Alexandre Dumas.

The companions of Jehu online

. (page 8 of 24)
Online LibraryAlexandre DumasThe companions of Jehu → online text (page 8 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

four Bonaparte had been in the habit of taking snuff, but
only enough to keep his brain awake. He was accus-
tomed to take it, not from his waistcoat pocket, as has
been said, but from a snuff-box which he exchanged almost
every day for a new one, resembling Frederick the Great
in his passion for collecting snuff-boxes; when he did
take it from his waistcoat pocket, it was on days of battle,
when he couM not very well, while galloping at full
speed, hold both the bridle of his horse and his snuff-box.
He had for such occasions waistcoats with the right-hand
pocket made double of perfumed skin, and as the sloping
cut of his coat permitted him to insert his thumb and
index finger into the pocket without opening the coat, ho
could comfortably take a pinch, no matter where he was.
As general and first consul, he never put on gloves, con-
tenting himself with holding them and rubbing them
against his left hand. As emperor, he made a little ad-
vance, for he put on one ; and as he changed his gloves
not only every day, but two and three times a day, his
valet conceived the idea of having only one glove made,
completing the pair with the one that had not been


by Google


Bonaparte had two great passions which Napoleon in-
herited, — war and monuments. Gay and almost jovial
while in camp, he became gloomy and thoughtful in re-
pose j it was then that to drive away this sadness he had
recourse to the electricity of art, and dreamed out those
gigantic monuments of which he began many and fin-
ished a few. He knew that monuments belong to the
life of a people ; that they are its history written in cap-
ital letters ; that a long time after the generations which
raised them have disappeared from the earth, these beacons
of the ages remain standing ; that Eome lives in its ruins,
that Greece speaks in its monuments, and that by its own
Egypt appears a splendid and mysterious spectre upon the
threshold of civilizations. But what he liked and craved
above everything was renown, reputation ; hence his de-
sire for war, his thirst for glory. Often he said : —

" A great reputation is like a great noise, — the oftener
it is made, the farther it is heard. Laws, institutions,
monuments, and nations, — all fall ; but renown remains,
and re-echoes through other generations. Babylon and
Alexandria have fallen; but Semiramis and Alexander
remain, grander than ever perhaps by the echo of their
renown, which has grown greater from age to age than it
was at hrst, even." Then, applying these ideas to himself,
he would continue : " My power depends upon my glory,
and my glory upon the battles which I have gained ; con-
quest has made me what I am, and conquest alone can
continue to make me great. A new-bom government is
obliged to astonish and dazzle; if it does not flame it
goes out ; the moment it ceases to increase, it falls."

For a long time Bonaparte was a Corsican, enduring
impatiently the subjugation of his country ; but after the
13th Vend^raiaire he became a true Frenchman, even
feeling a passionate love for France : his dream was to


by Google


see hep great, happy, and powerful, at the head of the
nations in glory and art. It is true that in making France
great he grew great with it, and that he imperishably at-
tached his own name to its greatness. For him, living
always in this thought, the actual moment disappeared in
the future; wherever the tempest of war was carried,
France was always first in his thoughts, above all else.
" What will the Athenians think of that 1 " Alexander
said after Issus and Arbeles. " I hope the French will be
pleased with me," said Bonaparte, after Rivoli and the
Pyramids. Before a battle this modem Alexander thought
very little about what he should do in case of success,
but a great deal in case of reverse. He was firmly con-
vinced that a mere nothing decided the greatest events,
and he was more occupied in foreseeing these events than
in provoking them; he saw them born, and watched
them grow ; then, when the right moment had come, he
appeared, put his hand upon them, and subdued and
guided them as a clever groom subdues and guides a fiery
horse. His rapid grandeur in the midst of revolutions,
the political changes which he had prepared or seen ac-
complished, and the events which he had ruled, had given
him a certain scorn for men, of whom he had not by
nature a very high opinion ; and he often repeated this
maxim, which was all the more heart-breaking from the
fact that he had recognized the truth of it, — " There are
two levers by which to move men, — fear and interest. ''
With such sentiments, Bonaparte did not and could not
believe in friendship. ** How many times," says Bour-
rienne, ^^ has he said to me : Friendship is only a word ;
I love no one, not even my brothers. Perhaps I do love
Joseph a little ; but if I do it is merely a matter of habit,
and because he is my elder brother. Yes, I love Duroc ;
but why 1 Because his character pleases me ; because he


