The Czar: A Tale of the Time of the First Napoleon/Chapter 32
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Chapter XXXII: Two Returns, One of Them Not Expected
|Chapter XXXIII: His King Speaks to the Czar→|
TWO RETURNS, ONE OF THEM NOT EXPECTED.
"I keep my master's noble name
ALTHOUGH every real obstacle to his marriage was now removed, it was several months before Ivan found himself at liberty to return to France and claim his bride. He had to go to Nicolofsky, to see and set in order his new estate. It is impossible to describe the joy of his old friends upon that occasion, and the welcome he received from them all, especially from his foster-parents. One of his earliest acts was to emancipate the starost and his family, making them at the same time a present of their homestead. He bestowed a similar favour upon the mother of Michael; Michael himself, as a soldier, being free already. To Pope Nikita and his wife he could give little that they cared for, except kindness and sympathy. They had not recovered from their deep sorrow for the melancholy fate of his old playfellow, their beloved and only daughter. Amongst these friends of his boyhood Ivan became once more a boy. He would sit for hours talking to "bativshka" and to the company gathered around his hospitable stove, telling them the eventful story of the war, as well as his own adventures since they parted.
He could not make this first visit a long one; although he consoled his "serfs," or rather his friends, with the promise that at no distant period ho would come again and take up his abode amongst them. He was obliged to return to the capital in time to accompany the Emperor to the Congress of Vienna, where the brilliant series of fêtes and spectacles in which the assembled sovereigns displayed their magnificence made the presence of such a splendid corps as the Chevalier Guard particularly suitable. But at length he succeeded in obtaining the desired furlough, and early in February reached Versailles once more.
He found Clémence unchanged, except that the months of separation had added, in his eyes, to her grace and loveliness. Madame de Talinoiit looked at least ten years younger since the return of her son; but Henri himself seemed older, and wore a grave if not a troubled aspect. Madame de Salgues also was ageing quickly: Henri told Ivan, she was anxious about Emile, who had more than once been in danger for acts of boyish insolence and bravado, such as tearing white cockades from the breasts of their wearers, and giving a jovial supper to his companions on the 21st of January, the anniversary of the execution of Louis XVI.
"A wise government," said Henri during a quiet walk with Ivan in the park of Versailles, "would disregard these follies, and a strong government could very well afford to do it. But I fear the government of Louis Dix-huit is not either wise or strong. He and his courtiers seem to forget that the world has turned round more than once since 1789. There is not a little discontent amongst the people, and there is much, very much amongst the military."
"Do you intend to embrace a military life, Henri?"
Henri shuddered. "Never, if I can help it. My experience of soldiering was too terrible."
"I do not think you need anticipate another Moscow campaign," returned Ivan.
"Still," pursued Henri, "if my country were in danger, I trust I should not be found lacking. My mother is exceedingly anxious to see me in the army. But my own tastes lead me in a direction quite different."
"To the bar, perhaps, or the Church?"
"My mother and my aunt think these the only rational alternatives. They talk grandly of 'la noblesse de la robe;' but I confess I do not care for the career of a lawyer, nor do I think I have the talents necessary to insure success in it. While as for the Church, may I speak my whole mind to you in confidence, Prince Ivan?"
"Certainly you may, my dear friend."
"I am a sincere and earnest believer in Christianity," Henri said. "I have heard the voice of God in the stormy wind and tempest, in the snow and hail which fulfilled his will. But since I have begun to study that will as revealed in his own Word, a suspicion I cannot dismiss grows and strengthens within me,—I fear some of the rites and doctrines of the Church in which I have been brought up are not in accordance with it."
These words awakened for the first time in the mind of Ivan the thought that any real or important divergence might exist between the different forms of Christianity. Hitherto the world for him had contained two classes only—believers and infidels. These he found and expected to find everywhere—in the "orthodox" Church of his own country, amongst the Catholics of France and the Lutherans of Prussia. The idea suggested by Henri was so new to him that he paused for some moments to consider it before he answered, speaking slowly and with deliberation, "I am sorry you are troubled with such thoughts, Henri; for doubting keeps us from doing, and it seems to me that there is a great deal to be done in the world, and little time enough to do it. On the other hand, you would not have the doubts if God had not sent them to you. You are not doubting him; you are only doubting in what manner you can serve him best. So you must face your doubts and answer them, one way or the other. God will be with you, and lead you to the light. But in the meantime you need not sit idle."
"True, most true. I am longing to work for God, who has done so much for me. Besides, what right have I to sit with folded hands, a burden upon my aunt? 'If any man will not work, neither shall he eat.' But it is much easier to say what I can't do than what I can. My mother thinks so few things possible to one who has the misfortune, as I feel disposed to call it, of being nobly born."
"What would you like to do, in your heart of hearts, Henri?"
"If I tell you, will you laugh at me, Prince Ivan?"
"Not I! Why should I? When I was a boy I could plough a straight furrow, and I was a fair hand with the reaping-hook. You cannot fancy any occupation lowlier than these."
"I should like to use, not a plough, but a pencil and pair of compasses. At Vilna I lodged in the house of an architect, and spent much of my leisure over his books. I was always fond of mathematics, which are useful in that line. Prince Ivan, if you want to build a palace on your new estate, I shall be most happy to design it for you."
Ivan made him a profound bow, then turned and laid his hand on his shoulder. "Come to Russia with us," he said warmly. " Never was there a better opening for your genius. Think of all Moscow to be rebuilt! Russia ought to be the El Dorado of architects for twenty years to come."
"Are you jesting, Prince Ivan?"
"Never was I more in earnest. The Czar will give you a welcome; and the rather because he shares your tastes himself. In his brief moments of leisure he often amuses himself by taking up a pencil and drawing a design for a public building. So he knows how to appreciate what is good."
"But—my mother. Already her heart is torn by the thought of parting with Clémence."
"Why need there be any parting? I think we could make her happy at Nicolofsky or St. Petersburg. I have often thought about this, and what you have said to me now gives me the courage to propose it."
"Do you intend to leave the army?" Henri asked in his turn, perhaps with some desire to change a subject upon which he was conscious of having said more than he intended.
"I do, as soon as peace is thoroughly settled. Of course, until then it cannot be thought of. At the Congress things sometimes looked doubtful enough."
"That affair of the kingdom of Poland seems to be causing a great deal of trouble," said Henri. "More than it is worth, I should say; but the Czar does not seem to think so."
"When did not an old wrong cause an infinity of trouble to the man who tries to repair it? By some strange fatality, it is upon him the punishment generally comes, not upon the man who did it," Ivan answered. "Those 'designs' upon Poland, for which many who ought to know better are now loudly blaming the Czar, simply mean two things—to Russia an assured peace, guaranteed by a strong, well-defended frontier; and to Poland the longed-for 'unity,' with as much of the longed-for 'independence' as she is fit to have and capable of using."
"It seems a strange way of repaying the Poles for having gone away en masse after Napoleon," said Henri.
"It is the way of my Czar," returned Ivan proudly. "Did you ever hear what passed between him and Kosakoski, the most devoted of Napoleon's Polish adherents? 'Is it true that you followed Napoleon to Fontainebleau?' asked the Czar. 'Yes, sire,' returned the Pole who certainly had the courage of his opinions. 'I was with him till he left it; and then, if he had asked me to go with him, I would have done it.' The Czar was silent for a moment, then he asked him, 'What is it you wish for most?' 'The restoration of my property,' said Kosakoski. The Czar immediately wrote an order to that effect, and gave it to him. It is well known that his heart, since his boyhood, has yearned to heal the wounds and to atone for the wrongs of Poland. The Polish hostage, Czartoriski, was the friend of his youth; and in their long confidential talks they planned together to build the old waste places and gather the scattered members of the oppressed nationality. Now Czartoriski reproaches him wdth doing far too little; while Russia, loyal but perplexed, suspects him of doing too much; and Europe accuses him of caring for nothing but the extension of his own frontier. And your King, Louis Dix-huit," continued Ivan with some bitterness, "to whom he gave a throne, treats him as an enemy." They had almost reached their home when this was said, so Henri was spared the necessity of a rejoinder, nor did he greatly care to make one, Legitimist though he was.
Many a happy talk had Clémence and Ivan in those days about things past and future—things seen and unseen. Their engagement was now openly avowed; the trousseau of the bride was in preparation, and all was arranged except the wedding-day. Madame de Salgues was becoming reconciled to an alliance which would give her niece the title of Princess, and was lavish in her presents of jewellery and costly laces. Since the Restoration her life had become less secluded; many of the returned émigrés frequented her house, and found the young Russian prince, the futur of Mademoiselle Clémence, a very pleasant addition to their society.
One evening Madame de Salgues gave an entertainment to a few of her friends. It was a supper, refined and elegant, but unpretending, such as, in her own words, "used to be de bon ton before the Revolution and the bourgeoisie spoiled everything, when we did not come together to eat and to drink, but to converse and to enjoy one another's society."
Upon this occasion her guests thoroughly fulfilled her expectations, with the exception of the youngest of the party. Stéphanie de Sartines, like a spoiled child, had importuned her father to allow her to accept Madame de Salgues's invitation; but having gained her point, she sat absorbed and silent, refusing to eat or to speak, and devoting herself to the contemplation of her idolized friend Clémence, from whom she was so soon to be separated. Ivan pitied the sad-faced little girl, and remembering her exploits at their first meeting, sought to console her with the most tempting of bon-bons and preserved fruits; but he could elicit nothing beyond a melancholy " No, thank you, monsieur."
"You should say M. le Prince, my daughter," her father corrected.
"En Russie tout faquin est prince," observed the audacious Emile to his neighbour, M. de Cranfort.
The latter, though disposed to regard Ivan in the light of a successful rival, resented the discourtesy of Emile, and showed it by asking coldly, "What do you say, sir?"
"Don't you know the story? Before the war broke out the Czar sent Prince Tufaquin as ambassador to the court of the Emperor, who, during their first interview, called him nothing but 'Monsieur.' One of the bystanders afterwards told him of the title borne by the envoy. 'J'ignorais qu'en Russie tout faquin est prince,' was his answer."
"General Buonaparte was a parvenu," said M. de Cranfort; "therefore it was not altogether his fault if he mistook rudeness for wit."
Emile "knew when he was beaten," perhaps because he was not an Englishman; so he turned from M. de Cranfort to Stéphanie, whom he heard deploring that Prince Ivan was going to take Clémence away from them into Russia, where she would be frozen to death in the long cold winter, or eaten by the bears. He bent over her with a comic air of gallantry, and prayed her to be comforted. "I am infinitely more devoted to you than Mademoiselle Clémence could ever be," he said; "and, mademoiselle, I am not going to Russia."
But he was scarcely more fortunate here. "Of course you are not," returned the young lady sharply, her dark eyes flashing. "I heard a gentleman tell my father that the Czar is inviting all manner of clever, capable people to go to Russia; but for any one who is—who is, well, just ordinary, you know, he has no particular welcome."
In the meantime Stéphanie's allusion to Russian bears had occasioned remark. Ivan told some stories about them which were rather amusing than terrible; for bears, like nobler animals who run away when they are attacked, sometimes make themselves ridiculous. Amidst the laughter which followed, Madame de Salgues's valet made a whispered communication "Madame, there is an old soldier without, who wishes to speak with the young gentleman."
"With what young gentleman?"
"The young gentleman of the house, he says, madame."
"Then ask M. de Talmont to go to him at once, and see what he wants," said Madame de Salgues with a nervous air. The capital and its environs swarmed with old soldiers of Napoleon, who were needy and discontented, longing for any kind of political change, and in the meantime, if report said true, not always despising robbery and violence as less desirable but still legitimate means of repairing their ruined fortunes.
Henri went into the hall, closing the door behind him. He saw in the lamp-light a tall, gaunt figure, wrapped in an old greatcoat, which covered a shabby uniform, but did not conceal the cross and two medals glittering on the breast of the faded tunic.
"I beg your pardon, monsieur," said the soldier in a voice Henri seemed to recognize. "It was not you I wished to see, but the young gentleman who belongs to the Ecole Polytechnique."
"Surely I know you—surely I have seen you somewhere," said Henri, looking attentively at the bronzed, weather-beaten features of the old man.
The veteran shook his head. "You have the advantage of me, monsieur," he said.
