THE BRONZE EAGLE
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By BARONESS ORCZY
THE BRONZE EAGLE A BRIDE OF THE PLAINS THE LAUGHING CAVALIER "UNTO CAESAR" EL DORADO MEADOWSWEET THE NOBLE ROGUE THE HEART OF A WOMAN PETTICOAT RULE
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY NEW YORK
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THE BRONZE EAGLE
A Story of the Hundred Days
Author of "The Laughing Cavalier," "The Scarlet Pimpernel," Etc., Etc.
New York George H. Doran Company
Copyright, 1915, by Baroness Orczy Copyright, 1915, by George H. Doran Company
This novel was published serially, under the title of "Waterloo"
CHAPTER PAGE THE LANDING AT JOUAN 9 I. THE GLORIOUS NEWS 14 II. THE OLD REGIME 49 III. THE RETURN OF THE EMPEROR 85 IV. THE EMPRESS' MILLIONS 138 V. THE RIVALS 196 VI. THE CRIME 221 VII. THE ASCENT OF THE CAPITOL 236 VIII. THE SOUND OF REVELRY BY NIGHT 261 IX. THE TARPEIAN ROCK 285 X. THE LAST THROW 305 XI. THE LOSING HANDS 338 XII. THE WINNING HAND 370
THE BRONZE EAGLE
THE LANDING AT JOUAN
The perfect calm of an early spring dawn lies over headland and sea—hardly a ripple stirs the blue cheek of the bay. The softness of departing night lies upon the bosom of the Mediterranean like the dew upon the heart of a flower.
A silent dawn.
Veils of transparent greys and purples and mauves still conceal the distant horizon. Breathless calm rests upon the water and that awed hush which at times descends upon Nature herself when the finger of Destiny marks an eventful hour.
But now the grey and the purple veils beyond the headland are lifted one by one; the midst of dawn rises upwards like the smoke of incense from some giant censers swung by unseen, mighty hands.
The sky above is of a translucent green, studded with stars that blink and now are slowly extinguished one by one: the green has turned to silver, and the silver to lemon-gold: the veils beyond the upland are flying in the wake of departing Night.
The lemon-gold turns to glowing amber, anon to orange and crimson, and far inland the mountain peaks, peeping shyly through the mist, blush a vivid rose to find themselves so fair.
And to the south, there where fiery sea blends and merges with fiery sky, a tiny black speck has just come into view. Larger and larger it grows as it draws nearer to the land, now it seems like a bird with wings outspread—an eagle flying swiftly to the shores of France.
In the bay the fisher folk, who are making ready for their day's work, pause a moment as they haul up their nets: with rough brown hands held above their eyes they look out upon that black speck—curious, interested, for the ship is not one they have seen in these waters before.
"'Tis the Emperor come back from Elba!" says someone.
The men laugh and shrug their shoulders: that tale has been told so often in these parts during the past year: the good folk have ceased to believe in it. It has almost become a legend now, that story that the Emperor was coming back—their Emperor—the man with the battered hat and the grey redingote: the people's Emperor, he who led them from victory to victory, whose eagles soared above every capital and every tower in Europe, he who made France glorious and respected: her citizens, men, her soldiers, heroes.
And with stately majesty the dawn yields to day, the last tones of orange have faded from the sky: it is once more of a translucent green merging into sapphire overhead. And the great orb in the east rises from out the trammels of the mist, and from awakening Earth and Sea comes the great love-call, the triumphant call of Day. And far away upon the horizon to the south, the black speck becomes more distinct and more clear; it takes shape, substance, life.
It divides and multiplies, for now there are three or four specks silhouetted against the sky—not three or four, but five—no! six—no! seven! Seven black specks which detach themselves one by one, one from another and from the vagueness beyond—experienced eyes scan the horizon with enthusiasm and excitement which threaten to blur the clearness of their vision. Anyone with an eye for sea-going craft can distinguish that topsail-schooner there, well ahead of the rest of the tiny fleet, skimming the water with swift grace, and immediately behind her the three-masted polacca—hm! have we not seen her in these waters before?—and the two graceful feluccas whose lateen sails look so like the outspread wings of a bird!
But it is on the schooner that all eyes are riveted now: she skips along so fast that within an hour her pennant is easily distinguishable—red and white! the flag of Elba, of that diminutive toy-kingdom which for the past twelve months has been ruled over by the mightiest conqueror this modern world has ever known.
The flag of Elba! then it is the Emperor coming back!
A crowd had gathered on the headland now—a crowd made up of bare-footed fisher-folk, men, women, children, and of the labourers from the neighbouring fields and vineyards: they have all come to greet the Emperor—the man with the battered hat and the grey redingote, the curious, flashing eyes and mouth that always spoke genial words to the people of France!
Traitors turned against him—Ney! de Marmont! Bernadotte! those on whom he had showered the full measure of his friendship, whom he had loaded with honours, with glory and with wealth. Foreign armies joined in coalition against France and forced the people's Emperor to leave his country which he loved so well, had sent him to humiliation and to exile. But he had come back, as all his people had always said that he would! He had come back, there was the topsail-schooner that was bringing him home so swiftly now.
Another hour and the schooner's name can be deciphered quite easily—L'Inconstant, and that of the polacca Le Saint-Esprit . . . and beyond these L'Etoile and Saint Joseph, Caroline. And the entire little fleet flies the flag of Elba.
The Emperor has come back! Bare-footed fisherfolk whisper it among themselves, the labourers in the valley call the news to those upon the hills.
Why! after another hour or so, there are those among the small knot who stand congregated on the highest point of the headland, who swear that they can see the Emperor—standing on the deck of the L'Inconstant.
He wears a black bicorne hat, and his grey redingote: he is pacing up and down the deck of the schooner, his hands held behind his back in the manner so familiar to the people of France. And on his hat is pinned the tricolour of France. Everyone on shore who is on the look-out for the schooner now can see the tricolour quite plainly. A mighty shout escapes the lusty throats of the men on the beach, the women are on the verge of tears from sheer excitement, and that shout is repeated again and again and sends its ringing echo from cliff to cliff, and from fort to fort as the red and white pennant of the kingdom of Elba is hauled down from the ship's stern and the tricolour flag—the flag of Liberty and of regenerate France—is hoisted in its stead.
The soft breeze from the south unfurls its folds and these respond to his caress. The red, white and blue make a trenchant note of colour now against the tender hues of the sea: flaunting its triumphant message in the face of awakening nature.
The eagle has left the bounds of its narrow cage of Elba: it has taken wing over the blue Mediterranean! within an hour, perhaps, or two, it will rest on the square church tower of Antibes—but not for long. Soon it will take to its adventurous flight again, and soar over valley and mountain peak, from church belfry to church belfry until it finds its resting-place upon the towers of Notre Dame.
One hour after noon the curtain has risen upon the first act of the most adventurous tragedy the world has ever known.
Napoleon Bonaparte has landed in the bay of Jouan with eleven hundred men and four guns to reconquer France and the sovereignty of the world. Six hundred of his old guard, six score of his Polish light cavalry, three or four hundred Corsican chasseurs: thus did that sublime adventurer embark upon an expedition the most mad, the most daring, the most heroic, the most egotistical, the most tragic and the most glorious which recording Destiny has ever written in the book of this world.
The boats were lowered at one hour after noon, and the landing was slowly and methodically begun: too slowly for the patience of the old guard—the old "growlers" with grizzled moustache and furrowed cheeks, down which tears of joy and enthusiasm were trickling at sight of the shores of France. They were not going to wait for the return of those boats which had conveyed the Polish troopers on shore: they took to the water and waded across the bay, tossing the salt spray all around them as they trod the shingle, like so many shaggy dogs enjoying a bath; and when six hundred fur bonnets darkened the sands of the bay at the foot of the Tower of la Gabelle, such a shout of "Vive l'Empereur" went forth from six hundred lusty throats that the midday spring air vibrated with kindred enthusiasm for miles and miles around.
THE GLORIOUS NEWS
Where the broad highway between Grenoble and Gap parts company from the turbulent Drac, and after crossing the ravine of Vaulx skirts the plateau of La Motte with its magnificent panorama of forests and mountain peaks, a narrow bridle path strikes off at a sharp angle on the left and in wayward curves continues its length through the woods upwards to the hamlet of Vaulx and the shrine of Notre Dame.
Far away to the west the valley of the Drac lies encircled by the pine-covered slopes of the Lans range, whilst towering some seven thousand and more feet up the snow-clad crest of Grande Moucherolle glistens like a sea of myriads of rose-coloured diamonds under the kiss of the morning sun.
There was more than a hint of snow in the sharp, stinging air this afternoon, even down in the valley, and now the keen wind from the northeast whipped up the faces of the two riders as they turned their horses at a sharp trot up the bridle path.
Though it was not long since the sun had first peeped out above the forests of Pelvoux, the riders looked as if they had already a long journey to their credit; their horses were covered with sweat and sprinkled with lather, and they themselves were plentifully bespattered with mud, for the road in the valley was soft after the thaw. But despite probable fatigue, both sat their horse with that ease and unconscious grace which marks the man accustomed to hard and constant riding, though—to the experienced eye—there would appear a vast difference in the style and manner in which each horseman handled his mount.
