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 21 
 on: July 16, 2024, 09:03:58 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
AT THE beginning of February, Herr von Ribbentrop became Minister for Foreign Affairs. A shudder ran through even the most impassive embassies: the Nazis were officially masters of German diplomacy. Many changes in high military circles showed that they were masters of the army as well. One could no longer count on being able to influence the balance of forces; the whole ancien régime, monarchist or republican, was swept by the board. Like many other ambassadors, Prince von Erbach was summoned to Berlin.

“At least he will be able to put the reasonable point of view there,” said M. Laurent to Georges. “I would like to be summoned to Paris to echo him. We shall not win the Germans over by baring our teeth at their new political chief.”

The colonel was announced: he had come to ask if it was not opportune to open the “war instructions”. He no doubt thought that Prince von Erbach’s absence had damped M. Laurent’s optimism, and that this was a good moment to beat the drum.

“I am sorry,” replied the Ambassador, “but I cannot unseal the envelope except under orders from the Ministry.”

“In that case the war will already have broken out while you are waiting for a telegram from Paris before acquainting yourself with your war instructions! I know mine by heart: I ponder them and have them word perfect.”

“My poor Colonel, we shall certainly never understand one another. My business is to represent peace to the very end, to believe in peace to the very end. If we all take to believing in war, war is what we shall get.”

“The bed on which you diplomats are still sleeping is not the bed of roses of the Sybarites: it’s chock-full of gunpowder, like the one that Admiral Duc Decrés jumped on, and your awakening will be tragic.”

“Still harping on explosives! It’s getting wearisome.”

“Very well, sir, we shall talk about war instructions by and by, but by then the guns will be sounding.”

“At Vienna in 1914, the Ambassador, Dumaine, started to look for his war instructions when war really was imminent. The famous envelope was nowhere to be found: worse still, it did not appear on any inventory, which seemed a piece of culpable negligence. There was a disused chest in a corner of the chancellery: they supposed that the instructions were locked away there, but it could not be opened. A locksmith was sent for, and they found a bundle of love-letters forgotten by some former secretary. The ambassador telegraphed; ‘I have no war instructions.’ The reply was: ‘They are only provided for countries with which war is not envisaged.’ Obviously, Austria did not come into this category.”

“I am afraid we shall hear of the death of Austria very soon, and who knows where that will lead us? That is why, since you have war instructions, you should lose no time in seeking authority to open them.”

“I should make a laughing-stock of myself! Everyone would think I wanted to put the Embassy into a state of siege, like Pichon at Peking during the Boxer Rising, or X---- at Addis Ababa during the Abyssinian War.”

“Your choice of examples is not very happy. I have heard that your friend at Addis Ababa fired a few shots himself at the books in his library, to show the risks he had run at his desk.”

“How long are you going on repeating lying gossip?”

“Nor can you deny that Pichon deserted his post and took refuge in the British Legation: it’s a notorious fact. No doubt this was a good recommendation for making him Minister for Foreign Affairs.”

“Delbos is our head now, not Pichon.”

“You must admit that the Service is no more courageous than its Ministers.”

“One of them paid with his life for the honour of accompanying King Alexander.”

“But on a different occasion an Ambassador ran like a rabbit. They say that for fear of being mistaken for the Czar (whom till then he flattered himself he resembled), he tore off his uniform and made off in his braces. Not many military attachés are privileged, as I am, to serve under an ambassador who has the Croix de Guerre.”

“If you think you are going to lead me from the Croix de Guerre to the war instructions, your courtesies are wasted, my dear Colonel.”

“I shall content myself with respectfully pointing out that in present circumstances your staff is not up to full strength. This affects me directly, for reasons which you know, and you should remedy it without instructions from your Ministry.”

“With Sarre here, I shall face whatever may happen.”

“I am sure you will.”

Georges bowed in turn to his chief and to the colonel.

The latter continued: “It is not a question of persons, but, once again, of personnel: I am short of one person on the ‘specially affected’ list: No. 4 on that list.”

The Ambassador seemed struck by this idea. He declared that he would telegraph to the First Secretary to return immediately.

“That will teach him to give me the slip,” he added.

+++

Redouté’s absence had left the matter of the Naxos property in Georges’s hands. So he had had occasion to see Father de Trennes again shortly before the latter had left for Naxos. When he came back, tired by his journey, he asked Georges to call in at the Marist convent.

The door-keeper accompanied the visitor with the double respect inspired by a secretary of the French Embassy and the personage he was visiting. Clearly, Father de Trennes was highly regarded in this establishment. What an honour for the college to harbour one who was in some sense a Papal Legate!

The room was large, but of almost monastic austerity. A wood fire was burning in the hearth.

The priest told Georges of the result of his negotiations. He had resumed relations with the Catholic community of the island and laid the foundations of a friendly agreement which would be successfully concluded if the Vatican lost its last chance of winning the lawsuit. Georges congratulated the wily negotiator, expressing his regret that the French Government’s doctrinal attitude prevented it from supporting the démarches which were to be made in Athens.

The priest spoke of the beauties of the island and of the ruins of its temple of Bacchus. He would like, he said, to suggest that the Director of the French School should excavate there, since French influence seemed likely to become strong again.

The bell for recreation had sounded. A murmuring floated up from the courtyard, then more distinct cries could be heard: the young were at liberty.

“I need that discordant music,” said the priest. “I wait for it in the morning, at midday, and at four o’clock. I missed it in the silence of Naxos. What overtones there are in the voices of children, whether singing or shouting! I have in France a collection of records, the Eton Boating Song, Harrow School Songs, and of our various choir schools. I love them all, these singing children, little lords or concierges’ sons, and I treat myself to solitary concerts of their voices. A voice is more than a presence; it is an idea. Have you thought of cultivating ideas, my dear Georges? We are in the very country of ideas, here. When Socrates sees the half-open chlamys of the beautiful Charmides, he is doing homage to an idea. When the young boys in Aristophanes rub out the print they have left in the sand, they are doing homage to an idea.”

He led Georges to the window and drew aside the curtain. One of the boys in the courtyard seemed to have been waiting for him, and smiled to him.

“What promise there is behind the angel’s smile!” said the priest. “I shall never cease to be fascinated by the world of children. Nowhere else are God and the Devil found so close together; nowhere else do the angels rub shoulders with the demons. I have no greater happiness than to cast my socratic regard upon it. An instant of it, the merest glimpse, is enough to make me giddy. You long ago gave me one such opportunity---pardon me for reminding you of it. I had another, more recent and more transient, in a middle-class home to which I was invited shortly before leaving France. We were at table, and the young son of the house asked one of his friends who was there to peel an apple for him---he had a bandaged finger. The other one did it so carefully, with such attention to detail---so lovingly, in short---that my eyes were opened. Those two boys had given themselves away, thanks to an apple.”

 22 
 on: July 16, 2024, 08:01:10 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
“FRANCOISE, Francoise, what do you want from me? I no longer know what I want from you, but I know that I continually want new faces and new bodies. I love you, but I love the slave-market also. I despise it, but I cannot do without it.

“I cling to you, yet I have tried to detach you from me. To make you tire of me, I conjured up anxieties, scruples, and fears. But I do not reproach myself that I always ended by giving in to you. Perhaps you were more in love with me as you felt me slipping away. Having loved me because you thought I did not like women, you could not be surprised at my passing coolnesses and attached all the more importance to overcoming them. You looked on me as your conquest, as much as I looked on you as mine.

“We stood thus, when one day we were talking about your fellow-students at the Institute, and I asked you which of them was the best-looking. You seemed rather at a loss for a reply: you told me there were several whom you thought good-looking. I asked you to describe them to me, then to describe one of them more particularly, and I had the impression that this idea soon began to grow pleasurably upon you. And so, under pretext of trampling on vulgar prejudices, I accustomed you to the idea that we were no longer alone, and you did not seem to mind. Your preference went to the baronet: I decided that you had studied him at close quarters. Your imagination supplemented what you knew of him and you described him to me as though he had been your lover.

“I set a trap to test you. I suggested lending you my flat so that you could meet him there. But how is one to fathom a virtuous woman? You were indignant. You even suspected me of wanting to attract the boy for my own purposes, like a story by Brantéme or Boccaccio. I set your mind at rest: it was established that third persons would serve us as a condiment, without their bodily intervention. Our little session with the blind musician had borne its fruit.

“However, you soon showed me that when once one had put an idea into a girl’s head, it will develop by itself. Being now certain of your dominion over me, you admitted that, after all, your recent indignation now seemed childish to you, and that you saw no reason why you should not take advantage of my offer. You told me this with a malicious smile: I realized that you had not forgotten your suspicions, that you were no longer offended by them, and thought that you were giving me a helping hand. My reply surprised you: I told you that you had only to call me on the telephone and you would find the key under the doormat. You pretended to be disappointed, and quite shamelessly invited me to join the pair of you. One would have thought that, like a heroine of tragedy---of lubricious tragedy---you were hoping

    ‘By main attempts to put away remorse.’

But all you put away was myself. Had you any right to complain? You still had a secluded rendezvous and a lover.

“And so our life was arranged: we were separated in body, but not in property, because it was in my house that, twice a week, you met the baronet. And when I happened to see one or other of you afterwards, I admired the shadows under your eyes. You must not think that you owed me anything: we were quits. My pleasures, which I varied at will, were sharpened by yours: you peopled them from afar, you helped them, but I had no dealings with you. Diversity, infinity, were my domain henceforth: there is no other domain, I said, for pleasure. The experiments which we made have put you on the track of this truth, but you cannot follow me along it: it is already plenty to have had two lovers when you have not even left college.

