Wednesday, 28 November 2012
One otherwise ordinary morning in the twilight of 1815, a messenger arrived at the Briars to announce that 'Old Huff, ' tutor to the Balcombe boys and an accentric with foolish illusions to rescuing the Emperor Napoleon from his captivity, had committed suicide.
The very manner of his death stirred up fearful consternation amongst St-Helena's slaves who made up the largest portion of the population.Hoping to nip their superstitious fears in the bud, it was decided that to appease them, 'Old Huff' would be buried at a junction not far from the Briars itself. The notion was that should 'Old Huff's ' restless spirit walk, he would hopefully be confused by the differing avenues leading away from the junction. In this way he would find it difficult to be a able to return and haunt the living. 'Huff's Junction' as his resting place became known, soon became shunned by the slaves and the children on St-Helena, especially after dark.
To Napoleon Bonaparte, it was a load of old superstitous claptrap, but it represented a both wonderful opportunity to tease Betsy and to help ease his mind awhile off the oppressive weight of his caged and tortured soul which dwelt within him since his defeat at Waterloo.
Napoleon told Betsy with great relish, all about the ghosts of his childhood who roamed his native Corsica. He thrilled to tell her of the dead soldiers who haunted battlefields crying out in the dead of night as they searched missing limbs, lost in battle.
After a time, Napoleon sighed deeply and the conversation turned a serious shade as he related how he himself had attempted to take his own life as the Empire that he had forged collapsed in ruins around him. To Betsy, it sounded like an admission of guilt; that by unburdening himself to her, he might find it easier to put what was clearly a shameful past behind him.
"No doubt many might have been thrilled to hear of my demise, eh Betsee?" Napoleon joked. "But on the other side of the coin, many were equally exhilarated when I sprung myself from Elba to return in an attempt to reclaim my throne. the excitement felt upon my return was not confined to my supporters either for many relished another trial of arms with myself. Why! even now I fancy I hear a rumour that that old warhorse Blucher jokes half-heartedly with Wellington of rescuing me from this rock so that he might have a contest of strength with me yet again! ... I doubt that a man of action such as himself is much happier than I chained as I am far from the centre of events."
"Aww... You feel sorry for yourself, " Chided Betsy.
"No, no.... There's no future in self pity Betsee, it's a dead end out of which no more breath can be drawn."
"Where there is life there is always hope," offered Betsy.
"Exactly!" exclaimed Napoleon as he thumped the table between them with the flat of his hand for emphasis. "You just have to get busy living."
After Betsy had made her excuses for leave since she had chores to do for her mother, Napoleon gasped in pain, placing his palm against his stomach as the by now familiar stabbing pain lanced through him. Once again he threw his memory back to that awful day at Fontainbleau when he had swallowed the phial of poison that he had worn around his neck since the retreat from Russia. He had been spared from death, for with the passage of time, the poison had lost it's potency, but not for the first time, he wondered if he had caused himself to die a lingering death. Napoleon shoved that dark thought aside with difficulty and called his valet Marchand to summon General Gourgaud to ready his horse. perhaps a ride across the land surrounding the Briars might clear his head.
That same evening, Betsy lie frozen awake listening out for sounds in the dark, but all was still on the night air. But then she thought she imagined a low groaning wail penetrate the calm. With her heart skipping a beat, her youthful imagination conjured up an image of 'Old Huff' shuffling his way up the garden path, his ghostly form shimmering in the moonlight.
"Betsee...." a gutteral voice crooned out, "Old Huff! Old Huff!"
Betsy tensed and lunged for the door straight into the arms of her mother who assured her, "It's only the Emperor"
Behind them through Betsy's room and out the window, Napoleon's laugh barked out loud in the night.
It became a familiar pattern in the days that followed as Napoleon deliberately played upon Betsy's fears with childish glee. One particulary warm and sultry evening, Betsy and her mother sat out on the Verandah in the darkness, which gave Napoleon an opportunity to add a new twist. As Betsy and her mother chatted about tomorrows trip into Jamestown, a white shrouded figure materialised out of the darkness and made it's way sliding towards them with a low groaning sound. Betsy immediately took fright and hugged her mother tightly, who in turn reassured her daughter by telling her " Hush now, it's only the Emperor playing his games my dear" Sure enough, Napoleon's laughter rang out from the clump of bushes nearby as when the ghost made to sail past Betsy, her mother quickly whipped the sheet away to reaveal the dark and sheepish face of one of the slaves whom Napoleon had recruited into his game.
Of course, Betsy got her own way back on to be sure, and Napoleon fully expected her too, for by now it was part of the unspoken deal between the two. Perhaps Betsy went a step too far though when she mischievously presented to him a mechanical toy that was being manufactured in great numbers back in England. The toy depicted a figurine of Napoleon wearing his famous black hat standing at the foot of a ladder. Betsy pressed a button on the side of the contraption and Napoleon jerkily began to climb the rungs. Each rung was marked with the name of a country and as Napoleon climbed he passed Italy, Egypt, Austria, Prussia, Russia... When the figurine reached the top and St-Helena, he tumbled back down again to hang in an untidy jumble.
"Well, pretty neat huh? Betsy demanded of the Emperor.
Napoleon giving nothing of his innermost feelings away said not a word, but Betsy could tell that he was far from amused.
Betsy was in hot water when her father found out and responding to what he considered a bad mannered prank on an honoured quest, William Balcombe had his daughter locked as a punishment in a dark cellar beneath the Briars, despite Napoleon's objections otherwise, so that in her solitude she might dwell on her rude manners. In this dark place, the only light came from a barred window looking out over the gardens where she watched the lazy scudding of the clouds.
Napoleon came along in due course to keep her company, and as Betsy pressed her face to the bars to see her friend, she began to cry.
"Don't cry Betsee. We are both prisoners you and I" Napoleon urged."
"You have" Betsy pointed out through tear, blurry eyes.
"Yes I have, but the prison still remains nonetheless, so it's better to try to remain happy."
During the first week of December, news arrived at the Briars that Longwood House, the residence that was being prepared for Napoleon was almost ready. Napoleon became a little sad and withdrawn at the thought that his happy days might now be numbered. Betsy for her part dreaded the inevitable parting from her friend although Napoleon told her that she and her family must visit often.
It was on the evening of the 8th that a sharp rap on the front door of the Briars whilst Napoleon was playing Blind Man's Bluff with the Balcombe children. Admiral Cockburn was waiting to see him, and so, with reluctance since he knew the purpose of the visit, Napoleon was obliged to finish the game and make his way over to the Pavilion where he found Cock burn looking like he meant business with General Bertrand.
"I wish to discuss the moving arrangements to Longwood with you," began Cockburn rather bluntly, You should be able to move at the earliest opportunity."
Napoleon, accustomed for so long commanding, was not pleased at this order in which he felt forced to comply with wishes against his will, and he became difficult, pointing out to Cockburn that he could not possibly move at such short notice, stating that since the rooms at Longwood were still freshly painted, the smell might make himself and his entourage unwell.
Cockburn was adamant that he would not be sidetracked into allowing the former Emperor to reinstate any of the authority trhat he had once enjoyed. Determined in his purpose, Cockburn told Napoleon sharply, "If you are not packed and ready to go within forty-eight hours, I shall order one hundred and sixty soldiers to set up camp around the Briars, placing both yourself and your accomplices under house arrest."
So it was that two days later, Napoleon stood outside the Briars watching Admiral Cockburn ride up alongside General Bertrand, at the haed of a small group of scarlet clad officers to escort him to his new home where the English government expected him to spend the remaining term of his exile. Beside him, Betsy started to sob, for she did not want to see her friend go.
"You must not cry Mademoiselle Betsy. You must come to Longwood to see me often."
"That depends on my father."
Napoleon turned himself to face William Balcombe. "Balcombe, you must bring Betsee to visit me maybe next week maybe, and Missee Jane too eh?"
Balcombe nodded his assent, but Cockburn was already fidgeting, impatient to be on the road. It was time to go and after fond goodbyes, Napoleon swung himself into the saddle and quietly nudged his horse towards the road leading to the interior of the island and Deadwood plain where Longwood was situated.
Betsy raced for the house, taking the stairs two at a time and though the small window of her room she watched with blurry and tearful eyes as her friend rode away. At the top of the path, Napoleon raised his hand and waved when he saw her watching. Betsy quickly returned his wave, and then Napoleon was gone. Betsy threw herself on the bed and buried her face into the pillow.
The procession wound its way upwards along the pathway that led deeper into the islands interior and deadwood plain where Longwood House was situated.
Napoleon's presence amongst the group was instantly recognizable to the many islanders who lined the route to witness his passing, and although the procession filed along with a somewhat solemn air, Wallace Cornell watching his approach that day with his wife and six year old son, could not deny that the dignified posture of the Bonaparte presented to him at least, the impression of a man who had far from lost hope.
Wallace stood holding the hand of his wife Ruth, with their six year old son Alex crouching at their feet clutching a single, but colourful flower to give to the fallen Emperor.
Despite his Scottish heritage, Wallace considered himself English enough to be a patriot at heart and didn't much care for Bonaparte, fallen or not, considering him an enemy as well as a dangerous man still to be reckoned with. It was a view that had steadily gained conviction as he'd read or heard of Bonaparte's exploits in Europe these past two decades. Wallace would much have preferred Alex not to give the gift of a flower, but his headstrong wife Ruth, did not share his views. Indeed, with her admiration for Bonaparte bordering on Bonapartism in it's leaning, Ruth had been adamant that Alex should present to the fallen Emperor a small gesture. The 'Great Man,' she called him... Well, Wallace for the sake of avoiding an argument had consented, and besides... he had very much wanted to see the 'Great Napoleon' with his own eyes.
Beside him, Ruth gasped as the procession with Napoleon at its head riding next to Admiral Cockburn and General Bertrand turned the bend. Seeing for the very first time in the flesh, the man who had for the past two decades been England's greatest enemy, Wallace's initial thought was one of disappointment; his preconceived image of the man furnished as it was from newspaper articles and here-say. This rather unimposing man seated awkwardly on his mount certainly didn't look like an Emperor, yet alone the dangerous warlord he was meant to be. But, on the other side of the coin, a dog happily wagging it's tail might not appear dangerous either, Wallace thought. That is, until it bit you...
Lost in his thoughts, Wallace suddenly became aware that Napoleon's eagle glance upon him and in that briefest instant, Wallace saw behind those piercing grey eyes, evidence of the power that had enthralled so many. Eyes like that... Well, they could look a man dead in the face to pierce beneath and strip him naked. Almost mercifully, Napoleon's gaze swept by to settle on his son Alex who was still anxiously holding the single flower.
Much to the annoyance of Cockburn who simply wanted to get a move on in the already stifling heat, Napoleon reined his horse to a halt and dismounted, in turn followed by General Bertrand.
Everyone watched bemused as Napoleon's footsteps approached the by now apprehensive Cornell family, but the very prospect of meeting 'Boney the Ogre' face to face was just too much for little Alex for he scurried for cover behind his parents. Both Wallace and Ruth were acutely aware that all eyes were upon them and they squirmed with embarrassment as they attempted to coax Alex out. But frightened of the stories which surrounded Napoleon, Alex refused to budge;
Laughing, Napoleon hunkered down on a level with the boy, looking up expectantly at Ruth for a name.
"Alex," whispered Ruth with bursting pride.
On the H.M.S. Northumberland taking him to St-Helena, Las Cases who was helping the Emperor write his memoirs had also begun to teach him the English language, and whilst at the Briars, Betsy herself had continue his lessons. Now Napoleon attempted to put into practice some of that which he had learned.
"Monsieur Alex... You be good boy now! You come out, then I see you yes?"
Seeing that Alex was not about to be won round easily, Napoleon removed his trademark black hat, which made him appear less imposing than before. "See, just an ordinary man I am, not a monster."
Wallace noted with some surprise since he had always presumed it would be black , the fallen Emperor's silky fine chestnut coloured hair which contained not a trace of greyness.
Little by little by his kind manner, Napoleon encouraged little Alex to venture out, and slowly the boy came round and tentatively pressed the small flower into Napoleon's open palm, who with a beaming smile attached it through a buttonhole on the lapel of his grey coat.
There were smiles all round, and after wishing Alex and his parents well, Napoleon began to walk away, placing his hat atop his head, but he had no sooner done so, when he whipped it off again, to twirl round and jam his black hat squarely upon Alex's head who cooed in delight.
"There, now you'll make a fine Emperor, " Napoleon laughed, before adding to his parents ears "But watch him! See that he don't get too big for his boots!"
Alex giggled, as Napoleon stuck his hand into his waistcoat in that most characteristic of poses, and when Alex immediately followed suit Napoleon laughing loudly along with everyone else exclaimed, "You see, he's a natural that one!"
As the procession moved out again, Wallace Cornell was already rewriting his preconceived opinions on the man who had been England's greatest enemy.
Upon reaching deadwood plain, the sun was by now high in the sky and the temperature was already stifling, but Napoleon born on the mediterranean island of Corsica seems immune from its affects. His attention is upon the great changes made since his last visit six weeks previously. His primary focus is upon the perimeter wall which surrounds Longwood House itself, and he notes the guardhouse that has been built at the entrance. Flanking either side of the track leading through this gateway, two rows scarlet clad soldiers of the 53rd regiment await his arrival so they can receive him.
Preceded by Admiral Cockburn, Napoleon spurred his horse forward slowly, as the drummers of the 53rd struck up a rolling beat; a ceremony of welcome perhaps, or a warning? Napoleon decides it is a military salute to himself, but it becomes an ominous potent when his frightened mount shies at the sudden noise. With his own heart striking up a rolling beat, Napoleon instinctively pulls back gently, but firmly on the reins, whispering encouraging words which calm his horse before the procession can pass through the avenue of English soldiers to beyond.
