Ten o'clock in the morning
"TEMPORARY", said the guard.
Kyo understood that he was being incarcerated in the common-law prison.
As soon as he entered the prison, even before he was able to look around, he was stunned by the frightful smell: slaughter-house, dog-kennel, excrements. The door through which he had just passed opened on a corridor similar to the one he was leaving; right and left, up to the ceiling, enormous wooden bars. Within the wooden cages, men. In the center, the warder seated before a small table, on which lay a whip: a short handle, a flat thong, broad as a hand, thick as a finger-a weapon.
“Stay there, son of a pig,” he said.
The man, accustomed to the dim light, was writing out a description of the prisoner. Kyo’s head still ached, and standing still made him feel faint; he leaned against the bars.
“How, how, how are you?” someone called behind him.
A disturbing voice, like that of a parrot, but a human voice. The place was too dark for Kyo to make out his face; he could see only enormous fingers clutching the bars-not very far from his neck. Behind, lying down or standing, swarmed shadows that were too elongated for human proportions: men, like worms.
“Could be better,” he answered, moving away.
“Shut that, son of a turtle, if you don’t want my fist in your face,” said the warder.
Kyo had heard the word “temporary” several times; he knew therefore that he would not remain here long. He was resolved not to hear the insults, to endure everything that could be endured; the important thing was to get out of there, to resume the struggle. Yet he felt the nauseating humiliation that every man feels before someone upon whom he depends, powerless against that foul shadow with a whip-shorn of himself.
“How, how, how are you?” the voice called again. The warder opened a door, luckily in the bars on the left: Kyo entered the stall. At the back, a low bench on which a solitary man was lying. The door shut. “Political?” asked the man.
“Yes. And you?”
“No. Under the empire, I was a mandarin. ”
Kyo was getting used to the darkness. Indeed, the man was well along in years-an old white cat, almost without a nose, with a thin mustache and pointed ears.
“. I sell women. When things are good, I give money to the police and they leave me alone. When things are bad, they think I keep the money and they throw me in prison. But as long as things are bad I prefer to be fed in prison rather than die of hunger in freedom. ”
“You know, one gets used to it. Outside, it’s not so good, when you’re old, like me, and feeble. ” “How is it that you’re not with the rest?”
“I sometimes give money to the clerk at the entrance. Also, every time I come here I get the same fare as the ‘temporaries.’ ”
The warder was bringing the food: he passed between
the bars two small bowls filled with a mud-colored doughy mass exuding a steam as fetid as the atmosphere. He dipped his ladle into a pot, tossed the compact porridge into a bowl with a “plop,” and thereupon passed it to the prisoners in the other cage, one by one.
“No use my taking any,” said a voice: “it’s for tomorrow.”
(“His execution,” said the mandarin to Kyo.)
“Me too,” said another voice. “So you could very well give me a double portion, couldn’t you? It makes me hungry?”
“Do you want my fist in your face?” asked the warder.
A soldier entered, asked him a question. He passed into the right-hand cell, kicked a limp body:
“He stirs,” he said. “No doubt he’s still alive. ”
The soldier left.
Kyo looked with concentrated attention, tried to see to which of those shadows belonged those voices so close to death-like himself, perhaps. Impossible to make out: those men would die without having been anything to him but voices.
“Aren’t you eating?” asked his companion.
“In the beginning it’s always that way. ”
He took Kyo’s bowl. The warder entered, gave him a violent slap in the face and went out again carrying the bowl, without a word.
“\Vhy didn’t he touch me?” asked Kyo in a low voice.
“I was the only guilty one, but it’s not that: you’re a political prisoner, temporary, and you’re well dressed. He’s going to try to get money out of you or your friends. But that doesn’t prevent. Wait. ”
Money pursues me even into this hole, thought Kyo.
So true to the legend, the warder’s vileness did not seem to him altogether real; and, at the same time, it seemed to him a foul fatality, as if power were enough to change almost every man into a beast. Those obscure beings who stirred behind the bars, disturbing like the colossal insects and crustaceans in his childhood dreams, were no more human. Complete solitude and humiliation. “Look out,” he thought, for already he felt himself weaker. He felt certain that, had he not been the master of his death, terror would have gotten the better of him in this place. He opened the buckle of his belt, and slipped the cyanide into his pocket.
“How, how, how are you?” called the voice again.
“Enough!” came a chorus of shouts from the prisoners in the other cell. Kyo was by now used to the darkness, and the number of the voices did not astonish him: there were more than ten bodies lying on the bench behind the bars.
“Are you going to shut up?” shouted the warder.
“How, how, how are you?”
The warder got up.
“Is it a joke, or is he pig-headed?” asked Kyo in a low voice.
“Neither,” answered the mandarin: “crazy.”
“But why. ”
Kyo did not ^aish. His neighbor was stopping up his ears. A sharp, raucous cry, both of terror and pain, filled the whole place. While Kyo was looking at the mandarin, the warder had entered the other cage with his whip. The thong cracked, and the same cry rose again. Kyo did not dare to stop up his ears, and waited, clutching two bars, for the dreadful cry which was about to run through him again, and make his finger-nails tingle.
“Beat him up good and plenty,” said a voice, “so he’ll leave us in peace! ”
“Put a stop to it,” said four or five voices, “we want to sleep!”
The mandarin, with his hands still stopping up his ears, leaned towards Kyo:
“It’s the eleventh time he has beat him in seven days, it seems. I’ve been here two days-it’s the fourth time. And in spite of everything, you can’t help hearing it a little.
•. I can’t shut my eyes, you see: it seems to me that by looking at him I’m helping him, that I’m not deserting ^m. ”
Kyo was also looking, hardly able to see anything.