by Google


is cold, dry, and severe ; and then, he never weeps. And
why should I love any one 1 Do you suppose I have any
real friends ) While I continue to be what I am, I shall
have them, at least in appearance ; but let me cease to be
fortunate, and you will see. Trees do not bear leaves in
winter. You know, Bourrienne, we must let the women
weep, — that is their business ; but no sentimentality for
me ! I must have a vigorous hand and a firm heart ;
otherwise I can have notliing to do either with war or

In his familiar relations Bonaparte was what is called a
tease ; but his teasing was exempt from ill-humor, and
was almost never ill-natured ; his anger, which was always
easily excited, passed like a cloud driven by the wind,
died away in words, exhausted itself in its own whirl-
wind. But if it was a question of public affairs, of some
fault of one of his lieutenants or ministers, he allowed
himself to become seriously angry ; his speech was then im-
pulsive and hard always, humiliating sometimes. He gave
crushing blows, under which it was necessary, whether
willing or unwilling, to bow the head ; for example, in
his scene with Jomini, and with the Duke de Bellune.

Bonaparte had two kinds of enemies, the Jacobins and
the Koyalists. He detested the former and feared the
latter. When he spoke of the Jacobins, it was to call
them the assassins of Louis XVI. ; but the Eoyalists were
a different matter. It almost seemed as if he had a pre-
sentiment of the Kestoration. He had about him two
men who had voted for the death of the king, — Fouche
and Cambaceres. He dismissed Fouch^ from his ministry,
and his only reason for keeping Cambaceres was because
of the services which the eminent legislator could render
him ; but he did not like him, and he would often take
him by the ear, saying, " My poor Cambaceres, I am sorry


tized by Google


for you, but it is a clear case ; if ever the Bourbons re-
turn, you will be hung." One day Cambaclres became
impatient, and freeing his head by an impatient movement
from the living pincers which held it, he said, " Come !
stop your poor jokes."

Every time Bonaparte escaped a danger he did as he
had done in childhood in Corsica, — he made a rapid sign
of the cross upon his chest with his thumb. When he
was contradicted, or a prey to disagreeable thought, he
hummed, — and what? An air of his own, which was
known to no one else, and which no one could have re-
cognized in any case because he sung it so out of tune.
Then, while singing, he would seat himself in his arm-
chair, rocking himself back and forth until he almost over-
turned the chair, and, as we have said, mutilating its arm
with a penknife, — the sole use to which he put that arti-
cle, since his secretary made all his pens, and made them
as well as possible, being interested in doing all that he
could to make his frightful writing a little more legible.

The effect which the sound of bells produced upon
Bonaparte is well known ; it was the only music which he
understood, and which touched his heart. If he was
seated when the vibrations began, with a sign of the hand
he would command silence, while he leaned in the direc-
tion of the sound ; if he was walking, he stopped, bent
his head, and listened. While the bell sounded he re-
mained motionless ; when the sound died away in space he
resumed his work, replying to those who asked for an
explanation of his singular sympathy with the brazen
voice by saying, " It recalls the first years that I spent at
Brienne ; I was happy then."

At the time of which we are speaking, Bonaparte's great
interest was the purchase which he had just made of the
estate of Malmaison ; he went every Saturday evening to


by Google


this country place, and passed there, like a schoolboy at
home for the holidays, all day Sunday, and often Monday
also. There he neglected work for the sake of taking
long walks ; during these walks he overlooked personally
the improveraeuts that he wa^ having made. Sometimes,
and particularly at first, his walks exceeded the limits of
his estate ; but by the advice of the police these excur-
sions were modified, and they were finally given up alto-
gether after the conspiracy of Arena and the affair of the
infernal machine. The revenue of Malmaison, as calcu*
lated by Bonaparte himself upon the supposition that he
sold all his fruits and vegetables, amounted to six thousand
francs. '* That is not bad," he said to Bourrienne ; " but,"
he added with a sigh, " we ought to have thirty thousand
livres of income besides, to live here."