But after another brief scrutiny a light flashed over the mind of Henri, reflecting itself in his face. He advanced cordially and took the soldier's bony hand in his. "Pierre Rougeard of the Old Guard," he said, "I am heartily glad to see you. I thought you were with the dead."
It was natural that the young conscript should remember the old Guardsman who had befriended him in his hour of need far better than the Guardsman could remember the conscript. Henri was greatly changed, while scarcely anything on this side of the grave could change the hard, weather-beaten features of Rougeard. He was obliged to recall the past to his recollection. "Never," said he, "did banquet seem so sweet to me as that repast of horse-flesh to which you bade me welcome by your bivouac fire on the Smolensko road. But we gave you up for lost that terrible day before we crossed the Beresina."
"I was made prisoner," Rougeard answered. "But I fell into good hands, and was kindly treated. At the Peace of Paris I came home with the rest—though it is home no longer without the Emperor," he added with a sigh.
"You must have much to tell," Henri rejoined; and as the valet passed through the hall, he said to him, "Alphonse, this is an old friend of mine who showed me much kindness while I was in Russia. Take the best care you can of him. By-and-by," he said to Rougeard, "we will finish our conversation."
He returned to the salon, and related what had passed to Madame de Salgues. That lady, with the characteristic love of a Frenchwoman for a little scene, must needs have the old Guardsman brought in, that he might drink the health of Henri, and receive the acknowledgments of his friends for the kindness he had shown him.
So Henri fetched Rougeard, who listened to a little speech from Madame de Salgues, had his hand shaken by Madame de Talmont and Clémence, and emptied a brimming goblet of champagne poured out for him by Emile.
As he gave back the goblet, he bent forward and whispered a word or two, which made the lad—unused as he was to self-control—utter an involuntary cry of amazement, and drop the glass upon the ground.
Of course every one started and looked at him; and Madame de Salgues asked in alarm, "What is the matter?"
"Nothing," said Emile in confusion, stooping to collect the fragments of the broken glass.
"Nothing indeed," repeated the terrible Stéphanie. "You need not be alarmed, madame; I heard every word he said, and it was only this, 'The little corporal has come back.' M. Emile, who is the little corporal?"
Well might she ask the question, for "all faces gathered blackness." The party of friends, just before so glad and gay, looked as if a shell had suddenly burst amongst them. M. de Sartines was the first to find a voice. "Garde," he said, turning solemnly to Rougeard, "since you have spoken these words you are bound to explain them. I daresay it is mere rumour," he added, addressing the ladies.
For a moment Rougeard stood irresolute. He had come to impart his tidings to Emile, whom he knew already as an ardent Buonapartist, ready to venture his life in the good cause; but to proclaim them in the midst of a circle of Royalists had been far from his intention. However, he soon recovered his composure. To-morrow all Paris would know the truth; what did it matter about a few hours? With a simple dignity which was not unbecoming, he answered M. de Sartines, "I have the honour, monsieur, to belong to the Old Guard, therefore I have heard to-day what you will all hear to-morrow. The Emperor has set his foot once more upon the soil of France. He has landed near Frejus, in the Gulf of St. Juan."
"Then by this time he is a prisoner, if he is not shot, or hanged upon the nearest tree," said De Cranfort; while Emile sprang to his feet, and shouted, "Vive Napoléon!"
"If my grandson cannot behave at my table like a gentleman, I will thank him to leave it," said Madame de Salgues with a sternness that amazed every one, and was not without its effect upon Emile, who was accustomed to nothing from her but extreme indulgence.
Ivan, though his own thoughts were sufficiently sorrowful, felt a compassion for the boy, and a dread, not altogether groundless, of what he might be tempted to do if provoked. Turning to his hostess, near whom he sat, he said to her, unheard by the others, "Madame, I pray of you do not be hard with him. Do not let him leave us in this way. His exclamation was natural. I should certainly have done the same had I heard the Czar was coming."
Cranfort caught the last words, and said with petulance, "It is all his fault."
"Whose fault?" asked a quiet, elderly abbé, invited because Madame de Salgues thought no party perfect without a slight, a very slight ecclesiastical flavour.
