Part 6 out of 9
A half hour later Ferragut leaped on the dock without any one's
opposing his disembarking, as though the protection of his obese
companion had made all the guards drowsy. The good gentleman showed,
notwithstanding, a fervent desire to separate himself from his
charge--to hurry away, attending to his own affairs.
He smiled upon learning that Ulysses wished to go immediately to
Naples. "You do well.... The train leaves in two hours." And putting
him in a vacant hack, he disappeared with precipitation.
Finding himself alone, the captain almost believed that he had dreamed
of those two preceding days.
He was again seeing Palermo after an absence of long years: and he
experienced the joy of an exiled Sicilian on meeting the various carts
of the countryside, drawn by broken-down horses with plumes, whose
badly-painted wagon bodies represented scenes from "Jerusalem
Delivered." He recalled the names of the principal roads,--the roads of
the old Spanish viceroys. In one square he saw the statue of four kings
of Spain.... But all these souvenirs only inspired in him a fleeting
interest. What he particularly noticed was the extraordinary movement
in the streets, the people grouping themselves together in order to
listen to the reading of the daily papers. Many windows displayed the
national flag, interlaced with those of France, England, and Belgium.
Upon arriving at the station he learned the truth,--was informed of the
event to which the merchant had alluded while they were in the skiff.
It was war!... Italy had broken her relations the day before with the
Ulysses felt very uneasy on remembering what he had done out on the
Mediterranean. He feared that the popular groups, thronging past him
and giving cheers behind their flags, were going to guess his exploit
and fall upon him. It was necessary to get away from this patriotic
enthusiasm, and he breathed more freely when he found himself in one of
the coaches of a train.... Besides, he was going to see Freya. And it
was enough for him merely to evoke her image to make all his remorse
The short journey proved long and difficult. The necessities of war had
made themselves felt from the very first moment, absorbing all means of
communication. The train would remain immovable for hours together in
order to give the right of way to other trains loaded with men and
military materials.... In all the stations were soldiers in campaign
uniform, banners and cheering crowds.
When Ferragut arrived at Naples, fatigued by a journey of forty-eight
hours, it seemed to him that the coachman was going too slowly toward
the old palace of Chiaja.
Upon crossing the vestibule with his little suit-case, the portress,--a
fat old crone with dusty, frizzled hair whom he had sometimes caught a
glimpse of in the depths of her hall cavern,--stopped his passage.
"The ladies are no longer living in the house.... The ladies have
suddenly left with Karl, their employee." And she explained the rest of
their flight with a hostile and malignant smile.
Ferragut saw that he must not insist. The slovenly old wife was furious
over the flight of the German ladies, and was examining the sailor as a
probable spy fit for patriotic denunciation. Nevertheless, through
professional honor, she told him that the blonde _signora_, the younger
and more attractive one, had thought of him on going away, leaving his
baggage in the porter's room.
Ulysses hastened to disappear. He would soon send some one to collect
those valises. And taking another carriage, he betook himself to the
_albergo_ of S. Lucia.... What an unexpected blow!
The porter made a gesture of surprise and astonishment upon seeing him
enter. Before Ferragut could inquire for Freya, with the vague hope
that she might have taken refuge in the hotel, this man gave him some
"Captain, your son has been here waiting for you."
The captain stuttered in dismay, "What son?..."
The man with the embroidered keys brought the register, showing him one
line, "Esteban Ferragut, Barcelona." Ulysses recognized his son's
handwriting, and at the same time his heart was oppressed with
Surprise made him speechless, and the porter took advantage of his
silence to continue speaking. He was such a charming and intelligent
lad!... Some mornings he had accompanied him in order to point out to
him the best things in the city. He had inquired among the consignees
of the _Mare Nostrum_, hunting everywhere for news of his father.
Finally convinced that the captain must already be returning to
Barcelona, he also had gone the day before.
"If you had only come twelve hours sooner, you would have found him
The porter knew nothing more. Occupied in doing errands for some South
American ladies, he had been unable to say good-bye to the young man
when he left the hotel, undecided whether to make the trip in an
English steamer to Marseilles or to go by railroad to Genoa, where he
would find boats direct to Barcelona.
Ferragut wished to know when he had arrived. And the porter, rolling
his eyes, gave himself up to long mental calculation.... Finally he
reached a date and the sailor, in his turn, concentrated his powers of
He struck himself on the forehead with his clenched hand. It must have
been his son then, that youth whom he had seen entering the _albergo_
the very day that he was going to take charge of the schooner, to carry
combustibles to the German submarines!
THE YOUNG TELEMACHUS
Whenever the _Mare Nostrum_ returned to Barcelona, Esteban Ferragut had
always felt as dazzled as though a gorgeous stained glass window had
opened upon his obscure and monotonous life as the son of the family.
He now no longer wandered along the harbor admiring from afar the great
transatlantic liners in front of the monument of Christopher Columbus,
nor the cargo steamers that were lined up along the commercial docks.
An important boat was going to be his absolute property for some weeks,
while its captain and officers were passing the time on land with their
families. Toni, the mate, was the only one who slept aboard. Many of
the seamen had begged permission to live in the city, and so the
steamer had been entrusted to the guardianship of Uncle Caragol with
half a dozen men for the daily cleaning. The little Ferragut used to
play that he was the captain of the _Mare Nostrum_ and would pace the
bridge, pretending that a great tempest was coming up, and examine the
nautical instrument with the gravity of an expert. Sometimes he used to
race through all the habitable parts of the boat, climbing down to the
holds that, wide open, were being ventilated, waiting for their cargo;
and finally he would clamber into the ship's gig, untying it from the
landing in order to row in it for a few hours, with even more
satisfaction than in the light skiffs of the Regatta Club.
His visits always ended in the kitchen, invited there by Uncle Caragol,
who was accustomed to treat him with fraternal familiarity. If the
youthful oarsman was perspiring greatly.... "A refresquet?" And the
_chef_ would prepare his sweet mixture that made men, after one gulp,
fall into the haziness of intoxication.
Esteban esteemed highly the "refrescos" of the cook. His imagination,
excited by the frequent reading of novels of travel, had made him
conceive a type of heroic, gallant, dashing sailor--a regular
swash-buckler capable of swallowing by the pitcherful the most rousing
drinks without moving an eyelid. He wanted to be that kind; every good
sailor ought to drink.
Although on land he was not acquainted with other liquors than those
innocent and over-sweet ones kept by his mother for family fiestas,
once he trod the deck of a vessel he felt the necessity for alcoholic
liquids so as to make it evident that he was entirely a man. "There
wasn't in the whole world a drink that could do _him_ any harm...." And
after a second "refresco" from Uncle Caragol, he became submersed in a
placid nirvana, seeing everything rose-colored and considerably
enlarged,--the sea, the nearby boats, the docks, and Montjuich in the
The cook, looking at him affectionately with his bleared eyes, believed
that he must have bounded back a dozen years and be still in Valencia,
talking with that other Ferragut boy who was running away from the
university in order to row in the harbor. He almost came to believe
that he had lived twice.
He always listened patiently to the lad's complaints, interrupting him
with solemn counsels. This fifteen-year-old Ferragut appeared
discontented with life. He was a man and he had to live with women--his
mother and two nieces, who were always making laces,--just as in other
times his mother had been the lace-making companion of her
mother-in-law, Dona Cristina. He wanted to be a seaman and they were
obliging him to study the uninteresting courses leading to a bachelor's
degree. It was scarcely likely, was it, that a captain would have to
know Latin?... He wanted to bring his student life to an end so as to
become a pilot and continue practicing on the bridge, beside his
father. Perhaps at thirty years of age, he might achieve the command of
the _Mare Nostrum_ or some similar boat.
Meanwhile the lure of the sea dragged him far from the classroom,
prompting him to visit Uncle Caragol at the very hour that his
professors were calling the roll and noting the students' absence.
The old man and his protege used to betake themselves in the galley
with the uneasy conscience of the guilty. Steps and voices on deck
always changed their topic of conversation. "Hide yourself!" and
Esteban would dodge under the table or hide in the provision-closet
while the cook sallied forth with a seraphic countenance to meet the
Sometimes it was Toni, and the boy would then dare to come out, relying
on his silence; for Toni liked him, too, and approved of his aversion
If it was the captain who was coming to the boat for a few moments,
Caragol would talk with him, obstructing the door with his bulk at the
same time that he was smiling maliciously.
For Esteban the two most wonderful things in all the world were the sea
and his father. All those romantic heroes that had come from the pages
of novels to take their place in his imagination had the face and ways
of Captain Ferragut.
From babyhood he had seen his mother weeping occasionally in resigned
sadness. Years later, recognizing with the precocity of a
little-watched boy the relations that exist between men and women, he
suspected that all these tears must be caused by the flirtations and
infidelities of the distant sailor.
He adored his mother with the passion of an only and spoiled child, but
he admired the captain no less, excusing every fault that he might
commit. His father was the bravest and handsomest man in all the world.
And when rummaging one day through the drawers in his father's
stateroom, he chanced upon various photographs having the names of
women from foreign countries, the lad's admiration was greater still.
Everybody must have been madly in love with the captain of the _Mare
Nostrum. Ay_! No matter what he might do when he became a man, he could
never hope to equal this triumphant creature who had given him
When the boat, on its return from Naples, arrived at Barcelona without
its owner, Ferragut's son did not feel any surprise.
Toni, who was always a man of few words, was very lavish with them on
the present occasion. Captain Ferragut had remained behind because of
important business, but he would not be long in returning. His second
was looking for him at any moment. Perhaps he would make the trip by
land, in order to arrive sooner.
Esteban was astounded to see that his mother did not accept this
absence as an insignificant event. The good lady appeared greatly
troubled and her eyes filled with tears. Her feminine instinct made her
suspect something ominous in her husband's delay.
In the afternoon, when her old lover, the professor, visited her as
usual, the two talked slowly with guarded words but with eyes of
understanding and long intervals of silence.
When Don Pedro reached the height of his glorious career, the
possession of a professorship in the institute of Barcelona, he used to
visit Cinta every afternoon, passing an hour and a half in her parlor
with chronometric exactitude. Never did the slightest impure thought
agitate the professor. The past had fallen into oblivion.... But he
needed to see daily the captain's wife weaving laces with her two
little nieces, as he had seen Ferragut's widow years before.
He informed them of the most important events in Barcelona and in the
entire world; they would comment together on the future of Esteban, and
the former suitor used to listen rapturously to her sweet voice,
conceding great importance to the details of domestic economy or
descriptions of religious fiestas, solely because it was she who was
Many times they would remain in a long silence. Don Pedro represented
patience, even temper, and silent respect, in that tranquil and
immaculate house which lost its monastic calm only when its head
presented himself there for a few days between voyages.
Cinta had accustomed herself to the professor's visits. At half-past
three by the clock his footsteps could always be heard in the
If any afternoon he did not come, the sweet Penelope was greatly
"I wonder what can be the matter with Don Pedro?" she would ask her
She oftentimes asked this question of her son; but Esteban, without
exactly hating the visitor, appreciated him very slightly.
Don Pedro belonged to that group of gentlemen at the Institute whom the
government paid to annoy youth with their explanations and their
examinations. He still remembered the two years that he had passed in
his course, as in the torture chamber, enduring the torments of Latin.
Besides that, the professor was a timid man who was always afraid of
catching cold, and who never dared to venture into the street on cloudy
days without an umbrella. Let people talk to him about courageous men!
"I don't know," he would reply to his mother. "Perhaps he's gone to bed
with seven kerchiefs on his head."
When Don Pedro returned, the house recovered its normality of a quiet
and well-regulated clock. Dona Cinta, after many consultations, had
come to believe his collaboration indispensable. The professor mildly
supplemented the authority of the traveling husband, and took it upon
himself to represent the head of the family in all outside matters....
Many times Ferragut's wife would be awaiting him with impatience in
order to ask his mature counsel, and he would emit his opinion in a
slow voice after long reflection.
Esteban found it intolerable that this gentleman, who was no more than
a distant relative of his grandmother, should meddle in the affairs of
the house, pretending to oversee him as though he were his father. But
it irritated him still more to see him in a good humor and trying to be
funny. It made him furious to hear his mother called "Penelope" and
himself "the young Telemachus."... "Stupid, tedious old bore!"
The young Telemachus was not slow to wrath nor vengeance. From babyhood
he had interrupted his play in order to "work" in the reception room
near to the hatrack by the door. And the poor professor on his
departure would find his hat crown dented in or its nap roughened up,
or he would sally home innocently carrying spitballs on the skirts of
Now the boy contented himself with simply ignoring the existence of the
family friend, passing in front of him without recognizing him and only
greeting him when his mother ordered him to do so.
The day in which he brought the news of the return of the ship without
its captain, Don Pedro made a longer visit than usual. Cinto shed two
tears upon the lace, but had to stop weeping, vanquished by the good
sense of her counselor.
"Why weep and get your mind overwrought with so many suppositions
without foundation?... What you ought to do, my daughter, is to call in
this Toni who is mate of the vessel; he must know all about it....
Perhaps he may tell you the truth."
Esteban was told to hunt him up the following day, and he quickly
noticed Toni's extreme disquietude upon learning that Dona Cinta wished
to talk with him. The mate left the boat in lugubrious silence as
though he were being taken away to mortal torment: then he began to hum
loudly, an indication that he was in deep thought.
The young Telemachus was not able to be present at the interview but he
hung around the closed door and succeeded in hearing a few loud words
which slipped through the cracks. His mother was speaking with greater
frequency. Toni was reiterating in a dull voice the same excuse:--"I
don't know. The captain will come at any moment...." But when the mate
found himself outside the house, his wrath broke out against himself,
against his cursed character that did not know how to lie, against all
women bad and good. He believed he had said too much. That lady had the
skill of a judge in getting words out of him.
That night, at the supper hour, the mother scarcely opened her mouth.
Her fingers communicated a nervous trembling to the plates and forks,
and she looked at her son with tragic commiseration as though she
foresaw terrible troubles about to burst upon his head. She opposed a
desperate silence to Esteban's questions and finally exclaimed:
"Your father is deserting us!... Your father has forgotten us!..."
And she left the dining-room to hide her overflowing tears.
The boy slept rather restlessly, but he slept. The admiration which he
always felt for his father and a certain solidarity with the strong
examples of his sex made him take little account of these complaints.
Matters for women! His mother just didn't know how to be the wife of an
extraordinary man like Captain Ferragut. He who was really a man, in
spite of his few years, was going to intervene in this affair in order
to show up the truth.
When Toni, from the deck of the vessel, saw the lad coming along the
wharf the following morning, he was greatly tempted to hide himself....
"If Dona Cinta should call me again in order to question me!..." But he
calmed himself with the thought that the boy was probably coming of his
own free will to pass a few hours on the _Mare Nostrum_. Even so, he
wished to avoid his presence as though he feared some slip in talking
with him, and so pretended that he had work in the hold. Then he left
the boat going to visit a friend on a steamer some distance off.
Esteban entered the galley, calling gayly to Uncle Caragol. He wasn't
the same, either. His humid and reddish eyes were looking at the child
with an extraordinary tenderness. Suddenly he stopped his talk with an
expression of uneasiness on his face. He looked uncertainly around him,
as though fearing that a precipice might open at his feet.
Never forgetful of the respect due to every visitor in his dominion, he
prepared two "refrescos." He was going to treat Esteban for the first
time on this return trip. On former days, incredible as it may seem, he
had not thought of making even one of his delicious beverages. The
return from Naples to Barcelona had been a sad one: the vessel had a
funereal air without its master.
For all these reasons, Caragol's hand lavishly measured out the rum
until the liquid took on a tobacco tone.
They drank.... The young Telemachus began to talk about his father when
the glasses were only half empty, and the cook waved both hands in the
air, giving a grunt which signified that he had no wish to bother about
the captain's absence.
"Your father will return, Esteban," he added. "He will return but I
don't know when. Certainly later than Toni says."
And not wishing to say more, he gulped down the rest of the glass,
devoting himself hastily to the confection of the second "refresco" in
order to make up for lost time.
Little by little he slipped away from the prudent barrier that was
hedging in his verbosity and spoke with his old time abandon; but his
flow of words did not exactly convey news.
Caragol preached morality to Ferragut's son,--morality from his
standpoint, interrupted by frequent caresses of the glass.
"Esteban, my son, respect your father greatly. Imitate him as a seaman.
Be good and just toward the men that you command.... But avoid the
The women!... There was no better theme for his piously drunken
eloquence. The world inspired his pity. It was all governed by the
infernal attraction exercised by the female of the species. The men
were working, struggling, and trying to grow rich and celebrated, all
in order to possess one of these creatures.
"Believe me, my son, and do not imitate your father in this respect."
The old man had said too much to back out now and he had to go on,
letting out the rest of it, bit by bit. Thus Esteban learned that the
captain was enamored with a lady in Naples and that he had remained
there pretending business matters, but in reality dominated by this
"Is she pretty?" asked the boy eagerly.
"Very pretty," replied Caragol. "And such odors!... And such a swishing
of fine clothes!..."
Telemachus thrilled with contradictory sensations of pride and envy. He
admired his father once more, but this admiration only lasted a few
seconds. A new idea was taking possession of him while the cook
"He will not come now. I know what these elegant females are, reeking
with perfume. They are true demons that dig their nails in when they
clutch, and it is necessary to cut off their hands in order to loosen
them.... And the boat as useless now as though it were aground, while
the others are filling themselves with gold!... Believe me, my son,
this is the only truth in the world."
And he concluded by gulping in one draft all that was left in the
Meanwhile the boy was forming in his mind an idea prompted by his
pleasant intoxication. What if he should go to Naples in order to bring
his father back!...
At this moment everything seemed possible to him. The world was
rose-colored as it always was when he looked at it, glass in hand, near
to Uncle Caragol. All obstacles would turn out to be trifling:
everything would arrange itself with wonderful facility. Men were able
to progress by bounds.
But hours afterward when his thoughts were cleared of their beatific
visions, he felt a little fearful when recollecting his absent parent.
How would he receive him upon his arrival?... What excuses could he
give his father for his presence in Naples?... He trembled, recalling
the image of his scowling brow and angry eyes.
On the following day a sudden self-confidence replaced this uneasiness.
He recalled the captain as he had seen him many times on the deck of
his vessel, telling of his escapades when rowing in the harbor of
Barcelona, or commenting to friends on his son's strength and
intelligence. The image of the paternal hero now came to his mind with
good-humored eyes and a smile passing like a fresh breeze over his
He would tell him the whole truth. He would make him understand that he
had come to Naples just to take him away with him, like a good comrade
who comes to another's rescue in time of danger. Perhaps he might be
irritated and give him a blow, but he would eventually accede to his
Ferragut's character was reborn in him with all the force of decisive
argument. And if the voyage should prove absurd and dangerous?... All
the better! So much the better! That was enough to make him undertake
it. He was a man and should know no fear.
During the next two weeks he prepared his flight. He had never taken a
long journey. Only once he had accompanied his father on a flying
business trip to Marseilles. It was high time that he should go out in
the world like the man that he was, acquainted with almost all the
cities of the earth,--through his readings.
The money question did not worry him any. Dona Cinta had it in
abundance and it was easy to find her bunch of keys. An old and
slow-going steamer, commanded by one of his father's friends, had just
entered port and the following day would weigh anchor for Italy.
This sailor accepted the son of his old comrade without any traveling
papers. He would arrange all irregularities with his friends in Genoa.
Between captains they ought to exchange such services, and Ulysses
Ferragut, who was awaiting his son in Naples (so Esteban told him),
would not wish to waste time just because of some ridiculous, red tape
Telemachus with a thousand pesetas in his pocket, extracted from a work
box which his mother used as a cash box, embarked the following day. A
little suit-case, taken from his home with deliberate and skillful
precaution, formed his entire baggage.
From Genoa he went to Rome, and from there to Naples, with the
foolhardiness of the innocent, employing Spanish and Catalan words to
reinforce his scanty Italian vocabulary acquired at the opera. The only
positive information that guided him on his quest of adventure was the
name of the _albergo_ on the shore of S. Lucia which Caragol had given
him as his father's residence.
He sought him vainly for many days and visited in Naples the consignees
who thought that the captain had returned to his country some time ago.
Not finding him, he began to be afraid. He ought to be back in
Barcelona by this time and what he had begun as an heroic voyage was
going to turn into a runaway, a boyish escapade. He thought of his
mother who was perhaps weeping hours at a time, reading and rereading
the letter that he had left for her explaining the object of his
flight. Besides, Italy's intervention in the war,--an event which every
one had been expecting but had supposed to be still a long way
off,--had suddenly become an actual fact. What was there left for him
to do in this country?... And one morning he had disappeared.
