Malmaison: Scenes 3-5

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Hortense de Beauharnais


Scene 3: Malmaison, Josephine’s bedroom

Hortense & a maid, Fleuer, are cleaning

Hortense
You must dust underneath the porcelain,
How the fussiness flies from Bounaparte,
No speck of dust, no crease in the linen,
No particle seem alter’d in this room
From how my mother leaves it as she died.

Enter Odette

Odette
His majesty has just arrived your grace.

Hortense
Mon Dieu, how does he look, how does he fare?

Odette
He pales fatigue, madame, but looks relieved.

Hortense
Thank-you Odette, continue here with Fleur.

Exit Hortense

Fleur
I do not wish to see the Corsican,
My father left to rot in Syria,
His sons – my brothers – slaughter’d by Cossacks,
Soldiers devoured as fast as they were made,
My husband was slain at La Rothiere,
& of my sons who rush’d into the ranks,
This recent insanity’s insistence,
There is no word, I fear the very worst.

Odette
I too have borne my share of grief & loss,
But still emit the beautiful belief
That all will settle right, when all who died
To make France great should not have died in vain.

Fleur
They died, Odette, both in, & for, the vain.


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Scene 4: Malmaison, Front of House

Napoleon is with Lucien & Caulaincourt, preparing to enter the house / Hortense bursts thro’ the door

Napoleon
Hortense!

Hortense
Welcome home, father, welcome home!

Napoleon
Let us embrace as in those happy times
When all we will’d was magical & good,
Your winding arms comfort like dawn’s first rays,
Your happy face fair proof I am alive,
But tired… I shall remain some few days hence.

Hortense
We can decorate all to your own taste,
So you may think in peace how to proceed
With present universitalities.

Napoleon
No, leave things be, her memories are best.

Hortense
If you so wish… but what of recent wars?
Reports harangue conflicted; some say won,
Some say well beat, some even say you’re dead.

Napoleon
Here is a great event! A battle lost,
My soldiers were performing prodigies,
So tough & lustful, cheering every breath,
Facing the English on a tiny field
We ran them into ragged remnancy,
Six of their flags were ours, but old Blucher
Outwitted Grouchy in a day’s pursuit
& roll’d along our flanks in deadly fire,
Malicious elements cried in panic
Until we lost cohesion every point.

Lucien
These events can hardly be called your fault,
Your commanders were not the same soldiers
As those who fought for France at Austerlitz,
No, they are faint of heart, & think war sport,
Go flitting between fear & foolishness,
The Gaurd, with Lannes or Bessi at its head,
Would not have been defeated.

Napoleon
Yes, perhaps…
I now know how I march’d a month too soon,
This Grand Armee lack’d true consistency,
But let us re-enact the war no more,
Too late to ruminate on matters pass’d,
The present presses in relentelessly,
Someone tell me of the mood in Paris,
What of the salon gossip, do you know?

Hortense
All along the avenue Marigny,
At the Elysee, there were handsome groups,
Standing before the palace in full throat,
Shouts of ‘Vive L’Empereur’ were well heard,
Wich soldiers echoed back with happy hearts.

Lucien
Why not fight on, lead armies to the Loire,
Rallying all with a single slogan,
La patrie en danger!

Napoleon
Still they cheer me?
The appetite last year was not for war,
But twelve more months of the fat Bourbon kings
Sticking their snouts in Republican troughs,
Has taught them who is better for the throne,
Let us declare a war of survival,
Announce that I will never sign a peace
As long as enemies trample Gallic soil
With booted footsteps of its soldiery.

Caulaincourt
If I may interject, Your Majesty
The enemy is legion, & possess
The border fortresses, the Prussians press
At Compeigne already.

Napoleon
Compeigne?
But that is only forty miles away!
Inform the chambers of my willingness
To resume the command of the army,
There must be eighty-thousand troops to hand,
Yes, thirty-thousand more than in Fourteen,
When I held off the armies of three states –
Russia, Prussia, Austria – three whole months
Eighty thousand is forty-five thousand
More than cross’d the Great Saint Bernard Pass –
We can defend Paris for many years,
Until our foes are thoroughly repulsed.

Lucien
We must persist, we must resist, levee
En masse, like Ninety-Three, the peasantry;
All men are soldiers, sire, sound the trumpet,
The Spanish did it to our very selves
They drove us back to France at pitchfork point,
Bolstered by handfuls of regular troops
Commanded by a lesser mind than yours –
Let fields & orchards, farmyards & churches
Become part of the fortress that is France,
Protracted war will stickle in the throat,
Of those who thought the French would merely lie
Down at their feet, prostrate, like panting dogs.

Caulaincourt
There is a problem, sire, the Deputies
Are turning in their chamber, mostly turn’d
By Fouche, who says you are a tyrant,
Your second abdication by them call’d,
It is a sordid spectacle to see.

Napoleon
Then the Chamber I shall simply dissolve,
Thro’ prosperties they crawled at my heels
Like bodiless creations, to act now
With strength, resembling my authority,
Is merely flashing mirrors from my will.

Caulaincourt
The Chamber only yesterday decreed
If anybody dared them to dissolve,
They shall be deem’d a traitor to all France.

Napoleon
All France? All France! All France belongs to me,
I should have had that scoundrel Fouche hang’d,
Incredulous he even dares to speak!
Who is he that invokes the Tricolor
Who France fled when I went off to Elba,
Who owes me his own return to Paris,
& while his feet are kicking weightless air
I’ll fling a number of the Deputies
Into the Seine, & have the Chambers closed,
Just like Cromwell.