“In this exchange of services, you gave me something of yourself, better even than giving yourself: you kept me company in my flat when you were no longer there. You left me the perfume of your presence, the traces of your passage. I was glad to find you without looking for you.

“I did not immediately discover this strange enjoyment. To begin with I saw only the unexpected side of the role in which you had cast me: I was the vile pander; I was corrupting two young people; I walked in debauchery, and the famous ‘wickednesses of Monomotapa’ were nothing in comparison with mine. However, at this time you showed more discretion in the way you used my hospitality. Not a thing was out of place: it was as though you had made love standing up, or that, like a witch who had hidden her powers from me, you had transferred the baronet and yourself into bees---amantes ut apes---and had flown out of the window.

“One morning the telephone rang. I heard, not the ritual words ‘The key for today, please,’ but ‘You, today.’ I replied that I was not free and that the key would be in its usual position. You did not reply, but neither did you thank me, and I thought that out of spite you would not take the opportunity. You took care to prove the opposite: you left behind plenty of that disorder which now delights me, but which then annoyed me---the bed, the bathroom . . . I considered that you had either forgotten the elementary decencies or taken a mean and tasteless revenge.

“When you telephoned me again and repeated the same thing, I gave you the same reply again. You came again, you left the flat in the same condition; and suddenly your behaviour seemed charming to me. I realized that you were trying this means of imposing yourself, of occupying my thoughts, of being there with me. I realized that you were no longer interested in the baronet: I had thrown you into his arms to wean you from me, and all he had done was to bring you back to me. I was the dupe of what I had taught you: by forcing you to think of another while lying in my arms, I had made you think of me while in the arms of another.

“ ‘The third time, the walls fell.’ I answered ‘Yes’. Still I was afraid to break the spell produced by the mixture of your presence and your absence. But I was more intoxicated than ever to see you, and possess you again, and I am sure that in those divine moments we thought only of one another. I did not give up, for you, habits I should have been ashamed to mention to you, but our delicious intimacy began again, and there was apparently no rival.

“If we seemed to think no more of others, someone was thinking of us: the poor baronet, who suspected you had good reasons for using my flat. ‘I am sure of him,’ you said to me; ‘he adores me; I shall make him put up with everything. You trained me well, but I, in turn, trained him well also.’ Indeed, yes! We could be proud of our pupil, for I shared with you the responsibility of his training. One day, fearing that I might be late, I had left the key for you---for you alone---in its old place. But I arrived before you and found the youngster in my room. I do not know if this was a tragic situation, but in any case it struck me as somewhat unusual. Could I feel indignant, in the name of honour, modesty, discretion? At most I could object to it as an intrusion into my privacy. Your pocket-lover, as you called him, had come here so often in my absence that he had some right to feel himself at home. He had the best of claims on my indulgence, even on my pity. He apologized for his boldness, swearing that he was besotted about you, that he could not live without you, and that he was resolved on anything to recover your favour.

“In the middle of all this you arrived. I had expected you to look dumbfounded. But all you did was laugh, as at a good farce, and for a moment I thought that you had stage-managed it yourself. But when you flung yourself round my neck regardless of the onlooker, I understood that you did not mind making him suffer and that his happiness meant nothing to you. You convinced me that you thought not of him, but of me, and you were so uninhibited in proving it to me, that I forgot that he was not blind like the musician.

“I had a vague idea that he might act as a sort of cloak-room attendant, or have his own way of playing the guitar as he watched us. But the young man had other ideas and made a dignified retreat. What I had made you imagine, what you had wished to do, that boy’s self-respect made impossible.

“You must admit, Francoise, that it would have been too much to repeat that original performance. I wanted to fall in with your own wishes, if only for the rarity of the thing, but as a witty man once said: ‘To do it once, is to be a philosopher; to do it twice, is to be . . . something else.’

“All this still does not explain what you see in me. What motive had you to get me back, when I had procured the other man for you? It is not only that I have lived a little longer than he, as you recently told me. Nor is it because he has amorous virtues or vices which I have not. What, then, are you looking for, beyond these enjoyments? Do you suspect that love is not to be found like that? Let us beware of meeting it: it would immediately deprive us of the rest of the universe. As for me, I shall never let you know that I loved you: I tell it only to this letter, which you will never read.”

+++

One Sunday, Georges took Rudolf to Corinth. They left very early in the morning, to be sure of having an unencumbered road. And what a road it is! After Eleusis they left the Sacred Way and followed the cliff road beside the sea, One after another, the languid profile of Salamis, the dizzy crags of Kaki-Skala, the distant mountains of the Peloponnesus, the massive height of Acrocorinth, were silhouetted on the horizon.

Before crossing the little bridge of the Isthmus, they stopped to visit the wooden glen where the Isthmian Games used to be held. Not a stone of the ancient monuments remained; but the branches of the pines seemed ready still to crown the victors who once had been acclaimed in this place. It was here that Pindar admired the grace of the young athletes, that the murderers of Ibycus were revealed by a flight of cranes, that Nero sang to the beautiful slave whom he had taken to his bed, that the catechumens of St. Paul instructed their pupils, that Lucian’s Golden Ass nearly had public connexion with a woman. Georges enumerated these diverse associations to Rudolf.

“Naturally,” said the latter, “the indecent associations are uppermost in a Frenchman’s mind.”

“You are mistaken: when Chateaubriand went through Corinth he remembered only St. Paul.”

Beyond modern Corinth they saw the ruins of the ancient city, dominated by the columns of the Temple of Apollo.

“Chateaubriand says nothing about that temple, though it’s easy enough to see,” said Georges. “That has raised doubts whether he really passed by the Isthmus as he said he did.”

“If he had seen those columns, he would have told us about the piety of the stylite saints. Everyone seeks from antiquity what flatters his own tastes, and interprets it accordingly. Nothing amuses me more in Rome than the inscription on the column taken from the Basilica of Maxentius, which now carries a statue of the Virgin in front of Santa Maria Maggiore: ‘Formerly sad . . . at present joyful.’ ”

“And what about Barrès, who found the water of the Greek fountains ‘sweetened by the idea of grace’---sanctifying grace, of course!”

“But what strength people derive from the belief that they possess the truth! You appreciate that I am, alas, alluding to something other than religious truth.”

“Since the absurdity of religious fanaticism has been so obviously demonstrated, we might indeed have been spared political fanaticism.”

“But since there is a new faith, why not a new fanaticism? That is what must be destroyed in all its forms, whether religious or political. In practice they give rise mutually to one another: so long as men believe in something, tyrannies and mythologies will continue to succeed one another. When scepticism reigns on earth, then liberty and peace will reign also.”

“Bravo!” cried Georges.

“Don’t congratulate me. I derive these humble lights from reflections which the state of my country has induced in me. Germany is struggling for her German faith, because you stand against her in the name of your faith. We would have had less belief in our-selves if you had believed less in your-selves: we should be less bitter in pursuit of our rights if you had not been so much convinced of the superiority of yours. O divine scepticism, who will bring thee back to us?”

“Certainly not the writers of our conservative press whose idea of fighting Nazism and Communism is to prate about the Son of Man, the Most Holy Father, and the Beast.”

They were lunching in the sun at a quayside restaurant as they talked. Georges was enjoying the conversation, which seemed so impersonal, but which a look, a smile or a gesture could bring back to themselves. The sharp range of the Geranian mountains made a picturesque scene opposite them, between the dark blue of the sea and the light blue of the sky. When the meal was over, they set out for Acrocorinth.

They saw the ruins of the city and the temple colonnade, passed an ancient fountain hollowed in the rock, shook off a donkey-boy who tried hard to persuade them to ride his mounts, and followed the exhausting path which climbs to the fortress. They were willing to earn, by tiring effort, the right to approach the majestic walls which surround the Corinthian acropolis. In their fabric could be seen the traces of the civilization they had protected: the Greek masonry with fine joints like marquetry, the brickwork of the Romans, the rubble of the Crusader period, the fragmentary work of the Turks. A monumental entrance, triply defended, added to the impressiveness of the whole.

They reached the artificial cave in which the spring of Pirene lies concealed. The descent was by ancient steps, and the walls surrounding it were also of the Greek period. The limpidity of this apparently stagnant water symbolized all the virtues of paganism, whatever Barrès might say.

The two friends stood on the lowest step, looking at their faces close together in the crystal liquid. They bent down to drink, and Georges amused himself by drinking the water from Rudolf’s reflection, and he did the same. It seemed to them a mysterious union, sealed in this hidden spring from which the gods had drunk. As they came back to the open air they were so exalted that they would not have been surprised to find Pegasus waiting for them.

“The winged horse!” said Georges, pointing to the sun-baked rocks, as though he saw it there. “You are made to bestride it.”

“Who knows where it might take us, with such a companion as yourself?” said Rudolf, laughing.

They sat on the battlemented wall, on the side where it falls sheer to the Nemea road. All the legends of ancient Greece surrounded them, to defy or to abet their instincts and their renunciations. Georges was no longer thinking of the winged horse of the poets, but of the winged chariot of the divine Plato---the chariot of which each of us is the charioteer. There is the white horse of purity and innocence, and the black horse of pleasure: they do not always yoke well together. But to master the black horse, thought Georges, is to make oneself worthy of the true friendship of antiquity.

