The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Vicente Blasco Ibanez
Part 4 out of 8
the Scandinavians, white and red; the North Americans, with the
noisiness of a somewhat puerile enthusiasm; the Hebrews without a
country, friends of the nation of socialistic revolutions; the
Italians, as spirited as a choir of heroic tenors; the Spanish and
South Americans, tireless in their huzzas. They were students and
apprentices who were completing their courses in the schools and
workshops, and refugees who, like shipwrecked mariners, had sought
shelter on the hospitable strand of Paris. Their cheers had no
special significance, but they were all moved by their desire to
show their love for the Republic. And Desnoyers, touched by the
sight, felt that France was still of some account in the world, that
she yet exercised a moral force among the nations, and that her joys
and sorrows were still of interest to humanity.
"In Berlin and Vienna, too," he said to himself, "they must also be
cheering enthusiastically at this moment . . . but Germans only, no
others. Assuredly no foreigner is joining in their demonstrations."
The nation of the Revolution, legislator of the rights of mankind,
was harvesting the gratitude of the throngs, but was beginning to
feel a certain remorse before the enthusiasm of the foreigners who
were offering their blood for France. Many were lamenting that the
government should delay twenty days, until after they had finished
the operations of mobilization, in admitting the volunteers. And
he, a Frenchman born, a few hours before, had been mistrusting his
country! . . .
In the daytime the popular current was running toward the Gare de
l'Est. Crowded against the gratings was a surging mass of humanity
stretching its tentacles through the nearby streets. The station
that was acquiring the importance of a historic spot appeared like a
narrow tunnel through which a great human river was trying to flow
with many rippling encounters and much heavy pressure against its
banks. A large part of France in arms was coursing through this
exit from Paris toward the battlefields at the frontier.
Desnoyers had been in the station only twice, when going and coming
from Germany. Others were now taking the same road. The crowds
were swarming in from the environs of the city in order to see the
masses of human beings in geometric bodies, uniformly clad,
disappearing within the entrance with flash of steel and the rhythm
of clanking metal. The crystal archways that were glistening in the
sun like fiery mouths were swallowing and swallowing people. When
night fell the processions were still coming on, by light of the
electric lamps. Through the iron grills were passing thousands and
thousands of draught horses; men with their breasts crossed with
metal and bunches of horsehair hanging from their helmets, like
paladins of bygone centuries; enormous cases that were serving as
cages for the aeronautic condors; strings of cannon, long and
narrow, painted grey and protected, by metal screens, more like
astronomical instruments than mouths of death; masses and masses of
red kepis (military caps) moving in marching rhythm, rows and rows
of muskets, some black and stark like reed plantations, others
ending in bayonets like shining spikes. And over all these restless
fields of seething throngs, the flags of the regiments were
fluttering in the air like colored birds; a white body, a blue wing,
or a red one, a cravat of gold on the neck, and above, the metal tip
pointing toward the clouds.
Don Marcelo would return home from these send-offs vibrating with
nervous fatigue, as one who had just participated in a scene of
racking emotion. In spite of his tenacious character which always
stood out against admitting a mistake, the old man began to feel
ashamed of his former doubts. The nation was quivering with life;
France was a grand nation; appearances had deceived him as well as
many others. Perhaps the most of his countrymen were of a light and
flippant character, given to excessive interest in the sensuous side
of life; but when danger came they were fulfilling their duty
simply, without the necessity of the harsh force to which the iron-
clad organizations were submitting their people.
On leaving home on the morning of the fourth day of the mobilization
Desnoyers, instead of betaking himself to the centre of the city,
went in the opposite direction toward the rue de la Pompe. Some
imprudent words dropped by Chichi, and the uneasy looks of his wife
and sister-in-law made him suspect that Julio had returned from his
trip. He felt the necessity of seeing at least the outside of the
studio windows, as if they might give him news. And in order to
justify a trip so at variance with his policy of ignoring his son,
he remembered that the carpenter lived in the same street.
"I must hunt up Robert. He promised a week ago that he would come
This Robert was a husky young fellow who, to use his own words, was
"emancipated from boss tyranny," and was working independently in
his own home. A tiny, almost subterranean room was serving him for
dwelling and workshop. A woman he called "my affinity" was looking
carefully after his hearth and home, with a baby boy clinging to her
skirts. Desnoyers was accustomed to humor Robert's tirades against
his fellow citizens because the man had always humored his whimseys
about the incessant rearrangement of his furniture. In the
luxurious apartment in the avenue Victor Hugo the carpenter would
sing La Internacional while using hammer and saw, and his employer
would overlook his audacity of speech because of the cheapness of
Upon arriving at the shop he found the man with cap over one ear,
broad trousers like a mameluke's, hobnailed boots and various
pennants and rosettes fastened to the lapels of his jacket.
"You've come too late, Boss," he said cheerily. "I am just going to
close the factory. The Proprietor has been mobilized, and in a few
hours will join his regiment."
And he pointed to a written paper posted on the door of his dwelling
like the printed cards on all establishments, signifying that
employer and employees had obeyed the order of mobilization.
It had never occurred to Desnoyers that his carpenter might become a
soldier, since he was so opposed to all kinds of authority. He
hated the flics, the Paris police, with whom he had, more than once,
exchanged fisticuffs and clubbings. Militarism was his special
aversion. In the meetings against the despotism of the barracks he
had always been one of the noisiest participants. And was this
revolutionary fellow going to war naturally and voluntarily? . . .
Robert spoke enthusiastically of his regiment, of life among
comrades with Death but four steps away.
"I believe in my ideas, Boss, the same as before," he explained as
though guessing the other's thought. "But war is war and teaches
many things--among others that Liberty must be accompanied with
order and authority. It is necessary that someone direct that the
rest may follow--willingly, by common consent . . . but they must
follow. When war actually comes one sees things very differently
from when living at home doing as one pleases."
The night that they assassinated Jaures he howled with rage,
announcing that the following morning the murder would be avenged.
He had hunted up his associates in the district in order to inform
them what retaliation was being planned against the malefactors.
But war was about to break out. There was something in the air that
was opposing civil strife, that was placing private grievances in
momentary abeyance, concentrating all minds on the common weal.
"A week ago," he exclaimed, "I was an anti-militarist! How far away
that seems now--as if a year had gone by! I keep thinking as
before! I love peace and hate war like all my comrades. But the
French have not offended anybody, and yet they threaten us, wishing
to enslave us. . . . But we French can be fierce, since they oblige
us to be, and in order to defend ourselves it is just that nobody
should shirk, that all should obey. Discipline does not quarrel
with Revolution. Remember the armies of the first Republic--all
citizens, Generals as well as soldiers, but Hoche, Kleber and the
others were rough-hewn, unpolished benefactors who knew how to
command and exact obedience."
The carpenter was well read. Besides the papers and pamphlets of
"the Idea," he had also read on stray sheets the views of Michelet
and other liberal actors on the stage of history.
"We are going to make war on War," he added. "We are going to fight
so that this war will be the last."
This statement did not seem to be expressed with sufficient
clearness, so he recast his thought.
"We are going to fight for the future; we are going to die in order
that our grandchildren may not have to endure a similar calamity.
If the enemy triumphs, the war-habit will triumph, and conquest will
be the only means of growth. First they will overcome Europe, then
the rest of the world. Later on, those who have been pillaged will
rise up in their wrath. More wars! . . . We do not want conquests.
We desire to regain Alsace and Lorraine, for their inhabitants wish
to return to us . . . and nothing more. We shall not imitate the
enemy, appropriating territory and jeopardizing the peace of the
world. We had enough of that with Napoleon; we must not repeat that
experience. We are going to fight for our immediate security, and
at the same time for the security of the world--for the life of the
weaker nations. If this were a war of aggression, of mere vanity,
of conquest, then we Socialists would bethink ourselves of our anti-
militarism. But this is self-defense, and the government has not
been at fault. Since we are attacked, we must be united in our
The carpenter, who was also anti-clerical, was now showing a more
generous tolerance, an amplitude of ideas that embraced all mankind.
The day before he had met at the administration office a Reservist
who was just leaving to join his regiment. At a glance he saw that
this man was a priest.
"I am a carpenter," he had said to him, by way of introduction, "and
you, comrade, are working in the churches?"
He employed this figure of speech in order that the priest might not
suspect him of anything offensive. The two had clasped hands.
"I do not take much stock in the clerical cowl," Robert explained to
Desnoyers. "For some time I have not been on friendly terms with
religion. But in every walk of life there must be good people, and
the good people ought to understand each other in a crisis like
this. Don't you think so, Boss?"
The war coincided with his socialistic tendencies. Before this,
when speaking of future revolution, he had felt a malign pleasure in
imagining all the rich deprived of their fortunes and having to work
in order to exist. Now he was equally enthusiastic at the thought
that all Frenchmen would share the same fate without class
"All with knapsacks on their backs and eating at mess."
And he was even extending this military sobriety to those who
remained behind the army. War was going to cause great scarcity of
provisions, and all would have to come down to very plain fare.
"You, too, Boss, who are too old to go to war--you, with all your
millions, will have to eat the same as I. . . . Admit that it is a
Desnoyers was not offended by the malicious satisfaction that his
future privations seemed to inspire in the carpenter. He was very
thoughtful. A man of his stamp, an enemy of existing conditions,
who had no property to defend, was going to war--to death, perhaps--
because of a generous and distant ideal, in order that future
generations might never know the actual horrors of war! To do this,
he was not hesitating at the sacrifice of his former cherished
beliefs, all that he had held sacred till now. . . . And he who
belonged to the privileged class, who possessed so many tempting
things, requiring defense, had given himself up to doubt and
criticism! . . .
Hours after, he again saw the carpenter, near the Arc de Triomphe.
He was one of a group of workmen looking much as he did, and this
group was joining others and still others that represented every
social class--well-dressed citizens, stylish and anaemic young men,
graduate students with worn jackets, pale faces and thick glasses,
and youthful priests who were smiling rather shamefacedly as though
they had been caught at some ridiculous escapade. At the head of
this human herd was a sergeant, and as a rear guard, various
soldiers with guns on their shoulders. Forward march,
Reservists! . . .
And a musical cry, a solemn harmony like a Greek chant, menacing and
monotonous, surged up from this mass with open mouths, swinging
arms, and legs that were opening and shutting like compasses.
Robert was singing the martial chorus with such great
energy that his eyes and Gallic moustachios were fairly trembling.
In spite of his corduroy suit and his bulging linen hand bag, he had
the same grand and heroic aspect as the figures by Rude in the Arc
de Triomphe. The "affinity" and the boy were trudging along the
sidewalk so as to accompany him to the station. For a moment he
took his eyes from them to speak with a companion in the line,
shaven and serious-looking, undoubtedly the priest whom he had met
the day before. Now they were talking confidentially, intimately,
with that brotherliness which contact with death inspires in
The millionaire followed the carpenter with a look of respect,
immeasurably increased since he had taken his part in this human
avalanche. And this respect had in it something of envy, the envy
that springs from an uneasy conscience.
