The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
IN WHICH APPEAR THE FOUR HORSEMEN
The two friends now lived a feverish life, considerably accelerated by the rapidity with which events succeeded each other. Every hour brought forth an astonishing bit of news--generally false--which changed opinions very suddenly. As soon as the danger of war seemed arrested, the report would spread that mobilization was going to be ordered within a few minutes.
Within each twenty-four hours were compressed the disquietude, anxiety and nervous waste of a normal year. And that which was aggravating the situation still more was the uncertainty, the expectation of the event, feared but still invisible, the distress on account of a danger continually threatening but never arriving.
History in the making was like a stream overflowing its banks, events overlapping each other like the waves of an inundation. Austria was declaring war with Servia while the diplomats of the great powers were continuing their efforts to stem the tide. The electric web girdling the planet was vibrating incessantly in the depths of the ocean and on the peaks of the continents, transmitting alternate hopes and fears.
Russia was mobilizing a part of its army. Germany, with its troops in readiness under the pretext of manoeuvres, was decreeing the state of "threatened war." The Austrians, regardless of the efforts of diplomacy, were beginning the bombardment of Belgrade. William II, fearing that the intervention of the Powers might settle the differences between the Czar and the Emperor of Austria, was forcing the course of events by declaring war upon Russia. Then Germany began isolating herself, cutting off railroad and telegraphic communications in order to shroud in mystery her invading forces.
France was watching this avalanche of events, temperate in its words and enthusiasm. A cool and grave resolution was noticeable everywhere. Two generations had come into the world, informed as soon as they reached a reasonable age, that some day there would undoubtedly be war. Nobody wanted it; the adversary imposed it. . . . But all were accepting it with the firm intention of fulfilling their duty.
During the daytime Paris was very quiet, concentrating the mind on the work in hand. Only a few groups of exalted patriots, following the tricolored flag, were passing through the place de la Concorde, in order to salute the statue of Strasbourg. The people were accosting each other in a friendly way in the streets. Everybody seemed to know everybody else, although they might not have met before. Eye attracted eye, and smiles appeared to broaden mutually with the sympathy of a common interest. The women were sad but speaking cheerily in order to hide their emotions. In the long summer twilight, the boulevards were filling with crowds. Those from the outlying districts were converging toward the centre of the city, as in the remote revolutionary days, banding together in groups, forming an endless multitude from which came shouts and songs. These manifestations were passing through the centre under the electric lights that were just being turned on, the processions generally lasting until midnight, with the national banner floating above the walking crowds, escorted by the flags of other nations.
It was on one of these nights of sincere enthusiasm that the two friends heard an unexpected, astonishing piece of news. "They have killed Jaures!" The groups were repeating it from one to another with an amazement which seemed to overpower their grief. "Jaures assassinated! And what for?" The best popular element, which instinctively seeks an explanation of every proceeding, remained in suspense, not knowing which way to turn. The tribune dead, at the very moment that his word as welder of the people was most needed! . . .
Argensola thought immediately of Tchernoff. "What will our neighbors say?" . . . The quiet, orderly people of Paris were fearing a revolution, and for a few moments Desnoyers believed that his cousin's auguries were about to be fulfilled. This assassination, with its retaliations, might be the signal for civil war. But the masses of the people, worn out with grief at the death of their hero, were waiting in tragic silence. All were seeing, beyond his dead body, the image of the country.
By the following morning, the danger had vanished. The laboring classes were talking of generals and war, showing each other their little military memorandums, announcing the date of their departure as soon as the order of mobilization should be published. "I go the second day." "I the first." Those of the standing army who were on leave were recalled individually to the barracks. All these events were tending in the same direction--war.
The Germans were invading Luxembourg; the Germans were ordering their armies to invade the French frontier when their ambassador was still in Paris making promises of peace. On the day after the death of Jaures, the first of August, the people were crowding around some pieces of paper, written by hand and in evident haste. These papers were copies of other larger printed sheets, headed by two crossed flags. "It has come; it is now a fact!". . . It was the order for general mobilization. All France was about to take up arms, and chests seemed to expand with a sigh of relief. Eyes were sparkling with excitement. The nightmare was at last over! . . . Cruel reality was preferable to the uncertainty of days and days, each as long as a week.
In vain President Poincare, animated by a last hope, was explaining to the French that "mobilization is not necessarily war, that a call to arms may be simply a preventive measure." "It is war, inevitable war," said the populace with a fatalistic expression. And those who were going to start that very night or the following day were the most eager and enthusiastic.--"Now those who seek us are going to find us! Vive la France!" The Chant du Depart, the martial hymn of the volunteers of the first Republic, had been exhumed by the instinct of a people which seek the voice of Art in its most critical moments. The stanzas of the conservative Chenier, adapted to a music of warlike solemnity, were resounding through the streets, at the same time as the Marseillaise:
La Republique nous appelle.
The mobilization began at midnight to the minute. At dusk, groups of men began moving through the streets towards the stations. Their families were walking beside them, carrying the valise or bundle of clothes. They were escorted by the friends of their district, the tricolored flag borne aloft at the head of these platoons. The Reserves were donning their old uniforms which presented all the difficulties of suits long ago forgotten. With new leather belts and their revolvers at their sides, they were betaking themselves to the railway which was to carry them to the point of concentration. One of their children was carrying the old sword in its cloth sheath. The wife was hanging on his arm, sad and proud at the same time, giving her last counsels in a loving whisper.
Street cars, automobiles and cabs rolled by with crazy velocity. Nobody had ever seen so many vehicles in the Paris streets, yet if anybody needed one, he called in vain to the conductors, for none wished to serve mere civilians. All means of transportation were for military men, all roads ended at the railroad stations. The heavy trucks of the administration, filled with sacks, were saluted with general enthusiasm. "Hurrah for the army!" The soldiers in mechanic's garb, on top of the swaying pyramid, replied to the cheers, waving their arms and uttering shouts that nobody pretended to understand.
