Eleven o'clock in the morning
THINGS are going badly,” thought Ferral.
His car-the only Voisin in Shanghai, for the President of the French Chamber of Commerce could not use an American model-was speeding along the quay. To the right, under the vertical banners covered with characters: “A twelve-hour working day,” “No more employment of children under eight,” thousands of spinning- mill workers were standing, squatting, lying on the sidewalk in tense disorder. The car passed a group of women who were rallied round a banner-1 “Rigbt to sit down for women-workers.” The arsenal itself was empty: the metal workers were on strike. To the left, thousands of sailors in blue rags, without banners, crouched along the stream, waiting. On the quay-side, the crowd of demonstrators filled the side-streets as far as the eye could reach; on the river-side they clung to the landing-stages, concealing the edge of the water.
The car left the quay, swung into the Avenue of the Two Republics. And now it could advance only with difficulty, caught in the seething movement of the Chinese crowd which was bursting from all the streets towards the refuge of the French concession. As one racehorse outdistances another, head, neck, shoulders, the crowd was “closing in” on the car, slowly, steadily. Wheelbarrows with babies’ heads sticking out between bowls, Peking carts, rickshaws, small hairy horses, handcarts, uucks loaded with sixty-odd people, monstrous mattresses piled with a whole household of furniture, bristling with table-legs, giants with cages of blackbirds dangling from the end of their anns which were stretched out to protect tiny women with a litter of children on their backs. The chauffeur was at last able to tum, to get into streets that were still obsuucted but where the din of the hom sent the crowd scurrying a few meters ahead of the car. It arrived at the vast headquarters of the French police.
Ferral climbed the stairs almost at a run.
In spite of his slicked-back hair, his informal tweed suit, and his gray silk shirt, his face preserved something of 1900, of his youth. He smiled at people “who disguise themselves as captains of industry,” which permitted him to disguise himself as a diplomat: he had relinquished only the monocle. His drooping, almost gray mustache, which seemed to prolong the sagging line of his mouth, gave his profile an expression of refined brutality; its strength was in the combination of his aquiline nose and his jutting chin, badly shaved this morning: the water- service employees were on strike, and the limy water brought by the coolies gave the soap a poor lather. He disappeared in the midst of the bows that greeted him.
At the far end of the office of Martial, the chief of police, a Chinese secret agent-a paternal-looking Her- cules-was asking:
“Is that all, Chief?”
“Also, getbusy disorganizing the syndicates,” answered Martial, whose back was turned. “And what’s more, you’ll have to snap into it. The work’s been rotten. You deserve to be fired: half your men can't be trusted out of sight! I’m not paying you to hire quarter-revolutionaries who don’t dare to come out in the open and say what they are: the police is not a factory for fu^rnishing alibis. Fire all agents who traffic with the Kuomintang, and don’t let me have to tell you again. And try to understand, instead of looking at me like an idiot! A nice mess it would be if I didn’t know my men better than you know yours!”
“That’s that. Settled. Classified. Get the hell out of here. How do you do, Monsieur Ferral?”
He turned round: a military face: large, regular and impersonal features, less revealing than his shoulders. “Hello, Martial. WeU?”
“To keep the railroad the government is obliged to take away thousands of men from other duties. You can’t hold out against a whole country, you have
a police like ours at your disposal. The only thing the gove^rnment can count on is the ^armored train, with its White officers. That’s serious.”
“A minority still implies a majority of imbeciles. Well, anyway. ’’
“Everything depends on the front. Here they’re going to try to revolt. It’s going to be hot for them, maybe, for they’re scarcely armed.”
Ferral could only listen and wait, which he thoroughly detested. The parleys held by the chiefs of the Anglo- Saxon and Japanese groups, himself, certain consulates, with the go-betweens who filled all the big hotels of the concessions to overflowing, still remained fruitless. This afternoon, perhaps.
Once Shanghai was in the hands of the revolutionary army, the Kuomintang would at last have to choose between democracy and Communism. Democracies are always good customers. And a company can make profits without depending on treaties. On the other hand, if the city became sovietized, the Franco-Asiatic Consortium- and with it all the French trade in Shanghai-would crumble away; Ferral was of the opinion that the powers would abandon their nationals, as England had done at Hankow. His immediate objective was to prevent the taking of the city before the arrival of the army, to make it impossible for the Communists to do anything alone.
“How many troops, Martial, in addition to the armored train?”
“Two thousand police and a brigade of infantry, Monsieur Ferral.”
“And how many revolutionaries who can do something besides talk?”
“A few hundred at the most, who are armed. … As for the others, they’re not worth considering. As there’s no military service here, they don’t know how to use a gun, don’t forget. In February there were two or three thousand of those fellows, if you count the Communists.. They’re no doubt a little more numerous now.”
But in February the gove^rnment army had not been
“How many will follow them?” Martial went on. “But you see, Monsieur Ferral, all that doesn’t get us very far. One would have to know the psychology of the chiefs. …I know that of the men pretty well. The Chinaman, you see. ”
Ferral was looking at him with an expression he had seen before-on rare occasions-and which was enough to silence him: an expression less of contempt, of irritation, than of appraisal. Ferral did not say, in his cutting and somewhat mechanical voice: “Is this going to last much longer?” But he expressed it. He could not bear to have Martial pass off information obtained from his agents as the fruit of his own perspicacity.
If Martial had dared he would have answered: “What difference does it make to you?” He was dominated by Ferral; and his relations with him had been established through orders to which he could only submit. Even as a man he felt him to be superior to himself; but he could not endure his insolent indifference, his way of reducing him to the status of a mechanism, of ignoring him whenever he wanted to speak as an individual and not merely as a transmitter of information. Members of Parliament on missions had told him about Ferral’s effectiveness at the Chamber Committees, before his fall. In the sessions he made such use of the qualities that gave his speeches their clearness and their force that his colleagues detested him more and more every year: he had a unique talent for ignoring their existence. Whereas a Jaures, a Briand, conferred upon them a personal life which, to be sure, they often did not possess, giving the illusion of appealing to each one individually, of wishing to convince them, of involving them in a complicity in which a common experience of life and men united them-Ferral, on the contrary, erected a structure of impersonal facts, and would conclude with: “In view of these conditions, gentlemen, it would thus obviously be absurd. ” He got his way by force or by money. He had not changed, Martial observed.
“And what about Hankow?” asked Ferral.
“We had reports last night. There are zzo,ooo unemployed there, enough to make a new Red army. ”
For weeks goods from three of the companies controlled by Ferral had been rotting on the sumptuous quays: the coolies refused to transport anything.
“What news of the relations between the Communists and Chiang Kai-shek?”
“Here’s his last speech,” answered Martial. “For my part, you know, I don’t believe much in speeches. "
“I believe in them. In these at least. It doesn't matter."
The telephone bell. Martial took the receiver.
“It's for you, Monsieur Ferral.”
Ferral sat down on the table.
“He’s holding out a club to hit you with. He is hostile to intervention, that’s obvious. It’s only a question of deciding whether it’s better to attack him as a pederast or accuse him of being bought. That’s all.”
“It being perfectly understood that he is neither. Moreover, I don’t like to have one of my collaborators believe me capable of attacking a man for a sexual deviation which he might really have. Do you take me for a moralist? Good-by.”
Martial did not dare to question him. That Ferral did not keep him posted on his plans, did not tell him what he expected about his secret conferences with the most active members of the International Chamber of Commerce, with the heads of the great associations of Chinese merchants, appeared to him both insulting and short-sighted. On the other hand, if it is annoying for a Chief of Police not to know what he is doing, it is even more annoying to lose his post. Now Ferral, born in the Republic as in the bosom of a family, his memory full of kindly faces of old gentlemen-Renan, Berthelot, Victor Hugo-the son of a great counselor-at-law, an agrege in history at twenty-seven, at twenty-nine the editor of the first collective history of France, a deputy at a very early age (favored by the epoch that had made Poincare and Barthou ministers before forty), and now President of the Franco-Asiatic Consortium-Ferral, in spite of his political downfall, possessed in Shanghai a power and a prestige at least equal to those of the French Consul-General with whom, moreover, he was on friendly terms. The Chief was therefore respectfully cordial. He handed him the speech:
“1 have spent eighteen million dollars in all, and taken six provinces, in five months. Let the malcontents look for another general-in-chief, if they wish, mho spends as little and accomplishes as much as 1. .”
“Obviously the money question would be settled by the taking of Shanghai,” said Ferral. “The customs would give him seven million dollars a month, just about what is needed to make up the army deficit. ”
“Yes. But they say that Moscow has given the political commissars orders to have their own troops beaten before Shanghai. In that case the insurrection here might end badly. ”
“Why those orders?”
“So that Chiang Kai-shek would be beaten, to destroy his prestige, and to replace him by a Communist general to whom the honor of taking Shanghai would then go. It's almost certain that the campaign against Shanghai has been undertaken without the assent of the Central Committee of Hankow. The same informers claim that the Red staff is protesting against this policy. ” Ferral was interested, though skeptical. He continued to read the speech:
“Deserted by a considerable number of its members, the Central Executive Comnittee of Hankow nevertheless is determnined to remain the supreme authority of the Kuomintang Party.. 1 know that Sun Yat-sen admitted the Conmunists as auxiliaries of the Party. I have done nothing against them, and I have often admired their energy. But now, instead of being content to remain auxiliaries, they set themselves up as masters and violently and insolently aspire to govern the Party. I warn them that I shall oppose these excessive pretensions, which go beyond what was stipulated at the time of their admission. .”
It was becoming possible to employ Chiang Kai-shek. The present government signified nothing, except by its strength (which it lost by the defeat of its army) and by the fear which the Communists of the revolutionary army inspired in the bourgeoisie. Very few people had any interest in its maintenance. Behind Chiang there was a victorious army, and the whole Chinese petty bourgeoisie.
“Nothing else?” he asked aloud.
“Nothing, Monsieur Ferral.”
He went do'wn the stairs, met half-way down an au- bum-haired Minerva in a tailored sport-suit, with superb immobile features. She was a Russian from the Caucasus who was reputed to be Martial's occasional mistress. “I’d like to see the expression on your face when you’re making love,” he thought.
“Pardon me, Madam.”
He passed her with a bow, climbed into his car which began to be swallowed up in the crowd, against the current this time. The horn shrieked in vain, powerless against the force of the exodus, against the seething thousands which invasions stir before them. Petty merchants with their two trays dangling like scales from beams that caught and swung wildly, carts, barrows worthy of the T’ang emperors, invalids, cages. Fer- ral was advancing in the opposite direction to all those eyes which fear caused to look inward: if his checkered life was to be destroyed, let it be in this uproar, amid this frantic despair that came beating against the windows of his car! Just as he would have meditated upon the meaning of his life had he been wounded, so now that his enterprises were menaced he was meditating upon them. He realized, moreover, where he was vulnerable. He had had too little choice in this combat; he had been obliged to undertake his Chinese affairs to give new outlets to his production in Indo-China. He was playing a waiting game here: he was aiming at France. And he could not wait much longer.
His greatest weakness lay in the absence of a State. The development of such vast affairs was inseparable from governments. Since his youth he had always worked for them: while stiil in Parliament he had been president of the Society of Electrical Energy and Appliances, which manufactured the electrical equipment of the French State; he had next organized the reconstruction of the port of Buenos Ayres. Possessing the kind of arrogant integrity which refuses commissions and accepts orders, he had looked to the French possessions in Asia for the money he needed after his fall: for he did not intend to play the same game again; he was going to change the rules. In a position to utilize his brother’s personal standing, which was superior to his office as director of the Mouvement General des Fonds Ferral-who had remained at the head of one of the powerful French financial groups-succeeded in getting the General Government of Indo-China to undertake a pro-
1 A depa^ment in the Ministry of Finance charged with the distribution of State funds.
gram of public works involving an expenditure of four hundred million francs. (Even his enemies were not averse to furnishing him means of getting out of France.) The Republic could not refuse the brother of one of her highest officials the management of this civilizing program; it was a great success, and caused surprise in this country in which even big financial ventures are carried on haphazardly.
Ferral knew how to act. A good deed is never lost: the group passed on to the industrialization of IndoChina. Little by little there appeared: two credit establishments (land securities and agricultural loans); four agricultural development associations-rubber, cotton, and sugar plantations and tropical cultures-controlling the immediate conversion of these raw materials into manufactured products; three mining associations: coal, phosphates, gold, and a subsidiary salt-mining enterprise; five industrial firms: light and energy, electricity, glass, paper, printing; three transport companies: barges, tugboats, street cars. At the center, the Public Works Cor- poration-queen of this vast organization of effort, hatred and paper, mother or midwife of almost all the sister societies engaged in living by profitable incests-was able to obtain the contract for the construction of the Central Annam railroad, whose tracks (who would have thought it?) passed through the greater pan of the concessions of the Ferral group. “Things aren’t going so badly,” the vice-president of the administration council would say to Ferral, who said nothing, busy piling up his millions in steps on which he could climb to a position that would put Paris within his reach.
Even with the project for a new Chinese Company in each pocket, he thought only of Paris. It was his dream to return to France rich enough to buy the agence
Havas 1 or to negotiate with it; to get back into the political game and, having cautiously reached the cabinet, to pit the combined forces of the cabinet and a bought public opinion against the Parliament. There lay the power. But today his dreams were out of the question: the rapid growth of his Indo-Chinese enterprises had involved the entire Ferral group in the commercial penetration of the Yangtze basin, Chiang Kai-shek was marching- on Shanghai with the revolutionary army, the crowd, more and more dense, was pressing against his doors. There was not a single company owned or controlled in China by the Franco-Asiatic Consortium which was not affected: those for naval constructions, at Hong Kong, by the insecurity of navigation; aU the others- public works, constructions, electricity, insurance, banks — by war and the Communist menace. What they imported remained in their warehouses in Hong Kong or Shanghai; what they exported, in their Hankow warehouses, sometimes on the wharves.
The car stopped. The silence-Chinese crowds are usually among the noisiest-seemed to forbode the end of the world. A cannon-shot. The revolutionary army, so near? No: it was the noon-day cannon. The crowd scattered: the car did not move. Ferral seized the speaking-tube. No answer: the chauffeur, the valet were gone.
He remained motionless-stupefied-in the motionless car which the crowd circled clumsily. The nearest shopkeeper came out, carrying on his shoulder an enormous shutter; he turned round, nearly smashed one of the glass panes of the car: he was closing his shop. To the right, to the left, ahead of him, other shopkeepers, other artisans came out, with shutters covered with characters on their shoulders. The general strike was beginning.
1 The leading French news-gathering and publicity syndicate.
This time it was not the Hong Kong strike, slowly set under way, epic, dismal: it was an army maneuver. As far as his eye could reach there was not a shop remaining open. He must leave as quickly as possible; he got out, called a rickshaw. The coolie did not answer him: he was running at top speed for shelter, almost alone on the street, now, with the abandoned car: the crowd had just surged back towards the sidewalks. “They’re afraid of the machine-guns,” thought Ferral. The children, no longer playing, were scurrying between legs, through the swarming agitation of the sidewalks. A silence full of lives at once remote and very near, like that of a forest saturated with insects; the siren of a cruiser rose, then became lost. Ferral walked towards his house as fast as he could, hands in pockets, shoulders and chin thrust forward. Two sirens took up in unison, an octave higher, the cry of the one that had just died down, as if some enormous creature, enveloped in this silence, were thus announcing its coming. The entire city was on guard.
One o’clock in the afternoon
“Five minutes to,” said Ch’en.
The men of his group were waiting. They were all spinning-mill workers, clad in blue denim; he wore their garb. All of them shaved, all lean, all vigorous: before Ch’en, death had made its selection. Two were holding rifles under one ^m, the barrels towards the ground. Seven carried revolvers from the Shantung; one, a grenade; a few others had some hidden in their pockets. About thirty held knives, clubs, bayonets; eight or ten, without weapons, were crouched beside piles of rags, kerosene cans, rolls of wire. An adolescent was examining large broad-headed tacks which he pulled out of a sack as though they were seeds: “Surely longer than horse-shoes. ” A Court of Miracles,1 but composed of men united by a bond of hatred and decision.
He was not one of them. In spite of the murder, in spite of his presence. If he were to die today, he would die alone. For them everything was simple: they were $oing forth to conquer their bread and their dignity. For. he did not even know how to speak to them, except of their pain and of their common battle At least he knew that the strongest of bonds is battle. And the battle was here.
They got up, sacks on their backs, cans in their hands, wire under their arms. It was not yet raining; the gloom of this empty street which a dog crossed in two leaps, as if some instinct had warned him of what was impending, was as deep as the silence. Five shots went off in a nearby street: three together, another, still another. “It's starting," said Ch’en. The silence returned, but it no longer seemed to be the same. Suddenly it was filled by the clatter of horses’ hoofs, hurried, coming nearer and nearer. And, like the vertical laceration of lightning after a prolonged thunder, while they still saw nothing, a tumult suddenly filed the street, composed of mingled cries, shots, furious whinnyings, the falling of bodies; then, as the subsiding clamor was heavily choking under the indestructible silence, there rose a cry as of a dog howling lugubriously, cut short: a man with his throat slashed.
At a run they quickly reached a more important street. All the shops were closed. On the ground, three
1 A guaner of old Paris, between the rue Reaumur and rue du Caire; It served as a retreat for beggars, vagabonds and oudaws who 1iled the capital in the Middle Ages.
bodies; above, streaked with telegraph wires, the restless sky darkened by clouds of black smoke; at the end of the street, some twenty horsemen (there was very little cavalry at Shanghai) were turning hesitantly, not seeing the insurgents clinging to the wall with their instruments, their glance fixed on the hesitant movements of the horses. Ch'en could not think of attacking them: his men were too poorly armed. The insurgents turned to the right, finally reached a police station: the sentinels, without a word, followed Ch'en in.
The policemen were playing cards. Their guns and Mausers were in the rack. The non-commissioned officer in command opened a window, shouted into a dark court:
“All you who hear me are witness to the violence which is being done us. You see that we are obliged to yield to force!”
