Man's Fate

Книга: Man's Fate
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Part Seven

Paris, July

FERRAL, fanning himself with the newspaper in which the Consortium was being most violently attacked, was the last to arrive in the waiting-room of the Minister of Finance: in groups were waiting the vice-director of the Mouvement General des Forads-Ferral’s brother had wisely fallen ill the week before-the representative of the Bank of France, the representative of the principal French business-bank, and those of the credit establishments. Ferral knew them all: one son, one son-in- law, and former officials of the Mouvement General des Forads; the link between the State and the Establishments was too close for the latter not to consider it in their interest to attach to themselves officials who were favorably received by their former colleagues. Ferral observed their surprise: ordinarily he would have been the first one there; not seeing him there, they had thought he had not been invited to be present. That he should permit himself to come last suprised them. Everything separated them: what he thought of them, what they thought of him, their manner of dress: almost all were dressed with an impersonal carelessness, and Ferral was wearing his wrinkled tweed suit and the gray silk shirt with a soft collar from Shanghai. Two races.
They were almost immediately admitted.
Ferral knew the minister only slightly. Was that facial expression which recalled another age due to his white
hair, thick like that of the wigs of the Regency? That delicate face with its bright eyes, that open smile-he was an old Parliamentarian-accorded with the tradition of ministerial courtesy; a tradition which ran parallel to that of his brusqueness when he was bitten by a Napoleonic fly. While everyone was taking his seat, Ferral thought of a famous anecdote: the minister-then Minister of Foreign Affairs-on one occasion upon pulling the coattail of the French envoy to Morocco, had caused the seam suddenly to rip up the back; he rang for the doorkeeper: “Bring one of my coats for Monsieur!” then rang again just as the door-keeper was leaving: “The oldest one! He doesn’t deserve another!” His face would have been very attractive but for the expression of the eyes which seemed to deny what his mouth promised: he had one glass eye.
They were all seated: the director of the Mouvement General at the right of the minister, Ferral at his left; the representatives, at the other end of the office, on a couch.
“You know, gentlemen, why I have called you. You have no doubt examined the question. I leave M. Ferral to summarize it for you and to present his point of view.”
The representatives patiently waited for Ferral to tell them fantastic tales, as usual.
“Gentlemen,” said Ferral, “it is customary in a conference like this to present an optimistic picture. You have before you the report of the Inspection of Finance. The situation of the Consortium is, practically speaking, worse than this report would lead one to assume. I submit to you neither exaggerated items nor uncertain credits. The liabilities of the Consortium you know, obviously; I wish to call your attention to two points in the assets which no balance-sheet can indicate, and on the strength of which your aid is requested.
“The first is that the Consortium represents the only French enterprise of its kind in the Far East. Even though it showed a deficit, even though it were on the verge of bankruptcy, its structure would remain intact. Its network of agents, its trading-posts in the interior of China, the connections established between its Chinese buyers and its Indo-Chinese production companies, all that exists and can be maintained. I don't exaggerate in saying that, for half the merchants of the Yangtze, France means the Consortium, as Japan is the Mitsubishi Company; our organization, as you know, can be compared in its scope with the Standard Oil. Now, the Chinese Revolution will not be eternal.
“The second point: thanks to the bonds that unite the Consortium to a great part of Chinese commerce, I have participated in the most effective way in the seizure of power by General Chiang Kai-shek. It is now definitely settled that the share in the construction of the Chinese Railways promised to France by the treaties will be given to the Consortium. You know its importance. It is upon this point that I ask you to base your decision in granting to the Consortium the aid which it requests of you; it is because of its presence that it appears to me defensible to wish that the only powerful organization which represents our country in Asia should not disappear-even though it were to leave the hands of those who have founded it.”
The representatives were carefully examining the balance-sheet, with which, for that matter, they were already familiar, and which could tell them nothing new: all were waiting for the minister to speak.
