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the days of her youth. Countries where she had been intimate with royalty had become republics. In the present democratic age, millionaires like Baldwin were the real lords of the earth. She herself had spent the larger part of her former fortune on the careers of her children, and for years had been living a life of gilded poverty, which allowed only infrequent excursions from her villa on Cap Martin.
That is why the aged aristocrat felt the greatest respect for this potentate of a younger age; and that is why she smiled so cordially when she discovered that the intruder on her solitude was the American millionaire. Hitherto she had seen him at social gatherings, of an afternoon, in sombre palace halls, where the lighting was controlled by older hostesses, careful to avoid the glaring, indiscreet rays of unobstructed sunlight. Now, here he was before her in the open air, and in that garden where trees and stones seemed to have halos of green around them, so intense was the golden radiance dripping from the sky.
She was eighty, and he was quite as old, if not, as the duchess suspected, a few years older. But he was still a strong man, one of those hard, wiry, elastic persons on whom the storms of the years beat as on a marble temple, roughening the surface, perhaps, but powerless to break them down. Old age seemed to have toughened John Baldwin, throwing a wrapper of parchment, as it were, around him, an armor proof against disease and impenetrable to the shafts of death. His dark-blue suit had been cut to fit him; yet he seemed to move about in it as if it had been made for another person. The slenderness of his neck emphasized the massive structure of his head inent, bulging forehead, a strong, protruding lower jaw, evidences of intelligence and will, remnants of a vigorous
youth, which the deep lines of his aged face had not been able to obscure.
And his eyes, also! His eyes were as bright as they had ever been. It was easy to guess how they must have flashed in his angry moments as a youth. They looked out upon you with the piercing, disconcerting glare that belongs to men who are masters of men. In them one could see the secret of his great worldly success. And yet their outlines were somewhat softened now by a trace of gentleness and kindliness. They suggested willingness on a fighter's part to forget the struggles of the past.
At sight of the duchess, Baldwin threw away the smashed and muchchewed cigar-butt he had been smoking.
'How do you happen to be here?' the duchess asked, offering her hand in cordial greeting.
'Oh, one of my friends told me about the view from here. He heard you describe it so enthusiastically the other day! I thought I would come and have a look at it myself. You are right, madame! It is wonderful!'
They sat down on a rustic bench of tree-trunks, looking out over the sea at their feet, the villages along the shore, and the distant foothills of the Alps. Automobiles, like so many insects, were running along the thread-like roadways visible far down at the foot of the hills. A train was in sight on the FrancoItalian railroad, though at that distance the locomotive seemed to be puffing in silence and there was no rumbling of the wheels. In fact, the stillness of the garden was broken only by the tinkling of little bells that came from a herd of goats grazing along the slopes below the garden gardena soft, mellow tinkling, like the ring from a Venetian glass. The sea had turned to a more subdued azure, less harsh on the eyes than previously in the blinding deluge of light rained upon it from the sun.
'Yes, it is beautiful!' said the duchess
after a long pause. 'It is wonderful!' As they sat there in silence, the full solemnity of the dying day came over them. 'What a pity it is,' Baldwin observed, 'that we have to wait till we are old before we can enjoy the deepest and sweetest pleasures of life! When we are young, we are always worried about things. We are looking forward all the time. Our hopes and ambitions blind our eyes to the things actually present before us. I imagine that many of the men I used to know, if they could rise from their graves on the other side of the ocean and come here now, would be surprised to see old man Baldwin stopping to look at a landscape and actually enjoying it, without a thought for the ups and downs of exchange!'
The duchess nodded without clearly foreseeing what her companion was about to say.
'I imagine that you, too,' he continued, 'have had to wait for the years to go by before you could take a really true delight in the beauties of Nature; though women, as a rule, are born more poetic, more sentimental, than men, and when they are young, furthermore, have more time to devote to what are called "higher" things. I am sure you are enjoying what you see before you quite as much as you used to enjoy a soirée at the Tuileries.'
Again the duchess nodded, quite flattered that the powerful personage at her side should take an interest in her humble self. Something of her vanished coquetry came to life again. Baldwin, the richest man in the world, had come to visit that remote garden just because she had praised it to one of his friends! These new bourgeois upstarts of the day were not so hard, so lacking in all feeling, as she had been told. She began to talk of her past as if the aged American were an old friend of hers.
'You are right,' she said. "The life I am leading now is not so brilliant as the
life of gayety I led when I was young. But it has its consolations. You see, I have suffered a great deal in my time, Mr. Baldwin. People's lives are something like houses, are n't they? You have to live in them before you know what they really are.'
The American millionaire had heard many stories about the career of the duchess in the old days. She had been a very interesting person; and he began to listen to her story attentively.
The Duchess of Pontecorvo was a Spanish woman, by birth distantly related to the Empress Eugénie. She had come to Paris to join the galaxy of beauties that revolved around the magnificent sovereign in the Tuileries. Her family, of the ancient Spanish nobility, had long since been ruined; so the Empress tried to arrange a suitable marriage for her protégée with some important personage in France. The man in whom the young lady showed greatest interest was a general in Napoleon's army, who had just received a title of duke Duke of Pontecorvo for a victory his division had won in the wars in Italy.
The duchess made no mystery of the incompatibility, of taste and temperament between herself and the rough soldier she finally married. But life at court was so gay that domestic troubles were not terribly oppressive. She had found life quite tolerable. When the Empire fell, and all the brilliant life that centred around the Court in Paris came to an end, the marshal died of a broken heart. He could not survive the overthrow of the Emperor and the shock of the great disaster of 1870. Two children, boys, had been born to the duchess. They in turn had set up new families and carried off the greater part of their father's fortune.
To escape unpleasant contrasts between her former splendor and the modest way in which she now had to
live, the widowed duchess went to Cap Martin, intending to spend the rest of her life in the palace that had been her vacation home in the days of her splendor. There she could live in company with old friends from earlier times, without obtruding the decline in her
The Empress was a not infrequent visitor to the Riviera. When Eugénie came to Cap Martin, she would pay a visit to the duchess; and the two old ladies, dressed in their widow's weeds, would talk of the happy days gone by. But now the Empress was dead; and the passing of that lifelong friend brought home to the duchess the short time that must be left before she too passed on. Only one memento was still left from her really brilliant youth her necklace, the 'Necklace of the Duchess,' a jewel so closely identified with her fame that to dispose of it would be a public declaration of poverty.
'You are right, Mr. Baldwin,' she continued. 'Old age does have its pleasures. I am now well acquainted with something that I never knew before-peace, quiet, tranquillity. I have no ambitions left, of course. I have so restricted my daily needs that there is hardly a thing in the world I really want. Life does not call to me with the vibrant voice that it used to have before. At the same time it is without the old sorrows and the old worries. At our age, for instance, there is no such thing as love; but yet, there is friendship! And how much more wonderful and lasting than love that sometimes is! You can't imagine what a beautiful woman, a woman whom many, many men desire, has to go through in life. You live in a state of perpetual alarm. You are afraid to venture on the slightest intimacy with a man. The moment one appears, you come to regard him as a possible enemy. The life of a great beauty is like that of the commander of
a fortress under siege: she never has a moment's rest!
'For the first time in my life I am free to enjoy friendship, comradeship, with men. That is something I never knew when I was young. It was a great surprise to me to find that a man need not necessarily be a torment! But at our age, you see, people are not men and women. They are friends, companions, comrades. When passion is once out of the way, all the other beauties of the human soul come more into evidence and seem more attractive in our eyes.
'Of course, sometimes, when I see a pretty, charming, popular young girl, I remember my own days of triumph, and feel a flash of envy; but I soon get over that. Why envy them? Some day they will be old, too. They will reach the point that I have reached. The fact is, I suppose, one can be really selfish when one is old. One can just live, and feel all the delights of just livingsomething that a young person never dreams of. Believe me, Mr. Baldwin, I am not at all sorry that I am eighty years old; and I am glad to see that you, after your long and active life, feel as I do about it.'
'Well, yes,' the old man replied, musing sadly; 'yes- if only we could always be old! But there's death, is n't there?'
The animation with which the duchess had been speaking vanished from her face, and there was a tremor of sadness in her voice as she replied:
'Yes, that is true. There's death! We old people have not very long to live!'
There was a long silence. Then the old man expressed aloud all that he had been thinking while the duchess was telling the story of her life. He, too, found a strong contrast between the
present and the past; but he did not regret his retirement, after a life so full of energy that the greatest business men in the world had considered him the type of the man of action. After all, there was no reason why he should go on working forever. What could he do that he had not already done? There was really no rôle left for John Baldwin to play in the comedy- -the tragedy of life. And yet he went on living, because there is something in us that makes us want to live, quite aside from all the calculations and conveniences of men!
'You have no idea, duchess, of the real extent of my business enterprises. People call me rich; but that word gives no adequate idea of the wealth I actually have. Half the world would have to go bankrupt before I could be entire ly ruined. I have to think up devices for restricting the growth of my income. I leave enormous sums of money lying idle in the banks just because I have more money than I can possibly use. I find it annoying to have so much around.
