We have seen that when the Pope had been released, the people of Aix had expressly disobeyed Napoleon’s orders and flocked to greet the Holy Father as he passed by their city. Eugene was one of them. It was a dangerous gesture, in time of persecution, and hence Eugene gave himself a different identity in the letter and passed himself off as a woman who was writing.
The narrative is quite long, but expresses the excitement of the first time that Eugene had any contact with the Pope:
I am feeling well, apart from a sore on my heel, which I developed while escorting the carriage of the Holy Father. I was holding on to the door which, as you know, is very close to the wheel; but, that’s only a minor thing. I was only too happy to be able to hold on to that spot for such a long time, in spite of the inconvenience.
On Monday, the 7th, at 8 o’clock in the morning, we were alerted that the Holy Father would arrive at noon. The rumor spread like wildfire and immediately all shops closed down. In spite of the wind which was acting like an enraged schismatic that day, everyone ran out to meet him. Not only did big fat women like ourselves brave the wind; even the youngest and frailest little misses ran pell-mell with the rest of the population out beyond the city limits where the Holy Father was expected to pass.
Those who had given the orders that he was not to make any stops or even pass through any city if it were possible to avoid it, evidently failed to realize that the inhabitants knew how to get out of the city. The fact remains that only the dying remained behind.
As soon as the Holy Father appeared, a great shout went up from all sides: “Long live the Pope; Long live the Saintly Pope!” They took hold of the bridle, stopped the carriage and then practically carried both the carriage and the horses. It was an immense crowd and yet it wasn’t an unruly one. The joy, love, and respect expressed with all the warmth typical of Southern temperaments were so clearly portrayed on all faces that the Holy Father wept as he kept watching them, and blessing them.
I cut through the crowd until I reached the door of the carriage and I remained there until the horses were changed at a station outside the city. My old crony, the one you met at Grenoble, was with me. She lost her shoe and both of us lost our bonnets in the shuffle. We didn’t get them back until after we returned home. What a picture that carriage made, bearing the most precious person in the world and moving along through fifteen or twenty thousand people who kept shouting words of affection that would have touched the heart of any good father. It was positively thrilling.
Letter to Madame Ginod, 10 February 1814 (Paris, Arch, de la Sainte-Enfance). Forbin-Janson papers.
This Mme. Ginod was evidently a fictitious addressee, used as a cover up for his friend, Forbin-Janson.