Part 2 out of 6
prosperity, this poncho was embroidered in gold, and
she wore then, also, the sword of poor Don Antonio de
Leyva. This veteran Chilian officer, having the mis-
fortune to be surrounded with his small force, and
running short of ammunition, found his death at the
hands of the Arauco Indians, the allies and auxiliaries
of Gaspar Ruiz. This was the fatal affair long remem-
bered afterwards as the 'Massacre of the Island.' The
sword of the unhappy officer was presented to her by
Peneleo, the Araucanian chief; for these Indians, struck
by her aspect, the deathly pallor of her face, which no
exposure to the weather seemed to affect, and her calm
indifference under fire, looked upon her as a supernat-
ural being, or at least as a witch. By this superstition
the prestige and authority of Gaspar Ruiz amongst
these ignorant people were greatly augmented. She
must have savoured her vengeance to the full on that
day when she buckled on the sword of Don Antonio
de Leyva. It never left her side, unless she put on her
woman's clothes -- not that she would or could ever use
it, but she loved to feel it beating upon her thigh as a
perpetual reminder and symbol of the dishonour to the
arms of the Republic. She was insatiable. Moreover,
on the path she had led Gaspar Ruiz upon, there is no
stopping. Escaped prisoners -- and they were not many
-- used to relate how with a few whispered words she
could change the expression of his face and revive his
flagging animosity. They told how after every skirm-
ish, after every raid, after every successful action, he
would ride up to her and look into her face. Its
haughty calm was never relaxed. Her embrace,
señores, must have been as cold as the embrace of a
statue. He tried to melt her icy heart in a stream of
warm blood. Some English naval officers who visited
GASPAR RUIZ 49
him at that time noticed the strange character of his
At the movement of surprise and curiosity in his
audience General Santierra paused for a moment.
"Yes -- English naval officers," he repeated. "Ruiz
had consented to receive them to arrange for the libera-
tion of some prisoners of your nationality. In the
territory upon which he ranged, from sea coast to the
Cordillera, there was a bay where the ships of that time,
after rounding Cape Horn, used to resort for wood and
water. There, decoying the crew on shore, he captured
first the whaling brig Hersalia, and afterwards made
himself master by surprise of two more ships, one
English and one American.
"It was rumoured at the time that he dreamed of
setting up a navy of his own. But that, of course, was
impossible. Still, manning the brig with part of her
own crew, and putting an officer and a good many men
of his own on board, he sent her off to the Spanish
Governor of the island of Chiloe with a report of his
exploits, and a demand for assistance in the war against
the rebels. The Governor could not do much for him;
but he sent in return two light field-pieces, a letter of
compliments, with a colonel's commission in the royal
forces, and a great Spanish flag. This standard with
much ceremony was hoisted over his house in the heart
of the Arauco country. Surely on that day she may
have smiled on her guasso husband with a less haughty
"The senior officer of the English squadron on our
coast made representations to our Government as to
these captures. But Gaspar Ruiz refused to treat with
us. Then an English frigate proceeded to the bay, and
her captain, doctor, and two lieutenants travelled inland
under a safe-conduct. They were well received, and
50 GASPAR RUIZ
spent three days as guests of the partisan chief. A sort
of military barbaric state was kept up at the residence.
It was furnished with the loot of frontier towns. When
first admitted to the principal sala, they saw his wife
lying down (she was not in good health then), with
Gaspar Ruiz sitting at the foot of the couch. His hat
was lying on the floor, and his hands reposed on the
hilt of his sword.
"During that first conversation he never removed his
big hands from the sword-hilt, except once, to arrange
the coverings about her, with gentle, careful touches.
They noticed that whenever she spoke he would fix his
eyes upon her in a kind of expectant, breathless atten-
tion, and seemingly forget the existence of the world and
his own existence, too. In the course of the farewell
banquet, at which she was present reclining on her couch,
he burst forth into complaints of the treatment he had
received. After General San Martin's departure he had
been beset by spies, slandered by civil officials, his
services ignored, his liberty and even his life threatened
by the Chilian Government. He got up from the table,
thundered execrations pacing the room wildly, then sat
down on the couch at his wife's feet, his breast heaving,
his eyes fixed on the floor. She reclined on her back,
her head on the cushions, her eyes nearly closed.
"'And now I am an honoured Spanish officer,' he
added in a calm voice.
"The captain of the English frigate then took the
opportunity to inform him gently that Lima had fallen,
and that by the terms of a convention the Spaniards
were withdrawing from the whole continent.
"Gaspar Ruiz raised his head, and without hesitation,
speaking with suppressed vehemence, declared that if
not a single Spanish soldier were left in the whole of
South America he would persist in carrying on the con-
GASPAR RUIZ 51
test against Chile to the last drop of blood. When he
finished that mad tirade his wife's long white hand was
raised, and she just caressed his knee with the tips of
her fingers for a fraction of a second.
"For the rest of the officers' stay, which did not
extend for more than half an hour after the banquet,
that ferocious chieftain of a desperate partida over-
flowed with amiability and kindness. He had been
hospitable before, but now it seemed as though he could
not do enough for the comfort and safety of his visitors'
journey back to their ship.
"Nothing, I have been told, could have presented a
greater contrast to his late violence or the habitual
taciturn reserve of his manner. Like a man elated
beyond measure by an unexpected happiness, he over-
flowed with good-will, amiability, and attentions. He
embraced the officers like brothers, almost with tears in
his eyes. The released prisoners were presented each
with a piece of gold. At the last moment, suddenly, he
declared he could do no less than restore to the masters
of the merchant vessels all their private property. This
unexpected generosity caused some delay in the depar-
ture of the party, and their first march was very short.
"Late in the evening Gaspar Ruiz rode up with an
escort, to their camp fires, bringing along with him a
mule loaded with cases of wine. He had come, he said,
to drink a stirrup cup with his English friends, whom he
would never see again. He was mellow and joyous in his
temper. He told stories of his own exploits, laughed like
a boy, borrowed a guitar from the Englishmen's chief
muleteer, and sitting cross-legged on his superfine pon-
cho spread before the glow of the embers, sang a guasso
love-song in a tender voice. Then his head dropped on
his breast, his hands fell to the ground; the guitar
rolled off his knees -- and a great hush fell over the camp
52 GASPAR RUIZ
after the love-song of the implacable partisan who had
made so many of our people weep for destroyed homes
and for loves cut short.
"Before anybody could make a sound he sprang up
from the ground and called for his horse.
"'Adios, my friends!' he cried. 'Go with God. I
love you. And tell them well in Santiago that between
Gaspar Ruiz, colonel of the King of Spain, and the
republican carrion-crows of Chile there is war to the last
breath -- war! war! war!'
"With a great yell of 'War! war! war!' which his
escort took up, they rode away, and the sound of
hoofs and of voices died out in the distance between the
slopes of the hills.
"The two young English officers were convinced that
Ruiz was mad. How do you say that? -- tile loose -- eh?
But the doctor, an observant Scotsman with much
shrewdness and philosophy in his character, told me
that it was a very curious case of possession. I met him
many years afterwards, but he remembered the experi-
ence very well. He told me, too, that in his opinion that
woman did not lead Gaspar Ruiz into the practice of
sanguinary treachery by direct persuasion, but by the
subtle way of awakening and keeping alive in his simple
mind a burning sense of an irreparable wrong. Maybe,
maybe. But I would say that she poured half of her
vengeful soul into the strong clay of that man, as you
may pour intoxication, madness, poison into an empty
"If he wanted war he got it in earnest when our
victorious army began to return from Peru. Systematic
operations were planned against this blot on the honour
and prosperity of our hardly won independence. Gen-
eral Robles commanded, with his well-known ruthless
severity. Savage reprisals were exercised on both sides
GASPAR RUIZ 53
and no quarter was given in the field. Having won my
promotion in the Peru campaign, I was a captain on the
staff. Gaspar Ruiz found himself hard pressed; at the
same time we heard by means of a fugitive priest
who had been carried off from his village presbytery
and galloped eighty miles into the hills to perform the
christening ceremony, that a daughter was born to them.
To celebrate the event, I suppose, Ruiz executed one or
two brilliant forays clear away at the rear of our forces,
and defeated the detachments sent out to cut off his
retreat. General Robles nearly had a stroke of apoplexy
from rage. He found another cause of insomnia than
the bites of mosquitoes; but against this one, señores,
tumblers of raw brandy had no more effect than so
much water. He took to railing and storming at me
about my strong man. And from our impatience to end
this inglorious campaign I am afraid that all we young
officers became reckless and apt to take undue risks on
"Nevertheless, slowly, inch by inch as it were, our
columns were closing upon Gaspar Ruiz, though he had
managed to raise all the Araucanian nation of wild
Indians against us. Then a year or more later our
Government became aware through its agents and spies
that he had actually entered into alliance with Car-
reras, the so-called dictator of the so-called republic of
Mendoza, on the other side of the mountains. Whether
Gaspar Ruiz had a deep political intention, or whether
he wished only to secure a safe retreat for his wife and
child while he pursued remorselessly against us his war
of surprises and massacres, I cannot tell. The alliance,
however, was a fact. Defeated in his attempt to
check our advance from the sea, he retreated with
his usual swiftness, and preparing for another hard
and hazardous tussle, began by sending his wife with
54 GASPAR RUIZ
the little girl across the Pequeña range of mountains,
on the frontier of Mendoza.