Whenever Don Marcelo passed a bad night, suffering from nightmare, a
certain terrible thing--always the same--would torment his
imagination. Rarely did he dream of mortal peril to his family or
self. The frightful vision was always that certain notes bearing
his signature were presented for collection which he, Marcelo
Desnoyers, the man always faithful to his bond, with a past of
immaculate probity, was not able to pay. Such a possibility made
him tremble, and long after waking his heart would be oppressed with
terror. To his imagination this was the greatest disgrace that a
man could suffer.
Now that war was overturning his existence with its agitations, the
same agonies were reappearing. Completely awake, with full powers
of reasoning, he was suffering exactly the same distress as when in
his horrible dreams he saw his dishonored signature on a protested
All his past was looming up before his eyes with such extraordinary
clearness that it seemed as though until then his mind must have
been in hopeless confusion. The threatened land of France was his
native country. Fifteen centuries of history had been working for
him, in order that his opening eyes might survey progress and
comforts that his ancestors did not even know. Many generations of
Desnoyers had prepared for his advent into life by struggling with
the land and defending it that he might be born into a free family
and fireside. . . . And when his turn had come for continuing this
effort, when his time had arrived in the rosary of generations--he
had fled like a debtor evading payment! . . . On coming into his
fatherland he had contracted obligations with the human group to
whom he owed his existence. This obligation should be paid with his
arms, with any sacrifice that would repel danger . . . and he had
eluded the acknowledgment of his signature, fleeing his country and
betraying his trust to his forefathers! Ah, miserable coward! The
material success of his life, the riches acquired in a remote
country, were comparatively of no importance. There are failures
that millions cannot blot out. The uneasiness of his conscience was
proving it now. Proof, too, was in the envy and respect inspired by
this poor mechanic marching to meet his death with others equally
humble, all kindled with the satisfaction of duty fulfilled, of
The memory of Madariaga came to his memory.
"Where we make our riches, and found a family--there is our
No, the statement of the centaur was not correct. In normal times,
perhaps. Far from one's native land when it is not exposed to
danger, one may forget it for a few years. But he was living now in
France, and France was being obliged to defend herself against
enemies wishing to overpower her. The sight of all her people
rising en masse was becoming an increasingly shameful torture for
Desnoyers, making him think all the time of what he should have done
in his youth, of what he had dodged.
The veterans of '70 were passing through the streets, with the green
and black ribbon in their lapel, souvenirs of the privations of the
Siege of Paris, and of heroic and disastrous campaigns. The sight
of these men, satisfied with their past, made him turn pale. Nobody
was recalling his, but he knew it, and that was enough. In vain his
reason would try to lull this interior tempest. . . . Those times
were different; then there was none of the present unanimity; the
Empire was unpopular . . . everything was lost. . . . But the
recollection of a celebrated sentence was fixing itself in his mind
as an obsession--"France still remained!" Many had thought as he
did in his youth, but they had not, therefore, evaded military
service. They had stood by their country in a last and desperate
Useless was his excuse-making reasoning. Nobler thoughts showed him
the fallacy of this beating around the bush. Explanations and
demonstrations are unnecessary to the understanding of patriotic and
religious ideals; true patriotism does not need them. One's
country . . . is one's country. And the laboring man, skeptical and
jesting, the self-centred farmer, the solitary pastor, all had
sprung to action at the sound of this conjuring word, comprehending
it instantly, without previous instruction.
"It is necessary to pay," Don Marcelo kept repeating mentally. "I
ought to pay my debt."
As in his dreams, he was constantly feeling the anguish of an
upright and desperate man who wishes to meet his obligations.
Pay! . . . and how? It was now very late. For a moment the heroic
resolution came into his head of offering himself as a volunteer, of
marching with his bag at his side in some one of the groups of
future combatants, the same as the carpenter. But the uselessness
of the sacrifice came immediately into his mind. Of what use would
it be? . . . He looked robust and was well-preserved for his age,
but he was over seventy, and only the young make good soldiers.
Combat is but one incident in the struggle. Equally necessary are
the hardship and self-denial in the form of interminable marches,
extremes of temperature, nights in the open air, shoveling earth,
digging trenches, loading carts, suffering hunger. . . . No; it was
too late. He could not even leave an illustrious name that might
serve as an example.
Instinctively he glanced behind. He was not alone in the world; he
had a son who could assume his father's debt . . . but that hope
only lasted a minute. His son was not French; he belonged to
another people; half of his blood was from another source. Besides,
how could the boy be expected to feel as he did? Would he even
understand if his father should explain it to him? . . . It was
useless to expect anything from this lady-killing, dancing clown,
from this fellow of senseless bravado, who was constantly exposing
his life in duels in order to satisfy a silly sense of honor.
Oh, the meekness of the bluff Senor Desnoyers after these
reflections! . . . His family felt alarmed at seeing the humility
and gentleness with which he moved around the house. The two men-
servants had gone to join their regiments, and to them the most
surprising result of the declaration of war was the sudden kindness
of their master, the lavishness of his farewell gifts, the paternal
care with which he supervised their preparations for departure. The
terrible Don Marcelo embraced them with moist eyes, and the two had
to exert themselves to prevent his accompanying them to the station.
Outside of his home he was slipping about humbly as though mutely
asking pardon of the many people around him. To him they all
appeared his superiors. It was a period of economic crisis; for the
time being, the rich also were experiencing what it was to be poor
and worried; the banks had suspended operations and were paying only
a small part of their deposits. For some weeks the millionaire was
deprived of his wealth, and felt restless before the uncertain
future. How long would it be before they could send him money from
South America? Was war going to take away fortunes as well as
lives? . . . And yet Desnoyers had never appreciated money less,
nor disposed of it with greater generosity.
Numberless mobilized men of the lower classes who were going alone
toward the station met a gentleman who would timidly stop them, put
his hand in his pocket and leave in their right hand a bill of
twenty francs, fleeing immediately before their astonished eyes.
The working-women who were returning weeping from saying good-bye to
their husbands saw this same gentleman smiling at the children who
were with them, patting their cheeks and hastening away, leaving a
five-franc piece in their hands.
Don Marcelo, who had never smoked, was now frequenting the tobacco
shops, coming out with hands and pockets filled in order that he
might, with lavish generosity, press the packages upon the first
soldier he met. At times the recipient, smiling courteously, would
thank him with a few words, revealing his superior breeding--
afterwards passing the gift on to others clad in cloaks as coarse
and badly cut as his own. The mobilization, universally obligatory,
often caused him to make these mistakes.
The rough hands pressing his with a grateful clasp, left him
satisfied for a few moments. Ah, if he could only do more! . . .
The Government in mobilizing its vehicles had appropriated three of
his monumental automobiles, and Desnoyers felt very sorry that they
were not also taking the fourth mastodon. Of what use were they to
him? The shepherds of this monstrous herd, the chauffeur and his
assistants, were now in the army. Everybody was marching away.
Finally he and his son would be the only ones left--two useless
He roared with wrath on learning of the enemy's entrance into
Belgium, considering this the most unheard-of treason in history.
He suffered agonies of shame at remembering that at first he had
held the exalted patriots of his country responsible for the
war. . . . What perfidy, methodically carried out after long years
of preparation! The accounts of the sackings, fires and butcheries
made him turn pale and gnash his teeth. To him, to Marcelo
Desnoyers, might happen the very same thing that Belgium was
enduring, if the barbarians should invade France. He had a home in
the city, a castle in the country, and a family. Through
association of ideas, the women assaulted by the soldiery, made him
think of Chichi and the dear Dona Luisa. The mansions in flames
called to his mind the rare and costly furnishings accumulated in
his expensive dwellings--the armorial bearings of his social
elevation. The old folk that were shot, the women foully mutilated,
the children with their hands cut off, all the horrors of a war of
terror, aroused the violence of his character.
And such things could happen with impunity in this day and
generation! . . .
In order to convince himself that punishment was near, that
vengeance was overtaking the guilty ones, he felt the necessity of
mingling daily with the people crowding around the Gare de l'Est.
Although the greater part of the troops were operating on the
frontiers, that was not diminishing the activity in Paris. Entire
battalions were no longer going off, but day and night soldiers were
coming to the station singly or in groups. These were Reserves
without uniform on their way to enroll themselves with their
companies, officials who until then had been busy with the work of
the mobilization, platoons in arms destined to fill the great gaps
opened by death.
The multitude, pressed against the railing, was greeting those who
were going off, following them with their eyes while they were
crossing the large square. The latest editions of the daily papers
were announced with hoarse yells, and instantly the dark throng
would be spotted with white, all reading with avidity the printed
sheets. Good news: "Vive la France!" A doubtful despatch,
foreshadowing calamity: "No matter! We must press on at all costs!
The Russians will close in behind them!" And while these dialogues,
inspired by the latest news were taking place, many young girls were
going among the groups offering little flags and tricolored
cockades--and passing through the patio, men and still more men were
disappearing behind the glass doors, on their way to the war.
A sub-lieutenant of the Reserves, with his bag on his shoulder, was
accompanied by his father toward the file of policemen keeping the
crowds back. Desnoyers saw in the young officer a certain
resemblance to his son. The father was wearing in his lapel the
black and green ribbon of 1870--a decoration which always filled
Desnoyers with remorse. He was tall and gaunt, but was still trying
to hold himself erect, with a heavy frown. He wanted to show
himself fierce, inhuman, in order to hide his emotion.
"Good-bye, my boy! Do your best."
They did not clasp hands, and each was avoiding looking at the
other. The official was smiling like an automaton. The father
turned his back brusquely, and threading his way through the throng,
entered a cafe, where for some time he needed the most retired seat
in the darkest earner to hide his emotion.
AND DON MARCELO ENVIED HIS GRIEF.
Some of the Reservists came along singing, preceded by a flag. They
were joking and jostling each other, betraying in excited actions,
long halts at all the taverns along the way. One of them, without
interrupting his song, was pressing the hand of an old woman
marching beside him, cheerful and dry-eyed. The mother was
concentrating all her strength in order, with feigned happiness, to
accompany this strapping lad to the last minute.
Others were coming along singly, separated from their companies, but
not on that account alone. The gun was hanging from the shoulder,
the back overlaid by the hump of the knapsack, the red legs shooting
in and out of the turned-back folds of the blue cloak, and the smoke
of a pipe under the visor of the kepis. In front of one of these
men, four children were walking along, lined up according to size.
