Our story of his boyhood ends here. For years after he came to young manhood fate seemed against him, and privation held him down. But he broke loose from all entanglements; he surmounted all obstacles; he conquered all adverse circumstances. He rose to power by his own abilities. He led the armies of France to marvellous victories. He became the idol of his soldiers, the hero of the people, the chief man in the nation, the controlling power in Europe; and on the second of December, in the year 1804, he was crowned in the great church of Notre Dame, in Paris, Emperor of the French. "Straw-nose," the poverty-stricken little Corsican, had become the foremost man in all the world!
But through all his marvellous career he never forgot his family. The same love and devotion that he bestowed upon them when a poor boy and a struggling lieutenant, he lavished upon them as general, consul, and emperor. Indeed, to them was due, to a certain extent, his later misfortunes, and his fall from power. The more generous he became, the more selfish did his brothers and sisters grow. For their interests he neglected his own safety and the welfare of France. His unselfishness was, indeed, his greatest selfishness; and the boy who uncomplainingly took his sister's punishment for the theft of the basket of fruit, stood also as the scapegoat for all the mistakes and stupidities and wrong-doings that were due to his self-seeking brothers and sisters, the Bonaparte children of Ajaccio in Corsica.
BY THE WALL OF THE SOLDIERS' HOME.
The Emperor Napoleon had long been dead. A wasting disease and English indignities had worn his life away upon his prison-rock of St. Helena; and, after many years, his body had been brought back to France, and placed beneath a mighty monument in the splendid Home for Invalid Soldiers, in the beautiful city of Paris which he had loved so much, and where his days of greatness and power had been spent.
There, beneath the dome, surrounded by all the life and brilliancy of the great city, he rests. His last wish has been gratified—the wish he expressed in the will he wrote on his prison-rock, so many miles away: "I desire that my ashes shall rest by the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people I have loved so well."
That Home for Invalid Soldiers, in which now stands the tomb of Napoleon, has long been, as its name implies, a home for the maimed and aged veterans who have fought in the armies of France, and received as their portion, wounds, illness,—and glory.
The sun shines brightly upon the walls of the great home; and the war-worn veterans dearly love to bask in its life-giving rays, or to rest in the shade of its towering walls.
It was on a certain morning, many years ago, that I who write these lines—Eugenie Foa, friend to all the boys and girls who love to read of glorious and heroic deeds—was resting upon one of the seats near to the shade-giving walls of the Soldiers' Home. As I sat there, several of the old soldiers placed themselves on the adjoining seat. There were a half-dozen of them—all veterans, grizzled and gray, and ranging from the young veteran of fifty to the patriarch of ninety years.
As is always the case with these scarred old fellows, their talk speedily turned upon the feats at arms at which they had assisted. And this dialogue was so enlivening, so picturesque, so full of the hero-spirit that lingers ever about the walls of that noble building which is a hero's resting-place, that I gladly listened to their talk, and try now to repeat it to you.
"But those Egyptians whom Father Nonesuch, here, helped to conquer," one old fellow said,—"ah, they were great story-tellers! I have read of some of them in a mightily fine book. It was called the 'Tales of the Thousand and One Nights.'"
"Bah!" cried the eldest of the group. "Bah! I say. Your 'Thousand and One Nights,' your fairy stories, all the wonders of nature,"—here he waved his trembling old hand excitedly,—"all these are but as nothing compared with what I have seen."
"Hear him!" exclaimed the young fellow of fifty; "hear old Father Nonesuch, will you, comrades? He thinks, because he has seen the republic, the consulate, the empire, the hundred days, the kingdom"—
"And is not that enough, youngster?" interrupted the old veteran they called Father Nonesuch.
 Perhaps the correct rendering of this nickname would be "The Remnant," and it applies to the battered veteran even better than "Nonesuch."]
He certainly merited the nickname given him by his comrades; for I saw, by glancing at him, that the old veteran had but one leg, one arm, and one eye.
"Enough?" echoed the one called "the youngster," whose grizzled locks showed him to be at least fifty years old, "Enough? Well, perhaps—for you. But, my faith! I cannot see that they were finer than the 'Thousand and one Nights.'"
