Two mornings later, the door bell rang. A visitor!
There came toward him a soldier—a little soldier of the infantry, timid, with his kepis in his hand, stuttering excuses in Spanish:—“I knew that you were here . . . I come to . . .”
That voice? . . . Dragging him from the dark hallway, Don Marcelo conducted him to the balcony. . . . How handsome he looked! . . . The kepis was red, but darkened with wear; the cloak, too large, was torn and darned; the great shoes had a strong smell of leather. Yet never had his son appeared to him so elegant, so distinguished-looking as now, fitted out in these rough ready-made clothes.
“You! . . . You! . . .”
The father embraced him convulsively, crying like a child, and trembling so that he could no longer stand.
He had always hoped that they would finally understand each other. His blood was coursing through the boy’s veins; he was good, with no other defect than a certain obstinacy. He was excusing him now for all the past, blaming himself for a great part of it. He had been too hard.
“You a soldier!” he kept exclaiming over and over. “You defending my country, when it is not yours!” . . .
And he kissed him again, receding a few steps so as to get a better look at him. Decidedly he was more fascinating now in his grotesque uniform, than when he was so celebrated for his skill as a dancer and idolized by the women.
When the delighted father was finally able to control his emotion, his eyes, still filled with tears, glowed with a malignant light. A spasm of hatred furrowed his face.
“Go,” he said simply. “You do not know what war is; I have just come from it; I have seen it close by. This is not a war like other wars, with rational enemies; it is a hunt of wild beasts. . . . Shoot without a scruple against them all. . . . Every one that you overcome, rids humanity of a dangerous menace.”
He hesitated a few seconds, and then added with tragic calm:
“Perhaps you may encounter familiar faces. Family ties are not always formed to our tastes. Men of your blood are on the other side. If you see any one of them . . . do not hesitate. Shoot! He is your enemy. Kill him! . . . Kill him!”
AFTER THE MARNE
At the end of October, the Desnoyers family returned to Paris. Dona Luisa could no longer live in Biarritz, so far from her husband. In vain la Romantica discoursed on the dangers of a return. The Government was still in Bordeaux, the President of the Republic and the Ministry making only the most hurried apparitions in the Capital. The course of the war might change at any minute; that little affair of the Marne was but a momentary relief. . . . But the good senora, after having read Don Marcelo’s letters, opposed an adamantine will to all contrary suggestions. Besides, she was thinking of her son, her Julio, now a soldier. . . . She believed that, by returning to Paris, she might in some ways be more in touch with him than at this seaside resort near the Spanish frontier.