Beneath the Aurora

Beneath the Aurora by Richard Woodman Read Free Book Online

Book: Beneath the Aurora by Richard Woodman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Richard Woodman
the dignity of his throne, the people of Naples, let alone of the whole of Italy, will acknowledge him as king?’
    â€˜
Si!
Yes! He is most popular! Without your ships, Ferdinand would be lost and Sicily would join all of Italy. Would that not be better for England? To have a friendly power in the Mediterranean? You would like a naval port at Livorno, or La Spezia.’
    â€˜Perhaps. Are you empowered to offer us a naval port?’
    Bardolini shrugged again and looked about him. ‘This is not the place . . .’
    Drinkwater grinned. ‘You may have to content yourself with such a place, Colonel,’ he said dryly, ‘you are in my hands now,’ and his expression and tone of voice, strained by tiredness, appeared to Bardolini to be full of menace.
    In fact Drinkwater was disappointed. The Neapolitan had nothing to offer. Joachim Murat was hedging his bets fantastically. It would be an act of humanity to send this candy-stick officer back to Flushing by the first available boat, but perhaps he would play the charade for just a little longer.
    â€˜Well, Colonel,’ he said with an air of finality, stirring as though to rise and call Patmore and Sparkman, ‘is King Joachim to be trusted? He is married to Caroline Bonaparte, the Emperor’s sister. If he commits himself to coming over to the Allied cause like Bernadotte, his position must be unassailable. He courts Austria, which has her own deep interest inTuscany and the Papal States, and would rather an accommodation with Ferdinand of the Two Sicilies than the adventurer and parvenu King Joachim . . .’
    â€˜Captain! You should not call him that! He is brave, and true! And devoted to his people and the Rights of Man!’
    The sincerity of Bardolini’s florid passion was genuine, though he had looked angry at Drinkwater’s reference to Bernadotte. They were getting nowhere. For all the confidence of his exposition, Drinkwater was exhausted. The overnight journey jolting in a chaise, turning over and over in his mind the likely outcome of this queer meeting; the memorizing of the notes he had scribbled from a quick rereading of the guard books; the rehearsal of facts; the guessing at motives and the building in his own mind of a convincing, watertight reason for this singular, strange invasion, had left him weary. He had wanted to rage at the imbecile Sparkman, so obviously raddled by a night of dissolution, yet the lieutenant’s inhumane treatment of Bardolini had left the man indignant for his own honour, and unguarded about his master’s.
    Drinkwater mustered his wits for one last argument. The drink had made him dopey and he forced himself to his feet, leaning forward for emphasis, his hands spread on the table before him. Again he managed a thin smile at Bardolini.
    â€˜There is one last point that we must consider, Colonel Bardolini. Where is the King of Naples now?’
    The question caught Bardolini off guard. ‘He is at Dresden.’
    â€˜With his Emperor?’
    â€˜With the Emperor of the French, yes.’
    â€˜As a Marshal of France, commanding the cavalry of the Grande Armée.’
    Bardolini nodded, frowning.
    â€˜Yet he must be on the winning side, must he not? And to preserve his integrity it must never be known that he treated with the other. Is that not so?’
    â€˜You are an intelligent man, Captain. The King is married to the Emperor’s sister. They correspond. There could be no absolute secrets between them . . .’
    â€˜No!’ snapped Drinkwater with sudden vehemence. ‘Bonaparte is a cynic; he will overlook base ingratitude, even treasonif it serves his purpose, but do you think the Emperor Francis of Austria will be so tolerant? He is not so
republican
a king.’
    Bardolini shrugged, missing the sarcasm. ‘The Emperor Francis will bow if England is in alliance with the King of Napoli. A man who will declare war on the

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