~ ~ ~
PLOWING through the mist, the car entered the long sandy driveway that led to a gambling-house. “I have time to go up,” Clappique thought, “before going to the Black Cat.” He was determined not to miss Kyo, because of the money he expected from him and because this time, perhaps, he would not only warn him, but save his life. He had had no trouble obtaining the information Kyo had asked him for: the spies knew that a movement of Chiang Kai-shek’s special troops was planned for eleven o’clock, and that all the Communist Committees would be surrounded. It was too late now to say: “The reaction is imminent.” The order must be: “Don’t go to any of the Committees tonight.” He had not forgotten that Kyo was to leave at eleven-thirty. Some Communist meeting, then, was planned for tonight, which Chiang Kai-shek intended to crush. What the police knew was occasionally inaccurate, but the coincidence was too obvious. If Kyo were warned he could put off the meeting, or, if it was too late, not go there.
“If he gives me one hundred dollars, I will perhaps have enough money: a hundred, and the hundred and seventeen I collected this afternoon in congenial and uniformly illegal ways, two hundred and seventeen. But perhaps he won't have anything. This time there aren't any firearms to turn the trick. Let’s first try to manage by ourselves.” The car stopped. Clappique, who was wearing his dinner-jacket, gave two dollars. The driver, bare-headed, thanked with a broad smile: the fare was one dollar.
“The purpose of this liberality is to permit you to buy a 1-little Derby hat.”
He raised his forefinger, a symbol of truth:
“I say: Derby."
The driver was driving off.
“For from the plastic point of view, which is that of all worthy minds,” continued Clappique, standing in the middle of the gravel driveway, “that fellow requires a Derby.”
The car was out of sight. He was addressing only the night; and, as though it were answering him, the fragrance of the wet bo^ood and spindle-trees rose from the garden. That bitter fragrance was Europe. The Baron put his hand to his right pocket, and instead of his wallet, felt his revolver: the wallet was in the left pocket. He looked at the dark windows, which could barely be made out. “Let’s think. ” He knew he was merely trying to prolong the moment when the game was not yet begun, when flight was still possible. “The day after tomorrow, if it has rained in the meantime, this same fragrance will be here; and I shall perhaps be dead. Dead? What am I talking about? Madness! Not a word; I am immortal.” He went in, climbed the stairs to the second floor. The sound of counters and the voice of the croupier seemed to rise and fall with the layers of smoke. The boys were sleeping; but the Russian detectives of the private police, their hands in the pockets of their coats (the right clasped round a Colt), leaning against the door-cases or walking about perfunctorily, were wide awake. Clappique went into the large hall: in a haze of tobacco-smoke through which the scroll-orna- rnents on the walls shone dimly, alternate splotches- black dinner-jackets, bare white shoulders-were leaning over the green table.
“Hello, Toto!” several voices shouted.
The Baron was often called Toto, in Shanghai. Yet he had come to this place only a few times, to accompany friends: he was not a gambler. Opening his arms, assuming the air of a fond-father-who-joyfully-finds-his- lost-children, he shouted:
“Bravo! It moves me deeply to be able to join this 1-little family-party. ”
But the croupier was starting the ball; the attention left Clappique. He lost his value, here; these people did not need distraction. Their eyes were all magnetized by that ball, in an absolute discipline.
He had a hundred and seventeen dollars. To play straight on the numbers would have been too dangerous. He had decided, beforehand, to play odd or even.
“A few congenial l-little counters,” he said to the man who was distributing these.
“At how much?”
He decided to play one counter each time; always even. He had to win at least three hundred dollars.
He placed his counter. Number 5 came up. Lost. Neither important nor interesting. He placed again, still even. The 2. Won. Again. The 7: lost. Then, the 9: lost. The 4: won. The 3: lost. The 7, the r: lost. He had lost eighty dollars. He had only one more counter.
His last chance.
He tossed it with his right hand; he no longer moved the left one, as if the motionlessness of the ball were somehow holding it tied. And yet this hand seemed to be drawing him. He suddenly remembered: it was not his hand that was disturbing him, it was the watch he was wearing on his wrist. Eleven twenty-five. He had five minutes to reach Kyo.
The time before the last he had been sure of w^inng: even if he was to lose, he could not lose so fast. He had been foolish to attach no importance to his first loss; it was certainly a bad omen. But one almost always wins on the last stake; and the last three times the n^ber had come out odd. Since his arrival, however, there had been more odds than evens, since he was losing. Should he change, play odds? But something was now urging him to remain passive, to submit: it seemed to him that he had come just for this. Any gesture would have been a sacrilege. He left the stake on an even number.
The croupier started the ball. It began to go round, slowly as always, seemed to hesitate. Since the beginning, Clappique had seen neither red nor black come out. Those points now had the best chance. The ball continued its course. Why had he not played red? The ball slowed do'wn. It stopped on the 2. Won.
He must put the forty doUars on the 7, and play the number. It was obvious: henceforth he must play his own game. He placed his two counters, and won. When the croupier pushed fourteen counters in his direction, he discovered with stupefaction that he could win: it was not something he was imagining, a fantastic lottery with unknown winners. It seemed to him suddenly that the bank owed him money, not because he had staked on the winning number, not because he had lost in the beginning; but from the beginning of time, because of the capriciousness and freedom of his mind-it seemed to him that this ball was placing chance in his service to pay all fate’s debts. However, if he played a number again, he would lose. He staked two hundred dollars on odd-and lost.
Outraged, he left the table a moment and went over to the window.
Outside, night. Under the trees, the red tail-lights of the cars. In spite of the window-panes he could hear a great babble of voices, laughter, and suddenly, without being able to make out the words, something said in a tone of anger. Passions. All those creatures who were passing in the haze, what weak, stupid lives did they lead? Not even shadows: voices in the night. It was in this hall that blood flowed fast into life. Those who did not gamble were not men. Was not his whole past but one long folly? He returned to the table.
He staked sixty dollars on even, once more. That ball which was slowing down was a destiny-his destiny. He was not struggling with a creature, but with a kind of god; and this god, at the same time, was himself. The ball started off again.
He immediately recovered the passive turmoil he was seeking: again he had the feeling of seizing his life, of holding it suspended to the whim of that absurd baU. Thanks to it he was able for the firrt time to gratify at once the two Clappiques that composed him, the one who wanted to live and the one who wanted to be destroyed. Why look at the watch? He threw Kyo back into a world of dreams; it seemed to him that he was sustaining that ball, no longer with counters, but with his own life-by not meeting Kyo he lost all chance of getting any more money-and with the life of another; and the fact that the other was wholly unaware of it gave to the ball, which was again slowing down, the living reality of conjunctions of planets, of chronic diseases, of everything by which men believe their destinies to be governed. What did that ball, hesitating on the edges of the compartments like a dog’s muzzle, have to do with money? Through its agency he was embracing his own destiny-the only means he had ever found of possessing himself! To win, no longer in order to take flight, but to remain, to risk more, so that the stake of his conquered liberty would render the gesture even more absurd! Leaning on his forearm, no longer even looking at the ball which continued to roll, more and more slowly, the muscles of his calves and shoulders trembling, he was discovering the very meaning of gambling, the frenzy of losing.
Almost everyone was losing; smoke filled the room together with a dismal relaxation of nerves and the shuffle of counters gathered by the rake. Clappique knew he was not through. Why keep his seventeen dollars? He pulled out the ten-dollar bill and staked it again on even.
He was so sure he would lose that he had not played everything-as if to prolong the sensation of losing. As soon as the ball began to hesitate, his right hand followed it, but the left one remained attached to the table. He understood now the intense aliveness of gambling instruments: that ball was not a ball like any other-like those that are not used for gambling; the very hesitancy of its movement lived: that movement, both inevitable and passive, wavered thus because lives were linked to it. While the ball turned none of the players puffed at his lighted cigarette. The ball entered a red compartment, left it, strayed again, entered that of the 9. With his left hand resting on the table, Clappique made an imperceptible gesture of pulling it away. Once more he had lost.
Five dollars on even: the last counter again.
The ball was describing wide circles, not yet alive. The watch, however, distracted Clappique’s eyes from it. He did not wear it on top of his wrist, but underneath, where the pulse is taken. He placed his hand flat on the table and managed to concentrate on the ball. He was discovering that gambling is a suicide without death: all he had to do was to place his money there, to look at the ball and wait, as he would have waited after having swallowed poison; a poison endlessly renewed, together with the pride of taking it. The ball stopped on the 4. Won.
Winning hardly mattered. Yet, if he had lost. He won once more, lost once. Again he had forty dollars left, but he wanted to recover the sensation of turmoil of the last play. The stakes were piling up on the red which had not come out in a long time. This compartment, on which almost all eyes were converging, fascinated him too; but to quit the even numbers would be like giving up the battle. He stuck to even, staked the forty dollars. No stake would ever be worth this one: Kyo had perhaps not yet left: in ten minutes he would surely no longer be able to catch him; but now perhaps he could. Now, now he was playing his last cent, his life and that of another, especially that of another. He knew he was sacrificing Kyo; it was Kyo who was chained to that ball, to that table, and it was he, Clap- pique, who was that ball, which was master of everyone and of himself-of himself who was nevertheless looking at it, living as he had never lived, outside of himself, held spellbound and breathless by an overpowering shame.
He went out at one o’clock: the “club” was closing. He had twenty-four dollars left. The outside air soothed
like that of a forest. The mist was much lighter than at eleven. Perhaps it had rained: everything was wet.- Although he could see neither the boxwood nor the spindle-trees in the darkness, he guessed their dark foliage by their bitter fragrance. “It is r-remarkable,” he thought, “how people can say that the player's sensation is caused by his hope of winning! It's as if they said that men fight duels to become fencing champions. ” But the serenity of the night seemed to have put to flight, together with the fog, all the anxieties, all the griefs of men. And yet. volleys in the distance. “They've begun firing again. ”
He left the garden, making an effort not to think of Kyo, began to walk. Already there were fewer trees. Suddenly, through what was left of the mist, a lusterless moonlight appeared upon the surface of things. Clap- pique raised his eyes. The moon had just emerged from a tattered bank of dead clouds and was slowly drifting into an immense, dark and transparent hole like a lake with its depths full of stars. Its light, growing more intense, gave to all those sealed houses, to the complete desertion of the city, an extra-terrestrial life as if the moon's atmosphere had come and settled in the great sudden silence together with its light. Yet behind that scene of a dead planet there were men. Almost all were asleep, and the disquieting life of sleep was in harmony with the desolation of a buried city, as if this life too had belonged to another planet.
“In the Arabian Nights there are 1-little cities full of sleepers, abandoned for centuries with their mosques under the moon, sleeping-cities-of-the-desert. Which doesn't alter the fact I'm perhaps going to die.” Death, even his own death, was not very real in this atmosphere, so inhuman that he felt himself an intruder. And those who were not sleeping? “There are those who read. Those who are gnawed by their conscience. (Lovely phrase!) Those who make love.” The life of the future trembled behind all that silence. Mad humanity, which nothing could free from itself! The smell of corpses from the Chinese city was borne on the wind which was again rising. Clappique had to struggle for his breath: anguish was returning. He could endure the idea of death more easily than its smell. The latter, little by little, was taking possession of the scene which concealed the madness of the world beneath the appeasement of serenity; the wind still blowing without the slightest murmur, the moon reached the opposite bank, and all fell back into darkness. “Is it a dream?” But the terrific odor threw him back to life, to the anxious night in which the street-lights, just now blurred by mist, formed large tremulous circles on the sidewalks where the rain had blotted out the footprints.
Where now? He hesitated. He would be unable to forget Kyo if he tried to sleep. He was now passing through a street of small bars, tiny brothels with signs written in the languages of all the maritime nations. He entered the first one.
He sat down near the window. The three girls on duty-one half-breed, two white women-were sitting with clients, one of whom was getting ready to leave. Clappique waited, looked outside: nothing, not even a sailor. In the distance, rifle-shots. He started, on purpose: a squarely-built blond girl, disengaged, had just sat down beside him. “A Rubens,” he thought, “but not perfect: she must be by Jordaens. Not a word. ” He twirled his hat on his forefinger, rapidly, threw it up in the air,
caught it dexterously by the brim and placed it on the knees of the woman:
“Take good care of this 1-little hat, my dear girl. It’s the only one in Shanghai. What’s more, it’s tame. ” The woman’s face broadened into a smile: he was a funny guy. And gayety gave a sudden animation to her face, stolid up to this moment.
“Shall we have a drink, or go upstairs?” she asked. “Both.”
She brought some Schiedam. “It’s a specialty of the house.”
“No fooling?” said Clappique.
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Do you suppose I give a God damn?”
“Are you in trouble?”
She looked at him. With the funny guys you had to be on your guard. However, he was alone, he wasn’t trying to show off; and he really didn’t seem to be making fun of her.
“What else can you expect, in this sort of life?”
“Do you smoke?”
“Opium is too high. You can use the needle, of course, but I’m afraid: with their dirty needles you get abscesses, and if you’ve got boils they throw you out of the house. There are ten women for every job. And besides. ” Flemish, he thought. He cut her short:
“You can get opium pretty cheap. I pay two dollars and seventy for this.”
“Are you from the North too?”
He gave her a box without answering. She was grateful to him-for being a compatriot, and for the gift.
“Even so it’s too much for me. But this one won’t have cost me much. I’ll chew some tonight.”
“You don’t like to smoke?”
“You think I’ve got a pipe? How do you get that way?”
She smiled bitterly, still pleased however. But the habitual suspicion returned:
“Why do you give me this?”
“Never mind. … I enjoy it. I’ve been ‘in the game.’ ” …
As a matter of fact, he didn’t look like a man who pays for his pleasures. But he surely hadn’t been “in the game” for a long time. (He occasionally felt the need of inventing whole biographies for himself, but rarely when a sexual adventure was involved.) She sidled over to him on the bench.
“Just try to be nice. It’ll be the last time I have a woman.”
