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Chapter 2 How the Brigadier Slew the Brothers of Ajaccio

  • When the Emperor needed an agent he was always very ready to do me the honou_f recalling the name of Etienne Gerard, though it occasionally escaped hi_hen rewards were to be distributed. Still, I was a colonel at twenty-eight, and the chief of a brigade at thirty-one, so that I have no reason to b_issatisfied with my career. Had the wars lasted another two or three years _ight have grasped my bâton, and the man who had his hand upon that was onl_ne stride from a throne. Murat had changed his hussar's cap for a crown, an_nother light cavalry man might have done as much. However, all those dream_ere driven away by Waterloo, and, although I was not able to write my nam_pon history, it is sufficiently well known by all who served with me in th_reat wars of the Empire.
  • What I want to tell you tonight is about the very singular affair which firs_tarted me upon my rapid upward course, and which had the effect o_stablishing a secret bond between the Emperor and myself.
  • There is just one little word of warning which I must give you before I begin.
  • When you hear me speak, you must always bear in mind that you are listening t_ne who has seen history from the inside. I am talking about what my ears hav_eard and my eyes have seen, so you must not try to confute me by quoting th_pinions of some student or man of the pen, who has written a book of histor_r memoirs. There is much which is unknown by such people, and much whic_ever will be known by the world. For my own part, I could tell you some ver_urprising things were it discreet to do so. The facts which I am about t_elate to you tonight were kept secret by me during the Emperor's lifetime, because I gave him my promise that it should be so, but I do not think tha_here can be any harm now in my telling the remarkable part which I played.
  • You must know, then, that at the time of the Treaty of Tilsit I was a simpl_ieutenant in the 10th Hussars, without money or interest. It is true that m_ppearance and my gallantry were in my favour, and that I had already won _eputation as being one of the best swordsmen in the army; but amongst th_ost of brave men who surrounded the Emperor it needed more than this t_nsure a rapid career. I was confident, however, that my chance would come, though I never dreamed that it would take so remarkable a form.
  • When the Emperor returned to Paris, after the declaration of peace in the yea_807, he spent much of his time with the Empress and the Court a_ontainebleau. It was the time when he was at the pinnacle of his career. H_ad in three successive campaigns humbled Austria, crushed Prussia, and mad_he Russians very glad to get upon the right side of the Niemen. The ol_ulldog over the Channel was still growling, but he could not get very fa_rom his kennel. If we could have made a perpetual peace at that moment, France would have taken a higher place than any nation since the days of th_omans. So I have heard the wise folk say, though for my part I had othe_hings to think of. All the girls were glad to see the army back after it_ong absence, and you may be sure that I had my share of any favours that wer_oing. You may judge how far I was a favourite in those days when I say tha_ven now, in my sixtieth year—but why should I dwell upon that which i_lready sufficiently well known?
  • Our regiment of hussars was quartered with the horse chasseurs of the guard a_ontainebleau. It is, as you know, but a little place, buried in the heart o_he forest, and it was wonderful at this time to see it crowded with Gran_ukes and Electors and Princes, who thronged round Napoleon like puppies roun_heir master, each hoping that some bone might be thrown to him. There wa_ore German than French to be heard in the street, for those who had helped u_n the late war had come to beg for a reward, and those who had opposed us ha_ome to try and escape their punishment.
  • And all the time our little man, with his pale face and his cold, grey eyes, was riding to the hunt every morning, silent and brooding, all of the_ollowing in his train, in the hope that some word would escape him. And then, when the humour seized him, he would throw a hundred square miles to that man, or tear as much off the other, round off one kingdom by a river, or cut of_nother by a chain of mountains. That was how he used to do business, thi_ittle artilleryman, whom we had raised so high with our sabres and ou_ayonets. He was very civil to us always, for he knew where his power cam_rom. We knew also, and showed it by the way in which we carried ourselves. W_ere agreed, you understand, that he was the finest leader in the world, bu_e did not forget that he had the finest men to lead.
  • Well, one day I was seated in my quarters playing cards with young Morat, o_he horse chasseurs, when the door opened and in walked Lasalle, who was ou_olonel. You know what a fine, swaggering fellow he was, and the sky-blu_niform of the Tenth suited him to a marvel. My faith, we youngsters were s_aken by him that we all swore and diced and drank and played the deuc_hether we liked it or no, just that we might resemble our Colonel! We forgo_hat it was not because he drank or gambled that the Emperor was going to mak_im the head of the light cavalry, but because he had the surest eye for th_ature of a position or for the strength of a column, and the best judgment a_o when infantry could be broken, or whether guns were exposed, of any man i_he army. We were too young to understand all that, however, so we waxed ou_oustaches and clicked our spurs and let the ferrules of our scabbards wea_ut by trailing them along the pavement in the hope that we should all becom_asalles. When he came clanking into my quarters, both Morat and I sprang t_ur feet.
  • 'My boy,' said he, clapping me on the shoulder, 'the Emperor wants to see yo_t four o'clock.'
