THE PUPIL OF THE GUARD
On Sunday August 18, 1811, before ten o’clock in the morning, an immense crowd pressed itself into the accesses to the gateways of the Carrousel. Napoleon, then at Saint-Cloud, was to come to Paris, at midday, to pass one of these splendid reviews which always excited the admiration of the Parisians; but this day their curiosity was peaked all the more, in that they had learned from the newspapers that the Emperor would make an inspection of a recently created corps, that of the Pupils of the Guard, which nobody in Paris had still seen, and who, the day before, had expressly come to Versailles from the Military Academy.
Already all the regiments of infantry of the Guard were in battle arrangement in the Court of Tuileries, when one caught emerging from the archway the Pont-Royal, and arriving in good order, a regiment of small infantrymen, of which the oldest hardly counted fifteen years old. With their demeanor, with their martial air, one could have taken them for old troops, as overall in their marching and movements they were so well regulated. One could have said it was one of the corps of the Guard, which was there, under arms, seen through the wrong end of a spyglass. Initially there was a group of sappers, small little shavers (blondins) in bearskin caps, whose youthful chin and the mischievous looks contrasted singularly with the terrible air that they tried to give each other; then a drum major of five feet two inches top, who, when he had suddenly passed in front of his colleagues of the Old Guard, true colossi, whirled his cane above its head with an extraordinary speed, as if to carry a challenge to address him: he was followed by his drummers. The music came then, absent its base drum and its two Chinese bells obliged, by the reason that none the executants had the strength to carry these heavy instruments; but the music played la Favorite, this march double-timed purposely for the corps of the pupils, going charmingly, so that the memory and the tradition are preserved for us today*. Finally the staff, on horse, and all the regiment at port arms, followed immediately.
*See at the end of this work this air arranged for the piano by our friend and collaborator Alexandre Goria.
These heroes in herb green were formed for battle and faced of the 1st Grenadier Regiment, of whom not one did not have less than three chevrons. At the sight of these children, the old soldiers smiled and whispered; but the drums having beaten “aux champs” to announce the arrival of the Emperor, all became silent and motionless. Napoleon went right to the pupils, who had opened their ranks. He set foot on ground, related some words with their colonel, and, accompanied by the regiment staff, began the inspection; but suddenly, taking a small corporal by the ear and gently pulling it to him:
—How old are you, Mister little shaver? He asked him in an almost severe tone.
—My Emperor, I turned thirteen years old last March 10, the birthday of the King of Rome.
—Why did you laugh a few moments ago, when I spoke with your captain?
—Sire, it is because I had the pleasure to see you.
—And if I had you thrown in the guardhouse on arriving at Versailles, to impress on you that a noncommissioned officer should not laugh in the ranks, what would you say?
—My Emperor, I would say that I am quite happy, because that would prove that you thought of me.
—That is slightly funny-there’s a response to everything, Napoleon let him know with good-naturedness, and he continued his walk.
His inspection finished, Napoleon advanced a few steps to the pupils, and, being placed between them and his grenadiers:
“Soldiers of my Old Guard, he said to them, here are your children! It was as a combatant at your sides that their fathers died: you will hold their place for them. They will find in you all at the same time an example and a support. Be their tutors! By imitating you, they will be brave; by listening to your opinions, they will become the first soldiers of the world! I entrusted the guard of my son to them, as I entrusted mine to you. With them, I will be without fear for him, as, with you, I am without fear for myself. I ask you for them friendship and protection.”
With these words, dazing cries of long live the Emperor! Long live the King of Rome! left the ranks. With a gesture, Napoleon contained this enthusiasm. Then, turning towards the pupils:
—And you, my children, he began again in a moved tone, by attaching you to my guard, I give you a duty difficult to fulfill; but I count on you, and I hope that one day one will say: These children were worthy of their fathers!
Frantic acclamations answered this speech. At once Napoleon gave the order to his aide-de-camp, the Count of Lobau, to order the procession; and the pupils, heroes of the festival, defiled on parade, in good order and correctly, at the head of the Old Guard.
Hardly had the drums of the 1st Grenadier Regiment, which came afterwards, arrived at the level of the group of the general staff, when a child reared by the army, who could have been ten years old, left his comrades, advanced timidly towards Napoleon and presented to him, at a distance, his small forage cap on whom he posed a petition.
—Ah! ah! Napoleon exclaimed while smiling, here’s one who already has ambition! He is to start early!