"Bah!" again cried old Nonesuch contemptuously; "but those were fairy stories, I tell you, youngster,—untrue stories,—pagan stories. But when one can tell, as can I, of stories that are true,—of history—history this—history that—true histories every one—bah!" and, shrugging his shoulders, old Nonesuch tapped upon his neighbor's snuff-box, and, with his only hand, drew out a mighty pinch by way of emphasis.
"Well, what say thou, Nonesuch,—you and your histories?" persisted the young admirer of the "Arabian Nights."
"As for me,—my faith! I like only marvellous."
"And I tell you this, youngster," the old veteran cried, while his voice cracked into a tremble in his excitement, "there is more of the marvellous in the one little finger of my history than in all the characters you can crowd together in your 'Thousand and One Nights.' Bah!—Stephen, boy; light my pipe."
"And what is your history, Father Nonesuch?" demanded "the youngster," while two-armed Stephen, a gray old "boy" of seventy, filled and lighted the old veteran's pipe.
"My history?" cried old Nonesuch, struggling to his feet,—or rather to his foot,—and removing his hat, "it is, my son, that of the Emperor Napoleon!"
And at the word, each old soldier sprang also to his feet, and removed his hat silently and in reverence.
"Why, youngster!" old Father Nonesuch continued, dropping again to the bench, "if one wished to relate about my emperor a thousand and one stories a thousand and one nights; to see even a thousand and one days increased by a thousand and one battles, adding to that a thousand and one victories, one would have a thousand and a million million things —fine, glorious, delightful, to hear. For, remember, comrades," and the old man well-nigh exploded with his mathematical calculation, and the grandeur of his own recollections, "remember you this: I never left the great Napoleon!"
"Ah, yes," another aged veteran chimed in; "ah, yes; he was a great man."
Old Nonesuch clapped his hand to his ear.
"Pardon me, comrade the Corsican," he said, with the air of one who had not heard aright; "excuse my question, but would you kindly tell me whom you call a great man?"
"Whom, old deaf ears? Why, the Emperor Napoleon, of course," replied the Corsican.
Old Nonesuch burst out laughing, and pounded the pavement with his heavy cane.
"To call the emperor a man!" he exclaimed; "and what, then, will you call me?"
"You? why, what should we?" said the Corsican veteran; "old Father Nonesuch, old 'Not Entire,' otherwise, Corporal Francis Haut of Brienne."
"Ah, bah!" cried the persistent veteran; "I do not mean my name, stupid! I mean my quality, my—my title, my—well—my sex,—indeed, what am I?" "Well, what is left of you, I suppose," laughed the Corsican, "we might call a man."
"A man! there you have it exactly!" cried old Nonesuch. "I am a man; and so are you, Corsican, and you, Stephen, and you,—almost so,—youngster. But my emperor—the Emperor Napoleon! was he a man? Away with you! It was the English who invented that story; they did not know what he was capable of, those English! The emperor a man? Bah!"
"What was he, then? A woman?" queried the Corsican.
"Ah, stupid one! where are your wits?" cried old Nonesuch, shaking pipe and cane excitedly. "Are you, then, as dull as those English? Why, the emperor was—the emperor! It is we, his soldiers, who were men."
The Corsican veteran shook his head musingly.
"It may be so; it may be so, good Nonesuch. I do not say no to you," he said. "Ah, my dear emperor! I have seen him often. I knew him when he was small; I knew him when he was grown. I saw him born; I saw him die"—"Halt there!" cried old Nonesuch; "let me stop you once more, good comrade Corsican. Do not make these other 'Not Entires' swallow such impossible and indigestible things. The emperor was never born; the emperor never died; the emperor has always been; the emperor always will be. To prove it," he added quickly, holding up his cane, as he saw that the Corsican was about to protest at this surprising statement, "to prove it, let me tell you. He fought at Constantine; he fought at St. Jean d'Ulloa; he fought at Sebastopol, and was conqueror."
