Charles Levi had got up in the long morning hours. The sun still slept behind the horizon. Overcast clouds grayed the light. In the empty city square no one moved in the still unborn light of morning. There was only the gentle breath of a wind hinting at the humid rainy day yet to come. Stood before the Cathedral of Metz, Charles waited sitting on his trunk nodding off.
He had stayed up late the night before celebrating his departure with his university friends at a beer hall. There under the golden glow of candles and fires they sang to his departure and drank and drank. He admonished them with his praise and wished them well. Telling them about where he would be going. Hiding that he was afraid and even embarrassed to leave for Berlin, when it should have been Paris of all places.
It went on late into the night before it came to an end and Charles stumbled his way back to his dorm. There, finding it empty save for his bed and trunk he realized that this was not a place for him anymore. That it conditionally accepted him. And between this feeling and the alcoholic excitement and the anxiety of leaving he could not sleep. He barely fell to sleep before jolting awake and looking out the windows to see the night sky still black, and the hazy light of the réverbère in the streets. Finally, after short fitful attempts to fall asleep and failing, he gathered himself, got dressed, and dragged his trunk to the square before the stage coach could even arrive.
And there, wrapping himself in his coat he sat waiting, nodding away as the feelings of last night began to fade and was replaced by the dull nauseating headache of late drinking.
He was woken from his dozing by a roll of distant thunder jolting him awake. Off over the city, a wall of black thunder clouds rolled slowly through the low hanging gray over cast skies. He felt suddenly concerned for himself, before he heard the tell-tale clopping of a team of horses and the jerky rocking of a wagon. He looked the other way to find coming down the Rue d'Estrées
a black diligence
stage coach, its roof empty. The driver pulled back the horses, “Woah.” he cried from his prominently high vantage, looking down at Charles over the back of his seven horses. He was protected by a projecting cabriolet roof
“Good morning, monsieur!” he called out to the young man, his voice low and German, “What are you doing out here so late?” The coach was impressive in size, two tiers high with great windows along the side. A great leather tarp was thrown over the roof, at the corner of the cabriolet roof a single fat-oil lamp cast a soft eerie light on the driver, old bearded, and wearing a heavy gray coat and a tired looking feathered top hat.
“I'm traveling to Berlin, and I could not sleep.” answered Charles, hoarsely.
“Well I do believe I am headed in that direction. Are you with the company?”
Charles took the ticket out from the pocket of his coat and up to the driver. The man inspected it in the dim light and nodded sagely, “You're in luck then. Looks like it's going to rain. We'll help you get your trunk onto the roof and you can step inside.”
Charles was pleased with the invitation. Though he was too hung over to show up. Standing up caused his stomach to swim and he paused. The driver was down on the ground and walking around the back of the stage coach, two other men had joined him. Charles had regained his composure, and the four of them hoisted the chest onto the top deck the coach. “It feels like you've packed a body, monsieur!” the driver called excitedly, laughing.
“You could say as much. It's all of me.” Charles responded, voice low, intolerable. He felt exhausted. He ignored whatever else the driver had to say and disappeared into the wagon.
Its interior was rather spacious, but bare bones. Sets of leather padded wooden benches facing each other filled the dark and creaking interior. The two other crew men sat inside. After having taken one piece of his anxieties off the list, he threw himself down onto the bench, laying his head on his arm and surrendered to his exhaustion. But his rest was not totally complete. His restless stomach urged him to wake. When it began to rain the sound of the storm on the wood and glass and leather tarpaulin sounded like an angry tempest. And finally the first passengers after him arrived. A young couple with an infant, crying of terror from the thunder. Several old women sputtering delicately on about the tempest outside. Their steps into the coach and their luggage being loaded rocked the entire vehicle and Charles's stomach rolled even more. A nudge at his fest forced him to ball up tighter as someone took a seat next to him.
At last the church bells rang, which must have been their signal to move because the whole coach jerked forward, throwing Charles against his bench. The sensation of movement did not make him feel the more comfortable and he pulled himself sickly up and towards the window where he stared with vacant indifference the passing of the city in the summer rain. Men and women with umbrellas or coats thrown over their heads went about the streets. The rain pulled up from the streets dirt and turned the roads thick and muddy.