One of them had the rigid precision of bearing which denotes military training: he was young and slight of build, with unruly dark hair fluttering round the temples from beneath his white sugar-loaf hat, and escaping the trammels of the neatly-tied black silk bow at the nape of the neck; he held himself very erect and rode his horse on the curb, the reins gathered tightly in one gloved hand, and that hand held closely and almost immovably against his chest.
The other sat more carelessly—though in no way more loosely—in his saddle: he gave his horse more freedom, with a chain-snaffle and reins hanging lightly between his fingers. He was obviously taller and probably older than his companion, broader of shoulder and fairer of skin; you might imagine him riding this same powerful mount across a sweep of open country, but his friend you would naturally picture to yourself in uniform on the parade ground.
The riders soon left the valley of the Drac behind them; on ahead the path became very rocky, winding its way beside a riotous little mountain stream, whilst higher up still, peeping through the intervening trees, the white-washed cottages of the tiny hamlet glimmered with dazzling clearness in the frosty atmosphere. At a sharp bend of the road, which effectually revealed the foremost of these cottages, distant less than two kilometres now, the younger of the two men drew rein suddenly, and lifting his hat with outstretched arm high above his head, he gave a long sigh which ended in a kind of exultant call of joy.
"There is Notre Dame de Vaulx," he cried at the top of his voice, and hat still in hand he pointed to the distant hamlet. "There's the spot where—before the sun darts its midday rays upon us—I shall hear great and glorious and authentic news of him from a man who has seen him as lately as forty-eight hours ago, who has touched his hand, heard the sound of his voice, seen the look of confidence and of hope in his eyes. Oh!" he went on speaking with extraordinary volubility, "it is all too good to be true! Since yesterday I have felt like a man in a dream!—I haven't lived, I have scarcely breathed, I . . ."
The other man broke in upon his ravings with a good-humoured growl.
"You have certainly behaved like an escaped lunatic since early this morning, my good de Marmont," he said drily. "Don't you think that—as we shall have to mix again with our fellow-men presently—you might try to behave with some semblance of reasonableness."
But de Marmont only laughed. He was so excited that his lips trembled all the time, his hand shook and his eyes glowed just as if some inward fire was burning deep down in his soul.
"No! I can't," he retorted. "I want to shout and to sing and to cry 'Vive l'Empereur' till those frowning mountains over there echo with my shouts—and I'll have none of your English stiffness and reserve and curbing of enthusiasm to-day. I am a lunatic if you will—an escaped lunatic—if to be mad with joy be a proof of insanity. Clyffurde, my dear friend," he added more soberly, "I am honestly sorry for you to-day."
"Thank you," commented his companion drily. "May I ask how I have deserved this genuine sympathy?"
"Well! because you are an Englishman, and not a Frenchman," said the younger man earnestly; "because you—as an Englishman—must desire Napoleon's downfall, his humiliation, perhaps his death, instead of exulting in his glory, trusting in his star, believing in him, following him. If I were not a Frenchman on a day like this, if my nationality or my patriotism demanded that I should fight against Napoleon, that I should hate him, or vilify him, I firmly believe that I would turn my sword against myself, so shamed should I feel in my own eyes."
It was the Englishman's turn to laugh, and he did it very heartily. His laugh was quite different to his friend's: it had more enjoyment in it, more good temper, more appreciation of everything that tends to gaiety in life and more direct defiance of what is gloomy.
He too had reined in his horse, presumably in order to listen to his friend's enthusiastic tirades, and as he did so there crept into his merry, pleasant eyes a quaint look of half contemptuous tolerance tempered by kindly humour.
"Well, you see, my good de Marmont," he said, still laughing, "you happen to be a Frenchman, a visionary and weaver of dreams. Believe me," he added more seriously, "if you had the misfortune to be a prosy, shop-keeping Englishman, you would certainly not commit suicide just because you could not enthuse over your favourite hero, but you would realise soberly and calmly that while Napoleon Bonaparte is allowed to rule over France—or over any country for the matter of that—there will never be peace in the world or prosperity in any land."
The younger man made no reply. A shadow seemed to gather over his face—a look almost of foreboding, as if Fate that already lay in wait for the great adventurer, had touched the young enthusiast with a warning finger.
Whereupon Clyffurde resumed gaily once more:
"Shall we," he said, "go slowly on now as far as the village? It is not yet ten o'clock. Emery cannot possibly be here before noon."
He put his horse to a walk, de Marmont keeping close behind him, and in silence the two men rode up the incline toward Notre Dame de Vaulx. On ahead the pines and beech and birch became more sparse, disclosing the great patches of moss-covered rock upon the slopes of Pelvoux. On Taillefer the eternal snows appeared wonderfully near in the brilliance of this early spring atmosphere, and here and there on the roadside bunches of wild crocus and of snowdrops were already visible rearing their delicate corollas up against a background of moss.
The tiny village still far away lay in the peaceful hush of a Sunday morning, only from the little chapel which holds the shrine of Notre Dame came the sweet, insistent sound of the bell calling the dwellers of these mountain fastnesses to prayer.
The northeasterly wind was still keen, but the sun was gaining power as it rose well above Pelvoux, and the sky over the dark forests and snow-crowned heights was of a glorious and vivid blue.
The words "Auberge du Grand Dauphin" looked remarkably inviting, written in bold, shiny black characters on the white-washed wall of one of the foremost houses in the village. The riders drew rein once more, this time in front of the little inn, and as a young ostler in blue blouse and sabots came hurriedly and officiously forward whilst mine host in the same attire appeared in the doorway, the two men dismounted, unstrapped their mantles from their saddle-bows and loudly called for mulled wine.
Mine host, typical of his calling and of his race, rubicund of cheek, portly of figure and genial in manner, was over-anxious to please his guests. It was not often that gentlemen of such distinguished appearance called at the "Auberge du Grand Dauphin," seeing that Notre Dame de Vaulx lies perdu on the outskirts of the forests of Pelvoux, that the bridle path having reached the village leads nowhere save into the mountains and that La Motte is close by with its medicinal springs and its fine hostels.
But these two highly-distinguished gentlemen evidently meant to make a stay of it. They even spoke of a friend who would come and join them later, when they would expect a substantial dejeuner to be served with the best wine mine host could put before them. Annette—mine host's dark-eyed daughter—was all a-flutter at sight of these gallant strangers, one of them with such fiery eyes and vivacious ways, and the other so tall and so dignified, with fair skin well-bronzed by the sun and large firm mouth that had such a pleasant smile on it; her eyes sparkled at sight of them both and her glib tongue rattled away at truly astonishing speed.
Would a well-baked omelette and a bit of fricandeau suit the gentlemen?—Admirably? Ah, well then, that could easily be done!—and now? in the meanwhile?—Only good mulled wine? That would present no difficulty either. Five minutes for it to get really hot, as Annette had made some the previous day for her father who had been on a tiring errand up to La Mure and had come home cold and starved—and it was specially good—all the better for having been hotted up once or twice and the cloves and nutmeg having soaked in for nearly four and twenty hours.
Where would the gentlemen have it—Outside in the sunshine? . . . Well! it was very cold, and the wind biting . . . but the gentlemen had mantles, and she, Annette, would see that the wine was piping hot. . . . Five minutes and everything would be ready. . . .
What? . . . the tall, fair-skinned gentleman wanted to wash? . . . what a funny idea! . . . hadn't he washed this morning when he got up? . . . He had? Well, then, why should he want to wash again? . . . She, Annette, managed to keep herself quite clean all day, and didn't need to wash more than once a day. . . . But there! strangers had funny ways with them . . . she had guessed at once that Monsieur was a stranger, he had such a fair skin and light brown hair. Well! so long as Monsieur wasn't English—for the English, she detested!
Why did she detest the English? . . . Because they made war against France. Well! against the Emperor anyhow, and she, Annette, firmly believed that if the English could get hold of the Emperor they would kill him—oh, yes! they would put him on an island peopled by cannibals and let him be eaten, bones, marrow and all.
And Annette's dark eyes grew very round and very big as she gave forth her opinion upon the barbarous hatred of the English for "l'Empereur!" She prattled on very gaily and very volubly, while she dragged a couple of chairs out into the open, and placed them well in the lee of the wind and brought a couple of pewter mugs which she set on the table.
She was very much interested in the tall gentleman who had availed himself of her suggestion to use the pump at the back of the house, since he was so bent on washing himself; and she asked many questions about him from his friend.
Ten minutes later the steaming wine was on the table in a huge china bowl and the Englishman was ladling it out with a long-handled spoon and filling the two mugs with the deliciously scented cordial. Annette had disappeared into the house in response to a peremptory call from her father. The chapel bell had ceased to ring long ago, and she would miss hearing Mass altogether to-day; and M. le cure, who came on alternate Sundays all the way from La Motte to celebrate divine service, would be very angry indeed with her.
