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- The Companions of Jehu - 60/133 -


"To see me?"

"Yes, you, general. Does that surprise you?"

"No. But what can he want to say to me?"

"He refused obstinately to tell me. But I dare answer for it that he is neither importunate nor a fool."

"No, but he may be an assassin."

Roland shook his head.

"Of course, since you introduce him--"

"Moreover, he is willing that I should be present at the conference and stand between you and him."

Bonaparte reflected an instant.

"Bring him in," he said.

"You know, general, that except me--"

"Yes, General Hedouville will be so kind as to wait a second. Our conversation is of a nature that is not exhausted in one interview. Go, Roland."

Roland left the room, crossed Bourrienne's office, reentered his own room, and found Morgan, as he had said, warming his feet.

"Come, the First Consul is waiting for you," said the young man.

Morgan rose and followed Roland. When they entered Bonaparte's study the latter was alone. He cast a rapid glance on the chief of the Companions of Jehu, and felt no doubt that he was the same man he had seen at Avignon.

Morgan had paused a few steps from the door, and was looking curiously at Bonaparte, convincing himself that he was the man he had seen at the table d'hôte the day he attempted the perilous restoration of the two hundred louis stolen by an oversight from Jean Picot.

"Come nearer," said the First Consul.

Morgan bowed and made three steps forward. Bonaparte partly returned the bow with a slight motion of the head.

"You told my aide-de-camp, Colonel Roland, that you had a communication to make me."

"Yes, citizen First Consul."

"Does that communication require a private interview?"

"No, citizen First Consul, although it is of such importance--"

"You would prefer to be alone."

"Beyond doubt. But prudence--"

"The most prudent thing in France, citizen Morgan, is courage."

"My presence here, general, proves that I agree with you perfectly."

Bonaparte turned to the young colonel.

"Leave us alone, Roland," said he.

"But, general--" objected Roland.

Bonaparte went up to him and said in a low voice: "I see what it is. You are curious to know what this mysterious cavalier of the highroad has to say to me. Don't worry; you shall know."

"That's not it. But suppose, as you said just now, he is an assassin."

"Didn't you declare he was not. Come, don't be a baby; leave us."

Roland went out.

"Now that we are alone, sir," said the First Consul, "speak!"

Morgan, without answering, drew a letter from his pocket and gave it to the general. Bonaparte examined it. It was addressed to him, and the seal bore the three fleurs-de-lis of France.

"Oh!" he said, "what is this, sir?"

"Read it, citizen First Consul."

Bonaparte opened the letter and looked at the signature: "Louis," he said.

"Louis," repeated Morgan.

"What Louis?"

"Louis de Bourbon, I presume."

"Monsieur le Comte de Provençe, brother of Louis XVI."

"Consequently Louis XVIII., since his nephew, the Dauphin, is dead."

Bonaparte looked at the stranger again. It was evident that Morgan was a pseudonym, assumed to hide his real name. Then, turning his eyes on the letter, he read:

January 3, 1800.

Whatever may be their apparent conduct, monsieur, men like you never inspire distrust. You have accepted an exalted post, and I thank you for so doing. You know, better than others, that force and power are needed to make the happiness of a great nation. Save France from her own madness, and you will fulfil the desire of my heart; restore her king, and future generations will bless your memory. If you doubt my gratitude, choose your own place, determine the future of your friends. As for my principles, I am a Frenchman, clement by nature, still more so by judgment. No! the conqueror of Lodi, Castiglione and Arcola, the conqueror of Italy and Egypt, cannot prefer an empty celebrity to fame. Lose no more precious time. We can secure the glory of France. I say we, because I have need of Bonaparte for that which he cannot achieve without me. General, the eyes of Europe are upon you, glory awaits you, and I am eager to restore my people to happiness.

LOUIS.

Bonaparte turned to the young man, who stood erect, motionless and silent as a statue.

"Do you know the contents of this letter?" he asked.

The young man bowed. "Yes, citizen First Consul."

"It was sealed, however."

"It was sent unsealed under cover to the person who intrusted it to me. And before doing so he made me read it, that I might know its full importance."

"Can I know the name of the person who intrusted it to you?"

"Georges Cadoudal."

Bonaparte started slightly.

"Do you know Georges Cadoudal?" he asked.

"He is my friend."

"Why did he intrust it to you rather than to another?"

"Because he knew that in telling me to deliver the letter to you with my own hand it would be done."

"You have certainly kept your promise, sir."

"Not altogether yet, citizen First Consul."

"How do you mean? Haven't you delivered it to me?"

"Yes, but I promised to bring back an answer."

"But if I tell you I will not give one."

"You will have answered; not precisely as I could have wished, but it will be an answer."

Bonaparte reflected for a few moments. Then shaking his shoulders to rid himself of his thoughts, he said: "They are fools."

"Who, citizen?" asked Morgan.

"Those who write me such letters--fools, arch fools. Do they take me for a man who patterns his conduct by the past? Play Monk! What good would it do? Bring back another Charles II.? No, faith, it is not worth while. When a man has Toulon, the 13th Vendemiaire, Lodi, Castiglione, Arcola, Rivoli and the Pyramids behind him, he's no Monk. He has the right to aspire to more than a duchy of Albemarle, and the command by land and sea of the forces of his Majesty King Louis XVIII."

"For that reason you are asked to make your own conditions, citizen First Consul."

Bonaparte started at the sound of that voice as if he had forgotten that any one was present.

"Not counting," he went on, "that it is a ruined family, a dead branch of a rotten trunk. The Bourbons have so intermarried with one another that the race is depraved; Louis XIV. exhausted all its sap, all its vigor.--You know history, sir?" asked Bonaparte, turning to the young man.


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