[Frontispiece: The Little Countess takes Arms for Her Defence.]
THE EAGLE OF THE EMPIRE
A STORY OF WATERLOO
By CYRUS TOWNSEND BRADY
"The Island of Regeneration," "The Island of the Stairs," "Britton of the Seventh," Etc.
By THE KINNEYS
A. L. BURT COMPANY
Published by Arrangements with GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
By GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
Dedications have gone out of vogue save with the old fashioned. The ancient idea of an appeal to a patron has been eliminated from modern literature. If a man now inscribes a book to any one it is that he may associate with his work the names of friends he loves and delights to honor. There is always a certain amount of assurance in any such dedication, the assurance lying in the assumption that there is honor to the recipient in the association with the book. Well, there is no mistaking the purpose anyway.
One of my best friends, and that friendship has been proved in war and peace, at home and abroad, is a Bank! The Bank is like Mercy in more ways than one, but particularly in that it is twice blessed; it is blessed in what it receives, I hope, and in what it gives, I know. From the standpoint of the depositor sometimes it is better to receive than to give. It has been so in my case and I have been able to persuade the Bank to that way of thinking.
Therefore, in grateful acknowledgment of the very present help it has been to me in time of need and in public recognition of many courtesies from its officers and directors, and as some evidence of my deep appreciation of its many kindnesses to me, I dedicate this book to
THE MOUNT VERNON TRUST COMPANY
MOUNT VERNON, NEW YORK
The Battle of Waterloo, which was fought just one hundred years ago and with which the story in this book ends, is popularly regarded as one of the decisive battles of the world, particularly with reference to the career of the greatest of all Captains. Personally some study has led me to believe that Bautzen was really the decisive battle of the Napoleonic wars. If the Emperor had there won the overwhelming victory to which his combinations and the fortunes of war entitled him he would still have retained his Empire. Whether he would have been satisfied or not is another question; and anyway as I am practically alone among students and critics in my opinions about Bautzen they can be dismissed. And that he lost that battle was his own fault anyway!
However Napoleon's genius cannot be denied any more than his failure. In this book I have sought to show him at his best and also almost at his worst. For sheer brilliance, military and mental, the campaigning in France in 1814 could not be surpassed. He is there with his raw recruits, his beardless boys, his old guard, his tactical and strategical ability, his furious energy, his headlong celerity and his marvelous power of inspiration; just as he was in Italy when he revolutionized the art of war and electrified the world. Many of these qualities are in evidence in the days before Waterloo, but during the actual battle upon which his fate and the fate of the world turned, the tired, broken, ill man is drowsily nodding before a farmhouse by the road, while Ney, whose superb and headlong courage was not accompanied by any corresponding military ability, wrecks the last grand army.
And there is no more dramatic an incident in all history, I believe, than Napoleon's advance on the Fifth-of-the-line drawn up on the Grenoble Road on the return from Elba.
Nor do the Roman Eagles themselves seem to have made such romantic appeal or to have won such undying devotion as the Eagles of the Empire.
This story was written just before the outbreak of the present European war and is published while it is in full course. Modern commanders wield forces beside which even the great Army of the Nations that invaded Russia is scarcely more than a detachment, and battles last for days, weeks, even months—Waterloo was decided in an afternoon!—yet war is the same. If there be any difference it simply grows more horrible. The old principles, however, are unchanged, and over the fields upon which Napoleon marched and fought, armies are marching and fighting in practically the same way to-day. And great Captains are still studying Frederick, Wellington and Bonaparte as they have ever done.
The author modestly hopes that this book may not only entertain by the love story, the tragic yet happily ended romance within its pages—for there is romance here aside from the great Captain and his exploits—but that in a small way it may serve to set forth not so much the brilliance and splendor and glory of war as the horror of it.
We are frightfully fascinated by war, even the most peaceable and peace-loving of us. May this story help to convey to the reader some of the other side of it; the hunger, the cold, the weariness, the suffering, the disaster, the despair of the soldier; as well as the love and the joy and the final happiness of the beautiful Laure and the brave Marteau to say nothing of redoubtable old Bal-Arret, the Bullet-Stopper—whose fates were determined on the battlefield amid the clash of arms.
CYRUS TOWNSEND BRADY.
THE HEMLOCKS, EDGECLIFF TERRACE, PARK-HILL-ON-HUDSON. YONKERS, N. Y.
PROLOGUE VIVE L'EMPEREUR
BOOK I: THE EMPEROR AT BAY
I. BEARERS OF EVIL TIDINGS II. THE EMPEROR DREAMS III. THE ARMY MARCHES AWAY IV. MARTEAU AND BAL-ARRET RIDE V. WHEN THE COSSACKS PASSED VI. MARTEAU BARGAINS FOR THE WOMAN VII. A RESCUE AND A SIEGE VIII. A TRIAL OR ALLEGIANCE IX. THE EMPEROR EATS AND RIDES X. HOW MARTEAU WON THE CROSS XI. AN EMPEROR AND A GENTLEMAN XII. AN ALLIANCE DECLINED XIII. THE THUNDERBOLT STROKE XIV. THE HAMMER OF THE WAR GOD
BOOK II: THE EAGLE'S FLIGHT
XV. THE BRIDGE AT ARCIS XVI. THE GATE IN THE WALL XVII. A VETERAN OF THE ARMY OF ITALY XVIII. ALMOST A GENTLEMAN XIX. THE GREAT HONOR ROLL XX. WHEN THE VIOLETS BLOOM AGAIN XXI. LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT XXII. IN THE COUNTESS LAURE'S BED-CHAMBER XXIII. THE MARQUIS GRANTS AN INTERVIEW XXIV. ON THE WHOLE DEATH MAY BE BETTER THAN LIFE XXV. NOT EVEN LOVE CAN FIND A WAY XXVI. THEY MEET A LION IN THE WAY XXVII. COMRADE! GENERAL! EMPEROR!
BOOK III: THE LAST TRY
XXVIII. AT THE STAMP OF THE EMPEROR'S FOOT XXIX. WATERLOO—THE FINAL REVIEW XXX. WATERLOO—THE CHARGE OF D'ERLON XXXI. WATERLOO—THE LAST OF THE GUARD XXXII. AT LAST THE EAGLE AND THE WOMAN
The weatherworn Chateau d'Aumenier stands in the midst of a noble park of trees forming part of an extensive domain not far to the northwest of the little town of Sezanne, in the once famous county of Champagne, in France. The principal room of the castle is a great hall in the oldest part of the venerable pile which dates back for eight hundred years, or to the tenth century and the times of the famous Count Eudes himself, for whom it was held by one of his greatest vassals.
The vast apartment is filled with rare and interesting mementos of its distinguished owners, including spoils of war and trophies of the chase, acquired in one way or another in the long course of their history, and bespeaking the courage, the power, the ruthlessness, and, sometimes, the unscrupulousness of the hard-hearted, heavy-handed line. Every country in Europe and every age, apparently, has been levied upon to adorn this great hall, with its long mullioned windows, its enormous fireplace, its huge carved stone mantel, its dark oak paneled walls and beamed ceiling. But, the most interesting, the most precious of all the wonderful things therein has a place of honor to itself at the end farthest from the main entrance.
Fixed against this wall is a broken staff, or pole, surmounted by a small metallic figure. The staff is fastened to the wall by clamps of tempered steel which are further secured by delicate locks of skillful and intricate workmanship. The pole is topped by the gilded effigy of an eagle.
In dimensions the eagle is eight inches high, from head to feet, and nine and a half inches wide, from wing tip to wing tip. Heraldically, "Un Aigle Eploye" it would be called. That is, an eagle in the act of taking flight—in the vernacular, a "spread eagle." The eagle looks to the left, with its wings half expanded. In its talons it grasps a thunderbolt, as in the old Roman standard. Those who have ever wandered into the Monastery of the Certosa, at Milan, have seen just such an eagle on one of the tombs of the great Visconti family. For, in truth, this emblem has been modeled after that one.
Below the thunderbolt is a tablet of brass, three inches square, on which is a raised number. In this instance, the number is five. The copper of which the eagle is molded was originally gilded, but in its present battered condition much of the gilt has been worn off, or shot off, and the original material is plainly discernible. If it could be lifted its weight would be found to be about three and a half pounds.
Around the neck of the eagle hangs a wreath of pure gold. There is an inscription on the back of it, which says that the wreath was presented to the regiment by the loyal city of Paris after the wonderful Ulm campaign.
One of the claws of the eagle has been shot away. The gold laurel wreath has also been struck by a bullet, and some of its leaves are gone. The tip of one wing is missing. The head of the eagle, originally proudly and defiantly erect, has been bent backward so that, instead of a level glance, it looks upward, and there is a deep dent in it, as from a blow. And right in the breast gapes a great ragged shot-hole, which pierces the heart of the proud emblem. The eagle has seen service. It has been in action. It bears its honorable wounds. No attempt has been made to repair it.
The staff on which the eagle stands has been broken at about half its length, presumably by a bullet. The shattered, splintered end indicates that the staff is made of oak. It had been painted blue originally. The freshness of the paint has been marred. On one side, a huge slice has been cut out of it as if by a mighty sword stroke. The tough wood is gashed and scarred in various places, and there is a long, dark blur just above the broken part, which looks as if it might be a blood stain.
Below the eagle, and attached to the remainder of the staff for about three-fourths of its length, is what remains of a battle flag. The material of it was originally rich and heavy crimson silk, bordered with gold fringe. It is faded, tattered, shot-torn, bullet-ridden, wind-whipped; parts of it have disappeared. It has been carefully mounted, and is stretched out so as to present its face to the beholder. In dull, defaced letters of gold may be read inscriptions—the imagination piecing out the missing parts. Here is a line that runs as follows:
Napoleon, Empereur des Francais, au 5e Infanterie de la Ligne.
And underneath, in smaller and brighter letters, as if a later addition:
Grenadiers du Garde Imperiale.
