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Chapter 20 AN OLD SCANDAL

  • "Corsica to-morrow," said the admiral.
  • "Napoleon," said Laura.
  • "Romance," said Cathewe.
  • "Treasures," said M. Ferraud.
  • Hildegarde felt uneasy. Breitmann toyed with the bread crumbs. He wa_nattentive besides.
  • "Napoleon. There is an old scandal," mused M. Ferraud. "I don't think that an_f you have heard it."
  • "That will interest me," Fitzgerald cried. "Tell it."
  • M. Ferraud cleared his throat with a sharp ahem and proceeded to burnish hi_rystals. Specks and motes were ever adhering to them. He held them up to th_ight and pretended to look through them: he saw nothing but the secretary'_bstraction.
  • "We were talking about treasures the other night," began the Frenchman, "and _ame near telling it then. It is a story of Napoleon."
  • "Never a better moment to tell it," said the admiral, rubbing his hands i_leasurable anticipation.
  • "I say to you at once that the tale is known to few, and has never had an_ublicity, and must never have any. Remember that, if you please, Mr.
  • Fitzgerald, and you also, Mr. Breitmann."
  • "I beg your pardon," said Breitmann. "I was not listening."
  • M. Ferraud repeated his request clearly.
  • "I am no longer a newspaper writer," Breitmann affirmed, clearing the fog ou_f his head. "A story about Napoleon; will it be true?"
  • "Every word of it." M. Ferraud folded his arms and sat back.
  • During the pause Hildegarde shivered. Something made her desire madly t_hrust a hand out and cover M. Ferraud's mouth.
  • "We have all read much about Napoleon. I can not recall how many lives rang_houlder to shoulder on the booksellers' shelves. There have been letters an_emoirs, anecdotes by celebrated men and women who were his contemporaries.
  • But there is one thing upon which we shall all agree, and that is that th_mperor was in private life something of a beast. As a soldier he was the pee_f all the Caesars; as a husband he was vastly inferior to any of them. Thi_tory does not concern him as emperor. If in my narrative there occur_nything offensive, correct me instantly. I speak English fluently, but ther_re still some idioms I trip on."
  • "I'll trust you to steer straight enough," said the admiral.
  • "Thank you. Well, then, once upon a time Napoleon was in Bavaria. The countr_as at that time his ablest ally. There was a pretty peasant girl."
  • A knife clattered to the floor. "Pardon!" whispered Hildegarde to Cathewe. "_m clumsy." She was as white as the linen.
  • Breitmann went on with his crumbs.
  • "I believe," continued M. Ferraud, "that it was in the year 1813 that th_mperor received a peculiar letter. It begged that a title be conferred upon _retty little peasant boy. The emperor was a grim humorist, I may say i_assing; and for this infant he created a baronetcy, threw in a parcel o_and, and a purse. That was the end of it, as far as it related to th_mperor. Waterloo came and with it vanished the empire; and it would be a lon_ime before a baron of the empire returned to any degree of popularity. Fo_ears the matter was forgotten. The documents in the case, the letters o_atent, the deeds and titles to the land, and a single Napoleonic scrawl, these gathered dust in the loft. When I heard this tale the thing whic_ppealed to me most keenly was the thought that over in Bavaria there exist_he only real direct strain of Napoleonic blood: a Teuton, one of those wh_ad brought about the downfall of the empire."
  • "You say exists?" interjected Cathewe.
  • "Exists," laconically.
  • "You have proofs?" demanded Fitzgerald.
  • "The very best in the world. I have not only seen those patents, but I hav_een the man."
  • "Very interesting," agreed Breitmann, brushing the crumbs into his hand an_ropping them on his plate. "But, go on."
  • "What a man!" breathed Fitzgerald, who began to see the drift of things.
  • "I proceed, then. Two generations passed. I doubt if the third generation o_his family has ever heard of the affair. One day the last of his race, i_learing up the salable things in his house—for he had decided to leas_t—stumbled on the scant history of his forebears. He was at school then; _romising youngster, brave, cheerful, full of adventure and curiosity.
  • Contrary to the natural sequence of events, he chose the navy, where he di_ery well. But in some way Germany found out what France already knew. Her_as a fine chance for a stroke of politics. France had always watched; withou_ear, however, but with half-formed wonder. Germany considered the case: wh_ot turn this young fellow loose on France, to worry and to harry her? So, quietly Germany bore on the youth in that cold-blooded, Teutonic way she has, and forced him out of the navy.
  • "He was poor, and poverty among German officers, in either branch, is a ba_hing. Our young friend did not penetrate the cause of this at first; for h_ad no intention of utilizing his papers, save to dream over them. The bloo_f his great forebear refused to let him bow under this unjust stroke. H_ought a craft, an interesting one. The net again closed in on him. He bega_o grow desperate, and desperation was what Germany desired. Desperation woul_ake a tool of the young fellow. But our young Napoleon was not without wit.
  • He plotted, but so cleverly and secretly that never a hand could reach out t_tay him. Germany finally offered him an immense bribe. He threw it back, fo_ow he hated Germany more than he hated France. You wonder why he hate_rance? If France had not discarded her empire—I do not refer to the secon_mpire—he would have been a great personage to-day. At least this must be on_f his ideas.
  • "And there you are," abruptly. "Here we have a Napoleon, indeed with all th_atience of his great forebear. If Germany had left him alone he would to-da_ave been a good citizen, who would never have permitted futile dreams t_nter his head, and who would have contemplated his greatness with the smil_f a philosopher. And who can say where this will end? It is pitiful."
  • "Pitiful?" repeated Breitmann. "Why that?" calmly.
  • M. Ferraud repressed the admiration in his eyes. It was a singular duel. "Whe_e see a madman rushing blindly over a precipice it is a human instinct t_each out a hand to save him."
  • "But how do you know he is rushing blindly?" Breitmann smiled this question.
  • Hildegarde sent him a terrified glance. But for the stiff back of her chai_he must have fallen.
  • M. Ferraud demolished an olive before he answered the question. "He has allie_imself with some of the noblest houses in France; that is to say, with th_ost heartless spendthrifts in Europe. Napoleon IV? They are laughing behin_is back this very minute. They are making a cat's-paw of his reall_agnificent fight for their own ignoble ends, the Orleanist party. To wrea_etty vengeance on France, for which none of them has any love; to embroil th_overnment and the army that they may tell of it in the boudoirs. This is th_im they have in view. What is it to them that they break a strong man'_eart? What is it to them if he be given over to perpetual imprisonment? Did _ourbon ever love France as a country? Has not France always represented t_hem a purse into which they might thrust their dishonest hands to pay fo_heir base pleasures? Oh, beware of the conspirator whose sole portion in lif_s that of pleasure! I wish that I could see this young man and tell him all _now. If I could only warn him."
  • Breitmann brushed his sleeve. "I am really disappointed in your climax, Mr.
  • Ferraud."
  • "I said nothing about a climax," returned M. Ferraud. "That has yet to b_nacted."
  • "Ah!"
  • "A descendant of Napoleon, direct! Poor devil!" The admiral was thunderstruck.
  • "Why, the very spirit of Napoleon is dead. Nothing could ever revive it. I_ould not live even a hundred days."
  • "Less than that many hours," said M. Ferraud. "He will be arrested the momen_e touches a French port."
  • "Father," cried Laura, with a burst of generosity which not only warmed he_eart but her cheeks, "why not find this poor, deluded young man and give hi_he treasure?"
  • "What, and ruin him morally as well as politically? No, Laura; with money h_ight become a menace."
  • "On the contrary," put in M. Ferraud; "with money he might be made to put awa_is mad dream. But I'm afraid that my story has made you all gloomy."
  • "It has made me sad," Laura admitted. "Think of the struggle, the self-denial, and never a soul to tell him he is mad."
  • The scars faded a little, but Breitmann's eyes never wavered.
  • "The man hasn't a ghost of a chance." To Fitzgerald it was now no puzzle wh_reitmann's resemblance to some one else had haunted him. He was rathe_ewildered, for he had not expected so large an order upon M. Ferraud'_romise. "Fifty years ago… "
  • "Ah! Fifty years ago," interrupted M. Ferraud eagerly, "I should have throw_y little to the cause. Men and times were different then; the world was les_ordid and more romantic."
  • "Well, I shall always hold that we have no right to that treasure."
  • "Fiddlesticks, Laura! This is no time for sentiment. The questions buzzing i_y head are: Does this man know of the treasure's existence? Might he no_lready have put his hand upon it?"
  • "Your own papers discredit that supposition," replied Cathewe. "A stunnin_arn, and rather hard to believe in these skeptical times. What is it?" h_sked softly, noting the dead white on Hildegarde's cheeks.
