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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?'

'Yes, Sire.'

'In the side room?'

'Yes, Sire.'

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

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Online LibraryArthur Conan DoyleUncle Bernac A Memory of the Empire → online text (page 10 of 13)