Part 8 out of 8
A year passed by while his watch was registering a single second,
then a century at the same rate . . . and finally the awaited
thunder burst forth, making the refuge vibrate, but with a kind of
dull elasticity, as though it were made of rubber. In spite of its
thud, the explosion wrought horrible damage. Other minor
explosions, playful and whistling, followed behind the first. In
his imagination, Lacour saw the cataclysm--a writhing serpent,
vomiting sparks and smoke, a species of Wagnerian monster that upon
striking the ground was disgorging thousands of fiery little snakes,
that were covering the earth with their deadly contortions. . . .
The shell must have burst nearby, perhaps in the very square
occupied by this battery.
He came out of the shelter, expecting to encounter a sickening
display of dismembered bodies, and he saw his son smiling, smoking a
cigar and talking with Desnoyers. . . . That was a mere nothing!
The gunners were tranquilly finishing the charging of a huge piece.
They had raised their eyes for a moment as the enemy's shell went
screaming by, and then had continued their work.
"It must have fallen about three hundred yards away," said Rene
The senator, impressionable soul, felt suddenly filled with heroic
confidence. It was not worth while to bother about his personal
safety when other men--just like him, only differently dressed--were
not paying the slightest attention to the danger.
And as the other projectiles soared over his head to lose themselves
in the woods with the explosions of a volcano, he remained by his
son's side, with no other sign of tension than a slight trembling of
the knees. It seemed to him now that it was only the French
missiles--because they were on his side--that were hitting the
bull's eye. The others must be going up in the air and losing
themselves in useless noise. Of just such illusions is valor often
compounded! . . . "And is that all?" his eyes seemed to be asking.
He now recalled rather shamefacedly his retreat to the shelter; he
was beginning to feel that he could live in the open, the same as
The German missiles were getting considerably more frequent. They
were no longer lost in the wood, and their detonations were sounding
nearer and nearer. The two officials exchanged glances. They were
responsible for the safety of their distinguished charge.
"Now they are warming up," said one of them.
Rene, as though reading their thoughts, prepared to go. "Good-bye,
father!" They were needing him in his battery. The senator tried
to resist; he wished to prolong the interview, but found that he was
hitting against something hard and inflexible that repelled all his
influence. A senator amounted to very little with people accustomed
to discipline. "Farewell, my boy! . . . All success to you! . . .
Remember who you are!"
The father wept as he embraced his son, lamenting the brevity of the
interview, and thinking of the dangers awaiting him.
When Rene had disappeared, the captains again recommended their
departure. It was getting late; they ought to reach a certain
cantonment before nightfall. So they went down the hill in the
shelter of a cut in the mountain, seeing the enemy's shells flying
high above them.
In a hollow, they came upon several groups of the famed seventy-
fives spread about through the woods, hidden by piles of underbrush,
like snapping dogs, howling and sticking up their gray muzzles. The
great cannon were roaring only at intervals, while the steel pack of
hounds were yelping incessantly without the slightest break in their
noisy wrath--like the endless tearing of a piece of cloth. The
pieces were many, the volleys dizzying, and the shots uniting in one
prolonged shriek, as a series of dots unite to form a single line.
The chiefs, stimulated by the din, were giving their orders in
yells, and waving their arms from behind the pieces. The cannon
were sliding over the motionless gun carriages, advancing and
receding like automatic pistols. Each charge dropped an empty
shell, and introduced a fresh one into the smoking chamber.
Behind the battery, the air was racking in furious waves. With
every shot, Lacour and his companion received a blow on the breast,
the violent contact with an invisible hand, pushing them backward
and forward. They had to adjust their breathing to the rhythm of
the concussions. During the hundredth part of a second, between the
passing of one aerial wave and the advance of the next, their chests
felt the agony of vacuum. Desnoyers admired the baying of those
gray dogs. He knew well their bite, extending across many
kilometres. Now they were fresh and at home in their own kennels.
To Lacour it seemed as though the rows of cannon were chanting a
measure, monotonous and fiercely impassioned that must be the
martial hymn of the humanity of prehistoric times. This music of
dry, deafening, delirious notes was awakening in the two what is
sleeping in the depths of every soul--the savagery of a remote
ancestry. The air was hot with acrid odors, pungent and brutishly
intoxicating. The perfumes from the explosions were penetrating to
the brain through the mouth, the eyes and the ears.
They began to be infected with the same ardor as the directors,
shouting and swinging their arms in the midst of the thundering.
The empty capsules were mounting up in thick layers behind the
cannon. Fire! . . . always, fire!
"We must sprinkle them well," yelled the chiefs. "We must give a
good soaking to the groves where the Boches are hidden."
So the mouths of '75 rained without interruption, inundating the
remote thickets with their shells.
Inflamed by this deadly activity, frenzied by the destructive
celerity, dominated by the dizzying sway of the ruby leaves, Lacour
and Desnoyers found themselves waving their hats, leaping from one
side to another as though they were dancing the sacred dance of
death, and shouting with mouths dry from the acrid vapor of the
powder. . . . "Hurrah! . . . Hurrah!"
The automobile rode all the afternoon long, stopping only when it
met long files of convoys. It traversed uncultivated fields with
skeletons of dwellings, and ran through burned towns which were no
more than a succession of blackened facades.
"Now it is your turn," said the senator to Desnoyers. "We are going
to see your son."
At nightfall, they ran across groups of infantry, soldiers with long
beards and blue uniforms discolored by the inclemency of the
weather. They were returning from the intrenchments, carrying over
the hump of their knapsacks, spades, picks and other implements for
removing the ground, that had acquired the importance of arms of
combat. They were covered with mud from head to foot. All looked
old in full youth. Their joy at returning to the cantonment after a
week in the trenches, made them fill the silence of the plain with
songs in time to the tramp of their nailed boots. Through the
violet twilight drifted the winged strophes of the Marseillaise, or
the heroic affirmations of the Chant du Depart.
"They are the soldiers of the Revolution," exclaimed Lacour with
enthusiasm. "France has returned to 1792."
The two captains established their charges for the night in a half-
ruined town where one of their divisions had its headquarters, and
then took their leave. Others would act as their escort the
The two friends were lodging in the Hotel de la Siren, an old inn
with its front gnawed by shell-fire. The proprietor showed them
with pride a window broken in the form of a crater. This window had
made the old tavern sign--a woman of iron with the tail of a fish--
sink into insignificance. As Desnoyers was occupying the room next
to the one that had received the mark of the shell, the inn-keeper
was anxious to point it out to them before they went to bed.
Everything was broken--walls, floor, roof. The furniture, a pile of
splinters in the corner; the flowered wall paper, a fringe of
tatters hanging from the walls. Through an enormous hole they could
see the stars and feel the chill of the night. The owner stated
that this destruction was not the work of the Germans, but was
caused by a projectile from one of the seventy-fives when repelling
the invaders from the village. And he beamed on the ruin with
patriotic pride, repeating:
"There's a sample of French marksmanship for you! How do you like
the workings of the seventy-fives? . . . What do you think of that
now? . . ."
In spite of the fatigue of the journey, Don Marcelo slept badly,
excited by the thought that his son was not far away.
An hour before daybreak, they left the village, in an automobile,
guided by another official. On both sides of the road, they saw
camps and camps. They left behind the parks of munitions, passed
the third line of troops, and then the second. Thousands and
thousands of men were bivouacking there in the open, improvising as
best they could their habitations. These human ant-hills seemed
vaguely to recall, with the variety of uniforms and races, some of
the mighty invasions of history; but it was not a nation en marche.
The exodus of people takes with it the women and children. Here
there were nothing but men, men everywhere.
All kinds of housing ever used by humanity were here utilized, these
military assemblages beginning with the cave. Caverns and quarries
were serving as barracks. Some low huts recalled the American
ranch; others, high and conical, were facsimiles of the gurbi of
Africa. Many of the soldiers had come from the colonies; some had
been living as business men in the new world, and upon having to
provide a house more stable than the canvas tent, had recalled the
architecture of the tribes with which they had had dealings. In
this conglomerate of combatants, there were also Moors, blacks and
Asiatics who were accustomed to live outside the cities and had
acquired in the open a physical superiority which made them more
masterful than the civilized peoples.
Near the river beds was flapping white clothing hung out to dry.
Rows of men with bared breasts were out in the morning freshness,
leaning over the streams, washing themselves with noisy ablutions
followed by vigorous rubbings. . . . On a bridge was a soldier
writing, utilizing a parapet as a table. . . . The cooks were
moving around their savory kettles, and a warm exhalation of morning
soup was mixed with the resinous perfume of the trees and the smell
of the damp earth.
Long, low barracks of wood and zinc served the cavalry and artillery
for their animals and stores. In the open air, the soldiers were
currying and shoeing the glossy, plump horses which the trench-war
was maintaining in placid obesity.
"If they had only been like that at the battle of the Marne!" sighed
Desnoyers to his friend.
Now the cavalry was leading an existence of interminable rest. The
troopers were fighting on foot, and finding it necessary to exercise
their steeds to keep them from getting sick with their full mangers.
There were spread over the fields several aeroplanes, like great,
gray dragon flies, poised for the flight. Many of the men were
grouped around them. The farmers, transformed into soldiers, were
watching with great admiration their comrade charged with the
management of these machines. They looked upon him as one of the
wizards so venerated and feared in all the countryside.
Don Marcelo was struck by the general transformation in the French
uniforms. All were now clad in gray-blue, from head to foot. The
trousers of bright scarlet cloth, the red kepis which he had hailed
with such joy in the expedition of the Marne, no longer existed.
All the men passing along the roads were soldiers. All the
vehicles, even the ox-carts, were guided by military men.
Suddenly the automobile stopped before some ruined houses blackened
"Here we are," announced the official. "Now we shall have to walk a
The senator and his friend started along the highway.
"Not that way, no!" the guide turned to say grimly. "That road is
bad for the health. We must keep out of the currents of air."
He further explained that the Germans had their cannon and
intrenchments at the end of this highroad which sloped suddenly and
again appeared as a white ribbon on the horizon line between two
rows of trees and burned houses. The pale morning light with its
hazy mist was sheltering them from the enemy's fire. On a sunny
day, the arrival of their automobile would have been saluted with a
shell. "That is war," he concluded. "One is always near to death
without seeing it."
The two recalled the warning of the general with whom they had dined
the day before: "Be very careful! The war of the trenches is
In the sweep of plains unrolled before them, not a man was visible.
It seemed like a country Sunday, when the farmers are in their
homes, and the land scene lying in silent meditation. Some
shapeless objects could be seen in the fields, like agricultural
implements deserted for a day of rest. Perhaps they were broken
automobiles, or artillery carriages destroyed by the force of their
"This way," said the officer who had added four soldiers to the
party to carry the various bags and packages which Desnoyers had
brought out on the roof of the automobile.
They proceeded in a single file the length of a wall of blackened
bricks, down a steep hill. After a few steps the surface of the
ground was about to their knees; further on, up to their waists, and
thus they disappeared within the earth, seeing above their heads,
only a narrow strip of sky. They were now under the open field,
having left behind them the mass of ruins that hid the entrance of
the road. They were advancing in an absurd way, as though they
scorned direct lines--in zig-zags, in curves, in angles. Other
pathways, no less complicated, branched off from this ditch which
was the central avenue of an immense subterranean cavity. They
walked . . . and walked . . . and walked. A quarter of an hour went
by, a half, an entire hour. Lacour and his friend thought longingly
of the roadways flanked with trees, of their tramp in the open air
where they could see the sky and meadows. They were not going
twenty steps in the same direction. The official marching ahead was
every moment vanishing around a new bend. Those who were coming
behind were panting and talking unseen, having to quicken their
steps in order not to lose sight of the party. Every now and then
they had to halt in order to unite and count the little band, to
make sure that no one had been lost in a transverse gallery. The
ground was exceedingly slippery, in some places almost liquid mud,
white and caustic like the drip from the scaffolding of a house in
the course of construction.
The thump of their footsteps, and the friction of their shoulders,
brought down chunks of earth and smooth stones from the sides.
Little by little they climbed through the main artery of this
underground body and the veins connected with it. Again they were
near the surface where it required but little effort to see the blue
above the earth-works. But here the fields were uncultivated,
surrounded with wire fences, yet with the same appearance of Sabbath
calm. Knowing by sad experience, what curiosity oftentimes cost,
the official would not permit them to linger here. "Keep right
ahead! Forward march!"
For an hour and a half the party kept doggedly on until the senior
members became greatly bewildered and fatigued by their serpentine
meanderings. They could no longer tell whether they were advancing
or receding, the sudden steeps and the continual turning bringing on
an attack of vertigo.
"Have we much further to go?" asked the senator.
"There!" responded the guide pointing to some heaps of earth above
them. "There" was a bell tower surrounded by a few charred houses
that could be seen a long ways off--the remains of a hamlet which
had been taken and retaken by both sides.
By going in a direct line on the surface they would have compassed
this distance in half an hour. To the angles of the underground
road, arranged to impede the advance of an enemy, there had been
added the obstacles of campaign fortification, tunnels cut with wire
lattice work, large hanging cages of wire which, on falling, could
block the passage and enable the defenders to open fire across their
They began to meet soldiers with packs and pails of water who were
soon lost in the tortuous cross roads. Some, seated on piles of
wood, were smiling as they read a little periodical published in the
The soldiers stepped aside to make way for the visiting procession,
bearded and curious faces peeping out of the alleyways. Afar off
sounded a crackling of short snaps as though at the end of the
winding lanes were a shooting lodge where a group of sportsmen were
The morning was still cloudy and cold. In spite of the humid
atmosphere, a buzzing like that of a horsefly, hummed several times
above the two visitors.
"Bullets!" said their conductor laconically.
Desnoyers meanwhile had lowered his head a little. he knew
perfectly well that insectivorous sound. The senator walked on more
briskly, temporarily forgetting his weariness.
They came to a halt before a lieutenant-colonel who received them
like an engineer exhibiting his workshops, like a naval officer
showing off the batteries and turrets of his battleships. He was
the Chief of the battalion occupying this section of the trenches.
Don Marcelo studied him with special interest, knowing that his son
was under his orders.
To the two friends, these subterranean fortifications bore a certain
resemblance to the lower parts of a vessel. They passed from trench
to trench of the last line, the oldest--dark galleries into which
penetrated streaks of light across the loopholes and broad, low
windows of the mitrailleuse. The long line of defense formed a
tunnel cut by short, open spaces. They had to go stumbling from
light to darkness, and from darkness to light with a visual
suddenness very fatiguing to the eyes. The ground was higher in the
open spaces. There were wooden benches placed against the sides so
that the observers could put out the head or examine the landscape
by means of the periscope. The enclosed space answered both for
batteries and sleeping quarters.
As the enemy had been repelled and more ground had been gained, the
combatants who had been living all winter in these first quarters,
had tried to make themselves more comfortable. Over the trenches in
the open air, they had laid beams from the ruined houses; over the
beams, planks, doors and windows, and on top of the wood, layers of
sacks of earth. These sacks were covered by a top of fertile soil
from which sprouted grass and herbs, giving the roofs of the
trenches, an appearance of pastoral placidity. The temporary arches
could thus resist the shock of the obuses which went ploughing into
the earth without causing any special damage. When an explosion was
pounding too noisily and weakening the structure, the troglodytes
would swarm out in the night like watchful ants, and skilfully
readjust the roof of their primitive dwellings.
Everything appeared clean with that simple and rather clumsy
cleanliness exercised by men living far from women and thrown upon
their own resources. The galleries were something like the
cloisters of a monastery, the corridors of a prison, and the middle
sections of a ship. Their floors were a half yard lower than that
of the open spaces which joined the trenches together. In order
that the officers might avoid so many ups and downs, some planks had
been laid, forming a sort of scaffolding from doorway to doorway.
Upon the approach of their Chief, the soldiers formed themselves in
line, their heads being on a level with the waist of those passing
over the planks. Desnoyers ran his eye hungrily over the file of
men. Where could Julio be? . . .
He noticed the individual contour of the different redoubts. They
all seemed to have been constructed in about the same way, but their
occupants had modified them with their special personal decorations.
The exteriors were always cut with loopholes in which there were
guns pointed toward the enemy, and windows for the mitrailleuses.
The watchers near these openings were looking over the lonely
landscape like quartermasters surveying the sea from the bridge.
Within were the armories and the sleeping rooms--three rows of
berths made with planks like the beds of seamen. The desire for
artistic ornamentation which even the simplest souls always feel,
had led to the embellishment of the underground dwellings. Each
soldier had a private museum made with prints from the papers and
colored postcards. Photographs of soubrettes and dancers with their
painted mouths smiled from the shiny cardboard, enlivening the
chaste aspect of the redoubt.
Don Marcelo was growing more and more impatient at seeing so many
hundreds of men, but no Julio. The senator, complying with his
imploring glance, spoke a few words to the chief preceding him with
an aspect of great deference. The official had at first to think
very hard to recall Julio to mind, but he soon remembered the
exploits of Sergeant Desnoyers. "An excellent soldier," he said.
"He will be sent for immediately, Senator Lacour. . . . He is on
duty now with his section in the first line trenches."
The father, in his anxiety to see him, proposed that they betake
themselves to that advanced site, but his petition made the Chief
and the others smile. Those open trenches within a hundred or fifty
yards from the enemy, with no other defence but barbed wire and
sacks of earth, were not for the visits of civilians. They were
always filled with mud; the visitors would have to crawl around
exposed to bullets and under the dropping chunks of earth loosened
by the shells. None but the combatants could get around in these
"It is always dangerous there," said the Chief. "There is always
random shooting. . . . Just listen to the firing!"
Desnoyers indeed perceived a distant crackling that he had not noted
before, and he felt an added anguish at the thought that his son
must be in the thick of it. Realization of the dangers to which he
must be daily exposed, now stood forth in high relief. What if he
should die in the intervening moments, before he could see him? . . .
Time dragged by with desperate sluggishness for Don Marcelo. It
seemed to him that the messenger who had been despatched for him
would never arrive. He paid scarcely any attention to the affairs
which the Chief was so courteously showing them--the caverns which
served the soldiers as toilet rooms and bathrooms of most primitive
arrangement, the cave with the sign, "Cafe de la Victoire," another
in fanciful lettering, "Theatre." . . . Lacour was taking a lively
interest in all this, lauding the French gaiety which laughs and
sings in the presence of danger, while his friend continued brooding
about Julio. When would he ever see him?
They stopped near one of the embrasures of a machine-gun position
stationing themselves at the recommendations of the soldiers, on
both sides of the horizontal opening, keeping their bodies well
back, but putting their heads far enough forward to look out with
one eye. They saw a very deep excavation and the opposite edge of
ground. A short distance away were several rows of X's of wood
united by barbed wire, forming a compact fence. About three hundred
feet further on, was a second wire fence. There reigned a profound
silence here, a silence of absolute loneliness as though the world
"There are the trenches of the Boches," said the Commandant, in a
"Where?" asked the senator, making an effort to see.
The Chief pointed to the second wire fence which Lacour and his
friend had supposed belonged to the French. It was the German
"We are only a hundred yards away from them," he continued, "but for
some time they have not been attacking from this side."
The visitors were greatly moved at learning that the foe was such a
short distance off, hidden in the ground in a mysterious
invisibility which made it all the more terrible. What if they
should pop out now with their saw-edged bayonets, fire-breathing
liquids and asphyxiating bombs to assault this stronghold! . . .
From this window they could observe more clearly the intensity of
the firing on the outer line. The shots appeared to be coming
nearer. The Commandant brusquely ordered them to leave their
observatory, fearing that the fire might become general. The
soldiers, with their customary promptitude, without receiving any
orders, approached their guns which were in horizontal position,
pointing through the loopholes.
Again the visitors walked in single file, going down into cavernous
spaces that had been the old wine-cellars of former houses. The
officers had taken up their abode in these dens, utilizing all the
residue of the ruins. A street door on two wooden horses served as
a table; the ceilings and walls were covered with cretonnes from the
Paris warehouses; photographs of women and children adorned the side
wall between the nickeled glitter of telegraphic and telephonic
Desnoyers saw above one door an ivory crucifix, yellowed with years,
probably with centuries, transmitted from generation to generation,
that must have witnessed many agonies of soul. In another den he
noticed in a conspicuous place, a horseshoe with seven holes.
Religious creeds were spreading their wings very widely in this
atmosphere of danger and death, and yet at the same time, the most
grotesque superstitions were acquiring new values without any one
laughing at them.
Upon leaving one of the cells, in the middle of an open space, the
yearning father met his son. He knew that it must be Julio by the
Chief's gesture and because the smiling soldier was coming toward
him, holding out his hands; but this time his paternal instinct
which he had heretofore considered an infallible thing, had given
him no warning. How could he recognize Julio in that sergeant whose
feet were two cakes of moist earth, whose faded cloak was a mass of
tatters covered with mud, even up to the shoulders, smelling of damp
wool and leather? . . . After the first embrace, he drew back his
head in order to get a good look at him without letting go of him.
His olive pallor had turned to a bronze tone. He was growing a
beard, a beard black and curly, which reminded Don Marcelo of his
father-in-law. The centaur, Madariaga, had certainly come to life
in this warrior hardened by camping in the open air. At first, the
father grieved over his dirty and tired aspect, but a second glance
made him sure that he was now far more handsome and interesting than
in his days of society glory.
"What do you need? . . . What do you want?"
His voice was trembling with tenderness. He was speaking to the
tanned and robust combatant in the same tone that he was wont to use
twenty years ago when, holding the child by the hand, he had halted
before the preserve cupboards of Buenos Aires.
"Would you like money? . . ."
He had brought a large sum with him to give to his son, but the
soldier gave a shrug of indifference as though he had offered him a
plaything. He had never been so rich as at this moment; he had a
lot of money in Paris and he didn't know what to do with it--he
didn't need anything.
"Send me some cigars . . . for me and my comrades."
He was constantly receiving from his mother great baskets full of
choice goodies, tobacco and clothing. But he never kept anything;
all was passed on to his fellow-warriors, sons of poor families or
alone in the world. His munificence had spread from his intimates
to the company, and from that to the entire battalion. Don Marcelo
divined his great popularity in the glances and smiles of the
soldiers passing near them. He was the generous son of a
millionaire, and this popularity seemed to include even him when the
news went around that the father of Sergeant Desnoyers had arrived--
a potentate who possessed fabulous wealth on the other side of the
"I guessed that you would want cigars," chuckled the old man.
And his gaze sought the bags brought from the automobile through the
windings of the underground road.
All of the son's valorous deeds, extolled and magnified by
Argensola, now came trooping into his mind. He had the original
hero before his very eyes.
"Are you content, satisfied? . . . You do not repent of your
"Yes, I am content, father . . . very content."
Julio spoke without boasting, modestly. His life was very hard, but
just like that of millions of other men. In his section of a few
dozens of soldiers there were many superior to him in intelligence,
in studiousness, in character; but they were all courageously
undergoing the test, experiencing the satisfaction of duty
fulfilled. The common danger was helping to develop the noblest
virtues of these men. Never, in times of peace, had he known such
comradeship. What magnificent sacrifices he had witnessed!
"When all this is over, men will be better . . . more generous.
Those who survive will do great things."
Yes, of course, he was content. For the first time in his life he
was tasting the delights of knowing that he was a useful being, that
he was good for something, that his passing through the world would
not be fruitless. He recalled with pity that Desnoyers who had not
known how to occupy his empty life, and had filled it with every
kind of frivolity. Now he had obligations that were taxing all his
powers; he was collaborating in the formation of a future. He was a
man at last!
"I am content," he repeated with conviction.
His father believed him, yet he fancied that, in a corner of that
frank glance, he detected something sorrowful, a memory of a past
which perhaps often forced its way among his present emotions.
There flitted through his mind the lovely figure of Madame Laurier.
Her charm was, doubtless, still haunting his son. And to think that
he could not bring her here! . . . The austere father of the
preceding year contemplated himself with astonishment as he caught
himself formulating this immoral regret.
They passed a quarter of an hour without loosening hands, looking
into each other's eyes. Julio asked after his mother and Chichi.
He frequently received letters from them, but that was not enough
for his curiosity. He laughed heartily at hearing of Argensola's
amplified and abundant life. These interesting bits of news came
from a world not much more than sixty miles distant in a direct
line . . . but so far, so very far away!
Suddenly the father noticed that his boy was listening with less
attention. His senses, sharpened by a life of alarms and ambushed
attacks, appeared to be withdrawing itself from the company,
attracted by the firing. Those were no longer scattered shots; they
had combined into a continual crackling.
The senator, who had left father and son together that they might
talk more freely, now reappeared.
"We are dismissed from here, my friend," he announced. "We have no
luck in our visits."
Soldiers were no longer passing to and fro. All had hastened to
their posts, like the crew of a ship which clears for action. While
Julio was taking up the rifle which he had left against the wall, a
bit of dust whirled above his father's head and a little hole
appeared in the ground.
"Quick, get out of here!" he said pushing Don Marcelo.
Then, in the shelter of a covered trench, came the nervous, very
brief farewell. "Good-bye, father," a kiss, and he was gone. He
had to return as quickly as possible to the side of his men.
The firing had become general all along the line. The soldiers were
shooting serenely, as though fulfilling an ordinary function. It
was a combat that took place every day without anybody's knowing
exactly who started it--in consequence of the two armies being
installed face to face, and such a short distance apart. . . . The
Chief of the battalion was also obliged to desert his guests,
fearing a counter-attack.
Again the officer charged with their safe conduct put himself at the
head of the file, and they began to retrace their steps through the
slippery maze. Desnoyers was tramping sullenly on, angry at the
intervention of the enemy which had cut short his happiness.
Before his inward gaze fluttered the vision of Julio with his black,
curly beard which to him was the greatest novelty of the trip. He
heard again his grave voice, that of a man who has taken up life
from a new viewpoint.
"I am content, father . . . I am content."
The firing, growing constantly more distant, gave the father great
uneasiness. Then he felt an instinctive faith, absurd, very firm.
He saw his son beautiful and immortal as a god. He had a conviction
that he would come out safe and sound from all dangers. That others
should die was but natural, but Julio! . . .
As they got further and further away from the soldier boy, Hope
appeared to be singing in his ears; and as an echo of his pleasing
musings, the father kept repeating mentally:
"No one will kill him. My heart which never deceives me, tells me
so. . . . No one will kill him!"
"NO ONE WILL KILL HIM"
Four months later, Don Marcelo's confidence received a rude shock.
Julio was wounded. But at the same time that Lacour bought him this
news, lamentably delayed, he tranquilized him with the result of his
investigations in the war ministry. Sergeant Desnoyers was now a
sub-lieutenant, his wound was almost healed and, thanks to the wire-
pulling of the senator, he was coming to pass a fortnight with his
family while convalescing.
"An exceptionally brave fellow," concluded the influential man. "I
have read what his chiefs say about him. At the head of his
platoon, he attacked a German company; he killed the captain with
his own hand; he did I don't know how many more brave things
besides. . . . They have presented him with the military medal and
have made him an officer. . . . A regular hero!"
And the rapidly aging father, weeping with emotion, but with
increasing enthusiasm, shook his head and trembled. He repented now
of his momentary lack of faith when the first news of his wounded
boy reached him. How absurd! . . . No one would kill Julio; his
heart told him so.
Soon after, he saw him coming home amid the cries and delighted
exclamations of the women. Poor Dona Luisa wept as she embraced
him, hanging on his neck with sobs of emotion. Chichi contemplated
him with grave reflection, putting half of her mind on the recent
arrival while the rest flew far away in search of the other warrior.
The dusky, South American maids fought each other for the opening in
the curtains, peering through the crack with the gaze of an
The father admired the little scrap of gold on the sleeve of the
gray cloak, with the skirts buttoning behind, examining afterwards
the dark blue cap with its low brim, adopted by the French for the
war in the trenches. The traditional kepi had disappeared. A
suitable visor, like that of the men in the Spanish infantry, now
shadowed Julio's face. Don Marcelo noted, too, the short and well-
cared-for beard, very different from the one he had seen in the
trenches. The boy was coming home, groomed and polished from his
recent stay in the hospital.
"Isn't it true that he looks like me?" queried the old man proudly.
Dona Luisa responded with the inconsequence that mothers always show
in matters of resemblance.
"He has always been the living image of you!"
