Man's Fate

Книга: Man's Fate
Назад: Part Three. March 27
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Part Four. April 11

Twelve-thirty noon

ALMOST alone in the bar-room of the little Grosve- nor Hotel-polished walnut, bottles, nickel, flags-Clap- pique was revolving an ash-tray on his out-stretched forefinger. Count Shpilevski, for whom he was waiting, entered. Clappique crumpled a piece of paper on which he had just been making an imaginary gift to each of his friends.
“Does this 1-little sun-bathed village behold your affairs prospering, my good man?”
“Hardly. But they’ll be all right at the end of the month. I’m taking orders for foodstuffs. Only from Europeans, of course.”
Shpilevski’s curved slender nose, his bald forehead, his brushed-back gray hair and his cheek-bones all created the odd impression that he habitually disguised himself as an eagle. This in spite of his very simple white clothes. A monocle accentuated the caricature.
“The question, you see, my dear friend, would naturally be to find some twenty thousand francs. With this sum one can make a very honorable place for himself in the food business.”
“Into my arms, my good fellow! You want a 1-little, no, an honorable placeinthe food business? Bravo!. ” “I didn’t know you had so many. whatd’you- call’ems. prejudices.”
Clappique regarded the eagle out of the corner of his
eye: a former saber-champion in Cracow, officers’ section.
“Me? I’m full of them, riddled with them! I burst with them! Just imagine-if I had that money, I would use it to imitate a Dutch high official in Sumatra who every year, on his way home to caress his tulips in Holland, used to pass along the coast of Arabia; my dear fellow, he got it into his head (I must tell you that this happened in about 1 86o) to go and loot the treasures of Mecca. It appears that they are considerable, and all gold, in great black cellars where the pilgrims have thrown them since the beginning of time. Well, it’s in that cellar that I would like to live. Anyway, my tulip-fancier gets an inheritance and goes to the Antilles to gather a crew of freebooters, to take Mecca by surprise, with a lot of modem arms-double-barreled guns, detachable bayonets, and what not. Embarks these fellows-not a word! — takes them there. ”
He put his forefinger to his lips, enjoying the Pole’s curiosity, which resembled a participation in the conspiracy.
“Good! They mutiny, meticulously murder him, and with the ship they go in for an unimaginative piracy, in any kind of an ocean. It’s a true story-a moral one, what’s more. But, as I was saying, if you count on me to find the twenty thousand francs-madness. madness, I tell you! Do you want me to go around and see people, or something of that kind? I’ll do that. Besides, since I have to pay your confounded police for every deal I make, I’d rather it should be you than someone else. But while the houses are going up in flames these fellows are about as interested in opium and cocaine as that!"
He began once more to revolve the ash-tray.
“I am speaking about it to you,” said Shpilevski, “because if I expect to succeed I naturally have to speak to everyone. I should have, at least. waited. But. ” changing his manner “. I just wanted to render you a service when I begged you to come and offer me this alcohol (it’s synthetic). Listen: leave Shanghai tomorrow.”
“Ah! Ah! Ah!” said Clappique, in a rising scale. An automobile horn outside sounded an arpeggio like an echo. “Because?”
“Because. My police, as you say, have their virtues. Get out.”
Clappique knew he could not insist. For a second he wondered if perhaps there was not in this a hidden maneuver to obtain the twenty thousand francs? О folly!
“And I would have to get out tomorrow?:’
He looked at the bar, its shakers, its nickeled rail, as at old friendly objects.
“At the latest. But you won’t leave. I see it. At least I have warned you.”
A hesitant gratitude (counteracted less by suspicion than by the nature of the advice which was being given him, by his ignorance of what threatened him) slowly worked its way into Clappique’s consciousness.
“What? Better luck than I had expected?” the Pole went on, noticing the change; he took his ^m: “Leave! There’s some story about a ship. ”
“But I had nothing to do with it!”
“Leave.”
“Can you tell me if Old Gisors is implicated?”
“I don’t think so. Young Gisors, more likely.”
The Pole was obviously well informed. Clappique placed his hand on the one before him on the table.
“I’m terribly sorry not to have that money to pay for your groceries, my good fellow: perhaps you’re saving my life. But I still have a few odds and ends-two or three statues: take them.”
“No. ”
“Why not?”
“No.”
“Ah!. Not a word? So be it. Just the same I’d like to know why you won’t take my statues.” Shpilevski looked at him.
“When one has lived as I have, how could one be in this-whatd’youcallit-profession, if one did not. compensate once in a while?”
“I doubt that there are many professions which don’t oblige one to compensate. ”
“Yes. For instance, you have no idea how poorly guarded the shops are. ”
What connection? Clappique was on the point of asking. But he knew from experience that such apparently disconnected speeches are always interesting. And he was really anxious to render this man a service, if only by letting him talk. He was none the less embarrassed to the point of discomfort:
“You watch the shops?”
For him the police were an organization of swindlers and blackmailers, a body charged with raising clandestine taxes on opium and gambling houses. The members of the police whom he had to deal with (and particularly Shpilevski) were always adversaries who were half accomplices. On the other hand he loathed and dreaded informers. But Shpilevski answered:
“Watch? No, not exactly. Whatd’youcallit?. The opposite.”
“Really! Individual reprisals?”
“It’s only for toys, you understand. I no longer have 160
enough money to buy toys for my little boy. It’s very painful. All the more as I’m only fond of the kid when I make him-whatd’youcallit-happy. And I don’t know how to make him happy in any other way. It’s difficult.” “But look here-do take my statues. You don’t need to take everything, if you don’t want to.”
“I beg you, I beg you. So I go into the shops, and I say. (He threw back his head, contracting the muscles of his forehead and his left cheek around his monocle, in all seriousness.) ‘I am an inventor. An inventor and manufacturer, naturally. I’ve come to see your models.’ They let me look. I take one of them, never more. Sometimes they watch me, but it’s rare.” “And if you were found out?”
He pulled out his pocket-book and opened it in front of Clappique, showing his policeman’s card. He shut it again, and his hand described a curiously vague gesture:
“I occasionally have the money. I could also lose my job. But anything may happen. ’’
Highly astonished, Clappique suddenly discovered himself to be a man of seriousness and weight. As he had never regarded himself as responsible for his own actions, he was surprised.
“I must warn young Gisors,” he thought to himself.