"Now Carreras, under the guise of politics and
liberalism, was a scoundrel of the deepest dye, and
the unhappy state of Mendoza was the prey of thieves,
robbers, traitors, and murderers, who formed his party.
He was under a noble exterior a man without heart,
pity, honour, or conscience. He aspired to nothing
but tyranny, and though he would have made use of
Gaspar Ruiz for his nefarious designs, yet he soon
became aware that to propitiate the Chilian Govern-
ment would answer his purpose better. I blush to say
that he made proposals to our Government to deliver
up on certain conditions the wife and child of the man
who had trusted to his honour, and that this offer was
"While on her way to Mendoza over the Pequeña
Pass she was betrayed by her escort of Carreras' men,
and given up to the officer in command of a Chilian fort
on the upland at the foot of the main Cordillera range.
This atrocious transaction might have cost me dear, for
as a matter of fact I was a prisoner in Gaspar Ruiz'
camp when he received the news. I had been captured
during a reconnaissance, my escort of a few troopers
being speared by the Indians of his bodyguard. I was
saved from the same fate because he recognized my
features just in time. No doubt my friends thought I
was dead, and I would not have given much for my life
at any time. But the strong man treated me very well,
because, he said, I had always believed in his innocence
and had tried to serve him when he was a victim of
GASPAR RUIZ 55
"'And now,' was his speech to me, 'you shall see
that I always speak the truth. You are safe.'
"I did not think I was very safe when I was called
up to go to him one night. He paced up and down like
a wild beast, exclaiming, 'Betrayed! Betrayed!'
"He walked up to me clenching his fists. 'I could
cut your throat.'
"'Will that give your wife back to you?' I said as
quietly as I could.
"'And the child!' he yelled out, as if mad. He fell
into a chair and laughed in a frightful, boisterous
manner. 'Oh, no, you are safe.'
"I assured him that his wife's life was safe, too; but
I did not say what I was convinced of -- that he would
never see her again. He wanted war to the death, and
the war could only end with his death.
"He gave me a strange, inexplicable look, and sat
muttering blankly, 'In their hands. In their hands.'
"I kept as still as a mouse before a cat.
"Suddenly he jumped up. 'What am I doing
here?' he cried; and opening the door, he yelled out
orders to saddle and mount. 'What is it?' he stam-
mered, coming up to me. 'The Pequeña fort; a
fort of palisades! Nothing. I would get her back
if she were hidden in the very heart of the moun-
tain.' He amazed me by adding, with an effort: "I
carried her off in my two arms while the earth
trembled. And the child at least is mine. She at
least is mine!'
"Those were bizarre words; but I had no time for
"'You shall go with me,' he said, violently. 'I may
want to parley, and any other messenger from Ruiz, the
outlaw, would have his throat cut.'
"This was true enough. Between him and the rest
56 GASPAR RUIZ
of incensed mankind there could be no communication,
according to the customs of honourable warfare.
"In less than half an hour we were in the saddle,
flying wildly through the night. He had only an escort
of twenty men at his quarters, but would not wait for
more. He sent, however, messengers to Peneleo, the
Indian chief then ranging in the foothills, directing him
to bring his warriors to the uplands and meet him at the
lake called the Eye of Water, near whose shores the
frontier fort of Pequeña was built.
"We crossed the lowlands with that untired rapidity
of movement which had made Gaspar Ruiz' raids so
famous. We followed the lower valleys up to their
precipitous heads. The ride was not without its dan-
gers. A cornice road on a perpendicular wall of
basalt wound itself around a buttressing rock, and at
last we emerged from the gloom of a deep gorge upon
the upland of Pequeña.
"It was a plain of green wiry grass and thin flower-
ing bushes; but high above our heads patches of snow
hung in the folds and crevices of the great walls of rock.
The little lake was as round as a staring eye. The garri-
son of the fort were just driving in their small herd of
cattle when we appeared. Then the great wooden
gates swung to, and that four-square enclosure of broad
blackened stakes pointed at the top and barely hiding
the grass roofs of the huts inside seemed deserted,
empty, without a single soul.
"But when summoned to surrender, by a man
who at Gaspar Ruiz' order rode fearlessly forward
those inside answered by a volley which rolled him and
his horse over. I heard Ruiz by my side grind his
teeth. 'It does not matter,' he said. 'Now you go.'
"Torn and faded as its rags were, the vestiges of my
uniform were recognized, and I was allowed to approach
GASPAR RUIZ 57
within speaking distance; and then I had to wait,
because a voice clamouring through a loophole with joy
and astonishment would not allow me to place a word.
It was the voice of Major Pajol, an old friend. He, like
my other comrades, had thought me killed a long
"'Put spurs to your horse, man!' he yelled, in the
greatest excitement; 'we will swing the gate open for
"I let the reins fall out of my hand and shook my
head. 'I am on my honour,' I cried.
"'To him!' he shouted, with infinite disgust.
"'He promises you your life.'
"'Our life is our own. And do you, Santierra,
advise us to surrender to that rastrero?'
"'No!' I shouted. 'But he wants his wife and
child, and he can cut you off from water.'
"'Then she would be the first to suffer. You may
tell him that. Look here -- this is all nonsense: we
shall dash out and capture you.'
"'You shall not catch me alive,' I said, firmly.
"'For God's sake,' I continued, hastily, 'do not open
the gate.' And I pointed at the multitude of Peneleo's
Indians who covered the shores of the lake.
"I had never seen so many of these savages to-
gether. Their lances seemed as numerous as stalks of
grass. Their hoarse voices made a vast, inarticulate
sound like the murmur of the sea.
"My friend Pajol was swearing to himself. 'Well,
then -- go to the devil!' he shouted, exasperated. But
as I swung round he repented, for I heard him say
hurriedly, 'Shoot the fool's horse before he gets away.'
"He had good marksmen. Two shots rang out, and
in the very act of turning my horse staggered, fell
58 GASPAR RUIZ
and lay still as if struck by lightning. I had my feet
out of the stirrups and rolled clear of him; but I did
not attempt to rise. Neither dared they rush out to
drag me in.
"The masses of Indians had begun to move upon the
fort. They rode up in squadrons, trailing their long
chusos; then dismounted out of musket-shot, and, throw-
ing off their fur mantles, advanced naked to the attack,
stamping their feet and shouting in cadence. A sheet of
flame ran three times along the face of the fort without
checking their steady march. They crowded right
up to the very stakes, flourishing their broad knives.
But this palisade was not fastened together with
hide lashings in the usual way, but with long iron
nails, which they could not cut. Dismayed at the
failure of their usual method of forcing an entrance,
the heathen, who had marched so steadily against the
musketry fire, broke and fled under the volleys of the
"Directly they had passed me on their advance I
got up and rejoined Gaspar Ruiz on a low ridge which
jutted out upon the plain. The musketry of his own
men had covered the attack, but now at a sign from
him a trumpet sounded the 'Cease fire.' Together
we looked in silence at the hopeless rout of the savages.
"'It must be a siege, then,' he muttered. And I
detected him wringing his hands stealthily.
"But what sort of siege could it be? Without any
need for me to repeat my friend Pajol's message, he
dared not cut the water off from the besieged. They
had plenty of meat. And, indeed, if they had been short
he would have been too anxious to send food into the
stockade had he been able. But, as a matter of fact, it
was we on the plain who were beginning to feel the
pinch of hunger.
GASPAR RUIZ 59
"Peneleo, the Indian chief, sat by our fire folded in
his ample mantle of guanaco skins. He was an athletic
savage, with an enormous square shock head of hair
resembling a straw beehive in shape and size, and with
grave, surly, much-lined features. In his broken Span-
ish he repeated, growling like a bad-tempered wild
beast, that if an opening ever so small were made in the
stockade his men would march in and get the señora --
"Gaspar Ruiz, sitting opposite him, kept his eyes
fixed on the fort night and day as it were, in awful si-
lence and immobility. Meantime, by runners from
the lowlands that arrived nearly every day, we heard of
the defeat of one of his lieutenants in the Maipu valley.
Scouts sent afar brought news of a column of infantry
advancing through distant passes to the relief of the
fort. They were slow, but we could trace their toilful
progress up the lower valleys. I wondered why Ruiz
did not march to attack and destroy this threat-
ening force, in some wild gorge fit for an ambuscade,
in accordance with his genius for guerilla warfare.
But his genius seemed to have abandoned him to his
"It was obvious to me that he could not tear himself
away from the sight of the fort. I protest to you,
señores, that I was moved almost to pity by the sight of
this powerless strong man sitting on the ridge, indiffer-
ent to sun, to rain, to cold, to wind; with his hands
clasped round his legs and his chin resting on his knees,
gazing -- gazing -- gazing.
"And the fort he kept his eyes fastened on was as
still and silent as himself. The garrison gave no sign of
life. They did not even answer the desultory fire
directed at the loopholes.
"One night, as I strolled past him, he, without
60 GASPAR RUIZ
changing his attitude, spoke to me unexpectedly. 'I
have sent for a gun,' he said. 'I shall have time to get
her back and retreat before your Robles manages to
crawl up here.'
"He had sent for a gun to the plains.
"It was long in coming, but at last it came. It was
a seven-pounder field gun. Dismounted and lashed
crosswise to two long poles, it had been carried up the
narrow paths between two mules with ease. His
wild cry of exultation at daybreak when he saw the
gun escort emerge from the valley rings in my ears
"But, señores, I have no words to depict his amaze-
ment, his fury, his despair and distraction, when he
heard that the animal loaded with the gun-carriage had,
during the last night march, somehow or other tumbled
down a precipice. He broke into menaces of death and
torture against the escort. I kept out of his way all
that day, lying behind some bushes, and wondering
what he would do now. Retreat was left for him, but
he could not retreat.
