Czarism had committed atrocities. Tchernoff knew that by experience, and did not need the Germans to assure him of it. But all the illustrious classes of Russia were enemies of that tyranny and were protesting against it. Where in Germany were the intellectual enemies of Prussian Czarism? They were either holding their peace, or breaking forth into adulation of the anointed of the Lord—a musician and comedian like Nero, of a sharp and superficial intelligence, who believed that by merely skimming through anything he knew it all. Eager to strike a spectacular pose in history, he had finally afflicted the world with the greatest of calamities.
"Why must the tyranny that weighs upon my country necessarily be Russian? The worst Czars were imitators of Prussia. Every time that the Russian people of our day have attempted to revindicate their rights, the reactionaries have used the Kaiser as a threat, proclaiming that he would come to their aid. One-half of the Russian aristocracy is German; the functionaries who advise and support despotism are Germans; German, too, are the generals who have distinguished themselves by massacring the people; German are the officials who undertake to punish the laborers' strikes and the rebellion of their allies. The reactionary Slav is brutal, but he has the fine sensibility of a race in which many princes have become Nihilists. He raises the lash with facility, but then he repents and oftentimes weeps. I have seen Russian officials kill themselves rather than march against the people, or through remorse for slaughter committed. The German in the service of the Czar feels no scruples, nor laments his conduct. He kills coldly, with the minuteness and exactitude with which he does everything. The Russian is a barbarian who strikes and regrets; German civilization shoots without hesitation. Our Slav Czar, in a humanitarian dream, favored the Utopian idea of universal peace, organizing the Conference of The Hague. The Kaiser of culture, meanwhile, has been working years and years in the erection and establishment of a destructive organ of an immensity heretofore unknown, in order to crush all Europe. The Russian is a humble Christian, socialistic, democratic, thirsting for justice; the German prides himself upon his Christianity, but is an idolator like the German of other centuries. His religion loves blood and maintains castes; his true worship is that of Odin;—only that nowadays, the god of slaughter has changed his name and calls himself, 'The State'!"
Tchernoff paused an instant—perhaps in order to increase the wonder of his companions—and then said with simplicity:
"I am a Christian."
Argensola, who already knew the ideas and history of the Russian, started with astonishment, and Julio persisted in his suspicion, "Surely Tchernoff is drunk."
"It is true," declared the Russian earnestly, "that I do not worry about God, nor do I believe in dogmas, but my soul is Christian as is that of all revolutionists. The philosophy of modern democracy is lay Christianity. We Socialists love the humble, the needy, the weak. We defend their right to life and well-being, as did the greatest lights of the religious world who saw a brother in every unfortunate. We exact respect for the poor in the name of justice; the others ask for it in the name of charity. That only separates us. But we strive that mankind may, by common consent, lead a better life, that the strong may sacrifice for the weak, the lofty for the lowly, and the world be ruled by brotherliness, seeking the greatest equality possible."
The Slav reviewed the history of human aspirations. Greek thought had brought comfort, a sense of well-being on the earth—but only for the few, for the citizens of the little democracies, for the free men, leaving the slaves and barbarians who constituted the majority, in their misery. Christianity, the religion of the lowly, had recognized the right of happiness for all mankind, but this happiness was placed in heaven, far from this world, this "vale of tears." The Revolution and its heirs, the Socialists, were trying to place happiness in the immediate realities of earth, like the ancients, but making all humanity participants in it like the Christians.
"Where is the 'Christianity of modern Germany? . . . There is far more genuine Christian spirit in the fraternal laity of the French Republic, defender of the weak, than in the religiosity of the conservative Junkers. Germany has made a god in her own image, believing that she adores it, but in reality adoring her own image. The German God is a reflex of the German State which considers war as the first activity of a nation and the noblest of occupations. Other Christian peoples, when they have to go to war, feel the contradiction that exists between their conduct and the teachings of the Gospel, and excuse themselves by showing the cruel necessity which impels them. Germany declares that war is acceptable to God. I have heard German sermons proving that Jesus was in favor of Militarism.
"Teutonic pride, the conviction that its race is providentially destined to dominate the world, brings into working unity their Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
"Far above their differences of dogma is that God of the State which is German—the Warrior God to whom William is probably referring as 'my worthy Ally.' Religions always tend toward universality. Their aim is to place humanity in relationship with God, and to sustain these relations among mankind. Prussia has retrograded to barbarism, creating for its personal use a second Jehovah, a divinity hostile to the greater part of the human race who makes his own the grudges and ambitions of the German people."
Tchernoff then explained in his own way the creation of this Teutonic God, ambitious, cruel and vengeful. The Germans were comparatively recent Christians. Their Christianity was not more than six centuries old. When the Crusades were drawing to a close, the Prussians were still living in paganism. Pride of race, impelling them to war, had revived these dead divinities. The God of the Gospel was now adorned by the Germans with lance and shield like the old Teutonic god who was a military chief.
"Christianity in Berlin wears helmet and riding boots. God at this moment is seeing Himself mobilized the same as Otto, Fritz and Franz, in order to punish the enemies of His chosen people. That the Lord has commanded, 'Thou shalt not kill,' and His Son has said to the world, 'Blessed are the peacemakers,' no longer matters. Christianity, according to its German priests of all creeds, can only influence the individual betterment of mankind, and should not mix itself in affairs of state. The Prussian God of the State is 'the old German God,' the lineal descendant of the ferocious Germanic mythology, a mixture of divinities hungry for war."
In the silence of the avenue, the Russian evoked the ruddy figures of the implacable gods, that were going to awake that night upon hearing the hum of arms and smelling the acrid odor of blood. Thor, the brutal god with the little head, was stretching his biceps and clutching the hammer that crushed cities. Wotan was sharpening his lance which had the lightning for its handle, the thunder for its blade. Odin, the one-eyed, was gaping with gluttony on the mountain-tops, awaiting the dead warriors that would crowd around his throne. The dishevelled Valkyries, fat and perspiring, were beginning to gallop from cloud to cloud, hallooing to humanity that they might carry off the corpses doubled like saddle bags, over the haunches of their flying nags.
"German religiosity," continued the Russian, "is the disavowal of Christianity. In its eyes, men are no longer equal before God. Their God is interested only in the strong, and favors them with his support so that they may dare anything. Those born weak must either submit or disappear. Neither are nations equal, but are divided into leaders and inferior races whose destiny is to be sifted out and absorbed by their superiors. Since God has thus ordained, it is unnecessary to state that the grand world-leader is Germany."
Argensola here interrupted to observe that German pride believed itself championed not only by God but by science, too.
"I know that," interposed the Russian without letting him finish—"generalization, inequality, selection, the struggle for life, and all that. . . . The Germans, so conceited about their special worth, erect upon distant ground their intellectual monuments, borrowing of the foreigner their foundation material whenever they undertake a new line of work. A Frenchman and an Englishman, Gobineau and Chamberlain, have given them the arguments with which to defend the superiority of their race. With the rubbish left over from Darwin and Spencer, their old Haeckel has built up his doctrine of 'Monism' which, applied to politics, scientifically consecrates Prussian pride and recognizes its right to rule the world by force."
"No, a thousand times no!" he exclaimed after a brief silence. "The struggle for existence with its procession of cruelties may be true among the lower species, but it should not be true among human creatures. We are rational beings and ought to free ourselves from the fatality of environment, moulding it to our convenience. The animal does not know law, justice or compassion; he lives enslaved in the obscurity of his instincts. We think, and thought signifies liberty. Force does not necessarily have to be cruel; it is strongest when it does not take advantage of its power, and is kindly. All have a right to the life into which they are born, and since among individuals there exist the haughty and the humble, the mighty and the weak, so should exist nations, large and small, old and young. The end of our existence is not combat nor killing in order that others may afterwards kill us, and, perhaps, be killed themselves. Civilized peoples ought unanimously to adopt the idea of southern Europe, striving for the most peaceful and sweetest form of life possible."
A cruel smile played over the Russian's beard.
"But there exists that Kultur, diametrically opposed to civilization, which the Germans wish to palm off upon us. Civilization is refinement of spirit, respect of one's neighbor, tolerance of foreign opinion, courtesy of manner. Kultur is the action of a State that organizes and assimilates individuals and communities in order to utilize them for its own ends; and these ends consist mainly in placing 'The State' above other states, overwhelming them with their grandeur—or what is the same thing—with their haughty and violent pride."
