constitute a mystery into which I have not dared to pry.

From papers belonging to both I have been able to establish beyond doubt
the fact (so strangely discovered) of their descent from a common French
ancestress, whose name I have but slightly modified and the tradition of
whom still lingers in the "Departement de la Sarthe," where she was a
famous person a century ago; and her violin, a valuable Amati, now
belongs to me.

Of the non-natural part of his story I will not say much.

It is, of course, a fact that he had been absolutely and, to all
appearance, incurably insane before he wrote his life.

There seems to have been a difference of opinion, or rather a doubt,
among the authorities of the asylum as to whether he was mad after the
acute but very violent period of his brief attack had ended.

Whichever may have been the case, I am at least convinced of this: that
he was no romancer, and thoroughly believed in the extraordinary mental
experience he has revealed.

At the risk of being thought to share his madness - if he _was_ mad - I
will conclude by saying that I, for one, believe him to have been sane,
and to have told the truth all through.

MADGE PLUNKET





I am but a poor scribe; ill-versed in the craft of wielding words and
phrases, as the cultivated reader (if I should ever happen to have one)
will no doubt very soon find out for himself.

[Illustration:]

I have been for many years an object of pity and contempt to all who
ever gave me a thought - to all but _one_! Yet of all that ever lived on
this earth I have been, perhaps, the happiest and most privileged, as
that reader will discover if he perseveres to the end.

My outer and my inner life have been as the very poles - asunder; and if,
at the eleventh hour, I have made up my mind to give my story to the
world, it is not in order to rehabilitate myself in the eyes of my
fellow-men, deeply as I value their good opinion; for I have always
loved them and wished them well, and would fain express my goodwill and
win theirs, if that were possible.

It is because the regions where I have found my felicity are accessible
to all, and that many, better trained and better gifted, will explore
them to far better purpose than I, and to the greater glory and benefit
of mankind, when once I have given them the clew. Before I can do this,
and in order to show how I came by this clew myself, I must tell, as
well as I may, the tale of my checkered career - in telling which,
moreover, I am obeying the last behest of one whose lightest wish was
my law.

If I am more prolix than I need be, it must be set down to my want of
experience in the art of literary composition - to a natural wish I have
to show myself neither better nor worse than I believe myself to be; to
the charm, the unspeakable charm, that personal reminiscences have for
the person principally concerned, and which he cannot hope to impart,
however keenly he may feel it, without gifts and advantages that have
been denied to me.

And this leads me to apologize for the egotism of this Memoir, which is
but an introduction to another and longer one that I hope to publish
later. To write a story of paramount importance to mankind, it is true,
but all about one's outer and one's inner self, to do this without
seeming somewhat egotistical, requires something akin to genius - and I
am but a poor scribe.

* * * * *

"_Combien j'ai douce souvenance
Du joli lieu de ma naissance_!"

These quaint lines have been running in my head at intervals through
nearly all my outer life, like an oft-recurring burden in an endless
ballad - sadly monotonous, alas! the ballad, which is mine; sweetly
monotonous the burden, which is by Châteaubriand.

I sometimes think that to feel the full significance of this refrain one
must have passed one's childhood in sunny France, where it was written,
and the remainder of one's existence in mere London - or worse than mere
London - as has been the case with me. If I had spent all my life from
infancy upward in Bloomsbury, or Clerkenwell, or Whitechapel, my early
days would be shorn of much of their retrospective glamour as I look
back on them in these my after-years.

_"Combien j'ai douce souvenance!"_

It was on a beautiful June morning in a charming French garden, where
the warm, sweet atmosphere was laden with the scent of lilac and
syringa, and gay with butterflies and dragon-flies and humblebees, that
I began my conscious existence with the happiest day of all my
outer life.

It is true that I had vague memories (with many a blank between) of a
dingy house in the heart of London, in a long street of desolating
straightness, that led to a dreary square and back again, and nowhere
else for me; and then of a troubled and exciting journey that seemed of
jumbled days and nights. I could recall the blue stage-coach with the
four tall, thin, brown horses, so quiet and modest and well-behaved; the
red-coated guard and his horn; the red-faced driver and his husky voice
and many capes.

Then the steamer with its glistening deck, so beautiful and white it
seemed quite a desecration to walk upon it - this spotlessness did not
last very long; and then two wooden piers with a light-house on each,
and a quay, and blue-bloused workmen and red-legged little soldiers with
mustaches, and bare-legged fisher-women, all speaking a language that I
knew as well as the other commoner language I had left behind; but which
I had always looked upon as an exclusive possession of my father's and
mother's and mine for the exchange of sweet confidence and the
bewilderment of outsiders; and here were little boys and girls in the
street, quite common children, who spoke it as well and better than I
did myself.