"Come, come, Father Nonesuch!" broke in "the youngster," and others of that group of veterans, "you are surely wandering. It was not the Emperor Napoleon who fought at those places. That was long after he was dead. It was the son of Louis Philippe, the Duke of Nemours, who fought at Constantine; it was the Prince of Joinville who led at Ulloa; and, at Sebastopol, the"—
"Bah!" broke in the old veteran. "You are all owls, you! What if they did? I will not deny either the Duke of Nemours nor the Prince of Joinville, nor Louis Philippe himself. But what then? You need not deny, you youngster, nor you, the other shouters, that when the cannons boom, when the battles rage, when, above all, one is conqueror for France, there is something of my emperor in that. Could they have conquered except for him? Ten thousand bullets! I say. He is everywhere."
"But, see here, Father Nonesuch," protested the Corsican, "you must not deny to me the emperor's birth; for I know, I know all about it. Was not my mother, Saveria, Madame Letitia's servant? Was she not, too, nurse to the little Napoleon? She was, my faith! And she has told me a hundred times all about him. I know of what I speak. Our emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, was born on the fifteenth of August, 1769, and when he was a baby, the cradle not being at hand, he was laid upon a rug in Madame Letitia's room. And on that rug was a fine representation of Mars, the god of war. And because his bed on that rug was on the very spot which represented Mars, that, old Nonesuch, is why our emperor was ever valiant in war. What say you to that?"
"Oh, very well, very well," said old Nonesuch, as if he made a great concession; "if you say so from your own knowledge, if you insist that he was born, let it go so. I admit that he was born. But as to his being dead, eh? Will you insist on that too?"
"And why not?" replied the Corsican, still harping on his personal knowledge of things in Ajaccio. "I knew the Bonapartes well, I tell you. There was the father, Papa Charles, a fine, noble-looking man; and their uncle, the canon—ah! he was a good man. He was short and fat and bald, with little eyes, but with a look like an eagle. And the children! how often I have seen them, though they were older than I—Joseph and Lucien, and little Louis, and Eliza and Pauline and Caroline. Yes; I saw them often. And Napoleon too. They say he never played much. But you knew him at Brienne school, old Nonesuch."
"Yes," nodded the old veteran; "for there my father was the porter."
"He was ever grave and stern, was Napoleon;—not wicked, though"—"No, no; never wicked," broke in old Nonesuch. "I remember his snow-ball fight."
"A fight with snow-balls!" exclaimed the youngster. "Yes; with snow-balls, youngster," replied old None-such.
"Did you never hear of it? But you are too young. Only the Corsican and I can remember that;" and the old man nodded to the Corsican with the superiority of old age over these "babies," as he called the younger veterans. "Let me see," said Nonesuch, crossing his wooden leg over his leg of flesh; "I was the porter's boy at Brienne school. I was there to blacken my shoes—not mine, you understand, but those of the scholars. There was much snow that winter. The scholars could not play in the courts nor out-of-doors. They were forced to walk in the halls. That wearied them, but it rejoiced me. Why? Because I had but few shoes to blacken. They could not get them dirty while they remained indoors. But, look you! one day at recess I saw the scholars all out-of-doors,—all out in the snow. 'Alas! alas! my poor shoes,' said I. It made me sad. I hid behind the greenhouse doors, to see the meaning of this disorder. Then I heard a sudden shout. 'Brooms, brooms! shovels, shovels!' they cried. They rushed into the greenhouse: they took whatever they could find; and one boy, who saw me standing idle, pushed me toward the door, crying, 'Here, lazy-bones! take a shovel, take a broom! Get to work, and help us!'—'Help you do what?' said I. 'To make the fort and roll snow-balls,' he replied. 'Not I; it is too cold,' I answered. Then the boys laughed at me. My faith! to-day I think they were right. Then they tried to push me out-of-doors, I resisted; I would not go. Suddenly appeared one whom I did not know. He said nothing. He simply looked at me. He signed to me to take a broom—to march into the garden—to set to work. And I obeyed. I dared not resist. I did whatever he told me; and, my faith! so, too, did all the boys. 'Is this one a teacher?' I asked one of the scholars. 'He does not look so; he is too small and pale and thin.'—'No,' replied the boy; 'it is Napoleon.'—'And who is Napoleon?' I asked; for at that time I was as ignorant as all of you here. 'Is he our patron? Is he the king? Is he the pope?'—'No; he is Napoleon,' the boy replied again, shrugging his shoulders. I did not ask more. The boy was right. Napoleon was neither boy nor man, patron, king, nor pope; he was Napoleon! You should have seen him while we were working. His hand was pointing continually,—here, there, everywhere,—indicating what he wished to have done; his clear voice was ever explaining or commanding. Then, when we had cut paths in the snow, and had built ramparts, dug trenches, raised fortifications, rolled snow-balls—then the attack began. I had nothing more to do, I looked on. But my heart beat fast; I wished that I might fight also. But I was the porter's son, and did not dare to join in the scholars' play. Every day for a week, while the snow lasted, the war was fought at each recess. Snow-balls flew through the air, striking heads, faces, breasts, backs. The shouting and the tumult gave me great pleasure; but, oh! the shoes I had to blacken! Then I said to myself, 'I wish to be a soldier.' And I kept my word."
THE LITTLE CORPORAL.
"But why," asked the Corsican, as old Nonesuch concluded his story, and all the veterans applauded with cane and boot, "why did you not say, 'I wish to be a general,' and keep your word. Others like you have been soldiers of the emperor—and generals, marshals, princes."
"Yes, Corsican," replied old Nonesuch sadly; "what you say is true. But I will tell you what prevented my advancement. I did not know how to read as well as a lot of the schemers who were in my regiment. In fact," old Nonesuch confessed, "I could not write; I could not read at all."
"Why did you not learn, then, father?" asked one of the veterans, who, because he sat up late every night to read the daily paper, was called by his comrades "the scholar."
"I did try to learn, Mr. Scholar," replied old Nonesuch, taking a pinch of snuff from the Corsican's box; "but indeed it was not in the blood, don't you see? Not one of my family could read or write; and then I saw so much trouble over the pens and the books when I was blackening my boots at Brienne school, that then I had no wish to learn. 'It is all vexation,' I said. And when I became a soldier, what do you suppose prevented my learning?"
"Were your brains shot away, old Nonesuch?" queried the scholar sarcastically.
"My brains, say you!" the old man cried indignantly. "And if they had been, Mr. Scholar, I would still have more than you. No; it was an adventure I had after Austerlitz. Ah, what a battle was that! I had the good luck there to have this leg that I have not now, carried away by a cannon-ball"—
"Good luck! says he," broke in the youngster. "And how good luck, Father Nonesuch?"
"Tut, tut! boys are so impatient," said old Nonesuch with a frown. "Yes, youngster, good luck, said I. Well, one day, after I had my timber-toe put on, the emperor, who always had thoughts for those of his soldiers who had been wounded, gave notice that he had certain small places at his disposal which he wished to distribute among us crippled ones, in order that we might rest from war. Then all of us set to wondering, 'What can I do? What shall I ask for? What do I like best to do?' My wish was never to leave my own general. He was General Junot"—
"Ah, yes! I know of him," said the Corsican. "He married a Corsican girl, Laura Permon, a friend of the Bonaparte children."
