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- The Companions of Jehu - 4/133 -
"No, it is not that."
"What is it then?"
"Well, at that dinner they said to you: 'M. Dumas, you ought to write a play for Rouen based upon some subject taken from its own history.'"
"To which I replied: 'Nothing easier; I will come at your first summons and spend a fortnight in Rouen. You can suggest the subject, and during that fortnight I will write the play, the royalties of which I shall devote to the poor.'"
"That is true, you said that."
"I see nothing sufficiently insulting in that to incur the hatred of the Rouenese."
"Yes, but they added: 'Will you write it in prose?' To which you replied--Do you remember what you answered?"
"My faith! no."
"You replied: 'I will write it in verse; it is soonest done.'"
"That sounds like me. Well, what then?"
"Then! That was an insult to Corneille, M. Dumas; that is why the Rouenese are down on you, and will be for a long time."
Oh, worthy Rouenese! I trust that you will never serve me so ill as to forgive and applaud me.
The aforesaid paper observed that M. Dumas had doubtless spent but one night in Lyons because a city of such slight literary standing was not worthy of his longer sojourn. M. Dumas had not thought about this at all. He had spent but one night at Lyons because he was in a hurry to reach Bourg. And no sooner had M. Dumas arrived at Bourg than he asked to be directed to the office of its leading newspaper.
I knew that it was under the management of a distinguished archeologist, who was also the editor of my friend Baux's work on the church of Brou.
I asked for M. Milliet. M. Milliet appeared. We shook hands and I explained the object of my visit.
"I can fix you perfectly," said he to me. "I will take you to one of our magistrates, who is at present engaged upon a history of the department."
"How far has he got in this history?"
"Then that's all right. As the events I want to relate occurred in 1799, and my heroes were executed in 1800, he will have covered that epoch, and can furnish me with the desired information. Let us go to your magistrate."
On the road, M. Milliet told me that this same magisterial historian was also a noted gourmet. Since Brillat-Savarin it has been the fashion for magistrates to be epicures. Unfortunately, many are content to be gourmands, which is not at all the same thing.
We were ushered into the magistrate's study. I found a man with a shiny face and a sneering smile. He greeted me with that protecting air which historians deign to assume toward poets.
"Well, sir," he said to me, "so you have come to our poor country in search of material for your novel?"
"No, sir; I have my material already. I have come simply to consult your historical documents."
"Good! I did not know that it was necessary to give one's self so much trouble in order to write novels."
"There you are in error, sir; at least in my instance. I am in the habit of making exhaustive researches upon all the historical events of which I treat."
"You might at least have sent some one else."
"Any person whom I might send, sir, not being so completely absorbed in my subject, might have overlooked many important facts. Then, too, I make use of many localities which I cannot describe unless I see them."
"Oh, then this is a novel which you intend writing yourself?"
"Yes, certainly, sir. I allowed my valet to write my last; but he had such immense success that the rogue asked so exorbitant an increase of wages that, to my great regret, I was unable to keep him."
The magistrate bit his lips. Then, after a moment's silence, he said:
"Will you kindly tell me, sir, how I can assist you in this important work?"
"You can direct my researches, sir. As you have compiled the history of the department, none of the important event which have occurred in its capital can be unknown to you."
"Truly, sir, I believe that in this respect I am tolerably well informed."
"Then, sir, in the first place, your department was the centre of the operations of the Company of Jehu."
"Sir, I have heard speak of the Companions of Jesus," replied the magistrate with his jeering smile.
"The Jesuits, you mean? That is not what I am seeking, sir."
"Nor is it of them that I am speaking. I refer to the stage robbers who infested the highroads from 1797 to 1800."
"Then, sir, permit me to tell you they are precisely the ones I have come to Bourg about, and that they were called the Companions of Jehu, and not the Companions of Jesus."
"What is the meaning of this title 'Companions of Jehu'? I like to get at the bottom of everything."
"So do I, sir; that is why I did not wish to confound these highwaymen with the Apostles."
"Truly, that would not have been very orthodox."
"But it is what you would have done, nevertheless, sir, if I, a poet, had not come here expressly to correct the mistake you, as historian, have made."
"I await your explanation, sir," resumed the magistrate, pursing his lips.
"It is short and simple. Elisha consecrated Jehu, King of Israel, on condition that he exterminate the house of Ahab; Elisha was Louis XVIII.; Jehu was Cadoudal; the house of Ahab, the Revolution. That is why these pillagers of diligences, who filched the government money to support the war in the Vendée, were called the Companions of Jehu."
"Sir, I am happy to learn something at my age."
"Oh, sir! One can always learn, at all times and at all ages; during life one learns man; in death one learns God."
"But, after all," my interlocutor said to me with a gesture of impatience, "may I know in what I can assist you?"
"Thus, sir. Four of these young men, leaders of the Companions of Jehu, were executed at Bourg, on the Place du Bastion."
"In the first place, sir, in Bourg executions do not take place at the Bastion; they execute on the Fair grounds."
"Now, sir--these last fifteen or twenty years, it is true--since Peytel. But before, especially during the Revolution, they executed on the Place du Bastion."
"That is possible."
"It is so. These four young men were called Guyon, Leprêtre, Amiet, and Hyvert."
"This is the first time I have heard those names."
"Yet their names made a certain noise at Bourg."
"Are you sure, sir, that these men were executed here?"
"I am positive."
"From whom have you derived your information?"
"From a man whose uncle, then in command of the gendarmerie, was present at the execution."
"Will you tell me this man's name?"
"Charles Nodier, the novelist, the poet?"
"If he were a historian I would not be so insistent, sir. Recently, during a trip to Varennes, I learned what dependence to place upon historians. But precisely because he is a poet, a novelist, I do insist."
"You are at liberty to do so; but I know nothing of what you desire to learn, and I dare even assert that, if you have come to Bourg solely to obtain information concerning the execution of--what did you call them?"
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