 23 
 on: July 15, 2024, 02:05:26 pm 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
ON THE first of January the diplomatic corps went to present its respects to the King of Greece. The ceremony was very simple: His Majesty, standing in the middle of a long gallery, received, one by one, the heads of missions, accompanied by their principal colleagues. The King was in admiral’s uniform, covered with decorations, including the Grand Order of the Saviour. He held his bird-like head rigidly on his small body, with a monocle fixed in his left eye. The interviews were naturally short. M. Laurent presented his two secretaries and his various attachés---an indispensable ceremony even for those who had already had the honour of being presented. It was obviously one of the Ambassador’s great days: he was face to face with a king of his own height. There was another point of resemblance between them: both were sporting a large azure ribbon. M. Laurent, in fact, was wearing his Benin for the first time, as Georges was wearing his Cambodge.

The King did not fail to ask what was this order which was so like that of the Saviour. Explaining that it was the highest of the French colonial orders, the Ambassador added that it was often mistaken for the highest of the Greek.

Leaving the palace, he invited his escort to come and drink champagne at the Embassy. He was delighted with the effect his Benin had produced.

“Something tells me that I shall not have to wait long for the Saviour,” he said.

“Does that mean that you are going to be recalled?” asked the colonel, who had been back some days and was resuming the attack.

“I hope not, unless you have been intriguing against me. But there will be an exchange of decorations at the arrival of the fleet in July. Metaxas is burning to have the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour. He has been made to wait for it, as a reminder of his former friendship for Germany, but he will be given it this time and I count on getting paid for it.”

The colonel spoke gravely:

“Today, the first of January, 1938 . . .”

“Well? What of it?” said the Ambassador.

“Today, when Japan is dictating peace terms to China, when the Spanish Nationalists are entering Teruel, when Hitler is announcing that German military power is to be increased, the Ambassador of France in Greece has nothing better to think of than whether he will get a ribbon.”

It was an understood thing that one never took offence at the colonel’s words. This dig made M. Laurent smile in a mysterious fashion, and he contented himself with replying:

“You will never understand the virtues which are masked by diplomatic frivolity. It is a way of defying destiny, and even of exorcizing it. In July 1914, when the Austrian Embassy in St. Petersburg was hourly expecting the declaration of war, Count Berchtold telegraphed to it to have some chocolates sent to his wife. In the aristocratic Europe which finally vanished at that time, ambassadors and ministers were not afraid of being frivolous. Do you remember what the Abbé Bernis, Ambassador at Venice, wrote to his Minister? ‘You may be sure that I am very pleased to have no more important preoccupations.’ Europe is happy only when ambassadors have nothing to do.”

“It would be better off still, if they did nothing.”

“You may say what you like, but, as I have mentioned Bernis, what better example could there be to support my thesis? No man was more frivolous, yet he was one of our greatest ambassadors.”

The colonel bowed before this argument. He had presumably nothing to say to it. But his bad temper sought an outlet. He saw Redouté looking at Georges’s new cross.

“I admit,” he said, “that the Ambassador is entitled to all his orders, because he represents the Republic, but I should very much like to know by what right Sarre has the Cambodge order without having been in Cambodia?”

Georges was about to remind him that one could be a member of the National Federation of Cuirassiers of France without having been a cuirassier, But it was the Ambassador who replied instead.

“I seem to remember, my dear Colonel, that your name is inscribed along with ours in the register of some colonial orders.”

“I have the Tunisian order and the Moroccan order, but I have served in Morocco and Tunisia. The only justifiable decorations of all those which you diplomats wear seem to me to be those given to you when you leave the countries you have been accredited to. And I should like humbly to observe to the Ambassador that what he calls an ‘exchange of decorations’ is a scandalous practice. Give me the Legion of Honour: I will give you the Saviour. Pass me the rhubarb and I will pass you the senna. But for us soldiers decorations symbolize the shedding of blood, and those who fall in battle---not a cigar offered at the end of a banquet. I haven’t got the Agricultural Medal, but I successfully farm six thousand acres. I have only academic palms, though I am the author of a history of the Conquest of Algeria and a Life of Damremont. But no doubt the Ministry of Education’s rosette has been given to M. Redouté in anticipation of the work he is preparing on the rose-painter.”

“Bless my soul!” said the Ambassador, “‘with six thousand acres one would expect to hear ‘I, Flambeau, said the Flambard . . . Such language is hardly suitable to a baron of the Empire.”

“I can’t help it, if diplomats make me burst into flames so often.”

To put out this fire the Ambassador had another bottle of champagne opened.

“Let us drink to peace,” said the cultural attaché.

“To France!” said the colonel.

“To Cambodia!” said Georges.

“To Neptune!” said the naval attaché.

“To the colonel’s next commandery!” said the Ambassador.

“Yes, I was reserving as a surprise for our friend the news that in June he will be taking part in our exchange of decorations: he is to get the Order of the Phoenix with plaque.” The colonel reddened with pleasure. His naivety was so charming that everyone laughed. But he started up and declared nobly: “I refuse.”

“You will offend the Greeks,” said the Ambassador.

“Ah, well, in that case. . .”

There was renewed laughter.

“There now, our colonel is a reasonable man, a frivolous man, a diplomat!” declared M. Laurent.

“I owe it to myself for the honour of the Army.”

“Well, then, you cannot reproach us with our desire to honour the Diplomatic Service.”

+++

“By order of His Majesty the King of the Hellenes, the Marshal of the Court has the honour to request the company of le Comte de Sarre, secretary of the Embassy of the French Republic, at the reception at the Royal Palace at nine o’clock p.m. on the ninth of January, on the occasion of the marriage of His Royal Highness the Diadochus, the Crown Prince Paul, to Her Serene Highness the Princess Frederika of Brunswick-Luneburg.” As Georges contemplated this invitation, he could not repress a feeling of satisfaction: he was being invited by the King of Greece. True, the royal court formula was more grandiloquent than those used by republics: the King did not deign to address himself in person to his guests. But were not these ceremonial fictions the last defence of royalty, even more than the fictions of the cipher were the last defences of diplomacy.

However that might be, a French diplomat could not but be touched to see this invitation drawn up in French. As for the Princess’s name, it reminded him of the care which had been taken to spread the story that, entirely German as she was, she belonged none the less to the English royal family.

The marriage was celebrated in the cathedral. Entry was by a simple pass-card: the King invited by name to his home only. Here a new fiction was to be seen: the fiction of religions. The Protestant Prince and Princess, by being united according to the Orthodox rite, attested the conventional character of the laws to which they paid formal honour. This was all the more flagrant in that immediately after the Orthodox marriage, they were to be married by a chaplain according to the Protestant rite. The gold and silver of the ikons, the dalmatics and mitres of the bishops, the beauty of the canticles, the pomp of the Byzantine liturgy, did not succeed in creating a religious atmosphere. The ritual of the pages who held the crowns over the heads of bride and bridegroom, the ceremonial walk round the altar, the rice and flowers which were thrown over the couple, were nothing more than trappings of a picturesque spectacle.

Finally, the pair themselves were the symbol of a fiction, the dynastic fiction of these Balkan monarchies which had no links with the people they ruled. Here, it was the Glucksburgs from Denmark: elsewhere the Coburgs or the Hohenzollerns, those “little kings of right and left”, as Alexander III used to say: modern analogues of the monarchies of the Crusades.

On the other hand, it was generally agreed that they were a charming couple. The Prince was tall and well built, and had a good presence. The Princess was the very embodiment of grace: her brilliant colouring seemed to outshine the glitter of her diamonds. The presence of her brothers accentuated her youth: one of them was barely fifteen, though he was wearing two orders.

The German Ambassador was triumphant. But the French Ambassador partook of his triumph: he felt that, thanks to Prince von Erbach, he was more in the limelight than his other colleagues. Also, he was wearing a uniform, whereas the German had none---he would be wearing it a lot that month. But whether triumphant or passive, the whole congregation greeted the end of the service with relief. For Orthodox churches, less generous than Catholic, offer neither chairs nor benches for the comfort of the faithful.

In the evening, “By order of his Majesty,” they reassembled at the Royal Palace. M. Laurent was anxious to cut a good figure in this brilliant company, where the protocol did not give him any privileges. Mme. Laurent was generously decolletée both fore and aft. And, more delicious than ever, out-princessing any princess, Francoise was like the fairy Viviane beside Carabosse.

The guests were directed towards the gallery, where rows of arm-chairs faced a dais. The evening was to begin with a concert. As Rudolf, like his chief, was busy dancing attendance on German Highnesses, Georges joined forces with the Lebanese and the Armenian. He had not been to the Club for some time, and the two friends had plenty to tell him, which they did as the guests were taking their places.

One of them, in spite of the stick he carried, had been robbed in the woods of Lycabettus. They had even taken his stick from him and nearly broken his head with it. The other had had his door besieged by so many of his casual friends that he had had to telephone the police. His story was that he was being threatened by young communists because he had refused to arrange for their repatriation. Hunting communists was the order of the day and the government’s hand was heavy upon them. A quarter of an hour afterwards the Armenian had seen two cars draw up and his molesters roughly bundled into them. He admitted that as he watched this scene from his window it had wrung his heart.

“Diplomatic immunity is a grand thing,” said Georges.

“I need not tell you that we have resolved not to abuse it.”

“I congratulate you, but I am sorry for you: now you will have to behave yourselves.”

“You don’t know the resources of Athens!” said the Lebanese.

“We have discovered an oasis where we shall take up our quarters till the spring.”

‘Yes,” added the Armenian.

“It is really ideal for this period, which we hope will be quiet.”

“I see that risk no longer stimulates you.”

“There is a time for risk and a time for tranquillity. The latter shall henceforth be represented by an honest ruffian who uses his flat as a house of rendezvous. There we have no more to fear, especially as all the inmates are guaranteed to be well-born.”

