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The Story of Napoleon by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

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NAPOLEON EMPEROR OF ELBA

IT should not be forgotten that of all the Grand Army scarcely a sixth were French, and of those the best officers and men returned. So almost at once Napoleon was able to raise a new army. True, most of the new recruits were boys under twenty, but the magic of his name was still so great that they were eager to fight for him. And he had need of all this eagerness, for Prussia, following the example of Spain, and encouraged by the news of Napoleon's awful defeat in Russia, resolved to fight once more for freedom.

[95] Men rich and poor, old and young, flocked to the standard. Ladies brought their jewels, and the Czar of Russia marched to meet his old friend, whom, it is true, he had forsaken, and almost betrayed, at Tilsit. Tears came into the eyes of the old King as he greeted Alexander. "Wipe them," said he; "they are the last tears that Napoleon will ever cause you to shed."

The Prussian leader was Blücher, a rough old man, but brave and loving his country well, and loved by his men, who called him "Marshal Forwards." It was he who, after Jena, held out longest against Napoleon, only surrendering when resistance was useless and hopeless.

The war lasted from April to October. But now Napoleon no longer won victory after victory as he used to do, and at last at the battle of Leipsic he was defeated.

On the 16th of October the battle began. On the 19th Napoleon and his beaten army were streaming across the Elbe, leaving behind them thousands dead, thousands more prisoners, besides hundreds of cannon, stores, [96] and ammunition, and, greatest of all, a mighty empire shattered and crumbling into dust.

Without an army Napoleon could not hold his vast conquests. Without an army he could only be King of the French, and of all his great forces only about forty thousand men hurried towards the borders of France.

All over Europe the nations now began to throw off French yoke. The Dutch and Germans tore the tricolour down, and once more their own standards floated out on the breeze. Everywhere the German fortresses which were held by French soldiers surrendered or were taken.

On the 19th of November Napoleon reached Paris, and here the allies sent to him conditions of peace. Much that he had conquered was to be given back, but not all. The Rhine was still to be the boundary of France. Belgium, Savoy, and Nice also were left to him. But Napoleon did not yet believe in his defeat. He would not give up any of his conquests. So the allies marched into France, and another war began.

The allies fought, not with France, they [97] said, but with Napoleon. "We thought to find peace before we touched your borders; now we come to find it here."

Many of the people of France had been weary of Napoleon and his wars. But now that the foe had marched into their beloved land, they rose to defend it. Napoleon once more prepared to take the field.

On Sunday, 23rd January, he held a last and splendid reception in the palace of the Tuileries. When the courtiers were gathered, Napoleon walked into the hall with the Empress Marie Louise and his little son, now just three years old. Holding one by either hand, he turned to his court. "Gentlemen," he said, "France is invaded. I go to put myself at the head of the army. I leave to you that which I hold dearest—my wife and son."

Two days later Napoleon said good-bye to Marie Louise. They never saw each other again, for when Napoleon returned to Paris his power was broken, and Marie Louise refused to share the fortunes of a fallen King.

[98] Never perhaps in all his triumphant campaigns had Napoleon shown more his great genius as a soldier than he did now. Nearly always he had fought against armies smaller in numbers or less well drilled than his own. Now he had to fight against far greater numbers, and his soldiers were for the most part young and untrained. Yet still he wrung victories and triumphs from the foe.

But at last, after the war had been flung this way and that, after marches and counter-marches, after taking of towns and burning of villages, until some of the fairest provinces of France had become a desert, the allies began to march on Paris.

Round that fair city, which never since the days of the Maid of Orleans had heard the shouts of a foreign foe, the horrors of war raged. For one long day Prussians filled with bitter hate against their conqueror, half-savage Russians, Austrians, Dutch, people of every country which Napoleon had enslaved, surged in a red circle of fire and death about the city. Then it yielded.

[99] On the 31st of March 1814 the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia rode side by side into the city, and passed through the streets filled with people, some sullen and angry, others rejoicing as at a great deliverance, and shouting, "Long live the Emperor Alexander! Long live the King of Prussia!"

Marie Louise had already fled, taking her little son with her. Napoleon, hurrying from the battlefields of Champagne, heard that the fight was over.

"On to Paris!" he cried.

"Sire, it is too late," replied an officer. "Paris has yielded."

Napoleon had been Emperor of half Europe. He had been a king of kings, making and unmaking them at will. In a few years he had built up his mighty empire. In a few months he had lost it bit by bit, until now not even his own capital remained to him. There the allies ruled, and on the 2nd April 1814 the Senate declared that Napoleon had ceased to reign.

But still Napoleon did not believe that [100] all was lost. At Fontainebleau he reviewed his troops. His Old Guard, men who had been with him through every campaign, were still eager to fight for him. "To Paris! to Paris!" they shouted.

But the officers were weary of it all. "We have had enough of war," said one. "Let us not begin a civil war."

So at length, seeing no help for it, Napoleon wrote out and signed his abdication—that is, the paper by which he gave up all claim to the crown of France. "The allied Powers having declared that the Emperor Napoleon is the only cause which prevents peace being brought back to Europe, he, faithful to his oaths, is ready to descend from the throne, to leave France, and even give up his life for the good of his country."

On the 20th of April Napoleon said good-bye to his troops in the courtyard of Fontainebleau. His men loved and admired him still. Tears rolled down their bronzed cheeks, sobs choked them. "I cannot embrace you all," he cried, "but I embrace [101] you in your general." And putting his arms round him, he kissed him. He kissed the standard too, the splendid eagle of France, which had led them so often under burning suns or cloudy skies, through the parching heat of summer or the snows of winter.

Then the fallen, Emperor stepped into his carriage and was whirled away southwards. He was an Emperor still, for the allies allowed him to keep his title. But his empire was only the little island of Elba.

At first, as Napoleon drove through France, the people cheered him on his way. But as he went farther and farther south, where the people had never loved him, and where they now hated him, he was greeted with curses fierce and loud. The peasants cared little for "glory." They only knew that their sons and brothers and fathers had been taken from them, never to return. They knew that the vineyards were unfilled and the fields a barren waste, for the workers lay dead in many a distant land. So they cursed the man whose pride had brought such sorrow and poverty upon them.

[102] At last the anger and hatred of the people grew so great that Napoleon was forced to disguise himself as an Austrian officer to save himself from their fury. And thus he fled southwards until he reached the shore, and there set sail for Elba.

Although the peasants of France had cursed Napoleon as he passed, the people of Elba welcomed him gladly. And here for a little time the great Emperor played at empire.

His empire was not more than ninety square miles in extent. But here Napoleon had his little army of a few hundred men. Here he held court with as great state and ceremony as in the Tuileries, even though his palace was little more than an ordinary country house.


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