Letter from Henri Tardent to his descendants written at Nikolayev in Ukraine February - March 1887
History of the Tardent Family 1887 by Henri Alexis Tardent (written at Nikolayev near Odessa, between 21 February to 11 March 1887, in the form of a letter to his distant cousin Louis Tardent of Rue de Rome, Paris).
Quotation from a man of letters: “Since the possession of a sound philosophy has taught me to respect tradition and its preservation, I have on many occasions regretted that during the middle ages, middle class families have not bothered to keep modest records wherein would be preserved the most important incidents of their domestic life. These would thus be transmitted to succeeding generations while the families endured. How curiously interesting would be those of them which lasted to our period, no matter how succinct they may have been. How many elements and experiences in their lives were lost to posterity which would have been saved with a little care and forethought”
“Proinde ituri in aclem et malores vestros et posteros cogitate” - Bear in mind both your ancestors and future generations' - Tacitus.
“My dear friend and cousin,
When two years ago you sought of me some information about our ancestors and about the existing members of our family scattered in different countries of Europe, I was sorely perplexed. Like nine-tenths of our countrymen, who have not the honor of belonging to historical families, I had very vague ideas of my relatives beyond my grandfather.
Desiring nevertheless of satisfying your requests, I went in search of information. The success that resulted has far exceeded my best expectations. The good fortune that favors those who are enterprising and persevering has been particularly kind to me. The parish registers of Ormonts-Dessous were destroyed when the parsonage was razed by fire in 1866. I thus could obtain no details whatever from that quarter. I then had the good fortune to find a most interesting copy book at ‘Jolimont’ near Chabag. It was of inestimable value to me and consisted of notes taken in 1815 from the parish registers of Ormonts-Dessous by the old school master, David Tardent of Vevey. To these were added details about himself and his family. Numerous bundles of old letters and ancient land division and transfer documents also came into my hands for perusal. Gradually the light became clearer and the entangled branches were sorted out and individuals took shape and lived again in those dusty old documents.
After diligently exploring all that material, I succeeded after several attempts to reconstruct an almost complete genealogical tree as from the 14th century. I must admit that the more the task progressed the greater became the interest and pleasure that it gave me.
'Here is ‘, I said to myself ' a good example of a middle class family, typical of thousands of such in our Swiss mountains. As far as I could see, this family had not produced any illustrious person or any scoundrel! How will it adapt to average conditions? Will it seek new ones when the old ones no longer fulfil its needs? Finally, what influence or effect will the turbulence of historical events have on it? If I am not mistaken, it seems to me that these questions will be answered in the pages that follow - if you have the patience to bear with me to the end.
According to a tradition conserved in the Belgian Branch, the Tardent family originated at Neuchatel in Normandy, whence it would have emigrated to Switzerland for religious reasons. I have no knowledge of the reasons for this supposition. The precise name of this town gives this theory an element of likelihood, supported by the existence of a district named Tardenois. Nevertheless, until more positive proofs support it, I am inclined to believe that our family came from Savoie, whence in about the 14th to century it would have settled about the same time as the Dupertuis, Chablaix, Monod and Mermod families.
This opinion is supported by certain physiological traits which have been maintained through many generations: moderately short height and compact build, dark complexion and dark brown eyes, fine features with straight, sharp noses, shrewd and quick-witted, tenacious, aptitude in business and facility of expression etc. This theory also has historical probability in that it supports the belief that most of the principal families of the Ormonts Valley immigrated during Savoie rule and in any case much earlier than the French persecution of the Huguenots. Furthermore, the names of Ame, Robert and Amedee etc. which occur frequently in the earlier generations of Ormonans, indicate a Roman Catholic and Savoyard origin.
The Valley of the Ormonts in which so many generations of our family have lived and played their part, is encased in the center of the highest massifs of the Vaudois Alps. It is born at the Pillon Pass on the border of Berne Canton and extends from east to west at the foot of the steep and rugged range of Les Diablerets. At the village of Sepey the valley turns sharply towards the south, thus forming an obtuse angle.
It finally opens into the Rhone Valley just above the little town of Aigle. The mouth of the valley is wild and precipitous. Formerly one travelled up the valley by the right hand (south) slope, rising by a bad road which traverses the wood of Chenaux and the lonely pastures dominated by Chamossaire Mountain.
Today one approaches the Valley by the left hand flank by a good, well-graded road of daring design. At times it traverses torrents and gorges on dizzy bridges; sometimes it runs on hazardous embankments built up from solid, overhanging rock cliffs which awe the traveler. lf he is immune to fear of dizzy heights he can gaze vertically some hundreds of meters down to the bottom where La Grande Eau's yellowish, noisy waters race wildly to join the Rhone. Suddenly the scene changes. One is transported as by enchantment, into the most idyllic countryside imaginable. The Valley widens out and offers to one’s view the aspect of a great basket of greenery. And what greenery! Mortal eyes could never see anything more enchanting.
The light green of the alpine grass forms the background, against which is contrasted the darker foliage of the pine forests, the clumps of hazelnuts and the thickets of shrubs of varied hue and fragrance. Gracious wooden chalets scattered on the slopes brighten the scene and endow it with an incomparable charm. And what a setting for a painting! Before one, rises the rounded dome of beautiful Mont d'Or. To the left the Tour d'Ai and the Tour de Mayen raise their twin peaks sharply to the heavens, to the right the eye lingers a moment on the wooded and historic hill of Aigremont, poised on the steep slopes of Pic Chaussey like a bouquet of verdure; then it encounters the snowy summits of Les Diablerets, glistening in the sun like topazes and rubies. Oh, what a beautiful landscape! Once seen it can hardly be forgotten and whoever is fortunate enough to have been born there, has this lovely scene in memory forever.
An excellent main road extends through the whole valley and continues over the Pillon Pass, leading to Gsteig and the Canton of Berne. A branch road traverses the rustic plateau of Les Mosses between Pic Chaussey and Mont d’Or and leads to Chateau d'Oex in the beautiful and fertile valley of the Sarine River. (The picturesque old track that runs south-west from Diablerets village to Villars in the Rhone Valley has been modernized in quite recent years.) Some other less frequented paths link the Ormonts with the adjoining valleys. Another good, short road leads with graceful curves to the mountain village of Leysin. It is the highest village in the canton and lies at the foot of the Tour d’Ai. The exact time of the first settlement of this valley is unknown. According to tradition, the first inhabitants date back to the time of the massacre of the Roman Theban Legion near St. Maurice. A few Christian soldiers are said to have escaped execution and to have taken refuge in this then wooded and uninhabited wilderness, which they cleared and occupied. At first the valley men followed the fortunes of the Counts of Gruyere, whom several Ormonans accompanied to the Crusades.
Towards the l3th Century the Valley came under the domination of the house of Savoie. To maintain their control over these new subjects, who were irrepressible and independent like all the mountain men of the Swiss Alps, the new overlords built their Chateau-fort on Aigremont. The site was well chosen in the center of the Valley and dominates it. It was surrounded by deep and dangerous gorges in the bottom of which the waters of the Torrent of La Bionzetta and the Grande Eau roar their way.
The mountain people ultimately regained their liberty. The chateau, then tyrannically ruled by a younger scion, the Lord Pontverre, was attacked furiously by the mountain men who defeated the garrison and sacked the castle. A dismal piece of old chateau wall topped by a little pine tree, remnants of old dungeons which superstition has peopled with fantastic monsters; such are the only material evidences that remain of the domination by the House of Savoie. The men of the Ormonts had for a long time been free men and comprised one of those very tiny republics, then frequently found in the Alps. A little before the Burgundian wars they allied themselves to the Bernese.
In 1746 they swooped on the Rhone plain and routed the auxiliary troops which Charles the Bold of Burgundy awaited from Italy. After that, while preserving their autonomy and customary rights, they became part of the powerful and formidable Bernese Republic. To better assimilate the Ormonans, the Bernese government imposed the Reformation on them but only succeeded after much trouble and perseverance. After a time, they were able to firmly combine their respective modes of life and religions. Then, in 1798 a detachment of French and Vaudois troops came to conquer the Ormonans and to preach the gospel of revolution, they met with a desperate resistance. The Ormonans were victorious at the pass of Col de la Croix near Arpille, where their riflemen fatally wounded Commandant Forneret and forced him to retreat. However, at La Forclaz and at the Pont des Planches on the bank of the Grande Eau, they were conquered and incorporated into the new canton of Leman.
Since then they have shared the political and religious fortunes of Vaud and transferred to it their traditional fidelity and loyalty. The new regime did not however, bring with it any great or immediate changes in their conditions or their mode of life. One of the main reasons for this was that long since, their lands had become freehold.
The inhabitants of the Ormonts are a true mountain people; quick-witted, intelligent, tenacious, industrious and enterprising. In all periods they included educated, inventive citizens of note. They produced men of shrewdness and genius like Jean David Jacqueroz who, without any apprenticeships, had become a watchmaker, clockmaker, draftsman, guilder, finisher, enameller, varnisher, engraver, cabinetmaker, filemaker, maker of barometers and even spectacles etc. Emmanuel Dupertuis was no lesser technician. In my childhood, I saw a clock made by Dupertuis which indicated hours, minutes, seconds, day of month and of the year, and the times of sunrise and moonrise. Briefly, it was a mechanical marvel!
To better understand the account which follows, I think it necessary to add that the territory of Aigle was divided into four districts called 'mandments', each headed by a Chatelain, who was a magistrate elected for three years by his fellow citizens. He acted as intermediary between them and the Bernese overlord, represented by the Bailiff, resident at Aigle Chateau. In those ancient times the theory of separate functions was barely understood, for Chatelain fulfilled the combined role of Prefect, military commander and to a certain degree, that of Judge. Unless I am mistaken the Court of Appeal consisted of the four Chatelains presided over by the Bailiff at Aigle and had the right to deal with lower and higher court cases. Highest appeal rested with the grace of the Bernese Overlords. Next to the Chatelain, the most important citizen was the Notary because of his knowledge of law and of customary rights. Later on, justices were created, supported by assessors, an early form of our modern jurors. Am I wrong, dear friend, in giving you a preamble of so much topographical and historical detail? I think not; knowing the theatre, you will the better grasp the role that its actors played.
Our family tree commences with Antoine Tardent, who was born in the valley in the 1400s. In the absence of personal details concerning the activities of our ancestors, we are led to the conclusion that they played their part in the struggles and defeats of their fellow citizens, in their battles and in their hopes and aspirations. I draw your attention to the fact that the two most important events that occurred at the Ormonts were the Reformation and the Revolution, and both occurred when Tardents held the magistrature. It was in 1527 that Guillaume Farel preached the Reformation at the Ormonts and that same year Amedee Tardent was elected Chatelain. Old documents relating to land sales and subdivisions, quote names of Tardents dating from the l4th Century. Ours is undoubtedly one of the oldest families still in existence in the Ormonts Valley. From the most ancient times to the beginning of the 19th century, members of the family have continually held important positions in the administration, the magistracy and in the army. The Tardent and Aviolet families (of Roman origin) have contributed the most Chatelains. Five Tardents have been notaries at different epochs at Ormont-Dessous since the fifteenth century. Long before the Parish Registers were commenced in 1578, Tardents were referred to in the first land registers as existing prior to their establishment in 1500.
Finally in 1650 David Tardent of Cergnat, Chatelain of Ormont-Dessous, the common ancestor of all three branches of the family, Swiss, Belgian and Russian. This David seemed to have reached the summit of the family fortunes, being well endowed with worldly goods mostly in the form of valuable landed properties. It is only fair to add that part of these riches may have come to him as dowry from his three successive wives, Suzanne Dupertuis ('baronesse'), Eve Joret and Marie Tardent. I presume that the title of baronesse that I find tacked onto Suzanne’s name in the old schoolmaster’s notebook, must be a nickname... I have never heard of any member of Dupertuis family who was a Baron. This David Tardent owned houses and substantial landholdings all over the Ormonts Valley, including Le Sepey, Cergnat, Les Mosses and Leysin.
Since then, the material fortunes of the family in the Valley have disintegrated and gone from bad to worse. The female heirs were entitled to equal shares of estates and there being usually more girls than Tardent boys, the properties gradually passed over to the allied families of Chablaix, Monod, Dupertuis, Mermod, Durgniat, Aviolat, and Borloz. Today, in 1887, not a single landed property is held in the name of Tardent (sic transit gloria mundi). But let us not anticipate. His brother Abram was the Chatelain for 2l years. I've seen a great bundle of parchments - legal judgements and other documents signed with his name. He appears to have been very rich and to have lived to a good age.
I shall summarize all that I have been able to learn of interest concerning David, son of David called ' Dark David'. He was born at Le Sepey in 1737 and was small of stature but agile, quick-witted and intelligent (l heard this from people who knew him). At an early age he showed keen interest in study. After assimilating all possible information from the local teacher, he continued to develop his education by means of books lent him by the pastor of the parish. Endowed with an excellent memory and a bent for precision, he was also enthusiastic, a keen observer and eager to learn. He thus gradually acquired a fairly extensive and varied knowledge. He knew his bible thoroughly and could sing all the psalms in a strong, clear voice. He had a good knowledge of mathematics and natural history, especially botany. He was intensely interested in the study of history, specializing in Swiss history.
I have before me several letters written by his hand. The handwriting is beautiful, the style is firm and original, resembling the clear and simple prose of the 18th century. In one of his letters he described with great clarity the tempestuous political situation of Switzerland in 1798. Did he not, that one can learn to write without ramming one's memory full of an indigestible profusion of rules of grammar, which did nothing for one’s mind? He had the children telling stories about the holy scriptures and the catechism instead of having them memorize it all literally. He also spoke of sciences unknown up to that time and of reforms to introduce.
A kindly eye was not cast on this twenty-year-old storyteller who wanted things done his way and knew more than the old folk! However, his conduct on all other counts was so irreproachable that his superiors never had the slightest occasion to find fault with him. Even if they wanted to they did not dare because Uncle Abram was handy and not too easy going. Besides, the old Chatelain fiercely defended little David, for whom he had a special soft spot. Together they would often re-read old charters of the Local Authority. The nephew would also edit official documents for his old uncle who was impressed with his lucid mind, good editing and choice of words. ‘Let him be' he would say to critics; 'his little dark-brown eyes see more things in one day than we old fellows would see through our spectacles in ten years'.
Meantime little David, wearied of the pestering annoyance and mischief- making that he was subjected to, parted regretfully from his pupils. In 1766 he accepted the position of schoolmaster at Charnex, a parish of Montreux. The reading of ‘Emile’, by Jean Jacques Rousseau published a few years earlier, confirmed his own views on teaching. It increased his enthusiasm for his profession about which he had had some doubts. It gave him the courage to continue with greater ardor, the war he had declared against the routine learning methods of the 'old school’ of education. He achieved complete success and the reputation of the young schoolmaster spread throughout the country. In 1771 the city of Vevey was effecting reforms in its College and David accepted a call to be its headmaster. Until then the masters had mostly been selected from clergymen who emigrated from France.
Supported by distinguished Swiss educators, he completely changed the teaching methods and introduced new ones in all the branches of learning. He compiled and published several small elementary school books among which were 'History of Helvetia' and an 'Abridged Grammar - for Learning to write without knowing Latin'. These textbooks were well within the learning capacity of the children and even today appeal to us by their bright Pestalozzian simplicity. David was head of the College for forty-four years. He combined this with the position of soloist and choirmaster at the Church of St, Martin as this dual role was the custom in the Vaud canton. He had seen three generations of children seated on his school benches and was so well known that all Veveyans looked upon him as guide, philosopher and friend. Having led a sober, hardworking life he enjoyed robust health well into advanced old age. At 80 years, he still led the choir of the faithful with a strong, clear but tremulous voice.
I obtained these details from a Glarus canton octogenarian named Zwiki who had heard him sing and knew him personally, Zwiki attested that he was a little old man, still lively and alert and with piercing but kindly eyes. His venerable features were framed in abundant hair and beard as white as snow. Wherever he appeared people stood up and raised their hats respectfully. The young people around me were saying "as long as we have old Father Tardent to lead the singing, we will not need an organ. After having taught for 55 years in country and city, he voluntarily resigned in 1815 at the age of 78. The City publicly thanked him and presented him with a solid silver dinner service and two silver candlesticks engraved with the words ‘The City of Vevey is grateful to the worthy professor who for 44 years has deserved much from her'. His death was publicly mourned and all the townspeople attended his funeral service.
As was common practice those days, David married young, and had a large family. Only four children were still alive in 1820, to whom, less a few minor legacies, the old schoolmaster willed his all of 25,000 francs. All of old David’s children who reached maturity have been noteworthy in various respects with the exception perhaps of the eldest Jacques-David of whom I will I write later.
Suzanne Marie had received an excellent education from her parents as had all of the family. She had beautiful handwriting, and could draw cleverly. When aged 21 in 1780, she left Vevey to be a governess at Dessau, Germany. She remained there for fourteen years with a private family, and was subsequently invited to the court of the hereditary Prince of Anh-Alt Dessau to educate the young princesses. She filled this role for another fourteen years and became well liked and respected in a position which obviously called for much tact and good breeding. The family presented her in appreciation of her valuable tuition, with a collection of solid silver accoutrements. On the tray was engraved 'The Duke of Dessau to S. M. Tardent '. When she retired from Germany to Vevey, her younger sister Louise, whom she had induced to come to Dessau to be governess in the Behrenhorst family, succeeded her as chief governess at the ducal palace. Louise remained there until her death in 1853. She left a fair amount of money, and Uranie Tardent, nee Grandjean’s share was 4,000 Prussian crown pieces.
Louise was a small woman, not pretty, but with strong distinguished features. She manifested a maternal solicitude towards all her relatives and where needed, placing both her purse and her wise counsel at their disposal. She was particularly fond of the family of Louis Tardent of Brussels (later of Paris). Also of Uranie Tardent-Grandjean of Chabag, whom she had never met in person but with whom she maintained an affectionate correspondence for many years. These two women, both fine personalities, were ideally suited to form a strong mutual friendship. The ducal house expressed great sadness at her death.
David’s son Jean-David Vincent died in 1793, aged only 24, after having been Lieutenant in a Company of the Vevey Regiment and Master of Calligraphy at the City College. It is sad that so promising a life should end so soon. My Aunt Julie Tardent Monod of Le Verney gave me a specimen of a masterly piece of his handwriting, an artistic pencil vignette in the form of a sunrise in the Alps, with this legend: 'auri montanus inferior’ followed by a sample of panegyric prose and a note on the origin of the French language.
Louis Marc Samuel’s masterpiece is still treasured by his grandson Louis in Paris, it outshone his brother’s effort and was a piece of fine parchment no larger than a crown piece, on which was written the ten commandments in microscopic letters. L. M. S. combined his brother’s skills with a splendid voice, and a pronounced inclination for music. His first post was organist for the German church at Vevey. At nineteen he went to Frankfurt where for several years he was choir leader and reader in the reformed church. Reared from childhood in the religious atmosphere of his home, endowed with an ardent and meditative mind, he worked very hard at the religious and philosophic studies which agitate humanity.
He was soon able to gratify his ambition and successfully passed his examination in theology at the age of twenty-seven. He was invested as a pastor in the special chapel of the Princes of Hombourg, and in their presence immediately afterward, he received a call to serve in the Parish of Jarldorf in the principality of Darmstadt. Unfortunately, his rather weak and nervous constitution, his intense application and the quiet apostolic ardor with which he fulfilled his new functions, all took their toll. Resembling a wick which flares up before finally extinguishing, he redoubled his ardor at the approach of the death which he foresaw. In 1801 he quietly passed away, aged 28 and four years later his inconsolable widow, Jeanne Catherine, followed him to the grave. This worthy couple, thus mown down in their prime, left two orphans, Jacques, and Philippe five years. Here again is an example of the kindly heart of old David. He had the boys sent to him at Vevey. He was thus able to crown his successful career by concentrating all his love and care on their education. In 1814 Jacques and Philippe, light of pocket but enriched with blessings from their grandfather, left Vevey and went far afield to battle for a living. Why were their careers so different? Why did one rise up to the light, while the other sank into darkness? Had one of them, like Jacob, taken away his father’s blessing?
In 1825, with a partner, Jacques set up a wine and grocery business at Berne. The following year the partnership was dissolved and Jacques controlled the insecure firm which then concentrated on wines. His affairs went from bad to worse and he lost all his money. Much worse than that, he lost his brother’s hard earned savings which had been entrusted to his care. This sad event caused a complete break in the friendly relations of the brothers but all the facts were never revealed and Jacques’ later efforts at reconciliation were rejected. In 1830 Jacques, discouraged and despairing of succeeding in Switzerland, went to Toulon whence he embarked for Algeria and remained there for two years. In partnership with a German, he tried agriculture, but due to lack of funds or knowledge he again failed, and soon after fell ill. After great financial troubles, and suffering from serious opthalmia, he returned to Marseilles in 1832 where he taught German for a living at Grenoble. In 1836, he went to Paris where, with a friend as partner, he started a commission business under the name of Tardent and Co. The partnership was dissolved through lack of capital, and Jacques was left on his own to market wines for various firms. About this time all trace of him was lost. He must have said that he was leaving for America and would only be heard from if he prospered there. Who knows what became of him? Perhaps his progeny prospers on some South American pampas plain!
His brother Philippe’s career was totally different. In 1814 he went from Vevey to St Gall as accountant or commercial traveller for the firm of Binder-Spek, which he left in May 1819. Soon after this he went to Frankfurt where he served a full six-year contract with Bermy and Co. till 1825. He then went to Switzerland to see again the places where he spent his youth but sadly found no dear old grandfather in the old home and met few friends of his own age. With what joy he relived those memories which stirred his emotions so deeply! This voyage which so mingled his joy and sadness, was the last he was to make to his beloved country. Another arena, another future was opening before him. Belgium was to welcome him and shower him generously with happiness and wealth.
In 1825 he became a commercial traveller at Mons in Belgium. The firm had a branch at Brussels and Philippe often visited that city. He thus came to know the big firm of T’Kint Vanderborghen, makers of Brussels lace. He entered their service in 1828 as accountant. It is necessary to give a few details about this famous Brussels lace firm, which played such an important role in Philippe’s life. The firm was established at the end of the 18th century. Even at that period the fame of Brussels lace was great, and well-to-do families competed for the output of the makers of these precious, rare and costly materials, some of the lace for trimming the voluminous skirts of those days cost as much as 2,000 francs per metre!
Several reigning sovereigns visited this factory. When he visited Brussels, Napoleon desired to inspect the workshops and showrooms. To demonstrate the fineness of the lace, a lady of the family passed a whole dress through an ordinary wedding ring, watched with interest and amazement by the French Emperor, who asked its price. 0n being told its very high cost, he turned to one of his staff and said: 'Bah, it is almost the cost of a frigate. 'As a souvenir of this visit each of the ladies and girls of the firm received a diamond studded watch. The workmen also were not forgotten and Bonaparte’s visit was long remembered by the firm’s staff.
The factory was at 2 Rue de Dominicains in the center of the city and it occupied the remains of an ancient Dominican convent. The ancient portion of the buildings was most interesting and well-preserved. It had vast kitchens and cellars with superb stone arches and a butcher’s shop with slaughter house fitted with metal rings for tethering the animals awaiting slaughter. There was a magnificent and very beautiful grand staircase of stone with treads three meters wide. This great staircase was lighted by a Gothic window twelve meters high! The walls of these monumental stairs were covered with fine paintings portraying scenery in the environs of Brussels. In the more modern portion of the buildings, dating from the time of Louis XV and XVI and facing the garden were some richly decorated drawing or reception rooms. Depicted on panels in the principal salon were all the divinities of 0lympus surrounded by exquisite ornamentation. Another salon named ‘The Pear' was decorated in the shape of that fruit and simulated a pleasant grove. There was also a room called 'The Library, with superb wall cupboards for books. Most of these had secret locks that released the doors when pressure was applied on almost invisible push-buttons, really mechanical works of art. Above all the windows were the names of illustrious scientists of antiquity. Between the many bookshelves were fine paintings representing the Muses surrounded by Cupids. These works were in very good taste and of an airy grace.
Adjacent to all these buildings was a very fine garden at the end of which was a round summer-house of unusual interest, surmounted by an enormous metal latticed sphere. The walls of this pavilion served to mask the hiding places during the 'Terror ' of several noblemen and priests, who would have lost their heads but for this secret retreat. All these curious remains of a recent past exist no more. All the buildings have been demolished and their place occupied by a bazaar called the ‘Leipzig Fair’.
The workshops and showrooms of the lace factory were supervised by members of the T’Kint family, Miss Therese Pirlet being the one exception. This lady had from childhood shown a great interest in lace making. Her parents had placed her in this business to gratify her bent, perhaps to the detriment of her general education, which had been much neglected. Therese was born at a time of great political upheaval which explains but does not excuse, the neglect by her parents of her early education. Thanks however, to her excellent taste, business acumen and inventive ability, in a few years she became the life and soul of the firm and its real head. In view of what follows it seems advisable at this point to give you more information about the Pirlet family.
Therese’s father occupied a remarkable place in Belgian historical annals. His father Jean Philippe Pirlet was born of poor parents about 1760 at Jodvigne, a province of Brabant, then part of France. He had little education, could hardly read and could barely manage to scrawl his signature. He was however, highly intelligent, keen and shrewd; qualities which enabled him to overcome many embarrassing business difficulties. Towards 1789, he manufactured a large quantity of decorative glass materials and lanterns for illumination, which were very popular for municipal fairs. He was well-liked because of his jovial disposition, his ready wit and his great capacity for self-expression! He soon became the habitual guest of all the leading revolutionaries. In a few years he amassed what at that time was the enormous sum of one million francs. He then carried off one of those audacious master-strokes which are outstanding landmarks in a man's life.
Because hard currency (silver and gold coin) was very scarce and France was in debt in all directions, he offered the new Revolutionary Government of 1789 his million francs in coin in exchange for 15 to 20 million in Assignats (new revolutionary banknotes). The government eagerly accepted the offer and rewarded him with a shower of available honors and civic titles given to patriots. With this paper money which was then legal tender, he bought up properties, principally in the Province of Brabant, called ‘national properties’. These had belonged to the clergy and had been confiscated by the Revolutionary French Government. People had not dared to buy them for fear of creating enemies and there was also fear of losing their money because they believed that the confiscation was only temporary and that the lands would revert to their former owners when the revolutionary turmoil abated. Pirlet let it be known everywhere that he was only purchasing the properties to enable him to later on return them to their dispossessed owners! He was believed because on every possible occasion, he gave the impression of being highly religious. Nevertheless, he had all transfers drawn up correctly by and in the presence of, regular conveyancers and thus became the legal (if not the moral) owner of very valuable properties. These dealings often involved him in great danger. He miraculously escaped several times from the dagger attacks of hired assassins.
Intoxicated by his increasing wealth, he led an uproarious life in grand style, scattering his gold in handfuls. Having acquired the superb castle of Montaigne, he drove to church on Sundays in a magnificent carriage drawn by six horses. He was recklessly wasteful and spendthrift, and was even known to repay the favors of vulgar ladies of easy virtue, with a furnished chateau! Naturally this could not last. Because of his ignorance, his property managers robbed him with impunity, per medium of the powers-of-attorney which they held. At the end of a dozen years in 1810, Pirlet was ruined and had barely enough left to live on. He proved himself to be a wiser man in adversity than when he was rich. Far from being discouraged, he sought out new ventures and with the help of friends, he became a farmer in the province of Brabant, before he founded a butchering company and a large public baths in Brussels. At the end of some fifteen years he was again a fairly rich man, retired to Lausanne, died there in 1837, aged seventy-seven. At his death nothing remained of his new fortune. Therese, his daughter born in 1798, married Philippe Tardent in 1834.
Now that I have outlined the background of the family which Philippe entered, let us resume the story at the point where he joined the firm T’Kint Vanderborghen. Mme Augusta, the proprietor of the lace firm, decided to give up business and to retire in 1814. With this object in mind, she offered the management to her 'right hand' in the business, Mlle Therese Pirlet. Therese accepted the offer with great pleasure and gratitude but immediately requested that she be allowed to have M. Philippe Tardent as her associate. Mme Augusta strongly approved of this idea and on 1 March 1834, a circular was sent to all the firm’s clients, announcing that there had been a change in ownership and that in future the firm would be known by the new name of ‘Pirlet and Tardent’. The same year, Philippe and Therese were married and thus the firm’s name became Tardent-Pirlet. The financial resources of the newly-weds was minimal as between them they had barely 10,000 francs. However, they were courageous and knew the firm’s business thoroughly. One must say that during the past ten years the business had run-down badly as the owners had become rich and no longer had their old love of hard work.
The Belgian revolution of 1830 had also dealt a heavy blow to the luxury lace industry because of the departure of the Dutch Court. The old nobility sulked or boycotted the new royalty of Belgium and could not forgive this young nation its democratic emancipation and liberal ideas, so much at variance with those of the old conservative regime. This situation weighed heavily on business affairs and the first few years were tough for Philippe and Therese, whose burden was increased by family additions. This fairly precarious state of affairs lasted until 1840. Peace having been definitely concluded with the Netherlands, and also thanks to the tact and the ability of the new King Leopold, Belgian industry acquired a new lease of life and made continuous progress. Brussels became a city of luxury and the lace industry thus benefited greatly.
Many fortunes were made, and Belgian population grew until by 1887 it had grown to six million. Brussels was booming, and much the same could be said of Antwerp, which became the third most important port of Europe, only surpassed in tonnage by London and Liverpool. The firm of Tardent-Pirlet played its part in this industrial expansion. From 1840 to 1848 it prospered exceedingly and its fame spread far and wide. They were approved suppliers to the Courts of Russia, France, Prussia and Belgium. Its principal clients were the crowned heads and princes of Europe. The firm was awarded gold medals at the Belgian Exhibitions of 1835 and 1841. They had an important branch in Paris and depots at London, Vienna and Berlin and had agents in all the chief cities of Europe. Business was good, and the annual stocktaking and balance sheets disclosed a profit of around 100,000 francs; with nearly 400 workers were employed in the workshops and elsewhere, directed by Therese, while Philippe concentrated on the finances of the firm. With such good leaders, harmoniously united in marriage, good results were bound to follow. At that period competition was practically nil.
How times have changed and what keen rivalry now exists in almost any undertaking, when production in manufacture even overtakes the demand. Yes, it must be conceded that circumstances favored Philippe, but his enterprise would have turned out quite differently if the Belgian Revolution of 1830 had been thwarted by the reactionaries. Nevertheless, one must remember that he was always capable of surmounting difficulties. Thoroughly honest, he was like most Swiss, a republican at heart. He stood for liberty before everything. Having arrived in Belgium at a time when men were weary of the arbitrary yoke of the old king of Holland, and were beginning to stir politically, Philippe took an active part in this liberal movement and sympathized with the new government. Due to his prominent industrial position, he was soon recognized as a commercial authority.
He frequented the company of the group of prominent men who produced the Belgian Revolution; the Rogiers, Gendebiens, Hoogvorsts, Broukeri and others and held his own among them. Philippe admired the Belgian people, whom he thought resembled the Swiss in their liberalism. Had not the Walloons and the Flemish for many years been federated like the Swiss for the defense of their liberties? And finally, are not the Van Artveldes, Brydels and Coninks truly brothers of William Tell and of Arnold Winkelried? Therefore Philippe vigorously contributed to increase the prosperity of a country that had received him with open arms. Despite this absorbing work with the lace business, he found time and energy to establish an organ factory and an art-bronze factory, which still survives and competes favorably with some of the best Parisian firms. That factory obtained gold medals at the Exhibitions of Paris, London, Vienna, Brussels, Amsterdam and latterly Antwerp.
Philippe Tardent was one of the founders of the magnificent zoological gardens of Brussels. This Zoo has since been acquired by the city, which later sold the animals and turned it into public gardens named Leopold Park. He was also one of the foundation shareholders of the Belgian National Bank. Soon after his marriage, he and other kindred spirits founded a Swiss Circle under the title of Society of Friends and he was its president for a number of years. Although deeply attached to his adopted country, Philippe remained a Swiss at heart and a Protestant; he changed neither religion nor nationality. Nevertheless, he proved himself to be a good Belgian citizen and conscientiously fulfilled public offices. He joined the Civic Guard, contributing to its funds until he was fifty and continued to earn the esteem and even the affection of many citizens.
King Leopold was friendly towards him and consulted him on various matters concerning industry and political economy. Although Philippe had only had a good primary education he had read and studied widely and had acquired a very wide general education. His reports were masterpieces of conciseness and clarity plus a wealth of ideas. Had he possessed less innate modesty and more decision he could have played a leading political role in Belgium. He preferred to concentrate on private business which he did most successfully. Under an apparent serious exterior he possessed great tact and a degree of satirical wittiness.
Occasionally Queen Louise (nee Princess of Orleans), consulted both him and his wife concerning royal entertainments and dress. Round about the 1840's the Empress of Russia and several queens and princesses were 'taking the waters’ at Ems near Coblenz on the Rhine when the Empress telegraphed Philippe Tardent to attend on her. He duly responded to the imperial summons, and displayed his artistic lace creations on the carpet. The Empress did not understand meterage and so the lace had to be measured in Russian ‘arshins’. But where in Germany could one find a Russian ‘arshin’ measure? Fortunately, the Empress remembered that her umbrella was exactly one ‘arshin’ in length, and the measuring proceeded with Her Majesty’s umbrella as the yardstick!
The firm of Tardent was entrusted with the making of a splendid trousseau for the Tsarevitch, who afterwards became Alexander II. This trousseau was on display at the Tardent showrooms and the lovely lace in Brussels point, with the somewhat complicated Imperial escutcheon, aroused general admiration. The Queen of Belgium requested these treasures be shown at her Brussels palace. This important lace order took some ten months to complete and attracted a fee of 200,000 francs! The aristocratic world was stirred by these displays which were enthusiastically acclaimed. The newspapers lauded the unrivalled art of the House of Tardent, Philippe’s financial affairs prospered equally well. He had a real flair for business and was a born banker, splendidly supported on the manufacturing side of the business by his wife, Therese. Philippe stated: ‘If God grants me another ten years of life, I will leave one million to each of my children’. There is no doubt that he would have done that if the Revolution of 1848 had not supervened and put a brake on all commercial affairs, especially luxury goods. The Paris branch was closed and business fell off seriously. In 1855 Philippe decided to retire from business because his health was troubling him and his financial position was secure.
It is here that I register my first serious criticism of Philippe. Instead of allowing his sons to continue the splendid traditions of work and honor associated with the lace business he gave way to the pseudo-aristocratic ambitions of his wife and sold the factory, the balance of stocks in hand, fixtures, fittings and furniture at give-away prices, such was the haste to erase the splendid, honorable past! True, business was at low ebb just then but there was always a steady demand for goods that met the new and changing fashion trends, thus there was still much business to be done. Alas, having become rich, the Tardent parents dreamed up for their children, a very different future than their own commercial and industrial past. And what regrets there were later on about the course they adopted; but it was then too late as the damage had been done!
From that period on, slow, progressive decadence affected the household. Philippe had purchased an attractive villa on a fine boulevard in a select Brussels suburb, and died in 1860 surrounded by all his family. He was greatly mourned by all who knew him but particularly by his family. He willed all his fortune of one million francs to his widow, who took control of the banking business, and poorly managed by her, serious losses resulted. Therese Tardent was extremely intelligent. She was also generously endowed by nature, being of medium height with well molded figure. Having been raised in princely luxury surrounded by many servants, she always maintained a cold and haughty manner, enhanced by her experience in command of a large staff. This was her typical attitude throughout her life. She was really kind-hearted but insisted on having her orders obeyed punctually and immediately.
Her marriage with Philippe was a happy one because he was kindness itself, and had a most conciliatory disposition. She liked social life and was quite a success in the high society in which they moved. Her marriage to Philippe had not been viewed favorably by her family, who could not understand this ‘misalliance’ with a man who had neither wealth nor highly-placed relatives. Furthermore she had ample opportunity to marry some of the richest eligibles in the city. A large part of the extraordinary prosperity of the firm of Tardent-Pirlet was due to her great talent for her work and her love of orderly method. Combined with these, she also unfortunately inherited some of the foibles and prejudices of her father. When she realized she was a millionairess she became ashamed of her splendid, earlier career in industry and commerce. Bit by bit to the very last she painstakingly destroyed all evidence of past business activity. She burned her husband’s correspondence, melted down or sold the medals as well as other family souvenirs won by their quality products at exhibitions. These gold medals included that won at the famous Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 in London!
Stung by the bee of aristocratic frenzy, she wished to obliterate even the memories of a modest origin. She wanted to have her children believe that they were descended directly from the Gods. Therese’s efforts were in vain! Philippe had taken care to implant in the heart at least one of his children, that strong family bond for which Tardents are well-known, particularly of Louis Tardent of Paris, Philippe’s eldest son. It is due to him that the old, warm, friendly family traditions were renewed and that the branches of the family, scattered since the days of old David Tardent were again brought in touch with each other.
Therese Tardent-Pirlet died of pneumonia in1882, after an illness of two months. To her last breath, she retained all her faculties and a clear mind. Peace be to her memory for she was a courageous woman. lf I have spoken candidly of her faults, which derived from her upbringing and her education, it is less by way of blame than to warn our descendants - if ever they should read these lines - of falling into the same errors. Whosoever are ashamed of their ancestors - if they have been decent people - dishonor themselves; who scorns the work that has enriched him, scorns the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Having lived, suffered and frequented the most varied strata of society, Philippe’s son, Louis Tardent acquired much independence of thought, an eclectic philosophy and a broad political outlook. Nevertheless, Belgium remained not only his land of adoption but of choice. He grew up so to speak, with this young and virile county, and certain events left indelible impression in his memory. For instance, the events of Sunday, 9th April 1848. He wrote: ‘In Brussels, the weather was beautiful. In the streets from an early hour, drums and bugles summoned all servicemen to ‘fall in’. Civic Guards and soldiers of all arms were mustering, to form a guard of honor and a soldier-lined avenue from the Royal palace to Parliament House.
Leopold had announced he had an important proclamation to make to the National parliament. After inspecting the troops, the king went to the Chamber of Deputies. In a brief statement he announced his definite intention to abdicate, if the welfare of his country required it, and if Belgium thinks it would be happier under some other form of government than his. While the majority of European thrones were tottering on their foundations, Leopold, by his inspiring eloquence, unshakably consolidated his. No pen can describe the wild, spontaneous enthusiasm of the populace when the king appeared after his declaration. The crowd was in tears. I can still see Leopold on his charger, covered with flowers. Alone with a big crowd and separated from his staff by twenty meters, he was shaking hands with all and sundry. With great difficulty and after much delay he was able to return to his palace’.
That, my dear friend is everything of interest that I have been able to gather concerning the Belgian branch of the Tardent family. Even though there have been a few failures, it has nonetheless represented the family worthily in that part of Europe. Philippe by his own efforts and ability made a fortune of more than a million francs. Nevertheless, he remained kindly and obliging. His weakness - a frequent defect in our family - has been to know less about preserving wealth than acquiring it! Nations, they say, are upheld by the principles that gave them birth and brought them prosperity. It is the same with large fortunes. lf Philippe had founded a family of industrialists, it is probable that the fortune of the family would have increased instead of waning so markedly.
Hardship was perhaps necessary to bring out his son Louis’s real worth. Although raised in wealth and luxury, he nevertheless bore bravely the heaviest trials, poverty and injustice. Such was the docility of his disposition that even today he has never quarreled with any of his relatives despite that he has been the victim of some injustices. You will notice in passing that the Belgian branch is the least prolific. cities are not conducive to the production of large families. Culture is done in espalier, so to speak - the fruits are noteworthy, but the trunk becomes quickly exhausted.
I will now revert to the eldest son of the old schoolmaster, Jacques David, whose descendants are flourishing in Russia at the present time. Is it a mischance of nature? Is it a tribute levied by old Bacchus on this dynasty of vignerons? I do not know. But I must admit it: the first recorded member of the Tardent branch that introduced viticulture into Southern Russia was sired by a drunkard, no more no less than was the patriarch Noah! He was the terror of all around him; such is the memory which he has left to his grandchildren who remember their great-grandfather with so much contrasting affection and reverence. You will already have noticed that the old schoolmaster left nothing to chance in his will concerning his unthrifty eldest son. This poor unfortunate who was an exception, an anomaly in the family. Besides, since this account is above all truthful, I shall not hesitate to let my pen recount both the good and the bad as they occur. Jacques-David died fairly miserably about 1825.
It is through the eldest son Louis-Vincent Samuel that the family tradition of honesty and industry continued. His father’s influence over him was negligible. On the other hand, old David, his grandfather had noted his fine qualities and did all that he could to foster the development of his mind and intellect. He was happy to find not only an heir, but also someone to carry on his own work, for the child resembled him in character, in his short stature, elegant bearing, in his fine expressive eyes and also in his moral principles and intellectual gifts.
After teaching him through primary school, old David sent his grandson to the Pestalozzi Institute at Yverdon, probably the premier school in Europe at that time. Louis-Vincent stayed there till 1804. He earned the esteem and affection of the world-famous educationalist Johan Heinrich Pestalozzi, with whom he corresponded till the great teacher’s death. In 1805 Louis-Vincent completed his studies at the Parish College of Vevey. To increase his income, he opened a coaching college for young people.
This decision had in addition the advantage of satisfying his love of teaching, and of allowing him to apply more freely the educational methods taught him by Pestalozzi, of whom he was an ardent champion. Thanks to the solid qualities of his character and his good management, he soon had as scholars the elite of the country’s youth. He would no doubt have ended his days in this career but for a fortuitous event that entirely changed the course of his life.
In 1815 General de la Harpe had come to settle permanently in Lausanne, after a most eventful life. He continued to maintain a most affectionate and friendly correspondence with his imperial past-pupil, the Tsar Alexander I. The oldest known document relative to Tardent’s Chabag venture is a letter of 1819 from de la Harpe to the Tsar, referring to neglected royal vineyards at Akkerman and the desire of Vaud vignerons to take them over. He enclosed a letter from Tardent, the first vigneron to move in this matter - and recommended by his friend Pestalozzi, as a founder for such a colony of Swiss.
Pestalozzi praised Louis-Vincent Tardent highly as a man of sterling character with a wide knowledge of botany and agriculture. Louis already had five children whose maintenance was becoming an increasing burden. He therefore saw in this bold proposal a means of improving his material well-being. He was all the more easily tempted by the fact that the privileges offered by the Emperor were considerable. These were free land, self-government, exemption from taxes and military service etc. Louis-Vincent conferred with some vignerons of Vevey and the surrounding wine-growing villages, who agreed to join him in this project. To put it on a firm basis he drew up a preliminary draft agreement consisting of twenty-one clauses. I have found this unique document among the papers of Aunt Julie of Verney. Here it is in its entirety:
Draft Deed of Agreement:
In respect to the colony of Vaud vignerons that is to be established in the vineyards of Akkerman in the south of Russia under the auspices and protection of the Emperor of all the Russians : We the undersigned, with the object of forming a prosperous and enduring establishment in southern Russia, undertake to abide by the following clauses of agreement, more readily and hopefully because by the munificence of Emperor Alexander I, we shall obtain free of charge, not only the vine-bearing lands of Akkerman but also the fields and meadows necessary for the establishment of the Colony.
I) Each one of us shall pay to the Committee that we shall nominate, the sum of 50 francs which will serve to set up a common fund.
II) The interest from this capital which should increase in process of time as we become more prosperous, will serve to assist those who may be in need.
III) lf one or more of us were to change our minds and no longer wish to join in the colony, his contributions shall be forfeited by him and by his family.
IV) Each couple, namely father and mother of a family shall receive vineyards, meadows and fields proportionate to the number of individuals that constitute their family, and as regards vineyards, at least four poses for each head of a family.
(V) Each one of us shall lodge with the Committee the baptismal certificates of all the members of his family in order that the allocation of the lands may be made in a regular and equitable manner.
VI) Each one of us reserves the right to withdraw from the country or the colony whenever he finds it expedient to do so, provided that all the articles of this agreement have been properly observed by him.
VII) When the number of subscribers reaches thirty to forty, they will be called upon to meet at a specified place, where they will elect the members of the Committee by a majority of votes.
VIII) The Committee shall consist of a chairman or leader, four other members and a secretary, and their positions will be honorary. If the Secretary is qualified to carry out the duties of schoolmaster, the Committee will grant him an annual stipend.
IX) The Committee shall be re-appointed every three years and its members will be eligible for re-election.
X) For the welfare of the colonists, the Committee which will be regarded as the governing body, shall have its resolutions confirmed by the government of the country.
XI) The Committee shall keep an exact account of the travelling expenses of the convoy which shall be borne in common with half cost for children, and these accounts shall be settled immediately after arrival in the colony.
XII) The parcels of vineyard, fields and meadows shall be allocated by the Committee.
XIII) Each one of us shall undertake to bring with him a Bible for his family, as well as a psalter and a catechism for each child.
XIV) The Committee shall draw up rules and regulations for the welfare of the colony and said regulations will have to be sanctioned by the subscribers but they must not infringe the articles of this agreement.
