Part 1 out of 8
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, email@example.com.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
(Los Cuatro Jinettes del Apocalipsis)
by Vicente Blasco Ibanez
Translated by Charlotte Brewster Jordan
I. THE TRYST--IN THE GARDEN OF THE EXPIATORY CHAPEL
II. MADARIAGA, THE CENTAUR
III. THE DESNOYERS FAMILY
IV. THE COUSIN FROM BERLIN
V. IN WHICH APPEAR THE FOUR HORSEMEN
I. WHAT DON MARCELO ENVIED
II. NEW LIFE
III. THE RETREAT
IV. NEAR THE SACRED GROTTO
V. THE INVASION
VI. THE BANNER OF THE RED CROSS
I. AFTER THE MARNE
II. IN THE STUDIO
IV. "NO ONE WILL KILL HIM"
V. THE BURIAL FIELDS
(In the Garden of the Chapelle Expiatoire)
They were to have met in the garden of the Chapelle Expiatoire at
five o'clock in the afternoon, but Julio Desnoyers with the
impatience of a lover who hopes to advance the moment of meeting by
presenting himself before the appointed time, arrived an half hour
earlier. The change of the seasons was at this time greatly
confused in his mind, and evidently demanded some readjustment.
Five months had passed since their last interview in this square had
afforded the wandering lovers the refuge of a damp, depressing
calmness near a boulevard of continual movement close to a great
railroad station. The hour of the appointment was always five and
Julio was accustomed to see his beloved approaching by the
reflection of the recently lit street lamps, her figure enveloped in
furs, and holding her muff before her face as if it were a half-
mask. Her sweet voice, greeting him, had breathed forth a cloud of
vapor, white and tenuous, congealed by the cold. After various
hesitating interviews, they had abandoned the garden. Their love
had acquired the majestic importance of acknowledged fact, and from
five to seven had taken refuge in the fifth floor of the rue de la
Pompe where Julio had an artist's studio. The curtains well drawn
over the double glass windows, the cosy hearth-fire sending forth
its ruddy flame as the only light of the room, the monotonous song
of the samovar bubbling near the cups of tea--all the seclusion of
life isolated by an idolizing love--had dulled their perceptions to
the fact that the afternoons were growing longer, that outside the
sun was shining later and later into the pearl-covered depths of the
clouds, and that a timid and pallid Spring was beginning to show its
green finger tips in the buds of the branches suffering the last
nips of Winter--that wild, black boar who so often turned on his
Then Julio had made his trip to Buenos Aires, encountering in the
other hemisphere the last smile of Autumn and the first icy winds
from the pampas. And just as his mind was becoming reconciled to
the fact that for him Winter was an eternal season--since it always
came to meet him in his change of domicile from one extreme of the
planet to the other--lo, Summer was unexpectedly confronting him in
this dreary garden!
A swarm of children was racing and screaming through the short
avenues around the monument. On entering the place, the first thing
that Julio encountered was a hoop which came rolling toward his
legs, trundled by a childish hand. Then he stumbled over a ball.
Around the chestnut trees was gathering the usual warm-weather
crowd, seeking the blue shade perforated with points of light. Many
nurse-maids from the neighboring houses were working and chattering
here, following with indifferent glances the rough games of the
children confided to their care. Near them were the men who had
brought their papers down into the garden under the impression that
they could read them in the midst of peaceful groves. All of the
benches were full. A few women were occupying camp stools with that
feeling of superiority which ownership always confers. The iron
chairs, "pay-seats," were serving as resting places for various
suburban dames, loaded down with packages, who were waiting for
straggling members of their families in order to take the train in
the Gare Saint Lazare. . . .
And Julio, in his special delivery letter, had proposed meeting in
this place, supposing that it would be as little frequented as in
former times. She, too, with the same thoughtlessness, had in her
reply, set the usual hour of five o'clock, believing that after
passing a few minutes in the Printemps or the Galeries on the
pretext of shopping, she would be able to slip over to the
unfrequented garden without risk of being seen by any of her
Desnoyers was enjoying an almost forgotten sensation, that of
strolling through vast spaces, crushing as he walked the grains of
sand under his feet. For the past twenty days his rovings had been
upon planks, following with the automatic precision of a riding
school the oval promenade on the deck of a ship. His feet
accustomed to insecure ground, still were keeping on terra firma a
certain sensation of elastic unsteadiness. His goings and comings
were not awakening the curiosity of the people seated in the open,
for a common preoccupation seemed to be monopolizing all the men and
women. The groups were exchanging impressions. Those who happened
to have a paper in their hands, saw their neighbors approaching them
with a smile of interrogation. There had suddenly disappeared that
distrust and suspicion which impels the inhabitants of large cities
mutually to ignore one another, taking each other's measure at a
glance as though they were enemies.
"They are talking about the war," said Desnoyers to himself. "At
this time, all Paris speaks of nothing but the possibility of war."
Outside of the garden he could see also the same anxiety which was
making those around him so fraternal and sociable. The venders of
newspapers were passing through the boulevard crying the evening
editions, their furious speed repeatedly slackened by the eager
hands of the passers-by contending for the papers. Every reader was
instantly surrounded by a group begging for news or trying to
decipher over his shoulder the great headlines at the top of the
sheet. In the rue des Mathurins, on the other side of the square, a
circle of workmen under the awning of a tavern were listening to the
comments of a friend who accompanied his words with oratorical
gestures and wavings of the paper. The traffic in the streets, the
general bustle of the city was the same as in other days, but it
seemed to Julio that the vehicles were whirling past more rapidly,
that there was a feverish agitation in the air and that people were
speaking and smiling in a different way. The women of the garden
were looking even at him as if they had seen him in former days. He
was able to approach them and begin a conversation without
experiencing the slightest strangeness.
"They are talking of the war," he said again but with the
commiseration of a superior intelligence which foresees the future
and feels above the impressions of the vulgar crowd.
He knew exactly what course he was going to follow. He had
disembarked at ten o'clock the night before, and as it was not yet
twenty-four hours since he had touched land, his mentality was still
that of a man who comes from afar, across oceanic immensities, from
boundless horizons, and is surprised at finding himself in touch
with the preoccupations which govern human communities. After
disembarking he had spent two hours in a cafe in Boulogne,
listlessly watching the middle-class families who passed their time
in the monotonous placidity of a life without dangers. Then the
special train for the passengers from South America had brought him
to Paris, leaving him at four in the morning on a platform of the
Gare du Nord in the embrace of Pepe Argensola, the young Spaniard
whom he sometimes called "my secretary" or "my valet" because it was
difficult to define exactly the relationship between them. In
reality, he was a mixture of friend and parasite, the poor comrade,
complacent and capable in his companionship with a rich youth on bad
terms with his family, sharing with him the ups and downs of
fortune, picking up the crumbs of prosperous days, or inventing
expedients to keep up appearances in the hours of poverty.
"What about the war?" Argensola had asked him before inquiring about
the result of his trip. "You have come a long ways and should know
Soon he was sound asleep in his dear old bed while his "secretary"
was pacing up and down the studio talking of Servia, Russia and the
Kaiser. This youth, too, skeptical as he generally was about
everything not connected with his own interests, appeared infected
by the general excitement.
When Desnoyers awoke he found her note awaiting him, setting their
meeting at five that afternoon and also containing a few words about
the threatened danger which was claiming the attention of all Paris.
Upon going out in search of lunch the concierge, on the pretext of
welcoming him back, had asked him the war news. And in the
restaurant, the cafe and the street, always war . . . the
possibility of war with Germany. . . .
Julio was an optimist. What did all this restlessness signify to a
man who had just been living more than twenty days among Germans,
crossing the Atlantic under the flag of the Empire?
He had sailed from Buenos Aires in a steamer of the Hamburg line,
the Koenig Frederic August. The world was in blessed tranquillity
when the boat left port. Only the whites and half-breeds of Mexico
were exterminating each other in conflicts in order that nobody
might believe that man is an animal degenerated by peace. On the
rest of the planet, the people were displaying unusual prudence.
Even aboard the transatlantic liner, the little world of passengers
of most diverse nationalities appeared a fragment of future society
implanted by way of experiment in modern times--a sketch of the
hereafter, without frontiers or race antagonisms.
One morning the ship band which every Sunday had sounded the Choral
of Luther, awoke those sleeping in the first-class cabins with the
most unheard-of serenade. Desnoyers rubbed his eyes believing
himself under the hallucinations of a dream. The German horns were
playing the Marseillaise through the corridors and decks. The
steward, smiling at his astonishment, said, "The fourteenth of
July!" On the German steamers they celebrate as their own the great
festivals of all the nations represented by their cargo and
passengers. Their captains are careful to observe scrupulously the
rites of this religion of the flag and its historic commemoration.
The most insignificant republic saw the ship decked in its honor,
affording one more diversion to help combat the monotony of the
voyage and further the lofty ends of the Germanic propaganda. For
the first time the great festival of France was being celebrated on
a German vessel, and whilst the musicians continued escorting a racy
Marseillaise in double quick time through the different floors, the
morning groups were commenting on the event.
"What finesse!" exclaimed the South American ladies. "These Germans
are not so phlegmatic as they seem. It is an attention . . .
something very distinguished. . . . And is it possible that some
still believe that they and the French might come to blows?"
The very few Frenchmen who were travelling on the steamer found
themselves admired as though they had increased immeasurably in
public esteem. There were only three;--an old jeweller who had been
visiting his branch shops in America, and two demi-mondaines from
the rue de la Paix, the most timid and well-behaved persons aboard,
vestals with bright eyes and disdainful noses who held themselves
stiffly aloof in this uncongenial atmosphere.
At night there was a gala banquet in the dining room at the end of
which the French flag and that of the Empire formed a flaunting,
conspicuous drapery. All the German passengers were in dress suits,
and their wives were wearing low-necked gowns. The uniforms of the
attendants were as resplendent as on a day of a grand review.
During dessert the tapping of a knife upon a glass reduced the table
to sudden silence. The Commandant was going to speak. And this
brave mariner who united to his nautical functions the obligation of
making harangues at banquets and opening the dance with the lady of
most importance, began unrolling a string of words like the noise of
clappers between long intervals of silence. Desnoyers knew a little
German as a souvenir of a visit to some relatives in Berlin, and so
was able to catch a few words. The Commandant was repeating every
few minutes "peace" and "friends." A table neighbor, a commercial
commissioner, offered his services as interpreter to Julio, with
that obsequiousness which lives on advertisement.