Since the hotel porter could not tell him anything more, the father,
after his first impression of surprise had passed, thought it would be
a good plan to visit the firm of consignees. Perhaps there they might
give him some news.
The war was the only thing of interest in that office. But Ferragut,
owner of a ship and a former client, was guided by the director to the
employees who had received Esteban.
They did not know much about it. They recalled vaguely a young Spaniard
who said that he was the captain's son and was making inquiries about
him. His last visit had been two days before. He was then hesitating
between returning to his country by rail or embarking in one of the
three steamers that were in port ready to sail for Marseilles.
"I believe that he has gone by railroad," said one of the clerks.
Another of the office force supported his companion's supposition with
a positive affirmation in order to attract the attention of his chief.
He was sure of his departure by land. He himself had helped him to
calculate what the trip to Barcelona would cost him.
Ferragut did not wish to know more. He must get away as soon as
possible. This inexplicable voyage of his son filled him with remorse
and immeasurable alarm. He wondered what could have occurred in his
The director of the offices pointed out to him a French steamer from
Suez that was sailing that very afternoon to Marseilles, and took upon
himself all the arrangements concerning his passage and recommendation
to the captain. There only remained four hours before the boat's
departure, and Ulysses, after collecting his valises and sending them
aboard, took a last stroll through all the places where he had lived
with Freya. Adieu, gardens of the _Villa Nazionale_ and white
Aquarium!... Farewell, _albergo_!...
His son's mysterious presence in Naples had intensified his disgust at
the German girl's flight. He thought sadly of lost love, but at the
same time he thought with dolorous suspense of what might greet him
when reentering his home.
A little before sunset the French steamer weighed anchor. It had been
many years since Ulysses had sailed as a simple passenger. Entirely out
of his element, he wandered over the decks and among the crowds of
tourists. Force of habit drew him to the bridge, talking with the
captain and the officers, who from his very first words recognized his
Realizing that he was no more than an intruder in this place, and
annoyed at finding himself on a bridge from which he could not give a
single order, he descended to the lower decks, examining the groups of
passengers. They were mostly French, coming from Indo-China. On prow
and poop there were quartered four companies of Asiatic
sharpshooters,--little, yellowish, with oblique eyes and voices like
the miauling of cats. They were going to the war. Their officers lived
in the staterooms in the center of the ship, taking with them their
families who had required a foreign aspect during their long residence
in the colonies.
Ulysses saw ladies clad in white stretched out on their steamer chairs,
having themselves fanned by their little Chinese pages; he saw bronzed
and weather-beaten soldiers who appeared disgusted yet galvanized by
the war that was snatching them from their Asiatic siesta, and
children,--many children--delighted to go to France, the country of
their dreams, forgetting in their happiness that their fathers were
probably going to their death.
The passage could not have been smoother. The Mediterranean was like a
silver plain in the moonlight. From the invisible coast came warm puffs
of garden perfumes. The groups on deck reminded one another, with
selfish satisfaction, of the great dangers that threatened the people
embarking in the North Sea, harassed by German submarines. Fortunately
the Mediterranean was free from such calamity. The English had so well
guarded the port of Gibraltar that it was all a tranquil lake dominated
by the Allies.
Before going to bed, the captain entered a room on the upper deck where
was installed the wireless telegraph outfit. The hissing as of frying
oil that the apparatus was sending out attracted him. The operator, a
young Englishman, took off his nickel band with two earphones. Greatly
bored by his isolation, he was trying to distract himself by conversing
with the operators on the other vessels that came within the radius of
his apparatus. They kept in constant communication like a group of
comrades making the same trip and conversing placidly together.
From time to time the operator, advised by the sparking of his
induction coils, would put on the diadem with ear pieces in order to
listen to his far-away comrades.
"It is the man on the _Californian_ bidding me goodnight," he said
after one of these calls. "He is going to bed. There's no news."
And the young man eulogized Mediterranean navigation. At the outbreak
of the war, he had been on another vessel going from London to New York
and he recalled the unquiet nights, the days of anxious vigilance,
searching the sea and the atmosphere, fearing from one moment to
another the appearance of a periscope upon the waters, or the electric
warning of a steamer torpedoed by the submarine. On this sea, one could
live as tranquilly as in times of peace.
Ferragut suspected that the poor operator was very anxious to enjoy the
delights of such tranquillity. His companion in service was snoring in
a nearby cabin and he was anxious to imitate him, putting his head down
on the table of the apparatus.... "Until to-morrow!"
The captain also fell asleep as soon as he had stretched himself out on
the narrow ledge in his stateroom. His sleep was all in one piece,
gloomy and complete, without sudden surprises or visions. Just as he
was feeling that only a few moments had passed by, he was violently
awakened as though some one had given him a shove. In the dim light he
could make out only the round glass of the port hole, tenuously blue
and veiled by the humidity of the maritime dew, like a tearful eye.
Day was breaking and something extraordinary had just occurred on the
boat. Ferragut was accustomed to sleep with the lightness of a captain
who needs to awaken opportunely. A mysterious perception of danger had
cut short his repose. He distinguished over his head the patter of
quick runnings the whole length of the deck; he heard voices. While
dressing as quickly as possible he realized that the rudder was working
violently, and that the vessel was changing its course.
Coming up on deck, one glance was sufficient to convince him that the
ship was not running any danger. Everything about it presented a normal
aspect. The sea, still dark, was gently lapping the sides of the vessel
which continued going forward with regular motion. The decks were
cleared of passengers. They were all sleeping in their staterooms. Only
on the bridge he saw a group of persons:--the captain and all the
officers, some of them dressed very lightly as though they had been
roused from slumber.
Passing by the wireless office, he obtained an explanation of the
matter. The youth of the night before was near the door and his
companion was now wearing the head phone and tapping the keys of the
apparatus, listening and replying to invisible boats.
An half hour before, just as the English operator was going off guard
and giving place to his just awakened companion, a signal had kept him
in his seat. The _Californian_ was sending out by wireless the danger
call, the S.O.S., that is only employed when a ship needs help. Then in
the space of a few seconds a mysterious voice had spread its tragic
story over hundreds of miles. A submersible had just appeared a short
distance from the _Californian_ and had fired several shells at it. The
English boat was trying to escape, relying on its superior speed. Then
the submarine had fired a torpedo....
All this had occurred in twenty minutes. Suddenly the echoes of the
distant tragedy were extinguished as the communication was cut off. A
prolonged, intense, sibilant buzzing in the apparatus, and--nothing!...
The operator now on duty responded with negative movements to his
companion's inquiring glances. He could hear nothing but the dialogue
between the boats that had received the same warning. They too were
alarmed by the sudden silence, and were changing their course going,
like the French steamer, toward the place where the _Californian_ had
met the submersible.
"Can it be that they are already in the Mediterranean!" the operator
exclaimed with astonishment on finishing his report. "How could the
submarines possibly get 'way down here?..."
Ferragut did not dare to go up on the bridge. He was afraid that the
glances of those men of the sea might fasten themselves accusingly upon
him. He believed that they could read his thoughts.
A passenger ship had just been sunk at a relatively short distance from
the boat on which he was traveling. Perhaps von Kramer was the author
of the crime. With good reason he had charged Ulysses to tell his
compatriots that they would soon hear of his exploits. And Ferragut had
aided in the preparation of this maritime barbarity!...
"What have you done? What have you done?" wrathfully demanded his
mental voice of good counsel.
An hour afterward he felt ashamed to remain on deck. In spite of the
captain's orders, the news had got out and was circulating among the
staterooms. Entire families were rushing up on deck, frightened out of
the calmness usually reigning on the boat, arranging their clothes with
precipitation, and struggling to adjust to their bodies the
life-preservers which they were trying on for the first time. The
children were howling, terrified by the alarm of their parents. Some
nervous women were shedding tears without any apparent cause. The boat
was going toward the place where the other one had been torpedoed, and
that was enough to make the alarmists imagine that the enemy would
remain absolutely motionless in the same place, awaiting their arrival
in order to repeat their attack.
Hundreds of eyes were fixed on the sea, scrutinizing the surface of the
waves, believing every object which they saw,--bits of wood, seaweed or
crates floating on the surface of the water,--to be the top of a
The officials of the battalion of snipers had gone to prow and poop in
order to maintain discipline among their men. But the Asiatics,
scornful of death, had not abandoned their serene apathy. Some merely
looked out over the sea with a childish curiosity, anxious to become
acquainted with this new diabolical toy, invented by the superior
races. On the decks reserved for first class passengers astonishment
was as great as the uneasiness.
"Submarines in the Mediterranean!... But is it possible?..."
Those last to awake appeared very incredulous and could only be
convinced of what had occurred when they heard the news from the boat's
Ferragut wandered around like a soul in torment. Remorse made him hide
himself in his stateroom. These people with their complaints and their
comments were causing him great annoyance. Soon he found that he could
not remain in this isolation. He needed to see and to know,--like a
criminal who returns to the place where he has committed his crime.
At midday they began to see on the horizon various little clouds. They
were the ships hastening from all sides, attracted by this unexpected
The French boat that was sailing ahead of them suddenly moderated its
speed. They had come into the zone of the shipwreck. In the lookouts
were sailors exploring the sea and shouting the orders that guided the
steamer's course. During these evolutions, there began to slip past the
vessel's sides the remains of the tragic event.
The two rows of heads lined up on the different decks saw life
preservers floating by empty, a boat with its keel in the air, and bits
of wood belonging to a raft evidently constructed in great haste and
Suddenly a howl from a thousand voices, followed by a funereal
silence.... The body of a woman lying on some planks passed by. One of
her legs was thrust into a gray silk stocking, her head was hanging on
the opposite side, spreading its blonde locks over the water like a
bunch of gilded seaweed.
Her firm and juvenile bust was visible through the opening of a
drenched nightgown which was outlining her body with unavoidable
immodesty. She had been surprised by the shipwreck at the very moment
that she had been trying to dress; perhaps terror had made her throw
herself into the sea. Death had twisted her face with a horrible
contraction, exposing the teeth. One side of her face was swollen from
Looking over the shoulders of two ladies who were trembling and leaning
against the deck-railing, Ferragut caught a glimpse of this corpse. In
his turn the vigorous sailor trembled like a woman, and his eyes filmed
with mistiness. He simply could not look at it!... And again he went
down into his stateroom to hide himself.
