“General,” said the young man, “my name is Eugene Beauharnais, and I have served the republic on the Rhine. My father was denounced before the Committee of Public Safety as a suspect, and given over to the Revolutionary Tribunal, who had him murdered, three days before the fall of Robespierre.”
“Murdered!” exclaimed Bonaparte, in threatening tones.
“Yes, general, murdered!” repeated Eugene, with resolution. “I come now to request, in the name of my mother, that you will have the kindness to bring your influence to bear upon the committee, to induce them to give me back my father’s sword. I will faithfully use it in fighting the enemies of my country and defending the cause of the republic.”
These proud and noble words called up a gentle, kindly smile to the stern, pale face of the young general, and the fiery flash of his eyes grew softer.
“Good! young man, very good!” he said. “I like this spirit, and this filial tenderness. The sword of your father—the sword of General Beauharnais—shall be restored to you. Wait!”
With this, he called one of his adjutants, and gave him the necessary commands. A short time only had elapsed, when the adjutant returned, bringing with him the sword of General Beauharnais.
Bonaparte himself handed it to Eugene. The young overwhelmed with strong emotion, pressed the weapon—the sole, dear possession of his father—to his lips and to his heart, and tears of sacred emotion started into his eyes.
Instantly the general stepped to his side, and his slender white hand, which knew so well how to wield the sword, and yet was as soft, as delicate, and as transparent as the hand of a duchess, rested lightly on Eugene’s shoulder.
“My young friend,” said he, in that gentle tone which won all hearts to him, “I should be very happy could I do anything for you or your family.”
Eugene gazed at him with an expression of childish amazement. “Good general!” he managed to say; “then mamma and my sister will pray for you.”
This ingenuousness made the general smile; and, with a friendly nod, he desired Eugene to offer his respects to his mother, and to call upon him soon again.
This meeting of Eugene and General Bonaparte was the commencement of the acquaintanceship between Bonaparte and Josephine. The sword of the guillotined General Beauharnais placed an imperial crown upon the head of his widow, and adorned the brows of his son and his daughter with royal diadems.
A few days after this interview between Bonaparte and Eugene, Josephine met Bonaparte at one of the brilliant soirees given by Barras, the first general-in-chief. She asked Barras to introduce her to the young general, and then, in her usual frank manner, utterly the opposite of all prudery, yet none the less delicate and decorous, extending her hand to Bonaparte, she thanked him, with the tender warmth of a mother, for the friendliness and kindness he had manifested to her son.