XV) No member of the colony may sell or alienate his property in favor of an outsider without the sanction of the Committee.
XVI) We agree that the Committee shall select and determine the place, type and area of each of our holdings, in order that if we are in a position to construct a village, it may be done in an attractive and orderly manner.
XVII) Each one of us undertakes to bring with him a good carbine and all its accessories.
XVIII) To be assured of the good quality and extent of vineyards, cultivations and pastures, we agree to bear in common, the expenses of two to four members chosen by us, to go and inspect them.
XIX) lf our representatives find the locality suitable, one or two of them shall remain to make the necessary preparations and the other or others shall return and give us all necessary details and to act as guides.
XX) The Committee shall fix the time and place of departure which each of us will undertake to observe.
XXI) The subscription is open only to those who are known to be honest and competent vignerons and who can prove that they have the means to contribute to the expenses of the journey and the establishment of the colony.
Follows the diary of Uranie Tardent, nee Suzanne Henriette Uranie Grandjean, wife of Louis Vincent, born in Neuchatel, Switzerland,1789 - Begun July 1822, when Uranie was 33 years of age of the journey with covered wagons from Switzerland to Akkerman on the Black Sea.
‘Farewell to Vevey, farewell to my friends! In my leisure moments I shall no longer be able to visit you, and receive the expressions of affectionate friendship that you have never ceased to heap upon me. Alas! I am going very far away where I shall find only unresponsive hearts. On arrival at Moudon, my courage almost deserted me. The day before I was surrounded with people who were interested in me; here I see only the interested face of an innkeeper and driving rain that has kept us here for the night. The coming of dawn was the signal for us to depart, and it was a boisterous, uncomfortable day. The children are quite good. Antoinette is no trouble and amuses herself with the other two little girls. One thing that both amuses and annoys me is the amazement of the villagers when they see us passing in such a large party, for sometimes we all walk. We stayed Sunday and Monday at Avanche, where I was affectionately welcomed by the worthy Berger family, one of whose sons is going with us. When my husband joined us there, we departed.
Near Morat we saw some scaffolding in the distance. When we came nearer we discovered that it is a public building which is being erected in Ossuary Square, to perpetuate the memory of the victory, in 1476, of the brave Helvetians and the defeat of the Burgundian, Charles the Hard. Berne pleases me so much more, as I had formed a rather unfavorable notion of it, despite which, boredom overtook me, so I went and made a tour of the city. On my walk I learned that they had just brought a young man of thirty from prison, in order to take him to his own village to undergo the sentence that had just been passed on him for the brutal murder of his mistress, on the very day that he pretended that he wished to marry her. He is condemned to be broken on the wheel and hanged, and the execution is to take place tomorrow almost on our route. From four o'clock next mornings the road was packed with a huge crowd of people who were going to see this terrible spectacle. And once again we are trailing from inn to inn, which are mostly not very comfortable. This morning an hour after our departure from Lenzburg, I had a pleasant chance meeting with Cousin Jacques. After having embraced him, I had to bid him goodbye, and we went on to dine at Baden. From there we continued on to sleep at Zurich, where we rearranged our belongings so that we could unload the wagon. That done, we made a tour of the city, which is much more tiring than Berne because of its bad street paving of cobblestones. The entrance to the city is attractive. I had a brief view of the Deputies and their suite coming out of the building where the Diet meets. My husband was greeted by some of them, but I did not have the honor of knowing any of these gentlemen. My husband went to the embassies to have our passports stamped with visas.
1st August. We arrived very late at a bad innkeeper that I was very glad to leave, to go on and dine at St Gall, a pretty little town. There the married ladies among us all had separate rooms. All kinds of muslin materials are on show here. What a pleasure it would to cut them out for dressmaking!
2nd August. At eleven o'clock in the morning we left Switzerland to cross the Rhine by boat, and enter the first Austrian land. There we were subjected to a customs inspection of everything that we had packed in the wagons. That was anything but pleasant. If we were spared that in Switzerland, we had to pay tolls and porterages three or four times, that were sometimes very costly. Thus one felt fleeced in one's native land as elsewhere. Nevertheless, I left Swiss territory with a pang in my heart, mixed with pleasure at being on our way. The diversity of the costumes of the various cities and my care of the children, have helped to pass the time more quickly than I had expected. All our people are cheerful and in good health. The first dinner we had in Austrian territory in the village of St Jean Hochst entertained me greatly. To begin with, we were served in spite of the general hilarity that was evident. And then I beheld the most grotesque figure that one could possibly see, a closemouthed little man of almost gothic shape, dressed in red, topped by a three-pointed hat. After dinner we set off again, so as to reach Bavaria, which had to be crossed before returning to Austria. We walked in order to keep close to the lovely shores of Lake Constance; I also preferred to walk in order to better enjoy the magnificent sight afforded by the setting sun. How that reminded me of our Leman! We passed through the pretty little town of Bregent and arrived for the night at Gemund, the frontier of Bavaria. There we found a second customs house where we had to undergo the same trying formalities as at the Austrian frontier, but we also found a good clean inn there.
In these regions they have a remarkable method of washing household utensils. The take sawdust and rub the metal articles with it, then brush it off. IN this way the pewter stays bright. The unusual head-dress pleased me very much. This is a sort of black cap shaped like a wicker basket that fits on the back of the head. A large ribbon bow spreads over the collar, and the top of the head is bare, for these little baskets have no brims, are flat and have a white wing-shaped band like ours. It is a hat that is easily washed, and quite attractive. In the mountains that we must cross at the entrance to the kingdom of Bavaria, one can scarcely distinguish the men from the women. They wear an apron so full that it is exactly like a skirt, and a short jacket without tails or which are hidden by the apron. They wear leather shorts and are mostly without stockings. The women look exactly like the men except for the shorts! They wear men's black hats, and their faces are as coarse and dark as the men's. In fact, I did not see one passable-looking woman. The road hereabouts is very good but very hilly all the way. One place reminded me of Chateau-d'Oex; another of the Lower Ormonts farms. These valleys have many dwellings, some of which would do honor to any town. The inns are very good; some being richly appointed.
Yesterday (3rd August) we passed through pretty little Kempten, several buildings of which resemble palaces. We were stared at, because of the long line of wagons, plus so many adults and children, which had them guessing. After dinner we set off again and reached Kaufbeuren village on the 4th August. On Sunday morning we wrote letters to Vevey. It was hard to find bread and soup here because of a festival the previous day – the appetite of the crowd had not been lacking!
We arrived at the beautiful city of Munich on the evening of the 7th August, and there is a fine menagerie at the city's entrance. Next morning my husband and I made a tour of the city, and had the passports stamped. The cathedral is vast and beautiful, and though it is a Catholic church, I entered and said a little prayer. The facade of the royal palace is plain, but the interior, the hallways of paintings, and the gardens, are beautiful. From Munich we left the mountains and travelled through the lovely plains that are well cultivated, but almost bare of fruit trees. Sometimes I could see eight to ten villages at the one time. All looked beautiful, but the inhabitants are far from handsome, and badly dressed; The women's hair-dos were surely not designed, and this applies to their clothes also, which are not attractive. We often passed through forests that interrupt the plains. Ladies don't let this word 'forest' make you see legions of bandits pointing pistols, for the roadway through them is very wide! The other day, an accident to the wagons delayed my husband, so we walked on, but soon we were all on our way. I was also happy to walk without fear with two of my children right through a beautiful forest in lovely moonlight.
9th August. It is three weeks today since we left Vevey. We are travelling much faster now that we have a fourth horse. In one town through which we passed, all the houses in the main street were roofless. It seems that all the towns through which we are passing are sparsely populated, for one sees few inhabitants, and the streets are neglected, with grass growing in the pavement.
10th August. Today we re-entered Austria a few hours after setting out., and we experienced a short but heavy rainstorm. We then reached Braunau, the first Austrian town, and were subjected to our most severe customs search. This put me in a bad mood, for it had also started to rain. But what could we do? We just had to go through with it!
12th August. Today is a tragic day for us. The Chevalley children are very troublesome and disobedient, and ignore repeated warnings to be careful of mishaps. The Chevalley wagon has a fifth (spare) wheel fastened under it, and their second son was sitting on it and playing about with his feet on the spokes, and they were going fairly fast. He fell off, and the back wheel went over one leg, breaking it and bruising the other. I was the first to see this, and jumped down, and everyone else did the same. We laid the little boy in the wagon and drove on, still a good league from the town where we were to sleep. My husband went on ahead to notify a surgeon and found a very gentle man who bound the boy's legs and gave orders as to what must be done through the night to reduce the swelling, so that he could set the leg in the morning. We spent the night in the room with the child, who was quiet enough. This morning after seven, the surgeon set the leg, helped by his assistant, the father and my husband. Fortunately, the big bone was not broken, and we can continue our journey. The lad is comfortable on a bed in the wagon. Luckily we were on the plains and the road was good. Imagine, ladies, how all this upset me, and emphasizes the care I must take to prevent foolish acts, and to protect my own children, who so far, have been free of accident. They are all very well; the little girls are growing plump, and the boys are not getting thin. They are so strong and healthy that I am amazed, and rejoice greatly. After the leg had been dressed, I got down with the children to have lunch in the little town of Wels. A very friendly lady called at the inn to see us, speaks excellent French, and is obviously of high rank. She is a niece of M. Cattoir of Frankfurt, with whom our cousin Jacques lives! (Jean Jacques Tardent of Frankfurt-am-Main, correspondent of Henry in composing his narrative)
15th August. Four weeks ago today, on the eve of my departure, I had the pleasure of dining and taking tea with most of you, my dear loving friends. What a difference! I have just dined in an inn, a day's walk from Vienna, surrounded by all sorts of faces, nearly all uglier one than the other. The inhabitants generally are ugly; one sees many important people of bad physique. Since we returned to Austria, the villages are not so attractive. Most of the houses are roofed with thatch, the rest with shingles. The numerous inns are quite passable; however, it would not do to ask for too many courses!
17th August. Today we arrived at five o'clock in the little town of Moelck, situated on the banks of the Danube, and overlooked by a hill crowned with a majestic, magnificent building. Told by the inn folk that we could visit it, I promptly set off with Marc and my two servants. We wandered about in the beautiful grounds, gardens and hallways of what was obviously once a fine castle with its own splendid church, all now occupied by Carthusian monks. They were nearly all in Vienna for the day, hence our freedom of inspection. I confess that I regretted that such a magnificent castle should be inhabited by priests. However, as we left we spoke to several venerable occupants, who were so polite that I forgave them for living in an edifice fit for kings. Some repairs to our wagons delayed our arrival in Vienna till Saturday night, 19th August.
20th and 21st August. On Sunday and Monday in Vienna, I kept on coming and going, sometimes on foot, sometimes by hire carriages which are as fine as our best in Vevey. There are hundreds of them in the streets of beautiful Vienna, but the surrounding countryside lacks freshness and has an arid appearance, the result of the great drought that occurred this year. I did not see a single commonplace house; all are superbly handsome and there are no dark dirty lanes. The Emperor's dwelling is naturally more spacious than the other palaces, but the exterior differs little. What makes it so impressive is the greater number of guards. Amongst others, a monument to Joseph II in the city, attracted our attention, for this enlightened, if absolute ruler, was poisoned by a priest. As we passed the Cathedral on foot on Sunday, which we entered to the sound of the organ, I fancied I left Vienna and was back in Saint Martin. My heart throbbed so much with emotion that I crossed my arms on my breast, and I could hear the voice of my beloved and respected 'mother St Alme'. One good glance around me brought me back to reality! Though it was a Catholic service, the tune of the hymn was almost the same as ours.
After dinner we took a carriage to Schonbrunn Palace where the people are permitted to walk in the extensive, luxurious gardens on Sundays. There were many people of all classes of society there. The Palace is truly a dwelling fit for an Emperor; much better than the palace in the city. You could have no idea, ladies, of all the dress material and beautiful things to be seen here in Vienna. The hire carriages coming and going continually in the streets interested me so much that time flew by unnoticed. On Monday I made some small purchases and we had the passports stamped because everything is closed on Sundays. We are to leave again on Tuesday, in order to travel a long stage in our journey. From here we shall be travelling in countries where there are not likely to be beautiful things to see along the route.
Today, the 23rd, we left Brno behind us, the capital of Moravia. Here, little German is spoken. This is Bohemia, and the costume worn here, though different, is not attractive. The men wear very full red leather shorts with a colored jacket and a large black-edged white overall. Their hair is fairly long and is topped with a round black felt hat trimmed with ribbons of different colors. They wear high-topped boots. In contrast, the women nearly all go barefoot and wear a skirt and jacket, wide and long in cut, and wear big colored or white kerchiefs on their heads, which hides their hair.
On Sunday evening (the 27th August) there was dancing opposite our inn, and our hostess kindly took us to see it. Nearly all the dancers were in the costume I have just described. All danced very nimbly, never treading on the girls' bare feet! They had beer for refreshment. One of the gentlemen was courteous enough to ask me to dance, but I thanked him saying that I was too tired. I have just returned from a most romantic walk after arriving at an inn for lunch. While it was being prepared, we climbed a hill and visited a nearby ruined castle. The enclosure and structures are vast, and show that it has been an important chateau-fort, affording magnificent views. If Austria has no great mountains, that seem to menace the skies like ours, the roads, though good, are all mountainous enough to tire our horses! There have been no more plains and forests as in Bavaria, whilst the scenery is more varied, if the villages are less beautiful. The houses are of brick, roofed with thatch, but on the outside they are all very neat, and are generally white. At an inn, as a crowning entertainment, we had the pleasure of taking coffee at the foot of an antique castle, and to enjoy the music of two bards.
Today is 30th August, and six weeks have passed since we left Vevey, as we entered Poland. What a country for cleanliness and inns! Food is abundant, and the bedrooms could not be more attractive. How pleased I am to have our mattresses and bed-clothes, and our roomy wagons in which to transport them. Tomorrow, we shall be passing a few leagues away from the famous rock-salt hillocks or mines of Viliska, that have underground dwellings within them, and some very interesting galleries or tunnels. I am very sorry not to see them, but that would detour us too much, and our good vignerons of the colony are not very curious about the beauties of Nature! Up to the present we have found fruit for sale everywhere, even along the roads; and especially at Vienna and its neighborhood. We have eaten good grapes, especially the reds, excellent sweet peaches and pears, but we have seen no green-gage plums at all. We are all keeping very good health. The little Chevalley boy has got on very well, and he can now even get about by himself. What good luck for everyone that there were no bad complications.
1st September. I believe that today is a communion day, so I went into a church, and said a fervent prayer. How the beauties of Nature uplift the soul! The church that I entered was situated in a charming spot surrounded by villages whose inhabitants are exactly like their houses, and prove how happy a man can be with little. The soil looks good, and everywhere are well-cultivated farms. The peasant, however, is very poor, since he is obliged to work three days per week for his lord, and again on top of that, pay taxes to the government. I do not believe there is a hardier, more rustic or more uneducated people. All that, mingled with Jews, makes for a dull populace in a good and beautiful country. Limberg, or Leopold, is a large city, in which there are stately houses, but it is very ugly in the daytime, compared to the evening, when it is very beautiful, because the city is all lit up. Each house has its lantern outside, and many of the street crossings have mirrors which reflect the light, and create a pleasant sight. In all the streets, there are men with lanterns to light your way, and lead you where you wish. There are also a few fiacres (four wheeled horse cabs). Very soon we shall be passing through Bukovnia, and entering Russia. How impatient I am getting, to arrive! An extraordinary thing here is that they make all the walls of their houses with rushes. The roofs are covered with thatch or shingles because they have no raw materials for making tiles.
I greet you Dniester! You who fertilize our grasslands, and with your clear waters, form a beneficial lake, which recalls my lovely native land! We have just crossed this river by boat, and from there we went on to Chernovtsy, the capital of Bukovnia, a pretty city on the river Pruth. There, we laid in some provisions, and left again in biting cold and rain, that made the road boggy, and delayed us, because here the earth roads are not paved with gravel. Now we are at Novazelitz, on the frontier, where we were well received by all the Russian officials, who even offered us their personal assistance. No questions were asked about our wagons or their contents. General Insof, Governor of the whole province of Bessarabia, and Biveroy of the Southern Provinces, having been advised of our arrival by a letter from my husband, had immediately given orders to the frontier officers to assist us if help was needed. We traversed the province from end to end. The two extremities are splendid plains, but the interior is nothing but a succession of mountains. We are at present in Kishinev, which is the capital of Bessarabia, and is a town of 30,000 people, and very commercial, where one finds all that one could want. There are many noblemen here, especially Moldavian Boyards (ancient Russian noblemen from Transylvania and from the Danubian provinces), and Wallachians who have taken refuge here. During the rebellion, they all went back to Jassy. We are welcomed into the best houses in the city, amongst colonels and generals, all of whom are very friendly, and speak good French. For a long time, we travelled along the banks of the Pruth, and saw no troops at all. Peace reigned everywhere, and at this moment we are four leagues west from Moldavia, which was also enjoying peace, which has prevailed everywhere else on our route.
According to what the country people tell us, there have not usually been more troops on the frontier than at present. From what the newspapers say here, travelers from afar may speak with perfect freedom. This is the manner in which the Russians receive you in their homes. On entering the room, the lady of the house embraces me and seats me, and the husband kisses my hand. Then a servant brings glasses of water on a tray, plus a jar of excellent jam and some coffee spoons. He holds the tray before me, and I take and eat a spoonful of jam, then I drink some water, and the others do the same! On departing, I make a curtsey and my husband kisses the hand of the lady, who at the same moment returns his kiss on the cheek. Don't you think, ladies, that if the custom of treating ladies in this manner were to be established in Switzerland, that gentlemen would be guests more often?
Here we are at last, arrived at the end of our journey, Akkerman (on Sunday 29th October 1822). The cold season is making itself felt early this year, and on the second day of our arrival, the cold was very noticeable. That lasted several days, and then we had much pleasanter weather. We have been allotted free lodgings by the police with the townspeople for all the time that we will be without houses of our own, since during the winter, we shall not be able to busy ourselves much with that. This billeting is a big advantage for us, since lodgings are so expensive. It is really amusing though, to see elegant carriages and ladies who yield nothing in politeness, as well as in dress, to our most elegant Swiss ladies, coming out from the courtyards of wretched looking houses. For the most part, these houses have only two rooms, of which one is always used as a drawing room. Other better built houses have more rooms, but generally the exteriors are not at all attractive. My husband introduced me into several homes where we have been very well received, and where it would be no disadvantage to have a pretty hand, which all the ladies here have, since kisses on them are by no means scarce! But you may well believe that I will not adopt the fashion of the country, of returning them on the cheek of the gallant involved, even if he is sometimes a most amiable general!
We have received many kindnesses and invitations to gala evenings, which makes for a little diversion from the difficulties which the establishment of a new colony bring, especially for us with our large family. Several Moldavian Boyards or noblemen go to these soirees. It is amusing to see them dancing in their costume, that is so different from the rest of Europe. Their hair is shaved, and they wear a Jewish caftan which covers the whole head, and which they keep on in the drawing room. If they go out, they put on caps (which are of an extraordinary shape and size), trousers, and over all this, a robe with very wide sleeves. The robe has a slit each side at the bottom such as we make in a man's shirt. This robe is of a different color, and according to the fancy of the wearer, a cashmere scarf is tied like a girdle in front. On top of all that, they have a fur lined cloak which they wear in all seasons, even when it is more or less warm, but they take it off to dance!
The dances are the Anglaise, some Polonaises, and the Tempest, a very complicated but pretty dance. At a ball they dance only the waltz. They also have square dances or cotillions. Twelve is the smallest number of musicians who provide the dance music. They do not have evening parties, as in Switzerland, but at every festival they give dinners and often balls in winter, and they are continually visiting. That is to say, those who wish to do so, and have the time. But here, the better class people nearly always have time, for they do no work! The first visit that one makes must be returned promptly, sometimes on the same day. If this is done, it indicates that they will be pleased to cultivate your acquaintance! The Greek Orthodox religion closely resembles the Catholic faith, but the Lenten fasts are much more frugal and demanding, for then they make almost no use of butter or eggs, and even less of meat. They eat nearly less than nothing, except in fact only boiled fish, oil, and pastries etc. At present, they are having seven weeks of Lent, which is their greatest fast of the year – the seven weeks before Easter. On Easter Day, they go to midnight mass, and come out at 5 a.m... On returning home, they find the dining table piled high, in such abundance as to allow everyone to fully break the fast. After this first breakfast, they all go off to visit their relatives and acquaintances or ...’
Here, Uranie's Diary terminates abruptly, no doubt she was overtaken by the hard work and pressing events of the establishment of the Swiss colony, with her husband, Louis Vincent, and all the other Swiss colonists.
About fifty families of which I found the list in an old pocket notebook subscribed to these preliminary conditions. They unanimously commissioned Louis-Vincent Tardent to go alone to Russia to reconnoiter a site for the proposed colony. He set out late in 1820. After a long and difficult voyage, much of it by sea, he arrived safely at Kishinev, the capital of Bessarabia, where he was sincerely welcomed by General Insof, governor of the province to whom de la Harpe had warmly recommended him. Insof took a liking to the young Swiss and even protected him with all his influence with the Tsar, when he happened to become a target for denunciation and slander. The story was related last year (1886) in a Russian historical review (Russian Archives) and is worth reproducing here.
The famous poet Pushkin, whose free verse and amazing, unorthodox conduct were displeasing to the Russian court, had been exiled to Bessarabia where General Insof was to keep an eye on him and keep him occupied with diplomatic work. The general took a liking to the fiery poet whose incisive and spontaneous wit delighted him, although Pushkin proved to be a very poor civil servant. Insof wrote: 'He is occupied with translation from foreign languages for he is unfit for any other diplomatic work. ' Now what was the good general’s surprise when he received from his superior, the Minister for the Interior, a condemnatory letter. Here it is, and I quote from memory:
‘His Majesty has learned through his private agents that Masonic Lodges have been formed at Kishinev and Ismailla and that Pushkin has been enrolled by a foreigner named Thorink (or Trend it is not known for sure which). The governor is instructed to set up an enquiry, to dissolve the lodges and to supervise Pushkin etc. and to immediately deport the foreigner who is the cause of all this trouble. ‘
The worthy Insof replied with much dignity: “He himself had once belonged to the Society of Freemasons but had renounced it for love of the Tsar. Pushkin was behaving very well and had given no cause for any reproach. lf he had become a Freemason it was only out of curiosity and not with evil intent. As for the foreigner Thorink or Trend there is no such person. ‘After having judiciously investigated all the foreigners in Kishinev, Insof concluded that the reference was to a M. Tardent, a Swiss who had come to Russia in order to organize and rejuvenate viticulture. It was indeed true that Tardent was a Freemason but he was a modest, steady, industrious man who was in no way concerned with propaganda for the Society of Freemasons. Insof therefore begged His Majesty to rescind his decision which could only be harmful to Russia, without offering any advantage to the government. The matter was settled in accordance with the kindly Insof’s suggestion, and Louis-Vincent was able to carry on with the accomplishment of his mission.
He explored the various areas suggested to him as suitable for viticulture and finally decided on a small locality five kilometers south from Akkerman in Bessarabia and adjoining the town boundary. It was at that time called Achabag, which in Turkish meant the Lower Gardens because grape vines, orchards and gardens were scattered over the locality below Akkerman. Louis-Vincent had at first named the new colony Helvetianopolis. Unfortunately, the length of this word and the difficulty the Russians had in pronouncing it, prevented its adoption. The Turkish name, Russianized as Chabag then prevailed and became the official name. In recent times it became Shabo. This site, on a little bay formed within the lake-like estuary of the Dniester River, was wasteland at that time and almost uninhabited, having only about ten huts of adobe, occupied by some semi-civilized Moldavian-Wallachian peasants.
The lake shore of the area consisted of a vast swamp densely covered with tall reeds and coarse grasses that would be good summer grazing. In winter these areas of reed provided important heating fuel in a region devoid of forests and it was also the main roofing material. Of attractive appearance, cool in summer, warm in winter, it had a roof life of not less than twenty-five or thirty years. The reed fuel was supplemented with cattle dung and grape prunings! The south west side of the area chosen for the colony extended back for eight versts (ancient measure of 1067 meters) from the riverbank, into the southern edge of the great Russian steppes - rich, black loam plains -whereon the predominant species apart from pasture grasses, were many kinds of weeds including sedges, innumerable thistles, tall plumed coarse grasses and bracken. On the South East, the land extended to the Black Sea shore.
Who knows what influenced Louis-Vincent to choose this site? Perhaps it was the ancient sturdy grapevine stems scattered about everywhere and still vigorous in spite of having been abandoned and neglected for years; perhaps also the variety of soils; marshy, sandy and black, the latter being the famous Russian ‘Tchermozium’ of the steppes; perhaps also the nearness of the town of Akkerman and the city of Odessa, fifty kilometers away, perhaps the nearness of the sea and the unusual, ingenious fisheries that the Turks had established on the sea-shore. The port at Akkerman would facilitate shipping the future colony’s wines across the great river and around the coast to the profitable market of Odessa. Several kilometers from the village site the shore of the Black Sea afforded open-sea bathing. And finally, the beauty of the site on its attractive bay and the name of his own beautiful Lake Leman, the Lake of Geneva that he had left behind at Vevey, may have established a strong affinity with Lake Liman. Whatever the reasons for the choice made by Louis-Vincent (and all of the above factors may have influenced him) it was a judicious decision and denoted his remarkable eye for site factors, and his sound judgement.
The outcome fully justified his estimates as later on the colony developed on a sound basis to a marked state of prosperity. The different soils referred to, proved to be a great asset and were more varied than is usually found in Russia. Grapes were grown on the low sandy hills towards Akkerman to the North-North-West. Back from the marshy shore vegetables were grown and orchards established on rich and moisture-retentive sandy loams. The black soil inland grew wheat, barley, oats and maize, the latter being a major crop in Bessarabia. Their village was built on the low sandy hills whilst the best grapes were also established there as the soil was a fine, deep, yellowish loam, rich in various mineral salts needed for good grape crops. A considerable acreage of vines was also grown on the black soils but the latter were mainly cereals and pastures.
A point to note here, and which I stress, is that the Swiss colonists have retained the Russian system to the present day of common ownership of crop and pasturelands. When assigned areas of tilled land became exhausted, the Swiss Parish Council decided on new areas. In the rested pastures, surveyors would peg out new areas f o r each colonist carefully and fairly, allotting the various types of soil. Lots were then drawn and each colonist worked his new areas till these became due for resting when the whole procedure was repeated. This system did not apply to vineyards, orchards, houses, farm buildings and the like, which remained in the same person’s possession.
At Chabag the farmhouses were all grouped together in the village of about twenty-five or thirty acres, as in parts of some European countries, each having its courtyard around which stood the house, combining granary with wine-cellars below ground. There were sheds for horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry as well as flower-beds and some fruit and shade trees; also usually a well. The courtyards varied greatly in area and were up to one hectare.
However, let us return go Louis-Vincent! Having selected his site, he returned to Kishinev where the final arrangements were made and these were confirmed in St. Petersburg without delay. The colony’s area covered about 50 sq.km. or about 12,400 acres. Each colonist was to receive 60 Russian hectares of ploughable land and 2 of old grape vines This was to cost him an annual rental of 20 roubles 70 kopeks but after 20 years he became the owner of the land. The colonists were to be self-governing except that important decisions had to be confirmed by a Russian authority called the Committee of the Colonies.
In 1820 Louis-Vincent returned to Switzerland. An old pocket notebook which I have in my hands as I write, his voyage of discovery and inspection cost 5,400 francs. This included transport as well as tips to officials and also items stolen from him in the customs offices. Unfortunately, I have very little information about the negotiations which followed the return of Louis-Vincent to Vevey. Apparently some of the original signatories withdrew, either because they did not think the prospects sufficiently attractive or the site was too far away, or because their affairs had not mended since the terrible depression of 1816 -17. I do not know. However only six families decided to form withdrew at the last moment, fearful of selling up their Swiss property and voyaging into the unknown.
The convoy consisted of over twenty persons, men, women and children. They left Vevey in July 1822 and only arrived at Akkerman at the end of October after a difficult fatiguing journey lasting three months across Switzerland, Bavaria, Australia, Poland, Boukovinia and Bessarabia. Unfortunately, the trials and weariness of this great journey were nothing much when compared with the privations the courageous immigrants suffered after their arrival. The season was too far advanced for them to even dream of building permanent housing immediately. On Tardent’s representations, the Russian government issued them with billeting orders similar to those used for housing troops, so that they could be sheltered through the severe winter in the private homes of the Bulgarians of Akkerman. It was a hard winter and provisions which were of bad quality, were difficult to obtain. There was no bread but only scraps of dough or paste, a metre long, as thick as one’s finger and four inches wide that a Turkish hawked around on his shoulder, calling out 'Beadle, Beadle'. It was impossible to obtain any meat other than mutton from the eternal fat sheep of the steppes whose huge tail of fat weighed from fifteen to twenty pounds. The use of this meat day after day develops a distaste that cannot be shaken off. Occasionally during that rugged winter, the brave colonists longed for the sight of their blue Lake Leman and the sweet countryside of Vaud Canton but despite this they were not too downhearted.
On his exploratory visit in 1820 Louis-Vincent was given an especially warm welcome by the Swiss and French merchants of Odessa, who included two very rich Swiss, the Dents brothers. These gentlemen later on supported Chabag very substantially. In Feb 1823 Louis wrote his first letter home to Vevey. Despite the loss of his six horses soon after they arrived (a great blow indeed) he wrote optimistically, extolling the virtues of their new colony and seeking further settlers. In March they started pruning and tending 54 acres of vines. It took them two months of back-breaking work from dawn to dusk. When autumn arrived they were rewarded and enthused over their bounteous crop of glorious grapes. Some of the excessively old vines they uprooted had trunks a foot thick and stems as thick as a man’s arm! During the 1823 spring the colonists cut 30,000 grafting buds and cuttings but Louis wrote to the Russian Governor complaining that outsiders were stealing cuttings in a rough and uncouth manner that severely damaged the parent vines. He also complained of much damage to crops, vines and fruit trees by swarms of trespassing horses, cattle and pigs from nearby areas. Some of the people from their district were semi-savage, causing the Swiss colonists to occasionally resort to firearms and even the lynch-law, to preserve their property!
Count Vorontsoff, the Governor-general of New Russia, most of which comprised Bessarabia (captured from the Turks) had appointed Louis-Vincent to be Inspector-General of the famous but sadly neglected Turkish vineyards of Akkerman, with residence provided in the city’s great fortress on the waterfront. He made use of his important position to aid his fellow-countrymen by finding them some employment. Under his efficient supervision, the capable hands of the Vaud vignerons quickly pruned and tended the vineyards belonging to the crown and to the archbishopric (none worked harder than the founder himself.
In the spring the settlers turned their attention to Chabag where they rejuvenated some of the abandoned Turkish vineyards, planted many new ones, fixed the boundaries of their farmyard - garden areas and pegged out their future village streets. Finally, they built modest houses of adobe so that before long the whole little colony was in residence. 0nce there, they wrote home their impressions to Switzerland, which must have been favorable because nearly every year from 1826 to 1831, new recruits arrived to reinforce the settlement.
The last convoy of 31 people suffered horribly. Twenty-one died of cholera either at the Quarantine Station at Ismael, or after their arrival at the colony. This disaster discouraged any further migration from Switzerland for a long time, because the migration current flowed elsewhere (Including USA, Argentine and Australia). The 120 families originally agreed on to complete the colony were never attained, so the Russian authorities decided to accept German colonists. This proved disastrous because the two nationalities failed to weld into a sound community, owing to difference of origin customs, education and aspirations. These resulted in continual bickering and recrimination. The expected immediate advantage of retaining for the colony all the lands that had been allotted to it was not achieved. The government then gave a part of these areas to Russian colonists, with the result that today (1887) the Swiss colonists have multiplied mainly via birth increase, but no vacant land is available for them. They complain about the lack of foresight of their forefathers, and are driven to seeking needed land elsewhere. In recent years about sixty persons have emigrated, half to Australia, and half to America.
In 1845 a man of broken fortunes named Cavallo, a Chevalier, son of an Italian count, became stranded and was accepted into the Swiss colony. He became a successful and prosperous viticulturist, but started drinking and ended up in misery. It is said that his wife, though proud of her origins, threw all their family documents of nobility into the fire one day when her son started following in his father’s tragic footsteps!
The last recognized convoy of emigrants arrived in 1847 and consisted of only two families. The early years of the newly-born colony were rugged and trying. One is truly astonished and filled with admiration when one considers the total amount of perseverance, courage and rugged tenacity that this handful of Swiss evinced to triumph over the many obstacles that strewed their path. Sometimes it was crop failure that plunged them into despair; at other times they and their crops were robbed and despoiled by the population of semi-savages that surrounded them and against whom they were compelled to apply the lynch law. This immediate and terrible punishment was the only means of replacing the mercenary and futile police action and to inspire the robbers with fear. At other times it was a plague of grasshoppers that destroyed in a few hours the high hopes of a whole year. Outbreaks of anthrax at times decimated their cattle, or epidemic hit the colonists and put some of them into their graves. During the terrible cholera epidemic of 1836 only three able men were left on their feet: one cared for the sick, one made coffins and one dug the graves!
It was in the middle of these painful catastrophes that Louis-Vincent died prematurely, his fortunes half ruined, and through consumed by sorrow and cares, still confident of the final success of his great enterprise. He died suddenly from a neglected cold that flared swiftly into pneumonia, probably due to excessive fatigue and worry. Thus ended his dynamic life in its prime for he was only just 48 years of age. His remains rest in a modest palisaded tomb where the earthly remains of his heroic wife Uranie joined him, in the midst of the large and beautiful garden he created with his own capable hands.
Peace be to his ashes. Honor to his name. The audacious dream of his youth is today a reality. All around his tomb the trees that he planted blossom and perfume the air. It is on the edge of the village, the most beautiful in Russia, which basks in the sunshine, its lovely white houses set on three wide parallel streets, bordered with acacias whose clusters of bloom in spring diffuse their heady perfume into the air. In the middle of the village stands the impressively designed protestant church, with its jaunty clock-tower and spire, where each Sunday the pastor or his deputy preach the word of the God who sustained the hardy pioneers through their rugged trials and tribulations. Nearby stands the handsome brick school, where three teachers, one French-speaking Swiss, one German and one Russian, spread among the young of the colony, each in his own language, the type of education that Pestalozzi and his disciple Louis-Vincent Tardent had dreamed of. It equips man for his struggle through life and lifts his soul upwards to the Divine Creator. In the school building is housed a library of a thousand volumes, enlarged each year by funds raised by a committee of ladies, who devote one evening per week to various kinds of needlework which is then sold. A Literary Circle also meets in the school during winter, at which volunteer speakers give addresses or readings and hold discussions on a wide variety of subjects from horticulture to the role of money in the state. The ethical and intellectual needs of the colony are also met by two choral societies, one French and the other German, which meet every Sunday; also by an amateur orchestra which ably performs the most varied programs. There is a Chancellery (Council Chamber cum Court House) where the colonists have their legal differences settled by judges appointed by the colonists and where their local affairs are deliberated under the chairmanship of their elected Mayor. The miserable huts of 1820 in which lived the Moldo-Walachian peasants have been replaced by a big nearby Russian villages of several thousand souls whose neat houses have their window-boxes full of flowers and whose prolific orchards bear testimony to the civilizing influence that the Swiss have spread in their neighborhood
All round the village of Chabag there are vast pasture lands where large and small herds of cattle and some horses graze peacefully; there are extensive cultivated fields where yellowing crops of maturing cereals, display in the sunshine their golden hues and their richness. Finally, there are immense vineyards bordered by mulberry and apricot trees, a veritable ocean of greenery that undulates gently in the breeze and from which the velvety black or golden-yellow bunches of grapes peep out with ripe abundance! On all sides one sees a picture of Arcadian happiness. In autumn the wooden buckets of the women grape-pickers refill the shoulder baskets in which the men carry the grapes to the wine-presses, or if the distance warrants, taken to special horse-drawn carts which are large elongated horizontal casks, just as done in Canton Vaud in Switzerland. The wine presses made by Hervey at Vevey, of which each colonist has at least one, creak happily, and trundling away to fill the vats to the refrain of some good old Vaudois songs, which reverberate in the great vaults where the wine is stored.
In 1820 wine production in Bessarabia was insignificant but today (1887) around fifteen million liters are produced. The wine is mostly of excellent quality though a little on the light side. The Chabag colony lands, which had no wine yield at all when the Swiss arrived, now have an annual value of more than 500,000 roubles. During the 55 years of the colony’s existence since 1822 the wine crop alone has amounted to the amazing value of some 15 to 20 million francs. Yes, a thousand times credit to Louis-Vincent Samuel Tardent whose audacious courage, great skill and perseverance made possible the creation of all these riches, material intellectual and moral!
In 1805 he married Miss Suzanne Henriette Uranie Grandjean at Vevey. She was an attractive and distinguished looking girl from Neuchatel, and I believe and, I believe was of French origin. Her father, a manufacturer, had married an Englishwoman. The union was not a happy one and a friendly permanent separation was agreed to. The lady went to Sweden where she was a schoolmistress for many years, and died there. Two of their children were boys, who were swept into Napoleonic conscription, went to Russia in 1812 and disappeared in the great French army disaster without leaving a trace. The youngest, a sweet, blonde, clear-eyed child, was placed in a good Basle boarding school where she completed her rather extensive education.
Uranie had a particularly good education and knew several languages well. She was expert at drawing and embroidery. Uranie accompanied her husband to Russia and suffered without complaint the rigors of that great journey, the severe climate and the primitive early facilities at Akkerman and Chabag, in a country which at that time lacked most material and intellectual amenities. After the death of her husband in 1835, Uranie refused several good offers of re-marriage and devoted her life to honoring the memory of her husband, to bringing up her large family and to paying heed to the hereafter. Her moral influence and qualities of leadership carried much weight in the young colony. She reproved the drunkards, livened up the lazy ones, aided the sick, gave others help with her advice and aided the needy with her purse. She fell asleep finally and peacefully in 18 2. Her mortal remains rest beside those of her beloved husband in the prosperous center of beautiful Chabag, which in the end she had come to love.
Of the ten children born to Louis-Vincent and Uranie, Charles, the third son, proved to be an eminent man of his family. Born at Vevey in 1812 Charles was only ten when the family emigrated to Russia. He shared the rough life of the early days of the colony with his brothers. 0n coming of age he obtained a colonist’s grant of land plus a vineyard. But, obsessed with the desire for knowledge, with an urge to struggle against routine and to introduce improvements everywhere, he soon realized that there were gaps in his theoretical knowledge and resolved to fill them. Determined to complete his knowledge of botany, agriculture and zoology, in 1835 went to Switzerland at the age of twenty-four. He hoped to spend several years there but unfortunately was recalled home to Russia by the untimely death of his father.
However, he benefited greatly from his journey. He had become friendly with several distinguished naturalists and horticulturalists. He brought back with him a fine collection of Alpine plants and numerous specimens of plants and seeds which he intended to introduce into Southern Russia. Feeling a little cramped at Chabag and foreseeing that the Swiss colonists would soon lose their privileges and exemption from compulsory conscription, he sold his local rights and established himself 5 km from Chabag on land granted to him by the government. The sole condition was that he plant it with grape vines and also carry out experiments in viticulture. Charles was happy at having regained complete independence and at having preserved the Swiss citizenship which he so greatly prized. He again visited Switzerland in 1840 and completed his military service.
He returned to live on his new estate which he named Jolimont. Aided by his active and industrious young wife, he built a fine house and outbuildings. Under his creative guidance the bare steppe was becoming an Eden of fruit trees, grapevines, shrubs and flower-beds, the whole carefully and scientifically tended and a delight to behold. He built an immense cellar partly under the house with tunnels and cellars for storing his plentiful wines. Under such ideal conditions his wines were of superlative quality. Each of his vineyards was planted with one variety of grape and in his nurseries, he had many different varieties which he budded and grafted and thus evolved improved varieties. His wines soon acquired a great reputation and he won many prizes at exhibitions, including one gold, two silver and two bronze medals. He was thus rewarded for his important improvements to the viticulture of Bessarabia and in South Russia generally, including Crimea and all the Caucasus. It is said that his famous table grape ‘Achauss’ which he created had a great success at in Moscow Exhibition.
He was not only an indefatigable worker but was also most methodical and observant. He kept excellent detailed records of his experiments, deductions, and conclusions. At the request of the South Russian Agricultural Society of which he was an active member, he decided to publish a treatise on viticulture and wine-making. I have seen the manuscript of this, which ran to at least three editions in the Russian language. I was struck by the simple yet methodical presentation of his subject, and the manner in which he presents technical and scientific data to the reader in such a way that can be easily understood by the uninitiated. Charles Tardent not only preached but practiced, and set a splendid personal example with all his viticultural activities. He also published a brochure on the flora of Bessarabia - a solid Latin-French treatise in which are mentioned all the species that he was able to observe with their habitat, flowering and fruiting seasons etc. Charles was very honest in business matters and careful of his property, but was a charming friend. He had the gaiety and high intelligence of greatest workers; he had outstanding wit and good humor. Good fortune seemed to smile upon him; his business prospered, he was happily married, respected and in keen demand on every hand.
And now I come to the last of Louis-Vincent’s sons, Charles Samuel, called ‘Malette’. His early education was neglected, but he made up for that by natural intelligence, reading widely, acquiring knowledge by practical application, and associating with well-educated people. Shrewd kindness, and a strong intellect combined with a playful, quick wit, are the distinctive traits of his character. He invents stories in the manner of Homer, coloring everything that he touches with his lively imagination. I know no keener intellectual enjoyment than to go out of a drawing room where everyone is stiff and formal, to go to listen to this fine old fellow relating some episode of his long and industrious career.
With an astonishing mixture of Swiss good humor and Parisian banter, he charms you with his unexpected sallies. Should you ask him, he will relate his most distant childhood recollections, including when he frolicked on the lake shore of blue Lake Leman in Switzerland, bathing with his great-grandfather, old schoolmaster David, and then sleeping on a rug in the sun together, as the light danced on the crystal clear water. Malette was only seven when they set out for Russia. What a wondrous array of places, people and things for this lively, intelligent and impressionable little boy to behold. After often camping out on the way, on arrival at Akkerman, all the travelers were all as tough as a Zouave!
The walls of the famous fortress and the ground near it were strewn with bombs, cannon balls and pieces of schrapnel, since it had been captured from the Turks not many years before. From these war relics they would build forts and batteries that they bombarded relentlessly, right up to their complete destruction and the surrender of the enemy! Not long after their arrival, Louis-Vincent was making expeditions to Chabag. They went on foot, while a lean horse pulled their provisions and tools on a primitive cart. During the first years of establishing Chabag they led a truly pioneering existence, often sleeping not in beds but on the floor, killing vipers, taming snakes and even shooting them when necessary. One day in 1826 when Malette was twelve, some Turkish pashas who had come to Akkerman to settle a difference with the Russian authorities, had gone for a stroll to Chabag. Entering M Tardent’s garden they beheld a young lad keeping guard, gravely walking up and down with a big musket on his shoulder. The pashas asked him if he knew how to use it. Receiving an affirmative answer one of them placed a target a hundred paces away. ‘l tore their dummy to shreds with every shot. You should have seen their delight. They all embraced me and filled my pockets with ducats’ he recounted.
Alas, like many things here on Earth, this youthful life, full of liberty and charm for Samuel, came to an end when his father, Louis-Vincent died prematurely in 1836. The elder brothers pulled out from home and established themselves on their own properties. Good old Malette, ever a devoted son, remained the faithful helper of his mother right until her old age, as well as the guardian of his sisters. When the girls were all married, his mother advised him to find a life-companion himself. He married a German girl who had grown up in the home of a Swiss family. Then began the days of celebration, the Homeric horse-rides of twenty-four hours to go to embrace his fiancée and return. When they were married the wedding was gay, although neither the cellar nor the granary were abundantly filled at the time. His last thirty kopeks were given to Jean Besson the clarinetist, who filled the colony with the sound of his energetic music, while the colonists danced and made merry late into the night.
After the wedding the young couple set about the serious matter of building a house, digging cellars, planting and sowing. A terrible fire descended on them and destroyed house and crops – everything. What could they do? Charles Samuel was not the man to be discouraged. With the help of his brother Louis - who reacted to the disaster with far greater kindness and generosity than usual – six weeks later they celebrated Easter in his new house. An excellent vigneron, and enthusiastic horticulturalist, he received several special awards for the good management of his vineyards, which are planted with nearly eight hectares of various grapes, an orchard of 1800 fruit trees of all kinds, and in the midst of his garden the pretty Swiss chalet sheltered by a giant oak and an elm planted by him 60 years ago, while he drinks a glass of wine and reads the Petersburg Journal.
