A MEMORY OF THE EMPIRE
I. THE COAST OF FRANCE
II. THE SALT-MARSH
III. THE RUINED COTTAGE
IV. MEN OF THE NIGHT
V. THE LAW
VI. THE SECRET PASSAGE
VII. THE OWNER OF GROSBOIS
VIII. COUSIN SYBYLLE
IX. THE CAMP OF BOULOGNE
X. THE ANTE-ROOM
XI. THE SECRETARY
XII. THE MAN OF ACTION
XIII. THE MAN OF DREAMS
XV. THE RECEPTION OF THE EMPRESS
XVI. THE LIBRARY OF GROSBOIS
XVII. THE END
THE COAST OF FRANCE
I dare say that I had already read my uncle's letter a hundred times,
and I am sure that I knew it by heart. None the less I took it out of
my pocket, and, sitting on the side of the lugger, I went over it again
with as much attention as if it were for the first time. It was written
in a prim, angular hand, such as one might expect from a man who had
begun life as a village attorney, and it was addressed to Louis de
Laval, to the care of William Hargreaves, of the Green Man in Ashford,
Kent. The landlord had many a hogshead of untaxed French brandy from
the Normandy coast, and the letter had found its way by the same hands.
'My dear nephew Louis,' said the letter, 'now that your father is dead,
and that you are alone in the world, I am sure that you will not wish to
carry on the feud which has existed between the two halves of the
family. At the time of the troubles your father was drawn towards the
side of the King, and I towards that of the people, and it ended, as you
know, by his having to fly from the country, and by my becoming the
possessor of the estates of Grosbois. No doubt it is very hard that you
should find yourself in a different position to your ancestors, but I am
sure that you would rather that the land should be held by a Bernac than
by a stranger. From the brother of your mother you will at least always
meet with sympathy and consideration.
'And now I have some advice for you. You know that I have always been
a Republican, but it has become evident to me that there is no use in
fighting against fate, and that Napoleon's power is far too great to be
shaken. This being so, I have tried to serve him, for it is well to
howl when you are among wolves. I have been able to do so much for
him that he has become my very good friend, so that I may ask him what
I like in return. He is now, as you are probably aware, with the army
at Boulogne, within a few miles of Grosbois. If you will come over at
once he will certainly forget the hostility of your father in
consideration of the services of your uncle. It is true that your name
is still proscribed, but my influence with the Emperor will set that
matter right. Come to me, then, come at once, and come with confidence.
So much for the letter, but it was the outside which had puzzled me
most. A seal of red wax had been affixed at either end, and my uncle
had apparently used his thumb as a signet. One could see the little
rippling edges of a coarse skin imprinted upon the wax. And then above
one of the seals there was written in English the two words, 'Don't
come.' It was hastily scrawled, and whether by a man or a woman it was
impossible to say; but there it stared me in the face, that sinister
addition to an invitation.
'Don't come!' Had it been added by this unknown uncle of mine on
account of some sudden change in his plans? Surely that was
inconceivable, for why in that case should he send the invitation at
all? Or was it placed there by some one else who wished to warn me from
accepting this offer of hospitality? The letter was in French. The
warning was in English. Could it have been added in England? But the
seals were unbroken, and how could any one in England know what were the
contents of the letter?
And then, as I sat there with the big sail humming like a shell above my
head and the green water hissing beside me, I thought over all that I
had heard of this uncle of mine. My father, the descendant of one of
the proudest and oldest families in France, had chosen beauty and virtue
rather than rank in his wife. Never for an hour had she given him cause
to regret it; but this lawyer brother of hers had, as I understood,
offended my father by his slavish obsequiousness in days of prosperity
and his venomous enmity in the days of trouble. He had hounded on the
peasants until my family had been compelled to fly from the country, and
had afterwards aided Robespierre in his worst excesses, receiving as a
reward the castle and estate of Grosbois, which was our own. At the
fall of Robespierre he had succeeded in conciliating Barras, and through
every successive change he still managed to gain a fresh tenure of the
property. Now it appeared from his letter that the new Emperor of
France had also taken his part, though why he should befriend a man with
such a history, and what service my Republican uncle could possibly
render to him, were matters upon which I could form no opinion.
And now you will ask me, no doubt, why I should accept the invitation
of such a man--a man whom my father had always stigmatised as a usurper
and a traitor. It is easier to speak of it now than then, but the fact
was that we of the new generation felt it very irksome and difficult to
carry on the bitter quarrels of the last. To the older _emigres_ the
clock of time seemed to have stopped in the year 1792, and they remained
for ever with the loves and the hatreds of that era fixed indelibly upon
their souls. They had been burned into them by the fiery furnace
through which they had passed. But we, who had grown up upon a strange
soil, understood that the world had moved, and that new issues had
arisen. We were inclined to forget these feuds of the last generation.
France to us was no longer the murderous land of the _sans-culotte_ and
the guillotine basket; it was rather the glorious queen of war, attacked
by all and conquering all, but still so hard pressed that her scattered
sons could hear her call to arms for ever sounding in their ears. It
was that call more than my uncle's letter which was taking me over the
waters of the Channel.
For long my heart had been with my country in her struggle, and yet
while my father lived I had never dared to say so; for to him, who had
served under Conde and fought at Quiberon, it would have seemed the
blackest treason. But after his death there was no reason why I should
not return to the land of my birth, and my desire was the stronger
because Eugenie--the same Eugenie who has been thirty years my wife--was
of the same way of thinking as myself. Her parents were a branch of the
de Choiseuls, and their prejudices were even stronger than those of my
father. Little did they think what was passing in the minds of their
children. Many a time when they were mourning a French victory in the
parlour we were both capering with joy in the garden. There was a
little window, all choked round with laurel bushes, in the corner of the
bare brick house, and there we used to meet at night, the dearer to each
other from our difference with all who surrounded us. I would tell her
my ambitions; she would strengthen them by her enthusiasm. And so all
was ready when the time came.
But there was another reason besides the death of my father and the
receipt of this letter from my uncle. Ashford was becoming too hot to
hold me. I will say this for the English, that they were very generous
hosts to the French emigrants. There was not one of us who did not
carry away a kindly remembrance of the land and its people. But in
every country there are overbearing, swaggering folk, and even in quiet,
sleepy Ashford we were plagued by them. There was one young Kentish
squire, Farley was his name, who had earned a reputation in the town as
a bully and a roisterer. He could not meet one of us without uttering
insults not merely against the present French Government, which might
have been excusable in an English patriot, but against France itself and
all Frenchmen. Often we were forced to be deaf in his presence, but at
last his conduct became so intolerable that I determined to teach him a
lesson. There were several of us in the coffee-room at the Green Man
one evening, and he, full of wine and malice, was heaping insults upon
the French, his eyes creeping round to me every moment to see how I was
taking it. 'Now, Monsieur de Laval,' he cried, putting his rude hand
upon my shoulder, 'here is a toast for you to drink. This is to the
arm of Nelson which strikes down the French.' He stood leering at me to
see if I would drink it. 'Well, sir,' said I, 'I will drink your toast
if you will drink mine in return.' 'Come on, then!' said he. So we
drank. 'Now, monsieur, let us have your toast,' said he. 'Fill your
glass, then,' said I. 'It is full now.' 'Well, then, here's to the
cannon-ball which carried off that arm!' In an instant I had a glass of
port wine running down my face, and within an hour a meeting had been
arranged. I shot him through the shoulder, and that night, when I came
to the little window, Eugenie plucked off some of the laurel leaves and
stuck them in my hair.
There were no legal proceedings about the duel, but it made my position
a little difficult in the town, and it will explain, with other things,
why I had no hesitation in accepting my unknown uncle's invitation, in
spite of the singular addition which I found upon the cover. If he had
indeed sufficient influence with the Emperor to remove the proscription
which was attached to our name, then the only barrier which shut me off
from my country would be demolished.
You must picture me all this time as sitting upon the side of the lugger
and turning my prospects and my position over in my head. My reverie
was interrupted by the heavy hand of the English skipper dropping
abruptly upon my arm.
'Now then, master,' said he, it's time you were stepping into the
I do not inherit the politics of the aristocrats, but I have never lost
their sense of personal dignity. I gently pushed away his polluting
hand, and I remarked that we were still a long way from the shore.
'Well, you can do as you please,' said he roughly; 'I'm going no nearer,
so you can take your choice of getting into the dingey or of swimming
It was in vain that I pleaded that he had been paid his price. I did
not add that that price meant that the watch which had belonged to three
generations of de Lavals was now lying in the shop of a Dover goldsmith.
'Little enough, too!' he cried harshly. 'Down sail, Jim, and bring her
to! Now, master, you can step over the side, or you can come back to
Dover, but I don't take the Vixen a cable's length nearer to Ambleteuse
Beef with this gale coming up from the sou'-west.'
'In that case I shall go,' said I.
'You can lay your life on that!' he answered, and laughed in so
irritating a fashion that I half turned upon him with the intention of
chastising him. One is very helpless with these fellows, however, for a
serious affair is of course out of the question, while if one uses a
cane upon them they have a vile habit of striking with their hands,
which gives them an advantage. The Marquis de Chamfort told me that,
when he first settled in Sutton at the time of the emigration, he lost a
tooth when reproving an unruly peasant. I made the best of a necessity,
therefore, and, shrugging my shoulders, I passed over the side of the
lugger into the little boat. My bundle was dropped in after me--conceive
to yourself the heir of all the de Lavals travelling with a
single bundle for his baggage!--and two seamen pushed her off, pulling
with long slow strokes towards the low-lying shore.
There was certainly every promise of a wild night, for the dark cloud
which had rolled up over the setting sun was now frayed and ragged at
the edges, extending a good third of the way across the heavens. It had
split low down near the horizon, and the crimson glare of the sunset
beat through the gap, so that there was the appearance of fire with a
monstrous reek of smoke. A red dancing belt of light lay across the
broad slate-coloured ocean, and in the centre of it the little black
craft was wallowing and tumbling. The two seamen kept looking up at the
heavens, and then over their shoulders at the land, and I feared every
moment that they would put back before the gale burst. I was filled
with apprehension every time when the end of their pull turned their
faces skyward, and it was to draw their attention away from the
storm-drift that I asked them what the lights were which had begun to
twinkle through the dusk both to the right and to the left of us.
'That's Boulogne to the north, and Etaples upon the south,' said one of
the seamen civilly.
Boulogne! Etaples! How the words came back to me! It was to Boulogne
that in my boyhood we had gone down for the summer bathing. Could I not
remember as a little lad trotting along by my father's side as he paced
the beach, and wondering why every fisherman's cap flew off at our
approach? And as to Etaples, it was thence that we had fled for
England, when the folks came raving to the pier-head as we passed, and I
joined my thin voice to my father's as he shrieked back at them, for a
stone had broken my mother's knee, and we were all frenzied with our
fear and our hatred. And here they were, these places of my childhood,
twinkling to the north and south of me, while there, in the darkness
between them, and only ten miles off at the furthest, lay my own castle,
my own land of Grosbois, where the men of my blood had lived and died
long before some of us had gone across with Duke William to conquer the
proud island over the water. How I strained my eager eyes through the
darkness as I thought that the distant black keep of our fortalice might
even now be visible!
'Yes, sir,' said the seaman, ''tis a fine stretch of lonesome coast, and
many is the cock of your hackle that I have helped ashore there.'
'What do you take me for, then?' I asked.
'Well, 'tis no business of mine, sir,' he answered. 'There are some
trades that had best not even be spoken about.'
'You think that I am a conspirator?'
'Well, master, since you have put a name to it. Lor' love you, sir,
we're used to it.'
'I give you my word that I am none.'
'An escaped prisoner, then?'
'No, nor that either.'
The man leaned upon his oar, and I could see in the gloom that his face
was thrust forward, and that it was wrinkled with suspicion.
'If you're one of Boney's spies--' he cried.
'I! A spy!' The tone of my voice was enough to convince him.
'Well,' said he,' I'm darned if I know what you are. But if you'd been
a spy I'd ha' had no hand in landing you, whatever the skipper might
'Mind you, I've no word to say against Boney,' said the other seaman,
speaking in a very thick rumbling voice. 'He's been a rare good friend
to the poor mariner.'
It surprised me to hear him speak so, for the virulence of feeling
against the new French Emperor in England exceeded all belief, and high
and low were united in their hatred of him; but the sailor soon gave me
a clue to his politics.
'If the poor mariner can run in his little bit of coffee and sugar, and
run out his silk and his brandy, he has Boney to thank for it,' said he.
'The merchants have had their spell, and now it's the turn of the poor
I remembered then that Buonaparte was personally very popular amongst
the smugglers, as well he might be, seeing that he had made over into
their hands all the trade of the Channel. The seaman continued to pull
with his left hand, but he pointed with his right over the
slate-coloured dancing waters.
'There's Boney himself,' said he.
You who live in a quieter age cannot conceive the thrill which these
simple words sent through me. It was but ten years since we had first
heard of this man with the curious Italian name--think of it, ten
years, the time that it takes for a private to become a non-commissioned
officer, or a clerk to win a fifty-pound advance in his salary. He had
sprung in an instant out of nothing into everything. One month people
were asking who he was, the next he had broken out in the north of Italy
like the plague; Venice and Genoa withered at the touch of this swarthy
ill-nourished boy. He cowed the soldiers in the field, and he outwitted
the statesmen in the council chamber. With a frenzy of energy he rushed
to the east, and then, while men were still marvelling at the way in
which he had converted Egypt into a French department, he was back again
in Italy and had beaten Austria for the second time to the earth. He
travelled as quickly as the rumour of his coming; and where he came
there were new victories, new combinations, the crackling of old systems
and the blurring of ancient lines of frontier. Holland, Savoy,
Switzerland--they were become mere names upon the map. France was
eating into Europe in every direction. They had made him Emperor, this
beardless artillery officer, and without an effort he had crushed down
those Republicans before whom the oldest king and the proudest nobility
of Europe had been helpless. So it came about that we, who watched him
dart from place to place like the shuttle of destiny, and who heard his
name always in connection with some new achievement and some new
success, had come at last to look upon him as something more than human,
something monstrous, overshadowing France and menacing Europe. His
giant presence loomed over the continent, and so deep was the impression
which his fame had made in my mind that, when the English sailor pointed
confidently over the darkening waters, and cried 'There's Boney!' I
looked up for the instant with a foolish expectation of seeing some
gigantic figure, some elemental creature, dark, inchoate, and
threatening, brooding over the waters of the Channel. Even now, after
the long gap of years and the knowledge of his downfall, that great man
casts his spell upon you, but all that you read and all that you hear
cannot give you an idea of what his name meant in the days when he was
at the summit of his career.
What actually met my eye was very different from this childish
expectation of mine. To the north there was a long low cape, the name
of which has now escaped me. In the evening light it had been of the
same greyish green tint as the other headlands; but now, as the darkness
fell, it gradually broke into a dull glow, like a cooling iron.
On that wild night, seen and lost with the heave and sweep of the boat,
this lurid streak carried with it a vague but sinister suggestion.
The red line splitting the darkness might have been a giant half-forged
sword-blade with its point towards England.
'What is it, then?' I asked.
'Just what I say, master,' said he. 'It's one of Boney's armies, with
Boney himself in the middle of it as like as not. Them is their camp
fires, and you'll see a dozen such between this and Ostend.
He's audacious enough to come across, is little Boney, if he could dowse
Lord Nelson's other eye; but there's no chance for him until then, and
well he knows it.'
'How can Lord Nelson know what he is doing?' I asked.
The man pointed out over my shoulder into the darkness, and far on the
horizon I perceived three little twinkling lights.
'Watch dog,' said he, in his husky voice.
'Andromeda. Forty-four,' added his companion.
I have often thought of them since, the long glow upon the land, and the
three little lights upon the sea, standing for so much, for the two
great rivals face to face, for the power of the land and the power of
the water, for the centuries-old battle, which may last for centuries to
come. And yet, Frenchman as I am, do I not know that the struggle is
already decided?--for it lies between the childless nation and that
which has a lusty young brood springing up around her. If France falls
she dies, but if England falls how many nations are there who will carry
her speech, her traditions and her blood on into the history of the
The land had been looming darker, and the thudding of waves upon the
sand sounded louder every instant upon my ears. I could already see the
quick dancing gleam of the surf in front of me. Suddenly, as I peered
through the deepening shadow, a long dark boat shot out from it, like a
trout from under a stone, making straight in our direction.
'A guard boat!' cried one of the seamen.
'Bill, boy, we're done!' said the other, and began to stuff something
into his sea boot.
But the boat swerved at the sight of us, like a shying horse, and was
off in another direction as fast as eight frantic oars could drive her.
The seamen stared after her and wiped their brows. 'Her conscience
don't seem much easier than our own,' said one of them. 'I made sure it
was the preventives.'
'Looks to me as if you weren't the only queer cargo on the coast
to-night, mister,' remarked his comrade. 'What could she be?'
'Cursed if I know what she was. I rammed a cake of good Trinidad
tobacco into my boot when I saw her. I've seen the inside of a French
prison before now. Give way, Bill, and have it over.'
A minute later, with a low grating sound, we ran aground upon a gravelly
leach. My bundle was thrown ashore, I stepped after it, and a seaman
pushed the prow off again, springing in as his comrade backed her into
deep water. Already the glow in the west had vanished, the storm-cloud
was half up the heavens, and a thick blackness had gathered over the
ocean. As I turned to watch the vanishing boat a keen wet blast flapped
in my face, and the air was filled with the high piping of the wind and
with the deep thunder of the sea.
And thus it was that, on a wild evening in the early spring of the year
1805, I, Louis de Laval, being in the twenty-first year of my age,
returned, after an exile of thirteen years, to the country of which my
family had for many centuries been the ornament and support. She had
treated us badly, this country; she had repaid our services by insult,
exile, and confiscation. But all that was forgotten as I, the only de
Laval of the new generation, dropped upon my knees upon her sacred soil,
and, with the strong smell of the seaweed in my nostrils, pressed my
lips upon the wet and pringling gravel.
When a man has reached his mature age he can rest at that point of
vantage, and cast his eyes back at the long road along which he has
travelled, lying with its gleams of sunshine and its stretches of shadow
in the valley behind him. He knows then its whence and its whither, and
the twists and bends which were so full of promise or of menace as he
approached them lie exposed and open to his gaze. So plain is it all
that he can scarce remember how dark it may have seemed to him, or how
long he once hesitated at the cross roads. Thus when he tries to recall
each stage of the journey he does so with the knowledge of its end, and
can no longer make it clear, even to himself, how it may have seemed to
him at the time. And yet, in spite of the strain of years, and the many
passages which have befallen me since, there is no time of my life which
comes back so very clearly as that gusty evening, and to this day I
cannot feel the briny wholesome whiff of the seaweed without being
carried back, with that intimate feeling of reality which only the sense
of smell can confer, to the wet shingle of the French beach.
When I had risen from my knees, the first thing that I did was to put my
purse into the inner pocket of my coat. I had taken it out in order to
give a gold piece to the sailor who had handed me ashore, though I have
little doubt that the fellow was both wealthier and of more assured
prospects than myself. I had actually drawn out a silver half-crown,
but I could not bring myself to offer it to him, and so ended by giving
a tenth part of my whole fortune to a stranger. The other nine
sovereigns I put very carefully away, and then, sitting down upon a flat
rock just above high water mark, I turned it all over in my mind and
weighed what I should do. Already I was cold and hungry, with the wind
lashing my face and the spray smarting in my eyes, but at least I was no
longer living upon the charity of the enemies of my country, and the
thought set my heart dancing within me. But the castle, as well as I
could remember, was a good ten miles off. To go there now was to arrive
at an unseemly hour, unkempt and weather-stained, before this uncle whom
I had never seen. My sensitive pride conjured up a picture of the
scornful faces of his servants as they looked out upon this bedraggled
wanderer from England slinking back to the castle which should have been
his own. No, I must seek shelter for the night, and then at my leisure,
with as fair a show of appearances as possible, I must present myself
before my relative. Where then could I find a refuge from the storm?
You will ask me, doubtless, why I did not make for Etaples or Boulogne.
I answer that it was for the same reason which forced me to land
secretly upon that forbidding coast. The name of de Laval still headed
the list of the proscribed, for my father had been a famous and
energetic leader of the small but influential body of men who had
remained true at all costs to the old order of things. Do not think
that, because I was of another way of thinking, I despised those who had
given up so much for their principles. There is a curious saint-like
trait in our natures which draws us most strongly towards that which
involves the greatest sacrifice, and I have sometimes thought that if
the conditions had been less onerous the Bourbons might have had fewer,
or at least less noble, followers. The French nobles had been more
faithful to them than the English to the Stuarts, for Cromwell had no
luxurious court or rich appointments which he could hold out to those
who would desert the royal cause. No words can exaggerate the
self-abnegation of those men. I have seen a supper party under my
father's roof where our guests were two fencing-masters, three
professors of language, one ornamental gardener, and one translator of
books, who held his hand in the front of his coat to conceal a rent in
the lapel. But these eight men were of the highest nobility of France,
who might have had what they chose to ask if they would only consent to
forget the past, and to throw themselves heartily into the new order of
things. But the humble, and what is sadder the incapable, monarch of
Hartwell still held the allegiance of those old Montmorencies, Rohans,
and Choiseuls, who, having shared the greatness of his family, were
determined also to stand by it in its ruin. The dark chambers of that
exiled monarch were furnished with something better than the tapestry of
Gobelins or the china of Sevres. Across the gulf which separates my old
age from theirs I can still see those ill-clad, grave-mannered men, and
I raise my hat to the noblest group of nobles that our history can show.
To visit a coast-town, therefore, before I had seen my uncle, or learnt
whether my return had been sanctioned, would be simply to deliver myself
into the hands of the _gens d'armes_, who were ever on the look-out for
strangers from England. To go before the new Emperor was one thing and
to be dragged before him another. On the whole, it seemed to me that my
best course was to wander inland, in the hope of finding some empty barn
or out-house, where I could pass the night unseen and undisturbed. Then
in the morning I should consider how it was best for me to approach my
uncle Bernac, and through him the new master of France.
The wind had freshened meanwhile into a gale, and it was so dark upon
the seaward side that I could only catch the white flash of a leaping
wave here and there in the blackness. Of the lugger which had brought
me from Dover I could see no sign. On the land side of me there seemed,
as far as I could make it out, to be a line of low hills, but when I
came to traverse them I found that the dim light had exaggerated their
size, and that they were mere scattered sand-dunes, mottled with patches
of bramble. Over these I toiled with my bundle slung over my shoulder,
plodding heavily through the loose sand, and tripping over the creepers,
but forgetting my wet clothes and my numb hands as I recalled the many
hardships and adventures which my ancestors had undergone. It amused me
to think that the day might come when my own descendants might fortify
themselves by the recollection of that which was happening to me, for in
a great family like ours the individual is always subordinate to the
It seemed to me that I should never get to the end of the sand-dunes,
but when at last I did come off them I heartily wished that I was back
upon them again; for the sea in that part comes by some creek up the
back of the beach, forming at low tide a great desolate salt-marsh,
which must be a forlorn place even in the daytime, but upon such a night
as that it was a most dreary wilderness. At first it was but a softness
of the ground, causing me to slip as I walked, but soon the mud was over
my ankles and half-way up to my knees, so that each foot gave a loud
flop as I raised it, and a dull splash as I set it down again. I would
willingly have made my way out, even if I had to return to the
sand-dunes, but in trying to pick my path I had lost all my bearings,
and the air was so full of the sounds of the storm that the sea seemed
to be on every side of me. I had heard of how one may steer oneself by
observation of the stars, but my quiet English life had not taught me
how such things were done, and had I known I could scarcely have
profited by it, since the few stars which were visible peeped out here
and there in the rifts of the flying storm-clouds. I wandered on then,
wet and weary, trusting to fortune, but always blundering deeper and
deeper into this horrible bog, until I began to think that my first
night in France was destined also to be my last, and that the heir of
the de Lavals was destined to perish of cold and misery in the depths of
this obscene morass.
I must have toiled for many miles in this dreary fashion, sometimes
coming upon shallower mud and sometimes upon deeper, but never making my
way on to the dry, when I perceived through the gloom something which
turned my heart even heavier than it had been before. This was a
curious clump of some whitish shrub--cotton-grass of a flowering
variety--which glimmered suddenly before me in the darkness. Now, an
hour earlier I had passed just such a square-headed, whitish clump; so
that I was confirmed in the opinion which I had already begun to form,
that I was wandering in a circle. To make it certain I stooped down,
striking a momentary flash from my tinder-box, and there sure enough was
my own old track very clearly marked in the brown mud in front of me.
At this confirmation of my worst fears I threw my eyes up to heaven in
my despair, and there I saw something which for the first time gave me a
clue in the uncertainty which surrounded me.
It was nothing else than a glimpse of the moon between two flowing
clouds. This in itself might have been of small avail to me, but over
its white face was marked a long thin V, which shot swiftly across like
a shaftless arrow. It was a flock of wild ducks, and its flight was in
the same direction as that towards which my face was turned. Now, I had
observed in Kent how all these creatures come further inland when there
is rough weather breaking, so I made no doubt that their course
indicated the path which would lead me away from the sea. I struggled
on, therefore, taking every precaution to walk in a straight line, above
all being very careful to make a stride of equal length with either leg,
until at last, after half an hour or so, my perseverance was rewarded by
the welcome sight of a little yellow light, as from a cottage window,
glimmering through the darkness. Ah, how it shone through my eyes and
down into my heart, glowing and twinkling there, that little golden
speck, which meant food, and rest, and life itself to the wanderer!
I blundered towards it through the mud and the slush as fast as my weary
legs would bear me. I was too cold and miserable to refuse any shelter,
and I had no doubt that for the sake of one of my gold pieces the
fisherman or peasant who lived in this strange situation would shut his
eyes to whatever might be suspicious in my presence or appearance.
As I approached it became more and more wonderful to me that any one
should live there at all, for the bog grew worse rather than better, and
in the occasional gleams of moonshine I could make out that the water
lay in glimmering pools all round the low dark cottage from which the
light was breaking. I could see now that it shone through a small
square window. As I approached the gleam was suddenly obscured, and
there in a yellow frame appeared the round black outline of a man's head
peering out into the darkness. A second time it appeared before I
reached the cottage, and there was something in the stealthy manner in
which it peeped and whisked away, and peeped once more, which filled me
with surprise, and with a certain vague apprehension.
So cautious were the movements of this sentinel, and so singular the
position of his watch-house, that I determined, in spite of my misery,
to see something more of him before I trusted myself to the shelter of
his roof. And, indeed, the amount of shelter which I might hope for was
not very great, for as I drew softly nearer I could see that the light
from within was beating through at several points, and that the whole
cottage was in the most crazy state of disrepair. For a moment I
paused, thinking that even the salt-marsh might perhaps be a safer
resting-place for the night than the headquarters of some desperate
smuggler, for such I conjectured that this lonely dwelling must be.
The scud, however, had covered the moon once more, and the darkness was
so pitchy black that I felt that I might reconnoitre a little more
closely without fear of discovery. Walking on tiptoe I approached the
little window and looked in.
What I saw reassured me vastly. A small wood fire was crackling in one
of those old-fashioned country grates, and beside it was seated a
strikingly handsome young man, who was reading earnestly out of a fat
little book. He had an oval, olive-tinted face, with long black hair,
ungathered in a queue, and there was something of the poet or of the
artist in his whole appearance. The sight of that refined face, and of
the warm yellow firelight which beat upon it, was a very cheering one to
a cold and famished traveller. I stood for an instant gazing at him,
and noticing the way in which his full and somewhat loose-fitting lower
lip quivered continually, as if he were repeating to himself that which
he was reading. I was still looking at him when he put his book down
upon the table and approached the window. Catching a glimpse of my
figure in the darkness he called out something which I could not hear,
and waved his hand in a gesture of welcome. An instant later the door
flew open, and there was his thin tall figure standing upon the
threshold, with his skirts flapping in the wind.
'My dear friends,' he cried, peering out into the gloom with his hand
over his eyes to screen them from the salt-laden wind and driving sand,
'I had given you up. I thought that you were never coming. I've been
waiting for two hours.'
For answer I stepped out in front of him, so that the light fell upon my
'I am afraid, sir--' said I.
But I had no time to finish my sentence. He struck at me with both
hands like an angry cat, and, springing back into the room, he slammed
the door with a crash in my face.
The swiftness of his movements and the malignity of his gesture were in
such singular contrast with his appearance that I was struck speechless
with surprise. But as I stood there with the door in front of me I was
a witness to something which filled me with even greater astonishment.
I have already said that the cottage was in the last stage of disrepair.
Amidst the many seams and cracks through which the light was breaking
there was one along the whole of the hinge side of the door, which gave
me from where I was standing a view of the further end of the room, at
which the fire was burning. As I gazed then I saw this man reappear in
front of the fire, fumbling furiously with both his hands in his bosom,
and then with a spring he disappeared up the chimney, so that I could
only see his shoes and half of his black calves as he stood upon the
brickwork at the side of the grate. In an instant he was down again and
back at the door.
'Who are you?' he cried, in a voice which seemed to me to be thrilling
with some strong emotion.
'I am a traveller, and have lost my way.' There was a pause as if he
were thinking what course he should pursue.
'You will find little here to tempt you to stay,' said he at last.
'I am weary and spent, sir; and surely you will not refuse me shelter.
I have been wandering for hours in the salt-marsh.'
'Did you meet anyone there?' he asked eagerly.
'Stand back a little from the door. This is a wild place, and the times
are troublous. A man must take some precautions.'
I took a few steps back, and he then opened the door sufficiently to
allow his head to come through. He said nothing, but he looked at me
for a long time in a very searching manner.
'What is your name?'
'Louis Laval,' said I, thinking that it might sound less dangerous in
this plebeian form.
'Whither are you going?'
'I wish to reach some shelter.'
'You are from England?'
'I am from the coast.'
He shook his head slowly to show me how little my replies had satisfied
'You cannot come in here,' said he.
'No, no, it is impossible.'
'Show me then how to find my way out of the marsh.'
'It is easy enough. If you go a few hundred paces in that direction you
will perceive the lights of a village. You are already almost free of
He stepped a pace or two from the door in order to point the way for me,
and then turned upon his heel. I had already taken a stride or two away
from him and his inhospitable hut, when he suddenly called after me.
'Come, Monsieur Laval,' said he, with quite a different ring in his
voice; 'I really cannot permit you to leave me upon so tempestuous a
night. A warm by my fire and a glass of brandy will hearten you upon
You may think that I did not feel disposed to contradict him, though I
could make nothing of this sudden and welcome change in his manner.
'I am much obliged to you, sir,' said I.
And I followed him into the hut.
THE RUINED COTTAGE
It was delightful to see the glow and twinkle of the fire and to escape
from the wet wind and the numbing cold, but my curiosity had already
risen so high about this lonely man and his singular dwelling that my
thoughts ran rather upon that than upon my personal comfort. There was
his remarkable appearance, the fact that he should be awaiting company
within that miserable ruin in the heart of the morass at so sinister an
hour, and finally the inexplicable incident of the chimney, all of which
excited my imagination. It was beyond my comprehension why he should at
one moment charge me sternly to continue my journey, and then, in almost
the same breath, invite me most cordially to seek the shelter of his
hut. On all these points I was keenly on the alert for an explanation.
Yet I endeavoured to conceal my feelings, and to assume the air of a man
who finds everything quite natural about him, and who is much too
absorbed in his own personal wants to have a thought to spare upon
anything outside himself.
A glance at the inside of the cottage, as I entered, confirmed me in the
conjecture which the appearance of the outside had already given rise
to, that it was not used for human residence, and that this man was only
here for a rendezvous. Prolonged moisture had peeled the plaster in
flakes from the walls, and had covered the stones with blotches and
rosettes of lichen. The whole place was rotten and scaling like a
leper. The single large room was unfurnished save for a crazy table,
three wooden boxes, which might be used as seats, and a great pile of
decayed fishing-net in the corner. The splinters of a fourth box, with
a hand-axe, which leaned against the wall, showed how the wood for the
fire had been gathered. But it was to the table that my gaze was
chiefly drawn, for there, beside the lamp and the book, lay an open
basket, from which projected the knuckle-end of a ham, the corner of a
loaf of bread, and the black neck of a bottle.
If my host had been suspicious and cold at our first meeting he was now
atoning for his inhospitality by an overdone cordiality even harder for
me to explain. With many lamentations over my mud-stained and sodden
condition, he drew a box close to the blaze and cut me off a corner of
the bread and ham. I could not help observing, however, that though his
loose under-lipped mouth was wreathed with smiles, his beautiful dark
eyes were continually running over me and my attire, asking and
re-asking what my business might be.
'As for myself,' said he, with an air of false candour, 'you will very
well understand that in these days a worthy merchant must do the best he
can to get his wares, and if the Emperor, God save him, sees fit in his
wisdom to put an end to open trade, one must come to such places as
these to get into touch with those who bring across the coffee and the
tobacco. I promise you that in the Tuileries itself there is no
difficulty about getting either one or the other, and the Emperor drinks
his ten cups a day of the real Mocha without asking questions, though he
must know that it is not grown within the confines of France. The
vegetable kingdom still remains one of the few which Napoleon has not
yet conquered, and, if it were not for traders, who are at some risk and
inconvenience, it is hard to say what we should do for our supplies.
I suppose, sir, that you are not yourself either in the seafaring or in
the trading line?'
I contented myself by answering that I was not, by which reticence I
could see that I only excited his curiosity the more. As to his account
of himself, I read a lie in those tell-tale eyes all the time that he
was talking. As I looked at him now in the full light of the lamp and
the fire, I could see that he was even more good-looking than I had at
first thought, but with a type of beauty which has never been to my
taste. His features were so refined as to be almost effeminate, and so
regular that they would have been perfect if it had not been for that
ill-fitting, slabbing mouth. It was a clever, and yet it was a weak
face, full of a sort of fickle enthusiasm and feeble impulsiveness.
I felt that the more I knew him the less reason I should probably find
either to like him or to fear him, and in my first conclusion I was
right, although I had occasion to change my views upon the second.
'You will forgive me, Monsieur Laval, if I was a little cold at first,'
said he. 'Since the Emperor has been upon the coast the place swarms
with police agents, so that a trader must look to his own interests.
You will allow that my fears of you were not unnatural, since neither
your dress nor your appearance were such as one would expect to meet
with in such a place and at such a time.'
It was on my lips to return the remark, but I refrained.
'I can assure you,' said I, 'that I am merely a traveller who have lost
my way. Now that I am refreshed and rested I will not encroach further
upon your hospitality, except to ask you to point out the way to the
'Tut; you had best stay where you are, for the night grows wilder every
instant.' As he spoke there came a whoop and scream of wind in the
chimney, as if the old place were coming down about our ears. He walked
across to the window and looked very earnestly out of it, just as I had
seen him do upon my first approach. 'The fact is, Monsieur Laval,' said
he, looking round at me with his false-air of good fellowship, 'you may
be of some good service to me if you will wait here for half an hour or
'How so?' I asked, wavering between my distrust and my curiosity.
'Well, to be frank with you'--and never did a man look less frank as he
spoke--'I am waiting here for some of those people with whom I do
business; but in some way they have not come yet, and I am inclined to
take a walk round the marsh on the chance of finding them, if they have
lost their way. On the other hand, it would be exceedingly awkward for
me if they were to come here in my absence and imagine that I am gone.
I should take it as a favour, then, if you would remain here for half an
hour or so, that you may tell them how matters stand if I should chance
to miss them.'
The request seemed reasonable enough, and yet there was that same
oblique glance which told me that it was false. Still, I could not see
what harm could come to me by complying with his request, and certainly
I could not have devised any arrangement which would give me such an
opportunity of satisfying my curiosity. What was in that wide stone
chimney, and why had he clambered up there upon the sight of me?
My adventure would be inconclusive indeed if I did not settle that point
before I went on with my journey.
'Well,' said he, snatching up his black broad-brimmed hat and running
very briskly to the door, 'I am sure that you will not refuse me my
request, and I must delay no longer or I shall never get my business
finished.' He closed the door hurriedly behind him, and I heard the
splashing of his foot-steps until they were lost in the howling of the
And so the mysterious cottage was mine to ransack if I could pluck its
secrets from it. I lifted the book which had been left upon the table.
It was Rousseau's 'Social Contract'--excellent literature, but hardly
what one would expect a trader to carry with him whilst awaiting an
appointment with smugglers. On the fly-leaf was written 'Lucien
Lesage,' and beneath it, in a woman's hand, 'Lucien, from Sibylle.'
Lesage, then, was the name of my good-looking but sinister acquaintance.
It only remained for me now to discover what it was which he had
concealed up the chimney. I listened intently, and as there was no
sound from without save the cry of the storm, I stepped on to the edge
of the grate as I had seen him do, and sprang up by the side of the
It was a very broad, old-fashioned cottage chimney, so that standing on
one side I was not inconvenienced either by the heat or by the smoke,
and the bright glare from below showed me in an instant that for which I
sought. There was a recess at the back, caused by the fall or removal
of one of the stones, and in this was lying a small bundle. There could
not be the least doubt that it was this which the fellow had striven so
frantically to conceal upon the first alarm of the approach of a
stranger. I took it down and held it to the light. It was a small
square of yellow glazed cloth tied round with white tape. Upon my
opening it a number of letters appeared, and a single large paper folded
up. The addresses upon the letters took my breath away. The first that
I glanced at was to Citizen Talleyrand. The others were in the
Republican style addressed to Citizen Fouche, to Citizen Soult, to
Citizen MacDonald, to Citizen Berthier, and so on through the whole list
of famous names in war and in diplomacy who were the pillars of the new
Empire. What in the world could this pretended merchant of coffee have
to write to all these great notables about? The other paper would
explain, no doubt. I laid the letters upon the shelf and I unfolded the
paper which had been enclosed with them. It did not take more than the
opening sentence to convince me that the salt-marsh outside might prove
to be a very much safer place than this accursed cottage.
These were the words which met my eyes:--
'Fellow-citizens of France. The deed of to-day has proved that, even in
the midst of his troops, a tyrant is unable to escape the vengeance of
an outraged people. The committee of three, acting temporarily for the
Republic, has awarded to Buonaparte the same fate which has already
befallen Louis Capet. In avenging the outrage of the 18th Brumaire--'
So far I had got when my heart sprang suddenly into my mouth and the
paper fluttered down from my fingers. A grip of iron had closed
suddenly round each of my ankles, and there in the light of the fire I
saw two hands which, even in that terrified glance, I perceived to be
covered with black hair and of an enormous size.
'So, my friend,' cried a thundering voice, 'this time, at least, we have
been too many for you.'
MEN OF THE NIGHT
I had little time given me to realise the extraordinary and humiliating
position in which I found myself, for I was lifted up by my ankles, as
if I were a fowl pulled off a perch, and jerked roughly down into the
room, my back striking upon the stone floor with a thud which shook the
breath from my body.
'Don't kill him yet, Toussac,' said a soft voice. 'Let us make sure who
he is first.'
I felt the pressure of a thumb upon my chin and of fingers upon my
throat, and my head was slowly forced round until the strain became
'Quarter of an inch does it and no mark,' said the thunderous voice.
'You can trust my old turn.'
'Don't, Toussac; don't!' said the same gentle voice which had spoken
first. 'I saw you do it once before, and the horrible snick that it
made haunted me for a long time. To think that the sacred flame of life
can be so readily snuffed out by that great material finger and thumb!
Mind can indeed conquer matter, but the fighting must not be at close
My neck was so twisted that I could not see any of these people who were
discussing my fate. I could only lie and listen.
'The fact remains, my dear Charles, that the fellow has our
all-important secret, and that it is our lives or his.
'I recognised in the voice which was now speaking that of the man of the
'We owe it to ourselves to put it out of his power to harm us. Let him
sit up, Toussac, for there is no possibility of his escaping.'
Some irresistible force at the back of my neck dragged me instantly into
a sitting position, and so for the first time I was able to look round
me in a dazed fashion, and to see these men into whose hands I had
fallen. That they were murderers in the past and had murderous plans
for the future I already gathered from what I had heard and seen.
I understood also that in the heart of that lonely marsh I was
absolutely in their power. None the less, I remembered the name that I
bore, and I concealed as far as I could the sickening terror which lay
at my heart.
There were three of them in the room, my former acquaintance and two new
comers. Lesage stood by the table, with his fat brown book in his hand,
looking at me with a composed face, but with that humorous questioning
twinkle in his eyes which a master chess-player might assume when he had
left his opponent without a move. On the top of the box beside him sat
a very ascetic-faced, yellow, hollow-eyed man of fifty, with prim lips
and a shrunken skin, which hung loosely over the long jerking tendons
under his prominent chin. He was dressed in snuff-coloured clothes, and
his legs under his knee-breeches were of a ludicrous thinness. He shook
his head at me with an air of sad wisdom, and I could read little
comfort in his inhuman grey eyes. But it was the man called Toussac who
alarmed me most. He was a colossus; bulky rather than tall, but
misshapen from his excess of muscle. His huge legs were crooked like
those of a great ape; and, indeed, there was something animal about his
whole appearance, something for he was bearded up to his eyes, and it
was a paw rather than a hand which still clutched me by the collar. As
to his expression, he was too thatched with hair to show one, but his
large black eyes looked with a sinister questioning from me to the
others. If they were the judge and jury, it was clear who was to be
'Whence did he come? What is his business? How came he to know the
hiding-place?' asked the thin man.
'When he first came I mistook him for you in the darkness,' Lesage
answered. 'You will acknowledge that it was not a night on which one
would expect to meet many people in the salt-marsh. On discovering my
mistake I shut the door and concealed the papers in the chimney. I had
forgotten that he might see me do this through that crack by the hinges,
but when I went out again, to show him his way and so get rid of him, my
eye caught the gap, and I at once realised that he had seen my action,
and that it must have aroused his curiosity to such an extent that it
would be quite certain that he would think and speak of it. I called
him back into the hut, therefore, in order that I might have time to
consider what I had best do with him.'
'Sapristi! a couple of cuts of that wood-axe, and a bed in the softest
corner of the marsh, would have settled the business at once,' said the
fellow by my side.
'Quite true, my good Toussac; but it is not usual to lead off with your
ace of trumps. A little delicacy--a little finesse--'
'Let us hear what you did then?'
'It was my first object to learn whether this man Laval--'
'What did you say his name was?' cried the thin man.
'His name, according to his account, is Laval. My first object then was
to find out whether he had in truth seen me conceal the papers or not.
It was an important question for us, and, as things have turned out,
more important still for him. I made my little plan, therefore.
I waited until I saw you approach, and I then left him alone in the hut.
I watched through the window and saw him fly to the hiding-place.
We then entered, and I asked you, Toussac, to be good enough to lift him
down--and there he lies.'
The young fellow looked proudly round for the applause of his comrades,
and the thin man clapped his hands softly together, looking very hard at
me while he did so.
'My dear Lesage,' said he, 'you have certainly excelled yourself.
When our new republic looks for its minister of police we shall know
where to find him. I confess that when, after guiding Toussac to this
shelter, I followed you in and perceived a gentleman's legs projecting
from the fireplace, even my wits, which are usually none of the slowest,
hardly grasped the situation. Toussac, however, grasped the legs.
He is always practical, the good Toussac.'
'Enough words!' growled the hairy creature beside me. 'It is because we
have talked instead of acting that this Buonaparte has a crown upon his
head or a head upon his shoulders. Let us have done with the fellow and
come to business.'
The refined features of Lesage made me look towards him as to a possible
protector, but his large dark eyes were as cold and hard as jet as he
looked back at me.
'What Toussac says is right,' said he. 'We imperil our own safety if he
goes with our secret.'
'The devil take our own safety!' cried Toussac. 'What has that to do
with the matter? We imperil the success of our plans--that is of more
'The two things go together,' replied Lesage. 'There is no doubt that
Rule 13 of our confederation defines exactly what should be done in
such a case. Any responsibility must rest with the passers of Rule 13.'
My heart had turned cold when this man with his poet's face supported
the savage at my side. But my hopes were raised again when the thin
man, who had said little hitherto, though he had continued to stare at
me very intently, began now to show some signs of alarm at the
bloodthirsty proposals of his comrades.
'My dear Lucien,' said he, in a soothing voice, laying his hand upon the
young man's arm, 'we philosophers and reasoners must have a respect for
human life. The tabernacle is not to be lightly violated. We have
frequently agreed that if it were not for the excesses of Marat--'
'I have every respect for your opinion, Charles,' the other interrupted.
'You will allow that I have always been a willing and obedient disciple.
But I again say that our personal safety is involved, and that, as far
as I see, there is no middle course. No one could be more averse from
cruelty than I am, but you were present with me some months ago when
Toussac silenced the man from Bow Street, and certainly it was done with
such dexterity that the process was probably more painful to the
spectators than to the victim. He could not have been aware of the
horrible sound which announced his own dissolution. If you and I had
constancy enough to endure this--and if I remember right it was chiefly
at your instigation that the deed was done--then surely on this more
'No, no, Toussac, stop!' cried the thin man, his voice rising from its
soft tones to a perfect scream as the giant's hairy hand gripped me by
the chin once more. 'I appeal to you, Lucien, upon practical as well as
upon moral grounds, not to let this deed be done. Consider that if
things should go against us this will cut us off from all hopes of
mercy. Consider also--'
This argument seemed for a moment to stagger the younger man, whose
olive complexion had turned a shade greyer.
'There will be no hope for us in any case, Charles,' said he. 'We have
no choice but to obey Rule 13.'
'Some latitude is allowed to us. We are ourselves upon the inner
'But it takes a quorum to change a rule, and we have no powers to do
it.' His pendulous lip was quivering, but there was no softening in his
eyes. Slowly under the pressure of those cruel fingers my chin began to
sweep round to my shoulder, and I commended my soul to the Virgin and to
Saint Ignatius, who has always been the especial patron of my family.
But this man Charles, who had already befriended me, darted forwards and
began to tear at Toussac's hands with a vehemence which was very
different from his former philosophic calm.
'You _shall_ not kill him!' he cried angrily.
'Who are you, to set your wills up against mine? Let him go, Toussac!
Take your thumb from his chin! I won't have it done, I tell you!'
Then, as he saw by the inflexible faces of his companions that
blustering would not help him, he turned suddenly to tones of entreaty.
'See, now! I'll make you a promise!' said he. 'Listen to me, Lucien!
Let me examine him! If he is a police spy he shall die! You may have
him then, Toussac. But if he is only a harmless traveller, who has
blundered in here by an evil chance, and who has been led by a foolish
curiosity to inquire into our business, then you will leave him to me.'
You will observe that from the beginning of this affair I had never once
opened my mouth, nor said a word in my defence, which made me mightily
pleased with myself afterwards, though my silence came rather from pride
than from courage. To lose life and self-respect together was more than
I could face. But now, at this appeal from my advocate, I turned my
eyes from the monster who held me to the other who condemned me.
The brutality of the one alarmed me less than the self-interested
attitude of the other, for a man is never so dangerous as when he is
afraid, and of all judges the judge who has cause to fear you is the
My life depended upon the answer which was to come to the appeal of my
champion. Lesage tapped his fingers upon his teeth, and smiled
indulgently at the earnestness of his companion.
'Rule 13! Rule 13!' he kept repeating, in that exasperating voice of
'I will take all responsibility.'
'I'll tell you what, mister,' said Toussac, in his savage voice.
'There's another rule besides Rule 13, and that's the one that says that
if any man shelters an offender he shall be treated as if he was himself
guilty of the offence.'
This attack did not shake the serenity of my champion in the least.
'You are an excellent man of action, Toussac,' said he calmly; 'but when
it comes to choosing the right course, you must leave it to wiser heads
than your own.'
His air of tranquil superiority seemed to daunt the fierce creature who
held me. He shrugged his huge shoulders in silent dissent.
'As to you, Lucien,' my friend continued, 'I am surprised, considering
the position to which you aspire in my family, that you should for an
instant stand in the way of any wish which I may express. If you have
grasped the true principles of liberty, and if you are privileged to be
one of the small band who have never despaired of the republic, to whom
is it that you owe it?'
'Yes, yes, Charles; I acknowledge what you say,' the young man answered,
with much agitation. 'I am sure that I should be the last to oppose any
wish which you might express, but in this case I fear lest your
tenderness of heart may be leading you astray. By all means ask him any
questions that you like; but it seems to me that there can be only one
end to the matter.'
So I thought also; for, with the full secret of these desperate men in
my possession, what hope was there that they would ever suffer me to
leave the hut alive? And yet, so sweet is human life, and so dear a
respite, be it ever so short a one, that when that murderous hand was
taken from my chin I heard a sudden chiming of little bells, and the
lamp blazed up into a strange fantastic blur. It was but for a moment,
and then my mind was clear again, and I was looking up at the strange
gaunt face of my examiner.
'Whence have you come?' he asked.
'But you are French?'
'When did you arrive?'
'In a lugger from Dover.'
'The fellow is speaking the truth,' growled Toussac. 'Yes, I'll say
that for him, that he is speaking the truth. We saw the lugger, and
someone was landed from it just after the boat that brought me over
I remembered that boat, which had been the first thing which I had seen
upon the coast of France. How little I had thought what it would mean
And now my advocate began asking questions--vague, useless questions--in
a slow, hesitating fashion which set Toussac grumbling. This
cross-examination appeared to me to be a useless farce; and yet there
was a certain eagerness and intensity in my questioner's manner which
gave me the assurance that he had some end in view. Was it merely that
he wished to gain time? Time for what? And then, suddenly, with that
quick perception which comes upon those whose nerves are strained by an
extremity of danger, I became convinced that he really was awaiting
something--that he was tense with expectation. I read it upon his drawn
face, upon his sidelong head with his ear scooped into his hand, above
all in his twitching, restless eyes. He expected an interruption, and
he was talking, talking, talking, in order to gain time for it. I was
as sure of it as if he had whispered his secret in my ear, and down in
my numb, cold heart a warm little spring of hope began to bubble and
But Toussac had chafed at all this word-fencing, and now with an oath he
broke in upon our dialogue.
'I have had enough of this!' he cried. 'It is not for child's play of
this sort that I risked my head in coming over here. Have we nothing
better to talk about than this fellow? Do you suppose I came from
London to listen to your fine phrases? Have done with it, I say, and
get to business.'
'Very good,' said my champion. 'There's an excellent little cupboard
here which makes as fine a prison as one could wish for. Let us put him
in here, and pass on to business. We can deal with him when we have
'And have him overhear all that we say,' said Lesage.
'I don't know what the devil has come over you,' cried Toussac, turning
suspicious eyes upon my protector. 'I never knew you squeamish before,
and certainly you were not backward in the affair of the man from Bow
Street. This fellow has our secret, and he must either die, or we shall
see him at our trial. What is the sense of arranging a plot, and then
at the last moment turning a man loose who will ruin us all? Let us
snap his neck and have done with it.'
The great hairy hands were stretched towards me again, but Lesage had
sprung suddenly to his feet. His face had turned very white, and he
stood listening with his forefinger up and his head slanted. It was a
long, thin, delicate hand, and it was quivering like a leaf in the wind.
'I heard something,' he whispered.
'And I,' said the older man.
'What was it?'
For a minute or more we all stayed with straining ears while the wind
still whimpered in the chimney or rattled the crazy window.
'It was nothing,' said Lesage at last, with a nervous laugh.
'The storm makes curious sounds sometimes.'
'I heard nothing,' said Toussac.
'Hush!' cried the other. 'There it is again!'
A clear rising cry floated high above the wailing of the storm; a wild,
musical cry, beginning on a low note, and thrilling swiftly up to a
keen, sharp-edged howl.
'They are following us!'
Lesage dashed to the fireplace, and I saw him thrust his papers into the
blaze and grind them down with his heel.
Toussac seized the wood-axe which leaned against the wall. The thin man
dragged the pile of decayed netting from the corner, and opened a small
wooden screen, which shut off a low recess.
'In here,' he whispered, 'quick!'
And then, as I scrambled into my refuge, I heard him say to the others
that I would be safe there, and that they could lay their hands upon me
when they wished.
The cupboard--for it was little more--into which I had been hurried was
low and narrow, and I felt in the darkness that it was heaped with
peculiar round wickerwork baskets, the nature of which I could by no
means imagine, although I discovered afterwards that they were lobster
traps. The only light which entered was through the cracks of the old
broken door, but these were so wide and numerous that I could see the
whole of the room which I had just quitted. Sick and faint, with the
shadow of death still clouding my wits, I was none the less fascinated
by the scene which lay before me.
My thin friend, with the same prim composure upon his emaciated face,
had seated himself again upon the box. With his hands clasped round one
of his knees he was rocking slowly backwards and forwards; and I
noticed, in the lamplight, that his jaw muscles were contracting
rhythmically, like the gills of a fish. Beside him stood Lesage, his
white face glistening with moisture and his loose lip quivering with
fear. Every now and then he would make a vigorous attempt to compose
his features, but after each rally a fresh wave of terror would sweep
everything before it, and set him shaking once more. As to Toussac, he
stood before the fire, a magnificent figure, with the axe held down by
his leg, and his head thrown back in defiance, so that his great black
beard bristled straight out in front of him. He said not a word, but
every fibre of his body was braced for a struggle. Then, as the howl of
the hound rose louder and clearer from the marsh outside, he ran forward
and threw open the door.
'No, no, keep the dog out!' cried Lesage in an agony of apprehension.
'You fool, our only chance is to kill it.'
'But it is in leash.'
'If it is in leash nothing can save us. But if, as I think, it is
running free, then we may escape yet.'
Lesage cowered up against the table, with his agonised eyes fixed upon
the blue-black square of the door. The man who had befriended me still
swayed his body about with a singular half-smile upon his face. His
skinny hand was twitching at the frill of his shirt, and I conjectured
that he held some weapon concealed there. Toussac stood between them
and the open door, and, much as I feared and loathed him, I could not
take my eyes from his gallant figure. As to myself, I was so much
occupied by the singular drama before me, and by the impending fate of
those three men of the cottage, that all thought of my own fortunes had
passed completely out of my mind. On this mean stage a terrible
all-absorbing drama was being played, and I, crouching in a squalid
recess, was to be the sole spectator of it. I could but hold my breath
and wait and watch.
And suddenly I became conscious that they could all three see something
which was invisible to me. I read it from their tense faces and their
staring eyes. Toussac swung his axe over his shoulder and poised
himself for a blow. Lesage cowered away and put one hand between his
eyes and the open door. The other ceased swinging his spindle legs and
sat like a little brown image upon the edge of his box. There was a
moist pattering of feet, a yellow streak shot through the doorway, and
Toussac lashed at it as I have seen an English cricketer strike at a
ball. His aim was true, for he buried the head of the hatchet in the
creature's throat, but the force of his blow shattered his weapon, and
the weight of the hound carried him backwards on to the floor. Over
they rolled and over, the hairy man and the hairy dog, growling and
worrying in a bestial combat. He was fumbling at the animal's throat,
and I could not see what he was doing, until it gave a sudden sharp yelp
of pain, and there was a rending sound like the tearing of canvas.
The man staggered up with his hands dripping, and the tawny mass with
the blotch of crimson lay motionless upon the floor.
'Now!' cried Toussac in a voice of thunder, 'now!' and he rushed from
Lesage had shrunk away into the corner in a frenzy of fear whilst
Toussac had been killing the hound, but now he raised his agonised face,
which was as wet as if he had dipped it into a basin.
'Yes, yes,' he cried; 'we must fly, Charles. The hound has left the
police behind, and we may still escape.'
But the other, with the same imperturbable face, motionless save for the
rhythm of his jaw muscles, walked quietly over and closed the door upon
'I think, friend Lucien,' said he in his quiet voice, 'that you had best
stay where you are.'
Lesage looked at him with amazement gradually replacing terror upon his
'But you do not understand, Charles,' he cried.
'Oh, yes, I think I do,' said the other, smiling.
'They may be here in a few minutes. The hound has slipped its leash,
you see, and has left them behind in the marsh; but they are sure to
come here, for there is no other cottage but this.'
'They are sure to come here.'
'Well, then, let us fly. In the darkness we may yet escape.'
'No; we shall stay where we are.'
'Madman, you may sacrifice your own life, but not mine. Stay if you
wish, but for my part I am going.'
He ran towards the door with a foolish, helpless flapping of his hands,
but the other sprang in front of him with so determined a gesture of
authority that the younger man staggered back from it as from a blow.
'You fool!' said his companion. 'You poor miserable dupe!'
Lesage's mouth opened, and he stood staring with his knees bent and his
spread-fingered hands up, the most hideous picture of fear that I have
'You, Charles, you!' he stammered, hawking up each word.
'Yes, me,' said the other, smiling grimly.
'A police agent all the time! You who were the very soul of our
society! You who were in our inmost council! You who led us on!
Oh, Charles, you have not the heart! I think I hear them coming,
Charles. Let me pass; I beg and implore you to let me pass.'
The granite face shook slowly from side to side.
'But why me? Why not Toussac?'
'If the dog had crippled Toussac, why then I might have had you both.
But friend Toussac is rather vigorous for a thin little fellow like me.
No, no, my good Lucien, you are destined to be the trophy of my bow and
my spear, and you must reconcile yourself to the fact.'
Lesage slapped his forehead as if to assure himself that he was not
'A police agent!' he repeated, 'Charles a police agent!'
'I thought it would surprise you.'
'But you were the most republican of us all. We were none of us
advanced enough for you. How often have we gathered round you, Charles,
to listen to your philosophy! And there is Sibylle, too! Don't tell me
that Sibylle was a police spy also. But you are joking, Charles.
Say that you are joking!'
The man relaxed his grim features, and his eyes puckered with amusement.
'Your astonishment is very flattering,' said he. 'I confess that I
thought that I played my part rather cleverly. It is not my fault that
these bunglers unleashed their hound, but at least I shall have the
credit of having made a single-handed capture of one very desperate and
dangerous conspirator.' He smiled drily at this description of his
prisoner. 'The Emperor knows how to reward his friends,' he added,
'and also how to punish his enemies.'
All this time he had held his hand in his bosom, and now he drew it out
so far as to show the brass gleam of a pistol butt.
'It is no use,' said he, in answer to some look in the other's eye.
'You stay in the hut, alive or dead.'
Lesage put his hands to his face and began to cry with loud, helpless
'Why, you have been worse than any of us, Charles,' he moaned. 'It was
you who told Toussac to kill the man from Bow Street, and it was you
also who set fire to the house in the Rue Basse de la Rampart. And now
you turn on us!'
'I did that because I wished to be the one to throw light upon it all--and
at the proper moment.'
'That is very fine, Charles, but what will be thought about that when I
make it all public in my own defence? How can you explain all that to
your Emperor? There is still time to prevent my telling all that I know
'Well, really, I think that you are right, my friend,' said the other,
drawing out his pistol and cocking it. 'Perhaps I _did_ go a little
beyond my instructions in one or two points, and, as you very properly
remark, there is still time to set it right. It is a matter of detail
whether I give you up living or give you up dead, and I think that, on
the whole, it had better be dead.'
It had been horrible to see Toussac tear the throat out of the hound,
but it had not made my flesh creep as it crept now. Pity was mingled
with my disgust for this unfortunate young man, who had been fitted by
Nature for the life of a retired student or of a dreaming poet, but who
had been dragged by stronger wills than his own into a part which no
child could be more incapable of playing. I forgave him the trick by
which he had caught me and the selfish fears to which he had been
willing to sacrifice me. He had flung himself down upon the ground, and
floundered about in a convulsion of terror, whilst his terrible little
companion, with his cynical smile, stood over him with his pistol in his
hand. He played with the helpless panting coward as a cat might with a
mouse; but I read in his inexorable eyes that it was no jest, and his
finger seemed to be already tightening upon his trigger. Full of horror
at so cold-blooded a murder, I pushed open my crazy cupboard, and had
rushed out to plead for the victim, when there came a buzz of voices and
a clanking of steel from without. With a stentorian shout of 'In the
name of the Emperor!' a single violent wrench tore the door of the hut
from its hinges.
It was still blowing hard, and through the open doorway I could see a
thick cluster of mounted men, with plumes slanted and mantles flapping,
the rain shining upon their shoulders. At the side the light from the
hut struck upon the heads of two beautiful horses, and upon the heavy
red-toupeed busbies of the hussars who stood at their heads. In the
doorway stood another hussar--a man of high rank, as could be seen from
the richness of his dress and the distinction of his bearing. He was
booted to the knees, with a uniform of light blue and silver, which his
tall, slim, light-cavalry figure suited to a marvel. I could not but
admire the way in which he carried himself, for he never deigned to draw
the sword which shone at his side, but he stood in the doorway glancing
round the blood-bespattered hut, and staring at its occupants with a
very cool and alert expression. He had a handsome face, pale and
clear-cut, with a bristling moustache, which cut across the brass
chin-chain of his busby.
'Well,' said he, 'well?'
The older man had put his pistol back into the breast of his brown coat.
'This is Lucien Lesage,' said he.
The hussar looked with disgust at the prostrate figure upon the floor.
'A pretty conspirator!' said he. 'Get up, you grovelling hound! Here,
Gerard, take charge of him and bring him into camp.'
A younger officer with two troopers at his heels came clanking in to the
hut, and the wretched creature, half swooning, was dragged out into the
'Where is the other--the man called Toussac?'
'He killed the hound and escaped. Lesage would have got away also had I
not prevented him. If you had kept the dog in leash we should have had
them both, but as it is, Colonel Lasalle, I think that you may
congratulate me.' He held out his hand as he spoke, but the other
turned abruptly on his heel.
'You hear that, General Savary?' said he, looking out of the door.
'Toussac has escaped.'
A tall, dark young man appeared within the circle of light cast by the
lamp. The agitation of his handsome swarthy face showed the effect
which the news had upon him.
'Where is he then?'
'It is a quarter of an hour since he got away.'
'But he is the only dangerous man of them all. The Emperor will be
furious. In which direction did he fly?'
'It must have been inland.'
'But who is this?' asked General Savary, pointing at me. 'I understood
from your information that there were only two besides yourself,
'I had rather no names were mentioned,' said the other abruptly.
'I can well understand that,' General Savary answered with a sneer.
'I would have told you that the cottage was the rendezvous, but it was
not decided upon until the last moment. I gave you the means of
tracking Toussac, but you let the hound slip. I certainly think that
you will have to answer to the Emperor for the way in which you have
managed the business.'
'That, sir, is our affair,' said General Savary sternly. 'In the
meantime you have not told us who this person is.'
It seemed useless for me to conceal my identity, since I had a letter in
my pocket which would reveal it.
'My name is Louis de Laval,' said I proudly.
I may confess that I think we had exaggerated our own importance over in
England. We had thought that all France was wondering whether we should
return, whereas in the quick march of events France had really almost
forgotten our existence. This young General Savary was not in the least
impressed by my aristocratic name, but he jotted it down in his
'Monsieur de Laval has nothing whatever to do with the matter,' said the
spy. 'He has blundered into it entirely by chance, and I will answer
for his safe keeping in case he should be wanted.'
'He will certainly be wanted,' said General Savary. 'In the meantime I
need every trooper that I have for the chase, so, if you make yourself
personally responsible, and bring him to the camp when needed, I see no
objection to his remaining in your keeping. I shall send to you if I
'He will be at the Emperor's orders.'
'Are there any papers in the cottage?'
'They have been burned.'
'That is unfortunate.'
'But I have duplicates.'
'Excellent! Come, Lasalle, every minute counts, and there is nothing to
be done here. Let the men scatter, and we may still ride him down.'
The two tall soldiers clanked out of the cottage without taking any
further notice of my companion, and I heard the sharp stern order and
the jingling of metal as the troopers sprang back into their saddles
once more. An instant later they were off, and I listened to the dull
beat of their hoofs dying rapidly into a confused murmur. My little
snuff-coloured champion went to the door of the hut and peered after
them through the darkness. Then he came back and looked me up and down,
with his usual dry sardonic smile.
'Well, young man,' said he, 'we have played some pretty _tableaux
vivants_ for your amusement, and you can thank me for that nice seat in
the front row of the parterre.'
'I am under a very deep obligation to you, sir,' I answered, struggling
between my gratitude and my aversion. 'I hardly know how to thank
He looked at me with a singular expression in his ironical eyes.
'You will have the opportunity for thanking me later,' said he.
'In the meantime, as you say that you are a stranger upon our coast, and
as I am responsible for your safe keeping, you cannot do better than
follow me, and I will take you to a place where you may sleep in
THE SECRET PASSAGE
The fire had already smouldered down, and my companion blew out the
lamp, so that we had not taken ten paces before we had lost sight of the
ill-omened cottage, in which I had received so singular a welcome upon
my home-coming. The wind had softened down, but a fine rain, cold and
clammy, came drifting up from the sea. Had I been left to myself I
should have found myself as much at a loss as I had been when I first
landed; but my companion walked with a brisk and assured step, so that
it was evident that he guided himself by landmarks which were invisible
to me. For my part, wet and miserable, with my forlorn bundle under my
arm, and my nerves all jangled by my terrible experiences, I trudged in
silence by his side, turning over in my mind all that had occurred to
me. Young as I was, I had heard much political discussion amongst my
elders in England, and the state of affairs in France was perfectly
familiar to me. I was aware that the recent elevation of Buonaparte to
the throne had enraged the small but formidable section of Jacobins and
extreme Republicans, who saw that all their efforts to abolish a kingdom
had only ended in transforming it into an empire. It was, indeed, a
pitiable result of their frenzied strivings that a crown with eight
_fleurs-de-lis_ should be changed into a higher crown surmounted by a
cross and ball. On the other hand, the followers of the Bourbons, in
whose company I had spent my youth, were equally disappointed at the
manner in which the mass of the French people hailed this final step in
the return from chaos to order. Contradictory as were their motives,
the more violent spirits of both parties were united in their hatred to
Napoleon, and in their fierce determination to get rid of him by any
means. Hence a series of conspiracies, most of them with their base in
England; and hence also a large use of spies and informers upon the part
of Fouche and of Savary, upon whom the responsibility of the safety of
the Emperor lay. A strange chance had landed me upon the French coast
at the very same time as a murderous conspirator, and had afterwards
enabled me to see the weapons with which the police contrived to thwart
and outwit him and his associates. When I looked back upon my series of
adventures, my wanderings in the salt-marsh, my entrance into the
cottage, my discovery of the papers, my capture by the conspirators, the
long period of suspense with Toussac's dreadful thumb upon my chin, and
finally the moving scenes which I had witnessed--the killing of the
hound, the capture of Lesage, and the arrival of the soldiers--I could
not wonder that my nerves were overwrought, and that I surprised myself
in little convulsive gestures, like those of a frightened child.
The chief thought which now filled my mind was what my relations were
with this dangerous man who walked by my side. His conduct and bearing
had filled me with abhorrence. I had seen the depth of cunning with
which he had duped and betrayed his companions, and I had read in his
lean smiling face the cold deliberate cruelty of his nature, as he
stood, pistol in hand, over the whimpering coward whom he had outwitted.
Yet I could not deny that when, through my own foolish curiosity, I had
placed myself in a most hopeless position, it was he who had braved the
wrath of the formidable Toussac in order to extricate me. It was
evident also that he might have made his achievement more striking by
delivering up two prisoners instead of one to the troopers. It is true
that I was not a conspirator, but I might have found it difficult to
prove it. So inconsistent did such conduct seem in this little yellow
flint-stone of a man that, after walking a mile or two in silence, I
asked him suddenly what the meaning of it might be.
I heard a dry chuckle in the darkness, as if he were amused by the
abruptness and directness of my question.
'You are a most amusing person, Monsieur--Monsieur--let me see, what did
you say your name was?'
'Ah, quite so, Monsieur de Laval. You have the impetuosity and the
ingenuousness of youth. You want to know what is up a chimney, you jump
up the chimney. You want to know the reason of a thing, and you blurt
out a question. I have been in the habit of living among people who
keep their thoughts to themselves, and I find you very refreshing.'
'Whatever the motives of your conduct, there is no doubt that you saved
my life,' said I. 'I am much obliged to you for your intercession.'
It is the most difficult thing in the world to express gratitude to a
person who fills you with abhorrence, and I fear that my halting speech
was another instance of that ingenuousness of which he accused me.
'I can do without your thanks,' said he coldly. 'You are perfectly
right when you think that if it had suited my purpose I should have let
you perish, and I am perfectly right when I think that if it were not
that you are under an obligation you would fail to see my hand if I
stretched it out to you just as that overgrown puppy Lasalle did. It is
very honourable, he thinks, to serve the Emperor upon the field of
battle, and to risk life in his behalf, but when it comes to living
amidst danger as I have done, consorting with desperate men, and knowing
well that the least slip would mean death, why then one is beneath the
notice of a fine clean-handed gentleman. Why,' he continued in a burst
of bitter passion, 'I have dared more, and endured more, with Toussac
and a few of his kidney for comrades, than this Lasalle has done in all
the childish cavalry charges that ever he undertook. As to service, all
his Marshals put together have not rendered the Emperor as pressing a
service as I have done. But I daresay it does not strike you in that
'Quite so--it is curious how that name escapes me. I daresay you take
the same view as Colonel Lasalle?'
'It is not a question upon which I can offer an opinion,' said I.
'I only know that I owe my life to your intercession.'
I do not know what reply he might have made to this evasion, but at that
moment we heard a couple of pistol shots and a distant shouting from far
away in the darkness. We stopped for a few minutes, but all was silent
'They must have caught sight of Toussac,' said my companion. 'I am
afraid that he is too strong and too cunning to be taken by them. I do
not know what impression he left upon you, but I can tell you that you
will go far to meet a more dangerous man.'
I answered that I would go far to avoid meeting one, unless I had the
means of defending myself, and my companion's dry chuckle showed that he
appreciated my feelings.
'Yet he is an absolutely honest man, which is no very common thing in
these days,' said he. 'He is one of those who, at the outbreak of the
Revolution, embraced it with the whole strength of his simple nature.
He believed what the writers and the speakers told him, and he was
convinced that, after a little disturbance and a few necessary
executions, France was to become a heaven upon earth, the centre of
peace and comfort and brotherly love. A good many people got those fine
ideas into their heads, but the heads have mostly dropped into the
sawdust-basket by this time. Toussac was true to them, and when instead
of peace he found war, instead of comfort a grinding poverty, and
instead of equality an Empire, it drove him mad. He became the fierce
creature you see, with the one idea of devoting his huge body and
giant's strength to the destruction of those who had interfered with his
ideal. He is fearless, persevering, and implacable. I have no doubt at
all that he will kill me for the part that I have played to-night.'
It was in the calmest voice that my companion uttered the remark, and it
made me understand that it was no boast when he said there was more
courage needed to carry on his unsavoury trade than to play the part of
a _beau sabreur_ like Lasalle. He paused a little, and then went on as
if speaking to himself.
'Yes,' said he, 'I missed my chance. I certainly ought to have shot
him when he was struggling with the hound. But if I had only wounded
him he would have torn me into bits like an over-boiled pullet, so
perhaps it is as well as it is.'
We had left the salt-marsh behind us, and for some time I had felt the
soft springy turf of the downland beneath my feet, and our path had
risen and dipped over the curves of the low coast hills. In spite of
the darkness my companion walked with great assurance, never hesitating
for an instant, and keeping up a stiff pace which was welcome to me in
my sodden and benumbed condition. I had been so young when I left my
native place that it is doubtful whether, even in daylight, I should
have recognised the countryside, but now in the darkness, half stupefied
by my adventures, I could not form the least idea as to where we were or
what we were making for. A certain recklessness had taken possession of
me, and I cared little where I went as long as I could gain the rest and
shelter of which I stood in need.
I do not know how long we had walked; I only know that I had dozed and
woke and dozed again whilst still automatically keeping pace with my
comrade, when I was at last aroused by his coming to a dead stop.
The rain had ceased, and although the moon was still obscured, the
heavens had cleared somewhat, and I could see for a little distance in
every direction. A huge white basin gaped in front of us, and I made
out that it was a deserted chalk quarry, with brambles and ferns growing
thickly all round the edges. My companion, after a stealthy glance
round to make sure that no one was observing us, picked his way amongst
the scattered clumps of bushes until he reached the wall of chalk. This
he skirted for some distance, squeezing between the cliff and the
brambles until he came at last to a spot where all further progress
appeared to be impossible.
'Can you see a light behind us?' asked my companion.
I turned round and looked carefully in every direction, but was unable
to see one.
'Never mind,' said he. 'You go first, and I will follow.'
In some way during the instant that my back had been turned he had swung
aside or plucked out the tangle of bush which had barred our way. When
I turned there was a square dark opening in the white glimmering wall in
front of us.
'It is small at the entrance, but it grows larger further in,' said he.
I hesitated for an instant. Whither was it that this strange man was
leading me? Did he live in a cave like a wild beast, or was this some
trap into which he was luring me? The moon shone out at the instant,
and in its silver light this black, silent porthole looked inexpressibly
cheerless and menacing.
'You have gone rather far to turn back, my good friend,' said my
companion. 'You must either trust me altogether or not trust me at
'I am at your disposal.'
'Pass in then, and I shall follow.'
I crept into the narrow passage, which was so low that I had to crawl
down it upon my hands and knees. Craning my neck round, I could see the
black angular silhouette of my companion as he came after me. He paused
at the entrance, and then, with a rustling of branches and snapping of
twigs, the faint light was suddenly shut off from outside, and we were
left in pitchy darkness. I heard the scraping of his knees as he
crawled up behind me.
'Go on until you come to a step down,' said he. 'We shall have more
room there, and we can strike a light.'
The ceiling was so low that by arching my back I could easily strike it,
and my elbows touched the wall upon either side. In those days I was
slim and lithe, however, so that I found no difficulty in making my way
onwards until, at the end of a hundred paces, or it may have been a
hundred and fifty, I felt with my hands that there was a dip in front of
me. Down this I clambered, and was instantly conscious from the purer
air that I was in some larger cavity. I heard the snapping of my
companion's flint, and the red glow of the tinder paper leaped suddenly
into the clear yellow flame of the taper. At first I could only see
that stern, emaciated face, like some grotesque carving in walnut wood,
with the ceaseless fishlike vibration of the muscles of his jaw. The
light beat full upon it, and it stood strangely out with a dim halo
round it in the darkness. Then he raised the taper and swept it slowly
round at arm's length so as to illuminate the place in which we stood.
I found that we were in a subterranean tunnel, which appeared to extend
into the bowels of the earth. It was so high that I could stand erect
with ease, and the old lichen-blotched stones which lined the walls told
of its great age. At the spot where we stood the ceiling had fallen in
and the original passage been blocked, but a cutting had been made from
this point through the chalk to form the narrow burrow along which we
had come. This cutting appeared to be quite recent, for a mound of
_debris_ and some trenching tools were still lying in the passage.
My companion, taper in hand, started off down the tunnel, and I followed
at his heels, stepping over the great stones which had fallen from the
roof or the walls, and now obstructed the path.
'Well,' said he, grinning at me over his shoulder, 'have you ever seen
anything like this in England?'
'Never,' I answered.
'These are the precautions and devices which men adopted in rough days
long ago. Now that rough days have come again, they are very useful to
those who know of such places.'
'Whither does it lead, then?' I asked.
'To this,' said he, stopping before an old wooden door, powerfully
clamped with iron. He fumbled with the metal-work, keeping himself
between me and it, so that I could not see what he was doing. There was
a sharp snick, and the door revolved slowly upon its hinges. Within
there was a steep flight of time-worn steps leading upwards. He
motioned me on, and closed the door behind us. At the head of the stair
there was a second wooden gate, which he opened in a similar manner.
I had been dazed before ever I came into the chalk pit, but now, at this
succession of incidents, I began to rub my eyes and ask myself whether
this was young Louis de Laval, late of Ashford, in Kent, or whether it
was some dream of the adventures of a hero of Pigault Lebrun. These
massive moss-grown arches and mighty iron-clamped doors were, indeed,
like the dim shadowy background of a vision; but the guttering taper, my
sodden bundle, and all the sordid details of my disarranged toilet
assured me only too clearly of their reality. Above all, the swift,
brisk, business-like manner of my companion, and his occasional abrupt
remarks, brought my fancies back to the ground once more. He held the
door open for me now, and closed it again when I had passed through.
We found ourselves in a long vaulted corridor, with a stone-flagged
floor, and a dim oil lamp burning at the further end. Two iron-barred
windows showed that we had come above the earth's surface once more.
Down this corridor we passed, and then through several passages and up a
short winding stair. At the head of it was an open door, which led into
a small but comfortable bedroom.
'I presume that this will satisfy your wants for to-night,' said he.
I asked for nothing better than to throw myself down, damp clothes and
all, upon that snowy coverlet; but for the instant my curiosity overcame
'I am much indebted to you, sir,' said I. 'Perhaps you will add to your
favours by letting me know where I am.'
'You are in my house, and that must suffice you for to-night. In the
morning we shall go further into the matter.' He rang a small bell, and
a gaunt shock-headed country man-servant came running at the call.
'Your mistress has retired, I suppose?'
'Yes, sir, a good two hours ago.'
'Very good. I shall call you myself in the morning.' He closed my
door, and the echo of his steps seemed hardly to have died from my ears
before I had sunk into that deep and dreamless sleep which only youth
and fatigue can give.
THE OWNER OF GROSBOIS
My host was as good as his word, for, when a noise in my room awoke me
in the morning, it was to find him standing by the side of my bed, so
composed in his features and so drab in his attire, that it was hard to
associate him with the stirring scenes of yesterday and with the
repulsive part which he had played in them. Now in the fresh morning
sunlight he presented rather the appearance of a pedantic schoolmaster,
an impression which was increased by the masterful, and yet benevolent,
smile with which he regarded me. In spite of his smile, I was more
conscious than ever that my whole soul shrank from him, and that I
should not be at my ease until I had broken this companionship which had
been so involuntarily formed. He carried a heap of clothes over one
arm, which he threw upon a chair at the bottom of my bed.
'I gather from the little that you told me last night,' said he, 'that
your wardrobe is at present somewhat scanty. I fear that your inches
are greater than those of anyone in my household, but I have brought a
few things here amongst which you may find something to fit you.
Here, too, are the razors, the soap, and the powder-box. I will return
in half an hour, when your toilet will doubtless be completed.'
I found that my own clothes, with a little brushing, were as good as
ever, but I availed myself of his offer to the extent of a ruffled shirt
and a black satin cravat. I had finished dressing and was looking out
of the window of my room, which opened on to a blank wall, when my host
returned. He looked me all over with a keenly scrutinising eye, and
appeared to be satisfied with what he saw.
'That will do! That will do very well indeed!' said he, nodding a
critical head. 'In these times a slight indication of travel or hard
work upon a costume is more fashionable than the foppishness of the
Incroyable. I have heard ladies remark that it was in better taste.
Now, sir, if you will kindly follow me.'
His solicitude about my dress filled me with surprise, but this was soon
forgotten in the shock which was awaiting me. For as we passed down the
passage and into a large hall which seemed strangely familiar to me,
there was a full-length portrait of my father standing right in front of
me. I stood staring with a gasp of astonishment, and turned to see the
cold grey eyes of my companion fixed upon me with a humorous glitter.
'You seem surprised, Monsieur de Laval,' said he.
'For God's sake,' said I, 'do not trifle with me any further! Who are
you, and what is this place to which you have taken me?'
For answer he broke into one of his dry chuckles, and, laying his skinny
brown hand upon my wrist, he led me into a large apartment. In the
centre was a table, tastefully laid, and beyond it in a low chair a
young lady was seated, with a book in her hand. She rose as we entered,
and I saw that she was tall and slender, with a dark face, pronounced
features, and black eyes of extraordinary brilliancy. Even in that one
glance it struck me that the expression with which she regarded me was
by no means a friendly one.
'Sibylle,' said my host, and his words took the breath from my lips,
'this is your cousin from England, Louis de Laval. This, my dear
nephew, is my only daughter, Sibylle Bernac.'
'I am your mother's brother, Charles Bernac.'
'You are my Uncle Bernac!' I stammered at him like an idiot. 'But why
did you not tell me so?' I cried.
'I was not sorry to have a chance of quietly observing what his English
education had done for my nephew. It might also have been harder for me
to stand your friend if my comrades had any reason to think that I was
personally interested in you. But you will permit me now to welcome you
heartily to France, and to express my regret if your reception has been
a rough one. I am sure that Sibylle will help me to atone for it.'
He smiled archly at his daughter, who continued to regard me with a
I looked round me, and gradually the spacious room, with the weapons
upon the wall, and the deer's heads, came dimly back to my memory.
That view through the oriel window, too, with the clump of oaks in the
sloping park, and the sea in the distance beyond, I had certainly seen
it before. It was true then, and I was in our own castle of Grosbois,
and this dreadful man in the snuff-coloured coat, this sinister plotter
with the death's-head face, was the man whom I had heard my poor father
curse so often, the man who had ousted him from his own property and
installed himself in his place. And yet I could not forget that it was
he also who, at some risk to himself, had saved me the night before, and
my soul was again torn between my gratitude and my repulsion.
We had seated ourselves at the table, and as we ate, this newly-found
uncle of mine continued to explain all those points which I had failed
'I suspected that it was you the instant that I set eyes upon you,' said
he. 'I am old enough to remember your father when he was a young
gallant, and you are his very double--though I may say, without
flattery, that where there is a difference it is in your favour.
And yet he had the name of being one of the handsomest men betwixt Rouen
and the sea. You must bear in mind that I was expecting you, and that
there are not so many young aristocrats of your age wandering about
along the coast. I was surprised when you did not recognise where you
were last night. Had you never heard of the secret passage of
It came vaguely back to me that in my childhood I had heard of this
underground tunnel, but that the roof had fallen in and rendered it
'Precisely,' said my uncle. 'When the castle passed into my hands, one
of the very first things which I did was to cut a new opening at the end
of it, for I foresaw that in these troublesome times it might be of use
to me; indeed, had it been in repair it might have made the escape of
your mother and father a very much easier affair.'
His words recalled all that I had heard and all that I could remember of
those dreadful days when we, the Lords of the country side, had been
chased across it as if we had been wolves, with the howling mob still
clustering at the pier-head to shake their fists and hurl their stones
at us. I remembered, too, that it was this very man who was speaking to
me who had thrown oil upon the flames in those days, and whose fortunes
had been founded upon our ruin. As I looked across at him I found that
his keen grey eyes were fixed upon me, and I could see that he had read
the thoughts in my mind.
'We must let bygones be bygones,' said he. 'Those are quarrels of the
last generation, and Sibylle and you represent a new one.'
My cousin had not said one word or taken any notice of my presence, but
at this joining of our names she glanced at me with the same hostile
expression which I had already remarked.
'Come, Sibylle,' said her father, 'you can assure your cousin Louis
that, so far as you are concerned, any family misunderstanding is at an
'It is very well for us to talk in that way, father,' she answered.
'It is not your picture that hangs in the hall, or your coat-of-arms
that I see upon the wall. We hold the castle and the land, but it is
for the heir of the de Lavals to tell _us_ if he is satisfied with
this.' Her dark scornful eyes were fixed upon me as she waited for my
reply, but her father hastened to intervene.
'This is not a very hospitable tone in which to greet your cousin,' said
he harshly. 'It has so chanced that Louis' heritage has fallen to us,
but it is not for us to remind him of the fact.'
'He needs no reminding,' said she.
'You do me an injustice,' I cried, for the evident and malignant scorn
of this girl galled me to the quick. 'It is true that I cannot forget
that this castle and these grounds belonged to my ancestors--I should be
a clod indeed if I _could_ forget it--but if you think that I harbour
any bitterness, you are mistaken. For my own part, I ask nothing better
than to open up a career for myself with my own sword.'
'And never was there a time when it could be more easily and more
brilliantly done,' cried my uncle. 'There are great things about to
happen in the world, and if you are at the Emperor's court you will be
in the middle of them. I understand that you are content to serve him?'
'I wish to serve my country.'
'By serving the Emperor you do so, for without him the country becomes
'From all we hear it is not a very easy service,' said my cousin.
'I should have thought that you would have been very much more
comfortable in England--and then you would have been so much safer
Everything which the girl said seemed to be meant as an insult to me,
and yet I could not imagine how I had ever offended her. Never had I
met a woman for whom I conceived so hearty and rapid a dislike. I could
see that her remarks were as offensive to her father as they were to me,
for he looked at her with eyes which were as angry as her own.
'Your cousin is a brave man, and that is more than can be said for
someone else that I could mention,' said he.
'For whom?' she asked.
'Never mind!' he snapped, and, jumping up with the air of a man who is
afraid that his rage may master him, and that he may say more than he
wished, he ran from the room.
She seemed startled by this retort of his, and rose as if she would
follow him. Then she tossed her head and laughed incredulously.
'I suppose that you have never met your uncle before?' said she, after a
few minutes of embarrassed silence.
'Never,' answered I.
'Well, what do you think of him now you _have_ met him?'
Such a question from a daughter about her father filled me with a
certain vague horror. I felt that he must be even a worse man than I
had taken him for if he had so completely forfeited the loyalty of his
own nearest and dearest.
'Your silence is a sufficient answer,' said she, as I hesitated for a
reply. 'I do not know how you came to meet him last night, or what
passed between you, for we do not share each other's confidences.
I think, however, that you have read him aright. Now I have something
to ask you. You had a letter from him inviting you to leave England and
to come here, had you not?'
'Yes, I had.'
'Did you observe nothing on the outside?'
I thought of those two sinister words which had puzzled me so much.
'What! it was you who warned me not to come?'
'Yes, it was I. I had no other means of doing it.'
'But why did you do it?'
'Because I did not wish you to come here.'
'Did you think that I would harm you?'
She sat silent for a few seconds like one who is afraid of saying too
much. When her answer came it was a very unexpected one:
'I was afraid that you would be harmed.'
'You think that I am in danger here?'
'I am sure of it.'
'You advise me to leave?'
'Without losing an instant.'
'From whom is the danger then?'
Again she hesitated, and then, with a reckless motion like one who
throws prudence to the winds, she turned upon me.
'It is from my father,' said she.
'But why should he harm me?'
'That is for your sagacity to discover.'
'But I assure you, mademoiselle, that in this matter you misjudge him,'
said I. 'As it happens, he interfered to save my life last night.'
'To save your life! From whom?'
'From two conspirators whose plans I had chanced to discover.'
'Conspirators!' She looked at me in surprise.
'They would have killed me if he had not intervened.'
'It is not his interest that you should be harmed yet awhile. He had
reasons for wishing you to come to Castle Grosbois. But I have been
very frank with you, and I wish you to be equally so with me. Does it
happen--does it happen that during your youth in England you have ever--you
have ever had an affair of the heart?'
Everything which this cousin of mine said appeared to me to be stranger
than the last, and this question, coming at the end of so serious a
conversation, was the strangest of all. But frankness begets frankness,
and I did not hesitate.
'I have left the very best and truest girl in the world behind me in
England,' said I. 'Eugenie is her name, Eugenie de Choiseul, the niece
of the old Duke.'
My reply seemed to give my cousin great satisfaction. Her large dark
eyes shone with pleasure.
'You are very attached?' she asked.
'I shall never be happy until I see her.'
'And you would not give her up?'
'Not for the Castle of Grosbois?'
'Not even for that.'
My cousin held out her hand to me with a charmingly frank impulsiveness.
'You will forgive me for my rudeness,' said she. 'I see that we are to
be allies and not enemies.'
And our hands were still clasped when her father re-entered the room.
I could see in my uncle's grim face as he looked at us the keenest
satisfaction contending with surprise at this sign of our sudden
reconciliation. All trace of his recent anger seemed to have left him
as he addressed his daughter, but in spite of his altered tone I noticed
that her eyes looked defiance and distrust.
'I have some papers of importance to look over,' said he. 'For an hour
or so I shall be engaged. I can guess that Louis would like to see the
old place once again, and I am sure that he could not have a better
guide than you, Sibylle, if you will take him over it.'
She raised no objection, and for my part I was overjoyed at the
proposal, as it gave me an opportunity of learning more of this singular
cousin of mine, who had told me so much and yet seemed to know so much
more. What was the meaning of this obscure warning which she had given
me against her father, and why was she so frankly anxious to know about
my love affairs? These were the two questions which pressed for an
answer. So out we went together into the sweet coast-land air, the
sweeter for the gale of the night before, and we walked through the old
yew-lined paths, and out into the park, and so round the castle, looking
up at the gables, the grey pinnacles, the oak-mullioned windows, the
ancient wing with its crenulated walls and its meurtriere windows, the
modern with its pleasant verandah and veil of honeysuckle. And as she
showed me each fresh little detail, with a particularity which made me
understand how dear the place had become to her, she would still keep
offering her apologies for the fact that she should be the hostess and I
'It is not against you but against ourselves that I was bitter,' said
she, 'for are we not the cuckoos who have taken a strange nest and
driven out those who built it? It makes me blush to think that my
father should invite you to your own house.'
'Perhaps we had been rooted here too long,' I answered. 'Perhaps it is
for our own good that we are driven out to carve our own fortunes, as I
intend to do.'
'You say that you are going to the Emperor?'
'You know that he is in camp near here?'
'So I have heard.'
'But your family is still proscribed?'
'I have done him no harm. I will go boldly to him and ask him to admit
me into his service.'
'Well,' said she, 'there are some who call him a usurper, and wish him
all evil; but for my own part I have never heard of anything that he has
said and done which was not great and noble. But I had expected that
you would be quite an Englishman, Cousin Louis, and come over here with
your pockets full of Pitt's guineas and your heart of treason.'
'I have met nothing but hospitality from the English,' I answered; 'but
my heart has always been French.'
'But your father fought against us at Quiberon.'
'Let each generation settle its own quarrels,' said I. 'I am quite of
your father's opinion about that.'
'Do not judge my father by his words, but by his deeds,' said she, with
a warning finger upraised; 'and, above all, Cousin Louis, unless you
wish to have my life upon your conscience, never let him suspect that I
have said a word to set you on your guard.'
'Your life!' I gasped.
'Oh, yes, he would not stick at that!' she cried. 'He killed my mother.
I do not say that he slaughtered her, but I mean that his cold brutality
broke her gentle heart. Now perhaps you begin to understand why I can
talk of him in this fashion.'
As she spoke I could see the secret broodings of years, the bitter
resentments crushed down in her silent soul, rising suddenly to flush
her dark cheeks and to gleam in her splendid eyes. I realised at that
moment that in that tall slim figure there dwelt an unconquerable
'You must think that I speak very freely to you, since I have only known
you a few hours, Cousin Louis,' said she.
'To whom should you speak freely if not to your own relative?'
'It is true; and yet I never expected that I should be on such terms
with you. I looked forward to your coming with dread and sorrow.
No doubt I showed something of my feelings when my father brought you
'Indeed you did,' I answered. 'I feared that my presence was unwelcome
'Most unwelcome, both for your own sake and for mine,' said she.
'For your sake because I suspected, as I have told you, that my father's
intentions might be unfriendly. For mine--'
'Why for yours?' I asked in surprise, for she had stopped in
'You have told me that your heart is another's. I may tell you that my
hand is also promised, and that my love has gone with it.'
'May all happiness attend it!' said I. 'But why should this make my
'That thick English air has dimmed your wits, cousin,' said she, shaking
her stately head at me. 'But I can speak freely now that I know that
this plan would be as hateful to you as to me. You must know, then,
that if my father could have married us he would have united all claims
to the succession of Grosbois. Then, come what might--Bourbon or
Buonaparte--nothing could shake his position.'
I thought of the solicitude which he had shown over my toilet in the
morning, his anxiety that I should make a favourable impression, his
displeasure when she had been cold to me, and the smile upon his face
when he had seen us hand in hand.
'I believe you are right!' I cried.
'Right! Of course I am right! Look at him watching us now.'
We were walking on the edge of the dried moat, and as I looked up there,
sure enough, was the little yellow face toned towards us in the angle of
one of the windows. Seeing that I was watching him, he rose and waved
his hand merrily.
'Now you know why he saved your life--since you say that he saved it,'
said she. 'It would suit his plans best that you should marry his
daughter, and so he wished you to live. But when once he understands
that that is impossible, why then, my poor Cousin Louis, his only way of
guarding against the return of the de Lavals must lie in ensuring that
there are none to return.'
It was those words of hers, coupled with that furtive yellow face still
lurking at the window, which made me realise the imminence of my danger.
No one in France had any reason to take an interest in me. If I were to
pass away there was no one who could make inquiry--I was absolutely in
his power. My memory told me what a ruthless and dangerous man it was
with whom I had to deal.
'But,' said I, 'he must have known that your affections were already
'He did,' she answered; 'it was that which made me most uneasy of all.
I was afraid for you and afraid for myself, but, most of all, I was
afraid for Lucien. No man can stand in the way of his plans.'
'Lucien! 'The name was like a lightning flash upon a dark night. I had
heard of the vagaries of a woman's love, but was it possible that this
spirited woman loved that poor creature whom I had seen grovelling last
night in a frenzy of fear? But now I remembered also where I had seen
the name Sibylle. It was upon the fly-leaf of his book. 'Lucien, from
Sibylle,' was the inscription. I recalled also that my uncle had said
something to him about his aspirations.
'Lucien is hot-headed, and easily carried away,' said she. 'My father
has seen a great deal of him lately. They sit for hours in his room,
and Lucien will say nothing of what passes between them. I fear that
there is something going forward which may lead to evil. Lucien is a
student rather than a man of the world, but he has strong opinions about
I was at my wit's ends what to do, whether to be silent, or to tell her
of the terrible position in which her lover was placed; but, even as I
hesitated, she, with the quick intuition of a woman, read the doubts
which were in my mind.
'You know something of him,' she cried. 'I understood that he had gone
to Paris. For God's sake tell me what you know about him!'
'His name is Lesage?'