'I say I have seen everything, and where I have not been I could easily be to-morrow, if I thought it worth while. But none of the things that attract men ordinarily have any charm for me now. I am so old that I see the futility of all the varieties of human vanity. I have no children, and my one concern is to find ways to invest my money where it will do some good after I am gone.
'Well, I have founded libraries, museums, and universities. I have endowed charitable organizations-though my reason tells me that charity is of no particular use in this world. I spend my money often without examining the bases of the requests that are made of me. I am tired of buying pictures and subsidizing books that do not pay. I am also tired of giving money for the progress of science and invention. Good enough, in their way, such things
when you are young and enthusiastic, and believe in the future! Now I have no enthusiasm about anything; and as for the future
The old man fell silent for a time. Then he resumed, in a voice not untouched with rancor:
'As for the future, the future does interest me, to tell the truth, the way exciting business propositions interested me when I was young. Sometimes, when I meet ragged newsboys on the street, or little cowherds on the mountainsides, I feel a sort of jealous anger at them. They are so young, those little shavers! They are sure to live so much longer than I can ever live! "Ah, you little rogues," I say to myself, "you will be here to see things that I shall have no chance to see.' chance to see." The thought makes me feel how useless money is, how absurd the respect it inspires in everyone! The famous John Baldwin, for all his two billions, is worth, in terms of future experience, less than a little beggar who crawls along on all fours to pick up the cigar-butt you are throwing away!
'We are living in 1920. Sometimes I amuse myself by wondering what things will be like when you double the twenty part of it- 1940! What are twenty years for any of the young people who are now around us? They are so sure of living that long, that they are ready to risk their chance on it for a passing moment's pleasure. And I, John Baldwin, who have stood before the kings of the earth, and am a king myself so far as money and power are concerned, could not for all my wealth buy those twenty years, if I took into my service all the intelligence and science in the world.'
The two old people lapsed into silence again.
'I have seen everything,' Baldwin finally resumed, ‘and I have had everything. For that very reason life has no more attractions for me. And yet I still
want to live! The certainty that I am soon to die angers me, depresses me, beyond endurance. I suppose it is the idleness of my retirement that makes me think of such things now, and emphasizes reality as it is. The old days were days of struggle. There were obstacles to overcome, problems to solve. There is a kind of poetry in youth, and poetry disguises things, throws a veil of illusion over them, so that the dreamer never sees them as they really are. In my case it was the thirst for power; and the pursuit of power was an absorbing, an inspiring preoccupation. Now that everything has come to me, the enchantment is gone. I see the framework of fatuity that underlies human existence; and on that my eyes, by a strange perversity of old age, are fixed. It is as if a man saw only the skeleton under the beauty of an attractive woman.
'I remember how anxiously I used to wait for the outcome of enterprises that meant success or total ruin for me. I have lost four fortunes in my time. More often it was a great triumph. Now, the arrival of a cablegram fails to give me the slightest thrill. Whatever the message it contains, I know it will make very little difference in the mass of my possessions or achievements. Most people, when they have fought a long battle to make a fortune, have to make a second and sometimes harder fight to keep what they have earned. I am beyond all such worries. My victory has been so overwhelming, so complete, that my wealth stands there on its own feet, and a generation of the world's activities could hardly overthrow it. Well, there you are! What have I to live for?'
The duchess, in her humble way, had many pet charities in which she was always trying to interest her more fortunate society friends. She was going to mention one of them when she
remembered what the great American had said some moments before. Baldwin did not believe in charity, though he practised it in a more or less casual way, giving money to those who asked for it just because they asked for it. Besides, she was loath to break in with any commonplace advice on what was obviously a despairing confession on the part of the old man, prompted by the melancholy beauty of the afternoon.
'I have no hopes unrealized, no desires unsatisfied,' he continued. 'Yet I don't want to die. Death seems to me something insulting, something unworthy of me, something beneath my dignity as a man. Strange, is n't it? Everything in life is so complicated, so mysterious, so hard to understand. Nothing is ever simple. The moment we go beyond the obvious occupations of everyday life, things become involved beyond our comprehension. Death, for instance Well, people have been talking about death for thousands and thousands of years, everybody saying the same things, so that we have hundreds of trite expressions and aphorisms, which we repeat mechanically without thinking even of what they mean. It is only when we get old and find death right before us that we see fate in its actual outlines, and come to understand the full measure of human misery.
'Some people find consolation in the fact that death is the great leveler, that death represents democracy, equality. Well, that reflection may be of some use to the millions of unfortunates who have got nothing out of life. For such, death may represent the revenge of those who have failed, the satisfaction of those who are envious of others. But that is not my case. I am one of the successful men. What have I to gain by death?
"The thought of death as a long, refreshing sleep, the slumber that restores our wearied strength, is just as meaning