“You are quite wrong,” returned Rachel, “though of course you will not believe me. I did not care at all about the money and was going back to France. It was something that I heard which made me change my mind. Do you want to know what it was? Well, after all the arguments were over some one informed me that the Czar Nicholas was the handsomest man in Europe; and so I made up my mind that I would stay in Potsdam long enough to see him.”
This brings us to one phase of Rachel’s nature which is rather sinister. She was absolutely hard. She seemed to have no emotions except those which she exhibited on the stage or the impish perversity which irritated so many of those about her. She was in reality a product of the gutter, able to assume a demure and modest air, but within coarse, vulgar, and careless of decency. Yet the words of Jules Janin, which have been quoted above, explain how she could be personally very fascinating.
In all Rachel’s career one can detect just a single strand of real romance. It is one that makes us sorry for her, because it tells us that her love was given where it never could be openly requited.
During the reign of Louis Philippe the Comte Alexandre Walewski held many posts in the government. He was a son of the great Napoleon. His mother was that Polish countess who had accepted Napoleon’s love because she hoped that he might set Poland free at her desire. But Napoleon was never swerved from his well-calculated plans by the wish of any woman, and after a time the Countess Walewska came to love him for himself. It was she to whom he confided secrets which he would not reveal to his own brothers. It was she who followed him to Elba in disguise. It was her son who was Napoleon’s son, and who afterward, under the Second Empire, was made minister of fine arts, minister of foreign affairs, and, finally, an imperial duke. Unlike the third Napoleon’s natural half-brother, the Duc de Moray, Walewski was a gentleman of honor and fine feeling. He never used his relationship to secure advantages for himself. He tried to live in a manner worthy of the great warrior who was his father.
As minister of fine arts he had much to do with the subsidized theaters; and in time he came to know Rachel. He was the son of one of the greatest men who ever lived. She was the child of roving peddlers whose early training had been in the slums of cities and amid the smoke of bar-rooms and cafes. She was tainted in a thousand ways, while he was a man of breeding and right principle. She was a wandering actress; he was a great minister of state. What could there be between these two?
George Sand gave the explanation in an epigram which, like most epigrams, is only partly true. She said:
“The count’s company must prove very restful to Rachel.”