  • The room whirled round me at the words, and I had to lean my hands upon th_dge of the card-table.
  • 'What?' I cried. 'The Emperor!'
  • 'Precisely,' said he, smiling at my astonishment.
  • 'But the Emperor does not know of my existence, Colonel,' I protested. 'Wh_hould he send for me?'
  • 'Well, that's just what puzzles me,' cried Lasalle, twirling his moustache.
  • 'If he wanted the help of a good sabre, why should he descend to one of m_ieutenants when he might have found all that he needed at the head of th_egiment? However,' he added, clapping me on the shoulder again in his heart_ashion, 'every man has his chance. I have had mine, otherwise I should not b_olonel of the Tenth. I must not grudge you yours. Forwards, my boy, and ma_t be the first step towards changing your busby for a cocked hat.'
  • It was but two o'clock, so he left me, promising to come back and to accompan_e to the palace. My faith, what a time I passed, and how many conjectures di_ make as to what it was that the Emperor could want of me! I paced up an_own my little room in a fever of anticipation. Sometimes I thought tha_erhaps he had heard of the guns which we had taken at Austerlitz; but, then, there were so many who had taken guns at Austerlitz, and two years had passe_ince the battle. Or it might be that he wished to reward me for my affai_ith the aide-de-camp of the Russian Emperor. But then again a cold fit woul_eize me, and I would fancy that he had sent for me to reprimand me. Ther_ere a few duels which he might have taken in ill part, and there were one o_wo little jokes in Paris since the peace.
  • But, no! I considered the words of Lasalle. 'If he had need of a brave man,'
  • said Lasalle.
  • It was obvious that my Colonel had some idea of what was in the wind. If h_ad not known that it was to my advantage, he would not have been so cruel a_o congratulate me. My heart glowed with joy as this conviction grew upon me, and I sat down to write to my mother and to tell her that the Emperor wa_aiting, at that very moment, to have my opinion upon a matter of importance.
  • It made me smile as I wrote it to think that, wonderful as it appeared to me, it would probably only confirm my mother in her opinion of the Emperor's goo_ense.
  • At half-past three I heard a sabre come clanking against every step of m_ooden stair. It was Lasalle, and with him was a lame gentleman, very neatl_ressed in black with dapper ruffles and cuffs. We did not know man_ivilians, we of the army, but, my word, this was one whom we could not affor_o ignore! I had only to glance at those twinkling eyes, the comical, upturne_ose, and the straight, precise mouth, to know that I was in the presence o_he one man in France whom even the Emperor had to consider.
  • 'This is Monsieur Etienne Gerard, Monsieur de Talleyrand,' said Lasalle.
  • I saluted, and the statesman took me in from the top of my panache to th_owel of my spur, with a glance that played over me like a rapier point.
  • 'Have you explained to the lieutenant the circumstances under which he i_ummoned to the Emperor's presence?' he asked, in his dry, creaking voice.
  • They were such a contrast, these two men, that I could not help glancing fro_ne to the other of them: the black, sly politician, and the big, sky-blu_ussar with one fist on his hip and the other on the hilt of his sabre. The_oth took their seats as I looked, Talleyrand without a sound, and Lasall_ith a clash and a jingle like a prancing charger.
  • 'It's this way, youngster,' said he, in his brusque fashion; 'I was with th_mperor in his private cabinet this morning when a note was brought in to him.
  • He opened it, and as he did so he gave such a start that it fluttered down o_o the floor. I handed it up to him again, but he was staring at the wall i_ront of him as if he had seen a ghost. "Fratelli dell' Ajaccio," he muttered; and then again, "Fratelli dell' Ajaccio." I don't pretend to know more Italia_han a man can pick up in two campaigns, and I could make nothing of this. I_eemed to me that he had gone out of his mind; and you would have said s_lso, Monsieur de Talleyrand, if you had seen the look in his eyes. He rea_he note, and then he sat for half an hour or more without moving.'
  • 'And you?' asked Talleyrand.
  • 'Why, I stood there not knowing what I ought to do. Presently he seemed t_ome back to his senses.
  • '"I suppose, Lasalle," said he, "that you have some gallant young officers i_he Tenth?"
  • '"They are all that, sire," I answered.
  • '"If you had to pick one who was to be depended upon for action, but who woul_ot think too much—you understand me, Lasalle—which would you select?" h_sked.
  • 'I saw that he needed an agent who would not penetrate too deeply into hi_lans.
  • '"I have one," said I, "who is all spurs and moustaches, with never a though_eyond women and horses."
  • '"That is the man I want," said Napoleon. "Bring him to my private cabinet a_our o'clock."
  • 'So, youngster, I came straight away to you at once, and mind that you d_redit to the 10th Hussars.'
  • I was by no means flattered by the reasons which had led to my Colonel'_hoice, and I must have shown as much in my face, for he roared with laughte_nd Talleyrand gave a dry chuckle also.
  • 'Just one word of advice before you go, Monsieur Gerard,' said he: 'you ar_ow coming into troubled waters, and you might find a worse pilot than myself.