'Yes, yes. Lucien Lesage.'
'I have--I have seen him,' I stammered.
'You have seen him! And you only arrived in France last night.
Where did you see him? What has happened to him?' She gripped me by the
wrist in her anxiety.
It was cruel to tell her, and yet it seemed more cruel still to keep
silent. I looked round in my bewilderment, and there was my uncle
himself coming along over the close-cropped green lawn. By his side,
with a merry clashing of steel and jingling of spurs, there walked a
handsome young hussar--the same to whom the charge of the prisoner had
been committed upon the night before. Sibylle never hesitated for an
instant, but, with a set face and blazing eyes, she swept towards them.
'Father,' said she, 'what have you done with Lucien?'
I saw his impassive face wince for a moment before the passionate hatred
and contempt which he read in her eyes. 'We will discuss this at some
future time,' said he.
'I will know here and now,' she cried. 'What have you done with
'Gentlemen,' said he, turning to the young hussar and me,' I am sorry
that we should intrude our little domestic differences upon your
attention. You will, I am sure, make allowances, lieutenant, when I
tell you that your prisoner of last night was a very dear friend of my
daughter's. Such family considerations do not prevent me from doing my
duty to the Emperor, but they make that duty more painful than it would
'You have my sympathy, mademoiselle,' said the young hussar.
It was to him that my cousin had now turned.
'Do I understand that you took him prisoner?' she asked.
'It was unfortunately my duty.'
'From you I will get the truth. Whither did you take him?'
'To the Emperor's camp.'
'Ah, mademoiselle, it is not for me to go into politics. My duties are
but to wield a sword, and sit a horse, and obey my orders. Both these
gentlemen will be my witnesses that I received my instructions from
'But on what charge was he arrested?'
'Tut, tut, child, we have had enough of this!' said my uncle harshly.
'If you insist upon knowing I will tell you once and for all, that
Monsieur Lucien Lesage has been seized for being concerned in a plot
against the life of the Emperor, and that it was my privilege to
denounce the would-be assassin.'
'To denounce him!' cried the girl. 'I know that it was you who set him
on, who encouraged him, who held him to it whenever he tried to draw
back. Oh, you villain! you villain! What have I over done, what sin of
my ancestors am I expiating, that I should be compelled to call such a
My uncle shrugged his shoulders as if to say that it was useless to
argue with a woman's tantrums. The hussar and I made as if we would
stroll away, for it was embarrassing to stand listening to such words,
but in her fury she called to us to stop and be witnesses against him.
Never have I seen such a recklessness of passion as blazed in her dry
'You have deceived others, but you have never deceived me,' she cried.
'I know you as your own conscience knows you. You may murder me, as you
murdered my mother before me, but you can never frighten me into being
your accomplice. You proclaimed yourself a Republican that you might
creep into a house and estate which do not belong to you. And now you
try to make a friend of Buonaparte by betraying your old associates, who
still trust in you. And you have sent Lucien to his death! But I know
your plans, and my Cousin Louis knows them also, and I can assure you
that there is just as much chance of his agreeing to them as there is of
my doing so. I'd rather lie in my grave than be the wife of any man but
'If you had seen the pitiful poltroon that he proved himself you would
not say so,' said my uncle coolly. 'You are not yourself at present,
but when you return to your right mind you will be ashamed of having
made this public exposure of your weakness. And now, lieutenant, you
have something to say.'
'My message was to you, Monsieur de Laval,' said the young hussar,
turning his back contemptuously upon my uncle. 'The Emperor has sent me
to bring you to him at once at the camp at Boulogne.'
My heart leapt at the thought of escaping from my uncle.
'I ask nothing better,' I cried.
'A horse and an escort are waiting at the gates.'
'I am ready to start at this instant.'
'Nay, there can be no such very great hurry,' said my uncle. 'Surely
you will wait for luncheon, Lieutenant Gerard.'
'The Emperor's commissions, sir, are not carried out in such a manner,'
said the young hussar sternly. 'I have already wasted too much time.
We must be upon our way in five minutes.'
My uncle placed his hand upon my arm and led me slowly towards the
gateway, through which my cousin Sibylle had already passed.
'There is one matter that I wish to speak to you about before you go.
Since my time is so short you will forgive me if I introduce it without
preamble. You have seen your cousin Sibylle, and though her behaviour
this morning is such as to prejudice you against her, yet I can assure
you that she is a very amiable girl. She spoke just now as if she had
mentioned the plan which I had conceived to you. I confess to you that
I cannot imagine anything more convenient than that we should unite in
order to settle once for all every question as to which branch of the
family shall hold the estates.'
'Unfortunately,' said I, 'there are objections.'
'And pray what are they?'
'The fact that my cousin's hand, as I have just learned, is promised to
'That need not hinder us,' said he, with a sour smile; 'I will undertake
that he never claims the promise.'
'I fear that I have the English idea of marriage, that it should go by
love and not by convenience. But in any case your scheme is out of the
question, for my own affections are pledged to a young lady in England.'
He looked wickedly at me out of the corners of his grey eyes.
'Think well what you are doing, Louis,' said he, in a sibilant whisper
which was as menacing as a serpent's hiss. 'You are deranging my plans,
and that is not done with impunity.'
'It is not a matter in which I have any choice.'
He gripped me by the sleeve, and waved his hand round as Satan may have
done when he showed the kingdoms and principalities. 'Look at the
park,' he cried, 'the fields, the woods. Look at the old castle in
which your fathers have lived for eight hundred years. You have but to
say the word and it is all yours once more.'
There flashed up into my memory the little red-brick house at Ashford,
and Eugenie's sweet pale face looking over the laurel bushes which grew
by the window.
'It is impossible!' said I.
There must have been something in my manner which made him comprehend
that it really was so, for his face darkened with anger, and his
persuasion changed in an instant to menace.
'If I had known this they might have done what they wished with you last
night,' said he, 'I would never have put out a finger to save you.'
'I am glad to hear you say so,' I answered, 'for it makes it easier for
me to say that I wish to go my own way, and to have nothing more to do
with you. What you have just said frees me from the bond of gratitude
which held me back.'
'I have no doubt that you would like to have nothing more to do with
me,' he cried. 'You will wish it more heartily still before you finish.
Very well, sir, go your own way and I will go mine, and we shall see who
comes out the best in the end.'
A group of hussars were standing by their horses' heads in the gateway.
In a few minutes I had packed my scanty possessions, and I was hastening
with them down the corridor when a chill struck suddenly through my
heart at the thought of my cousin Sibylle. How could I leave her alone
with this grim companion in the old castle? Had she not herself told me
that her very life might be at stake? I had stopped in my perplexity,
and suddenly there was a patter of feet, and there she was running
'Good-bye, Cousin Louis,' she cried, with outstretched hands.
'I was thinking of you,' said I; 'your father and I have had an
explanation and a quarrel.'
'Thank God!' she cried. 'Your only chance was to get away from him.
But beware, for he will do you an injury if he can!'
'He may do his worst; but how can I leave you here in his power?'
'Have no fears about me. He has more reason to avoid me than I him.
But they are calling for you, Cousin Louis. Good-bye, and God be with
THE CAMP OF BOULOGNE
My uncle was still standing at the castle gateway, the very picture of a
usurper, with our own old coat-of-arms of the bend argent and the three
blue martlets engraved upon the stones at either side of him. He gave
me no sign of greeting as I mounted the large grey horse which was
awaiting me, but he looked thoughtfully at me from under his down-drawn
brows, and his jaw muscles still throbbed with that stealthy rhythmical
movement. I read a cold and settled malice in his set yellow face and
his stern eyes. For my own part I sprang readily enough into the
saddle, for the man's presence had, from the first, been loathsome to
me, and I was right glad to be able to turn my back upon him. And so,
with a stern quick order from the lieutenant and a jingle and clatter
from the troopers, we were off upon our journey. As I glanced back at
the black keep of Grosbois, and at the sinister figure who stood looking
after us from beside the gateway, I saw from over his head a white
handkerchief gleam for an instant in a last greeting from one of the
gloomy meurtriere windows, and again a chill ran through me as I thought
of the fearless girl and of the hands in which we were leaving her.
But sorrow clears from the mind of youth like the tarnish of breath upon
glass, and who could carry a heavy heart upon so lightfooted a horse and
through so sweet an air? The white glimmering road wound over the downs
with the sea far upon the left, and between lay that great salt-marsh
which had been the scene of our adventures. I could even see, as I
fancied, a dull black spot in the distance to mark the position of that
terrible cottage. Far away the little clusters of houses showed the
positions of Etaples, Ambleterre, and the other fishing villages, whilst
I could see that the point which had seemed last night to glow like a
half-forged red-hot sword-blade was now white as a snow-field with the
camp of a great army. Far, far away, a little dim cloud upon the water
stood for the land where I had spent my days--the pleasant, homely land
which will always rank next to my own in my affections.
And now I turned my attention from the downs and the sea to the hussars
who rode beside me, forming, as I could perceive, a guard rather than an
escort. Save for the patrol last night, they were the first of the
famous soldiers of Napoleon whom I had ever seen, and it was with
admiration and curiosity that I looked upon men who had won a world-wide
reputation for their discipline and their gallantry. Their appearance
was by no means gorgeous, and their dress and equipment was much more
modest than that of the East Kent Yeomanry, which rode every Saturday
through Ashford; but the stained tunics, the worn leathers, and the
rough hardy horses gave them a very workmanlike appearance. They were
small, light, brown-faced fellows, heavily whiskered and moustached,
many of them wearing ear-rings in their ears. It surprised me that even
the youngest and most boyish-looking of them should be so bristling with
hair, until, upon a second look, I perceived that his whiskers were
formed of lumps of black wax stuck on to the sides of his face. The
tall young lieutenant noticed the astonishment with which I gazed at his
'Yes, yes,' said he, 'they are artificial, sure enough; but what can you
expect from a lad of seventeen? On the other hand, we cannot spoil the
appearance of the regiment upon parade by having a girl's cheeks in the
'It melts terribly in this warm weather, lieutenant,' said the hussar,
joining in the conversation with the freedom which was one of the
characteristics of Napoleon's troops.
'Well, well, Caspar, in a year or two you will dispense with them.'
'Who knows? Perhaps he will have dispensed with his head also by that
time,' said a corporal in front, and they all laughed together in a
manner which in England would have meant a court-martial. This seemed
to me to be one of the survivals of the Revolution, that officer and
private were left, upon a very familiar footing, which was increased, no
doubt, by the freedom with which the Emperor would chat with his old
soldiers, and the liberties which he would allow them to take with him.
It was no uncommon thing for a shower of chaff to come from the ranks
directed at their own commanding officers, and I am sorry to say, also,
that it was no very unusual thing for a shower of bullets to come also.
Unpopular officers were continually assassinated by their own men; at
the battle of Montebello it is well known that every officer, with the
exception of one lieutenant belonging to the 24th demi-brigade, was shot
down from behind. But this was a relic of the bad times, and, as the
Emperor gained more complete control, a better feeling was established.
The history of our army at that time proved, at any rate, that the
highest efficiency could be maintained without the flogging which was
still used in the Prussian and the English service, and it was shown,
for the first time, that great bodies of men could be induced to act
from a sense of duty and a love of country, without hope of reward or
fear of punishment. When a French general could suffer his division to
straggle as they would over the face of the country, with the certainty
that they would concentrate upon the day of battle, he proved that he
had soldiers who were worthy of his trust.
One thing had struck me as curious about these hussars--that they
pronounced French with the utmost difficulty. I remarked it to the
lieutenant as he rode by my side, and I asked him from what foreign
country his men were recruited, since I could perceive that they were
'My faith, you must not let them hear you say so,' said he, 'for they
would answer you as like as not by a thrust from their sabres. We are
the premier regiment of the French cavalry, the First Hussars of
Bercheny, and, though it is true that our men are all recruited in
Alsace, and few of them can speak anything but German, they are as good
Frenchmen as Kleber or Kellermann, who came from the same parts.
Our men are all picked, and our officers,' he added, pulling at his
light moustache, 'are the finest in the service.'
The swaggering vanity of the fellow amused me, for he cocked his busby,
swung the blue dolman which hung from his shoulder, sat his horse, and
clattered his scabbard in a manner which told of his boyish delight and
pride in himself and his regiment. As I looked at his lithe figure and
his fearless bearing, I could quite imagine that he did himself no more
than justice, while his frank smile and his merry blue eyes assured me
that he would prove a good comrade. He had himself been taking
observations of me, for he suddenly placed his hand upon my knee as we
rode side by side.
'I trust that the Emperor is not displeased with you,' said he, with a
very grave face.
'I cannot think that he can be so,' I answered, 'for I have come from
England to put my services at his disposal.'
'When the report was presented last night, and he heard of your presence
in that den of thieves, he was very anxious that you should be brought
to him. Perhaps it is that he wishes you to be guide to us in England.
No doubt you know your way all over the island.'
The hussar's idea of an island seemed to be limited to the little
patches which lie off the Norman or Breton coast. I tried to explain to
him that this was a great country, not much smaller than France.
'Well, well,' said he, 'we shall know all about it presently, for we are
going to conquer it. They say in the camp that we shall probably enter
London either next Wednesday evening or else on the Thursday morning.
We are to have a week for plundering the town, and then one army corps
is to take possession of Scotland and another of Ireland.'
His serene confidence made me smile. 'But how do you know you can do
all this?' I asked.
'Oh!' said he, 'the Emperor has arranged it.'
'But they have an army, and they are well prepared. They are brave men
and they will fight.'
'There would be no use their doing that, for the Emperor is going over
himself,' said he; and in the simple answer I understood for the first
time the absolute trust and confidence which these soldiers had in their
leader. Their feeling for him was fanaticism, and its strength was
religion, and never did Mahomet nerve the arms of his believers and
strengthen them against pain and death more absolutely than this little
grey-coated idol did to those who worshipped him. If he had chosen--and
he was more than once upon the point of it--to assert that he was
indeed above humanity he would have found millions to grant his claim.
You who have heard of him as a stout gentleman in a straw hat, as he was
in his later days, may find it hard to understand it, but if you had
seen his mangled soldiers still with their dying breath crying out to
him, and turning their livid faces towards him as he passed, you would
have realised the hold which he had over the minds of men.
'You have been over there?' asked the lieutenant presently, jerking his
thumb towards the distant cloud upon the water.
'Yes, I have spent my life there.'
'But why did you stay there when there was such good fighting to be had
in the French service?'
'My father was driven out of the country as an aristocrat. It was only
after his death that I could offer my sword to the Emperor.'
'You have missed a great deal, but I have no doubt that we shall still
have plenty of fine wars. And you think that the English will offer us
'I have no doubt of it.'
'We feared that when they understood that it was the Emperor in person
who had come they would throw down their arms. I have heard that
there are some fine women over there.'
'The women are beautiful.'
He said nothing, but for some time he squared his shoulders and puffed
out his chest, curling up the ends of his little yellow moustache.
'But they will escape in boats,' he muttered at last; and I could see
that he had still that picture of a little island in his imagination.
'If they could but see us they might remain. It has been said of the
Hussars of Bercheny that they can set a whole population running, the
women towards us, the men away. We are, as you have no doubt observed,
a very fine body of men, and the officers are the pick of the service,
though the seniors are hardly up to the same standard as the rest of
With all his self-confidence, this officer did not seem to me to be more
than my own age, so I asked him whether he had seen any service. His
moustache bristled with indignation at my question, and he looked me up
and down with a severe eye.
'I have had the good fortune to be present at nine battles, sir, and at
more than forty skirmishes,' said he. 'I have also fought a
considerable number of duels, and I can assure you that I am always
ready to meet anyone--even a civilian--who may wish to put me to the
I assured him that he was very fortunate to be so young and yet to have
seen so much, upon which his ill-temper vanished as quickly as it came,
and he explained that he had served in the Hohenlinden campaign under
Moreau, as well as in Napoleon's passage of the Alps, and the campaign
'When you have been with the army for a little time the name of Etienne
Gerard will not be so unfamiliar to you,' said he. 'I believe that I
may claim to be the hero of one or two little stories which the soldiers
love to tell about their camp fires. You will hear of my duel with the
six fencing masters, and you will be told how, single-handed, I charged
the Austrian Hussars of Graz and brought their silver kettledrum back
upon the crupper of my mare. I can assure you that it was not by
accident that I was present last night, but it was because Colonel
Lasalle was very anxious to be sure of any prisoners whom he might make.
As it turned out, however, I only had the one poor chicken-hearted
creature, whom I handed over to the provost-marshal.'
'And the other--Toussac?'
'Ah, he seems to have been a man of another breed. I could have asked
nothing better than to have had him at my sword-point. But he has
escaped. They caught sight of him and fired a pistol or two, but he
knew the bog too well, and they could not follow him.'
'And what will be done to your prisoner?' I asked.
Lieutenant Gerard shrugged his shoulders.
'I am very sorry for Mademoiselle your cousin,' said he, 'but a fine
girl should not love such a man when there are so many gallant soldiers
upon the country side. I hear that the Emperor is weary of these
endless plottings, and that an example will be made of him.'
Whilst the young hussar and I had been talking we had been cantering
down the broad white road, until we were now quite close to the camp,
which we could see lying in its arrangement of regiments and brigades
beneath us. Our approach lay over the high ground, so that we could see
down into this canvas city, with its interminable lines of picketed
horses, its parks of artillery, and its swarms of soldiers. In the
centre was a clear space, with one very large tent and a cluster of low
wooden houses in the middle of it, with the tricolour banner waving
'That is the Emperor's quarters, and the smaller tent there is the
headquarters of General Ney, who commands this corps. You understand
that this is only one of several armies dotted along from Dunkirk in the
north to this, which is the most southerly. The Emperor goes from one
to the other, inspecting each in its turn, but this is the main body,
and contains most of the picked troops, so that it is we who see most of
him, especially now that the Empress and the Court have come to Pont de
Briques. He is in there at the present moment,' he added in a hushed
voice, pointing to the great white tent in the centre.
The road into the camp ran through a considerable plain, which was
covered by bodies of cavalry and infantry engaged upon their drill.
We had heard so much in England about Napoleon's troops, and their feats
had appeared so extraordinary, that my imagination had prepared me for
men of very striking appearance. As a matter of fact, the ordinary
infantry of the line, in their blue coats and white breeches and
gaiters, were quite little fellows, and even their high brass-covered
hats and red plumes could not make them very imposing.
In spite of their size, however, they were tough and wiry, and after
their eighteen months in camp they were trained to the highest pitch of
perfection. The ranks were full of veterans, and all the under-officers
had seen much service, while the generals in command have never been
equalled in ability, so that it was no mean foe which lay with its
menacing eyes fixed upon the distant cliffs of England. If Pitt had not
been able to place the first navy in the world between the two shores
the history of Europe might be very different to-day.
Lieutenant Gerard, seeing the interest with which I gazed at the
manoeuvring troops, was good enough to satisfy my curiosity about such
of them as approached the road along which we were journeying.
'Those fellows on the black horses with the great blue rugs upon their
croups are the Cuirassiers,' said he. 'They are so heavy that they
cannot raise more than a trot, so when they charge we manage that there
shall be a brigade of chasseurs or hussars behind them to follow up the
'Who is the civilian who is inspecting them?' I asked.
'That is not a civilian, but it is General St. Cyr, who is one of those
whom they called the Spartans of the Rhine. They were of opinion that
simplicity of life and of dress were part of a good soldier, and so they
would wear no uniform beyond a simple blue riding coat, such as you see.
St. Cyr is an excellent officer, but he is not popular, for he seldom
speaks to anyone, and he sometimes shuts himself up for days on end in
his tent, where he plays upon his violin. I think myself that a soldier
is none the worse because he enjoys a glass of good wine, or has a smart
jacket and a few Brandenburgs across his chest. For my part I do both,
and yet those who know me would tell you that it has not harmed my
soldiering. You see this infantry upon the left?'
'The men with the yellow facings?'
'Precisely. Those are Oudinot's famous grenadiers. And the other
grenadiers, with the red shoulder-knots and the fur hats strapped above
their knapsacks, are the Imperial Guard, the successors of the old
Consular Guard who won Marengo for us. Eighteen hundred of them got the
cross of honour after the battle. There is the 57th of the line, which
has been named "The Terrible," and there is the 7th Light Infantry, who
come from the Pyrenees, and who are well known to be the best marchers
and the greatest rascals in the army. The light cavalry in green are
the Horse Chasseurs of the Guard, sometimes called the Guides, who are
said to be the Emperor's favourite troops, although he makes a great
mistake if he prefers them to the Hussars of Bercheny. The other
cavalry with the green pelisses are also chasseurs, but I cannot tell
from here what regiment they are. Their colonel handles them admirably.
They are moving to a flank in open column of half-squadrons and then
wheeling into line to charge. We could not do it better ourselves. And
now, Monsieur de Laval, here we are at the gates of the Camp of
Boulogne, and it is my duty to take you straight to the Emperor's
The camp of Boulogne contained at that time one hundred and fifty
thousand infantry, with fifty thousand cavalry, so that its population
was second only to Paris among the cities of France. It was divided
into four sections, the right camp, the left camp, the camp of Wimereux,
and the camp of Ambleteuse, the whole being about a mile in depth, and
extending along the seashore for a length of about seven miles. On the
land side it was open, but on the sea side it was fringed by powerful
batteries containing mortars and cannon of a size never seen before.
These batteries were placed along the edges of the high cliffs, and
their lofty position increased their range, and enabled them to drop
their missiles upon the decks of the English ships.
It was a pretty sight to ride through the camp, for the men had been
there for more than a year, and had done all that was possible to
decorate and ornament their tents. Most of them had little gardens in
front or around them, and the sun-burned fellows might be seen as we
passed kneeling in their shirt-sleeves with their spuds and their
watering-cans in the midst of their flower-beds. Others sat in the
sunshine at the openings of the tents tying up their queues,
pipe-claying their belts, and polishing their arms, hardly bestowing a
glance upon us as we passed, for patrols of cavalry were coming and
going in every direction. The endless lines were formed into streets,
with their names printed up upon boards. Thus we had passed through the
Rue d'Arcola, the Rue de Kleber, the Rue d'Egypte, and the Rue
d'Artillerie Volante, before we found ourselves in the great central
square in which the headquarters of the army were situated.
The Emperor at this time used to sleep at a village called Pont de
Briques, some four miles inland, but his days were spent at the camp,
and his continual councils of war were held there. Here also were his
ministers, and the generals of the army corps which were scattered up
and down the coast came thither to make their reports and to receive
their orders. For these consultations a plain wooden house had been
constructed containing one very large room and three small ones. The
pavilion which we had observed from the Downs served as an ante-chamber
to the house, in which those who sought audience with the Emperor might
assemble. It was at the door of this, where a strong guard of
grenadiers announced Napoleon's presence, that my guardian sprang down
from his horse and signed to me to follow his example. An officer of
the guard took our names and returned to us accompanied by General
Duroc, a thin, hard, dry man of forty, with a formal manner and a
'Is this Monsieur Louis de Laval?' he asked, with a stiff smile.
'The Emperor is very anxious to see you. You are no longer needed,
'I am personally responsible for bringing him safely, General.'
'Very good. You may come in, if you prefer it!' And he passed us into
the huge tent, which was unfurnished, save for a row of wooden benches
round the sides. A number of men in naval and military uniforms were
seated upon these, and numerous groups were standing about chatting in
subdued tones. At the far end was a door which led into the Imperial
council chamber. Now and then I saw some man in official dress walk up
to this door, scratch gently upon it with his nail, and then, as it
instantly opened, slip discreetly through, closing it softly behind him.
Over the whole assembly there hung an air of the Court rather than of
the camp, an atmosphere of awe and of reverence which was the more
impressive when it affected these bluff soldiers and sailors.
The Emperor had seemed to me to be formidable in the distance, but I
found him even more overwhelming now that he was close at hand.
'You need have no fears, Monsieur de Laval,' said my companion.
'You are going to have a good reception.'
'How do you know that?'
'From General Duroc's manner. In these cursed Courts, if the Emperor
smiles upon you everyone smiles, down to that flunkey in the red velvet
coat yonder. But if the Emperor frowns, why, you have only to look at
the face of the man who washes the Imperial plates, and you will see the
frown reflected upon it. And the worst of it is that, if you are a
plain-witted man, you may never find out what earned you either the
frown or the smile. That is why I had rather wear the shoulder-straps
of a lieutenant, and be at the side of my squadron, with a good horse
between my knees and my sabre clanking against my stirrup-iron, than
have Monsieur Talleyrand's grand hotel in the Rue Saint Florentin, and
his hundred thousand livres of income.'
I was still wondering whether the hussar could be right, and if the
smile with which Duroc had greeted me could mean that the Emperor's
intentions towards me were friendly, when a very tall and handsome young
man, in a brilliant uniform, came towards me. In spite of the change in
his dress, I recognised him at once as the General Savary who had
commanded the expedition of the night before.
'Well, Monsieur de Laval,' said he, shaking hands with me very
pleasantly, 'you have heard, no doubt, that this fellow Toussac has
escaped us. He was really the only one whom we were anxious to seize,
for the other is evidently a mere dupe and dreamer. But we shall have
him yet, and between ourselves we shall keep a very strict guard upon
the Emperor's person until we do, for Master Toussac is not a man to be
I seemed to feel his great rough thumb upon my chin as I answered that I
thought he was a very dangerous man indeed.
'The Emperor will see you presently,' said Savary. 'He is very busy
this morning, but he bade me say that you should have an audience.'
He smiled and passed on.
'Assuredly you are getting on,' whispered Gerard. 'There are a good
many men here who would risk something to have Savary address them as he
addressed you. The Emperor is certainly going to do something for you.
But attention, friend, for here is Monsieur de Talleyrand himself coming
A singular-looking person was shuffling in our direction. He was a man
about fifty years of age, largely made about the shoulders and chest,
but stooping a good deal, and limping heavily in one leg. He walked
slowly, leaning upon a silver-headed stick, and his sober suit of black,
with silk stockings of the same hue, looked strangely staid among the
brilliant uniforms which surrounded him. But in spite of his plain
dress there was an expression of great authority upon his shrewd face,
and every one drew back with bows and salutes as he moved across the tent.
'Monsieur Louis de Laval?' said he, as he stopped in front of me, and
his cold grey eyes played over me from head to heel.
I bowed, and with some coldness, for I shared the dislike which my
father used to profess for this unfrocked priest and perjured
politician; but his manner was so polished and engaging that it was hard
to hold out against it.
'I knew your cousin de Rohan very well indeed,' said he. 'We were two
rascals together when the world was not quite so serious as it is at
present. I believe that you are related to the Cardinal de Montmorency
de Laval, who is also an old friend of mine. I understand that you are
about to offer your services to the Emperor?'
'I have come from England for that purpose, sir.'
'And met with some little adventure immediately upon your arrival, as I
understand. I have heard the story of the worthy police agent, the two
Jacobins, and the lonely hut. Well, you have seen the danger to which
the Emperor is exposed, and it may make you the more zealous in his
service. Where is your uncle, Monsieur Bernac?'
'He is at the Castle of Grosbois.'
'Do you know him well?'
'I had not seen him until yesterday.'
'He is a very useful servant of the Emperor, but--but--' he inclined his
head downward to my ear, 'some more congenial service will be found for
you, Monsieur de Laval,' and so, with a bow, he whisked round, and
tapped his way across the tent again.
'Why, my friend, you are certainly destined for something great,' said
the hussar lieutenant. 'Monsieur de Talleyrand does not waste his
smiles and his bows, I promise you. He knows which way the wind blows
before he flies his kite, and I foresee that I shall be asking for your
interest to get me my captaincy in this English campaign. Ah, the
council of war is at an end.'
As he spoke the inner door at the end of the great tent opened, and a
small knot of men came through dressed in the dark blue coats, with
trimmings of gold oak-leaves, which marked the marshals of the Empire.
They were, all but one, men who had hardly reached their middle age, and
who, in any other army, might have been considered fortunate if they had
gained the command of a regiment; but the continuous wars and the open
system by which rules of seniority yielded to merit had opened up a
rapid career to a successful soldier. Each carried his curved cocked
hat under his arm, and now, leaning upon their sword-hilts, they fell
into a little circle and chatted eagerly among themselves.
'You are a man of family, are you not?' asked my hussar.
'I am of the same blood as the de Rohans and the Montmorencies.'
'So I had understood. Well, then, you will understand that there have
been some changes in this country when I tell you that those men, who,
under the Emperor, are the greatest in the country have been the one a
waiter, the next a wine smuggler, the next a cooper of barrels, and the
next a house painter. Those are the trades which gave us Murat,
Massena, Ney, and Lannes.'
Aristocrat as I was, no names had ever thrilled me as those did, and I
eagerly asked him to point me out each of these famous soldiers.
'Oh, there are many famous soldiers in the room,' said he. 'Besides,'
he added, twisting his moustache, 'there may be junior officers here who
have it in them to rise higher than any of them. But there is Ney to
I saw a man with close-cropped red hair and a large square-jowled face,
such as I have seen upon an English prize-fighter.
'We call him Peter the Red, and sometimes the Red Lion, in the army,'
said my companion. 'He is said to be the bravest man in the army,
though I cannot admit that he is braver than some other people whom I
could mention. Still he is undoubtedly a very good leader.'
'And the general next him?' I asked. 'Why does he carry his head all
upon one side?'
'That is General Lannes, and he carries his head upon his left shoulder
because he was shot through the neck at the siege of St. Jean d'Acre.
He is a Gascon, like myself, and I fear that he gives some ground to
those who accuse my countrymen of being a little talkative and
quarrelsome. But monsieur smiles?'
'You are mistaken.'
'I thought that perhaps something which I had said might have amused
monsieur. I thought that possibly he meant that Gascons really were
quarrelsome, instead of being, as I contend, the mildest race in
France--an opinion which I am always ready to uphold in any way which
may be suggested. But, as I say, Lannes is a very valiant man, though,
occasionally, perhaps, a trifle hot-headed. The next man is Auguereau.'
I looked with interest upon the hero of Castiglione, who had taken
command upon the one occasion when Napoleon's heart and spirit had
failed him. He was a man, I should judge, who would shine rather in war
than in peace, for, with his long goat's face and his brandy nose, he
looked, in spite of his golden oak-leaves, just such a long-legged,
vulgar, swaggering, foul-mouthed old soldier as every barrack-room can
show. He was an older man than the others, and his sudden promotion had
come too late for him to change. He was always the Corporal of the
Prussian Guard under the hat of the French Marshal.
'Yes, yes; he is a rough fellow,' said Gerard, in answer to my remark.
'He is one of those whom the Emperor had to warn that he wished them to
be soldiers only with the army. He and Rapp and Lefebvre, with their
big boots and their clanking sabres, were too much for the Empress's
drawing-room at the Tuileries. There is Vandamme also, the dark man
with the heavy face. Heaven help the English village that he finds his
quarters in! It was he who got into trouble because he broke the jaw of
a Westphalian priest who could not find him a second bottle of Tokay.'
'And that is Murat, I suppose?'
'Yes; that is Murat with the black whiskers and the red, thick lips, and
the brown of Egypt upon his face. He is the man for me! My word, when
you have seen him raving in front of a brigade of light cavalry, with
his plumes tossing and his sabre flashing, you would not wish to see
anything finer. I have known a square of grenadiers break and scatter
at the very sight of him. In Egypt the Emperor kept away from him, for
the Arabs would not look at the little General when this fine horseman
and swordsman was before them. In my opinion Lasalle is the better
light cavalry officer, but there is no one whom the men will follow as
they do Murat.'
