Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

An Historical Mystery by Honore de Balzac

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

consuls who were playing cards in the salon. Cambaceres and Lebrun
were then at the mercy of their ministers, men who were infinitely
stronger than they.

"Nearly all these statesmen are dead, and no secrecy is due to them.
They belong to history; and the history of that night and its
consequences has been terrible. I tell it to you now because I alone
know it; because Louis XVIII. never revealed the truth to that poor
Madame de Cinq-Cygne; and because the present government which I serve
is wholly indifferent as to whether the truth be known to the world or
not.

"All four of these personages sat down in the boudoir. The lame man
undoubtedly closed the door before a word was said; it is even thought
that he ran the bolt. It is only persons of high rank who pay
attention to such trifles. The three priests had the livid, impassible
faces which you all remember. Carnot alone was ruddy. He was the first
to speak. 'What is the point to be discussed?' he asked. 'France,'
must have been the answer of the Prince (whom I admire as one of the
most extraordinary men of our time). 'The Republic,' undoubtedly said
Fouche. 'Power,' probably said Sieyes."

All present looked at each other. With voice, look, and gesture de
Marsay had wonderfully represented the three men.

"The three priests fully understood one another," he continued,
resuming his narrative. "Carnot no doubt looked at his colleagues and
the ex-consul in a dignified manner. He must, however, have felt
bewildered in his own mind.

"'Do you believe in the success of the army?' Sieyes said to him.

"'We may expect everything from Bonaparte,' replied the minister of
war; 'he has crossed the Alps.'

"'At this moment,' said the minister of foreign affairs, with
deliberate slowness, 'he is playing his last stake.'

"'Come, let's speak out,' said Fouche; 'what shall we do if the First
Consul is defeated? Is it possible to collect another army? Must we
continue his humble servants?'

"'There is no republic now,' remarked Sieyes; 'Bonaparte is consul for
ten years.'

"'He has more power than ever Cromwell had,' said the former bishop,
'and he did not vote for the death of the king.'

"'We have a master,' said Fouche; 'the question is, shall we continue
to keep him if he loses the battle or shall we return to a pure
republic?'

"'France,' replied Carnot, sententiously, 'cannot resist except she
reverts to the old Conventional /energy/.'

"'I agree with Carnot,' said Sieyes; 'if Bonaparte returns defeated we
must put an end to him; he has let us know him too well during the
last seven months.'

"'The army is for him,' remarked Carnot, thoughtfully.

"'And the people for us!' cried Fouche.

"'You go fast, monsieur,' said the Prince, in that deep bass voice
which he still preserves and which now drove Fouche back into himself.

"'Be frank,' said a voice, as a former Conventional rose from a corner
of the boudoir and showed himself; 'if Bonaparte returns a victor, we
shall adore him; if vanquished, we'll bury him!'

"'So you were there, Malin, were you?' said the Prince, without
betraying the least feeling. 'Then you must be one of us; sit down';
and he made him a sign to be seated.

"It is to this one circumstance that Malin, a Conventional of small
repute, owes the position he afterwards obtained and, ultimately, that
in which we see him at the present moment. He proved discreet, and the
ministers were faithful to him; but they made him the pivot of the
machine and the cat's-paw of the machination. To return to my tale.

"'Bonaparte has never yet been vanquished,' cried Carnot, in a tone of
conviction, 'and he has just surpassed Hannibal.'

"'If the worst happens, here is the Directory,' said Sieyes, artfully,
indicating with a wave of his hand the five persons present.

"'And,' added the Prince, 'we are all committed to the maintenance of
the French republic; we three priests have literally unfrocked
ourselves; the general, here, voted for the death of the king; and
you,' he said, turning to Malin, 'have got possession of the property
of /emigres/.'

"'Yes, we have all the same interests,' said Sieyes, dictatorially,
'and our interests are one with those of the nation.'

"'A rare thing,' said the Prince, smiling.

"'We must act,' interrupted Fouche. 'In all probability the battle is
now going on; the Austrians outnumber us; Genoa has surrendered;
Massena has committed the great mistake of embarking for Antibes; it
is very doubtful if he can rejoin Bonaparte, who will then be reduced
to his own resources.'

"'Who gave you that news?' asked Carnot.

"'It is sure,' replied Fouche. 'You will have the courier when the
Bourse opens.'

"Those men didn't mince their words," said de Marsay, smiling, and
stopping short for a moment.

"'Remember,' continued Fouche, 'it is not when the news of a disaster
comes that we can organize clubs, rouse the patriotism of the people,
and change the constitution. Our 18th Brumaire ought to be prepared
beforehand.'