"The Commandant asks God to maintain peace between Germany and
France and hopes that the two peoples will become increasingly
Another orator arose at the same table. He was the most influential
of the German passengers, a rich manufacturer from Dusseldorf who
had just been visiting his agents in America. He was never
mentioned by name. He bore the title of Commercial Counsellor, and
among his countrymen was always Herr Comerzienrath and his wife was
entitled Frau Rath. The Counsellor's Lady, much younger than her
important husband, had from the first attracted the attention of
Desnoyers. She, too, had made an exception in favor of this young
Argentinian, abdicating her title from their first conversation.
"Call me Bertha," she said as condescendingly as a duchess of
Versailles might have spoken to a handsome abbot seated at her feet.
Her husband, also protested upon hearing Desnoyers call him
"Counsellor," like his compatriots.
"My friends," he said, "call me 'Captain.' I command a company of
the Landsturm." And the air with which the manufacturer accompanied
these words, revealed the melancholy of an unappreciated man
scorning the honors he has in order to think only of those he does
While he was delivering his discourse, Julio was examining his small
head and thick neck which gave him a certain resemblance to a bull
dog. In imagination he saw the high and oppressive collar of a
uniform making a double roll of fat above its stiff edge. The
waxed, upright moustaches were bristling aggressively. His voice
was sharp and dry as though he were shaking out his words. . . .
Thus the Emperor would utter his harangues, so the martial burgher,
with instinctive imitation, was contracting his left arm, supporting
his hand upon the hilt of an invisible sword.
In spite of his fierce and oratorical gesture of command, all the
listening Germans laughed uproariously at his first words, like men
who knew how to appreciate the sacrifice of a Herr Comerzienrath
when he deigns to divert a festivity.
"He is saying very witty things about the French," volunteered the
interpreter in a low voice, "but they are not offensive."
Julio had guessed as much upon hearing repeatedly the word
Franzosen. He almost understood what the orator was saying--
"Franzosen--great children, light-hearted, amusing, improvident.
The things that they might do together if they would only forget
past grudges!" The attentive Germans were no longer laughing. The
Counsellor was laying aside his irony, that grandiloquent, crushing
irony, weighing many tons, as enormous as a ship. Then he began
unrolling the serious part of his harangue, so that he himself, was
also greatly affected.
"He says, sir," reported Julio's neighbor, "that he wishes France to
become a very great nation so that some day we may march together
against other enemies . . . against OTHERS!"
And he winked one eye, smiling maliciously with that smile of common
intelligence which this allusion to the mysterious enemy always
Finally the Captain-Counsellor raised his glass in a toast to
France. "Hoch!" he yelled as though he were commanding an evolution
of his soldierly Reserves. Three times he sounded the cry and all
the German contingent springing to their feet, responded with a
lusty Hoch while the band in the corridor blared forth the
Desnoyers was greatly moved. Thrills of enthusiasm were coursing up
and down his spine. His eyes became so moist that, when drinking
his champagne, he almost believed that he had swallowed some tears.
He bore a French name. He had French blood in his veins, and this
that the gringoes were doing--although generally they seemed to him
ridiculous and ordinary--was really worth acknowledging. The
subjects of the Kaiser celebrating the great date of the Revolution!
He believed that he was witnessing a great historic event.
"Very well done!" he said to the other South Americans at the near
tables. "We must admit that they have done the handsome thing."
Then with the vehemence of his twenty-seven years, he accosted the
jeweller in the passage way, reproaching him for his silence. He
was the only French citizen aboard. He should have made a few words
of acknowledgment. The fiesta was ending awkwardly through his
"And why have you not spoken as a son of France?" retorted the
"I am an Argentinian citizen," replied Julio.
And he left the older man believing that he ought to have spoken and
making explanations to those around him. It was a very dangerous
thing, he protested, to meddle in diplomatic affairs. Furthermore,
he had not instructions from his government. And for a few hours he
believed that he had been on the point of playing a great role in
Desnoyers passed the rest of the evening in the smoking room
attracted thither by the presence of the Counsellor's Lady. The
Captain of the Landsturm, sticking a preposterous cigar between his
moustachios, was playing poker with his countrymen ranking next to
him in dignity and riches. His wife stayed beside him most of the
time, watching the goings and comings of the stewards carrying great
bocks, without daring to share in this tremendous consumption of
beer. Her special preoccupation was to keep vacant near her a seat
which Desnoyers might occupy. She considered him the most
distinguished man on board because he was accustomed to taking
champagne with all his meals. He was of medium height, a decided
brunette, with a small foot, which obliged her to tuck hers under
her skirts, and a triangular face under two masses of hair,
straight, black and glossy as lacquer, the very opposite of the type
of men about her. Besides, he was living in Paris, in the city
which she had never seen after numerous trips in both hemispheres.
"Oh, Paris! Paris!" she sighed, opening her eyes and pursing her
lips in order to express her admiration when she was speaking alone
to the Argentinian. "How I should love to go there!"
And in order that he might feel free to tell her things about Paris,
she permitted herself certain confidences about the pleasures of
Berlin, but with a blushing modesty, admitting in advance that in
the world there was more--much more--that she wished to become
While pacing around the Chapelle Expiatoire, Julio recalled with a
certain remorse the wife of Counsellor Erckmann. He who had made
the trip to America for a woman's sake, in order to collect money
and marry her! Then he immediately began making excuses for his
conduct. Nobody was going to know. Furthermore he did not pretend
to be an ascetic, and Bertha Erckmann was certainly a tempting
adventure in mid ocean. Upon recalling her, his imagination always
saw a race horse--large, spare, roan colored, and with a long
stride. She was an up-to-date German who admitted no defect in her
country except the excessive weight of its women, combating in her
person this national menace with every known system of dieting. For
her every meal was a species of torment, and the procession of bocks
in the smoking room a tantalizing agony. The slenderness achieved
and maintained by will power only made more prominent the size of
her frame, the powerful skeleton with heavy jaws and large teeth,
strong and dazzling, which perhaps suggested Desnoyers'
disrespectful comparison. "She is thin, but enormous,
nevertheless!" was always his conclusion.
But then, he considered her, notwithstanding, the most distinguished
woman on board--distinguished for the sea--elegant in the style of
Munich, with clothes of indescribable colors that suggested Persian
art and the vignettes of mediaeval manuscripts. The husband admired
Bertha's elegance, lamenting her childlessness in secret, almost as
though it were a crime of high treason. Germany was magnificent
because of the fertility of its women. The Kaiser, with his
artistic hyperbole, had proclaimed that the true German beauty
should have a waist measure of at least a yard and a half.
When Desnoyers entered into the smoking room in order to take the
seat which Bertha had reserved for him, her husband and his wealthy
hangers-on had their pack of cards lying idle upon the green felt.
Herr Rath was continuing his discourse and his listeners, taking
their cigars from their mouths, were emitting grunts of approbation.
The arrival of Julio provoked a general smile of amiability. Here
was France coming to fraternize with them. They knew that his
father was French, and that fact made him as welcome as though he
came in direct line from the palace of the Quai d'Orsay,
representing the highest diplomacy of the Republic. The craze for
proselyting made them all promptly concede to him unlimited
"We," continued the Counsellor looking fixedly at Desnoyers as if he
were expecting a solemn declaration from him, "we wish to live on
good terms with France."
The youth nodded his head so as not to appear inattentive. It
appeared to him a very good thing that these peoples should not be
enemies, and as far as he was concerned, they might affirm this
relationship as often as they wished: the only thing that was
interesting him just at that time was a certain knee that was
seeking his under the table, transmitting its gentle warmth through
a double curtain of silk.
"But France," complained the manufacturer, "is most unresponsive
towards us. For many years past, our Emperor has been holding out
his hand with noble loyalty, but she pretends not to see it. . . .
That, you must admit, is not as it should be."
Just here Desnoyers believed that he ought to say something in order
that the spokesman might not divine his more engrossing occupation.
"Perhaps you are not doing enough. If, first of all, you would
return that which you took away from France!" . . .
Stupefied silence followed this remark, as if the alarm signal had
sounded through the boat. Some of those who were about putting
their cigars in their mouths, remained with hands immovable within
two inches of their lips, their eyes almost popping out of their
heads. But the Captain of the Landsturm was there to formulate
their mute protest.
"Return!" he said in a voice almost extinguished by the sudden
swelling of his neck. "We have nothing to return, for we have taken
nothing. That which we possess, we acquire by our heroism."
The hidden knee with its agreeable friction made itself more
insinuating, as though counselling the youth to greater prudence.
"Do not say such things," breathed Bertha, "thus only the
republicans, corrupted by Paris, talk. A youth so distinguished who
has been in Berlin, and has relatives in Germany!" . . .
But Desnoyers felt a hereditary impulse of aggressiveness before
each of her husband's statements, enunciated in haughty tones, and
"It is as if I should take your watch and then propose that we
should be friends, forgetting the occurrence. Although you might
forget, the first thing for me to do would be to return the watch."
Counsellor Erckmann wished to retort with so many things at once
that he stuttered horribly, leaping from one idea to the other. To
compare the reconquest of Alsace to a robbery. A German country!
The race . . . the language . . . the history! . . .
"But when did they announce their wish to be German?" asked the
youth without losing his calmness. "When have you consulted their
The Counsellor hesitated, not knowing whether to argue with this
insolent fellow or crush him with his scorn.
"Young man, you do not know what you are talking about," he finally
blustered with withering contempt. "You are an Argentinian and do
not understand the affairs of Europe."
And the others agreed, suddenly repudiating the citizenship which
they had attributed to him a little while before. The Counsellor,
with military rudeness, brusquely turned his back upon him, and
taking up the pack, distributed the cards. The game was renewed.
Desnoyers, seeing himself isolated by the scornful silence, felt
greatly tempted to break up the playing by violence; but the hidden
knee continued counselling self-control, and an invisible hand had
sought his right, pressing it sweetly. That was enough to make him
recover his serenity. The Counsellor's Lady seemed to be absorbed
in the progress of the game. He also looked on, a malignant smile
contracting slightly the lines of his mouth as he was mentally
ejaculating by way of consolation, "Captain, Captain! . . . You
little know what is awaiting you!"