Well! that couldn't be helped! Annette would have loved to go to Mass, but the two distinguished gentlemen expected their friend to arrive at noon, and the dejeuner to be ready quite by then; so she comforted her conscience with a few prayers said on her knees before the picture of the Holy Virgin which hung above her bed, after which she went back to her housewifely duty with a light heart; but not before she had decided an important point in her mind—namely, which of those two handsome gentlemen she liked the best: the dark one with the fiery eyes that expressed such bold admiration of her young charms, or the tall one with the earnest grey eyes who looked as if he could pick her up like a feather and carry her running all the way to the summit of Taillefer.
Annette had indeed made up her mind that the giant with the soft brown hair and winning smile was, on the whole, the more attractive of the two.
The two friends, with mantles wrapped closely round them, sat outside the "Grand Dauphin" all unconscious of the problem which had been disturbing Annette's busy little brain.
The steaming wine had put plenty of warmth into their bones, and though both had been silent while they sipped their first mug-full, it was obvious that each was busy with his own thoughts.
Then suddenly the young Frenchman put his mug down and leaned with both elbows upon the rough deal table, because he wanted to talk confidentially with his friend, and there was never any knowing what prying ears might be about.
"I suppose," he said, even as a deep frown told of puzzling thoughts within the mind, "I suppose that when England hears the news, she will up and at him again, attacking him, snarling at him even before he has had time to settle down upon his reconquered throne."
"That throne is not reconquered yet, my friend," retorted the Englishman drily, "nor has the news of this mad adventure reached England so far, but . . ."
"But when it does," broke in de Marmont sombrely, "your Castlereagh will rave and your Wellington will gather up his armies to try and crush the hero whom France loves and acclaims."
"Will France acclaim the hero, there's the question?"
"The army will—the people will——"
Clyffurde shrugged his shoulders.
"The army, yes," he said slowly, "but the people . . . what people?—the peasantry of Provence and the Dauphine, perhaps—what about the town folk?—your mayors and prefets?—your tradespeople? your shopkeepers who have been ruined by the wars which your hero has made to further his own ambition. . . ."
"Don't say that, Clyffurde," once more broke in de Marmont, and this time more vehemently than before. "When you speak like that I could almost forget our friendship."
"Whether I say it or not, my good de Marmont," rejoined Clyffurde with his good-humoured smile, "you will anyhow—within the next few months—days, perhaps—bury our friendship beneath the ashes of your patriotism. No one, believe me," he added more earnestly, "has a greater admiration for the genius of Napoleon than I have; his love of France is sublime, his desire for her glory superb. But underlying his love of country, there is the love of self, the mad desire to rule, to conquer, to humiliate. It led him to Moscow and thence to Elba, it has brought him back to France. It will lead him once again to the Capitol, no doubt, but as surely too it will lead him on to the Tarpeian Rock whence he will be hurled down this time, not only bruised, but shattered, a fallen hero—and you will—a broken idol, for posterity to deal with in after time as it lists."
"And England would like to be the one to give the hero the final push," said de Marmont, not without a sneer.
"The people of England, my friend, hate and fear Bonaparte as they have never hated and feared any one before in the whole course of their history—and tell me, have we not cause enough to hate him? For fifteen years has he not tried to ruin us, to bring us to our knees? tried to throttle our commerce? break our might upon the sea? He wanted to make a slave of Britain, and Britain proved unconquerable. Believe me, we hate your hero less than he hates us."
He had spoken with a good deal of earnestness, but now he added more lightly, as if in answer to de Marmont's glowering look:
"At the same time," he said, "I doubt if there is a single English gentleman living at the present moment—let alone the army—who would refuse ungrudging admiration to Napoleon himself and to his genius. But as a nation England has her interests to safeguard. She has suffered enough—and through him—in her commerce and her prosperity in the past twenty years—she must have peace now at any cost."
"Ah! I know," sighed the other, "a nation of shopkeepers. . . ."
"Yes. We are that, I suppose. We are shopkeepers . . . most of us. . . ."
"I didn't mean to use the word in any derogatory sense," protested Victor de Marmont with the ready politeness peculiar to his race. "Why, even you . . ."
"I don't see why you should say 'even you,'" broke in Clyffurde quietly. "I am a shopkeeper—nothing more. . . . I buy goods and sell them again. . . . I buy the gloves which our friend M. Dumoulin manufactures at Grenoble and sell them to any London draper who chooses to buy them . . . a very mean and ungentlemanly occupation, is it not?"
He spoke French with perfect fluency, and only with the merest suspicion of a drawl in the intonation of the vowels, which suggested rather than proclaimed his nationality; and just now there was not the slightest tone of bitterness apparent in his deep-toned and mellow voice. Once more his friend would have protested, but he put up a restraining hand.
"Oh!" he said with a smile, "I don't imagine for a moment that you have the same prejudices as our mutual friend M. le Comte de Cambray, who must have made a very violent sacrifice to his feelings when he admitted me as a guest to his own table. I am sure he must often think that the servants' hall is the proper place for me."
"The Comte de Cambray," retorted de Marmont with a sneer, "is full up to his eyes with the prejudices and arrogance of his caste. It is men of his type—and not Marat or Robespierre—who made the revolution, who goaded the people of France into becoming something worse than man-devouring beasts. And, mind you, twenty years of exile did not sober them, nor did contact with democratic thought in England and America teach them the most elementary lessons of commonsense. If the Emperor had not come back to-day, we should be once more working up for revolution—more terrible this time, more bloody and vengeful, if possible, than the last."
Then as Clyffurde made no comment on this peroration, the younger man resumed more lightly:
"And—knowing the Comte de Cambray's prejudices as I do, imagine my surprise—after I had met you in his house as an honoured guest and on what appeared to be intimate terms of friendship—to learn that you . . . in fact . . ."
"That I was nothing more than a shopkeeper," broke in Clyffurde with a short laugh, "nothing better than our mutual friend M. Dumoulin, glovemaker, of Grenoble—a highly worthy man whom M. le Comte de Cambray esteems somewhat lower than his butler. It certainly must have surprised you very much."
"Well, you know, old de Cambray has a horror of anything that pertains to trade, and an avowed contempt for everything that he calls 'bourgeois.'"
"There's no doubt about that," assented Clyffurde fervently.
"Perhaps he does not know of your connection with . . ."
"With business people in Grenoble generally."
"Oh, yes, he does!" replied the Englishman quietly.
"Well, then?" queried de Marmont.
Then as his friend sat there silent with that quiet, good-humoured smile lingering round his lips, he added apologetically:
"Perhaps I am indiscreet . . . but I never could understand it . . . and you English are so reserved . . ."
"That I never told you how M. le Comte de Cambray, Commander of the Order of the Holy Ghost, Grand Cross of the Order du Lys, Hereditary Grand Chamberlain of France, etc., etc., came to sit at the same table as a vendor and buyer of gloves," said Clyffurde gaily. "There's no secret about it. I owe the Comte's exalted condescension to certain letters of recommendation which he could not very well disregard."
"Oh! as to that . . ." quoth de Marmont with a shrug of the shoulders, "people like the de Cambrays have their own codes of courtesy and of friendship."
"In this case, my good de Marmont, it was the code of ordinary gratitude that imposed its dictum even upon the autocratic and aristocratic Comte de Cambray."
"Gratitude?" sneered de Marmont, "in a de Cambray?"
"M. le Comte de Cambray," said Clyffurde with slow emphasis, "his mother, his sister, his brother-in-law and two of their faithful servants, were rescued from the very foot of the guillotine by a band of heroes—known in those days as the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"I knew that!" said de Marmont quietly.
"Then perhaps you also knew that their leader was Sir Percy Blakeney—a prince among gallant English gentlemen and my dead father's friend. When my business affairs sent me to Grenoble, Sir Percy warmly recommended me to the man whose life he had saved. What could M. le Comte de Cambray do but receive me as a friend? You see, my credentials were exceptional and unimpeachable."
"Of course," assented de Marmont, "now I understand. But you will admit that I have had grounds for surprise. You—who were the friend of Dumoulin, a tradesman, and avowed Bonapartist—two unpardonable crimes in the eyes of M. le Comte de Cambray," he added with a return to his former bitterness, "you to be seated at his table and to shake him by the hand. Why, man! if he knew that I have remained faithful to the Emperor . . ."
He paused abruptly, and his somewhat full, sensitive lips were pressed tightly together as if to suppress an insistent outburst of passion.
But Clyffurde frowned, and when he turned away from de Marmont it was in order to hide a harsh look of contempt.
"Surely," he said, "you have never led the Comte to suppose that you are a royalist!"
"I have never led him to suppose anything. But he has taken my political convictions for granted," rejoined de Marmont.
Then suddenly a look of bitter resentment darkened his face, making it appear hard and lined and considerably older.
"My uncle, Marshal de Marmont, Duc de Raguse, was an abominable traitor," he went on with ill-repressed vehemence. "He betrayed his Emperor, his benefactor and his friend. It was the vilest treachery that has ever disgraced an honourable name. Paris could have held out easily for another four and twenty hours, and by that time the Emperor would have been back. But de Marmont gave her over wilfully, scurvily to the allies. But for his abominable act of cowardice the Emperor never would have had to endure the shame of his temporary exile at Elba, and Louis de Bourbon would never have had the chance of wallowing for twelve months upon the throne of France. But that which is a source of irreparable shame to me is a virtue in the eyes of all these royalists. De Marmont's treachery against the Emperor has placed all his kindred in the forefront of those who now lick the boots of that infamous Bourbon dynasty, and it did not suit the plans of the Bonapartist party that we—in the provinces—should proclaim our faith too openly until such time as the Emperor returned."
"And if the Comte de Cambray had known that you are just an ardent Bonapartist? . . ." suggested Clyffurde calmly.
"He would long before now have had me kicked out by his lacqueys," broke in de Marmont with ever-increasing bitterness as he brought his clenched fist crashing down upon the table, while his dark eyes glowed with a fierce and passionate resentment. "For men like de Cambray there is only one caste—the noblesse, one religion—the Catholic, one creed—adherence to the Bourbons. All else is scum, trash, beneath contempt, hardly human! Oh! if you knew how I loathe these people!" he continued, speaking volubly and in a voice shaking with suppressed excitement. "They have learnt nothing, these aristocrats, nothing, I tell you! the terrible reprisals of the revolution which culminated in that appalling Reign of Terror have taught them absolutely nothing! They have not learnt the great lesson of the revolution, that the people will no longer endure their arrogance and their pretensions, that the old regime is dead—dead! the regime of oppression and pride and intolerance! They have learnt nothing!" he reiterated with ever-growing excitement, "nothing! 'humanity begins with the noblesse' is still their watchword to-day as it was before the irate people sent hundreds of them to perish miserably on the guillotine—the rest of mankind, to them, is only cattle made to toil for the well-being of their class. Oh! I loathe them, I tell you! I loathe them from the bottom of my soul!"
"And yet you and your kind are rapidly becoming at one with them," said Clyffurde, his quiet voice in strange contrast to the other man's violent agitation.
"No, we are not," protested de Marmont emphatically. "The men whom Napoleon created marshals and peers of France have been openly snubbed at the Court of Louis XVIII. Ney, who is prince of Moskowa and next to Napoleon himself the greatest soldier of France, has seen his wife treated little better than a chambermaid by the Duchesse d'Angouleme and the ladies of the old noblesse. My uncle is marshal of France, and Duc de Raguse and I am the heir to his millions, but the Comte de Cambray will always consider it a mesalliance for his daughter to marry me."
The note of bitter resentment, of wounded pride and smouldering hatred became more and more marked while he spoke: his voice now sounded hoarse and his throat seemed dry. Presently he raised his mug to his lips and drank eagerly, but his hand was shaking visibly as he did this, and some of the wine was spilled on the table.
There was silence for a while outside the little inn, silence which seemed full of portent, for through the pure mountain air there was wafted the hot breath of men's passions—fierce, dominating, challenging. Love, hatred, prejudices and contempt—all were portrayed on de Marmont's mobile face: they glowed in his dark eyes and breathed through his quivering nostrils. Now he rested his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand, his nervy fingers played a tattoo against his teeth, clenched together like those of some young feline creature which sees its prey coming along and is snarling at the sight.
Clyffurde, with those deep-set, earnest grey eyes of his, was silently watching his friend. His hand did not shake, nor did the breath come any quicker from his broad chest. Yet deep down behind the wide brow, behind those same overshadowed eyes, a keen observer would of a surety have detected the signs of a latent volcano of passions, all the more strong and virile as they were kept in perfect control. It was he who presently broke the silence, and his voice was quite steady when he spoke, though perhaps a trifle more toneless, more dead, than usual.
"And," he said, "what of Mlle. Crystal in all this?"
"Crystal?" queried the other curtly, "what about her?"
"She is an ardent royalist, more strong in her convictions and her enthusiasms than women usually are."
"And what of that?" rejoined de Marmont fiercely. "I love Crystal."
"But when she learns that you . . ."
"She shall not learn it," rejoined the other cynically. "We sign our marriage contract to-night: the wedding is fixed for Tuesday. Until then I can hold my peace."
An exclamation of hot protest almost escaped the Englishman's lips: his hand which rested on the table became so tightly clenched that the hard knuckles looked as if they would burst through their fetters of sinew and skin, and he made no pretence at concealing the look of burning indignation which flashed from his eyes.
"But man!" he exclaimed, "a deception such as you propose is cruel and monstrous. . . . In view, too, of what has occurred in the past few days . . . in view of what may happen if the news which we have heard is true . . ."
"In view of all that, my friend," retorted de Marmont firmly, "the old regime has had its nine days of wonder and of splendour. The Emperor has come back! we, who believe in him, who have remained true to him in his humiliation and in his misfortunes may once more raise our heads and loudly proclaim our loyalty. The return of the Emperor will once more put his dukes and his marshals in their rightful place on a level with the highest nobility of France. The Comte de Cambray will realise that all his hopes of regaining his fortune through the favours of the Bourbons have by force of circumstances come to naught. Like most of the old noblesse who emigrated he is without a sou. He may choose to look on me with contempt, but he will no longer desire to kick me out of his house, for he will be glad enough to see the Cambray 'scutcheon regilt with de Marmont gold."
"But Mademoiselle Crystal?" insisted Clyffurde, almost appealingly, for his whole soul had revolted at the cynicism of the other man.
"Crystal has listened to that ape, St. Genis," replied de Marmont drily, "one of her own caste . . . a marquis with sixteen quarterings to his family escutcheon and not a sou in his pockets. She is very young, and very inexperienced. She has seen nothing of the world as yet—nothing. She was born and brought up in exile—in England, in the midst of that narrow society formed by impecunious emigres. . . ."
"And shopkeeping Englishmen," murmured Clyffurde, under his breath.
"She could never have married St. Genis," reiterated Victor de Marmont with deliberate emphasis. "The man hasn't a sou. Even Crystal realised from the first that nothing ever could have come of that boy and girl dallying. The Comte never would have consented. . . ."
"Perhaps not. But she—Mademoiselle Crystal—would she ever have consented to marry you, if she had known what your convictions are?"
"Crystal is only a child," said de Marmont with a light shrug of the shoulders. "She will learn to love me presently when St. Genis has disappeared out of her little world, and she will accept my convictions as she has accepted me, submissive to my will as she was to that of her father."
Once more a hot protest of indignation rose to Clyffurde's lips, but this too he smothered resolutely. What was the use of protesting? Could he hope to change with a few arguments the whole cynical nature of a man? And what right had he even to interfere? The Comte de Cambray and Mademoiselle Crystal were nothing to him: in their minds they would never look upon him even as an equal—let alone as a friend. So the bitter words died upon his lips.
"And you have been content to win a wife on such terms!" was all that he said.
"I have had to be content," was de Marmont's retort. "Crystal is the only woman I have ever cared for. She will love me in time, I doubt not, and her sense of duty will make her forget St. Genis quickly enough."
Then as Clyffurde made no further comment silence fell once more between the two men. Perhaps even de Marmont felt that somehow, during the past few moments, the slender bond of friendship which similarity of tastes and a certain similarity of political ideals had forged between him and the stranger had been strained to snapping point, and this for a reason which he could not very well understand. He drank another draught of wine and gave a quick sigh of satisfaction with the world in general, and also with himself, for he did not feel that he had done or said anything which could offend the keenest susceptibilities of his friend.
He looked with a sudden sense of astonishment at Clyffurde, as if he were only seeing him now for the first time. His keen dark eyes took in with a rapid glance the Englishman's powerful personality, the square shoulders, the head well erect, the strong Anglo-Saxon chin firmly set, the slender hands always in repose. In the whole attitude of the man there was an air of will-power which had never struck de Marmont quite so forcibly as it did now, and a virility which looked as ready to challenge Fate as it was able to conquer her if she proved adverse.
And just now there was a curious look in those deep-set eyes—a look of contempt or of pity—de Marmont was not sure which, but somehow the look worried him and he would have given much to read the thoughts which were hidden behind the high, square brow.
However, he asked no questions, and thus the silence remained unbroken for some time save for the soughing of the northeast wind as it whistled through the pines, whilst from the tiny chapel which held the shrine of Notre Dame de Vaulx came the sound of a soft-toned bell, ringing the midday Angelus.
Just then round that same curve in the road, where the two riders had paused an hour ago in sight of the little hamlet, a man on horseback appeared, riding at a brisk trot up the rugged, stony path.
Victor de Marmont woke from his reverie:
"There's Emery," he cried.
He jumped to his feet, then he picked up his hat from the table where he had laid it down, tossed it up into the air as high as it would go, and shouted with all his might:
The man who now drew rein with abrupt clumsiness in front of the auberge looked hot, tired and travel-stained. His face was covered with sweat and his horse with lather, the lapel of his coat was torn, his breeches and boots were covered with half-frozen mud.
But having brought his horse to a halt, he swung himself out of the saddle with the brisk air of a boy who has enjoyed his first ride across country. Surgeon-Captain Emery was a man well over forty, but to-day his eyes glowed with that concentrated fire which burns in the heart at twenty, and he shook de Marmont by the hand with a vigour which made the younger man wince with the pain of that iron grip.
"My friend, Mr. Clyffurde, an English gentleman," said Victor de Marmont hastily in response to a quick look of suspicious enquiry which flashed out from under Emery's bushy eyebrows. "You can talk quite freely, Emery; and for God's sake tell us your news!"