As Napoleon rides through the gate, he recalls another time and place as he surveys upon horseback the banks of the River Nieman for a suitable crossing point for his Grand Army to cross into Russia. Out of the blue a hare runs out in front of his horse and frightened, his horse throws him. Shaken, but unhurt, Napoleon remembers brushing himself down and looking at the ashen faces of his officers who believe it is a bad sign; a portent of doom they say. With the hindsight of looking back from the moment, he recalls with regret angrily rounding on them and their superstitious nonsense by ordering the invasion to proceed without delay, for in the catastrophe that had followed they had been proved right and he had taken the first steps to this dismal place. Returning to the present, Napoleon looks upon the residence called Longwood House where the English government now expect him to live out his exile and knows he has reached the point of no return. Intuitively he knows he has no future.
Longwood House has been freshly painted and extensively extended to accommodate the fifty or so exiles who accompany Napoleon. Certainly, thought Napoleon, it could not compare to the splendour of the Tuilleries which had been his official residence over this past decade, but even Napoleon had to admit that it possessed a certain charm which might grow on him in time, despite the brisk south-easterly trade-winds which blow almost constantly upon the deadwood plateau.
Napoleon's chief valet, Louis Marchand had arrived before him to prepare his rooms and he stood waiting to greet him at the doorway leading into the interior of the house.
For the rest of the afternoon, Admiral Cockburn led Napoleon around the house pointing out what had been done and what else needed to be done. When Cockburn had left by the late afternoon, Napoleon felt very relieved, for he was exhausted and he retired into his room which Marchand had prepared for him.
"Ah.. It was a fine empire Marchand, " Napoleon remarked wistfully with a sigh as he gazed out of the window at the realm of his territory which was now defined by the four mile long wall which extended like a noose around Longwood. "At it's height it stretched from the Pyrenees to the Nieman and I ruled over seventy million people. Such is life's reversals of fortune. People will always accuse me of attempting to tame fate, but I have always been a man governed by circumstance. Circumstance made me and circumstance alone will destroy me."
Napoleon took the cup of coffee from Marchand and drank appreciatively. "My mother always said it was grand, but only as long as it lasted..."
At 9pm that evening, obeying their instructions, English sentries took up their positions by closing the knot around Longwood House. More Sentries paced the perimeter. all waited for the long night to pass and for dawn to arrive.
As the first glimmering of dawn upon St-Helena, a cannon fired up on alarm hill, signaling the start of a new day. Louis Marchand lay quietly alert in the adjoining room next to his Emperor, anticipating his master ringing the small bell by his bedside to summon him. When Napoleon did just that, Marchand dutifully crossed to the door, knocking once before entering to find the Emperor already up and knotting his nightgown around his waist
"Good morning sire."
"Good morning Marchand. Let in God's good light will you." Napoleon asks his valet cheerfully.
Marchand crossed the room, and opened the shutters. When he turns around Napoleon is sitting at the small round table beside his bed, drinking his coffee in silence. Marchand himself stands in silence, awaiting his masters command.
With his cup half-full, Napoleon got up and crossed to the window to peer through the shutters at the outside world. His face is calm, serene even, but as an English sentry crosses the field of his vision, his face becomes stony. Behind the sentry in the background, lies the boundary wall patrolled by English redcoats. Napoleon span on his feet and threw the coffee cup with frightening force at the wall. His face is a rictus of rage as the fragile cup shatters into a thousand shards, splattering the wall with the debris of its dark contents. Hanging on the wall above Napoleon's bed, the portraits of his son; the King of Rome, his first wife; Josephine and his second wife; Marie-Louise stared down, unseeing and indifferent to the fallen Emperor's rage.
Hurrying to pick up the broken pieces of china that litter the floor, Marchand is calm for he has been used to the Emperor's rages before. To Marchand, Napoleon will always remain the Emperor; a man whom he considers the greatest man of his time. He has served Napoleon almost all of his adult life and now he feels that it is his duty to continue to serve his master until circumstances, natural or otherwise intervene. It was not his place to judge a great man, if sometimes his master could be difficult or unjust in his attitudes towards people.Marchand had even overheard some of Napoleon's entourage complain that the only reason they were all here at all, was because the Emperor had proved incapable of securing a lasting peace after each victory through his inability to maintain lasting friendships. And yet... In spite of today's outburst, Marchand had glimpsed these past few weeks, the emergence of a man who had suppressed the true self of his personality in his quest for conquest. Witness the Emperor's transformation as seen in his easy going interaction with Betsy and her sister. General's Bertrand, Gourgaud and Monthlon had been quite appalled at the indifference Napoleon had shown by the liberties Betsy had taken, but then again they were military men, accustomed to the Emperor's uncompromising and often brutal nature on the battlefield as well as off it.
Acutely aware that the Emperor's close scrutiny was upon him and feeling quite ridiculous at the notion that his master might have heard his thoughts, Marchand finished tidying up the smashed fragments of china, bowed as was expected of him and left the room.
The course of an hour saw Napoleon swiftly bathed and restored to his usual good humour as with deft downward strokes he expertly shaved his growth of beard whilst St-Denis, nicknamed 'Ali' held out a mirror for him to see. After he had done, 'Ali' began to brush him down with 'eau d' cologne'
"Scrub harder!" barked Napoleon. "Scrub me down as if you were scrubbing down a donkey!"
In the doorway, Marchand smiles. The Emperor has always been meticulous in his personal cleanliness.
Half an hour later with the sun still barely risen in the sky, Napoleon is riding out accompanied by Montholon and Gourgaud to inspect the realm of his new kingdom which is defined by the limits of the boundary walls. At once,he can see that the land provides scant cover from the prying eyes of the English soldiers. In the shadow of the volcanic peaks overlooking the plateau where Longwood is built, few trees or bushes grow. Even the grass itself is sparse and looks starved. Inspecting his realm and feeling the confines of the plateau hemming him in, a scowling Napoleon is clearly in no mood for pleasantries when an unfortunate sentry with foolhardy courage steps in his way and demands to know what his intentions are to be that day.
Confronted by a man who in his time has reduced many a hardened grenadier to tears, the hapless sentry is torn apart as Napoleon blows his top, chews him up and spits him out, all within a few brief moments. As the harassed redcoat retreats, Napoleon mutters something in his coarsest barrack room language under his breath.
Not the closest of friends at the best of times, Montholon and Gourgaud are united in their glee and they both exchanghe a knowing glance for this day at least has took an unexpected twist for the better. Aside from the riveting spectacle of the unfortunate sentry scurrying for safety from the Emperor's anger, it is clear that even if Napoleon is not the man he used to be, he is still surprisingly dynamic when he wishes to be.
Napoleon looks at both of his aides sharply. "Gentlemen," he begins, " doubtless the English will wish to assassinate me at their convenience. For now, with the eyes of the world upon them, they are content to play a charade of decency for appearances sake... When I fade from memory and the financial burden of holding me here becomes too great, they may wish to appoint an executioner..."
With his words still hanging in the air, Napoleon pointed his horse towards Longwood House and galloped hard, followed by his his two aides, who are hard pressed to keep up with him.
High overhead a bird of prey soars on the thermal air currents, watching, waiting and biding it's time. With it's sharp eyes it sees movement upon the ground and its dark wings fold as it plummets like a stone to grasp the prize it has won by patience.
