There are scenes which are perhaps better left to the imagination, so I shall not attempt to describe my first heartbreaking meeting with my widowed mother and my brothers. You can picture it for yourselves.
My mother had a rather pretty country house at Carrire, near the forest of Saint-Germain. I spent two months there with her, my uncle Canrobert, who had returned from emigration, and an old knight of Malta, M. d'Estresse, a friend of my late father. Adolphe was not in Paris, he was in Rennes with Bernadotte, the commander-in-chief of the army of the west, but my younger brothers and M. Gault came to see us from time to time. In spite of the kindness and shows of affection which were lavished on me, I fell into a state of sombre melancholy, and my health deteriorated. I had suffered so much, physically and mentally! I became incapable of doing any work. Reading which I had always loved became insupportable. I spent the greater part of the day alone in the forest, where I lay in the shade absorbed in my sorrowful reflections. In the evenings, I accompanied my mother, my uncle, and the old knight on their usual walk along the bank of the Seine; but I took very little part in the conversation, and hid from them my sad thoughts, which revolved always about my poor father, dying for want of proper care. Although my condition alarmed my mother, Canrobert, and M. d'Estresse, they had the good sense not to make matters worse by any remarks which would have only irritated a sick mind, but they sought gradually to chase away the unhappy memories which were so affecting me by bringing forward the holidays of my two younger brothers, who came to live with us in the country. The presence of these two children, whom I dearly loved, eased my mind of its sorrows, by the care I took to make their stay at Carrire a happy one. I took them to Versailles, to Maisons and to Marly, and their childish happiness slowly brought back to life my spirits which had been so cruelly crushed by misfortune. Who could have thought that these two children, so lovely and full of life would soon be no more?
The end of the autumn of 1800 was approaching; my mother went back to Paris, my young brothers went back to school, and I was ordered to join Bernadotte at Rennes.
Bernadotte had been my father's best friend, and my father had helped him in various ways on many occasions. In recognition of the debt owed to my family, he had written to me saying that he had reserved a place for me as his aide-de-camp. I received this letter at Nice when I returned from Genoa, and on the strength of it, I refused an offer from General Massna to take me on as a permanent aide-de-camp, and to allow me to spend several months with my mother before joining him and the army of Italy.
My father had arranged that my brother Adolphe should continue his studies in order to enter the polytechnic; so he was not a soldier when my father died; but on hearing this sad news, he rebelled at the thought that his younger brother was already an officer, and had been in action, while he was still on a school bench. He gave up the studies required for the technical arms, and opted to join the infantry instead, which allowed him to leave school.
He was presented with a good opportunity. The government had ordered a new regiment to be raised in the department of the Seine. The officers for this regiment were to be selected by General Lefebvre, who, as you know, had replaced my father in command of the Paris division. General Lefebvre was only too pleased to do something for the son of one of his old companions who had died in the service of his country; he therefore awarded my brother the rank of sous-lieutenant in this new unit. So far, so good! But instead of going to join his company, and without waiting for my return from Genoa, Adolphe hurried off to General Bernadotte, who, without further ado, handed the vacant post to the first brother to arrive, as if it was the prize in a race! So when I went to join the general staff at Rennes, I learned that my brother had been gazetted as permanent aide-de-camp, and I was only a supernumerary, that is to say temporary. I was very disappointed, because, had I expected this, I would have accepted the proposal made by General Massna. But this opportunity had now passed. It was in vain that General Bernadotte assured me that he would obtain an increase in the establishment of his aides-de-camp, I did not think this likely, and was convinced that I would soon be moved elsewhere.
Bernadotte's staff was made up of officers who nearly all reached senior positions; four were already colonels. The most outstanding was, undoubtedly, Grard. He was very clever, brave and had a natural talent for warfare. He was under the command of Marshal Grouchy at Waterloo, and gave him some sound advice, which could have led us to victory. Out of the eleven aides-de-camp attached to Bernadotte's staff, two became marshals, three lieutenant-generals, four were brigadiers and one was killed in action.
In the winter of 1800, Portugal, backed by the English, had declared war on Spain, and the French government had resolved to support the latter. In consequence, troops were sent to Bayonne and Bordeaux, and the companies of Grenadiers who belonged to various regiments scattered throughout Brittany and the Vende were gathered together at Tours. This corps d'lite was intended to be the nucleus of the so-called army of Portugal, which Bernadotte was destined to command. The general had to move his headquarters to Tours; to where had to be sent all his horses and equipment, as well all that was required for the officers attached to his service. But the general, partly to receive his final orders from the First Consul and partly to take Madame Bernadotte back, had to go to Paris; and as it was customary in these circumstances during the absence of the general for the officers of his staff to be permitted to go and take leave of their families, it was decided that all the permanent aides could go to Paris, and that the supernumeraries would go to Tours with the baggage to supervise the servants, pay them every month, arrange with the supply commission for the distribution of forage, and the allotment of lodgings for the great number of men and horses. This disagreeable duty fell to me and my fellow supernumerary Lieutenant Maurin.
In the depths of winter and the most atrocious weather, we made on horseback the long eight days journey from Rennes to Tours, where we had all sorts of difficulties in setting up the headquarters. We had been told that we would not be there for much more than a fortnight, but we stayed there, bored stiff, for six weary months, while our comrades were disporting themselves in the capital. That was a foretaste of the unpleasant duties which fell to me as a supernumerary aide-de-camp. So ended the year 1800, during which I had undergone so much mental and physical suffering.
The town of Tours had many inhabitants, and there were many diversions; but although I received many invitations I did not accept any of them. Fortunately my time was fully occupied in looking after the large collection of men and horses, without which the isolation in which I lived would have been insupportable. The number of horses belonging to the commander-in-chief and the officers of his staff amounted to more than eighty, and all were at my disposal. I rode two or three every day, and went for some long rides round Tours, which although solitary, had for me much charm, and gave me gentle solace.
The First Consul now changed his mind about the army of Portugal. He gave the command to his brother-in-law, General Leclerc, and kept General Bernadotte in command of the army of the west. In consequence, the general staff, which my brother and the other aides-de-camp had just joined at Tours, was ordered to return to Brittany and betake itself to Brest, where the commander-in-chief was to be stationed. It is a long way from Tours to Brest, but the weather was fair, we were a young crowd, and the trip was great fun. I was unable to ride on horseback, because of an accidental injury to my hindquarters, so I rode in one of the commander-in-chief's coaches. We found him awaiting us at Brest.
The harbour at Brest held at that time not only a great number of French vessels, but also the Spanish fleet, commanded by Admiral Gravina, who was later killed at Trafalgar. When we arrived in Brest, the two allied fleets were expected to take to Ireland, General Bernadotte and a large invading force of French and Spanish troops; but while we awaited this expedition,—which never actually took place—the presence of so many army and naval officers greatly animated the town of Brest. The commander-in-chief, the admirals and several of the generals entertained daily. The troops of the two nations mingled on the best of terms, and I made the acquaintance of several Spanish officers.
We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves at Brest, when the commander-in-chief decided it would be a good idea to move his headquarters to Rennes, a dismal town, but more in the centre of his command. We had hardly arrived there when what I had foreseen happened. The First Consul cut the number of aides-de-camp allotted to the commander-in-chief. He was allowed only one colonel, five officers of lower rank and no additional officers. As a result I was told that I was to be posted to a regiment of light cavalry. I would have resigned myself to this, if it had been to return to the first Hussars, where I was known and whose uniform I wore; but it was more than a year since I had left the regiment, and I had been replaced, so I was ordered to join the 25th Chasseurs, who had just gone to Spain and were on the frontier with Portugal around Salamanca and Zamora. I felt increasingly bitter about the way I had been treated by General Bernadotte, for without his false promises I would have been an aide-de-camp to Messna and regained my place in the 1st Hussars.
So I was much discontented....But one must obey. Once I had got over my resentment—which does not last long at that age—I could not wait to get on the road and leave General Bernadotte, of whom I thought I had good reason to complain. I had very little money. My father had often lent money to Bernadotte, in particular when he bought the estate of Lagrange; but although he knew that, scarcely recovered from an injury, I was about to cross a large part of France and all of Spain and, what is more, had to buy a new uniform, he never offered to advance me a sou; and not for anything in the world would I have asked him to do so. Very luckily for me my mother had, at Rennes, an elderly uncle, M. de Verdal of Gruniac, a former major in the infantry of Ponthivre, with whom she had spent the first years of the revolution. This old man was a little eccentric, but very good-hearted; not only did he advance me the money which I desperately needed, but he gave it to me out of his own pocket.
Although, at this period, the Chasseurs wore the same dolman as the Hussars, theirs was green. I was foolish enough to shed a few tears when I had to discard the Bercheny uniform, and renounce the name of Hussar to become a Chasseur!
My farewell to General Bernadotte was somewhat cool; however he gave me letters of introduction to Lucien Bonaparte, our ambassador at Madrid, and to General Leclerc, our commander in Portugal.
On the day of my departure, all the aides-de-camp joined me in a farewell luncheon; then I set out with a heavy heart. I arrived at Nantes after two days of travel, dog tired, with a pain in my side, and quite sure that I would not be able to stand riding on horseback the four hundred and fifty leagues which I had to cover to reach the frontier of Portugal. By chance, however, I met in the house of an old acquaintance from Sorze, who lived in Nantes, a Spanish officer named Don Raphael, who was on his way to join his regimental depot at Estramadura. We agreed to travel together, and that I would be guide as far as the Pyrenees, after which he would take over.
We went by stage-coach through the Vende, where almost all the market towns and villages still bore the marks of fire although the civil war had been over for two years. These ruins made a sorry spectacle. We passed through La Rochelle, Rochefort and Bordeaux. From Bordeaux to Bayonne we rode in a sort of "Berlin" which never went at faster than a walking pace over the sands of Landes, so we often got out and walked alongside until we would stop to rest under a group of pine trees. Then, sitting in the shade, Don Raphael would take up his mandolin and sing. In this way we took six days to reach Bayonne.
Before crossing the Pyrenees, I had to report to the general commanding Bayonne. His name was General Ducos, an excellent man, who had served under my father. Out of concern for my safety, he wished to delay my entry into Spain for a few days, because he had just heard that a gang of robbers had plundered some travellers not far from the frontier. Even before the War of Independence and the Civil Wars, the Spanish character, at once both adventurous and lazy, had given them a noticeable taste for brigandage, and this taste was encouraged by the splitting up of the country into several kingdoms which once formed independent states, each with its own laws, usages, and frontiers. Some of these states imposed customs duties, some, such as Biscay and Navarre, did not; and the result was that the inhabitants of the customs-free countries constantly tried to smuggle dutiable goods into those whose frontiers were guarded by lines of armed and active customs officers. The smugglers, on their part, had, from time immemorial, formed bands, which employed force when cunning was insufficient, and whose occupation was not considered in any way dishonourable by the majority of Spaniards, who saw it as a just war against the imposition of customs. Preparing their expeditions, collecting intelligence, posting armed guards, hiding in the mountains, where they lie about smoking and sleeping, such is the life of the smugglers, who, as a result of the large profits to be made from a single operation, can live in comfortable idleness for several months. However, when the customs officers, with whom they have frequent skirmishes, have been victorious and confiscated their goods, these Spanish smugglers, reduced to extremes, think nothing of becoming highwaymen, a profession which they pursue with a certain magnanimity, since they never kill travellers, and always leave them the means to continue their journey. They had just done as much to an English family, and General Ducos, who wished to spare us the disagreeable experience of being robbed, had for this reason decided to delay our departure; but Don Raphael assured him that he knew enough about the habits of Spanish robbers to be certain that the safest time to travel in a province was just after a gang had committed some offence, because they then cleared off and hid for a while. So general Ducos allowed us to leave.
Draught-horses were at this time unknown in Spain, where all coaches, even the king's, were drawn by mules. There were no stage-coaches, and in the post-houses nothing but saddle horses. So that even the greatest of noblemen, who had their own coaches, were forced when they travelled to hire harness mules and go by short stages. The comfortably off took light carriages, which did not go more than ten leagues a day. The ordinary people attached themselves to caravanserais of donkey-men, who carried baggage in the same way as our carters, but no one travelled alone, partly for fear of robbers, and partly because of the mistrust with which a solitary traveller was regarded. After our arrival in Bayonne, Don Raphael, who was now in charge, said to me that as we were not such grandees that we could hire a coach, nor so poor that we had to join the donkey-men, there remained only two possibilities, either we rode on horseback or we took a seat in a carriage. Travelling on horseback, of which I have done so much, did not seem suitable, as we would have no means of carrying our baggage, so it was decided that we should go by carriage.
Don Raphael bargained with an individual who agreed to take us to Salamanca for 800 francs a head, and to lodge us and feed us on the way, at his own expense. This was double what a similar journey would have cost in France, and I had already spent a lot of money to get to Bayonne; but that was the price, and as there, was no other way for me to join my new regiment, I had to accept.
We left in an enormous and ancient four-wheeled carriage, in which three of the seats were occupied by a citizen of Cadiz, his wife and daughter, while a Benedictine Prior from the university of Salamanca completed the party.
Everything was new to me on this trip. Firstly, the harnessing, which greatly surprised me. The team consisted of six splendid mules, of which, to my astonishment, only the two on the shaft had bridles and reins, the remaining four went freely, guided only by the voices of the coachman and his "Zagal" who, agile as a squirrel, sometimes went for more than a league on foot, running beside his mules, which were at full trot, then, in a blink of an eye he would climb up on to the seat beside his master, only to get down and then up again; which he did twenty times a day; going round the coach and the harness to make sure that nothing was out of order, and while doing all this, singing to encourage his mules, each one of which he called by name. He never struck them, his voice alone being enough to urge on any mule which was not pulling its weight.
These activities, and in particular the man's singing, I found most entertaining. I also took a lively interest in what was said in the coach, for, although I did not speak Spanish, what I knew of Italian and Latin enabled me to understand much of what my fellow passengers were saying, to whom I replied in French, which they understood reasonably well. I did not smoke, but the five Spaniards, even the two ladies and the monk, soon lit up their cigars. We were all in good spirits. Don Raphael, the ladies, and even the fat monk sang together.
Normally we left in the morning. We stopped from one o'clock to three, to dine, rest the mules, and allow the heat of the day to pass, during which time one slept; what the Spanish call the siesta. Then we went on to our night stop. The meals were sufficiently plentiful, but the Spanish cuisine seemed to me, at first, to taste awful, however I got used to it; but I could never have got used to the horrible beds which we were offered at night in the pousadas or inns. They were really disgusting, and Don Raphael, who had just spent a year in France was forced to agree. To avoid this unpleasantness, on the first day of my arrival in Spain, I asked if I could sleep on a bale of straw. Sadly, I discovered that such a thing as a bale of straw was unknown in Spain, because, instead of threshing the sheaves of corn they have them trampled under foot by mules, which breaks the straw into short bits, scarcely as long as a finger. But I had the bright idea of filling a large cloth sack with this short straw, which I placed in a barn and slept on covered by my cloak; thus avoiding the vermin with which the beds and the rooms were infested. In the morning I emptied the sack and put it in the coach and each evening I refilled it so that I had a clean palliasse. Don Raphael followed my example.
We crossed the provinces of Navarre, Biscay and Alava, country of high mountains; then we crossed the Ebro and entered the immense plains of Castile. We passed through Burgos and Valladolid, and arrived, at last, after a journey lasting fifteen days, at Salamanca.
There, not without regret I parted from my good travelling companion, whom I was to meet once more in the same part of the world, during the War of Independence. General Leclerc was at Salamanca. He received me kindly, and even proposed that I should stay with him as a supernumerary aide-de-camp, but my recent experience had taught me that although the post of aide-de-camp offers one more freedom and comfort than regimental duty, this is only when one is on the establishment. As a supernumerary you are landed with all the unpleasant jobs, and you have only a very precarious position. I therefore turned down the favour which I was offered and asked to go and join my regiment. It was a good thing that I took this step, because, the following year, the general, having been given the command of the expedition to Santa Dominica, took with him, on his general staff, a lieutenant who had accepted the post which I had turned down, and all these officers and the general died of yellow fever.
I joined the 25th Chasseurs at Salamanca. The colonel was M. Moreau, an old officer and a very fine fellow. He gave me a warm welcome, as did my new comrades; and in a few days I was on the best of terms with everybody. I was introduced to the town's society, for at that time the presence of the French was highly acceptable to the Spanish, and completely opposite to what it became later. In 1801 we were their allies. We had come to fight for them against the Portuguese and the English, so we were treated as friends. The French officers were billeted with the wealthiest inhabitants and there was competition to have them. We were received everywhere. We were overwhelmed by invitations. Being thus admitted into the family life of the Spaniards, we learned more, in a short time, about their way of living than officers who came to the peninsula during the War of Independence could have learned in several years.
I was billeted in the home of a university professor, who had given me a very nice room looking out onto the handsome Salamanca square. My regimental duties were not very onerous and left me plenty of leisure time, which I used to study the Spanish language, which is, in my opinion, the most elegant and beautiful in Europe. It was at Salamanca that I saw, for the first time, the famous General Lasalle. He sold me a horse.
