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The Companions of Jehu by Alexandre Dumas

Part 7 out of 14

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"Not counting," he went on, "that it is a ruined family, a dead
branch of a rotten trunk. The Bourbons have so intermarried with
one another that the race is depraved; Louis XIV. exhausted all
its sap, all its vigor.--You know history, sir?" asked Bonaparte,
turning to the young man.

"Yes, general," he replied; "at least as well as a _ci-devant_
can know it."

"Well, you must have observed in history, especially in that
of France, that each race has its point of departure, its
culmination, and its decadence. Look at the direct line of the
Capets; starting from Hugues Capet, they attained their highest
grandeur in Philippe Auguste and Louis XI., and fell with Philippe
V. and Charles IV. Take the Valois; starting with Philippe VI.,
they culminated in François I. and fell with Charles IX. and
Henry III. See the Bourbons; starting with Henry IV., they have
their culminating point in Louis XIV. and fall with Louis XV.
and Louis XVI.--only they fall lower than the others; lower in
debauchery with Louis XV., lower in misfortune with Louis XVI.
You talk to me of the Stuarts, and show me the example of Monk.
Will you tell me who succeeded Charles II.? James II. And who
to James II.? William of Orange, a usurper. Would it not have
been better, I ask you, if Monk had put the crown on his own
head? Well, if I was fool enough to restore Louis XVIII. to the
throne, like Charles II. he would have no children, and, like
James II., his brother Charles X. would succeed him, and like
him would be driven out by some William of Orange. No, no! God
has not put the destiny of this great and glorious country we
call France into my hands that I should cast it back to those
who have gambled with it and lost it."

"Permit me, general, to remark that I did not ask you for all this."

"But I, I ask you--"

"I think you are doing me the honor to take me for posterity."

Bonaparte started, turned round, saw to whom he was speaking,
and was silent.

"I only want," said Morgan, with a dignity which surprised the
man whom he addressed, "a yes or a no."

"And why do you want that?"

"To know whether we must continue to war against you as an enemy,
or fall at your feet as a savior."

"War," said Bonaparte, "war! Madmen, they who war with me! Do
they not see that I am the elect of God?"

"Attila said the same thing."

"Yes; but he was the elect of destruction; I, of the new era.
The grass withered where he stepped; the harvest will ripen where
I pass the plow. War? Tell me what has become of those who have
made it against me? They lie upon the plains of Piedmont, of
Lombardy and Cairo!"

"You forget the Vendée; the Vendée is still afoot."

"Afoot, yes! but her leaders? Cathelineau, Lescure, La Rochejaquelin,
d'Elbée, Bonchamps, Stoffiet, Charette?"

"You are speaking of men only; the men have been mown down, it is
true; but the principle is still afoot, and for it are fighting
Autichamp, Suzannet, Grignon, Frotté, Châtillon, Cadoudal. The
younger may not be worth the elder, but if they die as their
elders died, what more can you ask?"

"Let them beware! If I determine upon a campaign against the Vendée
I shall send neither Santerre nor Rossignol!"

"The Convention sent Kléber, and the Directory, Hoche!"

"I shall not send; I shall go myself."

"Nothing worse can happen to them than to be killed like Lescure,
or shot like Charette."

"It may happen that I pardon them."

"Cato taught us how to escape the pardon of Cæsar."

"Take care; you are quoting a Republican!"

"Cato was one of those men whose example can be followed, no matter
to what party they belong."

"And suppose I were to tell you that I hold the Vendée in the
hollow of my hand?"

"You!"

"And that within three months, she will lay down her arms if I
choose?"

The young man shook his head.

"You don't believe me?"

"I hesitate to believe you."

"If I affirm to you that what I say is true; if I prove it by
telling you the means, or rather the men, by whom I shall bring
this about?"

"If a man like General Bonaparte affirms a thing, I shall believe
it; and if that thing is the pacification of the Vendée, I shall
say in my turn: 'Beware! Better the Vendée fighting than the
Vendée conspiring. The Vendée fighting means the sword, the Vendée
conspiring means the dagger.'"

"Oh! I know your dagger," said Bonaparte. "Here it is."

And he drew from a drawer the dagger he had taken from Roland
and laid it on the table within reach of Morgan's hand.

"But," he added, "there is some distance between Bonaparte's breast
and an assassin's dagger. Try."

And he advanced to the young man with a flaming eye.

"I did not come here to assassinate you," said the young man,
coldly. "Later, if I consider your death indispensable to the
cause, I shall do all in my power, and if I fail it will not
be because you are Marius and I the Cimbrian. Have you anything
else to say to me, citizen First Consul?" concluded the young
man, bowing.

"Yes. Tell Cadoudal that when he is ready to fight the enemy,
instead of Frenchmen, I have a colonel's commission ready signed
in my desk for him."

"Cadoudal commands, not a regiment, but an army. You were unwilling
to retrograde from Bonaparte to Monk; why should you expect him
to descend from general to colonel? Have you nothing else to
say to me, citizen First Consul?"

"Yes. Have you any way of transmitting my reply to the Comte de
Provençe?"

"You mean King Louis XVIII.?"

"Don't let us quibble over words. To him who wrote to me."

"His envoy is now at the camp at Aubiers."

"Well, I have changed my mind; I shall send him an answer. These
Bourbons are so blind that this one would misinterpret my silence."

And Bonaparte, sitting down at his desk, wrote the following letter
with a care that showed he wished to make it legible:

I have received your letter, monsieur. I thank you for the good
opinion you express in it of me. You must not wish for your return
to France; it could only be over a hundred thousand dead bodies.
Sacrifice your own interests to the repose and welfare of France.
History will applaud you. I am not insensible to the misfortunes of
your family, and I shall hear with pleasure that you are
surrounded with all that could contribute to the tranquillity of
your retreat. BONAPARTE.

Then, folding and sealing the letter, he directed it to "Monsieur
le Comte de Provençe," and handed it to Morgan. Then he called
Roland, as if he knew the latter were not far off.

"General?" said the young officer, appearing instantly.

"Conduct this gentleman to the street," said Bonaparte. "Until
then you are responsible for him."

Roland bowed in sign of obedience, let the young man, who said
not a word, pass before him, and then followed. But before leaving,
Morgan cast a last glance at Bonaparte.

The latter was still standing, motionless and silent, with folded
arms, his eyes fixed upon the dagger, which occupied his thoughts
far more than he was willing to admit even to himself.

As they crossed Roland's room, the Chief of the Companions of
Jehu gathered up his cloak and pistols. While he was putting them
in his belt, Roland remarked: "The citizen First Consul seems
to have shown you a dagger which I gave him."

"Yes, monsieur," replied Morgan.

"Did you recognize it?"

"Not that one in particular; all our daggers are alike."

"Well," said Roland, "I will tell you whence it came."

"Ah! where was that?"

"From the breast of a friend of mine, where your Companions, possibly
you yourself, thrust it."

"Possibly," replied the young man carelessly. "But your friend
must have exposed himself to punishment."

"My friend wished to see what was happening at night in the
Chartreuse."

"He did wrong."

"But I did the same wrong the night before, and nothing happened
to me."

"Probably because some talisman protects you."

"Monsieur, let me tell you something. I am a straight-forward
man who walks by daylight. I have a horror of all that is
mysterious."

"Happy those who can walk the highroads by daylight, Monsieur
de Montrevel!"

"That is why I am going to tell you the oath I made, Monsieur
Morgan. As I drew the dagger you saw from my friend's breast, as
carefully as possible, that I might not draw his soul with it,
I swore that henceforward it should be war to the death between
his assassins and myself. It was largely to tell you that that
I gave you a pledge of safety."

"That is an oath I hope to see you forget, Monsieur de Montrevel."

"It is an oath I shall keep under all circumstances, Monsieur
Morgan; and you would be most kind if you would furnish me with
an opportunity as soon as possible."

"In what way, sir?"

"Well, for example, by accepting a meeting with me, either in
the Bois de Boulogne or at Vincennes. We don't need to say that
we are fighting because you or one of your friends stabbed Lord
Tanlay. No; we can say anything you please." (Roland reflected a
moment.) "We can say the duel is on account of the eclipse that
takes place on the 12th of next month. Does the pretext suit
you?"

"The pretext would suit me," replied Morgan, in a tone of sadness
of which he seemed incapable, "if the duel itself could take
place. You have taken an oath, and you mean to keep it, you say.
Well, every initiate who enters the Company of Jehu swears that
he will not expose in any personal quarrel a life that belongs
to the cause and not to himself."

