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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XXXV


THERE was such a large muster that my rooms could not contain all who were present; the staircases were crowded. I entered upon my subject by saying all I could think of best calculated to stir their loyalty, no longer foreshadowing, but proving to absolute certainty, all the dire misfortunes that would come upon France and themselves. I saw that they were very animated, excited and eager. The bitterest and most stinging reproaches were heaped, often disrespectfully, not only upon the Government, but upon the King and Royal Family. Loud were the complaints made of prodigality, unfair distribution of promotions and decorations, neglect, and contempt of former services. I, of course, tried to lay these faults at the door of the ignorance and intrigue by which the throne was surrounded; further, I  said that the King, whose intentions were good and pure, would, when he was better informed, apply a prompt remedy to these grounds of complaint, which I undertook to communicate to him, and for which we would find redress, but at this moment our country was to be served and saved.

Vainly did I exhaust myself for two hours, holding my ground against all these men, who, without personal rudeness to me, spoke their minds very freely. It was easy to see why the troops had remained so silent; they took their cue from their officers. There were several grounds of complaint referred to ad nauseam, and one of these was the formation of the King's Household, a corps of officers taken exclusively, and most unwisely, from the ranks of the old aristocracy, with the exception of one or two representatives of the new nobility. What was called a 'trooper' ranked as an officer, nay, as a superior officer; a Sub-Lieutenant of the Household was a Lieutenant-Colonel, and so on. Complaints upon this subject were, unfortunately, too well founded; and their anger at seeing a lot of beardless boys dressed in uniforms resplendent with gold lace, and nearly all decorated with, ribands, and with the epaulettes of superior officers, was excusable. I repeat that all they said upon this subject, allowing for some exaggeration, had foundation in fact; but I could not succeed in making them understand that, in our critical position and difficult circumstances, the destiny of the country depended absolutely and entirely upon them. they had made up their minds to take their chance of that. They were determined not to fire upon the Grenoble troops that had deserted. I succeeded in extracting from them a promise to hold their positions and to retaliate if they were attacked, but this promise seemed to me weak, and was given with a very bad grace.

There was nothing more to be gained, and I was worn out with the long and profitless discussion, so I dismissed the officers, and only kept back a few Generals who thought with me. We went together to Monsieur; from our sad and downcast looks he guessed that our attempts had failed. In giving him an account of what had passed, I told him that we could not reckon upon any defence being made, that discontent and bitterness had taken possession of every heart, and that, as his Royal Highness's presence was no longer necessary, I begged him to depart at once.

'And what will you do?' he asked.

'I shall stay where I am; I have nothing to fear from the soldiers, but I fear there may be danger for you.'

'No,' he answered; 'I shall stay, if you will not come with me. After the proofs of devotion you have given, I will not leave you alone exposed to the turn of events.'

'I repeat, Monseigneur, that I am running no risk; you have given me the command, I will exercise it to the last moment. Some incident may arise favourable to your cause; I will seize and turn it to advantage. But in Heaven's name start; time is flying.'

He seemed inclined to remain, and, I appealed to the officers to support me. The Duke of Orleans, who was present, also declared his intention of remaining, with or without Monsieur. The latter eventually yielded, but required the Duke of Orleans to accompany him, an order which he had regretfully to obey. At length Monsieur decided to get into his carriage. He charged me to send counter-orders to the troops on the road to Lyons, so as not to bring them into contact with the garrison. Their dispositions were supposed to be better, but an electric spark seemed to have produced the same feelings all through the army.

Monsieur told me that he had passed along the quays and bridges of the Rhone, that no defensive preparations whatever had been made, that he had distributed money in order to hasten the work, and that he had received a promise that it should be begun at once.

