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YESTERDAY, WE LEARNED how literary agent Arthur Conan Doyle latched onto hussard ancien Brigadier Etienne Gerard, who shared plonk-encouraged adventures of Napoleonic times. Today in Part 2, at Emperor Napoleon’s command, Gerard engages in a secret mission.
Gerard’s First Napoleonic Adventure. “I am an excellent soldier,” Gerard says in “The Medal of Brigadier Gerard,” “I do not say this because I am prejudiced in my own favour, but because I really am so. I can weigh every chance in a moment, and decide with as much certainty as though I had brooded for a week.”
This time around, Gerard is called into the presence of Emperor Napoleon in Rheims. “With his big round head, his curved shoulders, and his clean-shaven face, he is more like a Professor at the Sorbonne than the first soldier in France. Every man to his taste, but it seems to me that, if I could clap a pair of fine light cavalry whiskers, like my own, on to him, it would do him no harm.”
Napoleon gives Gerard and Major Charpentier a secret mission: Deliver a message through enemy lines to Paris. They are to travel in unison for a bit, then separate the rest of the way.
Gerard, who fashions himself a ladies man, says of Major Charpentier, “And yet in his insane conceit he ogled the girls as they waved their handkerchiefs to me from the windows, and he twirled his ugly red moustache up into his eyes, just as if it were to him that their attention was addressed.”
You know the type.
At one point, Gerard wearing a Russian count’s uniform bluffs his way through a Prussian encampment. When enticed into conversation, Gerard responds, “I laughed heartily also and said the only Russian words that I knew. I learned them from little Sophia, at Wilna, and they meant: ‘If the night is fine we shall meet under the oak tree, and if it rains we shall meet in the byre.’ It was all the same to this German, however, and I have no doubt that he gave me credit for saying something very witty indeed….”
Later, he is accosted by other Prussians: “One or two officers spoke to me with an air of authority, but I shook my head and smiled, and said, ‘If the night is fine we shall meet under the oak tree, but if it rains we shall meet in the byre,’ at which they shrugged their shoulders and gave the matter up.”
Gerard delivers the secret message and then returns through safe territory to report back to Napoleon. “ ‘As to you,’ cried the Emperor, taking a step forward as if he would have struck me, ‘you brain of a hare, what do you think that you were sent upon this mission for? Can you not see, coglione, that this message contained false news, and it was intended to deceive the enemy whilst I put a very different scheme into execution.’ ”
Later, the Emperor recognizes Gerard’s expertise: “You will see,” said he, turning to the Duke of Tarentum, “that Brigadier Gerard has a special medal of honour, for I believe that if he has the thickest head he has also the stoutest heart in my army.”
I highly recommend Brigadier Gerard’s tales as told to his literary agent. And I suspect Conan Doyle earned his ten percent too, what with all that spilled plonk. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020