CHAPTER III. LOUIS NAPOLEON'S EARLY CAREER. - STRASBURG, BOULOGNE, HAM.

The attempt had been in preparation ever since Louis Napoleon had arrived in England. There were about forty of his adherents living in London at his expense, awaiting the moment for action. What form that action was to take, none of them knew.[1] It was resolved to make the movement in the month of August, 1840. The prince calculated that the remains of his great uncle, restored by England to France, being by that time probably on their way from St. Helena, public enthusiasm for the great emperor would be at its height, and that he would have the honor of receiving those revered remains when they had been brought back from exile by Louis Philippe's son. Besides this, the garrisons of northern France happened at that moment to contain the two regiments whose fidelity he had tampered with at Strasburg four years before.

[Footnote 1: In this account I am largely indebted to the interesting narrative of Count Joseph Orsi, an Italian banker, Prince Louis Napoleon's stanch personal friend.]

Of course there were French agents of police (detectives, as we call them) watching the prince in London; and this made it necessary that he should be very circumspect in making his preparations. A steamer, the "Edinburgh Castle," was secretly engaged. The owners and the captain were informed that she was chartered by some young men for a pleasure-trip to Hamburg.

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, 1840, the "Edinburgh Castle" came up the Thames, and was moored alongside a wharf facing the custom-house. As soon as she was at the wharf, Count Orsi, who seems to have been the most business-like man of the party, shipped nine horses, a travelling carriage, and a large van containing seventy rifles and as many uniforms. Proclamations had been printed in advance; they were placed in a large box, together with a little store of gold, which formed the prince's treasure.

At dawn all this was done, and the "Edinburgh Castle" started down the river. At London Bridge she took in thirteen men, and at Greenwich three more. At Blackwall some of the most important conspirators came on board. The boat reached Gravesend about two o'clock, where twelve more men joined them. Only three or four of those on board knew where they were going, or what was expected of them. They were simply obeying orders.

At Gravesend the prince was to have joined his followers, and the "Edinburgh Castle" was at once to have put to sea, touching, however, at Ramsgate before crossing the Channel. Those on board waited and waited, but no prince came. Only five persons in the vessel (one of whom was Charles Thelin, the prince's valet) knew what they were there for.

For some time the passengers were kept quiet by breakfast. Then, having no one at their head, they began to grow unruly. Those in the secret were terribly afraid that the river police might take notice of the large number of foreigners on board, especially as the vessel claimed to be an excursion-boat, and not a petticoat was visible. It was all important to catch the tide, - all important to reach Boulogne before sunrise on the 5th of August, when their friends expected them. But no prince came.

Major Parquin, who had been one of the Strasburg conspirators, was particularly unmanageable; and late in the afternoon he insisted on going ashore to buy some cigars, saying that those on board were detestable. In vain Persigny and Orsi, who in the prince's absence considered themselves to be in command, assured him that to land was impossible; Parquin would not recognize their authority. The rest of the story I will tell in Count Orsi's own words. He wrote his account in "Fraser's Magazine," 1879: -

"The wrath of the major was extreme. There was danger in his anger. I consulted Persigny on the advisability of letting him go on shore, with the distinct understanding that he should be accompanied by me or by Charles Thelin."

The truth, it may be suspected, was that Parquin was drunk, or that, having suspected the object of the expedition, he had some especial object in going ashore, which he would not reveal to his fellow-conspirators.

"Persigny," continues Count Orsi, "consented to the idea, and Parquin and I got into the boat. The vessel was lying in the stream. Thelin was with us. As we were walking to the cigar-shop, the major remarked a boy sitting on a log of wood and feeding a tame eagle with shreds of meat. The eagle had a chain fastened to one of its claws. The major turned twice to look at it, and went on without saying a word. On our way back to the boat, however, we saw the boy within two yards of the landing-place. The major went up to him, and looking at the eagle, said in French, 'Is it for sale?' The boy did not understand him. 'My dear Major,' I said, 'I hope you do not intend to buy that eagle. We have other things to attend to. For Heaven's sake, come away!' 'Why not? I will have it. Ask him what he asks for it.'"

The major paid a sovereign for the eagle, and this unlucky purchase was the cause that endless ridicule was cast on the expedition. It has always been supposed that the eagle was one of the "properties" provided for the occasion, and that it was intended to perch on the Napoleon Column at Boulogne. It may well be supposed that this is not far from the truth, and that Major Parquin had the eagle waiting for him at Gravesend. Eagles are so very uncommon in England that it is unlikely that a boy, without set purpose, would be waiting with a tame one on a wharf at Gravesend. The unfortunate bird became in the end the property of a butcher in Boulogne.