"I saw below me his artillerist, Jorge, an old Spanish
soldier, building up a sort of structure with heaped-up
saddles. The gun, ready loaded, was lifted on to that,
but in the act of firing the whole thing collapsed and
the shot flew high above the stockade.
"Nothing more was attempted. One of the ammuni-
tion mules had been lost, too, and they had no more than
six shots to fire; ample enough to batter down the gate
providing the gun was well laid. This was impossible
without it being properly mounted. There was no time
nor means to construct a carriage. Already every
moment I expected to hear Robles' bugle-calls echo
amongst the crags.
"Peneleo, wandering about uneasily, draped in his
GASPAR RUIZ 61
skins, sat down for a moment near me growling his usual
"'Make an entrada -- a hole. If make a hole, bueno.
If not make a hole, then vamos -- we must go away.'
"After sunset I observed with surprise the Indians
making preparations as if for another assault. Their
lines stood ranged in the shadows of the mountains.
On the plain in front of the fort gate I saw a group
of men swaying about in the same place.
"I walked down the ridge disregarded. The moon-
light in the clear air of the uplands was bright as day,
but the intense shadows confused my sight, and I could
not make out what they were doing. I heard the voice
of Jorge, the artillerist, say in a queer, doubtful tone,
'It is loaded, señor.'
"Then another voice in that group pronounced firmly
the words, 'Bring the riata here.' It was the voice of
"A silence fell, in which the popping shots of the
besieged garrison rang out sharply. They, too, had
observed the group. But the distance was too great
and in the spatter of spent musket-balls cutting up the
ground, the group opened, closed, swayed, giving me
a glimpse of busy stooping figures in its midst. I
drew nearer, doubting whether this was a weird vision,
a suggestive and insensate dream.
"A strangely stifled voice commanded, 'Haul the
"'Si, señor,' several other voices answered in tones of
"Then the stifled voice said: 'Like this. I must
be free to breathe.'
"Then there was a concerned noise of many men
together. 'Help him up, hombres. Steady! Under the
62 GASPAR RUIZ
"That deadened voice ordered: 'Bueno! Stand away
from me, men.'
"I pushed my way through the recoiling circle, and
heard once more that same oppressed voice saying
earnestly: 'Forget that I am a living man, Jorge.
Forget me altogether, and think of what you have to
"'Be without fear, señor. You are nothing to me
but a gun-carriage, and I shall not waste a shot.'
"I heard the spluttering of a port-fire, and smelt the
saltpetre of the match. I saw suddenly before me a
nondescript shape on all fours like a beast, but with a
man's head drooping below a tubular projection over the
nape of the neck, and the gleam of a rounded mass of
bronze on its back.
"In front of a silent semicircle of men it squatted
alone, with Jorge behind it and a trumpeter motionless,
his trumpet in his hand, by its side.
"Jorge, bent double, muttered, port-fire in hand:
'An inch to the left, señor. Too much. So. Now, if
you let yourself down a little by letting your elbows
bend, I will . . .'
"He leaped aside, lowering his port-fire, and a burst
of flame darted out of the muzzle of the gun lashed
on the man's back.
"Then Gaspar Ruiz lowered himself slowly. 'Good
shot?' he asked.
"'Full on, señor.'
"'Then load again.'
"He lay there before me on his breast under the
darkly glittering bronze of his monstrous burden, such
as no love or strength of man had ever had to bear in
the lamentable history of the world. His arms were
spread out, and he resembled a prostrate penitent on
the moonlit ground.
GASPAR RUIZ 63
"Again I saw him raised to his hands and knees
and the men stand away from him, and old Jorge stoop
glancing along the gun.
'"Left a little. Right an inch. Por Dios, señor,
stop this trembling. Where is your strength?'
"The old gunner's voice was cracked with emotion.
He stepped aside, and quick as lightning brought the
spark to the touch-hole.
"'Excellent!' he cried, tearfully; but Gaspar Ruiz
lay for a long time silent, flattened on the ground.
"'I am tired,' he murmured at last. 'Will another
shot do it?'
"'Without doubt,' said Jorge, bending down to his
"'Then -- load,' I heard him utter distinctly.
"'I am here, señor, ready for your word.'
"'Blow a blast at this word that shall be heard
from one end of Chile to the other,' he said, in an
extraordinarily strong voice. 'And you others stand
ready to cut this accursed riata, for then will be the
time for me to lead you in your rush. Now raise
me up, and you, Jorge -- be quick with your aim.'
"The rattle of musketry from the fort nearly drowned
his voice. The palisade was wreathed in smoke and
"'Exert your force forward against the recoil, mi
amo,' said the old gunner, shakily. 'Dig your fingers
into the ground. So. Now!'
"A cry of exultation escaped him after the shot.
The trumpeter raised his trumpet nearly to his lips
and waited. But no word came from the prostrate
man. I fell on one knee, and heard all he had to say
"'Something broken,' he whispered, lifting his head
64 GASPAR RUIZ
a little, and turning his eyes towards me in his hope-
lessly crushed attitude.
"'The gate hangs only by the splinters,' yelled Jorge.
"Gaspar Ruiz tried to speak, but his voice died out
in his throat, and I helped to roll the gun off his broken
back. He was insensible.
"I kept my lips shut, of course. The signal for the
Indians to attack was never given. Instead, the bugle-
calls of the relieving force for which my ears had thirsted
so long, burst out, terrifying like the call of the Last Day
to our surprised enemies.
"A tornado, señores, a real hurricane of stampeded
men, wild horses, mounted Indians, swept over me as I
cowered on the ground by the side of Gaspar Ruiz, still
stretched out on his face in the shape of a cross. Pe-
neleo, galloping for life, jabbed at me with his long
chuso in passing -- for the sake of old acquaintance, I
suppose. How I escaped the flying lead is more difficult
to explain. Venturing to rise on my knees too soon
some soldiers of the 17th Taltal regiment, in their hurry
to get at something alive, nearly bayoneted me on the
spot. They looked very disappointed, too, when, some
officers galloping up drove them away with the flat of
"It was General Robles with his staff. He wanted
badly to make some prisoners. He, too, seemed dis-
appointed for a moment. 'What! Is it you?' he cried.
But he dismounted at once to embrace me, for he was
an old friend of my family. I pointed to the body at
our feet, and said only these two words:
"He threw his arms up in astonishment.
"'Aha! Your strong man! Always to the last
with your strong man. No matter. He saved our lives
when the earth trembled enough to make the bravest
GASPAR RUIZ 65
faint with fear. I was frightened out of my wits. But
he -- no! Que guape! Where's the hero who got the
best of him? ha! ha! ha! What killed him, chico?'
"'His own strength, General,' I answered.
"BUT Gaspar Ruiz breathed yet. I had him carried
in his poncho under the shelter of some bushes on the
very ridge from which he had been gazing so fixedly
at the fort while unseen death was hovering already
over his head.
"Our troops had bivouacked round the fort. Towards
daybreak I was not surprised to hear that I was desig-
nated to command the escort of a prisoner who was to
be sent down at once to Santiago. Of course the
prisoner was Gaspar Ruiz' wife.
"'I have named you out of regard for your feelings,'
General Robles remarked. 'Though the woman really
ought to be shot for all the harm she has done to the
"And as I made a movement of shocked protest, he
"'Now he is as well as dead, she is of no importance.
Nobody will know what to do with her. However,
the Government wants her.' He shrugged his shoulders.
'I suppose he must have buried large quantities of his
loot in places that she alone knows of.'
"At dawn I saw her coming up the ridge, guarded by
two soldiers, and carrying her child on her arm.
"I walked to meet her.
"'Is he living yet?' she asked, confronting me with
that white, impassive face he used to look at in an ador-
"I bent my head, and led her round a clump of
66 GASPAR RUIZ
bushes without a word. His eyes were open. He
breathed with difficulty, and uttered her name with a
"She knelt at his head. The little girl, unconscious
of him, and with her big eyes looking about, began to
chatter suddenly, in a joyous, thin voice. She pointed
a tiny finger at the rosy glow of sunrise behind the black
shapes of the peaks. And while that child-talk, incom-
prehensible and sweet to the ear, lasted, those two,
the dying man and the kneeling woman, remained
silent, looking into each other's eyes, listening to the
frail sound. Then the prattle stopped. The child
laid its head against its mother's breast and was
"'It was for you,' he began. 'Forgive.' His voice
failed him. Presently I heard a mutter and caught
the pitiful words: 'Not strong enough.'
"She looked at him with an extraordinary intensity.
He tried to smile, and in a humble tone, 'Forgive me,'
he repeated. 'Leaving you . . .'
"She bent down, dry-eyed and in a steady voice:
'On all the earth I have loved nothing but you, Gaspar,'
"His head made a movement. His eyes revived.
'At last!' he sighed out. Then, anxiously, 'But is this
true . . . is this true?'
'"As true as that there is no mercy and justice in
this world,' she answered him, passionately. She stooped
over his face. He tried to raise his head, but it fell
back, and when she kissed his lips he was already dead.
His glazed eyes stared at the sky, on which pink clouds
floated very high. But I noticed the eyelids of the child,
pressed to its mother's breast, droop and close slowly.
She had gone to sleep.
GASPAR RUIZ 67
"The widow of Gaspar Ruiz, the strong man, allowed
me to lead her away without shedding a tear.