Riding, he found he could open the window. The stuffy moldy interior, stinking of mud and of leather was already becoming too much for him and he unlatched the window to hang himself outside in the cold rain. To his delight he found it relaxing and his mind could settle. His stomach rested, only for in a moment to roll again.
Two things happened.
The wagon hit a large but shallow bump, forcing it to roll. The second was a newsboy spotted him and ran up holding out rolled newspaper, clearly getting soggy. Running up to and alongside the stagecoach he asked in a loud voice so as to be heard over the wheels, “New edition! New edition! Le Moniteur Universal
! Would you like to buy?”
Charles could not take it, he could not hold in his stomach. He vomited out the window, stunning and shocking the paper boy as it sprayed onto the paper and down his arm and onto his leg. The child stopped and was soon left swiftly behind, screaming revolting profanities after him as he disappeared somewhere off in a vaguely northern direction.
The Académie Royale de Musique concert hall at Salle Le Peletier was like being in the great golden mind of a god. Illuminated by chandeliers the size of barges, innumerable candles and lanterns among its halls and galleries it sparkled and glimmered in dazzling baroque amber and gold. Though it was made of wood, and had been for over a decade considered temporary until someday a permanent opera could be built, stand it did. Over the stage hung a portrait, commissioned personally by the king of his slain son, Charles Ferdinand d'Artois, who had been assassinated at the opera. That building had long since been demolished, and a chapel built in the prince's honor, and the theater had moved into this building, intending to move again, but the funds for the proposed project never materialized.
High in the box seats, one could look out over a cavernous amphitheater. A show was on tonight, and the floor was filling with feet as the cheap tickets filled in; they were forced to stand. Men took off their hats to fan themselves in the heat of the theater, but talked jovially among themselves. Higher up, in the well-to-do seats the members of Parisian and French high society gathered to sit, some accompanied by servants who would feed and water them with cheese and wine. Others produced pipes of tobacco and lost themselves in conversation. If the floor could be described as a ocean of conversation and mingling looking up were the stars that shone down on the rippling surface, incandescent power and prestige cast out separate from the low and the poor to proclaim their brilliance. But all the same: severed and broken off from the mass currents below.
But, there was one star who outshone them all, though dark.
Nearest to the stage at the highest point a single box seat was occupied by the Court. Dressed supremely fine, they would be unmistakable on the streets. But for reason of security of the king and of his ego, it was not declared here in the theater. In the box high military officers and ministers drifted and chatted. Several ambassadors had been invited to join them. The opera of the evening was a re-performance of Fromental Halévy's La Juive and when informed of this Charles X's eyes lit up from his aged stupor and he exclaimed, “Ah yes! The Jew! The Jew from Rome!”
Jules d'Pogniac took his seat, holding in his hand a glass of wine. He wore a fine dark blue frilled coat and jacket. Elegant silver lace trimming a dark-blue officer's uniform with sash and medals. He took off his cape as he sat and used it as a blanket to cover his legs as he leaned delicately over to get a better view of the massing theater, though he was a distance away. Next to him, draped in dark robes and covered in blankets was the aging and silver-haired Charles X who looked vacantly out into the middle of the room. And likewise nearby his grandson, the dauphin Henri, duc de Bordeaux, comte de Chambord, dressed more modestly in the latest fashion.
“God bless it is a full house!” d'Polgniac exclaimed excitedly, “Pray to the Virgin Mary that there are no scouring journalists.” he intoned with a smile and leaned back, looking over the gallery seats.
“Your majesty it is a good day for the opera.” he smiled. Charles X did not produce for him an answer and instead continued to gaze out into the abyss.
Still feeling the need for conversation, the prime minister leaned forward in his chair and looked to Henri and asked, “My dear god-given dauphin, if I may ask: how is your uncle Louis? I am sad that he could not join the family affair.”
The young Henri, sixteen looked over, a polite smile forming in his pleasant round face and he said, “He is well. But he volunteered himself to see a military display at Versailles.”
“Oh a shame, but all is good!” d'Polgniac cheered and leaned back in his seat. He gazed out again over the box seats and someone caught his eyes. Concerned, curious he summon a servant to retrieve his opera glasses and they were produced. Raising them to his eyes he looked out across the theater to the gallery to the box he had his eyes on. There, seating themselves directly opposite from the royals were the Pereire brothers and their families. Jules d'Polgniac felt his blood boil that the two men he felt the most disloyal had the guile to make themselves present. And what's worse: they sat close to the edge and were visible to all! How dare they. He felt even more mad, because he knew them to be Jewish.