“It is not only to the interest of the State,” said the latter, “but also to that of the Establishments that credit should not be endangered. The fall of such important organizations as the Industrial Bank of China, as the Consortium, cannot but be a serious blow to all. ”
He was speaking nonchalantly, leaning back in his armchair, looking off into space, tapping the blotting paper in front of him with the tip of his pencil. The representatives were waiting for his attitude to become more precise.
“Will you allow me, Sir,” said the Representative of the Bank of France, “to submit to you a somewhat different opinion. I am the only one here who does not represent a credit establishment, and I am therefore impartial. For several months the crashes have caused the deposits to diminish, it is true; but, after six months, the sums withdrawn automatically return, and precisely in the principal establishments, those which offer the most guarantees. Perhaps the fall of the Consortium, far from being prejudicial to the establishments which these gentlemen represent, would on the contrary be favorable to them. ”
“Except for this, that it is always dangerous to play with credits: fifteen provincial bank failures would not be profitable to the Establishments, if for no other reason than that of the political measures which they would call for.”
All this means nothing, thought Ferral, if not that the Bank of France is afraid of being involved and having to pay if the establishments pay. Silence. The questioning look of the minister met that of one of the representatives: the face of a cavalry lieutenant, a piercing look ready to reprimand, a sharp voice:
“I must confess that I am a little less pessimistic than M. Ferral on the aggregate of the items in the balance- sheet which we have before us. The situation of the banks of the group is disastrous, it is true; but certain companies can be maintained, even in their present form.”
“It is the whole enterprise which I am asking you to maintain,” said Ferral. “If the Consortium is destroyed, its affairs lose all meaning for France.”
“On the contrary,” said another representative, with slender, delicate features, “M. Ferral seems to me to be optimistic, after all, as to the principal asset of the Consortium. The loan has not yet been issued.”
He was looking as he spoke at the lapel of Ferral’s coat; the latter, puzzled, followed his look, and understood; he alone in the roomwas not decorated. Purposely. The man who spoke was a Commander of the Legion of Honor, and regarded this disdainful button-hole with hostility. Ferral had never wanted consideration except for his own power.
“You know that it will be issued,” he said; “issued and covered. That concerns the American banks and not their clients, who will take what they are told to take.” “Let’s assume it. The loan covered, who guarantees that the railroads will be built?”
“But,” said Ferral with a little astonishment (his questioner could not help knowing what he would answer), “there is no question of giving the major part of the funds to the Chinese gove^rnment. They will go directly from the American banks to the enterprises engaged to manufacture the rolling-stock, obviously. Otherwise, do you think the Americans would issue the loan?”
“To be sure. But Chiang Kai-shek may be killed or beaten; if Bolshevism rises again, the loan will not be i^ued. For my part, I don’t believe Chiang Kai-shek can maintain himself in power. According to information we have received, his downfall is imminent.”
“The Communists have been crushed everywhere,” answered Ferral. “Borodin has just left Hankow and is returning to Moscow.”
“The Communists, no doubt, but not Communism. China will never again become what she was, and, after Chiang Kai-shek’s triumph, new Communist waves are to be feared. ”
“My opinion is that he will still be in power in ten years. But there is no business that does not involve risk.”
(Only listen to your courage, he was thinking, which never tells you anything. And Turkey, when it did not reimburse you one cent and was buying war-implements with your money? You never have carried out a single great enterprise by yourselves. When you’re through prostituting yourselves to the State, you take your cowardice for wisdom, and believe that to be a Venus de Milo all you need is to be armless-which is going a little far.)
“If Chiang Kai-shek maintains himself in the government,” said the soft voice of a young representative with curly hair, “China will recover the autonomy of its customs. What is there to guarantee that, even granting M. Ferral all he assumes, his activity in China will not lose all its value on the day when Chinese laws will suffice to reduce it to nothing? Several answers can be made to that, I know. ”
“Several,” said Ferral.