"The same," old Nonesuch said, with a nod at his comrade. "Now, I saw that the person who was nearest to my General Junot was his secretary. One day, when I was at Paris, the emperor, I was told, was to review his troops in the courtyard of the Tuileries; so I dressed myself in my best,—it was a grenadier's uniform,—a comrade wrote on a piece of paper my desire; and, with my paper in my hand, I posted myself near a battalion of lancers. 'The emperor will see me here,' said I. In truth, he did come; he did see me. He came towards me, and, with the look that pierced me through,—ten thousand bullets! as the plough cuts through the ground,—'Are you not an Egyptian, my grenadier?' he asked me. (You know, Corsican, he called all of us Egyptians who had fought with him in Egypt.) 'Yes, my Emperor,' I replied, so glorified to see that he recognized me, that, my faith! my heart swelled and swelled, so that I thought it would crack with pride, and burst my coat open. The emperor took the paper I held out toward him. He read it. 'So, so, my Egyptian! you wish to be a secretary, eh?'—'Yes, my Emperor,' I answered. 'Do you know how to read and write?' said he. 'Eh? Why! I know not if I know,' said I. 'What! You do not know if you know?' he repeated. 'Why, no, my Emperor,' said I; 'for, look you! I have never tried; but perhaps I do know.' The emperor pulled my ear, as much as to say, 'Well, here is an odd one!' 'But,' said he, 'to be a secretary one must know how to read and write, comrade.' He called me his comrade, see you—me, who had blackened his shoes at Brienne. I was the emperor's comrade. He had said it. The tears came to my eyes for joy. 'Ah, then, my Emperor, let us say no more about it,' said I. 'But if you would promise to learn,' said he. 'Oh, as for that, my Emperor,' I answered, 'by the faith of an Egyptian of the guard, second division, first battalion! I do not promise it to you.'—'Then ask me something else,' said he. I hesitated. I did not know how to say just what I wished to ask; for it was worth to me very much more than the place of secretary. 'Come, then, comrade; speak quickly,' said the emperor; 'what is it you wish?'—'I wish, my Emperor,' I stammered, 'to press my lips to your hand.'"
"Ho! was that all?" cried the youngster.
"All!" echoed the Nonesuch, turning upon the youngest veteran a look of scorn. "All! It was more than anything!"
"Well, and what said the emperor?" asked Stephen breathlessly.
"He said nothing," responded Nonesuch. "He smiled; then instantly I felt his hand in mine. I wonder I did not die with joy. I kissed his hand. He grasped mine firmly. 'Thanks, my comrade,' he said. 'My Emperor,' I said, 'I promise you never to learn to read and write.' And I said no more. And that, comrades, is why I never learned."
"Which hand was it?" asked the youngster with interest.
"This one, thank God!" cried the veteran. "The other I lost at Jena. No, I never learned to write; the hand that the emperor had clasped in his should never, I vowed, be dishonored by a pen. I look at this hand with veneration. See! it has been pressed by my emperor. I love it; I honor it. Indeed, at one time I thought of cutting it off,—that was before Jena,—and putting it in a frame, that I might have it always before my eyes. But my General Junot, to whom I told my plan, said that then it would be spoiled forever, and that the only way not to lose sight of it was to let it always hang to my arm; thus, he said, it would always be beside me. That is how you see it still, comrades. To write, to write—bah! It always troubles me," old Nonesuch continued musingly, as he regarded his precious hand, "when I see those poor fellows, their noses over a bit of paper, their bodies bent double! Writing is not a man's proper state; it does not agree with his valiant and warlike nature. Talk to me of a charge, of an onset! that is the true vocation; that is why the good God created the human race. One—two—three—shoulder arms! that is clear; that is easily understood. But to study a dozen letters; to remember which is b and which is o, and that b and o make bo! that is not meant for the head. I prefer to read a battle with my musket and my sword. Pif! paf! pouf! that is the way I read. And now that I can read no more, I have but one pleasure,—to tell of my battles. Is not that better than your 'Thousand and One Nights,' youngster?"
"You have, indeed, much to tell, old Nonesuch," replied the youngster guardedly, "and you have, indeed, seen much."
"Ah, have I not, though!" old Nonesuch responded. "Do you not remember, Corsican, in the third year of the republic, as our government was then called, how the word came: 'The English are in Toulon! Soldiers of France, you must dislodge them!'?"
"Ah, do I not, old Nonesuch! I was a conscript then," replied the Corsican.
"So, too, was I," said the old veteran. "We marched to Toulon. The next day there was an action. I ate a kind of small pills I had never tasted at Paris. The English and the French kept up a conversation with these sugar-plums. Our dialogue went on for days. They would toss their sugar-plums into the town; we would throw these plums back to them, especially into one bonbon box. You remember that box—that fort, Corsican, do you not?"
"What, the Little Gibraltar?" queried the Corsican.
