Mare Nostrum (Our Sea)
Vicente Blasco Ibanez
Part 7 out of 9
In the middle of November the _Mare Nostrum_ arrived at Marseilles. Its
captain always felt a certain admiration upon doubling Cape Croisette,
and noting the vast maritime curves opening out before the prow. In the
center of it was an abrupt and bare hill, jutting into the sea,
sustaining on its peak the basilica and square-sided tower of
Marseilles was the metropolis of the Mediterranean, the terminal for
all the navigators of the _mare nostrum_. In its bay with choppy waves
were various yellowish islands fringed with foam and upon one of these
the strong towers of the romantic _Chateau d'If_.
All the crew, from Ferragut down to the lowest seaman, used to look
upon this city somewhat as their own when they saw, appearing in the
background of the bay, its forests of masts and its conglomeration of
gray edifices upon which sparkled the Byzantian domes of the new
cathedral. Around Marseilles there opened out a semi-circle of dry and
barren heights brightly colored by the sun of Provence and spotted by
white cottages and hamlets, and the pleasure villas of the merchants of
the city. On beyond this semi-circle the horizon was bounded by an
amphitheater of rugged and gloomy mountains.
On former trips the sight of the gigantic gilded Virgin which glistened
like a shaft of fire on the top of _Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde_ shed an
atmosphere of joy over the bridge of the vessel.
"Marseilles, Toni," the captain used to say gayly. "I invite you to a
_bouillabaisse_ at Pascal's."
And Toni's hairy countenance would break into a greedy smile, seeing in
anticipation the famous restaurant of the port, its twilight shadows
smelling of shell-fish and spicy sauces, and upon the table the deep
dish of fish with its succulent broth tinged with saffron.
But now Ulysses had lost his vigorous joy in living. He looked at the
city with kindly but sad eyes. He could see himself disembarking there
that last time, sick, without will-power, overwhelmed by the tragic
disappearance of his son.
The _Mare Nostrum_ approached the mouth of the old harbor having at its
right the batteries of the _Phare_. This old port was the most
interesting souvenir of ancient Marseilles, penetrating like an aquatic
knife into the heart of its clustered homes. The city extended along
the wharves. It was an enormous stretch of water into which all the
streets flowed; but its area was now so insufficient for the maritime
traffic that eight new harbors were gradually covering the north shore
of the bay.
An interminable jetty, a breakwater longer than the city itself, was
parallel to the coast, and in the space between the shore and this
obstacle which made the waves foam and roar were eight roomy
communicating harbors stretching from Joliette at the entrance to the
one which, farthest away, is connected inland by the great subterranean
canal, putting the city in communication with the Rhone.
Ferragut had seen anchored in this succession of harbors the navies of
every land and even of every epoch. Near to the enormous transatlantic
liners were some very ancient tartans and some Greek boats, heavy and
of archaic form, which recalled the fleets described in the Iliad.
On the wharves swarmed all kinds of Mediterranean men,--Greeks from the
continent and from the islands, Levantines from the coast of Asia,
Spaniards, Italians, Algerians, Moroccans, Egyptians. Many had kept
their original costume and to this varied picturesque garb was united a
diversity of tongues, some of them mysterious and well-nigh extinct. As
though infected by the oral confusion, the French themselves began to
forget their native language, speaking the dialect of Marseilles, which
preserves indelible traces of its Greek origin.
The _Mare Nostrum_ crossed the outer port, the inner harbor of
Joliette, and slipped slowly along past groups of pedestrians and carts
that were waiting the closing of the steel drawbridge now opening
before their prow. Then they cast anchor in the basin of Arenc near the
When Ferragut could go ashore he noticed the great transformation which
this port had undergone in war times.
The traffic of the times of peace with its infinite variety of wares no
longer existed. On the wharves there were piled up only the monotonous
and uniform loads of provisions and war material.
The legions of longshoremen had also disappeared. They were all in the
trenches. The sidewalks were now swept by women, and squads of
Senegalese sharpshooters were unloading the cargoes,--shivering with
cold in the sunny winter days, and bent double as though dying under
the rain or the breeze of the Mistral. They were working with red caps
pulled down over their ears, and at the slightest suspension of their
labor would hasten to put their hands in the pockets of their coats.
Sometimes when formed in vociferating groups around a case that four
men could have moved in ordinary times, the passing of a woman or a
vehicle would make them neglect their work, their diabolical faces
filled with childish curiosity.
The unloaded cargoes piled up the same articles on the principal
docks,--wheat, much wheat, sulphur and saltpeter for the composition of
explosive material. On other piers were lined up, by the thousands,
pairs of gray wheels, the support of cannons and trucks; boxes as big
as dwellings that contained aeroplanes; huge pieces of steel that
served as scaffolding for heavy artillery; great boxes of guns and
cartridges; huge cases of preserved food and sanitary supplies,--all
the provisioning of the army struggling in the extreme end of the
Various squads of men, preceded and followed by bayonets, were marching
with rhythmic tread from one port to another. They were German
prisoners,--rosy and happy, in spite of their captivity, still wearing
their uniforms of green cabbage color, with round caps on their shaved
heads. They were going to work on the vessels, loading and unloading
the material that was to serve for the extermination of their
compatriots and friends.
The ships at the docks seemed to be increasing in size, for on arrival
they had extended only a few yards above the wharf; but now that their
cargo was piled up on land, they appeared like towering fortresses.
Two-thirds of the hull, usually hidden in the water, were now in
evidence, showing the bright red of their curved shell. Only the keel
kept itself in the water. The upper third, that which remained visible
above the line of flotation in ordinary times, was now a simple black
cornice that capped the long purple walls. The masts and smokestacks
diminished by this transformation appeared to belong to other smaller
Each of these merchant and peaceful steamers carried a quickfirer at
the stern in order to protect itself from the submarine corsairs.
England and France had mobilized their tramp ships and were beginning
to supply them with means of defense. Some of them had not been able to
mount their cannon upon a fixed gun carriage, and so carried a field
gun with its mouth sticking out between the wheels bolted to the deck.
The captain in all his strolls invariably felt attracted by the famous
Cannebiere, that engulfing roadway which sucks in the entire activity
Some days a fresh and violent wind would eddy through, littering it
with dust and papers, and the waiters of the cafes would have to furl
the great awnings as though they were the sails of a vessel. The
Mistral was approaching and every owner of an establishment was
ordering this maneuver in order to withstand the icy hurricane that
overturns tables, snatches away chairs, and carries off everything
which is not secured with marine cables.
To Ferragut this famous avenue of Marseilles was a reminder of the
antechamber of Salonica. The same types from the army of the East
crowded its sidewalks,--English dressed in khaki, Canadians and
Australians in hats with up-turned brims, tall, slender Hindoos with
coppery complexion and thick fan-shaped beards, Senegalese
sharpshooters of a glistening black, and Anammite marksmen with round
yellow countenance and eyes forming a triangle. There was a continual
procession of dark trucks driven by soldiers, automobiles full of
officers, droves of mules coming from Spain that were going to be
shipped to the Orient, leaving behind their quick-trotting hoofs a
pungent and penetrating smell of the stable.
The old harbor attracted Ferragut because of its antiquity which was
almost as remote as that of the first Mediterranean navigations. On
passing before the Palace of the Bourse he shot a glance at the statue
of the two great Marseillaise navigators,--Eutymenes and Pytas,--the
most remote ancestors of Mediterranean navigators. One had explored the
coast of Senegambia, the other had gone further up to Ireland and the
The ancient Greek colony had been, during long centuries, supplanted by
others,--Venice, Genoa and Barcelona having held it in humble
subjection. But when those had fallen and its hour of prosperity
returned, that prosperity was accompanied by all the advantages of the
present day. Steam machinery had been invented and boats were easily
able to overcome the obstacles of the Strait of Cadiz without being
obliged to wait weeks until the violence of the current sent by the
Atlantic should abate. Industrialism was born and inland factories sent
forward, over the recently-installed railroads, a downpour of products
that the fleets were transporting to all the Mediterranean towns.
Finally, upon the opening of the Isthmus of Suez, the city unfolded in
a prodigious way, becoming a world port, putting itself in touch with
the entire earth, multiplying its harbors, which became gigantic marine
sheepfolds where vessels of every flag were gathered together in herds.
The old port, boxed in the city, changed its aspect according to the
time and state of the atmosphere. On calm mornings it was a yellowish
green and smelled slightly of stale water,--organic water, animal
water. The oyster stands established on its wharfs appeared sprinkled
with this water impregnated by shell fish.
On the days of a strong wind the waters turned a terrible dark green,
forming choppy and continuous waves with a light yellowish foam. The
boats would begin to dance, creaking and tugging at their hawsers.
Between their hulls and the vertical surface of the wharfs would be
formed mountains of restless rubbish eaten underneath by the fish and
pecked above by the sea-gulls.
Ferragut saw the swift torpedo destroyers dancing at the slightest
undulation upon their cables of twisted steel, and examined the
improvised submarine-chasers, robust and short little steamers,
constructed for fishing, that carried quickfirers on their prows. All
these vessels were painted a metallic gray to make them
indistinguishable from the color of the water, and were going in and
out of the harbor like sentinels changing watch.
They mounted guard out on the high sea beyond the rocky and desert
islands that closed the bay of Marseilles, accosting the incoming ships
in order to recognize their nationality or running at full speed, with
their wisps of horizontal smoke toward the point where they expected to
surprise the periscope of the enemy hidden between two waters. There
was no weather bad enough to terrify them or make them drowsy. In the
wildest storms they kept the coast in view, leaping from wave to wave,
and only when others came to relieve them would they return to the old
port to rest a few hours at the entrance of the Cannebiere.
The narrow passageways of the right bank attracted Ferragut. This was
ancient Marseilles in which may still be seen some ruined palaces of
the merchants and privateers of other centuries. On these narrow and
filthy slopes lived the bedizened and dismal prostitutes of the entire
In this district were huddled together the warriors of the
French-African colonies, impelled by their ardor of race and by their
desire to free themselves gluttonously from the restrictions of their
Mahommedan country where the women live in jealous seclusion. On every
corner were groups of Moroccan infantry, recently disembarked or
convalescing from wounds, young soldiers with red caps and long cloaks
of mustard yellow. The Zouaves of Algiers conversed with them in a
Spanish spattered with Arabian and French. Negro youths who worked as
stokers in the vessels, came up the steep, narrow streets with eyes
sparkling restlessly as though contemplating wholesale rapine. Under
the doorways disappeared grave Moorish horsemen, trailing long garments
fastened at the head in a ball of whiteness, or garbed in purplish
mantles, with sharp pointed hoods that gave them the aspect of bearded,
The captain went through the upper end of these streets, stopping
appreciatively to note the rude contrast which they made with their
terminal vista. Almost all descended to the old harbor with a ditch of
dirty water in the middle of the gutter that dribbled from stone to
stone. They were dark as the tubes of a telescope, and at the end of
these evil smelling ditches occupied by abandoned womanhood, there
opened out a great space of light and blue color where could be seen
little white sailboats, anchored at the foot of the hill, a sheet of
sparkling water and the houses of the opposite wharf diminished
by the distance. Through other gaps appeared the mountain of
_Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde_ with its sharp pointed Basilica topped by its
gleaming statue, like an immovable, twisted tongue of flame. Sometimes
a torpedo destroyer entering the old harbor could be seen slipping by
the mouth of one of these passageways as shadowy as though passing
before the glass of a telescope.
Feeling fatigued by the bad smells and vicious misery of the old
district, the sailor returned to the center of the city, strolling
among the trees and flower stands of the avenues....
One evening while awaiting with others a street car in the Cannebiere,
he turned his head with a presentiment that some one was looking at his
Sure enough! He saw behind him on the edge of the sidewalk an
elegantly-dressed, clean-shaven gentleman whose aspect was that of an
Englishman careful of his personal appearance. The dapper man had
stopped in surprise as though he might have just recognized Ferragut.
The two exchanged glances without awakening the slightest echo in the
captain's memory.... He could not recall this man. He was almost sure
of never having seen him before. His shaven face, his eyes of a
metallic gray, his elegant pomposity did not enlighten the Spaniard's
memory. Perhaps the unknown had made a mistake.
This must have been the case, judging by the rapidity with which he
withdrew his glance from Ferragut and went hastily away.
The captain attached no importance to this encounter. He had already
forgotten it when, taking the car but a few minutes later, it recurred
to him in a new light. The face of the Englishman presented itself to
his imagination with the distinct relief of reality. He could see it
more clearly than in the dying splendor of the Cannebiere.... He passed
with indifference over his features; in reality he had seen them for
the first time. But the eyes!... He knew those eyes perfectly. They had
often exchanged glances with him. Where?... When?...
The memory of this man accompanied him as an obsession even to his ship
without giving the slightest answer to his questioning. Then, finding
himself on board with Toni and the third officer, he again forgot it.
Upon going ashore on the following days, his memory invariably
experienced the same phenomena. The captain would be going through the
city without any thought of that individual, but on entering the
Cannebiere the same remembrance, followed by an inexplicable anxiety,
would again surge up in his mind.
"I wonder where my Englishman is now," he would think. "Where have I
seen him before?... Because there is no doubt that we are acquainted
with each other."
From that time on, he would look curiously at all the passersby and
sometimes would hasten his step in order to examine more closely some
one whose back resembled the haunting unknown. One afternoon he felt
sure that he recognized him in a hired carriage whose horse was going
at a lively trot through one of the avenues, but when he tried to
follow it the vehicle had disappeared into a nearby street.
Some days passed by and the captain completely forgot the meeting.
Other affairs more real and immediate were demanding his attention. His
boat was ready; they were going to send it to England in order to load
it with munitions destined for the army of the Orient.
The morning of its departure he went ashore without any thought of
going to the center of the city.
In one of the wharf streets there was a barber shop frequented by
Spanish captains. The picturesque chatter of the barber, born in
Cartagena, the gay, brilliant chromos on the walls representing
bullfights, the newspapers from Madrid, forgotten on the divans, and a
guitar in one corner made this shop a little bit of Spain for the
rovers of the Mediterranean.
Before sailing, Ferragut wished to have his beard clipped by this
verbose master. When, an hour later, he left the barber-shop, tearing
himself away from the interminable farewells of the proprietor, he
passed down a broad street, lonely and silent, between two rows of
The steel-barred gates were closed and locked. The warehouses, empty
and resounding as the naves of a cathedral, still exhaled the strong
odors of the wares which they had kept in times of peace,--vanilla,
cinnamon, rolls of leather, nitrates and phosphates for chemical
In all the long street he saw only one man, coming toward him with his
back to the inner harbor. Between the two long walls of brick appeared
in the background the wharf with its mountains of merchandise, its
squadrons of black stevedores, wagons and carts. On beyond were the
hulls of the ships sustaining their grove of masts and smokestacks and,
at the extreme end, the yellow breakwater and the sky recently washed
by the rain, with flocks of little clouds as white and placid as silky
The man who was returning from the dock and walking along with his eyes
fixed on Ferragut suddenly stopped and, turning upon his tracks,
returned again to the quay.... This movement awakened the captain's
curiosity, sharpening his senses. Suddenly he had a presentiment that
this pedestrian was his Englishman, though dressed differently and with
less elegance. He could only see his rapidly disappearing back, but his
instinct in this moment was superior to his eyes.... He did not need to
look further.... It was the Englishman.
And without knowing why, he hastened his steps in order to catch up
with him. Then he broke into a run, finding that he was alone in the
street, and that the other one had disappeared around the corner.
When Ferragut reached the harbor he could see him hastening away with
an elastic step which amounted almost to flight. Before him was a ridge
of bundles piled up in uneven rows. He was going to lose sight of him;
a minute later it would be impossible to find him.
The captain hesitated. "What motive have I for pursuing this unknown
person?..." And just as he was formulating this question, the other one
slowed down a little in order to turn his head and see if he were still
Suddenly a rapid phenomenal transformation took place in Ferragut. He
had not recognized this man's glance when he had almost run into him on
the sidewalk of the Cannebiere, and now that there was between the two
a distance of some fifty yards, now that the other was fleeing and
showing only a fugitive profile, the captain identified him despite the
fact that he could not distinguish him clearly at such a distance.
With a sharp click a curtain of his memory seemed to be dashed aside,
letting in torrents of light.... It was the counterfeit Russian count,
he was sure of that,--shaven and disguised, who undoubtedly was
"operating" in Marseilles, directing new services, months after having
prepared the entrance of the submersibles into the Mediterranean.
Surprise held Ferragut spellbound. With the same imaginative rapidity
with which a drowning person giddily recalls all the scenes of his
former life, the captain now beheld his infamous existence in Naples,
his expedition in the schooner carrying supplies to the submarines and
then the torpedo which had opened a breach in the _Californian_.... And
this man, perhaps, was the one who had made his poor son fly through
the air in countless pieces!...
He also saw his uncle, the _Triton_, just as when a little chap he used
to listen to him in the harbor of Valencia. He recalled his story of a
certain night of Egyptian orgy in a low cafe in Alexandria where he had
had to "sting" a man with his dagger in order to force his way.
Instinct made him carry his hand to his belt. Nothing!... He cursed
modern life and its uncertain securities, which permit men to go from
one side of the world to the other confident, disarmed, without means
of attack. In other ports he would have come ashore with a revolver in
the pocket of his trousers.... But in Marseilles! He was not even
carrying a penknife; he had only his fists.... At that moment he would
have given his entire vessel, his life even, for an instrument that
would enable him to kill ... kill with one blow!...
The bloodthirsty vehemence of the Mediterranean was overwhelming him.
To kill!... He did not know how he was going to do it, but he must
The first thing was to prevent the escape of his enemy. He was going to
fall upon him with his fists, with his teeth, staging a prehistoric
struggle,--the animal fight before mankind had invented the club.
Perhaps that other man was hiding firearms and might kill him; but he,
in his superb vengeance, could see only the death of the enemy,
repelling all fear.
In order that his victim might not get out of his sight, he ran toward
him without any dissimulation whatever, as though he might have been in
the desert, at full speed. The instinct of attack made him stoop, grasp
a piece of wood lying on the ground,--a kind of rustic handspike,--and
armed in this primitive fashion he continued his race.
All this had lasted but a few seconds. The other one, perceiving the
hostile pursuit, was also running frankly, disappearing among the hills
The captain saw confusedly that some shadows were leaping around him,
preventing his progress. His eyes that were seeing everything red
finally managed to distinguish a few black faces and some white
ones.... They were the soldiers and civilian stevedores, alarmed by the
aspect of this man who was running like a lunatic.
He uttered a curse upon finding himself stopped. With the instinct of
the multitude, these people were only concerned with the aggressor,
letting the one who was fleeing go free. Ferragut could not keep his
wrath bottled up on that account. He had to reveal his secret.
"He is a spy!... A _Boche_ spy!..."
He said this in a dull, disjointed voice and never did his word of
command obtain such a noisy echo.
The cry made men rise up as though vomited forth by the earth; from
mouth to mouth it leaped, repeating itself incessantly, penetrating
through the docks and the boats, vibrating even beyond the reach of the
eye, permeating everywhere with the confusion and rapidity of sound
waves. "A spy!..." Men came running with redoubled agility; the
stevedores were abandoning their loads in order to join the pursuit;
people were leaping from the steamers in order to unite in the human
The author of the noisy alarm, he who had given the cry, saw himself
outdistanced and ignored by the pursuing streams of people which he had
just called forth. Ferragut, always running, remained behind the negro
sharpshooters, the stevedores, the harbor guard, the seamen that were
hastening from all sides crowding in the alleyways between the boxes
and bundles.... They were like the greyhounds that follow the windings
of the forest, making the stag come out in the open field, like the
ferrets that slip along through the subterranean valleys, obliging the
hare to return to the light of day. The fugitive, surrounded in a
labyrinth of passageways, colliding with enemies at every turn, came
running out through the opposite end and continued his race the whole
length of the wharf. The chase lasted but a few instants after coming
out on ground free of obstacles. "A spy!..." The voice, more rapid than
the legs, out distanced him. The cries of the pursuers warned the
people who were working afar off, without understanding the alarm.
Suddenly the fugitive was within a concave semi-circle of men who were
awaiting him firmly, and a convex semi-circle following his footsteps
in irregular pursuit. The two multitudes, closing their extremes,
united and the spy was a prisoner.
Ferragut saw that he was intensely pale, panting, casting his eyes
around him with the expression of an animal at bay, but still thinking
of the possibility of defending himself.
His right hand was feeling around one of his pockets. Perhaps he was
going to draw out a revolver in order to die, defending himself. A
negro nearby raised a beam of wood which he was grasping as a club. The
spy's hand, displaying a bit of paper between the fingers, was hastily
raised toward his mouth; but the negro's blow, suspended in the air,
fell upon his arm, making it hang inert. The spy bit his lips in order
to keep back a roar of pain.
The paper had rolled upon the ground and several hands at once tried to
pick it up. A petty officer smoothed it out before examining it. It was
a piece of thin paper sketched with the outline of the Mediterranean.
The entire sea was laid out in squares like a chess board and in the
center of each of these squares there was a number. These squares were
charted sections whose numbers made the submarines know, by wireless,
where they were to lie in wait for the allied vessels and torpedo them.
Another officer explained rapidly to the people crowding close, the
importance of the discovery. "Indeed he was a spy!" This affirmation
awakened the joy of capture and that impulsive desire for vengeance
that at certain times crazes a crowd.
The men from the boats were the most furious, for the very reason that
they were constantly encountering the treacherous submarine traps. "Ah,
the bandit!..." Many cudgelings fell upon him, making him stagger under
When the prisoner was protected by the breasts of various sub-officers,
Ferragut could see him close by, with one temple spotted with blood and
a cold and haughty expression in his eye. Then he realized that the
prisoner had dyed his hair.
He had fled in order to save himself; he had shown himself humble and
timorous upon being approached, believing that it would still be
possible to lie out of it. But the paper that he had tried to hide in
his mouth was now in the hands of the enemy.... It was useless to
And he drew himself up proudly like every army man who considers his
death certain. The officer of the military caste reappeared, looking
haughtily at his unknown pursuers, imploring protection only from the
kepis with its band of gold.
Upon discovering Ferragut, he surveyed him fixedly with a glacial and
disdainful insolence. His lips also curled with an expression of
They said nothing, but the captain surmised his soundless words. They
were insults. It was the insult of the man of the superior hierarchy to
his faithless servant; the pride of the noble official who accuses
himself for having trusted in the loyalty of a simple merchant marine.
"Traitor!... Traitor!" his insolent eyes and murmuring, voiceless lips
seemed to be saying.
Ulysses became furious before this haughtiness, but his wrath was cold
and self-contained on seeing the enemy deprived of defense.
He advanced toward the prisoner, like one of the many who were
insulting him, shaking his fist at him. His glance sustained that of
the German and he spoke to him in Spanish with a dull voice.
"My son.... My only son was blown to a thousand atoms by the torpedoing
of the _Californian_!"
These words made the spy change expression. His lips separated,
emitting a slight exclamation of surprise.
The arrogant light in his pupils faded away. Then he lowered his eyes
and soon after hung his head. The vociferating crowd was shoving and
carrying him along without taking into consideration the man who had
given the alarm and begun the chase.
That very afternoon the _Mare Nostrum_ sailed from Marseilles.
Four months later Captain Ferragut was in Barcelona.
During the interval he had made three trips to Salonica, and on the
second had to appear before a naval captain of the army of the Orient.
The French officer was informed of his former expeditions for the
victualing of the allied troops. He knew his name and looked upon him
as does a judge interested in the accused. He had received from
Marseilles a long telegram with reference to Ferragut. A spy submitted
to military justice was accusing him of having carried supplies to the
"How about that, Captain?..."
Ulysses hesitated, looking at the official's grave face, framed by a
grey beard. This man inspired his confidence. He could respond
negatively to such questions; it would be difficult for the German to
prove his affirmation; but he preferred to tell the truth, with the
simplicity of one who does not try to hide his faults, describing
himself just as he had been,--blind with lust, dragged down by the
amorous artifices of an adventuress.
"The women!... Ah, the women!" murmured the French chief with the
melancholy smile of a magistrate who does not lose sight of human
weaknesses and has participated in them.
Nevertheless Ferragut's transgression was of gravest importance. He had
aided in staging the submarine attack in the Mediterranean.... But when
the Spanish captain related how he had been one of the first victims,
how his son had died in the torpedoing of the _Californian_, the judge
appeared touched, looking at him less severely.
Then Ferragut related his encounter with the spy in the harbor of
"I have sworn," he said finally, "to devote my ship and my life to
causing all the harm possible to the murderers of my son.... That man
is denouncing me in order to avenge himself. I realize that my headlong
blindness dragged me to a crime that I shall never forget. I am
sufficiently punished in the death of my son.... But that does not
matter; let them sentence me, too."
The chief remained sunk in deep reflection, forehead in hand and elbow
on the table. Ferragut recognized here military justice, expeditious,
intuitive, passional, attentive to the sentiments that have scarcely
any weight in other tribunals, judging by the action of conscience more
than by the letter of the law, and capable of shooting a man with the
same dispatch that he would employ in setting him at liberty.
When the eyes of the judge again fixed themselves upon him, they had an
indulgent light. He had been guilty, not on account of money nor
treason, but crazed by a woman. Who has not something like this in his
own history?... "Ah, the women!" repeated the Frenchman, as though
lamenting the most terrible form of enslavement.... But the victim had
already suffered enough in the loss of his son. Besides, they owed to
him the discovery and arrest of an important spy.
"Your hand, Captain," he concluded, holding out his own. "All that we
have said will be just between ourselves. It is a sacred, confessional
secret. I will arrange it with the Council of War.... You may continue
lending your services to our cause."
And Ferragut was not annoyed further about the affair of Marseilles.
Perhaps they were watching him discreetly and keeping sight of him in
order to convince themselves of his entire innocence; but this
suspected vigilance never made itself felt nor occasioned him any
On the third trip to Salonica the French captain saw him once at a
distance, greeting him with a grave smile which showed that he no
longer was thinking of him as a possible spy.
Upon its return, the _Mare Nostrum_ anchored at Barcelona to take on
cloth for the army service, and other industrial articles of which the
troops of the Orient stood in need. Ferragut did not make this trip for
mercantile reasons. An affectionate interest was drawing him there....
He needed to see Cinta, feeling that in his soul the past was again
coming to life.
The image of his wife, vivacious and attractive, as in the early years
of their marriage, kept rising before him. It was not a resurrection of
the old love; that would have been impossible.... But his remorse made
him see her, idealized by distance, with all her qualities of a sweet
and modest woman.
He wished to reestablish the cordial relations of other times, to have
all the past pardoned, so that she would no longer look at him with
hatred, believing him responsible for the death of her son.
In reality she was the only woman who had loved him sincerely, as she
was able to love, without violence or passional exaggeration, and with
the tranquillity of a comrade. The other women no longer existed. They
were a troop of shadows that passed through his memory like specters of
visible shape but without color. As for that last one, that Freya whom
bad luck had put in his way--... How the captain hated her! How he
wished to meet her and return a part of the harm she had done him!...
Upon seeing his wife, Ulysses imagined that no time had passed by. He
found her just as at parting, with her two nieces seated at her feet,
making interminable, complicated blonde lace upon the cylindrical
pillows supported on their knees.
The only novelty of the captain's stay in this dwelling of monastic
calm was that Don Pedro abstained from his visits. Cinta received her
husband with a pallid smile. In that smile he suspected the work of
time. She had continued thinking of her son every hour, but with a
resignation that was drying her tears and permitting her to continue
the deliberate mechanicalness of existence. Furthermore, she wished to
remove the impression of the angry words, inspired by grief,--the
remembrance of that scene of rebellion in which she had arisen like a
wrathful accuser against the father. And Ferragut for some days
believed that he was living just as in past years when he had not yet
bought the _Mare Nostrum_ and was planning to remain always ashore.
Cinta was attentive to his wishes and obedient as a Christian wife
ought to be. Her words and acts revealed a desire to forget, to make
But something was lacking that had made the past so sweet. The
cordiality of youth could not be resuscitated. The remembrance of the
son was always intervening between the two, hardly ever leaving their
thoughts. And so it would always be!
Since that house could no longer be a real home to him, he again began
to await impatiently the hour of sailing. His destiny was to live
henceforth on the ship, to pass the rest of his days upon the waves
like the accursed captain of the Dutch legend, until the pallid virgin
wrapped in black veils--Death--should come to rescue him.
While the steamer finished loading he strolled through the city
visiting his cousins, the manufacturers, or remaining idly in the
cafes. He looked with interest on the human current passing through the
Ramblas in which were mingled the natives of the country and the
picturesque and absurd medley brought in by the war.
The first thing that Ferragut noticed was the visible diminution of
Months before he had met them everywhere, filling the hotels and
monopolizing the cafes,--their green hats and open-neck shirts making
them recognized immediately. The German women in showy and extravagant
gowns, were everywhere kissing each other when meeting, and talking in
shrieks. The German tongue, confounded with the Catalan and the
Castilian, seemed to have become naturalized. On the roads and
mountains could be seen rows of bare-throated boys with heads
uncovered, staff in hand, and Alpine knapsack on the back, occupying
their leisure with pleasure excursions that were at the same time,
perhaps, a foresighted study.
These Germans had all come from South America,--especially from Brazil,
Argentina, and Chile. From Barcelona they had, at the beginning of the
war, tried to return to their own country but were now interned, unable
to continue their voyage for fear of the French and English cruisers
patrolling the Mediterranean.
At first no one had wished to take the trouble to settle down in this
land, and they had all clustered together in sight of the sea with the
hope of being the first to embark at the very moment that the road of
navigation might open for them.
The war was going to be very short.... Exceedingly short! The Kaiser
and his irresistible army would require but six months to impose their
rule upon all Europe. The Germans enriched by commerce were lodged in
the hotels. The poor who had been working in the new world as farmers
or shop clerks were quartered in a slaughter house on the outskirts.
Some, who were musicians, had acquired old instruments and, forming
strolling street bands, were imploring alms for their roarings from
village to village.
But the months were passing by, the war was being prolonged, and nobody
could now discern the end. The number of those taking arms against the
medieval imperialism of Berlin was constantly growing greater, and the
German refugees, finally convinced that their wait was going to be a
very long one, were scattering themselves through the interior of the
state, hunting a more satisfying and less expensive existence. Those
who had been living in luxurious hotels were establishing themselves in
villas and chalets of the suburbs; the poor, tired of the rations of
the slaughter-house, were exerting themselves to find jobs in the
public works of the interior.
Many were still remaining in Barcelona, meeting together in certain
beer gardens to read the home periodicals and talk mysteriously of the
works of war.
Ferragut recognized them at once upon passing them in the Rambla. Some
were dealers, traders established for a long time in the country,
bragging of their Catalan connections with that lying facility of
adaptability peculiar to their race. Others came from South America and
were associated with those in Barcelona by the free-masonry of
comradeship and patriotic interest. But they were all Germans, and that
was enough to make the captain immediately recall his son, planning
bloody vengeance. He sometimes wished to have in his arm all the blind
forces of Nature in order to blot out his enemies with one blow. It
annoyed him to see them established in his country, to have to pass
them daily without protest and without aggression, respecting them
because the laws demanded it.
He used to like to stroll among the flower stands of the Rambla,
between the two walls of recently-cut flowers that were still guarding
in their corollas the dews of daybreak. Each iron table was a pyramid
formed of all the hues of the rainbow and all the fragrance that the
earth can bring forth.
The fine weather was beginning. The trees of the Ramblas were covering
themselves with leaves and in their shady branches were twittering
thousands of birds with the deafening tenacity of the crickets.
The captain found special enjoyment in surveying the ladies in lace
mantillas who were selecting bouquets in the refreshing atmosphere. No
situation, however anguished it might be, ever left him insensible to
One morning, passing slowly through the crowds, he noticed that a woman
was following him. Several times she crossed his path, smiling at him,
hunting a pretext for beginning conversation. Such insistence was not
particularly gratifying to his pride; for she was a female of
protruding bust and swaying hips, a cook with a basket on her arm, like
many others who were passing through the Rambla in order to add a bunch
of flowers to the daily purchase of eatables.
Finding that the sailor was not moved by her smiles nor the glances
from her sharp eyes, she planted herself before him, speaking to him in
"Excuse me, sir, but are you not a ship captain named Don Ulysses?..."
This started the conversation. The cook, convinced that it was he,
continued talking with a mysterious smile. A most beautiful lady was
desirous of seeing him.... And she gave him the address of a towered
villa situated at the foot of Tibidabo in a recently constructed
district. He could make his visit at three in the afternoon.
"Come, sir," she added with a look of sweet promise. "You will never
regret the trip."
All questions were useless. The woman would say no more. The only thing
that could be gathered from her evasive answers was that the person
sending her had left her upon seeing the captain.
When the messenger had gone away he wished to follow her. But the fat
old wife shook her head repeatedly. Her astuteness was quite accustomed
to eluding pursuit, and without Ferragut's knowing exactly how, she
slipped away, mingling with the groups near the Plaza of Catalunia.
"I shall not go," was the first thing that Ferragut said on finding
He knew just what that invitation signified. He recalled an infinite
number of former unconfessable friendships that he had had in
Barcelona,--women that he had met in other times, between voyages,
without any passion whatever, but through his vagabond curiosity,
anxious for novelty. Perhaps some one of these had seen him in the
Rambla, sending this intermediary in order to renew the old relations.
The captain probably enjoyed the fame of a rich man now that everybody
was commenting upon the amazingly good business transacted by the
proprietors of ships.
"I shall not go," he again told himself energetically. He considered it
useless to bother about this interview, to encounter the mercenary
smile of a familiar but forgotten acquaintance.
But the insistence of the recollection and the very tenacity with which
he kept repeating to himself his promise not to keep the tryst, made
Ferragut begin to suspect that it might be just as well to go after
After luncheon his will-power weakened. He didn't know what to do with
himself during the afternoon. His only distraction was to visit his
cousins in their counting-houses, or to meander through the Rambla. Why
not go?... Perhaps he might be mistaken, and the interview might prove
an interesting one. At all events, he would have the chance of retiring
after a brief conversation about the past.... His curiosity was
becoming excited by the mystery.
And at three in the afternoon he took a street car that conducted him
to the new districts springing up around the base of Tibidabo.
The commercial bourgeoisie had covered these lands with an
architectural efflorescence, legitimate daughter of their dreams.
Shopkeepers and manufacturers had wished to have here a pleasure house,
traditionally called a _torre_, in order to rest on Sundays and at the
same time make a show of their wealth with these Gothic, Arabic, Greek,
and Persian creations. The most patriotic were relying on the
inspiration of native architects who had invented a Catalan art with
pointed arches, battlements, and ducal coronets. These medieval
coronets, which were repeated even on the peaks of the chimney pots,
were the everlasting decorative motif of an industrial city little
given to dreams and lusting for lucre.
Ferragut advanced through the solitary street between two rows of
freshly transplanted trees that were just sending forth their first
growth. He looked at the facades of the _torres_ made of blocks of
cement imitating the stone of the old fortresses, or with tiles which
represented fantastic landscapes, absurd flowers, bluish, glazed
Upon getting out of the street car he made a resolution. He would look
at the outside only of the house. Perhaps that would aid him in
discovering the woman! Then he would just continue on his way.
But on reaching the _torre_, whose number he still kept in mind, and
pausing a few seconds before its architecture of a feudal castle whose
interior was probably like that of the beer gardens, he saw the door
opening, and appearing in it the same woman that had talked with him in
the flower Rambla.
"Come in, Captain."
And the captain was not able to resist the suggestive smile of the
He found himself in a kind of hall similar to the facade with a Gothic
fireplace of alabaster imitating oak, great jars of porcelain, pipes
the size of walking-sticks, and old armor adorning the walls. Various
wood-cuts reproducing modern pictures of Munich alternated with these
decorations. Opposite the fireplace William II was displaying one of
his innumerable uniforms, resplendent in gold and a gaudy frame.
The house appeared uninhabited. Heavy soft curtains deadened every
sound. The corpulent go-between had disappeared with the lightness of
an immaterial being, as though swallowed up by the wall. While scowling
at the portrait of the Kaiser, the sailor began to feel disquieted in
this silence which appeared to him almost hostile.... And he was not
The smiling woman again presented herself with the same slippery
"Come in, Don Ulysses."
She had opened a door, and Ferragut on advancing felt that this door
was locked behind him.
The first thing that he could see was a window, broader than it was
high, of colored glass. A Valkyrie was galloping across it, with lance
in rest and floating locks, upon a black steed that was expelling fire
through its nostrils. In the diffused light of the stained glass he
could distinguish tapestries on the walls and a deep divan with
A woman arose from the soft depths of this couch, rushing towards
Ferragut with outstretched arms. Her impulse was so violent that it
made her collide with the captain. Before the feminine embrace could
close around him he saw a panting mouth, with avid teeth, eyes tearful
with emotion, a smile that was a mixture of love and painful
"You!... You!" he stuttered, springing back.
His legs trembled with a shudder of surprise. A cold wave ran down his
"Ulysses!" sighed the woman, trying again to fold him in her arms.
"You!... _You_!" again repeated the sailor in a dull voice.
It was Freya.
He did not know positively what mysterious force dictated his action.
It was perhaps the voice of his good counselor, accustomed to speak in
his brain in critical instants, which now asserted itself.... He saw
instantaneously a ship that was exploding and his son blown to pieces.
"Ah ... _tal_"
He raised his robust arm with his fist clenched like a mace. The voice
of prudence kept on giving him orders. "Hard!... No consideration!...
This female is shifty." And he struck as though his enemy were a man,
without hesitation, without pity, concentrating all his soul in his
The hatred that he was feeling and the recollection of the aggressive
resources of the German woman made him begin a second blow, fearing an
attack from her and wishing to repel it before it could be made.... But
he stopped with his arm raised.
"_Ay de mi_!..."
The woman had uttered a child-like wail, staggering, swaying upon her
feet, with arms drooping, without any attempt at defense whatever....
She reeled from side to side as though she were drunk. Her knees
doubled under her, and she fell with the limpness of a bundle of
clothes, her head first striking against the cushions of the divan. The
rest of her body remained like a rag on the rug.
There was a long silence, interrupted from time to time by groans of
pain. Freya was moaning with closed eyes, without coming out of her
The sailor, scowling with a tragic ugliness, and transported with rage,
remained immovable, looking grimly at the fallen creature. He was
satisfied with his brutality; it had been an opportune relief; he could
breathe better. At the same time he was beginning to feel ashamed of
himself. "What have you done, you coward?..." For the first time in his
existence he had struck a woman.
He raised his aching right hand to his eyes. One of his fingers was
bleeding. Perhaps it had become hooked in her earrings, perhaps a pin
at her breast had scratched it. He sucked the blood from the deep
scratch, and then forgot the wound in order to gaze again at the body
outstretched at his feet.
Little by little he was becoming accustomed to the diffused light of
the room. He was already beginning to see objects clearly. His glance
rested upon Freya with a look of mingled hatred and remorse.
Her head, sunk in the cushions, presented a pitiful profile. She
appeared much older, as though her age had been doubled by her tears.
The brutal blow had made her freshness and her marvelous youth flit
away with doleful suddenness. Her half-opened eyes were encircled with
temporary wrinkles. Her nose had taken on the livid sharpness of the
dead; her great mass of hair, reddening under the blow, was disheveled
in golden, undulating tangles. Something black was winding through it
making streaks upon the silk of the cushion. It was the blood that was
dribbling between the heraldic flowers of the embroidery,--blood
flowing from the hidden forehead, being absorbed by the dryness of the
Upon making this discovery, Ferragut felt his shame increasing. He took
one step over the extended body, seeking the door. Why was he staying
there?... All that he had to do was already done; all that he could say
was already said.
"Do not go, Ulysses," sighed a plaintive voice. "Listen to me!... It
concerns your life."
The fear that he might get away made her pull herself together with
dolorous groans and this movement accelerated the flow of blood.... The
pillow continued drinking it in like a thirsty meadow.
An irresistible compassion like that which he might feel for any
stranger abandoned in the midst of the street, made the sailor draw
back, his eyes fixed on a tall crystal vase which stood upon the floor
filled with flowers. With a bang he scattered over the carpet all the
springtime bouquet, arranged a little while before by feminine hands
with the feverishness of one who counts the minutes and lives on hope.
He moistened his handkerchief in the water of the vase and knelt down
beside Freya, raising her head upon the cushion. She let the wound be
washed with the abandon of a sick creature, fixing upon her aggressor a
pair of imploring eyes, opening now for the first time.
When the blood ceased to flow, forming on the temple a red, coagulated
spot, Ferragut tried to raise her up.
"No; leave me so," she murmured. "I prefer to be at your feet. I am
your bondslave ... your plaything. Beat me more if it will appease your
She wished to insist upon her humility, offering her lips with the
timid kiss of a grateful slave.
"Ah, no!... No!"
To avoid this caress Ulysses stood up suddenly. He again felt intense
hatred toward this woman, who little by little was appealing to his
senses. Upon stopping the flow of blood his compassion had become
She, guessing his thoughts, felt obliged to speak.
"Do with me what you will.... I shall not complain. You are the first
man who has ever struck me.... And I have not defended myself! I shall
not defend myself though you strike me again.... Had it been any one
else, I would have replied blow for blow; but you!... I have done you
so much wrong!..."
She was silent for a few moments, kneeling before him in a supplicating
attitude with her body resting upon her heels. She reached out her arms
while speaking with a monotonous and sorrowful voice, like the specters
in the apparitions of the theater.
"I have hesitated a long time before seeing you," she continued. "I
feared your wrath; I was sure that in the first moment you would let
yourself be overpowered by your anger and I was terrified at the
thought of the interview.... I have spied upon you ever since I knew
that you were in Barcelona; I have waited near your home; many times I
have seen you through the doorway of a cafe, and I have taken my pen to
write to you. But I feared that you would not come, upon recognizing my
handwriting, or that you would pay no attention to a letter in another
hand.... This morning in the Rambla I could no longer contain myself.
And so I sent that woman to you and I have passed some cruel hours
fearing that you would not come.... At last I see you and your violence
makes no difference to me. Thank you, thank you many times for having
Ferragut remained motionless with distracted glance, as though he did
not hear her voice.
"It was necessary to see you," she continued. "It concerns your very
existence. You have set yourself in opposition to a tremendous power
that can crush you. Your ruin is decided upon. You are one lone man and
you have awakened the suspicion, without knowing it, of a world-wide
organization.... The blow has not yet fallen upon you, but it is going
to fall at any moment, perhaps this very day; I cannot find out all
about it.... For this reason it was necessary to see you in order that
you should put yourself on the defensive, in order that you should
flee, if necessary."
The captain, smiling scornfully, shrugged his shoulders as he always
did when people spoke to him of danger, and counseled prudence.
Besides, he couldn't believe a single thing that woman said.
"It's a lie!" he said dully. "It's all a lie!...
"No, Ulysses: listen to me. You do not know the interest that you
inspire in me. You are the only man that I have ever loved... Do not
smile at me in that way: your incredulity terrifies me.... Remorse is
now united to my poor love. I have done you so much wrong!... I hate
all men. I long to cause them all the harm that I can; but there exists
one exception: you!... All my desires of happiness are for you. My
dreams of the future always have you as the central personage.... Do
you want me to remain indifferent upon seeing you in danger?... No, I
am not lying.... Everything that I tell you this afternoon is the
truth: I shall never be able to lie to you. It distresses me so that my
artifices and my falsity should have brought trouble upon you....
Strike me again, treat me as the worst of women, but believe what I
tell you; follow my counsel."
The sailor persisted disdainfully in his indifferent attitude. His
hands were trembling impatiently. He was going away. He did not wish to
hear any more.... Had she hunted him out just to frighten him with
"What have you done, Ulysses?... What have you done?" Freya kept saying
She knew all that had occurred in the port of Marseilles, and she also
knew well the infinite number of agents that were working for the
greater glory of Germany. Von Kramer, from his prison, had made known
the name of his informant. She lamented the captain's vehement
"I understand your hatred; you cannot forget the torpedoing of the
_Californian_.... But you should have denounced von Kramer without
letting him suspect from whom the accusation came.... You have acted
like a madman; yours is an impulsive character that does not fear the
Ulysses made a scornful gesture. He did not like subterfuges and
treachery. His way of doing was the better one. The only thing that he
lamented was that that assassin of the sea might still be living, not
having been able to kill him with his own hands.
"Perhaps he may not be living still," she continued. "The French
Council of War has condemned him to death. We do not know whether the
sentence has been carried out; but they are going to shoot him any
moment, and every one in our circle knows that you are the true author
of his misfortune."
She became terrified upon thinking of the accumulated hatred brought
about by this deed, and upon the approaching vengeance. In Berlin the
name of Ferragut was the object of special attention; in every nation
of the earth, the civilian battalions of men and women engaged in
working for Germany's triumph were repeating his name at this moment.
The commanders of the submarines were passing along information
regarding his ship and his person. He had dared to attack the greatest
empire in the world. He, one lone man, a simple merchant captain,
depriving the kaiser of one of his most valiant, valuable servants!
"What have you done, Ulysses?... What have you done?" she wailed again.
And Ferragut began to recognize in her voice a genuine interest in his
person, a terrible fear of the dangers which she believed were
"Here, in your very own country, their vengeance will overtake you.
Flee! I don't know where you can go to get rid of them, but believe
The sailor came out of his scornful indifference. Anger was lending a
hostile gleam to his glance. He was furious to think that those
foreigners could pursue him in his own country; it was as though they
were attacking him beside his own hearth. National pride augmented his
"Let them come," he said. "I'd like to see them this very day."
And he looked around, clenching his fists as though these innumerable
and unknown enemies were about to come out from the walls.
"They are also beginning to consider me as an enemy," continued the
woman. "They do not say so, because it is a common thing with us to
hide our thoughts; but I suspect the coldness that is surrounding
me.... The doctor knows that I love you the same as before, in spite of
the wrath that she feels against you. The others are talking of your
'treason' and I protest because I cannot stand such a lie.... Why are
you a traitor?... You are not one of our clan. You are a father who
longs to avenge himself. We are the real traitors:--I, who entangled
you in the fatal adventure,--they, who pushed me toward you, in order
to take advantage of your services."
Their life in Naples surged up in her memory and she felt it necessary
to explain her acts.
"You have not been able to understand me. You are ignorant of the
truth.... When I met you on the road to Paestum, you were a souvenir of
my past, a fragment of my youth, of the time in which I knew the doctor
only vaguely, and was not yet compromised in the service of
'information.'... From the very beginning your love and enthusiasm made
an impression upon me. You represented an interesting diversion with
your Spanish gallantry, waiting for me outside the hotel in order to
besiege me with your promises and vows. I was greatly bored during the
enforced waiting at Naples. You also found yourself obliged to wait,
and sought in me an agreeable recreation.... One day I came to
understand that you truly were interesting me greatly, as no other man
had ever interested me.... I suspected that I was going to fall in love
"It's a lie!... It's a lie," murmured Ferragut spitefully.
"Say what you will, but that was the way of it. We love according to
the place and the moment. If we had met on some other occasion, we
might have seen each other for a few hours, no more, each following his
own road without further consideration. We belong to different
worlds.... But we were mobilized in the same country, oppressed by the
tedium of waiting, and what had to be ... was. I am telling you the
entire truth: if you could know what it has cost me to avoid you!...
"In the mornings, on arising in the room in my hotel, my first motion
was to look through the curtains in order to convince myself that you
were waiting for me in the street. 'There is my devoted: there is my
sweetheart!' Perhaps you had slept badly thinking about me, while I was
feeling my soul reborn within me, the soul of a girl of twenty,
enthusiastic and artless.... My first impulse was to come down and join
you, going with you along the gulf shores like two lovers out of a
novel. Then reflection would come to my rescue. My past would come
tumbling into my mind like an old bell fallen from its tower. I had
forgotten that past, and its recurrence deafened me with its
overwhelming jangle vibrating with memories. 'Poor man!... Into what a
world of compromises and entanglements I am going to involve him!...
No! No!' And I fled from you with the cunning of a mischievous
schoolgirl, coming out from the hotel when you had gone off for a few
moments, at other times doubling a corner at the very instant that you
turned your eyes away.... I only permitted myself to approach coldly
and ironically when it was impossible to avoid meeting you.... And
afterwards, in the doctor's house, I used to talk about you, every
instant, laughing with her over these romantic gallantries."
Ferragut was listening gloomily, but with growing concentration. He
foresaw the explanation of many hitherto incomprehensible acts. A
curtain was going to be withdrawn from the past showing everything
behind it in a new light.
"The doctor would laugh, but in spite of my jesting she would assure me
just the same: 'You are in love with this man; this Don Jose interests
you. Be careful, Carmen!' And the queer thing was that she did not take
amiss my infatuation, especially when you consider that she was the
enemy of every passion that could not be made directly subservient to
our work.... She told the truth; I was in love. I recognized it the
morning the overwhelming desire to go to the Aquarium took possession
of me. I had passed many days without seeing you: I was living outside
of the hotel in the doctor's house in order not to encounter my
inamorato. And that morning I got up very sad, with one fixed thought:
'Poor captain!... Let us give him a little happiness.' I was sick that
day.... Sick because of you! Now I understood it all. We saw each other
in the Aquarium and it was I who kissed you at the same time that I was
longing for the extermination of all men.... Of all men except you!"
She made a brief pause, raising her eyes toward him, in order to take
in the effect of her words.
"You remember our luncheon in the restaurant of Vomero; you remember
how I begged you to go away, leaving me to my fate. I had a foreboding
of the future. I foresaw that it was going to be fatal for you. How
could I join a direct and frank life like yours to my existence as an
adventuress, mixed up in so many unconfessable compromises?... But I
was in love with you. I wished to save you by leaving you, and at the
same time I was afraid of not seeing you again. The night that you
irritated me with the fury of your desires and I stupidly defended
myself, as though it were an outrage, concentrating on your person the
hatred which all men inspire in me,--that night, alone in my bed, I
wept. I wept at the thought that I had lost you forever and at the same
time I felt satisfied with myself because thus I was freeing you from
my baleful influence.... Then von Kramer came. We were in need of a
boat and a man. The doctor spoke, proud of her penetration which had
made her suspect in you an available asset. They gave me orders to go
in search of you, to regain the mastery over your self-control. My
first impulse was to refuse, thinking of your future. But the sacrifice
was sweet; selfishness directs our actions ... and I sought you! You
know the rest."
She became silent, remaining in a pensive attitude, as though relishing
this period of her recollection, the most pleasing of her existence.
"Upon going over to the steamer for you," she continued a few moments
afterward, "I understood just what you represented in my life. What
need I had of you!... The doctor was preoccupied with the Italian
events. I was only counting the days, finding that they were passing by
with more slowness than the others. One ... two ... three ... 'My
adored sailor, my amorous shark, is going to come.... He is going to
come!' And what came suddenly, while we were still believing it far
away, was the blow of the war, rudely separating us. The doctor was
cursing the Italians, thinking of Germany; I was cursing them, thinking
of you, finding myself obliged to follow my friend, preparing for
flight in two hours, through fear of the mob.... My only satisfaction
was in learning that we were coming to Spain. The doctor was promising
herself to do great things here.... I was thinking that in no place
would it be easier for me to find you again."
She had gained a little more bodily strength. Her hands were touching
Ferragut's knees, longing to embrace them, yet not daring to do so,
fearing that he might repel her and overcome that tragic inertia which
permitted him to listen to her.
"When in Bilboa I learned of the torpedoing of the _Californian_ and of
the death of your son.... I shall not talk about that; I wept, I wept
bitterly, hiding myself from the doctor. From that time on I hated her.
She rejoiced in the event, passing indifferently over your name. You no
longer existed for her, because she was no longer able to make use of
you.... I wept for you, for your son whom I did not know, and also for
myself, remembering my blame in the matter. Since that day I have been
another woman.... Then we came to Barcelona and I have passed months
and months awaiting this moment."
Her former passion was reflected in her eyes. A flicker of humble love
lit up her bruised countenance.
"We established ourselves in this house which belongs to a German
electrician, a friend of the doctor's. Whenever she went away on a trip
leaving me free, my steps would invariably turn to the harbor. I was
waiting to see your ship. My eyes followed the seamen sympathetically,
thinking that I could see in all of them something of your person....
'Some day he will come,' I would say to myself. You know how selfish
love is! I gradually forgot the death of your son.... Besides, I am not
the one who is really guilty: there are others. I have been deceived
just as you have been. 'He is going to come, and we shall be happy
again!'... _Ay_! If this room could speak ... if this divan on which I
have dreamed so many times could talk!... I was always arranging some
flowers in a vase, making believe that you were going to come. I was
always fixing myself up a little bit, imagining it was for you.... I
was living in your country, and it was natural that you should come.
Suddenly the paradise that I was imagining vanished into smoke. We
received the news, I don't know how, of the imprisonment of von Kramer,
and that you had been his accuser. The doctor anathematized me, making
me responsible for everything. Through me she had known you, and that
was enough to make her include me in her indignation. All our band
began to plan for your death, longing to have it accompanied with the
most atrocious tortures...."
Ferragut interrupted her. His brow was furrowed as though dominated by
a tenacious idea.... Perhaps he was not listening to her.
"Where is the doctor?"...
The tone of the question was disquieting. He clenched his fists,
looking around him as though awaiting the appearance of the imposing
dame. His attitude was just like that which had accompanied his attack
"I don't know where she's traveling," said his companion. "She is
probably in Madrid, in San Sebastian, or in Cadiz. She goes off very
frequently. She has friends everywhere.... And I have ventured to ask
you here simply because I am alone."
And she described the life that she was leading in this retreat. For
the time being her former protector was letting her remain in inaction,
abstaining from giving her any work whatever. She was doing everything
herself, avoiding all intermediaries. What had happened to von Kramer
had made her so jealous and suspicious that when she needed aids, she
admitted only her compatriots living in Barcelona.
A ferocious and determined band, made up of refugees from the South
American republics, parasites from the coast cities or vagabonds from
the inland forests, had grouped itself around her. At their head, as
message-bearer for the doctor, was Karl, the secretary that Ferragut
had seen in the great old house of the district of Chiaja.
This man, in spite of his oily aspect, had several bloody crimes in his
life history. He was a worthy superintendent of the group of
adventurers inflamed by patriotic enthusiasm who were forwarding
supplies to the submarines in the Spanish Mediterranean. They all knew
Captain Ferragut, because of the affair at Marseilles, and they were
talking about his person with gloomy reticence.
"Through them I learned of your arrival," she continued. "They are
spying upon you, waiting for a favorable moment. Who knows if they have
not already followed you here?... Ulysses, flee; your life is seriously
The captain again shrugged his shoulders with an expression of disgust.
"Flee, I repeat it!... And if you can, if I arouse in you a little
compassion, if you are not completely indifferent to me ... take me
Ferragut began to wonder if all this preamble was merely a prelude to
this final request. The unexpected demand produced an impression of
scandalized amazement. Was he to flee with her, with the one who had
done him so much harm?... Again unite his life to hers, knowing her as
he now knew her!...
The proposition was so absurd that the captain smiled sardonically.
"I am just as much in danger as you are," continued Freya with a
despairing accent. "I do not know exactly what the danger is that
threatens me, nor whence it may come. But I suspect it, I foresee it
hanging over my head.... I am of absolutely no use to them now; I no
longer have their confidence, and I know too many things. Since I
possess too many secrets for them to give me up, leaving me in peace,
they have agreed to suppress me; I am sure of that. I can read it in
the eyes of the one who was my friend and protector.... You cannot
abandon me, Ulysses. You will not desire my death."
Ferragut waxed indignant before these supplications, finally breaking
his disdainful silence.
"Comedienne!... All a lie!... Inventions to entangle yourself with me,
making me intervene again in the network of your life, compromising me
again in your work of detestable surveillance!..."
He was now taking the right path. His desire for vengeance had placed
him among Germany's adversaries. He was lamenting his former blindness
and was satisfied with his new interests. He was making no secret of
his conduct. He was serving the Allies.
"And that is the reason you are hunting me up; that is the reason that
you have arranged this interview, probably at the instigation of your
friend, the doctor. You wish to employ me for a second time as the
secret instrument of your espionage. 'Captain Ferragut is such an
enamored simpleton,' you have said to one another. 'We have nothing to
do but to make an appeal to his chivalry....' And you wish to live with
me, perhaps to accompany me on my voyages, to follow my existence in
order to reveal my secrets to your compatriots that I may again appear
as a traitor. Ah, you hussy!..."
This supposed treason again aroused his homicidal wrath. He raised his
arm and foot, and was about to strike and crush the kneeling woman. But
her passive humiliation, her complete lack of resistance, stopped him.
"No, Ulysses ... listen to me!"
She tried her utmost to prove her sincerity. She was afraid of her own
people; she could see them now in a new light, and they filled her with
horror. Her manner of looking at things had changed radically. Her
remorse, on thinking of what she had done, was making her a martyr. Her
conscience was beginning to feel the wholesome transformation of
repentant women who were formerly great sinners. How could she wash her
soul of her past crimes?... She had not even the consolation of that
patriotic faith, bloody and ferocious though it was, which inflamed the
doctor and her assistants.
She had been reflecting a great deal. For her there were no longer
Germans, English, nor French; there only existed men; men with mothers,
with wives, with daughters. And her woman's soul was horrified at the
thought of the combats and the killings. She hated war. She had
experienced her first remorse upon learning of the death of Ferragut's
"Take me with you," she urged. "If you do not take me out of my world I
shall not know how to get away from it.... I am poor. In these last
years, the doctor has supported me; I do not know any way of earning my
living and I am accustomed to living well. Poverty inspires me with
greater fear than death. You will be able to maintain me; I will accept
of you whatever you wish to give me; I will be your handmaiden. On a
boat they must need the care and well-ordered supervision of a
woman.... Life locks its doors against me; I am alone."
The captain smiled with cruel irony.
"I divine what your smile means. I know what you wish to say to me....
I can see myself; you believe without doubt that such has been my
former life. No,... _no_! You are mistaken. I have not been _that_.
There has to be a special predisposition, a certain talent for feigning
what I do not feel.... I have tried to sell myself, and I cannot, I
cannot avail myself of that. I embitter the life of men when they do
not interest me; I am their adversary. I hate them and they flee from
But the sailor prolonged his atrociously sinister smile.
"It's a lie," he said again, "all a lie. Make no further effort.... You
will not convince me."
As though suddenly reanimated with new force, she rose to her
feet:--her face on a level with Ferragut's eyes. He saw her left temple
with the torn skin; the spot caused by the blow extended around one
eye, reddened and swollen. On contemplating his barbarous handiwork,
remorse again tormented him.
"Listen, Ulysses; you do not know my true existence. I have always lied
to you; I have eluded all your investigations in our happy days. I
wished to keep my former life a secret ... to forget it. Now I must
tell you the truth, the actual truth, just as though I were going to
die. When you know it, you will be less cruel."
But her listener did not wish to hear it. He protested in advance with
a ferocious incredulity.
"Lies!... new lies! I wonder when you will ever stop your inventions!"
"I am not a German woman," she continued without listening to him.
"Neither is my name Freya Talberg.... It is my _nombre de guerre_, my
name as an adventuress. Talberg was the professor who accompanied me to
the Andes, and who was not my husband, either.... My true name is
Beatrice.... My mother was an Italian, a Florentine; my father was from
This revelation did not interest Ferragut.
"One fraud more!" he said. "Another novel!... Keep on making them up."
The woman was in despair. She raised her hands above her head, twisting
the interlaced fingers. Fresh tears welled up in her eyes.
"_Ay!_ How can I succeed in making you believe me?... What oath can I
take to convince you that I am telling you the truth?..."
The captain's impassive air gave her to understand that all such
extremes would be unavailing. There was no oath that could possibly
convince him. Even though she should tell the truth, he would not
She went on with her story, not wishing to protest against this
"My father also was of Italian origin but was Austrian because of the
place of his birth.... Furthermore, the Germanic empires always
inspired him with a blind enthusiasm. He was among those who detest
their native land, and see all the virtues in the northern people.
"Inventor of marvelous business schemes, financial promoter of colossal
enterprises, he had passed his existence besieging the directors of the
great banking establishments and having interviews in the lobbies of
the government departments. Eternally on the eve of surprising
combinations that were bound to bring him dozens of millions, he had
always lived in luxurious poverty, going from hotel to hotel--always
the best--with his wife and his only daughter.
"You know nothing about such a life, Ulysses; you come from a tranquil
and well-to-do family. Your people have never known existence in the
Palace Hotels, nor have you known difficulties in meeting the monthly
account, managing to have it included with those of the former months
with an unlimited credit."
As a child she had seen her mother weeping in their extravagant hotel
apartment while the father was talking with the aspect of an inspired
person, announcing that the next week he was going to clear a million
dollars. The wife, convinced by the eloquence of her remarkable
husband, would finally dry her tears, powder her face, and adorn
herself with her pearls and her blonde laces of problematic value. Then
she would descend to the magnificent hall, filled with perfumes, with
the hum of conversation and the discreet wailings of the violins, in
order to take tea with her friends in the hotel,--formidable
millionaires from the two hemispheres who vaguely suspected the
existence of an infirmity known as poverty, but incapable of imagining
that it might attack persons of their own world.
Meanwhile the little girl used to play in the hotel garden of the
Palace Hotel with other children dressed up and adorned like luxurious
and fragile dolls, each one worth many millions.
"From my childhood," continued Freya, "I had been a companion of women
who are now celebrated for their riches in New York, Paris, and in
London. I have been on familiar terms with great heiresses that are
to-day, through their marriages, duchesses and even princesses of the
blood royal. Many of them have since passed by me, without recognizing
me, and I have said nothing, knowing that the equality of childhood is
no more than a vague recollection...."
Thus she had grown into womanhood. A few of her father's casual
bargains had permitted them to continue this existence of brilliant and
expensive poverty. The promoter had considered such environment
indispensable for his future negotiations. Life in the most expensive
hotels, an automobile by the month, gowns designed by the greatest
modistes for his wife and daughter, summers at the most fashionable
resorts, winter-skating in Switzerland,--all these luxuries were for
him but a kind of uniform of respectability that kept him in the world
of the powerful, permitting him to enter everywhere.
"This existence molded me forever, and has influenced the rest of my
life. Dishonor, death, anything is to me preferable to poverty.... I,
who have no fear of danger, become a coward at the mere thought of
The mother died, credulous and sensuous, worn out with expecting a
solid fortune that never arrived. The daughter continued with her
father, becoming the type of young woman who lives among men from hotel
to hotel, always somewhat masculine in her attitude;--a half-way virgin
who knows everything, is not frightened at anything, guards ferociously
the integrity of her sex, calculating just what it may be worth, and
adoring wealth as the most powerful divinity on earth.
Finding herself upon her father's death with no other fortune than her
gowns and a few artistic gems of scant value, she had coldly decided
upon her destiny.
"In our world there is no other virtue than that of money. The girls of
the people surrender themselves less easily than a young woman
accustomed to luxury having as her only fortune some knowledge of the
piano, of dancing, and a few languages.... We yield our body as though
fulfilling a material function, without shame and without regret. It is
a simple matter of business. The only thing that matters is to preserve
the former life with all its conveniences ... not to come down."
She passed hastily over her recollection of this period of her
existence. An old acquaintance of her father, an old trader of Vienna,
had been the first. Then she felt romantic flutterings which even the
coldest and most positive women do not escape. She believed that she
had fallen in love with a Dutch officer, a blonde Apollo who used to
skate with her in Saint Moritz. This had been her only husband. Finally
she had become bored with the colonial drowsiness of Batavia and had
returned to Europe, breaking off her marriage in order to renew her
life in the great hotels, passing the winter season at the most
"_Ay_, money!... In no social plane was its power so evident as that in
which she was accustomed to dwell. In the Palace Hotels she had met
women of soldierly aspect and common hands, smoking at all hours, with
their feet up and the white triangle of their petticoats stretched over
the seat. They were like the prostitutes waiting at the doors of their
huts. How were they ever permitted to live there!... Nevertheless, the
men bowed before them like slaves, or followed as suppliants these
creatures who talked with unction of the millions inherited from their
fathers, of their formidable wealth of industrial origin which had
enabled them to buy noble husbands and then give themselves up to their
natural tastes as fast, coarse women.
"I never had any luck.... I am too haughty for that kind of thing. Men
find me ill-humored, argumentative, and nervous. Perhaps I was born to
be the mother of a family.... Who knows but what I might have been
otherwise if I had lived in your country?"
Her announcement of her religious veneration for money took on an
accent of hate. Poor and well-educated girls, if afraid of the misery
of poverty, had no other recourse than prostitution. They lacked a
dowry,--that indispensable requisite in many civilized families for
honorable marriage and home-making.
Accursed poverty!... It had weighed upon her life like a fatality. The
men who had appeared good at first afterwards became poisoned, turning
into egoists and wretches. Doctor Talberg, on returning from America,
had abandoned her in order to marry a young and rich woman, the
daughter of a trader, a senator from Hamburg. Others had equally
exploited her youth, taking their share of her gayety and beauty only
to marry, later, women who had merely the attractiveness of a great
She had finally come to hate them all, desiring their extermination,
exasperated at the very thought that she needed them to live and could
never free herself from this slavery. Trying to be independent, she had
taken up the stage.
"I have danced. I have sung; but my successes were always because I was
a woman. Men followed after me, desiring the female, and ridiculing the
actress. Besides--the life behind the scenes!... A white-slave market
with a name on the play-bills.... What exploitation!..."
The desire of freeing herself from all this had led her to make friends
with the doctor, accepting her propositions. It seemed to her more
honorable to serve a great nation, to be a secret functionary, laboring
in the shadow for its grandeur. Besides, at the beginning she was
fascinated by the novelty of the work, the adventures on risky
missions, the proud consideration that with her espionage she was
weaving the web of the future, preparing the history of time to come.
Here also she had, from the very first, stumbled upon sexual slavery.
Her beauty was an instrument for sounding the depths of consciences, a
key for opening secrets; and this servitude had turned out worse than
the former ones, on account of its being irremediable,--she had tried
to divorce herself from her life of tantalizing tourist and theatrical
woman; but whoever enters into the secret service can nevermore go from
it. She learns too many things; slowly she gains a comprehension of
important mysteries. The agent becomes a slave of her functions; she is
confined within them as a prisoner, and with every new act adds a new
stone to the wall that is separating her from liberty.
"You know the rest of my life," she continued. "The obligation of
obeying the doctor, of seducing men in order to snatch their secrets
from them, made me hate them with a deadly aggressiveness.... But you
came. You, who are so good and generous! You who sought me with the
enthusiastic simplicity of a growing boy, making me turn back a page in
my life, as though I were still only in my teens and being courted for
the first time!... Besides, you are not a selfish person. You gave with
noble enthusiasm. I believe that if we had known each other in our
early youth you would never have deserted me in order to make yourself
rich by marrying some one else. I resisted you at first, because I
loved you and did not wish to do you harm.... Afterwards, the mandates
of my superiors and my passion made me forget these scruples.... I gave
myself up. I was the 'fatal woman,' as always; I brought you
misfortune.... Ulysses! My love!... Let us forget; there is no use in
remembering the past. I know your heart so well, and finding myself in
danger, I appeal to it. Save me! Take me with you!..."
As she was standing opposite him, she had only to raise her hands in
order to put them on his shoulders, starting the beginning of an
Ferragut remained insensible to the caress. His immobility repelled
these pleadings. Freya had traveled much through the world, had gone
through shameful adventures, and would know how to free herself by her
own efforts without the necessity of complicating him again in her net.
The story that she had just told was nothing to him but a web of
"It is all false," he said in a heavy voice. "I do not believe you. I
never shall believe you.... Each time that we meet you tell me a new
tale.... Who are you?... When do you tell the truth,--all the truth at
once?... You fraud!"
Insensible to his insults, she continued speaking anxiously of her
future, as though perceiving the mysterious dangers which were
"Where shall I go if you abandon me?... If I remain in Spain, I
continue under the doctor's domination. I cannot return to the empires
where my life has been passed; all the roads are closed and in those
lands my slavery would be reborn.... Neither can I go to France or to
England; I am afraid of my past. Any one of my former achievements
would be enough to make them shoot me: I deserve nothing less. Besides,
the vengeance of my own people fills me with terror. I know the methods
of the 'service,' when they find it necessary to rid themselves of an
inconvenient agent who is in the enemy's territory. The 'service'
itself denounces him, voluntarily making a stupid move in order that
some documents may go astray, sending a compromising card with a false
address in order that it may fall into the hands of the authorities of
the country. What shall I do if you do not aid me?... Where can I
Ulysses decided to reply, moved to pity by her desperation. The world
was large. She could go and live in the republics of America.
She did not accept the advice. She had had the same thought, but the
uncertain future made her afraid.
"I am poor: I have scarcely enough to pay my traveling expenses.... The
'service' recompenses well at the start. Afterwards when it has us
surely in its clutches because of our past, it gives us only what is
necessary in order to live with a certain freedom. What can I ever do
in those lands?... Must I pass the rest of my existence selling myself
for bread?... I will not do it. I would rather die first!"
This desperate affirmation of her poverty made Ferragut smile
sarcastically. He looked at the necklace of pearls everlastingly
reposing on the admirable cushion of her bosom, the great emeralds in
her ears, the diamonds that were sparkling coldly on her hands. She
guessed his thoughts and the idea of selling these jewels gave her even
greater apprehension than the terrors that the future involved.
"You do not know what all this represents to me," she added. "It is my
uniform, my coat-of-arms, the safe-conduct that enables me to sustain
myself in the world of my youth. The women who pass alone through this
world need jewels in order to free their pathway of obstructions. The
managers of a hotel become human and smile before their brilliancy. She
who possesses them does not arouse suspicion however late she may be in
paying the weekly account.... The employees at the frontier become
exceedingly gallant: there is no passport more powerful. The haughty
ladies become more cordial before their sparkle, at the tea hour in the
halls where one knows nobody.... What I have suffered in order to
acquire them!... I would be reduced to hunger before I would sell them.
With them, I am somebody. A person may not have a coin in her pocket
and yet, with these glittering vouchers, may enter where the richest
assemble, living as one of them."
She would take no advice. She was like a hungry warrior in an enemy's
country asked to surrender arms in exchange for gold. Once the
necessity was satisfied, he would become a prisoner,--would be vilified
and on a par with the miserable creatures who a few hours before were
receiving his blows. She would meet courageously all dangers and
sufferings rather than lay aside her helmet and shield, the symbols of
her superior caste. The gown more than a year old, shabby, patched
shoes, negligee with badly mended rents, did not distress her in the
most trying moments. The important thing was to possess a stylish hat
and to preserve a fur coat, a necklace of pearls, emeralds,
diamonds,--all the honorable and glorious coat-of-mail in which she
wished to die.
Her glance appeared to pity the ignorance of the sailor in venturing to
propose such absurdities to her.
"It is impossible, Ulysses.... Take me with you! On the sea is where I
shall be safest. I am not afraid of the submarines. People imagine them
as numerous and close together as the flagstones of a pavement, but
only one vessel in a thousand is the victim of their attacks....
Besides, with you I fear nothing; if it is our destiny to perish on the
sea, we shall die together."
She became insinuating and enticing, passing her hands over his
shoulders, pulling down his neck with a passion that was equal to an
embrace. While speaking, her mouth came near to that of the sailor, the
lips arched, beginning the rounding of a caressing kiss.
"Would you live so badly with Freya?... Do you no longer remember our
past?... Am I now another being?"
Ulysses was remembering only too well that past, and began to recognize
that this memory was becoming too vivid. She, who was following with
astute eyes the seductive memories whirling through his brain, guessed
what they were by the contraction of his face. And smiling
triumphantly, she placed her mouth against his. She was sure of her
power.... And she reproduced the kiss of the Aquarium, that kiss which
had so thrilled the sailor, making his whole body tremble.
But when she gave herself up with more abandon to this dominating
ascendancy, she felt herself repelled, shot back by a brutal
hand-thrust similar to the blow that had hurled her upon the cushions
at the beginning of the interview.
Some one had interposed between the two, in spite of their close
The captain, who was beginning to lose consciousness of his acts, like
a castaway, descending and descending through the enchanting domains of
limitless pleasure, suddenly beheld the face of the dead Esteban with
his glassy eyes fixed upon him. Further on he saw another image, sad
and shadowy,--Cinta, who was weeping as though her tears were the only
ones that should fall upon the mutilated body of their son.
"Ah, no!... _No!_"
He himself was surprised at his voice. It was the roar of a wounded
beast, the dry howling of a desperate creature, writhing in torment.
Freya, staggering under the rude push, again tried to draw near to him,
enlacing him again in her arms, in order to repeat her imperious kiss.
"My love!... My love!..."
She could not go on. That tremendous hand again repelled her, but so
violently that her head struck against the cushions of the divan.
The door trembled with a rude shove that made its two leaves open at
the same time, dragging out the bolt of the lock.
The woman, tenacious in her desires, rose up quickly without noticing
the pain of her fall. Nimbleness only could serve her now that Ferragut
was escaping after mechanically picking up his hat.
Ulysses was already in the street,--and in the little hallway various
objects of bric-a-brac that had obtruded themselves and confused the
fugitive in his blind flight were still trembling and then falling and
breaking on the floor with a crash.
Feeling on his forehead the sensation of the free air, the dangers to
which Freya had referred now surged up in his mind. He surveyed the
street with a hostile glance.... Nobody! He longed to meet the enemy of
whom that woman had been speaking, to find vent for that wrath which he
was feeling even against himself. He was ashamed and furious at his
passing weakness which had almost made him renew their former
In the days following, he repeatedly recalled the band of refugees
under the doctor's control. When meeting German-looking people on the
street, he would glare at them menacingly. Was he perhaps one of those
charged with killing him?... Then he would pass on, regretting his
irritation, sure that they were tradesmen from South America,
apothecaries or bank employees undecided whether to return to their
home on the other side of the ocean, or to await in Barcelona the
always-near triumph of their Emperor.
Finally the captain began to ridicule Freya's recommendations.
"Just her lies!... Inventions in order to engage my interest again and
make me take her with me! Ah, the old fraud!"
One morning, as he was stepping out on the deck of his steamer, Toni
approached him with a mysterious air, his face assuming an ashy pallor.
When they reached the saloon at the stern, the mate spoke in a low
voice, looking around him.
The night before he had gone ashore in order to visit the theater. All
of Toni's literary tastes and his emotions were concentrated in
vaudeville. Men of talent had never invented anything better. From it
he used to bring back the humming songs with which he beguiled his long
watches on the bridge. Besides, it had a feminine chorus brilliantly
clad and bare-legged, a prima donna rich in flesh and poor in clothes,
a row of rosy and voluptuous ninepins that delighted the seamen's
imagination without making him forget the obligations of fidelity.
At one o'clock in the morning, when returning to the boat along the
solitary entrance pier, some one had tried to assassinate him. Hearing
footsteps, he fancied that he had seen forms hiding behind a mountain
of merchandise. Then there had sounded three reports, three revolver
shots. A ball had whistled by one of his ears.
"And as I was not carrying any arms, I ran. Fortunately, I was near the
ship, almost to the prow. I had only to take a few leaps to put myself
aboard the vessel.... And they did not shoot any more."
Ferragut remained silent. He, too, had grown pale, but with surprise
and anger. Then they were true, those reports of Freya's!... He could
not pretend incredulity, nor show himself bold and indifferent to
danger while Toni continued talking.
"Take care, Ulysses!... I have been thinking a great deal about this
thing. Those shots were not meant for me. What enemies have I? Who
would want to harm a poor mate who never sees anybody?... Look out for
yourself! You know perhaps where they came from; you have dealings with
The captain suspected that he was recalling the adventure of Naples and
that disgraceful proposition guarded as a secret, relating it to this
nocturnal attack. But neither his voice nor his eyes justified such
suspicions. And Ferragut preferred not to seem to suspect what he was
"Does any one else know what occurred?..."
Toni shrugged his shoulders. "Nobody...." He had leaped on the steamer,
pacifying the dog on board, that was howling furiously. The man on
guard had heard the shots, imagining that it was some sailors' fight.
"You have not reported this to the authorities?"
The mate became indignant on hearing this question, with the
independence of the Mediterranean who never remembers authority in
moments of danger and whose only defense is his manual dexterity.--"You
take me, perhaps, for a police-informer?..."
He had wanted to do the manly thing, but henceforth he would always go
armed while he happened to be in Barcelona. _Ay_, with this he might
shoot if he were not wounded!... And winking an eye, he showed his
captain what he called his "instrument."
The mate disliked firearms, crazy and noisy toys of doubtful result.
With an ancestral affection which appeared to evoke the flashing
battle-axes used by his ancestors, he loved the blow in silence, the
gleaming weapon which was a prolongation of the hand.
With gentle stealthiness he drew from his belt an English knife,
acquired at the time that he was skipper of a small boat,--a shining
blade which reproduced the faces of those looking at it, with the sharp
point of a stiletto and the edge of a _razor_.
Perhaps he would not be long in making use of his "instrument." He
recalled various individuals who a few days ago were strolling slowly
along the wharf examining the vessel, and spying upon those going on
and off. If he could manage to see them again he would go off the
steamer just to say a couple of words to them.
"You are to do nothing at all," ordered Ferragut. "I'll take charge of
this little matter."
All day long he was troubled over this news. Strolling about Barcelona,
he looked with challenging eyes at all passersby who appeared to be
Germans. To the aggressiveness of his character was now added the
indignation of a proprietor who finds himself assaulted within his
home. Those three shots were for him; and he was a Spaniard: and the
_boches_ were daring to attack him on his own ground! What audacity!...
Several times he put his hand in the back part of his trousers,
touching a long, metallic bulk. He was only awaiting the nightfall to
carry out a certain idea that had clamped itself between his two
eyebrows like a painful nail. Whilst he was not carrying it forward he
could not be tranquil.
The voice of his good counselor protested: "Don't do anything idiotic,
Ferragut; don't hunt the enemy, don't provoke him. Simply defend
yourself, nothing more."
But that reckless courage which in times gone by had made him embark on
vessels destined to shipwreck, and had pushed him toward danger for the
mere pleasure of conquering it, was now crying louder than prudence.
"In my own country!" he kept saying continually. "To try to assassinate
me when I am on my own land!... I'll just show them that I am a
He knew well that waterfront saloon mentioned by Freya. Two men in his
crew had given him some fresh information. The customers of the bar
were poor Germans accustomed to endless drinking. Some one was paying
for them, and on certain days even permitted them to invite the
skippers of the fishing boats and tramp vessels. A gramophone was
continually playing there, grinding out shrill songs to which the
guests responded in roaring chorus. When war news favorable to the
German Empire was received, the songs and drinking would redouble until
midnight and the shrill music-box would never stop for an instant. On
the walls were portraits of William II and various chromos of his
generals. The proprietor of the bar, a fat-legged German with square
head, stiff hair and drooping mustache, used to answer to the nickname
The sailor grinned at the mere thought of putting that _Hindenburg_
underneath his own counter.... He'd just like to see this establishment
where his name had been uttered so many times!
At nightfall, his feet took him toward the bar with an irresistible
impulse which disdained all counsels of prudence.
The glass door resisted his nervous hands, perhaps because he handled
the latch with too much force. And the captain finally opened it by
giving a kick to its lower part, made of wood.
The panes almost flew out from the shock of this brutal blow. A
magnificent entrance!... He saw much smoke, perforated by the red stars
of three electric bulbs which had just been lit, and men around the
various tables, facing him or with their backs turned. The gramophone
was shrilling in a nasal tone like an old woman without teeth. Back of
the counter appeared _Hindenburg_, his throat open, sleeves rolled up
over arms as fat as legs.
"I am Captain Ulysses Ferragut."
The voice that said this had a power similar to that of the magic words
of Oriental tales which held the life of an entire city in suspense,
leaving persons and objects immovable in the very attitude in which the
powerful conjurer surprised them.
There was the silence of astonishment. Those were beginning to turn
their heads, attracted by the noise of the door, did not go on with the
movement. Those in front remained with their eyes fixed on the one who
was entering, eyes widened with surprise as if they could not believe
what they saw. The gramophone was suddenly hushed. _Hindenburg_, who
was washing out a glass, remained with motionless hands, without even
taking the napkin from its crystal cavity.
Ferragut seated himself near an empty table with his back against the
wall. A waiter, the only one in the establishment, hastened to find out
what the gentleman wished. He was an Andalusian, small and sprightly,
whose escapades had brought him to Barcelona. He usually served his
customers with indifference, without taking any interest in their words
and their hymns. He "didn't mix himself up in politics." Accustomed to
the ways of gay and hot-blooded people, he suspected that this man had
come to pick a quarrel, and hoped to soften him with his smiling and
The sailor spoke to him aloud. He knew that in that low cafe his name
was frequently used and that there were many there who desired to see
him. He could give them the message that Captain Ferragut was there at
"I shall do so," said the Andalusian.
And he went away to the counter, bringing him, in a little while, a
bottle and a glass.
In vain Ulysses fixed his glance on those who were occupying the nearby
tables. Some, turning their backs upon him, were absolutely rigid;
others had their eyes cast down and were talking quietly with
Finally two or three exchanged glances with the captain. In their
pupils was the snap of budding wrath. The first surprise having
vanished, they seemed disposed to rise up and fall upon the recent
arrival. But some one behind him appeared to be controlling them with
murmured orders, and they finally obeyed him, lowering their eyes in
Ulysses soon tired of this silence. He was beginning to find his
attitude of animal-tamer rather ridiculous. He did not know whom to
assail in a place where they avoided his glance and all contact with
him. On the nearest table there was an illustrated newspaper, and he
took possession of it, turning its leaves. It was printed in German,
but he pretended to read it with great interest.
He had seated himself at the side, leaving free the hip on which his
revolver was resting. His hand, feigning distraction, passed near the
opening of his pocket, ready to take up arms in case of attack. In a
little while he regretted this excessively swaggering posture. They
were going to fall upon him, taking advantage of his reading. But pride
made him remain motionless, that they might not suspect his uneasiness.
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