December 20 1815: Ball on St. Helena

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20th.—The Emperor, after dictating as usual with one of the gentlemen, called me about five o’clock. He was alone; the rest of the gentlemen and my son having gone to the town, where the Admiral was that evening to give a ball. The Emperor and I walked along the road leading to the town, until we came within sight of the sea and the shipping. On the left, in the depth of the valley, was a pretty little house. The Emperor stood for a considerable time with his glass at his eye, examining the garden, which appeared to be very well cultivated, and in which a group of beautiful children were at play, attended by their mother. We were informed that this house belonged to Major Hudson, a resident of the Island; the same gentleman who had lent me the Annua’ Register. The house was situated at the bottom of the ravine which commences in the vicinity of Briars, and near the curious cascade which I have already noticed. The Emperor took a fancy to go down to the house, though it was now nearly six o’clock. The road was extremely steep: we found it longer and more difficult of descent than we had expected; and we reached the bottom of the ravine quite out of breath. We took a survey of the little domain, which had evidently been laid out as the residence of a permanent occupant, and not as the mere temporary abode of a traveller passing to a foreign land; and after receiving the attentions of the master of the house, and paying a few compliments to the mistress, the Emperor took his leave.

But the evening was already far advanced, and we were very much fatigued; we therefore accepted the horses that were offered us, and speedily returned to our hut and our dinner. This little excursion, and the exercise of riding on horseback which had been so long relinquished, seemed to do the Emperor good.

He desired that I would go to the Admiral’s ball, in spite of my reluctance to leave him. At half-past eight o’clock he observed that the night was dark, the road bad, and that it was time I had set out. He insisted on my leaving him, and he entered his room, where I saw him undress and retire to bed. He again desired me to go, and I unwillingly obeyed. I left him alone; and thus, for the first time, violated a custom which had become most dear to me.

I proceeded on foot to the town. The Admiral had given great eclat to his ball. It had been talked of for a considerable time before. He wis1 ed it to be understood that the entertainment was given solely on our account, and we had been formally invited. Was it most advisable to accept or to decline the invitation? Something might be said on both sides. Political misfortunes did not require that we should assume the appearance of domestic sorrow; i. might be proper, and even useful, to mingle cheerfully in company with our jailors. We might, thereore, adopt either resolution indifferently. We determined to go. But what sort of conduct were we to observe? Should we assume pride, or employ address? The first might be attended with inconvenience; in our situation every wounded pretension became an insult. In the second there could be no impropriety: to receive marks of politeness as though we were accustomed to them, and as though they were our due, and to overlook any little want of respect, was certainly the wisest course. I arrived at the ball very late, and left it very early. I was much pleased with the entertainment n every respect.”

 — Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonné comte de Las Cases writes about about December 20 1815 on St. Helena.

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