On terra firma, he would never again have approached these men; but
life on a transatlantic liner, with its inevitable promiscuousness,
obliges forgetfulness. The following day the Counsellor and his
friends came in search of him, flattering his sensibilities by
erasing every irritating memory. He was a distinguished youth
belonging to a wealthy family, and all of them had shops and
business in his country. The only thing was that he should be
careful not to mention his French origin. He was an Argentinian;
and thereupon, the entire chorus interested itself in the grandeur
of his country and all the nations of South America where they had
agencies or investments--exaggerating its importance as though its
petty republics were great powers, commenting with gravity upon the
deeds and words of its political leaders and giving him to
understand that in Germany there was no one who was not concerned
about the future of South America, predicting for all its divisions
most glorious prosperity--a reflex of the Empire, always, provided,
of course, that they kept under Germanic influence.
In spite of these flatteries, Desnoyers was no longer presenting
himself with his former assiduity at the hour of poker. The
Counsellor's wife was retiring to her stateroom earlier than usual--
their approach to the Equator inducing such an irresistible desire
for sleep, that she had to abandon her husband to his card playing.
Julio also had mysterious occupations which prevented his appearance
on deck until after midnight. With the precipitation of a man who
desires to be seen in order to avoid suspicion, he was accustomed to
enter the smoking room talking loudly as he seated himself near the
husband and his boon companions.
The game had ended, and an orgy of beer and fat cigars from Hamburg
was celebrating the success of the winners. It was the hour of
Teutonic expansion, of intimacy among men, of heavy, sluggish jokes,
of off-color stories. The Counsellor was presiding with much
majesty over the diableries of his chums, prudent business men from
the Hanseatic ports who had big accounts in the Deutsche Bank or
were shopkeepers installed in the republic of the La Plata, with an
innumerable family. He was a warrior, a captain, and on applauding
every heavy jest with a laugh that distended his fat neck, he
fancied that he was among his comrades at arms.
In honor of the South Americans who, tired of pacing the deck, had
dropped in to hear what the gringoes were saying, they were turning
into Spanish the witticisms and licentious anecdotes awakened in the
memory by a superabundance of beer. Julio was marvelling at the
ready laugh of all these men. While the foreigners were remaining
unmoved, they would break forth into loud horse-laughs throwing
themselves back in their seats. And when the German audience was
growing cold, the story-teller would resort to an infallible
expedient to remedy his lack of success:--
"They told this yarn to the Kaiser, and when the Kaiser heard it he
It was not necessary to say more. They all laughed then. Ha, ha,
ha! with a spontaneous roar but a short one, a laugh in three blows,
since to prolong it, might be interpreted as a lack of respect to
As they neared Europe, a batch of news came to meet the boat. The
employees in the wireless telegraphy office were working
incessantly. One night, on entering the smoking room, Desnoyers saw
the German notables gesticulating with animated countenances. They
were no longer drinking beer. They had had bottles of champagne
uncorked, and the Counsellor's Lady, much impressed, had not retired
to her stateroom. Captain Erckmann, spying the young Argentinian,
offered him a glass.
"It is war," he shouted with enthusiasm. "War at last. . . . The
hour has come!"
Desnoyers made a gesture of astonishment. War! . . . What war? . . .
Like all the others, he had read on the news bulletin outside a
radiogram stating that the Austrian government had just sent an
ultimatum to Servia; but it made not the slightest impression on
him, for he was not at all interested in the Balkan affairs. Those
were but the quarrels of a miserable little nation monopolizing the
attention of the world, distracting it from more worthwhile matters.
How could this event concern the martial Counsellor? The two
nations would soon come to an understanding. Diplomacy sometimes
amounted to something.
"No," insisted the German ferociously. "It is war, blessed war.
Russia will sustain Servia, and we will support our ally. . . .
What will France do? Do you know what France will do?" . . .
Julio shrugged his shoulders testily as though asking to be left out
of all international discussions.
"It is war," asserted the Counsellor, "the preventive war that we
need. Russia is growing too fast, and is preparing to fight us.
Four years more of peace and she will have finished her strategic
railroads, and her military power, united to that of her allies,
will be worth as much as ours. It is better to strike a powerful
blow now. It is necessary to take advantage of this opportunity. . . .
War. Preventive war!"
All his clan were listening in silence. Some did not appear to feel
the contagion of his enthusiasm. War! . . . In imagination they
saw their business paralyzed, their agencies bankrupt, the banks
cutting down credit . . . a catastrophe more frightful to them than
the slaughters of battles. But they applauded with nods and grunts
all of Erckmann's ferocious demonstrations. He was a Herr Rath, and
an officer besides. He must be in the secrets of the destiny of his
country, and that was enough to make them drink silently to the
success of the war.
Julio thought that the Counsellor and his admirers must be drunk.
"Look here, Captain," he said in a conciliatory tone, "what you say
lacks logic. How could war possibly be acceptable to industrial
Germany? Every moment its business is increasing, every month it
conquers a new market and every year its commercial balance soars
upward in unheard of proportions. Sixty years ago, it had to man
its boats with Berlin hack drivers arrested by the police. Now its
commercial fleets and war vessels cross all oceans, and there is no
port where the German merchant marine does not occupy the greatest
part of the docks. It would only be necessary to continue living in
this way, to put yourselves beyond the exigencies of war! Twenty
years more of peace, and the Germans would be lords of the world's
commerce, conquering England, the former mistress of the seas, in a
bloodless struggle. And are they going to risk all this--like a
gambler who stakes his entire fortune on a single card--in a
struggle that might result unfavorably?" . . .
"No, war," insisted the Counsellor furiously, "preventive war. We
live surrounded by our enemies, and this state of things cannot go
on. It is best to end it at once. Either they or we! Germany
feels herself strong enough to challenge the world. We've got to
put an end to this Russian menace! And if France doesn't keep
herself quiet, so much the worse for her! . . . And if anyone
else . . . ANYONE dares to come in against us, so much the worse
for him! When I set up a new machine in my shops, it is to make
it produce unceasingly. We possess the finest army in the world,
and it is necessary to give it exercise that it may not rust out."
He then continued with heavy emphasis, "They have put a band of iron
around us in order to throttle us. But Germany has a strong chest
and has only to expand in order to burst its bands. We must awake
before they manacle us in our sleep. Woe to those who then oppose
us! . . ."
Desnoyers felt obliged to reply to this arrogance. He had never
seen the iron circle of which the Germans were complaining. The
nations were merely unwilling to continue living, unsuspecting and
inactive, before boundless German ambition. They were simply
preparing to defend themselves against an almost certain attack.
They wished to maintain their dignity, repeatedly violated under
most absurd pretexts.
"I wonder if it is not the others," he concluded, "who are obliged
to defend themselves because you represent a menace to the world!"
An invisible hand sought his under the table, as it had some nights
before, to recommend prudence; but now he clasped it forcibly with
the authority of a right acquired.
"Oh, sir!" sighed the sweet Bertha, "to talk like that, a youth so
distinguished who has . . ."
She was not able to finish, for her husband interrupted. They were
no longer in American waters, and the Counsellor expressed himself
with the rudeness of a master of his house.
"I have the honor to inform you, young man," he said, imitating the
cutting coldness of the diplomats, "that you are merely a South
American and know nothing of the affairs of Europe."
He did not call him an "Indian," but Julio heard the implication as
though he had used the word itself. Ah, if that hidden handclasp
had not held him with its sentimental thrills! . . . But this
contact kept him calm and even made him smile. "Thanks, Captain,"
he said to himself. "It is the least you can do to get even with
Here his relations with the German and his clientele came to an end.
The merchants, as they approached nearer and nearer to their native
land, began casting off that servile desire of ingratiating
themselves which they had assumed in all their trips to the new
world. They now had more important things to occupy them. The
telegraphic service was working without cessation. The Commandant
of the vessel was conferring in his apartment with the Counsellor as
his compatriot of most importance. His friends were hunting out the
most obscure places in order to talk confidentially with one
another. Even Bertha commenced to avoid Desnoyers. She was still
smiling distantly at him, but that smile was more of a souvenir than
Between Lisbon and the coast of England, Julio spoke with her
husband for the last time. Every morning was appearing on the
bulletin board the alarming news transmitted by radiograph. The
Empire was arming itself against its enemies. God would punish
them, making all manner of troubles fall upon them. Desnoyers was
motionless with astonishment before the last piece of news--"Three
hundred thousand revolutionists are now besieging Paris. The
suburbs are beginning to burn. The horrors of the Commune have
broken out again."
"My, but these Germans have gone mad!" exclaimed the disgusted youth
to the curious group surrounding the radio-sheet. "We are going to
lose the little sense that we have left! . . . What revolutionists
are they talking about? How could a revolution break out in Paris
if the men of the government are not reactionary?"
A gruff voice sounded behind him, rude, authoritative, as if trying
to banish the doubts of the audience. It was the Herr Comerzienrath
who was speaking.
"Young man, these notices are sent us by the first agencies of
Germany . . . and Germany never lies."
After this affirmation, he turned his back upon them and they saw
him no more.
On the following morning, the last day of the voyage. Desnoyers'
steward awoke him in great excitement. "Herr, come up on deck! a
most beautiful spectacle!"
The sea was veiled by the fog, but behind its hazy curtains could be
distinguished some silhouettes like islands with great towers and
sharp, pointed minarets. The islands were advancing over the oily
waters slowly and majestically, with impressive dignity. Julio
counted eighteen. They appeared to fill the ocean. It was the
Channel Fleet which had just left the English coast by Government
order, sailing around simply to show its strength. Seeing this
procession of dreadnoughts for the first time, Desnoyers was
reminded of a flock of marine monsters, and gained a better idea of
the British power. The German ship passed among them, shrinking,
humiliated, quickening its speed. "One might suppose," mused the
youth, "that she had an uneasy conscience and wished to scud to
safety." A South American passenger near him was jesting with one
of the Germans, "What if they have already declared war! . . . What
if they should make us prisoners!"
After midday, they entered Southampton roads. The Frederic August
hurried to get away as soon as possible, and transacted business
with dizzying celerity. The cargo of passengers and baggage was
enormous. Two launches approached the transatlantic and discharged
an avalanche of Germans residents in England who invaded the decks
with the joy of those who tread friendly soil, desiring to see
Hamburg as soon as possible. Then the boat sailed through the
Channel with a speed most unusual in these places.