One o'clock in the afternoon

Ch’en, who was ahead of time, walked along the quay, a brief-case under one arm. He encountered many Europeans whom he lmew by sight: at this hour almost all of them were going to the bars of the Shanghai Club or of one of the neighboring hotels for a drink and a chat. A hand fell gently on his shoulder, from behind. He started, put his hand to his inside pocket where his revolver was hidden.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve met, Ch’en. Do you want to. "
He turned round; it was the pastor Smithson, his first teacher. He immediately recognized the handsome- now badly ravaged-face of the American, which betrayed a strain of Sioux blood.
“. to walk along with me?”
Ch’en preferred to walk in the company of a white man. It was safer, and it was ironic: he had a bomb in his brief-case. The correct coat he was wearing gave him the feeling that his very mind was under constraint; the presence of a companion completed the disguise- and, through an obscure superstition, he did not want to hurt the pastor’s feelings. He had counted the vehicles for a minute, a little while before, to find out (odd or even) whether he would succeed: the answer was favorable. He was exasperated with himself. He might as well chat with Smithson, free himself in this way from his irritation.
This irritation did not escape the pastor, but he misinterpreted it:
“Are you suffering, Ch’en?"
“No.”
He still kept his affection for his former master, but not without rancor.
The old man took Ch’en’s arm in his own.
“I pray for you every day, Ch’en. What have you found in place of the faith you have abandoned?"
He was looking at him with a deep affection, which however was in no way paternal. Ch’en hesitated:
“I am not of those whom happiness has any concern with. ”
“Happiness is not the only thing, Ch’en-there is peace.”
“No. Not for me.”
“For all. ”
The pastor shut his eyes, and Ch’en had the impression of leading a blind man by the arm.
“I’m not looking for peace. I’m looking for. the opposite.”
Smithson looked at ^m:
“Beware of pride.”
“Who tells you that I have not found my faith?” “What political faith can account for the world’s suffering?”
“I am more anxious to diminish it than to account for it. The tone of your voice is full of. of humaneness. I don’t like a humaneness which comes from the contemplation of suffering.”
“Are you sure there is any other, Ch’en?” “Wait-difficult to explain. There is another, at least, which is not composed only of that. ”
“What political faith will destroy death. ”
The pastor’s tone was not one of interrogation, but rather of sadness. Ch’en remembered his conversation with Gisors, whom he had not seen since the night of the murder. Gisors used his intelligence in his own service, not in God’s.
“I’ve told you that I wasn’t looking for peace.” “Peace. ”
The pastor was silent. They continued walking.
“My poor little fellow,” he went on at last, “each of us knows only his own unhappiness.” His arm pressed
Ch’en’s. “Do you think every really religious life is not a daily conversion?. ”
They were both looking at the sidewalk, and seemed to have contact only through their interlocked arms. “. a daily conversion. ” the pastor repeated with a weary emphasis, as though those words were merely the echo of an obsession. Ch’en did not answer. This man was speaking of himself and he was telling the truth. Like Ch’en, this man lived his idea: he was something more than a restless bundle of flesh. Under his left arm, the brief-case and the bomb; under his right arm, that arm tightly pressing his:. a daily conversion. " This confidence spoken in a tone of secrecy made the pastor suddenly appear in a pathetic light. So near to murder, Ch’en was attuned to every kind of suffering.
“Each night, Ch’en, I shall pray God to deliver you from pride. (I pray especially at night: it is favorable to prayer.) If He grant you humility, you will be saved. Now at last I can read in your eyes and understand, as I could not a while ago. ”
It was with his suffering, and not with his words, that Ch’en had entered into communion. Those last words, those words of a fisherman who thinks he feels the pull of a fish, stirred in him an anger which rose painfuUy, without altogether banishing a furtive pity. He was completely baffled by his own feelings.
“Listen,” he said. “Listen to this. In two hours I shaU kill a man.”
He looked straight into the eyes of his companion, this time. Without reason, he raised a trembling hand to his face, crumpled the lapel of his coat:
“Can you still read in my eyes?”
No. He was alone. Still alone. His hand released his coat, attached itself to the pastor’s coat-lapel as though he were going to shake him; the latter placed his hand on Ch’en’s. They remained thus, in the middle of the sidewalk, motionless, as if ready to struggle; a passer-by stopped. He was a white man, and he thought they were quarreling.
“It’s a horrible lie,” said the pastor in a muffled voice.
Ch’en’s arm fell to his side. He could not even laugh. “A lie!" he shouted to the passer-by. The latter shrugged his shoulders and went off. Ch’en made a sudden about- face and left almost at a run.
He finally found his two companions, more than a kilometer away. “All dolled up,” with their creased hats, their business-suits, which had been picked out to avoid attracting attention to the brief-cases, one containing a bomb, and the other some grenades. Suan-a redskin type of Chinaman, with an aquiline nose-was musing, looking into space; Pei. Ch’en had never noticed before how extremely adolescent his face seemed. The round shell-rimmed glasses perhaps accentuated his youth. They started off, reached the Avenue of the Two Republics; with al its shops open, it was retu^rning to everyday life.
Chiang Kai-shek’s car would reach the avenue by a narrow street that came into it at a right angle. It would slow down to make the turn. They would have to see it come, and throw the bomb as it slowed down. The general passed every day between one and one-fifteen on his way to lunch. The one who was watching the little street would have to signal to the other two as soon as he saw the car. An antique-dealer’s shop just across the street was a good vantage-point; if only the man did not belong to the police. Ch’en himself would be the look-out. He stationed Pei in the avenue, close to the spot where the car would end its mrn before picking up speed; Suan, a little farther on. Ch’en would give the signal and throw the first bomb. If the car did not stop, whether it was hit or not, the other two would throw their bombs in their tum. If it stopped, they would run towards it: the street was too narrow for it to mrn. There lay the possibility of failure. If he missed them, the guards on the running-boards would open fire to prevent anyone from approaching.
Ch’en and his companions now had to separate. There were surely plain-clothes men in the crowd, along the whole way traveled by the car. From a small Chinese bar Pei was going to watch for Ch’en’s signal; farther off, Suan would wait for Pei to come out. At least one of them would probably be killed, Ch’en no doubt. They were afraid to speak-afraid of the finality of words. They separated without even shaking hands.
Ch’en entered the shop of the antique-dealer and asked to see one of those small bronzes found in excavations. The dealer pulled a stack of purple satin boxes from a drawer. They tumbled in a pile on the counter, and he began to spread them out. He was not from Shanghai, but from the North or from Turkestan; his sparse, soft mustache and beard, the narrow slits of his eyes, were those of a low-class Mohammedan, as was also his obsequious mouth; but not his ridgeless face, which resembled that of a flat-nosed goat. Anyone who denounced a man found on the general’s path carrying a bomb would receive a fat sum of money and great esteem among his people. And this wealthy bourgeois was perhaps a sincere partisan of Chiang Kai-shek.
“Have you been in Shanghai long?” he asked Ch’en. What sort of fellow was this strange customer? His embarrassment, his constraint, his lack of curiosity in the objects displayed, made the dealer uneasy. The young man was perhaps not used to wearing European clothes. Ch’en’s thick lips, in spite of his sharp profile, gave him a good-natured look. The son of some rich peasant from the interior? But the big farmers did not collect ancient bronzes. Was he buying for a European? He was neither a houseboy nor an agent-and if he was a collector himself, he was looking at the objects he was being sho- n with very little love: he seemed to be thinking of something else.
For Ch’en was already watching the street. From the shop he could see to a distance of two hundred meters. How long would he be able to see the car? But what chance had he to calculate while confronted with this fool’s curiosity? First of all he had to answer. To remain silent was stupid:
“I used to live in the interior," he said. “The war forced me to leave."
The other was going to question him again. Ch’en felt that he was making him uneasy. The dealer was now wondering if he was not a burglar who had come to look over his shop to plunder it the next time disorders broke out; however, the young man did not ask to look at the finest pieces. Only bronzes or fox-heads, and of moderate price. The Japanese like foxes, but this customer was not Japanese. He would have to try to draw him out with other questions.
“No doubt you live in Hupei? Life has become very hard, they say, in the central provinces."
Ch’en was wondering if he could not pretend to be partly deaf. He did not dare, afraid of seeming even stranger.
“I don’t live there any more," was all he answered. His tone, the structure of his sentences, had something abrupt about them even in Chinese: he expressed himself directly, without using the customary circumlocutions. But it occurred to him to start bargaining.
“How much?” he asked, pointing to a clasp with a fox’s head such as are found in great number in tombs. “Fifteen dollars.”
“I should think eight would be a good price. ” “For such a piece? How can you think. Consider that I paid ten for it. Put my profit on it yourself.” Instead of answering, Ch’en was looking at Pei seated at a little table in the open bar, his eye-glasses reflecting the light; the latter probably could not see him because of the window-pane of the antique-shop. But he would see him come out.
“I can’t pay more than nine,” he said finally, as if expressing the result of careful reflection. “At that I can’t really afford it.”
The formulas, in this realm, were traditional and they came readily to his lips.
“It’s my first deal today,” answered the antique-dealer. “Perhaps I’ll make this little sacrifice of a dollar. If you make a sale with your first customer it’s a good omen. ”
The deserted street. A rickshaw, in the distance, crossed it. Another. Two men appeared. A dog. A bicycle. The men turned to the right; the rickshaw had crossed. The street once more deserted; only the dog. …
“Just the same, couldn’t you make it nine and a half? …”
“AE right, to show my good-will.”
Another porcelain fox. More bargaining. Ch’en, since his purchase, inspired greater confidence. He had earned the right to reflect: he was deciding what price he would offer, the one which would subtly correspond to the quality of the object; his worthy meditation must not be disturbed. “In this street the car travels at forty kilo- meters-more than a kilometer in two minutes. I’ll be able to see it a little less than a minute. Not very much. Pei must keep his eye right on this door. ” No car was passing in this street. A few bicycles. He bargained over a jade belt buckle, did not accept the dealer’s price, said he would discuss it later. One of the clerks brought tea. Ch’en bought a small crystal fox- head, for which the dealer asked only three dollars. The shopkeeper’s suspicion, however, had not completely disappeared.
“I have some other very fine pieces, very authentic, with some very pretty foxes. But they are pieces of great value, and I don’t keep them in the shop. We could arrange a meeting. ”
Ch’en said nothing.
“. I might even send one of my clerks for them. ”
“I’m not interested in the very valuable pieces. Unfortunately I’m not rich enough.”
Apparently he was not a thief; he did not even ask to see them. The antiquarian went back to the jade belt buckle, displaying it with the delicacy of one who specializes in handling mummies; but in spite of the words which passed one by one between his gelatinous lips, in spite of his concupiscent eyes, his customer remained indifferent, distant. Yet it was he who had picked out this buckle. Bargaining is a collaboration, like love; the dealer was making love to a board. Why in the world did this man buy? Suddenly he guessed: he was one of those poor young men who let themselves become childishly infatuated with the Japanese prostitutes of Chapei. They have a passion for foxes. His customer was buying these for some waitress or cheap geisha; if he was not interested in them it was because he was not buying them for himself. (Ch’en did not cease thinking about the arrival of the car, the speed with which he would have to open his brief-case, pull out the bomb, throw it.) But geishas don’t like objects from excavations. Perhaps they make an exception in the case of little foxes? The young man had also bought a crystal object and one in porcelain.
The tiny boxes, open or closed, were spread out on the counter. The two clerks were looking on, leaning on their elbows. One of them, very young, had put one elbow on Ch’en’s brief-case. Each time he shifted his weight from one leg to the other he pushed it a little closer to the edge of the counter. The bomb was on the right side, three centimeters from the edge.
Ch’en could not move. Finally he put out his arm, puUed the brief-case towards him, without the slightest difculty. None of these men had had the sensation of death, nor of the failure of his plot; nothing-a briefcase which a clerk has pushed towards the edge of the counter and which its owner pulls back. And suddenly everything seemed extraordinarily easy to Ch’en. Things, even actions, did not exist; they were dreams, nothing but dreams which take possession of us because we give them force, but which we can just as easily deny. At this moment he heard the horn of a car: Chiang Kai-shek.
He seized his brief-case like a weapon, paid, threw the two little packages into his pocket, went out.
The dealer was pursuing him, holding in his hand the belt buckle which Ch’en had refused to buy: “These are pieces of jade which the Japanese ladies are particularly fond of!”
Would he ever get rid of this fool?
“I’ll be back.”
What merchant does not know the formula? The car was approaching, much faster than usual, it seemed to Ch’en, preceded by the Ford of the bodyguard.
“Go to hell!”
The car, speeding towards them over the uneven gutter-stones, was violently shaking the two detectives on the running-boards. The Ford passed. Ch’en stopped, opened his brief-case, and took hold of the bomb wrapped in a newspaper. With a smile the dealer slipped the belt buckle into the empty pocket of the brief-case. In doing so he was barring Ch’en’s two hands:
“Pay me what you like.”
“Go to hell!”
Dumbfounded by this outburst, the antiquarian did not budge, merely gaped at Ch’en whose mouth was also open.
“Aren’t you a little ill?” Ch’en could no longer see anything, limp as if he were going to faint: the car was passing.
He had not been able to free himself in time from the antiquarian’s gesture. “This customer is going to be iU,” the latter was thinking. He made a movement to support him. With one blow, Ch’en knocked aside the two arms held up to him and started off. The blow left the dealer stunned for a moment. Ch’en was half run- rung.
“My buckle!” shouted the merchant. “My buckle!”
It was still in the brief-case. Ch’en was at a loss. His every muscle, his every nerve was expecting a detonation which would fill the street. Nothing. The car had
turned, had even passed beyond Suan no doubt. And this fool remained there. There was no danger, since everything had failed. What had the others been doing? Ch’en began to run. “Stop, thief! ” shouted the antiquarian. Other dealers appeared in the doorways. Ch’en understood. In sheer rage he wanted to run away with the accursed buckle, throw it somewhere. But more onlookers were approaching. He threw it in the antiquarian’s face, and only then noticed that he had not shut his brief-case. Since the passing of the car it had stayed open, right before the eyes of that imbecile and of the passers-by, the bomb visible, not even protected by the newspaper which had slipped aside. He finally closed the brief-case with caution (he was on the point of banging the flap down; he was struggling. with all his might against his nerves). The dealer was hurrying back to his shop. Ch’en walked on.
“Well?” he said to Pei as soon as he joined him.
“What about you?”
They looked at each other breathlessly, each wanting the other to speak first. They stood there, outlined in profile against the blurred background of the buildings- hovering on the verge of speech, seeming to be stuck to the pavement, in postures full of hesitations. The light of the early afternoon sun, very strong despite the clouds, set off Ch’en’s hawklike profile and Pei’s roundish head. Among the bustling and anxious passers-by, those two figures with trembling hands, planted on their fore-shortened shadows, seemed completely isolated. All three were still carrying their brief-cases. It would not be wise to remain there too long. The restaurants were not safe. And they had already met and separated too many times in this street. Why? Nothing had hap-
“To Hemmelrich’s,” said Ch’en finally.
They started off, picking their way through backstreets.
“What happened?” asked Suan.
Ch’en explained. As for Pei, he had been uneasy when he saw that Ch’en did not leave the antiquarian’s shop alone. He had betaken himself to the spot where he was to throw his bomb, a few meters from the comer. The cars in Shanghai drive on the left side of the street; ordinarily they make a short turn, and Pei had taken his post on the left sidewalk, in order to throw his bomb at close range. As it happened, the car was going fast; there were no carriages in the Avenue of the Two Republics. The chauffeur had made a wide turn, thus skirting the opposite sidewalk, and Pei had found himself separated from it by a rickshaw.
“So much the worse for the rickshaw,” said Ch’en. “There are thousands of other coolies who can live only by Chiang Kai-shek’s death.”
“I would have missed my aim.”
Suan had not thrown his grenades because neither of the bombs had gone off-he had supposed that something was wrong, that perhaps the general was not in the car.
They were advancing in silence between walls turned to a sickly pale shade by the yellowish sky, in a wretched solitude littered with rubbish and telegraph wires.
“The bombs are intact,” said Ch’en in a muffled voice. “We’ll try again in a little while.”
But his two companions were crushed; those who have failed in an attempted suicide rarely try it again. As they went on, their bewilderment gave way to despair.
“It’s my fault,” said Suan.
Pei repeated:
“It’s my fault.”
“Enough,” said Ch’en, exasperated. He was reflecting, as they pursued their wretched walk. It wouldn’t do to start all over again in the same way. The plan was bad, but it was difficult to imagine another. He had thought that. They reached Hemmelrich’s.
From the back of his shop Hemmelrich heard a voice speaking in Chinese, and two others which were answering. Their pitch, their excited rhythm, had attracted his attention. “Just yesterday,” he thought to himself, “I saw two chaps walking by, whose faces were enough to give you chronic hemorrhoids, and who certainly weren’t there for their pleasure. ” It was difficult for him to hear distinctly: upstairs the child was wailing incessantly. But the voices died away and short shadows on the sidewalk showed that three figures were standing there. The police?. Hemmelrich got up and walked towards the door. There was nothing about his looks, he reflected-conscious, as always, of his flattened nose and his sunken chest-that could inspire fear in an aggressor. But he recognized Ch’en even before his hand reached his pocket; he held it out to him instead of drawing his revolver.
“Let’s go into the back room,” said Ch’en.
All three passed in front of Hemmelrich. He was examining them. Each with a brief-case, not held carelessly, but squeezed tightly under his arm.
“Listen,” said Ch’en as soon as the door was closed: “can you give us hospitality for a few hours? To us and to what we have in our brief-cases?”
“Bombs?”
“Yes.”
“No.”
The child, upstairs, was still crying. His most painful cries had become sobs, with occasional little clucking sounds, as though he were weeping for fun-which made them all the more poignant. The records, the chairs, the cricket were so exactly the same as when Ch’en had come there after the murder of Tang Yen Ta that Hem- melrich and he both remembered that night. He said nothing, but Hemmelrich guessed:
“The bombs,” he said, “. I can’t at this moment. If they find bombs here they’ll kill my wife and the kid.” “Good. Let’s go to Shia’s.” He was the lamp-dealer whom Kyo had visited on the eve of the insurrection. “At this hour there’s only the boy.”
“Understand me, Ch’en: the kid is very sick, and the mother isn’t in too good shape. ”
He was looking at Ch’en, his hands trembling. “You don’t know, Ch’en, you can’t know how lucky you are to be free!. ”
“Yes, I know.”
The three Chinamen went out.
“God damn!. God damn!” Hemmelrich said to himself, “won’t I ever be in his place?” He was swearing to himself, calmly, ponderously. And he was slowly climbing the stairs to the room. His Chinese wife was sitting, her eyes fixed on the bed. She did not turn round.
“The lady was nice today,” said the child, “she didn’t hurt me hardly at all. ”
The lady was May. Hemmelrich remembered: “Mastoid. My poor fellow, we’ll have to break the bone. ” Hardly more than a baby. -. All he knew of life so far was suffering. Hemmelrich would have to “explain to him.” Explain what? That it was advantageous to have the bones in his head broken so that he wouldn’t die, so that he would be rewarded by a life as precious and delicate as that of his father? “Oh, the horror of youth!” he had said for twenty years. How long before he would say, “Oh, the horror of age! ” and pass on to his wretched offspring those two perfect expressions of life? A month before, the cat had dislocated its paw, and they had had to hold it while the Chinese veterinary set the bone back into place, and the creature shrieked and struggled; it didn’t understand; he felt that it believed it was being tortured. And the cat was not a child, did not say: “He hardly hun me. ” He went downstairs again. The smell of the corpses, on which the dogs were no doubt ravenously feeding close by in the back-alleys, drifted in with the diffused sunlight. “It’s not suffering that is lacking,” he thought to himself.
He could not forgive himself for having refused. Like a tortured man who has yielded secrets, he knew that he would do it again, but he could not forgive himself. He had betrayed his youth, his desires and his dreams. How could he help betraying them? Some people wanted only what they could have. But all the things he wanted were things he could not have. He wanted to give shelter to Ch’en and go with him. Go. Offset by violence-any kind of violence-by bombs, this atrocious life that had poisoned him since he was born, that would poison his children in the same way. Especially his children. He could accept his own suffering: he had acquired the habit. But not that of the children. “He has become very intelligent since he has been ill,” May had said. As if by chance.
Go out with Ch’en, take one of the bombs hidden in the brief-cases, throw it. That was good sense. In fact the only thing that had a sense, in his present life. Thirty- seven years. Another thirty years to live, perhaps. To live how? The sale of these records, whose wretched profit he shared with Lu Yu Hsiian, by which neither of them was able to live-and, when he was old. Thirty-seven years. As far as memory goes back, people say; his memory didn’t have to go back: from beginning to end, it was only wretchedness.
A bad pupil at school: absent one day out of every two-his mother made do her work so she could get drunk in peace. The factory: a laborer. A bad character; during his military service, always behind bars. And the war. Gassed. For whom, for what? For France? He was not French, he was wretched. But in the war one could eat. Then, sent to Indo-China, demobilized there. “The climate here makes manual labor impossible. ” But it allowed you to die of dysentery, especially those who were known as bad characters. He had failed in Shanghai. Bombs, for God’s sake, bombs!
There was his wife: life had given nothing else. She had been sold for twelve dollars. Abandoned by the buyer whom she had ceased to please, she had come to him in terror, to eat, to sleep; but in the beginning she had not been able to sleep, expecting every moment a display of the European wickedness and cruelty that she had always been told about. He had been good to her. Emerging little by little from the depth of her fright, she had cared for him when he was ill, had worked for him, endured his outbursts of impotent hatred. She had clung to him with the love of a blind and persecuted dog, suspecting that he too was a blind and persecuted dog. And now there was the kid. What could he do for him? Scarcely feed him. He had strength left only for the pain that he could inflict; there existed more pain in the world than stars in the sky, but the worst of al was the pain he could inflict upon this woman: to abandon her by dying. Like that starving Russian, down the street, who had become a laborer and then, one day when his misery was too great, had committed suicide; his crazed wife, in a blind rage, had beaten the corpse that was abandoning her, with four youngsters in the corners of the room, one of them asking: “Why do you fight?”. He kept his wife, his kid, from dying. That was nothing. Less than nothing. If he had had money, if he could have left it to them, he would have been free to go and get killed. As if the universe had not treated him all his life with kicks in the belly, it now despoiled him of the only dignity he could ever possess-his death. The smell of corpses was blown in upon the motionless sunbeams by every gust of 'wind. He saturated himself in it with a sense of gratified horror, obsessed by Ch’en as by a friend in the throes of death, and seeking-as though it were of any consequence-whether the feeling uppermost in him was shame, fraternity or an atrocious craving.
Once more Ch’en and his companions had left the avenue. The courts and the side-streets were not closely watched, as the general’s car did not pass through them. “We must get a new plan,” Ch’cn was thinking as he walked with bowed head, looking down at his smug shoes as they advanced one after the other. Run into Chiang Kai-shek’s car with another car driven in the opposite direction? But every car might be requisitioned by the army. To try to — use the fanion of a legation to protect the car-in case they were able to get one-was risky, for the police knew the chauffeurs of the foreign ministers. Bar the way with a cart? Chiang Kai-shek was always preceded by the Ford with his bodyguard. Before a suspicious obstruction both guards and the police on the running-boards would open fire on whoever attempted to approach. Ch’en listened: his companions had begun to talk.
“Many generals will abandon Chiang Kai-shek if they know he’s in danger of being assassinated,” said Pei. “There is faith only among us.”
“Yes,” said Suan, “the sons of torture-victims make good terrorists.”
They both were.
“And as for the generals who remain,” added Pei, “even if they build up a China that is opposed to us, they will make a great nation, because they will have built it with their blood.”
“No!” said Ch’en and Suan, both at once. Neither of them ignored how great the number of nationalists among the Communists had grown, especially among the intellectuals.
Pei wrote, for periodicals that were quickly suppressed, stories that revealed a painfully self-satisfied bitterness, and articles-the last of which began in this fashion: “Imperialism being sorely pressed, China plans to solicit its benevolence once more and ask it to substitute a nickel ring for the gold ring that it has fastened to her nose. ” He was also preparing an ideology of terrorism. For him Communism was merely the one true way to bring about the revival of China.
“I don’t want to create China,” said Suan, “I want to create my people, with or without her. The poor. It’s for them that I’m willing to die, to kill. For them only. ”
It was Ch’en who answered:
“As long as we try to throw the bomb we’ll have bad luck. Too many chances of failure. And we must get it over with today.”
“There’s no other way that’s any easier,” said Pei.
“There is a way.”
The low, heavy clouds were advancing in the same direction as they, with the uncertain yet lordly movement of destinies. Ch’en had shut his eyes to meditate, but continued to walk, close to the walls as usual; his comrades were waiting for to speak, watching his curved profile.
“There is a way. And I believe there is only one: we must not throw the bomb; we must throw ourselves under the car with it.”
Lost in thought, they continued their walk through the torn-up courts where children no longer played.
They arrived. The clerk led them into the back room of the shop. They remained standing amid the lamps, their brief-cases under their arms; finally they put them down, cautiously. Suan and Pei squatted on the floor, Chinese fashion.
“Why are you laughing, Ch’en?” asked Pei, with anxiety.
He was not laughing, he was smiling, worlds removed from irony. To his amazement, he found himself possessed by a radiant exaltation. Everything became simple. His anguish had vanished. He knew the uneasiness to which his comrades were prey, in spite of their courage: throwing bombs, even in the most dangerous way, was adventure; the resolution to die was something else — he opposite, perhaps. He began to pace back and forth. In the back room there was only the light which came through the shop-now livid, as before a storm. In the difused half-light the bellies of the storm lamps glowed with a curious effect-rows of inverted question-

