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The Story of Napoleon by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

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NAPOLEON AN OFFICER

THERE was still another year to pass in Brienne, Napoleon thought. But one day he was told that he had been admitted to the military school at Paris. And on the 30th of October 1784 he set out for the capital with four other boys.

At Paris Napoleon was in his element. It seemed to him that he was no longer at school, but in a city under arms and in a state of war. All around him he saw men [14] in uniforms. He was no longer awakened from sleep or called to class by the sound of a bell, but by the rat-tat of a drum. Sentinels marched to and fro. Every hour, by night or day, he heard the sharp word of command, the ring and thud of grounding muskets. All the talk was of war, and the boys discussed together the regiments to which they would belong, their uniforms, and arms.

When Napoleon had been a year in Paris he passed his examinations, and received his commission as second lieutenant in the artillery regiment of La Fère, one of the finest in the army, and on the 30th of October 1785 he and another boy set out to join their regiment at Valence. They were only boys of sixteen and seventeen, but they felt very grand, for now they were real officers. They wore swords and belts and silver collar-clasps. But to their great grief they were not yet allowed to wear the uniform of their regiment, but had to travel in their school uniforms. Still, it was a fine thing to wear a sword. So they climbed [15] joyfully into the Lyons coach, and were soon whirling away southwards behind spanking horses.

The La Fère regiment, being one of the best, was one of the most hard-working of the French artillery. The men got up early, and worked hard at marching, drilling, and shooting. Napoleon was in a way still a pupil. He had to begin at the bottom, to serve first as a gunner, then as corporal and sergeant, so that he might know his work in every detail. Then only was he considered fit to be an officer.

Besides drilling and studying gunnery, he read everything he could about soldiers and about war. He learned, too, to draw maps and plans, and as he was one of the keenest, soon became one of the best, of the officers of the regiment.

But he did not spend all his time in work; he often went home on leave. He had his share too in all the fun and jokes of which his companions were fond. He took part in dinners, balls, and parties. Indeed since he had become an officer, Napoleon was no [16] longer the moody boy he had been, although at times he might have fits of passion.

But meanwhile, as the days and months went on, great changes were taking place in France.

At this time the position of King and people in France was very different from what it was in Britain. The people, of Britain, through long years of struggle, had gained freedom. There they lived under what is called a limited monarchy; that is, the power of the King was held in check by Lords and Commons. But in France there was no check upon the King. He could do as he liked. Under him, there were the "three estates"—that is, the nobles, the clergy, and the people. The nobles and the clergy paid no taxes. They were called the privileged classes. They and the King spent a great deal of money. So the third estate—that is, the people—had to pay. Every year the King and nobles spent more and more. Every year the people had to pay more and more.

As, the years went on the people grew [17] more and more miserable, and more and more weary of their rulers. Many of them were very ignorant. They hardly knew what was wrong, or how it might be put right. They only knew that they were poor, miserable, and hungry. Riots grew frequent; all the summer of 1789 was stormy with them. At last the people broke out fiercely in Paris. They seized and pulled down the state prison. The King was powerless. "It is revolt," said he, when he heard of it.

"Nay, sire," replied his minister, "it is revolution."

Soon all over France revolution was blazing. The King was driven from the throne. Everything was turned topsy-turvy, and men knew not whom to follow.

But Napoleon was no Frenchman. He was a Corsican. The troubles of France did not touch him, except that he thought perhaps out of them good might come to his dear island. And so in this time of wild unrest he asked for leave and went home.

[18] For the next four years Napoleon divided his time between France and Corsica.

Corsica, like France, was in a state of turmoil and anarchy. Paoli, the great Corsican hero, had returned from exile, and was everywhere greeted with cheers.

When a boy Napoleon had loved and honoured Paoli. But soon these two, the grey old hero whose work was done, and the brown-faced lad whose work was only beginning, quarrelled. The story of these quarrels is hard to follow, but at last Napoleon, who had been a great patriot, took the side of France. Then he and all his family were forced to flee from Corsica in secret, and after many adventures they arrived safely in Marseilles. There Napoleon left his mother and sisters in great poverty, and went to join his regiment, which was now at Nice. From henceforth he was a Frenchman.

When the French rebelled against their King, many of the princes and rulers of the other countries of Europe joined together and threatened to make war against [19] France, unless the French people placed Louis upon the throne again.

At first Britain did not openly join with the others. But in January 1793 the French put their King to death, and a few weeks after Britain joined the allies. Even some of the French themselves joined them, so that France had to fight a civil war as well as one against foreign enemies.

Among the French who helped the allies, and who were helped by them, were the people of Toulon. An army of the allies took possession of the fortress, and a squadron of British ships lay in the harbour, while the French Revolutionary army besieged the town.

Napoleon now joined this army as commander of artillery, and it is from the siege of Toulon that his fame as a soldier dates. It is said by some, indeed, that the taking of the town was almost entirely due to him, but others think that his part in it was really very small.

However that may be, when Napoleon arrived at Toulon the army was badly [20] officered, and there was hardly any artillery at all. He at once set eagerly to work, and in a few days he had forty cannon and everything needed for the building of new forts. He gathered shot and shell, too, and built forts and batteries. He wrote, ordered, and fought unceasingly.

For weeks, the siege went on. There were attacks and counter-attacks, assaults, and sallies, and at last a fort called L'Eguillette was taken. "To-morrow, or the day after, we shall sup in Toulon," said Napoleon.