'And who is the stern-looking man, leaning on the Oriental sword?'
'Oh, that is Soult! He is the most obstinate man in the world. He
argues with the Emperor. The handsome man beside him is Junot, and
Bernadotte is leaning against the tent-pole.'
I looked with interest at the extraordinary face of this adventurer,
who, after starting with a musket and a knapsack in the ranks, was not
contented with the baton of a marshal, but passed on afterwards to grasp
the sceptre of a king. And it might be said of him that, unlike his
fellows, he gained his throne in spite of Napoleon rather than by his
aid. Any man who looked at his singular pronounced features, the
swarthiness of which proclaimed his half Spanish origin, must have read
in his flashing black eyes and in that huge aggressive nose that he was
reserved for a strange destiny. Of all the fierce and masterful men who
surrounded the Emperor there was none with greater gifts, and none,
also, whose ambitions he more distrusted, than those of Jules
And yet, fierce and masterful as these men were, having, as Auguereau
boasted, fear neither of God nor of the devil, there was something which
thrilled or cowed them in the pale smile or black frown of the little
man who ruled them. For, as I watched them, there suddenly came over
the assembly a start and hush such as you see in a boys' school when the
master enters unexpectedly, and there near the open doors of his
headquarters stood the master himself. Even without that sudden
silence, and the scramble to their feet of those upon the benches, I
felt that I should have known instantly that he was present. There was
a pale luminosity about his ivory face which drew the eye towards it,
and though his dress might be the plainest of a hundred, his appearance
would be the first which one would notice. There he was, with his
little plump, heavy-shouldered figure, his green coat with the red
collar and cuffs, his white, well-formed legs, his sword with the gilt
hilt and the tortoise-shell scabbard. His head was uncovered, showing
his thin hair of a ruddy chestnut colour. Under one arm was the flat
cocked hat with the twopenny tricolour rosette, which was already
reproduced in his pictures. In his right hand he held a little riding
switch with a metal head. He walked slowly forward, his face immutable,
his eyes fixed steadily before him, measured, inexorable, the very
personification of Destiny.
I do not know if that voice thrilled through every one as it did through
me. Never had I heard anything more harsh, more menacing, more
sinister. From under his puckered brows his light-blue eyes glanced
swiftly round with a sweep like a sabre.
'I am here, Sire!' A dark, grizzled, middle-aged man, in a naval
uniform, had advanced from the throng. Napoleon took three quick little
steps towards him in so menacing a fashion, that I saw the
weather-stained cheeks of the sailor turn a shade paler, and he gave a
helpless glance round him, as if for assistance.
'How comes it, Admiral Bruix,' cried the Emperor, in the same terrible
rasping voice, 'that you did not obey my commands last night?'
'I could see that a westerly gale was coming up, Sire. I knew that--,'
he could hardly speak for his agitation, 'I knew that if the ships went
out with this lee shore--'
'What right have you to judge, sir?' cried the Emperor, in a cold fury
of indignation. 'Do you conceive that your judgment is to be placed
'In matters of navigation, Sire.'
'In no matters whatsoever.'
'But the tempest, Sire! Did it not prove me to be in the right?'
'What! You still dare to bandy words with me?'
'When I have justice on my side.'
There was a hush amidst all the great audience; such a heavy silence as
comes only when many are waiting, and all with bated breath.
The Emperor's face was terrible. His cheeks were of a greenish, livid
tint, and there was a singular rotary movement of the muscles of his
forehead. It was the countenance of an epileptic. He raised the whip
to his shoulder, and took a step towards the admiral.
'You insolent rascal!' he hissed. It was the Italian word _coglione_
which he used, and I observed that as his feelings overcame him his
French became more and more that of a foreigner.
For a moment he seemed to be about to slash the sailor across the face
with his whip. The latter took a step back, and clapped his hand to his
'Have a care, Sire,' said he.
For a few instants the tension was terrible. Then Napoleon brought the
whip down with a sharp crack against his own thigh.
'Vice-Admiral Magon,' he cried, 'you will in future receive all orders
connected with the fleet. Admiral Bruix, you will leave Boulogne in
twenty-four hours and withdraw to Holland. Where is Lieutenant Gerard,
of the Hussars of Bercheny?'
My companion's gauntlet sprang to his busby.
'I ordered you to bring Monsieur Louis de Laval from the castle of
'He is here, Sire.'
'Good! You may retire.'
The lieutenant saluted, whisked round upon his heel, and clattered away,
whilst the Emperor's blue eyes were turned upon me. I had often heard
the phrase of eyes looking through you, but that piercing gaze did
really give one the feeling that it penetrated to one's inmost thoughts.
But the sternness had all melted out of it, and I read a great
gentleness and kindness in their expression.
'You have come to serve me, Monsieur de Laval?'
'You have been some time in making up your mind.'
'I was not my own master, Sire.'
'Your father was an aristocrat?'
'And a supporter of the Bourbons?'
'You will find that in France now there are no aristocrats and no
Jacobins; but that we are all Frenchmen working for the glory of our
country. Have you seen Louis de Bourbon?'
'I have seen him once, Sire?'
'An insignificant-looking man, is he not?'
'No, Sire, I thought him a fine-looking man.'
For a moment I saw a hard gleam of resentment in those changing blue
eyes. Then he put out his hand and pinched one of my ears.
'Monsieur de Laval was not born to be a courtier,' said he.
'Well, well, Louis de Bourbon will find that he cannot gain a throne by
writing proclamations in London and signing them Louis. For my part, I
found the crown of France lying upon the ground, and I lifted it upon my
'You have lifted France with your sword also, Sire,' said Talleyrand,
who stood at his elbow.
Napoleon looked at his famous minister, and I seemed to read suspicion
in his eyes. Then he turned to his secretary.
'I leave Monsieur de Laval in your hands, de Meneval,' said he.
'I desire to see him in the council chamber after the inspection of the
Emperor, generals, and officials all streamed away to the review,
leaving me with a gentle-looking, large-eyed man in a black suit with
very white cambric ruffles, who introduced himself to me as Monsieur de
Meneval, private secretary to His Majesty.
'We must get some food, Monsieur de Laval,' said he. 'It is always
well, if you have anything to do with the Emperor, to get your food
whenever you have the chance. It may be many hours before he takes a
meal, and if you are in his presence you have to fast also. I assure
you that I have nearly fainted from hunger and from thirst.'
'But how does the Emperor manage himself?' I asked. This Monsieur de
Meneval had such a kindly human appearance that I already felt much at
my ease with him.
'Oh, he, he is a man of iron, Monsieur de Laval. We must not set our
watches by his. I have known him work for eighteen hours on end and
take nothing but a cup or two of coffee. He wears everybody out around
him. Even the soldiers cannot keep up with him. I assure you that I
look upon it as the very highest honour to have charge of his papers,
but there are times when it is very trying all the same. Sometimes it
is eleven o'clock at night, Monsieur de Laval, and I am writing to his
dictation with my head aching for want of sleep. It is dreadful work,
for he dictates as quickly as he can talk, and he never repeats
anything. "Now, Meneval," says he suddenly, "we shall stop here and
have a good night's rest." And then, just as I am congratulating
myself, he adds, "and we shall continue with the dictation at three
to-morrow morning." That is what he means by a good night's rest.'
'But has he no hours for his meals, Monsieur de Meneval?' I asked, as I
accompanied the unhappy secretary out of the tent.
'Oh, yes, he has hours, but he will not observe them. You see that it
is already long after dinner time, but he has gone to this review.
After the review something else will probably take up his attention, and
then something else, until suddenly in the evening it will occur to him
that he has had no dinner. "My dinner, Constant, this instant!" he will
cry, and poor Constant has to see that it is there.'
'But it must be unfit to eat by that time,' said I.
The secretary laughed in the discreet way of a man who has always been
obliged to control his emotions.
'This is the Imperial kitchen,' said he, indicating a large tent just
outside the headquarters. 'Here is Borel, the second cook, at the door.
How many pullets to-day, Borel?'
'Ah, Monsieur de Meneval, it is heartrending,' cried the cook. 'Behold
them!' and, drawing back the flap of the entrance, he showed us seven
dishes, each of them containing a cold fowl. 'The eighth is now on the
fire and done to a turn, but I hear that His Majesty has started for the
review, so we must put on a ninth.'
'That is how it is managed,' said my companion, as we turned from the
tent. 'I have known twenty-three fowls got ready for him before he
asked for his meal. That day he called for his dinner at eleven at
night. He cares little what he eats or drinks, but he will not be kept
waiting. Half a bottle of Chambertin, a red mullet, or a pullet a la
Marengo satisfy every need, but it is unwise to put pastry or cream upon
the table, because he is as likely as not to eat it before the fowl.
Ah, that is a curious sight, is it not?'
I had halted with an exclamation of astonishment. A groom was cantering
a very beautiful Arab horse down one of the lanes between the tents.
As it passed, a grenadier who was standing with a small pig under his
arm hurled it down under the feet of the horse. The pig squealed
vigorously and scuttled away, but the horse cantered on without changing
'What does that mean?' I asked.
'That is Jardin, the head groom, breaking in a charger for the Emperor's
use. They are first trained by having a cannon fired in their ears,
then they are struck suddenly by heavy objects, and finally they have
the test of the pig being thrown under their feet. The Emperor has not
a very firm seat, and he very often loses himself in a reverie when be
is riding, so it might not be very safe if the horse were not well
trained. Do you see that young man asleep at the door of a tent?'
'Yes, I see him.'
'You would not think that he is at the present moment serving the
'It seems a very easy service.'
'I wish all our services were as easy, Monsieur de Laval. That is
Joseph Linden, whose foot is the exact size of the Emperor's. He wears
his new boots and shoes for three days before they are given to his
master. You can see by the gold buckles that he has a pair on at the
present moment. Ah, Monsieur de Caulaincourt, will you not join us at
dinner in my tent?'
A tall, handsome man, very elegantly dressed, came across and greeted
us. 'It is rare to find you at rest, Monsieur de Meneval. I have no
very light task myself as head of the household, but I think I have more
leisure than you. Have we time for dinner before the Emperor returns?'
'Yes, yes; here is the tent, and everything ready. We can see when the
Emperor returns, and be in the room before he can reach it. This is
camp fare, Monsieur de Laval, but no doubt you will excuse it.'
For my own part I had an excellent appetite for the cutlets and the
salad, but what I relished above all was to hear the talk of my
companions, for I was full of curiosity as to everything which concerned
this singular man, whose genius had elevated him so rapidly to the
highest position in the world. The head of his household discussed him
with an extraordinary frankness.
'What do they say of him in England, Monsieur de Laval?' he asked.
'Nothing very good.'
'So I have gathered from their papers. They drive the Emperor frantic,
and yet he will insist upon reading them. I am willing to lay a wager
that the very first thing which he does when he enters London will be to
send cavalry detachments to the various newspaper offices, and to
endeavour to seize the editors.'
'And the next?'
'The next,' said he, laughing, 'will be to issue a long proclamation to
prove that we have conquered England entirely for the good of the
English, and very much against our own inclinations. And then, perhaps,
the Emperor will allow the English to understand that, if they
absolutely demand a Protestant for a ruler, it is possible that there
are a few little points in which he differs from Holy Church.'
'Too bad! Too bad!' cried de Meneval, looking amused and yet rather
frightened at his companion's audacity. 'No doubt for state reasons the
Emperor had to tamper a little with Mahomedanism, and I daresay he would
attend this Church of St. Paul's as readily as he did the Mosque at
Cairo; but it would not do for a ruler to be a bigot. After all, the
Emperor has to think for all.'
'He thinks too much,' said Caulaincourt, gravely. 'He thinks so much
that other people in France are getting out of the way of thinking at
all. You know what I mean, de Meneval, for you have seen it as much as
'Yes, yes,' answered the secretary. 'He certainly does not encourage
originality among those who surround him. I have heard him say many a
time that he desired nothing but mediocrity, which was a poor
compliment, it must be confessed, to us who have the honour of serving
'A clever man at his Court shows his cleverness best by pretending to be
dull,' said Caulaincourt, with some bitterness.
'And yet there are many famous characters there,' I remarked.
'If so, it is only by concealing their characters that they remain
there. His ministers are clerks, his generals are superior
aides-de-camp. They are all agents. You have this wonderful man in the
middle, and all around you have so many mirrors which reflect different
sides of him. In one you see him as a financier, and you call it
Lebrun. In another you have him as a _gendarme_, and you name it Savary
or Fouche. In yet another he figures as a diplomatist, and is called
Talleyrand. You see different figures, but it is really the same man.
There is a Monsieur de Caulaincourt, for example, who arranges the
household; but he cannot dismiss a servant without permission. It is
still always the Emperor. And he plays upon us. We must confess, de
Meneval, that he plays upon us. In nothing else do I see so clearly his
wonderful cleverness. He will not let us be too friendly lest we
combine. He has set his Marshals against each other until there are
hardly two of them on speaking terms. Look how Davoust hates
Bernadotte, or Lannes and Bessieres, or Ney and Massena. It is all they
can do to keep their sabres in they sheaths when they meet. And then he
knows our weak points. Savary's thirst for money, Cambaceres's vanity,
Duroc's bluntness, Berthier's foolishness, Maret's insipidity,
Talleyrand's mania for speculation, they are all so many tools in his
hand. I do not know what my own greatest weakness may be, but I am sure
that he does, and that he uses his knowledge.'
'But how he must work!' I exclaimed.
'Ah, you may say so,' said de Meneval. 'What energy! Eighteen hours
out of twenty-four for weeks on end. He has presided over the
Legislative Council until they were fainting at their desks. As to me,
he will be the death of me, just as he wore out de Bourrienne; but I
will die at my post without a murmur, for if he is hard upon us he is
hard upon himself also.'
'He was the man for France,' said de Caulaincourt. 'He is the very
genius of system and of order, and of discipline. When one renumbers
the chaos in which our poor country found itself after the Revolution,
when no one would be governed and everyone wanted to govern someone
else, you will understand that only Napoleon could have saved us.
We were all longing for something fixed to secure ourselves to, and then
we came upon this iron pillar of a man. And what a man he was in those
days, Monsieur de Laval! You see him now when he has got all that he
can want. He is good-humoured and easy. But at that time he had got
nothing, but coveted everything. His glance frightened women.
He walked the streets like a wolf. People looked after him as he
passed. His face was quite different--it was craggy, hollow-cheeked,
with an oblique menacing gaze, and the jaws of a pike. Oh, yes, this
little Lieutenant Buonaparte from the Military School of Brienne was a
singular figure. "There is a man," said I, when I saw him, "who will
sit upon a throne or kneel upon a scaffold." And now look at him!'
'And that is ten years ago,' I exclaimed.
'Only ten years, and they have brought him from a barrack-room to the
Tuileries. But he was born for it. You could not keep him down.
De Bourrienne told me that when he was a little fellow at Brienne he had
the grand Imperial manner, and would praise or blame, glare or smile,
exactly as he does now. Have you seen his mother, Monsieur de Laval?
She is a tragedy queen, tall, stern, reserved, silent. There is the
spring from which he flowed.'
I could see in the gentle, spaniel-eyes of the secretary that he was
disturbed by the frankness of de Caulaincourt's remarks.
'You can tell that we do not live under a very terrible tyranny,
Monsieur de Laval,' said he, 'or we should hardly venture to discuss our
ruler so frankly. The fact is that we have said nothing which he would
not have listened to with pleasure and perhaps with approval. He has
his little frailties, or he would not be human, but take his qualities
as a ruler and I would ask you if there has ever been a man who has
justified the choice of a nation so completely. He works harder than
any of his subjects. He is a general beloved by his soldiers. He is a
master beloved by his servants. He never has a holiday, and he is
always ready for his work. There is not under the roof of the Tuileries
a more abstemious eater or drinker. He educated his brothers at his own
expense when he was a very poor man, and he has caused even his most
distant relatives to share in his prosperity. In a word, he is
economical, hard-working, and temperate. We read in the London papers
about this Prince of Wales, Monsieur de Laval, and I do not think that
he comes very well out of the comparison.'
I thought of the long record of Brighton scandals, London scandals,
Newmarket scandals, and I had to leave George undefended.
'As I understand it,' said I, 'it is not the Emperor's private life, but
his public ambition, that the English attack.'
'The fact is,' said de Caulaincourt, 'that the Emperor knows, and we all
know, that there is not room enough in the world for both France and
England. One or other must be supreme. If England were once crushed we
could then lay the foundations of a permanent peace. Italy is ours.
Austria we can crush again as we have crushed her before. Germany is
divided. Russia can expand to the south and east. America we can take
at our leisure, finding our pretext in Louisiana or in Canada. There is
a world empire waiting for us, and there is the only thing that stops
us.' He pointed out through the opening of the tent at the broad blue
Far away, like snow-white gulls in the distance, were the sails of the
blockading fleet. I thought again of what I had seen the night before--the
lights of the ships upon the sea and the glow of the camp upon the
shore. The powers of the land and of the ocean were face to face whilst
a waiting world stood round to see what would come of it.
THE MAN OF ACTION
De Meneval's tent had been pitched in such a way that he could overlook
the Royal headquarters, but whether it was that we were too absorbed in
the interest of our conversation, or that the Emperor had used the other
entrance in returning from the review, we were suddenly startled by the
appearance of a captain dressed in the green jacket of the Chasseurs of
the Guard, who had come to say that Napoleon was waiting for his
secretary. Poor de Meneval's face turned as white as his beautiful
ruffles as he sprang to his feet, hardly able to speak for agitation.
'I should have been there!' he gasped. 'Oh, what a misfortune!
Monsieur de Caulaincourt, you must excuse me! Where is my hat and my
sword? Come, Monsieur de Laval, not an instant is to be lost!'
I could judge from the terror of de Meneval, as well as from the scene
which I had witnessed with Admiral Bruix, what the influence was which
the Emperor exercised over those who were around him. They were never
at their ease, always upon the brink of a catastrophe, encouraged one
day only to be rudely rebuffed the next, bullied in public and slighted
in private, and yet, in spite of it all, the singular fact remains that
they loved him and served him as no monarch has been loved and served.
'Perhaps I had best stay here,' said I, when we had come to the
ante-chamber, which was still crowded with people.
'No, no, I am responsible for you. You must come with me. Oh, I trust
he is not offended with me! How could he have got in without my seeing
My frightened companion scratched at the door, which was opened
instantly by Roustem the Mameluke, who guarded it within. The room into
which we passed was of considerable size, but was furnished with extreme
simplicity. It was papered of a silver-grey colour, with a sky-blue
ceiling, in the centre of which was the Imperial eagle in gold, holding
a thunderbolt. In spite of the warm weather, a large fire was burning
at one side, and the air was heavy with heat and the aromatic smell of
aloes. In the middle of the room was a large oval table covered with
green cloth and littered with a number of letters and papers. A raised
writing-desk was at one side of the table, and behind it in a green
morocco chair with curved arms there sat the Emperor. A number of
officials were standing round the walls, but he took no notice of them.
In his hand he had a small penknife, with which he whittled the wooden
knob at the end of his chair. He glanced up as we entered, and shook
his head coldly at de Meneval.
'I have had to wait for you, Monsieur de Meneval,' said he. 'I cannot
remember that I ever waited for my late secretary de Bourrienne.
That is enough! No excuses! Take this report which I have written in
your absence, and make a copy of it.'
Poor de Meneval took the paper with a shaking hand, and carried it to
the little side table which was reserved for his use. Napoleon rose
and paced slowly up and down the room with his hands behind his back,
and his big round head stooping a little forwards. It was certainly as
well that he had a secretary, for I observed that in writing this single
document he had spattered the whole place with ink, and it was obvious
that he had twice used his white kerseymere knee-breeches as a
pen-wiper. As for me, I stood quietly beside Roustem at the door, and
he took not the slightest notice of my presence.
'Well,' he cried presently, 'is it ready, de Meneval? We have something
more to do.'
The secretary half turned in his chair, and his face was more agitated
'If it please you, Sire--' he stammered.
'Well, well, what is the matter now?'
'If it please you, Sire, I find some little difficulty in reading what
you have written.'
'Tut, tut, sir. You see what the report is about.'
'Yes, Sire, it is about forage for the cavalry horses.'
Napoleon smiled, and the action made his face look quite boyish.
'You remind me of Cambaceres, de Meneval. When I wrote him an account
of the battle of Marengo, he thought that my letter was a rough plan of
the engagement. It is incredible how much difficulty you appear to have
in reading what I write. This document has nothing to do with cavalry
horses, but it contains the instructions to Admiral Villeneuve as to the
concentration of his fleet so as to obtain command of the Channel.
Give it to me and I will read it to you.'
He snatched the paper up in the quick impulsive way which was
characteristic of him. But after a long fierce stare he crumpled it up
and hurled it under the table.
'I will dictate it to you,' said he; and, pacing up and down the long
room, he poured forth a torrent of words, which poor de Meneval, his
face shining with his exertions, strove hard to put upon paper. As he
grew excited by his own ideas, Napoleon's voice became shriller, his
step faster, and he seized his right cuff in the fingers of the same
hand, and twisted his right arm in the singular epileptic gesture which
was peculiar to him. But his thoughts and plans were so admirably clear
that even I, who knew nothing of the matter, could readily follow them,
while above all I was impressed by the marvellous grasp of fact which
enabled him to speak with confidence, not only of the line-of-battle
ships, but of the frigates, sloops, and brigs at Ferrol, Rochefort,
Cadiz, Carthagena, and Brest, with the exact strength of each in men and
in guns; while the names and force of the English vessels were equally
at his fingers' ends. Such familiarity would have been remarkable in a
naval officer, but when I thought that this question of the ships was
only one out of fifty with which this man had to deal, I began to
realise the immense grasp of that capacious mind. He did not appear to
be paying the least attention to me, but it seems that he was really
watching me closely, for he turned upon me when he had finished his
'You appear to be surprised, Monsieur de Laval, that I should be able to
transact my naval business without having my minister of marine at my
elbow; but it is one of my rules to know and to do things for myself.
Perhaps if these good Bourbons had had the same habit they would not now
be living amidst the fogs of England.'
'One must have your Majesty's memory in order to do it,' I observed.
'It is the result of system,' said he. 'It is as if I had drawers in my
brain, so that when I opened one I could close the others. It is seldom
that I fail to find what I want there. I have a poor memory for names
or dates, but an excellent one for facts or faces. There is a good deal
to bear in mind, Monsieur de Laval. For example, I have, as you have
seen, my one little drawer full of the ships upon the sea. I have
another which contains all the harbours and forts of France. As an
example, I may tell you that when my minister of war was reading me a
report of all the coast defences, I was able to point out to him that he
had omitted two guns in a battery near Ostend. In yet another of my
brain-drawers I have the regiments of France. Is that drawer in order,
A clean-shaven man, who had stood biting his nails in the window, bowed
at the Emperor's question.
'I am sometimes tempted to believe, Sire, that you know the name of
every man in the ranks,' said he.
'I think that I know most of my old Egyptian grumblers,' said he.
'And then, Monsieur de Laval, there is another drawer for canals,
bridges, roads, manufactures, and every detail of internal
administration. The law, finance, Italy, the Colonies, Holland, all
these things demand drawers of their own. In these days, Monsieur de
Laval, France asks something more of its ruler than that he should carry
eight yards of ermine with dignity, or ride after a stag in the forest
I thought of the helpless, gentle, pompous Louis whom my father had once
taken me to visit, and I understood that France, after her convulsions
and her sufferings, did indeed require another and a stronger head.
'Do you not think so, Monsieur de Laval?' asked the Emperor. He had
halted for a moment by the fire, and was grinding his dainty
gold-buckled shoe into one of the burning logs.
'You have come to a very wise decision,' said he when I had answered his
question. 'But you have always been of this way of thinking, have you
not? Is it not true that you once defended me when some young
Englishman was drinking toasts to my downfall at an inn in this village
in which you lived?'
I remembered the incident, although I could not imagine how it had
reached his ears.
'Why should you have done this?'
'I did it on impulse, Sire.'
'On impulse!' he cried, in a tone of contempt. 'I do not know what
people mean when they say that they do things upon impulse.
In Charenton things are doubtless done upon impulse, but not amongst
sane people. Why should you risk your life over there in defending me
when at the time you had nothing to hope for from me?'
'It was because I felt that you stood for France, Sire.'
During this conversation he had still walked up and down the room,
twisting his right arm about, and occasionally looking at one or other
of us with his eyeglass, for his sight was so weak that he always needed
a single glass indoors and binoculars outside. Sometimes he stopped and
helped himself to great pinches of snuff from a tortoise-shell box, but
I observed that none of it ever reached his nose, for he dropped it all
from between his fingers on to his waistcoat and the floor. My answer
seemed to please him, for he suddenly seized my ear and pulled it with
'You are quite right, my friend,' said he. 'I stand for France just as
Frederic the Second stood for Prussia. I will make her the great Power
of the world, so that every monarch in Europe will find it necessary to
keep a palace in Paris, and they will all come to hold the train at the
coronation of my descendants--' a spasm of pain passed suddenly over his
face. 'My God! for whom am I building? Who will be my descendants?'
I heard him mutter, and he passed his hand over his forehead.
'Do they seem frightened in England about my approaching invasion?' he
asked suddenly. 'Have you heard them express fears lest I get across
I was forced in truth to say that the only fears which I had ever heard
expressed were lest he should not get across.
'The soldiers are very jealous that the sailors should always have the
honour,' said I.
'But they have a very small army.'
'Nearly every man is a volunteer, Sire.'
'Pooh, conscripts!' he cried, and made a motion with his hands as if to
sweep them from before him. I will land with a hundred thousand men in
Kent or in Sussex. I will fight a great battle which I will win with a
loss of ten thousand men. On the third day I shall be in London.
I will seize the statesmen, the bankers, the merchants, the newspaper
men. I will impose an indemnity of a hundred millions of their pounds.
I will favour the poor at the expense of the rich, and so I shall have a
party. I will detach Scotland and Ireland by giving them constitutions
which will put them in a superior condition to England. Thus I will sow
dissensions everywhere. Then as a price for leaving the island I will
claim their fleet and their colonies. In this way I shall secure the
command of the world to France for at least a century to come.'
In this short sketch I could perceive the quality which I have since
heard remarked in Napoleon, that his mind could both conceive a large
scheme, and at the same time evolve those practical details which would
seem to bring it within the bounds of possibility. One instant it would
be a wild dream of overrunning the East. The next it was a schedule of
the ships, the ports, the stores, the troops, which would be needed to
turn dream into fact. He gripped the heart of a question with the same
decision which made him strike straight for an enemy's capital.
The soul of a poet, and the mind of a man of business of the first
order, that is the combination which may make a man dangerous to the
I think that it may have been his purpose--for he never did anything
without a purpose--to give me an object-lesson of his own capacity for
governing, with the idea, perhaps, that I might in turn influence others
of the Emigres by what I told them. At any rate he left me there to
stand and to watch the curious succession of points upon which he had to
give an opinion during a few hours. Nothing seemed to be either too
large or too small for that extraordinary mind. At one instant it was
the arrangements for the winter cantonments of two hundred thousand men,
at the next he was discussing with de Caulaincourt the curtailing of the
expenses of the household, and the possibility of suppressing some of
'It is my desire to be economical at home so as to make a good show
abroad,' said he. 'For myself, when I had the honour to be a
sub-lieutenant I found that I could live very well upon 1,200 francs a
year, and it would be no hardship to me to go back to it. This
extravagance of the palace must be stopped. For example, I see upon
your accounts that 155 cups of coffee are drunk a day, which with sugar
at 4 francs and coffee at 5 francs a pound come to 20 sous a cup.
It would be better to make an allowance for coffee. The stable bills
are also too high. At the present price of fodder seven or eight francs
a week should be enough for each horse in a stable of two hundred.
I will not have any waste at the Tuileries.'
Thus within a few minutes he would pass from a question of milliards to
a question of sous, and from the management of a empire to that of a
stable. From time to time I could observe that he threw a little
oblique glance at me as if to ask what I thought of it all, and at the
time I wondered very much why my approval should be of any consequence
to him. But now, when I look back and see that my following his
fortunes brought over so many others of the young nobility, I understand
that he saw very much further than I did.
'Well, Monsieur de Laval,' said he suddenly, 'you have seen something of
my methods. Are you prepared to enter my service?'
'Assuredly, Sire,' I answered.
'I can be a very hard master when I like,' said he smiling. 'You were
there when I spoke to Admiral Bruix. We have all our duty to do, and
discipline is as necessary in the highest as in the lowest ranks.
But anger with me never rises above here,' and he drew his hand across
his throat. 'I never permit it to cloud my brain. Dr. Corvisart here
would tell you that I have the slowest pulse of all his patients.'
'And that you are the fastest eater, Sire,' said a large-faced,
benevolent-looking person who had been whispering to Marshal Berthier.
'Ohe, you rascal, you rake that up against me, do you? The Doctor will
not forgive me because I tell him when I am unwell that I had rather die
of the disease than of the remedies. If I eat too fast it is the fault
of the State, which does not allow me more than a few minutes for my
meals. Which reminds me that it must be rather after my dinner hour,
'It is four hours after it, Sire.'
'Serve it up then at once.'
'Yes, Sire. Monsieur Isabey is outside, Sire, with his dolls.'
'Ah, we shall see them at once. Show him in.'
A man entered who had evidently just arrived from a long journey. Under
his arm he carried a large flat wickerwork basket.
'It is two days since I sent for you, Monsieur Isabey.'
'The courier arrived yesterday, Sire. I have been travelling from Paris
'Have you the models there?'
'Then you may lay them out on that table.'
I could not at first imagine what it meant when I saw, upon Isabey
opening his basket, that it was crammed with little puppets about a foot
high, all of them dressed in the most gorgeous silk and velvet costumes,
with trimmings of ermine and hangings of gold lace. But presently, as
the designer took them out one by one and placed them on the table, I
understood that the Emperor, with his extraordinary passion for detail
and for directly controlling everything in his Court, had had these
dolls dressed in order to judge the effect of the gorgeous costumes
which had been ordered for his grand functionaries upon State occasions.
'What is this?' he asked, holding up a little lady in hunting costume of
amaranth and gold with a toque and plume of white feathers.
'That is for the Empress's hunt, Sire.'
'You should have the waist rather lower,' said Napoleon, who had very
definite opinions about ladies' dresses. 'These cursed fashions seem to
be the only thing in my dominions which I cannot regulate. My tailor,
Duchesne, takes three inches from my coat-tails, and all the armies and
fleets of France cannot prevent him. Who is this?'
He had picked up a very gorgeous figure in a green coat.
'That is the grand master of the hunt, Sire.'
'Then it is you, Berthier. How do you like your new costume? And this
'That is the Arch-Chancellor.'
'And the violet?'
'That is the Grand Chamberlain.'
The Emperor was as much amused as a child with a new toy. He formed
little groups of the figures upon the table, so that he might have an
idea of how the dignitaries would look when they chatted together.
Then he threw them all back into the basket.
'Very good,' said he. 'You and David have done your work very well,
Isabey. You will submit these designs to the Court outfitters and have
an estimate for the expense. You may tell Lenormand that if she
ventures to send in such an account as the last which she sent to the
Empress she shall see the inside of Vincennes. You would not think it
right, Monsieur de Laval, to spend twenty-five thousand francs upon a
single dress, even though it were for Mademoiselle Eugenie de Choiseul.'