 

marks. Ch’en’s shadow, too indistinct to be a silhouette, was moving above the anxious eyes of the other two.
“Kyo is right: what we lack most is the sense of hara- kiri. But the Japanese who kills himself risks becoming a god, and that’s the beginning of filth and corruption. No: the blood must fall back upon men-and remain." Whenever Ch’en expressed a passionate conviction in Chinese, his voice took on an extraordinary intensity.
“I would rather try to succeed," said Suan, “-to suc- ceed-in several attempts than to make up my mind to die in one attempt."
Yet Suan felt beneath Ch’en’s words a current towards which he was being drawn. Where it led he did not know. He was sitting in rapt attention, vibrating to the sound of Ch’en’s words rather than to their meaning.
“I must throw myself under the car," answered Ch’en.
They followed him with their eyes, as he came and went, without turning their necks; he no longer looked at them. He stumbled on one of the lamps standing on the floor, caught his balance by putting his hands out to the waU. The lamp feU and broke with a tinkle. But there was no room for laughter. His righted shadow stood out indistinctly against the last rows of lamps. Suan was beginning to understand what Ch’en expected of him. Nevertheless, either through mistrust of himself or to put off what he foresaw, he said:
“What do you want?"
Ch’en suddenly realized that he did not know. He felt himself struggling, not against Suan, but against his idea, which was escaping him. At last:
“That this should not be lost."
“You want Pei and me to make a pledge to imitate you? Is that it?"
“It’s not a promise that I expect. I expect you to feel — a need.”
The reflections on the lamps were disappearing. It was growing darker in the windowless room-no doubt the clouds were piling up outside. Ch’en remembered Gisors: “Close to death, such a passion aspires to be passed on. ” Suddenly he understood. Suan also was beginning to understand:
“You want to make a kind of religion of terrorism?” Ch’en’s exaltation was growing. All words were hollow, absurd, too feeble to express what he wanted of them.
“Not a religion. The meaning of life. The. ”
His hand made the convulsive gesture of molding something, and his idea seemed to pulsate.
“. the complete possession of oneself. Total. Absolute. To know. Not to be looking, looking, always, for ideas, for duties. In the last hour I have felt nothing of what used to weigh on me. Do you hear? Nothing.” He was so completely carried away by his exaltation that he was no longer trying to convince them otherwise than by speaking about himself:
“I possess myself. But I don’t feel a menace, an anguish, as always before. Possessed, held tight, tight, as this hand holds the other. (he was pressing it with all his might). it’s not enough-like. ”
He picked up one of the pieces of glass from the broken lamp. A large triangular fragment full of reflections. With one stroke he drove it into his thigh. His tense voice was charged with a savage certainty, but he seemed much more to possess his exaltation than to be possessed by it. Not at all mad. Now the other two could barely see him, and yet he filed the room. Suan began to be afraid:
“I am less intelligent than you, Ch'en, but for me … for me, no. I saw my father hung by his hands, beaten on the belly with a rattan-stick to make him tell where his master had hidden the money which he didn’t have. It's for those to whom we belong that I’m fighting, not for myself.”
“For them, you can’t do better than to make up your mind to die. No other man can be so effective as the man who has chosen that. If we had made up our minds to it, we should not have missed Chiang Kai-shek a while back. You know it.”
“You-perhaps you need that. I don’t know. ” He was struggling with himself. “If I agreed, you see, it would seem to me that I was not dying for all the others, but. ”
“But?”
Almost completely obliterated, the feeble afternoon light lingered without completely disappearing.
“For you.”
A strong smell of kerosene recalled to Ch’en the oil cans for the burning of the station, the first day. of the insurrection. But everything was plunging into the past, even Suan, since he would not follow him. Yet the only thing which his present state of mind did not transform into nothingness was the idea of creating those doomed Executioners, that race of avengers. This birth was taking place in him, like all births, with agony and exalta- tion-he was not master of it. He could no longer endure any presence. He got up.
“You who write,” he said to Pei, “you will explain.”
They picked up their brief-cases. Pei was wiping his glasses. Ch’en pulled up his trouser-leg, bandaged his thigh without washing the wound-what was the use? It would not have time to get infected-before going out.
“One always does the same thing,” he said to himself, disturbed, thinking of the knife he had driven into his arm.
“I shall go alone,” he said, “and I shall manage alone, tonight.”
“I’ll organize something, just the same,” Suan answered.
“It will be too late.”
In front of the shop, Ch’en took a step to the left. Pei was following him. Suan remained motionless. A second step. Pei still followed him. Ch’en noticed that the youth, his glasses in his hand-so much more human, that youngster’s face, without glasses over his eyes-was weeping in silence.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m coming.”
Ch’en stopped. He had always believed him to be of Suan’s opinion; he pointed to the latter.
“I shall go with you,” Pei persisted.
He avoided speaking any more than was necessary, his voice broken, his Adam’s apple shaken by silent sobs.
“Pledge yourself.”
He clutched Pei’s arm.
“Pledge yourself,” he repeated.
He turned away. Pei remained on the sidewalk, his mouth open, still wiping his glasses, comical. Never had Ch’en thought one could be so alone.

Three o'clock in the afternoon

Clappique had expected to find Kyo at home. But he was still out. In the large room strewn with sketches which a disciple in a kimono was picking up, Gisors was 184
conversing with his brother-in-law, the painter Kama. “Hello, old dear! Into my arms!”
He sat down quietly.
“Too bad your son isn’t here.”
“Do you want to wait for him?”
“Let’s try. I need to see him like the devil. What is that new little c-cactus, under the opium-table? The collection is becoming worthy of respect. Ravishing, my dear friend, r-ravish-ing! I must buy one. Where did you find it?”
“It’s a gift. It was sent me a little before one o’clock.” Clappique was reading the Chinese characters traced on the flat stake supporting the plant; a large one: Fidelity; three small ones, a signature: Ch’en Ta Erh.
“Ch’en Ta Erh. Ch’en. Don’t know him. Too bad. He’s a fellow who knows cactuses.”
He remembered that the next day he would have to be gone. He must find money to leave, and not to buy cactuses. Impossible to sell objects of art in a hurry with the city under military occupation. His friends were hard up. And you couldn’t touch Ferral for money on any pretext. He had commissioned him to buy some of Kama’s wash-drawings when the Japanese painter arrived. Thirty or forty dollars in commissions.
“Kyo should be here,” said Gisors. “He had many engagements today, didn’t he?. ”
“He’d do better to miss them, perhaps,” Clappique grunted.
He did not dare to add anything. He had no idea how much Gisors knew about Kyo’s activity. But the absence of any question humiliated ^m:
“You know, it’s very serious.”
“Everything that has to do with Kyo is serious for me.”
“You haven’t any bright idea about how to earn or find four or five hundred dollars immediately?”
Gisors smiled sadly. Clappique knew he was poor: and his works of art, even if he were to consent to sell them.
“Well, let’s earn our few cents,” the Baron thought to himself. He came closer, looked at the wash-drawings scattered on the divan. Although he was sufficiently discriminating not to judge the traditional Japanese art in terms of its relation to Cezanne or Picasso, he detested it today: the taste for serenity is weak in hunted men. Dim lights over a mountain, village streets dissolved by rain, flights of wading-birds across the snow-that whole world in which melancholy prepared one for happiness. Clappique imagined without difficulty, alas, the paradises at whose gates he should remain, but was irritated by their existence.
“The most beautiful woman in the world,” he said, “naked, aroused, but with a chastity belt. For Ferral, not for me.”
He chose four, dictated the address to the disciple. “Because you’re thinking of our art,” said Gisors; “this does not serve the same purpose.”
“Why do you paint, Kama-San?”
The old master was looking at Clappique with curiosity, the light emphasizing his bald head. He too was wearing a kimono. (As Gisors was still in his dressing- gown, Clappique was the only one in trousers.)
The disciple left the sketch, translated, answered: “The master says: first, for my wife, because I love her. ”
“I don’t say for whom, but for what?”
“The master says it is difficult to explain to you. He says: ‘When I went to Europe, I saw the museums. The! 86
more your painters paint apples, and even lines which do not represent obj ects, the more they talk about themselves. For me it is the world that counts.’ "
Kama spoke another phrase; an expression of gentleness, barely perceptible, flitted across his face, which resembled an indulgent old lady’s.
“The master says: ‘With us, painting is what charity would be with you.’ "
A second disciple, a cook, brought bowls of sake, and immediately withdrew. Kama spoke again.
“The master says that if he were no longer to paint, it would seem to him that he had become blind. And more than blind: alone."
“Wait a minute!" said the Baron, one eye open, the other shut, his forefinger pointed. “If a doctor were to say to you: ‘You have an incurable illness, and you will die in three months,’ would you still paint?"
“The master says that if he knew he was going to die, he thinks he would paint better, but not differently." “Why better?" asked Gisors.
He did not cease thinking of Kyo. What Clappique had said upon corning in was sufficient to worry him: today serenity was almost an insult.
Kama answered. Gisors himself translated:
“He says: ‘There are two smiles-my wife’s and my daughter’s-which I should then know I would never see again, and I should be even more inclined to melancholy. The world is like the characters of our writing. What the symbol is to the flower, the flower itself-this one (he pointed to one of the drawings)-is to something. Everything is a symbol. To go from the symbol to the thing symbolized is to explore the depth and meaning of the world, it is to seek God.’ He thinks that the approach of death. Wait. ’’
He questioned Kama again, resumed his translation:
“Yes, that’s it. He thinks that the approach of death would perhaps permit him to put into all things sufficient fervor and melancholy, so that all the forms he would paint would become comprehensible symbols, so that what they symbolize-what they hide, also-would be revealed.”
Clappique experienced the atrocious sensation of suffering in the presence of a creature who denied suffering. He was listening with attention, without taking his eyes from Kama’s face, while Gisors was translating. With his absorbed look, his elbows against his sides, his hands joined, Clappique resembled a forlorn monkey.
“Perhaps you’re not asking the question in the right way,” said Gisors.
He spoke a very short phrase in Japanese. Up to this point Kama had answered almost immediately. He pondered.
“What question did you just ask ^m?” Clappique asked in a low voice.
“What he would do if the doctor condemned his wife.”
“The master says he would not believe the doctor.”
The cook-disciple came back and took away the bowls on a tray. His European garb, his smile, his deference, and his gestures which betrayed an extravagant gayety-everything about him seemed strange, even to Gisors. Kama said something under his breath which the other disciple did not translate.
“In Japan these young men never drink wine,” said Gisors. “He feels hurt because this disciple is drunk.”
His eyes looked away into space: the outside door opened. A sound of steps. But it was not Kyo. His look once more became precise, and met Kama’s firmly:
“And if she were dead?”
Would he have pursued this conversation with a European? But the old painter belonged to another universe. Before answering he smiled a long, sad smile, not with his lips but with his eyelids:
“One can communicate even with death. It’s most difficult, but perhaps that is the meaning of life. ”
He was taking his leave, was returning to his room, followed by his disciple. Clappique sat down.
“Not a word!. Remarkable, my dear, r-remark- able! He left like a well-bred phantom. Do you know that young phantoms are very ill-bred and that the old ones^ have the greatest trouble teaching them to make people afraid-the young ones don’t know any language, and aU they can say is: Zip-zip. Which. ”
He stopped: the knocker, again. In the silence, guitar- notes began to strum; soon they became ordered into a slow fall that spread outward in its descent, down to the gravest notes, held in suspense and lost at length in a solemn serenity.
“What does it mean, but what does it mean?”
“He plays the samisen. Always, when something has upset him: away from Japan, it’s his defense. He told me, when he came back from Europe: ‘I know now that I can find my inner silence no matter where I am. ’ ”
“A bluff?”
Clappique had asked the question absent-mindedly: he was listening. At this hour when his life was perhaps in danger (although it was rare that he was sufficiently interested in himself to feel himself really in danger) those exquisitely pure notes, bringing back to him upon their current, along with the love of music which had filled his youth, that youth itself and all its vanished happiness, upset him too.
Once more the sound of a foot-step: already Kyo was in the doorway.
He led Clappique into his room. A divan, a desk, a chair, blank walls: a deliberate austerity. It was hot in there; Kyo threw his coat on the divan.
“Listen,” said Clappique. “I’ve just been given a 1-little tip-you’ll be making a big mistake if you don't take it seriously: if we don’t clear out of here by tomorrow night, we’re as good as dead.”
“What’s the source of this tip? The police?”
“Bravo. Useless to tell you that I can't say anything more about it. But it’s serious. The affair of the ship is known. Lay low, and get out within forty-eight hours.” Kyo was about to say: it’s no longer an offense since we have triumphed. He said nothing. He was too well prepared for the repression of the workers' movement to be surprised. This meant that the break had come, which Clappique could not guess; and if the latter was being prosecuted it was because, the Shtmtung having been taken by the Communists, he was believed to be allied with them.
“What do you expect to do?” Clappique went on. “To think, first of all.”
“Profound idea! And have you the cash to get out?” Kyo shrugged his shoulders with a smile.
“I have no intention of getting out. Your information is none the less of the greatest importance to me,” he continued after a moment.
“No intention of getting out! You prefer to be killed?”
“Perhaps. But you want to leave, don’t you?”
“Why should I stay?”
“How much do you need?”
“Three hundred, four hundred. ”
“Perhaps I can give you part of it. I should like to help you. Don’t imagine I think I’m repaying you in this way for the service you’re doing me. ”
Clappique smiled sadly. He was not taken in by Kyo’s delicacy, but he appreciated it.
“Where will you be tonight?” Kyo continued. “Where you like.”
“No.”
“Let’s say at the Black Cat, then. I must find my few p-pennies in various ways.”
“Agreed: the dive is on the territory of the concessions, so there’ll be no Chinese police. Less danger of kidnaping than here, even: too many people. I’ll be there between eleven and eleven-thirty. But not later. I have an appointment after that. ”
Clappique turned his eyes away.
“Which I don’t want to miss. You’re sure the Cat won’t be closed?”
“Preposterous! It will be full of Chiang Kai-shek’s officers; their glorious uniforms will be intertwined in dance with the bodies of fallen ladies. In gracious garlands, I tell you! So I shall be waiting for you, while attentively contemplating this necessary spectacle until around eleven-thirty.”
“Do you think you could get more information by tonight?”
“I’ll try.”
“You might be doing me a great service. Greater than you can imagine. Am I designated by name?”
“Yes.”
“And my father?” “No. I would have warned him. He was not involved in the Shantung affair.”
Kyo knew that it wasn't the Shantung that had to be thought about, but the repression. May? Her role was too unimportant to make it necessary to question Clappique. As for his companions, if he was menaced, so were they all.
“Thanks.”
They returned together to the phcenix-room. May was saying to Gisors:
“It’s very difficult: if the Women’s Union grants divorce to mistreated women, the husbands will leave the revolutionary Union; and if we don’t grant it to them, they will lose all confidence in us. I don’t blame them. ”
“I’m afraid,” said Kyo, “it’s either too early or too late to organize.”
Clappique was leaving, without listening.
“Be munificent as usual,” he said to Gisors: “Give me your cac-tuss.”
“I have a great affection for the lad who sent it to me. Any other, gladly. ”
It was a small hairy cactus.
“Oh, well, never mind.”
“So long.”
“So. No. Perhaps. Good-by, my dear. The only man in Shanghai who does not exist-not a word: who absolutely does not exist! — salutes you.”
He went out.
May and Gisors were looking at Kyo with dismay; he immediately explained:
“He has just learned from the police that I’m on their black list; he advises me not to stir from here, except to get out within two days. Moreover, the repression is imminent. And the last troops of the First Division have left the city.”
It was the only division on which the Communists could count. Chiang Kai-shek knew it: he had ordered its general to join the front with his troops. The latter had proposed to the Communist Central Committee the arrest of Chiang Kai-shek. He had been advised to temporize, to pretend illness; he had quickly found himself faced with an ultimatum. And, not daring to fight without the consent of the Party, he had left the city, trying only to leave a few troops there. They in their turn had just left.
“They’re not yet far off,” Kyo continued; “and the division may even return if we hold the city long enough.”
The door opened again, a nose was stuck in, and a cavernous voice said: “Baron de Clappique does not exist.”
The door shut.
“Nothing from Hankow?” asked Kyo.
“Nothing.”
Since his return he had secretly been organizing combat groups against Chiang Kai-shek, like the ones he had organized against the Northerners. The International had rejected all the slogans of opposition, but accepted the maintenance of the Communist shock groups; Kyo wanted to make the new groups of militants the organizers of the masses which were now every day joining the Unions; but the official speeches of the Chinese Communist Party, the whole propaganda of union with the Kuomintang, were paralyzing him. The Military Committee alone had joined him; all the arms had not been given up, but Chiang Kai-shek was demanding this very day that the Communists surrender those stiU in their possession. A last appeal from Kyo and the Military Committee had been telegraphed to Hankow.
Old Gisors-fully informed this time-was worried. He was too much inclined to see in Marxism a kind of fatality to regard questions of tactics without suspicion. Like Kyo, he was sure that Chiang Kai-shek would attempt to crush the Communists; like Kyo he believed that the murder of the general would have struck the reaction at the point where it was most vulnerable. But he detested the plot-like character of their present activity. The death of Chiang Kai-shek, even the seizure of the Shanghai government, led only to adventure. Together with some of the members of the International, he favored the return to Canton of the Iron Army and the Communist fraction of the Kuomintang: there, backed by a revolutionary city, by an active and well- supplied arsenal, the Reds could entrench themselves and await the moment that would be propitious to a new Northern campaign, which the imminent reaction would prepare from below. The generals of Hankow, eager for lands to conquer, were less eager to venture into the south of China where the Unions, faithful to those who represented the memory of Sun Yat-sen, would have driven them to a constant and rather fruitless guerilla warfare. Instead of having to fight the Northerners, and then Chiang Kai-shek, the Red army would thus be leaving the latter the task of fighting the former. Whichever enemy the Red army would then encounter at Canton would be greatly weakened. “The donkeys are too much fascinated by their carrot,” said Gisors of the generals, “to bite us at this moment if we don’t place ourselves between it and them. ” But the majority of the Chinese Communist Party, and perhaps Moscow, judged this point of view “liquidational.”
Kyo, like his father, thought that the best policy was that of a return to Canton. He would have liked, moreover, to prepare the mass emigration of the workers, by an intensive propaganda, from Shanghai to Canton- they possessed nothing. It would be very difficult, but not impossible: the outlets for the Southern provinces being assured, the working masses would have brought a rapid industrialization to Canton. A dangerous policy for Shanghai: spinning-mill workers are more or less skilled, and to train new workers would mean forming new revolutionaries, unless the wages were raised-“an hypothesis which is excluded,” Ferral would have said, “by reason of the present state of Chinese industries.” To empty Shanghai for Canton’s benefit, like Hong Kong in 192 5. Hong Kong is five hours from Canton, and Shanghai five days: a difficult enterprise, more difficult perhaps than to let themselves be killed, but less stupid.
Since his return from Hankow he was convinced that the reaction was under way; even if Clappique had not warned him, he would have considered the situation, in the case of an attack on the Communists by the army of Chiang Kai-shek, so desperate that any incident, even the assassination of the general (whatever its consequences) would be a favorable one. The Unions, if they were armed, could conceivably attempt to give battle to a disorganized army.
The bell again. Kyo ran to the door: at last, the mail which brought the answer from Hankow. His father and May watched him return, without saying anything.
“Orders to bury the fireanns,” he said.
The message, torn up, had become a ball in the hollow of his hand. He took the pieces of paper, spread them out on the opium table, pieced them together, shrugged his shoulders at his childishness: it was indeed the order to hide or to bury the arms.
“I have to go over there right away.”
“Over there,” was the Central Committee. This meant that he had to leave the concessions. Gisors knew that he could say nothing. Perhaps his son was going to his death; it was not the first time: it was the justification of his life. He had only to suffer and be silent. He took the information given by Clappique very seriously: the latter had saved KOnig’s life-the German who was now directing the police of Chiang Kai-shek-by warning him that the corps of cadets in Peking to which he belonged, was to be massacred. Gisors did not know Shpilevski. As Kyo’s glance met his he tried to smile; Kyo also, and they did not turn their eyes away: both knew they were lying, and that this lie was perhaps their most affectionate communion.
Kyo returned to his room, where he had left his jacket. May was putting on her coat.
“Where are you going?”
“With you, Kyo.”
“What for?”
She did not answer.
“It is easier to recognize us together,” he said.
“I don’t see why. If you’re spotted, it doesn’t matter. ”
“You’ll do no good.”
“What good will I do here, during that time? Men don’t know what it is to wait. ”
He took a few steps, stopped, turned towards her: “Listen, May: when your freedom was in question, I granted it.”
She understood what he alluded to and was afraid: she had forgotten it. Indeed, he added in a duller tone:
“. And you managed to take advantage of it. Now it’s mine that is involved.”
“But, Kyo, what's the connection?”
“To recognize the freedom of another is to acknowledge his right to it, even at the cost of suffering, as I know from experience.”
I ‘another,’ Kyo?”
He was silent once more. Yes, at this moment she was another. Something between them had been changed.
“Then,” she continued, “because. anyway, because of that, we can no longer be in danger together?. Consider, Kyo: it almost looks as though you were taking revenge. ”
“To be able to no longer, and to try when it’s useless amounts to the same thing.”
“But if you held it against me as much as that, all you had to do was to take a mistress. But after all, no! why do I say that? It isn’t true-1 didn’t take a lover, I went to bed with a man. It’s not the same thing, and you know very well you can have anyone you like. ” “You satisfy me,” he answered bitterly.
His look astonished May: it showed a mingling of many emotions. And-most disquieting of all-on his face the fearful expression of a lust which he himself was unaware of.
“At this moment, as well as two weeks ago,” he went on, “I’m not looking for someone to go to bed with. I don’t say you are wrong; I say that I want to go alone. The freedom you allow me is your freedom. The freedom to do what pleases you. Freedom is not an exchange — it is freedom.”
“It’s a desertion.”
Silence.
“Why do people who love each other face death, Kyo, if not to risk it together?”
She guessed that he was going to leave without further discussion, and placed herself in front of the door.
“You should not have given me this freedom,” she said, “if it is going to separate us now.”
“You did not ask for it.”
“You had already recognized it.”
You should not have believed me, he thought. It was true, he had always recognized it. But that she should at this moment be discussing a question of rights separated her from him all the more.
“There are rights that one gives,” she said bitterly, “only so that they shall not be used.”
“If I had given them only in order that you could hang on to them at this moment, it wouldn’t be so bad. ”
This instant separated them more than death: eyelids, mouth, temples, the place of every caress is visible on the face of a dead woman, and those high cheek-bones and those elongated eyelids now belonged to a foreign world. The wounds of the deepest love suffice to create a rather substantial hatred. Was she withdrawing, so near to death, from the threshold of that world of hostility which she was glimpsing? She said:
“I’m hanging on to nothing, Kyo. Let’s say I’m wrong, that I have been wrong, anything you like. But now, at this moment, right away, I want to go with you. I ask it of you.”
He said nothing.
“If you did not love me,” she went on, “it would be all the same to you to let me go with you. Well, then? Why make us both suffer?. As if this were the time for it,” she added with weariness.
Kyo felt some f^amiliar demons stirring within ^m, which rather thoroughly disgusted him. He had an urge to strike her, to strike directly at her love. She was right: if he had not loved her, what would it matter to that she should die? Perhaps it was the fact that she was forcing realization upon at this moment that he resented most.
Did she feel like crying? She had shut her eyes, and the constant, silent trembling of her shoulders, in contrast with her motionless features, seemed the complete expression of human distress. It was no longer his will alone which separated them, but grief. And, since the sight of grief brings together as much as grief itself separates, he was thrown towards her once more by the expression of her face, in which the eyelids were slowly lifting-as when she was struck with surprise. Above her closed eyes, the movement of her brow ended, and that tense face in which the eyelids remained lowered became suddenly a dead woman’s face.
Many of May’s expressions had no effect on him: he knew them, he always had the feeling that she was copying herself. But he had never seen this death mask-pain, and not ' sleep, on closed eyes-and death was so near that this ilusion acquired the force of a sinister prefiguration. She opened her eyes without looking at ^m: her glance remained lost on the blank wall of the room; without a single muscle moving, a tear rolled down her nose, remained suspended at the comer of her mouth, betraying by its inexpressive animation, poignant as pain in animals, a mask which was as inhuman, as dead as it had been a moment ago.
“Open your eyes.”
She looked at ^m.
“They are open.”
“I had the impression you were dead.”
“Well?”
She shrugged her shoulders and went on, in a voice of weary sadness:
“If 1 am to die, I am willing to have you die. ” Now he understood the real feeling that urged him: he wanted to console her. But he could console her only by agreeing to let her go with him. She had shut her eyes again. He took her in his arms, kissed her on the eyelids. When they separated:
“Are we going?” she asked.
“No.”
Too honest to hide her impulses, she returned to her desires with a cat’s stubbornness, which often exasperated Kyo. She had moved away from the door, but he perceived that he had been anxious to pass only as long as he had been sure he wouldn’t pass.
“May, are we going to part on a misunderstanding?” “Have I lived like a woman who needs protection?. ”
They stood there facing each other, not knowing what else to say and not accepting silence, both knowing that that moment, one of the gravest of their lives, was ruined by the time which was passing: Kyo’s place was not here, but at the Committee, and impatience lurked under his every thought.
She indicated the door with a motion of her head.
He looked at her, took her head between his two hands, pressed it gently without kissing her, as though he were putting into that caress the mingled tenderness and violence of which all the virile gestures of love are capable. At last he withdrew his hands.
The two doors closed behind him. May continued to listen, as though she were waiting for a third door-

