by  Gianfranco Menghini

The last crossing


Fusoco has achieved such a developed business that it has become a company rich in gold capital and ships but Eric was careful not to show to be the major shareholder. The fleet now has several clippers, the most modern of which, the Richmond, just launched at the Norfolk shipyards and at its first crossing with Virginie and Pauline aboard, is captured by the British who hide it in the bay of Faro, in Portugal. With a bold coup, worthy of a story full of daring suggestions, the team of raiders put on by Eric and Guillaume and directed by Francois, manages to free the crew and make the clipper sail to moor itself in the quiet bay of Cassis, where will be armed with the special cannons invented by Jardine. In this third part, the maturity of the main protagonist of the novel is illustrated who will fully appreciate the family life with his beloved Virginie and his daughter Pauline. In Paris, he will know the new court of Napoleon, now risen to the throne of the emperor of the French and in frequenting it, will meet the delightful Louise, who will induce him to enjoy the sublime music of the time, in particular, Beethoven, Cherubini and Haydn. Eric having joined his wife in Richmond, about to give birth to their first child, finds her bedridden, prey to mysterious fevers that weaken her from day to day more and more. Taken, in the company of his faithful friends Guillaume and Francois, the return journey across the Atlantic with the glorious brigantine Virginia. They will have to suffer the treacherous attack of the English naval squad, which encircles the clipper in the Gulf of Cadiz. Although equipped with the miraculous cannons designed by Jardine and defending himself like a skillful lion of the sea, after having sunk several units of His Majesty’s fleet, the brigantine Virginia is forced to suffer the loss of being captured. During the unequal fight, in fact, the wind needed to be removed so that the quick hull could not slip away, since it should be much faster than the heavy English vessels. All the surviving crew, saved on the lifeboats, are captured and with whom, also Eric and Guillaume that, complicit both the commander and the other officers, pass themselves off as mere members of the crew. Imprisoned, the brave sailors, together with the two inseparable friends, are translated into Southampton and locked up in the unsafe fort on the harbor. From which Eric and Guillaume fled before being recognized as shareholders of the Fusoco. Even if evasion is relatively easy, thanks to the help of Anne Marie, still living in London and following her, the three manage to reach Holland and from there, arriving in Germany where, after a forced stay which makes Guillaume nervous, yearning to rejoin his fresh bride, Eric manages to connect with the Grande Armée. Napoleon, a victorious veteran of the battle of Ulm and mindful of the help he received from Eric, already elevated to the title of senator of the empire and awarded the Legion of Honor, invites him to follow him to Vienna, and there he appoints him, sitting down, Colonel his particular advisor. In this capacity, reunited with Guillaume, they witnessed the battle of Pratzen against the coalition of Austrians and Russians, in which the great leader routed his enemies in a memorable and bloody battle which will be remembered as that of Austerlitz. The period of the novel goes to its end in 1805.

Read an excerpt from the book


“Mr. Grevilliers, perhaps it should be better to enter the Mediterranean,” suggested Captain Williams.
They had rounded the southern head of the Isle of Madeira a short time before, after a trip that had forced them to sail more southward than usual to avoid the big storms of the Atlantic, which were very frequent and dangerous in that season.
“Or…” he added, “we’d better shelter out of the dam of Funchal and waited for this deep depression to be over.”
Eric, who trusted Captain Williams blindly, replied he should decide as he thought best. He would have rather reached Le Havre’s harbor, as it was in their plans, where he could comfortably get to Paris in two days by a carriage, stopping at Louviers on the way. If they had landed in Marseille, though he would have recovered a few days, he would have had to travel for one week at least. In that season. I was February the twenty-first and the roads were probably in a bad state, hence would not be so pleasant. Not to mention he would have to visit Henri, who would certainly ask him to stay, at least until he could get him a comfortable four-in-hand. He thought that, if they had sailed on while they were in for a storm, it would have been more uncomfortable, as the stormy weather would delay the ship for almost four or five days. That some accident could happen to the brig, that was out of the question. Clipper Virginia had proven her great worth on sea, and as she was in the skillful hands of such an excellent seaman as Williams, Eric had not the slightest doubt about her safety.
The Captain decided to head north-east. The storm was coming from the west quadrant. If they sailed before the wind and steered with the big fore-and-aft sail, the wind, and the waves would push them towards Gibraltar, so fast that they would have rounded the Strait in less than two days.
Eric was traveling alone. Guillaume was not able to follow him. H was busily engaged in working for the company, and the express mail service they had established had to be kept active, with the help of ex-colonel Gisors.
Lenoir, who had always acted as an intermediary between them and the Consulate, had kept in touch and approached them again before he left, to ask whether they were willing to co-operate with some plans that were in the stocks. General Bonaparte had appointed life consul, had declared war on Britain and needed their services. Nothing was settled yet, as everything was still at an early stage. He would contact them at the right time – which meant they would have to wait for at least three months if they knew Lenoir. Although Eric and Guillaume had no interest in wealth now – they were so plentiful they did not know what to do with their money — yet they were still spurred by a spirit of adventure and by the curiosity to experience something new, mainly to brighten up their dreary, dull life in Paris. For this reason, before committing themselves for a time that might be longer than expected, Eric had thought he had the better visit Virginie and his beloved daughter Pauline.
The child was growing up in excellent health and had turned into a little lady, if one can say so of a well-bred little girl. She was hence sensible that one might think she was older than eight. Virginie had engaged a French-speaking tutor she had purposely called from France. She had rejected three other American teachers, claiming they were spoiling her daughter’s upbringing with their stilted, hypocritical, superstitious Quakerism, whose only point of reference was the Bible.
Despite her thirty-four years, Virginie was in her bloom. Her work and, even more, Pauline, gave that extraordinary woman a great joy of living and worked as a treatment, conferring her a full maturity, so that her face looked younger. Eric got lost in her incredible dark blue-violet eyes, feeling his love for her growing stronger and firmer.
They had not had any sexual intercourse during those two months he had stayed in Richmond. His wife had told him, frankly, it was no use insisting — in a word. He was totally free to satisfy his lively bursting impulses with other women. She guessed one of them during her brief stay in France: Anne Marie Remusat, married to Count de Beugnot. She had accepted her as she had done years before with Laura, poor Laura, whom she always remembered with sorrow. She asked him to abstain from adultery in Virginia, where rumors would spread and severely damage her image for a woman in business and model mother. Indeed, she had told everybody except her parents, of course, that Pauline was her daughter and that her husband was so busy in Paris it was impossible for him to live for his family definitively.
Virginie had increased Fusoco’s business while the society had reduced its activity in France to the express mail service between Paris, Le Havre, and Marseille. That was also due to the embargo ordered by the First Consul against the British, which, although it did not affect their ships, which flew the flag of the States of the American Union, had forced them to cut down the trips. N the brigs made only one voyage every month. The trades reduced to some interesting lots of wine, silk, Gobelin’s tapestry and a few supplies of dresses by the dominant fashion of the French capital. This primary task performed by Agdou with competence and experience. In the States of the American Union, especially in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, the Company did good business, first with transports by sea and later with local carriers as well. In fact, Virginie’s promises to Fulton not wasted. Once the ingenious inventor, discouraged by the Europeans, had gone back to America…