The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Vicente Blasco Ibanez
Part 2 out of 8
saying inside, "Just wait till my turn comes, and I'll give you
Then he suddenly seemed to repent of his suspicions.
"At any rate, this Karl is a poor fellow, a mealy-mouthed simpleton
who the minute I say anything opens his jaws like a fly-catcher. He
insists that he comes of a great family, but who knows anything
about these gringoes? . . . All of us, dead with hunger when we
reach America, claim to be sons of princes."
Madariaga had placed himself on a familiar footing with his Teutonic
treasure, not through gratitude as with Desnoyers, but in order to
make him feel his inferiority. He had also introduced him on an
equal footing in his home, but only that he might give piano lessons
to his younger daughter. The Romantica was no longer framing
herself in the doorway--in the gloaming watching the sunset
reflections. When Karl had finished his work in the office, he was
now coming to the house and seating himself beside Elena, who was
tinkling away with a persistence worthy of a better fate. At the
end of the hour the German, accompanying himself on the piano, would
sing fragments from Wagner in such a way that it put Madariaga to
sleep in his armchair with his great Paraguay cigar sticking out of
Elena meanwhile was contemplating with increasing interest the
singing gringo. He was not the knight of her dreams awaited by the
fair lady. He was almost a servant, a blond immigrant with reddish
hair, fat, heavy, and with bovine eyes that reflected an eternal
fear of disagreeing with his chiefs. But day by day, she was
finding in him something which rather modified these impressions--
his feminine fairness, except where he was burned by the sun, the
increasingly martial aspect of his moustachios, the agility with
which he mounted his horse, his air of a troubadour, intoning with a
rather weak tenor voluptuous romances whose words she did not
One night, just before supper, the impressionable girl announced
with a feverish excitement which she could no longer repress that
she had made a grand discovery.
"Papa, Karl is of noble birth! He belongs to a great family."
The plainsman made a gesture of indifference. Other things were
vexing him in those days. But during the evening, feeling the
necessity of venting on somebody the wrath which had been gnawing at
his vitals since his last trip to Buenos Aires, he interrupted the
"See here, gringo, what is all this nonsense about nobility which
you have been telling my girl?"
Karl left the piano that he might draw himself up to the approved
military position before responding. Under the influence of his
recent song, his pose suggested Lohengrin about to reveal the secret
of his life. His father had been General von Hartrott, one of the
commanders in the war of '70. The Emperor had rewarded his services
by giving him a title. One of his uncles was an intimate councillor
of the King of Prussia. His older brothers were conspicuous in the
most select regiments. He had carried a sword as a lieutenant.
Bored with all this grandeur, Madariaga interrupted him. "Lies . . .
nonsense . . . hot air!" The very idea of a gringo talking to him
about nobility! . . . He had left Europe when very young in order
to cast in his lot with the revolting democracies of America, and
although nobility now seemed to him something out-of-date and
incomprehensible, still he stoutly maintained that the only true
nobility was that of his own country. He would yield first place to
the gringoes for the invention of machinery and ships, and for
breeding priceless animals, but all the Counts and Marquises of
Gringo-land appeared to him to be fictitious characters.
"All tomfoolery!" he blustered. "There isn't any nobility in your
country, nor have you five dollars all told to rub against each
other. If you had, you wouldn't come over here to play the gallant
to women who are . . . you know what they are as well as I do."
To the astonishment of Desnoyers, the German received this onslaught
with much humility, nodding his head in agreement with the Patron's
"If there's any truth in all this twaddle about titles," continued
Madariaga implacably, "swords and uniforms, what did you come here
for? What in the devil did you do in your own country that you had
to leave it?"
Now Karl hung his head, confused and stuttering.
"Papa, papa," pleaded Elena. "The poor little fellow! How can you
humiliate him so just because he is poor?"
And she felt a deep gratitude toward her brother-in-law when he
broke through his usual reserve in order to come to the rescue of
"Oh, yes, of course, he's a good-enough fellow," said Madariaga,
excusing himself. "But he comes from a land that I detest."
When Desnoyers made a trip to Buenos Aires a few days afterward, the
cause of the old man's wrath was explained. It appeared that for
some months past Madariaga had been the financial guarantor and
devoted swain of a German prima donna stranded in South America with
an Italian opera company. It was she who had recommended Karl--an
unfortunate countryman, who after wandering through many parts of
the continent, was now living with her as a sort of gentlemanly
singer. Madariaga had joyously expended upon this courtesan many
thousands of dollars. A childish enthusiasm had accompanied him in
this novel existence midst urban dissipations until he happened to
discover that his Fraulein was leading another life during his
absence, laughing at him with the parasites of her retinue;
whereupon he arose in his wrath and bade her farewell to the
accompaniment of blows and broken furniture.
The last adventure of his life! . . . Desnoyers suspected his
abdication upon hearing him admit his age, for the first time. He
did not intend to return to the capital. It was all false glitter.
Existence in the country, surrounded by all his family and doing
good to the poor was the only sure thing. And the terrible centaur
expressed himself with the idyllic tenderness and firm virtue of
seventy-five years, already insensible to temptation.
After his scene with Karl, he had increased the German's salary,
trying as usual, to counteract the effects of his violent outbreaks
with generosity. That which he could not forget was his dependent's
nobility, constantly making it the subject of new jests. That
glorious boast had brought to his mind the genealogical trees of the
illustrious ancestry of his prize cattle. The German was a
pedigreed fellow, and thenceforth he called him by that nickname.
Seated on summer nights under the awning, he surveyed his family
around him with a sort of patriarchal ecstasy. In the evening hush
could be heard the buzzing of insects and the croaking of the frogs.
From the distant ranches floated the songs of the peons as they
prepared their suppers. It was harvest time, and great bands of
immigrants were encamped in the fields for the extra work.
Madariaga had known many of the hard old days of wars and violence.
Upon his arrival in South America, he had witnessed the last years
of the tyranny of Rosas. He loved to enumerate the different
provincial and national revolutions in which he had taken part. But
all this had disappeared and would never return. These were the
times of peace, work and abundance.
"Just think of it, Frenchy," he said, driving away the mosquitoes
with the puffs of his cigar. "I am Spanish, you French, Karl
German, my daughters Argentinians, the cook Russian, his assistant
Greek, the stable boy English, the kitchen servants Chinas
(natives), Galicians or Italians, and among the peons there are many
castes and laws. . . . And yet we all live in peace. In Europe, we
would have probably been in a grand fight by this time, but here we
are all friends."
He took much pleasure in listening to the music of the laborers--
laments from Italian songs to the accompaniment of the accordion,
Spanish guitars and Creole choruses, wild voices chanting of love
"This is a regular Noah's ark," exulted the vainglorious patriarch.
"He means the tower of Babel," thought Desnoyers to himself, "but
it's all the same thing to the old man."
"I believe," he rambled on, "that we live thus because in this part
of the world there are no kings and a very small army--and mankind
is thinking only of enjoying itself as much as possible, thanks to
its work. But I also believe that we live so peacefully because
there is such abundance that everyone gets his share. . . . How
quickly we would spring to arms if the rations were less than the
Again he fell into reflective silence, shortly after announcing the
result of his meditations.
"Be that as it may be, we must recognize that here life is more
tranquil than in the other world. Men are taken for what they are
worth, and mingle together without thinking whether they came from
one country or another. Over here, fellows do not come in droves to
kill other fellows whom they do not know and whose only crime is
that they were born in an unfriendly country. . . . Man is a bad
beast everywhere, I know that; but here he eats, owns more land than
he needs so that he can stretch himself, and he is good with the
goodness of a well-fed dog. Over there, there are too many; they
live in heaps getting in each other's way, and easily run amuck.
Hurrah for Peace, Frenchy, and the simple life! Where a man can
live comfortably and runs no danger of being killed for things he
doesn't understand--there is his real homeland!"
And as though an echo of the rustic's reflections, Karl seated at
the piano, began chanting in a low voice one of Beethoven's hymns--
"We sing the joy of life,
We sing of liberty,
We'll ne'er betray our fellow-man,
Though great the guerdon be."
Peace! . . . A few days afterward Desnoyers recalled bitterly the
old man's illusion, for war--domestic war--broke loose in this
idyllic stage-setting of ranch life.
"Run, Senor Manager, the old Patron has unsheathed his knife and is
going to kill the German!" And Desnoyers had hurried from his
office, warned by the peon's summons. Madariaga was chasing Karl,
knife in hand, stumbling over everything that blocked his way. Only
his son-in-law dared to stop him and disarm him.
"That shameless pedigreed fellow!" bellowed the livid old man as he
writhed in Desnoyers' firm clutch. "Half famished, all he thinks he
has to do is to come to my house and take away my daughters and
dollars. . . . Let me go, I tell you! Let me loose that I may kill
And in order to free himself from Desnoyers, he tried further to
explain the difficulty. He had accepted the Frenchman as a husband
for his daughter because he was to his liking, modest, honest . . .
and serious. But this singing Pedigreed Fellow, with all his
airs! . . . He was a man that he had gotten from . . . well, he
didn't wish to say just where! And the Frenchman, though knowing
perfectly well what his introduction to Karl had been, pretended
not to understand him.
As the German had, by this time, made good his escape, the ranchman
consented to being pushed toward his house, talking all the time
about giving a beating to the Romantica and another to the China for
not having informed him of the courtship. He had surprised his
daughter and the Gringo holding hands and exchanging kisses in a
grove near the house.
"He's after my dollars," howled the irate father. "He wants America
to enrich him quickly at the expense of the old Spaniard, and that
is the reason for so much truckling, so much psalm-singing and so
much nobility! Imposter! . . . Musician!"
And he repeated the word "musician" with contempt, as though it were
the sum and substance of everything vile.
Very firmly and with few words, Desnoyers brought the wrangling to
an end. While her brother-in-law protected her retreat, the
Romantica, clinging to her mother, had taken refuge in the top of
the house, sobbing and moaning, "Oh, the poor little fellow!
Everybody against him!" Her sister meanwhile was exerting all the
powers of a discreet daughter with the rampageous old man in the
office, and Desnoyers had gone in search of Karl. Finding that he
had not yet recovered from the shock of his terrible surprise, he
gave him a horse, advising him to betake himself as quickly as
possible to the nearest railway station.
Although the German was soon far from the ranch, he did not long
remain alone. In a few days, the Romantica followed him. . . .
Iseult of the white hands went in search of Tristan, the knight.
This event did not cause Madariaga's desperation to break out as
violently as his son-in-law had expected. For the first time, he
saw him weep. His gay and robust old age had suddenly fallen from
him, the news having clapped ten years on to his four score. Like a
child, whimpering and tremulous, he threw his arms around Desnoyers,
moistening his neck with tears.
"He has taken her away! That son of a great flea . . . has taken
This time he did not lay all the blame on his China. He wept with
her, and as if trying to console her by a public confession, kept
saying over and over:
"It is my fault. . . . It has all been because of my very, very
Now began for Desnoyers a period of difficulties and conflicts. The
fugitives, on one of his visits to the Capital, threw themselves on
his mercy, imploring his protection. The Romantica wept, declaring
that only her brother-in-law, "the most knightly man in the world,"
could save her. Karl gazed at him like a faithful hound trusting in
his master. These trying interviews were repeated on all his trips.
