The Man-Stealers - M.P. Shiel - ebook

The Man-Stealers ebook

M. P. Shiel



In „The Man-Stealers” we have the French plot to kidnap the Duke of Wellington to avenge Napoleon’s imprisonment. Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865–1947) was a prolific British writer of West Indian descent. His legal surname remained „Shiell” though he adopted the shorter version as a de facto pen name. He is remembered mostly for supernatural and scientific romances. His work was published as serials, novels, and as short stories. „The Purple Cloud” (1901; 1929) remains his most famous and often reprinted novel. If you haven’t discovered the joys of Shiel ’s mysteries there is a good place to start.

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Chapter I. The Confederates

Chapter II. The Plot

Chapter III. The Despatches

Chapter IV. The Busy Bee

Chapter V. Mr. Golde

Chapter VI. Margaret Ferris

Chapter VII. The Frigate

Chapter VIII. The Siege

Chapter IX. The “Busy Bee”

Chapter X. The Snuff-Box

Chapter XI. “The Mistress Of The House”

Chapter XII. The Coffin

Chapter XIII. En Route

Chapter XIV. Castle Debonaire

Chapter XV. The Iron Man

Chapter XVI. The Two Roads

Chapter XVII. In The Court-Yard

Chapter XVIII. Margaret’s Guidance

Chapter XIX. The Foot-Fall

Chapter XX. The Trunk

Chapter XXI. The Hoofs

Chapter XXII. The Boat

Chapter XXIII. To Seacombe

Chapter XXIV. The Alarm

Chapter XXV. Three Cheers

Chapter XXVI. The Cliffs

Chapter XXVII. Scoble’s Cave

Chapter XXVIII. The Shore

Chapter XXIX. Homicide

Chapter XXX. “Hail, Holy Light!”

Chapter XXXI. The Barque


After Waterloo, Buonaparte hurried back to Paris, and the next morning was virtually asked to abdicate by a deputation of the Chamber. This he did; and retired to Malmaison: but the Provisional Government, embarrassed by his proximity, sent General Becker to “accompany” him away to Rochefort and here the trapped little Titan, after a brief vain hope of running the blockade of English ships to America, trusted himself to his enemies, and embarked with his suite of forty on the Bellerophon, having first written to the Prince Regent these words:

“I come, like Themistocles, to cast myself upon the hospitality of the British people”–though, of course, Themistocles had never done that: but it was the day of large phrase, and reference to the classics.

Napoleon’s hope, apparently, was some English country-seat, where he might lord and luxuriate a space, till the next lion-spring to France, and upheaval of the world.

What really happened we know: he was not allowed to land: but on the responsibility of the British Ministry was transferred, near Plymouth, to the Northumberland, and, with only three adherents, packed off to St. Helena.

Certainly, this was as high-handed a piece of business as possible; it was coarse, it was treacherous, it was savage–and it was wonderfully wise.

At all events, Bony raved largely: “I hereby solemnly protest in the face of Heaven and mankind,” wrote he, “against the violence that is done me. I voluntarily came on board the Bellerophon:–I am not the prisoner, I am the guest, of England. I came at the invitation of the Captain himself (this was true!) to place myself under the protection of England, with full trust in the sacred rights of hospitality. If the Government only wished to lay a snare for me, it has forfeited its honour, and disgraced its flag. An enemy who made war for twenty years against the English people has come spontaneously, in the hour of misfortune, to seek an asylum under their laws; what greater proof could he give of his esteem and confidence? And how has England replied? She pretended to hold out a hospitable hand: but when this enemy gave himself up, he was immolated! I appeal to History!”–and so on.

All this had not the least effect upon the British people, into whose soul the iron of Bony had well entered.

But what he said was quite true: and upon the French people it had an effect!

The Northumberland was not half-way to St. Helena when Buonaparte, throughout the length and breadth of France, acquired a glamour which was partly that of Romulus, the god, and partly that of Stephen, the martyr.

The Hero, murdered, becomes a Saint; then admiration rises into Awe, and veneration kindles into Religion.

Men said: “How has he been sacrificed–for us!” With this realisation of the sacrificial, the mind has reached out into the transcendent, and is in a state of Piety. There was instituted, indeed, no public worship and apotheosis of Buonaparte, as in the case Buddha, Mahomet, etc.:

but only because he was tthe god of a modern, western nation: and there was private worship and apotheosis enough.

By the time he reached St. Helena, at least seven Secret Societies had sprung into existence in Paris, at which the members, on entrance and exit, knelt uncovered before a statue of the hero.