Bonaparte mingled a certain amount of poetry with his
love of the country. He liked to see the tall and graceful
figure of a lady walking in the dark and gloomy alleys of
the p\rk ; but she must be dressed in white ; he detested
deep-colored dresses, and had a horror of fat women. He
was not gallant by nature, and was too awe-inspiring to
attract. He was scarcely polite to women, and rarely took
the trouble to say anything agreeable even to the prettiest
of them ; often, indeed, they trembled as they listened to
tiie things he said to Josephine's best friends. To one
lady he said, ** What red arms you have ! " to another,
" How unbecomingly your hair is dressed I " to this one,
" You have on a dirty dress ; I have seen you wear it
twenty times ! " to that one, " You should change your
dressmaker ; you have on a badly fitting dress." One day
he said to the Duchess of Chevreuse, a charming blonde,
whose hair every one admired, " It is singular how red-
headed you are ! " The duchess replied, " Possibly, but
this is the first time any man has told me so."

VOL. II. ~ 8


by Google


Bonaparte did not like games, and when he played a
game of chance it was always at vingt-et-un ; and like
Henry IV. he cheated ; but when the game was finished
he would leave all his gold and notes on the table, say-
ing, " What fools you are ! I have been cheating all the
time, and you did not see it ! Let those who have lost
repay themselves there."

Bonaparte, although born and brought up in the Catholic
religion, had no preference for any belief. When he re-
established public worship, it was an act of policy and
not of religion. But he liked discussions bearing upon
this subject, although he defined his own position from
the start, by saying, " My reason leads me to doubt many
things; but the impressions of my childhood and the
inspirations of my early youth make me again uncertain."
However, he would not hear a word in favor of material-
ism ; little mattered the dogma to him, provided that
dogma recognized a creator. One beautiful evening in
June, while his ship lay between the double azure of sea
and sky, the mathematicians claimed that there was
no God, but in his place only animated matter. Bona-
parte looked at the celestial vault, a hundred times more
brilliant between Malta and Alexandria than it is in
Europe, and at a moment when they thought he was not
listening to the conversation, he exclaimed, pointing to the
stars, ** You have talked in vain ; it is God alone who
has made those."

Bonaparte, although very exact in paying his personal
expenses, was infinitely less so in regard to the public
money. He was convinced that in bargains between the
ministers and merchants, if the minister who had con-
cluded the bargain was not a dupe, the State was never-
theless being robbed ; therefore he delayed payment as
long as possible, and seized upon every pretext and falso


by Google


reasoning which he could think of. It was a fixed idea
with him, an invariable principle, that every merchant
was a rascal. He rarely reversed a decision, even when
he recognized the injustice of it. No one ever heard him
say, " I was wrong." On the contrary, his favorite speech
was, " I always begin by believing the worst of a thing."
The maxim was more worthy of Timon than of Augustus.
But in spite of all this, it was impossible not to feel that
with Bonaparte there was an effort to appear to scorn men
rather than a real scorn of them. He had neither hatred
nor vindictiveness ; but he sometimes believed too thor-
oughly in necessity, that goddess of the fireside. Outside
the field of politics he was sensible, good, accessible to
pity, and fond of children, — that sure proof of a gentle
heart. In private life he had indulgence for human weak-
nesses, and was good-natured withal, — like Henry IV.
playing with his children in spite of the arrival of the
Spanish ambassador.

If we were writing history we should still have many
things to say of this man, without counting what we
could say of Napoleon when we had finished with Bon-
aparte. But we are writing a simple story, in which
Bonaparte plays his part; unhappily, when Bonaparte
shows himself, if only for a few moments, he immediately
becomes the chief actor in spite of the narrator. May we
be pardoned then for our digression 1 This man, who was
a whole world in himself, drew us in spite of ourselves
into the vortex of his life.

Let us return to Roland, and consequently to our story.


by Google




We have already seen that when Roland went in he
asked for the First Consul, and they replied to him that
the First Consul was at work with the minister of police.

