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"Let us go on now," he said, after a short interval, and dictated in an enthusiastic voice, and with flaming eyes: "If I have been mistaken in my calculations, my heart is pure, and my intentions are well meaning. I have not listened to the promptings of glory, of vanity and ambition; I have only regarded the welfare of the country and government. If they should not approve of my actions and views, nothing is left to me but to step back into the crowd, put on the wooden shoes of Cincinnatus, and give an example of respect for the government, and of aversion to military rule, which has destroyed so many republics, and annihilated so many states." [Footnote: Bonaparte's own words.--"Memoires d'un Homme d'Etat," vol. iv., p. 558.]
"Are you through?" asked Bonaparte, drawing a long breath.
"Yes, general, I am."
"Then take another sheet, my friend. We are going to write now to the sly fox who generally perceives every hole where he may slip in, and who has such an excellent nose that he scents every danger and every advantage from afar. But this time he has lost the trail and is entirely mistaken. I will, therefore, show him the way. 'To Citizen Talleyrand, Minister of Foreign Affairs.' Did you write the address?"
"Well, go on."
And without stopping a single time, and even without hesitating, Bonaparte dictated the following letter:
"In three or four hours, citizen minister, every thing will be decided--peace or war. I confess that I shall do every thing to make peace, in consequence of the advanced season and the slim prospect of achieving important successes."
"You know very little about the nations of the peninsula; they do not deserve that forty thousand French soldiers should be killed for their sake. I see from your letter that you always argue from unfounded premises. You fancy that liberty would make a great impression upon a lazy, superstitious, cowardly, and degraded people."
"You ask me to do miracles, and I cannot perform them. Ever since I came to Italy, the nation's desire for liberty and equality was not my ally, or at best it was but a very feeble one. Whatever is merely good to be mentioned in proclamations and printed speeches is worth no more than a novel."
"Hoping that the negotiations will have a favorable issue, I do not enter upon further details to enlighten you about many matters which apparently have been misunderstood. Only by prudence, sagacity, and determination we are able to realize great objects and surmount all obstacles; otherwise all our efforts will prove unavailing. Frequently there is but a single step from victory to ruin. In highly critical times, I have always noticed that a mere nothing decided the most important events."
"It is characteristic of our nation to be too rash and fiery in prosperity. If we adopt a sagacious policy, which is nothing but the result of the calculation of combination and chances as a base for our operations, we shall long remain the greatest nation and most powerful state in Europe--nay, more, we shall hold the balance of power, we shall make it incline wherever we desire, and if it were the will of Providence, it would be no impossibility to achieve in the course of a few years those great results which a glowing and excited imagination perhaps foresees, but which only a man of extraordinary coolness, perseverance, and prudence is able to accomplish if--" [Footnote: "Memoires d'un Homme d'Etat," vol. iv., p. 581.]
Bonaparte paused suddenly as if he had been about to betray a profound secret, and stopped exactly when it was not yet too late to keep it buried within his own breast.
"It is enough," he then said, "erase the last word and close the letter. What makes you look at me so strangely, Bourrienne?"
"I beg your pardon, general, I had a vision. It seemed to me as if an oriflamme were burning on your head, and I believe if all nations and all men could behold you as I saw you just now, they would believe once more in the fables of pagan mythology, and feel satisfied that Jove the Thunderer had deigned to descend once more into our human world."
Bonaparte smiled, and this smile lighted up his face, previously so stern and rigid.
"You are a flatterer and a courtier," he said, playfully pinching Bourrienne's ear so violently that the latter was scarcely able to conceal a shriek of pain under a smile. "Yes, indeed, you are a regular courtier, and the republic has done well to banish you, for flattery is something very aristocratic, and injurious to our stiff republican dignity. And what an idea, to compare me to Jove appearing on earth! Don't you know, then, you learned scholar and flatterer, that Jove, whenever he descended from Olympus, was in pursuit of a very worldly and entirely ungodly adventure? It would only remain for you to inform my Josephine that I was about to transform myself into an ox for the sake of some beautiful Europa, or drop down in the shape of a golden rain to gain the love of a Danae."
"General, the sagacious and spirited Josephine would believe the former to be impossible, for even if you should succeed in performing all the miracles of the world, you could never transform yourself into an ox."
"What! you compared me a minute ago with Jove, and now you doubt already whether I could accomplish what Jove has done!" exclaimed Bonaparte, laughing. "Ah, flatterer, you see I have caught you in your own meshes. But would my Josephine believe, then, that I could transform myself into a golden rain for the purpose of winning a Danae, you arrant rogue?"
"Yes, general, but she always would take good care to be that Danae herself."
"Yes, indeed, you are right," replied Bonaparte, laughing even louder than before. "Josephine likes golden rains, and should they be ever so violent, she would not complain; for if they should immerse her up to the neck, in the course of a few hours she would have got rid of the whole valuable flood."
"Your wife is as liberal and generous as a princess, and that is the reason why she spends so much money. She scatters her charities with liberal hands."
"Yes, Josephine has a noble and magnanimous heart," exclaimed Napoleon, and his large blue eyes assumed a mild and tender expression. "She is a woman just as I like women--so gentle and good, so childlike and playful, so tender and affectionate, so passionate and odd! And at the same time so dignified and refined in her manners. Ah, you ought to have seen her at Milan receiving the princes and noblesse in her drawing-room. I assure you, my friend, the wife of little General Bonaparte looked and bore herself precisely like a queen holding a levee, and she was treated and honored as though she were one. Ah, you ought to have seen it!"
"I DID see it, general. I was at Milan before coming here."
"Ah, yes, that is true. I had forgotten it. You lucky fellow, you saw my wife more recently than I did myself. Josephine is beautiful, is she not? No young girl can boast of more freshness, more grace, innocence, and loveliness. Whenever I am with her, I feel as contented, as happy and tranquil as a man who, on a very warm day, is reposing in the shade of a splendid myrtle-tree, and whenever I am far from her--"
Bonaparte paused, and a slight blush stole over his face. The young lover of twenty-eight had triumphed for a moment over the stern, calculating general, and the general was ashamed of it.
"This is no time to think of such things," he said, almost indignantly. "Seal the letters now, and dispatch a messenger to Paris. Ah, Paris! Would to God I were again there in my little house in the Rue Chantereine, alone and happy with Josephine! But in order to get there, I must first make peace here--peace with Austria, with the Emperor of Germany. Ah, I am afraid Germany will not be much elated by this treaty of peace which her emperor is going to conclude, and by which she may lose some of her most splendid fortresses on the Rhine."
"And the Republic of Venice, general?"
"The Republic of Venice is about to disappear," exclaimed Bonaparte, frowning. "Venice has rendered herself unworthy of the name of a republic--she is about to disappear."
"General, the delegates of the republic were all day yesterday in your anteroom, vainly waiting for an audience."
"They will have to wait to-day likewise until I return from the conference which is to decide about war or peace. In either case, woe unto the Venetians! Tell them, Bourrienne, to wait until I return. And now, my carriage. I cannot let the Austrian plenipotentiaries wait any longer for my ultimatum."
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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach