The camp of Boulogne contained at that time one hundred and fifty thousan_nfantry, with fifty thousand cavalry, so that its population was second onl_o Paris among the cities of Prance. It was divided into four sections, th_ight 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 _ength of about seven miles. On the land side it was open, but on the sea sid_t was fringed by powerful batteries containing mortars and cannon of a siz_ever seen before. These batteries were placed along the edges of the hig_liffs, and their lofty position increased their range, and enabled them t_rop 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 fo_ore than a year, and had done all that was possible to decorate and ornamen_heir tents. Most of them had little gardens in front or around them, and th_un-burned fellows might be seen as we passed kneeling in their shirt-sleeve_ith 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 glanc_pon us as we passed, for patrols of cavalry were coming and going in ever_irection. The endless lines were formed into streets, with their name_rinted up upon boards. Thus we had passed through the Rue d'Arcola, the Ru_e Kleber, the Rue d'Egypte, and the Rue d'Artillerie Volante, before we foun_urselves in the great central square in which the headquarters of the arm_ere 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 continua_ouncils of war were held there. Here also were his ministers, and th_enerals of the army corps which were scattered up and down the coast cam_hither to make their reports and to receive their orders. For thes_onsultations a plain wooden house had been constructed containing one ver_arge room and three small ones. The pavilion which we had observed from th_owns served as an ante-chamber to the house, in which those who sough_udience with the Emperor might assemble. It was at the door of this, where _trong guard of grenadiers announced Napoleon's presence, that my guardia_prang down from his horse and signed to me to follow his example. An office_f the guard took our names and returned to us accompanied by General Duroc, _hin, hard, dry man of forty, with a formal manner and a suspicious eye.
'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, Lieutenant.'
'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 hug_ent, 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, an_umerous groups were standing about chatting in subdued tones. At the far en_as a door which led into the Imperial council chamber. Now and then I sa_ome man in official dress walk up to this door, scratch gently upon it wit_is nail, and then, as it instantly opened, slip discreetly through, closin_t softly behind him. Over the whole assembly there hung an air of the Cour_ather than of the camp, an atmosphere of awe and of reverence which was th_ore impressive when it affected these bluff soldiers and sailors. The Empero_ad seemed to me to be formidable in the distance, but I found him even mor_verwhelming now that he was close at hand.
'You need have no fears, Monsieur de Laval,' said my companion. 'You are goin_o have a good reception.'
'How do you know that?'
'From General Duroc's manner. In these cursed Courts, if the Emperor smile_pon 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 ma_ho 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 fin_ut what earned you either the frown or the smile. That is why I had rathe_ear 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 wit_hich Duroc had greeted me could mean that the Emperor's intentions towards m_ere friendly, when a very tall and handsome young man, in a brillian_niform, came towards me. In spite of the change in his dress, I recognise_im at once as the General Savary who had commanded the expedition of th_ight 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 wa_eally the only one whom we were anxious to seize, for the other is evidentl_ mere dupe and dreamer. But we shall have him yet, and between ourselves w_hall keep a very strict guard upon the Emperor's person until we do, fo_aster Toussac is not a man to be despised.'
I seemed to feel his great rough thumb upon my chin as I answered that _hought he was a very dangerous man indeed.
'The Emperor will see you presently,' said Savary. 'He is very busy thi_orning, but he bade me say that you should have an audience.' He smiled an_assed on.
'Assuredly you are getting on,' whispered Gerard. 'There are a good many me_ere 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 towards us.'
A singular-looking person was shuffling in our direction. He was a man abou_ifty years of age, largely made about the shoulders and chest, but stooping _ood deal, and limping heavily in one leg. He walked slowly, leaning upon _ilver-headed stick, and his sober suit of black, with silk stockings of th_ame hue, looked strangely staid among the brilliant uniforms which surrounde_im. But in spite of his plain dress there was an expression of grea_uthority upon his shrewd face, and every one drew back with bows and salute_s he moved across the tent.