"Oh! So that you assassinate, but will not fight."

"You are mistaken. We sometimes fight."

"Have the goodness to point out an occasion when I may study that
phenomenon."

"Easily enough. If you and five or six men, as resolute as yourself,
will take your places in some diligence carrying government money,
and will defend it against our attack, the occasion you seek
will come. But, believe me, do better than that; do not come in
our way."

"Is that a threat, sir?" asked the young man, raising his head.

"No," replied Morgan, in a gentle, almost supplicating voice,
"it is an entreaty."

"Is it addressed to me in particular, or would you include others?"

"I make it to you in particular;" and the chief of the Companions
of Jehu dwelt upon the last word.

"Ah!" exclaimed the young man, "then I am so fortunate as to interest
you?"

"As a brother," replied Morgan, in the same soft, caressing tone.

"Well, well," said Roland, "this is decidedly a wager,"

Bourrienne entered at that moment.

"Roland," he said, "the First Consul wants you."

"Give me time to conduct this gentleman to the street, and I'll
be with him."

"Hurry up; you know he doesn't like to wait."

"Will you follow me, sir?" Roland said to his mysterious companion.

"I am at your orders, sir."

"Come, then," And Roland, taking the same path by which he had
brought Morgan, took him back, not to the door opening on the
garden (the garden was closed), but to that on the street. Once
there, he stopped and said: "Sir, I gave you my word, and I have
kept it faithfully, But that there may be no misunderstanding
between us, have the goodness to tell me that you understand
it to have been for this one time and for to-day only."

"That was how I understood it, sir,"

"You give me back my word then?"

"I should like to keep it, sir; but I recognize that you are free
to take it back."

"That is all I wish to know. Au revoir! Monsieur Morgan."

"Permit me not to offer you the same wish, Monsieur de Montrevel."

The two young men bowed with perfect courtesy, Roland re-entered
the Luxembourg, and Morgan, following the line of shadow projected
by the walls, took one of the little streets to the Place
Saint-Sulpice.

It is he whom we are now to follow.

CHAPTER XXVI

THE BALL OF THE VICTIMS

After taking about a hundred steps Morgan removed his mask. He
ran more risk of being noticed in the streets of Paris as a masked
man than with uncovered face.

When he reached the Rue Taranne he knocked at the door of a small
furnished lodging-house at the corner of that street and the
Rue du Dragon, took a candlestick from a table, a key numbered
12 from a nail, and climbed the stairs without exciting other
attention than a well-known lodger would returning home. The
clock was striking ten as he closed the door of his room. He
listened attentively to the strokes, the light of his candle not
reaching as far as the chimney-piece. He counted ten.

"Good!" he said to himself; "I shall not be too late."

In spite of this probability, Morgan seemed determined to lose
no time. He passed a bit of tinder-paper under the heater on the
hearth, which caught fire instantly. He lighted four wax-candles,
all there were in the room, placed two on the mantel-shelf and two
on a bureau opposite, and spread upon the bed a complete dress of
the Incroyable of the very latest fashion. It consisted of a short
coat, cut square across the front and long behind, of a soft shade
between a pale-green and a pearl-gray; a waistcoat of buff plush,
with eighteen mother-of-pearl buttons; an immense white cravat of
the finest cambric; light trousers of white cashmere, decorated
with a knot of ribbon where they buttoned above the calves, and
pearl-gray silk stockings, striped transversely with the same
green as the coat, and delicate pumps with diamond buckles. The
inevitable eye-glass was not forgotten. As for the hat, it was
precisely the same in which Carle Vernet painted his dandy of
the Directory.

When these things were ready, Morgan waited with seeming impatience.
At the end of five minutes he rang the bell. A waiter appeared.

"Hasn't the wig-maker come?" asked Morgan.

In those days wig-makers were not yet called hair-dressers.

"Yes, citizen," replied the waiter, "he came, but you had not yet
returned, so he left word that he'd come back. Some one knocked
just as you rang; it's probably--"

"Here, here," cried a voice on the stairs.

"Ah! bravo," exclaimed Morgan. "Come in, Master Cadenette; you
must make a sort of Adonis of me."

"That won't be difficult, Monsieur le Baron," replied the wig-maker.

"Look here, look here; do you mean to compromise me, citizen
Cadenette?"

"Monsieur le Baron, I entreat you, call me Cadenette; you'll
honor me by that proof of familiarity; but don't call me citizen.
Fie; that's a revolutionary denomination! Even in the worst of
the Terror I always called my wife Madame Cadenette. Now, excuse
me for not waiting for you; but there's a great ball in the Rue
du Bac this evening, the ball of the Victims (the wig-maker
emphasized this word). I should have thought that M. le Baron
would be there."

"Why," cried Morgan, laughing; "so you are still a royalist,
Cadenette?"

The wig-maker laid his hand tragically on his heart.

"Monsieur le Baron," said he, "it is not only a matter of conscience,
but a matter of state."

"Conscience, I can understand that, Master Cadenette, but state!
What the devil has the honorable guild of wigmakers to do with
politics?"

"What, Monsieur le Baron?" said Cadenette, all the while getting
ready to dress his client's hair; "you ask me that? You, an
aristocrat!"

"Hush, Cadenette!"

"Monsieur le Baron, we _ci-devants_ can say that to each
other."

"So you are a _ci-devant_?"

"To the core! In what style shall I dress M. le Baron's hair?"

"Dog's ears, and tied up behind."

"With a dash of powder?"

"Two, if you like, Cadenette."

"Ah! monsieur, when one thinks that for five years I was the
only man who had an atom of powder '_à la maréchale_.' Why,
Monsieur le Baron, a man was guillotined for owning a box of
powder!"

"I've known people who were guillotined for less than that,
Cadenette. But explain how you happen to be a _ci-devant_.
I like to understand everything."

"It's very simple, Monsieur le Baron. You admit, don't you, that
among the guilds there were some that were more or less
aristocratic."

"Beyond doubt; accordingly as they were nearer to the higher classes
of society."

"That's it, Monsieur le Baron. Well, we had the higher classes
by the hair of their head. I, such as you see me, I have dressed
Madame de Polignac's hair; my father dressed Madame du Barry's;
my grandfather, Madame de Pompadour's. We had our privileges,
Monsieur; we carried swords. It is true, to avoid the accidents
that were liable to crop up among hotheads like ourselves, our
swords were usually of wood; but at any rate, if they were not
the actual thing, they were very good imitations. Yes, Monsieur
le Baron," continued Cadenette with a sigh, "those days were the
good days, not only for the wig-makers, but for all France. We
were in all the secrets, all the intrigues; nothing was hidden
from us. And there is no known instance, Monsieur le Baron, of
a wig-maker betraying a secret. Just look at our poor queen; to
whom did she trust her diamonds? To the great, the illustrious
Leonard, the prince of wig-makers. Well, Monsieur le Baron, two
men alone overthrew the scaffolding of a power that rested on
the wigs of Louis XIV., the puffs of the Regency, the frizettes
of Louis-XV., and the cushions of Marie Antoinette."

"And those two men, those levellers, those two revolutionaries,
who were they, Cadenette? that I may doom them, so far as it
lies in my power, to public execration."

"M. Rousseau and citizen Talma: Monsieur Rousseau who said that
absurdity, 'We must return to Nature,' and citizen Talma, who
invented the Titus head-dress."

"That's true, Cadenette; that's true."

"When the Directory came in there was a moment's hope. M. Barras
never gave up powder, and citizen Moulins stuck to his queue. But,
you see, the 18th Brumaire has knocked it all down; how could
any one friz Bonaparte's hair! Ah! there," continued Cadenette,
puffing out the dog's ears of his client--"there's aristocratic
hair for you, soft and fine as silk, and takes the tongs so well
one would think you wore a wig. See, Monsieur le Baron, you wanted
to be as handsome as Adonis! Ah! if Venus had seen you, it's
not of Adonis that Mars would have been jealous!"

And Cadenette, now at the end of his labors and satisfied with
the result, presented a hand-mirror to Morgan, who examined himself
complacently.

"Come, come!" he said to the wig-maker, "you are certainly an
artist, my dear fellow! Remember this style, for if ever they
cut off my head I shall choose to have it dressed like that,
for there will probably be women at my execution."

"And M. le Baron wants them to regret him," said the wig-maker
gravely.