Having made sure that he was well and happy, the entire family
suddenly felt a certain disquietude. They wished to examine his
wound so as to convince themselves that he was completely out of
"Oh, it's nothing at all," protested the sub-lieutenant. "A bullet
wound in the shoulder. The doctor feared at first that I might lose
my left arm, but it has healed well and it isn't worth while to
think any more about it."
Chichi's appraising glance swept Julio from head to foot; taking in
all the details of his military elegance. His cloak was worn thin
and dirty; the leggings were spatter-dashed with mud; he smelled of
leather, sweaty cloth and strong tobacco; but on one wrist he was
wearing a watch, and on the other, his identity medal fastened with
a gold chain. She had always admired her brother for his natural
good taste, so she stowed away all these little details in her
memory in order to pass them on to Rene. Then she surprised her
mother with a demand for a loan that she might send a little gift to
Don Marcelo gloated over the fifteen days of satisfaction ahead of
him. Sub-lieutenant Desnoyers found it impossible to go out alone,
for his father was always pacing up and down the reception hall
before the military cap which was shedding modest splendor and glory
upon the hat rack. Scarcely had Julio put it on his head before his
sire appeared, also with hat and cane, ready to sally forth.
"Will you permit me to accompany you? . . . I will not bother you."
This would be said so humbly, with such an evident desire to have
his request granted, that his son had not the heart to refuse him.
In order to take a walk with Argensola, he had to scurry down the
back stairs, or resort to other schoolboy tricks.
Never had the elder Desnoyers promenaded the streets of Paris with
such solid satisfaction as by the side of this muscular youth in his
gloriously worn cloak, on whose breast were glistening his two
decorations--the cross of war and the military medal. He was a
hero, and this hero was his son. He accepted as homage to them both
the sympathetic glances of the public in the street cars and
subways. The interest with which the women regarded the fine-
looking youth tickled him immensely. All the other military men
that they met, no matter how many bands and crosses they displayed,
appeared to the doting father mere embusques, unworthy of comparison
with his Julio. . . . The wounded men who got out of the coaches by
the aid of staffs and crutches inspired him with the greatest pity.
Poor fellows! . . . They did not bear the charmed life of his son.
Nobody could kill him; and when, by chance, he had received a wound,
the scars had immediately disappeared without detriment to his
Sometimes, especially at night, Desnoyers senior would show an
unexpected magnanimity, letting Julio fare forth alone. Since
before the war, his son had led a life filled with triumphant love-
affairs, what might he not achieve now with the added prestige of a
distinguished officer! . . .
Passing through his room on his way to bed, the father imagined the
hero in the charming company of some aristocratic lady. None but a
feminine celebrity was worthy of him; his paternal pride could
accept nothing less. . . . And it never occurred to him that Julio
might be with Argensola in a music-hall or in a moving-picture show,
enjoying the simple and monotonous diversions of a Paris sobered by
war, with the homely tastes of a sub-lieutenant whose amorous
conquests were no more than the renewal of some old friendships.
One evening as Don Marcelo was accompanying his son down the Champs
Elysees, he started at recognizing a lady approaching from the
opposite direction. It was Madame Laurier. . . . Would she
recognize Julio? He noted that the youth turned pale and began
looking at the other people with feigned interest. She continued
straight ahead, erect, unseeing. The old gentleman was almost
irritated at such coldness. To pass by his son without feeling his
presence instinctively! Ah, these women! . . . He turned his head
involuntarily to look after her, but had to avert his inquisitive
glance immediately. He had surprised Marguerite motionless behind
them, pallid with surprise, and fixing her gaze earnestly on the
soldier who was separating himself from her. Don Marcelo read in
her eyes admiration, love, all of the past that was suddenly surging
up in her memory. Poor woman! . . . He felt for her a paternal
affection as though she were the wife of Julio. His friend Lacour
had again spoken to him about the Lauriers. He knew that Marguerite
was going to become a mother, and the old man, without taking into
account the reconciliation nor the passage of time, felt as much
moved at the thought of this approaching maternity as though the
child were going to be Julio's.
Meanwhile Julio was marching right on, without turning his head,
without being conscious of the burning gaze fixed upon him,
colorless, but humming a tune to hide his emotion. He always
believed that Marguerite had passed near him without recognizing
him, since his father did not betray her.
One of Don Marcelo's pet occupations was to make his son tell about
the encounter in which he had been hurt. No visitor ever came to
see the sub-lieutenant but the father always made the same petition.
"Tell us how you were wounded. . . . Explain how you killed that
Julio tried to excuse himself with visible annoyance. He was
already surfeited with his own history. To please his father, he
had related the facts to the senator, to Argensola and to Tchernoff
in his studio, and to other family friends. . . . He simply could
not do it again.
So the father began the narration on his own account, giving the
relief and details of the deed as though seen with his own eyes. . . .
He had to take possession of the ruins of a sugar refinery in front
of the trench. The Germans had been expelled by the French cannon.
A reconnoitring survey under the charge of a trusty man was then
necessary. And the heads, as usual, had selected Sergeant
At daybreak, the platoon had advanced stealthily without
encountering any difficulty. The soldiers scattered among the
ruins. Julio then went on alone, examining the positions of the
enemy; on turning around a corner of the wall, he had the most
unexpected of encounters. A German captain was standing in front of
him. They had almost bumped into each other. They looked into each
other's eyes with more suspense than hate, yet at the same time,
they were trying instinctively to kill each other, each one trying
to get the advantage by his swiftness. The captain had dropped the
map that he was carrying. His right hand sought his revolver,
trying to draw it from its case without once taking his eyes off his
enemy. Then he had to give this up as useless--it was too late.
With his eyes distended by the proximity of death, he kept his gaze
fixed upon the Frenchman who had raised his gun to his face. A
shot, from a barrel almost touching him . . . and the German fell
Not till then did the victor notice the captain's orderly who was
but a few steps behind. He shot Desnoyers, wounding him in the
shoulder. The French hurried to the spot, killing the corporal.
Then there was a sharp cross-fire with the enemy's company which had
halted a little ways off while their commander was exploring the
ground. Julio, in spite of his wound, continued at the head of his
section, defending the factory against superior forces until
supports arrived, and the land remained definitely in the power of
"Wasn't that about the way of it?" Don Marcelo would always wind up.
The son assented, desirous that his annoyance with the persistent
story should come to an end as soon as possible. Yes, that was the
way of it. But what the father didn't know, what Julio would never
tell, was the discovery that he had made after killing the captain.
The two men, during the interminable second in which they had
confronted each other, had showed in their eyes something more than
the surprise of an encounter, and the wish to overcome the other.
Desnoyers knew that man. The captain knew him, too. He guessed it
from his expression. . . . But self-preservation was more insistent
than recollection and prevented them both from co-ordinating their
Desnoyers had fired with the certainty that he was killing someone
that he knew. Afterwards, while directing the defense of the
position and guarding against the approach of reinforcements, he had
a suspicion that the enemy whose corpse was lying a few feet away
might possibly be a member of the von Hartrott family. No, he
looked much older than his cousins, yet younger than his Uncle Karl
who at his age, would be no mere captain of infantry.
When, weakened by the loss of blood, they were about to carry him to
the trenches, the sergeant expressed a wish to see again the body of
his victim. His doubt continued before the face blanched by death.
The wide-open eyes still seemed to retain their startled expression.
The man had undoubtedly recognized him. His face was familiar. Who
was he? . . . Suddenly in his mind's eye, Julio saw the heaving
ocean, a great steamer, a tall, blonde woman looking at him with
half-closed eyes of invitation, a corpulent, moustached man making
speeches in the style of the Kaiser. "Rest in peace, Captain
Erckmann!" . . . Thus culminated in a corner of France the
discussions started at table in mid-ocean.
He excused himself mentally as though he were in the presence of the
sweet Bertha. He had had to kill, in order not to be killed. Such
is war. He tried to console himself by thinking that Erckmann,
perhaps, had failed to identify him, without realizing that his
slayer was the shipmate of the summer. . . . And he kept carefully
hidden in the depths of his memory this encounter arranged by Fate.
He did not even tell Argensola who knew of the incidents of the
When he least expected it, Don Marcelo found himself at the end of
that delightful and proud existence which his son's presence had
brought him. The fortnight had flown by so swiftly! The sub-
lieutenant had returned to his post, and all the family, after this
period of reality, had had to fall back on the fond illusions of
hope, watching again for the arrival of his letters, making
conjectures about the silence of the absent one, sending him packet
after packet of everything that the market was offering for the
soldiery--for the most part, useless and absurd things.
The mother became very despondent. Julio's visit home but made her
feel his absence with greater intensity. Seeing him, hearing those
tales of death that her husband was so fond of repeating, made her
realize all the more clearly the dangers constantly surrounding her
son. Fatality appeared to be warning her with funereal
"They are going to kill him," she kept saying to Desnoyers. "That
wound was a forewarning from heaven."
When passing through the streets, she trembled with emotion at sight
of the invalid soldiers. The convalescents of energetic appearance,
filled her with the greatest pity. They made her think of a certain
trip with her husband to San Sebastian where a bull fight had made
her cry out with indignation and compassion, pitying the fate of the
poor, gored horses. With entrails hanging, they were taken to the
corrals, and submitted to a hurried adjustment in order that they
might return to the arena stimulated by a false energy. Again and
again they were reduced to this makeshift cobbling until finally a
fatal goring finished them. . . . These recently cured men
continually brought to her mind those poor beasts. Some had been
wounded three times since the beginning of the war, and were
returning surgically patched together and re-galvanized to take
another chance in the lottery of Fate, always in the expectation of
the supreme blow. . . . Ay, her son!