And he was right. The British ships made ready to sail away. The people of Toulon were seized with panic. The British ships were their last and only hope. Nothing else could save them from falling into the hands of the terrible revolutionists, so they made ready to go with them. Soon the sea was crowded with boats carrying terror-stricken men, women, and children to the fleet. In their haste many were drowned, sometimes whole boat-loads being overturned by the too eager crowds.

[21] All day the flight lasted. Then about nine o'clock in the evening a terrible explosion shook the earth. The sea seemed to belch forth fire, the dark night was suddenly bright as day, and horrible with noise and smoke. Fierce red flames licked the sky, and black against the lurid light, showed the shattered hulks of ships. It was the British commander who, before leaving, had set fire to a great part of the arsenal and blown up about a dozen French ships of war.

The siege was over, and next day the victorious troops marched into the now almost silent and deserted town.

Napoleon by this time had many good friends among the men who were ruling France, and it seemed as if his fortune was made. But these were very wild and uncertain times. His friends fell into disgrace, Napoleon himself was put into prison for a short time, and at last we find him once more, poor and lonely, wandering the streets of Paris, with nothing to do.

But it was now,. when he, seemed for- [22] gotten and cast aside, that his great chance came to him.


[Illustration]

THE LITTLE CORSICAN.

France, besides having to fight outside enemies, was full of unrest and discontent within its borders. The people were tired of the Convention, as the Government was now called, and wished to overthrow its power. At last the citizens of Paris took up arms, and resolved to attack the palace of the Tuileries.

The members of the Convention then gathered to consult. They knew that their danger was great. They must do something quickly, if they were not to be overthrown. But who was to lead their soldiers.

Suddenly one of their number called Barras rose. "I know the man whom you want," he said. "He is a little Corsican officer who will not stand on ceremony."

So Napoleon was sent for.

It was by this time late at night. But Napoleon began to work at once, and by six o'clock next morning every street [23] leading to the Tuileries was guarded with cannon.

The rioters had no cannon, but they were well armed with muskets, and thirty thousand of them came crowding along the narrow streets to besiege the palace.

For many hours the two forces stood facing each other, neither exchanging a shot; but at last, about half-past four, some one fired. It was a signal for all to begin. Napoleon's cannon swept the streets. The rioters fled before the hail of grape-shot, leaving their dead upon the ground. By six in the evening all was quiet again. Thanks to "the little Corsican," the Convention had won. And Napoleon had gained for himself the post of commander-in-chief of the army of the Interior.

One day very soon after this a boy of about twelve asked to see Napoleon. The boy's name was Eugène Beauharnais, and with tears in his eyes he told Napoleon that his father had been a soldier. He had fought for the Republic, but had been killed. Now Eugene came to beg for his father's sword.

[24] Napoleon was sorry for the boy, and ordered at once that the sword should be given to him. As soon as Eugène saw it he seized it, kissed it, and carried it away happy.

The next day, Eugène's mother, who was a very beautiful lady, came to thank Napoleon for having been so kind to her boy. Soon Napoleon began to love this beautiful lady, although she was many years older than he. She loved him too, and in a short time they were married.

So in a few months, from being almost penniless and unknown, Napoleon had become famous and well off, and had married a fine lady, who was able to make friends for him among the rulers of the land.

But Josephine de Beauharnais had married a great man, or rather, a man who was going to be great, and a few days after the wedding they had to say good-bye to each other. For among the Alps there was still fighting, and Napoleon was ordered off to take command of the army of Italy.

It will not be possible to follow Napoleon [25] through all his battles. He had to fight two armies—one Austrian and one Sardinian. Against so strong an enemy he knew that his only hope was in quick marches and surprises. He must surround and astonish the foe, and take him at a disadvantage. To do this his own army must travel without baggage, so as to be able to move quickly, and must trust to finding all they needed for food and clothes in the country to which they went.

Napoleon knew that if the two armies of his enemies joined and attacked him together, they would be too strong for him. So he tried to keep them apart, and to fight first one and then the other. This he succeeded in doing. He led his soldiers with splendid skill. He beat every enemy who came against him, both in the plains of Italy and in the mountains of Austria. Nearly the whole of Italy was in his hands when at last peace was made.

First a, treaty, called the treaty of Leoben, from the name of the town in Austria where it was signed was agreed upon. [26] Later came another, called the treaty of Campo Formio. By this treaty much land was added to France, and Napoleon made the first of those changes in the map of Europe for which he was soon to be famous.

Napoleon, in all his fighting in Italy, did not act merely as a commander and soldier. He acted more like a conqueror and ruler. It seemed as if he were not working for the Republic of France, but for himself. He did as he liked. "Do you suppose," he said, "that I triumph in Italy for the glory of the lawyers of the Directory? Do you suppose I mean to found a Republic? What an idea! The nation wants a chief, a chief covered with glory."

He had covered himself with glory. His soldiers, whom he led with such splendid success, with such skill and daring, loved him.


[Illustration]

NAPOLEON AT LODI.

They called him the "Little Corporal." This name they gave him after the crossing of the river Adda at the bridge of [27] Lodi. The Austrians were on one side of the river, the French on the other. Shouting "Long live the Republic!" the French charged the bridge. But such a terrible fire met them that they wavered. Then Napoleon himself seized a standard and urged them onward. The bridge was passed. Right up to the enemy's guns they charged. The gunners died at their posts, but the Austrians were scattered, and fled in utter confusion, chased by the French, until darkness ended the flight and slaughter.

Napoleon himself called it "the terrible passage of Lodi," and it was after this battle that the French delighted with their clever leader called him the "Little Corporal," which for many a day was his name among his soldiers.


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