An Italian torpedo-destroyer was maneuvering among the remains of the
shipwreck, as though seeking the footprints of the author of the crime.
The steamers stopped their circular course of exploration to lower the
lifeboats into the water and collect the corpses and bodies of the
living near to death.
The captain in his desperate imprisonment heard new shrieks announcing
an extraordinary event. Again the cruel necessity of knowing what it
could be dragged him from his stateroom!
A boat full of people had been found by the steamer. The other ships
were also meeting little by little the rest of the life boats occupied
by the survivors of the catastrophe. The general rescue was going to be
a very short piece of work.
The most agile of the shipwrecked people, on reaching the deck, found
themselves surrounded by sympathetic groups lamenting their misfortune
and at the same time offering them hot drinks. Others, after staggering
a few steps as though intoxicated, collapsed on the benches. Some had
to be hoisted from the bottom of the boat and carried in a chair to the
Various British soldiers, serene and phlegmatic, upon climbing on deck
asked for a pipe and began to smoke vigorously. Other shipwrecked
people, lightly clad, simply rolled themselves up in shawls, beginning
the account of the catastrophe as minutely and serenely as though they
were in a parlor. A period of ten hours in the crowded narrowness of
the boat, drifting at random in the hope of aid, had not broken down
The women showed greater desperation. Ferragut saw in the center of a
group of ladies a young English girl, blond, slender, elegant, who was
sobbing and stammering explanations. She had found herself in a launch,
separated from her parents, without knowing how. Perhaps they were dead
by this time. Her slight hope was that they might have sought refuge in
some other boat and been picked up by any one of the steamers that had
happened to see them.
A desperate grief, noisy, meridional, silenced with its meanings the
noise of conversation. There had just climbed aboard a poor Italian
woman carrying a baby in her arms.
"_Figlia mia_!... _Mia figlia_!..." she was wailing with disheveled
hair and eyes swollen by weeping.
In the moment of the shipwreck she had lost a little girl, eight years
old, and upon finding herself in the French steamer, she went
instinctively toward the prow in search of the same spot which she had
occupied on the other ship, as though expecting to find her daughter
there. Her agonized voice penetrated down the stairway: "_Figlia
mia_!... _Mia figlia!_"
Ulysses could not stand it. That voice hurt him, as though its piercing
cry were clawing at his brain.
He approached a group in the center of which was a young barefooted lad
in trousers and shirt open at the breast who was talking and talking,
wrapping himself from time to time in a shawl that some one had placed
upon his shoulders.
He was describing in a mixture of French and Italian the loss of the
He had been awakened by hearing the first shot fired by the submersible
against his steamer. The chase had lasted half an hour.
The most audacious and curious were on the decks and believed their
salvation already sure as they saw their ship leaving its enemy behind.
Suddenly a black line had cut the sea, something like a long thorn with
splinters of foam which was advancing at a dizzying speed, in bold
relief against the water.... Then came a blow on the hull of the vessel
which had made it shudder from stem to stern, not a single plate nor
screw escaping tremendous dislocation.... Then a volcanic explosion, a
gigantic hatchet of smoke and flames, a yellowish cloud in which were
flying dark objects:--fragments of metal and of wood, human bodies
blown to bits.... The eyes of the narrator gleamed with an insane light
as he recalled the tragic sight.
"A friend of mine, a boy from my own country," he continued, sighing,
"had just left me in order to see the submersible better and he put
himself exactly in the path of the explosion.... He disappeared as
suddenly as if he had been blotted out. I saw him and I did not see
him.... He exploded in a thousand bits, as though he had had a bomb
within his body."
And the shipwrecked man, obsessed by this recollection, could hardly
attach any importance to the scenes following,--the struggle of the
crowds to gain the boats, the efforts of the officers to maintain
order, the death of many that, crazy with desperation, had thrown
themselves into the sea, the tragic waiting huddled in barks that were
with great difficulty lowered to the water, fearing a second shipwreck
as soon as they touched the waves.
The steamer had disappeared in a few moments,--its prow sinking in the
waters and then its smokestacks taking on a vertical position almost
like the leaning tower of Pisa, and its rudders turning crazily as the
shuddering ship went down.
The narrator began to be left alone. Other shipwrecked folk, telling
their doleful tales at the same time, were now attracting the curious.
Ferragut looked at this young man. His physical type and his accent
made him surmise that he was a compatriot.
"You are Spanish?"
The shipwrecked man replied affirmatively.
"A Catalan?" continued Ulysses in the Catalan idiom.
A fresh oratorical vehemence galvanized the shipwrecked boy. "The
gentleman is a Catalan also?"... And smiling upon Ferragut as though he
were a celestial apparition, he again began the story of his
He was a commercial traveler from Barcelona, and in Naples he had taken
the sea route because it had seemed to him the more rapid one, avoiding
the railroads congested by Italian mobilization.
"Were there other Spaniards traveling on your boat?" Ulysses continued
"Only one: my friend, that boy of whom I was just speaking. The
explosion of the torpedo blew him into bits. I saw him...."
The captain felt his remorse constantly increasing. A compatriot, a
poor young fellow, had perished through his fault!...
The salesman also seemed to be suffering a twinge of conscience. He was
holding himself responsible for his companion's death. He had only met
him in Naples a few days before, but they were united by the close
brotherhood of young compatriots who had run across each other far from
They had both been born in Barcelona. The poor lad, almost a child, had
wanted to return by land and he had carried him off with him at the
last hour, urging upon him the advantages of a trip by sea. Whoever
would have imagined that the German submarines were in the
Mediterranean! The traveling man persisted in his remorse. He could not
forget that half-grown lad who, in order to make the voyage in his
company, had gone to meet his death.
"I met him in Naples, hunting everywhere for his father."
Ulysses uttered this exclamation with his neck violently outstretched,
as though he were trying to loosen his skull from the rest of his body.
His eyes were protruding from their sockets.
"The father," continued the youth, "commands a ship.... He is Captain
An outcry.... The people ran.... A man had just fallen heavily, his
body rebounding on the deck.
THE ENCOUNTER AT MARSEILLES
Toni, who abominated railway journeys on account of his torpid
immovability, now had to abandon the _Mare Nostrum_ and suffer the
torture of remaining twelve hours crowded in with strange persons.
Ferragut was sick in a hotel in the harbor of Marseilles. They had
taken him off of a French boat coming from Naples, crushed with silent
melancholia. He wished to die. During the trip they had to keep sharp
watch so that he could not repeat his attempts at suicide. Several
times he had tried to throw himself into the water.
Toni learned of it from the captain of a Spanish vessel that had just
arrived from Marseilles exactly one day after the newspapers of
Barcelona had announced the death of Esteban Ferragut in the torpedoing
of the _Californian_. The commercial traveler was still relating
everywhere his version of the event, concluding it now with his
melodramatic meeting with the father, the latter's fatal fall on
receiving the news, and desperation upon recovering consciousness.
The first mate had hastened to present himself at his captain's home.
All the Blanes were there, surrounding Cinta and trying to console her.
"My son!... My son!..." the mother was groaning, writhing on the sofa.
And the family chorus drowned her laments, overwhelming her with a
flood of fantastic consolations and recommendations of resignation. She
ought to think of the father: she was not alone in the world as she was
affirming: besides her own family, she had her husband.
Toni entered just at that moment.
"His father!" she cried in desperation. "His father!..."
And she fastened her eyes on the mate as though trying to speak to him
with them. Toni knew better than anyone what that father was, and for
what reason he had remained in Naples. It was his fault that the boy
had undertaken the crazy journey at whose end death was awaiting
him..... The devout Cinta looked upon this misfortune as a chastisement
from God, always complicated and mysterious in His designs. Divinity,
in order to make the father expiate his crimes, had killed the son
without thinking of the mother upon whom the blow rebounded.
Toni went away. He could not endure the glances and the allusions made
by Dona Cinta. And as though this emotion were not enough, he received
the news a few hours later of his captain's wretched condition,--news
which obliged him to make the trip to Marseilles immediately.
On entering the quarters of the hotel frequented by the officials of
merchant vessels, he found Ferragut seated near a balcony from which
could be seen the entire harbor.
He was limp and flabby, with eyes sunken and faded, beard unkempt, and
a manifest disregard of his personal appearance.
He embraced his mate, moistening his neck with tears. For the first
time he began to weep and this appeared to give him a certain relief.
The presence of his faithful officer brought him back to life.
Forgotten memories of business journeys crowded in his mind. Toni
resuscitated all his past energies. It was as though the _Mare Nostrum_
had come in search of him.
He felt shame and remorse. This man knew his secret: he was the only
one to whom he had spoken of supplying the German submarines.
"My poor Esteban!... My son!"
He did not hesitate to admit the fatal relationship between the death
of his son and that illegal trip whose memory was weighing him down
like a monstrous crime. But Toni was discreet. He lamented the death of
Esteban like a misfortune in which the father had not had any part.
"I also have lost sons.... And I know that nothing is gained by giving
up to despair.... Cheer up!"
He never said a word of all that had happened before the tragic event.
Had not Ferragut known his mate so well, he might have believed that he
had entirely forgotten it. Not the slightest gesture, not a gleam in
his eyes, revealed the awakening of that malign recollection. His only
anxiety was that the captain should soon regain his health....
Reanimated by the presence and words of this prudent companion, Ulysses
recovered his strength and a few days after, abandoned the room in
which he had believed he was going to die, turning his steps toward
He entered his home with a foreboding that almost made him tremble. The
sweet Cinta, considered until then with the protecting superiority of
the Orientals who do not recognize a soul in woman, now inspired him
with a certain fear. What would she say on seeing him?...
She said nothing of what he had feared. She permitted herself to be
embraced, and drooping her head, burst into desperate weeping, as
though the presence of her husband brought into higher relief the image
of her son whom she would never see again. Then she dried her tears,
and paler and sadder than ever, continued her habitual life.
Ferragut saw her as serene as a school-mistress, with her two little
nieces seated at her feet, keeping on with her eternal lace-work. She
forgot it only in order to attend to the care of her husband, occupying
herself with the very slightest details of his existence. That was her
duty. From childhood, she had known what are the obligations of the
wife of the captain of a ship when he stops at home for a few days,
like a bird of passage. But back of such attentions, Ulysses divined
the presence of an immovable obstacle. It was something enormous and
transparent that had interposed itself between the two. They saw each
other but without being able to touch each other. They were separated
by a distance, as hard and luminous as a diamond, that made every
attempt at drawing nearer together useless.
Cinta never smiled. Her eyes were dry, trying not to weep while her
husband was near her, but giving herself up freely to grief when she
was alone. Her duty was to make his existence bearable, hiding her
But this prudence of a good house-mistress was trampling under foot
their conjugal life of former times. One day Ferragut, with a return of
his old affection, and desiring to illuminate Cinta's twilight
existence with a pale ray of sunlight, ventured to caress her as in the
early days of their marriage. She drew herself up, modest and offended,
as though she had just received an insult. She escaped from his arms
with the energy of one who is repelling an outrage.
Ulysses looked upon a new woman, intensely pale, of an almost olive
countenance, the nose curved with wrath and a flash of madness in her
eyes. All that she was guarding in the depths of her thoughts came
forth, boiling over, expelled in a hoarse voice charged with tears.
"No, no!... We shall live together, because you are my husband and God
commands that it shall be so; but I no longer love you: I cannot love
you.... The wrong that you have done me!... I who loved you so much!...
However much you may hunt in your voyages and in your wicked
adventures, you will never find a woman that loves you as your wife has
Her past of modest and submissive affection, of supine and tolerant
fidelity, now issued from her mouth in one interminable complaint.
"From our home my thoughts have followed you in all your voyages,
although I knew your forgetfulness and your infidelity. All the papers
found in your pockets, and photographs lost among your books, the
allusions of your comrades, your smiles of pride, the satisfied air
with which you many times returned, the series of new manners and
additional care of your person that you did not have when you left,
told me all.... I also suspected in your bold caresses the hidden
presence of other women who lived far away on the other side of the
She stopped her turbulent language for a few moments, letting the blush
which her memories evoked fade away.
"I loathed it all," she continued. "I know the men of the sea; I am a
sailor's daughter. Many times I saw my mother weeping and pitied her
simplicity. There is no use weeping for what men do in distant lands.
It is always bitter enough for a woman who loves her husband, but it
has no bad consequences and must be pardoned.... But now.... _Now_!..."
The wife became irritated on recalling his recent infidelities.... Her
rivals were not the public women of the great ports, nor the tourists
who could give only a few days of love, like an alms which they tossed
without stopping their progress. Now he had become enamored with the
enthusiasm of a husky boy with an elegant and handsome dame, with a
foreign woman who had made him forget his business, abandon his ship,
and remain away, as though renouncing his family forever.... And poor
Esteban, orphaned by his father's forgetfulness, had gone in search of
him, with the adventurous impetuosity inherited from his ancestors: and
death, a horrible death, had come to meet him on the road.
Something more than the grief of the outraged wife vibrated in Cinta's
laments. It was the rivalry with that woman of Naples, whom she
believed a great lady with all the attractions of wealth and high
birth. She envied her superior weapons of seduction; she raged at her
own modesty and humility as a home-keeping woman.
"I was resolved to ignore it all," she continued. "I had one
consolation,--my son. What did it matter to me what you did?... You
were far off, and my son was living at my side.... And now I shall
never see him again!... My fate is to live eternally alone. You know
very well that I shall not be a mother again,--that I cannot give you
another son.... And it was you, you! who have robbed me of the only
thing that I had!..."
Her imagination invented the most improbable reasons for explaining to
herself this unjust loss.
"God wished to punish you for your bad life and has therefore killed
Esteban, and is slowly killing me.... When I learned of his death I
wished to throw myself off the balcony. I am still living because I am
a Christian, but what an existence awaits me! What a life for you if
you are really a father!... Think that your son might still be existing
if you had not remained in Naples."
Ferragut was a pitiful object. He hung his head without strength to
repeat the confused and lying protests with which he had received his
wife's first words.
"If she knew all the truth!" the voice of remorse kept saying in his
He was thinking with horror of what Cinta could say if she knew the
magnitude of his sin. Fortunately she was ignorant of the fact that he
had been of assistance to the assassins of their son.... And the
conviction that she never would know it made him admit her words with
silent humility,--the humility of the criminal who hears himself
accused of an offense by a judge ignorant of a still greater offense.
Cinta finished speaking in a discouraged and gloomy tone. She was
exhausted. Her wrath faded out, consumed by its own violence. Her sobs
cut short her words. Her husband would never again be the same man to
her; the body of their son was always interposing between the two.
"I shall never be able to love you.... What have you done, Ulysses?
What have you done that I should have such a horror of you?... When I
am alone I weep: my sadness is great, but I admit my sorrow with
resignation, as a thing inevitable.... As soon as I hear your
footsteps, the truth springs forth. I realize that my son has died
because of you, that he would still be living had he not gone in search
of you, trying to make you realize that you were a father and what you
owe to us.... And when I think of that I hate you, I _hate you_!... You
have murdered my son! My only consolation is in the belief that if you
have any conscience you will suffer even more than I."
Ferragut came out from this horrible scene with the conviction that he
would have to go away. That home was no longer his, neither was his
wife his. The reminder of death filled everything, intervening between
him and Cinta, pushing him away, forcing him again on the sea. His
vessel was the only refuge for the rest of his life, and he must resort
to it like the great criminals of other centuries who had taken refuge
in the isolation of monasteries.
He needed to vent his wrath on somebody, to find some responsible
person whom he might blame for his misfortunes. Cinta had revealed
herself to him as an entirely new being. He would never have suspected
such energy of character, such passionate vehemence, in his sweet,
obedient, little wife. She must have some counselor who was encouraging
her complaints and making her speak badly of her husband.
And he fixed upon Don Pedro, the professor, because there was still
deep within him a certain dislike of the man since the days of his
courtship. Besides, it offended him to see him in his home with a
certain air of a noble personage whose virtue served as foil for the
sins and shortcomings of the master of the house.
The professor evidently considered Ferragut on a level with all the
famous Don Juans,--liberal and care-free when in far-away homes,
punctilious and suspiciously correct in his own.
"That old blatherskite!" said Ulysses to himself, "is in love with
Cinta. It is a platonic passion: with him, it couldn't be anything
else. But it annoys me greatly.... I'm going to say a few things to
Don Pedro, who was continuing his daily visits in order to console the
mother, speaking of poor Esteban as though he were his own son, and
casting servile smiles upon the captain, found himself intercepted by
him one afternoon, on the landing of the stairway.
The sailor aged suddenly while talking, and his features were accented
with a vigorous ugliness. At that moment he looked exactly like his
uncle, the _Triton_.
With a threatening voice, he recalled a classic passage well known to
the professor. His namesake, old Ulysses, upon returning to his palace,
had found Penelope surrounded with suitors and had ended by hanging
them on tenterhooks.
"Wasn't that the way of it, Professor?... I do not find here more than
one suitor, but this Ulysses swears to you that he will hang him in the
same way if he finds him again in his home."
Don Pedro fled. He had always found the rude heroes of the Odyssey very
interesting, but in verse and on paper. In reality they now seemed to
him most dangerous brutes, and he wrote a letter to Cinta telling her
that he would suspend his visits until her husband should have returned
This insult increased the wife's distant bearing. She resented it as an
offense against herself. After having made her lose her son, Ulysses
was terrifying her only friend.
The captain felt obliged to go. By staying in that hostile atmosphere,
which was only sharpening his remorse, he would pile one error upon
another. Nothing but action could make him forget.
One day he announced to Toni that in a few hours he was going to weigh
anchor. He had offered his services to the allied navies in order to
carry food to the fleet in the Dardanelles. The _Mare Nostrum_ would
transport eatables, arms, munitions, aeroplanes.
Toni attempted objection. It would be easy to find trips equally
productive and much less dangerous; they might go to America....
"And my revenge?" interrupted Ferragut. "I am going to dedicate the
rest of my life to doing all the evil that I can to the assassins of my
son. The Allies need boats, I'm going to give them mine and my person."
Knowing what was troubling his mate, he added, "Besides, they pay well.
These trips are very remunerative.... They will give me whatever I
For the first time in his existence on board the _Mare Nostrum_, the
mate made a scornful gesture regarding the value of the cargo.
"I almost forgot," continued Ulysses, smiling in spite of his sadness.
"This trip flatters your ideals.... We are going to work for the
They went to England and, taking on their cargo, set forth for the
Dardanelles. Ferragut wished to sail alone without the protection of
the destroyers that were escorting the convoys.
He knew the Mediterranean well. Besides, he was from a neutral country
and the Spanish flag was flying from the poop of his vessel. This abuse
of his flag did not produce the slightest remorse, nor did it appear as
disloyal to him. The German corsairs were coming closer to their prey,
displaying neutral flags, in order to deceive. The submarines were
remaining hidden behind pacific sailing ships in order to rise up
suddenly near defenseless vessels. The most felonious proceedings of
the ancient pirates had been resuscitated by the German fleet.
He was not afraid of the submarines. He trusted in the speed of the
_Mare Nostrum_ and in his lucky star.
"And if any of them should cross our path," he said to his second,
"just let them go before the prow!"
He wished this so that he could send his vessel upon the submersible at
full speed, daring it to come on.
The Mediterranean was no longer the same sea that it had been months
before when the captains knew all its secrets; he could no longer live
on it as confidently as in the house of a friend.
He stayed in his stateroom only to sleep. He and Toni spent long hours
on the bridge talking without seeing each other, with their eyes turned
on the sea, scanning the heaving blue surface. All the crew, excepting
those that were resting, felt the necessity of keeping the same watch.
In the daytime the slightest discovery would send the alarm from prow
to poop. All the refuse of the sea, that weeks before had splashed
unnoticed near the sides of the vessel, now provoked cries of
attention, and many arms were outstretched, pointing it out. Bits of
sticks, empty preserve cans sparkling in the sunlight, bunches of
seaweed, a sea gull with outspread wings letting itself rock on the
waves; everything made them think of the periscopes of the submarine
coming up to the water's level.
At night time the vigilance was even greater. To the danger of
submersibles must also be added that of collision. The warships and the
allied transports were traveling with few lights or completely dark.
The sentinels on the bridge were no longer scanning the surface of the
sea with its pale phosphorescence. Their gaze explored the horizon,
fearing that before the prow there might suddenly surge up an enormous,
swift, black form, vomited forth by the darkness.
If at any time the captain tarried in his stateroom, instantly that
fatal memory came to his mind.
"Esteban!... My son!..."
And his eyes were full of tears.
Remorse and wrath made him plan tremendous vengeance. He was convinced
that it would be impossible to carry it through, but it was a momentary
consolation to his meridional character predisposed to the most bloody
One day, running over some forgotten papers in a suit-case, he came
across Freya's portrait. Upon seeing her audacious smile and her calm
eyes fixed upon him, he felt within him a shameful reversion. He
admired the beauty of this apparition, a thrill passing over his body
as their past intercourse recurred to him.... And at the same time that
other Ferragut existing within him thrilled with the murderous violence
of the Oriental who considers death as the only means of vengeance. She
was to blame for it all. "Ah!... _Tal_"
He tore up the photograph, but then he put the fragments together again
and finally placed them among his papers.
His wrath was changing its objective. Freya really was not the
principal person guilty of Esteban's death. He was thinking of that
other one, of the pretended diplomat, of that von Kramer who perhaps
had directed the torpedo which had blown his son to atoms.... Would he
not raise the devil if he could meet him sometime?... What happiness if
these two should find themselves face to face!
Finally he avoided the solitude of a stateroom that tormented him with
desires of impotent revenge. Near Toni on deck or on the bridge he felt
better.... And with a humble condescension, such as his mate had never
known before, he would talk and talk, enjoying the attention of his
simple-hearted listener, just as though he were telling marvelous
stories to a circle of children.
In the Strait of Gibraltar he explained to him the great currents sent
by the ocean into the Mediterranean, at certain times aiding the
screw-propeller in the propulsion of the vessel.
Without this Atlantic current the _mare nostrum_, which lost through
atmospheric evaporation much more water than the rains and rivers could
bring to it, would become dry in a few centuries. It had been
calculated that it might disappear in about four hundred and seventy
years, leaving as evidence of its former existence a stratum, of salt
fifty-two meters thick.
In its deep bosom were born great and numerous springs of fresh water,
on the coast of Asia Minor, in Morea, Dalmatia and southern Italy; it
received besides a considerable contribution from the Black Sea, which
on returning to the Mediterranean accumulated from the rains and the
discharge of its rivers, more water than it lost by evaporation,
sending it across the Bosporous and the Dardenelles in the form of a
superficial current. But all these tributaries, enormous as they were,
sank into insignificance when compared with the renovation of the
The waters of the Atlantic poured into the Mediterranean so riotously
that neither contrary winds nor reflex motion could stop them.
Sailboats sometimes had to wait entire months for a strong breeze that
would enable them to conquer the impetuous mouth of the strait.
"I know that very well," said Toni. "Once going to Cuba we were in
sight of Gibraltar more than fifty days, going backwards and forwards
until a favorable wind enabled us to overcome the current and go out
into the great sea."
"Just such a current," added Ferragut, "was one of the causes that
hastened the decadence of the Mediterranean navies in the sixteenth
century. They had to go to the recently discovered Indies, and the
Catalan or the Genoese ships would remain here in the strait weeks and
weeks, struggling with the wind and the contrary current while the
Galicians, the Basques, the French and the English who had left their
ports at the same time were already nearing America.... Fortunately,
navigation by steam has now equalized all that."
Toni was silently admiring his captain. What he must have learned in
those books that filled the stateroom!...
It was in the Mediterranean that men had first entrusted themselves to
the waves. Civilization emanated from India, but the Asiatic peoples
were not able to master the art of navigation in their few seas whose
coasts were very far apart and where the monsoons of the Indian Ocean
blew six months together in one direction and six months in another.
Not until he reached the Mediterranean by overland emigration did the
white man wish to become a sailor. This sea that, compared with others,
is a simple lake sown with archipelagoes, offered a good school. To
whatever wind he might set his sails, he would be sure to reach some
hospitable shore. The fresh and irregular breezes revolved with the sun
at certain times of the year. The hurricane whirled across its bowl,
but never stopped. There were no tides. Its harbors and water-ways were
never dry. Its coasts and islands were often so close together that you
could see from one to the other; its lands, beloved of heaven, were
recipients of the sun's sweetest smiles.
Ferragut recalled the men who had plowed this sea in centuries so
remote that history makes no mention of them. The only traces of their
existence now extant were the _nuraghs_ of Sardinia and the _talayots_
of the Balearic Islands,--gigantic tables formed with blocks, barbaric
altars of enormous rocks which recalled the Celtic obelisks and
sepulchral monuments of the Breton coast. These obscure people had
passed from isle to isle, from the extreme of the Mediterranean to the
strait which is its door.
The captain could imagine their rude craft made from trunks of trees
roughly planed, propelled by one oar, or rather by the stroke of a
stick, with no other aid than a single rudimentary sail spread to the
fresh breeze. The navy of the first Europeans had been like that of the
savages of the oceanic islands whose flotillas of tree trunks are still
actually going from archipelago to archipelago.
Thus they had dared to sally forth from the coast, to lose sight of
land, to venture forth into the blue desert, advised of the existence
of islands by the vaporous knobs of the mountains which were outlined
on the horizon at sunset. Every advance of this hesitating marine over
the Mediterranean had represented greater expenditure of audacity and
energy than the discovery of America or the first voyage around the
world.... These primitive sailors did not go forth alone to their
adventures on the sea; they were nations _en masse_, they carried with
them families and animals. Once installed on an island, the tribes sent
forth fragments of their own life, going to colonize other nearby lands
across the waves.
Ulysses and his mate thought much about the great catastrophes ignored
by history--the tempest surprising the sailing exodus, entire fleets of
rough rafts swallowed up by the abyss in a few moments, families dying
clinging to their domestic animals,--whenever they attempted a new
advance of their rudimentary civilization.
In order to form some idea of what these little embarkations were,
Ferragut would recall the fleets of Homeric form, created many
centuries afterwards. The winds used to impose a religious terror on
those warriors of the sea, reunited in order to fall upon Troy. Their
ships remained chained an entire year in the harbor of Aulis and,
through fear of the hostility of the wind and in order to placate the
divinity of the Mediterranean, they sacrificed the life of a virgin.
All was danger and mystery in the kingdom of the waves. The abysses
roared, the rocks moaned; on the ledges were singing sirens who, with
their music, attracted ships in order to dash them to pieces. There was
not an island without its particular god, without its monster and
cyclops, or its magician contriving artifices.
Before domesticating the elements, mankind had attributed to them their
most superstitious fears.
A material factor had powerfully influenced the dangers of
Mediterranean life. The sand, moved by the caprice of the current, was
constantly ruining the villages or raising them to peaks of unexpected
prosperity. Cities celebrated in history were to-day no more than
streets of ruins at the foot of a hillock crowned with the remains of a
Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine or Saracen castle, or with a fortress
contemporary with the Crusades. In other centuries these had been
famous ports; before their walls had taken place naval battles; now
from their ruined acropolis one could scarcely see the Mediterranean
except as a light blue belt at the end of a low and marshy plain. The
accumulating sand had driven the sea back miles.... On the other hand,
inland cities had come to be places of embarkation because of the
continual perforation of the waves that were forcing their way in.
The wickedness of mankind had imitated the destructive work of nature.
When a maritime republic conquered a rival republic, the first thing
that it thought of was to obstruct its harbor with sand and stones in
order to divert the course of its waters so as to convert it into an
inland city, thereby ruining its fleets and its traffic. The Genoese,
triumphant over Pisa, stopped up its harbor with the sands of the Arno;
and the city of the first conquerors of Mallorca, of the navigators to
the Holy Land, of the Knights of St. Stephen, guardians of the
Mediterranean, came to be Pisa the Dead,--a settlement that knew the
sea only by hearsay.
"Sand," continued Ferragut, "has changed the commercial routes and
historic destinies of the Mediterranean."
Of the many deeds which had stretched along the scenes of the _mare
nostrum_, the most famous in the captain's opinion was the unheard-of
epic of Roger de Flor which he had known from childhood through the
stories told him by the poet Labarta, by the _Triton_, and by that poor
secretary who was always dreaming of the great past of the Catalan
All the world was now talking about the blockade of the Dardanelles.
The boats that furrowed the Mediterranean, merchant vessels as well as
battleships, were furthering the great military operation that was
developing opposite Gallipoli. The name of the long, narrow maritime
pass which separates Europe and Asia was in every mouth. To-day the
eyes of mankind were converged on this point just as, in remote
centuries, they had been fixed on the war of Troy.
"We also have been there," said Ferragut with pride. "The Dardanelles
have been frequented for many years by the Catalans and the Aragonese.
Gallipoli was one of our cities governed by the Valencian, Ramon
And he began the story of the Almogavars in the Orient, that romantic
Odyssey across the ancient Asiatic provinces of the Roman Empire that
ended only with the founding of the Spanish duchy of Athens and
Neopatria in the city of Pericles and Minerva. The chronicles of the
Oriental Middle Ages, the books of Byzantine chivalry, the fantastic
tales of the Arab do not contain more improbable and dramatic
adventures than the warlike enterprises of these Argonauts coming from
the valleys of the Pyrenees, from the banks of the Ebro, and from the
Moorish gardens of Valencia.
"Eighty years," said Ferragut, terminating his account of the glorious
adventures of Roger de Flor around Gallipoli, "the Spanish duchy of
Athens and Neopatria flourished. Eighty years the Catalans governed
And he pointed out on the horizon the place where the red haze of
distant promontories and mountains outlined the Grecian land.
Such a duchy was in reality a republic. Athens and Thebes were
administered in accordance with the laws of Aragon and its code was
"The book of Usages and Customs of the City of Barcelona." The Catalan
tongue ruled as the official language in the country of Demosthenes,
and the rude Almogavars married with the highest ladies of the country.
The Parthenon was still intact as in the glorious times of ancient
Athens. The august monument of Minerva converted into a Christian
church, had not undergone any other modification than that of seeing a
new goddess on its altars, _La Virgen Santisima_.
And in this thousand-year-old temple of sovereign beauty the _Te Deum_
was sung for eighty years in honor of the Aragonese dukes, and the
clergy preached in the Catalan tongue.
The republic of adventurers did not bother with constructing nor
creating. There does not remain on the Grecian land any trace of their
dominion,--edifices, seals, nor coins. Only a few noble families,
especially in the islands, took the Catalan patronym.
"Although they yet remember us confusedly, they do remember us," said
Ferragut. "'May the vengeance of the Catalans overtake you' was for
many centuries the worst of curses in Greece."
Thus terminated the most glorious and bloody of the Mediterranean
adventures of the Middle Ages,--the clash of western crudeness, almost
savage but frank and noble, against the refined malice and decadent
civilization of the Greeks,--childish and old at the same time,--which
survived in Byzantium.
Ferragut felt a pleasure in these relations of imperial splendor,
palaces of gold, epic encounters and furious frays, while his ship was
navigating through the black night and bounding over the dark sea
accompanied by the throbbing of machinery and the noisy thrum of the
screw, at times out of the water during the furious rocking from prow
They were in the worst place in the Mediterranean where the winds
coming from the narrow passage of the Adriatic, from the steppes of
Asia Minor, from the African deserts and from the gap of Gibraltar
tempestuously mingled their atmospheric currents. The waters boxed in
among the numerous islands of the Grecian archipelago were writhing in
opposite directions, enraged and clashing against the ledges on the
coast with a retrograding violence that converted them into a furious
The captain, hooded like a friar and bowed before the wind that was
striving to snatch him from the bridge, kept talking and talking to his
mate, standing immovable near him and also covered with a waterproof
coat that was spouting moisture from every fold. The rain was streaking
with light, cobwebby lines the slaty darkness, of the night. The two
sailors felt as though icy nettles were falling upon face and hands
across the darkness.
Twice they anchored near the island of Tenedos, seeing the movable
archipelago of ironclads enveloped in floating veils of smoke. There
came to their ears, like incessant thunderings, the echo of the cannons
that were roaring at the entrance of the Dardanelles.
From afar off they perceived the sensation caused by the loss of some
English and French ships. The current of the Black Sea was the best
armor for the defenders of this aquatic defile against the attacks of
the fleets. They had only to throw into the strait a quantity of
floating mines and the blue river which slipped by the Dardanelles
would drag these toward the boats, destroying them with an infernal
explosion. On the coast of Tenedos the Hellenic women with their
floating hair were tossing flowers into the sea in memory of the
victims, with a theatrical grief similar to that of the heroines of
ancient Troy whose ramparts were buried in the hills opposite.
The third trip in mid-winter was a very hard one, and at the end of a
rainy night, when the faint streaks of dawn were beginning to dissipate
the sluggish shadows, the _Mare Nostrum_ arrived at the roadstead of
Only once had Ferragut been in this port, many years before, when it
still belonged to the Turks. At first he saw only some lowlands on
which twinkled the last gleams from the lighthouses. Then he recognized
the roadstead, a vast aquatic extension with a frame of sandy bars and
pools reflecting the uncertain life of daybreak. The recently awakened
sea-gulls were flying in groups over the immense marine bowl. At the
mouth of the Vardar the fresh-water fowls were starting up with noisy
cries, or standing on the edge of the bank immovable upon their long
Opposite the prow, a city was rising up out of the albuminous waves of
fog. In a bit of the clear, blue sky appeared various minarets, their
peaks sparkling with the fires of Aurora. As the vessel advanced, the
morning clouds vanished, and Salonica became entirely visible from the
cluster of huts at her wharves to the ancient castle topping the
heights, a fortress of ruddy towers, low and strong.
Near the water's edge, the entire length of the harbor, were the
European constructions, commercial houses with gold-lettered signs,
hotels, banks, moving-picture shows, concert halls, and a massive tower
with another smaller one upon it,--the so-called White Tower, a remnant
of the Byzantine fortifications.
In this European conglomerate were dark gaps, open passageways, the
mouths of sloping streets climbing to the hillock above, crossing the
Grecian, Mohammedan and Jewish quarters until they reached a table-land
covered with lofty edifices between dark points of cypress.
The religious diversity of the Oriental Mediterranean made Salonica
bristle with cupolas and towers. The Greek temple threw into prominence
the gilded bulbs of its roof; the Catholic church made the cross
glisten from the peak of its bell-tower; the synagogue of geometrical
forms overflowed in a succession of terraces; the Mohammedan minaret
formed a colonnade, white, sharp and slender. Modern life had added
factory chimneys and the arms of steam-cranes which gave an
anachronistic effect to this decoration of an Oriental harbor. Around
the city and its acropolis was the plain which lost itself in the
horizon,--a plain that Ferragut, on a former voyage, had seen desolate
and monotonous, with few houses and sparsely cultivated, with no other
Vegetation except that in the little oases of the Mohammedan cemetery.
This desert extended to Greece and Servia or to the borders of Bulgaria
Now the brownish-gray steppes coming out from the fleecy fog of
daybreak were palpitating with new life. Thousands and thousands of men
were encamped around the city, occupying new villages made of canvas,
rectangular streets of tents, cities of wooden cabins, and
constructions as big as churches whose canvas walls were trembling
under the violent squalls of wind.
Through his glasses, Ulysses could see warlike hosts occupied with the
business of caring for strings of riderless horses that were going to
watering places, parks of artillery with their cannon upraised like the
tubes of a telescope, enormous birds with yellow wings that were trying
to skip along the earth's surface with a noisy bumping, gradually
reappearing in space with their waxy wings glistening in the first
shafts of sunlight.
All the allied army of the Orient returning from the bloody and
mistaken adventure of the Dardanelles or proceeding from Marseilles and
Gibraltar were massing themselves around Salonica.
The _Mare Nostrum_ anchored at the wharves filled with boxes and bales.
War had given a much greater activity to this port than in times of
peace. Steamers of all the allied and neutral flags were unloading
eatables and military materials.
They were coming from every continent, from every ocean, drawn thither
by the tremendous necessities of a modern army. They were unloading
harvests from entire provinces, unending herds of oxen and horses, tons
upon tons of steel, prepared for deadly work, and human crowds lacking
only a tail of women and children to be like the great martial exoduses
of history. Then taking on board the residuum of war, arms needing
repair, wounded men, they would begin their return trip.
These cargoes quietly transported through the darkness in spite of bad
times and the submarine threats, were preparing the ultimate victory.
Many of these steamers were formerly luxurious vessels, but now
commandeered by military necessity, were dirty and greasy and used as
cargo boats. Lined up, drowsing along the docks, ready to begin their
work, were new hospital ships, the more fortunate transatlantic liners
that still retained a certain trace of their former condition, quite
clean with a red cross painted on their sides and another on their
Some of the transports had reached Salonica most miraculously. Their
crews would relate with the fatalistic serenity of men of the sea how
the torpedo had passed at a short distance from their hulls. A damaged
steamer lay on its side, with only the keel submerged, all its red
exterior exposed to the air; on its water-line there had opened a
breach, angular in outline. Upon looking from the deck into the depths
of its hold filled with water, there might be seen a great gash in its
side like the mouth of a luminous cavern.
Ferragut, while his boat was discharging its cargo under Toni's
supervision, passed his days ashore, visiting the city.
From the very first moment he was attracted by the narrow lanes of the
Turkish quarters--their white houses with protruding balconies covered
with latticed blinds like cages painted red; the little mosques with
their patios of cypresses and fountains of melancholy tinkling; the
tombs of Mohammedan dervishes in kiosks which block the streets under
the pale reflection of a lamp; the women veiled with their black
_firadjes_; and the old men who, silent and thoughtful under their
scarlet caps, pass along swaying to the staggering of the ass on which
they are mounted.
The great Roman way between Rome and Byzantium, the ancient road of the
blue flagstones, passed through a street of modern Salonica. Still a
part of its pavement remained and appeared gloriously obstructed by an
arch of triumph near whose weatherbeaten stone base were working
barefooted bootblacks wearing the scarlet fez.
An endless variety of uniforms filed through the streets, and this
diversity in attire as well as the ethnical difference in the men who
wore it was very noticeable. The soldiers of France and the British
Isles touched elbows with the foreign troops. The allied governments
had sent out a call to the professional combatants and volunteers of
their colonies. The black sharpshooters from the center of Africa
showed their smiling teeth of marble to the bronze giants with huge
white turbans who had come from India. The hunters from the glacial
plains of Canada were fraternizing with the volunteers from Australia
and New Zealand.
The cataclysm of the world war had dragged mankind from the antipodes
to this drowsy little corner of Greece where were again repeated the
invasions of remote centuries which had made ancient Thessalonica bow
to the conquest of Bulgarians, Byzantians, Saracens, and Turks.
The crews of the battleships in the roadstead had just added to this
medley of uniforms the monotonous note of their midnight blue, almost
like that of all the navies of the world.... And to the military
amalgamation was also added the picturesque variety of civil
dress,--the hybrid character of the neighborhood of Salonica, composed
of various races and religions that were mingled together without
confusing their individuality. Files of black tunics and hats with
brimless crowns passed through the streets, near the Catholic priests
or the rabbis with their long, loose gowns. In the outskirts might be
seen men almost naked, with no other clothing than a sheep-skin tunic,
guiding flocks of pigs, just like the shepherds in the Odyssey.
Dervishes, with their aspect of dementia, chanted motionless in a
crossway, enveloped in clouds of flies, awaiting the aid of the good
A great part of the population was composed of Israelitish descendants
of the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. The oldest and most
conservative were clad just like their remote ancestors with large
kaftans striped with striking colors. The women, when not imitating the
European fashions, usually wore a picturesque garment that recalled the
Spanish apparel of the Middle Ages. Here they were not mere brokers or
traders as in the rest of the world. The necessities of the city
dominated by them had made them pick up all the professions, becoming
artisans, fishermen, boatmen, porters and stevedores of the harbor.
They still kept the Castilian tongue as the language of the hearth like
an original flag whose waving reunited their scattered souls,--a
Castilian in the making, soft and without consistency like one
"Are you a Spaniard?" they said brokenly to Captain Ferragut. "My
ancestors were born there. It is a beautiful land."
But they did not wish to return to it. The country of their grandsires
inspired a certain amount of terror in them, and they feared that upon
seeing them return, the present-day Spaniards would banish the
bullfights and reestablish the Inquisition, organizing an _auto de fe_
Hearing them speak his language, the captain recalled a certain
date--1492. In the very year that Christopher Columbus had made his
first voyage, discovering the Indies, the Jews were expelled from the
Spanish peninsula, and Nebrija brought out the first Castilian grammar.
These Spaniards had left their native land months before their idiom
had been codified for the first time.
A sailor of Genoa, an old friend of Ulysses, took him to one of the
harbor cafes, where the merchant captains used to gather together.
These were the only ones wearing civilian clothes among the crowds of
land and sea officers who crowded the divans, obstructed the tables,
and grouped themselves before the doorway.
These Mediterranean vagabonds who oftentimes could not converse
together because of the diversity of their native idiom, instinctively
sought each other out, keeping near together in a fraternal silence.
Their passive heroism was in many instances more admirable than that of
the men of war, who were able to return blow for blow. All the officers
of the different fleets, seated near them, had at their disposition
cannon, ram, torpedo, great speed and aerial telegraphy. These valorous
muleteers of the sea defied the enemy in defenseless boats without
wireless and without cannons. Sometimes when searching all the men of
the crew, not a single revolver would be found among them, and yet
these brave fellows were daring the greatest adventures with
professional fatalism, and trusting to luck.
In the social groups of the cafe the captains would sometimes relate
their encounters on the sea, the unexpected appearance of a submarine,
the torpedo missing aim a few yards away, the flight at full speed
while being shelled by their pursuers. They would flame up for an
instant upon recalling their danger, and then relapse into indifference
"If I've got to die by drowning," they would always conclude, "it would
be useless for me to try to avoid it."
And they would hasten their departure in order to return a month later
transporting a regular fortune in their vessel, completely alone,
preferring free and wary navigation to the journey in convoy, slipping
along from island to island and from coast to coast in order to outwit
They were far more concerned about the state of their ships, that for
more than a year had not been cleaned, than about the dangers of
navigation. The captains of the great liners lamented their luxurious
staterooms converted into dormitories for the troops, their polished
decks that had been turned into stables, their dining-room where they
used to sit among people in dress suits and low-neck gowns, which had
now to be sprayed with every class of disinfectant in order to repel
the invasion of vermin, and the animal odors of so many men and beasts
The decline of the ships appeared to be reflected in the bearing of
their captains, more careless than before, worse dressed, with the
military slovenliness of the trench-fighter, and with calloused hands
as badly cared for as those of a stevedore.
Among the naval men also there were some who had completely neglected
their appearance. These were the commanders of "chaluteros," little
ocean fishing steamers armed with a quickfirer, which had come into the
Mediterranean to pursue the submersible. They wore oilskins and
tarpaulins, just like the North Sea fishermen, smacking of fuel and
tempestuous water. They would pass weeks and weeks on the sea whatever
the weather, sleeping in the bottom of the hold that smelled
offensively of rancid fish, keeping on patrol no matter how the tempest
might roar, bounding from wave to wave like a cork from a bottle, in
order to repeat the exploits of the ancient corsairs.
Ferragut had a relative in the army which was assembling at Salonica
making ready for the inland march. As he did not wish to go away
without seeing the lad he passed several mornings making investigations
in the offices of the general staff.
This relative was his nephew, a son of Blanes, the manufacturer of knit
goods, who had fled from Barcelona at the outbreak of the war with
other boys devoted to singing _Los Segadores_ and perturbing the
tranquillity of the "Consul of Spain" sent by Madrid. The son of the
pacific Catalan citizen had enlisted in the battalion of the Foreign
Legion made up to a great extent of Spaniards and Spanish-Americans.
Blanes had asked the captain to see his son. He was sad yet at the same
time proud of this romantic adventure blossoming out so unexpectedly in
the utilitarian and monotonous existence of the family. A boy that had
such a great future in his father's factory!... And then he had related
to Ulysses with shaking voice and moist eyes the achievements of his
son,--wounded in Champagne, two citations and the _Croix de Guerre_.
Who would ever have imagined that he could be such a hero!... Now his
battalion was in Salonica after having fought in the Dardanelles.
"See if you can't bring him back with you," repeated Blanes. "Tell him
that his mother is going to die of grief.... You can do so much!"
But all that Captain Ferragut could do was to obtain a permit and an
old automobile with which to visit the encampment of the legionaries.
The arid plain around Salonica was crossed by numerous roads. The
trains of artillery, the rosaries of automobiles, were rolling over
recently opened roads that the rain had converted into mire. The mud
was the worst calamity that could befall this plain, so extremely dusty
in dry weather.
Ferragut passed two long hours, going from encampment to encampment,
before reaching his destination. His vehicle frequently had to stop in
order to make way for interminable files of trucks. At other times
machine-guns, big guns dragged by tractors, and provision cars with
pyramids of sacks and boxes, blocked their road.
On all sides were thousands and thousands of soldiers of different
colors and races. The captain recalled the great invasions of
history--Xerxes, Alexander, Genghis-Khan, all the leaders of men who
had made their advance carrying villages _en masse_ behind their
horses, transforming the servants of the earth into fighters. There
lacked only the soldierly women, the swarms of children, to complete
exactly the resemblance to the martial exoduses of the past.
In half an hour more he was able to embrace his nephew, who was with
two other volunteers, an Andulasian and a South American,--the three
united by brotherhood of birth and by their continual familiarity with
Ferragut took them to the canteen of a trader established near the
cantonment. The customers were seated under a sail-cloth awning before
boxes that had contained munitions and were converted into office
tables. This discomfort was surpassed by the prices. In no Palace Hotel
would drink have cost such an extraordinary sum.
In a few moments the sailor felt a fraternal affection for these three
youths to whom he gave the nickname of the "Three Musketeers," He
wished to treat them to the very best which the canteen afforded, so
the proprietor produced a bottle of champagne or rather ptisan from
Rheims, presenting it as though it were an elixir fabricated of gold.
The amber liquid, bubbling in the glasses, seemed to bring the three
youths back to their former existence. Boiled by the sun and the
inclemency of the weather, habituated to the hard life of war, they had
almost forgotten the softness and luxuriant conveniences of former
Ulysses examined them attentively. In the course of the campaign they
had grown with youth's last rapid growth. Their arms were sticking out
to an ungainly degree from the sleeves of their coats, already too
short for them. The rude gymnastic exercise of the marches, with the
management of the shovel, had broadened their wrists and calloused
The memory of his own son surged up in his memory. If only he could see
him thus, made into a soldier like his cousin! See him enduring all the
hardships of military existence ... but living!
In order not to be too greatly moved, he drank and paid close attention
to what the three youths were saying. Blanes, the legionary, as
romantic as the son of a merchant bent upon adventure should be, was
talking of the daring deeds of the troops of the Orient with all the
enthusiasm of his twenty-two years. There wasn't time to throw
themselves upon the Bulgarians with bayonets and arrive at
Adrianopolis. As a Catalan, this war in Macedonia was touching him very
"We are going to avenge Roger de Flor," he said gravely.
And his uncle wanted to weep and to laugh before this simple faith
comparable only to the retrospective memory of the poet Labarta and
that village secretary who was always lamenting the remote defeat of
Blanes explained like a knight-errant the impulse that had called him
to the war. He wanted to fight for the liberty of all oppressed
nations, for the resurrection of all forgotten nationalities,--Poles,
Czechs, Jugo-Slavs.... And very simply, as though he were saying
something indisputable, he included Catalunia among the people who were
weeping tears of blood under the lashes of the tyrant. Thereupon his
companion, the Andalusian, burst forth indignantly. They passed their
time arguing furiously, exchanging insults and continually seeking each
other's company as though they couldn't live apart.
The Andalusian was not battling for the liberty of this or that people.
He had a longer range of vision. He was not near-sighted and egoistic
like his friend, "the Catalan." He was giving his blood in order that
the whole world might be free and that all monarchies should disappear.
"I am battling for France because it is the country of the great
Revolution. Its former history makes no difference to me, for we still
have kings of our own, but dating from the 14th of July, whatever
France is, I consider mine and the property of all mankind."
He stopped a few seconds, searching for a more concrete affirmation.
"I am fighting, Captain, because of Danton and Hoche."
Ferragut in his imagination saw the white, disheveled hair of Michelet
and the romantic foretop of Lamartine upon a double pedestal of volumes
which used to contain the story-poem of the Revolution.
"And I am also fighting for France," concluded the lad triumphantly,
"because it is the country of Victor Hugo."
Ulysses suspected that this twenty-year-old Republican was probably
hiding in his knapsack a blank book full of original verses written in
The South American, accustomed to the disputes of his two companions,
looked at his black fingernails with the melancholy desperation of a
prophet contemplating his country in ruins. Blanes, the son of a
middle-class citizen, used to admire him for his more distinguished
family. The day of the mobilization he had gone to Paris in an
automobile of fifty horse-power to enroll as a volunteer; he and his
chauffeur had enlisted together. Then he had donated his luxurious
vehicle to the cause.
He had wished to be a soldier because all the young fellows in his club
were leaving for the war. Furthermore, he felt greatly flattered that
his latest sweetheart, seeing him in uniform, should devote a few tears
of admiration and astonishment to him. He had felt the necessity of
producing a touching effect upon all the ladies that had danced the
tango with him up to the week before. Besides that, the millions of his
grandfather, "the Galician," held rather tight by his father, the
Creole, were slipping through his hands.
"This experience is lasting too long, Captain."
In the beginning he had believed in a six months' war. The shells
didn't trouble him much; for him the terrible things were the vermin,
the impossibility of changing his clothing, and being deprived of his
daily bath. If he could ever have supposed!...
And he summed up his enthusiasm with this affirmation:
"I am fighting for France because it is a _chic_ country. Only in Paris
do the women know how to dress. Those Germans, no matter how much they
try, will always be very ordinary."
It was not necessary to add anything to this. All had been said.
The three recalled the hellish months suffered recently in the
Dardanelles, in a space of three miles conquered by the bayonet. A rain
of projectiles had fallen incessantly upon them. They had had to live
underground like moles and, even so, the explosion of the great shells
sometimes reached them.
In this tongue of land opposite Troy through which had slipped the
remote history of humanity, their shovels, on opening the trenches, had
stumbled upon the rarest finds. One day Blanes and his companions had
excavated pitchers, statuettes, and plates centuries old. At other
times, when opening trenches that had served as cemeteries for Turks,
they had hacked into repulsive bits of pulp exhaling an insufferable
odor. Self-defense had obliged the legionaries to live with their faces
on a level with the corpses that were piled up in the vertical yard of
"The dead are like the truffles in a pie," said the South American. "An
entire day I had to remain with my nose touching the intestines of a
Turk who had died two weeks before.... No, war is not _chic_, Captain,
no matter how much they talk of heroism and sublime things in the
newspapers and books."
Ulysses wished to see the three musketeers again before leaving
Salonica, but the battalion had broken camp and was now situated
several kilometers further inland, opposite the first Bulgarian lines.
The enthusiastic Blanes had already fired his gun against the assassins
of Roger de Flor.