  • We have none of us any idea as to what this little affair means, and, betwee_urselves, it is very important for us, who have the destinies of France upo_ur shoulders, to keep ourselves in touch with all that goes on. Yo_nderstand me, Monsieur Gerard?'
  • I had not the least idea what he was driving at, but I bowed and tried to loo_s if it was clear to me.
  • 'Act very guardedly, then, and say nothing to anybody,' said Talleyrand.
  • 'Colonel de Lasalle and I will not show ourselves in public with you, but w_ill await you here, and we will give you our advice when you have told u_hat has passed between the Emperor and yourself. It is time that you starte_ow, for the Emperor never forgives unpunctuality.'
  • Off I went on foot to the palace, which was only a hundred paces off. I mad_y way to the ante-chamber, where Duroc, with his grand new scarlet and gol_oat, was fussing about among the crowd of people who were waiting. I hear_im whisper to Monsieur de Caulaincourt that half of them were German Duke_ho expected to be made Kings, and the other half German Dukes who expected t_e made paupers. Duroc, when he heard my name, showed me straight in, and _ound myself in the Emperor's presence.
  • I had, of course, seen him in camp a hundred times, but I had never been fac_o face with him before. I have no doubt that if you had met him withou_nowing in the least who he was, you would simply have said that he was _allow little fellow with a good forehead and fairly well-turned calves. Hi_ight white cashmere breeches and white stockings showed off his legs t_dvantage. But even a stranger must have been struck by the singular look o_is eyes, which could harden into an expression which would frighten _renadier. It is said that even Auguereau, who was a man who had never know_hat fear was, quailed before Napoleon's gaze, at a time, too, when th_mperor was but an unknown soldier. He looked mildly enough at me, however, and motioned me to remain by the door. De Meneval was writing to hi_ictation, looking up at him between each sentence with his spaniel eyes.
  • 'That will do. You can go,' said the Emperor, abruptly. Then, when th_ecretary had left the room, he strode across with his hands behind his back, and he looked me up and down without a word. Though he was a small ma_imself, he was very fond of having fine-looking fellows about him, and so _hink that my appearance gave him pleasure. For my own part, I raised one han_o the salute and held the other upon the hilt of my sabre, looking straigh_head of me, as a soldier should.
  • 'Well, Monsieur Gerard,' said he, at last, tapping his forefinger upon one o_he brandebourgs of gold braid upon the front of my pelisse, 'I am informe_hat you are a very deserving young officer. Your Colonel gives me a_xcellent account of you.'
  • I wished to make a brilliant reply, but I could think of nothing sav_asalle's phrase that I was all spurs and moustaches, so it ended in my sayin_othing at all. The Emperor watched the struggle which must have shown itsel_pon my features, and when, finally, no answer came he did not appear to b_ispleased.
  • 'I believe that you are the very man that I want,' said he. 'Brave and cleve_en surround me upon every side. But a brave man who—' He did not finish hi_entence, and for my own part I could not understand what he was driving at. _ontented myself with assuring him that he could count upon me to the death.
  • 'You are, as I understand, a good swordsman?' said he.
  • 'Tolerable, sire,' I answered.
  • 'You were chosen by your regiment to fight the champion of the Hussars o_hambarant?' said he.
  • I was not sorry to find that he knew so much of my exploits.
  • 'My comrades, sire, did me that honour,' said I.
  • 'And for the sake of practice you insulted six fencing masters in the wee_efore your duel?'
  • 'I had the privilege of being out seven times in as many days, sire,' said I.
  • 'And escaped without a scratch?'
  • 'The fencing master of the 23rd Light Infantry touched me on the left elbow, sire.'
  • 'Let us have no more child's play of the sort, monsieur,' he cried, turnin_uddenly to that cold rage of his which was so appalling. 'Do you imagine tha_ place veteran soldiers in these positions that you may practise quarte an_ierce upon them? How am I to face Europe if my soldiers turn their point_pon each other? Another word of your duelling, and I break you between thes_ingers.'
  • I saw his plump white hands flash before my eyes as he spoke, and his voic_ad turned to the most discordant hissing and growling. My word, my ski_ringled all over as I listened to him, and I would gladly have changed m_osition for that of the first man in the steepest and narrowest breach tha_ver swallowed up a storming party. He turned to the table, drank off a cup o_offee, and then when he faced me again every trace of this storm ha_anished, and he wore that singular smile which came from his lips but neve_rom his eyes.
  • 'I have need of your services, Monsieur Gerard,' said he. 'I may be safer wit_ good sword at my side, and there are reasons why yours should be the on_hich I select. But first of all I must bind you to secrecy. Whilst I liv_hat passes between us today must be known to none but ourselves.'
  • I thought of Talleyrand and of Lasalle, but I promised.
  • 'In the next place, I do not want your opinions or conjectures, and I wish yo_o do exactly what you are told.'
  • I bowed.
  • 'It is your sword that I need, and not your brains. I will do the thinking. I_hat clear to you?'
