Part One. March 21, 1927
SHOULD he try to raise the mosquito-netting? Or should he strike through it? Ch’en was torn by anguish: he was sure of himself, yet at the moment he could feel nothing but bewilderment-his eyes riveted to the mass of white gauze that hung from the ceiling over a body less visible than a shadow, and from which emerged only that foot half-turned in sleep, yet living-human flesh.
The only light came from the neighboring building- a great rectangle of wan electric light cut by window- bars, one of which streaked the bed just below the foot as if to stress its solidity and life.
Four or five klaxons screamed at once. Was he discovered?
Oh, what a relief to fight, to fight enemies who defend themselves, enemies who are awake!
The wave of uproar subsided: some traffic jam (there were still traffic jams out there in the world of men-). He found himself again facing the great soft smudge of gauze and the rectangle of light, both motionless in this night in which time no longer existed.
He repeated to himself that this man must die- stupidly, for he knew that he would kill him. Whether he was caught or not, executed or not, did not matter. Nothing existed but this foot, this man whom he must strike without letting him defend himself-for if he defended himself, he would cry out.
Ch’en was becoming aware, with a revulsion verging on nausea, that he stood here, not as a fighter, but as a sacrificial priest. He was serving the gods of his choice; but beneath his sacrifice to the Revolution lay a world of depths beside which this night of crushing anguish was bright as day. “To assassinate is not only to kill, alas..” In his pockets, his fumbling right hand clutched a folded razor, his left a short dagger. He thrust them as deeply as possible, as though the night did not suffice to hide his actions. The razor was surer, but Ch’en felt that he could never use it; the dagger disgusted him less. He let go the razor, the back of which pressed against his clenched fingers; the dagger was naked in his pocket. As he passed it over to his right hand, his left hand dropped against the wool of his sweater and remained glued to it. He raised his right arm slightly, petrified by the continued silence that surrounded him, as though he expected some unseen thing to topple over. But no-nothing happened: it was still up to him to act.
That foot lived like a sleeping animal. Was it attached to a body? I going mad?” He had to see that body- see it, see that head. In order to do that-enter the area of light, let his squat shadow fall upon the bed.
What was the resistance of flesh? Convulsively, Ch’en pressed the point of the dagger into his left arm. The pain (he was no longer aware that it was his own arm), the certainty of torture if the sleeper were to awaken, released him for an instant: torture was better than this atmosphere of madness. He drew close. Yes, this was the man he had seen, two hours before, in broad daylight. The foot, which nearly touched Ch’en’s trousers, suddenly turn,ed like a key, then turned back to its position in the silent night. Perhaps the sleeper felt his presence, but not enough to wake up. Ch’en shuddered: an insect was running over his skin! No! — blood trickling down his arm. And still that seasick feeling.
One single motion, and the man would be dead. To kill him was nothing: touching him was the impossible. And it was imperative to stab with precision.
The sleeper, lying on his back in the European-style bed, was wearing only a pair of short drawers, but his ribs were not visible under the full flesh. Ch’en had to take the nipples as gauging points. He tried holding the dagger with the blade up. But the left breast was the one away from him: he would have to strike at arm’s length through the mosquito-netting. He changed the position of the dagger: blade down. To touch this motionless body was as difficult as to stab a corpse, perhaps for the same reason. As if called forth by this notion of a corpse, a grating sound suddenly issued from the man’s throat. Ch'en could no longer even draw back, for his legs and arms had gone completely limp. But the rattle became regular: the man was not dying, he was snoring. He again became living, vulnerable; and at the same time, Ch’en felt himself ridiculed. The body turned gently towards the right. Was he going to wake up now? With a blow that would have split a plank Ch’en struck through the gauze. Sensitive to the very tip of the blade, he felt the body rebound towards him, flung up by the springs of the bed. He stiffened his furiously to hold it down: like severed halves drawn to each other, the legs sprang together towards the chest; then they jerked out, straight and stiff. Ch’en should have struck again-but how was he to withdraw the dagger? The body, still on its side, was unstable, and instead of being reassured by the convulsion which had just shaken it, Ch’en had the impression of pinning it down to the bed with this short blade on which his whole weight rested.
Through the great gash in the mosquito-netting, he could see very clearly; the eyelids open-had he been able to wake up? — the eyeballs white. Around the dagger the blood was beginning to flow, black in that deceptive light. In its balanced weight the body still held life. Ch’en could not let go the handle. A current of unbearable anguish passed between the corpse and himself, through the dagger, his stiffened arm, his aching shoulder, to the very depth of his chest, to his convulsive hean-the only moving thing in the room. He was utterly motionless; the blood that continued to flow from his left arm seemed to be that of the man on the bed. Although outwardly nothing had happened, he was suddenly certain that this man was dead. Scarcely breathing, he held the corpse down-as firmly as ever-on its side-held it thus in the dim motionless light, in the solitude of the room.
Nothing bore witness to the struggle-not even the tear in the gauze, which seemed to have been divided into two strips-nothing but the silence and the overpowering intoxication into which he was sinking. Cut off from the world of the living, he clung to his dagger. His grip became increasingly tighter, but his arm-muscles relaxed and his entire arm began to tremble. It was not fear-it was a dread at once horrible and solemn, which he had not experienced since childhood: he was alone with death, alone in a place without men, limply crushed by horror and by the taste of blood.
He managed to open his hand. The body sagged gently, face down, pressing the handle sideways. A dark blot began to spread on the sheet, grew like a living thing. And beside it, growing too, appeared the shadow of two pointed ears.
The door was at a distance, the. balcony was nearer; but it was from the balcony that the shadow loomed.
Although Ch’en did not believe in spirits, he was paralyzed, unable to turn round. He jumped: mewing! Half relieved, he dared to look: it was an alley-cat. Its eyes riveted on him, it stalked through the window on noiseless paws. As the shadow advanced, an uncontrollable rage shook Ch’en-not against the creature itself, but against its presence. Nothing living must venture into the wild region where he was thrown: whatever Y,d seen him hold this dagger prevented him from returning to the world of men. He opened the razor, took a step forward: the creature fled by way of the balcony. Ch’en pursued it. … He found himself suddenly facing Shanghai.
In his anguish the night seemed to whirl like an enormous smoke-cloud shot with sparks; slowly it settled into immobility, as his breathing grew less violent in the cooler outside air. Between the tattered clouds, the stars resumed their endless course. A siren moaned, and then became lost in the poignant serenity. Below, far down, the midnight lights, reflected through a yellow mist by the wet macadam, by the pale streaks of rails, shimmered with the life of men who do not kill. Those were millions of lives, and all now rejected his; but what was their wretched condemnation beside death, which was withdrawing from him, which seemed to flow away from his body in long draughts, like the other’s blood? All that expanse of darkness, now motionless, now quivering with sparks, was life, like the river, like the invisible sea in the distance-the sea.
Breathing at last to the very depth of his lungs, he seemed to be returning to that life with infinite gratitude — ready to weep, as much upset as he had been a few moments before. “Imust get away. ” He remained, watching the stir of the cars, of the passers-by running beneath him in the lighted street, as a blind man who has recovered his sight looks, as a starved man eats. Avidly, with an unquenchable thirst for life, he would have liked to touch those bodies. A siren filled the whole horizon, beyond the river: the relief of the night workers, at the arsenal. Stupid workers, coming to manufacture the firearms destined to kill those who were fighting for them! Would this illuminated city remain possessed like a field of battle, its millions hired for death, like a herd of cattle, to the war-lords and to Western commerce? His act of murder was equal to incalculable hours of work in the arsenals of China. The insurrection which would give Shanghai over to the revolutionary troops was imminent. Yet the insurrectionists did not possess two hundred guns. Their first act was to be the disarming of the police for the purpose of arming their own troops. But if they obtained the guns (almost three hundred) which this go- between, the dead man, had negotiated to sell to the government, they doubled their chances of success. In the last ten minutes, however, Ch’en had not even given it a thought.
And he had not yet taken the paper for which he had killed this man. He went back into the room, as he would have returned to a prison. The clothes were hanging at the foot of the bed, under the mosquito-netting. He searched the pockets. A handkerchief, cigarettes. No wallet. The room remained the same: the mosquito- net, the blank walls, the clear rectangle of light; murder changes nothing. He slipped his hand under the pillow, shutting his eyes. He felt the wallet, very small, like a purse. In shame or horror-for the light weight of the head through the pillow was even more disturbing- he opened his eyes: no blood on the bolster, and the man did not look atail dead. Would he have to kill again then? But already his glance, encountering the white eyes, the blood on the sheets, reassured him. To ransack the wallet he withdrew towards the light, which came from a restaurant filled with gamblers. He found the document, kept the wallet, crossed the room almost on the run, locked the door with a double tum, put the key in his pocket. At the end of the hotel corridor-he made an effort to slow his pace-no lift. Should he ring? He walked down. On the floor below, that of the dance- hall, the bar and the billiard-room, ten or more persons were waiting for the lift which was just stopping. He followed them in. “The dancing-girl in red is damned good-looking!” said the man next to in English, a slightly drunk Burman or Siamese. Ch’en had the simultaneous impulse to hit him in the face to make him stop, and to hug him because he was alive. Instead of answering he mumbled incoherently; the other tapped him on the shoulder with a knowing air. “He thinks I’m drunk too. But the man started to open his mouth again. “I don’t know any foreign languages,” said Ch’en in Pekingese. The other kept silent and, intrigued, looked at this young man who had no collar, but who was wearing a sweater of fine wool. Ch’en was facing the mirror in the lift. The murder left no trace upon his face. His features-more Mongolian than Chinese, sharp cheekbones, a very flat nose but with a slight ridge, like a beak-had not changed, expressed nothing but fatigue; even to his solid shoulders, his thick good-natured lips, on which nothing unusual seemed to weigh; only his arm, sticky when he bent it, and hot. The lift stopped. He went out with the group.
He bought a bottle of mineral water, and called a taxi, a closed car, in which he bathed his arm and bandaged
it with a handkerchief. The deserted rails and the puddles from the afternoon showers shone feebly. They reflected the glowing sky. Without knowing why, Ch’en looked up: how much nearer the sky had been a while back, when he had discovered the stars! He was getting farther away from it as his anguish subsided, as he returned to the world of men. At the end of the street the machine-gun cars, almost as gray as the puddles, the bright streaks of bayonets carried by silent shadows: the post, the boundary of the French concession; the taxi went no farther. Ch’en showed his false passport identifying him as an electrician employed on the concession. The inspector looked at the paper casually (“What I have just done obviously doesn’t show”) and let him pass. Before him, at a right angle, the Avenue of the Two Republics, the limit of the Chinese city.
Isolation and silence. From here the rumbling waves carrying all the noises of the greatest city of China sounded infinitely remote, like sounds issuing from the bottom of a well-all the turmoil of war, and the last nervous agitations of a multitude that will not sleep. But it was far in the distance that men lived; here nothing remained of the world but night, to which Ch’en instinctively attuned himself as to a sudden friendship: this nocturnal, anxious world was not opposed to murder. A world from which men had disappeared, a world without end; would daylight ever return upon those crumbling tiles, upon all those narrow streets at the end of which a lantern lighted a windowless wall, a nest of telegraph wires? There was a world of murder, and it held him with a kind of warmth. No life, no presence, no nearby sound, not even the cry of the petty merchants, not even the stray dogs.
At last, a squalid shop: Lu Yu Hman H^^elrich,
Phonographs. Now to return among men.. He waited a few minutes without freeing himself entirely, knocked finally at a shutter. The door opened almost immediately: a shop full of records arranged with care, having vaguely the look of a poor library; the room back of the shop, large, bare, and four comrades in shirtsleeves.
The shutting of the door caused the lamp to swing back and forth: the faces disappeared, reappeared: to the left, quite round, Lu Yu Hsiian; Hemmelrich, who looked like a boxer gone to seed, with his shaved head, broken nose, and protruding shoulders. In back, in the shadow, Katov. To the right, Kyo Gisors; in passing over his head the lamp accentuated the drooping comers of his mouth; as it swung away it displaced the shadows and his half-breed face appeared almost European. The oscillations of the lamp became shorter and shorter: Kyo’s two faces reappeared by turns, less and less different from each other.
