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Title: The Man of Destiny
Author: George Bernard Shaw
Release Date: May, 2003 [Etext #4024]
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THE MAN OF DESTINY
The twelfth of May, 1796, in north Italy, at Tavazzano, on the
road from Lodi to Milan. The afternoon sun is blazing serenely
over the plains of Lombardy, treating the Alps with respect and
the anthills with indulgence, not incommoded by the basking of
the swine and oxen in the villages nor hurt by its cool reception
in the churches, but fiercely disdainful of two hordes of
mischievous insects which are the French and Austrian armies. Two
days before, at Lodi, the Austrians tried to prevent the French
from crossing the river by the narrow bridge there; but the
French, commanded by a general aged 27, Napoleon Bonaparte, who
does not understand the art of war, rushed the fireswept bridge,
supported by a tremendous cannonade in which the young general
assisted with his own hands. Cannonading is his technical
specialty; he has been trained in the artillery under the old
regime, and made perfect in the military arts of shirking his
duties, swindling the paymaster over travelling expenses, and
dignifying war with the noise and smoke of cannon, as depicted in
all military portraits. He is, however, an original observer, and
has perceived, for the first time since the invention of
gunpowder, that a cannon ball, if it strikes a man, will kill
him. To a thorough grasp of this remarkable discovery, he adds a
highly evolved faculty for physical geography and for the
calculation of times and distances. He has prodigious powers of
work, and a clear, realistic knowledge of human nature in public
affairs, having seen it exhaustively tested in that department
during the French Revolution. He is imaginative without
illusions, and creative without religion, loyalty, patriotism or
any of the common ideals. Not that he is incapable of these
ideals: on the contrary, he has swallowed them all in his
boyhood, and now, having a keen dramatic faculty, is extremely
clever at playing upon them by the arts of the actor and stage
manager. Withal, he is no spoiled child. Poverty, ill-luck, the
shifts of impecunious shabby-gentility, repeated failure as a
would-be author, humiliation as a rebuffed time server, reproof
and punishment as an incompetent and dishonest officer, an escape
from dismissal from the service so narrow that if the emigration
of the nobles had not raised the value of even the most rascally
lieutenant to the famine price of a general he would have been
swept contemptuously from the army: these trials have ground the
conceit out of him, and forced him to be self-sufficient and to
understand that to such men as he is the world will give nothing
that he cannot take from it by force. In this the world is not
free from cowardice and folly; for Napoleon, as a merciless
cannonader of political rubbish, is making himself useful.
indeed, it is even now impossible to live in England without
sometimes feeling how much that country lost in not being
conquered by him as well as by Julius Caesar.
However, on this May afternoon in 1796, it is early days with
him. He is only 26, and has but recently become a general, partly
by using his wife to seduce the Directory (then governing France)
partly by the scarcity of officers caused by the emigration as
aforesaid; partly by his faculty of knowing a country, with all
its roads, rivers, hills and valleys, as he knows the palm of his
hand; and largely by that new faith of his in the efficacy of
firing cannons at people. His army is, as to discipline, in a
state which has so greatly shocked some modern writers before
whom the following story has been enacted, that they, impressed
with the later glory of "L'Empereur," have altogether refused to
credit it. But Napoleon is not "L'Empereur" yet: he has only just
been dubbed "Le Petit Caporal," and is in the stage of gaining
influence over his men by displays of pluck. He is not in a
position to force his will on them, in orthodox military fashion,
by the cat o' nine tails. The French Revolution, which has
escaped suppression solely through the monarchy's habit of being
at least four years in arrear with its soldiers in the matter of
pay, has substituted for that habit, as far as possible, the
habit of not paying at all, except in promises and patriotic
flatteries which are not compatible with martial law of the
Prussian type. Napoleon has therefore approached the Alps in
command of men without money, in rags, and consequently
indisposed to stand much discipline, especially from upstart
generals. This circumstance, which would have embarrassed an
idealist soldier, has been worth a thousand cannon to Napoleon.
He has said to his army, "You have patriotism and courage; but
you have no money, no clothes, and deplorably indifferent food.
In Italy there are all these things, and glory as well, to be
gained by a devoted army led by a general who regards loot as the
natural right of the soldier. I am such a general. En avant, mes
enfants!" The result has entirely justified him. The army
conquers Italy as the locusts conquered Cyprus. They fight all
day and march all night, covering impossible distances and
appearing in incredible places, not because every soldier carries
a field marshal's baton in his knapsack, but because he hopes to
carry at least half a dozen silver forks there next day.
It must be understood, by the way, that the French army does not
make war on the Italians. It is there to rescue them from the
tyranny of their Austrian conquerors, and confer republican
institutions on them; so that in incidentally looting them, it
merely makes free with the property of its friends, who ought to
be grateful to it, and perhaps would be if ingratitude were not
the proverbial failing of their country. The Austrians, whom it
fights, are a thoroughly respectable regular army, well
disciplined, commanded by gentlemen trained and versed in the art
of war: at the head of them Beaulieu, practising the classic art
of war under orders from Vienna, and getting horribly beaten by
Napoleon, who acts on his own responsibility in defiance of
professional precedents or orders from Paris. Even when the
Austrians win a battle, all that is necessary is to wait until
their routine obliges them to return to their quarters for
afternoon tea, so to speak, and win it back again from them: a
course pursued later on with brilliant success at Marengo. On the
whole, with his foe handicapped by Austrian statesmanship,
classic generalship, and the exigencies of the aristocratic
social structure of Viennese society, Napoleon finds it possible
to be irresistible without working heroic miracles. The world,
however, likes miracles and heroes, and is quite incapable of
conceiving the action of such forces as academic militarism or
Viennese drawing-roomism. Hence it has already begun to
manufacture "L'Empereur," and thus to make it difficult for the
romanticists of a hundred years later to credit the little scene
now in question at Tavazzano as aforesaid.
The best quarters at Tavazzano are at a little inn, the first
house reached by travellers passing through the place from Milan
to Lodi. It stands in a vineyard; and its principal room, a
pleasant refuge from the summer heat, is open so widely at the
back to this vineyard that it is almost a large veranda. The
bolder children, much excited by the alarums and excursions of
the past few days, and by an irruption of French troops at six
o'clock, know that the French commander has quartered himself in
this room, and are divided between a craving to peep in at the
front windows and a mortal terror of the sentinel, a young
gentleman-soldier, who, having no natural moustache, has had a
most ferocious one painted on his face with boot blacking by his
sergeant. As his heavy uniform, like all the uniforms of that
day, is designed for parade without the least reference to his
health or comfort, he perspires profusely in the sun; and his
painted moustache has run in little streaks down his chin and
round his neck except where it has dried in stiff japanned
flakes, and had its sweeping outline chipped off in grotesque
little bays and headlands, making him unspeakably ridiculous in
the eye of History a hundred years later, but monstrous and
horrible to the contemporary north Italian infant, to whom
nothing would seem more natural than that he should relieve the
monotony of his guard by pitchforking a stray child up on his
bayonet, and eating it uncooked. Nevertheless one girl of bad
character, in whom an instinct of privilege with soldiers is
already dawning, does peep in at the safest window for a moment,
before a glance and a clink from the sentinel sends her flying.
Most of what she sees she has seen before: the vineyard at the
back, with the old winepress and a cart among the vines; the door
close down on her right leading to the inn entry; the landlord's
best sideboard, now in full action for dinner, further back on
the same side; the fireplace on the other side, with a couch near
it, and another door, leading to the inner rooms, between it and
the vineyard; and the table in the middle with its repast of
Milanese risotto, cheese, grapes, bread, olives, and a big
wickered flask of red wine.
The landlord, Giuseppe Grandi, is also no novelty. He is a
swarthy, vivacious, shrewdly cheerful, black-curled, bullet
headed, grinning little man of 40. Naturally an excellent host,
he is in quite special spirits this evening at his good fortune
in having the French commander as his guest to protect him
against the license of the troops, and actually sports a pair of
gold earrings which he would otherwise have hidden carefully
under the winepress with his little equipment of silver plate.
Napoleon, sitting facing her on the further side of the table,
and Napoleon's hat, sword and riding whip lying on the couch, she
sees for the first time. He is working hard, partly at his meal,
which he has discovered how to dispatch, by attacking all the
courses simultaneously, in ten minutes (this practice is the
beginning of his downfall), and partly at a map which he is
correcting from memory, occasionally marking the position of the
forces by taking a grapeskin from his mouth and planting it on
the map with his thumb like a wafer. He has a supply of writing
materials before him mixed up in disorder with the dishes and
cruets; and his long hair gets sometimes into the risotto gravy
and sometimes into the ink.
GIUSEPPE. Will your excellency--
NAPOLEON (intent on his map, but cramming himself mechanically
with his left hand). Don't talk. I'm busy.
GIUSEPPE (with perfect goodhumor). Excellency: I obey.
NAPOLEON. Some red ink.
GIUSEPPE. Alas! excellency, there is none.
NAPOLEON (with Corsican facetiousness). Kill something and bring
me its blood.
GIUSEPPE (grinning). There is nothing but your excellency's
horse, the sentinel, the lady upstairs, and my wife.
NAPOLEON. Kill your wife.
GIUSEPPE. Willingly, your excellency; but unhappily I am not
strong enough. She would kill me.
NAPOLEON. That will do equally well.
GIUSEPPE. Your excellency does me too much honor. (Stretching his
hand toward the flask.) Perhaps some wine will answer your
NAPOLEON (hastily protecting the flask, and becoming quite
serious). Wine! No: that would be waste. You are all the same:
waste! waste! waste! (He marks the map with gravy, using his fork
as a pen.) Clear away. (He finishes his wine; pushes back his
chair; and uses his napkin, stretching his legs and leaning back,
but still frowning and thinking.)
GIUSEPPE (clearing the table and removing the things to a tray on
the sideboard). Every man to his trade, excellency. We innkeepers
have plenty of cheap wine: we think nothing of spilling it. You
great generals have plenty of cheap blood: you think nothing of
spilling it. Is it not so, excellency?
NAPOLEON. Blood costs nothing: wine costs money. (He rises and
goes to the fireplace. )
GIUSEPPE. They say you are careful of everything except human
NAPOLEON. Human life, my friend, is the only thing that takes
care of itself. (He throws himself at his ease on the couch.)