They kept turning their heads to admire their father, suddenly
glorified by his military trappings. At his side was marching his
wife, affable and resigned, feeling in her simple soul a revival of
love, an ephemeral Spring, born of the contact with danger. The
man, a laborer of Paris, who a few months before was singing La
Internacional, demanding the abolishment of armies and the
brotherhood of all mankind, was now going in quest of death. His
wife, choking back her sobs, was admiring him greatly. Affection
and commiseration made her insist upon giving him a few last
counsels. In his knapsack she had put his best handkerchiefs, the
few provisions in the house and all the money. Her man was not to
be uneasy about her and the children; they would get along all
right. The government and kind neighbors would look after them.
The soldier in reply was jesting over the somewhat misshapen figure
of his wife, saluting the coming citizen, and prophesying that he
would be born in a time of great victory. A kiss to the wife, an
affectionate hair-pull for his offspring, and then he had joined his
comrades. . . . No tears. Courage!. . . Vive la France!
The final injunctions of the departing were now heard. Nobody was
crying. But as the last red pantaloons disappeared, many hands
grasped the iron railing convulsively, many handkerchiefs were
bitten with gnashing teeth, many faces were hidden in the arms with
sobs of anguish.
AND DON MARCELO ENVIED THESE TEARS.
The old woman, on losing the warm contact of her son's hand from her
withered one, turned in the direction which she believed to be that
of the hostile country, waving her arms with threatening fury.
"Ah, the assassin! . . . the bandit!"
In her wrathful imagination she was again seeing the countenance so
often displayed in the illustrated pages of the periodicals--
moustaches insolently aggressive, a mouth with the jaw and teeth of
a wolf, that laughed . . . and laughed as men must have laughed in
the time of the cave-men.
AND DON MARCELO ENVIED THIS WRATH!
When Marguerite was able to return to the studio in the rue de la
Pompe, Julio, who had been living in a perpetual bad humor, seeing
everything in the blackest colors, suddenly felt a return of his old
The war was not going to be so cruel as they all had at first
imagined. The days had passed by, and the movements of the troops
were beginning to be less noticeable. As the number of men
diminished in the streets, the feminine population seemed to have
increased. Although there was great scarcity of money, the banks
still remaining closed, the necessity for it was increasingly great,
in order to secure provisions. Memories of the famine of the siege
of '70 tormented the imagination. Since war had broken out with the
same enemy, it seemed but logical to everybody to expect a
repetition of the same happenings. The storehouses were besieged by
women who were securing stale food at exorbitant prices in order to
store it in their homes. Future hunger was producing more terror
than immediate dangers.
For young Desnoyers these were about all the transformations that
war was creating around him. People would finally become accustomed
to the new existence. Humanity has a certain reserve force of
adaptation which enables it to mould itself to circumstances and
continue existing. He was hoping to continue his life as though
nothing had happened. It was enough for him that Marguerite should
continue faithful to their past. Together they would see events
slipping by them with the cruel luxuriousness of those who, from an
inaccessible height, contemplate a flood without the slightest risk
This selfish attitude had also become habitual to Argensola.
"Let us be neutral," the Bohemian would say. "Neutrality does not
necessarily mean indifference. Let us enjoy the great spectacle,
since nothing like it will ever happen again in our lifetime."
It was unfortunate that war should happen to come when they had so
little money. Argensola was hating the banks even more than the
Central Powers, distinguishing with special antipathy the trust
company which was delaying payment of Julio's check. How lovely it
would have been with this sum available, to have forestalled events
by laying in every class of commodity! In order to supplement the
domestic scrimping, he again had to solicit the aid of Dona Luisa.
War had lessened Don Marcelo's precautions, and the family was now
living in generous unconcern. The mother, like other house
mistresses, had stored up provisions for months and months to come,
buying whatever eatables she was able to lay hands on. Argensola
took advantage of this abundance, repeating his visits to the home
in the avenue Victor Hugo, descending its service stairway with
great packages which were swelling the supplies in the studio.
He felt all the joys of a good housekeeper in surveying the
treasures piled up in the kitchen--great tins of canned meat,
pyramids of butter crocks, and bags of dried vegetables. He had
accumulated enough there to maintain a large family. The war had
now offered a new pretext for him to visit Don Marcelo's wine-
"Let them come!" he would say with a heroic gesture as he took stock
of his treasure trove. "Let them come when they will! We are ready
The care and increase of his provisions, and the investigation of
news were the two functions of his existence. It seemed necessary
to procure ten, twelve, fifteen papers a day; some because they were
reactionary, and the novelty of seeing all the French united filled
him with enthusiasm; others because they were radical and must be
better informed of the news received from the government. They
generally appeared at midday, at three, at four and at five in the
afternoon. An half hour's delay in the publication of the sheet
raised great hopes in the public, on the qui vive for stupendous
news. All the last supplements were snatched up; everybody had his
pockets stuffed with papers, waiting anxiously the issue of extras
in order to buy them, too. Yet all the sheets were saying
approximately the same thing.
Argensola was developing a credulous, enthusiastic soul, capable of
admitting many improbable things. He presumed that this same spirit
was probably animating everybody around him. At times, his old
critical attitude would threaten to rebel, but doubt was repulsed as
something dishonorable. He was living in a new world, and it was
but natural that extraordinary things should occur that could be
neither measured nor explained by the old processes of reasoning.
So he commented with infantile joy on the marvellous accounts in the
daily papers--of combats between a single Belgian platoon and entire
regiments of enemies, putting them to disorderly flight; of the
German fear of the bayonet that made them run like hares the instant
that the charge sounded; of the inefficiency of the German artillery
whose projectiles always missed fire.
It was logical and natural that little Belgium should conquer
gigantic Germany--a repetition of David and Goliath--with all the
metaphors and images that this unequal contest had inspired across
so many centuries. Like the greater part of the nation, he had the
mentality of a reader of tales of chivalry who feels himself
defrauded if the hero, single-handed, fails to cleave a thousand
enemies with one fell stroke. He purposely chose the most
sensational papers, those which published many stories of single
encounters, of individual deeds about which nobody could know with
any degree of certainty.
The intervention of England on the seas made him imagine a frightful
famine, coming providentially like a thunder-clap to torture the
enemy. He honestly believed that ten days of this maritime blockade
would convert Germany into a group of shipwrecked sailors floating
on a raft. This vision made him repeat his visits to the kitchen to
gloat over his packages of provisions.
"Ah, what they would give in Berlin for my treasures!" . . .
Never had Argensola eaten with greater avidity. Consideration of
the great privations suffered by the adversary was sharpening his
appetite to a monstrous capacity. White bread, golden brown and
crusty, was stimulating him to an almost religious ecstasy.
"If friend William could only get his claws on this!" he would
chuckle to his companion.
So he chewed and swallowed with increasing relish; solids and
liquids on passing through his mouth seemed to be acquiring a new
flavor, rare and divine. Distant hunger for him was a stimulant, a
sauce of endless delight.
While France was inspiring his enthusiasm, he was conceding greater
credit to Russia. "Ah, those Cossacks!" . . . He was accustomed to
speak of them as intimate friends. He loved to describe the
unbridled gallop of the wild horsemen, impalpable as phantoms, and
so terrible in their wrath that the enemy could not look them in the
face. The concierge and the stay-at-homes used to listen to him
with all the respect due to a foreign gentleman, knowing much of the
great outside world with which they were not familiar.
"The Cossacks will adjust the accounts of these bandits!" he would
conclude with absolute assurance. "Within a month they will have
And his public composed of women--wives and mothers of those who had
gone to war--would modestly agree with him, with that irresistible
desire which we all feel of placing our hopes on something distant
and mysterious. The French would defend the country, reconquering,
besides the lost territories, but the Cossacks--of whom so many were
speaking but so few had seen--were going to give the death blow.
The only person who knew them at first hand was Tchernoff, and to
Argensola's astonishment, he listened to his words without showing
any enthusiasm. The Cossacks were for him simply one body of the
Russian army--good enough soldiers, but incapable of working the
miracles that everybody was expecting from them.
"That Tchernoff!" exclaimed Argensola. "Since he hates the Czar, he
thinks the entire country mad. He is a revolutionary fanatic. . . .
And I am opposed to all fanaticisms."
Julio was listening absent-mindedly to the news brought by his
companion, the vibrating statements recited in declamatory tones,
the plans of the campaign traced out on an enormous map fastened to
the wall of the studio and bristling with tiny flags that marked the
camps of the belligerent armies. Every issue of the papers obliged
the Spaniard to arrange a new dance of the pins on the map, followed
by his comments of bomb-proof optimism.
"We have entered into Alsace; very good! . . . It appears now that
we abandon Alsace. Splendid! I suspect the cause. It is in order
to enter again in a better place, getting at the enemy from
behind. . . . They say that Liege has fallen. What a lie! . . .
And if it does fall, it doesn't matter. Just an incident, nothing
more! The others remain . . . the others! . . . that are advancing
on the Eastern side, and are going to enter Berlin."
The news from the Russian front was his favorite, but obliged him to
remain in suspense every time that he tried to find on the map the
obscure names of the places where the admired Cossacks were
exhibiting their wonderful exploits.
Meanwhile Julio was continuing the course of his own reflections.
Marguerite! . . . She had come back at last, and yet each time
seemed to be drifting further away from him. . . .
In the first days of the mobilization, he had haunted her
neighborhood, trying to appease his longing by this illusory
proximity. Marguerite had written to him, urging patience. How
fortunate it was that he was a foreigner and would not have to
endure the hardship of war! Her brother, an officer in the
artillery Reserves, was going at almost any minute. Her mother, who
made her home with this bachelor son, had kept an astonishing
serenity up to the last minute, although she had wept much while the
war was still but a possibility. She herself had prepared the
soldier's outfit so that the small valise might contain all that was
indispensable for campaign life. But Marguerite had divined her
poor mother's secret struggles not to reveal her despair, in moist
eyes and trembling hands. It was impossible to leave her alone at
such a time. . . . Then had come the farewell. "God be with you,
my son! Do your duty, but be prudent." Not a tear nor a sign of
weakness. All her family had advised her not to accompany her son
to the railway station, so his sister had gone with him. And upon
returning home, Marguerite had found her mother rigid in her arm
chair, with a set face, avoiding all mention of her son, speaking of
the friends who also had sent their boys to the war, as if they only
could comprehend her torture. "Poor Mama! I ought to be with her
now more than ever. . . . To-morrow, if I can, I shall come to see
When at last she returned to the rue de la Pompe, her first care was
to explain to Julio the conservatism of her tailored suit, the
absence of jewels in the adornment of her person. "The war, my
dear! Now it is the chic thing to adapt oneself to the depressing
conditions, to be frugal and inconspicuous like soldiers. Who knows
what we may expect!" Her infatuation with dress still accompanied
her in every moment of her life.
