Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


SIXTH PART.

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CHAPTER I.


During the short time that it took to cross from Fréjus to Elba, Napoleon showed great anticipation to see his new kingdom, and as the ship went to full sail, he asked the Captain Usher if his frigate could carry more sails.  On the affirmative answer to the latter:

—But, he said, if you were hunting an enemy frigate, would you then carry more?

The captain looked up and saw that the parrot mizzen sail was not deployed; he replied that he would certainly when giving chase.

—Well! Napoleon replied; as you would in that case, do so now.

General Drouot, Count Clam, aide-de-camp to Prince Schwartzenberg, and Lieutenant Hastings, chief officer of The Undaunted, accompanied by Colonel Campbell, were brought ashore, and charged by Napoleon to take possession of the Island on his behalf.  Upon their arrival, they were led to General Dalesme, who had, in consequence of his orders, that he alone had read from the Provisional Government, hoisted the white flag. The general, who expressed a desire to do anything that would be agreeable to the Emperor, asked them if he may send a deputation of the principal inhabitants. At eight o'clock in the morning, they anchored in the harbor entrance, and immediately the deputation came to meet Napoleon.

At six o'clock in the morning, May 4, they weighed anchor and they entered the harbor, where they anchored at half past six.  At eight o'clock. Napoleon asked the captain for a boat.  He wanted to take a walk on the other side of the bay, where he invited the captain to accompany him.  Count Bertrand, Colonel Campbell, and Colonel Vincent, the chief engineer, went with them. This walk lasted two hours, and the peasants, who believed they were dealing with English shouted: Viva! that was not very pleasant for Napoleon. They returned to lunch on board.

In the morning, Napoleon took care to choose a flag for the island of Elba.  For this, he leafed through a book containing all the old and modern houses in Tuscany, and decided on a white flag with a diagonal red stripe, with three bees, because they entered into his arms, as Emperor of the French.  Then he had two flags on this model made by the tailor of the frigate; one of the two flags was hoisted over the batteries at one o’clock.  At two o’clock, the boat that would carry Napoleon to land being armed, he begged the captain to go down first; he then went down himself, followed by Baron Koller, Counts Bertrand and Clam.  In a moment, the frigate was surrounded by boats carrying the main body of people and the corps of musicians.  The French corvettes, decorated as was the Undaunted, repeated the royal salute, and the air resounded with cries of Vive Napoleon!  The prefect, the clergy and other authorities of the island awaited the Emperor at the landing; they handed him the keys to the city on a silver platter.

The 5th, at four o'clock in the morning, the islanders were awakened by the rumbling of drums and cries of Vive l'Empereur!  Napoleon was already on foot, visiting the fortifications and magazines; at ten o'clock he returned for lunch and two o’clock he mounted his horse and walked two miles inland.  He stopped several times to examine the country houses, spread along the path.

Before leaving the Undaunted, Napoleon had asked Captain Usher for a detachment of fifty marines to accompany him to land and remain with his person; but later reduced this number to an officer and two sergeants.  A sergeant named O'German, brave and good soldier, was chosen by him to remain fully dressed and armed on a mattress placed outside his room, as did the Mameluke Rustan.  M. Marchand, who replaced Constant as we have said, slept beside him on another mattress.

On the 10th, Napoleon climbed on horseback the highest point overlooking Porto Ferrajo.  From this height he could see the sea in four different directions.  After watching a few moments, he turned on himself and laughed, saying:

—Damn! My island is very small!

As it had already been such a long time that Napoleon had waited for his troops, their baggage and horses, he finally began to lose patience and suspect the good faith of the French government; but when Captain Usher told him that it was an English transport that would make the crossing of his troops, and they could not be made immediately available, he showed himself pleasantly surprised by what he called British generosity, and assured the Captain that if he knew that his troops were to have been embarked on ships of his nation, he would not have felt a moment of anxiety.  It was the next day, at the last dinner with him when it was announced that his officers wanted him.

This officer, who was on duty at the signal position, told him they discovered, by the northeast, seven ships heading to the island.  Not doubting, from their number and their position that these ships might be the transports so expected by the Emperor, he hastened to warn him.  These troops arrived the next day at seven o’clock.  Napoleon passed them in review, addressing himself to every officer or soldier.  When Captain Usher came to announce that the transport, after having effected their landing, had finished loading their water and their preparation for departure, he expressed his surprise and showing him some Italian sailors:

 —Well! These fellows would have taken eight days to do what you have just finished in eight hours, and yet they had broke the legs of some of my horses, while these have not received a scratch.

The captain of l’Indomptable, before leaving the island of Elba, asked permission to have an audience with Napoleon, which was granted.

—You are, he said, appearing to regret his departure, the first Englishman I have ever known intimately.

He then said many flattering things about the English nation, and especially charged the captain to convey to Sir Edward Pellew a testament of his gratitude, of which he was extremely obliged for the kindness he had received.

—Finally, he said in conclusion, I hope that once the war against America is finished, you will come visit me.

Captain Usher asked Napoleon permission to present to him Lieutenant Bailey, the transportation officer, who had been responsible for the boarding of his Guard and the baggage at Savona.  Napoleon thanked the officer for the care he took of his soldiers and complimented him on making the landing of eighty-three horses without accident.

—As for everything else, he added, your sailors again have exceeded the opinion that I have held of them for a long time.

Napoleon had left the hotel in the City of Porto-Ferrajo for a pretty bourgeois house; he pompously called his city palace.  This house was situated on a rock, between the Fort Falcome and the Fort de l'Etoile, in a stronghold called the Bastion des Moulins; it consisted of two pavilions and a main building that united them.  From his windows, overlooking the town and port, lying at his feet, so no new object could escape the eye of the master. As to his country palace, it was located at San Martino.  Before his arrival, it was a cottage; he had rebuilt and furnished with taste to make it a place to walk, and that's all.

One should understand that falling from total activity to such absolute rest; Napoleon needed to create regular work for himself.  Also, that all hours were occupied.  He rose with the day; shut himself in his library, and worked on his military memoires until eight o'clock in the morning, when he went to inspect the work, stopping to interview the workers, who for the most part, were soldiers of his Guard.  It was about eleven o’clock that he took a very frugal breakfast.  In hot weather, when he went for long excursion or had worked, he slept after lunch for an hour or two, and usually showed himself about three o’clock, either on horseback or by carriage, accompanied by the Grand Marshal or General Drouot, which in these trips, did not leave him any more than his shadow.  On the road, he listened to all claims that were sent to him and no person left from these meetings without being satisfied. At seven o'clock he came home, dined with his sister Pauline, who had come to live on the first floor of his palace in town, admitting now at his table the steward of the island, M. Balbini, sometimes the Chamberlain Vantini, sometimes mayor of Porto-Ferrajo, now Colonel of the National Guard finally, sometimes the mayors of Porto-Longone and Rio.  In the night, one went up to the princess, where the evening ended.  Finally, in the words of Napoleon, he had never been so happy and at peace.  Nobody doubted that in time he had become accustomed to this new life, surrounded as he was, with the love of those who approached his person, when the allied sovereigns undertook themselves to awaken the lion, which probably was only asleep.

For a year he was at Elba, Napoleon was busy with his marvelous intellect and habitual activity, to improve the population, ports and roads, industry and agriculture; none of the financial commitments made with him had been fulfilled.  He protested against this breach of faith, when he learned that in the Congress of Vienna, the French ministers, in order to probably indulge without restraint their absurd projects, had proposed to remove him from the Island of Elba for transfer to a more distant exile at Saint-Helena.  The Emperor had done nothing that could excuse the wanton violation of the Treaty of Fontainebleau: his weak defenses were powerless to resist such an attempt; he resolved to prevent it with the most daring expedition which history has ever preserved in memory: he was going to be attacked, he would be the assailant.  Leaving the island of Elba, everything had been planned by him and determined in advance; and the first days of February 1815, everything had already changed on the face of Porto Ferrajo.  The grenadiers were preparing their arms, the seamen their vessels, and finally, the 20th, an hour after noon the order for departure was given. To go where? ... Nobody knew! ... But Napoleon was there; with him could we doubt success?

At eight o'clock a cannon gave the signal.  The French rushed into their boats, martial music was heard, and Napoleon remained apart from the shore with his companions, while the people still followed them with their gaze and their applause.  What a solemn moment when Napoleon set foot on the raft that carried him and his fortune! ... His expression was calm, his face serious. All of a sudden he exclaimed, as Caesar:

—The die is cast!

Shouts of Vive l'Empereur! Repeated a thousand times, were heard from all parts of the fleet, which consisted of the brig l’Inconstant, carrying twenty-six guns and four hundred grenadiers, and six other small transport ships manned by two hundred infantry, two hundred Corsican chasseurs, and about one hundred Polish light horse.  These feluccas and the brig were arranged so as not to see the troops leave, and to present only the appearance of merchant ships.  Delighted to leave their place of exile; the old grenadiers who had been placed in the position of honor, that is to say about the brig, had regained all their gaiety, their whole warrior carelessness. Napoleon was talking and joking with them; he pulled each of their ears, others their mustache; he reminded them of their dangers, their glory, and inspired the confidence which he himself animated.  However the officers and soldiers burned to learn where they were going.  Respect did not allow anyone to ask, finally, Napoleon broke the silence:

—Grenadiers, he cried, we're going to Paris!

At these words, all the faces bloom, and new cheers to prove that Napoleon's love of the motherland would never be extinguished in the heart of its soldiers.

An English sloop, commanded by Captain Campbell, seemed to monitor the island of Elba.  She was constantly going from Porto-Ferrajo to Livorno and from Livorno to Porto-Ferrajo.  Upon boarding, it was in the latter port and could not cause any concern.  But now there were signals in the channel of several French ships. Napoleon, armed with a telescope, tried to recognize them from afar.  Unable to do so, out of anger, he threw the instrument that did not help him, and then he was reassured:

—Bah! This is nothing, he said, the night breeze will facilitate our passage, and before daybreak we will be out of sight.

This hope was disappointed: no sooner had they turned the Cape of Saint-André, on the Isle of Elba, that the wind died down and the sea became calm.  At daybreak, they had only made six leagues, and it was still between Capri and the Island of Elba.

—Damn! This is spoiling things, murmured Napoleon.

Many sailors wanted to return to Puerto-Ferrajo; he knew their thoughts:

—Go back! He cried, eagerly; is that what you’re thinking, my brave ones? It is forward we must go!

—But, sir, the French corsairs? ...

—We will take the chance, if necessary, we would go to Corsica, and then at least we are sure to be well received.

—Sire, maneuvering has become difficult because of the load.

—Well! Throw into the sea all onboard effects: France is the good and generous, she will make it up.

In a moment, this order was happily executed.  Towards noon the wind freshened again.  At four o’clock, they found themselves at the level of Livorno.  A frigate appeared five miles downwind; another was on the coast of Corsica, and a warship which was recognized to be the brig Zephyr, commanded by Captain Andrieux came on the right, downwind, to meet the Imperial fleet.  It was proposed to speak with him and to hoist the tricolor.  Napoleon, who attentively examined the brig heard this offer without answering at first; then when he thought his inspection was reasonable , he turned toward the officers who surrounded him:

—It is not time yet, he said, smiling, to take on the lion's skin; disguise us like the fox.  Sailors, and you, grenadiers, remove your hats! He cried, seizing the megaphone, hide yourself under the bridge.  Then returning to his officers: We will pass by the brig without allowing ourselves to be recognized, and if he is too far-sighted… ah well! Then it will be time to address it.

At six o'clock, the two brigs came alongside, their commanders, who knew one another, addressed each other; from the Zephyr, a few questions were asked about the Emperor.  Napoleon immediately seized the megaphone and shouted with all the strength of his lungs:

—Thanks! Commander: Napoleon is well, very well.

This projection excited the merriment of the crew.  The two brigs, going in opposite directions, were soon out of sight, without Captain Andrieux suspecting the important prey he let slip by.

On the night of 27 to 28, the wind continued to freshen.  At daybreak, one could recognize a 74 ship of the line which seemed to proceed on to Saint Florent or Sardinia.  The Emperor, whose eyes watched hungrily the increasing distance of its progress.  After a few moments he called General Bertrand, and pointing to the fleeing ship on the horizon:

—Saved! My friend saved again! Do you see him, as he disappears!  I tell you my star is watching over us now!

Napoleon then entered his bedroom, where he went after a few minutes, holding in his hand the papers containing the two proclamations that he himself had written to the Island of Elba and which he addressed, with one the French, one the army.

—Look, Bertrand, try to decipher the scrawl.

The General took a minute, and assisted by a secretary, tried in vain, to read the scribbling of Napoleon.

—Well, Sire, he said, handing him the proclamations, we have shown the best intentions, but we admit defeat: we are unable to read one of these lines.

—Ah! You are well! It is as if I had to write the same as a teacher!  Give me these papers and see if I better than you.

—I hope, Sire, the Grand Marshal gaily said in obedience to the Emperor.

Napoleon, wishing to win this kind of challenge, put all his attention, all his patience to decipher what he had written.  He turned, returned the papers in all directions, close to his eyes, and trying to guess rather than read; but his efforts came to nothing.  During this time there Bertrand chuckled with gestures of impatience, at the humorous movements of Napoleon and the insults he directed at himself.  In the end, exhausting his efforts, he suddenly approached a porthole, and crumpling the manuscript in his hands, he threw it into the sea.  The Grand Marshal then could not restrain an exclamation of laughter.

—Good! Good! Have a good laugh, Napoleon said, ready to turn to cheer at his own expense; meanwhile, general, you will pay for the war because you must help me to reconstruct my lost proclamations.

The latter bowed, sent away the secretary of the Emperor, but the Marshal did not bother to write a proclamation, because after a few moments of reflection, Napoleon dictated at once the two famous proclamations dated from the Gulf of Juan, and starting with these words: “Soldiers! We have not been defeated ... and “France! The defection of the Duke of, etc. ...”  Eyes blazing, his arms outstretched, in a word, in an inspired attitude, dictating to his secretary with the sentences he had barely time to write, Napoleon seemed animated by the deepest indignation.  It seemed he had there before him, the generals whom he accused of having betrayed France, and the enemies who had subjugated it. When he had finished dictating, he read the proclamations and seemed satisfied.

—Now, he said, we need thousands of copies of these addresses, because I want to spread them all over France on my arrival!  I want them to shake the heart of all my subjects.  How do you make up for the lack of a printer?  Ah! I know! ... Bertrand, who reads these proclamations to the sailors, to the soldiers, and all the men on board who can write can serve me as copiers.

In the moment this order was known, everyone was at work.  The benches, boxes, and drums served as tables; soldiers, sailors, officers and generals began to copy it with an unmatched enthusiasm when all at once it was seen that we sailed off the coast of Antibes.  Immediately Napoleon and his brave followers were greeted with cries from his native land, and took up the tricolor cockade.

On the 1st of March 1815, at three o'clock in the afternoon, he entered the Gulf of Juan.  General Drouot and a number of officers and soldiers boarded on the felucca The Caroline, landed before Napoleon, who was at some distance from shore.  At the same time, they saw to the right a large ship that seemed out of place and coming from where the brig occupied by the Emperor was.  They were suddenly seized with anxiety. General Drouot ordered the unloading of The Caroline, and prepared to meet with the brig.  In an instant, guns, carriages, caissons, baggage, everything were thrown onto the sand, and already the grenadiers and seamen of the guard came running in haste, when the cheers coming from the parties of the brig hit their ears.  It was Napoleon ... Not wishing to wait any longer, he was lowered into a boat. The alarm stopped, and the grenadiers, arms outstretched toward him, accompanied him to shore, he touched land at five o'clock in the evening.  Napoleon immediately established his bivouac in an olive grove.

—That, he said, looking around him, is a good omen; we’ll see if it can realized!

Immediately after landing, Napoleon had managed to send into Antibes a captain of the Guard and twenty-five men.  Their instructions were to go as deserters from the Island of Elba, to probe the provisions of the garrison, and if they seemed favorable to make the most of it; but driven by their foolish zeal, electrified by the mission for which they were responsible, they entered the town with cries of Vive l’Empereur!  The commandant held them prisoners.

Napoleon seemed annoyed; but a little worried about this mishap at eleven o'clock in the evening he began marching, dragging after him four pieces of artillery.  The Poles, having been on board with their horses had provided their harnesses, and happily walked with the advanced guard, bowed under the weight of this enormous baggage.  Napoleon did buy all the horses he met, and with each new acquisition of this kind he exclaimed:

—Another boost for my horse!

The little Imperial escort crossed in succession through Cannes, Grasse, Saint-Vallier, and arrived in the evening of the 2nd at the village of Cerenon.

The 3rd, he slept at Barème, the 4th in Digne, and 5th in Gap, where Napoleon had kept near him an escort of six men and forty horse grenadiers on foot: the city authorities had rejected his approach.  Besides, he did not need an escort or soldiers, because no one thought to worry. The rumblings of his landing, which was ahead, made more of an impression on the feeble guard who accompanied him.  The same day, Napoleon came to stop at Gorp. General Cambronne and forty men, forming the vanguard, drove up to the level of Mure.  In his reconnaissance, the General walked almost always alone and in front of his grenadiers, to illuminate their path and prepare for them in advance housing and food; and scarcely had he uttered the name of the Emperor, than he was eagerly shown the keenest and most tender care.

One day he pushed his horse into a gallop, and arrived at Sisteron, while his troops remained at more than a mile behind.  The martial air of the general, the uniform of the Empire, roused the sympathy of many people.  Cambronne was surrounded, he was questioned, he was offered supplies, he was promised a unanimous concurrence.  He accepted these testimonies of friendship, refused food for himself, that he reserved for his companions, and asked residents where to locate the town hall: there he would descend in order to arrange housing for the troops.  He progress was almost a triumph.  During the ovation, the mayor, who was a marquis of the Old Regime, was in the common room with a multitude of owners and laborers he harangued to try to maintain their loyalty to King and the Restoration.  Either in overzealous belief, or even simply as a means of oratory, they represented Bonaparte and his escort as a horde of thieves and incendiaries who returned to the land of France to exercise the most cruel reprisals.  On listening to the mayor; some were alarmed by his sinister prophecies. However an old farmer, a man of sense and experience, stood up and said:

—Retaliation, Mr. Mayor! Retaliation! But against who, please?  Against those who have done him wrong, is not it? Against those who took his place or who have betrayed the cause? It’s about time.  The Little Corporal is a man perhaps to take revenge against them; but as we are not them, the old man continued, addressing the congregation, who seemed willing to share his opinion, it's my opinion that nothing will happen to us, and everyone better go in with us and honestly receive the people of the Emperor, they will be coming to us, but to stay here with arms crossed, is to lose our chance.

The Assembly, convinced by the reasoning of the laborer, broke up despite the efforts of the mayor, when the arrival of General Cambronne, who stopped a moment in dismounting at the steps of City Hall, suddenly stopped the movement of its departure.  The Marquis took advantage of this moment to renew with even more energy the arguments he had argued against Napoleon, and skillfully interpreting the presence of Cambronne:

—Well! You see, now timid and credulous, do you see my words fulfilled?  An emissary of Bonaparte brazenly comes this far!  And do you know what he wants?  Can you guess?  He has come to rob us, ruin us: he has come to ask me permission to install our homes bailiffs (garnisaires) who will devour the substance of your sweat and your fatigue, which will spoil your attic and your basement!  Who knows if they will not commit further excesses? ... He comes...

Suddenly Cambronne appeared at the end of the hall, and the word ended on the lips of the Marquis ... The general, looking calmly at all the faces of different emotions advanced, took off his hat and a loud voice:

—I come, my brothers, to bring you peace and calm, he said; I bring you the friendship of Napoleon, which will not touch your property, and has forbidden, under pain of death, for his soldiers to break these formal orders.

At these words a murmur of approval suddenly demonstrated to the Marquis of the state of mind of those around him.  Feeling too weak to resist now, he tried to stammer some excuses, and seemed to have felt that fear of not being to afford the expenses that would result with the passage of the Emperor. On hearing this language, Cambronne took out his purse, throwing it coldly at the feet of the Marquis, saying:

—Sir, payment in advance.

A moment after this scene, the battalion of the Isle of Elba arrived at the Town Hall place and the residents, now attached to the cause of Napoleon, improvised a tricolor, to do homage to their new brothers.

Then Cambronne prepared to march with his forty Grenadiers in front of Napoleon.  Suddenly the sound of weapons was heard; the drums beat, soldiers appeared; it was a battalion of Grenoble sent to block the passage to the troops of the Emperor.  Cambronne leapt in front of opponents; he waved his sword, he showed his cockade and prepared to harangue the soldiers: but by order of the officers, a long drum roll covered his voice.  Then he turned his horse back and shortly warned Napoleon of the resistance he has experienced.

—Very well, said the latter, we'll see.

And his Guard, though very tired by a forced march through the rocky paths, forgot its fatigues and continues in its footsteps.  This movement was so fast, so instantaneous, in a word, Napoleon, touched by such devotion, turned to his braves and said with tears in his eyes:

—With you, I do not fear ten thousand men.

However, the battalion that came from Grenoble had fallen back and taken position three leagues from Gorp.  The Emperor goes on that side.  He found in the line opposite a battalion of the 5th Regiment of the Line, a company of sappers, composed of five or six hundred men.  Napoleon sent the commander Raoul to them; the troops refused to listen.  One could judge the feelings he must have felt seeing this result.  His escort was waiting in the greatest anxiety for the reason that it had stopped.  The wait was not long.  With lightning flashing in the eyes of the Emperor, and, dismounting, he walked straight to the detachment, followed by his guard with his gun under the left arm; and when he was some distance from the troops who stood motionless, and petrified in some way by the presence of this man who had so often led them to victory, he exclaimed with emotion:

—What! My friends, I do not recognize me?  If there is among you a soldier who wants to kill his former general, his Emperor, he may, I am ready!

At these words, there was hesitancy in this mass of soldiers.  A buzzing sound travelled first through the ranks; soon the noise became stronger, it grew, and suddenly hundreds of voices, combined into one, carried by the heavens, with the explosion of the storm the cry of Vive l'Empereur!  Then the ranks open, they rushed into the arms of one another, the newcomers around Napoleon, and argue for the honor of kissing the gray coat of who would one day become history.

Between Vizille and Grenoble, a lieutenant colonel of the 7th Line came to announce to Napoleon that Labédoyère hastened with his regiment to meet him.  Indeed, one soon heard many cheers: it was Labédoyère and the 7th.  The emperor walked hurriedly to meet the Colonel and kissed him repeatedly.  At the same time, he gathered around him the officers who came to align with his cause and joining with the staff he held in the open air a sort of council.  After a few words to express a sincere gratitude for their dedication, he recapitulated the progress he had made, and ended by asking what he should do in this situation.

—Enter Grenoble tonight! Labédoyère cried.

—What do you think, gentlemen? Napoleon asked, smiling at the warmth of the Colonel.

—Yes, yes, on to Grenoble! They all answered.

—Well then, on to Grenoble! Cried Napoleon in turn.  I will detain you all for dinner tonight.

 They marched.  The commander of that place had the troops back in the city, he ordered that the gates were closed. The walls were covered by the 3rd Regiment of Engineers, composed of all old soldiers riddled with injuries; by the 4th Artillery of the Line, the same regiment in which Napoleon, twenty-five years earlier had served with distinction as captain; then the two other battalions of the 5th Line, and the 4th Hussars.  Never had a besieged city offer such a show.  The attackers, their weapon upside down, and marching through the mass of joy, approached the walls singing.  The garrison, the National Guard, the population spread over the walls, looked at first with surprise at such a transport.  They had expected an attack, they heard the sound of contagious cheers of Long live  France! ... Long live the Emperor! ... Long live Grenoble! ... Need we say more?  The ramparts, guns and cannons were soon abandoned.  The people and soldiers rushed to the gates; in an instant they were forced open, and Napoleon, surrounded by an eager idolizing crowd, made his triumphal entry into Grenoble. A few moments later, the people, to the sound of music, came to bring the remains of the gates to him and said:

—We do not have the keys of the city, but now we present the gates of the city.

Weary, Napoleon took the moment for some refreshment that he had distributed to all those brave people, then said filling a glass:

—My friends, he cried, raising it in the air, your health, prosperity to the nation!

Cheers, stamping of joy greeted the toast of Napoleon, who, turning to his staff, said with confidence that he had not yet shown up to now:

—Courage, comrades! Now we are sure to make it to Paris.

From Grenoble, Lyon was easily taken; and, leaving the latter city, Macon was headed for.  He would not go down to the prefecture, and went to stay at the inn Sauvage.  He no longer needed, as in Grenoble, to wait at the gates of cities: the people and magistrates flocked to meet him, and fought for the honor to first offer to pay their respects and wishes.

The 14th, early, we arrived at Châlons. The weather was terrible, and yet the entire population was brought out of town to see the Emperor a few moments earlier.

The 16th, the little Imperial Army stopped at Avalion.   Napoleon was welcomed as he was everywhere, that is to say, amid demonstrations that verged on delirium.  They pressed; they choked to see him, to hear him speak.  His lodgings were besieged in a moment by a crowd so large and persistent, that it was almost impossible for officers on duty to enter or leave.  The men who were part of the National Guard wanted to stay on duty from morning to evening; the most distinguished women of the city spent day and night in the stairways and corridors to watch his passage.  Three of them, tired from having been on their feet all day without respite, asked the officers of the staff permission to sit beside them.  It was in a room adjoining the bedroom of Napoleon; bad mattresses had thrown down on the ground there to gain as much rest as possible; but they wished, for gallantry, to try to keep them company, and soon exhausted by fatigue and emotion, they slept soundly.  During this time, one of the ladies got up and went to stand guard at the door of the Emperor, it was then up to another of her companions, and all three acquitted themselves well, in turn, at functions that had somehow the officers of Napoleon had been relieved of. Suddenly the cabinet doors open: it was the Emperor! ... Frightened, the women wanted to escape the sentries; but Napoleon's voice stopped them.  He thanked them in gallant terms for their generous devotion to his person; at the same time, he was preparing to scold his officers, his voice having awakened them with great difficulty. However, overcome by the prayers of his guards, and probably affected the fatigue of his companions, he retired without a mummer to let them sleep again.

On the 17th he arrived at Auxerre. There, for the first time, Napoleon was received by a prefect.  In Fossard he saw before him arranged in battle order the dragoons of the King's Regiment, who had abandoned their officers to join him.  He dismounted, greeted them with such seriousness that suited him so well, and distributed compliments and promotions.  No regiment could escape him; when the officers were away, the soldiers came without them.  They warned him en route, that two thousand bodyguards were stationed in the forest of Fontainebleau.  Napoleon thought this review was unlikely, and it took all the insistence of his comrades to induce him to be accompanied by two hundred horsemen.  Until then he had no other escort but the carriage of General Drouot, which preceded his. Two colonels, captains and some Polish galloped as doormen.  The horses, postilions and couriers, decorated with tricolor ribbons and bouquets, gave it in turn a look of joy and celebration.  All night they marched:  Napoleon wanted to arrive at Fontainebleau at daybreak.  When someone remarked that it might be unwise to go down to the chateau, he replied:

—Bah! If something should happen, all these precautions, then there will have been for nothing. Our destiny is written up there! ...

Finally, they reached the gates of the palace.  Napoleon, impatient, did not wait for the help of alight to assist him in descending from the carriage: he turned the door knob himself, opened it and jumped down with the quickness a young man.  At two o’clock, March 20, 1815, he set off for Paris.  It was, as we know, the anniversary of the birth of his son.  He insisted on returning to his capital under happier auspices, but delayed by the crowd gathered in his path and the congratulations of the troops and generals rushing to meet him, he could not reach Paris until nine o’clock at night.

As soon as he dismounted they rushed upon him; a thousand arms carried him off in triumph.  Nothing was more touching than the confused reunion of that crowd of officers and generals who had rushed into the courtyard of the Tuileries, in the footsteps of Napoleon.

They forgot the majesty of the place to indulge without restraint in the necessary venting of their joy and happiness.

The Emperor was delighted.  Never was there seen such lavish show of friendship.  His speeches were affected by the agitation of his heart; the same words always returned to his mouth; but despite his extreme distress, he still could find words of gratitude for everyone.  Was there ever as happy an evening as this; an evening of hope, happiness and peace; an evening when we formed noble projects, where the future is tinged with a smiling blue! ...

But then, why, when the buzzing crowd had elapsed, and the palace found a little quiet after the excitement of this unforgettable day, why, would one see, that the Emperor, leaning on the railing of one of the windows of the throne room, had on his face such a thoughtful and dreamy look? ... This is probably because, beside the great joy God had placed vague forebodings to remind man that all earthly happiness is fleeting, and warned Napoleon, by a distant intuition that purple Tuileries was near the tomb of Saint-Helena.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2009

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