He summoned his servant again and said to him, pointing across the theater to the Pereires: “I would like it if you could get the attention of the master of the theater to see to it those men over there that they are moved!” he demanded, “I do not know why we need to suffer the view of Jews here tonight. But see to it they are removed!”
The servant, obedient nodded and with a hushed, “Yes, you're honor.” he hurried out the door and disappeared.
He breathed a sigh of relief, sound in the thought that perhaps those high Jews would be certainly removed. Though the very knowledge of their presence agitated him. Delinquently, he rose his glass of wine and took a deep drink. It was fine, smooth, best fit for delicate sipping but his nerves had been scoured. He cautiously looked around to ensure no one had noticed when a soft voice said something behind him. He turned to see the ambassador from the Austrian court by his side, a squat Hungarian man wearing a large beard. Though d'Polgniac respected him, he could not stop but quietly remark privately to himself he looked much like a Mongolian.
“Your honor: if I may sit next to you? I have tidings from Metternich and the court of The Grace of God, Emperor Francis of Austria.”
The presence of the Austrian court in France illuminated much of d'Polgniac's darkened mood and he invited him, “Yes, do – please sit!”
The ambassador's name was Németh István, the son of a minor noble who was stationed in Paris as part of his Emperor's ongoing diplomatic mission in France. As he pulled forward a chair and took his seat the opera began, the orchestra coming out into the pit and began tuning their instruments. “I would like to first begin by complimenting you, dear minister: France has never been more stable. It's people never more righteous, and the glory and prestige of the monarchy never the more shining and brilliant. May the Bourbons last a thousand more years, sir.”
“Yes, thank you.” d'Polgniac said beaming, looking over to Charles who seemed to not notice. Henri looked over, leaning slightly forward to observe.
The ambassador noticed, and with a polite and eloquent smile invited the young man over. “I see no reason to leave the family out of this.” he said pleasantly, if accented. Henri picked up his chair and moved it over. Almost immediately another minister took his spot, as if afraid to leave the kind alone for any length of time.
“Thought well standing France is as a friend to common stability in Europe, I am afraid that Metternich has seen it fit to call upon the nation. To put things bluntly.” he continued.
“Yes, I've heard about what is happening in Russia.” d'Polgniac stated plainly.
“I too have been keeping up.” Henri said, “Things are published as fast as they come from Poland in the presses. It is a worrying revolution.”
“Exactly. And as all God fearing gentlemen know: there is a delicate order in Europe. And Metternich and His Grace himself the Emperor of Austria Francis I has decided to convene Europe. His enlightened ruler of the Russians, the Czar has henceforth been incapable of containing the Revolution, and so it was decided that if intervention in Russia does not occur: then the delicate Concert of London may be broken. We thus have to appeal to the defenders of European order to bring to heel the disorder in that country.”
“I would be honor to commit French men and resources to the cause.” d'Polgniac said without reservation. Henri was shocked at the sudden commitment of the minister but himself decided to agree with a stunned pause.
“Ah, very well! I thank you and your government's commitment.” István said with a smile, “And when the rest of Europe responds, we will bring the Czar back to his enlightened glory.”
“Shall France be committing anything to the cause now?” asked Henri
“If you do, I would say it would be unilateral. Minister d'Polgniac, would you be sending anyone to Venice to answer this invitation?”
“Certainly!” d'Polgniac answered boisterous, “I'll have a letter dispatched to our ambassador in Vienna to begin work with Metternich immediately after show. But this holy and God-driven endeavor deserves a stronger show I do think.”
“Perhaps we should send Prince Louis to meet.”
“Excellent.” said István
“I can leave for Versailles to meet with him tomorrow, deliver the news.” Dauphin Henry said, energized at the thought of this grand moment unraveling before his eyes. Below, the orchestra had finished, and was just beginning to play the first opening movement of the opera. The actors came on stage but by this time, none in the royal box were paying attention in truth. They turned their attention to the conspiracy on Russia being planned there in the box.
