A stentorian bellow shook the candles in their sconces.
Unconsciously, Amy grabbed Richard’s arm, looking about anxiously for the source of the roar. About the room, people went on chatting as before.
"Steady there." Richard patted the delicate hand clutching the material of his coat. "It’s just the First Consul."
Snatching her hand away as though his coat were made of live coals, Amy snapped, "You would know."
The dreadful noise repeated itself, cutting off any further remarks. Out of an adjoining room charged a blur of red velvet, closely followed by the scurrying form of a young man. Amy sidestepped just in time, swaying on her slippers to avoid toppling into Lord Richard.
The red velvet came to an abrupt stop beside Mme Bonaparte’s chair. "Oh. Visitors."
Once still, the red velvet resolved into a man of slightly less than medium height, clad in a long red velvet coat with breeches that must once have been white, but which now bore assorted stains that proclaimed as clearly as a menu what the wearer had eaten for supper.
"I do wish you wouldn’t shout so, Bonaparte." Mme Bonaparte lifted one white hand and touched him gently on the cheek.
Bonaparte grabbed her hand and planted a resounding kiss on the palm. "How else am I to make myself heard?" Affectionately tweaking one of her curls, he demanded, "Well? Who is it tonight?"
"We have some visitors from England, sir,"his stepdaughter responded. "I should like to present…" Hortense began listing their names. Bonaparte stood, legs slightly apart, eyes hooded with apparent boredom, and one arm thrust into the opposite side of his jacket, as though in a sling.
Bonaparte inclined his head, looked down at his wife, and demanded, "Are we done yet?"
Everyone within earshot jumped at the sound of Miss Gwen’s reticule connecting with Bonaparte’s arm.
"Sir! Take that hand out of your jacket! It is rude and it ruins your posture. A man of your diminutive stature needs to stand up straight."
Something suspiciously like a chuckle emerged from Lord Richard’s lips, but when Amy glanced sharply up at him, his expression was studiedly bland.
A dangerous hush fell over the room. Flirtations in the far corners of the room were abandoned. Business deals were dropped. The non-English speakers among the assemblage tugged at the sleeves of those who had the language, and instant translations began to be whispered about the room – suitably embellished, of course.
"It’s an assassination attempt!" a woman next to Amy cried dramatically, swooning back into the arms of an officer who looked as though he didn’t quite know what to do with her, but would really be happiest just dropping her.
"No, it’s not, it’s just Miss Gwen," Amy tried to explain.
Meanwhile, Miss Gwen was advancing on Bonaparte, backing him up so that he was nearly sitting on Josephine’s lap. "While we are speaking, sir, this habit you have of barging into other people’s countries without invitation – it is most rude. I will not have it! You should apologise to the Italians and the Dutch at the first opportunity!"
"Mais zee Italians, zey invited me!" Bonaparte exclaimed indignantly.
Miss Gwen cast Bonaparte the severe look of a governess listening to substandard excuses from a wayward child.
"That may well be," she pronounced in a tone that implied she thought it highly unlikely. "But your behaviour upon entering their country was inexcusable! If you were to be invited to someone’s home for a weekend, sirrah, would you reorganise their domestic arrangements and seize the artwork from their walls? Would you countenance any guest who behaved so? I thought not."
Amy wondered if Bonaparte could declare war on Miss Gwen alone without breaking his peace with England. "So much for the Peace of Amiens!" she started to whisper to Jane, but Jane was no longer beside her.