© Dean Welch
Sunday, 25 November 2012
Napoleon's coachmen drove the horses like demons posessed. Within the confines of the carriage, Napoleon rode upon the wave of discomfort of his passengers, whilst shouting out to the Archambault brothers, urging them to go even quicker with a kind of sadistic glee.
The two fun loving brothers were only too willing. They cracked the whip, and the coach shot onwards across the valley.
Betsy sat wedged between Albine de Montholon and Fanny Bertrand, which was just as well else the two elder women might be at each others throats. It was plain to see that there was no love lost between the two... The dark haired, attractive Albine pursued the Emperor's words, hanging on to his every utterance with an attentiveness that bordered on audacious flirtation, whilst the prim and proper, but almost as pretty Fanny quietly simmered in her usual reserved dignity.
Bonaparte clearly relishing the feminine attentions of a beautiful woman lapped it up, and the old devil slyly encouraged Albine's forward behaviour. When she leant forward, he did likewise, and he met her questing eyes with an attentive sparkle within his own.
Did General Montholon know that his wife flirted so brazenly with the Emperor? Betsy asked herself. And if so, did he care? If not, why not?
Beside her, blonde haired, blue eyed Fanny sucked air through her teeth as Albine giggled uncontrollably at something the Emperor said. Betsy thought that she might laugh too, carried away by the moments absurdity but she felt nauseous with the rocking of the coach as it thundered along.
" Don't bother knocking if this carriage is rocking!" Napoleon joked, sending Albine into another round of hysterical laughter.
Departing her thoughts she became aware of Napoleon's gaze upon her.
"It seems Mademoiselle Betsee, that the horses have lost their heads..." he teased
As if on cue the carriage lurched sickeningly and seemed to leave the ground, leaving Betsy's stomach behing too.
"Yarghhhhh!" screamed out Napoleon, "We'll fly over the edge of the cliffs to be dashed to pieces on the rocks!"
Betsy lurched forward to fly to her feet in alarm, but Fanny took hold of her arm and squeezed gently as Napoleon leapt up and rapped sharply on the carriage roof. immediately the coach slowed before coming to a halt , and not before time!
Napoleon sprang out and gave his hand in true gentlemanly style to the ladies. Fanny Bertrand shot off in a huff, her head held high as Albine hugged the Emperor for a little longer than was deemed necessary. Then Betsy and the Emperor were alone, strolling slowly down the avenue of Banyan trees which led to the Briars.
" Do you think Albine is pretty?" Napoleon asked.
"Yes, " Betsy replied not knowing what else to say.
"You too will grow into a woman very soon, " Napoleon continued.
"And I shall consider myself fortunate if I have half of Madame de Montholon's good looks."
Ah, looks are not everything Mademoiselle Betsy, it's the spirit within that counts. After all what was the throne of France itself but an over-decorated piece of furniture? It was who was behind the throne that counted, and from where I sat the crowned heads of Europe were at my feet..." reflected Napoleon without a trace of boastfulness.
"I don't want to conquer the world Bonaparte!"
Napoleon chuckled in good humour."Nor did I! Nor did I!" All of my alleged conquests were made purely in self defence. History will vindicate me and demonstrate that I was always attacked first."
"You sound so sure of yourself," Betsy interjected
"Faith in ones convictions can only stem from courage Mademoiselle. I found a crown. I picked it up, cleansed it of it's filth and the people placed it upon my head. ...If I had not done so, another would have. I merely seized the moment and made it mine. You too must learn to recognize the moment when it arrives. Be bold and act, seize the initiative and the rest is nothing"
"You have a colourful way of explaining things Bonaparte.
"History will dignify me. It will paint me as a man of all shades, for all shades!" Napoleon laughed, which also set Betsy off with the giggles too.
General Bertrand was hurrying towards them, his boots polished to a high sheen. Seeing Betsy with his Emperor, Bertrand looked a little piqued.
This was not lost on Napoleon, who perhaps deliberately and rather unfairly, impatiently motioned for him to stay a moment, before returning his attention back to Betsy.
"Just remember Betsee. You must never indulge your fears. You must be fearless in this life. there must be contests with yourself and you must win! Now... run along and complete your French interpretation by six o'clock sharp, else I'll have to tell your Father some tall tales of your misadventures."
"You're such a rogue Bonaparte!" Betsy called in parting as she hurried away.
"Maybe, but a lovable one yes?"
"If you say so Bonaparte. If YOU say so... But the rest of the world would not agree" Betsy flung back as she ran off, which induced not only Napoleon but the usually morose Bertrand to grin broadly.
"The world forgives everything but greatness, eh Bertrand?"Napoleon asked his most senior officer, not expecting an answer.
"Sire, you have visitors who desire an audience with you,"Bertrand said.
"They are waiting in the Pavillion Sire."
Napoleon sighed deeply. "Yet another meaningless encounter with the same lame questions I dare suppose."
"They are naval officers, together with their wives who are returning from the far east, en route to England..." spoke up Bertrand hopefully, knowing that his Emperor's interest would immediately be aroused.
"England you say? Kindly announce my arrival within five minutes."
Bertrand snapped his boots together, bowed and left
In thse early days on St-Helena, a steady stream of visitors, eager catch a glimpse or to share a few few words with the most famous personality of their time, were able to make the journey up to see the Emperor with relatively little restriction. These 'Napoleonic tourists' included the more wealthy of the islanders, officers and their wives, but it was the travellers on route to Europe that Napoleon was particulary interested in seeing, for it was these that he could use to keep alive his hopes of a possible return one day by ensuring that the eyes of Europe remained upon him.
Napoleon received his visitors standing up with his famous hat tucked beneath his arm, forcing his guests by the protocol of the day to remain standing also. Immediately he assumes command in the manner of a man who is born to lead, firing off rapid questions in his usual way about their background and interests. He turns on the power of his magnetic charm, winning over his guests with ease and they cannot fail to be impressed by the power of his incisive mind which touches upon and illuminates upon any subject. Napoleon's manner carries the stamp of a man who knows he is more than a mere man. He is an Emperor, and this is the image he wishes to be carried back into the heart of Europe.
Afterwards, Napoleon is assurred that the ladies were particulary gratified for they found him to be so different to how he had been portrayed. "What did they expect to find", says Napoleon with biting sarcasm, "Did they expect to find a creature with two horns and cloven feet?"
On occasion, Napoleon views the imminent visits with dread. He wishes to be left alone and his privacy respected. To this end Napoleon goes absent where no-one can find him or simply refuses to meet any quests. On one occasion Napoleon leaped over a fence to evade an impending visit, causing some hilarity amongst his household, for upon answering his cries for help they found him red faced where he had fallen into a prickly bush. Napoleon was not amused!
The nights on St- Helena are becoming increasingly cooler and the days more humid, so Napoleon begins to rise during the small hours before dawn before the heat becomes uncomfortable. He makes his way through into the garden by means of a key which has thoughtfully placed within his reach by Toby. Napoleon is the only one who is favoured in this way by the old slave who refers to him as 'That good man Bony.'
Within the leafy confines of this tropical eden, Napoleon can let his mind run free and find optimism as a new day dawns. Sometimes, the rising sun finds him dozing, and one particular morning he awakes to find Betsy gently holding his hand. Although touched, by her kindness, he also feels a little dismayed by the hand of innocence upon his own for it stirs up a conflict within him. Is he not a bad man? he asks himself. Has he not witnessed and been accomplice to countless acts of violence against his fellow men?
