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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMr. Bonaparte Of Corsica - Chapter 10. The Fall Of The Empire
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Mr. Bonaparte Of Corsica - Chapter 10. The Fall Of The Empire Post by :breakthru Category :Long Stories Author :John Kendrick Bangs Date :May 2012 Read :2090

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Mr. Bonaparte Of Corsica - Chapter 10. The Fall Of The Empire



Just before the opening of the year 1810, which marked the beginning of Bonaparte's decay, Fouche demanded an audience.

"Well, Fouche," said the Emperor, "what now?"

"This Empire can't go much further, Your Majesty, unless more novelty is introduced. I've had my men out all through France taking notes, and there's but one opinion among 'em all. You've got to do something new or stop the show. If you'd only done what I suggested at Austerlitz, and lost a leg, it would have been different. The people don't ask much song-and-dance business from a one-legged man."

"We compromised with you there," retorted Napoleon. "At Ratisbon our imperial foot was laid up for a week."

"Yes--but you didn't lose it," returned Fouche. "Can't you see the difference? If you'd lost it, and come home without it, there'd have been evidence of your suffering. As it is, do you know what your enemies are saying about your foot?"

"We do not," said the Emperor, sternly. "What do they say?"

"Well, the Bourbons say you stepped on it running away from the enemy's guns, and the extreme Republicans say your wound is nothing but gout and the result of high, undemocratic living. Now, my dear sir--Sire, I mean--I take a great deal of interest in this Empire. It pays me my salary, and I've had charge of the calcium lights for some time, and I don't want our lustre dimmed, but it will be dimmed unless, as I have already told you a million times, we introduce some new act on our programme. 1492 didn't succeed on its music, or its jokes, or its living pictures. It was the introduction of novelties every week that kept it on the boards for four hundred years."

"Well--what do you propose?" asked Bonaparte, recognizing the truth of Fouche's words.

"I--ah--I think you ought to get married," said Fouche.

"We am married, you--you--idiot," cried Bonaparte.

"Well, marry again," said Fouche. "You've been giving other people away at a great rate for several years--what's the matter with acquiring a real princess for yourself?"

"You advise bigamy, do you?" asked Bonaparte, scornfully.

"Not on your life," returned Fouche, "but a real elegant divorce, followed by an imperial wedding, would rattle the bones of this blase old Paris as they haven't been rattled since Robespierre's day."

Bonaparte reddened, then, rising from the throne and putting his hand to the side of his mouth, he said, in a low, agitated tone:

"Close the door, Fouche. Close the door and come here. We want to whisper something to you."

The minister did as he was bidden.

"Fouche, old boy," chuckled the Emperor in the ear of his rascally aide--"Fouche, you're a mind-reader. We've been thinking of just that very thing for some time--in fact, ever since We met that old woman Emperor Francis Joseph. He'd make an elegant mother-in-law."

"Precisely," said Fouche. "His daughter Marie-Louise, an archduchess by birth, is the one I had selected for you. History will no doubt say that I oppose this match, and publicly perhaps I may seem to do so, but you will understand, my dear Sire, that this opposition will serve, as it is designed to serve, as an advertisement of our enterprise, and without advertising we might as well put up the shutters. Shall we--ah--announce the attraction to the public?"

"Not yet," said Napoleon. "We must get rid of our leading lady before we bring on the understudy."

It is a sad chapter in the history of this eminent man wherein is told the heart-breaking story of his sacrifice--the giving up through sheer love of his country of the only woman he had ever loved, and we should prefer to pass it over in silence. We allude to it here merely to show that it was brought about by the exigencies of his office, and that it was nothing short of heroic self-abnegation which led this faithful lover of his adopted native land to put the beautiful Josephine away from him. He had builded an Empire for an opera bouffe people, and he was resolved to maintain it at any cost.

In March, 1810, Bonaparte, having in his anxiety to spare the feelings of the divorced Josephine, wooed Marie-Louise by proxy in the person of Marshal Berthier, met his new fiancee at Soissons.

"It is three months since we lost our beloved Josephine," he said to Fouche, with tears in his voice, "but the wound is beginning to heal. We fear we shall never love again, but for the sake of the Empire we will now begin to take notice once more. We will meet our bride- elect at Soissons, and escort her to Paris ourself."

This was done, and on the 2nd of April, 1810, Marie-Louise became Empress of France. Josephine, meanwhile, had retired to Malmaison with alimony of 3,000,000 francs.

Fouche was delighted; Paris was provided with conversation enough for a year in any event, and Bonaparte found it possible to relax a little in his efforts to inspire interest. His main anxiety in the ensuing year was as to his family affairs. His brothers did not turn out so highly successful as professional kings as he had hoped, and it became necessary to depose Louis the King of Holland and place him under arrest. Joseph, too, desired to resign the Spanish throne, which he had found to be far from comfortable, and there was much else to restore Bonaparte's early proneness to irritability; nor was his lot rendered any more happy by Marie-Louise's expressed determination not to go to tea with Josephine at Malmaison on Sunday nights, as the Emperor wished her to do.

"You may go if you please," said she, "but I shall not. Family reunions are never agreeable, and the circumstances of this are so peculiar that even if they had redeeming features this one would be impossible."

"We call that rebellion--don't you?" asked Bonaparte of Fouche.

"No," said Fouche. "She's right, and it's for your good. If she and Josephine got chumming and compared notes, I'm rather of the opinion that there'd be another divorce."

Fouche's reply so enraged the Emperor that he dismissed him from his post, and the Empire began to fall.

"I leave you at your zenith, Sire," said Fouche. "You send me to Rome as governor in the hope that I will get the Roman fever and die. I know it well; but let me tell you that the reaction is nearly due, and with the loss of your stage manager the farce begins to pall. Farewell. If you can hook yourself on to your zenith and stay there, do so, but that you will I don't think."

It was as Fouche said. Perplexities now arose which bade fair to overwhelm the Emperor. For a moment they cleared away when the infant son of Marie-Louise and Bonaparte was born, but they broke out with increasing embarrassment immediately after.

"What has your son-in-law named his boy, Francis Joseph?" asked Alexander of Russia.

"King of Rome," returned the Austrian.

"What!" cried Alexander, "and not after you--or me? The coxcomb! I will make war upon him."

This anecdote is here given to the world for the first time. It is generally supposed that the rupture of friendly relations between Alexander and Bonaparte grew out of other causes, but the truth is as indicated in this story. Had Fouche been at hand, Bonaparte would never have made the mistake, but it was made, and war was declared.

After a succession of hard-fought battles the invading army of the Emperor entered Moscow, but Napoleon's spirit was broken.

"These Russian names are giving us paresis!" he cried. "How I ever got here I don't know, and I find myself unprovided with a return ticket. The names of the Russian generals, to say nothing of those of their rivers and cities, make my head ache, and have ruined my teeth. I fear, Davoust, that I have had my day. It was easy to call on the Pollylukes to surrender in Africa; it never unduly taxed my powers of enunciation to speak the honeyed names of Italy; the Austrian tongue never bothered me; but when I try to inspire my soldiers with remarks like, 'On to Smolensko!' or 'Down with Rostopchin!' and 'Shall we be discouraged because Tchigagoff, and Kutusoff, and Carrymeoffski, of the Upperjnavyk Cgold Sdream Gards, oppose us?' I want to lie down and die. What is the sense of these barbed-wire names, anyhow? Why, when I was told that Barclay de Tolly had abandoned Vitepsk, and was marching on Smolensko with a fair chance of uniting with Tormagoff and Wittgenstein, I was so mixed that I couldn't tell whether Vitepsk was a brigadier-general or a Russian summer-resort. Nevertheless, we have arrived, and I think we can pass a comfortable winter in Moscow. Is Moscow a cold place, do you know?"

Marshal Ney looked out of the window.

"No, Your Majesty," he said; "I judge from appearances that it's the hottest place in creation, just now. Look!"

Bonaparte's heart sank within him. He looked and saw the city in flames.

"Well," he cried, "why don't you do something? What kind of theatrical soldiers are you? Ring up the fire department! Ah, Fouche, Fouche, if you were only here now! You could at least arrest the flames."

It was too late. Nothing could be done, and the conquering hero of nearly twenty years now experienced the bitterness of defeat. Rushing through the blazing town, he ordered a retreat, and was soon sadly wending his way back to Paris.

"We are afraid," he murmured, "that that Moscow fire has cooked our imperial goose."

Then, finding the progress of the army too slow, and anxious to hear the news of Paris, Napoleon left his troops under the command of Ney and pushed rapidly on, travelling incognito, not being desirous of accepting such receptions and fetes in his honor as the enemy had in store for him.

"I do not like to leave my army in such sore straits," he said, "but I must. I am needed at the Tuileries. The King of Rome has fallen in love with his nurse, and I understand also that there is a conspiracy to steal the throne and sell it. This must not be. Reassure the army of my love. Tell them that they are, as was the army of Egypt, my children, and that they may play out in the snow a little while longer, but must come in before they catch cold."

With these words he was off. Paris, as usual, received him with open arms. Things had been dull during his absence, and his return meant excitement. The total loss of the French in this campaign was 450,000 men, nearly a thousand cannon, and seventy-five eagles and standards.

"It's a heavy loss," said the Emperor, "but it took a snow-storm to do it. I'd rather fight bears than blizzards; but the French must not be discouraged. Let them join the army. The Russians have captured three thousand and forty-eight officers whose places must be filled. If that isn't encouragement to join the army I expect to raise next spring I don't know what is. As for the eagles--you can get gold eagles in America for ten dollars apiece, so why repine! On with the dance, let joy be unconfined!"