"The fault of the Czar, M. l'Abbé," returned Cranfort, raising his voice, for the abbé sat at the other side of the table. "If the Corsican adventurer succeeds in erecting his standard once more, and torrents of blood are spilt, it will be the result of the imprudent generosity of the Emperor Alexander. No one can pretend that he was not warned. M. de Talleyrand and every man of sense knew that Elba was no place for Buonaparte. It was keeping a lighted candle at the door of the powder-magazine."
"It did not require the wit of Talleyrand to find that out," said M. de Sartines. "The Emperor Alexander may have had political motives of liis own sufficient to explain his conduct. Most probably he had. If not, his championship of the Buonapartes does honour possibly to his heart, but little enough to his understanding."
Ivan, was about to speak, but Henri, with a quick motion of his hand, arrested him. "Not one word, Prince Ivan," he said in a voice low and tremulous with suppressed emotion. "Not one word from your lips to-night! It is I—I whose life he saved who must defend him. And from what? Is it from the charge of sparing the fallen? of being too generous, too merciful, too trusting 1 There are very few who need exculpation from such charges. And I, who but for that mercy of his would now be lying in a nameless grave at Vilna, will not sit by and hear them.—Messieurs, I am a man of peace; I hate strife and bloodshed; and I thought that never again should this right hand of mine touch sword or pistol. Yet I am ready, either now or hereafter, with sword or pistol, or both, for any gentleman, or any number of gentlemen, who may desire to meet me in this quarrel."
"Quel tapage!" muttered Emile. "One man may raise a fine commotion where another may not breathe a word!"
Madame de Talmont was terrified by a vehemence so foreign to the character of her son. She interposed, explaining that no harm had been intended, and entreating him to recollect himself. M. de Sartines also hastened to apologize. "I was not aware, monsieur," he said, "that you were under personal obligations to the Czar. Still I cannot hold myself excused, for I should not have used so much freedom in the presence of M. le Prince. I hope he will be good enough to pardon me."
"No need of that, monsieur," returned Ivan. "The more freely the conduct of my sovereign is discussed by every loyal Frenchman the more will be his honour. The Czar," he added proudly, "has saved Europe once. If need be, he will do so again."
Shortly afterwards the guests departed. Henri drew Ivan aside. "You will be obliged to leave us?" he said in a low voice.
"Yes," Ivan answered gravely. "After what we have just heard, I must go immediately to my Czar."
Henri's voice dropped still lower, and laying his hand on the shoulder of his friend, he said a few earnest words. Ivan answered in the same tone ; then, with a countenance wonderfully brightened, he left the room.
When he was gone, Henri said earnestly, turning to his mother and his aunt, "Clémence and Ivan belong to each other already in the sight of God; why should they not do so also in the sight of man? Months, if not more, may elapse before Ivan can return—a long and dangerous campaign, perhaps two, may intervene—how much better a hasty marriage than the wearing suspense and anxiety of a protracted engagement?"
"What difference can it make?" asked Madame de Salgues. "Clémence must of course remain here until things are settled."
"A very great difference," Madame de Talmont answered. "As a wife, he can send for her and she can go to him should anything untoward happen which God forbid," she added with a trembling lip. "God alone knows what comfort there is in having the right to tend, or to mourn. Henri, I entirely agree with you."
"It occurs to me that there is some one else whose consent will have to be obtained," Madame de Salgues observed.
Henri smiled. "I believe Ivan is this very moment engaged in obtaining it," he said.
"That being the case," said Madame de Salgues, "and after the opinion your mother has just expressed, it only remains for us to arrange details."
The next morning Clémence and Ivan were married quietly in the parish church of Versailles. It is possible that the young Russian gave a passing sigh of regret to the touching and beautiful ceremonies of his own ritual, which he was obliged to forego. Gladly would "Ivan the servant of God" have been "crowned with Clémence the handmaid of God," as it is the use and wont to do with brides and bridegrooms in the Greco-Russian Church. But what did it signify? He was more than content—he was unspeakably thankful for all that was given him by God and by man.
There was a simple déjeûner, the only guests outside the family circle being M. de Sartines and Stéphanie, who was greatly consoled by her dignity of bridesmaid. There were brave, loving farewells; and then Ivan rode away to rejoin his comrades and to do his duty in the conflicts that might yet lie before him and them.
- It is understood, of course, that Ivan speaks from the Russian point of view.
- "In Russia every coxcomb is a prince."