The Dynamiter

Page 100

'I am pleased, madam, to welcome you to my poor house,' he said; 'and shall be still more so, if what were else a barren courtesy and a pleasure personal to myself, shall prove to be of serious benefit to you and Mr. Desborough.'

'Your Highness,' replied Clara, 'I must begin with thanks; it is like what I have heard of you, that you should thus take up the case of the unfortunate; and as for my Harry, he is worthy of all that you can do.' She paused.

'But for yourself?' suggested Mr. Godall--'it was thus you were about to continue, I believe.'

'You take the words out of my mouth,' she said. 'For myself, it is different.'

'I am not here to be a judge of men,' replied the Prince; 'still less of women. I am now a private person like yourself and many million others; but I am one who still fights upon the side of quiet. Now, madam, you know better than I, and God better than you, what you have done to mankind in the past; I pause not to inquire; it is with the future I concern myself, it is for the future I demand security. I would not willingly put arms into the hands of a disloyal combatant; and I dare not restore to wealth one of the levyers of a private and a barbarous war. I speak with some severity, and yet I pick my terms. I tell myself continually that you are a woman; and a voice continually reminds me of the children whose lives and limbs you have endangered. A woman,' he repeated solemnly--'and children. Possibly, madam, when you are yourself a mother, you will feel the bite of that antithesis: possibly when you kneel at night beside a cradle, a fear will fall upon you, heavier than any shame; and when your child lies in the pain and danger of disease, you shall hesitate to kneel before your Maker.'

'You look at the fault,' she said, 'and not at the excuse. Has your own heart never leaped within you at some story of oppression? But, alas, no! for you were born upon a throne.'

'I was born of woman,' said the Prince; 'I came forth from my mother's agony, helpless as a wren, like other nurselings. This, which you forgot, I have still faithfully remembered. Is it not one of your English poets, that looked abroad upon the earth and saw vast circumvallations, innumerable troops manoeuvring, warships at sea and a great dust of battles on shore; and casting anxiously about for what should be the cause of so many and painful preparations, spied at last, in the centre of all, a mother and her babe? These, madam, are my politics; and the verses, which are by Mr. Coventry Patmore, I have caused to be translated into the Bohemian tongue. Yes, these are my politics: to change what we can, to better what we can; but still to bear in mind that man is but a devil weakly fettered by some generous beliefs and impositions, and for no word however nobly sounding, and no cause however just and pious, to relax the stricture of these bonds.'

There was a silence of a moment.

'I fear, madam,' resumed the Prince, 'that I but weary you. My views are formal like myself; and like myself, they also begin to grow old. But I must still trouble you for some reply.'

'I can say but one thing,' said Mrs. Desborough: 'I love my husband.'

'It is a good answer,' returned the Prince; 'and you name a good influence, but one that need not be conterminous with life.'

'I will not play at pride with such a man as you,' she answered. 'What do you ask of me? not protestations, I am sure. What shall I say? I have done much that I cannot defend and that I would not do again. Can I say more? Yes: I can say this: I never abused myself with the muddle-headed fairy tales of politics. I was at least prepared to meet reprisals. While I was levying war myself-- or levying murder, if you choose the plainer term--I never accused my adversaries of assassination. I never felt or feigned a righteous horror, when a price was put upon my life by those whom I attacked. I never called the policeman a hireling. I may have been a criminal, in short; but I never was a fool.'

'Enough, madam,' returned the Prince: 'more than enough! Your words are most reviving to my spirits; for in this age, when even the assassin is a sentimentalist, there is no virtue greater in my eyes than intellectual clarity.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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