a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
|BROWSE the site for other works by this author
(and our other authors) or get HELP Reading, Downloading and Converting files)
SEARCH the entire site with Google Site Search
Title: The Emperor and his Double Author: Ambrose Pratt and Frank Renar * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1401701h.html Language: English Date first posted: April 2014 Date most recently updated: April 2014 Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
INCIDENT I.—THE DOUBLE MEETS NAPOLEON.
INCIDENT II.—THE DOUBLE SERVES THE FIRST CONSUL.
INCIDENT III.—PAOLO PROVES HIS COURAGE.
INCIDENT IV.—THE DOUBLE SPEAKS—CITIZENESS ISMENEY.
INCIDENT V.—THE DOUBLE AND THE SPY.
INCIDENT VII.—NAPOLEON PRAYS.
INCIDENT VIII.—NAPOLEON IN LOVE.
INCIDENT IX.—THE UNMASKING OF THE DOUBLE.
INCIDENT X.—THE EMPEROR PURSUES THE DOUBLE.
INCIDENT XI.—NAPOLEON POISONS HIMSELF.
INCIDENT XII.—A GAME AT DICE.
INCIDENT XIII.—NAPOLEON BETRAYED.
INCIDENT XIV.—THE EMPEROR'S LAST HOPE.
INCIDENT XVI.—THE WHITE TERROR.
INCIDENT XVII.—ON THE BELLEROPHON.
"Seize that man!"
"Seize that man!"
Two men of the same height and form, dressed alike in green surtout, white doeskin knee breeches, and high top-boots, stood opposite each other in a room of the Tuileries on the morning of the 2nd of August, 1800, and gave them orders to the Captain of the Guard in rapid succession, indeed, almost simultaneously. Each of these men possessed a countenance of striking nobility, a wide, high forehead, surmounted with long, straight, falling chestnut hair, large, deep, lustrous eyes, steel-blue in color, peering out under deep arched brows; nose straight and shapely; nervous, sensuous mouth, and projecting, dominant chin. Each man's face was characterised by the same singular pallor that held unbroken sway from chin to brow. Their very attitudes were identical, left foot slightly advanced, left hand pressed tightly to the side, right hand outstretched in commanding gesture towards the officer who stood at attention before them.
Ségur, the Captain of the Guard, examined in startled amazement this miraculous presentment of two men, so perfectly resembling each other that he was unable to detect the minutest point of difference between them. He occupied a moment in endeavoring to collect himself, to assure himself that this was not an illusion; another in vainly attempting to determine which of the orders he had received it was his duty to obey. His indecision drew upon him a rebuke. The man who stood slightly to his left hand frowned, and pointed to the other.
"Obey your orders, sir!" he commanded, in clear, incisive tones.
Ah, that voice. Ségur would have known it among ten thousand. It had rung in his ears at Rivion; he had heard it addressed to the soldiers of Italy, and its magic charm had sent a thrill into the blood of thousands and carried an army mad with enthusiasm to victory against unnumbered odds. With a salute he sprang forward to obey, to arrest the impudent imposter who had dared to personate his general, when, with a like commanding gesture, the other pointed sternly and opened his lips to speak.
"Obey your orders, sir," he said, in low, contemptuous tones.
Ségur fell back dazed, bewildered, turning foolishly from one to the other, and muttering first "General" to one and then "General" to the other. Even the voices of the two were indistinguishable.
For the first time the chief actors in this drama, as if moved by a simultaneous impulse, turned and looked steadily at each other, one to frown in angry amazement at the extraordinary semblance to himself, the other to smile in contented self-gratulation.
"Who are you?" demanded the man on the left.
"Who are you?" responded the other, like an echo.
"What do you want with me?"
"What do you want with me?"
"Perhaps this is a plot to murder me," cried suddenly the man on the left, putting his hand up to his forehead, as if overcome with a sudden fear. "Ségur observe how he imitates me; watch this man carefully. Come closer, Ségur."
Napoleon's aide-de-camp, as if re-assured by this quick-spoken order, gave a sigh of relief, and approached with determination the other man, giving, at the same time a sign to two attendant Mamelukes to assist him. He had almost placed a hand upon the shoulder of the other man when he was confronted by the same order, hissed this time, rather than spoken, and still seemingly in the First Consul's voice.
"This is a plot to murder me, Ségur. Watch this man carefully."
The soldiers fell back mystified, but Ségur showed himself a man of resource.
"Ali, Roustan," he said quickly, "approach. There is a plot against the General—against his life, perhaps. Do you, Ali, watch this one, and you, Roustan, that one, and whose shall make a threatening gesture, that one immediately arrest."
The two Mamelukes approached to within a yard of the Consul and the other, and stood mutely at attention. The man on the left had listened to this order from the captain of the guard as if pondering on its efficacy, but when a soldier approached he appeared to be overcome by the indignity offered him. He stamped his foot upon the floor in sudden passion.
"Fall back!" he cried indignantly.
Like an echo came a similar order from the other man, "Fall back!"
The two Mamelukes retired to the other side of the room, their stoic Eastern faces showing no sign of bewilderment. But Ségur bit his lip with disappointment at the failure of his plan.
"Retire out of hearing," was the next order from the man on the left.
Ségur saluted, but did not immediately obey. He looked enquiringly towards the man on the right, for he had now two masters.
"Retire," said the man on the right, with a curious smile.
When he could speak without being overheard the man on the left approached his companion, and said in a lone tone, full of warning and command. "Now speak, sir. Who are you? What do you want with me?"
The other shrugged his shoulders and glanced expressively at the Mamelukes, who were watching them intently from across the room.
"I wish to speak with you alone," he muttered.
The First Consul considered, and the shadow of his thoughts fell upon his face, and marked his features with a frown, while for an almost inappreciable instant his lips quivered with anxiety; then, in a breath, all was calm. The frown faded from his forehead; the sensitive lips smoothed themselves into a firm, decisive line; and the deep, impenetrable eyes looked forth, cold, emotionless, and calculating upon the difficulty that confronted him. A hundred thoughts and speculations flitted across his mind in a moment, chief among which was the fear that this duplicate of himself was an emissary sent by his foes to assassinate him, and so mar the destiny of France, a destiny inseparably linked with his. Militating against this fear, however, a fear inspired by no personal cowardice, but rather by the watchfulness of unsleeping ambition, were ranked the sublime self-consciousness of power, the innate foreshadowings of his fate, the grand belief in himself which always marked the character of Napoleon Buonaparte. A subtle instinct taught the other man some of the speculations which induced the First Consul to hesitate; he felt that Napoleon could not submit himself to ridicule, for Napoleon was not only the first man in Europe, by the kindness of Fortune, but an Emperor by disposition—serene, wrapped in a dignity cold and sublime, which surrounded him with an invincible barrier of reserve. Hitherto the man had addressed Napoleon with an impudent assurance, but now, grown servile, he paid him even more than the deference due to his rank, while his voice was insinuating and reverential, almost wheedling.
"I crave a private audience, sire. Do not compel me to again make your Majesty a mock before your servants."
Napoleon smiled—a slow scornful smile. "Such a mock would demand a terrible penalty, sir," he answered, calmly.
"Who shall decide between us?" whispered the other. "Your servants have failed to discover in me an imposter. Who should be more successful, sire—your enemies?"
Napoleon hesitated, sending a searching look into eyes that constantly evaded him.
"Who is your master?" he answered, coldly.
"Who sent you hither?"
"To assassinate me?"
"To serve you, sire?"
"When we are alone. Is the Conqueror of Italy afraid?"
The First Consul walked backwards a few steps, until the space of several feet intervened between them.
"Ségur, approach," he called out in commanding tones.
The First Consul's double looked keenly into Napoleon's face, but read nothing reassuring there, and he immediately prepared to resume his desperate role.
Ségur saluted and hesitatingly approached, but stopped upon observing that he had as yet received no command from his second master, Napoleon's double.
"Ségur, approach," rang out the First Consul's voice, proceeding this time from the lips of his double.
The soldier saluted again and sprang briskly forward, stopping six feet from his masters, and saluting again, each one gravely in turn.
"Retire with your men into my chamber," said Napoleon, curtly.
"Retire," repeated also the First Consul's double.
The aide-de-camp saluted, and, beckoning to his men, filed past the two and disappeared behind some curtains to the left.
The First Consul turned sharply upon the imposter. "Now, sir, speak," he commanded, sternly.
"Are we alone, sir?" questioned the other.
"Speak," repeated Napoleon.
"Can we be seen or overheard, sire?" persisted the other, suspiciously.
"We are alone, sir," said the First Consul, impatiently. "Speak!"
"Those curtains move; they move," cried the imposter in an excited whisper. Napoleon glanced over his shoulder, but as he did so he became aware that the other had moved a few noiseless, catlike steps nearer, and, turning, he beheld his double within a yard of him, glaring with wild eyes into his face, a hand plunged into the lapel of his coat, as if to secure a concealed weapon; his whole body in the attitude of one prepared to spring.
Napoleon met his eyes with the gaze of one used to subduing multitudes by the power of a glance alone, while a sneer wreathed his lips. "Assassin!" he hissed rather than spoke.
The imposter glared at him like an animal at bay, but cowed by the marvellous regard of those fathomless eyes, bent so fearlessly upon him, his own glance first wavered, then fell, and presently he stepped back, abashed and subdued.
"You mistake me, sire," he muttered.
"Ségur," cried Napoleon, aloud.
Instantly the door opened, and, the curtains being pushed aside, the soldier entered the room.
"The little farce is now at an end," said Napoleon. "You will kindly take charge of this fellow."
Ségur saluted, and approached the Consul's double, who now he was surprised to discover, appeared to have entirely abandoned the assurance which had enabled him for a while to sustain so well the role of First Consul of France.
"Permit me, citizen," said Ségur, grimly placing a Mameluke on each side of the imposter.
"Your orders, General?" he asked, turning to Napoleon.
"Wrap a cloak around him, and take him in a closed carriage to Bicêtre," said Napoleon.
The mention of the dungeon had an extraordinary effect upon the prisoner. He burst from the soldiers, and threw himself upon his knees before the First Consul. "The dungeon? Not the dungeon," he cried, imploringly.
"To Bicêtre," repeated Napoleon, sternly; and, turning his back, moved towards the door of his chamber.
"Have mercy on me, brother," cried the prisoner in a loud, resonant voice, laying marked emphasis upon the word "brother."
Napoleon, startled by the word, turned immediately—a strange look on his face. "What is that?" he cried.
The prisoner replied in an outlandish tongue, of which neither Ségur nor, of course, the Mamelukes could make anything, although they perceived that Napoleon, while answering little, understood it perfectly. This tongue was Corsican, and the prisoner had said, "Napoleon, I am thy brother, the son of thy father."
The First Consul stared at the prisoner as if seeking to penetrate his soul, but was met by eyes that gazed unwaveringly into his with every assurance of truth that eyes may give. "Indeed, it is as I say," said the prisoner, "I am thy brother."
"Ah, bah! I know my family," cried Napoleon at last, in Corsican; but even as he spoke the memory of an old scandal, in which his father's name had been involved, gave him a doubt.
The prisoner looked up at him calmly, almost indifferently. "I have proofs," he said.
"Proofs," echoed Napoleon. "Show me your proofs."
For a moment the bold intruder on the household of the Dictator of France faltered. The magnets of those steely eyes which confronted his seemed to be about to draw the truth out of his soul. He felt that if he opened his lips to speak, a rush of naked words would come clamoring forth to betray the murder he had contemplated. The thought of the confessional came to his superstitious mind, and of the terrible threats of the Church against those, who, before the Father Confessor, should dare to utter lies. In the presence of Napoleon he felt as though he were kneeling on a priedieu in the gloomy crypt of a Corsican church. Perhaps those terrible eyes, which had sealed his dagger to his sheath a moment since, had the power also to unseal the secrets of his soul, and to force from him the tale of his murderous daring. If he spoke, would he tell of the hate which had been instilled into his heart day by day, month by month by his mother? Of the mad plan he had conceived of murdering the Man of Destiny, and taking his place before the world?
"Speak, I pray you," Napoleon spoke more softly. He was touched by the face of this stranger, with its weird resemblance to his own.
Gulping down a breath, which seemed as if it would choke him, the prisoner at last commenced, and with the sound of his words grew braver. There is no better staff for the liar's courage than the sound of his own voice.
"My name," he said, "is Paolo Gracci. Your father—our father—before he married with your mother, Letitia Rammolino, won to his love Luccia Gracci. Had you heard?"
Napoleon started. "It is not meet, man," he said coldly, "to recall this old gossip. The Gracci was a wanton. My father is dead. To your own story, sir!"
"It is my story, if I may crave your patience. The gossip of Ajaccio, which you have heard, was not true. Luccia Gracci was no flighty wanderer from one love to another. To Charles Buonaparte she gave as well as her love her life. You have heard her name—alas, so have thousands in Ajaccio, in Corte, in Atala, and on the Isles Sanguinaires—as the name of a woman whose lightly-given love amused for a month, the youth Carlo Buonaparte, to be transferred with the first chance to the lucrative embraces of Marboeuf's officer. But you heard lies. Luccia did not leave Corsica with Colonel Perard. Who said so lied, be it even our father. But I do not believe it was he. His people, though, it may have been—the wretched upstarts—little aristocrats of Tuscany, who wanted blood and money as wedding portions of the bride of their son, and refused to permit his marriage with a Gracci. Blood? We true Corsicans could have given them enough of that, and might ere this have given it, were I true to the vendetta I have——"
"Sir, you do not proceed."
"Pardon, anger carried me away. Luccia Gracci was my mother. She did not leave Charles Buonaparte for another, but for the grave. Betrayed by him, she crept back to her nurse, my foster mother, Adelina Ferrara, whose little vineyard rested on a slope of the Gracci Isle, chief of the Isles of Blood, which glow red in the setting sun seen from Ajaccio. Blood! Money! Charles Buonaparte obeyed his parents to betray a noble name—and defied them to marry neither blood nor money in his fat match with the Rammolino wench——"
The note of warning in the words made Paolo shiver, as one who had come recklessly to the sheer edge of a precipice. Muttering an apology, he went on with his story. "Luccia Gracci was of noble blood, the last of a great line. There were Graccis in Corsica, tradition tells, when Nero was in Rome. The Isles Sanguinaires were peopled then with the Gracci's slaves. The successive waves of conquest of Saracen, Italian, and Frenchmen did not kill out that Corsican brood."
"Luccia was the last of the line. That she was accounted noble the devotion of the Ferraras showed. The orphan of peasants would not have been reared and sheltered, even after she had been stained by the love of Buonaparte. The last of the Graccis alone could command that devotion on the island which bore the name of her great ancestors. Luccia did not go to Marseilles with Perard; she crept to hide her misery, and perhaps to plan her revenge (for she was a Corsican) back to the little island where she had been nurtured; whose grey olives had looked bright and silvern to her a month before; whose now mournful purple grapes had shone glad and lustrous to her bridal eyes; whose thickets had seen the birth of her love, and now offered her the hope of death. When a woman has loved, sire, and lost, what better than to creep back home. It is perhaps not a merry greeting that she receives, but, as a good Christian like you knows, this should be a vale of tears. Luccia, my mother, sire, shed many of them. She watered the ground around the little cottage of the Ferraras, and dared not enter; but turned back towards the sea, hoping to lose her salt sorrow in its bosom; and then climbed the little hill which crowned the island so as to be nearer the stars, that they might listen to her tale, and nearer to the Blessed Virgin, to whom she might confess her crime. But she could not tell the stars, which looked so pure, nor confess to the Virgin her sin. She went back again towards the sea, and—well, good old Adelina found her next morning in the midst of a maquis, one of our thickets, sire, if you forget your Corsican. The boatman who had rowed my mother from Ajaccio had raised the alarm, and the search was successful. The Isles of Blood are very small, and even one poor woman could not hide her shame in their thickets. Luccia lived, sire, through three months of fever to give me to the world, and—died. The name of Carlo was the last on her lips, and it was linked with love. The Corsican then had died in her, and only the woman lived. Adelina Ferrara reared me, as she had reared my mother, and when I was a man told me my mother's story and gave me our father's letters—few enough, in sooth, as my legacy. She taught me the duty of hate. Since then, my august brother, I have lived and thought. Adelina is dead. The vendetta is dying. Why should I help it to longer life? You are great, powerful, and love your blood. I am of your blood and tired of being buffeted by the Fates. I came to throw myself under the grateful shadow of your name. Open out for me a career such as a brother of the First Consul of France and the Dictator of Europe should follow."
Napoleon pondered, his face as inscrutable and as majestic as that of a sphinx, his eyes glowing with a steady, almost baleful flame. The letters presented by the man before him he had looked at carelessly, seemingly contemptuously, but had nevertheless taken from them the confirmation of Paolo's story. For a moment fate balanced a man's life. The First Consul foresaw the terrible dangers to which the existence of this simulacrum of himself in France would give rise; he recognised also a sinister purpose in the ingeniously-planned intrusion to his palace. "The Mamalukes must strangle him," was the decision of prudence. Then a wave of warm eager longing enveloped the Man of Destiny and made him human. He was ever yearning for the love and comradeship denied to his lofty glacial grandeur. His blood cried out to him to embrace this man, so truly his brother, to purge from Paolo anything that was unworthy and make him a fit friend for an Emperor, the worthiest and most trusted of the marshals and kings who were to support him through the glories of the future. As these ideas surged up into his brain the face of Napoleon changed; the pallor of old weathered marble was sanguined with a warm flush. It was as though the head of a sculptured Caesar on its garden pedestal had caught the rose tints of the rising sun. And the eyes were yet more wonderfully transformed. The cold sharp glare, as of a rapier drawn in anger, was drowned in two profound wells of luminous violet. But in a few seconds reason regained its sway.
"Why this play-acting, this dress to imitate mine, the buffoonery before my soldiers?"
"Pardon, sire. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, though I could not write as I now speak, and my letters were probably thrown aside as those from a beggar. I waited in your ante-room day after day and never saw you. Finally sire, I remembered that I was your brother, and was bold. A little art, a very little art, made me your twin. I insinuated myself to-day with the company which waits on your greatness, concealing myself as best I could, until I mingled with the courtiers. Then I came boldly in. Thus the brother of Napoleon sought the protection of his mighty kinsman."
A subtle smile visited for an instant the features of Napoleon, to vanish presently in the expressionless calm, the sphinx-like mask, wherewith he usually concealed his thoughts.
"You are ambitious?" he said slowly.
"I am a brother of Napoleon," replied Paolo, who flattered himself that he was courtier and was secretly delighted with this speech.
The First Consul reflected gravely for a moment; then his glance encountered the uniform of his Mamelukes, who stood like statues a few paces distant, and an idea occurred to him.
"You have had a military training. You are in the army, perhaps?" he asked.
Paolo shrugged his shoulders. "I care nothing for soldiering. My august brother has been endowed by Fate with all his family's genius. My poor talents lie in the direction of diplomacy. If I might aspire to some position of government, I would strive to fill it worthily."
Napoleon's lips writhed in a sneer at the other's speech. "A diplomat rather than a soldier?" he said, cuttingly.
Paolo flushed at the reflection cast upon his courage, but nevertheless stood stolidly to his guns. "I care nothing for soldiering," he repeated.
"Perhaps you will name the position of which you are most envious?" suggested Napoleon.
"There are so many. I have given the matter little thought," replied Paolo, upon whose countenance was displayed a sudden light of hope, called up by Napoleon's words.
"You do yourself injustice, sir; you have given this matter more attention than you would have me believe," said the First Consul sternly.
"Believe me, sire——"
"Sire, sire, sire. I am not a king, but a plain citizen."
"I swear to you, brother. I have given this matter no thought. I hardly dared hope——"
"To succeed. You have not succeeded," interrupted Napoleon grimly. "Ségur, take this man to Bicêtre and lodge him with the governor," he cried abruptly, in French.
The captain of the guard signed to Roustan, who advanced to lead Paolo towards the door. "Brother, brother," cried the prisoner imploringly.
"Some day, perhaps—nay, one day—I shall send for you, I promise it to you," answered Napoleon.
Paolo glanced despairingly at the Mamelukes, who, holding him in their iron grasp, forced him outwards. Then, as he reached the door he sent a look of passionate hatred towards the First Consul.
"To the devil with your promise——" he shouted, but a hand of steel closed at once over his mouth.
"Allons," said the captain of the guard. "A Bicêtre."
"I must get rid of Fouché."
"Consul, I believe that he is faithful and devoted to you; it is only carelessness of which he has been guilty."
"Silence, sir; do not bandy words with me. Carelessness—it is worse than treachery."
Ségur flushed crimson at this rude speech from his master. Napoleon, perceiving that he had hurt the feelings of the young scion of the old regime, for whom he entertained a lively affection, slipped over to the soldier's side, and, twining a lock of Ségur's hair around the forefinger which had commanded a score of victorious charges, pulled his head gently from side to side.
"Ah, young hot-blood," he said, while Ségur again flushed, this time with pleasure, at the mark of Napoleon's regard.
Of a sudden the First Consul grew stern and hard again. "Can I retain this Fouché, if he cannot, or will not, protect me from the blows of assassins and the plots of conspirators?"
Never did Napoleon seem more anxious to his aide-de-camp than on that day. There was, too, good reason why the marble imperturbability of the Man of Destiny should be disturbed. He had just been acquainted with a far-reaching plot to seize his person, and by a "coup d'état" overthrow the Consular Government. No less persons than the Red Republican, General Moreau, and the proscribed Royalist, Pichegru, were at the head of the conspiracy; and at that very moment La Malmaison was surrounded by the emissaries of the conspirators. Napoleon, within a league of his army, was helplessly ensnared. A hundred men held in their chain the half a dozen of his personal attendants on whose fidelity he could rely.
"Beloved master," Ségur at last cried, after a moment or two of painful silence, "let me lead the guard out and fight our way through. Even my dead body will continue to fight to protect the destiny of France. We will succeed."
"God will not permit you to be assassinated."
"God! He will be with the most numerous daggers."
For fully a minute Ségur watched in silence the face of Napoleon, whose brow was—almost imperceptibly—rippled now and again by a quick tremor. Then the tense stare of the great eyes relaxed and an ironic smile wreathed the mouth.
"I am to be seized after dinner in the garden. That is four hours yet. I may not pass out, as every carriage is scanned. Is that so?"
"You brought Paolo here yesterday?"
"We have not examined him yet."
Ségur seemed perplexed. "No, General," he answered.
Napoleon thought a moment and then turned affectionately to the young soldier. "Good," he cried. "You love Moreau, whose Jacobin tongue defiled the reputation of your noble father. Good, Ségur. You shall be with me when next we meet. Go. Bring Paolo to me."
Josephine did not appear at dinner that night, and the First Consul was gloomy and more than ordinarily taciturn. Ségur dined with him and not a score of words were spoken during the course of the meal. Two of the waiters, who were spies of Moreau, noticed this fact, and quickly communicated it to the conspirators outside.
"Well," said Cretin, a fellow who had charge of the main body entrusted with the seizure of Napoleon, "if he suspects and does not come out for his usual walk in the grounds after dinner we must enter the house."
"If he resists?" muttered a man nearby, his voice unconsciously showing his awe at the thought of attacking the hero of Arcola.
"Bah! All the better. I would run the Corsican through with much pleasure."
As Napoleon was sallying out for his usual stroll, accompanied by Ségur, the latter slapped him familiarly on the shoulder.
"Paolo," he said, "you are splendid. But what a devil of a difference that black prison-grown beard of yours made in you. Now, you know your role. Be silent. Speak as little as possible, and await a rescue."
The sham Napoleon, again restored to liberty, and again masquerading as his august brother, appeared to resent Ségur's familiarity.
The voice was so like the First Consul's that Ségur started. "The devil," he muttered; "this gentleman orders me about in Imperial style."
The double of Napoleon paced gloomily along, his head bent to the earth. As he reached a little clump of almond trees a dozen muskets were levelled at his breast.
"Bonaparte, surrender in the name of the Republic," called out Cretin.
"Ségur, my guards!" The despairing cry was too late. When Ségur, with half a dozen others, reached the spot, the sham Napoleon was bound hand and foot.
Ségur tore open his coat. "Traitors," he cried; "here is my life."
"We want but your sword," said Cretin.
"That, you dog, you shall never soil," exclaimed the young man, as he broke his blade across his knee, and flung the hilt in Cretin's face.
A dozen of the conspirators rushed forward, but Cretin waved them back.
"Let him be," he said, "General Moreau is not hunting for lacqueys."
The men moved off with their great capture.
It was the daring plan of Generals Moreau and Pichegru, whose mutual animosity had been slain by their stronger feeling of hate for Napoleon, to seize the person of the First Consul at La Malmaison, and to immure him in some prison, taking advantage of the confusion caused by his inexplicable disappearance to themselves seize the reigns of power. They thought that their names combined would rally to their scheme the support of both Republicans and Royalists. It was part of their plan to allow the sudden disappearance of the First Consul to remain unexplained until their 'coup d'état' had been effected. When they imagined that they had the person of Napoleon secured, they went quietly to bed, and the next day, at noon, presented themselves at the Tuileries, innocently asking for an interview with the First Consul. The impudent assurance of Pichegru caused intense wonder in the precincts of the palace. That he should thus set at defiance the proscription of the Republic by coming to Paris, and to the very seat of Government, seemed to argue that he held his life cheaply. But no one molested him as he walked by Moreau's side.
All was orderly and usual at the Tuileries. No reign of confusion indicated the conclusion of the Bonaparte regime, and an orderly at once ushered the conspirators into a private reception-room. There they were confronted by—Napoleon!
Pichegru had something of superstition in his nature. Faced by the man whom he had left half an hour before incarcerated at the Château La Roche Guyon, he turned pale as death, staggered; then crossing himself, seemed to recover a little. Moreau was more stoical. Only a slight twitching of his lips betrayed the agitation which convulsed him. He recalled the previous night, when he crouched behind the almond copse and himself saw Napoleon seized. He heard again the passionate cry of Ségur and Cretin's taunt "Moreau does not hunt lacqueys." Now, Napoleon stood in the reception-room of the ancient Kings of France and Ségur was by his side. Moreau prepared to meet death with Republican firmness.
A pleasant greeting shone from the First Consul's face. Ségur's, on the contrary, was inartistically immobile.
"Good morning, citizens," cried Napoleon.
Neither Moreau nor Pichegru could find a word. Has he then made his peace with the Republic? Still there was no reply.
"And Pichegru, Moreau, thus arm-in-arm? Why, indeed, the wounds of our noble France are healing. Gentlemen, my congratulations on your friendship."
Pichegru was muttering oaths under his breath. Moreau remained stolidly silent; his mouth twitching, thinking this mocking was the worst part of death. And how had the devil Napoleon escaped? Cretin, half an hour before, had reported Napoleon safely gaoled.
Now he was here.
"Citizens, you are silent. The emotion of your recent reconciliation still affects you?"
"Sire," stammered Pichegru.
"Sire," retorted Napoleon sharply; "Sire—Citizen Pichegru, I am not your King."
"You infernal Satin," muttered the discomfited Royalist, under his breath.
"Your business, citizens?" Napoleon went on. "France demands my care. Perhaps you wish me to congratulate you on your new amity."
"Yes, general," said Moreau at last.
"Then I do so. This is a time of peace; it is well you should be reconciled. I have business now with Captain Ségur, the son, General Moreau, of a general whose sword was always faithful to France, and who never took the gold of foreign assassins."
The terrible glance which Napoleon bent upon the conspirators scorched their very souls. They could not comprehend his purpose, while recognising that he had full knowledge of their schemes. Dumbfounded, the prey of torturing doubts and fears, they returned to Cretin, dreading every moment the appearance of arresting officers. Arrived at their headquarters the chiefs of the conspiracy sent for Cretin and found that he had gone to the château, a mile distant, where "Napoleon" was incarcerated.
A moment or two afterwards the discharge of muskets and the clash of steel came faintly to their ears. Five minutes elapsed and Cretin came rushing in. "General," he cried, "he has escaped. The château was surrounded by soldiers and Bonaparte rescued. My forces were overwhelmed."
The words simply burst from Pichegru, who seemed to be on the verge of apoplexy.
But the arrival of Cretin's following, bearing two of their number dead, soon proved the truth of the report. "Napoleon" had just escaped!
An hour afterwards Ségur reported to Napoleon that the Double had, after being rescued, got free from his rescuers, by the simple expedient of representing to them that it was the First Consul's order that he should go to Havre.
For several days after this incident a deep gloom reigned over the Tuileries. The First Consul shut himself in his closet and would see no one.
Twice daily Fouché came with his resume of the reports collected by his spies, to be met each time with the same question, "Have you found Paolo?" to which he was forced always to confess, "No, Citizen Consul," and reluctantly to retire, carrying his bulletin with him, neglected, sometimes even unopened.
On the morning of the 23rd December it was announced that Napoleon, with his staff, would attend Haydn's oratorio of "The Creation," which was to be presented at the Opera House that evening, and this announcement somewhat relieved the gloom which had enfolded the palace for so long.
Towards noon Fouché was making his way to the First Consul's room, when he was stopped by Ségur.
"The First Consul is engaged; he cannot be disturbed, Citizen Fouché," said the aide-de-camp.
The courtier smiled. "We shall wait," he replied softly.
"How does the General to-day, captain?" he enquired later.
"He frowns always," replied Ségur in a low voice. "He seldom speaks. When he speaks, it is to condemn."
"Whom does he condemn?"
"Everyone. Especially is he furious with the police, whom he accuses of being incompetent," answered Ségur dryly.
Fouché, with a mournful shrug of his shoulders and a deprecatory wave of his palms complained—"There are those in the palace who are opposed to me. My services are unexampled—my chain of observation complete. I detect certain plots; I prevent others; I avert dangers; and yet the First Consul remains displeased with me."
"Have you found Paolo?" asked Ségur.
"Paolo, Paolo—that is merely a question of time," replied Fouché contemptuously.
"And yet the First Consul appears to consider his immediate arrest important," said Ségur.
Fouché appeared to be about to make some retort, but at the moment he opened his lips to speak Napoleon, without warning, entered the room from his closet. His face wore an expression of more than usual complaisance. Upon perceiving the Minister of Police he halted and questioned him abruptly.
"Have you found Paolo?" he demanded.
Fouché assumed a look of concern and answered humbly—"Paolo still eludes us, Citizen Consul; but without doubt——"
"Without doubt he will continue to elude you, Citizen Minister," Napoleon interrupted curtly. "What brings you here?"
"There are rumors, Citizen Consul——"
"Rumors—always rumors," muttered Napoleon.
"Yes, but these are definite," said Fouché eagerly. "We have discovered an infernal machine designed undoubtedly for your destruction."
"Where did you discover this machine?"
"In the grounds of a convent, where it had exploded by accident."
Napoleon pondered over this information for a few seconds; then signed for the others to retire, taking the Minister's arm familiarly.
"What is this new plot you have discovered?" he asked presently.
"We have taken a chemist who has been induced to confess a plan to assassinate you at the opera this evening, Citizen Consul," answered Fouché.
"Who are these conspirators?"
"Pichegru, Cadoudal, Saint-Regent, and others."
"Royalists," cried Napoleon, with a start.
"You have arrested these assassins?"
"Not yet," confessed Fouché. "They have many friends in Paris."
At this moment an attendant entering the room handed a scrap of paper to the First Consul, who glanced at the contents mechanically. Upon reading them, however, he turned to the attendant quickly. "Admit him," he said.
"Do you know whom we are about to see. Citizen Minister?" he asked.
Fouché shook his head. "No, Citizen Consul," he answered.
"Paolo," said Napoleon laconically.
"Impossible," cried the Minister of Police. At that moment Paolo Gracci entered the room and bowed before the First Consul.
"Well?" cried Napoleon authoritatively.
"I crave a private audience, General," said Paolo.
"What you have to say, say here!" said the First Consul.
Paolo glanced apprehensively at Fouché, whom he was not acquainted with, while the Minister of Police, in return, attentively regarded him, marvelling at his extraordinary resemblance to the First Consul, in spite of the difference in dress; and even more wondering at the similarity of the voices of the two men, whom he did not yet know to be related.
"I come here," said Paolo, impressively, "to save the life of the First Consul of France." He addressed these words rather to his whole audience than to Napoleon.
"Ah," sighed Fouché.
"Another plot," sneered Napoleon.
"Is it true that you intend to visit the opera to-night?" asked Paolo.
Napoleon started. "And if it should be true?"
"You will be destroyed by an earthquake."
"How, an earthquake?"
"By an invention of the devil—an infernal machine!"
"Ah," sighed Fouché again. "You will now credit what a moment ago I informed you, Citizen Consul."
"How did you learn this plot?" demanded Napoleon, entirely disregarding Fouché.
"By listening to the conversation of the guests of a limonadier, at whose house I lodged myself," answered the adventurer.
For the first time Fouché regarded Paolo suspiciously.
"It is queer they would speak such things before a stranger," he murmured.
"They did not see me, and, besides, they imagined that I could only speak Corsican," explained Paolo.
"Ah! a spy; a spy of the first water," muttered Fouché, admiringly to himself. "Decidedly this young man must enter my service."
"The address of this limonadier," demanded Napoleon.
"No. 17, Rue de Cattisrs," replied Paolo, which address Fouché immediately transferred to his notebook.
"Perhaps Citizen Paolo will give us the details of this conspiracy," suggested the Minister of Police.
"The conspirators," said Paolo, "rely upon the First Consul visiting the opera this evening, and they have timed the explosion of their infernal machine to take place when his carriage should pass a certain spot in the Rue Saint Nicaise on its way to the opera."
"Perhaps Citizen Paolo can tell us the names of the gentlemen who made these arrangements?" suggested Fouché, notebook in hand.
The Corsican shrugged his shoulders. "They were all strangers to me," he answered.
Napoleon stamped his foot impatiently upon the floor, uttering an ejaculation of disappointment.
"Ah! bah!" he cried. "Why could not a member of the police have occupied this man's place—a fellow to whom these conspirators' faces would be familiar? These police."
Fouché continued his questioning.
"Perhaps they mentioned names, Citizen Paolo—think," he entreated.
"They mentioned names, certainly. They spoke of two men as their leaders. They spoke of two parties having sunk their mutual hatred to destroy the First Consul."
"What parties?" cried Napoleon quickly.
"The Royalists and the Republicans."
"Who were these leaders they mentioned?" demanded Napoleon.
"Moreau and Pichegru," replied Paolo briefly.
The First Consul's face flushed with surprise and pleasure, and he rubbed his hands together in evident delight.
"Good, good," he cried exultantly; "now Fouché, we have them. Moreau, le diable, the only one who had a chance against me. Moreau plotting with the Bourbons. Excellent. I have indeed a lucky star."
"But, Citizen Consul."
"What is the matter with you, old bloodhound?" said Napoleon good-humoredly, turning to Fouché.
"There are certain details to be arranged before we can effect an arrest—certain proofs."
"I have a plan," suddenly interrupted Paolo.
"Let us hear Citizen Paolo's plan," said Napoleon genially.
"It appears to me," said the Corsican, "that it is necessary besides averting the consequences of this conspiracy, to obtain as well proofs of the crime, in order to secure the conviction of the offenders."
"This young man is a born policeman," muttered Fouché.
"Proceed," said Napoleon.
"In order to obtain these proofs, it would be necessary to allow the conspirators to commit their crime undisturbed."
"Let the First Consul's carriage leave the Tuileries a few moments earlier than the appointed time, and it will thus escape the explosion, which is calculated to the fraction of a minute."
"What think you of this plan, Citizen Minister?" asked Napoleon.
"It is clever, but, I fear, too dangerous. The First Consul should not undergo such a risk. It would——"
"My plan," interrupted Paolo, "provided for that. I was about to suggest that the First Consul should allow a substitute to appear in his place at the opera this evening—some person who would closely resemble him in person."
Napoleon frowned. "You?" he said, questioningly.
Ségur rudely broke in—"The First Consul need not draw on his prisons for volunteers for such a service," he said. The young soldier seemed to have been seized with a violent antipathy to Paolo.
Napoleon silenced Ségur with a glance. "I approve," he said. "Citizen Minister, to you I leave the details."
As the door closed upon the First Consul, Paolo turned to Ségur—"Wherein have I offended you, Citizen Ségur?" he enquired abruptly.
Ségur shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of disdain; then, with a bow, replied, "You have not offended me, Citizen Paolo. I merely quarrel with your accent. It is vulgar, believe me!"
At this insult Paolo started forward, but Fouché placed himself between the two. "Come, come, citizens," he said, warningly, "remember we are in the Tuileries. Besides, there is work to be done. Citizen Paolo, your arm." Then, taking the Corsican by the arm, he hurried him off, leaving Ségur pacing up and down the room, biting his lips angrily.
That evening, to all appearances, the First Consul, according to arrangement, departed in his carriage at the usual time for the opera, in order to take part in the first presentation in Paris of Haydn's oratorio, "The Creation." This much the world saw. There were two details, however, in this departure from the Tuileries concerning which the world rested unacquainted. The first was that the First Consul's carriage set out four minutes before the appointed time. The second was that although a man so precisely resembling the First Consul as to be capable of deceiving his closest relatives, entered the carriage, the First Consul himself at that moment was standing in his private chamber, the doors of which he had taken the precaution to lock, while he occupied the time in alternately gazing out of the window into the night and impatiently drumming with the tips of his fingers upon the pane.
The First Consul's carriage drove along at a smart pace until it reached the corner of the Rue Saint Nicaise, when a block of carriages in the street compelled a halt. The Double of Napoleon appeared to be excessively annoyed at this occurrence, and he occupied the time of forced inactivity in counting the seconds—one, two, three, four, five. He had counted 125 when with a sudden jolt the carriage again proceeded and he fell back in his seat with a gesture of relief. The carriage turned into the Rue Saint Nicaise, drove a few yards, and again stopped. The First Consul sprang up with a cry of rage. "What in the name of the devil keeps us," he called out to Caesar, the coachman. "Drive on, drive on!" An old woman with a handbarrow had come in the way of the horses, compelling the coachman to either pull up or run over her, perhaps leading to an accident which would, besides immolating her, have injured the occupants of the carriage. The Double of Napoleon had counted 55 seconds in this second halt. Three precious minutes had gone. Suddenly the carriage stopped again. Paolo sprang to the carriage window and himself gave the countersign, crying to the coachman—"Whip up your horses. Drive on, sir. We are late." For the next minute Paolo's face, as seen by the light of the lamps passed by the carriage was deathly white. Soon they passed a low, dark building, which occupied a considerable portion of the street. As the carriage cleared the last angle of the building, Paolo leaned forward. At that moment a terrific sound as of the explosion of a hundred cannon filled the air. It was immediately followed by frantic screams and cries of pain. This explosion came from behind the carriage, and the horses, springing forward terrified, could with difficulty be controlled by the coachman. "That is the infernal machine," said Napoleon's Double, turning with the utmost coolness to a staff officer. Presently the opera was reached, and when they entered the theatre "the First Consul" received the congratulations of the whole vast audience as soon as the news of his narrow escape had spread among them. Soon afterwards "the First Consul" attended by his suite, departed from the theatre and returned to the Tuileries, proceeding with Ségur immediately to the chamber of the real Napoleon, who greeted his double with a laconic "Well?"
Paolo answered by tearing off the coat, which had helped out his extraordinary resemblance to the First Consul, then he spoke, "I bear a message to you, Citizen Consul, from Citizen Minister Fouché."
"This message," asked Napoleon impatiently.
"The Citizen Minister craves that when he calls to confer with you upon the plot which has just been frustrated you should greet him with abuses in order to allay the suspicions of the Royalists. Moreau left Paris secretly this morning."
"Then," cried Napoleon excitedly, "that noise which I heard even here in my chamber——"
"Was the explosion of the infernal machine, which we narrowly escaped by some two seconds," interrupted Paolo. "It was reported to me in the opera that some 60 odd persons were destroyed, and judging by the cries of pain which reached us, it is easy to believe this report to be true."
Napoleon gazed into his Double's face with a strange commingling of emotions in his own. Rage, contempt, disappointment, affection, were all blended in that one curious look.
"So, Moreau has escaped," he said aloud.
"Alas, yes," answered Paolo.
Suddenly Napoleon spoke in Corsican.
"What shall I do for you?" he asked.
"I need revenge on a man who has insulted me," answered Paolo.
"How can I help you?" asked Napoleon.
"Make me a colonel."
"To-morrow you shall have the appointment," answered Napoleon.
Then Napoleon, overcome by a sudden graciousness, took him in his arms and embraced him tenderly.
"Au revoir, brother," he said, as he left.
Paolo walked across the room, showing extreme indifference to the presence of Ségur, and made as if to depart, when the latter cried out: "Hold, citizen."
Paola stopped. "What do you want with me?"
"Pending the Consul's orders, you are still my prisoner," answered Ségur grimly.
Paolo looked him in the face. "To-morrow, sir, I shall be a colonel, when I shall be easily able to repay your impertinence. To-night I am a private citizen who will teach you a lesson in manners in return for your politeness in drawing my attention to my accent."
"Good," said Ségur, briefly, "pray proceed."
"You have a habit," said Paolo, "of holding your head slightly to one side. It is an affectation which displeases me. I would cure it thus." With a swift movement Paolo sprang forward and hit the other a smart blow on the cheek with his open palm.
Ségur half drew his sword, his face grey with rage, "Sortons!" he cried shrilly.
"I should be happy to oblige you, citizen, but is it not true that you have charge of the First Consul?"
Ségur hesitated, though evidently racked with passion. "I shall obtain another officer to relieve me. Wait here," he cried, and rushed through the open door. When he returned a moment later with a brother officer the Corsican adventurer had vanished. He left a message with a porter—"At the Bons de Boulogne by the Avenue de Neuilly at noon," and he left his address in the Rue des Orties.
Ségur understood that it was to be a duel and dispatched a messenger to Paulo's rooms agreeing to the meeting, and arranging that there should be no seconds. The First Consul had set his face against duels, and Ségur feared that the knowledge of this might leak out.
Paolo Gracci was seated one morning on the edge of his pallet in the garret of a building situated in the Rue des Orties. The room was a mean one, bare and ill-furnished, and its grimy ceilings sloped down on all sides to the floor, while only in the centre of the apartment could one stand upright. Before him on a chair was spread out the gorgeous uniform of a colonel. A smile lit up the Corsican's face as he watched it, and with a quaint humor he stood up bare-legged, almost naked, and saluted the gilded trappings on the chair in stiff military fashion. "Good day, citizen colonel," he said delightedly. The uniform, however, remaining silent, he sat down again and extracted from under his pillow a bag of gold, which he counted with all the care of a miser. "Fifty livres! I shall certainly change my lodgings. This is not a fit place to receive ladies, and I pine for their soft companionship, which has been denied to me so long." Having dressed, he buckled on his sword, chuckling to himself as he moved about. Then running his eyes over his dress to assure himself that he had forgotten nothing. "Now to my duel," he cried out bitterly. Citizen colonel, en avant!" He passed through the open door, gaily clanking his spurs and scabbard as he descended the stairs.
Arrived in the street, he ran into the arms of a gentleman whose dress was beautiful to the point of foppishness. "A thousand apologies, Citizen Paolo," said a soft voice.
"What, Fouché?" cried the Corsican.
"Fouché, your humble servant, who is but just on his way to your lodgings, citizen, to pay you his respects. Your uniform becomes you splendidly."
"That is quite true," answered Paolo, and as they passed a shop window at that instant he stopped to ogle himself before a mirror.
"You are, perhaps, about to pay your respects to some belle dame?" suggested Fouché.
"Alas!" replied the Corsican, "I am unacquainted with the ladies of Paris—a poor stranger I."
"Let me present you to some of my friends," said Fouché eagerly.
"With pleasure, citizen," cried Paolo. "The younger and the more beautiful the better!"
Fouché considered. "There is Mdlle. Elise Ismeney. She will receive me at any moment," he said reflectively.
"Ah, but pardon me," interrupted Paolo suddenly. "I have an appointment at the Bois de Boulogne at noon."
"Ah, ha, citizen, you do very well for a stranger who knows nothing of Paris. Is she pretty—a grisette, perhaps?"
"You mistake," said Paolo, "it is an affair of honor."
Fouché smiled. "You are a firebrand, I perceive, citizen—with the steel, I presume."
"Do you handle the sword with ease, citizen?"
"So so, citizen Minister."
"You would not care for the police to interrupt the fun?"
"It would not suit me at all, but"—the Corsican looked at Fouché eagerly—"it is to be without seconds," he continued.
"But supposing you should kill him?"
"We have each written a paper exculpating the other in the event of such an accident."
"Can I be of any service to you, Citizen Paolo?" asked Fouché, who was puzzled by a certain reserve in the manner of the Corsican.
The latter was silent for a moment and walked on, his head buried on his chest; then he stopped suddenly and turned with a great appearance of frankness to the Minister of Police.
"Citizen Fouché," he said, abruptly, "you have taken the trouble to offer me your services. That is not without some reason. Confess."
Fouché smiled deprecatingly. "You are the brother of the First Consul; he has admitted so to me."
"Yes, yes," cried Paolo impatiently. "But is it from love of my brother that you extend your favors to me? You hope to profit by making me your friend."
Fouché appeared touched by this bluntness. "What marvellous astuteness!" he cried. "My dear young man, I admire you more each moment that I remain with you. I confess that what you say has some foundation of fact, though, upon my honor, I am greatly taken with you."
The Corsican eagerly held out his hand. "Believe me," he cried, "to those who assist me now I shall be everlastingly grateful. It is in your power, Citizen Fouché, to do me a great service."
"Name it, my friend."
"The First Consul has been annoyed to discover that a brother of his could favor the avocation of a private citizen rather than that of a soldier. He despises civilians, adores soldiers. He thinks I am timid. Well, you see, I defer to his prejudices. I am now a colonel in a ready-made uniform. And—you follow me?"
"Perfectly," answered Fouché, but, nevertheless, with a puzzled frown.
"Well," continued the Corsican, "it is natural that I should wish my brother to be as favorably impressed as possible with me. Is it not so?"
"Certainly," replied Fouché, more puzzled than ever.
"The absolute knowledge that I possess personal courage would assist such an impression?"
"Undoubtedly," said Fouché, in a complete mist.
"It is a fact that Captain Ségur is a brave soldier," said Paolo.
Fouché started. "It is with Ségur that you have this appointment?" he asked.
"That is so," confessed Paolo. "Ségur is a brave soldier and an expert swordsman, I have heard."
"He is said to be a brave soldier and one of the best swordsmen in France," replied Fouché, with some reluctance.
Paolo drummed with his heel upon the pavement.
"I use the small sword indifferently well myself," he said impressively.
A light broke on Fouché. "Ah-ha," he said, "I see. You would like the First Consul to be informed of the result of this duel. That is easy, my friend. Depend upon me——"
The Corsican interrupted the other with a wave of his hand.
"The First Consul would be more apt to believe what he had himself seen," he said insinuatingly.
Fouché frowned—"That would be more difficult," he replied gravely.
"It is already noon," said the Corsican abruptly.
"That leaves me but little time to accomplish your wishes, Citizen Colonel," said Fouché undecidedly.
"Adieu," cried Paolo, with an angry frown, turning rudely away.
"I go, citizen, to perform your mission," said Fouché.
"Au revoir, then, my dear friend," said Paolo, with a pleased smile. "Believe me, you will succeed."
Half an hour afterwards the Corsican entered an unfrequented glade in the Bois de Boulogne, a glade surrounded with shrubs and trees, and far removed from the scope of any ordinary frequenter of the gardens. Here he found Ségur, impatiently pacing up and down. "I give you good day, Citizen Captain," he said blithely.
The officer saluted stiffly. "I imagined that you had forgotten our appointment," he replied coldly, "I have waited for you almost an hour."
"A thousand pardons, Captain Ségur," said Paolo, with the softest of smiles, "I regret exceedingly that I was detained; but," he added, with a graceful bow, "I assure you I shall take care that you will never be detained by me again."
"You mean?" demanded Ségur quietly.
"That I intend to kill you, my friend," answered the Corsican.
Ségur broke into a low laugh of quiet amusement; then turned with a bow to his companion—"I warn you that that will be difficult. I play well."
"It will afford me all the more satisfaction in that case," answered the Corsican.
Ségur, stooping down, opened a long thin mahogany case, disclosing two rapiers, elegant weapons, with their long slender blades, arabesqued, and their hilts richly jewelled. "They belong to my father," he said reflectively. "I have already killed a man with this one. My father—but each blade has a history."
Paolo listened with attention. "I should be sorry to deprive your family of such interesting relics," he said courteously, when the other had finished. "Pray tell me to whom I may consign these weapons after your death."
Ségur seemed a little astonished at his enemy's assurance.
"It is too early yet to speak of my death," he said coldly. "French gentlemen are not accustomed to use braggadocio, or I might tell you it were well for you to say your prayers."
Paolo laughed tauntingly. "French gentlemen?" he repeated, with sneering emphasis.
Ségur restrained himself with difficulty. "I see you wish to taunt me into losing my temper," he said quietly. "You will not succeed. But look to yourself. I tell you I play well." As he spoke he commenced to take off his coat. Paolo on the other hand kneeled down on the grass, proceeding leisurely to examine the swords, and was still so engaged when the other turned to him prepared for the combat.
"You dawdle, citizen," he cried in surprise. "Do me the favor to prepare yourself; it grows late."
Paolo rose languidly and withdrew to a little knoll, where he slowly unbuttoned his tunic, looking eagerly from this point of vantage across the park, as if seeking for someone.
"Hasten, I entreat you," cried out Ségur.
"I thought I heard voices," replied the Corsican.
Ségur's voice rang out full of scorn. "You hoped that you heard voices, citizen, you mean, we are quite private here."
Paolo shrugged his shoulders, but made no reply. Apparently one of his buttons defied him, for his hands fumbled with his coat, and he glanced every moment quickly over his shoulder.
"Shall I assist you?" asked Ségur satirically, moving a few steps nearer.
"I come, I come," answered Paolo, and, with a last glance over his shoulder, he descended the knoll and tearing off his tunic placed it leisurely upon the grass.
"You are evidently in no hurry to despatch me, citizen; it is kind of you," said Ségur.
"Later on," said Paolo curtly, "you will see the truth of what you have said." He kneeled down on the grass and occupied himself for a moment in rubbing some dust from his boots. Ségur, on the other hand, was burning with impatience to commence.
"Select your weapon," he cried.
Paolo shrugged his shoulders, and, declining the proffered sword stood up and leisurely unfastening the wristbands of his shirt, rolled up his sleeves. "Choose your sword, sir," cried Ségur, in a fever of suppressed rage.
Paolo stood over the sword case and looked down at the weapons calmly and critically. "They appear pretty weapons, citizen," he observed.
"Only try one," cried Ségur, in a fury, gripping the hilt of a blade.
"I love a good sword," said the Corsican, with folded arms, quite undisturbed by the other's impatience. "I assure you I use a jewelled blade with much more pleasure than a common weapon. I hate common steel-handled swords. These, I perceive, are inlaid with gold."
"To the devil with your loves and your hates, sir; choose!" shouted Ségur angrily.
Paolo regarded him with irritating calm. "Poor young man," he observed pityingly, "what impetuosity!"
"Sacre bleu!" cried Ségur; "will you fight, or must I spit you like a pig?"
"When you lose your temper, citizen, your teeth show like those of a snarling cur," observed the Corsican tranquilly.
Ségur, with a cry of rage, seized a rapier, rushed forward, presenting the point at the other's breast. But Paolo made no move, and, their eyes meeting, the Frenchman stopped and lowered his point in confusion.
"You are in a hurry, citizen," said Paolo.
"We have already wasted half an hour," stammered Ségur, who was overwhelmed with shame at his action.
"What, half an hour," cried Paolo; "is it so long as that? Come, then, let us commence." He stooped down and, selecting a rapier, measured lengths with the Frenchman.
"Select your position!" said Ségur courteously.
"Come, come, I could hardly expect such generosity from a man who has just proved himself to be a coward. Select yourself!" cried the Corsican, in biting, sneering tones.
With flushed face and furious eyes the Frenchman faced his adversary. "Liar," he shouted, "on guard!" and the steel blades flashed in the sunlight above their heads, then clashed together with a whip-like crack. Ségur pressed the Corsican hotly, and Paolo appeared with difficulty to defend himself, giving ground foot by foot, and retiring always towards the thick clump of bushes at the opening of the dell. Suddenly, however, he stopped in his retreat and with a few brilliant parries, strokes, and counter-strokes, forced Ségur to pay more care to his own defence. For three or four moments the bout lasted, when, with a weary wrist and troubled eyes, Ségur was forced to admit to himself that his adversary was a master of the sword. It was with an anxious heart that he himself at last retreated, to find, however, that Paolo did not follow him, but rested a few paces distant, the point of his sword held downwards, a curious smile turning the edges of his lips.
"Good, good," said the Corsican commendingly, "you fence well, citizen. It will be a pleasure to kill you."
Ségur's eyes gleamed. "I did not know you Corsican fishermen used the sword so well," he sneered.
Paolo smiled. "I have fishermen on my estate in Corsica who could kill a dozen French lapdogs before breakfast."
"What, a bastard with an estate, citizen. Corsica must be getting civilised."
"Your tongue, my dear captain, is sharper than your sword, but, believe me, I will dull them both before long."
"I warn you I am about to charge."
"Bah! Let us see the captain charge!" replied the Corsican.
Next instant the swords clashed again, and this time Ségur tried a trick which had been a favorite with his father—a trick which had already earned for him fame as a swordsman—making a feint at the eyes of his adversary in the course of a rally he forced the Corsican to use the only parry available. The trick consisted in suddenly stooping, and so slipping under an adversary's guard, and then rushing forward, the sword-hilt resting on the thigh, and lodging the point in the throat or neck. Ségur on this occasion, however, had to deal with a man who possessed the eye of a hawk, a wrist of steel, the strength of two ordinary men combined, and a perfect knowledge of fence. He essayed his favorite trick, seemingly with a certainty of success, for Paolo's foot at that moment slipped and he almost fell. Ségur feinted cleverly at the Corsican's eyes, then dropping the hilt of his rapier pushed forward, only to feel, however, his adversary's blade slip like lightning along his own until the point caught his hilt, when the sword was whipped from his hand in a flash, and, unable to stop his rush, he received a rude buffet on his chest from Paolo's clenched hand which sent him backwards crashing heavily to the ground. When he looked up it was to perceive the Corsican handing him back his sword with a polite bow. "You are surely not showing me your best play, citizen. You are perhaps indisposed to-day. Shall we postpone our little pleasure until you take a few more lessons?"
Ségur arose with an oath, and boiling with fury rushed madly upon his enemy, charging with such swiftness and activity that the smile fled from Paolo's lips, and he was put to it to defend himself. Twice the Frenchman drew blood, once wounding his enemy in the shoulder, again in the thigh, when by an incautious movement—a badly recovered assault—he lost complete command of his weapon, and it was sent whirling and flashing past his head, and fell, point downwards, a few yards off in the turf. It was luckily nearer to Ségur than to the other, and he was armed before the Corsican reached him. Paolo was now the attacking party, and he pressed this advantage to the utmost. Twice he beat down his opponent's guard, and could have taken his life, but he was bent upon disarming him, and presently he succeeded in sending Ségur's rapier flying a third time from his grasp. Again Ségur was the quicker in reaching the weapon, and again the swords crossed with a clash, this time slowly and with heavy effort, for both the combatants were tired, and presently they rested by mutual consent, panting for breath and eyeing each other with eager hatred.
Neither had perceived that for several minutes there had been spectators who regarded the duel with keen attention. Three men, nevertheless, stood at the mouth of the glade, silently watching the combat.
"Twice I have refrained from killing you," said Paolo, the words coming still pantingly from his mouth. "Next time it will be different. Captain, say your prayers."
"Silence," cried Ségur, nervously, "your voice poisons me."
The Corsican, for the first time carried away by passion, sprang forward, and forced the Frenchman backwards step by step towards those three silent spectators. Ségur fought desperately, contesting every inch of ground, but his adversary over-matched him at every point, and it became plain in a second or two Paolo's searching blade would find the Frenchman's heart.
Suddenly a stern voice rang like a trumpet through the glade, "Hold there!"
It was a marvellous voice, a voice of command, of power, a voice that instantly put new life into the Frenchman's flagging veins, and would have given him power to fight on, aye, to conquer his terrible adversary, but for the order it contained to the contrary. It was the voice of Napoleon, who stood, with two staff officers, serene and calm, cold as ice, and as firm and hard.
The swords of the combatants were lowered.
"Your swords," said Napoleon.
The two men filed forward, and one after the other handed their swords by the hilt to the First Consul.
"Follow me," said Napoleon. "You are under arrest."
(Being a letter from Paolo Gracci to his mother, before falsely stated by him to be dead.)
Mother dear—It is a pity a man must sleep. Last night I slept eight hours—eight precious hours wasted. Those hours I might have spent in perfecting myself in the great role I hope some day I shall be called upon by Fate to play, or in the society of some charming woman, say Elise. Ah, Elise, Elise, I grow too fond of thee; thy bewitching face, thy pretty ways have too much fascination for my soft heart to resist. Elise, thou knowest too much of that in me which I am most anxious to conceal. Thou, too, are filled with measureless ambition, a quality in man dangerous, in woman ruinous. Elise, if I could really love thee I would commence to fear thee.
Thou dost not know who Elise is yet, mother, but soon I shall tell thee. First, I must recount to thee the sequel of the duel between Ségur and myself, after craving pardon that for so long I have left thee without news. Thou must know, then, that the Bonaparte witnessed this duel from first to last, and saw how your son played with his pet swordsman as a cat plays with a mouse. How grateful am I now for the lessons of old Giulo—rest his soul. I can almost find it in my heart to regret that I killed him, mother mine. But it must have soothed his dying moments to feel that death came by the hands of his pupil, to know that I had profited by the lessons which he taught so well.
Napoleon interrupted us just at the moment when I had determined to kill Ségur. The French devil had by bad luck twice touched me with his point; the wounds were only scratches, pin-pricks, but they angered me, and I had marked out the spot where my sword would enter to let his thin blood run, when suddenly my brother's voice rang out commanding us to stop. I was maddened, and would have still proceeded in my purpose—the weakling was at my mercy, but, looking up, I met Napoleon's eyes. I have already described to thee, mother, the effect which those eyes produce upon me. I have a strong will, as thou knowest; but those eyes of his bind my will a prisoner. Perhaps some day, when I am ready to defy him, it will be different; but now he compels me. My brother has now attached me to his person. I have been playing for the last three weeks the part of a private secretary to the First Consul, and I do not boast, mother, in saying that the part has been played with adroitness. I have studied him day and night—his every gesture, his every glance, and mood, and action. These I repeat afterwards in the privacy of my own apartment, and by dint of practice I am near perfect as may be. He insists that I should wear always civilian's dress, and to please him I have dyed my hair and eyebrows, and wear constantly false moustaches and a beard. This interferes with the resemblance between us, but that same resemblance is a cumbersome thing just now, and I desire it to be remarked as little as he does. Besides, a basin of water will always restore it. My brother is a little suspicious of me. Now and then he looks at me out of the corners of his eyes and frowns. He does not like to see Fouché on intimate terms with me. Talleyrand is more circumspect, and never notices me before him. Fouché, who is cleverer, perhaps, but less sly by nature than Talleyrand, permits himself to converse with me. Fouché and Talleyrand both hate Napoleon, but they fear him more even than they hate him; they do not fear me at all, but regard me as a rascal who can be used when required, and they are unwearying in their offers of friendship, and flatter me to the top of my bent. Thou wilt see some day, mother, how I shall profit by the friendship of these great and good men. Meanwhile, I am to them a fop, a scamp, an adventurer, whose highest ambition is to have an income of 50,000 livres a year, and who is not at all particular as to his means of acquiring it. By the kind offices of my friends I am able to send thee 1,000 livres with this letter. It will relieve thy most pressing difficulties, dear little mother, and with my next letter I shall send thee more.
Sometimes I think Napoleon loves me. But I fear, always, lest the wish should be the father of the thought. So I am never sure. One night he called me to him, and, after looking at me keenly for some moments, said, "How would'st thou like to be a king, brother?"
I stammered evasively in reply, not knowing what he meant, half thinking that he possessed some of the powers which are accredited to him of reading into the soul of whomso he will.
"You are brave and energetic. You have brains, and some powers of organisation. Above all, you are secretive and unscrupulous;" he went on as if he were studying my character.
"You flatter me, brother," I replied, humbly.
Napoleon frowned. He always frowns when I call him "brother," though he does not openly resent the freedom. "These are days in which men may climb," he said, in a curious, suggestive voice.
"How could I hope to become a king?" I asked.
He looked at me for a second with flashing eyes, and then a torrent of words burst from him. "Look at me," he cried. "Who am I? What was I? To-day I am First Consul of France. To-morrow, Emperor, perhaps."
"Emperor!" I gasped.
At the word he shot at me a glance full of suspicion, and I saw that he regretted his frank speech, but I continued to wear so humble and deprecating an air that his confidence returned, and, approaching me, he placed his hand upon my shoulder, and spoke to me softly and affectionately. "Continue as now, my brother; be true to me, and there is no throne in Europe but that of France you cannot aspire to."
Reflect, mother mine. There is no throne outside of France I may not aspire to—these were his very words. The throne of France is then undoubtedly reserved for himself—Napoleon. Shall my ambition be smaller and less grand than his? Wouldst thou be content to see me king of Austria or Italy—Napoleon resting on the throne of France? Perish the thought. I shall measure my ambition by the rule of his. If he wants the throne of France, let him win it. It shall be mine. If he wishes to rule the world, let him first conquer it. It shall be mine.
Another day when chance found us alone together, he had been dictating reams of correspondence to me, so that my wrist was weary (though of that I cannot complain, for I have his handwriting now by heart, my mother). He suddenly turned to me.
"Tell me something of your early life, Paolo," he said, with a friendly smile. So then, mother mine, I made an hour pass recounting to him the details of our old existence, and the few poor adventures that befell me in Corsica and the Isles of Blood. He listened to me attentively, putting many questions here and there. At last he asked, strangely enough, of you.
"Your mother was a beautiful woman, I have heard, Paolo," he said, in a gentle voice.
I answered him with an expression of perfect sadness. "Alas, brother, I never saw her. She died, as I told you, in giving me to the world—my poor mother!" Napoleon loves his peasant dam—the Ramolino wench—very dearly, mother mine, and as I spoke his eyes glistened with sympathy. "Poor boy," he said, softly, and leaning forward, he took and pressed my hand. I could have killed him. Never did I hate him so much; never did I feel before so bitter a pang of rage. He was not pitying me. He was pitying thee, my sweet mother for the injury his father wrought thee by the hand of his peasant wife, preferring her to thee, a Gracci. God have mercy! I hated him, but I schooled myself. I kissed his hand. Thou wilt perceive, mother mine, by these little anecdotes that I proceed favorably in the good graces of Napoleon. His servants, the most powerful men in France next to himself, are my creatures. They supply me with money, little knowing, poor things, that every centime which they give me, instead of binding me to their interests, plunges them more deeply in my debt, and renders them all the more securely my puppets, my slaves. Our noble purpose is ever before my mind, sweet mother, and when the time comes I shall be prepared.
And now to speak to thee of Elise—beautiful Elise. Thou must know, mother, that I do not live in the Tuileries. Napoleon assigned to me rich apartments in the palace, and I keep them ready for my use should ever occasion require; but now I do not dwell in them. There I should be too confined, to easily accessible to the palace spies. I have, therefore, taken a set of apartments where I have two means of egress to different streets. Ever since my arrival in Paris I have kept my promise to thee, and with no woman have I had aught to do. Sometimes, it is true, that when I have returned to my chamber, perchance from some circle of fair women, I have regretted what I have promised, for of the ladies who frequent the palace there are some who are beautiful, and many who look upon me with glances that are kind. Yet, nevertheless, I have remembered thee, sweet mother, and the promise exacted from me by thy wisdom.
One evening recently, returning somewhat over-late to my chambers from the palace, where Napoleon had detained me, I chanced to hear a woman scream. Her cry for help rang out with startling clearness through the midnight air. Drawing my sword, I sprang along the footpath and presently came upon a drunken wretch who was attempting, with the aid of his servants, to force a struggling woman into a carriage. When the lady saw me she redoubled her efforts to escape and cried out most piteously for aid. I called upon the fellow to desist. He drew his sword, and it was only upon ripping up his sword arm from elbow to the shoulder that I could force him, with his fellows, to flee. Then the lady turned to me.
"Ah, sir," she said tremulously, "how can I speak my gratitude? A thousand, thousand thanks to you. But for you I was lost, indeed."
"It is not worth mentioning, mademoiselle," said I, offering her my arm. "Pray allow me to escort you to your home, lest you should be subjected to further insult by the way."
She took my arm gratefully and led me to a house only a few steps away. "I live here, citizen," she said, her voice still trembling.
"You will wonder," she continued, "how it is that I should be here alone to be subjected to such indignity. But a certain gentleman has lately pursued me with his hateful addresses. He it was whom you so gallantly put to flight. I was induced this evening by an unworthy subterfuge to leave my house unescorted to visit, as I thought, a friend on the point of death. Then this false gentleman attempted to carry me off, and but for you—ah, it is terrible." She broke off with a shudder and a sigh that went to my heart, for although it was too dark to see her face, yet her voice was so sweet and piteous that I was moved to indignation against the rascal who could thus insult a woman.
"Pray tell me this ruffian's name," I urged her, "and I shall speedily conclude the work that I commenced to-night. Ah, if I had only known, he would not have escaped so lightly."
The lady shook her head and sighed again. Then as I knocked at the door, she turned to me—"I should not tell you his name. You have already risked your life for me once, and I am a stranger to you. That is surely enough. But you—will you not tell me the name of my gallant preserver, so that I may remember it in my prayers?"
"My name, madame," I replied, "is Paolo Gracci." She started eagerly forward, then stopped, and rested as if in thought. "Ah," she cried with extraordinary excitement.
"My name appears known to you, madame?" I asked, for I was interested in discovering the reason for her emotion.
At that moment the door opened and she begged me to accompany her within.
I was led up a succession of softly carpeted though dimly lighted stairs. On the second floor of the building my conductress requested me to wait in the passage while she should prepare herself for my reception. She kept me waiting almost an hour. Women are strange creatures, mother mine. But when she was ready to receive me I forgave the delay. I was ushered into a long, wide, and brilliantly illumined chamber. Two heavy brass candelabra, with their every waxen taper ablaze, reposed on marble stands at either end of the apartment, while a third swung from the centre of the ceiling, in which there seemed to be a thousand lights. The furniture was of the most costly description and made of the richest fabrics. A thick carpet into which one's feet sank with a delicious feeling of repose covered the floor, and around the room at intervals were spread long ottomans and couches, made up of great silken cushions piled in luxurious heaps. At the farthest end of the apartment, half concealed by muslin hangings and white silken drapes, stood a huge mahogany couch, quaintly carved, wreathed with fantastic scrolls, form the depths of which lion and dragon heads scowled, their red-brown faces gleaming and twinkling in the reflected glow of the tapers. That which, however, astonished me most of all about this apartment, my sweet mother, was the indescribably beautiful arrangement of its walls. An innumerable number of small mirrors, set in bright-gilded frames, were formed into panels, which completely covered the sides of the room to the height of a man, and gave the chamber the appearance of being lined with one solid sheet of glass painted and cut into regular devices. Above these mirrors the walls were colored in a soft rose tint, and from brass brackets in the ceiling a number of fine oil-paintings swung, one of which, I quickly noticed, was a portrait of Napoleon. Lost in amaze, I turned from contemplating this extraordinary apartment—than which I assure thee there is none more beautiful in the Tuileries itself—to study the countenance of her who, still nameless to me, dwelt amid so much beauty and magnificence. If, sweet mother, I was amazed at the beauty of her apartments, I was overwhelmed at the appearance of a woman whose face and figure so greatly transcended her surroundings that her beauty made the exquisite things about her pale into insignificance, and seem all too poor and mean a setting for so rich a jewel. Think not, sweet mother, that my pen is guided by my heart. I love her not. I but do her justice. Her figure is slight, but stately, and she must be a woman of 28 at least. Her arms are white and round; her every attitude and gesture of utmost grace. This much I can describe with exactness. At first I dared not look too long upon her face, and my eyes lingered on her gown, which seemed to me a regal robe, so soft and clinging it was, so brilliant and so white. Her face is beyond me. I can only tell you that it is more beautiful than any picture ever painted, or any image ever conjured up by a poet in his richest dream. Her eyes are a red-brown, large and full and languorous. Her nose is straight; her mouth, large perhaps, but beautifully curved, and when she smiles her teeth flash out so gleaming white as to shame the very pearls which cluster round her neck. But it is in the play of her features that her truest beauty lies. But, as I said before, sweet mother, she is beyond me, and I cannot describe her.
This woman noted the impression which her beauty had created upon me and smiled with pleasure. Not waiting for me to express my admiration, "I am so glad you like me," she said naively; "I tried to make myself look nice for you." Her naivete was charming, but I recognised in it the most accomplished form of coquetry. It is well for me that I remember thy precepts, one of which was that a wise man should never pay a compliment to a beautiful woman, for, being surfeited with flattery, it cannot serve to impress her. I was about to go into raptures over her, which, indeed, would have been quite easy, but I recollected in time; and, instead, shrugged my shoulders with the air of one who has seen other beauties in his time. "Yes, you look very well," I replied quietly.
Madame appeared a little disconcerted, but exerted herself to please me, nevertheless, and soon we were chatting quite amicably together. There were three things which I was very anxious to discover. Why had madame been wishing to make my acquaintance? and from whom had she heard of me? and what was madame's name? I approached the last of my curiosities first, at the moment when she was sipping a tiny glass of orange water.
"Do you know, madam," I said, "that although you know my name, I am still unhappily unacquainted with yours?"
She smiled graciously. "I am called Elise Ismeney," she answered.
This name was strange to me then, but I afterwards found out, sweet mother, that Elise Ismeney is well known in Paris and is accounted virtuous, although it is whispered by some that Napoleon has been her lover. At any rate, it is true that she has no known private means, and yet lives without going into debt upon a scale of great magnificence. Again, however, she is welcomed into all the most brilliant salons, De Stael's and Recaimer's, above all, where women of questionable character are not admitted. Behold a veritable enigma! Presently I brought the conversation, which had slipped away into indifferent topics, back to the present by a direct question.
"You said, citizeness, that you had been wishing to meet me. From whom have you heard of me?" I asked.
Elise hesitated to reply. "What does it matter?" she asked, with a charming smile, "now that I have accomplished my desire?"
"Why should you wish to meet me—a man whom you had not seen—citizeness?" I demanded.
"It is possible you have been described to me." She smiled, and beyond this I could extract nothing from her, for she fenced my questions with the skill of an accomplished diplomat, and, being a woman, I could not press her too much. Soon she dismissed me, giving me her hand to kiss. I left her curious and suspicious. Often during the hour I had spent with her I had noticed her eyes flashing from my face to the portrait of Napoleon above my head, as if she had been seeking to compare us, but my false beard and moustaches, and the dye of my hair and eyebrows baffled her, and at last she had sighed as if with disappointment.
"Why should she have been disappointed? Again, why should anyone have acquainted her of all people in the world with the fact of my existence? And why should it have been a matter of interest to her—sufficient, indeed, to make her anxious to meet me? These were the problems which haunted my dreams, little mother."
The next day I made inquiries concerning her and discovered what I have told you. Fouché was my informant, and he regarded me with a satisfied smile when I told him of my meeting. His smile was swift; it annoyed me. And he warned me against her. Why should he smile, as if he were pleased, and then warn me? When he left I walked in the palace gardens and dreamed, and my dream told me that Elise is a spy of Fouché. This would account for the mystery of her income, and he wished—perhaps instructed—her to throw herself in my path. Perhaps the very adventure in which I rescued her was arranged by him. If this should be so Fouché wishes to have me in his power. Wily man; he imagines that I shall fall in love with his spy, and thus my secrets shall be at his command. We shall see, little mother, we shall see.
That night, when I reached my lodgings, my attendant handed me a letter, a little scented note. Inside were written but three words, and it was signed Elise. These three words were "Come to me." I do not obey the commands of any woman, save only thine, little mother, and this note I left unheeded, unanswered. An hour passed, which I spent in practising a familiar gesture which Napoleon often uses, and which, therefore, I cannot remember too perfectly. I had washed the dye from my hair and had removed my beard, and it was thus, in the likeness of my brother, that I stood before the mirror, when a tap sounded at my door.
"Who is there?" I demanded.
"It is I, Elise," answered a sweet voice from without.
A thousand thoughts and questions flashed through my mind. "Why should Elise visit me?" Glancing in the mirror, an idea occurred to me. Quickly donning a coat which resembled that of Napoleon, I went to the door.
"Are you alone?" I questioned.
"I am alone," replied the voice.
I threw open the door and stood behind it until Elise had entered, when I shut it quickly and locked it, standing forth before her, frowning and severe.
"What want you with me?" I demanded.
Elise stared at me as if she could not believe her eyes, then threw out her hands with a gesture of amaze and terror.
"I knew not you were here, Citizen General," she stammered.
"No," I said sternly; "you imagined that my brother, Paolo, would receive you. Is it not so?"
She bent her head humbly in reply.
"What want you with Paolo?" I demanded.
"Nothing, Citizen General," she stammered; "I but came to see him."
"Do not lie to me, citizeness," I shouted in a thunderous voice. "Do not pretend to me you had no object in visiting him at this hour."
Elise turned deadly pale, but was too confused to answer.
"Answer me, answer me!"
Elise looked up at me piteously. "He is my lover," she said, with tremulous sweetness.
Mother, mother, what duplicity are not women capable of; I gazed at her sternly, but she met my glance with eyes that mirrored all the truth and purity of heaven itself.
"Your lover?" I repeated.
"How can I help being kind to him who is so like you, Citizen General, and who, besides, is your own brother? Remember that you have neglected me so long. In his embraces I imagine that I feel your arms once again about me." These words were spoken eagerly and with an abandon of passion which, if assumed, would mark Elise as the greatest actress in the world.
"Bah," I answered contemptuously, in my character of Napoleon.
Elise put a small lace handkerchief to her eyes and wept. I reflected a moment before I proceeded.
"Madame," said I gruffly, "do not weep. Your tears do not deceive me any more than do your words. The first are idle; the second are lies. Paolo is not your lover, and you came here for another purpose."
"God is my witness," cried Elise. But I interrupted her.
"A witness who cannot be consulted," I said coldly, "and by all accounts a truthful one. He would not suit you, citizeness."
"Have you not heard that only a night since, Paolo, bravely risking his life, saved me by his sword. In very gratitude——"
I interrupted her again. "Do not speak to me about your gratitude, nor about this adventure, citizeness. It was arranged from first to last by Fouché, whose servant you are."
At this accusation Elise hung her head and sobbed aloud. With a sudden gesture I seized her by the wrist and stood over her, forcing her to meet my eyes.
"So," I muttered sternly to her, "Fouché has ordered you to entrap the young Corsican, my half-brother, in your snares. Does he not know that Napoleon can protect his own. He had better take care. As for you——" As I said these words I squeezed her wrist cruelly hard and swayed her about as if I were going to cast her from me.
"Mercy," she cried, her face blanched with terror.
"As for you, you shall be expelled from France. Roustan!" I cried in a loud voice.
As I called upon this name—the name of Napoleon's Mameluke—the terror which had before disfigured Elise's exquisite face deepened into an expression of absolute consternation, and she threw herself upon her knees in an agony before me. "Mercy, mercy, I shall tell you everything; only preserve me from the touch of that horrible man," she cried.
"Speak quickly then," I said sternly.
"Fouché it is who is to blame," she sobbed. "He wishes to obtain Paolo's secrets. He is sure he possesses secrets, and he insisted that I should help him."
"Why should he seek to learn my brother's secrets?"
"I do not know. I do not know!" she cried incoherently.
"So you are ordered to love Paolo in order to learn his secrets?"
She bowed her head in reply.
"For how long a space did I remain your lover?" I asked abruptly.
"A week, one glorious week; can you forget it?" she asked reproachfully.
"Citizeness," I answered, "in less than an hour Paolo will be here. Await him; it is my command."
"But, general——" she stammered, with widely-questioning eyes.
"Silence," I ordered, and abruptly left the apartment. I had secured my false beard unnoticed by Elise during this interview, and I intended to presently return and resume my little comedy in another character.
After I had left my room—Elise in it alone—she marvelling perhaps at the command which, as Bonaparte, I had given her, to wait for Paolo Gracci—I carefully put on my beard and moustaches and moistening my eyebrows in order to make them appear darker, I presently returned to my room, giving, I flatter myself, a very natural start of surprise upon seeing Elise there.
"You here?" I cried.
"Why did you not answer my summons?" she demanded archly.
"Summons," I cried; "what summons? I have been detained all day at the Palace and but now return. I received no summons."
"I imagined that you were ill and alone. I thought that perchance my preserver had been wounded in the fray of last night, although you denied it then, and the note I sent you, remaining unanswered, I could not rest. I determined to visit you. I came here; your door was open, I entered, and have been awaiting you. Are you angry with me?" she spoke these last words with an expression of melting tenderness.
Mother, mother, in ten sentences not one single word of truth. I am filled with awe at the duplicity of woman. Woe to the man who dare match himself against such a woman as Elise.
"Nay, I am not angry, rather say charmed at your kindness," I answered; but I shuddered as I spoke. She came nearer and placed her hand upon my shoulder, gazing into my eyes with bewitching tenderness and a sublime frankness—a frankness that held me unsuspicious—a tenderness that enthralled all my heart.
"How handsome you are," she murmured softly; "how white your skin shines against the dark hair of your beard." She stretched forth her hand and softly stroked my face with her rosy finger-tips. Her touch sent a thrill coursing through my veins, and all I could do was to gaze back into her eyes, almost overcome as I was by the sudden intoxication of her near presence, the fragrance of her hair, the languorous passion of her glance. Suddenly she started backwards, I felt something brush by my face; something which blinded me for a moment, and, when I looked at her again, she stood a few paces distant holding in her hands my false moustaches and beard, which she had plucked from my face. Her eyes were gleaming with anger and she regarded me with passionate indignation.
"So, Napoleon stoops to masquerade," she cried, with angry scorn. "The conqueror of the world acts the buffoon before a woman."
"Citizeness," I replied, with a smile of admiration, for she was very beautiful in her anger. "I perceive that you hate Napoleon."
She threw at me a glance of half entreaty, half passion. "I hate you because you have ceased to love me," she muttered.
The moment, little mother, seemed to me propitious. I suddenly bent my knee to her and exclaimed in a voice tremulous with feeling—
"Ah, Elise! Napoleon may despise thee. Napoleon has no heart. He is cold as stone; but I, his brother Paolo Gracci, have loved thee since the first moment my poor eyes encountered thine exquisite beauty. Elise, Elise, have pity on me—I love thee."
Mother, it was actually hard for me to convince her that I was not Napoleon himself. It was only upon baring my arm to her, whereon she should find no trace of a mark which she has seen on the arm of Napoleon (which mark, by the way, I must take care to reproduce on my arm) that she would believe. She then appeared for long to be utterly cast down, but at length her wonderful spirits triumphed over even her double defeat, and, rallying, she reproached me for the duplicity which had won all the secrets from her heart. How like a woman! The lies she had told to me weighed nothing with her. I was contemptible, mean, indeed the worst type of unchivalrous blackguard, who could thus dare to trample on a woman's sacred feelings, and tear from her the mask under which she concealed the complex mechanism of her sex. In all these reproaches, however, I detected an undercurrent of esteem, the respect which the victim feels for the conqueror who has proved himself the victor in a pitched battle where the odds are equal. I waited tranquilly until the flow of reproaches had ceased, when I repeated again that magic formula which is the sole excuse for crime in the eyes of a woman.
"I love thee," I spoke softly, and my eyes were as earnest as my will could make them.
"But why did you?" she cried.
I interrupted her—not with reproaches and revilings, which I could have used, indeed (for had she not at Fouché's instance, attempted to entrap me in her toils, and so undo me?). Not with these weapons, however, did I fight her, but my eyes, aglow with passion (simulated, sweet mother), and upon bended knee, I whispered to her again and again, "I love thee; ah, Elise, Elise, I love thee."
At first she was obdurate, and "I hate you," she cried in answer to my protestations of devotion. But one circumstance above all others induced me to hope that she would relent. Although the door stood open, she made no attempt to leave me.
Suddenly, I arose, and taking her in my arms in spite of her resistance, I pressed my lips passionately to hers, crushing her to me in a fierce embrace.
"Unhand me," she cried indignantly.
For answer I smothered her lips with kisses. She struggled a little, and then lay still in my arms gazing up in my eyes with an expression I could no longer doubt. "What a man," she muttered half to herself; "you compel a poor woman to love you when she should only hate you." The tears streamed from her eyes. Elise, little mother, had surrendered.
Soon we were chatting hand-in-hand on a couch beside my table, upon which was spread such a repast as my means can boast, a partridge pie, a piece of Breton venison, a flask of good Rhine wine, and a skin of Burgundy. Elise now needed no pressing to render me her full confidence. I knew so much, she said, that I might as well know all, and she gave me a short history of her life. Briefly, little mother, it is as follows, and you may judge from certain parts in it how useful an instrument for our purpose the good God has placed in our hands. Elise is the daughter of a notary at Osier, a village near Marseilles. Her father, a descendant of an old country family, was slain by the revolution and Elise only escaped a similar fate by her adroitness. She saved in her flight a daughter of the old regime, Marie de Montpessier, and these girls, then mere children, lived together in Toulouse until France was restored to calm by the strong hand of Napoleon. On the establishment of the consulate Elise made a claim to Napoleon on behalf of Marie de Montpessier for the restoration of her friend's estates, and, little mother she informs me that she obtained this favor for her friend, from the hands of the First Consul, at the price of her own honor, a price which she heroically paid for her friend's sake. This latter part of her tale is too sentimental for one to credit, but let it pass. For my part, I believe that pretty Elise threw herself at Napoleon's head, and he, fascinated by her extraordinary beauty, permitted himself to love her—for a week—after which he next sent her, as was his custom, a thousand crowns and an intimation that his visits would cease. Poor pretty Elise, how she must have wept and stormed over this message and its iron abruptness, its icy indifference to her charms, she who had, no doubt, already commenced to fancy herself a second Pompadour, the power behind the throne, the mistress of not only Napoleon, but of France and the world. Poor little Elise! Napoleon, mother, is a man of marble. Nothing moves him. His eye is irrevocably fixed on what he calls "his destiny." He must have regarded Elise as a passing wisp of beauty—he has an eye for the beautiful just as he might on the eve of one of his marvellous victories linger a while to enjoy the harmonious colorings of a landscape or the splendid setting of an Italian sun.
Marie de Montpessier loves Elise deeply and is grateful to her for a thousand benefits. From all accounts she is a visionary, a woman pure and ardent and simple, who worships Napoleon as a devotee worships the stars—as a Parsee worships the sun.
Fouché, the wily one, has Elise in his pay, not as a lover, but as a spy. His money and De Montpessier's friendship enable her to enter all the salons in the gay world of Paris. When I had reflected on all these things, little mother, it seemed to me that Providence had placed before me unasked, a powerful ally who can help me in my plans. I kissed the little crucifix that thou sent me, and I thanked the good God for His blessings. Dost thou not think, mother mine, that there is now good promise of our success? Everything goes well with us. As yet there are no drawbacks. Napoleon continues to grow fonder of me. His most powerful Minister is my creature. Elise is on our side—adorable Elise. Surely God must favor us. I believe this devoutly, but I do not relax a little of my caution. Even to Elise I have disclosed nothing as yet, and above all I am cold to her. I tell her always that I love her, but I remember my promise to thee, little mother; and in spite of her sighs, for Elise loves me to distraction, I treat her with that respect which a king pays to his wife. Am I not right?
Last night I visited Elise. "Welcome, Paolo," she cried. "I have something important to place before thee." It was a document, a letter from Talleyrand, which I read presently with Elise's round arms about my neck. The Minister for Foreign Affairs signified his intention of visiting her that same evening. I looked enquiringly at Elise. "So, little woman," I said jealously, "there are others besides me whom you receive at all hours."
She was delighted at my jealously, but she hastened to reassure me. Talleyrand had never been her lover, although he loves her very ardently. "It is some service which he requires of me," she assured me.
Talleyrand came presently and he found Elise alone. I was hiding, wrapped among a hundred pretty silken gowns which no doubt often clasped Elise's adorable figure, but I was placed so that I could see admirably, and not a word of the conversation could escape me.
"Ah, little one," said Talleyrand, "how kind of you to receive me." He looked around the apartment and sighed. "How happy is Fouché, who has been able to secure you as his friend."
Elise dropped him a pretty curtsey. "I cannot claim so great a privilege," she cried. "Citizen Fouché is my patron, my benefactor."
"I would consider myself the proudest man in France if you would call me also by such kind names," said Talleyrand eagerly.
"Ah, but, citizen," said Elise archly, "you have done nothing to deserve them."
The Minister drew a morocco leather case from his pocket and presented it on his knees to the lady. "Make me the proudest man in France, I implore you, little one, and wear these poor jewels for my sake," he said, in the softest possible voice, at the same time opening the case and displaying a magnificent parure of diamonds which would not have disgraced an empress. Elise uttered a cry of admiration for the glittering baubles, but nevertheless drew back from the gift. "Citizen, citizen," she cried—regretfully, it sounded to me—"I am an honest woman."
Talleyrand shrugged his shoulders. "These diamonds," he said, with a smile, "will not harm you. I have been already too well assured of the strength of your virtue. Deign to accept this gift from me as a tribute to your spotless purity, which glitters cold as the stones themselves." Underlying these words was a suspicion of satire, though the velvet voice which uttered them was soft as a caress.
"What want you with me?" asked Elise, in troubled tones.
Talleyrand arose from his knees and clasped the diamonds around the lady's marble throat. "There is a man in Paris," he muttered in a voice little above a whisper, "who calls himself Paolo Gracci."
"I know him," said Elise.
"What think you of him?"
"A simple, generous fellow, whom I love already," cried Elise, with a burst of generous warmth.
Talleyrand regarded her keenly.
"The First Consul does not think him so simple," he said quietly.
Elise looked at him with the most innocent wonderment depicted in her eyes. "Why?" she cried. "Paolo is brave and simple and generous. None can know him better than I, for he loves me." She blushed so prettily as she said these words that I admired the sweet girl more than ever.
"So, so," said Talleyrand, with an evil smile; "that is your opinion."
"You do not like him, Citizen Minister?" asked Elise.
"I? I dislike nobody. Napoleon distrusts your friend—that is all."
Elise looked charmingly surprised. "I wonder why?" she said innocently.
Talleyrand bent over her and whispered. "Have you noticed a certain marvellous resemblance between your friend and someone?"
Elise laughed merrily. "Yes, of course," she replied heartily. "The silly fellow is as proud as a peacock about it. He adores Napoleon, who, he declares, is his half-brother. His rhapsodies are perfectly ridiculous. He is always raving about him and what Napoleon is going to do for him."
"Ah!" said Talleyrand, with an expression of relief. "Your friend is a brave man, you say?"
"He is never tired of recounting his feats of arms, some of which, between you and me, I rather thinks he invents." Elise laughed wickedly.
"Ah, I see—a bragging swashbuckler," cooed the Minister. "Does he spend his money freely?"
"He has already forced upon me more than 10,000 francs," answered Elise.
"Ah, ha, little one, no wonder you are fond of him," laughed Talleyrand.
Elise drew herself up haughtily. "I do not love men for money," she answered scornfully; "you should know that, Citizen Talleyrand."
"True, true, little one; I meant not to offend you," said the Minister soothingly, and presently he departed, his mind comfortably fixed in the idea that there was no need to be afraid of me. And, best of all, Napoleon's demeanour to me this morning was so much more cordial than usual that I am satisfied Citizen Talleyrand has confided to him the result of his enquiries concerning me.
Elise is a girl to be considered; more and more the conviction is brought upon me, and moreover she loves me ardently and truly. Yet, nevertheless, little mother, in all things I am subject to thy commands. I kiss you, mother.—Your affectionate and devoted son, Paolo Gracci.
Paolo Gracci, having finished this long letter to his mother, in which he had exposed his every feeling (except, indeed in one respect), found that he had yet much to say and commenced to add a postscript. But he had been writing for hours that day, adding to the letter which was the fruit of a week's leisure moments.
He leaned back in his chair and yawned. "I am tired," he muttered aloud, speaking to himself, as was his habit, when alone. "I shall go the palace. My mother's letter must wait until this evening to be completed."
At that moment a clock near by chimed the hour of 9, and the Corsican, after slipping his manuscript into a drawer of his escritoire, which he carefully fastened behind him, leisurely quitted his apartments and presently the building itself, whence he proceeded in the direction of the Tuileries. Suddenly he stopped, with an ejaculation of disgust, for his reflection, flashed back at him from a chance mirror he encountered in a café, informed him that he had neglected his usual care of making his toilet. He had actually quitted his apartments without first donning the false beard and moustaches. Ejaculating a curse on his carelessness, he quickly retraced his steps, and was thankful to find that the street door which led to his chambers was open, for he did not care to let the concierge see him without his disguise. He slipped in noiselessly and with quiet care ascended the stairs towards his apartments. As he approached the chamber Paolo heard the sound of someone moving within. Thinking it was a valet, who was preparing his room for the night, he went up to the door and softly turned the handle, to find, however, that the door was locked on the inside. A sudden suspicion flashed through the mind of the Corsican, and, silent as a mouse, he stooped and peered through the keyhole. Directly opposite to the doorway the escritoire blocked his vision. Stooping still lower he glanced more upwards, as much as the narrow keyhole would allow. A dark, black-bearded, bull-necked man was seated at Paolo's escritoire, busily engaged in writing. To the Corsican it seemed that the spy was copying some document on to the paper before him, for every instant he stopped in his work and glanced at something which evidently reposed upon the table slightly to his left. Paolo watched him intently for several moments; then slipping off his shoes, crept noiselessly along the passage to another door. Silently he tried the handle. This door however, was also firmly locked. The Corsican glanced up and down the dimly-lighted corridor for several seconds, peering keenly into the shadows. At last, satisfied that he was absolutely alone, he approached a portion of the wall of his room, and, taking a dagger from its sheath, pressed the point into a crevice in a panel. Immediately a whole section of the wall slid noiselessly aside. Then, silent as a serpent, and as swiftly, the Corsican passed through the aperture. He found himself in the second of his apartments, separated from the other by an archway defended by a heavy pair of purple velvet curtains.
Through the divisions of these curtains Paolo looked at the intruder, who was still quickly and laboriously copying the contents of a manuscript which he held in his left hand. Paolo's face, usually pallid and colorless, flushed crimson with passion as he observed his private secrets thus rifled under his very eyes.
"Fouché or Talleyrand?" he muttered under his breath. Then softly retiring to his bed-chamber he took a heavy double-barrelled pistol from the wall, and, lifting the curtains, passed through. His shadow fell ominously on the laboring spy. For some moments he stood smiling darkly at his unconscious victim. Then, calmly levelling his pistol at the man's head, he spoke, uttering the question which was nearest his heart at that moment—"Who is your master?"
Had he actually fired his pistol he could not have more astounded the spy, who sprang up with an inarticulate cry of terror.
"Sit down," said the Corsican, emphasising his command with a threatening wave of his pistol.
The spy tremblingly obeyed. "How did you enter?" he muttered. "I locked all the doors and barred the windows."
"That is quite true," answered Paolo, "but I have a secret panel, which is most obliging, moving as it does whenever I require it. Now, sir, tell me who is your master?"
"I am of the secret police," answered the man sullenly.
"Citizen Fouché is the head of the secret police, is it not so?" asked Paolo blandly.
"He is our father," answered the spy. "Woe be to him who injures one of us, with such a patron at our back."
The Corsican smiled with an air of amusement. "Did I understand you to threaten me?" he asked.
The spy, who noted that Paolo had let fall for an instant the muzzle of his pistol, for answer sprang like a panther at the Corsican's throat. Paolo instantly dropped his pistol and received the attack with both arms outstretched. Then ensued a short but terrible struggle, which resulted a moment after in the heavy fall of the two men, locked in each other's arms, the Corsican being uppermost. The spy, however, in a second writhed like an eel from under his foe, and the two men presently lay side by side, panting into each others faces, and straining desperately in a deadly embrace. Suddenly the Corsican put forth all his strength, and, wrenching himself free for an instant, fastened both hands like a vice around the thick, bull neck of his adversary. In a few moments the grip of the spy relaxed, and a hideous, choking sound issued from his black, swollen lips, beyond which his tongue lolled, protruding in ghastly fashion. Paolo presently arose and stepping over the body of the spy felt his heart. A grim smile passed over his features and he stood up again and stretched himself. "Now to remove this carrion," he said aloud. "Fouché must attend to that. Let me see."
He strode over to the desk and wrote a short note, then placed a screen carefully before the body on the spy, and opening the door of the chamber shouted down the corridor the concierge.
"This note to be delivered to Citizen Minister Fouché," he said tersely. "If an answer reaches me in an hour, one livrie: half an hour, two livries—you see."
"Ah, yes, citizen," cried the porter, a wizened old man, "trust me to deliver it." He seized the note and vanished instantly down the stairs.
The Corsican gathered up his manuscript, which the spy had been using, and secreted it. Then he carefully set fire to the paper upon which the spy had written, watching it blaze until the last fragment was destroyed, when he sat down to await the messenger's return. An hour passed, which he occupied in writing. He seemed to be copying a document with extreme care, his features meanwhile responding to the play of his thoughts, now softening into a smile, now contracting in a frown. At last came the long-expected knock at his door. Paolo hastily thrust his manuscript into a pocket of his doublet, the document which he had been copying into one of the apartments of his escritoire. "I have to thank Elise for this," he murmured.
"Enter," then said the Corsican.
The door opened to admit Fouché. The Minister for Police was unattended and he advanced into the apartment with an engaging smile.
"You sent for me, my dear friend," he said graciously; "I am here."
The Corsican did not even rise from his seat, but he eyed the Minister of Police with an inscrutable smile.
"Can you tell me," asked Paolo, "what the word 'friend' means?"
Fouché, slightly surprised, raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders. "A person who would unselfishly sacrifice himself to assist another would deserve that title," he answered.
"Then," said Paolo, rising with outstretched hands, "what a fortunate man am I that you, of your own will, call yourself my friend." He took and effusively pressed the hands of the Minister of Police.
"Can it be that you require my assistance? How delighted I shall be to render it," cried Fouché, with great apparent cordiality. The Corsican sighed. "I am in a slight difficulty. I urgently need 1,000,000 francs," he declared.
Fouché was staggered by the vastness of the sum demanded. "Good heavens," he cried, "where do you expect to obtain such an amount?"
"From you, my friend," answered Paolo quietly.
"Alas, I have not a tenth part of that sum at my present disposal," cried Fouché.
Paolo shrugged his shoulders. "I had no idea you were so poor," he muttered; "however, you can do me another service not connected with finance, if you will."
"Only name it," said Fouché, anxious to make amends for his poverty.
"I wish to have some carrion removed from my apartment. A dog strayed in here and I strangled him," said Paolo, with a singular glance at the Minister.
Fouché, mystified by this extraordinary request, which implied as well a menial office to be filled by himself, frowned slightly as he replied, "But, citizen, there are surely servants at your disposal in these apartments?"
The Corsican smiled. "None whom I can trust. This dog in life was, no doubt, a valuable cur."
Fouché became annoyed at the other's inexplicable persistence. "You are pleased to be mysterious, citizen," he said angrily, moving as he spoke towards the door. "I am a Minister of France, not a rubbish-cleaner. I wish you a goodnight."
"Stay," cried Paolo. "Let me show you this dog." With a wave of his hand he sent the screen crashing to the floor, disclosing to the startled gaze of Fouché the dead body of the police spy.
The Minister of Police, seized by an uncontrollable impulse, started forward to inspect the features of the corpse; then, glancing up, encountered the eyes of Paolo, staring into his with am expression of malignant menace.
"You will comply with my request, citizen?" asked the Corsican.
"Why?" demanded Fouché, with a semblance of bravado.
"Because," replied Paolo, cuttingly, "because this dog, before the life was crushed out of him, confessed that he had a master, one Citizen Fouché, Minister of Police."
These words were spoken so threateningly that Fouché turned pale and retreated towards the door, holding in his hand a silver whistle, which he had taken from his pocket.
The Corsican laughed aloud at this exhibition of cowardice. "Do not fear, my good friend," he called out reassuringly; "I do not wish to harm you. You are too useful to me."
"I could have you arrested for the murder of this man," muttered Fouché.
"But instead of doing that, Citizen Fouché, you will have his body quietly removed from here, and will also give me an order upon the Treasury of France for 2,000,000 francs."
Astonished by the insolence of this proposition, the Minister of Police could only stammer, "Why should I do these things?"
"Because," replied the Corsican, "your latest letter to the Bourbons, in response to certain proposals made by them to you, is in my hands."
Fouché turned pallid. He glanced around him, as if fearing that someone else had overheard them; then, with a sudden furious movement, he sprang forward, a pistol in his hand, which he had torn from his doublet, pointing at the Corsican's heart.
"Liar," he hissed; "prove your words, or you shall die!"
Paolo, for answer, laughed in his face, and, then took a paper at random from the drawer of his desk, and holding it before him, read aloud, in a low, scornful voice:—
Sire—The humblest, but not least faithful, of your subjects presents his reverent acknowledgements to your Majesty for the condescension you have shown him, and humbly thanks——
During the reading of this letter Fouché, whose face was convulsed with absolute terror and dismay, had gradually crept nearer and nearer to the Corsican and as this point was reached in the recital he snatched the paper from Paolo's hands, with the swiftness of a hawk; then sprang backwards, keeping the Corsican covered with his pistol.
"Ha!" he shouted in triumph, "I have you now."
Paolo burst into a peal of laughter, so natural and unrestrained that Fouché in bewilderment looked at the letter he had captured. It was a blank sheet of paper and contained no writing on it whatever.
"You devil!" he shouted wildly.
"You flatter me," replied the Corsican; "you flatter me, citizen; but, nevertheless, I confess I am not a fool. Your original letter is in my care, certainly, but it is far from here; it will be delivered to Napoleon the instant that mishap occurs to me; do you understand?"
"My God," cried Fouché; "I am in the power of a fiend."
"My dear friend," said the Corsican blandly, "you have wronged me deeply. I am a man of heart, a man of soul, a man capable of the greatest self-sacrifice if it be for the purpose of serving a friend. It is on that account that I grieve, nay, am plunged in despair, when I see a man whom I profoundly regard mistrusting me so far as to send his spies to search out my secrets."
Fouché made no reply, but his face flushed crimson and his eyes twinkled with emotion, the emotion of a rat caught in the simplest form of trap.
"Have you nothing to say to me?" asked Paolo.
"Your genius has overwhelmed me. You have proved to me that as a policeman I am still a tyro. What can I say?" said Fouché, with a courtier's ready flattery, his neglected diplomacy coming at last to his aid.
Paolo smiled softly. "All my life," he sighed. "I have longed for a friend whom I could love and trust, a friend who would assist me when I needed help, to whom I would in turn render assistance, if assistance he should ever need. When I came to France two men above all others offered me their friendship, Fouché and Talleyrand. Talleyrand I could not care for. As an enemy to my religion, a married priest, he was hateful. But you, citizen, in you I fondly hoped I had found all that my soul craved for. Imagine my dismay when I discovered this dog (he pointed towards the body of the spy) searching my desk, and making copies of my correspondence, at your orders. Picture to yourself my indignation, that the first favor I ask of you is refused."
Fouché studied the countenance of the Corsican with an air of bewilderment. "Is it possible," he thought to himself, "that this man is a sentimental fool or is he a superhuman scoundrel, an unimaginably perfect actor?"
Aloud, he said with rapid cunning. "Ah, but, citizen—this letter that you possess of mine—does not that show a similar mistrust on your part, to that which you accuse me of harboring towards you?"
Paolo for answer took a letter from his coat pocket and handed it to the other with a gesture of disdain.
"It came into my hands by accident," he said coldly, "I restore it to you."
Fouché tore the letter open and read it over with kindling eyes, his face transfigured with relief and joy.
"My friend, my noble friend, forgive me," he cried enraptured at the other's generosity.
"You had better burn that letter, it might be lost in the street," advised Paolo coldly.
Fouché instantly lighted it at the flume of a spirit lamp which was burning near him, his fingers trembling with eagerness as he did so.
"And now, citizen," said the Corsican, "I would wish to be alone."
Fouché stepped hesitatingly nearer to Paolo. "My friend," he cried tremblingly. "You have covered me with shame. I admit that I have been in the wrong. You are a noble man. I implore you to pardon my fault."
The Corsican, gazing into the other's eyes and reading nothing but earnestness there, held out his arms, into which the Minister of Police threw himself with a cry of joy.
A moment after Paolo was alone and after satisfying himself that the door was safely locked he took a document from the escritoire before him and examined it carefully. This letter was addressed to his Majesty the King of France and was signed Fouché. It commenced—
Sire—The humblest, but not least faithful of your subjects——
The Corsican read the letter over with a smile of satisfaction. "Fouché," he murmured, "is after all impulsive. A clever man would have examined that letter more closely. If he had taken it home he would have detected the forgery of his own handwriting. I promised Elise, when she stole this for me, that I would give it to Fouché finally. Well, he has had a copy and is satisfied. As for you," he went on, caressing the letter on his palm, "do you know, my little friend, I have a conviction that in spite of the protestations which we have just heard, you will be called upon to assist me a second time one of these days."
Paolo paced a path of the garden of St. Cloud in discontented mood. The dramatic little scene which he had prepared for his illustrious brother had failed to have the effect desired. Instead of being pleased at his half-brother's courage, Napoleon had been enraged at his want of discipline. Very clearly now Paolo saw that the price of Napoleon's protection was obedience, implicit and unquestioning.
"It is my intention," the First Consul said to Paolo, as he released him from arrest, "to treat you as a member of my family."
"But first you must prove yourself worthy. The Bonapartes give me advice when asked; disciplined obedience always."
The soaring ambition of Paolo was repulsed by this rankling rebuke. He revolved again in his mind schemes in which he and not his brother, was the central figure. He had been summoned that day for special service, and was again the Double of the First Consul, and this fact seemed to provide a foundation of possibility for his "castle in Spain."
As he walked and dreamed, a messenger confronted him.
"For you, General," said the fellow, bowing awkwardly.
"A clumsy servant," thought Paolo. With more knowledge of the world and of France, he would perhaps have recognised in the messenger one of the nobles of the old regime, on whom servility sat as an unaccustomed cloak. The letter was addressed to "General Bonaparte." He placed it in his pocket.
"Right good man," he said, with an air of dismissal.
"General, I crave you? pardon; I have the honor of addressing General Napoleon Bonaparte? The ———, my master, bade me to see that you read the letter, and to bring back, myself, your answer."
Paolo hesitated. What could this mysterious communication be, which by some hap of fortune was placed in his hands instead of Napoleon's.
"You will not, general," said the messenger eagerly, "perhaps care to write a reply to my master's note. I can be trusted, on my honor. I mean, sir, you can rely upon my fidelity to bring back a verbal reply. It is so stated, general, in the letter."
Paolo, with a quick gesture, broke the seals of the letter. "Withdraw for a few minutes," he said to the messenger and commenced to read.
At Ettenheim, February 20, 1804.
To General Napoleon Bonaparte.
General—Respect for your glory, desire for the happiness of France are the reasons urging me to write this letter. If I thought that the happiness you have given to poor storm-tossed France was likely to be permanent, I would, instead of asking your help for her kings, offer a Bourbon sword to your army. But, general, genius is not immortal and passes not from father to son. The thread of your life broken, France would fall back again into bloody anarchy. Your power has no legitimate title; it depends solely on your genius. Use it, I pray you, while in its plentitude to restore to France her kings and settled happiness. If you will do this, general, I am empowered to offer to you the post of High Constable of France, appropriately to be revived with the revival of her glory. The post shall be hereditary in your family, and in the future a proposal for the marriage of a Bourbon with a Bonaparte would be favorably considered. General, you will not expect our generosity to go farther. I have confidence that you will now save France. I write this with my family's sanction. If you are agreeable to discuss this proposal, I will meet you in France on being assured of my safety; or, should you wish the meeting to be more private, here, at Ettenheim. You can trust the messenger.—
"If Napoleon sees this," thought Paolo, "then long live Louis XVIII." He exercised his mind to consider how he should turn to advantage the stroke of fortune which this letter represented. The daring idea of again personating Napoleon came into his mind. Could he, Paolo, treat with the Bourbons as the General of France, secure the aid of Fouché and Talleyrand, assassinate the real Napoleon, and take his place as High Constable of France, the future husband of a royal princess? But was not the imposture too gigantic? Could he cherish the slightest hope of success in an attempt to fool the whole nation? Perhaps. There was a chance. To poison Napoleon would be easy. To usurp his place with the aid of Talleyrand and Fouché would be just as simple. A little care, a little study, and the matter was safe. The next few days would disclose to him whether he might hope or not.
He beckoned to the messenger. "I will meet your master," he said, "but the date I cannot yet fix. Remain in Paris for three days. Call every second hour of the day for a message at the Province Café."
The man bowed low, and this time gracefully. "General," he said, "I thank you, and will attend your wishes."
Paolo again resumed his slow walk, awaiting a call to the First Consul. Soon a lacquey summoned him to the presence of Bonaparte. Only Ségur was present with the Consul; even Bourrienne had been dismissed.
"I want you two people," said Napoleon, with a rough kindness, "to shake hands. You are brave, but too hot-headed, both of you."
Ségur came frankly forward and offered his hand, which Paolo grasped with fervor.
"Ah, now," said the First Consul, in a pleased tone. "Paolo, I want you to do something for me—to take my place for a day or two."
The look of triumphant exultation on the face of Paolo disquieted Napoleon. "Only for a masquerade, man; only for a masquerade. I wish to disappear for a day or two, and would prefer that my Ministers should not know of my absence. You can stay at Malmaison here, and chat with Ségur, and have a sickness and refuse to see anyone. You understand; no tricks. You must do nothing, read nothing, sign nothing. Ségur will give you details."
The First Consul, who was even then planning the Empire, wished, as a matter of fact, to himself feel the public pulse. He had a profound distrust of Fouché, and regretted the fact that the secret police was the only branch of his Government of the workings of which he was ignorant. Of the military and civil administration he knew every detail, but Fouché had always contrived to wrap his department in something of mystery, even to Napoleon. This did not suit the despot, and he resolved to take advantage of Paolo's presence to himself spy upon the Minister of Spies. It was as a result of this enterprise of Napoleon's that the "counter-police" of the First Empire was later established as an important arm of the public service.
"Elise must help me," said Paolo to himself, as he left the Tuileries. By this time he was assured of the fidelity of the venal beauty to his fortunes. Repulsed and humiliated a second time by Napoleon, in an attempt she had made a few days after her adventure with Paolo to renew her relations with the First Consul, she was more than ever filled with hatred of the man whom she had once hoped to rule. Besides, the audacious courage and subtle villainy of Paolo attracted her; she saw in him a better Bonaparte, and he had not the drawback of indifference to her charms. The adventurer could thus with certainty rely on the woman whom he had known but for a month. When he had forced from her a confession of her connection with Fouché, Paolo had been too circumspect to suggest a breaking off of relations, which gave the hope of so much profit in the future. "Elise is paid to spy on me by Fouché; she will, instead, spy on him for me. Excellent," he thought to himself. As a matter of fact, she had already secured for him valuable documents from the bureau of the Minister.
The value of Elise in his present daring scheme was to be great. Through her tact he arranged an interview with Fouché, away from the jealous eyes of Ségur and Bourrienne. As he expected, Fouché had arranged to have an eaves-dropper to overhear the chat. That was often the Police Minister's crafty method when he was about to talk treason, for his creature who had "accidentally overheard" could, in case of need, give such an account of what had passed as suited the Minister of Police. It was Elise who brought to the eager Fouché the news that Paolo was now on the point of disclosing his secrets, and it was Elise who was appointed eaves-dropper.
"What do you think of Paolo?" asked Fouché, abruptly, after he had given Mdlle. Ismeney her instructions.
"I love him ardently," said Elise, with overmarked intensity.
"Ah! And why?" asked Fouché, sardonically.
"Because," was the saucy answer, "good Father Joseph pays me one hundred thousand francs to do so."
"Mademoiselle is a lady of discretion," said Joseph Fouché. "So you call me Father Joseph, eh? I wager there is not one of you saucy minxes brave enough to call Citizen Minister Talleyrand 'Father.'"
"Not all of us are so happy, sir, as to be unfrocked priests." The allusion to Talleyrand made Fouché smirk. He had at heart a deep hatred of the ex-priest.
When Paolo and Fouché met both were easy and confident. Neither showed the least sign of knowledge that there was a third party to the interview, except that perhaps Fouché's preliminary search of the apartments was a trifle too careful and anxious.
"We are alone?" said Paolo, at last.
"Then are you ready if I remove Napoleon to help me to take his place?"
Fouché was staggered at this bluff, brutal outspokenness. He had expected a fence of words, and the direct onslaught startled him into telling almost a truth.
"Certainly if I am to profit. I mean, Citizen Paolo, certainly. I do not understand you. You propose. .. .."
"To get rid of Napoleon, who now becomes a tyrant. To be myself Napoleon. To submit, Citizen Fouché, to your tutelage, so that I may secure the happiness of France. Listen."
Paolo rapidly outlined his plan, exercising, for once, the diplomacy of frankness.
It's daring frightened Fouché.
"No, Citizen, Paolo," he said resolutely, "I will respect your confidence, absolutely, but I cannot join in such an attempt. France needs Napoleon."
"You will respect my confidence, doubtless," Paolo cried, angrily. "Let me tell you, Citizen Fouché, that that rests with me. It will be you who will be heard in defence. You refuse my proposal. Then I shall denounce you to the First Consul."
Fouché did not lose his temper.
"You forget that we may have been overheard."
Paolo seemed overwhelmed.
"What?" he gasped.
The Minister for Police smiled. "Indeed, I may say we have been overheard," he chuckled, quickly clapping his hands.
Elise Ismeney appeared.
"You have heard, citizeness?" enquired Fouché, with a mocking air.
"I have heard," Elise said slowly and distinctly, "Citizen Minister Fouché propose to Citizen Paolo Gracci that Napoleon should be removed, and the Consulate overthrown. I have heard Citizen Gracci spurn this offer with every semblance of indignation!"
The Minister for Police was extraordinarily moved; clasping his hands with a mighty imprecation he called upon heaven "to wither him if he ever again trusted a woman."
On Paolo's face was the inscrutable smile, which his great brother so often wore.
Suddenly Fouché spoke, "Citizen Gracci," he said, heartily, "I am with you. Joseph Fouché is henceforth your ally. Your daring and ambition have overwhelmed me."
Elise was dismissed, and the two worthies agreed that Talleyrand was not to be of the plot, and then parted, each filled with an immense respect, if not esteem, for the other.
At midnight on March 1 the sham Napoleon was closeted with the Duc D'Enghien at Ettenheim. During the day Paolo had been playing the farce assigned to him by the First Consul, staying at Strasburg on pretence of examining the Rhine boundary. With the fall of night, after retiring, presumably to rest, he had slipped out, mounted a fleet horse, and crossed the border to Ettenheim. He came absolutely without patrol or escort. D'Enghien was charmed by this abandon of confidence, and greeted the great Napoleon warmly, almost deferentially. The young Bourbon prince and the Corsican adventurer arrived within an hour, at the basis of an agreement which seemed pleasing to both.
"General," said D'Enghien, after they had pledged one another in wine, "it is not necessary now for me to treat with any other than you. I have been quite candid to you on the subject of our representations to Talleyrand. Henceforth, I will cease communications with him. As a pledge of sincerity I shall now open before you a reply I received, the same moment that you arrived, from our Minister with regard to this matter. I informed him that you had agreed to meet me."
Paolo turned pale. This was a complication he had not thought possible.
"A letter from Talleyrand," he said coldly, "that is treason. Your highness will give it to me."
"No, general. We are all Frenchmen now. Talleyrand is our very faithful Minister."
At Paris, February 30.
Your Royal Highness—The letter of which you speak never reached the hands of Napoleon. Of that I can assure you. Napoleon is not going to Ettenheim. He is at the present moment, I have just learned, in Normandy, on some secret mission, travelling incognito. I much fear you have been trapped. Be assured, prince, of the obedience of your faithful servant.—Talleyrand.
"Ah, that is satisfactory," said D'Enghien, aloud.
"By the way, general, did I not see you some years ago in Valence?"
Paolo thought suspiciously. "I have never been in Valence," he said.
The answer seemed to put D'Enghien's doubts at rest. He struck a gong, Paolo the while watching him eagerly. Two officers appeared, and at the sight of them the Prince's coolness deserted him, and his rage leaped out.
"Gentlemen," he said, "this buffoon, this play-actor, has amused himself at my expense. Take him out and have him flogged, and thrown into prison."
Before the surprised soldiers could so much as take a step Paolo had drawn his sword, the hilt seeming to fly to his hand, the blade uttering a s-s-ss-ing purr as of satisfaction. D'Enghien found the point of Paolo's blade at his throat. "If these men move, if you stir a hand," said the adventurer, coolly, "I thrust." The keen point was already the fountain-head of a tiny stream of blood trickling down D'Enghien's throat.
The young prince quailed before the threatening death. "Well," he gasped.
"I trusted to your honor for a safe conduct," said Paolo, bitingly.
"I pledged to Napoleon, not to a——"
"Silence," said Paolo, and then—"Renew to me the pledge of safety."
"I give it," said D'Enghien, faintly.
"A prince's word is taken."
"I say swear."
"I swear that you will not be molested."
Paolo sheathed his sword. "I postpone your death," he said, darkly, and, turning contemptuously, strode out to his horse. Soon the sound of galloping died away in the blackness.
Some three weeks later the unfortunate Prince d'Enghien was in the castle of Strasburg, and his fate was being decided—not by Napoleon, but by Paolo and Talleyrand.
"If he sees Napoleon, Citizen Minister, you may say good-bye to your head," said Paolo, ending his argument thus significantly.
"But if I am suspected the Bourbons will never forgive me."
"My dear sir, they will forgive anyone who will help them back to their domains. But why should you be suspected? On Napoleon's hands be the blood."
Talleyrand, affrighted at the idea urged by Paolo, that d'Enghien's earnest request for an interview with the First Consul was made with the intention of betraying the intrigues that, as Foreign Minister, he had been carrying on with the Bourbons, consented to urge on Napoleon the necessity of severity.
"If you cannot," concluded Paolo, "induce a death sentence to be carried out, you, at any rate, can have one passed. Then an accident may happen."
The "accident" so carefully planned did happen. The warrant of Napoleon to reprieve d'Enghien was frustrated of effect by Paolo. The tragic fate of d'Enghien is a matter of history. It forms the foulest blot on the memory of the great Napoleon.
Marie de Montpessier was of the heroic type, which the memory of Joan of Arc so often creates in the women of France in the time of their country's need. During the horrors of the Terror she had lost father and mother; but for the address of her humble friend, Elise Ismeney, she would have lost life also. The character of the two women, who played so important a part in the secret history of Napoleon's Court, was never better contrasted than on that awful day when, as girls, grim death sneered in their faces. Marie was for confronting the bloodthirsty mob of Marseilles that raged through the village of Dsier, taunting them with the massacre of her parents, flinging her girlish passion to add to the flames of their madness, and dying like the daughter of a noble. Elise, pliant, scheming, resourceful, forced down with quiet, sensible stubbornness this heroic folly; she suggested and planned a successful flight. The two girls, the daughter of the marquis and of the notary, found at Toulouse a haven from the storms of the revolution. With the consulate of Napoleon, Marie secured—again more through the intercession of her friend than from any representations of her own—a return of some of the family fortune. Living afterwards with an aged aunt, at Paris, she became a familiar figure at all the salons of the Foubourg St. Germain. For Elise she retained a deep affection, though the lives of the two women soon took widely different courses. Marie had to the eyes of the flesh, but small claim to beauty. Her face was almost angular, her chin slightly harsh, her nose more firm than beautiful. But when her soul shone from out her eyes, Marie was a perfect type of divine, spiritual loveliness. The heroic woman who had dominated Marie's thoughts seemed also to have shaped after her own pattern the girl's face. In the last of the Montpessiers there lived again Joan of Arc.
Had the revolution not revivified and recreated France, had the ceremonial mediocrity of the old regime lasted, Marie de Montpessier would have probably wrapped up her enthusiasm in religion and found in a convent the solace of spiritual love. As it was, she became an ardent worshipper at the shrine of Napoleon. The most brilliant German of the day thus described the Man of Destiny:—
"The Emperor, with his retinue, rode directly down the avenue. The trembling trees bowed towards him as he advanced, the sunbeams quivered, frightened, yet curious, through the green leaves, and in the blue heaven above there swam visibly a golden star. The Emperor wore his invisible green uniform and the little world-renowned hat. He rode a white steed, which stepped with such calm pride, so confidently, so nobly—had I then been Crown Prince of Prussia I would have envied that steed. Carelessly, almost lazily, sat the Emperor, holding his rein with one hand, and with the other good-naturedly patting the horse's neck. It was a sunny, marble hand, a mighty hand—one of those two hands which bound fast the many-headed monster of anarchy and ordered the war of races—and it good-naturedly patted the horse's neck. Even the face had that hue which we find in the marble of Greek and Roman busts; the traits were as nobly cut as in the antique, and on that face was written—'Thou shalt have no gods before me.' A smile, which warmed and soothed every heart, flitted over the lips—and yet all knew that those lips needed but to whistle—and Prussia existed no longer. And those lips smiled, and the eye smiled too. It was an eye clear as heaven; it could read the Hearts of men, it saw at a glance all the things of this world, while we others see them only one by one and by their colored shadows. The brow was not so clear, the phantoms of future battles were nestling there. There was a quiver which swept over that brow, and there were the creative thoughts, wherewith the spirit of the Emperor strode invisibly over the world—and I believe that every one of those thoughts would have given to a German author full material wherewith to write all the days of his life."
Such was the impression which Napoleon made upon a German, a racial foe. Was it then to be wondered at that Marie, the Frenchwoman, should bow her heart in adoration to him. To her Napoleon, the re-creator of France, the knight who had slain the dragon of Anarchy, who was a God-like hero, worthy of the homage of bended knee. A pure, angelic passion for the man, whom she had scarcely seen a half-dozen times, to whom she had never spoken, filled her soul. In her dearest dreams she was Iphigenia at Aulus; Napoleon was Agamemnon, and she gave her blood, oh, so blissfully, to propitiate the Fates on his behalf. At mass she excused herself to God for thinking thus of Napoleon by reminding the Almighty that her hero was the vice regent of Heaven, the prophet of God.
At that first great solemn mass in Notre Dame, which marked the reconciliation of Napoleon with the Pope and of France with Rome, while the soldiers of Egypt (who had seen Napoleon just as reverent in a Mohammedan mosque) smiled derisively, while Augereau fretted and fumed, Marie de Montpessier, her soul filled with an ineffable sweetness, bent low in adoration, her thoughts centred on God—and God's great instrument on earth. What was before a passion for Napoleon became in Marie's mind, after the concordat between him and the Pope, a delirium. She obtained from that solemn reconciliation of the State and the Roman Church a vindication of her faith that Bonaparte was blessed of heaven. In future she could listen with more patience to the sneers of the salons; the faith in her had been justified.
As the triumphant note of the great paean swelled out—
Gloria in excelsis, Deo, et in terra pax hominibus, she soared in ecstasy. The iteration by the choir of the word "pax" did not suggest to her a mock at the Greatest Bravo of History. While joining in this prayer for peace on earth to men of goodwill she was picturing her hero leading a modern crusade against the Saracens, and giving to England first liberty and then the greater blessing of the mass.
That night, unable longer to keep within her breast the surging mood of her emotions, Marie wrote to Napoleon:—
General—To you as the king of men, the hero of France, there must come a surfeit of flattery. My homage will, perhaps, weary you. Yet I cannot withhold it, and beg that you will deem it sincere. Oh, sir, I love, honor, and respect you for your greatness, and yet more for your goodness. You have covered France with glory, given her peace, and brought her back to God. It will, sir, be a solace to you to know that the women of France count you the dearest on earth. With all respect, I am your devoted servant,
MARIE DE MONTPESSIER.
This letter was read by Bourrienne and passed on with a meaning smile to the First Consul. He glanced hurriedly down until he came to the signature.
"Poor little girl," he muttered. "Answer this kindly, Bourrienne. But I will not see her. The moth must be kept away from the candle."
Bourrienne was subsequently indiscreet enough to whisper about the Court of the romantic passion of the daughter of the dead marquis for the Republican Consul. In time the tale reached Paolo's ears, and he was quick to perceive that some advantage might be gained from an intimacy with Marie de Montpessier. With consummate impudence, he, therefore, arranged several secret meetings with the young girl, he personating Napoleon.
From these brief interviews, of a few minutes at the utmost, Marie de Montpessier came always away troubled in mind. At first she was overwhelmed with joy at the idea of the hero of France condescending to speak to her in private. But subsequently her woman's instinct forced upon her an appreciation of the fact that the Napoleon of reality was far different to the Napoleon of her thoughts. Indeed, on one occasion she had been rudely shocked at what seemed to her to be an attempt at familiarity on the part of the Consul. But she was still reluctant to abandon her illusions.
A fortnight before the erstwhile sub-lieutenant of artillery was to be crowned as Emperor of the French, Marie learned from a whisper passed in an ultra Bourbon salon that there was brewing a terrible plot among the Jacobins against Napoleon, the idea being to attack him in the Cathedral of Notre Dame by means of an infernal machine just as he grasped for the crown, which had been for so long the goal of his ambition. The Jacobins, who planned the devilish outrage, had in their blind rage applied for help to the Chouans, the extremists of the Royalist party, for aid. These latter would take no active share in the attempt, but seemed to have, to a degree, favored it with their connivance and with the money of the Faubourg St. Germain. At any rate, in one or two salons the "coming blow" was lively discussed, and the young worshipper at Napoleon's shrine learned, through overhearing a confidential whisper, that her idol was in grave danger.
That evening, as Marie de Montpessier was thinking of how best she could warn the Emperor, she received an announcement that he would visit her within an hour in the garden of her house, which, built on a hill, overlooked the Place La Muette. This garden had been the scene of their past meetings. She awaited his coming, the while gazing over the terrace wall into the street a few feet below. When Paolo approached, in his masquerading costume, the girl rushed to meet him, a high excitement giving color to her face, her eyes brilliant, her arms stretched out as if she would take her Emperor to her bosom.
Paolo, whose thoughts as he came had reproached him for having been too coy with the young enthusiast, accepted at once what he looked upon as a loving invitation, and Marie found herself grasped in his arms—his hot breath against her lips.
Outraged modesty gave her a moment of superhuman strength. Wrenching herself free, she sent Paolo staggering back, and confronted him scornfully.
"Sire, you insult me. You mistake me."
Then her strength faded. She buried her streaming eyes in her robe and sank sobbing on to a bench.
Paolo was silent, stupefied. For fully a minute neither spoke.
Suddenly from the street below came the clink of spurs and the huzzas of the mob, "Vive l'Empereur," "Vive Napoleon."
The girl rose to her feet and looked down. There, passing along the street, in the Imperial carriage, his features as those of a Caesar, sharply outlined against the light, was the true Napoleon. Paolo also saw and his address for once failed him; he turned red and his eyes fell.
"Wretch," cried Marie de Montpessier. "How dare you carry on this masquerade? You are not Napoleon."
"I am Napoleon's friend. He it was sent me to you."
The girl turned to enter the house, her bearing that of a scornful queen, and Paolo retired, shamefaced.
That night was a troubled one to Marie. She did not attempt to woo slumber, dismissing the maid who came to disrobe her with a weary gesture. Then she sat at a window, leaning down on the sill and looking over Paris in its sleep. The bells chimed hour after hour; the rattle of the carriages from the theatres died away, and still she sat and brooded. So this was the man Napoleon was in private—a boor, a creature of unimaginable baseness. Made aware of the pure devotion of a maid, he sends a substitute, a creature, a coarse valet, to personate him, to attempt to carry on an intrigue with her. Well, so much the worse for him. She could save him, and would not. Her love was shattered, her devotion slain. From such a monster of wickedness France must, in the end, reap evil. But France! Did not France need Napoleon? Enemies were even now knocking at the gates of the Rhine. This base man was a magnificent soldier. For France's sake she must save him.
That was the conclusion of her thoughts. For France's sake she would warn the Emperor.
The next evening, having slipped out with her maid, Marie de Montpessier made her way to the Tuileries. The time for the reception of the public was over, she was told. She must call on the morrow at the palace. The Emperor was engaged with Cambacérès.
"Can I see, then, Count Phillippe de Ségur?" asked Marie. That officer was called and to him she gave her name and declared, "I must see the Emperor at once, and privately."
"Mademoiselle," said De Ségur gravely, "I deeply regret to hear you, and regret, too, that you should wish to make me the bearer of your message. Your good father was my father's friend. What would he——"
The captain's meaning was unmistakable, Marie flushed and then drew herself up haughtily. "France," she exclaimed, "has indeed changed if a Ségur can thus insult a De Montpessier in the Tuileries."
Ségur in turn was confused.
"My mission to the Emperor is to save him and France," interrupted the young woman eagerly. "I must see him."
Ségur seemed to be convinced.
"Mademoiselle de Montpessier," he said, bowing low, "you will accept my most humble apologies. I will bear your message to the Emperor."
Napoleon was in his cabinet, dictating to his secretaries, when Ségur, having received permission to enter, whispered in his ear.
The marvellous memory of the Emperor at once recalled the name.
"A queer message for you, Ségur, to bring," he said roughly.
"Pardon, sire. It is not as you think. The lady has business of State. She says she wishes to save your life."
Chancing to be in a complaisant mood, the Emperor nodded, "You may show her to the Yellow Room. I will see her."
As Marie de Montpessier met the glance of the Emperor, which seemed scornful and pitying, she was almost choked with emotion. Falling on one knee, she presented a paper.
"This, sire," she said, "is from a woman you have insulted, but who loves France."
"What? A petition?" Napoleon glanced quickly over the paper and his face changed.
"Mademoiselle, you have gone to much trouble to bring this to me, and it is indeed important." He stretched out his hand to the girl, who made no movement to take it, but remained kneeling.
Napoleon looked at her keenly. "You said a woman I have insulted. What mean you?"
"Sire, filled with gratitude and respect towards the saviour of France, I wrote to you. Your secretary answered kindly. Then you sent one of your creatures to personate yourself to me, and he but last night insulted me."
"What? To personate me?"
"Yes, sire, a man wonderfully like your Majesty."
"H'm. And how did you find the deception out?"
"Last night, while he was with me you passed in the street."
"He was with you, mademoiselle?"
"Sire. I thought he was my Emperor and the noblest of men."
"Before I detected him as an impostor he endeavored, to take me in his arms. I struck him."
Napoleon looked amused. "You struck your Emperor, as you thought?"
"I loved and venerated the hero of France. I could not love him when he debased himself. I defended myself from the man. The Emperor I once loved could not have insulted me."
"You once loved?"
"Yes, sire, once; but you sent that man to shame me."
Napoleon approached and lifted the kneeling woman up as a father would a child. "Brave girl; noble girl," he said with deep feeling. "Your Emperor was not so base. I did not send to you that impudent impostor, and he shall be punished."
Tremulous with joy, Marie stood, her form gracefully drooping, as some lily bowing to the sun. Napoleon walked up and down the room, meditating over this unmasking of Paolo. He must now watch the varlet. As for the plot to destroy him at his coronation, he had known of that for a fortnight. It was a clumsy affair and would be easily frustrated. But, he determined, he would not lessen the joy of Marie de Montpessier by telling her of that. The other information that she had given him was of supreme importance. He resolved that he would allow this fair flower of France to believe that she had shielded her idol from death.
At last he crossed to where the girl stood, tears trickling in sweet streams down her cheeks. The sight of her pleased and touched him. Taking one of her hands with the air of a devout Catholic before the Madonna, the Emperor bent one knee and softly kissed the girl's trembling fingers. Then rising and detaching from his own coat the Cross of the Legion of Honor, he pinned it to her breast, his hand, as gentle as a woman's, as respectful as a priest's touching the holy altar.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "you have saved France and Napoleon. I can give you no reward that will be fit guerdon. May God shower His choicest gifts upon you."
When the girl had departed Napoleon sat at a little table with his face buried in his hands. Soon there was a light step in the room. It had been whispered to Josephine that her husband was closeted with a fair visitor, and, full of jealous alarm, the languorous Creole had come to see for herself. Finding the Emperor alone she bent down and kissed one of the hands which concealed his face.
Napoleon started up as though bitten. He saw Josephine and cried roughly, "Paugh! No philandering." Then, seeing her lips quiver, he said, more gently, "Josephine. I am troubled with affairs of State. I wish to be alone."
The Empress withdrew without having spoken a word, and Napoleon, once more alone, resumed his reverie, thinking softly for long of the pure devotion of this noble girl. Almost mechanically, at last, he slipped on to his knees and prayed.
"Oh, God of battles," he cried, "I thank Thee. My destiny must be from heaven when it attracts such noble souls."
The momentary softness vanished and Napoleon arose, once again himself.
"Bourrienne," he shouted, in tones of anger. "Bourrienne, I want you. Where the devil are you?"
Napoleon was obviously in a bad humor as he strode up and down the long reception-room of the palace of the ancient Polish Kings at Warsaw. A few days before he had injured his hand through the clumsiness of a servant, and it was to the existence of the disfiguring scar on the great finger of his left hand that the courtiers attributed their master's irritation. Napoleon was almost childishly vain of his hands and feet, which were small and delicately shaped. Besides he was always intensely sensitive to any personal injury. Poor Constant, the Emperor's valet, for quite a week had found his master particularly trying, but was ready enough to believe with the other sapient observers of the Court, that the ruling mind of the world had been plunged in gloom for three days on account of an insignificant scratch. Talking to his wife, the faithful servant had gravely discussed this serious matter of State, pointing out that a permanent, though slight, scar might result from the wound, and that, therefore, it was no wonder that the Emperor was angry.
But Constant's wife could not imagine that a scratch would disturb an Emperor's peace of mind. "Nonsense, Henri," she said to Constant. "From always titivating about the Emperor's clothes you have got to believe that he thinks of nothing but his personal appearance. Napoleon, take my word for it, is in love."
