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Authors: Evelyn Anthony

Far Flies the Eagle

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Far Flies the Eagle

A Romanov Saga

Evelyn Anthony


There are places in this story where I have sacrificed strict accuracy to dramatic effect, principally in the case of Talleyrand, whose treason did not become really effective until after Erfurt. Alexander's relationship with his sister will always be in doubt; I have not accepted the view that it was incestuous in practice. The details of the campaign of 1812 are as accurate as possible, except that Barclay de Tolly had withdrawn from Smolensk before the peak of the battle. The Grand Duchess Catherine was already in London when Alexander sailed for the State visit to England. I have discounted the theory that the Empress Josephine became the Czar's mistress, but his affaire with Hortense seems borne out by the fact that Napoleon himself sent her as an emissary to Alexander at a later date. With the above exception,
Far Flies the Eagle
is a true story. The description of the Bolshevik's exhumation of Alexander's coffin is naturally imaginary; though the tomb was opened and found to be empty, there is no way of verifying any details.

ONDON 1955


“Your Majesty, the Russian Emperor is about to embark.” The man seated behind the wide desk looked up at his aide.

“I am aware of that, Henri. I shall be ready in five minutes.”

He took up his pen and began writing; the aide bowed and withdrew. Five minutes would ensure that the Russians were inconvenienced, and it was part of his policy to keep them waiting.

He frowned and scratched out a word of what he had written; his face was fine featured, but inclined to fat; portraits and the official stamp on French coins flattered him. He signed and pushed the papers away and withdrew a gold watch out of his pocket. It was nearly time to leave. He had just beaten Austria, Prussia and Russia after a war lasting eighteen months, a war begun by these powers because Napoleon Bonaparte, whose father was a poor lawyer in Corsica, had dared to proclaim himself Emperor of the French.

The young General of the Revolution had become the General of the Directory which followed the fall of Robespierre and the end of the Terror. The shabby young officer who was always at such a social disadvantage in the elegant salons of the new ruling class in Paris had won victory after victory for France. He had made a fool of himself by marrying Josephine Beauharnais, who was years older, and had only agreed to the match because her protector Barras insisted; it was a good way of getting rid of her; he would help the gauche husband with a promising Command. The Command was Italy, and the result—Napoleon, who knew exactly why the Director Barras had smiled on his union with Josephine—Napoleon smiled in his turn when he thought of it.

He had dissolved the Directory after a military
coup d'état
and made himself First Consul. A further series of victories and wholesale annexations of conquered territories had culminated in two things.

The discovery of a Royalist plot to assassinate him—had given him the excuse to have the Bourbon Due D'Enghien kidnapped out of Germany, tried by court martial for complicity, and shot in Vincennes prison.

That settled any question of re-establishing the old Royal dynasty.

He then made himself Emperor of France.

He had never doubted that he could defeat Austria; the real military question mark was Russia, and though Russian forces took part in the battle of Austerlitz, where the Austrian army was annihilated, the result was less conclusive than Napoleon had hoped. The Russians fought well, but their organization was appalling and their Emperor Alexander had taken Supreme Command. One thing Austerlitz proved, and that was the Czar's lack of military skill. But properly equipped and led by a good general, the Russian soldier might give a very different account of himself.

Napoleon frowned slightly; after Austerlitz the Prussians had come into the war and been hopelessly beaten at Jena and then at Friedland. At Friedland the Russians were defeated for the second time, a defeat which not even their Emperor could deny. The Prussian Army was destroyed, the Russians suffered heavy losses in men and materials, and the Czar led his troops in headlong retreat to Tilsit, and crossed the Niemen into Russia.

Russian emissaries came to Napoleon, hinting at peace without any hope of success. The French had reached Tilsit and were encamped on the opposite bank from the exhausted Russian Army. All Napoleon had to do was cross the river. To everyone's amazement he had agreed to an armistice.

It was the Czar who suggested that a raft be built and moored in the middle of the Niemen so that both rulers could meet in a neutral area; it was a shrewd suggestion because it saved Alexander the indignity of going across the Russian frontier to meet his enemy.

Napoleon saw through it, and his estimation of his opponent rose.

It was a long time since he had been so curious about anyone as he was about the Emperor Alexander; a study of his Ambassador's reports and the facts known about him had presented Napoleon with a puzzle he was determined to solve.