He was going to shut the window again; Ch’en held it open, looked: no one in the court. But appearances had been saved, and the theatrical gesture had been made at the right moment. Ch’en knew his compatriots: since this fellow was “playing the part,” he would not act. He distributed the arms among his men. The rioters left, all armed this time: useless to occupy the small disarmed police-stations. The policemen hesitated. Three got up and wanted to follow them. (Perhaps there would be plunder.) Ch'en had difficulty in getting rid of them. The others picked up the cards and went on play- mg.
“If they win,” said one, “perhaps we'll get paid this month?”
“Perhaps,” answered the non-commissioned officer. He dealt the cards.
“But if they’re beaten, perhaps we’ll be accused of treason.”
“What could we have done? We yielded to force. We are al witnesses that we did not betray.”
They were reflecting, their necks drawn in-cormorants crushed by thought.
“We are not responsible,” said one.
Al approved. They got up nevertheless and went to continue their game in a neighboring shop, the proprietor not daring to put them out. Only a pile of uniforms remained in the center of the station.
Elated and wary, Ch’en, followed by his men, was walking towards one of the central posts: “All is well,” he was thinking, “but those men are almost as poor as we. " The White Russians and the soldiers of the ^anored train would certainly fight. The officers too. Distant explosions, muffled as though the low sky had weakened them, were beating the air near the center of the city.
At a street-crossing, the troop-all the men anned now, even those carrying the cans-hesitated a moment, looked about. From the cruisers and the steamships unable to discharge their cargoes rose the oblique masses of smoke which the heavy wind scattered in the direction of the insurgents’ path, as if the sky were participating in the insurrection. The next station was an old red brick building, two stories high; there were two sentinels, one on each side of the door, bayonets fixed to their rifles. Ch’en knew that the special police had been on the alert for three days, and that their men were worn out by the uninterrupted vigil. There were officers here, some fifty Mauserists of the police-well paid-and ten soldiers. To live, to Jive at least through the next week! Ch’en had stopped at the comer of the street. The arms were no doubt in the racks on the ground-floor, in the right-hand room, the guard-room, which led to the office of an officer; Ch’en and two of his men had gone in there several times during the week. He chose ten men without guns, made them hide the revolvers in their blouses, and advanced with them. Once beyond the corner, the sentinels watched them approach. As they were suspicious of everyone, they had ceased to be suspicious of anyone in particular; workers’ delegations often came to parley with the officer, usually to bring him tips, an operation which required many guarantees and persons.
“To see Lieutenant Sui T’un,” said Ch’en.
While eight men were passing, the two last, as if pushed in the slight shuffle, slipped between the sentinels and the wall. By the time the first ones were in the hall, the sentinels felt the muzzles of revolvers in their sides. They let themselves be disarmed: they were better paid than their wretched fellow-policemen, but not sufficiently to risk their lives. Four of Ch’en’s men who had not joined the first group and who seemed to be passing in the street, led them away along the wall. Nothing had been visible from the windows.
From the hall Ch’en could see the racks filled with rifles. In the guard-room there were only six policemen armed with automatics, and those weapons were on their belts, in closed holsters. He threw himself in front of the racks, revolver held out.
If the police had been resolute, the attack would have failed. In spite of his detailed acquaintance with the places where he was to operate, Ch’en had not had time to designate to each of his men the one he was to cover with his gun; one or two of the police could have fired.
But all put up their hands. They were immediately disarmed. A new group of Ch’en’s men entered. A new distribution of arms began.
“At this moment,” Ch’en was thinking, “two hundred groups in the city are doing what we are doing. If they all have as good luck. " Hardly had he taken the third gun when he heard the sound of a headlong dash coming from the stairway: someone was running up the stairs. He went out. The moment he passed the doorway a shot was fired from the floor above. Nothing more at the head of the stairs. One of the officers, upon coming down, had seen the insurgents, fired, and immediately regained the second story.
The fighting was about to begin.
A door, in the center of the second-story landing, commanded the stairway. Send a spokesman, Asiatic- fashion? Ch’en hated all the Chinese good sense which he recognized in himself. Attempt to take the stairs by force? — as well commit suicide: the police no doubt had a supply of hand-grenades. The instructions of the military committee, transmitted by Kyo to all the groups, were to set fire in case of partial failure, to take position in the adjoining buildings, and to caU the special squads for help. There was nothing else to do.
The men with the cans tried to pour out the oil in splashes like water out of a bucket, but the narrow openings only squirted derisive little jets. They were obliged to pour it slowly, on the furniture, along the walls. Ch’en looked through the window: opposite, closed shops, narrow windows commanding the exit from the station; above, the rotten curled-up roofs of Chinese houses, and the infinite calm of the gray sky now no longer streaked with smoke, of the intimate low sky on the empty street.
All fighting was absurd, nothing existed in the face of life; he caught himself just in time to see panes and window-frames tumble down, in a crystalline crash mingled with the sound of a volley of gunfire: they were being fired on from outside.
A second volley. They were now-in the room saturated with oil-between the police, who were on the alert and masters of the upper story, and the new assailants whom they could not see. All Ch’en’s men were flat on their bellies, the prisoners bound in one corner. If a grenade exploded they would be consumed in flames. One of the prostrate men grunted, pointing with his finger: a skirmisher on a roof; and to the extreme left of the window, gliding into the field of vision, other irregulars were cautiously advancing, one shoulder held back. They were insurgents, their own men.
The idiots fire before sending out scouts, thought Ch’en. He had the blue flag of the Kuomintang in his pocket. He pulled it out, rushed out into the hall. The moment he was crossing the threshold he received a violent muffled blow in the back, while at the same time a formidable crash seemed to go right through him. He threw back his arms wildly, to get his balance, and found himself on the floor, half stunned. Not a sound; then, a metal object fell, and at the same time loud groans followed the smoke into the hall. He got up again: he was not wounded. He half shut the door opened by the incomprehensible explosion, held out his flag, with his left hand, through the open space. A bullet in. his hand would not have surprised him. But no: there were shouts of joy. The smoke which was slowly pouring through the window prevented him from seeing the insurgents on the left; but those on the right were calling to him.
A second explosion almost knocked him down again.
From the windows of the second story the besieged policemen were throwing hand-grenades. (How could they open the windows without being fired on from the street?) The first, the one that had thrown him down, had exploded in front of the house, and the fragments had flown in through the open doorway and the shattered window, as if it had exploded in the guard-room itself; terrified by the explosion, those of his men who had not been killed had jumped out, inadequately shielded by the smoke. Under the fire of the policemen at the windows, two had fallen in the middle of the street, their knees doubled against their chests, like hunched-up rabbits; another, with his face in a pool of blood, seemed to be bleeding from the nose. The irregulars had recognized their o^ men; but the gesture of those who were calling Ch’en had been a signal to the officers that someone was coming out, and they had thrown their second grenade. It had exploded in the street, to Ch’en’s left: the wall had protected him.
From the hall, he examined the guard-room. The smoke was slowly curling down again from the ceiling. There were bodies on the floor. Moans filed the room. In the corner, one of the prisoners, a leg torn off, was shrieking: “Stop firing!” His panting cries seemed to pierce holes in the smoke which continued its indifferent curve above the suffering, like a visible fatality. That man who was shrieking, with his leg torn off, could not remain with his hands tied behind his back. Yet wouldn’t another grenade explode, at any moment? “It’s none of my business,” thought Ch'en, “he’s an enemy.” But with a hole of flesh at the end of his thigh instead of a leg, with his hands tightly bound, the feeling he experienced was much stronger than pity: he himself was that man bound hand and foot. “If the grenade explodes outside,
I’ll throw myself on the ground; if it rolls here, I’ll have to toss it outside right away. One chance out of twenty of getting away. What in hell am I doing here? What in hell am I doing here?” To be killed-that didn’t matter much. What agonized him was the thought of being wounded in the stomach; yet this fear was less intolerable than the sight of that bound and tortured creature, of human powerlessness in suffering. Unable to do otherwise, he went towards the man, his knife in his hand, to cut his cords. The prisoner thought he was coming to kill him; he wanted to shriek still louder: his voice weakened, became a wheeze. Saturated with horror, Ch'en touched him with his left hand which stuck to the clothes drenched with sticky blood, unable however to take his eyes off the shattered window throughwhich the grenade might fall. At last he felt the cords, slipped the knife underneath, cut them. The man no longer screamed: he had died or fainted. Ch’en, his eyes still fixed on the jagged window, returned to the hall. The change of smell surprised him; as though he had just begun to hear, he realized that the groans of the wounded had become shrieks: in the room, the debris saturated with oil, set on fire by the grenades, was beginning to burn.
No water. Before the insurgents could take the station the wounded (now the prisoners no longer counted: he could only think of his own) would be burned to ashes. Out, out! First of all, think, and thereafter make the fewest possible moves. Although he was trembling, his mind fascinated by the idea of escape was not without lucidity: he had to go to the left, where a covered porch would protect him. He opened the door with his right hand, the left raised in a signal of silence. The enemy above could not see him; the attitude of the insurgents alone could have warned them. He felt the eyes of all his men centered on open door, on his squat figure, blue against the dark background of the hall. He began to sidle to the left, his back brushing the wall, arms crossed, his revolver in his right hand. Advancing step by step, he kept looking at the windows above him: one was protected by an iron plate placed as a screen. In vain the insurgents fired on the windows. The grenades were being thrown over the screen. “When they start throwing again I'll see the grenade and I'll surely see the arm," thought Ch’en, still advancing. “If I see it, I must catch it like a package, and throw it again as far as possible. " He did not cease his crab-like walk. “I won’t be able to throw it far enough: if I’m not protected I'll get a handful of shot in the stomach. ” He was still advancing. The strong b^urn smell, and the sudden absence of support behind him (he did not turn round) told him he was in front of the window of the ground floor. “If I catch the grenade, I’U throw it into the guard-room before it explodes. With the thickness of the wall, by getting beyond the window, I’m saved." What did it matter that the guard-room was not empty, that the very man whose cords he had cut was there- and his own wounded? He did not see the insurgents, not even through the clearings in the smoke, for he could not take his eyes from the screen; but he could still feel the eyes trying to see him: in spite of the firing directed at the windows, which handicapped the officers, he was amazed that they did not understand that something was going on. It suddenly occurred to him that they had only a small supply of grenades and that they looked before throwing them; immediately, as though the idea were born of some shadow, a head appeared under the screen-hidden to the insurgents, but not to him. Franti- caUy, abandoning his tight-rope walker’s posrure, he fired with an instantaneous aim, bounded ahead, reached the porch. A volley went off from the windows, a grenade exploded at the spot he had just left: the officer, whom he had missed when he fired, had hesitated before passing his hand holding the grenade under the screen, fearing a second shot. Ch’en had received a blow in the left arm: nothing but air-pressure from one of the explosions. But the wound he had inflicted on himself with the dagger, before killing Tang Yen Ta, was sensitive and was b!eeding again, though it did not hurt. Making the bandage tighter with a handkerchief, he joined the insurgents by way of the courts.
Those who were directing the attack were assembled in a dark passage.
“You couldn't send scouts, could you!”
The leader of the ch’on, a tall shaved Chinaman, whose sleeves were too short, watched his approaching shadow, slowly raised his eyelids, resigned:
“I had someone telephone,” was all he said. Then added: “Now we’re waiting for an armored truck.” “How are the other sections getting along?”
“We've taken half the stations.”
“That’s pretty good for a start.”
All that distant gunfiring came from their men who were converging towards the North Station.
Ch'en was panting, as though he had just come out of the water into a strong wind. He leaned against the wall, the angle of which protected them all, getting back his wind by degrees, thinking of the prisoner whose ropes he had cut. “I should have left the fellow alone. Why did I go and cut the rope? It couldn't make any difference.” But he knew that he could not have done otherwise, that even now he would not react differently to that man with his leg cut off, helplessly struggling. Because of his wound, he thought of Tang Yen Ta. What a fool he had been all last night, all this morning! Nothing was easier than to kil.
In the station, the debris was still burning, the wounded were still shrieking before the approaching flames; their repeated, constant clamor reverberated in this low passage, rendered extraordinarily near by the remoteness of the detonations, of the sirens, of all the sounds of war lost in the dismal air. A distant metallic rumble became audible, drew nearer, submerged those other sounds: the truck was arriving. It had been converted into an armored truck overnight, very hastily: the plates were inadequately joined. The brakes were applied, the clatter ceased, and the cries could be heard again.
Ch’en, who was the only one to have entered the station, explained the situation to the chief of the rescue squad. He was a former Whampoa cadet; Ch'en would have preferred one of Katov's groups to this squad of young bourgeois. If it was true that he did not succeed in feeling an absolute bond between himself and his men, even before those dead comrades huddled up in the middle of the street, he knew that at aU times he hated the Chinese bourgeoisie; the proletariat was at least the form of his hope.
The officer knew his business. “The truck’s no use,” he said, “it hasn’t even a top. Ail they have to do is throw a grenade inside to blow up the whole business; but I’ve brought some grenades too.” Those of Ch’en’s men who carried them were in the guard-room-dead? — and the second group had not been able to get hold of any.
“Let’s try from above.”
“Agreed,” said Ch’en.
The officer looked at him with irritation: he had not asked for his opinion; but he said nothing. Both of them — he, a soldier, in spite of his civilian clothes, with his bristling hair, his close-trimmed mustache, his blouse gathered under his revolver-belt; and Ch'en, squat and blue-examined the station. To the right of the door the smoke from the flames which were crawling ever closer to the bodies of their wounded comrades issued forth with a mechanical regularity, like their cries, whose constancy would have seemed childish but for their agonizing tone. To the left, nothing. The windows of the second story were veiled in smoke. From time to time an assailant still fired at one of the windows, and bits of wreckage sprinkled down to increase the dusty pile of plaster, splinters, sticks, in which pieces of glass glistened in spite of the dull light. Now the station was firing only when one of the insurgents left his hiding-place.
“How are the other sections doing?” Ch’en asked again.
“Ahnost all the stations have been taken. The main station, by surprise, at one-thirty. We seized eight hundred guns there. We can already send reenforcements against those who resist: you’re the third squad we have helped. They are not getting any more reenforcements; we have already blocked the barracks, the South Station, the arsenal. But we have to get through here: we need all the men we have for the attack. And there still be the armored train.”
The idea of the two hundred groups engaged in the same activity as his own both exalted and disturbed Ch’en. In spite of the gunfiring which the listless ^ind brought from the entire city, violence gave him the sensation of solitary activity.
A man pulied a bicycle from inside the truck, and left.
Ch’en recognized as he was getting on: Ma, one of the principal agitators. He was going to make a report of the situation to the Military Committee. A typographer, who had devoted his whole life, since the age of twelve, to creating Unions of printshop workers everywhere, with the hope of organizing all Chinese typographers; tried, condemned to death, a fugitive, still organizing. Shouts of joy: the men had recognized him at the same moment as Ch’en, and were acclaiming him. He looked at them. The world they were preparing condemned him-Ch’en-as much as did that of their enemies. What would he do in the factory of the future that lay hidden behind their blue blouses?
The officer distributed grenades, and ten men went up along the roofs to take position on the station-roof. They were going to give the police a dose of their own medicine, throw the explosives in through the windows: these commanded the street but not the roof, and only one was protected by a screen. The insurgents advanced from roof to roof, elongated silhouettes against the sky. The station kept up a steady fire. As if the dying alone had divined this approach, their cries suddenly changed, became moans. Now they could hardly be heard; they were the stifled cries of half-mutes. The silhouettes reached the ridge of the steep station-roof, slowly crawled do^; it was harder for Ch’en to make them out now that they no longer stood out against the sky. A guttural shriek, like that of a woman in the agony of childbirth, cut across the groans, which continued like an echo, and then died away.
Despite the general commotion the sudden cessation of cries gave the impression of a sinister silence: had the flames reached the wounded? Ch’en and the officer looked at each other, shut their eyes in order to hear better. Each, upon reopening his eyes, met the silent look of the other.
One of the men, clinging to an ornament of the cornice, raised his free over the street, threw his grenade towards the window of the second story just below him. Too low: it exploded on the sidewalk. He threw a second one: it landed in the room where the wounded were. Yells burst from the window that had been hit; no longer the same cries, but the piercing shrieks of men in the convulsions of death, the outbursts of inexhaustible suffering. The man threw his third grenade and again missed the window.
He was one of the men who had come in the truck. He had deftly thro^ himself back, through fear of the explosion. He was bending over again, his lifted arm holding a fourth grenade. Behind him one of Ch’en’s men was crawling down. The arm was never lowered: he was suddenly swept off the roof, and a moment later a violent explosion resounded on the sidewalk; through the smoke, a splash of blood a yard wide appeared on the' wall. The smoke lifted: the waH was spattered with blood and shreds of flesh. The second insurgent, losing his hold and sliding do^ the roof with his full weight, had knocked the first man off. Both had fallen on their o^ grenades, from which they had pulled the pins.
From the other side of the roof, at the left, men of the two groups-Kuomintang bourgeois and Communist workers-were cautiously approaching. When the faH occurred they had halted: now they were beginning again to crawl down. The February repression had been attended by too many to^rtures to allow the insurrection to fail through lack of resolute men. From the right, other men were approaching. “Make a chain!” Ch’en shouted from below. Insurgents close to the station re- ioo peated the order. The men held one another by the hand, the top one taking a strong hold with his left arm on a solid roof-ornament. The throwing of the grenades was resumed. The besieged could not fire back.
Within five minutes, three grenades entered through two of the windows aimed at; another blew up the iron- plate screen. Only the center one had not been hit. “Now to the center one!” shouted the cadet. Ch’en looked at him. For him commanding was a sport, and he gave himself over to it with a joyous enthusiasm. He scarcely protected himself. He was brave, beyond a doubt, but he was not attached to his men. Ch’en was attached to his, but not enough.
He left the cadet, crossed the street beyond the range of the police fire. He climbed up on the roof. The man who was holding on to the ridge was weakening: Ch’en took his place. Even there, with his wounded arm locked round the cement and plaster ornament, his right hand holding the hand of the first man on the chain, he did not escape his solitude. The weight of three sliding men was suspended from his it passed through his chest like an iron bar. The grenades were bursting inside the station, which had ceased firing. “We are protected by the attic,” he thought to himself, “but not for long. The roof will blow up.” In spite of the intimacy of death, in spite of that fraternal weight which was pulling him apart, he was not one of them. “Is even blood futile?” The cadet, down there, was looking at him without understanding. One of the men who had come up behind Ch’en offered to take his place.
“Al right. I’ll throw the grenades myself.”
He passed him the chain of bodies. In his stretched muscles rose a limitless despair. His hawk-like face with its narrow eyes was tense, absolutely motionless; with stupefaction he felt a tear roll down his nose. “Nervousness,” he thought. He pulled a grenade from his pocket, began to descend by hooking himself to the arms of the men forming the chain. But the chain was suspended from one of the ornaments which capped the roof at either end. From there it was almost impossible to reach the center window. Reaching the edge of the roof, Ch’en let go the arm of the grenade-thrower, clung to his leg, then to the eaves, swung over the edge and down by means of a drain-pipe: though he was too far from the window to reach it, he was near enough to throw. His comrades no longer stirred. Above the ground-floor a projection gave him footing. He was astonished that his wound hurt him so little. With his left hand holding on to one of the clamps which secured the drain-pipe, he gauged the weight of his first grenade: “If it falls in the street, under me, I’m as good as dead.” He hurled it with as much force as his position permitted: it.entered, exploded in the interior.
Below, the shooting began again.
Through the station doorway which had remained open, the policemen, driven from the last room, rushed out in a blind stampede, firing at random. From the roofs, from the porches, from the windows, the insurgents were shooting them down. The bodies fell one after another, numerous near the doorway, then more and more scattered.
The firing ceased. Ch’en climbed down, still clinging to his drain-pipe: he could not see his feet, and landed on a body.
The cadet was entering the station. He followed ^m, pulling from his pocket the grenade which he had not thrown. At each step he became more acutely conscious that the wails of the wounded had ceased. In the guardroom, nothing but corpses. The wounded were charred. On the second story, more dead, a few wounded.
“And now, to the South Station,” said the officer. “Let’s take all the guns: other groups will need them.” The arms were carried to the truck; when they had all beerr collected, the men hoisted themselves up on the machine, stood tightly packed, sat on the hood, cluster J on the running-boards, clung to tht: rear. Those who were unable to ride started off by way of the alley at a rapid pace. The great abandoned splotch of blood on the wall seemed inexplicable in the deserted street; at the corner the truck, bristling with men, with its accompaniment of rattling iron, vanished towards the South Station and the barracks.
It was soon forced to stop: the street was blocked by four dead horses, and three corpses, already disarmed. They were those of the cavalry men Ch’en had seen at the beginning of the day: the first armored car had arrived in time. On the ground, broken window- glass, but nothing living except an old Chinaman with a beard like a paint-brush, who was moaning. He spoke distinctly as soon as Ch'en approached:
“It is a very unjust thing and very sad! Four! Four! Alas!”
“Only three,” said Ch’en.
Ch’en looked again: there were only three corpses- one on its side as though casuaUy thrown there, two an their bellies-between the two rows of houses, dead too, under the heavy sky.
“I’m talking about the horses,” said the old man, with contempt and fear: Ch'en was holding his revolver.
“I was talking of the men. One of the horses belonged to you?”
No doubt they had been requisitioned that morning.
“No. But I used to be a coachman. I know animals. Four killed! And for nothing!”
The driver of the truck stepped up:
“Let’s not waste time,” said Ch’en.
With the help of two men he dragged the horses to one side. The truck went on. At the end of the street Ch’en, seated on one of the running-boards, looked back: the old coachman was still among the corpses, moaning, no doubt, a black figure in the gray street".
Five o’clock in the afternoon
“The South Station has fallen.”
Ferral hung up the receiver. While he was keeping appointments (the International Chamber of Commerce was hostile to all intervention, but he controlled the greatest newspaper in Shanghai) the progress of the insurrection was striking him blow after blow. He had wanted to be alone at the telephone. He came back into his studio, where Martial, who had just arrived, was arguing with Chiang Kai-shek’s envoy: the latter had been unwilling to meet the Chief of Police either at police headquarters or at his home. Even before opening the door, Ferral overheard, in spite of the gun-fire:
“Now what do 1 represent here? — French interests. ”
“But what support can I promise?” answered the Chinaman in a tone of nonchalant insistence. “The Consul-General himself tells me to await de-tails from you.
Because you know our country, and its people, very well.”
The studio telephone rang.
“The Municipal Council has fallen,” said Martial.
And, changing his tone:
“I’m not saying that I don’t have a certain psychological understanding of this country, and of men in general. Psychology and action, that’s my job; and on the basis. ”
“But if persons who are as dangerous to your country as they are to ours, dangerous to the peace of civiliza- ti-on, seek refuge, as they always do, in the concession? The internati-onal police.
“That’s what he’s after,” thought Ferral, who was entering. “He wants to know if Martial, in case of a breaking-off of relations, would allow the Communist leaders to find refuge with us.”
“. have promised us their unqualified goodwill. What will the French police do?”
“We’ll take care of it. But watch out for this: no monkey-business with white women, except Russian ones. I have strict orders about that. But, as I told you: nothing official. Nothing official.”
In the modern studio-on the walls, Picassos of the rose period, and an erotic Fragonard sketch-the two men were standing on either side of a very large Kuan Yin in black stone of the T’ang dynasty, bought on Clappique’s advice and which Gisors believed to be false. The Chinaman, a young colonel with a curved nose, in civilian clothes, buttoned up to the neck, was looking at Martial and smiling, his head bent back.
“I thank you in the name of my party. The Communists are very treacherous-they are betray-ing us, their faithful allies. It was understood that we would collaborate together, and that the soci-al questi-on would be put forward only when China was united. And already they are putting it forward. They do not respect our contract. They do not want to build up China, but the Soviets. The army’s dead did not die for the Soviets, but for China. The Communists are capable of anything. And that is why I must ask you, Monsieur le Directeur, if the French police would have any objecti-on to thinking of the personal safety of the General.”
It was clear that he had asked the same service of the international police.
“Gladly,” answered Martial. “Send the chief of your police to me. Is it still Konig?”
“Still. Tell me, Monsieur le Directeur: have you studied Roman history?”
“At night-school,” thought Ferral.
The. telephone again. Martial took the receiver.
“The bridges have been taken" he said as he put it back. “In a quarter of an hour the insurrection will be occupying the city.”
“My opinion,” the Chinaman went on as if he had not heard, “is that the Roman Empire was destroyed through moral corrupti-on. Don’t you believe that a technical organizati-on of prostituti-on, an occidental organization, like that of the police, would make it possible to get the better of the Hankow chiefs, who are not comparable to those of the Roman Empire?”
“It’s an idea. but I don’t think it’s practical. It requires a good deal of thought. ”
“Europeans never understand anything of China that does not resemble themselves.”
A silence. Ferral was amused. The Chinaman intrigued him: that head thrown back, almost disdainful, and at 106
the same time, that embarrassment. “Hankow flooded by streams of prostitutes. ” he thought. “And he knows the Communists. And the possibility that he may have some knowledge of political economy is not excluded. Astonishing!” While soviets were perhaps being organized in the city, this fellow was dreaming of the artful precepts of the Roman Empire. “Gisors is right, they’re always trying to find tricks.”
Again the telephone:
“The barracks are surrounded” said Martial. “The reenforcements from the government have stopped coming.”
“The North Station?” asked Ferral.
“Not yet taken.”
“Then the government can recall troops from the front?”
“Perhaps, sir,” said the Chinaman; “its troops and tanks are falling back on Nanking. It may send some here. The armored train can still give serious battle.”
“Yes, it will hold its own in the vicinity of the train and the station,” Martial went on. “Everything they have taken is immediately organized; the insurrection surely has Russian or European cadres; the revolutionary employees of each administration guide the insurgents. There is a military committee directing the whole thing. The entire police is disarmed now. The Reds have rallying points, from which the troops are directed against the barracks.”
“The Chinese have a great sense of organization,” said the officer.
“How is Chiang Kai-shek protected?”
“His car is always preceded by that of his personal guard. And we have our secret agents.”
Ferral at last understood the reason for the disdainful angle of the Chinaman’s head, which was beginning to annoy him (at first it had seemed to him that the officer was continually looking over Martial's head at his erotic sketch): a white spot on his right eye obliged the officer to look downward.
“Not enough,” answered Martial. “Have to do something about that. The sooner the better. Now, I have to run along: there's the matter of electing the Executive Committee which will take the government in hand. I may be able to do something there. Also the matter of the election of the prefect, which is not to be overlooked. ”
Ferral and the officer remained alone.
“So, Monsieur,” said the Chinaman, his head back, “from now on we can count on you?”
“Liu Ti Yu is waiting,” he answered.
Chief of the Shanghai Bankers’ Association, honorary president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, linked with all the guild-masters, this man was in a position to act in the Chinese city, which the insurgent sections were no doubt beginning to occupy-to act even more effectively than Ferral in the concessions. The officer bowed and took his leave. Ferral went up to the second story. In one corner of a modern office everywhere adorned with sculptures of the best periods of Chinese an, Liu Ti Yu was waiting. He wore a white linen suit over a collarless sweater that was as white as his bristling hair. His hands seemed glued to the nickeled tubes of his armchair. His face was al mouth and jaw-an energetic old frog.