"For travelling we had arranged for her a side-
saddle very much like a chair, with a board swung
beneath to rest her feet on. And the first day she rode
without uttering a word, and hardly for one moment
turning her eyes away from the little girl, whom she
held on her knees. At our first camp I saw her during
the night walking about, rocking the child in her arms
and gazing down at it by the light of the moon. After
we had started on our second day's march she asked
me how soon we should come to the first village of
the inhabited country.
"I said we should be there about noon.
"'And will there be women there?' she inquired.
"I told her that it was a large village. 'There will
be men and women there, señora,' I said, 'whose hearts
shall be made glad by the news that all the unrest and
war is over now.'
"'Yes, it is all over now,' she repeated. Then, after
a time: 'Señor officer, what will your Government do
"'I do not know, señora,' I said. 'They will treat
you well, no doubt. We republicans are not savages
and take no vengeance on women.'
"She gave me a look at the word 'republicans' which
I imagined full of undying hate. But an hour or so
afterwards, as we drew up to let the baggage mules go
first along a narrow path skirting a precipice, she looked
at me with such a white, troubled face that I felt a great
pity for her.
"'Señor officer,' she said, 'I am weak, I tremble. It
is an insensate fear.' And indeed her lips did tremble
while she tried to smile, glancing at the beginning of the
narrow path which was not so dangerous after all. 'I am
68 GASPAR RUIZ
afraid I shall drop the child. Gaspar saved your life,
you remember. . . . Take her from me.'
"I took the child out of her extended arms. 'Shut
your eyes, señora, and trust to your mule,' I recom-
"She did so, and with her pallor and her wasted,
thin face she looked deathlike. At a turn of the
path where a great crag of purple porphyry closes the
view of the lowlands, I saw her open her eyes. I
rode just behind her holding the little girl with my
right arm. 'The child is all right,' I cried encourag-
"'Yes,' she answered, faintly; and then, to my
intense terror, I saw her stand up on the foot-rest,
staring horribly, and throw herself forward into the
chasm on our right.
"I cannot describe to you the sudden and abject
fear that came over me at that dreadful sight. It was
a dread of the abyss, the dread of the crags which
seemed to nod upon me. My head swam. I pressed
the child to my side and sat my horse as still as a
statue. I was speechless and cold all over. Her mule
staggered, sidling close to the rock, and then went
on. My horse only pricked up his ears with a slight
snort. My heart stood still, and from the depths
of the precipice the stones rattling in the bed of
the furious stream made me almost insane with their
"Next moment we were round the turn and on
a broad and grassy slope. And then I yelled. My
men came running back to me in great alarm. It
seems that at first I did nothing but shout, 'She has
given the child into my hands! She has given the
child into my hands!' The escort thought I had gone
GASPAR RUIZ 69
General Santierra ceased and got up from the table.
"And that is all, señores," he concluded, with a courte-
ous glance at his rising guests.
"But what became of the child. General?" we asked.
"Ah, the child, the child."
He walked to one of the windows opening on his
beautiful garden, the refuge of his old days. Its fame
was great in the land. Keeping us back with a raised
arm, he called out, "Erminia, Erminia!" and waited.
Then his cautioning arm dropped, and we crowded to
From a clump of trees a woman had come upon the
broad walk bordered with flowers. We could hear the
rustle of her starched petticoats and observed the
ample spread of her old-fashioned black silk skirt. She
looked up, and seeing all these eyes staring at her
stopped, frowned, smiled, shook her finger at the Gen-
eral, who was laughing boisterously, and drawing the
black lace on her head so as to partly conceal her
haughty profile, passed out of our sight, walking with
"You have beheld the guardian angel of the old man
-- and her to whom you owe all that is seemly and
comfortable in my hospitality. Somehow, señores,
though the flame of love has been kindled early in my
breast, I have never married. And because of that
perhaps the sparks of the sacred fire are not yet ex-
tinct here." He struck his broad chest. "Still alive,
still alive," he said, with serio-comic emphasis. "But
I shall not marry now. She is General Santierra's
adopted daughter and heiress."
One of our fellow-guests, a young naval officer,
described her afterwards as a "short, stout, old girl of
forty or thereabouts." We had all noticed that her hair
was turning grey, and that she had very fine black eyes.
70 GASPAR RUIZ
"And," General Santierra continued, "neither would
she ever hear of marrying any one. A real calamity!
Good, patient, devoted to the old man. A simple soul.
But I would not advise any of you to ask for her hand,
for if she took yours into hers it would be only to
crush your bones. Ah! she does not jest on that
subject. And she is the own daughter of her father,
the strong man who perished through his own strength:
the strength of his body, of his simplicity -- of his love!"
AN IRONIC TALE
[page intentionally blank]
MR. X came to me, preceded by a letter of intro-
duction from a good friend of mine in Paris, spe-
cifically to see my collection of Chinese bronzes and
My friend in Paris is a collector, too. He collects
neither porcelain, nor bronzes, nor pictures, nor medals,
nor stamps, nor anything that could be profitably dis-
persed under an auctioneer's hammer. He would reject,
with genuine surprise, the name of a collector. Never-
theless, that's what he is by temperament. He collects
acquaintances. It is delicate work. He brings to it the
patience, the passion, the determination of a true col-
lector of curiosities. His collection does not contain
any royal personages. I don't think he considers them
sufficiently rare and interesting; but, with that excep-
tion, he has met with and talked to everyone worth
knowing on any conceivable ground. He observes
them, listens to them, penetrates them, measures them,
and puts the memory away in the galleries of his mind.
He has schemed, plotted, and travelled all over Europe
in order to add to his collection of distinguished personal
As he is wealthy, well connected, and unprejudiced,
his collection is pretty complete, including objects (or
should I say subjects?) whose value is unappreciated by
the vulgar, and often unknown to popular fame. Of
those specimens my friend is naturally the most proud.
He wrote to me of X: "He is the greatest rebel
74 THE INFORMER
(révolté) of modern times. The world knows him as a
revolutionary writer whose savage irony has laid bare
the rottenness of the most respectable institutions. He
has scalped every venerated head, and has mangled
at the stake of his wit every received opinion and every
recognized principle of conduct and policy. Who does
not remember his flaming red revolutionary pamph-
lets? Their sudden swarmings used to overwhelm the
powers of every Continental police like a plague of
crimson gadflies. But this extreme writer has been
also the active inspirer of secret societies, the mysterious
unknown Number One of desperate conspiracies sus-
pected and unsuspected, matured or baffled. And the
world at large has never had an inkling of that fact!
This accounts for him going about amongst us to this
day, a veteran of many subterranean campaigns, stand-
ing aside now, safe within his reputation of merely the
greatest destructive publicist that ever lived."
Thus wrote my friend, adding that Mr. X was an en-
lightened connoisseur of bronzes and china, and asking
me to show him my collection.
X turned up in due course. My treasures are dis-
posed in three large rooms without carpets and curtains.
There is no other furniture than the étagères and the
glass cases whose contents shall be worth a fortune to
my heirs. I allow no fires to be lighted, for fear of
accidents, and a fire-proof door separates them from
the rest of the house.
It was a bitter cold day. We kept on our overcoats
and hats. Middle-sized and spare, his eyes alert in a
long, Roman-nosed countenance, X walked on his neat
little feet, with short steps, and looked at my collection
intelligently. I hope I looked at him intelligently, too.
A snow-white moustache and imperial made his nut-
brown complexion appear darker than it really was. In
THE INFORMER 73
his fur coat and shiny tall hat that terrible man looked
fashionable. I believe he belonged to a noble family,
and could have called himself Vicomte X de la Z if he
chose. We talked nothing but bronzes and porcelain.
He was remarkably appreciative. We parted on cordial
Where he was staying I don't know. I imagine he
must have been a lonely man. Anarchists, I suppose,
have no families -- not, at any rate, as we understand
that social relation. Organization into families may
answer to a need of human nature, but in the last in-
stance it is based on law, and therefore must be some-
thing odious and impossible to an anarchist. But, in-
deed, I don't understand anarchists. Does a man of
that -- of that -- persuasion still remain an anarchist
when alone, quite alone and going to bed, for instance?
Does he lay his head on the pillow, pull his bedclothes
over him, and go to sleep with the necessity of the
chambardement général, as the French slang has it, of the
general blow-up, always present to his mind? And if so
how can he? I am sure that if such a faith (or such a
fanaticism) once mastered my thoughts I would never
be able to compose myself sufficiently to sleep or eat or
perform any of the routine acts of daily life. I would
want no wife, no children; I could have no friends, it
seems to me; and as to collecting bronzes or china, that,
I should say, would be quite out of the question. But
I don't know. All I know is that Mr. X took his meals
in a very good restaurant which I frequented also.
With his head uncovered, the silver top-knot of his
brushed-up hair completed the character of his physi-
ognomy, all bony ridges and sunken hollows, clothed in
a perfect impassiveness of expression. His meagre
brown hands emerging from large white cuffs came and
went breaking bread, pouring wine, and so on, with
76 THE INFORMER
quiet mechanical precision. His head and body above
the tablecloth had a rigid immobility. This firebrand,
this great agitator, exhibited the least possible amount
of warmth and animation. His voice was rasping, cold,
and monotonous in a low key. He could not be called a
talkative personality; but with his detached calm
manner he appeared as ready to keep the conversation
going as to drop it at any moment.
