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Napoleon’s Return From Elba
by [?]

All was quiet in Elba. Nothing was talked of at Porto-Ferrajo but the ball to be given by Pauline, the sister of Napoleon, who had exchanged his imperial dominion over half Europe for kingship over that little Mediterranean island. Evening came. The fete was a brilliant one. Napoleon was present, gay, cheerful, easy, to all appearance fully satisfied with his little kingdom, and without thought of wider empire or heavier cares. He stayed till a late hour, and went home with two of his old generals, Bertrand and Drouet, to tell them the news which had come to him from the continent. This news was not altogether to his liking. The Congress at Vienna had decreed his transportation to the Azores. Elba was too near France.

Such was the state of affairs on the night of February 25, 1815. At sunset of the next day there might have been seen a small flotilla moving before a south wind along the shores of Elba. It consisted of a brig, the Inconstant by name, a schooner, and five smaller vessels. The brig evidently carried guns. The decks of the other vessels were crowded with men in uniform. On the deck of the Inconstant stood Napoleon, his face filled with hope and joy, his hand waving an adieu to his sister Pauline, who watched him from the chateau windows, on the island shore.

The next day came. The sea was motionless. Not a breath of wind could be felt. The island was still close at hand. At a distance might be seen the French and English cruisers which guarded that side of the island, now moveless upon a moveless sea. It was doubtful if the flotilla had not better return. But the wind rose again, and their progress was resumed.

Four in the afternoon found them off the heights of Leghorn. Five leagues to leeward lay one frigate; near the shores of Corsica was another; to windward could be seen a third, making its way towards the flotilla. It was the Zephyr, of the French navy, commanded by Captain Andrieux. Now had come a vital moment in the enterprise. Should the Emperor declare himself and seek to gain over Andrieux? It was too dangerous a venture; he bade the grenadiers on the deck to conceal themselves; it was a situation in which strategy seemed better than boldness. At six the two vessels were close together. Lieutenant Taillade of the Inconstant knew and saluted Captain Andrieux. A speaking-trumpet colloquy followed.

“Where are you bound?” asked Taillade.

“To Leghorn. And you?”

“To Genoa. Have you any commissions I can execute there?”

“Thanks, not any. How is the Emperor?”

“Very well.”

“So much the better.”

The two vessels moved on, and soon lost sight of each other in the growing darkness. The other frigates had disappeared.

The next day dawned. There was visible a large frigate in the distance, but it was not moving towards the flotilla. No danger was to be feared from this source. But the vessel’s head had been turned to the southward, to Taillade’s surprise.

“Gentlemen,” he called to the officers on the bridge, “are we bound for Spain or for Africa?”

Napoleon, who had perceived the same thing, summoned Taillade from his conference with the officers.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Sire, we are headed for Africa.”

“I don’t wish to go there. Take me to France.”

“Your Majesty shall be there before noon to-morrow.”

The face of Napoleon beamed on hearing these words. He turned to the soldiers of the Old Guard who accompanied him, and said,–

“Yes, grenadiers, we are going to France, to Paris.” Enthusiastic “vivas” followed his announcement, which told a tale of future glory to those war-hardened veterans. They had fought for the Emperor on many a mighty field. They were ready to dare new dangers in the hope of new triumphs.

On the morning of Wednesday, March 1, the shores of France were visible from the vessel’s deck. At three in the afternoon anchor was dropped in the Bay of Juan. Cheers and salvos of artillery greeted those welcome shores; the boats were quickly dropped, and by five o’clock the whole expedition was on shore. The soldiers made their bivouac in an olive grove on the borders of the bay.