By the time the servant who had been dispatched earlier to try and clear out the Pereire returned. He had met with the master of the house, and issuing the orders to expel the brothers and their family failed resoundingly in doing so. He was told that they were paying and honorable guests. That he could no so much as move them. It would have been rude. But returning to the box with it in full discussion on Russia and Vienna and Austria the servant had the thought that it was no longer important, and stayed quiet. When he returned to d'Polgniac with an ice plate of fresh oysters for the guests it was not a matter even raised, he was simply ignored. The chatter, low and delicate as it was was energetic. Somewhere in it the words, “and perhaps this will dispel the Doctrinaires, another grand Algiers mission!” were uttered.
Across the theater, having been tipped off to the presence of the House of Bourbon's presence Isaac Pereire looked through the opera glasses up at their box. He could see the small court bustle about the ambassador and minister, their faces barely visible over the railing of their box.
“What's happening?” Émile asked.
“They're with the Hungarian, the one from Vienna.” Isaac said, leaning on his arm. He lowered the glasses and scratch at his side. The threads of his suit itchy and annoying. It was an ill-fitting suit, one which he would have to have re-fitted later on. “This might be worth keeping an eye on.”
The next day
Thee gilded carriage rolled down the road through the rural countryside around Versailles, trundling through farmer's fields. Distant, though hidden behind woodland lay the vacant hull of the Chateau of Versailles and the largely vacant commune at its front gates. But though empty and abandoned since the Revolution, it was not a place forgotten. From time to time, the aristocracy made pilgrimages in honor of the Ancien Regime and the days before the Republic and the Restorations. It was a nook for romantic journeys backwards in time, and for other things.
Guided by riders, the carriage came on a fenced area and was interrupted by sentries on the road side. Walking up to the carriage words were exchanged, and it was allowed to diligently pass to the fields beyond where emerged discrete military fortifications and settlement in the country. Outside men drilled in formation, and more distantly on a green hill an array of balloons lay in the grass. The carriage and its outriders made for the formation of balloons without hesitation and pulled up nearby.
“Since the Revolution the advantages of aeronautics has been at time and time proved.” a high Russian voiced preached, loudly in skilled French, “Since even the revolution, when the balloon was first deployed to observe Austrian movements and to respond accordingly, they made themselves proof of the superiority of the air.”
Out of the carriage stepped Prince Henri, who was dressed for the occasion in an officer's uniform. Junior officers on the fringe of the demonstration noticed, and turned to salute. The young prince disarmed them with a tip of the hat and they dropped their hands and turned back to the Russian.
“The superior advantages accredited to armies by balloons is an untapped field of the military sciences.” he continued as Henri walked up to and stood besides the war minister Louis-Auguste-Victor, comte de Ghaisnes. Louis-Auguste, too invested in the dawning demonstration did not notice the dauphin as he stood there, folding his hands in front of himself and joining in. There too was Henri's uncle, the prince Louis who was also interested in the Russian's demonstration. The Russian continued: “With the ability to find great advantages in height over the opposing forces they are more capable than any observation tower that could be built on the tallest hill in observing enemy movements at a distance, in a clear day able to allow a trained observer to watch over hundreds of thousands of desyatina
“But what is most notably ignored in their ability is their use as a firing platform!” he exclaimed, turning to look over the crowd with a dramatic flourish of his hand and a wide beaming smile. He was dressed like a business man about the town in Paris, a white dress shirt with a black vest, neck wrapped, top hat on. His eyes looked over the heads of the assembled military personnel before he found prince Henri. “Ah, welcome your majesty!” he said in a hurry and bowed low. At that moment the war minister turned and saw him and his eyes went wide and he bowed, removing his hat.
“Your majesty, had I known I would have prepared!” he said.
“Your majesty.” prince Louis said, also bowing.
“I am sorry had I known I would be with so many esteemed guests I would have prepared good vodka and seen to it there was food.” the Russian joked nervously, “Would you like me to start over?” he asked weakling, looking from the princes to the war minister.
“No, carry on Vasiliy.” Louis-Auguste ordered.
“Yes- so, to continue,” Vasily stumbled, “What has been left unexplored in ballooning in their capabilities has firing platforms! Tethered or free floating they are a unique position from which to engage the enemy, at an altitude unaccounted for in military strategy. To this moment in all human and military history commanders have sought the winning advantage of the high ground, but never have they been able to summon them into being at will!”
