A Life picture of the Napoleonic Era
AUTHOR OF PRINCE EUGENE AND HIS TIMES, JOSEPH II, AND HIS COURT, MERCHANT OF BERLIN, ETC.
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY
DAYS OF CHILDHOOD AND OF THE REVOLUTION.
I.—Days of Childhood. II.—The Prophecy. III.—Consequences of the Revolution. IV.—General Bonaparte. V.—The Marriage. VI.—Bonaparte in Italy. VII.—Vicissitudes of Destiny. VIII.—Bonaparte's Return from Egypt.
THE QUEEN OF HOLLAND.
I.—A First Love. II.—Louis Bonaparte and Duroc. III—Consul and King. IV.—The Calumny. V.—King or Emperor. VI.—Napoleon's Heir. VII.—Premonitions. VIII.—The Divorce. IX.—The King of Holland. X.—Junot, the Duke d'Abrantes. XI.—Louis Napoleon as a Vender of Violets. XII.—The Days of Misfortune. XIII.—The Allies in Paris. XIV.—Correspondence between the Queen and Louise de Cochelet. XV.—Queen Hortense and the Emperor Alexander. XVI.—The New Uncles. XVII.—Death of the Empress Josephine.
I.—The Return of the Bourbons. II.—The Bourbons and the Bonapartes. III.—Madame de Stael. IV.—Madame de Stael's Return to Paris. V.—Madame de Stael's Visit to Queen Hortense. VI.—The Old and New Era. VII.—King Louis XVIII. VIII.—The Drawing-room of the Duchess of St. Leu. IX.—The Burial of Louis XVI. and his Wife. X.—Napoleon's Return from Elba. XI.—Louis XVIII.'s Departure and Napoleon's Arrival. XII.—The Hundred Days. XIII.—Napoleon's Last Adieu.
THE DUCHESS OF ST. LEU.
I.—The Banishment of the Duchess of St. Leu. II.—Louis Napoleon as a Child. III.—The Revolution of 1830. IV.—The Revolution in Rome and the Sons of Hortense. V.—The Death of Prince Napoleon. VI.—The Flight from Italy. VII.—The Pilgrimage. VIII.—Louis Philippe and the Duchess of St. Leu. IX.—The Departure of the Duchess from Paris. X.—Pilgrimage through France. XI.—Fragment from the Memoirs of Queen Hortense. XII.—The Pilgrim. XIII.—Conclusion.
General Bonaparte suppressing the Revolt of the Sections, Frontispiece.
View of the Tuileries.
Portrait of Queen Hortense.
Portrait of Madame de Stael.
DAYS OF CHILDHOOD AND OF THE REVOLUTION.
DAYS OF CHILDHOOD.
"One moment of bliss is not too dearly bought with death," says our great German poet, and he may be right; but a moment of bliss purchased with a long lifetime full of trial and suffering is far too costly.
And when did it come for her, this "moment of bliss?" When could Hortense Beauharnais, in speaking of herself, declare, "I am happy? Now, let suffering and sorrow come upon me, if they will; I have tasted felicity, and, in the memories it has left me, it is imperishable and eternal!"
Much, very much, had this daughter of an empress and mother of an emperor to endure.
In her earliest youth she had been made familiar with misfortune and with tears; and in her later life, as maiden, wife, and mother, she was not spared.
A touchingly-beautiful figure amid the drama of the Napoleonic days was this gentle and yet high-spirited queen, who, when she had descended from the throne and had ceased to be a sovereign, exhausted and weary of life, found refuge at length in the grave, yet still survived among us as a queen—no longer, indeed, a queen of nations, but the Queen of Flowers.
The flowers have retained their remembrance of Josephine's beautiful daughter; they did not, like so many of her own race, deny her when she was no longer the daughter of the all-powerful emperor, but merely the daughter of the "exile." Among the flowers the lovely Hortense continued to live on, and Gavarni, the great poet of the floral realm, has reared to her, as Hortensia, the Flower Queen, an enchanting monument, in his "Fleurs Animees." Upon a mound of Hortensias rests the image of the Queen Hortense, and, in the far distance, like the limnings of a half-forgotten dream, are seen the towers and domes of Paris. Farther in the foreground lies the grave of Hortense, with the carved likeness of the queenly sister of the flowers. Loneliness reigns around the spot, but above it, in the air, hovers the imperial eagle. The imperial mantle, studded with its golden bees, undulates behind him, like the train of a comet; the dark-red ribbon of the Legion of Honor, with the golden cross, hangs around his neck, and in his beak he bears a full-blooming branch of the crown imperial.
It is a page of world-renowned history that this charming picture of Gavarni's conjures up before us—an historical pageant that sweeps by us in wondrous fantastic forms of light and shadow, when we scan the life of Queen Hortense with searching gaze, and meditate upon her destiny. She had known all the grandeur and splendor of earth, and had seen them all crumble again to dust. No, not all! Her ballads and poems remain, for genius needs no diadem to be immortal.
When Hortense ceased to be a queen by the grace of Napoleon, she none the less continued to be a poetess "by the grace of God." Her poems are sympathetic and charming, full of tender plaintiveness and full of impassioned warmth, which, however, in no instance oversteps the bounds of womanly gentleness. Her musical compositions, too, are equally melodious and attractive to the heart. Who does not know the song, "Va t'en, Guerrier," which Hortense wrote and set to music, and then, at Napoleon's request, converted into a military march? The soldiers of France once left their native land, in those days, to the sound of this march, to carry the French eagles to Russia; and to the same warlike harmony they have marched forth more recently, toward the same distant destination. This ballad, written by Hortense, survived. At one time everybody sang it, joyously, aloud. Then, when the Bourbons had returned, the scarred and crippled veterans of the Invalides hummed it under their breath, while they whispered secretly to each other of the glory of La Belle France, as of a beautiful dream of youth, now gone forever.
To-day, that song rings out with power again through France, and mounts in jubilee to the summit of the column on the Place Vendome. The bronze visage of the emperor seems to melt into a smile as these tremulous billows of melody go sweeping around his brow, and the Hortensias on the queen's grave raise dreamingly their heads of bloom, in which the dews of heaven, or the tears of the departed one, glisten like rarest gems, and seem to look forth lovingly and listen to this ditty, which now for France has won so holy a significance—holy because it is the master-chant of a religion which all men and all nations should revere—the "religion of our memories." Thus, this "Va t'en, Guerrier," which France now sings, resounds over the grave of the queen, like a salute of honor over the last resting-place of some brave soldier.
She had much to contend with—this hapless and amiable queen—but she ever proved firm, and ever retained one kind of courage that belongs to woman—the courage to smile through her tears. Her father perished on the scaffold; her mother, the doubly-dethroned empress, died of a broken heart; her step-father, the Emperor Napoleon, pined away, liked a caged lion, on a lone rock in the sea! Her whole family—all the dethroned kings and queens—went wandering about as fugitives and pariahs, banished from their country, and scarcely wringing from the clemency of those to whom they had been clement, a little spot of earth, where, far from the bustle and intercourse of the world, they might live in quiet obscurity, with their great recollections and their mighty sorrows. Their past lay behind them, like a glittering fairy tale, which no one now believed; and only the present seemed, to men and nations, a welcome reality, which they, with envenomed stings, were eager to brand upon the foreheads of the dethroned Napoleon race.
Yet, despite all these sorrows and discouragements, Hortensia had the mental strength not to hate her fellow-beings, but, on the contrary, to teach her children to love them and do good to them. The heart of the dethroned queen bled from a thousand wounds, but she did not allow these wounds to stiffen into callousness, nor her heart to harden under the broad scars of sorrow that had ceased to bleed. She cherished her bereavements and her wounds, and kept them open with her tears; but, even while she suffered measureless woes, it solaced her heart to relieve the woes and dry the tears of others. Thus was her life a constant charity; and when she died she could, like the Empress Josephine, say of herself, "I have wept much, but never have I made others weep."