• • • “Compassion or cruelty?” he wondered, terrified. ^What is base, and also what is susceptible to fascination in every man was being appealed to with the most savage vehemence, and Kyo was struggling with his whole mind against human ignominy-he remembered the effort it had always required of him to get away from tortured bodies seen by chance: he had literally had to tear himself away. That men could stand by and watch the flogging of a harmless lunatic, who, judging by his voice, was probably old, and approve such torture, called forth in him the same terror as Ch’en’s confidences, the night in Hankow-“the octopuses. ” Katov had told him what a constraint the medical student must exercise upon himself the first time he sees an abdomen cut open and the living organs exposed. It was the same paralyzing horror, quite different from fear, an all-powerful horror even before the mind had appraised it, and all the more upsetting as Kyo was excruciatingly aware of his own helplessness. And yet his eyes, much less- accustomed to the gloom than those of his companion, could make out only the dash of the leather, coming down like a hook, tearing out agonizing howls. Since the first blow he had not stirred: he stood clinging to the bars, his hands level with his face.
“Warder,” he shouted.
“You want some, too, do you?”
“I want to speak to you.”
While the warder was furiously securing the enormous lock, the prisoners he was leaving were roaring with delight. They hated the “political” prisoners, who were not of them.
“Go to it! Go to it, warder! Let’s have some fun.”
The man was in front of Kyo, his figure cut vertically by a bar. His face expressed the most abject anger, that of a fool who thinks his power is being contested; but his features were not base-they were regular, anonymous.
“Listen,” said Kyo.
They were looking each other in the eye, the warder taller than Kyo, whose hands he saw stil clutching the bars on each side of his head. Before Kyo knew what was happening, he felt his left hand paralyzed by an unbearable shot of pain. The whip, held behind the warder’s back had come down with full force. He could not help crying out.
“Good work!” bellowed the prisoners on the other side. “Not always the same ones.”
Both Kyo’s hands had pulled back and fastened themselves to his sides, without his even being aware of what he was doing.
“You stil have something to say?” asked the warder.
The whip was now between them. Kyo clenched his teeth, and with the same effort that it would have required to lift an enormous weight, still keeping his eyes steadily on the warder, again raised his hands to the bars. While he was slowly lifting them, the man drew back imperceptibly to give himself room. The whip cracked-on the bars this time. The reflex had been too strong for Kyo: he had withdrawn his hands. But already he was raising them again, with an exhausting tension of his shoulders, and the warder understood by his look that this time he would not withdraw them. He spat in his face and slowly raised the whip.
“If you. stop flogging the idiot,” said Kyo, “I’ll give. you fifty dollars. when I get out.”
The warder hesitated.
“All right,” he said finally.
He turned away and Kyo felt such a release of tension that he thought he would faint. His left hand was so painful that he could not shut it. He had raised it at the same time as the other to the level of his shoulders, and it remained there, extended. New bursts of laughter.
“You want to shake hands?” asked the warder, also making fun of him.
He shook it. Kyo felt that in his whole life he would not forget this clasp, not because of the pain, but because life had never imposed upon him anything more hideous. He withdrew his hand, fell back in a sitting posture on the low bench. The warder hesitated, tossed his head, then began to scratch it with the handle of the whip. He returned to his table. The idiot was sobbing.
Hours of monotonous abjection. At last soldiers came to fetch Kyo to take him to the Special Police. No doubt he was going to his death, and yet he left with a joy whose violence surprised him. It seemed to him that he was leaving behind a loathsome part of himself.
“Come in! ”
One of the Chinese guards pushed Kyo by the shoulder, but gently; whenever they had to deal with foreigners (and to a Chinaman, Kyo was Japanese or European, but certainly a foreigner) the guards were afraid of the brutality to which they considered themselves obliged. Upon a signal from KOnig the guards remained outside. Kyo stepped forward to the desk, hiding his swollen left hand in his pocket, and looking at this man who was also looking him straight in the eye-an angular face, clean-shaved, nose awry, hair close-cropped. “A man who is no doubt about to have you put to death looks quite like any other.” KOnig extended his hand towards his revolver lying on the table: no, he was taking a box of cigarettes. He held it out to Kyo.
“Thanks. I don’t smoke.”
“The prison-fare is vile, as it should be. Will you have lunch with me?”
On the table, coffee, milk, two cups, slices of bread.
“Only bread. Thanks.”
“It’s the same coffee-pot for you and for me, you know. ”
Kyo was determined to be cautious; for that matter, KOnig did not insist. Kyo remained standing in front of the desk (there was no seat), biting into his bread like a child. After the abjectness of the prison everything had an unreal lightness. He knew that his life was at stake, but even dying was easy for one who returned from the place where he had been. The humaneness of a chief of police inspired him with little confidence, and KOnig remained distant, as though he were separate from his t: or- diality-the latter held, as it were, at arm’s length before him. However, it was not impossible that this man was
courteous through indifference: belonging to the white race, he had perhaps come into this job by accident or through cupidity. Kyo hoped this was the case. He felt no liking for him, but he would have liked to relax, to free himself from the tension of the prison, which had completely exhausted him; he had just discovered that to be obliged to seek refuge entirely in oneself is almost unbearable.
The telephone rang.
“Hello!” said Konig. “Yes, Gisors, Kyoshi.1 Perfectly. He’s here with me. I’m asked if you are still alive,” he said to Kyo.
“Why did you send for me?”
“I think we’re going to come to an understanding.” The telephone again.
“Hello! No. I was just telling him that we would surely come to an understanding. Shot? Call me back. We’ll see.”
Since Kyo had entered, KOnig had not taken his eyes off him.
“What do you think of it?” he asked, hanging up the receiver.
KOnig lowered his eyes, raised them again:
“You want to live?”
“It depends how.”
“One can also die in various ways.”
“At least one doesn’t have the choice. ”
“Do you think one always chooses one’s way of living?”
Konig was thinking of himself. Kyo was determined to yield nothing essential, but he had no desire to irritate him:
1 Kyo is an abbreviation.
“I don’t know. And you?”
“I’ve been told that you are a Communist through dignity. Is that true?”
Kyo at first did not understand. Tense in the expectation of the phone-call, he was wondering what this strange examination meant. Finally:
“Does it really interest you?” he asked.
“More than you can imagine.”
