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   Chapter 17 THE STAR OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE

When a Cobbler Ruled a King By Augusta Huiell Seaman Characters: 19299

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The days passed by after these events in a strange and unaccustomed quiet. Indeed the Clouet family could scarcely become used to the tranquillity, so habituated had it been to months of waiting, days of suspense, and hours of turmoil and agitation!

Jean continued in his place as Caron's assistant at the Tower for several weeks. This he did for two reasons,-because as yet he had nothing else in view in the way of occupation, and also because he had still one other duty to perform, in delivering Moufflet to Marie-Thérèse as Louis Charles had wished. The detention of this young princess in the Tower was soon to come to a close, as negotiations for her release and dismissal to Austria were steadily progressing. Therefore it was only a question of choosing a favourable time, bringing Moufflet to Gomin, and letting him deliver the little animal.

The young girl's imprisonment was now far less rigid than it had been, so the admission of the dog would be no difficult matter. It was deemed wise by the Brotherhood that Marie-Thérèse should not be informed for the present of her brother's rescue (she had been told that he died on June tenth) but that Gomin should merely say that the dog had been found and kept for her by Jean.

This was done about the first of September, and Gomin reported that she had been fairly overcome with surprise and joy at having her brother's former pet so unexpectedly restored to her, and had sent Jean her heartiest thanks and a little embroidered handkerchief as a remembrance. She did not start for Austria till December, 1795, but when she went she was accompanied by Caron, who had been a servant in the royal palace before the downfall of the monarchy, and who was happiest in serving all that remained of the royal family. Moufflet also went with her, and remained with her, it is said, as long as he lived.

In the early part of September, the Brotherhood of Liberation held a final meeting at which the society was permanently disbanded, its mission having been fulfilled. All, however, renewed the oath never to disclose the secret of the little king's escape and how it was accomplished, unless a time should ever come for him to reign over France. Jean learned that the boy had been removed to Croissy, the country home of the Vicomtesse Beauharnais, till he was strong enough to travel. Since then he had been taken to an obscure village in a remote corner of France, where he would live in seclusion and good care till such time as his presence might be deemed expedient in the political world,-if, indeed, such a time ever came!

But there was one other transaction of the society that filled Jean with pride and joy. The Brotherhood as a whole, voted that the remaining funds in their treasury should be devoted to providing a pretty little home for Jean and his family in the near village of Meudon, and a comfortable income for the Citizeness Clouet during the remainder of her life, and Jean himself was to have a sum of one thousand francs to do with as he pleased! This was in recognition of the invaluable services they had all rendered in the escape of Louis XVII. It was to be settled and go into effect at the first of the coming year. Jean went home to his family that night with the good news, a proud and happy boy!

Meanwhile he had seen little of his friend Bonaparte since that young man's return to Paris. His own duties kept him rather closely confined to the Tower, and Bonaparte had now more friends in the city who claimed his attention. But besides that, his health was poor, and he spent much time at this period, in gloomy and solitary retirement.

One day Jean, who was having a little holiday, thanks to the kindness of Caron, was passing the Corazza Coffee-house near the Palais-Royal when whom should he see sitting at one of the tables but Bonaparte with another young man. Bonaparte at once hailed his friend:

"Ho, Jean Mettot! Come and sit you down with us and share our mid-day meal! This is a fortunate meeting, and I want you to know Monsieur Junot. He's a brave fellow whose mettle I tried at Toulon! You two should know each other!" Jean, nothing loath, joined the little party, and listened with interest to their discussion of present political affairs.

"I do not know what this country is coming to, Jean!" said Bonaparte. "Public sentiment is like a pendulum! First it swings off to one extreme, as it did in '93, and then started back on the Tenth Thermidor. It came to a happy medium just a short time after that, and now,-behold you!-off it goes in an entirely opposite direction, and the royalists are coming into favour again!"

"What's the trouble?" asked Jean. "I'm so busy that I've little time to give to political discussions, and one hears no news in that lonely hole of a Temple, nowadays! I wish you would explain it to me!"

