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Chapter 10 The Ante-Room

  • 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.
  • I bowed.
  • '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.
  • 'Admiral Bruix!'
  • 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?'
  • 'Yes, Sire.'
  • 'You have been some time in making up your mind.'
  • 'I was not my own master, Sire.'
  • 'Your father was an aristocrat?'
  • 'Yes, Sire.'
  • 'And a supporter of the Bourbons?'
  • 'Yes, Sire.'
  • '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.'