Hortense was the daughter of the Viscount de Beauharnais, who, against the wishes of his relatives, married the beautiful Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie, a young Creole lady of Martinique. This alliance, which love alone had brought about, seemed destined, nevertheless, to no happy issue. While both were young, and both inexperienced, passionate, and jealous, both lacked the strength and energy requisite to restrain the wild impulses of their fiery temperaments within the cool and tranquil bounds of quiet married life. The viscount was too young to be not merely a lover and tender husband, but also a sober counsellor and cautious instructor in the difficult after-day of life; and Josephine was too innocent, too artless, too sportive and genial, to avoid all those things that might give to the watchful and hostile family of her husband an opportunity for ill-natured suspicions, which were whispered in the viscount's ear as cruel certainties. It may readily be conceived, then, that such a state of things soon led to violent scenes and bitter grief. Josephine was too beautiful and amiable not to attract attention and admiration wherever she went, and she was not yet blasee and hackneyed enough to take no pleasure in the court thus paid to her, and the admiration so universally shown her, nor even to omit doing her part to win them. But, while she was naive and innocent at heart, she required of her husband that these trifling outside coquetries should not disquiet him nor render him distrustful, and that he should repose the most unshaken confidence in her. Her pride revolted against his suspicions, as did his jealousy against her seeming frivolity; and both became quite willing, at last, to separate, notwithstanding the love they really bore each other at the bottom of their hearts, had not their children rendered such a separation impossible. These children were a son, Eugene, and a daughter, Hortense, four years younger than the boy. Both parents loved these children with passionate tenderness; and often when one of the stormy scenes at which we have hinted took place in the presence of the young people, an imploring word from Eugene or a caress from little Hortense would suffice to reconcile their father and mother, whose anger, after all, was but the result of excessive attachment.
But these domestic broils became more violent with time, and the moment arrived when Eugene was no longer there to stand by his little sister in her efforts to soothe the irritation of her parents. The viscount had sent Eugene, who was now seven years of age, to a boarding-school; and little Hortense, quite disheartened by the absence of her brother, had no longer the means or the courage to allay the quarrels that raged between her parents, but would escape in terror and dismay, when they broke out, to some lonely corner, and there weep bitterly over a misfortune, the extent of which her poor little childish heart could not yet estimate.
In the midst of this gloomy and stormy period, the young viscountess received a letter from Martinique. It was from her mother, Madame Tascher de la Pagerie, who vividly depicted to her daughter the terrors of her lonely situation in her huge, silent residence, where there was no one around her but servants and slaves, whose singularly altered and insubordinate manner had, of late, alarmed the old lady, and filled her with secret apprehensions for the future. She, therefore, besought her daughter to come to her, and live with her, so that she might cheer the last few years of her mother's existence with the bright presence of her dazzling youth.
Josephine accepted this appealing letter from her mother as a hint from destiny; and, weary of her domestic wrangles, and resolved to end them forever, she took her little daughter, Hortense, then scarcely four years old, and with her sailed away from France, to seek beyond the ocean and in her mother's arms the new happiness of undisturbed tranquillity.
But, at that juncture, tranquillity had fled the world. The mutterings and moanings of the impending tempest could be heard on all sides. A subterranean rumbling was audible throughout all lands; a dull thundering and outcry, as though the solid earth were about to change into one vast volcano—one measureless crater—that would dash to atoms, and entomb, with its blazing lava-streams and fiery cinder-showers, the happiness and peace of all humanity. And, finally, this terrific crater did, indeed, open and hurl destruction and death on all sides, over the whole world, uprooting, with demoniac fury, entire races and nations, and silencing the merry laugh and harmless jest with the overpowering echoes of its awful voice!
This volcano was the revolution. In France, the first and most fearful explosion of this terrific crater occurred, but the whole world shook and heaved with it, and, on all sides, the furious masses from beneath overflowed on the surface, seeking to reverse the order of things and place the lowest where the highest had been. Even away in Martinique this social earthquake was felt, which had already, in France, flung out the bloody guillotine from its relentless crater. This guillotine had become the altar of the so-called enfranchisement of nations, and upon this altar the intoxicated, unthinking masses offered up to their new idol those who, until then, had been their lords and masters, and by whose death they now believed that they could purchase freedom for evermore.
"Egalite! fraternite! liberte!" Such was the battle-cry of this howling, murdering populace. Such were the three words which burned in blood-red letters of fire above the guillotine, and their mocking emblem was the glittering axe, that flashed down, to sever from their bodies the heads of the aristocrats whom, in spite of the new religion represented in those three words, they would not recognize as brethren and equals, or admit to the freedom of life and of opinion. And this battle-cry of the murderous French populace had penetrated as far as Martinique, where it had aroused the slaves from their sullen obedience to the point of demanding by force that participation in freedom, equality, and brotherhood, that had so long been denied them. They, at last, rose everywhere in open insurrection against their masters, and the firebrands which they hurled into the dwellings of the whites served as the bridal torches to their espousal of liberty.
The house of Madame Tascher de la Pagerie was one of the abodes in which these firebrands fell.
One night Josephine was awakened by the blinding light of the flames, which had already penetrated to her chamber. With a shriek of terror, she sprang from her bed, caught up little Hortense in her arms from the couch where the child lay quietly slumbering, wrapped her in the bedclothes, and rushed, in her night-attire, from the house. She burst, with the lion-like courage of a mother, through the shouting, fighting crowds of soldiers and blacks outside, and fled, with all the speed of mortal terror, toward the harbor. There lay a French vessel, just ready to weigh anchor. An officer, who at that moment was stepping into the small boat that was to convey him to the departing ship, saw this young woman, as, holding her child tightly to her bosom, she sank down, with one last despairing cry, half inanimate, upon the beach. Filled with the deepest compassion, he hastened to her, and, raising both mother and child in his arms, he bore them to his boat, which then instantly put out from land, and bounded away over the billows with its lovely burden.
The ship was soon reached, and Josephine, still tightly clasping her child to her breast, and happy in having saved this only jewel, climbed up the unsteady ladder to the ship's decks. Until this moment all her thoughts remained concentrated upon her child, and it was only when she had seen her little Hortense safely put to bed in the cabin and free from all danger—only after she had fulfilled all the duties of a mother, that the woman revived in her breast, and she cast shamed and frightened glances around her. Only half-clad, in light, fluttering night-clothes, without any other covering to her beautiful neck and bosom than her superb, luxuriant hair, which fell around her and partly hid them, like a thick black veil, stood the young Viscountess Josephine de Beauharnais, in the midst of a group of gazing men!
However, some of the ladies on the ship came to her aid, and, so soon as her toilet had been sufficiently improved, Josephine eagerly requested to be taken back to land, in order that she might fly to her mother's assistance.
But the captain opposed this request, as he was unwilling to give the young fugitive over to the tender mercies of the assassins who were burning and massacring ashore, and whose murderous yells could be distinctly heard on board of the vessel. The entire coast, so far as the eye could reach, looked like another sea—a sea, though, of flame and smoke, which shot up its leaping billows in long tongues of fire far against the sky. It was a terrible, an appalling spectacle; and Josephine fled from it to the bedside of her little sleeping daughter. Then, kneeling there by the couch of her child, she uplifted to heaven her face, down which the tears were streaming, and implored God to spare her mother.
But, meanwhile, the ship weighed anchor, and sped farther and farther away from this blazing coast.
Josephine stood on the deck and gazed back at her mother's burning home, which gradually grew less to her sight, then glimmered only like a tiny star on the distant horizon, and finally vanished altogether. With that last ray her childhood and past life had sunk forever in the sea, and a new world and a new life opened for both mother and child. The past was, like the ships of Cortez, burned behind her; yet it threw a magic light far away over into her future, and as Josephine stood there with her little Hortense in her arms, and sent her last farewell to the island where her early days had been spent, she bethought her of the old mulatto-woman who had whispered in her ear one day:
"You will go back to France, and, ere long after that, all France will be at your feet. You will be greater there than a queen."
It was toward the close of the year 1790 that Josephine, with her little daughter, Hortense, arrived in Paris and took up her residence in a small dwelling. There she soon received the intelligence of the rescue of her mother, and of the re-establishment of peace in Martinique. In France, however, the revolution and the guillotine still raged, and the banner of the Reign of Terror—the red flag—still cast its bloody shadow over Paris. Its inhabitants were terror-stricken; no one knew in the evening that he would still be at liberty on the following day, or that he would live to see another sunset. Death lay in wait at every door, and reaped its dread harvest in every house and in every family. In the face of these horrors, Josephine forgot all her earlier griefs, all the insults and humiliations to which she had been subjected by her husband; the old love revived in her breast, and, as it might well be that on the morrow death would come knocking at her own door, she wished to devote the present moment to a reconciliation with her husband, and a reunion with her son.