Napoleon takes refuge from these unwelcome thoughts by teasing Betsy. " What can Monsieur Bonaparte do for Mademoiselle Betsee?" he says with a yawn, before adding " Okay, I grant the favour you come to ask me..."
"Grant?" asks Betsy, bewildered.
" Come now! I know how you feel about petite Las Cases."
"Everybody knows," Napoleon teased, You are always making eyes at him."
"What!" Betsy retorted.
"It's a done deal, as soon as I've spoken to your father of course... but, I'm sure he'll agree that marriage is the best for both of you."
"He's only fifteen. He's just a child!"
"So are you Mademoiselle Betsy, and I know he likes you too."Napoleon threw back.
"Betsy threw her head back. "You held my arms behind me and invited him to kiss me!"
Napoleon smirked, "I'm sure he enjoyed it too!"
At that moment as if on cue, Las Cases entered the garden with his fifteen year old son who smiled sheepishly, whilst turning a shade of red. Betsy gave him a dazzling smile which caused the poor lad's blush to deepen considerably as he waved and vanished.
Las Cases joined the Emperor, piercing Betsy with a malevolent glare. Napoleon looked past Las Cases to see Toby entering the garden to begin work, a shovel tucked beneath his arm. Leading both Las Cases and Betsy along, Napoleon strolled to greet the old slave.
With Las Cases interpreting old Toby's broken English, Napoleon questioned the old slave about his former life.
Being the focus of this not unwelcome attention, Toby draws himself upright with pride as he recalls distant memories. He speaks with affection of his brothers and sisters and of great reverence regarding his parents who surely must have passed away by now.
Napoleon, listens enthralled as Toby relates his former life to them all and Betsy's mouth forms a silent 'O' of astonishment as Toby tells of the strange rituals which surround his initiation into manhood.
Napoleon of course is a man of the world and has seen and experienced much of it's mysteries, but he too is still fascinated. Only Las Cases interpreting seems indifferent.
Finally, Toby arrives at the day of his capture and he falters, unwilling to continue until Napoleon places his hand upon his arm and says simply, "Thats enough." But Napoleon's gesture only steels Toby's resolve to speak out with bitterness about his capture and the cruelty of his captors as he is dragged naked and in chains along with other frightened and miserable men, women and children of his people towards an unimaginable destination.
Toby speaks of his terror when he catches sight of the dark sillouette of the slavers ship sitting out in the bay for the first time for it had been instilled into him since childhood that all who boarded the the 'white mans' ships, were never seen nor heard from again.
Napoleon listens intently to Toby's words. relayed to him by Las Cases. His face remains impassive and tight lipped.
Continuing his tale, Toby tells of the short journey as he is rowed out to the ship alongside a dozen or so other beaten captives whom he does not recognize and who hang their heads in fear and shame as their captives grin foul smiles behind mocking eyes.
When Toby talks of standing up on deck and taking a long, lingering look at the distant shoreline of his home for he is certain that he will never see his family again, Napoleon is brought to mind of the memory of his own self staring at the receding coastline of France through his telescope as he sets sail into exile upon the Northumberland.
But unlike Napoleon's almost serene voyage into captivity, Toby's is worse, far worse as he then describes his descent below decks to be shackled within the stinking darkness of the hold. Locked within this madness which reeks heavily of stale sweat, urine and faeces, Toby says he thought he might go mad as the sounds of human suffering around him abrade his nerves raw.
The ship begins to move, lurching violently and the retching becomes more pronounced, filling the stinking hold with another pungent stench which lends itself to the already foul air.
Again Toby hesitates, for aside from Napoleon and Las Cases he feels he has already spoken to much in front of Betsy who looks on wide eyed in disbelief. As if reading his thoughts, Napoleon speaks up on her behalf to say " She must learn of the evil that men do." Betsy herself feeling like a child , becomes indignant and is adamant that she wants to hear the rest of the story. Toby decides that it cannot do any harm and besides, there is not much more to tell.
Soon, Toby reveals, he begins to pray to his God, but later abandons his faith for he believes that Allah has forsaken him.
Sick with grief and disorientated for he has lost track of the passage of the days, he is hauled up onto deck with a large batch of other filthy captives to be washed down with bucketfulls of seawater which sting his open sores and abrasions of his skin.
The sight of the open sea frightens him , stretching as it does as far as the eye can see in every direction. He has never seen the open sea before now and he recalls how one young woman becomes hysterical and is thrown callously overboard by the crew who afterwards jeer at their pathetic nakedness as they eye up the females with hungry, lecherous eyes.
With his head cast to the ground, Toby says that he felt indifferent to the woman dumped overboard and the plight of the women for by this time his thoughts had turned inwards to his own self-preservation. Despite this, when he had been shackled back down into the hold, his thoughts had turned to a desire for death which increasingly became attractive. Only when he remembered how Allah had deserted him was he able to become determined to live.
Reminiscing upon that long ago memory, Toby says he was then pulled up with the other survivors into the light to gaze upon the Island of St-Helena where he was subsequently sold.
Toby's eyes still held his faraway look as he told them that he considered that he'd been one of the lucky ones.
Napoleon didn't quite know what to say which came as a surprise to him, for he'd always considered himself to be a man who held the right words at any given moment, be they true or false. In a further surprise to him, in a gesture worth more than mere words, he simply stepped forward and took the old mans hand in his while Toby held his firm gaze with a deep sense of gratitude for the Emperor's kindness.
Later in the evening, Napoleon observed to Las Cases, "Poor Toby is a man stolen from his family, stolen from his homeland and from himself - could there be any greater agony for him? If the crime was the act only of the English captain, then certainly that captain is an evil man, but if it was done by the whole crew then this crime was committed by men who may not be as evil as one might think, for evil is always individual, almost never collective."
Napoleon felt that it was within his means to help old Toby and at Betsy's insistence he approached her father to ask if he might buy Toby's freedom to which William Balcombe raised no objection to.
However, Napoleon's request was met with a curt refusal by the English governor Sir Admiral Cockburn who stated bluntly "It is not Toby alone that General Bonaparte wishes to liberate to please Miss Balcombe. He wishes to gain the gratitude of all the negroes on the island."
Perhaps with black slaves outnumbering white Europeans on the island, Cockburn feared a slave insurrection led by the Corsican adventurer, as he called Napoleon. A dangerous man who might use the opportunity as a springboard to escape.
Whatever Cockburn's reasons, Napoleon although disappointed received the governor's decision with an indifferent shrug. What was to be, was, and in all truth he had expected such a judgement from the governor. Pacing the floor of the Pavillion, Napoleon consoled himself that it was probably for the best anyway that Toby stay put. Having spent by far the largest part of his life on the Island, indeed the only life he now knew, the very thought of freedom might terrify the old slave.
It was Franceschi Cipriani a native Corsican like Napoleon himself who closed the argument by telling Napoleon who had known him since childhood that "Even if Toby did somehow manage to make the passage back home, could he be certain that a home still exists for him to go back to?"