"Yes, and in the meantime, my dear Cadenette, here is a crown
to reward your labors. Have the goodness to tell them below to
call a carriage for me."

Cadenette sighed.

"Monsieur le Baron," said he, "time was when I should have answered:
'Show yourself at court with your hair dressed like that, and I
shall be paid.' But there is no court now, Monsieur le Baron,
and one must live. You shall have your carriage."

With which Cadenette sighed again, slipped Morgan's crown in his
pocket, made the reverential bow of wig-makers and dancing-masters,
and left the young man to complete his toilet.

The head being now dressed, the rest was soon done; the cravat
alone took time, owing to the many failures that occurred; but
Morgan concluded the difficult task with an experienced hand, and
as eleven o'clock was striking he was ready to start. Cadenette
had not forgotten his errand; a hackney-coach was at the door.
Morgan jumped into it, calling out: "Rue du Bac, No. 60."

The coach turned into the Rue de Grenelle, went up the Rue du
Bac, and stopped at No. 60.

"Here's a double fare, friend," said Morgan, "on condition that
you don't stand before the door."

The driver took the three francs and disappeared around the corner
of the Rue de Varennes. Morgan glanced up the front of the house;
it seemed as though he must be mistaken, so dark and silent was
it. But he did not hesitate; he rapped in a peculiar fashion.

The door opened. At the further end of the courtyard was a building,
brilliantly lighted. The young man went toward it, and, as he
approached, the sound of instruments met his ear. He ascended
a flight of stairs and entered the dressing-room. There he gave
his cloak to the usher whose business it was to attend to the
wraps.

"Here is your number," said the usher. "As for your weapons, you
are to place them in the gallery where you can find them easily."

Morgan put the number in his trousers pocket, and entered the
great gallery transformed into an arsenal. It contained a complete
collection of arms of all kinds, pistols, muskets, carbines,
swords, and daggers. As the ball might at any moment be invaded
by the police, it was necessary that every dancer be prepared to
turn defender at an instant's notice. Laying his weapons aside,
Morgan entered the ballroom.

We doubt if any pen could give the reader an adequate idea of the
scene of that ball. Generally, as the name "Ball of the Victims"
indicated, no one was admitted except by the strange right of
having relatives who had either been sent to the scaffold by the
Convention or the Commune of Paris, blown to pieces by Collot
d'Herbois, or drowned by Carrier. As, however, the victims
guillotined during the three years of the Terror far outnumbered
the others, the dresses of the majority of those who were present
were the clothes of the victims of the scaffold. Thus, most of
the young girls, whose mothers and older sisters had fallen by
the hands of the executioner, wore the same costume their mothers
and sisters had worn for that last lugubrious ceremony; that is
to say, a white gown and red shawl, with their hair cut short
at the nape of the neck. Some added to this costume, already so
characteristic, a detail that was even more significant; they
knotted around their necks a thread of scarlet silk, fine as
the blade of a razor, which, as in Faust's Marguerite, at the
Witches' Sabbath, indicated the cut of the knife between the
throat and the collar bone.

As for the men who were in the same case, they wore the collars
of their coats turned down behind, those of their shirt wide
open, their necks bare, and their hair, cut short.

But many had other rights of entrance to this ball besides that
of having Victims in their families; some had made victims
themselves. These latter were increasing. There were present
men of forty or forty-five years of age, who had been trained
in the boudoirs of the beautiful courtesans of the seventeenth
century--who had known Madame du Barry in the attics of Versailles,
Sophie Arnoult with M. de Lauraguais, La Duthé with the Comte
d'Artois--who had borrowed from the courtesies of vice the polish
with which they covered their ferocity. They were still young
and handsome; they entered a salon, tossing their perfumed locks
and their scented handkerchiefs; nor was it a useless precaution,
for if the odor of musk or verbena had not masked it they would
have smelled of blood.

There were men there twenty-five or thirty years old, dressed
with extreme elegance, members of the association of Avengers,
who seemed possessed with the mania of assassination, the lust of
slaughter, the frenzy of blood, which no blood could quench--men
who, when the order came to kill, killed all, friends or enemies;
men who carried their business methods into the business of murder,
giving their bloody checks for the heads of such or such Jacobins,
and paying on sight.

There were younger men, eighteen and twenty, almost children,
but children fed, like Achilles, on the marrow of wild beasts,
like Pyrrhus, on the flesh of bears; here were the pupil-bandits
of Schiller, the apprentice-judges of the Sainte-Vehme--that
strange generation that follows great political convulsions,
like the Titans after chaos, the hydras after the Deluge; as the
vultures and crows follow the carnage.

Here was the spectre of iron impassible, implacable, inflexible,
which men call Retaliation; and this spectre mingled with the
guests. It entered the gilded salons; it signalled with a look,
a gesture, a nod, and men followed where it led. It was, as says
the author from whom we have borrowed these hitherto unknown
but authentic details, "a merry lust for extermination."

The Terror had affected great cynicism in clothes, a Spartan
austerity in its food, the profound contempt of a barbarous people
for arts and enjoyments. The Thermidorian reaction was, on the
contrary, elegant, opulent, adorned; it exhausted all luxuries,
all voluptuous pleasures, as in the days of Louis XV.; with one
addition, the luxury of vengeance, the lust of blood.

Fréron's name was given to the youth of the day, which was called
the jeunesse Fréron, or the _jéunesse dorée_ (gilded youth).
Why Fréron? Why should he rather than others receive that strange
and fatal honor?

I cannot tell you--my researches (those who know me will do me
the justice to admit that when I have an end in view, I do not
count them)--my researches have not discovered an answer. It was
a whim of Fashion, and Fashion is the one goddess more capricious
than Fortune.

Our readers will hardly know to-day who Fréron was. The Fréron
who was Voltaire's assailant was better known than he who was
the patron of these elegant assassins; one was the son of the
other. Louis Stanislas was son of Elie-Catherine. The father
died of rage when Miromesnil, Keeper of the Seals, suppressed
his journal. The other, irritated by the injustices of which
his father had been the victim, had at first ardently embraced
the revolutionary doctrines. Instead of the "Année Littéraire,"
strangled to death in 1775, he created the "Orateur du Peuple," in
1789. He was sent to the Midi on a special mission, and Marseilles
and Toulon retain to this day the memory of his cruelty. But all
was forgotten when, on the 9th Thermidor, he proclaimed himself
against Robespierre, and assisted in casting from the altar the
Supreme Being, the colossus who, being an apostle, had made himself
a god. Fréron, repudiated by the Mountain, which abandoned him
to the heavy jaws of Moise Bayle; Fréron, disdainfully repulsed
by the Girondins, who delivered him over to the imprecations of
Isnard; Fréron, as the terrible and picturesque orator of the
Var said, "Fréron naked and covered with the leprosy of crime,"
was accepted, caressed and petted by the Thermidorians. From
them he passed into the camp of the royalists, and without any
reason whatever for obtaining that fatal honor, found himself
suddenly at the head of a powerful party of youth, energy and
vengeance, standing between the passions of the day, which led
to all, and the impotence of the law, which permitted all.

It was to the midst of this _jeunesse_ Fréron, mouthing
its words, slurring its r's, giving its "word of honor" about
everything, that Morgan now made his way.

It must be admitted that this _jeunesse_, in spite of the
clothes it wore, in spite of the memories these clothes evoked,
was wildly gay. This seems incomprehensible, but it is true.
Explain if you can that Dance of Death at the beginning of the
fifteenth century, which, with all the fury of a modern galop,
led by Musard, whirled its chain through the very Cemetery of
the Innocents, and left amid its tombs fifty thousand of its
votaries.

Morgan was evidently seeking some one.

A young dandy, who was dipping into the silver-gilt comfit-box
of a charming victim, with an ensanguined finger, the only part
of his delicate hand that had escaped the almond paste, tried
to stop him, to relate the particulars of the expedition from
which he had brought back this bloody trophy. But Morgan smiled,
pressed his other hand which was gloved, and contented himself
with replying: "I am looking for some one."

"Important?"

"Company of Jehu."

The young man with the bloody finger let him pass. An adorable
Fury, as Corneille would have called her, whose hair was held
up by a dagger with a blade as sharp as a needle, barred his
way, saying: "Morgan, you are the handsomest, the bravest, the
most deserving of love of all the men present. What have you
to say to the woman who tells you that?"

"I answer that I love," replied Morgan, "and that my heart is
too narrow to hold one hatred and two loves." And he continued
on his search.

Two young men who were arguing, one saying, "He was English,"
the other, "He was German," stopped him.

"The deuce," cried one; "here is the man who can settle it for
us."

"No," replied Morgan, trying to push past them; "I'm in a hurry."

"There's only a word to say," said the other. "We have made a
bet, Saint-Amand and I, that the man who was tried and executed
at the Chartreuse du Seillon, was, according to him, a German,
and, according to me, an Englishman."

"I don't know," replied Morgan; "I wasn't there. Ask Hector; he
presided that night."

"Tell us where Hector is?"

"Tell me rather where Tiffauges is; I am looking for him."

"Over there, at the end of the room," said the young man, pointing
to a part of the room where the dance was more than usually gay
and animated. "You will recognize him by his waistcoat; and his
trousers are not to be despised. I shall have a pair like them
made with the skin of the very first hound I meet."

Morgan did not take time to ask in what way Tiffauges' waistcoat was
remarkable, or by what queer cut or precious material his trousers
had won the approbation of a man as expert in such matters as he
who had spoken to him. He went straight to the point indicated by
the young man, saw the person he was seeking dancing an été, which
seemed, by the intricacy of its weaving, if I may be pardoned for
this technical term, to have issued from the salons of Vestris
himself.

Morgan made a sign to the dancer. Tiffauges stopped instantly,
bowed to his partner, led her to her seat, excused himself on
the plea of the urgency of the matter which called him away,
and returned to take Morgan's arm.

"Did you see him," Tiffauges asked Morgan.

"I have just left him," replied the latter.

"Did you deliver the King's letter?"

"To himself."

"Did he read it?"

"At once."

"Has he sent an answer?"

"Two; one verbal, one written; the second dispenses with the first."

"You have it?"

"Here it is."

"Do you know the contents?"

"A refusal."

"Positive?"

"Nothing could be more positive."

"Does he know that from the moment he takes all hope away from
us we shall treat him as an enemy?"

"I told him so."

"What did he answer?"

"He didn't answer; he shrugged his shoulders."

"What do you think his intentions are?"

"It's not difficult to guess."

"Does he mean to keep the power himself?"

"It looks like it."

"The power, but not the throne?"

"Why not the throne?"

"He would never dare to make himself king."

"Oh! I can't say he means to be absolutely king, but I'll answer
for it that he means to be something."

"But he is nothing but a soldier of fortune!"

"My dear fellow, better in these days to be the son of his deeds,
than the grandson of a king."

The young man thought a moment.

"I shall report it all to Cadoudal," he said.

"And add that the First Consul said these very words: 'I hold
the Vendée in the hollow of my hand, and if I choose in three
months not another shot will be fired.'"

"It's a good thing to know."

"You know it; let Cadoudal know it, and take measures."

Just then the music ceased; the hum of the dancers died away;
complete silence prevailed; and, in the midst of this silence,
four names were pronounced in a sonorous and emphatic voice.

These four names were Morgan, Montbar, Adler and d'Assas.

"Pardon me," Morgan said to Tiffauges, "they are probably arranging
some expedition in which I am to take part. I am forced, therefore,
to my great regret, to bid you farewell. Only before I leave you
let me look closer at your waistcoat and trousers, of which I
have heard--curiosity of an amateur; I trust you will excuse
it."

"Surely!" exclaimed the young Vendéan, "most willingly."

CHAPTER XXVII

THE BEAR'S SKIN

With a rapidity and good nature that did honor to his courtesy,
he went close to the candelabra, which were burning on the
chimney-piece. The waistcoat and trousers seemed to be of the same
stuff; but what was that stuff? The most experienced connoisseur
would have been puzzled.

The trousers were tight-fitting as usual, of a light tint between
buff and flesh color; the only remarkable thing about them was the
absence of the seam, and the closeness with which they clung to
the leg. The waistcoat, on the other hand, had two characteristic
signs which attracted attention; it had been pierced by three balls,
which had the holes gaping, and these were stained a carmine, so
like blood, that it might easily have been mistaken for it. On
the left side was painted a bloody heart, the distinguishing
sign of the Vendéans. Morgan examined the two articles with the
closest attention, but without result.

"If I were not in such a hurry," said he, "I should like to look
into the matter for myself. But you heard for yourself; in all
probability, some news has reached the committee; government
money probably. You can announce it to Cadoudal; only we shall
have to take it first. Ordinarily, I command these expeditions;
if I delay, some one may take my place. So tell me what your
waistcoat and trousers are made of."

"My dear Morgan," replied the Vendéan, "perhaps you have heard
that my brother was captured near Bressure, and shot by the Blues?"

"Yes, I know that."

"The Blues were retreating; they left the body at the corner
of the hedge. We were pursuing them so closely that we arrived
just after them. I found the body of my brother still warm. In
one of his wounds a sprig was stuck with these words: 'Shot as a
brigand by me, Claude Flageolet, corporal of the Third Battalion
of Paris.' I took my brother's body, and had the skin removed from
his breast. I vowed that this skin, pierced with three holes,
should eternally cry vengeance before my eyes. I made it my battle
waistcoat."

"Ah!" exclaimed Morgan, with a certain astonishment, in which,
for the first time, was mingled something akin to terror--"Ah!
then that waistcoat is made of your brother's skin? And the
trousers?"

"Oh!" replied the Vendéan, "the trousers, that's another matter.
They are made of the skin of Claude Flageolet, corporal of the
Third Battalion of Paris."

At that moment the voice again called out, in the same order,
the names of Morgan, Montbar, Adler and d'Assas.

Morgan rushed out of the study, crossed the dancing-hall from
end to end, and made his way to a little salon on the other side
of the dressing-room. His three companions, Montbar, Adler and
d'Assas, were there already. With them was a young man in the
government livery of a bearer of despatches, namely a green and
gold coat. His boots were dusty, and he wore a visored cap and
carried the despatch-box, the essential accoutrements of a cabinet
courier.

One of Cassini's maps, on which could be followed the whole lay
of the land, was spread on the table.

Before saying why this courier was there, and with what object
the map was unfolded, let us cast a glance at the three new
personages whose names had echoed through the ballroom, and who
are destined to play an important part in the rest of this history.

The reader already knows Morgan, the Achilles and the Paris of
this strange association; Morgan, with his blue eyes, his black
hair, his tall, well-built figure, graceful, easy, active bearing;
his eye, which was never without animation; his mouth, with its
fresh lips and white teeth, that was never without a smile; his
remarkable countenance, composed of mingling elements that seemed
so foreign to each other--strength and tenderness, gentleness
and energy; and, through it all, that bewildering expression
of gayety that was at times alarming when one remembered that
this man was perpetually rubbing shoulders with death, and the
most terrifying of all deaths--that of the scaffold.

As for d'Assas, he was a man from thirty-five to thirty-eight
years of age, with bushy hair that was turning gray, and mustaches
as black as ebony. His eyes were of that wonderful shade of Indian
eyes, verging on maroon. He was formerly a captain of dragoons,
admirably built for struggle, whether physical or moral, his
muscles indicating strength, and his face, obstinacy. For the
rest, a noble bearing, great elegance of manners, scented like
a dandy, carrying, either from caprice or luxury, a bottle of
English smelling-salts, or a silver-gilt vinaigrette containing
the most subtle perfumes.

Montbar and Adler, whose real names were unknown, like those
of d'Assas and Morgan, were commonly called by the Company "the
inseparables." Imagine Damon and Pythias, Euryalus and Nisus,
Orestes and Pylades at twenty-two--one joyous, loquacious, noisy,
the other melancholy, silent, dreamy; sharing all things, dangers,
money, mistresses; one the complement of the other; each rushing
to all extremes, but forgetting self when in peril to watch over
the other, like the Spartan youths on the sacred legions--and
you will form an idea of Montbar and Adler.

It is needless to say that all three were Companions of Jehu.
They had been convoked, as Morgan suspected, on business of the
Company.

On entering the room, Morgan went straight to the pretended bearer
of despatches and shook hands with him.

"Ah! the dear friend," said the latter, with a stiff movement,
showing that the best rider cannot do a hundred and fifty miles on
post-hacks with impunity. "You are taking it easy, you Parisians.
Hannibal at Capua slept on rushes and thorns compared to you.
I only glanced at the ballroom in passing, as becomes a poor
cabinet courier bearing despatches from General Masséna to the
citizen First Consul; but it seemed to me you were a fine lot
of victims! Only, my poor friends, you will have to bid farewell
to all that for the present; disagreeable, unlucky, exasperating,
no doubt, but the House of Jehu before all."