  • 'Yes, sire.'
  • 'You know the Chancellor's Grove, in the forest?'
  • I bowed.
  • 'You know also the large double fir-tree where the hounds assembled o_uesday?'
  • Had he known that I met a girl under it three times a week, he would not hav_sked me. I bowed once more without remark.
  • 'Very good. You will meet me there at ten o'clock tonight.'
  • I had got past being surprised at anything which might happen. If he had aske_e to take his place upon the imperial throne I could only have nodded m_usby.
  • 'We shall then proceed into the wood together,' said the Emperor. 'You will b_rmed with a sword, but not with pistols. You must address no remark to me, and I shall say nothing to you. We will advance in silence. You understand?'
  • 'I understand, sire.'
  • 'After a time we shall see a man, or more probably two men, under a certai_ree. We shall approach them together. If I signal to you to defend me, yo_ill have your sword ready. If, on the other hand, I speak to these men, yo_ill wait and see what happens. If you are called upon to draw, you must se_hat neither of them, in the event of there being two, escapes from us. _hall myself assist you.'
  • 'Sire,' I cried, 'I have no doubt that two would not be too many for my sword; but would it not be better that I should bring a comrade than that you shoul_e forced to join in such a struggle?'
  • 'Ta, ta, ta,' said he. 'I was a soldier before I was an Emperor. Do you think, then, that artillerymen have not swords as well as the hussars? But I ordere_ou not to argue with me. You will do exactly what I tell you. If swords ar_nce out, neither of these men is to get away alive.'
  • 'They shall not, sire,' said I.
  • 'Very good. I have no more instructions for you. You can go.'
  • I turned to the door, and then an idea occurring to me I turned.
  • 'I have been thinking, sire—' said I.
  • He sprang at me with the ferocity of a wild beast. I really thought he woul_ave struck me.
  • 'Thinking!' he cried. 'You, you! Do you imagine I chose you out because yo_ould think? Let me hear of your doing such a thing again! You, the on_an—but, there! You meet me at the fir-tree at ten o'clock.'
  • My faith, I was right glad to get out of the room. If I have a good hors_nder me, and a sword clanking against my stirrup-iron, I know where I am. An_n all that relates to green fodder or dry, barley and oats and rye, and th_andling of squadrons upon the march, there is no one who can teach me ver_uch. But when I meet a Chamberlain and a Marshal of the Palace, and have t_ick my words with an Emperor, and find that everybody hints instead o_alking straight out, I feel like a troop-horse who has been put in a lady'_alèche. It is not my trade, all this mincing and pretending. I have learne_he manners of a gentleman, but never those of a courtier. I was right gla_hen to get into the fresh air again, and I ran away up to my quarters like _choolboy who has just escaped from the seminary master.
  • But as I opened the door, the very first thing that my eye rested upon was _ong pair of sky-blue legs with hussar boots, and a short pair of black one_ith knee breeches and buckles. They both sprang up together to greet me.
  • 'Well, what news?' they cried, the two of them.
  • 'None,' I answered.
  • 'The Emperor refused to see you?'
  • 'No, I have seen him.'
  • 'And what did he say?'
  • 'Monsieur de Talleyrand,' I answered, 'I regret to say that it is quit_mpossible for me to tell you anything about it. I have promised the Emperor.'
  • 'Pooh, pooh, my dear young man,' said he, sidling up to me, as a cat does whe_t is about to rub itself against you. 'This is all among friends, yo_nderstand, and goes no farther than these four walls. Besides, the Empero_ever meant to include me in this promise.'
  • 'It is but a minute's walk to the palace, Monsieur de Talleyrand,' I answered;
  • 'if it would not be troubling you too much to ask you to step up to it an_ring back the Emperor's written statement that he did not mean to include yo_n this promise, I shall be happy to tell you every word that passed.'
  • He showed his teeth at me then like the old fox that he was.
  • 'Monsieur Gerard appears to be a little puffed up,' said he. 'He is too youn_o see things in their just proportion. As he grows older he may understan_hat it is not always very discreet for a subaltern of cavalry to give suc_ery abrupt refusals.'
  • I did not know what to say to this, but Lasalle came to my aid in hi_ownright fashion.
  • 'The lad is quite right,' said he. 'If I had known that there was a promise _hould not have questioned him. You know very well, Monsieur de Talleyrand, that if he had answered you, you would have laughed in your sleeve and though_s much about him as I think of the bottle when the burgundy is gone. As fo_e, I promise you that the Tenth would have had no room for him, and that w_hould have lost our best swordsman if I had heard him give up the Emperor'_ecret.'
  • But the statesman became only the more bitter when he saw that I had th_upport of my Colonel.
  • 'I have heard, Colonel de Lasalle,' said he, with an icy dignity, 'that you_pinion is of great weight upon the subject of light cavalry. Should I hav_ccasion to seek information about that branch of the army, I shall be ver_appy to apply to you. At present, however, the matter concerns diplomacy, an_ou will permit me to form my own views upon that question. As long as th_elfare of France and the safety of the Emperor's person are largely committe_o my care, I will use every means in my power to secure them, even if i_hould be against the Emperor's own temporary wishes. I have the honour, Colonel de Lasalle, to wish you a very good-day!'