“None the less the fact remains,” answered the representative who looked like an officer, “that this undertaking is uncertain, or, even admitting that it involves no risk, the fact remains that it involves a long-term credit, and, in truth, a participation in the activity of an enterprise. We all know that M. Germain nearly brought about the ruin of the Credit Lyonnais through having become interested in Anilin Dyes, which was nevertheless one of the best French ventures. Our function is not to participate in business ventures, but to lend money on guarantees, on short terms. Anything else is outside our field, it’s a matter for business banks.”
Silence, again. A long silence.
Ferral was wondering why the minister did not intervene. All of them, including himself, spoke a conventional and ornate language, like the ritual languages of Asia: there was no doubt, for that matter, that all this had a considerable Chinese flavor. That the guarantees of the Consortium were insufficient was indeed obvious; otherwise, why was he here? Since the war, the losses suffered by the French Reserve which had subscribed to the stocks or obligations of commercial enterprises recommended by the Establishments and the great commercial banks, amounted to about forty billions-ap- preciably more than the cost of the Treaty of Frankfort. A bad venture paid a higher commission than a good one, that was all. But a bad venture, to be accepted, had to be submitted by one of tbem-not by an outsider.
They would not pay, unless the minister formally intervened, because Ferral was not one of them. Not married: stories about women that had become known. Suspected of smoking opium. He had turned down the Legion of Honor. Too much pride to be either a conformist or a hypocrite. Perhaps great individualism could be fully developed only on a dung-heap of hypocrisy: Borgia was not a pope by accident. … It was not at the end of the eighteenth century among the French revolutionaries, drunk with virtue, that the great individualists would be found, but in the Renaissance, in a social structure which was Christianity, obviously.
“Monsieur le Ministre,” said the oldest of the delegates, swallowing both his syllables and his short mustache, white like his wavy hair, “it goes without saying that we are disposed to come to the aid of the State. That’s understood. You know it.”
He removed his monocle, and the gestures of his hands with slightly parted fingers became the gestures of a blind man.
“But after all, we would have to know how far we were going into it! I don’t say that each of us could not involve himself to the extent of, say, five million. Good.” The minister shrugged his shoulders imperceptibly. ‘'But that’s not the question, since the Consortium must reimburse at a minimum 2 so,ooo,ooo in deposits. And then, what? If the State believes a crash of this magnitude would be serious, it has its own means of obtaining funds; to save the French and Annamite depositors, the Bank of France and the General Government of Indo-China are after all the ones who should be called upon rather than we, who also have our depositors and our stockholders. Each one of us is here in the name of his Establishment. ”
(It being understood, Ferral was thinking, that if the minister made it clear that he wants the Consortium to be refloated, there would no longer be either depositors or stockholders.)
“. Who among us can affirm that his stockholders would approve a loan made for no other purpose than to maintain a tottering enterprise? What these stockholders think, Sir-and not they alone-we know very well; they think that the market must be made sound, that enterprises that are not viable must blow up; that to maintain them artificially is the worst service one can render to all. What becomes of the efficacy of competition, which is the very life of French commerce, if doomed enterprises are automatically maintained?”
(My friend, thought Ferral, your Establishment demanded a thirty-two per cent raise in tariffs from the State, just last month; to facilitate free competition, no doubt.)
“. And so? Our business is to loan money on guarantees, as has very justly been observed. The guarantees which M. Ferral offers. You have heard M. Ferral himself. Will the State substitute for M. Ferral in this case and give us the guarantees against which we will grant the Consortium the funds it needs? In other words, is the State appealing to our loyalty without offering any compensation, or does it ask us-the State and not M. Ferral-to facilitate an operation of the Treasury, even on a long term? In the first case, of course, it can count on our loyalty, but after all we are bound to consider our stockholders’ interests; in the second, what guarantees does it offer us?”
A complete ciphered language, Ferral was thinking. If we were not engaged in playing a comedy, the minister would answer: “I appreciate the comic value of the word ‘devotion.’ Your principal benefits come from your relations with the State. You live on commissions, which determine the importance of your establishment, and not on independent activities. The State has given you this year one hundred million, in one form or another; it is taking back twenty-bless its name, and calling it quits.’’ But there is no danger of that.