Then, on returning to the ranch, he would find the old man ill-
humored, moody, looking fixedly ahead of him as though seeing
invisible power and wailing, "It is my punishment--the punishment
for my sins."
The memory of the discreditable circumstances under which he had
made Karl's acquaintance, before bringing him into his home,
tormented the old centaur with remorse. Some afternoons, he would
have a horse saddled, going full gallop toward the neighboring
village. But he was no longer hunting hospitable ranches. He
needed to pass some time in the church, speaking alone with the
images that were there only for him--since he had footed the bills
for them. . . . "Through my sin, through my very great sin!"
But in spite of his self-reproach, Desnoyers had to work very hard
to get any kind of a settlement out of the old penitent. Whenever
he suggested legalizing the situation and making the necessary
arrangements for their marriage, the old tyrant would not let him go
on. "Do what you think best, but don't say anything to me about
Several months passed by. One day the Frenchman approached him with
a certain air of mystery. "Elena has a son and has named him
'Julio' after you."
"And you, you great useless hulk," stormed the ranchman, "and that
weak cow of a wife of yours, you dare to live tranquilly on without
giving me a grandson! . . . Ah, Frenchy, that is why the Germans
will finally overwhelm you. You see it, right here. That bandit
has a son, while you, after four years of marriage . . . nothing. I
want a grandson!--do you understand THAT?"
And in order to console himself for this lack of little ones around
his own hearth, he betook himself to the ranch of his overseer,
Celedonio, where a band of little half-breeds gathered tremblingly
and hopefully about him.
Suddenly China died. The poor Misia Petrona passed away as
discreetly as she had lived, trying even in her last hours to avoid
all annoyance for her husband, asking his pardon with an imploring
look for any trouble which her death might cause him. Elena came to
the ranch in order to see her mother's body for the last time, and
Desnoyers who for more than a year had been supporting them behind
his father-in-law's back, took advantage of this occasion to
overcome the old man's resentment.
"Well, I'll forgive her," said the ranchman finally. "I'll do it
for the sake of my poor wife and for you. She may remain on the
ranch, and that shameless gringo may come with her."
But he would have nothing to do with him. The German was to be an
employee under Desnoyers, and they could live in the office building
as though they did not belong to the family. He would never say a
word to Karl.
But scarcely had the German returned before he began giving him
orders rudely as though he were a perfect stranger. At other times
he would pass by him as though he did not know him. Upon finding
Elena in the house with his older daughter, he would go on without
speaking to her.
In vain his Romantica transfigured by maternity, improved all
opportunities for putting her child in his way, calling him loudly
by name: "Julio . . . Julio!"
"They want that brat of a singing gringo, that carrot top with a
face like a skinned kid to be my grandson? . . . I prefer
And by way of emphasizing his protest, he entered the dwelling of
his overseer, scattering among his dusky brood handfuls of dollars.
After seven years of marriage, the wife of Desnoyers found that she,
too, was going to become a mother. Her sister already had three
sons. But what were they worth to Madariaga compared to the
grandson that was going to come? "It will be a boy," he announced
positively, "because I need one so. It shall be named Julio, and I
hope that it will look like my poor dead wife."
Since the death of his wife he no longer called her the China,
feeling something of a posthumous love for the poor woman who in her
lifetime had endured so much, so timidly and silently. Now "my poor
dead wife" cropped out every other instant in the conversation of
the remorseful ranchman.
His desires were fulfilled. Luisa gave birth to a boy who bore the
name of Julio, and although he did not show in his somewhat sketchy
features any striking resemblance to his grandmother, still he had
the black hair and eyes and olive skin of a brunette. Welcome! . . .
This WAS a grandson!
In the generosity of his joy, he even permitted the German to enter
the house for the baptismal ceremony.
When Julio Desnoyers was two years old, his grandfather made the
rounds of his estates, holding him on the saddle in front of him.
He went from ranch to ranch in order to show him to the copper-
colored populace, like an ancient monarch presenting his heir.
Later on, when the child was able to say a few words, he entertained
himself for hours at a time talking with the tot under the shade of
the eucalyptus tree. A certain mental failing was beginning to be
noticed in the old man. Although not exactly in his dotage, his
aggressiveness was becoming very childish. Even in his most
affectionate moments, he used to contradict everybody, and hunt up
ways of annoying his relatives.
"Come here, you false prophet," he would say to Julio. "You are a
The grandchild protested as though he had been insulted. His mother
had taught him that he was an Argentinian, and his father had
suggested that she also add Spanish, in order to please the
"Very well, then; if you are not a Frenchy, shout, 'Down with
And he looked around him to see if Desnoyers might be near,
believing that this would displease him greatly. But his son-in-law
pursued the even tenor of his way, shrugging his shoulders.
"Down with Napoleon!" repeated Julio.
And he instantly held out his hand while his grandfather went
through his pockets.
Karl's sons, now four in number, used to circle around their
grandparent like a humble chorus kept at a distance, and stare
enviously at these gifts. In order to win his favor, they one day
when they saw him alone, came boldly up to him, shouting in unison,
"Down with Napoleon!"
"You insolent gringoes!" ranted the old man. "That's what that
shameless father has taught you! If you say that again, I'll chase
you with a cat-o-nine-tails. . . . The very idea of insulting a
great man in that way!"
While he tolerated this blond brood, he never would permit the
slightest intimacy. Desnoyers and his wife often had to come to
their rescue, accusing the grandfather of injustice. And in order
to pour the vials of his wrath out on someone, the old plainsman
would hunt up Celedonio, the best of his listeners, who invariably
replied, "Yes, Patron. That's so, Patron."
"They're not to blame," agreed the old man, "but I can't abide them!
Besides, they are so like their father, so fair, with hair like a
shredded carrot, and the two oldest wearing specs as if they were
court clerks! . . . They don't seem like folks with those glasses;
they look like sharks."
Madariaga had never seen any sharks, but he imagined them, without
knowing why, with round, glassy eyes, like the bottoms of bottles.
By the time he was eight years old, Julio was a famous little
equestrian. "To horse, peoncito," his grandfather would cry, and
away they would race, streaking like lightning across the fields,
midst thousands and thousands of horned herds. The "peoncito,"
proud of his title, obeyed the master in everything, and so learned
to whirl the lasso over the steers, leaving them bound and
conquered. Upon making his pony take a deep ditch or creep along
the edge of the cliffs, he sometimes fell under his mount, but
clambered up gamely.
"Ah, fine cowboy!" exclaimed the grandfather bursting with pride in
his exploits. "Here are five dollars for you to give a handkerchief
to some china."
The old man, in his increasing mental confusion, did not gauge his
gifts exactly with the lad's years; and the infantile horseman,
while keeping the money, was wondering what china was referred to,
and why he should make her a present.
Desnoyers finally had to drag his son away from the baleful
teachings of his grandfather. It was simply useless to have masters
come to the house, or to send Julio to the country school.
Madariaga would always steal his grandson away, and then they would
scour the plains together. So when the boy was eleven years old,
his father placed him in a big school in the Capital.
The grandfather then turned his attention to Julio's three-year-old
sister, exhibiting her before him as he had her brother, as he took
her from ranch to ranch. Everybody called Chicha's little girl
Chichi, but the grandfather bestowed on her the same nickname that
he had given her brother, the "peoncito." And Chichi, who was
growing up wild, vigorous and wilful, breakfasting on meat and
talking in her sleep of roast beef, readily fell in with the old
man's tastes. She was dressed like a boy, rode astride like a man,
and in order to win her grandfather's praises as "fine cowboy,"
carried a knife in the back of her belt. The two raced the fields
from sun to sun, Madariaga following the flying pigtail of the
little Amazon as though it were a flag. When nine years old she,
too, could lasso the cattle with much dexterity.
What most irritated the ranchman was that his family would remember
his age. He received as insults his son-in-law's counsels to remain
quietly at home, becoming more aggressive and reckless as he
advanced in years, exaggerating his activity, as if he wished to
drive Death away. He accepted no help except from his harum-scarum
"Peoncito." When Karl's children, great hulking youngsters,
hastened to his assistance and offered to hold his stirrup, he would
repel them with snorts of indignation.
"So you think I am no longer able to help myself, eh! . . . There's
still enough life in me to make those who are waiting for me to die,
so as to grab my dollars, chew their disappointment a long while
Since the German and his wife were kept pointedly apart from the
family life, they had to put up with these allusions in silence.
Karl, needing protection, constantly shadowed the Frenchman,
improving every opportunity to overwhelm him with his eulogies. He
never could thank him enough for all that he had done for him. He
was his only champion. He longed for a chance to prove his
gratitude, to die for him if necessary. His wife admired him with
enthusiasm as "the most gifted knight in the world." And Desnoyers
received their devotion in gratified silence, accepting the German
as an excellent comrade. As he controlled absolutely the family
fortune, he aided Karl very generously without arousing the
resentment of the old man. He also took the initiative in bringing
about the realization of Karl's pet ambition--a visit to the
Fatherland. So many years in America! . . . For the very reason
that Desnoyers himself had no desire to return to Europe, he wished
to facilitate Karl's trip, and gave him the means to make the
journey with his entire family. The father-in-law had no curiosity
as to who paid the expenses. "Let them go!" he said gleefully, "and
may they never return!"
Their absence was not a very long one, for they spent their year's
allowance in three months. Karl, who had apprised his parents of
the great fortune which his marriage had brought him, wished to make
an impression as a millionaire, in full enjoyment of his riches.
Elena returned radiant, speaking with pride of her relatives--of the
baron, Colonel of Hussars, of the Captain of the Guard, of the
Councillor at Court--asserting that all countries were most
insignificant when compared with her husband's. She even affected a
certain condescension toward Desnoyers, praising him as "a very
worthy man, but without ancient lineage or distinguished family--and
Karl, on the other hand, showed the same devotion as before, keeping
himself submissively in the background when with his brother-in-law
who had the keys of the cash box and was his only defense against
the browbeating old Patron. . . . He had left his two older sons in
a school in Germany. Years afterwards they reached an equal footing
with the other grandchildren of the Spaniard who always begrudged
them their existence, "perfect frights, with carroty hair, and eyes
like a shark."
Suddenly the old man became very lonely, for they had also carried
off his second "Peoncito." The good Chicha could not tolerate her
daughter's growing up like a boy, parading 'round on horseback all
the time, and glibly repeating her grandfather's vulgarities. So
she was now in a convent in the Capital, where the Sisters had to
battle valiantly in order to tame the mischievous rebellion of their
wild little pupil.