Cipriani had been close to the Bonapartes since childhood and Napoleon had never let him stray too far from his side throughout those long years of power. Having the utmost confidence in him, Napoleon felt that only the dark, fearless and fanatically loyal Cipriani could be entrusted in to carry out any task which was asked of him which was why he had brought him to St- Helena to act as his Maitre d' which hid his real purpose.
In short Cipriani was Napoleon's agent, his eyes and ears on St-Helena and it was he who had warned Napoleon during his first exile on Elba that the allies meeting at Vienna had proposed transporting him far away from the influence of European affairs, thereby prompting Napoleon to escape and win back his throne culminating in the hundred days and final downfall at Waterloo.
Often the pair could be seen alone, speaking with hushed tones in their native Corsican. What they conversed about was anybody's guess, and even Betsy knew better than to disturb her friend whilst he was with Cipriani.
General Gourgaud, a man intensely jealous of anyone closer to the Emperor than he was, blurted out " His Majesty would glad get rid of us all, if it meant retaining his Cipriani!"
One morning, Betsy watched the Emperor as he paced energetically backwards and forwards dictating an account of his campaign in Egypt to Las Cases who scribbled furiously away, trying to keep up with the oral barrage that Napoleon fires his way.
Despite being fascinated, Betsy catches sight of General Gourgaud's sword which he wears at his side. Noticing her interest, Gourgaud at Betsy's suggestion, drew the sword from it's scabbard and invited her to examine it.
Noticing some reddish-brown blemishes upon the otherwise brilliant steel, Betsy enquires of Gourgaud as to their origin.
"They are bloodstains from upon the field of battle Mademoiselle, the bloodstains of Englishmen!" Gourgaud tells her in relish, noting her flinch back from the blade as if it might bite.
Napoleon halts his dictation. "General, sheath that sword. It is improper conduct in front of a young lady."
Reprimanded, Gourgaud obeyed and then Napoleon asked if Betsy might like to look at his sword instead.
Betsy took the richly decorated scabbard from Napoleon and drew out the blade. She marvelled at the intricate design worked into the steel and admired the eagle surmounted by a crown and Napoleon's initial 'N' which decorated the hilt. In a moment, a flash of temptation weaved itself across her as she thought to revenge herself against Napoleon for his misconduct towards her that morning.
Napoleon deftly leapt back as the sword swung towards him.
"You'd better say your prayers Monsieur Bonaparte! Betsy shouted as she advanced on the Emperor.
Grinning from ear to ear, Gourgaud was enjoying this spectacle and especially so, since he detested him, the discomfort of Las Cases who stood beside him simmering with rage at this fresh insult to the Emperor.
"Back I say! Taunted Betsy, forcing the Emperor into the corner. Betsy noticed the look Las Cases gave her; a look which said that he obviously wished he could obliterate her, but despite his rage with her, he held his ground, perhaps remembering with prudence the boxing of his ears he had endured by Betsy together with the connivance of the Emperor on a previous occasion when he had tried to scold her for a wrongdoing.
Hearing the commotion, Betsy's elder sister Jane rushed into the room to lend assistance to the Emperor's plight. "Betsy! Stop this nonsense at once and apologise to the Emperor!"
"Never! Bonaparte's had this coming for a long time!"
"Betsy!" Jane shouted, "Put down that sword or else Father will have to hear of this!"
Betsy ignored her sister as by the point of the sword she pressed the Emperor farther into the corner with a ferocious snarl.
At that, Napoleon began to chuckle lightly. " Ah Mademoiselle Betsee.... If a lock of my hair was all you really wanted, all you had to do was ask."
"I don't want your hair Bonaparte, your head will do fine!"
Napoleon's cool composure broke completely, breaking apart as he began to howl with laughter which infuriated Betsy even more when Gourgaud joined in together with her sister Jane. Caught by the infectious laughter, and in spite of herself Betsy to began to laugh and Napoleon himself bent himself double. Only the unhappy Las Cases stood immovable with his face livid by the indignance he felt at Betsy's prank.
With her arm tired by the swords weight, Betsy proffered it by the hilt to Napoleon who reclaimed it. He stepped forward and tweaked Betsy's ear playfully and then pinched her nose causing her to cry out and told her, "You are one of the brave, but you are not wise."
© Dean Welch
With their piercing cries of childish delight rending across the balmy blue of the sky, the two Balcombe boys, together with Betsy tumbled across the lawn, towed in the wake of Napoleon who like the pied piper, led them onwards along with his own joyous laughter.
Louis Marchand looking on at the scene smiled, and his heart smiled in step too. Marchand at just twenty four was Napoleon's chief valet and had served Napoleon for all of his brief adult life. He had seldom seen his master smile with such genuine joy ....Well, not since that fateful day at Waterloo, and his own unselfish happiness sprung from his own unflappable devotion to his master, for if Napoleon was happy, then so too was he.
Not all of Napoleon's retinue shared Marchand's joy. It wasn't that they wanted to see the Emperor unhappy, but rather that they disagreed with the carefree way in which Napoleon played with the children. To them it was behaviour which was rather undignified for someone like an Emperor, and they were aghast with the way the children took liberties too, which they and only they could get along with!
Emmanuel Las Cases, a small birdlike man standing in the doorway of the Pavillion curled his lip in utter distaste for he resented the children's interference in his work. This rather selfish and pompous man desired above all to write the memoirs of the Great Emperor Napoleon and thus seal his own mark upon history. Above all he detested Betsy... In her transitory state between adolescence and adulthood, the flirtateous Betsy it seemed only had to flash her dark eyelashes and Napoleon granted her every concession from the otherwise strict ettiquette and protocol which was dictated within and around his person.
"Boney! Boney! Boney!" the children chanted in unison.
Napoleon wheeled to face his tormentors with a wolfish smile."Boney? ... Yes, thats me, Boney the Ogre!" And with that he outstretched his arms, his grey overcoat riding high like a bats wings, whilst he contorted his face into a hideous countenance of madness. He lolled his head to one side and howled savagely.
The Balcolme boys fled squealing and Napoleon broke into a fit of hysterical glee, but the bravest of the Bunch, Miss Betsy Balcolme stood her ground in defiance, even if she did appear a little shaken.
"That was not nice Monsieur Bonaparte." Betsy glared, wagging her finger in mock disproval. "You are a mean little man!"
"And you are still a rude little hoyden, Mademoiselle Betsy!"countered Napoleon.
"I'm not frightened of you Bonaparte..."
No? Then why are you trembling so child?" Napoleon teased, knowing that Betsy hated above all being called a child.
Betsy puffed herself up indignantly. "I am not!"
" Not what? Frightened or a still a child?"
"You're impossible Bonaparte!"
"I built my career upon attempting the impossible, " Napoleon reflected for a moment. "But admit it, you were just a little frightened yes?"
"Okay," Betsy sighed, "just a little bit."
"It was a Cossack war cry, " Napoleon stated matter of fact, sounding pleased with himself at Betsy's concession.
"It certainly is barbaric enough."
"Anyway, where have your two brothers gone?" questioned Napoleon, looking around and past Betsy.