With a motion of his hand he turned to the arrayed corp of balloons resting on the hill a distance behind him, and men dressed in Imperial Russian uniforms ran to their baskets and began to engage with preparing and launching their vehicles. As the canopies were inflated Vasily continued loudly, with a booming voice now: “It was during Napoleon's invasion of Russia that engineers working with the Tzar sought to turn the humble observation balloon into a threatening gun platform! However the speed at which the Little Corporal moved through Russia, and the failures of the project did not bless it! Though the designs have been abandoned, I have not forgotten them. And while the engineers who worked in holy service to his god-given and grace holiness, the Emperor of Russia and all its people envisioned a battle ship of the skies, I appeal to you a more modest arrangement!
“Equipped with two-pound cannons, the field commander who deploys armed balloon platforms will be able to engage the enemy at further range than before, laying down suppressing anti-personnel fire at the great distances that height affords, and to even bypass the field cover that an army in the field may use to avoid the shots of the enemy!” behind, the balloons began to lift off, ten in all. Sticking out from the sides of their baskets sat small gun barrels that could scan the distant horizons in any direction. As they lift off, crews on the ground held ropes to help anchor them in place.
“The vision of the emperor in the surface to the defense of Russia was to attack Napoleon and his men from such an unassailable position as these platforms can reach and fire down upon them before they can even reach the field of battle, breaking the resolve of the enemy before they arrive.” as the balloons reached their maximum, the cannons onboard fired, and over the distant hills the subtle gray whiffs of smoke signaling the bursting of canister shot echoed. Many of the men attending were stunned or humored, and applauded the work of the Russian and his men. Both Louis stood back, with-holding their congratulation as they regarded the ballooning platforms with mutual skepticsm.
The platforms continued firing their cannons off into the distance and Vasily approached the war minister and asked eagerly, his face glowing red with excitement: “So what do you think, minister?”
He was silent for a long time, “Just a two pounds?” he asked, flatly.
“Well I'm afraid anything heavier would be a bit much for agun. After all it's early in design. Surely: with some investment from the government I could afford research into something much better. You could send up five pound, ten pound. Think for a minute even: seventeen pounds. There may be a future when siege cannons can be lifted up to the heights to rain fire down on fortified enemy positions. There would be no hiding of the enemy then! Why, the face of warfare would be changed forever!”
“Yes, but these can not move.” Prince Louis pointed out.
“Rest assured, in the field of science there is study of how to move the balloons. True: they are only at the mercy of the winds and how much gas they contain. But money: that is honestly the important truth here gentlemen. Were there money invested in the endeavor then research could proceed much faster and there might be entirely steerable balloons.” Vasiliy sensed still more hesitation and he added: “Armored, perhaps. Battleships of the sky. Airships, if you will.”
“We will need to consider,” War Minister Louis said, “It's something that I would need to talk to Francois-Régis about.”
“Oh, please do.” Vasily said, nodding excitedly, “Enlighten him about the glories of the modern sciences. There is much ground to be made in all places of the physical science.”
The two stepped away from Vasily, and made to Henri.
“Great nephew, what brings you here?” Prince Louis asked
“I come from the opera last night, where great transformations were made on the world stage.” Henri said with a smile, “Myself and d'Polgniac had an enlightened discussion with the minister from Austria, and we are invited to the court in Vienna to decide to make an end to the Decemberists in Russia. I'm here to say that you've been invited to join the French delegation, dear uncle.”
Prince Louis became annoyed, he stuttered. He wanted to shout, “and why me, and why at this time?” but knew he could not raise his voice so much to the Dauphin. Instead he measured himself and asked, “And what did father say?”
“He agreed.” Henri lied. Charles X had no input in much of anything, and when asked began talking about Marie Antoinette.
“Your name also came up, Louis-Auguste-Victor and if you would like: then you too may go and join the delegation. The glory of the French army must be represented.”
Minister Louis-Auguste-Victor rose a brow, and kicked at the ground a little and turned to the Prince Louis. “If it's ministerial and royal command,” he said, “I guess I could go as well. I have after all commanded the ministry by correspondence before. So what harm is there.”
Henri smiled wide, “I'm glad I can reach accommodations.” he looked up at the balloons, who had stopped firing into the wilderness and were being pulled down, “How might I catch a ride on one of those?” he asked. The two older men's faces went pale as the flag.
"If I may," Vasily said, inserting himself, "If France is to go to Russia: perhaps we could discuss a deal." he smiled.
"We'll discuss it later." Louis-Auguste-Victor said with a stern voice