"My dear Hastier--" began Morgan.

"Stop!" cried Hastier. "No proper names, if you please, gentlemen.
The Hastiers are an honest family in Lyons, doing business, it is
said, on the Place des Terreaux, from father to son, and would
be much humiliated to learn that their heir had become a cabinet
courier, and rode the highways with the national pack on his
back. Lecoq as much as you please, but not Hastier. I don't know
Hastier; and you, gentlemen," continued the young man, addressing
Montbar, Adler and d'Assas, "do you know him?"

"No," replied the three young men, "and we ask pardon for Morgan,
who did wrong."

"My dear Lecoq," exclaimed Morgan.

"That's right," interrupted Hastier. "I answer to that name! Well,
what did you want to tell me?"

"I wanted to say that if you are not the antipodes of the god
Harpocrates, whom the Egyptians represent with a finger on his
lips, you will, instead of indulging in a lot of declamations,
more or less flowery, tell us why this costume, and why that
map?"

"The deuce!" retorted the young man. "If you don't know already,
it's your fault and not mine. If I hadn't been obliged to call
you twice, caught as you doubtless were in the toils of some
beautiful Eumenides imploring vengeance of a fine young man for
the death of her old parents, you'd know as much as these gentlemen,
and I wouldn't have to sing an encore. Well, here's what it is:
simply of the remaining treasure of the Berne bears, which General
Lecourbe is sending to the citizen First Consul by order of General
Masséna. A trifle, only a hundred thousand francs, that they don't
dare send over the Jura on account of M. Teysonnet's partisans,
who, they pretend, are likely to seize it; so it will be sent
by Geneva, Bourg, Mâcon, Dijon, and Troyes; a much safer way,
as they will find when they try it."

"Very good!"

"We were informed of this by Renard, who started from Gex at
full speed, and transmitted the news to l'Hirondelle, who is
at present stationed at Châlon-sur-Saône. He transmitted it to
me, Lecoq, at Auxerre, and I have done a hundred and fifty miles
to transmit it in turn to you. As for the secondary details,
here they are. The treasure left Berne last octodi, 28th Nivôse,
year VIII. of the Republic triple and indivisible. It should
reach Genoa to-day, duodi, and leave to-morrow, tridi, by the
diligence from Geneva to Bourg; so that, by leaving this very
night, by the day after to-morrow, quintide, you can, my dear
sons of Israel, meet the treasure of messires the bears between
Dijon and Troyes, near Bar-sur-Seine or Châtillon. What say you?"

"By heavens!" cried Morgan, "we say that there seems to be no
room for argument left; we say we should never have permitted
ourselves to touch the money of their Highnesses the bears of
Berne so long as it remained in their coffers; but as it has
changed hands once, I see no objection to its doing so a second
time. Only how are we to start?"

"Haven't you a post-chaise?"

"Yes, it's here in the coach-house."

"Haven't you horses to get you to the next stage?"

"They are in the stable."

"Haven't you each your passports."

"We have each four."

"Well, then?"

"Well, we can't stop the diligence in a post-chaise. We don't
put ourselves to too much inconvenience, but we don't take our
ease in that way."

"Well, and why not?" asked Montbar; "it would be original. I
can't see why, if sailors board from one vessel to another, we
couldn't board a diligence from a post-chaise. We want novelty;
shall we try it, Adler?"

"I ask nothing better," replied the latter, "but what will we
do with the postilion?"

"That's true," replied Montbar.

"The difficulty is foreseen, my children," said the courier; "a
messenger has been sent to Troyes. You will leave your post-chaise
at Delbauce; there you will find four horses all saddled and
stuffed with oats. You will then calculate your time, and the day
after to-morrow, or rather to-morrow, for it is past midnight,
between seven and eight in the morning, the money of Messires
Bruin will pass an anxious quarter of an hour."

"Shall we change our clothes?" inquired d'Assas.

"What for?" replied Morgan. "I think we are very presentable
as we are. No diligence could be relieved of unnecessary weight
by better dressed fellows. Let us take a last glance at the map,
transfer a pâté, a cold chicken, and a dozen of champagne from
the supper-room to the pockets of the coach, arm to the teeth
in the arsenal, wrap ourselves in warm cloaks, and--clack!
postilion!"

"Yes!" cried Montbar, "that's the idea."

"I should think so," added Morgan. "We'll kill the horses if
necessary, and be back at seven in the evening, in time to show
ourselves at the opera."

"That will establish an alibi," observed d'Assas.

"Precisely," said Morgan, with his imperturbable gayety. "How
could men who applaud Mademoiselle Clotilde and M. Vestris at
eight o'clock in the evening have been at Bar and Chatillon in
the morning settling accounts with the conductor of a diligence?
Come, my sons, a last look at the map to choose our spot."

The four young men bent over Cassini's map.

"If I may give you a bit of topographical advice," said the courier,
"it would be to put yourselves in ambush just beyond Massu; there's
a ford opposite to the Riceys--see, there!"

And the young man pointed out the exact spot on the map.

"I should return to Chacource, there; from Chacource you have a
department road, straight as an arrow, which will take you to
Troyes; at Troyes you take carriage again, and follow the road
to Sens instead of that to Coulommiers. The donkeys--there are
plenty in the provinces--who saw you in the morning won't wonder
at seeing you again in the evening; you'll get to the opera at
ten instead of eight--a more fashionable hour--neither seen nor
recognized, I'll warrant you."

"Adopted, so far as I am concerned," said Morgan.

"Adopted!" cried the other three in chorus.

Morgan pulled out one of the two watches whose chains were dangling
from his belt; it was a masterpiece of Petitot's enamel, and
on the outer case which protected the painting was a diamond
monogram. The pedigree of this beautiful trinket was as well
established as that of an Arab horse; it had been made for
Marie-Antoinette, who had given it to the Duchesse de Polastron,
who had given it to Morgan's mother.

"One o'clock," said Morgan; "come, gentlemen, we must relay at
Lagny at three."

From that moment the expedition had begun, and Morgan became its
leader; he no longer consulted, he commanded.

D'Assas, who in Morgan's absence commanded, was the first to obey
on his return.

Half an hour later a closed carriage containing four young men
wrapped in their cloaks was stopped at the Fontainebleau barrier
by the post-guard, who demanded their passports.

"Oh, what a joke!" exclaimed one of them, putting his head out of
the window and affecting the pronunciation of the day. "Passpawts
to dwive to Gwobois to call on citizen _Ba-as_? 'Word of
fluted honor!' you're cwazy, fwend! Go on, dwiver!"

The coachman whipped up his horses and the carriage passed without
further opposition.

CHAPTER XXVIII

FAMILY MATTERS

Let us leave our four _hunters_ on their way to Lagny--where,
thanks to the passports they owed to the obligingness of certain
clerks in citizen Fouché's employ, they exchanged their own horses
for post-horses and their coachman for a postilion--and see why
the First Consul had sent for Roland.

After leaving Morgan, Roland had hastened to obey the general's
orders. He found the latter standing in deep thought before the
fireplace. At the sound of his entrance General Bonaparte raised
his head.

"What were you two saying to each other?" asked Bonaparte, without
preamble, trusting to Roland's habit of answering his thought.

"Why," said Roland, "we paid each other all sorts of compliments,
and parted the best friends in the world."

"How does he impress you?"

"As a perfectly well-bred man."

"How old do you take him to be?"

"About my age, at the outside."

"So I think; his voice is youthful. What now, Roland, can I be
mistaken? Is there a new royalist generation growing up?"

"No, general," replied Roland, shrugging his shoulders; "it's
the remains of the old one."

"Well, Roland, we must build up another, devoted to my son--if
ever I have one."

Roland made a gesture which might be translated into the words,
"I don't object." Bonaparte understood the gesture perfectly.

"You must do more than not object," said he; "you must contribute
to it."

A nervous shudder passed over Roland's body.

"In what way, general?" he asked.

"By marrying."

Roland burst out laughing.

"Good! With my aneurism?" he asked.

Bonaparte looked at him, and said: "My dear Roland, your aneurism
looks to me very much like a pretext for remaining single."

"Do you think so?"

"Yes; and as I am a moral man I insist upon marriage."