Fraternity had created a tolerance hitherto unknown. The crowds were pressing forward, but in their encounters, invariably preserved good order. Vehicles were running into each other, and when the conductors resorted to the customary threats, the crowds would intervene and make them shake hands. "Three cheers for France!" The pedestrians, escaping between the wheels of the automobiles were laughing and good-naturedly reproaching the chauffeur with, "Would you kill a Frenchman on his way to his regiment?" and the conductor would reply, "I, too, am going in a few hours. This is my last trip." As night approached, cars and cabs were running with increasing irregularity, many of the employees having abandoned their posts to take leave of their families and make the train. All the life of Paris was concentrating itself in a half-dozen human rivers emptying in the stations.
Desnoyers and Argensola met in a boulevard cafe toward midnight. Both were exhausted by the day's emotions and under that nervous depression which follows noisy and violent spectacles. They needed to rest. War was a fact, and now that it was a certainty, they felt no anxiety to get further news. Remaining in the cafe proved impossible. In the hot and smoky atmosphere, the occupants were singing and shouting and waving tiny flags. All the battle hymns of the past and present were here intoned in chorus, to an accompaniment of glasses and plates. The rather cosmopolitan clientele was reviewing the European nations. All, absolutely all, were going to enroll themselves on the side of France. "Hurrah! . . . Hurrah!" . . . An old man and his wife were seated at a table near the two friends. They were tenants, of an orderly, humdrum walk in life, who perhaps in all their existence had never been awake at such an hour. In the general enthusiasm they had come to the boulevards "in order to see war a little closer." The foreign tongue used by his neighbors gave the husband a lofty idea of their importance.
"Do you believe that England is going to join us?" . . .
Argensola knew as much about it as he, but he replied authoritatively, "Of course she will. That's a sure thing!" The old man rose to his feet: "Hurrah for England!" and he began chanting a forgotten patriotic song, marking time with his arms in a spirited way, to the great admiration of his old wife, and urging all to join in the chorus that very few were able to follow.
The two friends had to take themselves home on foot. They could not find a vehicle that would stop for them; all were hurrying in the opposite direction toward the stations. They were both in a bad humor, but Argensola couldn't keep his to himself.
"Ah, these women!" Desnoyers knew all about his relations (so far honorable) with a midinette from the rue Taitbout. Sunday strolls in the suburbs of Paris, various trips to the moving picture shows, comments upon the fine points of the latest novel published in the sheets of a popular paper, kisses of farewell when she took the night train from Bois Colombes in order to sleep at home--that was all. But Argensola was wickedly counting on Father Time to mellow the sharpest virtues. That evening they had taken some refreshment with a French friend who was going the next morning to join his regiment. The girl had sometimes seen him with Argensola without noticing him particularly, but now she suddenly began admiring him as though he were another person. She had given up the idea of returning home that night; she wanted to see how a war begins. The three had dined together, and all her interest had centred upon the one who was going away. She even took offense, with sudden modesty, when Argensola tried as he had often done before, to squeeze her hand under the table. Meanwhile she was almost leaning her head on the shoulder of the future hero, enveloping him with admiring gaze.
"And they have gone. . . . They have gone away together!" said the Spaniard bitterly. "I had to leave them in order not to make my hard luck any worse. To have worked so long . . . for another!"
He was silent for a few minutes, then changing the trend of his ideas, he added: "I recognize, nevertheless, that her behavior is beautiful. The generosity of these women when they believe that the moment for sacrifice has come! She is terribly afraid of her father, and yet she stays away from home all night with a person whom she hardly knows, and whom she was not even thinking of in the middle of the afternoon! . . . The entire nation feels gratitude toward those who are going to imperil their lives, and she, poor child, wishing to do something, too, for those destined for death, to give them a little pleasure in their last hour . . . is giving the best she has, that which she can never recover. I have sketched her role poorly, perhaps. . . . Laugh at me if you want to, but admit that it is beautiful."
Desnoyers laughed heartily at his friend's discomfiture, in spite of the fact that he, too, was suffering a good deal of secret annoyance. He had seen Marguerite but once since the day of his return. The only news of her that he had received was by letter. . . . This cursed war! What an upset for happy people! Marguerite's mother was ill. She was brooding over the departure of her son, an officer, on the first day of the mobilization. Marguerite, too, was uneasy about her brother and did not think it expedient to come to the studio while her mother was grieving at home. When was this situation ever to end? . . .
That check for four hundred thousand francs which he had brought from America was also worrying him. The day before, the bank had declined to pay it for lack of the customary official advice. Afterward they said that they had received the advice, but did not give him the money. That very afternoon, when the trust companies had closed their doors, the government had already declared a moratorium, in order to prevent a general bankruptcy due to the general panic. When would they pay him? . . . Perhaps when the war which had not yet begun was ended--perhaps never. He had no other money available except the two thousand francs left over from his travelling expenses. All of his friends were in the same distressing situation, unable to draw on the sums which they had in the banks. Those who had any money were obliged to go from shop to shop, or form in line at the bank doors, in order to get a bill changed. Oh, this war! This stupid war!
In the Champs Elysees, they saw a man with a broad-brimmed hat who was walking slowly ahead of them and talking to himself. Argensola recognized him as he passed near the street lamp, "Friend Tchernoff." Upon returning their greeting, the Russian betrayed a slight odor of wine. Uninvited, he had adjusted his steps to theirs, accompanying them toward the Arc de Triomphe.