He was gentle, eye-witnesses said, with irresistible charm and a rather shy manner; he professed Liberal sympathies in a country where freedom was unknown, and surrounded himself with young men of similar ideals. He had even talked wistfully of abdicating. If there was any defect in his character it was weakness, the tendency to bend to stronger personalities. Everyone Napoleon questioned agreed on one point. Alexander of Russia was the most handsome man they had ever seen.

Napoleon had then compared this portrait of a good-looking figurehead with the facts; and the facts didn't blend with the portrait. Alexander was the son of Paul I, a madman and a genius whose name was the synonym for terror, and he was the grandson of Catherine the Great.

It was unlikely, Napoleon thought grimly, that such a heredity had produced either a Liberal or a weakling.

It was even more unlikely when one remembered that at the age of twenty-four the gentle humanist of the ambassadorial reports had had his own father brutally murdered and taken the Crown. He had then disposed of the murderers one by one when his position was established.

He was reputed to have had as many women as Napoleon himself, but to have fallen in love with none of them.

And he, the youngest of the three monarchs concerned in the late war, had been the instigator of the whole attempt to smash France and dethrone her new Emperor. He had also been the first to abandon Prussia and sue for Napoleon's friendship as well as for peace.

He had been lucky, Napoleon decided, that peace and friendship were also in French interest at that time. An alliance with Russia and the promise to cease trading with England were what Napoleon hoped to gain from this meeting. In return he would promise Russia a free hand against Turkey; she could attack her hereditary enemy and France would see that no one in Europe dared to interfere. He would resurrect the dream of Paul I, a world divided between France and Russia, as the price of Russian support against England. Once he had beaten England, by strangling her trade and attacking her allies, then he could destroy Russia in his own time.

He never doubted his ability to ensnare the Czar; whether he proved to be a fool or a schemer, Napoleon was quite certain of success. He had matched his wits against the wiliest men in France, seized power and outraged the principals of the Revolution by re-establishing not just the monarchy, but an Empire. The most brilliant diplomats in Europe had failed to stand against his cunning in politics, falling as low as his opponents in the field.

The twenty-nine-year-old ruler of Russia would never succeed where everyone else had failed.

Napoleon looked at his watch again, and rising, called for his valet.

“My hat and my sword.”

He stood while his sword-belt was buckled on, a tiny figure of a man, less than five feet four inches tall, in the uniform of the Imperial Old Guard, without any decoration but the red ribbon of the Legion d'Honneur which he had instituted himself. He put on his wide cocked hat; the valet bowed.

“Send for Duroc,” Napoleon ordered. “I am ready to leave.”

An enormous wooden raft was moored in the middle of the river, and a pavilion the size of a small floating palace had been erected on it. The June sun was shining that day, glistening on the swelling water, on the gilt, the standards, the coloured tents clustered on the raft, and on the vast encampments on either side of the Niemen, the victorious army of France and the defeated troops of Holy Russia.

In the private sitting-room in an inn on the banks of the Niemen, Alexander of Russia waited with his personal friend and aide, Colonel Novossiltsov.

“Your Majesty, he's late!” the Colonel exclaimed angrily. “This is an insult, it's deliberate!”

Alexander looked down at him and smiled.

“Have patience. I arrived early, if you remember. It is arranged that we land at the same time. A lot depends on appearances, my friend. The King of Prussia has been left to wait on shore.”

“I am not concerned with Prussia, Sire. But this is an insult to you!”

Novossiltsov watched his Emperor and frowned; he had learnt at last that Alexander's gentleness was a sign of danger. When he was angry he froze; emotionally touched, he wept; when he was planning something he smiled, as he was doing then.

The Czar's blue eyes turned away from him.

“This is to be an alliance, you understand,” he said quietly. “Not a peace treaty in which we appear the defeated.”

Novossiltsov stared at him.

“No, Sire. Of course not.”

Alexander knew what he was thinking, knew that he was remembering the battlefield at Austerlitz, the thousands of Russian dead stiffening in the frozen swamps of the Goldbach, the unforgettable horror of their flight across the Lake of Tollnitz where the ice gave under them and hundreds drowned. Then Friedland, where 40,000 troops had faced a French force of twice that number, and after losing fifteen thousand men, were driven back to Tilsit.

BOOK: Far Flies the Eagle
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