"The same," replied old Nonesuch, "for so the English called it. But they had to give it up. We filled the Little Gibraltar so full of our sugar-plums that the English had to get out. Then it was that I saw a thin little captain at the guns. I knew him at once. It was Bonaparte of Brienne school. This is what he did. An artillery man was killed while charging his piece. I do not know how many had been cut off at that same gun. It was warm—it was hot there, I can tell you! No one wished to approach it. Then my little captain—my Bonaparte of Brienne—dashed at the gun. He loaded it; he was not killed. Oh, what a pleasure-party that was! There he met two other tough ones like himself,—Duroc and Junot. Ah, that Junot! He became my general later. He was a cool joker. Napoleon wished some one to write for him. He asked for a corporal or a sergeant who could write and stand fire at the same time. Sergeant Junot came to him. 'Write!' said Napoleon. And as Junot wrote, look you a cannon-ball ploughed the earth at his feet, and scattered the dirt over his paper. 'Good!' cried this Junot, never looking up from his paper. 'I needed sand to blot my ink.' That made Napoleon his friend forever. Then those in power at Paris took offence at something Napoleon did. They called him back to Paris. He was disgraced. But he had courage, had my Napoleon. He cared nothing for those stupid ones at Paris. 'I will make them see,' said he, 'that I am master.' He took post for Paris. Everything was wrong there. Every one was hungry. They fought for bread, as horses when there is no hay in the rack. Then, crack! Napoleon came. In two moves he had established order. Then who so great as he? He was made general. He was sent to Italy. He fought at Lodi. You remember Lodi, Corsican?"
"Ha! the fight on the bridge; do I not, though!" the Corsican answered excitedly. "It was there he led everything; it was there he conquered everything; it was there he sighted the cannon against the Austrians; it was there he led us straight across the bridge; it was there we cheered for him, and called him the 'Little Corporal!'"
"Eh, was it not! Cheer for the Little Corporal, comrades!" cried old Nonesuch, swinging his hat; and all the veterans sprang up, and stamped and shouted: "Long live the Little Corporal!"
"As he has!" said old Nonesuch. "See you, Corsican! what said I? The emperor lives, I tell you!"
"And that was Italy, was it?" said the scholar.
"Yes; that was Italy," the veteran replied. "It was there we were going; and, with our Little Corporal to lead us, turned everything into victory."
"Tell us of it, Father Nonesuch," demanded the youngster.
"Yes; tell us of it," echoed the younger veterans, their scarred old faces full of interest and excitement. "I will, my children. It was thus, you see,"—puff—puff, "eh—Stephen, fill my pipe again!"
So Stephen filled the old fellow's pipe again, and set it aglow; and all the others waited, silently watchful, until, after a few puffs and whiffs, the old veteran began again.
"LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!"
"It was thus, you see," said old Nonesuch, crossing his legs—the wooden one over the good one. "At that time our army in Italy was destitute of everything. We had nothing—no bread, no ammunition, no shoes, no coats. Ah, it was a poor army we were then! The people at Paris, called the Directory, were worried over our condition. The army must have bread, ammunition, shoes, coats, they said. We must send one to look after this. And, as I told you, they sent Napoleon. It was in March, in the year 1796, that he came to us at Nice. We were near by, in camp at Abbenya. There the new general held his first review. He looked at us; he pitied us. 'Soldiers!' he said to us, 'you are naked; you are badly fed. The government owes you much; it can give you nothing. You are in need of everything,—boots, bread, soup! Well, I will lead you into the most fertile plains in the world. I have come to take you into a country where you will find everything in plenty,—dollars, cattle, roast-meat, salads, honor, palaces, what you will. Soldiers of Italy, how do you like that?'"
"Ah! but that was grand," cried the youngster; "and you said?"