Julio had merely exchanged silent nods with Argensola's new acquaintance when encountering him in the vestibule; but sadness softens the heart and makes us seek the friendship of the humble as a refreshing shelter. Tchernoff, on the contrary, looked at Desnoyers as though he had known him all his life.
The man had interrupted his monologue, heard only by the black masses of vegetation, the blue shadows perforated by the reddish tremors of the street lights, the summer night with its cupola of warm breezes and twinkling stars. He took a few steps without saying anything, as a mark of consideration to his companions, and then renewed his arguments, taking them up where he had broken off, without offering any explanation, as though he were still talking to himself. . . .
"And at this very minute, they are shouting with enthusiasm the same as they are doing here, honestly believing that they are going to defend their outraged country, wishing to die for their families and firesides that nobody has threatened."
"Who are 'they,' Tchernoff?" asked Argensola.
The Russian stared at him as though surprised at such a question.
"They," he said laconically.
The two understood. . . . THEY! It could not be anyone else.
"I have lived ten years in Germany," he continued, connecting up his words, now that he found himself listened to. "I was daily correspondent for a paper in Berlin and I know these people. Passing along these thronged boulevards, I have been seeing in my imagination what must be happening there at this hour. They, too, are singing and shouting with enthusiasm as they wave their flags. On the outside, they seem just alike--but oh, what a difference within! . . . Last night the people beset a few babblers in the boulevard who were yelling, 'To Berlin!'--a slogan of bad memories and worse taste. France does not wish conquests; her only desire is to be respected, to live in peace without humiliations or disturbances. To-night two of the mobilized men said on leaving, 'When we enter Germany we are going to make it a republic!' . . . A republic is not a perfect thing, but it is better than living under an irresponsible monarchy by the grace of God. It at least presupposes tranquillity and absence of the personal ambitions that disturb life. I was impressed by the generous thought of these laboring men who, instead of wishing to exterminate their enemies, were planning to give them something better."
Tchernoff remained silent a few minutes, smiling ironically at the picture which his imagination was calling forth.
"In Berlin, the masses are expressing their enthusiasm in the lofty phraseology befitting a superior people. Those in the lowest classes, accustomed to console themselves for humiliations with a gross materialism, are now crying 'Nach Paris! We are going to drink champagne gratis!' The pietistic burgher, ready to do anything to attain a new honor, and the aristocracy which has given the world the greatest scandals of recent years, are also shouting, 'Nach Paris!' To them Paris is the Babylon of the deadly sin, the city of the Moulin Rouge and the restaurants of Montmartre, the only places that they know. . . . And my comrades of the Social- Democracy, they are also cheering, but to another tune.--'To-morrow! To St. Petersburg! Russian ascendency, the menace of civilization, must be obliterated!' The Kaiser waving the tyranny of another country as a scarecrow to his people! . . . What a joke!"
And the loud laugh of the Russian sounded through the night like the noise of wooden clappers.
"We are more civilized than the Germans," he said, regaining his self-control.
Desnoyers, who had been listening with great interest, now gave a start of surprise, saying to himself, "This Tchernoff has been drinking."
"Civilization," continued the Socialist, "does not consist merely in great industry, in many ships, armies and numerous universities that only teach science. That is material civilization. There is another, a superior one, that elevates the soul and does not permit human dignity to suffer without protesting against continual humiliations. A Swiss living in his wooden chalet and considering himself the equal of the other men of his country, is more civilized than the Herr Professor who gives precedence to a lieutenant, or to a Hamburg millionaire who, in turn, bends his neck like a lackey before those whose names are prefixed by a von."
Here the Spaniard assented as though he could guess what Tchernoff was going to say.
"We Russians endure great tyranny. I know something about that. I know the hunger and cold of Siberia. . . . But opposed to our tyranny has always existed a revolutionary protest. Part of the nation is half-barbarian, but the rest has a superior mentality, a lofty moral spirit which faces danger and sacrifice because of liberty and truth. . . . And Germany? Who there has ever raised a protest in order to defend human rights? What revolutions have ever broken out in Prussia, the land of the great despots?
Frederick William, the founder of militarism, when he was tired of beating his wife and spitting in his children's plates, used to sally forth, thong in hand, in order to cowhide those subjects who did not get out of his way in time. His son, Frederick the Great, declared that he died, bored to death with governing a nation of slaves. In two centuries of Prussian history, one single revolution--the barricades of 1848--a bad Berlinish copy of the Paris revolution, and without any result. Bismarck corrected with a heavy hand so as to crush completely the last attempts at protest-- if such ever really existed. And when his friends were threatening him with revolution, the ferocious Junker, merely put his hands on his hips and roared with the most insolent of horse laughs. A revolution in Prussia! . . . Nothing at all, as he knew his people!"
Tchernoff was not a patriot. Many a time Argensola had heard him railing against his country, but now he was indignant in view of the contempt with which Teutonic haughtiness was treating the Russian nation. Where, in the last forty years of imperial grandeur, was that universal supremacy of which the Germans were everlastingly boasting? . . .
Excellent workers in science; tenacious and short-sighted academicians, each wrapped in his specialty!--Benedictines of the laboratory who experimented painstakingly and occasionally hit upon something, in spite of enormous blunders given out as truths, because they were their own . . . that was all! And side by side with such patient laboriosity, really worthy of respect--what charlatanism! What great names exploited as a shop sample! How many sages turned into proprietors of sanatoriums! . . . A Herr Professor discovers the cure of tuberculosis, and the tubercular keep on dying as before. Another labels with a number the invincible remedy for the most unconfessable of diseases, and the genital scourge continues afflicting the world. And all these errors were representing great fortunes, each saving panacea bringing into existence an industrial corporation selling its products at high prices--as though suffering were a privilege of the rich. How different from the bluff Pasteur and other clever men of the inferior races who have given their discoveries to the world without stooping to form monopolies!