Gripped to their very stomachs by the need to question him, all looked at Ch’en with an idiotic intensity, but said nothing; he looked at the flagstones sprinkled with sunflower seeds. He could give these men the information they wanted, but he could never convey to them what he felt. The resistance of the body to the knife obsessed him-so much greater than that of his arm: but for the unexpected rebound, the weapon would not have penetrated it deeply. “I should never have thought it was so hard….’ ’
“It’s done/’ he said.
In the room, before the body, once the spell of unconsciousness was over, he had not doubted: he had felt death.
He handed over the order for the delivery of the firearms. Its text was lengthy. Kyo was reading it:
“Yes, but …”
They were all waiting. Kyo was neither impatient nor irritated; he had not moved; his face was scarcely contracted. But all felt that he was dumbfounded by what he had just discovered. He spoke at last:
“The arms are not paid for. Payment on delivery.” Ch’en felt anger fall upon him, as if he had allowed himself stupidly to be robbed. He had assured himself that the paper was the one he wanted, but had not had time to read it. For that matter, he could have done nothing about it. He drew the wallet from his pocket, gave it to Kyo: photos, receipts; no other items.
“We can manage it with men of the combat-sections, I guess,” said Kyo.
“Provided we can climb aboard,” answered Katov, “it’ll be all right.”
Silence. Their presence tore Ch’en from his terrible solitude, gently, like a plant that one pulls from the earth to which its finest roots still hold it fast. And at the same time that he was getting nearer to them, little by little, it seemed as if he were discovering them-like his sister the first time he had come back from a brothel. There was the tension of gambling-halls at the end of the night.
“Did everything go all right?” asked Katov, at last putting down the record that he had been holding all this ^me and advancing into the light.
Without answering, Ch’en looked at the kindly face which suggested a Russian Pierrot-little mischievous eyes and an upturned nose which even this light could not make dramatic; yet he knew what death was. He got up; he went to.look at the cricket asleep in its tiny cage;
Ch'en might have his reasons for keeping quiet. The latter watched the motion of the light, which enabled him to keep from thinking: the tremulous cry of the cricket awakened by Katov’s approach mingled with the last vibrations of the shadow on the faces. Always that obsession of the hardness of flesh, that desire to press his arm violently against the nearest object. Words could do nothing but disturb the familiarity with death which had established itself in his being.
“At what time did you leave the hotel?’ asked Kyo. “Twenty minutes ago/’
Kyo looked at his watch: ten minutes past one.
“Good. Let’s get through here, and get out.’
“I want to see your father, Kyo.”
“You know that IT will undoubtedly be tomorrow.” “So much the better/’
They all knew what IT was: the arrival of the revolutionary troops at the last railroad stations, which was to determine the insurrection.
“So much the better/’ repeated Ch’en. Like all intense sensations, those of murder and of danger, as they withdrew, left him empty; he longed to recover them.
“Just the same, I want to see him.”
“Go there tonight; he never sleeps before dawn.”
“I shall go there about four/’
Instinctively, when he felt a need to communicate his innermost feelings, Ch’en turned to old Gisors. He knew that his attitude was painful to Kyo-all the more painful in that no vanity was involved-but he could not help it: Kyo was one of the organizers of the insurrection, the Central Committee had confidence in him; so did Ch’en; but Kyo would never kill, except in battle. Katov was nearer to him-Katov who had been condemned to five years of hard labor in 1905 when, as a medical student, he had tried to blow up the gate of the Odessa prison. And yet ….
The Russian was eating little sugar candies, one by one, without taking his eyes off Ch’en who suddenly understood the meaning of gluttony. Now that he had killed, he had the right to crave anything he wished. The right. Even if it were childish. He held out his square hand. Katov thought he wanted to leave and shook it. Ch’en got up. It was perhaps just as well: he had nothing more to do here; Kyo was informed, it was up to him to act. As for himself, he knew what he wanted to do now. He reached the door, returned, however.
“Pass me some candy.
Katov gave him the bag. He wanted to divide the contents: no paper. He filed his cupped hand, took a mouthful, and went out.
“Can’t've been so easy/’ said Katov.
He had been a refugee in Switzerland from 1905 to i 9 i 2, the date of his clandestine return to Russia, and he spoke French without the slightest Russian accent, but he slurred some of his vowels, as though he wanted to compensate for the necessity of articulating carefully when he spoke Chinese. As he now stood almost directly under the lamp, very little light fell on his face. Kyo preferred it so: the expression of ironic ingenuousness which the small eyes and especiaUy the upturned nose (a sly sparrow, said Hemmelrich) gave to Katov's face, was all the more pronounced as it jarred with his essential character.
“Let’s get through/’ said Kyo. “You have the records, Lu?”
Lu Yu Hsiian, all smiles and as if ready for a thousand little curtseys, placed the nvo records examined by
Katov on two phonographs. The two had to be put into motion at the same time.
“One, two, three,” Kyo counted.
The hissing sound of the first record covered the second; suddenly stopped-one heard: send-then continued. Another word: thirty. More hissing. Then: men. Hissing.
“Perfect,” said Kyo. He stopped the movement, and started the first record again, alone: hissing, silence, hissing. Stop. Good. Labeled “worn-out records.’
On the second: “Third lesson. Run, walk, go, come, send, receive, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, hundred. I have seen ten men run. Twenty women are here. Thirty-”
These false records for the teaching of languages were excellent; the label, perfectly imitated. Nevertheless Kyo was puzzled.
“Didn’t my voice record well?’
“Very well, perfectly.’
Lu expanded in a smile, Hemmelrich seemed indifferent. On the floor above, a child cried out in pain.
Kyo was nonplused:
“Then why was the recording changed?”
“It wasn’t changed,” said Lu. “It’s your o^. One rarely recognizes one’s o^ voice, you see, when one hears it for the first time.’
“The phonograph distorts it? ’
“It’s not that, for no one has trouble recognizing the voices of others. But one doesn’t have the habit, you see, of hearing oneself…”
Lu was giving himself over to the Chinaman’s delight in explaining-especially to a man of superior mind.
“It’s the same in our language… ”
“Good.Are they still coming to fetch the records tonight?
“The boats will leave tomorrow at daybreak for Hankow…. ”
The hissing records were shipped by one boat, the records with the text by another. The latter were French or English, according to whether the mission of the region was Catholic or Protestant. The revolutionaries sometimes used real language-teaching records, sometimes records recorded by themselves.
“At daybreak, thought Kyo. “How many things before daybreak….” He rose:
“We need volunteers, for the firearms. And a few Europeans, if possible.
Hemmelrich stepped up to him. The child, up there, cried out anew.
“The kid is answering you, said Hemmelrich. “Is that enough? What in hell would you do with the kid who’s going to croak and the woman who is moaning up there — not too loud,so as not to disturb us? …”
The almost hateful voice was indeed that of the face with the broken nose, the deep-set eyes which the vertical light replaced by two black stains.
“Each one has his job, answered Kyo. “The records also are necessary…. Katov and I will do. Let’s go and get some fellows (we’ll find out on the way whether we attack tomorrow or not) and I. ”
“They may discover the corpse at the hotel, you see, said Katov.
“Not before dawn. Ch’en locked the door. They don’t make the rounds.
“P’rhaps he had made an engagement.
“At this hour? Not very likely. Whatever happens, the essential thing is to have the ship change its anchorage: so if they try to reach it, they will lose at least three hours before finding it. It’s at the end of the port.
“Where do you want to have it moved?
“Into the port itself. Not to a dock of course. There are hundreds of steamers. Three hours lost at least. At least. '
“The capt’n wiU be suspicious. ”
Katov’s face almost never expressed his feelings: the ironic gayety remained. At this moment, only the tone of his voice betrayed his anxiety-all the more markedly.
“I know a specialist in the business of firearms, said Kyo. “With him the captain will feel confident. We don’t have much money, but we can pay a commission.. I think we’re agreed: we’ll use the paper to get on board, and we’ll manage after that.
Katov shrugged his shoulders as if to signify that this was obvious. He slipped on his blouse, which he never buttoned at the neck, handed Kyo the sport- jacket hanging on a chair; both shook Hemmelrich’s hand warmly. Pity would only have humiliated him more. They went out.
They left the avenue immediately, entered the Chinese city.
Low clouds heavily massed, tom in places, left the last stars visible now only in the depth of their rifts. The movement of the clouds animated the darkness, now lighter and now more intense, as if immense shadows had come, fitfully, to intensify the night. Katov and Kyo were wearing sport shoes with crepe soles, and could hear their own steps only when they slipped in the mud; in the direction of the concessions-the enemy-a light outlined the roofs. Slowly ^^ng with the long wail of a siren, the wind which brought the subdued rumble of the city in state of siege and the whisdes of launches
retu^rning to the warships, passed over the dismal electric bulbs at the ends of blind alleys and lanes; around them crumbling walls emerged from empty darkness, revealed with all their blemishes by that unflinching light from which a sordid eternity seemed to emanate. Hidden by those walls, half a million men: those of the spinning- mills, those who had worked sixteen hours a day since childhood, the people of ulcers, of scoliosis, of famine. The globes which protected the electric bulbs became misty, and in a few minutes the great rain of China, furious, headlong, took possession of the city.
“A good district/’ thought Kyo. Since he had started to prepare the insurrection, over a month ago, working from committee to committee, he had ceased to see the streets: he no longer walked in the mud, but on a map. The scratching of millions of small daily lives disappeared, crushed by another life. The concessions, the rich quarters, with their rain-washed gratings at the ends of the streets, existed now only as menaces, barriers, long prison walls without windows; these atrocious quarters, on the contrary-the ones in which the shock troops were the most numerous, were alive with the quivering of a multitude lying in wait. At the turn of a lane his eyes were suddenly flooded by the lights of a wide street; veiled by the beating rain it preserved nevertheless in his mind a horizontal perspective, for it would be necessary to attack it against rifles, machine guns that fire horizontally. After the failure of the February uprisings, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party had intrusted Kyo with the coordination of the insurrectional forces. I n each of these silent streets in which the outline of the houses disappeared under the downpour that carried a smell of smoke, the number of the militants had been doubled. Kyo had asked that it be increased from 2,ooo to 5,ooo, and the military direction had succeeded within the month. But they did not possess two hundred rifles. (And there were three hundred rifles on the Shrmtung that slept with one eye out there on the choppy river.) Kyo had organized one hundred and ninety-two combat groups of about twenty-five men each, all provided with leaders; these leaders alone were armed.
They passed in front of a public garage full of old trucks transformed into buses. Al the garages were “marked. The military direction had constituted a staff, the assembly of the party had elected a central committee; from the moment the insurrection broke out, it would be necessary to keep them in contact with the shock groups. Kyo had created a first liaison detachment of a hundred and twenty cyclists; at the firing of the.first shots, eight groups were to occupy the garages, take possession of the autos. The leaders of these groups had already visited the garages and would have no trouble finding them. Each of the other leaders, for the last ten days, had been studying the quarter where he was to.fight. How many visitors, this very day, had entered the principal buildings, asked to see a friend who was unknown there, chatted, offered tea before leaving? How many workers, in spite of the beating downpour, were repairing roofs? All positions of any value for the street- fighting had been reconnoitered; the best firing-positions marked in red on the plans, in the headquarters of the shock groups. What Kyo knew of the underground life of the insurrection helped him to guess what he did not know; something which was infinitely bey him was coming from the great slashed wings of Chapei and Pootung, covered with factories and wretchedness, to make the enormous ganglia of the center burst; an invisible horde animated the night.
“Tomorrow?” said Kyo.
Katov hesitated, stopped the swinging of his large hands. No, the question was not addressed to him. To no one.
They walked in silence. The shower, little by little, died down to a drizzle; the tattoo of the rain upon the roofs diminished, and the black street became filled with the bubbling of the streams in the gutters.
Their facial muscles relaxed; then discovering the street as it appeared to the eyes-long, black, indifferent — it struck Kyo as being an image of his past, so great was the obsession which urged him forward.
“Where do you think Ch’en went? ” he asked. “He said he wouldn't go to see my father before four. To sleep? ”
An incredulous admiration lurked in his question.
“Don’t know.. To a whorehouse, perhaps. He doesn't get drunk.”
They reached a shop: Shia, Lamp Dealer. As everywhere, the shutters were fastened. The door was opened. A hideous little Chinaman stood before them, his figure cutting across the dim light from within: with the halo surrounding his head his slightest movement caused an effect of oily light to slip down over his thick nose studded with pimples. The globes of hundreds of storm- lanterns hanging in rows extending to the invisible back end of the shop, reflected the flames of two lighted lamps standing on the counter.
“Well? ” said Kyo.
Shia looked at him, rubbing his hands unctuously. He turned round without speaking, made a few steps, rummaged in some hiding-place. The grating of his fingernail on a piece of tin set Katov's teeth on edge; but already he was re^^^g, his braces sliding off his shoulders. He read the paper he was bringing, his head lighted from below, almost glued to one of the lamps. It was a report of the military organization which was working with the railroad-workers. The reenforcements which were defending Shanghai against the revolutionaries were coming from Nanking: the railroad-workers had declared a strike; the White Guards and the soldiers of the governmental army were forcing those whom they could seize to run the military trains under penalty of death.
“One of the workers arrested caused the train he was running to be derailed/’ read the Chinaman. “Dead. Three other military trains were derailed yesterday, the rails having been torn up.’
“Have the sabotaging generalized and note on the same reports the manner in which repairs may be made with the least delay/’ said Kyo.
“For every act of sabotage the White Guards shoot. ”
“The Committee knows it. We’ll shoot too. Something else: no trains with firearms?’
“Any news about when our troops will be in Ch’eng Ch’ou?”'1
“I have no midnight news yet. The delegate of the Syndicate thinks it will be tonight or tomorrow.
The insurrection would therefore begin the next day or the day following. They would have to await the instructions of the Central Committee. Kyo was thirsty. They went out.
They were now near the spot where they were to separate. Another ship’s siren called three ^mes, in jerks, then once again in a long-drawn moan. Its cry seemed to
1 The last nation before Shanghai.
expand in the rain-saturated night; it died out at last, like a rocket. “Could they be getting anxious aboard the Shantung?” Absurd. The captain was not expecting his customers before eight o’clock. They resumed their walk, their thoughts magnetized by the ship with its cases of guns, anchored out there in the cold and greenish water. It was no longer raining.
“And now to find my man,’ said Kyo. “I’d feel more easy, just the same, if the Shantung would change anchorage/’
Their ways were no longer the same; they fixed a meeting, and separated. Katov was going to get the men.
Kyo finally reached the grilled gate of the concessions. Two Annamite sharpshooters and a colonial sergeant came to examine his papers: he had his French passport. To tempt the post, a Chinese merchant had hung little cakes on the barbs of the wires. (“A good idea for poisoning a post, later on,’ thought Kyo.) The sergeant gave him back his passport. He soon found a taxi and gave the driver the address of the Black Cat.
The car, which the chauffeur drove at full speed, met a few patrols of European volunteers. “The troops of eight nations are on guard here, ’ said the newspapers. This did not matter much: it did not enter into the plans of the Kuomintang to attack the concessions. Deserted boulevards, indistinct figures of petty merchants whose shops consisted of a pair of scales on their shoulders. The car stopped at the entrance to a tiny garden lighted by the luminous sign of the Black Cat. In passing by the cloak-room, Kyo noticed the hour: two o’clock in the morning. “Fortunately one can wear what one pleases here.’ Under his dark-gray sport- jacket of rough material he was wearing a pull-over.
The jazz-orchestra had reached the point of exhaustion. For five hours it had kept up, not gayety, but a savage intoxication to which each couple anxiously clung. Al at once it stopped, and the crowd broke up: at the end of the hall the clients, on the sides the professional dancers: Chinese girls in their sheaths of brocaded silk, Russian girls and half-breeds; a ticket per dance, or per conversation. An old man with the look of a bewildered clergyman remained in the middle of the floor making motions with his elbows like a duck. At the age of fifty-two he had spent the night out for the first time, and, in terror of his wife, had not dared to return home. For eight months he had been spending his nights in the night-clubs, innocent of laundry, changing his linen in the shops of the Chinese shirtmakers, behind a screen. Merchants on the verge of ruin, dancers and prostitutes, those who knew themselves menaced-almost all of them-kept their eyes on that phantom, as if he alone could hold them back on the brink of destruction. They would go to bed, exhausted, at dawn-when the rounds of the executioner would begin again in the Chinese city. At this hour there were only the severed heads in the cages, still black, their hair dripping with rain.
“Like monkeys, my dear girl! They’U be dressed up like monkeys!
The buffoonish voice, that might have belonged to Punchinello, seemed to come from a column. With its nasal twang, set off by a note of bitterness, it evoked the spirit of the place with peculiar appropriateness, isolated in a silence full of the clinking of glasses above the bewildered clergyman. The man Kyo was looking for was present.
He circled the column, and discovered him in the crowd at the end of the hall, where there were several rows of tables not occupied by the dancing-girls. Above a pell-mell of backs and bosoms in a mass of silky garments, a Punchinello, thin and humpless, but who resembled his voice, was making a buffoonish speech to a Russian girl and a half-breed Filipino girl seated at his table. Standing, his elbows glued to his sides and his hands gesticulating, he spoke with all the muscles of his razor-edged face, hampered by the square of black silk which covered his right eye, injured no doubt. No matter what he wore-this evening he had on a dinner-jacket — Baron de Clappique gave the impression of being in disguise. Kyo had decided not to accost him here, to wait until he went out.
“Absolutely, my dear girl, absolutely! Chiang Kai- shek will come in here with his revolutionaries and shout — in classic style, I tell you, clas-sic! as when he takes cities: ‘Dress these merchants up like monkeys, these soldiers like leopards (as when they sit down on freshly painted benches)! Like the last prince of the Liang dynasty, absolutely, my dear, let’s climb on board the imperial junks, let’s contemplate our subjects dressed, for our distraction, each in the color of his profession, blue, red, green, with pigtails and top-knots; not a word, my dear girl, not a word I tell you!’ ”
Then becoming confidential:
“The only music permitted will be Chinese beils.” “And you, what will you do in ail that?
His voice became plaintive, sobbing.
“What, my dear girl, you can’t guess? I shall be the court astrologer, I shall die trying to pluck the moon out of a pond, one night when I am drunk-tonight?” Scientific:
“. like the poet Tu Fu, whose works certainly enchant your idle days-not a word, I’m sure of it! Moreover..
A ship’s siren filled the hall. Immediately a deafening clash of cymbals swallowed it up, and the dance began again. The Baron had sat down. Making his way among the tables and couples, Kyo reached an unoccupied table a little behind his. The music had drowned all other noises; but now that he had got nearer to Clappique, he heard his voice once more. The Baron was pawing the Filipino girl, but he continued to talk to the slim-faced Russian girl, all eyes:
“.. the trouble, my dear girl, is that there is no more caprice in the world. From time to time’’-pointing with his forefinger-“a European minister sends his wife a 1-litcle parcel by post, she opens it-not a word. ” His forefinger to his lips:
“… it’s the head of her lover. They still talk about it three years later!’
“Lamentable, my dear girl, 1-lamentable! Look at me. You see my face? That’s what twenty years of hereditary whimsicality lead to. It resembles syphilis.-Not a word!”
Full of authority:
“Waiter! champagne for these two ladies. And for me.. ”
Once more confidential:
“…a 1-litcle Martini.
(Assuming the worst, with the police, I have an hour before me, thought Kyo. Just the same, how long is this going to last?)
The Filipino girl laughed, or pretended to. The Russian girl, wide-eyed, was trying to understand. Clappique continued to gesticulate, his forefinger a^rnated, rigid with authority, calling for attention to his confidences. But Kyo scarcely listened to him; the heat was making him sleepy and, with it, an anxiety which had been prowling in the back of his mind tonight as he walked was now slowly rising in the form of a confused weariness: that record, his voice which he had not recognized a while ago, at Hemmelrich’s. He thought of it with the same complex uneasiness that he had felt when, as a child, he was sho-wn his tonsils which the surgeon had just removed. But it was impossible for him to pursue his own thoughts.
“… in short, barked the Baron, winking his free eyelid and turning toward the Russian girl, “he had a castle in Northern Hungary/’
“Not at all. I’m French. (For that matter, my dear girl, I don’t give a good God damn!) But my mother was Hungarian.
“So, as I was saying, my grandfather lived in a castle over there, with vast halls-ver-ry vast-dead ancestors below; pine-trees all around; many p-pine-trees. A widower. He lived alone with a gi-gan-tic bugle hanging over the fireplace. A circus passes through. With a female equestrian performer. Pretty.
“I say: pretty.
“He carries her away-not difficult. Takes her into one of the great rooms….”
Commanding attention, his hand raised:
“Not a word!. She lives there. Stays on. Gets bored. You would, too, little girl”-he caressed the Filipino girl-“but patience. He didn’t have such a good ^me, either, for that matter: he spent half the afternoon having his finger-nails and toe-nails polished by his barber (he still had a barber attached to the castle), while his secretary, the son of a filthy serf, read to him- reread-aloud, the history of the family. Charming occupation, my dear girl, a perfect life! Besides, he was usually drunk- She. ”
“She fell in love with the secretary? asked the Russian girl.
“Magnificent, little girl, ma-gni-fi-cent! My dear friend, you are magnificent. R-re-mar-ka-ble perspicacity!’
He kissed her hand.
“But she slept with the pedicure, not being endowed with your esteem for things of the spirit. Noticed then that grandfather beat her. Not a word, useless: they’re off.
“Absolutely furious, he paces his vast halls (stiU with the ancestors below), declares himself ridiculed by the two jokers who were splitting their sides over the affair, in an inn a la Gogol in the county seat, with a broken water-jug and carriages in the courtyard. He pulls down the gi-gan-tic bugle, can’t manage to blow into it and sends his overseer forth to call his peasants to arms. (He stiU had rights, in those days.) He arms them: five fowling-pieces, two pistols. But, my dear girl, there were too many of them!
“Then, they strip the castle: and now, our peasants are on the march-imagine, i-ma-gi-ne, I tell you! — armed with foils, arquebuses, wheel-lock guns, and God knows what else; rapiers and swords, grandfather in the lead, towards the county seat: vengeance pursuing crime. They are announced. Comes the game-keeper, with the armed police. Ma-gni-fi-cent scene!’
“Nothing. They took away their arms. Grandfather got into town just the same, but the guilty parties had left the Gogol-inn post-haste in one of the dusty carriages. He substituted a peasant girl for the female equestrian, got another pedicure, and got drunk with the secretary. From time to time he would work on one of his 1-little testaments….”
“To whom did he leave the money?
“A matter of no moment, my dear girl. But, when he died, his eye popping wide open:
“.. they found out everything, everything he’d been hatching all that time, while he was having his feet scratched and chronicles read to him, gloriously drunk! They obeyed him: he was buried under the chapel, in an immense vault, upright on his horse that had been killed, like Attila….”
The din of the jazz ceased. Clappique continued, much less of a Punchinello, as if his clownishness had been softened by the silence:
“When Attila died, he was propped up on his rearing horse, above the Danube; the setting sun made such a shadow across the plain that the horsemen beat it like dust, terrified. …”
He sat musing, seized by his dreams, the alcohol and the sudden calm. Kyo knew what proposals he was to make. But he was only slightly acquainted with him, though his father knew him well; and Clappique was even less familiar in his present role. Kyo was listening to him impatiently, but not without curiosity (as soon as there was a free table in front of the Baron he would move over to it and signal him to go out: he didn’t want to accost him, nor to call him ostensibly). It was the Russian girl who was talking now, in a slow, rasping voice-drunk with insomnia perhaps:
“My great-grandfather also had fine lands….We left because of the Communists, you see. So that we wouldn’t have to live cooped up with everybody else, So that we would be respected; here there are two of us to a table, four to a room! Four to a room…. And we have to pay rent! … Respected…. If only alcohol didn’t make me sick! …
Clappique looked at her glass: she had scarcely drunk. The Filipino girl, on the other hand. Perfectly placid-she was basking like a cat in the heat of semiintoxication. Useless to keep track. He turned to the Russian girl:
“You have no money?