  • He shot a most unamiable glance in my direction, and, turning upon his heel, he walked with little, quick, noiseless steps out of the room.
  • I could see from Lasalle's face that he did not at all relish finding himsel_t enmity with the powerful Minister. He rapped out an oath or two, and then, catching up his sabre and his cap, he clattered away down the stairs. As _ooked out of the window I saw the two of them, the big blue man and th_imping black one, going up the street together. Talleyrand was walking ver_igidly, and Lasalle was waving his hands and talking, so I suppose he wa_rying to make his peace.
  • The Emperor had told me not to think, and I endeavoured to obey him. I took u_he cards from the table where Morat had left them, and I tried to work out _ew combinations at écarté. But I could not remember which were trumps, and _hrew them under the table in despair. Then I drew my sabre and practise_iving point until I was weary, but it was all of no use at all. My mind woul_ork, in spite of myself. At ten o'clock I was to meet the Emperor in th_orest. Of all extraordinary combinations of events in the whole world, surel_his was the last which would have occurred to me when I rose from my couc_hat morning. But the responsibility—the dreadful responsibility! It was al_pon my shoulders. There was no one to halve it with me. It made me cold al_ver. Often as I have faced death upon the battle-field, I have never know_hat real fear was until that moment. But then I considered that after all _ould but do my best like a brave and honourable gentleman, and above all obe_he orders which I had received, to the very letter. And, if all went well, this would surely be the foundation of my fortunes. Thus, swaying between m_ears and my hopes, I spent the long, long evening until it was time to kee_y appointment.
  • I put on my military overcoat, as I did not know how much of the night I migh_ave to spend in the woods, and I fastened my sword outside it. I pulled of_y hussar boots also, and wore a pair of shoes and gaiters, that I might b_ighter upon my feet. Then I stole out of my quarters and made for the forest, feeling very much easier in my mind, for I am always at my best when the tim_f thought has passed and the moment for action arrived.
  • I passed the barracks of the Chasseurs of the Guards, and the line of cafe_ll filled with uniforms. I caught a glimpse as I went by of the blue and gol_f some of my comrades, amid the swarm of dark infantry coats and the ligh_reen of the Guides. There they sat, sipping their wine and smoking thei_igars, little dreaming what their comrade had on hand. One of them, the chie_f my squadron, caught sight of me in the lamplight, and came shouting afte_e into the street. I hurried on, however, pretending not to hear him, so he, with a curse at my deafness, went back at last to his wine bottle.
  • It is not very hard to get into the forest at Fontainebleau. The scattere_rees steal their way into the very streets, like the tirailleurs in front o_ column. I turned into a path, which led to the edge of the woods, and then _ushed rapidly forward towards the old fir-tree. It was a place which, as _ave hinted, I had my own reasons for knowing well, and I could only thank th_ates that it was not one of the nights upon which Léonie would be waiting fo_e. The poor child would have died of terror at sight of the Emperor. He migh_ave been too harsh with her—and worse still, he might have been too kind.
  • There was a half moon shining, and, as I came up to our trysting-place, I sa_hat I was not the first to arrive. The Emperor was pacing up and down, hi_ands behind him and his face sunk somewhat forward upon his breast. He wore _rey great-coat with a capote over his head. I had seen him in such a dress i_ur winter campaign in Poland, and it was said that he used it because th_ood was such an excellent disguise. He was always fond, whether in the cam_r in Paris, of walking round at night, and overhearing the talk in th_abarets or round the fires. His figure, however, and his way of carrying hi_ead and his hands were so well known that he was always recognized, and the_he talkers would say whatever they thought would please him best.
  • My first thought was that he would be angry with me for having kept hi_aiting, but as I approached him, we heard the big church clock o_ontainebleau clang out the hour of ten. It was evident, therefore, that i_as he who was too soon, and not I too late. I remembered his order that _hould make no remark, so contented myself with halting within four paces o_im, clicking my spurs together, grounding my sabre, and saluting. He glance_t me, and then without a word he turned and walked slowly through the forest, I keeping always about the same distance behind him. Once or twice he seeme_o me to look apprehensively to right and to left, as if he feared tha_omeone was observing us. I looked also, but although I have the keenes_ight, it was quite impossible to see anything except the ragged patches o_oonshine between the great black shadows of the trees. My ears are as quic_s my eyes, and once or twice I thought that I heard a twig crack; but yo_now how many sounds there are in a forest at night, and how difficult it i_ven to say what direction they come from.
  • We walked for rather more than a mile, and I knew exactly what our destinatio_as, long before we got there. In the centre of one of the glades, there i_he shattered stump of what must at some time have been a most gigantic tree.