It was too late, however. The Empire had palled. Bonaparte could have started a comic paper and still have failed to rouse Paris from its lethargy, and Paris is the heart of France. Storms gathered, war-clouds multiplied, the nations of the earth united against him, the King of Rome began cutting his teeth and destroyed the Emperor's rest. The foot-ball of fate that chance had kicked so high came down to earth with a sickening thud, and Mr. Bonaparte of Corsica yielded to the inevitable.

"Fouche," he said, sending for the exiled minister in his extremity, "when I lost you I lost my leading man--the star of my enterprise. During your absence the prompter's box has been empty, and I don't know what to do. The world is against me--even France. I see but one thing left. Do you think I could restore confidence by divorcing Marie-Louise and remarrying Josephine? It strikes me that an annual shaking-up of that nature would sort of liven matters up.

"No!" said Fouche, "it won't do. They've had one divorce. You mustn't repeat yourself now. You forget the thing I've always tried to impress upon you. Be New; not parvenu or ingenue, but plain up and down New is what you need to be. It would have been just the same if you'd thrashed Russia. They'd have forced you to go on and conquer China; then they'd have demanded a war with Japan, after which they'd have dethroned you if you didn't annex the Sandwich Islands to the United States, and then bag the whole thing for France. This is what you get for wanting to rule the French people. You can't keep quiet--you've got to have a move on you constantly or they won't have you. Furthermore, you mustn't make 'em laugh except at the other man. You've had luck in that respect, but there's no telling how long it will continue now that you have a son. He's beginning to say funny things, and they're generally at your expense, and one or two people hereabouts have snickered at you already."

"What do you mean?" said Napoleon, with a frown. "What has the boy said about me?"

"He told the Minister of Finance the other night that now that you were the father of a real Emperor's grandson, you had a valid claim to respectability, and he'd bite the head off the first person who said you hadn't," said Fouche.

"Well--that certainly was standing up for his daddy," said the Emperor, fondly.

"Ye-e-es," said Fouche, "but it's one of those double back-action remarks that do more harm than good."

"Well," said Bonaparte, desperately, "let the boy say what he pleases; he's my son, and he has that right. The thing for us to decide is, what shall we do now?"

"There are three things left," said Fouche.

"And they?" asked the Emperor.

"Write Trilby, abdicate, or commit suicide. The first is beyond you. You know enough about Paris, but your style is against you. As for the second, abdication--if you abdicate you may come back, and the trouble will begin all over again. If you commit suicide, you won't have any more rows. The French will be startled, and say that it's a splendid climax, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that some other man will try to please them with the same result."

"It shall be abdication," said the Emperor, with a sigh. "I don't mind suicide, but, hang it, Fouche, if I killed myself I could not read what the papers said about it. As for writing Trilby, it would do more for royalty than for me. Therefore I will go to Fontainebleau and abdicate. I will go into exile at Elba. Exiles are most interesting people, and it may be that I'll have another chance."

This course was taken, and on the 20th of April, 1814, Bonaparte abdicated. His speech to his faithful guard was one of the most affecting farewells in history, and had much to do with the encore which Napoleon received less than a year after. Escorted by four commissioners, one from each of the great allied powers, Austria, Russia, England, and Prussia, and attended by a few attached friends and servants, Bonaparte set out from Paris. The party occupied fourteen carriages, Bonaparte in the first; and as they left the capital the ex-Emperor, leaning out of the window, looked back at the train of conveyances and sighed.

"What, Sire? You sigh?" cried Bertrand.

"Yes, Bertrand, yes. Not for my departed glory, but because I am a living Frenchman, and not a dead Irishman."

"And why so, Sire?" asked Bertrand.

"Because, my friend, of the carriages. There are fourteen in this funeral. Think, Bertrand," he moaned, in a tone rendered doubly impressive by the fact that it reminded one of Henry Irving in one of his most mannered moments. "Think how I should have enjoyed this moment had I been a dead Irishman!"

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CHAPTER IX. THE RISE OF THE EMPIRE1805-1810 "What next?" asked Fouche, the morning after the coronation, as he entered the Emperor's cabinet. "Breakfast," returned Bonaparte, laconically; "what did you suppose? You didn't think I was going swimming in the Seine, did you?" "I never think," retorted Fouche. "That's evident," said Napoleon. "Is the arch-treasurer of my empire up yet? The Empress is going shopping, and wants an appropriation." "He is, Your Majesty," said Fouche, looking at his memorandum-book. "He rose at 7:30, dressed as usual, parted his hair on the left-hand side, and breakfasted at eight. At 8:15