There has been some sort of device in the middle, but most of it has disappeared. From what remains, one guesses that it was a facsimile of the eagle on the staff-head. There are little tarnished spots of gold here and there. A close observation discloses that they are golden bees. In the corners near the staff, the only ones that are left are golden wreaths in the center of which may be seen the letter "N".
On the other side of the flag, hidden from the beholder, are a series of names. They have been transcribed upon a silver plate, which is affixed to the wall below the broken staff. They read as follows:
"Marengo; Ulm; Austerlitz; Jena; Berlin; Eylau; Friedland; Madrid; Eckmuhl; Wagram; Vienna; Smolensk; Moskowa; Bautzen; Leipsic; Montmirail; Arcis."
Beneath this list is a heavy dash and below all in larger letters, which unlike the rest have been filled with black enamel, is the last word,
The eagle, the staff, and the flag are enclosed and protected from careless handling by a heavy glass case, the panes set in steel and silver, and the doors carefully locked to prevent its being stolen away. But its security is not entrusted to these inanimate materials alone. Every hour of the day and night there keeps watch over it an old soldier. He is armed and equipped as if for battle, in the uniform of the old Fifth Regiment of the Line, somehow temporarily incorporated in the Imperial Guard as a supplementary regiment of the Grenadiers thereof. The black gaiters, the white trousers, the blue and scarlet coat, with its crossed belts and brilliant decorations, the lofty bearskin head-dress, are all strangely in keeping with the relic and its surroundings.
Sometimes the soldier—and there are five of them whose sole and only business it is to watch over the flag—paces steadily up and down in front of it, like a sentry on his post. Sometimes he stands before it at parade rest. As to each individual's movements, he suits his fancy. These are old soldiers, indeed, highly privileged, veterans of twenty campaigns, fifty pitched battles, and smaller affairs without number. Their weatherbeaten faces are lined and wrinkled, their mustaches are as white as snow.
The guard is always relieved at the appointed intervals with military formality and precision. One soldier, older, taller than the rest, is in command of the other four. From his buttonhole dangles from a white ribbon a little cross of white enamel. Though he shows no insignia of rank higher than that of a Sergeant of the Guard, he has won the proud distinction of the Legion of Honor.
At one stated hour in the day, a tall, handsome, distinguished, middle-aged man, wearing for the occasion the uniform of a colonel in the Imperial Guard, a blood-stained, tarnished, battered, battle-worn uniform, be it observed, comes into the room. He is more often than not attended by a lovely lady of beauty and grace, in spite of her years, who leads with either hand a handsome youth and a beautiful maiden. The four soldiers are always present in full uniform under the command of their sergeant at this hour. As the officer enters they form line, come to attention, and present arms, a salute he gravely and punctiliously acknowledges. Attendants follow, bearing decanters and glasses; wine for the officer and his family, something stronger for the soldiers. The glasses are filled. With her own fair hands, the lady hands them to the men. When all are ready the officer holds up his glass. The men, stacking arms, do the same. The eyes of all glance upward. Above the eagle and the flag upon a shelf upon the wall stands a marble head, product of Canova's marvelous chisel. It is Napoleon. White it gleams against the dark stone of the old hall. At a nod the soldiers face about, and——
"Vive l'Empereur," says the officer quietly.
"Vive l'Empereur," in deep and solemn tones repeats the old sergeant.
"Vive l'Empereur," comes from the lips of the four soldiers, and even the woman and the young people join in that ancient acclaim.
The great Emperor is dead long since. He sleeps beneath the willows in the low valley in the lonely, far-off, wave-washed islet of St. Helena. But to these men he will never die. It is their blood that is upon that eagle staff. It was in their hands that it received those wounds. While they carried it, flung to the breeze of battle, it was shot-torn and storm-riven. It is a priceless treasure to them all. As they followed it with the ardor and devotion of youth so they now guard it and respect it with the steadier but not less intense consecration of maturity and old age.
The eagle of a vanished empire, the emblem of a fame that is past. It is as real to them as when into the hands of one of them it was given by the Emperor himself on the Champ de Mars so long ago when he was lord of the world. And so long as they live they will love it, reverence it, guard it, salute it as in the past.
THE EMPEROR AT BAY
BEARERS OF EVIL TIDINGS
The Emperor walked nervously up and down the long, low-ceiled apartment, the common room of the public inn at Nogent. Grouped around a long table in the center of the room several secretaries were busy with orders, reports and dispatches. At one end stood a group of officers of high rank in rich uniforms whose brilliance was shrouded by heavy cloaks falling from their shoulders and gathered about them, for the air was raw and chill, despite a great fire burning in a huge open fireplace. Their cloaks and hats were wet, their boots and trousers splashed with mud, and in general they were travel-stained and weary. They eyed the Emperor, passing and repassing, in gloomy silence mixed with awe. In their bearing no less than in their faces was expressed a certain unwonted fierce resentment, which flamed up and became more evident when the Emperor turned his back in his short, restless march to and fro, but which subsided as suddenly when he had them under observation. By the door was stationed a young officer in the uniform of the Fifth Regiment of the infantry of the line. He stood quietly at attention, and was evidently there on duty.
From time to time officers, orderlies and couriers came into the room, bearing dispatches. These were handed to the young officer and by him passed over to the Emperor. Never since the days of Job had any man perhaps been compelled to welcome such a succession of bearers of evil tidings as Napoleon on that winter night.
The Emperor's face was pale always, but there was an ashy grayness about his pallor in that hour that marked a difference. His face was lined and seamed, not to say haggard. The mask of imperturbability he usually wore was down. He looked old, tired, discouraged. His usual iron self-control and calm had given place to an overwhelming nervousness and incertitude. He waved his hands, he muttered to himself, his mouth twitched awry from time to time as he walked.
"Well, messieurs," he began at last, in sharp, rather high-pitched notes—even his voice sounded differently—as he lifted his eyes from perusing the latest dispatch and faced the uneasy group by the fireplace, "you are doubtless anxious to know the news." The Emperor stepped over to the table as he spoke, and gathered up a handful of dispatches and ran over them with his hands. "It is all set forth here: The Germans and the English have shut up Carnot in Antwerp," he continued rapidly, throwing one paper down. "The Bourbons have entered Brussels,"—he threw another letter upon the table—"Belgium, you see, is lost. Bernadotte has taken Denmark. Macdonald is falling back on Epernay, his weak force growing weaker every hour. Yorck, who failed us once before, is hard on his heels with twice, thrice, the number of his men. Sacken is trying to head him off. The King of Naples seeks to save the throne on which I established him by withdrawing from me now—the poor fool! The way to Paris along the Marne is open, and Bluecher is marching on the capital with eighty thousand Russians, Prussians and Bavarians. Schwarzenburg with many more is close at hand."
Something like a hollow groan broke from the breasts of the auditors as the fateful dispatches fell one by one from the Emperor's hand. The secretaries stopped writing and stared. The young officer by the door clenched his hands.
"Sire——," said one of the officers, the rich trappings of whose dress indicated that he was a Marshal of France. He began boldly but ended timidly. "Before it is too late——"
Napoleon swung around and fixed his piercing eyes upon him, as his voice died away. The Emperor could easily finish the uncompleted sentence.
"What, you, Mortier!" he exclaimed.
"I, too, Sire," said another marshal more boldly, apparently encouraged by the fact that his brother officer had broken the ice.
"And you, Marmont," cried the Emperor, transfixing him in turn with a reproachful glance.
Both marshals stepped back abashed.
"Besides," said the Emperor gloomily, "it is already too late. I have reserved the best for the last," he said with grim irony. "The courier who has just departed is from Caulaincourt." He lifted the last dispatch, which he had torn open a moment or two since. He shook it in the air, crushed it in his hand, laughed, and those who heard him laugh shuddered.
"What does the Duke of Vicenza say, Sire?" chimed in another marshal.
"It is you, Berthier," said the Emperor. "You, at least, do not advise surrender?"
"Not yet, Sire."
"But when?" asked Napoleon quickly. Without waiting for an answer to his question, he continued: "The allies now graciously offer us—think of it, gentlemen—the limits of 1791."
"Impossible!" cried a big red-headed marshal.
"They demand it, Prince of the Moskowa," answered the Emperor, addressing Marshal Ney.
"But it's incredible, Sire."
"What!" burst out Napoleon passionately. "Shall we leave France less than we found her, after all these victories, after all these conquests, after all these submissions of kings and nations? Shall we go back to the limits of the old monarchy? Never!"
"But, Sire——" began Marshal Maret.
"No more," said the Emperor, turning upon the Duc de Bassano. "Rather death than that. While we have arms we can at least die."
He flashed an imperious look upon the assembly, but no one seemed to respond to his appeal. The Emperor's glance slowly roved about the room. The young captain met his look. Instantly and instinctively his hand went up in salute, his lips framed the familiar phrase:
"Vive l'Empereur! Yes, Sire, we can still die for you," he added in a low respectful voice, but with tremendous emphasis nevertheless.
He was a mere youth, apparently. Napoleon looked at him approvingly, although some of the marshals, with clouded brows and indignant words of protest at such an outburst from so young a man, would have reproved him had not their great leader checked them with a gesture.
"Your name, sir," he said shortly to the young officer who had been guilty of such an amazing breach of military decorum.
"Marteau, Sire. Jean Marteau, at the Emperor's service," answered the young soldier nervously, realizing what impropriety he had committed.
"It remains," said the Emperor, looking back at the marshals and their aides, "for a beardless boy to set an example of devotion in which Princes and Dukes of the Empire, Marshals of France, heroes of fifty pitched battles, fail."
"We will die for you, Sire, for France, die with arms in our hands, if we had them, and on the field of battle," began impetuous Ney.
"If we don't starve first, Sire," said cautious Berthier gloomily.
"Starve!" exclaimed the Emperor.
"The army is without food," said Marmont bluntly.
"It is half naked and freezing," added Victor.
"Ammunition fails us," joined in Oudinot.
"We have no arms," added Mortier.
"Do you, then, advise that we abandon ourselves to the tender mercies of the allies?" asked Napoleon bitterly.
"Messieurs, it is surely better to die hungry and naked and without arms for the Emperor than to consent to his dishonor, which is the dishonor of France," suddenly burst forth the young man at the door.
"How dare you," thundered the usually cool and collected Berthier angrily, "a mere boy, monsieur, assume to speak in the presence of the Emperor, to say nothing of these great captains?"
"May my life be forfeit, Monsieur le Duc," said the young soldier more boldly, since Napoleon had condoned his first remark, "if I have done wrong in assuring my Emperor that we would still die for him."
"Of what regiment are you?" said Napoleon, waving Berthier of the frowning face into silence.
"I belong to the fifth of the line, Sire."
"He is in my corps, Sire," said Ney. "I have brigaded that veteran regiment with the new recruits of the Young Guard."
"But I have seen service before," said the young captain.
"And I have seen you before," said Napoleon, fixing upon him a penetrating glance.
"Yes, Sire, at the end of the bridge over the Elster at Leipsic. You were watching the men streaming across when the bridge was blown up. I was among the last to cross the bridge."
"Go on," said the Emperor, as the young man paused.
"Your majesty was pleased to say——"
"I recall it all now. I saw you plunge into the river and bring back to shore an Eagle—that of your regiment. You fell at my feet. You should have had the Legion of Honor for it. I promised it to you, did I not?"
"Why did you not claim it?"
"I was wounded and left for dead; when I got back to France and my regiment I could not add to your anxiety by——"
"Here," said the Emperor, "I still have power to reward faithful servants and bold spirits." He took off his own cross, fastened it on the heaving breast of the amazed young soldier. "Prince," continued the Emperor, turning to Ney.
"Spare me this young man. I need him on my staff."
"I can ill spare any officer from my weak corps of boys and old men, much less a veteran," the marshal laughed. "One campaign makes us veterans, it seems, nowadays, but you shall have him."
"Berthier," continued Napoleon, "make out the transfer. Give the young man a step up. Let him be Major."
"Very well, Sire," said Berthier, turning to one of the secretaries and giving him directions.
"Meanwhile, what's to be done?" continued Napoleon.
"Tell Caulaincourt to agree to anything," said Maret bluntly.
"I yet live," said Napoleon proudly. "Naked, starving, unarmed, though we may be, I and my soldiers have not forgot our trade. Courage, messieurs. All is not yet lost while your Emperor breathes. Here at Nogent, at Montereau and farther back we still have seventy thousand men. With seventy thousand men and Napoleon much may be accomplished. Bluecher, it is true, marches on Paris. He counts on the army of Schwarzenberg to contain us. He marches leisurely, with wide intervals between his divisions. What shall prevent us——"
"Your majesty," cried Marmont, his eyes flashing as he divined the Emperor's plan.
He was the quickest witted and most brilliant of the marshals, but by no means the hardest fighter, or the most loyal and devoted subordinate.
"I am worn out," said the Emperor, smiling more kindly upon them. "I have scarcely been out of the saddle—I have scarcely had an hour of sleep since the bloody day of La Rothiere. I must have rest. Let none disturb me for two hours. Hold the messenger from the Duke of Vicenza. I will give an answer then."
The Emperor drooped, as he spoke, much of the animation went out of his face and figure. He looked grayer than ever, heavier than ever, older than ever.
"In two hours awaken me," he said.
He stepped toward the door that led to the room reserved for himself, but before he reached it two officers were admitted. Napoleon stopped and looked at them. They saluted him, walked over to Berthier, the Chief of Staff.
"The soldiers are dying of hunger," said the first. "The Commissary General has nothing to give them. He expected a convoy of provisions, but Cossacks, who are reported at Fontainebleau, have captured the train. What shall we do?"
Berthier threw up his hands, and turned to the other officer to hear his report.
"Ten thousand men are without arms, or with arms unserviceable and broken. The supply of powder is low. Where shall we get any more?"
The silence in the room was terrible.
"Sire," said Berthier in a low voice, turning to Napoleon, standing staring, "you hear?" He stretched out his hand in appealing gesture.
The Emperor turned on his heel, without deigning to look or speak.
"Watch the door for two hours," he said to the young officer, crashing to the door behind him. "Awaken me then."
"Gentlemen," said Berthier despairingly to the other officers, "we shall never persuade him. You had better repair to your commands. Some of you must have something to eat. Divide what you have with the less fortunate divisions. Arm and equip the best men. There is a small supply at Nogent, I am told. The others must wait."
"If we could only get at these pigs of Prussians, these dogs of Russians," said Ney, "we could take food and guns and powder from them."
"Doubtless," said Berthier, not caring to argue that point.
He bowed to the officers, as they saluted, and went out of the door muttering and arguing noisily and insubordinately, it must be admitted, and then turned to the table where the secretaries sat. One of them had laid his head down on his arms, stretched out on the table and was fast asleep. The marshal awoke him and dismissed him with most of the rest. From another Berthier took a paper. He examined it, signed it, sealed it, and handed it to the young officer on guard at the door.
"Your commission, monsieur," he said. "Once I was young and full of enthusiasm and hope and determination. It is well for France that some of her children still retain those things."
"I thank the Prince de Wagram," said the young officer, bowing low, "and I beg his pardon for having spoken."
"The Emperor has forgiven," said Berthier indifferently. "His absolution covers us all. At least if I fall behind you in those other qualities of youth I shall not fall behind you in devotion. Come, Maret," continued the grand marshal.
The two worthies turned away and went out. The long room sank into silence. A soldier came in after a while and replenished the fire, saluted and passed out. The pen of the busy secretary, the only one left of the group, ceased scratching on the paper. He, too, sank back in his chair asleep. The short day faded into twilight and then into darkness. From outside beyond the courtyard of the inn came confused noises, indicating moving bodies of men, the rumble of artillery, the clatter of cavalry, faint words of command. A light snow began to fall. It was intensely raw and cold. The officer picked up his cloak, wrapped it around him, and resumed his immobile guard.
THE EMPEROR DREAMS
Within a mean room, which had hastily been prepared for his use, upon a camp bed, having cast himself down, fully clothed as he was, lay the worn-out, dispirited, embittered Emperor. He sought sleep in vain. Since Leipsic, with its horrible disaster a few months before, one reverse of fortune had succeeded another. He who had entered every country a conqueror at the head of his armies, whose myriads of soldiers had overrun every land, eating it up with ruthless greed and rapacity, and spreading destruction far and wide, was now at bay. He who had dictated terms of peace in all the capitals of Europe at the head of triumphant legions was now with a small, weak, ill-equipped, unfed army, striving to protect his own capital. France was receiving the pitiless treatment which she had accorded other lands. With what measure she had meted out, it was being measured back to her again. The cup of trembling, filled with bitterness, was being held to her shrinking lips, and she must perforce drain it to the dregs. After all Napoleon's far-flung campaigns, after all his overwhelming victories, after the vast outpouring of blood and treasure, after all his glory and all his fame, the end was at hand.
The prostrate Emperor stared out through the low window into the gray sky with its drift of snow across the panes. He heard faintly the tumult outside. Disaster, ruin, despair entered his heart. The young conscripts were disheartened by defeat, the steady old veterans were pitifully few in number, thousands of them were in foreign prisons, many more thousands of them were dead. Disease was rife among the youthful recruits, unused to such hard campaigning, as he had summoned to the colors. Without food and without arms, they were beginning to desert their Eagles. The spirit of the marshals and great officers whom he had raised from the dust to affluence and power was waning. They were worn out with much fighting. They wanted peace, almost at any price. He remembered their eager questions when he had joined the army a month ago.
"What reinforcements has your majesty brought?"
"None," he had been compelled to answer.
"What, then, shall we do?" queried one after the other.
"We must try fortune with what we have," he had declared undauntedly.
Well, they had tried fortune. Brienne, where he had been a boy at school, had been the scene of a brilliantly successful action. They had lost no glory at La Rothiere afterward—although they gained nothing else—where with thirty thousand men he had beaten back through one long bloody day and night thrice that number, only to have to retreat in the end for the salvation of those who had been left alive. And, to him who had been wont to spend them so indifferently, men had suddenly become precious, since he could get no more. Every dead or wounded man was now unreplaceable, and each loss made his problem harder to solve. Since those two first battles he had been forced back, step by step, mile by mile, league by league, everywhere; and all his lieutenants likewise. Now Schwarzenberg, with one hundred and thirty thousand men, confronted him on the Seine and the Aube, and Bluecher, with eighty thousand men, was marching on Paris by way of the Marne, with only Macdonald and his beaten and dispirited men, not ten thousand in number, to hold the fiery old Prussian field marshal in check.
"How had it all come to this, and why?" the man asked himself, and, with all his greatness and clearness of vision, the reason did not occur to him. For he had only himself to blame for his misfortunes. He was not the man that he had been. For a moment his old spirit had flashed out in the common room of the inn two hours before, but the reaction left him heavy, weary, old, lonely. Physically, he felt unequal to the strain. His human frame was almost worn out. Mere men cannot long usurp the attributes of God. Intoxicated with success, he had grasped at omnipotence, and for a time had seemed to enjoy it, only to fail. The mills of the gods do grind slowly, but they do grind immeasurably small in the end.
What a long, bloody way he had traversed since Toulon, since Arcola, since the bridge at Lodi, since Marengo? Into what far-off lands it had led him: Italy, Egypt, Syria, Spain, Austria, Prussia and the great, white, cold empire of the North. And all the long way paved with corpses—corpses he had regarded with indifference until to-day.
It was cold in the room, in spite of the fire in the stove. It reminded him of that dreadful retreat. The Emperor covered his face with his hand. No one was there. He could afford to give away. There rose before him in the darkness the face of the wife of his youth, only to be displaced by the nearer woman, the Austrian wife and the little son whom he had so touchingly confided to the National Guard a month ago when he left Paris for the last try with fortune for his empire and his life. Would the allies at last and finally beat him; would Francis Joseph, weak monarch whom he hated, take back his daughter, and with her Napoleon's son, and bring him up in Austria to hate the name of France and his father? The Emperor groaned aloud.