Caulaincourt
Alas, your Majesty,
All this should lead to bloody anarchy
Do you have courage for the guillotine
& a legacy like Robespierre?

Hortense
Gentlemen, let us from this talk divert,
This was my mother’s house, as well you know,
For war & politics she ground no salt,
& commanders best left from decisions
When sheerest exhaustion abstruses mind,
We have prepared hot waters for him here,
Better that he has bath’d before them cool’d.

Napoleon
Agreed, relaxing baths worth four hours sleep,
I’ll take one now & then a little food.

Exit Napoleon taking off his gloves, he is watched in
silence.


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Scene 5: Malmaison, Gardens

Hortense is in the garden pruning Roses, singing an air.
Enter Napoleon in casual clothes.

Napoleon
I recognise that song, from Aquitaine?

Hortense
It is father, how was your food, your bath?

Napoleon
They conjur’d revitalising essence,
I was an ocean’s weary, three full days
Lacking food of any substance, nor sleep
Dared visit me with blanket tenderness,
Delirious of Malmaison I dream’d,
This chateaux blesses comfort in my smiles,
It should be a merry dish of delights
If I could end my days entranquil’d here.

Hortense
Malmaison is your home, your majesty

Napoleon
It never was, no, always your mother’s,
This elegant, heavenly enterprise,
That now is yours, & legally bestow’d.

Hortense
Paperwork… it is yours via manna
Of existence, as ancyent Celtic gods
Are eterniz’d by name in sacred groves,
Malmaison shall frame Human memories
Of Josephine & her Napoleon!
Stay as long as you like, but with plain speech
Your safety is of issue paramount,
The Prussians close on Paris hour on hour

Napoleon
Let us not fret on matters such as these,
We are safe today, & for tomorrow,
Time enough to take delight in nature,
How are your mother’s flowers? Summer’s heat
Provides life when, vibrating in their terms,
Each flower like a censer fumes, perfumes
The air with such a melancholy waltz.

Hortense
They prosper well as always, & I feel
Inebriated with their sheer beauty,
Exotic blooms of June, sweetly breathing,
Mass’d rhododendrons rambling by jasmine,
& roses of every shade & species.

Napoleon
She loved them so, adored their inspection,
Her loveliest roses would bloom for weeks,
The future’s garden lovers, I am sure,
Will praise her extension of loveliness
From petal-days to month-long majesty.

Hortense
She was a master-mistress of her craft,
No guild could teach her what she breath’d inside,
But those are flowers, father, this is life
As every second sends its urgencies,
Where will you go? Perhaps America
A fine letter from Eliza Jummel
Reach’d me, she & her husband shall prepare
A royal residence to woo New York.

Napoleon
Considerations I shall give to this,
My destiny might be accomplish’d there,
Making amends to my posterity,
Dedicated devotee of science,
From Atlantic sound to Pacific rim
I could cross that vast & fantastic land,
Studying physical phenomena,
From botany to planetary spheres.

Hortense
As one door closes, opens another,
If remaining salutationally
Determined, insurmountable hardship
Crumbles… labours persevered undaunted
Overhaul even broken destiny!

Napoleon
My destiny ruptured when we parted,
Your mother & I, my life’s large regret,
So strange that this fair chateaux which witness’d
Scenes of indescribable triumph, sees
Disaster never known by any man,
& she – she is absent – her tenderness
Could soothe fury.

Hortense
I cannot take her place,
But sympathies solicited still yours,
I sense exactly how she would have felt,
In flummox-flux at her unhappiest.

Napoleon
Your mother was the true guide of my life,
The one who taught me fluency of love,
The love I bare for Maria-Louise
Is familial, you do understand?
No-one removes Josephine from my heart,
Within its lonely beats she sits in state.

Hortense
I understand, but it pains me to hear
The name & source of your separation.

Napoleon
She never was the source, never the cause,
At work were forces dampening constraint,
An incredible empire to preserve;
On looking back… wiser, unvisor’d eyes
Acknowledge how my fate was built for her
Whose face I see, whose form goes where I roam,
Strolling paths, applauding in theatres,
Her irrisistabilty haunts me,
The most enchanting being I have known,
Vivacious & vivid in every sense,
She was a woman to her fingertips.

Hortense
I miss her fashion, father, her passion
For elegance, to look her best, empress
Excuisitor.

Napoleon
The fairest in all France,
No painter ever captured her beauty,
For hers the deftest beauty of movement;
She was the most glittering ornament
Of empire, & this garden sings her style,
Best stage & setting of our better times.

Hortense
I, too, cannot abide this fragrant place,
Without wondering if, any moment,
She might appear in happy finery
Pricking along the paths, plucking flowers.

Napoleon
With what sad tears she water’d all her blooms

Hortense
I disagree, Malmaison her happiness,
These gardens were your union’s children,
Your nurseries these lush, umbrageous grounds.

Napoleon
Such well-will’d words are wounding me too much,
Let us stroll instead as did your mother
& I, so many times.

Hortense
Of course father
{they link arms & head off thro’ the gardens}
Do you remember dining al fresco
Upon the lawns on warm summer evenings,
Talking about science, literature,
The supernatural, female attire…

Napoleon
I do, & after, on a path like this,
New plants would we admire & sometimes gaze
On recent vistas open’d thro’ the trees,
When doing so my political life
Evaporated like the early dew
That forms bright pearls upon the ageless grass.


THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO

Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

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Posted on November 28, 2019, in Conchordia, Malmaison. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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