"My good woman," answered Constant, grandiosely, "you must, of course, know better than I do, who am always with his Majesty. But I tell you, the Emperor thinks more of his finger than of all this rubbishing love in the world, and quite right, too, in my opinion."
"A nice opinion you have of women."
"The Emperor is right. I recollect hearing him, before a whole crowd of us, give Madame de Stael a fine twist. She came ogling up to him. 'Who do you think is the Greatest woman in France?' said she. 'The one that is mother of the most sons,' said the Emperor dourly. And was she not savage."
Madame Constant, being a wise wife, knew that a valet or a barber must have the last word, even of a woman, and said nothing further. But her intuition was correct.
The Emperor himself, however, seemed desirous of giving to the public some reason other than the true one for the gloom which oppressed him. The scratch upon his hand was trivial, but he was always harping upon it, as if to him it were more important than the fate of the campaign. Indeed, one day he allowed its existence to be apparently responsible for a remarkable outburst of rage.
After his solemn coronation at the hands of the Pope, Napoleon had seen a great deal of Marie de Montpessier. He had insisted upon anointing her as a reader at the court, and in public and private treated her with august consideration. Perhaps such had been his design; perhaps it was simply the irony of fate; but the kindness of the Emperor did not tend to make Marie happy. It was universally believed that she was the mistress of Napoleon, and her feelings were almost daily outraged by the cruel rumors and the insulting requests which reached her ears. She would have fled from the court, to seek happiness again in obscurity, if she had been allowed to follow her first impulse. But the Emperor knew well how to chain her to his side. He magnified inordinately the services she had rendered to France, and persuaded her that she was still necessary for his safety. Her feminine heart, eagerly welcoming such subtle flattery, yearning fondly after Napoleon, was easily deceived, and she came to look upon herself as a humble wall guarding the Capitol of France. One benefit she certainly conferred upon Napoleon—persistently she combated the influence of Paolo upon his mind. With his scoundrelly kinsman the Emperor had always been unwontedly gentle. After learning of the impudent imposture by which Paolo had sought to deceive Mdlle. de Montpessier, he still allowed the Double the free run of the court, and still viewed him with affection. Napoleon's mind was not at fault; he recognised Paolo's explanations to be lies; but his heart persuaded him against his better judgment when his half-brother was in question. With the court of the Emperor, when the war with Russia broke out, of course Marie de Montpessier came to Warsaw, and equally of course the Double was with the entourage.
On the day which has been noted as marking the utmost breach of decorum of which Napoleon was ever guilty, he was talking with Marshal Ney, the ladies of the Court being around, and had just made a peevish allusion to his wounded hand when Paolo joined the circle.
"Hullo," called out Ney with a laugh, as the Double, wearing as was his wont in public moustaches and imperial, came in sight, "Colonel Gracci is also wounded."
Napoleon frowned at the Marshal's gross breach of Court etiquette, and for a moment there was a troubled silence, during which all eyes were turned on Gracci. Truly enough, the great finger of his left hand was scarred, just as was the Emperor's. Paolo seemed gravely troubled at exciting the amount of public attention. When he entered the palace his hands had been gloved, but he had thoughtlessly removed the gauntlets to perform some trifling service for Elise Ismeney, whom he had encountered in an ante-room. He tried to hide the injured hand behind his back. But Napoleon had seen the scratch, and it created a heavy suspicion in his mind. Was Paolo mocking him, or did he contemplate some further imposture or impersonation? The Emperor's face darkened like a lake crossed by a green-black thunder cloud. Pushing aside a lady of the Court, almost hurling her to the ground in his angry hurry, Napoleon darted forward and grasped Paolo by the shoulder. His eyes glinted evilly. His teeth showed between the hard-drawn lips. On his chin there seemed to have darted out in a moment a thousand black bristles.
For quite two minutes he held Paolo's shoulder in a vicious grip, speaking not a word, his breath coming in quick gasps, his fingers working convulsively, as though they would tear into the flesh of his victim. The Court was in consternation. Dr. Corvisart made a couple of steps forward, as if to interfere, and then paused irresolutely.
Marie de Montpessier at last went up to the Emperor and placed a hand upon his shoulder. "Sire," she said, looking with her cool grey eyes into his face, which was convulsed, as though he were possessed by a demon. A fresh rage seemed to leap into his eyes, and for a moment the girl thought she would be killed on the spot. Then the Emperor recovered himself. Slowly his face quietened down to a stern calm. He released his grip on Paolo.
"Withdraw, all of you," he said curtly. The courtiers retired slowly. As Marie de Montpessier passed him the Emperor put his hand on her arm. "You stay," he muttered, and, motioning her to follow him, he turned into a small private room attached to the grand salon.
"Well?" said Napoleon, rather wearily, when they were alone.
Marie answered nothing; but her troubled face, bent upon the ground, reminded the Emperor of that night in the Tuileries when she stood before him and said, "From a woman whom you have insulted." His gaze softened; the austere beauty of his features was graced for a moment by an expression of tender longing.
"Marie," he pleaded, with arms outstretched, his voice lingering upon and lengthening out the sweet syllables of her name—"Marie."
The woman did not make a movement. Her eyes filled with tears, her mouth quivered; but she stood firm, making no sign of approaching the seated Emperor.
Bonaparte became brusque again. "I thank thee, Mdlle.," he said, somewhat stiffly, "for saving the life of that varlet, Paolo. I would have choked him on the spot, if you had not interfered."
"The reason of your anger, sire?"
"Did you not see? The dog had bruised his hand in imitation of mine. I fear he contemplates some mischievous trick, or else he wishes to mock me. But I am glad I hurt him now. The fellow, after all, has not much harm in him; vanity and impudence—those are his failings."
"I dislike and distrust you," said Marie.
"Naturally," replied Napoleon, grimly. Then he paused awkwardly, waiting for the woman to speak. He waited in vain. At last he broke the silence again.
"I wished—to see you," he said, "about—that letter."
Marie, as though she had suddenly determined upon her course of action, here broke in upon the Emperor's hesitating words. She threw herself on her knees before him, and there burst upon the monarch of Europe a passionate storm of pleading, interspersed here and there with upbraiding.
"Sire," the woman cried, "do not do this wrong. Spare the good and the innocent. Recall your name, your high mission. Think of France, of your Empress, of the women whose prayers follow your footsteps. I wrote to you, perhaps, over boldly; but, sire, forgive that. You contemplate a base, wicked action. You would tear a virtuous, noble, woman from the arms of her husband——"
"Madame Wolewska loves me," said Napoleon, sullenly.
"Love," the woman's voice vibrated with scorn. "Love! Is that what is called love? She is to forsake religion, virtue, her husband, her honor, to serve your passing caprice, to persuade you to something against your better judgment? You hope to make her false to her husband; she to make you false to France. If I loved in that fashion——"
The Emperor seized roughly the arm of the young Frenchwoman.
"If you loved," he said, bitterly; "if you loved. Could you love? Do you call it love, the feeling of your cold, icy heart? Love? You love yourself, and yourself alone. Your dignity, your ideas of virtue, your notions of religion! Love! You have no love, Marie, but pride alone. You are prouder than your Emperor."
Marie de Montpessier's eyes were filled with tears. "My God!" she cried. "How you mistake me sire—my Emperor, my hero. Let me prove to you my adoration. Let me die for you."
Sobbing she flung herself before Napoleon, embracing his feet.
The Emperor's face softened and lightened up with a triumphant smile. It was the expression which he wore when Rivoli was won; at the rout of the Egyptians at Aboukir; that time when the mob of Paris, fleeing before his "whiff of grape shot," confessed him their master, and proclaimed him sovereign of France.
"No, Marie," he said, his voice now swelling triumphantly, now sinking to a soft decadence eloquent of affection. "Do not die for your Emperor; live for him. Listen! Very shortly the Empress Josephine must descend the throne of France. I am resolved upon divorcing her, and France demands it, for I must have a son to complete my work. I ask you to come then and share my throne; to be my wife and the mistress of Europe. Marie, I love you; love you! There is no other woman in the world whom I can venerate as I do you. Come to my home. Assist me to further extend the glories of France. Marie, I beg of you on my knees to be my Empress. You upbraid me for my wooing of the gentle Wolewska. Know that I have been pushed into these mad intrigues for desire of you, in despair at your coldness. Marie, I offer you my throne. I love you!"
Was ever woman wooed so masterfully? To Marie de Montpessier was offered at once the greatest throne in the world, and the love of the man she adored next to her God. Before her heaven came down on to earth. She saw herself walking through scenes of regal happiness with the idol of her heart, sharing Napoleon's triumphs, and softening their asperities to the vanquished; tempering the roughness of the great soldier; aiding him to yet further aggrandise France—beautiful, noble France. Then, unconsciously blushing, she sank for a moment into a delicious reverie, thinking of her son, who would be an emperor, too. There passed through her mind the thoughts of a great royal line of kings, stretching from Napoleon and herself down to the rosy days of a millenium. She was overwhelmed with joy, and a sweet lassitude urged her to sink back into Napoleon's arms, and dream there of the transcending glories of the future, with his warm breath, which came now on her face from eagerly-parted lips, soothing her into slumber. Then a sudden thought struck an agonising thrust at her very heart.
"Josephine," she gasped. "She is your wife—she loves you."
"She is my wife still," said Napoleon eagerly, "though God knows if I had been just to myself she would not be so. Consent, and in three months she will be divorced. As for love, poor Josephine loves nothing but dress. A new diamond parure, and she will forget Napoleon."
The Emperor spoke confidently and gleefully. For months he had been eaten up by love for Marie de Montpessier. To have have made her his mistress he would have sacrificed all his treasures and one of his kingdoms, but he had never dared to confront her noble purity with such a proposal. At length he had persuaded himself to propose to her in honorable suit, and now, having taken the step, he was filled with joy.
"I shall build you," he went on, half to himself, "a new palace. It will be of the finest white marble, and your rooms shall be inlaid with silver, carved into pure lines by the greatest masters of the world. You will have a court of your own, to which no one will have access who is not good and noble. The sly rascals like Talleyrand you will not have to meet except on State occasions. The foxes will be kept out of the vineyard. And our son, the second Emperor of the line! We will have a little cottage somewhere in the heart of Ardenne, where we will take him now and again, and we shall live for a day or so all to ourselves, Jacques Bonhomme and his wife. You shall boil the kettle and I shall rock the cradle. Ah, Marie, Marie, how happy we shall be."
Marie listened in cold despair. Every word uttered by the Emperor was as a buffet in her face. At last, as he approached her to take her arm, she broke in——
"It cannot be!"
"How now? What? It—what cannot be?"
"I cannot marry you."
"I cannot marry you. Josephine is your wife; bound to you by the ties of Holy Church. You cannot put her away without sin. And I cannot raise myself by abasing another."
Napoleon was frozen into silence. If his Guards had refused to charge when he himself had given the signal, he could not have been more astounded. The very greatness and suddeness of the blow prevented him from realising at once its full import. It was not until many days after that he quite understood that a penniless girl, from an absurd whim of conscience, had refused the hand of an Emperor in marriage—an Emperor whom she ardently loved.
Marie continued, "Sire, believe me, I recognise the honor that you do me. I am bewildered at your goodness. But, sire, I cannot do wrong, even for your sake. You would not respect me longer if I did. The Empress is your wife. Be true to her, and be satisfied with the knowledge that my heart is entirely yours, that it bows in adoration before your greatness, and that my prayers follow your eagles wherever they fly to do your bidding. A humble woman, sire, may benefit you more as your servant than as your wife."
Napoleon, who was red and flustered, broke in upon the girl with upbraidings. "Well," he said, "go your own way. The very devil's pride is in you. What selfish wretches you good people are. The salvation of your own little souls, that is the one end of your existence. Here you can help to save a world, and you will not. Bah! you make me sick."
As the Emperor went on muttering Marie stepped up to him, and kissed his hot and fevered forehead. Napoleon felt as though a lofty snow-capped mountain had bowed and touched him.
"Good-bye, sire," said Marie; "it will be, perhaps, good-bye for ever. But I will watch you as a child the stars, and my life will be always yours."
"Good-bye, Marie," Napoleon muttered in a broken voice. "Good-bye, and God bless you. Perhaps you are right."
Paolo Gracci paced his apartment in the Grand Palace of Warsaw in angry mood, silent and absorbed in his own reflections. Mdlle. Ismeney was seated on a lounge near him, or rather reclining; and tears were streaming from her beautiful eyes. The causes of her emotion and Paolo's anger were identical. That morning the Emperor had ordered the French ladies who accompanied his court to return without any exception to Paris; and, as was his custom, had assigned no reason for his command.
"Curse him; he as as capricious as a woman," cried the Corsican at last; "what possible reason could he have for destroying our happiness? I assure you, Elise, I waited upon and begged him to allow you to remain, to make one single exception in our favor, but he curtly refused. I cannot understand him."
"What shall I do without you?" sobbed Elise.
"I shall be revenged for this," said Paolo grimly. "Ah, if I only could guess his motive. Why should he require all the women of the court to return? Why does he want to get rid of the women?"
Mdlle. Elise suddenly started up. "Perhaps he is engaged upon some intrigue which he wishes to keep from Josephine's ears."
"Nonsense; he never attempts to conceal his intrigues from Josephine."
"From Marie de Montpessier, then?"
"Aha! Now we are nearer the mark. Have you discovered yet if she is in Warsaw?"
"Yes, she is. I saw her myself this morning; she is almost as distracted as I at being compelled to return to Paris, although the Emperor has restored both her estates and her title by a special edict. She is now the Countess de Montpessier."
"Then she is still wrapt up in her god, Napoleon?"
"She adores him more than ever, and is miserable when at a distance from her idol, though she pretends that her love is entirely spiritual. She maddens me with her affectation of virtue. Good heavens! she actually expects me to believe that she is not Napoleon's mistress."
"Softly, Elise. I am inclined to believe her. Napoleon, if I am not mistaken, both loves and respects her. I cannot fathom his infatuation for that woman; he always speaks of her with the greatest reverence."
"Bah! reverence. She is not even pretty."
"Nevertheless, she has a great influence over him, and it is owing to that that Napoleon has treated me so coldly of late. You must know, my dear, that this new-made countess detests me like poison."
"I have never been able to find out the reason of her hatred for you."
Paolo coughed and looked away. "Who can account for a woman's loves or hates?" he asked nervously.
Mdlle. Ismeney walked up and down the room in renewed agitation. "I shall become insane if I do not discover the reason of this extraordinary command of Napoleon," she cried.
Paolo suddenly sprang up from the chair upon which he had seated himself. "Ha! I have it,"' he cried. "Fool that I was not to think of it before. The woman of Bronia!"
Elise looked at him questioningly. "Who is she?"
"You remember the beautiful woman I told you of who met Napoleon's carriage at Bronia as we were proceeding from Pulstuck to Warsaw. Napoleon was much taken by her then and gave her his bouquet of flowers, and she promised to meet him here at Warsaw."
"Yes; but you told me that since then no one had been able to discover a trace of her."
"Quite right; but last night at the ball Prince Poniatowski gave at his palace she reappeared in the person of Madame Walewka, and the Emperor fell violently in love with her. According to Duroc, he asked her to dance, and when she refused, owing to her inability, Napoleon would not dance with any other woman the entire evening and had eyes for no one but her."
"Is she, then, so beautiful?"
"Beside you, Elise, she is a doll; but she is petite and pretty, and is accounted the beauty of Poland."
"So because Napoleon wishes to carry on an intrigue with her, I am to be banished from the court?"
"You and the other French woman. Do not forget that the edict applies also to the Countess de Montpessier."
"I forget nothing. I loathe Napoleon more than ever."
"My dear girl, you can easily have your revenge. Napoleon has most evidently issued this edict for the express purpose of concealing his infatuation for the beautiful Pole from Marie de Montpessier, before whom he wishes to still appear a god. All you have to do is to whisper in her ears this little scandal, and I promise to keep you informed of every detail, as he is sure to seek my assistance in carrying on his intrigue."
"Ah, Paolo, but must I leave you?"
"Dearest, that is inevitable; but soon I shall rejoin you in Paris. We shall not stay here always."
"Paolo, I wish to whisper something to you." The Corsican took Elise affectionately in his arms. "When is our great day coming?" whispered Elise. "Tell me how soon I can hope to call my love—my Emperor?"
Paolo frowned darkly. "The time is nearly ripe," he answered grimly. "Listen. You know it is Napoleon's practice to travel quickly and almost unattended. When he returns to Paris from Poland he is almost certain to follow his usual custom, and he will probably arrive in France quite unexpectedly. It must be then. Fouché I leave to you. He dare not be unfaithful to us. Talleyrand must know nothing until afterwards, for neither God nor the devil can depend upon Talleyrand. I shall contrive to kill—you know whom—myself; perhaps strangle him in the carriage as we are riding together, and carry the whole thing by a 'coup de main.' Such daring must succeed, for I have infinite faith in myself. I cannot fail. Besides, I dare not leave it much longer, for daily his suspicions of me grow, owing to that cursed girl Montpessier. Yes, my dear Elise, it must be soon, or never."
"Oh, my God! How I shall pray for you to succeed."
"God will answer your prayers, for Napoleon is at heart an infidel."
"How shall I know? I shall be racked with suspense until I hear from you."
"You will receive a letter in our cypher every time a courier leaves here from France. You must carry my messages verbally to Fouché, for deeply as he is in my power, yet I dare not trust him too fully."
"You are right; he shall be my care."
"Do not forget the Montpessier; paint Napoleon black as ink to her. Ah! how I would like to strangle that woman."
"Leave her to me; I shall wring her heart with all the torments of jealousy."
"Beautiful Elise, how sympathetic you are! How clever you are! And how I adore you! It tortures me to bid you farewell."
"Paolo!" With a wild cry Elise threw herself into the Corsican's arms in an agony of grief, and, a few moments later, was being rapidly driven under escort with numbers of other ladies on the road to Paris.
Paolo Gracci, throughout the stay of the Imperial Court at Warsaw, occupied himself in slavishly attempting to reinstate himself in his half-brother's confidence; and Napoleon, removed from the influence of the Countess de Montpessier, who always profoundly distrusted the adventurer, commenced almost to lay aside his suspicions as being groundless and to again regard his brother in the light of affection. There were other influences at work to account for this seemingly careless resumption of the easy-going familiarity which had distinguished the relationship of the brothers for so long. Napoleon's advances had been rejected by Marie de Montpessier, even, although he had offered her the greatest gift in his power to bestow upon a woman—his hand on marriage. And even while admiring and reverencing before all others this woman, who could refuse to ennoble herself by another's abasement, he nevertheless denounced her determination as selfish and obstinate. The sense of honor which forbade Marie to accept the dignities he would have conferred on her irritated him beyond expression, more especially because, although he could understand, he could in no wise appreciate it. His own philosophy was absolutely contained in the maxim—"The end justifies the means." Smarting under the pain of her refusal, he had turned for solace to the excitement offered in disentangling the affairs of Poland.
The noble Poles, who in the ardor of their patriotism had determined to stop at nothing, observing his sudden complaisance, immediately gave a series of the most splendid balls and fetes in the Emperor's honor, and at all these functions the beautiful and virtuous, but unfortunate Madame Walewska, was invariably thrust upon his notice. Prince Poniatowski himself represented to Napoleon that this lady was expiring for love of him, and the lady was compelled to assume this appearance, not only by the threats of her husband, but also by the pleadings of the entire Polish nation, whose representatives had sent her a petition imploring her to sacrifice herself for the freedom of Poland. Madame Walewska, herself a patriot and devoted before all things to her country's interests, at last consented to the prayers of her people. She resigned herself to her fate, hoping that by the influence she would be able to exercise over the Emperor as his mistress she might decide the balance and induce him to give freedom and the blessings of peace to her suffering country. Napoleon, whose fancy had been captivated by her charms, for she was rightly accounted one of the most beautiful women in Europe, and whose ardor had been increased by her constant rejection to his advances and refusal of his presents (an attitude on the lady's part which he had been persuaded by Poniatowski into accrediting to her coquetry) was enraptured at her tardy surrender. He promised all that she asked, in the first exuberance of his passion, but presently discovered that he had been the unconscious means of ruining a woman whose virtue survived even her degradation and whose character was of the profoundest nobility. Shocked and distressed at the wrong he had been the cause of, and enraged at the trick of which he had been the victim, he was nevertheless deeply touched by Madame Walewska's heroic self-abnegation, and his passion was chastened into a deep affection for the lady, which lasted to the last hour of his life.
In his grief he had no one to confide in but his half-brother, and in spite of his grave doubts as to Paolo's fidelity and his now almost absolute knowledge of his brother's scheming character, he sought his sympathy and confided to him the bitter humiliation which he had suffered at the hands of the Poles. Never did Paolo show himself to better advantage. The indignation he assumed might have been genuine, so splendidly did he play his part; and he earned his brother's keenest gratitude by engaging Prince Poniatowski in a duel, in which he ran the prince through the body, almost causing his death. The part of the bravo suited him to perfection, but he eclipsed all his former achievements by the tenderness of his consolations and the wisdom of his councils to the Emperor in this trying time. Napoleon had promised Madame Walewska to free Poland. Paolo, speciously and with some truth, suggested that Poland was unfit for freedom. Her rulers were inadequate, her people violent and inflammatory, convulsed by party factions. He induced Napoleon by his arguments to delay the fulfilment of his promise, and thus ingeniously contrived that the intrigue should be continued; for Madame Walewska, having now surrendered herself, was more easily induced by the machinations and continued entreaties of the Polish nobles to often visit the Emperor, for the purpose of suing him to her wishes. Napoleon, worn out by her entreaties, but still too incensed against her people to comply, and so benefit a nation which he now regarded as vile and dishonorable to the last degree, at length determined to return, at least for a time, to Paris. He confided this resolution to Paolo, who warmly encouraged the plan. It was arranged that the Emperor would not take leave of Madame Walewska, but should leave Poland in his usual style, accompanied merely by his personal staff and escort. To Paolo was given the arrangement of the details, and the adventurer took care to provide all things in such a manner that he would have a fair chance of at length perpetrating his monstrous designs.
It was the Corsican's intention to finally carry things by a coup de main. Napoleon had asked Paolo to accompany him alone in his carriage instead of Duroc, who usually had the second seat, and thus everything seemed made easy for the ambitious scamp of Corsica. He intended to carry out the assassination thus. Some of the stages between Warsaw and the French border were long and tedious, and would necessitate travelling for half the night before a place would be reached in which the Emperor might sleep. On such an occasion Paolo determined that soon after nightfall, perhaps while the Emperor should be dozing, he would suddenly grasp his brother's throat with his strong hands and strangle him to death. Then he would change clothes with Napoleon's dead body and, the exchange effected, cry out for help, meanwhile burying his dagger in Napoleon's heart, and in a pretended struggle so mangling his brother's face as to render his features absolutely unrecognisable. The rest would depend upon his own skill, and assurance, and Paolo had sufficient confidence in himself to be quite satisfied of the future, provided that he could actually succeed in carrying out the assassination without accident.
An hour before the time fixed for his almost secret departure from Poland, Napoleon found himself unable to leave Madame Walewska without some word of farewell. He had promised Paolo that he would not visit her; he would at least send her a letter. Duroc was commissioned to deliver it, but on his way to the palace where Madame Walewska resided he was detained for some minutes by an acquaintance. At length he reached the palace, and as he ascended the steps he saw a man whom he took to be Paolo Gracci some distance before him. Suddenly this man turned round and glanced swiftly over his shoulder. It was Napoleon. Duroc, much surprised, hesitated what to do. Should he proceed to the execution of his message or return without delivering the letter? Clearly, the latter were the wiser course, as Napoleon, having evidently changed his mind and visited the lady himself, would not care to be disturbed. Duroc swung on his heel and returned to the Grand Palace, to meet at the head of the stairs Napoleon himself, surrounded by his staff. Duroc was overcome with astonishment.
"Did you deliver my letter?" asked the Emperor.
"Pardon, sire. I saw a man whom I took to be yourself entering the palace as I reached it, so I returned at once."
A lightning-like thought crossed the Emperor's mind. "This man was like me?" he demanded.
"Like enough to be your double."
"Diantre!" It was an ejaculation of most terrible passion, ungovernable rage. With a bound the Emperor parted his courtiers, hurried down the stairs, and sprang into his carriage, alone, leaving his staff gasping with astonishment behind him.
"Drive, Caesar, to Poniatowski's palace. Diable, whip up your horses; drive quickly!"
The horses broke into a gallop, and presently the carriage halted before the palace. Napoleon sprang up the marble steps with eager bounds, and, passing through the doorway, hurried to a certain chamber in a distant part of the palace. The servants recognised him and made no remark. They did not even follow him. He tried the door. It was locked. With a gesture of rage he threw himself against the frame and burst the catch asunder by the impact. Within the chamber, seated together on a lounge, were Madame Walewska and Paolo Gracci. Madame Walewska was weeping and Paolo was endeavoring to comfort her. He was dressed in his usual clothes, but his disguise of false moustaches and imperial was absent, and it was in the guise of the Emperor that he appeared. Never before, perhaps, had the resemblance between the two brothers appeared so striking as when they faced each other now.
"Cursed dog!" almost screamed Napoleon, "you shall suffer." Then, turning to Madame Walewska, who was gazing in faltering amazement from one to the other, "You, madame," he cried, "have been philandering with a rascal lackey."
Paolo, trembling and pale as death, rose to his feet. He expected that he was about to be arrested, that in a second soldiers would file into the room and seize him. It was with the shadow of death upon him that he drew his sword to resist the attack of the Emperor, who now launched himself forward with almost resistless fury. Twice it was only by a backward spring that Paolo saved his life from Napoleon's avenging sword. Twice again the Emperor's blade drank his blood, inflicting slight flesh wounds. Then Paolo's confidence returned, for, not withstanding the noise of the combat, and the fact of the open door, they fought on undisturbed. Wild hopes flitted through the Corsican's mind, hopes that seconds converted into certainties. Then an inspiration seized him, born of his diabolical genius. Napoleon had evidently followed him alone and unattended. Why not kill him now, and, if necessary, Walewska afterwards, change clothes with the Emperor's body, personate the Emperor, and explain to the world that he, Napoleon, had slain his brother, Paolo Gracci, and his unfaithful mistress, Walewska, whom he had found in his brother's arms?
With this inspiration his strength and skill, which had almost deserted him before Napoleon's terrible fury, returned, and with a sudden and violent assault he changed his play, and forced the Emperor to defend himself. Madame Walewska watched the struggle speechless, but with eyes on fire. She saw the change come over the Double. She noted a sudden weakness assail the Emperor, and when she beheld Napoleon's life in danger her heart at last spoke, and showed her convincingly what had not before been revealed to her—the fact that she really loved Napoleon, her Emperor, with a deep and abiding love. Besides, was it not necessary that his life should be preserved if her country would still hope for freedom? She ran swiftly to the end of the room, and took a pistol from a bundle of weapons hanging on the wall. When she returned it was to save her Emperor's life. Napoleon lay half stunned upon the floor, and the Double had his throat between his murderous hands, in the act of strangling him. The Corsican had not killed Napoleon by the sword, for he did not wish the dress which he intended to presently assume to be disfigured by blood stains. Madame Walewska threw herself with an inarticulate cry upon Paolo, and the adventurer glanced up to see the muzzle of a pistol pressed against his forehead, both the lady's frenzied hands grasping the butt, her trembling fingers on the trigger. Paolo dared not go further. Death mocked in his face, and under the menace of Madame Walewska's eyes he relaxed his grip upon the Emperors throat, and, falling back, retreated step by step towards the door.
Napoleon, half stunned and almost strangled, nevertheless, by a prodigious effort of will, raised himself to his elbow.
"Shoot him." He hissed the order at Walewska.
The lady prepared to obey and her finger pressed the trigger, but the expression of agony and terror which crossed the Corsican adventurer's face unnerved her. Her soft heart failed, and as Paolo sprang through the door and fled down the corridor she sank half fainting to the floor.
Had the adventurer returned at that moment the game would have been in his hands, for both his antagonists would have been at his mercy. As it was, he fled, the fear of death tugging at his heart strings, until he reached the portico of the palace, from which he beheld the Emperor's carriage waiting in the street below, surrounded by his staff. A daring idea occurred to Paolo, an idea which offered him his one hope of safety and escape. He seized a cloak, which by chance was cast upon a chair near him, and, enveloping himself in its folds, hastily descended the steps. Duroc himself opened the door of the carriage, while the staff saluted.
"Where to, sire?" asked the Marshal, marvelling at the pallor of his Emperor's face.
"To Paris," cried Paolo hoarsely.
"But, sire, at the Grand Palace——"
"But me no buts, marshal," shouted the Corsican, who was half mad with terror. "To Paris instantly, and at the gallop!"
Duroc gave the necessary orders, and the cortege set off immediately at a pace so rapid that Paolo's fears were for the nonce set at rest.
"Vive l'Empereur! Vive l'Empereur!"
This cry was raised in the early morning by the gamins of Paris as a carriage drawn by four swiftly-driven horses and attended by Marshal Duroc and an escort of Hussars entered the capital of France.
Hundreds of people, roused by the cheering, rushed to their doors and windows, and even into the streets, as the Imperial cortège passed, and soon the shout was caught up and repeated like an echo by thousands of voices, until it swelled into a wild paean of welcome to the darling of France, returned so unexpectedly to the hearts of his people. The carriage at length drew up before the Tuileries. Napoleon dismounted and entered the Imperial palace, walking between rows of hastily-summoned lacqueys, who bowed low before the great man as he passed. The Emperor found Josephine waiting for him in his chamber. He embraced her affectionately, but soon dismissed her, having, he explained, most pressing State business to attend to.
Then, in view of this declaration, the Emperor did a curious thing. He dispatched Roustan to the house of Elise Ismeney, requiring her immediate attendance upon him at the Tuileries. Another messenger he sent for Savary, the chief of his household and the head of the police spies.
Savary was the first to arrive, and he found Napoleon pacing restlessly up and down the lonely floor of the great Throne Room.
"How stands my treasury?" was the first question of the Emperor.
"Sire," stuttered Savary, disconcerted by the abruptness of a query which he had not anticipated; "it would be impossible at so short a notice to give you an estimate."
"How now," cried Napoleon, "you are the keeper of my vaults. My private treasure—how much still remains of it? Quick, answer me."
Savary considered. "In gold," he answered hesitatingly, "perhaps 50,000,000 livres. You must remember the vast sums you have given to France. Your jewels, however, remain intact."
"Good. Bring me at once the most valuable of my jewels. Choose only among the diamonds. I require to raise a large sum immediately for a matter of State. You understand. Go!"
Savary bowed and departed, and Napoleon resumed his restless pacing of the apartment. Presently Mdlle. Ismeney was announced. Napoleon, however, scarcely noticed her, for he had been seized by another idea. "Roustan," he said shortly, "Go bring Fouché to me. I require him urgently."
The soldier saluted and retired, leaving the Emperor alone with the lady, who stood meekly before him with downcast eyes.
"Well, Elise," muttered Napoleon in a strange voice.
Mdlle. Ismeney looked up quickly, and stared at the Emperor as it she could not believe her eyes. "My God!" she cried at last; "it is Paolo!"
"Hush!" whispered the Corsican, for it was Paolo himself. "Contain yourself, Elise, or we are undone."
"My God, I thank Thee; Thou hast answered my prayers. Paolo, my lover, is indeed an emperor at last."
"Hush, Elise," commanded Paolo again in a grating voice. "I am an emperor, but not for long. I have failed, I tell you, and even now Napoleon is on my heels."
"My God! then what madness for you to be here. You must fly at once!"
"Softly, softly, my dear, we shall both fly presently. I shall, however, sack Napoleon's vaults first. The most valuable treasures I shall give into your charge and with them you must go to England, I have sent for Fouché. To him I will act the Emperor and command him to instantly dispatch you to England from Dieppe or Havre. It would be too dangerous for us to travel together with my brother so close behind me. So I myself will take as large a sum as I can carry and set out by way of Calais. I have chosen England for our refuge as it is the only country where we can be safe from the wrath of Napoleon."
"But where shall I meet you in England; it is a large place?"
"At the Hotel Bristol, Dover. Remain there until I join you."
"Oh, my beloved, to think that you have failed, with your talents, your genius!"
"It is fate, Elise. Fate!"
An attendant entered. "The Duc de Rovigo, sire."
Paolo thrust Elise into a closet.
"Enter!" he called out.
Savary entered the room with a silver packet in his hand. "These, sire," he said slowly, "are the most valuable of your collection. They are the diamonds of Venice, the ducal jewels of Lombardy, and others won from Italy."
"What value is placed upon them?"
"One hundred million francs would scarcely suffice."
"Good, that will do. Ah, stay, I require some thousands of francs in gold. Give Roustan, who will accompany you, the packet. You may go."
Savary retired and immediately he had vanished Elise reappeared. Her eyes glittered as they rested on the diamonds, but Paolo gave her no time to examine them. "Hide them upon your person," he commanded. "I assure you, you have no time to lose." Half the jewels Paolo thrust into the lining of his doublet. Elise had scarcely concealed the last of the other half when a lacquey announced "The Duc d'Otranto."