After this came the dream of a strange, huge, top-heavy vehicle, that
seemed like three yellow carriages stuck together, and a mountain of
luggage at the top under an immense black tarpaulin, which ended in a
hood; and beneath the hood sat a blue-bloused man with a singular cap,
like a concertina, and mustaches, who cracked a loud whip over five
squealing, fussy, pugnacious white and gray horses, with bells on their
necks and bushy fox-tails on their foreheads, and their own tails
carefully tucked up behind.

From the _coupé_ where I sat with my father and mother I could watch
them well as they led us through dusty roads with endless apple-trees or
poplars on either side. Little barefooted urchins (whose papas and
mammas wore wooden shoes and funny white nightcaps) ran after us for
French half-pennies, which were larger than English ones, and pleasanter
to have and to hold! Up hill and down we went; over sounding wooden
bridges, through roughly paved streets in pretty towns to large
court-yards, where five other quarrelsome steeds, gray and white, were
waiting to take the place of the old ones - worn out, but
quarreling still!

And through the night I could hear the gay music of the bells and hoofs,
the rumbling of the wheels the cracking of the eternal whip, as I
fidgeted from one familiar lap to the other in search of sleep; and
waking out of a doze I could see the glare of the red lamps on the five
straining white and gray backs that dragged us so gallantly through the
dark summer night.

[Illustration: "A STRANGE, HUGE, TOP-HEAVY VEHICLE."]

Then it all became rather tiresome and intermittent and confused, till
we reached at dusk next day a quay by a broad river; and as we drove
along it, under thick trees, we met other red and blue and green lamped
five-horsed diligences starting on their long journey just as ours was
coming to an end.

Then I knew (because I was a well-educated little boy, and heard my
father exclaim, "Here's Paris at last!") that we had entered the capital
of France - a fact that impressed me very much - so much, it seems, that I
went to sleep for thirty-six hours at a stretch, and woke up to find
myself in the garden I have mentioned, and to retain possession of that
self without break or solution of continuity (except when I went to
sleep again) until now.

* * * * *

The happiest day in all my outer life!

For in an old shed full of tools and lumber at the end of the garden,
and half-way between an empty fowl-house and a disused stable (each an
Eden in itself) I found a small toy-wheelbarrow - quite the most
extraordinary, the most unheard of and undreamed of, humorously,
daintily, exquisitely fascinating object I had ever come across in all
my brief existence.

I spent hours - enchanted hours - in wheeling brick-bats from the stable
to the fowl-house, and more enchanted hours in wheeling them all back
again, while genial French workmen, who were busy in and out of the
house where we were to live, stopped every now and then to ask
good-natured questions of the "p'tit Anglais," and commend his knowledge
of their tongue, and his remarkable skill in the management of a
wheelbarrow. Well I remember wondering, with newly-aroused
self-consciousness, at the intensity, the poignancy, the extremity of my
bliss, and looking forward with happy confidence to an endless
succession of such hours in the future.

But next morning, though the weather was as fine, and the wheelbarrow
and the brick-bats and the genial workmen were there, and all the scents
and sights and sounds were the same, the first fine careless rapture was
not to be caught again, and the glory and the freshness had departed.

Thus did I, on the very dawning of life, reach at a single tide the
high-water-mark of my earthly bliss - never to be reached again by me on
this side of the ivory gate - and discover that to make the perfection of
human happiness endure there must be something more than a sweet French
garden, a small French wheelbarrow, and a nice little English boy who
spoke French and had the love of approbation - a fourth dimension
is required.

I found it in due time.

But if there were no more enchanted hours like the first, there were to
be seven happy years that have the quality of enchantment as I look
back on them.

* * * * *

Oh, the beautiful garden! Roses, nasturtiums and convolvulus,
wallflowers, sweet-pease and carnations, marigolds and sunflowers,
dahlias and pansies and hollyhocks and poppies, and Heaven knows what
besides! In my fond recollection they all bloom at once, irrespective of
time and season.

To see and smell and pick all these for the first time at the
susceptible age of five! To inherit such a kingdom after five years of
Gower Street and Bedford Square! For all things are relative, and
everything depends upon the point of view. To the owner of Chatsworth
(and to his gardeners) my beautiful French Garden would have seemed a
small affair.

[Illustration: LE P'TIT ANGLAIS.]

And what a world of insects - Chatsworth could not beat _these_ (indeed,
is no doubt sadly lacking in them) - beautiful, interesting, comic,
grotesque, and terrible; from the proud humble-bee to the earwig and his
cousin, the devil's coach-horse; and all those rampant, many footed
things that pullulate in damp and darkness under big flat stones. To
think that I have been friends with all these - roses and centipedes and
all - and then to think that most of my outer life has been spent between
bare whitewashed walls, with never even a flea or a spider to be friends
with again!

Our house (where, by-the-way, I had been born five years before), an old
yellow house with green shutters and Mansard-roofs of slate, stood
between this garden and the street - a long winding street, roughly
flagged, with oil-lamps suspended across at long intervals; these lamps
were let down with pulleys at dusk, replenished and lit, and then hauled
up again to make darkness visible for a few hours on nights when the
moon was away.