GIUSEPPE (admiring him). Ah, excellency, what fools we all are
beside you! If I could only find out the secret of your success!
NAPOLEON. You would make yourself Emperor of Italy, eh?
GIUSEPPE. Too troublesome, excellency: I leave all that to you.
Besides, what would become of my inn if I were Emperor? See how
you enjoy looking on at me whilst I keep the inn for you and wait
on you! Well, I shall enjoy looking on at you whilst you become
Emperor of Europe, and govern the country for me. (Whilst he
chatters, he takes the cloth off without removing the map and
inkstand, and takes the corners in his hands and the middle of
the edge in his mouth, to fold it up.)
NAPOLEON. Emperor of Europe, eh? Why only Europe?
GIUSEPPE. Why, indeed? Emperor of the world, excellency! Why not?
(He folds and rolls up the cloth, emphasizing his phrases by the
steps of the process.) One man is like another (fold): one
country is like another (fold): one battle is like another. (At
the last fold, he slaps the cloth on the table and deftly rolls
it up, adding, by way of peroration) Conquer one: conquer all.
(He takes the cloth to the sideboard, and puts it in a drawer.)
NAPOLEON. And govern for all; fight for all; be everybody's
servant under cover of being everybody's master: Giuseppe.
GIUSEPPE (at the sideboard). Excellency.
NAPOLEON. I forbid you to talk to me about myself.
GIUSEPPE (coming to the foot of the couch). Pardon. Your
excellency is so unlike other great men. It is the subject they
NAPOLEON. Well, talk to me about the subject they like next best,
whatever that may be.
GIUSEPPE (unabashed). Willingly, your excellency. Has your
excellency by any chance caught a glimpse of the lady upstairs?
(Napoleon promptly sits up and looks at him with an interest
which entirely justifies the implied epigram.)
NAPOLEON. How old is she?
GIUSEPPE. The right age, excellency.
NAPOLEON. Do you mean seventeen or thirty?
GIUSEPPE. Thirty, excellency.
GIUSEPPE. I cannot see with your excellency's eyes: every man
must judge that for himself. In my opinion, excellency, a fine
figure of a lady. (Slyly.) Shall I lay the table for her
NAPOLEON (brusquely, rising). No: lay nothing here until the
officer for whom I am waiting comes back. (He looks at his watch,
and takes to walking to and fro between the fireplace and the
GIUSEPPE (with conviction). Excellency: believe me, he has been
captured by the accursed Austrians. He dare not keep you waiting
if he were at liberty.
NAPOLEON (turning at the edge of the shadow of the veranda).
Giuseppe: if that turns out to be true, it will put me into such
a temper that nothing short of hanging you and your whole
household, including the lady upstairs, will satisfy me.
GIUSEPPE. We are all cheerfully at your excellency's disposal,
except the lady. I cannot answer for her; but no lady could
resist you, General.
NAPOLEON (sourly, resuming his march). Hm! You will never be
hanged. There is no satisfaction in hanging a man who does not
object to it.
GIUSEPPE (sympathetically). Not the least in the world,
excellency: is there? (Napoleon again looks at his watch,
evidently growing anxious.) Ah, one can see that you are a great
man, General: you know how to wait. If it were a corporal now, or
a sub-lieutenant, at the end of three minutes he would be
swearing, fuming, threatening, pulling the house about our ears.
NAPOLEON. Giuseppe: your flatteries are insufferable. Go and talk
outside. (He sits down again at the table, with his jaws in his
hands, and his elbows propped on the map, poring over it with a
GIUSEPPE. Willingly, your excellency. You shall not be disturbed.
(He takes up the tray and prepares to withdraw.)
NAPOLEON. The moment he comes back, send him to me.
GIUSEPPE. Instantaneously, your excellency.
A LADY'S VOICE (calling from some distant part of the inn).
Giusep-pe! (The voice is very musical, and the two final notes
make an ascending interval.)
NAPOLEON (startled). What's that? What's that?
GIUSEPPE (resting the end of his tray on the table and leaning
over to speak the more confidentially). The lady, excellency.
NAPOLEON (absently). Yes. What lady? Whose lady?
GIUSEPPE. The strange lady, excellency.
NAPOLEON. What strange lady?
GIUSEPPE (with a shrug). Who knows? She arrived here half an hour
before you in a hired carriage belonging to the Golden Eagle at
Borghetto. Actually by herself, excellency. No servants. A
dressing bag and a trunk: that is all. The postillion says she
left a horse--a charger, with military trappings, at the Golden
NAPOLEON. A woman with a charger! That's extraordinary.
THE LADY'S VOICE (the two final notes now making a peremptory
descending interval). Giuseppe!
NAPOLEON (rising to listen). That's an interesting voice.
GIUSEPPE. She is an interesting lady, excellency. (Calling.)
Coming, lady, coming. (He makes for the inner door.)
NAPOLEON (arresting him with a strong hand on his shoulder).
Stop. Let her come.
VOICE. Giuseppe!! (Impatiently.)
GIUSEPPE (pleadingly). Let me go, excellency. It is my point of
honor as an innkeeper to come when I am called. I appeal to you
as a soldier.
A MAN's VOICE (outside, at the inn door, shouting). Here,
someone. Hello! Landlord. Where are you? (Somebody raps
vigorously with a whip handle on a bench in the passage.)
NAPOLEON (suddenly becoming the commanding officer again and
throwing Giuseppe off). There he is at last. (Pointing to the
inner door.) Go. Attend to your business: the lady is calling
you. (He goes to the fireplace and stands with his back to it
with a determined military air.)
GIUSEPPE (with bated breath, snatching up his tray). Certainly,
excellency. (He hurries out by the inner door.)
THE MAN's VOICE (impatiently). Are you all asleep here? (The door
opposite the fireplace is kicked rudely open; and a dusty
sub-lieutenant bursts into the room. He is a chuckle-headed young
man of 24, with the fair, delicate, clear skin of a man of rank,
and a self-assurance on that ground which the French Revolution
has failed to shake in the smallest degree. He has a thick silly
lip, an eager credulous eye, an obstinate nose, and a loud
confident voice. A young man without fear, without reverence,
without imagination, without sense, hopelessly insusceptible to
the Napoleonic or any other idea, stupendously egotistical,
eminently qualified to rush in where angels fear to tread, yet of
a vigorous babbling vitality which bustles him into the thick of
things. He is just now boiling with vexation, attributable by a
superficial observer to his impatience at not being promptly
attended to by the staff of the inn, but in which a more
discerning eye can perceive a certain moral depth, indicating a
more permanent and momentous grievance. On seeing Napoleon, he is
sufficiently taken aback to check himself and salute; but he does
not betray by his manner any of that prophetic consciousness of
Marengo and Austerlitz, Waterloo and St. Helena, or the
Napoleonic pictures of Delaroche and Meissonier, which modern
culture will instinctively expect from him.)
NAPOLEON (sharply). Well, sir, here you are at last. Your
instructions were that I should arrive here at six, and that I
was to find you waiting for me with my mail from Paris and with
despatches. It is now twenty minutes to eight. You were sent on
this service as a hard rider with the fastest horse in the camp.
You arrive a hundred minutes late, on foot. Where is your horse!
THE LIEUTENANT (moodily pulling off his gloves and dashing them
with his cap and whip on the table). Ah! where indeed? That's
just what I should like to know, General. (With emotion.) You
don't know how fond I was of that horse.
NAPOLEON (angrily sarcastic). Indeed! (With sudden misgiving.)
Where are the letters and despatches?
THE LIEUTENANT (importantly, rather pleased than otherwise at
having some remarkable news). I don't know.
NAPOLEON (unable to believe his ears). You don't know!
LIEUTENANT. No more than you do, General. Now I suppose I shall
be court-martialled. Well, I don't mind being court-martialled;
but (with solemn determination) I tell you, General, if ever I
catch that innocent looking youth, I'll spoil his beauty, the
slimy little liar! I'll make a picture of him. I'll--
NAPOLEON (advancing from the hearth to the table). What innocent
looking youth? Pull yourself together, sir, will you; and give an
account of yourself.
LIEUTENANT (facing him at the opposite side of the table, leaning
on it with his fists). Oh, I'm all right, General: I'm perfectly
ready to give an account of myself. I shall make the
court-martial thoroughly understand that the fault was not mine.
Advantage has been taken of the better side of my nature; and I'm
not ashamed of it. But with all respect to you as my commanding
officer, General, I say again that if ever I set eyes on that son
of Satan, I'll--
NAPOLEON (angrily). So you said before.
LIEUTENANT (drawing himself upright). I say it again. just wait
until I catch him. Just wait: that's all. (He folds his arms
resolutely, and breathes hard, with compressed lips.)
NAPOLEON. I AM waiting, sir--for your explanation.
LIEUTENANT (confidently). You'll change your tone, General, when
you hear what has happened to me.
NAPOLEON. Nothing has happened to you, sir: you are alive and not
disabled. Where are the papers entrusted to you?
LIEUTENANT. Nothing! Nothing!! Oho! Well, we'll see. (Posing
himself to overwhelm Napoleon with his news.) He swore eternal
brotherhood with me. Was that nothing? He said my eyes reminded
him of his sister's eyes. Was that nothing? He cried--actually
cried--over the story of my separation from Angelica. Was that
nothing? He paid for both bottles of wine, though he only ate
bread and grapes himself. Perhaps you call that nothing! He gave
me his pistols and his horse and his despatches--most important
despatches--and let me go away with them. (Triumphantly, seeing
that he has reduced Napoleon to blank stupefaction.) Was THAT
NAPOLEON (enfeebled by astonishment). What did he do that for?
LIEUTENANT (as if the reason were obvious). To show his
confidence in me. (Napoleon's jaw does not exactly drop; but its
hinges become nerveless. The Lieutenant proceeds with honest
indignation.) And I was worthy of his confidence: I brought them
all back honorably. But would you believe it?--when I trusted him
with MY pistols, and MY horse, and MY despatches--
NAPOLEON (enraged). What the devil did you do that for?
LIEUTENANT. Why, to show my confidence in him, of course. And he
betrayed it--abused it--never came back. The thief! the swindler!
the heartless, treacherous little blackguard! You call that
nothing, I suppose. But look here, General: (again resorting to
the table with his fist for greater emphasis) YOU may put up with
this outrage from the Austrians if you like; but speaking for
myself personally, I tell you that if ever I catch--
NAPOLEON (turning on his heel in disgust and irritably resuming
his march to and fro). Yes: you have said that more than once
LIEUTENANT (excitedly). More than once! I'll say it fifty times;
and what's more, I'll do it. You'll see, General. I'll show my
confidence in him, so I will. I'll--
NAPOLEON. Yes, yes, sir: no doubt you will. What kind of man was
LIEUTENANT. Well, I should think you ought to be able to tell
from his conduct the sort of man he was.
NAPOLEON. Psh! What was he like?
LIEUTENANT. Like! He's like--well, you ought to have just seen
the fellow: that will give you a notion of what he was like. He
won't be like it five minutes after I catch him; for I tell you
that if ever--
NAPOLEON (shouting furiously for the innkeeper). Giuseppe! (To
the Lieutenant, out of all patience.) Hold your tongue, sir, if
LIEUTENANT. I warn you it's no use to try to put the blame on me.
(Plaintively.) How was I to know the sort of fellow he was? (He
takes a chair from between the sideboard and the outer door;
places it near the table; and sits down.) If you only knew how
hungry and tired I am, you'd have more consideration.
GIUSEPPE (returning). What is it, excellency?
NAPOLEON (struggling with his temper). Take this--this officer.
Feed him; and put him to bed, if necessary. When he is in his
right mind again, find out what has happened to him and bring me
word. (To the Lieutenant.) Consider yourself under arrest, sir.
LIEUTENANT (with sulky stiffness). I was prepared for that. It
takes a gentleman to understand a gentleman. (He throws his sword
on the table. Giuieppe takes it up and politely offers it to
Napoleon, who throws it violently on the couch.)
GIUSEPPE (with sympathetic concern). Have you been attacked by
the Austrians, lieutenant? Dear, dear, dear!
LIEUTENANT (contemptuously). Attacked! I could have broken his
back between my finger and thumb. I wish I had, now. No: it was
by appealing to the better side of my nature: that's what I can't
get over. He said he'd never met a man he liked so much as me. He
put his handkerchief round my neck because a gnat bit me, and my
stock was chafing it. Look! (He pulls a handkerchief from his
stock. Giuseppe takes it and examines it.)
GIUSEPPE (to Napoleon). A lady's handkerchief, excellency. (He
smells it.) Perfumed!
NAPOLEON. Eh? (He takes it and looks at it attentively.) Hm! (He
smells it.) Ha! (He walks thoughtfully across the room, looking
at the handkerchief, which he finally sticks in the breast of his
LIEUTENANT. Good enough for him, anyhow. I noticed that he had a
woman's hands when he touched my neck, with his coaxing, fawning
ways, the mean, effeminate little hound. (Lowering his voice with
thrilling intensity.) But mark my words, General. If ever--
THE LADY'S VOICE (outside, as before). Giuseppe!
LIEUTENANT (petrified). What was that?
GIUSEPPE. Only a lady upstairs, lieutenant, calling me.
VOICE. Giuseppe, Giuseppe: where ARE you?
LIEUTENANT (murderously). Give me that sword. (He strides to the
couch; snatches the sword; and draws it.)
GIUSEPPE (rushing forward and seizing his right arm.) What are
you thinking of, lieutenant? It's a lady: don't you hear that
it's a woman's voice?
LIEUTENANT. It's HIS voice, I tell you. Let me go. (He breaks
away, and rushes to the inner door. It opens in his face; and the
Strange Lady steps in. She is a very attractive lady, tall and
extraordinarily graceful, with a delicately intelligent,
apprehensive, questioning face--perception in the brow,
sensitiveness in the nostrils, character in the chin: all keen,
refined, and original. She is very feminine, but by no means
weak: the lithe, tender figure is hung on a strong frame: the
hands and feet, neck and shoulders, are no fragile ornaments, but
of full size in proportion to her stature, which considerably
exceeds that of Napoleon and the innkeeper, and leaves her at no
disadvantage with the lieutenant. Only her elegance and radiant
charm keep the secret of her size and strength. She is not,
judging by her dress, an admirer of the latest fashions of the
Directory; or perhaps she uses up her old dresses for travelling.
At all events she wears no jacket with extravagant lappels, no
Greco-Tallien sham chiton, nothing, indeed, that the Princesse de
Lamballe might not have worn. Her dress of flowered silk is long
waisted, with a Watteau pleat behind, but with the paniers
reduced to mere rudiments, as she is too tall for them. It is cut
low in the neck, where it is eked out by a creamy fichu. She is
fair, with golden brown hair and grey eyes.
She enters with the self-possession of a woman accustomed to the
privileges of rank and beauty. The innkeeper, who has excellent
natural manners, is highly appreciative of her. Napoleon, on whom
her eyes first fall, is instantly smitten self-conscious. His
color deepens: he becomes stiffer and less at ease than before.
She perceives this instantly, and, not to embarrass him, turns in
an infinitely well bred manner to pay the respect of a glance to
the other gentleman, who is staring at her dress, as at the
earth's final masterpiece of treacherous dissimulation, with
feelings altogether inexpressible and indescribable. As she looks
at him, she becomes deadly pale. There is no mistaking her
expression: a revelation of some fatal error utterly unexpected,
has suddenly appalled her in the midst of tranquillity, security
and victory. The next moment a wave of color rushes up from
beneath the creamy fichu and drowns her whole face. One can see
that she is blushing all over her body. Even the lieutenant,
ordinarily incapable of observation, and just now lost in the
tumult of his wrath, can see a thing when it is painted red for
him. Interpreting the blush as the involuntary confession of
black deceit confronted with its victim, he points to it with a
loud crow of retributive triumph, and then, seizing her by the
wrist, pulls her past him into the room as he claps the door to,
and plants himself with his back to it.)
LIEUTENANT. So I've got you, my lad. So you've disguised
yourself, have you? (In a voice of thunder.) Take off that skirt.
GIUSEPPE (remonstrating). Oh, lieutenant!
LADY (affrighted, but highly indignant at his having dared to
touch her). Gentlemen: I appeal to you. Giuseppe. (Making a
movement as if to run to Giuseppe.)
LIEUTENANT (interposing, sword in hand). No you don't.
LADY (taking refuge with Napoleon). Ah, sir, you are an officer--
a general. You will protect me, will you not?
LIEUTENANT. Never you mind him, General. Leave me to deal with
NAPOLEON. With him! With whom, sir? Why do you treat this lady in
such a fashion?
LIEUTENANT. Lady! He's a man! the man I showed my confidence in.
(Advancing threateningly.) Here you--
LADY (running behind Napoleon and in her agitation embracing the
arm which he instinctively extends before her as a
fortification). Oh, thank you, General. Keep him away.
NAPOLEON. Nonsense, sir. This is certainly a lady (she suddenly
drops his arm and blushes again); and you are under arrest. Put
down your sword, sir, instantly.
LIEUTENANT. General: I tell you he's an Austrian spy. He passed
himself off on me as one of General Massena's staff this
afternoon; and now he's passing himself off on you as a woman. Am
I to believe my own eyes or not?
LADY. General: it must be my brother. He is on General Massena's
staff. He is very like me.
LIEUTENANT (his mind giving way). Do you mean to say that you're
not your brother, but your sister?--the sister who was so like
me?--who had my beautiful blue eyes? It was a lie: your eyes are
not like mine: they're exactly like your own. What perfidy!
NAPOLEON. Lieutenant: will you obey my orders and leave the room,
since you are convinced at last that this is no gentleman?
LIEUTENANT. Gentleman! I should think not. No gentleman would
have abused my confi--
NAPOLEON (out of all patience). Enough, sir, enough. Will you
leave the room. I order you to leave the room.
LADY. Oh, pray let ME go instead.
NAPOLEON (drily). Excuse me, madame. With all respect to your
brother, I do not yet understand what an officer on General
Massena's staff wants with my letters. I have some questions to
put to you.
GIUSEPPE (discreetly). Come, lieutenant. (He opens the door.)
LIEUTENANT. I'm off. General: take warning by me: be on your
guard against the better side of your nature. (To the lady.)
Madame: my apologies. I thought you were the same person, only of
the opposite sex; and that naturally misled me.
LADY (sweetly). It was not your fault, was it? I'm so glad
you're not angry with me any longer, lieutenant. (She offers her
LIEUTENANT (bending gallantly to kiss it). Oh, madam, not the
lea-- (Checking himself and looking at it.) You have your
brother's hand. And the same sort of ring.
LADY (sweetly). We are twins.
LIEUTENANT. That accounts for it. (He kisses her hand.) A
thousand pardons. I didn't mind about the despatches at all:
that's more the General's affair than mine: it was the abuse of
my confidence through the better side of my nature. (Taking his
cap, gloves, and whip from the table and going.) You'll excuse my
leaving you, General, I hope. Very sorry, I'm sure. (He talks
himself out of the room. Giuseppe follows him and shuts the
NAPOLEON (looking after them with concentrated irritation).
Idiot! (The Strange Lady smiles sympathetically. He comes
frowning down the room between the table and the fireplace, all
his awkwardness gone now that he is alone with her.)
LADY. How can I thank you, General, for your protection?
NAPOLEON (turning on her suddenly). My despatches: come! (He puts
out his hand for them.)
LADY. General! (She involuntarily puts her hands on her fichu as
if to protect something there.)
NAPOLEON. You tricked that blockhead out of them. You disguised
yourself as a man. I want my despatches. They are there in the
bosom of your dress, under your hands.
LADY (quickly removing her hands). Oh, how unkindly you are
speaking to me! (She takes her handkerchief from her fichu.) You
frighten me. (She touches her eyes as if to wipe away a tear.)
NAPOLEON. I see you don't know me madam, or you would save
yourself the trouble of pretending to cry.
LADY (producing an effect of smiling through her tears). Yes, I
do know you. You are the famous General Buonaparte. (She gives
the name a marked Italian pronunciation Bwaw-na-parr-te.)
NAPOLEON (angrily, with the French pronunciation). Bonaparte,
madame, Bonaparte. The papers, if you please.
LADY. But I assure you-- (He snatches the handkerchief rudely
from her.) General! (Indignantly.)
NAPOLEON (taking the other handkerchief from his breast). You
were good enough to lend one of your handkerchiefs to my
lieutenant when you robbed him. (He looks at the two
handkerchiefs.) They match one another. (He smells them.) The
same scent. (He flings them down on the table.) I am waiting for
the despatches. I shall take them, if necessary, with as little
ceremony as the handkerchief. (This historical incident was used
eighty years later, by M. Victorien Sardou, in his drama entitled
LADY (in dignified reproof). General: do you threaten women?
NAPOLEON (bluntly). Yes.
LADY (disconcerted, trying to gain time). But I don't understand.
NAPOLEON. You understand perfectly. You came here because your
Austrian employers calculated that I was six leagues away. I am
always to be found where my enemies don't expect me. You have
walked into the lion's den. Come: you are a brave woman. Be a
sensible one: I have no time to waste. The papers. (He advances a
LADY (breaking down in the childish rage of impotence, and
throwing herself in tears on the chair left beside the table by
the lieutenant). I brave! How little you know! I have spent the
day in an agony of fear. I have a pain here from the tightening
of my heart at every suspicious look, every threatening movement.
Do you think every one is as brave as you? Oh, why will not you
brave people do the brave things? Why do you leave them to us,
who have no courage at all? I'm not brave: I shrink from
violence: danger makes me miserable.
NAPOLEON (interested). Then why have you thrust yourself into
LADY. Because there is no other way: I can trust nobody else. And
now it is all useless--all because of you, who have no fear,
because you have no heart, no feeling, no-- (She breaks off, and
throws herself on her knees.) Ah, General, let me go: let me go
without asking any questions. You shall have your despatches and
letters: I swear it.
NAPOLEON (holding out his hand). Yes: I am waiting for them.
(She gasps, daunted by his ruthless promptitude into despair of
moving him by cajolery; but as she looks up perplexedly at him,
it is plain that she is racking her brains for some device to
outwit him. He meets her regard inflexibly.)
LADY (rising at last with a quiet little sigh). I will get them
for you. They are in my room. (She turns to the door.)
NAPOLEON. I shall accompany you, madame.
LADY (drawing herself up with a noble air of offended delicacy).I
cannot permit you, General, to enter my chamber.
NAPOLEON. Then you shall stay here, madame, whilst I have your
chamber searched for my papers.
LADY (spitefully, openly giving up her plan). You may save
yourself the trouble. They are not there.
NAPOLEON. No: I have already told you where they are. (Pointing
to her breast.)
LADY (with pretty piteousness). General: I only want to keep one
little private letter. Only one. Let me have it.
NAPOLEON (cold and stern). Is that a reasonable demand, madam?
LADY (encouraged by his not refusing point blank). No; but that
is why you must grant it. Are your own demands reasonable?
thousands of lives for the sake of your victories, your
ambitions, your destiny! And what I ask is such a little thing.
And I am only a weak woman, and you a brave man. (She looks at
him with her eyes full of tender pleading and is about to kneel
to him again.)
NAPOLEON (brusquely). Get up, get up. (He turns moodily away and
takes a turn across the room, pausing for a moment to say, over
his shoulder) You're talking nonsense; and you know it. (She gets
up and sits down in almost listless despair on the couch. When he
turns and sees her there, he feels that his victory is complete,
and that he may now indulge in a little play with his victim. He
comes back and sits beside her. She looks alarmed and moves a
little away from him; but a ray of rallying hope beams from her
eye. He begins like a man enjoying some secret joke.) How do you
know I am a brave man?
LADY (amazed). You! General Buonaparte. (Italian pronunciation.)
NAPOLEON. Yes, I, General Bonaparte (emphasizing the French
LADY. Oh, how can you ask such a question? you! who stood only
two days ago at the bridge at Lodi, with the air full of death,
fighting a duel with cannons across the river! (Shuddering.) Oh,
you DO brave things.
NAPOLEON. So do you.
LADY. I! (With a sudden odd thought.) Oh! Are you a coward?
NAPOLEON (laughing grimly and pinching her cheek). That is the
one question you must never ask a soldier. The sergeant asks
after the recruit's height, his age, his wind, his limb, but
never after his courage. (He gets up and walks about with his
hands behind him and his head bowed, chuckling to himself.)
LADY (as if she had found it no laughing matter). Ah, you can
laugh at fear. Then you don't know what fear is.
NAPOLEON (coming behind the couch). Tell me this. Suppose you
could have got that letter by coming to me over the bridge at
Lodi the day before yesterday! Suppose there had been no other
way, and that this was a sure way--if only you escaped the
cannon! (She shudders and covers her eyes for a moment with her
hands.) Would you have been afraid?
LADY. Oh, horribly afraid, agonizingly afraid. (She presses her
hands on her heart.) It hurts only to imagine it.
NAPOLEON (inflexibly). Would you have come for the despatches?
LADY (overcome by the imagined horror). Don't ask me. I must have
LADY. Because I must. Because there would have been no other way.
NAPOLEON (with conviction). Because you would have wanted my
letter enough to bear your fear. There is only one universal
passion: fear. Of all the thousand qualities a man may have, the
only one you will find as certainly in the youngest drummer boy
in my army as in me, is fear. It is fear that makes men fight: it
is indifference that makes them run away: fear is the mainspring
of war. Fear! I know fear well, better than you, better than any
woman. I once saw a regiment of good Swiss soldiers massacred by
a mob in Paris because I was afraid to interfere: I felt myself a
coward to the tips of my toes as I looked on at it. Seven months
ago I revenged my shame by pounding that mob to death with cannon
balls. Well, what of that? Has fear ever held a man back from
anything he really wanted--or a woman either? Never. Come with
me; and I will show you twenty thousand cowards who will risk
death every day for the price of a glass of brandy. And do you
think there are no women in the army, braver than the men,
because their lives are worth less? Psha! I think nothing of your
fear or your bravery. If you had had to come across to me at
Lodi, you would not have been afraid: once on the bridge, every
other feeling would have gone down before the necessity--the
necessity--for making your way to my side and getting what you
And now, suppose you had done all this--suppose you had come
safely out with that letter in your hand, knowing that when the
hour came, your fear had tightened, not your heart, but your grip
of your own purpose--that it had ceased to be fear, and had
become strength, penetration, vigilance, iron resolution--how
would you answer then if you were asked whether you were a
LADY (rising). Ah, you are a hero, a real hero.
NAPOLEON. Pooh! there's no such thing as a real hero. (He strolls
down the room, making light of her enthusiasm, but by no means
displeased with himself for having evoked it.)
LADY. Ah, yes, there is. There is a difference between what you
call my bravery and yours. You wanted to win the battle of Lodi
for yourself and not for anyone else, didn't you?
NAPOLEON. Of course. (Suddenly recollecting himself.) Stop: no.
(He pulls himself piously together, and says, like a man
conducting a religious service) I am only the servant of the
French republic, following humbly in the footsteps of the heroes
of classical antiquity. I win battles for humanity--for my
country, not for myself.
LADY (disappointed). Oh, then you are only a womanish hero, after
all. (She sits down again, all her enthusiasm gone, her elbow on
the end of the couch, and her cheek propped on her hand.)
NAPOLEON (greatly astonished). Womanish!
LADY (listlessly). Yes, like me. (With deep melancholy.) Do you
think that if I only wanted those despatches for myself, I dare
venture into a battle for them? No: if that were all, I should
not have the courage to ask to see you at your hotel, even. My
courage is mere slavishness: it is of no use to me for my own
purposes. It is only through love, through pity, through the
instinct to save and protect someone else, that I can do the
things that terrify me.
NAPOLEON (contemptuously). Pshaw! (He turns slightingly away from
LADY. Aha! now you see that I'm not really brave. (Relapsing into
petulant listlessness.) But what right have you to despise me if
you only win your battles for others? for your country! through
patriotism! That is what I call womanish: it is so like a
NAPOLEON (furiously). I am no Frenchman.
LADY (innocently). I thought you said you won the battle of Lodi
for your country, General Bu-- shall I pronounce it in Italian or
NAPOLEON. You are presuming on my patience, madam. I was born a
French subject, but not in France.
LADY (folding her arms on the end of the couch, and leaning on
them with a marked access of interest in him). You were not born
a subject at all, I think.
NAPOLEON (greatly pleased, starting on a fresh march). Eh? Eh?
You think not.
LADY. I am sure of it.
NAPOLEON. Well, well, perhaps not. (The self-complacency of his
assent catches his own ear. He stops short, reddening. Then,
composing himself into a solemn attitude, modelled on the heroes
of classical antiquity, he takes a high moral tone.) But we must
not live for ourselves alone, little one. Never forget that we
should always think of others, and work for others, and lead and
govern them for their own good. Self-sacrifice is the foundation
of all true nobility of character.
LADY (again relaxing her attitude with a sigh). Ah, it is easy to
see that you have never tried it, General.
NAPOLEON (indignantly, forgetting all about Brutus and Scipio).
What do you mean by that speech, madam?
LADY. Haven't you noticed that people always exaggerate the value
of the things they haven't got? The poor think they only need
riches to be quite happy and good. Everybody worships truth,
purity, unselfishness, for the same reason--because they have no
experience of them. Oh, if they only knew!
NAPOLEON (with angry derision). If they only knew! Pray, do you
LADY (with her arms stretched down and her hands clasped on her
knees, looking straight before her). Yes. I had the misfortune to
be born good. (Glancing up at him for a moment.) And it is a
misfortune, I can tell you, General. I really am truthful and
unselfish and all the rest of it; and it's nothing but cowardice;
want of character; want of being really, strongly, positively
NAPOLEON. Ha? (Turning to her quickly with a flash of strong
LADY (earnestly, with rising enthusiasm). What is the secret of
your power? Only that you believe in yourself. You can fight and
conquer for yourself and for nobody else. You are not afraid of
your own destiny. You teach us what we all might be if we had the
will and courage; and that (suddenly sinking on her knees before
him) is why we all begin to worship you. (She kisses his hands.)
NAPOLEON (embarrassed). Tut, tut! Pray rise, madam.
LADY. Do not refuse my homage: it is your right. You will be
emperor of France
NAPOLEON (hurriedly). Take care. Treason!
LADY (insisting). Yes, emperor of France; then of Europe; perhaps
of the world. I am only the first subject to swear allegiance.
(Again kissing his hand.) My Emperor!
NAPOLEON (overcome, raising her). Pray, pray. No, no,
little one: this is folly. Come: be calm, be calm. (Petting her.)
There, there, my girl.
LADY (struggling with happy tears). Yes, I know it is an
impertinence in me to tell you what you must know far better than
I do. But you are not angry with me, are you?
NAPOLEON. Angry! No, no: not a bit, not a bit. Come: you are a
very clever and sensible and interesting little woman. (He pats
her on the cheek.) Shall we be friends?
LADY (enraptured). Your friend! You will let me be your friend!
Oh! (She offers him both her hands with a radiant smile.) You
see: I show my confidence in you.
NAPOLEON (with a yell of rage, his eyes flashing). What!
LADY. What's the matter?
NAPOLEON. Show your confidence in me! So that I may show my
confidence in you in return by letting you give me the slip with
the despatches, eh? Ah, Dalila, Dalila, you have been trying your
tricks on me; and I have been as great a gull as my jackass of a
lieutenant. (He advances threateningly on her.) Come: the
despatches. Quick: I am not to be trifled with now.
LADY (flying round the couch). General--
NAPOLEON. Quick, I tell you. (He passes swiftly up the middle of
the room and intercepts her as she makes for the vineyard.)
LADY (at bay, confronting him). You dare address me in that tone.
LADY. Yes, dare. Who are you that you should presume to speak to
me in that coarse way? Oh, the vile, vulgar Corsican adventurer
comes out in you very easily.
NAPOLEON (beside himself). You she devil! (Savagely.) Once more,
and only once, will you give me those papers or shall I tear them
from you--by force?
LADY (letting her hands fall ). Tear them from me--by force! (As
he glares at her like a tiger about to spring, she crosses her
arms on her breast in the attitude of a martyr. The gesture and
pose instantly awaken his theatrical instinct: he forgets his
rage in the desire to show her that in acting, too, she has met
her match. He keeps her a moment in suspense; then suddenly
clears up his countenance; puts his hands behind him with
provoking coolness; looks at her up and down a couple of times;
takes a pinch of snuff; wipes his fingers carefully and puts up
his handkerchief, her heroic pose becoming more and more
ridiculous all the time.)
NAPOLEON (at last). Well?
LADY (disconcerted, but with her arms still crossed devotedly).
Well: what are you going to do?
NAPOLEON. Spoil your attitude.
LADY. You brute! (abandoning the attitude, she comes to the end
of the couch, where she turns with her back to it, leaning
against it and facing him with her hands behind her.)
NAPOLEON. Ah, that's better. Now listen to me. I like you.
What's more, I value your respect.
LADY. You value what you have not got, then.
NAPOLEON. I shall have it presently. Now attend to me. Suppose I
were to allow myself to be abashed by the respect due to your
sex, your beauty, your heroism and all the rest of it? Suppose I,
with nothing but such sentimental stuff to stand between these
muscles of mine and those papers which you have about you, and
which I want and mean to have: suppose I, with the prize within
my grasp, were to falter and sneak away with my hands empty; or,
what would be worse, cover up my weakness by playing the
magnanimous hero, and sparing you the violence I dared not use,
would you not despise me from the depths of your woman's soul?
Would any woman be such a fool? Well, Bonaparte can rise to the
situation and act like a woman when it is necessary. Do you
The lady, without speaking, stands upright, and takes a packet of
papers from her bosom. For a moment she has an intense impulse to
dash them in his face. But her good breeding cuts her off from
any vulgar method of relief. She hands them to him politely, only
averting her head. The moment he takes them, she hurries across
to the other side of the room; covers her face with her hands;
and sits down, with her body turned away to the back of the
NAPOLEON (gloating over the papers). Aha! That's right. That's
right. (Before opening them he looks at her and says) Excuse me.
(He sees that she is hiding her face.) Very angry with me, eh?
(He unties the packet, the seal of which is already broken, and
puts it on the table to examine its contents.)
LADY (quietly, taking down her hands and showing that she is not
crying, but only thinking). No. You were right. But I am sorry
NAPOLEON (pausing in the act of taking the uppermost paper from
the packet). Sorry for me! Why?
LADY. I am going to see you lose your honor.
NAPOLEON. Hm! Nothing worse than that? (He takes up the paper.)
LADY. And your happiness.
NAPOLEON. Happiness, little woman, is the most tedious thing in
the world to me. Should I be what I am if I cared for happiness?
LADY. Nothing-- (He interrupts her with an exclamation of
satisfaction. She proceeds quietly) except that you will cut a
very foolish figure in the eyes of France.
NAPOLEON (quickly). What? (The hand holding the paper
involuntarily drops. The lady looks at him enigmatically in
tranquil silence. He throws the letter down and breaks
out into a torrent of scolding.) What do you mean? Eh? Are you at
your tricks again? Do you think I don't know what these papers
contain? I'll tell you. First, my information as to Beaulieu's
retreat. There are only two things he can do--leatherbrained
idiot that he is!--shut himself up in Mantua or violate the
neutrality of Venice by taking Peschiera. You are one of old
Leatherbrain's spies: he has discovered that he has been
betrayed, and has sent you to intercept the information at all
hazards--as if that could save him from ME, the old fool! The
other papers are only my usual correspondence from Paris, of
which you know nothing.
LADY (prompt and businesslike). General: let us make a fair
division. Take the information your spies have sent you about the
Austrian army; and give me the Paris correspondence. That will
NAPOLEON (his breath taken away by the coolness of the proposal).
A fair di-- (He gasps.) It seems to me, madame, that you have
come to regard my letters as your own property, of which I am
trying to rob you.
LADY (earnestly). No: on my honor I ask for no letter of yours--
not a word that has been written by you or to you. That packet
contains a stolen letter: a letter written by a woman to a man--a
man not her husband--a letter that means disgrace, infamy--
NAPOLEON. A love letter?
LADY (bitter-sweetly). What else but a love letter could stir up
so much hate?
NAPOLEON. Why is it sent to me? To put the husband in my power,
LADY. No, no: it can be of no use to you: I swear that it will
cost you nothing to give it to me. It has been sent to you out of
sheer malice--solely to injure the woman who wrote it.
NAPOLEON. Then why not send it to her husband instead of to me?
LADY (completely taken aback). Oh! (Sinking back into the chair.)
I--I don't know. (She breaks down.)
NAPOLEON. Aha! I thought so: a little romance to get the papers
back. (He throws the packet on the table and confronts her with
cynical goodhumor.) Per Bacco, little woman, I can't help
admiring you. If I could lie like that, it would save me a great
deal of trouble.
LADY (wringing her hands). Oh, how I wish I really had told you
some lie! You would have believed me then. The truth is the one
thing that nobody will believe.
NAPOLEON (with coarse familiarity, treating her as if she were a
vivandiere). Capital! Capital! (He puts his hands behind him on
the table, and lifts himself on to it, sitting with his arms
akimbo and his legs wide apart.) Come: I am a true Corsican in my
love for stories. But I could tell them better than you if I set
my mind to it. Next time you are asked why a letter compromising
a wife should not be sent to her husband, answer simply that the
husband would not read it. Do you suppose, little innocent, that
a man wants to be compelled by public opinion to make a scene, to
fight a duel, to break up his household, to injure his career by
a scandal, when he can avoid it all by taking care not to know?
LADY (revolted). Suppose that packet contained a letter about
your own wife?
NAPOLEON (offended, coming off the table). You are impertinent,
LADY (humbly). I beg your above suspicion.
NAPOLEON (with a deliberate assumption of superiority). You have
committed an indiscretion. I pardon you. In future, do not permit
yourself to introduce real persons in your romances.
LADY (politely ignoring a speech which is to her only a breach of
good manners, and rising to move towards the table). General:
there really is a woman's letter there. (Pointing to the packet.)
Give it to me.
NAPOLEON (with brute conciseness, moving so as to prevent her
getting too near the letters). Why?
LADY. She is an old friend: we were at school together. She has
written to me imploring me to prevent the letter falling into
NAPOLEON. Why has it been sent to me?
LADY. Because it compromises the director Barras.
NAPOLEON (frowning, evidently startled). Barras! (Haughtily.)
Take care, madame. The director Barras is my attached personal
LADY (nodding placidly). Yes. You became friends through your
NAPOLEON. Again! Have I not forbidden you to speak of my wife?
(She keeps looking curiously at him, taking no account of the
rebuke. More and more irritated, he drops his haughty manner, of
which he is himself somewhat impatient, and says suspiciously,
lowering his voice) Who is this woman with whom you sympathize so
LADY. Oh, General! How could I tell you that?
NAPOLEON (ill-humoredly, beginning to walk about again in angry
perplexity). Ay, ay: stand by one another. You are all the same,
LADY (indignantly). We are not all the same, any more than you
are. Do you think that if _I_ loved another man, I should pretend
to go on loving my husband, or be afraid to tell him or all the
world? But this woman is not made that way. She governs men by
cheating them; and (with disdain) they like it, and let her
govern them. (She sits down again, with her back to him.)
NAPOLEON (not attending to her). Barras, Barras I-- (Turning very
threateningly to her, his face darkening.) Take care, take care:
do you hear? You may go too far.
LADY (innocently turning her face to him). What's the matter?
NAPOLEON. What are you hinting at? Who is this woman?
LADY (meeting his angry searching gaze with tranquil indifference
as she sits looking up at him with her right arm resting lightly
along the back of her chair, and one knee crossed over the
other). A vain, silly, extravagant creature, with a very able and
ambitious husband who knows her through and through--knows that
she has lied to him about her age, her income, her social
position, about everything that silly women lie about--knows that
she is incapable of fidelity to any principle or any person; and
yet could not help loving her--could not help his man's instinct
to make use of her for his own advancement with Barras.
NAPOLEON (in a stealthy, coldly furious whisper). This is your
revenge, you she cat, for having had to give me the letters.
LADY. Nonsense! Or do you mean that YOU are that sort of man?
NAPOLEON (exasperated, clasps his hands behind him, his fingers
twitching, and says, as he walks irritably away from her to the
fireplace). This woman will drive me out of my senses. (To her.)
LADY (seated immovably). Not without that letter.
NAPOLEON. Begone, I tell you. (Walking from the fireplace to the
vineyard and back to the table.) You shall have no letter. I
don't like you. You're a detestable woman, and as ugly as Satan.
I don't choose to be pestered by strange women. Be off. (He turns
his back on her. In quiet amusement, she leans her cheek on her
hand and laughs at him. He turns again, angrily mocking her.) Ha!
ha! ha! What are you laughing at?
LADY. At you, General. I have often seen persons of your sex
getting into a pet and behaving like children; but I never saw a
really great man do it before.
NAPOLEON (brutally, flinging the words in her face). Pooh:
flattery! flattery! coarse, impudent flattery!
LADY (springing up with a bright flush in her cheeks). Oh, you
are too bad. Keep your letters. Read the story of your own
dishonor in them; and much good may they do you. Good-bye. (She
goes indignantly towards the inner door.)
NAPOLEON. My own--! Stop. Come back. Come back, I order you. (She
proudly disregards his savagely peremptory tone and continues on
her way to the door. He rushes at her; seizes her by the wrist;
and drags her back.) Now, what do you mean? Explain. Explain, I
tell you, or--(Threatening her. She looks at him with unflinching
defiance.) Rrrr! you obstinate devil, you. Why can't you answer a
LADY (deeply offended by his violence). Why do you ask me? You
have the explanation.
LADY (pointing to the letters on the table). There. You have only
to read it. (He snatches the packet up, hesitates; looks at her
suspiciously; and throws it down again.)
NAPOLEON. You seem to have forgotten your solicitude for the
honor of your old friend.
LADY. She runs no risk now: she does not quite understand her
NAPOLEON. I am to read the letter, then? (He stretches out his
hand as if to take up the packet again, with his eye on her.)
LADY. I do not see how you can very well avoid doing so now. (He
instantly withdraws his hand.) Oh, don't be afraid. You will find
many interesting things in it.
NAPOLEON. For instance?
LADY. For instance, a duel--with Barras, a domestic scene, a
broken household, a public scandal, a checked career, all sorts
NAPOLEON. Hm! (He looks at her, takes up the packet and looks at
it, pursing his lips and balancing it in his hand; looks at her
again; passes the packet into his left hand and puts it behind
his back, raising his right to scratch the back of his head as he
turns and goes up to the edge of the vineyard, where he stands
for a moment looking out into the vines, deep in thought. The
Lady watches him in silence, somewhat slightingly. Suddenly he
turns and comes back again, full of force and decision.) I grant
your request, madame. Your courage and resolution deserve to
succeed. Take the letters for which you have fought so well; and
remember henceforth that you found the vile, vulgar Corsican
adventurer as generous to the vanquished after the battle as he
was resolute in the face of the enemy before it. (He offers her
LADY (without taking it, looking hard at him). What are you at
now, I wonder? (He dashes the packet furiously to the floor.)
Aha! I've spoiled that attitude, I think. (She makes him a pretty
NAPOLEON (snatching it up again). Will you take the letters and
begone (advancing and thrusting them upon her)?
LADY (escaping round the table). No: I don't want letters.
NAPOLEON. Ten minutes ago, nothing else would satisfy you.
LADY (keeping the table carefully between them). Ten minutes ago
you had not insulted me past all bearing.
NAPOLEON. I-- (swallowing his spleen) I apologize.
LADY (coolly). Thanks. (With forced politeness he offers her the
packet across the table. She retreats a step out of its reach and
says) But don't you want to know whether the Austrians are at
Mantua or Peschiera?
NAPOLEON. I have already told you that I can conquer my enemies
without the aid of spies, madame.
LADY. And the letter! don't you want to read that?
NAPOLEON. You have said that it is not addressed to me. I am not
in the habit of reading other people's letters. (He again offers
LADY. In that case there can be no objection to your keeping it.
All I wanted was to prevent your reading it. (Cheerfully.) Good
afternoon, General. (She turns coolly towards the inner door.)
NAPOLEON (furiously flinging the packet on the couch). Heaven
grant me patience! (He goes up determinedly and places himself
before the door.) Have you any sense of personal danger? Or are
you one of those women who like to be beaten black and blue?
LADY. Thank you, General: I have no doubt the sensation is very
voluptuous; but I had rather not. I simply want to go home:
that's all. I was wicked enough to steal your despatches; but you
have got them back; and you have forgiven me, because (delicately
reproducing his rhetorical cadence) you are as generous to the
vanquished after the battle as you are resolute in the face of
the enemy before it. Won't you say good-bye to me? (She offers
her hand sweetly.)
NAPOLEON (repulsing the advance with a gesture of concentrated
rage, and opening the door to call fiercely). Giuseppe! (Louder.)
Giuseppe! (He bangs the door to, and comes to the middle of the
room. The lady goes a little way into the vineyard to avoid him.)
GIUSEPPE (appearing at the door). Excellency?
NAPOLEON. Where is that fool?
GIUSEPPE. He has had a good dinner, according to your
instructions, excellency, and is now doing me the honor to gamble
with me to pass the time.
NAPOLEON. Send him here. Bring him here. Come with him.
(Giuseppe, with unruffled readiness, hurries off. Napoleon turns
curtly to the lady, saying) I must trouble you to remain some
moments longer, madame. (He comes to the couch. She comes from
the vineyard down the opposite side of the room to the sideboard,
and posts herself there, leaning against it, watching him. He
takes the packet from the couch and deliberately buttons it
carefully into his breast pocket, looking at her meanwhile with
an expression which suggests that she will soon find out the
meaning of his proceedings, and will not like it. Nothing more is
said until the lieutenant arrives followed by Giuseppe, who
stands modestly in attendance at the table. The lieutenant,
without cap, sword or gloves, and much improved in temper and
spirits by his meal, chooses the Lady's side of the room, and
waits, much at his ease, for Napoleon to begin.)
LIEUTENANT (encouragingly). General.
NAPOLEON. I cannot persuade this lady to give me much
information; but there can be no doubt that the man who tricked
you out of your charge was, as she admitted to you, her brother.
LIEUTENANT (triumphantly). What did I tell you, General! What did
I tell you!
NAPOLEON. You must find that man. Your honor is at stake; and the
fate of the campaign, the destiny of France, of Europe, of
humanity, perhaps, may depend on the information those despatches
LIEUTENANT. Yes, I suppose they really are rather serious (as if
this had hardly occurred to him before).
NAPOLEON (energetically). They are so serious, sir, that if you
do not recover them, you will be degraded in the presence of your
LIEUTENANT. Whew! The regiment won't like that, I can tell you.
NAPOLEON. Personally, I am sorry for you. I would willingly
conceal the affair if it were possible. But I shall be called to
account for not acting on the despatches. I shall have to prove
to all the world that I never received them, no matter what the
consequences may be to you. I am sorry; but you see that I cannot
LIEUTENANT (goodnaturedly). Oh, don't take it to heart, General:
it's really very good of you. Never mind what happens to me: I
shall scrape through somehow; and we'll beat the Austrians for
you, despatches or no despatches. I hope you won't insist on my
starting off on a wild goose chase after the fellow now. I
haven't a notion where to look for him.
GIUSEPPE (deferentially). You forget, Lieutenant: he has your
LIEUTENANT (starting). I forgot that. (Resolutely.) I'll go after
him, General: I'll find that horse if it's alive anywhere in
Italy. And I shan't forget the despatches: never fear. Giuseppe:
go and saddle one of those mangy old posthorses of yours, while I
get my cap and sword and things. Quick march. Off with you
GIUSEPPE. Instantly, Lieutenant, instantly. (He disappears in the
vineyard, where the light is now reddening with the sunset.)
LIEUTENANT (looking about him on his way to the inner door). By
the way, General, did I give you my sword or did I not? Oh, I
remember now. (Fretfully.) It's all that nonsense about putting a
man under arrest: one never knows where to find-- (Talks himself
out of the room.)
LADY (still at the sideboard). What does all this mean, General?
NAPOLEON. He will not find your brother.
LADY. Of course not. There's no such person.
NAPOLEON. The despatches will be irrecoverably lost.
LADY. Nonsense! They are inside your coat.
NAPOLEON. You will find it hard, I think, to prove that wild
statement. (The Lady starts. He adds, with clinching emphasis)
Those papers are lost.
LADY (anxiously, advancing to the corner of the table). And that
unfortunate young man's career will be sacrificed.
NAPOLEON. HIS career! The fellow is not worth the gunpowder it
would cost to have him shot. (He turns contemptuously and goes to
the hearth, where he stands with his back to her.)
LADY (wistfully). You are very hard. Men and women are nothing to
you but things to be used, even if they are broken in the use.
NAPOLEON (turning on her). Which of us has broken this fellow--I
or you? Who tricked him out of the despatches? Did you think of
his career then?
LADY (naively concerned about him). Oh, I never thought of that.
It was brutal of me; but I couldn't help it, could I? How else
could I have got the papers? (Supplicating.) General: you will
save him from disgrace.
NAPOLEON (laughing sourly). Save him yourself, since you are so
clever: it was you who ruined him. (With savage intensity.) I
HATE a bad soldier.
He goes out determinedly through the vineyard. She follows him a
few steps with an appealing gesture, but is interrupted by the
return of the lieutenant, gloved and capped, with his sword on,
ready for the road. He is crossing to the outer door when she
LIEUTENANT (importantly). You mustn't delay me, you know. Duty,
LADY (imploringly). Oh, sir, what are you going to do to my poor
LIEUTENANT. Are you very fond of him?
LADY. I should die if anything happened to him. You must spare
him. (The lieutenant shakes his head gloomily.) Yes, yes: you
must: you shall: he is not fit to die. Listen to me. If I tell
you where to find him--if I undertake to place him in your hands
a prisoner, to be delivered up by you to General Bonaparte--will
you promise me on your honor as an officer and a gentleman not to
fight with him or treat him unkindly in any way?
LIEUTENANT. But suppose he attacks me. He has my pistols.
LADY. He is too great a coward.
LIEUTENANT. I don't feel so sure about that. He's capable of
LADY. If he attacks you, or resists you in any way, I release you
from your promise.
LIEUTENANT. My promise! I didn't mean to promise. Look here:
you're as bad as he is: you've taken an advantage of me through
the better side of my nature. What about my horse?
LADY. It is part of the bargain that you are to have your
horse and pistols back.
LIEUTENANT. Honor bright?
LADY. Honor bright. (She offers her hand.)