Roland was well known ahout the house. No matter
what ofi&cial was working with Bonaparte, he was in the
habit, upon his return from a journey, of opening the
door of the private oflfice and putting his head in. If the
First Consul was so busy that he did not pay any atten-
tion to this, then Roland would pronounce the single word
"General;" which meant in the intimate language which
the two schoolmates still continued to use to each other,
"General, here I am, do you want mel I wait your
orders." If the First Consul did not need Roland he
would reply, " Very well ; " if, on the contrary, he did
need him, he would say, " Enter." Roland would then go
and wait in the embrasure of a window until the general
told him he wished to see him.

As usual, Roland now put in his head, saying,
" General ! *'

" Come in," replied the First Consul, with visible satis-
faction. *' Come in, come in ! "

Roland entered. As they told him, Bonaparte was
working with the minister of police. The business which
occupied them, and which seemed to engage the First Con-
sul's whole attention, had also its interest for Roland. It
was about the recent stopping of diligences by the corn-


by Google


panions of Jebiu Upon the table were three reports con-
cerning the stopping of one diligence and two mail-
coaches. In one of these mail-coaches was the cashier of
the army of Italy, Triber.

These stops bad taken place, the first one upon the
high-road from Meximieux to Montluel, on that part of the
road which crossed the territory of the Commune of Bel-
ignieux ; the second one at the extremity of the Lake of
Silansy in tbe direction of Nantua ; and the third upon
the high-road from St.-Etienne to Bourg, at the place called
Carronni^res. A particular fact was attached to each one
of these detentions. The sum of four thousand francs
and a box of jewels had by mistake been put with the
money belonging to the government, and taken from the
travellers. The latter had thought them lost, when the
justice of the peace at Nantua received a letter without
signature, which told him the place where these objects
had been buried, and begged him to return them to their
owners, as the companions of Jehu made war upon the
government, and not upon individuals. At another time,
in the affair of the Carronni^res, the robbers, in stopping
a mail-coach which in spite of their orders to halt had re-
doubled its speed, were obliged to shoot a horse. The
companions of Jehu had believed that they owed a recom-
pense to the owner, and the latter received five hundred
francs in payment for his dead horse. That was exactly
what the horae had cost a week before, which proved that
the bandits knew the worth of horses. The reports sent
by the local authorities were accompanied by declarations
of the travellers.

Bonaparte was humming that tuneless song of which
we have already spoken, — which proved that he was furi-
ous. As new information might reach him with Roland,
he had thrice repeated his invitation to come in.


by Google


" Well," he said, " your part of the country has cer-
tainly revolted against me. Here, look ! "

Roland glanced at the papers and understood. " Yes,"
said he, " I was coming back to speak to you about this,

"Then let us talk; but first ask Bourrienne for my
atlas of the department."

Eoland asked for the atlas, and guessing what Bona-
parte wanted, opened it at the Department of Ain.

" That is right," said Bonaparte. " Now show me
where these things took place."

Roland put his finger upon the extremity of the map,
in the direction of Lyons. ** Here, General, here is the
precise spot of the first attack, — here, opposite the village
of Bellignieux."

*' And the second 1 "

** That took place here," said Roland, carrying his finger
to the other side of the department, towards Geneva.
" Here is the Lake of Nantua, and here that of Silans."

"Now the third."

Roland brought his finger towards the centre. " Gen-
eral, here is the precise spot. The Carronnieres are not
marked upon the map because they are of such trival

** What are the Carronnieres 1 " asked the First Consul.

" General, in our part of the country linen factories are
called by that name. These belong to citizen Terrier.
This is the place where they should be upon the map."
And Roland indicated with the end of his pencil, which
left its mark upon the paper, the precise spot where the
detention of the mail-coach must have taken place.

** What I " said Bonaparte, "the thing occurred scarcely
a half league from Bourg 1 "

" Yes, General ; that explains why the wounded horae


by Google


was taken back to Bourg, and did not die until it reached
tbe stables of the Belle-Alliance."

'' Do you understand all these details, sir 1" asked Bon-
aparte, addressing the minister of police.

" Yes, citizen Consul," replied the other.

" You know that I wish these things to cease.*'

** I will do my best."

" It is not a question of doing your best ; it is a ques-
tion of succeediug."

The minister bowed.