"We said, 'How do we like it, my general? Ten thousand bullets! March you at our head, and you will see how we like it.' His words gave us new heart; his promises seemed already to clothe us. We were ragged and tired; but it seemed, after that speech, as if we walked on air, and were dressed in silken robes. Forward, march! Boom—boom—boom! Ta-ra, ta-ra-ra! Hear the drums! See us marching! We marched through the day; we marched through the night. We were faint with hunger, but we marched. We were at Montenotte on the eleventh of April. We whacked the Austrians,—famous men, nevertheless; well furnished, good fighters! But, bah! what was that to us? We whacked them at Montenotte. They ran; we after them. We fell upon then at Millesimo, at Dego, at Mondovi, at Cherasco. We had a taste of the glory of being conquerors. We routed the Austrians in those fights that were called 'the Five Days' Campaign.' We had brave generals with us; and we had Napoleon! From the heights of Ceva he showed us the plains of Italy,—the rich, well-watered land which he had promised us. Then we crossed the Alps. Mighty mountains! Bah! what of that? We were Frenchmen; we had Napoleon! We turned the flank of the Alps. We fought at Fombio; we fought on the bridge of Lodi; we marched into Milan. We were Frenchmen; we had Napoleon! In fact, we conquered Italy! We fought at Arcola; we conquered at Rivoli. Then who so great as the Little Corporal? We planted the eagles upon the lion of Saint Mark, at Venice—a famous lion, nevertheless. But who could resist us? We had Napoleon! Then we returned to Toulon. Then Napoleon said, 'Soldiers! two years ago you had nothing. I made promises to you; have I kept them?'—'You have; you have, my general!' every man of us shouted. 'Will you follow me again?' said Napoleon. 'To the death, my general!' we shouted once more. Behold us now embarked in ships. 'And now, what place are we to conquer?' we asked our generals. 'Egypt,' they answered. 'It is well,' we said. 'We will go to Egypt; we will take Egypt.'
"My faith! but you were brave, you old soldiers," cried the youngster with enthusiasm. "But think of it, then! To Egypt!"
"Well, we took Egypt," resumed old Nonesuch. "We were Frenchmen. We had Napoleon! And after that we undertook another little campaign in Italy. Then we returned to France, our beautiful France, to install ourselves in the Tuileries. Eh!"—puff—puff,—"Light my pipe, Stephen!"
And Stephen again lighted the old veteran's pipe.
"Yes; in the Tuileries"—puff—puff. "We gave ourselves up to fetes. Ah! there were grand times—each one finer than the other. One might call them fetes indeed! Death of my life! Who was it said just now that the emperor was a man? Why, look you! his enemies—those villains of traitors—tried to kill him. They plotted against him. But, bah! they could not. He rode over infernal machines as if they were roses. They could not kill him. Those things are for men—for little kings. He was Napoleon!"
"And at last he was crowned emperor," suggested the youngster.
"Yes; on the second of December, in the year 1804," answered old Nonesuch. "And the Pope himself came from Rome to consecrate our emperor. Ah, then, what fetes, my comrades! what fetes and fetes and fetes! It rained kings on all sides."
"But there came an end of fetes" said the scholar, who read in books and newspapers.
"Well, what would you have?—always feasting? Perhaps you think that our emperor once an emperor, would rest at home. Yes? Well, that would have been good for you and me; but he had still to undertake battles and victories,—battles and victories; they were the same thing! We were at Austerlitz; there I left this leg. At Jena; there I dropped this hand. Then came the peace, made upon the raft at Tilsit; then the war in Spain—a villanous war, and one I did not like at all. Napoleon was not there. Where he was not, the sun did not shine. Then we returned to Paris. The emperor married a grand princess. He had a son—a baby son—the King of Rome! Then, too, what fetes! A fine child the King of Rome! I saw him often in his little goat-carriage at the Tuileries. I do not know what has become of him. They say he is dead; but I do not believe that, any more than I believe that my emperor is dead. Two deaths? Bah! old women's stories,—witch stories, good only to frighten children to sleep. When my emperor and his son come back, we shall be amazed that we ever believed them dead!"
"But he disappeared—the emperor disappeared—he vanished," persisted the scholar.