The fifteen thousand French troops sent to Spain with General Leclerc formed the right wing of the Spanish Grand Army, which was commanded by the "Prince de la Paix" and we were therefore under his orders. This man (Emmanuel Godoy) was the queen's favourite and was, in effect, the king. He came to revue us on one occasion. He seemed to me to be very pleased with himself, and although he was small and undistinguished looking, he was not lacking in charm and ability.
Godoy started the army moving, and our regiment went to Toro and then to Zamora. I was sorry to leave Salamanca at first, but we were as well received in other towns, particularly in Zamora, where I stayed in the house of a rich merchant who had a superb garden, where a numerous society would gather in the evenings to make music and pass part of the night in conversation amid groves of pomegranates myrtles and lemon trees. It is difficult to appreciate fully the beauties of nature if one has not experienced the delicious nights of the southern countries.
We had, however, to tear ourselves away from the pleasant life which we were leading to go and attack the Portuguese. We crossed the border: there were a few small engagements which all went our way: the French troops went to Viseu, while the Spanish came down the Tagus and reached Alantejo: we expected to enter Lisbon soon, as conquerors. But the Prince de la Paix, who had, without much reflection, called the French troops into the peninsula, now, also without much reflection, took fright at their presence, and to get rid of them he concluded, without the knowledge of the First Consul, a peace treaty with the Portuguese, which he cunningly had ratified by the French ambassador, Lucien Bonaparte. This greatly annoyed the First Consul, and caused, from that day, a rift between the two brothers.
The French troops stayed for several months longer in Portugal, until the beginning of 1802; then we returned to Spain and successively to our previous charming stations of Zamora, Toro and Salamanca, where we were always made welcome.
On this occasion I went through Spain on horseback with my regiment, and had no longer any need to avoid the verminous beds of the pousadas, since we were lodged each evening with the most respectable citizens. A route march, when one makes it with one's own regiment and in good weather, is not without a certain charm. One has a constant change of scene, without being separated from one's comrades; one sees the countryside in the greatest detail; we talk as we travel, we dine together, sometimes well, sometimes badly, and one is in a position to observe the customs of the inhabitants.
One of our pleasures was to watch in the evenings the Spaniards, shedding their usual lethargy, dance the fandango and the bolero with a perfection of grace and agility, even in the villages. The colonel offered them the use of his band, but they, quite rightly, preferred the guitar, the castanets, and a woman's voice; an accompaniment which gave the dance its national characteristics. These improvised dances, in the open air, engaged in by the working class in the towns as well as in the country, gave us so much pleasure, even as spectators, that we were sorry to leave them.
After more than a month on the road, we recrossed the Bidassoa, and although I had happy memories of my stay in Spain, it was with pleasure that I saw France once more.
At this period, regiments were responsible for their own remounts, and the colonel had been authorised to buy sixty horses which he hoped to procure, bit by bit, in French Navarre, while he was takingaking the regiment to Toulouse, where we were to form the garrison. But, for my sins, we arrived at Bayonne on the day of the town fair, and the place was full of horse-copers. The colonel arranged a deal with one of them, who provided all the horses the unit needed straight away. The dealer could not be paid immediately because the funds provided by the ministry would take a week to arrive. The colonel then ordered that an officer should remain behind in Bayonne, to receive this money and pay the supplier. I was picked for this wretched task, which landed me later in a most disagreeable situation, though at the time I saw only that I had been deprived of the pleasure of travelling with my comrades. However, in spite of my feelings, I had to obey orders.
To make it easier for me to rejoin the unit, the colonel decided that my horse should go with the regiment, and that after I had completed my mission, I should take the stage-coach to Toulouse. I knew several former pupils from Sorze who lived in Bayonne and who helped me to pass the time agreeably. The funds provided by the ministry arrived and I paid them out and was now free from all responsibility and ready to rejoin my regiment.
I had a cotton dolman, braided in the same material, and with silver buttons. I had had this strange costume made when I was on Bernadotte's staff, since it was the fashion there to wear this uniform when travelling in hot weather. I decided to wear this outfit on the journey to Toulouse, as I was not with my regiment, so I packed my uniform in my trunk and took it to the stage-coach, where I booked my seat and, unfortunately, paid in advance.
The coach was due to leave at five in the morning, so I told the porter at the hotel where I was staying to come and waken me at four, and the rascal having promised to do so, I went to bed without further ado. But he forgot; and when I opened my eyes, the sun was shining into the room and it was after eight o'clock...! What a disaster...! I was dumbfounded, and having cursed and upbraided the negligent porter, I had to think what I could do. The first difficulty was that the stage-coach ran only every second day, but that was not the major problem, which was that though the regiment had paid for my seat because I was on duty, they were not obliged to pay twice, and I had been stupid enough to pay for the whole journey in advance; so that if I took a new seat it would be at my own expense. Now at this time stage-coach fares were very costly, and I had very little money, and also, what was I to do for forty-eight hours in Bayonne, when all my belongings were on the coach...? I resolved to make the journey on foot.
I left the town without delay, and set off bravely on the road to Toulouse. I was lightly clad, and had nothing but my sabre, which I carried on my shoulder, so I covered the first stage briskly enough and spent the night at Peyrehorade.
The next day was a day of disaster. I intended to go as far as Orthez, and had already made half the journey when I was overtaken by one of these terrible storms which one has in the Midi. Rain mixed with hail fell in torrents, beating on my face; the road, already bad, became a morass in which I had the greatest difficulty in walking in boots with spurs; a chestnut tree near to me was struck by lighting.... No matter, I walked on with stoic resignation. But, behold....! In the midst of the storm I saw coming toward me two mounted gendarmes. You can easily imagine how I looked after paddling for two hours in the mud, dressed in my cotton breeches and dolman. The gendarmes belonged to the station at Peyrehorade, to which they were returning, but it seemed that they had lunched very well at Orthez, for they were somewhat drunk. The older of the two asked me for my papers; I gave him my travel permit, on which I was described as a sous-lieutenant of the 25th Chasseurs. "You! A sous-lieutenant?" shouted the gendarme, "you're too young to be an officer!" But read the description," I said, "and you will see that it says that I am not yet twenty years old. It is exact in every point." "That may be," he replied, "but it is a forgery; and the proof of that is that the Chasseur's uniform is green and you are wearing a yellow dolman. You are an escaped conscript, and I am arresting you." "All right," I said, "but when we get to Orthez and I see your lieutenant, I can easily prove that I am an officer and that this travel document is genuine."
I was not much worried by this arrest; but now the older gendarme said that he did not intend to go to Orthez. He belonged to the station at Peyrehorade, and I must follow him there. I said that I would do nothing of the kind, and that he could require this only if I had no papers, but as I had shown him my travel permit, he had no right to make me go back, and that it was his duty, according to the regulations, to accompany me to my destination, which was Orthez.
The younger gendarme, who was less full of wine, said that I was right. A lively dispute then broke out between the two of them. They hurled insults at one another and in the middle of the tempest which was all around us, they drew their sabres and charged furiously together. I was afraid I might be injured in this ridiculous combat, so I got into one of the huge ditches which ran along each side of the road, and although I was in water up to my waist, I climbed up onto the bordering field, from where I watched the two warriors skirmishing to get the better of one another.
Fortunately, the heavy, wet cloaks which they were wearing clung round their arms, and the horses, frightened by the thunder, would not go near each other, so that the riders could manage only a few ill directed blows. Eventually the older gendarme's horse fell, and he landed in the ditch. When he got out,covered in mire, he found that his saddle was broken and that he would have to continue his journey on foot; so he set out, after telling his companion that he was now responsible for the prisoner. Left alone with the more sensible of the two gendarmes, I pointed out to him that if I had anything to hide, it would be easy for me to make off into the country, as there was a large ditch between us which his horse could not cross, but that I would surrender myself to him since he had agreed not to make me go back. So I continued on my way, escorted by the gendarme, who was beginning to sober up. We had some conversation, and it became apparent that the fact that I had surrendered, when it would have been easy for me to run away, made him begin to think that I might be what I said I was. He would have let me go had he not been put in charge of me by his companion. He became more and more accommodating, and said he would not take me all the way to Orthez, but would consult the Mayor of Puyoo, which we were going to pass through.
My arrival was that of a malefactor: all the villagers, who had been driven back to the village by the storm, were at their doors and windows to see the criminal in the charge of the gendarme; however, the Mayor of Puyoo was a good, stout, sensible peasant, whom we found in his barn, threshing corn. As soon as he had read my travel permit, he said, gravely, to the gendarme, "Set this young man at liberty at once. You have no right to arrest him. An officer on a journey is designated by his documents, not by his clothes." Could Solomon have produced a better judgement? The good peasant did not stop at that, he wanted me to stay with him until the storm had passed and he offered me food. Then, while we were talking, he told me that he had once seen at Orthez a general whose name was Marbot. I told him that this was my father, and described him. Then the good man, whose name was Bordenave became even more solicitous and wanted to dry my clothes and offered me a bed for the night; but I thanked him and went on my way to Orthez, where I arrived at nightfall, completely worn out. The next day it was only with great difficulty that I could put my boots on, partly because they were wet and partly because my feet were swollen.