  • It is called the Abbot's Beech, and there are so many ghostly stories abou_t, that I know many a brave soldier who would not care about mountin_entinel over it. However, I cared as little for such folly as the Empero_id, so we crossed the glade and made straight for the old broken trunk. As w_pproached, I saw that two men were waiting for us beneath it.
  • When I first caught sight of them they were standing rather behind it, as i_hey were not anxious to be seen, but as we came nearer they emerged from it_hadow and walked forward to meet us. The Emperor glanced back at me, an_lackened his pace a little so that I came within arm's length of him. You ma_hink that I had my hilt well to the front, and that I had a very good look a_hese two people who were approaching us.
  • The one was tall, remarkably so, and of very spare frame, while the other wa_ather below the usual height, and had a brisk, determined way of walking.
  • They each wore black cloaks, which were slung right across their figures, an_ung down upon one side, like the mantles of Murat's dragoons. They had fla_lack caps, like those I have since seen in Spain, which threw their face_nto darkness, though I could see the gleam of their eyes from beneath them.
  • With the moon behind them and their long black shadows walking in front, the_ere such figures as one might expect to meet at night near the Abbot's Beech.
  • I can remember that they had a stealthy way of moving, and that as the_pproached, the moonshine formed two white diamonds between their legs and th_egs of their shadows.
  • The Emperor had paused, and these two strangers came to a stand also within _ew paces of us. I had drawn up close to my companion's elbow, so that th_our of us were facing each other without a word spoken. My eyes wer_articularly fixed upon the taller one, because he was slightly the nearer t_e, and I became certain as I watched him that he was in the last state o_ervousness. His lean figure was quivering all over, and I heard a quick, thi_anting like that of a tired dog. Suddenly one of them gave a short, hissin_ignal. The tall man bent his back and his knees like a diver about to spring, but before he could move, I had jumped with drawn sabre in front of him. A_he same instant the smaller man bounded past me, and buried a long poniard i_he Emperor's heart.
  • My God! the horror of that moment! It is a marvel that I did not drop dea_yself. As in a dream, I saw the grey coat whirl convulsively round, an_aught a glimpse in the moonlight of three inches of red point which jutte_ut from between the shoulders. Then down he fell with a dead man's gasp upo_he grass, and the assassin, leaving his weapon buried in his victim, threw u_oth his hands and shrieked with joy. But I—I drove my sword through hi_idriff with such frantic force, that the mere blow of the hilt against th_nd of his breast-bone sent him six paces before he fell, and left my reekin_lade ready for the other. I sprang round upon him with such a lust for bloo_pon me as I had never felt, and never have felt, in all my days. As I turned, a dagger flashed before my eyes, and I felt the cold wind of it pass my nec_nd the villain's wrist jar upon my shoulder. I shortened my sword, but h_inced away from me, and an instant afterwards was in full flight, boundin_ike a deer across the glade in the moonlight.
  • But he was not to escape me thus. I knew that the murderer's poniard had don_ts work. Young as I was, I had seen enough of war to know a mortal blow. _aused but for an instant to touch the cold hand.
  • 'Sire! Sire!' I cried, in an agony; and then as no sound came back and nothin_oved, save an ever-widening dark circle in the moonlight, I knew that all wa_ndeed over. I sprang madly to my feet, threw off my great-coat, and ran a_he top of my speed after the remaining assassin.
  • Ah, how I blessed the wisdom which had caused me to come in shoes and gaiters!
  • And the happy thought which had thrown off my coat. He could not get rid o_is mantle, this wretch, or else he was too frightened to think of it. So i_as that I gained upon him from the beginning. He must have been out of hi_its, for he never tried to bury himself in the darker parts of the woods, bu_e flew on from glade to glade, until he came to the heath-land which leads u_o the great Fontainebleau quarry. There I had him in full sight, and kne_hat he could not escape me. He ran well, it is true—ran as a coward runs whe_is life is the stake. But I ran as Destiny runs when it gets behind a man'_eels. Yard by yard I drew in upon him. He was rolling and staggering. I coul_ear the rasping and crackling of his breath. The great gulf of the quarr_uddenly yawned in front of his path, and glancing at me over his shoulder, h_ave a shriek of despair. The next instant he had vanished from my sight.
  • Vanished utterly, you understand. I rushed to the spot, and gazed down int_he black abyss. Had he hurled himself over? I had almost made up my mind tha_e had done so, when a gentle sound rising and falling came out of th_arkness beneath me. It was his breathing once more, and it showed me where h_ust be. He was hiding in the tool-house.
  • At the edge of the quarry and beneath the summit there is a small platfor_pon which stands a wooden hut for the use of the labourers. It was into this, then, that he had darted. Perhaps he had thought, the fool, that, in th_arkness, I would not venture to follow him. He little knew Etienne Gerard.
  • With a spring I was on the platform, with another I was through the doorway, and then, hearing him in the corner, I hurled myself down upon the top of him.
  • He fought like a wild cat, but he never had a chance with his shorter weapon.
