The atmosphere felt oppressive as James and his young bride Marianne made their way to Paris. People walked the streets viewing one another with suspicion after Napoleon had established his hereditary Empire by installing members of his family into high positions across Europe. War had become such a part of daily life, people made the best of it they could; life was hard for the poor. In Paris the bourgeoisie continued to live their privileged lives at a reduced scale.
James knocked at the door of Aunt Marie Francoise Scherer’s home. Marie opened the door and invited them in, she greeted Marianne affectionately.
“I am so glad to see you my dear, life has been hard since your Uncle Bartholomy Louis Joseph died in 1804. We had to move back to Paris and leave our lovely Chateaux in Commenchon, Chauny.” Aunt Marie turned to Marianne,
“It was a good idea of your father to let you come and stay here with Henriette and I while James is away on the ships of the line.”
“Yes, “said James “The British Fleet showed its superiority in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 but the ships need to be maintained. We have also regained control of the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch, so ships require a lot of work keep them in condition to do the long route to the East. It is quite likely I will be sent to maintain a merchantman so will be away for some time.”
“We really could not stay isolated in the countryside,” Aunt Marie continued, “Henriette will not find a good match out there in the country, she is at a marriageable age and I need to find her a husband”.
“It is difficult,” said James “as marriageable men are mostly at war, but you still need to get on with your lives. Life in Britain is also difficult as there is no strong leadership in government after William Pitt, the Prime Minister died. How I wish this was all over and we could live in peace.”
“You are looking very weary my dear” said Aunt Marie to Marianne, “Henriette, do show you cousin up to the rooms where they will be staying.”
“Yes, I am actually starting to feel pretty dizzy and nauseous,” said Marianne to Henriette as they went upstairs, “I am really looking forward to a comfortable place to lay my head. James has been very kind to me, but being married is quite an adjustment, and it was a long journey to get here.”
“You must tell me what it is like to be married”, said Henriette blushing. “Mother is busy
negotiating a match with one of my father’s friends and colleague, Claude Juste Alexandre Louis Legrand.”
“Oh” said Marianne, “He must be quite a bit older than you if he is your father’s friend”
“He is 33 years older than me” Henriette said, “but he wanted someone who knows the full implications of men at war, but he also wants the comfort of a home when he comes back from battle.” Claude Juste Legrand was a hardened general who had risen to lieutenant colonel during the Revolution and fought in many battles.
Marie Francoise was glad for the extra pair of hands and she and the two girls sat and chatted over the forthcoming marriage making plans as they sat sewing. It was now pretty obvious that Marianne was with child and the girls excitedly looked forward to the coming events.
“Marianne, do you know what to expect when you have a baby?” Aunt Marie asked as the time drew near for the confinement.
“I have been with my mother when she gave birth to my brothers,” Marianne said, “but I am still afraid, my mother was very weak after the birth of Charles?”
The midwife, Aunt Marie and Henriette were on hand to welcome little Sarah Fish into the world, Marianne bore the pain bravely and was delighted with her little daughter. James Smith had managed to take time off between ships to check on Marianne and see his little daughter and to attend the wedding.
It was a joyous family occasion as Claude Juste Legrand and Henriette took their marriage vows. They were feted in various Paris homes as the General recounted his war stories about the 1809 campaign under Marshall Andre Massena where they had fought tenaciously against the Austrians in the notable battle of Aspern-Essling. The battle ended when both sets of troops were too exhausted to fight anymore and the French retreated.
All too soon Napoleon called up his troops and soon Claude Legrand was on his way to Russia and James was back to his ship, he was going to the East this time on a merchantman. The women reconciled themselves to keeping the home fires burning and a resemblance of some sort of social life while their men were away.
The family in Paris were kept busy looking after little Sarah and keeping up with their Parisian circle. Henriette waited anxiously for news from the Russian front, Claude was with Marshal Oudinot’s II Corps. She watched out daily for a message or a letter as she had heard the Russian’s had retreated to Moscow leaving a scorched-earth policy behind, burning towns and villages as they retreated so the French could not live off the land. It was a bitterly cold and freezing winter and the news was not good – many soldiers had died of starvation.
Aunt Marie came through to the drawing room, her face white and drawn, she had a newspaper in her hand.
“What is it Mother?” said Henriette.