Was there anything which this wizard of a man did not know? What could
my love affairs be to him amidst the clash of armies and the struggles
of nations? When I looked at him, half in amazement and half in fear,
that pleasant boyish smile lit up his pale face, and his plump little
hand rested for an instant upon my shoulder. His eyes were of a bright
blue when he was amused, though they would turn dark when he was
thoughtful, and steel-grey in moments of excitement.
'You were surprised when I told you a little while ago about your
encounter with the Englishman in the village inn. You are still more
surprised now when I tell you about a certain young lady. You must
certainly have thought that I was very badly served by my agents in
England if I did not know such important details as these.'
'I cannot conceive, Sire, why such trifles should be reported to you, or
why you should for one instant remember them.'
'You are certainly a very modest young man, and I hope you will not lose
that charming quality when you have been for a little time at my Court.
So you think that your own private affairs are of no importance to me?'
'I do not know why they should be, Sire.'
'What is the name of your great-uncle?'
'He is the Cardinal de Laval de Montmorency.'
'Precisely. And where is he?'
'He is in Germany.'
'Quite so--in Germany, and not at Notre Dame, where I should have placed
him. Who is your first cousin?'
'The Duke de Rohan.'
'And where is he?'
'Yes, in London, and not at the Tuileries, where he might have had what
he liked for the asking. I wonder if I were to fall whether I should
have followers as faithful as those of the Bourbons. Would the men that
I have made go into exile and refuse all offers until I should return?
Come here, Berthier!' he took his favourite by the ear with the
caressing gesture which was peculiar to him. 'Could I count upon you,
'I do not understand you, Sire.' Our conversation had been carried on
in a voice which had made it inaudible to the other people in the room,
but now they were all listening to what Berthier had to say.
'If I were driven out, would you go into exile also?'
'Diable! At least you are frank.'
'I could not go into exile, Sire.'
'Because I should be dead, Sire.'
Napoleon began to laugh.
'And there are some who say that our Berthier is dull-witted,' said he.
'Well, I think I am pretty sure of you, Berthier, for although I am fond
of you for reasons of my own I do not think that you would be of much
value to anyone else. Now I could not say that of you, Monsieur
Talleyrand. You would change very quickly to a new master as you have
changed from an old one. You have a genius, you know, for adapting
There was nothing which the Emperor loved more than to suddenly produce
little scenes of this sort which made everybody very uncomfortable, for
no one could tell what awkward or compromising question he was going to
put to them next. At present, however, they all forgot their own fears
of what might come in their interest at the reply which the famous
diplomatist might make to a suggestion which everybody knew to be so
true. He stood, leaning upon his black ebony stick, with his bulky
shoulders stooping forward, and an amused smile upon his face, as if the
most innocent of compliments had been addressed to him. One of his few
titles to respect is that he always met Napoleon upon equal terms, and
never condescended to fawn upon him or to flatter him.
'You think I should desert you, Sire, if your enemies offered me more
than you have given me?'
'I am perfectly sure that you would.'
'Well, really I cannot answer for myself, Sire, until the offer has been
made. But it will have to be a very large one. You see, apart from my
very nice hotel in the Rue St. Florentin, and the two hundred thousand
or so which you are pleased to allow me, there is my position as the
first minister in Europe. Really, Sire, unless they put me on the
throne I cannot see how I can better my position.'
'No, I think I have you pretty safe,' said Napoleon, looking hard at him
with thoughtful eyes. 'By the way, Talleyrand, you must either marry
Madame Grand or get rid of her, for I cannot have a scandal about the
I was astounded to hear so delicate and personal a matter discussed in
this public way, but this also was characteristic of the rule of this
extraordinary man, who proclaimed that he looked upon delicacy and good
taste as two of the fetters with which mediocrity attempted to cripple
genius. There was no question of private life, from the choosing of a
wife to the discarding of a mistress, that this young conqueror of
thirty-six did not claim the right of discussing and of finally
settling. Talleyrand broke once more into his benevolent but
'I suppose that it is from early association, Sire,' said he, 'but my
instincts are to avoid marriage.'
Napoleon began to laugh.
'I forget sometimes that it is really the Bishop of Autun to whom I am
speaking,' said he. 'I think that perhaps I have interest enough with
the Pope to ask him, in return for any little attention which we gave
him at the Coronation, to show you some leniency in this matter. She is
a clever woman, this Madame Grand. I have observed that she listens
Talleyrand shrugged his rounded shoulders. 'Intellect in a woman is not
always an advantage, Sire. A clever woman compromises her husband.
A stupid woman only compromises herself.'
'The cleverest woman,' said Napoleon, 'is the woman who is clever enough
to conceal her cleverness. The women in France have always been a
danger, for they are cleverer than the men. They cannot understand that
it is their hearts and not their heads that we want. When they have had
influence upon a monarch, they have invariably ruined his career. Look
at Henry the Fourth and Louis the Fourteenth. They are all ideologists,
dreamers, sentimentalists, full of emotion and energy, but without logic
or foresight. Look at that accursed Madame de Stael! Look at the
Salons of the Quartier St. Germain! Their eternal clack, clack, clack
give me more trouble than the fleet of England. Why cannot they look
after their babies and their needlework? I suppose you think that these
are very dreadful opinions, Monsieur de Laval?'
It was not an easy question to answer, so I was silent.
'You have not at your age become a practical man,' said the Emperor.
'You will understand then. I dare say that I thought as you do at the
time when the stupid Parisians were saying what a misalliance the widow
of the famous General de Beauharnais was making by marrying the unknown
Buonaparte. It was a beautiful dream! There are nine inns in a single
day's journey between Milan and Mantua, and I wrote a letter to my wife
from each of them. Nine letters in a day--but one becomes
disillusioned, monsieur. One learns to accept things as they are.'
I could not but think what a beautiful young man he must have been
before he had learned to accept things as they are. The glamour, the
romance--what a bald dead thing is life without it! His own face had
clouded over as if that old life had perhaps had a charm which the
Emperor's crown had never given. It may be that those nine letters
written in one day at wayside inns had brought him more true joy than
all the treaties by which he had torn provinces from his neighbours.
But the sentiment passed from his face, and he came back in his sudden
concise fashion to my own affairs.
'Eugenie de Choiseul is the niece of the Duc de Choiseul, is she not?'
'You are affianced!'
He shook his head impatiently.
'If you wish to advance yourself in my Court, Monsieur de Laval,' said
he,' you must commit such matters to my care. Is it likely that I can
look with indifference upon a marriage between emigres--an alliance
between my enemies?'
'But she shares my opinions, Sire.'
'Ta, ta, ta, at her age one has no opinions. She has the emigre blood
in her veins, and it will come out. Your marriage shall be my care,
Monsieur de Laval. And I wish you to come to the Pont de Briques that
you may be presented to the Empress. What is it, Constant?'
'There is a lady outside who desires to see your Majesty. Shall I tell
her to come later?'
'A lady!' cried the Emperor smiling. 'We do not see many faces in the
camp which have not a moustache upon them. Who is she? What does she
'Her name, Sire, is Mademoiselle Sibylle Bernac.'
'What!' cried Napoleon. 'It must be the daughter of old Bernac of
Grosbois. By the way, Monsieur de Laval, he is your uncle upon your
mother's side, is he not?'
I may have flushed with shame as I acknowledged it, for the Emperor read
'Well, well, he has not a very savoury trade, it is true, and yet I can
assure you that it is one which is very necessary to me. By the way,
this uncle of yours, as I understand, holds the estates which should
have descended to you, does he not?'
His blue eyes flashed suspicion at me.
'I trust that you are not joining my service merely in the hope of
having them restored to you.'
'No, Sire. It is my ambition to make a career for myself.'
'It is a prouder thing,' said the Emperor, 'to found a family than
merely to perpetuate one. I could not restore your estates, Monsieur de
Laval, for things have come to such a pitch in France that if one once
begins restorations the affair is endless. It would shake all public
confidence. I have no more devoted adherents than the men who hold land
which does not belong to them. As long as they serve me, as your uncle
serves me, the land must remain with them. But what can this young lady
require of me? Show her in, Constant!'
An instant later my cousin Sibylle was conducted into the room.
Her face was pale and set, but her large dark eyes were filled with
resolution, and she carried herself like a princess.
'Well, mademoiselle, why do you come here? What is it that you want?'
asked the Emperor in the brusque manner which he adopted to women, even
if he were wooing them.
Sibylle glanced round, and as our eyes met for an instant I felt that my
presence had renewed her courage. She looked bravely at the Emperor as
she answered him.
'I come, Sire, to implore a favour of you.'
'Your father's daughter has certainly claims upon me, mademoiselle.
What is it that you wish?'
'I do not ask it in my father's name, but in my own. I implore you,
Sire, to spare the life of Monsieur Lucien Lesage, who was arrested
yesterday upon a charge of treason. He is a student, Sire--a mere
dreamer who has lived away from the world and has been made a tool by
'A dreamer!' cried the Emperor harshly. 'They are the most dangerous of
all.' He took a bundle of notes from his table and glanced them over.
'I presume that he is fortunate enough to be your lover, mademoiselle?'
Sibylle's pale face flushed, and she looked down before the Emperor's
keen sardonic glance.
'I have his examination here. He does not come well out of it. I
confess that from what I see of the young man's character I should not
say that he is worthy of your love.'
'I implore you to spare him, Sire.'
'What you ask is impossible, mademoiselle. I have been conspired
against from two sides--by the Bourbons and by the Jacobins. Hitherto I
have been too long-suffering, and they have been encouraged by my
patience. Since Cadoudal and the Due d'Enghien died the Bourbons have
been quiet. Now I must teach the same lesson to these others.'
I was astonished and am still astonished at the passion with which my
brave and pure cousin loved this cowardly and low-minded man, though it
is but in accordance with that strange law which draws the extremes of
nature together. As she heard the Emperor's stern reply the last sign
of colour faded from her pale face, and her eyes were dimmed with
despairing tears, which gleamed upon her white cheeks like dew upon the
petals of a lily.
'For God's sake, Sire! For the love of your mother spare him!' she
cried, falling upon her knees at the Emperor's feet. 'I will answer for
him that he never offends you again.'
'Tut, tut!' cried Napoleon angrily, turning upon his heel and walking
impatiently up and down the room. 'I cannot grant you what you ask,
mademoiselle. When I say so once it is finished. I cannot have my
decisions in high matters of State affected by the intrusion of women.
The Jacobins have been dangerous of late, and an example must be made or
we shall have the Faubourg St. Antoine upon our hands once more.'
The Emperors set face and firm manner showed it was hopeless, and yet my
cousin persevered as no one but a woman who pleads for her lover would
have dared to do.
'He is harmless, Sire.'
'His death will frighten others.'
'Spare him and I will answer for his loyalty.'
'What you ask is impossible.'
Constant and I raised her from the ground.
'That is right, Monsieur de Laval,' said the Emperor. 'This interview
can lead to nothing. Remove your cousin from the room!'
But she had again turned to him with a face which showed that even now
all hope had not been abandoned.
'Sire,' she cried. 'You say that an example must be made. There is
'Ah, if I could lay my hands upon Toussac!'
'He is the dangerous man. It was he and my father who led Lucien on.
If an example must be made it should be an example of the guilty rather
than of the innocent.'
'They are both guilty. And, besides, we have our hands upon the one but
not upon the other.'
'But if I could find him?'
Napoleon thought for a moment.
'If you do,' said he, 'Lesage will be forgiven!'
'But I cannot do it in a day.'
'How long do you ask?'
'A week at the least.'
'Then he has a respite of a week. If you can find Toussac in the time,
Lesage will be pardoned. If not he will die upon the eighth day. It is
enough. Monsieur de Laval, remove your cousin, for I have matters of
more importance to attend to. I shall expect you one evening at the
Pont de Briques, when you are ready to be presented to the Empress.'
THE MAN OF DREAMS
When I had escorted my cousin Sibylle from the presence of the Emperor,
I was surprised to find the same young hussar officer waiting outside
who had commanded the guard which had brought me to the camp.
'Well, mademoiselle, what luck?' he asked excitedly, clanking towards
For answer Sibylle shook her head.
'Ah, I feared as much, for the Emperor is a terrible man. It was brave,
indeed, of you to attempt it. I had rather charge an unshaken square
upon a spent horse than ask him for anything. But my heart is heavy,
mademoiselle, that you should have been unsuccessful.' His boyish blue
eyes filled with tears and his fair moustache drooped in such a
deplorable fashion, that I could have laughed had the matter been less
'Lieutenant Gerard chanced to meet me, and escorted me through the
camp,' said my cousin. 'He has been kind enough to give me sympathy in
'And so do I, Sibylle,' I cried; 'you carried yourself like an angel,
and it is a lucky man who is blessed with your love. I trust that he
may be worthy of it.'
She turned cold and proud in an instant when anyone threw a doubt upon
this wretched lover of hers.
'I know him as neither the Emperor nor you can do,' said she. 'He has
the heart and soul of a poet, and he is too high-minded to suspect the
intrigues to which he has fallen a victim. But as to Toussac, I should
have no pity upon him, for I know him to be a murderer five times over,
and I know also that there will be no peace in France until he has been
taken. Cousin Louis, will you help me to do it?'
The lieutenant had been tugging at his moustache and looking me up and
down with a jealous eye.
'Surely, mademoiselle, you will permit me to help you?' he cried in a
'I may need you both,' said she. 'I will come to you if I do. Now I
will ask you to ride with me to the edge of the camp and there to leave
She had a quick imperative way which came charmingly from those sweet
womanly lips. The grey horse upon which I had come to the camp was
waiting beside that of the hussar, so we were soon in the saddle.
When we were clear of the huts my cousin turned to us.
'I had rather go alone now,' said she. 'It is understood, then, that I
can rely upon you.'
'Entirely,' said I.
'To the death,' cried Gerard.
'It is everything to me to have two brave men at my back,' said she, and
so, with a smile, gave her horse its head and cantered off over the
downland in the direction of Grosbois.
For my part I remained in thought for some time, wondering what plan she
could have in her head by which she hoped to get upon the track of
Toussac. A woman's wit, spurred by the danger of her lover, might
perhaps succeed where Fouche and Savary had failed. When at last I
turned my horse I found my young hussar still staring after the distant
'My faith! There is the woman for you, Etienne!' he kept repeating.
'What an eye! What a smile! What a rider! And she is not afraid of
the Emperor. Oh, Etienne, here is the woman who is worthy of you!'
These were the little sentences which he kept muttering to himself until
she vanished over the hill, when he became conscious at last of my
'You are mademoiselle's cousin?' he asked. 'You are joined with me in
doing something for her. I do not yet know what it is, but I am
perfectly ready to do it.'
'It is to capture Toussac.'
'In order to save the life of her lover.'
There was a struggle in the face of the young hussar, but his more
generous nature won.
'Sapristi! I will do even that if it will make her the happier!' he
cried, and he shook the hand which I extended towards him. 'The Hussars
of Bercheny are quartered over yonder, where you see the lines of
picketed horses. If you will send for Lieutenant Etienne Gerard you
will find a sure blade always at your disposal. Let me hear from you
then, and the sooner the better!' He shook his bridle and was off, with
youth and gallantry in every line of him, from his red toupet and
flowing dolman to the spur which twinkled on his heel.
But for four long days no word came from my cousin as to her quest, nor
did I hear from this grim uncle of mine at the Castle of Grosbois.
For myself I had gone into the town of Boulogne and had hired such a
room as my thin purse could afford over the shop of a baker named Vidal,
next to the Church of St. Augustin, in the Rue des Vents. Only last
year I went back there under that strange impulse which leads the old to
tread once more with dragging feet the same spots which have sounded to
the crisp tread of their youth. The room is still there, the very
pictures and the plaster head of Jean Bart which used to stand upon the
side table. As I stood with my back to the narrow window, I had around
me every smallest detail upon which my young eyes had looked; nor was I
conscious that my own heart and feelings had undergone much change. And
yet there, in the little round glass which faced me, was the long drawn,
weary face of an aged man, and out of the window, when I turned, were
the bare and lonely downs which had been peopled by that mighty host of
a hundred and fifty thousand men. To think that the Grand Army should
have vanished away like a shredding cloud upon a windy day, and yet that
every sordid detail of a bourgeois lodging should remain unchanged!
Truly, if man is not humble it is not for want of having his lesson
taught to him by Nature.
My first care after I had chosen my room was to send to Grosbois for
that poor little bundle which I had carried ashore with me that squally
night from the English lugger. My next was to use the credit which my
favourable reception by the Emperor and his assurance of employment had
given me in order to obtain such a wardrobe as would enable me to appear
without discredit among the richly dressed courtiers and soldiers who
surrounded him. It was well known that it was his whim that he should
himself be the only plainly-dressed man in the company, and that in the
most luxurious times of the Bourbons there was never a period when fine
linen and a brave coat were more necessary for a man who would keep in
favour. A new court and a young empire cannot afford to take anything
It was upon the morning of the fifth day that I received a message from
Duroc, who was the head of the household, that I was to attend the
Emperor at the headquarters in the camp, and that a seat in one of the
Imperial carriages would be at my disposal that I might proceed with the
Court to Pont de Briques, there to be present at the reception of the
Empress. When I arrived I was shown at once through the large entrance
tent, and admitted by Constant into the room beyond, where the Emperor
stood with his back to the fire, kicking his heels against the grate.
Talleyrand and Berthier were in attendance, and de Meneval, the
secretary, sat at the writing-table.
'Ah, Monsieur de Laval,' said the Emperor with a friendly nod.
'Have you heard anything yet of your charming cousin?'
'Nothing, Sire,' I answered.
'I fear that her efforts will be in vain. I wish her every success, for
we have no reason at all to fear this miserable poet, while the other is
formidable. All the same, an example of some sort must be made.'
The darkness was drawing in, and Constant had appeared with a taper to
light the candles, but the Emperor ordered him out.
'I like the twilight,' said he. 'No doubt, Monsieur de Laval, after
your long residence in England you find yourself also most at home in a
dim light. I think that the brains of these people must be as dense as
their fogs, to judge by the nonsense which they write in their accursed
papers.' With one of those convulsive gestures which accompanied his
sudden outbursts of passion he seized a sheaf of late London papers from
the table, and ground them into the fire with his heel. 'An editor!' he
cried in the guttural rasping voice which I had heard when I first met
him. 'What is he? A dirty man with a pen in a back office. And he
will talk like one of the great Powers of Europe. I have had enough of
this freedom of the Press. There are some who would like to see it
established in Paris. You are among them, Talleyrand. For my part I
see no need for any paper at all except the _Moniteur_ by which the
Government may make known its decisions to the people.'
'I am of opinion, Sire,' said the minister, 'that it is better to have
open foes than secret ones, and that it is less dangerous to shed ink
than blood. What matter if your enemies have leave to rave in a few
Paris papers, as long as you are at the head of five hundred thousand
'Ta, ta, ta!' cried the Emperor impatiently. 'You speak as if I had
received my crown from my father the late king. But even if I had, it
would be intolerable, this government by newspaper. The Bourbons
allowed themselves to be criticised, and where are they now? Had they
used their Swiss Guards as I did the Grenadiers upon the eighteenth
Brumaire what would have become of their precious National Assembly?
There was a time when a bayonet in the stomach of Mirabeau might have
settled the whole matter. Later it took the heads of a king and queen
and the blood of a hundred thousand people.'
He sat down, and stretched his plump, white-clad legs towards the fire.
Through the blackened shreds of the English papers the red glow beat
upwards upon the beautiful, pallid, sphinx-like face--the face of a
poet, of a philosopher--of anything rather than of a ruthless and
ambitious soldier. I have heard folk remark that no two portraits of
the Emperor are alike, and the fault does not lie with the artists but
with the fact that every varying mood made him a different man. But in
his prime, before his features became heavy, I, who have seen sixty
years of mankind, can say that in repose I have never looked upon a more
'You have no dreams and no illusions, Talleyrand,' said he. 'You are
always practical, cold, and cynical. But with me, when I am in the
twilight, as now, or when I hear the sound of the sea, my imagination
begins to work. It is the same when I hear some music--especially music
which repeats itself again and again like some pieces of Passaniello.
They have a strange effect upon me, and I begin to Ossianise. I get
large ideas and great aspirations. It is at such times that my mind
always turns to the East, that swarming ant-heap of the human race,
where alone it is possible to be very great. I renew my dreams of '98.
I think of the possibility of drilling and arming these vast masses of
men, and of precipitating them upon Europe. Had I conquered Syria I
should have done this, and the fate of the world was really decided at
the siege of Acre. With Egypt at my feet I already pictured myself
approaching India, mounted upon an elephant, and holding in my hand a
new version of the Koran which I had myself composed. I have been born
too late. To be accepted as a world's conqueror one must claim to be
divine. Alexander declared himself to be the son of Jupiter, and no one
questioned it. But the world has grown old, and has lost its
enthusiasms. What would happen if I were to make the same claim?
Monsieur de Talleyrand would smile behind his hand, and the Parisians
would write little lampoons upon the walls.'
He did not appear to be addressing us, but rather to be expressing his
thoughts aloud, while allowing them to run to the most fantastic and
extravagant lengths. This it was which he called Ossianising, because
it recalled to him the wild vague dreams of the Gaelic Ossian, whose
poems had always had a fascination for him. De Meneval has told me that
for an hour at a time he has sometimes talked in this strain of the most
intimate thoughts and aspirations of his heart, while his courtiers have
stood round in silence waiting for the instant when he would return once
more to his practical and incisive self.
'The great ruler,' said he, 'must have the power of religion behind him
as well as the power of the sword. It is more important to command the
souls than the bodies of men. The Sultan, for example, is the head of
the faith as well as of the army. So were some of the Roman Emperors.
My position must be incomplete until this is accomplished. At the
present instant there are thirty departments in France where the Pope is
more powerful than I am. It is only by universal dominion that peace
can be assured in the world. When there is only one authority in
Europe, seated at Paris, and when all the kings are so many lieutenants
who hold their crowns from the central power of France, it is then that
the reign of peace will be established. Many powers of equal strength
must always lead to struggles until one becomes predominant. Her
central position, her wealth and her history, all mark France out as
being the power which will control and regulate the others. Germany is
divided. Russia is barbarous. England is insular. France only
I began to understand as I listened to him that my friends in England
had not been so far wrong when they had declared that as long as he
lived--this little thirty-six year old artilleryman--there could not
possibly be any peace in the world. He drank some coffee which Constant
had placed upon the small round table at his elbow. Then he leaned back
in his chair once more, still staring moodily at the red glow of the
fire, with his chin sunk upon his chest.
'In those days,' said he, 'the kings of Europe will walk behind the
Emperor of France in order to hold up his train at his coronation. Each
of them will have to maintain a palace in Paris, and the city will
stretch as far as Versailles. These are the plans which I have made for
Paris if she will show herself to be worthy of them. But I have no love
for them, these Parisians, and they have none for me, for they cannot
forget that I turned my guns upon them once before, and they know that I
am ready to do so again. I have made them admire me and fear me, but I
have never made them like me. Look what I have done for them. Where
are the treasures of Genoa, the pictures and statues of Venice and of
the Vatican? They are in the Louvre. The spoils of my victories have
gone to decorate her. But they must always be changing, always
chattering. They wave their hats at me now, but they would soon be
waving their fists if I did not give them something to talk over and to
wonder at. When other things are quiet, I have the dome of the
Invalides regilded to keep their thoughts from mischief. Louis XIV.
gave them wars. Louis XV. gave them the gallantries and scandals of
his Court. Louis XVI. gave them nothing, so they cut off his head. It
was you who helped to bring him to the scaffold, Talleyrand.'
'No, Sire, I was always a moderate.'
'At least, you did not regret his death.'
'The less so, since it has made room for you,
'Nothing could have held me down, Talleyrand. I was born to reach
the highest. It has always been the same with me. I remember when
we were arranging the Treaty of Campo Formio--I a young general under
thirty--there was a high vacant throne with the Imperial arms in the
Commissioner's tent. I instantly sprang up the steps, and threw myself
down upon it. I could not endure to think that there was anything above
myself. And all the time I knew in my heart all that was going to
happen to me. Even in the days when my brother Lucien and I lived in
a little room upon a few francs a week, I knew perfectly well that the
day would come when I should stand where I am now. And yet I had no
prospects and no reason for any great hopes. I was not clever at school.
I was only the forty-second out of fifty-eight. At mathematics I had
perhaps some ability, but at nothing else. The truth is that I was
always dreaming when the others were working. There was nothing to
encourage my ambition, for the only thing which I inherited from my
father was a weak stomach. Once, when I was very young, I went up to
Paris with my father and my sister Caroline. We were in the Rue
Richelieu, and we saw the king pass in his carriage. Who would have
thought that the little boy from Corsica, who took his hat off and
stared, was destined to be the next monarch of France? And yet even then
I felt as if that carriage ought to belong to me. What is it, Constant?'
The discreet valet bent down and whispered something to the Emperor.
'Ah, of course,' said he. 'It was an appointment. I had forgotten it.
Is she there?'
'In the side room?'
Talleyrand and Berthier exchanged glances, and the minister began to
move towards the door.
'No, no, you can remain here,' said the Emperor. 'Light the lamps,
Constant, and have the carriages ready in half-an-hour. Look over this
draft of a letter to the Emperor of Austria, and let me have your
observations upon it, Talleyrand. De Meneval, there is a lengthy report
here as to the new dockyard at Brest. Extract what is essential from
it, and leave it upon my desk at five o'clock to-morrow morning.
Berthier, I will have the whole army into the boats at seven. We will
see if they can embark within three hours. Monsieur de Laval, you will
wait here until we start for Pont de Briques.' So with a crisp order to
each of us, he walked with little swift steps across the room, and I saw
his square green back and white legs framed for an instant in the
doorway. There was the flutter of a pink skirt beyond, and then the
curtains closed behind him.
Berthier stood biting his nails, while Talleyrand looked at him with a
slight raising of his bushy eyebrows. De Meneval with a rueful face was
turning over the great bundle of papers which had to be copied by
morning. Constant, with a noiseless tread, was lighting the candles
upon the sconces round the room.
'Which is it?' I heard the minister whisper.
'The girl from the Imperial Opera,' said Berthier.
'Is the little Spanish lady out of favour then?'
'No, I think not. She was here yesterday.'
'And the other, the Countess?'
'She has a cottage at Ambleteuse?'
'But we must have no scandal about the Court,' said Talleyrand, with a
sour smile, recalling the moral sentiments with which the Emperor had
reproved him. 'And now, Monsieur de Laval,' he added, drawing me aside,
'I very much wish to hear from you about the Bourbon party in England.
You must have heard their views. Do they imagine that they have any
chance of success?'
And so for ten minutes he plied me with questions, which showed me
clearly that the Emperor had read him aright, and that he was
determined, come what might, to be upon the side which won. We were
still talking when Constant entered hurriedly, with a look of anxiety
and perplexity which I could not have imagined upon so smooth and
imperturbable a face.
'Good Heavens, Monsieur Talleyrand,' he cried, clasping and unclasping
his hands. 'Such a misfortune! Who could have expected it?'
'What is it, then, Constant?'
'Oh, Monsieur, I dare not intrude upon the Emperor. And yet--And yet--The
Empress is outside, and she is coming in.'
At this unexpected announcement Talleyrand and Berthier looked at each
other in silence, and for once the trained features of the great
diplomatist, who lived behind a mask, betrayed the fact that he was
still capable of emotion. The spasm which passed over them was caused,
however, rather by mischievous amusement than by consternation, while
Berthier--who had an honest affection for both Napoleon and Josephine--ran
frantically to the door as if to bar the Empress from entering.
Constant rushed towards the curtains which screened the Emperor's room,
and then, losing courage, although he was known to be a stout-hearted
man, he came running back to Talleyrand for advice. It was too late
now, however, for Roustem the Mameluke had opened the door, and two
ladies had entered the room. The first was tall and graceful, with a
smiling face, and an affable though dignified manner. She was dressed
in a black velvet cloak with white lace at the neck and sleeves, and she
wore a black hat with a curling white feather. Her companion was
shorter, with a countenance which would have been plain had it not been
for the alert expression and large dark eyes, which gave it charm and
character. A small black terrier dog had followed them in, but the
first lady turned and handed the thin steel chain with which she led it
to the Mameluke attendant.
'You had better keep Fortune outside, Roustem,' said she, in a
peculiarly sweet musical voice. 'The Emperor is not very fond of dogs,
and if we intrude upon his quarters we cannot do less than consult his
tastes. Good evening, Monsieur de Talleyrand! Madame de Remusat and I
have driven all along the cliffs, and we have stopped as we passed to
know if the Emperor is coming to Pont de Briques. But perhaps he has
already started. I had expected to find him here.'
'His Imperial Majesty was here a short time ago,' said Talleyrand,
bowing and rubbing his hands.
'I hold my _salon_--such a _salon_ as Pont de Briques is capable of--this
evening, and the Emperor promised me that he would set his work
aside for once, and favour us with his presence. I wish we could
persuade him to work less, Monsieur de Talleyrand. He has a frame of
iron, but he cannot continue in this way. These nervous attacks come
more frequently upon him. He will insist upon doing everything,
everything himself. It is noble, but it is to be a martyr. I have no
doubt that at the present moment--but you have not yet told me where he
is, Monsieur de Talleyrand.'
'We expect him every instant, your Majesty.'
'In that case we shall sit down and await his return. Ah, Monsieur de
Meneval, how I pity you when I see you among all those papers! I was
desolate when Monsieur de Bourrienne deserted the Emperor, but you have
more than taken his place. Come up to the fire, Madame de Remusat!
Yes, yes, I insist upon it, for I know that you must be cold. Constant,
come and put the rug under Madame de Remusat's feet.'
It was by little acts of thoughtfulness and kindness like this that the
Empress so endeared herself that she had really no enemies in France,
even among those who were most bitterly opposed to her husband. Whether
as the consort of the first man in Europe, or as the lonely divorced
woman eating her heart out at Malmaison, she was always praised and
beloved by those who knew her. Of all the sacrifices which the Emperor
ever made to his ambition that of his wife was the one which cost him
the greatest struggle and the keenest regret.
Now as she sat before the fire in the same chair which had so recently
been occupied by the Emperor, I had an opportunity of studying this
person, whose strange fate had raised her from being the daughter of a
lieutenant of artillery to the first position among the women of Europe.
She was six years older than Napoleon, and on this occasion, when I saw
her first, she was in her forty-second year; but at a little distance or
in a discreet light, it was no courtier's flattery to say that she might
very well have passed for thirty. Her tall, elegant figure was girlish
in its supple slimness, and she had an easy and natural grace in every
movement, which she inherited with her tropical West Indian blood. Her
features were delicate, and I have heard that in her youth she was
strikingly beautiful; but, like most Creole women, she had become
_passee_ in early middle age. She had made a brave fight, however--with
art as her ally--against the attacks of time, and her success had been
such that when she sat aloof upon a dais or drove past in a procession,
she might still pass as a lovely woman. In a small room, however, or in
a good light, the crude pinks and whites with which she had concealed
her sallow cheeks became painfully harsh and artificial. Her own
natural beauty, however, still lingered in that last refuge of beauty--the
eyes, which were large, dark, and sympathetic. Her mouth, too, was
small and amiable, and her most frequent expression was a smile, which
seldom broadened into a laugh, as she had her own reasons for preferring
that her teeth should not be seen. As to her bearing, it was so
dignified, that if this little West Indian had come straight from the
loins of Charlemagne, it could not have been improved upon. Her walk,
her glance, the sweep of her dress, the wave of her hand--they had all
the happiest mixture of the sweetness of a woman and the condescension
of a queen. I watched her with admiration as she leaned forward,
picking little pieces of aromatic aloes wood out of the basket and
throwing them on to the fire.