Julio noticed a persistent absent-mindedness about her. It seemed
as though her spirit, abandoning her body, was wandering to far-away
places. Her eyes were looking at him, but she seldom saw him. She
would speak very slowly, as though wishing to weigh every word,
fearful of betraying some secret. This spiritual alienation did
not, however, prevent her slipping bodily along the smooth path of
custom, although afterwards she would seem to feel a vague remorse.
"I wonder if it is right to do this! . . . Is it not wrong to live
like this when so many sorrows are falling on the world?" Julio
hushed her scruples with:
"But if we are going to marry as soon as possible! . . . If we are
already the same as husband and wife!"
She replied with a gesture of strangeness and dismay. To
marry! . . . Ten days ago she had had no other wish. Now the
possibility of marriage was recurring less and less in her thoughts.
Why think about such remote and uncertain events? More immediate
things were occupying her mind.
The farewell to her brother in the station was a scene which had
fixed itself ineradicably in her memory. Upon going to the studio
she had planned not to speak about it, foreseeing that she might
annoy her lover with this account; but alas, she had only to vow not
to mention a thing, to feel an irresistible impulse to talk about
She had never suspected that she could love her brother so dearly.
Her former affection for him had been mingled with a silent
sentiment of jealousy because her mother had preferred the older
child. Besides, he was the one who had introduced Laurier to his
home; the two held diplomas as industrial engineers and had been
close friends from their school days. . . . But upon seeing the boy
ready to depart, Marguerite suddenly discovered that this brother,
who had always been of secondary interest to her, was now occupying
a pre-eminent place in her affections.
"He was so handsome, so interesting in his lieutenant's uniform! . . .
He looked like another person. I will admit to you that I was
very proud to walk beside him, leaning on his arm. People thought
that we were married. Seeing me weep, some poor women tried to
console me saying, 'Courage, Madame. . . . Your man will come
back.' He just laughed at hearing these mistakes. The only thing
that was really saddening him was thinking about our mother."
They had separated at the door of the station. The sentries would
not let her go any further, so she had handed over his sword that
she had wished to carry till the last moment.
"It is lovely to be a man!" she exclaimed enthusiastically. "I
would love to wear a uniform, to go to war, to be of some real use!"
She tried not to say more about it, as though she suddenly realized
the inopportuneness of her last words. Perhaps she noticed the
scowl on Julio's face.
She was, however, so wrought up by the memory of that farewell that,
after a long pause, she was unable to resist the temptation of again
putting her thought into words.
At the station entrance, while she was kissing her brother for the
last time, she had an encounter, a great surprise. "He" had
approached, also clad as an artillery officer, but alone, having to
entrust his valise to a good-natured man from the crowd.
Julio shot her a questioning look. Who was "he"? He suspected, but
feigned ignorance, as though fearing to learn the truth.
"Laurier," she replied laconically, "my former husband."
The lover displayed a cruel irony. It was a cowardly thing to
ridicule this man who had responded to the call of duty. He
recognized his vileness, but a malign and irresistible instinct made
him keep on with his sneers in order to discredit the man before
Marguerite. Laurier a soldier!--He must cut a pretty figure dressed
"Laurier, the warrior!" he continued in a voice so sarcastic and
strange that it seemed to be coming from somebody else. . . . "Poor
She hesitated in her response, not wishing to exasperate Desnoyers
any further. But the truth was uppermost in her mind, and she said
"No . . . no, he didn't look so bad. Quite the contrary. Perhaps
it was the uniform, perhaps it was his sadness at going away alone,
completely alone, without a single hand to clasp his. I didn't
recognize him at first. Seeing my brother, he started toward us;
but then when he saw me, he went his own way . . . Poor man! I
feel sorry for him!"
Her feminine instinct must have told her that she was talking too
much, and she cut her chatter suddenly short. The same instinct
warned her that Julio's countenance was growing more and more
saturnine, and his mouth taking a very bitter curve. She wanted to
console him and added:
"What luck that you are a foreigner and will not have to go to the
war! How horrible it would be for me to lose you!" . . .
She said it sincerely. . . . A few moments before she had been
envying men, admiring the gallantry with which they were exposing
their lives, and now she was trembling before the idea that her
lover might have been one of these.
This did not please his amorous egoism--to be placed apart from the
rest as a delicate and fragile being only fit for feminine
adoration. He preferred to inspire the envy that she had felt on
beholding her brother decked out in his warlike accoutrement. It
seemed to him that something was coming between him and Marguerite
that would never disappear, that would go on expanding, repelling
them in contrary directions . . . far . . . very far, even to the
point of not recognizing each other when their glances met.
He continued to be conscious of this impalpable obstacle in their
following interviews. Marguerite was extremely affectionate in her
speech, and would look at him with moist and loving eyes. But her
caressing hands appeared more like those of a mother than a lover,
and her tenderness was accompanied with a certain disinterestedness
and extraordinary modesty. She seemed to prefer remaining
obstinately in the studio, declining to go into the other rooms.
"We are so comfortable here. . . . I would rather not. . . . It is
not worth while. I should feel remorse afterwards. . . . Why think
of such things in these anxious times!"
The world around her seemed saturated with love, but it was a new
love--a love for the man who is suffering, desire for abnegation,
for sacrifice. This love called forth visions of white caps, of
tremulous hands healing shell-riddled and bleeding flesh.
Every advance on Julio's part but aroused in Marguerite a vehement
and modest protest as though they were meeting for the first time.
"It is impossible," she protested. "I keep thinking of my brother,
and of so many that I know that may be dying at this very minute."
News of battles were beginning to arrive, and blood was beginning to
flow in great quantities.
"No, no, I cannot," she kept repeating.
And when Julio finally triumphed, he found that her thoughts were
still following independently the same line of mental stress.
One afternoon, Marguerite announced that henceforth she would see
him less frequently. She was attending classes now, and had only
two free days.
Desnoyers listened, dumbfounded. Classes? . . . What were her
studies? . . .
She seemed a little irritated at his mocking expression. . . . Yes,
she was studying; for the past week she had been attending classes.
Now the lessons were going to be more regular; the course of
instruction had been fully organized, and there were many more
"I wish to be a trained nurse. I am distressed over my
uselessness. . . . Of what good have I ever been till now?" . . .
She was silent for a few moments as though reviewing her past.
"At times I almost think," she mused, "that war, with all its
horrors, still has some good in it. It helps to make us useful to
our fellowmen. We look at life more seriously; trouble makes us
realize that we have come into the world for some purpose. . . . I
believe that we must not love life only for the pleasures that it
brings us. We ought to find satisfaction in sacrifice, in
dedicating ourselves to others, and this satisfaction--I don't know
just why, perhaps because it is new--appears to me superior to all
Julio looked at her in surprise, trying to imagine what was going on
in that idolized and frivolous head. What ideas were forming back
of that thoughtful forehead which until then had merely reflected
the slightest shadow of thoughts as swift and flitting as birds? . . .
But the former Marguerite was still alive. He saw her constantly
reappearing in a funny way among the sombre preoccupations with
which war was overshadowing all lives.
"We have to study very hard in order to earn our diplomas as nurses.
Have you noticed our uniform? . . . It is most distinctive, and the
white is so becoming both to blondes and brunettes. Then the cap
which allows little curls over the ears--the fashionable coiffure--
and the blue cape over the white suit, make a splendid contrast.
With this outfit, a woman well shod, and with few jewels, may
present a truly chic appearance. It is a mixture of nun and great
lady which is vastly becoming."
She was going to study with a regular fury in order to become really
useful . . . and sooner to wear the admired uniform.
Poor Desnoyers! . . . The longing to see her, and the lack of
occupation in these interminable afternoons which hitherto had been
employed so delightfully, compelled him to haunt the neighborhood of
the unoccupied palace where the government had just established the
training school for nurses. Stationing himself at the corner,
watching the fluttering skirts and quick steps of the feminine feet
on the sidewalk, he imagined that the course of time must have
turned backward, and that he was still but eighteen--the same as
when he used to hang around the establishments of some celebrated
modiste. The groups of women that at certain hours came out of the
palace suggested these former days. They were dressed extremely
quietly, the aspect of many of them as humble as that of the
seamstresses. But they were ladies of the well-to-do class, some
even coming in automobiles driven by chauffeurs in military uniform,
because they were ministerial vehicles.
These long waits often brought him unexpected encounters with the
elegant students who were going and coming.
"Desnoyers!" some feminine voices would exclaim behind him. "Isn't
And he would find himself obliged to relieve their doubts, saluting
the ladies who were looking at him as though he were a ghost. They
were friends of a remote epoch, of six months ago--ladies who had
admired and pursued him, trusting sweetly to his masterly wisdom to
guide them through the seven circles of the science of the tango.
They were now scrutinizing him as if between their last encounter
and the present moment had occurred a great cataclysm, transforming
all the laws of existence--as if he were the sole survivor of a
Eventually they all asked the same questions--"Are you not going to
the war? . . . How is it that you are not wearing a uniform?"
He would attempt to explain, but at his first words, they would
"That's so. . . . You are a foreigner."
They would say it with a certain envy, doubtless thinking of their
loved ones now suffering the privations and dangers of war. . . .
But the fact that he was a foreigner would instantly create a vague
atmosphere of spiritual aloofness, an alienation that Julio had not
known in the good old days when people sought each other without
considering nationality, without feeling that disavowal of danger
which isolates and concentrates human groups.
The ladies generally bade him adieu with malicious suspicion. What
was he doing hanging around there? In search of his usual lucky
adventure? . . . And their smiles were rather grave, the smiles of
older folk who know the true significance of life and commiserate
the deluded ones still seeking diversion in frivolities.
This attitude was as annoying to Julio as though it were a
manifestation of pity. They were supposing him still exercising the
only function of which he was capable; he wasn't good for anything
else. On the other hand, these empty heads, still keeping something
of their old appearance, now appeared animated by the grand
sentiment of maternity--an abstract maternity which seemed to be
extending to all the men of the nation--a desire for self-sacrifice,
of knowing first-hand the privations of the lowly, and aiding all
the ills that flesh is heir to.
This same yearning was inspiring Marguerite when she came away from
her lessons. She was advancing from one overpowering dread to
another, accepting the first rudiments of surgery as the greatest of
scientific marvels. At the same time, she was astonished at the
avidity with which she was assimilating these hitherto unsuspected
mysteries. Sometimes with a funny assumption of assurance, she
would even believe she had mistaken her vocation.
