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said he, "but never forget that you have sworn to carry it only for the
honor and defence of your country."

Eugene could not answer: tears started from his eyes, and with deep
affection he pressed to his lips the recovered sword of his father.

This manifestation of true childish emotion moved Bonaparte to tender
sympathy, and an expression of affectionate interest passed over his
features as he offered his hand to Eugene.

"By Heaven, you are a good son," exclaimed he from his heart, "and you
will be one day a good son to your country! Go, my boy, take to your
mother your father's sword. Tell her that I salute her, though unknown
to her - that I congratulate her in being the mother of so good and brave
a son."

Such was the beginning of an acquaintance to which Josephine was
indebted for an imperial crown, and, for what is still greater, an
undying fame and an undying love.

Beaming with joy, Eugene returned to Josephine with his father's sword,
and with all the glowing sentiments of thankfulness he related to her
how kindly and obligingly General Bonaparte had received him, what
friendly and affectionate words he had spoken to him, and how much
forbearance and patience he had manifested to his impassioned request.

Josephine's maternal heart was sensitive and grateful for every
expression of sympathy toward her son, and the goodness and forbearance
of the general affected her the more, that she knew how bold and wild
the boy, smarting under pain, must have been. She therefore hastened
to perform a duty of politeness by calling the next day on General
Bonaparte, to thank him for the kindness he had shown Eugene.

For the first time General Bonaparte stood in the presence of the woman
who one day was to share his fame and greatness, and this first moment
was decisive as to his and her future. Josephine's grace and elegance,
her sweetness of disposition, her genial cheerfulness, the expression of
lofty womanhood which permeated her whole being, and which protected
her securely from any rough intrusion or familiarity; her fine, truly
aristocratic bearing, which revealed at once a lady of the court and of
the great world; her whole graceful and beautiful appearance captivated
the heart of Napoleon at the first interview, and the very next day
after receiving her short call he hastened to return it.

Josephine was not alone when General Bonaparte was announced; and when
the servant named him she could not suppress an inward fear, without
knowing why she was afraid. Her friends, who noticed her tremor and
blush, laughed jestingly at the timidity which made her tremble at the
name of the conqueror of Paris, and this was, perhaps, the reason why
Josephine received General Bonaparte with less complacency than she
generally showed to her visitors.

Amid the general silence of all those present the young general
(twenty-six years old) entered the drawing-room of the Viscountess de
Beauharnais; and this silence, however flattering it might be to his
pride, caused him a slight embarrassment. He therefore approached the
beautiful widow with a certain abrupt and perplexed manner, and spoke
to her in that hasty, imperious tone which might become a general, but
which did not seem appropriate in a lady's saloon. General Pichegru,
who stood near Josephine, smiled, and even her amiable countenance was
overspread with a slight expression of scorn, as she fixed her beautiful
eyes on this pale, thin little man, whose long, smooth hair fell in
tangled disorder on either side of his temples over his sallow,
hollow cheeks; whose whole sickly and gloomy appearance bore so little
resemblance to the majestic figure of the lion to which he had been so
often compared after his success of the thirteenth Vendemiaire.

"I perceive, general," suddenly exclaimed Josephine, "that you are sorry
it was your duty to fill Paris once more with blood and horror. You
would undoubtedly have preferred not to be obliged to carry out the
bloody orders of the affrighted Convention?"

Bonaparte shrugged his shoulders somewhat. "That is very possible," said
he, perfectly quiet. "But what can you expect, madame? We military men
are but the automatons which the government sets in motion according
to its good pleasure; we know only how to obey; the sections, however,
cannot but congratulate themselves that I have spared them so much.
Nearly all my cannon were loaded only with powder. I wanted to give a
little lesson to the Parisians. The whole affair was nothing but the
impress of my seal on France. Such skirmishes are only the vespers of my
fame." [Footnote: Napoleon's words. - See Le Normand, vol. i., p. 214.]

Josephine felt irritated, excited by the coldness with which Napoleon
spoke of the slaughter of that day; and her eyes, otherwise so full of
gentleness, were now animated with flashes of anger.

"Oh," cried she, "if you must purchase fame at such a price, I would
sooner you were one of the victims!"

