On the 18th June 1815 at the very moment when the destiny of Europe
was being decided at Waterloo a man dressed like a beggar was
silently following the road from Toulon to Marseilles.
Arrived at the entrance of the Gorge of Ollioulles he halted on a
little eminence from which he could see all the surrounding country;
then either because he had reached the end of his journey or
because before attempting that forbidding sombre pass which is
called the Thermopylae of Provence he wished to enjoy the
magnificent view which spread to the southern horizon a little
longer he went and sat down on the edge of the ditch which bordered
the road turning his back on the mountains which rise like an
amphitheatre to the north of the town and having at his feet a rich
plain covered with tropical vegetation exotics of a conservatory
trees and flowers quite unknown in any other part of France.
Beyond this plain glittering in the last rays of the sun pale and
motionless as a mirror lay the sea and on the surface of the water
glided one brig-of-war which taking advantage of a fresh land
breeze had all sails spread and was bowling along rapidly making
for Italian seas. The beggar followed it eagerly with his eyes until
it disappeared between the Cape of Gien and the first of the islands
of Hyeres then as the white apparition vanished he sighed deeply
let his head fall into his hands and remained motionless and
absorbed in his reflections until the tramplings of a cavalcade made
him start; he looked up shook back his long black hair as if he
wished to get rid of the gloomy thoughts which were overwhelming him
and looking at the entrance to the gorge from whence the noise came
he soon saw two riders appear who were no doubt well known to him
for drawing himself up to his full height he let fall the stick he
was carrying and folding his arms he turned towards them. On their
side the new-comers had hardly seen him before they halted and the
foremost dismounted threw his bridle to his companion and
uncovering though fifty paces from the man in rags advanced
respectfully towards him. The beggar allowed him to approach with an
air of sombre dignity and without a single movement; then when he
was quite near--
"Well marshal have you news for me?" said the beggar.
"Yes sire" said the other sadly.
"And what are they?"
"Such that I could wish it were anyone but myself to announce them to
"So the Emperor refuses my services! He forgets the victories of
Aboukir Eylau and Moscow?"
"No sire; but he remembers the treaty of Naples the taking of
Reggio and the declaration of war of the viceroy of Italy."
The beggar struck his forehead.
"Yes yes! I daresay he thinks I deserve his reproaches and yet it
seems to me that he ought to remember that there are two men in me--
the soldier whom he made his brother and the brother whom he made a
king.... Yes as brother I have treated him ill--very ill but as
king upon my soul I could not have acted differently.... I had to
choose between my sword and my crown and between a regiment and a
people. Listen Brune: you do not know how it all happened. There
was an English fleet the guns of which were growling in the port
there was a Neapolitan population howling in the streets. If I had
been alone I would have passed through the fleet with one boat
through the crowd with my sword alone but I had a wife and children.
Yet I hesitated; the idea of being called traitor and deserter caused
me to shed more tears than the loss of my throne or perhaps the
death of those I love best will ever wring from me.... And so he
will have nothing more to do with me? He refuses me as general
captain private? Then what is left for me to do?"
"Sire your Majesty must leave France immediately."
"And if I don't obey?"
"My orders are to arrest you and deliver you up to a court-martial!"
"Old comrade you will not do that?"
"I shall do it praying God to strike me dead in the moment I lay
hands on you!"
"That's you all over Brune. You have been able to remain a good
loyal fellow. He did not give you a kingdom he did not encircle
your brow with a band of iron which men call a crown and which drives
one mad; he did not place you between your conscience and your
family. So I must leave France begin my vagabond life again and
say farewell to Toulon which recalls so many memories to me! See
Brune" continued Murat leaning on the arm of the marshal "are not
the pines yonder as fine as any at the Villa Pamfili the palms as
imposing as any at Cairo the mountains as grand as any range in the
Tyrol? Look to your left is not Cape Gien something like
Castellamare and Sorrento--leaving out Vesuvius? And see Saint-
Mandrier at the farthest point of the gulf is it not like my rock of
Capri which Lamarque juggled away so cleverly from that idiot of a
Sir Hudson Lowe? My God! and I must leave all this! Is there no way
of remaining on this little corner of French ground--tell me Brune!"
"You'll break my heart sire!" answered the marshal.
"Well we'll say no more about it. What news?"
"The Emperor has left Paris to join the army. They must be fighting
"Fighting now and I not there! Oh I feel I could have been of use
to him on this battlefield. How I would have gloried in charging
those miserable Prussians and dastardly English! Brune give me a
passport I'll go at full speed I'll reach the army I will make
myself known to some colonel I shall say 'Give me your regiment.'
I'll charge at its head and if the Emperor does not clasp my hand
to-night I'll blow my brains out I swear I will. Do what I ask
Brune and however it may end my eternal gratitude will be yours!"
"I cannot sire."
"Well well say no more about it."
"And your Majesty is going to leave France?"