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The Story of Napoleon by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall


 

 

NAPOLEON IN EGYPT

[28] AFTER the treaty of Campo Formio was quite settled, Napoleon said good-bye to his army, and set out for Paris.

When be arrived, the people greeted him eagerly, and thronged to see him. They changed the name of the street in which he lived to Victory Street. But the rulers, the Directory, had begun to be afraid of this imperious soldier, who looked so small and delicate, and who had yet a will of iron, and seemed to hold the fate of nations in his hand. They were jealous of him too, for wherever he went, it was the conqueror of Italy who was cheered, not the rulers of France. And every soldier declared that it was high time to be done with lawyers, and make the "Little Corporal" king.

France and Britain were at this time bitter enemies, and the French were eager to conquer Britain. So Napoleon decided [29] to carry out a plan which he had long thought of. That was to conquer Egypt, to found a colony there; and thus in some way injure Britain's trade with India and the East.

Egypt at this time was claimed by the Turks, and formed part of the Ottoman Empire. France and Turkey were at peace, but that made little difference to Napoleon.

The Directory agreed to Napoleon's plan for conquering Egypt. They were very anxious to get the better of Britain in some way, and they were not a little anxious to get rid of Napoleon, and keep him busy at something away from France.

For this expedition into Egypt Napoleon gathered together about twenty thousand of his finest soldiers and cleverest officers, and although the preparations were made with great secrecy, the British Government learned that something was going on. So Nelson was sent with some ships to watch the Mediterranean. But in May, when the French fleet was ready to sail, a great storm arose. It did such damage to the British [30] ships that Nelson was obliged to put into a port in the island of Sardinia to repair them.

As soon as Napoleon knew that the way was clear, he gave orders to sail. On a beautiful May morning, just as the sun was rising, the great fleet sailed out on the waters of the Mediterranean. "Soldiers," said Napoleon to them as they set out, "you are one of the wings of the army of England. The eyes of all Europe are upon you. You are going to do more than you have ever done for the prosperity of your fatherland, for the good of man, and for your own glory." Besides speaking to them in this grand way, Napoleon promised each man that he should come home rich enough to buy six acres of land.

When Nelson found that Napoleon had left Toulon, he sailed up and down the Mediterranean looking for him, but he could not find him.

Meanwhile Napoleon reached Malta, took possession of the island, left a garrison of Frenchmen there, and sailed on his way to Egypt.

[31] On the 30th of June, just as the sun was setting, Napoleon arrived at Alexandria. A storm was blowing, and such waves were beating upon the shore that it was dangerous to land. But seeing a strange sail in the distance, Napoleon would not wait. He feared that the British were at last upon his heels. "Fortune," he cried, "I ask but five hours. Will you deny them?"

And so, in the darkness and the storm, the troops were landed, but the waves were so fierce that many of the men were drowned.

Then through the night the French marched to Alexandria, and, wearied and hungry as they were, attacked it in the dawning of the day. The Turks and Arabs shut their gates and fought with all their might against this unexpected enemy. But the ancient walls could not stand the onslaught of Napoleon and his legions, and soon the flag of France was floating from the battlements.

In July Napoleon left Alexandria to march against Cairo. Many of his soldiers were [32] old and tried men. They had endured the heat of Italy cheerfully, for there, although the sun was hot, they had marched through fertile lands well watered and pleasant. At the end of the day's march food and wine were always to be had. But now, day by day they marched over burning sand, under a brazen sky, through a land barren and empty, where neither man nor beast was to be seen, and where there was scarce a growing thing but thorny shrubs.

With feet burned and blistered, with parched tongues and cracked lips, blinded by the glare of the sun upon the sand, maddened by swarms of flies and insects, the march became a torture to the men. Gasping in the intolerable heat, they threw off their clothes, trying to find relief. Was this where the general had promised them six acres of land? they angrily demanded.

Even the officers could hardly bear the fiery torment. They pulled off their cockades and trod them in the sand and murmured of rebellion. Napoleon alone seemed cool and calm. He wore his heavy [33] uniform, buttoned to the throat as usual, when the men were throwing away almost every garment. And when they were gasping and perspiring, he seemed as cool in body as in mind.

As the army wound along the weary way, many men, too worn out to keep up with the others, fell behind. Then out of the dust of the desert, through the glare of the dazzling sun, a company of fleet mounted Arabs would dash upon the stragglers. Muskets cracked, bright steel flashed, and the blood of Frenchmen stained the yellow desert sand.

For a fortnight the toilsome march dragged on through the seemingly endless wilds, until the men began to believe that there was no such place as Cairo. For the first time, they had lost faith in their leader. Then, at last, one day over the unbroken waste of desert there rose enormous masses in straight lines and angles. They were the Pyramids.

Here the Mamelukes, as the Egyptian soldiers were called, awaited their enemy. [34] Drawn out in glittering lines, with cannon pointed and camp entrenched, they waited.

