The emperor summoned a servant, and ordered that no one else should be admitted; but at this moment the door was hastily thrown open, and a national guard entered the room.
“Talma!” exclaimed the emperor, almost gayly, as he extended his hand.
“Yes, Talma, sire,” said he, pressing the emperor’s hand to his lips. “I disguised myself in this dress, in order that I might get here to take leave of your majesty.”
“To take leave, never to see each other more,” said the emperor, sadly. “I shall never be able to admire you in your great roles again, Talma. I am about to depart, never to return again. You will play the emperor on many an evening, but not I, Talma! My part is at an end!”
“No, sire, you will always remain the emperor!” exclaimed Talma, with generous enthusiasm; “the emperor, although without the crown and the purple robe.”
“And also the emperor without a people,” said Napoleon.
“Sire, you have a people that will ever remain yours, and a throne that is imperishable! It is the throne that you have erected for yourself on the battle-fields, that will be recorded in the books of history. And every one, no matter to what nation he may belong, who reads of your great deeds, will be inspired by them, and will acknowledge himself to be one of your people, and bow down before the emperor in reverence.”
“I have no people,” murmured Napoleon, gloomily; “they have all deserted—all betrayed me, Talma!”
“Sire, they will some day regret, as Alexander of Russia will also one day regret, having deserted the great man he once called brother!” And, in his delicate and generous endeavor to remind Napoleon of one of his moments of grandeur, Talma continued: “Your majesty perhaps remembers that evening at Tilsit, when the Emperor of Russia made you so tender a declaration of his love, publicly and before the whole world? But no, you cannot remember it; for you it was a matter of no moment; but I—I shall never forget it! It was at the theatre; we were playing ‘Oedipus.’ I looked up at the box in which your majesty sat, between the King of Prussia and the Emperor Alexander. I could see you only—the second Alexander of Macedon, the second Julius Caesar—and I held my arms aloft and saw you only when I repeated the words of my part: ’The friendship of a great man is a gift of the gods!’ And as I said this, the Emperor Alexander arose and pressed you to his heart. I saw this, and tears choked my utterance. The audience applauded rapturously; this applause was, however, not for me, but for the Emperor Alexander!”
[Footnote 53: This scene is entirely historical. See Bossuet, Memoires; Bourrienne, Memoires; Cochelet and Une Femme de Qualite.]
While Talma was speaking, his cheeks glowing and his eyes flashing, a rosy hue suffused the emperor’s countenance, and, for an instant, he smiled. Talma had attained his object; he had raised up the humiliated emperor with the recital of his own grandeur.