WHAT DON MARCELO ENVIED
As his indignation had to fix upon something close at hand, he made his own countrymen responsible for this insanity. Too much talk about la revanche! The very idea of worrying for forty-four years over the two lost provinces when the nation was mistress of enormous and undeveloped lands in other countries! . . . Now they were going to pay the penalty for such exasperating and clamorous foolishness.
For him war meant disaster writ large. He had no faith in his country. France's day had passed. Now the victors were of the Northern peoples, and especially that Germany which he had seen so close, admiring with a certain terror its discipline and its rigorous organization. The former working-man felt the conservative and selfish instinct of all those who have amassed millions. He scorned political ideals, but through class interest he had of late years accepted the declarations against the scandals of the government. What could a corrupt and disorganized Republic do against the solidest and strongest empire in the world? . . .
"We are going to our deaths," he said to himself. "Worse than '70! . . . We are going to see horrible things!"
The good order and enthusiasm with which the French responded to their country's call and transformed themselves into soldiers were most astonishing to him. This moral shock made his national faith begin to revive. The great majority of Frenchmen were good after all; the nation was as valiant as in former times. Forty-four years of suffering and alarm had developed their old bravery. But the leaders? Where were they going to get leaders to march to victory? . . .
Many others were asking themselves the same question. The silence of the democratic government was keeping the country in complete ignorance of their future commanders. Everybody saw the army increasing from hour to hour: very few knew the generals. One name was beginning to be repeated from mouth to mouth, "Joffre . . . Joffre." His first pictures made the curious crowds struggle to get a glimpse of them. Desnoyers studied them very carefully. "He looks like a very capable person." His methodical instincts were gratified by the grave and confident look of the general of the Republic. Suddenly he felt the great confidence that efficient- looking bank directors always inspired in him. He could entrust his interests to this gentleman, sure that he would not act impulsively.
Finally, against his will, Desnoyers was drawn into the whirlpool of enthusiasm and emotion. Like everyone around him, he lived minutes that were hours, and hours that were years. Events kept on overlapping each other; within a week the world seemed to have made up for its long period of peace.
The old man fairly lived in the street, attracted by the spectacle of the multitude of civilians saluting the multitude of uniformed men departing for the seat of war.
At night he saw the processions passing through the boulevards. The tricolored flag was fluttering its colors under the electric lights. The cafes were overflowing with people, sending forth from doors and windows the excited, musical notes of patriotic songs. Suddenly, amidst applause and cheers, the crowd would make an opening in the street. All Europe was passing here; all Europe--less the arrogant enemy--and was saluting France in her hour of danger with hearty spontaneity. Flags of different nations were filing by, of all tints of the rainbow, and behind them were the Russians with bright and mystical eyes; the English, with heads uncovered, intoning songs of religious gravity; the Greeks and Roumanians of aquiline profile; the Scandinavians, white and red; the North Americans, with the noisiness of a somewhat puerile enthusiasm; the Hebrews without a country, friends of the nation of socialistic revolutions; the Italians, as spirited as a choir of heroic tenors; the Spanish and South Americans, tireless in their huzzas. They were students and apprentices who were completing their courses in the schools and workshops, and refugees who, like shipwrecked mariners, had sought shelter on the hospitable strand of Paris. Their cheers had no special significance, but they were all moved by their desire to show their love for the Republic. And Desnoyers, touched by the sight, felt that France was still of some account in the world, that she yet exercised a moral force among the nations, and that her joys and sorrows were still of interest to humanity.
"In Berlin and Vienna, too," he said to himself, "they must also be cheering enthusiastically at this moment . . . but Germans only, no others. Assuredly no foreigner is joining in their demonstrations."
The nation of the Revolution, legislator of the rights of mankind, was harvesting the gratitude of the throngs, but was beginning to feel a certain remorse before the enthusiasm of the foreigners who were offering their blood for France. Many were lamenting that the government should delay twenty days, until after they had finished the operations of mobilization, in admitting the volunteers. And he, a Frenchman born, a few hours before, had been mistrusting his country! . . .
In the daytime the popular current was running toward the Gare de l'Est. Crowded against the gratings was a surging mass of humanity stretching its tentacles through the nearby streets. The station that was acquiring the importance of a historic spot appeared like a narrow tunnel through which a great human river was trying to flow with many rippling encounters and much heavy pressure against its banks. A large part of France in arms was coursing through this exit from Paris toward the battlefields at the frontier.
