| The Peasant Story Of Napoleon |
FTER THAT, NAPOLEON went to Milan to be crowned king of Italy, and there the grand triumph of the soldier began. Every man who could write was made an officer. Down came pensions; it rained duchies; treasures poured in for the staff which didn't cost France a penny; and the Legion of Honour provided incomes for the private soldiers—of which I receive mine to this day. So here were the armies maintained as never before on this earth. But besides that, the Emperor, knowing that he was to be the emperor of the whole world, bethought him of the bourgeois, and to please them he built fairy monuments, after their own ideas, in places where you'd never think to find any. For instance, suppose you were coming back from Spain and going to Berlin—well, you'd find triumphal arches along the way, with common soldiers sculptured on the stone, every bit the same as generals. In two or three years, and without imposing taxes on any of you, Napoleon filled his vaults with gold, built palaces, made bridges, roads, scholars, fêtes, laws, vessels, harbours, and spent millions upon millions—such enormous sums that he could, so they tell me, have paved France from end to end with five-franc pieces, if he had had a mind to.
"Now, when he sat at ease on his throne, and was master of all, so that Europe waited his permission to do his bidding, he remembered his four brothers and his three sisters, and he said to us, as it might be in conversation, in an order of the day, 'My children, is it right that the blood relations of your Emperor should be begging their bread? No. I wish to see them in splendour like myself. It becomes, therefore, absolutely necessary to conquer a kingdom for each of them—to the end that Frenchmen may be masters over all lands, that the soldiers of the Guard shall make the whole earth tremble, that France may spit where she likes, and that all the nations shall say to her, as it is written on my copper coins, 'God protects you!' 'Agreed!' cried the army. 'We'll go fish for thy kingdoms with our bayonets.' Ha! there was no backing down, don't you see! If he had taken it into his head to conquer the moon, we should have made ready, packed knapsacks, and clambered up; happily, he didn't think of it. The kings of the countries, who liked their comfortable thrones, were, naturally, loath to budge, and had to have their ears pulled; so then—Forward, march! We did march; we got there; and the earth once more trembled to its centre. Hey! the men and the shoes he used up in those days! The enemy dealt us such blows that none but the grand army could have borne the fatigue of it. But you are not ignorant that a Frenchman is born a philosopher, and knows that a little sooner, or a little later, he has got to die. So we were ready to die without a word, for we liked to see the Emperor doing that on the geographies."
Here the narrator nimbly described a circle with his foot on the floor of the barn.
"And Napoleon said, 'There, that's to be a kingdom.' And a kingdom it was. Ha! the good times! The colonels were generals; the generals, marshals; and the marshals, kings. There's one of 'em still on his throne, to prove it to Europe; but he's a Gascon and a traitor to France for keeping that crown; and he doesn't blush for shame as he ought to do, because crowns, don't you see, are made of gold. I who am speaking to you, I have seen, in Paris, eleven kings and a mob of princes surrounding Napoleon like the rays of the sun. You understand, of course, that every soldier had the chance to mount a throne, provided always he had the merit; so a corporal of the Guard was a sight to be looked at as he walked along, for each man had his share in the victory, and 'twas plainly set forth in the bulletin. What victories they were! Austerlitz, where the army manoeuvred as if on parade; Eylau, where we drowned the Russians in a lake, as though Napoleon had blown them into it with the breath of his mouth; Wagram, where the army fought for three days without grumbling. We won as many battles as there are saints in the calendar. It was proved then, beyond a doubt, that Napoleon had the sword of God in his scabbard. The soldiers were his friends; he made them his children; he looked after us, he saw that we had shoes, and shirts, and great-coats, and bread, and cartridges; but he always kept up his majesty; for, don't you see, 'twas his business to reign. No matter for that, however; a sergeant, and even a common soldier, could say to him, 'my Emperor,' just as you say to me sometimes, 'my good friend.' He gave us an answer if we appealed to him; he slept in the snow like the rest of us; and, indeed, he had almost the air of a human man. I who speak to you, I have seen him with his feet among the grape-shot, and no more uneasy than you are now—standing steady, looking through his field-glass, and minding his business. 'Twas that kept the rest of us quiet. I don't know how he did it, but when he spoke he made our hearts burn within us; and to show him we were his children, incapable of balking, didn't we rush at the mouths of the rascally cannon, that belched and vomited shot and shell, without so much as saying, 'Look out!' Why! the dying must needs raise their heads to salute him and cry, 'LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!'
"I ask you, was that natural? would they have done that for a human man?