“The bloodiest battle of the Napoleonic wars took place at Borodino, seventy miles west of Moscow on September the 7th. The French army made contact with the Russian Cossacks, there were heavy losses of officers and 70 000 casualties. Napoleon marched to Moscow, only to find it evacuated and on fire – no decisive victory there. The Russians continued to retreat – they would not fight. Napoleon’s troops are exhausted, suffering from hypothermia, starving and there is no fodder for the horses. “
Henriette put her head in her hands and cried, she had only had a few weeks with Claude before he went off to battle.
“Oh no! Is there any news of Claude?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Marie going to her daughter and putting her arms around her. “You know how it was with your father, we never knew, it is only when you get a messenger at the door you really need to worry.”
It was not a week or two later when there was a knock at the door of the Scherer home in Paris. “Mademoiselle, I am sorry to bring bad tidings, but General Legrand has been badly wounded, but he is alive, please can you prepare a room for him.” Henriette wept, she pulled herself together and said,
“Certainly, please bring him home and I shall take care of him. What happened?”
The messenger replied, “By the time we arrived at the Berezina River in November only 27,000 able soldiers were still standing. The Russian soldiers continued to harass us with short encounters. Clause Juste Legrand arrived at the river with the French II corps to take the bridge, but the Russians had destroyed it. Napoleon realising our vulnerability, with great difficulty and minimum equipment got our troops to distract the Russians whilst we built a bridge. Musket balls tore through Claude’s flesh and he fell into the freezing water and we had to drag him ashore and make our escape. Napoleon has fled back to Paris to raise more troops and secure his position”.
Henriette, Aunt Marie and Marianne took turns nursing Claude. He was battle weary and in dreadful pain from the injuries he had sustained and the frostbite to his extremities, he slowly recovered under the women’s tender care. The General was amused by little Sarah and eventually was able to get up and about again. Claude was promoted to senator on 5th April 1813, Pair de France on June 1814 and Chevalier de Saint-Louis on June 27 1814. These days in Paris were the best Henriette was to know as Claude’s health slowly deteriorated.
Claude came through one morning with the newspaper, “Napoleon has abdicated and been sent to Elba. Louis XVIII has returned to Paris. Although the Peace of Paris has been signed, Britain is still at war with the American colonies and it seems there will never be peace in the world and Wellington is approaching Paris.” Claude sighed; he was still in pain and was thoroughly sick of war and the uncertainty of daily living. It was a stressful time for the family and the inhabitants of Paris.
Marianne found herself pregnant once again, this time she had had little time to take care of herself as she was busy looking after Sarah and helping to nurse Claude. She did not know where James was, it was months since she had last seen him. Claude took to his bed, his wounds were festering again. Henriette and Aunt Marie felt the strain of tending to the needs of the dying Claude who expired his last breathe on 8th January 1815. The peace in Paris did not last long, Napoleon returned in March 1815. Louis XVIII fled Paris and Napoleon started his Hundred Days expansion into Europe.
As Marianne’s confinement drew near she became edgy and anxious.
“Where are you James? I really need you now,” she cried as the birth pangs started. “I feel so alone here, I want my mother,” she sobbed and struggled as the midwife stood over her. This confinement was not as easy as when Sarah was born, and she was stressed out. The midwife’s face was grave as she delivered the tiny Rebecca.
“You will have to be careful with this one, she is underweight and not a good colour” The midwife said as she laid the child in Marianne’s arms. Aunt Marie and Henriette dressed in black were also sombre as Aunt Marie announced,
“Wellington and the Allied armies’ are gathering to march on Paris. How I wish this war over and we had a man around, what will become of us?”
On the 18th June 1815 the decisive Battle of Waterloo was fought and Napoleon was exiled to St Helena. The Treaty of Ghent had been signed signalling the end of the American war.
James returned to the house in
Paris to find a sad and grieving family, Marianne was ill and was not able to feed the ailing Rebecca. James greeted Sarah who hardly recognised him and held his new baby daughter as she slowly faded and died in his arms.
“We can’t intrude any longer on your hospitality and Marianne wants to go home to see her mother and introduce little Sarah to her parents” James said to the grieving Marie and Henriette.
So it was a sad parting as the cousins embraced and bid Aunt Marie a final farewell, they had all aged, youth was left behind as they set off once more for England’s shore. The family had lost so much through these wars, first General Scherer and the lovely chateaux; Claude had died leaving them with the house in Paris but not much else. James and Marianne had lost a daughter; it was now a time for new beginnings.