But Emery could hardly speak. He had been riding hard for the past three hours, his throat was parched, and through it his voice came up hoarse and raucous: nevertheless he at once began talking in short, jerky sentences.
"He landed on Wednesday," he said. "I parted from him on Friday . . . at Castellane . . . you had my message?"
"This morning early—we came at once."
"I thought we could talk better here—first—but I was spent last night—I had to sleep at Corps . . . so I sent to you. . . . But now, in Heaven's name, give me something to drink. . . ."
While he drank eagerly and greedily of the cold spiced wine which Clyffurde had served out to him, he still scrutinised the Englishman closely from under his frowning and bushy eyebrows.
Clyffurde's winning glance, however, seemed to have conquered his mistrust, for presently, after he had put his mug down again, he stretched out a cordial hand to him.
"Now that our Emperor is back with us," he said as if in apology for his former suspicions, "we, his friends, are bound to look askance at every Englishman we meet."
"Of course you are," said Clyffurde with his habitual good-humoured smile as he grasped Surgeon-Captain Emery's extended hand.
"It is the hand of a friend I am grasping?" insisted Emery.
"Of a personal friend, if you will call him so," replied Clyffurde. "Politically, I hardly count, you see. I am just a looker-on at the game."
The surgeon-captain's keen eyes under their bushy brows shot a rapid glance at the tall, well-knit figure of the Englishman.
"You are not a fighting man?" he queried, much amazed.
"No," replied Clyffurde drily. "I am only a tradesman."
"Your news, Emery, your news!" here broke in Victor de Marmont, who during the brief colloquy between his two friends had been hardly able to keep his excitement in check.
Emery turned away from the other man in silence. Clearly there was something about that fine, noble-looking fellow—who proclaimed himself a tradesman while that splendid physique of his should be at his country's service—which still puzzled the worthy army surgeon.
But he was primarily very thirsty and secondly as eager to impart his news as de Marmont was to hear it, so now without wasting any further words on less important matter he sat down close to the table and stretched his short, thick legs out before him.
"My news is of the best," he said with lusty fervour. "We left Porto Ferrajo on Sunday last but only landed on Wednesday, as I told you, for we were severely becalmed in the Mediterranean. We came on shore at Antibes at midday of March 1st and bivouacked in an olive grove on the way to Cannes. That was a sight good for sore eyes, my friends, to see him sitting there by the camp fire, his feet firmly planted upon the soil of France. What a man, Sir, what a man!" he continued, turning directly to Clyffurde, "on board the Inconstant he had composed and dictated his proclamation to the army, to the soldiers of France! the finest piece of prose, Sir, I have ever read in all my life. But you shall judge of it, Sir, you shall judge. . . ."
And with hands shaking with excitement he fumbled in the bulging pocket of his coat and extracted therefrom a roll of loose papers roughly tied together with a piece of tape.
"You shall read it, Sir," he went on mumbling, while his trembling fingers vainly tried to undo the knot in the tape, "you shall read it. And then mayhap you'll tell me if your Pitt was ever half so eloquent. Curse these knots!" he exclaimed angrily.
"Will you allow me, Sir?" said Clyffurde quietly, and with steady hand and firm fingers he undid the refractory knots and spread the papers out upon the table.
Already de Marmont had given a cry of loyalty and of triumph.
"His proclamation!" he exclaimed, and a sigh of infinite satisfaction born of enthusiasm and of hero-worship escaped his quivering lips.
The papers bore the signature of that name which had once been all-powerful in its magical charm, at sound of which Europe had trembled and crowns had felt insecure, the name which men had breathed—nay! still breathed—either with passionate loyalty or with bitter hatred:—"Napoleon."
They were copies of the proclamation wherewith the heroic adventurer—confident in the power of his diction—meant to reconquer the hearts of that army whom he had once led to such glorious victories.
De Marmont read the long document through from end to end in a half-audible voice. Now and again he gave a little cry—a cry of loyalty at mention of those victories of Austerlitz and Jena, of Wagram and of Eckmuehl, at mention of those imperial eagles which had led the armies of France conquering and glorious throughout the length and breadth of Europe—or a cry of shame and horror at mention of the traitor whose name he bore and who had delivered France into the hands of strangers and his Emperor into those of his enemies.
And when the young enthusiast had read the proclamation through to the end he raised the paper to his lips and fervently kissed the imprint of the revered name: "Napoleon."
"Now tell me more about him," he said finally, as he leaned both elbows on the table and fastened his glowing eyes upon the equally heated face of Surgeon-Captain Emery.
"Well!" resumed the latter, "as I told you we bivouacked among the olive trees on the way to Cannes. The Emperor had already sent Cambronne on ahead with forty of his grenadiers to commandeer what horses and mules he could, as we were not able to bring many across from Porto Ferrajo. 'Cambronne,' he said, 'you shall be in command of the vanguard in this the finest campaign which I have ever undertaken. My orders are to you, that you do not fire a single unnecessary shot. Remember that I mean to reconquer my imperial crown without shedding one drop of French blood.' Oh! he is in excellent health and in excellent spirits! Such a man! such fire in his eyes! such determination in his actions! Younger, bolder than ever! I tell you, friends," continued the worthy surgeon-captain as he brought the palm of his hand flat down upon the table with an emphatic bang, "that it is going to be a triumphal march from end to end of France. The people are mad about him. At Roccavignon, just outside Cannes, where we bivouacked on Thursday, men, women and children were flocking round to see him, pressing close to his knees, bringing him wine and flowers; and the people were crying 'Vive l'Empereur!' even in the streets of Grasse."
"But the army, man? the army?" cried de Marmont, "the garrisons of Antibes and Cannes and Grasse? did the men go over to him at once?—and the officers?"
"We hadn't encountered the army yet when I parted from him on Friday," retorted Emery with equal impatience, "we didn't go into Antibes and we avoided Cannes. You must give him time. The people in the towns wouldn't at first believe that he had come back. General Massena, who is in command at Marseilles, thought fit to spread the news that a band of Corsican pirates had landed on the littoral and were marching inland—devastating villages as they marched. The peasants from the mountains were the first to believe that the Emperor had really come, and they wandered down in their hundreds to see him first and to spread the news of his arrival ahead of him. By the time we reached Castellane the mayor was not only ready to receive him but also to furnish him with 5,000 rations of meat and bread, with horses and with mules. Since then he has been at Digue and at Sisteron. Be sure that the garrisons of those cities have rallied round his eagles by now."
Then whilst Emery paused for breath de Marmont queried eagerly:
"And so . . . there has been no contretemps?"
"Nothing serious so far," replied the other. "We had to abandon our guns at Grasse, the Emperor felt that they would impede the rapidity of his progress; and our second day's march was rather trying, the mountain passes were covered in snow, the lancers had to lead their horses sometimes along the edge of sheer precipices, they were hampered too by their accoutrements, their long swords and their lances; others—who had no mounts—had to carry their heavy saddles and bridles on those slippery paths. But he was walking too, stick in hand, losing his footing now and then, just as they did, and once he nearly rolled down one of those cursed precipices: but always smiling, always cheerful, always full of hope. At Antibes young Casabianca got himself arrested with twenty grenadiers—they had gone into the town to requisition a few provisions. When the news reached us some of the younger men tried to persuade the Emperor to march on the city and carry the place by force of arms before Casabianca's misfortune got bruited abroad: 'No!' he said, 'every minute is precious. All we can do is to get along faster than the evil news can travel. If half my small army were captive at Antibes, I would still move on. If every man were a prisoner in the citadel, I would march on alone.' That's the man, my friends," cried Emery with ever-growing enthusiasm, "that's our Emperor!"
And he cast a defiant look on Clyffurde, as much as to say: "Bring on your Wellington and your armies now! the Emperor has come back! the whole of France will know how to guard him!" Then he turned to de Marmont.
"And now tell me about Grenoble," he said.
"Grenoble had an inkling of the news already last night," said de Marmont, whose enthusiasm was no whit cooler than that of Emery. "Marchand has been secretly assembling his troops, he has sent to Chambery for the 7th and 11th regiment of the line and to Vienne for the 4th Hussars. Inside Grenoble he has the 5th infantry regiment, the 4th of artillery and 3rd of engineers, with a train squadron. This morning he is holding a council of war, and I know that he has been in constant communication with Massena. The news is gradually filtering through into the town: people stand at the street corners and whisper among themselves; the word 'l'Empereur' seemed wafted upon this morning's breeze. . . ."
"And by to-night we'll have the Emperor's proclamation to his people pinned up on the walls of the Hotel de Ville!" exclaimed Emery, and with hands still trembling with excitement he gathered the precious papers once more together and slipped them back into his coat pocket. Then he made a visible effort to speak more quietly: "And now," he said, "for one very important matter which, by the way, was the chief reason for my asking you, my good de Marmont, to meet me here before my getting to Grenoble."
"Yes? What is it?" queried de Marmont eagerly.
Surgeon-Captain Emery leaned across the table; instinctively he dropped his voice, and though his excitement had not abated one jot, though his eyes still glowed and his hands still fidgeted nervously, he had forced himself at last to a semblance of calm.