'Monsieur Louis de Laval?' said he, as he Stopped in front of me, and his col_rey eyes played over me from head to heel.
I bowed, and with some coldness, for I shared the dislike which my father use_o profess for this unfrocked priest and perjured politician; but his manne_as 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 rascal_ogether when the world was not quite so serious as it is at present. _elieve that you are related to the Cardinal de Montmorency de Laval, who i_lso an old friend of mine. I understand that you are about to offer you_ervices to the Emperor?'
'I have come from England for that purpose, sir.'
'And met with some little adventure immediately upon your arrival, as _nderstand. I have heard the story of the worthy police agent, the tw_acobins, and the lonely hut. Well, you have seen the danger to which th_mperor is exposed, and it may make you the more zealous in his service. Wher_s 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 hea_ownward 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 wa_cross the tent again.
'Why, my friend, you are certainly destined for something great,' said th_ussar lieutenant. 'Monsieur de Talleyrand does not waste his smiles and hi_ows, I promise you. He knows which way the wind blows before he flies hi_ite, and I foresee that I shall be asking for your interest to get me m_aptaincy 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 smal_not of men came through dressed in the dark blue coats, with trimmings o_old oak-leaves, which marked the marshals of the Empire. They were, all bu_ne, 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 _egiment; but the continuous wars and the open system by which rules o_eniority yielded to merit had opened up a rapid career to a successfu_oldier. Each carried his curved cocked hat under his arm, and now, leanin_pon their sword-hilts, they fell into a little circle and chatted eagerl_mong 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 bee_ome changes in this country when I tell you that those men, who, under th_mperor, are the greatest in the country have been the one a waiter, the nex_ 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 eagerl_sked him to point me out each of these famous soldiers.
'Oh, there are many famous soldiers in the room,' said he. 'Besides,' h_dded, twisting his moustache, 'there may be junior officers here who have i_n them to rise higher than any of them. But there is Ney to the right.'
I saw a man with close-cropped red hair and a large square-jowled face, suc_s I have seen upon an English prize-fighter.
'We call him Peter the Red, and sometimes the Red Lion, in the army,' said m_ompanion. 'He is said to be the bravest man in the army, though I canno_dmit that he is braver than some other people whom I could mention. Still h_s undoubtedly a very good leader.'
'And the general next him?' I asked. 'Why does he carry his head all upon on_ide?'
'That is General Lannes, and he carries his head upon his left shoulde_ecause he was shot through the neck at the siege of St. Jean d'Acre. He is _ascon, like myself, and I fear that he gives some ground to those who accus_y countrymen of being a little talkative and quarrelsome. But monsieu_miles?'
'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, instea_f being, as I contend, the mildest race in France—an opinion which I a_lways 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 comman_pon the one occasion when Napoleon's heart and spirit had failed him. He wa_ man, I should judge, who would shine rather in war than in peace, for, wit_is long goat's face and his brandy nose, he looked, in spite of his golde_ak-leaves, just such a long-legged, vulgar, swaggering, foul-mouthed ol_oldier 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 alway_he 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 i_ne of those whom the Emperor had to warn that he wished them to be soldier_nly with the army. He and Rapp and Lefebvre, with their big boots and thei_lanking sabres, were too much for the Empress's drawing-room at th_uileries. There is Vandamme also, the dark man with the heavy face. Heave_elp the English village that he finds his quarters in! It was he who got int_rouble because he broke the jaw of a Westphalian priest who could not fin_im 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 th_rown of Egypt upon his face. He is the man for me! My word, when you hav_een him raving in front of a brigade of light cavalry, with his plume_ossing and his sabre flashing, you would not wish to see anything finer. _ave 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 th_ittle General when this fine horseman and swordsman was before them. In m_pinion Lasalle is the better light cavalry officer, but there is no one who_he 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 wit_he Emperor. The handsome man beside him is Junot, and Bernadotte is leanin_gainst 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 contente_ith the baton of a marshal, but passed on afterwards to grasp the sceptre o_ king. And it might be said of him that, unlike his fellows, he gained hi_hrone in spite of Napoleon rather than by his aid. Any man who looked at hi_ingular pronounced features, the swarthiness of which proclaimed his hal_panish origin, must have read in his flashing black eyes and in that hug_ggressive nose that he was reserved for a strange destiny. Of all the fierc_nd masterful men who surrounded the Emperor there was none with greate_ifts, and none, also, whose ambitions he more distrusted, than those of Jule_ernadotte.
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 o_owed 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 hus_uch as you see in a boys' school when the master enters unexpectedly, an_here near the open doors of his headquarters stood the master himself. Eve_ithout that sudden silence, and the scramble to their feet of those upon th_enches, I felt that I should have known instantly that he was present. Ther_as a pale luminosity about his ivory face which drew the eye towards it, an_hough his dress might be the plainest of a hundred, his appearance would b_he 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-shel_cabbard. His head was uncovered, showing his thin hair of a ruddy chestnu_olour. Under one arm was the flat cocked hat with the twopenny tricolou_osette, which was already reproduced in his pictures. In his right hand h_eld a little riding switch with a metal head. He walked slowly forward, hi_ace immutable, his eyes fixed steadily before him, measured, inexorable, th_ery 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. Fro_nder his puckered brows his light-blue eyes glanced swiftly round with _weep like a sabre.
'I am here, Sire!' A dark, grizzled, middle-aged man, in a naval uniform, ha_dvanced from the throng. Napoleon took three quick little steps towards hi_n so menacing a fashion, that I saw the weather-stained cheeks of the sailo_urn a shade paler, and he gave a helpless glance round him, as if fo_ssistance.
'How comes it, Admiral Bruix,' cried the Emperor, in the same terrible raspin_oice, 'that you did not obey my commands last night?'
'I could see that a westerly gale was coming up, Sire. I knew that—,' he coul_ardly speak for his agitation, 'I knew that if the ships went out with thi_ee shore—'
'What right have you to judge, sir?' cried the Emperor, in a cold fury o_ndignation. 'Do you conceive that your judgment is to be placed agains_ine?'
'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 come_nly when many are waiting, and all with bated breath. The Emperor's face wa_errible. His cheeks were of a greenish, livid tint, and there was a singula_otary movement of the muscles of his forehead. It was the countenance of a_pileptic. He raised the whip to his shoulder, and took a step towards th_dmiral.
'You insolent rascal!' he hissed. It was the Italian word _coglione_ which h_sed, and I observed that as his feelings overcame him his French became mor_nd more that of a foreigner.
For a moment he seemed to be about to slash the sailor across the face wit_is whip. The latter took a step back, and clapped his hand to his sword.
'Have a care, Sire,' said he.
For a few instants the tension was terrible. Then Napoleon brought the whi_own with a sharp crack against his own thigh.
'Vice-Admiral Magon,' he cried, 'you will in future receive all order_onnected with the fleet. Admiral Bruix, you will leave Boulogne in twenty- four hours and withdraw to Holland. Where is Lieutenant Gerard, of the Hussar_f Bercheny?'
My companion's gauntlet sprang to his busby.
'I ordered you to bring Monsieur Louis de Laval from the castle of Grosbois.'
'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 th_hrase of eyes looking through you, but that piercing gaze did really give on_he feeling that it penetrated to one's inmost thoughts. But the sternness ha_ll melted out of it, and I read a great gentleness and kindness in thei_xpression.
'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 yo_een 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, Loui_e Bourbon will find that he cannot gain a throne by writing proclamations i_ondon and signing them Louis. For my part, I found the crown of France lyin_pon the ground, and I lifted it upon my sword-point.'
'You have lifted France with your sword also, Sire,' said Talleyrand, wh_tood at his elbow.
Napoleon looked at his famous minister, and I seemed to read suspicion in hi_yes. Then he turned to his secretary.
'I leave Monsieur de Laval in your hands, de Meneval,' said he. 'I desire t_ee him in the council chamber after the inspection of the artillery.'