The Man With The Broken Ear, by Edmond About

Chapter 16.

The Memorable Interview Between Colonel Fougas and His Majesty the Emperor of the French.

In falling upon the neck of the big man with the gray moustache, Fougas supposed he was embracing Massena. He naturally intimated as much to him, whereupon the owner of the barouche burst into a great peal of laughter.

“Ah, my poor old boy,” said he, “it’s a long time since we buried the ‘Child of Victory!’ Look me square in the face: I am Leblanc, of the Russian campaign.”

“Impossible! You little Leblanc?”

“Lieutenant in the 3d Artillery, who shared with you a million of dangers and that famous piece of roast horse which you salted with your tears.”

“Well, upon my soul! It is you! You cut me out a pair of boots from the skin of the unfortunate Zephyr! And we needn’t speak of the number of times you saved my life! Oh, my brave and faithful friend, thank God that I embrace you once more! Yes, I recognize you now; but I needn’t say that you are changed!”

“Gad! I haven’t been preserved in a jug of spirits of wine. I’ve lived, for my part!”

“You know my history, then?”

“I heard it told last night at the Minister’s of Public Instruction. He had there the savant who set you on your legs again. I even wrote to you, on getting back home, to offer you a bunk and a place at mess; but my letter is on the way to Fontainebleau.”

“Thanks! You’re a sound one! Ah, my poor old boy, what things have happened since Beresina! You know all the misfortunes that have come?”

“I’ve seen them, and that’s sadder still. I was a major after Waterloo; the Bourbons put me aside on half-pay. My friends got me back into service again in 1822, but I had bad luck, and lazed around in garrisons at Lille, Grenoble, and Strasburg, without getting ahead any. My second epaulette did not reach me till 1830; then I took a little turn in Africa. I was made brigadier-general at Isly, got home again, and banged about from pillar to post until 1848. During that year we had a June campaign in Paris itself. My heart still bleeds every time I think of it, and, upon my soul, you’re blest in not having seen it. I got three balls in my body and a commission as general of division. After all, I’ve no right to complain for the campaign in Italy brought me good luck. Here I am, Marshal of France, with a hundred thousand francs income, and Duke of Solferino in the bargain. Yes, the Emperor has put a handle to my name. The fact is, that short ‘Leblanc’ was a little too short.”

“Thunderation!” cried Fougas, “that’s splendid! I swear, Leblanc, that I’m not jealous of your good fortune! It’s seldom enough that one soldier rejoices over the promotion of another; but indeed, from the bottom of my heart, I assure you that I do now. It’s all the better, since you deserved your honors, and the blind goddess must have had a glimpse of your heart and talents, over the bandage that covers her eyes!”

“You’re very kind! But let’s talk about yourself now: where were you going when I met you?”

“To see the Emperor.”

“So was I; but where the devil were you looking for him?”

“I don’t know; somebody was showing me the way.”

“But he is at the Tuilleries!”

“No!”

“Yes! There’s something under all this; tell me about it.”

Fougas did not wait to be urged. The Marshal soon understood from what sort of danger he had extricated his friend.

“The concierge is mistaken,” said he; “the Emperor is at the Palace; and, as we’ve reached there now, come with me; perhaps I can present you after my audience.”

“The very thing! Leblanc, my heart beats at the idea of seeing this young man. Is he a good one? Can he be counted upon? Is he anything like the other?”

“You can see for yourself. Wait here.”

The friendship of these two men dated from the winter of 1812. During the retreat of the French army, chance flung the lieutenant of artillery and the colonel of the 23d together. One was eighteen years old, the other not quite twenty-four. The distance between their ranks was easily bridged over by common danger. All men are equal before hunger, cold, and fatigue. One morning, Leblanc, at the head of ten men, rescued Fougas from the hands of the Cossacks; then Fougas sabred a half dozen stragglers who were trying to steal Leblanc’s cloak. Eight days later, Leblanc pulled his friend out of a hut which the peasants had set on fire; and Fougas, in turn, fished Leblanc out of the Beresina. The list of their dangers and their mutual services is too long for me to give entire. To finish off, the Colonel, at Koenigsberg, passed three weeks at the bedside of the lieutenant, who was attacked with fever and ague. There is no doubt that this tender care saved his life. This reciprocal devotion had formed between them bonds so strong that a separation of forty-six years could not break them.