"The matter is one of money," he said slowly. "The Emperor has some funds at his disposal, but as you know, that scurvy government of the Restoration never handed him over one single sou of the yearly revenue which it had solemnly agreed and sworn to pay to him with regularity. Now, of course," he continued still more emphatically, "we who believe in our Emperor as we believe in God, we are absolutely convinced that the army will rally round him to a man. The army loves him and has never ceased to love him, the army will follow him to victory and to death. But the most loyal army in the world cannot subsist without money, and the Emperor has little or none. The news of his triumphant march across France will reach Paris long before he does, it will enable His Most Excellent and Most Corpulent Majesty King Louis to skip over to England or to Ghent with everything in the treasury on which he can lay his august hands. Now, de Marmont, do you perceive what the serious matter is which caused me to meet you here—twenty-five kilometres from Grenoble, where I ought to be at the present moment."
"Yes! I do perceive very grave trouble there," said de Marmont with characteristic insouciance, "but one which need not greatly worry the Emperor. I am rich, thank God! and . . ."
"And may God bless you, my dear de Marmont, for the thought," broke in Emery earnestly, "but what may be called a large private fortune is as nothing before the needs of an army. Soon, of course, the Emperor will be in peaceful possession of his throne and will have all the resources of France at his command, but before that happy time arrives there will be much fighting, and many days—weeks perhaps—of anxiety to go through. During those weeks the army must be paid and fed; and your private fortune, my dear de Marmont, would—even if the Emperor were to accept your sacrifice, which is not likely—be but as a drop in the mighty ocean of the cost of a campaign. What are two or even three millions, my poor, dear friend? It is forty, fifty millions that the Emperor wants."
De Marmont this time had nothing to say. He was staring moodily and silently before him.
"Now, that is what I have come to talk to you about," continued Emery after a few seconds' pause, during which he had once more thrown a quick, half-suspicious glance on the impassive, though obviously interested face of the Englishman, "always supposing that Monsieur here is on our side."
"Neither on your side nor on the other, Captain," said Bobby Clyffurde with a slight tone of impatience. "I am a mere tradesman, as I have had the honour to tell you: a spectator at this game of political conflicts. M. de Marmont knows this well, else he had not asked me to accompany him to-day nor offered me a mount to enable me to do so. But if you prefer it," he added lightly, "I can go for a stroll while you discuss these graver matters."
He would have risen from the table only that Emery immediately detained him.
"No offence, Sir," said the surgeon-captain bluntly.
"None, I give you my word," assented the Englishman. "It is only natural that you should wish to discuss such grave matters in private. Let me go and see to our dejeuner in the meanwhile. I feel sure that the fricandeau is done to a turn by now. I'll have it dished up in ten minutes. I pray you take no heed of me," he added in response to murmured protestations from both de Marmont and Emery. "I would much prefer to know nothing of these grave matters which you are about to discuss."
This time Emery did not detain him as he rose and turned to go within in order to find mine host or Annette. The two Frenchmen took no further heed of him: wrapped up in the all engrossing subject-matter they remained seated at the table, leaning across it, their faces close to one another, their eyes dancing with excitement, questions and answers—as soon as the stranger's back was turned—already tumbling out in confusion from their lips.
Clyffurde turned to have a last look at them before he went into the house, and while he did so his habitual, pleasant, gently-ironical smile still hovered round his lips. But anon a quickly-suppressed sigh chased the smile away, and over his face there crept a strange shadow—a look of longing and of bitter regret.
It was only for a moment, however, the next he had passed his hand slowly across his forehead, as if to wipe away that shadow and smooth out those lines of unspoken pain.
Soon his cheerful voice was heard, echoing along the low rafters of the little inn, loudly calling for Annette and for news of the baked omelette and the fricandeau.
"You really could have talked quite freely before Mr. Clyffurde, my good Emery," said de Marmont as soon as Bobby had disappeared inside the inn. "He really takes no part in politics. He is a friend alike of the Comte de Cambray and of glovemaker Dumoulin. He has visited our Bonapartist Club. Dumoulin has vouched for him. You see, he is not a fighting man."
"I suppose that you are equally sure that he is not an English spy," remarked Emery drily.
"Of course I am sure," asserted de Marmont emphatically. "Dumoulin has known him for years in business, though this is the first time that Clyffurde has visited Grenoble. He is in the glove trade in England: his interests are purely commercial. He came here with introductions to the Comte de Cambray from a mutual friend in England who seems to be a personage of vast importance in his own country and greatly esteemed by the Comte—else you may be sure that that stiff-necked aristocrat would never have received a tradesman as a guest in his house. But it was in Dumoulin's house that I first met Bobby Clyffurde. We took a liking to one another, and since then have ridden a great deal together. He is a splendid horseman, and I was very glad to be able to offer him a mount at different times. But our political conversations have never been very heated or very serious. Clyffurde maintains a detached impersonal attitude both to the Bonapartist and the royalist cause. I asked him to accompany me this morning and he gladly consented, for he dearly loves a horse. I assure you, you might have said anything before him."
"Eh bien! I'm sorry if I've been obstinate and ungracious," said the surgeon-captain, but in a tone that obviously belied his words, "though, frankly, I am very glad that we are alone for the moment."
He paused, and with a wave of his thick, short-fingered hand he dismissed this less important subject-matter and once more spoke with his wonted eagerness on that which lay nearest his heart.
"Now listen, my good de Marmont," he said, "do you recollect last April when the Empress—poor wretched, misguided woman—fled so precipitately from Paris, abandoning the capital, France and her crown at one and the same time, and taking away with her all the Crown diamonds and money and treasure belonging to the Emperor? She was terribly ill-advised, of course, but . . ."
"Yes, I remember all that perfectly well," broke in de Marmont impatiently.
"Well, then, you know that that abominable Talleyrand sent one of his emissaries after the Empress and her suite . . . that this emissary—Dudon was his name—reached Orleans just before Marie Louise herself got there. . . ."
"And that he ordered, in Talleyrand's name, the seizure of the Empress' convoy as soon as it arrived in the city," broke in de Marmont again. "Yes. I recollect that abominable outrage perfectly. Dudon, backed by the officers of the gendarmerie, managed to rob the Empress of everything she had, even to the last knife and fork, even to the last pocket handkerchief belonging to the Emperor and marked with his initials. Oh! it was monstrous! hellish! devilish! It makes my blood boil whenever I think of it . . . whenever I think of those fatuous, treacherous Bourbons gloating over those treasures at the Tuileries, while our Empress went her way as effectually despoiled as if she had been waylaid by so many brigands on a public highway."
"Just so," resumed Emery quietly after de Marmont's violent storm of wrath had subsided. "But I don't know if you also recollect that when the various cases containing the Emperor's belongings were opened at the Tuileries, there was just as much disappointment as gloating. Some of those fatuous Bourbons—as you so rightly call them—expected to find some forty or fifty millions of the Emperor's personal savings there—bank-notes and drafts on the banks of France, of England and of Amsterdam, which they were looking forward to distributing among themselves and their friends. Your friend the Comte de Cambray would no doubt have come in too for his share in this distribution. But M. de Talleyrand is a very wise man! always far-seeing, he knows the improvidence, the prodigality, the ostentation of these new masters whom he is so ready to serve. Ere Dudon reached Paris with his booty, M. de Talleyrand had very carefully eliminated therefrom some five and twenty million francs in bank-notes and bankers' drafts, which he felt would come in very usefully once for a rainy day."
"But M. de Talleyrand is immensely rich himself," protested de Marmont.
"Ah! he did not eliminate those five and twenty millions for his own benefit," said Emery. "I would not so boldly accuse him of theft. The money has been carefully put away by M. de Talleyrand for the use of His Corpulent Majesty Louis de Bourbon, XVIIIth of that name."
Then as Emery here made a dramatic pause and looked triumphantly across at his companion, de Marmont rejoined somewhat bewildered:
"But . . . I don't understand . . ."
"Why I am telling you this?" retorted Emery, still with that triumphant air. "You shall understand in a moment, my friend, when I tell you that those five and twenty millions were never taken north to Paris, they were conveyed in strict secrecy south to Grenoble!"
"To Grenoble?" exclaimed de Marmont.
"To Grenoble," reasserted Emery.
"But why? . . . why such a long way?—why Grenoble?" queried the young man in obvious puzzlement.
"For several reasons," replied Emery. "Firstly both the prefet of the department and the military commandant are hot royalists, whilst the province of Dauphine is not. In case of any army corps being sent down there to quell possible and probable revolt, the money would have been there to hand: also, if you remember, there was talk at the time of the King of Naples proving troublesome. There, too, in case of a campaign on the frontier, the money lying ready to hand at Grenoble could prove very useful. But of course I cannot possibly pretend to give you all the reasons which actuated M. de Talleyrand when he caused five and twenty millions of stolen money to be conveyed secretly to Grenoble rather than to Paris. His ways are more tortuous than any mere army-surgeon can possibly hope to gauge. Enough that he did it and that at this very moment there are five and twenty millions which are the rightful property of the Emperor locked up in the cellars of the Hotel de Ville at Grenoble."
"But . . ." murmured de Marmont, who still seemed very bewildered at all that he had heard, "are you sure?"
