Louis had written to Bonaparte: “I cannot believe that the victor at Lodi, Castiglione, and Arcola—the conqueror of Italy and Egypt—would not prefer real glory to mere empty celebrity. Meanwhile, you are losing precious time. We can secure the glory of France; I say we, because I have need of Bonaparte in the work, and because he cannot complete it without me.”
But Bonaparte already felt strong enough to say, not “we,” but “I,” and to complete his work alone. Therefore, he replied to the Count de Lille: “You cannot desire your return to France, for you would have to enter it over a hundred thousand corpses; sacrifice your personal interests to the tranquillity and happiness of France. History will pay you a grateful acknowledgment.”
Louis had said in his letter to Bonaparte, “Choose your own position, and mark out what you want for your friends.” And Bonaparte did choose his position; but unfortunately for the Count de Lille, it was the very one which the latter had wished to reserve for himself.
Josephine would have been glad to vacate the king’s place for him, could she but have retained her husband by so doing. She had no longings for a diadem which, by-the-way, her beautiful head did not require in order to command admiration.
“You cannot avoid being a queen or an empress, one of these days,” said Bourrienne to her, on a certain occasion.
Josephine replied, with tears: “Mon Dieu! I am far from cherishing any such ambition. So long as I live, to be the wife of Bonaparte—of the first consul—is the sum total of my wishes! Tell him so; conjure him not to make himself king.”
[Footnote 12: Bourrienne, vol. v., p. 47.]
But Josephine did not content herself with requesting Bourrienne to tell her husband this; she had the courage to say so to him herself.
One day she went into Napoleon’s cabinet, and found him at breakfast, and unusually cheerful and good-humored. She had entered without having been announced, and crept up on tiptoe to her husband, who sat with his back turned toward her, and had not yet noticed her. Lightly throwing her arm around his neck, and letting herself sink upon his breast, and then stroking his pale cheeks and glossy brown hair, with an expression of unutterable love and tenderness, she said:
“I implore you, Bonaparte, do not mount the throne. Your wicked brother Lucien will urge you to it, but do not listen to him.”
Bonaparte laughed. “You are a little goose, poor Josephine,” he said. “It’s the old dowagers of the Faubourg St. Germain, and your La Rochefoucauld, more than all the rest, who tell you these wonderful stories; but you worry me to death with them. Come, now, don’t bother me about them any more!”
Bonaparte had put off Josephine with a laugh and a jesting word, but he nevertheless conversed earnestly and seriously with his most intimate personal friends on the subject of his assuming the crown. In the course of one of these interviews, Bourrienne said to him: