"Here you are at last!" exclaimed my brothers "I was afraid you were not coming. It is a fine time to go to the theater; I come to tell you a piece of news which will not make you feel like amusing yourself."
Continuing in the same tone, Joseph, replying to my question: " Do make haste and tell me what is up " said to me:
"No; you will not believe it, and yet it is true. I give you a thousand guesses; the general (we still called Napoleon in that way), the general wishes to alienate Louisiana. "
"Bah! who will buy it from him?"
I was thunderstruck for a moment.
"The idea! if he could wish it, the Chambers would not consent to it. "
"And therefore he expects to do without their consent. That is what he replied to me when I said to him, as you do now that the Chambers would not consent to it. "
"What, he really said that to you? That is a little too much! But no, it is impossible. It is a bit of brag at your expense, as the other day on the subject of Bernadotte."
" No, no, " insisted Joseph, " he spoke very seriously, and, what is more, he added to me that this sale would furnish him the first funds for war."
We talked together for a considerable time about the little coup d'etat which seemed to us to exceed in arbitrariness everything that had been accomplished under the Convention and the Directory. It had become late. The plan of going to the theater was given up, and we separated, not without having agreed that 1 first should go the next morning to pay a visit to the first Consul. It was decided that Joseph should follow me pretty closely, without our seeming to have come to a mutual understanding, that I was not to take the initiative in regard to the sale in question, but wait until the Consul himself should mention it to me. In case he should ask me whether Joseph had spoken to me about it, I was authorized to say that he had done so, and even that he seemed to me alarmed about it. Up to that point, everything that I should deem fitting to add or to object, according to what the Consul should say to me, was left to my judgment
I went over, decided upon, and modified one after the other my most convincing reasons to make the Consul renounce if not his plan of alienating the colony, at least that of not consulting the Chambers about it, more and more persuaded as I was by reflection that the discussion would end in the way that I desired.
I still believe firmly to-day that if the plan of the Consul had been submitted to the Chambers, it would have been rejected by a very large majority; for after all what worse thing could happen to us, in case of sacrifices necessary to obtain peace, if we were at war with the English, or with any other government, than to cede one of our finest colonies for eighteen millions ?
It was on this way of considering the renunciation projected that I founded the greatest probability of the success of our opposition. These eighteen millions seemed to me besides, as I still think them to-day, after so many years, a miserable and pitiable compensation....
The next morning I betook myself to the Tuileries, where I was immediately shown up to my brother, who had just got into his bath. I found him in excellent humor. He began by speaking to me of the first night at which he had been present, astonished and sorry that we had not gone to join him....
It was almost time to leave the bath, and we had not discust Louisiana any more than we had the year forty. I was vexed at it, but the nearer the last moment of speaking of it approached, the more I put off doing so. The bodyservant was already holding the sheet and prepared to wrap his master in: I was about to leave the plaee, when Rustan scratched at the door like a cat. "Let him come in," said the first Consul, I will stay in the water a quarter of an hour longer. "
It is known that he liked very much to stay there a long time, when there was no pressing business. I had time to make a sign to the newcomer that I had not yet spoken of anything, and I saw that he was himself embarrassed as to when and how he was to broach the subject, if our brother did not give him some pretext for it. His irresolution and my suppositions did not last long, for all at once the Consul said to Joseph:
" Well, brother, so you have not spoken to Lucien"
"About what" said Joseph.
"About our plan in regard to Louisiana, you know"
"About yours, my dear brother, you mean? You can not have forgotten that far from being mine"
"Come, come, preacher—But I have no need of discussing that with you: you are so obstinate.
With Lucien I speak more willingly of serious matters; for tho he sometimes takes it into his head to oppose me, he knows how to give in to my opinion, Lucien does, when I see fit to try to make him change his." . . . Joseph was showing annoyance at our conversation, the tone of which was more friendly than anything else, when finally he said to the Consul, rather brusquely:
"Well, you still say nothing of your plan?"
"Oh! yes," said the Consul "but it is late, and if Lucien will wait for me in my study with you, mister grumbler, I will join you soon: do me the favor to recall my bodyservant, it is absolutely necessary for me to leave the bath. Know merely, Lucien, that I have decided to sell Louisiana to the Americans. " I thought I ought to show very moderate astonishment at this piece of news supposed to be unknown to me. Knowing very well that an opportunity would be given me to show more, I mean at his intention to dispose of it by his own will, without speaking of it to the Chambers, I contented myself with saying: " Ah ! ah ! " in that tone of curiosity which shows the desire to know the rest of what has been begun rather than it signifies approbation or even the contrary.
This apparent indifference made the first Consul say: "Well, Joseph, you see! Lucien does not make an outcry about that as you do. Yet he would almost have a right to do so, for his part; for after all Louisiana is his conquest."
"As for me, I assure you," replied Joseph, "that if Lucien says nothing, he thinks none the less. "
" Truly ? And why should he play the diplomat with me ?"
Brought into prominence in a way that I did not expect, and as they say, at a standstill, I could not delay explaining myself, and, to tell the truth, I was not sorry for it. But, as the Consul did not ask my opinion upon the heart of the question, which was not the greater or less fitness of the sale, I contented myself with saying . . . that it was true that on this subject I thought as Joseph. "I flatter myself," I added in a tone which I tried to make the least hostile possible, "I flatter myself that the Chambers will not give their consent to it."
