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Stephen made a final note in the margin of Sir Joseph Blaine's latest message, considering what was said and left unsaid there.

Bleakly he recalled the whole dreamlike sequence: the return from Madeira, the committee meetings, the hammer blow of Diana's death, and that so very unsatisfactory last meeting in Sir Joseph's study. The curiously circular talk of measures by his friend – special measures to be taken with regard to Napoleon. Measures alluded to but never voiced.

"For all love, Sir Joseph, what is so secret about these measures? Surely the farce at St. Helena was to be foreseen. When his latest adventures are over and he is again in hand then shut him up without a kingdom, or a navy, and at a more distant place. What other measures could you want?"

Blaine looked steadily at Stephen for a moment, then replied in a tired voice, as if from a great distance.

"Stephen, there is great fear, indeed near panic, that Napoleon may succeed in this latest adventure. His allies and sympathizers are well placed, and not just in France. Ours are exhausted; few have the stomach for another fight. Armies, navies half dispersed. No, when Bonoparte is caught again, and God send he is, he must not only be removed to a more distant place, but he were better dead, quietly, and at a time certain. A decision has been taken between the advisors of the King Louis and His Majesty's government that Bonoparte will be . . . poisoned. Cyanide has been mentioned." At this he turned his head away, as if to distance himself from his own words.

"But why not the nearest stone wall, for all love? If you wish him dead, then make it so and cleanly. But assassination, for that it surely is, has neither sense nor honor in it. The man's a monster, sure, but will you kill him slowly for the comfort of the Royals and a band of clerks? Will you end a monstrous tyranny with an equally monstrous act of cowardice"

"Stephen, I have no more use for this than you, and I argued strenuously against it. But there's France to heal, and many that declared for the Empire to be enlisted in that task. Who would lead the Emperor to the wall, and who would be the executioner? It cannot be an English firing squad, nor French, or any ally, but he must die. So there it stands. Some other way may be found, but I doubt it. Even as his life was lived molto allegro, his passing must be pianissimo, and never, ever known for what it is."

Stephen laid aside his pen, gathered the several sheets together and placed them in the pierced and weighted iron box, reflecting on his tangled feelings, the sudden absence of the great anger toward Bonoparte that had so long sustained him. "A strange and disquieting end to a long adventure," he thought, snapping shut the box.


© 1998 Warren Godfrey