“Ah, the assassin! . . . the bandit!”
In her wrathful imagination she was again seeing the countenance so often displayed in the illustrated pages of the periodicals—moustaches insolently aggressive, a mouth with the jaw and teeth of a wolf, that laughed . . . and laughed as men must have laughed in the time of the cave-men.
And Don Marcelo envied this wrath!
When Marguerite was able to return to the studio in the rue de la Pompe, Julio, who had been living in a perpetual bad humor, seeing everything in the blackest colors, suddenly felt a return of his old optimism.
The war was not going to be so cruel as they all had at first imagined. The days had passed by, and the movements of the troops were beginning to be less noticeable. As the number of men diminished in the streets, the feminine population seemed to have increased. Although there was great scarcity of money, the banks still remaining closed, the necessity for it was increasingly great, in order to secure provisions. Memories of the famine of the siege of ’70 tormented the imagination. Since war had broken out with the same enemy, it seemed but logical to everybody to expect a repetition of the same happenings. The storehouses were besieged by women who were securing stale food at exorbitant prices in order to store it in their homes. Future hunger was producing more terror than immediate dangers.
For young Desnoyers these were about all the transformations that war was creating around him. People would finally become accustomed to the new existence. Humanity has a certain reserve force of adaptation which enables it to mould itself to circumstances and continue existing. He was hoping to continue his life as though nothing had happened. It was enough for him that Marguerite should continue faithful to their past. Together they would see events slipping by them with the cruel luxuriousness of those who, from an inaccessible height, contemplate a flood without the slightest risk to themselves.
This selfish attitude had also become habitual to Argensola.
“Let us be neutral,” the Bohemian would say. “Neutrality does not necessarily mean indifference. Let us enjoy the great spectacle, since nothing like it will ever happen again in our lifetime.”
It was unfortunate that war should happen to come when they had so little money. Argensola was hating the banks even more than the Central Powers, distinguishing with special antipathy the trust company which was delaying payment of Julio’s check. How lovely it would have been with this sum available, to have forestalled events by laying in every class of commodity! In order to supplement the domestic scrimping, he again had to solicit the aid of Dona Luisa. War had lessened Don Marcelo’s precautions, and the family was now living in generous unconcern. The mother, like other house mistresses, had stored up provisions for months and months to come, buying whatever eatables she was able to lay hands on. Argensola took advantage of this abundance, repeating his visits to the home in the avenue Victor Hugo, descending its service stairway with great packages which were swelling the supplies in the studio.