| The Peasant Story Of Napoleon |
HEY HELD TO it in their minds that Napoleon commanded the genii, and could pass hither and thither in the twinkling of an eye, like a bird. The fact is, he was everywhere. At last, it came to his carrying off a queen beautiful as the dawn, for whom he had offered all his treasure, and diamonds as big as pigeon's eggs—a bargain which the Mameluke to whom she particularly belonged positively refused, although he had several others. Such matters when they come to that pass, can't be settled without a great many battles; and, indeed, there was no scarcity of battles; there was fighting enough to please everybody. We were in line at Alexandria, at Gizeh, and before the Pyramids; we marched in the sun and through the sand, where some, who had the dazzles, saw water that they couldn't drink, and shade where their flesh was roasted. But we made short work of the Mamelukes; and everybody else yielded at the voice of Napoleon, who took possession of Upper and Lower Egypt, Arabia, and even the capitals of kingdoms that were no more, where there were thousands of statues and all the plagues of Egypt, more particularly lizards—a mammoth of a country where everybody could take his acres of land for as little as he pleased. Well, while Napoleon was busy with his affairs inland—where he had it in his head to do fine things—the English burned his fleet at Aboukir; for they were always looking about them to annoy us. But Napoleon, who had the respect of the East and of the West, whom the Pope called his son, and the cousin of Mohammed called 'his dear father,' resolved to punish England, and get hold of India in exchange for his fleet. He was just about to take us across the Red Sea into Asia, a country where there are diamonds and gold to pay the soldiers and palaces for bivouacs, when the Mahdi made a treaty with the plague, and sent it down to hinder our victories. Halt! The army to a man defiled at that parade; and few they were who came back on their feet. Dying soldiers couldn't take Saint-Jean d'Acre, though they rushed at it three times with generous and martial obstinacy. The Plague was the strongest. No saying to that enemy, 'My good friend.' Every soldier lay ill. Napoleon alone was fresh as a rose, and the whole army saw him drinking in pestilence without its doing him a bit of harm.
"Ha! my friends! will you tell me that that's in the nature of a mere man?
"The Mamelukes, knowing we were all in the ambulances, thought they could stop the way; but that sort of joke wouldn't do with Napoleon. So he said to his demons, his veterans, those that had the toughest hide, 'Go, clear me the way.' Junot, a sabre of the first cut, and his particular friend, took a thousand men, no more, and ripped up the army of the pacha who had had the presumption to put himself in the way. After that, we came back to headquarters at Cairo. Now, here's another side of the story. Napoleon absent, France was letting herself be ruined by the rulers in Paris, who kept back the pay of the soldiers of the other armies, and their clothing, and their rations; left them to die of hunger, and expected them to lay down the law to the universe without taking any trouble to help them. Idiots! who amused themselves by chattering, instead of putting their own hands in the dough. Well, that's how it happened that our armies were beaten, and the frontiers of France were encroached upon: THE MAN was nor there. Now observe, I say man because that's what they called him; but 'twas nonsense, for he had a star and all its belongings; it was we who were only men. He taught history to France after his famous battle of Aboukir, where, without losing more than three hundred men, and with a single division, he vanquished the grand army of the Turk, seventy-five thousand strong, and hustled more than half of it into the sea, r-r-rah!
"That was his last thunder-clap in Egypt. He said to himself, seeing the way things were going in Paris, 'I am the saviour of France; I know it, and I must go.' But, understand me, the army didn't know he was going, or they'd have kept him by force and made him Emperor of the East. So now we were sad; for He was gone who was all our joy. He left the command to Kléber, a big mastiff, who came off duty at Cairo, assassinated by an Egyptian, whom they put to death by empaling him on a bayonet; that's the way they guillotine people down there. But it makes 'em suffer so much that a soldier had pity on the criminal and gave him his canteen; and then, as soon as the Egyptian had drunk his fill, he gave up the ghost with all the pleasure in life. But that's a trifle we couldn't laugh at then. Napoleon embarked in a cockleshell, a little skiff that was nothing at all, though 'twas called 'Fortune;' and in a twinkling, under the nose of England, who was blockading him with ships of the line, frigates, and anything that could hoist a sail, he crossed over, and there he was in France. For he always had the power, mind you, of crossing the seas at one straddle.
"Was that a human man? Bah!
"So, one minute he is at Fréjus, the next in Paris. There, they all adore him; but he summons the government. 'What have you done with my children, the soldiers?' he says to the lawyers. 'You're a mob of rascally scribblers; you are making France a mess of pottage, and snapping your fingers at what people think of you. It won't do; and I speak the opinion of everybody.' So, on that, they wanted to battle with him and kill him—click! he had 'em locked up in barracks, or flying out of windows, or drafted among his followers, where they were as mute as fishes and as pliable as a quid of tobacco. After that stroke—consul! And then, as it was not for him to doubt the Supreme Being, he fulfilled his promise to the good God, who, you see, had kept His word to him. He gave Him back His churches, and reestablished His religion; the bells rang for God and for him: and lo! everybody was pleased; primo, the priests, whom he saved from being harassed; secundo, the bourgeois, who thought only of their trade, and no longer had to fear the rapiamus of the law, which had got to be unjust; tertio, the nobles, for he forbade they should be killed, as, unfortunately, the people had got the habit of doing.
"But he still had the Enemy to wipe out; and he wasn't the man to go to sleep at a mess-table, because, d'ye see, his eye looked over the whole earth as if it were no bigger than a man's head. So then he appeared in Italy, like as though he had stuck his head through the window. One glance was enough. The Austrians were swallowed up at Marengo like so many gudgeons by a whale! Ouf! The French eagles sang their pæans so loud that all the world heard them—and it sufficed! 'We won't play that game any more,' said the German. 'Enough, enough!' said all the rest. To sum up: Europe backed down, England knocked under. General peace; and the kings and the peoples made believe kiss each other. That's the time when the Emperor invented the Legion of Honour—and a fine thing, too. 'In France'—this is what he said at Boulogne before the whole army—'every man is brave. So the citizen who does a fine action shall be sister to the soldier, and the soldier shall be his brother, and the two shall be one under the flag of honour.'
"We, who were down in Egypt, now came home. All was changed! He left us general, and hey! in a twinkling we found him EMPEROR. France gave herself to him, like a fine girl to a lancer. When it was done—to the satisfaction of all, as you may say—a sacred ceremony took place, the like of which was never seen under the canopy of the skies. The Pope and the cardinals, in their red and gold vestments, crossed the Alps expressly to crown him before the army and the people, who clapped their hands. There is one thing that I should do very wrong not to tell you. In Egypt, in the desert close to Syria, the RED MAN came to him on the Mount of Moses, and said, 'All is well.' Then, at Marengo, the night before the victory, the same Red Man appeared before him for the second time, standing erect and saying: 'Thou shalt see the world at thy feet; thou shalt be Emperor of France, King of Italy, master of Holland, sovereign of Spain, Portugal, and the Illyrian provinces, protector of Germany, saviour of Poland, first eagle of the Legion of Honour—all.' This Red Man, you understand, was his genius, his spirit—a sort of satellite who served him, as some say, to communicate with his star. I never really believed that. But the Red Man himself is a true fact. Napoleon spoke of him, and said he came to him in troubled moments, and lived in the palace of the Tuileries under the roof. So, on the day of the coronation, Napoleon saw him for the third time; and they were in consultation over many things.