When Julio and Chichi returned to the ranch for their vacations, the
grandfather again concentrated his fondness on the first, as though
the girl had merely been a substitute. Desnoyers was becoming
indignant at his son's dissipated life. He was no longer at
college, and his existence was that of a student in a rich family
who makes up for parental parsimony with all sorts of imprudent
But Madariaga came to the defense of his grandson. "Ah, the fine
cowboy!" . . . Seeing him again on the ranch, he admired the dash
of the good looking youth, testing his muscles in order to convince
himself of their strength, and making him to recount his nightly
escapades as ringleader of a band of toughs in the Capital. He
longed to go to Buenos Aires himself, just to see the youngster in
the midst of this gay, wild life. But alas! he was not seventeen
like his grandson; he had already passed eighty.
"Come here, you false prophet! Tell me how many children you
have. . . . You must have a great many children, you know!"
"Father!" protested Chicha who was always hanging around, fearing
her parent's bad teachings.
"Stop nagging at me!" yelled the irate old fellow in a towering
temper. "I know what I'm saying."
Paternity figured largely in all his amorous fancies. He was almost
blind, and the loss of his sight was accompanied by an increasing
mental upset. His crazy senility took on a lewd character,
expressing itself in language which scandalized or amused the
"Oh, you rascal, what a pretty fellow you are!" he said, leering at
Julio with eyes which could no longer distinguish things except in a
shadowy way. "You are the living image of my poor dead wife. . . .
Have a good time, for Grandpa is always here with his money! If you
could only count on what your father gives you, you would live like
a hermit. These Frenchies are a close-fisted lot! But I am looking
out for you. Peoncito! Spend and enjoy yourself--that's what your
Granddaddy has piled up the silver for!"
When the Desnoyers children returned to the Capital, he spent his
lonesome hours in going from ranch to ranch. A young half-breed
would set the water for his shrub-tea to boiling on the hearth, and
the old man would wonder confusedly if she were his daughter.
Another, fifteen years old, would offer him a gourd filled with the
bitter liquid and a silver pipe with which to sip it. . . . A
grandchild, perhaps--he wasn't sure. And so he passed the
afternoons, silent and sluggish, drinking gourd after gourd of shrub
tea, surrounded by families who stared at him with admiration and
Every time he mounted his horse for these excursions, his older
daughter would protest. "At eighty-four years! Would it not be
better for him to remain quietly at home. . . . Some day something
terrible would happen. . . . And the terrible thing did happen.
One evening the Patron's horse came slowly home without its rider.
The old man had fallen on the sloping highway, and when they found
him, he was dead. Thus died the centaur as he had lived, with the
lash hanging from his wrist, with his legs bowed by the saddle.
A Spanish notary, almost as old as he, produced the will. The
family was somewhat alarmed at seeing what a voluminous document it
was. What terrible bequests had Madariaga dictated? The reading of
the first part tranquilized Karl and Elena. The old father had left
considerable more to the wife of Desnoyers, but there still remained
an enormous share for the Romantica and her children. "I do this,"
he said, "in memory of my poor dead wife, and so that people won't
After this, came eighty-six legacies. Eighty-five dark-hued
individuals (women and men), who had lived on the ranch for many
years as tenants and retainers, were to receive the last paternal
munificence of the old patriarch. At the head of these was
Celedonio whom Madariaga had greatly enriched in his lifetime for no
heavier work than listening to him and repeating, "That's so,
Patron, that's true!" More than a million dollars were represented
by these bequests in lands and herds. The one who completed the
list of beneficiaries was Julio Desnoyers. The grandfather had made
special mention of this namesake, leaving him a plantation "to meet
his private expenses, making up for that which his father would not
"But that represents hundreds of thousands of dollars!" protested
Karl, who had been making himself almost obnoxious in his efforts to
assure himself that his wife had not been overlooked in the will.
The days following the reading of this will were very trying ones
for the family. Elena and her children kept looking at the other
group as though they had just waked up, contemplating them in an
entirely new light. They seemed to forget what they were going to
receive in their envy of the much larger share of their relatives.
Desnoyers, benevolent and conciliatory, had a plan. An expert in
administrative affairs, he realized that the distribution among the
heirs was going to double the expenses without increasing the
income. He was calculating, besides, the complications and
disbursements necessary for a judicial division of nine immense
ranches, hundreds of thousands of cattle, deposits in the banks,
houses in the city, and debts to collect. Would it not be better
for them all to continue living as before? . . . Had they not lived
most peaceably as a united family? . . .
The German received this suggestion by drawing himself up haughtily.
No; to each one should be given what was his. Let each live in his
own sphere. He wished to establish himself in Europe, spending his
wealth freely there. It was necessary for him to return to "his
As they looked squarely at each other, Desnoyers saw an unknown
Karl, a Karl whose existence he had never suspected when he was
under his protection, timid and servile. The Frenchman, too, was
beginning to see things in a new light.
"Very well," he assented. "Let each take his own. That seems fair
THE DESNOYERS FAMILY
The "Madariagan succession," as it was called in the language of the
legal men interested in prolonging it in order to augment their
fees--was divided into two groups, separated by the ocean. The
Desnoyers moved to Buenos Aires. The Hartrotts moved to Berlin as
soon as Karl could sell all the legacy, to re-invest it in lands and
industrial enterprises in his own country.
Desnoyers no longer cared to live in the country. For twenty years,
now, he had been the head of an enormous agricultural and stock
raising business, overseeing hundreds of men in the various ranches.
The parcelling out of the old man's fortune among Elena and the
other legatees had considerably constricted the radius of his
authority, and it angered him to see established on the neighboring
lands so many foreigners, almost all Germans, who had bought of
Karl. Furthermore, he was getting old, his wife's inheritance
amounted to about twenty millions of dollars, and perhaps his
brother-in-law was showing the better judgment in returning to
So he leased some of the plantations, handed over the
superintendence of others to those mentioned in the will who
considered themselves left-handed members of the family--of which
Desnoyers as the Patron received their submissive allegiance--and
moved to Buenos Aires.
By this move, he was able to keep an eye on his son who continued
living a dissipated life without making any headway in his
engineering studies. Then, too, Chichi was now almost a woman--her
robust development making her look older than she was--and it was
not expedient to keep her on the estate to become a rustic senorita
like her mother.
Dona Luisa had also tired of ranch life, the social triumphs of her
sister making her a little restless. She was incapable of feeling
jealous, but material ambitions made her anxious that her children
should not bring up the rear of the procession in which the other
grandchildren were cutting such a dashing figure.
During the year, most wonderful reports from Germany were finding
their way to the Desnoyers home in the Capital. "The aunt from
Berlin," as the children called her, kept sending long letters
filled with accounts of dances, dinners, hunting parties and titles--
many high-sounding and military titles;--"our brother, the
Colonel," "our cousin, the Baron," "our uncle, the Intimate
Councillor," "our great-uncle, the Truly Intimate." All the
extravagances of the German social ladder, which incessantly
manufactures new titles in order to satisfy the thirst for honors of
a people divided into castes, were enumerated with delight by the
old Romantica. She even mentioned her husband's secretary (a
nobody) who, through working in the public offices, had acquired the
title of Rechnungarath, Councillor of Calculations. She also
referred with much pride to the retired Oberpedell which she had in
her house, explaining that that meant "Superior Porter."
The news about her children was no less glorious. The oldest was
the wise one of the family. He was devoted to philology and the
historical sciences, but his sight was growing weaker all the time
because of his omnivorous reading. Soon he would be a Doctor, and
before he was thirty, a Herr Professor. The mother lamented that he
had not military aspirations, considering that his tastes had
somewhat distorted the lofty destinies of the family.
Professorships, sciences and literature were more properly the
perquisites of the Jews, unable, because of their race, to obtain
preferment in the army; but she was trying to console herself by
keeping in mind that a celebrated professor could, in time, acquire
a social rank almost equal to that of a colonel.
Her other four sons would become officers. Their father was
preparing the ground so that they might enter the Guard or some
aristocratic regiment without any of the members being able to vote
against their admission. The two daughters would surely marry, when
they had reached a suitable age with officers of the Hussars whose
names bore the magic "von" of petty nobility, haughty and charming
gentlemen about whom the daughter of Misia Petrona waxed most
The establishment of the Hartrotts was in keeping with these new
relationships. In the home in Berlin, the servants wore knee-
breeches and white wigs on the nights of great banquets. Karl had
bought an old castle with pointed towers, ghosts in the cellars, and
various legends of assassinations, assaults and abductions which
enlivened its history in an interesting way. An architect,
decorated with many foreign orders, and bearing the title of
"Councillor of Construction," was engaged to modernize the mediaeval
edifice without sacrificing its terrifying aspect. The Romantica
described in anticipation the receptions in the gloomy salon, the
light diffused by electricity, simulating torches, the crackling of
the emblazoned hearth with its imitation logs bristling with flames
of gas, all the splendor of modern luxury combined with the
souvenirs of an epoch of omnipotent nobility--the best, according to
her, in history. And the hunting parties, the future hunting
parties! . . . in an annex of sandy and loose soil with pine woods--
in no way comparable to the rich ground of their native ranch, but
which had the honor of being trodden centuries ago by the Princes of
Brandenburg, founders of the reigning house of Prussia. And all
this advancement in a single year! . . .
They had, of course, to compete with other oversea families who had
amassed enormous fortunes in the United States, Brazil or the
Pacific coast; but these were Germans "without lineage," coarse
plebeians who were struggling in vain to force themselves into the
great world by making donations to the imperial works. With all
their millions, the very most that they could ever hope to attain
would be to marry their daughters with ordinary soldiers. Whilst
Karl! . . . The relatives of Karl! . . . and the Romantica let her
pen run on, glorifying a family in whose bosom she fancied she had
From time to time were enclosed with Elena's effusions brief, crisp
notes directed to Desnoyers. The brother-in-law continued giving an
account of his operations the same as when living on the ranch under
his protection. But with this deference was now mixed a badly
concealed pride, an evident desire to retaliate for his times of
voluntary humiliation. Everything that he was doing was grand and
glorious. He had invested his millions in the industrial
enterprises of modern Germany. He was stockholder of munition
factories as big as towns, and of navigation companies launching a
ship every half year. The Emperor was interesting himself in these
works, looking benevolently on all those who wished to aid him.
Besides this, Karl was buying land. At first sight, it seemed
foolish to have sold the fertile fields of their inheritance in
order to acquire sandy Prussian wastes that yielded only to much
artificial fertilizing; but by becoming a land owner, he now
belonged to the "Agrarian Party," the aristocratic and conservative
group par excellence, and thus he was living in two different but
equally distinguished worlds--that of the great industrial friends
of the Emperor, and that of the Junkers, knights of the countryside,
guardians of the old traditions and the supply-source of the
officials of the King of Prussia.
On hearing of these social strides, Desnoyers could not but think of
the pecuniary sacrifices which they must represent. He knew Karl's
past, for on the ranch, under an impulse of gratitude, the German
had one day revealed to the Frenchman the cause of his coming to
America. He was a former officer in the German army, but the desire
of living ostentatiously without other resources than his salary,
had dragged him into committing such reprehensible acts as
abstracting funds belonging to the regiment, incurring debts of
honor and paying for them with forged signatures. These crimes had
not been officially prosecuted through consideration of his father's
memory, but the members of his division had submitted him to a
tribunal of honor. His brothers and friends had advised him to
shoot himself as the only remedy; but he loved life and had fled to
South America where, in spite of humiliations, he had finally
Wealth effaces the spots of the past even more rapidly than Time.