The aim of all these associations was either the practical one of getting Napoleon out of St. Helena, or the vaguer one of revenge: and in both cases the mind turned naturally to one man: the Duke of Wellington.

The practical ones said in effect: “Hostage for hostage! let us seize their leader as they have seized ours: then, perhaps, we can exchange.” The vague ones said: “Man for man! let us seize their darling as they have seized ours: then, perhaps, we shall be comforted.”

For it was true that the Duke at that moment was as profoundly venerated (though less wildly adored) in England, as Napoleon in France.

Associated with those Secret Societies, or members of them, were, it is said, five members of the Provisional Government, six hundred and seventy-four ladies of the monde and Court, with old hands like Savary, Bertrand, Las Cases, Lallemand, the Duc de Rovigo, Gourgand, and Jacquiers of the Clarendon in London–Marshals, men with the Grand Cross, naval men, generals, old bed-chamber grooms, men-about-town, aristocrats, ouvriers, old Guards, the demimonde, every type of France.

It was the age of rough-and-ready “violence to the person”: in England, Sayer, the Bow Street officer, and the St. James’ Watch House, knew well the ‘prentice-kidnapping chimney-sweep; at Bartholomew Fair, wives were formally sold for seven-shilling pieces, with a wind-up of Blue Ruin and the cotillon; the Resurrection Men struck openly for higher pay, and “burked” (suffocated) to procure corpses; women abducted young boys and married them; the Prince Regent was playfully stoned in his phaeton, and had his eyes blacked by Lord Yarmouth; Buonaparte was kidnapped by the British Ministry. This conception, therefore, of the French Societies came naturally, was in the spirit of the air. And from the first they set about its execution with fanatic zeal.

In the end nothing of national importance came of it–unless we call “national” the destruction of Raddon Lighthouse. But because the whole incident so illustrates the seven-times tempered spirit of the Duke in that most awfully ticklish ordeal through which he had to pass, we give the details in fresh form.

One of these sworn enemies of the Duke was a young man of twenty-five, named Camille de Verdier, son of the Marquis de la Terville-Rochefoucauld, an emigré. The son, a fellow of iron grit, took to Republican views, and after seven years of exile in England, broke with his father, returned to France, and attaching himself to Court, was territorially reinstated. He dropped the de of his name, took part in the march to Moscow, was captured at Vittoria, brought to England, refused to be free on parole, escaped from the Medway hulk, was in the Staff at Waterloo, and accompanied Napoleon to Malmaison and Rochefort.

He was of strong character, but given to spasmodic passions. During his London life he had flamed for a fellow-exile, one Mdlle. d’Arblay, of Mansfield Street, a young lady of great beauty, once referred to in the Morning Chronicle as “that fair female of Family and Fashion whose genteel figure and elegant Paris deportment so adorn the magic Circle in which she shines.” This fair female had a head which thought, and a cold and ruthless heart, which yet could adore: her adoration being first Verdier, and secondly Napoleon, and that Republican France which had chased her parents: indeed, from her lips Verdier had caught a fiercer enthusiasm for the new Religion. She loved him: and on the death of her last parent, followed him to France. But when she yielded to his passion, the restless fellow almost ceased to pretend adoration; and they rather drifted apart.

On the 3rd February, 1816, he visited her at her house in the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré. She came to him in the heavy salon Henri IV., stooping through a protracted curtsey; she being then a large, beautiful woman of twenty-seven years; Roman-profiled, with a flat forehead, lined from hair to nose with delicate frown; skin dead white; and blackest lax hair; and a plenteous figure of long-legged grace in her bosom-waisted robe.

She was all in black.

Verdier, who had not seen her for two months, kissed her perfunctorily, even while he said:

“Why the deuce are you in mourning, pretty Lise?”

They often talked together in English. “Why are you?” she replied.

He glanced at a brassard of crape on his left arm–a singular addition to a dandy attire of cut- away demi-surtout, tight pantaloons of stockinette, and splendid shoe-buckles; he being a rather small fellow, knit and agile, firm-lipped, with a wealth of wheaten hair, seraphically pretty, but with a sardonic stare of blue eye, and a habit of breathing a Jew’s-harp whistle through white teeth-edges in a silent moment; and walking, his coat-tails swung freely from side to side.

In some minutes he had learned that Lise was a member of a Society called “Société du Sacrifice,” whose members bound themselves to wear mourning till “a certain illustrious Personage” had paid the forfeit of England’s treachery.

He was surprised: for the same reason he wore mourning: and deeply as he knew the Parisian under-currents, he was not aware of any other Société than his own.

And he had this thought: if there are more than one, there may be more than two! For two months he worked hard, from La Villette to St. Cloud, with a grand idea, and a persistent industry: by the end of that time he was a member of seven Societies: there might be more, but he could glean no hint of them in casino, bureau, salon, cabaret, club, or Montmartre den. Now, however, he was satisfied. His dream was to amalgamate all those unearthed into a single force which would not fail.

The necessary formalities and precautions were, of course, innumerable, but the task not otherwise difficult; and at midnight of the 17th May, 1816, the first Chapter of the amalgamated bodies, present 1,217, at last took place in the caves of a lonely château at Garenne-Bezons, then country, now a Paris suburb. The members bore printed Notice Papers; a Board consisting of Presidents of the old Sociétés presided; the Society was named; a Roll read; Resolutions, Statutes, Agenda passed; and Officers elected. In the tangled old walled garden, before the portal, had been placed a stone statue of Napoleon, and in the dark cellar also, at the back of a rough-board estrade serving as platform, stood a gaunt crucifixion in wood of the Emperor on a black cross. The walls were draped in black. It illustrates the inherent crassness of the times, that members, in swearing, sipped from a chalice containing mixed blood and wine–a fit Napoleonic Sacrament, certainly; and after each subsequent meeting–they usually lasted till foreday–a veritable Black Sabbath of license appears to have transacted itself throughout the château (it was called Château Beconles-Giroflets, and still partly stands in the grounds behind an auberge). The President elected was M. Tombarelle, under the title of “Master” (he had been “Master” of two of the small Sociétés, and was a powerful Member of the Chamber); the Master Associate was the historic Lallemand; the Duc de Monflanquin was named Treasurer; Verdier’s reward for his organising energies was the post of “Administrator”; the Secretary’s name is somehow lost, but M. Albert Dupin, a gigantic naval man, who had been sub-lieutenant at Trafalgar, was made Sub-secretary and “Recruteur” (Recruiter?); Lise d’Arblay, with two others, were elected Soeurs Supérieures (the whole thing having a semi-religious character); while at the third Chapter, a man called Danda, a half-Spaniard, with a good deal of madness in his composition, was named Ship’s-Captain.

By the end of June the Society was exceedingly wealthy; it had acquired the bleak Château Durand, seven miles from the Norman Coast near Montreuil, for its St. Helena; also, by secret purchase from the Government, it owned a splendid frigate-built two-decker of 1,080 tons, carrying 50 guns of 2 to 5,000 lbs. on spar and main deck, with a 500 lbs. weight of broad-side, and a twelve-knot speed. All the while, a Committee of Management was selling to members “Relics” of Napoleon–a piece of soap, a shoe, a brush, fetching prices like 25 to 40,000 francs–and funds accumulated beyond the possibility of use.

On the midnight of the 5th of August occurred the most sensational of the Chapters of the Society. In the midst of a speech by the Master, Verdier rushed with flushed brow into the room, leapt to the estrade, brushed the speaker aside, and waved before the members an English- printed sheet.

It was the Court Circular, and had been sent over by Jacquiers of the Clarendon. It contained the gossip that the Duke of Wellington meant to “escape from the no inconsiderable turmoil of the Life and Fashion of the Town during the whole month of September next, and had accepted an invitation of the Marquis and Marchioness of Elwell to pass four se’ennights in the placid and elegant Seclusion of Grandcourt.”

Grandcourt, Verdier said, was only twelve or fourteen kilometres from the South Coast! This was the awaited opportunity: and a scene of wild excitement ensued, till the assembly broke up on the Motion for an extraordinary Synod that day se’ennight, when drawings and plans would be submitted, and Resolutions adopted.

This was accordingly done; and by the end of the month, Verdier, Lise d’Arblay, big Dupin, the Marquis d’Artois, and three others, had chartered at Calais one of those sea-blue luggerprivateers used in the war, and passing through Dover, had installed themselves in London. They were the delegates of the Society: and to the brains of Verdier and Lise d’Arblay, in particular, the minuter planning of the undertaking seems to have been committed.


In the Morning Post of the 9th September appeared these words:

“–the amiable youth of Quality and Fashion, who has lately took the town by storm–who already has been satirised by a Rowlandson, and oded by a Walcot–whom Mr. Creaton, the auctioneer, must needs bless, Wigley’s extol, and Tattersall’s laud–the patron both of Cordiality and the Arts, etc.”