However I managed to drag myself as far as Pau, and being unable to go any further, I stayed there all day. I could find no other means of transport but the mail coach, and although the seats were very expensive, I took one as far as Gimont, where I was welcomed with open arms by M. Dorignac, a friend of my father, with whom I had spent several months after I left Sorze. I rested for a few days with his family, then I took a stage-coach to Toulouse. I had spent four times the cost of the seat which I had lost through the negligence of the hotel porter at Bayonne.
On my arrival at Toulouse I was going to look around for somewhere to live, but the colonel told me that he had arranged a place for me with one of his friends, an elderly doctor named M. Merlhes, whose name I shall never forget, because this worthy man and his numerous offspring were so good to me. During the two weeks I stayed with them, I was treated as a member of the family rather than as a boarder.
The regiment was up to strength and well mounted. We had many exercises which I found very interesting; though I sometimes found myself up before squadron commander Blancheville, an excellent officer, an old soldier from whom I learned to work with precision, and I owe much to him. Blancheville, before the revolution, had been on the staff of the gendarmes of Lunville. He was very well educated and took a great interest in young officers whom he thought capable of learning, and compelled them to study whether they liked it or not. As for the others, whom he called the block-heads, he simply shrugged his shoulders when they did not know their drill or made mistakes during exercises, but he never punished them for it. There were two or three sous-lieutenants whom he had picked out, they were MM. Gavoille, Dumonts and me. In our case he would not suffer an incorrectly given order, and punished us for the slightest mistake. As he was a very good fellow, when off duty we risked asking him why he treated us so severely. "Do you think I am so stupid that I would try to wash a black man white?" He replied, "Messers so and so are too old and lacking in talent to make it worth my while to try to improve them. As for you who have all that is required to succeed, you need to study, and study you shall!" I have never forgotten this reply, and I made use of it when I became a colonel. In fact old Blancheville had drawn our horoscopes accurately, Gavoille became a lieutenant-colonel, Dumonts a brigadier-general and I a divisional general.
On my arrival at Toulouse, I had exchanged the horse which I had bought in Spain for a delightful mount from Navarre. Now, it so happened that the prefect had arranged a race meeting in celebration of some fte or other, and Gavoille, who was a great lover of racing, had persuaded me to enter my horse. One day, when I was exercising my horse on a grass track, as he took a tight curve at full speed, he collided with the projecting wall of a garden and fell stone dead. My companions thought I had been killed or at least seriously injured, but by a miraculous piece of good luck I was unhurt. When I had been picked up, and saw my poor horse lying motionless, I was very upset, and went back sadly to my billet, where I confronted the realisation that I would have to buy another horse, and would have to ask my mother for the money to do so, although I knew she was very hard-up.
Comte Defermon, a minister of state and one of our trustees, was opposed to the sale of those properties which still belonged to us, because he foresaw that peace would increase the value of land. He considered, rightly, that they should be retained and creditors paid off gradually by rigid economy. This is one of the greatest obligations we owe to the good M. Defermon, the most sincere of my father's friends, and one for whose memory I have the deepest respect.
When my request for money to buy a new horse was submitted to the council of trustees, General Bernadotte, who was one of them, burst out laughing, saying that it was a good try and that the excuse was well chosen, and suggesting that my application was what now-a-days would be called a "con", but, fortunately my request was backed up by a letter from the colonel, and M. Defermon stated that he did not believe me capable of trying to obtain money by trickery. He was quite right in this, for although I had an allowance of only 600 francs, my pay of just 95 francs a month and a lodging allowance of 12 francs, I never had a penny of debt; something I have always regarded with horror.
I bought a new horse, which was not as good as the Navarrais, but the general inspections, which had been reintroduced by the First Consul, were approaching, and it was essential that I was quickly remounted, the more so because we were to be inspected by General Bourcier, who had the reputation of being a stern disciplinarian.
I was detailed to go with thirty men to form an escort for him. He welcomed me warmly and spoke of my father, whom he had known well, which, however, did not prevent him from putting me on a charge the following day. The way in which this came about is quite amusing.
One of our captains, named B***, was a very good-looking lad, and would have been one of the most handsome men in the army if his calves had been in harmony with the rest of his person; but his legs were like stilts, which looked very odd in the tight breeches, called Hungarians, which were then worn by the Chasseurs. To get over this blemish, Captain B*** had acquired pads made in the shape of calves, which completed his fine appearance. You will see how these calves got me into trouble, but they were not the only cause.
The regulations laid down that the tails of officer's horses should be left flowing, as were the tails of the trooper's horses. Our colonel, M. Moreau, was always perfectly mounted, but all his horses had their tails cut, and as he feared that General Bourcier—a stickler for the rules—would take him to task for setting a bad example to his officers, he had, for the time of the inspection, had false tails fitted to his horses which were so realistic that, unless one knew, one would think them natural. This was all very fine. We went on manoeuvres, to which General Bourcier had invited General Suchet, the inspector of infantry, and General Gudin, the commander of the territorial division, and was accompanied by a numerous and brilliant staff.
The exercises were very long. Almost all the movements, carried out at the gallop, ended with several charges at top speed. I was in command of a section in the centre of Captain B***'s squadron, and it was next to the captain that the colonel took up his position. They were therefore a couple of paces in front of me when the generals came to congratulate Colonel Moreau on the fine performance of his troops. But what did I then see?.... The extreme rapidity of the movements had deranged the accessories added to the turn-out of both the colonel and Captain B***; the false tail of the colonel's horse had come adrift, the centre part, made of a pad of tow, was hanging down nearly to the ground and the hairs were spread over the horse's crupper in a sort of peacock's tail. As for Captain B***'s calves, they had slipped round to the front, and could be seen as large lumps on his shins, which produced a somewhat bizarre effect, while the captain sat up proudly on his horse, as if to say "Look at me! See how handsome I am!"
One has little gravity at the age of twenty. Mine was unable to resist the grotesque spectacle in front of me, and in spite of the presence of no less than three generals, I was unable to stop myself from bursting into laughter, however much I tried. The inspecting general, not knowing the reason for my hilarity, called me out of the ranks to reprimand me, but to reach him I had to pass between the colonel and Captain B***, and my eyes were once more directed to this cursed tail and the new calves sported by the captain, and I again burst out laughing. I was then put under open arrest. The generals must have thought I was crazy, but as soon as they had gone, the officers of the regiment gathered round the colonel and Captain B***, and soon realised what had happened. They laughed as I had done, but in easier circumstances.
In the evening, the commandant Blancheville attended a reception given by Madame Gudin. General Bourcier, who was also there, having brought up the subject of what he called my escapade, M. Blancheville explained the reasons for my unseemly laughter, an explanation which gave rise to much amusement. The laughter was increased by the entry of Captain B***, who having adjusted his false calves, had come to display himself in this brilliant society, without suspecting that he was one of the reasons for their hilarity. General Bourcier, appreciating that if he could not help laughing at a description of the sight which had greeted my eyes, it was natural enough that a young sous-lieutenant could not contain himself when confronted with this ridiculous spectacle, cancelled my arrest and sent someone to look for me. My arrival rekindled the laughter, which was increased by the sight of Captain B***, who alone was unaware of the cause, going from person to person asking what it was all about, while everyone gazed at his calves.
Let us now turn to more serious matters. The Treaty of Lunville had been followed by the Peace of Amiens, which put an end to the war between France and England. The First Consul decided to profit from the tranquility of Europe and the freedom of the sea to despatch a large body of troops to Dominica, which he wished to recover from the control of the blacks led by Toussaint-Louverture, a man who, without being in open revolt against the French, nevertheless adopted an air of great independence. General Leclerc was to be in command of this expedition. This general was a capable officer who had fought successfully in Egypt and Italy; but his principal distinction was that he had married Pauline Bonaparte, the First Consul's sister. Leclerc was the son of a miller from Pontoise, if one can describe as a miller, a very rich mill owner who had a considerable business. The miller had given the best of educations to his son and also to his daughter, who married General Davout.
While General Leclerc was preparing for his departure, the First Consul concentrated in Brittany those troops which he had earmarked for the expedition, and these troops naturally came under the command of the commander-in-chief of the area, which was Bernadotte.
It is well known that there was always a great rivalry between the troops of the Rhine army and those of the army of Italy. The former were greatly attached to General Moreau, and did not care for General Bonaparte, whose elevation to the head of government they had witnessed with regret. For his part, the First Consul had a great liking for the soldiers who had fought with him in Italy and Egypt, and, although the breach with Moreau was not yet openly declared, he considered that it would be in his interest to remove to as far away as possible troops devoted to this general. In consequence, the troops selected for the expedition to Dominica were almost all taken from the army of the Rhine. These men, however were perfectly happy to find themselves in Brittany, under the command of Bernadotte, a former lieutenant of Moreau's who had almost always served with them on the Rhine.