The minister pulled out from a drawer of his desk a box of soft caramels, and passed it around. Each ate one, except Ferral. He knew now what the delegates of the
Establishments wanted: pay, since it was impossible to leave this cabinet without granting the minister something, but pay as little as possible. As for the latter. Ferral waited, assured that he was busy thinking: “What would Choiseul have appeared to do in my place?” Appeared: the minister did not ask the great lords of the kingdom for lessons in will, but in behavior or in irony.
“The Vice-Director of the Mouvement General des Fonds,” he said, tapping the table with his pencil, “will tell you as I do that I cannot give you these guarantees without a vote of Parliament. I have called you together, gentlemen, because the question we are debating concerns France’s prestige; do you think that bringing this question before public opinion is a good way to defend it?”
“No dlout, no dlout, but pelmit me, monsieur le Ministle. ”
Silence; the representatives, chewing their caramels, sought refuge from the Auvergnat accent in a meditative air. They suddenly felt that by opening their mouths they would be exposing themselves to an unseen menace. The minister looked at them without smiling, one after the other, and Ferral, who saw him in profile- the side with the glass eye-looked upon him as a great white Carolina parrot, motionless and bitter, in the midst of other birds.
“I see, then, gentlemen,” the minister went on, “that we are agreed upon that point. In whatever way we look upon this problem, it is necessary that the deposits be reimbursed. The General Government of Indo-China would participate in the refloating of the Consortium to the amount of one-fifth. What share could you offer?”
Now each one sought refuge in his caramel. “Just a small pleasure,” said Ferral to himself. “He wants a little distraction, but the result would have been the same without the caramels. ” He knew the value of the argument put forward by the minister. It was his brother who had answered those who asked the Mouvement General for a conversion without vote of Parliament: “Why shouldn’t I after that give two hundred millions on my own authority to my little girl-friend?”
Silence. Longer than the preceding ones. The representatives were whispering among themselves.
“Monsieur le Ministre,” said Ferral, “if the healthy enterprises of the Consortium are, in one form or another, to be continued; if the deposits are, in any case, to be reimbursed, don’t you think there is occasion to wish for a greater effort, from which the maintenance of the Consortium should not be excluded? Does not the existence of so extensive a French organization have in the eyes of the State an importance equal to that of a few hundred million in deposits?”
“Five million is not a serious figure, gentlemen,” said the minister. “Must I appeal in a more urgent way to the devotion of which you have spoken? I know you are anxious, that your Boards of Directors are anxious to avoid the control of banks by the State. Do you think the fall of enterprises like the Consortium will not arouse public opinion to the point of demanding such control in a manner that might become imperious, and perhaps urgent?”
More and more Chinese, thought Ferral. This merely means: “Stop proposing to me five ridiculous millions.” The control of the banks is an absurd threat when it is made by a government whose policy is directly opposed to such measures. And the minister has no more desire really to have recourse to it than the representative who holds the Havas Agency among his cards desires to launch a press-campaign against the minister. The State can no more play seriously against the banks than the banks against the State. They are accomplices in every way: a common personnel, common interests and psychology. A struggle between the department heads of the same firm-by which, for that matter, the firm subsists. But poorly. As at the Astor, not so long ago, he could save himself only by not weakening and by showing no trace of anger. But he was beaten: having made personal effectiveness his essential value, nothing could compensate for the fact that he was now facing these men, whose persons and methods he had always despised, in this humiliated position. He was weaker than they, and by that very fact, in his own system, all that he might think was of no avail.