"Quite sure," affirmed Emery emphatically. "Dumoulin brought news of it to the Emperor at Elba several months ago, and you know that he and his Bonapartist Club always have plenty of spies in and around the prefecture. The money is there," he reiterated with still greater emphasis, "now the question is how are we going to get hold of it."
"Easily," rejoined de Marmont with his habitual enthusiasm, "when the Emperor marches into Grenoble and the whole of the garrison rallies around him, he can go straight to the Hotel de Ville and take everything that he wants."
"Always supposing that M. le prefet does not anticipate the Emperor's coming by conveying the money to Paris or elsewhere before we can get hold of it," quoth Emery drily.
"Oh! Fourier is not sufficiently astute for that."
"Perhaps not. But we must not neglect possibilities. That money would be a perfect godsend to the Emperor. It was originally his too, par Dieu! Anyhow, my good de Marmont, that is what I wanted to talk over quietly with you before I get into Grenoble. Can you think of any means of getting hold of that money in case Fourier has the notion of conveying it to some other place of safety?"
"I would like to think that over, Emery," said de Marmont thoughtfully. "As you say, we of the Bonapartist Club at Grenoble have spies inside the Hotel de Ville. We must try and find out what Fourier means to do as soon as he realises that the Emperor is marching on Grenoble: and then we must act accordingly and trust to luck and good fortune."
"And to the Emperor's star," rejoined Emery earnestly; "it is once more in the ascendant. But the matter of the money is a serious one, de Marmont. You will deal with it seriously?"
"Seriously!" ejaculated de Marmont.
Once more the unquenchable fire of undying devotion to his hero glowed in the young man's eyes.
"Everything pertaining to the Emperor," he said fervently, "is serious to me. For a whim of his I would lay down my life. I will think of all you have told me, Emery, and here, beneath the blue dome of God's sky, I swear that I will get the Emperor the money that he wants or lose mine honour and my life in the attempt.
"Amen to that," rejoined Emery with a deep sigh of satisfaction. "You are a brave man, de Marmont, would to heaven every Frenchman was like you. And now," he added with sudden transition to a lighter mood, "let Annette dish up the fricandeau. Here's our friend the tradesman, who was born to be a soldier. M. Clyffurde," he added loudly, calling to the Englishman who had just appeared in the doorway of the inn, "my grateful thanks to you—not only for your courtesy, but for expediting that delicious dejeuner which tickles my appetite so pleasantly. I pray you sit down without delay. I shall have to make an early start after the meal, as I must be inside Grenoble before dark."
Clyffurde, good-humoured, genial, quiet as usual, quickly responded to the surgeon-captain's desire. He took his seat once more at the table and spoke of the weather and the sunshine, the Alps and the snows the while Annette spread a cloth and laid plates and knives and forks before the distinguished gentlemen.
"We all want to make an early start, eh, my dear Clyffurde?" ejaculated de Marmont gaily. "We have serious business to transact this night with M. le Comte de Cambray, and partake too of his gracious hospitality, what?"
"Not I forsooth," he said. "M. le Comte would as soon have Satan or Beelzebub inside his doors. And I marvel, my good de Marmont, that you have succeeded in keeping on such friendly terms with that royalist ogre."
"I?" said de Marmont, whose inward exultation radiated from his entire personality, "I, my dear Emery? Did you not know that I am that royalist ogre's future son-in-law? Par Dieu! but this is a glorious day for me as well as a glorious day for France! Emery, dear friend, wish me joy and happiness. On Tuesday I wed Mademoiselle Crystal de Cambray—to-night we sign our marriage contract! Wish me joy, I say! she's a bride well worth the winning! Napoleon sets forth to conquer a throne—I to conquer love. And you, old sober-face, do not look so glum!" he added, turning to Clyffurde.
And his ringing laugh seemed to echo from end to end of the narrow valley.
After which a lighter atmosphere hung around the table outside the "Auberge du Grand Dauphin." There was but little talk of the political situation, still less of party hatred and caste prejudices. The hero's name was still on the lips of the two men who worshipped him, and Clyffurde, faithful to his attitude of detachment from political conflicts, listened quite unmoved to the impassioned dithyrambs of his friends.
But so absorbed were these two in their conversation and their joy that they failed to notice that Clyffurde hardly touched the excellent dejeuner set before him and left mine host's fine Burgundy almost untasted.
THE OLD REGIME
On that same day and at about the same time when Victor de Marmont and his English friend first turned their horses up the bridle path and sighted Notre Dame de Vaulx (when, if you remember, the young Frenchman drew rein and fell to apostrophising the hamlet, the day, the hour and the glorious news which he was expecting to hear) at about that self-same hour, I say, in the Chateau de Brestalou, situate on the right bank of the Isere at a couple of kilometres from Grenoble, the big folding doors of solid mahogany which lead from the suite of vast reception rooms to the small boudoir beyond were thrown open and Hector appeared to announce that M. le Comte de Cambray would be ready to receive Mme. la Duchesse in the library in a quarter of an hour.
Mme. la Duchesse douairiere d'Agen thereupon closed the gilt-edged, much-bethumbed Missal which she was reading—since this was Sunday and she had been unable to attend Mass owing to that severe twinge of rheumatism in her right knee—and placed it upon the table close to her elbow; then with delicate, bemittened hand she smoothed out one unruly crease in her puce silk gown and finally looked up through her round, bone-rimmed spectacles at the sober-visaged, majestic personage who stood at attention in the doorway.
"Tell M. le Comte, my good Hector," she said with slow deliberation, "that I will be with him at the time which he has so graciously appointed."
Hector bowed himself out of the room with that perfect decorum which proclaims the well-trained domestic of an aristocratic house. As soon as the tall mahogany doors were closed behind him, Mme. la Duchesse took her spectacles off from her high-bred nose and gave a little sniff, which caused Mademoiselle Crystal to look up from her book and mutely to question Madame with those wonderful blue eyes of hers.
"Ah ca, my little Crystal," was Madame's tart response to that eloquent enquiry, "does Monsieur my brother imagine himself to be a second Bourbon king, throning it in the Tuileries and granting audiences to the ladies of his court? or is it only for my edification that he plays this magnificent game of etiquette and ceremonial and other stupid paraphernalia which have set me wondering since last night? M. le Comte will receive Mme. la Duchesse in a quarter of an hour forsooth," she added, mimicking Hector's pompous manner; "par Dieu! I should think indeed that he would receive his own sister when and where it suited her convenience—not his."
Crystal was silent for a moment or two: and in those same expressive eyes which she kept fixed on Madame's face, the look of mute enquiry had become more insistent. It almost seemed as if she were trying to penetrate the underlying thoughts of the older woman, as if she tried to read all that there was in that kindly glance of hidden sarcasm, of humour or tolerance, or of gentle contempt. Evidently what she read in the wrinkled face and the twinkling eyes pleased and reassured her, for now the suspicion of a smile found its way round the corners of her sensitive mouth.
There are some very old people living in Grenoble at the present day whose mothers or fathers have told them that they remembered Mademoiselle Crystal de Cambray quite well in the year that M. le Comte returned from England and once more took possession of his ancestral home on the bank of the Isere, which those awful Terrorists of '92 had taken away from him. Louis XVIII., the Benevolent king, had promptly restored the old chateau to its rightful owner, when he himself, after years of exile, mounted the throne of his fathers, and the usurper Bonaparte was driven out of France by the armies of Europe allied against him, and sent to cool his ambitions in the island fastnesses of Elba.
Mademoiselle de Cambray was just nineteen in that year 1814 which was so full of grace for the Bourbon dynasty and all its faithful adherents, and in February of the following year she attained her twentieth birthday. Of course you know that she was born in England, and that her mother was English, for had not M. le Comte been obliged to fly before the fury of the Terrorists, whose dreaded Committee of Public Safety had already arrested him as a "suspect" and condemned him to the guillotine. He had contrived to escape death by what was nothing short of a miracle, and he had lived for twenty years in England, and there had married a beautiful English girl from whom Mademoiselle Crystal had inherited the deep blue eyes and brilliant skin which were the greatest charm of her effulgent beauty.
I like to think of her just as she was on that memorable day early in March of the year 1815—just as she sat that morning on a low stool close to Mme. la Duchesse's high-backed chair, and with her eyes fixed so enquiringly upon Madame's kind old face. Her fair hair was done up in the quaint loops and curls which characterised the mode of the moment: she had on a white dress cut low at the neck and had wrapped a soft cashmere shawl round her shoulders, for the weather was cold and there was no fire in the stately open hearth.
Having presumably arrived at the happy conclusion that Madame's wrath was only on the surface, Crystal now said gently:
"Father loves all this etiquette, ma tante; it brings back memories of a very happy past. It is the only thing he has left now," she added with a little sigh, "the only bit out of the past which that awful revolution could not take away from him. You will try to be indulgent to him, aunt darling, won't you?"
"Indulgent?" retorted the old lady with a shrug of her shoulders, "of course I'll be indulgent. It's no affair of mine and he does as he pleases. But I should have thought that twenty years spent in England would have taught him commonsense, and twenty years' experience in earning a precarious livelihood as a teacher of languages in . . ."
"Hush, aunt, for pity's sake," broke in Crystal hurriedly, and she put up her hands almost as if she wished to stop the words in the old lady's mouth.
