"You will be married to a man of fair complexion. A young Creole, whom you love, does not cease to think of you; you will never marry him, and you will make vain attempts to save his life, but his end will be unhappy. Your star promises you two marriages. Your first husband will be a man born in Martinique, but he will reside in Europe and wear a sword. A sad legal proceeding will separate you, and after many troubles he will perish tragically, leaving you a widow with two helpless children. Your second husband will be of European birth; without fortune, yet he will become famous; he will fill the world with his glory, and will subject many nations to his power. You will then become eminent, but many will forget your kindnesses, and, after astonishing the world, you will die a miserable woman."
It was, perhaps, easy tor the sage to prophesy, for to her dying day Josephine remained a fatalist. Power, wealth, fame - she sought them not. Together they sought her, and blindly She followed.
Josephine was not a great woman; she was not a clever woman; not even was she a beautiful woman; but some subtle fascination pervaded her whole nature. it still pervades her memory, ana it was this which made her life one long, inglorious triumph, and which laid prostrate before her feet an age rich in greatness, rich in wit, and rich in beauty.
Josephine was a bad woman, reckless and extravagant, the typical demi-mondaine of Imperial France. The historian tells us so. But she was also a most lovable and fascinating woman. As such the romancer cannot fail to find her. He proclaims her as a woman relatively good, the victim of a wicked city, a wicked country, and a wicked age. Josephine, however, drank deeply of the cup of life; she lived as it were upon the pulse of Europe, and Europe then was being racked with such a fever as it had never had before nor has had since.
She was born on the Island of Martinique, June 23rd, 1763, on the day when the flag of France once again fluttered in the breezes above Sannois, and her parents, M. and Madame de la Pagerie, rejoiced to hear the victorious guns of la belle France booming in the harbour while their child was being born into the world.
Josephine was the wayward child of a precocious generation. At the age of ten she fell in love. It was no mere childish fancy, but a love which survived and wrecked her life, and which the environment of her youth alone made possible, for she was born and bred in a country where women develop
Love much more rapidly than in any other, and among the most voluptuous people upon earth. Her lover was also but a child. He was an Englishman, the son of exiled royalist parents, whose name still remains a mystery, and it is merely as William de K - that their son has been handed down to posterity. For three years the children loved each other in their island home, and then came the sorry day of parting.
Tearfully, and with pathetic anguish in their hearts, the children swore eternal vows of loyalty and love. Then William sailed, and a cruel fate strangled at its birth as delicate a tale of love as any idealist has yet conceived.
Josephine always cherished the memory of William, and he appears ever to have been true to his vows; his strength never wavered. Many months, however, elapsed before Josephine realised his loyalty; at the time she had good reason to regard him as a fickle, faithless swain. Madame de la Pagerie desired to see her daughter a more important woman than she would be as the wife of a penniless champion of the defeated Stuart cause; she had arranged another match for Josephine; she intercepted William's letters, and hoped that her daughter would forget.
Josephine, however, did not forget; but, because she was a fatalist, she bowed her head to the inevitable, and allowed herself to be married to a man whom she never even thought of loving. Before her wedding, William found her and pleaded with her long, but all in vain. It was too late; her course was marked out; she must follow it. And the lover of her youth departed a brokenhearted man.
" To die! Oh, what is it to die, now that I must give up the bright illusion which I have cherished from my very childhood ? No, I shall never see her again, never again !" And he did not, although, when death already held her in his clutches, he came to visit Josephine at La Malmaison to say farewell. He had come too late, but her kindnesses he had not forgotten.
Josephine's first marriage, after the manner of such marriages, was eminently correct; it was solely a manage de conven-ance; it was gross; it was horrible; it was very French; but to the respective parents "it was a consummation devoutly to be wished."
Alexandre de Beauharnais was the son of the Marquis de Beauharnais, late Governor of Martinique; he was a young man of culture and of breeding; clever and ambitious; and, it seemed, destined ultimately to climb high up the ladder of success. Josephine, on the other hand, was a welcome asset to the Beauharnais menage; she was rich - that was most important - and also she was charming. The old marquis greeted his daughter-in-law with real enthusiasm; her wealth pleased him, and her fascinating naivete won his heart.
At first, moreover, the gallant young vicomte was delighted with the country maiden whom he found to be his wife; she was a delicious novelty after the frail beauties of the capital. His parents doted on her, his fellow-officers admired her. This flattered him. Moreover, she was faithful to him, and a faithful wife in revolutionary France was an ideal he had never dreamed of realising. Yes, he almost loved her!
Josephine also, at first, was quite content; she was pleased with her new position; Paris was delightful after her humdrum life at Sannois; she loved gaiety, she loved luxury, she loved the delicate and priceless fruits of power. For power, however, as power, she cared not; but to her husband a thirst for power was the very raison d'etre of life. He was for ever striving to advance, and for a wife he wanted one who would strive with him, a clever, scheming woman who was prepared to employ all the powers of seductive womanhood to pave his way.