The Companions of Jehu by Alexandre Dumas, Pere - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
The return was silent and mournful; it seemed that with the hopes of death Roland's gayety had disappeared.
The catastrophe of which he had been the author played perhaps a part in his taciturnity. But let us hasten to say that in battle, and more especially during the last campaign against the Arabs, Roland had been too frequently obliged to jump his horse over the bodies of his victims to be so deeply impressed by the death of an unknown man.
His sadness was, due to some other cause; probably that which he confided to Sir John. Disappointment over his own lost chance of death, rather than that other's decease, occasioned this regret.
On their return to the Hotel du Palais-Royal, Sir John mounted to his room with his pistols, the sight of which might have excited something like remorse in Roland's breast. Then he rejoined the young officer and returned the three letters which had been intrusted to him.
He found Roland leaning pensively on a table. Without saying a word the Englishman laid the three letters before him. The young man cast his eyes over the addresses, took the one destined for his mother, unsealed it and read it over. As he read, great tears rolled down his cheeks. Sir John gazed wonderingly at this new phase of Roland's character. He had thought everything possible to this many-sided nature except those tears which fell silently from his eyes. Shaking his head and paying not the least attention to Sir John's presence, Roland murmured:
"Poor mother! she would have wept. Perhaps it is better so. Mothers were not made to weep for their children!"
He tore up the letters he had written to his mother, his sister, and General Bonaparte, mechanically burning the fragments with the utmost care. Then ringing for the chambermaid, he asked:
"When must my letters be in the post?"
"Half-past six," replied she. "You have only a few minutes more."
"Just wait then."
And taking a pen he wrote:
My DEAR GENERAL--It is as I told you; I am living and he is dead. You must admit that this seems like a wager. Devotion to death.
Then he sealed the letter, addressed it to General Bonaparte, Rue de la Victoire, Paris, and handed it to the chambermaid, bidding her lose no time in posting it. Then only did he seem to notice Sir John, and held out his hand to him. "You have just rendered me a great service, my lord," he said. "One of those services which bind men for all eternity. I am already your friend; will you do me the honor to become mine?"
Sir John pressed the hand that Roland offered him.
"Oh!" said he, "I thank you heartily. I should never have dared ask this honor; but you offer it and I accept."
Even the impassible Englishman felt his heart soften as he brushed away the tear that trembled on his lashes. Then looking at Roland, he said: "It is unfortunate that you are so hurried; I should have been pleased and delighted to spend a day or two with you."
"Where were you going, my lord, when I met you?"
"Oh, I? Nowhere. I am travelling to get over being bored. I am unfortunately often bored."
"So that you were going nowhere?"
"I was going everywhere."
"That is exactly the same thing," said the young officer, smiling. "Well, will you do something for me?"
"Oh! very willingly, if it is possible."
"Perfectly possible; it depends only on you."
"What is it?"
"Had I been killed you were going to take me to my mother or throw me into the Rhone."
"I should have taken you to your mother and not thrown you into the Rhone." "Well, instead of accompanying me dead, take me living. You will be all the better received."
"We will remain a fortnight at Bourg. It is my natal city, and one of the dullest towns in France; but as your compatriots are pre-eminent for originality, perhaps you will find amusement where others are bored. Are we agreed?" "I should like nothing better," exclaimed the Englishman; "but it seems to me that it is hardly proper on my part."
"Oh! we are not in England, my lord, where etiquette holds absolute sway. We have no longer king nor queen. We didn't cut off that poor creature's head whom they called Marie Antoinette to install Her Majesty, Etiquette, in her stead." "I should like to go," said Sir John.
"You'll see, my mother is an excellent woman, and very distinguished besides. My sister was sixteen when I left; she must be eighteen now. She was pretty, and she ought to be beautiful. Then there is my brother Edouard, a delightful youngster of twelve, who will let off fireworks between your legs and chatter a gibberish of English with you. At the end of the fortnight we will go to Paris together."
"I have just come from Paris," said the Englishman.
"But listen. You were willing to go to Egypt to see General Bonaparte. Paris is not so far from here as Cairo. I'll present you, and, introduced by me, you may rest assured that you will be well received. You were speaking of Shakespeare just now--"
"Oh! I am always quoting him."
"Which proves that you like comedies and dramas."
"I do like them very much, that's true."
"Well, then, General Bonaparte is going to produce one in his own style which will not be wanting in interest, I answer for it!"
"So that," said Sir John, still hesitating, "I may accept your offer without seeming intrusive?"
"I should think so. You will delight us all, especially me."
"Then I accept."
"Bravo! Now, let's see, when will you start?"
"As soon as you wish. My coach was harnessed when you threw that unfortunate plate at Barjols' head. However, as I should never have known you but for that plate, I am glad you did throw it at him!"
"Shall we start this evening?"
"Instantly. I'll give orders for the postilion to send other horses, and once they are here we will start."
Roland nodded acquiescence. Sir John went out to give his orders, and returned presently, saying they had served two cutlets and a cold fowl for them below. Roland took his valise and went down. The Englishman placed his pistols in the coach box again. Both ate enough to enable them to travel all night, and as nine o'clock was striking from the Church of the Cordeliers they settled themselves in the carriage and quitted Avignon, where their passage left a fresh trail of blood, Roland with the careless indifference of his nature, Sir John Tanlay with the impassibility of his nation. A quarter of an hour later both were sleeping, or at least the silence which obtained induced the belief that both had yielded to slumber.
We shall profit by this instant of repose to give our readers some indispensable information concerning Roland and his family.
Roland was born the first of July, 1773, four years and a few days later than Bonaparte, at whose side, or rather following him, he made his appearance in this book. He was the son of M. Charles de Montrevel, colonel of a regiment long garrisoned at Martinique, where he had married a creole named Clotilde de la Clémencière. Three children were born of this marriage, two boys and a girl: Louis, whose acquaintance we have made under the name of Roland, Amélie, whose beauty he had praised to Sir John, and Edouard.
Recalled to France in 1782, M. de Montrevel obtained admission for young Louis de Montrevel (we shall see later how the name of Louis was changed to Roland) to the Ecole Militaire in Paris.
It was there that Bonaparte knew the child, when, on M. de Keralio's report, he was judged worthy of promotion from the Ecole de Brienne to the Ecole Militaire. Louis was the youngest pupil. Though he was only thirteen, he had already made himself remarked for that ungovernable and quarrelsome nature of which we have seen him seventeen years later give an example at the table d'hôte at Avignon.
Bonaparte, a child himself, had the good side of this character; that is to say, without being quarrelsome, he was firm, obstinate, and unconquerable. He recognized in the child some of his own qualities, and this similarity of sentiments led him to pardon the boy's defects, and attached him to him. On the other hand the child, conscious of a supporter in the Corsican, relied upon him. One day the child went to find his great friend, as he called Napoleon, when the latter was absorbed in the solution of a mathematical problem. He knew the importance the future artillery officer attached to this science, which so far had won him his greatest, or rather his only successes.
He stood beside him without speaking or moving. The young mathematician felt the child's presence, and plunged deeper and deeper into his mathematical calculations, whence he emerged victorious ten minutes later. Then he turned to his young comrade with that inward satisfaction of a man who issues victorious from any struggle, be it with science or things material.
The child stood erect, pale, his teeth clinched, his arms rigid and his fists closed. "Oh! oh!" said young Bonaparte, "what is the matter now?"
"Valence, the governor's nephew, struck me."
"Ah!" said Bonaparte, laughing, "and you have come to me to strike him back?" The child shook his head.
"No," said he, "I have come to you because I want to fight him--"
"But Valence will beat you, child; he is four times as strong as you." "Therefore I don't want to fight him as children do, but like men fight." "Pooh!"
"Does that surprise you?" asked the child.
"No," said Bonaparte; "what do you want to fight with?"
"But only the sergeants have swords, and they won't lend you one." "Then we will do without swords."
"But what will you fight with?"
The child pointed to the compass with which the young mathematician had made his equations.
"Oh! my child," said Bonaparte, "a compass makes a very bad wound." "So much the better," replied Louis; "I can kill him."
"But suppose he kills you?"
"I'd rather that than bear his blow."
Bonaparte made no further objections; he loved courage, instinctively, and his young comrade's pleased him.
"Well, so be it!" he replied; "I will tell Valence that you wish to fight him, but not till to-morrow."
"You will have the night to reflect."
"And from now till to-morrow," replied the child, "Valence will think me a coward." Then shaking his head, "It is too long till to-morrow." And he walked away. "Where are you going?" Bonaparte asked him.
"To ask some one else to be my friend."
"So I am no longer your friend?"
"No, since you think I am a coward."
"Very well," said the young man rising.
"You will go?"
"I am going."
"Ah!" exclaimed the child, "I beg your pardon; you are indeed my friend." And he fell upon his neck weeping. They were the first tears he had shed since he had received the blow.
Bonaparte went in search of Valence and gravely explained his mission to him. Valence was a tall lad of seventeen, having already, like certain precocious natures, a beard and mustache; he appeared at least twenty. He was, moreover, a head taller than the boy he had insulted.
Valence replied that Louis had pulled his queue as if it were a bell-cord (queues were then in vogue)--that he had warned him twice to desist, but that Louis had repeated the prank the third time, whereupon, considering him a mischievous youngster, he had treated him as such.
Valence's answer was reported to Louis, who retorted that pulling a comrade's queue was only teasing him, whereas a blow was an insult. Obstinacy endowed this child of thirteen with the logic of a man of thirty.
The modern Popilius to Valence returned with his declaration of war. The youth was greatly embarrassed; he could not fight with a child without being ridiculous. If he fought and wounded him, it would be a horrible thing; if he himself were wounded, he would never get over it so long as he lived.
But Louis's unyielding obstinacy made the matter a serious one. A council of the Grands (elder scholars) was called, as was usual in serious cases. The Grands decided that one of their number could not fight a child; but since this child persisted in considering himself a young man, Valence must tell him before all his schoolmates that he regretted having treated him as a child, and would henceforth regard him as a young man.
Louis, who was waiting in his friend's room, was sent for. He was introduced into the conclave assembled in the playground of the younger pupils.
There Valence, to whom his comrades had dictated a speech carefully debated among themselves to safeguard the honor of the Grands toward the Petits, assured Louis that he deeply deplored the occurrence; that he had treated him according to his age and not according to his intelligence and courage, and begged him to excuse his impatience and to shake hands in sign that all was forgotten.
But Louis shook his head.
"I heard my father, who is a colonel, say once," he replied, "that he who receives a blow and does not fight is a coward. The first time I see my father I shall ask him if he who strikes the blow and then apologizes to avoid fighting is not more of a coward than he who received it."
The young fellows looked at each other. Still the general opinion was against a duel which would resemble murder, and all, Bonaparte included, were unanimously agreed that the child must be satisfied with what Valence had said, for it represented their common opinion. Louis retired, pale with anger, and sulked with his great friend, who, said he, with imperturbable gravity, had sacrificed his honor.
The morrow, while the Grands were receiving their lesson in mathematics, Louis slipped into the recitation-room, and while Valence was making a demonstration on the blackboard, he approached him unperceived, climbed on a stool to reach his face, and returned the slap he had received the preceding day. "There," said he, "now we are quits, and I have your apologies to boot; as for me, I shan't make any, you may be quite sure of that."