“You make me blush,” said Georges, “talking like this in the King of Greece’s palace on the day of the Crown Prince’s wedding!”

The orchestra began to tune up, and presently Mozart imposed silence on Highnesses and libertines alike. But the spell of music did not hold the guests in anything but appearance. They had come to gossip, to admire one another, and not to waste their time listening to Mozart. The wedding of a Greek prince and a German princess was not an affair of such great moment, but this reception at least revived the traditions of royalty better than the church service had done. The floor-full of men in uniform and women in their finery was a reflection of the glories of Versailles or of Schoenbrunn. It was said that there were sixty princes. Some looked as though they had been dug up by one of the archaeological schools. It was surprising to see that the Prince of Wied, who had barely had time to sit down on his Albanian throne in 1914, was still in this world. His presence at the party had not prevented King Zog’s Minister from coming as well.

It was even more surprising to see Prince Demidoff, the Czar’s former Minister at Athens, who always made it a point of honour not to appear when the Soviet Ambassador was invited. He must have decided that a princely wedding was an exception, and that, after all, he fitted in better on such an occasion than his successor. Moreover, the latter seemed to have changed: his big moustache gave him a grand-ducal appearance. The general tone of the gathering must have infected him: lulled by the classic music, among the mirrors and vases of flowers, he rallied to the vanished régime. He thought no more of the class-war, of sabotage: he was dreaming of Tsarskoe-Seloe and the Romanoffs.

There was one diplomat who was clearly preoccupied with other things than music: the Minister who represented Mozart’s country. Events had not confirmed the reassuring news about Austria which M. Laurent had brought back with him. The country was in extreme disorder: Germany’s aims were becoming clear. While Athens was celebrating a princely wedding, Berlin was preparing the most tragic application of Felix Austria, nube!

+++

Redouté was furious. The New Year Honours List had been published in the Official Gazette, and his name was not in it. He suspected the Ambassador of having betrayed him.

“When a chief goes on leave,” he said to Georges, “funny things usually happen. To heighten their own importance, these gentry always complain that they are badly seconded. Laurent was so busy with his Grand Cross, he did nothing about my promotion. But a Grand Cross only satisfies vanity, where promotion involves money also. I didn’t make what I hoped to out of the time I was in charge, so I was counting all the more on my promotion.”

He brooded: over his grievance for a moment. Georges could see that it was urging him to further confidences.

“Would you like to hear the whole story?” he said suddenly. “Even though I’m a widower, I have two households to maintain. One in Athens, as you no doubt know, and one in Paris, which I would sooner you said nothing about---a friendship of long standing which I keep up as a matter of duty. But to be able to make both ends meet I simply must have my promotion. The Ambassador’s egotism and the negligence of the Personnel Section have upset all my calculations and I shall have to take drastic decisions.”

Although the Ambassador said that he had been let down himself, and offered to write a letter of protest, Redouté showed his disgust by asking for his annual leave. He had intended to go at Easter; he now declared he could not wait till then. The fact was he could not put up with the ironic condolences of all those to whom he had unwisely announced his promotion. His request was sent to Paris by air-mail, and the reply was no less prompt: he embarked immediately for Marseilles.

“It was the Steua Marina which sank him,” the Ambassador said to Georges, “but he is so sensitive that I didn’t say anything to him about it. If he had been frank enough to admit his mistake to me, I would have told him that it would cost him his promotion. The colonel made great play with the affair: his reports were passed on from the War Ministry to the Quai d’Orsay, and the most I could do---I happened to be passing through Paris at the time---was to save our poor Roland from getting a telegraphic reprimand. Nobody will say anything to him at the Ministry about his blunder. They will tell him that somebody else, who was recommended by another Minister, had to be promoted ahead of him. I fed him with hope for three months, and hope is the great support of administrative ambitions, Clement-Simon lived on it for two years, just because he had seen on Herriot’s desk a scrap of paper saying ‘Do something for Clement-Simon.’ Naturally, Herriot never did anything: but at least it brightened the end of Clement-Simon’s career.”


 24 
 on: July 15, 2024, 11:28:02 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
FRANCOISE stopped, astonished, on the threshold of Georges’s room: a young man was sitting in an arm-chair with a guitar on his knee.

“Don’t worry,” said Georges, laughing. “He is blind and he doesn’t speak French. Having him here is an Oriental refinement which I was keeping for you when you came back.”

This refinement was one of the madame of Patissia’s latest inventions. By exceptional favour she was allowing Georges to use it at home. Francoise, faced with the boy, whose eyes were lost in the distance, whose lips were smiling and who had just said a word of greeting in Greek, remained hesitant. But Georges had already embraced her and was leading her towards the divan. She made a show of resistance.

“You are making me do something horrible. To insult his affliction seems to me like insulting God.”

“There is no God in Athens. And anyway, in what way are we insulting the blind boy? You may be sure that he prefers to accompany pleasure rather than canticles.”

“You sound as though you had already made the experiment.”

“I promise you he has never been here before: you can ask him if you like.”

The musician took his guitar and hummed a song. It was a sweet and melancholy air, reminding Georges of those the passengers on the Delos boat had sung. Little by little, Francoise yielded to the strange charm of his presence, visible yet discreet. Her surprise turned to pleasure. She abandoned her lips and her body. Georges had never found her more desirable. The interval had moulded, polished and matured her.

“Tell me, who has been caressing you?” he asked her.

“The open air.”

“I didn’t know its hands were so practised. Wherever I put mine I feel that those of some cunning masseur have been there before me.”

“It is probably you I was thinking about,” said Francoise, laughing. “Your hands were pummelling me from afar.”

They broke off their frolics to look at the being who was watching them sightlessly. Imperturbably he continued playing and singing. He was like the young servant who appears in the obscene paintings of antiquity beside the couples sacrificing to Venus.

“He annoyed me at first,” said Francoise, “then he stimulated me. Now he bores me: I wish he were not so calm.”

“He is employed day and night at parties: he is blasé.”

“He is showing us how relative the greatest pleasures are: six feet away from him ours might as well not exist for him.”

“That helps us to understand our guardian angels: let’s hope that they are blind.”

“You must admit that as an ambassador’s daughter and perhaps a future ambassador’s wife, I shall owe a lot to you for my education.”

“How many boys and girls there are, wasting their youth! Some day you will bless me for not wasting yours. And to think that the whole of society should be leagued to hinder us from enjoying these delights!”

“It only hinders those who want to be hindered. Partly thanks to you, I admire all the ways there are of deceiving society: they are as numerous as those for deceiving nature. Happily, the exertions of morality are balanced by contrary forces. That’s a truth I learned long before you taught me others. I was twelve at the time: I was in Paris where my father was on leave. I went out one day with my nurse, and we were looking at magazines on a stall. A grave-looking gentleman stopped beside me and discreetly drew my attention; then he suddenly opened his coat, which was not that of Noah, and immediately walked away, taking with him my innocence. The struggle against society is carried on everywhere, you see, even at street-corners.”

Georges thought of the story Rudolf had told him about the guide at Pompeii: that, too, had represented the slaying of innocence by a simple gesture. He excused the vice of such men who lie in wait for children, remembering his school-years, when the boys who boasted of being “knowing” ferreted out the innocence of the younger ones, pitilessly.

Suddenly his attention was caught by the blind boy’s song. He recognised a poem by Cavafy, who had been recently “discovered”, having died some years earlier at Alexandria. He translated it for Francoise:

   “The accomplishment of the forbidden will
    Has taken place. They have risen from the bed
    And quickly dress, not speaking.
    Separately, stealthily, they leave the house; and while
    They walk with light and anxious tread in the street, it seems
    That they suspect that something in their attitude betrays
    From what kind of bed they have come.
    But the artist’s life is thereby enriched:
    Tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or after years, will be written
    A powerful poem whereof this was the beginning.”

“Admirable!” exclaimed Francoise; “The Athenian guitarists sing Cavafy’s poems, as the Venetian gondoliers sang Tasso’s. But I think that for us the embarkation is for other shores than Cythera.”

“All roads lead to Cythera, as well as to Rome.”

“All roads lead only to ourselves, my dear Georges.” Lulled by the music he pondered on what Francoise had said: her words, too, were roads which led him back upon himself. He was not so proud, now, of the little scene he had arranged. The pleasure of surprising Francoise by a fresh act of shamelessness had already lost its edge. Coldly judging his action he blushed at it. So it was not enough for him to deceive people whose guest he was, a chief to whom he was indebted! Not only had he corrupted a young girl, but he was showing her that even the worst corruption left no trace. He was leaving her intact, yet more experienced than a courtesan. Their idyll was not that of Daphnis and Chloe, but of Le Rideau Levé or of La Philosophie dans le Boudoir.

Was this what Georges’s beginnings had promised? If the Alexandrian poet had found enrichment in debauchery, if his poems had been born thus, he had at least the excuse that he had not begun otherwise, that he had seen the reflection of the Muses in a miry stream. But Georges, who had in childhood discovered the most exalting vistas of life, was he not violating their memory by such excesses? He knew it was true, yet knew not how to redeem himself. Like the Love which he no longer sought, everything pure within him had died with those far-off years, and perhaps it was the desire to avenge himself which drove him to these profanations. Besides, was he not profaning himself as much as Francoise? In any case, the two partners could not reproach one another: the Ambassador’s daughter was worthy of the past pupil of the priests. The divan where they had lain was as infamous as the bed of Cavafy’s heroes. Their shamelessness in evil was as complete: they did not even notice that they were naked. The blind singer by whose agency they thought to add spice to their enjoyment, this musician was the image of their own youth.