" It is only upon this condition," continued Bonaparte,
*' that I shall acknowledge that you are the clever man
you pretend to be."

" I will help you, citizen," said Roland.

" I did not dare to ask your help," said the minister.

" Yes, but I offer it to you. Do nothing in which we
do not act together."

The minister looked at Bonaparte.

" It is well," said Bonaparte.

The minister saluted and went out.

" In truth," continued the First Consul, " it will be to
your credit to exterminate these bandits, Roland. In the
first place the affair was done in your department ; and
then they appear to have a particular grudge against you
and your family."

" On the contrary," said Roland, " this is what makes
me angry, — they S3em to spare me and my family."

"Let us see about that, Roland. Each detail has its
importance. It is the war with the Bedouins over again."

"Now, notice this, General. I went to pass a night
in the monastery of Seillon, having been assured that
there were ghosts there ; in fact, a ghost did appear to me,
but it was a perfectly inoffensive one. I shot at him
twice, bui he did not even turn around. My mother was


by Google


in the diligence that was stopped. She fainted. One of
the robbers paid her the most delicate attentions ; rubbed
her temples with vinegar, and held smelling-salts for her
to breathe. My brother Edward defended himself as well
as he could. They took him and kissed him, and compli-
mented him highly upon his courage. They all but gave
him bonbons in recompense for his beautiful conduct.
On the other hand, my friend Sir John imitated my ex-
ample, and they treated him as a spy and put a dagger
into him."

"But he is not dead 1"

'* No ; on the contrary, he is so very well that he wants
to marry my sister."

« Oh ! has he asked for her 1 "


" And you replied — "

" I replied that my answer was dependent upon two

" Your mother and yourself, — exactly."

" Not at all ; my sister herself, and you."

" Her I understand, but I — "

** Did you not tell me, General, that you wanted to get
her married ? "

Bonaparte walked up and down for a moment with his
arms crossed, thinking deeply. Then suddenly he stopped
before Roland. " What is your Englishman 1 "

" You have seen him, General."

" I do not speak of him physically. All Englishmen
look alike, — blue eyes, red hair, white complexion, and
long jaws."

" It is the * the,* " said Eoland, gravely.

•* What do you mean by the Hhe M "

" You have learned English, General ? "

"I have tried to."


by Google


** Then your teacher must have told you that the word
' the ' was pronounced hy putting the teeth against the
tongue. Well, by dint of pronouncing the word * the '
and in consequence of pushing their teeth with their
tongue, the Englishmen have ended by having that long
jaw which, as you said just now, is one of the characteris-
tics of their faces."

Bonaparte looked at Eoland to see if he were serious.
Holand looked imperturbable.

** You think so 1 " said Bonaparte.

" Yes, General, and I think that physiologically it is as
good an opinion as any other. I have a great many opin-
ions like that, which I will air as the occasion ofifers."

" Let us return to your Englishman."

"Willingly, General."

*' I asked you what he was."

** He is an excellent gentleman ; very brave, very calm,
very quiet, very noble, very rich, and, which is probably
no recommendation to you, he is the nephew of Lord
Grenville, prime minister to his Britannic Majesty."

''Ehl What's that r'

" Prime minister to his Britannic Majesty."

Bonaparte resumed his walk, and returning to Roland,
said, " Can I see your Englishman ] "

" You know very well. General, that you can do any-

''Where is he 1"

" In Paris."

" Go and get him, and bring him to me."

Roland was accustomed to obey without a word ; he
took his hat and started for the door.

" Send Bourrienne to me," said the First Consul, just
as Roland was going into the secretary's room. Five min-
utes after Roland had disappeared, Bourrienne entered.


by Google


" Sit down there, Bourrienne," said the First Consul.

Bourrieune sat down, prepared his paper, dipped his
pen in the ink, and waited.

'^ Are you ready ) " asked Bonaparte, sitting down upon
the very desk on which Bourrieune was writing. He
had a habit, which exasperated his secretary, of rocking
himself back and forth while he was dictating, in such a
way as to shake the desk almost as much as if it was in
the middle of the ocean, on a stormy sea.

"I am ready," replied Bourrieune, who had become

Online LibraryAlexandre DumasThe companions of Jehu → online text (page 8 of 24)