  • I think that I must have transfixed him with that first mad lunge, for, thoug_e struck and struck, his blows had no power in them, and presently his dagge_inkled down upon the floor. When I was sure that he was dead, I rose up an_assed out into the moonlight. I climbed on to the heath again, and wandere_cross it as nearly out of my mind as a man could be.
  • With the blood singing in my ears, and my naked sword still clutched in m_and, I walked aimlessly on until, looking round me, I found that I had com_s far as the glade of the Abbot's Beech, and saw in the distance that gnarle_tump which must ever be associated with the most terrible moment of my life.
  • I sat down upon a fallen trunk with my sword across my knees and my hea_etween my hands, and I tried to think about what had happened and what woul_appen in the future.
  • The Emperor had committed himself to my care. The Emperor was dead. Those wer_he two thoughts which clanged in my head, until I had no room for any othe_nes. He had come with me and he was dead. I had done what he had ordered whe_iving. I had revenged him when dead. But what of all that? The world woul_ook upon me as responsible. They might even look upon me as the assassin.
  • What could I prove? What witnesses had I? Might I not have been the accomplic_f these wretches? Yes, yes, I was eternally dishonoured—the lowest, mos_espicable creature in all France. This, then, was the end of my fine militar_mbitions—of the hopes of my mother. I laughed bitterly at the thought. An_hat was I to do now? Was I to go into Fontainebleau, to wake up the palace, and to inform them that the great Emperor had been murdered within a pace o_e? I could not do it—no, I could not do it! There was but one course for a_onourable gentleman whom Fate had placed in so cruel a position. I would fal_pon my dishonoured sword, and so share, since I could not avert, th_mperor's fate. I rose with my nerves strung to this last piteous deed, and a_ did so, my eyes fell upon something which struck the breath from my lips.
  • The Emperor was standing before me!
  • He was not more than ten yards off, with the moon shining straight upon hi_old, pale face. He wore his grey overcoat, but the hood was turned back, an_he front open, so that I could see the green coat of the Guides, and th_hite breeches. His hands were clasped behind his back, and his chin sun_orward upon his breast, in the way that was usual with him.
  • 'Well,' said he, in his hardest and most abrupt voice, 'what account do yo_ive of yourself?'
  • I believe that, if he had stood in silence for another minute, my brain woul_ave given way. But those sharp military accents were exactly what I needed t_ring me to myself. Living or dead, here was the Emperor standing before m_nd asking me questions. I sprang to the salute.
  • 'You have killed one, I see,' said he, jerking his head towards the beech.
  • 'Yes, sire.'
  • 'And the other escaped?'
  • 'No, sire, I killed him also.'
  • 'What!' he cried. 'Do I understand that you have killed them both?' H_pproached me as he spoke with a smile which set his teeth gleaming in th_oonlight.
  • 'One body lies there, sire,' I answered. 'The other is in the tool-house a_he quarry.'
  • 'Then the Brothers of Ajaccio are no more,' he cried, and after a pause, as i_peaking to himself: 'The shadow has passed me for ever.' Then he bent forwar_nd laid his hand upon my shoulder.
  • 'You have done very well, my young friend,' said he. 'You have lived up t_our reputation.'
  • He was flesh and blood, then, this Emperor. I could feel the little, plum_alm that rested upon me. And yet I could not get over what I had seen with m_wn eyes, and so I stared at him in such bewilderment that he broke once mor_nto one of his smiles.
  • 'No, no, Monsieur Gerard,' said he, 'I am not a ghost, and you have not see_e killed. You will come here, and all will be clear to you.'
  • He turned as he spoke, and led the way towards the great beech stump.
  • The bodies were still lying upon the ground, and two men were standing besid_hem. As we approached I saw from the turbans that they were Roustem an_ustafa, the two Mameluke servants. The Emperor paused when he came to th_rey figure upon the ground, and turning back the hood which shrouded th_eatures, he showed a face which was very different from his own.
  • 'Here lies a faithful servant who has given up his life for his master,' sai_e. 'Monsieur de Goudin resembles me in figure and in manner, as you mus_dmit.'
  • What a delirium of joy came upon me when these few words made everything clea_o me. He smiled again as he saw the delight which urged me to throw my arm_ound him and to embrace him, but he moved a step away, as if he had divine_y impulse.
  • 'You are unhurt?' he asked.
  • 'I am unhurt, sire. But in another minute I should in my despair—'
  • 'Tut, tut!' he interrupted. 'You did very well. He should himself have bee_ore on his guard. I saw everything which passed.'
  • 'You saw it, sire!'
  • 'You did not hear me follow you through the wood, then? I hardly lost sight o_ou from the moment that you left your quarters until poor De Goudin fell. Th_ounterfeit Emperor was in front of you and the real one behind. You will no_scort me back to the palace.'
  • He whispered an order to his Mamelukes, who saluted in silence and remaine_here they were standing. For my part, I followed the Emperor with my peliss_ursting with pride. My word, I have always carried myself as a hussar should, but Lasalle himself never strutted and swung his dolman as I did that night.
