The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Vicente Blasco Ibanez
Part 6 out of 8
countryman, famous for his avarice, was whimpering desperately,
saying over and over, "I do not wish to die. . . . I do not want to
Trembling and with eyes overflowing with tears, Desnoyers hid
himself behind his implacable guide. He knew them all, he had
battled with them all, and repented now of his former wrangling.
The mayor had a red stain on his forehead from a long skin wound.
Upon his breast fluttered a tattered tricolor; the municipality had
placed it there that be might receive the invaders who had torn most
of it away. The priest was holding his little round body as erect
as possible, wishing to embrace in a look of resignation the
victims, the executioners, earth and heaven. He appeared larger
than usual and more imposing. His black girdle. broken by the
roughness of the soldiers, left his cassock loose and floating. His
waving, silvery hair was dripping blood, spotting with its red drops
the white clerical collar.
Upon seeing him cross the fatal field with unsteady step, because of
his obesity, a savage roar cut the tragic silence. The unarmed
soldiers, who had hastened to witness the execution, greeted the
venerable old man with shouts of laughter. "Death to the
priest!" . . . The fanaticism of the religious wars vibrated
through their mockery. Almost all of them were devout Catholics
or fervent Protestants, but they believed only in the priests of
their own country. Outside of Germany, everything was despicable--
even their own religion.
The mayor and the priest changed their places in the file, seeking
one another. Each, with solemn courtesy, was offering the other the
central place in the group.
"Here, your Honor, is your place as mayor--at the head of all."
"No, after you, Monsieur le cure."
They were disputing for the last time, but in this supreme moment
each one was wishing to yield precedence to the other.
Instinctively they had clasped hands, looking straight ahead at the
firing squad, that had lowered its guns in a rigid, horizontal line.
Behind them sounded laments--"Good-bye, my children. . . . Adieu,
life! . . . I do not wish to die! . . . I do not want to die! . . ."
The two principal men felt the necessity of saying something, of
closing the page of their existence with an affirmation.
"Vive la Republique!" cried the mayor.
"Vive la France!" said the priest.
Desnoyers thought that both had said the same thing. Two uprights
flashed up above their heads--the arm of the priest making the sign
of the cross, and the sabre of the commander of the shooters,
glistening at the same instant. . . . A dry, dull thunderclap,
followed by some scattering, tardy shots.
Don Marcelo's compassion for that forlorn cluster of massacred
humanity was intensified on beholding the grotesque forms which many
assumed in the moment of death. Some collapsed like half-emptied
sacks; others rebounded from the ground like balls; some leaped like
gymnasts, with upraised arms, falling on their backs, or face
downward, like a swimmer. In that human heap, he saw limbs writhing
in the agony of death. Some soldiers advanced like hunters bagging
their prey. From the palpitating mass fluttered locks of white
hair, and a feeble hand, trying to repeat the sacred sign. A few
more shots and blows on the livid, mangled mass . . . and the last
tremors of life were extinguished forever.
The officer had lit a cigar.
"Whenever you wish," he said to Desnoyers with ironical courtesy.
They re-entered the automobile in order to return to the castle by
the way of Villeblanche. The increasing number of fires and the
dead bodies in the streets no longer impressed the old man. He had
seen so much! What could now affect his sensibilities? . . . He
was longing to get out of the village as soon as possible to try to
find the peace of the country. But the country had disappeared
under the invasion--soldier's, horses, cannons everywhere. Wherever
they stopped to rest, they were destroying all that they came in
contact with. The marching battalions, noisy and automatic as a
machine were preceded by the fifes and drums, and every now and
then, in order to cheer their drooping spirits, were breaking into
their joyous cry, "Nach Paris!"
The castle, too, had been disfigured by the invasion. The number of
guards had greatly increased during the owner's absence. He saw an
entire regiment of infantry encamped in the park. Thousands of men
were moving about under the trees, preparing the dinner in the
movable kitchens. The flower borders of the gardens, the exotic
plants, the carefully swept and gravelled avenues were all broken
and spoiled by this avalanche of men, beasts and vehicles.
A chief wearing on his sleeve the band of the military
administration was giving orders as though he were the proprietor.
He did not even condescend to look at this civilian walking beside
the lieutenant with the downcast look of a prisoner. The stables
were vacant. Desnoyers saw his last animals being driven off with
sticks by the helmeted shepherds. The costly progenitors of his
herds were all beheaded in the park like mere slaughter-house
animals. In the chicken houses and dovecotes, there was not a
single bird left. The stables were filled with thin horses who were
gorging themselves before overflowing mangers. The feed from the
barns was being lavishly distributed through the avenue, much of it
lost before it could be used. The cavalry horses of various
divisions were turned loose in the meadows, destroying with their
hoofs the canals, the edges of the slopes, the level of the ground,
all the work of many months. The dry wood was uselessly burning in
the park. Through carelessness or mischief, someone had set the
wood piles on fire. The trees, with the bark dried by the summer
heat, were crackling on being licked by the flame.
The building was likewise occupied by a multitude of men under this
same superintendent. The open windows showed a continual shifting
through the rooms. Desnoyers heard great blows that re-echoed
within his breast. Ay, his historic mansion! . . . The General was
going to establish himself in it, after having examined on the banks
of the Marne, the works of the pontoon builders, who had been
constructing several military bridges for the troops. Don Marcelo's
outraged sense of ownership forced him to speak. He feared that
they would break the doors of the locked rooms--he would like to go
for the keys in order to give them up to those in charge. The
commissary would not listen to him but continued ignoring his
existence. The lieutenant replied with cutting amiability:
"It is not necessary; do not trouble yourself!"
After this considerate remark, he started to rejoin his regiment but
deemed it prudent before losing sight of Desnoyers to give him a
little advice. He must remain quietly at the castle; outside, he
might be taken for a spy, and he already knew how promptly the
soldiers of the Emperor settled all such little matters.
He could not remain in the garden looking at his dwelling from any
distance, because the Germans who were going and coming were
diverting themselves by playing practical jokes upon him. They
would march toward him in a straight line, as though they did not
see him, and he would have to hurry out of their way to avoid being
thrown down by their mechanical and rigid advance.
Finally he sought refuge in the lodge of the Keeper, whose good wife
stared with astonishment at seeing him drop into a kitchen chair
breathless and downcast, suddenly aged by losing the remarkable
energy that had been the wonder of his advanced years.
"Ah, Master. . . . Poor Master!"
Of all the events attending the invasion, the most unbelievable for
this poor woman was seeing her employer take refuge in her cottage.
"What is ever going to become of us!" she groaned.
Her husband was in constant demand by the invaders. His
Excellency's assistants, installed in the basement apartments of the
castle were incessantly calling him to tell them the whereabouts of
things which they could not find. From every trip, he would return
humiliated, his eyes filled with tears. On his forehead was the
black and blue mark of a blow, and his jacket was badly torn. These
were souvenirs of a futile attempt at opposition, during his
master's absence, to the German plundering of stables and castle
The millionaire felt himself linked by misfortune to these people,
considered until then with indifference. He was very grateful for
the loyalty of this sick and humble man, and the poor woman's
interest in the castle as though it were her own, touched him
greatly. The presence of their daughter brought Chichi to his mind.
He had passed near her without noting the transformation in her,
seeing her just the same as when, with her little dog trot, she had
accompanied the Master's daughter on her rounds through the parks
and grounds. Now she was a woman, slender and full grown, with the
first feminine graces showing subtly in her fourteen-year-old
figure. Her mother would not let her leave the lodge, fearing the
soldiery which was invading every other spot with its overflowing
current, filtering into all open places, breaking every obstacle
which impeded their course.
Desnoyers broke his despairing silence to admit that he was feeling
hungry. He was ashamed of this bodily want, but the emotions of the
day, the executions seen so near, the danger still threatening, had
awakened in him a nervous appetite. The fact that he was so
impotent in the midst of his riches and unable to avail himself of
anything on his estate but aggravated his necessity.
"Poor Master!" again exclaimed the faithful soul.
And the woman looked with astonishment at the millionaire devouring
a bit of bread and a triangle of cheese, the only food that she
could find in her humble dwelling. The certainty that he would not
be able to find any other nourishment, no matter how much he might
seek it, greatly sharpened his cravings. To have acquired an
enormous fortune only to perish with hunger at the end of his
existence! . . . The good wife, as though guessing his thoughts,
sighed, raising her eyes beseechingly to heaven. Since the early
morning hours, the world had completely changed its course. Ay,
this war! . . .
The rest of the afternoon and a part of the night, the proprietor
kept receiving news from the Keeper after his visits to the castle.
The General and numerous officers were now occupying the rooms. Not
a single door was locked, all having been opened with blows of the
axe or gun. Many things had completely disappeared; the man did not
know exactly how, but they had vanished--perhaps destroyed, or
perhaps carried off by those who were coming and going. The chief
with the banded sleeve was going from room to room examining
everything, dictating in German to a soldier who was writing down
his orders. Meanwhile the General and his staff were in the dining
room drinking heavily, consulting the maps spread out on the floor,
and ordering the Warden to go down into the vaults for the very best
By nightfall, an onward movement was noticeable in the human tide
that had been overflowing the fields as far as the eye could reach.
Some bridges had been constructed across the Marne and the invasion
had renewed its march, shouting enthusiastically. "Nach Paris!"
Those left behind till the following day were to live in the ruined
houses or the open air. Desnoyers heard songs. Under the splendor
of the evening stars, the soldiers had grouped themselves in musical
knots, chanting a sweet and solemn chorus of religious gravity.
Above the trees was floating a red cloud, intensified by the dusk--a
reflection of the still burning village. Afar off were bonfires of
farms and homesteads, twinkling in the night with their blood-
The bewildered proprietor of the castle finally fell asleep in a bed
in the lodge, made mercifully unconscious by the heavy and
stupefying slumber of exhaustion, without fright nor nightmare. He
seemed to be falling, falling into a bottomless pit, and on awaking
fancied that he had slept but a few minutes. The sun was turning
the window shades to an orange hue, spattered with shadows of waving
boughs and birds fluttering and twittering among the leaves. He
shared their joy in the cool refreshing dawn of the summer day. It
certainly was a fine morning--but whose dwelling was this? . . . He
gazed dumbfounded at his bed and surroundings. Suddenly the reality
assaulted his brain that had been so sweetly dulled by the first
splendors of the day. Step by step, the host of emotions compressed
into the preceding day, came climbing up the long stairway of his
memory to the last black and red landing of the night before. And
he had slept tranquilly surrounded by enemies, under the
surveillance of an arbitrary power which might destroy him in one of
When he went into the kitchen, the Warden gave him some news. The
Germans were departing. The regiment encamped in the park had left
at daybreak, and after them others, and still others. In the
village there was still one regiment occupying the few houses yet
standing and the ruins of the charred ones. The General had gone
also with his numerous staff. There was nobody in the castle now
but the head of a Reserve brigade whom his aide called "The Count,"
and a few officials.
Upon receiving this information, the proprietor ventured to leave
the lodge. He saw his gardens destroyed, but still beautiful. The
trees were still stately in spite of the damage done to their
trunks. The birds were flying about excitedly, rejoicing to find
themselves again in possession of the spaces so recently flooded by
the human inundation.
Suddenly Desnoyers regretted having sallied forth. Five huge trucks
were lined up near the moat before the castle bridge. Gangs of
soldiers were coming out carrying on their shoulders enormous pieces
of furniture, like peons conducting a moving. A bulky object
wrapped in damask curtains--an excellent substitute for sacking--was
being pushed by four men toward one of the drays. The owner
suspected immediately what it must be. His bath! The famous tub of
gold! . . . Then with an abrupt revulsion of feeling, he felt no
grief at his loss. He now detested the ostentatious thing,
attributing to it a fatal influence. On account of it he was here.
But, ay! . . . the other furnishings piled up in the drays! . . .
In that moment he suffered the extreme agony of misery and
impotence. It was impossible for him to defend his property, to
dispute with the head thief who was sacking his castle, tranquilly
ignoring the very existence of the owner. "Robbers! thieves!" and
he fled back to the lodge.
He passed the remainder of the morning with his elbow on the table,
his head in his hands, the same as the day before, letting the hours
grind slowly by, trying not to hear the rolling of the vehicles that
were bearing away these credentials of his wealth.
Toward midday, the Keeper announced that an officer who had arrived
a few hours before in an automobile was inquiring for him.
Responding to this summons, Desnoyers encountered outside the lodge,
a captain arrayed like the others in sheathed and pointed helmet, in
mustard-colored uniform, red leather boots, sword, revolver, field-
glasses and geographic map hanging in a case from his belt. He
appeared young; on his sleeve was the staff emblem.
"Do you know me? . . . I did not wish to pass through here without
He spoke in Castilian, and Don Marcelo felt greater surprise at this
than at the many things which he had been experiencing so painfully
during the last twenty-four hours.
"You really do not know me?" queried the German, always in Spanish.
"I am Otto. . . . Captain Otto von Hartrott."
The old man's mind went painfully down the staircase of memory,
stopping this time at a far-distant landing. There he saw the old
ranch, and his brother-in-law announcing the birth of his second
son. "I shall give him Bismarck's name," Karl had said. Then,
climbing back past many other platforms, Desnoyers saw himself in
Berlin during his visit to the von Hartrott home where they were
speaking proudly of Otto, almost as learned as the older brother,
but devoting his talents entirely to martial matters. He was then a
lieutenant and studying for admission to the General Staff. "Who
knows but he may turn out to be another Moltke?" said the proud
father . . . and the charming Chichi had thereupon promptly bestowed
upon the warlike wonder a nickname, accepted through the family.
From that time, Otto was Moltkecito (the baby Moltke) to his
Desnoyers was astounded by the transformation which had meanwhile
taken place in the youth. This vigorous captain with the insolent
air who might shoot him at any minute was the same urchin whom he
had seen running around the ranch, the beardless Moltkecito who had
been the butt of his daughter's ridicule. . . .
The soldier, meanwhile, was explaining his presence there. He
belonged to another division. There were many . . . many! They
were advancing rapidly, forming an extensive and solid wall from
Verdun to Paris. His general had sent him to maintain the contact
with the next division, but finding himself near the castle, he had
wished to visit it. A family tie was not a mere word. He still
remembered the days that he had spent at Villeblanche when the
Hartrott family had paid a long visit to their relatives in France.
The officials now occupying the edifice had detained him that he
might lunch with them. One of them had casually mentioned that the
owner of the castle was somewhere about although nobody knew exactly
where. This had been a great surprise to Captain von Hartrott who
had tried to find him, regretting to see him taking refuge in the
"You must leave this hut; you are my uncle," he said haughtily.
"Return to your castle where you belong. My comrades will be much
pleased to make your acquaintance; they are very distinguished men."
He very much regretted whatever the old gentleman might have
suffered. . . He did not know exactly in what that suffering had
consisted, but surmised that the first moments of the invasion had
been cruel ones for him.
"But what else can you expect?" he repeated several times. "That is
At the same time he approved of his having remained on his property.
They had special orders to seize the goods of the fugitives.
Germany wished the inhabitants to remain in their dwellings as
though nothing extraordinary had occurred. . . . Desnoyers
protested. . . . "But if the invaders were shooting the innocent
ones and burning their homes!" . . . His nephew prevented his
saying more. He turned pale, an ashy hue spreading over his face;
his eyes snapped and his face trembled like that of the lieutenant
who had taken possession of the castle.
"You refer to the execution of the mayor and the others. My
comrades have just been telling me about it; yet that castigation
was very mild; they should have completely destroyed the entire
village. They should have killed even the women and children.
We've got to put an end to these sharpshooters."
His uncle looked at him in amazement. His Moltkecito was as
formidable and ferocious as the others. . . . But the captain
brought the conversation to an abrupt close by repeating the
monstrous and everlasting excuse.
"Very horrible, but what else can you expect! . . . That is war."
He then inquired after his mother, rejoicing to learn that she was
in the South. He had been uneasy at the idea of her remaining in
Paris . . . especially with all those revolutions which had been
breaking out there lately! . . . Desnoyers looked doubtful as if he
could not have heard correctly. What revolutions were those? . . .
But the officer, without further explanation, resumed his
conversation about his family, taking it for granted that his
relative would be impatient to learn the fate of his German kin.
They were all in magnificent state. Their illustrious father was
president of various patriotic societies (since his years no longer
permitted him to go to war) and was besides organizing future
industrial enterprises to improve the conquered countries. His
brother, "the Sage," was giving lectures about the nations that the
imperial victory was bound to annex, censuring severely those whose
ambitions were unpretending or weak. The remaining brothers were
distinguishing themselves in the army, one of them having been
presented with a medal at Lorraine. The two sisters, although
somewhat depressed by the absence of their fiances, lieutenants of
the Hussars, were employing their time in visiting the hospitals and
begging God to chastise traitorous England.
Captain von Hartrott was slowly conducting his uncle toward the
castle. The gray and unbending soldiers who, until then, had been
ignoring the existence of Don Marcelo, looked at him with interest,
now that he was in intimate conversation with a member of the
General Staff. He perceived that these men were about to humanize
themselves by casting aside temporarily their inexorable and
Upon entering his mansion something in his heart contracted with an
agonizing shudder. Everywhere he could see dreadful vacancies,
which made him recall the objects which had formerly been there.
Rectangular spots of stronger color announced the theft of furniture
and paintings. With what despatch and system the gentleman of the
armlet had been doing his work! . . . To the sadness that the cold
and orderly spoliation caused was added his indignation as an
economical man, gazing upon the slashed curtains, spotted rugs,
broken crystal and porcelain--all the debris from a ruthless and
His nephew, divining his thoughts, could only offer the same old
excuse--"What a mess! . . . But that is war!"
With Moltkecito, he did not have to subside into the respectful
civilities of fear.
"That is NOT war!" he thundered bitterly. "It is an expedition of
bandits. . . . Your comrades are nothing less than highwaymen."
Captain von Hartrott swelled up with a jerk. Separating himself
from the complainant and looking fixedly at him, he spoke in a low
voice, hissing with wrath. "Look here, uncle! It is a lucky thing
for you that you have expressed yourself in Spanish, and those
around you could not understand you. If you persist in such
comments you will probably receive a bullet by way of an answer.
The Emperor's officials permit no insults." And his threatening
attitude demonstrated the facility with which he could forget his
relationship if he should receive orders to proceed against Don
Thus silenced, the vanquished proprietor hung his head. What was he
going to do? . . . The Captain now renewed his affability as though
he had forgotten what he had just said. He wished to present him to
his companions-at-arms. His Excellency, Count Meinbourg, the Major
General, upon learning that he was a relative of the von Hartrotts,
had done him the honor of inviting him to his table.
Invited into his own demesne, he finally reached the dining room,
filled with men in mustard color and high boots. Instinctively, he
made an inventory of the room. All in good order, nothing broken--
walls, draperies and furniture still intact; but an appraising
glance within the sideboard again caused a clutch at his heart. Two
entire table services of silver, and another of old porcelain had
disappeared without leaving the most insignificant of their pieces.
He was obliged to respond gravely to the presentations which his
nephew was making, and take the hand which the Count was extending
with aristocratic languor. The adversary began considering him with
benevolence, on learning that he was a millionaire from a distant
land where riches were acquired very rapidly.
Soon he was seated as a stranger at his own table, eating from the
same dishes that his family were accustomed to use, served by men
with shaved heads, wearing coarse, striped aprons over their
uniforms. That which he was eating was his, the wine was from his
vaults; all that adorned the room he had bought: the trees whose
boughs were waving outside the window also belonged to him. . . .
And yet he felt as though he were in this place for the first time,
with all the discomfort and diffidence of a total stranger. He ate
because he was hungry, but the food and wines seemed to have come
from another planet.
He continued looking with consternation at those occupying the
places of his wife, children and the Lacours. . . .
They were speaking in German among themselves, but those having a
limited knowledge of French frequently availed themselves of that
language in order that their guest might understand them. Those who
could only mumble a few words, repeated them to an accompaniment of
amiable smiles. All were displaying an amicable desire to
propitiate the owner of the castle.
"You are going to lunch with the barbarians," said the Count,
offering him a seat at his side. "Aren't you afraid that we may eat
The Germans burst into roars of laughter at the wit of His
Excellency. They all took great pains to demonstrate by word and
manner that barbarity was wrongly attributed to them by their
Don Marcelo looked from one to another. The fatigues of war,
especially the forced march of the last days, were very apparent in
their persons. Some were tall and slender with an angular slimness;
others were stocky and corpulent with short neck and head sunk
between the shoulders. These had lost much of their fat in a
month's campaign, the wrinkled and flabby skin hanging in folds in
various parts of their bodies. All had shaved heads, the same as
the soldiers. Around the table shone two rows of cranial spheres,
reddish or dark. Their ears stood out grotesquely, and their jaw
bones were in strong relief owing to their thinness. Some had
preserved the upright moustache in the style of the Emperor; the
most of them were shaved or had a stubby tuft like a brush.
A golden bracelet glistened on the wrist of the Count, stretched on
the table. He was the oldest of them all and the only one that kept
his hair, of a frosty red, carefully combed and glistening with
pomade. Although about fifty years old, he still maintained a
youthful vigor cultivated by exercise. Wrinkled, bony and strong,
he tried to dissimulate his uncouthness as a man of battle under a
suave and indolent laziness. The officers treated him with the
greatest respect. Hartrott told his uncle that the Count was a
great artist, musician and poet. The Emperor was his friend; they
had known each other from boyhood. Before the war, certain scandals
concerning his private life had exiled him from Court--mere lampoons
of the socialists and scandal-mongers. The Kaiser had always kept a
secret affection for his former chum. Everybody remembered his
dance, "The Caprices of Scheherazade," represented with the greatest
luxury in Berlin through the endorsement of his powerful friend,
William II. The Count had lived many years in the Orient. In fact,
he was a great gentleman and an artist of exquisite sensibility as
well as a soldier.
Since Desnoyers was now his guest, the Count could not permit him to
remain silent, so he made an opportunity of bringing him into the
"Did you see any of the insurrections? . . . Did the troops have to
kill many people? How about the assassination of Poincare? . . .
He asked these questions in quick succession and Don Marcelo,
bewildered by their absurdity, did not know how to reply. He
believed that he must have fallen in with a feast of fools. Then he
suspected that they were making fun of him. Uprisings?
Assassinations of the President? . . .
Some gazed at him with pity because of his ignorance, others with
suspicion, believing that he was merely pretending not to know of
these events which had happened so near him.
His nephew insisted. "The daily papers in Germany have been full of
accounts of these matters. Fifteen days ago, the people of Paris
revolted against the Government, bombarding the Palais de l'Elysee,
and assassinating the President. The army had to resort to the
machine guns before order could be restored. . . . Everybody knows
But Desnoyers insisted that he did not know it, that nobody had seen
such things. And as his words were received in an atmosphere of
malicious doubt, he preferred to be silent. His Excellency,
superior spirit, incapable of being associated with the popular
credulity, here intervened to set matters straight. The report of
the assassination was, perhaps, not certain; the German periodicals
might have unconsciously exaggerated it. Just a few hours ago, the
General of the Staff had told him of the flight of the French
Government to Bordeaux, and the statement about the revolution in
Paris and the firing of the French troops was indisputable. "The
gentleman has seen it all without doubt, but does not wish to admit
it." Desnoyers felt obliged to contradict this lordling, but his
negative was not even listened to.
Paris! This name made all eyes glisten and everybody talkative. As
soon as possible they wished to reach the Eiffel Tower, to enter
victorious into the city, to receive their recompense for the
privations and fatigues of a month's campaign. They were devotees
of military glory, they considered war necessary to existence, and
yet they were bewailing the hardship that it was imposing upon them.
The Count exhaled the plaint of the craftsmaster.
"Oh, the havoc that this war has brought in my plans!" he sighed.
"This winter they were going to bring out my dance in Paris!"
They all protested at his sadness; his work would surely be
presented after the triumph, and the French would have to recognize
"It will not be the same thing," complained the Count. "I confess
that I adore Paris. . . . What a pity that these people have never
wished to be on familiar terms with us!" . . . And he relapsed into
the silence of the unappreciated man.
Desnoyers suddenly recognized in one of the officers who was
talking, with eyes bulging with covetousness, of the riches of
Paris, the Chief Thief with the band on his arm. He it was who so
methodically had sacked the castle. As though divining the old
Frenchman's thought, the commissary began excusing himself.
"It is war, monsieur. . . ."
The same as the others! . . . War had to be paid with the treasures
of the conquered. That was the new German system; the healthy
return to the wars of ancient days; tributes imposed on the cities,
and each house sacked separately. In this way, the enemy's
resistance would be more effectually overcome and the war soon
brought to a close. He ought not to be downcast over the
appropriations, for his furnishings and ornaments would all be sold
in Germany. After the French defeat, he could place a remonstrance
claim with his government, petitioning it to indemnify his loss; his
relatives in Berlin would support his demand.
Desnoyers listened in consternation to his counsels. What kind of
mentality had these men, anyway? Were they insane, or were they
trying to have some fun at his expense? . . .
When the lunch was at last ended, the officers arose and adjusted
their swords for service. Captain von Hartrott rose, too; it was
necessary for him to return to his general; he had already dedicated
too much time to family expansion. His uncle accompanied him to the
automobile where Moltkecito once more justified the ruin and plunder
of the castle.
"It is war. . . . We have to be very ruthless that it may not last
long. True kindness consists in being cruel, because then the
terror-stricken enemy gives in sooner, and so the world suffers
Don Marcelo shrugged his shoulders before this sophistry. In the
doorway, the captain gave some orders to a soldier who soon returned
with a bit of chalk which had been used to number the lodging
places. Von Hartrott wished to protect his uncle and began tracing
on the wall near the door:--"Bitte, nicht plundern. Es sind
In response to the old man's repeated questions, he then translated
the inscription. "It means, 'Please do not sack this house. Its
occupants are kind people . . . friendly people.'"
Ah, no! . . . Desnoyers repelled this protection vehemently. He
did not wish to be kind. He was silent because he could not be
anything else. . . . But a friend of the invaders of his
country! . . . No, NO, NO!
His nephew rubbed out part of the lettering, leaving the first
words, "Bitte, nicht plundern." Then he repeated the scrawled
request at the entrance of the park. He thought this notice
advisable because His Excellency might go away and other officials
might be installed in the castle. Von Hartrott had seen much and
his smile seemed to imply that nothing could surprise him, no matter
how outrageous it might be. But his relative continued scorning his
protection, and laughing bitterly at the impromptu signboard. What
more could they carry off? . . . Had they not already stolen the
"Good-bye, uncle! Soon we shall meet in Paris."
And the captain climbed into his automobile, extending a soft, cold
hand that seemed to repel the old man with its flabbiness.
Upon returning to his castle, he saw a table and some chairs in the
shadow of a group of trees. His Excellency was taking his coffee in
the open air, and obliged him to take a seat beside him. Only three
officers were keeping him company. . . . There was here a grand
consumption of liquors from his wine cellars. They were talking
together in German, and for an hour Don Marcelo remained there,
anxious to go but never finding the opportune moment to leave his
seat and disappear.
He employed his time in imagining the great stir among the troops
hidden by the trees. Another division of the army was passing by
with the incessant, deafening roar of the sea. An inexplicable
phenomenon kept the luminous calm of the afternoon in a continuous
state of vibration. A constant thundering sounded afar off as
though an invisible storm were always approaching from beyond the
blue horizon line.
The Count, noticing his evident interest in the noise, interrupted
his German chat to explain.
"It is the cannon. A battle is going on. Soon we shall join in the
The possibility of having to give up his quarters here, the most
comfortable that he had found in all the campaign, put His
Excellency in a bad humor.
"War," he sighed, "a glorious life, but dirty and deadening! In an
entire month--to-day is the first that I have lived as a gentleman."
And as though attracted by the luxuries that he might shortly have
to abandon, he rose and went toward the castle. Two of the Germans
betook themselves toward the village, and Desnoyers remained with
the other officer who was delightfully sampling his liquors. He was
the chief of the battalion encamped in the village.
"This is a sad war, Monsieur!" he said in French.
Of all the inimical group, this man was the only one for whom Don
Marcelo felt a vague attraction. "Although a German, he appears a
good sort," meditated the old man, eyeing him carefully. In times
of peace, he must have been stout, but now he showed the loose and
flaccid exterior of one who has just lost much in weight. Desnoyers
surmised that the man had formerly lived in tranquil and vulgar
sensuousness, in a middle-class happiness suddenly cut short by war.
"What a life, Monsieur!" the officer rambled on. "May God punish
well those who have provoked this catastrophe!"
The Frenchman was almost affected. This man represented the Germany
that he had many times imagined, a sweet and tranquil Germany
composed of burghers, a little heavy and slow perhaps, but atoning
for their natural uncouthness by an innocent and poetic
sentimentalism. This Blumhardt whom his companions called
Bataillon-Kommandeur, was undoubtedly the good father of a large
family. He fancied him walking with his wife and children under the
lindens of a provincial square, all listening with religious unction
to the melodies played by a military band. Then he saw him in the
beer gardens with his friends, discussing metaphysical problems
between business conversations. He was a man from old Germany, a
character from a romance by Goethe. Perhaps the glory of the Empire
had modified his existence, and instead of going to the beer
gardens, he was now accustomed to frequent the officers' casino,
while his family maintained a separate existence--separated from the
civilians by the superciliousness of military caste; but at heart,
he was always the good German, ready to weep copiously before an
affecting family scene or a fragment of good music.
Commandant Blumhardt, meanwhile, was thinking of his family living
"There are eight children, Monsieur," he said with a visible effort
to control emotion. "The two eldest are preparing to become
officers. The youngest is starting school this year. . . . He is
just so high."
And with his right hand he measured off the child's diminutive
stature. He trembled with laughter and grief at recalling the
little chap. Then he broke forth into eulogies about his wife--
excellent manager of the home, a mother who was always modestly
sacrificing herself for her children and husband. Ay, the sweet
Augusta! . . . After twenty years of married life, he adored her as
on the day he first saw her. In a pocket of his uniform, he was
keeping all the letters that she had written him since the beginning
of the campaign.
"Look at her, Monsieur. . . . There are my children."
From his breast pocket, he had drawn forth a silver medallion,
adorned with the art of Munich, and touching a spring, he displayed
the pictures of all the family--the Frau Kommandeur, of an austere
and frigid beauty, imitating the air and coiffure of the Empress;
the Frauleine Kommandeur, clad in white, with uplifted eyes as
though they were singing a musical romance; and at the end, the
children in the uniforms of the army schools or private
institutions. And to think that he might lose these beloved beings
if a bit of iron should hit him! . . . And he had to live far from
them now that it was such fine weather for long walks in the
country! . . .
"Sad war!" he again said. "May God punish the English!"
With a solicitude that Don Marcelo greatly appreciated, he in turn
inquired about the Frenchman's family. He pitied him for having so
few children, and smiled a little over the enthusiasm with which the
old gentleman spoke of his daughter, saluting Fraulein Chichi as a
witty sprite, and expressing great sympathy on learning that the
only son was causing his parents great sorrow by his conduct.
Tender-hearted Commandant! . . . He was the first rational and
human being that he had met in this hell of an invasion. "There are
good people everywhere," he told himself. He hoped that this new
acquaintance would not be moved from the castle; for if the Germans
had to stay there, it would better be this man than the others.
An orderly came to summon Don Marcelo to the presence of His
Excellency. After passing through the salons with closed eyes so as
to avoid useless distress and wrath, he found the Count in his own
bedroom. The doors had been forced open, the floors stripped of
carpet and the window frames of curtains. Only the pieces of
furniture broken in the first moments now occupied their former
places. The sleeping rooms had been stripped more methodically,
everything having been taken that was not required for immediate
use. Because the General with his suite had been lodging there the
night before, this apartment had escaped the arbitrary destruction.
The Count received him with the civility of a grandee who wishes to
be attentive to his guests. He could not consent that HERR
Desnoyers--a relative of a von Hartrott--whom he vaguely remembered
having seen at Court, should be staying in the Keeper's lodge. He
must return to his own room, occupying that bed, solemn as a
catafalque with columns and plumes, which had had the honor, a few
hours before, of serving as the resting-place of an illustrious
General of the Empire.
"I myself prefer to sleep here," he added condescendingly. "This
other habitation accords better with my tastes."
While saying this, he was entering Dona Luisa's rooms, admiring its
Louis Quinze furniture of genuine value, with its dull golds and
tapestries mellowed by time. It was one of the most successful
purchases that Don Marcelo had made. The Count smiled with an
artist's scorn as he recalled the man who had superintended the
"What an ass! . . . To think that he left this behind, supposing
that it was old and ugly!"
Then he looked the owner of the castle squarely in the face.
"Monsieur Desnoyers, I do not believe that I am committing any
indiscretion, and even imagine that I am interpreting your desires
when I inform you that I intend taking this set of furniture with
me. It will serve as a souvenir of our acquaintance, a testimony to
the friendship springing up between us. . . . If it remains here,
it will run the risk of being destroyed. Warriors, of course, are
not obliged to be artists. I will guard these excellent treasures
in Germany where you may see them whenever you wish. We are all
going to be one nation, you know. . . . My friend, the Emperor, is
soon to be proclaimed sovereign of the French."
Desnoyers remained silent. How could he reply to that look of cruel
irony, to the grimace with which the noble lord was underscoring his
words? . . .
"When the war is ended, I will send you a gift from Berlin," he
added in a patronizing tone.
The old collector could say nothing to that, either. He was looking
at the vacant spots which many small pictures had left on the walls,
paintings by famous masters of the XVIII century. The banded
brigand must also have passed these by as too insignificant to carry
off, but the smirk illuminating the Count's face revealed their
He had carefully scrutinized the entire apartment--the adjoining
bedroom, Chichi's, the bathroom, even the feminine robe-room of the
family, which still contained some of the daughter's gowns. The
warrior fondled with delight the fine silky folds of the materials,
gloating over their cool softness.
This contact made him think of Paris, of the fashions, of the
establishments of the great modistes. The rue de la Paix was the
spot which he most admired in his visits to the enemy's city.
Don Marcelo noticed the strong mixture of perfumes which came from
his hair, his moustache, his entire body. Various little jars from
the dressing table were on the mantel.
"What a filthy thing war is!" exclaimed the German. "This morning I
was at last able to take a bath after a week's abstinence; at noon I
shall take another. By the way, my dear sir, these perfumes are
good, but they are not elegant. When I have the pleasure of being
presented to the ladies, I shall give them the addresses of my
source of supply. . . . I use in my home essences from Turkey. I
have many friends there. . . . At the close of the war, I will send
a consignment to the family."
While speaking the Count's eyes had been fixed upon some photographs
upon the table. Examining the portrait of Madame Desnoyers, he
guessed that she must be Dona Luisa. He smiled before the
bewitchingly mischievous face of Mademoiselle Chichi. Very
enchanting; he specially admired her militant, boyish expression;
but he scrutinized the photograph of Julio with special interest.
"Splendid type of youth," he murmured. "An interesting head, and
artistic, too. He would create a great sensation in a fancy-dress
ball. What a Persian prince he would make! . . . A white aigrette
on his head, fastened with a great jewel, the breast bared, a black
tunic with golden birds. . . ."
And he continued seeing in his mind's eye the heir of the Desnoyers
arrayed in all the gorgeous raiment of an Oriental monarch. The
proud father, because of the interest which his son was inspiring,
began to feel a glimmer of sympathy with the man. A pity that he
should select so unerringly and appropriate the choicest things in
Near the head of the bed, Don Marcelo saw lying upon a book of
devotions forgotten by his wife, a medallion containing another
photograph. It did not belong to his family, and the Count,
following the direction of his eyes, wished to show it to him. The
hands of this son of Mars trembled. . . . His disdainful
haughtiness had suddenly disappeared. An official of the Hussars of
Death was smiling from the case; his sharp profile with a beak
curved like a bird of prey, was surmounted by a cap adorned with
skull and cross-bones.
"My best friend," said the Count in tremulous tones. "The being
that I love most in all the world. . . . And to think that at this
moment he may be fighting, and they may kill him! . . . To think
that I, too, may die!"
Desnoyers believed that he must be getting a glimpse into a romance
of the nobleman's past. That Hussar was undoubtedly his natural
son. His simplicity of mind could not conceive of anything else.
Only a father's tenderness could so express itself . . . and he was
almost touched by this tenderness.
Here the interview came to an end, the warrior turning his back as
he left the room in order to hide his emotion. A few minutes after
was heard on the floor below the sound of a grand piano which the
Commissary had not been able to carry off, owing to the general's
interposition. His voice was soon heard above the chords that he
was playing. It was rather a lifeless baritone, but he managed to
impart an impassioned tremolo to his romance. The listening old man
was now really affected; he did not understand the words, but the
tears came into his eyes. He thought of his family, of the sorrows
and dangers about them and of the difficulties surrounding his
return to them. . . . As though under the spell of the melody,
little by little, he descended the stairs. What an artist's soul
that haughty scoffer had! . . . At first sight, the Germans with
their rough exterior and their discipline which made them commit the
greatest atrocities, gave one a wrong impression. One had to live
intimately with them to appreciate their true worth.
By the time the music had ceased, he had reached the castle bridge.
A sub-officer was watching the graceful movements of the swans
gliding double over the waters of the moat. He was a young Doctor
of Laws who just now was serving as secretary to His Excellency--a
university man mobilized by the war.
On speaking with Don Marcelo, he immediately revealed his academic
training. The order for departure had surprised the professor in a
private institute; he was just about to be married and all his plans
had been upset.
"What a calamity, sir! . . . What an overturning for the world! . . .
Yet many of us have foreseen that this catastrophe simply had to
come. We have felt strongly that it might break out any day.
Capital, accursed Capital is to blame."
The speaker was a Socialist. He did not hesitate to admit his co-
operation in certain acts of his party that had brought persecutions
and set-backs to his career. But the Social-Democracy was now being
accepted by the Emperor and flattered by the most reactionary
Junkers. All were now one. The deputies of his party were forming
in the Reichstag the group most obedient to the government. . . .
The only belief that it retained from its former creed, was its
anathematization of Capital--responsible for the war.
Desnoyers ventured to disagree with this enemy who appeared of an
amiable and tolerant character. "Did he not think that the real
responsibility rested with German militarism? Had it not sought and
prepared this conflict, by its arrogance preventing any settlement?"
The Socialist denied this roundly. His deputies were supporting the
war and, therefore, must have good reason. Everything that he said
showed an absolute submission to discipline--the eternal German
discipline, blind and obedient, which was dominating even the most
advanced parties. In vain the Frenchman repeated arguments and
facts which everybody had read from the beginning of the war. His
words simply slid over the calloused brains of this revolutionist,
accustomed to delegating all his reasoning functions to others.
"Who can tell?" he finally said. "Perhaps we have made a mistake.
But just at this moment all is confused; the premises which would
enable us to draw exact conclusions are lacking. When the conflict
ends, we shall know the truly guilty parties, and if they are ours
we shall throw the responsibility upon them."
Desnoyers could hardly keep from laughing at his simplicity. To
wait till the end of the war to know who was to blame! . . . And if
the Empire should come out conqueror, what responsibility could the
Socialists exact in the full pride of victory, they who always
confined themselves to electoral battles, without the slightest
attempt at rebellion?
"Whatever the cause may be," concluded the Socialist, "this war is
very sad. How many dead! . . . I was at Charleroi. One has to see
modern warfare close by. . . . We shall conquer; we are going to
enter Paris, so they say, but many of our men must fall before
obtaining the final victory."
And as though wishing to put these visions of death out of his mind,
he resumed his diversion of watching the swans, offering them bits
of bread so as to make them swing around in their slow and majestic
The Keeper and his family were continually crossing and recrossing
the bridge. Seeing their master on such friendly terms with the
invaders, they had lost some of the fear which had kept them shut up
in their cottage. To the woman it seemed but natural that Don
Marcelo's authority should be recognized by these people; the master
is always the master. And as though she had received a part of this
authority, she was entering the castle fearlessly, followed by her
daughter, in order to put in order her master's sleeping room. They
had decided to pass the night in rooms near his, that he might not
feel so lonely among the Germans.
The two women were carrying bedding and mattresses from the lodge to
the top floor. The Keeper was occupied in heating a second bath for
His Excellency while his wife was bemoaning with gestures of despair
the sacking of the castle. How many exquisite things had
disappeared! . . . Desirous of saving the remainder, she besought
her master to make complaints, as though he could prevent the
individual and stealthy robberies. The orderlies and followers of
the Count were pocketing everything they could lay their hands on,
saying smilingly that they were souvenirs. Later on the woman
approached Desnoyers with a mysterious air to impart a new
revelation. She had seen a head officer force open the chiffoniers
where her mistress was accustomed to keep her lingerie, and he was
making up a package of the finest pieces, including a great quantity
of blonde lace.
"That's the one, Master," she said soon after, pointing to a German
who was writing in the garden, where an oblique ray of sunlight was
filtering through the branches upon his table.
Don Marcelo recognized him with surprise. Commandant Blumhardt,
too! . . . But immediately he excused the act. He supposed it was
only natural that this official should want to take something away
from the castle, since the Count had set the example. Besides, he
took into account the quality of the objects which he was
appropriating. They were not for himself; they were for the wife,
for the daughters. . . . A good father of his family! For more
than an hour now, he had been sitting before that table writing
incessantly, conversing, pen in hand, with his Augusta and all the
family in Cassel. Better that this good man should carry off his
stuff than those other domineering officers with cutting voices and
Desnoyers noticed, too, that the writer raised his head every time
that Georgette, the Warden's daughter, passed by, following her with
his eyes. The poor father! . . . Undoubtedly he was comparing her
with his two girls home in Germany, with all their thoughts on the
war. He, too, was thinking of Chichi, fearing sometimes, that he
might never see her again. In one of her trips from the castle to
her home, Blumhardt called the child to him. She stopped before the
table, timid and shrinking as though she felt a presentiment of
danger, but making an effort to smile. The Prussian father
meanwhile chatted with her, and patted her cheeks with his great
paws--a sight which touched Desnoyers deeply. The memories of a
pacific and virtuous life were rising above the horrors of war.
Decidedly this one enemy was a good man, anyway.
Because of his conclusion, the millionaire smiled indulgently when
the Commandant, leaving the table, came toward him--after delivering
his letter and a bulky package to a soldier to take to the battalion
post-office in the village.
"It is for my family," he explained. "I do not let a day pass
without sending them a letter. Theirs are so precious to me! . . .
I am also sending them a few remembrances."
Desnoyers was on the point of protesting. . . . But with a shrug of
indifference, he concluded to keep silence as if he did not object.
The Commandant continued talking of the sweet Augusta and their
children while the invisible tempest kept on thundering beyond the
serene twilight horizon. Each time the cannonading was more
"The battle," continued Blumhardt. "Always a battle! . . . Surely
it is the last and we are going to win. Within the week, we shall
be entering Paris. . . . But how many will never see it! So many
dead! . . . I understand that to-morrow we shall not be here. All
the Reserves are to combine with the attack so as to overcome the
last resistance. . . . If only I do not fall!" . . .
Thoughts of the possibility of death the following day contracted
his forehead in a scowl of hatred. A deep, vertical line was
parting his eyebrows. He frowned ferociously at Desnoyers as though
making him responsible for his death and the trouble of his family.
For a few moments Don Marcelo could hardly recognize this man,
transformed by warlike passions, as the sweet-natured and friendly
Blumhardt of a little while before.
The sun was beginning to set when a sub-officer, the one of the
Social-Democracy, came running in search of the Commandant.
Desnoyers could not understand what was the matter because they were
speaking in German, but following the direction of the messenger's
continual pointing, he saw beyond the iron gates a group of country
people and some soldiers with guns. Blumhardt, after a brief
reflection, started toward the group and Don Marcelo behind him.
Soon he saw a village lad in the charge of some Germans who were
holding their bayonets to his breast. His face was colorless, with
the whiteness of a wax candle. His shirt, blackened with soot, was
so badly torn that it told of a hand-to-hand struggle. On one
temple was a gash, bleeding badly. A short distance away was a
woman with dishevelled hair, holding a baby, and surrounded by four
children all covered with black grime as though coming from a coal
The woman was pleading desperately, raising her hands appealingly,
her sobs interrupting her story which she was uselessly trying to
tell the soldiers, incapable of understanding her. The petty
officer convoying the band spoke in German with the Commandant while
the woman besought the intervention of Desnoyers. When she
recognized the owner of the castle, she suddenly regained her
serenity, believing that he could intercede for her.
That husky young boy was her son. They had all been hiding since
the day before in the cellar of their burned house. Hunger and the
danger of death from asphyxiation had forced them finally to venture
forth. As soon as the Germans had seen her son, they had beaten him
and were going to shoot him as they were shooting all the young men.
They believed that the lad was twenty years old, the age of a
soldier, and in order that he might not join the French army, they
were going to kill him.
"It's a lie!" shrieked the mother. "He is not more than eighteen . . .
not eighteen . . . a little less--he's only seventeen."
She turned to those who were following behind, in order to implore
their testimony--sad women, equally dirty, their ragged garments
smelling of fire, poverty and death. All assented, adding their
outcries to those of the mother. Some even went so far as to say
that the overgrown boy was only sixteen . . . fifteen! And to this
feminine chorus was added the wailing of the little ones looking at
their brother with eyes distended with terror.
The Commandant examined the prisoner while he listened to the
official. An employee of the township had said carelessly that the
child was about twenty, never dreaming that with this inaccuracy he
was causing his death.
"It was a lie!" repeated the mother guessing instinctively what they
were saying. "That man made a mistake. My boy is robust and,
therefore, looks older than he is, but he is not twenty. . . . The
gentleman from the castle who knows him can tell you so. Is it not
so, Monsieur Desnoyers?"
Since, in her maternal desperation, she had appealed to his
protection, Don Marcelo believed that he ought to intervene, and so
he spoke to the Commandant. He knew this youth very well (he did
not ever remember having seen him before) and believed that he
really was under twenty.
"And even if he were of age," he added, "is that a crime to shoot a
Blumhardt did not reply. Since he had recovered his functions of
command, he ignored absolutely Don Marcelo's existence. He was
about to say something, to give an order, but hesitated. It might
be better to consult His Excellency . . . and seeing that he was
going toward the castle, Desnoyers marched by his side.
"Commandant, this cannot be," he commenced saying. "This lacks
common sense. To shoot a man on the suspicion that he may be twenty
But the Commandant remained silent and continued on his way. As
they crossed the bridge, they heard the sound of the piano--a good
omen, Desnoyers thought. The aesthete who had so touched him with
his impassioned voice, was going to say the saving word.
On entering the salon, he did not at first recognize His Excellency.
He saw a man sitting at the piano wearing no clothing but a Japanese
dressing gown--a woman's rose-colored kimono, embroidered with
golden birds, belonging to Chichi. At any other time, he would have
burst into roars of laughter at beholding this scrawny, bony warrior
with the cruel eyes, with his brawny braceleted arms appearing
through the loose sleeves. After taking his bath, the Count had
delayed putting on his uniform, luxuriating in the silky contact of
the feminine tunic so like his Oriental garments in Berlin.
Blumhardt did not betray the slightest astonishment at the aspect of
his general. In the customary attitude of military erectness, he
spoke in his own language while the Count listened with a bored air,
meanwhile passing his fingers idly over the keys.
A shaft of sunlight from a nearby window was enveloping the piano
and musician in a halo of gold. Through the window, too, was
wafting the poetry of the sunset--the rustling of the leaves, the
hushed song of the birds and the hum of the insects whose
transparent wings were glowing like sparks in the last rays of the
sun. The General, annoyed that his dreaming melancholy should be
interrupted by this inopportune visit, cut short the Commandant's
story with a gesture of command and a word . . . one word only. He
said no more. He took two puffs from a Turkish cigarette that was
slowly scorching the wood of the piano, and again ran his hands over
the ivory keys, catching up the broken threads of the vague and
tender improvisation inspired by the gloaming.
"Thanks, Your Excellency," said the gratified Desnoyers, surmising
his magnanimous response.
The Commandant had disappeared, nor could the Frenchman find him
outside the castle. A soldier was pacing up and down near the iron
gates in order to transmit commands, and the guards were pushing
back with blows from their guns, a screaming group of women and tiny
children. The entrance was entirely cleared! undoubtedly the crowds
were returning to the village after the General's pardon. . . .
Desnoyers was half way down the avenue when he heard a howling sound
composed of many voices, a hair-raising shriek such as only womanly
desperation can send forth. At the same time, the air was vibrating
with snaps, the loud cracking sound that he knew from the day
before. Shots! . . . He imagined that on the other side of the
iron railing there were some writhing bodies struggling to escape
from powerful arms, and others fleeing with bounds of fear. He saw
running toward him a horror-stricken, sobbing woman with her hands
to her head. It was the wife of the Keeper who a little while
before had joined the desperate group of women.
"Oh, don't go on, Master," she called stopping his hurried step.
"They have killed him. . . . They have just shot him."
Don Marcelo stood rooted to the ground. Shot! . . . and after the
General's pardon! . . . Suddenly he ran back to the castle, hardly
knowing what he was doing, and soon reached the salon. His
Excellency was still at the piano. humming in low tones, his eyes
moistened by the poesy of his dreams. But the breathless old
gentleman did not stop to listen.
"They have shot him, Your Excellency. . . . They have just killed
him in spite of your order."
The smile which crossed the Count's face immediately informed him of
"That is war, my dear sir," said the player, pausing for a moment.
"War with its cruel necessities. . . . It is always expedient to
destroy the enemy of to-morrow."
And with a pedantic air as though he were giving a lesson, he
discoursed about the Orientals, great masters of the art of living.
One of the personages most admired by him was a certain Sultan of
the Turkish conquest who, with his own hands, had strangled the sons
of the adversary. "Our foes do not come into the world on horseback
and brandishing the lance," said that hero. "All are born as
children, and it is advisable to wipe them from the face of the
earth before they grow up."
Desnoyers listened without taking it in. One thought only was
occupying his mind. . . . That man that he had supposed just, that
sentimentalist so affected by his own singing, had, between two
arpeggios, coldly given the order for death! . . .
The Count made a gesture of impatience. He might retire now, and he
counselled him to be more discreet in the future, avoiding mixing
himself up in the affairs of the service. Then he turned his back,
running his hands over the piano, and giving himself up to
For Don Marcelo there now began an absurd life of the most
extraordinary events, an experience which was going to last four
days. In his life history, this period represented a long
parenthesis of stupefaction, slashed by the most horrible visions.
Not wishing to meet these men again, he abandoned his own bedroom,
taking refuge on the top floor in the servants' quarters, near the
room selected by the Warden and his family. In vain the good woman
kept offering him things to eat as the night came on--he had no
appetite. He lay stretched out on the bed, preferring to be alone
with his thoughts in the dark. When would this martyrdom ever come
to an end? . . .
There came into his mind the recollection of a trip which he had
made to London some years ago. In his imagination he again saw the
British Museum and certain Assyrian bas-reliefs--relics of bestial
humanity, which had filled him with terror. The warriors were
represented as burning the towns; the prisoners were beheaded in
heaps; the pacific countrymen were marching in lines with chains on
their necks, forming strings of slaves. Until that moment he had
never realized the advance which civilization had made through the
centuries. Wars were still breaking out now and then, but they had
been regulated by the march of progress. The life of the prisoner
was now held sacred; the captured towns must be respected; there
existed a complete code of international law to regulate how men
should be killed and nations should combat, causing the least
possible harm. . . . But now he had just seen the primitive
realities of war. The same as that of thousands of years ago! The
men with the helmets were proceeding in exactly the same way as
those ferocious and perfumed satraps with blue mitre and curled
beard. The adversary was shot although not carrying arms; the
prisoner died of shot or blow from the gun; the civilian captives
were sent in crowds to Germany like those of other centuries. Of
what avail was all our so-called Progress? Where was our boasted
civilization? . . .
He was awakened by the light of a candle in his eyes. The Warden's
wife had come up again to see if he needed anything.
"Oh, what a night, Master! Just hear them yelling and singing! The
bottles that they have emptied! . . . They are in the dining room.
You better not see them. Now they are amusing themselves by
breaking the furniture. Even the Count is drunk; drunk, too, is
that Commandant that you were talking with, and all the rest. . . .
Some of them are dancing half-naked."
She evidently wished to keep quiet about certain details, but her
love of talking got the better of her discretion. Some of the
officers had dressed themselves up in the hats and gowns of her
mistress and were dancing and shouting, imitating feminine
seductiveness and affectations. . . . One of them had been greeted
with roars of enthusiasm upon presenting himself with no other
clothing than a "combination" of Mademoiselle Chichi's. Many were
taking obscene delight in soiling the rugs and filling the sideboard
drawers with indescribable filth, using the finest linens that they
could lay their hands on.
Her master silenced her peremptorily. Why tell him such vile,
disgusting things? . . .
"And we are obliged to wait on them!" wailed the woman. "They are
beside themselves; they appear like different beings. The soldiers
are saying that they are going to resume their march at daybreak.
There is a great battle on, and they are going to win it; but it is
necessary that everyone of them should fight in it. . . . My poor,
sick husband just can't stand it any longer. So many humiliations . . .
and my little girl . . . . My little girl!"
The child was her greatest anxiety. She had her well hidden away,
but she was watching uneasily the goings and comings of some of
these men maddened with alcohol. The most terrible of them all was
that fat officer who had patted Georgette so paternally.
Apprehension for her daughter's safety made her hurry restlessly
away, saying over and over:
"God has forgotten the world. . . . Ay, what is ever going to
become of us!"
Don Marcelo was now tinglingly awake. Through the open window was
blowing the clear night air. The cannonading was still going on,
prolonging the conflict way into the night. Below the castle the
soldiers were intoning a slow and melodious chant that sounded like
a psalm. From the interior of the edifice rose the whoopings of
brutal laughter, the crash of breaking furniture, and the mad chase
of dissolute pursuit. When would this diabolical orgy ever wear
itself down? . . . For a long time he was not at all sleepy, but
was gradually losing consciousness of what was going on around him
when he was roused with a start. Near him, on the same floor, a
door had fallen with a crash, unable to resist a succession of
formidable batterings. This was followed immediately by the screams
of a woman, weeping, desperate supplications, the noise of a
struggle, reeling steps, and the thud of bodies against the wall.
He had a presentiment that it was Georgette shrieking and trying to
defend herself. Before he could put his feet to the floor he heard
a man's voice, which he was sure was the Keeper's; she was safe.
"Ah, you villain!" . . .
Then the outbreak of a second struggle . . . a shot . . . silence!
Rushing down the hallway that ended at the stairway Desnoyers saw
lights, and many men who came trooping up the stairs, bounding over
several steps at a time. He almost fell over a body from which
escaped a groan of agony. At his feet lay the Warden, his chest
moving like a pair of bellows, his eyes glassy and unnaturally
distended, his mouth covered with blood. . . . Near him glistened a
kitchen knife. Then he saw a man with a revolver in one hand, and
holding shut with the other a broken door that someone was trying to
open from within. Don Marcelo recognized him, in spite of his
greenish pallor and wild look. It was Blumhardt--another Blumhardt
with a bestial expression of terrifying ferocity and lust.
Don Marcelo could see clearly how it had all happened--the debauchee
rushing through the castle in search of his prey, the anxious father
in close pursuit, the cries of the girl, the unequal struggle
between the consumptive with his emergency weapon and the warrior
triumphant. The fury of his youth awoke in the old Frenchman,
sweeping everything before it. What did it matter if he did
die? . . .
"Ah, you villain!" he yelled, as the poor father had done.
And with clenched fists he marched up to the German, who smiled
coldly and held his revolver to his eyes. He was just going to
shoot him . . . but at that instant Desnoyers fell to the floor,
knocked down by those who were leaping up the stairs. He received
many blows, the heavy boots of the invaders hammering him with their
heels. He felt a hot stream pouring over his face. Blood! . . .
He did not know whether it was his own or that of the palpitating
mortal slowly dying beside him. Then he found himself lifted from
the floor by many hands which pushed him toward a man. It was His
Excellency, with his uniform burst open and smelling of wine. Eyes
and voice were both trembling.
"My dear sir," he stuttered, trying to recover this suave irony, "I
warned you not to interfere in our affairs and you have not obeyed
me. You may now take the consequences of your lack of discretion."
He gave an order, and the old man felt himself pushed downstairs to
the cellars underneath the castle. Those conducting him were
soldiers under the command of a petty officer whom he recognized as
the Socialist. This young professor was the only one sober, but he
maintained himself erect and unapproachable with the ferocity of
He put his prisoner into an arched vault without any breathing-place
except a tiny window on a level with the floor. Many broken bottles
and chests with some straw were all that was in the cave.
"You have insulted a head officer!" said the official roughly, "and
they will probably shoot you to-morrow. Your only salvation lies in
the continuance of the revels, in which case they may forget you."
As the door of this sub-cellar was broken, like all the others in
the building, a pile of boxes and furniture was heaped in the
Don Marcelo passed the rest of the night tormented with the cold--
the only thing which worried him just then. He had abandoned all
hope of life; even the images of his family seemed blotted from his
memory. He worked in the dark in order to make himself more
comfortable on the chests, burrowing down into the straw for the
sake of its heat. When the morning breeze began to sift in through
the little window he fell slowly into a heavy, overpowering sleep,
like that of criminals condemned to death, or duellists before the
fatal morning. He thought he heard shouts in German, the galloping
of horses, a distant sound of tattoo and whistle such as the
battalions of the invaders made with their fifes and drums. . . .
Then he lost all consciousness of his surroundings.
On opening his eyes again a ray of sunlight, slipping through the
window, was tracing a little golden square on the wall, giving a
regal splendor to the hanging cobwebs. Somebody was removing the
barricade before the door. A woman's voice, timid and distressed,
was calling repeatedly:
"Master, are you here?"
He sprang up quickly, wishing to aid the worker outside, and pushing
vigorously. He thought that the invaders must have left. In no
other way could he imagine the Warden's wife daring to try to get
him out of his cell.
"Yes, they have gone," she said. "Nobody is left in the castle."
As soon as he was able to get out Don Marcelo looked inquiringly at
the woman with her bloodshot eyes, dishevelled hair and sorrow-drawn
face. The night had weighed her down pitilessly with the pressure
of many years. All the energy with which she had been working to
free Desnoyers disappeared on seeing him again. "Oh, Master . . .
Master," she moaned convulsively; and she flung herself into his
arms, bursting into tears.
Don Marcelo did not need to ask anything further; he dreaded to know
the truth. Nevertheless, he asked after her husband. Now that he
was awake and free, he cherished the fleeting hope that what he had
gone through the night before was but another of his nightmares.
Perhaps the poor man was still living. . . .
"They killed him, Monsieur. That man who seemed so good murdered
him. . . . And I don't know where his body is; nobody will tell
She had a suspicion that the corpse was in the fosse. The green and
tranquil waters had closed mysteriously over this victim of the
night. . . . Desnoyers suspected that another sorrow was troubling
the mother still more, but he kept modestly silent. It was she who
finally spoke, between outbursts of grief. . . . Georgette was now
in the lodge. Horror-stricken and shuddering, she had fled there
when the invaders had left the castle. They had kept her in their
power until the last minute.
"Oh, Master, don't look at her. . . . She is trembling and sobbing
at the thought that you may speak with her about what she has gone
through. She is almost out of her mind. She longs to die! Ay, my
little girl! . . . And is there no one who will punish these
They had come up from the cellars and crossed the bridge, the woman
looking fixedly into the silent waters. The dead body of a swan was
floating upon them. Before their departure, while their horses were
being saddled, two officers had amused themselves by chasing with
revolver shots the birds swimming in the moat. The aquatic plants
were spotted with blood; among the leaves were floating some tufts
of limp white plumage like a bit of washing escaped from the hands
of a laundress.
Don Marcelo and the woman exchanged a compassionate glance, and then
looked pityingly at each other as the sunlight brought out more
strongly their aging, wan appearance.
The passing of these people had destroyed everything. There was no
food left in the castle except some crusts of dry bread forgotten in
the kitchen. "And we have to live, Monsieur!" exclaimed the woman
with reviving energy as she thought of her daughter's need. "We
have to live, if only to see how God punishes them!" The old man
shrugged his shoulders in despair; God? . . . But the woman was
right; they had to live.
With the famished audacity of his early youth, when he was
travelling over boundless tracts of land, driving his herds of
cattle, he now rushed outside the park, hunting for some form of
sustenance. He saw the valley, fair and green, basking in the sun;
the groups of trees, the plots of yellowish soil with the hard
spikes of stubble; the hedges in which the birds were singing--all
the summer splendor of a countryside developed and cultivated during
fifteen centuries by dozens and dozens of generations. And yet--
here he was alone at the mercy of chance, likely to perish with
hunger--more alone than when he was crossing the towering heights of
the Andes--those irregular slopes of rocks and snow wrapped in
endless silence, only broken from time to time by the flapping of
the condor's wings. Nobody. . . . His gaze could not distinguish a
single movable point--everything fixed, motionless, crystallized, as
though contracted with fear before the peals of thunder which were
still rumbling around the horizon.
He went on toward the village--a mass of black walls with a few
houses still intact, and a roofless bell tower with its cross
twisted by fire. Nobody in the streets sown with bottles, charred
chunks of wood, and soot-covered rubbish. The dead bodies had
disappeared, but a nauseating smell of decomposing and burned flesh
assailed his nostrils. He saw a mound of earth where the shooting
had taken place, and from it were protruding two feet and a hand.
At his approach several black forms flew up into the air from a
trench so shallow that the bodies within were exposed to view. A
whirring of stiff wings beat the air above him, flying off with the
croakings of wrath. He explored every nook and corner, even
approaching the place where the troopers had erected their
barricade. The carts were still by the roadside.
He then retraced his steps, calling out before the least injured
houses, and putting his head through the doors and windows that were
unobstructed or but half consumed. Was nobody left in Villeblanche?
He descried among the ruins something advancing on all fours,
a species of reptile that stopped its crawling with movements of
hesitation and fear, ready to retreat or slip into its hole under
the ruins. Suddenly the creature stopped and stood up. It was a
man, an old man. Other human larvae were coming forth conjured by
his shouts--poor beings who hours ago had given up the standing
position which would have attracted the bullets of the enemy, and
had been enviously imitating the lower organisms, squirming through
the dirt as fast as they could scurry into the bosom of the earth.
They were mostly women and children, all filthy and black, with
snarled hair, the fierceness of animal appetite in their eyes--the
faintness of the weak animal in their hanging jaws. They were all
living hidden in the ruins of their homes. Fear had made them
temporarily forget their hunger, but finding that the enemy had
gone, they were suddenly assailed by all necessitous demands,
intensified by hours of anguish.
Desnoyers felt as though he were surrounded by a tribe of brutalized
and famished Indians like those he had often seen in his adventurous
voyages. He had brought with him from Paris a quantity of gold
pieces, and he pulled out a coin which glittered in the sun. Bread
was needed, everything eatable was needed; he would pay without
The flash of gold aroused looks of enthusiasm and greediness, but
this impression was short-lived, all eyes contemplating the yellow
discs with indifference. Don Marcelo was himself convinced that the
miraculous charm had lost its power. They all chanted a chorus of
sorrow and horrors with slow and plaintive voice, as though they
stood weeping before a bier: "Monsieur, they have killed my
husband." . . . "Monsieur, my sons! Two of them are missing." . . .
Monsieur, they have taken all the men prisoners: they say it is
to work the land in Germany." . . . "Monsieur, bread! . . . My
little ones are dying of hunger!"