"Does that mean that I am immoral," retorted Roland, "or that
I cause any scandal with my mistresses?"

"Augustus," answered Bonaparte, "created laws against celibates,
depriving them of their rights as Roman citizens."

"Augustus--"

"Well?"

"I'll wait until you are Augustus; as yet, you are only Cæsar."

Bonaparte came closer to the young man, and, laying his hands
on his shoulders, said: "Roland, there are some names I do not
wish to see extinct, and among them is that of Montrevel."

"Well, general, in my default, supposing that through caprice or
obstinacy I refuse to perpetuate it, there is my little brother."

"What! Your brother? Then you have a brother?"

"Why, yes; I have a brother! Why shouldn't I have brother?"

"How old is he?"

"Eleven or twelve."

"Why did you never tell me about him?"

"Because I thought the sayings and doings of a youngster of that
age could not interest you."

"You are mistaken, Roland; I am interested in all that concerns
my friends. You ought to have asked me for something for your
brother."

"Asked what, general?"

"His admission into some college in Paris."

"Pooh! You have enough beggars around you without my swelling
their number."

"You hear; he is to come to Paris and enter college. When he
is old enough, I will send him to the Ecole Militare, or some
other school which I shall have founded before then."

"Faith, general," said Roland, "just as if I had guessed your
good intentions, he is this very day on the point of, starting
for Paris."

"What for?"

"I wrote to my mother three days ago to bring the boy to Paris.
I intended to put him in college without mentioning it, and when
he was old enough to tell you about him--always supposing that
my aneurism had not carried me off in the meantime. But in that
case--"

"In that case?"

"Oh! in that case I have left a bit of a will addressed to you,
and recommending to your kindness my mother, and the boy and
the girl--in short, the whole raft."

"The girl! Who is she?"

"My sister."

"So you have a sister also?"

"Yes."

"How old is she?"

"Seventeen."

"Pretty?"

"Charming."

"I'll take charge of her establishment."

Roland began to laugh.

"What's the matter?" demanded the First Consul.

"General, I'm going to put a placard over the grand entrance to
the Luxembourg."

"What will you put on the placard?"

"'Marriages made here.'"

"Why not? Is it any reason because you don't wish to marry for
your sister to remain an old maid? I don't like old maids any
better than I do old bachelors."

"I did not say, general, that my sister should remain an old
maid; it's quite enough for one member of the Montrevel family
to have incurred your displeasure."

"Then what do you mean?"

"Only that, as the matter concerns my sister, she must, if you
will allow it, be consulted."

"Ah, ha! Some provincial love-affair, is there?"

"I can't say. I left poor Amélie gay and happy, and I find her
pale and sad. I shall get the truth out of her; and if you wish
me to speak to you again about the matter, I will do so."

"Yes, do so--when you get back from the Vendée."

"Ah! So I am going to the Vendée?"

"Why, is that, like marriage, repugnant, to you?"

"Not in the least."

"Then you are going to the Vendée."

"When?"

"Oh, you need not hurry, providing you start to-morrow."

"Excellent; sooner if you wish. Tell me what I am to do there."

"Something of the utmost importance, Roland."

"The devil! It isn't a diplomatic mission, I presume?"

"Yes; it is a diplomatic mission for which I need a man who is
not a diplomatist."

"Then I'm your man, general! Only, you understand, the less a
diplomatist I am, the more precise my instructions must be."

"I am going to give them to you. Do you see that map?"

And he showed the young man a large map of Piedmont stretched
out on the floor, under a lamp suspended from the ceiling.

"Yes, I see it," replied Roland, accustomed to follow the general
along the unexpected dashes of his genius; "but it is a map of
Piedmont."

"Yes, it's a map of Piedmont."

"So there is still a question of Italy?"

"There is always a question of Italy."

"I thought you spoke of the Vendée?"

"Secondarily."

"Why, general, you are not going to send me to the Vendée and
go yourself to Italy, are you?"

"No; don't be alarmed."

"All right; but I warn you, if you did, I should desert and join you."

"I give you permission to do so; but now let us go back to Mélas."

"Excuse me, general; this is the first time you have mentioned him."

"Yes; but I have been thinking of him for a long time. Do you
know where I shall defeat him?"

"The deuce! I do."

"Where?"

"Wherever you meet him."

Bonaparte laughed.

"Ninny!" he said, with loving familiarity. Then, stooping over
the map, he said to Roland, "Come here."

Roland stooped beside him. "There," resumed Bonaparte; "that
is where I shall fight him."

"Near Alessandria?"

"Within eight or nine miles of it. He has all his supplies,
hospitals, artillery and reserves in Alessandria; and he will
not leave the neighborhood. I shall have to strike a great blow;
that's the only condition on which I can get peace. I shall cross
the Alps"--he pointed to the great Saint-Bernard--"I shall fall
upon Mélas when he least expects me, and rout him utterly."

"Oh! trust you for that!"

"Yes; but you understand, Roland, that in order to quit France
with an easy mind, I can't leave it with an inflammation of the
bowels--I can't leave war in the Vendée."

"Ah! now I see what you are after. No Vendée! And you are sending
me to the Vendée to suppress it."

"That young man told me some serious things about the Vendée.
They are brave soldiers, those Vendéans, led by a man of brains,
Georges Cadoudal. I have sent him the offer of a regiment, but
he won't accept."

"Jove! He's particular."

"But there's one thing he little knows."

"Who, Cadoudal?"

"Yes, Cadoudal. That is that the Abbé Bernier has made me overtures."

"The Abbé Bernier?"

"Yes."

"Who is the Abbé Bernier?"

"The son of a peasant from Anjou, who may be now about thirty-three
or four years of age. Before the insurrection he was curate of
Saint-Laud at Angers. He refused to take the oath and sought
refuge among the Vendéans. Two or three times the Vendée was
pacificated; twice she was thought dead. A mistake! the Vendée
was pacificated, but the Abbé Bernier had not signed the peace;
the Vendée was dead, but the Abbé Bernier was still alive. One
day the Vendée was ungrateful to him. He wished to be appointed
general agent to the royalist armies of the interior; Stofflet
influenced the decision and got his old master, Comte Colbert de
Maulevrier, appointed in Bernier's stead. When, at two o'clock in
the morning, the council broke up, the Abbé Bernier had disappeared.
What he did that night, God and he alone can tell; but at four
o'clock in the morning a Republican detachment surrounded the
farmhouse where Stofflet was sleeping, disarmed and defenceless.
At half-past four Stofflet was captured; eight days later he was
executed at Angers. The next day Autichamp took command, and,
to avoid making the same blunder as Stofflet, he appointed the
Abbé Bernier general agent. Now, do you understand?"

"Perfectly."

"Well, the Abbé Bernier, general agent of the belligerent forces,
and furnished with plenary powers by the Comte d'Artois--the
Abbé Bernier has made overtures to me."

"To you, to Bonaparte, to the First Consul he deigns to--? Why,
that's very kind of the Abbé Bernier? Have you accepted them?"

"Yes, Roland; if the Vendée will give me peace, I will open her
churches and give her back her priests."

"And suppose they chant the _Domine, salvum fac regem?_"

"That would be better than not singing at all. God is omnipotent,
and he will decide. Does the mission suit you, now that I have
explained it?"

"Yes, thoroughly."

"Then, here is a letter for General Hédouville. He is to treat
with the Abbé Bernier as the general-in-chief of the Army of
the West. But you are to be present at all these conferences;
he is only my mouthpiece, you are to be my thought. Now, start
as soon as possible; the sooner you get back, the sooner Mélas
will be defeated."

"General, give me time to write to my mother, that's all."

"Where will she stop?"

"At the Hôtel des Ambassadeurs."

"When do you think she will arrive?"

"This is the night of the 21st of January; she will be here the
evening of the 23d, or the morning of the 24th."

"And she stops at the Hôtel des Ambassadeurs?"

"Yes, general."

"I take it all on myself."

"Take it all on yourself, general?"

"Certainly; your mother can't stay at a hotel."

"Where should she stay?"

"With a friend."

"She knows no one in Paris."

"I beg your pardon, Monsieur Roland; she knows citizen Bonaparte,
First Consul, and his wife."

"You are not going to lodge my mother at the Luxembourg. I warn
you that that would embarrass her very much."

"No; but I shall lodge her in the Rue de la Victoire."

"Oh, general!"

"Come, come; that's settled. Go, now, and get back as soon as
possible."