"Why, the long and short of it is this," replied Bonaparte, obligingly. "Of course you know that on August twenty-second the Convention adopted a new Constitution for the year III. According to this Constitution, the Legislative power shall be an executive body of five Directors, a Council of Five Hundred, and a Council of the Ancients composed of two hundred and fifty members. That is all very well, but recently the Convention has added a new decree,-that two-thirds of the members of this new Legislature shall be chosen from themselves-the Convention-and only the remaining one-third by the people at large. So the people naturally consider themselves slighted, and are yelling,-'Down with the Convention!'"

"But," interrupted Jean eagerly, "are not the people right? Is not that what a Republic is for? Was not that the principle for which the monarchy was overthrown and so much blood spilt?"

"Wait, wait, lad!" commanded Bonaparte. "You have not heard all yet! The people of France have had eight centuries of monarchy, and only three years of ruling themselves. They are enthusiastic, but also childish and fickle to the last degree, and are no more fit to be allowed to go their own way than so many babes! They must be guided a while longer by the men who planned and guided the Revolution,-the old Convention! But there's more behind it than that, and they are blind as moles who don't see it!

"The returned Royalists are hiding behind all these disgruntled citizens, and they are going to take advantage of and encourage an uprising to overthrow the existing government. And what then?-Back will come monarchy again!" Jean was delighted with this clear yet simple explanation.

"I see it all now!" he declared. "But what else is happening?"

"Paris," continued Bonaparte, "is divided into forty-eight sections. Of these, every section but one has voted against the new decree; and while many of the sections are inactive, there are seven actually in arms against the Convention, and the worst of these is the Section Lepelletier. Mark my words, Jean! As sure as this is the first of October, there will be a crisis before the month is out! And what is more, something tells me this crisis will mean much for us three now sitting here so quietly, sipping our coffee!"

Bonaparte's prophecy proved true in every respect, except that the crisis came sooner than he had predicted. On the fourth of October, Paris was in a state of indescribable confusion. Bells were sounding the "generale," that horrible call to insurrection. Streets were thronged with citizens rushing frenziedly to and fro shouting,-"Death to the Convention!" "Down with the Two-thirds!" Crowds of soldiers forced their way through the excited mobs, and skirmishing between the opposing parties could be heard in every quarter. But worse was yet to come!

Jean, compelled to pass the day at his duties in the Tower, was as restive as an imprisoned war-horse, and at eleven that night, Caron could no longer restrain him. Like a shot from a cannon, he was off in the driving rain, straight to the lodging of his friend and councillor, Bonaparte. On being admitted, he found that young man pacing up and down his narrow room with a curious excitement flaming in his brilliant eyes. On the table lay a map of Paris, and over it Bonaparte bent anxiously at every other turn.

"Oho!" he cried. "Another moment and you would have missed me! But I might have known you'd come, with gunpowder scenting the air! You cannot guess who has just been here!"

"Oh, but I can," replied Jean. "For I passed him on the block,-Citizen General Barras!"

"Good! but you cannot guess what brought him here!"

"No! tell me!"

"He has offered me the command of the army of Paris!"

"He has!"

"Nothing less! You see the Sections have the Convention cooped up there in the Tuileries where they hold their sessions, in a state of siege. To-morrow the Sections will storm the Convention, and on that issue depends the continuance of the Republic. The Convention has about four or five thousand soldiers at its command, against fifty thousand Sectionists! Poor lookout,-that! But I have a plan that will succeed if anything does, and Barras will support me in anything I order. He tested my worth at Toulon, my lad, and there will be hot work to-morrow!"

"Oh, Citizen Bonaparte,-I mean Citizen General!-let me go with you, I beg! I will serve you in any capacity you say, only let me be near you to-morrow!" Bonaparte thought a moment, then he answered:

"To-morrow, Jean, I am going to put you to a test! You have displayed courage, energy and skill in the secret work you have done for the Brotherhood. It now remains for me to see what you can do in the open. To-morrow will show! Come to me at th

e Tuileries in the morning, and I will give you work to do. Now I must go and report to the Convention at once. I believe my star is rising at last, Jean, and if so, I shall rise with it. And trust me, you shall not be forgotten!" For a moment his eyes gleamed with the white fire of inspiration, then he wrapped his great-coat about him and was gone.

