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December 18 1812: Napoleon is Home


On December 18, 1812, at a quarter to midnight, Napoleon arrives at Tuileries in Paris, and falls into the arms of his wife, the Empress Marie-Louise. Caulaincourt describes his arrival: 
At last the moment arrived when he was to ride ahead into the courtyard and hand us out at the Tuileries. 

Without being told to do so, and before the mounted sentinels had time to challenge him, the postilion drove at a gallop through the Arc de Triomphe. "That's a good sign," the Emperor said to me. Safe and sound, he got out at the main gateway just as the clock was striking the quarter before midnight. I had unbuttoned my overcoat far enough to show the braid of my uniform. The sentries, taking us for despatch officers, let us pass; and so we got through to the door of the open gallery that overlooks the Gardens. The porter, who had gone to bed, came out with a lamp in his hand, and dressed only in his shirt, to see who was knocking. Our faces looked so strange to him that he called his wife. I had to repeat my name three or four times over before I could persuade them to open the door. Nor was it without difficulty and a lot of blinking—she stuck the lamp right into my face—that either of them knew who I was. Then she unlocked, while he was calling one of the regular footmen. The Empress had just retired. 
I asked to be shown into the quarters of her ladies-in-waiting, ostensibly to give her word that the Emperor would follow me, as our custom was. All this time the porter and the rest of them were looking over the Emperor from head to foot. "It's the Emperor!" one of them shouted. I cannot tell you how pleased they were. They could scarcely contain themselves. The two ladies-in-waiting on the Empress came out of her apartment at the very moment when I came into theirs. My two-weeks' beard, the state of my clothes, my fur-lined boots,— all this, I imagine, struck them as unfavourably as it had the porter; for I had to repeat the good news of the Emperor's arrival over and over before I could stop their fleeing from the ghost they thought they saw. Finally the Emperor's name reassured them, and helped them to recognize me. One of them announced me to the Empress. Meanwhile the Emperor, who had scarcely been able to hide his impatience, brought my errand to an end by coming into the Empress's apartment and saying to me: "Good-night, Caulaincourt. You need some rest, too." 
I went immediately to the Archchancellor's, as the Emperor had instructed me to do. The Prince had little thought that the despatch he sent off by the evening post would reach its destination so quickly. If I had not come by the post-chaise— if a footman in the palace livery had not come with me, and the postilion's uniform had not been my passport—I should have had trouble again in being admitted at the Archchancellor's. I could have got nowhere on my looks. The Court footman had more or less to stand sponsor for me, for the Prince's servants looked me over and did not know for sure what to make of this figure that none of them recognized or would announce. 
M. Jaubert, of the Bank, and a number of others who were in the Prince's salon, stood as though petrified at this apparition. Everyone looked at me without saying a word. None knew what to make either of my arrival or of this figure that seemed not to fit the name which had been announced. After the first impression produced by my attire and my beard, the same thought came to them all: "Where is the Emperor? What's the news? Can something have happened to him?" That was what everybody said, without being able to utter a word. The terrible bulletin had come out; none had awakened that morning with pleasant impressions. They felt glum. None knew the Emperor was in Paris; why was the Master of Horse there? Why had he left the Emperor? The hour, the pale lamp-light, the uncertainties they had been through, the melancholy details they had learned and those for which they were waiting,—all this filled their minds with gloom and inclined them to sad forebodings. Such was the state of those in the salon, while I stood there waiting for the footman to return from announcing me in the Prince's study. That dumb show cannot be described. All stared at me without the power to speak: they seemed to be holding their breath. Each tried to read his own sentence in my glance—and the expression of all their faces betrayed more fear than hope. I had spoken to M. Jaubert; when his first astonishment had worn oif, he exclaimed: "And the Emperor, Your Grace—?" He could not finish his question. Each repeated those words with an air of dismay: "And the Emperor? Where is he?" "In Paris," I answered. At that all their faces brightened up, and I went in to see the Prince. He greeted me with the same exclamation, which I broke in upon to give him reassurance. I conveyed the Emperor's orders, chatted a few minutes, and enjoined upon him to have the cannon announce the Emperor's return at dawn. He was also to advise the ministers and the Court that levee would be held at eleven o'clock, and so on. 
On reaching my quarters I ordered that a page be sent to Madame Mere and to each of the Princesses at eight in the morning, to announce the Emperor's arrival to them. I wrote the Lord Chamberlain concerning the palace staff. . . . 

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