Ferral did not sit do'wn.
“You are determined to have done with the Communists.” He was not asking, he was affirming. “We too, obviously.” He began to walk back and forth, shoulders thrust forward. “Chiang Kai-shek is ready for the break.” Ferral had never encountered suspicion on the face of a Chinaman. Did this fellow believe him? He handed him a box of cigarettes. This box, since he had decided to give up smoking, was always open on his desk, as if the constant sight of it affirmed the strength of his character, confirming him in his decision.
“We have to help Chiang Kai-shek. For you it’s a matter of life or death. We cannot allow the present situation to continue. Behind the army, in the rural districts, the Communists are beginning to organize the peasant Unions. The first decree of the Unions will be the expropriation of the creditors. (Ferra! did not use the word usurers.) An enormous proportion of your capital is invested in the country, the best part of your bank deposits is guaranteed by land. The peasant soviets. ”
“The Communists won’t dare to form soviets in China.”
“Let's not play on words, Mr. Liu. Whether you call them unions or soviets, the Communist organizations are going to nationalize the land, and declare credits illegal. Those two measures wipe out the essential part of the guarantees on the basis of which you have obtained foreign credits. More than a billion dollars, counting my Japanese and American friends. It’s out of the question to offer a paralyzed commerce as a guarantee for this sum. And without even mentioning our credits, those decrees alone are enough to break every bank in China. Obviously.”
“The Kuomintang won’t allow it.”
“There is no Kuomintang. There are the Blues and the Reds. They have gotten along so far-though badly- because Chiang Kai-shek had no money. Once Shanghai is taken-tomorrow-Chiang Kai-shek can almost pay his army with the customs. Not quite. He counts on us. Everywhere the Communists have preached the seizure of lands. It is said that they are trying to put it off: too late. The peasants have heard their speeches, and they are not members of their party. They’ll do as they please.”
“Nothing can stop the peasants, except force. I have already said so to the Consul-General of Great Britain.”
Recognizing almost the tone of his o^ voice in that of his listener, Ferral had the impression that he was winning him over.
“They have already tried to seize lands. Chiang-Kai- shek is determined not to let them. He has given the order that none of the lands belonging to officers or to relatives of officers must be touched. We must. ”
“We are all relatives of officers.” Liu smiled. “Is there a single piece of land in China whose owner is not the relative of an officer?.
Ferral knew the Chinese family relationships.
Again the telephone.
“The arsenal is surrounded" said Ferral. “All the governmental cantonments have been taken. The revolutionary army will be in Shanghai tomorrow. The matter has to be settled now. Mark my word. As a result of the Communist propaganda, numerous lands have been taken away from their proprietors; Chiang Kai-shek must either accept this fact or give orders to put to death those who have taken them. The Red government of Hankow cannot accept such orders.”
“He will temporize.”
“You know what happened to the stocks of the English companies after the taking of the English concession of Hankow. You know what your situation will be when lands, no matter what they are, have been legally tom from their owners. Chiang Kai-shek knows, and says he is obliged to break now. Wil you help him, yes or no?”
Liu spat, his head sunk into his shoulders. He shut his eyes, opened them again, looked at Ferral with the sly eyes of an old usurer:
“Fifty million dollars.”
He spat again.
“Just from us?”
He shut his eyes once more. Above the splitting noise of the firing, shots from the armored train could be heard at minute intervals.
If Liu’s friends made up their minds to help Chiang, it would still be necessary to fight; if they did not decide, Communism would no doubt triumph in China. “This is one of the moments when the world’s destiny hangs in the balance. ” thought Ferral, with a pride in which there was both exaltation and indifference. His eyes did not leave his interlocutor. The old man, his eyes shut, seemed to be asleep; but on the backs of his hands the blue, corded veins quivered like nerves. “A personal argument might be necessary,” thought Ferral.
“Chiang Kai-shek,” he said, “cannot let his officers be despoiled. And the Communists are determined to assassinate him. He knows it.”
It had been rumored for several days, but Ferral doubted it.
“How much time have we?” asked Liu. And immediately, with one eye shut, the other open, cunning on the right, shamefaced on the left:
“Are you sure he won’t take the money without exe^ cuting his promises?”
“There is also our money, and there is no question of promises. He cannot do otherwise. And mark my word: it’s not because you pay him that he is going to destroy the Communists: it’s because he is going to destroy the Communists that you pay him.”
“I shall call my friends together.”
Ferral knew the Chinese custom, and the influence of the one who speaks.
“What will be your advice?”
“Chiang Kai-shek may be beaten by the people of Hankow. There are two hundred thousand unemployed there.”
“If we don’t help him he surely be beaten.”
“Fifty million. … It is … a great deal. ”
He finally looked straight at Ferral.
“Less than you will be obliged to give a Communist government.”
“The armored train has been cut off,” Ferral went on. “Even if the government wants to recall troops from the front, it is now powerless.”
He held out his hand.
Liu shook it, left the room. From the vast window full of shreds of clouds Ferral watched the car disappear, the roar of the motor drowning out the voUeys for a moment. Even if he were victor, the state of his enterprises would perhaps oblige him to ask for help from the French government which so often refused it, which had just refused it to the Industrial Bank of China; but today he was among those through whom the fate of Shanghai was being decided. All the economic forces, almost all the consulates were playing the same game as he: Liu would pay. The armored train was still firing. Yes, for the first time, there was an organization on the
other side. He would like to know the men who were directing it. To have them shot, too.
The evening of war was vanishing into the night. Below, lights were appearing, and the invisible river was drawing to itself, as always, what little life remained in the city. It came from Hankow, that river. Liu was right, and Ferral knew it: there lay the danger. There the Red army was being formed. There the Communists dominated. Since the revolutionaries, like a snow-plow, had thro^ off the Northerners, all the Left dreamed of that promised land: the home of the Revolution was in the greenish shadow of those foundries, of those arsenals, even before it had taken them; now it possessed them and those wretched marchers who were disappearing out of sight in the slimy mist where the lanterns became more and more numerous were all advancing in the same direction as the river, as if they too had all come from Hankow with their ravaged faces-omens driven towards him by the menacing night.
Eleven o'clock. Since Liu’s departure, before and after dinner, conferences with guild-master, bankers, directors of insurance companies and river transports, importers, heads of spinning mills. Al of them depended in some measure upon the Ferral group or upon one of the foreign groups that had linked their policy to that of the Franco-Asiatic Consortium: Ferral was not counting on Liu alone. Shanghai, the living heart of China, pulsated with the passage of everything that made it live; from the remotest countrysides-most of the farm-lands depended upon the banks-blood-vessels flowed like the canals towards the capital where the destiny of China was being decided. The firing continued. Nothing to do now but wait.
In the next room Valerie was lying in bed. Although she had been his mistress for a week, he had made no pretense of loving her: she would have smiled with an insolent knowing air. Nor had she revealed herself to him-perhaps for the same reason. The difficulties which beset his present life drove him into eroticism, not into love. He realized he was no longer young, and tried to convince himself that his legend made up for it. He was Ferral, and he knew women. So well, in fact, that he did not believe a word of what he told himself. He remembered Valerie saying, one day when he had spoken to her of one of his friends, an intelligent invalid, some of whose mistresses had aroused his envy: “There is nothing more appealing in a man than a combination of strength and weakness.” No one can be adequately explained by his life, he firmly believed, and he remembered these words better than all the things she had confided to him about hers.
This wealthy woman, who ran a large dressmaking establishment, was not mercenary (not yet at least). She claimed that many women achieved their sexual excitement by appearing naked before a man of their choice, and that this was fully effective only once. Was she thinking of herself? Yet it was the third time she went to bed with him. He sensed in her a pride akin to his own. “Men have travels, women have lovers,” she had said the day before. Did he please her, as he did so many women, by the contrast between his hardness and his attentiveness to her? He was not unaware that in this game he was involving what was most essential to him in life-his pride. This was not without danger with a partner who could say: “No man can speak of women, dear, because no man understands that every new makeup, every new dress, every new lover brings forth a new soul. ’’-with the appropriate smile.
He entered the room. She smiled at him from the bed, her waved hair falling in a thick mass over the round on which her head rested.
Smiles gave her that animation, both intense and abandoned, which pleasure gives. Valerie’s relaxed expression was softly melancholy, and Ferral recalled that the first time he had seen her he had said she had a blurred face-a face which matched the softness of her gray eyes. But whenever coquetry came into play the smile which half opened her curved mouth, at the corners more than at the center, harmonizing in an unexpected way with her waved masses of short hair and her eyes which at such moments grew less tender, gave her in spite of the fine regularity of her features a puzzling expression, like that of a cat wanting to be petted. Ferral was fond of animals, like all those whose pride is too great to adjust itself to men; cats especially.
He took her in his arms. She offered her mouth. Through sensuality or through horror of sentimentality he wondered, while he was undressing in the bathroom. The light-bulb was broken, and the toilet articles looked reddish, lighted by the conflagrations. He looked out through the window: in the avenue, a crowd in motion, like millions of fish under the quivering surface of a black sea; it seemed to him suddenly that the soul of this mob had left it, like the mind of a sleeper in a dream, and that it was burning with a joyous energy in those harsh flames that lighted up the outlines of the buildings.