"'Let us leave the care of that to the minister of police,' said the
Prince, bowing to Fouche, 'and beware ourselves of Lucien.' (Lucien
Bonaparte was then minister of the interior.)

"'I'll arrest him,' said Fouche.

"'Messieurs!' cried Sieyes, 'our Directory ought not to be subject to
anarchical changes. We must organize a government of the few, a Senate
for life, and an elective chamber the control of which shall be in our
hands; for we ought to profit by the blunders of the past.'

"'With such a system, there would be peace for me,' remarked the ex-
bishop.

"'Find me a sure man to negotiate with Moreau; for the Army of the
Rhine will be our sole resource,' cried Carnot, who had been plunged
in meditation.

"Ah!" said de Marsay, pausing, "those men were right. They were grand
in this crisis. I should have done as they did"; then he resumed his
narrative.

"'Messieurs!' cried Sieyes, in a grave and solemn tone.

"That word 'Messieurs!' was perfectly understood by all present; all
eyes expressed the same faith, the same promise, that of absolute
silence, and unswerving loyalty to each other in case the First Consul
returned triumphant.

"'We all know what we have to do,' added Fouche.

"Sieyes softly unbolted the door; his priestly ear had warned him.
Lucien entered the room.

"'Good news!' he said. 'A courier has just brought Madame Bonaparte a
line from the First Consul. The campaign has opened with a victory at
Montebello.'

"The three ministers exchanged looks.

"'Was it a general engagement?' asked Carnot.

"'No, a fight, in which Lannes has covered himself with glory. The
affair was bloody. Attacked with ten thousand men by eighteen
thousand, he was only saved by a division sent to his support. Ott is
in full retreat. The Austrian line is broken.'

"'When did the fight take place?' asked Carnot.

"'On the 8th,' replied Lucien.

"'And this is the 13th,' said the sagacious minister. 'Well, if that
is so, the destinies of France are in the scale at the very moment we
are speaking.'"

(In fact, the battle of Marengo did begin at dawn of the 14th.)

"'Four days of fatal uncertainty!' said Lucien.

"'Fatal?' said the minister of foreign affairs, coldly and
interrogatively.

"'Four days,' echoed Fouche.

"An eye-witness told me," said de Marsay, continuing the narrative in
his own person, "that the consuls, Cambaceres and Lebrun, knew nothing
of this momentous news until after the six personages returned to the
salon. It was then four in the morning. Fouche left first. That man of
dark and mysterious genius, extraordinary, profound, and little
understood, but who undoubtedly had the gifts of a Philip the Second,
a Tiberius and a Borgia, went at once to work with an infernal and
secret activity. His conduct at the time of the affair at Walcheren
was that of a consummate soldier, a great politician, a far-seeing
administrator. He was the only real minister that Napoleon ever had.
And you all know how he then alarmed him.

"Fouche, Massena and the Prince," continued de Marsay, reflectively,
"are the three greatest men, the wisest heads in diplomacy, war, and
government, that I have ever known. If Napoleon had frankly allied
them with his work there would no longer be a Europe, only a vast
French Empire. Fouche did not finally detach himself from Napoleon
until he saw Sieyes and the Prince de Talleyrand shoved aside.

"He now went to work, and in three days (all the while hiding the hand
that stirred the ashes of the Montagne) he had organized that general
agitation which then arose all over France and revived the
republicanism of 1793. As it is necessary that I should explain this
obscure corner of our history, I must tell you that this agitation,
starting from Fouche's own hand (which held the wires of the former
Montagne), produced republican plots against the life of the First
Consul, which was in peril from this cause long after the victory of
Marengo. It was Fouche's sense of the evil he had thus brought about
which led him to warn Napoleon, who held a contrary opinion, that
republicans were more concerned than royalists in the various
conspiracies.

"Fouche was an admirable judge of men; he relied on Sieyes because of
his thwarted ambition, on Talleyrand because he was a great
/seigneur/, on Carnot for his perfect honesty; but the man he dreaded
was the one whom you have seen here this evening. I will now tell how
he entangled that man in his meshes.

"Malin was only Malin in those days,--a secret agent and correspondent
of Louis XVIII. Fouche now compelled him to reduce to writing all the
proclamations of the proposed revolutionary government, its warrants
and edicts against the factions of the 18th Brumaire. An accomplice
against his own will, Malin was required to have these documents
secretly printed, and the copies held ready in his own house for
distribution if Bonaparte were defeated. The printer was subsequently
imprisoned and detained two months; he died in 1816, and always
believed he had been employed by a Montagnard conspiracy.

"One of the most singular scenes ever played by Fouche's police was
caused by the blunder of an agent, who despatched a courier to a
famous banker of that day with the news of a defeat at Marengo.
Victory, you will remember, did not declare itself for Napoleon until
seven o'clock in the evening of the battle. At midday the banker's
agent, considering the day lost and the French army about to be
annihilated, hastened to despatch the courier. On receipt of that news
Fouche was about to put into motion a whole army of bill-posters and
cries, with a truck full of proclamations, when the second courier
arrived with the news of the triumph which put all France beside
itself with joy. There were heavy losses at the Bourse, of course. But
the criers and posters who were gathered to announce the political
death of Bonaparte and to post up the new proclamations were only kept
waiting awhile till the news of the victory could be struck off!

"Malin, on whom the whole responsibility of the plot of which he had
been the working agent was likely to fall if it ever became known, was
so terrified that he packed the proclamations and other papers in
carts and took them down to Gondreville in the night-time, where no
doubt they were hidden in the cellars of that chateau, which he had
bought in the name of another man--who was it, by the bye? he had him
made chief-justice of an Imperial court--Ah! Marion. Having thus
disposed of these damning proofs he returned to Paris to congratulate
the First Consul on his victory. Napoleon, as you know, rushed from
Italy to Paris after the battle of Marengo with alarming celerity.
Those who know the secret history of that time are well aware that a
message from Lucien brought him back. The minister of the interior had
foreseen the attitude of the Montagnard party, and though he had no
idea of the quarter from which the wind really blew, he feared a
storm. Incapable of suspecting the three ministers and Carnot, he
attributed the movement which stirred all France to the hatred his
brother had excited by the 18th Brumaire, and to the confident belief
of the men of 1793 that defeat was certain in Italy.

"The battle of Marengo detained Napoleon on the plains of Lombardy
until the 25th of June, but he reached Paris on the 2nd of July.
Imagine the faces of the five conspirators as they met the First
Consul at the Tuileries, and congratulated him on the victory. Fouche
on that very occasion at the palace told Malin to have patience, for
/all was not over yet/. The truth was, Talleyrand and Fouche both held
that Bonaparte was not as much bound to the principles of the
Revolution as they were, and as he ought to be; and for this reason,
as well as for their own safety, they subsequently, in 1804, buckled
him irrevocably, as they believed, to its cause by the affair of the
Duc d'Enghien. The execution of that prince is connected by a series
of discoverable ramifications with the plot which was laid on that
June evening in the boudoir of the ministry of foreign affairs, the
night before the battle of Marengo. Those who have the means of
judging, and who have known persons who were well-informed, are fully
aware that Bonaparte was handled like a child by Talleyrand and
Fouche, who were determined to alienate him irrevocably from the House
of Bourbon, whose agents were even then, at the last moment,
endeavoring to negotiate with the First Consul."

"Talleyrand was playing whist in the salon of Madame de Luynes," said
a personage who had been listening attentively to de Marsay's
narrative. "It was about three o'clock in the morning, when he pulled
out his watch, looked at it, stopped the game, and asked his three
companions abruptly and without any preface whether the Prince de
Conde had any other children than the Duc d'Enghien. Such an absurd
inquiry from the lips of Talleyrand caused the utmost surprise. 'Why
do you ask us what you know perfectly well yourself?' they said to
him. 'Only to let you know that the House of Conde comes to an end at
this moment.' Now Monsieur de Talleyrand had been at the hotel de
Luynes the entire evening, and he must have known that Bonaparte was
absolutely unable to grant the pardon."

"But," said Eugene de Rastignac, "I don't see in all this any
connection with Madame de Cinq-Cygnes and her troubles."

"Ah, you were so young at that time, my dear fellow; I forgot to
explain the conclusion. You all know the affair of the abduction of
the Comte de Gondreville, then senator of the Empire, for which the
Simeuse brothers and the two d'Hauteserres were condemned to the
galleys,--an affair which did, in fact, lead to their death."

De Marsay, entreated by several persons present to whom the
circumstances were unknown, related the whole trial, stating that the
mysterious abductors were five sharks of the secret service of the
ministry of the police, who were ordered to obtain the proclamations
of the would-be Directory which Malin had surreptitiously taken from
his house in Paris, and which he had himself come to Gondreville for
the express purpose of destroying, being convinced at last that the
Empire was on a sure foundation and could not be overthrown. "I have
no doubt," added de Marsay, "that Fouche took the opportunity to have
the house searched for the correspondence between Malin and Louis
XVIII., which was always kept up, even during the Terror. But in this
cruel affair there was a private element, a passion of revenge in the
mind of the leader of the party, a man named Corentin, who is still
living, and who is one of those subaltern agents whom nothing can
replace and who makes himself felt by his amazing ability. It appears
that Madame, then Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, had ill-treated him on a
former occasion when he attempted to arrest the Simeuse brothers. What
happened afterwards in connection with the senator's abduction was the
result of his private vengeance.

"These facts were known, of course, to Malin, and through him to Louis
XVIII. You may therefore," added de Marsay, turning to the Princesse
de Cadignan, "explain the whole matter to the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne,
and show her why Louis XVIII. thought fit to keep silence."

ADDENDUM

The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Beauvisage
The Member for Arcis

Berthier, Alexandre
The Chouans

Bonaparte, Lucien
The Vendetta

Bordin
The Seamy Side of History
The Commission in Lunacy
Jealousies of a Country Town

Cinq-Cygne, Laurence, Comtesse (afterwards Marquise de)
The Secrets of a Princess
The Seamy Side of History
The Member for Arcis

Corentin
The Chouans
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Middle Classes

Derville
Gobseck
A Start in Life
Father Goriot
Colonel Chabert
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Duroc, Gerard-Christophe-Michel
A Woman of Thirty

Espard, Jeanne-Clementine-Athenais de Blamont-Chauvry, Marquise d'
The Commission in Lunacy
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Letters of Two Brides
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
Beatrix

Fouche, Joseph
The Chouans
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Giguet, Colonel
The Member for Arcis

Gondreville, Malin, Comte de
A Start in Life
Domestic Peace
The Member for Arcis

Gothard
The Member for Arcis

Goujet, Abbe
The Member for Arcis

Grandlieu, Duc Ferdinand de
The Thirteen
A Bachelor's Establishment
Modeste Mignon
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Granville, Vicomte de
A Second Home
Farewell (Adieu)
Cesar Birotteau
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Daughter of Eve
Cousin Pons

Grevin
A Start in Life
The Member for Arcis

Hauteserre, D'
The Member for Arcis

Lefebvre, Robert
Cousin Betty

Lenoncourt, Duc de
The Lily of the Valley
Cesar Birotteau
Jealousies of a Country Town
Beatrix

Louis XVIII., Louis-Stanislas-Xavier
The Chouans
The Seamy Side of History
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Lily of the Valley
Colonel Chabert
The Government Clerks

Marion (of Arcis)
The Member for Arcis

Marion (brother)
The Member for Arcis

Marsay, Henri de
The Thirteen
The Unconscious Humorists
Another Study of Woman
The Lily of the Valley
Father Goriot
Jealousies of a Country Town
Ursule Mirouet
A Marriage Settlement
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Letters of Two Brides
The Ball at Sceaux
Modeste Mignon
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve

Maufrigneuse, Duchesse de
The Secrets of a Princess
Modeste Mignon
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Muse of the Department
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Letters of Two Brides
Another Study of Woman
The Member for Arcis

Maufrigneuse, Georges de
The Secrets of a Princess
Beatrix
The Member for Arcis

Maufrigneuse, Berthe de
Beatrix
The Member for Arcis

Michu, Francois
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Member for Arcis

Michu, Madame Francois
The Member for Arcis

Murat, Joachim, Prince
The Vendetta
Colonel Chabert
Domestic Peace
The Country Doctor

Navarreins, Duc de
A Bachelor's Establishment
Colonel Chabert
The Muse of the Department
The Thirteen
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Peasantry
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Country Parson
The Magic Skin
The Secrets of a Princess
Cousin Betty

Peyrade
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Rapp
The Vendetta

Rastignac, Eugene de
Father Goriot
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Commission in Lunacy
A Study of Woman
Another Study of Woman
The Magic Skin
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Firm of Nucingen
Cousin Betty
The Member for Arcis
The Unconscious Humorists

Regnier, Claude-Antoine
A Second Home

Simeuse, Admiral de
Beatrix
Jealousies of a Country Town

Steingel
The Peasantry

Talleyrand-Perigord, Charles-Maurice de
The Chouans
The Thirteen
Letters of Two Brides
Gaudissart II.

Vandenesse, Comte Felix de
The Lily of the Valley
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Cesar Birotteau
Letters of Two Brides
A Start in Life
The Marriage Settlement
The Secrets of a Princess
Another Study of Woman
A Daughter of Eve

Varlet
The Gondreville Mystery
The Member for Arcis

Book of the day: