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burden as well to teachers as to schoolmates; and all felt relieved, as
from a depressing weight, when they no more feared the naming eyes of
the boy who observed every thing, who criticised every thing, and passed
judgment upon every thing.

But if he was not loved, it was impossible to refuse esteem to his
capacity, to his desire for learning; and the testimony which Monsieur
de Heralio, the principal of the institution of Brienne, sent with the
young Napoleon to Paris, was a tribute of respect and an acknowledgment
of merit. He portrayed him "as having an extremely capacious head,
especially skilled in mathematics, and of great powers and talents." As
to his character, one of the professors of the institution had in the
testimonial written the remark: "A Corsican by birth and character. He
will do great things, if circumstances are favorable."

But circumstances did not appear favorable, but contrariwise seemed to
bo roused in enmity against the poor Corsican boy. He had been scarcely
half a year in Paris when he lost his father, and this grief, of which
not a murmur escaped, which he kept within, devouring his heart, as
every thing else which affected him, made his existence still more
reserved, still more retired, and isolated him more and more. Moreover,
death had not only taken away the father, but also the support which
Napoleon received from him. The means of the Bonaparte family were very
meagre, and barely sufficed to the support of Signora Letitia and her
seven children. Napoleon could not and dared not require or accept
any help from his mother, on whom and on his brother Joseph it became
incumbent to educate and support the young family. He had to be
satisfied to live upon the bounty which the royal treasury furnished to
the young men at the military school.

But these limited means were to the ambitious boy a source of
humiliation and pain. The majority of his comrades consisted of young
aristocrats, who, provided with ample means, led a gay, luxurious,
dissipated life, had horses, servants, equipages, kept up one with
another expensive dinner-parties and dejeuners, and seized every
opportunity to organize a festivity or a pleasure-party. Every
departure, every admission of a scholar, was celebrated with brilliant
display; every birthday furnished the opportunity of a feast, and every
holiday became the welcomed occasion for a pleasure excursion which the
young men on horseback, and followed by their servants in livery, made
in the vicinity of Paris.

Napoleon could take no part in all these feastings and dissipations; and
as his proud heart could not acknowledge his poverty, he put on the mask
of a stoic, who, with contemptuous disregard, cast away vain pleasures
and amusements, and scorned those who with unrestrained zest abandoned
themselves to them.

He had scarcely been half a year in the military school when he gave
loud expression to his jealousy and envy; the young Napoleon, nearly
sixteen years old, undertook boldly to censure in the very presence of
the teachers the regulations of the institution. In a memorial which
he had composed, and which he presented to the second director of the
establishment, M. Berton, he gave utterance to his own views in the most
energetic and daring manner, imposing upon the professors the duty of
making a complete change in the institution; of limiting the number
of servants, so that the military pupils might learn to wait upon
themselves; of simplifying the noonday meal, so as to accustom them to
moderation; of forbidding banquets, dejeuners, and pleasure-excursions,
so that they might not become inured to a frivolous, extravagant mode of
life.

This mask of a censuring stoic, which he put on in the presence of
teachers and school-mates, he retained also with his few friends. Madame
de Permont, a short time after the death of Napoleon's father, came with
her family to Paris, where her husband had obtained an important and
lucrative office; her son Albert attended the military school and was
soon the friend of Napoleon, as much as a friendship could be formed
between the young, lively M. de Permont, the son of wealthy and
distinguished parents, and the reserved, proud Napoleon Bonaparte, the
son of a poor, lonely widow.

However, Napoleon this time acquiesced in the wishes of his true friend,
and condescended to pass his holidays with Albert in the house of
Madame de Permont, the friend of his mother; and oftentimes his whole
countenance would brighten into a smile, when speaking with her of the
distant home, of the mother, and of the family. But as many times also
that countenance would darken when, gazing round, he tacitly compared
this costly, tastefully decorated mansion with the poor and sparingly
furnished house in which his noble and beautiful mother lived with her
six orphans, and who in her household duties had to wait upon herself;
when again he noticed with what solicitude and love Madame de Permont
had her children educated by masters from the court, by governesses
and by teachers at enormous salaries, whilst her friend Letitia had to
content herself with the very deficient institutions of learning to
be found in Corsica, because her means were not sufficient to bring to
Paris, to the educational establishment of St. Cyr, her young daughters,
like the parents of the beautiful Pauline.

The young Napoleon hated luxury, because he himself had not the means
of procuring it; he spoke contemptuously of servants, for his position
allowed him not to maintain them; he spoke against the expensive noonday
meal, because he had to be content with less; he scorned the amusements
of his school-mates, because, when they arranged their picnics and
festivities, his purse allowed him not to take a part in them.

One day in the military school, as one of the teachers was to bid it
farewell, the scholars organized a festivity, toward which each of them
was to contribute a tolerably large sum. It was perhaps not all accident
that precisely on that day M. de Permont, the father of Albert, came to
the military school to visit his son, and Napoleon, his son's friend.

He found all the scholars in joyous excitement and motion; his son
Albert was, like the rest, intently busy with the preparations of the
feast, which was to take place in the garden, and to end in a great
display of fireworks. All faces beamed with delight, all eyes were
illumined, and the whole park re-echoed with jubilant cries and joyous
laughter.

But Napoleon Bonaparte was not among the gay company. M. de Permont
found him in a remote, lonesome path. He was walking up and down
with head bent low, his hands folded behind his back; as he saw M. de
Permont, his face became paler and gloomier, and a look nearly scornful
met the unwelcomed disturber.

"My young friend," said M. de Permont, with a friendly smile, "I come to
bring you the small sum which you need to enable you to take a part in
the festivity. Here it is; take it, I pray you."

But Napoleon, with a vehement movement of the hand, waved back the
offered money, a burning redness for a moment covered his face, then his
cheeks assumed that yellowish whiteness which in the child had always
indicated a violent emotion.

"No," cried he, vehemently, "no, I have nothing to do with this
meaningless festivity. I thank you - I receive no alms."

M. de Permont gazed with emotions of sympathizing sorrow in the pale
face of the poor young man for whom poverty was preparing so many
griefs, and in the generosity of his heart he had recourse to a
falsehood.

"This is no alms I offer you, Napoleon," said he, gently, "but this
money belongs to you, it comes from your father. At his dying hour he
confided to me a small sum of money, with the express charge to keep it
for you and to give you a portion of it in pressing circumstances, when
your personal honor required it. I therefore bring you to-day the fourth
part of this sum, and retain the rest for another pressing occasion."

With a penetrating, searching look. Napoleon gazed into the face of
the speaker, and the slight motions of a sarcastic smile played for an
instant around his thin, compressed lips.

"Well, then," said he, after a pause, "since this money comes from my
father, I can use it; but had you simply wished to lend it to me,
I could not have received it. My mother has already too much
responsibility and care; I cannot increase them by an outlay, especially
when such an outlay is imposed upon me by the sheer folly of my
schoolmates." [Footnote: Napoleon's words. - See "Memoires de la Duchesse
d'Abrantes," vol. i., p. 81.]

He then took the offered sum for which, as he thought, he was indebted
to no man, and hastened to pay his contribution to the festivity. But,
in respect to his principles, he took no part in the festivity, but
declaimed all the louder, and in a more biting tone, against the
criminal propensities for pleasure in the young men who, instead of
turning their attention to their studies, lavished away their precious
time in dissipation and frivolities.

These anxieties and humiliations of poverty Napoleon had doubly to
endure, not only for himself, but also for his sister Marianne (who
afterward called herself Elise). She had been, as already said, at her
father's intercession and application, received in the royal educational
institute of St. Cyr, and there enjoyed the solid and brilliant
education of the pupils of the king. But the spirit of luxury and the
desire for pleasure had also penetrated into this institution, founded
by the pious and high-minded Madame de Maintenon, and the young ladies
of St. Cyr had among themselves picnics and festivals, as well as the
young men of the military school.

Napoleon, whose means, as long as he was in Brienne, never allowed him
to visit his beloved sister at St. Cyr, had now frequent opportunities
of seeing her, for Madame de Permont, in her royal friendship to the
Bonaparte family, took as lively an interest in the daughter as in the
son of her friend Letitia, and often drove to St. Cyr to visit the young
and beautiful Marianne.

A few days after the festival in the military school, a short vacation
had followed, and Napoleon passed it with his friend Albert in the house
of the family of Permont. To please young Napoleon, it was decided to
go to St. Cyr, and the glowing cheeks and the lively manner with which
Napoleon, during the journey, conversed with M. and Madame de Permont,
proved what satisfaction he anticipated in meeting his sister.

But Marianne Bonaparte did not seem to share this satisfaction. With
downcast countenance and sad mien she entered the reception-room and
saluted M. and Madame Permont, and even her brother, with a gloomy,
despairing look. As she was questioned about the cause of her sadness,
she broke into tears, and threw herself with vehement emotion into the
arms of Madame de Permont.

Vain were the prayers and expostulations of her mother's friend to have
her reveal the cause of her sadness. Marianne only shook her head in a
negative manner, and ever a fresh flow of tears started from her eyes,
but she remained silent.

Napoleon, who at first, pale and silent, had looked on this outbreak of
sorrow, now excitedly approached his sister, and, laying his hand upon
her arm, said in angry tones: "Since you cry, you must also confess the
cause of your tears, or else we are afraid that you weep over some wrong
of which you are guilty. But woe to you if it is so! I am here in the
name of our father, and I will be without pity!" [Footnote: "Memoires de
la Duehesse d'Abrantes."]

Marianne trembled, and cast a timid, anxious look upon her young
brother, whose voice had assumed such a peculiar, imperious
expression - whose eyes shone with the expression of a proud, angry
master.

"I am in no wise guilty, my brother," murmured she, "and yet I am sad
and unhappy."

And blushing, trembling, with broken words, interrupted by tears and
sighs, Marianne related that next day, a farewell festival was to take
place in the institution in honor of one of the pupils about to leave.
The whole class was taking a part in it, and each of the young ladies
had already paid her contribution.

"But I only am not able," exclaimed Marianne, with a loud burst of
anguish, "I have but six francs; if I give them, nothing is left me, and
my pension is not paid until six weeks. But even were I to give all I
have, my miserable six francs would not be enough."

Very unwillingly indeed had Napoleon, whilst Marianne thus spoke,
put his hand into his pocket, as if to draw out the money which his
sorrowing sister needed, but remembering his own poverty, his hand
dropped at his side; a deep glow of anger overspread his cheeks, and
wildly stamping down with the foot he turned away and walked to the
window, perhaps to allow none to notice the nervous agitation of his
countenance and his tears of vexation and shame.

But what Napoleon could not do, that did Madame de Permont. She gave to
the weeping young girl the twelve francs she needed to take a part in
the festivity, and Marianne, less proud and less disdainful than her
brother, accepted gladly, without opposition and without the need of a
falsehood, the little sum offered.

Napoleon allowed this to take place without contradiction, and hindered
not his sister to receive from Madame de Permont the alms which he
himself had so arrogantly refused.

But they had barely left the reception-room and entered the carriage,
than his suffering heart burst into a sarcastic philippic against the
contemptible administration of such royal establishments as St. Cyr and
the military school.

M. de Permont, who had at first patiently and with a smile listened to
these raving invectives, felt himself at last wounded by them; and the
supercilious and presumptuous manner in which the young man of barely
seventeen years spoke of the highest offices of the state, and of the
king himself, excited his anger.

"Hush, Napoleon!" said he, reluctantly. "It does not beseem you, who are
educated upon the king's bounty, to speak thus."

Napoleon shrank within himself as if he had been bitten by a serpent,
and a deadly pallor overspread his cheeks.

"I am not the pupil of the king, but of the state!" exclaimed he, in a
boisterous voice, trembling with passion.

"Ah, that is indeed a fine distinction which you have made there,
Napoleon," said M. de Permont, laughing. "It is all the same whether you
are the pupil of the state or of the king; moreover, is not the king
the state also? However it may be, it beseems you not to speak of your
benefactor in such inappropriate terms."

Napoleon concentrated all his efforts into self-control, and mastered
himself into a grave, quiet countenance.

"I will be silent," said he, with an appearance of composure; "I will no
more say what might excite your displeasure. Only allow me to say,
were I master here, had I to decide upon the regulations of these
institutions, I would have them very different, and for the good of
all."

"Were I master here!" The pupil of the military school, for whom poverty
was preparing so much humiliation, who had just now experienced a fresh
humiliation through his sister in the reception-room of St. Cyr, was
already thinking what he would do were he the ruler of France; and,
strange enough, these words seemed natural to his lips, and no one
thought of sneering or laughing at him when he thus spoke.

Meanwhile his harsh and repulsive behavior, his constant fault-finding
and censoriousness were by no means conducive to the friendship and
affection of those around him; he was a burden to all, he was an
inconvenience to all; and the teachers as well as the pupils of the
military school were all anxious to get rid of his presence.

As nothing else could be said to his reproach; as there was no denying
his assiduity, his capacities, and progress, there was but one means
of removing him from the institution - he had to be promoted. It was
necessary to recognize the young pupil of the military school as
competent to enter into the practical, active military service; it was
necessary to make a lieutenant out of the pupil.

Scarcely had one year passed since Napoleon had been received into the
military school of Paris, when he was nominated by the authorities of
the school for a vacancy in the rank of lieutenant, and he was promoted
to it in the artillery regiment of La Fere, then stationed at Valence.

In the year 1786 Napoleon left the military school to serve his country
and his king as second lieutenant, and to take the oath of allegiance.

Radiant with happiness and joy, proud alike of his promotion and of his
uniform, the young lieutenant went to the house of M. de Permont to show
himself to his friends in his new dignity and in his new splendors, and,
at their invitation, to pass a few days in their house before leaving
for Valence.

But, alas! his appearance realized not the wished-for result. As he
entered the saloon of Madame de Permont the whole family was gathered
there, and at the sight of Napoleon the two daughters, girls of six and
thirteen years, broke out into loud laughter. None are more alive than
children to the impression of what is ridiculous, and there was indeed
in the appearance of the young lieutenant something which well might
excite the laughing propensities of the lively little maidens. The
uniform appeared much too long and wide for the little meagre figure
of Napoleon, and his slender legs vanished in boots of such height and
breadth that he seemed more to swim than to walk with them.

These boots especially had excited the laughter of the little maidens;
and at every step which Napoleon, embarrassed as he was by the terrible
cannon-boots, made forward, the laughter only increased, so that the
expostulations and reproaches of Madame de Permont could not procure
silence.

Napoleon, who had entered the drawing-room with a face radiant with joy,
felt wounded by the children's joyousness at his own cost. To be the
subject of scorn or sarcasm was then, as it was afterward, entirely
unbearable to him, and when he himself also tried to jest he knew not
how to receive the jests directed at him. After having saluted M. and
Madame de Permont, Napoleon turned to the eldest daughter Cecilia, who,
a few days before, had come from the boarding-school to remain a
short time at home, and who, laughing, had placed herself right before
monsieur the lieutenant.

"I find your laughter very silly and childish," said he, eagerly.

The young maid, however, continued to laugh.

"M. Lieutenant," said she, "since you carry such a mighty sword, you
no doubt wish to carry it as a lady's knight, and therefore you must
consider it an honor when ladies jest with you."

Napoleon gave a contemptuous shrug of the shoulders.

"It is evident," said he, scornfully, "that you are but a little
school-girl."

These sarcastic words wounded the vanity of the young maiden, and
brought a glow of anger on her face.

"Well, yes," cries she, angrily, "I am a school-girl, but you - you are
nothing else than a puss in boots!"

A general laugh followed; even Madame de Permont, ordinarily so good
and so considerate, could not suppress laughter. The witty words of the
little school-girl were too keen and too applicable that she should be
subjected to reproach.

Napoleon's wrath was indescribable. His visage was overspread with a
yellow-greenish pallor, his lips were contracted nervously, and already
opened for a word of anger. But he suppressed that word with an effort;
for though not yet familiar with all the forms and usages of society,
his fine tact and the instinct of what was becoming told him that when
the conversation ran into personalities the best plan was to be silent,
and that he must not return personal remarks, since his opponent was one
of the fair sex. He therefore remained silent, and so controlled himself
as to join in the general laughter and to show himself heartily amused
at the unfortunate nickname of the little Cecilia.

And that every one might be convinced how much he himself had been
amused at this little scene, he brought, a few days afterward, to the
youngest daughter of Madame de Permont, a charming little toy which he
had had made purposely for her. This toy consisted of a small gilt and
richly-ornamented carriage of papier-mache, before which leaped along a
very lovely puss in boots.

To this present for the little Lolotte (afterward Duchess d'Abrantes),
was added for Cecilia an elegant and interesting edition of the tales
of "Puss in Boots," and when Napoleon politely presented it to the young
maid he begged her to receive kindly this small souvenir from him.

"That is too much," said Madame de Permont, shaking her head. "The toy
for Loulou would have been quite enough. But this present to Cecilia
shows that you took her jest in earnest, and were hurt by it."

Napoleon, however, affirmed that he had not taken the jest in earnest,
that he had been no wise hurt by it; that he himself when he put on
his uniform had to laugh at the nickname of "puss in boots" which dear
Cecilia had given him.

He had, however, endeavored no more to deserve this nickname, and the
unlucky boots were replaced by much smaller and closer-fitting ones.

A few days after this little incident the young second lieutenant left
Paris and went to meet his regiment La Fere at Valence.

A life of labor and study, of hopes and dreams, now began for the young
lieutenant. He gave himself up entirely to his military service, and
pursued earnest, scientific studies in regard to it. Mathematics, the
science of war, geometry, and finally politics, were the objects of his
zeal; but alongside of these he read and studied earnestly the works of
Voltaire, Corneille, Racine, Montaigne, the Abbe Raynal, and, above all,
the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose passionate and enthusiastic
disciple Napoleon Bonaparte was at that time. [Footnote: "Memoires du
Roi Joseph," vol. i., p. 33.]

Amid so many grave occupations of the mind it would seem that the heart
with all its claims had to remain in the background. The smiling boy
Cupid, with his gracious raillery and his smarting griefs, seemed
to make no impression on that pale, grave, and taciturn artillery
lieutenant, and not to dare shoot an arrow toward that bosom which had
mailed itself in an impenetrable cuirass of misanthropy, stoicism, and
learning.

But yet between the links of this coat-of-mail an arrow must have
glided, for the young lieutenant suddenly became conscious that there
in his bosom a heart did beat, and that it was going in the midst of
his studies to interrupt his dreams of misanthropy. Yes, it had come to
this, that he abandoned his study to pay his court to a young lady, that
at her side he lost his gravity of mien, his gloomy taciturnity, and
became joyous, talkative, and merry, as beseemed a young man of his age.

The young lady who exercised so powerful an influence upon the young
Bonaparte was the daughter of the commanding officer at Valence, M. de
Colombier. He loved her, but his lips were yet too timid to confess
it, and of what need were words to these young people to understand one
another and to know what the one felt for the other?

In the morning they took long walks through the beautiful park; they
spoke one to another of their childhood, of their brothers and
sisters, and when the young maid with tears in her eyes listened to the
descriptions which Napoleon made to her of his country, of his father's
house, and, above all things, of his mother - when she with animation
and enthusiasm declared that Letitia was a heroine greater than whom
antiquity had never seen, then Napoleon would take her two hands in his
and thank her with tremulous voice for the love which she consecrated to
his noble mother.

If in the morning they had to separate, as an indemnification an evening
walk in the light of the moon was agreed upon, and the young maid
promised heroically to come without uncertainty, however imperative was
her mother's prohibition. And truly, when her mother was asleep, she
glided down into the park, and Napoleon welcomed her with a happy smile,
and arm in arm, happy as children, they wandered through the paths,
laughing at their own shadows, which the light of the moon in wondrous
distortion made to dance before them. They entered into a small bower,
which stood in the shadow of trees, and there the young Napoleon had
prepared for the young maid a very pleasing surprise. There on the table
was a basket full of her favorite fruit - full of the sweetest, finest



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 7 of 40)