At last, to my great relief; I saw him start, escorted by some mounted National Guards, ['The mounted National Guard (who were known Royalists) deserted the I)uc dArtois at this crisis, and in his flight only one of them chose to follow him. Bonaparte refused their services when offered to him, and, with a chivalrous feeling worthy of being recorded, sent the decoration of the Legion of honour to the single volunteer who had thus shown his fidelity by following the Duke.'—l3ourrienne's 'Memoirs of Napoleon' (edition of 1885), vol. iii., p. 231] some gendarmes, and a detachment of the 14th Dragoons. His departure took a great weight off me, for the presence of the Princes had become very embarrassing. if they had been taken by Napoleon ot arrested by the garrison, they would have been held as hostages for his personal safety; and had such an event occurred, royalist public opinion would have made me responsible. It would have gone even further, and accused me of giving them up!

No doubt there would have been plenty of witnesses to justify me, including the Princes themselves, but the idea would have spread rapidly. It would have been impossible to refute it at first, and then one would have had to write volumes to destroy it; for once the name of treason is pronounced, however innocent the accused or suspected person may be, headstrong men will refuse to be convinced, and will always believe that it had foundation in fact.

I could quote many instances; I will give but one, the execrable assassination of the Duc de Berry. All the evidence went to show that the crime had been conceived and carried out by the scoundrel who committed it, and by no one else. Even now there are plenty of these violent men who believe that this crime was the result of a conspiracy. The only satisfactory point in this terrible misfortune was the immediate arrest of the detestable murderer; had he not been taken, suspicion and distrust would have lain upon all the constitutional party, without exception. There are still a considerable number of people, on the opposite side, who believe it; but the opinion is losing ground, and remains only in a few of the densest heads. In spite of party differences and political animosity, there was but one voice throughout the land, and that was raised to call down the vengeance of the law for the punishment of this abominable crime.

Although I was somewhat calmed by the departure of the Princes, I was far from being easy. The minds of the men, of the officers, and, I must even add, of the generals of the 19th military division, seemed to become more excited as the decisive moment drew nearer. I sent for the Prefect and the Mayor, and while waiting for them telegraphed a short message about the state of affairs to the Minister for War, of which he only received the heading:

'Marshal Macdonald to the Minister for War.'

Monsieur had desired me to send it, and to announce his departure for Paris with the Duke of Orleans. I had also carried out the Prince's orders about halting and retiring the troops that were marching towards Lyons. I shortly afterwards learned that the Prefect had quitted the town; the Mayor alone arrived.

At the meeting of the officers they had promised me that if attacked they would fire in retaliation, but that they would not take the initiative. From that moment I resolved to bring the combat to close quarters; but as I was warned that our soldiers would not fire first, I thought that among so large a population as that of Lyons it would be easy to find twenty or thirty devoted men, or men who would be won over by the promise of gain and reward. It would only be necessary to dress them in the uniform of the National Guard; my plan was to place them at the advance posts, in front of the troops, to put myself at their head, and fire the first shot. This stratagem might be successful, if the engagement became genera], and our soldiers decided to imitate our shooters. I know from experience how very slight a matter will suffice to change men's opinions.

Hitherto Napoleon had met with no opposition. A few battalions and squadrons only had joined him, but an unexpected resistance, although so far in the centre of France, at the entrance of a town of such importance, with the Rhone as a barrier, ought to make him reflect, and recall to his mind the courageous defence made by the town against the Republican army. The troops he brought back with him, wearied and disgusted with their sojourn in the island of Elba, must have before their eyes the fear of being sent back thither, and the dread of an even severer punishment. Finally the garrisons of Grenoble and Vienne, seduced and led away as they had been, might recognize that they had made a mistake, and repent of it.

Such were my illusions; hut, weak as was my hope, what would happen to Napoleon if my dream came even partially true? What proves that my reasoning was not entirely without some foundation is, that when I was at Bourges, after the submission of the army, I heard from the grenadiers who had been in Elba, and who were garrisoned there, that they had been delighted to return to France, but if they had met with the slightest rescstance, the smallest obstacle, or even a single shot, they would have thrown down their arms and sued for mercy. This I heard from all ranks, men, officers, even the Commander himself.