Bonaparte looked at her with astonishment, but as he perceived her
flushed cheeks and flashing eyes, the sight of her grace and beauty
ravished him, and a soft, pleasant smile suddenly illumined his
countenance. He answered her violent attack by a light pleasantry, and
with gladsome unaffectedness he gave to the conversation another turn.
The small, pale, gloomy general was at once changed into a young,
impassioned, amiable cavalier, whose countenance grew beautiful under
the sparkling intelligence which animated it, and whose enchanting
eloquence made his conversation attractive and lively, carrying with it
the conviction of a superior mind.

After the visitors who had met that morning in Josephine's drawing-room
had departed the general still remained, notwithstanding the astonished
and questioning looks of the viscountess, paying no attention to her
remarks about the fine weather, or her intention to enjoy a promenade.
With rapid steps, and hands folded behind his back, he paced a few times
to and fro the room, then standing before Josephine he fixed on her face
a searching look.

"Madame," said he, suddenly, with a kind of rough tone, "I have a
proposition to make: give me your hand. Be my wife!"

Josephine looked at him, half-astonished, half-irritated. "Is it a joke
you are indulging in?" said she.

"I speak in all earnestness," said Bonaparte, warmly. "Will you do me
the honor of giving me your hand?"

The gravity with which Bonaparte spoke, the deep earnestness imprinted
on his features, convinced Josephine that the general would not
condescend to indulge in a joke of so unseemly a character, and a lovely
blush overspread the face of the viscountess.

"Sir," said she, "who knows if I might not be inclined to accept your
distinguished offer, if, unfortunately, fate stood not in the way of
your wishes?"

"Fate?" asked Bonaparte, with animation.

"Yes, fate! my general," repeated Josephine, smiling. "But let us speak
no more of this. It is enough that fate forbids me to be the wife of
General Bonaparte. I can say no more, for you would laugh at me."

"But you would laugh at me if you could turn me away with so vague
an answer," cried Bonaparte, with vivacity. "I pray you, explain the
meaning of your words."

"Well, then, general, I cannot be your wife, for I am destined to be
Queen of France - yes, perhaps more than queen!"

It was now Bonaparte's turn to appear astonished and irritated, and
using her own words he said, shrugging his shoulders, "Madame, is it a
joke you are indulging in?"

"I speak in all earnestness," said Josephine, shaking her head. "Listen,
then: a negro-woman in Martinique foretold my fortune, and as her
oracular words have thus far been all fulfilled, I must conclude that
the rest of her prophecies concerning me will be realized."

"And what has she prophesied to you?" asked Bonaparte, eagerly.

"She has told me: 'You will one day be Queen of France! you will be
still more than queen!'"

The general was silent. He had remained standing; but now slowly paced
the room a few times, his hands folded on his back and his head inclined
on his breast. Then again he stood before the viscountess, and his eyes
rested upon her with a wondrous bright and genial expression.

"I bid defiance to fate," said he, somewhat solemnly. "This prophecy
does not frighten me away, and in defiance of your prophetic
negro-woman, I, the republican general, address my prayer to the future
Queen of France: be my wife! - give me your hand."

Josephine felt almost affrighted at this pertinacity of the general, and
a sentiment of apprehension overcame her as she looked into the pale,
decided countenance of this man, a stranger to her, and who claimed her
for his wife.

"Oh, sir," exclaimed she, with some anguish, "you offer me your hand
with as much carelessness as if the whole matter were merely for a
contra-dance. But I can assure you that marriage is a very grave matter,
which has no resemblance whatever to a gay dance. I know it is so. I
have had my sad experience, and I cannot so easily decide upon marrying
a second time."

"You refuse my hand, then?" said Bonaparte, with a threatening tone.

Josephine smiled. "On the contrary, general," said she, "give me your
hand and accompany me to my carriage, which has been waiting for me this
long time."

"That means you dismiss me! You close upon me the door of your
drawing-room?" exclaimed Bonaparte, with warmth.

She shook her head, and, bowing before him with her own irresistible
grace, she said in a friendly manner: "I am too good a patriot not to be
proud of seeing the conqueror of Toulon in my drawing-room. To-morrow I
have an evening reception, and I invite you to be present, general."

