The long siege was over. Napoleon had conquered, and this girl of eighteen gave herself up to his caresses and endearments, thinking that, after all, her love of country was more than her own honor.
Her husband, as a matter of form, put her away from him, though at heart he approved what she had done, while the Polish people regarded her as nothing less than a national heroine. To them she was no minister to the vices of an emperor, but rather one who would make him love Poland for her sake and restore its greatness.
So far as concerned his love for her, it was, indeed, almost idolatry. He honored her in every way and spent all the time at his disposal in her company. But his promise to restore Poland he never kept, and gradually she found that he had never meant to keep it.
“I love your country,” he would say, “and I am willing to aid in the attempt to uphold its rights, but my first duty is to France. I cannot shed French blood in a foreign cause.”
By this time, however, Marie Walewska had learned to love Napoleon for his own sake. She could not resist his ardor, which matched the ardor of the Poles themselves. Moreover, it flattered her to see the greatest soldier in the world a suppliant for her smiles.
For some years she was Napoleon’s close companion, spending long hours with him and finally accompanying him to Paris. She was the mother of Napoleon’s only son who lived to manhood. This son, who bore the name of Alexandre Florian de Walewski, was born in Poland in 1810, and later was created a count and duke of the second French Empire. It may be said parenthetically that he was a man of great ability. Living down to 1868, he was made much of by Napoleon III., who placed him in high offices of state, which he filled with distinction. In contrast with the Duc de Morny, who was Napoleon’s illegitimate half-brother, Alexandre de Walewski stood out in brilliant contrast. He would have nothing to do with stock-jobbing and unseemly speculation.
“I may be poor,” he said—though he was not poor—“but at least I remember the glory of my father and what is due to his great name.”
As for Mme. Walewska, she was loyal to the emperor, and lacked the greed of many women whom he had made his favorites. Even at Elba, when he was in exile and disgrace, she visited him that she might endeavor to console him. She was his counselor and friend as well as his earnestly loved mate. When she died in Paris in 1817, while the dethroned emperor was a prisoner at St. Helena, the word “Napoleon” was the last upon her lips.
It was said of Napoleon long ago that he could govern emperors and kings, but that not even he could rule his relatives. He himself once declared:
“My family have done me far more harm than I have been able to do them good.”