+++

That evening, at signature time, the Ambassador was discussing one of Redouté’s historical allusions and asked Georges to verify the dates of a former Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Year-Book supported him, and Redouté seemed mortified to be found in the wrong in front of his young colleague. No doubt it was to wipe out his mortification that the Ambassador threw out this observation:

“That list of former Ministers is a subtle idea of the Personnel Service. We have the illusion of adding our own to the great names of history. It glorifies our task. The poor consul, lost in the wilds of Arabia or China, discouraged by eternally reading his own entry, goes a few pages further and immediately forgets his disgrace: no longer is he serving Yvon Delbos, but Vergennes or Talleyrand.”

“I fear,” said Georges, “that those great names were not appreciated by the consul who inspired Campana to write his epitaph:

    Fever, raki, boredom, the east wind
    And finally the Year-Book---a more dangerous poison
    Than women, the spleen and spirits----
    Killed him.”

“Peace to his ashes! But that consul was certainly less witty than Campana, or he could not have died of boredom from reading the Year-Book. There are a thousand ways of amusing oneself with it, even when it annoys one. There is the easy game of grouping the names of the Service by affinities, so that one can form embassies whose common denominator is professional, adjectival, prenominal (that’s where I would be), mineralogical, zoological, canonical or erotic. There is the more learned research for ‘historical accidents’, as Léger would call them, which many of the names represent. I can imagine them illustrated by a fresco like the picture of the Congress of Paris on the staircase of the library at the Ministry. There would be our mediocre faces, but dressed in the clothes of those from whom we are supposed to be descended: M. Laurent talking to Michelangelo instead of to M. Giletière.”

Georges admired the Ambassador's art in veiling his own pretensions with irony, so that he could poke fun at those of his colleagues.

“M. Redouté painting roses, Bourbon Busset as Saint Louis’ nephew, Montbas as an agent of Mazarin, Billy as the Comte de Clermont’s tutor, Vyau de Lagarde as Louis XV’s bastard, Fouques-Duparc as his valet-de-chambre, d’Ormesson sitting on the fleur-de-lys with his mortier on his head, Beaumarchais with a watch in one hand and Figaro in the other, Boissezon as Madame du Barry’s nephew, Nerciat as Felicia, Chambrun as Lafayette, Vitrolles as the agent of the emigré princes, Clement-Simon buying Notre-Dame under the Terror, Clauzel holding Napoleon’s will leaving him a hundred thousand francs, Vaux Saint-Cyr engraving his name on the Arc de Triomphe, du Chaffault as Lamartine’s godson, La Chauviniere as Chancellor Pasquier’s adjutant, Castellane as a Marshal of the Second Empire, d’Aurelle de Paladines at the head of the Army of the Loire, Menthon as St. Bernard, Croy as Attila, and Mlle. Borel as Jeanne d’Arc.”

“It would hardly be wise to give all our colleagues their ancestors’ costumes,” said Redouté. “You know what the Duc de Morny replied to the Princesse Murat who asked him ‘when was the time of the douceur de vivre?’ ‘Beware!’ he said, ‘At that date you would have been in the kitchen and I in the stable.’ ”

“That time is coming when one will have to come from the stable or the kitchen to be a diplomat. We are living through the last great period of the Service. The 1914 War dealt it a great blow and it will not stand up to the next.”

“But there will always have to be diplomats,” said Georges.

“What use will they be? What use are we already, between ourselves? We had originally a use as senders of information, but the telegraphic agencies have finished that. Then we had a use as negotiators. But from now on everything is done in our Ministries or in conferences which by-pass us. Finally we had a use as representatives. That is almost all that remains to us, provided we perform it. As a matter of fact I don’t entirely disagree with the colonel when he wants to abolish ambassadors.”

“At least let us become ambassadors first,” said Redouté.

“Have no fear, you shall all be ambassadors. But it isn’t that which will save the Service from extinction. It has been undermined in two ways: by the appointment of heads of missions from outside the Service, and by the competitive system. For one justifiable appointment like Frangois-Poncet, there are so many idiotic ones. Remember that poor devil Deville, my distant predecessor, and the fellow who was appointed to Peru so as to avoid being arrested. Then there was that man in Moscow who used the Bag for trafficking in works of art; and the Minister at Berne whose wife was a standing joke because of the bricks she dropped; and the ex-prefect who became Minister in Sweden and whose dispatches were carefully preserved in the Ministry’s collection of facetiae.”

“But there was Jules Cambon as well!” said Georges, glad to pay tribute to the man who had inspired him with the wish to be a diplomat.

“Do you think so? A man who had not the wit to prevent a war? His brother Paul was worth more---he did excellent work in London---and Barrére, who brought Italy back into our fold.”

“Even if he couldn’t prevent the war, Jules Cambon had the merit of foreseeing it, as you can see in the Yellow Book.”

“Ah! young man, young man! I am sorry to overthrow your idols, but however much I esteem you I cannot let you go on believing in the Yellow Book. They haven’t yet published the real documents about the origins of the War of 1870, and yet you would have it that they have done so for the 1914 War! Everything you have read on this subject in the Yellow Book was worked over by Jules Cambon himself when he was secretary-general of the Quai d’Orsay during the war. Paléologue followed his example when he succeeded to the same post. He had already practised tinkering with the texts during his embassy to St. Petersburg. His contempt for truth was equalled by his elevated opinion of his own functions, and he succeeded in making a preconceived historical narrative, as Victor Hugo wrote out the end-rhymes before composing some of his poems. Robien, who was then at St. Petersburg, tells a good story about an important telegram which he had given to the chancellery with orders that it was not to be sent till he came back from Tsarskoe Seloe. It was during the war and it was about the Czar’s reply to a request for an offensive from the French General Staff. The objections were stated, the promises specified, the conditions stipulated---all of it invented by the imaginative Paléologue. He came back and went straight into the chancellery with his fur coat over his uniform and his astrakhan cap on his head. ‘Send off the telegram,’ he said. You can imagine how, with such principles, he played hell with the Yellow Book.”

“When Cambon and Paléologue were elected to the French Academy,” said Redouté, “they thought they were electing diplomats, but really they were electing authors of fiction. But to come back to what you were saying, sir, about recruitment, does it follow that because the entrance exam. is becoming more and more difficult the successful candidates will be more and more remarkable?”

“That’s just the danger. The final idiocy of the Service was to take to recruiting good examinees. For a job which calls above all for social qualities, they look only for academic degrees. Were there ever more learned men concerned with a treaty than with the Treaty of Versailles? And look at the result: because it was the work of historians and jurists, it broke all the rules of historical truth and juridical prudence. The treaties of Vienna were drawn up by diplomats who were men of the world, and they were based on permanent realities. And yet we continue to people the Quai d’Orsay with bright schoolboys and smart alecks. When I see one of these fellows, festooned with diplomas, boldly making his way up the Service, I feel like quoting one of Pirandello’s plays at him. ‘Watch out for your feet, Doctor.’ ‘My feet? Why?’ ‘You have iron shoes.’ ‘I have?’ ‘Yes, and you are going to meet little glass feet.’ ”

+++

The Lebanese and the Armenian were lamenting that the season had depopulated the Wooden Baths. There were, they said, “dances for men only” at Athens and the Piraeus, which took the place of the baths. But in spite of their hardihood they thought it would be rash to be seen at them.

They regretted this all the more as the gardens were less safe this autumn. The two friends had had a few escapes and were showing more caution. The Lebanese had brought a stout stick with which he had twice already covered his retreat. The Armenian knew how to box, and had also provided himself with an American knuckle-duster. They called this “armed diplomacy”. They also went on their expeditions without watches, jewellery or brief-cases, carrying only enough money to pay for their pleasures, and the keys of their flats attached by a safety-pin to their braces. They counted thus on limiting the dangers of theft or burglary in case they were attacked.

“You make me tremble!” said Georges. “What pleasures can be worth running such risks?”

“Pleasures for which we would pay with our existence,” declared the Lebanese.

“Ill-explained pleasures’, as one of the historians of Monsieur’s time wrote about him.”

“Please do not oblige us to give you explanations,” said the Armenian. “Our cause has only too many devotees whom you have a perfect right to consult.”

“You have a great many to choose from,” said the Lebanese. “It begins with the Symposium and the marvellous theory of the androgyne and it ends with Corydon and examples drawn from dogs and ducks.”

“Indeed,” said Georges, “I think that any man worthy of the name has only to recall his school years. But that is no reason for reverting to them. You people are cases of arrested development.”

“Never mind what we are: that is how we are,” said the Lebanese. “I read once in an old French book a country priest’s sermon which proved the existence of God in a most summary fashion. ‘God exists, God exists, my brothers. And since He does exist, why deny it?’ In the same way, why deny other things which exist? Human nature and history prove it. It is in no need of proof: you realize yourself that everyone has made the experiment at least once in his life, and it is just as pointless to attack as to defend.”

“It is a pity that such a good cause should not be very diplomatic,” replied Georges.

“You forget that we are in Athens, my dear fellow. What is reprehended elsewhere is treated with consideration in this blessed land.”

“But there is scandal here, as everywhere.”

“Not for diplomats. The Protocol’s business is to smother their scandals. For the rest, it’s not my fault if the world must see scandal where there is none to see. Everyone has a right to live: why should our profession be a tomb?”

“But why choose it, if you are in danger of dragging it in the mud? Because, you know, in spite of the devotion of the Protocol, you are risking the most scandalous of all scandals, all the time.”

“If we do represent some risk, we often prove our value as well.”

“Indeed you do. But I’m afraid that your ministries care less about the absence of value than about the absence of risk.”