 

which did not exist-to close in its turn. With her mouth open and quivering, drunk with grief, she was becoming aware that, if she had given him the sign to leave alone, it was because she thought she was making in this way the last, the only move which might have made him decide to take her along.
Kyo had scarcely taken a hundred steps, when he met Katov.
“Isn’t Ch’en there?”
He pointed to Kyo’s house.
“No.”
“You abs’lutely don’t know where he is?”
“No. Why?”
Katov was calm, but his face was contracted and pale as though he were suffering from a violent headache.
“There are several cars like Chiang Kai-shek’s. Ch’en doesn’t know it. Either the police have been tipped off, or they’re s’spicious. If he isn’t warned he’s going to get caught and throw his bombs for nothing. I’ve been chasing him for a long time, you see. The bombs were to have been thrown at one o’clock. Nothing has happened — we would have known.”
“He was to do it near the Avenue of the Two Republics. The best thing to do would be to go to Hemmel- rich’s.”
Katov started off immediately.
“You have your cyanide?” Kyo asked him as he turned to go.
“Yes.”
Both of them, and several other revolutionary leaders, carried cyanide in the flat buckle of their belts, which opened like a box.
The separation had not freed Kyo from his torment. On the contrary: in this deserted street May was even stronger-having yielded-than right before him, opposing him. He entered the Chinese city, not without being aware of it, but with indiference. “Have I lived like a woman who needs protection?. " By what right did he exercise his pitiful protection on the woman who had even consented to his going? In the name of what was he leaving her? Was he sure that there was in his attitude no element of revenge? No doubt May was still sitting on the bed, crushed by a despair that was beyond words and thought.
He retraced his steps on the run.
The phcenix-room was empty: his father had gone out, May was still in the bed-room. Before opening he stopped, overwhelmed by the brotherhood of death, discovering how derisive the flesh appeared before this communion, in spite of its urgent appeal. He understood now that the willingness to lead the being one loves to death itself is perhaps the complete expression of love, that which cannot be surpassed.
He opened the door.
She hurriedly threw her coat over her shoulders, and followed him without a word.

Quarter past three in the afternoon

For a long time Hemmelrich had been looking at his records. No customers. Someone knocked according to the signal agreed upon.
He opened. It was Katov.
“Have you seen Ch’en?”
“Walking remorse!” Hemmelrich gambled.
“What?”
“Nothing. Yes, I’ve seen ^m. About one or two o’clock. Does it concern you?”
“I abs’lutely must see him. What did he say?”
From another room one of the child’s cries reached them, followed by the indistinguishable words of the mother trying to calm him.
“He came with two chums. One of them was Suan. Don’t know the other one. A fellow with glasses, looked like anybody else. A noble air. Brief-cases under their arms: you understand?”
“That’s why I've got to find m, you see.”
“He asked me to stay here for three hours.”
“Oh! Good! Where is he?”
“Shut up! Listen to what I’m telling you. He told me to stay here. I haven’t stirred. Do you hear?”
Silence.
“I told you I haven’t stirred.”
“Where can he have gone?”
“He didn’t say. Like you. Silence is spreading today. ”
Hemmelrich was standing in the middle of the room, hunched over, with a look almost of hatred. Katov said calmly, without looking at him:
“You’re damning yourself too much. That way you’re trying to get me to accuse you so you can defend yourself.”
“What do you know about it? And what damn business is it of yours anyway? Don’t stand there looking at me with that lock of hair like a cockscomb and your hands open, like Jesus Christ, waiting for someone to drive nails through them. ”
Without closing his hand, Katov placed it on Hem- melrich’s shoulder.
“Things stil bad, upstairs?”
“Not quite so bad. But bad enough. Poor kid!. With his skinny body and his big head, he looks like a skinned rabbit. Leave me. ”
The Belgian freed himself savagely, stopped, then walked to the other end of the room with a curiously childish movement, as if he were sulking.
“And that’s not the worst of it,” he said. “No, don’t act like a fellow who’s got flea-bites and stands squirming and looking embarrassed: I haven’t tipped off the police about Ch’en. It’s all right. Not yet, at least. ” Katov shrugged his shoulders gloomily.
“You’d better tell me all about it.”
“I wanted to go with ^m.”
“With Ch’en?”
Katov was sure, now, that he would no longer be able to find him. He spoke with the calm, weary voice of someone who has been beaten. Chiang Kai-shek would not return before night-fall, and Ch’en could attempt nothing until then.
Hemmelrich pointed with his thumb, over his shoulder, in the direction from which the child’s cry had come:
“And there you are. There you are. What do you expect me to do?”
“Wait. ”
“Because the kid will die, I suppose? Listen: half the day I wish for it. And if it happens, I shall wish him to remain, not to die, even sick, even an invalid. ” “I know. ”
“What?” said Hemmelrich, as if he were being robbed. “What do you know about it? You’re not even married!” “I’ve been married.”
“I’d like to have seen that. With your looks. No,
they’re not for us, all those cute little strutting cunts we see passing in the street. ”
He felt that Katov was thinking of the woman who was watching the child, upstairs.
“Devotion, yes. And everything she can. The rest- what she hasn’t got-is all for the rich. When I see people who look as if they’re in love, I feel like smashing them in the face.”
“D’votion is a lot. The main thing is not to be alone.”
“And that’s why you’re staying here, isn’t it? To help me?”
“Yes.”
“Through pity?”
“Not through pity. Through. ”
But Katov could not find the word. And perhaps it did not exist. He tried to say what he meant indirectly:
“I’ve felt it-or almost. And also your kind of. rage. How do you expect anyone to understand things, except through mem’ries?. That’s why you don’t irritate me.”
He had drawn near and was speaking, his head between his shoulders, with his voice that swallowed the syllables, looking at him out of the comer of his eye; both of them, their heads lowered, looked as though they were getting ready to fight, right there among the records. But Katov knew he was the stronger, although he did not know in what way. Perhaps it was his voice, his calm, his friendship even, that were telling.
“A man who’s reached the point where he doesn’t give a damn about anything, if he really comes across d’votion, sacrifice, anything of that sort, he’s done for.”
“No fooling! Then what does he do?”
“Becomes a sadist,” answered Katov, looking at him quietly.
“Sadism with pins,” he went on, “is rare; with words, far from rare. But if the woman is abs’lutely submissive, if she can survive it. I knew a fellow who took and gambled the money which his woman had saved up for years to go to the san’torium. A matter of life or death. He lost it. (In such cases you always lose.) He came home all in pieces, abs’lutely broken up like you now. She watched him come over to her bed. She understood right away, you see. And then, what? She tried to console him. ”
“Easier,” said Hemmelrich slowly, “to console others than to console yourself. ” And, suddenly raising his eyes:
“Were you the fellow?”
“That’ll do!” Katov banged the counter with his fist. “If it was me, I’d say so.” But his anger fell immediately. “I haven’t gone that far, and it isn’t necess’ry to go that far. … If you believe in nothing, especially because you believe in nothing, you’re forced to believe in the virtues of the heart when you come across them, no doubt about it. And that’s what you’re doing. If it hadn’t been for the woman and the kid you would have gone, I know you would. Well, then?”
“And as we live only for those virtues of the heart, they get the better of you. Well, if you’ve always got to be licked, it might as well be them. But all that’s absurd. It’s not a matter of being right. I can’t stand the idea of having put Ch’en out, and I couldn’t have stood to have kept him.”
“We can only ask the comrades to do what they can. I want comrades, and not saints. No confidence in saints. ”
“Is it true that you voluntarily went with the fellows to the lead-mines?"
“I was in the camp," said Katov, embarrassed: “the mines or the camp, it’s all the same thing. "
“All the same thing! That’s not true."
“What do you know about it?"
“It’s not true! And you would have kept Ch'en."
“I have no children. "
“I have a feeling it would be less. hard for me, even the idea that they’ll him, if he wasn’t sick. I. I’m dumb. It’s true I’m dumb. And I guess I’m not much of a worker either. I feel like a lamp-post that everything free in the world comes and pisses on.”
He pointed once again to the floor above with a movement of his flat face, for the child was crying again. Katov did not dare to say: “Death wil free you." It was death that had freed him. Since Hemmelrich had begun to speak, the memory of his wife stood between them. Having re^turned from Siberia without hope, beaten, his medical studies shattered, and having become a factory worker, convinced that he would die before seeing the Revolution, he had sadly proved to himself that he still possessed a remnant of life by treating a little working- girl who loved him with deliberate brutality. But hardly had she become resigned to the pains he inflicted on her than he had been suddenly struck by the overwhelming quality of the tendeme^ of a creature who could share his suffering in spite of his brutality. From that moment he had lived only for her, continuing his revolutionary activity through habit, but carrying into it the obsession of the limitless tenderness hidden in the heart of that slightly feeble-minded girl: for hours he would cares her hair, and they would lie in bed together for days on end. She had died, and since then. That, in any case, stood between Hemmelrich and himself. Not enough.
Through words, he could do almost nothing; but beyond words there were the things which gestures, looks, mere presence were capable of expressing. He knew from experience that the worst suffering is in the solitude which accompanies it. To express it also gives relief; but few words come less readily to men’s tongues than those of their deep griefs. To express himself badly, or to lie, would give Hemmelrich a fresh impulse to despise himself: he suffered above all from himself. Katov looked at him without focusing his eyes on him, sadly-it struck him once more how few and awkward the expressions of manly affection are:
“You must understand without my saying anything,” he said. “There is nothing to say.”
Hemmelrich raised his hand, let it fall again heavily, as though he had to choose only between the distress and the absurdity of his life. But he remained standing before Katov, deeply moved.
“Soon I shall be able to leave and continue looking for Ch’en,” Katov was thinking.