By this time, the three had reached the place de l'Etoile. The dark outline of the Arc de Triomphe stood forth clearly in the starry expanse. The avenues extended in all directions, a double file of lights. Those around the monument illuminated its gigantic bases and the feet of the sculptured groups. Further up, the vaulted spaces were so locked in shadow that they had the black density of ebony.
Upon passing under the Arch, which greatly intensified the echo of their footsteps, they came to a standstill. The night breeze had a wintry chill as it whistled past, and the curved masses seemed melting into the diffused blue of space. Instinctively the three turned to glance back at the Champs Elysees. They saw only a river of shadow on which were floating rosaries of red stars among the two long, black scarfs formed by the buildings. But they were so well acquainted with this panorama that in imagination they mentally saw the majestic sweep of the avenue, the double row of palaces, the place de la Concorde in the background with the Egyptian obelisk, and the trees of the Tuileries.
"How beautiful it is!" exclaimed Tchernoff who was seeing something beyond the shadows. "An entire civilization, loving peace and pleasure, has passed through here."
A memory greatly affected the Russian. Many an afternoon, after lunch, he had met in this very spot a robust man, stocky, with reddish beard and kindly eyes—a man who looked like a giant who had just stopped growing. He was always accompanied by a dog. It was Jaures, his friend Jaures, who before going to the senate was accustomed to taking a walk toward the Arch from his home in Passy.
"He liked to come just where we are now! He loved to look at the avenues, the distant gardens, all of Paris which can be seen from this height; and filled with admiration, he would often say to me, 'This is magnificent—one of the most beautiful perspectives that can be found in the entire world.' . . . Poor Jaures!"
Through association of ideas, the Russian evoked the image of his compatriot, Michael Bakounine, another revolutionist, the father of anarchy, weeping with emotion at a concert after hearing the symphony with Beethoven chorals directed by a young friend of his, named Richard Wagner. "When our revolution comes," he cried, clasping the hand of the master, "whatever else may perish, this must be saved at any cost!"
Tchernoff roused himself from his reveries to look around him and say with sadness:
"THEY have passed through here!"
Every time that he walked through the Arch, the same vision would spring up in his mind. THEY were thousands of helmets glistening in the sun, thousands of heavy boots lifted with mechanical rigidity at the same time; horns, fifes, drums large and small, clashing against the majestic silence of these stones—the warlike march from Lohengrin sounding in the deserted avenues before the closed houses.
He, who was a foreigner, always felt attracted by the spell exerted by venerable buildings guarding the glory of a bygone day. He did not wish to know who had erected it. As soon as its pride is flattered, mankind tries immediately to solidify it. Then Humanity intervenes with a broader vision that changes the original significance of the work, enlarges it and strips it of its first egotistical import. The Greek statues, models of the highest beauty, had been originally mere images of the temple, donated by the piety of the devotees of those times. Upon evoking Roman grandeur, everybody sees in imagination the enormous Coliseum, circle of butcheries, or the arches erected to the glory of the inept Caesars. The representative works of nations have two significations—the interior or immediate one which their creators gave them, and the exterior or universal interest, the symbolic value which the centuries have given them.
"This Arch," continued Tchernoff, "is French within, with its names of battles and generals open to criticism. On the outside, it is the monument of the people who carried through the greatest revolution for liberty ever known. The glorification of man is there below in the column of the place Vendome. Here there is nothing individual. Its builders erected it to the memory of la Grande Armee and that Grand Army was the people in arms who spread revolution throughout Europe. The artists, great inventors, foresaw the true significance of this work. The warriors of Rude who are chanting the Marseillaise in the group at the left are not professional soldiers, they are armed citizens, marching to work out their sublime and violent mission. Their nudity makes them appear to me like sans-culottes in Grecian helmets. . . . Here there is more than the glory and egoism of a great nation. All Europe is awake to new life, thanks to these Crusaders of Liberty. . . . The nations call to mind certain images. If I think of Greece, I see the columns of the Parthenon; Rome, Mistress of the World, is the Coliseum and the Arch of Trajan; and revolutionary France is the Arc de Triomphe."
The Arch was even more, according to the Russian. It represented a great historical retaliation; the nations of the South, called the Latin races, replying, after many centuries, to the invasion which had destroyed the Roman jurisdiction—the Mediterranean peoples spreading themselves as conquerors through the lands of the ancient barbarians. Retreating immediately, they had swept away the past like a tidal wave—the great surf depositing all that it contained. Like the waters of certain rivers which fructify by overflowing, this recession of the human tide had left the soil enriched with new and generous ideas.
"If THEY should return!" added Tchernoff with a look of uneasiness. "If they again should tread these stones! . . . Before, they were simple-minded folk, stunned by their rapid good-fortune, who passed through here like a farmer through a salon. They were content with money for the pocket and two provinces which should perpetuate the memory of their victory. . . . But now they will not be the soldiers only who march against Paris. At the tail of the armies come the maddened canteen-keepers, the Herr Professors, carrying at the side the little keg of wine with the powder which crazes the barbarian, the wine of Kultur. And in the vans come also an enormous load of scientific savagery, a new philosophy which glorifies Force as a principle and sanctifier of everything, denies liberty, suppresses the weak and places the entire world under the charge of a minority chosen by God, just because it possesses the surest and most rapid methods of slaughter. Humanity may well tremble for the future if again resounds under this archway the tramp of boots following a march of Wagner or any other Kapellmeister."
They left the Arch, following the avenue Victor Hugo. Tchernoff walking along in dogged silence as though the vision of this imaginary procession had overwhelmed him. Suddenly he continued aloud the course of his reflections.
"And if they should enter, what does it matter? . . . On that account, the cause of Right will not die. It suffers eclipses, but is born again; it may be ignored and trampled under foot, but it does not, therefore, cease to exist, and all good souls recognize it as the only rule of life. A nation of madmen wishes to place might upon the pedestal that others have raised to Right. Useless endeavor! The eternal hope of mankind will ever be the increasing power of more liberty, more brotherliness, more justice."
The Russian appeared to calm himself with this statement. He and his friends spoke of the spectacle which Paris was presenting in its preparation for war. Tchernoff bemoaned the great suffering produced by the catastrophe, the thousands and thousands of domestic tragedies that were unrolling at that moment. Apparently nothing had changed. In the centre of the city and around the stations, there was unusual agitation, but the rest of the immense city did not appear affected by the great overthrow of its existence. The solitary street was presenting its usual aspect, the breeze was gently moving the leaves. A solemn peace seemed to be spreading itself through space. The houses appeared wrapped in slumber, but behind the closed windows might be surmised the insomnia of the reddened eyes, the sighs from hearts anguished by the threatened danger, the tremulous agility of the hands preparing the war outfit, perhaps the last loving greetings exchanged without pleasure, with kisses ending in sobs.
Tchernoff thought of his neighbors, the husband and wife who occupied the other interior apartment behind the studio. She was no longer playing the piano. The Russian had overheard disputes, the banging of doors locked with violence, and the footsteps of a man in the middle of the night, fleeing from a woman's cries. There had begun to develop on the other side of the wall a regulation drama—a repetition of hundreds of others, all taking place at the same time.
"She is a German," volunteered the Russian. "Our concierge has ferreted out her nationality. He must have gone by this time to join his regiment. Last night I could hardly sleep. I heard the lamentations through the thin wall partition, the steady, desperate weeping of an abandoned child, and the voice of a man who was vainly trying to quiet her! . . . Ah, what a rain of sorrows is now falling upon the world!"
That same evening, on leaving the house, he had met her by her door. She appeared like another woman, with an old look as though in these agonizing hours she had been suffering for fifteen years. In vain the kindly Tchernoff had tried to cheer her up, urging her to accept quietly her husband's absence so as not to harm the little one who was coming.
"For the unhappy creature is going to be a mother," he said sadly. "She hides her condition with a certain modesty, but from my window, I have often seen her making the dainty layette."
The woman had listened to him as though she did not understand. Words were useless before her desperation. She could only sob as though talking to herself, "I am a German. . . . He has gone; he has to go away. . . . Alone! . . . Alone forever!" . . .
"She is thinking all the time of her nationality which is separating her from her husband; she is thinking of the concentration camp to which they will take her with her compatriots. She is fearful of being abandoned in the enemy's country obliged to defend itself against the attack of her own country. . . . And all this when she is about to become a mother. What miseries! What agonies!"
The three reached the rue de la Pompe and on entering the house, Tchernoff began to take leave of his companions in order to climb the service stairs; but Desnoyers wished to prolong the conversation. He dreaded being alone with his friend, still chagrined over the evening's events. The conversation with the Russian interested him, so they all went up in the elevator together. Argensola suggested that this would be a good opportunity to uncork one of the many bottles which he was keeping in the kitchen. Tchernoff could go home through the studio door that opened on the stairway.
The great window had its glass doors wide open; the transoms on the patio side were also open; a breeze kept the curtains swaying, moving, too, the old lanterns, moth-eaten flags and other adornments of the romantic studio. They seated themselves around the table, near a window some distance from the light which was illuminating the other end of the big room. They were in the shadow, with their backs to the interior court. Opposite them were tiled roofs and an enormous rectangle of blue shadow, perforated by the sharp-pointed stars. The city lights were coloring the shadowy space with a bloody reflection.
Tchernoff drank two glasses, testifying to the excellence of the liquid by smacking his lips. The three were silent with the wondering and thoughtful silence which the grandeur of the night imposes. Their eyes were glancing from star to star, grouping them in fanciful lines, forming them into triangles or squares of varying irregularity. At times, the twinkling radiance of a heavenly body appeared to broaden the rays of light, almost hypnotizing them.
The Russian, without coming out of his revery, availed himself of another glass. Then he smiled with cruel irony, his bearded face taking on the semblance of a tragic mask peeping between the curtains of the night.
"I wonder what those men up there are thinking!" he muttered. "I wonder if any star knows that Bismarck ever existed! . . . I wonder if the planets are aware of the divine mission of the German nation!"
And he continued laughing.
Some far-away and uncertain noise disturbed the stillness of the night, slipping through some of the chinks that cut the immense plain of roofs. The three turned their heads so as to hear better. . . . The sound of voices cut through the thick silence of night—a masculine chorus chanting a hymn, simple, monotonous and solemn. They guessed at what it must be, although they could not hear very well. Various single notes floating with greater intensity on the night wind, enabled Argensola to piece together the short song, ending in a melodious, triumphant yell—a true war song:
C'est l'Alsace et la Lorraine, C'est l'Alsace qu'il nous faut, Oh, oh, oh, oh.
A new band of men was going away through the streets below, toward the railway station, the gateway of the war. They must be from the outlying districts, perhaps from the country, and passing through silence-wrapped Paris, they felt like singing of the great national hope, that those who were watching behind the dark facades might feel comforted, knowing that they were not alone.
"Just as it is in the opera," said Julio listening to the last notes of the invisible chorus dying away into the night.
Tchernoff continued drinking, but with a distracted air, his eyes fixed on the red cloud that floated over the roofs.
The two friends conjectured his mental labor from his concentrated look, and the low exclamations which were escaping him like the echoes of an interior monologue. Suddenly he leaped from thought to word without any forewarning, continuing aloud the course of his reasoning.
"And when the sun arises in a few hours, the world will see coursing through its fields the four horsemen, enemies of mankind. . . . Already their wild steeds are pawing the ground with impatience; already the ill-omened riders have come together and are exchanging the last words before leaping into the saddle."
"What horsemen are these?" asked Argensola.
"Those which go before the Beast."
The two friends thought this reply as unintelligible as the preceding words. Desnoyers again said mentally, "He is drunk," but his curiosity forced him to ask, "What beast is that?"
"That of the Apocalypse."
There was a brief silence, but the Russian's terseness of speech did not last long. He felt the necessity of expressing his enthusiasm for the dreamer on the island rock of Patmos. The poet of great and mystic vision was exerting, across two thousand years, his influence over this mysterious revolutionary, tucked away on the top floor of a house in Paris. John had foreseen it all. His visions, unintelligible to the masses, nevertheless held within them the mystery of great human events.
Tchernoff described the Apocalyptic beast rising from the depths of the sea. He was like a leopard, his feet like those of a bear, his mouth like the snout of a lion. He had seven heads and ten horns. And upon the horns were ten crowns, and upon each of his heads the name of a blasphemy. The evangelist did not say just what these blasphemies were, perhaps they differed according to the epochs, modified every thousand years when the beast made a new apparition. The Russian seemed to be reading those that were flaming on the heads of the monster—blasphemies against humanity, against justice, against all that makes life sweet and bearable. "Might is superior to Right!" . . . "The weak should not exist." . . . "Be harsh in order to be great." . . . And the Beast in all its hideousness was attempting to govern the world and make mankind render him homage!
"But the four horsemen?" persisted Desnoyers.
The four horsemen were preceding the appearance of the monster in John's vision.
The seven seals of the book of mystery were broken by the Lamb in the presence of the great throne where was seated one who shone like jasper. The rainbow round about the throne was in sight like unto an emerald. Twenty-four thrones were in a semicircle around the great throne, and upon them twenty-four elders with white robes and crowns of gold. Four enormous animals, covered with eyes and each having six wings, seemed to be guarding the throne. The sounding of trumpets was greeting the breaking of the first seal.
"Come and see," cried one of the beasts in a stentorian tone to the vision-seeing poet. . . . And the first horseman appeared on a white horse. In his hand he carried a bow, and a crown was given unto him. He was Conquest, according to some, the Plague according to others. He might be both things at the same time. He wore a crown, and that was enough for Tchernoff.
"Come forth," shouted the second animal, removing his thousand eyes. And from the broken seal leaped a flame-colored steed. His rider brandished over his head an enormous sword. He was War. Peace fled from the world before his furious gallop; humanity was going to be exterminated.
And when the third seal was broken, another of the winged animals bellowed like a thunder clap, "Come and see!" And John saw a black horse. He who mounted it held in his hand a scale in order to weigh the maintenance of mankind. He was Famine.
The fourth animal saluted the breaking of the fourth seal with a great roaring—"Come and see!" And there appeared a pale-colored horse. His rider was called Death, and power was given him to destroy with the sword and with hunger and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
The four horsemen were beginning their mad, desolating course over the heads of terrified humanity.
Tchernoff was describing the four scourges of the earth exactly as though he were seeing them. The horseman on the white horse was clad in a showy and barbarous attire. His Oriental countenance was contracted with hatred as if smelling out his victims. While his horse continued galloping, he was bending his bow in order to spread pestilence abroad. At his back swung the brass quiver filled with poisoned arrows, containing the germs of all diseases—those of private life as well as those which envenom the wounded soldier on the battlefield.
The second horseman on the red steed was waving the enormous, two-edged sword over his hair bristling with the swiftness of his course. He was young, but the fierce scowl and the scornful mouth gave him a look of implacable ferocity. His garments, blown open by the motion of his wild race, disclosed the form of a muscular athlete.
Bald, old and horribly skinny was the third horseman bouncing up and down on the rawboned back of his black steed. His shrunken legs clanked against the thin flanks of the lean beast. In one withered hand he was holding the scales, symbol of the scarcity of food that was going to become as valuable as gold.
The knees of the fourth horseman, sharp as spurs, were pricking the ribs of the pale horse. His parchment-like skin betrayed the lines and hollows of his skeleton. The front of his skull-like face was twisted with the sardonic laugh of destruction. His cane-like arms were whirling aloft a gigantic sickle. From his angular shoulders was hanging a ragged, filthy shroud.
And the furious cavalcade was passing like a hurricane over the immense assemblage of human beings. The heavens showed above their heads, a livid, dark-edged cloud from the west. Horrible monsters and deformities were swarming in spirals above the furious horde, like a repulsive escort. Poor Humanity, crazed with fear, was fleeing in all directions on hearing the thundering pace of the Plague, War, Hunger and Death. Men and women, young and old, were knocking each other down and falling to the ground overwhelmed by terror, astonishment and desperation. And the white horse, the red, the black and the pale, were crushing all with their relentless, iron tread—the athletic man was hearing the crashing of his broken ribs, the nursing babe was writhing at its mother's breast, and the aged and feeble were closing their eyes forever with a childlike sob.
"God is asleep, forgetting the world," continued the Russian. "It will be a long time before he awakes, and while he sleeps the four feudal horsemen of the Beast will course through the land as its only lords."