“Monsieur le Ministre,” said the oldest delegate, “we are anxious to show our good will to the State once again; but, if there are no guarantees we cannot, in view of our stockholders, consider extending to the Consortium a credit beyond the sum total of the deposits to be reimbursed, and guaranteed by the resumption of the healthy affairs of the group. God knows that we have no desire for this resumption, that we are undertaking it through respect for the superior interest of the State. ”
This fellow, Ferral was thinking, is really extraordinary, with his air of a retired professor transformed into a blind CEdipus. And all the numbskulls, including France, who come to his agency-directors for advice, and to whom State funds are thrown like asses’ skins when it’s a matter of building strategic railways in Russia, in Poland, in the North Pole! Since the war, that skewer sitting on the couch has cost the French reserve billions in State funds alone. Very well. As he used to say, ten years ago: “Any man who asks advice about investing his money from a man he does not know intimately, deserves to be ruined.” Eighteen billions. Without mentioning the forty billions in commercial enterprises. Nor myself.
“Monsieur Damiral?” said the minister.
“I can only endorse, Sir, the words you have just heard. Like M. de Morelles, I cannot involve the establishment which I represent without the guarantees which he mentioned. I could not do so without violating the principles and the traditions which have made this establishment one of the most powerful in Europe, principles and traditions which have often been attacked, but which enable it to prove its devotion to the State when the latter appeals to it, as it did five months ago, as it is doing today, as it will perhaps do tomorrow. It is the frequency of these appeals, Monsieur le Ministre, and the resolution we have made to hear them, which oblige me to ask for the guarantees which these principles and traditions require that we assure to our depositors, and thanks to which-as I have allowed myself to tell you, Sir-we are at your disposal. We can no doubt dispose of twenty million.”
The representatives looked at one another in consternation: the deposits would be reimbursed. Ferral now understood what the minister had wanted: to give satisfaction to his brother without committing himself; have the depositors reimbursed; make the Establishments pay, but as little as possible; be able to draw up a satisfactory report. The bargaining continued. The Consortium would be destroyed; but its annihilation mattered little if the deposits were reimbursed. The Establishments obtained the guarantee which they had demanded (they would lose, nevertheless, but very little). A few enterprises, which would be maintained, would become the affiliates of the Establishments; as for the rest. All that had happened in Shanghai was about to be dissolved, here, in a complete meaninglessness. He would have preferred to see himself despoiled, to see his work go on living completely out of his hands, conquered or stolen. But the minister would see only his own fear of the Chamber; he would tear no jackets today. In his place, Ferral would have begun by banishing himself from the Consortium, which would thereby have been rendered more healthy, and would then have maintained it at any price. As for the Establishments, he had always affirmed their incurable avarice. He remembered with pride a phrase of one of his adversaries: “He always wants a bank to be a gambling house.”
The telephone rang, close by. One of the attaches entered:
“Monsieur le Ministre, the President of the Council on the private wire.”
“Tell him matters are being satisfactorily arranged. No, I’ll go myself.”
He went out, returned a moment later, gave the delegate of the principal commercial bank (the only one which was here represented) a questioning look. A straight mustache, parallel to his glasses, bald head, weariness. He had not yet said a word.
“The maintenance of the Consortium does not in any way interest us,” he said slowly. “A share in the building of the Railways is assured to France by the treaties. If the Consortium falls, another enterprise will be formed, or will develop, and will succeed it. ”
“And this new corporation,” said Ferral, “instead of having industrialized Indo-China, will distribute dividends. But, as it will have done nothing for Chiang Kai- shek, it will find itself in the situation in which you would be here, if you had never done anything for the State; and the treaties will be manipulated by some American or British society with a French screen, obviously. To whom you will lend, for that matter, the money which you refuse me. We have created the Consortium because the policy of the French banks of Asia maintained a policy of guarantees that would have led them to make loans to the English in order to avoid making loans to the Chinese. We have followed a policy of risk, it is. ”
“I did not dare to say so.”
“. obvious. It is natural that we should reap the consequences. The savings will be protected (he smiled with one corner of his mouth) to the extent of a fifty- eight billion franc loss, and not fifty-eight billion and a few hundred million. Let us now examine together, gentlemen, if you wish, the manner in which the Consortium will cease to exist.”

Kobe

In the full light of spring, May-too poor to hire a carriage-was walking up the hill towards Kama’s house. If Gisors’ baggage was heavy, they would have to borrow some money from the old painter to get back to the ship. Upon leaving Shanghai, Gisors had told her he would seek refuge with Kama; upon arriving he had sent her his address. Since then, nothing. Not even when she had informed him that he had been appointed professor in the Sun Yat-sen institute of Moscow. Fear of the Japanese police?
As she walked she was reading a letter from Pei which had been delivered to her upon the arrival of the ship at Kobe, when she had had her passport visaed.
“. and all those who were able to flee Shanghai are awaiting you. I have received the pcmtphlets.. ”
He had published two anonymous accounts of Ch’en’s death, one according to his heart: “The murder of the dictator is the duty of the individual towards himself, and must be separate from political action, which is determined by collective forces.,” the other for the traditionalists: “Even as filial duty-the faith which our ancestors have in us-enjoins us to seek what is noblest in our lives, even so it requires of each of us the murder of the usurper.” The clandestine presses were already publishing these pamphlets again.
“… I saw Hemmelrich yesterday. He thinks of you. He is a mounter in the electric plant. He said to me: ‘Before, I began to live when 1 left the factory; now, I begin to live when I enter it. It’s the first time in my life that
I work and know why I work, not merely waiting patiently to die. ’ Tell Gisors that we are waiting for him. Since I have been here, I have been thinking of the lecture where he said:
“ ‘A civilization becomes transformed, you see, when its most oppressed element-the humiliation of the slave, the work of the modern worker-suddenly becomes a value, when the oppressed ceases to attempt to escape this humiliation, and seeks his salvation in it, when the worker ceases to attempt to escape this work, and seeks in it his reason for being. The factory, which is still only a kind of church of the catacombs, must become what the cathedral was, and men must see in it, instead of gods, human power struggling against the Earth. ’ ”
Yes; no doubt the value of men lay only in what they had transformed. The Revolution had just passed through a terrible malady, but it was not dead. And it was Kyo and his men, living or not, vanquished or not, who had brought it into the world.
“1 am going to return to Cbina as an agitator: 1 shall never be a pure Communist. Nothing is finished over there. Perbaps we sball meet; 1 bave been told that your request has been granted. . ”
A newspaper clipping fell from the letter; she picked it up:
Work must become the principal weapon of the class-struggle. The vastest industrialization plan in the world is at present being studied: the aim is to transform the entire U.S.S.R. in five years to make it one of the leading industrial powers in Europe, and then to catch up with and surpass the United States. This gigantic enterprise.
Gisors was waiting for her, in the doorway. In a kimono. No baggage in the hallway.
“Did you receive my letter?” she asked, entering a bare room-mats and paper-whose panels were drawn aside, revealing the entire bay.
“Yes.”
“Let’s hurry. The ship is leaving again in two hours.”
“I’m not leaving, May.”
She looked at him. “Useless to question him,” she thought; “he’U explain.” But it was he who questioned her.
“What are you going to do?”
“Try to serve in one of the sections of women agitators. It’s practically arranged, it appears. I shaU be in Vladivostok the day after tomorrow, and I shaU immediately leave for Moscow. If it can’t be arranged, I shall serve as a doctor in Moscow or in Siberia. I hope the first thing succeeds. I am so weary of nursing. … To live always with sick people, when it isn’t for a combat, requires a kind of special grace-and there is no grace left in me of any sort. And besides, the sight of death has become almost intolerable to me now. Well, if I must … It is still a way of avenging Kyo.”
“Revenge is no longer possible at my age. ”
Indeed, something in him was changed. He was distant, isoiated, as if only a part of himself were there in the room with her. He lay down on the floor: there were no seats. She lay down too, beside an opium tray.
“What are you going to do with yourself?” she asked.
He shrugged his shoulder with indifference.
