Emperor, generals, and officials all streamed away to the review, leaving me with a gentle-looking, large-eyed man in a black suit with very white cambric ruffles, who introduced himself to me as Monsieur de Meneval, private secretary to His Majesty.
‘We must get some food, Monsieur de Laval,’ said he. ’It is always well, if you have anything to do with the Emperor, to get your food whenever you have the chance. It may be many hours before he takes a meal, and if you are in his presence you have to fast also. I assure you that I have nearly fainted from hunger and from thirst.’
‘But how does the Emperor manage himself?’ I asked. This Monsieur de Meneval had such a kindly human appearance that I already felt much at my ease with him.
’Oh, he, he is a man of iron, Monsieur de Laval. We must not set our watches by his. I have known him work for eighteen hours on end and take nothing but a cup or two of coffee. He wears everybody out around him. Even the soldiers cannot keep up with him. I assure you that I look upon it as the very highest honour to have charge of his papers, but there are times when it is very trying all the same. Sometimes it is eleven o’clock at night, Monsieur de Laval, and I am writing to his dictation with my head aching for want of sleep. It is dreadful work, for he dictates as quickly as he can talk, and he never repeats anything. “Now, Meneval,” says he suddenly, “we shall stop here and have a good night’s rest.” And then, just as I am congratulating myself, he adds, “and we shall continue with the dictation at three to-morrow morning.” That is what he means by a good night’s rest.’
‘But has he no hours for his meals, Monsieur de Meneval?’ I asked, as I accompanied the unhappy secretary out of the tent.
’Oh, yes, he has hours, but he will not observe them. You see that it is already long after dinner time, but he has gone to this review. After the review something else will probably take up his attention, and then something else, until suddenly in the evening it will occur to him that he has had no dinner. “My dinner, Constant, this instant!” he will cry, and poor Constant has to see that it is there.’
‘But it must be unfit to eat by that time,’ said I.
The secretary laughed in the discreet way of a man who has always been obliged to control his emotions.
‘This is the Imperial kitchen,’ said he, indicating a large tent just outside the headquarters. ’Here is Borel, the second cook, at the door. How many pullets to-day, Borel?’
‘Ah, Monsieur de Meneval, it is heartrending,’ cried the cook. ’Behold them!’ and, drawing back the flap of the entrance, he showed us seven dishes, each of them containing a cold fowl. ’The eighth is now on the fire and done to a turn, but I hear that His Majesty has started for the review, so we must put on a ninth.’