One woman was lamenting something worse than death. "My girl! . . .
My poor girl!" Her look of hatred and wild desperation revealed the
secret tragedy; her outcries and tears recalled that other mother
who was sobbing in the same way up at the castle. In the depths of
some cave, was lying the victim, half-dead with fatigue, shaken with
a wild delirium in which she still saw the succession of brutal
faces, inflamed with simian passion.
The miserable group, forming themselves into a circle around him,
stretched out their hands beseechingly toward the man whom they knew
to be so very rich. The women showed him the death-pallor on the
faces of their scarcely breathing babies, their eyes glazed with
starvation. "Bread! . . . bread!" they implored, as though he could
work a miracle. He gave to one mother the gold piece that he had in
his hand and distributed more to the others. They took them without
looking at them, and continued their lament, "Bread! . . . Bread!"
And he had gone to the village to make the same supplication! . . .
He fled, recognizing the uselessness of his efforts.
THE BANNER OF THE RED CROSS
Returning in desperation to his estate, Don Marcelo Desnoyers saw
huge automobiles and men on horseback, forming a very long convoy
and completely filling the road. They were all going in his
direction. At the entrance to the park a band of Germans was
putting up the wires for a telephone line. They had just been
reconnoitering the rooms befouled with the night's saturnalia, and
were ha-haing boisterously over Captain von Hartrott's inscription,
"Bitte, nicht plundern." To them it seemed the acme of wit--truly
The convoy now invaded the park with its automobiles and trucks
bearing a red cross. A war hospital was going to be established in
the castle. The doctors were dressed in grayish green and armed the
same as the officers; they also imitated their freezing hauteur and
repellent unapproachableness. There came out of the drays hundreds
of folding cots, which were placed in rows in the different rooms.
The furniture that still remained was thrown out in a heap under the
trees. Squads of soldiers were obeying with mechanical promptitude
the brief and imperious orders. An odor of an apothecary shop, of
concentrated drugs, now pervaded the quarters, mixed with the strong
smell of the antiseptics with which they were sprinkling the walls
in order to disinfect the filthy remains of the nocturnal orgy.
Then he saw women clad in white, buxom girls with blue eyes and
flaxen hair. They were grave, bland, austere and implacable in
appearance. Several times they pushed Desnoyers out of their way as
if they did not see him. They looked like nuns, but with revolvers
under their habits.
At midday other automobiles began to arrive, attracted by the
enormous white flag with the red cross, which was now waving from
the castle tower. They came from the division battling beyond the
Marne. Their metal fittings were dented by projectiles, their wind-
shields broken by star-shaped holes. From their interiors appeared
men and more men; some on foot, others on canvas stretchers--faces
pale and rubicund, profiles aquiline and snubby, red heads and
skulls wrapped in white turbans stiff with blood; mouths that
laughed with bravado and mouths that groaned with bluish lips; jaws
supported with mummy-like bandages; giants in agony whose wounds
were not apparent; shapeless forms ending in a head that talked and
smoked; legs with hanging flesh that was dyeing the First Aid
wrappings with their red moisture; arms that hung as inert as dead
boughs; torn uniforms in which were conspicuous the tragic vacancies
of absent members.
This avalanche of suffering was quickly distributed throughout the
castle. In a few hours it was so completely filled that there was
not a vacant bed--the last arrivals being laid in the shadow of the
trees. The telephones were ringing incessantly; the surgeons in
coarse aprons were going from one side to the other, working
rapidly; human life was submitted to savage proceedings with
roughness and celerity. Those who died under it simply left one
more cot free for the others that kept on coming. Desnoyers saw
bloody baskets filled with shapeless masses of flesh, strips of
skin, broken bones, entire limbs. The orderlies were carrying these
terrible remnants to the foot of the park in order to bury them in a
little plot which had been Chichi's favorite reading nook.
Pairs of soldiers were carrying out objects wrapped in sheets which
the owner recognized as his. These were the dead, and the park was
soon converted into a cemetery. No longer was the little retreat
large enough to hold the corpses and the severed remains from the
operations. New grave trenches were being opened near by. The
Germans armed with shovels were pressing into service a dozen of the
farmer-prisoners to aid in unloading the dead. Now they were
bringing them down by the cartload, dumping them in like the rubbish
from some demolished building. Don Marcelo felt an abnormal delight
in contemplating this increasing number of vanquished enemies, yet
he grieved at the same time that this precipitation of intruders
should be deposited forever on his property.
At nightfall, overwhelmed by so many emotions, he again suffered the
torments of hunger. All day long he had eaten nothing but the crust
of bread found in the kitchen by the Warden's wife. The rest he had
left for her and her daughter. A distress as harrowing to him as
his hunger was the sight of poor Georgette's shocked despondency.
She was always trying to escape from his presence in an agony of
"Don't let the Master see me!" she would cry, hiding her face.
Since his presence seemed to recall more vividly the memory of her
assaults, Desnoyers tried, while in the lodge, to avoid going near
Desperate with the gnawings of his empty stomach, he accosted
several doctors who were speaking French, but all in vain. They
would not listen to him, and when he repeated his petitions they
pushed him roughly out of their way. . . . He was not going to
perish with hunger in the midst of his riches! Those people were
eating; the indifferent nurses had established themselves in his
kitchen. . . . But the time passed on without encountering anybody
who would take pity on this old man dragging himself weakly from one
place to another, in the misery of an old age intensified by
despair, and suffering in every part of the body, the results of the
blows of the night before. He now knew the gnawings of a hunger far
worse than that which he had suffered when journeying over the
desert plains--a hunger among men, in a civilized country, wearing a
belt filled with gold, surrounded with towers and castle halls which
were his, but in the control of others who would not condescend to
listen to him. And for this piteous ending of his life he had
amassed millions and returned to Europe! . . . Ah, the irony of
fate! . . .
He saw a doctor's assistant leaning up against a tree, about to
devour a slab of bread and sausage. His envious eyes scrutinized
this fellow, tall, thick-set, his jaws bristling with a great red
beard. The trembling old man staggered up to him, begging for the
food by signs and holding out a piece of money. The German's eyes
glistened at the sight of the gold, and a beatific smile stretched
his mouth from ear to ear.
"Ya," he responded, and grabbing the money, he handed over the food.
Don Marcelo commenced to swallow it with avidity. Never had he so
appreciated the sheer ecstasy of eating as at that instant--in the
midst of his gardens converted into a cemetery, before his despoiled
castle where hundreds of human beings were groaning in agony. A
grayish arm passed before his eyes; it belonged to the German, who
had returned with two slices of bread and a bit of meat snatched
from the kitchen. He repeated his smirking "Ya?" . . . and after
his victim had secured it by means of another gold coin, he was able
to take it to the two women hidden in the cottage.
During the night--a night of painful watching, cut with visions of
horror, it seemed to him that the roar of the artillery was coming
nearer. It was a scarcely perceptible difference, perhaps the
effect of the silence of the night which always intensifies sound.
The ambulances continued coming from the front, discharging their
cargoes of riddled humanity and going back for more. Desnoyers
surmised that his castle was but one of the many hospitals
established in a line of more than eighty miles, and that on the
other side, behind the French, were many similar ones in which the
same activity was going on--the consignments of dying men succeeding
each other with terrifying frequency. Many of the combatants were
not even having the satisfaction of being taken from the battle
field, but were lying groaning on the ground, burying their bleeding
members in the dust or mud, and weltering in the ooze from their
wounds. . . . And Don Marcelo, who a few hours before had been
considering himself the unhappiest of mortals, now experienced a
cruel joy in reflecting that so many thousands of vigorous men at
the point of death could well envy him for his hale old age, and for
the tranquillity with which he was reposing on that humble bed.
The next morning the orderly was waiting for him in the same place,
holding out a napkin filled with eatables. Good red-bearded man,
helpful and kind! . . . and he offered him the piece of gold.
"Nein," replied the fellow, with a broad, malicious grin. Two
gleaming gold pieces appeared between Don Marcelo's fingers.
Another leering "Nein" and a shake of the head. Ah, the robber!
How he was taking advantage of his necessity! . . . And not until
he had produced five gold coins was he able to secure the package.
He soon began to notice all around him a silent and sly conspiracy
to get possession of his money. A giant in a sergeant's uniform put
a shovel in his hand. pushing him roughly forward. He soon found
himself in a corner of the park that had been transformed into a
graveyard, near the cart of cadavers; there he had to shovel dirt on
his own ground in company with the indignant prisoners.
He averted his eyes so as not to look at the rigid and grotesque
bodies piled above him at the edge of the pit, ready to be tumbled
in. The ground was sending forth an insufferable odor, for
decomposition had already set in in the nearby trenches. The
persistence with which his overseers accosted him, and the crafty
smile of the sergeant made him see through the deep-laid scheme.
The red-beard must be at the bottom of all this. Putting his hand
in his pocket he dropped the shovel with a look of interrogation.
"Ya," replied the sergeant. After handing over the required sum,
the tormented old man was permitted to stop grave-digging and wander
around at his pleasure; he knew, however, what was probably in store
for him--those men were going to submit him to a merciless
Another day passed by, like its predecessor. In the morning of the
following day his perceptions, sharpened by apprehension, made him
conjecture that something extraordinary had occurred. The
automobiles were arriving and departing with greater rapidity, and
there was greater disorder and confusion among the executive force.
The telephone was ringing with mad precipitation; and the wounded
arrivals seemed more depressed. The day before they had been
singing when taken from the vehicles, hiding their woe with laughter
and bravado, all talking of the near victory and regretting that
they would not be able to witness the triumphal entry into Paris.
Now they were all very silent, with furrowed brows, thinking no
longer about what was going on behind them, wondering only about
their own fate.
Outside the park was the buzz of the approaching throng which was
blackening the roads. The invasion was beginning again, but with a
refluent movement. For hours at a time great strings of gray trucks
went puffing by; then regiments of infantry, squadrons, rolling
stock. They were marching very slowly with a deliberation that
puzzled Desnoyers, who could not make out whether this recessional
meant flight or change of position. The only thing that gave him
any satisfaction was the stupefied and downcast appearance of the
soldiers, the gloomy sulks of the officers. Nobody was shouting;
they all appeared to have forgotten their "Nach Paris!" The
greenish gray monster still had its armed head stretched across the
other side of the Marne, but its tail was beginning to uncoil with
After night had settled down the troops were still continuing to
fall back. The cannonading was certainly coming nearer. Some of
the thunderous claps sounded so close that they made the glass
tremble in the windows. A fugitive farmer, trying to find refuge in
the park, gave Don Marcelo some news. The Germans were in full
retreat. They had installed some of their batteries on the banks of
the Marne in order to attempt a new resistance. . . . And the new
arrival remained without attracting the attention of the invaders
who, a few days before, would have shot him on the slightest
The mechanical workings of discipline were evidently out of gear.
Doctors and nurses were running from place to place, shouting orders
and breaking out into a volley of curses every time a fresh
ambulance load arrived. The drivers were commanded to take their
patients on ahead to another hospital near the rear-guard. Orders
had been received to evacuate the castle that very night.
In spite of this prohibition, one of the ambulances unloaded its
relay of wounded men. So deplorable was their state that the
doctors accepted them, judging it useless for them to continue their
journey. They remained in the garden, lying on the same stretchers
that they had occupied within the vehicle. By the light of the
lanterns Desnoyers recognized one of the dying. It was the
secretary to His Excellency, the Socialist professor who had shut
him in the cellar vaults.
At the sight of the owner of the castle he smiled as though he had
met a comrade. His was the only familiar face among all those
people who were speaking his language. He was ghastly in hue, with
sunken features and an impalpable glaze spreading over his eyes. He
had no visible wounds, but from under the cloak spread over his
abdomen his torn intestines exhaled a fatal warning. The presence
of Don Marcelo made him guess where they had brought him, and little
by little he co-ordinated his recollections. As though the old
gentleman might be interested in the whereabouts of his comrades, he
told him all he knew in a weak and strained voice. . . . Bad luck
for their brigade! They had reached the front at a critical moment
for the reserve troops. Commandant Blumhardt had died at the very
first, a shell of '75 taking off his head. Dead, too, were all the
officers who had lodged in the castle. His Excellency had had his
jaw bone torn off by a fragment of shell. He had seen him on the
ground, howling with pain, drawing a portrait from his breast and
trying to kiss it with his broken mouth. He had himself been hit in
the stomach by the same shell. He had lain forty-two hours on the
field before he was picked up by the ambulance corps. . . .
And with the mania of the University man, whose hobby is to see
everything reasoned out and logically explained, he added in that
supreme moment, with the tenacity of those who die talking:
"Sad war, sir. . . . Many premises are lacking in order to decide
who is the culpable party. . . . When the war is ended they will
have to . . . will have to . . ." And he closed his eyes overcome
by the effort. Desnoyers left the dead man, thinking to himself.
Poor fellow! He was placing the hour of justice at the termination
of the war, and meanwhile hundreds like him were dying, disappearing
with all their scruples of ponderous and disciplined reasoning.
That night there was no sleep on the place. The walls of the lodge
were creaking, the glass crashing and breaking, the two women in the
adjoining room crying out nervously. The noise of the German fire
was beginning to mingle with that of other explosives close at hand.
He surmised that this was the smashing of the French projectiles
which were coming in search of the enemy's artillery above the
For a few minutes his hopes revived as the possibility of victory
flashed into his mind, but he was so depressed by his forlorn
situation that such a hope evaporated as quickly as it had come.
His own troops were advancing, but this advance did not, perhaps,
represent more than a local gain. The line of battle was so
extensive! . . . It was going to be as in 1870; the French would
achieve partial victories, modified at the last moment by the
strategy of the enemies until they were turned into complete defeat.
After midnight the cannonading ceased, but silence was by no means
re-established. Automobiles were rolling around the lodge midst
hoarse shouts of command. It must be the hospital convoy that was
evacuating the castle. Then near daybreak the thudding of horses'
hoofs and the wheels of chugging machines thundered through the
gates, making the ground tremble. Half an hour afterwards sounded
the tramp of multitudes moving at a quick pace, dying away in the
depths of the park.
At dawn the old gentleman leaped from his bed, and the first thing
he spied from the cottage window was the flag of the Red Cross still
floating from the top of the castle. There were no more cots under
the trees. On the bridge he met one of the doctors and several
assistants. The hospital force had gone with all its transportable
patients. There only remained in the castle, under the care of a
company, those most gravely wounded. The Valkyries of the health
department had also disappeared.
The red-bearded Shylock was among those left behind, and on seeing
Don Marcelo afar off, he smiled and immediately vanished. A few
minutes after he returned with full hands. Never before had he been
so generous. Foreseeing pressing necessity, the hungry man put his
hands in his pockets as usual, but was astonished to learn from the
orderly's emphatic gestures that he did not wish any money.
"Nein. . . . Nein!"
What generosity was this! . . . The German persisted in his
negatives. His enormous mouth expanded in an ingratiating grin as
he laid his heavy paws on Marcelo's shoulders. He appeared like a
good dog, a meek dog, fawning and licking the hands of the passer-
by, coaxing to be taken along with him. "Franzosen. . . .
Franzosen." He did not know how to say any more, but the Frenchman
read in his words the desire to make him understand that he had
always been in great sympathy with the French. Something very
important was evidently transpiring--the ill-humored air of those
left behind in the castle, and the sudden servility of this plowman
in uniform, made it very apparent. . . .
Some distance beyond the castle he saw soldiers, many soldiers. A
battalion of infantry had spread itself along the walls with trucks,
draught horses and swift mounts. With their pikes the soldiers were
making small openings in the mud walls, shaping them into a border
of little pinnacles. Others were kneeling or sitting near the
apertures, taking off their knapsacks in order that they might be
less hampered. Afar off the cannon were booming, and in the
intervals between their detonations could be heard the bursting of
shrapnel, the bubbling of frying oil, the grinding of a coffee-mill,
and the incessant crackling of rifle-fire. Fleecy clouds were
floating over the fields, giving to near objects the indefinite
lines of unreality. The sun was a faint spot seen between curtains
of mist. The trees were weeping fog moisture from all the cracks in
A thunderclap rent the air so forcibly that it seemed very near the
castle. Desnoyers trembled, believing that he had received a blow
in the chest. The other men remained impassive with their customary
indifference. A cannon had just been discharged but a few feet away
from him, and not till then did he realize that two batteries had
been installed in the park. The pieces of artillery were hidden
under mounds of branches, the gunners having felled trees in order
to mask their monsters more perfectly. He saw them arranging the
last; with shovels, they were forming a border of earth, a foot in
width, around each piece. This border guarded the feet of the
operators whose bodies were protected by steel shields on both sides
of them. Then they raised a breastwork of trunks and boughs,
leaving only the mouth of the cylindrical mortar visible.
By degrees Don Marcelo became accustomed to the firing which seemed
to be creating a vacuum within his cranium. He ground his teeth and
clenched his fists at every detonation, but stood stock-still with
no desire to leave, dominated by the violence of the explosions,
admiring the serenity of these men who were giving orders, erect and
coolly, or moving like humble menials around their roaring metal
All his ideas seemed to have been snatched away by that first
discharge of cannon. His brain was living in the present moment
only. He turned his eyes insistently toward the white and red
banner which was waving from the mansion.
"That is treachery," he thought, "a breach of faith."
Far away, on the other side of the Marne, the French artillery were
belching forth their deadly fire. He could imagine their handiwork
from the little yellowish clouds that were floating in the air, and
the columns of smoke which were spouting forth at various points of
the landscape where the German troops were hidden, forming a line
which appeared to lose itself in infinity. An atmosphere of
protection and respect seemed to be enveloping the castle.
The morning mists had dissolved; the sun was finally showing its
bright and limpid light, lengthening the shadows of men and trees to
fantastic dimensions. Hills and woods came forth from the haze,
fresh and dripping after their morning bath. The entire valley was
now completely exposed, and Desnoyers was surprised to see the river
from the spot to which he had been rooted--the cannon having opened
great windows in the woods that had hid it from view. What most
astonished him in looking over this landscape, smiling and lovely in
the morning light, was that nobody was to be seen--absolutely
nobody. Mountain tops and forests were bellowing without anyone's
being in evidence. There must be more than a hundred thousand men
in the space swept by his piercing gaze, and yet not a human being
was visible. The deadly boom of arms was causing the air to vibrate
without leaving any optical trace. There was no other smoke but
that of the explosions, the black spirals that were flinging their
great shells to burst on the ground. These were rising on all
sides, encircling the castle like a ring of giant tops, but not one
of that orderly circle ventured to touch the edifice. Don Marcelo
again stared at the Red Cross flag. "It is treachery!" he kept
repeating; yet at the same time he was selfishly rejoicing in the
base expedient, since it served to defend his property.
The battalion was at last completely installed the entire length of
the wall, opposite the river. The soldiers, kneeling, were
supporting their guns on the newly made turrets and grooves, and
seemed satisfied with this rest after a night of battling retreat.
They all appeared sleeping with their eyes open. Little by little
they were letting themselves drop back on their heels, or seeking
the support of their knapsacks. Snores were heard in the brief
spaces between the artillery fire. The officials standing behind
them were examining the country with their field glasses, or talking
in knots. Some appeared disheartened, others furious at the
backward flight that had been going on since the day before. The
majority appeared calm, with the passivity of obedience. The battle
front was immense; who could foresee the outcome? . . . There they
were in full retreat, but in other places, perhaps, their comrades
might be advancing with decided gains. Until the very last moment,
no soldier knows certainly the fate of the struggle. What was most
grieving this detachment was the fact that it was all the time
getting further away from Paris.
Don Marcelo's eye was caught by a sparkling circle of glass, a
monocle fixed upon him with aggressive insistence. A lank
lieutenant with the corseted waist of the officers that he had seen
in Berlin, a genuine Junker, was a few feet away, sword in hand
behind his men, like a wrathful and glowering shepherd.
"What are you doing here?" he said gruffly.
Desnoyers explained that he was the owner of the castle. "French?"
continued the lieutenant. "Yes, French." . . . The official
scowled in hostile meditation, feeling the necessity of saying
something against the enemy. The shouts and antics of his
companions-at-arms put a summary end to his reflections. They were
all staring upward, and the old man followed their gaze.
For an hour past, there had been streaking through the air frightful
roarings enveloped in yellowish vapors, strips of cloud which seemed
to contain wheels revolving with frenzied rotation. They were the
projectiles of the heavy German artillery which, fired from various
distances, threw their great shells over the castle. Certainly that
could not be what was interesting the officials!
He half shut his eyes in order to see better, and finally near the
edge of a cloud, he distinguished a species of mosquito flashing in
the sunlight. Between brief intervals of silence, could be heard
the distant, faint buzz announcing its presence. The officers
nodded their heads. "Franzosen!" Desnoyers thought so, too. He
could not believe that the enemy's two black crosses were between
those wings. Instead he saw with his mind's eye, two tricolored
rings like the circular spots which color the fluttering wings of
This explained the agitation of the Germans. The French air-bird
remained motionless for a few seconds over the castle, regardless of
the white bubbles exploding underneath and around it. In vain the
cannon nearest hurled their deadly fire. It wheeled rapidly, and
returned to the place from which it came.
"It must have taken in the whole situation," thought the old
Frenchman. "It has found them out; it knows what is going on here."
He guessed rightly that this information would swiftly change the
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