Tchernoff was overpowered by the intensity of his dramatic vision. Springing from his seat, he paced up and down with great strides; but his picture of the fourfold catastrophe revealed by the gloomy poet's trance, seemed to him very weak indeed. A great painter had given corporeal form to these terrible dreams.
"I have a book," he murmured, "a rare book." . . .
And suddenly he left the studio and went to his own quarters. He wanted to bring the book to show to his friends. Argensola accompanied him, and they returned in a few minutes with the volume, leaving the doors open behind them, so as to make a stronger current of air among the hollows of the facades and the interior patio.
Tchernoff placed his precious book under the light. It was a volume printed in 1511, with Latin text and engravings. Desnoyers read the title, "The Apocalypse Illustrated." The engravings were by Albert Durer, a youthful effort, when the master was only twenty-seven years old. The three were fascinated by the picture portraying the wild career of the Apocalyptic horsemen. The quadruple scourge, on fantastic mounts, seemed to be precipitating itself with a realistic sweep, crushing panic-stricken humanity.
Suddenly something happened which startled the three men from their contemplative admiration—something unusual, indefinable, a dreadful sound which seemed to enter directly into their brains without passing through their ears—a clutch at the heart. Instinctively they knew that something very grave had just happened.
They stared at each other silently for a few interminable seconds.
Through the open door, a cry of alarm came up from the patio.
With a common impulse, the three ran to the interior window, but before reaching them, the Russian had a presentiment.
"My neighbor! . . . It must be my neighbor. Perhaps she has killed herself!"
Looking down, they could see lights below, people moving around a form stretched out on the tiled floor. The alarm had instantly filled all the court windows, for it was a sleepless night—a night of nervous apprehension when everyone was keeping a sad vigil.
"She has killed herself," said a voice which seemed to come up from a well. "The German woman has committed suicide."
The explanation of the concierge leaped from window to window up to the top floor.
The Russian was shaking his head with a fatalistic expression. The unhappy woman had not taken the death-leap of her own accord. Someone had intensified her desperation, someone had pushed her. . . . The horsemen! The four horsemen of the Apocalypse! . . . Already they were in the saddle! Already they were beginning their merciless gallop of destruction!
The blind forces of evil were about to be let loose throughout the world.
The agony of humanity, under the brutal sweep of the four horsemen, was already begun!
WHAT DON MARCELO ENVIED
Upon being convinced that war really was inevitable, the elder Desnoyers was filled with amazement. Humanity had gone crazy. Was it possible that war could happen in these days of so many railroads, so many merchant marines, so many inventions, so much activity developed above and below the earth? . . . The nations would ruin themselves forever. They were now accustomed to luxuries and necessities unknown a century ago. Capital was master of the world, and war was going to wipe it out. In its turn, war would be wiped out in a few months' time through lack of funds to sustain it. His soul of a business man revolted before the hundreds of thousands of millions that this foolhardy event was going to convert into smoke and slaughter.
As his indignation had to fix upon something close at hand, he made his own countrymen responsible for this insanity. Too much talk about la revanche! The very idea of worrying for forty-four years over the two lost provinces when the nation was mistress of enormous and undeveloped lands in other countries! . . . Now they were going to pay the penalty for such exasperating and clamorous foolishness.
For him war meant disaster writ large. He had no faith in his country. France's day had passed. Now the victors were of the Northern peoples, and especially that Germany which he had seen so close, admiring with a certain terror its discipline and its rigorous organization. The former working-man felt the conservative and selfish instinct of all those who have amassed millions. He scorned political ideals, but through class interest he had of late years accepted the declarations against the scandals of the government. What could a corrupt and disorganized Republic do against the solidest and strongest empire in the world? . . .
"We are going to our deaths," he said to himself. "Worse than '70! . . . We are going to see horrible things!"
The good order and enthusiasm with which the French responded to their country's call and transformed themselves into soldiers were most astonishing to him. This moral shock made his national faith begin to revive. The great majority of Frenchmen were good after all; the nation was as valiant as in former times. Forty-four years of suffering and alarm had developed their old bravery. But the leaders? Where were they going to get leaders to march to victory? . . .
Many others were asking themselves the same question. The silence of the democratic government was keeping the country in complete ignorance of their future commanders. Everybody saw the army increasing from hour to hour: very few knew the generals. One name was beginning to be repeated from mouth to mouth, "Joffre . . . Joffre." His first pictures made the curious crowds struggle to get a glimpse of them. Desnoyers studied them very carefully. "He looks like a very capable person." His methodical instincts were gratified by the grave and confident look of the general of the Republic. Suddenly he felt the great confidence that efficient-looking bank directors always inspired in him. He could entrust his interests to this gentleman, sure that he would not act impulsively.
Finally, against his will, Desnoyers was drawn into the whirlpool of enthusiasm and emotion. Like everyone around him, he lived minutes that were hours, and hours that were years. Events kept on overlapping each other; within a week the world seemed to have made up for its long period of peace.
The old man fairly lived in the street, attracted by the spectacle of the multitude of civilians saluting the multitude of uniformed men departing for the seat of war.
At night he saw the processions passing through the boulevards. The tricolored flag was fluttering its colors under the electric lights. The cafes were overflowing with people, sending forth from doors and windows the excited, musical notes of patriotic songs. Suddenly, amidst applause and cheers, the crowd would make an opening in the street. All Europe was passing here; all Europe—less the arrogant enemy—and was saluting France in her hour of danger with hearty spontaneity. Flags of different nations were filing by, of all tints of the rainbow, and behind them were the Russians with bright and mystical eyes; the English, with heads uncovered, intoning songs of religious gravity; the Greeks and Roumanians of aquiline profile; the Scandinavians, white and red; the North Americans, with the noisiness of a somewhat puerile enthusiasm; the Hebrews without a country, friends of the nation of socialistic revolutions; the Italians, as spirited as a choir of heroic tenors; the Spanish and South Americans, tireless in their huzzas. They were students and apprentices who were completing their courses in the schools and workshops, and refugees who, like shipwrecked mariners, had sought shelter on the hospitable strand of Paris. Their cheers had no special significance, but they were all moved by their desire to show their love for the Republic. And Desnoyers, touched by the sight, felt that France was still of some account in the world, that she yet exercised a moral force among the nations, and that her joys and sorrows were still of interest to humanity.
"In Berlin and Vienna, too," he said to himself, "they must also be cheering enthusiastically at this moment . . . but Germans only, no others. Assuredly no foreigner is joining in their demonstrations."
The nation of the Revolution, legislator of the rights of mankind, was harvesting the gratitude of the throngs, but was beginning to feel a certain remorse before the enthusiasm of the foreigners who were offering their blood for France. Many were lamenting that the government should delay twenty days, until after they had finished the operations of mobilization, in admitting the volunteers. And he, a Frenchman born, a few hours before, had been mistrusting his country! . . .
In the daytime the popular current was running toward the Gare de l'Est. Crowded against the gratings was a surging mass of humanity stretching its tentacles through the nearby streets. The station that was acquiring the importance of a historic spot appeared like a narrow tunnel through which a great human river was trying to flow with many rippling encounters and much heavy pressure against its banks. A large part of France in arms was coursing through this exit from Paris toward the battlefields at the frontier.
Desnoyers had been in the station only twice, when going and coming from Germany. Others were now taking the same road. The crowds were swarming in from the environs of the city in order to see the masses of human beings in geometric bodies, uniformly clad, disappearing within the entrance with flash of steel and the rhythm of clanking metal. The crystal archways that were glistening in the sun like fiery mouths were swallowing and swallowing people. When night fell the processions were still coming on, by light of the electric lamps. Through the iron grills were passing thousands and thousands of draught horses; men with their breasts crossed with metal and bunches of horsehair hanging from their helmets, like paladins of bygone centuries; enormous cases that were serving as cages for the aeronautic condors; strings of cannon, long and narrow, painted grey and protected, by metal screens, more like astronomical instruments than mouths of death; masses and masses of red kepis (military caps) moving in marching rhythm, rows and rows of muskets, some black and stark like reed plantations, others ending in bayonets like shining spikes. And over all these restless fields of seething throngs, the flags of the regiments were fluttering in the air like colored birds; a white body, a blue wing, or a red one, a cravat of gold on the neck, and above, the metal tip pointing toward the clouds.