The news of his fortune on the other side of the ocean made his
family give him a warm reception on his first voyage home;
introducing him again into their world. Nobody could remember
shameful stories about a few hundred marks concerning a man who was
talking about his father-in-law's lands, more extensive than many
German principalities. Now, upon installing himself definitely in
his country, all was forgotten. But, oh, the contributions levied
upon his vanity . . . Desnoyers shrewdly guessed at the thousands
of marks poured with both hands into the charitable works of the
Empress, into the imperialistic propagandas, into the societies of
veterans, into the clubs of aggression and expansion organized by
The frugal Frenchman, thrifty in his expenditures and free from
social ambitions, smiled at the grandeurs of his brother-in-law. He
considered Karl an excellent companion although of a childish pride.
He recalled with satisfaction the years that they had passed
together in the country. He could not forget the German who was
always hovering around him, affectionate and submissive as a younger
brother. When his family commented with a somewhat envious vivacity
upon the glories of their Berlin relatives, Desnoyers would say
smilingly, "Leave them in peace; they are paying very dear for their
But the enthusiasm which the letters from Germany breathed finally
created an atmosphere of disquietude and rebellion. Chichi led the
attack. Why were they not going to Europe like other folks? all
their friends had been there. Even the Italian and Spanish
shopkeepers were making the voyage, while she, the daughter of a
Frenchman, had never seen Paris! . . . Oh, Paris. The doctors in
attendance on melancholy ladies were announcing the existence of a
new and terrible disease, "the mania for Paris." Dona Luisa
supported her daughter. Why had she not gone to live in Europe like
her sister, since she was the richer of the two? Even Julio gravely
declared that in the old world he could study to better advantage.
America is not the land of the learned.
Infected by the general unrest, the father finally began to wonder
why the idea of going to Europe had not occurred to him long before.
Thirty-four years without going to that country which was not
his! . . . It was high time to start! He was living too near to
his business. In vain the retired ranchman had tried to keep himself
indifferent to the money market. Everybody was coining money around
him. In the club, in the theatre, wherever he went, the people were
talking about purchases of lands, of sales of stock, of quick
negotiations with a triple profit, of portentous balances. The
amount of money that he was keeping idle in the banks was beginning
to weigh upon him. He finally ended by involving himself in some
speculation; like a gambler who cannot see the roulette wheel
without putting his hand in his pocket.
His family was right. "To Paris!" For in the Desnoyers' mind, to
go to Europe meant, of course, to go to Paris. Let the "aunt from
Berlin" keep on chanting the glories of her husband's country!
"It's sheer nonsense!" exclaimed Julio who had made grave
geographical and ethnic comparisons in his nightly forays. "There
is no place but Paris!" Chichi saluted with an ironical smile the
slightest doubt of it--"Perhaps they make as elegant fashions in
Germany as in Paris? . . . Bah!" Dona Luisa took up her children's
cry. "Paris!" . . . Never had it even occurred to her to go to a
Lutheran land to be protected by her sister.
"Let it be Paris, then!" said the Frenchman, as though he were
speaking of an unknown city.
He had accustomed himself to believe that he would never return to
it. During the first years of his life in America, the trip would
have been an impossibility because of the military service which he
had evaded. Then he had vague news of different amnesties. After
the time for conscription had long since passed, an inertness of
will had made him consider a return to his country as somewhat
absurd and useless. On the other side, nothing remained to attract
him. He had even lost track of those country relatives with whom
his mother had lived. In his heaviest hours he had tried to occupy
his activity by planning an enormous mausoleum, all of marble, in La
Recoleta, the cemetery of the rich, in order to move thither the
remains of Madariaga as founder of the dynasty, following him with
all his own when their hour should come. He was beginning to feel
the weight of age. He was nearly seventy years old, and the rude
life of the country, the horseback rides in the rain, the rivers
forded upon his swimming horse, the nights passed in the open air,
had brought on a rheumatism that was torturing his best days.
His family, however, reawakened his enthusiasm. "To Paris!" . . .
He began to fancy that he was twenty again, and forgetting his
habitual parsimony, wished his household to travel like royalty, in
the most luxurious staterooms, and with personal servants. Two
copper-hued country girls, born on the ranch and elevated to the
rank of maids to the senora and her daughter, accompanied them on
the voyage, their oblique eyes betraying not the slightest
astonishment before the greatest novelties.
Once in Paris, Desnoyers found himself quite bewildered. He
confused the names of streets, proposed visits to buildings which
had long since disappeared, and all his attempts to prove himself an
expert authority on Paris were attended with disappointment. His
children, guided by recent reading up, knew Paris better than he.
He was considered a foreigner in his own country. At first, he even
felt a certain strangeness in using his native tongue, for he had
remained on the ranch without speaking a word of his language for
years at a time. He was used to thinking in Spanish, and
translating his ideas into the speech of his ancestors spattered his
French with all kinds of Creole dialect.
"Where a man makes his fortune and raises his family, there is his
true country," he said sententiously, remembering Madariaga.
The image of that distant country dominated him with insistent
obsession as soon as the impressions of the voyage had worn off. He
had no French friends, and upon going into the street, his feet
instinctively took him to the places where the Argentinians gathered
together. It was the same with them. They had left their country
only to feel, with increasing intensity, the desire to talk about it
all the time. There he read the papers, commenting on the rising
prices in the fields, on the prospects for the next harvests and on
the sales of cattle. Returning home, his thoughts were still in
America, and he chuckled with delight as he recalled the way in
which the two chinas had defied the professional dignity of the
French cook, preparing their native stews and other dishes in Creole
He had settled the family in an ostentatious house in the avenida
Victor Hugo, for which he paid a rental of twenty-eight thousand
francs. Dona Luisa had to go and come many times before she could
accustom herself to the imposing aspect of the concierges--he,
decorated with gold trimmings on his black uniform and wearing white
whiskers like a notary in a comedy, she with a chain of gold upon
her exuberant bosom, and receiving the tenants in a red and gold
salon. In the rooms above was ultra-modern luxury, gilded and
glacial, with white walls and glass doors with tiny panes which
exasperated Desnoyers, who longed for the complicated carvings and
rich furniture in vogue during his youth. He himself directed the
arrangement and furnishings of the various rooms which always seemed
Chichi protested against her father's avarice when she saw him
buying slowly and with much calculation and hesitation. "Avarice,
no!" he retorted, "it is because I know the worth of things."
Nothing pleased him that he had not acquired at one-third of its
value. Beating down those who overcharged but proved the
superiority of the buyer. Paris offered him one delightful spot
which he could not find anywhere else in the world--the Hotel
Drouot. He would go there every afternoon that he did not find
other important auctions advertised in the papers. For many years,
there was no famous failure in Parisian life, with its consequent
liquidation, from which he did not carry something away. The use
and need of these prizes were matters of secondary interest, the
great thing was to get them for ridiculous prices. So the trophies
from the auction-rooms now began to inundate the apartment which, at
the beginning, he had been furnishing with such desperate slowness.
His daughter now complained that the home was getting overcrowded.
The furnishings and ornaments were handsome, but too many . . . far
too many! The white walls seemed to scowl at the magnificent sets
of chairs and the overflowing glass cabinets. Rich and velvety
carpets over which had passed many generations, covered all the
compartments. Showy curtains, not finding a vacant frame in the
salons, adorned the doors leading into the kitchen. The wall
mouldings gradually disappeared under an overlay of pictures, placed
close together like the scales of a cuirass. Who now could accuse
Desnoyers of avarice? . . . He was investing far more than a
fashionable contractor would have dreamed of spending.
The underlying idea still was to acquire all this for a fourth of
its price--an exciting bait which lured the economical man into
continuous dissipation. He could sleep well only when he had driven
a good bargain during the day. He bought at auction thousands of
bottles of wine consigned by bankrupt firms, and he who scarcely
ever drank, packed his wine cellars to overflowing, advising his
family to use the champagne as freely as ordinary wine. The failure
of a furrier induced him to buy for fourteen thousand francs pelts
worth ninety thousand. In consequence, the entire Desnoyers family
seemed suddenly to be suffering as frightfully from cold as though a
polar iceberg had invaded the avenida Victor Hugo. The father kept
only one fur coat for himself but ordered three for his son. Chichi
and Dona Luisa appeared arrayed in all kinds of silky and luxurious
skins--one day chinchilla, other days blue fox, marten or seal.
The enraptured buyer would permit no one but himself to adorn the
walls with his new acquisitions, using the hammer from the top of a
step-ladder in order to save the expense of a professional picture
hanger. He wished to set his children the example of economy. In
his idle hours, he would change the position of the heaviest pieces
of furniture, trying every kind of combination. This employment
reminded him of those happy days when he handled great sacks of
wheat and bundles of hides on the ranch. Whenever his son noticed
that he was looking thoughtfully at a monumental sideboard or heavy
piece, he prudently betook himself to other haunts.
Desnoyers stood a little in awe of the two house-men, very solemn,
correct creatures always in dress suit, who could not hide their
astonishment at seeing a man with an income of more than a million
francs engaged in such work. Finally it was the two coppery maids
who aided their Patron, the three working contentedly together like
companions in exile.
Four automobiles completed the luxuriousness of the family. The
children would have been more content with one--small and dashing,
in the very latest style. But Desnoyers was not the man to let a
bargain slip past him, so one after the other, he had picked up the
four, tempted by the price. They were as enormous and majestic as
coaches of state. Their entrance into a street made the passers-by
turn and stare. The chauffeur needed two assistants to help him
keep this flock of mastodons in order, but the proud owner thought
only of the skill with which he had gotten the best of the salesmen,
anxious to get such monuments out of their sight.
To his children he was always recommending simplicity and economy.
"We are not as rich as you suppose. We own a good deal of property,
but it produces a scanty income."
And then, after refusing a domestic expenditure of two hundred
francs, he would put five thousand into an unnecessary purchase just
because it would mean a great loss to the seller. Julio and his
sister kept protesting to their mother, Dona Luisa--Chichi even
going so far as to announce that she would never marry a man like
"Hush, hush!" exclaimed the scandalized Creole. "He has his little
peculiarities, but he is very good. Never has he given me any cause
for complaint. I only hope that you may be lucky enough to find his
Her husband's quarrelsomeness, his irritable character and his
masterful will all sank into insignificance when she thought of his
unvarying fidelity. In so many years of married life . . . nothing!
His faithfulness had been unexceptional even in the country where
many, surrounded by beasts, and intent on increasing their flocks,
had seemed to become contaminated by the general animalism. She
remembered her father only too well! . . . Even her sister was
obliged to live in apparent calmness with the vainglorious Karl,
quite capable of disloyalty not because of any special lust, but
just to imitate the doings of his superiors.