The expeditionary force was to comprise eventually some forty thousand men. The army of the west proper consisted of a similar number, so that Bernadotte, whose command extended to cover all the departments between the mouth of the Gironde and that of the Seine, had for a time under his orders an army of eighty thousand men, of whom the majority were more attached to him than to the head of the consular government.
If General Bernadotte had had more strength of character, the First Consul would have regretted putting him in such a powerful position; for I can say today, as an historical fact which will harm no one, that Bernadotte plotted against the government of which Bonaparte was the head. I shall give some details about this conspiracy which were never known to the public, and perhaps not even to General Bonaparte himself.
Generals Bernadotte and Moreau, jealous of the elevated position of the First Consul, and dissatisfied with the small part he gave them in public affairs, had resolved to overthrow him, and place themselves at the head of the government in conjunction with a civil administrator or an enlightened magistrate. To achieve this aim, Bernadotte, who, it must be said, had a talent for making himself liked by both officers and men, went about the provinces of his command, reviewing troops and using every means to increase their attachment to him. Enticements of all sorts, money, promises of promotion, were employed among the junior officers, while secretly he denigrated the government of the First Consul to the seniors. Having sown disaffection amongst most of the regiments, it would not have been difficult to push them into revolt; particularly those destined for the expeditionary force, who regarded it as a sort of deportation.
Bernadotte had as chief of staff Brigadier-general Simon, a competent but rather colourless officer. His rank put him in a position to correspond daily with unit commanders, and he used it to make his office the centre of the conspiracy. A battalion commander named Foucart was at that time attached to General Simon, who made him his principal agent. Foucart, using the excuse of official duties, travelled from garrison to garrison organising a secret league, which was joined by almost all the colonels and a crowd of senior officers, who were turned against the First Consul by accusations that he aspired to royalty; something, it seems, that he had not yet considered.
It was agreed that the garrison of Rennes, composed of several regiments, would begin the movement, which would spread like a trail of gunpowder into all divisions of the army: and as it was necessary that in this garrison there should be one unit which would start things off and get the rest moving, the 82nd Line regiment was brought to Rennes. This regiment was commanded by Colonel Pinoteau, an energetic and capable man, very brave, but something of a hothead, although he appeared outwardly phlegmatic. He was a follower of Bernadotte and one of the most enthusiastic of the conspirators. He promised to deliver his regiment, where he was extremely popular.
Everything was ready for the explosion when Bernadotte, lacking resolve and aiming, like a true Gascon, to have a catspaw to pull his chestnuts from the fire, persuaded General Simon and the other principal conspirators that it was essential that he should be in Paris when the army of Brittany proclaimed the deposition of the consul, so that he would be in a position to seize immediately the reins of government, in association with General Moreau, with whom he was going to confer about the matter. In reality, Bernadotte wished not to be compromised if the attempt failed, while maintaining himself in a position to take advantage of any success, and General Simon and the other conspirators were blind enough not to see through this ruse. The day of the armed uprising was then agreed, but the man who should have led it, because he had organised it, had cunningly absented himself.
Before Bernadotte left for Paris, a proclamation had been drawn up, addressed to the people of France as well as to the army. Several thousand copies of this were to be stuck up on the day of the event. A bookseller in Rennes, introduced by General Simon and by Foucart into the conspiracy, had undertaken to print this proclamation himself. This ensured that the proclamation would be ready for use in Brittany, but Bernadotte wanted to have a large number of these posters in Paris, for it was important to spread them throughout the capital and to send them to all the provinces as soon as the army of the west had made its move against the government, and as there was a risk of discovery if an approach was made to a Paris printer, Bernadotte devised a method of acquiring a large number of posters without compromising himself. He told my brother Adolphe, who was his aide-de-camp, that he was authorised to accompany him to Paris, and that he was to bring his horse and his carriage in anticipation of a long stay. My brother was delighted, and having packed his personal effects into the lockers of the carriage, he instructed his servant to bring the carriage, unhurriedly, to Paris while he went there by stage-coach.
As soon as my brother had left, General Simon and Commandant Foucart, delaying, under some pretext or other, the departure of my brother's servant, opened the carriage lockers and took out the personal possessions, which they replaced by packets of the proclamation. Then, having closed everything up, they sent poor Joseph on his way, without any suspicion of what he was carrying.
However, the First Consul's police had got wind of something brewing in the army of Brittany, but without knowing exactly what was going on or who was involved. The minister of police thought it was his duty to inform the prefect of Rennes who was a M. Mounier, and by the most extraordinary chance the prefect received this despatch on the very day when the revolt was due to break out, during a parade at Rennes, at mid-day. It was now eleven-thirty!
The prefect, to whom the minister had given no positive information, thought that in order to obtain some, he could do no better,in the absence of the commanding general, than to consult his chief of staff. He therefore asked General Simon to come to his office, and showed him the ministerial despatch. General Simon, believing that all had been discovered, then foolishly lost his head.
He told the prefect that there was indeed a vast conspiracy in the army, in which he had, unfortunately, played a part, of which he now repented; and thereupon he disclosed all the plans of the conspirators, and named the leaders; adding that in a few minutes the troops gathered on the parade ground, at a signal from General Pinoteau, were going to proclaim the overthrow of the consular government!
You may imagine M. Mounier's astonishment, and the concern he felt at being in the presence of a culpable general who, though at first thrown into confusion, might recover himself and recollect that he had eighty thousand men under his command, of whom eight to ten thousand were at this moment gathered not far from the prefecture. The position in which M. Mounier found himself was critical, but he extricated himself adroitly.
The general commanding the gendarmerie, Virion, had been ordered by the government to put together at Rennes a body of unmounted gendarmes, for the formation of which every regiment had supplied some Grenadiers. These soldiers, having no unifying bonds, escaped, in consequence, from the influence of the colonels of the regiments, and recognised only the orders of their new leaders, those of the gendarmerie who, in accordance with the regulations, obeyed the instructions of the prefect. M. Mounier now sent for General Virion, telling him to bring all the gendarmes. Meanwhile, fearing that General Simon might change his mind and leave him to go and place himself at the head of his troops, he soothed him with honeyed words, assuring him that his repentance and his confession would mitigate his offence in the eyes of the First Consul, and persuaded him to hand over his sword and go to the Tour Labat with the gendarmes who had at that moment arrived in the courtyard. So now the prime mover in the revolt was in prison.
While this was going on at the prefecture, the troops assembled at the Place D'armes were awaiting the hour of the parade which would also be that of the beginning of the revolt. All the colonels were in the secret, and had promised their support except the commander of the 79th, M. Goddard, who it was hoped would follow the rest.
From what a slender thread hangs the destiny of empires! Pinoteau, a strong and determined man, was due to give the signal which his regiment, the 82nd, already drawn up in battle formation on the square, was impatiently awaiting; but Pinoteau, with Foucart, had been busy all morning arranging for the despatch of proclamations, and in their preoccupation he had forgotten to shave. Mid-day arrived. Colonel Pinoteau realising that he was unshaven, hurried to put this right; but while he was engaged in this operation, General Virion, escorted by a large number of gendarmes, burst into the room, seized his sword and declared him a prisoner. He was taken to the tower to join General Simon. A few minutes later and Colonel Pinoteau would have been at the head of ten thousand men, and would undoubtedly have succeeded in starting the revolt. But taken thus by surprise he could do nothing but surrender to force.
Having made this second arrest, Virion and the prefect sent an aide-de-camp to the parade ground to tell Colonel Goddard of the 79th that they had a communication for him from the First Consul. As soon as he arrived, they told him of the discovery of the conspiracy and the arrest of General Simon and Colonel Pinoteau, and persuaded him to unite with them in putting down the rebellion. Having agreed to this, Colonel Goddard returned to the parade ground without telling anyone what he had learned, and taking his battalion to the Tour Labat, he joined the battalion of gendarmes who were guarding it. Also there were the prefect and General Virion, who arranged for ammunition to be distributed to the loyal troops. They then awaited events.
Meanwhile, the officers of the regiments which were assembled on the parade ground, surprised at the sudden departure of the 79th, and not understanding why General Pinoteau was late, sent to his home, where they were told that he had been arrested and sent to the tower. They were told at the same time of the arrest of General Simon.