This panegyric referred to Verdier, who by this time was everywhere, and knew everyone. Long since, in London, he had acquired the knack of drink, and at the fifth of hock or port, with his sardonic smile, would see his man under the table. This alone made him something of a King. It was an age of notorieties, little social rags and alarums, easily gulled and dazzled. Verdier had set up for the Prince of Dandies (great Brummell had just gone under). He had £6 dinners at the Clarendon or Stephen’s, followed by largesses of £1 bank-tokens for “perquisites” to waiters. He readopted his father’s titles. He had denny, curricle, tilbury and chaise, and largely trotted his milk-white Hanoverian four-in-hand. He lounged at Owen’s, the Bond Street pastry-cook, and danced at Almack’s, and played macao at Brooke’s, and whist in “the charmed circle of White’s.” In three weeks he had fought two duels, and each time gallantly spared his man. One day he spurted, the admiration of the beau monde, on a gilt hobby-horse from Johnson’s Repository in Long Acre to Bayswater, and back again to his rooms in Bolton Street, next door to Whattier’s. Twice he did the 104 miles to Brighton and back in eight hours, breaking seven whips: and to what he did he took care to have witnesses. In the “Squeeze” at Rotton Row he went meteoric, siffling through his teeth-edges, amid the salutation of the crême de la crême. He was a man-about-town, to be met in the print-shops, at the Academy in Somerset Place, and where the new bibliomaniacs bid high, and at Miss Linwood’s Leicester Square Exhibition of Needle-work, and at the Panoramas, and at Mrs. Salmon’s the wax-works, and at the cock-pit, and the bull-baiting, and the prize-fight.

After three weeks, little transpired in the upper life of London which he did not hear; and into what friendship he chose he could enter.

His French associates, too, made a figure in the town, but not on the same scale; and Verdier appeared not to know them. As for Lise d’Arblay, she lay low in a house in Sweeting Alley near the Royal Exchange, only venturing out deep-veiled in the shade of an Oldenburg poke.

On the 4th September, at 9 a.m., the Duke of Wellington left Apsley house in his own travelling-coach and four, bound westward. London, then a large family (there were twelve millions in all Britain), knew, and came to howl: ‘prentice and yoked milk-woman, the prevalent gipsy and the little coster-cart dog-drawn, Covent Garden basket-woman, wigged doctor, wigged parson, and the dandy who meant to return to bed till two, and an escort of light horse. And these, at the first sight of the curving beaver, roared and roared. He tipped a dry nod at the crowd, spoke some last words, foot on step, to a certain Lieutenant Opie, and, accompanied only by his host, Lord Elwell, was away, to be left by his escort-of-ceremony near Chiswick, but to be met at every station by the gentry and yeomanry of counties.

In the crowd, close by the berlin-door, was Verdier. They had not met, for the Duke was one of a set, of very high rank, who never frequented the Clubs, but would congregate in crony-circles at hotels, like naval Fladong’s, military Stephen’s, clerical Ibbetson’s, and so on; and his habits were so regular, that a man in his “world” could readily avoid “knowing” him. So that, when the berlin rattled off, Verdier, with deep reverence, and out-waved hat, muttered: “To our better acquaintance, your Grace.”

But he was secretly uneasy: plans remained unmaterialised: and the time was at hand. However, that night, late, he knocked over a City beadle, lanthorn and all, with his racing curricle; and on a Sweeting Alley first-floor, solid with bourgeois mahogany, rushed, rather tipsy, into the presence of Lise d’Arblay.

“Victory, Lise,” he said, covering her face in his cocked hat where she sat at an old Antwerp harpsichord: “we have the whole.”

“You stifle me!” cried she, “I thought you never got fuddled.”

“In the legs, Lise, in the legs: never, damn me, in the head. I have been at that vile turfy hole of Limner’s, and had three of port, two of negus, and four of gin-punch–give us a kiss, girl–”

“Faugh! you deteriorate in London,” said Lise: “could the Marquise de la Terville- Rochefoucauld hear her once chaste Camille, her most pious and intact Camille, recounting his gin-punches, what an ejaculation she’d let!”

“Be good enough to let the Marquise de la Terville-Rochefoucauld sleep sound in her grave, Lise. ‘Tis all part of the game, is it not? Hark you, we’ve got this same illustrious Personage.”

“Real news?”

“Why, yes. The man who will take down to him the War Office despatches I now know.”

“ Good, good,” went Lise softly.

“With him I have been tippling, and playing Under and Over Seven half the night.”

“Well, thank the good God, then! Who is he?”