"Mother must have called them in. Old Huff will be arriving shortly to tutor them."
"Ah... Old Huff. ...And no doubt he's dream't up yet another madcap scheme to liberate me from the tyranny of the English."
"We are not a bad people, Monsieur."
" I agree, the character of the English people has been exemplary in their treatment of me, but that of their government has not. The English people are civilised, their government are not. The wealthy and the priviliged guard their liberties with a religious zeal, whilst restricting the freedoms of the common people. ....Two great divides, but in France a man can rise by merit alone and not just from the fortune of good birth."
"Talking of Old Huff, here he comes!" cut in Betsy.
Sure enough, Old Huff was puffing his way up the avenue of Banyan trees which led up to the house. In an eyeblink it seemed, the grounds surrounding the Briars emptied of people as if as rain through a grate, for no-one much relished being collared by the eccentric old man and held captive whilst they were regaled with his latest madcap schemes for the rescue of the Emperor, which were fanciful at best.
The very next day a certain Miss Legg happened to be visiting the Briars with her mother. Betsy wasted no time in informing the poor little girl that Bonaparte was indeed an Ogre in bloodstained clothes, and would she like to see him? At Betsy's excited insistence, Napoleon decided he would play up to his Ogre persona. Making his way down the garden path he ruffed his hair up, lolled his head to one side with crooked eyes and let rip his hideous howl. The poor girl became almost hysterical with fright and when the girl's distraught mother raced onto the scene to see what the commotion was about, the two giggling playmates in mischief had already fled.
After a few weeks, English sentries arrived and erected a marquee next to the Pavillion and linked the two with a covered way. Napoleon promptly summoned more of his retinue up from Jamestown now that he had more space, amongst them Rousseau his lamplighter and General Gourgaud. Rousseau proved an instant hit with the children when he showed he was adept at making toys to entertain them with. Shortly after his arrival he unveiled a miniature coach that was to be drawn by six small mice. Alas! The poor mice refused to run, but they had not counted on the ingenuity of the Emperor who suggested twisting the tails of the two leaders together. They ran...
"See how they run!" boomed Napoleon jubilantly, whilst the children wide eyed with delight, clapped and cheered.
"Did you ever see such a thing in your life..." exclaimed Rousseau.
Gourgaud was alloted sleeping quarters within the huge marquee, whilst Napoleon himself moved out of the Pavillion and slept upon the military campbed at the opposite end; the same campbed he had slept upon on the eve of the Battle of Austerlitz, his greatest victory a decade ago. Gourgaud too was astonished at the liberties the children took with the Emperor and wrote in his diary, 'Their behaviour towards the Emperor is quite shocking....'
Gourgaud wasted no time in informing everyone that he had once saved the Emperor's life in Russia, and Betsy nearly laughed her stockings off when whilst out walking with the Imperial party one day, a cow happened to step directly in their path. Gourgaud instantly drew his sword with a flourish and placed himself between the cow and the Emperor proclaiming loudly for all to hear, "This is the second time I have saved the Emperors life!"
"Did General Gourgaud really save your life in Russia?" Betsy asked Napoleon as Gourgaud walked ahead, chatting with Bertrand.
"When I reached Moscow I was determined that I would occupy the Kremlin as befitted an Emperor. Vanity almost undid me, for the Russians had rigged explosive to blow the place apart and take me with it. It was General Gourgaud alone, who without regard to his own personal safety, discovered and pinched out the burning fuses. For his brave initiative I created him a Baron of the Empire and kept him close by my side during the rest of that ill fated campaign."
" People still speak in wonderment at how the Russians burnt their most holy city in order to be rid of the French."
Napoleon chuckled. "It made them the most dangerous of all my adversaries for they were always willing to suffer in order to bring suffering upon their enemies also. On the field they advanced like columns of granite, and like citadels they had to be demolished with cannon."
Napoleon paces through the days like a caged tiger, attempting to whittle the days down into manageable sections. He is still coming to terms with his current predicament. He looks back on his fall from grace and mutters to no one in particular "It's just one small step from the sublime to the ridiculous," whilst joking that he'd like to sleep and wake up in a few years to find himself in more favourable circumstances. He still has hope in these early days and believes that internal pressures in distant Europe might enable him to be recalled to the throne.
When the candles are blew out at the end of each day and his man-servants, Louis Marchand and Etienne St- Denis stretch themselves out in their cloaks like faithful dogs at the foot of his bed, Napoleon escapes to his former life and both of them know better than to wake him.
On occasion however sleep might elude him and then he lies awake restless or calls to either of his servants to read to him, or else he might chat away the small hours about the good old days or more often as not, his childhood.
If the weather is particulary balmy he might decide to wander outside dressed in just a nightgown to gaze up at the stars. On one such night he spotted a shooting star which briefly flared into celestial brilliance before fading to oblivion as it arced across the heavens.
" And the epic of a human life is told with the tale of a shooting star..." Napoleon told Marchand who stood beside him moved both by the display and his Emperor's words
"Gone in the twinkling of an eye, eh Marchand?
"Your name will reverberate across the centuries Sire, "replied Marchand with genuine conviction.
I suppose there's something to that, but what will be history's verdict on my career... will I be famous or infamous, or will I be cause for argument without end?"
Napoleon hadn't expected an answer and the question hung loose in the night air.
Despite that Napoleon is a prisoner of the English, the gates of his captivity had not yet clanged shut. Slowly the cogs turn as St-Helena gears itself up to turn it's whole efforts inwards with the sole purpose of holding him, but for now Napoleon knows relative freedom to wander about of his own free will. On longer expeditions across the island on horseback, he is to be accompanied at all times by an English officer called Captain Poppleton, which he resents but endures anyway. On one such expedition Napoleon gave Poppleton the slip when he urged 'Hope' up a narrow track, sending a cascade of rocks down at his fuming escort. After having informed the governor of Napoleon's getaway, Poppleton eventually returned to the Briars red faced at having failed in his duty, only to find a jubilant and smirking Napoleon basking in his small joke.
To Napoleon it is a little victory of sorts, insignificant next to his brilliant victories on the battlefield, but on St-Helena it will have to do!
Betsy admires the way Napoleon handles his horse and tells him he looks better on horseback than anyone else she knows. Napoleon is pleased and calls for 'Hope' wheeling around at speed on the lawn like a schoolboy trying to impress a girl.
Another day, Archambault, his groom was breaking in a beautiful young Arab which reared and plunged in a frightening manner. Looking on, Betsy turned to Napoleon and told him matter of fact, "Even you could never ride that horse Bonaparte, it is so vicious"
Napoleon smiled a knowing smile and beckoned to Archambault to dismount. Napoleon soon imposed his will upon the horse and rode him backwards and forwards a few times for show.
"You could have been a horse-breaker, " Betsy cooed, genuinely impressed.
"Men and horses have a similar mentality, " replied Napoleon tipping his hat.
Napoleon is often seen to take to the goat tracks which lead up into the mountains on foot. He begins to enjoy the quiet solitude of the countryside around him and it lulls him into a reflective mood as he draws upon the happy memories of his childhood in Corsica. Sometimes he wanders out where a high outcrop meets the ocean and he sits high above the rolling surf as it crashes upon the rocks far below him while seagulls wheel above, seeming to mock him with their melancholy cries, for they are free and he is not.