This put the cat among the pigeons. The officers of the various units got together; Commandant Foucart proposed that they should march immediately to free the two prisoners and carry on with the movement. This suggestion was received with acclamation, particularly from the 82nd, who worshipped Colonel Pinoteau. They hurried to the Tour Labat, but found it surrounded by four thousand gendarmes and the battalion of the 79th. The assailants were undoubtedly the more numerous, but they had no ammunition and if they had had any, many of them would have been reluctant to fire on their comrades, simply to make a change in the members of the government. General Virion and the Prefect addressed them and urged them to return to their duty. The soldiers hesitated, and seeing this, none of the officers dared to order a bayonet attack, which was the only action which remained possible. Gradually the regiments stood down, and returned one by one to their barracks. Commandant Foucart, left alone, was taken to the tower, along with the unfortunate printer.
On learning that the insurrection at Rennes had failed, all the officers of the other regiments of the army of Brittany disavowed it; but the First Consul was not taken in by their protestations, he brought forward the date of their embarkation for Dominica and the other islands of the Antilles, where nearly all of them died, either in the fighting or of yellow fever.
As soon as he had heard the first confessions of General Simon and before the situation was fully under control, M. Mounier had sent a despatch rider to the government, and the First Consul now considered whether he should have Bernadotte and Moreau arrested. However, he suspended this measure for lack of any evidence, and to get hold of some, he ordered the examination of any travellers coming from Brittany.
While all this was going on, the good Joseph arrived at Versailles in my brother's carriage, and much to his surprise, found himself seized by the gendarmerie, and, in spite of his protests, brought before the minister of police. On learning that the carriage which this man was driving belonged to one of Bernadotte's aides-de-camp, the minister, Fouch, had all the lockers searched and found them full of proclamations, in which Bernadotte and Moreau, after denouncing the First Consul in violent terms announced his fall and their accession to power.
Bonaparte, furious with these two officers, demanded their presence. Moreau told him that as he, Moreau,had no authority over the army of the west, he would accept no responsibility for the conduct of the regiments of which it was composed; and one has to admit that this was a valid objection. It however worsened the position of Bernadotte, who, as commander-in-chief of the troops assembled in Brittany, was responsible for maintaining good order and discipline amongst them; but not only had his army engaged in conspiracy, but his chief-of-staff was a leader in the enterprise. The rebel proclamations bore Bernadotte's signature, and more than one thousand copies of this document had just been found in a carriage belonging to his aide-de-camp. The First Consul thought that such evident proofs would flatten and confound Bernadotte; but he was dealing with a true Gascon, as devious as they come!
Bernadotte expressed surprise...indignation! He knew nothing...absolutely nothing! General Simon was a villain and so was Pinoteau! He defied anyone to produce the original proclamation bearing his signature! Was it his fault if some lunatic had arranged for his name to be printed at the foot of a proclamation which he utterly and completely rejected. As for the wicked originators of all these plots, he would be the first to demand their punishment.
Bernadotte had indeed contrived to get everything directed by General Simon, without giving him a single word in writing which might compromise himself, and had left himself in a position in which he could deny everything if, in the event of the plot failing, General Simon should accuse him of being a participant. The First Consul, though convinced of Bernadotte's guilt, had no solid evidence to go on, and his council of ministers concluded that it would not be feasible to bring charges against a general who was so popular in the country and the army. Sadly, these sort of considerations did not apply to my brother Adolphe. One fine night they came to my mother's house to arrest him, and this at a time when the poor woman was already overburdened with grief.
M. de Canrobert, her eldest brother, whom she had managed to have taken off the list of migrs, was living peaceably with her when he was picked out by a policeman as having been present at some gathering whose aim was the restoration of the previous government. He was taken to the Temple Prison, where he was detained for eleven months. My mother was taking every possible step to prove his innocence and obtain his liberty when she was struck by another terrible disaster.
My two younger brothers were pupils at the French Military School. This establishment had a huge park and a fine country house in the village of Vanves, not far from the banks of the Seine; and in the summer the pupils went there to pass some of their holidays, when those who had behaved well were allowed to bathe in the river. Now it so happened that, because of some student peccadillo, the headmaster had deprived the whole school of the pleasure of swimming; however my brother Theodore loved swimming, so he and some of his friends decided to go swimming without the knowledge of their masters. While the pupils were spread about the park playing, they went to an isolated spot where they climbed over the wall and, on a very hot day, they ran to the Seine, into which they jumped, bathed in perspiration. They were scarcely in the water, however, when they heard the college drum beating for dinner. Fearing that their escapade would be discovered by their absence from the refectory, they dressed hurriedly and rushed back by the way they had come, to arrive, breathless, at the start of the meal. In such circumstances, they should have eaten little or nothing, but schoolboys are heedless, and they ate as much as usual, with the result that they nearly all became ill. Theodore was particularly affected, and was taken to my mother's house desperately ill with pneumonia.
It was while she was going from the bedside of her mortally afflicted son to her brother's prison, that they came to arrest her first-born. An appalling situation for any mother. To make matters worse, poor Theodore died. He was eighteen years old, charming and handsome. I was desolated to hear of his death, for I was very fond of him. These dreadful misfortunes which, one after another, assailed my mother, impelled those who were my father's true friends to exert themselves on her behalf. A leading figure among them was M. Defermon, who worked almost daily with the First Consul, and who rarely failed to intercede for Adolphe and his widowed mother. Eventually, General Bonaparte said to him one day, that although he had a low opinion of Bernadotte's common sense, he did not believe that he was so lacking in judgement that in conspiring against the government, he would take into his confidence a twenty-one year old lieutenant; and besides that, General Simon had stated that it was he and Commandant Foucart who had put the proclamations in young Marbot's carriage, so that, if he was to blame at all, it was only to a very small extent. However, he, the First Consul, was not willing to release the aide-de-camp until Bernadotte came in person to ask him to do so.
When she heard of this decision taken by the First Consul, my mother hastened to Bernadotte's house and begged him to take the necessary step. He promised solemnly to do but the days and weeks rolled past without him doing anything. Eventually, he said to my mother, "What you are asKing of me will be extremely painful, but no matter, I owe this to the memory of your husband, as well as to the interest I have in your children. I shall go this very evening to see the First Consul and I shall call at your house after leaving the Tuileries. I am certain I shall be able to announce the release of your son."
One can imagine with what impatience my mother waited during this long day! Every coach she heard made her heart beat. But at last it struck eleven o'clock and Bernadotte had not appeared. My mother then went round to his house, and what do you suppose she was told?....That General Bernadotte and his wife had left, to take the waters at Plombires, and would not be back for two months! In spite of his promises, Bernadotte had left Paris without seeing the First Consul. Devastated, my mother wrote to General Bonaparte. M. Defermon, who undertook to deliver the letter, was so indignant at the conduct of General Bernadotte that he could not resist telling the First Consul how he had behaved toward us. "That," said the First Consul, "is the sort of thing I would expect!"
M. Defermon, Generals Mortier, Lefebvre and Murat then urged that my brother should be freed; observing that if he had been unaware of the conspiracy, it was unjust to keep him in prison, and even if he had known something about it, he could not be expected to carry tales about Bernadotte, whose aide-de-camp he was. This reasoning impressed the First Consul, who set my brother at liberty and sent him to Cherbourg, to join the 49th Line regiment, as he did not wish him to continue as aide-de-camp to Bernadotte.
Bonaparte, who had a very long memory, probably had engraved, somewhere in his head, the words, "Marbot. Aide-de-camp of Bernadotte. Conspiracy of Rennes." So my brother was never again looked on with favour, and some time later he was sent to Pondichery.
Adolphe had spent a month in prison; Commandant Foucart was there for a year. He was cashiered and ordered to leave France. He took refuge in Holland, where he lived miserably for thirty years on earnings from French lessons, which he was reduced to giving, as he had no personal fortune.
At last, in 1832, he thought to return to his native country, and during the siege of Anvers I saw, one day, come into my room, a sort of elderly schoolmaster, very threadbare; it was Foucart, I recognised him. He told me that he did not have a brass farthing! While I offered him some assistance, I could not help reflecting on the bizarre workings of fate. Here was a man who in 1802 was already a battalion commander, and whose courage and ability would have certainly carried him to the rank of general, if Colonel Pinoteau had not decided to shave at the moment when the conspiracy of Rennes was due to come to a head. I took Foucart to Marshal Grard, who also remembered him, and together we presented him to the Duc d'Orlans, who gave him a job in his library, at a salary of 2400 francs. He lived there for fifteen years.
As for General Simon and Colonel Pinoteau, they were imprisoned in the Isle de R for five or six years. Eventually, Bonaparte, having become Emperor, set them free. Pinoteau had been vegetating for some time in Rufec, his birthplace, when, in 1808, the Emperor, who was on his way to Spain, having stopped there to change horses, Pinoteau presented himself boldly before him and requested to be re-engaged in military service. The Emperor, who knew that he was an excellent officer, then placed him in command of a regiment, which he led faultlessly throughout the wars in Spain, so that after several campaigns, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general.
