Chapter III. THE LOVE STORY OF LAPEROUSE.
"My story is a romance" - "Mon histoire est un roman" - wrote Laperouse in relating the events with which this chapter will deal. We have seen him as a boy; we have watched him in war; we shall presently follow him as a navigator. But it is just as necessary to read his charming love story, if we are to understand his character. We should have no true idea of him unless we knew how he bore himself amid perplexities that might have led him to quote, as peculiarly appropriate to his own case, the lines of Shakespeare: -
"Ay me! for ought that ever I could read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth,"
During the period of his service in the East Indies, Laperouse frequently visited Ile-de-France (which is now a British possession, called Mauritius). Then it was the principal naval station of the French in the Indian Ocean. There he met a beautiful girl, the daughter of one of the subordinate officials at Port Louis. Louise Eleonore Broudou is said to have been "more than pretty"; she was distinguished by grace of manner, charm of disposition, and fine, cultivated character. The young officer saw her often, admired her much, fell in love with her, and asked her to marry him. Mademoiselle loved him too; and if they two only had had to be consulted, the happy union of a well-matched pair might have followed soon.
It signified little to Laperouse, in love, that the lady had neither rank nor fortune. But his family in France took quite a different view. He wrote to a favourite sister, telling her about it, and she lost no time in conveying the news to his parents. This was in 1775. Then the trouble began.
Inasmuch as he was over thirty years of age at this time, it may be thought that he might have been left to choose a wife for himself. But a young officer of rank in France, under the Old Regime, was not so free in these matters as he would be nowadays. Marriage was much more than a personal affair. It was even more than a family affair. People of rank did not so much marry as "make alliances" - or rather, submit to having them made for them. It was quite a regular thing for a marriage to be arranged by the families of two young people who had never even seen each other. An example of that kind will appear presently.
The idea that the Comte de Laperouse, one of the smartest officers in the French King's navy, should marry out of his rank and station, shocked his relatives and friends as much as it would have done if he had been detected picking pockets. He could not, without grave risk of social and professional ruin, marry until he had obtained the consent of his father, and - so naval regulations required - of his official superiors. Both were firmly refused. Monsieur de Ternay, who commanded on the Ile-de-France station, shook his wise head, and told the lover "that his love fit would pass, and that people did not console themselves for being poor with the fact that they were married." (This M. de Ternay, it may be noted, had commanded a French squadron in Canada in 1762, and James Cook was a junior officer on the British squadron which blockaded him in St. John's Harbour. He managed to slip out one night, much to the disgust of Colville, the British Admiral, who commented scathingly on his "shameful flight.")
The father of Laperouse poured out his forbidding warnings in a long letter. Listen to the "tut-tut" of the old gentleman at Albi: -
"You make me tremble, my son. How can you face with coolness the consequences of a marriage which would bring you into disgrace with the Minister and would lose you the assistance of powerful friends? You would forfeit the sympathies of your colleagues and would sacrifice the fruit of your work during twenty years. In disgracing yourself you would humiliate your family and your parents. You would prepare for yourself nothing but remorse; you would sacrifice your fortune and position to a frivolous fancy for beauty and to pretended charms which perhaps exist only in your own imagination. Neither honour nor probity compels you to meet ill-considered engagements that you may have made with that person or with her parents. Do they or you know that you are not free, that you are under my authority?" He went on to draw a picture of the embarrassments that would follow such a marriage, and then there is a passage revealing the cash-basis aspect of the old gentleman's objection: "You say that there are forty officers in the Marine who have contracted marriages similar to that which you propose to make. You have better models to follow, and in any case what was lacking on the side of birth, in these instances, was compensated by fortune. Without that balance they would not have had the baseness and imprudence to marry thus." Poor Eleonore had no compensating balance of that kind in her favour. She was only beautiful, charming and sweet-natured. Therefore, "tut-tut, my son!"
In the course of the next few months Laperouse covered himself with glory by his services on the AMAZON, the ASTREE, and the SCEPTRE, and he hoped that these exploits would incline his father to accede to his ardent wish. But no; the old gentleman was as hard as a rock. He "tut-tutted" with as much vigour as ever. The lovers had to wait.