"Yes; he disappeared," the veteran admitted. "For after that came the Russian Campaign. Ah, but it was a cold one! Such snow, such ice; so cold, so cold! It was then I lost my eye. My leg I left at Austerlitz, my arm at Jena; my eye I dropped somewhere in the Beresina,—so much the better. I could not see that freeze-out. Then they sent me here. And since that I do not know what has happened. They tell me—you tell me—much. But to believe such foolish stories! Bah! I am not a baby. They tell me that the emperor—my emperor—was exiled to Elba; that he returned again to France; that he reigned a hundred days; that a battle was fought at—where was it?"
"Waterloo," suggested the scholar.
"Eh, yes, you say, at Waterloo; and you say we lost it? As if we could lose a battle, and Napoleon there! Then you will say that the empire was no longer an empire, but a kingdom; and that he who governed was called Louis the Eighteenth, and others after him, but not my emperor. Bah! foolish stories all!"
"But they are true, old Nonesuch," said the youngster sadly.
"Yes; they are true," echoed the other veterans. And the scholar added, "Yes; and your emperor was banished by those rascal English to a rock—the rock of St. Helena—a horrid rock, miles and miles out in the ocean. But he is here among us again." The Soldiers' Home, in the midst of his veterans, in the heart of his beautiful Paris.
Old soldiers are apt to be boastful when they tell, as did the Nonesuch, of the deeds of a leader whom they so often followed to victory. Madame Foa's pen has long since stopped its task of writing of French heroism for the boys and girls of France; but it never wrote anything more attractive or inspiring than the delicious bit of boasting that it put into the mouth of this dear and battered old veteran of Napoleon's wars,—Corporal Nonesuch of the Soldiers' Home.
For, if the American boys and girls who have followed this story will read, as I trust they will, the entire life-story of this marvellous man,—Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French,—they will learn that much of the boasting of old Nonesuch was true story, as he assured his comrades; while some of it, too, was,—let us say, the exaggeration of enthusiasm.
But there was much in the career of the great Napoleon to inspire enthusiasm. The determined and persistent way in which, while but a boy, he climbed steadily up, using the obstacles in his path but as the rounds of a ladder to lift him higher, affords a lesson of pluck and energy that every boy and girl can take to heart; while the story of his later career, through the rapid changes that made him general, consul, conqueror, emperor, is as full of interest, marvel, and romance as any of those wonder-stories of the "Arabian Nights" for which "the youngster" expressed so much admiration, but which old Nonesuch so contemptuously cast aside.
There were dark sides to his character; there were shadows on his career, there were blots on his name. Ambition, selfishness, and the love of success, were alike his inspiration and his ruin. But, with these, he possessed also the qualities that led men to follow him enthusiastically and love him devotedly.
But people do not all see things alike in this world; and since the downfall and death of Napoleon, those who recall his name have either enshrined him as a hero or vilified him as a monster. Whichever side in this controversy you make take as, when you grow older, you read and ponder over the story of Napoleon, you will, I am sure, be ready to admit his greatness as an historic character his ability as a soldier, his energy as a ruler, and his eminence as a man. And in these you will see but the logical outgrowth of his self-reliance, his determination, and his pluck as a boy, when on the rocky shore of Corsica, or in the schools of France, he was turned aside by no obstacle, and conquered neither by privation nor persecution, but pressed steadily forward to his great and matchless career as leader, soldier, and ruler—the most commanding figure of the nineteenth century. I did not like at all. Napoleon was not there. Where he was not, the sun did not shine. Then we returned to Paris. The emperor married a grand princess. He had a son—a baby son—the King of Rome! Then, too, what fetes! A fine child the King of Rome! I saw him often in his little goat-carriage at the Tuileries. I do not know what has become of him. They say he is dead; but I do not believe that, any more than I believe that my emperor is dead. Two deaths? Bah! old women's stories,—witch stories, good only to frighten children to sleep. When my emperor and his son come back, we shall be amazed that we ever believed them dead!"
"But he disappeared—the emperor disappeared—he vanished," persisted the scholar.
"Yes; he disappeared," the veteran admitted. "For after that came the Russian Campaign. Ah, but it was a cold one! Such snow, such ice; so cold, so cold! It was then I lost my eye. My leg I left at Austerlitz, my arm at Jena; my eye I dropped somewhere in the Beresina,—so much the better. I could not see that freeze-out.