She shrugged her shoulders. He called the waiter, paid with a hundred dollar bill. When the change was brought, he took ten dollars, gave the rest to the woman. She looked at it with a weary precision.
She was getting up.
“No, he said.
He had the compassionate look of a friendly dog.
“No. Tonight it would bore you.
He was holding out his hand. She looked at him again:
“Just the same …If it would give you any pleasure …
“It will give me more pleasure some day when I have no money….
“That’ll be before long. ”
He drew both her hands together, kissed them several ^mes.
Kyo, who had already paid, joined him in the empty entrance-hall:
“Let’s go out together, shall we?
Clappique looked at him, recognized him:
“You here? ’T’s unb’lievable! Why …
This bleating was broken off by the raising of his forefinger:
“You’re going to the devil, young man!
“That's all right.
They were already on their way out. Although the rain had ceased, water was as much in evidence as air. They took a few steps on the garden sand.
“There is a steamer in port/’ said Kyo, “with a load of firearms.
Clappique had stopped. Kyo, having taken an additional step, had to turn round: the Baron’s face was scarcely visible; the large illuminated cat, the sign-board of the Black Cat, surrounded him like a halo:
“The Shtmtung,” he said.
The darkness and his position-against the light-allowed him to express nothing; and he added nothing.
“There's a proposition/’ Kyo went on, “at thirty dollars per gun, from the government. There’s no answer yet. I have a buyer at thirty-five dollars, plus a three- dollar commission. Immediate delivery, in the port. Wherever the captain wishes, but in the port. He can weigh anchor immediately. We’ll take delivery tonight, with the money. His representative has agreed: here’s the contract.
He handed him the paper, lighted his cigarette-lighter, protecting it with his hand.
“He wants to get ahead of the other buyer/’ thought Clappique while inspecting the contract. unmounted pieces. “and make five dollars per firearm. That’s obvious. Well, what do I care: there is three dollars in it for me.”
“All right,” he said aloud. “You will leave me the contract, of course?”
“Yes. You know the captain?”
“Well-there are people I know better, but I know him, all right.”
“He might be suspicious (especially down-stream, there). The government can have the firearms seized, instead of paying, no?”
Punchinello again. But Kyo waited for what would follow: what did the captain have at his disposal, to prevent his men (and not those of the government) from seizing the arms? Clappique continued in a more muffled voice:
“Those goods are sent by a regular contractor. I know him.”
“He’s a traitor.
An odd voice in the dark, when there was no facial expression to back it up. It rose, as if he were ordering a cocktail:
“A regular traitor, ver-ry dry! For all this passes through the hands of a legation which … Not a word! I’ll take care of this. But to begin with, it’s going to cost me a pretty taxi bill: the ship is a long way off…. I’ve got left …”
He fumbled in his pocket, pulled out a single bill, turned round so that the light from the sign-board would fall upon it.
“…Ten dollars, my dear! That won’t do. I’ll no doubt be buying some of your uncle Kama’s paintings for Ferral before long, but in the meantime.
“Fifty-will that do?”
“That’s more than enough.”
Kyo gave it to him.
“You’ll let me know at my house as soon as it’s done.” “Agreed.”
“In an hour?”
“Later than that, I think. But as soon as I can.”
And in the same tone as the Russian girl had said: “If only alcohol didn’t make me sick.. ” almost in the same voice, as if all the creatures of this place had found themselves in the depth of an identical despair:
"Al this is no^ joke. ”
He went off, head bowed, back stooped, hatless, his hands in the pockets of his dinner-jacket.
Kyo called a taxi and had himself driven to the boundary of the concessions, to the first side-street of the Chinese city, where he had arranged to meet Katov.
Ten minutes after having left Kyo, Katov had passed through several corridors, had got through gates, and had come to a white, bare room, well lighted by storm- lanterns. No window. Under the arm of the Chinaman who opened the door to him, five heads leaning over the table. Their eyes on him, on the tall figure known to all the shock groups: legs apart, arms dangling, his blouse unbuttoned at the neck, nose upturned, hair tousled. They were handling different models of grenades. It was a cfc’on-one of the Communist combat organizations that Kyo and he had created in Shanghai.
“How many men enrolled?” he asked in Chinese.
“Hundred and thirty-eight,” answered the youngest Chinaman, an adolescent with a small head, a very prominent Adam’s apple, and drooping shoulders, dressed as a worker.
“I absolutely need twelve men for tonight.” “Absolutely” found its way into all the languages that Katov spoke.
“No: in front of the Yen T’ang gang-plank.”
The Chinaman gave instructions: one of the men left. “They’ll be there within two hours,” said the chief. Judging by his hollow cheeks, his tall thin body, he seemed very weak; but the resoluteness of tone, the tenseness of the muscles of his face testified to a willpower wholly sustained by nerves.
“How is the teaching progressing?” asked Katov. “With the grenades we’re doing very well. All the comrades know our models now. With the revolvers- the Nagans and the Mausers, at least-we’ll be all right too. I’ve made them work with empty cartridges. I’ve been offered the use of a cellar that’s quite safe.”
In each of the forty rooms in which the insurrection was being prepared the same problem presented itself.
“No powder. It’ll come perhaps; for the moment let’s not talk about it. And the rifles?”
“We’re doing well with those too. It’s the machine- guns that are worrying me, if we don’t get a chance to try them out with the blanks.”
His Adam’s apple rose and fell under his skin each time he answered. He went on:
“And then is there no way to get more weapons? Seven rifles, thirteen revolvers, forty-two charged grenades! One man out of every two has no firearms.” “We’re going to get them from those who have them. Perhaps we’ll soon have some revolvers. If it’s for tomorrow, how many men will not be able to use their firearms, in your section?”
The man reflected. Thought made him look absent- minded. An intellectual, thought Katov.
“When we’ve taken the rifles of the police?” “Absolutely.”
“More than half.”
“And the grenades?”
“They’ll all know how to use them; and very well. I have thirty men here who are relatives of those who were tortured to death in February.. If only.. ” He hesitated, ended his phrase in an embarrassed gesture. A deformed hand, but slender.
“Those bastards don’t use the tanks against us.”
The six men looked at Katov.
“That doesn’t matter,” he answered. “You take your grenades, six of them tied together, and you throw them under the tank: at the count of four it’ll blow up. If necessary you can dig ditches, at least some going in one direction. You have tools?”
“Very few. But I know where to get some.”
“Get hold of some bicycles, too: as soon as it begins each section ought to have its contact agent, in addition to the central one.”
“You’re sure the tanks will blow up?”
“Absolutely! But don’t worry about it: the tanks won’t leave the front. If they leave it, I’ll come with a special squad. That’s my job.”
“What if we’re taken by surprise?”
“We’ll see them coming: we have look-outs close by. Take a set of grenades yourself, and give one to each of three or four fellows you are sure of.. ”
Al the men of the section knew that Katov, condemned after the Odessa affair to detention in one of the less severe prisons, had voluntarily asked to accompany the wretches sent to the lead-mines, in order to instruct them. They had confidence in him, but they were still uneasy. They were afraid neither of rifles nor of machine-guns, but they were afraid of the tanks: they felt powerless against them. Even in this room to which only volunteers had come, almost all of them relatives of men who had died by torture, the tank inspired blind terror, like a supernatural monster.
“If the tanks come, don’t worry, we’U be there,” Katov went on.
How could he leave with such feebly reassuring words? In the afternoon he had inspected some fifteen sections, but he had not encountered fear. These men were not less brave than the others, merely more precise. He knew he would not be able to dispel their fear, that save for the specialists under his own conunand the revolutionary formations would run before the tanks. It was probable that the tanks would be unable to leave the front; but if they reached the city, it would be impossible to stop them all with ditches, in these quarters where there was such a criss-cross of small streets.
“The tanks will absolutely not leave the front/’ he said.
“How are we to attach the grenades?” asked the youngest Chinaman.
Katov showed him. The atmosphere became a little less heavy, as if this manipulation were a token of future action. Katov, very uneasy, took the opportunity to leave. Half the men would not know how to use their arms. At least he could count on those whom he had organized into combat groups charged with disarming the police. Tomorrow. But the day after tomorrow?
The army was advancing, was getting nearer every hour. Perhaps the last station was already taken. When Kyo returned they would no doubt be able to find out in one of the information-centers. The lamp-dealer had received no news since ten o’clock.
He waited some time in the narrow street, without ceasing to walk; at last Kyo arrived. Each told the other what he had done. They continued their walk in the mud, on their crepe soles: Kyo small and supple as a Japanese cat, Katov swinging his shoulders, thinking of the troops who were advancing, guns gleaming in the rain, toward Shanghai glowing red in the heart of the night. Kyo, too, wanted to know if this advance had not been stopped.
The street where they were walking was the first one in the Chinese city. Because of the pro^mity of the European quarter it was lined with pet-shops. They were al closed: not a creature outside, and not a cry disturbing the silence, between the siren-calls and the last drops that feU from the horned roofs into the puddles. The animals were asleep. After knocking, they entered one of the shops: that of a dealer in live fishes. The only light, a candle fixed in a holder, was feebly reflected in the phosphorescent bowls aligned like those of Ali-Baba, and in which the illustrious Chinese carps slept, invisible.
“Tomorrow?” asked Kyo.
“Tomorrow; at one o’clock.”
At the back of the shop, behind a counter, an indistinct human being was asleep with his head in his elbows. He had scarcely looked up to reply. This shop was one of the eighty posts of the Kuo^intang through which news was transmitted.
“Yes. The army is at Ch’eng Ch’ou. General strike at noon/’
Although nothing in the shadow had changed, although the dealer drowsing in his cell had made no motion, the phosphorescent surface of all the bowls began to stir feebly: soft, black, concentric waves rose in silence. The sound of the voices was awakening the fishes. A siren, once again, became lost in the distance.
They went out, resumed their walk. The Avenue of the Two Republics again.
A taxi. The car set off at reckless speed. Katov, sitting at the left, leaned over, looked at the driver closely.
“He is nguyen.' Too bad. I’d abs’lutely like not to be killed before tomorrow night. Easy, old chap!
“So Clappique is having the ship moved/’ said Kyo. “The comrades in the gove^rnment outfitting-shop can supply us with cops’ uniforms.
“No need. I have more than fifteen of them at the post/’
“Let’s take the launch with your twelve men/’
“It would be better without you..
Kyo looked at him without speaking.
“It’s not very dangerous, but it’s not exactly child’s play either, you know. It’s more dangerous than this idiot of a driver who’s starting to speed again. And it’s not the moment to ask you to get out/’
“Nor you either/’
“It’s not the same thing. 1 can be replaced, now, you see..I’d rather you would take care of the truck which will be waiting, and the distribution/’
He hesitated, embarrassed, his hand on his chest. “I have to give a chance to think it over/’ he was thinking. Kyo said nothing. The car continued to speed
1 In a state of craving (of opiiwn addicts).
between streaks of light blurred by the mist. There was no doubt that he was more useful than Katov: the Central Committee knew the details of everything he had organized, but on index-cards, whereas for the insurrection was a living thing; the city was in his skin, with its weak points like wounds. None of his comrades could react so quickly as he, so surely.
“All right, he said.
Lights more and more numerous. Again, the armored trucks of the concessions, and then, once more, the dark.
The car stopped. Kyo got out.
“I’U go get the uniforms, said Katov: “I’U come and fetch you when everything is ready.
Kyo lived with his father in a single-story Chinese house; four wings surrounding a garden. He passed through the first one, then through the garden, and entered the hall: right and left, on the white walls, Sung paintings, Chardin-blue phcenixes; at the end a Buddha of the Wei dynasty, almost romanesque in style. Plain divans, an opium table. Behind Kyo, the windows, bare like those of a work-shop. His father, who had heard him, entered: for some years he had been suffering from insomnia, was able to sleep only a few hours toward dawn, and welcomed joyfully anything that would help to pass the night.
“Good evening, father. Ch’en is coming to see you.
Kyo’s features were not his father’s, which were those of an ascetic abbot, accentuated tonight by a camel’s hair dressing gown. His mother’s Japanese blood appeared to have softened their lines to form Kyo’s samurai face.
“Has anything happened to him?”
No further question. Both sat down. Kyo was not sleepy. He told him about the show Clappique had just put on for him-without mentioning the firearms. Not, indeed, that he mistrusted his father; but he needed too much to be solely responsible for his own life to confide to him more than the general nature of his actions. I 'though the old professor of sociology of the University of Peking, dismissed by Chang Tso Lin because of his teaching, had formed the best revolutionary cadres in Northern China, he did not participate in action. Whenever Kyo came into his presence, his own will to action was transformed into intelligence, which rather disturbed him: he became interested in individuals instead of being interested in forces. And, because he was speaking of Clappique to his father who knew him well, the Baron now appeared more mysterious than a while ago, when he was looking at him.
“. he finally touched me for fifty dollars.. ” “He is disinterested, Kyo. ”
“But he had just spent a hundred dollars: I saw it. Mythomania is always a rather disturbing thing.”
He wanted to know just how far he could continue to use Clappique. His father, as always, was trying to discover what was profound or singular in the man. But what is deepest in a man is rarely what one can use directly to make him act, and Kyo was thinking of his guns:
“If he needs to believe himself rich, why doesn’t he try to get rich?”
“He used to be the foremost antiquarian in Peking. ”
“Why does he spend all his money in one night, then, if not to give himself the illusion of being rich?”
Gisors blinked, threw back his longish white hair; his old man’s voice, in spite of its weakened tone, took on the sharpness of a line.
“His mythomania is a means of denying life, don’t you see, of denying, and not of forgetting. Beware of logic in these matters. ”
He extended his hand uncertainly; his restrained gestures hardly ever went sideways but straight before him: his motions, when he resorted to them to round out a sentence, did not seem to push aside, but to seize something.
“Everything has happened as though he wanted to prove to himself this evening that, although he lived for two hours like a rich man, wealth does not exist. Because then poverty does not exist either. Which is essential. Nothing exists: all is dream. Don’t forget the alcohol, which helps him.. ”
Gisors smiled. The smile of his thin lips, drooping at the corners, expressed his idea with more complexity than his words. For twenty years he had used his intelligence to win the affections of men by justifying them, and they were grateful to him for a kindness which they did not suspect had its roots in opium. People attributed to him the patience of a Buddhist: it was the patience of an addict.
“No man lives by denying life,” answered Kyo.
“One lives inadequately by it.. He feels a need to live inadequately.”
“And he is forced to.”
“He chooses a way of life that makes it necessary- his dealings in antiques, perhaps drugs, and the traffic of firearms. … In conjunction with the police whom he no doubt detests, but whom he cooperates with in such deals for a fair remuneration. ”
It didn’t make much difference: the police knew the Communists didn’t have enough money to buy firearms from the clandestine importers.
“Every man is like his affliction,” said Kyo: “what does he suffer from?”
“His affliction, don’t you see, has no more importance, no more sense, touches nothing deeper than his lies, or his pleasures; he really has no depth, and that is perhaps what describes him best, because it’s rare. He does what he can to make up for it, but that requires certain gifts. When you’re not tied to a man, Kyo, you think of him in order to foresee his actions. Clappique’s actions. ”
He pointed to the aquarium in which the black carps, soft and lacy like streamers, rose and fell.
“l1iere you have them. He drinks, but he was made for opium: it’s also possible to choose the wrong vice; many men never strike the one that might save them. Too bad, for he is far from being without worth. But his field doesn’t interest you.”
It was true. If Kyo was unable to think in terms of action this evening, neither could he become interested in ideas: he could think only of himself. The heat was penetrating him little by little, as at the Black Cat a while ago; and once more the obsession of the records went through him like the weariness tingling through his legs. He told of his astonishment at the records, but as though he were referring merely to one of the voice- recordings which had been made in the English shops. Gisors listened, caressing his angular chin with his left hand: his hands, with their slender fingers, were very beautiful. He had bent his head forward: his hair feU over his eyes, though his forehead was bald. He threw it back with a toss of the head, but his eyes had a faraway look:
“I’ve had the experience of finding myself unexpectedly before a mirror and not recognizing myself. ” His thumb was gently rubbing the other fingers of his right hand, as though he were sprinkling a powder of memories. He was speaking for himself, pursuing a line of thought which excluded his son:
“It’s undoubtedly a question of means: we hear the voices of others with our ears.”
“And our own?”
“With our throats: for you can hear your own voice with your ears stopped. Opium is also a world we do not hear with our ears..”
Kyo got up. His father scarcely saw him.
“I have to go out again soon.”
“Can I be of any use to you with Clappique?”
“No. Thanks. Good night.”
Kyo, lying down in an attempt to reduce his weariness, was waiting. He had not turned on the light; he did not move. It was not he who was thinking of the insurrection, it was the insurrection, living in so many brains like sleep in so many others, which weighed upon him to such a point that there was nothing left in him but anxiety and expectation. Less than four hundred guns in all. Victory-or the firing-squad, with some refinements. Tomorrow. No: by and by. A matter of speed: everywhere disarm the police and, with the five hundred Mausers, arm the combat groups before the soldiers of the governmental armored train entered into action. The masses were ready. Half the police, who were dying of starvation, would undoubtedly pass over to the insurgents. Which left the other half. But the insurrection was to begin at one o’clock-the general strike, therefore, at noon-and most of the combat groups had to be armed before five o’clock. “Soviet China/’ he thought. To conquer here the dignity of his people. And the U.S.S.R. increased to six hundred million men. Victory or defeat, the destiny of the world hovered here close by. Unless the Kuomintang, once Shanghai was taken, tried to crush its Communist allies. He started: the garden door was being opened. Recollection buried anxiety: his wife? He listened: the door of the house shut. May entered. Her blue leather coat, of an almost military cut, accentuated what was virile in her gait and even in her face-a large mouth, a short nose, the prominent cheek-bones of the Germans of the North.
“It’s really going to start very shortly, Kyo?
She was a doctor in one of the Chinese hospitals, but she had just come from the section of revolutionary women whose clandestine hospital she directed:
“Always the same story, you know. I’ve just left a kid of eighteen who tried to commit suicide with a razor blade in her wedding palanquin. She was being forced to marry a respectable brute. They brought her in her red wedding gown, all covered with blood. The mother behind, a little stunted shadow, that was sobbing, of course. When I told her the kid wouldn’t die, she said to me: ‘Poor little thing! she would almost have been lucky to die. ’ Lucky. That tells more than al our speeches about the condition of women here. ”
Ger^n, but born in Shanghai, a doctor of Heidelberg and Paris-she spoke French without an accent. She threw her beret on the bed. Her wavy hair was drawn back, so that it would be easy to fix. He felt like stroking it. Her very broad forehead, also, had something masculine about it, but since she had stopped talking she was becoming more feminine-Kyo did not take his eyes off her-because the release of tension softened her features, because fatigue relaxed them, and because she had taken off her beret. It was her sensual mouth and her eyes that animated her face-her eyes, sufficiently bright to make the intensity of her glance seem to come, not from her pupils but from the shadow of her forehead over the wide orbits.
Attracted by the light, a white Pekingese came trotting in. She called it with a tired voice:
“Little woolly dog!”
She caught it in her left hand, raised it caressingly to her face:
“Rabbit,” she said, smiling, “little rabbit.
“He looks like you,” said Kyo.
She looked in the mirror at the white head glued against hers, above the little joined paws. The amusing resemblance was due to her high Germanic cheek-bones. Although she was barely pretty, he thought of Othello’s phrase, adapting it: “0 my dear warrior.
She put down the dog, got up. Her half-open coat now partly exposed her high breasts, which reminded one of her cheek-bones. Kyo told her the night’s happenings.
“At the hospital this evening,” she said, “some thirty young women of the propaganda circles who had escaped from the White troops. Wounded. More and more of them are arriving. They say the army is very near. And that there are many killed. ”
“And half the wounded will die. Suffering can have meaning only when it does not lead to death, and that’s where it almost always leads.”
“Yes,” she said at last. “And yet that’s perhaps a man’s idea. For me, for a woman, suffering-it’s strange-makes me think of life rather than of death. Because of child-birth, perhaps. "
She reflected again:
“The more wounded there are, the nearer the insurrection is, the more people go to bed together."
“Yes, it’s natural.”
“I have something to tell you which is perhaps going to annoy you a little. ”
Leaning on his elbow, he gave her a questioning look. She was intelligent and brave, but often clumsy.
“I finally yielded to Langlen and went to bed with ^m, this afternoon."
He shrugged his shoulder, as if to say: “That’s your affair.” But his gesture, the tense expression of his face, contrasted sharply with this indifference. She was watching him, haggard, her cheek-bones emphasized by the vertical light. He too was watching her eyes, expression- les in the shadow, and said nothing. He was wondering if the expression of sensuality in her face was not due to the fact that the obliterated eyes and the slight swelling of her lips, in contrast to her features, violently accentuated her femininity. She sat do^n on the bed, took his hand. He nearly withdrew it, but yielded it. She felt the impulse however:
“Are you hurt?”
“I have told you you were free.. Don’t ask too much,’’ he added bitterly.
The dog jumped up on the bed. He withdrew his hand, to caress it perhaps.
“You are free,” he repeated. “The rest doesn’t matter. ”
“Anyway, I had to teU you. For my own sake.”
Neither of them questioned the necessity of her teU- ing ^m. He suddenly wanted to get up: lying thus, with her sitting on his bed, like a sick man being nursed by her. But why should he? Everything was so futile. He continued nevertheless to look at her, to discover that she could make him suffer. For months, whether he looked at her or not, he had ceased to see her; certain expressions, at times. Their love, so often hurt, uniting them like a sick child, the common meaning of their life and their death, the carnal understanding between them, nothing of all that existed before the fatality which discolors the forms with which our eyes are saturated. “Do I love her less than I think I do?” he thought. No. Even at this moment he was sure that if she were to die he would no longer serve his cause with hope, but with despair, as though he himself were dead. Nothing, however, prevailed against the discoloration of that face buried in the depth of their common life as in mist, as in the earth. He remembered a friend who had had to watch the disintegration of the mind of the woman he loved, paralyzed for months; it seemed to him that he was watching May die thus, watching the form of his happiness absurdly disappear like a cloud absorbed by the gray sky. As though she had died twice — from the effect of time, and from what she was telling ^m.
She got up, went to the window. She walked briskly in spite of her fatigue. Choosing, through mingled fear and sentimental delicacy, to say nothing more of what she had just told him, since he would not talk, and wishing to escape this conversation from which she felt none the less they would not escape, she tried to express her tenderness by saying whatever came into her mind, and appealed instinctively to an animism of which he was fond: in front of the window, one of the trees of Mars had opened out during the night; the light from the room fell on its leaves that were stil curled, a delicate green against the dark background:
“It has hidden its leaves in its trunk during the day," she said, “and is bringing them out tonight while no one sees it."
She seemed to be talking to herself, but how could Kyo have mistaken the tone of her voice?
“You might have picked another day," he said none the less between his teeth.
He saw himself in the mirror, also, leaning on his el- bow-his face so Japanese between the white sheets. “If I were not a half-breed. " He was making an intense effon to push back the hateful or base thoughts all too ready to justify and feed his anger. And he gazed at her-gazed at her as though her face should have recovered, by the suffering it was inflicting, all the life it had lost.