And his conversation was by no means common-
place. To me, I own, there was some excitement in
talking quietly across a dinner-table with a man
whose venomous pen-stabs had sapped the vitality of at
least one monarchy. That much was a matter of
public knowledge. But I knew more. I knew of him --
from my friend -- as a certainty what the guardians of
social order in Europe had at most only suspected, or
dimly guessed at.
He had had what I may call his underground life.
And as I sat, evening after evening, facing him at
dinner, a curiosity in that direction would naturally
arise in my mind. I am a quiet and peaceable product
of civilization, and know no passion other than the
passion for collecting things which are rare, and must
remain exquisite even if approaching to the monstrous.
Some Chinese bronzes are monstrously precious. And
here (out of my friend's collection), here I had before me
a kind of rare monster. It is true that this monster
was polished and in a sense even exquisite. His beauti-
ful unruffled manner was that. But then he was not of
bronze. He was not even Chinese, which would have
enabled one to contemplate him calmly across the gulf
of racial difference. He was alive and European; he
had the manner of good society, wore a coat and hat
like mine, and had pretty near the same taste in cook-
ing. It was too frightful to think of.
THE INFORMER 77
One evening he remarked, casually, in the course of
conversation, "There's no amendment to be got out of
mankind except by terror and violence."
You can imagine the effect of such a phrase out of
such a man's mouth upon a person like myself, whose
whole scheme of life had been based upon a suave and
delicate discrimination of social and artistic values.
Just imagine! Upon me, to whom all sorts and forms
of violence appeared as unreal as the giants, ogres, and
seven-headed hydras whose activities affect, fantasti-
cally, the course of legends and fairy-tales!
I seemed suddenly to hear above the festive bustle
and clatter of the brilliant restaurant the mutter of a
hungry and seditious multitude.
I suppose I am impressionable and imaginative. I
had a disturbing vision of darkness, full of lean jaws and
wild eyes, amongst the hundred electric lights of the
place. But somehow this vision made me angry, too.
The sight of that man, so calm, breaking bits of white
bread, exasperated me. And I had the audacity to ask
him how it was that the starving proletariat of Europe
to whom he had been preaching revolt and violence had
not been made indignant by his openly luxurious life.
"At all this," I said, pointedly, with a glance round the
room and at the bottle of champagne we generally
shared between us at dinner.
He remained unmoved.
"Do I feed on their toil and their heart's blood?
Am I a speculator or a capitalist? Did I steal my
fortune from a starving people? No! They know this
very well. And they envy me nothing. The miserable
mass of the people is generous to its leaders. What I
have acquired has come to me through my writings; not
from the millions of pamphlets distributed gratis to the
hungry and the oppressed, but from the hundreds of
78 THE INFORMER
thousands of copies sold to the well-fed bourgeoisie. You
know that my writings were at one time the rage, the
fashion -- the thing to read with wonder and horror,
to turn your eyes up at my pathos . . . or else,
to laugh in ecstasies at my wit."
"Yes," I admitted. "I remember, of course; and I
confess frankly that I could never understand that
"Don't you know yet," he said, "that an idle and
selfish class loves to see mischief being made, even if
it is made at its own expense? Its own life being all a
matter of pose and gesture, it is unable to realize the
power and the danger of a real movement and of words
that have no sham meaning. It is all fun and senti-
ment. It is sufficient, for instance, to point out the
attitude of the old French aristocracy towards the
philosophers whose words were preparing the Great
Revolution. Even in England, where you have some
common-sense, a demagogue has only to shout loud
enough and long enough to find some backing in the
very class he is shouting at. You, too, like to see mis-
chief being made. The demagogue carries the amateurs
of emotion with him. Amateurism in this, that, and
the other thing is a delightfully easy way of killing
time, and feeding one's own vanity -- the silly vanity of
being abreast with the ideas of the day after to-morrow.
Just as good and otherwise harmless people will join you
in ecstasies over your collection without having the
slightest notion in what its marvellousness really con-
I hung my head. It was a crushing illustration of
the sad truth he advanced. The world is full of such
people. And that instance of the French aristocracy
before the Revolution was extremely telling, too. I
could not traverse his statement, though its cynicism
THE INFORMER 79
-- always a distasteful trait -- took off much of its value
to my mind. However, I admit I was impressed. I
felt the need to say something which would not be in
the nature of assent and yet would not invite discussion.
"You don't mean to say," I observed, airily, "that
extreme revolutionists have ever been actively assisted
by the infatuation of such people?"
"I did not mean exactly that by what I said just
now. I generalized. But since you ask me, I may tell
you that such help has been given to revolutionary
activities, more or less consciously, in various countries.
And even in this country."
"Impossible!" I protested with firmness. "We
don't play with fire to that extent."
"And yet you can better afford it than others,
perhaps. But let me observe that most women, if not
always ready to play with fire, are generally eager to
play with a loose spark or so."
"Is this a joke?" I asked, smiling.
"If it is, I am not aware of it," he said, woodenly.
"I was thinking of an instance. Oh! mild enough in a
way . . ."
I became all expectation at this. I had tried many
times to approach him on his underground side, so to
speak. The very word had been pronounced between
us. But he had always met me with his impenetrable
"And at the same time," Mr. X continued, "it will
give you a notion of the difficulties that may arise in
what you are pleased to call underground work. It is
sometimes difficult to deal with them. Of course there
is no hierarchy amongst the affiliated. No rigid
My surprise was great, but short-lived. Clearly,
amongst extreme anarchists there could be no hier-
80 THE INFORMER
archy; nothing in the nature of a law of precedence.
The idea of anarchy ruling among anarchists was
comforting, too. It could not possibly make for
Mr. X startled me by asking, abruptly, "You know
I nodded doubtful assent. Hermione Street has
been, within the last three years, improved out of any
man's knowledge. The name exists still, but not one
brick or stone of the old Hermione Street is left now.
It was the old street he meant, for he said:
"There was a row of two-storied brick houses on the
left, with their backs against the wing of a great public
building -- you remember. Would it surprise you very
much to hear that one of these houses was for a time
the centre of anarchist propaganda and of what you
would call underground action?"
"Not at all," I declared. Hermione Street had
never been particularly respectable, as I remembered it.
"The house was the property of a distinguished
government official," he added, sipping his champagne.
"Oh, indeed!" I said, this time not believing a word
"Of course he was not living there," Mr. X continued.
"But from ten till four he sat next door to it, the dear
man, in his well-appointed private room in the wing of
the public building I've mentioned. To be strictly
accurate, I must explain that the house in Hermione
Street did not really belong to him. It belonged to
his grown-up children -- a daughter and a son. The
girl, a fine figure, was by no means vulgarly pretty. To
more personal charm than mere youth could account
for, she added the seductive appearance of enthusiasm,
of independence, of courageous thought. I suppose she
put on these appearances as she put on her picturesque
THE INFORMER 81
dresses and for the same reason: to assert her individu-
ality at any cost. You know, women would go to any
length almost for such a purpose. She went to a great
length. She had acquired all the appropriate gestures of
revolutionary convictions -- the gestures of pity, of
anger, of indignation against the anti-humanitarian
vices of the social class to which she belonged herself.
All this sat on her striking personality as well as her
slightly original costumes. Very slightly original; just
enough to mark a protest against the philistinism of the
overfed taskmasters of the poor. Just enough, and no
more. It would not have done to go too far in that
direction -- you understand. But she was of age, and
nothing stood in the way of her offering her house to the
"You don't mean it!" I cried.
"I assure you," he affirmed, "that she made that very
practical gesture. How else could they have got hold
of it? The cause is not rich. And, moreover, there
would have been difficulties with any ordinary house-
agent, who would have wanted references and so on.
The group she came in contact with while exploring
the poor quarters of the town (you know the gesture of
charity and personal service which was so fashionable
some years ago) accepted with gratitude. The first
advantage was that Hermione Street is, as you know,
well away from the suspect part of the town, specially
watched by the police.
"The ground floor consisted of a little Italian restau-
rant, of the flyblown sort. There was no difficulty
in buying the proprietor out. A woman and a man
belonging to the group took it on. The man had been
a cook. The comrades could get their meals there,
unnoticed amongst the other customers. This was
another advantage. The first floor was occupied by a
82 THE INFORMER
shabby Variety Artists' Agency -- an agency for per-
formers in inferior music-halls, you know. A fellow-
called Bomm, I remember. He was not disturbed. It
was rather favourable than otherwise to have a lot of
foreign-looking people, jugglers, acrobats, singers of
both sexes, and so on, going in and out all day long.
The police paid no attention to new faces, you see. The
top floor happened, most conveniently, to stand empty
X interrupted himself to attack impassively, with
measured movements, a bombe glacée which the
waiter had just set down on the table. He swallowed
carefully a few spoonfuls of the iced sweet, and asked
me, "Did you ever hear of Stone's Dried Soup?"
"Hear of what?"
"It was," X pursued, evenly, "a comestible article
once rather prominently advertised in the dailies, but
which never, somehow, gained the favour of the public.
The enterprise fizzled out, as you say here. Parcels of
their stock could be picked up at auctions at consider-
ably less than a penny a pound. The group bought
some of it, and an agency for Stone's Dried Soup was
started on the top floor. A perfectly respectable busi-
ness. The stuff, a yellow powder of extremely unappe-
tizing aspect, was put up in large square tins, of which
six went to a case. If anybody ever came to give an
order, it was, of course, executed. But the advantage
of the powder was this, that things could be concealed in
it very conveniently. Now and then a special case got
put on a van and sent off to be exported abroad under
the very nose of the policeman on duty at the corner.
"I think I do," I said, with an expressive nod at the
remnants of the bombe melting slowly in the dish.
"Exactly. But the cases were useful in another
THE INFORMER 83
way, too. In the basement, or in the cellar at the back,
rather, two printing-presses were established. A lot of
revolutionary literature of the most inflammatory kind
was got away from the house in Stone's Dried Soup
cases. The brother of our anarchist young lady found
some occupation there. He wrote articles, helped to
set up type and pull off the sheets, and generally as-
sisted the man in charge, a very able young fellow called
"The guiding spirit of that group was a fanatic of
social revolution. He is dead now. He was an
engraver and etcher of genius. You must have seen his
work. It is much sought after by certain amateurs
now. He began by being revolutionary in his art, and
ended by becoming a revolutionist, after his wife and
child had died in want and misery. He used to say that
the bourgeoisie, the smug, overfed lot, had killed them.
That was his real belief. He still worked at his art and
led a double life. He was tall, gaunt, and swarthy, with
a long, brown beard and deep-set eyes. You must have
seen him. His name was Horne."
At this I was really startled. Of course years ago I
used to meet Horne about. He looked like a powerful,
rough gipsy, in an old top hat, with a red muffler round
his throat and buttoned up in a long, shabby overcoat.
He talked of his art with exaltation, and gave one the
impression of being strung up to the verge of insanity.
A small group of connoisseurs appreciated his work.
Who would have thought that this man. . . .
Amazing! And yet it was not, after all, so difficult to
"As you see," X went on, "this group was in a posi-
tion to pursue its work of propaganda, and the other
kind of work, too, under very advantageous conditions.
They were all resolute, experienced men of a superior
84 THE INFORMER
stamp. And yet we became struck at length by the
fact that plans prepared in Hermione Street almost
"Who were 'we'?" I asked, pointedly.
"Some of us in Brussels -- at the centre," he said,
hastily. "Whatever vigorous action originated in
Hermione Street seemed doomed to failure. Something
always happened to baffle the best planned manifesta-
tions in every part of Europe. It was a time of general
activity. You must not imagine that all our failures
are of a loud sort, with arrests and trials. That is not
so. Often the police work quietly, almost secretly,
defeating our combinations by clever counter-plotting.
No arrests, no noise, no alarming of the public mind
and inflaming the passions. It is a wise procedure.
But at that time the police were too uniformly successful
from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. It was annoying
and began to look dangerous. At last we came to the
conclusion that there must be some untrustworthy
elements amongst the London groups. And I came
over to see what could be done quietly.
"My first step was to call upon our young Lady
Amateur of anarchism at her private house. She re-
ceived me in a flattering way. I judged that she knew
nothing of the chemical and other operations going on
at the top of the house in Hermione Street. The print-
ing of anarchist literature was the only 'activity' she
seemed to be aware of there. She was displaying very
strikingly the usual signs of severe enthusiasm, and had
already written many sentimental articles with ferocious
conclusions. I could see she was enjoying herself
hugely, with all the gestures and grimaces of deadly
earnestness. They suited her big-eyed, broad-browed
face and the good carriage of her shapely head, crowned
by a magnificent lot of brown hair done in an unusual
THE INFORMER 85
and becoming style. Her brother was in the room, too,
a serious youth, with arched eyebrows and wearing a red
necktie, who struck me as being absolutely in the dark
about everything in the world, including himself. By
and by a tall young man came in. He was clean-shaved
with a strong bluish jaw and something of the air of a
taciturn actor or of a fanatical priest: the type with
thick black eyebrows -- you know. But he was very pre-
sentable indeed. He shook hands at once vigorously
with each of us. The young lady came up to me and
murmured sweetly, 'Comrade Sevrin.'
"I had never seen him before. He had little to say
to us, but sat down by the side of the girl, and they fell
at once into earnest conversation. She leaned forward
in her deep armchair, and took her nicely rounded chin
in her beautiful white hand. He looked attentively into
her eyes. It was the attitude of love-making, serious,
intense, as if on the brink of the grave. I suppose she
felt it necessary to round and complete her assumption
of advanced ideas, of revolutionary lawlessness, by
making believe to be in love with an anarchist. And
this one, I repeat, was extremely presentable, notwith-
standing his fanatical black-browed aspect. After a
few stolen glances in their direction, I had no doubt that
he was in earnest. As to the lady, her gestures were
unapproachable, better than the very thing itself in the
blended suggestion of dignity, sweetness, condescension,
fascination, surrender, and reserve. She interpreted
her conception of what that precise sort of love-making
should be with consummate art. And so far, she, too,
no doubt, was in earnest. Gestures -- but so perfect!
"After I had been left alone with our Lady Amateur
I informed her guardedly of the object of my visit. I
hinted at our suspicions. I wanted to hear what she
would have to say, and half expected some perhaps un-
86 THE INFORMER
conscious revelation. All she said was, 'That's serious,'
looking delightfully concerned and grave. But there
was a sparkle in her eyes which meant plainly, 'How
exciting!' After all, she knew little of anything except
of words. Still, she undertook to put me in com-
munication with Horne, who was not easy to find unless
in Hermione Street, where I did not wish to show myself
"I met Horne. This was another kind of a fanatic
altogether. I exposed to him the conclusion we in
Brussels had arrived at, and pointed out the significant
series of failures. To this he answered with irrelevant
"'I have something in hand that shall strike terror
into the heart of these gorged brutes.'
"And then I learned that, by excavating in one of
the cellars of the house, he and some companions had
made their way into the vaults under the great public
building I have mentioned before. The blowing up of a
whole wing was a certainty as soon as the materials were
"I was not so appalled at the stupidity of that move
as I might have been had not the usefulness of our
centre in Hermione Street become already very prob-
lematical. In fact, in my opinion it was much more
of a police trap by this time than anything else.
"What was necessary now was to discover what, or
rather who, was wrong, and I managed at last to get
that idea into Horne's head. He glared, perplexed, his
nostrils working as if he were sniffing treachery in the
"And here comes a piece of work which will no doubt
strike you as a sort of theatrical expedient. And yet
what else could have been done? The problem was
to find out the untrustworthy member of the group.
THE INFORMER 87
But no suspicion could be fastened on one more than
another. To set a watch upon them all was not very
practicable. Besides, that proceeding often fails. In
any case, it takes time, and the danger was pressing. I
felt certain that the premises in Hermione Street would
be ultimately raided, though the police had evidently
such confidence in the informer that the house, for the
time being, was not even watched. Horne was positive
on that point. Under the circumstances it was an
unfavourable symptom. Something had to be done
"I decided to organize a raid myself upon the group.
Do you understand? A raid of other trusty comrades
personating the police. A conspiracy within a con-
spiracy. You see the object of it, of course. When
apparently about to be arrested I hoped the informer
would betray himself in some way or other; either by
some unguarded act or simply by his unconcerned de-
meanour, for instance. Of coarse there was the risk of
complete failure and the no lesser risk of some fatal
accident in the course of resistance, perhaps, or in the
efforts at escape. For, as you will easily see, the Her-
mione Street group had to be actually and completely
taken unawares, as I was sure they would be by the real
police before very long. The informer was amongst
them, and Horne alone could be let into the secret of
"I will not enter into the detail of my preparations.
It was not very easy to arrange, but it was done very
well, with a really convincing effect. The sham police
invaded the restaurant, whose shutters were immedi-
ately put up. The surprise was perfect. Most of the
Hermione Street party were found in the second cellar,
enlarging the hole communicating with the vaults
of the great public building. At the first alarm, several
88 THE INFORMER
comrades bolted through impulsively into the aforesaid
vault, where, of course, had this been a genuine raid,
they would have been hopelessly trapped. We did not
bother about them for the moment. They were harm-
less enough. The top floor caused considerable anxiety
to Horne and myself. There, surrounded by tins of
Stone's Dried Soup, a comrade, nick-named the Pro-
fessor (he was an ex-science student) was engaged in
perfecting some new detonators. He was an ab-
stracted, self-confident, sallow little man, armed with
large round spectacles, and we were afraid that under a
mistaken impression he would blow himself up and
wreck the house about our ears. I rushed upstairs and
found him already at the door, on the alert, listening, as
he said, to 'suspicious noises down below.' Before I
had quite finished explaining to him what was going on
he shrugged his shoulders disdainfully and turned away
to his balances and test-tubes. His was the true spirit
of an extreme revolutionist. Explosives were his faith,
his hope, his weapon, and his shield. He perished
a couple of years afterwards in a secret laboratory
through the premature explosion of one of his improved
"Hurrying down again, I found an impressive scene
in the gloom of the big cellar. The man who personated
the inspector (he was no stranger to the part) was
speaking harshly, and giving bogus orders to his bogus
subordinates for the removal of his prisoners. Evi-
dently nothing enlightening had happened so far.
Horne, saturnine and swarthy, waited with folded arms,
and his patient, moody expectation had an air of stoi-
cism well in keeping with the situation. I detected in
the shadows one of the Hermione Street group surrep-
titiously chewing up and swallowing a small piece of
paper. Some compromising scrap, I suppose; perhaps
THE INFORMER 89
just a note of a few names and addresses. He was a
true and faithful 'companion.' But the fund of secret
malice which lurks at the bottom of our sympathies
caused me to feel amused at that perfectly uncalled-
In every other respect the risky experiment, the
theatrical coup, if you like to call it so, seemed to have
failed. The deception could not be kept up much
longer; the explanation would bring about a very
embarrassing and even grave situation. The man who
had eaten the paper would be furious. The fellows who
had bolted away would be angry, too.
"To add to my vexation, the door communicating
with the other cellar, where the printing-presses were,
flew open, and our young lady revolutionist appeared,
a black silhouette in a close-fitting dress and a large
hat, with the blaze of gas flaring in there at her back.
Over her shoulder I perceived the arched eyebrows and
the red necktie of her brother.
"The last people in the world I wanted to see then!
They had gone that evening to some amateur concert
for the delectation of the poor people, you know; but
she had insisted on leaving early, on purpose to call in
Hermione Street on the way home, under the pretext of
having some work to do. Her usual task was to correct
the proofs of the Italian and French editions of the
Alarm Bell and the Firebrand." . . .
"Heavens!" I murmured. I had been shown once a
few copies of these publications. Nothing, in my
opinion, could have been less fit for the eyes of a young
lady. They were the most advanced things of the sort;
advanced, I mean, beyond all bounds of reason and
decency. One of them preached the dissolution of all
social and domestic ties; the other advocated systematic
murder. To think of a young girl calmly tracking
90 THE INFORMER
printers' errors all along the sort of abominable sen-
tences I remembered was intolerable to my sentiment
of womanhood. Mr. X, after giving me a glance,
"I think, however, that she came mostly to exercise
her fascinations upon Sevrin, and to receive his homage
in her queenly and condescending way. She was aware
of both -- her power and his homage -- and enjoyed them
with, I dare say, complete innocence. We have no
ground in expediency or morals to quarrel with her on
that account. Charm in woman and exceptional
intelligence in man are a law unto themselves. Is it
I refrained from expressing my abhorrence of that
licentious doctrine because of my curiosity.
"But what happened then?" I hastened to ask.
X went on crumbling slowly a small piece of bread
with a careless left hand.
"What happened, in effect," he confessed, "is that
she saved the situation."
"She gave you an opportunity to end your rather
sinister farce," I suggested.
"Yes," he said, preserving his impassive bearing.
" The farce was bound to end soon. And it ended in a
very few minutes. And it ended well. Had she not
come in, it might have ended badly. Her brother, of
course, did not count. They had slipped into the
house quietly some time before. The printing-cellar
had an entrance of its own. Not finding any one
there, she sat down to her proofs, expecting Sevrin to
return to his work at any moment. He did not do so.
She grew impatient, heard through the door the sounds
of a disturbance in the other cellar and naturally came
in to see what was the matter.
Sevrin had been with us. At first he had seemed
THE INFORMER 91
to me the most amazed of the whole raided lot. He
appeared for an instant as if paralyzed with astonish-
ment. He stood rooted to the spot. He never moved
a limb. A solitary gas-jet flared near his head; all
the other lights had been put out at the first alarm.
And presently, from my dark corner, I observed on his
shaven actor's face an expression of puzzled, vexed
watchfulness. He knitted his heavy eyebrows. The
corners of his mouth dropped scornfully. He was
angry. Most likely he had seen through the game, and
I regretted I had not taken him from the first into my
"But with the appearance of the girl he became
obviously alarmed. It was plain. I could see it
grow. The change of his expression was swift and
startling. And I did not know why. The reason
never occurred to me. I was merely astonished at the
extreme alteration of the man's face. Of course he had
not been aware of her presence in the other cellar; but
that did not explain the shock her advent had given him.
For a moment he seemed to have been reduced to
imbecility. He opened his mouth as if to shout, or
perhaps only to gasp. At any rate, it was somebody
else who shouted. This somebody else was the heroic
comrade whom I had detected swallowing a piece of
paper. With laudable presence of mind he let out a
"'It's the police! Back! Back! Run back, and
bolt the door behind you.'
"It was an excellent hint; but instead of retreating
the girl continued to advance, followed by her long-
faced brother in his knickerbocker suit, in which he had
been singing comic songs for the entertainment of a
joyless proletariat. She advanced not as if she had
failed to understand -- the word 'police' has an un-
92 THE INFORMER
mistakable sound -- but rather as if she could not help
herself. She did not advance with the free gait and
expanding presence of a distinguished amateur anarchist
amongst poor, struggling professionals, but with
slightly raised shoulders, and her elbows pressed
close to her body, as if trying to shrink within herself.
Her eyes were fixed immovably upon Sevrin. Sevrin
the man, I fancy; not Sevrin the anarchist. But she
advanced. And that was natural. For all their
assumption of independence, girls of that class are used
to the feeling of being specially protected, as, in fact,
they are. This feeling accounts for nine tenths of
their audacious gestures. Her face had gone com-
pletely colourless. Ghastly. Fancy having it brought
home to her so brutally that she was the sort of person
who must run away from the police! I believe she was
pale with indignation, mostly, though there was, of
course, also the concern for her intact personality, a
vague dread of some sort of rudeness. And, naturally,
she turned to a man, to the man on whom she had a
claim of fascination and homage -- the man who could
not conceivably fail her at any juncture."
"But," I cried, amazed at this analysis, "if it had
been serious, real, I mean -- as she thought it was -- what
could she expect him to do for her?"
X never moved a muscle of his face.
"Goodness knows. I imagine that this charming,
generous, and independent creature had never known
in her life a single genuine thought; I mean a single
thought detached from small human vanities, or whose
source was not in some conventional perception. All I
know is that after advancing a few steps she extended
her hand towards the motionless Sevrin. And that at
least was no gesture. It was a natural movement. As
to what she expected him to do, who can tell? The
THE INFORMER 93
impossible. But whatever she expected, it could not
have come up, I am safe to say, to what he had made
up his mind to do, even before that entreating hand had
appealed to him so directly. It had not been necessary.
From the moment he had seen her enter that cellar, he
had made up his mind to sacrifice his future usefulness,
to throw off the impenetrable, solidly fastened mask it
had been his pride to wear --"
"What do you mean?" I interrupted, puzzled.
"Was it Sevrin, then, who was --"
"He was. The most persistent, the most dangerous,
the craftiest, the most systematic of informers. A
genius amongst betrayers. Fortunately for us, he was
unique. The man was a fanatic, I have told you.
Fortunately, again, for us, he had fallen in love with the
accomplished and innocent gestures of that girl. An
actor in desperate earnest himself, he must have be-
lieved in the absolute value of conventional signs. As
to the grossness of the trap into which he fell, the
explanation must be that two sentiments of such ab-
sorbing magnitude cannot exist simultaneously in one
heart. The danger of that other and unconscious
comedian robbed him of his vision, of his perspicacity,
of his judgment. Indeed, it did at first rob him of his
self-possession. But he regained that through the
necessity -- as it appeared to him imperiously -- to do
something at once. To do what? Why, to get her
out of the house as quickly as possible. He was
desperately anxious to do that. I have told you he
was terrified. It could not be about himself. He had
been surprised and annoyed at a move quite unforeseen
and premature. I may even say he had been furious.
He was accustomed to arrange the last scene of his
betrayals with a deep, subtle art which left his revolu-
tionist reputation untouched. But it seems clear to
94 THE INFORMER
me that at the same time he had resolved to make the
best of it, to keep his mask resolutely on. It was only
with the discovery of her being in the house that every-
thing -- the forced calm, the restraint of his fanaticism,
the mask -- all came off together in a kind of panic.
Why panic, do you ask? The answer is very simple.
He remembered -- or, I dare say, he had never forgotten
-- the Professor alone at the top of the house, pursuing
his researches, surrounded by tins upon tins of Stone's
Dried Soup. There was enough in some few of them to
bury us all where we stood under a heap of bricks.
Sevrin, of course, was aware of that. And we must
believe, also, that he knew the exact character of the
man. He had gauged so many such characters! Or
perhaps he only gave the Professor credit for what he
himself was capable of. But, in any case, the effect
was produced. And suddenly he raised his voice in
"'Get the lady away at once.'
"It turned out that he was as hoarse as a crow;
result, no doubt, of the intense emotion. It passed off
in a moment. But these fateful words issued forth from
his contracted throat in a discordant, ridiculous croak.
They required no answer. The thing was done. How-
ever, the man personating the inspector judged it ex-
pedient to say roughly:
"'She shall go soon enough, together with the rest of
"These were the last words belonging to the comedy
part of this affair.
"Oblivious of everything and everybody, Sevrin
strode towards him and seized the lapels of his coat.
Under his thin bluish cheeks one could see his jaws
working with passion.
"'You have men posted outside. Get the lady taken
THE INFORMER 95
home at once. Do you hear? Now. Before you try to
get hold of the man upstairs.'
"'Oh! There is a man upstairs,' scoffed the other,
openly. 'Well, he shall be brought down in time to see
the end of this.'
"But Sevrin, beside himself, took no heed of the
'"Who's the imbecile meddler who sent you blunder-
ing here? Didn't you understand your instructions?
Don't you know anything? It's incredible. Here --'
"He dropped the lapels of the coat and, plunging
his hand into his breast, jerked feverishly at some-
thing under his shirt. At last he produced a small
square pocket of soft leather, which must have been
hanging like a scapulary from his neck by the tape
whose broken ends dangled from his fist.
"'Look inside,' he spluttered, flinging it in the other's
face. And instantly he turned round towards the girl.
She stood just behind him, perfectly still and silent.
Her set, white face gave an illusion of placidity. Only
her staring eyes seemed bigger and darker.
"He spoke rapidly, with nervous assurance. I heard
him distinctly promise her to make everything as clear
as daylight presently. But that was all I caught. He
stood close to her, never attempting to touch her even
with the tip of his little finger -- and she stared at him
stupidly. For a moment, however, her eyelids de-
scended slowly, pathetically, and then, with the
long black eyelashes lying on her white cheeks, she
looked ready to fall down in a swoon. But she never
even swayed where she stood. He urged her loudly to
follow him at once, and walked towards the door at the
bottom of the cellar stairs without looking behind him.
And, as a matter of fact, she did move after him a pace
or two. But, of course, he was not allowed to reach the
96 THE INFORMER
door. There were angry exclamations, a short, fierce
scuffle. Flung away violently, he came flying back-
wards upon her, and fell. She threw out her arms in a
gesture of dismay and stepped aside, just clear of his
head, which struck the ground heavily near her shoe.
"He grunted with the shock. By the time he had
picked himself up, slowly, dazedly, he was awake to the
reality of things. The man into whose hands he had
thrust the leather case had extracted therefrom a
narrow strip of bluish paper. He held it up above his
head, and, as after the scuffle an expectant uneasy still-
ness reigned once more, he threw it down disdainfully
with the words, 'I think, comrades, that this proof was
"Quick as thought, the girl stooped after the flutter-
ing slip. Holding it spread out in both hands, she
looked at it; then, without raising her eyes, opened her
fingers slowly and let it fall.
"I examined that curious document afterwards. It
was signed by a very high personage, and stamped and
countersigned by other high officials in various countries
of Europe. In his trade -- or shall I say, in his mission?
-- that sort of talisman might have been necessary, no
doubt. Even to the police itself -- all but the heads --
he had been known only as Sevrin the noted anarchist.
"He hung his head, biting his lower lip. A change
had come over him, a sort of thoughtful, absorbed calm-
ness. Nevertheless, he panted. His sides worked visi-
bly, and his nostrils expanded and collapsed in weird
contrast with his sombre aspect of a fanatical monk in a
meditative attitude, but with something, too, in his
face of an actor intent upon the terrible exigencies of his
part. Before him Horne declaimed, haggard and
bearded, like an inspired denunciatory prophet from a
wilderness. Two fanatics. They were made to under-
THE INFORMER 97
stand each other. Does this surprise you? I sup-
pose you think that such people would be foaming at the
mouth and snarling at each other?"
I protested hastily that I was not surprised in the
least; that I thought nothing of the kind; that anarchists
in general were simply inconceivable to me mentally,
morally, logically, sentimentally, and even physically.
X received this declaration with his usual woodenness
and went on.
"Horne had burst out into eloquence. While pour-
ing out scornful invective, he let tears escape from his
eyes and roll down his black beard unheeded. Sevrin
panted quicker and quicker. When he opened his
mouth to speak, everyone hung on his words.
"'Don't be a fool, Horne,' he began. 'You know
very well that I have done this for none of the reasons
you are throwing at me.' And in a moment he became
outwardly as steady as a rock under the other's lurid
stare. 'I have been thwarting, deceiving, and betraying
you -- from conviction.'
"He turned his back on Horne, and addressing the
girl, repeated the words: 'From conviction.'
"It's extraordinary how cold she looked. I suppose
she could not think of any appropriate gesture. There
can have been few precedents indeed for such a situ-
"'Clear as daylight,' he added. 'Do you understand
what that means? From conviction.'
"And still she did not stir. She did not know what
to do. But the luckless wretch was about to give
her the opportunity for a beautiful and correct gesture.
"'I have felt in me the power to make you share
this conviction,' he protested, ardently. He had for-
gotten himself; he made a step towards her -- perhaps
he stumbled. To me he seemed to be stooping low as
98 THE INFORMER
if to touch the hem of her garment. And then the
appropriate gesture came. She snatched her skirt
away from his polluting contact and averted her head
with an upward tilt. It was magnificently done, this
gesture of conventionally unstained honour, of an un-
blemished high-minded amateur.
"Nothing could have been better. And he seemed
to think so, too, for once more he turned away. But
this time he faced no one. He was again panting fright-
fully, while he fumbled hurriedly in his waistcoat
pocket, and then raised his hand to his lips. There was
something furtive in this movement, but directly after-
wards his bearing changed. His laboured breathing
gave him a resemblance to a man who had just run a
desperate race; but a curious air of detachment, of sud-
den and profound indifference, replaced the strain of the
striving effort. The race was over. I did not want to
see what would happen next. I was only too well
aware. I tucked the young lady's arm under mine
without a word, and made my way with her to the
"Her brother walked behind us. Half-way up the
short flight she seemed unable to lift her feet high
enough for the steps, and we had to pull and push to get
her to the top. In the passage she dragged herself
along, hanging on my arm, helplessly bent like an old
woman. We issued into an empty street through a
half-open door, staggering like besotted revellers. At
the corner we stopped a four-wheeler, and the ancient
driver looked round from his box with morose scorn at
our efforts to get her in. Twice during the drive I felt
her collapse on my shoulder in a half faint. Facing us,
the youth in knickerbockers remained as mute as a
fish, and, till he jumped out with the latch-key, sat
more still than I would have believed it possible.
THE INFORMER 99
"At the door of their drawing-room she left my arm
and walked in first, catching at the chairs and tables.
She unpinned her hat, then, exhausted with the effort,
her cloak still hanging from her shoulders, flung her-
self into a deep armchair, sideways, her face half
buried in a cushion. The good brother appeared
silently before her with a glass of water. She motioned
it away. He drank it himself and walked off to a dis-
tant corner -- behind the grand piano, somewhere. All
was still in this room where I had seen, for the first
time, Sevrin, the anti-anarchist, captivated and spell-
bound by the consummate and hereditary grimaces
that in a certain sphere of life take the place of feelings
with an excellent effect. I suppose her thoughts were
busy with the same memory. Her shoulders shook
violently. A pure attack of nerves. When it quieted
down she affected firmness, 'What is done to a man of
that sort? What will they do to him?'
"'Nothing. They can do nothing to him,' I assured
her, with perfect truth. I was pretty certain he had
died in less than twenty minutes from the moment his
hand had gone to his lips. For if his fanatical anti-
anarchism went even as far as carrying poison in his
pocket, only to rob his adversaries of legitimate ven-
geance, I knew he would take care to provide something
that would not fail him when required.
"She drew an angry breath. There were red spots
on her cheeks and a feverish brilliance in her eyes.
"'Has ever any one been exposed to such a terrible
experience? To think that he had held my hand!
That man!' Her face twitched, she gulped down a
pathetic sob. 'If I ever felt sure of anything, it was of
Sevrin's high-minded motives.'
"Then she began to weep quietly, which was good
for her. Then through her flood of tears, half resentful,
100 THE INFORMER
'What was it he said to me? -- "From conviction!"
It seemed a vile mockery. What could he mean by
"'That, my dear young lady,' I said, gently, 'is more
than I or anybody else can ever explain to you.'"
Mr. X flicked a crumb off the front of his coat.
"And that was strictly true as to her. Though
Horne, for instance, understood very well; and so did I,
especially after we had been to Sevrin's lodging in a
dismal back street of an intensely respectable quarter.
Horne was known there as a friend, and we had no
difficulty in being admitted, the slatternly maid merely
remarking, as she let us in, that 'Mr Sevrin had not been
home that night.' We forced open a couple of drawers
in the way of duty, and found a little useful information.
The most interesting part was his diary; for this man,
engaged in such deadly work, had the weakness to keep
a record of the most damnatory kind. There were his
acts and also his thoughts laid bare to us. But the dead
don't mind that. They don't mind anything.
"'From conviction.' Yes. A vague but ardent
humanitarianism had urged him in his first youth into
the bitterest extremity of negation and revolt. After-
wards his optimism flinched. He doubted and became
lost. You have heard of converted atheists. These
turn often into dangerous fanatics, but the soul remains
the same. After he had got acquainted with the girl,
there are to be met in that diary of his very queer
politico-amorous rhapsodies. He took her sovereign
grimaces with deadly seriousness. He longed to con-
vert her. But all this cannot interest you. For the
rest, I don't know if you remember -- it is a good many
years ago now -- the journalistic sensation of the 'Hermi-
one Street Mystery'; the finding of a man's body in the
cellar of an empty house; the inquest; some arrests;
THE INFORMER 101
many surmises -- then silence -- the usual end for many
obscure martyrs and confessors. The fact is, he was
not enough of an optimist. You must be a savage,
tyrannical, pitiless, thick-and-thin optimist, like Horne,
for instance, to make a good social rebel of the extreme
He rose from the table. A waiter hurried up with
his overcoat; another held his hat in readiness.
"But what became of the young lady?" I asked.
"Do you really want to know?" he said, buttoning
himself in his fur coat carefully. "I confess to the small
malice of sending her Sevrin's diary. She went into
retirement; then she went to Florence; then she went
into retreat in a convent. I can't tell where she will
go next. What does it matter? Gestures! Gestures!
Mere gestures of her class."
He fitted on his glossy high hat with extreme pre-
cision, and casting a rapid glance round the room, full
of well-dressed people, innocently dining, muttered
between his teeth:
"And nothing else! That is why their kind is fated
I never met Mr. X again after that evening. I took
to dining at my club. On my next visit to Paris I found
my friend all impatience to hear of the effect produced
on me by this rare item of his collection. I told him all
the story, and he beamed on me with the pride of his
"Isn't X well worth knowing?" he bubbled over
in great delight. "He's unique, amazing, absolutely
His enthusiasm grated upon my finer feelings. I