General Simon also returned to military service. He was in command of an infantry brigade in Massna's army when we invaded Portugal. At the battle of Busaco, where Massna made the mistake of mounting a frontal attack on the Duke of Wellington's army, which was in position on the heights of a mountain with a very difficult approach, Poor Simon, wishing, no doubt, to redeem himself and to make up for the time he had lost towards promotion, charged bravely at the head of his brigade, overcame every obstacle, clambered up the rocks under a hail of bullets, broke through the English line and was first into the enemy entrenchments. But, there, a bullet fired at close range shattered his jaw at the moment when the English second line drove back our troops, who were thrown down into the valley with considerable losses. The enemy found the unfortunate general lying in the redout among the dead and dying. His face was hardly recognisable as human. Wellington treated him with much respect, and as soon as he could be moved, he sent him to England as a prisoner of war. He was later permitted to return to France. But his terrible injury barred him from any further service. The Emperor gave him a pension, and one heard no more of him.
After the unhappy events which had just befallen her, my mother longed to re-unite her three remaining sons around her. My brother, having been ordered to join the expeditionary force which was being sent to India under the command of General Decaen, was given permission to spend two months with my mother; Flix was at the Military School, and a piece of good fortune brought me also to Paris.
The School of Cavalry was then at Versailles; every regiment sent there an officer and a non-commissioned officer, who, after completing their studies, returned to their unit to act as instructors. Now it so happened that at the moment when I was about to ask for permission to go to Paris, the lieutenant who had been at the School had completed the course, and the colonel proposed to send me to replace him. I accepted this with pleasure, for not only would it allow me to see my mother again, but it would ensure that for eighteen months I would be living only a short distance from her.
My preparations were soon made. I sold my horse and taking the stage-coach, I left the 25th Chasseurs, to which I was never to return; although not being aware of this at the time, my farewells to my comrades were lighthearted.
On my arrival in Paris, I found my mother greatly upset, not only on account of the cruel loss which we had just suffered, but also over the imminent departure of Adolphe for India, and the detention of my uncle Canrobert, which continued indefinitely.
We spent a month together as a family, at the end of which my elder brother had to report to Brest, where he was soon embarked for Pondichery in the "Marengo." As for me, I went to settle in at the School of Cavalry, whose barracks were in the great stables of Versailles.
I was lodged on the first floor, in apartments which had once been occupied by the Prince de Lambesc, the master of horse. I had a very big bedroom and an immense "salon" which looked out over the Avenue de Paris and the parade-ground. I was at first astonished that the most recently arrived pupil should be so well housed, but I soon learned that no one wanted this apartment because its huge size made it glacially cold, and few of the officer pupils could afford to keep a fire going. Happily I was not entirely without means. I had a good stove put in, and with a big screen, I made in this vast apartment a little room, which I furnished modestly, since all we were issued with was a table, a bed, and two chairs, which were quite out of place in the enormous space of my quarters. So I made myself reasonably comfortable until the return of spring, when the place seemed quite charming.
Although we were called pupils, you should not suppose that we were treated as students. We were allowed every freedom, too much freedom in fact. We were commanded by an old colonel, M. Maurice, whom we hardly ever saw, and who did not take part in anything. On three days in the week we had civilian horsemanship, under the celebrated equestrians Jardin and Coup, and we went there when it suited us. In the afternoon, an excellent veterinarian, M. Valois, ran a course on the care of horses; but no one compelled us to study with any diligence. The other three days were devoted to military matters. In the morning, military horsemanship, taught by the only two captains in the school, and in the afternoon, drill, also taught by them. Once this parade was finished, the captains disappeared and each student went his own way.
You will appreciate that it took a keen desire to learn, to get anywhere in a school so badly run; however most of the students made progress because, being destined to become instructors in their respective regiments, their self-respect made them fear not being up to the task. So they worked reasonably hard, but not as hard as one would as a schoolboy. As for behaviour, the staff took no interest in it. As long as the students caused no trouble in the establishment itself, they were allowed to do as they pleased. They came and went at all hours. They were subject to no role call. They ate in hotels, if it suited them, slept out, and even went to Paris without asking permission. The non-commissioned pupils had a little less liberty. Two moderately strict sergeants were in charge of them, who insisted that they were back by ten o'clock at night.
Each of us wore the uniform of his regiment, so that a gathering of the whole school presented an interesting sight, as when, on the first day of every month, we paraded in full dress in order to draw up the pay roll; then you could see the uniforms of all the French cavalry regiments.
As all these officers belonged to different units, and were thrown together only for the duration of the course, there could not exist between them the close fellowship which is one of the features of regimental life. We were too numerous (ninety) for there to be a bond between all. There were coteries but no union. I did not feel any need to socialise with my new comrades. I left every Saturday for Paris, where I spent the next day and most of Monday with my mother. There were at Versailles two old friends of my mother, from Rennes; the Comtesses de Chteauville, a pair of very respectable and well educated elderly ladies, who entertained only a select society. I went two or three times a week to spend an evening with them. The remaining evenings I employed in reading, which I have always greatly enjoyed, for if school sets a man on the road to education, he must get there by himself through reading. How pleasant it was, in the midst of a very harsh winter, to come back to my quarters after dinner, make up a good fire and there, alone, ensconced behind my screen and beside my little lamp, to read until eight or nine o'clock; then to go to bed, in order to save wood, and continue reading to midnight. In this way I re-read Tacitus and Xenophon and many of the classical Greek and Roman authors; I revised the history of Rome and of France, and the principle countries of Europe. My time, shared between my mother, my work at the school, a little good society and my beloved books, passed very agreeably.
I began the year 1803 at Versailles. Spring introduced some changes into my way of life. Each of the officers at the school was provided with a horse, so I devoted some of my evenings to taking long rides in the magnificent woods which surround Versailles, Marly, and Meudon.
During May, my mother was made very happy by the release of her eldest brother from the Temple prison, and the return to France of the other two, de l'Isle and de la Coste, who, having been struck off the list of migrs came to Paris.
The eldest of my mother's brothers, M. de Canrobert was a very pleasant, sensible man. He entered the service at a very young age, as a sous-lieutenant in the infantry of Ponthivre, and, under Lieutenant-general De Vaux, fought in all the campaigns of the war in Corsica, in which he distinguished himself. After the conquest of that country, he served out the twenty-four years which earned him the Cross of St. Louis. He was a captain when he married Mlle. Sanguinet and then retired to the Chteau of Laval de Cre.
Having become the father of a son and a daughter, M. de Canrobert was living happily in his manor when the revolution broke out in 1789. He was forced to emigrate to escape the scaffold, with which he was threatened, all his possessions were confiscated and sold, his wife was imprisoned with her two young children. My mother obtained permission to visit her unhappy sister-in-law, and found her in a cold, damp tower, stricken by a fever, which carried off, that very day, her young daughter. By dint of requests and supplications, my mother managed to obtain the release of her sister-in-law; but she died a few days later from the illness she had contracted in prison. My mother then took charge of the young boy, named Antoine. He was sent in turn to college and then to the military school, where he was one of their brightest pupils. Finally he became an infantry officer and was killed, bravely, on the field of battle, at Waterloo. My uncle was one of the first of the migrs who, under the consulate, were given permission to return to France. He recovered some part of his estate, and married again, this time to one of the daughters of M. Niocel, an old friend of the family.
M. Certain de l'Isle, the second of my mother's brothers, was one of the most handsome men in France. At the time of the revolution he was a lieutenant in the regiment of Ponthivre, in which were also serving his elder brother and several of his uncles. He took the same course as nearly all his comrades and emigrated in company with his younger brother, Certain de la Coste, who was in the King's bodyguard. After leaving France the two brothers stayed always together. They retreated first to the country of Baden, but their tranquility was soon disturbed: the French armies crossed the Rhine, and as all migrs who fell into their clutches were shot, by order of the Convention, the brothers were forced to hide hurriedly in the interior of Germany. Lack of money compelled them to travel on foot, which soon became too much for poor La Coste. They had great difficulty in finding lodgings, as everywhere was occupied by Austrian troops. La Coste became ill. His brother supported him. In this way they reached a little town in Wurtemberg, where they found a bed in a low class tavern. At daybreak they saw the Austrians leaving, and they were told that the French were about to occupy the town. La Coste, unable to move, urged de l'Isle to look to his own safety and to leave him to the care of Providence; but de l'Isle declared solemnly that he would not abandon his sick brother.
