Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/439

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Chapter XXIII.


We shall now see how a detention which had been designed as a sharp punishment of an officer who had not comported himself with perfect respect, and which Decaen never intended to be prolonged beyond about twelve months, dragged itself into years, and came to bear an aspect of obstinate malignity.

Decaen's despatch arrived in France during the first half of the year 1804. Its terms were not calculated to induce the French Government to regard Flinders as a man entitled to their consideration, even if events had been conducive to a speedy determination. But the Departments, especially those of Marine and War, were being worked to their full capacity upon affairs of the most pressing moment. Napoleon became Emperor of the French in that year (May), and his immense energy was flogging official activities incessantly. War with England mainly absorbed attention. At Boulogne a great flotilla had been organized for the invasion of the obdurate country across the Channel. A large fleet was being fitted out at Brest and at Toulon, the fleet which Nelson was to smash at Trafalgar in the following year. Matters relating to the isolated colony in the Indian Ocean did not at the moment command much interest in France.

There were several other pieces of business, apart from the Flinders affair, to which Decaen wished to direct attention. He sent one of his aides-de-camp, Colonel Barois, to Paris to see Napoleon in person, if possible, and in any case to interview the Minister of Marine and the Colonies, Decres. Decaen especially