Puslapio vaizdai

against one woman; it is unfair! We must do what we can to win her love!"

There was another occurrence that night that also troubled her. She could not forget her son's face when he answered those gentlemen from Venice. Was he growing hotheaded, uncontrollable? Would he go about smashing kingdoms in a temper, even though he would not stoop to loot a treasury?

In the throng she now caught sight of a face, a young man's, which she vaguely remembered. It was youthful, with a fine expression which without derogation might be called "sweet." Searching her memory, she suddenly recalled the young man who, seven years ago, had come with Madame Sallicetti to the Via Malerbe. They had talked about a certain young lieutenant; and he had been very enthusiastic. The two were almost of an age—yes, had birthdays on the same day. Seeing Eugène Beauharnais, the bride's seventeen-year-old son -Letizia liked the boy better than his mother—she asked him to bring the stranger to her.

They came across the floor, and he was presented. A "Citizen" Revillé -yes, that was it, though once there had been a prefix and a "Monsieur." He seemed glad to see her, and she noticed that his face grew luminous as they talked together.

"We talked of my son before. Do you remember?" she asked, the first formalities once passed.

"Yes, signora, I remember it well." And now this most reserved of women could not but yield to the call of confidence she had felt so long ago; and the question came out:

"What, signor, do you think of him now?"

"As before, signora. Our prophecies were right. He has gone far."

"Pardon; it was your prophecy." Then the question almost followed, quite as before: "Would you say, up the right road?" But this, at least, was withheld; and the young man continued, with great enthusiasm:

"He is a magnificent leader, signora; one of the greatest the world has seen or ever will see. He is both general and statesman, and so few have been that." Then he paused, and she was sure he had sensed her unspoken question and was trying to find the answer for her, as at that other meeting when, to reassure her, he had said, "All his instincts are right." And now he answered:

"It is hard in this world for a practical leader always to measure up to the ideal; life is too complicated. But you can depend on it, signora, that your son will advance civilization further than has any other man for the past seventeen hundred years. He will be much criticized; but none of his critics will be able to show such a harvest."

"You must have an interview with my son. He will get you a post where your talents would show-oh, do not shake your head; for you have them, monsieur."

"If I could only help-but I cannot," he replied, bowing his thanks. "As I told you before, my dear signora, I am but a spectator of the scene."

"A spectator of the scene!" Her son was anything but that. Being Corsican and therefore superstitious, she began to feel that this extraordinary young man, born on the same

day as her son, was her son's other self. Seven years ago he had come at another time which she had felt to be critical-after that dream of the meteor streaming in splendor across the skies, with herself and chattering brood of youngsters in its trail. It was uncanny. She tried to shake the feeling off, to tell herself that the stranger was but a very intelligent young man, possessed of ideals beyond the times-perhaps an abbé, without a post, in a godless age-but nothing more. Still, her mystical sense of him would not down. Like Brutus, she was sure she had had her apparition. But what he was does not matter, since he served as a symbol. But now he had gone, and she was not to see him again for many years.

It was with these disturbing reflections that she rose, bade those about her good night, and left the hall. It was not so long ago that Napoleon looked up at her as she held the candle in her hand, in the house on the Via Malerbe, and had wished that some day he might see her on the staircase of a palace. He had fulfilled his wish, but she was not happy.

"Tell the general his mother would like to see him," she told the sentry. It seemed strange to be kept waiting at her son's door. Still, he did not keep her long, and received her with something of tenderness.

"My son," she began as soon as he escorted her to a seat, "you have gone far; but you are still my son; so permit me to urge one word of caution. Have you thought well on this dismemberment of an ancient kingdom? Is it consistent with the principles I have taught you?"

She had expected the eyes looking down on her to blaze; but they did not; simply held hers for a moment, then turned away. She wondered what conflict-if conflict there were

was going on in the soul those eyes masked. Then he spoke wearily, she thought; and again she cursed the woman who she was sure had brought that look.

"Signora Mother," he said, "these things are not in a woman's province. There are practical reasons."

She paused, wondering what she might say. She was not given to analysis; and her ideas of honor were, like primitive people's, sharply cut, blacks and whites, chiefly pertaining to personal conduct. Still, she had a fear that all was not well. Perhaps there was nothing wrong, and he knew best; but she wanted so to say the right thing, the right thing, something that would influence him on the road he was to travel.

"Is not 'practical' sometimes a dangerous word?" she asked. “Cannot an act of state be judged simply as wrong or right?"

Still he was patient.

"I will try to explain. This Venice has long been a thorn in our flesh. She has conspired against us, attacked our soldiers, sunk our frigates, after peace has been signed. And her government is too corrupt to live.

"Now-what do I plan? For do not think, signora, it is the Directors that decide. It is I. Very well, I trade a few of her effete cities for Belgium. That satisfies Austria's pride; and the rest of Venetia I link with the strong Cisalpine Republic.

"What is lost? Practically nothing. Simply a decaying kingdom which, like a water-logged ship,

would sink anyway. Even the traded cities are but little worse off under Austria, while the western are far safer with a flourishing state. Furthermore I win Belgium for France; and as the representative of France, I must look to her interests and win new territory, to make her strong. We cannot stand still; and we need money, land, troops, to hold off our foes-England, Spain, Austria, Prussia, all Europe. For every king is determined to see the Revolution go down and to put the Bourbons back. They hate republican institutions, you see, for our success may mean the loss of their


"And I will be frank. I will admit I have intrigued for it. I am no priest, neither am I an idealist dwelling on the mountain-top. I live in the valley with millions of fighting, cursing, lying men, many of whom would like to see my downfall. I do not fight unfairly; and in matters of personal conduct I do not forget the principles you have taught me. But with all this intrigue around me, must fight guile with guile, match spy with spy, buy those that can be bought, and falsify bulletins to stave off panic after defeat. And, mother, answer me this: what matter a few bribes, false rumors, lies, when conditions force me to them, and when by them we set the world free?"


