Charles went over to the window and looked down at the gray waters squeezed in between the canal's stone walls. In the distance, the dark mass of the belfry, its proud bells gone, could be seen.
"I'll never see the Americas!" he said.
"You'll see them through my eyes. You know you can trust me."
"Later," he said. It was not an order; it was a plea. He must have been in great distress to speak to me in that supplicating tone. With firmness now, he said, "I need you here."
I lowered my head. I wanted to see the Americas then and I wondered if I would still want to later. It was then that I should have left.
"I'll wait," I said.
I waited ten years. Everything constantly changed and yet everything remained the same. In Germany Lutheranism was gaining steadily, the Turks were once more threatening Christianity, and the Mediterranean again became infested with pirates from whom we unsuccessfully attempted to take Algiers. There had been another war with France which resulted in the treat of Crépry-en-valois, whereby the emperor gave up all claims in Burgundy, and François I renounced his rights to Naples, Artois and Flanders. After twenty-seven years of fighting, which had drained the strength of both France and the Empire, the two adversaries found themselves face to face with not the slightest change in their respective positions. Charles was happy to hear that Pope Paul II had convoked a Holy Council at Trent, but the Lutheran princes, immediately upon learning of the Pope's plans, set off a civil war. Despite the torturous pains the gout was inflicting upon him, Charles personally took command and acquitted himself heroically, wreaking havoc upon the enemies' forces. But the emperor's governor in Milan committed the blunder of occupying Piacenza, and the Pope, furious, began negotiations with Henri II, the new king of France. As a result, the Council was moved from Trent to Bologna. At Augsburg, Charles was forced to accept a compromise which satisfied neither Catholics nor Protestants. Both sides obstinately rejected the project for which we had ceaselessly struggled ever since Charles became emperor, that of a German constitution.
"I should never have signed that compromise," Charles said. He was slumped in a large, deep armchair, his gouty leg resting upon a footstool. It was thus that he passed his days when events did not compel him to mount a horse.
"There was nothing else you could do," I said.
He shrugged his shoulders. "I've heard that too often."
"You've heard it because it happens to be true."
The only solution... we have no choice... nothing else you could do... Through the years, the centuries, the mechanism slowly unwound itself. Only a fool could believe that the will of a single human being was able to change its movement. What did our great plans matter?
"I should have refused," he said. "No matter at what price."
"It would have meant war and you would have been defeated."
He passed his hand across his brow; the gesture had become habitual. He seemed to be asking himself, "Why not be defeated?" And perhaps he was right. In spite of everything, there were men whose desires had left their marks on earth —Luther, Cortez ... Was it because they had accepted the idea of being defeated? As for us, we had chosen victory. And now we were asking ourselves, "What victory?"
"Philippe will never be emperor," Charles said after a brief silence.
He had known it for a long time. Ferdinand's ambition to bequeath an empire to his own son was too fresh, too strong. But never before had Charles openly admitted this defeat even to me.
"What's the difference?" I said.
—Simone de Beauvoir, All Men Are Mortal, p. 186