“Why is that?”
She was slow, but not stupid. After having answered she understood: “You’re going to kill yourself?”
He wasn’t the first one. She took Clappique’s hand between her own, and kissed ^m, clumsily and almost maternally.
“That’s too bad. ”
“Do you want to go upstairs?”
She had heard that men sometimes had such an urge before death. But she didn’t dare to get up first: it would be like hastening his suicide. She had kept his hand in both of hers. Slumped on the bench, legs crossed and arms held tightly to his sides like a delicate insect, nose pushed forward, he looked at her from afar, in spite of the contact of their bodies. Although he had scarcely been drinking, he was drunk with his lie, with this heat, with the fictive world he was creating. When he said he would kill himself he did not believe what he was saying; but, since she believed it, he was entering a world where truth no longer existed. It was neither true nor false, but real. And since neither his past which he had just invented, nor the elementary gesture, presumably so close, upon which his relation to this woman was based-since neither of these existed, nothing existed. The world had ceased to weigh upon him. Liberated, he lived now only in the romantic universe which he had just created, strengthened by the bond which all human pity establishes before death. His intoxication was so strong that his hand trembled. The woman felt it and thought it was due to anguish:
“Isn’t there a way of-fixing it?”
The hat, poised on the corner of the table, seemed to be looking at him ironically. He pushed it over on the bench so as not to see it.
“A love affair?” she went on asking.
A volley of shots burst in the distance. “As if there weren’t enough who are going to die tonight,” she thought.
He got up without answering. She thought her question brought up memories in him. In spite of her curiosity, she felt like begging his pardon, but did not dare. She got up, too. Slipping her hand under the bar, she pulled out a parcel (a syringe, towels) from between two glass jars. They went upstairs.
When he went out-he did not turn round, but knew she was following him with her eyes through the win- dow-neither his mind nor his sensuality had been quenched. The mist had returned. After walking fifteen minutes (the cool night air did not calm ^m) he stopped before a Portuguese bar. Its windows had not lost their polish. Standing apart from the clients, a slim brunette with very large eyes, her hands on her breasts as if to protect them, was looking out into the night. Oappique looked at her without moving. “I am like a woman who doesn’t know what a new lover is going to get out of her. Let’s go and commit suicide with this one.”
Half past eleven at night
In the din of the Black Cat, Kyo and May had waited.
The five last minutes. Already they should have left. It astonished Kyo that Clappique had not come (he had collected almost two hundred dollars for him), although he had half expected it: each time Clappique behaved in this way he was so much himself that he only half surprised those who knew him. Kyo had at first considered him a rather picturesque eccentric, but he was grateful to him for having warned him, and was beginning little by little to feel a real friendship for him. However, he was beginning to doubt the value of the information the Baron had given him, and his failure to keep his appointment made him doubt it all the more.
Although the fox-trot was not over, there was a great stir in the direction of one of Chiang Kai-shek’s officers who had just come in: couples left the dance, drew near, and, although Kyo could hear nothing, he guessed that some important event had occurred. Already May was moving in the direction of the group: at the Black Cat a woman was suspected of everything, and therefore of nothing. She returned very quickly.
“A bomb has been thrown at Chiang Kai-shek’s car,” she told him in a low voice. “He was not in the car."'
“And the murderer?” asked Kyo.
She returned towards the group, came back followed by a fellow who insisted on her dancing with him, but who left her as soon as he saw she was not alone.
“Escaped,” she said.
“Let's hope so. ”
Kyo knew how inaccurate such information usually was. But it was scarcely probable that Chiang Kai-shek had been killed. The importance of such a death would be so great that the officer would not have ignored it. “We will find out at the Military Committee,” said Kyo. “Let’s go there right away.”
He was too hopeful of Ch’en’s escape to doubt it entirely. Whether Chiang Kai-shek was still in Shanghai or had already left for Nanking, the unsuccessful attempt at his life gave a capital importance to the meeting of the Military Committee. And yet, what was to be expected of it? He had transmitted Clappique’s statement, in the afternoon, to a Central Committee that was skeptical and made a point of being so: the repression confirmed Kyo’s thesis too directly not to make his confirmation of it lose some of its validity. Besides, the Committee was agitating for union with the Kuomintang, not for struggle: a few days earlier the political chief of the Reds and one of the Blue chiefs had made some touching speeches in Shanghai. And the failure of the attempt to seize the Japanese concession, at Hankow, was beginning to show that the Reds were paralyzed in Central China itself; the Manchurian troops were marching on Hankow, which would have to fight them before fighting those of Chiang Kai-shek. Kyo was advancing through the fog, May at his side, without speaking. If the Communists had to fight tonight, they would scarcely be able to defend themselves. Whether they had given up their last firearms or not, how would they fight, one against ten, in disagreement with the instructions of the Chinese Communist Party, against an army that would oppose them with its corps of bourgeois volunteers armed with European weapons and having the advantage of attack?
Last month the whole city was for the united revolutionary army; the dictator had represented the foreigner, and the city hated foreigners; the immense petty bourgeoisie was democratic, but not Communist; this time the army was there, menacing, not in flight towards Nanking; Chiang Kai-shek was not the executioner of February, but a national hero, except among Communists. All against the police last month; the Communists against the army today. The city would be neutral, rather favorable to the general. Scarcely would they be able to defend the workers' quarters; Chapei perhaps? And then?. If Clappique had been misinformed, if the reaction delayed a month, the Military Committee, Kyo, Katov would organize two hundred thousand men. The new shock groups, composed of thoroughgoing Communists, were taking the Unions in hand; but at least a month would be necessary to create an organization sufficiently strong to maneuver the masses.
And the problem of firearms remained unsolved. What he wanted to know was not whether the two or three thousand guns they possessed ought to be surrendered, but how the masses were to be armed in case of an attack by Chiang Kai-shek. As long as discussions continued, the men would be disarmed. And if the Military Committee, on the one hand, insisted on being given arms, no matter what happened, the Central Committee, knowing that the Trotskyist theses were attacking the union with the Kuomintang, was terrified by any attitude which might, rightly or wrongly, seem to be linked to that of the Russian Opposition.
Now Kyo could just make out the dim lights of the Military Committee headquarters, through the fog that had not yet lifted, and that obliged him to walk on the sidewalk to avoid the passing cars. Opaque mist and night: he had to light his cigarette-lighter to see his watch. He was a few minutes late. Deciding to hurry, he slipped his arm into May’s; she pressed gently against him. After a few steps, he felt in May’s body a jerk and a sudden limpness: she was falling, slipping in front of him. “May!” He stumbled, fell on aU fours, and, the moment he was starting to get up, received a violent blow from a bludgeon in the nape of the neck. He fell forward on top of her, full length.
Three policemen stepped out from a building and joined the one who had struck the blow. An empty car stood parked a short distance away. They bundled Kyo into it and drove off, binding him only after they were under way.
When May came to (the jerk that Kyo had felt had been caused by a blow below the ribs) a picket of Chiang Kai-shek’s soldiers was guarding the entrance to the Military Committee headquarters; because of the mist, she perceived them only when she was almost up to them. She continued to walk in the same direction (she was breathing with difficulty, and was suffering from the blow), and hurried back to Gisors’ house.
As soon as he had learned that a bomb had been thrown at Chiang Kai-shek, Hemmelrich had run to get news. He had been told that the general was killed and that the murderer had gotten away; but, before the overturned car, the torn-off hood, he had seen Ch’en’s corpse on the sidewalk-small and bloody, already drenched by the fog-guarded by a soldier seated nearby; and had learned that the general was not in the car. Absurdly, it seemed to him that his having refused to give Ch’en shelter was one of the causes of his death; he had run to the Communist post of his quarter, in despair, and had spent an hour there vainly discussing the attempt upon Chiang Kai-shek’s life. A comrade had entered.
“The Union of the spinning-mill workers at Chapei has just been closed by Chiang Kai-shek’s soldiers.”
“Didn’t the comrades resist?”
“Al who protested were immediately shot. At Chapei the militants are also being shot or their homes are b^rced down. The Municipal Government has just been dispersed. All the Unions are being closed.”
No orders from the Central Committee. The married comrades had immediately run home, to save their wives and children through flight.
The moment Hemmelrich stepped outside, he heard volleys of gun-fire; he risked being recognized, but he must at all costs get the child and the woman off to safety. Before him, through the fog, passed two armored cars and trucks loaded with Chiang Kai-shek’s soldiers. In the distance the volleys continued; and others, close by.
No soldiers in the Avenue of the Two Republics, nor in the street where he had his shop. No: no more soldiers. The door of the shop was open. He ran in: on the floor, heaps of smashed records scattered in large pools of blood. The shop had been “cleaned” with grenades, like a trench. The woman was slumped against the counter, almost crouching, her whole chest the color of a wound. In a corner, a child’s arm; the hand, thus isolated, appeared even smaller. “If only they are dead!” thought Hemmelrich. He was especially afraid of having to stand by and watch a slow death, powerless, only able to suffer, as usual-more afraid even than of those cases riddled with grenade fragments and spattered with red spots. Through his shoe-soles he could feel the stickiness of the floor. “Their blood.” He remained motionless, no longer daring to stir, looking, looking. … He discovered at last the body of the child, near the door which hid it. He was scarcely breathing, overwhelmed by the smell of the spilt blood. In the distance, two grenades exploded. “No question of burying them. ” He locked the door with a key, stood there before the shop. “If they come and recognize me, I’m done for.” But he could not leave.
He knew he was suffering, but a halo of indifference surrounded his grief, the indifference which follows upon an illness or a blow in the head. No grief would have surprised him: on the whole, fate this time had dealt him a better blow than usual. Death did not astonish him: it was no worse than life. The thing that appalled him was the thought that behind this door there had been as much suffering as there was blood. This time, however, destiny had played badly: by tearing from him everything he still possessed, it freed him.
He entered the shop again, shut the door. In spite of the catastrophe, of the sensation of having the ground give way under his feet, leaving nothing but empty space, he could not banish from his mind the atrocious, weighty, profound joy of liberation. With horror and satisfaction he felt it rumble within him like a subterranean river, grow nearer; the corpses were there, his feet which were stuck to the floor were glued by their blood, nothing could be more of a mockery than these murders-especially that of the sick child: he seemed even more innocent than the dead woman;-but now, he was no longer impotent. Now, he too could kill. It came to him suddenly that life was not the only mode of contact between human beings, that it was not even the best; that he could know them, love them, possess them more completely in vengeance than in life. Again he became aware of his shoe-soles, stuck to the floor, and tottered: muscles were not aided by thought. But an intense exaltation was overwhelming him, the most powerful that he had ever known; he abandoned himself to this frightful intoxication with entire consent. “One can kiU with love. With love, by God!” he repeated, striking the counter with his fist-against the universe, perhaps. He immediately withdrew his hand, his throat tight, on the verge of sobbing: the counter was also bloody. He looked at the brown blot on his hand which was trembling, as if shaken by an attack of nerves: little flakes were falling from it. He wanted to laugh, to weep, to find relief from the awful pressure on his chest. Nothing stirred, and the immense indifference of the world settled, together with the unwavering light, upon the records, the dead, the blood. The sentence: “They wrenched off the members of the victims with red-hot tongs,” rose and fell in his brain; it was the first time it came back to him since he had read it at school; but he felt that it somehow meant that he must leave, that he too must tear himself away.
At last, without his knowing how, departure became possible. He was able to go out, and began to walk in a state of oppressive well-being which covered over eddies of limitless hatred. When he had gone thirty meters he stopped. “I left the door open on them.” He retraced his steps. As he drew near, he felt sobs rising, becoming knotted in his chest below his throat, and remaining there. He shut his eyes, drew the door shut. The lock clicked: locked. He started off again. “It’s not finished,” he said hoarsely as he walked. “It’s beginning. It’s beginning. ” His shoulders thrust forward, he pushed ahead like a barge-tower towards a dim country of which he knew only that one killed there, pulling with his shoulders and with his brain the weight of al his dead who, at last! no longer prevented him from advancing.
His hands trembling, his teeth chattering, carried away by his terrible liberty, he was back at the Post in ten minutes. It was a two-story building. Behind the windows, mattresses were undoubtedly piled up: in spite of the absence of blinds, no luminous rectangles were visible through the fog, but only vertical slits. The calm of the street, hardly more than an alley, was absolute, and those slits of light took on the intensity, both tiny and sharp, of spark-plug flashes. He rang. The door opened a fraction of an inch: he was known. Behind, four militants holding Mausers watched him pass. Like a nest of insects, the vast hall was alive with an activity whose meaning was obscure but whose movement was clear-everything came from the cellar; the ground-floor was deserted. Two workers on the landing of the stairs were installing a machine-gun which commanded the hall. It did not even glisten, but it attracted attention like the tabernacle in a church. Students, workers were running. He passed in front of bundles of barbed wires (what use could they be?), mounted the stairs, circled the machine-gun, and reached the stair-head. Katov was coming out of an office, and looked at him questioningly. Without a word, Hemmelrich held out his bloody hand.
“Wounded? There are bandages downstairs. You’ve hidden the kid?”
Hemmelrich could not speak. He stubbornly showed his hand, with a stupid air. “It's their blood,” he was thinking. But it could not be said.
“I have a knife,” he said at last. “Give me a gun.” “There aren’t many guns.”
“Do you think I'm scared, you son of a bitch?”
“Go downstairs. There are grenades in the cases. Not many. Do you know where Kyo is?”
“Haven’t seen him. I saw Ch’en: he’s dead.”
