Every word was delivered with a quiet politeness which, no doubt, was intended to please me.
I told him that this sort of thing was all very well on occasion; but that there were times when a man's happiness depended on his freedom from constraint; then and only then was his amiability, if he had any, displayed. His mother, thinking to praise him, told me that reserve was his chief characteristic, that she had trained him to keep his counsel at all times and places, and that she was thus used to his being reserved with her as with everyone else.
"All I can say is," said I, "your system is an abominable one. You may have strangled in their infancy all the finer qualities with which nature has endowed your son, and have fairly set him on the way to become a monster instead of an angel. I don't see how the most devoted father can possibly have any affection for a son who keeps all his emotions under lock and key."
This outburst, which proceeded from the tenderness I would fain have felt for the boy, seemed to strike his mother dumb.
"Tell me, my dear, if you feel yourself capable of shewing me that confidence which a father has a right to expect of a good son, and if you can promise to be perfectly open and unreserved towards me?"
"I promise that I will die rather than tell you a falsehood."
"That's just like him," said the mother. "I have succeeded in inspiring him with the utmost horror of untruthfulness."
"That's all very well, my dear madam, but you might have pursued a still better course, and one which would have been still more conducive to his happiness."
"What is that?"
"I will tell you. It was necessary to make him detest a lie; you should have rather endeavoured to make him a lover of the truth by displaying it to him in all its native beauty. This is the only way to make him lovable, and love is the sole bestower of happiness in this world."
"But isn't it the same thing not to lie and to tell the truth," said the boy, with a smile which charmed his mother and displeased me.
"Certainly not; there is a great difference--for to avoid lying you have only to hold your tongue; and do you think that comes to the same thing as speaking the truth? You must open your mind to me, my son, and tell me all your thoughts, even if you blush in the recital. I will teach you how to blush, and soon you will have nothing to fear in laying open all your thoughts and deeds. When we know each other a little longer we shall see how we agree together. You must understand that I cannot look upon you as my son until I see cause to love you, and I cannot have you call me father till you treat me as the best friend you have. You may be quite sure that I shall find a way to discover your thoughts, however cleverly you try to hide them. If I find you deceitful and suspicious I shall certainly entertain no regard for you. As soon as I have finished my business at Amsterdam we will set out for Paris. I am leaving the Hague to-morrow, and on my return I hope to find you instructed by your mother in a system of morality more consonant with my views, and more likely to lead to your happiness."
On glancing at my little daughter, who had been listening to me with the greatest attention, I saw that her eyes were swimming with tears, which she could hardly retain.
"Why are you crying?" said the mother; "it is silly to cry." And with that the child ran to her mother and threw her arms round her neck.
"Would you like to come to Paris, too?" said I to her.
"Oh, yes! But mamma must come too, as she would die without me."
"What would you do if I told you to go?" said the mother.
"I would obey you, mamma, but how could I exist away from you?"
Thereupon my little daughter pretended to cry. I say pretended, as it was quite evident that the child did not mean what she said, and I am sure that her mother knew it as well as I.
It was really a melancholy thing to see the effects of a bad education on this young child, to whom nature had given intelligence and feeling.