’My love is given to another, sire. It is not possible for me to change.’
‘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 one.’
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,