Picturegoer, 1938 "Napoleon's Greatest Romance" cont'd
Patriotism and fear,
tinged with curiosity, veiled the woman in Marie, even as the dark veil attached to her hat covered her face when, a week later, Duroc ushered her into the Emperor's library. She saw him dictating at a desk. Behind him on the wall spread a map of Europe. Presently he dismissed his secretaries. They were alone.
"Why didn't you come after my first letter?" he reproved. "You've made me woo you for a week, a week which might have been filled with hours of happiness for us both. Do you realize you are the only woman for whose favours I have ever begged?"
"I understand it must be hard for you to beg, Sire." Already he was helping her out of her coat, lifting her hat with its veil. Already he tried to take her face in his hands, to bend her mouth to his.
"Sire!" she cried. "I have only one love -- my country. Help us. We are in your hands. Don't let a proud people ask for what is rightfully theirs ---"
"You're lovely, Marie Walewska."
"Please listen to me as a messenger from a broken nation."
"Sire, your letters made it clear that you understood the one purpose that would bring me here. If  I can't move you to be just, can't I move you to pity?"
"Pity is for the contemptible, Marie. You and I do not deal with them." She was in his arms. Overcome by the unequal struggle, she yielded to his wishes.

The clock in the entryway at the Walewska home stood at three in the morning as she left her sleigh and stood in the open doorway to find the Count looking down at her, a candle in his fine, wrinkled hand.
"I came back to hear my sentence, Anastase," she breathed.
"Madame, the words that are stabbing my brain can hardly be spoken. Otherwise I would call you a fool -- yes, a fool! I shall leave for Rome as soon as I am able, to ask for an annulment of our marriage. This house is yours. The income from it should be sufficient for your future needs. Good-bye."

She, too, knew loneliness at the Walewska estate during the following weeks. In spite of appearing calm, she was inwardly in a state of tension when the Emperor arrived one evening, demanding quarters for his men.
An hour later the Emperor sent a message by one of his staff. Would she join him? She arrived in the library to find elderly Countess Pelagia (Marie Ouspenskaya) overturning the card table in a fine rage, calling Napoleon, who she had challenged to a game of piquet, a cheat.
"How did this card-sharper get in here? He's a lunatic as well!" she snapped, rapping her ebony stick. "He's only a corporal, but will call himself an Emperor. Emperor indeed! I'm going to go count the silver!"

Supervising the cantankerous old lady's departure, Marie almost forgot the distinguished visitor until he said, in a tone so gentle that it scarcely seemed his:
"Please stay, Marie Walewska. Sit down. I had to come -- to bring you the spoils of a victory you did not seek. My repentance and my admiration. I am your friend, Marie."
"Even you cannot make a friend of the slain, Sire."
"In that one moment I saw you going through the door just now, the place became unbearable. I am lonely."
"You will always be so. You are too selfish and worldly to admit a friend, but you will bear it because you are pitiless to yourself. You stand in the sun, Sire."
"So you may think, Marie, but you are wrong." He was standing close to her, his back to the fireplace, in his eyes an earnestness which gripped her.

He spoke of personal defeats, of his wife's desertion, the jealousies of his brothers, his unfulfilled longing to have an heir. He spoke of his failure to achieve the ideal of a United State of Europe, to stop wars, to encourage democracy.
"What I wanted was a common law, a common interest, a common happiness, a common hope for the future," he went on. "And they call me a tyrant, frightening little children with my name. That, too, is defeat. Next time you see me standing in the sun, remember this.   Goodnight, Madame."                                                      


magazines menu