Fougas, alone in a great saloon, was buried in the recollections of that good old time, when an usher asked him to remove his gloves, and go into the cabinet of the Emperor.

Respect for the powers that be, which is the very foundation of my character, does not permit me to bring august personages upon the scene. But Fougas’ correspondence belongs to contemporaneous history, and here is the letter which he wrote to Clementine on returning to his hotel:

Paris (what am I saying?)—Heaven, Aug. 21, 1859.

My sweet Angel: I am intoxicated with joy, gratitude, and admiration. I have seen him, I have spoken to him; he gave me his hand, he made me be seated. He is a great prince; he will be the master of the world. He gave me the medal of St. Helena, and the Cross of an Officer. Little Leblanc, an old friend and a true heart, conducted me into his presence; he is Marshal of France, too, and a Duke of the new empire! As for promotion, there’s no more need of speculation on that head. A prisoner of war in Prussia and in a triple coffin, I return with my rank; so says the military law. But in less than three months I shall be a brigadier-general — that’s certain; he deigned to promise it to me himself. What a man! A god on earth! No more conceited than he of Wagram and Moscow, and, like him, the father of the soldier. He wanted to give me money from his private purse to replace my equipments. I answered, ‘No, sire; I have a claim to recover at Dantzic; if it is paid, I shall be rich; if the debt is denied, my pay will suffice for me.’ Thereupon (O Beneficence of Princes, thou art not, then, but an empty name!) he smiled slightly, and said, twisting his moustache, ‘You remained in Prussia from 1813 to 1859?’—‘Yes, sire.’—‘Prisoner of war under exceptional conditions?’—‘Yes, sire.’—‘The treaties of 1814 and 1815 stipulated for the release of prisoners?’—‘Yes, sire.’—‘They have been violated, then, in your case?’—‘Yes, sire.’—‘Well, then, Prussia owes you an indemnity. I will see that it is recovered by diplomatic proceedings.’—‘Yes sire. What goodness!’ Now, there’s an idea which would never have occurred to me! To squeeze money out of Prussia — Prussia, who showed herself so greedy for our treasures in 1814 and 1815! Vive l’Empereur! My well-beloved Clementine! Oh, may our glorious and magnanimous sovereign live forever! Vivent l’Imperatrice et le Prince Imperial! I saw them! The Emperor presented me to his family! The Prince is an admirable little soldier! He condescended to beat the drum on my new hat. I wept with emotion. Her Majesty the Empress said, with an angelic smile, that she had heard my misfortunes spoken of. ‘Oh, Madame!’ I replied, ‘such a moment as this compensates them a hundred fold.’—‘You must come and dance at the Tuilleries next winter.’—‘Alas, Madame, I have never danced but to the music of cannon; but I shall spare no effort to please you! I will study the art of Vestris."—’I‘ve managed to learn the quadrille very nicely,’ joined in Leblanc.

“The Emperor deigned to express his happiness at getting back an officer like me, who had yesterday, so to speak, taken part in the finest campaigns of the century, and retained all the traditions of the great war. This encouraged me. I no longer feared to remind him of the famous principle of the good old time — to treat for peace only in capitals! ‘Take care!’ said he; ‘it was on the strength of that principle that the allied armies twice came to settle the basis of peace at Paris.’—‘They’ll not come here again,’ cried I, ‘without passing over my body!’ I dwelt upon the troubles apt to come from too much intimacy with England. I expressed a hope of at once proceeding to the conquest of the world. First, to get back our frontiers for ourselves; next, the natural frontiers of Europe: for Europe is but the suburb of France, and cannot he annexed too soon. The Emperor shook his head as if he was not of my opinion. Does he entertain peaceful designs? I do not wish to dwell upon this idea; it would kill me!