"German science," continued Tchernoff, "has given much to humanity, I admit that; but the science of other nations has done as much. Only a nation puffed up with conceit could imagine that it has done everything for civilization, and the others nothing. . . . Apart from their learned specialists, what genius has been produced in our day by this Germany which believes itself so transcendent? Wagner, the last of the romanticists, closes an epoch and belongs to the past. Nietzsche took pains to proclaim his Polish origin and abominated Germany, a country, according to him, of middle-class pedants. His Slavism was so pronounced that he even prophesied the overthrow of the Prussians by the Slavs. . . . And there are others. We, although a savage people, have given the world of modern times an admirable moral grandeur. Tolstoi and Dostoievsky are world-geniuses. What names can the Germany of William II put ahead of these? . . . His country was the country of music, but the Russian musicians of to-day are more original than the mere followers of Wagner, the copyists who take refuge in orchestral exasperations in order to hide their mediocrity. . . . In its time of stress the German nation had men of genius, before Pan-Germanism had been born, when the Empire did not exist. Goethe, Schiller, Beethoven were subjects of little principalities. They received influence from other countries and contributed their share to the universal civilization like citizens of the world, without insisting that the world should, therefore, become Germanized."
Czarism had committed atrocities. Tchernoff knew that by experience, and did not need the Germans to assure him of it. But all the illustrious classes of Russia were enemies of that tyranny and were protesting against it. Where in Germany were the intellectual enemies of Prussian Czarism? They were either holding their peace, or breaking forth into adulation of the anointed of the Lord--a musician and comedian like Nero, of a sharp and superficial intelligence, who believed that by merely skimming through anything he knew it all. Eager to strike a spectacular pose in history, he had finally afflicted the world with the greatest of calamities.
"Why must the tyranny that weighs upon my country necessarily be Russian? The worst Czars were imitators of Prussia. Every time that the Russian people of our day have attempted to revindicate their rights, the reactionaries have used the Kaiser as a threat, proclaiming that he would come to their aid. One-half of the Russian aristocracy is German; the functionaries who advise and support despotism are Germans; German, too, are the generals who have distinguished themselves by massacring the people; German are the officials who undertake to punish the laborers' strikes and the rebellion of their allies. The reactionary Slav is brutal, but he has the fine sensibility of a race in which many princes have become Nihilists. He raises the lash with facility, but then he repents and oftentimes weeps. I have seen Russian officials kill themselves rather than march against the people, or through remorse for slaughter committed. The German in the service of the Czar feels no scruples, nor laments his conduct. He kills coldly, with the minuteness and exactitude with which he does everything. The Russian is a barbarian who strikes and regrets; German civilization shoots without hesitation. Our Slav Czar, in a humanitarian dream, favored the Utopian idea of universal peace, organizing the Conference of The Hague. The Kaiser of culture, meanwhile, has been working years and years in the erection and establishment of a destructive organ of an immensity heretofore unknown, in order to crush all Europe. The Russian is a humble Christian, socialistic, democratic, thirsting for justice; the German prides himself upon his Christianity, but is an idolator like the German of other centuries. His religion loves blood and maintains castes; his true worship is that of Odin;--only that nowadays, the god of slaughter has changed his name and calls himself, 'The State'!"
Tchernoff paused an instant--perhaps in order to increase the wonder of his companions--and then said with simplicity:
"I am a Christian."
Argensola, who already knew the ideas and history of the Russian, started with astonishment, and Julio persisted in his suspicion, "Surely Tchernoff is drunk."
"It is true," declared the Russian earnestly, "that I do not worry about God, nor do I believe in dogmas, but my soul is Christian as is that of all revolutionists. The philosophy of modern democracy is lay Christianity. We Socialists love the humble, the needy, the weak. We defend their right to life and well-being, as did the greatest lights of the religious world who saw a brother in every unfortunate. We exact respect for the poor in the name of justice; the others ask for it in the name of charity. That only separates us. But we strive that mankind may, by common consent, lead a better life, that the strong may sacrifice for the weak, the lofty for the lowly, and the world be ruled by brotherliness, seeking the greatest equality possible."
The Slav reviewed the history of human aspirations. Greek thought had brought comfort, a sense of well-being on the earth--but only for the few, for the citizens of the little democracies, for the free men, leaving the slaves and barbarians who constituted the majority, in their misery. Christianity, the religion of the lowly, had recognized the right of happiness for all mankind, but this happiness was placed in heaven, far from this world, this "vale of tears." The Revolution and its heirs, the Socialists, were trying to place happiness in the immediate realities of earth, like the ancients, but making all humanity participants in it like the Christians.
"Where is the 'Christianity of modern Germany? . . . There is far more genuine Christian spirit in the fraternal laity of the French Republic, defender of the weak, than in the religiosity of the conservative Junkers. Germany has made a god in her own image, believing that she adores it, but in reality adoring her own image. The German God is a reflex of the German State which considers war as the first activity of a nation and the noblest of occupations. Other Christian peoples, when they have to go to war, feel the contradiction that exists between their conduct and the teachings of the Gospel, and excuse themselves by showing the cruel necessity which impels them. Germany declares that war is acceptable to God. I have heard German sermons proving that Jesus was in favor of Militarism.
"Teutonic pride, the conviction that its race is providentially destined to dominate the world, brings into working unity their Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
"Far above their differences of dogma is that God of the State which is German--the Warrior God to whom William is probably referring as 'my worthy Ally.' Religions always tend toward universality. Their aim is to place humanity in relationship with God, and to sustain these relations among mankind. Prussia has retrograded to barbarism, creating for its personal use a second Jehovah, a divinity hostile to the greater part of the human race who makes his own the grudges and ambitions of the German people."