"You flatter yourself ?" (This was said in a significant tone and air of surprize.) "That is fine, in truth, " murmured the Consul lower, at the same time that Joseph was exclaiming with an air of triumph:
"And I too flatter myself so, and that is what I told the first Consul. "
" And what did I answer you ? " said my brother pretty sharply looking at us successively, as if that the expression of our faces might not escape him.
"You answered me that you would do without the consent of the Chambers: is not that it?"
"Precisely: that is what I have taken the great liberty of saying to Mr. Joseph, and what I repeat here to citizen Lucien, begging him to tell me his opinion about it also, himself, apart from his paternal tenderness for his diplomatic conquest"
The discussion perhaps would have stopt there to our great regret, and we were about to start for the door, to leave the Consul free to come out of his bath; he had already made a movement to do so and his bodyservant was still holding his sheet spread out, ready to receive his master and to dry him by wrapping him in it, when this master, changing his mind all at once, said to us loud enough to make us turn round:
"And then, gentlemen, think what you please about it, but give this affair up as lost both of you; you, Lucien, on account of the sale in itself, you, Joseph, because I shall get along without the consent of any one whomsoever, do you understand ? " I admit that in the presence of the bodyservant I felt hurt at this profession of faith on so delicate a subject, and that there escaped from me a smile of astonishment at least, which, I have reason to believe, betrayed my thought, and perhaps even more than my thought of the moment, and in spite of the absolute silence which I maintained, was perhaps the distant or preparatory cause of the tempest which was brewing, not in a tea-pot, according to the proverb, but rather in the bathtub of him who was beginning to make all the sovereigns of Europe quake.
It was Joseph who furnished the final cause, to continue to speak like the disciples of AEsculapius, of the development of this tempest, because, in reply to this really very inconsiderate affirmation on the part of the chief magistrate of the Republic, followed by his "do you understand," Joseph said to him approaching the bathtub again:
"And you will do well, my dear brother, not to expose your plan to parliamentary discussion, for I declare to you that I am the first one to place himself, if it is necessary at the head of the opposition which can not fail to be made to you. "
I was preparing to support Joseph on the same side, if in a tone not so vehement, when the more than Olympian bursts of laughter of the first Consul checked all at once the word on my lips. Since this laugh was evidently forced, it did not last long, and Joseph, become redder and redder from anger and almost stuttering, said: "Laugh, laugh, laugh, then! None the less I will do what I say, and altho I do not like to mount the tribune, this time they shall see me there. "
At these words, the Consul, lifting himself half way out of the bath-tub in which he had sunk down again, said to him in a tone which I will call energetically serious and solemn:
"You will have no need to stand forth as orator of the opposition, for I repeat to you that this discussion will not take place, for the reason that the plan which is not fortunate enough to obtain your approbation conceived by me, negotiated by me, will be ratified and executed by me all alone, do you understand? By me who snap my fingers at your opposition."
After these words, the Consul sank down tranquilly in the waves whitened with Cologne-water of his bath-tub. But Joseph, in the tone of the greatest anger, with which his very handsome face seemed inflamed, replied to him immediately:
"Very well! I tell you, general, that you, I, all of us, if you do what you say, may get ready to go and rejoin in a short time the poor innocent devils whom you have so legally, so humanely, above all so justly caused to be transported to Sinnamary."2
The blow was struck hard. Useless and silent censurer of this scene between my two elder brothers, I wished and did not dare to leave it. I may say that I felt painfully the offense of 2 In French Guiana. These severe and only too just words for him to whom they were addrest. However, I did not have time to linger over it, for there followed an aquatic explosion from which I was luckily protected by my position somewhat distant from the bathtub, an explosion which had been caused by the rising first and then the sudden sinking down again of the Consul in his bath-tub, the whole accompanied by these words addrest only to Joseph:
'You are an insolent fellow! I ought—"
I did not hear the rest, and I believe that nothing followed this beginning of a sentence. I observed only then that following the difference existing between the two characters, exasperated, as it seemed to me, to the same pitch, the paleness of the Consul contrasted singularly with the redness of Joseph; and finding myself by my sort of silent neutrality in the midst of sharp or offensive remarks, which had been exchanged, as it were raised to he height of the role of peacemaker, and yet not wishing to pose as one, I tried to attain this end, by seeming to take what was going on as a sort of joke, and I quoted rather gaily, with a bombastic accent, the famous "Quos ego . . ." of Vergil, for in fact the image of Neptune rebuking the waves let loose in spite of him had seemed to my mind just a little ludicrous and the "I ought" of the Neptune of the bath tub alone reaching my ear completed for me in action at least in parody the literary translation of the celebrated reticence, the first subject of admiration for young Latinists. It is of course understood that it was only to the unsuccessful rebellion of the winds that I was supposed to compare that of my brother Joseph, while I decreed the honor of the irritated divinity to the proper person, that which each one besides understood perfectly well.
The scene had changed its aspect, or rather it had, so to speak, collapsed. Joseph, splashed to the extent of the immersion of his clothes and his face, had received all over him the most copious injection. But apparently, the nature of this perfumed flood had calmed his anger, which, in him, was never more than superficial and shortlived, for he contented himself with letting himself be sponged and dried off by the body-servant, who, to my great regret, had remained a witness of this serious folly between such actors.