"Well, after he had settled the world, the Empress Josephine, his wife, a good woman all the same, managed matters so that she did not bear him any children, and he was obliged to give her up, though he loved her considerably. But, you see, he had to have little ones for reasons of state. Hearing of this, all the sovereigns of Europe quarrelled as to which of them should give him a wife. And he married, so they told us, an Austrian archduchess, daughter of Cæsar, an ancient man about whom people talk a good deal, and not in France only—where any one will tell you what he did—but in Europe. It is all true, for I myself who address you at this moment, I have been on the Danube, and have seen the remains of a bridge built by that man, who, it seems, was a relation of Napoleon in Rome, and that's how the Emperor got the inheritance of that city for his son. So after the marriage, which was a fête for the whole world, and in honour of which he released the people of ten years' taxes—which they had to pay all the same, however, because the assessors didn't take account of what he said—his wife had a little one, who was King of Rome. Now, there's a thing that had never been seen on this earth; never before was a child born a king with his father living. On that day a balloon went up in Paris to tell the news to Rome, and that balloon made the journey in one day.
"Now, is there any man among you who will stand up here and declare to me that all that was human? No; it was written above; and may the scurvy seize 'em who deny that he was sent by God himself for the triumph of France!
"Well, here's the Emperor of Russia, that used to be his friend, he gets angry because Napoleon didn't marry a Russian; so he joins with the English, our enemies—to whom our Emperor always wanted to say a couple of words in their burrows, only he was prevented. Napoleon gets angry too; an end had to be put to such doings; so he says to us: 'Soldiers! you have been masters of every capital in Europe, except Moscow, which is now the ally of England. To conquer England, and India which belongs to the English, it becomes our peremptory duty to go to Moscow,' Then he assembled the greatest army that ever trailed its gaiters over the globe; and so marvellously in hand it was that he reviewed a million of men in one day. 'Hourra!' cried the Russians. Down came all Russia and those animals of Cossacks in a flock. 'Twas nation against nation, a general hurly-burly, and beware who could; 'Asia against Europe,' as the Red Man had foretold to Napoleon. 'Enough,' cried the Emperor, 'I'll be ready.'
"So now, sure enough, came all the kings, as the Red Man had said, to lick Napoleon's hand! Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Poland, Italy, every one of them were with us, flattering us; ah, it was fine! The eagles never cawed so loud as at those parades, perched high above the banners of all Europe. The Poles were bursting with joy, because Napoleon was going to release them; and that's why France and Poland are brothers to this day. 'Russia is ours,' cried the army. We plunged into it well-supplied; we marched and we marched—no Russians. At last we found the brutes entrenched on the banks of the Moskva. That's where I won my cross, and I've got the right to say it was a damnable battle. This was how it came about. The Emperor was anxious. He had seen the Red Man, who said to him 'My son, you are going too fast for your feet; you will lack men; friends will betray you.' So the Emperor offered peace. But before signing, 'Let us drub those Russians!' he said to us. 'Done!' cried the army. 'Forward, march!' said the sergeants. My clothes were in rags, my shoes worn out, from trudging along those roads, which are very uncomfortable ones; but no matter! I said to myself, 'As it's the last of our earthquakings, I'll go into it, tooth and nail!' We were drawn up in line before the great ravine—front seats, as 'twere. Signal given; and seven hundred pieces of artillery began a conversation that would bring the blood from your ears. Then—must do justice to one's enemies—the Russians let themselves be killed like Frenchmen; they wouldn't give way; we couldn't advance. 'Forward!' some one cried, 'here comes the Emperor!' True enough; he passed at a gallop, waving his hand to let us know we must take the redoubt. He inspired us; on we ran; I was the first in the ravine. Ha! my God! how the lieutenants fell, and the colonels, and the soldiers! No matter! all the more shoes for those that had none, and epaulets for the clever ones who knew how to read. 'Victory!' cried the whole line; 'Victory!'—and, would you believe it? a thing never seen before, there lay twenty-five thousand Frenchmen on the ground. 'Twas like mowing down a wheat-field; only in place of the ears of wheat put the heads of men! We were sobered by this time—those who were left alive. The MAN rode up; we made the circle round him. Ha! he knew how to cajole his children; he could be amiable when he liked, and feed 'em with words when their stomachs were ravenous with the hunger of wolves. Flatterer! he distributed the crosses himself, he uncovered to the dead, and then he cried to us, 'On! to Moscow!' 'To Moscow!' answered the army.