Hemmelrich went down. With their arms buried up to their shoulders, comrades were rummaging in an open case. So the supply was nearly exhausted. The mingled bodies were moving about in the full light of the lamps- there were no vent-holes-and the volume of those dense bodies around the case, encountered after the shadows that passed back and forth under the dimmed light- bulbs in the corridor above, surprised him as if, in the face of death, these men had acquired a sudden right to a life more intense than that of the others. He filled his pockets, went upstairs again. The others, the shadows, had finished installing the machine-gun and placed the barbed wires behind the door, back just far enough to allow it to open. Every minute or two the door-bell rang. He looked through the peep-hole: the misty street was still calm and empty. The comrades were arriving, formless in the fog like fish in stirred water, in the streak of shadow cast by the roofs. He was turning round to go and look for Katov: suddenly, two hurried rings, a shot, and the piercing gasp of someone being strangled, then the fall of a body.
“Here they are!” several of the men guarding the door shouted at once. Silence fell upon the corridor, subdued by the voices and the rattle of arms that rose from the ceUar. The men were taking their fighting-posts.
Half past one in the morning
Clappique, emerging from his lie as from a fit of drunkenness, was stalking through the lobby of his Chinese hotel where the “boys,” slumped on a round table under the call-board, were spitting sunflower seeds at the spittoons. He knew he would not sleep. He opened his door mechanicaUy, threw his coat on the familiar copy of the Tales of Hoffmann and poured himself some whiskey: alcohol would sometimes banish the torment which seized him at moments. Something was changed in this room. He strove not to notice it: the inexplicable absence of certain objects would have been too alarming. He had managed to escape almost everything upon which men base their lives-love, family, work; but not fear. It rose in him, like an acute consciousness of his solitude; to banish it he usually ran to the nearest Black Cat, sought refuge in the women who open their thighs and their hearts while thinking of something else. Impossible tonight: worn out, fed up with lying and provisional intimacies. He saw himself in the mirror, went up to it:
“After all, my good fellow,” he said to the Clappique in the mirror, “why run away? How long is all this going to last? You’ve had a wife: let’s forget it, oh! let’s forget it! Mistresses, money; you can always think of them when you need phantoms to make an ass of you. Not a word! You have gifts, as they say, a sense of humor, all the qualities needed to make a parasite: you can always be a valet at Ferral’s when age has brought you to perfection. There is also the profession of gen- tleman-beggar, the police and suicide. A pimp? The delusion of grandeur again. Which leaves suicide, I tell you. But you don’t want to die. You don’t want to die, you little bastard! And yet look at yourself-a fine face to use for a dead man. ”
He drew still nearer, his nose almost touching the glass; he twisted his face, mouth open, into a gargoyle’s grimace; and, as if the mask had answered him:
“Everyone can’t be dead? Obviously: it takes a little of everything to make a world. Pshaw! When you’re dead you’ll go to Paradise. And what a companion God will be for a fellow of your sort. ”
He made a different face, mouth shut and drawn towards the chin, eyes half-opened, like a carnival samurai. And immediately, as if he had found a way of expressing directly in all its intensity the torment which words were not adequate to translate, he began to make faces, transforming himself into a monkey, an idiot, a terrified person, an apoplectic, into all the grotesques that a human face can express. This no longer sufficed: he used his fingers, drawing out the corners of his eyes, enlarging his mouth for the toad face of the man-who- laughs, flattening his nose, pulling out his ears. Each of these faces spoke to him, revealed to him a part of himself hidden by life; this debauchery of the grotesque in the solitary room, with the night mist piled against the window, was assuming the atrocious and terrifying humor of madness. He heard his own laughter-a single note, the same as his mother’s; and, suddenly perceiving
his face, he withdrew with horror and sat down, panting. There was a pad of paper and a pencil on the arm-chair. If he went on in this way he would really go mad. To protect himself from the frightful mirror he began writing to himself:
You would end up as a king, my old Toto. King: good and warm in a cozy insane-asylum, thanks to delirium tremens, your only friend, if you keep on drinking. But at this moment, are you drunk or sober? … You who imagine so many things, what are you waiting for to imagine yourself happy? Do you think.
He tumbled down to earth. Rescued but dumbfounded. The knocking was repeated.
A wool cloak, a black felt hat, a head of white hair: old Gisors.
“But I … I …” Clappique spluttered.
“Kyo has just been arrested,” said Gisors. “You know KOnig, don’t you?”
“I … But I’ve got nothing to do with it. ” Gisors studied him carefully. “If only he isn't too drunk,” he thought.
“You know KOnig,” he repeated.
“Yes, I, I … know him. I have. done him a service. Great service.”
“Can you ask him to return it?”
“Why not? But what?”
“As the chief of Chiang Kai-shek’s secret police he can have Kyo released. Or, at least, prevent his being shot: you understand it’s most urgent. ”
“Y-yes. … All right.”
He had so little confidence in KOnig’s gratitude, however, that he had considered it useless and perhaps imprudent to go and see him, even after Shpilevski’s warning. He sat down on the bed, his nose pointed straight down to the floor. He did not dare to speak. The tone of Gisors' voice convinced him that the latter did not suspect that he was responsible for Kyo’s arrest: Gisors saw in him the friend who had come to warn Kyo that afternoon, not the man who was gambling at the hour of his appointment. But Clappique could not convince himself of this. He did not dare to look at him and could not calm himself. Gisors was wondering from what drama or what extravagance he was emerging, not guessing that his presence was one of the causes of his panting breath. It seemed to Clappique that Gisors was accusing him:
“You know, old man, that I'm not. anyway that I’m not as mad as all that; I, I. ”
He could not stop stammering; it seemed to him at times that Gisors was the only man who understood him; and at times that he took him for a buffoon. The old man was looking at him without speaking.
“I. What do you think of me?”
Gisors was more inclined to take him by the shoulders and lead him to Konig’s than to talk to him; but beneath what he took to be his intoxication he discerned such a turmoil that he did not dare to refuse to enter into the game.
“There are those who need to write, those who need to dream, those who need to talk. It’s all the same thing. The theater is not serious, but the bull-fight is; novels aren’t serious, but mythomania is.”
Clappique got up.
“Have you hurt your arm?” asked Gisors.
“A twist. Not a word. ”
Clappique had awkwardly turned his arm to hide his wristwatch as if this watch which had shown him the time in the gambling-hall would have betrayed him. He perceived by Gisors’ question that this was idiotic.
“When will you go and see KOnig?”
“Why not now? The police are awake tonight,” said Gisors with bitterness, “and anything might happen. ”
Clappique was only too glad. Not through remorse (had he been at the game again he would have stayed again), but by way of compensation.
“Let’s run, old dear. ”
The change which he had noticed in the room upon entering again made him uneasy. He looked carefully, was stupefied at not having seen it before: one of his Taoist paintings-“to make one dream”-and his two finest statues had disappeared. On the table, a letter: Shpilevski’s handwriting. He guessed. But he did not dare to read the letter. Shpilevski had warned him that Kyo was in danger: if he were to let himself go to the point of talking about him, he would be unable to avoid telling everything. He took the letter and put it in his
As soon as they were outside they encountered armored cars and trucks loaded with soldiers.