From this day Bonaparte visited Josephine daily; she was certain to meet
him everywhere. At first she sought to avoid him, but he always knew
with cunning foresight how to baffle her efforts, and to overcome
all difficulties which she threw in his way. Was she at her friend
Therese's, she could safely reckon that General Bonaparte would soon
make his appearance and come near her with eyes beaming with joy, and in
his own energetic language speak to her of his love and hopes. Was she
to be present at the receptions of the five monarchs of Paris, it was
General Bonaparte who waited for her at the door of the hall to offer
his arm, and lead her amid the respectful, retreating, and gently
applauding crowd to her seat, where he stood by her, drawing upon her
the attention of all. Did she take a drive, at the accustomed hour, in
the Champs Elysees, she was confident soon to see General Bonaparte
on his gray horse gallop at her side, followed by his brilliant staff,
himself the object of public admiration and universal respect; and
finally, if she went to the theatre, General Bonaparte never failed to
appear in her loge, to remain near her during the performance; and when
she left, to offer his arm to accompany her to her carriage.

It could not fail that this persevering homage of the renowned and
universally admired young general should make a deep and flattering
impression on Josephine's heart, and fill her with pride and joy. But
Josephine made resistance to this feeling; she endeavored to shield
herself from it by maternal love.

She sent for her two children from their respective schools, and with
her nearly grown-up son on one side and her daughter budding into
maidenhood on the other, she thus presented herself to the general,
and with an enchanting smile said: "See, general, how old I am, with a
grown-up son and daughter who soon can make of me a grandmother."

But Bonaparte with heart-felt emotion reached his hand to Eugene and
said, "A man who can call so worthy a youth as this his son, is to be
envied."

A cunning, smiling expression of the eye revealed to Josephine that he
had understood her war-stratagem - that neither the grown-up son nor the
marriageable daughter could deter him from his object.

Josephine at last was won by so much love and tenderness, but she could
not yet acknowledge that the wounds of her heart were closed; that once
more she could trust in happiness, and devote her life to a new love,
to a new future. She shrank timidly away from such a shaping of her
destiny; and even the persuasions of her friends and relatives, even of
the father of her deceased husband, could not bring her to a decision.

The state of her mind is depicted in a letter which Josephine wrote
to her friend Madame de Chateau Renaud, and which describes in a great
measure the strange uncertainty of her heart:

"You have seen General Bonaparte at my house! Well, then, he is the one
who wishes to be the father of the orphans of Alexandre de Beauharnais
and the husband of his widow. 'Do you love him?' you will ask. Well,
no! - 'Do you feel any repugnance toward him?' No, but I feel in a state
of vacillation and doubt, a state very disagreeable to me, and which
the devout in religious matters consider to be the most scandalizing. As
love is a kind of worship, one ought in its presence to feel animated
by other feelings than those I now experience, and therefore I long for
your advice, which might bring the constant indecision of my mind to
a fixed conclusion. To adopt a firm course has always appeared to my
Creole nonchalance something beyond reach, and I find it infinitely more
convenient to be led by the will of another.

"I admire the courage of the general; I am surprised at his ample
knowledge, which enables him to speak fluently on every subject; at the
vivacity of his genius, which enables him to guess at the thoughts of
others before they are expressed; but I avow, I am frightened at the
power he seems to exercise over every one who comes near him. His
searching look has something strange, which I cannot explain, but which
has a controlling influence even upon our directors; judge, therefore,
of his influence over a woman. Finally, the very thing which might
please - the violence of his passion - of which he speaks with so much
energy, and which admits of no doubt, that passion is exactly what
creates in me the unwillingness I have so often been ready to express.

"The first bloom of youth lies behind me. Can I therefore hope that this
passion, which in General Bonaparte resembles an attack of madness, will
last long? If after our union he should cease to love me, would he not
reproach me for what he had done? Would he not regret that he had not
made another and more brilliant union? What could I then answer? What
could I do? I could weep. 'A splendid remedy!' I hear you say. I know
well that weeping is useless, but to weep has been the only resource
which I could find when my poor heart, so easily wounded, has been hurt.
Write to me a long letter, and do not fear to scold me if you think
that I am wrong. You know well that everything which comes from you is
agreeable to me." [Footnote: "Memoires sur l'Imperatrice Josephine," par
Madame Ducrest p. 362.]

While Josephine was writing this letter to her friend, General Bonaparte
received one which produced upon him the deepest impression, though it
consisted only of a few words. But these words expressed the innermost
thought of his soul, and revealed to him perhaps for the first time its
secret wishes.

One evening as the general, returning home from a visit to the
Viscountess Josephine, entered into his drawing-room, followed by some
of his officers and adjutants, he observed on a large timepiece, which
stood on the mantel-piece, a letter, the deep-red paper and black seal
of which attracted his attention.

"Whence this letter?" asked he, with animation, of the servant-man
walking before him with a silver candlestick, as he pointed to the red
envelope.

But the waiter declared that he had not seen the letter, and that he
knew not where it came from.

"Ask the other servants, or the porter, who brought this red letter with
the black seal," ordered Bonaparte.

The servant hurried from the room, but soon returned, with the news that
no one knew any thing about the letter; no one had seen it, no one knew
who had placed it there.

"Well, then, let us see what it contains," said Bonaparte, and he was
going to break the seal, when Junot suddenly seized his hand and tore
the letter away from him.

"Do not read it, general," implored Junot; "I beseech you do not open
this letter. Who knows if some of your enemies have not sent you a
letter a la Catharine de Medicis? Who knows if it is not poisoned - that
the mere touch of it may not produce death?"

Bonaparte smiled at this solicitude of his tender friend, yet he
listened to his pressing alarms, and, instead of opening and reading the
letter, he passed it to Junot.

"Read it yourself, if you have the courage to do so," said be,
familiarly shaking his head.

Junot rapidly broke the black seal and tore the red paper. Then, fixing
his eyes on it, he threw it aside, and broke into loud, merry laughter.

"Well," asked Bonaparte, "what does the letter contain?"

"A mystery, my general - nothing more than a mystery," cried Junot,
presenting the letter to Bonaparte.

The letter contained but these words:

"Macbeth, you will be king.

"THE RED MAN."

Junot laughed over this mysterious note, but Bonaparte shared not in
his merriment. With compressed lips and frowning brow he looked at
these strange, prophetic words, as if in their characters he wanted to
discover the features of him who had dared to look into the most hidden
recesses of his soul; then he threw the paper into the chimney-fire,
and slowly and thoughtfully paced the room, while in a low voice he
murmured, "Macbeth, you will be king."




CHAPTER XXIII. MARRIAGE.


At last the conqueror of Toulon conquered also the heart of the young
widow who had so anxiously struggled against him; at last Josephine
overcame all her fears, all her terror, and, with joyous trust in the
future, was betrothed to General Bonaparte. But even then, after having
taken this decisive step, after love had cast away fear, even then she
had not the courage to reveal to her children that she had contracted
a new marriage-tie, that she was going to give to the orphans of the
Viscount de Beauharnais a new father. Ashamed and timid as a young maid,
she could not force herself into acknowledging to the children of
her deceased husband that a new love had grown in her heart - that the
mourning widow was to become again a happy woman.

Josephine, therefore, commissioned Madame de Campan to communicate this
news to her Eugene and Hortense; to tell them that she desired not only
to have a husband, but also to give to her children a faithful, loving
father, who had promised to their mother with sacred oaths to regard,
love, and protect them as his own children.

The children of General Beauharnais received this news with tears in
their eyes; they complained loudly and sorrowfully that their mother was
giving up the name of their father and changing it for another; that the
memory of their father would be forever lost in their mother's heart.
But, through pure love for their mother, they soon dried up these tears;
and when next day Josephine, accompanied by General Bonaparte, came to
St. Germain, to visit Madame de Campan's institution, she met there her
daughter and son, who both embraced her with the most tender affection,
and, smiling under their tears, offered their hands to General
Bonaparte, who, with all the sincerity and honesty of a deep, heart-felt
emotion, embraced them in his arms, and solemnly promised to treat them
as a father and a friend.

All Josephine's friends did not gladly give their approbation to her
marriage with this small, insignificant general, as yet so little known,
whose success before Toulon was already forgotten, and whose victory of
the thirteenth Vendemiaire had brought him but little fame and made him
many enemies.

Among the friends who in this union with Bonaparte saw very little
happiness for Josephine was her lawyer, the advocate Ragideau, who for
many years had been her family's agent, whose distinguished talent for
pleading and whose small figure had made him known through all Paris,
and of whom it was said that as a man he was but a dwarf; but as a
lawyer, he was a giant.

One day, in virtue of an invitation from the Viscountess de Beauharnais,
Ragideau came to the small hotel of the rue Chautereine, and sent his
name to the viscountess. She received his visit, and at his entrance
into her cabinet all those present retreated into the drawing-room
contiguous thereto, as they well knew that Josephine had some business
transactions with her lawyer.

Only one small, pale man, in modest gray clothing, whom Ragideau did
not condescend to notice, remained in the cabinet, who retired quietly
within the recess of a window.

Josephine received her business agent with a friendly smile, and spoke
long and in detail with him concerning a few important transactions
which had reference to her approaching marriage. Then suddenly passing
from the coldness of a business conversation to the tone of a friendly
one, she asked M. Ragideau what the world said of her second marriage.

Ragideau shrugged his shoulders and assumed a thoughtful attitude. "Your
friends, madame," said he, "see with sorrow that you are going to marry
a soldier, who is younger than yourself, who possesses nothing but his
salary, and therefore cannot leave the service; or, if he is killed in
battle, leaves you perhaps with children, and without an inheritance."

"Do you share the opinion of my friends, my dear M. Ragidean?" asked
Josephine, smiling.

"Yes," said the lawyer, earnestly, "yes, I share them - yes. I am not
satisfied that you should contract such a marriage. You are rich,
madame; you possess a capital which secures you a yearly income of
twenty-five thousand francs; with such an income you had claims to a
brilliant marriage; and I feel conscientiously obliged, as your friend
and business agent, in whom you have trusted, and who has for you the
deepest interest, to earnestly remonstrate with you while there is
yet time. Consider it well, viscountess; it is a reckless step you are
taking, and I entreat you not to do it. I speak to your own advantage.
General Bonaparte may be a very good man, possibly quite a distinguished
soldier, but certain it is he has only his hat and his sword to offer
you."

Josephine now broke into a joyous laugh, and her beaming eyes turned to
the young man there who, with his back turned to the party, stood at the
window beating the panes with his fingers, apparently heedless of their
conversation.

"General," cried out Josephine, cheerfully, "have you heard what M.
Ragideau says?"

Bonaparte turned slowly round, and his large eyes fell with a flaming
look upon the little advocate.

"Yes," said he, gravely, "I have heard all. M. Ragideau has spoken as an
honest man, and every thing he has said fills me with esteem for him. I
trust he will continue to be our agent, for I feel inclined to give him
full confidence."

He bowed kindly to the little lawyer, who stood there bewildered and
ashamed, and, offering his arm to Josephine, Bonaparte led her into the
drawing-room. [Footnote: The little advocate Ragideau remained after
this Josephine's agent. When Bonaparte had become emperor, he appointed
Ragideau notary of the civil list, and always manifested the greatest
interest in his behalf, and never by a word or a look did he remind him
of the strange circumstance which brought about their acquaintance. - See
Meneval. "Napoleon et Marie Louise," vol. i., p. 202.]

The decisive word had been spoken: Josephine de Beauharnais was now the
bride of General Bonaparte. His hitherto pale, gloomy countenance was
all radiant with the bright light of love and happiness. The days of
solitude and privations were forgotten; the young, beautiful Desiree
Clary, whom Bonaparte so much loved a few months ago, and the amiable
Madame Permont, were also forgotten (and yet to the latter, in her loge
at the theatre, as a farce between acts, he had offered his hand); all
the little love-intrigues of former days were forgotten; to Josephine
alone belonged his heart, her alone he loved with all the impassioned
glow and depth of a first exclusive love.

But yet, now and then, clouds darkened his large pensive brow; even her
smile could not always illumine the gloomy expression on his features;
it would happen that, plunged in deep, sad cogitations, he heard not the
question which she addressed him in her remarkably soft and clear voice
which Bonaparte so much loved.

His lofty pride felt humiliated and disgraced by the part he was now



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 20 of 40)