“Ah, now, we would have had our chance with some Foreign Ministers I could mention; with your Marshal d’Huxelles, for example----”

“That’s a long time ago, isn’t it?”

“---or in Russia, with Count Lamsdorf, or in Germany with Prince von Bülow, the Imperial Chancellor.”

“Yes, but it’s always in other times and other countries.”

“Did you know that twice before 1914 peace was saved by two French diplomats, thanks to the relations they had with high Socratic circles in Berlin? At the time of the Tangier affair, it was Lecomte, the Counsellor, who worked on what they called William II’s camarilla. And at the time of the Agadir business, it was Berckheim, Lecomte’s successor, who worked on what still remained of the camarilla. They don’t teach us those things when we are preparing for the exam.”

+++

The Ambassador was beginning to despair of Léger. The Quai d’Orsay had just torpedoed the peace project which Lord Halifax had gone to try to arrange in Berlin at the end of November. And a disquieting circular on France’s diplomatic position arrived in the Bag. It was unusual for the Ministry to send out such things, and it was not to M. Laurent’s taste. He underlined the obscurities, verbosities, inconsequences and indiscretions of the text, and declared it “worthy of Berthelot, who wrote badly, or of Claudel, who writes as God pleases”. It seemed to him a bad sign that Léger was the author of it. Plato knew what he was doing when he banished the poets from his Republic. Decidedly, they were no great help to the Quai d’Orsay.

“And what about its official prose-writers?” went on M. Laurent. “Giradoux, with his meretricious brilliances, his bad jokes and his dull twaddle, doesn’t even merit the ridiculous epithet ‘Giralducian’ coined by his admirers. And Morand’s flippancy and bawdry would have had him recalled in any other country but France.”

Georges had thought that it was only against Claudel that the Ambassador conducted his vendetta, but here were the Giradoux and the Morands coming in for it just as heavily. Now that he knew M. Laurent better, he could see that his hostility was fermented by envy. He had seen him taking just as much delight as Redouté in communiqués which gave him publicity. The idea that Claudel and others had in their own right a place of honour in the international press, and that their writings took precedence over their official functions, was more than he could stand. The secret of Léger’s exception from this general condemnation was no doubt the fact that he was unknown as a poet. One could pretend to like him without offending oneself, and in doing so satisfy the appetite for literature which was one of the weaknesses of the Service, and which in others the Ambassador judged very harshly. In the same way, Stendhal for M. Guizot was a “knave”. By pouring contempt on men of letters of whom he was jealous, the Ambassador fancied himself to be playing the part of an old Service hand, of an upholder of tradition and a descendant of the Medici.

He kept the circular to re-read, and, as he said, to try to understand it. He also kept a dispatch which Redouté had been polishing and repolishing for several days, about ecclesiastical properties at Naxos---‘“the matter of the former community of Naxia”’---which the First Secretary described as one of the Embassy’s “loftiest concerns”.

These properties, which had formerly belonged to the French Jesuits, were the subject of litigation between the Holy See, as the present proprietor, and the Catholic community of the island. The Holy See had entrusted their administration to Italian Jesuits who had made themselves detested and, what was worse, had been dispossessed. It hastened to put back the French, who soothed local feelings and recovered the property. But the victory was short-lived. At the instigation of the Greek Government, which did not like the Holy See, the community had set in motion a law-suit to recover ownership of the property. It had won in the first instance and on appeal, and everything indicated that the court of final appeal, before which the matter was pending, would uphold these decisions. France had refused to support the French Jesuits, so as not to renounce for herself, in favour of the Holy See, her reversionary rights in the Naxos property. However, the canonical counsellor at the Quai d’Orsay had just informed the Embassy that an emissary of the Vatican would shortly arrive in Athens with a view to coming to some arrangement.

The Ambassador had let Redouté go and kept Georges behind on some trivial pretext.

“I have noticed, my dear Sarre,” he said, “that you have some idea of the art of writing. I should like you to help me to go over the most important of the dispatches which our friend has so laboriously concocted, beginning with this one. I dare not make too many corrections before both of you and I could not possibly correct with him alone. But I think that if you and I revise the texts, we should make a good job of it.

“Besides, I want your opinion as much on the matter of them as on the manner. After a certain number of years in the Service---and this goes for Redouté as for myself---one becomes incapable of distinguishing between what is important and what is not. At my age and in my position one no longer writes: one is content with signing. Redouté says, ‘This comma is very important’, and I end by believing him. You at least still have a supple mind and you aren’t obsessed by commas. But do not preen yourself on this transitory merit: one day you will be like all the rest of us. The Service should stop at the rank of Third Secretary: only to that point is one a brilliant diplomat. Higher up the brilliance fades and one becomes an ambassador when one is only a burnt-out star. You will think of me later on when you call in one of your young colleagues, just as the old King of Sweden makes a young officer sleep with him so that he can have a little real warmth.”

Georges was touched by these confidences: their human content moved him. They first of all cut out the opening of the dispatch, which was full of superfluous references. Then, seeing Georges tone down some pieces of over-fine writing, the Ambassador could not repress his delight.

“Indeed, you have the sense of the diplomatic style. I allow Redouté to use a literary style which is fashionable in the department, but I don’t like it. In the old days of the Service, fine phrases were as rigorously proscribed as blank verse should be in good prose. One remembered that one really was addressing the nominal addressee of the dispatch: His Excellency the Minister for Foreign Affairs. One’s only concern was to be brief, clear and dignified. Ribot should have recalled the Ambassador at Constantinople when he wrote, ‘I have been to see the amiable phantom, temporarily in charge of Foreign Affairs.’ When the head of a mission begins to turn fine phrases, it is a sign that he is degenerating. I am afraid that Frangois-Poncet is going downhill, because I notice not only that he writes more than ever, but that he turns fine phrases as well.”

The next day the Ambassador gave the First Secretary his dispatch, duly corrected and abridged.

“Let us not be so pretentious,” he said, “as to make them read long reports in Paris. And also, if you please, let us adopt a more modest style. You overwork your writing: this becomes obvious and in the end is humiliating. It could still be taken for my work, had you not given me away without meaning to by sending too much material while you were in charge here.”

“I seem to remember that you congratulated me on that.”

“No doubt I did; but I was thinking of you rather than myself.”

Now Georges understood why M. Laurent wanted him to revise Redouté’s style. He hoped to make the Quai d’Orsay believe that it was his own. His touching confidences had not been disinterested.

Redouté was reading the dispatch and laughed sarcastically.

“I entirely agree with you, sir, that one should be brief; but also one should write French.”

In a loud voice he read the end---the only “fine phrase” which Georges had spared, though changing a word in it: “The barque of St. Peter will not sail much longer to Naxos; from now on the illusions of the Vatican can travel in Charon’s barque.”

“‘Charon’s barque!’” repeated Redouté, who had written “the barque of Charon”.

“God forgive me, sir, but you must have been thinking of Claudel when you committed this barbarous cacophony.”

“None the less I think I have seen that expression in classic texts.”

“I should very much like to see those texts.”

The Ambassador looked suspiciously at Georges: his faith in his new editor was shaken. Georges went for the Littré.

“The Ambassador cannot have been mistaken,” he said as he came back.

He pointed to what Littré calls the “twenty-ninth position” of the letter A.

“Dear lexicographer, talking about language as one talks about love,” said the Ambassador, his serenity restored.

Poor Redouté did not seem to be able to take in the fact that for once Littré had declared against him. He found out to his cost that it is as easy to purify a purist as to swindle a swindler. M. Laurent consoled him by reminding him of what Paul-Louis Courier had said: “There are five or six people in Europe who know Greek, and there are even fewer who know French.”

+++

Towards the end of the afternoon Georges was in his office, finishing a note on the “works at the harbour of the Piraeus”---another litigious affair in which French interests were involved---when the kavas brought him a note from a caller. It was signed: “Father de Trennes.” The kavas’ description of the visitor left him in no doubt that this was the Father de Trennes.

“Ask him to wait for a moment,” he said. “I will ring.”

He had to pull himself together, to compose his features and indeed his soul as well, for this encounter. He shut the Piraeus file and leaned over his desk with his head in his hands.

The most contemptible act of his youth revived in his memory. The man he had betrayed when at school was here. Of course, he had done what he did to protect a love which this man was threatening, but was that sufficient excuse? His arrival also revived the image of that love---the image of the child which Georges had evoked with Rudolf on the mountain at Delos, and again the other day with Francoise. The child would be in the room, between Father de Trennes and himself, as though they were at Saint-Claude again. But now it would not be to divide them in bitter opposition; on the contrary, his unseen presence would bring them together and unite them. Since leaving school, Georges had not seen any of his old teachers or fellow-pupils, for he held them all responsible for the drama which he had sought to forget. And now fate had to bring him just the one person from that period who had him at a disadvantage! Perhaps Father de Trennes did not know what had happened and was going to ask him for news of the child who was no more. But no: if he came back, it was because he knew about it. And was it not right that he should meet, in the timelessness of Greece, the first man to speak of Greece to him in living terms? The man, too, who had been the first to reveal to him what life was, who had shown him, beside the secrets of children, the secrets of men. And now his presence here showed him that beside that which was finished there was something else that had endured. He was still a priest, today as ten years ago. Ten years already! Only ten years!

Father de Trennes came in. He had the same attractive elegance; his whitening head made him look more distinguished; his expression was prouder, his smile more equivocal. He held out his hand to Georges, and sat in the arm-chair.

“I had business with the diplomat,” he said, “but I prefer to renew acquaintance with the schoolboy.”

The sound of his voice had a great effect on Georges: it was as though he were hearing it again in the half-light of the dormitory.

