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For All Nails #243B: Napoleon's Nail (Part 2)

By Raymond A. Speer


November 12, 1795, Thursday.


"Please, General Bonaparte, can you not find time for a little hot chocolate on this snowy day?" The wife of my superior is beautiful: curly hair, dark skin, radiant smile. And witty too and strangely discerning. Can she tell the impression she has made on me?

But Alexandre de Beauharnais is the head of the Army of the Rhine, third in seniority among the marshals of France FN1. And I lead only a brigade. Beauharnais will be predisposed against me by Lazare Hoche: that schemer is jealous of me for my reputation as the man who quelled the Provencials in the Vendée. And everybody knows that General Hoche, the Army's chief of staff, has great influence over the Field Marshal.

But it is very cold, and I've never had much chocolate, and, and she cannot spot my erection so long as I'm seated at the table. "Thank you, Madame Field Marshal."

"Don't be so formal, General," she said. "I'm Creole and we aren't as inhibited as you Europeans. You may call me Josephine."

"Thank you for that honor," I replied.

"Alexandre thinks very well of you," she confided to me. "He says that you're quite the politician as well as a soldier for the way you pacified the Vendée."

That was good news -- I know Hoche has been telling the Field Marshal that I've done nothing more than arrest a bandit leader. Beauharnais was more discerning than I hoped.

We chatted about the sensation of the week: the escape of revolutionary leader Danton from the Bastille when his followers managed to blow a hole in the wall of that fortress. Like most dissidents, Danton stabs the soldiers in the back by prattling that our mission against Prussia will benefit only Austria. But so far, such sentiments have not penetrated to the front.

"Siliesia is ours -- or rather, our Austrian allies hold it FN2," said Josephine. "And here we are, taking our chocolate in the German home of the English King."

"I don't know if George has ever been here," I answered. "He stays in England, or so I've heard."

"Gloating over his conquest of the poor Americans," said Josephine of George III. "As a Creole, I am very sympathetic to the English colonists who had only wanted to be free to live their own lives."

"Do you plan to visit Jefferson?" I joked.

"Oh, no," she laughed delightfully. "I am not one to flog a dead horse. It is nonsense for a few colonists to try to rebel against their homeland. It is like a child who vows never to speak to her mother again. Such a determination can only fail, given the passage of time."

The bell chimed and the Field Marshal came in, followed by his aide, Lazare Hoche. Hoche looked at me fiercely as Josephine went and kissed her husband. A third man was there, and the Field Marshal introduced him to me as they joined us for chocolate.

"This is M. Robespierre from Arras," said the Field Marshal. Robespierre has an upturned nose and has bitten his nails to the quick, I noticed. "M. Robespierre will be our judicial advisor when we allow the Hanoverian civil government to exercise authority."

Robespierre is an odd duck. I noticed he was slow to rise to his feet when we toasted the health of the King. Even though someone at the court of the Queen Regent had to vouch for the man for him to get his not-very-important post, he acted as though he was not fond of the royal family. Was he a follower of the Comte de Provence, exiled to an obscure corner of Germany where soldiers would ceaselessly override whatever decisions he might make?

Robespierre told Josephine that he could not answer her questions about affairs at court. "I was appointed by His Grace, the Bishop of Bourges, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, the Queen's Advisor. He appointed me after an interview -- he said he was looking for young lawyers of talent to spread French civilization to our new domains in central Germany."

Hoche snorted. "Good Lord, another secular monk."

Robespierre did not join in the laughter. Even I could not percieve any anger in him, but men like Bourges did not show anger. They are affable right to the moment they plunge their dagger into your heart.

"I was very impressed by the Bishop of Bourges," Beauharnais announced. "I predict a red hat for him very soon."

"Doesn't he have a club foot?" asked Josephine.

"The Bishop has a slight limp," conceded M. Robespierre. Hoche and I glanced at each other. We both knew that the lawyer was to be a spy for Bourges and the Queen Regent. Hopefully our chief knew as much as we did.


(Proceed to Napoleon's Nail (Part 3).)

(Return to For All Nails.)

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