Tchernoff then explained in his own way the creation of this Teutonic God, ambitious, cruel and vengeful. The Germans were comparatively recent Christians. Their Christianity was not more than six centuries old. When the Crusades were drawing to a close, the Prussians were still living in paganism. Pride of race, impelling them to war, had revived these dead divinities. The God of the Gospel was now adorned by the Germans with lance and shield like the old Teutonic god who was a military chief.
"Christianity in Berlin wears helmet and riding boots. God at this moment is seeing Himself mobilized the same as Otto, Fritz and Franz, in order to punish the enemies of His chosen people. That the Lord has commanded, 'Thou shalt not kill,' and His Son has said to the world, 'Blessed are the peacemakers,' no longer matters. Christianity, according to its German priests of all creeds, can only influence the individual betterment of mankind, and should not mix itself in affairs of state. The Prussian God of the State is 'the old German God,' the lineal descendant of the ferocious Germanic mythology, a mixture of divinities hungry for war."
In the silence of the avenue, the Russian evoked the ruddy figures of the implacable gods, that were going to awake that night upon hearing the hum of arms and smelling the acrid odor of blood. Thor, the brutal god with the little head, was stretching his biceps and clutching the hammer that crushed cities. Wotan was sharpening his lance which had the lightning for its handle, the thunder for its blade. Odin, the one-eyed, was gaping with gluttony on the mountain-tops, awaiting the dead warriors that would crowd around his throne. The dishevelled Valkyries, fat and perspiring, were beginning to gallop from cloud to cloud, hallooing to humanity that they might carry off the corpses doubled like saddle bags, over the haunches of their flying nags.
"German religiosity," continued the Russian, "is the disavowal of Christianity. In its eyes, men are no longer equal before God. Their God is interested only in the strong, and favors them with his support so that they may dare anything. Those born weak must either submit or disappear. Neither are nations equal, but are divided into leaders and inferior races whose destiny is to be sifted out and absorbed by their superiors. Since God has thus ordained, it is unnecessary to state that the grand world-leader is Germany."
Argensola here interrupted to observe that German pride believed itself championed not only by God but by science, too.
"I know that," interposed the Russian without letting him finish-- "generalization, inequality, selection, the struggle for life, and all that. . . . The Germans, so conceited about their special worth, erect upon distant ground their intellectual monuments, borrowing of the foreigner their foundation material whenever they undertake a new line of work. A Frenchman and an Englishman, Gobineau and Chamberlain, have given them the arguments with which to defend the superiority of their race. With the rubbish left over from Darwin and Spencer, their old Haeckel has built up his doctrine of 'Monism' which, applied to politics, scientifically consecrates Prussian pride and recognizes its right to rule the world by force."
"No, a thousand times no!" he exclaimed after a brief silence. "The struggle for existence with its procession of cruelties may be true among the lower species, but it should not be true among human creatures. We are rational beings and ought to free ourselves from the fatality of environment, moulding it to our convenience. The animal does not know law, justice or compassion; he lives enslaved in the obscurity of his instincts. We think, and thought signifies liberty. Force does not necessarily have to be cruel; it is strongest when it does not take advantage of its power, and is kindly. All have a right to the life into which they are born, and since among individuals there exist the haughty and the humble, the mighty and the weak, so should exist nations, large and small, old and young. The end of our existence is not combat nor killing in order that others may afterwards kill us, and, perhaps, be killed themselves. Civilized peoples ought unanimously to adopt the idea of southern Europe, striving for the most peaceful and sweetest form of life possible."
A cruel smile played over the Russian's beard.
"But there exists that Kultur, diametrically opposed to civilization, which the Germans wish to palm off upon us. Civilization is refinement of spirit, respect of one's neighbor, tolerance of foreign opinion, courtesy of manner. Kultur is the action of a State that organizes and assimilates individuals and communities in order to utilize them for its own ends; and these ends consist mainly in placing 'The State' above other states, overwhelming them with their grandeur--or what is the same thing-- with their haughty and violent pride."
By this time, the three had reached the place de l'Etoile. The dark outline of the Arc de Triomphe stood forth clearly in the starry expanse. The avenues extended in all directions, a double file of lights. Those around the monument illuminated its gigantic bases and the feet of the sculptured groups. Further up, the vaulted spaces were so locked in shadow that they had the black density of ebony.
Upon passing under the Arch, which greatly intensified the echo of their footsteps, they came to a standstill. The night breeze had a wintry chill as it whistled past, and the curved masses seemed melting into the diffused blue of space. Instinctively the three turned to glance back at the Champs Elysees. They saw only a river of shadow on which were floating rosaries of red stars among the two long, black scarfs formed by the buildings. But they were so well acquainted with this panorama that in imagination they mentally saw the majestic sweep of the avenue, the double row of palaces, the place de la Concorde in the background with the Egyptian obelisk, and the trees of the Tuileries.
"How beautiful it is!" exclaimed Tchernoff who was seeing something beyond the shadows. "An entire civilization, loving peace and pleasure, has passed through here."
A memory greatly affected the Russian. Many an afternoon, after lunch, he had met in this very spot a robust man, stocky, with reddish beard and kindly eyes--a man who looked like a giant who had just stopped growing. He was always accompanied by a dog. It was Jaures, his friend Jaures, who before going to the senate was accustomed to taking a walk toward the Arch from his home in Passy.
"He liked to come just where we are now! He loved to look at the avenues, the distant gardens, all of Paris which can be seen from this height; and filled with admiration, he would often say to me, 'This is magnificent--one of the most beautiful perspectives that can be found in the entire world.' . . . Poor Jaures!"
Through association of ideas, the Russian evoked the image of his compatriot, Michael Bakounine, another revolutionist, the father of anarchy, weeping with emotion at a concert after hearing the symphony with Beethoven chorals directed by a young friend of his, named Richard Wagner. "When our revolution comes," he cried, clasping the hand of the master, "whatever else may perish, this must be saved at any cost!"
Tchernoff roused himself from his reveries to look around him and say with sadness:
"THEY have passed through here!"
Every time that he walked through the Arch, the same vision would spring up in his mind. THEY were thousands of helmets glistening in the sun, thousands of heavy boots lifted with mechanical rigidity at the same time; horns, fifes, drums large and small, clashing against the majestic silence of these stones--the warlike march from Lohengrin sounding in the deserted avenues before the closed houses.
He, who was a foreigner, always felt attracted by the spell exerted by venerable buildings guarding the glory of a bygone day. He did not wish to know who had erected it. As soon as its pride is flattered, mankind tries immediately to solidify it. Then Humanity intervenes with a broader vision that changes the original significance of the work, enlarges it and strips it of its first egotistical import. The Greek statues, models of the highest beauty, had been originally mere images of the temple, donated by the piety of the devotees of those times. Upon evoking Roman grandeur, everybody sees in imagination the enormous Coliseum, circle of butcheries, or the arches erected to the glory of the inept Caesars. The representative works of nations have two significations--the interior or immediate one which their creators gave them, and the exterior or universal interest, the symbolic value which the centuries have given them.
"This Arch," continued Tchernoff, "is French within, with its names of battles and generals open to criticism. On the outside, it is the monument of the people who carried through the greatest revolution for liberty ever known. The glorification of man is there below in the column of the place Vendome. Here there is nothing individual. Its builders erected it to the memory of la Grande Armee and that Grand Army was the people in arms who spread revolution throughout Europe. The artists, great inventors, foresaw the true significance of this work. The warriors of Rude who are chanting the Marseillaise in the group at the left are not professional soldiers, they are armed citizens, marching to work out their sublime and violent mission. Their nudity makes them appear to me like sans-culottes in Grecian helmets. . . . Here there is more than the glory and egoism of a great nation. All Europe is awake to new life, thanks to these Crusaders of Liberty. . . . The nations call to mind certain images. If I think of Greece, I see the columns of the Parthenon; Rome, Mistress of the World, is the Coliseum and the Arch of Trajan; and revolutionary France is the Arc de Triomphe."
The Arch was even more, according to the Russian. It represented a great historical retaliation; the nations of the South, called the Latin races, replying, after many centuries, to the invasion which had destroyed the Roman jurisdiction--the Mediterranean peoples spreading themselves as conquerors through the lands of the ancient barbarians. Retreating immediately, they had swept away the past like a tidal wave--the great surf depositing all that it contained. Like the waters of certain rivers which fructify by overflowing, this recession of the human tide had left the soil enriched with new and generous ideas.
"If THEY should return!" added Tchernoff with a look of uneasiness. "If they again should tread these stones! . . . Before, they were simple-minded folk, stunned by their rapid good-fortune, who passed through here like a farmer through a salon. They were content with money for the pocket and two provinces which should perpetuate the memory of their victory. . . . But now they will not be the soldiers only who march against Paris. At the tail of the armies come the maddened canteen-keepers, the Herr Professors, carrying at the side the little keg of wine with the powder which crazes the barbarian, the wine of Kultur. And in the vans come also an enormous load of scientific savagery, a new philosophy which glorifies Force as a principle and sanctifier of everything, denies liberty, suppresses the weak and places the entire world under the charge of a minority chosen by God, just because it possesses the surest and most rapid methods of slaughter. Humanity may well tremble for the future if again resounds under this archway the tramp of boots following a march of Wagner or any other Kapellmeister."
They left the Arch, following the avenue Victor Hugo. Tchernoff walking along in dogged silence as though the vision of this imaginary procession had overwhelmed him. Suddenly he continued aloud the course of his reflections.
"And if they should enter, what does it matter? . . . On that account, the cause of Right will not die. It suffers eclipses, but is born again; it may be ignored and trampled under foot, but it does not, therefore, cease to exist, and all good souls recognize it as the only rule of life. A nation of madmen wishes to place might upon the pedestal that others have raised to Right. Useless endeavor! The eternal hope of mankind will ever be the increasing power of more liberty, more brotherliness, more justice."
The Russian appeared to calm himself with this statement. He and his friends spoke of the spectacle which Paris was presenting in its preparation for war. Tchernoff bemoaned the great suffering produced by the catastrophe, the thousands and thousands of domestic tragedies that were unrolling at that moment. Apparently nothing had changed. In the centre of the city and around the stations, there was unusual agitation, but the rest of the immense city did not appear affected by the great overthrow of its existence. The solitary street was presenting its usual aspect, the breeze was gently moving the leaves. A solemn peace seemed to be spreading itself through space. The houses appeared wrapped in slumber, but behind the closed windows might be surmised the insomnia of the reddened eyes, the sighs from hearts anguished by the threatened danger, the tremulous agility of the hands preparing the war outfit, perhaps the last loving greetings exchanged without pleasure, with kisses ending in sobs.
Tchernoff thought of his neighbors, the husband and wife who occupied the other interior apartment behind the studio. She was no longer playing the piano. The Russian had overheard disputes, the banging of doors locked with violence, and the footsteps of a man in the middle of the night, fleeing from a woman's cries. There had begun to develop on the other side of the wall a regulation drama--a repetition of hundreds of others, all taking place at the same time.
"She is a German," volunteered the Russian. "Our concierge has ferreted out her nationality. He must have gone by this time to join his regiment. Last night I could hardly sleep. I heard the lamentations through the thin wall partition, the steady, desperate weeping of an abandoned child, and the voice of a man who was vainly trying to quiet her! . . . Ah, what a rain of sorrows is now falling upon the world!"
That same evening, on leaving the house, he had met her by her door. She appeared like another woman, with an old look as though in these agonizing hours she had been suffering for fifteen years. In vain the kindly Tchernoff had tried to cheer her up, urging her to accept quietly her husband's absence so as not to harm the little one who was coming.
"For the unhappy creature is going to be a mother," he said sadly. "She hides her condition with a certain modesty, but from my window, I have often seen her making the dainty layette."
The woman had listened to him as though she did not understand. Words were useless before her desperation. She could only sob as though talking to herself, "I am a German. . . . He has gone; he has to go away. . . . Alone! . . . Alone forever!" . . .
"She is thinking all the time of her nationality which is separating her from her husband; she is thinking of the concentration camp to which they will take her with her compatriots. She is fearful of being abandoned in the enemy's country obliged to defend itself against the attack of her own country. . . . And all this when she is about to become a mother. What miseries! What agonies!"
The three reached the rue de la Pompe and on entering the house, Tchernoff began to take leave of his companions in order to climb the service stairs; but Desnoyers wished to prolong the conversation. He dreaded being alone with his friend, still chagrined over the evening's events. The conversation with the Russian interested him, so they all went up in the elevator together. Argensola suggested that this would be a good opportunity to uncork one of the many bottles which he was keeping in the kitchen. Tchernoff could go home through the studio door that opened on the stairway.
The great window had its glass doors wide open; the transoms on the patio side were also open; a breeze kept the curtains swaying, moving, too, the old lanterns, moth-eaten flags and other adornments of the romantic studio. They seated themselves around the table, near a window some distance from the light which was illuminating the other end of the big room. They were in the shadow, with their backs to the interior court. Opposite them were tiled roofs and an enormous rectangle of blue shadow, perforated by the sharp-pointed stars. The city lights were coloring the shadowy space with a bloody reflection.
Tchernoff drank two glasses, testifying to the excellence of the liquid by smacking his lips. The three were silent with the wondering and thoughtful silence which the grandeur of the night imposes. Their eyes were glancing from star to star, grouping them in fanciful lines, forming them into triangles or squares of varying irregularity. At times, the twinkling radiance of a heavenly body appeared to broaden the rays of light, almost hypnotizing them.
The Russian, without coming out of his revery, availed himself of another glass. Then he smiled with cruel irony, his bearded face taking on the semblance of a tragic mask peeping between the curtains of the night.
"I wonder what those men up there are thinking!" he muttered. "I wonder if any star knows that Bismarck ever existed! . . . I wonder if the planets are aware of the divine mission of the German nation!"
And he continued laughing.
Some far-away and uncertain noise disturbed the stillness of the night, slipping through some of the chinks that cut the immense plain of roofs. The three turned their heads so as to hear better. . . . The sound of voices cut through the thick silence of night--a masculine chorus chanting a hymn, simple, monotonous and solemn. They guessed at what it must be, although they could not hear very well. Various single notes floating with greater intensity on the night wind, enabled Argensola to piece together the short song, ending in a melodious, triumphant yell--a true war song:
C'est l'Alsace et la Lorraine,
A new band of men was going away through the streets below, toward the railway station, the gateway of the war. They must be from the outlying districts, perhaps from the country, and passing through silence-wrapped Paris, they felt like singing of the great national hope, that those who were watching behind the dark facades might feel comforted, knowing that they were not alone.
"Just as it is in the opera," said Julio listening to the last notes of the invisible chorus dying away into the night.
Tchernoff continued drinking, but with a distracted air, his eyes fixed on the red cloud that floated over the roofs.
The two friends conjectured his mental labor from his concentrated look, and the low exclamations which were escaping him like the echoes of an interior monologue. Suddenly he leaped from thought to word without any forewarning, continuing aloud the course of his reasoning.
"And when the sun arises in a few hours, the world will see coursing through its fields the four horsemen, enemies of mankind. . . . Already their wild steeds are pawing the ground with impatience; already the ill-omened riders have come together and are exchanging the last words before leaping into the saddle."
"What horsemen are these?" asked Argensola.
"Those which go before the Beast."
The two friends thought this reply as unintelligible as the preceding words. Desnoyers again said mentally, "He is drunk," but his curiosity forced him to ask, "What beast is that?"
"That of the Apocalypse."
There was a brief silence, but the Russian's terseness of speech did not last long. He felt the necessity of expressing his enthusiasm for the dreamer on the island rock of Patmos. The poet of great and mystic vision was exerting, across two thousand years, his influence over this mysterious revolutionary, tucked away on the top floor of a house in Paris. John had foreseen it all. His visions, unintelligible to the masses, nevertheless held within them the mystery of great human events.
Tchernoff described the Apocalyptic beast rising from the depths of the sea. He was like a leopard, his feet like those of a bear, his mouth like the snout of a lion. He had seven heads and ten horns. And upon the horns were ten crowns, and upon each of his heads the name of a blasphemy. The evangelist did not say just what these blasphemies were, perhaps they differed according to the epochs, modified every thousand years when the beast made a new apparition. The Russian seemed to be reading those that were flaming on the heads of the monster--blasphemies against humanity, against justice, against all that makes life sweet and bearable. "Might is superior to Right!" . . . "The weak should not exist." . . . "Be harsh in order to be great." . . . And the Beast in all its hideousness was attempting to govern the world and make mankind render him homage!
"But the four horsemen?" persisted Desnoyers.
The four horsemen were preceding the appearance of the monster in John's vision.
The seven seals of the book of mystery were broken by the Lamb in the presence of the great throne where was seated one who shone like jasper. The rainbow round about the throne was in sight like unto an emerald. Twenty-four thrones were in a semicircle around the great throne, and upon them twenty-four elders with white robes and crowns of gold. Four enormous animals, covered with eyes and each having six wings, seemed to be guarding the throne. The sounding of trumpets was greeting the breaking of the first seal.
"Come and see," cried one of the beasts in a stentorian tone to the vision-seeing poet. . . . And the first horseman appeared on a white horse. In his hand he carried a bow, and a crown was given unto him. He was Conquest, according to some, the Plague according to others. He might be both things at the same time. He wore a crown, and that was enough for Tchernoff.
"Come forth," shouted the second animal, removing his thousand eyes. And from the broken seal leaped a flame-colored steed. His rider brandished over his head an enormous sword. He was War. Peace fled from the world before his furious gallop; humanity was going to be exterminated.
And when the third seal was broken, another of the winged animals bellowed like a thunder clap, "Come and see!" And John saw a black horse. He who mounted it held in his hand a scale in order to weigh the maintenance of mankind. He was Famine.
The fourth animal saluted the breaking of the fourth seal with a great roaring--"Come and see!" And there appeared a pale-colored horse. His rider was called Death, and power was given him to destroy with the sword and with hunger and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
The four horsemen were beginning their mad, desolating course over the heads of terrified humanity.
Tchernoff was describing the four scourges of the earth exactly as though he were seeing them. The horseman on the white horse was clad in a showy and barbarous attire. His Oriental countenance was contracted with hatred as if smelling out his victims. While his horse continued galloping, he was bending his bow in order to spread pestilence abroad. At his back swung the brass quiver filled with poisoned arrows, containing the germs of all diseases--those of private life as well as those which envenom the wounded soldier on the battlefield.
The second horseman on the red steed was waving the enormous, two- edged sword over his hair bristling with the swiftness of his course. He was young, but the fierce scowl and the scornful mouth gave him a look of implacable ferocity. His garments, blown open by the motion of his wild race, disclosed the form of a muscular athlete.
Bald, old and horribly skinny was the third horseman bouncing up and down on the rawboned back of his black steed. His shrunken legs clanked against the thin flanks of the lean beast. In one withered hand he was holding the scales, symbol of the scarcity of food that was going to become as valuable as gold.
The knees of the fourth horseman, sharp as spurs, were pricking the ribs of the pale horse. His parchment-like skin betrayed the lines and hollows of his skeleton. The front of his skull-like face was twisted with the sardonic laugh of destruction. His cane-like arms were whirling aloft a gigantic sickle. From his angular shoulders was hanging a ragged, filthy shroud.
And the furious cavalcade was passing like a hurricane over the immense assemblage of human beings. The heavens showed above their heads, a livid, dark-edged cloud from the west. Horrible monsters and deformities were swarming in spirals above the furious horde, like a repulsive escort. Poor Humanity, crazed with fear, was fleeing in all directions on hearing the thundering pace of the Plague, War, Hunger and Death. Men and women, young and old, were knocking each other down and falling to the ground overwhelmed by terror, astonishment and desperation. And the white horse, the red, the black and the pale, were crushing all with their relentless, iron tread--the athletic man was hearing the crashing of his broken ribs, the nursing babe was writhing at its mother's breast, and the aged and feeble were closing their eyes forever with a childlike sob.
"God is asleep, forgetting the world," continued the Russian. "It will be a long time before he awakes, and while he sleeps the four feudal horsemen of the Beast will course through the land as its only lords."
Tchernoff was overpowered by the intensity of his dramatic vision. Springing from his seat, he paced up and down with great strides; but his picture of the fourfold catastrophe revealed by the gloomy poet's trance, seemed to him very weak indeed. A great painter had given corporeal form to these terrible dreams.
"I have a book," he murmured, "a rare book." . . .
And suddenly he left the studio and went to his own quarters. He wanted to bring the book to show to his friends. Argensola accompanied him, and they returned in a few minutes with the volume, leaving the doors open behind them, so as to make a stronger current of air among the hollows of the facades and the interior patio.
Tchernoff placed his precious book under the light. It was a volume printed in 1511, with Latin text and engravings. Desnoyers read the title, "The Apocalypse Illustrated." The engravings were by Albert Durer, a youthful effort, when the master was only twenty-seven years old. The three were fascinated by the picture portraying the wild career of the Apocalyptic horsemen. The quadruple scourge, on fantastic mounts, seemed to be precipitating itself with a realistic sweep, crushing panic-stricken humanity.
Suddenly something happened which startled the three men from their contemplative admiration--something unusual, indefinable, a dreadful sound which seemed to enter directly into their brains without passing through their ears--a clutch at the heart. Instinctively they knew that something very grave had just happened.
They stared at each other silently for a few interminable seconds.
Through the open door, a cry of alarm came up from the patio.
With a common impulse, the three ran to the interior window, but before reaching them, the Russian had a presentiment.
"My neighbor! . . . It must be my neighbor. Perhaps she has killed herself!"
Looking down, they could see lights below, people moving around a form stretched out on the tiled floor. The alarm had instantly filled all the court windows, for it was a sleepless night--a night of nervous apprehension when everyone was keeping a sad vigil.
"She has killed herself," said a voice which seemed to come up from a well. "The German woman has committed suicide."
The explanation of the concierge leaped from window to window up to the top floor.
The Russian was shaking his head with a fatalistic expression. The unhappy woman had not taken the death-leap of her own accord. Someone had intensified her desperation, someone had pushed her. . . . The horsemen! The four horsemen of the Apocalypse! . . . Already they were in the saddle! Already they were beginning their merciless gallop of destruction!
The blind forces of evil were about to be let loose throughout the world.
The agony of humanity, under the brutal sweep of the four horsemen,
was already begun!