The scandal was great. The act occurring in the professor's presence, he was obliged to report it to the governor of the school, the Marquis Tiburce Valence. The latter, knowing nothing of the events leading up to the blow his nephew had received, sent for the delinquent and after a terrible lecture informed him that he was no longer a member of the school, and must be ready to return to his mother at Bourg that very day. Louis replied that his things would be packed in ten minutes, and he out of the school in fifteen. Of the blow he himself had received he said not a word.
The reply seemed more than disrespectful to the Marquis Tiburce Valence. He was much inclined to send the insolent boy to the dungeon for a week, but reflected that he could not confine him and expel him at the same time. The child was placed in charge of an attendant, who was not to leave him until he had put him in the coach for Mâcon; Madame de Montrevel was to be notified to meet him at the end of the journey.
Bonaparte meeting the boy, followed by his keeper, asked an explanation of the sort of constabulary guard attached to him.
"I'd tell you if you were still my friend," replied the child; "but you are not. Why do you bother about what happens to me, whether good or bad?"
Bonaparte made a sign to the attendant, who came to the door while Louis was packing his little trunk. He learned then that the child had been expelled. The step was serious; it would distress the entire family, and perhaps ruin his young comrade's future.
With that rapidity of decision which was one of the distinctive characteristics of his organization, he resolved to ask an audience of the governor, meantime requesting the keeper not to hasten Louis's departure.
Bonaparte was an excellent pupil, beloved in the school, and highly esteemed by the Marquis Tiburce Valence. His request was immediately complied with. Ushered into the governor's presence, he related everything, and, without blaming Valence in the least, he sought to exculpate Louis.
"Are you sure of what you are telling me, sir?" asked the governor. "Question your nephew himself. I will abide by what he says."
Valence was sent for. He had already heard of Louis's expulsion, and was on his way to tell his uncle what had happened. His account tallied perfectly with what you Bonaparte had said.
"Very well," said the governor, "Louis shall not go, but you will. You are old enough to leave school." Then ringing, "Bring me the list of the vacant sublieutenancies," he said.
That same day an urgent request for a sub-lieutenancy was made to the Ministry, and that same night Valence left to join his regiment. He went to bid Louis farewell, embracing him half willingly, half unwillingly, while Bonaparte held his hand. The child received the embrace reluctantly.
"It's all right now," said he, "but if ever we meet with swords by our sides--" A threatening gesture ended the sentence.
Valence left. Bonaparte received his own appointment as sub-lieutenant October 10, 1785. His was one of fifty-eight commissions which Louis XVI. signed for the Ecole Militaire. Eleven years later, November 15, 1796, Bonaparte, commanderin-chief of the army of Italy, at the Bridge of Arcola, which was defended by two regiments of Croats and two pieces of cannon, seeing his ranks disseminated by grapeshot and musket balls, feeling that victory was slipping through his fingers, alarmed by the hesitation of his bravest followers, wrenched the tri-color from the rigid fingers of a dead color-bearer, and dashed toward the bridge, shouting: "Soldiers! are you no longer the men of Lodi?" As he did so he saw a young lieutenant spring past him who covered him with his body.
This was far from what Bonaparte wanted. He wished to cross first. Had it been possible he would have gone alone.
Seizing the young man by the flap of his coat, he drew him back, saying: "Citizen, you are only a lieutenant, I a commander-in-chief! The precedence belongs to me."
"Too true," replied the other; and he followed Bonaparte instead of preceding him.
That evening, learning that two Austrian divisions had been cut to pieces, and seeing the two thousand prisoners he had taken, together with the captured cannons and flags, Bonaparte recalled the young man who had sprung in front of him when death alone seemed before him.
"Berthier," said he, "tell my aide-de-camp, Valence, to find that young lieutenant of grenadiers with whom I had a controversy this morning at the Bridge of Arcola."
"General," stammered Berthier, "Valence is wounded."
"Ah! I remember I have not seen him to-day. Wounded? Where? How? On the battlefield?"
"No, general," said he, "he was dragged into a quarrel yesterday, and received a sword thrust through his body."
Bonaparte frowned. "And yet they know very well I do not approve of duels; a soldier's blood belongs not to himself, but to France. Give Muiron the order then." "He is killed, general."
"To Elliot, in that case."
Bonaparte drew his handkerchief from his pocket and passed it over his brow, which was bathed with sweat.
"To whom you will, then; but I want to see that lieutenant."
He dared not name any others, fearing to hear again that fatal "Killed!" A quarter of an hour later the young lieutenant was ushered into his tent, which was lighted faintly by a single lamp.
"Come nearer, lieutenant," said Bonaparte.
The young man made three steps and came within the circle of light. "So you are the man who wished to cross the bridge before me?" continued Bonaparte.
"It was done on a wager, general," gayly answered the young lieutenant, whose voice made the general start.
"Did I make you lose it?"
"Maybe, yes; maybe, no."
"What was the wager?"
"That I should be promoted captain to-day."
"You have won it."
"Thank you, general."
The young man moved hastily forward as if to press Bonaparte's hand, but checked himself almost immediately. The light had fallen full on his face for an instant; that instant sufficed to make the general notice the face as he had the voice. Neither the one nor the other was unknown to him. He searched his memory for an instant, but finding it rebellious, said: "I know you!" "Possibly, general."
"I am certain; only I cannot recall your name."
"You managed that yours should not be forgotten, general."
"Who are you?"
"Ask Valence, general."
Bonaparte gave a cry of joy.
"Louis de Montrevel," he exclaimed, opening wide his arms. This time the young lieutenant did not hesitate to fling himself into them.
"Very good," said Bonaparte; "you will serve eight days with the regiment in your new rank, that they may accustom themselves to your captain's epaulets, and then you will take my poor Muiron's place as aide-de-camp. Go!"
"Once more!" cried the young man, opening his arms.
"Faith, yes!" said Bonaparte, joyfully. Then holding him close after kissing him twice, "And so it was you who gave Valence that sword thrust?"
"My word!" said the new captain and future aide-de-camp, "you were there when I promised it to him. A soldier keeps his word."
Eight days later Captain Montrevel was doing duty as staff-officer to the commander-in-chief, who changed his name of Louis, then in ill-repute, to that of Roland. And the young man consoled himself for ceasing to be a descendant of St. Louis by becoming the nephew of Charlemagne.
Roland--no one would have dared to call Captain Montrevel Louis after Bonaparte had baptized him Roland--made the campaign of Italy with his general, and returned with him to Paris after the peace of Campo Formio. When the Egyptian expedition was decided upon, Roland, who had been summoned to his mother's side by the death of the Brigadier-General de Montrevel, killed on the Rhine while his son was fighting on the Adige and the Mincio, was among the first appointed by the commander-in-chief to accompany him in the useless but poetical crusade which he was planning. He left his mother, his sister Amélie, and his young brother Edouard at Bourg, General de Montrevel's native town. They resided some three-quarters of a mile out of the city, at Noires-Fontaines, a charming house, called a château, which, together with the farm and several hundred acres of land surrounding it, yielded an income of six or eight thousand livres a year, and constituted the general's entire fortune. Roland's departure on this adventurous expedition deeply afflicted the poor widow. The death of the father seemed to presage that of the son, and Madame de Montrevel, a sweet, gentle Creole, was far from possessing the stern virtues of a Spartan or Lacedemonian mother.
Bonaparte, who loved his old comrade of the Ecole Militaire with all his heart, granted him permission to rejoin him at the very last moment at Toulon. But the fear of arriving too late prevented Roland from profiting by this permission to its full extent. He left his mother, promising her--a promise he was careful not to keep--that he would not expose himself unnecessarily, and arrived at Marseilles eight days before the fleet set sail.
Our intention is no more to give the history of the campaign of Egypt than we did that of Italy. We shall only mention that which is absolutely necessary to understand this story and the subsequent development of Roland's character. The 19th of May, 1798, Bonaparte and his entire staff set sail for the Orient; the 15th of June the Knights of Malta gave up the keys of their citadel. The 2d of July the army disembarked at Marabout, and the same day took Alexandria; the 25th, Bonaparte entered Cairo, after defeating the Mamelukes at Chebreïss and the Pyramids.
During this succession of marches and battles, Roland had been the officer we know him, gay, courageous and witty, defying the scorching heat of the day, the icy dew of the nights, dashing like a hero or a fool among the Turkish sabres or the Bedouin bullets. During the forty days of the voyage he had never left the interpreter Ventura; so that with his admirable facility he had learned, if not to speak Arabic fluently, at least to make himself understood in that language. Therefore it often happened that, when the general did not wish to use the native interpreter, Roland was charged with certain communications to the Muftis, the Ulemas, and the Sheiks.
During the night of October 20th and 21st Cairo revolted. At five in the morning the death of General Dupey, killed by a lance, was made known. At eight, just as the revolt was supposedly quelled, an aide-de-camp of the dead general rode up, announcing that the Bedouins from the plains were attacking Bab-el-Nasr, or the Gate of Victory.
Bonaparte was breakfasting with his aide-de-camp Sulkowsky, so severely wounded at Salahieh that he left his pallet of suffering with the greatest difficulty only. Bonaparte, in his preoccupation forgetting the young Pole's condition, said to him: "Sulkowsky, take fifteen Guides and go see what that rabble wants." Sulkowsky rose.
"General," interposed Roland, "give me the commission. Don't you see my comrade can hardly stand?"
"True," said Bonaparte; "do you go!"
Roland went out and took the fifteen Guides and started. But the order had been given to Sulkowsky, and Sulkowsky was determined to execute it. He set forth with five or six men whom he found ready.
Whether by chance, or because he knew the streets of Cairo better than Roland, he reached the Gate of Victory a few seconds before him. When Roland arrived, he saw five or six dead men, and an officer being led away by the Arabs, who, while massacring the soldiers mercilessly, will sometimes spare the officers in hope of a ransom. Roland recognized Sulkowsky; pointing him out with his sabre to his fifteen men, he charged at a gallop.
Half an hour later, a Guide, returning alone to head-quarters, announced the deaths of Sulkowsky, Roland and his twenty-one companions.
Bonaparte, as we have said, loved Roland as a brother, as a son, as he loved Eugene. He wished to know all the details of the catastrophe, and questioned the Guide. The man had seen an Arab cut off Sulkowsky's head and fasten it to his saddle-bow. As for Roland, his horse had been killed. He had disengaged himself from the stirrups and was seen fighting for a moment on foot; but he had soon disappeared in a general volley at close quarters.
Bonaparte sighed, shed a tear and murmured: "Another!" and apparently thought no more about it. But he did inquire to what tribe belonged these Bedouins, who had just killed two of the men he loved best. He was told that they were an independent tribe whose village was situated some thirty miles off. Bonaparte left them a month, that they might become convinced of their impunity; then, the month elapsed, he ordered one of his aides-de-camp, named Crosier, to surround the village, destroy the huts, behead the men, put them in sacks, and bring the rest of the population, that is to say, the women and children, to Cairo. Crosier executed the order punctually; all the women and children who could be captured were brought to Cairo, and also with them one living Arab, gagged and bound to his horse's back.
"Why is this man still alive?" asked Bonaparte. "I ordered you to behead every man who was able to bear arms."
"General," said Crosier, who also possessed a smattering of Arabian words, "just as I was about to order his head cut off, I understood him to offer to exchange a prisoner for his life. I thought there would be time enough to cut off his head, and so brought him with me. If I am mistaken, the ceremony can take place here as well as there; what is postponed is not abandoned."
The interpreter Ventura was summoned to question the Bedouin. He replied that he had saved the life of a French officer who had been grievously wounded at the Gate of Victory, and that this officer, who spoke a little Arabic, claimed to be one of General Bonaparte's aides-de-camp. He had sent him to his brother who was a physician in a neighboring tribe, of which this officer was a captive; and if they would promise to spare his life, he would write to his brother to send the prisoner to Cairo.
Perhaps this was a tale invented to gain time, but it might also be true; nothing was lost by waiting.
The Arab was placed in safe keeping, a scribe was brought to write at his dictation. He sealed the letter with his own seal, and an Arab from Cairo was despatched to negotiate the exchange. If the emissary succeeded, it meant the Bedouin's life and five hundred piastres to the messenger.
Three days later he returned bringing Roland. Bonaparte had hoped for but had not dared to expect this return.
This heart of iron, which had seemed insensible to grief, was now melted with joy. He opened his arms to Roland, as on the day when he had found him, and two tears, two pearls--the tears of Bonaparte were rare--fell from his eyes. But Roland, strange as it may seem, was sombre in the midst of the joy caused by his return. He confirmed the Arab's tale, insisted upon his liberation, but refused all personal details about his capture by the Bedouins and the treatment he had received at the hands of the doctor. As for Sulkowsky, he had been killed and beheaded before his eyes, so it was useless to think more of him. Roland resumed his duties, but it was noticeable his native courage had become temerity, and his longing for glory, desire for death.
On the other hand, as often happens with those who brave fire and sword, fire and sword miraculously spared him. Before, behind and around Roland men fell; he remained erect, invulnerable as the demon of war. During the campaign in Syria two emissaries were sent to demand the surrender of Saint Jean d'Acre of Djezzar Pasha. Neither of the two returned; they had been beheaded. It was necessary to send a third. Roland applied for the duty, and so insistent was he, that he eventually obtained the general's permission and returned in safety. He took part in each of the nineteen assaults made upon the fortress; at each assault he was seen entering the breach. He was one of the ten men who forced their way into the Accursèd Tower; nine remained, but he returned without a scratch. During the retreat, Bonaparte commanded his cavalry to lend their horses to the wounded and sick. All endeavored to avoid the contagion of the pest-ridden sick. To them Roland gave his horse from preference. Three fell dead from the saddle; he mounted his horse after them, and reached Cairo safe and sound. At Aboukir he flung himself into the mélée, reached the Pasha by forcing his way through the guard of blacks who surrounded him; seized him by the beard and received the fire of his two pistols. One burned the wadding only, the other ball passed under his arm, killing a guard behind him.
When Bonaparte resolved to return to France, Roland was the first to whom the general announced his intention. Another had been overjoyed; but he remained sombre and melancholy, saying: "I should prefer to remain here, general. There is more chance of my being killed here."
But as it would have appeared ungrateful on his part to refuse to follow the general, he returned with him. During the voyage he remained sad and impenetrable, until the English fleet was sighted near Corsica. Then only did he regain his wonted animation. Bonaparte told Admiral Gantheaume that he would fight to the death, and gave orders to sink the frigate sooner than haul down the flag. He passed, however, unseen through the British fleet, and disembarked at Frejus, October 8, 1799.
All were impatient to be the first to set foot on French soil. Roland was the last. Although the general paid no apparent attention to these details, none escaped him. He sent Eugène, Berthier, Bourrienne, his aides-de-camp and his suite by way of Gap and Draguignan, while he took the road to Aix strictly incognito, accompanied only by Roland, to judge for himself of the state of the Midi. Hoping that the joy of seeing his family again would revive the love of life in his heart crushed by its hidden sorrow, he informed Roland at Aix that they would part at Lyons, and gave him three weeks' furlough to visit his mother and sister. Roland replied: "Thank you, general. My sister and my mother will be very happy to see me." Whereas formerly his words would have been: "Thank you, general. I shall be very happy to see my mother and sister again."
We know what occurred at Avignon; we have seen with what profound contempt for danger, bitter disgust of life, Roland had provoked that terrible duel. We heard the reason he gave Sir John for this indifference to death. Was it true or false? Sir John at all events was obliged to content himself with it, since Roland was evidently not disposed to furnish any other.
And now, as we have said, they were sleeping or pretending to sleep as they were drawn by two horses at full speed along the road of Avignon to Orange.
Our readers must permit us for an instant to abandon Roland and Sir John, who, thanks to the physical and moral conditions in which we left them, need inspire no anxiety, while we direct our attention seriously to a personage who has so far made but a brief appearance in this history, though he is destined to play an important part in it.
We are speaking of the man who, armed and masked, entered the room of the table d'hôte at Avignon to return Jean Picot the two hundred louis which had been stolen from him by mistake, stored as it had been with the government money.
We speak of the highwayman, who called himself Morgan. He had ridden into Avignon, masked, in broad daylight, entered the hotel of the Palais-Egalité leaving his horse at the door. This horse had enjoyed the same immunity in the pontifical and royalist town as his master; he found it again at the horse post, unfastened its bridle, sprang into the saddle, rode through the Porte d'Oulle, skirting the walls, and disappeared at a gallop along the road to Lyons. Only about three-quarters of a mile from Avignon, he drew his mantle closer about him, to conceal his weapons from the passers, and removing his mask he slipped it into one of the holsters of his saddle.
The persons whom he had left at Avignon who were curious to know if this could be the terrible Morgan, the terror of the Midi, might have convinced themselves with their own eyes, had they met him on the road between Avignon and Bédarides, whether the bandit's appearance was as terrifying as his renown. We do not hesitate to assert that the features now revealed would have harmonized so little with the picture their prejudiced imagination had conjured up that their amazement would have been extreme.
The removal of the mask, by a hand of perfect whiteness and delicacy, revealed the face of a young man of twenty-four or five years of age, a face that, by its regularity of feature and gentle expression, had something of the character of a woman's. One detail alone gave it or rather would give it at certain moments a touch of singular firmness. Beneath the beautiful fair hair waving on his brow and temples, as was the fashion at that period, eyebrows, eyes and lashes were black as ebony. The rest of the face was, as we have said, almost feminine. There were two little ears of which only the tips could be seen beneath the tufts of hair to which the Incroyables of the day had given the name of "dog's-ears"; a straight, perfectly proportioned nose, a rather large mouth, rosy and always smiling, and which, when smiling, revealed a double row of brilliant teeth; a delicate refined chin faintly tinged with blue, showing that, if the beard had not been carefully and recently shaved, it would, protesting against the golden hair, have followed the same color as the brows, lashes and eyes, that is to say, a decided black. As for the unknown's figure, it was seen, when he entered the dining-room, to be tall, well-formed and flexible, denoting, if not great muscular strength, at least much suppleness and agility.
The manner he sat his horse showed him to be a practiced rider. With his cloak thrown back over his shoulders, his mask hidden in the holster, his hat pulled low over his eyes, the rider resumed his rapid pace, checked for an instant, passed through Bédarides at a gallop, and reaching the first houses in Orange, entered the gate of one which closed immediately behind him. A servant in waiting sprang to the bit. The rider dismounted quickly.
"Is your master here?" he asked the domestic.
"No, Monsieur the Baron," replied the man; "he was obliged to go away last night, but he left word that if Monsieur should ask for him, to say that he had gone in the interests of the Company."
"Very good, Baptiste. I have brought back his horse in good condition, though somewhat tired. Rub him down with wine, and give him for two or three days barley instead of oats. He has covered something like one hundred miles since yesterday morning."
"Monsieur the Baron was satisfied with him?"
"Perfectly satisfied. Is the carriage ready?"
"Yes, Monsieur the Baron, all harnessed in the coach-house; the postilion is drinking with Julien. Monsieur recommended that he should be kept outside the house that he might not see him arrive."
"He thinks he is to take your master?"
"Yes, Monsieur the Baron. Here is my master's passport, which we used to get the post-horses, and as my master has gone in the direction of Bordeaux with Monsieur the Baron's passport, and as Monsieur the Baron goes toward Geneva with my master's passport, the skein will probably be so tangled that the police, clever as their fingers are, can't easily unravel it."
"Unfasten the valise that is on the croup of my saddle, Baptiste, and give it to me."
Baptiste obeyed dutifully, but the valise almost slipped from his hands. "Ah!" said he laughing, "Monsieur the Baron did not warn me! The devil! Monsieur the Baron has not wasted his time it seems."
"Just where you're mistaken, Baptiste! if I didn't waste all my time, I at least lost a good deal, so I should like to be off again as soon as possible."
"But Monsieur the Baron will breakfast?"
"I'll eat a bite, but quickly."
"Monsieur will not be delayed. It is now two, and breakfast has been ready since ten this morning. Luckily it's a cold breakfast."
And Baptiste, in the absence of his master, did the honors of the house to the visitor by showing him the way to the dining-room.
"Not necessary," said the visitor, "I know the way. Do you see to the carriage; let it be close to the house with the door wide open when I come out, so that the postilion can't see me. Here's the money to pay him for the first relay." And the stranger whom Baptiste had addressed as Baron handed him a handful of notes.
"Why, Monsieur," said the servant, "you have given me enough to pay all the way to Lyons!"
"Pay him as far as Valence, under pretext that I want to sleep, and keep the rest for your trouble in settling the accounts."
"Shall I put the valise in the carriage-box?"
"I will do so myself."
And taking the valise from the servant's hands, without letting it be seen that it weighed heavily, he turned toward the dining-room, while Baptiste made his way toward the nearest inn, sorting his notes as he went.
As the stranger had said, the way was familiar to him, for he passed down a corridor, opened a first door without hesitation, then a second, and found himself before a table elegantly served. A cold fowl, two partridges, a ham, several kinds of cheese, a dessert of magnificent fruit, and two decanters, the one containing a ruby-colored wine, and the other a yellow-topaz, made a breakfast which, though evidently intended for but one person, as only one place was set, might in case of need have sufficed for three or four.
The young man's first act on entering the dining-room was to go straight to a mirror, remove his hat, arrange his hair with a little comb which he took from his pocket; after which he went to a porcelain basin with a reservoir above it, took a towel which was there for the purpose, and bathed his face and hands. Not until these ablutions were completed--characteristic of a man of elegant habits--not until these ablutions had been minutely performed did the stranger sit down to the table.
A few minutes sufficed to satisfy his appetite, to which youth and fatigue had, however, given magnificent proportions; and when Baptiste came in to inform the solitary guest that the carriage was ready he found him already afoot and waiting. The stranger drew his hat low over his eyes, wrapped his coat about him, took the valise under his arm, and, as Baptiste had taken pains to lower the carriagesteps as close as possible to the door, he sprang into the post-chaise without being seen by the postilion. Baptiste slammed the door after him; then, addressing the man in the top-boots:
"Everything is paid to Valence, isn't it, relays and fees?" he asked. "Everything; do you want a receipt?" replied the postilion, jokingly. "No; but my master, the Marquise de Ribier, don't want to be disturbed until he gets to Valence."
"All right," replied the postilion, in the same bantering tone, "the citizen Marquis shan't be disturbed. Forward, hoop-la!" And he started his horses, and cracked his whip with that noisy eloquence which says to neighbors and passers-by: "'Ware here, 'ware there! I am driving a man who pays well and who has the right to run over others."
Once in the carriage the pretended Marquis of Ribier opened the window, lowered the blinds, raised the seat, put his valise in the hollow, sat down on it, wrapped himself in his cloak, and, certain of not being disturbed till he reached Valence, slept as he had breakfasted, that is to say, with all the appetite of youth. They went from Orange to Valence in eight hours. Our traveller awakened shortly before entering the city. Raising one of the blinds cautiously, he recognized the little suburb of Paillasse. It was dark, so he struck his repeater and found it was eleven at night. Thinking it useless to go to sleep again, he added up the cost of the relays to Lyons and counted out the money. As the postilion at Valence passed the comrade who replaced him, the traveller heard him say: "It seems he's a ci-devant; but he was recommended from Orange, and, as he pays twenty sous fees, you must treat him as you would a patriot." "Very well," replied the other; "he shall be driven accordingly."
The traveller thought the time had come to intervene. He raised the blind and said:
"And you'll only be doing me justice. A patriot? Deuce take it! I pride myself upon being one, and of the first calibre, too! And the proof is--Drink this to the health of the Republic." And he handed a hundred-franc assignat to the postilion who had recommended him to his comrade. Seeing the other looking eagerly at this strip of paper, he continued: "And the same to you if you will repeat the recommendation you've just received to the others."
"Oh! don't worry, citizen," said the postilion; "there'll be but one order to Lyons-full speed!"
"And here is the money for the sixteen posts, including the double post of entrance in advance. I pay twenty sous fees. Settle it among yourselves." The postilion dug his spurs into his horse and they were off at a gallop. The carriage relayed at Lyons about four in the afternoon. While the horses were being changed, a man clad like a porter, sitting with his stretcher beside him on a stone post, rose, came to the carriage and said something in a low tone to the young Companion of Jehu which seemed to astonish the latter greatly. "Are you quite sure?" he asked the porter.
"I tell you that I saw him with my own eyes!" replied the latter.
"Then I can give the news to our friends as a positive fact?"
"You can. Only hurry."
"Have they been notified at Servas?"
"Yes; you will find a horse ready between Servas and Sue."
The postilion came up; the young man exchanged a last glance with the porter, who walked away as if charged with a letter of the utmost importance. "What road, citizen?" asked the postilion.
"To Bourg. I must reach Servas by nine this evening; I pay thirty sous fees." "Forty-two miles in five hours! That's tough. Well, after all, it can be done." "Will you do it."
"We can try."
And the postilion started at full gallop. Nine o'clock was striking as they entered Servas.
"A crown of six livres if you'll drive me half-way to Sue without stopping here to change horses!" cried the young man through the window to the postilion. "Done!" replied the latter.
And the carriage dashed past the post house without stopping.
Morgan stopped the carriage at a half mile beyond Servas, put his head out of the window, made a trumpet of his hands, and gave the hoot of a screech-owl. The imitation was so perfect that another owl answered from a neighboring woods.
"Here we are," cried Morgan.
The postilion pulled up, saying: "If we're there, we needn't go further." The young man took his valise, opened the door, jumped out and stepped up to the postilion.
"Here's the promised ecu."
The postilion took the coin and stuck it in his eye, as a fop of our day holds his eye-glasses. Morgan divined that this pantomime had a significance. "Well," he asked, "what does that mean?"
"That means," said the postilion, "that, do what I will, I can't help seeing with the other eye."
"I understand," said the young man, laughing; "and if I close the other eye--" "Damn it! I shan't see anything."
"Hey! you're a rogue who'd rather be blind than see with one eye! Well, there's no disputing tastes. Here!"
And he gave him a second crown. The postilion stuck it up to his other eye, wheeled the carriage round and took the road back to Servas.
The Companion of Jehu waited till he vanished in the darkness. Then putting the hollow of a key to his lips, he drew a long trembling sound from it like a boatswain's whistle.
A similar call answered him, and immediately a horseman came out of the woods at full gallop. As he caught sight of him Morgan put on his mask.
"In whose name have you come?" asked the rider, whose face, hidden as it was beneath the brim of an immense hat, could not be seen.
"In the name of the prophet Elisha," replied the young man with the mask. "Then you are he whom I am waiting for." And he dismounted.
"Are you prophet or disciple?" asked Morgan.
"Disciple," replied the new-comer.
"Where is your master?"
"You will find him at the Chartreuse of Seillon."
"Do you know how many Companions are there this evening?"
"Very good; if you meet any others send them there."
He who had called himself a disciple bowed in sign of obedience, assisted Morgan to fasten the valise to the croup of the saddle, and respectfully held the bit while the young man mounted. Without even waiting to thrust his other foot into the stirrup, Morgan spurred his horse, which tore the bit from the groom's hand and started off at a gallop.
On the right of the road stretched the forest of Seillon, like a shadowy sea, its sombre billows undulating and moaning in the night wind. Half a mile beyond Sue the rider turned his horse across country toward the forest, which, as he rode on, seemed to advance toward him. The horse, guided by an experienced hand, plunged fearlessly into the woods. Ten minutes later he emerged on the other side.
A gloomy mass, isolated in the middle of a plain, rose about a hundred feet from the forest. It was a building of massive architecture, shaded by five or six venerable trees. The horseman paused before the portal, over which were placed three statues in a triangle of the Virgin, our Lord, and St. John the Baptist. The statue of the Virgin was at the apex of the triangle.
The mysterious traveller had reached his goal, for this was the Chartreuse of Seillon. This monastery, the twenty-second of its order, was founded in 1178. In 1672 a modern edifice had been substituted for the old building; vestiges of its ruins can be seen to this day. These ruins consist externally of the abovementioned portal with the three statues, before which our mysterious traveller halted; internally, a small chapel, entered from the right through the portal. A peasant, his wife and two children are now living there, and the ancient monastery has become a farm.
The monks were expelled from their convent in 1791; in 1792 the Chartreuse and its dependencies were offered for sale as ecclesiastical property. The dependencies consisted first of the park, adjoining the buildings, and the noble forest which still bears the name of Seillon. But at Bourg, a royalist and, above all, religious town, no one dared risk his soul by purchasing property belonging to the worthy monks whom all revered. The result was that the convent, the park and the forest had become, under the title of state property, the property of the republic; that is to say, they belonged to nobody, or were at the best neglected. The republic having, for the last seven years, other things to think of than pointing walls, cultivating an orchard and cutting timber.
For seven years, therefore, the Chartreuse had been completely abandoned, and if by chance curious eyes peered through the keyhole, they caught glimpses of grass-grown courtyards, brambles in the orchard, and brush in the forest, which, except for one road and two or three paths that crossed it, had become almost impenetrable. The Correrie, a species of pavilion belonging to the monastery and distant from it about three-quarters of a mile, was mossgrown too in the tangle of the forest, which, profiting by its liberty, grew at its own sweet will, and had long since encircled it in a mantle of foliage which hid it from sight.
For the rest, the strangest rumors were current about these two buildings. They were said to be haunted by guests invisible by day, terrifying at night. The woodsmen and the belated peasants, who went to the forest to exercise against the Republic the rights which the town of Bourg had enjoyed in the days of the monks, pretended that, through the cracks of the closed blinds, they had seen flames of fire dancing along the corridors and stairways, and had distinctly heard the noise of chains clanking over the cloister tilings and the pavement of the courtyards. The strong-minded denied these things; but two very opposite classes opposed the unbelievers, confirming the rumors, attributing these terrifying noises and nocturnal lights to two different causes according to their beliefs. The patriots declared that they were the ghosts of the poor monks buried alive by cloister tyranny in the In-pace, who were now returned to earth, dragging after them their fetters to call down the vengeance of Heaven upon their persecutors. The royalists said that they were the imps of the devil, who, finding an empty convent, and fearing no further danger from holy water, were boldly holding their revels where once they had not dared show a claw. One fact, however, left everything uncertain. Not one of the believers or unbelievers-whether he elected for the souls of the martyred monks or for the Witches' Sabbath of Beelzebub--had ever had the courage to venture among the shadows, and to seek during the solemn hours of night confirmation of the truth, in order to tell on the morrow whether the Chartreuse were haunted, and if haunted by whom.
But doubtless these tales, whether well founded or not, had no influence over our mysterious horseman; for although, as we have said, nine o'clock had chimed from the steeples of Bourg, and night had fallen, he reined in his horse in front of the great portal of the deserted monastery, and, without dismounting, drew a pistol from his holster, striking three measured blows with the butt on the gate, after the manner of the Freemasons. Then he listened. For an instant he doubted if the meeting were really there; for though he looked closely and listened attentively, he could perceive no light, nor could he hear a sound. Still he fancied he heard a cautious step approaching the portal from within. He knocked a second time with the same weapon and in the same manner.
"Who knocks?" demanded a voice.
"He who comes from Elisha," replied the traveller.
"What king do the sons of Isaac obey?"
"What house are they to exterminate?"
"That of Ahab."
"Are you prophet or disciple?"
"Welcome then to the House of the Lord!" said the voice.
Instantly the iron bars which secured the massive portal swung back, the bolts grated in their sockets, half of the gate opened silently, and the horse and his rider passed beneath the sombre vault, which immediately closed behind them. The person who had opened the gate, so slow to open, so quick to close, was attired in the long white robe of a Chartreuse monk, of which the hood, falling over his face, completely concealed his features.
7. The Chartreuse Of Seillon
Beyond doubt, like the first affiliated member met on the road to Sue by the man who styled himself prophet, the monk who opened the gate was of secondary rank in the fraternity; for, grasping the horse's bridle, he held it while the rider dismounted, rendering the young man the service of a groom.
Morgan got off, unfastened the valise, pulled the pistols from the holsters, and placed them in his belt, next to those already there. Addressing the monk in a tone of command, he said: "I thought I should find the brothers assembled in council."
"They are assembled," replied the monk.
"At La Correrie. Suspicious persons have been seen prowling around the Chartreuse these last few days, and orders have been issued to take the greatest precautions."
The young man shrugged his shoulders as if he considered such precautions useless, and, always in the same tone of command, said: "Have some one take my horse to the stable and conduct me to the council."
The monk summoned another brother, to whom he flung the bridle. He lighted a torch at a lamp, in the little chapel which can still be seen to the right of the great portal, and walked before the new-comer. Crossing the cloister, he took a few steps in the garden, opened a door leading into a sort of cistern, invited Morgan to enter, closed it as carefully as he had the outer door, touched with his foot a stone which seemed to be accidentally lying there, disclosed a ring and raised a slab, which concealed a flight of steps leading down to a subterraneous passage. This passage had a rounded roof and was wide enough to admit two men walking abreast.
The two men proceeded thus for five or six minutes, when they reached a grated door. The monk, drawing a key from his frock, opened it. Then, when both had passed through and the door was locked again, he asked: "By what name shall I announce you?"
"As Brother Morgan."
"Wait here; I will return in five minutes."
The young man made a sign with his head which showed that he was familiar with these precautions and this distrust. Then he sat down upon a tomb--they were in the mortuary vaults of the convent--and waited. Five minutes had scarcely elapsed before the monk reappeared.
"Follow me," said he; "the brothers are glad you have come. They feared you had met with some mishap."
A few seconds later Morgan was admitted into the council chamber. Twelve monks awaited him, their hoods drawn low over their eyes. But, once the door had closed and the serving brother had disappeared, while Morgan was removing his mask, the hoods were thrown back and each monk exposed his face.
No brotherhood had ever been graced by a more brilliant assemblage of handsome and joyous young men. Two or three only of these strange monks had reached the age of forty. All hands were held out to Morgan and several warm kisses were imprinted upon the new-comer's cheek.
"'Pon my word," said one who had welcomed him most tenderly, "you have drawn a mighty thorn from my foot; we thought you dead, or, at any rate, a prisoner."