“But, Kyo, it’s precisely today that it had no importance. and. "
She was going to add: “he wanted it so badly." In the face of death it mattered so little. But she said merely:
“. I also may die tomorrow. '’
So much the better. Kyo was suffering from the most hu^miliating pain: that which one despises oneself for feeling. In reality she was free to sleep with whom she pleased. Why, then, this suffering to which he claimed no right, but which so insistently claimed a right to him?
“When you realized that I.. was fond of you, Kyo, you asked me one day, not seriously-just a trifle perhaps-if I thought I would be willing to go to prison with you, and I answered you that I didn’t know-that the difficult thing no doubt was to stay there. You thought I would, none the less, since you were fond of me too. Why not think so now?
“It’s always the same ones who go to prison. Katov would go, even if he did not love deeply. He would go for the idea he has of life, of himself. It’s not for someone else that one goes to prison.
“Kyo, what masculine ideas …
He was thinking.
“And yet/’ he said, “to love those who are capable of doing just that, to be loved by them perhaps, what more can one ask of love? What madness to ask them for accounts besides?.. Even if they do it for their … morality. ”
“It’s not for morality/’ she said slowly. “For morality, I would surely be incapable of it.
“But” (he was speaking slowly too) “this love did not prevent you from going to bed with that fellow, at the same time that you were thinking-you just said so-it would. annoy me?
“Kyo, I’m going to tell you something strange, and which is true just the same … up until five minutes ago I thought it wouldn’t matter to you. Perhaps it suited me to think so.. There are urges, especially when one is so neai death (it’s the death of others that
I’m used to, Kyo.), that have nothing to do with love. .”
Yet jealousy persisted, all the more obscure because the sexual desire she aroused in him rested on affection. His eyes shut, still leaning on his elbow, he was trying- wretchedly-to understand. He heard only May’s oppressed breathing and the scratching of the dog’s paws. His wound was caused, first of all (there would, alas! be other reasons: he felt them lying in wait inside him like his comrades behind those doors that were stiU closed) by his feeling that the man who had just had intercourse with her (after all, I can’t call him her lover!) must despise her. He was an old ch^ of May’s, Kyo scarcely knew him. But he knew the fundamental misogyny of almost all men. “The idea that having had interco^e with her, because he has had intercourse with her, he can say of her: ‘That little bitch’ makes me want to knock him down. Can it be that one is never jealous except because of what one supposes the other supposes? Wretched humanity. ” For May, sexual intercourse did not in any sense signify an emotional surrender. That fellow would have to learn it. If he went to bed with her, that was that, but he must not imagine that he possessed her. “I’m getting maudlin. ” But he could not help himself, and that was not the essential, he knew. The essential, what agonized him, was that he was sud~ denly separated from her, not by hatred-although there was hatred in him-not by jealousy (or was jealousy precisely this?) but by a feeling that had no name, as destructive as time or death: he could not find her again. He opened his eyes; this familiar athletic body, with its averted profile: an elongated eye, starting at the temple, sunk between the exposed forehead and the cheek-bone- a human being. Who was she? A woman who had just had intercourse with a man? But was she not also the one who tolerated his weaknesses, his afflictions, his outbursts of irritation, the one who had helped him nurse his wounded comrades, watched with him over his dead friends?. The sweetness of her voice, which lingered in the air.. One does not forget what one wishes. And now this body was being invested with the poignant mystery of a familiar person suddenly transformed-the mystery one feels before a mute, blind, or mad being. And she was a woman. Not a kind of man. Something else.
She was getting away from him completely. And, because of that perhaps, the fierce craving for an intense contact with her blinded him, for a contact, no matter what kind-even one that might lead to fright, screams, blows. He got up, went over to her. He knew he was in a state of crisis, that tomorrow perhaps he would no longer understand anything of what he was feeling now, but he was before her as before a death-bed; and as towards a death-bed, instinct threw him towards her: to touch, to feel, to hold back those who are leaving you, to cling to them. She was looking at him with an intense anxiety; he had stopped two paces from her. The revelation of what he wanted finally flashed upon him; to lie with her, to find refuge in her body against this frenzy in which he was losing her entirely; they did not have to know each other when they were using all their strength to hold each other in a tight embrace.
She suddenly turned round: someone had rung. Too soon for Katov. Was the insurrection discovered? What they had said, felt, loved, hated, was brutally submerged. The bell rang again. He took his revolver from under his pillow, crossed the garden, went to open in his pajamas: it was not Katov, it was Clappique, still in his diner- jacket. They stood in the garden.
“First of all let me give you back your document: here it is. Everything is fine. The ship has left. It’s going to anchor up-stream off the French Consulate. Almost on the other side of the river.”
“Not a word. The old confidence: if not, I wonder how we would manage. In these matters, young man, confidence is aU the greater the less there is to justify it. ”
Clappique lit a cigarette. Kyo could see only the spot of square black silk on the indistinct face. He went to get his wallet-May was waiting-came back, paid the commission agreed upon. The Baron put the bills in his pocket, in a roll. without counting them.
“Generosity brings good luck,” he said. “My good fellow, the story of my night’s adventure is a re-mar-ka- ble moral tale: it began with charity and ends in wealth. Not a word!”
Raising his forefinger, he leaned over towards Kyo’s ear:
“Fantomas 1 salutes you!” then ^turned and left.
As though he were afraid to return into the house, he watched disappear, his dinner jacket bobbing up and down against the white wall. “Rather like Fantomas, as a matter of fact, in that outfit. Did he gues, or suppose, or. ” Enough of the picturesque: Kyo heard a cough and recognized it all the more quickly as he was
1 A popular character in French detective fiction who plays the role о t an elusive and clever criminal.
expecting it: Katov. Everyone was hurrying tonight.
In order to be less visible, perhaps, he was walking in the middle of the street. Kyo guessed his blouse rather than saw it; somewhere, above it, in the dark, a nose in the wind. Especially he sensed the swinging of his hands. He walked towards ^m.
“Well?” he asked, as he had asked Clappique.
“All’s well. And the ship?”
“Opposite the French Consulate. Far from the wharf. In half an hour.”
“The launch and the men are four hundred meters from there. Let’s go.”
“And the uniforms?”
“Don’t worry. The feUows are absolutely ready.”
He went into the house, dressed in a moment: trousers, a sweater, rope-soled shoes (he might have to do some climbing). He was ready. May offered her lips. Kyo’s spirit wanted to kiss her; his mouth, not-as though it bore an independent grudge. He finally kissed her, awkwardly. She looked at him with sadness, her eyelids lowered; her eyes, in deep shadow, became intensely expressive whenever the expression came from the muscles. He left.
He was walking by Katov’s side once more. Yet he could not free himself from her. “A while ago she seemed to me like a mad or a blind woman. I don’t know her. I know her only to the extent that I love, in the sense in which I love her. One possesses of another person only what one changes in ^m, says my father. And then what?” He withdrew into himself as he advanced into the increasingly dark alley, in which even the telegraph insulators no longer gleamed against the sky. His torment returned, and he remembered the records: “We hear the voices of others with our ears, our own voices with our throats.” Yes. One hears his own life, too, with his throat, and those of others?. First of all there was solitude, the inescapable aloneness behind the living multitude like the great primitive night behind the dense, low night under which this city of deserted streets was expectantly waiting, full of hope and hatred. “But I, to myself, to my throat, what am I? A kind of absolute, the affirmation of an idiot: an intensity greater than that of all the rest. To others, I am what I have done.” To May alone, he was not what he had done; to him alone, she was something altogether diferent from her biography. The embrace by which love holds beings together against solitude did not bring its relief to man; it brought relief only to the madman, to the incomparable monster, dear above all things, that every being is to himself and that he cherishes in his heart. Since his mother had died, May was the only being for whom he was not Kyo Gisors, but an intimate partner. “A parmership consented, conquered, chosen,’, he thought, extraordinarily in harmony with the night, as if his thoughts were no longer made for light. “Men are not my kind, they are those who look at me and judge me; my kind are those who love me and do not look at me, who love me in spite of everything, degradation, baseness, treason-me and not what I have done or shaU do-who would love me as long as I would love my- self-even to suicide. With her alone I have this love in common, injured or not, as others have children who are il and in danger of dying. ” It was not happiness, certainly. It was something primitive which was at one with the darkness and caused a warmth to rise in him, resolving itself into a motionless embrace, as of cheek against cheek-the only thing in him that was as strong as death.
On the roofs there were already shadows at their posts.
Four o'clock in the morning
Old Gisors crumpled the badly torn scrap of paper on which Ch’en had written his name in pencil, and put it in his pocket. He was impatient to see his former pupil again. His eyes fell once more upon the man he was conversing with, a very old Chinaman with the head of a mandarin of the India Company, wearing the robe; he was moving towards the door, with little steps, his forefinger raised, and was speaking English: “It is well that the absolute submission of woman, concubinage and the institution of courtesans exist. I shall continue to publish my articles. It is because our ancestors thought thus that those beautiful paintings exist (he indicated the blue phCI!nix with his eyes, without moving his face, as though he were ogling it)-you are proud of them, and I too. Woman is subject to man as man is subject to the State; and it is less hard to serve man than to serve the State. Do we live for ourselves? We are nothing. We live for the State in the present, for the order of the dead through the centuries….”
Was he ever going to leave? This man clutching to his past, even today (didn’t the sirens of the battleships suffice to fill the night?..) in the face of China corroded by blood like its sacrificial bronzes, was invested with a certain poetic quality, like some lunatics. Order! Crowds of skeletons in embroidered robes, lost in the depth of time in motionless assemblies: facing them, Ch’en, the two hundred thousand workers of the spinning mills without embroideries, the crushing horde of the coolies. The submission of women? Every evening May brought back accounts of suicides of fiancees. The old man left, his forefinger raised: “Order, Mr. Gisors!.. ” after a last bouncing nod of his head and shoulders.
As soon as he had heard the door shut, Gisors called Ch’en and returned with him to the room with the phrenixes.
Ch’en began to pace back and forth. Each time he passed before him, at a slight angle, Gisors seated on one of the divans was reminded of an Egyptian bronze hawk of which Kyo had kept a photograph through fondness for Ch’en, “because of the resemblance.” It was true, in spite of the kindliness which the thick lips seemed to express. “In short, a hawk converted by Saint Francis of Assisi,” he thought.
Ch’en stopped in front of him:
“It’s I who killed Tang Yen Ta,” he said.
He had seen in Gisors’ look something almost affectionate. He despised affection, and was afraid of it. His head which was sunk between his shoulders and pushed forward when he walked, and the curved ridge of his nose, accentuated the resemblance to the hawk, in spite of his squat figure; and even his narrow eyes, almost without lashes, made one think of a bird.
“Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Does Kyo know?”
Gisors pondered. Since he would ' not respond with prejudices, he could only approve. He had nevertheless some difficulty in doing so. “I’m getting old,” he thought.
Ch’en gave up walking.
“I’m terribly alone,” he said, looking straight at Gisors at last.
The latter was upset. That Ch’en fastened himself to him did not astonish him: for years he had been his teacher in the Chinese sense of the word-a little less than his father, more than his mother; since they had both died, Gisors was without doubt the only man Ch’en needed. What he did not understand was that Ch’en, who had undoubtedly met some terrorists again that night, since he had just seen Kyo, seemed so remote from them.
“But the others?” he asked.
Ch’en saw them again, in the back-shop of the record- dealer, plunging into the shadow or emerging from it with the swinging of the lamp, while the cricket chirped.
“They don’t know.”
“That you did it?”
“They know that: no importance.”
He again fell into silence. Gisors avoided questioning him. Ch’en finally went on:
“.. That it’s the first time.”
Gisors suddenly had the impression that he understood; Ch’en felt this:
“No. You don’t understand.”
He spoke French with a guttural accentuation of one- syllable words, which combined startlingly with certain idioms he had picked up from Kyo. He was instinctively holding his arm close to his side: once more he felt the stabbed body which the spring-mattress had caused to rebound against the knife. That meant nothing. He would do it again. In the meantime, however, he yearned for a refuge. But it was only for Kyo that Gisors could feel that deep affection which needs no explanation. Ch’en knew it. How should he express himself?
“You have never killed a man before, have you?” “You know I haven’t.”
That seemed obvious to Ch’en, but today he had begun to distrust such impressions. Yet it seemed to him suddenly that Gisors lacked something. He raised his eyes. The latter was looking up at him, his white hair seeming longer because of the backward toss of his head. Gisors was puzzled by his lack of gestures. This was due to his wound which Ch’en had not mentioned; not that he was suffering from it (a chum of his, an orderly, had disinfected and bound it) but it hampered him. As always when he was reflecting, Gisors was rolling an invisible cigarette between his fingers:
He stopped, his bright eyes steady. Ch’en waited. Gisors went on, almost brutally:
“I don’t think the memory of a murder is enough to upset you so.”
“It’s clear that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Ch’en tried to tell himself; but Gisors had hit the mark. Ch’en sat down, looked at his feet:
“No,” he said, “I don’t think the memory is enough, either. There’s something else, the essential. I’d like to know what.”
Was that why he had come?
“The first woman you ever slept with was a prostitute, of course?” asked Gisors.
“I’m a Chinaman,” answered Ch’en with rancor.
No, thought Gisors. Except, perhaps, for his sexuality, Ch’en was not Chinese. The emigrants from all countries with which Shanghai overflowed had shown Gisors to what extent a man becomes separated from his nation in a national way, but Ch’en no longer belonged to
China, not even in the way he had left it: a complete liberty gave him over completely to his mind.
“What did you feel, afterwards?” asked Gisors.
Ch’en clenched his fists.
“At being a man?”
“At not being a woman.”
His voice no longer expressed rancor, but a complex contempt.
“I think you mean,” he went on, “that I must have felt myself. apart?”
Gisors avoided an answer.
“. Yes. Terribly. And you are right to speak of women. Perhaps one thoroughly despises the man one kills. But less than the others.”
“Than the ones who don’t kill?”
“Than the ones who don’t kill: the weaklings.”
He was pacing again. The two last words had fallen like a load that one drops, and the silence spread around them; Gisors was beginning to feel, not without melancholy, the isolation that Ch’en was speaking of. He sud- denlv remembered that Ch’en had told him he had a hor- «>
ror of hunting.
“Didn’t you feel horror at the blood?”
“Yes. But not only horror.”
He had spoken these words while pacing away from Gisors. He turned round on a sudden and, considering the phcenix, but as directly as though he were looking Gisors straight in the eyes, he asked:
“So what? I know what one does with women when they want to continue to possess you: one lives with them. What about death?”
Even more bitterly, but without taking his eyes off the phcenix:
“Live with it?"
The bent of Gisors’ mind made him inclined always to help out those who came to him; and he felt affection for Ch’en. But he was beginning to see the thing clearly: action in the shock groups was no longer enough for the young man, terrorism was beginning to fascinate him. Still rolling his imaginary cigarette, #9632; his head bent forward as though he were studying the carpet, a white shock of hair beating against his slender nose, he said, trying to give his voice a tone of detachment:
“You think you won’t get away from it. ’’
But his nerves getting the better of him, he spluttered in conclusion:
“… and it’s against that … torment that you’ve come to.. me for help.”
“A torment? No/’ Ch’en finally said, between his teeth, “A fatality?”
Again silence. Gisors felt that no gesture was possible, that he could not take his hand, as he used to. In his tum he made a decision, and said with weariness, as though he had suddenly acquired the habit of anguish:
“Then, you must think it through, and carry it to the extreme. And if you want to live with it.
“I shall soon be killed.’’
Isn’t that what he wants above all? Gisors wondered. He aspires to no glory, to no happiness. Capable of winning, but not of living in his victory, what can he appeal to if not to death? No doubt he wants to give it the meaning that others give to life. To: die on the highest possible plane. An ambitious soul, sufficiently lucid, sufficiently separated from men or sufficiently a.ficted to despise al the objects of his ambition, and his ambition itself?
“If you want to live with this. fatality, there is only one recourse: to pass it on.”
“Who would be worthy of it?” asked Ch’en, still between his teeth.
The air was becoming more and more weighted, as if everything murderous that these words called forth were present there. Gisors could say nothing more: words would have sounded false, frivolous, stupid.
“Thank you,” said Ch’en. He bowed before him, with his whole upper body, Chinese fashion (which he never did) as though he preferred not to touch him, and left.
Gisors went back and sat down, began again to roll his cigarette. For the first time he found himself face to face, not with fighting, but with blood. And as always, he thought of Kyo. Kyo would have found the universe in which Ch’en moved unbreathable. Was he really sure of this? Ch’en also detested hunting, Ch’en also had a horror of blood-before. How well did he know his son at this depth? Whenever his love played no role, whenever he could not refer to many memories, he fully realized that he did not know Kyo. He was seized with an intense desire to see him again-the desire one has to see one’s dead a last time. He knew he had gone.
Where? Ch’en’s presence still animated the room. He had thrown himself into the world of murder, from which he would never emerge: with his passion, he was entering upon the life of a terrorist as into a prison. Before ten years he would be caught-tortured or killed; until then he would live like a man willfully obsessed, in a world of decision and death. He had lived by his ideas; now they would kill him.
And it was indeed this that made Gisors suffer. If Kyo went in for killing, that was his role. And if not, it didn’t matter: what Kyo did was well done. But he was appalled by this sudden sensation, this certainty of the fatality of murder, an intoxication as terrible as his own was innocent. He felt how inadequately he had brought to Ch’en the relief which he sought, how solitary murder is-how great a distance was growing, by virtue of this torment, between himself and Kyo. For the first time, the phrase he had so often repeated, “There is no knowledge of beings,” attached itself in his mind to the face of his son.
As for Ch’en, did he really know him? He did not at all believe that memories enable one to understand men. There was Ch’en’s early education, which had been religious; when he had begun to be interested in the adolescent orphan-his parents had been killed in the pillage of Kalgan-Ch’en, insolent and taciturn, had just come from the Lutheran college. He had been the pupil of a consumptive intellectual who had reached pastorship late in life, and who was struggling patiently at the age of fifty to overcome, by charity, an intense religious anxiety. Obsessed by the shame of the body which tormented Saint Augustine, of the degraded body in which one must live with Christ-through horror of the ritual civilization of China which surrounded him and made the appeal of the true religious life even more imperious — this pastor had worked out in his anguished mind his own image of Luther, on which he would occasionally hold forth to Gisors: “There is life only in God; but man, through sin, is degraded to such a point, so irremediably sullied, that to attain God is a kind of sacrilege. Whence Christ, whence his eternal crucifixion.” Which left grace, that is to say limitless love or terror, according to the strength or weakness of hope; and this terror was a new sin. Which also left charity; but charity does not always suffice to dispel anguish.
The pastor had become attached to Ch’en. He had no suspicion that the uncle in charge of Ch’en had sent him to the missionaries only in order that he might learn English and French, and had put him on his guard against their teaching, especially against the idea of hell which the Confucian mistrusted. The child, who learned to know Christ, and not Satan or God-the pastor’s experience had taught him that men never become converted except to mediators-gave himself over to love with the wholeheartedness which he brought to everything he did. But the respect of the schoolboy for his master was sufficiently strong-the only thing which China had deeply instilled in ^m-for the pastor’s anguish to be communicated to him, in spite of the love he had been taught; and a hell was disclosed to him, more terrible and more convincing than the one he had been supposedly forewarned against.
The uncle returned. Appalled when he found^what his nephew had become, he manifested a delicate satisfaction, sent little jade and crystal trees to the director, to the pastor, to several others; a week later he sent for Ch’en to come home and, the following week, sent him to the University of Peking.
Gisors, still rolling his imaginary cigarette, his halfopen mouth expressing the bewilderment of one deep in thought, made an effort to recall the adolescent as he had been at that time. But how could one separate him, isolate him from the person he had become? “I think of his religious spirit because Kyo has never had any, and at this moment every profound difference between them reassures me. Why do I have the impression of knowing him better than my son?” It was because he saw more clearly the way in which he had modified him; this essential modification-fczs work-was precise, with well-defined limits, and there was nothing about men that he knew better than what he had given to them.
No sooner had he observed Ch’en than he had understood that this adolescent was incapable of living by an ideology which did not immediately become transformed into action. As he was devoid of charity, a religious calling could lead him only to contemplation or the inner life; but he hated contemplation, and would only have dreamt of an apostleship, for which precisely his absence of charity disqualified him. In order to live he therefore needed first of all to escape from his Christianity. (From half-confidences, it seemed that the acquaintance of prostitutes and students had made him overcome the only sin that had always been stronger than Ch’en’s will-power, masturbation; and with it, a constantly recurring feeling of anxiety and degradation.) When his new master had opposed Christianity, not with arguments, but with other forms of greamess, faith had sifted through Ch’en’s fingers, imperceptibly, without crisis, like sand. His faith had detached him from China, accustomed him to isolate himself from the world instead of submitting to it; and he had understood through Gisors that everything had happened as if this period of his life had been merely an initiation in the sense of heroism: what good is a soul, if there is neither God nor Christ?
At this point Gisors’ train of thought brought him back to his son, who had never been exposed to Christianity but whose Japanese education (Kyo had lived in Japan from his eighth to his seventeenth year) had also imposed the conviction that ideas were not to be thought, but lived. Kyo had chosen action, in a grave and premeditated way, as others choose a military career, or the sea: he left his father, lived in Canton, in Tientsin, the life of day-laborers and coolies, in order to organize the syndicates. Ch’en-his uncle, taken as hostage at the capture of Swatow, and unable to pay his ransom, had been executed-had found himself without money, provided only with worthless diplomas, with his twenty- four years and with China before him. He was a truck- driver when the Northern routes were dangerous, then an assistant chemist, then nothing. Everything had pushed him into political activity: the hope of a different world, the possibility of eating, though wretchedly (he was naturally austere, perhaps through pride), the gratification of his hatreds, his mind, his character. This activity gave a meaning to his solitude.
But with Kyo everything was simpler. The heroic sense had given him a kind of discipline, not a kind of justification of life. He was not restless. His life had a meaning, and he knew what it was: to give to each of these men whom famine, at this very moment, was killing off like a slow plague, the sense of his own dignity. He belonged with them: they had the same enemies. A half-breed, an outcast, despised by the white men and even more by the white women, Kyo had not tried to win them: he had sought and had found his own kind. “There is no possible dignity, no real life for a man who works twelve hours a day without knowing why he works.” That work would have to take on a meaning, become a faith. Individual problems existed for Kyo only in his private life.
All this Gisors knew. “And yet, if Kyo were to enter and tell me, like Ch’en a while ago: ‘It is I who killed Tang Yen Ta,’ I would think, ‘I knew it.’ All the possibilities within him echo in me with such force that, whatever he might tell me, I would think, ‘I knew it. ’ ” Through the window he looked out at the motionless and indifferent night. “But if I really knew it, and not in this uncertain and appalling fashion, I would save him.” A painful affirmation, of which he did not believe a word. What confidence did he have in his own mind?
Since Kyo’s departure his mind had served only to justify his son’s activity, an activity which at that time was obscurely beginning somewhere in Central China or in the Southern provinces (often, for three months on end, he did not even know where). If the restless students felt his intelligence ready to help them, reaching out to them with so much warmth and insight, it was not, as the idiots of Peking then believed, because he found amusement in living vicariously in lives from which his age separated him: it was because in all those dramas that were so much alike he recognized that of his son. When he showed his students, almost all of them petty bourgeois, that they must ally themselves either with the military chiefs or with the proletariat, when he told those who had chosen: “Marxism is not a doctrine, it is a will. For the proletariat and those who belong with them-you-it is the will to know themselves, to feel themselves as proletarians, and to conquer as such; you must be Marxists not in order to be right, but in order to conquer without betraying yourselves,”-when he told them this he was talking to Kyo, he was defending him. And, if he knew that it was not Kyo’s incisive mind answering him when, after those lectures, he found his room filled with white flowers from the students, according to the Chinese custom, at least he knew that these hands that were preparing to kill by bringing him camelias would tomorrow press those of his son, who would need them. That was why strength of character attracted him so much, why he had become attached to Ch’en. But, at the time when he had become attached to him, had he foreseen this rainy night when the young man, speaking of blood that had hardly coagulated, would come to him and say: “It’s not only horror that I feel. ”?