Six o'clock in the evening

“The money was delivered yesterday,” said Ferral to the colonel, who this time was wearing a uniform. “How do we stand?”
“The Military Governor has sent a lengthy note to General Chiang Kai-shek to ask what he should do in the eventuality of an uprising.”
“He wants to be covered?”
The colonel looked at Ferral over the white spot in 208
his eye, answered merely: “Here is the translati-on.”
Ferral read the document.
“I even have the answer,” said the colonel.
He handed him a photograph: above Chiang Kai- shek’s signature, two characters.
“Which means?”
“The firing-squad.”
Ferral looked up at the map of Shanghai on the wall, with large red patches which designated the masses of workers and wretches-the same ones. “Three thousand men of the syndical guards,” he was thinking, “perhaps three hundred thousand back of them; but will they dare to budge? On the other side, Chiang Kai-shek and the army. ”
“He will begin by having the Communist chiefs shot before any uprising?”
“Certainly. There will be no uprising: the Communists are practically disarmed and Chiang Kai-shek has his troops. The First Division is at the front: it was the only dangerous one.”
“Thank you. Good-by.”
Ferral was going to Valerie’s. A “boy” was waiting for him beside the chauffeur, with a blackbird in a gilded cage on his knees. Valerie had begged Ferral to bring her this bird. As soon as his car had started off, he pulled a letter from his pocket and reread it. What he had been fearing for a month was happening: his American credits were about to be cut off.
The orders from the. General Government of IndoChina no longer sufficed to keep in operation the factories created for a market which was to have expanded from month to month and which now was shrinking from day to day: the industrial enterprises of the Consortium showed a large deficit. The stock prices, main- rained in Paris by Ferral’s banks and the French financial groups which were associated with them, and bolstered up by the inflation, had been steadily dropping since the stabilization of the franc. But the banks of the Consortium derived their only strength from the profits on its plantations-especially its rubber plantations. The Stevenson Plan 1 had raised the price of rubber from 16 cents to $1.12. Ferral, who by virtue of his rubber plantations in Indo-China was a producer, had benefited by the rise without having to restrict his production, since his was not a British enterprise. And the American banks, knowing from experience how much the Plan was costing the United States, the principal consumer, had been eager to open credits guaranteed by the plantations. But the native production of the Dutch Indies, the menace of American plantations in the Philippines, Brazil and Liberia were now leading to the fall of the rubber price; the American banks were thus withdrawing their credits for the same reasons that had induced them to grant them. Ferral was hit all at once by the crash of the only raw material that sustained him-he had been given credits, he had speculated, not on the value of his production but on that of the plantations themselves-by the stabilization of the franc, which brought about the devaluation of all his stocks (a major portion of which were held by his own banks bent on controlling the market) and by the cancellation of his American credits. And he was fully aware that, as soon as this cancellation became known, all the speculators in New York and Paris would take a short position on his stocks; a position that was
1 The restriction of rubber production in the entire British Empire (the world’s greatest producer), for the purpose of raising the price 'lf rubber which at that time had sunk below production cost.
all too safe. He could be saved only for moral reasons; hence, by the French gove^rnment.
The threat of bankruptcy brings to financial groups an intense national consciousness. When their enterprises in distant corners of the world are suddenly threatened with disaster they remember with mingled pride and gratitude the heritage of civilization which their country has given them and which they in have helped to pass on to colonial peoples.
It was Ferral’s experience that gove^rnments are indulgent task-masters, that they treat their favorite children, the big financial groups, with commendable leniency. But while governments are accustomed to seeing the treasury robbed, they do not like to see it robbed of all hope. A treasury that expects, with the tenacious hope of a gambler, to recoup its losses some day is a treasury half consoled. France had suffered a severe loss by refusing aid to the Industrial Bank of China. It was not likely that France, so soon after, would in turn abandon the Consortium and risk the wrath of a whole new army of investors.
But if Ferral were to ask her for help it was essential that his position should not appear hopeless; it was essential first of all that Communism should be crushed in China. Chiang Kai-shek as master of the Provinces meant the construction of the Chinese Railway; the anticipated loan amounted to three billion gold francs, which equaled many million paper francs. To be sure, he would not be the only one to receive orders for materials, any more than he was alone today in defending Chiang Kai- shek; but he would be in on the game. Moreover, the American banks feared the triumph of Communism in China; its fall would modify their policy. As a Frenchman, Ferral enjoyed privileges in China; “it was an accepted fact that the Consortium would participate in the construction of the railroad.” To maintain himself he was justified in asking the government for a loan which it would prefer to a new crash; while his credits were American, his deposits and his stocks were French. All his cards could not win during a period of acute crisis in China; but, just as the Stevenson Plan had in its time assured the life of the Consortium, so the victory of the Kuomintang was to assure it today. The stabilization of the franc had worked against him; the fall of Communism would work for him.
Would he, all his life, never be able to do more than wait, in order to take advantage of them, for the passage of those great tidal sweeps of world economy that began like offerings and ended like blows below the belt? Tonight, in case of either resistance, victory or defeat, he felt himself dependent upon all the forces of the world. But there was this woman upon whom he did not depend, who would presently depend on ^m; the avowal of submission on her face at the moment of possession, like a hand plastered over his eyes, would conceal from him the network of constraints on which his life rested. He had seen her again in several drawing-rooms (she had just returned from Kyoto three days before), and each time he had been thwarted and irritated by her refusal of all submissiveness, whereby she stimulated his desire, though she had consented to go to bed with him tonight.
In his limitless craving to be preferred-one admires more easily, more completely, from one sex to the other — he called upon eroticism to revive a wavering admiration. That was why he had looked at Valerie while he was lying with her: there is a great deal of certainty in lips swollen with pleasure. He detested the coquettishness without which she would not even have existed in his eyes: that in her which resisted him was what most irritated his sensuality. All this was very obscure, for it was from his need to imagine himself in her place as soon as he began to touch her body that he derived his acute feeling of possession. But a conquered body, to begin with, had more appeal for him than an offered body- more appeal than any other body.
He left his car and entered the Astor, foUowed by the “boy” who was carrying his cage in his hand with an air of dignity. There were millions of shadows on earth: the women whose love did not interest him-and one living adversary: the woman by whom he wanted to be loved. The idea of complete possession had become fixed in him, and his pride called for a hostile pride, as a passionate player calls for another player to oppose him, and not for peace. At least things were well started tonight, since they would begin by going to bed.
The moment he reached the lobby a European employee came up to him.
“Madame Serge left a message to tell Monsieur Ferral that she will not be in tonight, but that this gendeman will explain.”
Ferral, dumbfounded, looked at “this gentleman”- seated, with his back turned, next to a screen. The man turned round: the director of one of the English banks, who had been paying court to Valerie for the last month. Beside him, behind the screen, a “boy,” with no less dignity than Ferral’s, was holding a blackbird in a cage. The Englishman got up, bewildered, shook Ferral’s hand, while saying:
“You were to explain to me, Mr. ”
They both realized at once that they were being made fools of. They looked at each other, in the midst of the sly smiles of the “boys” and the gravity, too great to be natural, of the white employees. It was the cocktail hour, and all Shanghai was there. Ferral felt himself to be the more ridiculous: the Englishman was almost a youth.
A contempt as intense as the anger which inspired him immediately compensated for the humiliation which was being imposed on him. He felt himself surrounded by the very essence of human stupidity, that which sticks like glue, which weighs on one’s shoulders: the creatures who were looking at him were the most despicable fools on earth. Nevertheless, having no idea how much they knew, he imagined that they knew everything and felt himself stricken, in the presence of their sly amusement, by a paralysis shot through with hatred.
“Is it for a bird show?” his “boy” asked the other. “Don’t know.”
“Mine is a male.”
“Yes. Mine is a female.”
“It must be for that.”
The Englishman bowed before Ferral, went up to the porter. The latter handed him a letter. He read it, took out a visiting card from his pocketbook, attached it to the cage, said to the porter: “For Madame Serge,” and went out.
Ferral tried to bring himself to think, to defend himself. She had struck him at his most sensitive point, as though she had put his eyes out during his sleep: she denied him. What he might think, do, want, did not exist. This ridiculous scene was, nothing could prevent its having happened. He alone existed in a world of phantoms, and it was he, precisely he, who was being outraged. And to make matters worse-for he did not think of it as a consequence, but as one more blow in a succession of defeats, as if rage had made him a masochist- to make matters worse, he would not even be going to bed with her. More and more intent on avenging himself on that ironic body, he stood there alone, facing those nincompoops and the expressionless “boys” with their cages dangling from their arms. Those birds were a constant insult. But he must by all means remain. He ordered a cocktail and lighted a cigarette, then remained motionless, busy breaking up a match between his fingers in his coat-pocket. A couple attracted his eye. The man had the charm which gray hair gives to a youngish face; the woman-sweet, but a little flashy-was looking at him with an amorous gratitude born of tenderness or sensuality. “She loves him,” thought Ferral enviously. “And he’s undoubtedly some obscure fool who perhaps is dependent on one of my enterprises. ” He sent for the porter.
“You have a letter for me. Give it to me.”
The porter, astonished but maintaining his seriousness, handed him the letter.
“Do you know, dear, that Persian women beat their husbands with tbeir nailed slippers when they are' ang;ry? They are irresponsible. And then, of course, they afterwards return to everyday life, the life in which to weep with a man does not co'^mit you, but in which to go to bed with him makes you a slave, the life in which one ‘haswomen. I am not a woman to be had, a stupid body in which you may find your pleasure by telling lies as to children and invalids. You know a good many things, dear, but you will probably die without its ever having occurred to you that a woman is also a human being. I have always met (perhaps I shall never meet any who are different, but so much the worse-you can't know how thoroughly I mean ‘so much the worseP) men who have credited me with a certain amount of charm, who have gone to touching lengths to set off my follies, but who have never failed to go straight to their men-friends whenever it was a question of something really human (except of course to be consoled). I must have my whims, not only to please you, but even to make you listen when I speak; I want you to know what my charming folly is worth: it resembles your affection. If any unhappiness could have resulted from the hold you wanted to have on me, you would not even have noticed it.
“I have met enough men to know how to regard a passing affair: nothing is without importtmce to a the moment it involves his pride, and pleasure allows him to gratify it most quickly and most often. I refuse to be regarded as a body, just as you refuse to be regarded as a check-book. You act with me as the prostitutes do with you: ‘Talk, but pay., I am also that body which you want me to be wholly; I know it. It is not always easy for me to protect myself from the idea people have of me. Your presence brings me close to my body with disgust, as springtime brings me close to it with joy. Speaking of spring, have a good time with the birds. And, by the way, the next time do leave the electric switches alone.
“V.”
He told himself that he had built roads, transformed a country, torn from their straw-huts the thousands of peasants now housed in the cabins of corrugated iron- sheets around his factories-like a feudal lord, like a delegate of empire; in its cage, the blackbird seemed to be making fun of him. Ferral’s energy, his lucidity, the audacity which had transformed Indo-China and whose crushing weight he had just felt upon reading the letter from America, led to nothing but this ridiculous bird- ridiculous as the universe-which was undeniably making fun of him. “So much importance given to a woman.” The woman had nothing to do with it. She was nothing but a bandage torn away from his eyes: he had thrown himself with all his might against the boundaries of his will. His thwarted sexual excitement fed his anger, threw him into the choking state of hypnosis in which ridicule calls for blood. One can get quick revenge only on bodies. Clappique had told a gruesome story about an Afghan chief whose wife, after having been violated by a neighboring chief, had returned with a letter, saying: “I am returning your woman, she is not so good as she is said to be”; and who, having caught the offender, had tied him in front of the naked woman to tear out his eyes, saying: “You have seen her and despised her, but you can swear that you will never see her again.” He imagined himself in Valerie’s room, with her tied to the bed, screaming till her exhausted cries became choking sobs, so close to cries of pleasure, bound with cords, writhing under the possession of suffering, since it was not under that of sex. The porter was waiting. “I must remain unmoved, like this idiot-l’d like to box his ears, just the same.” The idiot did not betray the slightest smile. He was saving it up for later on. Ferral said: “I’ll return shortly,” did not pay for his cocktail, left his hat and went out.
“To the biggest bird-dealer,” he said to the chauffeur.
It was near by. But the shop was closed.
“In Chinese city,” said the chauffeur, “street of bird- dealers.”
“Go ahead.”
As the car drove along there ran through Ferral’s mind the confession, which he had read in some medical book, of a woman seized with an uncontrollable desire to be flagellated, making an assignation by letter with an unknown man and discovering with terror that she wanted to run away at the very moment when she was lying on the hotel-bed and the man armed with the whip was completely paralyzing her arms under her lifted skirt. The face was invisible, but it was Valerie’s. Stop at the first Chinese brothel? No: no flesh would give him relief from the outraged sexual pride which tormented him.
The car was forced to stop before the barbed-wires. Ahead, the Chinese city, very black, unsafe. So much the worse. Ferral left the car, slipped his revolver into his coat-pocket, hoping for some assault: one kills what one can.
The street of the pet-shops was asleep; the “boy” quietly knocked at the first shutter, crying “Buyer”: the shopkeepers were afraid of the soldiers. Five minutes later someone opened. In the magnificent russet halflight, around a lantern, a few smothered leaps of cats or monkeys and beatings of wings announced the awakening of the animals. In shadows beyond the radius of the light, were long splotches of dul red: macaws chained to perches.
“How much for all those birds?”
“Just the birds? Eight hundred dollars.”
He was a small dealer, and he had no rare birds. Ferral pulled out his check-book, hesitated: the dealer would want cash. The “boy” understood. “He is Monsieur Ferral,” he said; “his car is over there.” The dealer went out, saw the headlights of the car, scratched by the barbed wires.
“That’s all right.”
This confidence, a proof of his authority, exasperated Ferral; his power, obvious to the point that his name was known to this shopkeeper, was absurd since he could not use it. Pride, however, helped by the activity in which he was engaged and by the cold night-air, came to his rescue: sadistic anger and imaginings were breaking up into disgust, even though he knew he had not done with them.
“I also have a kangaroo,” said the dealer.
Ferral shrugged his shoulders. But already a youngster, who had also been awakened, was approaching with the kangaroo in his arms. It was a small, furry creature, and it looked at Ferral with the frightened eyes of a deer.
“Fine.”
Another check.
Ferral returned slowly to the car. It was necessary above all that, if Valerie told the story of the cages- she would not fail to-he would only have to tell the end in order to escape ridicule. The dealer, the youngster and the “boy” were bringing the small cages, arranging them in the car, and returning to fetch more; finally, the last ones, the kangaroo and the parrots, brought in large round cages. Beyond the Chinese city, a few shots. Very good: the more they fought the better it would be. The car started off again, before the bewildered eyes of the post.
At the Astor Ferral sent for the manager.
“Will you please come upstairs with me to Madame Serge’s room. She is away and I want to give her a surprise.”
The manager concealed his astonishment, and even more his disapproval: the Astor was dependent on the Consortium. The mere presence of a white man to whom he could talk detached Ferral from his universe of humiliation, helped him to return among “the others”; the Chinese dealer and the night had left him in his obsession; he was not entirely freed from it yet, but at least it no longer dominated him wholly.
Five minutes later he was having the cages arranged in the room. All the precious objects were put away in the closets, one of which was left open. He picked up a pair of pajamas that lay spread out on the bed, but the moment he touched the warm silk it seemed to him that this warmth became communicated through his arm to his whole body and that the material he was grasping had exactly covered one of her breasts: the dresses, the pajamas hanging in the half-open closet, held within them something more sensual, perhaps, than Valerie’s body itself. He had an impulse to bury his face in those pajamas, to press or tear, as though he were penetrating them, those garments still saturated with her presence. He would have taken the pajamas with him, if he had been able. He threw them into the closet, and the “boy” closed the door upon them. As the pajamas left his hand, the legend of Hercules and Omphale brusquely seized his imagination-Hercules dressed as a woman in soft, flimsy garments like these, humiliated and content in his humiliation. In vain he tried to summon the sadistic scenes that had insistently come before him awhile ago: the man worsted by Omphale and Dejanira weighed upon his whole mind, drowned it in a humiliating satisfaction. A sound of steps approached. He put his hand to his revolver in his pocket: if she had entered at that moment he would undoubtedly have killed her. The steps passed by the door and grew fainter. Ferral’s hand changed pockets and he nervously pulled out his handkerchief. He had to act, do something, escape from this state of mind: he had the parrots and cockatoos unchained, but the timid birds took refuge in the corners and in the curtains. The kangaroo had jumped on the bed and remained there. Ferral turned out the center light, left only the night-lamp: pink and white, with the magnificent curved flashes of their ornate wings, reminding of the phcenixes of the East India Company, the cockatoos began to stir about with a clumsy and restless flutter.
Those boxes full of excited little birds, scattered about on all the furniture, on the floor, in the fireplace, bothered him. He tried to discover why, could not imagine. Went out. Came in again, immediately understood: the room seemed devastated. Would he escape idiocy tonight? In spite of himself he had left here the blatant image of his anger.
“Open the cages,” he said to the “boy.”
“The room wil get dirty, Monsieur Ferral,” said the manager.
“Madame Serge will change her room. Don't worry, it won’t be tonight. You’ll send me the bill.”
“Flowers, Monsieur Ferral?”
“Nothing but the birds. And let no one come in here, not even the servants.”
The window was protected from mosquitoes by a screen. The birds would not fly away. The manager opened the casement to prevent the room from smelling foul.
And now, on the furniture and the curtains, in the corners of the ceiling, the island birds were wildly fluttering, their colors dull in this feeble light, like those of Chinese frescoes. Through hatred he would have offered Valerie his handsomest gift. He turned out the light, turned it on again, turned it out, then on. He was using the bed-side switch; he remembered the last night he had spent with Valerie in his apartment. He had an impulse to tear off the switch so that she would never be able to use it-with anyone. But he wanted to leave no trace of anger here.
“Take away the empty cages,” he said to the “boy.” “Have them burned.”
“If Madame Serge should ask who sent the birds,” said the manager, looking at Ferral with admiration, “is she to be told?”
“Won't ask. It's signed.”
He went out. He must have a woman tonight. However, he had no desire to go to the Chinese restaurant immediately. It was enough-for the time being-that he was sure there were bodies at his disposal. Often, when he was awakened with a start from a nightmare, he would feel the desire to continue his sleep in spite of the nightmare which would seize him again, and at the same time, the desire to escape it by becoming completely awake; sleep was the nightmare, but it was himself; awakening was peace, but the world. Tonight lust was the nightmare. He finally made up his mind to awaken from it, and had himself driven to the French Club: to talk, to enter into relation again with a human being, if only through conversation, was the surest awakening.
The bar was crowded: troubled times. Close to the half-open window, a beige cape of rough wool over his shoulders, alone and almost isolated, Gisors was seated with a sweet cocktail before him; Kyo had telephoned him that all was well and his father had come to the bar to pick up the rumors of the day, often absurd but at times significant: they were not so tonight. Ferral went up to him amid the greetings. He knew the nature of his lectures, but attached no importance to them; and he did not know that Kyo was in Shanghai at the present time. He considered it beneath his dignity to question Martial about persons, and Kyo’s role did not have a public character.
All those idiots who were iooldng at him with timid disapproval believed the bond between him and the oid man was opium. They were wrong. Ferral pretended to smoke-one, two pipes, always iess than would have been necessary for him to feei the effect of the opium-be- cause he found in the atmosphere of smoke-sessions, in the pipe that passed rrom mouth to mouth, a means of making advances to women. Having a horror of counship, of the exchange in which he paid by attributing importance to a woman for what she gave him in the way of pleasure, he eagerly seized everything that enabled him to dispense with it.
It was a more complex impulse which, not so long ago, in Peking, had occasionally made him come and stretch out on oid Gisors’ couch. The pleasure of scandalizing, to begin with. And then, he did not want to be mereiy the President of the Consortium, he wanted to be distinct from his activity-a way of considering himseif superior to it. His aimost aggressive iove of art, of thought, of the cynicism which he called iucidity, was a defense: Ferral had the backing neither of the “families" of the great credit estabiishments, nor of the Ministry of Finance. The Ferral dynasty was too closeiy linked to the history of the Republic to make it possibie to consider him as a mere upstart; but he remained an amateur, no matter how great his authority. Too ciever to attempt to fil the ditch that surrounded him, he widened it. Gisors’ great culture, his inteiiigence which was always at the service of anyone who sought him out, his disdain of conventions, his aimost aiways singuiar “points of view,” which Ferral did not hesitate to pass off as his o^wn when he had left ^m, brought them together more than all the rest separated them; with Ferral, Gisors talked politics only on the philosophical level. Ferral said he needed intelligence, and, when it was not the kind that offended him, this was true.
He looked around: at the very moment he sat do^, almost aU eyes turned away. Tonight he would gladly have married his cook, for no other reason than to force this crowd to accept her. It exasperated him to have all those idiots pass judgment on what he was doing; the less he saw them, the better: he suggested to Gisors that they go out for a drink on the terrace overlooking the garden. In spite of the coolness the “boys” had brought out a few tables.
“Do you think it is possible to know-really know- a human being?” he asked Gisors. They sat down near a small lamp. Its halo of light was absorbed by the darkness which was gradually filling with mist.
Gisors looked at him. “He would have no taste for psychology if he could impose his will.”
“Awoman?” he asked.
“What difference does it make?”
“There is something erotic about a mind which applies itself to elucidating a woman. To want to know a woman, it seems to me, is always a way of possessing her or of taking revenge on her. ”
A little tart at the next table was saying to another: “They can’t fool me that easy. I’ll tell you: the woman is jealous of my style.”
“I think,” Gisors went on, “that recourse to the mind is an attempt to compensate for this: the knowle.dge of a person is a negative feeling: the positive feeling, the reality, is the torment of being always a stranger to what one loves.”
“Does one ever love?” “Time occasionaHy causes this anguish to disappear, ^rne alone. One never knows a human being, but one occasionally ceases to feel that one does not know him. (I am thinking of my son, of course, and also of. another lad.) To know with one’s intelligence is the futile attempt to dispense with time. "
“The function of intelligence is not to dispense with things."
Gisors looked at him:
“What do you mean by ‘intelligence’?”
“In general?"
“Yes.”
Ferral reflected:
“The possession of the means of coercing things or men.”
Gisors smiled imperceptibly. Each time he asked this question the other person, no matter who he was, would answer by producing the image of his desire. But Ferral suddenly became more intense.
“Do you know what was the torture ^flicted on women for infidelity to their masters in this country during the first empires?" he asked.
“WeU, there were several, weren’t there? The most common one, apparendy, consisted in tying them to a raft, their hands cut off at the wrists, eyes gouged, and in.
While he was speaking, Gisors noticed the growing attention and, it seemed, the satisfaction with which Ferral listened.
“. letting them drift down those endless rivers, til they died of hunger or exhaustion, their lover bound beside them on the same raft. ”
“Their lover?"
How was it possible to reconcile such a slip with his concentrated attention, with his look? Gisors could not guess that, in Ferral’s mind, there was no lover; but the latter had already caught himself.
“The most curious thing about it,” Gisors went on, “is that those brutal codes seem to have been drawn up, until the fourth century, by men who were wise, humane and gentle, from all we know of the private lives. ”
“Yes, they were undoubtedly wise.”
Gisors looked at his sharp face. The eyes were closed; the little lamp cast its light upon him from below, little gleams catching in his mustache. Shots in the distance. How many lives were being destroyed out there in the night mist? He was looking at Ferral’s countenance, tense with bitterness over some humiliation that rose from the depth of his being, defending itself with the derisive force of human rancor; the hatred of the sexes hovered over his h^^^tion, as though the oldest hatreds were being reborn from the blood that continued to flow upon the already gorged earth.
New shots, very near this time, caused the glares on the table to tremble.
Gisors had grown used to those shots that came daily from the Chinese city. In spite of Kyo’s telephone caU these, suddenly, made anxious. He did not know the extent of the political role played by Ferral, but he knew this role could be used only in the service of Chiang Kai-shek. He considered it natural to be sitting next to him-he never found himself “compromised,” even in his own eyes-but he no longer wished to be of help to him. New shots, farther away.
“^What’s going on?” he asked.
“I don’t know. The Blue and the Red leaders have made a great proclamation of union. Things seem to be straightening out.”
“He lies,” thought Gisors: “he is at least as well informed as I am.”
“Red or Blue,” said Ferral, “the coolies will continue to be coolies just the same; unless they have been killed off. Don’t you consider it a stupidity characteristic of the human race that a man who has only one life should be willing to lose it for an idea?”
“It is very rare for a man to be able to endure-how shall I say it? — his condition, his fate as a man. ”
He thought of one of Kyo's ideas: all that men are willing to die for, beyond self-interest, tends more or less obscurely to justify that fate by giving it a foundation in dignity: Christianity for the slave, the nation for the citizen, Communism for the worker. But he had no desire to discuss Kyo’s ideas with Ferral. He came back to the latter:
“There is always a need for intoxication: this country has opium, Islam has hashish, the West has woman. Perhaps love is above all the means which the Occidental uses to free himself from man’s fate. ”
Under his words flowed an obscure and hidden counter-current of figures: Ch’en and murder, Clappique and his madness, Katov and the Revolution, May and love, himself and opium. Kyo alone, in his eyes, resisted these categories.
“Far fewer women would indulge in copulation,” answered Ferral, “if they could obtain in the vertical posture the words of admiration which they need and which demand a bed.”
“And how many men?”
“But man can and must deny woman: action, action alone justifies life and satisfies the white man. What would we think if we were told of a painter who makes no paintings? A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do. Nothing else. I am not what such and such an encounter with a man or woman may have done to shape my life; I am my roads, my.
“The roads had to be built.”
Since the last shots, Gisors had resolved to play the justifier no longer.
“If not by you, then by someone else. It’s as if a general were to say: ‘with my soldiers I can shoot the town.' But if he were capable of shooting it, he would not be a general. … For that matter, men are perhaps indifferent to power. What fascinates them in this idea, you see, is not real power, it’s the illusion of being able to do exactly as they please. The king's power is the power to govern, isn’t it? But man has no urge to govern: he has an urge to compel, as you said. To be more than a man, in a world of men. To escape man’s fate, I was saying. Not powerful: all-powerful. The visionary disease, of which the will to power is only the intellectual justification, is the will to god-head: every man dreams of being god.”
What Gisors was saying disturbed Ferral, but his mind was not prepared to welcome it. If the old man did not justify him, he ceased to free him from his obsession:
“In your opinion, why do the gods possess mortal women only in human or bestial forms?”
As if he had seen it, Gisors felt a shadow settling next to them; Ferral had got up.
“You need to involve what is most essential in yourself in order to feel its existence more violently,” said Gisors without looking at him. n8
Ferral did not guess that Gisors’ penetration had its source in the fact that he recognized elements of his o^n personality in those he spoke to, and that one could have made the most subtle portrait of by piecing together his examples of perspicacity.
“A god can possess,” the old man went on with a knowing smile, “but he cannot conquer. The ideal of a god, I believe, is to become a man while knowing that he can recover his power; and the dream of man, to become god without losing his personality. ”
Ferral absolutely had to have a woman. He left.
“A curious case of elaborate self-deception,” Gisors was thinking: “It’s as if he were looking at himself through the eyes of a romantic petty bourgeois.” When, shortly after the war, Gisors had come into contact with the economic powers of Shanghai, he had been not a little astonished to discover that the idea he had always had of a capitalist corresponded to nothing. Almost aU those whom he met at that time had regulated their love- life according to one pattern or another-and almost always the pattern was marriage: the obsession which makes the great business-man, unless he is just another heir, can rarely adjust itself to the dispersion of irregular sexual experiences. “Modern capitalism,” he would explain to his students, “is much more a will to organization than to power. ”
Ferral, in the car, was thinking that his relations with women were always the same, and always absurd. Perhaps he had loved, once. Once. What dead-drunk psychologist had had the idea of giving the name of love to the feeling which now poisoned his life? Love is an exalted obsession; his women obsessed him, yes-like a desire of vengeance. He went to women to be judged, he who countenanced no judgment. The woman who would have admired him in the giving of herself, whom he would not have had to fight, would not have existed in his eyes. Condemned to coquettes or to whores. There were their bodies. Fortunately. Otherwise … “You will die, dear, without having suspected that a woman is a human being. …” To her, perhaps; not to him. A woman, a human being! She is relaxation, a voyage, an enemy. .
He picked up a courtesan on the way in one of the houses on Nanking Road: a girl with a gentle, pleasing face. Beside him in the car, with her hands resting modestly on her zither, she looked like a T’ang statuette. They arrived at his place at last. He strode up the steps ahead of her, his usual long step now falling heavily. “Let’s go and sleep,” he was thinking. Sleep was peace. He had lived, fought, created; beneath all those appearances, deep down, he found this to be the only reality, the joy of abandoning himself, of leaving upon the shore, like the body of a drowned companion, that creature, himself, whose life it was necessary each day to invent anew. “To sleep is the only thing I have always really wanted, for so many years. ”
What better could he expect than a soporific from the young woman whose slippers resounded sharply at each step behind him on the sta^way? They entered the smoking-room: a small room with divans covered with Mongolian rugs, more suggestive of sensuality than of revery. On the walls, a great wash-drawing of Kama’s first period, a Thibetan banner. The woman placed her zither on a divan. On the tray, the ancient instruments with jade handles, ornamental and impractical, were clearly not in use. She put out her hand towards them: he stopped her with a gesture. A distant shot shook the needles on the tray.
“Do you want me to sing?”
“Not now.”
He looked at her body, both suggested and hidden by the sheath of mauve silk. He knew she was stupefied: it is not the custom to embrace a courtesan before she has sung, chatted, served food, or prepared pipes. Otherwise, why not choose a prostitute?
“Don’t you want to smoke either?”
“No. Get undressed.”
He denied her dignity, and he knew it. He had an urge to demand that she take off all her clothes, to make her stand completely naked, but she would have refused. He had left only the night-lamp turned on. “Lust,” he thought, “is the humiliation of oneself or of the other person, perhaps of both. An idea, obviously. ” She was, for that matter, more exciting as she was, with her clinging Chinese chemise; but he was barely aroused, or perhaps he was aroused only by the submi^ion of this body that was awaiting him, while he did not move. He derived his pleasure from putting himself in the place of the other, that was clear: of the other, compelled; compelled by ^m. In reality he never went to bed with anyone but himself, but he could do this only if he were not alone. He understood now what Gisors had only suspected: yes, his to power never achieved its object, lived only by renewing it; but if he had never in his life possessed a single woman, he had possessed, he would possess through this Chinese woman who was awaiting him, the only thing he was eager for: himself. He needed the eyes of others to see himself, the senses of another to feel himself. He looked at the Thibetan painting, placed there without his quite knowing why: on a discolored
world over which travelers were wandering, two exacdy s^imilar skeletons were embracing each other in a trance. He went toward the woman.

Half past ten at night

“If only the car doesn’t delay much longer,” thought Ch’en. In the complete darkness he would not be so sure of his act, and the last street-lights would soon go out. The desolate night of the China of rice-fields and marshes had reached the almost deserted avenue. Dim in the mist, the lights that passed between the slits of the p^ardy open shutters, went out one by one; the last reflections clung to the wet rails, to the telegraph insulators; they gradually grew fainter; soon Ch’en could see them only on the vertical sign-boards covered with gilt characters. This misty night was his last night, and he was satisfied. He would blow up with the machine, in a blinding flash that would illuminate this hideous avenue for a second and cover a wall with a sheaf of blood. The oldest Chinese legend came to his mind: men are the vermin of the earth. It was necessary that terrorism become a mystic cult. Solitude, first of all: let the terrorist decide alone, execute alone; the police derive their whole strength from informers; the murderer who operates alone does not risk giving himself away. The ultimate solitude, for it is difficult for one who lives isolated from the everyday world not to seek others like himself.
Ch’en knew the objections that are made to terrorism: police repression of the workers, the appeal to fascism. But the repression could not be more violent than it was already, nor fascism more obvious. And perhaps Kyo and he were not thinking of the same men. The problem was not to maintain the best elements among the oppressed masses in their class in order to liberate it, but to give a meaning to their very oppression: let each one assume a responsibility and appoint himself the judge of an oppressor’s life. Give an immediate meaning to the individual without hope and multiply the attempts, not by an organization, but by an idea: revive the martyrs. Pei, writing, would be listened to because he, Ch’en, was going to die: he knew how much weight an idea acquires through the blood that is shed in its name.
Everything that was not identified with his resolute gesture was decomposing in the night in which the car that would soon arrive remained hidden. The mist, fed by the smoke from the ships, was gradually obliterating the streets at the end of the avenue: bustling passers-by were walking one behind the other, rarely passing each other, as if war had imposed an all-powerful order upon the city. The prevailing silence made their movements almost fantastic. They did not carry parcels or baskets, did not push carts; tonight it seemed as if their activity had no purpose. Ch’en looked at al those shadows flowing noiselessly towards the river, with an inexplicable and constant movement; was not Destiny itself the force that was pushing them towards the end of the avenue where the archway on the edge of the shadowy river, iluminated by indistinguishable signs, was like the very gates of death? The enormous characters disappeared in confused perspective, into that blurred and tragic world as if into the centuries; and, as if it, too, were coming, not from general headquarters but from a remote past, the military horn of Chiang Kai-shek’s car began to sound faintly at the end of the almost deserted street.
Ch’en gratefully pressed the bomb under his arm. The headlights alone emerged from the mist. And almost immediately, preceded by the Ford of the guard, the entire car pierced through; again it seemed to Ch’en that it was coming extraordinarily fast. Three rickshaws suddenly obstructed the street, and the two cars slowed down. He tried to regain control of his breathing. Already the way was clear. The Ford passed, the car was coming: a huge American automobile, flanked by the two body-guards on the running-boards; it gave such an impression of force that Ch'en felt that if he did not advance, if he waited, he would jump aside in spite of himself. He took his bomb by the neck, like a ^milk- bottle. The general’s car was five meters away, enormous. He ran towards it with an ecstatic joy, threw himself upon it, with his eyes shut.
He came to a few seconds later: he had neither felt nor heard the cracking of bones that he expected: he had sunk into a dazzling globe. No more coat. With his right hand he was holding a piece of the car-hood full of mud or blood. A few meters away a pile of red wreckage, a surface of shattered glass on which shone a last reflection of light, some. already he was unable to make out anything further: he was becoming aware of pain, which in less than a second went beyond consciousness. He could no longer see clearly. He felt nevertheless that the square was still deserted. Did the police fear a second bomb? He was suffering with all his flesh, from a pain that could not even be localized: nothing was left in but suffering. Someone was approaching. He remembered that he was to seize his revolver. He felt for his trouser-pocket. No more pocket, no more trousers, no more leg. Hacked flesh. The other revolver, in his s^rt-pocket. The button had come off. He seized the weapon by the barrel, turned it round without knowing how, instinctively pulled the trigger with his thumb. He opened his eyes at last. Everyth^ing was turning, slowly and inevitably, along a great circle- and yet nothing existed but pain. A policeman was near by. Ch’en wanted to ask if Chiang Kai-shek was dead, but he wanted to know this in another world; in this world, that death itself was unimportant to him.
With a violent kick in the ribs, the policeman turned him over. Ch’en shrieked, fired straight ahead, at random, and the rebound rendered the pain, which he believed limitless, even more intense. He was going to faint or die. He made the most terrific effort of his life, managed to get the barrel of the revolver into his mouth. Expecting the new rebound, even more painful than the preceding one, he no longer moved. A furious kick from another officer caused al his muscles to contract: he fired without being aware of it.
Назад: Part Three. March 27
Дальше: Part Five
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