Copyright
L. Mühlbach.

Empress Josephine online

. (page 32 of 40)
Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 32 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


thousand francs, which the duke had donated to her in his will, and
which Bonaparte restored to her as the property which the revolution had
confiscated for the nation's welfare. She manifested her gratitude to
the first consul for this liberal pension by opening the saloons to
the "parvenues of the Tuileries;" and leading the aristocrats of the
Faubourg St. Germain into the drawing-rooms of Josephine, and then
assisting her to form out of these elements a court whose lofty and
brilliant centre was to be Josephine herself. The ladies of the Faubourg
St. Germain were no longer ashamed to appear at the new court of the
Tuileries, but excused themselves by saying: "We flatter Josephine, so
as to keep her on our side, and to strengthen her loyalty to the king.
She will, by her entrancing eloquence, persuade the consul to recall our
King Louis XVIII., and give him his crown."

But too soon, alas! were they made aware of their error. It was not long
before they became convinced that, if Bonaparte's hands were busy in
raising a throne, in lifting up from the earth the fallen crown of
royalty, he was not doing this to place it on the brow of the Count de
Lille; he had a nearer object in view - he considered his own head better
suited to wear it.

The conqueror of terrorism and of the revolution was not inclined to
be defeated by the enemies of the republic, who were approaching the
frontiers of France, to restore the Bourbons. He took up the glove which
Austria had thrown down - for she had made alliance with England.

On the 6th of May, 1800, Bonaparte left Paris, marched with his army
over Mount St. Bernard, and assumed the chief command of the army in
Italy, which recently had suffered so many disastrous defeats from
Suwarrow and the Archduke Charles.

At Marengo, on the 14th of June, Bonaparte obtained a brilliant triumph.
Soon after, at Hohenlinden, Moreau also defeated the Austrians. These
two decisive victories forced Austria to make peace with France, to
abandon her alliance with England - that is to say, with the monarchical
principles; and, at the peace ratified in the beginning of the year 1801
at Limeville, to concede to France the grand-duchy of Tuscany.

In July, Bonaparte returned in triumph to France, and was received
by the people with enthusiastic acclamations. Paris was brilliantly
illuminated on the day of his return, and round about the Tuileries
arose the shouts of the people, who with applauding voices demanded
to see the conqueror of Marengo, and would not remain quiet until he
appeared on the balcony. Even Bonaparte was touched by this enthusiasm
of the French people; as he retreated from the balcony and retired into
his cabinet, he said to Bourrienne. "Listen! The people shout again
and again; they still send their acclamations toward me. I love those
sounds; they are nearly as sweet as Josephine's voice. How proud and
happy I am to be loved by such a people!" [Footnote: Bourrienne, vol.
v., p. 35.]




CHAPTER XXXIV. THE INFERNAL MACHINE.


The victory of Marengo, which had pleased the people, had filled the
royalists with terror and fear, and destroyed their hopes of a speedy
restoration of the monarchy, making them conscious of its fruitless
pretensions. With the frenzy of hatred and the bitterness of revenge
they turned against the first consul, who was not now their expected
savior of the monarchy, but a usurper who wanted to gain France for
himself.

The royalists and the republicans united for the same object. Both
parties longed to destroy Bonaparte: the one to re-establish the
republic of the year 1793, and the other the throne of the Bourbons.
Everywhere conspiracies and secret associations were organized, and
the watchful and active police discovered in a few months more than ten
plots, the aim of which was to murder Bonaparte.

Josephine heard this with sorrow and fear, with tears of anxiety and
love. She had now given her whole heart and soul to Bonaparte, and
it was the torment of martyrdom to see him every day threatened by
assassins and by invisible foes, who from dark and hidden places drew
their daggers at him. Her love surrounded him with vigilant friends and
servants, who sought to discover every danger and to remove it from his
path.

When he was coming to Malmaison, Josephine before his arrival would send
her servants to search every hiding-place in the park, to see if in some
shady grove a murderer might not be secreted; she entreated Junot or
Murat to send scouts from Paris on the road to Malmaison to remove all
suspicious persons from it. Yet her heart trembled with anxiety when she
knew him to be on the way, and, when he had safely arrived, she would
receive him with rapture, as if he had just escaped an imminent danger,
and would make him laugh by the exclamations of joy with which she
greeted him as one saved from danger.

In the anxiety of her watchful love she made herself acquainted with
all the details of the discovered conspiracies of both the Jacobins
and royalists. She knew there were two permanent conspiracies at work,
though their leaders had been discovered and led into prison.

One of these conspiracies had been organized by the old Jacobins, the
republicans of the Convention; and these bands of the "enraged," as
they called themselves, numbered in their ranks all the enemies of
constitutional order, all the men of the revolution of 1789; and all
these men had sworn with solemn oaths to kill Bonaparte, and to deliver
the republic from her greatest and most dangerous enemy.

The other conspiracy, which had its ramifications throughout France, was
formed by the royalists. "The Society of the White Mantle" was mostly
composed of Chouans, daring men of Vendee, who were ever ready to
sacrifice their lives to the mere notion of royalty, and who like the
Jacobins had sworn to murder Bonaparte.

Chevalier, who, with his ingenious infernal machine, sought to kill
Bonaparte on his way to Malmaison, belonged to the Society of the White
Mantle. But he was betrayed by his confidant and associate Becyer, who
assisted the police to arrest him. To the conspiracy of the "enraged"
belonged the Italians Ceracchi, Arena, and Diana, who at the opera, when
the consul appeared in his loge, and was greeted by the acclamations of
the people, were ready to fire their pistols at him. But at the moment
they were about to commit the deed from behind the side-scenes, where
they had hidden themselves, they were seized, arrested, and led to
prison by the police. Josephine, as already said, knew all these
conspiracies; she trembled for Bonaparte's life, and yet she could
not prevent him from appearing in public, and she herself, smiling and
apparently unsuspecting, had to appear at Bonaparte's side at the
grand parades, in the national festivities, and at the theatrical
performances; no feature on her face was to betray the anxiety she was
enduring.

One day, however, not only Bonaparte's life but also that of Josephine,
was imperilled by the conspirators; the famous infernal machine which
had been placed on their way to the opera, would have killed the first
consul and his wife, if a red Persian shawl had not saved them both.

At the grand opera, that evening, was to be performed Joseph Haydn's
masterpiece, "The Creation." The Parisians awaited this performance
with great expectation; they rushed to the opera, not only to hear the
oratorio, the fame of which had spread from Vienna to Paris, but also
to see Bonaparte and his wife, who it was known would attend the
performance.

Josephine had requested Bonaparte to be present at this great musical
event, for she knew that the public would be delighted at his presence.
He at first manifested no desire to do so, for he was not sufficiently
versed in musical matters for it to afford him much enjoyment; and
besides, there was but one kind of music he liked, and that was the
Italian, the richness of whose melody pleased him, while the German and
French left him dissatisfied and weary. However, Bonaparte gave way to
the entreaties of Josephine, and resolved to drive to the opera.
The dinner that day had been somewhat later than usual, for besides
Josephine, her children, and Bonaparte's sister Caroline, Murat, the
Generals Bessieres and Lannes, as well as Bonaparte's two adjutants,
Lebrun and Rapp, had been present. Immediately after dinner they wanted
to drive to the opera; but as Josephine lingered behind, busy with the
arrangement of her shawl, Bonaparte declared he would drive in advance
with the two Generals Bessieres and Lebrun, while Rapp was to accompany
the ladies in the second carriage. With his usual rapidity of action he
seized his hat and sword, and, followed by his companions, left the room
to go to the carriage, which was waiting.

Josephine, who imagined that Bonaparte was waiting for her at the
carriage, hurriedly put on, without troubling herself any longer about
the becoming arrangement of the folds, a red Persian shawl, which
Bonaparte had sent her as a present from Egypt. She was going to leave,
when Rapp, with the openness of a soldier, made the remark that she had
not put on her shawl to-day with her accustomed elegance. She smiled,
and begged him to arrange it after the fashion of Egyptian ladies. Rapp
laughingly hastened to comply with her wishes; and while Josephine,
Madame Murat, and Hortense, watched attentively the arrangement of the
shawl in the hands of Rapp, Bonaparte's carriage was heard moving away.