The darkness fell upon the world outside, upon the room within, upon the soul of the great Captain approaching the nadir of his fortunes, his spirit almost at the breaking point. To him at last came Berthier and Maret. They had the right of entrance. The time for which he had asked had passed. Young Marteau admitted them without question. They entered the room slowly, not relishing their task, yet resolute to discharge their errand. The greater room outside was alight from fire and from lanterns. Enough illumination came through the door into the bed-chamber for their purpose—more than enough for the Emperor. He turned his head away, lest they should see what they should see. The two marshals bowed and stood silent.
"Well?" said the Emperor at last, his voice unduly harsh, as if to cover emotion with its roughness, and they noticed that he did not look at them.
"Sire, the courier of the Duke of Vicenza waits for his answer," said Maret.
There was another long pause.
"Will not your majesty give way for the good of the people?" urged Berthier. "Give peace to France, sire. The army is hungry——"
"Am I God, messieurs, to feed thousands with a few loaves and fishes?" cried the Emperor bitterly.
"No, Sire. Therefore, authorize the duke to sign the treaty, and——"
"What!" said Napoleon fiercely, sitting up on the bed and facing them. "You would have me sign a treaty like that? Trample under foot my coronation oath? Unheard-of disaster may have snatched from me the promise to renounce my own conquests, but give up those before me, never! Leave France smaller, weaker than I found her! God keep me from such a disgrace. Reply to Caulaincourt, since you wish it, but tell him I reject this treaty. We must have better terms. I prefer to run the uttermost risks of war."
Berthier opened his mouth to speak again, but Napoleon silenced him with word and gesture.
"No more," he said. "Go."
The two marshals bowed and left the room with downcast heads and resentful hearts. As they disappeared Napoleon called after them.
"Send me that boy at the door. Lights," he cried, as the young officer, not waiting for the order to be repeated, promptly entered the inner room and saluted. "The maps on the table, bring them here, and the table, too," commanded the Emperor.
Even as the lights which were placed on the table dispelled the dusk of the room, so something had dispelled the gloom of the great man's soul. For a moment he looked almost young again. The gray pallor left his cheeks. Fire sparkled in his eyes.
"Not yet—not yet," he muttered, spreading the maps upon the table. "We will have one more try with fortune. My star is low on the horizon, but it has not set yet."
"Nor shall it set, Sire, while I and my comrades live," returned Marteau.
"You are right," said the Emperor. "You stand to me for France. Your spirit typifies the spirit of my soldiery, does it not?"
"Theirs is even greater than mine, Sire," was the prompt answer.
"That's well. Do you know the country hereabouts?"
"I was born at Aumenier."
"Let me see," said the Emperor, "the village lies beyond Sezanne?"
"In an opening in the great woods beyond the marshes of St. Gond," continued the other, studying the map, "there is a chateau there. Are you by any chance of the ancient house of Aumenier?"
"My father was a warden on the estates of the last marquis."
"Good. Do you know that country?"
"I have hunted over every rod of it as a boy, Sire."
"I must have news," said the Emperor, "information, definite tidings. I want to know where Bluecher is; where his several army corps are. Can I trust so young a head as yours with great matters?"
"Tortures could not wring from me anything you may confide, your majesty," said the young man resolutely.
"I believe you," said the Emperor, looking at him keenly and reading him like a book. "Look. Before daybreak Marmont marches to Sezanne. The next day after I follow. I shall leave enough men behind the river here to hold back Schwarzenberg, or at least to check him if he advances. With the rest I shall fall on Bluecher."
The young man's eyes sparkled. He had been bending over the map. He drew himself up and saluted.
"It is the Emperor at his best," he said.
"You have studied the art of war, young sir?"
"I have read every one of your majesty's campaigns."
"And you see what I would do?"
"Not altogether, but——"
"Fall upon the flank of the unsuspecting Prussian, burst through his line, break his center, turn to the right or left, beat him in detail, drive him back, relieve Paris, and then——"
"And then, Sire?"
"Come back and do the same thing with Schwarzenberg!"
"Your majesty!" cried the young soldier, as the whole mighty plan was made clear to him.
"Ha! It brightens your eyes and flushes your cheek, does it not? So it will brighten the eyes and flush the cheeks of France. I will show them. In six weeks I will drive them across the Rhine. In another month they shall sue for peace and the Vistula shall be our boundary."
"What does your majesty desire of me?"
"That you go at once. Take with you whomsoever you will. Bring or send me reports. You are educated?"
"I was a student at your majesty's Military College," answered the young man.
"Did you finish there?"
"I finished in your majesty's army last year."
"How old are you?"
"You belong to the foot, but you can ride?"
"Marshal Berthier will give you horses. I shall be at Sezanne the day after to-morrow night. You will have news for me then?"
"Or be dead, Sire."
"I have no use for dead men. Don't get yourself taken. Any fool can die, or be made prisoner. It is a wise man who can live for me and France."
"I shall live," said the young man simply. "Have you any further command, Sire?"
The hand of Marteau was raised in salute.
"Stop," said the Emperor, as the soldier turned to the door.
"Come back with news, and let us but escape from this tightening coil, and you shall be a lieutenant colonel in my guard."
"I will do it for love of your majesty alone," cried the soldier, turning away.
It was not nearly dawn before Berthier and Maret, who had been pondering over the dispatch to Caulaincourt, who was fighting the envoys of the allies at the Congress at Chatillon, ventured to intrude upon the Emperor. Having come to his decision, as announced to the young soldier, who had got his horses and his comrade and gone, the Emperor, with that supreme command of himself which few men possessed, had at last got a few hours of rest. He had dressed himself with the assistance of his faithful valet, Constant, who had given him a bath and shaved him, and he now confronted the two astonished marshals with an air serene—even cheerful.
"Dispatches!" he said, as they approached him. "It is a question of a very different matter. Tell Caulaincourt to prolong the negotiations, but to concede nothing, to commit me to nothing. I am going to beat Bluecher. If I succeed, the state of affairs will entirely change, and we shall see what we shall see. Tell Marmont to give orders for his corps to march immediately after they get some breakfast. No, they may not wait till morning. Fortune has given the Prussians into my hands. Write to my brother in Paris; tell him that he may expect news from us of the most important character in forty-eight hours. Let the Parisians continue their misereres and their forty-hour-long prayers for the present. We'll soon give them something else to think of."
"But, Sire——" feebly interposed Berthier.
"Do as I tell you," said the Emperor, good-humoredly, "and leave the rest to me." He was in a mood apparently that nothing could dash that morning. "And you will be as much surprised as the Prussians, and I believe that nobody can be more amazed than they will be."
THE ARMY MARCHES AWAY
Gallantly on his errand rode young Marteau. Napoleon's order to Berthier, by him transmitted down the line, had secured four of the best horses in the army for his messengers. For young Marteau went not alone. With him rode a tall grenadier of the Imperial Guard, whose original name had been lost, or forgot, in a sobriquet which fitted him perfectly, and which he had richly earned in a long career as a soldier. They called him "Bullet Stopper," "Balle-Arretante," the curious compound ran in French, and the soldiers clipped it and condensed it into "Bal-Arret!" He used to boast that he had been wounded in every country in Europe and in Asia and Africa as well. He had been hit more times than any soldier high or low in the army. He had distinguished himself by valor, and, but for his humble extraction and meager education, might have risen to a high command. As it was, he was personally known to the Emperor, and was accounted as one of the favorite soldiers of the army.
He, too, had been a dweller on the Aumenier estates. It was his tales of adventure which had kindled the martial spirit in young Marteau, whom he had known from his birth. A warm friendship subsisted between the young officer and the old soldier, which no difference in rank or station could ever impair. When the Emperor had given him leave to take with him whomsoever he would, his thoughts had at once turned to old Bullet Stopper. The latter had gladly accepted the invitation.
Behold him now, his huge body astride of an enormous horse—for, although the grenadier was a foot-soldier, he could still ride after a fashion—plodding along through the mud and the wet and the cold on the mission which, if successful, would perhaps enable Napoleon to save the army and France, to say nothing of his throne and his family.
Captain Marteau, or Major Marteau, to give him his new title, had said nothing as to the nature of his mission, upon which they had been dispatched, to the humble comrade, the faithful follower who accompanied him. He had only told him that it was difficult, dangerous, and of vital importance, and he had explained to him that his familiarity with the country, as well as a warm-hearted admiration and respect for his shrewdness and skill and courage, had caused his selection. That was enough for the old soldier; dangers, difficulties, were as the breath of life to the veteran. And he was always happy to follow Marteau, in whose career he took an interest almost fatherly.
The weather was frightful. It had snowed and then thawed. The temperature was now just above the freezing point. The rough wind was raw, the fierce winter gale was laden with wet snow. The roads, like all country cross-roads in France, or anywhere else, for that matter, in that day, were a sea of mud. It was well that the pair had brought two extra horses. By changing mounts from time to time they were enabled to spare their beasts and make the greater speed. The Emperor had impressed upon his young aide the necessity for getting the information to him at the earliest possible moment. Haste was everything. So they pressed on.
Without waiting for their report, and presuming on his general knowledge of Bluecher's character and shrewdly deducing the exact state of affairs Napoleon was already acting as if he possessed absolute and accurate information. The drums were beating the long roll as they rode through the still dark streets of the little town of Nogent. Horses were being harnessed to guns, baggage wagons were being loaded, ammunition caissons were being got ready. The troops were assembling out of houses and tents, and coming from around fires, where many of them had passed an unsheltered night.
There was little of the joy, the gaiety, the elan of the French soldier, to be seen in the faces of the men thus summoned to the Eagles. They came, indeed, they answered the call, but with black looks and sullen faces and a manner almost despairing. They had fought and fought and fought. They had been beaten back and back and back, and when they had not been fighting they had been retreating. And always they were hungry. And always they were cold.
The enormous armies of Schwarzenberg had been extended on either side. They were constantly threatened with being outflanked. Most of them were young soldiers, weary and dispirited, and many of them unarmed. Every battle had reduced the stock of good muskets. Many of those still in possession of the troops had been ruined by their unskillful handling.
The supply of regimental officers was utterly inadequate to the demand. The bravest and the best are usually the first to fall; the boldest and most venturesome the most liable to capture. Perhaps, if the Emperor had broken up his guard and distributed the veterans among the raw troops, the effect might have been better, but in that case he would have destroyed his main reliance in his army. No, it was better to keep the guard together at all hazards. It had already been drawn heavily upon for officers for other corps.
War was popularly supposed to be a thing of dashing adventure, of victory, and plunder. It had been all that before. Experience had thrust them all unprepared face to face with the naked reality of defeat, disease, weary marches over awful roads in freezing cold, in drifting snow, or in sodden mire. They had no guns, they had little food, thank God, there was some clothing, such as it was, but even the best uniforms were not calculated to stand such strains as had been imposed upon these.
Only the old guard, staunch, stern, splendid, indomitable, a magnificent body of men, held the army together—they and the cavalry. Murat, peerless horseman, was playing the traitor to save his wretched Neapolitan throne. But Grouchy, Nansouty, Sebastiani and others remained. Conditions were bad in the cavalry, but they were not so bad as they were in the infantry. And Druot of the artillery also kept it together in the retreat. Guns, cannon, were more precious almost than men.
Now early that morning, while it was yet dark, they were called up from their broken sleep to undertake what to them was another purposeless march. Even the Eagles drooped in the hands of their bearers. The soldiers did not know, they could not see. The great high roads that led to Paris were being abandoned; they were plunging into unfathomable morasses; they were being led through dark, gloomy, dreadful woods to the northward. Where? For what purpose? The dumb, wrathful, insubordinate, despairful army indeed moved at the will of its master, but largely because it realized that it could not stay where it was, and largely because it was better to move on and die than to lie down and die. They were at least warmer on the march!
The spirit of the guard and of the subordinate officers, say from the colonels down, was good enough, but the generals and the marshals were sick of fighting. They had had enough of it. They had gained all that they could gain in their world-wide campaigns, in fame, money, titles, estates. They had everything to lose and nothing to win. They wanted rest, an opportunity to enjoy. Some of them were devoted to the Emperor, in fact, all of them were, but their own comfort and self-interest bulked larger and larger before them. They saw nothing but defeat at the end of their endeavors, and they wanted to negotiate peace with such honor as could be had while they were still a force to be reckoned with.
Their unwillingness and mutinous spirit, however, had not yet reached its highest development. That came later, and brought treachery in its train. The awful will of the Emperor still overruled them. Wrathfully, insubordinately, protestingly, they still marched when he gave the word.
The Emperor had been working with that furious concentration which he alone of all men seemed to be able to bring about, and which was one of the secrets of his power. Orders borne by couriers had streamed in all directions over the roads. Napoleon was about to undertake the most daring and marvelous campaign of his whole history. The stimulus of despair, the certainty of ruin unless the advance of the allies could be stayed, had at last awakened his dormant energies, filled his veins with the fire of youth and spring.
With that comprehensive eye which made him the master of battlefields and nations he had forseen everything. Soldiers were coming from Spain. He had given instructions to magnify their number and their strength. He shrewdly surmised that their appearance on the left flank would cause the cautious Schwarzenberg to pause, to withdraw his flankers, to mass to meet them. There would be a halt in the advance. The allies still feared the Emperor. Although much of his prestige was gone, they never made little of Napoleon. He intended to leave some of the best troops to confront Schwarzenberg between Nogent and Montereau, under Victor and Oudinot, hard fighters both, with instructions not to engage in any decisive battle, not to allow themselves to be trapped into that, but to stand on the defensive, to hold the River Seine, to retreat foot by foot, if pressed, to take advantage of every cover, to hold the enemy in check, to contest every foot of the way, to assume a strength which they did not have.
He promised that so soon as he had fallen upon Bluecher he would send the news and see that it got to Schwarzenberg and the allied monarchs who were with him. Reverses which he hoped to inflict on the Prussian Field Marshal would increase the Austrian hesitation. The Emperor believed that the pressure by Oudinot and Victor would be effective. They would draw in their columns and concentrate.
After he had finished with Bluecher and his army, he intended to retrace his steps and do the same thing with Schwarzenberg. Of course, if he failed with Bluecher it was all over. He was the last hope of France—he and his army. If his magnificent dash at the Prussians and Russians was not successful, nothing could delay the end. Napoleon was staking all on the throw, taking the gambler's chance, taking it recklessly, accepting the hazard, but neglecting no means to insure the winning of the game.
The Emperor flung a screen of cavalry in front of Marmont, to patrol every village, to control every farmhouse, to see that no news of his advance came to the unsuspecting old Prussian. And then he himself stayed back in Nogent to see his own orders carried out. He personally inspected every division, as it marched to the front through the waning night, the cheerless dawn, the gray dark day. It cut him to the heart to see his soldiers go so silently and so sullenly. Here and there a regiment did cry: "Vive l'Empereur"; here and there a voice sounded it, but in the main the men marched dumbly, doggedly. It was only the old guard that gave him the imperial salute in full voice in the old way.
Nothing indicated to the Emperor more thoroughly the temper of the soldiers than that open indifference. Why, even in Russia, ere their stiffened lips froze into silence, they had breathed out the old acclaim. The Emperor remembered that grenadier who, when told by the surgeon that he feared to probe for a ball that had pierced his breast because he did not know what he would find, "If you probe deep enough to reach my heart," said the soldier with his dying breath, "you will find the Emperor."
Grave-faced and frowning, shivering from time to time in the fierce, raw cold, the Emperor watched the troops march by. Well, the day after to-morrow, if there were any left, they would acclaim him loud enough. The Emperor was cold and cynical. He had never allowed the life of men to stand in the way of his desires, but even his iron nerve, his icy indifference had been shaken. He gave no outward evidence of it, but in his heart he realized more plainly than ever before that when these were gone there were no more. And so, perhaps, his shudder was not altogether due to the cold.
Whatever his emotions, he steeled his heart, he made his preparations for the last try with fortune, the last card to be played, the last die to be thrown. What would be the end of it? What would be the result of that final desperate game? The Emperor was a master player—could even his finesse and skill and talent and genius make up for the poor hand that had been dealt him because the pack had been so drawn upon that the good cards had been exhausted, used up, long since?
Did the Emperor realize that even he was not what he had been? Did he comprehend that he was no longer the soldier, the man, of the past? Did he realize that at last he had tried the patience of that fortune he had worshiped, beyond the limit; and that whatever favor might be vouchsafed him would only delay the end?
The boys might march and fight, the old guard might sustain its ancient fame, the genius of the Emperor might flash out in full effulgence once more—and it would make no difference. The stars on their courses fought against Sisera. The doom sentence was written. Postponement he might look forward to, but no final stay of judgment! A few thousand more lives he might throw away, but these late sacrifices would avail nothing. Oh, no; the Emperor's shudder was not altogether due to the cold that winter morning.
MARTEAU AND BAL-ARRET RIDE
Of this young Marteau and old Bullet Stopper, plodding along at the best speed they could get from their horses, knew nothing. The old grenadier was laconic by nature, and his habit of silence had become intensified by his years of subordination and service. The young officer was wrapped in his own thoughts. Knowing, as they did, every foot of the way, the two were able to find short cuts, take advantage of narrow paths over the hills and through the woods, which would have offered no passage to the army, even if they had been aware of it. They reached Sezanne hours before Marmont's advance, long before the cavalry even.
Baiting their horses, and getting a welcome meal at the inn—the town itself had as yet suffered nothing from the ravages of the Cossacks, being too strong for raiding parties—and refusing to answer questions, and paying no attention to wondering looks of the inhabitants, they rode out again. Their way through the marshes of St. Gond was dreadful. If only the weather would change, the ground would freeze, how welcome would be the altered conditions. But the half snow, the half rain, still beat down upon them. Their poor beasts were almost exhausted. They broke the ice of the Grand Morin river to get water for the horses and themselves, and, not daring to kindle a fire, for they were approaching the country occupied by Bluecher, they made a scanty meal from their haversacks.
They had found the farmhouses and chateaux deserted, evidences of hasty flight and plunder on every side. The Cossacks had swept through the land beyond the town. The people who could had fled to Sezanne, or had gone westward hurriedly, to escape the raiders. In the ruined villages and farms they came across many dead bodies of old women, old men and children, with here and there a younger woman whose awful fate filled the old soldier and the young alike with grim and passionate rage.
"Yonder," said Marteau, gloomily pointing westward through the darkness, "lies Aumenier and my father's house."
"And mine," added Bullet-Stopper.
There was no need to express the thought further, to dilate upon it. It had been the Emperor's maxim that war should support war. His armies had lived off the country. The enemy had taken a leaf out of his own book. Even the stupid could not fight forever against Napoleon without learning something. The allies ate up the land, ravaged it, turned it into a desert—lex talionis!
Marteau's father still lived, with his younger sister. Old Bullet-Stopper was alone in the world but for his friends. What had happened in that little village yonder? What was going on in the great chateau, so long closed, now finally abandoned by the proud royalist family which had owned it and had owned Marteau and old Bullet-Stopper, and all the rest of the villagers, for that matter, for eight hundred years, or until the revolution had set them free?
Plunged in those gloomy thoughts the young officer involuntarily took a step in the direction of that village.
"On the Emperor's service," said the grenadier sternly, catching his young comrade by the arm. "Later," he continued, "we may go."
"You're right," said Marteau. "Let us move on."