“We have done each other a lot of harm,” said the priest, “but we have expiated it and forgiven one another. Otherwise I should not have asked to see you and you would not have received me.”

These two sentences summed up so much, that Georges found himself incapable of adding anything. Besides, the priest had already risen.

“This visit was something I owed to unforgettable memories. I shall value it very highly: for you it will at least have been short. Perhaps you will be kind enough to see me tomorrow about the Naxos lawsuit.”

Georges was thankful to the priest for his tact, but he had never expected to see him one day as the Vatican’s envoy. He suddenly felt a need to prolong this encounter which linked him with the past.

“Are you free for dinner?” he asked.

“I am always free for you,” replied the priest.

Georges tidied his papers, telephoned to Redouté, and left the Embassy with his visitor.

They chose to go towards the sea rather than the mountain. Along the ill-lit boulevard the passers-by looked like ghosts, and the Japanese pepper-plants like the trees on the banks of the Styx.

“Are we glad or not, to see one another again?” asked Georges.

“At least, we could not meet under happier circumstances than these.”

“In Athens, as elsewhere, the dead do not come back.”

“One must die to be able to come back. Only those who are forgotten are dead. There are beings whom one never forgets.”

“No reasoning and no illusion can bring them back to us.”

“Everywhere,

    ‘On my way there comes and sits
     A poor child dressed in black...”

The priest remained faithful to the author he had loved to quote in the evenings at school: but the cup had been shattered before the lips had drunk of it, and the Night of May had given place to the Night of December.

They went to a lonely tavern near Glyphada. Although it was the end of the year, the temperature was spring-like: the sea air came in heady gusts through the open window. There were no other diners. Chance had left Georges and his guest in solitude. But this did not enable them to exchange new ideas or confidences. They said nothing, having too many things to think about. They looked at the sombre expanse of sea, where the foam seethed tirelessly round the rocks. It seemed to be tossing the body, scattering the hair, and smothering the voice which had reduced them both to silence.


 25 
 on: July 15, 2024, 09:04:29 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
THE Ambassador had returned. He assembled his two colleagues and the military attaché for tea. Mme Laurent and Francoise were not there.

M. Laurent had nothing but compliments to distribute. He declared that the First Secretary’s handling of affairs had been much appreciated, the Bag well filled, and all departments of the Embassy had shown equal activity. The French visitors to Athens, from André H---- to the surgeons, had sung the praises of the chargé d’affaires and of the colonel. The Ambassador said not a word of the Steua Marina. Redouté could only interpret this silence as forgiveness for his blunder. Better still, he was assured that his rank of counsellor was a foregone conclusion. Léger and Robien had given him their word.

“As for you, Colonel,” added M. Laurent, “I need not tell you that the extracts from your correspondence, which we had sent to the Quai d’Orsay, are attentively read there. Everyone envies me such a versatile and zealous military attaché.”

It was clear that the Ambassador wanted to inaugurate an era of peace on the occasion of his return. He had renewed his stock of balm from the Quai d’Orsay. Nor could it be denied that he had more serious reasons for satisfaction.

“Any extension of the Spanish war will now be avoided,” he said. “It is true that we are obstinately encouraging the Reds----”

“The Republicans,” said the colonel.

“---but England is beginning to swing round towards the Whites. Herbette has been recalled: he was no longer very Red, but Labonne, who has been sent instead, is quite colourless. The Austrian Nazis seem to be calming down. The Quai d’Orsay is always Germanophobe; but our damned friends on the Elbe, the Vistula, and the Danube are losing ground: so much more ground gained for peace.”

“You mean for war!” cried the colonel in an angry voice.

The initial politeness had not masked the discord for long.

“Calm yourself, please,” said the Ambassador. “Poincaré himself extolled the ‘peaceful force’ of the French Army.”

“Please excuse my outbursts: I am only ‘a blower of bugles’, like Dérouléde.”

“Come now; do you seriously believe, my dear Colonel, that the Czechs and the rest are the reason why Germany hesitates to attack France? But what is terrible is that France should have to attack Germany on their behalf. You know as well as I do that Czechoslovakia, Poland, Jugoslavia, and Rumania simply do not exist as military powers. Their armies, though trained by your Ecole de Guerre and made up of brave soldiers, are beaten in advance. General Pelle, you remember, when he was in charge of the military mission in Prague, said, ‘I have no great trust in an army whose soldiers take their oath of loyalty in four languages.’ As for the Russians, the only purpose they have served is to prevent us from reaching an understanding with Germany.”

“I know only one thing: that Germany is preparing her revenge and that we are the guarantors of the status quo.”

“She only wants to respect us and be respected by us. Look at the result of the recent meeting between Hitler and Mussolini: the German Government has confirmed Belgian neutrality.”

“We remember how they observed the same obligation in 1914.”

“It is not for us to revive the state of affairs of 1914, rather, since we have revived it, we must not maintain it.”

“You sound as though you regretted the victory of 1918.”

“I regret the Peace of 1919: as the well-known witticism goes, it established a just and permanent war. It made Mussolini and Hitler. It has already on its conscience the Abyssinian war and the prolongation of the Spanish war. It has landed us in a patchwork of contradictions which threatens to cause more wars. The only sensible Frenchmen are the schoolteachers of the Seine Department, who last year called for the revocation of the Treaty of Versailles.”

“I know them, those Seine schoolteachers! They are on our black list, like the P.T.T. in the same department.”

“The military attaché’s Black Book is as fearsome as that of the Jesuits,” said Redouté.

The Ambassador poured his guests another cup of tea and went on.

“You will, I trust, do me the honour of believing that I spoke as freely in Paris as I do in Athens. Naturally, I did not see the Minister, but I saw Léger several times and I told him what I thought---what I thought Gobineau would have thought. It is much more difficult to know what he is thinking. But he listened to me with promising attention. He even admitted to me that I was not the only diplomat to take a stand against dangerous alliances.”

The colonel held his peace by biting his lip.

“How is the balance of forces at the Quai d’Orsay at present?” asked the First Secretary.

“The warmongers still get their support from the Protestants and the women,” replied M. Laurent. “It makes a less notable party than that of the clergymen and old maids who rule England. But the Protestant group still hold the fortress of political control.”

“I thought I knew everything,” said the colonel, “but I didn’t know that you had a war of religion in your department.”

“It is not the less lively, nor the less complicated, for being an underground war. Besides the old nobility with their Cross of Malta, we have a Catholic bourgeoisie which is keen to be considered one with it; but we have also a Protestant bourgeoisie, helped by a few Jews who have infiltrated into the Service, though the interview is intended to keep them out.”

“What! You introduced race-discrimination before Hitler?”

“Class-discrimination at the most. As Jews have relatives in every country, we wish to limit contacts which might be dangerous.”

“I suppose you congratulated yourselves on the fact that before the war some of our diplomats in Berlin were related to the German nobility?”

“It would be more difficult to send our Jewish colleagues there nowadays. We could hardly ask them to love a Germany which persecutes their kinsmen. One might have expected, on the other hand, that the Protestants would be better disposed towards a Protestant country, but, whether from dogmatism, fanaticism or sentimentality, they make a point of adopting the contrary attitude.”

“I didn’t know, either, that the Quai d’Orsay was run by old maids. I don’t seem to remember that all your typists are old. In fact, Sarre has told me that there are even some charmers who have married diplomats.”

“I was not speaking of typists, but of assistants, filing clerks, and other female staff who have not married anyone yet. Like all manless women, they want war.”

“And Mlle. Borel?” asked the colonel. “Would you treat her with any greater respect?”

“D’you mean to say you know Mlle. Borel?”

“I know her by reputation.”

“There’s something for you!” said Redouté. “The only member of her sex who has got through the exam! She infuriated Briand, because he declared that she could not discharge the functions of a consul.”

“An absurd remark to make about a senior officer’s daughter. But it is much better that she should be at the Quai d’Orsay. She is much more useful there.”

“Useful? How, I should like to know,” said M. Laurent.

“She sends us educational films: I don’t think she has a hand in anything else.”

“Whether she has a hand in everything or nothing, she is a friend of my friends who are attached to the Quai d’Orsay: in your terrifying establishment she is one of the few who have their eyes on the Rhine.”

They all laughed at this picturesque phrase.

“What with Mlle. Borel in Paris and Mme. Giletière in Athens, France can sleep peacefully,” said the Ambassador. “She has never before had the luck to possess two Jeannes d’Arc. But thank goodness there are a good number of elements in the Ministry to balance these firebrands in frockcoats, morning coats, or petticoats: Robien at Personnel, Rochat in the Minister’s office, and some young men with a future.”

“I should think that their future was limited.”

“And of course there is the Madman of Zanzibar.”

“The Madman of Zanzibar?”

“Ah! Another thing you don’t know about, Colonel. Of the seven or eight hundred letters which arrive every day at Foreign Affairs, there is an average of seven or eight from madmen: they are often the most interesting. They are not answered, but that doesn’t mean that they are not studied. Naguére, who of all the lunatics has the most influence with the Ministry, came from St. Louis, Missouri. He was a specialist on the disarmament question, and they say that Briand used to have his letters shown to him, The Madman of Zanzibar also fights the good fight: he has sworn a mortal hatred against Benes, whom he has never seen. ‘This Benes, this traitor,’ he is always writing---nor I may say, without some perception.”

“Your madman seems to me to be as like a German secret agent as one pea is to another. At any rate, let me express my surprise that French diplomats profess the same opinion of one of France’s greatest friends as does this real or pretended Madman of Zanzibar.”

