1938 "Napoleon's Greatest Romance" cont'd
Dinner with its elaborate equipment might enable Marie
to absorb her disappointment. More was beyond her.
"You're not eating," Napoleon reproved, looking up from his
plate. "I beg and implore you not to think my marriage will alter
anything between us. It is you I love. I haven't even seen the Hapsburg
princess. The fusion of ancient blood is a necessity!"
Unable to bear her child's subjection to a slight which she would willingly
have endured herself, Marie blurted out: "Ancient blood --thin, cold
-- a dead house! Is there no other son that you could love but one born
of a family which you despise? If you really loved me, my love would save
you from a marriage of convenience. Love of power is in the back of your
mind. How can you hope to found a new Europe by becoming the son-in-law
of a cruel and outworn stock?"
Long the argument continued before Marie left the Palace, her secret unimparted.
Yet love and pride were stronger than she thought.
the summer of 1814, Marie and her boy Alexandre, approaching
his fifth birthday, came to the island of Elba, where the exiled Napoleon
expected the Empress and her son to visit him. They never came. In the
omission was Marie's strength. From the moment she stepped on the quay,
the dark-haired child beside her, she was mistress of the situation.
"You are disappointed, Sire?" she asked of the familiar figure,
poised and proud despite his defeat.
"I hoped to see my son today."
"I have brought your son, Sire -- yours and mine." At her call
the child ran to them. Napoleon smiled, raised the boy shoulder-high.
At dinner he took notice of the boy, seemingly pleased with his wish to
ride a pony and his willingness to be entertained with a story.
When Marie had tucked her son up in bed, she dared to hope that her lover
in captivity would be happy with his mother Laetitia, the child, and herself.
She underestimated the willpower of the fallen conqueror. Furious at being
expected to rot on a lonely island, he implored her to take back a message
to the Count de Montholon, who as army officer, might rally the soldiers
around their Emperor. Her refusal and pleas that France might be left
in peace were useless.
Heavy-hearted as the carriage bore her and the child to the quay, she
carried the message -- her lover's passport to Waterloo.
Nearly a year later, in an upstairs room facing the ship which was to
take Napoleon to St. Helena, Marie made one final effort to help the man
who for all time held her heart. Perhaps she had never admired Napoleon
more than in his refusal to wear the woman's clothes she brought him hidden
in a roll of blanket.
"There is a ship at Bordeaux sailing for America,"
she pleaded. "I told the guards I had a woman companion in the coach,
that she was ill. If you could---"
"Ah, Marie!" he returned in the old energetic way, "the
greatest tragedy turns to comedy. Suppose I put this silly object over
my soldier's boots, suppose I take the ship to America -- what then? I
have my destiny to achieve. The British won't kill me -- make me a martyr.
Oh, no! They have to tear every shred of greatness from me before I die.
The youth of Europe must have no hero to worship."
"Then I am going with you."
"No. Death and exile are best met alone. Where I am going, you would
die too. Let me say good-bye to my son." He looked down at the child,
and would have given him his sword -- the sword he wore when conquering
Italy -- but Marie entreated no.
"Perhaps he may be living in a better world," Napoleon conceded,
and kissed the boy's forehead.
A few moments later, through her tears, Marie watched the pinnace bearing
Napoleon towards the waiting ship, and prayed that following his star
would bring him peace.