But all her attempts in this direction were in vain. The viscount had felt her flight to Martinique to be too grave an injury, too great an insult, to be now willing to consent to a reconciliation with his wife. Sympathizing friends arranged a meeting between them, without, however, previously informing the viscount of their design. His anger was therefore great when, on entering the parlor of Count Montmorin, in response to that gentleman's invitation, he found there the wife he had so obstinately and wrathfully avoided. He was about to retire hastily, when a charming child rushed forward, greeted him tenderly in silvery tones, and threw herself into his arms. The viscount was now powerless to fly; he pressed his child, his Hortense, to his heart, and when the child, with a winning smile, entreated him to kiss her mamma as he had kissed her; when he saw the beautiful countenance of Josephine wet with tears; when he heard his father's voice saying, "My son, reconcile yourself with my daughter! Josephine is my daughter, and I would not call her so if she were unworthy," and when he saw his handsome son, Eugene, gazing at him wistfully, his head resting on his mother's shoulder, his heart relented. Leading little Hortense by the hand, he stepped forward to his wife, and, with a loud cry of joy and a blissful greeting of love, Josephine sank on his bosom.
Peace was re-established, and husband and wife were now united in a closer bond of love than ever before. The storms seemed to have spent their rage, and the heaven of their happiness was clear and cloudless. But this heaven was soon to be overcast with the black shadow of the revolution.
Viscount Beauharnais, returned by the nobility of Blois to the new legislative body, the Estates-General, resigned this position, in order to serve his country with his sword instead of his tongue. With the rank of adjutant-general, he repaired to the Army of the North, accompanied by Josephine's blessings and tears. A dread premonition told her that she would never see the general again, and this premonition did not deceive her. The spirit of anarchy and insurrection not only raged among the people of Paris, but also in the army. The aristocrats, who were given over to the guillotine in Paris, were also regarded with distrust and hatred in the army, and Viscount Beauharnais, who, for his gallantry on the battle-field of Soissons, had been promoted to the position of commanding general, was accused by his own officers of being an enemy of France and of the new order of things. He was arrested, taken back to Paris, and thrown into the prison of the Luxembourg, where so many other victims of the revolution lay in confinement.
The sad intelligence of her husband's misfortune soon reached Josephine, and aroused her love to energetic action in his behalf. She mentally vowed to liberate her husband, the father of her children, or to die with him. She courageously confronted all dangers, all suspicions, and was happy when she found him in his prison, where she visited him, whispering words of consolation and hope in his ear.
But at that time love and fidelity were also capital crimes, and Josephine's guilt was twofold: first, because she was an aristocrat herself, and secondly, because she loved and wept for the fate of an aristocrat, and an alleged traitor to his country. Josephine was arrested and thrown into the prison of St. Pelagie.
Eugene and Hortense were now little better than orphans, for the prisoners of the Luxembourg and St. Pelagie, at that time, only left their prisons to mount the scaffold. Alone, deprived of all help, avoided by all whom they had once known and loved, the two children were threatened with misery, want, and even with hunger, for the estate of their parents had been confiscated, and, in the same hour in which Josephine was conducted to prison, the entrances and doors of their dwelling were sealed, and the poor children left to find a sheltering roof for themselves. But yet they were not entirely helpless, not quite friendless, for a friend of Josephine, a Madame Ho1stein, had the courage to come to the rescue, and take the children into her own family.
But it was necessary to go to work cautiously and wisely, in order to avoid exciting the hatred and vengeance of those who, coming from the scum of the people, were now the rulers of France. An imprudent word, a look, might suffice to cast suspicion upon, and render up to the guillotine, this good Madame Ho1stein, this courageous friend of the two children. It was in itself a capital crime that she had taken the children of the accused into her house, and it was therefore necessary to adopt every means of conciliating the authorities. It was thought necessary that Hortense should, in company with her protectress, attend the festivals and patriotic processions, that were renewed at every decade in honor of the one and indivisible republic, but she was never required to take an active part in these celebrations. She was not considered worthy to figure among the daughters of the people; she had not yet been forgiven for being the daughter of a viscount, of an imprisoned ci-devant. Eugene had been apprenticed to a carpenter, and the son of the viscount was now often seen walking through the streets in a blouse, carrying a board on his shoulder or a saw under his arm.
While the children of the accused were thus enjoying temporary security, the future of their parents was growing darker and darker, and not only the life of the general, but also that of his wife, was now seriously endangered. Josephine had been removed from the prison of St. Pelagie to that of the Carmelites, and this brought her a step nearer the scaffold. But she did not tremble for herself, she thought only of her children and her husband; she wrote affectionate letters to the former, which she bribed her jailer to forward to their destination, but all her efforts to place herself in communication with her husband were abortive. One day she received the fearful intelligence that her husband had just been conducted before the revolutionary tribunal. Josephine waited for further intelligence in an agony of suspense. Had this tribunal acquitted her husband, or had it condemned him to death? Was he already free, or was he free in a higher sense—was he dead? If he were free, he would have found means to inform her of the fact; and if he were dead, his name would certainly have been mentioned in the list of the condemned. In this agony of suspense, Josephine passed the long day. Night came, but brought no rest for her and her companions in misery—the other occupants of the prison—who also looked death in the face, and who watched with her throughout the long night.
The society assembled in this prison was brilliant and select. There were the Dowager Duchess de Choiseul, the Viscountess de Maille, whose seventeen-years-old daughter had just been guillotined; there was the Marquise de Crequi, the intellectual lady who has often been called the last marquise of the ancien regime, and who in her witty memoirs wrote the French history of the eighteenth century as viewed from an aristocratic standpoint. There was Abbe Texier, who, when the revolutionists threatened him with the lantern, because he had refused to take the oath of allegiance to the new constitution, replied: "Will you see any better after having hung me to the lantern?" And there was yet another, a M. Duvivier, a pupil of Cagliostro, who, like his master, could read the future, and with the assistance of a decanter full of water and a "dove," that is, an innocent young girl of less than seven, could solve the mysteries of fate.
To him, to the Grand Cophta, Josephine now addressed herself after this day of dread uncertainty, and demanded information of the fate of her husband.
In the stillness of the night the gloomy, desolate hall of the prison now presented a strange aspect. The jailer, bribed with an assignat of fifty francs, then worth only forty sous, however, had consented that his little six-years-old daughter should serve the Grand Cophta as "dove," and had made all other preparations. A table stood in the middle of the hall, on which was a decanter filled with clear, fresh water, around which were three candles in the form of a triangle, and placed as near the decanter as possible, in order that the dove should be able to see the better. The little girl, just aroused from sleep and brought from her bed in her night-gown, sat on a chair close to the table, and behind her stood the earnest, sombre figure of the Grand Cophta. Around the table stood the prisoners, these duchesses and marquises, these ladies of the court of Versailles who had preserved their aristocratic manners in the prison, and were even here so strictly observant of etiquette, that those of them who had enjoyed the honor of the tabouret in the Tuileries, were here accorded the same precedence, and all possible consideration shown them.
On the other side of the table, in breathless suspense, her large, dark eyes fastened on the child with a touching expression, stood the unhappy Josephine, and, at some distance behind the ladies, the jailer with his wife.
Now the Grand Cophta laid both hands on the child's head and cried in a loud voice, "Open your eyes and look!"
The child turned pale and shuddered as it fixed its gaze on the decanter.
"What do you see?" asked the Grand Cophta, "I want you to look into the prison of General Beauharnais. What do you see?"
"I see a little room," said the child with vivacity. "On a cot lies a young man who sleeps; at his side stands another man, writing on a sheet of paper that lies on a large book."
"Can you read?"
"No, citizen. Now the man cuts off his hair, and folds it in the paper."
"The one who sleeps?"
"No, the one who was just now writing. He is now writing something on the back of the paper in which he wrapped the hair; now he opens a little red pocket-book, and takes papers out of it; they are assignats, he counts them and then puts them back in the pocket-book. Now he rises and walks softly, softly."
"What do you mean by softly? You have not heard the slightest noise as yet, have you?"
"No, but he walks through the room on tiptoe."
"What do you see now?"
"He now covers his face with his hands and seems to be weeping."
"But what did he do with his pocket-book?"
"Ah, he has put the pocket book and the package with the hair in the pocket of the coat that lies on the sleeping man's bed."
"Of what color is this coat?"
"I cannot see, exactly; it is red or brown, lined with blue silk and covered with shining buttons."
"That will do," said the Grand Cophta; "you can go to bed, child."
He stooped down over the child and breathed on her forehead. The little girl seemed to awaken as from a trance, and hurried to her parents, who led her from the hall.
"General Beauharnais still lives!" said the Grand Cophta, addressing Josephine.
"Yes, he still lives," cried she, sadly, "but he is preparing for death."
[Footnote 1: This scene is exactly as represented by the Marquise de Crequi, who was present and relates it in her memoirs, vol. vi., p. 238.]
Josephine was right. A few days later Duchess d'Anville received a package and a letter. It was sent to her by a prisoner in La Force, named De Legrois. He had occupied the same cell with General Beauharnais and had found the package and the letter, addressed to the duchess, in his pocket on the morning of the execution of the general.
In this letter the general conjured Duchess D'Anville to deliver to Josephine the package which contained his hair and his last adieus to wife and children.
This was the only inheritance which General Beauharnais could bequeath to his Josephine and her unhappy children!
Josephine was so agitated by the sight of her husband's hair and his last fond words of adieu, that she fainted away, a stream of blood gushing from her mouth.
Her companions in misfortune vied with each other in giving her the most tender attention, and demanded of the jailer that a physician should be called.
"Why a physician!" said the man, indifferently. "Death is the best physician. He called the general to-day; in a few days he will restore to him his wife."
This prophecy was almost verified. Josephine, scarcely recovered from her illness, received her citation from the Tribunal of Terror. This was the herald of certain death, and she courageously prepared for the grave, troubled only by thoughts of the children she must leave behind.
A fortunate and unforeseen occurrence saved her. The men of the revolution had now attained the summit of their power, and, as there was no standing still for them, they sank into the abyss which themselves had digged.
The fall of Robespierre opened the prisons and set at liberty thousands of the already condemned victims of the revolution.
Viscountess Josephine left her prison; she was restored to liberty, and could now hasten to her children, but she came back to them as a poor widow, for the seals of the "one and indivisible republic" were on hers and her children's property as well as on that of all other aristocrats.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE REVOLUTION.
France drew a breath of relief; the Reign of Terror was at an end, and a milder and more moderate government wielded the sceptre over the poor land that had so lately lain in the agonies of death. It was no longer a capital offence to bear an aristocratic name, to be better dressed than the sans-culottes, to wear no Jacobin-cap, and to be related to the emigrants. The guillotine, which had ruled over Paris during two years of blood and tears, now rested from its horrid work, and allowed the Parisians to think of something else besides making their wills and preparing for death.
Mindful of the uncertainty of the times, the people were disposed to make the most of this release from the fear of immediate death, and to enjoy themselves to the utmost while they could.
They had so long wept, that they eagerly desired to laugh once more; so long lived in sorrow and fear, that they now ardently longed for amusement and relaxation. The beautiful women of Paris, who had been dethroned by the guillotine, and from whose hands the reins had been torn, now found the courage to grasp these reins again, and reconquer the position from which the storm-wind of the revolution had hurled them.
Madame Tallien, the all-powerful wife of one of the five directors who now swayed the destinies of France; Madame Recamier, the friend of all the eminent and distinguished men of that period; and Madame de Stael, the daughter of Necker, and the wife of the ambassador of Sweden, whose government had recognized the republic—these three ladies gave to Paris its drawing-rooms, its reunions, its fetes, its fashions, and its luxury. All Paris had assumed a new form, and, although the Church had not yet again obtained official recognition, the belief in a Supreme Being was already re-established. Robespierre had already been bold enough to cause the inscription, "There is a Supreme Being," to be placed over the altars of the churches that had been converted into "Temples of Reason." Yes, there is a Supreme Being; and Robespierre, who had first acknowledged its existence, was soon to experience in himself that such was the case. Betrayed by his own associates, and charged by them with desiring to make himself dictator, and place himself at the head of the new Roman-French Republic as a new Caesar, Robespierre fell a prey to the Tribunal of Terror which he himself had called into existence. While engaged in the Hotel de Ville in signing death-sentences which were to furnish fresh victims to the guillotine, he was arrested by the Jacobins and National Guards, who had stormed the gates and penetrated into the building, and the attempt to blow out his brains with his pistol miscarried. Bleeding, his jaw shattered by the bullet, he was dragged before Fouquier-Tainville to receive his sentence, and to be conducted thence to the scaffold. In order that the proceeding should be attended with all formalities, he was, however, first conducted to the Tuileries, where the Committee of Public Safety was then sitting in the chamber of Queen Marie Antoinette. Into the bedchamber of the queen whom Robespierre had brought to the scaffold, the bleeding, half-lifeless dictator was now dragged. Like a bundle of rags he was contemptuously thrown on the large table that stood in the middle of the room. But yesterday Robespierre had been enthroned at this table as almighty ruler over the lives and possessions of all Frenchmen; but yesterday he had here issued his decrees and signed the death-sentences, that lay on the table, unexecuted. These papers were now the only salve the ghastly, groaning man could apply to the wound in his face, from which blood poured in streams. The death-sentences signed by himself now drank his own blood, and he had nothing but a rag of a tricolor, thrown him by a compassionate sans-culotte, with which to bind up the great, gaping wound on his head. As he sat there in the midst of the blood-saturated papers, bleeding, groaning, and complaining, an old National Guard, with outstretched arms, pointing to this ghastly object, cried: "Yes, Robespierre was right. There is a Supreme Being!"
This period of blood and terror was now over; Robespierre was dead; Theroigne de Mericourt was no longer the Goddess of Reason, and Mademoiselle Maillard no longer Goddess of Liberty and Virtue. Women had given up representing divinities, and desired to be themselves again, and to rebuild in the drawing-rooms of the capital, by means of their intellect and grace, the throne which had gone down in the revolution.
Madame Tallien, Madame Recamier, and Madame de Stael, reorganized society, and all were anxious to obtain admission to their parlors. To be sure, these entertainments and reunions still wore a sufficiently strange and fantastic appearance. Fashion, which had so long been compelled to give way to the carmagnole and red cap, endeavored to avenge its long banishment by all manner of caprices and humors, and in doing so assumed a political, reactionary aspect. Coiffures a la Jacobine were now supplanted by coiffures a la victime and au repentir. In order to exhibit one's taste for the fine arts, the draperies of the statues of Greece and ancient Rome were now worn. Grecian fetes were given, at which the black soup of Lycurgus was duly honored, and Roman feasts which, in splendor and extravagance, rivalled those of Lucullus. These Roman feasts were particularly in vogue at the palace of Luxembourg, where the directors of the republic had now taken up their residence, and where Madame Tallien exhibited to the new French society the new wonders of luxury and fashion. Too proud to wear the generally-adopted costume of the Grecian republic, Madame Tallien chose the attire of the Roman patrician lady; and the gold-embroidered purple robes, and the golden tiara in her black, shining hair, gave to the charming and beautiful daughter of the republic the magnificence of an empress. She had also drawn around her a splendid court. All eagerly pressed forward to pay their respects to and obtain the good will of the mighty wife of the mighty Tallien. Her house was the great point of attraction to all those who occupied prominent positions in Paris, or aspired to such. While in the parlors of Madame Recamier, who, despite the revolution, had remained a zealous royalist, the past and the good time of the Bourbons were whispered of, and witty and often sanguinary bon mots at the expense of the republic uttered—while in Madame de Stael's parlors art and science had found an asylum—Madame Tallien and court lived for the present, and basked in the splendor with which she knew how to invest the palace of the dictators of France.
In the mean while, Viscountess Josephine Beauharnais had been living, with her children, in quiet retirement, a prey to sad memories. A day came, however, when she was compelled to tear herself from this last consolation of the unhappy, the brooding over the sorrows and losses of the past, or see her children become the victims of misery and want. The time had come when she must leave her retirement, and step, as a petitioner, before those who had the power to grant, as a favor, that which was hers by right, and restore to her, at least in part, her sequestered estate. Josephine had known Madame Tallien when she was still Madame de Fontenay, and it now occurred to her that she might assist her in her attempt to recover the inheritance of her father. Madame Tallien, the "Merveilleuse de Luxembourg," also called by her admirers, "Notre-dame de Thermidor," felt much nattered at being called on by a real viscountess, who had filled a distinguished position at the court of King Louis. She therefore received her with great amiability, and endeavored to make the charming and beautiful viscountess her friend. But Josephine found that estates were more easily lost than recovered. The republic, one and indivisible, was always ready to take, but not to give; and, even with the kindly offices of Madame Tallien freely exerted in her behalf, it was some time before Josephine succeeded in recovering her estate. In the mean time, she really suffered want, and she and her children were compelled to bear the hardships and mortifications which poverty brings in its train. But true friends still remained to her in her misery; friends who, with true delicacy, furnished her with the prime necessities of life—with food and clothing for herself and children. In general, it was characteristic of this period that no one felt humiliated by accepting benefits of this kind from his friends. Those who had lost all had not done so through their own fault; and those who had saved their property out of the general wreck could not attribute their fortune to their own merit or wisdom, but merely to chance. They therefore considered it a sacred duty to divide with those who had been less fortunate; and the latter would point with pride to the poverty which proved that they had been true to themselves and principle, and accept what friendship offered. This was the result of a kind of community of property, to which the revolution had given birth. Those who had possessions considered it their duty to divide with those who had not, and the latter regarded this division rather as a right than as a benefit conferred.
Josephine could, therefore, accept the assistance of her friends without blushing; she could, with propriety, allow Madame de Montmorin to provide for the wardrobe of herself and daughter; and she and Hortense could accept the invitation of Madame Dumoulin to dine with her twice a week. There, at Madame Dumoulin's, were assembled, on certain days, a number of friends, who had been robbed of their fortunes by the storms of the revolution. Madame Dumoulin, the wife of a rich army-contractor, gave these dinners to her friends, but each guest was expected to bring with him his own white-bread. White-bread was, at that time, considered one of the greatest dainties; for, there being a scarcity of grain, a law had been proclaimed allotting to each section of Paris a certain amount of bread, and providing that no individual should be entitled to purchase more than two ounces daily. It had, therefore, become the general custom to add the following to all invitations: "You are requested to bring your white bread with you," for the reason that no more than the allotted two ounces could be had for money, and that amount cost the purchaser dearly. Josephine, however, had not even the money to buy the portion allowed her by law. An exception to this rule was, however, made in favor of Josephine and Hortense; and at Madame Dumoulin's dinners the hostess always provided white bread for them, and for them alone of all her guests. Viscountess Beauharnais was soon, however, to be freed from this want. One day when she had been invited by Madame Tallien to dinner, and had walked to the palace with Hortense, Tallien informed her that the government had favorably considered her petition, and was willing to make some concessions to the widow of a true patriot who had sealed his devotion to principle with his blood; that he had procured an ordinance from the administration of domains, pursuant to which the seals were at once to be removed from her furniture and other personal property, and that the republic had remitted to her, through him, an order on the treasury for her relief, until the sequestration of her landed estates should be annulled, which he expected would soon take place.
[Footnote 2: Memoires de Monsieur de Bourrienne sur Napoleon, etc., Vol. i., p. 80.]
Josephine found no words in which to express her thanks. She pressed her daughter to her heart and cried out, her face bathed in tears: "We shall at last be happy! My children shall no longer suffer want!" This time the tears Josephine shed were tears of joy, the first in long years.
Care and want were now over. Josephine could now give her children an education suitable to their rank; she could now once more assume the position in society to which her beauty, youth, amiability, and name entitled her. She no longer came to Madame Tallien's parlor as a suppliant, she was now its ornament, and all were eager to do homage to the adored friend of Madame Tallien, to the beautiful and charming viscountess. But Josephine preferred the quiet bliss of home-life in the circle of her children to the brilliant life of society; she gradually withdrew from the noisy circles of the outer world, in order that she might, in peaceful retirement, devote herself to the cultivation of the hearts and minds of her promising children.
Eugene was now a youth of sixteen years, and, as his personal security no longer required him to deny his name and rank, he had left his master's carpenter-shop, and laid aside his blouse. He was preparing himself for military service under the instruction of excellent teachers, whom he astonished by his zeal and rare powers of comprehension. The military renown and heroic deeds of France filled him with enthusiasm; and one day, while speaking with his teacher of the deeds of Turenne, Eugene exclaimed with sparkling eyes and glowing countenance: "I too will become a gallant general, some day!"
Hortense, now a girl of twelve years, lived with her mother, who was scarcely thirty years old, in the sweet companionship of an elder and younger sister. They were inseparable companions; Nature had given Hortense beauty with a lavish hand; her mother gave to this beauty grace and dignity. Competent teachers instructed her daughter's intellect, while the mother cultivated her heart. Early accustomed to care and want, this child had not the giddy, thoughtless disposition usually characteristic of girls of her age. She had too early gained an insight into the uncertainty and emptiness of all earthly magnificence, not to appreciate the littleness of those things upon which young girls usually place so high an estimate. Her thoughts were not occupied with the adornment of her person, and she did not bend her young head beneath the yoke of capricious fashion: for her, there were higher and nobler enjoyments, and Hortense was never happier than when her mother dispensed with her attendance at the entertainments at the house of Madame Tallien or Madame Barras, and permitted her to remain at home, to amuse herself with her books and harp in a better and more useful, if not in a more agreeable manner, than she could have done in the brilliant parlors to which her mother had repaired. Early matured in the school of experience and suffering, the girl of twelve had acquired a womanly earnestness and resolution, and yet her noble and chaste features still wore the impress of childhood, and in her large blue eyes reposed a whole heaven of innocence and peace. When she sat with her harp at the window in the evening twilight, the last rays of the setting sun gilding her sweet countenance, and surrounding as with a halo her beautiful blond hair, Josephine imagined she saw before her one of those angel-forms of innocence and love which the poet and painter portray. In a kind of trance she listened to the sweet sounds and melodies which Hortense lured from her harp, and accompanied with the silvery tones of her voice, in words composed by herself, half-childish prayer, half rhapsody of love, and revealing the most secret thoughts of the fair young being who stood on the threshold of womanhood, bidding adieu to childhood with a blissful smile, and dreaming of the future.
While Josephine de Beauharnais, after the trials of these long and stormy years, was enjoying blissful days of quiet happiness and repose, the gusts of revolution kept bursting forth from time to time in fits of fury, and tranquillity continued far from being permanently restored. The clubs, those hot-beds of the revolution, still exercised their pestilential influence over the populace of Paris, and stirred the rude masses incessantly to fresh paroxysms of discontent and disorder.
But already the man had been found who was to crush those wild masses in his iron grasp, and dash the speakers of the clubs down into the dust with the flashing master-glance of his resistless eye.
That man was Napoleon Buonaparte. He was hardly twenty-nine years of age, yet already all France was talking him as a hero crowned with laurels, already had he trodden a brilliant career of victory. As commander of a battalion he had performed prodigies of valor at the recapture of Toulon; and then, after being promoted to the rank of general, had gone to the army in Italy on behalf of the republic. Bedecked with the laurels of his Italian campaign, the young general of five-and-twenty had returned to France. There, the government, being still hostile and ill-disposed toward him, wished to remove him from Paris, and send him to La Vendee as a brigadier-general. Buonaparte declined this mission, because he preferred remaining in the artillery service, and, for that reason, the government of the republic relieved him of his duties and put him on half-pay.
So, Buonaparte remained in Paris and waited. He waited for the brilliant star that was soon to climb the firmament for him, and shed the fulness of its rays over the whole world. Perhaps, the secret voices which whispered in his breast of a dazzling future, and a fabulous career of military glory, had already announced the rising of his star.
So Buonaparte lived on in Paris, and waited. He there passed quiet, retired, and inactive days, associating with a few devoted friends only, who aided him, with delicate tact, in his restricted circumstances. For Buonaparte was poor; he had lost his limited means in the tempests of the revolution, and all that he possessed consisted of the laurels he had won on the battle-field, and his half pay as a brigadier-general. But, like the Viscountess de Beauharnais, Napoleon had some true friends who deemed it an honor to receive him as a guest at their table, and also, like Josephine, he was too poor to bring his wheaten loaf with him to the dinners that he attended, as was then the prevailing custom. He often dined, in company with his brother Louis, at the house of his boyhood's friend Bourrienne, and his future secretary was at that time still his host, favored of the gods. The young general, instead of, like his brother, bringing his wheaten loaf, brought only his ration, which was rye-bread, and this he always abandoned to his brother Louis, who was very fond of it, while Madame Bourrienne took care that he should invariably find his supply of white, bread at his plate. She had managed to get some flour smuggled into Paris from her husband's estate, and had white-bread made of it secretly, at the pastry-cook's. Had this been discovered, it would inevitably have prepared the way for all of them to the scaffold.
Thus, then, young General Buonaparte, or, as he subsequently wrote the name himself, "Bonaparte," passed quiet days of expectation, hoping that, should the existing government, so hostile to him, be suppressed by another, his wishes might be at last fulfilled. These wishes were, by the way, of a rather unpretending character. "If I could only live here quietly, at Paris," he once remarked to his friend Bourrienne, "and rent that pretty little house yonder, opposite to my friends, and keep a carriage besides, I should be the happiest of men!"
He was quite seriously entertaining the idea of renting the "pretty little house" in common with his uncle Fesch afterward the cardinal, when the important events that soon shook Paris once more prevented him, and the famous 13th Vendemiaire, 1795, again summoned the famous general away from his meditations to stern practical activity. It was on that day, the 13th Vendemiaire (October 5th), that there came the outburst of the storm, the subterranean rumblings of which had been so long perceptible. The sections of Paris rose against the National Convention which had given France a new constitution, and so fixed it that two thirds of the members of the Convention should reappear in the new legislative body. The sections of Paris, however, were prepared to accept the new constitution only when it provided that the legislative body should spring from fresh elections entirely. The Convention, thus assailed in its ambitious hankering for power, was resolved to stand its ground, and called upon the representatives who commanded the armed forces, to defend the republic of their creation. Barras was appointed the first general commanding the Army of the Interior, and Bonaparte the second. It was not long before a ferocious conflict broke out in the streets between the army and the insurgent sections. At that time the populace were not always so ready, as they have been since then, to tear up the pavements for barricades, and the revolters, put to flight by the terrible fire and the fierce onset of the artillery, made the Church of St. Roch and the Palais Royal their defensive points; but they were driven from them also; the struggle in the streets recommenced, and streams of blood had to flow ere it was over.
After the lapse of two days order was restored, and Barras declared to the triumphant National Convention that the victory over the insurgents was chiefly due to the comprehensive and gallant conduct of General Bonaparte.
The National Convention, as a token of gratitude, conferred upon the latter the permanent position of second general of the Army of the Interior, which had been allotted to him temporarily, only on the day of peril. From that moment, Bonaparte emerged from obscurity; his name had risen above the horizon!
He now had a position, and he could better comprehend the whispering voices that sang within his bosom the proud, triumphant song of his future career. He was now already conscious that he had a shining goal before his gaze—a goal to which he dared not yet assign a title, that flitted about him like a dazzling fairy tale, and which he swore to make reality at last.
One day, there came to the headquarters of the young general-in-chief a young man who very pressingly asked to see him. Bonaparte had him admitted, and the dignified form, the courageous, fiery glance, the noble, handsome countenance of the stranger, at once prepossessed him in the young man's favor, and he forthwith questioned him in gentle, friendly tones, concerning the object of his visit.
"General," said the young man, "my name is Eugene Beauharnais, and I have served the republic on the Rhine. My father was denounced before the Committee of Public Safety as a suspect, and given over to the Revolutionary Tribunal, who had him murdered, three days before the fall of Robespierre."
"Murdered!" exclaimed Bonaparte, in threatening tones.
"Yes, general, murdered!" repeated Eugene, with resolution. "I come now to request, in the name of my mother, that you will have the kindness to bring your influence to bear upon the committee, to induce them to give me back my father's sword. I will faithfully use it in fighting the enemies of my country and defending the cause of the republic."
These proud and noble words called up a gentle, kindly smile to the stern, pale face of the young general, and the fiery flash of his eyes grew softer.
"Good! young man, very good!" he said. "I like this spirit, and this filial tenderness. The sword of your father—the sword of General Beauharnais—shall be restored to you. Wait!"
With this, he called one of his adjutants, and gave him the necessary commands. A short time only had elapsed, when the adjutant returned, bringing with him the sword of General Beauharnais.
Bonaparte himself handed it to Eugene. The young overwhelmed with strong emotion, pressed the weapon—the sole, dear possession of his father—to his lips and to his heart, and tears of sacred emotion started into his eyes.
Instantly the general stepped to his side, and his slender white hand, which knew so well how to wield the sword, and yet was as soft, as delicate, and as transparent as the hand of a duchess, rested lightly on Eugene's shoulder.
"My young friend," said he, in that gentle tone which won all hearts to him, "I should be very happy could I do anything for you or your family."
Eugene gazed at him with an expression of childish amazement. "Good general!" he managed to say; "then mamma and my sister will pray for you."
This ingenuousness made the general smile; and, with a friendly nod, he desired Eugene to offer his respects to his mother, and to call upon him soon again.
This meeting of Eugene and General Bonaparte was the commencement of the acquaintanceship between Bonaparte and Josephine. The sword of the guillotined General Beauharnais placed an imperial crown upon the head of his widow, and adorned the brows of his son and his daughter with royal diadems.
A few days after this interview between Bonaparte and Eugene, Josephine met Bonaparte at one of the brilliant soirees given by Barras, the first general-in-chief. She asked Barras to introduce her to the young general, and then, in her usual frank manner, utterly the opposite of all prudery, yet none the less delicate and decorous, extending her hand to Bonaparte, she thanked him, with the tender warmth of a mother, for the friendliness and kindness he had manifested to her son.
The general looked with wondering admiration at this young and beautiful woman, who claimed to be the mother of a lad grown up to manhood. Her enchanting face beamed with youth and beauty, and a sea of warmth and passion streamed from her large, dark eyes, while the gentle, love-enticing smile that played around her mouth revealed the tender feminine gentleness and amiability of her disposition. Bonaparte had never mastered the art of flattering women in the light, frivolous style of the fashionable coxcomb; and when he attempted it his compliments were frequently of so unusual and startling a character that they might just as well contain an affront as a tribute of eulogy.
"Ah! ah! How striking that looks!" he once said, while he was emperor, to the charming Duchess de Chevreuse. "What remarkable red hair you have!"
"Possibly so, sire," she replied, "but this is the first time that a man ever told me so."
And the duchess was right; for her hair was not red, but of a very handsome blond.
[Footnote 3: The Duchess de Chevreuse was shortly afterward banished to Tours, because she refused to serve us a lady of honor to the Queen of Spain.]
To another lady, whose round, white arms pleased him, he once said: "Ah, good Heavens, what red arms you have!" Then, again, to another: "What beautiful hair you have; but what an ugly head-dress that is! Who could have put it up for you in such ridiculous style?"
Bonaparte, as I have said, did not know how to compliment women with words; but Josephine well understood the flattering language that his eyes addressed to her. She knew that she had, in that very hour, conquered the bold young lion, and she felt proud and happy at the thought; for the unusually imposing appearance of the young hero had awakened her own heart, which she had thought was dead, to livelier palpitations.
From that time forth they saw each other more frequently, and, ere long, Josephine heard from Bonaparte's own lips the glowing confession of his love. She reciprocated it, and promised him her hand. In vain her powerful friends, Tallien and Barras, endeavored to dissuade her from marrying this young, penniless general; in vain did they remind her that he might be killed in the very next battle, and that she might thus again be left a reduced widow. Josephine shook her handsome curls with a peculiar smile. Perhaps she was thinking of the prophecy of the negress at Martinique; perhaps she had read in the fiery glances of Bonaparte's eye, and on his broad, thoughtful brow, that he might be the very man to bring that prophecy to its consummation; perhaps she loved him ardently enough to prefer an humble lot, when shared with him, to any richer or more brilliant alliance. The representations of her friends did not frighten her away, and she remained firm in her determination to become the wife of the young general, poor as he was. Their wedding-day was fixed, and both hastened with joyous impatience to make their modest little preparations for their new housekeeping establishment. Yet Bonaparte had not been able to complete his dream of happiness; he possessed neither house nor carriage, and Josephine, too, was without an equipage.
Thus both of them often had to content themselves with going on foot through the streets, and it may be that, in this halcyon period of their felicity, they regarded the circumstance rather as a favor than as a scurvy trick of Fortune. Their tender and confidential communications were not disturbed by the loud rattle of the wheels, and they were not obliged to interrupt their sweet interchange of sentiment while getting into and out of a vehicle. Arm-in-arm, they strolled together along the promenades, he smiling proudly when the passers-by broke out in spontaneous exclamations of delight at Josephine's beauty, and she happy and exultant as she overheard the whispered admiration and respect with which the multitude everywhere greeted Bonaparte, as she pressed with the general through the throng.
One day, Bonaparte accompanied the viscountess on a visit to Ragideau, the smallest man but the greatest lawyer in Paris. He had been the business attorney of the Beauharnais family for a long time, and Josephine now wished to withdraw from his hands, for her own disposal, a sum of money belonging to her that had been deposited with him. Bonaparte remained in the anteroom while Josephine went into the adjoining apartment, which was Ragideau's office.
"I have come to tell you that I am going to marry again," said Josephine, with her winning smile, to Ragideau.
The little attorney gave a friendly nod, as he replied: "You do well, and I congratulate you with all my heart, viscountess, for I am satisfied that you have made no other than a worthy choice."
"Undoubtedly, a very worthy choice," exclaimed Josephine, with the proud and happy look of a person really in love. "My future husband is General Bonaparte!"
The little great man (of a lawyer) fairly started with alarm. "How?" said he, "You!—the Viscountess Beauharnais, you—marry this little General Bonaparte, this general of the republic, which has already deposed him once, and may depose him again to-morrow, and throw him back into insignificance?"
Josephine's only reply was this: "I love him."
"Yes you love him, now," exclaimed Ragideau, warmly. "But you are wrong in marrying him, and you will one day, rue it. You are committing a folly, viscountess, for you want to marry a man who has nothing but his hat and his sword."
"But who also has a future," said Josephine, gayly, and then, turning the conversation, she began to speak of the practical matters that had brought her thither.
When her business with the notary had been concluded, Josephine returned to the anteroom where Bonaparte was waiting for her. He came, smiling, to meet her, but, at the same moment, he gave the notary, who was with her, so fierce and wrathful a glance that the latter shrank back in consternation. Josephine also remarked that Bonaparte's countenance was paler that day than usual, and that he was less communicative and less disposed to chat with her; but she had already learned that it was not advisable to question him as to the cause of his different moods. So, she kept silent on that score, and her cheerfulness and amiability soon drove away the clouds that had obscured the general's brow.
The nuptials of Bonaparte and Josephine followed, on the 9th of March, 1796; and the witnesses, besides Eugene and Hortense, Josephine's children, were Barras, Jean Lemarois, Tallien, Calmelet, and Leclerq. The marriage-contract contained, along with the absolutely requisite facts of the case, a very pleasant piece of flattery for Josephine, since, in order to establish an equality of ages between the two parties, Bonaparte had himself put down a year older, and Josephine four years younger, than they really were. Bonaparte was not, as the contract states, born on the 5th of February, 1768 but on the 15th of August, 1769; and Josephine not, as the document represents, on the 23d of July, 1767, but on the 23d of June, 1763.
[Footnote 4: Bourrienne, vol. i., p. 350.]
Josephine acknowledged this gallant act of her young spouse in queenly fashion, for she brought him, as her wedding-gift, his appointment to the command of the Italian army, which Barras and Tallien had granted to her, at her own request.
But, before the young bridegroom repaired to his new scene of activity, there to win fresh laurels and renown, he passed a few happy weeks with his lovely wife and his new family, in the small residence in the Rue Chautereine, which he had purchased a short time before his marriage, and which Josephine had fitted up with that elevated and refined good taste that had always distinguished her.
One-half of Bonaparte's darling wish was at length fulfilled. He had his house, which was large enough to receive his friends. There was now only a carriage to be procured in order to make the general the "happiest of men."
But, as the wishes of men always aspire still farther the farther they advance, Bonaparte was no longer content with the possession of a small house in Paris. He now wanted an establishment in the country also.
"Look me up a little place in your beautiful valley of the Yonne," he wrote about this time to Bourrienne, who was then living on his property near Sens; "and as soon as I get the money, I will buy it. Then I will retire to it. Now, don't forget that I do not want any of the national domains."
[Footnote 5: Bourrienne, vol. i., p. 103.]
As for the carriage, the peace of Campo Formio brought the victorious General Bonaparte a magnificent team of six gray horses, which was a present to the general of the French Republic from the Emperor of Austria, who did not dream that, scarcely ten years later, he would have him for a son-in-law.
These superb grays, however, were—excepting the laurels of Arcola, Marengo, and Mantua, the only spoils of war that Bonaparte brought back with him from his famous Italian campaign—the only gift which the general had not refused to accept.
It is true that the six grays could not be very conveniently hitched to a simple private carriage, but they had an imposing look attached to the gilded coach of state in which, a year later, the first consul made his solemn entry into the Tuileries.
BONAPARTE IN ITALY.
Josephine, now the wife of General Bonaparte, had but a few weeks in which to enjoy her new happiness, and then remained alone in Paris, doubly desolate, because she had to be separated, not only from her husband, but from her children. Eugene accompanied his young step-father to Italy, and Hortense went as a pupil to Madame Campan's boarding-school. The former, lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie Antoinette, had, at that time, opened an establishment for the education of young ladies, at St. Germain, and the greatest and most eminent families of newly-republicanized France liked to send their daughters to it, so that they might learn from the former court-lady the refined style and manners of old royalist times.
Hortense was, therefore, sent to that boarding-school, and there, in the society of her new Aunt Caroline—the sister of Bonaparte, and afterward Queen of Naples—and the young Countess Stephanie Beauharnais, her cousin, passed a few happy years of work, of varied study, and of youthful maiden-dreams.
Hortense devoted herself with iron diligence, and untiring enthusiasm, to her studies, which consisted, not only in the acquisition of languages, in music, and drawing, history and geography, but still more in the mastering the so-called bon ton and that aristocratic savoir vivre of which Madame Campan was a very model. While Hortense was thus receiving instruction on the harp from the celebrated Alvimara, in painting from Isabey, dancing from Coulon, and singing from Lambert, and was playing on the stage of the amateur theatre at the boarding-school the parts of heroines and lady-loves; while she was participating in the balls and concerts that Madame Campan gave in order to show off the talent of her pupils to the friends she invited; while, in a word, Hortense was thus being trained up to the accomplishments of a distinguished woman of the world, she did not dream how useful all these little details, so trivial, apparently, at the time, would one day be to her, and how good a thing it was that she had learned to play parts at Madame Campan's, and to appear in society as a great lady.
Meanwhile, Josephine was passing days of gratified pride and exulting triumph at Paris, for the star of her hero was ascending, brighter and brighter in its effulgence, above the horizon; the name of Bonaparte was echoing in louder and louder volume through the world, and filling all Europe with a sort of awe-inspired fear and trembling, as the sea becomes agitated when the sun begins to rise. Victory after victory came joyfully heralded from Italy, as ancient states fell beneath the iron tread of the victor, and new ones sprang into being. The splendid old Republic of Venice, once the terror of the whole world, the victorious Queen of the Adriatic, had to bow her haughty head, and her diadem fell in fragments at the feet of her triumphant conqueror. The lion of St. Mark's no longer made mankind tremble at his angry roar, and the slender monumental pillars on the Piazzetta were all that remained to the shattered and fallen Venetian Republic of her conquests in Candia, Cyprus, and the Morea. But, from the dust and ashes of the old commonwealth, there arose, at Bonaparte's command, a new state, the Cisalpine Republic, as a new and youthful daughter of the French Republic; and, when the last Doge of Venice, Luigi Manin, laid his peaked crown at the feet of Bonaparte, and then fainted away, another Venetian, Dandolo, the son of a family that had given Venice the greatest and most celebrated of her doges, stepped to the front at the head of the new republic—that Dandolo of whom Bonaparte had said that he was "a man."
"Good God!" exclaimed Bonaparte one day to Bourrienne, "how seldom one meets men in the world! In Italy there are eighteen millions of inhabitants, but I have found only two men among them all—Dandolo and Melzi."
[Footnote 6: Bourrienne, vol. i., p. 139.]
But, while Bonaparte was despairing of men, in the very midst of his victories, he cherished the warmest, most impassioned love for his wife, to whom he almost daily wrote the tenderest and most ardent letters, the answers to which he awaited with the most impatient longing.
Josephine's letters formed the sole exception to a very unusual and singular system that Bonaparte had adopted during a part of his campaign in Italy. This was to leave a11 written communications, excepting such as came to him by special couriers, unread for three weeks. He threw them all into a large basket, and opened them only on the twenty-first day thereafter. Still, General Bonaparte was more considerate than Cardinal Dubois, who immediately consigned all the communications he received to the flames, unread, and—while the fire on his hearth was consuming the paper on which, perchance, was written the despairing appeal of a mother, imploring pardon for her son; of a disconsolate wife, beseeching pity for her husband; or the application of an ambitious statesman, desiring promotion—would point to them with a sardonic smile, and say, "There's my correspondence!" Bonaparte, at least, gave the letters a perusal, three weeks after they reached him, indeed; but those three weeks saved him and his secretary, Bourrienne, much time and labor, for, when they finally went to work on them, time and circumstances had already disposed of four fifths of them, and thus only one fifth required answers—a result that made Bonaparte laugh heartily, and filled him with justifiable pride in what he termed his "happy idea."
Josephine's letters, however, had not an hour or a minute to wait ere they were read. Bonaparte always received them with his heart bounding with delight, and invariably answered them, in such impassioned, glowing language as only his warm southern temperament could suggest, and contrasted with which even Josephine's missives seemed a little cool and passionless.
Ere long Bonaparte ceased to be satisfied with merely getting letters from his Josephine. He desired to have her, in person, with him; and hardly had the tempest of war begun to lull, ere the general summoned his beloved to his side at Milan. She obeyed his call with rapture, and hastened to Italy to join him. Now came proud days of triumph and gratified affection. All Italy hailed Bonaparte as the conquering hero; all Italy did homage to the woman who bore his name, and whose incomparable fascination and amiability, gracefulness and beauty, won all hearts. Her life now resembled a magnificent, glorified, triumphal pageant; a dazzling fairy festival; a tale from the "Arabian Nights" that had become reality, with Josephine for its enchanted heroine, sparkling with stars, and gleaming with golden sunshine.
VICISSITUDES OF DESTINY.
Resplendent was the triumphal procession with which Bonaparte made his proud entry into Paris, on his return from Italy. In the front courtyard of the Luxembourg, the palace occupied by the Corps Legislatif, was erected a vast amphitheatre, in which sat all the high authorities of France; in the centre of the amphitheatre stood the altar of the country, surmounted by three gigantic statues, representing Freedom, Equality, and Peace. As Bonaparte stepped into this space, all the dense crowd that occupied the seats of the amphitheatre rose to their feet with uncovered heads, to hail the conqueror of Italy, and the windows of the palace were thronged with handsomely dressed ladies, who waved welcome to the young hero with their handkerchiefs. But suddenly this splendid festival was marred by a serious mischance. An officer of the Directory, who, the better to satisfy his curiosity, had clambered up on the scaffolding of the right-side wing of the palace, then undergoing extension, fell from it, and struck the ground almost at Napoleon's feet. A shout of terror burst almost simultaneously from a thousand throats, and the ladies turned pale and shrank back, shuddering, from the windows. The palace, which a moment before had exhibited such a wealth of adornment in these living flowers, now stood there bare, with empty, gaping casements. A perceptible thrill ran through the ranks of the Corps Legislatif, and here and there the whisper passed that this fall of an officer portended the early overthrow of the Directory itself, and that it, too, would soon, like the unfortunate victim of the accident, be lying in its death agonies at the feet of General Bonaparte.
But the Directory, nevertheless, hastened to give the victor of Arcola new fetes every day; and when these fetes were over, and Bonaparte, fatigued with the speeches, the festivities, the toasts, etc., would be on his way returning homeward, there was the populace of Paris, who beset his path in crowds, to greet him with hearty cheers; and these persistent friends he had to recognize, with smiles and shakings of the hand, or with a nod and a pleasant glance.
A universal jubilee of delight had seized upon the French. Each individual saw in Bonaparte renown and greatness reflected on himself. Every one regarded him as the most brilliant impersonation of his own inner personality, and, therefore, felt drawn toward him with a sort of reverential exultation.
Josephine gave herself up with her whole soul to the enjoyment of these glorious occasions. While Bonaparte, almost completely overwhelmed and disturbed, could have held aloof from these ovations of the people of Paris, they, on the contrary, filled the heart of his wife with pride and joy. While in the theatre, he shrank back, abashed, behind his wife's chair when the audience, learning his presence, filled their noisy plaudits and clamored to have a glimpse at him, Josephine would thank the crowd on his behalf with a bewitching smile, and eyes swelling with tears for this proof of their regard, which to her seemed but a natural and appropriate tribute to her Achilles, her lion-hearted hero. But Bonaparte did not allow himself to be blinded by these demonstrations; and one day, when popular enthusiasm seemed as though it would never end, and the crowd were untiring in their cries of "Vive Bonaparte!" while Josephine turned her face toward him, glowing with delight, and called out, exultingly—"See, how they love you, these good people of Paris!" he replied, with an almost melancholy expression "Bah! The crowd would be just as numerous and noisy if they were conducting me to the scaffold!"
However, these festivals and demonstrations at length subsided, and his life resumed its more tranquil course.
Bonaparte could now once more spend a few secluded days of rest and calm enjoyment in his (by this time more richly-decorated) dwelling in the Rue Chautereine, the name of which the city authorities had changed to Rue de la Victoire, in honor of the conqueror at Arcola and Marengo. He could, after so many battles and triumphs, afford to repose a while in the arms of love and happiness.
Nevertheless, this inactivity soon began to press heavily on his restless spirit. He longed for new exploits, for fresh victories. He felt that he was only at the commencement, and not at the end of his conquering career; he constantly heard ringing in his ears the notes of the battle-clarion, summoning him to renewed triumphs and to other paths of glory. Love could only delight his heart, but could not completely satisfy it. Repose he deemed but the beginning of death.
"If I remain here inactive any longer, I am lost," said he. "They retain the resemblance of nothing whatever in Paris; one celebrity blots out another in this great Babylon; if I show myself much oftener to the public, they will cease to look at me, and if I do not soon undertake something new, they will forget me."
And he did undertake something new, something unprecedented, that filled all Europe with astonishment. He left the shores of France with an army to conquer, for the French Republic, that ancient land of Egypt, on whose pyramids the green moss of long-forgotten ages was flourishing.
Josephine did not accompany him. She remained behind in Paris; but she needed consolation and encouragement to enable her to sustain this separation, which Bonaparte himself had confessed to her might be just as likely to last six years as six months. And what could afford better consolation to a heart so tender as Josephine's than the presence of her beloved daughter? She had willingly given up her son to her husband, and he had accompanied the latter to Egypt, but her daughter remained, and her she would not give up to any one, not even to Madame Campan's boarding-school.
Besides, the education of Hortense was now completed. She who had come to St. Germain as a child, left the boarding-school, after two years' stay, a handsome, blooming young lady, adorned with all the charms of innocence, youth, grace, and refinement.
Although she was now a young lady of nearly sixteen, she had retained the thoughts and ways of her childhood. Her heart was as a white sheet of paper, on which no profane hand had ventured to write a mortal name. She loved nothing beyond her mother, her brother, the fine arts, and flowers. She entertained a profound but speechless veneration for her young step-father. His burning gaze made her uneasy and timorous; his commanding voice made her heart throb anxiously; in fine, she reverenced him with adoring but too agitated an impression of awe to find it possible to love him. He was for her at all times the hero, the lord and master, the father to whom she owed implicit obedience, but she dared not love him; she could only look up to and honor him from a distance.
Hortense loved nothing but her mother, her brother, the fine arts, and flowers. She still looked out, with the expectant eyes of a child, upon the world which seemed so beautiful and inviting to her, and from which she hoped yet to obtain some grand dazzling piece of good fortune without having any accurate idea in what it was to consist. She still loved all mankind, and believed in their truth and rectitude. No thorn had yet wounded her heart; no disenchantment, no bright illusion dashed to pieces, had yet left its shadow on that clear, lofty brow of transparent whiteness. The expression of her large blue eyes was still radiant and undimmed, and her laugh was so clear and ringing, that it almost made her mother sad to hear it, for it sounded to her like the last echo of some sweet, enchanting song of childhood, and she but too well knew that it would soon be hushed.
But Hortense still laughed, still sang with the birds, rivalling their melodies; the world still lay before her like an early morning dream, and she still hoped for the rising of the sun.
Such was Hortense when her mother took her from Madame Campan's boarding-school, to accompany her to the baths of Plombieres. But there it was that Hortense came near experiencing the greatest sorrow of her life, in nearly losing her mother.
She was with Josephine and some other ladies in the drawing-room of the house they occupied at Plombieres. The doors facing the balcony were open, to let in the warm summer air. Hortense was sitting by the window painting a nosegay of wild flowers, that she had gathered with her own hands on the hills of Plombieres. Josephine found the atmosphere of the room too close, and invited some ladies to step out with her upon the balcony. A moment afterward there was heard a deafening crash, followed by piercing shrieks of terror; and when Hortense sprang in desperate fright to the front entrance, she found that the balcony on which her mother and the other ladies had stood had disappeared. Its fastenings had given way, and they had been precipitated with it into the street. Hortense, in the first impulse of her distress and horror, would have sprung down after her beloved mother, and could only be held back with the greatest difficulty. But this time fate had spared the young girl, and refrained from darkening the pure, unclouded heaven of her youth. Her mother escaped with no other injury than the fright, and a slight wound on her arm, while one of the ladies had both legs broken.
Josephine's time to die had not yet come, for the prophecy of the fortune-teller had not yet been fulfilled. Josephine was, indeed, the wife of a renowned general, but she was not yet "something more than a queen."
BONAPARTE'S RETURN FROM EGYPT.
Bonaparte had got back from Egypt. His victory at Aboukir had adorned his brows with fresh laurels, and all France hailed the returning conqueror with plaudits of exulting pride. For the first time, Hortense was present at the festivities which the city of Paris dedicated to her step-father; for the first time she saw the homage that men and women, graybeards and children alike, paid to the hero of Italy and Egypt. These festivities and this homage filled her heart with a tremor of alarm, and yet, at the same time, with joyous exultation. In the midst of these triumphs and these ovations which were thus offered to her second father, the young girl recalled the prison in which her mother had once languished, the scaffold upon which the head of her own father had fallen; and frequently when she glanced at the rich gold-embroidered uniform of her brother, she reminded him with a roguish smile of the time when Eugene went in a blue blouse, as a carpenter's apprentice, through the streets of Paris with a long plank on his shoulder.