There was a menace in the tone, if not in the words themselves. Kyo answered:
“I think that Communism will make dignity possible for those with whom I am fighting. What is against it, at any rate, forces them to have none, unless they possess a wisdom as rare among them as among the others- more perhaps, for the very reason that they are poor, and that their work separates them from their lives. Why do you ask me this question, since you aren’t even listening to my answer?”
“What do you call dignity? It doesn’t mean anything.”
The telephone rang. “My life,” thought Kyo. KOnig did not pick up the receiver.
“The opposite of humiliation,” said Kyo. “When one comes from where I come, that means something.”
The phone was ringing amid the silence. KOnig put his hand on the instrument.
“Where are the arms hidden?” he asked.
“You can leave the phone alone. At last I understand. That call is merely stage-business for my benefit.”
Kyo ducked his head: KOnig had been on the point of throwing one of the two revolvers-no doubt empty- in his face; but he put it back on the table.
“I’ve got something better,” he said. “As for the telephone, you will soon see if it was a fake, little feUow.
I take it you’ve seen men tortured?”
In his pocket, Kyo was trying to press his swollen fingers together. The cyanide was in this left pocket, and he was afraid of dropping it if he were to lift it to his mouth.
“At least I’ve seen men who had been tortured: I’ve been in the civil war. What puzzles me is why you asked me where the arms are. You know where they are, or you will know it. So what?”
“The Communists have been crushed everywhere.” “It’s possible.”
“They have been. Think carefully: if you work for us, you are saved, and no one will know it. I’U help you to get away. ”
“That’s how he should begin,” thought Kyo. Nervousness gave him wit, in spite of himself. But he knew that the police did not content itself with vague promises. However, the proposal surprised him as though, by being conventional, it ceased to be true.
“Only I will know it,” KOnig went on. “That’s all that’s necessary. ”
Why, Kyo wondered, did he seem to gloat over the words: “That’s all that’s necessary”?
“I shall not enter your service,” he said, almost absent- mindedly.
“Look out: I can lock you up with a dozen innocent men, telling them that their fate depends on you, that they will remain in prison if you don’t speak and that they are free to choose their own means. ”
“It’s simpler with executioners.”
“The alternate entreaties and tortures are worse. Don’t talk about what you don’t know-not yet, at least.”
“I have just seen a lunatic practically tortured. A lunatic. You understand?”
“Do you fuUy realize what you are risking?”
“I have been in the civil war, I tell you. I know. Ours also have tortured: men will need a good many pleasures to compensate for all this. Enough. I shall not serve you.”
KOnig was thinking that, in spite of what Kyo was saying, he had not understood his threat. “His youth helps him,” he said to himself. Two hours before he had questioned a prisoner who had been a member of the Cheka; after ten minutes he had felt a bond of brotherhood: the world in which they both lived was no longer that of men; henceforth they belonged elsewhere. If Kyo was immune to fear through lack of imagination, patience.
“Aren’t you wondering why I haven’t yet sent this revolver flying into your face?”
“I think I am very close to death: that kills curiosity. And you have already said, ‘I’ve got something better. ’ ”
“Perhaps I’ll come tonight and ask you what you think of human dignity. ,To the prison-yard, series A,” he said to the guards were entering.
Four o’clock in the afternoon
Clappique mingled in the stir that was pushing the crowd of the concessions towards the barbed wires: in the Avenue of the Two Republics the executioner was passing, his short saber on his shoulder, followed by his escort of Mauserists. Clappique immediately turned about, and made for the concession. Kyo arrested, the Communist defense crushed, a great number of sympathizers murdered in the European city itself. KOnig had given him until evening: he would no longer be protected after that. Gun-shots here and there on every side. Carried by the wind, it seemed to him that they were coming nearer to him, and death with them. “I don’t want to die,” he said between his teeth, “I don’t want to die.” He became aware of the fact that he was running. He reached the docks.
No passport, and not enough money left to get a ticket.
Three steamships, one of them French. Clappique stopped running. Stow away in one of the life-boats under the tarpaulin? But he would have to get aboard, and the man at the gangway would not let him pass. Anyway, the idea was idiotic. The hatches? Idiotic, idiotic, idiotic. Go and find the captain and try to bluff him? He had gotten out of scrapes in this way before; but this time the captain would take him for a Communist, and would refuse to take him on board. The ship was leaving in two hours: a bad moment to disturb the captain. If he were discovered on board once the ship was out at sea, he could manage; but the trick was to get aboard.
He could just see himself hidden in some corner, crouched in a barrel; but this time his imagination did not save him. He seemed to be offering himself, as if to the mediators of an unknown god, to those enormous, bristling steamships, charged with destinies, indifferent to the point of hatred. He had stopped before the French ship. He was thinking nothing, looking, fascinated by the gangplank, at the men who were getting on and off (none of whom was thinking of him, nor guessed his torment and whom he would have liked to for this), who showed their tickets as they passed the bulwarks. Make a false ticket? Absurd.
A mosquito stung him. He brushed it away, touching his cheek as he did so: he needed a shave. As though any act of attention to one’s personal appearance were propitious to departures, he decided to go and get a shave, but without going far from the ship. Beyond the sheds, among the bars and curio-shops, he discovered a Chinese barbershop. The proprietor also ran a wretched cafe, and the two businesses were separated only by a hanging mat. While waiting for his turn, Clappique sat down near the mat and continued to watch the gangway of the ship. On the other side, people were talking:
“It’s the third one,” said a man’s voice.
“With the baby, nobody will take us. What if we tried one of the rich hotels?”
A woman answered:
“Dressed as we are? The fellow at the door would throw us out before we even reached it.”
“There they don’t mind if the children make a noise. Let’s try some more-anywhere.”
“As soon as the managers see the kid, they’ll refuse. Only the Chinese hotels would take us in, but the kid would get sick from their dirty food.”
“In a poor European hotel, if we could manage to get him in without their noticing it, perhaps they wouldn’t dare to throw us out, once we were there. In any case, we’d be gaining time. We’d have to wrap up the little fellow, so they would think it was linen.” “Linen doesn’t cry.”
“With the bottle in his mouth he won’t cry. ” “Perhaps. I could make arrangements at the desk, and
you could come in afterward. You could just pass by the clerk without stopping.”
Silence. Clappique was looking at the gangway. A rustle of paper.
“You can’t imagine how it hurts me to carry him like this. … I have the feeling that it’s a bad omen for his whole life. And I’m afraid it will hurt him.” Silence again. Had they left? The client was getting out of the barber’s chair. The barber made a sign to Clappique, who got into it, still keeping his eye on the ship. The gangplank was deserted, but scarcely was Clappique’s face covered with lather than a sailor went on board, carrying two new pails (which he had perhaps just bought) and brooms on his shoulder. Clappique’s eyes followed him, step by step-he would have identified himself with a dog, if the dog were climbing the gangplank and leaving with the ship. The sailor passed in front of the man at the bulwark without a word.
Clappique paid for the shave, throwing the coins on the washstand, tore off the towels and ran out, his face full of soap. He knew where he could find some secondhand dealers. People were looking at him: after taking ten steps, he went back, washed his face, started off again.
He had no trouble in finding a blue sailor-suit at the first dealer’s. He hurried back to his hotel, changed clothes. “I ought to have a few brooms, or something like that.” Buy some old brooms from the “boys”? Absurd: Why would a sailor be parading about on land with his prooms? To look more handsome? Completely idiotic. If he crossed the gangway with brooms, it would be because he had just bought them on land. They must be new. Let’s go and buy some.
He entered the shop with his usual Clappique-air. Before the disdainful look of the English salesman, he exclaimed: “Into my arms!” put the brooms on his shoulder, turned round, knocking down one of the brass lamps, and went out.
“Into my arms,” in spite of his deliberate extravagance, expressed what he felt: up to that point, he had been playing an uncomfortable comedy, through an obscure prompting of his conscience and through fear, but without freeing himself from the unavowed sense that he would fail; the salesman’s disdain-although Clappique, forgetting about his costume, had not assumed the manner of a sailor-proved to him that he could succeed. With the brooms on his shoulder, he was walking towards the steamer, watching all eyes as he went, to find in them the con^firmation of his new status. As when he had stopped before the gangplank, he was stupefied to discover how indifferent his fate was to others-it existed only for him. The travelers, awhile ago, had gone aboard without noticing the man left standing on the quay, perhaps to be killed; the passers-by were now looking indifferently at this sailor; no one came out of the crowd to express astonishment or to recognize him; not even a curious face. Not that there was anything about an assumed life to astonish him, but this time it was imposed upon him, and his real life perhaps depended on it. He was thirsty. He stopped at a Chinese bar, put down his brooms. As soon as he started to drink, he realized that he was not thirsty at all, that he had merely wanted to try himself out once more. The manner in which the man behind the counter gave him back his change was enough to enlighten him. Since he had changed his costume, the world around him had become transformed. He tried to discover how: it was the way people looked at him that had changed. The habitual single wimess of his mythomania had become a crowd.
At the same time-pleasure or a defensive instinct-the general acceptance of his new civil status pervaded him, too. He had found, suddenly, by accident, the most dazzling success of his life. No, men do not exist, since a costume is enough to enable one to escape from oneself, to find another life in the eyes of others. It was the same feeling of strangeness, of happiness that had seized him the first time he had found himself in a Chinese crowd-but now the sensation had not only surface, but depth. “Now I’m living a story, not merely telling one!” Carrying his brooms like guns, he crossed the gangplank, passed the man at the bulwark (he felt his knees almost giving way), and found himself on the deck. He hurried forward among the passengers of the bridge, put his brooms on a coil of rope. He was safe, at least until they struck the first port. However, he was far from feeling at ease. One of the deck passengers, a Russian, came up to him:
“You belong to the crew?”
And, without waiting for an answer:
“Do you like the life on board ship?”
“Say, my dear fellow, you have no idea! A Frenchman likes to travel, that’s a fact: not a word. The officers are sons of bitches but no worse than the owners, and you don’t sleep very well (I don’t like hammocks-a matter of taste) but you eat weU. And you see things. When I was in South America, the missionaries had made the savages learn 1-little Latin canticles by heart-taught them day and night. The bishop arrives, the missionary beats the time: silence-the savages are struck dumb with respect. But not a word! the canticle comes all by itself: the parrots of the forest, my g-good man, who have never heard anything else, sing it with reverence. And just imagine, in the Sea of Celebes, ten years ago, I came across some Arabian caravels, adrift, sculptured like cocoanuts and full of corpses-victims of the plague — with their arms hanging like this over the bulwarks, under a whirling cloud of seagulls. Absolutely. ” “You’re lucky. I’ve been traveling for seven years, and I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“You must introduce the means of art into life, my g-good man, not in order to make art-God, no! — but to make more life. Not a word!”
He tapped him on the belly, and turned away prudently: a car which he recognized was stopping at the end of the gangplank-Ferral was returning to France.
A cabin-boy was beginning to pace the first-class deck, ringing the bell of departure. Each stroke resounded in Clappique’s chest.
“Europe,” he thought; “the feast is over. Now, Europe.” It seemed to be coming towards him with the bell that was approaching, no longer as one of liberation, but as of a prison. But for the menace of death he would have gone back on land.
“Is the third-class bar open?” he asked the Russian. “Been open for an hour. Anyone can go there till we are at sea.”
Clappique took him by the arm:
“Let’s go and get drunk. ”
Six o’clock in the evening
In the large hall-formerly a school-yard-two hundred wounded Communists were waiting to be taken out and shot. Katov, among the last ones brought in, was propped up on one elbow, looking. All were stretched out on the ground. Many were moaning, in an extraordinarily regular way; some were smoking, as had done those of the Post, and the wreaths of smoke vanished upward to the ceiling, already dark in spite of the large European windows, darkened by the evening and the fog. It seemed very high, above all those prostrate men. Although daylight had not yet disappeared, the atmosphere was one of night. “Is it because of the wounds,” Katov wondered, “or because we are all lying down, as in a station? It is a station. We shall leave it for nowhere, and that’s all. ”
Four Chinese sentries were pacing back and forth among the wounded, with fixed bayonets, and their bayonets reflected the weak light strangely, sharp and straight above all those formless bodies. Outside, deep in the fog, yellowish lights-street-lamps no doubt-also seemed to be watching them. As if it had come from them (because it also came from out there in the fog) a whistle rose and submerged the murmurs and groans: that of a locomotive; they were near the Chapei station. In that vast hall there was something atrociously tense, which was not the expectation of death. Katov was enlightened by his own throat: it was thirst-and hunger. With his back against the wall, he was looking from left to right: many faces that he knew, for a great number of the wounded were fighters of the ch'ons. Along one of the narrower walls, a free space, three meters wide, was reserved. “Why are the wounded lying on top of each other,” he asked aloud, “instead of going over there?” He was among the last brought in. Leaning against the wall, he began to raise himself up; although he suffered from his wounds, it seemed to him that he would be able to hold himself upright; but he stopped, still bent over: although not a single word had been said, he sensed around him such a startling terror that it made him motionless. In the looks? He could scarcely make them out. In the attitudes? They were, above all, the attitudes of wounded men, absorbed in their own suffering. Yet, however it was transmitted, the dread was there — not fear, but terror, that of beasts, of men who are alone before the inhuman. Katov, without ceasing to lean against the wall, straddled the body of his neighbor.
“Are you crazy?” asked a voice from the level of the floor.
It was both a question and a command. But no one answered. And one of the guards, five meters away, instead of knocking him down, looked at him with stupefaction.
“Why?” he asked again, more fiercely.
“He doesn’t know,” said another voice, also from the ground, and at the same time, another, still lower: “He’ll find out. ”
He had uttered the second question very loudly. The hesitancy of the crowd was terrifying-both in itself and because almost all these men knew him: the menace hanging over that wall weighed upon them all, but particularly upon him.
“Lie down again,” said one of the wounded.
Why did no one call him by his name? And why did the sentry not interfere? He had seen him, awhile ago, knock down one of the wounded with the butt of his gun, when he had tried to change places. He approached the last one who had spoken and lay down alongside of him.
“That’s where they put those who are to be tortured,” said the man in a low voice.
Katov understood. They all knew, but they had not dared to say it, either because they were afraid to speak of it, or because no one dared to speak to him about it. A voice had said: “He’ll find out. ”
The door opened. Soldiers entered with lanterns, surrounding stretcher-bearers who deposited several wounded, like packages, close to Katov. Night was corning on, it rose from the ground where the groans seemed to run into one another like rats, mingled with a frightful stench: most of the men could not move. The door shut.
Time passed. Nothing but the pacing of the sentries and the last gleam of the bayonets above the thousand sounds of suffering. Suddenly, as if the darkness had made the fog more dense, the locomotive whistle sounded, more muffled, as if from a great distance. One of the new arrivals, lying on his belly, tightened his hands over his ears, and screamed. The others did not cry out, but terror was there again, close to the ground.
The man raised his head, lifted himself up on his elbows.
“Scoundrels,” he screamed, “murderers!”
One of the sentries stepped forward, and with a kick in the ribs turned him over. He became silent. The sentry walked away. The wounded man began to mumble. It was too dark now for Katov to make out his features, but he heard his voice, he felt that he was becoming coherent. Yes-“. don’t shoot, they throw them alive into the boiler of the locomotive,” he was saying. “And now, they’re whistling. ” The sentry was approaching again. Silence, except for the pain.
The door opened again. More bayonets, now lighted up from below by a lantern, but no wounded. A Kuo- rnintang officer entered alone. Although he could no longer see anything but the bulk of the bodies, Katov could feel each man stiffening. The officer, over there, incorporeal, a shadow between the flickering light of the lantern and the twilight behind him, was giving orders to a sentry. The latter approached, sought Katov, found him. Without touching him, without saying a word, with respect, he simply made Katov a sign to get up. He got to his feet with difculty, faced the door, over there, where the officer continued to give orders. The soldier, with a gun on one arm, the lantern on the other, came and stood on his left. To his right, there was only the free space and the blank wall. The soldier pointed to the space with his gun. Katov smiled bitterly, with a despairing pride. But no one saw his face, and all those of the wounded who were not in the throes of death, followed him with their eyes. His shadow grew upon the waU of those who were to be tortured.
The officer went out. The door remained open.
The sentinels presented arms: a civilian entered. “Section A,” shouted a voice from without, and thereupon the door was shut. One of the sentinels led the civilian towards the wall, grumbling as he went; when he was quite close, Katov, with stupefaction, recognized Kyo. As he was not wounded, the sentinels upon seeing him arrive between two officers had taken him for one of the foreign counselors of Chiang Kai-shek; now recognizing their mistake, they were abusing him from a distance. He lay down in the shadow beside Katov.
“You know what’s ahead of us?” the latter asked. “They’ve been careful to advise me-l don’t care: I have my cyanide. Have you yours?”
“Are you wounded?”
“In the legs. But I can walk.”
“Have you been here long?”
“No. When were you caught?”
“Last night. Any way of getting out of here?”
“Not a chance. Almost all are badly wounded. Soldiers everywhere outside. And you saw the machine- guns in front of the door?”
“Yes. Where did they get you?”
Both needed to get away from this death wake, to talk, to talk: Katov, of the taking of the Post; Kyo, of the prison, of his interview with KOnig, of what he had le^ed since; even before he reached the temporary prison, he had found out that May had not been arrested.
Katov was lying on his side, right beside him, separated from him by the vast expanse of suffering-mouth half-open, lips swollen under his jovial nose, his eyes almost shut-but joined to him by that absolute friendship, without reticence, which death alone gives: a doomed life fallen next to his in the darkness full of menaces and wounds, among all those brothers in the. mendicant order of the Revolution: each of these men had wildly seized as it stalked past him the only greatness that could be his.
The guards brought three Chinamen. Separated from the crowd of the wounded, but also from the men against the wall. They had been arrested before the fighting, summarily tried, and were now waiting to be shot. “Katov!” one of them called.
It was Lu Yu Hsiian, Hemmelrich’s associate.
“Do you know if they’re shooting us far from here, or near by?”
“I don’t know. We can’t hear it, in any case.”
A voice said, a little beyond:
“Seems that the executioner, afterwards, pilfers your gold teeth.”
“I don’t give a damn. I haven’t any.”
The three Chinamen were smoking cigarettes, puffing away stubbornly.
“Have you several boxes of matches?” asked one of the wounded, a little farther away.
“Throw me one.”
Lu threw his.
“I wish someone could tell my son that I died bravely,” he said in a low voice. And, even a little lower: “It is not easy to die.”
Katov discovered in himself a lusterless joy: no wife, no children.
The door opened.
“Send one out!” shouted the sentry.
The three men were pressing close to one another.
“Come on, now,” said the guard, “make up your minds. ”
He did not dare to make a choice. Suddenly, one of the two unknown Chinamen took a step forward, threw down his scarcely b^urn cigarette, lit another after breaking two matches and went off with a hurried step towards the door, buttoning as he went, one by one, all the buttons of his coat. The door again shut.
One of the wounded was picking up the broken matches. His neighbors had broken into small fragments those from the box Lu Yu Hsi.ian had given them, and were playing at drawing straws. In less than five minutes the door again opened:
Lu and his companion went forward together, holding each other by the arm. Lu was reciting in a loud voice, without resonance, the death of the hero in a
famous play; but the old Chinese solidarity was indeed destroyed: no one was listening.
“Which one?” asked the soldier.
They did not answer.
“Well, is one of you going to come?”
With a blow of his rifle-butt he separated them. Lu was nearer to him than the other; he took him by the shoulder.
Lu freed his shoulder, stepped forward. His companion returned to his place and lay down.
Kyo felt how much more difficult it would be for this one to die than for those who had preceded he remained alone. As brave as Lu, since he had stood up with him. But now his manner of lying on the ground, like a hunting-dog, his arms held tight around his body, loudly proclaimed fear. In fact, when the guard touched him, he was seized with a nervous attack. Two soldiers took hold of him, one by his feet, and the other by his head, and carried him out.
Stretched out full length on his back, his arms resting on his chest, Kyo shut his eyes: it was precisely the posture of the dead. He imagined himself, stretched out, motionless, his eyes closed, his face composed in the serenity which death dispenses for a day to almost all corpses, as though the dignity of even the most wretched had to be asserted. He had seen much of death, and, helped by his Japanese education, he had always thought that it is fine to die by one’s own hand, a death that resembles one’s life. And to die is passivity, but to kill oneself is action. As soon as they came to fetch the first of their group, he would kill himself with full consciousness. He remembered-his heart stopped beating-the phonograph records. A time when hope stiU had meaning! He would not see May again, and the only grief that left him vulnerable was her grief, as if his own death were a fault. “The remorse of dying,” he thought with a contracted irony. No such feeling with regard to his father, who had always given him the impression not of weakness, but of strength. For more than a year May had freed him from all solitude, if not from all bitterness. The memory of the poignant flight into the ecstasy of bodies linked for the first time burst forth, alas! as soon as he thought of her, already separated from the living. “Now she must forget me. ” To write her this would only have heightened her grief and attached her all the more to him. “And it would be telling her to love another.”
О prison, place where time ceases-time, which continues elsewhere. NO! It was in this yard, separated from everyone by the machine-guns, that the Revolution, no matter what its fate or the place of its resurrection, was receiving its death-stroke; wherever men labor in pain, in absurdity, in humiliation, they were thinking of doomed men like these, as believers pray; and, in the city, they were beginning to love these dying men as though they were already dead. In all of the earth that this last night covered over, this place of agony was no doubt the most weighted with virile love. He could wail with this crowd of prostrate men, join this sacrificed suffering even in its murmur of complaint.
And an inaudible chorus of lamentation prolonged this whispering of pain into the depth of the night: like Hemmelrich, almost all these men had children. Yet the fatality which they had accepted rose with the murmur of these wounded men like the peace of evening, spread over Kyo-his eyes shut, his hands crossed upon his abandoned body-with the majesty of a funeral chant.
He had fought for what in his time was charged with the deepest meaning and the greatest hope; he was dying among those with whom he would have wanted to live; he was dying, like each of these men, because he had given a meaning to his life. What would have been the value of a life for which he would not have been willing to die? It is easy to die when one does not die alone. A death saturated with this brotherly quavering, an assembly of the vanquished in which multitudes would recognize their martyrs, a bloody legend of which the golden legends are made! How, already facing death, could he fail to hear this murmur of human sacrifice crying to him that the virile heart of men is for the dead as good a refuge as the mind?
He had opened the buckle of his belt and was holding the cyanide in his hand. He had often wondered if he would die easily. He knew that if he made up his mind to kill himself, he would kill himself; but knowing the savage indifference with which life unmasks us to ourselves, he had not been without anxiety about the moment when death would crush his mind with its whole weight and finality.
No, dying could be an exalted act, the supreme expression of a life which this death so much resembled; and it was an escape from those two soldiers who were approaching hesitantly. He crushed the poison between his teeth as he would have given a command, heard Katov still question him with anguish and touch him, and, at the moment when, suffocating, he wanted to cling to him, he felt his whole strength go outward, wrenched from him in an all-powerful convulsion.
The soldiers were coming to fetch two prisoners in the crowd who could not get up. No doubt being burned alive entitled one to special, although limited, honors: transported on a single stretcher, almost on top of each other, they were laid down at Katov’s left; Kyo, dead, was lying at his right. In the empty space which separated them from those who were only condemned to death, the soldiers crouched near their lantern. Little by little, heads and eyes fell back into the darkness, now emerging only rarely into this light which marked the place of the condemned.
Katov, since the death of Kyo-who had panted for at least a minute-felt himself thrown back into a solitude which was all the stronger and more painful as he was surrounded by his own people. The Chinaman whom they had had to carry out in order to shaken by a nervous attack, obsessed him. And yet he felt in this complete desertion a sense of repose, as if for years he had been awaiting just this; a repose he had encountered, found again, in the worst moments of his life. Where had he read: “It was not the discoveries, but the sufferings of explorers which I envied, which attracted me. ”? As if in response to his thought, the distant whistle reached the hall for the third time. The two men on his left started. Very young Chinamen; one was Suan, whom he knew only through having fought by his side in the Post; the second, unknown. (It was not Pei.) Why were they not with the others?
“Organizing combat groups?” he asked.
“Attempt at Chiang Kai-shek’s life,” Suan answered.
“No. Hewanted tothrow his bomb alone. Chiang was not in the car. I was waiting for the car much further on. They caught me with the bomb.”
The voice which answered him was so choked that Katov scrutinized the two faces: the young men were weeping, without a sob. Suan tried to move his shoulder, and his face contracted with pain-he was wounded also in the ann.
“Burned,” he said. “To be burned alive. The eyes, too, the eyes, you understand. ”
His comrade was sobbing now.
“One can be burned by accident,” said Katov.
It seemed as if they were speaking, not to each other, but to some invisible third person.
“It’s not the same thing.”
“No: it’s not so good.”
“The eyes too,” the young man repeated in a lower voice, “the eyes. each finger, and the stomach, the stomach. ”
“Shut up!” said the other with the voice of a deaf man.
He would have liked to cry out, but could not. His hands clutched Suan close to his wounds, causing the latter’s muscles to contract.
“Human dignity,” Katov murmured, thinking of Kyo’s interview with KOnig. The condemned men were no longer speaking. Beyond the lantern, in the darkness that was now complete, the murmur of the wounded continued. He edged still closer to Suan and his companion. One of the guards was telling the others a story: their heads close together, they were between the lantern and the condemned: the latter could no longer even see one another. In spite of the hum, in spite of all these men who had fought as he had, Katov was alone, alone between the body of his dead friend and his two terror-stricken companions, alone between this wall and that whistle far off in the night. But a man could be stronger than this solitude and even, perhaps, than that atrocious whistle: fear struggled in him against the most terrible temptation in his life. In his turn he opened the buckle of his belt. Finally:
“Hey, there,” he said in a very low voice. “Suan, put your hand on my chest, and close it as soon as I touch it: I’m going to give you my cyanide. There is abs’lutely enough only for two.”
He had given up everything, except saying that there was only enough for two. Lying on his side, he broke the cyanide in two. The guards masked the light, which surrounded them with a dim halo; but would they not move? Impossible to see anything; Katov was making this gift of something that was more precious than his life not even to bodies, not even to voices, but to the warm hand resting upon him. It grew taut, like an animal, immediately separated from him. He waited, his whole body tense. And suddenly, he heard one of the two voices:
“It’s lost. Fell.”
A voice scarcely affected by anguish, as if such a catastrophe, so decisive, so tragic, were not possible, as if things were bound to arrange themselves. For Katov also it was impossible. A limitless anger rose in him, but fell again, defeated by this impossibility. And yet! To have given that only to have the idiot lose it!
“When?” he asked.
“Before my body. Could not hold it when Suan passed it: I’m wounded in the hand too.”
“He dropped both of them,” said Suan.
They were no doubt looking for it in the space between them. They next looked between Katov and Suan, on whom the other was probably almost lying, for Katov, without being able to see anything, could feel beside him the bulk of two bodies. He was looking too, trying to control his nervousness, to place his hand flat, at regular intervals, wherever he could reach. Their hands brushed his. And suddenly one of them took his, pressed it, held it.
“Even if we don’t find it. ” said one of the voices.
Katov also pressed his hand, on the verge of tears, held by that pitiful fraternity, without a face, almost without a real voice (all whispers resemble one another), which was being offered him in this darkness in return for the greatest gift he had ever made, and which perhaps was made in vain. Although Suan continued to look, the two hands remained united. The grasp suddenly became a tight clutch:
О resurrection!. But:
“Are you sure they are not pebbles?” asked the other.
There were many bits of plaster on the ground.
“Give it to me! ” said Katov.
With his fingertips, he recognized the shapes.
He gave them back-gave them back-pressed more strongly the hand which again sought his, and waited, his shoulders trembling, his teeth chattering. “If only the cyanide has not decomposed, in spite of the silver paper,” he thought. The hand he was holding suddenly twisted his, and, as though he were communicating through it with the body lost in the darkness, he felt that the latter was stiffening. He envied this convulsive suffocation. Almost at the same time, the other one: a choked cry which no one heeded. Then, nothing.
Katov felt himself deserted. He turned over on his belly and waited. The trembling of his shoulders did not cease.
In the middle of the night, the officer came back. In a clatter of rifles striking against one another, six soldiers were approaching the condemned men. All the prisoners had awakened. The new lantern, also, showed only long, vague forms-tombs in the earth already turned over-and a few reflections in the eyes. Katov managed to raise himself. The one who commanded the squad took Kyo’s ann, felt its stiffness, immediately seized Suan’s; that one also was stiff. A rumble was spreading, from the first rows of prisoners to the last. The chief of the squad lifted the foot of one of the men, then of the other: they fell back, stiff. He called the officer. The latter went through the same motions. Among the prisoners, the rumble was growing. The officer looked at Katov:
“Isolate the six nearest prisoners!”
“Useless,” answered Katov: “I gave them the cyanide.'’
“And you?” he finally asked.
“There was only enough for two,” answered Katov with deep joy.
(“I’m going to get a rifle-butt in my face,” he thought to himself.)
The rumble of the prisoners had become almost a clamor.
“Come on, let’s go,” said the officer merely.
Katov did not forget that he had been condemned to death before this, that he had seen the machine-guns leveled at him, had heard them fire. “As soon as I’m outside, I’m going to try to strangle one of them, and to hold my hands tightened to his throat long enough so they will be forced to kill me. They will burn me, but dead.” At that very moment one of the soldiers seized him by the waist, while another brought his hands behind his back and tied them. “The little fellows were lucky,” he said to himself. “Well! let’s suppose I died in a fire.”
He began to walk. Silence fell, like a trap-door, in spite of the moans. The lantern threw Katov’s shadow, now very black, across the great windows framing the night; he walked heavily, with uneven steps, hindered by his wounds; when the swinging of his body brought him closer to the lantern, the silhouette of his head vanished into the ceiling. The whole darkness of the vast hall was alive, and followed him with its eyes, step by step. The silence had become so great that the ground resounded each time his foot fell heavily upon it; all the heads, with a slight movement, followed the rhythm of his walk, with love, with dread, with resignation. All kept their heads raised: the door was being closed.
A sound of deep breathing, the same as that of sleep, began to rise from the ground: breathing through their noses, their jaws clenched with anguish, motionless now, aU those who were not yet dead were waiting for the whistle.
The next day
For more than five minutes, Gisors had been looking at his pipe. Before him, the lighted lamp (“which doesn’t mean that I will use it”), the little open box of opium, the clean needles. Outside, the night; in the room, the light of the small lamp and a great bright rectangle at one end-the open doorway to the next room, where they had brought Kyo’s body. The yard had been cleared for new victims, and no one had objected to the removal of the bodies thrown outside. Katov’s had not been found. May had brought back Kyo’s, with the precautions she would have taken for one severely wounded. He lay there, stretched out, not serene as Kyo, before killing himself, had thought he would become, but convulsed by the suffocation, already something else than a man. May was combing his hair before the preparation of the body for burial, speaking with her mind to the last presence of this face with horrible maternal words that she did not dare to pronounce, afraid herself to hear them. “My love,” she murmured, as she would have said, “my flesh,” knowing full well that it was something of herself, not foreign, which was torn from her; “my life. ” She perceived that it was to the dead that she was saying this. But she had long been past tears.
All grief that helps no one is absurd, Gisors was thinking, hypnotized by his lamp, finding refuge in this fascination. “Peace is here. Peace.” But he did not dare to advance his hand. He believed in no survival, had no respect for the dead; but he did not dare to advance his hand.
She came towards him, her mouth distorted by grief, her eyes staring into space. She placed her fingers gently on his wrist.
“Come,” she said in an anxious voice, almost a whisper. “It seems to me he feels a little warmer.”
He looked up into her face, so human, so grief- stricken, but betraying no delusion. She was looking at him calmly, less with hope than with the attitude of prayer. The effects of poison are always uncertain; and she was a doctor. He got up, followed her, guarding himself against a hope so strong that it seemed to him he would be unable to endure its being withdrawn. He put his hand on Kyo’s bluish brow, that brow which would never be touched by wrinkles: it was cold, with the special coldness of death. He did not dare to withdraw his fingers, to meet May’s eyes, and he kept his own eyes fastened upon Kyo’s open hand, in which the lines had already begun to disappear.
“No,” he said, returning to his distress. He had not left it. He realized that he had not believed May.
“Oh. ” she said merely.
She watched him return into the other room, hesitant. What was he thinking of? As long as Kyo was there, every thought belonged to him. This death demanded something of her, an answer which she did not know, but which existed none the less. Oh, the abject good fortune of others, with their prayers, their funeral flowers! An answer beyond anguish which tore from her hands the maternal caresses which no child had received from her, with the frightful urge that causes one to speak to the dead with the most affectionate gestures of life. This mouth which only yesterday had said to her: “I thought you were dead,” would never speak again; it was not with the derisive remnant of life-a body-it was with death itself that she must enter into communion. She stood there, motionless, wrenching from her memories so many agonies beheld with resignation, all tense with passivity in the vain welcome that she wildly offered to nothingness.
Gisors was once more stretched out on the divan. “And presently I shall have to wake up. ” How much longer would each morning bring this death back to him again? The pipe was there: peace. Advance his hand, prepare the pellet: after a few minutes, think of death itself with a limitless indulgence, as of some paralytic who might wish to harm him: it would no longer be able to reach him; it would lose its hold on him and would gently dissolve into the universal serenity. Liberation was there, within his reach. No help can be given to the dead. Why continue to suffer? Is grief an offering to love, or to fear?. He still did not dare to touch the tray, and anguish, as well as desire and repressed tears, choked him. He picked up at random the first pamphlet which his hand fell on (he never touched Kyo’s books, but he knew he would not read it). It was a copy of the Peking Politics which had faUen there when they had brought in the body and which contained the speech for which Gisors had been dismissed from the University. In the margin, in Kyo’s handwriting: “This speech is my father’s speech.” Kyo had never even told him that he approved him. Gisors folded the pamphlet gently and looked at his dead hope.
He opened the door, threw the opium into the night and came back and sat down, his shoulders drooping, waiting for the dawn, waiting for his grief to be reduced to silence, to become exhausted in its dialogue with itself. In spite of the suffering which half opened his mouth, which cast over his grave face a deforming expression of bewilderment, he did not lose all control. Tonight, his life was going to change: the power of thought is not great against the metamorphosis to which death can oblige a man. He was henceforth thrown back upon himself. The world no longer had any meaning, no longer existed: the irretrievable immobility, there, beside that body which had bound him to the universe, was like a suicide of God. He had expected of Kyo neither success, nor even happiness; but that the world should be without Kyo. “I am thrown outside of time”; the child was the submission to time, to the flow of things; no doubt, deep down, Gisors felt hope, as he felt anguish, hope of nothing, expectation, and his love had to be crushed in order that he should discover that. And yet! All that was destroying him found in him an avid welcome: “There is something beautiful in being dead,” he thought. He felt the basic suffering trembling within him, not that which comes from creatures or from things, but that which gushes forth from man himself and from which life attempts to tear us away; he could escape it, but only by ceasing to think of it; and he plunged into it deeper and deeper, as if this terrified contemplation were the only voice that death could hear, as if this suffering of being a man which pervaded him, reaching down to the very depth of his heart, were the only prayer that the body of his dead son could hear.