Desnoyers waxed very indignant over his wife's low spirits,
"But I tell you that Nobody will kill Julio! . . . He is my son.
In my youth I, too, passed through great dangers. They wounded me,
too, in the wars in the other world, and nevertheless, here I am at
a ripe old age."
Events seemed to reinforce his blind faith. Calamities were raining
around the family and saddening his relatives, yet not one grazed
the intrepid sub-lieutenant who was persisting in his daring deeds
with the heroic nerve of a musketeer.
Dona Luisa received a letter from Germany. Her sister wrote from
Berlin, transmitting her letters through the kindness of a South
American in Switzerland. This time, the good lady wept for some one
besides her son; she wept for Elena and the enemies. In Germany
there were mothers, too, and she put the sentiment of maternity
above all patriotic differences.
Poor Frau von Hartrott! Her letter written a month before, had
contained nothing but death notices and words of despair. Captain
Otto was dead. Dead, too, was one of his younger brothers. The
fact that the latter had fallen in a territory dominated by their
nation, at least gave the mother the sad comfort of being able to
weep near his grave. But the Captain was buried on French soil,
nobody knew where, and she would never be able to find his remains,
mingled with hundreds of others. A third son was wounded in Poland.
Her two daughters had lost their promised lovers, and the sight of
their silent grief, was intensifying the mother's suffering. Von
Hartrott continued presiding over patriotic societies and making
plans of expansion after the near victory, but he had aged greatly
in the last few months. The "sage" was the only one still holding
his own. The family afflictions were aggravating the ferocity of
Professor Julius von Hartrott. He was calculating, in a book he was
writing, the hundreds of thousands of millions that Germany must
exact after her triumph, and the various nations that she would have
to annex to the Fatherland.
Dona Luisa imagined that in the avenue Victor Hugo, she could hear
the mother's tears falling in her home in Berlin. "You will
understand, Luisa, my despair. . . . We were all so happy! May God
punish those who have brought such sorrow on the world! The Emperor
is innocent. His adversaries are to blame for it all . . ."
Don Marcelo was silent about the letter in his wife's presence. He
pitied Elena for her losses, so he overlooked her political
connections. He was touched, too, at Dona Luisa's distress about
Otto. She had been his godmother and Desnoyers his godfather. That
was so--Don Marcelo had forgotten all about it; and the fact
recalled to his mental vision the placid life of the ranch, and the
play of the blonde children that he had petted behind their
grandfather's back, before Julio was born. For many years, he had
lavished great affection on these youngsters, when dismayed at
Julio's delayed arrival. He was really affected at thinking of what
must be Karl's despair.
But then, as soon as he was alone, a selfish coldness would blot out
this compassion. War was war, and the Germans had sought it.
France had to defend herself, and the more enemies fell the
better. . . . The only soldier who interested him now was Julio.
And his faith in the destiny of his son made him feel a brutal joy,
a paternal satisfaction almost amounting to ferocity.
"No one will kill HIM! . . . My heart tells me so."
A nearer trouble shook his peace of mind. When he returned to his
home one evening, he found Dona Luisa with a terrified aspect
holding her hands to her head.
"The daughter, Marcelo . . . our daughter!"
Chichi was stretched out on a sofa in the salon, pale, with an olive
tinge, looking fixedly ahead of her as if she could see somebody in
the empty air. She was not crying, but a slight palpitation was
making her swollen eyes tremble spasmodically.
"I want to see him," she was saying hoarsely. "I must see him!"
The father conjectured that something terrible must have happened to
Lacour's son. That was the only thing that could make Chichi show
such desperation. His wife was telling him the sad news. Rene was
wounded, very seriously wounded. A shell had exploded over his
battery, killing many of his comrades. The young officer had been
dragged out from a mountain of dead, one hand was gone, he had
injuries in the legs, chest and head.
"I've got to see him!" reiterated Chichi.
And Don Marcelo had to concentrate all his efforts in making his
daughter give up this dolorous insistence which made her exact an
immediate journey to the front, trampling down all obstacles, in
order to reach her wounded lover. The senator finally convinced her
of the uselessness of it all. She would simply have to wait; he,
the father, had to be patient. He was negotiating for Rene to be
transferred to a hospital in Paris.
The great man moved Desnoyers to pity. He was making such heroic
efforts to preserve the stoic serenity of ancient days by recalling
his glorious ancestors and all the illustrious figures of the Roman
Republic. But these oratorical illusions had suddenly fallen flat,
and his old friend surprised him weeping more than once. An only
child, and he might have to lose him! . . . Chichi's dumb woe made
him feel even greater commiseration. Her grief was without tears or
faintings. Her sallow face, the feverish brilliancy of her eyes,
and the rigidity that made her move like an automaton were the only
signs of her emotion. She was living with her thoughts far away,
with no knowledge of what was going on around her.
When the patient arrived in Paris, his father and fiancee were
transfigured. They were going to see him, and that was enough to
make them imagine that he was already recuperated.
Chichi hastened to the hospital with her mother and the senator.
Then she went alone and insisted on remaining there, on living at
the wounded man's side, waging war on all regulations and clashing
with Sisters of Charity, trained nurses, and all who roused in her
the hatred of rivalry. Soon realizing that all her violence
accomplished nothing, she humiliated herself and became suddenly
very submissive, trying with her wiles, to win the women over one by
one. Finally, she was permitted to spend the greater part of the
day with Rene
When Desnoyers first saw the wounded artilleryman in bed, he had to
make a great effort to keep the tears back. . . . Ay, his son, too,
might be brought to this sad pass! . . . The man looked to him like
an Egyptian mummy, because of his complete envelopment in tight
bandage wrappings. The sharp hulls of the shell had fairly riddled
him. There could only be seen a pair of sweet eyes and a blond bit
of moustache sticking up between white bands. The poor fellow was
trying to smile at Chichi, who was hovering around him with a
certain authority as though she were in her own home.
Two months rolled by. Rene was better, almost well. His betrothed
had never doubted his recovery from the moment that they permitted
her to remain with him.
"No one that I love, ever dies," she asserted with a ring of her
father's self-confidence. "As if I would ever permit the Boches to
leave me without a husband!"
She had her little sugar soldier back again, but, oh, in what a
lamentable state! . . . Never had Don Marcelo realized the de-
personalizing horrors of war as when he saw entering his home this
convalescent whom he had known months before--elegant and slender,
with a delicate and somewhat feminine beauty. His face was now
furrowed by a network of scars that had transformed it into a
purplish arabesque. Within his body were hidden many such. His
left hand had disappeared with a part of the forearm, the empty
sleeve hanging over the remainder. The other hand was supported on
a cane, a necessary aid in order to be able to move a leg that would
never recover its elasticity.
But Chichi was content. She surveyed her dear little soldier with
more enthusiasm than ever--a little deformed, perhaps, but very
interesting. With her mother, she accompanied the convalescent in
his constitutionals through the Bois de Boulogne. When, in crossing
a street, automobilists or coachmen failed to stop their vehicles in
order to give the invalid the right of way, her eyes shot lightning
shafts, as she thundered, "Shameless embusques!" . . . She was now
feeling the same fiery resentment as those women of former days who
used to insult her Rene when he was well and happy. She trembled
with satisfaction and pride when returning the greetings of her
friends. Her eloquent eyes seemed to be saying, "Yes, he is my
betrothed . . . a hero!" She was constantly arranging the war cross
on his blouse of "horizon blue," taking pains to place it as
conspicuously as possible. She also spent much time in prolonging
the life of his shabby uniform--always the same one, the old one
which he was wearing when wounded. A new one would give him the
officery look of the soldiers who never left Paris.
As he grew stronger, Rene vainly tried to emancipate himself from
her dominant supervision. It was simply useless to try to walk with
more celerity or freedom.
"Lean on me!"
And he had to take his fiancee's arm. All her plans for the future
were based on the devotion with which she was going to protect her
husband, on the solicitude that she was going to dedicate to his
"My poor, dear invalid," she would murmur lovingly. "So ugly and so
helpless those blackguards have left you! . . . But luckily you
have me, and I adore you! . . . It makes no difference to me that
one of your hands is gone. I will care for you; you shall be my
little son. You will just see, after we are married, how elegant
and stylish I am going to keep you. But don't you dare to look at
any of the other women! The very first moment that you do, my
precious little invalid, I'll leave you alone in your helplessness!"
Desnoyers and the senator were also concerned about their future,
but in a very definite way. They must be married as soon as
possible. What was the use of waiting? . . . The war was no longer
an obstacle. They would be married as quietly as possible. This
was no time for wedding pomp.
So Rene Lacour remained permanently in the house on the avenida
Victor Hugo, after the nuptial ceremony witnessed by a dozen people.
Don Marcelo had had dreams of other things for his daughter--a grand
wedding to which the daily papers would devote much space, a son-in-
law with a brilliant future . . . but ay, this war! Everybody was
having his fondest hopes dashed to pieces every few hours.
He took what comfort he could out of the situation. What more did
they want? Chichi was happy--with a rollicking and selfish
happiness which took no interest in anything but her own love-
affairs. The Desnoyers business returns could not be improved
upon;--after the first crisis had passed, the necessities of the
belligerents had begun utilizing the output of his ranches, and
never before had meat brought such high prices. Money was flowing
in with greater volume than formerly, while the expenses were
diminishing. . . . Julio was in daily danger of death, but the old
ranchman was buoyed up by his conviction that his son led a charmed
life--no harm could touch him. His chief preoccupation, therefore,
was to keep himself tranquil, avoiding all emotional storms. He had
been reading with considerable alarm of the frequency with which
well-known persons, politicians, artists and writers, were dying in
Paris. War was not doing all its killing at the front; its shocks
were falling like arrows over the land, causing the fall of the
weak, the crushed and the exhausted who, in normal times, would
probably have lived to a far greater age.
"Attention, Marcelo!" he said to himself with grim humor. "Keep
cool now! . . . You must avoid Friend Tchernoff's four horsemen,
He spent an afternoon in the studio going over the war news in the
papers. The French had begun an offensive in Champagne with great
advances and many prisoners.
Desnoyers could not but think of the loss of life that this must
represent. Julio's fate, however, gave him no uneasiness, for his
son was not in that part of the front. But yesterday he had
received a letter from him, dated the week before; they all took
about that length of time to reach him. Sub-lieutenant Desnoyers
was as blithe and reckless as ever. They were going to promote him
again--he was among those proposed for the Legion d'Honneur. These
facts intensified Don Marcelo's vision of himself as the father of a
general as young as those of the revolution; and as he contemplated
the daubs and sketches around him, he marvelled at the extraordinary
way in which the war had twisted his son's career.
On his way home, he passed Marguerite Laurier dressed in mourning.
The senator had told him a few days before that her brother, the
artilleryman, had just been killed at Verdun.
"How many are falling!" he said mournfully to himself. "How hard it
will be for his poor mother!"
But he smiled immediately after at the thought of those to be born.
Never before had the people been so occupied in accelerating their
reproduction. Even Madame Laurier now showed with pride the very
visible curves of her approaching maternity, and Desnoyers noted
sympathetically the vital volume apparent beneath her long mourning
veil. Again he thought of Julio, without taking into account the
flight of time. He felt as interested in the little newcomer as
though he were in some way related to it, and he promised himself to
aid generously the Laurier baby if he ever had the opportunity.
On entering his house, he was met in the hall by Dona Luisa, who
told him that Lacour was waiting for him.
"Very good!" he responded gaily. "Let us see what our illustrious
father-in-law has to say."
His good wife was uneasy. She had felt alarmed without knowing
exactly why at the senator's solemn appearance; with that feminine
instinct which perforates all masculine precautions, she surmised
some hidden mission. She had noticed, too, that Rene and his father
were talking together in a low tone, with repressed emotion.
Moved by an irresistible impulse, she hovered near the closed door,
hoping to hear something definite. Her wait was not long.
Suddenly a cry . . . a groan . . . the groan that can come only from
a body from which all vitality is escaping.
And Dona Luisa rushed in just in time to support her husband as he
was falling to the floor.
The senator was excusing himself confusedly to the walls, the
furniture, and turning his back in his agitation on the dismayed
Rene, the only one who could have listened to him.
"He did not let me finish. . . . He guessed from the very first
word. . . ."
Hearing the outcry, Chichi hastened in in time to see her father
slipping from his wife's arms to the sofa, and from there to the
floor, with glassy, staring eyes, and foaming at the mouth.
From the luxurious rooms came forth the world-old cry, always the
same from the humblest home to the highest and loneliest:--
"Oh, Julio! . . . Oh, my son, my son! . . .
THE BURIAL FIELDS
The automobile was going slowly forward under the colorless sky of a
In the distance, the earth's surface seemed trembling with white,
fluttering things resembling a band of butterflies poised on the
furrows. On one of the fields the swarm was of great size, on
others, it was broken into small groups.
As the machine approached these white butterflies, they seemed to be
taking on other colors. One wing was turning blue, another flesh-
colored. . . . They were little flags, by the hundreds, by the
thousands which palpitated night and day, in the mild, sunny,
morning breeze, in the damp drip of the dull mornings, in the biting
cold of the interminable nights. The rains had washed and re-washed
them, stealing away the most of their color. Some of the borders of
the restless little strips were mildewed by the dampness while
others were scorched by the sun, like insects which have just grazed
In the midst of the fluttering flags could be seen the black crosses
of wood. On these were hanging dark kepis, red caps, and helmets
topped with tufts of horsehair, slowly disintegrating and weeping
atmospheric tears at every point.
"How many are dead!" sighed Don Marcelo's voice from the automobile.
And Rene, who was seated in front of him, sadly nodded his head.
Dona Luisa was looking at the mournful plain while her lips trembled
slightly in constant prayer. Chichi turned her great eyes in
astonishment from one side to the other. She appeared larger, more
capable in spite of the pallor which blanched her olive skin.
The two ladies were dressed in deepest mourning. The father, too,
was in mourning, huddled down in the seat in a crushed attitude, his
legs carefully covered with the great fur rugs. Rene was wearing
his campaign uniform under his storm coat. In spite of his
injuries, he had not wished to retire from the army. He had been
transferred to a technical office till the termination of the war.
The Desnoyers family were on the way to carry out their long-
Upon recovering consciousness after the fatal news, the father had
concentrated all his will power in one petition.
"I must see him. . . . Oh, my son! . . . My son!"
Vain were the senator's efforts to show him the impossibility of
such a journey. The fighting was still going on in the zone where
Julio had fallen. Later on, perhaps, it might be possible to visit
it. "I want to see it!" persisted the broken-hearted old man. It
was necessary for him to see his son's grave before dying himself,
and Lacour had to requisition all his powers, for four long months
formulating requests and overcoming much opposition, in order that
Don Marcelo might be permitted to make the trip.
Finally a military automobile came one morning for the entire
Desnoyers family. The senator could not accompany them. Rumors of
an approaching change in the cabinet were floating about, and he
felt obliged to show himself in the senate in case the Republic
should again wish to avail itself of his unappreciated services.
They passed the night in a provincial city where there was a
military post, and Rene collected considerable information from
officers who had witnessed the great combat. With his map before
him, he followed the explanations until he thought he could
recognize the very plot of ground which Julio's regiment had
The following morning they renewed their expedition. A soldier who
had taken part in the battle acted as their guide, seated beside the
chauffeur. From time to time, Rene consulted the map spread out on
his knees, and asked questions of the soldier whose regiment had
fought very close to that of Desnoyers', but he could not remember
exactly the ground which they had gone over so many months before.
The landscape had undergone many transformations and had presented a
very different appearance when covered with men. Its deserted
aspect bewildered him . . . and the motor had to go very slowly,
veering to the north of the line of graves, following the central
highway, level and white, entering crossroads and winding through
ditches muddied with deep pools through which they splashed with
great bounds and jar on the springs. At times, they drove across
fields from one plot of crosses to another, their pneumatic tires
crushing flat from the furrows opened by the plowman.
Tombs . . . tombs on all sides! The white locusts of death were
swarming over the entire countryside. There was no corner free from
their quivering wings. The recently plowed earth, the yellowing
roads, the dark woodland, everything was pulsating in weariless
undulation. The soil seemed to be clamoring, and its words were the
vibrations of the restless little flags. And the thousands of
cries, endlessly repeated across the days and nights, were intoning
in rhythmic chant the terrible onslaught which this earth had
witnessed and from which it still felt tragic shudderings.
"Dead . . . dead," murmured Chichi, following the rows of crosses
incessantly slipping past the sides of the automobile.
"O Lord, for them! . . . for their mothers," moaned Dona Luisa,
renewing her prayers.
Here had taken place the fiercest part of the battle--the fight in
the old way, man to man outside of the trenches, with bayonets, with
guns, with fists, with teeth.
The guide who was beginning to get his bearings was pointing out the
various points on the desolate horizon. There were the African
sharpshooters; further on, the chasseurs. The very large groups of
graves were where the light infantry had charged with their bayonets
on the sides of the road.
The automobile came to a stop. Rene climbed out after the soldier
in order to examine the inscriptions on a few of the crosses.
Perhaps these might have belonged to the regiment they were seeking.
Chichi also alighted mechanically with the irresistible desire of
aiding her husband.
Each grave contained several men. The number of bodies within could
be told by the mouldering kepis or rusting helmets hanging on the
arms of the cross; the number of the regiments could still be
deciphered between the rows of ants crawling over the caps. The
wreaths with which affection had adorned some of the sepulchres were
blackened and stripped of their leaves. On some of the crucifixes,
the names of the dead were still clear, but others were beginning to
fade out and soon would be entirely illegible.
"What a horrible death! . . . What glory!" thought Chichi sadly.
Not even the names of the greater part of these vigorous men cut
down in the strength of their youth were going to survive! Nothing
would remain but the memory which would from time to time overwhelm
some old countrywoman driving her cow along the French highway,
murmuring between her sobs. "My little one! . . . I wonder where
they buried my little one!" Or, perhaps, it would live in the heart
of the village woman clad in mourning who did not know how to solve
the problem of existence; or in the minds of the children going to
school in black blouses and saying with ferocious energy--"When I
grow up I am going to kill the Boches to avenge my father's death!"
And Dona Luisa, motionless in her seat, followed with her eyes
Chichi's course among the graves, while returning to her interrupted
prayer--"Lord, for the mothers without sons . . . for the little
ones without fathers! . . . May thy wrath not be turned against us,
and may thy smile shine upon us once more!"
Her husband, shrunken in his seat, was also looking over the
funereal fields, but his eyes were fixed most tenaciously on some
mounds without wreaths or flags, simple crosses with a little board
bearing the briefest inscription. These were the German bodies
which seemed to have a page to themselves in the Book of Death. On
one side, the innumerable French tombs with inscriptions as small as
possible, simple numbers--one, two, three dead. On the other, in
each of the spacious, unadorned sepulchres, great quantities of
soldiers, with a number of terrifying terseness. Fences of wooden
strips, narrow and wide, surrounded these latter ditches filled to
the top with bodies. The earth was as bleached as though covered
with snow or saltpetre. This was the lime returning to mix with the
land. The crosses raised above these huge mounds bore each an
inscription stating that it contained Germans, and then a number--
200 . . . 300 . . . 400.