Whether it was because the roads really were in a worse condition because of that fact that they ran through marshy country, or whether it was because the men were worn out and their horses more so, they made the slowest progress of the day. They plodded on determinedly through the night. The two weaker horses of the four finally gave way under the strain. Husbanding the remaining two with the greatest care, the two soldiers, passing through the deserted villages of St. Prix, on the Little Morin, and Baye, finally reached the great highroad which ran through Champaubert, Vauxchamps and Montmirail, toward Paris, and which, owing to a northward bend of the river, crossed the country some leagues to the southward of the Marne.
Day was breaking as they reached the edge of the forest bordering the road, and from a rather high hill had a glimpse of a wide stretch of country before them. Fortunately, while it was still raw and cold, the sun came out and gave them a fair view of a great expanse of rolling and open fields. A scene of great animation was disclosed to them. The road was covered with squadrons of green-coated Russian cavalry, evidently just called to the saddle, and moving eastward at a walk or slow trot. They looked like the advance guard of some important division. There was a low, rolling volume of heavy sound coming from the far north, and in the rising sun they thought they could distinguish in that direction smoke, as from a battlefield. The sound itself was unmistakable to the veteran.
"Cannon!" he said. "Fighting there."
"Yes," answered Marteau. "The Emperor said that the Prussians and Russians were pressing the Duke of Tarentum, Marshal Macdonald."
"But what have we here?" asked old Bal-Arret, shading his eyes and peering at the array on the near road.
A division of Russians, coming from a defile to the right, had debouched upon a broad plateau or level upon the edge of which the little village of Champaubert straggled forlornly. The Cossack horsemen and the Russian cavalry had cleaned out Champaubert. There were no inhabitants left to welcome the Russian division, except dead ones, who could offer no hospitality.
The division was weary and travel-stained, covered with mud, horses dead beat; the cannon, huge, formless masses of clay, were dragged slowly and painfully forward. It was evident that the commander of the division had doubled his teams, but the heavy guns could scarcely be moved, even by twice the number of horses attached. The poor brutes had no rest, for, as fast as one gun arrived, both teams were unhitched and sent over the road to bring up another. A halt was made on the plateau. It was evident to the experienced eyes of the watchers that a camp was about to be pitched. The two men stared in keen interest, with eyes alight with hatred. What they had seen in the country they had just passed intensified that hatred, and to the natural racial antagonism, fostered by years of war, were now added bitter personal resentments.
"That's one of old Marshal Forward's divisions," said the grenadier, referring to Bluecher by his already accepted name, "but what one?"
"Russians, by the look of them," answered Marteau.
"You say well. I have seen those green caps and green overcoats before. Umph," answered Bullet-Stopper, making for him an extraordinarily long speech, "it was colder then than it is now, but we always beat them. At Friedland, at Eylau, at Borodino, aye, even at the Beresina. It was the cold and hunger that beat us. What wouldn't the guard give to be where we are now. Look at them. They are so sure of themselves that they haven't thrown out a picket or sentries."
In fact, neither Bluecher nor any of his commanders apprehended any danger whatsoever. That Napoleon would dare to fall on them was unthinkable. That there could be a single French soldier in their vicinity save those under Macdonald, being hard pressed by Yorck, never entered anybody's head.
"What Russians are they, do you think?" asked Marteau of his comrade.
"How should I know?" growled the other. "All Russians are alike to me, and——"
Marteau, however, had heard discussions during the time he had been on duty in Napoleon's headquarters.
"That will be Sacken's corps, unless I am very much mistaken," he said.
"And those up yonder toward Epernay, where the firing comes from?" asked the grenadier.
Marteau shook his head.
"We must find out," was the answer.
"Yes, but how?"
"I don't know."
"There is only one way," continued Bal-Arret.
"And that is?"
"To go over there, and——"
"In these uniforms?" observed the young officer. "We should be shot as soon as we should appear, and questioned afterward."
"Yes, if there was anything left to question," growled the grenadier. "The Russians will do some scouting. Perhaps some of them will come here. If so, we will knock them on the head and take their uniforms, wait until nightfall, slip through the lines, find out what we can, and go back and tell the Emperor. It is very simple."
"Quite so," laughed the young officer; "if we can catch two Russians, if their uniforms will fit us, if we can get through, if we can find out, if we can get back. Do you speak Russian, Bal-Arret?"
"Not a word."
"Enough to pass myself through I guess, and——"
"Hush," said the young man, as three Russians suddenly appeared out of a little ravine on the edge of the wood.
They had come on a foraging expedition, and had been successful, apparently, for, tied to a musket and carried between two of the men was a dead pig. How it had escaped the Cossack raiders of the day before was a mystery. They were apparently coming farther into the forest for firewood with which to roast the animal. Perhaps, as the pig was small, and, as they were doubtless hungry, they did not wish their capture to be widely known. At any rate, they came cautiously up a ravine and had not been noticed until their heads rose above it. They saw the two Frenchmen just about as soon as they were seen. The third man, whose arms were free, immediately presented his piece and pulled the trigger. Fortunately it missed fire. If it had gone off it might have attracted the attention of the Russian outposts, investigations would have been instituted, and all chance of passing the lines there would have been over.
At the same time he pulled the trigger he fell like a log. The grenadier, who had thrust into his belt a heavy knife, picked up from some murdered woodsman on the journey, had drawn it, seized it by the blade, and, with a skill born of olden peasant days, had hurled it at the Russian. The blade struck the man fairly in the face, and the sharp weapon plunged into the man to the hilt. He threw up his hands, his gun dropped, he crashed down into the ravine stone dead. The next second the two Frenchmen had seized the two Russians. The latter were taken at a disadvantage. They had retained their clutch on the gun-sling carrying the pig, and, before they realized what was toward—they were slow thinkers both—a pair of hands was clasped around each throat. The Russians were big men, and they struggled hard. A silent, terrible battle was waged under the trees, but, try as they would, the Russians could not get release from the terrible grasp of the Frenchmen. The breath left their bodies, their eyes protruded, their faces turned black.
Marteau suddenly released his prisoner, who dropped heavily to the ground. To bind him with his own breast and gun straps and belt was a work of a few moments. When he had finished he tore a piece of cloth from the coat of the soldier and thrust it into his mouth to gag him. The grenadier had a harder time with his enemy, who was the bigger of the two men, but he, too, mastered him, and presently both prisoners lay helpless, bound and gagged. The two Frenchmen rose and stared at each other, a merry twinkle in the eyes of old Bullet-Stopper, a very puzzled expression in those of the young soldier.
"Well, here's our disguise," said the old soldier.
"Quite so," interposed the officer. "But what shall we do with these two?"
"Nothing simpler. Knock them in the head after we have found out what we can from them, and——"
But Marteau shook his head.
"I can't murder helpless prisoners," he said decisively.
"If you had seen what they did to us in Russia you wouldn't have any hesitation on that score," growled the grenadier. "I had comrades whom they stripped naked and turned loose in the snow. Some of them they buried alive, some they gave to the wolves, some they burned to death. I have no more feeling for them than I have for reptiles or devils."
"I can't do it," said the younger soldier stubbornly. "We must think of some other way."
Old Bullet-Stopper stood frowning, trying to think of some argument by which to overcome these foolish scruples, when an idea came to his friend.
"About half a mile back we passed a deserted house. Let's take them there and leave them. There will probably be ropes or straps. We can bind them. They will be sheltered and perhaps somebody may come along and release them."
"Yes, doubtless somebody will," said the grenadier gravely, thinking that if somebody proved to be a peasant their release would be an eternal one, and glad in the thought. "Very well, you are in command. Give your order."
At Marteau's direction the straps around the feet of the men were loosened, they were compelled to get up; they had been disarmed, of course, and by signs they were made to march in the required direction. Casting a backward glance over the encampment, to see whether the absence of the three had been noticed, and, discerning no excitement of any sort, Marteau followed the grenadier and the two prisoners. Half a mile back in the woods stood the hut. It was a stoutly built structure, of logs and stone. A little clearing lay around it. For a wonder it had not been burned or broken down, although everything had been cleaned out of it by raiders. The door swung idly on its hinges. The two Russians were forced to enter the hut. They were bound with ropes, of which there happened to be some hanging from a nail, the door was closed, huge sticks from a surrounding fence were driven into the ground against it, so that it could not be opened from the inside, and the men were left to their own devices.
As neither Frenchman spoke Russian, and as the Russians understood neither French nor Prussian, conversation was impossible. Everything had to be done by signs.
"I wouldn't give much for their chance, shut up in that house in this wood," said the grenadier, as the two walked away.
"Nor I," answered Marteau. "But at least we haven't killed them."
The two Frenchmen now presented a very different appearance. Before they left the hut they had taken off their own great coats, the bearskin shako of the grenadier, and the high, flat-topped, bell-crowned cap of the line regiment of the officer. In place of these they wore the flat Russian caps and the long Russian overcoats. Bal-Arret might serve for a passable Russian, but no one could mistake Marteau for anything but a Frenchman. Still, it had to be chanced.
The two retraced their steps and came to the ravine, where the dead Russian lay. They had no interest in him, save the grenadier's desire to get his knife back. It had served him well, it might be useful again. But they had a great interest in the pig. Their exhausted horses were now useless, and they had thought they would have to kill one to get something to eat. But the pig, albeit he was a lean one, was a treasure indeed. To advance upon the Russian line in broad daylight would have been madness. Darkness was their only hope. Reaching down into the ravine, the grenadier hoisted the body of the poor pig to his comrade, and the two of them lugged it back far in the woods where it was safe to kindle a fire. With flint and steel and tinder, they soon had a blaze going in the sequestered hollow they had chosen, and the smell of savory roast presently delighted their fancy. They ate their fill for the first time in weeks be it remarked. If they only had a bottle of the famous wine of the country to wash it down they would have feasted like kings.
"So far," said the grenadier, when he could eat no more, "our expedition has been successful. If those youngsters down at Nogent could only smell this pig there would be no holding them."