"Who knows but what I was born to be a famous doctor?" she would
Her great fear was that she might lose her self-control when the
time came to put her newly acquired knowledge into practice. To see
herself before the foul odors of decomposing flesh, to contemplate
the flow of blood--a horrible thing for her who had always felt an
invincible repugnance toward all the unpleasant conditions of
ordinary life! But these hesitations were short, and she was
suddenly animated by a dashing energy. These were times of
sacrifice. Were not the men snatched every day from the comforts of
sensuous existence to endure the rude life of a soldier? . . . She
would be, a soldier in petticoats, facing pain, battling with it,
plunging her hands into putrefaction, flashing like a ray of
sunlight into the places where soldiers were expecting the approach
She proudly narrated to Desnoyers all the progress that she was
making in the training school, the complicated bandages that she was
learning to adjust, sometimes over a mannikin, at others over the
flesh of an employee, trying to play the part of a sorely wounded
patient. She, so dainty, so incapable in her own home of the
slightest physical effort, was learning the most skilful ways of
lifting a human body from the ground and carrying it on her back.
Who knew but that she might render this very service some day on the
battlefield! She was ready for the greatest risks, with the
ignorant audacity of women impelled by flashes of heroism. All her
admiration was for the English army nurses, slender women of nervous
vigor whose photographs were appearing in the papers, wearing
pantaloons, riding boots and white helmets.
Julio listened to her with astonishment. Was this woman really
Marguerite? . . . War was obliterating all her winning vanities.
She was no longer fluttering about in bird-like fashion. Her feet
were treading the earth with resolute firmness, calm and secure in
the new strength which was developing within. When one of his
caresses would remind her that she was a woman, she would always say
the same thing,
"What luck that you are a foreigner! . . . What happiness to know
that you do not have to go to war!"
In her anxiety for sacrifice, she wanted to go to the battlefields,
and yet at the same time, she was rejoicing to see her lover exempt
from military duty. This preposterous lack of logic was not
gratefully received by Julio but irritated him as an unconscious
"One might suppose that she was protecting me!" he thought. "She is
the man and rejoices that I, the weak comrade, should be protected
from danger. . . . What a grotesque situation!" . . .
Fortunately, at times when Marguerite presented herself at the
studio, she was again her old self, making him temporarily forget
his annoyance. She would arrive with the same joy in a vacation
that the college student or the employee feels on a holiday.
Responsibility was teaching her to know the value of time.
"No classes to-day!" she would call out on entering; and tossing her
hat on a divan, she would begin a dance-step, retreating with
infantile coquetry from the arms of her lover.
But in a few minutes she would recover her customary gravity, the
serious look that had become habitual with her since the outbreak of
hostilities. She spoke often of her mother, always sad, but
striving to hide her grief and keeping herself up in the hope of a
letter from her son; she spoke, too, of the war, commenting on the
latest events with the rhetorical optimism of the official
dispatches. She could describe the first flag taken from the enemy
as minutely as though it were a garment of unparalleled elegance.
From a window, she had seen the Minister of War. She was very much
affected when repeating the story of some fugitive Belgians recently
arrived at the hospital. They were the only patients that she had
been able to assist until now. Paris was not receiving the soldiers
wounded in battle; by order of the Government, they were being sent
from the front to the hospitals in the South.
She no longer evinced toward Julio the resistance of the first few
days. Her training as a nurse was giving her a certain passivity.
She seemed to be ignoring material attractions, stripping them of
the spiritual importance which she had hitherto attributed to them.
She wanted to make Julio happy, although her mind was concentrated
on other matters.
One afternoon, she felt the necessity of communicating certain news
which had been filling her mind since the day before. Springing up
from the couch, she hunted for her handbag which contained a letter.
She wanted to read it again to tell its contents to somebody with
that irresistible impulse which forestalls confession.
It was a letter which her brother had sent her from the Vosges. In
it he spoke of Laurier more than of himself. They belonged to
different batteries, but were in the same division and had taken
part in the same combats. The officer was filled with admiration
for his former brother-in-law. Who could have guessed that a future
hero was hidden within that silent and tranquil engineer! . . . But
he was a genuine hero, just the same! All the officials had agreed
with Marguerite's brother on seeing how calmly he fulfilled his
duty, facing death with the same coolness as though he were in his
factory near Paris.
He had asked for the dangerous post of lookout, slipping as near as
possible to the enemy's lines in order to verify the exactitude of
the artillery discharge, rectifying it by telephone. A German shell
had demolished the house on the roof of which he was concealed, and
Laurier, on crawling out unhurt from the ruins, had readjusted his
telephone and gone tranquilly on, continuing the same work in the
shelter of a nearby grove. His battery, picked out by the enemy's
aeroplanes, had received the concentrated fire of the artillery
opposite. In a few minutes all the force were rolling on the
ground--the captain and many soldiers dead, officers wounded and
almost all the gunners. There only remained as chief, Laurier, the
Impassive (as his comrades nicknamed him), and aided by the few
artillerymen still on their feet, he continued firing under a rain
of iron and fire, so as to cover the retreat of a battalion.
"He has been mentioned twice in dispatches," Marguerite continued
reading. "I do not believe that it will be long before they give
him the cross. He is valiant in every way. Who would have supposed
all this a few weeks ago?" . . .
She did not share the general astonishment. Living with Laurier had
many times shown her the intrepidity of his character, the
fearlessness concealed under that placid exterior. On that account,
her instincts had warned her against rousing her husband's wrath in
the first days of her infidelity. She still remembered the way he
looked the night he surprised her leaving Julio's home. His was the
passion that kills, and, nevertheless, he had not attempted the
least violence with her. . . . The memory of his consideration was
awakening in Marguerite a sentiment of gratitude. Perhaps he had
loved her as no other man had.
Her eyes, with an irresistible desire for comparison, sought
Julio's, admiring his youthful grace and distinction. The image of
Laurier, heavy and ordinary, came into her mind as a consolation.
Certainly the officer whom she had seen at the station when saying
good-bye to her brother, did not seem to her like her old husband.
But Marguerite wished to forget the pallid lieutenant with the sad
countenance who had passed before her eyes, preferring to remember
him only as the manufacturer preoccupied with profits and incapable
of comprehending what she was accustomed to call "the delicate
refinements of a chic woman." Decidedly Julio was the more
fascinating. She did not repent of her past. She did not wish to
repent of it.
And her loving selfishness made her repeat once more the same old
exclamation--"How fortunate that you are a foreigner! . . . What a
relief to know that you are safe from the dangers of war!"
Julio felt the usual exasperation at hearing this. He came very
near to closing his beloved's mouth with his hand. Was she trying
to make fun of him? . . . It was fairly insulting to place him
apart from other men.
Meanwhile, with blind irrelevance, she persisted in talking about
Laurier, commenting upon his achievements.
"I do not love him, I never have loved him. Do not look so cross!
How could the poor man ever be compared with you? You must admit,
though, that his new existence is rather interesting. I rejoice in
his brave deeds as though an old friend had done them, a family
visitor whom I had not seen for a long time. . . . The poor man
deserved a better fate. He ought to have married some other woman,
some companion more on a level with his ideals. . . . I tell you
that I really pity him!"
And this pity was so intense that her eyes filled with tears,
awakening the tortures of jealousy in her lover. After these
interviews, Desnoyers was more ill-tempered and despondent than
"I am beginning to realize that we are in a false position," he said
one morning to Argensola. "Life is going to become increasingly
painful. It is difficult to remain tranquil, continuing the same
old existence in the midst of a people at war."
His companion had about come to the same conclusion. He, too, was
beginning to feel that the life of a young foreigner in Paris was
insufferable, now that it was so upset by war.
"One has to keep showing passports all the time in order that the
police may be sure that they have not discovered a deserter. In the
street car, the other afternoon, I had to explain that I was a
Spaniard to some girls who were wondering why I was not at the
front. . . . One of them, as soon as she learned my nationality,
asked me with great simplicity why I did not offer myself as a
volunteer. . . . Now they have invented a word for the stay-at-
homes, calling them Les Embusques, the hidden ones. . . . I am sick
and tired of the ironical looks shot at me wherever I go; it makes
me wild to be taken for an Embusque."
A flash of heroism was galvanizing the impressionable Bohemian. Now
that everybody was going to the war, he was wishing to do the same
thing. He was not afraid of death; the only thing that was
disturbing him was the military service, the uniform, the mechanical
obedience to bugle-call, the blind subservience to the chiefs.
Fighting was not offering any difficulties for him but his nature
capriciously resented everything in the form of discipline. The
foreign groups in Paris were trying to organize each its own legion
of volunteers and he, too, was planning his--a battalion of
Spaniards and South Americans, reserving naturally the presidency of
the organizing committee for himself, and later the command of the
He had inserted notices in the papers, making the studio in the rue
de la Pompe the recruiting office. In ten days, two volunteers had
presented themselves; a clerk, shivering in midsummer, who
stipulated that he should be an officer because he was wearing a
suitable jacket, and a Spanish tavern-keeper who at the very outset
had wished to rob Argensola of his command on the futile pretext
that he was a soldier in his youth while the Bohemian was only an
artist. Twenty Spanish battalions were attempted with the same
result in different parts of Paris. Each enthusiast wished to be
commander of the others, with the individual haughtiness and
aversion to discipline so characteristic of the race. Finally the
future generalissimos, decided to enlist as simple volunteers . . .
but in a French regiment.
"I am waiting to see what the Garibaldis do," said Argensola
modestly. "Perhaps I may go with them."
This glorious name made military service conceivable to him. But
then he vacillated; he would certainly have to obey somebody in this
body of volunteers, and he did not believe in an obedience that was
not preceded by long discussions. . . . What next!
"Life has changed in a fortnight," he continued. "It seems as if we
were living in another planet; our former achievements are not
appreciated. Others, most obscure and poor, those who formerly had
the least consideration, are now promoted to the first ranks. The
refined man of complex spirituality has disappeared for who knows
how many years! . . . Now the simple-minded man climbs triumphantly
to the top, because, though his ideas are limited, they are sure and
he knows how to obey. We are no longer the style."
Desnoyers assented. It was so; they were no longer fashionable.
None knew that better than he, for he who was once the sensation of
the day, was now passing as a stranger among the very people who a
few months before had raved over him.
"Your reign is over," laughed Argensola. "The fact that you are a
handsome fellow doesn't help you one bit nowadays. In a uniform and
with a cross on my breast, I could soon get the best of you in a
rival love affair. In times of peace, the officers only set the
girls of the provinces to dreaming; but now that we are at war,
there has awakened in every woman the ancestral enthusiasm that her
remote grandmothers used to feel for the strong and aggressive
beast. . . . The high-born dames who a few months ago were
complicating their desires with psychological subtleties, are now
admiring the military man with the same simplicity that the maid has
for the common soldier. Before a uniform, they feel the humble and
servile enthusiasm of the female of the lower animals before the
crests, foretops and gay plumes of the fighting males. Look out,
master! . . . We shall have to follow the new course of events or
resign ourselves to everlasting obscurity. The tango is dead."
And Desnoyers agreed that truly they were two beings on the other
side of the river of life which at one bound had changed its course.