When the Mayor entered my room, I told him of my intention. He was the only civil official who had remained at his post. I was surprised at hearing him answer that he would not be able to find a single man to do what I wanted.

'It is impossible,' I cried, 'that a town which defended itself so valiantly in 1793 in support of the Royal cause should not now contain one single veteran of that date burning with the same zeal?'

The Mayor shook his head. I dismissed him.

After having arranged an appearance of defence, and even offence, if I could only succeed in bringing my troops hack to their duty, I rode in the company of the Governor, Viscount Digeon, Count Jules de Polignac (Monsieur's aide-dccamp, whom he had left at my disposal), some other Generals and staff-officers, to visit the posts, and to see for myself what obstacles had been prepared to stop the advance of Napoleon. I was not surprised to find that little or nothing had been done; the money that Monsieur had distributed had been quietly pocketed. The communications between the banks had not been interrupted; the order to bring the boats across and moor them on our side and to guard certain fords had not been carried out. The same remark applied to the reconnoitring parties, which should have been sent out to announce the approach of Napoleon's scouts. This piece of neglect made me particularly angry, and I severely scolded the general officer charged with this duty. I sent out myself some patriots in echelon, and after making a few more arrangements, I went from the Guilloti'ere to the Morand bridge.

The disaffection that I met everywhere gave me good grounds for fearing a complete desertion and a catastrophe I therefore gave private orders to have the horses put to my carriage and to have it taken to the outskirts of the suburb of Vaise, at the junction of the roads towards the Bourbonnais and Burgundy respectively, so that I could follow either one or the other according to circumstances if I were compelled to retreat. At the Morand bridge no barricade had been made. It was guarded by an iron gate; nobody knew where the keys were. I gave a man ten louis (Ł8) to go and buy some chains and a padlock. My money went the same way as that of Monsieur.

As I quitted this bridge on my way back to the other, I noticed the bustle caused by the return of a reconnoitring party. It could not have gone very far, and had no doubt seen or met what we must call the enemy. What had happened? My anxiety was great, but it was ended by the arrival of a staff-officer, who galloped up to me and said

'A reconnoitring party has just returned.'

'What has it seen?'

'Napoleon's advance-guard.'

'Far away?'

'Just coming into the suburb of the Guilloticre.'

'What happened?'

'The two parties drank together.'

'Hasten to the Place Bellecour, bring up the two battalions in reserve there; place one on each side of the bridge.'

The quays were crowded; boats were coming and going, transporting to the left bank the inquisitive people who could not cross the bridge occupied by our troops. The latter were ready to advance—to do their duty, or to betray us? As I reached the bridge-gates, cries of 'Vive l'Empereur!' burst from the other side of the river. On the quays the crowd took up the shout, and echoed it in a deafening manner.

I instantly put into execution the design I had formed of making some show of resistance. I intended to gain the head of the bridge with my staff, stop the first men who appeared, seize their weapons, and fire. The bridge was blocked by troops in columns.

'Come along, gentlemen' I cried; 'we must get down.'

We jumped off our horses and hurried along on foot as rapidly as we could, but scarcely had we reached a quarter of the distance when the 4th Hussars, Napoleon's advance-guard, appeared at the other end of the bridge. At this sight officers and soldiers mingled their cheers with the shouts of the populace; shakos were waved on bayonets in token of delight; the feeble barricades were thrown down, everyone pressed forward to welcome the new arrivals to the town.

From that instant all was lost. We made our way back, and remounted our horses ; there was no time to lose, for I rightly imagined that the 4th Hussars would meet no resistance at the Morand bridge, and they might reach the suburb of Vaise before us by following the quays, which is what eventually happened.

General Brayer, who was still with me, on hearing me give orders for the immediate evacuation of Lyons, took off his mask, and said:

'It is useless, Monsieur Ie Maréchal; all measures have been taken to prevent your departure.'

