The Hour and the Man Part 54

The strangers were certainly intending to pa.s.s through the gate into the grounds; and the sentry was remonstrating. In another moment he fired, as a signal. There was some clamour and laughter, and Aimee started, as at a voice from the grave.

"That is Isaac's voice!" she exclaimed, springing from her seat. It was now Vincent's turn to hold her hands, or she would have been out in the broad moonlight in an instant.

"Stay, love! Stay one moment," he entreated. "I believe you are right; but let me look out."

She sank down on the sand, while he reconnoitred. At the moment of his looking forth, a young man who, he was certain, was Placide, was good-humouredly taking the sentry by the shoulders, and pushing him from his place, while saying something in his ear, which made the poor soldier toss his hat in the air, and run forward to meet his comrades, whom the sound of his gun was bringing from every direction, over the sands.

"It is they, indeed," said Vincent. "Your brothers are both there."

While he was speaking, Aimee burst from the covert, made her way miraculously through the gathering horses and men, pushed through the gate, leaving her lover some way behind, flew like a lapwing through the shrubbery, and across the lawn, was hanging on her brother's neck before the news of the arrival was understood within the house.

There was no waiting till father and mother could choose where to meet their children. The lads followed the messenger into the salon, crowded as it was with strangers. L'Ouverture's voice was the first heard, after the sudden hush.

"Now, Heaven bless Bonaparte for this!" he cried, "and make him a happy father!"

"Hear him, O G.o.d! and bless Bonaparte!" sobbed Margot.

A check was given to their words and their emotions, by seeing by whom the young men were accompanied. Therese was leading forward Genifrede, when she stopped short, with a sort of groan, and returned to her seat, forgetful at the moment even of Genifrede; for Monsieur Papalier was there. Other gentlemen were of the company. The one whom the young men most punctiliously introduced to their father was Monsieur Coa.s.son, the tutor, guardian, or envoy, under whose charge General Leclerc had sent them home.

Toussaint offered him a warm welcome, as the guardian of his sons; but Monsieur Coa.s.son himself seemed most impressed with his office of envoy: as did the gentlemen who accompanied him. a.s.suming the air of an amba.s.sador, and looking round him, as if to require the attention of all present, Monsieur Coa.s.son discharged himself of his commission, as follows:--

"General Toussaint--"

"They will not acknowledge him as L'Ouverture," observed Therese to Madame Pascal and Genifrede. Afra's eyes filled with tears. Genifrede was absorbed in contemplating her brothers--both grown manly, and the one looking the soldier, the other the student.

"General Toussaint," said Coa.s.son, "I come, the bearer of a letter to you from the First Consul."

In his hand was now seen a gold box, which he did not, however, deliver at the moment.

"With it, I am commissioned to offer the greetings of General Leclerc, who awaits with anxiety your arrival at his quarters as his Lieutenant-General."

"Upon what does General Leclerc ground his expectation of seeing _me_ there?"

"Upon the ground of the commands of the First Consul, declared in his proclamation to the inhabitants of Saint Domingo, and, no doubt, more fully in this letter to yourself."

Here he delivered the box, desiring that the presence of himself and his companions might be no impediment to General Toussaint's reading his dispatches.

Toussaint had no intention that they should be any hindrance. He read and re-read the letter, while all eyes but those of Aimee were fixed upon his countenance. With an expression of the quietest satisfaction, she was gazing upon her brothers, unvexed by the presence of numbers, and the transaction of state business. They were there, and she was happy.

Those many eyes failed to discover anything from the countenance of Toussaint. It was immovable; and Monsieur Coa.s.son was so far disappointed. It had been his object to prevent the dispatches which he brought from being road in private, that he might be enabled to report how they were received. He had still another resource. He announced that he had brought with him the proclamation of the First Consul to the inhabitants at large of Saint Domingo. As it was a public doc.u.ment, he would, with permission, read it aloud. Toussaint now looked round, to command attention to the words of the ruler of France. Vincent sought to exchange glances with Aimee; but Aimee had none to spare. Monsieur Papalier had unceremoniously entered into conversation with some of the guests of his own complexion, and did not cease upon any hint, declaring to those about him, that none of this was new to him, as he was in the counsels of Bonaparte in all Saint Domingo affairs. The tone of their conversation was, however, reduced to a low murmur, while Monsieur Coa.s.son read aloud the following proclamation:--

"_Paris, November_ 8, 1801.

"Inhabitants of Saint Domingo,

"Whatever your origin or your colour, you are all French: you are all equal, and all free, before G.o.d, and before the Republic.

"France, like Saint Domingo, has been a prey to factions, torn by intestine commotions and foreign wars. But all has changed: all nations have embraced the French, and have sworn to them peace and amity: the French people have embraced each other, and have sworn to be all friends and brothers. Come also, embrace the French, and rejoice to see again your European friends and brothers!