“Lieutenant James Wootton Opie, of the Guards Artillery, Companion of the Bath, though never you’d dream it, Lise, Lise, I swear; a lout of lubberly demeanour replete with rodomontade and ‘Odd Zookers!’; drinks purl and Sampson by the bumper as you water, my adored, and wears a tousled wig, and breeches-and-leg-boots, and a long face, and a big nose: so you have his portrait. I left him sitting in Limner’s coffee-room, one leg sprawled to the devil in the air, his mouth bawling, his tongue lolling–”

“How did you discover–?”

“He was the last man the illustrious Personage spoke to on departing this morning: that gave me the thought, and at the Marchioness of Hertford’s baIl to-night, I pumped Lord Sidmouth and he told me; then I unearthed the fellow himself at the London Tavern and ‘Dash my wig! ‘cried he, when I slapped his back, ‘I thought I had killed you some years ago. By Goles, aren’t you my friend Thingumbob, what’s-his-name? eh, by Goles, damn me?’ Well, I took him in tow, and he himself; told me he is despatch-officer to you know who. If once we get those despatches from him, you have the introduction you need.”

“But would this Opie be easily knocked on the head?”

“If necessary, I suppose. Is it necessary? We might get the papers from him somehow, and then lock him away somewhere till all is over.”

“But what a useless risk for no reason!” said Lise, with surprised eyes. “Locked away men escape, write, do a thousand things, I suppose? Dead men tell no tales.”

Her needle clicked in embroidery during a silence. “Ah, well, I suppose you are right,” said Verdier. “Knock the man on the head.”

“Never that, you know. We are not assassins, pretty. We can kill him in a duel, if necessary The first thing, of course, is to know the day and even hour of his departure Lise, you must make him your slave. Use the face and the smile, and twist the eyes about, eh? No need lying low any more: the great Personage is gone. Come out and shine for a week, my sibyl, and make the town talk. By the way, let’s see the Grandcourt map: suppose we pass the night over it? time is going, going, Lise! You will need spend at least a se’en-night down there, before our men dare land. I want you to know every pebble from Grandcourt to the sea. The nights of the 19th and 20th will be moonless, one or other of those should be our night, without fault. Lise, Lise, those fair brows of thine have need to knit now to some purpose, and be wise as serpents and harmful as tigers, my Egypt Queen. All depends upon the lovely head –France–History–I. A French planet– how is that to your dainty liking? A Gallic Hindoostan–a Parisian Cathay. Come, there is something worth working for! And you and I can do it, if we like, I swear! Bring the drawing, then, and a tumbler of Jamaica–”

She sailed out, he tossing off a coat à la guillotine, low-collared to show stock and collar behind, drew gloves, loosened stays: and he sat siffling through his teeth-edges.

“Now,” said he, when she reappeared with coffee and plan, “we set to thinking, Lise, till our foreheads bladder out like Lord Derby’s. Here is Grand-court Abbey, like a Maltese Cross: this drawing of Dupin’s is certainly not exact, but it will do: here’s the lake washing the south wing; here’s the avenue of sycamores running south from the lake; here, twelve miles south, is the coast. Looking over the lake is the library. Two or three miles from the avenue lies the martello-

tower. As agreed, our men do not approach nearer the Abbey than the martello-tower, inside which they lie hid, till you bring the prisoner to them. Your idea of seizing him boldly in the Abbey, and killing every living thing is Napoleonic, Lise: but we must not be blind to the tremendous risk that some servant might escape to the villages, and have us overpowered before you reach the coast. There must be no risk. Not the least reason exists why the whole thing should not be certain as arithmetic beforehand: it is my will: I must have it so. Our problem, then, is to get the illustrious man from the Abbey to the martello at the right moment.”

“That’s easy done as lighting the gas lights,” said Lise. “Provided you supply me with the Means, I have the whole schemed out in my head, and can have him like a mouse.”

“Say a trapped lion, audacious female. Give me kisses for that cruel, wanton heart. Do you love me still with the old flames, jade?”

“Ah, Camille–no, no. As if you merited such adoration–”

“Don’t I love it, then, the love-sick soul? By Heavens, I saw a little dandyess this morning in the Mall–! There is something in the English type, after all– But to the business–the Means, you say. What means?”

After a silence she said: “Is this Lieutenant Opie married?

“Then I go down as his wife, privately married; and as his wife I take the despatches which you obtain from him; my entrée, for a definite reason, on a definite business, into the Abbey is the first End: and the despatches are the first Means.”

“That I understand: go on.”

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