Desnoyers had been in the station only twice, when going and coming from Germany. Others were now taking the same road. The crowds were swarming in from the environs of the city in order to see the masses of human beings in geometric bodies, uniformly clad, disappearing within the entrance with flash of steel and the rhythm of clanking metal. The crystal archways that were glistening in the sun like fiery mouths were swallowing and swallowing people. When night fell the processions were still coming on, by light of the electric lamps. Through the iron grills were passing thousands and thousands of draught horses; men with their breasts crossed with metal and bunches of horsehair hanging from their helmets, like paladins of bygone centuries; enormous cases that were serving as cages for the aeronautic condors; strings of cannon, long and narrow, painted grey and protected, by metal screens, more like astronomical instruments than mouths of death; masses and masses of red kepis (military caps) moving in marching rhythm, rows and rows of muskets, some black and stark like reed plantations, others ending in bayonets like shining spikes. And over all these restless fields of seething throngs, the flags of the regiments were fluttering in the air like colored birds; a white body, a blue wing, or a red one, a cravat of gold on the neck, and above, the metal tip pointing toward the clouds.
Don Marcelo would return home from these send-offs vibrating with nervous fatigue, as one who had just participated in a scene of racking emotion. In spite of his tenacious character which always stood out against admitting a mistake, the old man began to feel ashamed of his former doubts. The nation was quivering with life; France was a grand nation; appearances had deceived him as well as many others. Perhaps the most of his countrymen were of a light and flippant character, given to excessive interest in the sensuous side of life; but when danger came they were fulfilling their duty simply, without the necessity of the harsh force to which the iron- clad organizations were submitting their people.
On leaving home on the morning of the fourth day of the mobilization Desnoyers, instead of betaking himself to the centre of the city, went in the opposite direction toward the rue de la Pompe. Some imprudent words dropped by Chichi, and the uneasy looks of his wife and sister-in-law made him suspect that Julio had returned from his trip. He felt the necessity of seeing at least the outside of the studio windows, as if they might give him news. And in order to justify a trip so at variance with his policy of ignoring his son, he remembered that the carpenter lived in the same street.
"I must hunt up Robert. He promised a week ago that he would come here."
This Robert was a husky young fellow who, to use his own words, was "emancipated from boss tyranny," and was working independently in his own home. A tiny, almost subterranean room was serving him for dwelling and workshop. A woman he called "my affinity" was looking carefully after his hearth and home, with a baby boy clinging to her skirts. Desnoyers was accustomed to humor Robert's tirades against his fellow citizens because the man had always humored his whimseys about the incessant rearrangement of his furniture. In the luxurious apartment in the avenue Victor Hugo the carpenter would sing La Internacional while using hammer and saw, and his employer would overlook his audacity of speech because of the cheapness of his work.
Upon arriving at the shop he found the man with cap over one ear, broad trousers like a mameluke's, hobnailed boots and various pennants and rosettes fastened to the lapels of his jacket.
"You've come too late, Boss," he said cheerily. "I am just going to close the factory. The Proprietor has been mobilized, and in a few hours will join his regiment."
And he pointed to a written paper posted on the door of his dwelling like the printed cards on all establishments, signifying that employer and employees had obeyed the order of mobilization.
It had never occurred to Desnoyers that his carpenter might become a soldier, since he was so opposed to all kinds of authority. He hated the flics, the Paris police, with whom he had, more than once, exchanged fisticuffs and clubbings. Militarism was his special aversion. In the meetings against the despotism of the barracks he had always been one of the noisiest participants. And was this revolutionary fellow going to war naturally and voluntarily? . . .
Robert spoke enthusiastically of his regiment, of life among comrades with Death but four steps away.
"I believe in my ideas, Boss, the same as before," he explained as though guessing the other's thought. "But war is war and teaches many things--among others that Liberty must be accompanied with order and authority. It is necessary that someone direct that the rest may follow--willingly, by common consent . . . but they must follow. When war actually comes one sees things very differently from when living at home doing as one pleases."