"Dead, I grant you, Amiet; but prisoner, never! citizen--as they still say sometimes, and I hope they'll not say it much longer. It must be admitted that the whole affair was conducted on both sides with touching amenity. As soon as the conductor saw us he shouted to the postilion to stop; I even believe he added: 'I know what it is.' 'Then,' said I, 'if you know what it is, my dear friend, our explanations needn't be long.' 'The government money?' he asked. 'Exactly,' I replied. Then as there was a great commotion inside the carriage, I added: 'Wait! first come down and assure these gentlemen, and especially the ladies, that we are well-behaved folk and will not harm them--the ladies; you understand--and nobody will even look at them unless they put their heads out of the window.' One did risk it; my faith! but she was charming. I threw her a kiss, and she gave a little cry and retired into the carriage, for all the world like Galatea, and as there were no willows about, I didn't pursue her. In the meantime the guard was rummaging in his strong-box in all expedition, and to such good purpose, indeed, that with the government money, in his hurry, he passed over two hundred louis belonging to a poor wine merchant of Bordeaux."
"Ah, the devil!" exclaimed the brother called Amiet--an assumed name, probably, like that of Morgan--"that is annoying! You know the Directory, which is most imaginative, has organized some bands of chauffeurs, who operate in our name, to make people believe that we rob private individuals. In other words, that we are mere thieves."
"Wait an instant," resumed Morgan; "that is just what makes me late. I heard something similar at Lyons. I was half-way to Valence when I discovered this breach of etiquette. It was not difficult, for, as if the good man had foreseen what happened, he had marked his bag 'Jean Picot, Wine Merchant at Fronsac, Bordeaux.'"
"And you sent his money back to him?"
"I did better; I returned it to him."
"Ah! no, but at Avignon. I suspected that so careful a man would stop at the first large town to inquire what chance he had to recover his two hundred louis. I was not mistaken. I inquired at the inn if they knew citizen Jean Picot. They replied that not only did they know him, but in fact he was then dining at the table d'hôte. I went in. You can imagine what they were talking about--the stoppage of the diligence. Conceive the sensation my apparition caused. The god of antiquity descending from the machine produced a no more unexpected finale than I. I asked which one of the guests was called Jean Picot. The owner of this distinguished and melodious name stood forth. I placed the two hundred louis before him, with many apologies, in the name of the Company, for the inconvenience its followers had occasioned him. I exchanged a friendly glance with Barjols and a polite nod with the Abbé de Rians who were present, and, with a profound bow to the assembled company, withdrew. It was only a little thing, but it took me fifteen hours; hence the delay. I thought it preferable to leaving a false conception of us in our wake. Have I done well, my masters?" The gathering burst into bravos.
"Only," said one of the participants, "I think you were somewhat imprudent to return the money yourself to citizen Jean Picot."
"My dear colonel," replied the young man, "there's an Italian proverb which says: 'Who wills, goes; who does not will, sends.' I willed--I went."
"And there's a jolly buck who, if you ever have the misfortune to fall into the hands of the Directory, will reward you by recognizing you; a recognition which means cutting off your head!"
"Oh! I defy him to recognize me."
"What can prevent it?"
"Oh! You seem to think that I play such pranks with my face uncovered? Truly, my dear colonel, you mistake me for some one else. It is well enough to lay aside my mask among friends; but among strangers--no, no! Are not these carnival times? I don't see why I shouldn't disguise myself as Abellino or Karl Moor, when Messieurs Gohier, Sieyès, Roger Ducos, Moulin and Barras are masquerading as kings of France."
"And you entered the city masked?"
"The city, the hotel, the dining-room. It is true that if my face was covered, my belt was not, and, as you see, it is well garnished."
The young man tossed aside his coat, displaying his belt, which was furnished with four pistols and a short hunting-knife. Then, with a gayety which seemed characteristic of his careless nature, he added: "I ought to look ferocious, oughtn't I? They may have taken me for the late Mandrin, descending from the mountains of Savoy. By the bye, here are the sixty thousand francs of Her Highness, the Directory." And the young man disdainfully kicked the valise which he had placed on the ground, which emitted a metallic sound indicating the presence of gold. Then he mingled with the group of friends from whom he had been separated by the natural distance between a narrator and his listeners. One of the monks stooped and lifted the valise.
"Despise gold as much as you please, my dear Morgan, since that doesn't prevent you from capturing it. But I know of some brave fellows who are awaiting these sixty thousand francs, you so disdainfully kick aside, with as much impatience and anxiety as a caravan, lost in the desert, awaits the drop of water which is to save it from dying of thirst."
"Our friends of the Vendée, I suppose?" replied Morgan. "Much good may it do them! Egotists, they are fighting. These gentlemen have chosen the roses and left us the thorns. Come! don't they receive anything from England?" "Oh, yes," said one of the monks, gayly; "at Quiberon they got bullets and grapeshot."
"I did not say from the English," retorted Morgan; "I said from England." "Not a penny."
"It seems to me, however," said one of those present, who apparently possessed a more reflective head than his comrades, "it seems to me that our princes might send a little gold to those who are shedding their blood for the monarchy. Are they not afraid the Vendée may weary some day or other of a devotion which up to this time has not, to my knowledge, won her a word of thanks." "The Vendée, dear friend," replied Morgan, "is a generous land which will not weary, you may be sure. Besides, where is the merit of fidelity unless it has to deal with ingratitude? From the instant devotion meets recognition, it is no longer devotion. It becomes an exchange which reaps its reward. Let us be always faithful, and always devoted, gentlemen, praying Heaven that those whom we serve may remain ungrateful, and then, believe me, we shall bear the better part in the history of our civil wars."
Morgan had scarcely formulated this chivalric axiom, expressive of a desire which had every chance of accomplishment, than three Masonic blows resounded upon the door through which he had entered.
"Gentlemen," said the monk who seemed to fill the rôle of president, "quick, your hoods and masks. We do not know who may be coming to us."
8. How The Money Of The Directory Was Used
Every one hastened to obey. The monks lowered the hoods of their long robes over their faces, Morgan replaced his mask.
"Enter!" said the superior.
The door opened and the serving-brother appeared.
"An emissary from General Georges Cadoudal asks to be admitted," said he. "Did he reply to the three passwords?"
"Then let him in."
The lay brother retired to the subterranean passage, and reappeared a couple of minutes later leading a man easily recognized by his costume as a peasant, and by his square head with its shock of red hair for a Breton. He advanced in the centre of the circle without appearing in the least intimidated, fixing his eyes on each of the monks in turn, and waiting until one of these twelve granite statues should break silence. The president was the first to speak to him. "From whom do you come?" he asked him.
"He who sent me," replied the peasant, "ordered me to answer, if I were asked that question, that I was sent by Jehu."
"Are you the bearer of a verbal or written message?"
"I am to reply to the questions which you ask me, and exchange a slip of paper for some money."
"Very good; we will begin with the questions. What are our brothers in the Vendée doing?"
"They have laid down their arms and are awaiting only a word from you to take them up again."
"And why did they lay down their arms?"
"They received the order to do so from his Majesty Louis XVIII."
"There is talk of a proclamation written by the King's own hand. Have they received it?"
"Here is a copy."
The peasant gave a paper to the person who was interrogating him. The latter opened it and read:
The war has absolutely no result save that of making the monarchy odious and threatening. Monarchs who return to their own through its bloody succor are never loved; these sanguinary measures must therefore be abandoned; confide in the empire of opinion which returns of itself to its saving principles. "God and the King," will soon be the rallying cry of all Frenchmen. The scattered elements of royalism must be gathered into one formidable sheaf; militant Vendée must be abandoned to its unhappy fate and marched within a more pacific and less erratic path. The royalists of the West have fulfilled their duty; those of Paris, who have prepared everything for the approaching Restoration, must now be relied upon-- The president raised his head, and, seeking Morgan with a flash of the eye which his hood could not entirely conceal, said: "Well, brother, I think this is the fulfilment of your wish of a few moments ago. The royalists of the Vendée and the Midi will have the merit of pure devotion." Then, lowering his eyes to the proclamation, of which there still remained a few lines to read, he continued: The Jews crucified their King, and since that time they have wandered over the face of the earth. The French guillotined theirs, and they shall be dispersed throughout the land.
Given at Blankenbourg, this 25th of August, 1799, on the day of St. Louis and the sixth year of our reign.
The young men looked at each other.
"'Quos vult perdere Jupiter dementat!'" said Morgan.
"Yes," said the president; "but when those whom Jupiter wishes to destroy represent a principle, they must be sustained not only against Jupiter but against themselves. Ajax, in the midst of the bolts and lightning, clung to a rock, and, threatening Heaven with his clinched hand, he cried, 'I will escape in spite of the gods!'" Then turning toward Cadoudal's envoy, "And what answer did he who sent you make to this proclamation?"
"About what you yourself have just answered. He told me to come and inform myself whether you had decided to hold firm in spite of all, in spite of the King himself."
"By Heavens! yes," said Morgan.
"We are determined," said the President.
"In that case," replied the peasant, "all is well. Here are the real names of our new chiefs, and their assumed names. The general recommends that you use only the latter as far as is possible in your despatches. He observes that precaution when he, on his side, speaks of you."
"Have you the list?" asked the President.
"No; I might have been stopped, and the list taken. Write yourself; I will dictate them to you."
The president seated himself at the table, took a pen, and wrote the following names under the dictation of the Breton peasant:
"Georges Cadoudal, Jehu or Roundhead; Joseph Cadoudal, Judas Maccabeus; Lahaye Saint-Hilaire, David; Burban-Malabry, Brave-la-Mort; Poulpiquez, RoyalCarnage; Bonfils, Brise-Barrière; Dampherné, Piquevers; Duchayla, La Couronne; Duparc, Le Terrible; La Roche, Mithridates; Puisaye, Jean le Blond." "And these are the successors of Charette, Stoffiet, Cathelineau, Bonchamp, d'Elbée, la Rochejaquelin, and Lescure!" cried a voice.
The Breton turned toward him who had just spoken.
"If they get themselves killed like their predecessors," said he, "what more can you ask of them?"
"Well answered," said Morgan, "so that--"
"So that, as soon as our general has your reply," answered the peasant, "he will take up arms again."
"And suppose our reply had been in the negative?" asked another voice. "So much the worse for you," replied the peasant; "in any case the insurrection is fixed for October 20."
"Well," said the president, "thanks to us, the general will have the wherewithal for his first month's pay. Where is your receipt?"
"Here," said the peasant, drawing a paper from his pocket on which were written these words:
Received from our brothers of the Midi and the East, to be employed for the good of the cause, the sum of....
GEORGES CADOUDAL, General commanding the Royalist army of Brittany. The sum was left blank.
"Do you know how to write?" asked the president.
"Enough to fill in the three or four missing words."
"Very well. Then write, 'one hundred thousand francs.'"
The Breton wrote; then extending the paper to the president, he said: "Here is your receipt; where is the money?"
"Stoop and pick up the bag at your feet; it contains sixty thousand francs." Then addressing one of the monks, he asked: "Montbard, where are the remaining forty thousand?"
The monk thus interpellated opened a closet and brought forth a bag somewhat smaller than the one Morgan had brought, but which, nevertheless, contained the good round sum of forty thousand francs.
"Here is the full amount," said the monk.
"Now, my friend," said the president, "get something to eat and some rest; tomorrow you will start."
"They are waiting for me yonder," said the Breton. "I will eat and sleep on horseback. Farewell, gentlemen. Heaven keep you!" And he went toward the door by which he bad entered.
"Wait," said Morgan.
The messenger paused.
"News for news," said Morgan; "tell General Cadoudal that General Bonaparte has left the army in Egypt, that he landed at Fréjus, day before yesterday, and will be in Paris in three days. My news is fully worth yours, don't you think so? What do you think of it?"
"Impossible!" exclaimed all the monks with one accord.
"Nevertheless nothing is more true, gentlemen. I have it from our friend the Priest (Leprêtre), [Footnote: The name Leprêtre is a contraction of the two words "le prêtre," meaning the priest; hence the name under which this man died.] who saw him relay at Lyons one hour before me, and recognized him." "What has he come to France for?" demanded several voices.
"Faith," said Morgan, "we shall know some day. It is probable that he has not returned to Paris to remain there incognito."
"Don't lose an instant in carrying this news to our brothers in the West," said the president to the peasant. "A moment ago I wished to detain you; now I say to you: 'Go!'"
The peasant bowed and withdrew. The president waited until the door was closed.
"Gentlemen," said he, "the news which our brother Morgan has just imparted to us is so grave that I wish to propose a special measure."
"What is it?" asked the Companions of Jehu with one voice.
"It is that one of us, chosen by lot, shall go to Paris and keep the rest informed, with the cipher agreed upon, of all that happens there."
"Agreed!" they replied.
"In that case," resumed the president, "let us write our thirteen names, each on a slip of paper. We put them in a hat. He whose name is first drawn shall start immediately."
The young men, one and all, approached the table, and wrote their names on squares of paper which they rolled and dropped into a hat. The youngest was told to draw the lots. He drew one of the little rolls of paper and handed it to the president, who unfolded it.
"Morgan!" said he.
"What are my instructions?" asked the young man.
"Remember," replied the president, with a solemnity to which the cloistral arches lent a supreme grandeur, "that you bear the name and title of Baron de SainteHermine, that your father was guillotined on the Place de la Révolution and that your brother was killed in Condé's army. Noblesse oblige! Those are your instructions."
"And what else?" asked the young man.
"As to the rest," said the president, "we rely on your royalist principles and your loyalty."
"Then, my friends, permit me to bid you farewell at once. I would like to be on the road to Paris before dawn, and I must pay a visit before my departure." "Go!" said the president, opening his arms to Morgan. "I embrace you in the name of the Brotherhood. To another I should say, 'Be brave, persevering and active'; to you I say, 'Be prudent.'"
The young man received the fraternal embrace, smiled to his other friends, shook hands with two or three of them, wrapped himself in his mantle, pulled his hat over his eyes and departed.
9. Romeo And Juliet
Under the possibility of immediate departure, Morgan's horse, after being washed, rubbed down and dried, had been fed a double ration of oats and been resaddled and bridled. The young man had only to ask for it and spring upon its back. He was no sooner in the saddle than the gate opened as if by magic; the horse neighed and darted out swiftly, having forgotten its first trip, and ready for another.
At the gate of the Chartreuse, Morgan paused an instant, undecided whether to turn to the right or left. He finally turned to the right, followed the road which leads from Bourg to Seillon for a few moments, wheeled rapidly a second time to the right, cut across country, plunged into an angle of the forest which was on his way, reappeared before long on the other side, reached the main road to Pontd'Ain, followed it for about a mile and a half, and halted near a group of houses now called the Maison des Gardes. One of these houses bore for sign a cluster of holly, which indicated one of those wayside halting places where the pedestrians quench their thirst, and rest for an instant to recover strength before continuing the long fatiguing voyage of life. Morgan stopped at the door, drew a pistol from its holster and rapped with the butt end as he had done at the Chartreuse. Only as, in all probability, the good folks at the humble tavern were far from being conspirators, the traveller was kept waiting longer than he had been at the monastery. At last he heard the echo of the stable boy's clumsy sabots. The gate creaked, but the worthy man who opened it no sooner perceived the horseman with his drawn pistol than he instinctively tried to, close it again.
"It is I, Patout," said the young man; "don't be afraid."
"Ah! sure enough," said the peasant, "it is really you, Monsieur Charles. I'm not afraid now; but you know, as the curé used to tell us, in the days when there was a good God, 'Caution is the mother of safety.'"
"Yes, Patout, yes," said the young man, slipping a piece of silver into the stable boy's hand, "but be easy; the good God will return, and M. le Curé also." "Oh, as for that," said the good man, "it is easy to see that there is no one left on high by the way things go. Will this last much longer, M. Charles?" "Patout, I promise, in my honor, to do my best to be rid of all that annoys you. I am no less impatient than you; so I'll ask you not to go to bed, my good Patout." "Ah! You know well, monsieur, that when you come I don't often go to bed. As for the horse--Goodness! You change them every day? The time before last it was a chestnut, the last time a dapple-gray, now a black one."
"Yes, I'm somewhat capricious by nature. As to the horse, as you say, my dear Patout, he wants nothing. You need only remove his bridle; leave him saddled. Oh, wait; put this pistol back in the holsters and take care of these other two for me." And the young man removed the two from his belt and handed them to the hostler.
"Well," exclaimed the latter, laughing, "any more barkers?"
"You know, Patout, they say the roads are unsafe."
"Ah! I should think they weren't safe! We're up to our necks in regular highway robberies, M. Charles. Why, no later than last week they stopped and robbed the diligence between Geneva and Bourg!"
"Indeed!" exclaimed Morgan; "and whom do they accuse of the robbery?" "Oh, it's such a farce! Just fancy; they say it was the Companions of Jesus. I don't believe a word of it, of course. Who are the Companions of Jesus if not the twelve apostles?"
"Of course," said Morgan, with his eternally joyous smile, "I don't know of any others."
"Well!" continued Patout, "to accuse the twelve apostles of robbing a diligence, that's the limit. Oh! I tell you, M. Charles, we're living in times when nobody respects anything."
And shaking his head like a misanthrope, disgusted, if not with life, at least with men, Patout led the horse to the stable.
As for Morgan, he watched Patout till he saw him disappear down the courtyard and enter the dark stable; then, skirting the hedge which bordered the garden, he went toward a large clump of trees whose lofty tops were silhouetted against the darkness of the night, with the majesty of things immovable, the while their shadows fell upon a charming little country house known in the neighborhood as the Château des Noires-Fontaines. As Morgan reached the château wall, the hour chimed from the belfry of the village of Montagnac. The young man counted the strokes vibrating in the calm silent atmosphere of the autumn night. It was eleven o'clock. Many things, as we have seen, had happened during the last two hours.
Morgan advanced a few steps farther, examined the wall, apparently in search of a familiar spot, then, having found it, inserted the tip of his boot in a cleft between two stones. He sprang up like a man mounting a horse, seized the top of the wall with the left hand, and with a second spring seated himself astride the wall, from which, with the rapidity of lightning, he lowered himself on the other side. All this was done with such rapidity, such dexterity and agility, that any one chancing to pass at that instant would have thought himself the puppet of a vision. Morgan stopped, as on the other side of the wall, to listen, while his eyes tried to pierce the darkness made deeper by the foliage of poplars and aspens, and the heavy shadows of the little wood. All was silent and solitary. Morgan ventured on his path. We say ventured, because the young man, since nearing the Château des Noires-Fontaines, revealed in all his movement a timidity and hesitation so foreign to his character that it was evident that if he feared it was not for himself alone.
He gained the edge of the wood, still moving cautiously. Coming to a lawn, at the end of which was the little château, he paused. Then he examined the front of the house. Only one of the twelve windows which dotted the three floors was lighted. This was on the second floor at the corner of the house. A little balcony, covered with virgin vines which climbed the walls, twining themselves around the iron railing and falling thence in festoons from the window, overhung the garden. On both sides of the windows, close to the balcony, large-leafed trees met and formed above the cornice a bower of verdure. A Venetian blind, which was raised and lowered by cords, separated the balcony from the window, a separation which disappeared at will. It was through the interstices of this blind that Morgan had seen the light.
The young man's first impulse was to cross the lawn in a straight line; but again, the fears of which we spoke restrained him. A path shaded by lindens skirted the wall and led to the house. He turned aside and entered its dark leafy covert. When he had reached the end of the path, he crossed, like a frightened doe, the open space which led to the house wall, and stood for a moment in the deep shadow of the house. Then, when he had reached the spot he had calculated upon, he clapped his hands three times.
At this call a shadow darted from the end of the apartment and clung, lithe, graceful, almost transparent, to the window.
Morgan repeated the signal. The window was opened immediately, the blind was raised, and a ravishing young girl, in a night dress, her fair hair rippling over her shoulders, appeared in the frame of verdure.
The young man stretched out his arms to her, whose arms were stretched out to him, and two names, or rather two cries from the heart, crossed from one to the other.
Then the young man sprang against the wall, caught at the vine shoots, the jagged edges of the rock, the jutting cornice, and in an instant was on the balcony.
What these two beautiful young beings said to each other was only a murmur of love lost in an endless kiss. Then, by gentle effort, the young man drew the girl with one hand to her chamber, while with the other he loosened the cords of the blind, which fell noisily behind them. The window closed behind the blind. Then the lamp was extinguished, and the front of the Château des Noires-Fontaines was again in darkness.
This darkness had lasted for about a quarter of an hour, when the rolling of a carriage was heard along the road leading from the highway of Pont-d'Ain to the entrance of the château. There the sound ceased; it was evident that the carriage had stopped before the gates.
10. The Family Of Roland
The carriage which had stopped before the gate was that which brought Roland back to his family, accompanied by Sir John.
The family was so far from expecting him that, as we have said, all the lights in the house were extinguished, all the windows in darkness, even Amélie's. The postilion had cracked his whip smartly for the last five hundred yards, but the noise was insufficient to rouse these country people from their first sleep. When the carriage had stopped, Roland opened the door, sprang out without touching the steps, and tugged at the bell-handle. Five minutes elapsed, and, after each peal, Roland turned to the carriage, saying: "Don't be impatient, Sir John." At last a window opened and a childish but firm voice cried out: "Who is ringing that way?"
"Ah, is that you, little Edouard?" said Roland. "Make haste and let us in." The child leaped back with a shout of delight and disappeared. But at the same time his voice was heard in the corridors, crying: "Mother! wake up; it is Roland! Sister! wake up; it is the big brother!"
Then, clad only in his night robe and his little slippers, he ran down the steps, crying: "Don't be impatient, Roland; here I am."
An instant later the key grated in the lock, and the bolts slipped back in their sockets. A white figure appeared in the portico, and flew rather than ran to the gate, which an instant later turned on its hinges and swung open. The child sprang upon Roland's neck and hung there.
"Ah, brother! Brother!" he exclaimed, embracing the young man, laughing and crying at the same time. "Ah, big brother Roland! How happy mother will be; and Amélie, too! Every body is well. I am the sickest--ah! except Michel, the gardener, you know, who has sprained his leg. But why aren't you in uniform? Oh! how ugly you are in citizen's clothes! Have you just come from Egypt? Did you bring me the silver-mounted pistols and the beautiful curved sword? No? Then you are not nice, and I won't kiss you any more. Oh, no, no! Don't be afraid! I love you just the same!"
And the boy smothered the big brother with kisses while he showered questions upon him. The Englishman, still seated in the carriage, looked smilingly through the window at the scene.
In the midst of these fraternal embraces came the voice of a woman; the voice of the mother.
"Where is he, my Roland, my darling son?" asked Madame de Montrevel, in a voice fraught with such violent, joyous emotion that it was almost painful. "Where is he? Can it be true that he has returned; really true that he is not a prisoner, not dead? Is he really living?"
The child, at her voice, slipped from his brother's arms like an eel, dropped upon his feet on the grass, and, as if moved by a spring, bounded toward his mother. "This way, mother; this way!" said he, dragging his mother, half dressed as she was, toward Roland. When he saw his mother Roland could no longer contain himself. He felt the sort of icicle that had petrified his breast melt, and his heart beat like that of his fellowmen.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "I was indeed ungrateful to God when life still holds such joys for me."
And he fell sobbing upon Madame de Montrevel's neck without thinking of Sir John, who felt his English phlegm disperse as he silently wiped away the tears that flowed down his cheeks and moistened his lips. The child, the mother, and Roland formed an adorable group of tenderness and emotion.
Suddenly little Edouard, like a leaf tossed about by the wind, flew from the group, exclaiming: "Sister Amélie! Why, where is she?" and he rushed toward the house, repeating: "Sister Amélie, wake up! Get up! Hurry up!"
And then the child could be heard kicking and rapping against a door. Silence followed. Then little Edouard shouted: "Help, mother! Help, brother Roland! Sister Amélie is ill!"
Madame de Montrevel and her son flew toward the house. Sir John, consummate tourist that he was, always carried a lancet and a smelling bottle in his pocket. He jumped from the carriage and, obeying his first impulse, hurried up the portico. There he paused, reflecting that he had not been introduced, an allimportant formality for an Englishman.
However, the fainting girl whom he sought came toward him at that moment. The noise her brother had made at the door brought Amélie to the landing; but, without doubt, the excitement which Roland's return had occasioned was too much for her, for after descending a few steps in an almost automatic manner, controlling herself by a violent effort, she gave a sigh, and, like a flower that bends, a branch that droops, like a scarf that floats, she fell, or rather lay, upon the stairs. It was at that moment that the child cried out.
But at his exclamation Amélie recovered, if not her strength, at least her will. She rose, and, stammering, "Be quiet, Edouard! Be quite, in Heaven's name! I'm all right," she clung to the balustrade with one hand, and leaning with the other on the child, she had continued to descend. On the last step she met her mother and her brother. Then with a violent, almost despairing movement, she threw both arms around Roland's neck, exclaiming: "My brother! My brother!" Roland, feeling the young girl's weight press heavily upon his shoulder, exclaimed: "Air! Air! She is fainting!" and carried her out upon the portico. It was this new group, so different from the first, which met Sir John's eyes. As soon as she felt the fresh air, Amélie revived and raised her head. Just then the moon, in all her splendor, shook off a cloud which had veiled her, and lighted Amélie's face, as pale as her own. Sir John gave a cry of admiration. Never had he seen a marble statue so perfect as this living marble before his eyes. We must say that Amélie, seen thus, was marvelously beautiful. Clad in a long cambric robe, which defined the outlines of her body, molded on that of the Polyhymnia of antiquity, her pale face gently inclined upon her brother's shoulder, her long golden hair floating around her snowy shoulders, her arm thrown around her mother's neck, its rose-tinted alabaster hand drooping upon the red shawl in which Madame de Montrevel had wrapped herself; such was Roland's sister as she appeared to Sir John.
At the Englishman's cry of admiration, Roland remembered that he was there, and Madame de Montrevel perceived his presence. As for the child, surprised to see this stranger in his mother's home, he ran hastily down the steps of the portico, stopping on the third one, not that he feared to go further, but in order to be on a level with the person he proceeded to question.
"Who are you, sir!" he asked Sir John; "and what are you doing here?" "My little Edouard," said Sir John, "I am your brother's friend, and I have brought you the silver-mounted pistols and the Damascus blade which he promised you." "Where are they?" asked the child.
"Ah!" said Sir John, "they are in England, and it will take some time to send for them. But your big brother will answer for me that I am a man of my word." "Yes, Edouard, yes," said Roland. "If Sir John promises them to you, you will get them." Then turning to Madame de Montrevel and his sister, "Excuse me, my mother; excuse me, Amélie; or rather, excuse yourselves as best you can to Sir John, for you have made me abominably ungrateful." Then grasping Sir John's hand, he continued: "Mother, Sir John took occasion the first time he saw me to render me an inestimable service. I know that you never forget such things. I trust, therefore, that you will always remember that Sir John is one of our best friends; and he will give you the proof of it by saying with me that he has consented to be bored for a couple of weeks with us."
"Madame," said Sir John, "permit me, on the contrary, not to repeat my friend Roland's words. I could wish to spend, not a fortnight, nor three weeks, but a whole lifetime with you."
Madame de Montrevel came down the steps of the portico and offered her hand to Sir John, who kissed it with a gallantry altogether French.
"My lord," said she, "this house is yours. The day you entered it has been one of joy, the day you leave will be one of regret and sadness."
Sir John turned toward Amélie, who, confused by the disorder of her dress before this stranger, was gathering the folds of her wrapper about her neck. "I speak to you in my name and in my daughter's, who is still too much overcome by her brother's unexpected return to greet you herself as she will do in a moment," continued Madame de Montrevel, coming to Amélie's relief. "My sister," said Roland, "will permit my friend Sir John to kiss her hand, and he will, I am sure, accept that form of welcome."
Amélie stammered a few words, slowly lifted her arm, and held out her hand to Sir John with a smile that was almost painful.
The Englishman took it, but, feeling how icy and trembling it was, instead of carrying it to his lips he said: "Roland, your sister is seriously indisposed. Let us think only of her health this evening. I am something of a doctor, and if she will deign to permit me the favor of feeling her pulse I shall be grateful." But Amélie, as if she feared that the cause of her weakness might be surmised, withdrew her hand hastily, exclaiming: "Oh, no! Sir John is mistaken. Joy never causes illness. It is only joy at seeing my brother again which caused this slight indisposition, and it has already passed over." Then turning to Madame de Montrevel, she added with almost feverish haste: "Mother, we are forgetting that these gentlemen have made a long voyage, and have probably eaten nothing since Lyons. If Roland has his usual good appetite he will not object to my leaving you to do the honors of the house, while I attend to the unpoetical but much appreciated details of the housekeeping."
Leaving her mother, as she said, to do the honors of the house, Amélie went to waken the maids and the manservant, leaving on the mind of Sir John that sort of fairy-like impression which the tourist on the Rhine brings with him of the Lorelei on her rock, a lyre in her hand, the liquid gold of her hair floating in the evening breezes.
In the meantime, Morgan had remounted his horse, returning at full gallop to the Chartreuse. He drew rein before the portal, pulled out a note-book, and pencilling a few lines on one of the leaves, rolled it up and slipped it through the keyhole without taking time to dismount.
Then pressing in both his spurs, and bending low over the mane of the noble animal, he disappeared in the forest, rapid and mysterious as Faust on his way to the mountain of the witches' sabbath. The three lines he had written were as follows:
"Louis de Montrevel, General Bonaparte's aide-de-camp, arrived this evening at the Château des Noires-Fontaines. Be careful, Companions of Jehu!" But, while warning his comrades to be cautious about Louis de Montrevel, Morgan had drawn a cross above his name, which signified that no matter what happened the body of the young officer must be considered as sacred by them. The Companions of Jehu had the right to protect a friend in that way without being obliged to explain the motives which actuated them. Morgan used that privilege to protect the brother of his love.
11. Château Des Noires-Fontaines
The Château of Noires-Fontaines, whither we have just conducted two of the principal characters of our story, stood in one of the most charming spots of the valley, where the city of Bourg is built. The park, of five or six acres, covered with venerable oaks, was inclosed on three sides by freestone walls, one of which opened in front through a handsome gate of wrought-iron, fashioned in the style of Louis XV.; the fourth side was bounded by the little river called the Reissouse, a pretty stream that takes its rise at Journaud, among the foothills of the Jura, and flowing gently from south to north, joins the Saône at the bridge of Fleurville, opposite Pont-de-Vaux, the birthplace of Joubert, who, a month before the period of which we are writing, was killed at the fatal battle of Novi.
Beyond the Reissouse, and along its banks, lay, to the right and left of the Château des Noires-Fontaines, the village of Montagnac and Saint-Just, dominated further on by that of Ceyzeriat. Behind this latter hamlet stretched the graceful outlines of the hills of the Jura, above the summits of which could be distinguished the blue crests of the mountains of Bugey, which seemed to be standing on tiptoe in order to peer curiously over their younger sisters' shoulder at what was passing in the valley of the Ain.
It was in full view of this ravishing landscape that Sir John awoke. For the first time in his life, perhaps, the morose and taciturn Englishman smiled at nature. He fancied himself in one of those beautiful valleys of Thessaly celebrated by Virgil, beside the sweet slopes of Lignon sung by Urfé, whose birthplace, in spite of what the biographers say, was falling into ruins not three miles from the Château des Noires-Fontaines. He was roused by three light raps at his door. It was Roland who came to see how he had passed the night. He found him radiant as the sun playing among the already yellow leaves of the chestnuts and the lindens.
"Oh! oh! Sir John," cried Roland, "permit me to congratulate you. I expected to find you as gloomy as the poor monks of the Chartreuse, with their long white robes, who used to frighten me so much in my childhood; though, to tell the truth, I was never easily frightened. Instead of that I find you in the midst of this dreary October, as smiling as a morn of May."
"My dear Roland," replied Sir John, "I am an orphan; I lost my mother at my birth and my father when I was twelve years old. At an age when children are usually sent to school, I was master of a fortune producing a million a year; but I was alone in the world, with no one whom I loved or who loved me. The tender joys of family life are completely unknown to me. From twelve to eighteen I went to Cambridge, but my taciturn and perhaps haughty character isolated me from my fellows. At eighteen I began to travel. You who scour the world under the shadow of your flag; that is to say, the shadow of your country, and are stirred by the thrill of battle, and the pride of glory, cannot imagine what a lamentable thing it is to roam through cities, provinces, nations, and kingdoms simply to visit a church here, a castle there; to rise at four in the morning at the summons of a pitiless guide, to see the sun rise from Rigi or Etna; to pass like a phantom, already dead, through the world of living shades called men; to know not where to rest; to know no land in which to take root, no arm on which to lean, no heart in which to pour your own! Well, last night, my dear Roland, suddenly, in an instant, in a second, this void in my life was filled. I lived in you; the joys I seek were yours. The family which I never had, I saw smiling around you. As I looked at your mother I said to myself: 'My mother was like that, I am sure.' Looking at your sister, I said: 'Had I a sister I could not have wished her otherwise.' When I embraced your brother, I thought that I, too, might have had a child of that age, and thus leave something behind me in the world, whereas with the nature I know I possess, I shall die as I have lived, sad, surly with others, a burden to myself. Ah! you are happy, Roland! you have a family, you have fame, you have youth, you have that which spoils nothing in a man--you have beauty. You want no joys. You are not deprived of a single delight. I repeat it, Roland, you are a happy man, most happy!"
"Good!" said Roland. "You forget my aneurism, my lord."
Sir John looked at Roland increduously. Roland seemed to enjoy the most perfect health.
"Your aneurism against my million, Roland," said Lord Tanlay, with a feeling of profound sadness, "providing that with this aneurism you give me this mother who weeps for joy on seeing you again; this sister who faints with delight at your return; this child who clings upon your neck like some fresh young fruit to a sturdy young tree; this château with its dewy shade, its river with its verdant flowering banks, these blue vistas dotted with pretty villages and white-capped belfries graceful as swans. I would welcome your aneurism, Roland, and with death in two years, in one, in six months; but six months of stirring, tender, eventful and glorious life!"
Roland laughed in his usual nervous manner.
