Exile

Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène, by François-Joseph Sandmann.

I could hear the cook cursing me in his sleep. Yet another storm raged through the night, which rattled the shutters with wind and rain. With little else to do and nowhere else to go, I lit a candle and penned a letter to my parents, though I haven’t seen or heard from them in years. Only when I close my eyes can I still remember their appearance. They may be dead by now for all I know. Perhaps they’ve retired their powdered wigs and live in peace, somewhere far from the capital, that festering nexus of plots and conspiracies.

This past October marked the fifth year since I came to this island. Those first days were filled with equal measures of hope and despair. The conditions were abysmal. Water leaked through the roof, a nasty damp draft passed through the hallways and rooms of the manor, while rodents had become permanent residents of the kitchen. We had to burn furniture for firewood until the allotment was restored.

Since then, not much has improved, though we try to make do with what we have. Other servants run to and fro in an effort to please our beleagured general. He arrived here a still proud, but broken man. When the books of history are one day written, I am certain his legacy will endure. So what that it will likely end here, in exile, so far from the land and people that he loves?

Gaspard stirred and spat into a bronze spittoon on the floor by his bed.

“Where are my teeth?” he mumbled, glaring in my direction.

“Don’t blame me,” I said quietly, sealing the envelope with a small amount of wax. “You’re the one that keeps losing them.”

I could see the wooden dentures on the dusty floor by his nightstand, but felt it best to make Gaspard sweat. He is a bitter man, after all, and I suspect he may try to poison me someday. Mother once warned me to never make enemies with the cook.

The other servants woke soon after, and the mood was one of subdued melancholy. Jean-Alexandre, once a distinguished military officer, slipped into a pair of muddy boots to begin his day as the head groundskeeper. He plodded outside to the garden to fertilize it with his daily constitutional.

Upon opening the wooden shutters and latching them into place, I saw Anne-Sophie and Beatrice carrying large metal pails along the gravel path towards the kitchen. Beatrice waved and sent my heart aflutter. I looked up. The sky was a tableau of liquid mercury. In the distance, I could spot a ship. Its sails were pregnant with intention, though I could not tell if they were coming or going.

We receive few visitors here. Supplies arrive monthly, along with tied bundles of correspondence. The ship stays docked in port for a few days, and then we gather round to watch it depart for its return voyage home. Once, when returning to the manor, I happened to see the general standing with his arms crossed on an outcropping high above the point. The tailcoat of his uniform fluttered in the wind. He maintained his stately bearing, staring at the endless waves of blue before him. I wondered what was going through his head.

Age has not been kind to him. In the last year alone, he’s gained weight and lost so much hair as to be mostly bald. He stays locked in his quarters most days and sends out letter after letter of grievance and complaint. Sentries stand guard outside by orders of the governor of the island. The less I say about him, the better. You never know who will one day read this.

After a cold sludge of porridge for breakfast, I approached the front entrance of the manor.

“Good day,” I said, adjusting my cravat, which was wrapped too tightly around my neck.

Ostensibly a prison, with the general under house arrest, the two guards were quite lax in their enforcement of the rules, especially if I brought them fresh pastries in my knapsack.

“We could have a coup to free the general,” Gaspard said to me one night when I told him the news. “Imagine…”

The prospects of the general somehow escaping — however far-fetched they may be — helps to preserve morale amongst those of us who remain as his men. As the general’s amanuensis, the first words he ever told me to write were, “Though I may have been defeated and left to die on this volcanic rock in the middle of nowhere, I will never truly surrender.”

He then asked me to throw that paper in the fire. He leaned forward in his chair, admiring a bouquet of roses Beatrice had put in his room the day before. I dipped my quill in fresh ink, allowing a drop to splotch upon the blank page.

“Very well, then,” he said, snatching a handful of almonds from an alabaster bowl. His eyes glowed in remembrance, as if he’d do it all again to conquer the world’s heart once more. “Shall we begin?”


Thanks for reading! My apologies to any Napoleonic experts out there for the gross historical inaccuracies. To all the rest, I hope you enjoyed this little ditty. It was fun to imagine. For those interested, subscribe to know when there are new Stories & Dispatches. Cheers.