Roland took the First Consul's hand, meaning to kiss it; but
Bonaparte drew him quickly to him.

"Embrace me, my dear Roland," he said, "and good luck to you."

Two hours later Roland was rolling along in a post-chaise on
the road to Orleans. The next day, at nine in the morning, he
entered Nantes, after a journey of thirty-three hours.

CHAPTER XXIX

THE GENEVA DILIGENCE

About the hour when Roland was entering Nantes, a diligence,
heavily loaded, stopped at the inn of the Croix-d'Or, in the middle
of the main street of Châtillon-sur-Seine.

In those days the diligences had but two compartments, the coupé
and the interior; the rotunda is an adjunct of modern times.

The diligence had hardly stopped before the postilion jumped
down and opened the doors. The travellers dismounted. There were
seven in all, of both sexes. In the interior, three men, two
women, and a child at the breast; in the coupé, a mother and her
son.

The three men in the interior were, one a doctor from Troyes,
the second a watchmaker from Geneva, the third an architect from
Bourg. The two women were a lady's maid travelling to Paris to
rejoin her mistress, and the other a wet-nurse; the child was
the latter's nursling, which she was taking back to its parents.

The mother and son in the coupé were people of position; the
former, about forty years of age, still preserving traces of
great beauty, the latter a boy between eleven and twelve. The
third place in the coupe was occupied by the conductor.

Breakfast was waiting, as usual, in the dining-room; one of those
breakfasts which conductors, no doubt in collusion with the
landlords, never give travellers the time to eat. The woman and
the nurse got out of the coach and went to a baker's shop nearby,
where each bought a hot roll and a sausage, with which they went
back to the coach, settling themselves quietly to breakfast,
thus saving the cost, probably too great for their means, of a
meal at the hotel.

The doctor, the watchmaker, the architect and the mother and
son entered the inn, and, after warming themselves hastily at
the large kitchen-fire, entered the dining-room and took seats
at the table.

The mother contented herself with a cup of coffee with cream,
and some fruit. The boy, delighted to prove himself a man by
his appetite at least, boldly attacked the viands. The first
few moments were, as usual, employed in satisfying hunger. The
watchmaker from Geneva was the first to speak.

"Faith, citizen," said he (the word citizen was still used in
public places), "I tell you frankly I was not at all sorry to
see daylight this morning."

"Cannot monsieur sleep in a coach?" asked the doctor.

"Oh, yes, sir," replied the compatriot of Jean-Jacques; "on the
contrary, I usually sleep straight through the night. But anxiety
was stronger than fatigue this time."

"Were you afraid of upsetting?" asked the architect.

"No. I'm very lucky in that respect; it seems enough for me to
be in a coach to make it unupsettable. No, that wasn't it."

"What was it, then?" questioned the doctor.

"They say in Geneva that the roads in France are not safe."

"That's according to circumstances," said the architect.

"Ah! how's that?" inquired the watchmaker.

"Oh!" replied the architect; "if, for example, we were carrying
government money, we would surely be stopped, or rather we would
have been already."

"Do you think so?" queried the watchmaker.

"That has never failed. I don't know how those devils of Companions
of Jehu manage to keep so well posted; but they never miss an
opportunity."

The doctor nodded affirmatively.

"Ah!" exclaimed the watchmaker, addressing the doctor; "do you
think so, too?"

"I do."

"And if you knew there was government money in the coach, would
you be so imprudent as to take passage in it?"

"I must admit," replied the doctor, "that I should think twice
about it."

"And you, sir?" said the questioner to the architect.

"Oh, I," replied the latter--"as I am on important business, I
should have started anyway."

"I am tempted," said the watchmaker "to take off my valise and
my oases, and wait for to-morrow's diligence, because my boxes
are filled with watches worth something like twenty thousand
francs. We've been lucky so far, but there's no use tempting
Providence."

"Did you not hear these gentlemen say," remarked the lady, joining
in the conversation for the first time, "that we run the risk
of being stopped only when the coach carries government money?"

"That's exactly it," replied the watchmaker, looking anxiously
around. "We are carrying it."

The mother blanched visibly and looked at her son. Before fearing
for herself every mother fears for her child.

"What! we are carrying it?" asked the doctor and the architect
in varying tones of excitement. "Are you sure of what you are
saying?"

"Perfectly sure, gentlemen."

"Then you should either have told us before, or have told us in
a whisper now."

"But perhaps," said the doctor, "the gentleman is not quite sure
of what he says."

"Or perhaps he is joking," added the architect.

"Heaven forbid!"

"The Genevese are very fond of a laugh," persisted the doctor.

"Sir," replied the Genevese, much hurt that any one should think
he liked to laugh, "I saw it put on the coach myself."

"What?"

"The money."

"Was there much?"

"A good many bags."

"But where does the money come from?"

"The treasury of the bears of Berne. You know, of course, that
the bears of Berne received an income of fifty or even sixty
thousand francs."

The doctor burst out laughing.

"Decidedly, sir, you are trying to frighten us," said he.

"Gentlemen," said the watchmaker, "I give you my word of honor--"

"Take your places gentlemen," shouted the conductor, opening
the door. "Take your places! We are three-quarters of an hour
late."

"One moment, conductor, one moment," Said the architect; "we are
consulting."

"About what?"

"Close the door, conductor, and come over here."

"Drink a glass of wine with us, conductor."

"With pleasure, gentlemen; a glass of wine is never to be refused."

The conductor held out his glass, and the three travellers touched
it; but just as he was lifting it to his lips the doctor stopped
his arm.

"Come, conductor, frankly, is it true?"

"What?"

"What this gentleman says?" And he pointed to the Genevese.

"Monsieur Féraud?"

"I don't know if that is his name."

"Yes, sir, that is my name--Féraud & Company, No. 6 Rue du Rempart,
Geneva, at your service," replied the watchmaker, bowing.

"Gentlemen," repeated the conductor, "take your places!"

"But you haven't answered."

"What the devil shall I answer? You haven't asked me anything."

"Yes, we asked you if it is true that you are carrying a large
sum of money belonging to the French Government?"

"Blabber!" said the conductor to watchmaker, "did you tell that?"

"Confound it, my worthy fellow--"

"Come, gentlemen, your places."

"But before getting in we want to know--"

"What? Whether I have government money? Yes I have. Now, if we
are stopped, say nothing and all will be well."

"Are you sure?"

"Leave me to arrange matters with these gentry."

"What will you do if we are stopped?" the doctor asked the architect.

"Faith! I shall follow the conductor's advice."

"That's the best thing to do," observed the latter.

"Well, I shall keep quiet," repeated the architect.

"And so shall I," added the watchmaker.

"Come, gentlemen, take your seats, and let us make haste."

The boy had listened to this conversation with frowning brow and
clinched teeth.

"Well," he said to his mother, "if we are stopped, I know what
I'll do."

"What will you do?" she asked.

"You'll see."

"What does this little boy say?" asked the watchmaker.

"I say you are all cowards," replied the child unhesitatingly.

"Edouard!" exclaimed his mother, "what do you mean?"

"I wish they'd stop the diligence, that I do!" cried the boy,
his eye sparkling with determination.

"Come, come, gentlemen, in Heaven's name, take your places," called
the conductor once more.

"Conductor," said the doctor, "I presume you have no weapons!"

"Yes, I have my pistols."

"Unfortunate!"

The conductor stooped to the doctor's ear and whispered: "Don't
be alarmed, doctor; they're only loaded with powder."

"Good!"

"Forward, postilion, forward!" shouted the conductor, closing
the door of the interior. Then, while the postilion snapped his
whip and started the heavy vehicle, he also closed that of the
coupé.

"Are you not coming with us, conductor?" asked the lady.

"Thank you, no, Madame de Montrevel," replied the conductor;
"I have something to do on the imperial." Then, looking into
the window, he added: "Take care the Monsieur Edouard does not
touch the pistols in the pocket of the carriage; he might hurt
himself."

"Pooh!" retorted the boy, "as if I didn't know how to handle
a pistol. I have handsomer ones than yours, that my friend Sir
John had sent me from England; haven't I, mamma?"

"Never mind, Edouard," replied Madame de Montrevel, "I entreat
you not to touch them."

"Don't worry, little mother." Then he added softly, "All the
same, if the Companions of Jehu stop us, I know what I shall do."

The diligence was again rolling heavily on its way to Paris.