She felt baffled; there was so much that was incontestably right in what he said. Nevertheless she had not found the reassurance she wanted.

"Forgive me," she said at last. "All I want is that you shall act nobly-always-so that, whether you succeed or fail, when your time comes you will have nothing to regret."

[merged small][ocr errors]

In an open portmanteau he noticed a packet of letters carelessly left by the maid in the hurried unpacking. Mechanically he picked them up, ran his eye over the superscriptions, noted the preponderance of masculine handwriting, started to open one, then, as if ashamed, threw them down. The disarranged pile revealed one in his mother's large, sprawling, but painstaking script. This, without compunction, he opened and read.

"I have received your letter, madame, which could not but strengthen the impression I had of you. My son had told me of his happy union, and from that moment you posNothing is wanting to my happiness sessed my esteem and approval. but the pleasure of beholding you. Be assured that I entertain for you a mother's affection and that I love you as one of my own children.

"My son encourages me in the hope, and your letter confirms it, that you will soon pass through Marseilles on your way to join him. I rejoice, my dear madame, in the pleasure the sojourn here will afford

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

lated it; but the august phrases were Letizia's own. She had done her best, yet it was scarcely designed to attract one of his bride's sensibilité, if she read between the lines. Never in the world would they find each other.

But now at last there was a step on the stair, a turn of the doorhandle; and Josephine was there, redolent of triumph, humming lightly that Martinique song. The song died and the triumph dimmed, as she saw his eyes. She kissed himperfunctorily. He did not return. the embrace.

"Josephine," he said, "dismiss your maid. I wish to talk with


The woman gone, he began, not angrily but sadly:

"Why do you distress me with these flirtations? They are harmless, you say, but surely it does not become you, as my wife, to receive the attentions of others.

"And what can they give you that I cannot give? I have just won seventy battles and conquered many kingdoms. The battles need not concern you, but you, but the kingdoms should; also the jewels which, as I promised, I will pour into your lap. And can any of these sycophants give you a love that is deeper than mine? Yet with me you are chary even of your kisses."

She did not answer, standing with head bent over the tray into which she had just dropped a gold lion, the muslin dress falling away from a soft shoulder. The sight, which always gave him delight, now perversely added to his mental torture.

"Mon Dieu, what have I done?" he broke out frantically. "How have I deserved such treatment, I who think only of you, live only for you!"

So he strode from the room. But, a little later, he heard his name called-a choke-a sob. He entered the bedroom where she lay, clad in a diaphanous robe for the night. She was in tears-they came so easily to the poor Josephine. Still, he could not stand them. The storm was


The last rumble died away.

She perceived this-looked upbrightened then patted the pillow beside her, beckoning with her little finger. And because he wanted to forget, he, the conqueror, obeyed that little finger.

The hours passed. She lay asleep, dreaming of who knows what petty triumphs, and smiling as she dreamed. But he was once more awake. In the midst of his own triumph he had tasted the bitterness of defeat. He parted the draperies and looked out on the stars shining over the valley. And once he had said that there could be no bliss like this, to lie under the stars in the soft white arms of a loved woman.

[ocr errors]

Ah, Josephine, Josephine-you may grow affectionate from habit and be revered and called "the good" throughout the world. But you have missed your chance. There is a time for the wax and flame to meet for the eternal sealing of the compact. Soon the match burns out. Later the compact may be tied up somehow with the string of affection; but the bond is loose-and the fire has gone out.

(To be continued)


READING AND WRITING: When you consider the amount of writing done in the world, with the small chance of literary success, you are tempted to conclude it is in itself the most exciting of human occupations. Even when we can't get a soul to read what we write, we keep on, saying, "After all, I have the satisfaction of expressing myself." Just what does that satisfaction consist of?

When you think of the number of books read by this busy world, in the persistent hope of finding a good one, and the much greater number of manuscripts read free of charge and at unspeakable cost to eyesight, in the hope of finding a book fit to print, you conclude that reading comes next after writing as the most widespread of excitements or nervous diseases. Either reading or writing may of course be an art, but first it is useful to think of them in bulk. There is an art of cooking and of dressing, but it is impressive occasionally to see in the mind's eye the wide world getting up and going to breakfast. I submit there is something more astonishing-the vision of humanity getting up every morning to write and read its magazines. There is great business on foot-deeds of mercy waiting to be done, political and economic prob

lems to be solved, discoveries to be made in science, food to be provided, beauty to fall in love with, each other to educate. When I have heard specialists pleading for these matters, myself thrilled with a vision of chemistry, of politics, of philosophy, of history, even of the study of the Chinese language, I have sometimes thought of addressing to the orator an ignoble remark: "Dear sir, people can be persuaded to follow your calling. They can't be stopped from trying to follow mine."

Evidently the impulse to write and to read is not a bookish thing; it is as vital and necessary to daily comfort as eating and breathing. It is a give and take of life, an exchange if not a communion of spirit. It is the most profound of human relations-more so even than the relation of the sexes; for man often gets on without matrimony, but less frequently without writing and talking, and in the extreme case, though he takes a vow of silence, he still reads. Why does he?

Until we know more about the experience of reading and writing, our inquiries into other fields of knowledge are somewhat futile. We hope to increase our empire of truth by experience, by research, by philosophizing; and most discussion of scholarship turns on these methods of

« AnkstesnisTęsti »