Desnoyers and his wife were plodding through life in a routine
affection, reminding Dona Luisa, in her limited imagination, of the
yokes of oxen on the ranch who refused to budge whenever another
animal was substituted for the regular companion. Her husband
certainly was quick tempered, holding her responsible for all the
whims with which he exasperated his children, yet he could never
bear to have her out of his sight. The afternoons at the hotel
Drouot would be most insipid for him unless she was at his side, the
confidante of his plans and wrathful outbursts.
"To-day there is to be a sale of jewels; shall we go?"
He would make this proposition in such a gentle and coaxing voice--
the voice that Dona Luisa remembered in their first talks around the
old home. And so they would go together, but by different routes;--
she in one of the monumental vehicles because, accustomed to the
leisurely carriage rides of the ranch, she no longer cared to walk;
and Desnoyers--although owner of the four automobiles, heartily
abominating them because he was conservative and uneasy with the
complications of new machinery--on foot under the pretext that,
through lack of work, his body needed the exercise. When they met
in the crowded salesrooms, they proceeded to examine the jewels
together, fixing beforehand, the price they would offer. But he,
quick to become exasperated by opposition, always went further,
hurling numbers at his competitors as though they were blows. After
such excursions, the senora would appear as majestic and dazzling as
a basilica of Byzantium--ears and neck decorated with great pearls,
her bosom a constellation of brilliants, her hands radiating points
of light of all colors of the rainbow.
"Too much, mama," Chichi would protest. "They will take you for a
pawnbroker's lady!" But the Creole, satisfied with her splendor,
the crowning glory of a humble life, attributed her daughter's
faultfinding to envy. Chichi was only a girl now, but later on she
would thank her for having collected all these gems for her.
Already the home was unable to accommodate so many purchases. In
the cellars were piled up enough paintings, furniture, statues, and
draperies to equip several other dwellings. Don Marcelo began to
complain of the cramped space in an apartment costing twenty-eight
thousand francs a year--in reality large enough for a family four
times the size of his. He was beginning to deplore being obliged to
renounce some very tempting furniture bargains when a real estate
agent smelled out the foreigner and relieved him of his
embarrassment. Why not buy a castle? . . .
The entire family was delighted with the idea. An historic castle,
the most historic that could be found, would supplement their
luxurious establishment. Chichi paled with pride. Some of her
friends had castles. Others, of old colonial family, who were
accustomed to look down upon her for her country bringing up, would
now cry with envy upon learning of this acquisition which was almost
a patent of nobility. The mother smiled in the hope of months in
the country which would recall the simple and happy life of her
youth. Julio was less enthusiastic. The "old man" would expect him
to spend much time away from Paris, but he consoled himself by
reflecting that the suburban place would provide excuse for frequent
Desnoyers thought of the relatives in Berlin. Why should he not
have his castle like the others? . . . The bargains were alluring.
Historic mansions by the dozen were offered him. Their owners,
exhausted by the expense of maintaining them, were more than anxious
to sell. So he bought the castle of Villeblanche-sur-Marne, built
in the time of the religious wars--a mixture of palace and fortress
with an Italian Renaissance facade, gloomy towers with pointed
hoods, and moats in which swans were swimming.
He could now live with some tracts of land over which to exercise
his authority, struggling again with the resistance of men and
things. Besides, the vast proportions of the rooms of the castle
were very tempting and bare of furniture. This opportunity for
placing the overflow from his cellars plunged him again into buying.
With this atmosphere of lordly gloom, the antiques would harmonize
beautifully, without that cry of protest which they always seemed to
make when placed in contact with the glaring white walls of modern
habitations. The historic residence required an endless outlay; on
that account it had changed owners so many times.
But he and the land understood each other beautifully. . . . So at
the same time that he was filling the salons, he was going to begin
farming and stock-raising in the extensive parks--a reproduction in
miniature of his enterprises in South America. The property ought
to be made self-supporting. Not that he had any fear of the
expenses, but he did not intend to lose money on the proposition.
The acquisition of the castle brought Desnoyers a true friendship--
the chief advantage in the transaction. He became acquainted with a
neighbor, Senator Lacour, who twice had been Minister of State, and
was now vegetating in the senate, silent during its sessions, but
restless and voluble in the corridors in order to maintain his
influence. He was a prominent figure of the republican nobility, an
aristocrat of the new regime that had sprung from the agitations of
the Revolution, just as the titled nobility had won their spurs in
the Crusades. His great-grandfather had belonged to the Convention.
His father had figured in the Republic of 1848. He, as the son of
an exile who had died in banishment, had when very young marched
behind the grandiloquent figure of Gambetta, and always spoke in
glowing terms of the Master, in the hope that some of his rays might
be reflected on his disciple. His son Rene, a pupil of the Ecole
Centrale regarded his father as "a rare old sport," laughing a
little at his romantic and humanitarian republicanism. He,
nevertheless, was counting much on that same official protection
treasured by four generations of Lacours dedicated to the service of
the Republic, to assist him when he became an engineer.
Don Marcelo who used to look uneasily upon any new friendship,
fearing a demand for a loan, gave himself up with enthusiasm to
intimacy with this "grand man." The personage admired riches and
recognized, besides, a certain genius in this millionaire from the
other side of the sea accustomed to speaking of limitless pastures
and immense herds. Their intercourse was more than the mere
friendliness of a country neighborhood, and continued on after their
return to Paris. Finally Rene visited the home on the avenida
Victor Hugo as though it were his own.
The only disappointments in Desnoyers' new life came from his
children. Chichi irritated him because of the independence of her
tastes. She did not like antiques, no matter how substantial and
magnificent they might be, much preferring the frivolities of the
latest fashion. She accepted all her father's gifts with great
indifference. Before an exquisite blonde piece of lace, centuries
old, picked up at auction, she made a wry face, saying, "I would
much rather have had a new dress costing three hundred francs." She
and her brother were solidly opposed to everything old.
Now that his daughter was already a woman, he had confided her
absolutely to the care of Dona Luisa. But the former "Peoncito" was
not showing much respect for the advice and commands of the good
natured Creole. She had taken up roller-skating with enthusiasm,
regarding it as the most elegant of diversions. She would go every
afternoon to the Ice Palace, Dona Luisa chaperoning her, although to
do this she was obliged to give up accompanying her husband to his
sales. Oh, the hours of deadly weariness before that frozen oval
ring, watching the white circle of balancing human monkeys gliding
by on runners to the sound of an organ! . . . Her daughter would
pass and repass before her tired eyes, rosy from the exercise,
spirals of hair escaped from her hat, streaming out behind, the
folds of her skirt swinging above her skates--handsome, athletic and
Amazonian, with the rude health of a child who, according to her
father, "had been weaned on beefsteaks."
Finally Dona Luisa rebelled against this troublesome vigilance,
preferring to accompany her husband on his hunt for underpriced
riches. Chichi went to the skating rink with one of the dark-
skinned maids, passing the afternoons with her sporty friends of the
new world. Together they ventilated their ideas under the glare of
the easy life of Paris, freed from the scruples and conventions of
their native land. They all thought themselves older than they
were, delighting to discover in each other unsuspected charms. The
change from the other hemisphere had altered their sense of values.
Some were even writing verses in French. And Desnoyers became
alarmed, giving free rein to his bad humor, when Chichi of evenings,
would bring forth as aphorisms that which she and her friends had
been discussing, as a summary of their readings and observations.--
"Life is life, and one must live! . . . I will marry the man I love,
no matter who he may be. . . ."
But the daughter's independence was as nothing compared to the worry
which the other child gave the Desnoyers. Ay, that other one! . . .
Julio, upon arriving in Paris, had changed the bent of his
aspirations. He no longer thought of becoming an engineer; he
wished to become an artist. Don Marcelo objected in great
consternation, but finally yielded. Let it be painting! The
important thing was to have some regular profession. The father,
while he considered property and wealth as sacred rights, felt that
no one should enjoy them who had not worked to acquire them.
Recalling his apprenticeship as a wood carver, he began to hope that
the artistic instincts which poverty had extinguished in him were,
perhaps, reappearing in his son. What if this lazy boy, this lively
genius, hesitating before taking up his walk in life, should turn
out to be a famous painter, after all! . . . So he agreed to all of
Julio's caprices, the budding artist insisting that for his first
efforts in drawing and coloring, he needed a separate apartment
where he could work with more freedom. His father, therefore,
established him near his home, in the rue de la Pompe in the former
studio of a well-known foreign painter. The workroom and its
annexes were far too large for an amateur, but the owner had died,
and Desnoyers improved the opportunity offered by the heirs, and
bought at a remarkable bargain, the entire plant, pictures and
Dona Luisa at first visited the studio daily like a good mother,
caring for the well-being of her son that he may work to better
advantage. Taking off her gloves, she emptied the brass trays
filled with cigar stubs and dusted the furniture powdered with the
ashes fallen from the pipes. Julio's visitors, long-haired young
men who spoke of things that she could not understand, seemed to her
rather careless in their manners. . . . Later on she also met there
women, very lightly clad, and was received with scowls by her son.
Wasn't his mother ever going to let him work in peace? . . . So the
poor lady, starting out in the morning toward the rue de la Pompe,
stopped midway and went instead to the church of Saint Honore
The father displayed more prudence. A man of his years could not
expect to mingle with the chums of a young artist. In a few months'
time, Julio passed entire weeks without going to sleep under the
paternal roof. Finally he installed himself permanently in his
studio, occasionally making a flying trip home that his family might
know that he was still in existence. . . . Some mornings, Desnoyers
would arrive at the rue de la Pompe in order to ask a few questions
of the concierge. It was ten o'clock; the artist was sleeping.
Upon returning at midday, he learned that the heavy sleep still
continued. Soon after lunch, another visit to get better news. It
was two o'clock, the young gentleman was just arising. So the
father would retire, muttering stormily--"But when does this painter
ever paint?" . . .
At first Julio had tried to win renown with his brush, believing
that it would prove an easy task. In true artist fashion, he
collected his friends around him, South American boys with nothing
to do but enjoy life, scattering money ostentatiously so that
everybody might know of their generosity. With serene audacity, the
young canvas-dauber undertook to paint portraits. He loved good
painting, "distinctive" painting, with the cloying sweetness of a
romance, that copied only the forms of women. He had money, a good
studio, his father was standing behind him ready to help--why
shouldn't he accomplish as much as many others who lacked his
opportunities? . . .
So he began his work by coloring a canvas entitled, "The Dance of
the Hours," a mere pretext for copying pretty girls and selecting
buxom models. These he would sketch at a mad speed, filling in the
outlines with blobs of multi-colored paint, and up to this point all
went well. Then he would begin to vacillate, remaining idle before
the picture only to put it in the corner in hope of later
inspiration. It was the same way with his various studies of
feminine heads. Finding that he was never able to finish anything,
he soon became resigned, like one who pants with fatigue before an
obstacle waiting for a providential interposition to save him. The
important thing was to be a painter . . . even though he might not
paint anything. This afforded him the opportunity, on the plea of
lofty aestheticism, of sending out cards of invitation and asking
light women to his studio. He lived during the night. Don Marcelo,
upon investigating the artist's work, could not contain his
indignation. Every morning the two Desnoyers were accustomed to
greet the first hours of dawn--the father leaping from his bed, the
son, on his way home to his studio to throw himself upon his couch
not to wake till midday.