The night that they assassinated Jaures he howled with rage, announcing that the following morning the murder would be avenged. He had hunted up his associates in the district in order to inform them what retaliation was being planned against the malefactors. But war was about to break out. There was something in the air that was opposing civil strife, that was placing private grievances in momentary abeyance, concentrating all minds on the common weal.
"A week ago," he exclaimed, "I was an anti-militarist! How far away that seems now--as if a year had gone by! I keep thinking as before! I love peace and hate war like all my comrades. But the French have not offended anybody, and yet they threaten us, wishing to enslave us. . . . But we French can be fierce, since they oblige us to be, and in order to defend ourselves it is just that nobody should shirk, that all should obey. Discipline does not quarrel with Revolution. Remember the armies of the first Republic--all citizens, Generals as well as soldiers, but Hoche, Kleber and the others were rough-hewn, unpolished benefactors who knew how to command and exact obedience."
The carpenter was well read. Besides the papers and pamphlets of "the Idea," he had also read on stray sheets the views of Michelet and other liberal actors on the stage of history.
"We are going to make war on War," he added. "We are going to fight so that this war will be the last."
This statement did not seem to be expressed with sufficient clearness, so he recast his thought.
"We are going to fight for the future; we are going to die in order that our grandchildren may not have to endure a similar calamity. If the enemy triumphs, the war-habit will triumph, and conquest will be the only means of growth. First they will overcome Europe, then the rest of the world. Later on, those who have been pillaged will rise up in their wrath. More wars! . . . We do not want conquests. We desire to regain Alsace and Lorraine, for their inhabitants wish to return to us . . . and nothing more. We shall not imitate the enemy, appropriating territory and jeopardizing the peace of the world. We had enough of that with Napoleon; we must not repeat that experience. We are going to fight for our immediate security, and at the same time for the security of the world--for the life of the weaker nations. If this were a war of aggression, of mere vanity, of conquest, then we Socialists would bethink ourselves of our anti- militarism. But this is self-defense, and the government has not been at fault. Since we are attacked, we must be united in our defensive."
The carpenter, who was also anti-clerical, was now showing a more generous tolerance, an amplitude of ideas that embraced all mankind. The day before he had met at the administration office a Reservist who was just leaving to join his regiment. At a glance he saw that this man was a priest.
"I am a carpenter," he had said to him, by way of introduction, "and you, comrade, are working in the churches?"
He employed this figure of speech in order that the priest might not suspect him of anything offensive. The two had clasped hands.
"I do not take much stock in the clerical cowl," Robert explained to Desnoyers. "For some time I have not been on friendly terms with religion. But in every walk of life there must be good people, and the good people ought to understand each other in a crisis like this. Don't you think so, Boss?"
The war coincided with his socialistic tendencies. Before this, when speaking of future revolution, he had felt a malign pleasure in imagining all the rich deprived of their fortunes and having to work in order to exist. Now he was equally enthusiastic at the thought that all Frenchmen would share the same fate without class distinction.
"All with knapsacks on their backs and eating at mess."
And he was even extending this military sobriety to those who remained behind the army. War was going to cause great scarcity of provisions, and all would have to come down to very plain fare.
"You, too, Boss, who are too old to go to war--you, with all your millions, will have to eat the same as I. . . . Admit that it is a beautiful thing."
Desnoyers was not offended by the malicious satisfaction that his future privations seemed to inspire in the carpenter. He was very thoughtful. A man of his stamp, an enemy of existing conditions, who had no property to defend, was going to war--to death, perhaps-- because of a generous and distant ideal, in order that future generations might never know the actual horrors of war! To do this, he was not hesitating at the sacrifice of his former cherished beliefs, all that he had held sacred till now. . . . And he who belonged to the privileged class, who possessed so many tempting things, requiring defense, had given himself up to doubt and criticism! . . .
Hours after, he again saw the carpenter, near the Arc de Triomphe. He was one of a group of workmen looking much as he did, and this group was joining others and still others that represented every social class--well-dressed citizens, stylish and anaemic young men, graduate students with worn jackets, pale faces and thick glasses, and youthful priests who were smiling rather shamefacedly as though they had been caught at some ridiculous escapade. At the head of this human herd was a sergeant, and as a rear guard, various soldiers with guns on their shoulders. Forward march, Reservists! . . .
And a musical cry, a solemn harmony like a Greek chant, menacing and monotonous, surged up from this mass with open mouths, swinging arms, and legs that were opening and shutting like compasses.
Robert was singing the martial chorus with such great energy that his eyes and Gallic moustachios were fairly trembling. In spite of his corduroy suit and his bulging linen hand bag, he had the same grand and heroic aspect as the figures by Rude in the Arc de Triomphe. The "affinity" and the boy were trudging along the sidewalk so as to accompany him to the station. For a moment he took his eyes from them to speak with a companion in the line, shaven and serious-looking, undoubtedly the priest whom he had met the day before. Now they were talking confidentially, intimately, with that brotherliness which contact with death inspires in mankind.
The millionaire followed the carpenter with a look of respect, immeasurably increased since he had taken his part in this human avalanche. And this respect had in it something of envy, the envy that springs from an uneasy conscience.
Whenever Don Marcelo passed a bad night, suffering from nightmare, a certain terrible thing--always the same--would torment his imagination. Rarely did he dream of mortal peril to his family or self. The frightful vision was always that certain notes bearing his signature were presented for collection which he, Marcelo Desnoyers, the man always faithful to his bond, with a past of immaculate probity, was not able to pay. Such a possibility made him tremble, and long after waking his heart would be oppressed with terror. To his imagination this was the greatest disgrace that a man could suffer.
Now that war was overturning his existence with its agitations, the same agonies were reappearing. Completely awake, with full powers of reasoning, he was suffering exactly the same distress as when in his horrible dreams he saw his dishonored signature on a protested document.
All his past was looming up before his eyes with such extraordinary clearness that it seemed as though until then his mind must have been in hopeless confusion. The threatened land of France was his native country. Fifteen centuries of history had been working for him, in order that his opening eyes might survey progress and comforts that his ancestors did not even know. Many generations of Desnoyers had prepared for his advent into life by struggling with the land and defending it that he might be born into a free family and fireside. . . . And when his turn had come for continuing this effort, when his time had arrived in the rosary of generations--he had fled like a debtor evading payment! . . . On coming into his fatherland he had contracted obligations with the human group to whom he owed his existence. This obligation should be paid with his arms, with any sacrifice that would repel danger . . . and he had eluded the acknowledgment of his signature, fleeing his country and betraying his trust to his forefathers! Ah, miserable coward! The material success of his life, the riches acquired in a remote country, were comparatively of no importance. There are failures that millions cannot blot out. The uneasiness of his conscience was proving it now. Proof, too, was in the envy and respect inspired by this poor mechanic marching to meet his death with others equally humble, all kindled with the satisfaction of duty fulfilled, of sacrifice accepted.
The memory of Madariaga came to his memory.
"Where we make our riches, and found a family--there is our country."
No, the statement of the centaur was not correct. In normal times, perhaps. Far from one's native land when it is not exposed to danger, one may forget it for a few years. But he was living now in France, and France was being obliged to defend herself against enemies wishing to overpower her. The sight of all her people rising en masse was becoming an increasingly shameful torture for Desnoyers, making him think all the time of what he should have done in his youth, of what he had dodged.
The veterans of '70 were passing through the streets, with the green and black ribbon in their lapel, souvenirs of the privations of the Siege of Paris, and of heroic and disastrous campaigns. The sight of these men, satisfied with their past, made him turn pale. Nobody was recalling his, but he knew it, and that was enough. In vain his reason would try to lull this interior tempest. . . . Those times were different; then there was none of the present unanimity; the Empire was unpopular . . . everything was lost. . . . But the recollection of a celebrated sentence was fixing itself in his mind as an obsession--"France still remained!" Many had thought as he did in his youth, but they had not, therefore, evaded military service. They had stood by their country in a last and desperate resistance.
Useless was his excuse-making reasoning. Nobler thoughts showed him the fallacy of this beating around the bush. Explanations and demonstrations are unnecessary to the understanding of patriotic and religious ideals; true patriotism does not need them. One's country . . . is one's country. And the laboring man, skeptical and jesting, the self-centred farmer, the solitary pastor, all had sprung to action at the sound of this conjuring word, comprehending it instantly, without previous instruction.
"It is necessary to pay," Don Marcelo kept repeating mentally. "I ought to pay my debt."
As in his dreams, he was constantly feeling the anguish of an upright and desperate man who wishes to meet his obligations.
Pay! . . . and how? It was now very late. For a moment the heroic resolution came into his head of offering himself as a volunteer, of marching with his bag at his side in some one of the groups of future combatants, the same as the carpenter. But the uselessness of the sacrifice came immediately into his mind. Of what use would it be? . . . He looked robust and was well-preserved for his age, but he was over seventy, and only the young make good soldiers. Combat is but one incident in the struggle. Equally necessary are the hardship and self-denial in the form of interminable marches, extremes of temperature, nights in the open air, shoveling earth, digging trenches, loading carts, suffering hunger. . . . No; it was too late. He could not even leave an illustrious name that might serve as an example.
Instinctively he glanced behind. He was not alone in the world; he had a son who could assume his father's debt . . . but that hope only lasted a minute. His son was not French; he belonged to another people; half of his blood was from another source. Besides, how could the boy be expected to feel as he did? Would he even understand if his father should explain it to him? . . . It was useless to expect anything from this lady-killing, dancing clown, from this fellow of senseless bravado, who was constantly exposing his life in duels in order to satisfy a silly sense of honor.
Oh, the meekness of the bluff Senor Desnoyers after these reflections! . . . His family felt alarmed at seeing the humility and gentleness with which he moved around the house. The two men- servants had gone to join their regiments, and to them the most surprising result of the declaration of war was the sudden kindness of their master, the lavishness of his farewell gifts, the paternal care with which he supervised their preparations for departure. The terrible Don Marcelo embraced them with moist eyes, and the two had to exert themselves to prevent his accompanying them to the station.
Outside of his home he was slipping about humbly as though mutely asking pardon of the many people around him. To him they all appeared his superiors. It was a period of economic crisis; for the time being, the rich also were experiencing what it was to be poor and worried; the banks had suspended operations and were paying only a small part of their deposits. For some weeks the millionaire was deprived of his wealth, and felt restless before the uncertain future. How long would it be before they could send him money from South America? Was war going to take away fortunes as well as lives? . . . And yet Desnoyers had never appreciated money less, nor disposed of it with greater generosity.
Numberless mobilized men of the lower classes who were going alone toward the station met a gentleman who would timidly stop them, put his hand in his pocket and leave in their right hand a bill of twenty francs, fleeing immediately before their astonished eyes. The working-women who were returning weeping from saying good-bye to their husbands saw this same gentleman smiling at the children who were with them, patting their cheeks and hastening away, leaving a five-franc piece in their hands.
Don Marcelo, who had never smoked, was now frequenting the tobacco shops, coming out with hands and pockets filled in order that he might, with lavish generosity, press the packages upon the first soldier he met. At times the recipient, smiling courteously, would thank him with a few words, revealing his superior breeding-- afterwards passing the gift on to others clad in cloaks as coarse and badly cut as his own. The mobilization, universally obligatory, often caused him to make these mistakes.
The rough hands pressing his with a grateful clasp, left him satisfied for a few moments. Ah, if he could only do more! . . . The Government in mobilizing its vehicles had appropriated three of his monumental automobiles, and Desnoyers felt very sorry that they were not also taking the fourth mastodon. Of what use were they to him? The shepherds of this monstrous herd, the chauffeur and his assistants, were now in the army. Everybody was marching away. Finally he and his son would be the only ones left--two useless creatures.
He roared with wrath on learning of the enemy's entrance into Belgium, considering this the most unheard-of treason in history. He suffered agonies of shame at remembering that at first he had held the exalted patriots of his country responsible for the war. . . . What perfidy, methodically carried out after long years of preparation! The accounts of the sackings, fires and butcheries made him turn pale and gnash his teeth. To him, to Marcelo Desnoyers, might happen the very same thing that Belgium was enduring, if the barbarians should invade France. He had a home in the city, a castle in the country, and a family. Through association of ideas, the women assaulted by the soldiery, made him think of Chichi and the dear Dona Luisa. The mansions in flames called to his mind the rare and costly furnishings accumulated in his expensive dwellings--the armorial bearings of his social elevation. The old folk that were shot, the women foully mutilated, the children with their hands cut off, all the horrors of a war of terror, aroused the violence of his character.
And such things could happen with impunity in this day and generation! . . .
In order to convince himself that punishment was near, that vengeance was overtaking the guilty ones, he felt the necessity of mingling daily with the people crowding around the Gare de l'Est.
Although the greater part of the troops were operating on the frontiers, that was not diminishing the activity in Paris. Entire battalions were no longer going off, but day and night soldiers were coming to the station singly or in groups. These were Reserves without uniform on their way to enroll themselves with their companies, officials who until then had been busy with the work of the mobilization, platoons in arms destined to fill the great gaps opened by death.
The multitude, pressed against the railing, was greeting those who were going off, following them with their eyes while they were crossing the large square. The latest editions of the daily papers were announced with hoarse yells, and instantly the dark throng would be spotted with white, all reading with avidity the printed sheets. Good news: "Vive la France!" A doubtful despatch, foreshadowing calamity: "No matter! We must press on at all costs! The Russians will close in behind them!" And while these dialogues, inspired by the latest news were taking place, many young girls were going among the groups offering little flags and tricolored cockades--and passing through the patio, men and still more men were disappearing behind the glass doors, on their way to the war.
A sub-lieutenant of the Reserves, with his bag on his shoulder, was accompanied by his father toward the file of policemen keeping the crowds back. Desnoyers saw in the young officer a certain resemblance to his son. The father was wearing in his lapel the black and green ribbon of 1870--a decoration which always filled Desnoyers with remorse. He was tall and gaunt, but was still trying to hold himself erect, with a heavy frown. He wanted to show himself fierce, inhuman, in order to hide his emotion.
"Good-bye, my boy! Do your best."
They did not clasp hands, and each was avoiding looking at the other. The official was smiling like an automaton. The father turned his back brusquely, and threading his way through the throng, entered a cafe, where for some time he needed the most retired seat in the darkest earner to hide his emotion.
AND DON MARCELO ENVIED HIS GRIEF.
Some of the Reservists came along singing, preceded by a flag. They were joking and jostling each other, betraying in excited actions, long halts at all the taverns along the way. One of them, without interrupting his song, was pressing the hand of an old woman marching beside him, cheerful and dry-eyed. The mother was concentrating all her strength in order, with feigned happiness, to accompany this strapping lad to the last minute.
Others were coming along singly, separated from their companies, but not on that account alone. The gun was hanging from the shoulder, the back overlaid by the hump of the knapsack, the red legs shooting in and out of the turned-back folds of the blue cloak, and the smoke of a pipe under the visor of the kepis. In front of one of these men, four children were walking along, lined up according to size. They kept turning their heads to admire their father, suddenly glorified by his military trappings. At his side was marching his wife, affable and resigned, feeling in her simple soul a revival of love, an ephemeral Spring, born of the contact with danger. The man, a laborer of Paris, who a few months before was singing La Internacional, demanding the abolishment of armies and the brotherhood of all mankind, was now going in quest of death. His wife, choking back her sobs, was admiring him greatly. Affection and commiseration made her insist upon giving him a few last counsels. In his knapsack she had put his best handkerchiefs, the few provisions in the house and all the money. Her man was not to be uneasy about her and the children; they would get along all right. The government and kind neighbors would look after them.
The soldier in reply was jesting over the somewhat misshapen figure of his wife, saluting the coming citizen, and prophesying that he would be born in a time of great victory. A kiss to the wife, an affectionate hair-pull for his offspring, and then he had joined his comrades. . . . No tears. Courage!. . . Vive la France!
The final injunctions of the departing were now heard. Nobody was crying. But as the last red pantaloons disappeared, many hands grasped the iron railing convulsively, many handkerchiefs were bitten with gnashing teeth, many faces were hidden in the arms with sobs of anguish.
AND DON MARCELO ENVIED THESE TEARS.
The old woman, on losing the warm contact of her son's hand from her withered one, turned in the direction which she believed to be that of the hostile country, waving her arms with threatening fury.
"Ah, the assassin! . . . the bandit!"
In her wrathful imagination she was again seeing the countenance so often displayed in the illustrated pages of the periodicals-- moustaches insolently aggressive, a mouth with the jaw and teeth of a wolf, that laughed . . . and laughed as men must have laughed in the time of the cave-men.
AND DON MARCELO ENVIED THIS WRATH!