He got up, opened the drawer of the low table where he kept his opium tray, above a collection of small cactuses. Under the tray, a photograph: Kyo. He pulled it out, looked at it without any precise thoughts, sank bitterly inta the certainty that, at the point he had reached, no one knew anyone-and that even the presence of Kyo, which he had so longed for just now, would have changed nothing, would only have rendered their separation more desperate, like that of friends whom one embraces in a dream and who have been dead for years. He kept the photograph between his fingers: it was as warm as a hand. He let it drop back into the drawer, took out the tray, turned out the electric light and lit the lamp.
Two pipes. Formerly, as soon as his craving began to be quenched, he would contemplate men with benevolence, and the world as an infinite of possibilities. Now, in his innermost being, the possibilities found no place: he was sixty, and his memories were full of tombs. His exquisitely pure sense of Chinese art, of those bluish paintings on which his lamp cast only a dim light, of the whole civilization of suggestion which China spread around him, which, thirty years earlier, he had been able to put to such delicate uses-his sense of happiness- was now nothing more than a thin cover beneath which anguish and the obsession of death were awakening, like restless dogs stirring at the end of their sleep.
Yet his mind hovered over the world, over mankind with a burning passion that age had not extinguished.
It had long been his conviction that there is a paranoiac in every man, in himself first of all. I–Ie had thought once-ages ago-that he imagined himself a hero. No. This force, this furious subterranean imagination which was in him (were I to go mad, he had thought, this part of me alone would remain..) was ready to assume every form, like light. Like Kyo, and almost for the same reasons, he thought of the records of which the latter had spoken to him; and almost in the same fashion, for Kyo’s modes of thought were born of his own. Just as Kyo had not recognized his own voice because he had heard it with his throat, so he-Gisors-probably could not reduce his consciousness of himself to that which he could have of another person, because it was not acquired by the same means. It owed nothing to the senses. He felt himself penetrating into a domain which belonged to him more than any other. With his intruding consciousness he was anxiously treading a forbidden solitude where no one would ever join him. For a second he had the sensation that it was that which must escape death.. His hands, which were preparing a new pellet, were slightly trembling. Even his love for Kyo did not free him from this total solitude. But if he could not escape from himself into another being, he knew how to find relief: there was opium.
Five pellets. For years he had limited himself to that, not without difficulty, not without pain sometimes. He scratched the bowl of his pipe; the shadow of his hand slipped from the wall to the ceiling. He pushed back the lamp a fraction of an inch; the contours of the shadow became lost. The objects also were vanishing: without changing their form they ceased to be distinct from himself, joined him in the depth of a familiar world where a benign indifference mingled all things-a world more true than the other because more constant, more like himself; sure as a friendship, always indulgent and always accessible: forms, memories, ideas, all plunged slowly towards a liberated universe. He remembered a September afternoon when the solid gray of the sky made a lake’s surface appear milky, in the meshes of vast fields of water-lilies; from the moldy gables of an abandoned pavilion to the magnificent and desolate horizon he saw only a world suffused with a solemn melancholy. Near his idle bell, a Buddhist priest leaned on the balustrade of the pavilion, abandoning his sanctuary to the dust, to the fragrance of burning aromatic woods; peasants gathering water-lily seeds passed by in a boat without the slightest sound; at the edge of the farthest flowers two long waves grew from the rudder, melted listlessly in the gray water. They were vanishing now in himself, gathering in their fan al the oppressiveness of the world, but an oppressiveness without bitterness, brought by opium to an ultimate purity. His eyes shut, carried by great motionless wings, Gisors contemplated his solitude: a desolation that joined the divine, while at the same time the wave of serenity that gently covered the depths of death widened to infinity.
Half past four in the morning
Already dressed as government soldiers with waterproofs, the men were going down one by one into the big launch rocked by the eddies of the river.
“Two of the sailors are members of the Party. We’ll have to question them: they must know where the firearms are,” said Kyo to Katov. Except for the boots, the uniform did not greatly modify the latter’s appearance.
His military blouse was as badly buttoned as the other. But the brand-new cap solemnly sitting on his head, which was usually bare, made him look foolish. “Astonishing combination, a Chinese officer’s cap and such a nose! ” thought Kyo. It was pitch dark.
“Slip on the hood of your waterproof,” he said nevertheless.
The launch eased off from the wharf and sped into the night. It soon disappeared behind a junk Cruisers- the shafts of light from the projectors, crossed like sabers, swung in a flash from the sky to the chaotic port.
In the bow, Katov kept his eyes glued to the Shtm- tung, which seemed gradually to be approaching. While the smell of stagnant water, fish and smoke from the port, which was gradually replacing the coal smell of the dock, seemed to go through him, his mind was obsessed by the memory which the approach of every battle called forth in him. On the Lithuanian front his battalion had been taken by the White forces. The disarmed men were standing in line on the barely visible expanse of snow against the greenish dawn. “Communists, leave the ranks!” Death, they knew. Two-thirds of the battalion had advanced. “Take off your coats.” “Dig the pit.” They had dug. Slowly, for the ground was frozen. The White Guards, a revolver in each hand (the shovels might become weapons), uneasy and impatient, were waiting, to right and left-the center empty because of the machine-guns leveled at the prisoners. The silence was limitless, vast as the snow that stretched out as far as the eye could reach. Only the clods of earth fell with a brittle sound, more and more hurried. In spite of death, the men were hurrying to get warm. Several had begun to sneeze. “That’s good now. Halt!” They turned round. Behind them, beyond their comrades, women, children and old men from the village were herded, scarcely clad, wrapped in blankets, mobilized to witness the example. Many were turning their heads, as though they were trying not to look, but they were fascinated by horror. “Take off your trousers!” For uniforms were scarce. Many hesitated, because of the women. “Take off your trousers! ” The wounds appeared, one by one, bandaged with rags: the machine-guns had fired low and almost all were wounded in the legs. Many folded their trousers, although they had thrown their cloaks. They formed a line again, on the edge of the pit this time, facing the machine-guns, pale on the snow: flesh and shirts. Bitten by the cold, they were now sneezing uncontrollably, one after the other, and those sneezes were so intensely human, in that dawn of execution, that the machine-gunners, instead of firing, waited-waited for life to become less indiscreet. At last they decided to fire. The following evening the Reds recaptured the village: seventeen of the victims who were still alive- among them Katov-were saved. Those pale shadows on the greenish snow at dawn, transparent, shaken by convulsive sneezes in the face of the machine-guns, were here in this rain, in this Chinese night, before the shadow of the Shantung.
The launch plowed ahead. The swell was heavy enough to make the low and shadowy outline of the vessel seem to rock slowly on the river; scarcely lighted, it could be made out only as a darker mass against the cloud-covered sky. The Shantung was undoubtedly guarded. A cruiser’s search-light struck the launch, held it a moment, left it. It described a broad curve and came on the steamer from the stem, veering slightly to starboard, as though it were about to be headed towards the neighboring ship. Al the men wore sailors’ waterproofs, with the hoods thrown back. By order of the port commission the gangways of all the ships were do^; Katov looked at the one on the Shantung through his spy-glass hidden by his waterproof: it swung four feet from the water, barely lighted by three electric bulbs. If the captain were to ask for the money, which they did not have, before authorizing them to go aboard, the men were to jump from the launch one by one; it would be diffic it to hold it fast under the gangway. Everything would therefore depend on that little oblique bridge. If they tried to raise it, from the ship, he could foe on those who worked the ropes: there was nothing to give protection under the tackles. But the men on board would prepare to defend themselves. The launch veered ninety degrees, made for the Shantung. The current, which was strong at this hour, caught it on the beam; the steamer, very tall now (they were directly beneath it), seemed to move off at full speed in the night, like a phantom ship. The engineer put the launch at full speed: the Shantung seemed to slow down, become motionless, recede. They were approaching the gangway. Katov took hold of it as they pa^ed; jerking himself up, he found himself on the steps.
“The document?” asked the man at the cargo-port.
Katov presented it. The man passed it on, remained at his post, revolver in hand. This meant that the captain would have to recognize his own document; it was probable that he would, since he had done so when Clappique had presented it. Stil. Below the cargo-port the dark launch rose and fell.
The messenger returned: “You may come up.” Katov did not move; one of his men, who wore lieutenant’s stripes (the only one who spoke English), left the launch, went up and followed the sailor acting as messenger, who led him to the captain.
The latter, a crop-haired Norwegian with blotched cheeks, was waiting for him in his cabin, behind his desk. The messenger went out.
“We’ve come to take delivery of the arms,” said the lieutenant in English.
The captain looked at him without answering, stupefied. The generals had always paid for the arms; up to the time Tang Yen Ta, the go-between, had been sent, the sales had been negotiated secretly by the attache of the consulate. If the generals no longer kept their agreements with the clandestine importers, who would supply them? But, since he had to deal only with the Shanghai government, he could try to save his firearms.
“Well! Here is the key.”
He fumbled in the inside pocket of his coat, calmly, then with a quick move pulled out his revolver-at a level with the lieutenant’s chest, from whom he was separated only by the table. At the same moment, he heard behind him: “Hands up!” Katov, through the porthole opening on the upper deck, had him covered. The captain was now completely bewildered, for this fellow was a white man: but for the moment it was no use insisting. The cases of arms were not worth his life. “A trip to be checked up to profit and loss.” He would see what he could attempt with his crew. He put down his revolver, which the lieutenant seized.
Katov entered and searched him: he had no other weapon.
“Abs’lutely no use having so many revolvers on board and only carrying one on you,” he said in English. Six of his men entered behind him, one by one, in silence. Katov’s heavy gait, robust air, upturned nose, his light
blond hair were those of a Russian. Scotch? But that accent.
“You’re not from the government, are you?”
“Mind y’r business.”
The second officer was being brought in, duly tied hand and foot, caught in his sleep. The men bound the captain. Two of them stayed to guard him. The others went below with Katov. The men of the crew belonging to the Party showed them where the arms were hidden; the sole precaution of the Macao importers had been to write “Unmounted Pieces” on the cases. The unloading began. The gangway having been lowered, this was easy, for the cases were small. When the last case was in the launch, Katov went out and destroyed the wireless apparatus, then went back into the captain’s cabin.
“If you’re in too much of a hurry to land I warn you you’ll be abs’lutely shot down at the first turn of the street. Good evening.”
Sheer bravado, but the ropes digging into the arms of the prisoners gave it some force.
The revolutionaries, accompanied by the two men of the crew who had guided them, returned to the launch: it fell away from the gangway and sped straight towards the wharf. Tossed about by the swell the men, triumphant but anxious, changed costumes: until they reached shore, nothing was certain.
There a stake truck was waiting for them, Kyo sitting beside the driver.
“Nothing. An affair for b’ginners.”
The cases were transferred, and the truck drove off, carrying Kyo, Katov and four men, one of whom had kept his uniform. The others dispersed.
It rolled through the streets of the Chinese city with a rumble that was drowned at each b^p by a rattle of tin: the stakes were lined with gasoline cans. They stopped at every important ch'on: shop, cellar, apartment. A case was taken down; stuck on the side, a ciphered note made by Kyo indicated the distribution of the arms, some of which were to be passed on to the secondary combat organizations. The truck would stop barely five minutes at each post for it had to call at more than twenty posts.
They had only treason to fear: the noisy truck, driven by a man in gove^rnmental uniform, aroused no suspicion. They met a patrol. “I’ve become the milk-man making his round,” thought Kyo.
Day was dawning.