However two French volunteers arrived at the inn with a requisition for lodgings. The inn-keeper took them to the room occupied by my two uncles, whom he told that they would have to leave. It has been said, quite rightly, that during the Revolution, the honour of France took refuge in the army. The two soldiers, seeing that La Coste was ill, told the landlord that not only did they wish to keep him with them, but that they wanted a large room which was on the first floor, where they would establish themselves with my two uncles. In enemy country, the victor being the master, the inn-keeper obeyed the two French volunteers, who, during the two weeks in which their battalion was billeted in the town, took great care of Messers La Coste and de l'Isle, and even let them share in the good meals which their host was obliged to provide in accordance with the usages of war; and this comfortable regime, coupled with rest, restored to some extent, the health of La Coste.
When they left, the volunteers, who belonged to a battalion from the Gironde, wishing to give their new friends the means of passing through the French columns without being arrested, took from their uniforms the metal buttons which bore the name of their battalion, and attached them to the civilian clothing worn by my uncles, who could then pass themselves off as sutlers. With this new form of passport, they went through all the French cantonments without rousing any suspicion. They reached Prussia, and settled down in the town of Hall, where De l'Isle was able to give French lessons. They lived there peacefully until 1803, when my mother managed to have them struck of the list of migrs, and they returned to France after twelve years of exile.
Let us now return to Versailles. While I was on the course at the school of cavalry, great events were under way in Europe. England having broken the Treaty of Amiens, hostilities recommenced. The First Consul resolved to take the initiative by leading an army onto the soil of Great Britain, a daring and difficult undertaking, but not impossible. To put it into operation, Napoleon, who had just seized Hanover, the private property of the English monarchy, stationed on the coasts of the North Sea and the Channel, several army corps, and ordered the construction and assembly, at Boulogne and neighbouring ports, of an immense number of barges and flat-bottomed boats, on which he proposed to embark his troops.
All the armed forces were set in motion for this war. I regretted that I was not involved; and being destined to carry back to my regiment the knowledge I had acquired at the school, I saw myself condemned to spend several years in the depot with a whip in my hand, making recruits trot round on elderly horses, while my comrades were fighting at the head of troops which I had trained. I did not find this prospect very pleasant, but how was it to be changed? A regiment must always be fed with recruits, and it was certain that my colonel, having sent me to the school of cavalry to learn how to train these recruits, would not deprive himself of the services which I could render in this respect, and would keep me out of the fighting squadrons. One day, however, as I was walking down the Avenue de Paris, with my drill manual in my hand, I had a brilliant idea, which totally changed my destiny and contributed greatly to my promotion to the rank which I now occupy.
I had just learned that the First Consul, having fallen out with the court of Lisbon, had ordered the formation, at Bayonne, of an army corps destined to enter Portugal under the command of General Augereau. I knew that General Augereau owed some of his advancement to my father, under whose command he had served in the camp at Toulouse and in the Pyrenees, and although what I had experienced at Genoa after the death of my father had not given me a high opinion of the gratitude of mankind, I resolved to write to him and, having explained the predicament in which I found myself, ask him to extricate me by taking me on as one of his aides-de-camp.
Having written this letter, I sent it to my mother, to see if she approved. She not only approved, but knowing that Augereau was in Paris, she decided to take the letter to him herself. Augereau received the widow of his old friend with the greatest consideration; he immediately took his carriage and went to the War Ministry, and that same evening he handed to my mother my appointment as aide-de-camp. Thus a wish, which twenty-four hours earlier had seemed a dream, became a reality.
The following day I hurried to Paris to thank the general. He received me most kindly, and ordered me to join him at Bayonne, to where he was now going. It was now October, I had completed the first course at the school of cavalry and had little interest in starting on the second; so I was happy to leave Versailles, for I felt sure that I was starting on a new career, much more advantageous than that of a regimental instructor. I was quite right in thinking this, for nine years later I was a colonel, while those I had left at the school had hardly reached the rank of captain.
I reported promptly to Bayonne and took up my post as an aide-de-camp to the commander-in-chief. He was installed a quarter of a league from the town in the fine Chteau de Marac, in which the Emperor lived some years later. I was made very welcome by General Augereau and by my new comrades, his aides-de-camp, nearly all of whom had served under my father. This general staff, although it did not give to the army as many general officers as that of Bernadotte, was nevertheless very well made up. General Danzelot who was the chief-of-staff, was a highly capable man who later became the governor of the Ionian islands and then Martinique. His second in command was Colonel Albert, who at his death was general aide-de-camp to the Duc d'Orlans. The aides-de-camp were Colonel Sicard, who died at Heilsberg, Major Brame, who retired to Lille after the Peace of Tilsit, Major Massy, killed as a colonel at Moscow, Captain Chvetel and Lieutenant Mainville, the first of whom retired to his estate in Brittany and the second ended his career in Bayonne. I was the sixth and youngest of the aides-de-camp.
Finally the staff was completed by Dr. Raymond, who helped me greatly at Eylau, and Colonel Augereau, a half-brother of the general; a very quiet man, who later became a lieutenant general.
The greater part of the generals who made a name for themselves in the early wars of the revolution having sprung from the lower ranks of society, it has been supposed, wrongly, that they had received no education, and that they owed their success solely to their fighting ability. Augereau, in particular, has been very badly judged. He has been represented as boastful, hard, noisy and nasty. This is an error, for although he had a stormy youth, and fell into some political misconceptions, he was kind, polite and affectionate, and I can assure you that of the five marshals under whom I have served, it was he who did most to lessen the evils of war, who was most considerate toward the local populace and who treated his officers best, among whom he lived like a father among his children. It is true that he had a most irregular life, but before passing judgement you must consider the conditions which existed at the time.
Pierre Augereau was born in Paris in 1757. His father had an extensive business in the fruit trade and had acquired a large fortune, which allowed him to give his children a good education. His mother was born in Munich, and she had the good sense to speak nothing but German to her son, who, as a result spoke it perfectly; something he found most useful in his travels, and also during the wars.
Augereau was good-looking, large and well built. He loved all physical activities, at which he excelled. He was a good horseman and a fine swordsman. When he was seventeen his mother died, and one of her brothers who worked in the office of Monsieur (the king's brother) arranged for him to join the Carabiniers, of whom Monsieur was colonel in chief.
He spent several years at Saumur, where the Carabiniers were usually garrisoned, and where his efficiency and good conduct soon raised him to the rank of sergeant. Sadly, there was at this time a craze for duels. The reputation which Augereau had as an excellent swordsman compelled him to engage in several, for it was a great point among duelists not to accept that anyone was their superior; gentlemen, officers and soldiers fought for the most futile of reasons. It so happened that when Augereau was on leave in Paris, the celebrated fencing master Saint-George, seeing him pass, said, in the presence of several swordsmen, there is one of the finest blades in France. Upon this, a sergeant of Dragoons named Belair, who claimed to be next to Saint-George in ability, wrote to Augereau saying that he would challenge him to fight unless he recognised the writer's superiority. Augereau having replied that he would do nothing of the sort, they met on the Champs-Elyses where Belair received a penetrating sword-thrust. He subsequently recovered and having left the service, he married and became the father of eight children, for whom he was unable to provide. So in the first days of the Empire it occurred to him to approach his old adversary, now a marshal. This man, whom I knew, was something of an original character; he presented himself before Augereau with a little violin under his arm, and said that as he had nothing to give his eight children for dinner, he would make them dance a quadrille to cheer them up, unless the marshal could put him in the way of providing a more substantial meal. Augereau recognised Belair, invited him to a meal, gave him some money and a few days later arranged for him to have a good job in the transport department. He also placed two of his sons in school. Conduct which requires no commentary.
Not all the duels which Augereau fought ended like this. As a result of an absurd custom, there existed an inveterate hatred between some units, the cause for which was buried in the past and often hardly known, but which, handed down from age to age, resulted in duels every time the units met. In this way the Gendarmes of Lunville and the Carabiniers had been at war for half a century, though they had not seen one another in this long period of time. At last, at the beginning of the reign of Louis XVI, they found themselves in the same camp at Compigne; whereupon, to show themselves no less brave than their forefathers, the Carabiniers and the Gendarmes decided to fight, and their determination was such that the officers thought it wiser to look the other way. However, to avoid too much bloodshed, it was agreed that there would be only one duel; each unit would select a combatant who would represent them, and after that there would be a truce. The Carabiniers chose their twelve best swordsmen, among whom was Augereau, and it was agreed that the defender of the regimental honour should be chosen by lot. On that day fate was more blind than usual, for it selected a sergeant by the name of Donnadieu, who had five children. Augereau observed that the name of a father of a family should not have been included in the draw, and asked if he might replace his comrade. Donnadieu declared that as his name had been chosen he would go forward. Augereau insisted, and this battle of generosity was ended only by the members of the meeting accepting Augereau's proposal. The name of the combatant chosen by the Gendarmes would soon be known and after that it was merely a matter of arranging for the two adversaries to meet, when a simulated quarrel would serve as a motive for the encounter.