Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/409

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318
LIFE OF MATTHEW FLINDERS

division, wanted to sail at once. Decaen insisted on taking aboard some of the French who were ashore, but Linois pointed to the strong British squadron in sight, and protested that he ought not to compromise the safety of his ships by delaying departure. Linois was always a very nervous officer. Decaen stormed, and Linois proposed to call a council of his captains. "A council!" exclaimed Decaen, "I am the council!" It was worthy of what Voltaire attributed to Louis XIV: "l'état, c'est mois." After sunset Decaen visited the ships of the division in a boat, and warned their captains to get ready to follow the Marengo out of the roadstead of Pondicherry in the darkness. He considered that it would be extremely embarrassing if the British squadron, suspecting their intentions, endeavoured to frustrate them. At an appointed hour the Marengo quietly dropped out of the harbour, cutting the cable of one of her anchors rather than permit any delay.

On August 15th Decaen landed at Port Louis, Ile-de-France, and on the following day he took over the government. He had therefore been in command exactly four months when Matthew Flinders, in the Cumberland, put into Baye du Cap on December 15th.

For his conduct in the Flinders affair Decaen has been plentifully denounced. "A brute," "a malignant tyrant," "vindictive, cruel and unscrupulous"—such are a few shots from the heavy artillery of language that have been fired at his reputation. The author knows of one admirer of Flinders who had a portrait of Decaen framed and hung with its face to the wall of his study. It is, unfortunately, much easier to denounce than to understand; and where resonant terms have been flung in freest profusion, it does not appear that an endeavour has been made to study what occurred from the several points of view, and to examine Decaen's