Don Marcelo would return home from these send-offs vibrating with nervous fatigue, as one who had just participated in a scene of racking emotion. In spite of his tenacious character which always stood out against admitting a mistake, the old man began to feel ashamed of his former doubts. The nation was quivering with life; France was a grand nation; appearances had deceived him as well as many others. Perhaps the most of his countrymen were of a light and flippant character, given to excessive interest in the sensuous side of life; but when danger came they were fulfilling their duty simply, without the necessity of the harsh force to which the iron-clad organizations were submitting their people.
On leaving home on the morning of the fourth day of the mobilization Desnoyers, instead of betaking himself to the centre of the city, went in the opposite direction toward the rue de la Pompe. Some imprudent words dropped by Chichi, and the uneasy looks of his wife and sister-in-law made him suspect that Julio had returned from his trip. He felt the necessity of seeing at least the outside of the studio windows, as if they might give him news. And in order to justify a trip so at variance with his policy of ignoring his son, he remembered that the carpenter lived in the same street.
"I must hunt up Robert. He promised a week ago that he would come here."
This Robert was a husky young fellow who, to use his own words, was "emancipated from boss tyranny," and was working independently in his own home. A tiny, almost subterranean room was serving him for dwelling and workshop. A woman he called "my affinity" was looking carefully after his hearth and home, with a baby boy clinging to her skirts. Desnoyers was accustomed to humor Robert's tirades against his fellow citizens because the man had always humored his whimseys about the incessant rearrangement of his furniture. In the luxurious apartment in the avenue Victor Hugo the carpenter would sing La Internacional while using hammer and saw, and his employer would overlook his audacity of speech because of the cheapness of his work.
Upon arriving at the shop he found the man with cap over one ear, broad trousers like a mameluke's, hobnailed boots and various pennants and rosettes fastened to the lapels of his jacket.
"You've come too late, Boss," he said cheerily. "I am just going to close the factory. The Proprietor has been mobilized, and in a few hours will join his regiment."
And he pointed to a written paper posted on the door of his dwelling like the printed cards on all establishments, signifying that employer and employees had obeyed the order of mobilization.
It had never occurred to Desnoyers that his carpenter might become a soldier, since he was so opposed to all kinds of authority. He hated the flics, the Paris police, with whom he had, more than once, exchanged fisticuffs and clubbings. Militarism was his special aversion. In the meetings against the despotism of the barracks he had always been one of the noisiest participants. And was this revolutionary fellow going to war naturally and voluntarily? . . .
Robert spoke enthusiastically of his regiment, of life among comrades with Death but four steps away.
"I believe in my ideas, Boss, the same as before," he explained as though guessing the other's thought. "But war is war and teaches many things—among others that Liberty must be accompanied with order and authority. It is necessary that someone direct that the rest may follow—willingly, by common consent . . . but they must follow. When war actually comes one sees things very differently from when living at home doing as one pleases."
The night that they assassinated Jaures he howled with rage, announcing that the following morning the murder would be avenged. He had hunted up his associates in the district in order to inform them what retaliation was being planned against the malefactors. But war was about to break out. There was something in the air that was opposing civil strife, that was placing private grievances in momentary abeyance, concentrating all minds on the common weal.
"A week ago," he exclaimed, "I was an anti-militarist! How far away that seems now—as if a year had gone by! I keep thinking as before! I love peace and hate war like all my comrades. But the French have not offended anybody, and yet they threaten us, wishing to enslave us. . . . But we French can be fierce, since they oblige us to be, and in order to defend ourselves it is just that nobody should shirk, that all should obey. Discipline does not quarrel with Revolution. Remember the armies of the first Republic—all citizens, Generals as well as soldiers, but Hoche, Kleber and the others were rough-hewn, unpolished benefactors who knew how to command and exact obedience."
The carpenter was well read. Besides the papers and pamphlets of "the Idea," he had also read on stray sheets the views of Michelet and other liberal actors on the stage of history.
"We are going to make war on War," he added. "We are going to fight so that this war will be the last."
This statement did not seem to be expressed with sufficient clearness, so he recast his thought.
"We are going to fight for the future; we are going to die in order that our grandchildren may not have to endure a similar calamity. If the enemy triumphs, the war-habit will triumph, and conquest will be the only means of growth. First they will overcome Europe, then the rest of the world. Later on, those who have been pillaged will rise up in their wrath. More wars! . . . We do not want conquests. We desire to regain Alsace and Lorraine, for their inhabitants wish to return to us . . . and nothing more. We shall not imitate the enemy, appropriating territory and jeopardizing the peace of the world. We had enough of that with Napoleon; we must not repeat that experience. We are going to fight for our immediate security, and at the same time for the security of the world—for the life of the weaker nations. If this were a war of aggression, of mere vanity, of conquest, then we Socialists would bethink ourselves of our anti-militarism. But this is self-defense, and the government has not been at fault. Since we are attacked, we must be united in our defensive."
The carpenter, who was also anti-clerical, was now showing a more generous tolerance, an amplitude of ideas that embraced all mankind. The day before he had met at the administration office a Reservist who was just leaving to join his regiment. At a glance he saw that this man was a priest.
"I am a carpenter," he had said to him, by way of introduction, "and you, comrade, are working in the churches?"
He employed this figure of speech in order that the priest might not suspect him of anything offensive. The two had clasped hands.
"I do not take much stock in the clerical cowl," Robert explained to Desnoyers. "For some time I have not been on friendly terms with religion. But in every walk of life there must be good people, and the good people ought to understand each other in a crisis like this. Don't you think so, Boss?"
The war coincided with his socialistic tendencies. Before this, when speaking of future revolution, he had felt a malign pleasure in imagining all the rich deprived of their fortunes and having to work in order to exist. Now he was equally enthusiastic at the thought that all Frenchmen would share the same fate without class distinction.
"All with knapsacks on their backs and eating at mess."
And he was even extending this military sobriety to those who remained behind the army. War was going to cause great scarcity of provisions, and all would have to come down to very plain fare.
"You, too, Boss, who are too old to go to war—you, with all your millions, will have to eat the same as I. . . . Admit that it is a beautiful thing."
Desnoyers was not offended by the malicious satisfaction that his future privations seemed to inspire in the carpenter. He was very thoughtful. A man of his stamp, an enemy of existing conditions, who had no property to defend, was going to war—to death, perhaps—because of a generous and distant ideal, in order that future generations might never know the actual horrors of war! To do this, he was not hesitating at the sacrifice of his former cherished beliefs, all that he had held sacred till now. . . . And he who belonged to the privileged class, who possessed so many tempting things, requiring defense, had given himself up to doubt and criticism! . . .
Hours after, he again saw the carpenter, near the Arc de Triomphe. He was one of a group of workmen looking much as he did, and this group was joining others and still others that represented every social class—well-dressed citizens, stylish and anaemic young men, graduate students with worn jackets, pale faces and thick glasses, and youthful priests who were smiling rather shamefacedly as though they had been caught at some ridiculous escapade. At the head of this human herd was a sergeant, and as a rear guard, various soldiers with guns on their shoulders. Forward march, Reservists! . . .
And a musical cry, a solemn harmony like a Greek chant, menacing and monotonous, surged up from this mass with open mouths, swinging arms, and legs that were opening and shutting like compasses.
Robert was singing the martial chorus with such great
energy that his eyes and Gallic moustachios were fairly trembling. In spite of his corduroy suit and his bulging linen hand bag, he had the same grand and heroic aspect as the figures by Rude in the Arc de Triomphe. The "affinity" and the boy were trudging along the sidewalk so as to accompany him to the station. For a moment he took his eyes from them to speak with a companion in the line, shaven and serious-looking, undoubtedly the priest whom he had met the day before. Now they were talking confidentially, intimately, with that brotherliness which contact with death inspires in mankind.
The millionaire followed the carpenter with a look of respect, immeasurably increased since he had taken his part in this human avalanche. And this respect had in it something of envy, the envy that springs from an uneasy conscience.
Whenever Don Marcelo passed a bad night, suffering from nightmare, a certain terrible thing—always the same—would torment his imagination. Rarely did he dream of mortal peril to his family or self. The frightful vision was always that certain notes bearing his signature were presented for collection which he, Marcelo Desnoyers, the man always faithful to his bond, with a past of immaculate probity, was not able to pay. Such a possibility made him tremble, and long after waking his heart would be oppressed with terror. To his imagination this was the greatest disgrace that a man could suffer.
