‘For God’s sake, Sire! For the love of your mother spare him!’ she cried, falling upon her knees at the Emperor’s feet. ’I will answer for him that he never offends you again.’
‘Tut, tut!’ cried Napoleon angrily, turning upon his heel and walking impatiently up and down the room. ’I cannot grant you what you ask, mademoiselle. When I say so once it is finished. I cannot have my decisions in high matters of State affected by the intrusion of women. The Jacobins have been dangerous of late, and an example must be made or we shall have the Faubourg St. Antoine upon our hands once more.’
The Emperors set face and firm manner showed it was hopeless, and yet my cousin persevered as no one but a woman who pleads for her lover would have dared to do.
‘He is harmless, Sire.’
‘His death will frighten others.’
‘Spare him and I will answer for his loyalty.’
‘What you ask is impossible.’
Constant and I raised her from the ground.
‘That is right, Monsieur de Laval,’ said the Emperor. ’This interview can lead to nothing. Remove your cousin from the room!’
But she had again turned to him with a face which showed that even now all hope had not been abandoned.
‘Sire,’ she cried. ’You say that an example must be made. There is Toussac—!’
‘Ah, if I could lay my hands upon Toussac!’
’He is the dangerous man. It was he and my father who led Lucien on. If an example must be made it should be an example of the guilty rather than of the innocent.’
’They are both guilty. And, besides, we have our hands upon the one but not upon the other.’
‘But if I could find him?’
Napoleon thought for a moment.
‘If you do,’ said he, ‘Lesage will be forgiven!’
‘But I cannot do it in a day.’
‘How long do you ask?’
‘A week at the least.’
’Then he has a respite of a week. If you can find Toussac in the time, Lesage will be pardoned. If not he will die upon the eighth day. It is enough. Monsieur de Laval, remove your cousin, for I have matters of more importance to attend to. I shall expect you one evening at the Pont de Briques, when you are ready to be presented to the Empress.’
THE MAN OF DREAMS
When I had escorted my cousin Sibylle from the presence of the Emperor, I was surprised to find the same young hussar officer waiting outside who had commanded 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 a spent horse than ask him for anything. But my heart is heavy, mademoiselle, that you should have been unsuccessful.’ His boyish blue eyes filled with tears and his fair moustache drooped in such a deplorable fashion, that I could have laughed had the matter been less serious.