There was no longer any place in the new existence for that poor
painter of souls, nor for that hero of a frivolous life who, from
five to seven every afternoon, had attained the triumphs most envied
War had extended one of its antennae even to the avenue Victor Hugo.
It was a silent war in which the enemy, bland, shapeless and
gelatinous, seemed constantly to be escaping from the hands only to
renew hostilities a little later on.
"I have Germany in my own house," growled Marcelo Desnoyers.
"Germany" was Dona Elena, the wife of von Hartrott. Why had not her
son--that professor of inexhaustible sufficiency whom he now
believed to have been a spy--taken her home with him? For what
sentimental caprice had she wished to stay with her sister, losing
the opportunity of returning to Berlin before the frontiers were
The presence of this woman in his home was the cause of many
compunctions and alarms. Fortunately, the chauffeur and all the
men-servants were in the army. The two chinas received an order in
a threatening tone. They must be very careful when talking to the
French maids--not the slightest allusion to the nationality of Dona
Elena's husband nor to the residence of her family. Dona Elena was
an Argentinian. But in spite of the silence of the maids, Don
Marcelo was always in fear of some outburst of exalted patriotism,
and that his wife's sister might suddenly find herself confined in a
concentration camp under suspicion of having dealings with the
Frau von Hartrott made his uneasiness worse. Instead of keeping a
discreet silence, she was constantly introducing discord into the
home with her opinions.
During the first days of the war, she kept herself locked in her
room, joining the family only when summoned to the dining room.
With tightly puckered mouth and an absent-minded air, she would then
seat herself at the table, pretending not to hear Don Marcelo's
verbal outpourings of enthusiasm. He enjoyed describing the
departure of the troops, the moving scenes in the streets and at the
stations, commenting on events with an optimism sure of the first
news of the war. Two things were beyond all discussion. The
bayonet was the secret of the French, and the Germans were
shuddering with terror before its fatal, glistening point. . . .
The '75 cannon had proved itself a unique jewel, its shots being
absolutely sure. He was really feeling sorry for the enemy's
artillery since its projectiles so seldom exploded even when well
aimed. . . . Furthermore, the French troops had entered
victoriously into Alsace; many little towns were already theirs.
"Now it is as it was in the '70's," he would exult, brandishing his
fork and waving his napkin. "We are going to kick them back to the
other side of the Rhine--kick them! . . . That's the word."
Chichi always agreed gleefully while Dona Elena was raising her eyes
to heaven, as though silently calling upon somebody hidden in the
ceiling to bear witness to such errors and blasphemies.
The kind Dona Luisa always sought her out afterwards in the
retirement of her room, believing it necessary to give sisterly
counsel to one living so far from home. The Romantica did not
maintain her austere silence before the sister who had always
venerated her superior instruction; so now the poor lady was
overwhelmed with accounts of the stupendous forces of Germany,
enunciated with all the authority of a wife of a great Teutonic
patriot, and a mother of an almost celebrated professor. According
to her graphic picture, millions of men were now surging forth in
enormous streams, thousands of cannons were filing by, and
tremendous mortars like monstrous turrets. And towering above all
this vast machinery of destruction was a man who alone was worth an
army, a being who knew everything and could do everything, handsome,
intelligent, and infallible as a god--the Emperor.
"The French just don't know what's ahead of them," declared Dona
Elena. "We are going to annihilate them. It is merely a matter of
two weeks. Before August is ended, the Emperor will have entered
Senora Desnoyers was so greatly impressed by these dire prophecies
that she could not hide them from her family. Chichi waxed
indignant at her mother's credulity and her aunt's Germanism.
Martial fervor was flaming up in the former Peoncito. Ay, if the
women could only go to war! . . . She enjoyed picturing herself on
horseback in command of a regiment of dragoons, charging the enemy
with other Amazons as dashing and buxom as she. Then her fondness
for skating would predominate over her tastes for the cavalry, and
she would long to be an Alpine hunter, a diable bleu among those who
slid on long runners, with musket slung across the back and
alpenstock in hand, over the snowy slopes of the Vosges.
But the government did not appreciate the valorous women, and she
could obtain no other part in the war but to admire the uniform of
her true-love, Rene Lacour, converted into a soldier. The senator's
son certainly looked beautiful. He was tall and fair, of a rather
feminine type recalling his dead mother. In his fiancee's opinion,
Rene was just "a little sugar soldier." At first she had been very
proud to walk the streets by the side of this warrior, believing
that his uniform had greatly augmented his personal charm, but
little by little a revulsion of feeling was clouding her joy. The
senatorial prince was nothing but a common soldier. His illustrious
father, fearful that the war might cut off forever the dynasty of
the Lacours, indispensable to the welfare of the State, had had his
son mustered into the auxiliary service of the army. By this
arrangement, his heir need not leave Paris, ranking about as high as
those who were kneading the bread or mending the soldiers' cloaks.
Only by going to the front could he claim--as a student of the Ecole
Centrale--his title of sub-lieutenant in the Artillery Reserves.
"What happiness for me that you have to stay in Paris! How
delighted I am that you are just a private! . . ."
And yet, at the same time, Chichi was thinking enviously of her
friends whose lovers and brothers were officers. They could parade
the streets, escorted by a gold-trimmed kepis that attracted the
notice of the passers-by and the respectful salute of the lower
Each time that Dona Luisa, terrified by the forecasts of her sister,
undertook to communicate her dismay to her daughter, the girl would
rage up and down, exclaiming:--
"What lies my aunt tells you! . . . Since her husband is a German,
she sees everything as he wishes it to be. Papa knows more; Rene's
father is better informed about these things. We are going to give
them a thorough hiding! What fun it will be when they hit my uncle
and all my snippy cousins in Berlin! . . ."
"Hush," groaned her mother. "Do not talk such nonsense. The war
has turned you as crazy as your father."
The good lady was scandalized at hearing the outburst of savage
desires that the mere mention of the Kaiser always aroused in her
daughter. In times of peace, Chichi had rather admired this
personage. "He's not so bad-looking," she had commented, "but with
a very ordinary smile." Now all her wrath was concentrated upon
him. The thousands of women that were weeping through his fault!
The mothers without sons, the wives without husbands, the poor
children left in the burning towns! . . . Ah, the vile wretch! . . .
And she would brandish her knife of the old Peoncito days--a
dagger with silver handle and sheath richly chased, a gift that her
grandfather had exhumed from some forgotten souvenirs of his
childhood in an old valise. The very first German that she came
across was doomed to death. Dona Luisa was terrified to find her
flourishing this weapon before her dressing mirror. She was no
longer yearning to be a cavalryman nor a diable bleu. She would be
entirely content if they would leave her, alone in some closed space
with the detested monster. In just five minutes she would settle
the universal conflict.
"Defend yourself, Boche," she would shriek, standing at guard as in
her childhood she had seen the peons doing on the ranch.
And with a knife-thrust above and below, she would pierce his
imperial vitals. Immediately there resounded in her imagination,
shouts of joy, the gigantic sigh of millions of women freed at last
from the bloody nightmare--thanks to her playing the role of Judith
or Charlotte Corday, or a blend of all the heroic women who had
killed for the common weal. Her savage fury made her continue her
imaginary slaughter, dagger in hand. Second stroke!--the Crown
Prince rolling to one side and his head to the other. A rain of
dagger thrusts!--all the invincible generals of whom her aunt had
been boasting fleeing with their insides in their hands--and
bringing up the rear, that fawning lackey who wished to receive the
same things as those of highest rank--the uncle from Berlin. . . .
Ay, if she could only get the chance to make these longings a
"You are mad," protested her mother. "Completely mad! How can a
ladylike girl talk in such a way?" . . .
Surprising her niece in the ecstasy of these delirious ravings, Dona
Elena would raise her eyes to heaven, abstaining thenceforth from
communicating her opinions, reserving them wholly for the mother.
Don Marcelo's indignation took another bound when his wife repeated
to him the news from her sister. All a lie! . . . The war was
progressing finely. On the Eastern frontier the French troops had
advanced through the interior of Alsace and Lorraine.
"But--Belgium is invaded, isn't it?" asked Dona Luisa. "And those
Desnoyers retorted indignantly.
"That invasion of Belgium is treason. . . . And a treason never
amounts to anything among decent people."
He said it in all good faith as though war were a duel in which the
traitor was henceforth ruled out and unable to continue his
outrages. Besides, the heroic resistance of Belgium was nourishing
the most absurd illusions in his heart. The Belgians were certainly
supernatural men destined to the most stupendous achievements. . . .
And to think that heretofore he had never taken this plucky little
nation into account! . . . For several days, he considered Liege a
holy city before whose walls the Teutonic power would be completely
confounded. Upon the fall of Liege, his unquenchable faith sought
another handle. There were still remaining many other Lieges in the
interior. The Germans might force their way further in; then we
would see how many of them ever succeeded in getting out. The entry
into Brussels did not disquiet him. An unprotected city! . . . Its
surrender was a foregone conclusion. Now the Belgians would be
better able to defend Antwerp. Neither did the advance of the
Germans toward the French frontier alarm him at all. In vain his
sister-in-law, with malicious brevity, mentioned in the dining-room
the progress of the invasion, so confusedly outlined in the daily
papers. The Germans were already at the frontier.
"And what of that?" yelled Don Marcelo. "Soon they will meet
someone to talk to! Joffre is going to meet them. Our armies are
in the East, in the very place where they ought to be, on the true
frontier, at the door of their home. But they have to deal with a
treacherous and cowardly opponent that instead of marching face to
face, leaps the walls of the corral like sheep-stealers. . . .
Their underhand tricks won't do them any good, though! The French
are already in Belgium and adjusting the accounts of the Germans.
We shall smash them so effectually that never again will they be
able to disturb the peace of the world. And that accursed
individual with the rampant moustache we are going to put in a cage,
and exhibit in the place de la Concorde!"
Inspired by the paternal braggadocio, Chichi also launched forth
exultingly an imaginary series of avenging torments and insults as a
complement to this Imperial Exhibition.
These allusions to the Emperor aggravated Frau von Hartrott more
than anything else. In the first days of the war, her sister had
surprised her weeping before the newspaper caricatures and leaflets
sold in the streets.
"Such an excellent man. . . so knightly . . . such a good father to
his family! He wasn't to blame for anything. It was his enemies
who forced him to assume the offensive."
Her veneration for exalted personages was making her take the
attacks upon this admired grandee as though they were directed
against her own family.
One night in the dining room, she abandoned her tragic silence.
Certain sarcasms, shot by Desnoyers at her hero, brought the tears
to her eyes, and this sentimental indulgence turned her thoughts
upon her sons who were undoubtedly taking part in the invasion.
Her brother-in-law was longing for the extermination of all the
enemy. "May every barbarian be exterminated! . . . every one of the
bandits in pointed helmets who have just burned Louvain and other
towns, shooting defenceless peasants, old men, women and children! "
"You forget that I am a mother," sobbed Frau von Hartrott. "You
forget that among those whose extermination you are imploring, are
Her violent weeping made Desnoyers realize more than ever the abyss
yawning between him and this woman lodged in his own house. His
resentment, however, overleapt family considerations. . . . She
might weep for her sons all she wanted to; that was her right. But
these sons were aggressors and wantonly doing evil. It was the
other mothers who were inspiring his pity--those who were living
tranquilly in their smiling little Belgian towns when their sons
were suddenly shot down, their daughters violated and their houses
burned to the ground.
As though this description of the horrors of war were a fresh insult
to her, Dona Elena wept harder than ever. What falsehoods! The
Kaiser was an excellent man. His soldiers were gentlemen, the
German army was a model of civilization and goodness. Her husband
had belonged to this army, her sons were marching in its ranks. And
she knew her sons--well-bred and incapable of wrong-doing. These
Belgian calumnies she could no longer listen to . . . and, with
dramatic abandon, she flung herself into the arms of her sister.
Senor Desnoyers raged against the fate that condemned him to live
under the same roof with this woman. What an unfortunate
complication for the family! . . . and the frontiers were closed,
making it impossible to get rid of her!
"Very well, then," he thundered. "Let us talk no more about it. We
shall never reach an understanding, for we belong to two different
worlds. It's a great pity that you can't go back to your own
After that, he refrained from mentioning the war in his sister-in-
law's presence. Chichi was the only one keeping up her aggressive
and noisy enthusiasm. Upon reading in the papers the news of the
shootings, sackings, burning of cities, and the dolorous flight of
those who had seen their all reduced to ashes, she again felt the
necessity of assuming the role of lady-assassin. Ay, if she could
only once get her hands on one of those bandits! . . . What did the
men amount to anyway if they couldn't exterminate the whole lot? . . .
Then she would look at Rene in his exquisitely fresh uniform, sweet-
mannered and smiling as though all war meant to him was a mere
change of attire, and she would exclaim enigmatically:
"What luck that you will never have to go to the front! . . . How
fine that you don't run any risks!"
And her lover would accept these words as but another proof of her
One day Don Marcelo was able to appreciate the horrors of the war
without leaving Paris. Three thousand Belgian refugees were
quartered provisionally in the circus before being distributed among
the provinces. When Desnoyers entered this place, he saw in the
vestibule the same posters which had been flaunting their
spectacular gayeties when he had visited it a few months before with
Now he noticed the odor from a sick and miserable multitude crowded
together--like the exhalation from a prison or poorhouse infirmary.
He saw a throng that seemed crazy or stupefied with grief. They did
not know exactly where they were; they had come thither, they didn't
know how. The terrible spectacle of the invasion was still so
persistent in their minds that it left room for no other impression.
They were still seeing the helmeted men in their peaceful hamlets,
their homes in flames, the soldiery firing upon those who were
fleeing, the mutilated women done to death by incessant adulterous
assault, the old men burned alive, the children stabbed in their
cradles by human beasts inflamed by alcohol and license. . . . Some
of the octogenarians were weeping as they told how the soldiers of a
civilized nation were cutting off the breasts from the women in
order to nail them to the doors, how they had passed around as a
trophy a new-born babe spiked on a bayonet, how they had shot aged
men in the very armchair in which they were huddled in their
sorrowful weakness, torturing them first with their jests and
They had fled blindly, pursued by fire and shot, as crazed with
terror as the people of the middle ages trying not to be ridden down
by the hordes of galloping Huns and Mongols. And this flight had
been across the country in its loveliest festal array, in the most
productive of months, when the earth was bristling with ears of
grain, when the August sky was most brilliant, and when the birds
were greeting the opulent harvest with their glad songs!
In that circus, filled with the wandering crowds, the immense crime
was living again. The children were crying with a sound like the
bleating of lambs; the men were looking wildly around with terrified
eyes; the frenzied women were howling like the insane. Families had
become separated in the terror of flight. A mother of five little
ones now had but one. The parents, as they realized the number
missing, were thinking with anguish of those who had disappeared.
Would they ever find them again? . . . Or were they already
dead? . . .
Don Marcelo returned home, grinding his teeth and waving his cane in
an alarming manner. Ah, the bandits! . . . If only his sister-in-
law could change her sex! Why wasn't she a man? . . . It would be
better still if she could suddenly assume the form of her husband,
von Hartrott. What an interesting interview the two brothers-in-law
would have! . . .
The war was awakening religious sentiment in the men and increasing
the devotion of the women. The churches were filled. Dona Luisa
was no longer confining herself to those of her neighborhood. With
the courage induced by extraordinary events, she was traversing
Paris afoot and going from the Madeleine to Notre Dame, or to the
Sacre Coeur on the heights of Montmartre. Religious festivals were
now thronged like popular assemblies. The preachers were tribunes.
Patriotic enthusiasm interrupted many sermon with applause.
Each morning on opening the papers, before reading the war news,
Senora Desnoyers would hunt other notices. "Where was Father Amette
going to be to-day?" Then, under the arched vaultings of that
temple, would she unite her voice with the devout chorus imploring
supernatural intervention. "Lord, save France!" Patriotic
religiosity was putting Sainte Genevieve at the head of the favored
ones, so from all these fiestas, Dona Luisa, tremulous with faith,
would return in expectation of a miracle similar to that which the
patron saint of Paris had worked before the invading hordes of
Dona Elena was also visiting the churches, but those nearest the
house. Her brother-in-law saw her one afternoon entering Saint-
Honoree d'Eylau. The building was filled with the faithful, and on
the altar was a sheaf of flags--France and the allied nations. The
imploring crowd was not composed entirely of women. Desnoyers saw
men of his age, pompous and grave, moving their lips and fixing
steadfast eyes on the altar on which were reflected like lost stars,
the flames of the candles. And again he felt envy. They were
fathers who were recalling their childhood prayers, thinking of
their sons in battle. Don Marcelo, who had always considered
religion with indifference, suddenly recognized the necessity of
faith. He wanted to pray like the others, with a vague, indefinite
supplication, including all beings who were struggling and dying for
a land that he had not tried to defend.
He was scandalized to see von Hartrott's wife kneeling among these
people raising her eyes to the cross in a look of anguished
entreaty. She was begging heaven to protect her husband, the German
who perhaps at this moment was concentrating all his devilish
faculties on the best organization for crushing the weak; she was
praying for her sons, officers of the King of Prussia, who revolver
in hand were entering villages and farmlands, driving before them a
horror-stricken crowd, leaving behind them fire and death. And
these orisons were going to mingle with those of the mothers who
were praying for the youth trying to check the onslaught of the
barbarians--with the petitions of these earnest men, rigid in their
tragic grief! . . .
He had to make a great effort not to protest aloud, and he left the
church. His sister-in-law had no right to kneel there among those
"They ought to put her out!" he growled indignantly. "She is
compromising God with her absurd entreaties."
But in spite of his annoyance, he had to endure her living in his
household, and at the same time had taken great pains to prevent her
nationality being known outside.
It was a severe trial for Don Marcelo to be obliged to keep silent
when at table with his family. He had to avoid the hysterics of his
sister-in-law who promptly burst into sighs and sobs at the
slightest allusion to her hero; and he feared equally the complaints
of his wife, always ready to defend her sister, as though she were
the victim. . . . That a man in his own home should have to curb
his tongue and speak tactfully! . . .
The only satisfaction permitted him was to announce the military
moves. The French had entered Belgium. "It appears that the Boches
have had a good set-back." The slightest clash of cavalry, a simple
encounter with the advance troops, he would glorify as a decisive
victory. "In Lorraine, too, we are making great headway!" . . .
But suddenly the fountain of his bubbling optimism seemed to become
choked up. To judge from the periodicals, nothing extraordinary was
occurring. They continued publishing war-stories so as to keep
enthusiasm at fever-heat, but nothing definite. The Government,
too, was issuing communications of vague and rhetorical verbosity.
Desnoyers became alarmed, his instinct warning him of danger.
"There is something wrong," he thought. "There's a spring broken
This lack of encouraging news coincided exactly with the sudden rise
in Dona Elena's spirits. With whom had that woman been talking?
Whom did she meet when she was on the street? . . . Without
dropping her pose as a martyr, with the same woebegone look and
drooping mouth, she was talking, and talking treacherously. The
torment of Don Marcelo in being obliged to listen to the enemy
harbored within his gates! . . . The French had been vanquished in
Lorraine and in Belgium at the same time. A body of the army had
deserted the colors; many prisoners, many cannon were captured.
"Lies! German exaggerations!" howled Desnoyers. And Chichi with
the derisive ha-ha's of an insolent girl, drowned out the triumphant
communications of the aunt from Berlin. "I don't know, of course,"
said the unwelcome lodger with mock humility. "Perhaps it is not
authentic. I have heard it said." Her host was furious. Where had
she heard it said? Who was giving her such news? . . .
And in order to ventilate his wrath, he broke forth into tirades
against the enemy's espionage, against the carelessness of the
police force in permitting so many Germans to remain hidden in
Paris. Then he suddenly became quiet, thinking of his own behavior
in this line. He, too, was involuntarily contributing toward the
maintenance and support of the foe.
The fall of the ministry and the constitution of a government of
national defense made it apparent that something very important must
have taken place. The alarms and tears of Dona Luisa increased his
nervousness. The good lady was no longer returning from the
churches, cheered and strengthened. Her confidential talks with her
sister were filling her with a terror that she tried in vain to
communicate to her husband. "All is lost. . . . Elena is the only
one that knows the truth."
Desnoyers went in search of Senator Lacour. He would know all the
ministers; no one could be better informed. "Yes, my friend," said
the important man sadly. "Two great losses at Morhange and
Charleroi, at the East and the North. The enemy is going to invade
French soil! . . . But our army is intact, and will retreat in good
order. Good fortune may still be ours. A great calamity, but all
is not lost."
Preparations for the defense of Paris were being pushed forward . . .
rather late. The forts were supplying themselves with new cannon.
Houses, built in the danger zone in the piping times of peace, were
now disappearing under the blows of the official demolition. The
trees on the outer avenues were being felled in order to enlarge the
horizon. Barricades of sacks of earth and tree trunks were heaped
at the doors of the old walls. The curious were skirting the
suburbs in order to gaze at the recently dug trenches and the barbed
wire fences. The Bois de Boulogne was filled with herds of cattle.
Near heaps of dry alfalfa steers and sheep were grouped in the green
meadows. Protection against famine was uppermost in the minds of a
people still remembering the suffering of 1870. Every night, the
street lighting was less and less. The sky, on the other hand, was
streaked incessantly by the shafts from the searchlights. Fear of
aerial invasion was increasing the public uneasiness. Timid people
were speaking of Zeppelins, attributing to them irresistible powers,
with all the exaggeration that accompanies mysterious dangers.
In her panic, Dona Luisa greatly distressed her husband, who was
passing the days in continual alarm, yet trying to put heart into
his trembling and anxious wife. "They are going to come, Marcelo;
my heart tells me so. The girl! . . . the girl!" She was accepting
blindly all the statements made by her sister, the only thing that
comforted her being the chivalry and discipline of those troops to
which her nephews belonged. The news of the atrocities committed
against the women of Belgium were received with the same credulity
as the enemy's advances announced by Elena. "Our girl, Marcelo. . . .
Our girl!" And the girl, object of so much solicitude, would
laugh with the assurance of vigorous youth on hearing of her
mother's anxiety. "Just let the shameless fellows come! I shall
take great pleasure in seeing them face to face!" And she clenched
her right hand as though it already clutched the avenging knife.
The father became tired of this situation. He still had one of his
monumental automobiles that an outside chauffeur could manage.
Senator Lacour obtained the necessary passports and Desnoyers gave
his wife her orders in a tone that admitted of no remonstrance.
They must go to Biarritz or to some of the summer resorts in the
north of Spain. Almost all the South American families had already
gone in the same direction. Dona Luisa tried to object. It was
impossible for her to separate herself from her husband. Never
before, in their many years of married life, had they once been
separated. But a harsh negative from Don Marcelo cut her pleadings
short. He would remain. Then the poor senora ran to the rue de la
Pompe. Her son! . . . Julio scarcely listened to his mother. Ay!
he, too, would stay. So finally the imposing automobile lumbered
toward the South carrying Dona Luisa, her sister who hailed with
delight this withdrawal before the admired troops of the Emperor,
and Chichi, pleased that the war was necessitating an excursion to
the fashionable beaches frequented by her friends.
Don Marcelo was at last alone. The two coppery maids had followed
by rail the flight of their mistresses. At first the old man felt a
little bewildered by this solitude, which obliged him to eat
uncomfortable meals in a restaurant and pass the nights in enormous
and deserted rooms still bearing traces of their former occupants.
The other apartments in the building had also been vacated. All the
tenants were foreigners, who had discreetly decamped, or French
families surprised by the war when summering at their country seats.
Instinctively he turned his steps toward the rue de la Pompe gazing
from afar at the studio windows. What was his son doing? . . .
Undoubtedly continuing his gay and useless life. Such men only
existed for their own selfish folly.
Desnoyers felt satisfied with the stand he had taken. To follow the
family would be sheer cowardice. The memory of his youthful flight
to South America was sufficient martyrdom; he would finish his life
with all the compensating bravery that he could muster. "No, they
will not come," he said repeatedly, with the optimism of enthusiasm.
I have a presentiment that they will never reach Paris. And even if
they DO come!" . . . The absence of his family brought him a joyous
valor and a sense of bold youthfulness. Although his age might
prevent his going to war in the open air, he could still fire a gun,
immovable in a trench, without fear of death. Let them come! . . .
He was longing for the struggle with the anxiety of a punctilious
business man wishing to cancel a former debt as soon as possible.
In the streets of Paris he met many groups of fugitives. They were
from the North and East of France, and had escaped before the German
advance. Of all the tales told by this despondent crowd--not
knowing where to go and dependent upon the charity of the people--he
was most impressed with those dealing with the disregard of
property. Shootings and assassinations made him clench his fists,
with threats of vengeance; but the robberies authorized by the
heads, the wholesale sackings by superior order, followed by fire,
appeared to him so unheard-of that he was silent with stupefaction,
his speech seeming to be temporarily paralyzed. And a people with
laws could wage war in this fashion, like a tribe of Indians going
to combat in order to rob! . . . His adoration of property rights
made him beside himself with wrath at these sacrileges.
He began to worry about his castle at Villeblanche. All that he
owned in Paris suddenly seemed to him of slight importance to what
he had in his historic mansion. His best paintings were there,
adorning the gloomy salons; there, too, the furnishings captured
from the antiquarians after an auctioneering battle, and the crystal
cabinets, the tapestries, the silver services.
He mentally reviewed all of these objects, not letting a single one
escape his inventory. Things that he had forgotten came surging up
in his memory, and the fear of losing them seemed to give them
greater lustre, increasing their size, and intensifying their value.
All the riches of Villeblanche were concentrated in one certain
acquisition which Desnoyers admired most of all; for, to his mind,
it stood for all the glory of his immense fortune--in fact, the most
luxurious appointment that even a millionaire could possess.
"My golden bath," he thought. "I have there my tub of gold."
This bath of priceless metal he had procured, after much financial
wrestling, from an auction, and he considered the purchase the
culminating achievement of his wealth. No one knew exactly its
origin; perhaps it had been the property of luxurious princes;
perhaps it owed its existence to the caprice of a demi-mondaine fond
of display. He and his had woven a legend around this golden cavity
adorned with lions' claws, dolphins and busts of naiads.
Undoubtedly it was once a king's! Chichi gravely affirmed that it
had been Marie Antoinette's, and the entire family thought that the
home on the avenue Victor Hugo was altogether too modest and
plebeian to enshrine such a jewel. They therefore agreed to put it
in the castle, where it was greatly venerated, although it was
useless and solemn as a museum piece. . . . And was he to permit
the enemy in their advance toward the Marne to carry off this
priceless treasure, as well as the other gorgeous things which he
had accumulated with such patience Ah, no! His soul of a collector
would be capable of the greatest heroism before he would let that go.
Each day was bringing a fresh sheaf of bad news. The papers were
saying little, and the Government was so veiling its communications
that the mind was left in great perplexity. Nevertheless, the truth
was mysteriously forcing its way, impelled by the pessimism of the
alarmists, and the manipulation of the enemy's spies who were
remaining hidden in Paris. The fatal news was being passed along in
whispers. "They have already crossed the frontier. . . ." "They
are already in Lille." . . . They were advancing at the rate of
thirty-five miles a day. The name of von Kluck was beginning to
have a familiar ring. English and French were retreating before the
enveloping progression of the invaders. Some were expecting another
Sedan. Desnoyers was following the advance of the Germans, going
daily to the Gare du Nord. Every twenty-four hours was lessening
the radius of travel. Bulletins announcing that tickets would not
be sold for the Northern districts served to indicate how these
places were falling, one after the other, into the power of the
invader. The shrinkage of national territory was going on with such
methodical regularity that, with watch in hand, and allowing an
advance of thirty-five miles daily, one might gauge the hour when
the lances of the first Uhlans would salute the Eiffel tower. The
trains were running full, great bunches of people overflowing from
In this time of greatest anxiety, Desnoyers again visited his
friend, Senator Lacour, in order to astound him with the most
unheard-of petitions. He wished to go immediately to his castle.
While everybody else was fleeing toward Paris he earnestly desired
to go in the opposite direction. The senator couldn't believe his
"You are beside yourself!" he exclaimed. "It is necessary to leave
Paris, but toward the South. I will tell you confidentially, and
you must not tell because it is a secret--we are leaving at any
minute; we are all going, the President, the Government, the
Chambers. We are going to establish ourselves at Bordeaux as in
1870. The enemy is surely approaching; it is only a matter of
days . . . of hours. We know little of just what is happening,
but all the news is bad. The army still holds firm, is yet intact,
but retreating . . . retreating, all the time yielding ground. . . .
Believe me, it will be better for you to leave Paris. Gallieni will
defend it, but the defense is going to be hard and horrible. . . .
Although Paris may surrender, France will not necessarily surrender.
The war will go on if necessary even to the frontiers of Spain . . .
but it is sad . . . very sad!"
And he offered to take his friend with him in that flight to
Bordeaux of which so few yet knew. Desnoyers shook his head. No;
be wanted to go the castle of Villeblanche. His furniture . . . his
riches . . . his parks.
"But you will be taken prisoner!" protested the senator. "Perhaps
they will kill you!"
A shrug of indifference was the only response. He considered
himself energetic enough to struggle against the entire German army
in the defense of his property. The important thing was to get
there, and then--just let anybody dare to touch his things! . . .
The senator looked with astonishment at this civilian infuriated by
the lust of possession. It reminded him of some Arab merchants that
he had once known, ordinarily mild and pacific, who quarrelled and
killed like wild beasts when Bedouin thieves seized their wares.
This was not the moment for discussion, and each must map out his
own course. So the influential senator finally yielded to the
desire of his friend. If such was his pleasure, let him carry it
through! So he arranged that his mad petitioner should depart that
very night on a military train that was going to meet the army.
That journey put Don Marcelo in touch with the extraordinary
movement which the war had developed on the railroads. His train
took fourteen hours to cover the distance normally made in two. It
was made up of freight cars filled with provisions and cartridges,
with the doors stamped and sealed. A third-class car was occupied
by the train escort, a detachment of provincial guards. He was
installed in a second-class compartment with the lieutenant in
command of this guard and certain officials on their way to join
their regiments after having completed the business of mobilization
in the small towns in which they were stationed before the war. The
crowd, habituated to long detentions, was accustomed to getting out
and settling down before the motionless locomotive, or scattering
through the nearby fields.
In the stations of any importance all the tracks were occupied by
rows of cars. High-pressure engines were whistling, impatient to be
off. Groups of soldiers were hesitating before the different
trains, making mistakes, getting out of one coach to enter others.
The employees, calm but weary-looking, were going from side to side,
giving explanations about mountains of all sorts of freight and
arranging them for transport. In the convoy in which Desnoyers was
placed the Territorials were sleeping, accustomed to the monotony of
acting as guard. Those in charge of the horses had opened the
sliding doors, seating themselves on the floor with their legs
hanging over the edge. The train went very slowly during the night,
across shadowy fields, stopping here and there before red lanterns
and announcing its presence by prolonged whistling.
In some stations appeared young girls clad in white with cockades
and pennants on their breasts. Day and night they were there, in
relays, so that no train should pass through without a visit. They
offered, in baskets and trays, their gifts to the soldiers--bread,
chocolate, fruit. Many, already surfeited, tried to resist, but had
to yield eventually before the pleading countenance of the maidens.
Even Desnoyers was laden down with these gifts of patriotic
He passed a great part of the night talking with his travelling
companions. Only the officers had vague directions as to where they
were to meet their regiments, for the operations of war were daily
changing the situation. Faithful to duty, they were passing on,
hoping to arrive in time for the decisive combat. The Chief of the
Guard had been over the ground, and was the only one able to give
any account of the retreat. After each stop the train made less
progress. Everybody appeared confused. Why the retreat? . . . The
army had undoubtedly suffered reverses, but it was still united and,
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