Soon the demon of narration takes possession of this story-teller and he entertains you with the most outstanding episodes of his life. He will tell you about his Pantagruelic hunting trips when he had a big pack of hounds, and the country was so well-stocked with game they were able to salt hares in casks to feed the servants during winter. Perhaps he will tell you of his famous ride over the Liman of the Dniester. He was galloping on his handsome chestnut horse across the ice-covered lake. Suddenly the ice sheet broke, the horse went under, and the rider found himself seated twenty paces away. Perhaps he’ll tell of his nautical experiences on the Black Sea, when the Admiral, Commander-In-Chief of the Fleet and Black-Sea Ports had given him the responsibility of organizing a lifeguard station at Bougaze on Liman. He may even show you the acknowledgements and the enameled silver cross with crossed anchors medal that H.M. The Empress of Russia had sent him for the services he had rendered to this philanthropic project.
However, what he loves best to recall is his visit to Switzerland in 1856. He travelled all over his homeland and took part in countless festivals; the famous Federal shooting match at Schaffhausen and participation in the world-famous Fete des Vignerons at Vevey. He did not fail to go to see the ancient house of old Magel at Vevey, where he was born. He then went to Paris and visited en route many horticulturalists and viticulturists. He collected and purchased generously as he travelled and came back to Russia with a rich and varied collection of seeds and plants, and grape vine cuttings.
Then another glass is drunk and one is taken to see his marvelous garden. Here is the rose path of 150 varieties, all of which were grafted by him. Here is the wax Mirabelle golden plum, Spanish mulberries, grape-vine trellis whose countless stems grow from one single stock planted sixty years ago.
The last few years he has been unafraid of antagonizing the local conservatives, the sanctimonious and the hypocritical, by converting, at his own expense the park area adjoining his house into a recreation garden. It contains a dance-hall, various games and also a stage where amateur groups of touring companies give performances in the several languages in common use. This daring new venture has attracted numerous tourists to visit Chabag, so that it is perhaps becoming the Montreux of Southern Russia. He is the soul of the Tardent family in Russia today. let is he who maintains unity, by his frequent and witty letters to its members, scattered almost everywhere from Nikolayev and Sebastopol as far as Riga in Latvia and Erivan in the Caucasus. Every year at St Sylvester’s Day the whole Tardent family gather at his home.
Samuel had eight children, who took their places in the Swiss colony. Hortense, his second youngest daughter resembles her grandmother Uranie, from whom she inherits not only the slender, graceful figure, and the soft, deep expressive eyes, the abundant light chestnut hair, but also the natural kindness, conciliatory affectionate nature, devotion, the bent for education and the arts, a lively poetic imagination, and a writing style of clever and facile expression. Best of all, she had the grace to marry a distant relative from the Ormonts Valley, one Henri Alexis Tardent, late of Cergnat in the Ormonts Valley, who came by chance to Chabag from Switzerland!
Let us now return to the Ormonts Valley, and I will endeavor to outline briefly some events in the lives of the members of the Swiss branch, the oldest one of the family. David of Cergnat, the wealthy landowner had a son, another David, born in 1680, uncle of the schoolmaster of Vevey. Like his father he was also elected Lieutenant Civil, was a man of staunch honesty and open-mindedness. This David had the following interesting experience which has been preserved in our family tradition, and of which I found traces in the correspondence. A magnificent mare that he prized highly had been stolen from the Ormonts. Having had wind of its hiding place on the Rhone plain, he went there in company with a Justice of the Peace and a policeman. He said to them I shall shout at the stable door; if the horse in there does not neigh I declare now that it is not mine. This visibly troubled the thief. With several persons keen to witness the affair, they had all gathered at the stable door. No sooner had David uttered a few affectionate words with the intonation of voice quite peculiar to natives of the Ormonts Valley, then the intelligent animal began to neigh in recognition and apparent joy. When released and returned to rightful owner, she came to him and affectionately licked his hands and face!
His son (also called David of Les Planches), born in 1706, followed in his father’s footsteps as Lieutenant Civil, and was still in office when the French revolutionary storm wave swept into the Valley of the Ormonts. What part did he play in this troubled period of unrest in the minds of men? In 1798, French troops completely overran Switzerland and the Old Swiss Confederation collapsed. The Helvetic Republic was proclaimed. Many of his fellow citizens were keen on the old order of things under the Berne Republic. Had they not for several centuries enjoyed a great administrative and even political autonomy under its protection? However, David must have had some doubts about the old regime and was receptive to new ideas. He was in frequent correspondence with his cousin, the old schoolmaster of Vevey and his sons who strongly favored the revolution. In their letters they railed at the rascally aristocrats of Bern, and the traitor Alois Reding.
A Tardent from the Ormonts Valley had enlisted in the revolutionary Swiss Government troops, and had been wounded in fighting against the small forest cantons. New ideas penetrated into the Ormonts. For a time David lost the confidence of Ormonans, who conferred command of the troops to a passionate representative of extreme conservatism, Marlettaz. He defended the Tine Bridge against General Chatel, who at the head of 2,000 French, Valaisans and Vaudois, expected to push through the Valley of the Ormonts to Berne. However, Marlettaz was defeated at the Planches Bridge where the revolutionary troops had arrived before he was able to concentrate all his men on the north bank of La Grande Eau.
Following this check an armistice was concluded. Chatel was astonished having met such bitter resistance, and learning of the failure of the Forneret column, beaten in the pass of the Cross of Arpille abandoned his designs on Berne and was content to occupy the Ormonts, while Colonel Fischer of Berne retreated with a contingent of auxiliaries from Gessnay that he had armed. Did David Tardent play a part in these events? | do not know. I only know that it was in his house at Velard that the peace preliminaries were concluded. He also soon regained the esteem of his fellow citizens, because after the Ormonts was incorporated in the canton of Vaud, we find him again occupying the same offices as he had held before the fighting, but now adorned with the title of National Agent, more consistent with the spirit of the new regime.
David’s brother Jean-David-Vincent inherited the family domain of Le Verney, held by the Tardents since at least the 15th century. The younger brother, Louis-Samuel, was my grandfather, still in a financially comfortable position, though the family estate was beginning to dwindle seriously. He dealt in cattle, cheese trading, and generally in the various industries of a good Swiss mountains small farmer. He once had the desire to go to Russia with his kinsman of Vevey, Louis-Vincent, but I know not why he gave up the idea. It is said he greatly regretted that the Tardent family was dying out, for at that time, it consisted of three male representatives: himself and his two sons, Louis and Henri. He married Suzanne Dupertuis in 1809 who appears to have been of excellent character because my father always spoke of her with greatest respect. The numerous tribe of Dupertuis are excellent people who held high office. Aunt Julie used to relate the old legends of the Valley, terrible stories about ghosts and wizards, as well as old ballads and patriotic songs.
Uncle Henri-Frederic, having enlisted in Wolff’s Swiss Regiment, was hired out to the King of Naples in Italy. He served there for seven years and perhaps would have ended his life there but for the sad events of 1859 when Palermo was bombarded by the Bourbon Ferdinand II, dubbed ‘King Bombo’. Switzerland finally became ashamed of seeing its beloved federal flag at the service of all the petty tyrants who could pay for it and proclaimed that foreign service by her soldiers would cease to be officially approved. Consequently, the four Swiss regiments in Naples were ordered to surrender their flags. Disgusted with this military life, he resigned.
As for the next generation, Marc-Louis-Samuel, my father, had a hard life. His career was strewn with severe trials. On the other hand the development of his character reached a high standard. He led his family through severe times of poverty for some sixty years. He struggled day and night, without respite or rest, against the specter of poverty, which was ever ready to perch on his hearth. When barely ten years old, he entered his apprenticeship to life at the arduous task of cowherd on the mountains of Rosettaz, south of Chateau d’Oex. Rising at three a.m. he would go through rain, fog, heavy dew and sometimes snow to muster the herds for the morning milking. He carried water, milk and also wood, which he had to seek afar in the forest.
However, this arduous work strengthened him whereas the degrading poverty of the towns would have been weakening. His character was enriched and his appreciation of beauty was awakened and fostered by the ever-present beauty and grandeur of the Alps. The Spartan life he led built for him an iron-tough health and Herculean muscles that enabled him to endure the severe trials that beset him later on. When still very young he displayed courage and presence of mind on many occasions, above that of even these hardy Alpine people. One day the whole herd, startled by a sudden heavy hail storm, stampeded towards the edge of a cliff several hundred meters high. The little herdsman acted swiftly, headed off the frightened mob by racing with them and repeatedly hitting them over the eyes with a stick that saved them all from certain destruction.
While still quite young, Louis undertook the management of the family affairs, and succeeded by dint of hard work in supporting his mother and sisters in an already depleted patrimony. This early responsibility matured him rapidly and early gave him the highly-principled authority and dignity that characterized him. He acquitted himself so well in this task that his brother and sisters always regarded him as the real fatherly head of the family. Throughout their lives they extended to him, a tender and respectful affection. When Louis’ sisters were well established and he was twenty-seven, he married a mountain girl, Marie Louise Perrod from La Forclaz.
She was a charming woman, lively and in splendid health. With her help and support Louis hoped to restore the fortunes of the family. At first he prospered. He leased Alpine pasture, and in the spring, reared cattle, selling part in the Autumn, as well as the milk products. This industry was at that time most remunerative, and everything seemed to smile on the young household, with three boys arriving at short intervals. Alas, this brief spell of happiness was not to last long for the terrible anthrax epidemic of 1852 wiped out his herds and reduced him to poverty. When Louis Tardent had paid off all his creditors, he said he had absolutely nothing left, but eyes to weep with, and two arms to support his growing family.
He despaired of doing this with the resources that the Ormonts offered at the time, and briefly considered emigrating to Australia to work in the goldfields. Whatever the reason, Louis did not leave the Ormonts! Louis’ colonel at Aigle at the mouth of the Ormonts Valley, had just purchased the then wooded mountain of Monterete about 10 kilometers from Sepey. He gave my father the job of building and operating a water-powered sawmill. I think that Louis spent about ten years there, working on an average eighteen hours a day, busy with the different operations of the sawmill, or transporting the sawn planks that were taken out of this deep enclosed valley by means of a tip-wagon moving on wooden rails and worked by hand windlass. In winter this wild region was enlivened by a crowd of carriers who came to fetch the planks and take them by good roads as far as Aigle, whence they were dispatched to Geneva and Lyon in France. This life was very arduous, but it enabled the family to live in relative comfort. When the exploitation of the local forest was nearly complete, Louis went on to the sawmill at Romayen, situated in the middle of the extensive forest of Charbonnieres, where there was consequently more future. Emboldened by the experience that he acquired, he added timber felling to the many skills he possessed.
I can still see in my mind’s eye the splendid rizes, or chutes a league long which he constructed from four pieces of timber and which were joined end-to-end to form a gutter or trough supported on trestles. The big, slippery, freshly-barked pine logs, when set moving down the chute on a rainy day, would descend with the speed of an express train, then rebound in a giddy leap opposite the sawmill. There they were piled up in big log stacks, before being sawn into baulks and boards. At that time Louis had numerous workmen, mostly German-speaking Swiss. Once more beguiled by false hopes he believed he could see ahead the revival of his fortunes. Unfortunately, the owners of the enterprise were unfamiliar with business methods and fell into extravagant spending. Ere long they were bankrupt and my poor father was left without a feather to fly with, and had to begin all over again.
He then applied successfully for the recently advertised position of the postmaster at Le Sepey. This job, modest as it was (about 1,000 francs per year) had the advantage of being less laborious and also offering a regular salary. Though helped by the children, on average, he travelled on foot thirty to forty kilometers per day, ploughing through snow and mud, climbing the great hills, descending the steep slopes, with the steady pace of a marching soldier. I should add that he broke a leg twice, he gashed himself deeply many times with an axe, that a whitlow cost him the end of his index finger, that several times his body or legs were crushed between logs or in the gear wheels of the sawmills. When not stricken himself, he suffered for those of his children who had measles, whooping cough, croup, scarlet fever, sometimes in succession, and sometimes all lay at the same time on a sick bed like sheaves in a field. On various occasions during his life, he saw his furniture and his tools seized and sold up dirt-cheap for debts. All his life, he had debts, contracted solely for the upkeep of his family, for he was neither a smoker, drinker, nor gambler of any kind.
What energy and courage he must have had to withstand such a life! Oh my dear and worthy father! How my throat tightens and tears threaten to dim my eyes, when I think of all that you did to ensure bread for our body and soul, of the privations you have imposed on yourself, of the devotion which you demonstrated at all times, of the anguish that wrung your heart as you looked to the future and saw nothing but that rock of Sisyphus of poverty, which at the least sign of relaxed effort, threatened to crush you and yours. It seems that in such circumstances there should not be room for the ideal and the intellectual and upright life should have been crushed. However, his power of resistance was such that on the contrary, his ideals never ceased to grow stronger and his faith greater. In his childhood he had learned at school, not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also religion, meagre luggage for life’s journey. Fortunately, he always had a great love of reading. He never missed on one single day, to increase his knowledge, strongly supported by sound judgement and a very keen sense of observation.
He was an excellent farmer, good mechanic and very ingenious in unexpected and difficult circumstances. Impossible to have a working companion more industrious, gayer, more jovial, with whom it was easier to get on. He had become expert at surveying land and at practical geometry, and had acquired through his dealings with topographical engineers and naturalists, a quite extensive knowledge of geology and botany. He had an enthusiastic belief in republican institutions, and a great devotion to Switzerland, whose history he knew well. Finally, all his life, he had a keen interest in military science, his true vocation if he had been able to follow his bent. Recruited in the Vaud militia about 1837 as a private, he soon obtained his corporal’s then sergeant’s stripes. It is in this capacity that he took part in the campaign of 1838 against France. The energetic attitude of Switzerland, that preferred the risk of war to expelling Louis-Napoleon who had become a Swiss citizen, gave liberal opinion in Europe the time to intervene. when parliament re-assembled, Guizot’s reactionary ministry was overthrown by a majority of one and General X, who was insolently threatening our frontier, had to disband his troops. The Swiss militia, including my father, returned to their homes, proud of the result obtained by their firm stand. In October 1847 the Sonderbund war broke out and only lasted for about a month, when Lucerne was captured.
The European governments, almost all reactionary, hoped that liberal Switzerland would be unable to put more than thirty thousand men in the field. However, General Henri Dufour soon entered the campaign at the head of ninety thousand men. The canton of Vaud alone enlisted thirty-four thousand! The Ormonts raised two detachments of volunteers, one of which was reinforced by an auxiliary detachment from Lausanne and placed under the command of Colonel Chablaix. He staged a diversion in the valley of the Sarine and took the canton of Fribourg in the rear. The other contingent commanded by Marc-Louis-Samuel Tardent, appointed Captain on this occasion by the State Cabinet of the Canton of Vaud, advanced upon Aigle where it waited in vain for the order to attack Saint Maurice. My father has often told me that he begged insistently of the commander, Ciserix, to order this attack, undertaking with his mountaineers to scale the steep slopes which face Saint Maurice. He would thus out-flank this important position, where were gathered the finest flower of the Jesuit troops and the clergy of Valais. The commander was inflexible, however fine the opportunity, not wishing to act without orders from General Dufour. The latter, who wished to avoid bloodshed as much as possible, had made up his mind to first get possession of Fribourg, then of Lucerne and the forest cantons, being confident that Valais canton, left to itself, would not resist for long. The events proved him correct and my father led his volunteers back to their homes without having seen battle action. With great republican simplicity he resumed his rank of sergeant ‘which is more in keeping with my education and my financial position’ he said, and continued right up to 1878 to carry out his duties as instructor to the young men whom he prepared for recruitment into one of the branches of the four Swiss militia.
As if it were yesterday I can still see this superb soldier, so graceful and masculine. His majestic height made him the third tallest grenadier in the canton - was still more enhanced by an enormous shako or military hat. His bearing was upright and not stiff, his step elastic and military. No sooner had he donned his uniform than he held his head high like a war-horse at the sound of a trumpet. He was held in high esteem by his men, his NCOs and his superior officers. One day at the annual Spring Review Parade the contingents from Upper and Lower Ormonts and Leysin were assembled on the tiny parade ground at Le Sepey. Colonel Chablaix, the commander of the region refused to take charge of the parade because he did not know the ground and also excused himself because he had not been forewarned. They then asked my father, who agreed to carry on. He successively carried out, with remarkable precision, all the drills for a troop, company and battalion! He knew how to make use of the smallest undulation of the ground which was as uneven as it was small. His troops performed the drill in perfect unison, deployed in open skirmish order then formed close columns etc. They wheeled right, then left, wheeled on the center, formed square, then re-formed again in massed ranks to simulate an irresistible attack with independent fire and platoon fire.
Filled with admiration, the regional commander came up to the substitute officer and shook him cordially by the hand. ‘Tardent’, he said, ‘you are worthy to command on horseback’. Oh yes, he was worthy of it. I am firmly convinced that with his clear head, his upright mind, his character of authority which inspired respect, he would have become one of the outstanding military men of Switzerland, if his natural ability had been given the chance to attain its full development in more favorable circumstances. As a citizen he always showed plenty of good judgement and great independence of character. Poverty kept him away from public office, but such was the natural influence of his character, that without holding any official position, he exercised considerable influence over his fellow citizens. He was the natural counsellor of the young, of widows and orphans, finding with a tact that I cannot sufficiently admire, the right word to console, reprimand or encourage. As he knew life and knew what makes up the happiness of nine-tenths of men, he bore the little daily ills without apathy, but with real Christian fortitude. Only injustice made him lose his calm and shook him as a stormy wind whips up the ocean waves.
If an injustice were done, event to the humblest citizen, his broad brow would crease in a frown, his piercing eyes would flash anger under their thick eyebrows, stirred to the anger of Christ chasing the profaners of the temple. Louis knew no respite till the injustice had been rectified or unmasked. Then nothing, neither relationship, friendship nor interest could prevent him from doing what he considered to be his duty, right to the very end of the matter. I shall cite but one example. The school at Le Sepey, after having been directed with distinction for about thirty years by my wise old teacher, M. Monod, was taken over after the latter’s death by a M. Mottier, a worthy and honest man, but weak and frail, who jeopardized the instruction and discipline. My father, who had a high respect for education, and had sacrificed a great deal for that of his children, made friendly but unsuccessful suggestions to Mottier for improvements. He then organized a petition by the fathers of the families concerned, which resulted in Mottier’s resignation. He was provisionally replaced by a M. Chappuis, a learned, honest man and an excellent teacher who, in a short time, was able to earn the respect of his pupils and the esteem of their parents. Unfortunately his improved methods of instruction and his enlightened liberalism excited the jealousy of some of his colleagues, and some of their related families. When Chappuis’ formal appointment came up for confirmation he was dismissed by the communal Schools Committee despite his high qualifications and superiority over his rivals. This was due to secret slander that had been spread among committee members. Though loaded with debts and dependent on several of the persons he intended to attack, my father did not hesitate. He sought the aid of the pastor who agreed that he was in the right but declared himself powerless to help. Then he circulated a petition which was signed by the fathers of nearly all the schools’ families, and sent it to the Canton’s Cabinet Minister in charge of Public Education, who did all he could to get the commission to do its duty. His efforts were unsuccessful. M Chappuis, disgusted, said goodbye to his tearful pupils, and went to a good position near Lausanne. He was replaced by a worthy man but who had neither Chappuis’ talents nor abilities.
One evening we were reading 'Genevieve de Brabant’ At the poignant account of her suffering, I felt childish sobs starting to choke me. Without a word I passed the book to Charles who soon also had to stop. My father impatiently took the book but likewise he had hardly read a few sentences when he also stopped, as tears welled up in his eyes. He exclaimed ‘that is terrible, is it possible that a human being could suffer so much without dying? ' And there we all were, with shameless tears in our eyes! His experience of life had cultivated his mind in accordance with Pestalozzi’s profound dictum, which made him a good teacher. He was rarely eloquent, but used other, subtle means of persuasion. When we boys scattered afar he kept up a frequent, steady correspondence with us. I kept all his letters, the grammar was not impeccable but his plain style was lucid and straight to the point. He had inspired such faith in us that had we committed a crime, we would surely have confessed it to him. The last days of my father’s life remain in my memory like the glorious ‘alpenglow’, that rosy light that enhances the high mountains as the sun casts its last rays on them at sunset. After an absence of twelve years I returned to Le Sepey to visit my parents with my wife and two eldest children, all the way from Nikolayev near the Black Sea. Auguste came from distant Asia but arrived too late for our father’s funeral. Vincent came from nearby France after an absence of fifteen years, and the others were near at hand.
Father gazed with a fond eye at all these seven sturdy sons in whom he saw the reward of his life of toil, trials and sacrifices. He found in my wife a loving and devoted daughter; and his grandchildren made his heart feel young again. We were all making splendid plans for the future, a shared life, calm rest, contemplation. Alas! God had decided otherwise. A month later, he who had never been ill except due to an accident, caught a severe cold one morning and like an oak crashed by the storm, he collapsed. After four days of severe illness he died of pleurisy on the 31st July 1881, My wife, Hortense was at his bedside as he breathed his last sigh.
In contemplating my father’s life and death I have often wondered from whence he obtained that boundless devotion, that resignation, that perseverance that nothing could daunt. Doubtless it derived from his own inherent disposition, which was naturally inclined to all that is good and to kindly deeds, but it also derived from his religion. Without being over-devout or bigoted he was, on the contrary, truly religious in a deeper finer sense of the word.
To my dear mother’s burden, you can add all the sufferings and afflictions that my father suffered, which she always shared heroically, and you will perhaps begin to have an idea of what her life was like. She had a lively humor, a quick temper and a great sensitivity with the result that the least vexation affected her deeply. Small, but active, energetic, industrious, thrifty, well versed, she worked wonders in rearing her family. The more I learn of life, the less I understand how she succeeded in rearing such a large family with such scant resources. Her little chalet was always shining with cleanliness. She always managed to have bread in the kneading trough and a pot on the open kitchen fire. We were eight men, often occupied with heavy work. The linen and clothes had to be kept in order, washed and renovated, at any rate the socks were always whole, the linen white and we were always cleanly and decently dressed. She would not leave her beloved mountains and come to Russia with us. The postal authorities have left her part of the position that my father occupied, every day from three till six, she carried out her deliveries, sturdy as an elm, always gay and alert, her cheeks rosy and fresh. She is highly esteemed by everyone, even feared a little. She has a sturdy pride that no misfortune has been able to humble and is candid at all costs, always expressing her opinions openly and honestly without worrying about anybody’s reaction. Of upright, honest character, and religiously inclined, she has imparted to us nothing but good rules of conduct and good examples.