When he came back she was dreaming and no longer smiled. Although he was used to this change of expression it gave him once again the sensation of emerging from a spell of madness. Did he want merely to be loved by the smiling woman from whom this unsmiling woman separated him like a stranger? The armored train was firing at minute intervals, as for a tri^ph: it was still in the hands of the gove^rnmental forces, as were the barracks, the arsenal and the Russian church.
“Have you seen M. de Clappique again, dear?” she asked.
The whole French colony of Shanghai knew Clappique. Valerie had met him at a dinner two days before; his whimsicality delighted her.
“Yes. I commissioned him to buy me some of Kama’s wash-drawings.”
“Can you get them at antique-dealers?”
“Not a chance. But Kama is just ret^rcing from Europe; he’ll pass through here in a fortnight. Clappique was tired, he only told two good stories: one about a Chinese burglar who was acquitted because he had wriggled through a lyre-shaped hole into the pawn-shop he was robbing; and this one: Eminent-Virtue had been raising rabbits for twenty years. His house stood on one side of the internal revenues office, his hutches on the other. On one occasion the customs-inspectors forgot to tell the other shift about his daily trip. He arrives, his basket full of grass under his ^m. ‘Hey, there! Show your basket.’ Under the grass there were watches, chains, flashlights, cameras. ‘Is that what you feed your rabbits?’ ‘Yes, Sir. And (assuming a menacing attitude toward the rabbits) and if they don’t like it, they won’t get anything else to eat today. ’ ”
“Oh!” she said, “it’s a scientific story; now I understand. The bell-rabbits, the drum-rabbits, you know, all those charming little creatures who fare so well in the moon and places like that, and so badly in children’s rooms, that’s where they come from. The sad story of Eminent-Virtue is another heart-rending injustice. And the revolutionary papers are going to make a great protest, I imagine: for you may be sure that the rabbits ate those things.”
“Have you read Alice in Wonderland, darling?”
He despised women-though he could not do without them-sufficiently to call them darling.
“What a question! I know it by heart.”
“Your smile makes me think of the ghost of the cat which never materialized. All one could see was a ravishing cat-smile floating in the air. Oh! why does a woman’s intelligence always insist on choosing some other field than its own?”
“Which is its own, dear?”
“Charm and understanding, obviously.”
“What men mean by that is a submissive mind. You recognize in a woman only the kind of intelligence which gives you its approval. It's so-so restful. ” “To give herself, for a woman, to possess, for a man, are the only two means that human beings have of understanding anything whatsoever. ”
“Hasn’t it occurred to you, dear, that women never give themselves (or hardly ever) and that men possess nothing? It’s a game: ‘I think I possess her, therefore she thinks she is possessed. ’ Yes? Really? Listen, I’m going to say something very wicked-but don’t you think it’s the story al over again of the cork which considered itself so much more important than the bottle?”
Moral license in a woman excited Ferral, but intellectual license only irritated him. He felt an urgent need to arouse the only feeling which gave him a certain power over a woman: Christian shame, together with gratitude for the shame endured. If she did not guess this, she guessed that he was slipping away from her, and as she was responsive, after all, to the physical desire which she could see growing, amused at the idea that she could catch him and bring him back at will, she looked at him with her mouth half-open (since he liked her smile.), expressing with her eyes the offer of herself, assured that he, like almost all men, would take her desire to seduce him for a surrender.
He joined her in bed. Caresses gave Valerie a sealed expression which he was eager to see transformed. He summoned her other expression with too much passion not to hope that the pleasure of the senses would imprint it upon Valerie’s face. He believed that he was thus destroying a mask, and that what was deepest, most secret in her was necessarily what he preferred. He had never had intercourse with her except in the dark. But hardly had he gently drawn her legs apart with his hand, than she turned out the light. He turned it on again.
He had fumbled for the switch, and she thought the light had gone on by accident; she turned it off again. He immediately turned it on once more. Highly strung, she felt herself on the verge both of laughter and anger; but she met his look. He had pushed the switch out of reach, and she realized that he expected his chief pleasure from the sensual transformation of her features. She knew that she was really dominated by her sexual feelings only at the beginning of an affair, or when she was taken by surprise: when she felt she could not find the switch, a familiar warmth seized her, mounted along her body to the tips of her breasts, to her lips, which she guessed by Ferral’s look were imperceptibly swelling. She gave herself up to this warmth and, pressing him against her with her thighs and her arms, plunged with long pulsations far from a shore upon which she knew she would presently be thrown back, but bringing with her the resolve not to forgive him.
Valerie was sleeping. Her regular breathing and the relaxation of sleep gently swelled her lips, and the wanton expression which pleasure gave to her features lingered like an afterglow. “A human being,” thought Fer- ra! “an individual life, unique, isolated, like mine. ” He imagined himself as her, inhabiting her body, feeling in her place that enjoyment which he could experience only as a humiliation; he imagined himself-himself- humiliated by this passive voluptuousness, by this woman’s sex. “It’s idiotic: she feels herself in terms of her sex as I do in terms of mine, neither more nor less. She feels herself as a knot of desires, sadness, pride, as a destiny. Obviously.” But not at this moment: sleep and her lips gave her over to a perfect sensuality, as though she had agreed to be no longer a free and living being, but only the expression of gratitude for a physical conquest. The great silence of the Chinese night, with its smell of camphor and leaves, it too asleep far out into the Pacific, covered her over, beyond the realm of time: not a ship called; not a gun fired. She did not trail with her in her sleep memories and hopes which he would never possess: she was nothing but the other pole of his own pleasure. Never had she lived: never had she been a little girl.
The cannon, once more: the ^armored train was again beginning to fire.
The next day, four o’clock in the afternoon
From a clock-maker’s shop which had been transformed into a post, Kyo observed the ^armored train.
Two hundred yards ahead of it and behind it the revolutionaries had blown up the rails, torn up the level crossing. Of the train which barred the street, motionless, dead, Kyo could see only two carriages, the one closed like a cattle-wagon, the other seemingly flattened out beneath its turret, from which a small-caliber gun projected. No men: neither the besieged hidden behind their blocked loop-holes nor the assailants, distributed in the houses overlooking the tracks. Behind Kyo, in the direction of the Russian church and the Commercial Printing House, the volleys did not let up. The soldiers who were ready to give up their arms were out of the fight; the rest would die. All the insurgent sections were now armed; the governmental troops, their front smashed, were fleeing in the rain-drenched wind towards Nanking by the sabotaged trains and the roads pitted with mud-holes. The army of the Kuomintang would reach Shanghai in a few hours: couriers were arriving every moment.
Ch’en entered, still dressed as a worker, sat down beside Kyo, looked at the train. His men were on guard behind a barricade, a hundred yards from there, but were not to attack.
The cannon on the train, at a right angle to where they were, moved. Like very low clouds, wisps of smoke from an extinguished fire trailed before it.
“I don’t think they have much ammunition left,” said Ch’en.
The cannon was emerging from the turret like a telescope from an observatory, and was moving cautiously; in spite of the steel-plates the hesitancy of its motion made it appear fragile.
“As soon as our own cannons are there., said Kyo.
The one they were watching came to position, fired In response a volley beat a tattoo against the steel-plates. A clear spot appeared in the gray and white sky, just above the train. A courier brought Kyo some documents.
“We are not in the majority on the committee,” said the latter.
The assembly of delegates secretly united by the Kuomintang party, before the insurrection, had elected a central committee of twenty-six members, of whom fifteen were Communists; but this committee in its turn had just elected the Executive Committee which was going to organize the municipal gove^rnment. There lay the power; there, the Communists were no longer in the majority.
A second courier, in uniform, entered, stopped in the doorway.
“The arsenal has been taken.”
“The tanks?” asked Kyo.
“Off for Nanking.”
“Do you come from the army?”
He was a soldier of the First Division, the one which contained the greatest number of Communists. Kyo questioned him. The man was bitter: they were wondering what the International was good for. Everything was given to the bourgeoisie of the Kuomintang; the families of the soldiers, almost all peasants, were forced to make heavy contributions to the war fund, whereas the bourgeoisie was only moderately taxed. If they wanted to seize the lands, superior orders forbade it. The taking of Shanghai would change all that, the Communist soldiers believed; he, the messenger, wasn’t so sure. With his one-sided information he produced bad arguments, but it was easy to draw better ones from it. The Red Guard, Kyo told him, workers’ militias, would be created in Shanghai; there were more than two hundred thousand unemployed in Hankow. Every minute or two they both stopped, listened.
“Hankow,” said the man, “I know. There is Hankow. ”
Their deadened voices seemed to stick close to them, held back by the quivering air which seemed also to be awaiting the cannon. Both thought of Hankow, “the most industrialized city in all China.” There a new Red army was being organized; at this very hour the workers’ sections there were learning to handle the guns.
Legs apart, fists on his knees, mouth open, Ch’en watched the couriers and said nothing.
“Everything is going to depend on the Shanghai Prefect,” answered Kyo. “If he’s one of us, the majority doesn’t matter much. If he is on the Right. ”
Ch’en looked at the ^me. In this clock-maker’s shop at least thirty clocks, wound up or run down, pointed to different hours. A tattoo of voUeys gathered into an avalanche. Ch’en hesitated to look outside; he could not detach his eyes from that universe of clock-movements, impassive in the midst of the Revolution. The bustle of the couriers who were leaving aroused him: he decided at last to look at his own watch.
“Four o’clock. We can find out. ”
He operated the long-distance telephone, put back the receiver in a fury, turned to Kyo:
“The Prefect is of the Right.”
“First extend the Revolution, and then deepen it. answered Kyo, more as a question than as an answer. “The line of the International seems to be to leave the power here to the bourgeoisie. Provisionally. … We shall be robbed. I have seen couriers from the front: all workers’ movements are prohibited behind the lines.
Chiang Kai-shek has had strikers fired on-after taking a few precautions. ”
A ray of sunlight entered. The blue patch of sky grew larger. The street filled with sun. In spite of the volleys, the armored train seemed deserted in this light. It fired again. Kyo and Ch’en observed it less attentively now: perhaps the enemy was nearer to them. Greatly worried, Kyo was looking vaguely at the sidewalk, which was sparkling under the provisional sunlight. A great shadow fell upon it. He raised his head: Katov.
“Before a fortnight,” he went on, “the Kuomintang wil prohibit our assault sections. I have just seen some Blue officers, sent from the front to feel us out; they slyly insinuate that the firearms would be better off with them than with us. They want to disarm the workers’ guard: they wiU have the police, the Committee, the Prefect, the army and the ^arms. And we shall have made the insurrection for that. We must leave the Kuomintang, isolate the Communist Parry, and if possible give it the power. In this whole matter it’s not a question of playing chess, but of thinking seriously of the proletariat. What do we advise them to do?”
Ch’en was looking athis well-shaped dirty feet, naked in his clogs:
“The workers are right to strike. We order them to stop the strike. The peasants want to take the lands. They are right. We forbid them to.”
“Our slogans are those of the Blues,” said Kyo, “with a few more promises. But the Blues give the bourgeois what they promise them, whereas we do not give the workers what we promise them.”
“Enough,” said Ch’en without even raising his eyes. “First of all, Chiang Kai-shek must be killed.”
Katov listened in silence.
“That’s in the fut’re," he said finally. “At present they’re killing our comrades. Yes. And yet, Kyo, I’m not sure I agree with you, you know. At the b’ginning of the Rev’lution, when I was still a socialist-rev’lutionary, we were all against Lenin’s tactics in Ukraine. Antonov, the comm’ssar down there, had arrested the mine-owners and had given them ten years of hard labor for sab’tage. Without trial. On his own authority as Comm’ssar of the Cheka Lenin congrat’lated him; we all pr’tested. They were real exploiters, y’know, the owners, and several of us had gone into the mines as convicts; that’s why we thought we should be p’rticularly fair with them, to give the example. However, if we had let them go, the prol’tariat would not have understood. Lenin was right. Justice was on our side, but Lenin was right. And we were also against the extr’ordinary powers of the Cheka. We’ve got to think carefully. The present slogan is good: extend the Rev’lution, and afterwards deepen it. Lenin didn’t say right away: ‘The whole power to the Soviets.’ "
“But he never said: Power to the mensheviks. No situation can force us to surrender our arms to the Blues. None. Because then that means that the Revolution is lost, and we have only to. "
An officer of the Kuomintang entered, small, stif, almost Japanese. Bows.
“The army will be here in half an hour," he said. “We’re short of arms. How many can you let us have?"
Ch’en was walking back and forth. Katov was waiting.
“The-workers’ militias must remain armed," said Kyo.
“My request is made in agreement with the Hankow gove^rnment," the officer answered.
Kyo and Ch’en smiled.
“I beg you to find out for yourselves,” he went on.
Kyo worked the telephone.
“Even if the order. ” Ch’en began, in a rage.
“I’ve got them,” Kyo exclaimed.
He was listening. Katov seized the second receiver. They hung up.
“Very weU,” said Kyo. “But the men are still on the firing-line.”
“The artiUery will be here shortly,” said the officer. “We’ll clean up these things. ”
He pointed to the armored train, grounded in the sunlight.
“. ourselves. Can you hand over arms to the troops tomorrow evening? We need them urgently. We are continuing to march on Nanking.”
“I doubt if it will be possible to recover more than half the arms.”
“.Al the Communists won’t be willing to give them up.”
“Even on orders from Hankow?”
“Even on orders from Moscow. At least, not immediately.”
They felt the officer’s exasperation, although he did not show it.
“See what you can do,” he said. “I shall send someone about seven.”
He went out.
“Are you willing that we should give up the arms?” Kyo asked Katov.
“I'm trying to understand. Before anything else, we must go to Hankow, you see. What does the Int’mational want? First of all, use the army of the Kuomintang to
unify China. After that d’velop the Rev’lution by prop’-' ganda and the rest. It must change of its own accord from a dem’cratic Rev’lution into a socialist Rev’lution.” “Chiang Kai-shek must be killed,” said Ch’en.
“Chiang Kai-shek will no longer allow us to go as far as that,” answered Kyo, ignoring Ch’en’s remark. “He cannot. He can maintain himself here only by drawing on the customs and the contributions of the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie won’t pay for nothing: he will have to pay them back with the corpses of Communists.” “Al that,” said Ch’en, “means nothing.”
“Leave us alone,” said Katov. “You don’t think you’re going to try to Chiang Kai-shek without the consent of the Central Committee, or at least the delegate of the Int’rnational?”
A distant rumble gradually filled the silence.
“You’re going to Hankow?” Ch’en asked Kyo. “Naturally.”
Ch’en was pacing back and forth in the room, beneath all the pendulums and balance-wheels of the various timepieces which went on ticking their measure.
“What I have said is very simple,” he said at last. “The essential. The only thing to do. Let them know.” “Will you wait?”
Kyo knew that if Ch'en hesitated instead of answering, it was not because Katov had convinced ^m. It was because none of the present orders of the International satisfied the profound passion which had made him a revolutionary; if he accepted them, through discipline, he would no longer be able to act. Kyo watched that hostile figure beneath the clocks: he had made the sacrifice of himself and of others to the Revolution, and now the Revolution would perhaps throw him back into
his solitude with his memories of assassinations. At once with him and against him, Kyo could no longer either join him nor break with him. Beneath the brotherhood of arms, at the very moment when he was looking at that armored train which they would perhaps attack together, he felt the possibility of a break as he would have felt the threat of an attack in a friend who was epileptic or insane, at the moment of his greatest lucidity.
Ch’en had resumed his pacing; he shook his head as in protest, said finaliy: “Good,” shrugging his shoulders as though he were saying this to gratify a childish whim of Kyo’s.
The rumble became audible again, louder, but so confused that they had to strain their ears in order to ' make out what it was. It seemed to rise from the eanh.
“No,” said Kyo, “they are shouts.”
They drew nearer, and became more distinct.
“Could they be taking the Russian church?. asked Katov.
Many govemmentals were entrenched there. But the cries were approaching, seeming to come from the outskirts towards the center. Louder and louder. Impossible to make out any words. Katov threw a glance towards the armored train.
“Could they be getting reenforcements?”
The shouts, still indistinguishable, were coming closer and closer, as though some capital news were being passed on from crowd to crowd. Vying with them, another sound was making itself heard, and finally became distinct: the rhythmic beating of footsteps on the ground.
“The army,” said Katov. “They’re our men.”
Without a doubt. The shouts were acclamations. Difficult still to distinguish from yells of fear; Kyo had heard similar shouts from a mob fleeing before a flood. The hammering of footsteps changed into a ripple, then continued: the soldiers had stopped and were starting off in another direction.
“They’ve been told that the armored train is here,” said Kyo.
Those in the train no doubt did not hear the shouts so well as they, but they could not help hearing the beating of the footsteps, transmitted by the resonance of the steel-plates.
A tremendous uproar took all three of them by surprise: with every piece, every machine-gun, every rifle, the train was firing. Katov had been in one of the Siberian armored trains; his imagination, getting the better of made him participate in the last moments of this one. The officers had given the command to fire at wil. What could they do in their turrets, a telephone in one hand, a revolver in the other? Each soldier guessed no doubt what that hammering of footsteps meant. Were they preparing to die together, or to throw themselves upon one another, in that enormous submarine which would never rise again?
The train was working itself into a frenzy. Stil firing. from every gun, shaken by its very panic, it seemed to want to tear itself from its rails, as if the desperate rage of the men it sheltered had passed into the imprisoned armor, which was also struggling. What fascinated Katov in this unbridled outburst was not the mortal intoxication into which the men of the train were sinking; it was the quivering of the rails which resisted all those roars: he made a forward movement with his arm, to prove to himself that he was not paralyzed. Thirty seconds, and the uproar ceased. Above the dull reverberation of the footsteps and the tictac of all the clocks in the shop, a rumble of heavy iron became dominant: the artillery of the revolutionary army.
Behind each steel-plate a man on the train heard that noise as the voice of death itself.
- 1. Malraux Andre Man's Fate
- 2. Principal Characters
- 3. Man's Fate
- 4. Part One. March 21, 1927
- 5. Part Two
- 6. Part Three. March 27
- 7. Part Four. April 11
- 8. Part Five
- 9. Part Six
- 10. Part Seven