'Napoleon likes the smell of burning aloes,' said she. 'There was never
anyone who had such a nose as he, for he can detect things which are
quite hidden from me.'
'The Emperor has an excellent nose for many things,' said Talleyrand.
'The State contractors have found that out to their cost.'
'Oh, it is dreadful when he comes to examine accounts--dreadful,
Monsieur de Talleyrand! Nothing escapes him. He will make no
allowances. Everything must be exact. But who is this young gentleman,
Monsieur de Talleyrand? I do not think that he has been presented to
The minister explained in a few words that I had been received into the
Emperor's personal service, and Josephine congratulated me upon it with
the most kindly sympathy.
'It eases my mind so to know that he has brave and loyal men round him.
Ever since that dreadful affair of the infernal machine I have always
been uneasy if he is away from me. He is really safest in time of war,
for it is only then that he is away from the assassins who hate him.
And now I understand that a new Jacobin plot has only just been
'This is the same Monsieur de Laval who was there when the conspirator
was taken,' said Talleyrand.
The Empress overwhelmed me with questions, hardly waiting for the
answers in her anxiety.
'But this dreadful man Toussac has not been taken yet,' she cried.
'Have I not heard that a young lady is endeavouring to do what has
baffled the secret police, and that the freedom of her lover is to be
the reward of her success?'
'She is my cousin, your Imperial Majesty. Mademoiselle Sibylle Bernac
is her name.'
'You have only been in France a few days, Monsieur de Laval,' said
Josephine, smiling, 'but it seems to me that all the affairs of the
Empire are already revolving round you. You must bring this pretty
cousin of yours--the Emperor said that she is pretty--to Court with you,
and present her to me. Madame de Remusat, you will take a note of the
The Empress had stooped again to the basket of aloes wood which stood
beside the fireplace. Suddenly I saw her stare hard at something, and
then, with a little cry of surprise, she stooped and lifted an object
from the carpet. It was the Emperor's soft flat beaver with the little
tricolour cockade. Josephine sprang up, and looked from the hat in her
hand to the imperturbable face of the minister.
'How is this, Monsieur de Talleyrand,' she cried, and the dark eyes
began to shine with anger and suspicion. 'You said to me that the
Emperor was out, and here is his hat!'
'Pardon me, your Imperial Majesty, I did not say that he was out.'
'What did you say then?'
'I said that he left the room a short time before.'
'You are endeavouring to conceal something from me,' she cried, with the
quick instinct of a woman.
'I assure you that I tell you all I know.'
The Empress's eyes darted from face to face.
'Marshal Berthier,' she cried, 'I insist upon your telling me this
instant where the Emperor is, and what he is doing.'
The slow-witted soldier stammered and twisted his cocked hat about.
'I know no more than Monsieur de Talleyrand does,' said he; 'the Emperor
left us some time ago.'
'By which door?'
Poor Berthier was more confused than ever.
'Really, your Imperial Majesty, I cannot undertake to say by which door
it was that the Emperor quitted the apartment.'
Josephine's eyes flashed round at me, and my heart shrunk within me as I
thought that she was about to ask me that same dreadful question. But I
had just time to breathe one prayer to the good Saint Ignatius, who has
always been gracious to our family, and the danger passed.
'Come, Madame de Remusat,' said she. 'If these gentlemen will not tell
us we shall very soon find out for ourselves.'
She swept with great dignity towards the curtained door, followed at the
distance of a few yards by her waiting lady, whose frightened face and
lagging, unwilling steps showed that she perfectly appreciated the
situation. Indeed, the Emperor's open infidelities, and the public
scenes to which they gave rise, were so notorious, that even in Ashford
they had reached our ears. Napoleon's self-confidence and his contempt
of the world had the effect of making him careless as to what was
thought or said of him, while Josephine, when she was carried away by
jealousy, lost all the dignity and restraint which usually marked her
conduct; so between them they gave some embarrassing moments to those
who were about them. Talleyrand turned away with his fingers over his
lips, while Berthier, in an agony of apprehension, continued to double
up and to twist the cocked hat which he held between his hands. Only
Constant, the faithful valet, ventured to intervene between his mistress
and the fatal door.
'If your Majesty will resume your seat I shall inform the Emperor that
you are here,' said he, with two deprecating hands outstretched.
'Ah, then he _is_ there!' she cried furiously. 'I see it all!
I understand it all! But I will expose him--I will reproach him with
his perfidy! Let me pass, Constant! How dare you stand in my way?'
'Allow me to announce you, your Majesty.'
'I shall announce myself.' With swift undulations of her beautiful
figure she darted past the protesting valet, parted the curtains, threw
open the door, and vanished into the next room.
She had seemed a creature full of fire and of spirit as, with a flush
which broke through the paint upon her cheeks, and with eyes which
gleamed with the just anger of an outraged wife, she forced her way into
her husband's presence. But she was a woman of change and impulse, full
of little squirts of courage and corresponding reactions into cowardice.
She had hardly vanished from our sight when there was a harsh roar, like
an angry beast, and next instant Josephine came flying into the room
again, with the Emperor, inarticulate with passion, raving at her heels.
So frightened was she, that she began to run towards the fireplace, upon
which Madame de Remusat, who had no wish to form a rearguard upon such
an occasion, began running also, and the two of them, like a pair of
startled hens, came rustling and fluttering back to the seats which they
had left. There they cowered whilst the Emperor, with a convulsed face
and a torrent of camp-fire oaths, stamped and raged about the room.
'You, Constant, you!' he shouted; 'is this the way in which you serve
me? Have you no sense then--no discretion? Am I never to have any
privacy? Must I eternally submit to be spied upon by women?
Is everyone else to have liberty, and I only to have none? As to you,
Josephine, this finishes it all. I had hesitations before, but now I
have none. This brings everything to an end between us.'
We would all, I am sure, have given a good deal to slip from the room--at
least, my own embarrassment far exceeded my interest--but the Emperor
from his lofty standpoint cared as little about our presence as if we
had been so many articles of furniture. In fact, it was one of this
strange man's peculiarities that it was just those delicate and personal
scenes with which privacy is usually associated that he preferred to
have in public, for he knew that his reproaches had an additional sting
when they fell upon other ears besides those of his victim. From his
wife to his groom there was not one of those who were about him who did
not live in dread of being held up to ridicule and infamy before a
smiling crowd, whose amusement was only tempered by the reflection that
each of them might be the next to endure the same exposure.
As to Josephine, she had taken refuge in a woman's last resource, and
was crying bitterly, with her graceful neck stooping towards her knees
and her two hands over her face. Madame de Remusat was weeping also,
and in every pause of his hoarse scolding--for his voice was very hoarse
and raucous when he was angry--there came the soft hissing and clicking
of their sobs. Sometimes his fierce taunts would bring some reply from
the Empress, some gentle reproof to him for his gallantries, but each
remonstrance only excited him to a fresh rush of vituperation. In one
of his outbursts he threw his snuff-box with a crash upon the floor as a
spoiled child would hurl down its toys.
'Morality!' he cried, 'morality was not made for me, and I was not made
for morality. I am a man apart, and I accept nobody's conditions.
I tell you always, Josephine, that these are the foolish phrases of
mediocre people who wish to fetter the great. They do not apply to me.
I will never consent to frame my conduct by the puerile arrangements of
'Have you no feeling then?' sobbed the Empress.
'A great man is not made for feeling. It is for him to decide what he
shall do, and then to do it without interference from anyone. It is
your place, Josephine, to submit to all my fancies, and you should think
it quite natural that I should allow myself some latitude.'
It was a favourite device of the Emperor's, when he was in the wrong
upon one point, to turn the conversation round so as to get upon some
other one on which he was in the right. Having worked off the first
explosion of his passion he now assumed the offensive, for in argument,
as in war, his instinct was always to attack.
'I have been looking over Lenormand's accounts, Josephine,' said he.
'Are you aware how many dresses you have had last year? You have had a
hundred and forty--no less--and many of them cost as much as twenty-five
thousand livres. I am told that you have six hundred dresses in your
wardrobes, many of which have hardly ever been used. Madame de Remusat
knows that what I say is true. She cannot deny it.'
'You like me to dress well, Napoleon.'
'I will not have such monstrous extravagance. I could have two
regiments of cuirassiers, or a fleet of frigates, with the money which
you squander upon foolish silks and furs. It might turn the fortunes of
a campaign. Then again, Josephine, who gave you permission to order
that parure of diamonds and sapphires from Lefebvre? The bill has been
sent to me and I have refused to pay for it. If he applies again, I
shall have him marched to prison between a file of grenadiers, and your
milliner shall accompany him there.'
The Emperor's fits of anger, although tempestuous, were never very
prolonged. The curious convulsive wriggle of one of his arms, which
always showed when he was excited, gradually died away, and after
looking for some time at the papers of de Meneval--who had written away
like an automaton during all this uproar--he came across to the fire
with a smile upon his lips, and a brow from which the shadow had
'You have no excuse for extravagance, Josephine,' said he, laying his
hand upon her shoulder. 'Diamonds and fine dresses are very necessary
to an ugly woman in order to make her attractive, but _you_ cannot need
them for such a purpose. You had no fine dresses when first I saw you
in the Rue Chautereine, and yet there was no woman in the world who ever
attracted me so. Why will you vex me, Josephine, and make me say things
which seem unkind? Drive back, little one, to Pont de Briques, and see
that you do not catch cold.'
'You will come to the salon, Napoleon?' asked the Empress, whose
bitterest resentment seemed to vanish in an instant at the first kindly
touch from his hand. She still held her handkerchief before her eyes,
but it was chiefly, I think, to conceal the effect which her tears had
had upon her cheeks.
'Yes, yes, I will come. Our carriages will follow yours. See the
ladies into the berline, Constant. Have you ordered the embarkation of
the troops, Berthier? Come here, Talleyrand, for I wish to describe my
views about the future of Spain and Portugal. Monsieur de Laval, you
may escort the Empress to Pont de Briques, where I shall see you at the
THE RECEPTION OF THE EMPRESS
Pont de Briques is but a small village, and this sudden arrival of the
Court, which was to remain for some weeks, had crammed it with visitors.
It would have been very much simpler to have come to Boulogne, where
there were more suitable buildings and better accommodation, but
Napoleon had named Pont de Briques, so Pont de Briques it had to be.
The word impossible was not permitted amongst those who had to carry out
his wishes. So an army of cooks and footmen settled upon the little
place, and then there arrived the dignitaries of the new Empire, and
then the ladies of the Court, and then their admirers from the camp.
The Empress had a chateau for her accommodation. The rest quartered
themselves in cottages or where they best might, and waited ardently for
the moment which was to take them back to the comforts of Versailles or
The Empress had graciously offered me a seat in her berline, and all the
way to the village, entirely forgetful apparently of the scene through
which she passed, she chatted away, asking me a thousand personal
questions about myself and my affairs, for a kindly curiosity in the
doings of everyone around her was one of her most marked
characteristics. Especially was she interested in Eugenie, and as the
subject was one upon which I was equally interested in talking it ended
in a rhapsody upon my part, amid little sympathetic ejaculations from
the Empress and titterings from Madame de Remusat.
'But you must certainly bring her over to the Court!' cried the kindly
woman. 'Such a paragon of beauty and of virtue must not be allowed to
waste herself in this English village. Have you spoken about her to the
'I found that he knew all about her, your Majesty.'
'He knows all about everything. Oh, what a man he is! You heard him
about those diamonds and sapphires. Lefebvre gave me his word that no
one should know of it but ourselves, and that I should pay at my
leisure, and yet you see that the Emperor knew. But what did he say,
Monsieur de Laval?'
'He said that my marriage should be his affair.'
Josephine shook her head and groaned.
'But this is serious, Monsieur de Laval. He is capable of singling out
any one of the ladies of the Court and marrying you to her within a
week. It is a subject upon which he will not listen to argument. He
has brought about some extraordinary matches in this way. But I will
speak to the Emperor before I return to Paris, and I will see what I can
arrange for you.'
I was still endeavouring to thank her for her sympathy and kindness when
the berline rattled up the drive and pulled up at the entrance to the
chateau, where the knot of scarlet footmen and the bearskins of two
sentries from the Guards announced the Imperial quarters. The Empress
and her lady hurried away to prepare their toilets for the evening, and
I was shown at once into the salon, in which the guests had already
begun to assemble.
This was a large square room furnished as modestly as the sitting-room
of a provincial gentleman would be likely to be. The wall-paper was
gloomy, and the furniture was of dark mahogany upholstered in faded blue
nankeen, but there were numerous candles in candelabra upon the tables
and in sconces upon the walls which gave an air of festivity even to
these sombre surroundings. Out of the large central room were several
smaller ones in which card-tables had been laid out, and the doorways
between had been draped with Oriental chintz. A number of ladies and
gentlemen were standing about, the former in the high evening dresses to
which the Emperor had given his sanction, the latter about equally
divided between the civilians in black court costumes and the soldiers
in their uniforms. Bright colours and graceful draperies predominated,
for in spite of his lectures about economy the Emperor was very harsh to
any lady who did not dress in a manner which would sustain the
brilliancy of his Court. The prevailing fashions gave an opening to
taste and to display, for the simple classical costumes had died out
with the Republic, and Oriental dresses had taken their place as a
compliment to the Conqueror of Egypt. Lucretia had changed to Zuleika,
and the salons which had reflected the austerity of old Rome had turned
suddenly into so many Eastern harems.
On entering the room I had retired into a corner, fearing that I should
find none there whom I knew; but someone plucked at my arm, and turning
round I found myself looking into the yellow inscrutable face of my
uncle Bernac. He seized my unresponsive hand and wrung it with a false
'My dear Louis,' said he. 'It was really the hope of meeting you here
which brought me over from Grosbois--although you can understand that
living so far from Paris I cannot afford to miss such an opportunity of
showing myself at Court. Nevertheless I can assure you that it was of
you principally that I was thinking. I hear that you have had a
splendid reception from the Emperor, and that you have been taken into
his personal service. I had spoken to him about you, and I made him
fully realise that if he treats you well he is likely to coax some of
the other young emigres into his service.'
I was convinced that he was lying, but none the less I had to bow and
utter a few words of cold thanks.
'I see that you still bear me some grudge for what passed between us the
other day,' said he, 'but really, my dear Louis, you have no occasion to
do so. It was your own good which I had chiefly at heart. I am neither
a young nor a strong man, Louis, and my profession, as you have seen, is
a dangerous one. There is my child, and there is my estate. Who takes
one, takes both. Sibylle is a charming girl, and you must not allow
yourself to be prejudiced against her by any ill temper which she may
have shown towards me. I will confess that she had some reason to be
annoyed at the turn which things had taken. But I hope to hear that you
have now thought better upon this matter.'
'I have never thought about it at all, and I beg that you will not
discuss it,' said I curtly.
He stood in deep thought for a few moments, and then he raised his evil
face and his cruel grey eyes to mine.
'Well, well, that is settled then,' said he. 'But you cannot bear me a
grudge for having wished you to be my successor. Be reasonable, Louis.
You must acknowledge that you would now be six feet deep in the
salt-marsh with your neck broken if I had not stood your friend, at some
risk to myself. Is that not true?'
'You had your own motive for that,' said I.
'Very likely. But none the less I saved you. Why should you bear me
ill will? It is no fault of mine if I hold your estate.'
'It is not on account of that.'
'Why is it then?'
I could have explained that it was because he had betrayed his comrades,
because his daughter hated him, because he had ill-used his wife,
because my father regarded him as the source of all his troubles--but
the salon of the Empress was no place for a family quarrel, so I merely
shrugged my shoulders, and was silent.
'Well, I am very sorry,' said he, 'for I had the best of intentions
towards you. I could have advanced you, for there are few men in
France who exercise more influence. But I have one request to make to
'What is that, sir?'
'I have a number of personal articles, belonging to your father--his
sword, his seals, a deskful of letters, some silver plate--such things
in short as you would wish to keep in memory of him. I should be glad
if you will come to Grosbois--if it is only for one night--and look over
these things, choosing what you wish to take away. My conscience will
then be clear about them.'
I promised readily that I would do so.
'And when would you come?' he asked eagerly. Something in the tone of
his voice aroused my suspicions, and glancing at him I saw exultation in
his eyes. I remembered the warning of Sibylle.
'I cannot come until I have learned what my duties with the Emperor are
to be. When that is settled I shall come.'
'Very good. Next week perhaps, or the week afterwards. I shall expect
you eagerly, Louis. I rely upon your promise, for a Laval was never
known to break one.' With another unanswered squeeze of my hand, he
slipped off among the crowd, which was growing denser every instant in
I was standing in silence thinking over this sinister invitation of my
uncle's, when I heard my own name, and, looking up, I saw de
Caulaincourt, with his brown handsome face and tall elegant figure,
making his way towards me.
'It is your first entrance at Court, is it not, Monsieur de Laval,' said
he, in his high-bred cordial manner; 'you should not feel lonely, for
there are certainly many friends of your father here who will be
overjoyed to make the acquaintance of your father's son. From what de
Meneval told me I gather that you know hardly anyone--even by sight.'
'I know the Marshals,' said I; 'I saw them all at the council in the
Emperor's tent. There is Ney with the red head. And there is Lefebvre
with his singular mouth, and Bernadotte with the beak of a bird of
'Precisely. And that is Rapp, with the round, bullet head. He is
talking to Junot, the handsome dark man with the whiskers. These poor
soldiers are very unhappy.'
'Why so?' I asked.
'Because they are all men who have risen from nothing. This society and
etiquette terrifies them much more than all the dangers of war.
When they can hear their sabres clashing against their big boots they
feel at home, but when they have to stand about with their cocked hats
under their arms, and have to pick their spurs out of the ladies'
trains, and talk about David's picture or Passaniello's opera, it
prostrates them. The Emperor will not even permit them to swear,
although he has no scruples upon his own account. He tells them to be
soldiers with the army, and courtiers with the Court, but the poor
fellows cannot help being soldiers all the time. Look at Rapp with his
twenty wounds, endeavouring to exchange little delicate drolleries with
that young lady. There, you see, he has said something which would have
passed very well with a vivandiere, but it has made her fly to her
mamma, and he is scratching his head, for he cannot imagine how he has
'Who is the beautiful woman with the white dress and the tiara of
diamonds?' I asked.
'That is Madame Murat, who is the sister of the Emperor. Caroline is
beautiful, but she is not as pretty as her sister Marie, whom you see
over yonder in the corner. Do you see the tall stately dark-eyed old
lady with whom she is talking? That is Napoleon's mother--a wonderful
woman, the source of all their strength, shrewd, brave, vigorous,
forcing respect from everyone who knows her. She is as careful and as
saving as when she was the wife of a small country gentleman in Corsica,
and it is no secret that she has little confidence in the permanence of
the present state of things, and that she is always laying by for an
evil day. The Emperor does not know whether to be amused or exasperated
by her precautions. Well, Murat, I suppose we shall see you riding
across the Kentish hop-fields before long.'
The famous soldier had paused opposite to us, and shook hands with my
companion. His elegant well-knit figure, large fiery eyes, and noble
bearing made this innkeeper's boy a man who would have drawn attention
and admiration to himself in any assembly in Europe. His mop of curly
hair and thick red lips gave that touch of character and individuality
to his appearance which redeem a handsome face from insipidity.
'I am told that it is devilish bad country for cavalry--all cut up into
hedges and ditches,' said he. 'The roads are good, but the fields are
impossible. I hope that we are going soon, Monsieur de Caulaincourt,
for our men will all settle down as gardeners if this continues.
They are learning more about watering-pots and spuds than about horses
'The army, I hear, is to embark to-morrow.'
'Yes, yes, but you know very well that they will disembark again upon
the wrong side of the Channel. Unless Villeneuve scatters the English
fleet, nothing can be attempted.'
'Constant tells me that the Emperor was whistling "Malbrook" all the
time that he was dressing this morning, and that usually comes before a
'It was very clever of Constant to tell what tune it was which the
Emperor was whistling,' said Murat, laughing. 'For my part I do not
think that he knows the difference between the "Malbrook" and the
"Marseillaise." Ah, here is the Empress--and how charming she is
Josephine had entered, with several of her ladies in her train, and the
whole assembly rose to do her honour. The Empress was dressed in an
evening gown of rose-coloured tulle, spangled with silver stars--an
effect which might have seemed meretricious and theatrical in another
woman, but which she carried off with great grace and dignity. A little
sheaf of diamond wheat-ears rose above her head, and swayed gently as
she walked. No one could entertain more charmingly than she, for she
moved about among the people with her amiable smile, setting everybody
at their ease by her kindly natural manner, and by the conviction which
she gave them that she was thoroughly at her ease herself. 'How amiable
she is!' I exclaimed. 'Who could help loving her?'
'There is only one family which can resist her,' said de Caulaincourt,
glancing round to see that Murat was out of hearing. 'Look at the faces
of the Emperor's sisters.'
I was shocked when I followed his direction to see the malignant glances
with which these two beautiful women were following the Empress as she
walked about the room. They whispered together and tittered
maliciously. Then Madame Murat turned to her mother behind her, and the
stern old lady tossed her haughty head in derision and contempt.
'They feel that Napoleon is theirs and that they ought to have
everything. They cannot bear to think that she is Her Imperial Majesty
and they are only Her Highness. They all hate her, Joseph, Lucien--all
of them. When they had to carry her train at the coronation they tried
to trip her up, and the Emperor had to interfere. Oh yes, they have the
real Corsican blood, and they are not very comfortable people to get
But in spite of the evident hatred of her husband's family, the Empress
appeared to be entirely unconcerned and at her ease as she strolled
about among the groups of her guests with a kindly glance and a pleasant
word for each of them. A tall, soldierly man, brown-faced and
moustached, walked beside her, and she occasionally laid her hand with a
caressing motion upon his arm.
'That is her son, Eugene de Beauharnais,' said my companion.
'Her son!' I exclaimed, for he seemed to me to be the older of the two.
De Caulaincourt smiled at my surprise.
'You know she married Beauharnais when she was very young--in fact she
was hardly sixteen. She has been sitting in her boudoir while her son
has been baking in Egypt and Syria, so that they have pretty well
bridged over the gap between them. Do you see the tall, handsome,
clean-shaven man who has just kissed Josephine's hand. That is Talma
the famous actor. He once helped Napoleon at a critical moment of his
career, and the Emperor has never forgotten the debt which the Consul
contracted. That is really the secret of Talleyrand's power. He lent
Napoleon a hundred thousand francs before he set out for Egypt, and now,
however much he distrusts him, the Emperor cannot forget that old
kindness. I have never known him to abandon a friend or to forgive an
enemy. If you have once served him well you may do what you like
afterwards. There is one of his coachmen who is drunk from morning to
night. But he gained the cross at Marengo, and so he is safe.'
De Caulaincourt had moved on to speak with some lady, and I was again
left to my own thoughts, which turned upon this extraordinary man, who
presented himself at one moment as a hero and at another as a spoiled
child, with his nobler and his worse side alternating so rapidly that I
had no sooner made up my mind about him than some new revelation would
destroy my views and drive me to some fresh conclusion. That he was
necessary to France was evident, and that in serving him one was serving
one's country. But was it an honour or a penance to serve him? Was he
worthy merely of obedience, or might love and esteem be added to it?
These were the questions which we found it difficult to answer--and some
of us will never have answered them up to the end of time.
The company had now lost all appearance of formality, and even the
soldiers seemed to be at their ease. Many had gone into the side rooms,
where they had formed tables for whist and for vingt-et-un. For my own
part I was quite entertained by watching the people, the beautiful
women, the handsome men, the bearers of names which had been heard of in
no previous generation, but which now rung round the world. Immediately
in front of me were Ney, Lannes, and Murat chatting together and
laughing with the freedom of the camp. Of the three, two were destined
to be executed in cold blood, and the third to die upon the
battle-field, but no coming shadow ever cast a gloom upon their cheery,
A small, silent, middle-aged man, who looked unhappy and ill at ease,
had been leaning against the wall beside me. Seeing that he was as
great a stranger as myself, I addressed some observation to him, to
which he replied with great good-will, but in the most execrable French.
'You don't happen to understand English?' he asked. 'I've never met one
living soul in this country who did.'
'Oh yes, I understand it very well, for I have lived most of my life
over yonder. But surely you are not English, sir? I understood that
every Englishman in France was under lock and key ever since the breach
of the treaty of Amiens.'
'No, I am not English,' he answered, 'I am an American. My name is
Robert Fulton, and I have to come to these receptions because it is the
only way in which I can keep myself in the memory of the Emperor, who is
examining some inventions of mine which will make great changes in naval
Having nothing else to do I asked this curious American what his
inventions might be, and his replies very soon convinced me that I had
to do with a madman. He had some idea of making a ship go against the
wind and against the current by means of coal or wood which was to be
burned inside of her. There was some other nonsense about floating
barrels full of gunpowder which would blow a ship to pieces if she
struck against them. I listened to him at the time with an indulgent
smile, but now looking back from the point of vantage of my old age I
can see that not all the warriors and statesmen in that room--no, not
even the Emperor himself--have had as great an effect upon the history
of the world as that silent American who looked so drab and so
commonplace among the gold-slashed uniforms and the Oriental dresses.
But suddenly our conversation was interrupted by a hush in the room--
such a cold, uncomfortable hush as comes over a roomful of happy,
romping children when a grave-faced elder comes amongst them.
The chatting and the laughter died away. The sound of the rustling
cards and of the clicking counters had ceased in the other rooms.
Everyone, men and women, had risen to their feet with a constrained
expectant expression upon their faces. And there in the doorway were
the pale face and the green coat with the red cordon across the white
There was no saying how he might behave upon these occasions.
Sometimes he was capable of being the merriest and most talkative of the
company, but this was rather in his consular than in his imperial days.
On the other hand he might be absolutely ferocious, with an insulting
observation for everyone with whom he came in contact. As a rule he was
between these two extremes, silent, morose, ill at ease, shooting out
curt little remarks which made everyone uncomfortable. There was always
a sigh of relief when he would pass from one room into the next.
On this occasion he seemed to have not wholly recovered from the storm
of the afternoon, and he looked about him with a brooding eye and a
lowering brow. It chanced that I was not very far from the door, and
that his glance fell upon me.
'Come here, Monsieur de Laval,' said he. He laid his hand upon my
shoulder and turned to a big, gaunt man who had accompanied him into the
room. 'Look here, Cambaceres, you simpleton,' said he. 'You always
said that the old families would never come back, and that they would
settle in England as the Huguenots have done. You see that, as usual,
you have miscalculated, for here is the heir of the de Lavals come to
offer his services. Monsieur de Laval, you are now my aide-de-camp, and
I beg you to keep with me wherever I go.'
This was promotion indeed, and yet I had sense enough to know that it
was not for my own sweet sake that the Emperor had done it, but in order
to encourage others to follow me. My conscience approved what I had
done, for no sordid motive and nothing but the love of my country had
prompted me; but now, as I walked round behind Napoleon, I felt
humiliated and ashamed, like a prisoner led behind the car of his
And soon there was something else to make me ashamed, and that was the
conduct of him whose servant I had become. His manners were outrageous.
As he had himself said, it was his nature to be always first, and this
being so he resented those courtesies and gallantries by which men are
accustomed to disguise from women the fact that they are the weaker sex.
The Emperor, unlike Louis XIV., felt that even a temporary and
conventional attitude of humility towards a woman was too great a
condescension from his own absolute supremacy. Chivalry was among those
conditions of society which he refused to accept.
To the soldiers he was amiable enough, with a nod and a joke for each of
them. To his sisters also he said a few words, though rather in the
tone of a drill sergeant to a pair of recruits. It was only when the
Empress had joined him that his ill-humour came to a head.
'I wish you would not wear those wisps of pink about your head,
Josephine,' said he, pettishly. 'All that women have to think about is
how to dress themselves, and yet they cannot even do that with
moderation or taste. If I see you again in such a thing I will thrust
it in the fire as I did your shawl the other day.'
'You are so hard to please, Napoleon. You like one day what you cannot
abide the next. But I will certainly change it if it offends you,' said
Josephine, with admirable patience.
The Emperor took a few steps between the people, who had formed a lane
for us to pass through. Then he stopped and looked over his shoulder at
'How often have I told you, Josephine, that I cannot tolerate fat
'I always bear it in mind, Napoleon.'
'Then why is Madame de Chevreux present?'
'But surely, Napoleon, madame is not very fat.'
'She is fatter than she should be. I should prefer not to see her.
Who is this?' He had paused before a young lady in a blue dress, whose
knees seemed to be giving way under her as the terrible Emperor
transfixed her with his searching eyes.
'This is Mademoiselle de Bergerot.'
'How old are you?'
'It is time that you were married. Every woman should be married at
twenty-three. How is it that you are not married?'
The poor girl appeared to be incapable of answering, so the Empress
gently remarked that it was to the young men that that question should
'Oh, that is the difficulty, is it?' said the Emperor. 'We must look
about and find a husband for you.' He turned, and to my horror I found
his eyes fixed with a questioning gaze upon my face.
'We have to find you a wife also, Monsieur de Laval,' said he. 'Well,
well, we shall see--we shall see. What is your name?' to a quiet
refined man in black.
'I am Gretry, the musician.'
'Yes, yes, I remember you. I have seen you a hundred times, but I can
never recall your name. Who are you?'
'I am Joseph de Chenier.'
'Of course. I have seen your tragedy. I have forgotten the name of it,
but it was not good. You have written some other poetry, have you not?'
'Yes, sire. I had your permission to dedicate my last volume to you.'
'Very likely, but I have not had time to read it. It is a pity that we
have no poets now in France, for the deeds of the last few years would
have given a subject for a Homer or a Virgil. It seems that I can
create kingdoms but not poets. Whom do you consider to be the greatest
'Then you are a blockhead, for Corneille was infinitely greater. I have
no ear for metre or trivialities of the kind, but I can sympathise with
the spirit of poetry, and I am conscious that Corneille is far the
greatest of poets. I would have made him my prime minister had he had
the good fortune to live in my epoch. It is his intellect which I
admire, his knowledge of the human heart, and his profound feeling.
Are you writing anything at present?'
'I am writing a tragedy upon Henry IV., sire.'
'It will not do, sir. It is too near the present day, and I will not
have politics upon the stage. Write a play about Alexander. What is
He had pitched upon the same person whom he had already addressed.
'I am still Gretry, the musician,' said he meekly.
The Emperor flushed for an instant at the implied rebuke. He said
nothing, however, but passed on to where several ladies were standing
together near the door of the card-room.
'Well, madame,' said he to the nearest of them, 'I hope you are behaving
rather better. When last I heard from Paris your doings were furnishing
the Quartier St. Germain with a good deal of amusement and gossip.'
'I beg that your Majesty will explain what you mean,' said she with
'They had coupled your name with that of Colonel Lasalle.'
'It is a foul calumny, sire.'
'Very possibly, but it is awkward when so many calumnies cluster round
one person. You are certainly a most unfortunate lady in that respect.
You had a scandal once before with General Rapp's aide-de-camp. This
must come to an end. What is your name?' he continued, turning to
'Mademoiselle de Perigord.'
