The honest laborer commenced, on entering the cabinet, by saluting the back of de Bourrienne, who could not see him, occupied as he was in writing upon a small table placed in the recess of a window. The First Consul saw him make his bows, himself reclining in his armchair, one of the arms of which, according to habit, he was pricking with the point of his knife. Finally he spoke. “Well, my brave fellow.” The peasant turned, recognized him, and saluted anew. “Well,” continued the First Consul, “has the harvest been fine this year?”—“No, with all respect, Citizen General, but not so very bad.”
“In order that the earth should produce, it is necessary that it should be turned up, is it not so? Fine gentlemen are no good for such work.”
“Meaning no offense, General, the bourgeois have hands too soft to handle a plow. There is need of a hard fist to handle these tools.”
“That is so,” replied the First Consul, smiling. “But big and strong as you are, you should handle something else than a plow. A good musket, for instance, or the handle of a good saber.”
The laborer drew himself up with an air of pride. “General, in my time I have done as others. I had been married six or seven years when these d—–d Prussians (pardon me, General) entered Landrecies. The requisition came. They gave me a gun and a cartridge-box at the Commune headquarters, and march! My soul, we were not equipped like those big gallants that I saw just now on entering the courtyard.” He referred to the grenadiers of the Consular Guard.
“Why did you quit the service?” resumed the First Consul, who appeared to take great interest in the conversation.
“My faith, General, each one in his turn, and there are saber strokes enough for every one. One fell on me there” (the worthy laborer bent his head and divided the locks of his hair); “and after some weeks in the field hospital, they gave me a discharge to return to my wife and my plow.”
“Have you any children?”
“I have three, General, two boys and a girl.”
“You must make a soldier of the oldest. If he will conduct himself well, I will take care of him. Adieu, my brave man. Whenever I can help you, come to see me again.” The First Consul rose, made de Bourrienne give him some louis, which he added to those the laborer had already received from him, and directed me to show him out, and we had already reached the antechamber, when the First Consul called the peasant back to say to him, “You were at Fleurus?”—“Yes, General.”—“Can you tell me the name of your general-in-chief?”—“Indeed, I should think so. It was General Jourdan.”—“That is correct. Au revoir;” and I carried off the old soldier of the Republic, enchanted with his reception.