"Ah!" said he, "so this is the tourist, the superficial traveller, the Wandering Jew of civilization, who pauses nowhere, gauges nothing, judges everything by the sensation it produces in him. The tourist who, without opening the doors of these abodes where dwell the fools we call men, says: 'Behind these walls is happiness!' Well, my dear friend, you see this charming river, don't you? These flowering meadows, these pretty villages? It is the picture of peace, innocence and fraternity; the cycle of Saturn, the golden age returned; it is Eden, Paradise! Well, all that is peopled by beings who have flown at each other's throats. The jungles of Calcutta, the sedges of Bengal are inhabited by tigers and panthers not one whit more ferocious or cruel than the denizens of these pretty villages, these dewy lawns, and these charming shores. After lauding in funeral celebrations the good, the great, the immortal Marat, whose body, thank God! they cast into the common sewer like carrion that he was, and always had been; after performing these funeral rites, to which each man brought an urn into which he shed his tears, behold! our good Bressans, our gentle Bressans, these poultry-fatteners, suddenly decided that the Republicans were all murderers. So they murdered them by the tumbrelful to correct them of that vile defect common to savage and civilized man--the killing his kind. You doubt it? My dear fellow, on the road to Lons-le-Saulnier they will show you, if you are curious, the spot where not six months ago they organized a slaughter fit to turn the stomach of our most ferocious troopers on the battlefield. Picture to yourself a tumbrel of prisoners on their way to Lons-le-Saulnier. It was a staff-sided cart, one of those immense wagons in which they take cattle to market. There were some thirty men in this tumbrel, whose sole crime was foolish exaltation of thought and threatening language. They were bound and gagged; heads hanging, jolted by the bumping of the cart; their throats parched with thirst, despair and terror; unfortunate beings who did not even have, as in the times of Nero and Commodus, the fight in the arena, the hand-to-hand struggle with death. Powerless, motionless, the lust of massacre surprised them in their fetters, and battered them not only in life but in death; their bodies, when their hearts had ceased to beat, still resounded beneath the bludgeons which mangled their flesh and crushed their bones; while women looked on in calm delight, lifting high the children, who clapped their hands for joy. Old men who ought to have been preparing for a Christian death helped, by their goading cries, to render the death of these wretched beings more wretched still. And in the midst of these old men, a little septuagenarian, dainty, powdered, flicking his lace shirt frill if a speck of dust settled there, pinching his Spanish tobacco from a golden snuff-box, with a diamond monogram, eating his "amber sugarplums" from a Sevres bonbonnière, given him by Madame du Barry, and adorned with the donor's portrait--this septuagenarian--conceive the picture, my dear Sir John--dancing with his pumps upon that mattress of human flesh, wearying his arm, enfeebled by age, in striking repeatedly with his gold-headed cane those of the bodies who seemed not dead enough to him, not properly mangled in that cursed mortar! Faugh! My friend, I have seen Montebello, I have seen Arcole, I have seen Rivoli, I have seen the Pyramids, and I believe I could see nothing more terrible. Well, my mother's mere recital, last night, after you had retired, of what has happened here, made my hair stand on end. Faith! that explains my poor sister's spasms just as my aneurism explains mine."
Sir John watched Roland, and listened with that strange wonderment which his young friend's misanthropical outbursts always aroused. Roland seemed to lurk in the niches of a conversation in order to fall upon mankind whenever he found an opportunity. Perceiving the impression he had made on Sir John's mind, he changed his tone, substituting bitter raillery for his philanthropic wrath. "It is true," said he, "that, apart from this excellent aristocrat who finished what the butchers had begun, and dyed in blood the red heels of his pumps, the people who performed these massacres belonged to the lower classes, bourgeois and clowns, as our ancestors called those who supported them. The nobles manage things much more daintily. For the rest, you saw yourself what happened at Avignon. If you had been told that, you would never have believed it, would you? Those gentlemen pillagers of stage coaches pique themselves on their great delicacy. They have two faces, not counting their mask. Sometimes they are Cartouche and Mandrin, sometimes Amadis and Galahad. They tell fabulous tales of these heroes of the highways. My mother told me yesterday of one called Laurent. You understand, my dear fellow, that Laurent is a fictitious name meant to hide the real name, just as a mask hides the face. This Laurent combined all the qualities of a hero of romance, all the accomplishments, as you English say, who, under pretext that you were once Normans, allow yourselves occasionally to enrich your language with a picturesque expression, or some word which has long, poor beggar! asked and been refused admittance of our own scholars. This Laurent was ideally handsome. He was one of seventy-two Companions of Jehu who have lately been tried at Yssen-geaux. Seventy were acquitted; he and one other were the only ones condemned to death. The innocent men were released at once, but Laurent and his companion were put in prison to await the guillotine. But, pooh! Master Laurent had too pretty a head to fall under the executioner's ignoble knife. The judges who condemned him, the curious who expected to witness him executed, had forgotten what Montaigne calls the corporeal recommendation of beauty. There was a woman belonging to the jailer of Yssen-geaux, his daughter, sister or niece; history--for it is history and not romance that I am telling you--history does not say which. At all events the woman, whoever she was, fell in love with the handsome prisoner, so much in love that two hours before the execution, just as Master Laurent, expecting the executioner, was sleeping, or pretending to sleep, as usually happens in such cases, his guardian angel came to him. I don't know how they managed; for the two lovers, for the best of reasons, never told the details; but the truth is--now remember; Sir John, that this is truth and not fiction--that Laurent was free, but, to his great regret, unable to save his comrade in the adjoining dungeon. Gensonné, under like circumstances, refused to escape, preferring to die with the other Girondins; but Gensonné did not have the head of Antinous on the body of Apollo. The handsomer the head, you understand, the more one holds on to it. So Laurent accepted the freedom offered him and escaped; a horse was waiting for him at the next village. The young girl, who might have retarded or hindered his flight, was to rejoin him the next day. Dawn came, but not the guardian angel. It seems that our hero cared more for his mistress than he did for his companion; he left his comrade, but he would not go without her. It was six o'clock, the very hour for his execution. His impatience mastered him. Three times had he turned his horse's head toward the town, and each time drew nearer and nearer. At the third time a thought flashed through his brain. Could his mistress have been taken, and would she pay the penalty for saving him? He was then in the suburbs. Spurring his horse, he entered the town with face uncovered, dashed through people who called him by name, astonished to see him free and on horseback, when they expected to see him bound and in a tumbrel on his way to be executed. Catching sight of his guardian angel pushing through the crowd, not to see him executed, but to meet him, he urged his horse past the executioner, who had just learned of the disappearance of one of his patients, knocking over two or three bumpkins with the breast of his Bayard. He bounded toward her, swung her over the pommel of his saddle, and, with a cry of joy and a wave of his hat, he disappeared like M. de Condé at the battle of Lens. The people all applauded, and the women thought the action heroic, and all promptly fell in love with the hero on the spot."
Roland, observing that Sir John was silent, paused and questioned him by a look. "Go on," replied the Englishman; "I am listening. And as I am sure you are telling me all this in order to come to something you wish to say, I await your point."
"Well," resumed Roland, laughing, "you are right, my dear friend, and, on my word, you know me as if we had been college chums. Well, what idea do you suppose has been cavorting through my brain all night? It is that of getting a glimpse of these gentlemen of Jehu near at hand."
"Ah, yes, I understand. As you failed to get yourself killed by M. de Barjols, you want to try your chance of being killed by M. Morgan."
"Or any other, my dear Sir John," replied the young officer calmly; "for I assure you that I have nothing in particular against M. Morgan; quite the contrary, though my first impulse when he came into the room and made his little speech-don't you call it a speech--?"
Sir John nodded affirmatively.
"Though my first thought," resumed Roland, "was to spring at his throat and strangle him with one hand, and to tear off his mask with the other." "Now that I know you, my dear Roland, I do indeed wonder how you refrained from putting such a fine project into execution."
"It was not my fault, I swear! I was just on the point of it when my companion stopped me."
"So there are people who can restrain you?"
"Not many, but he can."
"And now you regret it?"
"Honestly, no! This brave stage-robber did the business with such swaggering bravado that I admired him. I love brave men instinctively. Had I not killed M. de Barjols I should have liked to be his friend. It is true I could not tell how brave he was until I had killed him. But let us talk of something else; that duel is one of my painful thoughts. But why did I come up? It was certainly not to talk of the Companions of Jehu, nor of M. Laurent's exploits--Ah! I came to ask how you would like to spend your time. I'll cut myself in quarters to amuse you, my dear guest, but there are two disadvantages against me: this region, which is not very amusing, and your nationality, which is not easily amused."
"I have already told you, Roland," replied Lord Tanlay, offering his hand to the young man, "that I consider the Château des Noires-Fontaines a paradise." "Agreed; but still in the fear that you may find your paradise monotonous, I shall do my best to entertain you. Are you fond of archeology--Westminster and Canterbury? We have a marvel here, the church of Brou; a wonder of sculptured lace by Colonban. There is a legend about it which I will tell you some evening when you cannot sleep. You will see there the tombs of Marguerite de Bourbon, Philippe le Bel, and Marguerite of Austria. I will puzzle you with the problem of her motto: 'Fortune, infortune, fort'une,' which I claim to have solved by a Latinized version: 'Fortuna, in fortuna, forti una.' Are you fond of fishing, my dear friend? There's the Reissouse at your feet, and close at hand a collection of hooks and lines belonging to Edouard, and nets belonging to Michel; as for the fish, they, you know, are the last thing one thinks about. Are you fond of hunting? The forest of Seillon is not a hundred yards off. Hunting to hounds you will have perforce to renounce, but we have good shooting. In the days of my old bogies, the Chartreuse monks, the woods swarmed with wild boars, hares and foxes. No one hunts there now, because it belongs to the government; and the government at present is nobody. In my capacity as General Bonaparte's aide-de-camp I'll fill the vacancy, and we'll see who dares meddle with me, if, after chasing the Austrians on the Adige and the Mamelukes on the Nile, I hunt the boars and deer and the hares and foxes on the Reissouse. One day of archeology, one day of fishing, and one of hunting, that's three already. You see, my dear fellow, we have only fifteen or sixteen left to worry about."
"My dear Roland," said Sir John sadly, and without replying to the young officer's wordy sally, "won't you ever tell me about this fever which sears you, this sorrow which undermines you?"
"Ah!" said Roland, with his harsh, doleful laugh. "I have never been gayer than I am this morning; it's your liver, my lord, that is out of order and makes you see everything black."
"Some day I hope to be really your friend," replied Sir John seriously; "then you will confide in me, and I shall help you to bear your burden."
"And half my aneurism!--Are you hungry, my lord?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because I hear Edouard on the stairs, coming up to tell us that breakfast is ready."
As Roland spoke, the door opened and the boy burst out: "Big brother Roland, mother and sister Amélie are waiting breakfast for Sir John and you." Then catching the Englishman's right hand, he carefully examined the first joint of the thumb and forefinger.
"What are you looking at, my little friend?" asked Sir John.
"I was looking to see if you had any ink on your fingers."
"And if I had ink on my fingers, what would it mean?"
"That you had written to England, and sent for my pistols and sword." "No, I have not yet written," said Sir John; "but I will to-day."
"You hear, big brother Roland? I'm to have my sword and my pistols in a fortnight!"
And the boy, full of delight, offered his firm rosy cheek to Sir John, who kissed it as tenderly as a father would have done. Then they went to the dining-room where Madame de Montrevel and Amélie were awaiting them.