The credulous Dona Luisa would invent the most absurd explanations
to defend her son. Who could tell? Perhaps he had the habit of
painting during the night, utilizing it for original work. Men
resort to so many devilish things! . . .
Desnoyers knew very well what these nocturnal gusts of genius were
amounting to--scandals in the restaurants of Montmartre, and
scrimmages, many scrimmages. He and his gang, who believed that at
seven a full dress or Tuxedo was indispensable, were like a band of
Indians, bringing to Paris the wild customs of the plains.
Champagne always made them quarrelsome. So they broke and paid, but
their generosities were almost invariably followed by a scuffle. No
one could surpass Julio in the quick slap and the ready card. His
father heard with a heavy heart the news brought him by some friends
thinking to flatter his vanity--his son was always victorious in
these gentlemanly encounters; he it was who always scratched the
enemy's skin. The painter knew more about fencing than art. He was
a champion with various weapons; he could box, and was even skilled
in the favorite blows of the prize fighters of the slums. "Useless
as a drone, and as dangerous, too," fretted his father. And yet in
the back of his troubled mind fluttered an irresistible
satisfaction--an animal pride in the thought that this hare-brained
terror was his own.
For a while, he thought that he had hit upon a way of withdrawing
his son from such an existence. The relatives in Berlin had visited
the Desnoyers in their castle of Villeblanche. With good-natured
superiority, Karl von Hartrott had appreciated the rich and rather
absurd accumulations of his brother-in-law. They were not bad; he
admitted that they gave a certain cachet to the home in Paris and to
the castle. They smacked of the possessions of titled nobility.
But Germany! . . . The comforts and luxuries in his country! . . .
He just wished his brother-in-law to admire the way he lived and the
noble friendships that embellished his opulence. And so he insisted
in his letters that the Desnoyers family should return their visit.
This change of environment might tone Julio down a little. Perhaps
his ambition might waken on seeing the diligence of his cousins,
each with a career. The Frenchman had, besides, an underlying
belief in the more corrupt influence of Paris as compared with the
purity of the customs in Patriarchal Germany.
They were there four months. In a little while Desnoyers felt ready
to retreat. Each to his own kind; he would never be able to
understand such people. Exceedingly amiable, with an abject
amiability and evident desire to please, but constantly blundering
through a tactless desire to make their grandeur felt. The high-
toned friends of Hartrott emphasized their love for France, but it
was the pious love that a weak and mischievous child inspires,
needing protection. And they would accompany their affability with
all manner of inopportune memories of the wars in which France had
been conquered. Everything in Germany--a monument, a railroad
station, a simple dining-room device, instantly gave rise to
glorious comparisons. "In France, you do not have this," "Of
course, you never saw anything like this in America."
Don Marcelo came away fatigued by so much condescension, and his
wife and daughter refused to be convinced that the elegance of
Berlin could be superior to Paris. Chichi, with audacious
sacrilege, scandalized her cousins by declaring that she could not
abide the corseted officers with immovable monocle, who bowed to the
women with such automatic rigidity, blending their gallantries with
an air of superiority.
Julio, guided by his cousins, was saturated in the virtuous
atmosphere of Berlin. With the oldest, "The Sage," he had nothing
to do. He was a poor creature devoted to his books who patronized
all the family with a protecting air. It was the others, the sub-
lieutenants or military students, who proudly showed him the rounds
of German joy.
Julio was accordingly introduced to all the night restaurants--
imitations of those in Paris, but on a much larger scale. The women
who in Paris might be counted by the dozens appeared here in
hundreds. The scandalous drunkenness here never came by chance, but
always by design as an indispensable part of the gaiety. All was
grandiose, glittering, colossal. The libertines diverted themselves
in platoons, the public got drunk in companies, the harlots
presented themselves in regiments. He felt a sensation of disgust
before these timid and servile females, accustomed to blows, who
were so eagerly trying to reimburse themselves for the losses and
exposures of their business. For him, it was impossible to
celebrate with hoarse ha-has, like his cousins, the discomfiture of
these women when they realized that they had wasted so many hours
without accomplishing more than abundant drinking. The gross
obscenity, so public and noisy, like a parade of riches, was
loathsome to Julio. "There is nothing like this in Paris," his
cousins repeatedly exulted as they admired the stupendous salons,
the hundreds of men and women in pairs, the thousands of tipplers.
"No, there certainly was nothing like that in Paris." He was sick
of such boundless pretension. He seemed to be attending a fiesta of
hungry mariners anxious at one swoop to make amends for all former
privations. Like his father, he longed to get away. It offended
his aesthetic sense.
Don Marcelo returned from this visit with melancholy resignation.
Those people had undoubtedly made great strides. He was not such a
blind patriot that he could not admit what was so evident. Within a
few years they had transformed their country, and their industry was
astonishing . . . but, well . . . it was simply impossible to have
anything to do with them. Each to his own, but may they never take
a notion to envy their neighbor! . . . Then he immediately repelled
this last suspicion with the optimism of a business man.
"They are going to be very rich," he thought. "Their affairs are
prospering, and he that is rich does not hunt quarrels. That war of
which some crazy fools are always dreaming would be an impossible
Young Desnoyers renewed his Parisian existence, living entirely in
the studio and going less and less to his father's home. Dona Luisa
began to speak of a certain Argensola, a very learned young
Spaniard, believing that his counsels might prove most helpful to
Julio. She did not know exactly whether this new companion was
friend, master or servant. The studio habitues also had their
doubts. The literary ones always spoke of Argensola as a painter.
The painters recognized only his ability as a man of letters. He
was among those who used to come up to the studio of winter
afternoons, attracted by the ruddy glow of the stove and the wines
secretly provided by the mother, holding forth authoritatively
before the often-renewed bottle and the box of cigars lying open on
the table. One night, he slept on the divan, as he had no regular
quarters. After that first night, he lived entirely in the studio.
Julio soon discovered in him an admirable reflex of his own
personality. He knew that Argensola had come third-class from
Madrid with twenty francs in his pocket, in order to "capture
glory," to use his own words. Upon observing that the Spaniard was
painting with as much difficulty as himself, with the same wooden
and childish strokes, which are so characteristic of the make-
believe artists and pot-boilers, the routine workers concerned
themselves with color and other rank fads. Argensola was a
psychological artist, a painter of souls. And his disciple, felt
astonished and almost displeased on learning what a comparatively
simple thing it was to paint a soul. Upon a bloodless countenance,
with a chin as sharp as a dagger, the gifted Spaniard would trace a
pair of nearly round eyes, and at the centre of each pupil he would
aim a white brush stroke, a point of light . . . the soul. Then,
planting himself before the canvas, he would proceed to classify
this soul with his inexhaustible imagination, attributing to it
almost every kind of stress and extremity. So great was the sway of
his rapture that Julio, too, was able to see all that the artist
flattered himself into believing that he had put into the owlish
eyes. He, also, would paint souls . . . souls of women.
In spite of the ease with which he developed his psychological
creations, Argensola preferred to talk, stretched on a divan, or to
read, hugging the fire while his friend and protector was outside.
Another advantage this fondness for reading gave young Desnoyers was
that he was no longer obliged to open a volume, scanning the index
and last pages "just to get the idea." Formerly when frequenting
society functions, he had been guilty of coolly asking an author
which was his best book--his smile of a clever man--giving the
writer to understand that he merely enquired so as not to waste time
on the other volumes. Now it was no longer necessary to do this;
Argensola would read for him. As soon as Julio would see him
absorbed in a book, he would demand an immediate share: "Tell me the
story." So the "secretary," not only gave him the plots of comedies
and novels, but also detailed the argument of Schopenhauer or of
Nietzsche . . . Dona Luisa almost wept on hearing her visitors--
with that benevolence which wealth always inspires--speak of her son
as "a rather gay young man, but wonderfully well read!"
In exchange for his lessons, Argensola received, much the same
treatment as did the Greek slaves who taught rhetoric to the young
patricians of decadent Rome. In the midst of a dissertation, his
lord and friend would interrupt him with--"Get my dress suit ready.
I am invited out this evening."
At other times, when the instructor was luxuriating in bodily
comfort, with a book in one hand near the roaring stove, seeing
through the windows the gray and rainy afternoon, his disciple would
suddenly appear saying, "Quick, get out! . . . There's a woman
And Argensola, like a dog who gets up and shakes himself, would
disappear to continue his reading in some miserable little coffee
house in the neighborhood.
In his official capacity, this widely gifted man often descended
from the peaks of intellectuality to the vulgarities of everyday
life. He was the steward of the lord of the manor, the intermediary
between the pocketbook and those who appeared bill in hand.
"Money!" he would say laconically at the end of the month, and
Desnoyers would break out into complaints and curses. Where on
earth was he to get it, he would like to know. His father was as
regular as a machine, and would never allow the slightest advance
upon the following month. He had to submit to a rule of misery.
Three thousand francs a month!--what could any decent person do with
that? . . . He was even trying to cut THAT down, to tighten the
band, interfering in the running of his house, so that Dona Luisa
could not make presents to her son. In vain he had appealed to the
various usurers of Paris, telling them of his property beyond the
ocean. These gentlemen had the youth of their own country in the
hollow of their hand and were not obliged to risk their capital in
other lands. The same hard luck pursued him when, with sudden
demonstrations of affection, he had tried to convince Don Marcelo
that three thousand francs a month was but a niggardly trifle.
The millionaire fairly snorted with indignation. "Three thousand
francs a trifle!" And the debts besides, that he often had to pay
for his son! . . .
"Why, when I was your age," . . . he would begin saying--but Julio
would suddenly bring the dialogue to a close. He had heard his
father's story too many times. Ah, the stingy old miser! What he
had been giving him all these months was no more than the interest
on his grandfather's legacy. . . . And by the advice of Argensola
he ventured to get control of the field. He was planning to hand
over the management of his land to Celedonio, the old overseer, who
was now such a grandee in his country that Julio ironically called
him "my uncle."
Desnoyers accepted this rebellion coldly. "It appears just to me.
You are now of age!" Then he promptly reduced to extremes his
oversight of his home, forbidding Dona Luisa to handle any money.
Henceforth he regarded his son as an adversary, treating him during
his lightning apparitions at the avenue Victor Hugo with glacial
courtesy as though he were a stranger.
For a while a transitory opulence enlivened the studio. Julio had
increased his expenses, considering himself rich. But the letters
from his uncle in America soon dissipated these illusions. At first
the remittances exceeded very slightly the monthly allowance that
his father had made him. Then it began to diminish in an alarming
manner. According to Celedonio, all the calamities on earth seemed
to he falling upon his plantation. The pasture land was yielding
scantily, sometimes for lack of rain, sometimes because of floods,
and the herds were perishing by hundreds. Julio required more
income, and the crafty half-breed sent him what he asked for, but
simply as a loan, reserving the return until they should adjust
In spite of such aid, young Desnoyers was suffering great want. He
was gambling now in an elegant circle, thinking thus to compensate
for his periodical scrimpings; but this resort was only making the
remittances from America disappear with greater rapidity. . . .
