‘But how he must work!’ I exclaimed.
‘Ah, you may say so,’ said de Meneval. ’What energy! Eighteen hours out of twenty-four for weeks on end. He has presided over the Legislative Council until they were fainting at their desks. As to me, he will be the death of me, just as he wore out de Bourrienne; but I will die at my post without a murmur, for if he is hard upon us he is hard upon himself also.’
‘He was the man for France,’ said de Caulaincourt. ’He is the very genius of system and of order, and of discipline. When one renumbers the chaos in which our poor country found itself after the Revolution, when no one would be governed and everyone wanted to govern someone else, you will understand that only Napoleon could have saved us. We were all longing for something fixed to secure ourselves to, and then we came upon this iron pillar of a man. And what a man he was in those days, Monsieur de Laval! You see him now when he has got all that he can want. He is good-humoured and easy. But at that time he had got nothing, but coveted everything. His glance frightened women. He walked the streets like a wolf. People looked after him as he passed. His face was quite different—it was craggy, hollow-cheeked, with an oblique menacing gaze, and the jaws of a pike. Oh, yes, this little Lieutenant Buonaparte from the Military School of Brienne was a singular figure. “There is a man,” said I, when I saw him, “who will sit upon a throne or kneel upon a scaffold.” And now look at him!’
‘And that is ten years ago,’ I exclaimed.
’Only ten years, and they have brought him from a barrack-room to the Tuileries. But he was born for it. You could not keep him down. De Bourrienne told me that when he was a little fellow at Brienne he had the grand Imperial manner, and would praise or blame, glare or smile, exactly as he does now. Have you seen his mother, Monsieur de Laval? She is a tragedy queen, tall, stern, reserved, silent. There is the spring from which he flowed.’
I could see in the gentle, spaniel-eyes of the secretary that he was disturbed by the frankness of de Caulaincourt’s remarks.