'Surely, sir, you know me too well,' I answered, 'to suppose that I can be easily stopped. I shall know how to make myself respected, and to make a way for myself with my sword.'

He moved towards his men without replying. But another obstacle presented itself. The crowd had become so compact that it would have been vain for me to attempt to pass through it, had it not been for the arrival of two battalions of reserves which I had summoned with the intention of posting them on the right and left sides of the bridge. The mass had to give way to admit of the passage of the troops. I took advantage of it to march with the column, making gestures to them as if to indicate where they should go. There was such a noise that it would have been impossible to make one's self heard. Having at length reached the rear of the column, I went along the quay. Colonel Dard, of the dragoons, whose regiment was not far away, came and asked me for orders without stopping, I said

'Get your horse and follow me.'

'Whither?'

'To the Bourbonnais high-road.'

I think his regiment refused to obey him, but am not certain, and have never been able to discover positively.

As we crossed the Place Bellecour, Comte Roger de Damas, governor of the 19th division, which was drawn up in the square, wished to stop. He was very confident, and had taken no precautions. I pointed out that it was now too late, and that the slightest delay would cause his arrest. He ran great risks, and had everything to fear, as a former émegré; but he would not be convinced, and went to his lodgings, while we started at full gallop. He had the good fortune to make his escape in disguise.

A little farther on I met Monsieur's escort returning. As we passed I gave orders to the officer in command to follow me with his detachment, adding that the regiment was behind us, and we pursued our road with the same speed, when, in the middle of the suburb, we met a brigadier and four hussars from Napeleon's troops, who had come by the Morand bridge and the Quai de Saône, and who barred the way; they were all drunk.

The brigadier advanced to seize my bridle, crying: 'General, surrender yourself '

He had scarcely uttered the words when, with a blow of my fist on his car, I knocked him into the gutter, whence he had sprung. A hussar threw himself upon General Viscount Digeon, who said

'What! You scoundrel, would you dare to arrest your General?'

'Oh, is it you, General Digeon? You must join us.'

The General imitated my method of disposing of his man, as did also Viscount de Polignac and the others who were behind us.

I was wrapped in my cloak, and was only distinguishable by the white plume in my hat. The appearance of the hussars had been so sudden and unexpected that we had had no time to draw our swords. On looking round to see if we were being followed, I saw that the detachment of dragoons had passed the hussars without taking them prisoners, whence I concluded that they were in league with them, and that they would arrest us if they could catch us; we therefore pressed on faster.

On the way General Digeon kept repeating to me that he knew a short cut to the Bourbonnais high-road, but while we were seeking about for it we reached the extreme end of the suburb. At the moment of the catastrophe, I had sent my courier on ahead with orders to send my carriage forward. It had been standing there for several hours, with my aides-de-camp and my secretary. The postilions had got off their horses, and were probably in some public-house—they could not be found. I threw a sad glance at my carriage, which contained a considerable sum in gold. One of my aides-de-camp handed me a pocket-book through the window, but we passed so swiftly that none of us could seize it.

Poor General 1)igeon, somewhat upset at having missed his short cut, did his utmost to induce me to take the Burgundy road instead of the Bourbonnais, which I knew very well. He had mistaken the two. As we galloped on he said:

'We are on the Burgundy road; there is a very bad feeling abroad there. You will be taken.'

I could neither calm him nor convince him that we were on the right road. A short distance ahead I perceived two gendarmes' horses tethered to a post without their riders. We might, by signal or otherwise, have them unfastened and brought after us, for ours were so tired that they could scarcely move. I gave orders that the gendarmes' horses should be untied. We were still pursued by what we believed to be enemies; they had even gained upon us somewhat, but at last they slackened their speed, and we were compelled to do the same, as our exhausted horses had of their own accord dropped into a walk.