  • Who should clink his spurs and clatter his sabre if it were not I—I, Etienn_erard—the confidant of the Emperor, the chosen swordsman of the ligh_avalry, the man who slew the would-be assassins of Napoleon? But he notice_y bearing and turned upon me like a blight.
  • 'Is that the way you carry yourself on a secret mission?' he hissed, with tha_old glare in his eyes. 'Is it thus that you will make your comrades believ_hat nothing remarkable has occurred? Have done with this nonsense, monsieur, or you will find yourself transferred to the sappers, where you would hav_arder work and duller plumage.'
  • That was the way with the Emperor. If ever he thought that anyone might have _laim upon him, he took the first opportunity to show him the gulf that la_etween. I saluted and was silent, but I must confess to you that it hurt m_fter all that had passed between us. He led on to the palace, where we passe_hrough the side door and up into his own cabinet. There were a couple o_renadiers at the staircase, and their eyes started out from under their fu_aps, I promise you, when they saw a young lieutenant of hussars going up t_he Emperor's room at midnight. I stood by the door, as I had done in th_fternoon, while he flung himself down in an arm-chair, and remained silent s_ong that it seemed to me that he had forgotten all about me. I ventured a_ast upon a slight cough to remind him.
  • 'Ah, Monsieur Gerard,' said he, 'you are very curious, no doubt, as to th_eaning of all this?'
  • 'I am quite content, sire, if it is your pleasure not to tell me,' I answered.
  • 'Ta, ta, ta,' said he impatiently. 'These are only words. The moment that yo_ere outside that door you would begin making inquiries about what it means.
  • In two days your brother officers would know about it, in three days it woul_e all over Fontainebleau, and it would be in Paris on the fourth. Now, if _ell you enough to appease your curiosity, there is some reasonable hope tha_ou may be able to keep the matter to yourself.'
  • He did not understand me, this Emperor, and yet I could only bow and b_ilent.
  • 'A few words will make it clear to you,' said he, speaking very swiftly an_acing up and down the room. 'They were Corsicans, these two men. I had know_hem in my youth. We had belonged to the same society—Brothers of Ajaccio, a_e called ourselves. It was founded in the old Paoli days, you understand, an_e had some strict rules of our own which were not infringed with impunity.'
  • A very grim look came over his face as he spoke, and it seemed to me that al_hat was French had gone out of him, and that it was the pure Corsican, th_an of strong passions and of strange revenges, who stood before me. Hi_emory had gone back to those early days of his, and for five minutes, wrappe_n thought, he paced up and down the room with his quick little tiger steps.
  • Then with an impatient wave of his hands he came back to his palace and to me.
  • 'The rules of such a society,' he continued, 'are all very well for a privat_itizen. In the old days there was no more loyal brother than I. Bu_ircumstances change, and it would be neither for my welfare nor for that o_rance that I should now submit myself to them. They wanted to hold me to it, and so brought their fate upon their own heads. These were the two chiefs o_he order, and they had come from Corsica to summon me to meet them at th_pot which they named. I knew what such a summons meant. No man had eve_eturned from obeying one. On the other hand, if I did not go, I was sure tha_isaster would follow. I am a brother myself, you remember, and I know thei_ays.'
  • Again there came that hardening of his mouth and cold glitter of his eyes.
  • 'You perceive my dilemma, Monsieur Gerard,' said he. 'How would you have acte_ourself, under such circumstances?'
  • 'Given the word to the l0th Hussars, sire,' I cried. 'Patrols could have swep_he woods from end to end, and brought these two rascals to your feet.'
  • He smiled, but he shook his head.
  • 'I had very excellent reasons why I did not wish them taken alive,' said he.
  • 'You can understand that an assassin's tongue might be as dangerous a weapo_s an assassin's dagger. I will not disguise from you that I wished to avoi_candal at all cost. That was why I ordered you to take no pistols with you.
  • That also is why my Mamelukes will remove all traces of the affair, an_othing more will be heard about it. I thought of all possible plans, and I a_onvinced that I selected the best one. Had I sent more than one guard with D_oudin into the woods, then the brothers would not have appeared. They woul_ot change their plans nor miss their chance for the sake of a single man. I_as Colonel Lasalle's accidental presence at the moment when I received th_ummons which led to my choosing one of his hussars for the mission. _elected you, Monsieur Gerard, because I wanted a man who could handle _word, and who would not pry more deeply into the affair than I desired. _rust that, in this respect, you will justify my choice as well as you hav_one in your bravery and skill.'
  • 'Sire,' I answered, 'you may rely upon it.'
  • 'As long as I live,' said he, 'you never open your lips upon this subject.'
  • 'I dismiss it entirely from my mind, sire. I will efface it from m_ecollection as if it had never been. I will promise you to go out of you_abinet at this moment exactly as I was when I entered it at four o'clock.'
  • 'You cannot do that,' said the Emperor, smiling. 'You were a lieutenant a_hat time. You will permit me, Captain, to wish you a very good-night.'