"Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon, during the first three years of his captivity on the island of St. Helena: including the time of his residence at her father's house, 'The Briars'"
by Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe Abell
When Elizabeth (Betsy) Balcombe was 13 years old, she lived with her family on remote St. Helena island. Her father was employed by the East India Company. Suddenly, ex-Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was going to arrive on the island as an exile. She was terrified because she thought he was a monster. The day after he arrived, she was told that he was coming to their house to live in the pavilion outside. She wanted to hide, but her mother told her to remember her French and speak to him (Napoleon didn't speak English.) The encounter was quite different from her expectations; she was charmed by Napoleon and they became very good friends for the next three years until her family had to depart. She shows a side of Napoleon that is very poignant. This book was a bestseller when it came out.
Excerpt [italics are mine]:
Some chairs were then brought out at his request, upon the lawn, and seating himself on one, he desired me to take another, which I did with a beating heart. He then said, "You speak French:" I replied that I did, and he asked me who had taught me. I informed him, and he put several questions to me about my studies, and more particularly concerning geography. He inquired the capitals of the different countries of Europe. "What is the capital of France?" "Paris." "Of Italy?" "Rome." "Of Russia?" "Petersburg now," I replied; "Moscow formerly." On my saying this, he turned abruptly around, and fixing his peering eyes full in my face, he demanded sternly, "Qui l'a brulé?"[ Who burned it?] When I saw the expression of his eye, and heard his changed voice, all my former terror of him returned, and I was unable to utter a syllable.
I had often heard the burning of Moscow talked of, and had been present at discussions, as to whether the French or Russians were the authors of that dreadful conflagration, I therefore feared to offend him by alluding to it. He repeated the question, and I stammered, "I do not know, sir." "Oui, oui," he replied, laughing violently: "Vous savez bien, c'est moi qui la brulé." [Yes, yes, you know very well it was I who burned it.] On seeing him laugh, I gained a little courage and said, "I believe, sir, the Russians burnt it to get rid of the French." He again laughed and seemed pleased to find that I knew anything about the matter.
Suggest and discuss books to read (all languages welcome!)
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