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- The Companions of Jehu - 50/133 -
"I did not recognize you at first."
"Yet I think, general, that my name was announced by your servant in a voice loud enough to prevent any doubt as to my identity."
"Yes, but he announced General Bernadotte."
"Well, I saw a man in civilian's dress, and though I recognized you, I doubted if it were really you."
For some time past Bernadotte had affected to wear civilian's dress in preference to his uniform.
"You know," said he, laughing, "that I am only half a soldier now. I was retired by citizen Sièyes."
"It seems that it was lucky for me that you were no longer minister of war when I landed at Fréjus."
"You said, so I was told, that had you received the order to arrest me for violating quarantine you would have done so."
"I said it, and I repeat it, general. As a soldier I was always a faithful observer of discipline. As a minister I was a slave to law."
Bonaparte bit his lips. "And will you say, after that, that you have not a personal enmity to me?"
"A personal enmity to you, general?" replied Bernadotte. "Why should I have? We have always gone together, almost in the same stride; I was even made general before you. While my campaigns on the Rhine were less brilliant than yours on the Adige, they were not less profitable for the Republic; and when I had the honor to serve under you, you found in me, I hope, a subordinate devoted, if not to the man, at least to the country which he served. It is true that since your departure, general, I have been more fortunate than you in not having the responsibility of a great army, which, if one may believe Kléber's despatches, you have left in a disastrous position."
"What do you mean? Kléber's last despatches? Has Kléber written?"
"Are you ignorant of that, general? Has the Directory not informed you of the complaints of your successor? That would be a great weakness on their part, and I congratulate myself to have come here, not only to correct in your mind what has been said of me, but to tell you what is being said of you."
Bonaparte fixed an eye, darkling as an eagle's, on Bernadotte. "And what are they saying of me?" he asked.
"They say that, as you must come back, you should have brought the army with you."
"Had I a fleet? Are you unaware that De Brueys allowed his to be burned?"
"They also say, general, that, being unable to bring back the army, it would have been better for your renown had you remained with it."
"That is what I should have done, monsieur, if events had not recalled me to France."
"What events, general?"
"Pardon me, general; you mean to say Schérer's defeats.
"Yours as well."
"I was not answerable for the generals commanding our armies on the Rhine and in Italy until I was minister of war. If you will enumerate the victories and defeats since that time you will see on which side the scale turns."
"You certainly do not intend to tell me that matters are in a good condition?"
"No, but I do say that they are not in so desperate state as you affect to believe."
"As I affect!--Truly, general, to hear you one would think I had some interest in lowering France in the eyes of foreigners.
"I don't say that; I say that I wish to settle the balance of our victories and defeats for the last three months; and as I came for that, and am now in your house, and in the position of an accused person--"
"Or an accuser."
"As the accused, in the first instance--I begin."
"And I listen," said Bonaparte, visibly on thorns.
"My ministry dates from the 30th Prairial, the 8th of June if you prefer; we will not quarrel over words."
"Which means that we shall quarrel about things."
Bernadotte continued without replying.
"I became minister, as I said, the 8th of June; that is, a short time after the siege of Saint-Jean-d'Acre was raised."
Bonaparte bit his lips. "I did not raise the siege until after I had ruined the fortifications," he replied.
"That is not what Kléber wrote; but that does not concern me." Then he added, smiling: "It happened while Clark was minister."
There was a moment's silence, during which Bonaparte endeavored to make Bernadotte lower his eyes. Not succeeding, he said: "Go on."
Bernadotte bowed and continued: "Perhaps no minister of war--and the archives of the ministry are there for reference--ever received the portfolio under more critical circumstances: civil war within, a foreign enemy at our doors, discouragement rife among our veteran armies, absolute destitution of means to equip new ones. That was what I had to face on the 8th of June, when I entered upon my duties. An active correspondence, dating from the 8th of June, between the civil and military authorities, revived their courage and their hopes. My addresses to the armies--this may have been a mistake--were those, not of a minister to his soldiers, but of a comrade among comrades, just as my addresses to the administrators were those of a citizen to his fellow-citizens. I appealed to the courage of the army, and the heart of the French people; I obtained all that I had asked. The National Guard reorganized with renewed zeal; legions were formed upon the Rhine, on the Moselle. Battalions of veterans took the place of old regiments to reinforce the troops that were guarding our frontiers; to-day our cavalry is recruited by a remount of forty thousand horses, and one hundred thousand conscripts, armed and equipped, have received with cries of 'Vive la Republique!' the flags under which they will fight and conquer--"
"But," interrupted Bonaparte bitterly, "this is an apology you are making for yourself."
"Be it so. I will divide my discourse into two parts. The first will be a contestable apology; the second an array of incontestable facts. I will set aside the apology and proceed to facts. June 17 and 18, the battle of the Trebbia. Macdonald wished to fight without Moreau; he crossed the Trebbia, attacked the enemy, was defeated and retreated to Modena. June 20, battle of Tortona; Moreau defeated the Austrian Bellegarde. July 22, surrender of the citadel of Alexandria to the Austro-Russians. So far the scale turns to defeat. July 30, surrender of Mantua, another check. August 15, battle of Novi; this time it was more than a check, it was a defeat. Take note of it, general, for it is the last. At the very moment we were fighting at Novi, Masséna was maintaining his position at Zug and Lucerne, and strengthening himself on the Aar and on the Rhine; while Lecourbe, on August 14 and 15, took the Saint-Gothard. August 19, battle of Bergen; Brune defeated the Anglo-Russian army, forty thousand strong, and captured the Russian general, Hermann. On the 25th, 26th and 27th of the same month, the battles of Zurich, where Masséna defeated the Austro-Russians under Korsakoff. Hotze and three other generals are taken prisoners. The enemy lost twelve thousand men, a hundred cannon, and all its baggage; the Austrians, separated from the Russians, could not rejoin them until after they were driven beyond Lake Constance. That series of victories stopped the progress the enemy had been making since the beginning of the campaign; from the time Zurich was retaken, France was secure from invasion. August 30, Molitor defeated the Austrian generals, Jellachich and Luiken, and drove them back into the Grisons. September 1, Molitor attacked and defeated General Rosenberg in the Mutterthal. On the 2d, Molitor forced Souvaroff to evacuate Glarus, to abandon his wounded, his cannon, and sixteen hundred prisoners. The 6th, General Brune again defeated the Anglo-Russians, under the command of the Duke of York. On the 7th, General Gazan took possession of Constance. On the 8th you landed at Fréjus.--Well, general," continued Bernadotte, "as France will probably pass into your hands, it is well that you should know the state in which you find her, and in place of receipt, our possessions bear witness to what we are giving you. What we are now doing, general, is history, and it is important that those who may some day have an interest in falsifying history shall find in their path the denial of Bernadotte."
"Is that said for my benefit, general?"
"I say that for flatterers. You have pretended, it is said, that you returned to France because our armies were destroyed, because France was threatened, the Republic at bay. You may have left Egypt with that fear; but once in France, all such fears must have given way to a totally different belief."
"I ask no better than to believe as you do," replied Bonaparte, with sovereign dignity; "and the more grand and powerful you prove France to be, the more grateful am I to those who have secured her grandeur and her power."
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