True to his tryst, Jean made all speed for the Tuileries next morning. He had difficulty enough in getting there, for the streets were so crowded with insurgents that a passage through them was all but impossible. However he got there by way of the Place Carrousel, and noticed that everywhere were barricades and cannon planted to defend the palace.

Where to find Bonaparte was now the question, and doubtless this would have been a matter of much difficulty, had not that young general come riding by on a tour of inspection, accompanied by Barras. Before Jean could even spring forward, Bonaparte recognised him, motioned him forward, and turned to Barras:

"Here is a young protégé of mine who is to see his first action. I must assign him to a post!" Then to Jean:

"Have you ever discharged a cannon, lad?"

"No!" answered Jean, not a little chagrined at his ignorance.

"Well, never mind! Come with me. I'm going to place you as assistant to one of the gunners and you'll soon learn. Don't you desert that cannon, Jean, if it costs you your life to stick by it!"

"I will not desert!" Jean promised solemnly. Bonaparte led him through the Rue de Rivoli to the head of the Rue du Dauphin, where a cannon was pointed directly down the street at the steps of the church of St. Roch. To the gunner he said:

"Here's a lad to assist you, and learn a little, likewise!" The gunner looked up, and Jean recognised his old acquaintance, Prev?t!

"Ah, I know him, General!" answered the gunner, touching his cap. "And a brave one he is, too, as I can prove. He's welcome!" Bonaparte rode away, leaving Jean to exchange reminiscences with his companion.

"Yes, I quitted the service of that rascal Coudert," said Prev?t, "right after the Tenth Thermidor, and entered the army where I've been ever since, and have seen some action, I can tell you! But I wish you'd explain to me why you didn't take advantage of that little hint I gave you once!"

"Because it would have placed my people in danger," answered Jean, simply.

"Well, you're a plucky one! And you certainly did for that old Coudert, so I've been told. They said it was an accident, but I have my suspicions about that! But say! Do you know, that old Coudert, that sneaking La Souris, lodges right up there!" and he pointed to the window of a small house facing on the Rue du Dauphin. "He'll hear fine work to-day,-perhaps he'll see it too. Who knows!" Then he proceeded to explain to Jean the workings of the great gun.

All that morning the opposing forces were quiet, except for some light skirmishing, and so it continued into the afternoon. Jean saw no more of Bonaparte, and began to grow restless, wondering if there was really to be any battle. But at four o'clock a roar of musketry from the direction of the Hotel de Noailles was answered by another roar, and the business of the day began! In all his young life, Jean had never witnessed so confusing an affair. He could understand little of what others were doing, but he kept his attention closely on Prev?t, handing him ramrod, cotton or powder, as he directed. The big cannon, with a companion close beside it pointed directly down the short street to the steps of the church which were now crowded with Sectionists. In the windows of the houses all along the street, Sectionists were hiding with their death-dealing muskets. The cannon, however, had not yet been fired. Suddenly up rode Bonaparte.

"On the steps of St. Roch! Fire!" he commanded, and the two guns poured forth a great volley of iron, mowing down the human harvest before them like scythes. The semi-circle of Sectionists on the church steps seemed to sink to the ground in a body for an instant, then more sprang forward and filled the vacant spaces. Jean's heart grew sick at the sight of this carnage, but he worked away at his duties, the perspiration streaming down his face and matting his black curls. Just as Prev?t was about to touch the match for the second charge, he clapped his hand to his side, gave a low groan, and sank in a heap by the gun.

Jean's heart fairly stood still with horror and pity, but some blind instinct caused him to look up at one of the houses. There in a window, stood, or rather hung, La Souris, his rat's face twisted into a horrible smile, a smoking musket in his hands. He was about to reload for another charge, and it was evident that the effort cost him considerable suffering in his scorched back. As Jean still looked, he finished and pointed the musket directly at the boy by the gun. The natural instinct of self-preservation prompted this untried lad to take to his heels and get to shelter at once, but a second thought brought back Bonaparte's final warning,-"Stick to the gun, lad, if it costs you your life!"