LIEUTENANT (taking it and holding it). All right: I'll be as
gentle as a lamb with him. His sister's a very pretty
woman. (He attempts to kiss her.)
LADY (slipping away from him). Oh, Lieutenant! You forget: your
career is at stake--the destiny of Europe--of humanity.
LIEUTENANT. Oh, bother the destiny of humanity (Making for her.)
Only a kiss.
LADY (retreating round the table). Not until you have regained
your honor as an officer. Remember: you have not captured my
LIEUTENANT (seductively). You'll tell me where he is, won't you?
LADY. I have only to send him a certain signal; and he will be
here in quarter of an hour.
LIEUTENANT. He's not far off, then.
LADY. No: quite close. Wait here for him: when he gets my
message he will come here at once and surrender himself to you.
LIEUTENANT (intellectually overtaxed). Well, it's a little
complicated; but I daresay it will be all right.
LADY. And now, whilst you're waiting, don't you think you had
better make terms with the General?
LIEUTENANT. Oh, look here, this is getting frightfully
complicated. What terms?
LADY. Make him promise that if you catch my brother he will
consider that you have cleared your character as a soldier. He
will promise anything you ask on that condition.
LIEUTENANT. That's not a bad idea. Thank you: I think I'll try
LADY. Do. And mind, above all things, don't let him see how
clever you are.
LIEUTENANT. I understand. He'd be jealous.
LADY. Don't tell him anything except that you are resolved to
capture my brother or perish in the attempt. He won't believe
you. Then you will produce my brother--
LIEUTENANT (interrupting as he masters the plot). And have
the laugh at him! I say: what a clever little woman you are!
LADY. Sh! Not a word to Giuseppe about me. (She puts her finger
on her lips. He does the same. They look at one another
warningly. Then, with a ravishing smile, she changes the gesture
into wafting him a kiss, and runs out through the inner door.
Electrified, he bursts into a volley of chuckles. Giuseppe comes
back by the outer door.)
GIUSEPPE. The horse is ready, Lieutenant.
LIEUTENANT. I'm not going just yet. Go and find the General, and
tell him I want to speak to him.
GIUSEPPE (shaking his head). That will never do, Lieutenant.
LIEUTENANT. Why not?
GIUSEPPE. In this wicked world a general may send for a
lieutenant; but a lieutenant must not send for a general.
LIEUTENANT. Oh, you think he wouldn't like it. Well, perhaps
you're right: one has to be awfully particular about that sort of
thing now we've got a republic.
Napoleon reappears, advancing from the vineyard, buttoning the
breast of his coat, pale and full of gnawing thoughts.
GIUSEPPE (unconscious of Napoleon's approach). Quite true,
Lieutenant, quite true. You are all like innkeepers now in
France: you have to be polite to everybody.
NAPOLEON (putting his hand on Giuseppe's shoulder). And that
destroys the whole value of politeness, eh?
LIEUTENANT. The very man I wanted! See here, General: suppose I
catch that fellow for you!
NAPOLEON (with ironical gravity). You will not catch him, my
LIEUTENANT. Aha! you think so; but you'll see. Just wait. Only,
if I do catch him and hand him over to you, will you cry quits?
Will you drop all this about degrading me in the presence of my
regiment? Not that I mind, you know; but still no regiment likes
to have all the other regiments laughing at it.
NAPOLEON. (a cold ray of humor striking pallidly across his
gloom). What shall we do with this officer, Giuseppe? Everything
he says is wrong.
GIUSEPPE (promptly). Make him a general, excellency; and then
everything he says will be right.
LIEUTENANT (crowing). Haw-aw! (He throws himself ecstatically on
the couch to enjoy the joke.)
NAPOLEON (laughing and pinching Giuseppe's ear). You are thrown
away in this inn, Giuseppe. (He sits down and places Giuseppe
before him like a schoolmaster with a pupil.) Shall I take you
away with me and make a man of you?
GIUSEPPE (shaking his head rapidly and repeatedly). No, thank
you, General. All my life long people have wanted to make a man
of me. When I was a boy, our good priest wanted to make a man of
me by teaching me to read and write. Then the organist at
Melegnano wanted to make a man of me by teaching me to read
music. The recruiting sergeant would have made a man of me if I
had been a few inches taller. But it always meant making me work;
and I am too lazy for that, thank Heaven! So I taught myself to
cook and became an innkeeper; and now I keep servants to do the
work, and have nothing to do myself except talk, which suits me
NAPOLEON (looking at him thoughtfully). You are satisfied?
GIUSEPPE (with cheerful conviction). Quite, excellency.
NAPOLEON. And you have no devouring devil inside you who must be
fed with action and victory--gorged with them night and day--who
makes you pay, with the sweat of your brain and body, weeks of
Herculean toil for ten minutes of enjoyment--who is at once your
slave and your tyrant, your genius and your doom--who brings you
a crown in one hand and the oar of a galley slave in the other--
who shows you all the kingdoms of the earth and offers to make
you their master on condition that you become their servant!--
have you nothing of that in you?
GIUSEPPE. Nothing of it! Oh, I assure you, excellency, MY
devouring devil is far worse than that. He offers me no crowns
and kingdoms: he expects to get everything for nothing--sausages,
omelettes, grapes, cheese, polenta, wine--three times a day,
excellency: nothing less will content him.
LIEUTENANT. Come, drop it, Giuseppe: you're making me feel hungry
(Giuseppe, with an apologetic shrug, retires from the
conversation, and busies himself at the table, dusting it,
setting the map straight, and replacing Napoleon's chair, which
the lady has pushed back.)
NAPOLEON (turning to the lieutenant with sardonic ceremony). I
hope _I_ have not been making you feel ambitious.
LIEUTENANT. Not at all: I don't fly so high. Besides: I'm better
as I am: men like me are wanted in the army just now. The fact
is, the Revolution was all very well for civilians; but it won't
work in the army. You know what soldiers are, General: they WILL
have men of family for their officers. A subaltern must be a
gentleman, because he's so much in contact with the men. But a
general, or even a colonel, may be any sort of riff-raff if he
understands the shop well enough. A lieutenant is a gentleman:
all the rest is chance. Why, who do you suppose won the battle of
Lodi? I'll tell you. My horse did.
NAPOLEON (rising) Your folly is carrying you too far, sir. Take
LIEUTENANT. Not a bit of it. You remember all that red-hot
cannonade across the river: the Austrians blazing away at you to
keep you from crossing, and you blazing away at them to keep them
from setting the bridge on fire? Did you notice where I was then?
NAPOLEON (with menacing politeness). I am sorry. I am afraid I
was rather occupied at the moment.
GIUSEPPE (with eager admiration). They say you jumped off your
horse and worked the big guns with your own hands, General.
LIEUTENANT. That was a mistake: an officer should never let
himself down to the level of his men. (Napoleon looks at him
dangerously, and begins to walk tigerishly to and fro.) But you
might have been firing away at the Austrians still, if we cavalry
fellows hadn't found the ford and got across and turned old
Beaulieu's flank for you. You know you daren't have given the
order to charge the bridge if you hadn't seen us on the other
side. Consequently, I say that whoever found that ford won the
battle of Lodi. Well, who found it? I was the first man to cross:
and I know. It was my horse that found it. (With conviction, as
be rises from the couch.) That horse is the true conqueror of the
NAPOLEON (passionately). You idiot: I'll have you shot for losing
those despatches: I'll have you blown from the mouth of a cannon:
nothing less could make any impression on you. (Baying at him.)
Do you hear? Do you understand?
A French officer enters unobserved, carrying his sheathed sabre
in his hand.
LIEUTENANT (unabashed). IF I don't capture him, General. Remember
NAPOLEON. If! If!! Ass: there is no such man.
THE OFFICER (suddenly stepping between them and speaking in the
unmistakable voice of the Strange Lady). Lieutenant: I am your
prisoner. (She offers him her sabre. They are amazed. Napoleon
gazes at her for a moment thunderstruck; then seizes her by the
wrist and drags her roughly to him, looking closely and fiercely
at her to satisfy himself as to her identity; for it now begins
to darken rapidly into night, the red glow over the vineyard
giving way to clear starlight.)
NAPOLEON. Pah! (He flings her hand away with an exclamation of
disgust, and turns his back on her with his hand in his breast
and his brow lowering.)
LIEUTENANT (triumphantly, taking the sabre). No such man: eh,
General? (To the Lady.) I say: where's my horse?
LADY. Safe at Borghetto, waiting for you, Lieutenant.
NAPOLEON (turning on them). Where are the despatches?
LADY. You would never guess. They are in the most unlikely place
in the world. Did you meet my sister here, any of you?
LIEUTENANT. Yes. Very nice woman. She's wonderfully like you;
but of course she's better looking.
LADY (mysteriously). Well, do you know that she is a witch?
GIUSEPPE (running down to them in terror, crossing himself). Oh,
no, no, no. It is not safe to jest about such things. I cannot
have it in my house, excellency.
LIEUTENANT. Yes, drop it. You're my prisoner, you know. Of course
I don't believe in any such rubbish; but still it's not a proper
subject for joking.
LADY. But this is very serious. My sister has bewitched the
General. (Giuseppe and the Lieutenant recoil from Napoleon.)
General: open your coat: you will find the despatches in the
breast of it. (She puts her hand quickly on his breast.) Yes:
there they are: I can feel them. Eh? (She looks up into his face
half coaxingly, half mockingly.) Will you allow me, General?
(She takes a button as if to unbutton his coat, and pauses for
NAPOLEON (inscrutably). If you dare.
LADY. Thank you. (She opens his coat and takes out the
despatches.) There! (To Giuseppe, showing him the despatches.)
GIUSEPPE (flying to the outer door). No, in heaven's name!
LADY (turning to the Lieutenant). Here, Lieutenant: YOU'RE not
afraid of them.
LIEUTENANT (retreating). Keep off. (Seizing the hilt of the
sabre.) Keep off, I tell you.
LADY (to Napoleon). They belong to you, General. Take them.
GIUSEPPE. Don't touch them, excellency. Have nothing to do with
LIEUTENANT. Be careful, General: be careful.
GIUSEPPE. Burn them. And burn the witch, too.
LADY (to Napoleon). Shall I burn them?
NAPOLEON (thoughtfully). Yes, burn them. Giuseppe: go and fetch a
GIUSEPPE (trembling and stammering). Do you mean go alone--in the
dark--with a witch in the house?