Through a telescope Napoleon carefully examined the lines of the foe. He was a great general, but he noticed the smallest details. He now saw something which none of his officers had seen. The enemy's cannon were not on wheels. They were fixed, and could only be fired in one direction. That decided the day.

Napoleon drew up his men so that they should be out of range of the cannon. Then, pointing to the Pyramids as the battle began, "Soldiers," he cried, "forty centuries look down upon you."


[Illustration]

BATTLE OF THE PYRAMIDS.

And there in the sandy desert, under the burning sun, Mameluke and Frenchman fought. Flashing in the sunlight, the brilliant cavalcade came spurring on. Again and again it broke against the solid wall of glittering bayonets. The fight was fearful. When the Mamelukes could no longer shoot, they dashed their pistols in the faces of their enemies. When wounded, they crawled on the sand, hewing, hacking, [35] and stabbing all that they could reach. But at last, scattered and thinned by the fearful charge of the French, the Mamelukes fled.

Many threw themselves into the Nile in the panic of flight. Many were cut down by the pursuing French. Those who escaped carried to all parts of Egypt the fame and terror of Sultan Kebir, the King of Fire, as they called Napoleon.

Four days after the battle of the Pyramids, Napoleon entered Cairo. And here for some months he made his headquarters, ruling and commanding, fighting and punishing, making new laws for Egypt, much as a few months before he had done in Italy.

But meanwhile Napoleon's conquests in Egypt had been made useless, for the French fleet had been destroyed. Soon after the French soldiers had been landed, Nelson at last found the enemy he had been seeking so long, although Napoleon had escaped him. When the French and British fleets met, the battle of the Nile was fought, in which the French were utterly [36] defeated. Of that battle you will read in the Life of Nelson.

When the news of the battle was brought to Napoleon he was filled with grief. Not only had the British, whom he had hoped to crush, been victorious once more, but by that victory he and his soldiers were cut off from France. Then the Turks, no longer having the French fleet to fear, declared war against France, and made ready an army to attack Napoleon in Egypt.

This army was expected to land in Syria, and Napoleon decided to meet it there. So once more the weary tramp through burning desert began.

Fighting and taking towns on the way the army at length reached Acre.

At this time a cruel ruler called Jessar Pasha, "the Butcher," lived there. Napoleon sent a message to this chief, hoping to win him to his side. But the Butcher cut off the messenger's head and threw his body into the sea in a sack.

So Napoleon began to besiege Acre. But now he had more than Turks against him. [37] For Sir Sidney Smith, a British captain, was anchored in the bay, with two British ships, and he helped the Turks with men and guns.

For two months the siege went on. Napoleon had no battering-guns with which to break down the walls, for Sir Sidney Smith had seized his ships as they were coming from Alexandria with them. So he could make little impression. Then the plague broke out among his men, and at last, sorely against his will, Napoleon was forced to give up the siege and march back. In the darkness and silence of a May night the French army crept away. Thus ended Napoleon's dreams of power in the East. He had been beaten by the one enemy who was always to beat him—the British. For had no British ships been in the bay of Acre, the town might have fallen. "Had St. Jean d'Acre fallen, I would have changed the face of the world," said Napoleon.

The retreat from Acre was one long agony. The sun blazed down upon the weary and now disheartened soldiers, many of whom were wounded and ill. Those who were [38] too ill to walk were borne in litters. But sometimes the men, tired of carrying their wounded comrades, and themselves scarcely able to drag along, would throw them down, and leave them to die by the wayside or fall into the hands of the terrible Turks.

Sometimes the thirsting troops would see in the distance a cool oasis, with waving palm trees and pools of sparkling water. Eagerly they would press forward, only to find a few moments later that what they had seen was a mirage, a deceitful picture of the desert.

Sometimes, when they did find water, it was so foul or salt that their thirst was made worse rather than better. And all the way they were beset by pursuing Turks and wild desert Arabs, so that many more died on the march than in the battle. But at last their miseries were ended, and the worn-out army reached Cairo again.

Here Napoleon set himself once more to the ruling of Egypt, and by a great victory over the Turks at Aboukir Bay he blotted out the memory of his defeat at Acre.

[39] All during the time of the Syrian campaign Napoleon had had no news of France. Now some old newspapers came into his hands. From them he learned that things were indeed going ill at home. Italy was lost, and all his great conquests were wiped out as if they had never been.

"The fools have lost Italy," he exclaimed. "All the fruits of my victories have disappeared. I must leave Egypt."

But he had no ships in which to carry his army home. So he resolved to go alone, taking only about five hundred men with him, and leaving one of his generals in charge of the campaign, which from the beginning had been utterly useless.

Napoleon made all his preparations with great secrecy; he dared not tell his soldiers that he was going to desert them. One dark August night, under the pale light of the twinkling stars, as silently as possible the company rode down to the harbour of Alexandria. Quickly and stealthily the men went on board two waiting vessels which instantly set sail for home.


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