This noise put a speedy end to all further movements, and Josephine,
with the ladies and Rapp, hastened to follow Bonaparte. Their carriage
had no sooner reached the Place de Carrousel, than an appalling
explosion was heard, and a bright flame like a lightning-flash filled
the whole place with its glare; at the same moment the windows of the
carriage were broken into fragments, which flew in every direction
into the carriage, and one of which penetrated so deep into the arm
of Hortense, that the blood gushed out. Josephine uttered a cry of
horror - "Bonaparte is murdered!" At the same moment were heard loud
shrieks and groans.

Rapp, seized with fear, and only thinking that Bonaparte was in danger,
sprang out of the carriage, and, careless of the wounded and bleeding,
who lay near, ran onward to the opera to find out if Bonaparte had
safely reached there. While the ladies, in mortal agony, remained on the
Place de Carrousel, not knowing whether to return to the Tuileries or
to drive forward, a messenger arrived at full speed to announce that the
first consul had not been hurt, and that he was waiting for his wife
in his loge, and begged her to come without delay. Meanwhile Rapp had
reached the opera, and had penetrated into the box of the first consul.
Bonaparte was seated calmly and unmoved in his accustomed place,
examining the audience through his glass, and now and then addressing
a few words to the secretary of police, Fouche, who stood near him.
No sooner did Bonaparte see Rapp, than he said hastily, and in a low
voice - "Josephine?"

At that moment she entered, followed by Madame Murat and Hortense.
Bonaparte saluted them with a smile, and with a look of unfathomable
love he extended his hand to Josephine. She was still pale and
trembling, although she had no conception of the greatness of the danger
which had menaced her.

Bonaparte endeavored to quiet her by stating that the explosion was
probably the result of some accident or imprudence; but at this moment
the prefect of the police entered who had been on the spot, and had
come to give a report of the dreadful effects of the explosion. Fifteen
persons had been killed, more than thirty had been severely wounded,
and about forty houses seriously damaged. This was all the work of
a so-called infernal machine - a small barrel filled with powder and
quicksilver - which had been placed in a little carriage at the entrance
of the Hue St. Nicaise.

Until now Josephine did not realize the extent of the danger which had
threatened her and her husband. Had the explosion taken place a few
moments before, it would have killed the consul; if it had been one
minute later, Josephine and her companions would have been involved
in the catastrophe. It was the shawl which Rapp was arranging on her
shoulders according to the rules of art, which caused them to retard
their departure, and thus saved her life.

An inexpressible horror now seized her and made her tremble; her looks,
full of love and deep anguish, were fixed on Bonaparte, who, in a low
voice, entreated her to compose herself, and not to make her distress
public. Near Josephine sat Hortense, pale and agitated, like her mother;
around her wounded arm was wrapped a handkerchief, stained here and
there with blood. Madame Murat was quiet and composed, like Bonaparte,
who was then giving instructions to the prefect of police to provide
immediate assistance for the unfortunate persons who had been wounded.

No one yet in the audience knew the appalling event. The thundering
noise had been heard, but it was presumed to have been an artillery
salute, and no evil was suspected, for Bonaparte, with his usual guards,
had entered his box, and, advancing to its very edge, had saluted the
public in a friendly way. This act of the first consul had its ordinary
effect: the audience, indifferent to the music, rose and saluted their
hero with loud acclamation and applause. Not till Josephine entered the
loge had the acclamations subsided, and the music begun again. A few
minutes after, the news of the fearful event spread all over the house:
a murmur arose, and the music was interrupted anew.

The Duchess d'Abrantes, who was present at this scene, gives a faithful,
eloquent, and graphic picture of it:

"A vague noise," says she, "began to spread from the parterre to the
orchestra, and from the amphitheatre to the boxes. Soon the news of the
occurrence was known all over the house, when, like a sudden clap of
thunder, an acclamation burst forth, and the whole audience, with a
single undivided look of love, seemed to desire to embrace Bonaparte.
What I am narrating I have seen, and I am not the only one who saw it.
... What excitement followed this first explosion of national anger,
which at this moment was represented by the audience, whose horror at
the dark plot cannot be described with words! Women were seen weeping
and sobbing; men, pale as death, trembled with vengeance and anger,
whatever might have been the political standard which they followed; all
hearts and hands were united to prove that difference of opinion creates
no difference in the interpretation of the code of honor. During the
whole scene my eyes were fixed on the loge of the consul. He was quiet,
and only seemed moved when public sentiment gave utterance to strong
expressive words about the conspiracy, and these reached him. Madame
Bonaparte was not fully composed. Her countenance was disturbed; even
her attitude, generally so very graceful, was no longer under her
control. She seemed to tremble under her shawl as under a protecting
canopy, and in fact it was this shawl which had saved her from
destruction. She was weeping; however much she endeavored to compose
herself, she could not repress her tears; they would flow, against her
will, down her pale cheeks, and, whenever Josephine fixed her eyes upon
her husband, she trembled again. Even her daughter seemed extremely
agitated, and Madame Murat alone preserved the family character, and
seemed entirely herself." [Footnote: Duchess d'Abrantes, "Memoires,"
vol. ii., p. 66.]

At last, when the public excitement was somewhat abated, and the
music was again resumed, the audience turned its attention to Hadyn's
masterpiece. But Josephine had not the strength to bear this effort, and
to submit to it quietly. She entreated her husband to retire with her
and the ladies; and when at last he acceded to her request, and had
quietly left the loge with her, Josephine sat by him in the carriage,
opposite Caroline and Hortense, and, sobbing, threw herself on
Bonaparte's breast, and cried out in her anguish:

"What a life, where I must ever be trembling for you!"

The infernal machine did not kill the first consul, but it gave to
liberty and to the republic a fatal blow; it scattered into fragments
what remained of the revolutionary institutions from the days of blood
and terror. France rose up in disgust and horror against the party
which made of assassins its companions, and consequently this conspiracy
failed to accomplish what its originators had expected. They wanted to
destroy Bonaparte and ruin his power, but this abortive attempt only
increased his popularity, enlarged his power, and deepened the people's
love for him who now appeared to them as a protecting rampart, and a
barrier to the flood of anarchy.

France gave herself up trembling, and without a will of her own, into
the hands of the hero to whom she was indebted for fame and recognition
by foreign powers, and through whom she hoped to secure domestic peace.
France longed for a strong arm to support her; Bonaparte gave her this
arm, but it not only supported France, it bowed her down; and from this
day he placed the reins on the wild republican steed, and let it feel
that it had found a master who had the power and the will to direct it
entirely in accordance with his wishes.

Bonaparte was determined to put an end to the seditions and conspiracies
of the republicans, whom he hated because they had for their aim the
downfall of all legitimate authority; and in turn was hated by them
because he had abandoned their standard and turned against the republic
with the faithlessness of a son who attacks the mother that gave him
birth. Bonaparte maintained that it was the republicans who had set the
infernal machine on his path, and paid no attention to the opinion of
Fouche, who ascribed to the royalists the origin of the plot. Bonaparte
wished first to do away with his most violent and bitter enemies,
the republicans of the year 1789; he desired to possess the power of
punishing such, and to render them harmless, and now the horror produced
by this criminal act came to his assistance in carrying out this plan.

The council of the state adopted the legislative enactment that the
consuls should have "the power to remove from Paris those persons whose
presence they considered dangerous to the public security, and that
all such persons who should leave their place of banishment should be
transported from the country!"

Under this law, George Cadoudal, Chevalier, Arena, Ceracchi, and many
others were executed; and one hundred and thirty persons, whose
only crime was that of being suspected of dissatisfaction toward the
administration of the consuls, and considered as Bonaparte's enemies,
were transported to Cayenne.

Such were for France the results of this infernal machine, the object of
which was to assassinate the Consul Bonaparte, instead of which it had
only the effect of destroying his enemies and strengthening his power.




CHAPTER XXXV. THE CASHMERES AND THE LETTER.


As mighty events always exercise an influence on minor ones, so this
fearful attempt at murder became the occasion for the introduction into
France of a new branch of industry, which had hitherto drawn millions
from Europe to the East.

Josephine, gratefully remembering her truly wonderful deliverance
through the means of her Persian shawl, wore it afterward in preference
to any other. Until then she had never fancied it, for when Bonaparte
sent it to her from Egypt, she wrote to him: "I have received the shawl.
It may be very beautiful and very costly, but I find it unsightly. Its
great advantage consists in its lightness. I doubt, however, if this new
fashion will meet with approbation. Notwithstanding, I am pleased with
it, for it is rare and warm." [Footnote: "Memoires sur l'Imperatrice,"
par Mademoiselle Ducrest, vol. iii., p. 227.]

But after it had saved her life, she no longer thought it unsightly, she
was fond of wrapping herself up in it, and the natural consequence was,
that these Persian shawls soon formed the most fashionable and costly
article of apparel.

Every lady of the higher classes considered it a necessity to cover her
tender shoulders with this valuable foreign material, and it soon became
"comme il faut" a duty of position, to possess a collection of such
Persian shawls, and to wear them at the balls and receptions in the
Tuileries.

The desire to possess such a precious article of fashion led these
ladies oftentimes to "corriger la fortune" and to obtain, by some bold
but not very creditable act, possession of such a shawl, which had
now become in a certain measure the escutcheon of the new French
aristocracy.

The Duchess d'Abrantes, in reference to this matter, relates two thefts
which at that time troubled the aristocratic society of the Tuileries,
which prove that the ladies had taken instructions from the gentlemen,
and that dishonest persons of both sexes were admitted into the society
of heroes and their beautiful wives!

At a morning reception in the Tuileries, the shawl of the Countess de
St. Martin had been stolen; and this lady was very much distressed at
the loss, for this cashmere was not only a present from Madame Murat,
but was one of uncommon beauty, on account of the rarity of the design,
consisting of paroquets in artistic groups, instead of the ordinary
palm. The countess was therefore untiring in recounting to every one her
irreparable loss, and uttered bitter curses against the bold female who
had stolen her treasure.

"A few weeks later," relates the duchess, "at a ball given by the
minister Talleyrand, the countess came toward me with a bright
countenance and told me that she had just now found her shawl, and,
strange to say, upon the shoulders of a young lady at the ball!

"'But,' said I to her, 'you will not accuse this lady before the whole
company!'

"'And why not?'

"'Because that would be wrong. Leave this matter to me.'

"She would not at first, but I pressed the subject on her consideration,
and she agreed at length to remain somewhat behind, while I approached
the young lady, who stood near the door, and was just going to leave the
ballroom. I told her in a low voice that in all probability she had
made a mistake; that she had perhaps mislaid her own cashmere, and had
through carelessness taken the shawl of the Countess de St. Martin.

"I was as polite as I could possibly be in such a communication; but the
young lady looked at me unpleasantly for such an impertinent intrusion,
and replied that 'since the time the Countess de St. Martin had deafened
the ears of every one with the story of her stolen shawl, she had had
ample leisure to recognize as her property the cashmere she wore.' Her
mother, who stood a few steps from her, and was conversing with another
lady, turned toward her when she heard her daughter speak in so loud a
voice. But the Countess de St. Martin, who had overheard that she 'had
deafened the ears of every one with the story of her stolen shawl,'
rushed in to the rescue of her case.

"'This cashmere belongs to me,' said she, haughtily - seizing, at the
same time, the shawl with one hand, while the young lady with her fist
thrust her back violently. I saw that in a moment they would come to
blows.

"'It will be easy to end this difficulty,' said I to the Countess de St.
Martin. 'Madame will be kind enough to tell us where she has purchased
this shawl which is so much like yours, and then you will see your
mistake, and be satisfied.'

"'It does not suit me to tell where I got this shawl,' replied the lady,
looking at me contemptuously; 'there is no necessity for my telling you
where I purchased it.'

"'Well, then,' exclaimed eagerly the Countess de St. Martin, 'you
confess, madame, that the shawl really belongs to you?'

"The other answered with a sarcastic smile, and drew the shawl closer
to her shoulders. A few persons, attracted by the strangeness of such
a scene, had gathered around us, and seemed to wait for the end of so
extraordinary an event.

"The countess continued with a loud voice:

"'Well, then, madame, since the shawl belongs to you, you can explain to
me why the name of Christine, which is my first name, is embroidered in
red silk on the small edging. Madame Junot will be kind enough to look
for this name.'

"The young woman became pale as death. I shall never during my life
forget the despairing look which she gave me, as with trembling hand she
passed me the shawl, just as her father appeared from a room near the



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 32 of 40)