The sentence of a German geographer recurred to him: “The German is bicephalous; with one head he dreams and poetizes while with the other he thinks and executes.”
Desnoyers was now beginning to feel depressed at the certainty of war. This professor seemed to him even worse than the Herr Counsellor and the other Germans that he had met on the steamer. His distress was not only because of his selfish thought as to how the catastrophe was going to affect his plans with Marguerite. He was suddenly discovering that in this hour of uncertainty he loved France. He recognized it as his father’s native land and the scene of the great Revolution. . . . Although he had never mixed in political campaigns, he was a republican at heart, and had often ridiculed certain of his friends who adored kings and emperors, thinking it a great sign of distinction.
Argensola tried to cheer him up.
“Who knows? . . . This is a country of surprises. One must see the Frenchman when he tries to remedy his want of foresight. Let that barbarian of a cousin of yours say what he will—there is order, there is enthusiasm. . . . Worse off than we were those who lived in the days before Valmy. Entirely disorganized, their only defense battalions of laborers and countrymen handling a gun for the first time. . . . But, nevertheless, the Europe of the old monarchies could not for twenty years free themselves from these improvised warriors!”
IN WHICH APPEAR THE FOUR HORSEMEN
The two friends now lived a feverish life, considerably accelerated by the rapidity with which events succeeded each other. Every hour brought forth an astonishing bit of news—generally false—which changed opinions very suddenly. As soon as the danger of war seemed arrested, the report would spread that mobilization was going to be ordered within a few minutes.
Within each twenty-four hours were compressed the disquietude, anxiety and nervous waste of a normal year. And that which was aggravating the situation still more was the uncertainty, the expectation of the event, feared but still invisible, the distress on account of a danger continually threatening but never arriving.
History in the making was like a stream overflowing its banks, events overlapping each other like the waves of an inundation. Austria was declaring war with Servia while the diplomats of the great powers were continuing their efforts to stem the tide. The electric web girdling the planet was vibrating incessantly in the depths of the ocean and on the peaks of the continents, transmitting alternate hopes and fears.
Russia was mobilizing a part of its army. Germany, with its troops in readiness under the pretext of manoeuvres, was decreeing the state of “threatened war.” The Austrians, regardless of the efforts of diplomacy, were beginning the bombardment of Belgrade. William II, fearing that the intervention of the Powers might settle the differences between the Czar and the Emperor of Austria, was forcing the course of events by declaring war upon Russia. Then Germany began isolating herself, cutting off railroad and telegraphic communications in order to shroud in mystery her invading forces.