Clappique had almost recovered his calm; to hide the anxiety from which he could not yet free himself, he played the fool, as usual:
“I would like to be a wizard, to send the caliph a uni- corn-a sun-colored unicorn, I tell you-which would appear in the palace, shouting: ‘Know, Caliph, that the first sultana is unfaithful to you!’ Not a word! I would be grand as a unicorn myself, with my nose! And of course, it wouldn’t be true. Apparently nobody realizes how voluptuous it is to live in another person’s eyes an altogether different life from his own. Especially a woman’s. ”
“What woman has not invented a life-history for at least one of the men who have accosted her on the street?”
“You. think everyone is a mythomaniac?” Clappique’s eyelids flickered nervously; he walked more slowly.
“No, listen,” he said, “tell me franldy: why do you think they aren’t?”
He now felt an urge, curiously foreign to himself but very strong, to ask Gisors what he thought of gambling; and yet, if he spoke of gambling he would surely confess everything. Was he going to speak? Silence would have forced him to; luckily Gisors answered: “Perhaps I’m the person least capable of answering you. Opium teaches only one thing, which is that aside from physical suffering, there is nothing real.” “Suffering, yes. And. fear.”
“You are never afraid, with o-opium?”
In truth, Gisors believed that if the world was without reality, men-even those who are most opposed to the world-have an intense reality; but that Clappique, precisely, was one of the rare beings who had none. And this conviction tormented him, for it was into those unsubstantial hands that he was giving over Kyo’s fate. Beneath the attitudes of every man there is a base that can be touched, and thinking of his affliction enables one to have an inkling of its nature. Clappique’s affliction was independent of him, like that of a child: he was not responsible for it; it could destroy ^m, it could not modify him. He could cease to exist, disappear in a vice, in a monomania; he could not become a man. “A heart of gold, but hollow.” Gisors perceived that at the base of Clappique there was neither affliction nor solitude, as in other men, but sensation. Gisors sometimes gauged other men by imagining their old age: Clappique could not grow old. Age did not bring him human experience, but an intoxication-lust or drugs-in which all his means of ignoring life would at last merge. “Perhaps,” the Baron was thinking, “if I told him everything, he would find it quite normal. ” Shots were now firing everywhere in the Chinese city. Clappique begged Gisors to leave at the boundary of the concession: Konig would not receive him. Gisors stopped, watched his thin, loose figure disappear in the mist.
The special section of Chiang Kai-shek’s police was quartered in a plain villa built about 1920: suburban style, but with windows framed in extravagant blue and yellow Portuguese ornaments. Two sentinels and more orderlies than usual; all the men armed; that was all. On the card which a secretary handed him Clappique wrote “Toto,” leaving the occasion of his visit blank, and waited. It was the first time he found himself in a lighted place since he had left his room: he drew Shpilevski’s letter from his pocket:
My Dear Friend:
I have yielded to your insistence. My scruples were well founded, but I have thought it over: you enable me in this way to recover my peace of mind, and the profits which my venture promises are so great and so certain that I will surely be able to repay you, within a year, with objects of the same kind, and finer. The food business, m this city..
There followed four pages of explanation.
“It doesn’t look very good,” thought Clappique, “not good at all. ” But an orderly was coming for him.
KOnig was waiting for him, seated on his desk, facing the door. Thick-set, dark, a crooked nose in a square face. He came towards him, shook his hand in a brisk, firm manner that separated rather than united them.
“How are you? Good. I knew I would see you today. I’m glad I was able to be of use to you in my turn.” “You are for-r-midable,” answered Clappique, half playing the buffoon. “I’m only wondering if there isn’t a misunderstanding: you know I’m not interested in politics. ”
“There’s no misunderstanding.”
“His gratitude is rather condescending,” thought
“You have two days to get out. You did me a service once. Today I’ve warned you.”
“Wh-what? You?. ”
“Do you think Shpilevski would have dared? You’re dealing with the Chinese Secret Service, but the Chinese are no longer directing it. Enough of nonsense.”
Clappique was beginning to admire Shpilevski, but not without irritation.
“Well,” he went on, “since you are good enough to remember me, allow me to ask you something else.” “What?”
Clappique no longer had much hope: each new response of KOnig’s showed him that the fellowship on which he counted did not exist, or no longer existed.
If KOnig had warned him, he no longer owed him anything. It was more to relieve his conscience than with any hope of success that he said:
“Couldn’t something be done for young Gisors? I don’t suppose you give a damn about all that. ” “What is he?”
“A Communist. Important, I believe.”
“First of all, why is that fellow a Communist? His father? A half-breed? No job? That a worker should be a Communist is idiotic enough, but he! Well, what?” “It’s not easy to summarize. ”
Clappique was reflecting:
“Because he’s a half-breed, perhaps. But he could have adjusted himself: his mother was Japanese. He didn’t try. He says something like this: a will to dignity. ”
Clappique was stupefied: KOnig was yelling at him. He did not expect that one word to produce such a violent effect. “Have I made a blunder?” he wondered.
“First of all, what does that mean?” KOnig asked, shaking his forefinger as though he had been talking without being understood. “Dignity,” he repeated. Clappique could not mistake the tone of his voice: it was that of hatred. He stood a little to the right of Clappique, and his nose, which had a sharp curve at this angle, strongly accentuated his face.
“Tell me, my little Toto, do you believe in dignity?” “In others. ”
His tone said: “Is this going to go on much longer?” “You know what the Reds did to the officers who were taken prisoners?”
Clappique was careful not to answer. This was getting
serious. And he felt that this question was a preparation- a help which KOnig was giving himself: he expected no answer.
“In Siberia, I was an interpreter in a prisoner’s camp.
I was able to get away by serving in the White army, with Semenoff. Whites or Reds-they were all the same to me: I wanted to return to Germany. I was caught by the Reds. I was half dead of cold. They beat me with their fists, calling me captain (I was a lieutenant), till I fell. They lifted me up. I was not wearing Semenoff’s uniform with little skulls and cross-bones. I had a star on each epaulette.”
He stopped. “He might refuse without making so much fuss,” thought Clappique. Breathless, heavy, the voice implied a need which he nevertheless was seeking to understand.
“They drove a nail into each shoulder, through each star. Long as a finger. Listen carefully, little Toto.”
He took him by the ^m, looking steadily into his eyes, with the look of a man in love.
“I wept like a woman, like a calf. I wept before them. You understand, don’t you? Let’s leave it at that. No one will lose anything by it.”
That lustful look enlightened Clappique. The confidence was not surprising: it was not a confidence, it was a revenge. Beyond a doubt he told this story-or told it to himself-each time he had a chance to kill, as if this tale could rub into the limitless humiliation which tortured him until it bled.
“Listen, little fellow, it would be better not to talk to me too much about dignity. … My dignity is to kill them. Do you think I give a damn about China! Yeah! China, no fooling! I’m in the Kuomintang only to kill them off. I live as I used to-like a man, like anybody, like the lowest of the riff-raff that pass in front of that window-only when I’m killing them. It’s like opium smokers with their pipes. A rag, that’s all. You came to ask me to save his skin? Even if you had saved my life three times. ”
He shrugged his shoulders, continued passionately: “Do you even have an idea what it is, my poor Toto, to see one’s life assume a meaning, an absolute meaning: disgust you with yourself.? ”
He ended the sentence between his teeth, his hands in his pockets, his hair quivering as he snapped out the words.
“There is forgetfulness. ” said Clappique in a low voice.
“It’s more than a year since I’ve had a woman! Is that enough for you? And. ”
He stopped short, went on in a lower voice:
“But I say, little Toto. Young Gisors, young Gisors. You were speaking of a misunderstanding; you still want to know why you’re wanted? I’ll tell you. It’s you who handled the matter of the guns on the Shantung, isn’t it? Do you know whom the guns were for?”
“One asks no questions in that game, not a word!”
He was raising his forefinger to his lips, in accordance with his purest traditions. He was immediately embarrassed by the gesture.
“For the Communists. And as you were risking your life, you might have been told. And it was a swindle. They used you to gain time: that very night they plundered the ship. If I’m not mistaken it was your present protege who launched you in this affair?”
Clappique was on the point of answering: “I got my commission just the same.” But Konig’s face expressed such gloating satisfaction at the revelation he had just made that Clappique had no longer any other desire than to leave. Although Kyo had kept his promises, he had made him risk his life without telling him. Would he have risked it? No. Kyo had been right to prefer his cause to him: he would now be right to disinterest himself in Kyo. All the more so since in truth he could do nothing. He simply shrugged his shoulder.
“So I have forty-eight hours to get out?”
“Yes. You don’t insist. You are right. Good-by.”
He says he hasn't had a woman in a year, thought Clappique as he went down the stairs. Impotence? Or what? I would have thought that kind of … experience. would make a man an erotomaniac. He must make such confidences, as a rule, to those who are about to die: in any case I’d better get out. He could not get over the tone in which KOnig had said: “To live as a man, as anybody. ” He remained dazed by that complete intoxication, which only blood could satisfy: he had seen enough wrecks from the civil wars of China and Siberia to know that a deep humiliation calls for a violent negation of the world; only drugs, neuroses, and blood insistently shed, can feed such solitudes. He understood now why KOnig had liked his company, as he was not unaware that in his presence all reality vanished. He was walking slowly, and was startled to find Gisors waiting for him on the other side of the barbed wires. What should he tell him?. Too late: goaded by impatience, Gisors was advancing to meet him, was emerging from the mist two meters away. He was staring at him with a madman’s haggard intensity. Clappique became frightened, stopped. Gisors was already seizing his arm:
“Nothing to be done?” he asked, in a voice that was gloomy but calm.
Clappique shook his head and said nothing.
“Well. I’ll try to get another friend to do something.”
Upon seeing Clappique come out of the mist, he had realized his own folly. The whole dialogue he had imagined between them on the Baron’s return was absurd: Clappique was neither an interpreter nor a messenger- he was a card. The card had been played-he had lost, as Clappique’s face showed. He would have to find another. Gorged with anxiety, with distress, he remained lucid beneath his desolation. He had thought of Ferral; but Ferral would not intervene in a conflict of this nature. He would try to get two friends to intercede in his behalf.
Konig had called a secretary.
“Tomorrow.-Young Gisors-here. As soon as the councils are over.”
Five o'clock in the morning
Above the short flashes of the gun-shots, yellowish in the fading night, Katov and Hemmelrich, through the windows of the second story, saw the first leaden reflections of dawn on the neighboring roofs. The outlines of the buildings were becoming distinct. Pale, with their hair disheveled, they could begin to distinguish each other's features, and each knew what the other was thinking. The last day. Hardly any ammunition left. No popular movement had come to their rescue. Volleys, in the direction of Chapei: comrades besieged like themselves. Katov had explained to Hemmelrich why there was no hope: at any moment Chiang Kai-shek’s men would be bringing the small-caliber guns which the general’s guard had at their disposal; as soon as one of those cannons could be set up in one of the houses facing the post, mattresses and walls would fall as at a country-fair. The Communists’ machine-gun still commanded the door of that house; when it ran out of ammunition it would cease to command it. Which would be very soon.
For hours they had been firing furiously, egged on by the anticipated vengeance. They knew they were doomed, and killing was the only means of making their last hours count. But they were beginning to be weary of that too. Their adversaries, better and better sheltered, now appeared only at rare intervals. It seemed as if the battle were weakening with the night-and, absurdly, as if the dawning day, which did not reveal a single enemy shadow, were bringing their freedom, as the night had brought their imprisonment.
The reflection of dawn, on the roofs, was turning pale gray; above the suspended battle the light seemed to be inhaling large segments of the night, leaving only black rectangles in front of the buildings. The shadows grew shorter: looking at them helped to avoid thinking of the men who were about to die here. The shadows were contracting as on any other day, with their eternal movement, which today had a savage majesty because they would never see it again. Suddenly all the windows across the street were lighted up, and bullets came beating about the doorway like a volley of pebbles: one of their men had swung out a coat at the end of a stick. The enemy were satisfied to remain on the watch.
“Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen. ” said Hem- melrich. He was counting the corpses now visible in the street.
“All that’s a joke,” answered Katov almost in a whisper. “All they have to do is to wait. Daylight is in their favor.”
There were only five wounded lying in the room: they were not groaning: two were smoking, watching daylight appear between the wall and the mattresses. Beyond, Suan and another combatant were guarding the second window. The volleys had practically ceased. Were Chiang Kai-shek’s troops waiting everywhere? Victors the month before, the Communists had known their moves hour by hour; today they knew nothing, like those who had then been the vanquished.
As if to confirm what Katov had just said, the door of the enemy building opened (the two halls faced each other); immediately the crackling of a machine-gun enlightened the Communists. “They brought it by way of the roofs,” thought Katov.
It was his machine-gunners who were calling. Hem- melrich and he ran out, and understood: the enemy machine-gun, no doubt protected by an armor-plate, was firing steadily. There were no Communists in the corridor of the post, since it was under the fire of their own machine-gun which, from the top steps of the stairway, commanded the adversaries’ entrance. But now the latter were protected by the steel plate. Nevertheless it was imperative to maintain their fire. The marksman had fallen on his side, killed, no doubt; it was the feeder who had shouted. He was both feeding and firing, but slowly. The bullets caused splinters of wood from the steps and bits of plaster from the wall to bounce out, and occasional deadened sounds, forming imperceptible gaps in the terrific uproar, indicated that a few were entering the flesh of the living or the dead. Hemmelrich and Katov rushed forward. “Not you!” bellowed the Belgian. With a blow to the chin he sent Katov rolling in the hall, and jumped to the post of the gunner. The enemy was now firing a little lower. Not for long. “Are there any more cartridge-belts?” asked Hemmelrich. Instead of answering, the feeder plunged head forward, rolling limply down the whole length of the steps. And Hemmelrich discovered that he did not know how to feed a machine- gun.
He rushed up the stairs again, felt himself hit in the eye and in the calf. In the hall, above the angle of the enemy’s fire, he halted: his eye had been hit merely by a piece of plaster detached by a bullet; his calf was bleed- ing-another bullet, which had made a surface wound. Already he was in the room where Katov, propped against a wall, was pulling a mattress towards himself with one hand (not to protect himself but to hide from the enemy), and holding in the other a bundle of grenades: the grenades alone, if they exploded right against it, could be effective against the steel plate.
They had to be thrown through the window into the enemy corridor. Katov had placed another bundle behind him; Hemmelrich seized it and threw it at the same time as Katov over the mattress. Katov found himself on the floor, mowed by bullets, as if by his own grenades: when their heads and arms had passed above the mattress, the enemy had fired on them from all the windows. Hemmelrich, who had ducked in time, was wondering if that splitting of matches, so close to him, did not come from his own legs. The bullets continued to pour in, but the two men were protected by the wall now that they had fallen: the opening of the window was three feet above the floor. In spite of the gun-shots, Hemmelrich had an impression of silence, for the two machine-guns had ceased firing. He crawled forward on his elbows towards Katov, who did not stir; he pulled him by the shoulders. Out of range of the firing, they looked at each other in silence: in spite of the mattresses and other protection which obstructed the window, broad daylight now flooded the room. Katov was fainting. On his thigh was a large red spot which was spreading on the floor as on a blotter. Hemmelrich heard Suan shout: “The cannon!” then an enormous, deafening explosion, and, just as he was raising his head, a blow at the base of his nose: in his turn he fainted.
Hemmelrich was coming to, little by little, rising from the depths towards that surface of silence which was so strange that it seemed to revive him: the cannon was no longer firing. The wall was torn away obliquely. On the floor, covered with plaster and wreckage, Katov and the others, unconscious or dead. He was very thirsty, and feverish. His wound in the calf was not serious. He crawled to the door, and in the hall got up on his feet, heavily, leaning against the wall. Except for his head, where a piece of the masonry had hit him, his pain was diffused; clutching the banister, he went down, not the street-stairway, where the enemy were undoubtedly still waiting, but that of the court. The firing had ceased. Against the walls of the entrance hall there was a row of niches, which had formerly held tables. He slipped into the first one, crouched down, and looked out upon the court.
To the right of a building which seemed deserted (but he was sure that it was not), a sheet-iron shed; in the distance a house with curved-up gables and a row of tek- graph poles that extended, in diminishing perspective, towards the open country which he would not see again. The network of barbed wires in front of the door made black streaks across that dead scene and the gray daylight, like cracks in a porcelain dish. A shadow appeared outside, a kind of bear: a man facing in his direction, his back stooped; he began to climb through the barbed wires.
Hemmelrich had no more bullets. He was watching that mass passing from one wire to another. The wires stood out sharp against the light, but without perspective, so that he was unable to gauge the progress it was making. Like an enormous insect, it hung to a wire, fell back, attached itself again. Hemmelrich drew nearer, along the wall. It was clear that the man would pass; at this moment, however, he was entangled, and was trying with a strange grunting to free himself from the barbs that had caught his clothes, and it seemed to Hemmelrich that the monstrous insect might remain there forever, enormous and knotted, suspended against the gray light. But one hand reached out, black and sharp, to seize another wire, and the body resumed its movement.
This was the end. Behind, the street and the machine- gun. Up there, Katov and his men, on the floor. The deserted house, opposite, was certainly occupied, no doubt by machine-gunners who still had cartridges. If he went out, the enemy would aim at his knees, to make him a prisoner (he suddenly felt the fragility of those small bones, the knee-caps.). At least he would perhaps this one.
The monster-man, bear and spider combined-continued to disentangle itself from the wires. Alongside of the black mass a line of light marked the ridge of his large pistol. Hemmelrich felt himself at the bottom of a hole, fascinated less by the creature that was moving so slowly, approaching like death itself, than by everything that followed it, everything that was once more going to crush him, like a coffin-lid screwed down over a living person; it was everything that had choked his everyday life, which was now retu^rning to crush him with one blow. “They have beaten me for thirty-seven years, and now they’re going to kill me.” It was not only his own suffering which was approaching, it was that of his wife with her belly ripped open, of his murdered child: everything mingled in a haze of thirst, of fever, and of hatred. Again, without looking at it, he felt the blood-stain on his left hand, neither as a burn nor as a discomfort: he simply knew that it was there, and that the man would finally emerge from his barbed wires. It was not for money that this man who was the first to pass was corning to kill those upstairs who were still alive, it was for an idea, for a faith; Hemmelrich hated this shadow that had now stopped before the barrage of wires-hated everything it stood for: it was not enough that the race of the fortunate should assassinate them, they also had to believe they were right. The silhouette, its body now upright, was prodigiously stretched against the gray court, against the telegraph wires that vanished into the limitless peace of the rainy spring morning. From a window came a shout, which the man answered; his response filled the corridor, enveloped Hemmelrich. The line of light on the pistol disappeared, buried in the holster and replaced by a flat bar, almost white in the dim light: the man was pulling out his bayonet. He was no longer a man, he was everything that Hemmelrich had suffered from until now. In this black corridor, with the machine- gunners lying in ambush on the other side of the door, and this enemy who was approaching, the Belgian became crazed with hatred. “They have made us starve all our lives, but this one is going to get it, he’s going to get it. ” The man was approaching, step by step, his bayonet held out. Hemmelrich crouched, and the sil-
houette immediately grew larger, the torso above legs that were strong as posts.
The instant the bayonet passed over his head, he jumped up, seized the man’s neck with his right hand, tightened his grip. The bayonet was knocked to the floor by the impact. The man's neck was too large for a single hand, and the fingers plunged convulsively into the flesh without greatly checking the respiration, but the other hand, furiously clutching at the panting face, was seized by an uncontrol!able rage. “You’ll pay for it,” Hemmelrich shouted hoarsely. “You’ll pay for it!” The man was staggering. Instinctively he backed up against the wall. Summoning all his strength, Hemmelrich smashed the head against that wall, then bent down a second; the Chinaman felt an enormous body entering into ^m, tearing his intestines: the bayonet. He opened both hands, brought them back to his belly with a piercing groan and fell, shoulders forward, between Hemmel- rich's legs. He straightened out with a jerk; a drop of blood fell from the bayonet on his open hand, then another. And as if this hand that was being spattered with blood had avenged him, Hemmelrich dared at last to look at his own, and understood that the blood-stain had rubbed off hours before.
And he discovered that perhaps he was not going to die. He undressed the officer with feverish haste, seized both with love for this man who had come to bring him his freedom and with rage because the clothes did not come off the body readily enough, as though the latter were holding on to them. Finally, dressed in the Chinaman's uniform, he showed himself at the window, his bent-over face hidden by the visor of the cap. The enemy, across the courtyard, opened their windows with shouts of jubilation. “I must get out before they’re here.”
He went out on the street-side, turned to the left as the man he had killed would have done to rejoin his group.
“Any prisoners?” shouted the men at the windows.
He made a vague gesture towards those he was supposed to rejoin. That no one fired on him was both stupid and natural: there was no astonishment left in him. He again turned to the left and headed in the direction of the concessions: they were guarded, but he knew al the buildings with double entrances on the Avenue of the Two Republics.
One after the other the men of the Kuo^rnintang were co^rning out.