'You are very thin and your elbows are red. My God, Madame Boismaison,
are we never to see anything but this same grey gown and the red turban
with the diamond crescent?'
'I have never worn it before, sire?'
'Then you had another the same, for I am weary of the sight of it.
Let me never see you in it again. Monsieur de Remusat, I make you a
good allowance. Why do you not spend it?'
'I do, sire.'
'I hear that you have been putting down your carriage. I do not give
you money to hoard in a bank, but I give it to you that you may keep up
a fitting appearance with it. Let me hear that your carriage is back in
the coach-house when I return to Paris. Junot, you rascal, I hear that
you have been gambling and losing.'
'The most infernal run of luck, sire,' said the soldier, 'I give you my
word that the ace fell four times running.'
'Ta, ta, you are a child, with no sense of the value of money. How much
do you owe?'
'Forty thousand, sire.'
'Well, well, go to Lebrun and see what he can do for you. After all, we
were together at Toulon.'
'A thousand thanks, sire.'
'Tut! You and Rapp and Lasalle are the spoiled children of the army.
But no more cards, you rascal! I do not like low dresses, Madame
Picard. They spoil even pretty women, but in you they are inexcusable.
Now, Josephine, I am going to my room, and you can come in half an hour
and read me to sleep. I am tired to-night, but I came to your salon,
since you desired that I should help you in welcoming and entertaining
your guests. You can remain here, Monsieur de Laval, for your presence
will not be necessary until I send you my orders.'
And so the door closed behind him, and with a long sigh of relief from
everyone, from the Empress to the waiter with the negus, the friendly
chatter began once more, with the click of the counters and the rustle
of the cards just as they had been before he came to help in the
THE LIBRARY OF GROSBOIS
And now, my friends, I am coming to the end of those singular adventures
which I encountered upon my arrival in France, adventures which might
have been of some interest in themselves had I not introduced the figure
of the Emperor, who has eclipsed them all as completely as the sun
eclipses the stars. Even now, you see, after all these years, in an old
man's memoirs, the Emperor is still true to his traditions, and will not
brook any opposition. As I draw his words and his deeds I feel that my
own poor story withers before them. And yet if it had not been for that
story I should not have had an excuse for describing to you my first and
most vivid impressions of him, and so it has served a purpose after all.
You must bear with me now while I tell you of our expedition to the Red
Mill and of what befell in the library of Grosbois.
Two days had passed away since the reception of the Empress Josephine,
and only one remained of the time which had been allowed to my cousin
Sibylle in which she might save her lover, and capture the terrible
Toussac. For my own part I was not so very anxious that she should save
this craven lover of hers, whose handsome face belied the poor spirit
within him. And yet this lonely beautiful woman, with the strong will
and the loyal heart, had touched my feelings, and I felt that I would
help her to anything--even against my own better judgment, if she should
desire it. It was then with a mixture of feelings that late in the
afternoon I saw her and General Savary enter the little room in which I
lodged at Boulogne. One glance at her flushed cheeks and triumphant
eyes told me that she was confident in her own success.
'I told you that I would find him, Cousin Louis!' she cried; 'I have
come straight to you, because you said that you would help in the taking
'Mademoiselle insists upon it that I should not use soldiers,' said
Savary, shrugging his shoulders.
'No, no, no,' she cried with vehemence. 'It has to be done with
discretion, and at the sight of a soldier he would fly to some
hiding-place, where you would never be able to follow him. I cannot
afford to run a risk. There is too much already at stake.'
'In such an affair three men are as useful as thirty,' said Savary.
'I should not in any case have employed more. You say that you have
another friend, Lieutenant--?'
'Lieutenant Gerard of the Hussars of Bercheny.'
'Quite so. There is not a more gallant officer in the Grand Army than
Etienne Gerard. The three of us, Monsieur de Laval, should be equal to
'I am at your disposal.'
'Tell us then, mademoiselle, where Toussac is hiding.'
'He is hiding at the Red Mill.'
'But we have searched it, I assure you that he is not there.'
'When did you search it?'
'Two days ago.'
'Then he has come there since. I knew that Jeanne Portal loved him.
I have watched her for six days. Last night she stole down to the Red
Mill with a basket of wine and fruit. All the morning I have seen her
eyes sweeping the country side, and I have read the terror in them
whenever she has seen the twinkle of a bayonet. I am as sure that
Toussac is in the mill as if I had seen him with my own eyes.'
'In that case there is not an instant to be lost,' cried Savary. 'If he
knows of a boat upon the coast he is as likely as not to slip away after
dark and make his escape for England. From the Red Mill one can see all
the surrounding country, and Mademoiselle is right in thinking that a
large body of soldiers would only warn him to escape.'
'What do you propose then?' I asked.
'That you meet us at the south gate of the camp in an hour's time
dressed as you are. You might be any gentleman travelling upon the high
road. I shall see Gerard, and we shall adopt some suitable disguise.
Bring your pistols, for it is with the most desperate man in France we
have to do. We shall have a horse at your disposal.'
The setting sun lay dull and red upon the western horizon, and the white
chalk cliffs of the French coast had all flushed into pink when I found
myself once more at the gate of the Boulogne Camp. There was no sign of
my companions, but a tall man, dressed in a blue coat with brass buttons
like a small country farmer, was tightening the girth of a magnificent
black horse, whilst a little further on a slim young ostler was waiting
by the roadside, holding the bridles of two others. It was only when I
recognised one of the pair as the horse which I had ridden on my first
coming to camp that I answered the smile upon the keen handsome face of
the ostler, and saw the swarthy features of Savary under the
broad-brimmed hat of the farmer.
'I think that we may travel without fearing to excite suspicion,' said
he. 'Crook that straight back of yours a little, Gerard! And now we
shall push upon our way, or we may find that we are too late.'
My life has had its share of adventures, and yet, somehow, this ride
stands out above the others.
There over the waters I could dimly see the loom of the English coast,
with its suggestions of dreamy villages, humming bees, and the pealing
of Sunday bells. I thought of the long, white High Street of Ashford,
with its red brick houses, and the inn with the great swinging sign.
All my life had been spent in these peaceful surroundings, and now, here
I was with a spirited horse between my knees, two pistols peeping out of
my holsters, and a commission upon which my whole future might depend,
to arrest the most redoubtable conspirator in France. No wonder that,
looking back over many dangers and many vicissitudes, it is still that
evening ride over the short crisp turf of the downs which stands out
most clearly in my memory. One becomes _blase_ to adventure, as one
becomes _blase_ to all else which the world can give, save only the
simple joys of home, and to taste the full relish of such an
expedition one must approach it with the hot blood of youth still
throbbing in one's veins.
Our route, when we had left the uplands of Boulogne behind us, lay along
the skirts of that desolate marsh in which I had wandered, and so
inland, through plains of fern and bramble, until the familiar black
keep of the Castle of Grosbois rose upon the left. Then, under the
guidance of Savary, we struck to the right down a sunken road, and so
over the shoulder of a hill until, on a further slope beyond, we saw the
old windmill black against the evening sky. Its upper window burned red
like a spot of blood in the last rays of the setting sun. Close by the
door stood a cart full of grain sacks, with the shafts pointing
downwards and the horse grazing at some distance. As we gazed, a woman
appeared upon the downs and stared round, with her hand over her eyes.
'See that!' said Savary eagerly. 'He is there sure enough, or why
should they be on their guard? Let us take this road which winds round
the hill, and they will not see us until we are at the very door.'
'Should we not gallop forward?' I suggested.
'The ground is too cut up. The longer way is the safer. As long as we
are upon the road they cannot tell us from any other travellers.'
We walked our horses along the path, therefore, with as unconcerned an
air as we could assume; but a sharp exclamation made us glance suddenly
round, and there was the woman standing on a hillock by the roadside and
gazing down at us with a face that was rigid with suspicion. The sight
of the military bearing of my companions changed all her fear into
certainties. In an instant she had whipped the shawl from her
shoulders, and was waving it frantically over her head. With a hearty
curse Savary spurred his horse up the bank and galloped straight for the
mill, with Gerard and myself at his heels.
It was only just in time. We were still a hundred paces from the door
when a man sprang out from it, and gazed about him, his head whisking
this way and that. There could be no mistaking the huge bristling
beard, the broad chest, and the rounded shoulders of Toussac. A glance
showed him that we would ride him down before he could get away, and he
sprang back into the mill, closing the heavy door with a clang behind
'The window, Gerard, the window!' cried Savary.
There was a small, square window opening into the basement room of the
mill. The young hussar disengaged himself from the saddle and flew
through it as the clown goes through the hoops at Franconi's.
An instant later he had opened the door for us, with the blood streaming
from his face and hands.
'He has fled up the stair,' said he.
'Then we need be in no hurry, since he cannot pass us,' said Savary, as
we sprang from our horses. 'You have carried his first line of
entrenchments most gallantly, Lieutenant Gerard. I hope you are not
'A few scratches, General, nothing more.'
'Get your pistols, then. Where is the miller?'
'Here I am,' said a squat, rough little fellow, appearing in the open
doorway. 'What do you mean, you brigands, by entering my mill in this
fashion? I am sitting reading my paper and smoking my pipe of
coltsfoot, as my custom is about this time of the evening, and suddenly,
without a word, a man comes flying through my window, covers me with
glass, and opens my door to his friends outside. I've had trouble
enough with my one lodger all day without three more of you turning up.'
'You have the conspirator Toussac in your house.'
'Toussac!' cried the miller. 'Nothing of the kind. His name is
Maurice, and he is a merchant in silks.'
'He is the man we want. We come in the Emperor's name.'
The miller's jaw dropped as he listened.
'I don't know who he is, but he offered a good price for a bed and I
asked no more questions. In these days one cannot expect a certificate
of character from every lodger. But, of course, if it is a matter of
State, why, it is not for me to interfere. But, to do him justice, he
was a quiet gentleman enough until he had that letter just now.'
'What letter? Be careful what you say, you rascal, for your own head
may find its way into the sawdust basket.'
'It was a woman who brought it. I can only tell you what I know.
He has been talking like a madman ever since. It made my blood run cold
to hear him. There's someone whom he swears he will murder. I shall be
very glad to see the last of him.'
'Now, gentlemen,' said Savary, drawing his sword, 'we may leave our
horses here. There is no window for forty feet, so he cannot escape
from us. If you will see that your pistols are primed, we shall soon
bring the fellow to terms.'
The stair was a narrow winding one made of wood, which led to a small
loft lighted from a slit in the wall.
Some remains of wood and a litter of straw showed that this was where
Toussac had spent his day. There was, however, no sign of him now, and
it was evident that he had ascended the next flight of steps.
We climbed them, only to find our way barred by a heavy door.
'Surrender, Toussac!' cried Savary. 'It is useless to attempt to escape
A hoarse laugh sounded from behind the door.
'I am not a man who surrenders. But I will make a bargain with you.
I have a small matter of business to do to-night. If you will leave me
alone, I will give you my solemn pledge to surrender at the camp
to-morrow. I have a little debt that I wish to pay. It is only to-day
that I understood to whom I owed it.'
'What you ask is impossible.'
'It would save you a great deal of trouble.'
'We cannot grant such a request. You must surrender.'
'You'll have some work first.'
'Come, come, you cannot escape us. Put your shoulders against the door!
Now, all together?'
There was the hot flash of a pistol from the keyhole, and a bullet
smacked against the wall between us. We hurled ourselves against the
door. It was massive, but rotten with age. With a splintering and
rending it gave way before us. We rushed in, weapons in hand, to find
ourselves in an empty room.
'Where the devil has he got to?' cried Savary, glaring round him.
'This is the top room of all. There is nothing above it.'
It was a square empty space with a few corn-bags littered about. At the
further side was an open window, and beside it lay a pistol, still
smoking from the discharge. We all rushed across, and, as we craned our
heads over, a simultaneous cry of astonishment escaped from us.
The distance to the ground was so great that no one could have survived
the fall, but Toussac had taken advantage of the presence of that cart
full of grain-sacks, which I have described as having lain close to the
mill. This had both shortened the distance and given him an excellent
means of breaking the fall. Even so, however, the shock had been
tremendous, and as we looked out he was lying panting heavily upon the
top of the bags. Hearing our cry, however, he looked up, shook his fist
defiantly, and, rolling from the cart, he sprang on to the back of
Savary's black horse, and galloped off across the downs, his great beard
flying in the wind, untouched by the pistol bullets with which we tried
to bring him down.
How we flew down those creaking wooden stairs and out through the open
door of the mill! Quick as we were, he had a good start, and by the
time Gerard and I were in the saddle he had become a tiny man upon a
small horse galloping up the green slope of the opposite hill.
The shades of evening, too, were drawing in, and upon his left was the
huge salt-marsh, where we should have found it difficult to follow him.
The chances were certainly in his favour. And yet he never swerved from
his course, but kept straight on across the downs on a line which took
him farther and farther from the sea. Every instant we feared to see
him dart away in the morass, but still he held his horse's head against
the hill-side. What could he be making for? He never pulled rein and
never glanced round, but flew onwards, like a man with a definite goal
Lieutenant Gerard and I were lighter men, and our mounts were as good as
his, so that it was not long before we began to gain upon him. If we
could only keep him in sight it was certain that we should ride him
down; but there was always the danger that he might use his knowledge of
the country to throw us off his track. As we sank beneath each hill my
heart sank also, to rise again with renewed hope as we caught sight of
him once more galloping in front of us.
But at last that which I had feared befell us. We were not more than a
couple of hundred paces behind him when we lost all trace of him.
He had vanished behind some rolling ground, and we could see nothing of
him when we reached the summit.
'There is a road there to the left,' cried Gerard, whose Gascon blood
was aflame with excitement.
'On, my friend, on, let us keep to the left!'
'Wait a moment!' I cried. 'There is a bridle-path upon the right, and
it is as likely that he took that.'
'Then do you take one and I the other.'
'One moment, I hear the sound of hoofs!'
'Yes, yes, it is his horse!'
A great black horse, which was certainly that of General Savary, had
broken out suddenly through a dense tangle of brambles in front of us.
The saddle was empty.
'He has found some hiding-place here amongst the brambles,' I cried.
Gerard had already sprung from his horse, and was leading him through
the bushes. I followed his example, and in a minute or two we made our
way down a winding path into a deep chalk quarry.
'There is no sign of him!' cried Gerard. 'He has escaped us.'
But suddenly I had understood it all. His furious rage which the miller
had described to us was caused no doubt by his learning how he came to
be betrayed upon the night of his arrival. This sweetheart of his had
in some way discovered it, and had let him know. His promise to deliver
himself up to-morrow was in order to give him time to have his revenge
upon my uncle. And now with one idea in his head he had ridden to this
chalk quarry. Of course, it must be the same chalk quarry into which
the underground passage of Grosbois opened, and no doubt during his
treasonable meetings with my uncle he had learned the secret. Twice I
hit upon the wrong spot, but at the third trial I gained the face of the
cliff, made my way between it and the bushes, and found the narrow
opening, which was hardly visible in the gathering darkness. During our
search Savary had overtaken us on foot, so now, leaving our horses in
the chalk-pit, my two companions followed me through the narrow entrance
tunnel, and on into the larger and older passage beyond. We had no
lights, and it was as black as pitch within, so I stumbled forward as
best I might, feeling my way by keeping one hand upon the side wall, and
tripping occasionally over the stones which were scattered along the
path. It had seemed no very great distance when my uncle had led the
way with the light, but now, what with the darkness, and what with the
uncertainty and the tension of our feelings, it appeared to be a long
journey, and Savary's deep voice at my elbow growled out questions as to
how many more miles we were to travel in this moleheap.
'Hush!' whispered Gerard. 'I hear someone in front of us.'
We stood listening in breathless silence. Then far away through the
darkness I heard the sound of a door creaking upon its hinges.
'On, on!' cried Savary, eagerly. 'The rascal is there, sure enough.
This time at least we have got him!'
But for my part I had my fears. I remembered that my uncle had opened
the door which led into the castle by some secret catch. This sound
which we had heard seemed to show that Toussac had also known how to
open it. But suppose that he had closed it behind him. I remembered
its size and the iron clampings which bound it together. It was
possible that even at the last moment we might find ourselves face to
face with an insuperable obstacle. On and on we hurried in the dark,
and then suddenly I could have raised a shout of joy, for there in the
distance was a yellow glimmer of light, only visible in contrast with
the black darkness which lay between. The door was open. In his mad
thirst for vengeance Toussac had never given a thought to the pursuers
at his heels.
And now we need no longer grope. It was a race along the passage and up
the winding stair, through the second door, and into the stone-flagged
corridor of the Castle of Grosbois, with the oil-lamp still burning at
the end of it. A frightful cry--a long-drawn scream of terror and of
pain--rang through it as we entered.
'He is killing him! He is killing him!' cried a voice, and a woman
servant rushed madly out into the passage. 'Help, help; he is killing
'Where is he?' shouted Savary.
'There! The library! The door with the green curtain!' Again that
horrible cry rang out, dying down to a harsh croaking. It ended in a
loud, sharp snick, as when one cracks one's joint, but many times
louder. I knew only too well what that dreadful sound portended.
We rushed together into the room, but the hardened Savary and the
dare-devil hussar both recoiled in horror from the sight which met our
My uncle had been seated writing at his desk, with his back to the door,
when his murderer had entered. No doubt it was at the first glance over
his shoulder that he had raised the scream when he saw that terrible
hairy face coming in upon him, while the second cry may have been when
those great hands clutched at his head. He had never risen from his
chair--perhaps he had been too paralysed by fear--and he still sat with
his back to the door. But what struck the colour from our cheeks was
that his head had been turned completely round, so that his horribly
distorted purple face looked squarely at us from between his shoulders.
Often in my dreams that thin face, with the bulging grey eyes, and the
shockingly open mouth, comes to disturb me. Beside him stood Toussac,
his face flushed with triumph, and his great arms folded across his
'Well, my friends,' said he, 'you are too late, you see. I have paid my
debts after all.'
'Surrender!' cried Savary.
'Shoot away! Shoot away!' he cried, drumming his hands upon his breast.
'You don't suppose I fear your miserable pellets, do you? Oh, you
imagine you will take me alive! I'll soon knock that idea out of your
In an instant he had swung a heavy chair over his head, and was rushing
furiously at us. We all fired our pistols into him together, but
nothing could stop that thunderbolt of a man. With the blood spurting
from his wounds, he lashed madly out with his chair, but his eyesight
happily failed him, and his swashing blow came down upon the corner of
the table with a crash which broke it into fragments. Then with a mad
bellow of rage he sprang upon Savary, tore him down to the ground, and
had his hand upon his chin before Gerard and I could seize him by the
arms. We were three strong men, but he was as strong as all of us put
together, for again and again he shook himself free, and again and again
we got our grip upon him once more. But he was losing blood fast.
Every instant his huge strength ebbed away. With a supreme effort he
staggered to his feet, the three of us hanging on to him like hounds on
to a bear. Then, with a shout of rage and despair which thundered
through the whole castle, his knees gave way under him, and he fell in a
huge inert heap upon the floor, his black beard bristling up towards the
ceiling. We all stood panting round, ready to spring upon him if he
should move; but it was over. He was dead.
Savary, deadly pale, was leaning with his hand to his side against the
table. It was not for nothing that those mighty arms had been thrown
'I feel as if I had been hugged by a bear,' said he. 'Well, there is
one dangerous man the less in France, and the Emperor has lost one of
his enemies. And yet he was a brave man too!'
'What a soldier he would have made!' said Gerard thoughtfully. 'What a
quartermaster for the Hussars of Bercheny! He must have been a very
foolish person to set his will against that of the Emperor.'
I had seated myself, sick and dazed, upon the settee, for scenes of
bloodshed were new to me then, and this one had been enough to shock the
most hardened. Savary gave us all a little cognac from his flask, and
then tearing down one of the curtains he laid it over the terrible
figure of my Uncle Bernac.
'We can do nothing here,' said he. 'I must get back and report to the
Emperor as soon as possible. But all these papers of Bernac's must be
seized, for many of them bear upon this and other conspiracies.' As he
spoke he gathered together a number of documents which were scattered
about the table--among the others a letter which lay before him upon the
desk, and which he had apparently just finished at the time of Toussac's
'Hullo, what's this?' said Savary, glancing over it. 'I fancy that our
friend Bernac was a dangerous man also. "My dear Catulle--I beg of you
to send me by the very first mail another phial of the same tasteless
essence which you sent three years ago. I mean the almond decoction
which leaves no traces. I have particular reasons for wanting it in the
course of next week, so I implore you not to delay. You may rely upon
my interest with the Emperor whenever you have occasion to demand it."'
'Addressed to a chemist in Amiens,' said Savary, turning over the
letter. 'A poisoner then, on the top of his other virtues. I wonder
for whom this essence of almonds which leaves no trace was intended.'
'I wonder,' said I.
After all, he was my uncle, and he was dead, so why should I say
General Savary rode straight to Pont de Briques to report to the
Emperor, while Gerard returned with me to my lodgings to share a bottle
of wine. I had expected to find my Cousin Sibylle there, but to my
surprise there was no sign of her, nor had she left any word to tell us
whither she had gone.
It was just after daybreak in the morning when I woke to find an equerry
of the Emperor with his hand upon my shoulder.
'The Emperor desires to see you, Monsieur de Laval,' said he.
'At the Pont de Briques.'
I knew that promptitude was the first requisite for those who hoped to
advance themselves in his service. In ten minutes I was in the saddle,
and in half an hour I was at the chateau. I was conducted upstairs to a
room in which were the Emperor and Josephine, she reclining upon a sofa
in a charming dressing-gown of pink and lace, he striding about in his
energetic fashion, dressed in the curious costume which he assumed
before his official hours had begun--a white sleeping suit, red Turkish
slippers, and a white bandanna handkerchief tied round his head, the
whole giving him the appearance of a West Indian planter. From the
strong smell of eau-de-Cologne I judged that he had just come from his
bath. He was in the best of humours, and she, as usual, reflected him,
so that they were two smiling faces which were turned upon me as I was
announced. It was hard to believe that it was this man with the kindly
expression and the genial eye who had come like an east wind into the
reception-room the other night, and left a trail of wet cheeks and
downcast faces wherever he had passed.
'You have made an excellent debut as aide-de-camp,' said he; 'Savary
has told me all that has occurred, and nothing could have been better
arranged. I have not time to think of such things myself, but my wife
will sleep more soundly now that she knows that this Toussac is out of
'Yes, yes, he was a terrible man,' cried the Empress. 'So was that
Georges Cadoudal. They were both terrible men.'
'I have my star, Josephine,' said Napoleon, patting her upon the head.
'I see my own career lying before me and I know exactly what I am
destined to do. Nothing can harm me until my work is accomplished.
The Arabs are believers in Fate, and the Arabs are in the right.'
'Then why should you plan, Napoleon, if everything is to be decided by
'Because it is fated that I should plan, you little stupid. Don't you
see that that is part of Fate also, that I should have a brain which is
capable of planning. I am always building behind a scaffolding, and no
one can see what I am building until I have finished. I never look
forward for less than two years, and I have been busy all morning,
Monsieur de Laval, in planning out the events which will occur in the
autumn and winter of 1807. By the way, that good-looking cousin of
yours appears to have managed this affair very cleverly. She is a very
fine girl to be wasted upon such a creature as the Lucien Lesage who has
been screaming for mercy for a week past. Do you not think that it is a
I acknowledged that I did.
'It is always so with women--ideologists, dreamers, carried away by
whims and imaginings. They are like the Easterns, who cannot conceive
that a man is a fine soldier unless he has a formidable presence.
I could not get the Egyptians to believe that I was a greater general
than Kleber, because he had the body of a porter and the head of a
hair-dresser. So it is with this poor creature Lesage, who will be made
a hero by women because he has an oval face and the eyes of a calf.
Do you imagine that if she were to see him in his true colours it would
turn her against him?'
'I am convinced of it, sire. From the little that I have seen of my
cousin I am sure that no one could have a greater contempt for cowardice
or for meanness.'
'You speak warmly, sir. You are not by chance just a little touched
yourself by this fair cousin of yours?'
'Sire, I have already told you--'
'Ta, ta, ta, but she is across the water, and many things have happened
Constant had entered the room.
'He has been admitted, sire.'
'Very good. We shall move into the next room. Josephine, you shall
come too, for it is your business rather than mine.'
The room into which we passed was a long, narrow one. There were two
windows at one side, but the curtains had been drawn almost across, so
that the light was not very good. At the further door was Roustem the
Mameluke, and beside him, with arms folded and his face sunk downwards
in an attitude of shame and contrition, there was standing the very man
of whom we had been talking. He looked up with scared eyes, and started
with fear when he saw the Emperor approaching him. Napoleon stood with
legs apart and his hands behind his back, and looked at him long and
'Well, my fine fellow,' said he at last, 'you have burned your fingers,
and I do not fancy that you will come near the fire again. Or do you
perhaps think of continuing with politics as a profession?'
'If your Majesty will overlook what I have done,' Lesage stammered, 'I
shall faithfully promise you that I will be your most loyal servant
until the day of my death.'
'Hum!' said the Emperor, spilling a pinch of snuff over the front of his
white jacket. 'There is some sense in what you say, for no one makes so
good a servant as the man who has had a thorough fright. But I am a
very exacting master.'
'I do not care what you require of me. Everything will be welcome, if
you will only give me your forgiveness.'
'For example,' said the Emperor. 'It is one of my whims that when a man
enters my service I shall marry him to whom I like. Do you agree to
There was a struggle upon the poet's face, and he clasped and unclasped
'May I ask, sire--?'
'You may ask nothing.'
'But there are circumstances, sire--'
'There, there, that is enough!' cried the Emperor harshly, turning upon
his heel. 'I do not argue, I order. There is a young lady, Mademoiselle
de Bergerot, for whom I desire a husband. Will you marry her, or will you
return to prison?'
Again there was the struggle in the man's face, and he was silent,
twitching and writhing in his indecision.'
'It is enough!' cried the Emperor. 'Roustem, call the guard!'
'No, no, sire, do not send me back to prison.'
'The guard, Roustem!'
'I will do it, sire! I will do it! I will marry whomever you please!'
'You villain!' cried a voice, and there was Sibylle standing in the
opening of the curtains at one of the windows. Her face was pale with
anger and her eyes shining with scorn; the parting curtains framed her
tall, slim figure, which leaned forwards in her fury of passion.
She had forgotten the Emperor, the Empress, everything, in her revulsion
of feeling against this craven whom she had loved.
'They told me what you were,' she cried. 'I would not believe them, I
_could_ not believe them--for I did not know that there was upon this
earth a thing so contemptible. They said that they would prove it, and
I defied them to do so, and now I see you as you are. Thank God that I
have found you out in time! And to think that for your sake I have
brought about the death of a man who was worth a hundred of you! Oh, I
am rightly punished for an unwomanly act. Toussac has had his revenge.'
'Enough!' said the Emperor sternly. 'Constant, lead Mademoiselle Bernac
into the next room. As to you, sir, I do not think that I can condemn
any lady of my Court to take such a man as a husband. Suffice it that
you have been shown in your true colours, and that Mademoiselle Bernac
has been cured of a foolish infatuation. Roustem, remove the prisoner!'
'There, Monsieur de Laval,' said the Emperor, when the wretched Lesage
had been conducted from the room. 'We have not done such a bad piece of
work between the coffee and the breakfast. It was your idea, Josephine,
and I give you credit for it. But now, de Laval, I feel that we owe you
some recompense for having set the young aristocrats a good example, and
for having had a share in this Toussac business. You have certainly
acted very well.'
'I ask no recompense, sire,' said I, with an uneasy sense of what was
'It is your modesty that speaks. But I have already decided upon your
reward. You shall have such an allowance as will permit you to keep up
a proper appearance as my aide-de-camp, and I have determined to marry
you suitably to one of the ladies-in-waiting of the Empress.' My heart
turned to lead within me.
'But, sire,' I stammered, 'this is impossible.'
'Oh, you have no occasion to hesitate. The lady is of excellent family
and she is not wanting in personal charm. In a word, the affair is
settled, and the marriage takes place upon Thursday.'
'But it is impossible, sire,' I repeated.
'Impossible! When you have been longer in my service, sir, you will
understand that that is a word which I do not tolerate. I tell you that
it is settled.'
'My love is given to another, sire. It is not possible for me to
'Indeed!' said the Emperor coldly. 'If you persist in such a resolution
you cannot expect to retain your place in my household.'
Here was the whole structure which my ambition had planned out crumbling
hopelessly about my ears. And yet what was there for me to do?
'It is the bitterest moment of my life, sire,' said I, 'and yet I must
be true to the promise which I have given. If I have to be a beggar by
the roadside, I shall none the less marry Eugenie de Choiseul or no
The Empress had risen and had approached the window.
'Well, at least, before you make up your mind, Monsieur de Laval,' said
she, 'I should certainly take a look at this lady-in-waiting of mine,
whom you refuse with such indignation.'
With a quick rasping of rings she drew back the curtain of the second
window. A woman was standing in the recess. She took a step forward
into the room, and then--and then with a cry and a spring my arms were
round her, and hers round me, and I was standing like a man in a dream,
looking down into the sweet laughing eyes of my Eugenie. It was not
until I had kissed her and kissed her again upon her lips, her cheeks,
her hair, that I could persuade myself that she was indeed really there.
'Let us leave them,' said the voice of the Empress behind me. 'Come,
Napoleon. It makes me sad! It reminds me too much of the old days in
the Rue Chautereine.'
So there is an end of my little romance, for the Emperor's plans were,
as usual, carried out, and we were married upon the Thursday, as he had
said. That long and all-powerful arm had plucked her out from the
Kentish town, and had brought her across the Channel, in order to make
sure of my allegiance, and to strengthen the Court by the presence of a
de Choiseul. As to my cousin Sibylle, it shall be written some day how
she married the gallant Lieutenant Gerard many years afterwards, when he
had become the chief of a brigade, and one of the most noted cavalry
leaders in all the armies of France. Some day also I may tell how I
came back into my rightful inheritance of Grosbois, which is still
darkened to me by the thought of that terrible uncle of mine, and of
what happened that night when Toussac stood at bay in the library.
But enough of me and of my small fortunes. You have already heard more
of them, perhaps, than you care for.
As to the Emperor, some faint shadow of whom I have tried in these pages
to raise before you, you have heard from history how, despairing of
gaining command of the Channel, and fearing to attempt an invasion which
might be cut off from behind, he abandoned the camp of Boulogne.
You have heard also how, with this very army which was meant for
England, he struck down Austria and Russia in one year, and Prussia in
the next. From the day that I entered his service until that on which
he sailed forth over the Atlantic, never to return, I have faithfully
shared his fortunes, rising with his star and sinking with it also.
And yet, as I look back at my old master, I find it very difficult to
say if he was a very good man or a very bad one. I only know that he
was a very great one, and that the things in which he dealt were also so
great that it is impossible to judge him by any ordinary standard.
Let him rest silently, then, in his great red tomb at the Invalides, for
the workman's work is done, and the mighty hand which moulded France and
traced the lines of modern Europe has crumbled into dust. The Fates
have used him, and the Fates have thrown him away, but still it lives,
the memory of the little man in the grey coat, and still it moves the
thoughts and actions of men. Some have written to praise and some to
blame, but for my own part I have tried to do neither one nor the other,
but only to tell the impression which he made upon me in those far-off
days when the Army of England lay at Boulogne, and I came back once more
to my Castle of Grosbois.