"I'll stick!" he muttered, and clinched his teeth on the determination. Seizing the match from Prev?t's relaxed grasp, he blew on it to rekindle its flame, while he watched out of the corner of his eye the careful aim that La Souris was striving to accomplish with his none too steady grip. Then he laid that match to the touchhole and another rain of iron swept down the street. At this moment a regiment of Volunteers turned into the Rue du Dauphin at a run.

"Charge the steps of St. Roch!" ordered Bonaparte, appearing again very near the guns. As the regiment charged down the street with fixed bayonets, Bonaparte turned his eyes to Jean, and saw the boy standing bravely by the gun, but with his eyes fixed in agony on a window above and close by. Following his glance, the general quickly perceived the cause of his distress. La Souris, having by this time arranged his aim to his satisfaction, was just about to pull the trigger.

It took Bonaparte but a second to snatch a musket from a passing soldier, aim it at the window-and fire! Citizen Coudert's musket clattered from the window to the ground, and he himself dropped from sight on the other side of the sill, and was seen and heard no more! After that the general wheeled his horse, galloped down the Rue de Rivoli, and Jean was left alone, dazed and thankful.

The remainder of the conflict he could never describe, for he did not see it. The Rue du Dauphin was swept clear of the enemy; if any Sectionists remained alive on the steps of St. Roch, they had taken refuge within the church, and the tide of battle surged to another quarter, raging down the Rue St. Honoré.

Jean, having temporarily no work to do, turned his attention to Prev?t, whom he found to his joy not killed outright, but severely wounded in the thigh. It took him a long time to revive the unconscious gunner, and he had but just accomplished it when he heard resounding from the Park of the Tuileries terrific huzzas and cries of "Victory! Victory to the Convention!" Unable longer to contain his curiosity, he left Prev?t and rushed across the park to see what was going on. He was just in time to behold Bonaparte, escorted by Barras, enter the Tuileries in triumph to announce to the Convention the utter defeat of the Sectionists. When Napoleon Bonaparte came out again, he was General-in-chief of the Army of the Interior! Thus ended the famous fifth of October, 1795, better known, according to the reckoning of the Revolution, as the Thirteenth Vendémiaire!

On the fourth of March, 1796, in the pretty new home at Meudon, where the Clouets now lived, Jean received a note from Bonaparte asking him to come at once to his hotel in the Rue Capucines as he had news to communicate. Naturally Jean let no grass grow under his heels in complying with this request.

He found Bonaparte pacing up and down the room as usual, but it was a very different room from the lodgings in which he had formerly existed, and for that matter, a rather different Bonaparte too, as well-groomed and handsomely garbed, as he had once been careless and ill-kempt in appearance.

"Jean," he began, "I've never told you how much I admired the way you held that gun, on the Thirteenth Vendémiaire, in spite of that leering devil above you. I suppose you thought I'd forgotten, for I really believe I haven't seen you since, affairs have been so pressing!"

"No," said Jean, "I didn't think you had forgotten!"

"Well, here's a piece of news,-I'm going to be married!"

"Oh, how splendid! May I inquire who the lady may be?"

"You may! You saw her once,-the Vicomtesse Josephine de Beauharnais!" Jean was delighted beyond words, and wished his friend the greatest happiness.

"But here's something else!" cried Bonaparte. "And this will interest you more! I've been appointed Commander-in-chief of the Army of Italy!"

"Oh, congratulations!" said Jean. "A thousand of them! I know how greatly you always wished for this position."

"But here's something else that will interest you most of all!" replied Bonaparte laughing. "I appoint you my aide-de-camp and secretary, and you will be prepared to accompany me to Nice one week from to-day. Jean, Jean! my star has risen at last, and I feel that it will shine with a brilliant light before it goes to its setting!"

And Napoleon Bonaparte gleefully pinched the boy's ear, the first but by no means the last time that Jean knew him to indulge in this singular pleasantry!

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AFTER LONG YEARS

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