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- The Companions of Jehu - 120/133 -
I shall return like a thunderclap. I commend to your keeping all the great interests of France; and I hope you will soon hear of me by way of Vienna and London."
On the 6th he started. From that moment his strong determination was to make his way to the plains of Piedmont, and there to fight a decisive battle. Then, as he never doubted that he would conquer, he would answer, like Scipio, to those who accused him of violating the constitution: "On such a day, at such an hour, I fought the Carthagenians; let us go to the capitol, and render thanks to the gods."
Leaving France on the 6th of May, the First Consul was encamped with his whole army between Casale and Turin on the 26th of the same month. It had rained the whole day; but, as often happens in Italy, toward evening the sky had cleared, changing in a few moments from murky darkness to loveliest azure, and the stars came sparkling out.
The First Consul signed to Roland to follow him, and together they issued from the little town of Chivasso and walked along the banks of the river. About a hundred yards beyond the last house a tree, blown down by the wind, offered a seat to the pedestrians. Bonaparte sat down and signed to Roland to join him. He apparently had something to say, some confidence to make to his young aide-de-camp.
Both were silent for a time, and then Bonaparte said: "Roland, do you remember a conversation we had together at the Luxembourg?"
"General," said Roland, laughing, "we had a good many conversations together at the Luxembourg; in one of which you told me we were to cross into Italy in the spring, and fight General Mélas at Torre di Gallifolo or San-Guiliano. Does that still hold good?"
"Yes; but that is not the conversation I mean."
"What was it, general?"
"The day we talked of marriage."
"Ah, yes! My sister's marriage. That has probably taken place by this time, general."
"I don't mean your sister's marriage; I mean yours."
"Good!" said Roland, with a bitter smile. "I thought that had been disposed of, general." And he made a motion as if to rise. Bonaparte caught him by the arm.
"Do you know whom I meant you to marry at that time, Roland?" he said, with a gravity that showed he was determined to be heard.
"Well, my sister Caroline."
"Yes. Does that astonish you?"
"I had no idea you had ever thought of doing me that honor."
"Either you are ungrateful, Roland, or you are saying what you do not mean. You know that I love you."
"Oh! my general!"
He took the First Consul's two hands and pressed them with the deepest gratitude.
"Yes, I should have liked you for my brother-in-law."
"Your sister and Murat love each other, general," said Roland. "It is much better that the plan should have gone no further. Besides," he added, in muffled tones, "I thought I told you that I did not care to marry."
Bonaparte smiled. "Why don't you say offhand that you intend becoming a Trappist father?"
"Faith, general, re-establish the cloisters and remove these opportunities for me to try to get myself killed, which, thank God! are not lacking, and you have guessed what my end will be."
"Are you in love? Is this the result of some woman's faithlessness?"
"Good!" said Roland, "so you think I am in love! That is the last straw!"
"Do you complain of my affection when I wished to marry you to my sister?"
"But the thing is impossible now! Your three sisters are all married--one to General Leduc, one to Prince Bacciocchi, and the third to Murat."
"In short," said Bonaparte, laughing, "you feel easy and settled in your mind. You think yourself rid of my alliance."
"Oh, general!" exclaimed Roland.
"You are not ambitious, it seems?"
"General, let me love you for all the good you have done to me, and not for what you seek to do."
"But suppose it is for my own interests that I seek to bind you to me, not by the ties of friendship alone, but also by those of matrimony. Suppose I say to you: In my plans for the future I cannot rely upon my two brothers, whereas I could never for one instant doubt you?"
"In heart, yes, you are right."
"In all respects! What can I do with Leclerc--a commonplace man; with Bacciocchi--who is not French; with Murat--lion-hearted and feather-brained? And yet some day I shall have to make princes of them because they are my sisters' husbands. When that time comes, what can I make of you?"
"A marshal of France."
"Afterward? I should say that was enough."
"And then you would be one of twelve, and not a unity of your own."
"Let me be simply your friend. Let me always thresh out the truth with you, and then I'll warrant I shall be out of the crowd."
"That may be enough for you, Roland, but it is not enough for me," persisted Bonaparte. Then, as Roland said nothing, he continued, "I have no more sisters, Roland, it is true; but I have dreamed that you might be something more to me than a brother." Then, as Roland still said nothing, he went on: "I know a young girl, Roland, a charming child, whom I love as a daughter. She is just seventeen. You are twenty-six, and a brigadier-general _de facto_. Before the end of the campaign you will be general of division. Well, Roland, when the campaign is over, we will return together to Paris, and you shall marry her--"
"General," interrupted Roland, "I think I see Bourrienne looking for you."
And in fact the First Consul's secretary was already within two feet of the friends.
"Is that you, Bourrienne?" asked Bonaparte, somewhat impatiently.
"Yes, general, a courier from France."
"And a letter from Madame Bonaparte."
"Good!" said the First Consul, rising eagerly, "give it to me." And he almost snatched the letter from Bourrienne's hand.
"And for me?" asked Roland. "Nothing for me?"
"That is strange," said the young man, pensively.
The moon had risen, and by its clear, beautiful light Bonaparte was able to read his letters. Through the first two pages his face expressed perfect serenity. Bonaparte adored his wife; the letters published by Queen Hortense bear witness to that fact. Roland watched these expressions of the soul on his general's face. But toward the close of the letter Bonaparte's face clouded; he frowned and cast a furtive glance at Roland.
"Ah!" exclaimed the young man, "it seems there is something about me in the letter."
Bonaparte did not answer and continued to read. When he had finished, he folded the letter and put it in the side pocket of his coat. Then, turning to Bourrienne, he said: "Very well, we will return. I shall probably have to despatch a courier. Go mend some pens while you are waiting for me."
Bourrienne bowed and returned to Chivasso.
Bonaparte then went up to Roland and laid his hand on his shoulder, saying: "I have no luck with the marriages I attempt to make."
"How so?" asked Roland.
"Your sister's marriage is off."
"Has she refused?"
"No; she has not."
"She has not? Can it be Sir John?"
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