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services to the country, and were foremost in their arduous endeavours
to organize tliis celebrated school on the best footing. It is, indeed,
unrivalled in Europe ; and almost every Frenchman of celebrity or of
deep erudition has been bred up within its walls.


And the young man again cast his large black eyes,
moistened with tears, upon the mansion. M. de Lacude
was always attracted towards anything that presented
itself to him out of the ordinary routine. He saw a
romantic adventure in the rencontre ; he advanced
towards the young man, who was standing in an attitude
of natural grace leaning against the sentry-box, and
looking with longing eyes to the house, and said, " Well,
sir! what do you want with the First Consul? I am
the aide-de-camp on duty, and will undertake to present
your request if it is a reasonable one. " " You, sir ! "
exclaimed the young man, springing towards M. de
Lacude, seizing and pressing the hand he offered him;
" are you the First Consul's aide-de-camp? Oh, if you
knew what a service you could do me ! I must be con-
ducted to him. " " What do you want with him ? " "I
must speak to him. " Then he added in a low tone : " It
is a secret. "

Lacude looked at his youthful petitioner, who stood
before him, his bosom palpitating, his respiration hur-
ried ; but with purity and innocence in the expression
of his countenance. " This young man cannot be danger-
ous, " said Lacut'e to himself ; and taking him by the
arm, he led him into the Inner Court. As they passed
the gate, Duroc and Junot entered on horseback, coming
from Paris ; they stopped, and alighted to salute their
comrade, who related his little adventure. " What ! "
said both of them at once, " you are going to introduce
him without even knowing his name ? "

Lacude acknowledged that he had not asked it. Junot
then approached the young man and told him that the
First Consul was certainly very accessible, but, still,
that it was necessary to know the motive which urged
anyone to request an audience, and that it was impossi-
ble to announce an anonymous solicitor.


The young man blushed like a girl ; but he gave his
name, adding with a respectful bow : " It is true, Gen-
eral. My father lives in the country, and his knowl-
edge is sufficientlv extensive to enable him to instruct
me in all branches of elementary education, directing
my studies with a view to my admission into the Poly-
technic School. Judge, then, of my distress, and his
also, when on our presenting ourselves to the Abb^
Bossu, who it appears is the person who must decide
whether or no I can be entered, he absolutely refused
to examine me as soon as he was informed that my father
only had been my instructor, and that I had not been
taught by any professor. ' Of what consequence is that, '
I asked, * if I know what is required ? ' But he was in-
flexible, and could not be induced to put a single ques-
tion to me. "

" But, " said Duroc, with his natural mildness, " it is
a rule, and whether a good one or otherwise is alike to
all comers. Wliat do you wish the First Consul to do
in the case ? " " To examine me, " answered the young
man with the most engaging simplicity ; " I am sure
that when he has put any qviestions to me that he may
judge proper, he will pronounce me worthy of sharing the
studies of those young persons of whom he proposes to
form officers capable of executing his great designs. "

The three comrades looked at each other and smiled ;
Duroc and Junot thought as Lacude had done, that this
youQg man with his ardent speech and look of fire could
not but be agreeable to Napoleon, and Duroc went to
broach the matter to him.

" So the young enthusiast would have me examine
him ? " said he, with one of his most gracious smiles ;
then rubbing his chin, he continued : " How could such
an idea have entered his head ? It is a very singular
thing. " He walked about for some time in silence, then


added : " How old may he be ? " "I cannot tell, Gen-
eral, but should guess about seventeen or eighteen. "

" Let him come in. " The young petitioner was intro-
duced. His brilliant countenance expressed his happi-
ness as he cast his eye upon the First Consul. He looked
as if his existence depended upon the first word of
Napoleon, who advanced towards him with that smile
which cast over his countenance a charm entirely differ-
ent, at these moments when he intended to be gracious,
from his usual expression. " Well, young man, " said
he, " so you wish me to examine you ? "

The youth trembled with joy, and could make no an-
swer; he stood silent, with his eyes fixed on the First
Consul. Napoleon did not like either the boldness of
presumption or the bashfulness of fear ; but that which
he now saw was silence, because the heart spoke too
loudly — and he understood it.

" Compose yourself, my boy ; you are not at this
moment sufficiently calm to answer me ; I am going to
employ myself in other affairs ; by-and-by we will resume
yours. " " Do you see that young man, " said the First
Consul, leading Junot to the recess of a window ; " if I
had a thousand such as he the conquest of the world
would be but a promenade. " He turned his head aside
to contemplate the youth, who, plunged in meditation,
was probably revolving in his mind what questions were
likely to be put to him. In about half an hour Napo-
leon commenced the examination, in which the young
candidate acquitted himself admirably. " And have you
really had no other instructor than your father ? " asked
the First Consul with surprise. " No, General ; but he
was a good master, because he knew how to bring up a
citizen to be useful to his country, and especially to
follow the great destinies which you promised to it. "

Junot observed that they were all astonished at the


almost prophetic expression with which the youth pro-
nounced the last words. " I am about to give you a line
which will open the sanctuary to you, my child, " said
the First Consul ; and he wrote a few words upon a
paper, which he presented to the young man.

On arriving at Paris he hastened to the Abb^ Bossu,
who, on seeing him, exclaimed : " What do you come
again for ? There is nothing here for you. "

But the youth held a talisman which was equal to a
magic ring, and which the Abbd Bossu having read could
not refuse to obey; it was as follows :

" M. Bossu will receive M. Eughie de KervaUgne. I
have examined him myself, and find him worthy of
admission. Bonapaete. "

The young man accordingly became a distinguished
pupil of the Polytechnic School. His advancement in
life was rapid at first; my brother knew him at Toulon,
where he had an appointment in the Department of
Bridges and Eoads. His attachment for Napoleon
amounted to idolatry.

The First Consul long remembered this adventure, and
one day related it to Cardinal Maury at a dinner at
Saint Cloud ; the Cardinal, it happened, knew the young
man's family, and confirmed him in the good opinion he
had formed of his character, disposition, and adventurous


My poor mother was now suffering under a state of
severe illness which neither our cares nor our affection
could alleviate, but which she endured with admirable
fortitude. Her distressing state added to my indisposi-
tion. The final stroke which was to inflict on me this
heart-breaking grief was not yet given, but it was threat-
ened, and contributed to my present suffering.

I was at this time far advanced in my first pregnancy,
and had suffered much ; surrounded by the tenderest
attentions, spoiled, as I may say, by my own family,
and bearing about me the child who was to make me
proud of the name of mother, I ought not, perhaps, to
have been sensible of suffering.

At that period the culture of the pineapple was not
so well understood as it is at present, and it was conse-
quently a great rarity. In my peculiar situation I be-
came possessed of a longing for this fruit that produced
a degree of intense suffering; and in order to gratify my
whim Junot, with the affectionate gallantry of a man
whose wife is about for the first time to make him a
father, ran all over Paris, offering twenty louis for the
object I so much coveted. Disappointed in his endeav-
ours, he informed Madame Bonaparte of the circum-
stance, and she, with her characteristic kindness of heart,
sent me the only one that was procurable from the hot-
house at Malmaison. From a singular revulsion of feel-


iiig this delicious fruit, so eagerly desired by me, and
obtained with so much difficulty, became, when actually
in my possession, positively distasteful.

No one could be more kind than Madame Bonaparte
always was to young women in my situation; she
entered into our feelings and interested herself in every-
thing that could be agreeable to us; in these cir-
cumstances she was truly amiable. On hearing of the
pineapple she prophesied that I should have a daugh-
ter, and in support of her opinion proposed a game
of patience. I knew by experience all the ennui which
this unfortunate game promised; but there was no refus-
ing, and in spite of my incredulity I was compelled to
sit down and see my destiny settled by the caprice of
the cards. It is known that the Empress Josephine was
superstitiously credulous in these matters ; and, in fact,
I was witness, in the years 1808 and 1809, to two events
of this kind not a little extraordinary. This time she
kept me above an hour, cutting with the right hand
and the left, naming days, hours, and months, and
ended at length by confirming her prediction of a girl.

" Or a boy, " said the First Consul, who came in at that
moment, and who always made game of Josephine's
cards; " Madame Junot will have either the one or the
other, and if I were you, Josephine, I would not risk
my reputation for sorcery by a too confident prediction. "
" She will have a girl, I tell you, Bonaparte ; what wager
will you lay me of it? " " I never bet," said the First
Consul ; " if you are sure of the fact, it is dishonest ; if
not, it is as foolish as losing money at play. " " Well,
bet sweetmeats, then. " " And what will you lay me 1 "
"I will work a carpet to put under your feet at your
desk. " " Well, now, that is something useful. On such
terms I will bet you that Madame Junot has a boy.
Now, mind," said he, turning to me, " that you do not


make me lose ; " and laughing as he looked at me, he
added : " But what will become of the wager if you
should have both a boy and a girl ? " "I will tell you,
General, you must give me both wagers. "

And there was something so ridiculous in this idea of
boy and girl coming at once that even I could not refrain
from joining in the laugh, while my look of consternation
increased the mirth of the First Consul, my husband,
and every one else who was present.

We were now at the period of New Year's gifts and
visits, and I was admiring like a child, as I then was,
all those brilliant and useless trifles which custom
demands should be offered by the gentlemen to a lady
whose house they frec[uent, when two friends came
to increase their number and add their good wishes,
which were not merely the tribute of etiquette. They
were General Suchet and his brother. After the conver-
sation which the occasion demanded, we fell into a dis-
cussion upon the merits of those family meetings which
this season brought with it ; and it was agreed that the
celebration of Christmas, of New Year's and Twelfth
Days, the birthday and saint's day of the head of the
family, and other festivals, were favourable to the main-
tenance of domestic harmony, and were therefore worthy
of being preserved.

If the family is numerous, occasion is thus furnished
for ten or twelve convivial meetings in the course of the
year ; and, if the members have conceived any mutual
offence, the embarrassment of meeting otherwise than
cordially, on the birthday of the grandmother or aunt,
will often cause the coolness which had begun to take
place to disappear, and slight disputes will thus be pre-
vented from becoming serious quarrels. The two brothers
were fully capable of appreciating such feelings ; they
were perfectly united ; the General always displayed the


tenderest friendship for his brother Gabriel, which the
latter returned with the sincerest affection and respect;
his love for his brother was that we feel for the object of
our pride. In furtherance of these observations the Gen-
eral proposed that we should meet on Twelfth Day, to
which I assented with great satisfaction.

" Yes, " said my good mother-in-law, who was never
silent when a project of pleasure was on foot, " we will
by all means draw king and queen. " " Yes, let us draw, "
said Junot ; " I engage you to sup here the evening after
to-morrow upon a truffled turkey. " " Agreed, " said
General Suchet ; " we will come here the evening after
to-morrow, and then for the turkey, and truffles, the
cake, the drawing, and plenty of laughter. "

I was now in momentary expectation of my confine-
ment, and, notwithstanding the efforts of my mother-in-
law to support and comfort me, looked forward to the
moment with dread. In the night of the 4th of January
we had an alarm, which called up my mother-in-law,
who had not undressed for a week past. Marchais was
summoned, and pronounced that twenty-four or forty-
eight hours would settle the business, and left me,
recommending composure and sleep.

I was out of spirits during a part of the succeeding
day ; I performed my religious duties and wrote to my
mother, because she had forbidden me to leave the house ;
I then arranged my baby-linen and basket, and in this
occupation I found the entire dissipation of my fears and
melancholy. In the little cap with its blue ribbons, and
in the shirt, the sleeves of which I drew through those of
the flannel waistcoat, I thought I could see the soft and
fair head and fat little mottled arms ; in my joy I imag-
ined the pretty clothes already adorning my promised
treasure, and pressed them to my bosom, longing to clasp
and to see my child, to feel its breath, while I said to


myself : " And this little being which I expect will be
all my own!" Oh, what days of joy were before me!
Junot found me leaning over the cradle in a sort of
ecstasy, and when I explained to him the cause of an
emotion which his heart was well formed to understand,
he embraced me with a tenderness of which I felt prouder
than I should have done six months earlier.

My thoughts now took quite a different direction ; I
not only did not fear, but I desired the decisive moment ;
and when my friends met in the drawing-room they
found me as gay and as happy as any young wife or
young girl could be. Madame Hamelin formed one of
our party. She was then young, gay, lively, and a most
ready assistant in promoting that easy confidence which
forms the great charm of intimate association. She had
an original and striking wit, bordering a little on the
maliciousness of the cat, and sometimes showing that she
had tolerably long claws ; but I believe that, like puss
also, she did not put them out vmless attacked.

The evening passed off cheerfully ; my mother-in-law
was delighted to see me in perfect oblivion of the critical
moment, which, however, she knew could not be far
distant. We sat down to table, and the turkey, the cake,
the madeira and champagne redoubled our gaiety. In
half an hour we laughed so heartily that even to this day
I think of it with pleasure. At length came the moment
of drawing ; General Suchet sat beside me ; I do not
exactly recollect whether the prize of royalty fell to him
or to me ; since that time so many sovereignties, which
seemed vastly more solid, have sunk into visionary crowns
that my memory may well be excused its want of accu-
racy on this point.

But whether the General had received his crown from
me or whether he had made me his queen, he addressed
me in a compliment so absurd that it provoked a violent


fit of laughter, with which the room resounded, and which
was echoed with equal noise by seventeen or eighteen
persons who surrounded the supper-table. I stood up to
answer, with my glass of water, for I never in my life
could drink wine, to the numerous glasses filled with
sparkling champagne which were extended towards me,
when T fell backwards into my chair, a cry escaped me,
and my glass dropped from my hand. But the sudden
attack which had caused this commotion was over in an
instant, my cheeks recovered their colour, and I looked
up. Junot, still paler than I had been, holding his glass
of champagne, was looking at me with an air of conster-

The rest of the company seemed nearly equally alarmed,
and the grotesque expression of so many countenances
hardly recovered from a fit of hilarity, while, as in duty
bound, they were assuming on the other side of their faces
the solemnity which the circumstances appeared to re-
quire, resembling at once Jean qui pleiire and Jean qui
rit, produced so risible an effect that I relapsed into a fit
of uncontrollable laughter. ]\iy mother-in-law now came
behind my chair, and whispered : " Take my arm, my
dear daughter, and come to your room. " " No, no ! " said
Gabriel Suchet, " we cannot spare our queen ! "

Hereupon he began to relate a story so absurd that I
laughed again as immoderately as before, and was again
interrupted in the same manner; my mother-in-law told
her son that I must be removed and a carriage sent for
Marchais. Junot came to me, took me in his arms, and
almost lifted me from my chair. This time the General
interposed, offered to bet upon the sex of my child, and
would with difficulty permit my husband to carry me
away. He led me, however, to my room, obeying his
mother's behests with as much simplicity as any honest
bourgeois, any M. Guillaume or M. Denis, of the Eue de


la Perle or Eue Saint Jacques. He busied himself in
regulating the temperature of my room, in calling my
nurses together, giving them fifty orders at once, which
neither they nor he understood, ordered the horses, and
returned to my side, already expecting to hear the cries
of his child ; but I was in no such hurry.

During this tedious season of watching and anxiety
Junot was almost distracted ; he threw himself at inter-
vals on the mattress which had been laid for him in the
parlour, then got up, walked the room with hasty steps,
crept to my bedroom door and tried to get in, which I
had positively prohibited, and returned to his apartment,
where his aide-de-camp, General Lallemand, sat up with
him all night, endeavouring with arguments and conso-
lations of friendship to calm a little the violence of his
agitation and to restore something like composure to his

Junot on leaving me by no means recovered his self-
possession ; he wandered through the rooms all opening
into each other, which at both extremities brought him to
one of the doors of my chamber, found repose in none
of them, and at length, unable longer to endure his
confinement, snatched up a round hat which happened
to meet his eye and sallied forth into the street. With-
out once considering which way he was going, habit or
instinct led him to the Tuileries, and he found himself
in the Grand Court without knowing how he had got
there. Before ascending, however, the staircase leading
to the First Consul's apartments, the consideration of his
dishabille crossed his mind; " But no matter," said he,
as he looked down upon his brown coat," I am sure of
finding here a heart which will understand my feelings. "

All his comrades in the antechamber were astonished
at the expression of his countenance and the disorder of
his dress; but none of them felt any disposition to ridi-

VOL. III. — 8


cule; and the First Consul, as soon as he heard that
Junot wished to see him, sent for him into his cabinet.
" Good God ! what is the matter, Junot ? " he exclaimed
with surprise on seeing him. " General, my wife is in
labour and I cannot stay at home, " was the answer, but
in a voice almost choked with tears. " And you are come
to me to seek courage ; you are right, my friend. Poor
Junot ! how you are upset ! Oh, woman, woman ! "

He required a relation of all that had happened from
my first seizure ; and though Junot dared not give utter-
ance to his apprehensions, yet Napoleon gathered from
all the facts he described that my life was actually in
danger ; and his conduct in this moment of anxiety, when
his discernment penetrated into a mysterious horror, was
that of the tenderest and best of brothers. " My old
friend, " said he to his faithful and devoted servant, press-
ing his hand, — a very rare caress, — " you have done right
in coming to me at this moment, as I hope to prove. "

So saying, he left his cabinet, and, leaning upon
Junot 's arm, stepped into the salon where the statue of
the great Cond^ stands, and walked up and down, talking
of the only subject which interested his companion ; for
he was too well versed in the management of the human
heart to interrogate chords which would certainly have
been mute at such a moment. Amongst other things,
he asked my husband how he came to the Tuileries.
" On foot, " was the answer ; " a species of desperation
drove me from home, though my heart is still there, and
I wandered hither without knowing which way I came. "
" And may I ask you, then," said Napoleon, " why you
look out of that window ten times in a minute to see if
any one passes the gate ? How should they come here to
seek you if your servants do not know where you are ? if
your officers saw you come out in plain clothes ? It
seems to me that they are more likely to suspect you of


throwing yourself into the river than of coming here. "
He called and gave his orders. " Send a footman imme-
diately to Madame Jimot's to learn whether she is yet
put to bed, and if not, let the family be informed that
General Junot is here. "'

He again took my husband's arm, and continued to
converse with him with such affecting kindness that
Junot could not repress his tears. He was attached to
his General, to that vision of glory which commanded
admiration ; but in such moments as the present Napo-
leon's conduct could not fail to subject to him the whole
heart and affections of the individual whose sufferings he
thus alleviated, even if he had not been already devoted
to him body and soul. This day riveted, if I may say
so, the chains which bound Junot to Napoleon.

Seeing him leave the house in a state bordering on
distraction, Heldt, his German valet-de-chamhre, fol-
lowed him into the Tuileries, and on his return home
informed the aide-de-camp Laborde where the General
was to be found.

Junot had been three-quarters of an hour with the First
Consul, whose arm rested on his, obliging him to remain
a prisoner when he would rather have been at large and
have had the power to come and learn the result of all
his uneasiness. The footman could not yet be returned,
when Junot, emboldened by the First Consul's goodness,
begged to be allowed to inquire for him. " I should
have been told," answered the First Consul, " if he was
returned. Eemain quiet. " Then, dragging him still
farther on, they were presently in the gallery of Diana.
There Junot's uneasiness became so violent that Napoleon
several times looked at him with astonishment, and, with
an accent to which it is impossible to do justice, re-
peated, " Oh woman, woman ! "

At length, at the moment that Junot was about to


escape without listening to anything further, M. de
Laborde appeared at the farther end of the gallery ; he
had run with such haste that he could scarcely speak, but
his countenance was full of joy.

" My General," he said, as soon as he had recovered
his breath, " Madame Junot is safe in bed, and is as well
as possible." " Go, then, and embrace your daughter"
said the First Consul, laying a stress on the word " daugh-
ter." " If your wife had given you a boy, they would have
told you at once ; but first of all embrace me ; " and he
pressed him affectionately in his arms. Junot laughed
and cried, and, thoughtless of everything but the event

Online LibraryLaure Junot AbrantèsMemoirs of Madame Junot (Duchesse D'Abrantès) (Volume 3) → online text (page 9 of 24)