"All right! all right! I won't mention it again," said Mme. la Duchesse good-humouredly. "I have only been in this house four and twenty hours, my dear child, but I have already learned my lesson. I know that the memory of the past twenty years must be blotted right out of our minds—out of the minds of every one of us. . . ."
"Not of mine, aunt, altogether," murmured Crystal softly.
"No, my dear—not altogether," rejoined Mme. la Duchesse as she placed one of her fine white hands on the fair head of her niece; "your beautiful mother belongs to the unforgettable memories, of those twenty years. . . ."
"And not only my beautiful mother, aunt dear. There are men living in England to-day whose names must remain for ever engraved upon my father's heart, as well as on mine—if we should ever forget those names and neglect for one single day our prayers of gratitude for their welfare and their reward, we should be the meanest and blackest of ingrates."
"Ah!" said Madame, "I am glad that Monsieur my brother remembers all that in the midst of his restored grandeur."
"Have you been wronging him in your heart all this while, ma tante?" asked Crystal, and there was a slight tone of reproach in her voices "you used not to be so cynical once upon a time."
"Cynical!" exclaimed the Duchesse, "bless the child's heart! Of course I am cynical—at my age what can you expect?—and what can I expect? But there, don't distress yourself, I am not wronging your father—far from it—only this grandeur—the state dinner last night—his gracious manner—all that upset me. I am not used to it, my dear, you see. Twenty years in that diminutive house in Worcester have altered my tastes, I see, more than they did your father's . . . and these last ten months which he seems to have spent in reviving the old grandeur of his ancestral home, I spent, remember, with the dear little Sisters of Mercy at Boulogne, praying amidst very humble surroundings that the future may not become more unendurable than the past."
"But you are glad to be back at Brestalou again? and you will remain here with us—always?" queried Crystal, and with tender eagerness she clasped the older woman's hands closely in her own.
"Yes, dear," replied Madame gently. "I am glad to be back in the old chateau—my dear old home—where I was very happy and very young once—oh, so very long ago! And I will remain with your father and look after him all the time that his young bird is absent from the nest."
Again she stroked her niece's soft, wavy hair with a gesture which apparently was habitual with her, and it seemed as if a note of sadness had crept into her brisk, sharp voice. Over Crystal's cheeks a wave of crimson had quickly swept at her aunt's last words: and the eyes which she now raised to Madame's kindly face were full of tears.
"It seems so terribly soon now, ma tante," she said wistfully.
"Hm, yes!" quoth Mme. la Duchesse drily, "time has a knack now and then of flying faster than we wish. Well, my dear, so long as this day brings you happiness, the old folk who stay at home have no right to grumble."
Then as Crystal made no reply and held her little head resolutely away, Madame said more insistently:
"You are happy, Crystal, are you not?"
"Of course I am happy, ma tante," replied Crystal quickly, "why should you ask?"
But still she would not look straight into Madame's eyes, and the tone of Madame's voice sounded anything but satisfied.
"Well!" she said, "I ask, I suppose, because I want an answer . . . a satisfactory answer."
"You have had it, ma tante, have you not?"
"Yes, my dear. If you are happy, I am satisfied. But last night it seemed to me as if your ideas of your own happiness and those of your father on the same subject were somewhat at variance, eh?"
"Oh no, ma tante," rejoined Crystal quietly, "father and I are quite of one mind on that subject."
"But your heart is pulling a different way, is that it?"
Then as Crystal once more relapsed into silence and two hot tears dropped on the Duchesse's wrinkled hands, the old woman added softly:
"St. Genis, who hasn't a sou, was out of the question, I suppose."
Crystal shook her head in silence.
"And that young de Marmont is very rich?"
"He is his uncle's heir," murmured Crystal.
"And you, child, are marrying a kinsman of that abominable Duc de Raguse in order to regild our family escutcheon."
"My father wished it so very earnestly," rejoined Crystal, who was bravely swallowing her tears, "and I could not bear to run counter to his desire. The Duc de Raguse has promised father that when I am a de Marmont he will buy back all the forfeited Cambray estates and restore them to us: Victor will be allowed to take up the name of Cambray and . . . and . . . Oh!" she exclaimed passionately, "father has had such a hard life, so much sorrow, so many disappointments, and now this poverty is so horribly grinding. . . . I couldn't have the heart to disappoint him in this!"
"You are a good child, Crystal," said Madame gently, "and no doubt Victor de Marmont will prove a good husband to you. But I wish he wasn't a Marmont, that's all."
But this remark, delivered in the old lady's most uncompromising manner, brought forth a hot protest from Crystal:
"Why, aunt," she said, "the Duc de Raguse is the most faithful servant the king could possibly wish to have. It was he and no one else who delivered Paris to the allies and thus brought about the downfall of Bonaparte, and the restoration of our dear King Louis to the throne of France."
"Tush, child, I know that," said Madame with her habitual tartness of speech, "I know it just as well as history will know it presently, and methinks that history will pass on the Duc de Raguse just about the same judgment as I passed on him in my heart last year. God knows I hate that Bonaparte as much as anyone, and our Bourbon kings are almost as much a part of my religion as is the hierarchy of saints, but a traitor like de Marmont I cannot stomach. What was he before Bonaparte made him a marshal of France and created him Duc de Raguse?—An out-at-elbows ragamuffin in the ranks of the republican army. To Bonaparte he owed everything, title, money, consideration, even the military talents which gave him the power to turn on the hand that had fed him. Delivered Paris to the allies indeed!" continued the Duchesse with ever-increasing indignation and volubility, "betrayed Bonaparte, then licked the boots of the Czar of Russia, of the Emperor, of King Louis, of all the deadly enemies of the man to whom he owed his very existence. Pouah! I hate Bonaparte, but men like Ney and Berthier and de Marmont sicken me! Thank God that even in his life-time, de Marmont, Duc de Raguse, has already an inkling of what posterity will say of him. Has not the French language been enriched since the capitulation of Paris with a new word that henceforth and for all times will always spell disloyalty: and to-day when we wish to describe a particularly loathsome type of treachery, do we not already speak of a 'ragusade'?"
Crystal had listened in silence to her aunt's impassioned tirade. Now when Madame paused—presumably for want of breath—she said gently:
"That is all quite true, ma tante, but I am afraid that father would not altogether see eye to eye with you in this. After all," she added naively, "a pagan may become converted to Christianity without being called a traitor to his false gods, and the Duc de Raguse may have learnt to hate the idol whom he once worshipped, and for this profession of faith we should honour him, I think."
"Yes," grunted Madame, unconvinced, "but we need not marry into his family."
"But in any case," retorted Crystal, "poor Victor cannot help what his uncle did."
"No, he cannot," assented the Duchesse decisively, "and he is very rich and he loves you, and as your husband he will own all the old Cambray estates which his uncle of ragusade fame will buy up for him, and presently your son, my darling, will be Comte de Cambray, just as if that awful revolution and all that robbing and spoliation had never been. And of course everything will be for the best in the best possible world, if only," concluded the old lady with a sigh, "if only I thought that you would be happy."
Crystal took care not to meet Madame's kindly glance just then, for of a surety the tears would have rushed in a stream to her eyes. But she would not give way to any access of self-pity: she had chosen her part in life and this she meant to play loyally, without regret and without murmur.
"But of course, ma tante, I shall be happy," she said after a while; "as you say, M. de Marmont is very kind and good and I know that father will be happy when Brestalou and Cambray and all the old lands are once more united in his name. Then he will be able to do something really great and good for the King and for France . . . and I too, perhaps. . . ."
"You, my poor darling!" exclaimed Madame, "what can you do, I should like to know."
A curious, dreamy look came into the girl's eyes, just as if a foreknowledge of the drama in which she was so soon destined to play the chief role had suddenly appeared to her through the cloudy and distant veils of futurity.
"I don't know, ma tante," she said slowly, "but somehow I have always felt that one day I might be called upon to do something for France. There are times when that feeling becomes so strong that all thoughts of myself and of my own happiness fade from my knowledge, and it seems as if my duty to France and to the King were more insistent than my duty to God."
"Poor France!" sighed Madame.
"Yes! that is just what I feel, ma tante. Poor France! She has suffered so much more than we have, and she has regained so much less! Enemies still lurk around her; the prowling wolf is still at her gate: even the throne of her king is still insecure! Poor, poor France! our country, ma tante! she should be our pride, our glory, and she is weak and torn and beset by treachery! Oh, if only I could do something for France and for the King I would count myself the happiest woman on God's earth."
Now she was a woman transformed. She seemed taller and stronger. Her girlishness, too, had vanished. Her cheeks burned, her eyes glowed, her breath came and went rapidly through her quivering nostrils. Mme. la Duchesse d'Agen looked down on her niece with naive admiration.
"He my little Joan of Arc!" she said merrily, "par Dieu, your eloquence, ma mignonne, has warmed up my old heart too. But, please God, our dear old country will not have need of heroism again."
"I am not so sure of that, ma tante."
"You are thinking of that ugly rumour which was current in Grenoble yesterday."
"If that Corsican brigand dares to set his foot again upon this land . . ." began the old lady vehemently.