NAPOLEON. Psha! You're a poltroon. (To the Lieutenant.) Oblige me
by going, Lieutenant.
LIEUTENANT (remonstrating). Oh, I say, General! No, look here,
you know: nobody can say I'm a coward after Lodi. But to ask me
to go into the dark by myself without a candle after such an
awful conversation is a little too much. How would you like to
do it yourself?
NAPOLEON (irritably). You refuse to obey my order?
LIEUTENANT (resolutely). Yes, I do. It's not reasonable. But I'll
tell you what I'll do. If Giuseppe goes, I'll go with him and
NAPOLEON (to Giuseppe). There! will that satisfy you? Be off,
both of you.
GIUSEPPE (humbly, his lips trembling). W--willingly, your
excellency. (He goes reluctantly towards the inner door.) Heaven
protect me! (To the lieutenant.) After you, Lieutenant.
LIEUTENANT. You'd better go first: I don't know the way.
GIUSEPPE. You can't miss it. Besides (imploringly, laying his
hand on his sleeve), I am only a poor innkeeper; and you are a
man of family.
LIEUTENANT. There's something in that. Here: you needn't be in
such a fright. Take my arm. (Giuseppe does so.) That's the
way.(They go out, arm in arm. It is now starry night. The lady
throws the packet on the table and seats herself at her ease on
the couch enjoying the sensation of freedom from petticoats.)
LADY. Well, General: I've beaten you.
NAPOLEON (walking about). You have been guilty of indelicacy--of
unwomanliness. Do you consider that costume a proper one to wear?
LADY. It seems to me much the same as yours.
NAPOLEON. Psha! I blush for you.
LADY (naively). Yes: soldiers blush so easily! (He growls and
turns away. She looks mischievously at him, balancing the
despatches in her hand.) Wouldn't you like to read these before
they're burnt, General? You must be dying with curiosity. Take a
peep. (She throws the packet on the table, and turns her face
away from it.) I won't look.
NAPOLEON. I have no curiosity whatever, madame. But since you are
evidently burning to read them, I give you leave to do so.
LADY. Oh, I've read them already.
NAPOLEON (starting). What!
LADY. I read them the first thing after I rode away on that poor
lieutenant's horse. So you see I know what's in them; and you
NAPOLEON. Excuse me: I read them there in the vineyard ten
LADY. Oh! (Jumping up.) Oh, General I've not beaten you. I do
admire you so. (He laughs and pats her cheek.) This time really
and truly without shamming, I do you homage (kissing his
NAPOLEON (quickly withdrawing it). Brr! Don't do that. No more
LADY. I want to say something to you--only you would
NAPOLEON. Need that stop you?
LADY. Well, it is this. I adore a man who is not afraid
to be mean and selfish.
NAPOLEON (indignantly). I am neither mean nor selfish.
LADY. Oh, you don't appreciate yourself. Besides, I don't really
mean meanness and selfishness.
NAPOLEON. Thank you. I thought perhaps you did.
LADY. Well, of course I do. But what I mean is a certain strong
simplicity about you.
NAPOLEON. That's better.
LADY. You didn't want to read the letters; but you were curious
about what was in them. So you went into the garden and read them
when no one was looking, and then came back and pretended you
hadn't. That's the meanest thing I ever knew any man do; but it
exactly fulfilled your purpose; and so you weren't a bit afraid
or ashamed to do it.
NAPOLEON (abruptly). Where did you pick up all these vulgar
scruples--this (with contemptuous emphasis) conscience of yours?
I took you for a lady--an aristocrat. Was your grandfather a
LADY. No: he was an Englishman.
NAPOLEON. That accounts for it. The English are a nation of
shopkeepers. Now I understand why you've beaten me.
LADY. Oh, I haven't beaten you. And I'm not English.
NAPOLEON. Yes, you are--English to the backbone. Listen to me: I
will explain the English to you.
LADY (eagerly). Do. (With a lively air of anticipating an
intellectual treat, she sits down on the couch and composes
herself to listen to him. Secure of his audience, he at once
nerves himself for a performance. He considers a little before he
begins; so as to fix her attention by a moment of suspense. His
style is at first modelled on Talma's in Corneille's "Cinna;" but
it is somewhat lost in the darkness, and Talma presently gives
way to Napoleon, the voice coming through the gloom with
NAPOLEON. There are three sorts of people in the world, the low
people, the middle people, and the high people. The low people
and the high people are alike in one thing: they have no
scruples, no morality. The low are beneath morality, the high
above it. I am not afraid of either of them: for the low are
unscrupulous without knowledge, so that they make an idol of me;
whilst the high are unscrupulous without purpose, so that they go
down before my will. Look you: I shall go over all the mobs and
all the courts of Europe as a plough goes over a field. It is the
middle people who are dangerous: they have both knowledge and
purpose. But they, too, have their weak point. They are full of
scruples--chained hand and foot by their morality and
LADY. Then you will beat the English; for all shopkeepers are
NAPOLEON. No, because the English are a race apart. No Englishman
is too low to have scruples: no Englishman is high enough to be
free from their tyranny. But every Englishman is born with a
certain miraculous power that makes him master of the world. When
he wants a thing, he never tells himself that he wants it. He
waits patiently until there comes into his mind, no one knows
how, a burning conviction that it is his moral and religious duty
to conquer those who have got the thing he wants. Then he becomes
irresistible. Like the aristocrat, he does what pleases him and
grabs what he wants: like the shopkeeper, he pursues his purpose
with the industry and steadfastness that come from strong
religious conviction and deep sense of moral responsibility. He
is never at a loss for an effective moral attitude. As the great
champion of freedom and national independence, he conquers and
annexes half the world, and calls it Colonization. When he wants
a new market for his adulterated Manchester goods, he sends
a missionary to teach the natives the gospel of peace. The
natives kill the missionary: he flies to arms in defence of
Christianity; fights for it; conquers for it; and takes the
market as a reward from heaven. In defence of his island shores,
he puts a chaplain on board his ship; nails a flag with a cross
on it to his top-gallant mast; and sails to the ends of the
earth, sinking, burning and destroying all who dispute the empire
of the seas with him. He boasts that a slave is free the moment
his foot touches British soil; and he sells the children of his
poor at six years of age to work under the lash in his factories
for sixteen hours a day. He makes two revolutions, and then
declares war on our one in the name of law and order. There is
nothing so bad or so good that you will not find Englishmen doing
it; but you will never find an Englishman in the wrong. He does
everything on principle. He fights you on patriotic principles;
he robs you on business principles; he enslaves you on imperial
principles; he bullies you on manly principles; he supports his
king on loyal principles, and cuts off his king's head on
republican principles. His watchword is always duty; and he
never forgets that the nation which lets its duty get on the
opposite side to its interest is lost. He--
LADY. W-w-w-w-w-wh! Do stop a moment. I want to know how you make
me out to be English at this rate.
NAPOLEON (dropping his rhetorical style). It's plain enough. You
wanted some letters that belonged to me. You have spent the
morning in stealing them--yes, stealing them, by highway robbery.
And you have spent the afternoon in putting me in the wrong about
them--in assuming that it was I who wanted to steal YOUR
letters--in explaining that it all came about through my meanness
and selfishness, and your goodness, your devotion, your
self-sacrifice. That's English.
LADY. Nonsense. I am sure I am not a bit English. The English are
a very stupid people.
NAPOLEON. Yes, too stupid sometimes to know when they're beaten.
But I grant that your brains are not English. You see, though
your grandfather was an Englishman, your grandmother was--what?
LADY. Oh, no. An Irishwoman.
NAPOLEON (quickly). Irish! (Thoughtfully.) Yes: I forgot the
Irish. An English army led by an Irish general: that might be a
match for a French army led by an Italian general. (He pauses,
and adds, half jestingly, half moodily) At all events, YOU have
beaten me; and what beats a man first will beat him last. (He
goes meditatively into the moonlit vineyard and looks up. She
steals out after him. She ventures to rest her hand on his
shoulder, overcome by the beauty of the night and emboldened by
LADY (softly). What are you looking at?
NAPOLEON (pointing up). My star.
LADY. You believe in that?
NAPOLEON. I do. (They look at it for a moment, she leaning a
little on his shoulder.)
LADY. Do you know that the English say that a man's star is not
complete without a woman's garter?
NAPOLEON (scandalized--abruptly shaking her off and coming back
into the room). Pah! The hypocrites! If the French said that, how
they would hold up their hands in pious horror! (He goes to the
inner door and holds it open, shouting) Hallo! Giuseppe. Where's
that light, man. (He comes between the table and the sideboard,
and moves the chair to the table, beside his own.) We have still
to burn the letter. (He takes up the packet. Giuseppe comes back,
pale and still trembling, carrying a branched candlestick with a
couple of candles alight, in one hand, and a broad snuffers tray
in the other.)
GIUSEPPE (piteously, as he places the light on the table).
Excellency: what were you looking up at just now--out there? (He
points across his shoulder to the vineyard, but is afraid to look
NAPOLEON (unfolding the packet). What is that to you?
GIUSEPPE (stammering). Because the witch is gone--vanished; and
no one saw her go out.
LADY (coming behind him from the vineyard). We were watching her
riding up to the moon on your broomstick, Giuseppe. You will
never see her again.
GIUSEPPE. Gesu Maria! (He crosses himself and hurries out.)
NAPOLEON (throwing down the letters in a heap on the table). Now.
(He sits down at the table in the chair which be has just
LADY. Yes; but you know you have THE letter in your pocket. (He
smiles; takes a letter from his pocket; and tosses it on the top
of the heap. She holds it up and looks at him, saying) About
NAPOLEON. Caesar's wife is above suspicion. Burn it.
LADY (taking up the snuffers and holding the letter to the
candle flame with it). I wonder would Caesar's wife be above
suspicion if she saw us here together!
NAPOLEON (echoing her, with his elbows on the table and his
cheeks on his hands, looking at the letter). I wonder! (The
Strange Lady puts the letter down alight on the snuffers tray,
and sits down beside Napoleon, in the same attitude, elbows on
table, cheeks on hands, watching it burn. When it is burnt, they
simultaneously turn their eyes and look at one another. The
curtain steals down and hides them.)
End of Project Gutenberg's The Man of Destiny, by George Bernard Shaw