That such a man as he was should be tormented so for the lack of a
few thousand francs! What else was a millionaire father for?
If the creditors began threatening, the poor youth had to bring the
secretary into play, ordering him to see the mother immediately; he
himself wished to avoid her tears and reproaches. So Argensola
would slip like a pickpocket up the service stairway of the great
house on the avenue Victor Hugo. The place in which he transacted
his ambassadorial business was the kitchen, with great danger that
the terrible Desnoyers might happen in there, on one of his
perambulations as a laboring man, and surprise the intruder.
Dona Luisa would weep, touched by the heartrending tales of the
messenger. What could she do! She was as poor as her maids; she
had jewels, many jewels, but not a franc. Then Argensola came to
the rescue with a solution worthy of his experience. He would
smooth the way for the good mother, leaving some of her jewels at
the Mont-de-Piete. He knew the way to raise money on them. So the
lady accepted his advice, giving him, however, only jewels of medium
value as she suspected that she might never see them again. Later
scruples made her at times refuse flatly. Suppose Don Marcelo
should ever find it out, what a scene! . . . But the Spaniard
deemed it unseemly to return empty-handed, and always bore away a
basket of bottles from the well-stocked wine-cellar of the
Every morning Dona Luisa went to Saint-Honore-d'Eylau to pray for
her son. She felt that this was her own church. It was a
hospitable and familiar island in the unexplored ocean of Paris.
Here she could exchange discreet salutations with her neighbors from
the different republics of the new world. She felt nearer to God
and the saints when she could hear in the vestibule conversations in
It was, moreover, a sort of salon in which took place the great
events of the South American colony. One day was a wedding with
flowers, orchestra and chanting chorals. With Chichi beside her,
she greeted those she knew, congratulating the bride and groom.
Another day it was the funeral of an ex-president of some republic,
or some other foreign dignitary ending in Paris his turbulent
existence. Poor President! Poor General! . . .
Dona Luisa remembered the dead man. She had seen him many times in
that church devoutly attending mass and she was indignant at the
evil tongues which, under the cover of a funeral oration, recalled
the shootings and bank failures in his country. Such a good and
religious gentleman! May God receive his soul in glory! . . . And
upon going out into the square, she would look with tender eyes upon
the young men and women on horseback going to the Bois de Boulogne,
the luxurious automobiles, the morning radiant in the sunshine, all
the primeval freshness of the early hours--realizing what a
beautiful thing it is to live.
Her devout expression of gratitude for mere existence usually
included the monument in the centre of the square, all bristling
with wings as if about to fly away from the ground. Victor Hugo! . . .
It was enough for her to have heard this name on the lips of
her son to make her contemplate the statue with a family interest.
The only thing that she knew about the poet was that he had died.
Of this she was almost sure, and she imagined that in life, he was a
great friend of Julio's because she had so often heard her son
repeat his name.
Ay, her son! . . . All her thoughts, her conjectures, her desires,
converged on him and her strong-willed husband. She longed for the
men to come to an understanding and put an end to a struggle in
which she was the principal victim. Would not God work this
miracle? . . . Like an invalid who goes from one sanitarium to
another in pursuit of health, she gave up the church on her street
to attend the Spanish chapel on the avenue Friedland. Here she
considered herself even more among her own.
In the midst of the fine and elegant South American ladies who
looked as if they had just escaped from a fashion sheet, her eyes
sought other women, not so well dressed, fat, with theatrical ermine
and antique jewelry. When these high-born dames met each other in
the vestibule, they spoke with heavy voices and expressive gestures,
emphasizing their words energetically. The daughter of the ranch
ventured to salute them because she had subscribed to all their pet
charities, and upon seeing her greeting returned, she felt a
satisfaction which made her momentarily forget her woes. They
belonged to those families which her father had so greatly admired
without knowing why. They came from the "mother country," and to
the good Chicha were all Excelentisimas or Altisimas, related to
kings. She did not know whether to give them her hand or bend the
knee, as she had vaguely heard was the custom at court. But soon
she recalled her preoccupation and went forward to wrestle in prayer
with God. Ay, that he would mercifully remember her! That he would
not long forget her son! . . .
It was Glory that remembered Julio, stretching out to him her arms
of light, so that he suddenly awoke to find himself surrounded by
all the honors and advantages of celebrity. Fame cunningly
surprises mankind on the most crooked and unexpected of roads.
Neither the painting of souls nor a fitful existence full of
extravagant love affairs and complicated duels had brought Desnoyers
this renown. It was Glory that put him on his feet.
A new pleasure for the delight of humanity had come from the other
side of the seas. People were asking one another in the mysterious
tones of the initiated who wish to recognize a familiar spirit, "Do
you know how to tango? . . ." The tango had taken possession of the
world. It was the heroic hymn of a humanity that was suddenly
concentrating its aspirations on the harmonious rhythm of the thigh
joints, measuring its intelligence by the agility of its feet. An
incoherent and monotonous music of African inspiration was
satisfying the artistic ideals of a society that required nothing
better. The world was dancing . . . dancing . . . dancing.
A negro dance from Cuba introduced into South America by mariners
who shipped jerked beef to the Antilles, conquered the entire earth
in a few months, completely encircling it, bounding victoriously
from nation to nation . . . like the Marseillaise. It was even
penetrating into the most ceremonious courts, overturning all
traditions of conservation and etiquette like a song of the
Revolution--the revolution of frivolity. The Pope even had to
become a master of the dance, recommending the "Furlana" instead of
the "Tango," since all the Christian world, regardless of sects, was
united in the common desire to agitate its feet with the tireless
frenzy of the "possessed" of the Middle Ages.
Julio Desnoyers, upon meeting this dance of his childhood in full
swing in Paris, devoted himself to it with the confidence that an
old love inspires. Who could have foretold that when as a student,
he was frequenting the lowest dance halls in Buenos Aires, watched
by the police, that he was really serving an apprenticeship to
Glory? . . .
From five to seven, in the salons of the Champs d'Elysees where it
cost five francs for a cup of tea and the privilege of joining in
the sacred dance, hundreds of eyes followed him with admiration.
"He has the key," said the women, appraising his slender elegance,
medium stature, and muscular springs. And he, in abbreviated jacket
and expansive shirt bosom, with his small, girlish feet encased in
high-heeled patent leathers with white tops, danced gravely,
thoughtfully, silently, like a mathematician working out a problem,
under the lights that shed bluish tones upon his plastered, glossy
locks. Ladies asked to be presented to him in the sweet hope that
their friends might envy them when they beheld them in the arms of
the master. Invitations simply rained upon Julio. The most
exclusive salons were thrown open to him so that every afternoon he
made a dozen new acquaintances. The fashion had brought over
professors from the other side of the sea, compatriots from the
slums of Buenos Aires, haughty and confused at being applauded like
famous lecturers or tenors; but Julio triumphed over these
vulgarians who danced for money, and the incidents of his former
life were considered by the women as deeds of romantic gallantry.
"You are killing yourself," Argensola would say. "You are dancing
The glory of his friend and master was only making more trouble for
him. His placid readings before the fire were now subject to daily
interruptions. It was impossible to read more than a chapter. The
celebrated man was continually ordering him to betake himself to the
street. "A new lesson," sighed the parasite. And when he was alone
in the studio numerous callers--all women, some inquisitive and
aggressive, others sad, with a deserted air--were constantly
interrupting his thoughtful pursuits.
One of them terrified the occupants of the studio with her
insistence. She was a North American of uncertain age, somewhere
between thirty-two and fifty-nine, with short skirts that whenever
she sat down, seemed to fly up as if moved by a spring. Various
dances with Desnoyers and a visit to the rue de la Pompe she seemed
to consider as her sacred rights, and she pursued the master with
the desperation of an abandoned zealot. Julio had made good his
escape upon learning that this beauty of youthful elegance--when
seen from the back--had two grandchildren. "MASTER Desnoyers has
gone out," Argensola would invariably say upon receiving her. And,
thereupon she would burst into tears and threats, longing to kill
herself then and there that her corpse might frighten away those
other women who would come to rob her of what she considered her
special privilege. Now it was Argensola who sped his companion to
the street when he wished to be alone. He had only to remark
casually, "I believe that Yankee is coming," and the great man would
beat a hasty retreat, oftentimes in his desperate flight availing
himself of the back stairs.
At this time began to develop the most important event in Julio's
existence. The Desnoyers family was to be united with that of
Senator Lacour. Rene, his only son, had succeeded in awakening in
Chichi a certain interest that was almost love. The dignitary
enjoyed thinking of his son allied to the boundless plains and
immense herds whose description always affected him like a
marvellous tale. He was a widower, but he enjoyed giving at his
home famous banquets and parties. Every new celebrity immediately
suggested to him the idea of giving a dinner. No illustrious person
passing through Paris, polar explorer or famous singer, could escape
being exhibited in the dining room of Lacour. The son of Desnoyers-
-at whom he had scarcely glanced before--now inspired him with
sudden interest. The senator was a thoroughly up-to-date man who
did not classify glory nor distinguish reputations. It was enough
for him that a name should be on everybody's lips for him to accept
it with enthusiasm. When Julio responded to his invitation, he
presented him with pride to his friends, and came very near to
calling him "dear master." The tango was monopolizing all
conversation nowadays. Even in the Academy they were taking it up
in order to demonstrate that the youth of ancient Athens had
diverted itself in a somewhat similar way. . . . And Lacour had
dreamed all his life of an Athenian republic.
At these reunions, Desnoyers became acquainted with the Lauriers.
He was an engineer who owned a motor-factory for automobiles in the
outskirts of Paris--a man about thirty-five, tall, rather heavy and
silent, with a deliberate air as though he wished to see deeply into
men and things. She was of a light, frivolous character, loving
life for the satisfactions and pleasures which it brought her,
appearing to accept with smiling conformity the silent and grave
adoration of her husband. She could not well do less with a man of
his merits. Besides, she had brought to the marriage a dowry of
three hundred thousand francs, a capital which had enabled the
engineer to enlarge his business. The senator had been instrumental
in arranging this marriage. He was interested in Laurier because he
was the son of an old friend.
Upon Marguerite Laurier the presence of Julio flashed like a ray of
sunlight in the tiresome salon of Lacour. She was dancing the fad
of the hour and frequenting the tango teas where reigned the adored
Desnoyers. And to think that she was being entertained with this
celebrated and interesting man that the other women were raving
about! . . . In order that he might not take her for a mere middle-
class woman like the other guests at the senator's party, she spoke
of her modistes, all from the rue de la Paix, declaring gravely that
no woman who had any self-respect could possibly walk through the
streets wearing a gown costing less than eight hundred francs, and
that the hat of a thousand francs--but a few years ago, an
astonishing novelty--was nowadays a very ordinary affair.