It was one of those fine winter days which makes those who think
that nature is dead at that season admit that nature never dies
but only sleeps. The man who lives to be seventy or eighty years
of age has his nights of ten or twelve hours, and often complains
that the length of his nights adds to the shortness of his days.
Nature, which has an everlasting existence; trees, which live a
thousand years; have sleeping periods of four or five months,
which are winters for us but only nights for them. The poets,
in their envious verse, sing the immortality of nature, which
dies each autumn and revives each spring. The poets are mistaken;
nature does not die each autumn, she only falls asleep; she is
not resuscitated, she awakens. The day when our globe really
dies, it will be dead indeed. Then it will roll into space or
fall into the abysses of chaos, inert, mute, solitary, without
trees, without flowers, without verdure, without poets.

But on this beautiful day of the 23d of February, 1800, sleeping
nature dreamed of spring; a brilliant, almost joyous sun made
the grass in the ditches on either side of the road sparkle with
those deceptive pearls of the hoarfrost which vanish at a touch,
and rejoice the heart of a tiller of the earth when he sees them
glittering at the points of his wheat as it pushes bravely up
through the soil. All the windows of the diligence were lowered,
to give entrance to this earliest smile of the Divine, as though
all hearts were saying: "Welcome back, traveller long lost in the
clouds of the West, or beneath the heaving billows of Ocean!"

Suddenly, about an hour after leaving Châtillon, the diligence
stopped at a bend of the river without any apparent cause. Four
horsemen quietly approached, walking their horses, and one of
them, a little in advance of the others, made a sign with his
hand to the postilion, ordering him to draw up. The postilion
obeyed.

"Oh, mamma!" cried Edouard, standing up and leaning out of the
window in spite of Madame de Montrevel's protestations; "oh,
mamma, what fine horses! But why do these gentlemen wear masks?
This isn't carnival."

Madame de Montrevel was dreaming. A woman always dreams a little;
young, of the future; old, of the past. She started from her
revery, put her head out of the window, and gave a little cry.

Edouard turned around hastily.

"What ails you, mother?" he asked.

Madame de Montrevel turned pale and took him in her arms without
a word. Cries of terror were heard in the interior.

"But what is the matter?" demanded little Edouard, struggling
to escape from his mother's encircling arms.

"Nothing, my little man," said one of the masked men in a gentle
voice, putting his head through the window of the coupé; "nothing
but an account we have to settle with the conductor, which does
not in the least concern you travellers. Tell your mother to
accept our respectful homage, and to pay no more heed to us than
if we were not here." Then passing to the door of the interior,
he added: "Gentlemen, your servant. Fear nothing for your money
or jewels, and reassure that nurse--we have not come here to
turn her milk." Then to the conductor: "Now, then, Père Jérôme,
we have a hundred thousand francs on the imperial and in the
boxes, haven't we?"

"Gentlemen, I assure you--"

"That the money belongs to the government. It did belong to the
bears of Berne; seventy thousand francs in gold, the rest in
silver. The silver is on the top of the coach, the gold in the
bottom of the coupé. Isn't that so? You see how well informed
we are."

At the words "bottom of the coupe" Madame de Montrevel gave another
cry of terror; she was about to come in contact with men who, in
spite of their politeness, inspired her with the most profound
terror.

"But what is the matter, mother, what is the matter?" demanded
the boy impatiently.

"Be quiet, Edouard; be quiet!"

"Why must I be quiet?"

"Don't you understand?"

"No."

"The coach has been stopped."

"Why? Tell me why? Ah, mother, I understand."

"No, no," said Madame de Montrevel, "you don't understand."

"Those gentlemen are robbers."

"Take care you don't say so."

"What, you mean they are not robbers? Why, see they are taking
the conductor's money."

Sure enough, one of the four was fastening to the saddle of his
horse the bags of silver which the conductor threw down from
the imperial.

"No," repeated Madame de Montrevel, "no, they are not robbers."
Then lowering her voice, she added: "They are Companions of Jehu."

"Ah!" cried the boy, "they are the ones who assassinated my friend,
Sir John."

And the child turned very pale, and his breath came hissing through
his clinched teeth.

At that moment one of the masked men opened the door of the coupé,
and said with exquisite politeness: "Madame la Comtesse, to our
great regret we are obliged to disturb you; but we want, or rather
the conductor wants, a package from the bottom of the coupé.
Will you be so kind as to get out for a moment? Jérôme will get
what he wants as quickly as possible." Then, with that note of
gayety which was never entirely absent from that laughing voice,
he added, "Won't you, Jérôme?"

Jérôme replied from the top of the diligence, confirming these
words.

With an instinctive movement to put herself between the danger and
her son, Madame de Montrevel, while complying with that request,
pushed Edouard behind her. That instant sufficed for the boy to
seize the conductor's pistols.

The young man with the laughing voice assisted Madame de Montrevel
from the coach with the greatest care, then signed to one of his
companions to give her an arm, and returned to the coach.

But at that instant a double report was heard. Edouard had fired
a pistol with each hand at the Companion of Jehu, who disappeared
in the smoke.

Madame de Montrevel screamed, and fainted away. Various cries,
expressive of diverse sentiments, echoed that of the mother.

From the interior came one of terror; they had all agreed to
offer no resistance, and now some one had resisted. From the
three young men came a cry of surprise--it was the first time
such a thing had happened.

They rushed to their companion, expecting to find him reduced
to pulp; but they found him safe and sound, laughing heartily,
while the conductor, with clasped hands, was exclaiming: "Monsieur,
I swear there were no balls; monsieur, I protest, they were only
charged with powder."

"The deuce," said the young man, "don't I see that? But the intention
was good, wasn't it, my little Edouard?" Then, turning to his
companions, he added: "Confess, gentlemen, that he is a fine
boy--a true son of his father, and brother of his brother. Bravo,
Edouard! you'll make a man some day!"

Taking the boy in his arms, he kissed him, in spite of his struggles,
on both cheeks.

Edouard fought like a demon, thinking no doubt that it was very
humiliating to be embraced by a man at whom he had just fired
two pistols.

In the meantime one of the Companions had carried Edouard's mother
to the bank by the roadside a little distance from the diligence.
The man who had kissed Edouard with so much affection and persistence
now looked around for her.

"Ah!" cried he, on perceiving her, "Madame de Montrevel still
unconscious? We can't leave a woman in that condition, gentlemen.
Conductor, take Master Edouard." Placing the boy in Jérôme's
arms, he turned to one of his companions: "Man of precautions,"
said he, "haven't you smelling salts or a bottle of essence with
you?"

"Here!" said the young man he had addressed, pulling a flask of
toilet vinegar from his pocket.

"Good," said the other, who seemed to be the leader of the band.
"Do you finish up the matter with Master Jérôme; I'll take charge
of Madame de Montrevel."

It was indeed time. The fainting fit was giving place to a violent
nervous attack; spasmodic movements shook her whole body and
strangled cries came from her throat. The young man leaned over
her and made her inhale the salts.

Madame de Montrevel presently opened her frightened eyes, and
called out: "Edouard! Edouard!" With an involuntary movement
she knocked aside the mask of the man who was supporting her,
exposing his face.

The courteous, laughing young man--our readers have already
recognized him--was Morgan.

Madame de Montrevel paused in amazement at sight of those beautiful
blue eyes, the lofty brow, and the gracious lips smiling at her.
She realized that she ran no danger from such a man, and that no
harm could have befallen Edouard. Treating Morgan as a gentleman
who had succored her, and not as a bandit who had caused her
fainting-fit, she exclaimed: "Ah, sir! how kind you are."

In the words, in the tones in which she uttered them, there lay
a world of thanks, not only for herself, but for her child.

With singular delicacy, entirely in keeping with his chivalric
nature, Morgan, instead of picking up his fallen mask and covering
his face immediately, so that Madame de Montrevel could only
have retained a fleeting and confused impression of it--Morgan
replied to her compliment by a low bow, leaving his features
uncovered long enough to produce their impression; then, placing
d'Assas' flask in Madame de Montrevel's hand--and then only--he
replaced his mask. Madame de Montrevel understood the young man's
delicacy.

"Ah! sir," said she, "be sure that, in whatever place or situation
I see you again, I shall not recognize you."

"Then, madame," replied Morgan, "it is for me to thank you and
repeat, 'How kind you are.'"

"Come, gentlemen, take your seats!" said the conductor, in his
customary tone, as if nothing unusual had happened.

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