The people, leaning on the railing, were commenting on the
extraordinary encounters in this marine boulevard, usually
frequented by ships of peace. Certain smoke lines on the horizon
were from the French squadron carrying President Poincare who was
returning from Russia. The European alarm had interrupted his trip.
Then they saw more English vessels patrolling the coast line like
aggressive and vigilant dogs. Two North American battleships could
be distinguished by their mast-heads in the form of baskets. Then a
Russian battleship, white and glistening, passed at full steam on
its way to the Baltic. "Bad!" said the South American passengers
regretfully. "Very bad! It looks this time as if it were going to
be serious!" and they glanced uneasily at the neighboring coasts on
both sides. Although they presented the usual appearance, behind
them, perhaps, a new period of history was in the making.
The transatlantic was due at Boulogne at midnight where it was
supposed to wait until daybreak to discharge its passengers
comfortably. It arrived, nevertheless, at ten, dropped anchor
outside the harbor, and the Commandant gave orders that the
disembarkation should take place in less than an hour. For this
reason they had quickened their speed, consuming a vast amount of
extra coal. It was necessary to get away as soon as possible,
seeking the refuge of Hamburg. The radiographic apparatus had
evidently been working to some purpose.
By the glare of the bluish searchlights which were spreading a livid
clearness over the sea, began the unloading of passengers and
baggage for Paris, from the transatlantic into the tenders. "Hurry!
Hurry!" The seamen were pushing forward the ladies of slow step who
were recounting their valises, believing that they had lost some.
The stewards loaded themselves up with babies as though they were
bundles. The general precipitation dissipated the usual exaggerated
and oily Teutonic amiability. "They are regular bootlickers,"
thought Desnoyers. "They believe that their hour of triumph has
come, and do not think it necessary to pretend any longer." . . .
He was soon in a launch that was bobbing up and down on the waves
near the black and immovable hulk of the great liner, dotted with
many circles of light and filled with people waving handkerchiefs.
Julio recognized Bertha who was waving her hand without seeing him,
without knowing in which tender he was, but feeling obliged to show
her gratefulness for the sweet memories that now were being lost in
the mystery of the sea and the night. "Adieu, Frau Rath!"
The distance between the departing transatlantic and the lighters
was widening. As though it had been awaiting this moment with
impunity, a stentorian voice on the upper deck shouted with a noisy
guffaw, "See you later! Soon we shall meet you in Paris!" And the
marine band, the very same band that three days before had
astonished Desnoyers with its unexpected Marseillaise, burst forth
into a military march of the time of Frederick the Great--a march of
grenadiers with an accompaniment of trumpets.
That had been the night before. Although twenty-four hours had not
yet passed by, Desnoyers was already considering it as a distant
event of shadowy reality. His thoughts, always disposed to take the
opposite side, did not share in the general alarm. The insolence of
the Counsellor now appeared to him but the boastings of a burgher
turned into a soldier. The disquietude of the people of Paris, was
but the nervous agitation of a city which lived placidly and became
alarmed at the first hint of danger to its comfort. So many times
they had spoken of an immediate war, always settling things
peacefully at the last moment! . . . Furthermore he did not want
war to come because it would upset all his plans for the future; and
the man accepted as logical and reasonable everything that suited
his selfishness, placing it above reality.
"No, there will not be war," he repeated as he continued pacing up
and down the garden. "These people are beside themselves. How
could a war possibly break out in these days?" . . .
And after disposing of his doubts, which certainly would in a short
time come up again, he thought of the joy of the moment, consulting
his watch. Five o'clock! She might come now at any minute! He
thought that he recognized her afar off in a lady who was passing
through the grating by the rue Pasquier. She seemed to him a little
different, but it occurred to him that possibly the Summer fashions
might have altered her appearance. But soon he saw that he had made
a mistake. She was not alone, another lady was with her. They were
perhaps English or North American women who worshipped the memory of
Marie Antoinette and wished to visit the Chapelle Expiatoire, the
old tomb of the executed queen. Julio watched them as they climbed
the flights of steps and crossed the interior patio in which were
interred the eight hundred Swiss soldiers killed in the attack of
the Tenth of August, with other victims of revolutionary fury.
Disgusted at his error, he continued his tramp. His ill humor made
the monument with which the Bourbon restoration had adorned the old
cemetery of the Madeleine, appear uglier than ever to him. Time was
passing, but she did not come. Every time that he turned, he looked
hungrily at the entrances of the garden. And then it happened as in
all their meetings. She suddenly appeared as if she had fallen from
the sky or risen up from the ground, like an apparition. A cough, a
slight rustling of footsteps, and as he turned, Julio almost
collided with her.
"Marguerite! Oh, Marguerite!" . . .
It was she, and yet he was slow to recognize her. He felt a certain
strangeness in seeing in full reality the countenance which had
occupied his imagination for three months, each time more
spirituelle and shadowy with the idealism of absence. But his
doubts were of short duration. Then it seemed as though time and
space were eliminated, that he had not made any voyage, and but a
few hours had intervened since their last interview.
Marguerite divined the expansion which might follow Julio's
exclamations, the vehement hand-clasp, perhaps something more, so
she kept herself calm and serene.
"No; not here," she said with a grimace of repugnance. "What a
ridiculous idea for us to have met here!"
They were about to seat themselves on the iron chairs, in the shadow
of some shrubbery, when she rose suddenly. Those who were passing
along the boulevard might see them by merely casting their eyes
toward the garden. At this time, many of her friends might be
passing through the neighborhood because of its proximity to the big
shops. . . . They, therefore, sought refuge at a corner of the
monument, placing themselves between it and the rue des Mathurins.
Desnoyers brought two chairs near the hedge, so that when seated
they were invisible to those passing on the other side of the
railing. But this was not solitude. A few steps away, a fat,
nearsighted man was reading his paper, and a group of women were
chatting and embroidering. A woman with a red wig and two dogs--
some housekeeper who had come down into the garden in order to give
her pets an airing--passed several times near the amorous pair,
"How annoying!" groaned Marguerite. "Why did we ever come to this
The two scrutinized each other carefully, wishing to see exactly
what transformation Time had wrought.
"You are darker than ever," she said. "You look like a man of the
Julio was finding her even lovelier than before, and felt sure that
possessing her was well worth all the contrarieties which had
brought about his trip to South America. She was taller than he,
with an elegantly proportioned slenderness. "She has the musical
step," Desnoyers had told himself, when seeing her in his
imagination; and now, on beholding her again, the first thing that
he admired was her rhythmic tread, light and graceful as she passed
through the garden seeking another seat. Her features were not
regular but they had a piquant fascination--a true Parisian face.
Everything that had been invented for the embellishment of feminine
charm was used about her person with the most exquisite
fastidiousness. She had always lived for herself. Only a few
months before had she abdicated a part of this sweet selfishness,
sacrificing reunions, teas, and calls in order to give Desnoyers
some of the afternoon hours.
Stylish and painted like a priceless doll, with no loftier ambition
than to be a model, interpreting with personal elegance the latest
confections of the modistes, she was at last experiencing the same
preoccupations and joys as other women, creating for herself an
inner life. The nucleus of this new life, hidden under her former
frivolity, was Desnoyers. Just as she was imagining that she had
reorganized her existence--adjusting the satisfactions of worldly
elegance to the delights of love in intimate secrecy--a fulminating
catastrophe (the intervention of her husband whose possible
appearance she seemed to have overlooked) had disturbed her
thoughtless happiness. She who was accustomed to think herself the
centre of the universe, imagining that events ought to revolve
around her desires and tastes, had suffered this cruel surprise with
more astonishment than grief.
"And you, how do you think I look?" Marguerite queried.
"I must tell you that the fashion has changed. The sheath skirt has
passed away. Now it is worn short and with more fullness."
Desnoyers had to interest himself in her apparel with the same
devotion, mixing his appreciation of the latest freak of the
fashion-monger with his eulogies of Marguerite's beauty.
"Have you thought much about me?" she continued. "You have not been
unfaithful to me a single time? Not even once? . . . Tell me the
truth; you know I can always tell when you are lying."
"I have always thought of you," he said putting his hand on his
heart, as if he were swearing before a judge.
And he said it roundly, with an accent of truth, since in his
infidelities--now completely forgotten--the memory of Marguerite had
always been present.
"But let us talk about you!" added Julio. "What have you been doing
all the time?"
He had brought his chair nearer to hers, and their knees touched.
He took one of her hands, patting it and putting his finger in the
glove opening. Oh, that accursed garden which would not permit
greater intimacy and obliged them to speak in a low tone, after
three months' absence! . . . In spite of his discretion, the man
who was reading his paper raised his head and looked irritably at
them over his spectacles as though a fly were distracting him with
its buzzing. . . . The very idea of talking love-nonsense in a
public garden when all Europe was threatened with calamity!
Repelling the audacious hand, Marguerite spoke tranquilly of her
existence during the last months.
"I have passed my life the best I could, but I have been greatly
bored. You know that I am now living with mama, and mama is a lady
of the old regime who does not understand our tastes. I have been
to the theatres with my brother. I have made many calls on the
lawyer in order to learn the progress of my divorce and hurry it
along . . . and nothing else."
"And your husband?"
"Don't let's talk about him. Do you want to? I pity the poor man!
So good . . . so correct. The lawyer assures me that he agrees to
everything and will not impose any obstacles. They tell me that he
does not come to Paris, that he lives in his factory. Our old home
is closed. There are times when I feel remorseful over the way I
have treated him."
"And I?" queried Julio, withdrawing his hand.
"You are right," she returned smiling. "You are Life. It is cruel
but it is human. We have to live our lives without taking others
into consideration. It is necessary to be selfish in order to be
The two remained silent. The remembrance of the husband had swept
across them like a glacial blast. Julio was the first to brighten
"And you have not danced in all this time?"
"No, how could I? The very idea, a woman in divorce proceedings! . . .
I have not been to a single chic party since you went away. I
wanted to preserve a certain decorous mourning fiesta. How horrible
it was! . . . It needed you, the Master!"
They had again clasped hands and were smiling. Memories of the
previous months were passing before their eyes, visions of their
life from five to seven in the afternoon, dancing in the hotels of
the Champs Elysees where the tango had been inexorably associated
with a cup of tea.
She appeared to tear herself away from these recollections, impelled
by a tenacious obsession which had slipped from her mind in the
first moments of their meeting.
"Do you know much about what's happening? Tell me all. People talk
so much. . . . Do you really believe that there will be war? Don't
you think that it will all end in some kind of settlement?"
Desnoyers comforted her with his optimism. He did not believe in
the possibility of a war. That was ridiculous.
"I say so, too! Ours is not the epoch of savages. I have known
some Germans, chic and well-educated persons who surely must think
exactly as we do. An old professor who comes to the house was
explaining yesterday to mama that wars are no longer possible in
these progressive times. In two months' time, there would scarcely
be any men left, in three, the world would find itself without money
to continue the struggle. I do not recall exactly how it was, but
he explained it all very clearly, in a manner most delightful to
She reflected in silence, trying to co-ordinate her confused
recollections, but dismayed by the effort required, added on her own
"Just imagine what war would mean--how horrible! Society life
paralyzed. No more parties, nor clothes, nor theatres! Why, it is
even possible that they might not design any more fashions! All the
women in mourning. Can you imagine it? . . . And Paris deserted. . . .
How beautiful it seemed as I came to meet you this afternoon! . . .
No, no, it cannot be! Next month, you know, we go to Vichy.
Mama needs the waters. Then to Biarritz. After that, I shall go to
a castle on the Loire. And besides there are our affairs, my
divorce, our marriage which may take place the next year. . . . And
is war to hinder and cut short all this! No, no, it is not
possible. My brother and others like him are foolish enough to
dream of danger from Germany. I am sure that my husband, too, who
is only interested in serious and bothersome matters, is among those
who believe that war is imminent and prepare to take part in it.
What nonsense! Tell me that it is all nonsense. I need to hear you
Tranquilized by the affirmations of her lover, she then changed the
trend of the conversation. The possibility of their approaching
marriage brought to mind the object of the voyage which Desnoyers
had just made. There had not been time for them to write to each
other during their brief separation.
"Did you succeed in getting the money? The joy of seeing you made
me forget all about such things. . . ."
Adopting the air of a business expert, he replied that he had
brought back less than he expected, for he had found the country in
the throes of one of its periodical panics; but still he had managed
to get together about four hundred thousand francs. In his purse he
had a check for that amount. Later on, they would send him further
remittances. A ranchman in Argentina, a sort of relative, was
looking after his affairs. Marguerite appeared satisfied, and in
spite of her frivolity, adopted the air of a serious woman.
"Money, money!" she exclaimed sententiously. "And yet there is no
happiness without it! With your four hundred thousand and what I
have, we shall be able to get along. . . . I told you that my
husband wishes to give me back my dowry. He has told my brother so.
But the state of his business, and the increased size of his factory
do not permit him to return it as quickly as he would like. I can't
help but feel sorry for the poor man . . . so honorable and so
upright in every way. If he only were not so commonplace! . . ."
Again Marguerite seemed to regret these tardy spontaneous eulogies
which were chilling their interview. So again she changed the trend
of her chatter.
"And your family? Have you seen them?" . . .
Desnoyers had been to his father's home before starting for the
Chapelle Expiatoire. A stealthy entrance into the great house on
the avenue Victor Hugo, and then up to the first floor like a
tradesman. Then he had slipt into the kitchen like a soldier
sweetheart of the maids. His mother had come there to embrace him,
poor Dona Luisa, weeping and kissing him frantically as though she
had feared to lose him forever. Close behind her mother had come
Luisita, nicknamed Chichi, who always surveyed him with sympathetic
curiosity as if she wished to know better a brother so bad and
adorable who had led decent women from the paths of virtue, and
committed all kinds of follies. Then Desnoyers had been greatly
surprised to see entering the kitchen with the air of a tragedy
queen, a noble mother of the drama, his Aunt Elena, the one who had
married a German and was living in Berlin surrounded with
"She has been in Paris a month. She is going to make a little visit
to our castle. And it appears that her eldest son--my cousin, 'The
Sage,' whom I have not seen for years--is also coming here."
The home interview had several times been interrupted by fear.
"Your father is at home, be careful," his mother had said to him
each time that he had spoken above a whisper. And his Aunt Elena
had stationed herself at the door with a dramatic air, like a stage
heroine resolved to plunge a dagger into the tyrant who should dare
to cross the threshold. The entire family was accustomed to submit
to the rigid authority of Don Marcelo Desnoyers. "Oh, that old
man!" exclaimed Julio, referring to his father. "He may live many
years yet, but how he weighs upon us all!"
His mother, who had never wearied of looking at him, finally had to
bring the interview to an end, frightened by certain approaching
sounds. "Go, he might surprise us, and he would be furious." So
Julio had fled the paternal home, caressed by the tears of the two
ladies and the admiring glances of Chichi, by turns ashamed and
proud of a brother who had caused such enthusiasm and scandal among
Marguerite also spoke of Senor Desnoyers. A terrible tyrant of the
old school with whom they could never come to an understanding.
The two remained silent, looking fixedly at each other. Now that
they had said the things of greatest urgency, present interests
became more absorbing. More immediate things, unspoken, seemed to
well up in their timid and vacillating eyes, before escaping in the
form of words. They did not dare to talk like lovers here. Every
minute the cloud of witnesses seemed increasing around them. The
woman with the dogs and the red wig was passing with greater
frequency, shortening her turns through the square in order to greet
them with a smile of complicity. The reader of the daily paper was
now exchanging views with a friend on a neighboring bench regarding
the possibilities of war. The garden had become a thoroughfare.
The modistes upon going out from their establishments, and the
ladies returning from shopping, were crossing through the square in
order to shorten their walk. The little avenue was a popular short-
cut. All the pedestrians were casting curious glances at the
elegant lady and her companion seated in the shadow of the shrubbery
with the timid yet would-be natural look of those who desire to hide
themselves, yet at the same time feign a casual air.
"How exasperating!" sighed Marguerite. "They are going to find us
A girl looked at her so searchingly that she thought she recognized
in her an employee of a celebrated modiste. Besides, some of her
personal friends who had met her in the crowded shops but an hour
ago might be returning home by way of the garden.
"Let us go," she said rising hurriedly. "If they should spy us here
together, just think what they might say! . . . and just when they
are becoming a little forgetful!"
Desnoyers protested crossly. Go away? . . . Paris had become a
shrunken place for them nowadays because Marguerite refused to go to
a single place where there was a possibility of their being
surprised. In another square, in a restaurant, wherever they might
go--they would run the same risk of being recognized. She would
only consider meetings in public places, and yet at the same time,
dreaded the curiosity of the people. If Marguerite would like to go
to his studio of such sweet memories! . . .
"To your home? No! no indeed!" she replied emphatically "I cannot
forget the last time I was there."
But Julio insisted, foreseeing a break in that firm negative. Where
could they be more comfortable? Besides, weren't they going to
marry as soon as possible? . . .
"I tell you no," she repeated. "Who knows but my husband may be
watching me! What a complication for my divorce if he should
surprise us in your house!"
Now it was he who eulogized the husband, insisting that such
watchfulness was incompatible with his character. The engineer had
accepted the facts, considering them irreparable and was now
thinking only of reconstructing his life.
"No, it is better for us to separate," she continued. "Tomorrow we
shall see each other again. You will hunt a more favorable place.
Think it over, and you will find a solution for it all."
But he wished an immediate solution. They had abandoned their
seats, going slowly toward the rue des Mathurins. Julio was
speaking with a trembling and persuasive eloquence. To-morrow? No,
now. They had only to call a taxicab. It would be only a matter of
a few minutes, and then the isolation, the mystery, the return to a
sweet past--to that intimacy in the studio where they had passed
their happiest hours. They would believe that no time had elapsed
since their first meetings.
"No," she faltered with a weakening accent, seeking a last
resistance. "Besides, your secretary might be there, that Spaniard
who lives with you. How ashamed I would be to meet him again!"
Julio laughed. . . . Argensola! How could that comrade who knew
all about their past be an obstacle? If they should happen to meet
him in the house, he would be sure to leave immediately. More than
once, he had had to go out so as not to be in the way. His
discretion was such that he had foreseen events. Probably he had
already left, conjecturing that a near visit would be the most
logical thing. His chum would simply go wandering through the
streets in search of news.
Marguerite was silent, as though yielding on seeing her pretexts
exhausted. Desnoyers was silent, too, construing her stillness as
assent. They had left the garden and she was looking around
uneasily, terrified to find herself in the open street beside her
lover, and seeking a hiding-place. Suddenly she saw before her the
little red door of an automobile, opened by the hand of her adorer.
"Get in," ordered Julio.
And she climbed in hastily, anxious to hide herself as soon as
possible. The vehicle started at great speed. Marguerite
immediately pulled down the shade of the window on her side, but,
before she had finished and could turn her head, she felt a hungry
mouth kissing the nape of her neck.
"No, not here," she said in a pleading tone. "Let us be sensible!"
And while he, rebellious at these exhortations, persisted in his
advances, the voice of Marguerite again sounded above the noise of
the rattling machinery of the automobile as it bounded over the
"Do you really believe that there will be no war? Do you believe
that we will be able to marry? . . . Tell me again. I want you to
encourage me . . . I need to hear it from your lips."
MADARIAGA, THE CENTAUR
In 1870 Marcelo Desnoyers was nineteen years old. He was born in
the suburbs of Paris, an only child; his father, interested in
little building speculations, maintained his family in modest
comfort. The mason wished to make an architect of his son, and
Marcelo was in the midst of his preparatory studies when his father
suddenly died, leaving his affairs greatly involved. In a few
months, he and his mother descended the slopes of ruin, and were
obliged to give up their snug, middle-class quarters and live like
When the fourteen-year-old boy had to choose a trade, he learned
wood carving. This craft was an art related to the tastes awakened
in Marcelo by his abandoned studies. His mother retired to the
country, living with some relatives while the lad advanced rapidly
in the shops, aiding his master in all the important orders which he
received from the provinces. The first news of the war with Prussia
surprised him in Marseilles, working on the decorations of a
Marcelo was opposed to the Empire like all the youths of his
generation. He was also much influenced by the older workmen who
had taken part in the Republic of '48, and who still retained vivid
recollections of the Coup d'Etat of the second of December.
One day he saw in the streets of Marseilles a popular manifestation
in favor of peace which was practically a protest against the
government. The old republicans in their implacable struggle with
the Emperor, the companies of the International which had just been
organized, and a great number of Italians and Spaniards who had fled
their countries on account of recent insurrections, composed the
procession. A long-haired, consumptive student was carrying the
flag. "It is peace that we want--a peace which may unite all
mankind," chanted the paraders. But on this earth, the noblest
propositions are seldom heard, since Destiny amuses herself in
perverting them and turning them aside.
Scarcely had the friends of peace entered the rue Cannebiere with
their hymn and standard, when war came to meet them, obliging them
to resort to fist and club. The day before, some battalions of
Zouaves from Algiers had disembarked in order to reinforce the army
on the frontier, and these veterans, accustomed to colonial
existence and undiscriminating as to the cause of disturbances,
seized the opportunity to intervene in this manifestation, some with
bayonets and others with ungirded belts. "Hurrah for War!" and a
rain of lashes and blows fell upon the unarmed singers. Marcelo saw
the innocent student, the standard-bearer of peace, knocked down
wrapped in his flag, by the merry kicks of the Zouaves. Then he
knew no more, since he had received various blows with a leather
strap, and a knife thrust in his shoulder; he had to run the same as
That day developed for the first time, his fiery, stubborn
character, irritable before contradiction, even to the point of
adopting the most extreme resolution. "Down with War!" Since it
was not possible for him to protest in any other way, he would leave
the country. The Emperor might arrange his affairs as best he
could. The struggle was going to be long and disastrous, according
to the enemies of the Empire. If he stayed, he would in a few
months be drawn for the soldiery. Desnoyers renounced the honor of
serving the Emperor. He hesitated a little when he thought of his
mother. But his country relatives would not turn her out, and he
planned to work very hard and send her money. Who knew what riches
might be waiting for him, on the other side of the sea! . . . Good-
Thanks to his savings, a harbor official found it to his interest to
offer him the choice of three boats. One was sailing to Egypt,
another to Australia, another to Montevideo and Buenos Aires, which
made the strongest appeal to him? . . . Desnoyers, remembering his
readings, wished to consult the wind and follow the course that it
indicated, as he had seen various heroes of novels do. But that day
the wind blew from the sea toward France. He also wished to toss up
a coin in order to test his fate. Finally he decided upon the
vessel sailing first. Not until, with his scanty baggage, he was
actually on the deck of the next boat to anchor, did he take any
interest in its course--"For the Rio de la Plata." . . . And he
accepted these words with a fatalistic shrug. "Very well, let it be
South America!" The country was not distasteful to him, since he
knew it by certain travel publications whose illustrations
represented herds of cattle at liberty, half-naked, plumed Indians,
and hairy cowboys whirling over their heads serpentine lassos tipped
The millionaire Desnoyers never forgot that trip to America--forty-
three days navigating in a little worn-out steamer that rattled like
a heap of old iron, groaned in all its joints at the slightest
roughness of the sea, and had to stop four times for repairs, at the
mercy of the winds and waves.
In Montevideo, he learned of the reverses suffered by his country
and that the French Empire no longer existed. He felt a little
ashamed when he heard that the nation was now self-governing,
defending itself gallantly behind the walls of Paris. And he had
fled! . . . Months afterwards, the events of the Commune consoled
him for his flight. If he had remained, wrath at the national
downfall, his relations with his co-laborers, the air in which he
lived--everything would surely have dragged him along to revolt. In
that case, he would have been shot or consigned to a colonial prison
like so many of his former comrades.
So his determination crystallized, and he stopped thinking about the
affairs of his mother-country. The necessities of existence in a
foreign land whose language he was beginning to pick up made him
think only of himself. The turbulent and adventurous life of these
new nations compelled him to most absurd expedients and varied
occupations. Yet he felt himself strong with an audacity and self-
reliance which he never had in the old world. "I am equal to
everything," he said, "if they only give me time to prove it!"
Although he had fled from his country in order not to take up arms,
he even led a soldier's life for a brief period in his adopted land,
receiving a wound in one of the many hostilities between the whites
and reds in the unsettled districts.
In Buenos Aires, he again worked as a woodcarver. The city was
beginning to expand, breaking its shell as a large village.
Desnoyers spent many years ornamenting salons and facades. It was a
laborious existence, sedentary and remunerative. But one day he
became tired of this slow saving which could only bring him a
mediocre fortune after a long time. He had gone to the new world to
become rich like so many others. And at twenty-seven, he started
forth again, a full-fledged adventurer, avoiding the cities, wishing
to snatch money from untapped, natural sources. He worked farms in
the forests of the North, but the locusts obliterated his crops in a
few hours. He was a cattle-driver, with the aid of only two peons,
driving a herd of oxen and mules over the snowy solitudes of the
Andes to Bolivia and Chile. In this life, making journeys of many
months' duration, across interminable plains, he lost exact account
of time and space. Just as he thought himself on the verge of
winning a fortune, he lost it all by an unfortunate speculation.
And in a moment of failure and despair, being now thirty years old,
he became an employee of Julio Madariaga.
He knew of this rustic millionaire through his purchases of flocks--
a Spaniard who had come to the country when very young, adapting
himself very easily to its customs, and living like a cowboy after
he had acquired enormous properties. The country folk, wishing to
put a title of respect before his name, called him Don Madariaga.
"Comrade," he said to Desnoyers one day when he happened to be in a
good humor--a very rare thing for him--"you must have passed through
many ups and downs. Your lack of silver may be smelled a long ways
off. Why lead such a dog's life? Trust in me, Frenchy, and remain
here! I am growing old, and I need a man."
After the Frenchman had arranged to stay with Madariaga, every
landed proprietor living within fifteen or twenty leagues of the
ranch, stopped the new employee on the road to prophesy all sorts of
"You will not stay long. Nobody can get along with Don Madariaga.
We have lost count of his overseers. He is a man who must be killed
or deserted. Soon you will go, too!"
Desnoyers did not doubt but that there was some truth in all this.
Madariaga was an impossible character, but feeling a certain
sympathy with the Frenchman, had tried not to annoy him with his
"He's a regular pearl, this Frenchy," said the plainsman as though
trying to excuse himself for his considerate treatment of his latest
acquisition. "I like him because he is very serious. . . . That is
the way I like a man."
Desnoyers did not know exactly what this much-admired seriousness
could be, but he felt a secret pride in seeing him aggressive with
everybody else, even his family, whilst he took with him a tone of
The family consisted of his wife Misia Petrona (whom he always
called the China) and two grown daughters who had gone to school in
Buenos Aires, but on returning to the ranch had reverted somewhat to
their original rusticity.
Madariaga's fortune was enormous. He had lived in the field since
his arrival in America, when the white race had not dared to settle
outside the towns for fear of the Indians. He had gained his first
money as a fearless trader, taking merchandise in a cart from fort
to fort. He had killed Indians, was twice wounded by them, and for
a while had lived as a captive with an Indian chief whom he finally
succeeded in making his staunch friend. With his earnings, he had
bought land, much land, almost worthless because of its insecurity,
devoting it to the raising of cattle that he had to defend, gun in
hand, from the pirates of the plains.
Then he had married his China, a young half-breed who was running
around barefoot, but owned many of her forefathers' fields. They
had lived in an almost savage poverty on their property which would
have taken many a day's journey to go around. Afterwards, when the
government was pushing the Indians towards the frontiers, and
offering the abandoned lands for sale, considering it a patriotic
sacrifice on the part of any one wishing to acquire them, Madariaga
bought and bought at the lowest figure and longest terms. To get
possession of vast tracts and populate it with blooded stock became
the mission of his life. At times, galloping with Desnoyers through
his boundless fields, he was not able to repress his pride.
"Tell me something, Frenchy! They say that further up the country,
there are some nations about the size of my ranches. Is that so?" . . .
The Frenchman agreed. . . . The lands of Madariaga were indeed
greater than many principalities. This put the old plainsman in
rare good humor and he exclaimed in the cowboy vernacular which had
become second nature to him--"Then it wouldn't be absurd to proclaim
myself king some day? Just imagine it, Frenchy;--Don Madariaga, the
First. . . . The worst of it all is that I would also be the last,
for the China will not give me a son. . . . She is a weak cow!"
The fame of his vast territories and his wealth in stock reached
even to Buenos Aires. Every one knew of Madariaga by name, although
very few had seen him. When he went to the Capital, he passed
unnoticed because of his country aspect--the same leggings that he
was used to wearing in the fields, his poncho wrapped around him
like a muffler above which rose the aggressive points of a necktie,
a tormenting ornament imposed by his daughters, who in vain arranged
it with loving hands that he might look a little more respectable.
One day he entered the office of the richest merchant of the
"Sir, I know that you need some young bulls for the European market,
and I have come to sell you a few."
The man of affairs looked haughtily at the poor cowboy. He might
explain his errand to one of the employees, he could not waste his
time on such small matters. But the malicious grin on the rustic's
face awoke his curiosity.
"And how many are you able to sell, my good man?"
"About thirty thousand, sir."
It was not necessary to hear more. The supercilious merchant sprang
from his desk, and obsequiously offered him a seat.
"You can be no other than Don Madariaga."
"At the service of God and yourself, sir," he responded in the
manner of a Spanish countryman.
That was the most glorious moment of his existence.
In the outer office of the Directors of the Bank, the clerks offered
him a seat until the personage the other side of the door should
deign to receive him. But scarcely was his name announced than that
same director ran to admit him, and the employee was stupefied to
hear the ranchman say, by way of greeting, "I have come to draw out
three hundred thousand dollars. I have abundant pasturage, and I
wish to buy a ranch or two in order to stock them."
His arbitrary and contradictory character weighed upon the
inhabitants of his lands with both cruel and good-natured tyranny.
No vagabond ever passed by the ranch without being rudely assailed
by its owner from the outset.
"Don't tell me any of your hard-luck stories, friend," he would yell
as if he were going to beat him. "Under the shed is a skinned
beast; cut and eat as much as you wish and so help yourself to
continue your journey. . . . But no more of your yarns!"
And he would turn his back upon the tramp, after giving him a few
One day he became infuriated because a peon was nailing the wire
fencing too deliberately on the posts. Everybody was robbing him!
The following day he spoke of a large sum of money that he would
have to pay for having endorsed the note of an acquaintance,
completely bankrupt. "Poor fellow! His luck is worse than mine!"
Upon finding in the road the skeleton of a recently killed sheep, he
was beside himself with indignation. It was not because of the loss
of the meat. "Hunger knows no law, and God has made meat for
mankind to eat. But they might at least have left the skin!" . . .
And he would rage against such wickedness, always repeating, "Lack
of religion and good habits!" The next time, the bandits stripped
the flesh off of three cows, leaving the skins in full view, and the
ranchman said, smiling, "That is the way I like people, honorable
and doing no wrong."
His vigor as a tireless centaur had helped him powerfully in his
task of populating his lands. He was capricious, despotic and with
the same paternal instincts as his compatriots who, centuries before
when conquering the new world, had clarified its native blood. Like
the Castilian conquistadors, he had a fancy for copper-colored
beauty with oblique eyes and straight hair. When Desnoyers saw him
going off on some sudden pretext, putting his horse at full gallop
toward a neighboring ranch, he would say to himself, smilingly, "He
is going in search of a new peon who will help work his land fifteen
years from now."
The personnel of the ranch often used to comment on the resemblance
of certain youths laboring here the same as the others, galloping
from the first streak of dawn over the fields, attending to the
various duties of pasturing. The overseer, Celedonio, a half-breed
thirty years old, generally detested for his hard and avaricious
character, also bore a distant resemblance to the patron.
Almost every year, some woman from a great distance, dirty and bad-
faced, presented herself at the ranch, leading by the hand a little
mongrel with eyes like live coals. She would ask to speak with the
proprietor alone, and upon being confronted with her, he usually
recalled a trip made ten or twelve years before in order to buy a
herd of cattle.
"You remember, Patron, that you passed the night on my ranch because
the river had risen?"
The Patron did not remember anything about it. But a vague instinct
warned him that the woman was probably telling the truth. "Well,
what of it?"
"Patron, here he is. . . . It is better for him to grow to manhood
by your side than in any other place."
And she presented him with the little hybrid. One more, and offered
with such simplicity! . . . "Lack of religion and good habits!"
Then with sudden modesty, he doubted the woman's veracity. Why must
it necessarily be his? . . . But his wavering was generally short-
"If it's mine, put it with the others."
The mother went away tranquilly, seeing the youngster's future
assured, because this man so lavish in violence was equally so in
generosity. In time there would be a bit of land and a good flock
of sheep for the urchin.
These adoptions at first aroused in Misia Petrona a little
rebellion--the only ones of her life; but the centaur soon reduced
her to terrified silence.
"And you dare to complain of me, you weak cow! . . . A woman who
has only given me daughters. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
The same hand that negligently extracted from his pocket a wad of
bills rolled into a ball, giving them away capriciously without
knowing just how much, also wore a lash hanging from the wrist. It
was supposed to be for his horse, but it was used with equal
facility when any of his peons incurred his wrath.
"I strike because I can," he would say to pacify himself.
One day, the man receiving the blow, took a step backward, hunting
for the knife in his belt.
"You are not going to beat me, Patron. I was not born in these
parts. . . . I come from Corrientes."
The Patron remained with upraised thong. "Is it true that you were
not born here? . . . Then you are right; I cannot beat you. Here
are five dollars for you."
When Desnoyers came on the place, Madariaga was beginning to lose
count of those who were under his dominion in the old Latin sense,
and could take his blows. There were so many that confusion often
The Frenchman admired the Patron's expert eye for his business. It
was enough for him to contemplate for a few moments a herd of
cattle, to know its exact number. He would go galloping along with
an indifferent air, around an immense group of horned and stamping
beasts, and then would suddenly begin to separate the different
animals. He had discovered that they were sick. With a buyer like
Madariaga, all the tricks and sharp practice of the drovers came to
His serenity before trouble was also admirable. A drought suddenly
strewed his plains with dead cattle, making the land seem like an
abandoned battlefield. Everywhere great black hulks. In the air,
great spirals of crows coming from leagues away. At other times, it
was the cold; an unexpected drop in the thermometer would cover the
ground with dead bodies. Ten thousand animals, fifteen thousand,
perhaps more, all perished!
"WHAT a knock-out!" Madariaga would exclaim with resignation.
"Without such troubles, this earth would be a paradise. . . . Now,
the thing to do is to save the skins!"
And he would rail against the false pride of the emigrants, against
the new customs among the poor which prevented his securing enough
hands to strip the victims quickly, so that thousands of hides had
to be lost. Their bones whitened the earth like heaps of snow. The
peoncitos (little peons) went around putting the skulls of cows with
crumpled horns on the posts of the wire fences--a rustic decoration
which suggested a procession of Grecian lyres.
"It is lucky that the land is left, anyway!" added the ranchman.
He loved to race around his immense fields when they were beginning
to turn green in the late rains. He had been among the first to
convert these virgin wastes into rich meadow-lands, supplementing
the natural pasturage with alfalfa. Where one beast had found
sustenance before, he now had three. "The table is set," he would
chuckle, "we must now go in search of the guests." And he kept on
buying, at ridiculous prices, herds dying of hunger in others'
uncultivated fields, constantly increasing his opulent lands and
One morning Desnoyers saved his life. The old ranchman had raised
his lash against a recently arrived peon who returned the attack,
knife in hand. Madariaga was defending himself as best he could,
convinced from one minute to another that he was going to receive
the deadly knife-thrust--when Desnoyers arrived and, drawing his
revolver, overcame and disarmed the adversary.
"Thanks, Frenchy," said the ranchman, much touched. "You are an
all-round man, and I am going to reward you. From this day I shall
speak to you as I do to my family."
Desnoyers did not know just what this familiar talk might amount to,
for his employer was so peculiar. Certain personal favors,
nevertheless, immediately began to improve his position. He was no
longer allowed to eat in the administration building, the proprietor
insisting imperiously that henceforth Desnoyers should sit at his
own table, and thus he was admitted into the intimate life of the
The wife was always silent when her husband was present. She was
used to rising in the middle of the night in order to oversee the
breakfasts of the peons, the distribution of biscuit, and the
boiling of the great black kettles of coffee or shrub tea. She
looked after the chattering and lazy maids who so easily managed to
get lost in the nearby groves. In the kitchen, too, she made her
authority felt like a regular house-mistress, but the minute that
she heard her husband's voice she shrank into a respectful and
timorous silence. Upon sitting down at table, the China would look
at him with devoted submission, her great, round eyes fixed on him,
like an owl's. Desnoyers felt that in this mute admiration was
mingled great astonishment at the energy with which the ranchman,
already over seventy, was continuing to bring new occupants to live
on his demesne.
The two daughters, Luisa and Elena, accepted with enthusiasm the new
arrival who came to enliven the monotonous conversations in the
dining room, so often cut short by their father's wrathful
outbursts. Besides, he was from Paris. "Paris!" sighed Elena, the
younger one, rolling her eyes. And Desnoyers was henceforth
consulted in all matters of style every time they ordered any
"confections" from the shops of Buenos Aires.
The interior of the house reflected the different tastes of the two
generations. The girls had a parlor with a few handsome pieces of
furniture placed against the cracked walls, and some showy lamps
that were never lighted. The father, with his boorishness, often
invaded this room so cherished and admired by the two sisters,
making the carpets look shabby and faded under his muddy boot-
tracks. Upon the gilt centre-table, he loved to lay his lash.
Samples of maize scattered its grains over a silk sofa which the
young ladies tried to keep very choice, as though they feared it
Near the entrance to the dining room was a weighing machine, and
Madariaga became furious when his daughters asked him to remove it
to the offices. He was not going to trouble himself to go outside
every time that he wanted to know the weight of a leather skin! . . .
A piano came into the ranch, and Elena passed the hours
practising exercises with desperate good will. "Heavens and earth!
She might at least play the Jota or the Perican, or some other
lively Spanish dance!" And the irate father, at the hour of siesta,
betook himself to the nearby eucalyptus trees, to sleep upon his
This younger daughter whom he dubbed La Romantica, was the special
victim of his wrath and ridicule. Where had she picked up so many
tastes which he and his good China never had had? Music books were
piled on the piano. In a corner of the absurd parlor were some
wooden boxes that had held preserves, which the ranch carpenter had
been made to press into service as a bookcase.
"Look here, Frenchy," scoffed Madariaga. "All these are novels and
poems! Pure lies! . . . Hot air!"
He had his private library, vastly more important and glorious, and
occupying less space. In his desk, adorned with guns, thongs, and
chaps studded with silver, was a little compartment containing deeds
and various legal documents which the ranchman surveyed with great
"Pay attention, now and hear marvellous things," announced the
master to Desnoyers, as he took out one of his memorandum books.
This volume contained the pedigree of the famous animals which had
improved his breeds of stock, the genealogical trees, the patents of
nobility of his aristocratic beasts. He would have to read its
contents to him since he did not permit even his family to touch
these records. And with his spectacles on the end of his nose, he
would spell out the credentials of each animal celebrity. "Diamond
III, grandson of Diamond I, owned by the King of England, son of
Diamond II, winner in the races." His Diamond had cost him many
thousands, but the finest horses on the ranch, those which brought
the most marvellous prices, were his descendants.
"That horse had more sense than most people. He only lacked the
power to talk. He's the one that's stuffed, near the door of the
parlor. The girls wanted him thrown out. . . . Just let them dare
to touch him! I'd chuck them out first!"
Then he would continue reading the history of a dynasty of bulls
with distinctive names and a succession of Roman numbers, the same
as kings--animals acquired by the stubborn ranchman in the great
cattle fairs of England. He had never been there, but he had used
the cable in order to compete in pounds sterling with the British
owners who wished to keep such valuable stock in their own country.
Thanks to these blue-blooded sires that had crossed the ocean with
all the luxury of millionaire passengers, he had been able to
exhibit in the concourses of Buenos Aires animals which were
veritable towers of meat, edible elephants with their sides as fit
and sleek as a table.
"That book amounts to something! Don't you think so, Frenchy? It
is worth more than all those pictures of moons, lakes, lovers and
other gewgaws that my Romantica puts on the walls to catch the
And he would point out, in contrast, the precious diplomas which
were adorning his desk, the metal vases and other trophies won in
the fairs by the descendants of his blooded stock.
Luisa, the elder daughter, called Chicha, in the South American
fashion, was much more respected by her father. "She is my poor
China right over again," he said, "the same good nature, and the
same faculty for work, but more of a lady." Desnoyers entirely
agreed with him, and yet the father's description seemed to him weak
and incomplete. He could not admit that the pale, modest girl with
the great black eyes and smile of childish mischief bore the
slightest resemblance to the respectable matron who had brought her
The great fiesta for Chicha was the Sunday mass. It represented a
journey of three leagues to the nearest village, a weekly contact
with people unlike those of the ranch. A carriage drawn by four
horses took the senora and the two senoritas in the latest suits and
hats arrived, via Buenos Aires, from Europe. At the suggestion of
Chicha, Desnoyers accompanied them in the capacity of driver.
The father remained at home, taking advantage of this opportunity to
survey his fields in their Sunday solitude, thus keeping a closer
oversight on the shiftlessness of his hands. He was very religious--
"Religion and good manners, you know." But had he not given
thousands of dollars toward building the neighboring church? A man
of his fortune should not be submitted to the same obligations as
During the Sunday lunch the young ladies were apt to make comments
upon the persons and merits of the young men of the village and
neighboring ranches, who had lingered at the church door in order to
chat with them.
"Don't fool yourselves, girls!" observed the father shrewdly. "You
believe that they want you for your elegance, don't you? . . . What
those shameless fellows really want are the dollars of old
Madariaga, and once they had them, they would probably give you a
For a while the ranch received numerous visitors. Some were young
men of the neighborhood who arrived on spirited steeds, performing
all kinds of tricks of fancy horsemanship. They wanted to see Don
Julio on the most absurd pretexts, and at the same time improved the
opportunity to chat with Chicha and Luisa. At other times they were
youths from Buenos Aires asking for a lodging at the ranch, as they
were just passing by. Don Madariaga would growl--
"Another good-for-nothing scamp who comes in search of the Spanish
ranchman! If he doesn't move on soon . . . I'll kick him out!"
But the suitor did not stand long on the order of his going,
intimidated by the ominous silence of the Patron. This silence, of
late, had persisted in an alarming manner, in spite of the fact that
the ranch was no longer receiving visitors. Madariaga appeared
abstracted, and all the family, including Desnoyers, respected and
feared this taciturnity. He ate, scowling, with lowered head.
Suddenly he would raise his eyes, looking at Chicha, then at
Desnoyers, finally fixing them upon his wife as though asking her to
give an account of things.
His Romantica simply did not exist for him. The only notice that he
ever took of her was to give an ironical snort when he happened to
see her leaning at sunset against the doorway, looking at the
reddening glow--one elbow on the door frame and her cheek in her
hand, in imitation of the posture of a certain white lady that she
had seen in a chromo, awaiting the knight of her dreams.
Desnoyers had been five years in the house when one day he entered
his master's private office with the brusque air of a timid person
who has suddenly reached a decision.
"Don Julio, I am going to leave and I would like our accounts
Madariaga looked at him slyly. "Going to leave, eh? . . . What
for?" But in vain he repeated his questions. The Frenchman was
floundering through a series of incoherent explanations--"I'm going;
I've got to go."
"Ah, you thief, you false prophet!" shouted the ranchman in
But Desnoyers did not quail before the insults. He had often heard
his Patron use these same words when holding somebody up to
ridicule, or haggling with certain cattle drovers.
"Ah, you thief, you false prophet! Do you suppose that I do not
know why you are going? Do you suppose old Madariaga has not seen
your languishing looks and those of my dead fly of a daughter,
clasping each others' hands in the presence of poor China who is
blinded in her judgment? . . . It's not such a bad stroke, Frenchy.
By it, you would be able to get possession of half of the old
Spaniard's dollars, and then say that you had made it in America.
And while he was storming, or rather howling, all this, he had
grasped his lash and with the butt end kept poking his manager in
the stomach with such insistence that it might be construed in an
affectionate or hostile way.
"For this reason I have come to bid you good-bye," said Desnoyers
haughtily. "I know that my love is absurd, and I wish to leave."
"The gentleman would go away," the ranchman continued spluttering.
"The gentleman believes that here one can do what one pleases! No,
siree! Here nobody commands but old Madariaga, and I order you to
stay. . . . Ah, these women! They only serve to antagonize men.
And yet we can't live without them!" . . .
He took several turns up and down the room, as though his last words
were making him think of something very different from what he had
just been saying. Desnoyers looked uneasily at the thong which was
still hanging from his wrist. Suppose he should attempt to whip him
as he did the peons? . . . He was still undecided whether to hold
his own against a man who had always treated him with benevolence
or, while his back was turned, to take refuge in discreet flight,
when the ranchman planted himself before him.
"You really love her, really?" he asked. "Are you sure that she
loves you? Be careful what you say, for love is blind and
deceitful. I, too, when I married my China was crazy about her. Do
you love her, honestly and truly? . . . Well then, take her, you
devilish Frenchy. Somebody has to take her, and may she not turn
out a weak cow like her mother! . . . Let us have the ranch full of
In voicing this stock-raiser's wish, again appeared the great
breeder of beasts and men. And as though he considered it necessary
to explain his concession, he added--"I do all this because I like
you; and I like you because you are serious."
Again the Frenchman was plunged in doubt, not knowing in just what
this greatly appreciated seriousness consisted.
At his wedding, Desnoyers thought much of his mother. If only the
poor old woman could witness this extraordinary stroke of good
fortune! But she had died the year before, believing her son
enormously rich because he had been sending her sixty dollars every
month, taken from the wages that he had earned on the ranch.
Desnoyers' entrance into the family made his father-in-law pay less
attention to business.
City life, with all its untried enchantments and snares, now
attracted Madariaga, and he began to speak with contempt of country
women, poorly groomed and inspiring him with disgust. He had given
up his cowboy attire, and was displaying with childish satisfaction,
the new suits in which a tailor of the Capital was trying to
disguise him. When Elena wished to accompany him to Buenos Aires,
he would wriggle out of it, trumping up some absorbing business.
"No; you go with your mother."
The fate of his fields and flocks gave him no uneasiness. His
fortune, managed by Desnoyers, was in good hands.
"He is very serious," again affirmed the old Spaniard to his family
assembled in the dining roam--"as serious as I am. . . . Nobody can
make a fool of him!"
And finally the Frenchman concluded that when his father-in-law
spoke of seriousness he was referring to his strength of character.
According to the spontaneous declaration of Madariaga, he had, from
the very first day that he had dealings with Desnoyers, perceived in
him a nature like his own, more hard and firm perhaps, but without
splurges of eccentricities. On this account he had treated him with
such extraordinary circumspection, foreseeing that a clash between
the two could never be adjusted. Their only disagreements were
about the expenses established by Madariaga during his regime.
Since the son-in-law was managing the ranches, the work was costing
less, and the people working more diligently;--and that, too,
without yells, and without strong words and deeds, with only his
presence and brief orders.
The old man was the only one defending the capricious system of a
blow followed by a gift. He revolted against a minute and
mechanical administration, always the same, without any arbitrary
extravagance or good-natured tyranny. Very frequently some of the
half-breed peons whom a malicious public supposed to be closely
related to the ranchman, would present themselves before Desnoyers
with, "Senor Manager, the old Patron say that you are to give me
five dollars." The Senor Manager would refuse, and soon after
Madariaga would rush in in a furious temper, but measuring his
words, nevertheless, remembering that his son-in-law's disposition
was as serious as his own.
"I like you very much, my son, but here no one overrules me. . . .
Ah, Frenchy, you are like all the rest of your countrymen! Once you
get your claws on a penny, it goes into your stocking, and nevermore
sees the light of day, even though they crucify you. . . ! Did I
say five dollars? Give him ten. I command it and that is enough."
The Frenchman paid, shrugging his shoulders, whilst his father-in-
law, satisfied with his triumph, fled to Buenos Aires. It was a
good thing to have it well understood that the ranch still belonged
to Madariaga, the Spaniard.
From one of these trips, he returned with a companion, a young
German who, according to him, knew everything and could do
everything. His son-in-law was working too hard. This Karl
Hartrott would assist him in the bookkeeping. Desnoyers accepted
the situation, and in a few days felt increasing esteem for the new
Although they belonged to two unfriendly nations, it didn't matter.
There are good people everywhere, and this Karl was a subordinate
worth considering. He kept his distance from his equals, and was
hard and inflexible toward his inferiors. All his faculties seemed
concentrated in service and admiration for those above him.
Scarcely would Madariaga open his lips before the German's head
began nodding in agreement, anticipating his words. If he said
anything funny, his clerk's laugh would break forth in scandalous
roars. With Desnoyers he appeared more taciturn, working without
stopping for hours at a time. As soon as he saw the manager
entering the office he would leap from his seat, holding himself
erect with military precision. He was always ready to do anything
whatever. Unasked, he spied on the workmen, reporting their
carelessness and mistakes. This last service did not especially
please his superior officer, but he appreciated it as a sign of
interest in the establishment.
The old man bragged triumphantly of the new acquisition, urging his
son-in-law also to rejoice.
"A very useful fellow, isn't he? . . . These gringoes from Germany
work well, know a good many things and cost little. Then, too, so
disciplined! so servile! . . . I am sorry to praise him so to you
because you are a Frenchy, and your nation has in them a very
powerful enemy. His people are a hard-shelled race."
Desnoyers replied with a shrug of indifference. His country was far
away, and so was Germany. Who knew if they would ever return! . . .
They were both Argentinians now, and ought to interest themselves in
present affairs and not bother about the past.
"And how little pride they have!" sneered Madariaga in an ironical
tone. "Every one of these gringoes when he is a clerk at the
Capital sweeps the shop, prepares the meals, keeps the books, sells
to the customers, works the typewriter, translates four or five
languages, and dances attendance on the proprietor's lady friend, as
though she were a grand senora . . . all for twenty-five dollars a
month. Who can compete with such people! You, Frenchy, you are
like me, very serious, and would die of hunger before passing
through certain things. But, mark my words, on this very account
they are going to become a terrible people!"
After brief reflection, the ranchman added:
"Perhaps they are not so good as they seem. Just see how they treat
those under them! It may be that they affect this simplicity
without having it, and when they grin at receiving a kick, they are