“He asked me what impressions I had formed regarding the appearance of the changes which had been made in Paris. I answered, with the sincerity of a lofty soul, ‘Sire, the new Paris is the great work of a great reign; but I entertain the hope that your improvements have not yet had the finishing touch.’—‘What is left to be done, now, in your opinion?’—‘First of all, to remedy the course of the Seine, whose irregular curve is positively shocking. The straight line is the shortest distance between two points, for rivers as well as boulevards. In the second place, to level the ground and suppress all inequalites of surface which seem to say to the Government, ‘Thou art less powerful than Nature!’ Having accomplished this preparatory work, I would trace a circle three leagues in diameter, whose circumference, marked by an elegant railing, should be the boundary of Paris. At the centre I would build a palace for your Majesty and the princes of the imperial family — a vast and splendid edifice, including in its arrangements all the public offices — the staff offices, courts, museums, cabinet offices, archives, police, the Institute, embassies, prisons, bank of France, lecture-rooms, theatres, the Moniteur, imperial printing office, manufactory of Sèvres porcelain and Gobelin tapestry, and commissary arrangements. At this palace, circular in form and of magnificent architecture, should centre twelve boulevards, a hundred and twenty yards wide, terminated by twelve railroads, and called by the names of twelve marshals of France. Each boulevard is built up with uniform houses, four stories high, having in front an iron railing and a little garden three yards wide, all to be planted with the same kind of flowers. A hundred streets, sixty yards wide, should connect the boulevards; these streets communicate with each other by lanes thirty-five yards wide, the whole built up uniformly according to official plans, with railings, gardens, and specified flowers. Householders should be prohibited from allowing any business to be conducted in their establishments, for the aspect of shops debases the intellect and degrades the heart. Merchants could be permitted to establish themselves in the suburbs under the regulation of the laws. The ground floors of all the houses to be occupied with stables and kitchens; the first floors let to persons worth an income of a hundred thousand francs and over; the second, to those worth from eighty to a hundred thousand francs; the third, to those worth from sixty to eighty thousand; the fourth, from fifty to sixty thousand. No one with an income of less than fifty thousand francs should be permitted to live in Paris. Workmen are to be lodged ten miles outside of the boundary in workmen’s barracks. We will exempt them from taxes to make them love us; and we’ll plant cannon around them to make them fear us. That’s my Paris!’ The Emperor listened to me patiently, and twisted his moustache. ‘Your plan,’ said he, ‘would cost a trifle.’—‘Not much more than the one already adopted,’ answered I. At this remark, an unreserved hilarity, the cause of which I am unable to explain, lit up his serious countenance. ‘Don’t you think,’ said he, ‘that your project would ruin a great many people?’—‘Eh! What difference does it make to me?’ I cried, ‘since it will ruin none but the rich?’ He began laughing again, and bid me farewell, saying, ‘Colonel, you will have to remain colonel only until we make you brigadier-general!’ He permitted me to press his hand a second time. I waved an adieu to brave Leblanc, who has invited me to dine with him this evening, and I returned to my hotel to pour my joy into your sweet soul. Oh, Clementine! hope on! You shall be happy, and I shall be great! To-morrow morning I leave for Dantzic. Gold is a deception, but I want you to be rich.

“A sweet kiss upon your pure brow!

V. Fougas.”

The subscribers to La Patrie, who keep files of their paper, are hereby requested to hunt up the number for the 23d of August, 1859. In it they will find two paragraphs of local intelligence, which I have taken the liberty of copying here:

“His Excellency, the Marshal, the Duke of Solferino, yesterday had the honor of presenting to his Majesty the Emperor a hero of the first Empire, Colonel Fougas, whom an almost miraculous event, already mentioned in a report to the Academy of Sciences, has restored to his country.”

Such was the first paragraph; here is the second

“A madman, the fourth this week, but the most dangerous of all, presented himself yesterday at one of the entrances of the Tuilleries. Decked out in a grotesque costume, his eyes flashing, his hat cocked over his ear, and addressing the most respectable people with unheard-of rudeness, he attempted to force his way past the sentry, and thrust himself, for what purpose God only knows, into the presence of the Sovereign. During his incoherent ejaculations, the following words were distinguished: ‘bravery, Vendôme column, fidelity, the dial-plate of time, the tablets of history.’ When he was arrested by one of the detective watch, and taken before the police commissioner of the Tuilleries section, he was recognized as the same individual who, the evening before, at the opera, had interrupted the performance of Charles VI. with most unseemly cries. After the customary medical and legal proceedings, he was ordered to be sent to the Charenton Hospital. But opposite the porte Saint-Martin, taking advantage of a lock among the vehicles, and of the Herculean strength with which he is endowed, he wrested his hands from his keeper, threw him down, beat him, leaped at a bound into the street, and disappeared in the crowd. The most active search was immediately set on foot, and we have it from the best authority that the police are already on the track of the fugitive.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/a/about/edmond/man-with-the-broken-ear/chapter16.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:59