Napoleon's gaze carries his imagination far across the glistening waves towards distant Europe many thousands of miles away. He wonders if he will ever see France again and more importantly his son who is being raised as an adopted Austrian prince. He wonders if his son who will now be six, ever thinks of his father and what his mother might tell him should he ask of him. The shadows grow longer as the blazing sun sinks lower over the horizon , becoming a crimson orb as it vanishes beyond the edge of the world. Another day is past.
Las Cases, Napoleon's self styled autobiographer has become exasperated. The little historian wishes to advance onwards into the glory years of Napoleon's glittering career, but his pen is for the moment frozen during the Italian campaign of 1796-97, for Napoleon seems reluctant to move on and leave his youth behind. As way of an explanation, Napoleon says he cannot concentrate for any length of time upon his achievements as a the ruler of a vast European Empire for in the end it all became dust in the wind. He says that he cannot help but feel a deep sense of dread when he tries to look forward into the unknown future.
Napoleon knows that he has to come to terms with the shattered dreams of the past. Feeling belittled and humiliated by his present predicament he seeks refuge far away in his youth and it seems that only the children can apply a balm to soothe his battered pride. More than once Napoleon remarks with an oddly detached air to Las Cases and those around him that he feels like he is at a masked ball; that sooner or later the music must stop playing and they can go back to the lives they were once accustomed to.
Betsy catches Napoleon one afternoon taking impressions with sealing wax from some very beautiful and rare coins and seals he owns.
"What magnificent engravings!" Betsy croons coyly, while edging slyly nearer.
Napoleon looks up distracted for a moment, then returns bent to his task.
"Whoops! Excuse me!" Betsy says as she jogs Napoleon's elbow causing hot sealing wax to spill upon his bare hand.
"OUCH!" shouts Napoleon, took by surprise, and Betsy is already bolting for the door to escape the wrath of an Emperor.
Napoleon wasn't angry at all at being on the receiving end of Betsy's prank, but the unspoken rules of the game between them, dictated that Napoleon must even the score....
Sir Admiral Cockburn, the governor of St- Helena was hosting a ball to be held at his residence, Plantation House.
For fourteen year old Betsy, it promised to be a milestone in her life; a stepping stone into adulthood, and it was all down to the Emperor for intervening with her father who had been of the opinion that such an event was inappropiate for a girl her age. Hooray for Bonaparte!
Brimming with youthful exuberance she stepped through into her room and her joy evaporated as she saw that her ballgown had vanished. A note lie on the bedstand and Betsy snatched it up.
After a change of heart, I have decided that you shall not attend the ball this evening. You are far too young!
Therefore, to my regret, I feel I have no choice but to hold your gown in my safekeeping till such a time you reach the appropiate age.
"Inappropiate my ass!" Betsy marched out and flung herself towards Napoleon's quarters, passing Toby which infuriated her even more for the old slave wore a bemused smile as he bent upon his shovel hard at work.
Etienne St- Denis, nicknamed 'Ali, ' stood barring the way, his eyes dancing with an inner amusement. Behind Ali, within the depths of the huge tent Betsy could hear raised voices, Napoleon's above all. She made to step past, but Ali countered her move, barring her advance. Evidently the Emperor's own rule that she was to be granted access at all times, day and night was broken!
"I regret Miss Betsy, but the Emperor was specific in his orders. He is not to be disturbed today."
"I'm sorry Mademoiselle Betsy. Perhaps you might see the Emperor if you could come back later?"
"Morning all!" General Gourgaud announced cheerily as he approached, sidestepped and ducked into the Marquee.
"And Gourgaud?" Betsy enquired with a raised eyebrow.
Ali winked and leaned over to whisper conspirationaly in Betsy's ear "Ahh, he's off to the wars..."
"The Emperor wishes to discuss the complexities and fatefull decisions of the Waterloo campaign."
"Hmmp, well perhaps I can shed some light on his PRIVATE, discussion... He went to bed too late, overslept on the day of the battle and lost!"
"Sshhh! Ali's eyes bugged out in astonishment at Betsy's rudeness. "He'll hear you!"
Betsy immediately felt shamed and regretfull, but Ali was smiling now to show that no offence was taken. But some inner amusement still danced behind his eyes...
Betsy walked away, burning with embarrassment, yet she had not gone too many steps when she thought she heard Napoleon's barking laugh at some nameless joke.
Betsy did indeed call back later to find that Ali was gone and more importantly, Napoleon was not to be seen. No-one had seen the Emperor, and Toby remained tight lipped for the Emperor had captured his heart.
Betsy tried the door of the Pavillion. It was locked."Bonaparte?" Betsy cried as she knocked on the door."Bonaparte? Answer me!"
"Go away!" Napoleon shouted out in defiance
"No I will not! You have my ballgown and I want it back!"
"You cannot have it back Mademoiselle Betsee," chuckled Napoleon "And besides... I cannot come to the door right now for I am unwell. Goodbye!"
"Open this door right now Bonaparte... Or else!" Betsy fumed
"Or else what? You'll huff and you'll puff and you'll blow this house down?"
"You are a horrid little man Bonaparte. I'm not leaving till you hand me back my gown!"
"Say please" Napoleon whispered through the door
"Okay, well goodbye... You can have your gown back in the morning!"
"Alright. You win!... PLEASE can I have my gown back now?"
"Absolutely not!" Napoleon laughed violently from behind the curtain
"What! I thought you was a man of honour and of your word, but it's plain to see you are not. Goodbye Bonaparte!
Betsy stormed away and behind her the lock clicked. Betsy span herself around to see Napoleon framed in the doorway with a broad grin and her gown draped over his arm.
Betsy stepped up to the Emperor and threw her arms around him in gratitude. Napoleon hugged her like she was one of his own and for a moment he felt a pang of loss in his heart for his own son so far away.
Betsy and the Emperor parted, both feeling a little awkward.
"Go and have fun at the ball this evening Mademoiselle Betsy. I have arranged that my own coachman should escort you to ensure you arrive there safely."
"Will you not come too Bonaparte?"
"What, and be the 'Belle of the Ball'?" Napoleon laughed. "No, I have no wish to be the object of curiosity, sympathetic or otherwise. You go, but you owe me now!"
"You'll see," Napoleon winked "Now go get ready else you'll be late! My coachman will pick you up at 7'oclock."
Betsy grinned and Napoleon watched as Betsy skipped away laughing gaily. At the corner Betsy turned to give a little wave and Napoleon raised his hand in reply. Betsy turned the corner of the Pavillion and was gone.
Across from where Napoleon stood alone in the doorway, Toby was still hard at work. Napoleon caught the old mans eye and tilted his hat in respectful salute, for an unlikely bond of friendship had formed between the Emperor and the old slave who had not only been stolen away from his homeland, but had been wrenched away from the love of his family too.
Both men faced one another, one man an Emperor and the other a slave, but united in their captivity they were equals.
Toby tilted his hat at Napoleon in respectful reply. Napoleon smiled warmly as he turned around and the door shut behind him
© Dean Welch