My brother, Auguste Henri was born at Velard, Le Sepey. Short, heavy and chubby, even sturdier than his brothers but he appeared to be endowed with less intelligence. Having a less lively excitable temperament than his brothers, he had more difficulty in learning his lessons. Although he loved school, he disliked repetitious letter printing, which put him to sleep. By dint of labor and diligence, he kept in the middle of his class but he never reached the top places. However, he did have a frank and loyal character, and unfailing cheerfulness, that was to become a magic key that opened all doors and all hearts for him. Always good-humored, obliging, a willing but unservile helper, he readily became liked everywhere. He had an honest disposition, without the slightest trace of envy or jealousy, and rejoiced in the successes of his brothers as if they were his own. To be truthful, none of us thought him likely to have a bright future. He was a slow thinker, but his judgement was sound yet he ended up by achieving the finest career of all the brothers.
His first job was to learn farming with the Durgnat cousins. He profited well from his stay with this sterling family where culture is traditional. The long evenings spent engaged in thoughtful discussions were well-suited to improve his judgement and his memory.
Later he went to a friend of my father, M. Mottier, a farmer and the assessor, an egotistical man as hard on others as he was indulgent towards himself. Fortunately, his worthy wife was in complete contrast to her husband and ever after Auguste looked upon her as a second mother and benefactress, However, Auguste was not very happy with his job, and even almost lost his life by accident there. He was literally crushed by a pile of snow several meters thick that fell on him from a height of two meters. He then experienced the sensations of a dying man and with frightening clarity he saw in a flash the whole of his past life, his good and bad deeds, unroll before his eyes. Then a heartbeat faster and faster in his ear, then oblivion! His workmates hastened to shovel away the snow and pulled him out unconscious. However, his sturdy constitution soon prevailed; he even found enough strength to kick away those who, despite his opposition wanted to make him gulp down black coffee at the risk of choking him when he was struggling hard to recover the use of his lungs for normal breathing! An army of leeches on his chest, a battalion of sucking-cups on his back succeeded in clearing up his severe bruises. He was left with a stiffness which handicapped him for several years.
Desirous of learning more about farming and of learning viticulture, the only careers that seemed to be open to him, Auguste left the Ormonts and went down to the Rhone plain where in Vaud and Geneva he had several minor jobs all of which helped him to acquire the knowledge and qualities, subsequently so valuable to him. In 1869 in Geneva and aged twenty-one, he chanced to make the acquaintance of a Russian general, Baron D. The Baron, who was impressed by the honest appearance and solid qualities of the young man, suggested to him that he should accompany him to Russia as an aide. Auguste, whom the unknown strongly attracted, accepted at once. He returned to the Ormonts to take leave of his relatives and friends, then he set off gaily on the journey to distant Russia.
First they stayed two months in a German spa, then some weeks in Berlin. At last he reached that Russian frontier, object of his dreams and desires. His first impression was of disillusion. The country was flat, monotonous and sandy, the inhabitants ragged. The bowing and scraping which the moujiks (peasants) and railway personnel showered on the general seemed very debasing to Auguste’s republican backbone. He felt compensated on arriving at St Petersburg, where the scene was markedly different. The splendor of the public squares, imposing monuments, buildings, life in the broad streets all deeply impressed and enchanted him. Regretfully, at the end of two months, spent like a dream in the midst of pleasant, civilized society of St Petersburg, they set out for the baronial country residence of the general, beyond the Volga in the governorship of Nijni-Novgorod (Gorki). There he spent most of the time in a dejected state of mind for serfdom, though abolished by law, still existed in fact. He beheld painful scenes which deeply offended his Swiss citizen’s heart. The only consolations in this depressing environment were reading and long conversations with the general, a man with a cultured mind and a generous heart, whose confidant and close friend he became.
On the other hand, he often picked a bone with the baroness, a severe haughty, devout and cruel person, who made everyone around her tremble with the single exception of her husband’s Swiss assistant. His firm, frank gaze of independence specially irritated her. One day this impudent fellow even pushed his audacity so far as to stop the noble hand of the baroness just as she was going to pitilessly whip a poor serf. The baroness was bewildered, breathless, and choked with rage. The fit passed and she compared this noble fearlessness with the somewhat passive kindness of the general, and would have been ready to acclaim like Madame Fourchaubault ‘There is the husband I ought to have had!’ Such are the mysteries of the human heart, especially the feminine variety. Unfortunately, the kindly general died. Scenes of simulated despair, piercing cries, sighs – interrupted by brief and positive remarks about her much more material interests, reminded Auguste of the comparison with the death of the Duc de Bourgogne of St Simon. Auguste was probably the only one of the entourage who genuinely mourned the general as he deserved to be mourned, without fuss and sham. He wept for him as for a father and a friend. let was Auguste who undertook to accompany the body as far as Nijni-Novgorod where it was interred in the family vault. The baroness had fifty roubles sent to Auguste telling him that it would allow him to leave for Moscow where she would send him the thousand roubles owing on his salary without delay. The baroness did her best to defraud Auguste of his salary, of which he wrote and made an unsuccessful trip to Nijni-Novgorod, and finally succeeded by appealing to the all-powerful governor of the province.
Arriving in Moscow without a position, without references, and with a very light purse, Auguste knew the disappointments of a beginner, the bitterness of begging for a job and on one occasion even suffered the pangs of hunger. He still recalls the day when he was seated gloomily the little hole where he lived, nibbling a piece of black bread that he had purchased furtively from the corner baker and washed down with a glass of Moscow water, in default of Chambertin. Fortunately, this sad state of affairs did not last long. The next day he received a visit from a M. Zien, son of the family tutor of M. de Bismark, who offered him the position of assistant teacher in his boarding school. Auguste taught there only three days a week and was fairly well paid. He doubled his salary by teaching on the other three days at the Armenians Institute. Meanwhile the thousand roubles arrived from Nijni-Novgorod and his wheel of fortune took another turn for the good and the sun shone again for him. That lasted till 1873. Then I wrote to him from Odessa and arranged for him to teach with me at the Knory Gymnasium (Private Grammar School) and also to study for the examinations that would qualify us as teachers in a government school. Unfortunately, the Grammar School changed ownership and the new Head, a M. Lambert of Fribourg, who was learned but Jesuitical and cunning, did not approve of the modern teaching methods. After some wrangling we both resigned sooner than forego our teaching principles. We were out of work for two months, which they spent with the hospitable family of engineer Leon Schanzer, related to the Tardent families at Chabag.
Auguste became dissatisfied with teaching and decided to seek another career. Schanzer at that time was busy with water reticulation works for Odessa and, under his guidance, entrusted Auguste with the management of his fine liqueurs factory. In a year Auguste mastered the book-keeping and other knowledge that made for a successful merchant and decided to establish his own wine business to handle the Chabag products. His idea was sound and looked certain to succeed. Impressed by the excellent qualities of these wines and the little outlet they had, he wished to have them appreciated in Russia and to induce the upper-class Russians to consume their own superior products, which were far better than three-quarters of the adulterated wines that they were importing at pretty steep prices. These inferior products were impressively labelled, and bore high-sounding names! The idea of freeing Russia from costly wine imports was excellent and his plan promised to crown the achievements of the wine industry established by Louis-Vincent at Chabag fifty years earlier. Auguste tackled the task enthusiastically and performed organizing wonders to ensure its success.
Encourage and backed by several viticulturists, in particular by the worthy Mme Klotz of Pouskai who supplied him with stock on credit – he rented a cellar right in Odessa. The business began modestly but grew and prospered. He worked honestly and earnestly, treating his wines scientifically, filtering and pasteurizing them. He soon built up a large connection with shops and private purchasers. He opened a branch at Nikolayev which I looked after as a side-line to my teaching duties. He sent some casks on approval to Moscow and Warsaw, and the wines stood the journey well and found ready sales. Their business was really going well. Early in 1876 prospects seemed good for obtaining more capital backing to greatly enlarge the business but the abortive peace conference of 1875 at Constantinople aggravated the many rumors of likely war with Turkey. This dealt a cruel blow to all Russian trade and a fatal one to business in Odessa (too close to the likely conflict). The money supply dried up, business came to a standstill and one after another Auguste’s rivals became insolvent. He was one of the last to hold out. Finally, costs exceeded profits and he was also badly cheated by a relative, B. Charenton.
Auguste finally admitted defeat and went into voluntary liquidation at a loss. The Nikolayev branch hung on for some time before suffering the same fate. Once more Auguste was left without a future and worse still, he had a deficit of thousands of roubles. He stated his position frankly to his creditors, and asked them to have faith in him. He did not as yet know how he would do it but was determined that all of them would be paid to the last penny. These men granted him the respite he requested because they knew his honesty and industry and that he had only succumbed because of abnormal pressures.
Auguste then spent some time with me at Nikolayev, vainly seeking a means of livelihood. One morning he announced to me his intention of leaving for his beloved Moscow, that rich commercial city, where there was something for a man of action to do. The same evening the train took him and his dream to the old Muscovite capital. Alas! business was no better there than at Odessa as all eyes were turned anxiously towards the Balkan Peninsula, where the Ottoman and Russian empires were once again at war. Once more Auguste was a frustrated man and lived with a friend, the watchmaker Thievauld, where, to pass the time, he busied himself like Charles V at repairing old clocks. He was impatiently awaiting the end of the terrible struggle that was raging on the banks of the Danube, when one day he read a newspaper article tragically depicting the plight of the Russian wounded, lying helpless on the battlefield, sometimes for whole days without succor. He immediately went to the Red Cross Society and volunteered his services. He was told that to be accepted he must first take a crash course in surgery at the University. He rushed off and enrolled and at the end of two months he came out second of thirty-six with an assistant surgeon’s diploma! Burning with impatience to go and apply his new knowledge to succor the unfortunate wounded, he again applied to the Society but they refused to send him to the front. ‘We Russians can handle this. We do not need the help of foreigners was their reply. Temporarily rebuffed, Auguste got in touch with a M. Terichtchenko, director of the military workshops of Moscow who had invented special appliances for transporting the wounded, which were fixed onto peasant’s carts by means of screws. Auguste visited the workshops several times.
The inventor, having noticed the ease with which the young foreigner had understood his system, told him he was exactly the man needed to send to the front with his equipment. On Terichtchenko’s introduction, the governor-general of Moscow, Prince Dolgorouky, agreed this time to send Auguste to Army Headquarters at Kishinev. Auguste arrived there quite penniless. He sold his fine big boots and bought himself cheaper shoes. With most of the difference he bought a pair of gloves when he arrived at Bucharest, in order to present himself more appropriately to the Deputy of the Red Cross. This Deputy was a Prince Dolgoroukof, a vulgar, insolent man who could not speak ten words without including eleven oaths. He received Auguste most discourteously, told him that he could go back again, that his mission was finished and that gloved gentlemen were not needed, only fellows who knew how to take a hand in kneading the dough. Auguste was tempted to show him on the spot how his gloved hands could knead the dough, but he restrained himself. He went into a cafe to think things over and met at the same table two well-dressed Red Cross Deputies. They were no less than Count Tolstoy and Count Mouravieff who had just arrived from Berlin with a train load of varied goods for the Red Cross.
They complained to Auguste, ‘We have a large quantity of supplies for the Red Cross but we do not know how to transport them to the front. Dolgoroukof says that the army has requisitioned all the district’s transport, and that it is impossible to obtain even a small cart for us.’ ‘It is not by lamenting in a cafe that you will solve your difficulty’ replied Auguste somewhat drily. Stung to the quick, one of them retorted ‘I should like to see you do it’. ‘There is no real obstacle – give me a horse and Cossacks and in two days I will bring you back twenty vehicles. ‘His proposal was promptly accepted. He left the same evening and next day returned to Bucharest with seventy-five peasant carts! ‘Oh, but you are a valuable man; we will not let you go like that. You are going to take over the supervision of the convoy and accompany us to Zimnicea’ (On the Danube). At last! Here he was at the famous seat of war of which he had dreamed night and day for months two weeks before his 29th birthday. If he had come to experience emotions and be useful, his expectations were promptly realized. He arrived at Zimnicea on 18th July 1877 and had hardly entered the town and begun to unload his carts when some fugitives arrived at full gallop from Plevna, saying that the Russians were in full flight and that the 'bachi-bouzouks’ (Turkish irregulars were pursuing them and holding lances at their backs. Frantic terror took possession of the inhabitants. In the twinkling of an eye, doors, shutters and shop fronts slammed shut.
There was a general stampede and men, women, children, old men, the strong, the wounded, cattle, horses, asses, buffaloes, all jostled each other as they fled pell-mell. Some shouted, some swore, some prayed; they blasphemed, they bellowed, they roared and they howled. This terrifying mob all ran together and moved along the streets of Zimnicea through blinding dust under a fierce sun. Never was there a more horrible scene – like a vision of Dante in the depths of hell. This panic was futile but it was not without cause. You may remember that it was on that day that Osman Pasha had made a victorious sortie from Plevna, defeating General Schakhoroskoi and de Krude, inflicting on them a loss of 20,000 men. The following days were marked by a great flood of wounded. In a few days nearly 5,000 of them were brought in. For want of tents and hospitals to shelter them, they simply lay on the ground under a burning July sun. Without false modesty Auguste wrote to me ‘It is then that I began to be really useful. With gold in my pockets, men and carts at my disposal, I organized a shuttle service of carts between the camp for the wounded and the town, laden with all I could find in the town. I broke down the doors of the inhabitants who refused to give up the things needed for the wounded. It is also there that I had the opportunity, for the first time, of assisting the famous surgeon Sklifassorsky in one of his wonderful operations. He was amputating the leg of an officer and I held the thigh firmly. I still feel the chill of the knife entering the flesh and the grating of the saw severing the bone. During this first operation I had to go out three times for fresh air and to restore zest to my failing heart. I was indignant hearing the surgeons discussing the laws of their art, weighing the pros and cons of the success of this operation. One becomes accustomed to everything and by the third operation I had become inured to war and I took a keen interest in the explanations of the learned professor.’
After a few days Auguste went to Listoro (on the Danube) where the same heartrending spectacle met his eyes. The sick and the wounded continued to flow in from Plevna and from the Balkans and the help they had was quite inadequate. The Red Cross depot had the appearance of complete confusion. Linen, garments, medicines, liquors, tobacco and preserves all lay about higgledy-piggledy. One had to search a whole day, turning out all the crates before finding what one needed. Auguste expressed his indignation in no uncertain manner at such disorder. The local Red Cross Delegate, clearly at his wits’ end, appointed him on the spot as Representative of the Red Cross and manager of the Listoro Depot. Sustained by the desire to promptly relieve the untold sufferings that confronted him, he displayed his typical flair for action. He requisitioned Iconnas, one of the mosques of the town and hoisted an enormous Red Cross flag on the minaret of the prophet, who must have shuddered in his tomb. He equipped his depot with first aid kits, sorted labelled and arranged. At the end of three days everything was in perfect order. Not only did he keep the depot organized, delivering promptly to the hospitals and doctors what they needed, but he still found time to contribute to the setting-up of sustenance stations between Plevna and Listoro where the wounded could be given soup and tea. He continued to assist at the operations of surgeons Sklifassorsky and Heim who greatly appreciated his Herculean strength, his calmness and his intelligent appreciation of the care that the wounded needed.
His casual, jovial frankness, liveliness, good humor and indefatigable energy earned for him the affection of all, from the private soldier, to the chiefs and ladies of the Royal Court who nursed the wounded. When the terrible crisis of the battle for Plevna was over there were fewer wounded coming in and the medical staff at Listoro were able to regain their breath a little. The great surgeon decided to keep a memento of his staff during recent difficult days together. Auguste was invited to be in a photographic group consisting only of the Red Cross and medical teams. A copy of the photo was given to Prince Tcherkassky, Deputy Chief of the Russian Society of the Red Cross in Bulgaria. The prince asked about the only face in the group that was unknown to him. They praised Auguste very highly, indeed, too much. The prince, an ardent lover of the Slavs, detested anyone who was a foreigner. He summoned Auguste to headquarters at Gormy-Studene thanked him politely and with sham warmth told him that he wished to keep him near him and promptly put him in charge of the local depot of the Red Cross, a tiny place with an embryo hospital of only a few patients. Auguste spent two long months there with almost nothing to do, champing at the bit, thinking of all the useful work he could be doing elsewhere. He would have died of boredom but for the frequent friendly visits of Switzerland’s military representative, the worthy Colonel Colombi who by his interesting conversations kept him up-to-date with the military operations, pointing out the errors, predicting the checks with a wisdom that events nearly always justified. Under a very plain exterior, Colombi hid a real ability. The Emperor, who had complimented him on the elegant simplicity of his Swiss uniform which was in striking contrast to the embroideries of his colleagues, had a high opinion of his judgment. One day at the Emperor’s stable, a discussion having arisen on the respective merits of the Austrian and German armies, Colombi was chosen as the referee. He decided the question in favor of the German army.
Auguste, quite convinced that Prince Tcherkassy would not relent, went to see him and declared that he was embarrassed to accept a salary for work so unimportant, and was resigning. This was accepted and Auguste set out again for Listoro, where he arrived almost as poor as on the first occasion. It was then suggested the he enter the Army Supply Corps where they offered him 1500 gold francs a month, while indicating the means by which he could make from 10,000 to 15,000 ’on the side '. Despite his debts in Russia and his present poverty Auguste flatly refused. ‘A Swiss does not enter a service where one steals’, he replied. His honesty and his foresight were fully justified for after the war some cases of fraud against certain Army Supply Officers were under investigation.
Discouraged and disillusioned, Auguste was about to return to Russia when a doctor friend, who had resigned for similar reasons, proposed opening a hospital at Listoro for the army's carriers who were dying by the hundred from fever, dysentery and privation. Funds were to be supplied by a Warsaw company which as Auguste has since learned, created this philanthropic effort only to conceal its corruptions and throw dust in the eyes of some very important people. Auguste agreed and took charge of administration while the doctor busied himself with the medical side. They struggled for a few weeks in a scheming environment of ill-reputed adventurers of all nationalities, but rendered great service to these poor devils of carriers, obscure victims of the war and its exploiters. At the end of a month the funds dried up and they had to close their hospital.
It was mid-winter, the Russian armies were in the Balkan Mountains struggling to cross struggling to cross the Schipkas and Gorny Doubniak passes, against severe natural conditions and a fierce enemy. The sufferings of the soldiers and the wounded were indescribably, especially those who also had frozen feet and hands. Auguste could not bring himself to leave this scene of misery where so much suffering still cried out for relief. He joined forces with a gentleman who planned to cross the Balkans. Each supplied a horse and a sledge, provisions were purchased, and they set off. The two travelers first followed the hard-frozen Danube, sinking sometimes under the ice in places where warm springs occurred near the banks. Leaving the river, they arrived at Plevna a few days after the mutiny in the square. Great God! What a terrible sight! The ground had been ploughed up by shells, the gutted houses were in ruins, torn by shells, and riddled by bullets. They stared at you with empty eyes like skeletons of some gigantic monsters. The carnage had been terrible for the thick layer of snow that covered the ground was spotted with reddish blobs of blood, brains, intestines, and shreds of flesh, and resembled a slaughterhouse. Corpses galore lay there, some singly, others in close-packed masses. Patrols moved about in the midst of this charnel scene, escorting small bands of captured Turks – pale, emaciated, gaunt as cab horses. Some were completely exhausted and collapsed on the road never to rise again. ‘Vae victis’. (Woe to the conquered.)
Auguste and his companion continued up the northern side of the Balkan Mountains forcing their way through an increasingly thick blanket of snow. They spent the nights in shattered, abandoned villages, in huts without doors or windows, setting off the next day by roads that got worse and worse. It was then that Auguste fully appreciated the harsh he had served in the rugged Ormonts. His iron health, good humor, ingenuity in procuring warmth, forage and even food, overcame all obstacles. A few days later the intrepid travelers emerged on the southern side of the mountains and reached Sofia, then called Philippopolis.
Meanwhile Prince Tcherkassky had died and had been replaced by the Secretary of State, Panioutine. Auguste therefore called on the Sofia Red Cross Deputy and offered his help . The man was in great confusion. The sick and wounded were pouring in from all sides at once, communications through the Balkans were frequently interrupted and the Red Cross depot was short of everything. ‘Have you any money? ‘asked Auguste. ‘Yes, but it is of no use’. ‘Nonsense’ he replied. ‘It is the nerve of war; it is also that of charity’. He was handed a few thousand francs and bought all the linen and flannel that he could find from shops and individuals. Then, in the name of charity, he knocked on many doors enlisting women and girls. He organized a big clothing workshop to which they all hurried and got busy sewing. In a week two thousand pairs of flannel underpants and shirts had been delivered.
The local Deputy, delighted to have found such an active and energetic assistant, appointed him Deputy-in-Chief, put him in charge of the Philippopolis depot -- and vanished for good! Typhus had just broken out and was raging, causing untold misery in the midst of this conglomeration of wounded, sick and crippled men, exhausted by snow and cold. Auguste was truly a providential Godsend for these unfortunates for his great activity and ‘savoir faire’ coped with every problem. Setting the example, he electrified his subordinates by supervising everything personally, including the hospitals. He created order and cleanliness everywhere, visited all his doomed typhoid patients and saved some of them in spite of the doctors who refused to go into the worst places.
However, concerned by the great responsibility thrust on him, he kept on asking for a Deputy Red Cross Chief and his repeated wish was granted. Warned by telegraph of the Deputy’s arrival, he went to meet him at the railway station and saw alighting from the train a dry little man with an expressive open countenance, indicative of both kindness and energy. ‘You must be M. Balachof’ said Auguste in his clear vibrant voice that pierced the air like a bugle note. ‘Ah, how pleasing your voice is to me, and how distinctly I hear it’ he replied, for he was a bit deaf. Such was Auguste’s first meeting with this man who was to have so great an influence on his life. A millionaire with a rather delicate constitution, intimate adviser and Chamberlain of the Tsar, M. Balachof, like so many others, could easily have led the idle and useless life of a young man of good social position. Endowed with a generous nature, and brilliant talents which had been cultivated by his Swiss tutor, M. Falleli of Geneva, he adopted quite another way of life. Frail and delicate as a child, a healthy physical regimen had transformed him into a good walker, swimmer, an excellent mountain climber, an intrepid horseman and had made him immune to fatigue and privation. May I add that he found a worthy rival in Auguste. Here are a few examples: One day in the Caucasus, between Petrovska and Thenis-Khan-Chour, one of them was travelling by post coach, the other who took to the road on foot, arrived first! Another time in the rugged Trans Caspian steppe they had covered 125 kilometers on horseback. ‘Are you tired?’ ‘No.’ ‘Could you do another stage?’ ‘Certainly.’ ‘Come on then.’ And they did another 25 kilometers, in spite of being sore and stiff, for they had been fifteen hours in the saddle!
Another time at Yalta in the Crimea, all the guests of the Grand Hotel were confined to their rooms by a fierce wind, blowing in gusts and whipping up waves of two to three meters. 'Are we going swimming?' asked Balachof. ' With you, I am willing' answered Auguste. In no time they were in the water despite the vehement protests and entreaties of the other guests who were fully convinced that they were going to certain death. Undaunted they swam out a good half kilometer – then turned back, sometimes disappearing in troughs, sometimes tossed like a walnut shell on the foaming crests. When they returned to shore it was impossible to make a landing. The waves were breaking in wild surf and undertow dragged them back again and again. 'Let us dive' said one. The cry arose from the onlookers, ‘They are lost.’ 'Come on then!’ They swam under water, the wave receded and there they were, safe on shore and greeted with cheers. They dressed and went off calmly to dine.
A few days later they set out from the hotel at four o’clock in the afternoon and reached the Aspetre, the highest peak in the Crimean range, in time to admire a superb sunset. They got back to the hotel at midnight after having walked fifty kilometers without pause, passing through a forest with precipices with a high chance of breaking one’s neck! This time they conceded that they were tired! For two days they hardly dared touch their legs for their leg muscles felt like red-hot iron bars! Balachof had high principles which fitted him for any self-sacrifice and made him compassionate towards all suffering. When he went to the Balkans, he asked for the most dangerous job. Later on, when the plague broke out at Vetliemke on the Volga, he went there immediately, undaunted by the epidemic, although on the first day he saw thirty-six die of the disease. Under the command of General Laris-Melikof he took the most energetic and thorough measures, perhaps thanks to his devotion to duty, Russia and Europe were saved from a terrible scourge! Such was the new chief that Auguste brought back to the town of Philippopolis. He took him to visit all the hospitals and other Red Cross buildings.
He then handed over his accounts and the Depot, saying that now his own role was finished and that he was going to withdraw. ‘Not at all, Sir, on the contrary I earnestly beg of you to stay. I am amazed at all that you have done. You know all about everything and I very much need your help'. Gradually these two men, both so worthy, learned to know and esteem each other. They formed a deep and lasting friendship that has never failed them since. After the peace was signed at San Stefanoinis, it was necessary to repatriate the Turkish wounded and prisoners-of-war. Auguste was appointed a member of the Evacuation Commission and played an important part in its work. One day when he was in charge of a train going to Adrianople (120 kilometers north of Gallipoli, he was told that an entire carriage had revolted under the leadership of a huge man who, forgetful of the law of Mahomet, had filled himself with brandy and was threatening to throw all the Muscovites through the window. Auguste boldly entered the carriage and floored the rebellious one with his fist, as he was advancing to meet him. This convinced the rabble to a man! Not one stirred, and the train proceeded without further incident. At Adrianople the new commander-in-chief of the army of occupation, General Todfleben, gave the young Swiss a warm and cordial reception as he had been informed of Auguste’s exploits since the beginning of the campaign. He thanked him publicly for his fine conduct and the care that he had lavished on the Russian soldiers, gave him the ceremonial accolade at a parade of all his staff officers, made him a present of his photograph, duly autographed with a eulogistic dedication, and invited him to dine. Towards the end of the repast, when in reply to a toast, Auguste had bravely made his little speech in Russian, General Todfleben asked ‘Why is a man like M Tardent, who has rendered us so many services, not yet an official Deputy?’ ‘He will be,’ said M. Kabat, Deputy-in-Chief of the Red Cross, taking good care not to mention that although twice recommended by Balachof, Tardent had twice been ruled out - because he was a foreigner!
The next day Auguste was appointed a Deputy of the Russian Red Cross Society and a month later it was confirmed by Her Majesty the Empress, Patroness of the Society. Meanwhile, with the evacuation of the Turkish wounded completed, they proceeded to do the same for the Russian wounded. Auguste was given charge of the Yamboil to Burgas (a port on the Black Sea) railway line. Here again his great energy was needed. A major of the Army Supply Corps had been instructed to organize this line but came back discouraged, telling the chief doctor that the thing was impossible. The wind blew the tents over, the officers refused to supply the men necessary to establish the field hospitals, etc. Auguste said that he understood the task and would carry it out. He promptly confronted the obstructing general and politely but firmly requested the soldiers that he needed. The general, who was riding show of raising his riding whip. ‘Never mind that’ replied Auguste, looking him squarely in the face, ‘I will immediately write you an official demand for so many soldiers and you will answer it or not, please yourself.’ Red Cross Deputies had long arms, and it was not uncommon for their complaints to get right to the all-powerful Empress and even higher. The cool assurance of the new Deputy gave the general something to think about and an hour later Auguste had the soldiers he wanted. Next day the general visited him to personally apologize saying ‘l did not know that you were that kind of man'. The line was soon very well organized, the hospitals, the food depots and the trains always in order and fully equipped, and the evacuation proceeded smoothly and efficiently.
All seemed to be going well when one day Auguste had set out from Burgas to inspect the line, lightly clad in tussore silk. He was caught out in cold rain and soaked to the skin. In the evening he went upstairs with difficulty for he had caught a bad dose of typhus and it kept him in bed for four weeks, struggling between life and death. This terrible scourge that he had braved so many times with impunity, was a severe trial for him. The physical suffering was easier to bear than the immobility, weakness and impotence that followed the crisis. The Red Cross campaign finished without him. Thanks to devoted, skillful care his sturdy constitution triumphed and in June 1878 he returned to convalesce at Odessa. I went there to see him and we spent a few days together. What a happy experience were these brotherly outpourings after the trials and fears that had oppressed us like a nightmare. How happy I was to hear his cheerful accounts of his role in relieving so many unfortunate sufferers, and how proud I was to see the high esteem in which all held him. The private soldiers all knew him, the Sisters of Charity never called him anything but their ‘dear uncle’, the doctors, his chiefs M Panoutine and General Todfleben himself, now become governor-general of Odessa, all vied with each other in showing him affection, esteem and gratitude.
I was happy to see him return in this manner not like so many others – rich and despised. Rich - he was scarcely that. If his salary in the later period was quite high, his position also made big demands on his purse. Furthermore, he had sent from Burgas quite a big sum to my father, (6,000 roubles) thus saving him from financial ruin and whose courage was thus restored, just as he was about to lose hope. With only a few hundred roubles in his pocket, he set out for St Petersburg in company with General Levitsky and Mme Scobelef, the mother of the famous general. He was warmly welcomed by St Petersburg society, especially by the Central Committee of the Red Cross which asked for his portrait (to be placed in the Society’s museum).
He rested for some time with his protector and friend M. Balachof. He was promptly chosen as his assistant, because Balachof had just been appointed Deputy in Chief of the expedition that the Red Cross was arranging to send to the eastern side of the Caspian Sea. Never have chief and subordinate understood each other better and acted with more unanimity and consistency than these two. Taught by experience, they first set the extensive preparations moving, necessitated by an expedition into a country devoid of all resources and where the Red Cross would, no doubt, be called upon to play an important role. In 1879 they went first to Tiflis in Caucasian Georgia to establish contact with the local Red Cross and to investigate the problems involved. From there they returned west to Odessa, where the Depot held the supplies left over from the Turkish campaign and where nearly all the needed supplies were purchased. In the meantime, General Lomakine had been badly defeated by the Turkomen and the remnant of his troops brought back to the Caspian Sea. Balachof left for St Petersburg, leaving to his assistant the task of continuing the preparations and the recruiting of staff, delicate task demanding a great deal of tact. Some well-connected persons in St Petersburg high society volunteered. Auguste knew plenty about staff and would only enroll mature, experienced nursing sisters whose moral principles were above all temptation. He was unmoved in the face of threats that were used by disgruntled applicants to blacken Auguste’s reputation in his eyes.
Balachof had gone to St Petersburg to clarify the future of the detachment. Must he disband it with the option of reforming it later at great expense, or must he try to use it elsewhere while awaiting the renewal of hostilities planned for the following year? The latter view prevailed and Auguste was then able to proceed with the transportation of 2,500 pounds of goods as far as Tsaritzine on the Volga. The remainder of the material went by rail to Vladikovkaz, thence by cart as far as the Daghestan centers. The agents of the Red Cross hesitated to undertake this last task for the highways were scarcely safe. It was even not uncommon for the Cossacks serving as escorts to join in with the brigands who plundered the convoys. With his usual courage and determination Auguste did not hesitate. He travelled at the head of the first convoy declaring to all that he would blow out the brains of the first man who faltered. All went without further incident except an encounter with a ‘djiquette’ who drew his yataghan (curved dagger-like sword) when they tried to push him aside to let the convoy proceed. In Daghestan province Auguste distributed his sisters of charity amongst the hospitals of Thenir-Khan-Choura, Petrovsk, Derbent and other centers, where he also formed Red Cross Committees.
When the ice melted and the Volga was again navigable, he sent for the supplies from Tsaritzine. As they were not very busy he and Balachof hunted wild boar and golden pheasant, which were plentiful in the scrub forests bordering the Caspian Sea. He visited Baku and its artesian oil wells from which mineral oil gushed hundreds of feet into the air and spills into huge reservoirs. The surrounding mountains are so saturated that if one only makes a hole in the ground with one’s cane and lights it, a gas jet will burn day and night! Auguste went to see a Hindu priest in his cell where the eternal flame burns; the last representative of a numerous caste of fireworshippers. He also visited the vineyards on the Caspian side of the Caucasus Mountains with special interest and saw the large madder (plant used for dye) plantations at Derbent, now abandoned.
When General Scobelef arrived in the spring of 1880, Auguste accompanied him to the eastern side of the Caspian and together they explored the extensive Turkestan Steppe. The first armed reconnaissance took possession of Bami, which they fortified and it became the base for military and medical operations. The general, who feared that his only line of communication might be cut between Tchikichliar and Bami, along the Persian border, prepared a second line more to the north between Bami and Krasnovodsk. Scobelef made this reconnaissance in person with a small escort including Auguste.
What a country! What fatigue and hardship! They rode daily stages of 60 to 70 km and the heat, greatly increased by reflection from the sand, between 40o and 50 o C. Reaching a well which was to quench their thirst and revive them, Scobelef’s party found only muddy water tainted by dead camels, deliberately thrown into it and producing the appetizing perfume of rotten eggs! Their lips were swollen, and were also split with painful cracks. After fifteen days of fatigue and endurance the courageous little band arrived at Krasnovodsk on the Caspian Sea’s opposite shore to the border of Turkey. Auguste, never very fat, was one of the least distressed although he had lost fifteen pounds in weight in fifteen days! Today the railway trains cross this inhospitable desert in a few hours. When the two lines of communication were established, the army’s advance began in November 1880. The Army Service Corps was unfriendly to the Red Cross at first, accused it of encroaching on its powers and considered the Red Cross as its auxiliary. However, it undertook to supply it with forage and pack and draught animals.
Balachof and his assistant knew from their Balkans campaign experiences that the Army’s own medical service would soon become hopelessly incompetent. They therefore set up their main base at Tchkichliar, assembled all their equipment, provisions and stores there, and sent for their staff. Advance depots and field hospitals were set up at places recently occupied by the troops and at first included small numbers of horses, camels and carts in transport parks. Without warning the overworked Supply Corps declared that it could not give the Red Cross the promised help and handed over all the Army transport to its care! The Red Cross was equal to the occasion. Auguste was given complete charge of transport and in a few days had organized wheelwright, blacksmith and saddler’s workshops. He invented two kinds of wagon, one a two-wheeler, the other with four wheels, equipped so as to be readily adaptable for the transport of wounded or alternatively of provisions. This ingenious idea doubled the value of his vehicles and allowed him to utilize the greater strength of his draught animals on their return trips. He proceeded with the acquisition of horses and camels, and soon had a park of 300 horses, 50 camels and 150 different vehicles under his command as well as a staff of about 100 servants, sufficient to cope with any likely need.
Some society ladies of St Petersburg, including the Countess of Wilioutine, the spinster daughter of the Minister of War, had arrived and offered their services free to the Red Cross. Auguste could not do other than accept them, M. Tsalachof had to spend two months in St Petersburg due to illness, so for that period became acting Deputy in Chief with all the responsibility of a big staff and stock worth about 150,000 roubles. He did not have all the consideration for these ladies that they expected. He wanted things done his way and did not intend that the sisters of charity should spend excessive time in religious devotions, that could well be employed much more charitably in caring for the sick and wounded. In short, the Countess, who could not accept being thwarted by this foreign commoner, schemed with her father in St Petersburg to influence the Central Committee of the Red Cross and even with the Empress herself. To gain her ends more surely, she accused Auguste of having committed some malpractices
M. Balachof hurried back anxiously from St Petersburg. ‘M. Tardent’, said he, I like you and I am rich. If you have the smallest act on your conscience, tell me frankly and I will pay, for I wish to avoid scandal at al I costs.’ Auguste replied ‘I thank you but I have only one answer; set up an enquiry and let it be as complete as possible’. ‘I knew you were honest’ replied M. Balachof, ‘and your reply relieves me of a great worry.’ Balachof’s official request for a double enquiry, military and civil, was made and ended of course in the complete vindication of Auguste whose perfect honesty and obvious excellent conduct, on the contrary, were publicly proclaimed. The small quantity of ‘markhota’, a leaf of tobacco at two roubles a pound, which were found at a retailer’s shop and which were the countess’ pretext for her accusations, were found to have come from non-smoking soldiers who had sold their rations to the shopkeeper!
Auguste scorned to sue the countess for defamation of character but contented himself with writing her the following letter. ‘Excellency! There was once a man who had but one rich possession in the world, that of an honest name respected by those who knew him. Then came a person who, sheltering behind a higher position, desired to steal his only wealth, his honor, quite gratuitously and for no reason. Nothing justified this attack, so much the more odious because it was made by stealth. Probably the only thing that saved the poor devil from the noble lady’s unprovoked attack was the intervention of a third party. Perhaps you know this certain Mademoiselle. As for the poor man, he has the honor to be your very humble servant, (signed) A. Tardent (who encloses a copy of an official document and draws your special attention to a certain underlined word which will always remain linked to his memory of you). Tchikichliar, 12th November 1880. ' The word underlined in the document was ‘kleveta’ which means slander.
The slanderous insinuations also had their repercussions against Balachof. The Central Committee, upset and torn in different directions, yielded to powerful requests, and they sent out a new Deputy-in-Chief, Prince Schakhovskoi , to the seat of war. Balachof and his assistant were thus faced with two difficult alternatives - either to accept the orders of a young man of twenty-eight, their former subordinate in the Turkish campaign who had no qualifications other than to have been born in a princely cradle, or to resign at the risk of seeing their work wrought with such great care and trouble jeopardized in incompetent hands. Also this would allow the slander spread against them to gain credence. Deeply disgusted by so much intrigue and black ingratitude, Balachof wished to resign. Auguste held a different opinion. ‘We are not here for the satisfaction of our own self esteem’ said he, ‘but to perform a humane task. We know all about the detailed operations of the Red Cross. We only, can help our wounded in the manner that they have the right to expect of our Society. Moreover, in wartime the power, of necessity goes to the man of experience and action. If anyone finds himself discredited here, it will not be you or I’.
Balachof, convinced by this reasoning, sustained by this mountaineer’s determination which nothing could shake, agreed to stay on with the simple title of Deputy whilst Auguste was appointed Chief of the Medical Park. Events fully justified their self-sacrificed. The Prince, bewildered and out of ‘his element, was reduced to referring those who asked for orders to the only persons who were competent to give them and who had full knowledge of all the problems. In the eyes of the whole staff the prince’s sybaritic St Petersburg character was in painful contrast with that of his industrious predecessor. Soft and feeble of character, he allowed himself to be talked over by the Countess, (on whose activities he had to make the enquiry) and finished by marrying her, despite the great difference in their ages. This strange marriage provoked great bursts of laughter in the whole army and its echo resounded mirthfully in St Petersburg society.
During this time Balachof capably organized the medical service in the outposts, thinking of everything. He personally went right up under the walls of Geok-Teke under a hail of bullets to collect the wounded. Auguste, no less busy, evacuated 2,000 wounded and sick from the Caspian Sea in a few weeks and supplied the medical stations with all they needed. He even assisted the hard-pressed Army Supply Service by transporting cannon balls and other munitions for it! He maintained his draught animals in good condition thanks to a clever fitting on the wagons which allowed them to always carry a good supply of forage. He proved his gallantry and fearlessness on many occasions.
One day when he was escorting a convoy of wounded, the cavalry scouts signaled the approach of Turkoman troopers. The nearness of the enemy was not unexpected since a few days before Dr Stoudzis and his escort of Cossacks had been massacred only a few versts away. Everybody was preparing to sell his life dearly, if necessary. The enemy, however, did not seem in a hurry to attack. Auguste, impatient to know whom he had to deal with, leapt onto his horse, made sure that his holsters were in good order and rode forward at a gallop to reconnoiter the enemy. He stopped a hundred paces from them for they were completely hidden by a dense cloud of dust; then he suddenly burst out laughing and returned. 0n reaching his own men he was surrounded and plied with questions. ‘What did you see? How many are they? Have they rifles or spears?’ ‘Go and see for yourselves, ‘he replied coldly, ‘you who are soldiers.’ (One of them was the son of a famous Russian general.) No one moved. ‘Well, set your minds at rest, my friends, it is a flock of sheep! ‘What a joke!
Another time he noticed on his arrival at Tchikichliar that he had lost his watch and its precious solid gold chain, a friendly present from M. Balachof. Despite the late hour he remounted and set about searching for it accompanied only by his orderly, the brave ‘djiquette’ Khodof, a splendid man who was later made a Knight of St George for his heroic conduct during the attack on Geok-Tepe. After a ride of several hours he was lucky enough to find his precious keepsake sparkling on the sand like a small fantastic reptile. But the sun was setting, and darkness was rapidly spreading its dense veil and the two horsemen lost their way. There they were, alone on the steppe which was swarming with enemy patrols. If they ran into one, they had the pleasant prospect of being impaled. That is to say having their feet and hands bound then seated on their anus on a pointed stake, which their own weight would cause to penetrate the body tearing through their entrails till death resulted in three or four days; or else having the skin torn from their backs by heavy flogging. Nothing is so nerve-racking and demoralizing as an unknown danger. They found their bearings somehow or other and made for the Caspian Sea. They moved cautiously intensely concentrating their hearing, and with the pupils of their eyes dilated and staring ahead. At last, close on midnight they saw a small fire and heard the confused murmur of a camp. Were these friends or enemies? Should they go forward or should they flee? They were dropping with fatigue. Their mounts were tired out. They moved forward with extra caution, cutlass between their teeth, finger on revolver trigger. ‘Who goes there? ‘cried someone in Russian. They gleefully answered ‘Friends!’ Ah! what a relaxation of nerves!
Those two hours roused more emotions in them than whole years of ordinary life. Finally, Auguste personally organized the defense of his park during the frightening night of 30th December 1880. Their whole camp was sound asleep when suddenly a frightful noise arose and threw panic into all their hearts. The Turkomen sallied out from fortified Geok-Tepe with the suddenness of a lava flow and furiously attacked the left flank of the Russian army whose camp was sited only a few hundred meters from the ramparts. Auguste had a few bad moments, until he found his revolver (hidden in a chest), but the feel of it in his hand instantly brought calmness and presence of mind. He assembled his hundred men, ordered them to grab any arms, anything they could find, axes, spears or guns and formed them into a square around the park. His calm, commanding voice was clearly heard amidst some cries of pain and terror, crack of rifle fire and the whiz of bullets all about them. He soon brought calm to his men who were the more upset as they remembered the almost complete destruction of General Lomakine’s army two years earlier and the horrible mutilations which the prisoners suffered, including loss of manhood by castration!
After two attacks the enemy was driven off, having inflicted casualties on the Russians of 52 dead and 16 wounded. Auguste remained at Geok-Tepe until the final assault on 12th January 1881, a horrible battle in which 8,000 Turkomen bit the dust. His brave and competent conduct did not go unnoticed. General Scobelef was a good judge of men, and personally recommended Auguste for the decoration of St Vladimir with crossed swords. This is a very select order very rarely awarded to Russian civilians and almost never to foreigners. It is only given ‘with swords’ for acts of bravery under enemy fire. It came to naught, however it automatically confers hereditary nobility on the recipient with the right to bring up one’s children at the expense of the Crown and other social privileges. Furthermore, Scobelef’s opinion of the Red Cross had completely changed and he praised it publicly for its services and declared it had deserved well of Russia and of mankind. He instructed it to succor the Turkomen victims of the war and to proceed with the complete evacuation of the sick and wounded.
When all was settled, Auguste gave up his plan for an extended journey to Teheran in Persia. He went with all haste to the Caucasus and from there to Switzerland, whither he had been summoned by repeated telegrams announcing the sudden dire illness of his father. Unfortunately, he arrived too late to see him, and found only the tomb of he who would have been so happy to clasp him in his arms. At least he had the satisfaction of finding his dear old mother and all his brothers gathered there, as well as his old friends who gave him a warm and most cordial welcome. After visiting parts of Switzerland, he left with myself, Hortense and our two eldest children, and rested for some weeks with us at Nikolayev.
What was Auguste to do now? M. Balachof gave him a large gratuity in recognition of the loyal service that he had rendered and for the unfaltering devotion that he had shown him, when so many others were fawning on Prince Schakhoroskoi. The amount would have been a fortune for some. However, when Auguste had paid all the costs of his journey and part of mine to Switzerland, and generously lavished an abundant dew on all his relatives he had only a few thousand roubles left, too little to start any worthwhile trade venture. Moreover, he was in no hurry as he had powerful and important friends, and was little troubled about the future. Meantime he wished to rest a little from the hurly-burly of life. ‘You do not know,’ he said ’what great pleasure one has in eating a European dinner and in sleeping in a good bed, after having lived for more than a year under a tent and without any comforts. However, inactivity soon weighed upon him more heavily than the ardors of the Trans Caspian desert! He set out once more for Moscow where the National Exhibition of 1882 was being prepared. The Central Committee of the Red Cross gave him charge of the organization of the Asiatic section of the Society. There again he displayed his talent as an organizer and his usual quality of a man of action, unafraid of conflict. The director of the Exhibition was influenced by envious schemers, refused to allot him the site requested by Auguste and proposed to place his exhibition in several isolated pavilions separated from each other. Auguste realized that a scattered exhibition would be ineffective and that he would be blamed for its failure. He would not be budged by either prayers, appeals or threats. He told the Director, ‘I would rather take my tents, wagons and camels back to the city where I shall organize something appropriate, thus justifying the confidence that has been placed in me – or nothing at all. ‘
Prince Dolgorouky, governor-general of Moscow, a man who was universally esteemed, presided at the sitting of the Committee of the Exhibition Commission. He agreed that Auguste was fundamentally in the right, but he besought him to yield for the sake of peace. ‘Impossible, Prince. I would have considered myself dishonored if I faltered in what I believe to be my duty.’ The Committee rose without reaching agreement or passing any resolution. The Prince, amazed at such determination took Auguste’s arm in a friendly manner and as they walked up and down together, asked him what he expected to do. 'Commence tomorrow setting up my display on the exact site that I have selected.’ ‘And if the director is opposed to it? ‘I shall submit the case direct to the Empress. '
When they were convinced that his determination was invulnerable, they tried a flanking attack. A few days after this, an important gentleman bedecked with medals appeared at the pavilion site and began to give orders. ‘Who are you?’ asked Auguste. ‘General so and so, a confidential adviser specially appointed to organize the Asiatic section.’ Auguste replied, ‘Let me see your credentials, sir.’ ‘I have none, I only have verbal instructions’. ‘Well, M. Confidential Adviser, I declare here and now that if you only move one stone here without proper credentials, I shall have you promptly thrown out by my workmen'. The ruse thus failed. The general grabbed his hat and fled, and Auguste never heard of him again! Ah! Willpower! That is the point of support that Archimedes should have demanded, to enable him to lift up the world. After having beaten his enemies by his great determination, Auguste won them over by his jovial outspokenness, devoid of malice or bitterness. Everything went wonderfully well. On the day on which their Imperial Majesties were to visit the Exhibition, everyone was at his post hoping to win a glance or a word from the supreme master.