This acquaintanceship made the "little Laurier," as her friends
called her notwithstanding her tallness, much sought by the master
of the dance, in spite of the looks of wrath and envy hurled at her
by the others. What a triumph for the wife of a simple engineer who
was used to going everywhere in her mother's automobile! . . .
Julio at first had supposed her like all the others who were
languishing in his arms, following the rhythmic complications of the
dance, but he soon found that she was very different. Her coquetry
after the first confidential words, but increased his admiration.
He really had never before been thrown with a woman of her class.
Those of his first social period were the habituees of the night
restaurants paid for their witchery. Now Glory was tossing into his
arms ladies of high position but with an unconfessable past, anxious
for novelties although exceedingly mature. This middle class woman
who would advance so confidently toward him and then retreat with
such capricious outbursts of modesty, was a new type for him.
The tango salons soon began to suffer a great loss. Desnoyers was
permitting himself to be seen there with less frequency, handing
Glory over to the professionals. Sometimes entire weeks slipped by
without the five-to-seven devotees being able to admire his black
locks and his tiny patent leathers twinkling under the lights in
time with his graceful movements.
Marguerite was also avoiding these places. The meetings of the two
were taking place in accordance with what she had read in the love
stories of Paris. She was going in search of Julio, fearing to be
recognized, tremulous with emotion, selecting her most inconspicuous
suit, and covering her face with a close veil--"the veil of
adultery," as her friends called it. They had their trysts in the
least-frequented squares of the district, frequently changing the
places, like timid birds that at the slightest disturbance fly to
perch a little further away. Sometimes they would meet in the
Buttes Chaumont, at others they preferred the gardens on the left
bank of the Seine, the Luxembourg, and even the distant Parc de
Montsouris. She was always in tremors of terror lest her husband
might surprise them, although she well knew that the industrious
engineer was in his factory a great distance away. Her agitated
aspect, her excessive precautions in order to slip by unseen, only
served to attract the attention of the passers-by. Although Julio
was waxing impatient with the annoyance of this wandering love
affair which only amounted to a few fugitive kisses, he finally held
his peace, dominated by Marguerite's pleadings.
She did not wish merely to be one in the procession of his
sweethearts; it was necessary to convince herself first that this
love was going to last forever. It was her first slip and she
wanted it to be the last. Ay, her former spotless reputation! . . .
What would people say! . . . The two returned to their adolescent
period, loving each other as they had never loved before, with the
confident and childish passion of fifteen-year-olds.
Julio had leaped from childhood to libertinism, taking his
initiation into life at a single bound. She had desired marriage in
order to acquire the respect and liberty of a married woman, but
feeling towards her husband only a vague gratitude. "We end where
others begin," she had said to Desnoyers.
Their passion took the form of an intense, reciprocal and vulgar
love. They felt a romantic sentimentality in clasping hands or
exchanging kisses on a garden bench in the twilight. He was
treasuring a ringlet of Marguerite's--although he doubted its
genuineness, with a vague suspicion that it might be one of the
latest wisps of fashion. She would cuddle down with her head on his
shoulder, as though imploring his protection, although always in the
open air. If Julio ever attempted greater intimacy in a carriage,
madame would repel him most vigorously. A contradictory duality
appeared to inspire her actions. Every morning, on awaking, she
would decide to yield, but then when near him, her middle-class
respectability, jealous of its reputation, kept her faithful to her
One day she agreed to visit his studio with the interest that the
haunts of the loved one always inspires. "Promise that you will not
take advantage of me." He readily promised, swearing that
everything should be as Marguerite wished. . . . But from that day
they were no longer seen in the gardens, nor wandering around
persecuted by the winter winds. They preferred the studio, and
Argensola had to rearrange his existence, seeking the stove of
another artist friend, in order to continue his reading.
This state of things lasted two months. They never knew what secret
force suddenly disturbed their tranquility. Perhaps one of her
friends, guessing at the truth, had told the husband anonymously.
Perhaps it was she herself unconsciously, with her inexpressible
happiness, her tardy returns home when dinner was already served,
and the sudden aversion which she showed toward the engineer in
their hours alone, trying to keep her heart faithful to her lover.
To divide her interest between her legal companion and the man she
loved was a torment that her simple and vehement enthusiasm could
While she was hurrying one night through the rue de la Pompe,
looking at her watch and trembling with impatience at not finding an
automobile or even a cab, a man stood in front of her. . . .
Etienne Laurier! She always shuddered with fear on recalling that
hour. For a moment she believed that he was going to kill her.
Serious men, quiet and diffident, are most terrible in their
explosions of wrath. Her husband knew everything. With the same
patience that he employed in solving his industrial problems, he had
been studying her day by day, without her ever suspecting the
watchfulness behind that impassive countenance. Then he had
followed her in order to complete the evidence of his misfortune.
Marguerite had never supposed that he could be so common and noisy
in his anger. She had expected that he would accept the facts
coldly with that slight tinge of philosophical irony usually shown
by distinguished men, as the husbands of her friends had done. But
the poor engineer who, outside of his work, saw only his wife,
loving her as a woman, and adoring her as a dainty and superior
being, a model of grace and elegance, could not endure the thought
of her downfall, and cried and threatened without reserve, so that
the scandal became known throughout their entire circle of friends.
The senator felt greatly annoyed in remembering that it was in his
exclusive home that the guilty ones had become acquainted; but his
displeasure was visited upon the husband. What lack of good
taste! . . . Women will be women, and everything is capable of
adjustment. But before the imprudent outbursts of this frantic
devil no elegant solution was possible, and there was now nothing
to do but to begin divorce proceedings.
Desnoyers, senior, was very indignant upon learning of this last
escapade of his son. He had always had a great liking for Laurier.
That instinctive bond which exists between men of industry, patient
and silent, had made them very congenial. At the senator's
receptions he had always talked with the engineer about the progress
of his business, interesting himself in the development of that
factory of which he always spoke with the affection of a father.
The millionaire, in spite of his reputation for miserliness, had
even volunteered his disinterested support if at any time it should
become necessary to enlarge the plant. And it was this good man's
happiness that his son, a frivolous and useless dancer, was going to
steal! . . .
At first Laurier spoke of a duel. His wrath was that of a work
horse who breaks the tight reins of his laboring outfit, tosses his
mane, neighs wildly and bites. The father was greatly distressed at
the possibility of such an outcome. . . . One scandal more! Julio
had dedicated the greater part of his existence to the handling of
"He will kill the poor man!" he said to the senator. "I am sure
that he will kill him. It is the logic of life; the good-for-
nothing always kill those who amount to anything."
But there was no killing. The Father of the Republic knew how to
handle the clashing parties, with the same skill that he always
employed in the corridors of the Senate during a ministerial crisis.
The scandal was hushed up. Marguerite went to live with her mother
and took the first steps for a divorce.
Some evenings, when the studio clock was striking seven, she would
yawn and say sadly: "I must go. . . . I have to go, although this
is my true home. . . . Ah, what a pity that we are not married!"
And he, feeling a whole garden of bourgeois virtues, hitherto
ignored, bursting into bloom, repeated in a tone of conviction:
"That's so; why are we not married!"
Their wishes could be realized. The husband was facilitating the
step by his unexpected intervention. So young Desnoyers set forth
for South America in order to raise the money and marry Marguerite.
THE COUSIN FROM BERLIN
The studio of Julio Desnoyers was on the top floor, both the
stairway and the elevator stopping before his door. The two tiny
apartments at the back were lighted by an interior court, their only
means of communication being the service stairway which went on up
to the garrets.
While his comrade was away, Argensola had made the acquaintance of
those in the neighboring lodgings. The largest of the apartments
was empty during the day, its occupants not returning till after
they had taken their evening meal in a restaurant. As both husband
and wife were employed outside, they could not remain at home except
on holidays. The man, vigorous and of a martial aspect, was
superintendent in a big department store. . . . He had been a
soldier in Africa, wore a military decoration, and had the rank of
sub-lieutenant in the Reserves. She was a blonde, heavy and rather
anaemic, with bright eyes and a sentimental expression. On holidays
she spent long hours at the piano, playing musical reveries, always
the same. At other times Argensola saw her through the interior
window working in the kitchen aided by her companion, the two
laughing over their clumsiness and inexperience in preparing the
The concierge thought that this woman was a German, but she herself
said that she was Swiss. She was a cashier in a shop--not the one
in which her husband was employed. In the mornings they left home
together, separating in the Place d'Etoile. At seven in the evening
they met here, greeting each other with a kiss, like lovers who meet
for the first time; and then after supper, they returned to their
nest in the rue de la Pompe. All Argensola's attempts at
friendliness with these neighbors were repulsed because of their
self-centredness. They responded with freezing courtesy; they lived
only for themselves.
The other apartment of two rooms was occupied by a single man. He
was a Russian or Pole who almost always returned with a package of
books, and passed many hours writing near the patio window. From
the very first the Spaniard took him to be a mysterious man,
probably a very distinguished one--a true hero of a novel. The
foreign appearance of this Tchernoff made a great impression upon
him--his dishevelled beard, and oily locks, his spectacles upon a
large nose that seemed deformed by a dagger-thrust. There emanated
from him, like an invisible nimbus, an odor of cheap wine and soiled
When Argensola caught a glimpse of him through the service door he
would say to himself, "Ah, Friend Tchernoff is returning," and
thereupon he would saunter out to the stairway in order to have a
chat with his neighbor. For a long time the stranger discouraged
all approach to his quarters, which fact led the Spaniard to infer
that he devoted himself to alchemy and kindred mysteries. When he
finally was allowed to enter he saw only books, many books, books
everywhere--scattered on the floor, heaped upon benches, piled in
corners, overflowing on to broken-down chairs, old tables, and a bed
that was only made up now and then when the owner, alarmed by the
increasing invasion of dust and cobwebs, was obliged to call in the
aid of his friend, the concierge.
Argensola finally realized, not without a certain disenchantment,
that there was nothing mysterious in the life of the man. What he
was writing near the window were merely translations, some of them
ordered, others volunteer work for the socialist periodicals. The
only marvellous thing about him was the quantity of languages that
"He knows them all," said the Spaniard, when describing their
neighbor to Desnoyers. "He has only to hear of a new one to master
it. He holds the key, the secret of all languages, living or dead.
He speaks Castilian as well as we do, and yet he has never been in a
Argensola again felt a thrill of mystery upon reading the titles of
many of the volumes. The majority were old books, many of them in
languages that he was not able to decipher, picked up for a song at
second-hand shops or on the book stands installed upon the parapets
of the Seine. Only a man holding the key of tongues could get
together such volumes. An atmosphere of mysticism, of superhuman
insight, of secrets intact for many centuries appeared to emanate
from these heaps of dusty volumes with worm-eaten leaves. And mixed
with these ancient tomes were others red and conspicuous, pamphlets
of socialistic propaganda, leaflets in all the languages of Europe
and periodicals--many periodicals, with revolutionary titles.
Tchernoff did not appear to enjoy visits and conversation. He would
smile enigmatically into his black beard, and was very sparing with
his words so as to shorten the interview. But Argensola possessed
Back to Full Books