Now that war was overturning his existence with its agitations, the same agonies were reappearing. Completely awake, with full powers of reasoning, he was suffering exactly the same distress as when in his horrible dreams he saw his dishonored signature on a protested document.
All his past was looming up before his eyes with such extraordinary clearness that it seemed as though until then his mind must have been in hopeless confusion. The threatened land of France was his native country. Fifteen centuries of history had been working for him, in order that his opening eyes might survey progress and comforts that his ancestors did not even know. Many generations of Desnoyers had prepared for his advent into life by struggling with the land and defending it that he might be born into a free family and fireside. . . . And when his turn had come for continuing this effort, when his time had arrived in the rosary of generations—he had fled like a debtor evading payment! . . . On coming into his fatherland he had contracted obligations with the human group to whom he owed his existence. This obligation should be paid with his arms, with any sacrifice that would repel danger . . . and he had eluded the acknowledgment of his signature, fleeing his country and betraying his trust to his forefathers! Ah, miserable coward! The material success of his life, the riches acquired in a remote country, were comparatively of no importance. There are failures that millions cannot blot out. The uneasiness of his conscience was proving it now. Proof, too, was in the envy and respect inspired by this poor mechanic marching to meet his death with others equally humble, all kindled with the satisfaction of duty fulfilled, of sacrifice accepted.
The memory of Madariaga came to his memory.
"Where we make our riches, and found a family—there is our country."
No, the statement of the centaur was not correct. In normal times, perhaps. Far from one's native land when it is not exposed to danger, one may forget it for a few years. But he was living now in France, and France was being obliged to defend herself against enemies wishing to overpower her. The sight of all her people rising en masse was becoming an increasingly shameful torture for Desnoyers, making him think all the time of what he should have done in his youth, of what he had dodged.
The veterans of '70 were passing through the streets, with the green and black ribbon in their lapel, souvenirs of the privations of the Siege of Paris, and of heroic and disastrous campaigns. The sight of these men, satisfied with their past, made him turn pale. Nobody was recalling his, but he knew it, and that was enough. In vain his reason would try to lull this interior tempest. . . . Those times were different; then there was none of the present unanimity; the Empire was unpopular . . . everything was lost. . . . But the recollection of a celebrated sentence was fixing itself in his mind as an obsession—"France still remained!" Many had thought as he did in his youth, but they had not, therefore, evaded military service. They had stood by their country in a last and desperate resistance.
Useless was his excuse-making reasoning. Nobler thoughts showed him the fallacy of this beating around the bush. Explanations and demonstrations are unnecessary to the understanding of patriotic and religious ideals; true patriotism does not need them. One's country . . . is one's country. And the laboring man, skeptical and jesting, the self-centred farmer, the solitary pastor, all had sprung to action at the sound of this conjuring word, comprehending it instantly, without previous instruction.
"It is necessary to pay," Don Marcelo kept repeating mentally. "I ought to pay my debt."
As in his dreams, he was constantly feeling the anguish of an upright and desperate man who wishes to meet his obligations.
Pay! . . . and how? It was now very late. For a moment the heroic resolution came into his head of offering himself as a volunteer, of marching with his bag at his side in some one of the groups of future combatants, the same as the carpenter. But the uselessness of the sacrifice came immediately into his mind. Of what use would it be? . . . He looked robust and was well-preserved for his age, but he was over seventy, and only the young make good soldiers. Combat is but one incident in the struggle. Equally necessary are the hardship and self-denial in the form of interminable marches, extremes of temperature, nights in the open air, shoveling earth, digging trenches, loading carts, suffering hunger. . . . No; it was too late. He could not even leave an illustrious name that might serve as an example.
Instinctively he glanced behind. He was not alone in the world; he had a son who could assume his father's debt . . . but that hope only lasted a minute. His son was not French; he belonged to another people; half of his blood was from another source. Besides, how could the boy be expected to feel as he did? Would he even understand if his father should explain it to him? . . . It was useless to expect anything from this lady-killing, dancing clown, from this fellow of senseless bravado, who was constantly exposing his life in duels in order to satisfy a silly sense of honor.
Oh, the meekness of the bluff Senor Desnoyers after these reflections! . . . His family felt alarmed at seeing the humility and gentleness with which he moved around the house. The two men-servants had gone to join their regiments, and to them the most surprising result of the declaration of war was the sudden kindness of their master, the lavishness of his farewell gifts, the paternal care with which he supervised their preparations for departure. The terrible Don Marcelo embraced them with moist eyes, and the two had to exert themselves to prevent his accompanying them to the station.
Outside of his home he was slipping about humbly as though mutely asking pardon of the many people around him. To him they all appeared his superiors. It was a period of economic crisis; for the time being, the rich also were experiencing what it was to be poor and worried; the banks had suspended operations and were paying only a small part of their deposits. For some weeks the millionaire was deprived of his wealth, and felt restless before the uncertain future. How long would it be before they could send him money from South America? Was war going to take away fortunes as well as lives? . . . And yet Desnoyers had never appreciated money less, nor disposed of it with greater generosity.
Numberless mobilized men of the lower classes who were going alone toward the station met a gentleman who would timidly stop them, put his hand in his pocket and leave in their right hand a bill of twenty francs, fleeing immediately before their astonished eyes. The working-women who were returning weeping from saying good-bye to their husbands saw this same gentleman smiling at the children who were with them, patting their cheeks and hastening away, leaving a five-franc piece in their hands.
Don Marcelo, who had never smoked, was now frequenting the tobacco shops, coming out with hands and pockets filled in order that he might, with lavish generosity, press the packages upon the first soldier he met. At times the recipient, smiling courteously, would thank him with a few words, revealing his superior breeding—afterwards passing the gift on to others clad in cloaks as coarse and badly cut as his own. The mobilization, universally obligatory, often caused him to make these mistakes.
The rough hands pressing his with a grateful clasp, left him satisfied for a few moments. Ah, if he could only do more! . . . The Government in mobilizing its vehicles had appropriated three of his monumental automobiles, and Desnoyers felt very sorry that they were not also taking the fourth mastodon. Of what use were they to him? The shepherds of this monstrous herd, the chauffeur and his assistants, were now in the army. Everybody was marching away. Finally he and his son would be the only ones left—two useless creatures.
He roared with wrath on learning of the enemy's entrance into Belgium, considering this the most unheard-of treason in history. He suffered agonies of shame at remembering that at first he had held the exalted patriots of his country responsible for the war. . . . What perfidy, methodically carried out after long years of preparation! The accounts of the sackings, fires and butcheries made him turn pale and gnash his teeth. To him, to Marcelo Desnoyers, might happen the very same thing that Belgium was enduring, if the barbarians should invade France. He had a home in the city, a castle in the country, and a family. Through association of ideas, the women assaulted by the soldiery, made him think of Chichi and the dear Dona Luisa. The mansions in flames called to his mind the rare and costly furnishings accumulated in his expensive dwellings—the armorial bearings of his social elevation. The old folk that were shot, the women foully mutilated, the children with their hands cut off, all the horrors of a war of terror, aroused the violence of his character.
And such things could happen with impunity in this day and generation! . . .
In order to convince himself that punishment was near, that vengeance was overtaking the guilty ones, he felt the necessity of mingling daily with the people crowding around the Gare de l'Est.
Although the greater part of the troops were operating on the frontiers, that was not diminishing the activity in Paris. Entire battalions were no longer going off, but day and night soldiers were coming to the station singly or in groups. These were Reserves without uniform on their way to enroll themselves with their companies, officials who until then had been busy with the work of the mobilization, platoons in arms destined to fill the great gaps opened by death.
The multitude, pressed against the railing, was greeting those who were going off, following them with their eyes while they were crossing the large square. The latest editions of the daily papers were announced with hoarse yells, and instantly the dark throng would be spotted with white, all reading with avidity the printed sheets. Good news: "Vive la France!" A doubtful despatch, foreshadowing calamity: "No matter! We must press on at all costs! The Russians will close in behind them!" And while these dialogues, inspired by the latest news were taking place, many young girls were going among the groups offering little flags and tricolored cockades—and passing through the patio, men and still more men were disappearing behind the glass doors, on their way to the war.
A sub-lieutenant of the Reserves, with his bag on his shoulder, was accompanied by his father toward the file of policemen keeping the crowds back. Desnoyers saw in the young officer a certain resemblance to his son. The father was wearing in his lapel the black and green ribbon of 1870—a decoration which always filled Desnoyers with remorse. He was tall and gaunt, but was still trying to hold himself erect, with a heavy frown. He wanted to show himself fierce, inhuman, in order to hide his emotion.
"Good-bye, my boy! Do your best."
They did not clasp hands, and each was avoiding looking at the other. The official was smiling like an automaton. The father turned his back brusquely, and threading his way through the throng, entered a cafe, where for some time he needed the most retired seat in the darkest earner to hide his emotion.
AND DON MARCELO ENVIED HIS GRIEF.
Some of the Reservists came along singing, preceded by a flag. They were joking and jostling each other, betraying in excited actions, long halts at all the taverns along the way. One of them, without interrupting his song, was pressing the hand of an old woman marching beside him, cheerful and dry-eyed. The mother was concentrating all her strength in order, with feigned happiness, to accompany this strapping lad to the last minute.
Others were coming along singly, separated from their companies, but not on that account alone. The gun was hanging from the shoulder, the back overlaid by the hump of the knapsack, the red legs shooting in and out of the turned-back folds of the blue cloak, and the smoke of a pipe under the visor of the kepis. In front of one of these men, four children were walking along, lined up according to size. They kept turning their heads to admire their father, suddenly glorified by his military trappings. At his side was marching his wife, affable and resigned, feeling in her simple soul a revival of love, an ephemeral Spring, born of the contact with danger. The man, a laborer of Paris, who a few months before was singing La Internacional, demanding the abolishment of armies and the brotherhood of all mankind, was now going in quest of death. His wife, choking back her sobs, was admiring him greatly. Affection and commiseration made her insist upon giving him a few last counsels. In his knapsack she had put his best handkerchiefs, the few provisions in the house and all the money. Her man was not to be uneasy about her and the children; they would get along all right. The government and kind neighbors would look after them.
The soldier in reply was jesting over the somewhat misshapen figure of his wife, saluting the coming citizen, and prophesying that he would be born in a time of great victory. A kiss to the wife, an affectionate hair-pull for his offspring, and then he had joined his comrades. . . . No tears. Courage! . . . Vive la France!
The final injunctions of the departing were now heard. Nobody was crying. But as the last red pantaloons disappeared, many hands grasped the iron railing convulsively, many handkerchiefs were bitten with gnashing teeth, many faces were hidden in the arms with sobs of anguish.
AND DON MARCELO ENVIED THESE TEARS.
The old woman, on losing the warm contact of her son's hand from her withered one, turned in the direction which she believed to be that of the hostile country, waving her arms with threatening fury.
"Ah, the assassin! . . . the bandit!"
In her wrathful imagination she was again seeing the countenance so often displayed in the illustrated pages of the periodicals—moustaches insolently aggressive, a mouth with the jaw and teeth of a wolf, that laughed . . . and laughed as men must have laughed in the time of the cave-men.
AND DON MARCELO ENVIED THIS WRATH!
When Marguerite was able to return to the studio in the rue de la Pompe, Julio, who had been living in a perpetual bad humor, seeing everything in the blackest colors, suddenly felt a return of his old optimism.
The war was not going to be so cruel as they all had at first imagined. The days had passed by, and the movements of the troops were beginning to be less noticeable. As the number of men diminished in the streets, the feminine population seemed to have increased. Although there was great scarcity of money, the banks still remaining closed, the necessity for it was increasingly great, in order to secure provisions. Memories of the famine of the siege of '70 tormented the imagination. Since war had broken out with the same enemy, it seemed but logical to everybody to expect a repetition of the same happenings. The storehouses were besieged by women who were securing stale food at exorbitant prices in order to store it in their homes. Future hunger was producing more terror than immediate dangers.
For young Desnoyers these were about all the transformations that war was creating around him. People would finally become accustomed to the new existence. Humanity has a certain reserve force of adaptation which enables it to mould itself to circumstances and continue existing. He was hoping to continue his life as though nothing had happened. It was enough for him that Marguerite should continue faithful to their past. Together they would see events slipping by them with the cruel luxuriousness of those who, from an inaccessible height, contemplate a flood without the slightest risk to themselves.
This selfish attitude had also become habitual to Argensola.
"Let us be neutral," the Bohemian would say. "Neutrality does not necessarily mean indifference. Let us enjoy the great spectacle, since nothing like it will ever happen again in our lifetime."
It was unfortunate that war should happen to come when they had so little money. Argensola was hating the banks even more than the Central Powers, distinguishing with special antipathy the trust company which was delaying payment of Julio's check. How lovely it would have been with this sum available, to have forestalled events by laying in every class of commodity! In order to supplement the domestic scrimping, he again had to solicit the aid of Dona Luisa. War had lessened Don Marcelo's precautions, and the family was now living in generous unconcern. The mother, like other house mistresses, had stored up provisions for months and months to come, buying whatever eatables she was able to lay hands on. Argensola took advantage of this abundance, repeating his visits to the home in the avenue Victor Hugo, descending its service stairway with great packages which were swelling the supplies in the studio.
He felt all the joys of a good housekeeper in surveying the treasures piled up in the kitchen—great tins of canned meat, pyramids of butter crocks, and bags of dried vegetables. He had accumulated enough there to maintain a large family. The war had now offered a new pretext for him to visit Don Marcelo's wine-vaults.
"Let them come!" he would say with a heroic gesture as he took stock of his treasure trove. "Let them come when they will! We are ready for them!"
The care and increase of his provisions, and the investigation of news were the two functions of his existence. It seemed necessary to procure ten, twelve, fifteen papers a day; some because they were reactionary, and the novelty of seeing all the French united filled him with enthusiasm; others because they were radical and must be better informed of the news received from the government. They generally appeared at midday, at three, at four and at five in the afternoon. An half hour's delay in the publication of the sheet raised great hopes in the public, on the qui vive for stupendous news. All the last supplements were snatched up; everybody had his pockets stuffed with papers, waiting anxiously the issue of extras in order to buy them, too. Yet all the sheets were saying approximately the same thing.
Argensola was developing a credulous, enthusiastic soul, capable of admitting many improbable things. He presumed that this same spirit was probably animating everybody around him. At times, his old critical attitude would threaten to rebel, but doubt was repulsed as something dishonorable. He was living in a new world, and it was but natural that extraordinary things should occur that could be neither measured nor explained by the old processes of reasoning. So he commented with infantile joy on the marvellous accounts in the daily papers—of combats between a single Belgian platoon and entire regiments of enemies, putting them to disorderly flight; of the German fear of the bayonet that made them run like hares the instant that the charge sounded; of the inefficiency of the German artillery whose projectiles always missed fire.
It was logical and natural that little Belgium should conquer gigantic Germany—a repetition of David and Goliath—with all the metaphors and images that this unequal contest had inspired across so many centuries. Like the greater part of the nation, he had the mentality of a reader of tales of chivalry who feels himself defrauded if the hero, single-handed, fails to cleave a thousand enemies with one fell stroke. He purposely chose the most sensational papers, those which published many stories of single encounters, of individual deeds about which nobody could know with any degree of certainty.
The intervention of England on the seas made him imagine a frightful famine, coming providentially like a thunder-clap to torture the enemy. He honestly believed that ten days of this maritime blockade would convert Germany into a group of shipwrecked sailors floating on a raft. This vision made him repeat his visits to the kitchen to gloat over his packages of provisions.
"Ah, what they would give in Berlin for my treasures!" . . .
Never had Argensola eaten with greater avidity. Consideration of the great privations suffered by the adversary was sharpening his appetite to a monstrous capacity. White bread, golden brown and crusty, was stimulating him to an almost religious ecstasy.
"If friend William could only get his claws on this!" he would chuckle to his companion.
So he chewed and swallowed with increasing relish; solids and liquids on passing through his mouth seemed to be acquiring a new flavor, rare and divine. Distant hunger for him was a stimulant, a sauce of endless delight.
While France was inspiring his enthusiasm, he was conceding greater credit to Russia. "Ah, those Cossacks!" . . . He was accustomed to speak of them as intimate friends. He loved to describe the unbridled gallop of the wild horsemen, impalpable as phantoms, and so terrible in their wrath that the enemy could not look them in the face. The concierge and the stay-at-homes used to listen to him with all the respect due to a foreign gentleman, knowing much of the great outside world with which they were not familiar.
"The Cossacks will adjust the accounts of these bandits!" he would conclude with absolute assurance. "Within a month they will have entered Berlin."
And his public composed of women—wives and mothers of those who had gone to war—would modestly agree with him, with that irresistible desire which we all feel of placing our hopes on something distant and mysterious. The French would defend the country, reconquering, besides the lost territories, but the Cossacks—of whom so many were speaking but so few had seen—were going to give the death blow. The only person who knew them at first hand was Tchernoff, and to Argensola's astonishment, he listened to his words without showing any enthusiasm. The Cossacks were for him simply one body of the Russian army—good enough soldiers, but incapable of working the miracles that everybody was expecting from them.
"That Tchernoff!" exclaimed Argensola. "Since he hates the Czar, he thinks the entire country mad. He is a revolutionary fanatic. . . . And I am opposed to all fanaticisms."
Julio was listening absent-mindedly to the news brought by his companion, the vibrating statements recited in declamatory tones, the plans of the campaign traced out on an enormous map fastened to the wall of the studio and bristling with tiny flags that marked the camps of the belligerent armies. Every issue of the papers obliged the Spaniard to arrange a new dance of the pins on the map, followed by his comments of bomb-proof optimism.
"We have entered into Alsace; very good! . . . It appears now that we abandon Alsace. Splendid! I suspect the cause. It is in order to enter again in a better place, getting at the enemy from behind. . . . They say that Liege has fallen. What a lie! . . . And if it does fall, it doesn't matter. Just an incident, nothing more! The others remain . . . the others! . . . that are advancing on the Eastern side, and are going to enter Berlin."
The news from the Russian front was his favorite, but obliged him to remain in suspense every time that he tried to find on the map the obscure names of the places where the admired Cossacks were exhibiting their wonderful exploits.
Meanwhile Julio was continuing the course of his own reflections. Marguerite! . . . She had come back at last, and yet each time seemed to be drifting further away from him. . . .
In the first days of the mobilization, he had haunted her neighborhood, trying to appease his longing by this illusory proximity. Marguerite had written to him, urging patience. How fortunate it was that he was a foreigner and would not have to endure the hardship of war! Her brother, an officer in the artillery Reserves, was going at almost any minute. Her mother, who made her home with this bachelor son, had kept an astonishing serenity up to the last minute, although she had wept much while the war was still but a possibility. She herself had prepared the soldier's outfit so that the small valise might contain all that was indispensable for campaign life. But Marguerite had divined her poor mother's secret struggles not to reveal her despair, in moist eyes and trembling hands. It was impossible to leave her alone at such a time. . . . Then had come the farewell. "God be with you, my son! Do your duty, but be prudent." Not a tear nor a sign of weakness. All her family had advised her not to accompany her son to the railway station, so his sister had gone with him. And upon returning home, Marguerite had found her mother rigid in her arm chair, with a set face, avoiding all mention of her son, speaking of the friends who also had sent their boys to the war, as if they only could comprehend her torture. "Poor Mama! I ought to be with her now more than ever. . . . To-morrow, if I can, I shall come to see you."
When at last she returned to the rue de la Pompe, her first care was to explain to Julio the conservatism of her tailored suit, the absence of jewels in the adornment of her person. "The war, my dear! Now it is the chic thing to adapt oneself to the depressing conditions, to be frugal and inconspicuous like soldiers. Who knows what we may expect!" Her infatuation with dress still accompanied her in every moment of her life.
Julio noticed a persistent absent-mindedness about her. It seemed as though her spirit, abandoning her body, was wandering to far-away places. Her eyes were looking at him, but she seldom saw him. She would speak very slowly, as though wishing to weigh every word, fearful of betraying some secret. This spiritual alienation did not, however, prevent her slipping bodily along the smooth path of custom, although afterwards she would seem to feel a vague remorse. "I wonder if it is right to do this! . . . Is it not wrong to live like this when so many sorrows are falling on the world?" Julio hushed her scruples with:
"But if we are going to marry as soon as possible! . . . If we are already the same as husband and wife!"
She replied with a gesture of strangeness and dismay. To marry! . . . Ten days ago she had had no other wish. Now the possibility of marriage was recurring less and less in her thoughts. Why think about such remote and uncertain events? More immediate things were occupying her mind.
The farewell to her brother in the station was a scene which had fixed itself ineradicably in her memory. Upon going to the studio she had planned not to speak about it, foreseeing that she might annoy her lover with this account; but alas, she had only to vow not to mention a thing, to feel an irresistible impulse to talk about it.
She had never suspected that she could love her brother so dearly. Her former affection for him had been mingled with a silent sentiment of jealousy because her mother had preferred the older child. Besides, he was the one who had introduced Laurier to his home; the two held diplomas as industrial engineers and had been close friends from their school days. . . . But upon seeing the boy ready to depart, Marguerite suddenly discovered that this brother, who had always been of secondary interest to her, was now occupying a pre-eminent place in her affections.
"He was so handsome, so interesting in his lieutenant's uniform! . . . He looked like another person. I will admit to you that I was very proud to walk beside him, leaning on his arm. People thought that we were married. Seeing me weep, some poor women tried to console me saying, 'Courage, Madame. . . . Your man will come back.' He just laughed at hearing these mistakes. The only thing that was really saddening him was thinking about our mother."
They had separated at the door of the station. The sentries would not let her go any further, so she had handed over his sword that she had wished to carry till the last moment.
"It is lovely to be a man!" she exclaimed enthusiastically. "I would love to wear a uniform, to go to war, to be of some real use!"
She tried not to say more about it, as though she suddenly realized the inopportuneness of her last words. Perhaps she noticed the scowl on Julio's face.
She was, however, so wrought up by the memory of that farewell that, after a long pause, she was unable to resist the temptation of again putting her thought into words.
At the station entrance, while she was kissing her brother for the last time, she had an encounter, a great surprise. "He" had approached, also clad as an artillery officer, but alone, having to entrust his valise to a good-natured man from the crowd.
Julio shot her a questioning look. Who was "he"? He suspected, but feigned ignorance, as though fearing to learn the truth.
"Laurier," she replied laconically, "my former husband."
The lover displayed a cruel irony. It was a cowardly thing to ridicule this man who had responded to the call of duty. He recognized his vileness, but a malign and irresistible instinct made him keep on with his sneers in order to discredit the man before Marguerite. Laurier a soldier!—He must cut a pretty figure dressed in uniform!
"Laurier, the warrior!" he continued in a voice so sarcastic and strange that it seemed to be coming from somebody else. . . . "Poor creature!"
She hesitated in her response, not wishing to exasperate Desnoyers any further. But the truth was uppermost in her mind, and she said simply:
"No . . . no, he didn't look so bad. Quite the contrary. Perhaps it was the uniform, perhaps it was his sadness at going away alone, completely alone, without a single hand to clasp his. I didn't recognize him at first. Seeing my brother, he started toward us; but then when he saw me, he went his own way . . . Poor man! I feel sorry for him!"
Her feminine instinct must have told her that she was talking too much, and she cut her chatter suddenly short. The same instinct warned her that Julio's countenance was growing more and more saturnine, and his mouth taking a very bitter curve. She wanted to console him and added:
"What luck that you are a foreigner and will not have to go to the war! How horrible it would be for me to lose you!" . . .
She said it sincerely. . . . A few moments before she had been envying men, admiring the gallantry with which they were exposing their lives, and now she was trembling before the idea that her lover might have been one of these.
This did not please his amorous egoism—to be placed apart from the rest as a delicate and fragile being only fit for feminine adoration. He preferred to inspire the envy that she had felt on beholding her brother decked out in his warlike accoutrement. It seemed to him that something was coming between him and Marguerite that would never disappear, that would go on expanding, repelling them in contrary directions . . . far . . . very far, even to the point of not recognizing each other when their glances met.
He continued to be conscious of this impalpable obstacle in their following interviews. Marguerite was extremely affectionate in her speech, and would look at him with moist and loving eyes. But her caressing hands appeared more like those of a mother than a lover, and her tenderness was accompanied with a certain disinterestedness and extraordinary modesty. She seemed to prefer remaining obstinately in the studio, declining to go into the other rooms.
"We are so comfortable here. . . . I would rather not. . . . It is not worth while. I should feel remorse afterwards. . . . Why think of such things in these anxious times!"