Paolo hastily gave Elise a sign and when Fouché entered the apartment it was to behold Mdlle. Ismeney upon her knees before the Emperor entreating him in a seeming abandon of grief. Napoleon himself stood before her, silent and stern, his arms folded, his brow deeply clouded.
"You sent for me, sire."
Paolo turned with a well-feigned start.
"Ah, yes, Fouché, this woman is a traitress. She has conspired against me. She is banished."
Fouché became pale with apprehension, fearing, perhaps, that Elise had also betrayed him.
"Yes, sire," he stammered.
"I cannot allow her to remain in any of my dominions. She must go to England."
The image of Napoleon glared at Fouché as he gave his next order;
"You, Fouché, I alone can trust; you must escort her personally to Havre. There find a ship and dispatch her without the least delay. You must set out within the hour."
"But, sire, business of the utmost importance detains me here."
The double of Napoleon stamped his foot upon the floor in a seeming tempest of rage. "Your business must wait," he cried furiously. "Leave Paris within this hour. See to it, or——Go."
Fouché, trembling with fear at Napoleon's unspoken threat, bowed to the ground, and Mdlle. Elise, as if overcome at the sentence passed, her frame still shaken with sobs, left the apartment, leaning heavily upon Fouché, who at a sign from the seeming Napoleon had offered her his arm.
When he was once more alone Paolo sighed heavily and drank a deep draught from a flask of wine as he waited for Roustan to arrive with the packet of money from Savary, the only thing which he required preparatory to his flight for Calais. It was his intention presently to leave Paris, still in the guise of the Emperor, and, with the inexhaustible means of travel thus placed at his command, reach the French Court and cross over to England before the real Emperor could obtain a hint of his intention. He had in reality sent Elise, under Fouché's care, by the longer route of Havre for two selfish reasons of his own. The first was that he could not travel fast enough to please himself while hampered with a woman; the other, that he wished Fouché to be out of Paris when Napoleon should arrive, for he shrewdly expected that Napoleon would pursue him in person from Poland, and he knew well that, without Fouché and his spies to assist the Emperor, his own chances of escape would be doubled.
As he waited for Roustan, Paolo pondered bitterly over the disastrous failure of his attempted crime in Warsaw, and the thought of his mother and her grief when she should know what had occurred to him. He fell into an old habit as he mused, and his reflections unconsciously took the form of speech. "Ah, me," he soliloquised aloud, "had I but followed thy counsels, my sweet mother, I had been to-day no fugitive, but perhaps an Emperor indeed, with no rival to confront me. What cursed folly made me visit the pretty Walewska? Ah, woman, woman, thou art ever my undoing. I cannot resist the charm of a pretty face. Thou, sweet Walewska, so nearly my own, wert beautiful enough to tempt a man to destruction. How could I hope to resist thee; how could I guess that Napoleon would have followed me? Cursed fate to lift me so near to my ambition, to flaunt success in my face, and then cast me down for ever. Curse thee, Walewska; to thee my failure is due; would that I——. But what is the use of wishing now?"
He drank from the flask again and continued his musings. "What will my mother say when she knows? The truth I dare not tell her. I shall to her ascribe my failure to fate, and she must be content with that. No man can rule his fate, else had I slain Napoleon, that dog of a pagan, and now been ruling in his place."
These last words were spoken with vicious fervor and they rang venomously through the room.
"Ah! you hear, gentlemen; he convicts himself."
Paolo turned swift as thought when he heard this pregnant sentence, and beheld Napoleon at the entrance of the room, attended by Talleyrand, Bourrienne, Duroc, and Roustan. The Emperor was covered with dust and looked haggard with fatigue; his forehead was disfigured with a bruise, the mark of the hilt of Paolo's sword, which had stunned him in Poniatowski's palace at Warsaw a few days before. The adventurer glared round, seeking means of escape, but at all the doors peered the faces of police spies. With a gesture of despair he handed his sword to Bourrienne, who came forward to receive it. "I give in," he said calmly; "it is fate."
"Bind him," said Napoleon, and soldiers sprang forward to obey. When he was securely bound Paolo was brought, in response to a gesture, closer to the Emperor. Napoleon's face was now serene and calm; not even a frown marred the repose of his brow, and his lips were still and unquivering. His eyes, however, flashed with an intense fire of anger, and a settled purpose, an invincible, relentless hatred, flamed out in his glance, as he bent his terrible regard upon the assassin who had so disgraced his blood. The Corsican, face to face with inevitable death, all chance, all hope of escape cut off, showed himself a brave man, and returned the scorching glances of his brother with a steady stare of defiance.
"So," said Napoleon, "I have caught you."
"I give you my congratulations. Half an hour longer and I would have laughed at all pursuit."
"Fool, you could not escape me."
"Only give me a chance and I would show you."
"You have had too many chances."
"What are you going to do with me?"
"To a man I would have given a brave death, a platoon of soldiers, rifles, and an open grave. You, assassin, fratricide, ravisher, shall die like a dog. My servants shall strangle you; the servants you have been duping these hours past. Believe me, they will enjoy a little revenge."
Paolo involuntarily shivered. "When?" he muttered.
"Now; at once. Bourrienne, you will see to this. Take him to Bicêtres; then come back and report to me—when—he is—buried."
The cold and passionless tones of the Emperor's voice sent an icy chill through the Corsican's heart; while the terrific significance of the last words broke his fortitude down completely.
"Brother!" he cried imploringly; "have mercy on me."
The Man of Destiny raised his hand.
"Silence!" he commanded, impassively. "Bourrienne, away with him."
"For the love of God let me see a priest," cried Paolo, in a voice of agony.
"In an hour," returned Napoleon, addressing himself to Bourrienne, "I expect to hear that my orders have been carried out."
Paolo broke into a storm of entreaties. "I am not fit to die; for God's sake at least send me a priest," he prayed.
Napoleon waved his hand as they were about to drag the Corsican away. "You want a priest; for what purpose?"
"To confess my sins. I dare not die thus."
"Very well, then; since you wish it so much, here is M. Talleyrand," said the Emperor, in a mocking voice.
"That unfrocked blackguard. No, I had rather die unshrived. Napoleon, my brother, I give you my last curse for your kindness to me. It is the curse of one whom you are sending into hell. May it blast all your prospects, wither your hopes, and drive you at last to eternal damnation. Curse you! Curse you! Curse you!"
The Emperor smiled softly and turned to Bourrienne. "Take him away," he said indifferently, "the man is an orator. He tries me."
A closed carriage waited below and into this Paolo was forced, a police spy on each side of him. Bourrienne rode at a gallop ahead in order to prepare the way, but an escort composed of Napoleon's own household spies closely invested the carriage, which, with its windows closed, was driven slowly through the city.
Paolo's thoughts were very bitter ones in the moments that followed. Never had his fortunes been so dark and lowering; nothing but a miracle could deliver him from the hands of the enemies now. An agony of grief and fear choked him so that he panted for breath and often he gave way to tears, sobbing silently as he lay back between the two men who attended him, watchful and alert. Suddenly a thought occurred to him. Could he bribe these two servants of Napoleon? Upon his person, hidden in his doublet, still reposed undetected jewels worth a king's ransom; surely, such a fortune would tempt men who were poor. At any rate, he would try. The Corsican's mind was now filled with a passionate desire to live, even if it should be but for an hour longer; and all the riches in the world were to him incomparable with the boon of a moment's prolonged existence.
"My friends," he whispered, "assist me to escape, and I shall load you with more riches than you have dreamed of."
For answer, one of them placed his hand over the Corsican's mouth, enforcing silence, and Paolo, giving up his last hope at this final rebuff, commenced to mutter to himself his prayers. Suddenly the carriage stopped and even in the darkness inside the reason became apparent to its occupants. A squadron of cavalry was crossing the street in front of them, and the clank of their accoutrements and the tramp of their horses rang merrily through the air.
The Corsican, on hearing these sounds, fell back on his seat half fainting, for a mad idea had seized him, and the hope it gave almost overpowered him. If he could only make these soldiers, who were so gaily riding past his carriage, believe that their Emperor was being maltreated he might yet be saved! His resemblance to the Napoleon which had brought him to this terrible pass might even at this late hour, by a twist of fate, assist him. Raising unexpectedly, he dashed himself head first (for his arms were bound to his sides) against the carriage window nearest him, and crashing through the glass, projected half his body through the frame.
"To me, my children. Save me. Your Emperor calls to you. They are murdering me."
His desperate voice rang out like a trumpet blast, and not in vain. The soldiers (who thought they recognised their Emperor), furious at the spectacle of his captivity and his bleeding face, surrounded the carriage in an instant with drawn swords, yelling with rage. The driver was hacked to pieces with a dozen sabre cuts, many of the escort of spies were slain, and Paolo was quickly taken from the carriage, faint but triumphant, and, save for a cut on his forehead, received from the glass of the window, entirely unhurt. In a second his bonds were cut; he mounted upon the horse of the officer in charge of the detachment, who, in his turn, secured one of the horses of the spies. Paolo saw that he had no time to waste, and, turning to the soldiers, he abruptly addressed them—"I require you, my children," he cried, "to accompany me upon a special service—a service which, if you perform faithfully, will earn for each the Cross of the Legion. Forward! Trot, gallop!"
The soldiers gaily pluming themselves on the brilliant service they imagined they had already rendered to the Emperor, and dazzled by the promise of the cross, gave a loud cheer of "Vive l'Empereur," and then swept along at a stretching gallop towards the Calais gate.
Five days later Paolo Gracci was in London, recounting his adventures to the appreciative ears of the beautiful Mdlle. Elise Ismeney.
The years which followed her departure from Warsaw after refusing the hand of Napoleon in marriage were bitter to Marie de Montpessier. Having retired to a little château near the Imperial Palace at Fontainebleau, she lived there a solitary, and dismal life. The friends of her girlhood had deserted her; supposed to be a forsaken mistress of the Emperor, she was conceded neither love nor respect, but only a kind of ironical pity. And her thoughts were her worst enemies. During many a sleepless night she upbraided herself for her folly in repulsing Napoleon; yearned bitterly for another sign of invitation from him, when, she persuaded herself, she would rush to be his slave, his poorest menial, so as to be near him. Several times, on occasions of State ceremonials, from among the crowd she witnessed the Great Emperor, whom it had once been her privilege to advise and admonish. Once or twice, she thought, indeed, that his Imperial glance had met hers. If so, there was never a look of recognition. The haughty despot had seemingly crushed out of his heart all thought of the woman before whom he had knelt to be repulsed.
It was only the natural egotism of a woman in Marie that led her, while Napoleon began to heap folly upon folly and crime upon crime, to whisper to herself, "If I had but—this would not be." Some sort of melancholy satisfaction came to her from these musings. The thought was balm to the terrible wounds inflicted upon her heart by the reports of the scandalous intrigue with Mme. Walewska, by the divorce, by the disasters which now commenced to overwhelm an ambition too haughty for the bounds of reason.
The terrible tale of the retreat from Moscow did not come in its full horror to Marie's ears. But what she heard filled her with the deepest pity. Napoleon, attacked by misfortune, had a new charm to her mind, and she felt eager to rush to his side; to fight for him, to save him from the blows of his enemies and the traps of traitors. Then when the tide of conquest rolled back; when the eagles, still with their eyes to the foe, no longer advanced, but beating stubborn pinions in vain were driven back on to Paris; when the wounded tiger, hunted to his lair, with furious courage showed that death could still follow his stroke; when the hawk was being suffocated by the clouds of encircling crows—then Marie felt an agony of longing to be at her Emperor's, her lover's side. Never was the Man of Destiny to her eyes so superb, so heroic, as during the days of that great campaign of defence. His hundreds fought the tens of thousands of the enemy, and fought them with strange success. The heart of the woman watching the empire in its death throes was able to exult at a hundred victories. Whenever the situation seemed most desperate, when Paris at last seemed to be at the feet of the invader, Napoleon rushed in with his tired tatterdemalion troops whom his presence made into awful furies of battle, and an astounding victory sent Prussian or Austrian staggering back. The wounded tiger struck with demoniac force, but his fate was sealed. Slowly but surely the millions pressed back the thousands. At the rear of the little band of heroes, led by a demi-god, Marmont was treacherous, and conquered Napoleon came back to Fontainebleau.
Marie saw the entry of that haggard figure, surrounded by the scowls of the marshals, whose ambitions he could no longer aid, who were then planning their facile desertions. She saw and loved Napoleon more deeply than ever. It was no longer France and the Emperor that filled her heart. It was Bonaparte, and Bonaparte alone. France she no longer respected, because so many French had been untrue to him. Ah, if he would but make a sign to her—she would forsake country, religion, to follow him, and with the light of worship remove the awful gloom from noble face. If—if? She could have shrieked out her regrets there, before them all, but that the poignant agony which tore at her heart suffocated her voice.
The Emperor rode on in his shabby old clothes, his face haggard, his eyes weary for sleep, and the marshals went blackly by his side. Marie looked and prayed for death to release her from the pain which the shame of the sight gave her. But, as the little group passed by a regiment of Chasseurs a drummer-boy, in childish treble, piped, "Vive l'Empereur." The tired, dust-stained, beaten soldiers of the line heard and a roar of welcome arose, "Vive l'Empereur." "Vive le Petit Caporal." "Vive notre bon pere." The Emperor was in a second transformed. The gloom was chased from his face by a look of exultant happiness, of tenderest gratitude. His hand to his heart, he bowed, and the worn-out soldiers marched blithely on, while the marshals of a sudden remembered their courtiers' duty and again pressed round the Emperor.
"Thank God for the hearts of true Frenchmen," Marie murmured, and went back to her home to a degree comforted. Napoleon still had the hearts of his people. The eagle would soon clear his eerie of the crows.
But the days that followed were black for Napoleon. It seemed, indeed, as if his star had set. The word 'abdication' was whispered, then boldly canvassed, and finally the Emperor himself abandoned the Crown which had been torn from him.
When Marie de Montpessier heard the news, eagerly circulated, that Napoleon had that day signed a deed of abdication, she fell into a swoon, and when she recovered it was to feel her reason tottering and her life failing. Stretched on a couch, she lay, plunged in bitter thought; the fire in her heart burning up into her eyes, thinking of the fall of France and of Napoleon, of the alien feet treading the Streets of Paris and outraging the fields of France; of the hero of her dreams unthroned and a prisoner. Marie pictured Napoleon loaded with chains, dragged through the streets at the horse-tail of a savage Cossack. The idea gave her such a keen voluptuousness of sorrow that she pursued it eagerly, imagining the great hero subjected to revolting indignities and finally brought to the scaffold. Her heart fluttering with a keenness of anguish, which thrilled every nerve of her body; she conjured up the great, gloomy scaffold, the dense hordes of half-savage, foreign soldiers surrounding it, the people of France watching in appalled silence the spectacle; and then the blow, the Jove-like head rolling to the ground, the wild shriek of sorrow bursting from thousands.
In the midst of these thoughts, as the woman, stretched rigidly on a couch, stared at the ceiling, there broke upon her the voice of Napoleon—the voice as she had heard it at Warsaw, pleading infinitely tender and sorrowful, lingering on and lengthening out the syllables of her name—"Marie, Marie."
She started up in joy and fear.
"Marie, Marie." It was the voice of Napoleon again. "Marie, come to me."
The woman looked around the room, which was faintly illumined by a little silver lamp—a present from the Emperor. At the moment a clock chimed merrily the quarters, and they in deepest bass tolled out the hour of 12. She was alone, alone while the voice of the Emperor still vibrated in her ears.
"Napoleon! Napoleon! My God! Napoleon!" she shrieked wildly.
Then the voice seemed to be heard again, but this time from afar, coming as if across a great stretch of ocean—"Marie, come to me."
The girl sobbed hysterically. "I will come. I will come," she cried. "You, my Emperor, call me." Not waiting to put on hat or cloak, but lightly dressed as she was, Marie de Montpessier rushed out of the house and rapidly crossed the small stretch of park land which separated her demesne from the palace occupied by Napoleon. The building was steeped in gloom, and the bright, vivacious groups which usually encircle a Court, even at midnight, were noticeably absent. At the park entrance a sentry guard was stationed, but the men had taken refuge in a little box to dice or to sleep. The hall porter slept, too, by his open door, and the woman had no difficulty, knowing as she did the precincts of the place, to penetrate to the apartments of the Emperor himself. Moved by some ungovernable impulse, without stopping to reflect, she pushed on and reached the ante-chamber, out of which opened Napoleon's sleeping apartment. Constant was there, like the other guardians of his master, asleep. In truth, Napoleon had called upon his attendants to make such superhuman exertions within the month that all were utterly wearied out.
On the threshold of the Emperor's room Marie paused. For the first time since she had heard the mysterious voice the woman thought, and, thinking, was ashamed of her madness. She was almost resolved on turning back, when a low moan struck her ear. In a moment Marie was by the side of Napoleon, who lay on a little pallet convulsed by mortal agony. He seemed on the point of dissolution; his face, shown by the night lamp burning in the chamber, was of an ashen grey color; his eyes were glassy and staring; on his marble forehead great drops of sweat stood; and from the lips came an occasional hard, gasping moan.
"Napoleon! Napoleon!" cried the woman, an agony of fear, of tenderness, marking her voice.
The Emperor's head turned a little towards her and his mouth twitched convulsively. The woman acted with prompt wisdom. To save Napoleon, Napoleon's help was needed.
She fixed her eyes steadily upon the dying man and spoke calmly, intensely, resolutely.
"Napoleon, my Emperor," she said; "you must live. France still needs you. You must not desert her. She has not deserted you."
The man seemed to recover a little. His marvellous will asserted itself and in the midst of his agony a mournful smile crossed his grey face. Marie saw that he wished to contradict her, to tell her all the reasons for his despair. But she was now looking round the room for some cordial. From a press she took a bottle of sparkling Moselle, and, breaking its neck, she poured some of the liquor into a tumbler.
"Napoleon," she urged again; "rouse yourself, I say. France still loves and needs you. I love you. Live for me. Live, Napoleon, live to kill with your scorn the cowards who have deserted you."
The Man of Destiny seemed now to have resolved to live. The change in his face from the mere effort of his will was startling. The eyes looked more natural, the face lost its green-grey tinge; the mouth formed itself again into a firm line. "Give it to me," he gasped.
Marie de Montpessier handed the wine to the Emperor, and, as she did so, he had strength to gently press her hand. Swallowing the draught eagerly, he signed for more, and, having drunk it, he almost entirely recovered.
"Again, Marie," he said fondly, "you have saved me. You are right. I must not despair. But the infernal ingratitude of the men whom I have made murdered my courage."
Marie sat on the edge of the pallet, her hand clasped in Napoleon's, and he talked dreamily, as one under the influence of an opiate. "That old witch of Alexandria lied to me when she sold her charm. She vowed it would kill quickly, quietly, painlessly. It has not killed at all, thanks to thee, Marie. I doubt, know you, whether ever I could die painlessly. It seems my spirit would fight to stay on this earth."
Then the Emperor came down from his throne to talk long and intimately through the still hours to the beautiful woman who, with her soul shining from her eyes in adoration, safe at his side. Through many a later day of carking care and pain Marie de Montpessier remembered that night, the most delicious of her life, when as brother and sister, Napoleon and she, hands linked together, talked of their homes, their kindred, their ambitions, their trials, and their hopes and their future. The Emperor did not again suggest love to Marie, but he drew with subtle art pictures before her mind of his future life, linked by a fraternal bond with hers. He spoke of faults which he now saw in himself and would correct, of crimes which he regretted, of the days to come when he had freed France from the foreigners and would consecrate his powers to the preservation of peace.
It was all very unreal, this future that they talked of—the Emperor and the maid—but the memory of that communion with the greatest intellect of the world was ever wondrous sweet to Marie de Montpessier.
They had talked for over an hour when a sudden spasm of pain afflicted Napoleon, and, taken by surprise, he cried out. With that cry of anguish Marie's presence of mind also vanished, and, terrified, she rushed into the outer room and wakened Constant.
"Wake up, wake up," she cried in her terror, roughly pushing him by the shoulder; "your Emperor is dying. Wake up."
The valet rose, stupidly rubbing his eyes, and stumbled into the Emperor's room. Napoleon, though evidently in pain, did not seem to be very ill. The sharper effects of the poison he had taken had long since passed away, and the pain which had forced him to cry out marked the final attack of defeated death. But Constant soon had the whole palace awake. He summoned Dr. Ivor, and himself set about brewing a dish of tea, a beverage of which the Emperor was very fond in times of indisposition, Marie de Montpessier was assisting in the preparations when Napoleon called to her.
"You must go now," he whispered. "Soon my whole court—such of it as does not now cringe to Cossack feet—will be here. For your name's sake, go."
Marie bent over him and the Emperor kissed her forehead. "I shall see you to-morrow, dear friend, as soon after the review as you can come."
One evening in March, 1815, Paolo Gracci stood at the door of a magnificent reception-room in his own house, a veritable palace, in the Rue Rivoli, Paris. He was much changed from the Paolo of former days; his hair was thinner, indeed, his head was almost bald in places, thickly covering the lower part of his face. Only by the restless glittering of his eyes could one remember him; those grey changing orbs which, like Napoleon's, mirrored an ambition vaster than the skies themselves; and by the wide, high forehead, which gave him an air more noble and distinguished than his fellows. So much had seven years done for him. With the departure of Napoleon for Elba, Paolo had returned to France. The Bourbon King had rewarded him for a few months attentive sycophancy with the title of Count of Attala, and had also bestowed upon him an estate near Marseilles, which Elise Ismeney, now Paolo's wife, pretended had been wrested from her family by the Revolution.
The new count was receiving guests whom he had invited to a brilliant fete, and judging from the titles which the lackeys continually announced it was easy to conceive that many of the nobles of France had responded to his call. The large hall was thronged with gentlemen magnificently attired and ladies arrayed in all the glory of Court finery. Paolo surveyed the assembly with restless eyes and presently passed through the throng, paying compliments to the women and exchanging pleasantries with the men.
Numbers of enquiries were constantly made to him during his progress concerning the whereabouts of his beautiful countess, and to all these questions he gave the one reply, "Madame la Comtesse will be here presently." Soon he reached the card-room and there he was instantly hailed by Talleyrand, who sat before a green-covered table, dicing with several other gentlemen, a large pile of gold and banknotes before him testifying to his luck or skill.
"Come, count, and take a hand," cried Talleyrand.
Paolo complied and there immediately ensued a game in which the Corsican count commenced to heap up so successfully before him the gold of those who played that presently all dropped out of the contest but Talleyrand, who, a passionate gambler, would have played on for ever. Luck, however, was all on the side of the Corsican, and the news of his success soon spread through the building, so that numbers of gentlemen crowded the card-room to watch the struggle. Talleyrand's face was flushed and nervous, his eyes glowing with the fever of baffled avarice. Paolo, on the other hand, was cold and emotionless; he seemed to be indifferent to his success, and has rapidly-increasing hoard was carelessly scattered over the table.
"A brave battle, gentlemen," said Marshal Ney.
Paolo looked up and shrugged his shoulders. "Fighting," he said, "is out of date for the time being, thank God; we merely amuse ourselves, marshal."
Ney smiled significantly at the Corsican and Talleyrand, glancing up, caught this look.
"Aha," he said, with a covert sneer, "I see you wear violets, marshal."
Ney's face turned black as night. "What would you hint by that speech, M. Talleyrand?" he demanded angrily.
Talleyrand shook his dice preparatory to his throw—"Violets are the emblems of hope, I have heard," he said caustically. "The ex-Emperor loved violets."
Paolo intervened with his soft voice—"There are many here besides the marshal who wear the violets to-night," he murmured.
"Curse the violets," cried Talleyrand sourly, "there goes another thousand francs."
Many of the gentlemen around glanced enquiringly at each other as they listened to this conversation, and the Marquis d'Estelles looked uncomfortable about him. "It is not strange," he said slowly, "that our soldiers are so fond of violets when they perceive their generals do not hesitate to wear them; for my part I regard them as a bourgeois taste."
Ney turned upon the Marquis d'Estelles with a dour frown.
"Sir," he cried furiously, his hand on his sword, "you give your opinion unasked."
The marquis surveyed the marshal with a supercilious sneer. "The people whom I see wearing these flowers are also for the most part mushroom upstarts," he observed cuttingly. Ney sprung forward with an oath and a brawl appeared imminent, when a silvery voice pealed suddenly through the apartment.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, what means this uproar?"
The men fell back, subdued and embarrassed; and Talleyrand, a courtier before everything else, sprang up from the table. "Madame la Comtesse," he cried, and advanced to lead into the room none other than the beautiful Comtesse d'Attala, once Elise Ismeney.
"You arrive opportunely, madame," said Paolo suavely, "to employ your talents in the role of peacemaker."
The countess walked deliberately over to the Marquis d'Estelles. "Promise me, marquis," she said sweetly, "that nothing shall come of this encounter." Then, turning to Ney, "You, marshal, must make me the same promise."
Both gentlemen bowed profoundly, but in the process itself exchanged glances of enmity and hate.
The countess was arrayed in an elaborate costume, an Empire gown composed of pure white satin, which set off her now mature charms to perfection, while her throat and hair blazed with the rarest of diamonds. Talleyrand, who saw her for the first time in many years, gazed at her beauty in amazement. He had expected to see some falling off in her charms, some sign of decay in the glorious rose which had once inspired him with passion. He noted, indeed, the hand of Time in her manner, in the now perfect ease and social grace which eminently distinguished her, and which years alone can bestow upon a woman, but he was astounded to discover that the rose itself had not decayed, only bloomed forth from an opening bud into a flower of extraordinary magnificence. Elise turned from her scarcely serious efforts to reconcile her two belligerent guests to Paolo. "I have a letter," she said meaningly, in an undertone.
"Give it to me," cried the Corsican aloud, too excited to remember that such a thing existed as caution.
The countess, with a shrug of her shapely shoulders, extracted an envelope from the bosom of her gown and handed it to Paolo, who tore it open with almost fierce impatience.
Within was a letter addressed simply to Paolo Gracci. It ran—
"The Emperor of France does not treat with traitors.
The Comte d'Attala tore this letter into the smallest pieces and put them carefully in his pocket, a queer pallor spreading meanwhile over his face.
"Your news appears to disturb you, count," muttered Talleyrand insinuatingly.
Paolo, lost in a brown study, made no reply. But Madame la Comtesse, with an expressive gesture, secured the attention of all present.
"It is disturbing news which my husband has received, gentlemen," she said, in a low, thrilling voice; "news which will, I am confident, affect you all. Napoleon has escaped from Elba!"
A clamor of excited voices followed the momentary silence which succeeded Elise's startling announcement, a clamor which was, however, stilled by the soft, purring tones of Talleyrand.
"Napoleon has left Elba, madame? Are you sure?"
"I am sure."
"This is certainly exciting news; but disturbing—disturbing is a strong word, madame. Napoleon would not dream of returning to France, and thereby break all his treaties. If he has left Elba, it is to visit America, without doubt."
Elise glanced at Talleyrand for a moment, while a satirical smile curled her lips. Then she turned to the group of gentlemen, who seemed waiting in breathless eagerness for her to speak.
"M. Talleyrand," she said mockingly, "knows so much I cannot teach him anything; but you, messieurs, will judge for yourselves. Listen!"
The countess made a dramatic pause, while she attentively studied the faces of her audience. "Napoleon is in France," she went on after a moment. "You, M. le marquis, will be surprised to learn that he was assisted in his escape by an aristocrat, a daughter of the old regime, the Comtesse Marie de Montpessier, who now accompanies him on his triumphal march to Paris."
"How do you happen to know these things," demanded Talleyrand suddenly.
Elise turned to him with a smile. "Business, sir, took me to Osier. There I learnt that Napoleon had escaped owing to the machinations of Montpessier. I hurried to La Mure, where I presented myself before the Emperor himself, and subsequently personally witnessed the means he employs in seducing the soldiers of King Louis to his service."
"It is incredible," cried D'Estelles indignantly. "I will stake my life on it that the soldiers of France remain faithful to their lawful King."
Countess d'Attala made no reply, but moved to the side of her husband, who appeared overwhelmed by the news which he had heard. "Bear up, Paolo," she whispered to him, "we have days before us yet. I travelled fast; faster than the couriers of the King themselves." The fact was that Paolo, having sounded certain generals of the army, had sent Elise to Elba to lay certain proposals before Napoleon offering to assist him to regain the throne of France. Elise, had, however, on reaching the coast, heard that Napoleon had landed at the Gulf of Juan, and, hastening to his side, placed these propositions before the Emperor, only to have them rejected with disdain by the man who already felt himself a conqueror once more.
"Where is he now?" muttered Paolo.
"I left him at Grenoble."
"But," cried Talleyrand, whose ears were on the alert, "the garrison of Grenoble is commanded by Labedoyere, a staunch adherent of the Bourbons."
"That was quite true four days ago," returned Elise wearily; "but things have changed since then. Napoleon advanced to attack the town, and the garrison, numbering twice his force, came out to gave him battle. The lines were drawn up and the order to charge was sounded, when Napoleon, commanding his own soldiers not to fire, rushed forward unarmed, between the opposing lines, and dared his old soldiers to fire upon their Emperor. You know how the army worships the name of Napoleon. The garrison to a man raised one mighty cry, 'Vive l'Empereur!' and in a moment more the soldiers who had just been about to engage in a bloody fight were weeping in each other's arms, embracing one another hysterically. Thus Napoleon increased his force by nearly two thousand men."
"'Twas a gallant deed," cried Ney, his eyes glittering. "There lived again the hero of Arcola."
"Ah! those violets," muttered Talleyrand.
"Do you mean to tell us that Labedoyere went over to Napoleon as well as his garrison?" cried D'Estelles.
"That I know nothing of," replied Elise. "I was too anxious to depart myself for Paris in order to warn his Majesty, King Louis."
Talleyrand gave an incredulous smile, but he murmured politely, "'Twas thoughtful in you, madame."
Paolo for the first time since the arrival of his wife made an effort to recover himself, and, glancing around at the faces of his guests, who, with one or two exceptions, wore a gloomy air of consternation, he cried cheerfully. "Well, well! Napoleon has been beaten; we shall beat him again."
"Wait a little," said Ney meaningly.
"Perjured treaty-wrecker," growled D'Estelles, "next time it will not be Elba; he deserves death for his latest crime."
"Are the soldiers of Paolo to be relied on, think you, by us?" asked Talleyrand.
"Who shall tell the King?" asked another.
"The King, the King; soon, perhaps, there will be no King," cried Elise suddenly. "If you, messieurs, could see the proud arrogance of Napoleon, and the way his old soldiers flock to enrol themselves under his banner, you would swear that he was a wizard, a devilish enchanter. He marches ever upon Paris; he loses no time. Strike, and strike quickly, is his motto; he follows it to the letter."
"We loiter here; the King should know of this instantly," cried the Duc D'Otranto.
D'Estelles took his arm. "Come," he cried, "to the King."
"Stay one moment," said Talleyrand, "and I shall go with you. First, however, let us test the fate of France with these."
As he spoke he took up and shook the dice-box, all his passionate gambler's spirit gleaming from his eyes.
The Duc D'Estelles, also a veteran gambler, caught up the suggestion with avidity. "Excellent," he cried, "by a turn of the wheel of fortune we came to our own again; by another turn we may be again cast out; let us leave it to chance to decide."
"The three highest throws, then," cried Talleyrand. "I throw for King Louis; who will throw for Napoleon?"
"I," answered Paolo. "I hate him more bitterly than any here."
The crowd pressed eagerly around the table, staring at Talleyrand as he rattled the dice. Presently he threw, and threw, and threw again. "Forty-five," cried the company with one voice.
"I have thrown well for his Majesty," said Talleyrand.
"My blessings on the dice that they favor you," said Paolo, as he took up the box and swiftly scattered the little cubes on the table.
"Eighteen!" Again he threw, and again the numbers reached eighteen.
"A thousand curses!" cried D'Estelles. "For God's sake, count, shake the infernal dice."
Paolo rattled the pieces of ivory for quite a minute before he threw, and his hand trembled violently as the dice fell finally upon the cloth. Ten! For King Louis, Talleyrand had thrown forty-five; for Napoleon, Paolo had thrown forty-six.
Talleyrand stood up, pale as death. "Gentlemen," he said tremulously. "It is time that we warn King Louis. Let us to the Tuileries."
Joseph Fouché, Duke of Otranto, was upon the horns of a dilemma. Doubly a traitor, first to Napoleon, later to Louis, his position was no enviable one during the reign of The Hundred Days. Napoleon once again Emperor, and about to take the field against Europe with a large and brilliant, though poorly-equipped army, distrusted and despised him. Louis, the exiled King of France, wrote to him constantly, but the very terms of his letters were such as to imply that force of circumstances alone compelled him to seek so unstable an ally. This prince of spies, sophists, and traitors paced the chamber of his hotel before midnight of June 11th, 1815, dreaming, pondering, and plotting. His mind was eagerly scanning the future, hopelessly seeking to discover some finality to the extraordinary ferment in which France was plunged. His selfish soul balanced with marvellous ability the strength of the opposing factions, the chances of the coming giant struggle in which the genius of Napoleon was once more to be matched against the world in arms. "Ah!" he thought distractedly, "if fate would only reveal to me one of her secrets. Will Napoleon win or lose?"
This was the question which tormented and baffled him. Once let him be sure, and Fouché would have thrown all his talents, money, and widespread power into the lap of the party which was to prove the conqueror. Unable to decide, he had lingered on since Napoleon's return to Paris—outwardly a faithful and useful servant of the Emperor. Secretly, however, he corresponded with the Bourbon King, pretending also to him continued allegiance, and pacifying him the while with specious promises to ultimately betray the Emperor. Fouché's rat-like cunning stood him in good stead in those trying times, and as yet he had by no overt act prevented himself from attaching himself for good to either party; for even his letters to Louis were dictated and unsigned, and were always entrusted only to his most faithful agents. His private inclinations favored strongly the cause of the exiled king, for although Louis, before his flight from Paris, had insulted him, having ordered Bourrienne to arrest him, yet Napoleon he personally detested for a thousand indignities placed upon him at the close of the First Empire. Moreover, he could not hope to exercise any influence over the iron soul of the Emperor, whereas if with his aid Louis should regain the throne he would thereby acquire an extraordinary claim to the gratitude of that weak monarch.
The duke, on the whole, preferred the chances of King Louis' return to the longer continuance of Napoleon's Empire; for he saw arrayed against the Man of Destiny all the nations of Europe, who, incensed at what they called the insolent disregard of their treaties, were hastening forward to pour their legions against the frontiers of France. Against these mighty hosts was opposed the genius of a single man. But, yet, what a genius! Out of a disabled, distracted, and disordered country, worn out and sick with the horrors of decades of war, this man had already extracted and fashioned a brilliant army which grew daily in strength and enthusiasm. A few days before Fouché had seen Napoleon review this army. He had watched the Emperor ride past the ranks of his veterans. He had wondered to see the old soldiers tremble with love and pride for their general; the young recruits flush with eagerness as the eye of the hero scanned their lines. He had heard resound one thunderous, spontaneous cry from a hundred thousand throats, "Vive l'Empereur!" and the echo of that mighty shout had filled him with sombre fears that Napoleon's reign must endure, when his mere presence could thus excite to frenzy those very men who had ever most suffered at Napoleon's hands—his soldiers. Fouché had eagerly searched the Emperor's face for one sign of excitement, of pride, or triumph at the moment of that tremendous greeting. He had been dismayed to find him impassive as of old—rigid as stone. He argued from this that Napoleon's reverses had not changed his character, and he marvelled and trembled at the mighty genius which, in neither triumph nor misfortune, had even yet been truly fathomed. He was forced to conclude, therefore, that Napoleon was an unknown quantity; his talents unlimited, his resources immeasurable by any standard; and having so made up his mind this exquisitely careful diplomatist determined to pursue yet further the tortuous policy which he had with so much pains continued thus far. He would defy the dictum of Christ and prove to the world the possibility of admirably, and to their own satisfaction, serving two masters at one and the same time.
A lacquey opened the door. "An old gentleman bade me request for him an interview, your grace; he says that he comes from Belgium.
"Admit him," answered Fouché.
An old and stooping man entered the room presently, wrapped almost to the ears in an overcoat of extraordinary dimensions. As he stood before the Duke of Otranto he raised his right hand and made a peculiar sign.
"Leave the room. I am not to be disturbed," cried Fouché instantly to his lacquey. Then turning to his visitor the moment that they were alone, "With whom have I the honor of speaking?" he asked suavely, but with an imperious intonation.
The old gentleman standing suddenly erect threw off his overcoat and stood forth an imposing figure, attired in the uniform of the National Guard. Then gazing all the while curiously at Fouché he slowly put up his hand and stroked his long white beard. "It matters not who I am," he said gravely, "I bear a letter and messages to you from his Majesty King Louis XVIII." The Duke of Otranto frowned dubiously.
"That is a strange costume for a servant of King Louis to wear," he said hesitatingly; "tell me, sir, have I not met you before? Your voice sounds familiar to me."
"That is not strange," rejoined the other sternly, "you should know my voice. Duke, I am amazed to find you again a traitor to me." With a quick gesture he tore the long white beard from his chin, and there stood, mockingly regarding the discomfited Fouché, none other than the Emperor Napoleon.
"Sire, you mistake me," cried the duke aghast.
The face of Napoleon underwent a quick change. The stern features relaxed into an engaging smile and he held out his arms with a friendly invitation. "My dear Fouché," he cried. "What a compliment you have paid me. You must forgive me for playing with you, but I could not restrain myself. I wished to see if I had lost any of my old cunning. I am overwhelmed with delight to perceive that I can actually confuse the cleverest man in France. What, are you still distrustful of me? Do you not recognise your old friend, Paolo Gracci, Comte d'Attala?"
Fouché appeared like a man in a dream, and he responded but slowly to the Corsican's embrace. "But it is wonderful," he muttered; "you are more like the Emperor than ever. You would deceive Napoleon himself."
"That is splendid," cried Paolo, with beaming eyes.
"What brings you back to Paris?"
"Ah, that is a very long story, but I shall tell you everything; first, however, let us seat ourselves, and in the sacred name of friendship give me some wine, for I am tormented with thirst."
"I am all eagerness to hear you; pray proceed," cried Fouché presently, as Paolo laid down a silver tankard after taking a deep draught.
"You must know then," said the Corsican, "that I have been attached to the person of King Louis ever since his flight from France, and his Majesty reposes in me the utmost confidence. My wife, the Countess d'Attala, on the other hand, has been quietly dwelling at the château Gracci, a lovely little castle, which I purchased some time since. It is situated on an island in the Seine, some few miles from Havre. I may tell you I've already sent for her to join me; for I shall need her assistance in bringing to an issue the scheme which I shall presently lay before you."
The Duke of Otranto moved impatiently an his chair. "This scheme, this scheme," he muttered.
Paolo leaned forward and looked keenly into his eyes. "You will remember, duke, that at one time, some years ago, I was filled with a great ambition, an ambition which then you approved of with all your heart. An extraordinary accident marred the success of our plans and I was compelled to fly from France."
"I remember every detail," said Fouché softly.
"You will recall, then, that, save for yourself and my wife, then Elise Ismeney, I was without friends or accomplices to aid me on that occasion."
"Yes," Fouché frowned, for he could dimly see the drift of his companion's talk.
"Well," went on Paolo, "I have now many illustrious friends. My old ambition has returned to me, but in a chastened form. At that time I would have killed Napoleon and taken his place to rule France in his stead; now I wish to take him prisoner and assume his position, in order to give back to France her rightful King."
"How would you do this?"
"His capture would be effected by some 'coup-de-main.' I depend upon you to assist me in that. Thereafter there would be no difficulty. Once installed as Napoleon, I would abdicate the throne in favor of King Louis. Do you see?"
"You say you are in Louis' confidence. Have you any credentials?"
The Corsican smilingly handed Fouché a letter, which the Duke of Otranto opening read. It ran as follows:—
"To our beloved servant and friend, Joseph Fouché, Duke of Otanto.
Greeting. We commit to your care our agent and faithful servant, Paolo Gracci, Comte d'Attala, who is, moreover, the bearer of this missive. We have entrusted the count (who is, we understand, a half-brother of Napoleon and most marvellously alike to the usurper in person) with a mission, which he will explain to you, and in which we authorise you to assist him to the limit of your power. The worthy count proposes to effect the arrest of the 'soi disant' Emperor, who now reigns in our stead. Thereupon, being aided thereto by the likeness we have mentioned, he will assume Napoleon's position before the world, and by one gracious act restore peace and calm to the whole world, which now writhes affrighted and dismayed at the liberty of a tyrant whose diabolic mind cannot refrain from mischief of the most nefarious description. This act, which we refer to, is nothing less than an abdication in favor of ourself, and in spite of the indignity we shall suffer in regaining our throne by such means, we have been constrained by the sufferings of our beloved country to consent to this measure, rather than see her agony prolonged. All our friends and advisers have counselled us to this sacrifice, and to that end we now address you, beseeching that you will give your careful attention to our wishes and maintain our counsels inviolate. Do and act in these matters faithfully by and with us, and upon our return to our own we shall regard you as the best loved of our servants.
Given under our hand at Brussels—7th June, 1815.
Fouché studied this letter most carefully for the third of an hour without speaking; turning over in his mind every word that it contained, weighing deliberately the pros, and cons of the desperate enterprise which it outlined. He was in his turn as attentively examined by the Corsican, who read his thoughts unerringly by the fleeting expressions of his face.
"Well?" demanded Paolo at last.
"It is a bold scheme; a clever scheme; but——"
"But—but—but. What is your but?"
"It is too dangerous; how would you capture Napoleon? He is now it Charleroi surrounded by his army."
"I am informed that he returned to Paris this very evening to arrange with representatives of the deputies of the two Chambers the question of supplies, a settlement of which they are withholding because he has defied them in forcing on the campaign outside the borders of France."
Fouché looked startled at this information. "How do you know this?" he cried.
"My dear duke," returned Paolo, "I have enormous wealth at my disposal, and General Bourmont, whom Napoleon is foolish enough to trust, is my paid spy."
"How much more do you know; has anyone betrayed to you the plan of the campaign?"
"Yes; and a marvellously brilliant plan it is. Napoleon intends to pass the Ardennes and drive his army like one immense wedge between the forces of Wellington and Blucher, thus preventing their coalition, after which he hopes to defeat those generals in turn."
Fouché silently regarded the Corsican, lost in amazement at the absolute correctness of the information he possessed.
"So Napoleon has returned to Paris this evening," he muttered.
"Yes, only for a few hours, however, and in that time we must effect his capture. We cannot leave it later, for he has already opened the campaign with brilliant success. D'Erlon occupies Sobre on the Meuse. Reille is in Neers, Vandamme is before Beaumont, and Grouchy further to the south. You will see that by this disposition of this army, the main body of which is before Charleroi, he has complete control of the valleys of both the Sambre and the Meuse, and Brussels is at his mercy. He has accomplished all this by marches alone. What if he be allowed to fight?"
"What think you will happen in that case?"
"He will conquer the world again, and more gloriously, more completely, than before."
"You hope to prevent this. How?"
"With your aid I can capture Napoleon this very night and change places with him."
"Again I say, how?"
"Napoleon is now at the Tuileries discussing with the deputies. He is attended by Ney, Gerard, Bormont, and Excelmans. When this debate is over he will retire for an hour's rest, as he intends to return immediately to the army. You must take me with you in my disguise to the Tuileries. Arrived there you must find me a way, by the aid of your spies, to hide myself in the room in which Napoleon will retire. The rest I shall manage myself."
"The rest you will manage yourself," repeated Fouché slowly, "explain to me. I must know everything in order to judge properly."
"With me," said the Corsican, "I shall take this"—holding forth as he spoke a gag—"you know my strength. I shall fall upon Napoleon in his sleep. With this gag I will prevent all outcry, and when I have bound him securely I shall give you a signal, three low whistles, and your spies must then remove him, or better still, I may kill him at once, strangle him, but that I do not wish. He is my brother and I would not have his blood on my hands."
"You have weighed the cost of failure," asked Fouché suddenly.
The Corsican shuddered. "My God, yes," he answered, "but I shall not fail. Now for your answer, quick, tell me; are you with me?"
"Of course," answered Fouché, "but first swear to me by the Virgin that if you fail"—he trembled with fear—"you will not implicate me in your ruin."
"I swear," answered Paolo, laughing heartily. "I did not think, though, that such an oath would satisfy you. I am quite prepared to swear by the devil if you prefer it."
The Emperor, pale and anxious, and agitated by a long and almost fruitless war of words with the deputies, whom he had vainly striven to convince to his views of the campaign, retired for an hour's rest into his private chamber. He dismissed his generals, bidding them prepare to set out again in the space of two hours for the army. It was alone that he entered his chamber, for his valet, worn out with fatigue, was seated on a chair in the ante-room sound asleep, and Napoleon was too kind to disturb him.
The slender, dark-robed figure of a woman started up from her knees as the Emperor entered the apartment. It was Marie de Montpessier, who had been praying by his bedside.
Napoleon could not see her face in the dim light of the candles. "Who is it?" he asked in a startled voice.
"Ah. What want you with me, Marie?"
"Sire, some grave danger threatens you; my heart tells me so. I could not sleep; I was forced to come hither."
A smile crossed the Emperor's face. "My dearest," he said softly, "you alarm yourself needlessly. I am quite safe."
"Sire, sire, there is a feeling in my heart which I cannot describe, but it speaks of danger to you. I felt it that night at Fontainebleau, when it drove me forth to succour you."
"Marie, you dream."
"Then, if I dream, sire, my dream is true, for I knew not that you were in Paris, yet, nevertheless, I was impelled to seek you here."
Napoleon looked at her gravely for a moment, a sad smile curving his lips. "You love me?" he said softly, questioningly.
"Would that I could give my life for you."
"Sweetest of women, I am not worth of such devotion."
"Sire, you are weary; your face is pallid, there are heavy shadows under your eyes."
"I have not slept for days, Marie. In two hours I set out once more to accomplish my fate—to fight for my destiny and France."
"Then sire, sleep now. Ah, grant me this favor. Sleep, and let me watch over you. It would fill me with happiness to guard you."
All the protective instincts of a mother shone out in the soft fire of Marie's eyes as she made her request. She seemed to the weary Emperor a guardian angel sent from heaven to cheer him. "It will be sweet to sleep thus," he murmured, and sank back like a tired child on the couch, falling almost instantly into a restful, dreamless slumber.
The Countess de Montpessier gently knelt beside the couch, her mind filled with ecstatic thought, her heart raised to heaven in a passionate prayer to God to shield her hero, her darling from all evil; to protect him from every danger. Her arms were stretched over the Emperor protectingly, as if inviting a benison upon him; her eyes, charged with unshed tears, regarded him tenderly, glowing with the light of purest love. Thus she remained while the minutes fled by, unconscious of weariness, her soul steeped in a trance of inexpressible joy. Wrapped in her visions, her tender dreamings, she did not hear a slight rustling behind her. Had she heard, had she looked around, she would have seen the silken tapestries at the farther side of the room lifted by a stealthy hand; she would have seen gleaming eyes peer wildly at her, and a man, the counterpart of her sleeping hero, step forth into the room, and, serpent-like, glide towards her, without noise, a naked dagger in his hand. She saw nothing, she heard nothing, and her good angel did not warn her.
With one short, gasping cry she fell forward on the sleeping body of the Emperor. "Napoleon!" It was scarcely more than a whisper, but it was filled with love and farewell; it was fraught with eternal despair, for as she fell she saw and recognised the traitor, Paolo Gracci, and she knew that her blood would not save her lover, her idol. "Napoleon," she murmured again, with a last supreme effort to awake him to his danger. Then she lay very still. Death, stronger than Love, closed her eyes for ever.
The Emperor, disturbed in his sleep by the weight of her body, though her voice did not reach him, half-opened his eyes and strove to clasp her form closer to him, as if in a dream, muttering her name softly, "Marie, Marie."
The Double stared down at his half-accomplished task with bloodshot eyes, the hot dagger still clutched in his right hand.
He placed the knife gently down and, softly bending forward, clutched the throat of the sleeping Emperor with his sinewy hands. Napoleon awoke with a start, dazed and half-strangled by that vice-like grip. He struggled madly, essaying to cry for help, but no sound issued from his blackening lips, and his struggles were stilled by the weight of the assassin's body. In a few seconds Napoleon lay silent and unconscious beside the dead body of the countess. Relaxing his grip, the Corsican hastily thrust his cruel gag into the Emperor's mouth. Then he set to work, and with thongs and ropes bound the unconscious Napoleon limb by limb, until, were he the strongest of the strong, it would be impossible to have moved. This completed, he carefully locked and bolted each door of the room.
Meanwhile the spies of Fouché waited without, trembling with expectation, their ears strained to catch the concerted signal—three soft whistles. They waited in vain. An hour passed and no sound disturbed the stillness of the night. In very despair they returned at last to Fouché himself, who they found waiting by the foot of the secret stairs. To him they gave the news of Marie de Montpessier's presence in Napoleon's chamber, while Fouché, hearing this, immediately left the palace, for he conceived that this fact had disconcerted Paolo's plans, and he made up his mind that the conspiracy had failed.
Within, the Double, seated on the couch, kept watch and wait over the bodies of his victims, his every sense on the alert. When the tolling clock gave out the hour of 2 he softly rose and unlocking the door leading into the ante-room he called out sharply to the sleeping valet.
"Sire," cried the servant, waking with a start.
"I wish you to go at once to the Cafe du Chat at the quay. There you will find a lady and five men awaiting you. Say to the lady this one word, 'Success!' and she will follow you here to me. Speak to no one else on your way. Be quick. Go!"
The lackey bowed and vanished, and it seemed to Paolo that barely a moment had elapsed before he returned, accompanied by a veiled woman, whose attendants bore a large black coffin-shaped case between them. Signing to the attendants to remain without this woman entered the apartment of the Emperor alone; the Double immediately locked the door behind her.
"At last we have attained our desires—success full and absolute attends us," said the Double in a low, intense voice.
The woman lifted up her veil and gazed, first at the bound Emperor, then at the body of the Countess de Montpessier.
"My God!" she cried excitedly. "'Tis Marie de Montpessier, and dead."
"It was necessary to kill her."
"Ah! my poor friend. Marie, Marie, how often have we slept in each other's arms: how often have I kissed those poor wan lips. And now thou art dead. Ah! Paolo. Success can be bought too dearly." Tears streamed from her eyes and the face of the erstwhile Elise Ismeney became grey and haggard in a single instant.
"Come, come, Elise," said the Double roughly. "We have no time for womanly exhibitions. We must hurry the bodies away. In a few moments my marshals will be here, and I must away to Charleroi."
Elise dried her tears and with a great effort stood up.
"Whom have you brought with you? Have you carried out my instructions properly?"
"The Corsicans, your five foster-brothers, Ferrara, are with me. They bear with them the coffin. A carriage awaits us at the corner of the Tuileries gardens."
"That is well. And now, Elise, for my final directions. Guard Napoleon as the apple of your eye. Load him with chains. Bury Montpessier in the gardens of Castle Gracci, and, above all, permit no visitors to approach the island. Do you understand?"
Elise shuddered. "And yourself?" she said faintly.
"I shall proceed at once to the army. I have all Napoleon's plans of campaign. I shall fight and conquer, and when I return a victor to Paris I shall send for you. We shall be married, and upon your brow I shall place the crown of an Empress."
"Does Fouché know?"
Paolo laughed grimly. "Fouché I have completely hoodwinked. By his help I have accomplished everything. He admitted me to the palace and gave the Emperor into my hands; but beyond that he knows nothing. He imagines I have failed, and he must never know otherwise."
"Paolo, you are a genius!" The woman's eyes lighted up with a sudden passion of admiration, and she put her arms about the neck of the Corsican. He, however, gently put her aside, and, opening the door, bade the brothers Ferrara enter. The five attendants filed silently into the room, carrying their grim-looking case with them, which they placed gently on the floor. The Countess d'Attala walked over to the bound Emperor and looked curiously down at him. "Paolo, Paolo, he is awake!" she cried suddenly.
The Double hastily crossed the room to her side. Napoleon had awakened from his unconsciousness, and, with craned neck, was staring at the dead body of Marie de Montpessier. As Paolo neared him he slowly and painfully turned his head and glanced up at the Corsican, then at the body of the countess, and back again, meeting at last the eyes of the Corsican with a steady stare. The Double, as if hypnotised, stared back at the Emperor, unable to remove his gaze. His face blanched with an unreasoning terror and his limbs shook as if with the palsy.
Slowly Napoleon, turning still farther, bent his regard upon the Countess d'Attala, and Elise, in turn, stood petrified by that mute but terrible stare. She had once in the days of her childhood seen a caged African lion in the gardens of Marseilles and had been panic-stricken by the savage glare of the great brute's yellow eyes. The thought of that experience travelled back to her memory over all the years between. She was a woman now, a woman of vast experience, and many terrible sights had met her eyes since; but never before had she trembled with such abject terror as when she met Napoleon's awful gaze bent so threateningly, so unwaveringly, upon her. It was not a caged lion who glared wildly at a child, but a bound god, miserably entrapped, who stared with terrible menace at a woman, a devil.
Paolo broke the spell with a violent effort of will. Signing to his Corsican minions to assist him, the case was opened and the poor body of Marie Montpessier was thrust inside. Then two of the Ferraras, stooping, lifted the Emperor and placed him, shuddering involuntarily, in to the same great case which already contained the clay of the woman who had loved him to the death. The eyes of Napoleon flamed fire when he knew the extent of this awful outrage, and he made one tremendous effort to free himself, so that the thongs cut deeply into his flesh. But they were strong as fate itself and his strength was useless.
The lid of the case was screwed down silently and quickly, and the Ferraras lifted to their shoulders their ghastly burden.
Elise, however, trembling with terror, clung to the Double and refused to depart. "Those awful eyes," she gasped. "I dare not face them again. Oh, I dare not—I dare not!"
The Double had completely recovered himself. He shook off the woman sternly. "If you would share my triumphs," he said grimly, "you must share my tasks and perils. You must; do you hear—Must, must!"
Still shaking with the agony of fear that possessed her, the woman let fall her veil and prepared to depart. "How shall we be able to leave Paris to-night?" she muttered hoarsely.
The Double, approaching a table, hastily wrote an order exactly in the handwriting of Napoleon—"Pass the bearer of this and five attendants with coffin, bearing the body of my half-brother Paolo Gracci, Comte d'Attala, to Havre.—Napoleon."
"I was once the Emperor's secretary," said the Double gaily, "and took great pains to know his handwriting. Trouble is never really thrown away."
Presently the woman and her following, seemingly escorted by Napoleon himself, departed by the secret staircase of the Tuileries.
When he returned the Double found a lackey a waiting him. "The Marshal Ney, sire, and the generals are awaiting you."
The Double immediately proceeded to the reception-room, where he found Ney, Bormont, Excelmans, and Gerard.
"Has your Majesty obtained any repose?" asked Ney solicitously.
"Thanks, I am much rested. Is everything prepared for our departure?"
"Your carriage waits below, sire."
"Then, gentlemen, let us go."
Glancing around his prison room in the Castle Gracci, the great Napoleon had soon perceived how helpless he was in the hands of his betrayers, how hopelessly impossible were all chances of escape. His hands were clasped with manacles of steel; shackles of iron weighed down his limbs, and massive chains bound him securely to solid steel bolts in the floor. For two days he had languished in agony, staring up at the tall casement of his chamber, meditating plans of escape and revenge, vainly imploring an inexorable fate to assist him. Two days. It was a period filled with more of torture than ever human being had suffered before, for never before had mortal since the world began been endowed with such a mind and wealth of genius, so much capacity to feel and measure accurately all things, even the tremendous misfortune under which he now labored. On the threshold of success—a success, a triumph, in the preparation of which he had used the stores of his intellect and lavished the full treasures of his mighty genius, he had been tricked and entrapped to his ruin by a dastard who owed him nothing but gratitude. His friend, his more than love, Marie de Montpessier, had been most foully murdered in his defence; he himself was now incarcerated in a dungeon, after suffering a series of indignities.
Napoleon gazed with calm eyes at the barred window of his prison, his mind, clear as day, his marvellous brain active and creative as ever. Nothing in his appearance indicated the terrible anguish which filled his breast and gnawed relentlessly at his heart-strings. Napoleon has been called a demi-god by his worshippers, a devil without power of feeling by those who blindly hated him. In his prison, alone with the calamities that had befallen him, he showed himself all heroic. Torn from his greatness on the eve of proving to the world his title to eternal grandeur, and borne off a prisoner without hope—carried like a vile criminal, bound and gagged, his living flesh bruising with each jolt and movement of his bearers, the dead body of the woman he so ardently worshipped, which, by the unspeakable brutality of his captors, has been included in the coffin prepared for him—what mortal subjected to such outrages could have lived; or, surviving, have retrained his reason? Napoleon, suffering torments which no soul of the damned would have preferred to the flames of Hell, survived the ordeal, and in his solitary chamber reflected dispassionately on his fate, outwardly unmoved; quiet, with the calm of unrivalled dignity—grand with the supernatural serenity, the indifference, to misfortune of a god.
One last hope, in spite of the terrible circumstances which surrounded him, still flickered fitfully in Napoleon's soul. Hope is usually the coward's refuge, his final effort to postpone facing the inevitable. With Napoleon it was otherwise. His reason, his vast knowledge of men and of himself, bade him hope that his marshals would perceive in the man who had usurped his place a craven substitute for the true hero who should have led them. With the departure of the few rays of light that had sought out and entered his chamber, to lovingly touch and fondle softly, his dark, brooding features, this hope sickened and almost died. He knew, that very soon his soldiers, his children, whom he loved and had trained for France's glory, must engage the armies of the enemy under the guidance of a charlatan. With this thought a bitterness worse a thousand times than death assailed him and infinite despair possessed his soul. He became desperate, not for himself, but for his children, for France! How could any other, however great, least of all that adventurer, his scoundrel half-brother, continue and complete the gigantic task he himself had conceived and commenced.
A vision came to him with the close of day and he saw stretched before him a vast track of country, scattered with flying legions. Rain was falling; it was near to night and the thunder of cannon mingled with the reverberating roar of charging squadrons filled the air, while the smoke of the guns made everything all but invisible. Napoleon had seen many such a field when his guiding star shone uppermost, and his victorious battalions, at word from him, had sent the enemies of France reeling and staggering in flight. The instinct of battle filled him now. His eyes dilated and glowed with a strange fire, and he strained to distinguish through the dusk between the vanquished and their conquerors. Suddenly he saw, with an unspeakable feeling of dread, a few of the flying form themselves hurriedly into a square and stand—a dark, devoted body, their faces to the surging foe. Whole brigades of the cavalry of the conquering host threw themselves upon this square with seemingly invincible fury, always, however, to be repulsed. Finally, a section of artillery was hurried forward to sweep off the earth this desperate band of heroes. The order to fire was given, and in the flash of the guns as they belched forth their grim messengers of destruction Napoleon, ere the last man fell in death, saw that it was the standard of France which was being gallantly defended by his own most loved veterans, the Old Guard.
The vision passed and the Hero of France, his face pallid with despair and stern as death, turned quickly to rap loudly on the door of the chamber with his manacles. It was opened by a tall, dark-visaged man, who asked in Corsican patois, "What want you, thus making so much clamor?"
"I must speak with your mistress."
"She will not see you."
"Tell her that the fate of France—ah, but that will not move her—tell her that the fate of her husband and her own is in my hands; that they depend upon her seeing me. Now, at once."
The man shut the door with a clash and an hour passed before it again opened.
This time Elise, Countess d'Attala, attended by two powerful men heavily armed and bearing lamps, appeared at the entrance.
Napoleon smiled scornfully to observe these precautions; then slightly inclined his head to the lady. The countess, pale, with an unaccountable agitation, spoke hesitatingly.
"You sent me a message, sir?"
"Madame, I am your Emperor."
The lady trembled. "Sire," she stammered; then, recalled to herself by the clank of the chains which fettered the limbs of her prisoner, a sudden insolence seized her.
"Ha! ha! ha!" she laughed out, a silvery peal of mocking laughter; "you are mad."
"Madame, I am still sane; I have sent for you on a matter which is vital to France; you must do my bidding to save France."
"France! What is France to me?"
"True, true; you are already a traitor to your country. But in this instance what will save France will save you."
"What mean you?"
"Your husband thinks, no doubt, that he has my plans of campaign. Unfortunately for him he possesses only the plans which I made public for my own purpose. That purpose was to delude my enemies."
The Countess d'Attala stared at the Emperor in startled silence.
"Heavens!" she muttered; "then you have other plans? What if this be true?"
"Your husband can never succeed unless he receives a message from me before he brings about a battle. I repeat, the only plans which can now be in his possession were formulated by me for the mere purpose of deceiving my enemies."
"Prove this to me! Where are your true plans of campaign? The ones you intended yourself to use."
Napoleon smiled inscrutably. "Those plans, madame, are reposing still—in my brain. I can trust myself. I have learned to trust myself alone."
"You wish to treat with me for these plans. At what price can I obtain them?"
"Madame, if we barter, there is but one price you could pay me that I would accept—my liberty—my liberty."
"No," pursued Napoleon, "I do not hope for such a blessing from you. I have too deeply incurred your enmity."
"What do you mean? How?"
"I have been a benefactor to you, madame; my gifts have earned your hatred."
"Sire, once I loved you."
"Long ago, long ago."
"Had you loved me, I would——"
"You would have betrayed me more deeply still."
"You wrong me; I would have loved you and served you always."
"Well, well; that cannot now be proved. I am at your mercy; see these chains."
Tears welled unbidden to the eyes of the beautiful courtesan as she heard these words uttered by the Emperor in a tone of heartrending sadness. "Sire, I grieve for the part I play in your misfortunes."
"Madame, you have ruined me; but your sorrow pays for all."
The words implied a compliment; but Napoleon had never been known to traffic in such paltry coin. Elise looked up to mark a fleeting smile cross the Emperor's face; to see the light of a measureless scorn flame for an instant from the hero's eyes. The satire cut her like a knife, for, curiously enough, at that moment her repentance was sincere.
"Is it too late?" she murmured softly. "Ah, if you had but loved me."
A noble pride forced Napoleon's spirit to recoil from the baseness of this woman's feature, revealed by her traitorous suggestion.
"Madame," he replied sternly, "I could not sink so far as to love such as you."
This time his scorn stung her like a lash and she drew herself up erect, her cheeks tingling from the shame of his words.
"To business," she cried. "These plans?"
"Free one of my hands. Give me pen, ink, and paper, and I shall do my best."
"What do you require in return?"
An unbelieving smile curled the countess's lips. "Nothing?" she repeated.
"You are generous, my noble Emperor!"
"Your sneer, madame, does not touch me. What I do is for France. My plans will benefit your husband—that I regret; but they will save France—that is my duty."
The countess laughed outright. Her shallow nature could not fathom the nobility of character of Napoleon. She could not understand that he loved France then better than himself; that he desired his country's greatness far more than his own glory. She imagined that she saw here some cunning deep laid plot to ruin herself and her husband, and she gloried in the astuteness by which she had been able to detect it.
"Bah!" she hissed at him like an angry serpent, and, turning to her guards, cried out to them to load the prisoner with even heavier chains. The door clanged, the bolts were shot, and Napoleon was left once more alone with the blackness of night and the gloom, blacker far, of his rejections, his now most absolute despair.
An hour passed and the Hero of France had not moved. Then a sigh broke from him, wrested from his soul by the poignancy of his anguish.
"Ah, France, France; had I been able to abase myself and quell thy stubborn pride; to be humble and gentle with that woman, to flatter her, perchance I had persuaded her, and thou, my loved country would have been saved. Ah, France, my child, my country, I should have sacrificed all for thee; I commence to deserve my fate."
Through the darkness rang out a sudden clang of chains and the sound of a body falling heavily. The agony of that hour had been too much for mortal flesh to bear; the body of Napoleon sank into unconsciousness.
In the long and death-like sleep that followed the spirit of the Emperor, the genius which had ennobled him above all the earth's children since mortal life began, burst from its shackles and fled from the clay which had suddenly become too frail to longer contain its imperial vastness.
When he awoke again all that was godlike in Napoleon had departed. There remained a man, still grander and greater then his fellows, but, alas! a man.
"I have to report, sire, that Bourmont has betrayed us. He deserted to-day."
Marshal Ney spoke, his quiet tone of intense bitterness showing the indignation which he felt.
Paolo, the sham Napoleon, heard in his heart an echo of Ney's generous indignation and felt in an injured mood. Was he not then to have a monopoly of the world's treachery? Were lesser men to be allowed to commit smaller infamies with impunity? At the moment he could have sent Bourmont to the scaffold, feeling himself all the justification of outraged honesty.
"The wretch," he responded to Ney. "But France wants no waverers. The more glory for those who stand by me, and, from the combats of the next few days, win imperishable renown."
Ney looked curiously at the Emperor as he spoke. Such speeches were not after the fashion of the Napoleon of old. He had expected a curt nod and an intimation, "Let him be sought out in the battle and hanged." The fact that his general was becoming eloquent filled the rugged old marshal with a strange uneasiness. Many another man in camp could have confessed to the same vague disquietude, created within the past day or two by the altered manners of the Emperor. He was less to be seen than of old. He took no interest, seemingly, in musket or sabre or cartouche. The Napoleon of Austerlitz, on the eve of such a campaign as this, would have been half the day scrutinising gun carriages, seeing that the bayonets were sharp, and that the soldiers' victuals were of the proper quality and quantity. The present Napoleon kept to his headquarters, saw as little as possible even of the marshals, and in public was talkative and bombastic. Fewer words and more acts would have better suited the brave fellows who had brought out their lives to the support of a name.
