| The Peasant Story Of Napoleon |
OU SEE, MY friends, Napoleon was born in Corsica, a French island, warmed by the sun of Italy, where it is like a furnace, and where the people kill each other, from father to son, all about nothing: that's a way they have. To begin with the marvel of the thing—his mother, who was the handsomest woman of her time, and a knowing one, bethought herself of dedicating him to God, so that he might escape the dangers of his childhood and future life; for she had dreamed that the world was set on fire the day he was born. And, indeed, it was a prophecy! So she asked God to protect him, on condition that Napoleon should restore His holy religion, which was then cast to the ground. Well, that was agreed upon, and we shall see what came of it.
"Follow me closely, and tell me if what you hear is in the nature or man.
"Sure and certain it is that none but a man who conceived the idea of making a compact with God could have passed unhurt through the enemy's lines, through cannon-balls, and discharges of grape-shot that swept the rest of us off like flies, and always respected his head. I had proof of that—I myself—at Eylau. I see him now, as he rode up a height, took his field-glass, looked at the battle, and said, 'All goes well.' One of those plumed busybodies, who plagued him considerably and followed him everywhere, even to his meals, so they said, thought to play the wag, and took the Emperor's place as he rode away. Ho! in a twinkling, head and plume were off! You must understand that Napoleon had promised to keep the secret of his compact all to himself. That's why all those who followed him, even his nearest friends, fell like nuts—Duroc, Bessières, Lannes—all strong as steel bars, though he could bend them as he pleased. Besides—to prove he was the child of God, and made to be the father of soldiers—was he ever known to be lieutenant or captain? No, no; commander-in-chief from the start. He didn't look to be more than twenty-four years of age when he was an old general at the taking of Toulon, where he first began to show the others that they knew nothing about manoeuvring cannon.
"After that, down came our slip of a general to command the grand army of Italy, which hadn't bread, nor munitions, nor shoes, nor coats—a poor army, as naked as a worm. 'My friends,' said he, 'here we are together. Get it into your pates that fifteen days from now you will be conquerors—new clothes, good gaiters, famous shoes, and every man with a great-coat; but, my children, to get these things you must march to Milan, where they are.' And we marched. France, crushed as flat as a bed-bug, straightened up. We were thirty thousand bare-feet against eighty thousand Austrian bullies, all fine men, well set-up. I see 'em now! But Napoleon—he was then only Bonaparte—he knew how to put the courage into us! We marched by night, and we marched by day; we slapped their faces at Montenotte, we thrashed them at Rivoli, Lodi, Arcole, Millesimo, and we never let 'em up. A soldier gets the taste of conquest. So Napoleon whirled round those Austrian generals, who didn't know where to poke themselves to get out of his way, and he pelted 'em well—nipped off ten thousand men at a blow sometimes, by getting round them with fifteen hundred Frenchmen, and then he gleaned as he pleased. He took their cannon, their supplies, their money, their munitions, in short, all they had that was good to take. He fought them and beat them on the mountains, he drove them into the rivers and seas, he bit 'em in the air, he devoured 'em on the ground, and he lashed 'em everywhere. Hey! the grand army feathered itself well; for, d'ye see the Emperor, who was a wit, called up the inhabitants and told them he was there to deliver them. So after that the natives lodged and cherished us; the women too, and very judicious they were. Now here's the end of it. In Ventose, '96—in those times that was the month of March of to-day—we lay cuddled in a corner of Savoie with the marmots; and yet, before that campaign was over, we were masters of Italy, just as Napoleon had predicted; and by the following March—in a single year and two campaigns—he had brought us within sight of Vienna. 'Twas a clean sweep. We devoured their armies, one after the other, and made an end of four Austrian generals. One old fellow, with white hair, was roasted like a rat in the straw at Mantua. Kings begged for mercy on their knees! Peace was won.
"Could a man have done that? No; God helped him, to a certainty!
"He divided himself up like the loaves in the Gospel, commanded the battle by day, planned it by night; going and coming, for the sentinels saw him—never eating, never sleeping. So, seeing these prodigies, the soldiers adopted him for their father. Forward, march! Then those others, the rulers in Paris, seeing this, said to themselves: 'Here's a bold one that seems to get his orders from the skies; he's likely to put his paw on France. We must let him loose on Asia; we will send him to America, perhaps that will satisfy him.' But 't was written above for him, as it was for Jesus Christ. The command went forth that he should go to Egypt. See, again, his resemblance to the Son of God. But that's not all. He called together his best veterans, his fire-eaters, the ones he had particularly put the devil into, and he said to them like this: 'My friends, they have given us Egypt to chew up, just to keep us busy, but we'll swallow it whole in a couple of campaigns, as we did Italy. The common soldiers shall be princes and have the land for their own. Forward, march!' 'Forward, march!' cried the sergeants, and there we were at Toulon, road to Egypt. At that time the English had all their ships in the sea; but when we embarked, Napoleon said: 'They won't see us. It is just as well that you should know from this time forth that your general has got his star in the sky, which guides and protects us.' What was said was done. Passing over the sea, we took Malta like an orange, just to quench his thirst for victory; for he was a man who couldn't live and do nothing.
"So here we are in Egypt. Good. Once here, other orders. The Egyptians, d'ye see, are men who, ever since the earth was, have had giants for sovereigns, and armies as numerous as ants; for, you must understand, that's the land of genii and crocodiles, where they've built pyramids as big as our mountains, and buried their kings under them to keep them fresh—an idea that pleased 'em mightily. So then, after we disembarked, the Little Corporal said to us: 'My children, the country you are going to conquer has a lot of gods that you must respect; because Frenchmen ought to be friends with everybody, and fight the nations without vexing the inhabitants. Get it into your skulls that you are not to touch anything at first, for it is all going to be yours soon. Forward, march!' So far, so good. But all those people of Africa, to whom Napoleon was foretold under the name of Kébir-Bonaberdis—a word of their lingo that means 'the sultan fires'—were afraid as the devil of him. So the Grand Turk, and Asia, and Africa had recourse to magic. They sent us a demon, named the Mahdi, supposed to have descended from heaven on a white horse, which, like its master, was bullet-proof; and both of them lived on air, without food to support them. There are some that say they saw them; but I can't give you any reasons to make you certain about that. The rulers of Arabia and the Mamelukes tried to make their troopers believe that the Mahdi could keep them from perishing in battle; and they pretended he was an angel sent from heaven to fight Napoleon and get back Solomon's seal. Solomon's seal was part of their paraphernalia which they vowed our general had stolen. You must understand that we'd given 'em a good many wry faces, in spite of what he had said to us.
"Now, tell me how they knew that Napoleon had a pact with God? Was that natural, d'ye think?