"I think it would be well to cook as much of it as we can carry with us. I don't know when we may get any more."
"That is well thought on," agreed the old soldier. "Always provide for the next meal when you can."
"And, with what's left, as we can't be far from the hut, we'll give those two poor Russians something to eat."
"You're too tender-hearted, my lad," said Bullet-Stopper, his face clouded, "ever to be a great soldier, I am afraid."
On an expedition of this kind rank was forgotten, and the humble subordinate again assumed the role of the advisor. Marteau laughed.
"Rather than let them starve I would knock them in the head," he said.
"That's what I wanted to do," growled the other savagely.
When it came to the issue, however, he really did respect the rank of his young friend. Accordingly, pieces of the roast pig were taken to the hut and placed in reach of the prisoners, who were found bound as before and looking very miserable. Yet there was something suspicious in their attitude. The old grenadier turned one of them over and discovered that one had endeavored to free the other by gnawing at the ropes. Not much progress had been made in the few hours that had elapsed, but still it was evident that the rope would eventually be bitten through and the men freed. He pointed this out to his officer.
"Better finish them now," he said.
But Marteau shook his head.
"It will take them all day and night to get free at that rate; by that time we will be far away, and it will be too late."
"But if they should tell what they have seen?"
"What can they tell? Only that two Frenchmen fell upon them. No, let them be. Set the food on the floor here. If they get hungry they can roll over toward it and eat it."
The gags had been taken out of the mouths of the men. If they did give the alarm there would be none to hear them, save perhaps a French peasant passing that way, and at his hands they would meet short shrift.
Having stuffed their haversacks full of roast pig, they retraced their steps and reached the edge of the clearing. It was noon by this time, so much of the day had been spent in the various undertakings that have been described, but the Russians were still there. Evidently they intended to encamp for the day and rest. Probably it was part of the program. These would move on, presumably on the morrow, and another division of the army would come up and take their places. The firing still continued on the horizon.
Marteau, who had a soldierly instinct, divined that the cavalry, which had long since disappeared to the westward, would try to outflank Macdonald, perhaps get in his rear, and this Russian division would move up and join Yorck's attacking force. The whole proceeding was leisurely. There was no especial hurry. There was no use tiring out the men and fighting desperate battles when maneuvering would serve.
The two made a more careful investigation and discovered that trees led across the road about half a mile to the left, and, although the roads were filled with galloping couriers and many straggling men and small commands, yet they decided that by going to the edge of the wood that touched the road and watching their opportunity they could get across unnoticed.
While they stared deliberating a squadron of cavalry, not of Cossacks, but of Russian cuirassiers left the camp and moved off down the cross-road that led to the south and west—the road, indeed, that led to the Chateau d'Aumenier. The officer in command rode in front and with him were several civilians, at least, while they were covered with heavy fur cloaks, no uniform was visible, and among the civilians was one unmistakably a woman. A Frenchman always had an eye for a woman. The party was too far away to distinguish features, but the two men noted the air of distinction about the party and the way the woman rode her horse, the deference that appeared to be paid to her, and they wasted no little time in wondering what might be toward. However, no explanation presenting itself to their minds, and, the matter being of no great importance after all, they turned their attention to the business in hand.
Working their way through the trees they reached a little coppice close to the road. They lay down on the ground back of the coppice, wormed their way into it, and waited.
"Here we part," said Marteau. "There are but two of us. We must get all the information we can. I will find out what division this is in front of us, and I will go back along the road to the eastward and ascertain where the other divisions are, and by nightfall I will return to Sezanne to report to the Emperor."
"And what am I to do?" asked the grenadier. "Remain here?"
"You will cross the road and proceed in the direction of the firing. Find out, if you can, how the battle goes, what troops are there, what Marshal Macdonald is doing, and at nightfall retrace your steps and hasten back to Sezanne."
"Where shall I meet you?"
"Let me think," answered Marteau. "I shall first go east and then west, if I can get around that division ahead yonder. Let us take the road to d'Aumenier. I will meet you at the old chateau at ten o'clock, or not later than midnight. There is a by-road over the marsh and through the forest by the bank of the river to Sezanne."
"I know it."
"Very well, then. It is understood?"
Old Bullet-Stopper nodded.
"The road is clear," he said. "Good luck."
The two men rose to their feet, shook hands.
"We had better go separately," said Marteau. "You have the longer distance. You first. I will follow."
The officer watched the old grenadier anxiously. He passed the road safely, ran across the intervening space, and disappeared in a little clump of fruit trees surrounding a deserted farmhouse. The young man waited, listening intently for the sound of a shot or struggle, but he heard nothing. Then he turned, stepped out into the road, saw it was empty for the moment, set his face eastward, and moved across it to see what he could find out beyond.
WHEN THE COSSACKS PASSED
For the first time in years the great hall of the Chateau d'Aumenier was brightly lighted. The ancient house stood in the midst of a wooded park adjacent to the village, overlooking one of the little lakes whose outlets flowed into the Morin. In former days it had been the scene of much hospitality, and, even after the revolution in the period of the consulate and the early empire, representatives of the ancient house had resided there, albeit quietly and in greatly diminished style. The old Marquis Henri, as uncompromising a royalist soldier as ever lived, had fled to England and had remained there. His younger brother, Robert, compromising his dignity and his principles alike, had finally made his submission to Napoleon and received back the estates, or what had not been sequestrated. But he had lived there quietly, had sought no preferment of the government—even rejecting many offers—and had confined his recognition to as narrow limits as possible. He had married and there had been born to him a daughter, whom he had named after the ancient dames of his honorable house, Laure.
The Count d'Aumenier, living thus retired, had fallen into rather careless habits after the death of his wife, and the little demoiselle had been brought up indifferently indeed. Dark, brown-eyed, black-haired, she had given promise of beauty to come. Left to her own devices she had acquired accomplishments most unusual in that day and by no means feminine. She could ride, shoot, swim, run, fence, much better than she could dance the old courtly minuet, or the new and popular waltz, just beginning to make its appearance. A love of reading and an ancient library in which she had a free range had initiated her into many things which the well-brought-up French girl was not supposed to know, and which, indeed, many of them went to their graves without ever finding out. The Count had a well-stored mind, and on occasion he gave the child the benefit of it, while leaving her mainly to her own devices.
Few of the ancient nobility had come back to the neighborhood. Their original holdings had been portioned out among the new creations of the Imperial Wizard, and with them the Count held little intercourse. Laure d'Aumenier had not reached the marriageable age, else some of the newly made gentry would undoubtedly have paid court to her. She found companions among the retainers of her father's estate. The devotion of some of them had survived the passionate hatreds of the revolution and, failing the Marquis, who was the head of the house, they loyally served his brother, and with pride and admiration gave something like feudal worship and devotion to the little lady.
The Marquis, an old man now, had never forgiven his brother, the Count, for his compromise with principle and for his recognition of the "usurper," as he was pleased to characterize Napoleon. He had refused even to accept that portion of the greatly diminished revenue of the estate which the younger brother had regularly remitted to the Marquis' bankers in London. The whole amount lay there untouched and accumulating, although, as were many other emigres, the Marquis frequently was hard pressed for the bare necessities of life. With every year, as Bonaparte—for that was the only name by which he thought of him—seemed to be more and more thoroughly established on the throne, the resentment of the Marquis had grown. Latterly he had refused to hold any communication with his brother.
The year before the Battle of the Nations, or just before Napoleon set forth on his ill-fated Russian adventure, Count Robert d'Aumenier died. With an idea of amendment, which showed how his conscience had smitten him for his compromise, he left everything he possessed to his brother, the Marquis, including his daughter, Laure, who had just reached her sixteenth year. With the will was a letter, begging the Marquis to take the young demoiselle under his charge, to complete that ill-begun and worse-conducted education, the deficiencies of which the father too late realized, in a manner befitting her station, and to provide for her marriage with a proper portion, as if she had been his own daughter. The Marquis had never married himself, lacking the means to support his rank, and it was probable that he never would marry.
The Marquis was at first minded to refuse the bequest and to disregard the appeal, but an old retainer of the family, none other than Jean Marteau, the elder, complying with Count Robert's dying wish, had taken the young Countess Laure across the channel, and had quietly left her in her uncle's care, he himself coming back to act as steward or agent for the remaining acres of the shrunken Aumenier domain; for the Marquis, having chosen a course and walked in it for so many years, was not minded even for the sake of being once more the lord of Aumenier to go back to France, since the return involved the recognition of the powers that were.
Old Jean Marteau lived in his modest house between the village and the chateau. And the chateau had been closed for the intervening time. Young Jean Marteau, plodding along the familiar way, after a day full of striking adventure and fraught with important news, instantly noticed the light coming through the half moons in the shutters over the windows of the chateau, as he came around a brow of the hill and overlooked the village, the lake and the castle in the clearing. The village was as dark as the chateau was light.
Marteau was ineffably weary. He had been without sleep for thirty-six hours, he had ridden twenty leagues and walked—Heaven only knew how many miles in addition. He had extricated himself from desperate situations only by his courage, daring, and, in one or two cases, by downright fighting, rendered necessary by his determination to acquire accurate information for the Emperor. He had profited, not only by his instruction in the military school, but by his campaigning, and he now carried in his mind a disposition of the Russian forces which would be of the utmost value to the Emperor.
The need of some rest, however, was absolute. Marmont's troops, starting out at the same time he had taken his departure, would barely have reached Sezanne by this time, so much more slowly did an army move than a single person. The Emperor, who had intimated that he would remain at Nogent until the next day, would scarcely undertake the march before morning. Aumenier lay off to the northwest of Sezanne, distant a few miles. If the young aide could find something to eat and get a few hours' sleep, he could be at Sezanne before the Emperor arrived and his information would be ready in the very nick of time. With that thought, after staring hard at the chateau in some little wonderment, he turned aside from the road that led to its entrance and made for the village.
His mother had died the year before; his father and his sister, with one or two attendants, lived alone. There was no noble blood in Marteau's veins, as noble blood is counted, but his family had been followers and dependents of the Aumeniers for as many generations as that family had been domiciled in France. Young Jean Marteau had not only been Laure d'Aumenier's playmate, but he had been her devoted slave as well. To what extent that devotion had possessed him he had not known until returning from the military school he had found her gone.
The intercourse between the young people had been of the frankest and pleasantest character, but, in spite of the sturdy respectability of the family and the new principles of equality born of the revolution, young Marteau realized—and if he had failed to do so his father had enlightened him—that there was no more chance of his becoming a suitor, a welcome suitor, that is, for the hand of Laure d'Aumenier than there was of his becoming a Marshal of France.
Indeed, as in the case of many another soldier, that last was not an impossibility. Men infinitely more humble than he in origin and with less natural ability and greatly inferior education had attained that high degree. If Napoleon lived long enough and the wars continued and he had the opportunity, he, too, might achieve that coveted distinction. But not even that would make him acceptable to Count Robert, no matter what his career had been; and even if Count Robert could have been persuaded the old Marquis Henri would be doubly impossible.
So, on the whole, Jean Marteau had been glad that Laure d'Aumenier had gone out of his life. He resolved to put her out of his heart in the same way, and he plunged with splendid energy into the German campaign of 1813, with its singular alternations of success and failure, of victory and defeat, of glory and shame. He had been lucky enough to win his captain's commission, and now, as a major, with a position on the staff of the Emperor, he could look forward to rapid advancement so long as the Emperor lasted. With the bright optimism of youth, even though affairs were now so utterly hopeless that the wise old marshals despaired, Marteau felt that his foot was on the first rung of the ladder of fame and prosperity, and, in spite of himself, as he had approached his native village, he had begun to dream again, almost to hope.
There was something ominous, however, in the appearance of the village in that dark gray evening hour. There were no barking dogs, no clucking hens, no lowing cattle, no sounds of childish laughter, no sturdy-voiced men or softer-spoken women exchanging greetings. The stables and sheds were strangely silent.
The village was a small one. He turned into it, entered the first house, stumbled over a corpse! The silence was of death. With a beating heart and with a strength he did not know he possessed, he turned aside and ran straight to his father's house.
Standing by itself it was a larger, better and more inviting house than the others. The gate of the surrounding stone wall was battered off the hinges, the front door of the house was open, the garden was trampled. The house had been half destroyed. A dead dog lay in front of the door. He could see all that in the half light. He ran down the path and burst into the wrecked and plundered living room. A few feeble embers still glowed in the broad hearth. From them he lighted a candle standing on the mantel shelf.
The first sight that greeted him was the body of his sister, her torn clothing in frightful disarray, a look of agony and horror upon her white set face under its dishevelled hair. She was stone dead. He knelt down and touched her. She was stone cold, too. He stared at her, a groan bursting from his lips. The groan brought forth another sound. Was it an echo? Lifting the candle, he looked about him. In a far corner lay a huddled human body. He ran to it and bent over it. It was his father. Knowing the house like a book, he ran and fetched some water. There were a few mouthfuls of spirits left in a flask of vodka he had found in the Russian's overcoat. He bathed his father's face, forced a few drops of the strong spirit down his throat, and the old man opened his eyes. In the flickering light he caught sight of the green cap and coat.
"Curse you," he whispered.
"My father!" cried the young officer. "It is I."
"What has happened?"
"The Cossacks—I fought for the honor of your sister. Where——" the old man's voice faltered.
"She is dead yonder," answered the son.
"Thank God," came the faint whisper from the father. "Mademoiselle Laure—she—the wagon-train—the castle——"
His voice died away, his eyes closed. Frantically the young man recalled his father to his senses again.
"It's no use," whispered the old man, "a ball in the breast. I am going. What do you here?"
"On the service of the Emperor," answered the young officer. "Father, speak to me!"
"Alas—poor—France," came the words slowly, one by one, and then—silence.
Marteau had seen death too many times not to know it now. He laid the old man's head gently down, he straightened his limbs, he went over to the form of the poor girl. To what horrors she had been subjected—like every other woman in the village—before she died! Like his father, he thanked God that she was dead. He lifted her up tenderly and laid her down on a huge settle by the fireplace. He stood a moment, looking from one to the other. The irreligion of the age had not seized him. He knelt down and made a prayer. Having discharged that duty, he lifted his hands to heaven and his lips moved. Was he invoking a curse upon these enemies? He turned quickly and went out into the night, drawing the door behind him, fastening it as tight as he could.
He forgot that he was hungry, that he was thirsty, that he was tired, that he was cold. For the moment he almost forgot his duty toward his Emperor and France, as he walked rapidly through the trees toward the great house. But as he walked that stern obligation came back to him. His sister was dead, his father murdered. Well, the first Cossack he came upon should pay. Meanwhile there was his duty. What had his father said?
"The Cossacks—the wagon-train—the Countess Laure."
What did it mean? Part of it was plain enough. The Cossacks had raided the village, his father had been stricken down defending his daughter, his sister had died. That was easy, but the wagon-train, the castle, the Countess Laure? Could she have come back? Was that the occasion for the lights in the chateau? That body of cavalry that he had seen leaving Sacken's men that morning with the civilians—was she that woman? The mystery would be solved at the chateau. And it was there he had arranged to meet his comrade, anyway.
He stopped and looked back at the devastated village. Already a light was blazing in one of the houses. It would soon be afire. He could do nothing then. The chateau called him. He broke into a run again, heavy-footed and tired out though he was. Around the chateau in the courtyard were dozens of wagons. His experienced glance told him that they were army wagons, containing provisions, arms, ammunition. Some of the covers had been raised to expose the contents. There was not a living man present, and scarcely a living horse. There had been some sort of a battle evidently, for the wagons were in all sorts of confusion and there were dead men and horses everywhere. He did not stop to examine them save to make sure that the dead men were French, proving that the convoy had come from Paris. He threaded his way among the wagons and finally reached the steps that led to the broad terrace upon which rose the chateau.
The main door was open. There were no soldiers about, which struck him as peculiar, almost terrifying. He went up the steps and across the terrace, and stopped before the building, almost stumbling over the bodies of two men whose uniforms were plainly Russian! He inspected them briefly and stepped toward the door of the entrance hall. It was open but dimly lighted, and the light wavered fitfully. The faint illumination came into the hall from a big broad open door upon the right, giving entrance to what had been the great room. Still keeping within the shadow, he moved carefully and noiselessly into the hall, until he could get a view of the room beyond.
A huge fire was burning in the enormous fireplace. The many tables with which the room had been furnished had been pushed together in the center, several tall candles pulled from the candelabra and fastened there by their own melted wax stood upon these tables and added their illumination to the fire-light. Several men in uniforms, two of them rough-coated Cossacks, and two whose dress showed clearly that they belonged to the Russian Imperial Guard, lay on the floor, bound and helpless. A stout, elderly man, in civilian garb, with a very red face and an angry look, his wig awry, was lashed to a chair. Between two ruffianly looking men, who held her firmly, stood a woman.
There were perhaps two dozen other men in the room, unkempt, savage, brutal, armed with all sorts of nondescript weapons from ancient pistols to fowling pieces, clubs and scythes. They were all in a state of great excitement, shouting and gesturing madly.
The woman standing between the two soldiers was in the full light. So soon as he caught sight of her Marteau recognized her. It was Laure d'Aumenier. She had grown taller and more beautiful than when he had seen her last as a young girl. She had been handled roughly, her clothes were torn, her hair partially unbound. Her captors held her with an iron grasp upon her arms, but she did not flinch or murmur. She held herself as erect and looked as imperious as if she had been on a throne.
MARTEAU BARGAINS FOR THE WOMAN
The sight of her predicament filled the young Frenchman with rage and horror. Drawing his pistol, he strode into the room. What he intended to do, or how he intended to do it was not clear even to him. There stood the woman he loved in the clutch of wretches whose very touch was pollution. He must help her. All duties and intentions gave way to that determination.
A dead silence fell over the room as he entered and the people caught sight of him. He stood staring at the occupants and they returned his stare in good measure. Finally the biggest ruffian, who seemed to be the leader, found his voice and burst out with a savage oath:
"Another Russian! Well, the more the merrier."
He raised a huge horse pistol as he spoke. His words were greeted with jeers and yells from the band. With a flash of inspiration Marteau, realizing into what he had been led, dropped his own weapon and instantly threw up his hands.
"I am French, messieurs," he cried loudly as the pistol clattered on the floor at his feet.
"What are you doing in that uniform, then?" roared the leader.
Marteau tore open the heavy green coat, disclosing beneath it his French uniform. He had a second to make up his mind how to answer that pertinent question. He was quite in the dark as to the meaning of the mysterious situation. He opened his mouth and spoke.
"It is quite simple," he began, "I am——"
What should he say? What was he? Were these men for the Emperor or for the king, or were they common blackguards for themselves? The latter was probably the true state of the case, but did it please them to pose as royalists? He took a long chance after a quick prayer because he wanted to live not so much for himself as for the woman.
"I am deserting the Emperor," he said. "I am for the king."
"No king could have brought us to worse straits than we are now in," said the leader, lowering his pistol uncertainly, but still keeping the young man covered.
"Right, my friend," continued Marteau exultantly, realizing that he had made the right choice. "Bonaparte is beaten, Bluecher is marching on Paris, Schwarzenberg has the Emperor surrounded. I thought I might as well save myself while I had the chance, so I stole this Russian coat to keep myself from freezing to death, and here I am. I belong to Aumenier."
"You'll join us, then?"
"With pleasure. Who do you serve?"
"Ourselves," laughed the leader grimly. "We're from Fere-Champenoise way. We're all of the village and countryside that the Cossacks and the Prussians have left of our families. We're hungry, starving, naked. Do you hear? We were hiding in the woods hard by to-day. There was a wagon-train. A regiment of Cossacks surprised it, killed its defenders, brought it here. We saw it all."