About a mile from the 'Four de Salvagny, the first stage on quitting Lyons, I saw a general officer coming towards us. It was Simmer, who had been through the campaign of 1813 with me, and had served with great distinction. I had met him the previous day coming from Clermont with two battalions. He had received my orders to halt, and was on his way to Lyons for fresh instructions. Surprised at finding me on the road when he thought me still in the town, he asked what had happened. My only answer was:

'Have you any fresh horses to lend me?'

'Yes.'

'Then go and have them saddled and bridled.'

He started at a gallop. I did not lose sight of the detachment that was pursuing us; we had drawn away from it somewhat. At last we reached the post-house. The two battalions were under arms, and received me with proper honours. Some of my party thought they noticed some national cockades among them; I did not myself. The horses were soon ready, and we changed immediately, and taking General Simmer aside, I told him in a few words what had happened, and said:

'Order your troop to retreat.'

'They would not obey.'

'Then leave them, and follow me.'

With these words I started again, and the General remained behind.

Poor Digeon, preoccupied with the fear of being taken, suddenly perceived the white plume in my hat, and implored me to remove it. I hesitated, but at length, in order to pacify him, I pulled it out and tore it to pieces as we were galloping along, and notwithstanding the inconvenience of the wind and the rain. Just then his horse stumbled and fell; fortunately he was only scratched, and soon was in the saddle again, though we had to go rather more slowly. I noticed that our companions were a long way behind. They had probably found no horses at the post- house, and I was much afraid they would be taken; but I could not have saved them, and should only have been arrested as well. I presumed they would have presence of mind to strike into the cross-roads and into the open country.

In this state of doubt we galloped on, when we saw in front of us some horses being led. General Digeon, who expected to meet his along this road, concluded that they had passed the night at Tarare, and that those would be his horses. As his sight was very bad, he did not recognise them until we came close up to them. This was a piece of luck. We instantly jumped down and saddled and bridled them ourselves. Those we had left were very hot; they either smelt or saw the water of a little stream which ran near there, and we let them go. As we were remounting we perceived some horsemen far behind us, without being able to discover whether they were our companions or our pursuers. Away we went again.
As we passed through Tarare, a man leaning against a door, with a cotton cap on his head, greeted us with a feeble shout of 'Vive l'Empereur!' On reaching the foot of the mountain, where carriages stop to have extra horses harnessed to them, I felt too faint to go any farther without having some food. I had not dined the previous evening, and had eaten nothing all day. It was then between four and five in the afternoon. We were told that Monsieur was about half-way up the hill, which is very long. We were very anxious to catch him up to tell him what had happened, and I, especially, to get a lift in his carriage, for I could scarcely sit my horse any longer; my skin was already broken.

Poor General Digeon, who had not yet got over our meeting with the hussars in the suburbs of Lyons, wished to push on ; but I needed time to breathe; my horse's action was so uncomfortable that it had produced a violent pain in my side; his trot would have been much worse. There were only two of us, and without quitting my saddle, I asked him to keep watch while I was brought some bread and cheese and a glass of wine. I ate very little of this frugal repast, only just enough to satisfy my immediate needs. The General ate in his turn while I kept a lookout. I do not think our halt lasted more than eight or ten minutes. We started off again at a gallop, notwithstanding the hill, and indifferent to the fate of our horses; what was important to us was to catch up the carriages, which we should otherwise have missed.

We came up with them just as they were at the top of the hill. On seeing us, Monsieur guessed what had happened, and offered us places in his carriage. I accepted; but as I was dismounting, Digeon said to me in a low voice:

'Don't get in; we shall be taken; they will go very slowly and will want to stop.'

'All the more reason,' I returned; 'we will hurry on, or share the same fate.'

Possessed with his idea, he continued on horseback, but did not, however, get beyond the next stage, where he was very glad to find a place in the carriage containing Monsieur's staff. His Royal Highness gave me a seat beside himself, that, I believe, of the Duke of Fitz-James—Count des Cars, Captain of the Guards, and the Duc de Polignac, Equerry, completed the party.


 


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