“Thanks to Kama, I have been made professor of Occidental art. I return to my first profession, as you see. ”
She sought his eyes, stupefied:
“Even now,” she said, “when we are politically beaten, when our hospitals have been closed down, clandestine groups are forming again in all the provinces. Our people will never forget that they suffer because of other men, and not because of their previous lives. You used to say: ‘They have awakened with a start from a sleep of thirty centuries, to which they will never return.’ You also used to say that those who have given a consciousness of their revolt to three hundred million wretches were not shadows like men who pass-even beaten, even tortured, even dead. ”
She was silent for a moment:
“They are dead, now,” she said finally.
“I still think so, May. It’s something else. Kyo’s death is not only grief, not only change-it is. a metamorphosis. I have never loved the world over-much: it was Kyo who attached me to men, it was through him that they existed for me. I don’t want to go to Moscow. I would teach wretchedly there. Marxism has ceased to live in me. In Kyo’s eyes it was a will, wasn’t it? But in mine, it is a fatality, and I found myself in harmony with it because my fear of death was in harmony with fatality. There is hardly any fear left in me, May; since Kyo died, I am indifferent to death. I am freed (freed!.) both from death and from life. What would I do over there?”
“Change anew, perhaps.”
“I have no other son to lose.”
He drew the opium tray towards him, prepared a pipe. Without speaking she pointed with her finger to one of the nearby hillslopes: attached by the shoulder, some hundred coolies were pulling a heavy weight which could not be seen, in the centuries-old posture of slaves. “Yes,” he said, “yes.”
“And yet,” he went on after a moment, “note this: these men are ready to die for Japan.”
“For how much longer?”
“Longer than I shall lived’
Gisors had been puffing steadily at his pipe. He opened his eyes:
“One can fool life for a long time, but in the end it always makes us what we were intended to be. Every old man is a confession, believe me, and if old age is usuaUy so empty it is because the men were themselves empty and had managed to conceal it. But that in itself is unimportant. Men should be able to learn that there is no reality, that there are worlds of contemplation- with or without opium-where all is vain. ”
“Where one contemplates what?”
“Perhaps nothing other than this vanity. That’s a great deal.”
Kyo had told May: “Opium plays a great role in my father’s life, but I sometimes wonder if opium determines his life, or if it justifies certain forces that make him uneasy. ”
“If Ch’en,” Gisors went on, “had lived outside of the Revolution, don’t forget that he would undoubtedly have forgotten his murders. Forgotten. ”
“The others have not forgotten them; there have been two terrorist attempts since his death. He did not like women, and I therefore scarcely knew him; but I don’t think he would have lived out of the Revolution even a year. There is no dignity that is not founded on suffering.”
He had barely listened to her.
“Forgotten. ” he continued. “Since Kyo died, I have discovered music. Music alone can speak of death.
I listen to Kama, now, whenever he plays. And yet, without effort on my part (he was speaking to himself as much as to May), what do I still remember? My desires and my anguish, the very weight of my destiny, my life. ”
(But while you are freeing yourself from your life, she was thinking, other Katovs are burning in boilers, other Kyos.)
Gisors’ eyes, as though they were continuing his gestures of forgetfulness, looked away, became absorbed in the world outside: beyond the road, the thousand sounds of the port seemed to be setting out with the waves towards the radiant sea. Those noises matched the dazzling Japanese springtime with all the efforts of men, with the ships, the elevators, the cars, the active crowd. May was thinking of Pei’s letter: it was in work pursued with warlike energy, released over the whole Russian land, in the will of a multitude for whom this work had become life, that her dead had found refuge. The sky was sparkling like the sun in the spaces between the pine- trees; the wind which gently stirred the branches glided over their reclining bodies. It seemed to Gisors that this wind was passing through him like a river, like Time itself, and for the first time the idea that the time which was bringing him closer to death was flowing through him did not isolate him from the world, but joined him to it in a serene accord. He looked do^n at the bristling cranes on the edge of the city, the steamships and the sailboats on the sea, the men-black specks-on the road. “All suffer,” he thought, “and each one suffers because he thinks. At bottom, the mind conceives man only in the eternal, and the consciousness of life can be nothing but anguish. One must not think life with the mind, but with opium. How many of the sufferings scattered about in this light would disappear, if thought were to disappear. ” Liberated from everything, even from being a man, he caressed the stem of his pipe with gratitude, contemplating the bustle of all those unknown creatures who were marching towards death in the dazzling sunlight, each one nursing his deadly parasite in a secret recess of his being. “Every man is a madman,” he went on thinking, “but what is a human destiny if not a life of effort to unite this madman and the universe. ” He saw Ferra! again, lighted by the low lamp against the background of the night full of mist. “Every man dreams of being god. ”
Fifty sirens at once burst upon the air: today was the eve of a festival, and work was over. Before any change was visible in the port, tiny men emerged, like scouts, upon the straight road that led to the city, and soon the crowd covered it, distant and black, in a din of automobile horns: foremen and laborers were leaving work together. It was approaching, as if for an attack, with the great uneasy movement of every crowd beheld from a distance. Gisors had seen the dash of animals towards watering-holes, at night-fall: one, several, then all, thrown in the direction of the water by a force that seemed to fall from the darkness; in his memory, opium gave to their cosmic rush a savage harmony, and the men lost in the distant clatter of their wooden clogs all seemed mad, separated from the universe whose heart beating somewhere up there in the shimmering light seized them and threw them back upon solitude, like the grains of some unknown harvest. Very high up, the light clouds passed above the dark pine trees, and little by little became absorbed in the sky; and it seemed to him that one of their group, precisely the one he was looking at, expressed the men he had known or loved, and who were dead.
Humanity was dense and heavy, heavy with flesh, with blood, with suffering, eternally clinging to itself like all that dies; but even blood, even flesh, even suffering, even death was being absorbed up there in the light like music in the silent night; he thought of Kama’s music, and human grief seemed to him to rise and to lose itself in the very song of earth; upon the quivering release hidden within him like his heart, the grief which he had mastered slowly closed its inhuman arms.
“Do you smoke much?" she repeated.
She had already asked this, but he had not heard her. His eyes returned to the room:
“Do you think I don’t guess what you are thinking, and do you think I don’t know it better than you? Do you even think it would not be easy for me to ask you by what right you judge me?”
He looked at her:
“Have you no desire to have a child?”
She did not answer: this always passionate desire now seemed to her a betrayal. But she was contemplating his serene face with terror. It was in truth returning from the deep regions of death, foreign like one of the corpses in the common ditches. In the repression that had beaten down upon exhausted China, in the anguish or hope of the masses, Kyo’s activity remained incrusted like the inscriptions of the early empires in the river gorges. But even old China, which these few men had hurled irrevocably into the darkness of the past with the roar of an avalanche, was not more effaced from the world than the meaning of Kyo’s life from the face of his father. He went on:
“The only thing I loved has been torn from me, you see, and you expect me to remain the same. Do you think my love was not as great as yours-you whose life has not even changed?”
“As the body of a living person who becomes a dead one does not change. ”
He took her hand:
“You know the phrase: ‘It takes nine months to make a man, and a single day to kill him.’ We both know this as well as one can know it. May, listen: it does not take nine months, it takes fifty years to make a man, fifty years of sacrifice, of will, of. of so many things! And when this man is complete, when there is nothing left in him of childhood, nor of adolescence, when he is really a man-he is good for nothing but to die.”
She looked at him, stunned: he was looking at the clouds.
“I loved Kyo as few men love their children, you know that. ”
He was still holding her hand; he drew it towards him, took it between his two hands:
“Listen to me: one must love the living and not the dead.”
“I am not going to Moscow to love.”
He looked out upon the magnificent bay, saturated with sunlight. She had withdrawn her hand.
“On the road of vengeance, little May, one finds life. ”
“That’s not a reason for seeking it.”
She got up, gave him back her hand for a good-by. But he took her face between the palms of his hands and kissed her. Kyo had kissed her in this way, the last day, exactly in this way, and never since had hands held her head.
“I hardly ever weep any more, now,” she said with a bitter pride.
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