Auguste who had worked with quite a different end in view, was quietly lunching in a city restaurant when a chamberlain came in haste to tell him that they were looking everywhere for him, that the Empress desired he be presented to her. He returned to the pavilion only a few moments before their Imperial Majesties arrived. They went right through the whole of the Red Cross section without saying a word to anyone. When they arrived at the Asiatic pavilion, the Empress came forward and with her usual graciousness said ‘M. Tardent, I thank you warmly for all that you have done for our beloved wounded.’ Those gracious words were a magnificent justification of Deputy Tardent and their aim was obviously intended to disprove the slanders with which certain people had tried to blacken him.
Ignoring the rule of etiquette which forbids one to speak to their Majesties unless directly asked a question, Auguste bowed and replied ' l have only done my duty. Perhaps Your Majesty wishes to see how our wounded were cared for and made comfortable during the campaign’. ‘With pleasure’, she replied, left the Tsar’s arm, entered the felt tent and inspected the beds, etc. The Emperor followed her and agreed that the wounded had not been so well treated at Bouchtchouk. From there Auguste showed the royal visitors the wagons which he had fitted up for the transport of the wounded, quickly dismantling them and explained their use and their advantages. He interested them by his breeziness and that respectful ease, free of servility, natural to republican Swiss. Their Majesties finally moved on after half-an-hour’s interview and inspection!
If you have ever lived in a monarchical and especially an autocratic country, I leave it to you to think how many people were made envious and jealous that day by Auguste, ‘We others were speechless but the Frenchy has a tongue of gold. He was not the least bit embarrassed, not he, in their company he is like a gentleman with his brother’. His success was manifold. On the recommendation of the Central Committee, he was created Commander of the Order of St Stanislaus and his wagons were awarded a Diploma of Honor, the highest award at the Exhibition for means of transport. When the Exhibition closed, the Central Red Cross Committee requested miniature models of his vehicles and he sent them to the Museum of the Society, at St Petersburg, with an explanatory pamphlet in Russian, which had the distinction of being translated into French and published in the International Bulletin of Geneva, January 1885.
Auguste once more found himself with no employment but not without projects. One of his friends, M. Gromoz, in negotiations with General Tcherniaef, governor of Turkestan, proposed to the Russian government to replace the caravan trade of those distant regions by a system of main roads, railways and river navigation. The contractor undertook to finance the project – boats, railways, everything. In return he demanded exemption for ten years from all customs duties on goods imported into Russia through this frontier, and thus to monopolize all the Russian trade of these vast regions for that period. It was an impressive project, Auguste was to have an interest in the profits and his task would be to act as right-hand man of the director, so as to ensure its success in those countries that he knew so well and where his friend, who had supplied Scobelef’s army, had seen him at work.
Auguste would probably have made big money there if at the very moment when the project appeared to be safely launched, it had not collapsed through the sudden dismissal of General Tcherniaef, who was its patron. Tcherniaef was in great favor at St Petersburg, but he was sacrificed for having expressed strong sentiments towards France at a banquet given in honor of the Attaché of the French Embassy. This at a time when Russian policy relied essentially on the Alliance with Germany. Other projects were adopted for Turkestan transport and preference was given to the Krasnovodsk-Morvi-Boukhara line which is being built at the present time (1887). Auguste stuck to his friend Gromoz and would have nothing to do with the new scheme.
While all this was going on at Tashkent and St Petersburg, Auguste lived on hopes, in order not to waste his time he travelled to Vilna in Poland at his own expense, hoping to have some thousands of roubles restored to a poor Swiss woman, left a widow with several orphans. He found legal muddles, trickery and delays that had dragged on since 1846. He had a chancellor dismissed, interested some important people in the lady's welfare and obtained some financial redress for her. On the way, he created a sensation in the little town of Viszma for two days, where his appearance and his decoration ribbons had caused him to be taken for an imperial ravisher (as in Gogol’s play). On his return to Moscow in May 1885 he had the rare opportunity of being present at all the ceremonies of the coronation of Their Imperial Majesties, from the religious ceremony inside the Kremlin to a gala ballet. He was the only guest in a dress suit – all the others, the cream of European Society was in court dress or military uniforms. He was soon bored with this life of pleasure and idleness, and came back to visit me in Nikolayev. He said something like ‘I must do something, but what? Mr Balachof and I have agreed that to preserve our friendship, I should not enter his employ in civilian life.
It is true that many other important people have often offered to help me but I have too much pride to beg a job from people at whose table I have been a guest, and who have all treated me as an equal. Well, my dear brother, I am going to return to my former profession, teaching. It is the only honorable career that is sufficiently independent and that suits me. Besides, I still need to improve my mind. No sooner said than done. Despite his thirty-five years he was soon once more deep into the study of Latin, interrupted at Odessa. He dreamed and spoke of nothing but grammar and literature from morn till night. I would not be surprised if at times he would not sooner have been among the bullets at Geok-Tepe! The sedentary life palled on him; he found that it slowed the blood and dulled the mind. However, he knew how to counteract this with a vigorous health - cold baths, long walks and swimming up to two kilometers out from the shore, etc. At the end of a few months he was sufficiently self-confident to present himself for tests to the Director of Schools Moscow District, M Lavrovsky, who gave him a good pass and appointed him forthwith as provisional teacher for one term at the Akkerman Grammar School.
Always thorough and dedicated in all that he does, Auguste devoted himself body and soul to his teaching, stimulated his pupils who adored him, and soon became the life and soul of the College and of the town. His appointment was for one term only. It would certainly have been confirmed if M Lavrovsky had not died suddenly. His successor, who did not know Auguste at all and who had a protégée of his own to place, did not renew his appointment. Auguste only had to get him to revise his decision but he did not desire to do so. A year in a Russian provincial town was a long time for this restless and active man.
He went to the Caucasus and stayed for some time with his friend the architect Knore at Stavropol, from there he went to Tiflis (Tbilisi) where he was well received by the Director of Schools. He was promptly offered a position at Tiflis itself. Auguste declined this but accepted a post of teacher at the Erivan Classical Grammar School. How I should like to quote here some extracts from his letters. His thoughts are so exuberant that the sentence is sometimes as involved as the vines of a rainforest and the grammar gets a little twisted, though there is plenty of action! Those letters of fifteen to twenty pages are in a style as animated as a Michelangelo sculpture, full of warmly colored imagery, joyous as a Spanish mule-bell, then suddenly poetical as moonlight, or sparkling like falling snow on a starry night.
Everything delighted or interested him in the Caucasus; the picturesque landscape, the beauty of some sight that recalled Switzerland, the majesty of the mountains, and Ararat. The bracing air, and the exotic customs of the many different races of people living in these regions. As everywhere he ever lived, Auguste knew everybody from the governor of the town to the last cabbie. He had a friendly jovial word for the passing milkmaid, the Jewish dealer sitting behind his heap of ribbons and laces, the Gypsy tinker, or the dervish after prayers. The Moslems of the town took such a liking to the ‘Frenchy’ that they reserved for him a place of honor in their mosque, which no Christian was usually allowed to enter.
Thus it is that he was able during the feast of Ramadan in 1885 to be present at the famous procession of fanatical dervishes. ‘A stage is built in the precincts of the mosque’, he wrote me, ‘and it is there that the performance of the Mystery Plays takes place. From six to eight character actors present the different scenes of the life of the Prophet. They hold a piece of paper and declaim by turns from it, singing sometimes with nasal intonations, sometimes in a harsh and guttural voice. From time to time they draw the sabers which they wear at their sides and make the gesture of cutting their own throats. When the play is finished the whole community wanders through the town in a long, motley procession, lighted by huge petrol torches. They are generally in groups of from fifty to eighty persons. With the left hand they hold on to the belt of their neighbor, with the right they brandish a sword with terrifying gestures. ‘The procession goes forward chanting and howling rhythmically the words “Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah!” These frenzied beings halt at all the crossroads and utter cries of great ferocity.’ Auguste continues ‘Today is the last day of Ramadan. After ten days of these training exercises the fanaticism of these men reaches an incredible crescendo. About 300 of the most fanatical go through the town’s streets in five or six groups. Each group is preceded by about ten horses dressed out in garish colored fabrics, some are ridden, others are led by the bridle. The fanatics, clad in long white robes, brandish their sabers and strike each other repeatedly on the head to the continual clamoring cries of "Allah, Allah!” Blood gushes, congeals in the hair, trickles down their cheeks in scarlet threads and stains their white robes, which soon take on the appearance of gory butchers aprons! Their faces are hideous, drawn with pain and the paroxysms of religious exaltation, giving them the appearance of devilish monsters emerging from a sea of blood. A carriage would frequently pass me bearing one of these poor wretches who had fallen exhausted in the street. I am assured that every year a number of them die a coveted death, for they believe that they go straight to Paradise. What a strange animal is man! In ordinary life, these same fanatics are the gentlest, most honest men that one could wish to meet!’
There, dear kinsman, is the concise account as faithful as I have been able to reconstitute it, of those events which have marked the restless and sometimes adventurous life of Auguste. The envious ones maintain that he was ‘born with a caul’, that he has been particularly lucky. As for me, the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that he owes his success to his persevering will, to his steadfastness in adversity, to his excellent character, to his honesty – which has resisted the most seductive temptation - and also to his energy and great activity. It is still necessary for a man to bestir himself in order that God may lead him. One has hardly ever seen Him set a limit to the advance of those in the front ranks.
Finally, at your express request and to complete the record, here follows some notes about myself, the most thankless part of my task, the one for which I have the least inclination. Nor do I believe that I have reached the age at which one likes to record one’s recollections.
I was born during the collapse of my parent’s affairs when my father wanted to emigrate to Australia against the very strong objections of my mother. This was a time of great trial for her, incessantly tossed about between fear and hope, and also a prey to intense religious emotions. I believe that I owe my relatively delicate constitution and an over-riding sensitivity to the circumstance of my birth. This temperament has brought me great intellectual and moral enjoyment but also deep and bitter afflictions scarcely suspected by those who know me. Everything affects me profoundly both good things and bad and I go through life rather like skinless creatures which suffer joy or pain from the least variation of temperature. All my childhood was spent entirely in the Ormonts Valley and from my earliest years I took part in all that the family did. This healthy mountain life which unceasingly calls on all one’s faculties has certainly made my life because it was the origin of my pronounced taste, even almost a passion for reading and study. It is a fact that from the age of ten, or even earlier, I was earning my living. This early initiation into life matures a childlike fruit exposed at the same time to the Sirocco and to the midday sun. I should have liked to continue my studies. I know that my dear and wise father had taken some steps towards this end but he had to abandon the idea because of money problems.
Despite this I kept up my studying hobby and obtained for myself a tutorship in Poland. I was sixteen years old and had just made my first communion when I set out on 7th September 1869. On the way my money ran out and I still had another fifty leagues to go and not one sou left in my pocket. However, I was already resourceful enough to overcome this problem and arrived successfully at my destination. To be honest it is the only time that I kept the Jeune Federal (Swiss national fast day) strictly! I spent two years and eight months with the Boniezky family at Kornie in Galicia where I was fairly happy. My mornings were completely free, so I took advantage of this to study, perfect my French, my knowledge of literature, to learn something of the sciences, a fair amount of history, and two other languages, Polish and German. My only pupil having departed for Vienna to further his studies, I found myself a position at Kitaigrerad in the Ukraine, a detestable post about which I could write a volume of poignant memories. I left after two months, being the thirty-sixth of the tutors and governesses who had left this honorable family within four years!
I then spent some weeks at the home, of a friend, and was about to set out for Moscow to join my brother Auguste, when I learned by chance of a Tardent family living near Akkerman. The next day I set out to find this family, and in three days reached Chabag in October 1872. Imagine the surprise and amazement of our good Russian relatives. They said ‘But we were told that all the Swiss Tardents were dead’. I replied ‘Perhaps there are some who have suffered such a fate but as for me, I am well and truly alive!’
The wine harvest was over, the granaries and the cellars were full to overflowing and life was gay at Chabag. I do believe that they danced every day. A week after my arrival the wedding of one of the new cousins took place. I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of a crowd of people and lots of relatives. I, who thought myself alone and isolated in Russia found myself suddenly surrounded by numerous Tardent families who received me most cordially and with open arms. Above all, there was a swarm of charming girl-cousins who made my 20-year-old heart bound like a chamois in the Alps. Their forebear had left the Ormonts for Montreux and Vevey in 1822. I arrived at Chabag exactly fifty years after the first colonists, and it had been decided to mark this important occasion with ceremonial celebrations. Oh what lovely days! The celebrations were splendid and lasted a week. I was happy as I bubbled with joy like a fermenting vat of wine. I was pushed in my turn to the rostrum the day of the main function. My speech was a tremendous success. Duty, Progress, Homeland; I spoke of you. Forgive me, I was not thinking of you, I saw only two magnetic, starry eyes fixed on mine. It was for them that I spoke, it was they that inspired me. The next evening that splendid garden, romantically lit up by the moon, that peaceful lake with its silver beam. That Swiss chalet with its little balcony, just she and I, then a few lines from the beautiful poem ‘The Lake’ and suddenly one’s heart overflowed and words poured out like a torrent. ' l love you' and the fair-haired one echoed ‘I love you too.’ Oh! the age of twenty, youth and love - how wonderfully good and great they are! ‘Come my friend’ I said to myself, ‘do not fall asleep amid the delights of the Festival. It is not everything to have found the bird of happiness, one still needs to provide a nest in which to nurture it. ‘I left Chabag for Odessa minus my heart, and found a position as an assistant teacher at the Knory Gymnasium. At the end of ten months I left and spent some weeks with my future brother-in-law Leon Schanzer.
During the summer vacation I went to Tiraspol, where I gave lessons to two families alternately. In Autumn 1873 I went to Nikolayev to once more take a position as an assistant teacher but did not stay there long – it afforded too little free time for study. I had no intention of remaining a junior master forever. Having fallen out with the Head’s wife, a former serf become a grand lady, I set up a boarding-school there and also gave private lessons. One's affluence was far from great for the revenue was only between fifteen and twenty roubles a month. For one whole month my main diet consisted of borchtch in which the thickest part was a piece of soup-meat which had inadvertently strayed into it, giving my stomach the illusion of a second course! I even sold my bedstead to pay for my dinner! What did it matter? I was happy. Oh! poverty at the age of twenty can be delightful, it is a thousand times better than the satiety of the rich man without a fertile imagination that promises him the world and all it contains!
That my trousers and frockcoat were artistically repaired white thread dipped in black ink, did not hinder me from being very welcome in the best society and of once even dining in excellent style with a group that included the celebrated writer and minister Count Tolstoy. If I was enjoying myself I was also working hard at my studies and would work almost without pause from 5am to 11pm. Thus in less than a year I had mastered enough Russian and Latin (this last a matriculation course that ordinary students covered in eight years) to dare to present myself to the Examination Commission of the University of Odessa. This Commission consisted of University Professors presided over by the Chancellor, Prince of Abiege. One had to write compositions for them in three languages, translate from Russian authors into Latin and vice versa. Also to do oral tests in three languages. To crown all this, it was necessary to give an impromptu lesson to a class at the Richelieu High School, in the presence of the Commission. Some advanced candidates much older than I, failed this severe series of tests, but I passed – how could a man of twenty-two fail when he is deeply in love? And this despite that I had travelled part way to the exam in a most original manner - by riding on the back of a school inspector!
Let me explain. On the boat bringing me to Odessa for the degree exam there was a very big gentleman, obviously important, wearing the official peaked cap with blue borders and cockade and he was in a fairly advanced state of intoxication. This gentleman did not like ‘Frenchmen’ (non-Russians). I put up with his gibes and impertinences for two hours without appearing to take the slightest notice. Doubtless he mistook my calmness for cowardice and took the liberty of throwing a cigarette butt in my face. Without descending to unfair punching of a drunken man, in less than no time he was lying full-length on the poop-deck with the little Swiss seated astride his prone bulk. The second officer saw it all from the bridge and shouted ‘Give him a good thrashing M. Tardent, he is a rogue’ Our drunk was kept thus immobilized for ten minutes until the Captain who had been asleep in his cabin, arrived with four sailors who shoved him in the bottom of the hold to sober up. I apologized for my conduct to some nearby ladies of Nikolayev’s high society, whom I knew well but they only thanked me warmly for having delivered them from the boorish attentions this ill-mannered pig, who during dinner, had continually foraged in their plates with his hands! No one had dared to say anything to him because he was a man of high position.
I started teaching at the Junior High School for young ladies at Nikolayev. On 1 January ’75 I was appointed to the College of the Empress Marie in the same city where I spent the best eight years of my life. I love my profession and also have much affection for my pupils who returned this sentiment to some extent. I always taught the upper forms at this college, where some of the students were older than I! Because of a better salary, I transferred in 1882 to the Royal Tsar Alexander College where I am at present (March 1887). In order to preen all my feathers, I must add here that in years of official service I have climbed the ladder of the Russian Civil Service to the title of State Councillor, a kind of civilian rank that is almost equivalent to that of Major-General in the army.
At Chabag in June 1876 I was married to my Penelope, my steadfast Hortense, who had the patience and constancy to wait years for me, despite her numerous ardent admirers (and their serious threats to my happiness). The very day of the wedding I took her to Nikolayev, where like a pair of swans, we have made a little nest at the edge of the water. We have lived now for many years at Spask, a mile or so from the city, on Great Marine Street. Our house, originally built by Knore for his own family, is a large three-storey brick villa on a hill on the bank of the river Bug not far from the local wharf and Spask’s Summer Gardens. From our balconies we can observe the manoeuvres, submarine exercises and gunnery practice of the Black Sea Fleet. The port of Nikolayev is the fleet’s chief naval base at present. Hortense and I have six children. All our cherubs appear bright and have brought their parents more joy and happiness than sorrow. They are too young to comment on because education and character depend on too many factors and varied influences, to warrant a forecast of their future at this stage. May they always give us the joys that they have accorded us in the past.
Despite that at ‘Bellevue’ we lead a fairly quiet family life, we are not a gloomy lot. The house buzzes with constant activity, we sing, we study, we paint and we read a great deal. The city’s Swiss Society has met at our house every fortnight for the past ten years. At these happy gatherings we play music, sing, dance, declaim poetry or act comedies. One does some gardening or else relaxes from schoolwork by using the saw or plane at the workbench. In winter we enjoy skating parties. When the North Wind blows, a hand-sail carries one away across the ice with the speed of an express train. In summer we enjoy boating, sailing and fishing. We have often entertained distinguished Russian visitors including professors, officers of the Fleet, artists and amongst others Prince Hidwitz, a direct descendant of the former Lithuanian Kings. The Governor of the Province and Admiral Mangassan, Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet and Ports of the Black Sea visit us regularly, at least twice a year. Sometimes one also suffers and frets and grieves, but what can one do about that? Is not that the lot of every living thing in nature, especially that of every human being? Therefore, let merely say I am an ordinary man, and leave it at that! What more can one add to portray faithfully the man being described for you? I love nature and art in all its forms. I dare not show my wife the bills from my bookseller for fear that she will object to further purchases. I adore my country, my dear old Switzerland. I love all peoples, believing that they only hate because they do not know each other.
Finally, I must have a well-developed sense of family love, since one of my principal roles so far here on Earth, has been to act as a link between the different elements of our fragmented family. The writing that I am finishing at this moment towards restoring the family links, will I hope, be ample proof to our most remote descendants, of my love for and esteem of that family’
Nikolayev, 11th March 1887
(Signed) Henri Tardent.
Henri and Hortense Tardent, emigrated to Australia in 1887, shortly after this account was written in Nikolayev, seeking a better life for themselves and their family, prompted by increasing political instability in the Ukraine. Their sons fought in World War I, and their grandsons in World War II. Henri in particular, was proud of his adopted land, Australia, which ironically is now at the front line of climate change. He was politically active in Queensland at the time of Federation in 1901. With regard to the Australian Constitution, it was on his recommendation that referendum provisions were included, similar to those in the Swiss Constitution. He became close friends with Andrew Fisher, a Scottish born politician who served as Prime Minister on three separate occasions. Fisher's 1910–13 Labor ministry completed a vast legislative program.
During the same period in the Ukraine, the colony continued through to the turbulent political times of the early twentieth century as the imperial regime was replaced by revolution. In 1945, the remaining inhabitants of the Swiss colony in Chabag fled, hours ahead of the Russian soldiers who appropriated the colony’s resources for the Soviet Union. The Swiss government, despite the fact that it was 123 years after Louis-Vincent had set out from Vevey, repatriated many former colonists back to Lausanne.
Chabag, now known as Shabo, is located in Ukraine on the shores of Lake Liman, at the estuary were the Dniester River flows into the Black Sea. This region is on the border of the temperate forests and the Eurasian Steppes, a politically volatile frontier. Since Neolithic time, it was subject to the tensions and hostility between an agrarian society, having cleared the forests, moving eastwards in search of more land, and from the nomadic people arriving from the north-west, who mastered equine skills, with growing herds exhausting the steppe grasslands. Both these migrations were imposed upon an indigenous people who specialized in hunting and fishing. The Ukraine has been at a front-line of migration caused by man-made climate changes, and may provide some insight into the current influences exacerbating climate change in the 21st century, shedding light on the inevitabilities of tension and conflict caused by finite resources and population growth.