Such appalling figures obliged Desnoyers to exert his imagination.
It was not easy to evoke with exactitude the vision of three hundred
carcasses in helmets, boots and cloaks, in all the revolting aspects
of death, piled in rows as though they were bricks, locked forever
in the depths of a great trench. . . . And this funereal alignment
was repeated at intervals all over the great immensity of the plain!
The mere sight of them filled Don Marcelo with a kind of savage joy,
as his mourning fatherhood tasted the fleeting consolation of
vengeance. Julio had died, and he was going to die, too, not having
strength to survive his bitter woe; but how many hundreds of the
enemy wasting in these awful trenches were also leaving in the world
loved beings who would remember them as he was remembering his
son! . . .
He imagined them as they must have been before the death call
sounded, as he had seen them in the advance around his castle.
Some of them, the most prominent and terrifying, probably still
showed on their faces the theatrical cicatrices of their university
duels. They were the soldiers who carried books in their knapsacks,
and after the fusillade of a lot of country folk, or the sacking and
burning of a hamlet, devoted themselves to reading the poets and
philosophers by the glare of the blaze which they had kindled. They
were bloated with science as with the puffiness of a toad, proud of
their pedantic and all-sufficient intellectuality. Sons of
sophistry and grandsons of cant, they had considered themselves
capable of proving the greatest absurdities by the mental capers to
which they had accustomed their acrobatic intellects.
They had employed the favorite method of the thesis, antithesis and
synthesis in order to demonstrate that Germany ought to be the
Mistress of the World; that Belgium was guilty of her own ruin
because she had defended herself; that true happiness consisted in
having all humanity dominated by Prussia; that the supreme idea of
existence consisted in a clean stable and a full manger; that
Liberty and Justice were nothing more than illusions of the
romanticism of the French; that every deed accomplished became
virtuous from the moment it triumphed, and that Right was simply a
derivative of Might. These metaphysical athletes with guns and
sabres were accustomed to consider themselves the paladins of a
crusade of civilization. They wished the blond type to triumph
definitely over the brunette; they wished to enslave the worthless
man of the South, consigning him forever to a world regulated by
"the salt of the earth," "the aristocracy of humanity." Everything
on the page of history that had amounted to anything was German.
The ancient Greeks had been of Germanic origin; German, too, the
great artists of the Italian Renaissance. The men of the
Mediterranean countries, with the inherent badness of their
extraction, had falsified history. . . .
"That's the best place for you. . . You are better where you are
buried, you pitiless pedants!" thought Desnoyers, recalling his
conversations with his friend, the Russian.
What a shame that there were not here, too, all the Herr Professors
of the German universities--those wise men so unquestionably skilful
in altering the trademarks of intellectual products and changing the
terminology of things! Those men with flowing beards and gold-
rimmed spectacles, pacific rabbits of the laboratory and the
professor's chair that had been preparing the ground for the present
war with their sophistries and their unblushing effrontery! Their
guilt was far greater than that of the Herr Lieutenant of the tight
corset and the gleaming monocle, who in his thirst for strife and
slaughter was simply and logically working out the professional
While the German soldier of the lower classes was plundering what he
could and drunkenly shooting whatever crossed his path, the warrior
student was reading by the camp glow, Hegel and Nietzsche. He was
too enlightened to execute with his own hands these acts of
"historical justice," but he, with the professors, was rousing all
the bad instincts of the Teutonic beast and giving them a varnish of
"Lie there, in your sepulchre, you intellectual scourge!" continued
The fierce Moors, the negroes of infantile intelligence, the sullen
Hindus, appeared to him more deserving of respect than all the
ermine-bordered togas parading haughtily and aggressively through
the cloisters of the German universities. What peacefulness for the
world if their wearers should disappear forever! He preferred the
simple and primitive barbarity of the savage to the refined,
deliberate and merciless barbarity of the greedy sage;--it did less
harm and was not so hypocritical.
For this reason, the only ones in the enemy's ranks who awakened his
commiseration were the lowly and unlettered dead interred beneath
the sod. They had been peasants, factory hands, business clerks,
German gluttons of measureless (intestinal) capacity, who had seen
in the war an opportunity for satisfying their appetites, for
beating somebody and ordering them about after having passed their
lives in their country, obeying and receiving kicks.
The history of their country was nothing more than a series of
raids--like the Indian forays, in order to plunder the property of
those who lived in the mild Mediterranean climes. The Herr
Professors had proved to their countrymen that such sacking
incursions were indispensable to the highest civilization, and that
the German was marching onward with the enthusiasm of a good father
sacrificing himself in order to secure bread for his family.
Hundreds of thousands of letters, written by their relatives with
tremulous hands, were following the great Germanic horde across the
invaded countries. Desnoyers had overheard the reading of some of
these, at nightfall before his ruined castle. These were some of
the messages found in the pockets of the imprisoned or dead:--"Don't
show any pity for the red pantaloons. Kill WHOMEVER YOU CAN, and
show no mercy even to the little ones." . . . "We would thank you
for the shoes, but the girl cannot get them on. Those French have
such ridiculously small feet!" . . . "Try to get hold of a
piano.". . . "I would very much like a good watch." . . . "Our
neighbor, the Captain, has sent his wife a necklace of pearls. . . .
And you send only such insignificant things!"
The virtuous German had been advancing heroically with the double
desire of enlarging his country and of making valuable gifts to his
offspring. "Deutschland uber alles!" But their most cherished
illusions had fallen into the burial ditch in company with thousands
of comrades-at-arms fed on the same dreams.
Desnoyers could imagine the impatience on the other side of the
Rhine, the pitiful women who were waiting and waiting. The lists of
the dead had, perhaps, overlooked the missing ones; and the letters
kept coming and coming to the German lines, many of them never
reaching their destination. "Why don't you answer! Perhaps you are
not writing so as to give us a great surprise. Don't forget the
necklace! Send us a piano. A carved china cabinet for the dining
room would please us greatly. The French have so many beautiful
things!" . . .
The bare cross rose stark and motionless above the lime-blanched
land. Near it the little flags were fluttering their wings, moving
from side to side like a head shaking out a smiling, ironical
protest--No! . . . No!
The automobile continued on its painful way. The guide was now
pointing to a distant group of graves. That was undoubtedly the
place where the regiment had been fighting. So the vehicle left the
main road, sinking its wheels in the soft earth, having to make wide
detours in order to avoid the mounds scattered about so capriciously
by the casualties of the combat.
Almost all of the fields were ploughed. The work of the farmer
extended from tomb to tomb, making them more prominent as the
morning sun forced its way through the enshrouding mists.
Nature, blind, unfeeling and silent, ignoring individual existence
and taking to her bosom with equal indifference, a poor little
animal or a million corpses, was beginning to smile under the late
The fountains were still crusted with their beards of ice; the earth
snapped as the feet weighed down its hidden crystals; the trees,
black and sleeping, were still retaining the coat of metallic green
in which the winter had clothed them; from the depths of the earth
still issued an acute, deadly chill, like that of burned-out
planets. . . . But Spring had already girded herself with flowers
in her palace in the tropics, and was saddling with green her trusty
steed, neighing with impatience. Soon they would race through the
fields, driving before them in disordered flight the black goblins
of winter, and leaving in their wake green growing things and
tender, subtle perfumes. The wayside greenery, robing itself in
tiny buds, was already heralding their arrival. The birds were
venturing forth from their retreats in order to wing their way among
the crows croaking wrathfully above the closed tombs. The landscape
was beginning to smile in the sunlight with the artless, deceptive
smile of a child who looks candidly around while his pockets are
stuffed with stolen goodies.
The husbandmen had ploughed the fields and filled the furrows with
seed. Men might go on killing each other as much as they liked; the
soil had no concern with their hatreds, and on that account, did not
propose to alter its course. As every year, the metal cutter had
opened its usual lines, obliterating with its ridges the traces of
man and beast, undismayed and with stubborn diligence filling up the
tunnels which the bombs had made.
Sometimes the ploughshare had struck against an obstacle
underground . . . an unknown, unburied man; but the cultivator
had continued on its way without pity. Every now and then, it
was stopped by less yielding obstructions, projectiles which
had sunk into the ground intact. The rustic had dug up these
instruments of death which occasionally had exploded their
delayed charge in his hands.
But the man of the soil knows no fear when in search of sustenance,
and so was doggedly continuing his rectilinear advance, swerving
only before the visible tombs; there the furrows had curved
mercifully, making little islands of the mounds surmounted by
crosses and flags. The seeds of future bread were preparing to
extend their tentacles like devil fish among those who, but a short
time before, were animated by such monstrous ambition. Life was
about to renew itself once more.
The automobile came to a standstill. The guide was running about
among the crosses, stooping over in order to examine their weather-
"Here we are!"
He had found above one grave the number of the regiment.
Chichi and her husband promptly dismounted again. Then Dona Luisa,
with sad resolution, biting her lips to keep the tears back. Then
the three devoted themselves to assisting the father who had thrown
off his fur lap-robe. Poor Desnoyers! On touching the ground, he
swayed back and forth, moving forward with the greatest effort,
lifting his feet with difficulty, and sinking his staff in the
"Lean on me, my poor dear," said the old wife, offering her arm.
The masterful head of the family could no longer take a single step
without their aid.
Then began their slow, painful pilgrimage among the graves.
The guide was still exploring the spot bristling with crosses,
spelling out the names, and hesitating before the faded lettering.
Rene was doing the same on the other side of the road. Chichi went
on alone, the wind whirling her black veil around her, and making
the little curls escape from under her mourning hat every time she
leaned over to decipher a name. Her daintily shod feet sunk deep
into the ruts, and she had to gather her skirts about her in order
to move more comfortably--revealing thus at every step evidences of
the joy of living, of hidden beauty, of consummated love following
her course through this land of death and desolation.
In the distance sounded feebly her father's voice:
The two elders were growing impatient, anxious to find their son's
resting place as soon as possible.
A half hour thus dragged by without any result--always unfamiliar
names, anonymous crosses or the numbers of other regiments. Don
Marcelo was no longer able to stand. Their passage across the
irregularities of the soft earth had been torment for him. He was
beginning to despair. . . . Ay, they would never find Julio's
remains! The parents, too, had been scrutinizing the plots nearest
them, bending sadly before cross after cross. They stopped before a
long, narrow hillock, and read the name. . . . No, he was not
there, either; and they continued desperately along the painful path
of alternate hopes and disappointments.
It was Chichi who notified them with a cry, "Here. . . . Here it
is!" The old folks tried to run, almost falling at every step. All
the family were soon grouped around a heap of earth in the vague
outline of a bier, and beginning to be covered with herbage. At the
head was a cross with letters cut in deep with the point of a knife,
the kind deed of some of his comrades-at-arms--"DESNOYERS." . . .
Then in military abbreviations, the rank, regiment and company.
A long silence. Dona Luisa had knelt instantly, with her eyes fixed
on the cross--those great, bloodshot eyes that could no longer weep.
Till then, tears had been constantly in her eyes, but now they
deserted her as though overcome by the immensity of a grief
incapable of expressing itself in the usual ways.
The father was staring at the rustic grave in dumb amazement. His
son was there, there forever! . . . and he would never see him
again! He imagined him sleeping unshrouded below, in direct contact
with the earth, just as Death had surprised him in his miserable and
heroic old uniform. He recalled the exquisite care which the lad
had always given his body--the long bath, the massage, the
invigorating exercise of boxing and fencing, the cold shower, the
elegant and subtle perfume . . . all that he might come to this! . . .
that he might be interred just where he had fallen in his tracks,
like a wornout beast of burden!
The bereaved father wished to transfer his son immediately from the
official burial fields, but he could not do it yet. As soon as
possible it should be done, and he would erect for him a mausoleum
fit for a king. . . . And what good would that do? He would merely
be changing the location of a mass of bones, but his body, his
physical semblance--all that had contributed to the charm of his
personality would be mixed with the earth. The son of the rich
Desnoyers would have become an inseparable part of a poor field in
Champagne. Ah, the pity of it all! And for this, had he worked so
hard and so long to accumulate his millions? . . .
He could never know how Julio's death had happened. Nobody could
tell him his last words. He was ignorant as to whether his end had
been instantaneous, overwhelming--his idol going out of the world
with his usual gay smile on his lips, or whether he had endured long
hours of agony abandoned in the field, writhing like a reptile or
passing through phases of hellish torment before collapsing in
merciful oblivion. He was also ignorant of just how much was
beneath this mound--whether an entire body discreetly touched by the
hand of Death, or an assemblage of shapeless remnants from the
devastating hurricane of steel! . . . And he would never see him
again! And that Julio who had been filling his thoughts would
become simply a memory, a name that would live while his parents
lived, fading away, little by little, after they had disappeared! . . .
He was startled to hear a moan, a sob. . . . Then he recognized
dully that they were his own, that he had been accompanying his
reflections with groans of grief.
His wife was still at his feet, kneeling, alone with her
heartbreak, fixing her dry eyes on the cross with a gaze of
hypnotic tenacity. . . . There was her son near her knees,
lying stretched out as she had so often watched him when sleeping
in his cradle! . . . The father's sobs were wringing her heart,
too, but with an unbearable depression, without his wrathful
exasperation. And she would never see him again! . . . Could
it be possible! . . .
Chichi's presence interrupted the despairing thoughts of her
parents. She had run to the automobile, and was returning with an
armful of flowers. She hung a wreath on the cross and placed a
great spray of blossoms at the foot. Then she scattered a shower of
petals over the entire surface of the grave, sadly, intensely, as
though performing a religious rite, accompanying the offering with
her outspoken thoughts--"For you who so loved life for its beauties
and pleasures! . . . for you who knew so well how to make yourself
beloved!" . . . And as her tears fell, her affectionate memories
were as full of admiration as of grief. Had she not been his
sister, she would have liked to have been his beloved.
And having exhausted the rain of flower-petals, she wandered away so
as not to disturb the lamentations of her parents.
Before the uselessness of his bitter plaints, Don Marcelo's former
dominant character had come to life, raging against destiny.
He looked at the horizon where so often he had imagined the
adversary to be, and clenched his fists in a paroxysm of fury. His
disordered mind believed that it saw the Beast, the Nemesis of
humanity. And how much longer would the evil be allowed to go
unpunished? . . .
There was no justice; the world was ruled by blind chance;--all
lies, mere words of consolation in order that mankind might exist
unterrified by the hopeless abandon in which it lived!
It appeared to him that from afar was echoing the gallop of the four
Apocalyptic horsemen, riding rough-shod over all his fellow-
creatures. He saw the strong and brutal giant with the sword of
War, the archer with his repulsive smile, shooting his pestilential
arrows, the bald-headed miser with the scales of Famine, the hard-
riding spectre with the scythe of Death. He recognized them as only
divinities, familiar and terrible-which had made their presence felt
by mankind. All the rest was a dream. The four horsemen were the
reality. . . .
Suddenly, by the mysterious process of telepathy, he seemed to read
the thoughts of the one grieving at his feet.
The mother, impelled by her own sorrow, was thinking of that of
others. She, too, was looking toward the distant horizon. There
she seemed to see a procession of the enemy, grieving in the same
way as were her family. She saw Elena with her daughters going in
and out among the burial grounds, seeking a loved one, falling on
their knees before a cross. Ay, this mournful satisfaction, she
could never know completely! It would be forever impossible for her
to pass to the opposite side in search of the other grave, for, even
after some time had passed by, she could never find it. The beloved
body of Otto would have disappeared forever in one of the nameless
pits which they had just passed.
"O Lord, why did we ever come to these lands? Why did we not
continue living in the land where we were born?" . . .
Desnoyers, too, uniting his thoughts with hers, was seeing again the
pampas, the immense green plains of the ranch where he had become
acquainted with his wife. Again he could hear the tread of the
herds. He recalled Madariaga on tranquil nights proclaiming, under
the splendor of the stars, the joys of peace, the sacred brotherhood
of these people of most diverse extraction, united by labor,
abundance and the lack of political ambition.
And as his thoughts swung back to the lost son he, too, exclaimed
with his wife, "Oh, why did we ever come? . . ." He, too, with the
solidarity of grief, began to sympathize with those on the other
side of the battle front. They were suffering just as he was; they
had lost their sons. Human grief is the same everywhere.
But then he revolted against his commiseration. Karl had been an
advocate of this war. He was among those who had looked upon war as
the perfect state for mankind, who had prepared it with their
provocations. It was just that War should devour his sons; he ought
not to bewail their loss. . . . But he who had always loved Peace!
He who had only one son, only one! . . . and now he was losing him
forever! . . .
He was going to die; he was sure that he was going to die. . . .
Only a few months of life were left in him. And his pitiful,
devoted companion kneeling at his feet, she, too, would soon pass
away. She could not long survive the blow which they had just
received. There was nothing further for them to do; nobody needed
them any longer.
Their daughter was thinking only of herself, of founding a separate
home interest--with the hard instinct of independence which
separates children from their parents in order that humanity may
continue its work of renovation.
Julio was the only one who would have prolonged the family, passing
on the name. The Desnoyers had died; his daughter's children would
be Lacour. . . . All was ended.
Don Marcelo even felt a certain satisfaction in thinking of his
approaching death. More than anything else, he wished to pass out
of the world. He no longer had any curiosity as to the end of this
war in which he had been so interested. Whatever the end might be,
it would be sure to turn out badly. Although the Beast might be
mutilated, it would again come forth years afterward, as the eternal
curse of mankind. . . . For him the only important thing now was
that the war had robbed him of his son. All was gloomy, all was
black. The world was going to its ruin. . . . He was going to
Chichi had clambered up on the hillock which contained, perhaps,
more than their dead. With furrowed brow, she was contemplating the
plain. Graves . . . graves everywhere! The recollection of Julio
had already passed to second place in her mind. She could not bring
him back, no matter how much she might weep.
This vision of the fields of death made her think all the more of
the living. As her eyes roved from side to side, she tried, with
her hands, to keep down the whirling of her wind-tossed skirts.
Rene was standing at the foot of the knoll, and several times after
a sweeping glance at the numberless mounds around them, she looked
thoughtfully at him, as though trying to establish a relationship
between her husband and those below. And he had exposed his life in
combats just as these men had done! . . .
"And you, my poor darling," she continued aloud. "At this very
moment you, too, might be lying here under a heap of earth with a
wooden cross at your head, just like these poor unfortunates!"
The sub-lieutenant smiled sadly. Yes, it was so.
"Come here; climb up here!" said Chichi impetuously. "I want to
give you something!"
As soon as he approached her, she flung her arms around his neck,
pressed him against the warm softness of her breast, exhaling a
perfume of life and love, and kissed him passionately without a
thought of her brother, without seeing her aged parents grieving
below them and longing to die. . . . And her skirts, freed by the
breeze, molded her figure in the superb sweep of the curves of a