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- The Companions of Jehu - 20/133 -
were not made to weep for their children!"
He tore up the letters he had written to his mother, his sister, and General Bonaparte, mechanically burning the fragments with the utmost care. Then ringing for the chambermaid, he asked:
"When must my letters be in the post?"
"Half-past six," replied she. "You have only a few minutes more."
"Just wait then."
And taking a pen he wrote:
My DEAR GENERAL--It is as I told you; I am living and he is dead. You must admit that this seems like a wager. Devotion to death.
Then he sealed the letter, addressed it to General Bonaparte, Rue de la Victoire, Paris, and handed it to the chambermaid, bidding her lose no time in posting it. Then only did he seem to notice Sir John, and held out his hand to him.
"You have just rendered me a great service, my lord," he said. "One of those services which bind men for all eternity. I am already your friend; will you do me the honor to become mine?"
Sir John pressed the hand that Roland offered him.
"Oh!" said he, "I thank you heartily. I should never have dared ask this honor; but you offer it and I accept."
Even the impassible Englishman felt his heart soften as he brushed away the tear that trembled on his lashes. Then looking at Roland, he said: "It is unfortunate that you are so hurried; I should have been pleased and delighted to spend a day or two with you."
"Where were you going, my lord, when I met you?"
"Oh, I? Nowhere. I am travelling to get over being bored. I am unfortunately often bored."
"So that you were going nowhere?"
"I was going everywhere."
"That is exactly the same thing," said the young officer, smiling. "Well, will you do something for me?"
"Oh! very willingly, if it is possible."
"Perfectly possible; it depends only on you."
"What is it?"
"Had I been killed you were going to take me to my mother or throw me into the Rhone."
"I should have taken you to your mother and not thrown you into the Rhone."
"Well, instead of accompanying me dead, take me living. You will be all the better received."
"We will remain a fortnight at Bourg. It is my natal city, and one of the dullest towns in France; but as your compatriots are pre-eminent for originality, perhaps you will find amusement where others are bored. Are we agreed?"
"I should like nothing better," exclaimed the Englishman; "but it seems to me that it is hardly proper on my part."
"Oh! we are not in England, my lord, where etiquette holds absolute sway. We have no longer king nor queen. We didn't cut off that poor creature's head whom they called Marie Antoinette to install Her Majesty, Etiquette, in her stead."
"I should like to go," said Sir John.
"You'll see, my mother is an excellent woman, and very distinguished besides. My sister was sixteen when I left; she must be eighteen now. She was pretty, and she ought to be beautiful. Then there is my brother Edouard, a delightful youngster of twelve, who will let off fireworks between your legs and chatter a gibberish of English with you. At the end of the fortnight we will go to Paris together."
"I have just come from Paris," said the Englishman.
"But listen. You were willing to go to Egypt to see General Bonaparte. Paris is not so far from here as Cairo. I'll present you, and, introduced by me, you may rest assured that you will be well received. You were speaking of Shakespeare just now--"
"Oh! I am always quoting him."
"Which proves that you like comedies and dramas."
"I do like them very much, that's true."
"Well, then, General Bonaparte is going to produce one in his own style which will not be wanting in interest, I answer for it!"
"So that," said Sir John, still hesitating, "I may accept your offer without seeming intrusive?"
"I should think so. You will delight us all, especially me."
"Then I accept."
"Bravo! Now, let's see, when will you start?"
"As soon as you wish. My coach was harnessed when you threw that unfortunate plate at Barjols' head. However, as I should never have known you but for that plate, I am glad you did throw it at him!"
"Shall we start this evening?"
"Instantly. I'll give orders for the postilion to send other horses, and once they are here we will start."
Roland nodded acquiescence. Sir John went out to give his orders, and returned presently, saying they had served two cutlets and a cold fowl for them below. Roland took his valise and went down. The Englishman placed his pistols in the coach box again. Both ate enough to enable them to travel all night, and as nine o'clock was striking from the Church of the Cordeliers they settled themselves in the carriage and quitted Avignon, where their passage left a fresh trail of blood, Roland with the careless indifference of his nature, Sir John Tanlay with the impassibility of his nation. A quarter of an hour later both were sleeping, or at least the silence which obtained induced the belief that both had yielded to slumber.
We shall profit by this instant of repose to give our readers some indispensable information concerning Roland and his family.
Roland was born the first of July, 1773, four years and a few days later than Bonaparte, at whose side, or rather following him, he made his appearance in this book. He was the son of M. Charles de Montrevel, colonel of a regiment long garrisoned at Martinique, where he had married a creole named Clotilde de la Clémencière. Three children were born of this marriage, two boys and a girl: Louis, whose acquaintance we have made under the name of Roland, Amélie, whose beauty he had praised to Sir John, and Edouard.
Recalled to France in 1782, M. de Montrevel obtained admission for young Louis de Montrevel (we shall see later how the name of Louis was changed to Roland) to the Ecole Militaire in Paris.
It was there that Bonaparte knew the child, when, on M. de Keralio's report, he was judged worthy of promotion from the Ecole de Brienne to the Ecole Militaire. Louis was the youngest pupil. Though he was only thirteen, he had already made himself remarked for that ungovernable and quarrelsome nature of which we have seen him seventeen years later give an example at the table d'hôte at Avignon.
Bonaparte, a child himself, had the good side of this character; that is to say, without being quarrelsome, he was firm, obstinate, and unconquerable. He recognized in the child some of his own qualities, and this similarity of sentiments led him to pardon the boy's defects, and attached him to him. On the other hand the child, conscious of a supporter in the Corsican, relied upon him.
One day the child went to find his great friend, as he called Napoleon, when the latter was absorbed in the solution of a mathematical problem. He knew the importance the future artillery officer attached to this science, which so far had won him his greatest, or rather his only successes.
He stood beside him without speaking or moving. The young mathematician felt the child's presence, and plunged deeper and deeper into his mathematical calculations, whence he emerged victorious ten minutes later. Then he turned to his young comrade with that inward satisfaction of a man who issues victorious from any struggle, be it with science or things material.
The child stood erect, pale, his teeth clinched, his arms rigid and his fists closed.
"Oh! oh!" said young Bonaparte, "what is the matter now?"
"Valence, the governor's nephew, struck me."
"Ah!" said Bonaparte, laughing, "and you have come to me to strike him back?"
The child shook his head.
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