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Chapter 13 The Man of Dreams

  • When I had escorted my cousin Sibylle from the presence of the Emperor, I wa_urprised to find the same young hussar officer waiting outside who ha_ommanded the guard which had brought me to the camp.
  • 'Well, mademoiselle, what luck?' he asked excitedly, clanking towards us.
  • 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 _pent horse than ask him for anything. But my heart is heavy, mademoiselle, that you should have been unsuccessful.' His boyish blue eyes filled wit_ears and his fair moustache drooped in such a deplorable fashion, that _ould have laughed had the matter been less serious.
  • 'Lieutenant Gerard chanced to meet me, and escorted me through the camp,' sai_y cousin. 'He has been kind enough to give me sympathy in my trouble.'
  • 'And so do I, Sibylle,' I cried; 'you carried yourself like an angel, and i_s a lucky man who is blessed with your love. I trust that he may be worthy o_t.'
  • She turned cold and proud in an instant when anyone threw a doubt upon thi_retched lover of hers.
  • 'I know him as neither the Emperor nor you can do,' said she. 'He has th_eart and soul of a poet, and he is too high-minded to suspect the intrigue_o which he has fallen a victim. But as to Toussac, I should have no pity upo_im, for I know him to be a murderer five times over, and I know also tha_here will be no peace in France until he has been taken. Cousin Louis, wil_ou help me to do it?'
  • The lieutenant had been tugging at his moustache and looking me up and dow_ith a jealous eye.
  • 'Surely, mademoiselle, you will permit me to help you?' he cried in a piteou_oice.
  • 'I may need you both,' said she. 'I will come to you if I do. Now I will as_ou to ride with me to the edge of the camp and there to leave me.'
  • She had a quick imperative way which came charmingly from those sweet womanl_ips. The grey horse upon which I had come to the camp was waiting beside tha_f the hussar, so we were soon in the saddle. When we were clear of the hut_y cousin turned to us.
  • 'I had rather go alone now,' said she. 'It is understood, then, that I ca_ely 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 i_he direction of Grosbois.
  • For my part I remained in thought for some time, wondering what plan she coul_ave in her head by which she hoped to get upon the track of Toussac. _oman's wit, spurred by the danger of her lover, might perhaps succeed wher_ouche and Savary had failed. When at last I turned my horse I found my youn_ussar still staring after the distant rider.
  • 'My faith! There is the woman for you, Etienne!' he kept repeating. 'What a_ye! 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 sh_anished over the hill, when he became conscious at last of my presence.
  • 'You are mademoiselle's cousin?' he asked. 'You are joined with me in doin_omething for her. I do not yet know what it is, but I am perfectly ready t_o it.'
  • 'It is to capture Toussac.'
  • 'Excellent!'
  • 'In order to save the life of her lover.'
  • There was a struggle in the face of the young hussar, but his more generou_ature won.
  • 'Sapristi! I will do even that if it will make her the happier!' he cried, an_e shook the hand which I extended towards him. 'The Hussars of Bercheny ar_uartered over yonder, where you see the lines of picketed horses. If you wil_end for Lieutenant Etienne Gerard you will find a sure blade always at you_isposal. Let me hear from you then, and the sooner the better!' He shook hi_ridle and was off, with youth and gallantry in every line of him, from hi_ed 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 _ear from this grim uncle of mine at the Castle of Grosbois. For myself I ha_one into the town of Boulogne and had hired such a room as my thin purs_ould 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 tha_trange impulse which leads the old to tread once more with dragging feet th_ame spots which have sounded to the crisp tread of their youth. The room i_till there, the very pictures and the plaster head of Jean Bart which used t_tand upon the side table. As I stood with my back to the narrow window, I ha_round me every smallest detail upon which my young eyes had looked; nor was _onscious that my own heart and feelings had undergone much change. And ye_here, in the little round glass which faced me, was the long drawn, wear_ace of an aged man, and out of the window, when I turned, were the bare an_onely downs which had been peopled by that mighty host of a hundred and fift_housand men. To think that the Grand Army should have vanished away like _hredding cloud upon a windy day, and yet that every sordid detail of _ourgeois lodging should remain unchanged! Truly, if man is not humble it i_ot 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 poo_ittle bundle which I had carried ashore with me that squally night from th_nglish lugger. My next was to use the credit which my favourable reception b_he Emperor and his assurance of employment had given me in order to obtai_uch a wardrobe as would enable me to appear without discredit among th_ichly dressed courtiers and soldiers who surrounded him. It was well know_hat it was his whim that he should himself be the only plainly-dressed man i_he company, and that in the most luxurious times of the Bourbons there wa_ever a period when fine linen and a brave coat were more necessary for a ma_ho would keep in favour. A new court and a young empire cannot afford to tak_nything for granted.
  • 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 th_eadquarters in the camp, and that a seat in one of the Imperial carriage_ould be at my disposal that I might proceed with the Court to Pont d_riques, there to be present at the reception of the Empress. When I arrived _as shown at once through the large entrance tent, and admitted by Constan_nto the room beyond, where the Emperor stood with his back to the fire, kicking his heels against the grate. Talleyrand and Berthier were i_ttendance, and de Meneval, the secretary, sat at the writing-table.
  • 'Ah, Monsieur de Laval,' said the Emperor with a friendly nod. 'Have you hear_nything yet of your charming cousin?'
  • 'Nothing, Sire,' I answered.
  • 'I fear that her efforts will be in vain. I wish her every success, for w_ave no reason at all to fear this miserable poet, while the other i_ormidable. All the same, an example of some sort must be made.'
  • The darkness was drawing in, and Constant had appeared with a taper to ligh_he candles, but the Emperor ordered him out.
  • 'I like the twilight,' said he. 'No doubt, Monsieur de Laval, after your lon_esidence in England you find yourself also most at home in a dim light. _hink that the brains of these people must be as dense as their fogs, to judg_y the nonsense which they write in their accursed papers.' With one of thos_onvulsive gestures which accompanied his sudden outbursts of passion h_eized a sheaf of late London papers from the table, and ground them into th_ire with his heel. 'An editor!' he cried in the guttural rasping voice whic_ had heard when I first met him. 'What is he? A dirty man with a pen in _ack office. And he will talk like one of the great Powers of Europe. I hav_ad enough of this freedom of the Press. There are some who would like to se_t established in Paris. You are among them, Talleyrand. For my part I see n_eed for any paper at all except the _Moniteur_ by which the Government ma_ake known its decisions to the people.'
  • 'I am of opinion, Sire,' said the minister, 'that it is better to have ope_oes 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 lon_s you are at the head of five hundred thousand armed men?'
  • 'Ta, ta, ta!' cried the Emperor impatiently. 'You speak as if I had receive_y crown from my father the late king. But even if I had, it would b_ntolerable, this government by newspaper. The Bourbons allowed themselves t_e criticised, and where are they now? Had they used their Swiss Guards as _id the Grenadiers upon the eighteenth Brumaire what would have become o_heir precious National Assembly? There was a time when a bayonet in th_tomach of Mirabeau might have settled the whole matter. Later it took th_eads 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 upward_pon the beautiful, pallid, sphinx-like face—the face of a poet, of _hilosopher—of anything rather than of a ruthless and ambitious soldier. _ave heard folk remark that no two portraits of the Emperor are alike, and th_ault does not lie with the artists but with the fact that every varying moo_ade 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 neve_ooked upon a more beautiful face.
  • 'You have no dreams and no illusions, Talleyrand,' said he. 'You are alway_ractical, 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 th_ame when I hear some music—especially music which repeats itself again an_gain like some pieces of Passaniello. They have a strange effect upon me, an_ begin to Ossianise. I get large ideas and great aspirations. It is at suc_imes that my mind always turns to the East, that swarming ant-heap of th_uman 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 o_en, and of precipitating them upon Europe. Had I conquered Syria I shoul_ave done this, and the fate of the world was really decided at the siege o_cre. 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 Kora_hich I had myself composed. I have been born too late. To be accepted as _orld's conqueror one must claim to be divine. Alexander declared himself t_e 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 sam_laim? Monsieur de Talleyrand would smile behind his hand, and the Parisian_ould write little lampoons upon the walls.'
  • He did not appear to be addressing us, but rather to be expressing hi_houghts aloud, while allowing them to run to the most fantastic an_xtravagant lengths. This it was which he called Ossianising, because i_ecalled to him the wild vague dreams of the Gaelic Ossian, whose poems ha_lways had a fascination for him. De Meneval has told me that for an hour at _ime he has sometimes talked in this strain of the most intimate thoughts an_spirations of his heart, while his courtiers have stood round in silenc_aiting for the instant when he would return once more to his practical an_ncisive self.
  • 'The great ruler,' said he, 'must have the power of religion behind him a_ell as the power of the sword. It is more important to command the souls tha_he bodies of men. The Sultan, for example, is the head of the faith as wel_s of the army. So were some of the Roman Emperors. My position must b_ncomplete until this is accomplished. At the present instant there are thirt_epartments in France where the Pope is more powerful than I am. It is only b_niversal dominion that peace can be assured in the world. When there is onl_ne authority in Europe, seated at Paris, and when all the kings are so man_ieutenants who hold their crowns from the central power of France, it is the_hat the reign of peace will be established. Many powers of equal strengt_ust always lead to struggles until one becomes predominant. Her centra_osition, her wealth and her history, all mark France out as being the powe_hich will control and regulate the others. Germany is divided. Russia i_arbarous. England is insular. France only remains.'
  • I began to understand as I listened to him that my friends in England had no_een so far wrong when they had declared that as long as he lived—this littl_hirty-six year old artilleryman—there could not possibly be any peace in th_orld. He drank some coffee which Constant had placed upon the small roun_able at his elbow. Then he leaned back in his chair once more, still starin_oodily 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 o_rance in order to hold up his train at his coronation. Each of them will hav_o 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 b_orthy of them. But I have no love for them, these Parisians, and they hav_one for me, for they cannot forget that I turned my guns upon them onc_efore, and they know that I am ready to do so again. I have made them admir_e and fear me, but I have never made them like me. Look what I have done fo_hem. Where are the treasures of Genoa, the pictures and statues of Venice an_f the Vatican? They are in the Louvre. The spoils of my victories have gon_o decorate her. But they must always be changing, always chattering. The_ave their hats at me now, but they would soon be waving their fists if I di_ot give them something to talk over and to wonder at. When other things ar_uiet, I have the dome of the Invalides regilded to keep their thoughts fro_ischief. Louis XIV. gave them wars. Louis XV. gave them the gallantries an_candals 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, Sire.'
  • '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 th_reaty of Campo Formio—I a young general under thirty— there was a high vacan_hrone with the Imperial arms in the Commissioner's tent. I instantly spran_p the steps, and threw myself down upon it. I could not endure to think tha_here was anything above myself. And all the time I knew in my heart all tha_as going to happen to me. Even in the days when my brother Lucien and I live_n a little room upon a few francs a week, I knew perfectly well that the da_ould come when I should stand where I am now. And yet I had no prospects an_o reason for any great hopes. I was not clever at school. I was only th_orty-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 other_ere working. There was nothing to encourage my ambition, for the only thin_hich I inherited from my father was a weak stomach. Once, when I was ver_oung, I went up to Paris with my father and my sister Caroline. We were i_he Rue Richelieu, and we saw the king pass in his carriage. Who would hav_hought that the little boy from Corsica, who took his hat off and stared, wa_estined to be the next monarch of France? And yet even then I felt as if tha_arriage 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 sh_here?'
  • 'Yes, Sire.'
  • 'In the side room?'
  • 'Yes, Sire.'
  • Talleyrand and Berthier exchanged glances, and the minister began to mov_owards 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 lette_o 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 dockyar_t Brest. Extract what is essential from it, and leave it upon my desk at fiv_'clock to-morrow morning. Berthier, I will have the whole army into the boat_t seven. We will see if they can embark within three hours. Monsieur d_aval, you will wait here until we start for Pont de Briques.' So with a cris_rder to each of us, he walked with little swift steps across the room, and _aw 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 close_ehind him.
  • Berthier stood biting his nails, while Talleyrand looked at him with a sligh_aising of his bushy eyebrows. De Meneval with a rueful face was turning ove_he great bundle of papers which had to be copied by morning. Constant, with _oiseless 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 sou_mile, 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 t_ear from you about the Bourbon party in England. You must have heard thei_iews. Do they imagine that they have any chance of success?'
  • And so for ten minutes he plied me with questions, which showed me clearl_hat the Emperor had read him aright, and that he was determined, come wha_ight, to be upon the side which won. We were still talking when Constan_ntered hurriedly, with a look of anxiety and perplexity which I could no_ave imagined upon so smooth and imperturbable a face.
  • 'Good Heavens, Monsieur Talleyrand,' he cried, clasping and unclasping hi_ands. '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— Th_mpress is outside, and she is coming in.'