"The government sends you the Captain-General Leclerc. He has brought--"

Here Monsieur Coa.s.son's voice and manner became extremely emphatic.

"He has brought sufficient force for protecting you against your enemies, and against the enemies of the Republic. If you are told that these forces are destined to violate your liberties, reply, 'The Republic will not suffer them to be taken from us.'

"Rally round the Captain-General. He brings you abundance and peace.

Rally all of you around him. Whoever shall dare to separate himself from the Captain-General will be a traitor to his country; and the indignation of the country will devour him, as the fire devours your dried canes.

"Done at Paris," etcetera.

"This doc.u.ment is signed, you will perceive," said Monsieur Coa.s.son, "by the First Consul, and by the Secretary of State, Monsieur H.B. Maret."

Once more it was in vain to explore the countenance of L'Ouverture. It was still immovable. He extended his hand for the doc.u.ment, saying that he would retire with his secretary, for the purpose of preparing his replies for the First Consul, in order that no such delays might take place on his part, as the date of the letter and proclamation showed to have intervened on the other side. Meantime, he requested that Monsieur Coa.s.son, and all whom he had brought in his company, would make themselves at home in his house; and, turning to his wife and family, he commended his newly arrived guests to their hospitality. With a pa.s.sing smile and greeting to his sons, he was about to leave the room with Monsieur Pascal, when Monsieur Coa.s.son intimated that he had one thing more to say.

"I am directed, General Toussaint," said he, "in case of your refusal to join the French forces immediately, to convey your sons back to the guardianship of the Captain-General Leclerc: and it will be my duty to set out with them at dawn."

A cry of anguish broke forth from Margot, and Placide was instantly by her side.

"Fear nothing," said Toussaint to her, in a tone which once more fixed all eyes upon him. His countenance was no longer unmoved. It was convulsed, for a moment, with pa.s.sion. He was calm in his manner, however, as he turned to Monsieur Coa.s.son, and said, "Sir, my sons are at home. It rests with myself and with them, what excursions they make henceforth."

He bowed, and left the room with Monsieur Pascal.

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

THE HOUR OF PROOF.

"So the long-expected letter is come at last," observed Monsieur Pascal, as the study-door closed upon himself and his friend.

"Read it," said Toussaint, putting the letter into the secretary's hand, and walking up and down the room, till his friend spoke again.

"We hear," said Monsieur Pascal, "that the First Consul understands men.

He may understand some men--the soldiery of France, perhaps--but of others he knows no more than if he were not himself a man."

"He no more understands my people than myself. Can it be possible that he believes that proclamation will be acceptable to them--that mixture of cajolery and bombast. He has heard that we are ignorant, and he concludes that we are without understanding. What think you of his promise of abundance by the hands of Leclerc? As if it were not their cupidity, excited by our abundance, which has brought these thousands of soldiers to our sh.o.r.es! They are welcome to it all--to our harvests, our money, and our merchandise--if they would not touch our freedom."

"Bonaparte has a word to say to that in his letter to you," observed the secretary. "What can you desire? The freedom of the blacks? You know that in all the countries we have been in, we have given it to the people who had it not? What say the Venetians to that? What says the Pope!"

"Does he suppose us deaf," replied Toussaint, "that we have not heard of the fate of our race in Guadaloupe, and Martinique, and Cayenne? Does he suppose us blind, that we do not see the pirates he has commissioned hovering about the sh.o.r.es of Africa, as the vulture preparing to strike his prey? Ignorant as we are, does he suppose us stupid enough to be delighted when, free already, we find ourselves surrounded by fifty-four war-ships, which come to promise us liberty?"

"He does not know, apparently, how our commerce with the world brings us tidings of all the world."

"And if it were not so--if his were the first ships that our eyes had ever seen--does he not know that the richest tidings of liberty come, not through the eye and ear, but from the heart? Does he not know that the liberties of Saint Domingo, large as they are, everlasting as they will prove to be--all sprang from here and here?"--pointing to his head and heart. "This is he," he continued, "who has been king in my thoughts, from the hour when I heard of the artillery officer who had saved the Convention! This is he to whom I have felt myself bound as a brother in destiny and in glory! This is he with whom I hoped to share the lot of reconciling the quarrel of races and of ages! In the eye of the world he may be great, and I the bandit captain of a despised race.

On the page of history he may be magnified, and I derided. But I spurn him for a hero--I reject him for a brother. My rival he may make himself. His soul is narrow, and his aims are low. He might have been a G.o.d to the world, and he is a tyrant. We have followed him with wistful eyes, to see him loosen bonds with a divine touch; and we find him busy forging new chains. He has sullied his divine commission; and while my own remains pure, he is no brother of my soul. You, my friend, knew him better than I, or you would not have left his service for mine."

"Yet I gave him credit for a better appreciation of you, a clearer foresight of the destiny of this colony, than he has shown."

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