But, before the fatal day of Waterloo, these grand soldiers were to have more serious cause for doubt and anxiety. There were hundreds of them who knew the plan of campaign that was being followed and could at a call have taken control of the army and led it on to the great series of victories which had been planned. There was not one of the officers but that knew something of military tactics, and there was not one, therefore, who did not notice that ghastly blunders were being daily perpetrated.
It was a campaign whose grand central idea was worthy of a giant battle, but whose very detail was spoilt by terrible stupidity and gross laziness. The "Napoleon" who commanded was a creature of sloth and vacillation, almost of timidity. He gave orders which could hardly be comprehended and countermanded them an hour afterwards. He lay abed of mornings while hours most precious were frittered away. He listened in silent and uncomprehending stupidity to the reports of his marshals.
At last, on the night of June 16, when a Council of War met, Ney suggested to his brother-officers that the Emperor was evidently ill, and that it would be well if he entrusted the conclusion of the campaign to his chiefs of brigade. The daring idea was not, however, brought before the Emperor. Ney, as brave in council as in war, was prepared to moot the matter if assured of some support from others. But there was too general a belief in the invincible nature of Napoleon's genius, too absolute a recognition of the fact that his plane in the past, though often seemingly wild and foolish, had always vindicated themselves, to allow his brother marshals to given any countenance to Ney. So the campaign of blunders continued.
The feelings of the leaders were shared by their men. At the camp, on the night before Waterloo, two soldiers of the guard might have been overheard as they lay in the sodden fields discussing the events of the week.
"I say, Pierre, the Little Corporal must be ill. Why, on Friday, didn't we drive these Prussians to hell? We had them licked, spitted like chickens before the fire, and let them march away as calm as you please."
"You're always grumbling, Francois. You ought to be Emperor, you ought. It is the only job that would suit you. I tell you, you don't know Napoleon. He has some very deep game on. My oath he has. You don't remember Marrengo, of course," the veteran went on, as he lit a pipe. "You weren't there, but I was, and a warm time we had. Napoleon was for drinking big wine that day; so he sent us into battle, and we lost. We were fairly smacked in the face and driven back, and I was for saying good-bye to France. But it was only his cuteness. In a few hours we had simply crushed the Austrians. Nap had just led them on a bit, like, so as to get at them better. That's what he is doing now."
"Ah, Francois," Pierre went on, half dreamily, "you don't know the Emperor by one-half yet. He has something big in his mind. But I wonder that he has not been round to see us to-night. They say there is to be a big battle to-morrow; against the English, too—a different kind of game to the Prussians or the Austrians. We will have tough work, Francois, tough work."
"They say, Pierre, these English are rough devils and kill the wounded."
"They say damned lies, then. I was in Spain, and once an English soldier saved my life when some dirty Spaniards were going to roast me. They are splendid fellows, but devils to fight. Now, if we had not Nap——"
The train of reflection that the remark indicated was so absorbing that Pierre sank into silence and then into sleep. He was awakened by the roll of the drums on Sunday morning—the Sunday of Waterloo.
The most momentous battle of the century was being fought. After a long period of exasperating inaction, during which the French Emperor seemed to be vacillating and uncertain in mind, the eagles took their flight against the red line holding La Haye Sainte and Mont St. Jean. At noon the sham Napoleon was seated at a little table, his eyes half closed, apparently poring over a map. In reality he was in a stupor of shame and horror. Paoli Gracci, in the light of the experiences of the past few days, was now about to see his true position. In the hollow of his hand was the French army and the fate of France; and the hand was unskilled and faltered. He had imagined that to be Napoleon was easy; the colossal genius of his half-brother he had never properly appreciated, but had always ranked as being of the same type as his own dexterous impudence and courage. But now he comprehended to the full his mistake. The battle array was before him. The campaign designed by the mighty genius of the great Napoleon had reached its culminating point. Before him there was waiting to be seized a glorious victory, carrying with it the gratitude and reverence of all France; deathless renown, boundless empire, transcending glory. But he recognised too well that to his hand was denied the glittering prize. These brave fellows whom another would have sent to victory he could but harry to death.
In the villainous character of Paoli Gracci there was one admirable feature—an intense love for manly courage and strength. He could have loved soldiers as dearly as did Napoleon. His heart went out to the magnificent fellows who greeted his every appearance with frantic cheers of welcome, and whose bold eyes followed with admiration his slightest movement. Now he was conscious that he was sending these heroes to their graves. Disgrace and shame overshadowed him, and his thoughts were black as death.
The battle raged on. Deprived of the direction of the master mind which had so long controlled their movements, the French troops fought with wild courage, but in aimless fashion. Reille's attack on Hougomont was a mad and foolish enterprise. A wicked waste of men and powder, in any event it was rendered by the stubborn courage of the English defenders absolutely disastrous to the French cause. Then Ney and D'Erlon, left to their own devices, committed the gigantic blunder or the first attack on La Haye Sainte. The clumsily-managed columns succeeded in reaching the British lines by sheer elan; their fierce yells there frightened the hearts out of the Belgians in Wellington's ranks and sent them running towards Brussels. But the British Grenadiers and the Royal Scots maintained their noble reputation. Though the gallant Picton fell, the French line was rolled back in confusion.
The over-bold Britishers attempted to turn the repulse in to a rout, but the conquerors of a hundred European battlefields were not to be so easily worsted. The English cavalry troops, which attempted a pursuit, were roughly handled, and the columns of France withdrew in fair order. Nevertheless, the battle seemed practically lost. The Prussians, though not yet in sight, were now massing on the flank of the French. The Emperor was between two armies.
Paolo Gracci sat on at the little table, his heart frozen with horror. The sight of the French troops reeling back and then turning stubbornly to save defeat from merging into disaster, touched his heart. He felt at last some idea of his own baseness, and the thought of the awful massacres, of the almost unimaginable disasters, that would follow upon his treachery made him groan in spirit. If at that moment, by slaying himself, he could have brought Napoleon to the field of battle he would not have hesitated a moment, but by self-destruction would have atoned for his crime, so complete was his humiliation, so poignant his anguish.
Afar off, on the crest of the hill, among the red coats, a sunbeam straying caught a golden point, and the reflected light flickered mockingly in the faces of the French. It was one of the eagles of Austerlitz which the British Grenadiers had just captured.
Stragglers from D'Erlon's corps passed the seated Emperor as they went to the rear for fresh supplies of cartridges or for the dressing of their wounds. As they passed their talk stung the Corsican scoundrel to the quick.
"Poor Napoleon," said one. "Look, he is ill, or, by God, we would not be handled like this."
Another, whose arm hung by a thread or two of flesh, but who, with the help of a comrade, stumbled bravely on, was almost, exultant. "He is ill, yes. But he will be well presently. Then we will drive those bulldogs to the sea."
A third, who did not seem to be wounded, was openly scornful—"Is he to drink the blood of all Frenchmen? War, war; always war! and always defeat." A Cuirassier, whose jaw had been shattered by a musket ball, with an uncouth grimace, tried to clear his mouth of the blood and fragments of bone which prevented speech. His lips, however, refused to meet and the blood slobbered down his face. He shook a feeble fist at the grumbler, and his eyes said that if his tongue could but speak his reproaches would be terrible.
A group came reeling drunkenly past, every man with a wound, roaring out:
"Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos battalions."
At the sight of the Emperor they ceased the song of the Republic, and, standing to attention, shouted, "Vive, L'Empereur!" With the shout one man's life went out of him and he fell almost at the feet of the little table. Paolo writhed in agony.
The staff officers gathered round the Emperor once again, and Ney came thundering up, his face ensanguined, his voice furious. "Wake up, sir, wake up!" he called to the Emperor harshly. "Before God these——- ------ whip us. Wake up and do something."
The officers expected a terrible outburst of anger from the Emperor, but Paolo said nothing; merely gazed drowsily, stupidly at the marshal.
There was a pause. The gallant Ney at last turned on his heel, and, his back to the Emperor, growled, "Napoleon no longer lives. This is but a stuffed figure."
Moved by a common impulse, the chiefs of brigade grouped themselves close to Ney, leaving Paolo almost alone, nodding his head over the little table. Some sort of a plan for the renewal of the attack was made by Ney—a courageous, dashing plan, which was typical of the man. In a few minutes there burst upon the English lines the grandest charge of cavalry in history. The attempt opened with disaster to the French; at Ohain Dubois' brigade encountered a sunken road, and men and horses rolled to an inglorious death in the pitfall. Still, no other troops in the world but the English could have withstood that tempest of Centaurs. The Britishers, "like a rocky shore, beat back the envious siege." With stolid, stubborn courage they met the fierce rage of Hussar and Cuirassier. Their steel-clad squares stood firm before the charge of twelve thousand horsemen. Repulsed, the French, fell back. A second charge was made, and met the same fate. A third charge broke itself in vain against those wonderful squares.
But then the tide of battle turned. Ney, after a furious cannonade, carried La Haye Sainte at the point of the bayonet, and, following up the success, burst through the British centre. The battle seemed won for France, and the French marshal, forgetting in his jubilation the previous incident of the day, dispatched Colonel Heymes in hot haste to ask the Emperor to order a general advance of the line. Heymes found Paolo apparently asleep. For a few precious moments he hesitated to rouse him. Finally the thought of duty was stronger than fear, and Heymes arrested Paolo's attention by shaking his shoulder almost roughly.
The Emperor stared stupidly at the officer, who, as rapidly as he could, described the glorious turn of fortune and asked for every battalion available. Paolo did not seem to comprehend. He was sunk in lethargy and spoke as a drunken man. For more than fifteen minutes Heymes argued and beseeched. Then he went back to Ney to report. It was at that time too late. The chance of victory, which Ney's gallantry had won, had been thrown away. Wellington's line, reformed, again presented an impenetrable front to its enemy.
The battle of Waterloo had ended. There yet remained the most dramatic incident of the fight, perhaps of any fight of the world—the charge of the Old Guard—but there was, when these grizzled veterans rushed to death, no longer any chance of victory. The charge was empty; the result of a wild impulse on the part of beaten soldiers to die fighting. The Prussians had now joined in the fray and the fragments of the French army were between the two great forces.
Paolo Gracci at last thought of the necessity to escape and turned towards Charleroi, a few of his soldiers around him. The last sound of the battlefield that reached his ears were that of the divisions of the Old Guard under Cambronne, which, surrounded by enemies, cried out the defiance, "The Old Guard dies, but never surrenders!"
After Waterloo Paolo retired to Paris, hunted on his path by the Prussians, who atoned for their small share in the fighting of the battle by a masterful activity in pursuit. The despair of the sham Emperor deepened with every hour. His attitude of deep stupid dejection made him an object of contemptuous pity on the part of those around him. But the magic of Napoleon's name still preserved for him a semblance of respect. At Paris the Double met Fouché. To the disturbed and anxious mind of Paolo the look of the great police spy seemed to be auspicious and inquiring, but he said nothing which could enable the impostor to conclude certainly that his fraud was suspected. It is more that probable, however, that Fouché guessed the truth; there was in his manner a contempt which he would never have dared to assume before the real Napoleon.
On the night of the 22nd Paolo's despair was so great that he resolved upon self-destruction and took a powerful poison. Owing to the interference of a physician the drug did not prove deadly, and from this near acquaintance with death the adventurer won confidence. He now believed that Fate had still some happiness in store for him, and his quick mind was set to planning means by which he might turn the frowns of Fortune into smiles. On the 29th he finally resolved upon an attempt to escape to America and set out for the port of Rochefort.
When Paolo left Niort, on the final stage of his journeys, he and his few followers found themselves among people who received the name of Napoleon with execration instead of with the pity and good wishes that had hitherto marked the flight of the fallen. The ultra-loyalists of the south of France had, on hearing the news of the battle of Waterloo, inaugurated the reign of the "White Terror," during which excesses were committed only comparable to the horrors of the Republican reign of Robespierre and Marat. The Terrorists, not satisfied with the murder of all followers of Napoleon who came within reach of their vengeance, conceived the bold plan of seizing and executing the ex-Emperor himself. A trusty band of 20 was dispatched northwards on the errand, and came upon Paolo and his small escort some 15 miles from Niort, as the dark shades of night were falling. Just at the same time, from the northward, another small troop of horsemen bore down upon the Imperial party. Paolo became manifestly uneasy as he perceived that the men to the south were fully armed and apparently were in pursuit of somebody. Knowing that a couple of cavalry regiments under Becker were stationed towards the north, the route of his followers was directed thither. In a few moments this brought about a meeting with the little cavalcade that had been approaching from towards Havre. At its head was a woman.
"Gentlemen," she cried, "have you the Emperor Napoleon with you?"
Las Cases shouted back—"Yes, mademoiselle. Who are you?"
"Thank God," cried a voice which Paolo now recognised as that of Elise. "We are friends. I must see the Emperor."
In a second or two Elise and Paolo were riding side by side, a little ahead of their escort.
"Merciful heavens, how I have longed to see you," Elise murmured to her husband. "I have been distracted with anguish and anxiety."
Paolo answered awkwardly, constrainedly. He felt the presence of Elise to be rather a trouble than otherwise. He wished to forget Napoleon; to get out of the accursed blood-reeking country, which he had betrayed; to escape from all his old associates, and to commence another life in the new world. Elise noticed the absence of any warmth in her husband's greeting, but attributed it to the dejection following on the miseries and misfortunes of the past few days. As she rode by his side she kept up a soft flow of loving sympathy, of condolence, urging him to still hope, and planning delights for the future. She was soon interrupted by Las Cases, who rushed up in a state of wild alarm.
"The horsemen approach, sire," he exclaimed. "They come with drawn swords. Just now I heard faintly on the breeze a cry, 'Down with Bonaparte; down with the tyrant.'"
Paolo turned to look. Surely enough in the gloaming a party of 20 horsemen could be seen approaching rapidly, as if in pursuit. A leader with sword drawn waved them on, and there could be heard, carried on the wings of the evening breeze, yells and shouts of rage.
"Possibly they pursue us," said Paolo. "I will ask you to stay with the escort and parley with them. I will press on with this lady towards Becker's camp. If they seek Napoleon, delay them as long as you can, but remember—no bloodshed. If they molest you, scatter and fly and alarm the garrison."
"I shall be safe, Las Cases, never fear. But remember, no bloodshed. I want no more lives to be lost for me."
The man turned back, and Paolo and Elise pressed on. The pursuing party was stopped by the Imperial escort, and the two fugitives were soon lost to sight. The rapid pace at which they urged their horses did not allow of much conversation, but Elise managed to communicate to her husband the offer made by Napoleon in his dungeon. She had expected to be commended for her caution, but Paolo rewarded her only with a savage oath, "I wish you had let the devil go," he cried. "On the day of Waterloo I died a thousand deaths."
Dumbfounded, the woman made no reply and no sound was heard for some time but the beat of the hoofs of their galloping horses. Then of a sudden a clamor broke in on the evening—the oaths and cries and clatter of a body of armed men. The pursuit had been renewed, and with deadly swiftness the hunters lessened the distance which separated them from their quarry. Paolo's horse was swifter than Elise's, and for a brief moment or two he contemplated pushing on by himself and leaving her to abide the award of fate. He had determined to get rid of the woman and the occasion was opportune. But, rascal as he was, Paolo could not descend to such a coward act. So he kept his horse by the side of her's and anxiously looked ahead, wondering if his end had at last come.
Soon Paolo perceived with joy a little cottage by the roadside, whose evening lamp showed as a bright star in the gathering gloom. A cottage was as good to him then as a fortress. Telling Elise briefly to follow him, he drew rein and dismounted. An old charcoal burner answered the rapid knock of the Corsican, and Paolo thrust a gold piece into his hand, speaking imperiously, briefly.
"Soldiers are coming. We want your house for a fight. If you wish to keep a whole skin you had better clear."
The man stared stupidly at the cavalier and then at the lady.
"Clear!" said Paolo gruffly, pushing the man out of the door. Then he looked round the hut. It was, he observed with pleasure, strongly built. The massive door was pierced with a spy-hole and the single window was defended by heavy iron bars. Evidently the district was one which had been infested by highwaymen.
"We ought to hold this for a few hours," he said, and slipped outside for a moment to feel in the saddle-bags of the horses. He returned with a heavy sabre and two horse pistols.
"Of course there were no firearms in your saddle-bags," he grumbled to Elise, as he barred the door, "you cursed women are never practical."
The two waited in gloomy silence until the sound of galloping hoofs came and went, and a gleam of triumph flashed into Paolo's eyes as he heard the sound gradually receding. It faded when the clink of spurs and swords taught him that the pursuing troop, probably having perceived the two riderless horses, had returned on the track of the fugitives.
Soon there was a knock at the door and a gruff voice demanded that it should be opened. Paolo took a pistol and went to the spyhole, waiting calmly while one of the horsemen banged and swore. The man at last perceived the spyhole and peered in. A bullet at that moment crashed into his brain and almost without a cry he fell, his weight pressing the door against the bolts. The sound of men rushing away convinced Paolo that his first stroke had told. In a second or two he had the door open and dragged the corpse into the room. Elise shuddered, but the practical Paolo at once set himself to stripping the body of its arms. The man had in his belt two pistols, a flask of powder, and a small bag of bullets. "They are added to the Imperial armory," said the Corsican cynically, and motioning Elise to sit, he waited quietly.
Soon a little shower of bullets from muskets pattered on the walls of the cottage. Three came through the window. Paolo smiled softly—"It will take a lot of that sort of attack to hurt us," he muttered. Elise seemed as if in a trance and did not utter a word, though she promptly obeyed all the orders of her husband. Two hours passed, during which an occasional shot came through the window or struck the door.
At 10 o'clock Paolo could see, by the dim light of the moon, that his assailants were preparing some new plan. They had felled a tree and were lopping off its boughs.
"Ah," he said to Elise, "a battering ram. That looks like business." He thought a moment and then, seeing an old sheepskin cloak and hat hanging on the wall of the cottage, he seemed to conceive some good plan, for he smiled softly and commenced to hum a tune. Drawing his sabre from his sheath, and holding it in his left hand, he wrapped the cloak around him and douched the hat down on to his eyes.
"Wave a cloth from the window," he commanded Elise.
The signal of surrender was soon perceived by the soldiers of the White Terror and at the same time they heard the quavering and feeble voice of an old man—"Peace, gentlemen, peace; what want you?"
Several of the band came cautiously forward, until they were almost within range of pistol shot. "We do not wish to harm you, good man," one cried; "but you have in your cottage the tyrant Napoleon. Deliver him up and we will leave you."
"But, sirs, he is asleep and he paid me well; five gold pieces for shelter."
"Give him up and we will give 50," cried one of the band.
The old man seemed to clutch eagerly at the offer: "Give me fifty," he said, "and let me go away, and you can take him yourselves."
The men came crowding forward. "Only one of you," quavered the old fellow: "only one of you. Bring the gold and I will come out."
One of the band stepped forward, holding a musket ready in his hand to fire, lest there should be a trap. The cottager tottered feebly out and, meeting the man, held out his right hand graspingly for the money. As the soldier bent to give it to him the stooped figure straightened itself; a sword, wielded with the left hand, came round with lightning sweep, and the soldier's head was almost severed from his body. Before the White Terrorists comprehended what had happened the dead body had been dragged into the cottage. Their hail of bullets pattered harmlessly on the thick door, whilst Paolo, with quiet calmness, took the musket from the warm hands of the corpse and stripped away also the soldier's cartridge box. "That makes things more equal," he remarked, and sat down with confidence to await the battering ram.
In time ten men came charging up the little slope around the cottage, bearing between them a great log of wood. Paolo had loaded his musket carefully, wrapping the bullet most tenderly in cloth, making it so bulky that it was only with the greatest difficulty it could be hammered down the barrel. When the soldiers of the Terror were within 30 yards he fired and the foremost was struck. His fall caused the others to stumble and the great log fell. Paolo for a moment contemplated a sortie upon his discomfited assailants, but prudence restrained him. "Alas," he said to himself, "why did I not study the art of slaughter on a large scale?" And then he sat down again to wait.
A bugle blast sounding the gallop came faintly to his ears. "Hurrah!" he called out in his excitement to Elise. "Becker's men are coming to the rescue."
The White Terrorists heard too, and, furious at the thought of being baulked of their prey, they came rushing up the hill for a last desperate assault upon the cottage, armed with axes and swords and muskets. One fell before the troop reached the threshold, but the others went furiously at the building with their axes. A breach was soon made. Paolo's pistol marked the event with another death. In another minute the door was down and fifteen men faced one. But it was a mob against a perfectly cool and wonderfully skilled swordsman. The Terrorists, if they had not been insane with rage, might have stood off and by a fusillade ended the struggle. Instead, they pressed on in a crowd, with drawn swords, on to the door. The sabre of Paolo was sheathed again and again in the flesh of the ruffians. Three fell before the party had won even the doorway, and then Paolo discharged a pistol full in their faces and Elise, aiming from behind him, another. Seized with panic, the Terrorists fell back and before they could attempt another assault two squadrons of cavalry had come up, Las Cases with them.
The sight of the Emperor unscathed, with seven dead bodies around him, made the soldiers drunk with enthusiasm.
"Vive l'Empereur!" they cried, "Napoleon will again save France."
Paolo bowed and smiled. He now knew what it was to have won a battle.
With Paolo to Rochefort came Elise. Arrived there, the sham Emperor insisted upon his wife returning to the Castle Gracci and still keeping guard over the imprisoned Napoleon. He professed to be able to make no arrangements for the future, but promised to communicate with her as soon as he was in safety. Bitterly conscious that she was being deserted, the countess bade farewell to Paolo. A day or two later the sham Napoleon had surrendered to England and was aboard the Bellerophon.
Life on board the Bellerophon was positively pleasant to Paolo after the experiences of Waterloo and the flight through France. The knowledge of the awful miscalculation that he had made in reckoning on his own adroit impudence as equal to the genius of Napoleon had weighed upon him like a mountain until he was clear of French soil. Now, on board a British frigate, he felt, at any rate, safe from the vengeance of the people whom he had betrayed; and the cheers of the peasants hailing their destroyer no longer called shame on his black treachery. Paolo had little doubt but that his request to be allowed to retire to America would be granted by the English Government. Within the few days following the battle of Ligny his ambition had shrunk into wonderfully small compass, and he now hoped but for the quiet possession and enjoyment of the treasures which he had accumulated during his long connection with the Court of Napoleon. Elise he had lost, certainly; but then she was, after all, getting old—there were many fair women yet in the world.
Some disquieting thoughts disturbed his self-complacency when he heard whispers that the European monarchs half demanded that Napoleon should be executed, and absolutely insisted upon his incarceration in a dungeon. But, on reflection, Paolo convinced himself that he still had a final resort of safety. If Napoleon were condemned he could throw off the mask he had assumed, and, by betraying the real Napoleon to the Allies, win immunity and riches for himself. On the whole, the man found some consolation for the dreadful agonies of Waterloo; for the horrors of that night when the deadly poison penetrated with anguishing darts every fibre of his body; for the alarms of the journey when he was pursued by the deadly hatred of the White Terrorists. The future seemed to promise some consolation for the past.
On July 27 Sir Henry Bunbury requested a private interview with the distinguished prisoner of the English nation. Paolo, anxious to learn the decision as to his fate, was only too ready to meet the English Under-Secretary. He was received with an evident coldness and restraint. Sir Henry did not break the silence and Paolo was forced to himself speak first.
"You wished to see me? Am I to learn now of my future residence?"
"I have painful news to communicate to you."
"There can be to me no more of sorrow after the events of the past month."
"The English Government is unable to accede to your request for an asylum in America or a Governorship in the Indies."
"It is probable that you will be lodged in a fortress."
Paolo, conscious of the card he had in reserve, was not overwhelmed by this development of the desperate game he was playing. It was a contingency that he had foreseen.
"The Emperor Napoleon," he said, in affected tones of reproach and surprise, "is to be imprisoned in a dungeon, like a felon. Is this the generosity of England?"
"Europe insists that General Bonaparte shall be strictly guarded."
"I agree," said Paolo rapidly, "with the decision." And then, without a suggestion of being ashamed, sometimes, indeed, with the ring of insolent triumph in his voice, the adventurer related the story of his impersonation of the Emperor. He was astonished to find that the Englishman remained phlegmatic during the recital and showed no signs of wonderment. Marvelling at this, he peered steadily into Bunbury's eyes, pushing to do so his face close to that of the Englishman.
"I will thank you to keep a little further away," said Bunbury stiffly.
Paolo, utterly confounded at this curious reception of his story, could not utter a word. He sat and looked at Sir Henry Bunbury as at some curious savage. It was the Englishman who resumed the conversation.
"You make no revelations," he said. "What you say we already know. I came here to-day only for confirmation of a report which has reached us from France. Indeed, the lady who exposed your masquerade is now in London."
What Bunbury said was true. Elise, enraged at the perfidious conduct of her husband, had set herself to thwarting the plans which she had before been assisting him to carry out. The idea first possessed her of freeing Napoleon and allowing him to wreak his vengeance on the traitor whose infernal vanity had ruined France. But this offered no prospect of a speedy revenge. Napoleon, when she returned to the Castle Gracci, was in a high fever and there seemed to be really some fears of his dying. Perplexed on all sides with doubts and difficulties, she finally communicated with the English Government, and her strange story was investigated and found to be true. With the utmost secrecy the real Napoleon was removed, Elise accompanying him, to England, and at the moment that Sir Henry Bunbury was speaking with Paolo the ex-Emperor was on board the vessel.
Paolo swiftly divined that it was Elise who had forestalled his story. He cursed the woman heartily to himself, but, failing to see that her action made any important difference in his plans, he went on suavely—
"Ah, well, I am saved the risk of a long explanation. It is now only necessary to discuss what reward England will make to me for my services to her."
The Englishman flushed heavily and retorted angrily, contemptuously, "Reward?" he sneered; "reward for murdering some 40,000 men. Reward for sending your brave fellows to death. Reward? By God, you ought to be flogged to death through the street, you treacherous imp of hell. And you will be," he continued grimly, "you will be if there is a law to do it."
The Englishman stopped. He was not given to oratory, and even so long a speech betrayed extraordinary excitement on his part. But the sight of the face of Paolo, who seemed now as though about to cringe, set him speaking again.
"Look here," he muttered; "do you know what you are? A Judas Iscariot! Napoleon is a man. He licked the whole Continent, and now that we have licked him I wish to God he were our general. But you, you dog——" Here the Englishman's rage choked him.
Paolo, recognising that there was nothing to be gained by speech, remained silent until Sir Henry Bunbury spoke again. "I don't know whether we can flog the life out of you. Perhaps we can't, worse luck, for the laws must be followed. But before you are carried off to a dungeon let me show you."
He motioned to Paolo to follow him and urged thereto by a fierce-looking sailor with a drawn cutlass, the Corsican obeyed. Crossing a narrow gangway Sir Henry Bunbury opened a door, when an invitation to enter had followed his knock.
The Double was there confronted by Napoleon.
Sir Henry waited. He had expected an outburst of regal wrath on the part of the fallen Emperor, a torrent of fiery invective to scorch the wretch whose guilt to France and his Emperor had been so abominable. But Bonaparte said nothing, merely looked curiously, enquiringly, at his counterpart.
The Man of Destiny was haggard and grey. The illness which attacked him at the Castle Gracci had left him worn and weak. But to a keen observer there was another change in addition to that wrought by physical suffering on the imperial features. The eyes no longer shone out with their old fire and strength; the mouth drooped; the forehead was marked with querulous wrinkles.
The Double and the Emperor faced one another, but there was no recognition in Napoleon's gaze, only a weak petulance at being disturbed and a childish curiosity at the resemblance of the man to himself. Confused at the failure of his plan, Sir Henry Bunbury withdrew, after communicating some trifling errand to Napoleon as an excuse for his intrusion.
The Double was hurried away, and Napoleon, in his cabin, strove wearily to recall what had become of Marie de Montpessier; what had been the sequence of events since his departure from Elba. A misty blur, however, enveloped his mind, and he called in Las Cases to learn gradually from his chat the history of the Hundred Days.
"To the head of the Brotherhood of the Violets at Venice,
from the servant of the Brotherhood, Group 3.
Repected Brother—You have from my last report learned the fate of Our Hope. It was a cruel and malignant fortune which ordained that I should fail after chance had seemed to give me so noble an opportunity of success. If the circle holds that I was at fault, my life is at its disposal.
So soon as I learned that not Our Hope, but the bloody-minded scoundrel whose treacheries to France I have been able to unravel, was in the hands of the English, I set, as I told you, all the resources of the brotherhood to work to find the real. You know the result. Destiny juggled us with minutes. Our hope is now in very truth in the hands of these sombre islanders.
As to the plans of rescue I have several which will shortly be placed before you. All will require some sacrifice of life, but that no Frenchman will shrink from. Before, however, the circle decides on its actions it is well that you should know this—He is dead. His body still lives, but his mighty mind has gone to the dust.
Do we work for him or for France? If for him a rescue would not be well. It would expose to the jeers of the world the ruins of the great temple. If for France it would be folly. It would kill forever the hope of the Violet, for by genius alone can the hope be fulfilled. The circle must, I urge, watch the offshoots of the great plant. He has a son and nephews. Let them be looked to, for on them must our hope rely. He, I repeat, is dead.
The ruins of the greatest of men are, indeed, melancholy. He walks around the island, still majestic and noble in appearance. In conversation there still comes once and again a flash of the old, imperiousness. He seems then to live, but, alas, it is only seeming. In very fact he is a poor old man, querulous, weak, timid.
The blows of that awful night when, the fate of France in the balance, he was shut up in a charnal house, feeling the frost of death creep over the body of the woman he loved, killed the mighty mind. A demi-god, by that demoniac cruelty, became something little better than an idiot. The circle has asked for my report. True to my sacred oath. I relate what I have seen and what I can judge. It is for you to decide.
Yesterday I had a conversation with him, within the little patch of land which is still left to him free from the intrusion of English sentinels. Such account of it as I can recollect is here set forth.
He was walking wearily along a little garden path, muttering to himself as he walked. When I spoke he burst out into a torrent of childish complaint about food, lodging, ceremonies, and such like things. I contemplated mournfully this decadence of the old austre republican spirit, and ventured at last to speak to him of France. His gaze became then tender and melancholy, his eyes filled with tears.
"France, beautiful France," he sighed, "shall I never see your fields, your brave men, your fair women again?"
It was a voice not of an Emperor, but of a poet. The masterful Emperor is dead. There lives in his place a man—sweet, tender, and mournful in some moods, in others childish and trying. He could never again win a battle or rouse a nation. The strongest feeling he could now excite is pity.
If we had one to wield his power in France—one of his blood, to rule and to order—we might strive to bring back what remains of the great hero. To bring him back as a sovereign would be cruel to France and to him.
As to what I have told you with regard to the Double, discretion urges that it should not be published. The English will keep the secret close; they believe that if the strange tale were given to the world France would rise up in arms to rescue the great hero. The belief is a true one. If the circle should publish the truth about Waterloo the very stones of France would rise for him who is Our Hope. Babes would seize arms and women become furies. In a war with the world the divine rage of a nation would conquer, and he would be brought back, even with the navy of England standing in the way. But what would it avail? He is dead, though living, and could not ride the storm again and face armed Europe. It would but lead to a massacre of our nation.
The circle should continue its secret work and spread the badge of the Violet among all true Frenchmen; it should organise, and organise, and organise. Its treasure should be hoarded up; its plans daily revised to bring them nearer to perfection. His son lives: his blood will again assert itself.
There is yet another matter which the circle should look to. Paolo Gracci lives; lives in freedom and wealth. I believe that the English connived at his escape. At any rate, they make no effort to recapture him. He is at present in Mexico. The arm of the brotherhood is long; it must reach him to inflict vengeance for the foulest crimes which ever stained the records of the world. I do beg, brother, that the head circle, if it has still confidence in me, should entrust to my hands the task of revenge on the perfidious wretch. I do not contemplate merely killing him. All the tortures of earth should show him the way to hell. Brother, I beg on bended knee this favor. I loved Our Hope, as a son a father, as a worshipper his idol. From his hands I received twice my life; from him came all the bounties of fortune that I have enjoyed. Let me, I beg you, follow Paolo. I shall not draw on the treasures of the brotherhood. I know a hundred members who will, with me, give their lives to the pursuit of Paolo. The answer to this should be addressed to Madeira, where I will await the instructions of the head circle.
G. A. (head of Group 3, Brotherhood of the Violet),
at St. Helena,
May 20, 1809.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia