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?’
‘In the side room?’
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.