  • "Perhaps it is the smoke," she answered with a brave attempt at a smile.
  • The admiral in his excitement had lighted a heavy cigar and was consuming i_ith jerky puffs, a bit of thoughtlessness rather pardonable under the stres_f the moment. For he was beginning to entertain doubts. It was not impossibl_or this Napoleonic chap to have a chart, to know of the treasure's existence.
  • He wished he had heard this story before. He would have left the women a_ome. Corsica was not wholly civilized, and who could tell what might happe_here? Yes, the admiral had his doubts.
  • "I should like to know the end of the story," said Breitmann musingly.
  • "There is time," replied M. Ferraud; and of them all, only Fitzgerald caugh_he sinister undercurrent.
  • "So, Miss Killigrew, you believe that this treasure should be handed over t_ts legal owner?" Breitmann looked into her eyes for the first time tha_vening.
  • "I have some doubt about the legal ownership, but the sentimental and mora_wnership is his. A romance should always have a pleasant ending."
  • "You are thinking of books," was Cathewe's comment. "In life there is mor_dventure than romance, and there is seldom anything more incomplete in every- day life than romance."
  • "That would be my own exposition, Mr. Cathewe," said Breitmann.
  • The two fenced briefly. They understood each other tolerably well; only, Cathewe as yet did not know the manner of the man with whom he was matched.
  • The dinner came to an end, or, rather, the diners rose, the dinner having thi_our or more been cleared from the table; and each went to his or her state- room mastered by various degrees of astonishment. Fitzgerald moved in a kin_f waking sleep. Napoleon IV! That there was a bar sinister did not matter.
  • The dazzle radiated from a single point: a dream of empire! M. Ferraud had no_ested; Breitmann was mad, obsessed, a monomaniac. It was grotesque; i_roubled the senses as a Harlequin's dance troubles the eyes. A great-grandso_f Napoleon, and plotting to enter France! And, good Lord! with what? Tw_illion francs and half a dozen spendthrifts. Never had there been a wilder, more hopeless dreamer than this! Whatever antagonism or anger he had harbore_gainst Breitmann evaporated. Poor devil, indeed!
  • He understood M. Ferraud now. Breitmann was mad; but till he made a decisiv_troke no man could stay him. So many things were clear now. He was after th_reasure, and he meant to lay his hands upon it, peacefully if he could, violently if no other way opened. That day in the Invalides, the old days i_he field, his unaccountable appearance on the Jersey coast; each of thes_hings squared themselves in what had been a puzzle. But, like the admiral, h_ished that there were no women on board. There would be a contest of som_rder, going forward, where only men would be needed. Pirates! He rolled int_is bunk with a dry laugh.
  • Meantime M. Ferraud walked the deck alone, and finally when Breitman_pproached him, it was no more than he had been expecting.
  • "Among other things," began the secretary, with ominous calm, "I should lik_o see the impression of your thumb."
  • "That lock was an ingenious contrivance. It was only by the merest accident _iscovered it."
  • "It must be a vile business."
  • "Serving one's country? I do not agree with you. Wait a moment, Mr. Breitmann; let us not misunderstand each other. I do not know what fear is; but I do kno_hat I am one of the few living who put above all other things in the world, France: France with her wide and beautiful valleys, her splendid mountains, her present peace and prosperity. And my life is nothing if in giving it I ma_onfer a benefit."
  • "Why did you not tell the whole story? A Frenchman, and to deny oneself _limax like this?"
  • M. Ferraud remained silent.
  • "If you had not meddled! Well, you have, and these others must bear the brun_ith you, should anything serious happen."
  • "Without my permission you will not remain in Ajaccio a single hour. But tha_ould not satisfy me. I wish to prove to you your blindness. I will make you _roposition. Tear up those papers, erase the memory from your mind, and I wil_lace in your hands every franc of those two millions."
  • Breitmann laughed harshly. "You have said that I am mad; very well, I am. Bu_ know what I know, and I shall go on to the end. You are clever. I do no_now who you are nor why you are here with your warnings; but this will I sa_o you: to-morrow we land, and every hour you are there, death shall lurk a_our elbow. Do you understand me?"
  • "Perfectly. So well, that I shall let you go freely."
  • "A warning for each, then; only mine has death in it."
  • "And mine, nothing but good-will and peace."