Then, addressing the aide-de-camp placed closest to him, Lariston, he added, see what this small fry wants.
He approached the child, took his petition, addressed some words to him and returned next to the Emperor while saying to him:
—Sire, he is an orphan…
—An orphan! Interrupted Napoleon, by tightening his hand; then it is to me whom he looks at; give me this paper. And, unfolding the petition himself, he reads what follows:
“To his Majesty, the King of Rome, in his Imperial Quarters of the Tuileries, in Paris.”
“Pierre Muscadet, aged by eleven campaigns, exclusive owner of five wounds, none mortal, and foot grenadier with the second of the first of the old of your honored father, who was decorated taking it from his own hands, at the camp of Boulogne, has the honor to inform you immediately that he has inherited a true nephew of whom he doesn’t know what to do, awaiting until he could ask you on the way.”
“Sire, the-one of whom I speak- is temporarily a child reared by the army, and already one of your deepest admirers. Fair of nature, cutting 4 meter 33 centimeters, the assistant medical officer vaccinated him, according to the regulations. The applicant will undoubtedly make a good soldier. He is said to read, write, and has the knowledge of the respect due to the immediate chiefs and the heir apparent to the grand Napoleon. This is why petitioning he asks you to agree to kindly allow my nephew, François Muscadet, carrying the petition, to be incorporated as quickly as possible in the corps of the pupils of the Guard, which is yours, and whose depot is located in Versailles. I promise to you that he will never be sulky in the service of your imperial person, royal and Roman.”
“Sire, excuse if I only make my cross at the bottom of the present: it is in this manner that I signed my voluntary engagement, which does not prevent it from being good and valid; ask rather from your honored father, our worthy Emperor, by whom I am slightly known. I do not express myself with more respect to which claim; but,”
“Sire, I have the honor to be Pierre Muscadet, indicated as above, and quartered in Courbevoie.”
“Answer S. V. P. (if you please)”
“At quarters, this August 18, 1811, month of Saint-Napoleon.”
The reading of this petition had made the Emperor smile once more; and when he had read again the address “To His Majesty the King of Rome!” he repeated by raising his shoulders; but it is not for me.
However he made a sign of the hand to the child who had remained impassive in the same place, and said to him:
—Approach, my little friend. You are called Francois, and you are the nephew of Pierre Muscadet, grenadier of my Guard?
—Yes, my Emperor, this little one answered timidly while rolling his forage cap in his small hands.
—Eh well! You will say to your uncle that he is an imbecile.
—Yes, my Emperor. While thus answering, the child had lowered his eyes. Napoleon began again while smiling at the naivety:
—Notwithstanding, the commission of Mr. Pierre Muscadet will be carried out punctually, because finally it would not be just that you were the victim of the silliness of your uncle.
Then, addressing himself to his aide-de-camp:
—Lauriston, he said, lead the petitioner at once near my son; you then bring him back.
The general then introduced small François into the room of Her Majesty, this five month old, and found him sleeping in his cradle, surrounded of the women attached to her service. Madam de Montesquiou, according to etiquette, respectfully posed the petition on the feet of the child, who, waking up in a bad mood, made a long wail. Then the aide-de-camp, believing to have fulfilled sufficiently his mission, brought back small François near the Emperor, occupied watching the defiling of the light artillery of the Guard.
—Eh well! Sir, he asked at once the aide-de-camp, you did what I had said to you?
—What did His Majesty the King of Rome answer?
—Sire, His Majesty did not have any answer.
—That is it, retorted Napoleon while smiling; one who does not say a word agrees. Lauriston, this evening you will place before me this request, so that I can authorize it. As for you, he added while addressing Francois, you will rejoin your comrades, and take care not to be crushed by the horses.
Napoleon eyes followed the child who disappeared soon while running-all legs-through the ranks of the last battalion grenadiers; and when he had lost sight of him:
—Poor small one, he said with an accent of keen interest, I bet that he will not be stupid, not him! But his uncle is no less than one of my brave men, and I want that he is content.
Immediately after the review, the pupils began their service near the person of the King of Rome. The ladies of the Empress occupied many of these small soldiers, whom they found charming. They hefted their pretty fusils, felt sorry for them, comforted them; and the following day, when the company relieved the guard and replaced by another returned to the Military academy, they found in their cartridge pouch, in the place of the spinning top, the knuckle-bones (osselets) and the marbles that they had carefully stored there, were chocolate drops, and candies of all types.
A few days later, the person François Muscadet took his place in the ranks of the pupils, after having favorably passed an examination.
Indeed, in the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Regiment of Foot Grenadiers of the old Guard, there was a soldier named Pierre Muscadet who was what is called in soldier terms old leather breeches (vieille culotte de peau). Departing in 1792 with the first battalions of volunteers, Muscadet did not leave the flags for one moment, however, he had only entered the Guard after the Austerlitz campaign; it is that, unfortunately for him, that caused his education to have been completely neglected; he could not even sign his name. Thus Muscadet could only hope for the rank only of officier de guérite, as the privates were then designated.
He was in garrison at Courbevoie, when one morning the post orderly brought a stamped letter to him from Saint-Jean-Brevelay, a large borough located close to Vannes in Lower-Brittany, and home (patrie) of the old soldier. It was the first letter, which he had received since he entered the service, and his embarrassment was great. He went to find the quartermaster (fourrier) of his company and requested him to read the missive: it was from the school master of Saint-Jean-Brevelay, who announced to him that his brother François was very ill, and before he died, he wished to see him. Muscadet had an excellent heart and although he had not seen his brother since his childhood, he did not hesitate a moment. The letter of the schoolmaster in hand, he presented it to his captain in order to obtain from the colonel a one-month furlough to go to the country. Two days afterwards, Muscadet, the pipe in the mouth, the bag on the back and the stick in the hand, was on the road to Rennes, going sadly, according to the nature of his reflections. The tenth day of the voyage, he arrived at Saint-Jean-Brevelay, easily finding the thatched cottage which saw his birth; but alas! François was dying, it was hardly as if he could grasp the hand of the old soldier and to say to him in an indistinct voice:
—Brother, I thank you for having come. Here is all that my poor Jeanne left me, I give it to you…
François could not finish. A few moments afterwards, he was no more.
What he left with his brother was a large chubby-cheeked boy with good bearing who, in stupefied air, had looked at, without understanding, the painful scene, which had occurred before his eyes: the kid appeared more occupied with the uniform of the grenadier than with the irrevocable loss that he had just witnessed.
Shortly after the day when Muscadet had returned from the last rites to his brother, he quietly smoked his pipe, sitting in front of the door of the thatched cottage, looking at its nephew, as carefree as one of his age, playing with the large dog of the schoolmaster.
—What the devil will I come up with this head? He said to himself after fifteen minutes of reflections. The son of my poor François will never be given up by me; he cannot be doubtful: I only have soldiers bread (pain d’amonition) to give him; but as long as there is enough for one, there will be enough for two. It is not there that will the difficult. It remains to be known if the colonel will want to receive him in the regiment in the capacity as a child reared by the army (d’enfant de troupe). He is still quite small to make of him a drummer (tapin) or even a simple fifer (turlututu)*. Of no importance! I will certainly cart him with me to Courbevoie; I will carefully coach him while we travel, then I will present him to the large-major.
*The old soldiers never distinguished the drums and the fifers of the regiment differently.
Enchanted with his idea, Muscadet buckled his bag, returned for a last visit to the tomb of his brother, thanked the schoolmaster for the care that he had given him, and, accompanied by his nephew, he took to the road to Paris again.
—Ah there! He said to the small fry after the bell-tower of Saint-Jean-Brevelay had been lost from sight, what are you called?
—Francois, answered the young orphan while hanging himself on the arm of the old soldier.
—Eh well! Francois, I warn you that from here to quarters, the walk will be a little long; so try and keep your step on mine, which I will slow down for you; that will make you grow, and height, you see, size is the first need to enter the grenadiers. Do you like grenadiers?
—A grenadier! Is this like you, my uncle?
—A little, my nephew! Muscadet answered while obligingly passing the palm of his hand on his thick black moustache.
—Ah well! yes! I want to be a grenadier, me! I want, like you, to have a beautiful coat and a saber, which cuts well.
—You are not disgusted, my pal! Then let me negotiate this business with the large-major, who is as good as possible with the small corporal; because, see you, my child, the small corporal makes a quartermaster sergeant in the Guard as easily as a monarch in Europe: the whole is to profit from the moment. I have my idea; but so that it succeeds completely the stride should be lengthened a little more highly than you can make it, and to march right his way physically as well as morally; without that, the small corporal will never make your fortune.
—Yes, my uncle, answered small François by concentrating all his efforts in keeping in step with that of the old grenadier.
But it was difficult. Already the child was out of breath, when Muscadet, judging well that his nephew could not travel a long time in this manner, sat him astride on his bag and continued thus his path by accelerating the step.
During this voyage, the old soldier stuck more and more to François because of his kindness, his giving nature and the courage with which he endured the exhaustion of the road. Also, when they arrived to Courbevoie, small François was not an orphan any more: he had found in his uncle a true father, and, in his grenadier comrades, a new family.
The first care of Muscadet was to present his protégé to the large-major, who admitted him to start among the children of the corps pertaining to the regiment, with half-pay. But, at that time, peace was not long in lasting for France. A new war with Russia was soon spoken of, and, for the first time in his life, the uncle of François did not accept this news with pleasure. He was not alone any more. Would he expose this child to the exhaustion of the forced marches, the deprivations of the bivouacs, the chances of the engagements? He thus decided to see to his induction into the Pupils of the Guard.
—But, he thinks, since this regiment is no other than the Guard of the King of Rome, it is with His Roman Majesty that I must address myself directly; because if the son does not grant my petition, I will always have the resource to address the father, who would not refuse anything for me, because I have never asked him for anything.
Confident in this reasoning, Pierre Muscadet went to find a quartermaster (fourrier) of his battalion famous for the beauty of his writing, and the petition dictated to him, which we reproduced in the text above. There was no further question but how to forward it in a sure way to the Emperor. A great review of the Guard having been indicated for the next Sunday, the occasion seemed good in Muscadet. One saw how Napoleon accommodated the request of the old soldier and what was the result of the negotiation. Muscadet, from now on calm on the fate of his adoptive son, left merrily, for this campaign in Russia, which was to be as disastrous in result, has it had been admirable in design.
The young Francois, endowed with an uncommon intelligence, had made rapid progress. At the end of six months, he had been appointed corporal, and at the beginning of 1813, he was already the best sergeant-instructor of the battalion. It had written several times to his uncle; but his letters had remained unanswered. During this time, the disastrous retirement from Moscow had taken place. Napoleon had returned in haste to Paris to organize a new army. France had lost its men, it gave her children, and the first battalion of the Pupils of the Guard, put on a war footing, had to join the army which moved to the edges of the Saale. Victors at Lutzen, Bautzen and Dresden, these noble children did what their fathers had done so many times: they crushed the Russian and Prussian phalanges; but the fatal hour had sounded: the whole of Europe had united itself against France. What had become of Pierre Muscadet in the middle of these bloody calamities! Was his young protégé to be an orphan for the second time?
—If I had had the honor to belong to the war battalion of the pupils, this last said; if I had been in Leipsick, I would have had news of my uncle Pierre. It seems to me, however, that I have enough ability to doing other things than demonstrating a charge twelve times to small children in a barracks. Here is a new army forming, he said; I want, this time, to form part of it.
Thus one day our young sergeant learns that the Emperor must drive out the following day in the wood of Sartory. His plan is issued. The pupils are not accustomed to strolling in the streets of Versailles; they only leave the quarters to go march, drummer at the head; hardly had the day come, that, benefiting from the moment when he could not be seen, François penetrates into a back-yard of the quarters, climbs on a tree, springs from the tree onto the walls, and in a jump is on the plain. He gained the wood of Sartory soon, and waited on the look out behind the statue of the chevalier Bernin, located at the end of the Swiss fountain (pièce d’eau), in front of which the Imperial hunt must necessarily pass, he waited patiently by preparing in his memory the speech which he wanted to address to Napoleon, and on the effect of which he counted on so much. He had been there a long time, when he heard the noise of several horses: it was the Emperor! … Napoleon, surprised to meet in this place a Pupil of the Guard, stops, creases his eyebrows and asks him in a severe tone:
—What are you doing here, young man?
Francois, the two heels on the same line, the chest out, the reverse of the right hand to the shako, answered calmly:
—Sire, I was waiting for you.
—Ah! The Emperor retorts who did not foresee such an answer. But why are you out of quarters at this hour?
—To speak with Your Majesty.
—May I ask you how you left? Added the Emperor.
—Sire, by jumping over the wall.
—Young man! Napoleon said while noticing the lace insignia on the sleeve of the pupil, indicating a non-commissioned officer, such an act of insubordination is unforgivable! Don't you know that you must set the example of respect and obedience to discipline?
—I know it, Sire; but it fails before everything so that Your Majesty could hear me.
—Then, be short: what do you want of me?
—Lord, I request the honor to join the war battalion of the pupils, to battle against the enemies of Your Majesty and to die in the defense of my country!
With these words, pronounced with a tone, which was something heroic, the face of the Emperor changed expression; his extremely severe glance of a moment before, became soft and almost benevolent:
—Your name, young man, he demanded of him?
—François Muscadet, nephew of Pierre Muscadet, grenadier with the second battalion of the first regiment of the old Guard.
—Really! The Emperor exclaimed. And, leaning towards the master huntsman, he added coldly:
—Francois, you will return to quarters.
You will placed in custody in the guardhouse by the adjutant.
—Go, I will think of you.
Francois, transported with joy, returned to quarters, delivered himself to the adjutant of guard, which put him in the guardhouse. But what was imparted to him? The Emperor had said to him I will think of you, and these three words comforted him. He remained sequestered there for eight days; the ninth he was called in to Colonel Bardin, who embraced him and gave to him, with a commission of lieutenant in the corps of the pupils, a roadmap to go to join the war battalion.
One could have no idea of the happiness, which fills one to carry his first epaulettes. The joy of François held was delirious. He, an officer in the Guard of the King of Rome! It was a hundred times more than he had dared to hope for. Forty-eight hours were enough for the new officer to make his starting preparations. His former comrades greeted him with acclamation and good will, because they found in him an educated and just officer. He wrote to Pierre Muscadet and told him that he hoped to meet him soon on the battlefield and to prove to him that he was worthy to be his nephew. The old soldier showed the letter of François to all his company by saying “that he would be readily die in the service of an Emperor who so agreeably behaved in such a way to a nephew who was the son of his own brother.”
The account of this campaign of 1814, during which only one army disputed foot by foot the territory against all the united forces of Europe, is really fabulous. The second battalion of the pupils had been called with the army as it had been to it the first the previous year, and both were included amongst the war battalions of the Young Guard.
One day, in the plains of Champagne, Napoleon, wanting to mislead the enemy for better ensuring a movement, ordered a battalion of his Old Guard to advance, at the same time placing in front of them, as tirailleurs, a company of pupils. This company was that of François. It was a marvelous spectacle then to see these brave children taking the shot with the most astonishing cold bloodedness against the Russians who had the twice their size, triple their age, and to see them reforming with as much gaiety as if it had only been a game of ball, while the old grenadiers who, the weapons at arm, impatiently awaited the order to be put in motion, raised their voices, while casting a paternal eye about so that they would not be surprised by the enemy cavalry.
The affair was long and fatal; but the children of the Guard made such a success that the operation was assured. Placed behind on a small mound, Napoleon had seen it all. After the action, he ran to congratulate them.
As he arrived in front of the face of the battalion of his grenadiers, a young officer of the pupils was carried, cradled on crossed rifles, who was seriously wounded by a shot to the thigh, at the beginning of engagement, but had agreed to be carried from the battlefield only after the retreat of the Russians, and who, in spite of his painful situation, had not ceased shouting: Vive l’Empereur! Napoleon approached to speak to him, when suddenly a grenadier left the ranks, springing in complete desperation towards the casualty, and presses him in his arms with the sharpest emotion. It was Pierre Muscadet: he had recognized his nephew; but at the same moment, he saw close to him Napoleon who struck him down with one of his glances.
—Forgiveness, excuse me, my Emperor, said the old soldier with a trembling voice of fear and of tenderness, I left my rank without permission, I must be punished; but it is my nephew, it is small Francois, my adoptive son: I could not contain myself, my Emperor, I was carried away!
—Silence! Demanded Napoleon in a severe tone; then taking the hand of the wounded one: Captain Francois, he said to him in recognition of the quality of your performance, since our interview in the wood of Versailles, this cross awaits you; receive it from my hand.
Large tears ran from the eyes of Pierre who stammered:
—My Emperor, I received the same honor from you in Boulogne; but I was already a man, while François is yet only a child. Not important! I left my rank without permission; I must be punished…
Napoleon, which wanted only to have rewarded him, stopped the old soldier abruptly, while saying to him in an impatient tone:
—You were mistaken, it was I who beckoned you to approach to kiss your nephew; return to your rank!
COMPOSITION AND NUMERICAL STRENGTH OF THE GUARD IN 1811.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2006
© Copyright 1995-2012, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.