Opposite to us was a boys' school - "Maison d'Éducation, Dirigée par M.
Jules Saindou, Bachelier et Maître ès Lettres et ès Sciences," and
author of a treatise on geology, with such hauntingly terrific pictures
of antediluvian reptiles battling in the primeval slime that I have
never been able to forget them. My father, who was fond of science, made
me a present of it on my sixth birthday. It cost me many a nightmare.

From our windows we could see and hear the boys at play - at a proper
distance French boys sound just like English ones, though they do not
look so, on account of their blue blouses and dusky, cropped heads - and
we could see the gymnastic fixtures in the play-ground, M. Saindou's
pride. "Le portique! la poutre! le cheval! et les barres parallèles!"
Thus they were described in M. Saindou's prospectus.

On either side of the street (which was called "the Street of the
Pump"), as far as eye could reach looking west, were dwelling-houses
just like our own, only agreeably different; and garden walls overtopped
with the foliage of horse-chestnut, sycamore, acacia, and lime; and here
and there huge portals and iron gates defended by posts of stone gave
ingress to mysterious abodes of brick and plaster and granite,
many-shuttered, and embosomed in sun-shot greenery.

Looking east one could see in the near distance unsophisticated shops
with old-fashioned windows of many panes - Liard, the grocer; Corbin, the
poulterer; the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker.

And this delightful street, as it went on its winding way, led not to
Bedford Square or the new University College Hospital, but to Paris
through the Arc de Triomphe at one end, and to the river Seine at the
other; or else, turning to the right, to St. Cloud through the Bois de
Boulogne of Louis Philippe Premier, Roi des Français - as different from
the Paris and the Bois de Boulogne of to-day as a diligence from an
express train.

On one side of the beautiful garden was another beautiful garden,
separated from ours by a high wall covered with peach and pear and plum
and apricot trees; on the other, accessible to us through a small door
in another lower wall clothed with jasmine, clematis, convolvulus, and
nasturtium, was a long, straight avenue of almond-trees, acacia,
laburnum, lilac, and may, so closely planted that the ivy-grown walls
on either side could scarcely be seen. What lovely patches they made on
the ground when the sun shone! One end of this abutted on "the Street of
the Pump," from which it was fenced by tall, elaborately-carved iron
gates between stone portals, and at the side was a "porte bâtarde,"
guarded by le Père et la Mère François, the old concierge and his old
wife. Peace to their ashes, and Heaven rest their kindly, genial souls!

The other end of the avenue, where there was also an iron gate, admitted
to a large private park that seemed to belong to nobody, and of which we
were free - a very wilderness of delight, a heaven, a terror of tangled
thickets and not too dangerous chalk cliffs, disused old quarries and
dark caverns, prairies of lush grass, sedgy pools, turnip fields,
forests of pine, groves and avenues of horse-chestnut, dank valleys of
walnut-trees and hawthorn, which summer made dark at noon; bare,
wind-swept mountainous regions whence one could reconnoitre afar; all
sorts of wild and fearsome places for savages and wild beasts to hide
and small boys to roam quite safely in quest of perilous adventure.

All this vast enclosure (full of strange singing, humming, whistling,
buzzing, twittering, cooing, booming, croaking, flying, creeping,
crawling, jumping, climbing, burrowing, splashing, diving things) had
been neglected for ages - an Eden where one might gather and eat of the
fruit of the tree of knowledge without fear, and learn lovingly the ways
of life without losing one's innocence; a forest that had remade for
itself a new virginity, and become primeval once more; where beautiful
Nature had reasserted her own sweet will, and massed and tangled
everything together as though a Beauty had been sleeping there
undisturbed for close on a hundred years, and was only waiting for the
charming Prince - or, as it turned out a few years later, alas! the
speculative builder and the railway engineer - those princes of our day.

My fond remembrance would tell me that this region was almost boundless,
well as I remember its boundaries. My knowledge of physical geography,
as applied to this particular suburb of Paris, bids me assign more
modest limits to this earthly paradise, which again was separated by an
easily surmounted fence from Louis Philippe's Bois de Boulogne; and to
this I cannot find it in my heart to assign any limits whatever, except
the pretty old town from which it takes its name, and whose principal
street leads to that magical combination of river, bridge, palace,
gardens, mountain, and forest, St. Cloud.

What more could be wanted for a small boy fresh (if such be freshness)
from the very heart of Bloomsbury?

That not a single drop should be lacking to the full cup of that small
boy's felicity, there was a pond on the way from Passy to St. Cloud - a
memorable pond, called "La Mare d'Auteuil," the sole aquatic treasure
that Louis Philippe's Bois de Boulogne could boast. For in those
ingenuous days there existed no artificial lake fed by an artificial
stream, no pré-Catelan, no Jardin d'Acclimatation. The wood was just a
wood, and nothing more - a dense, wild wood, that covered many hundreds


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