“These ‘great friends of France’, whom France did not ask for, remind me of what old man Berthelot said about the young Philippe: ‘There is a little boy,’ he said one day, ‘of whom France must take care.’ God forbid that the little boy ever takes care of France!”

+++

One of the satisfactions which the Ambassador and the colonel gave themselves was never to take their leaves at the same time. So each had several weeks of peace. More strictly, the colonel’s absence gave the Ambassador peace: but when the Ambassador was away the colonel made more of a stir than ever.

One day, Georges went to see the latter and found him in the midst of his preparations, sorting identity-cards in his wallet.

“Are you taking away your secret agents’ cards?”

“Not at all: these are my own cards, my French cards. I’m putting them in order: my officer’s card, my ex-Serviceman’s card, and various others, such as, for example, that of the National Federation of Cuirassiers of France.”

“You belong to the colonial infantry, as I remember?”

“That doesn’t prevent me from belonging to the Federation of Cuirassiers.”

“You remind me of the ‘free members’ of the scientific congresses.”

“I was determined to belong to the Federation because the general who is head of it is a veteran of Reichshoffen. I am the link between the three wars: 1870, 1914, and the next one.”

“For that one I hope you have all your staff maps.”

“I have there, in my trunk, some of the Rhineland and the Saar, which perhaps the German military attaché has not got.”

“But have you any of France? In 1870, if my history is correct, our General Staff had maps of Germany but none of France: but it was in France that the war was fought, in spite of the heroism of the cuirassiers of Reichshoffen.”

“You may be sure that today the General Staff has all the necessary maps. And while we are on the subject, I will tell you something in confidence: I and the Ambassador have just been drawing up the list of the ‘specially posted’---that is to say, the Frenchmen who will be mobilized in Athens under my orders in case of war. You see it was no use getting yourself discharged by an obliging major: your excellent health would have marked you to be mobilized in France. It would have served you right for having played tricks with military service, and certainly you did not deserve to be enrolled on my list. It is not a list of the proscribed, but a list of the favoured. Many a one will envy you making war in Athens.”

Georges thanked him in some embarrassment. Although he still did not believe in the coming war, he was none the less obliged to the colonel for trying to make it a soft one for him. He discovered, by the same token, that the colonel himself intended to make war from Athens: his maps of the Rhineland and the Saar would see the fighting front only from afar.

The naval attaché, returning from his leave, replaced the military attaché. It was to be expected that whatever might happen his term of office would be quieter. Jealous of the colonel’s wealth and having a low opinion of his character, he delighted to adopt the contrary attitude: his reports were extremely short; he showed them all faithfully; he never used the “secret” stamp; he talked as little as possible; he hardly did any entertaining. His principal occupation was the study of old texts from which he extracted meteorological observations. He was engaged on a work on the storms in Homer, which would no doubt make a pendant to M. Bergeret’s Virgil the Sailor. This gave him a solid foundation from which he watched unmoved both diplomatic tempests and unknown submarines.

Once, before going on an excursion, Georges asked him what the weather was going to do. He received the following little typewritten note, which obviated the necessity of ever consulting him again, as it provided for every eventuality with one exception: “Eleven times out of twelve the weather remains the same till the change of the moon as it was on the fifth day of the moon, provided that on the sixth day it was the same as on the fifth.”

 26 
 on: July 15, 2024, 07:40:49 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
AS THE week promised to be quiet, Georges obtained some days’ leave to make the excursion to Delos. He had not thought of this plan alone: Rudolf Schwartz had, by extraordinary favour, obtained the same permission.

The steamer which plied to the Cyclades was exceedingly picturesque, with its load of vegetables, goats, and sheep on the lower deck, not to mention the passengers herded together with them. The upper deck was occupied by elegant folk going on holiday to Syra or Mikonos. As Georges looked down on the overcrowded lower deck, he remembered his thoughts while crossing Jugoslavia: the contrast between two civilizations which jostled side by side could be seen here as he had seen it from the Orient Express.

They left the Piraeus in the dusk. For the first time Georges saw Athens from the sea, spread magnificently between its mountains. The time of day softened the evidences of modern life and restored to the city its eternal aspect. Above the clamouring of the deck-passengers and the chatter of the others, floated those cries of joy and admiration which had echoed through the centuries from ships whose occupants had seen the same sight. One could imagine Virgil greeting Minerva, “inventress of the olive”, Julian the Apostate stretching out his arms towards the Parthenon, or that orator who said he would refuse the bed of a goddess, simply to see the smoke of Athens.

“Isn’t it a miracle,” said Georges, “that the finest monument built by men should still be there, after more than twenty centuries? That should give us confidence in the future.”

‘Who knows whether the future will preserve the Parthenon? I tremble at the idea that the will of two or three men is enough to raze to the ground all the monuments of Europe.”

“Nothing is ever completely destroyed. But you are talking, my dear Rudolf, as though war seemed to you inevitable.”

“I should like to have your optimism. Our two ambassadors have it, if not their military attachés. What makes me fear that war will break out is the stupidity of the masses. I know the German people as a burgomaster knows them: you know that I pass most of my leisure among the gens germanica. You know, I never see anyone to whom I could say that I am going to Delos with the secretary of the French Embassy, but they would start to hear me say it. I am sure that your own circle would react the same way where I was concerned. That is what is disturbing, my dear Sarre. How can we talk of peace, when we have succeeded in creating a state of mistrust and even of hatred between our two peoples? And in the name of what has it been created?”

“Certainly not in the names of Goethe and Voltaire.”

“Since neither the French spirit nor the German spirit has succeeded in restoring harmony, we should partake of the Greek spirit, which may perhaps succeed.”

“But what is the Greek spirit? It has counselled everything: gentleness and violence, loyalty and deceit, justice and injustice.”

The deck-passengers, reassured at last by the calmness of the sea, began to sing. They sang one of those lilts which seem to sum up the sorrows and aspirations of the Greek people throughout its history. The dull sound of the engines and the echo of the song disturbed the great silence of the Aegean Sea.

+++

The Delos steamer did not go to Delos, where there is no harbour. Disembarkation took place at Mikonos. Georges and Rudolf took the little caique which made the crossing to Apollo’s island. “White Mikonos” receded behind them, with its dazzling houses and the sails of its old mills on the hill-tops. Ahead, the low outlines of Delos were dominated by the faint peak of Cynthus. Georges was not sorry to be going there by sail, like a pilgrim of former times, even if the sails were eked out by a motor-engine.

The caique landed at a cove, where several fishermen were waiting. In spite of their miserable appearance, they had a certain nobility which might justify Pythagoras in having been, as he claimed, a Delos fisherman in one of his incarnations. For the moment they became baggage-porters, and led the new arrivals through untilled fields to the Pavilion of Tourism. It was the only refuge offered to visitors by the island, on which there were not ten houses.

The ruins of the sanctuary were in front of the pavilion. The two travellers visited them in the interval before lunch. A group of buildings nearly level with the ground, some bases, and a lot of debris were not a very imposing spectacle, except for the fact of their desolation. There was not a tree to be seen in this place, once the favourite haunt of the Huntress. Beside the sacred lake, now dry, there was no shadow to be seen of the palm-tree beneath which she and the God of Light had been born. But he was still there, burning the earth with his rays. The French School, which was responsible for the excavations and had not bothered to replant, evidently had no love of greenery.

Besides all these things which spoke only to the spirit, a statue of a naked man had been discovered, lying face downwards in the earth, like the immortal corpse of Apollo’s last servitor, and a row of lions, a votive monument of the inhabitants of Naxos. The remains could also be seen of an enormous phallus, put up on a pedestal by the Syrians. It was curious that this symbol of life and pleasure, ordinarily reserved to Bacchus, should have been erected in Apollo’s sanctuary. But the ancients remembered that the god of the arts did not disdain pleasure. Georges thought of the famous archaic inscriptions engraved on the rocks of Santorin, not far from Apollo’s temple, which he had read in the School of Athens: “Such an one danced for Apollo and gave himself to such an one.”

The little museum likewise had a bas-relief of a monstrous satyr. As a great secret, the caretaker showed them the worthy complement to this sculpture: four unpublished plaques dug up since the last excavations and also representing phalluses. They were arranged two by two, heraldically affronted, with these words: “This for thee and this for me.” One could imagine the emotions of M. Giletière confronted by this find accompanied with this injunction. At first, the caretaker said, he had tried to explain them as signs against the evil eye; but he had ended by agreeing that they belonged to a house for the prostitution of ephebes.

“Ancient history,” said Georges, “is one of the first things children are taught, and it should be forbidden them if one wishes to protect their innocence.”

“Do your school-books,” asked Rudolf, “contain illustrations inspired by these marbles?”

“On the contrary, they are carefully emasculated. But by what they suggest, they glorify nudity all the more, at least for schoolboys who have eyes at all.”

“I, too, had experience of antiquity during my childhood. I was thirteen and I was visiting Pompeii with my parents. We were among a group of tourists in charge of a guide. In one villa where I was separated from the others, a caretaker beckoned to me and opened one of those locked shutters which cover obscene paintings. He did not know that at that moment he was killing a child.”

“Perhaps you were happy enough to bury that child?”

“Perhaps, but it is always sad to watch the departure of someone whom nothing can bring back to us.”

After lunch and the siesta they wandered among the ruins of the town, which were beyond those of the sanctuary. The main objects of interest were some beautiful mosaics and a statue of a woman. They also included the best preserved monument of Delos: the theatre, shaded by a hundred-year-old fig-tree, the only tree on the island.

The two friends decided to climb Cynthus to see the sunset. They followed the sacred way which climbs up the slopes of the little mountain. Here and there clumps of cystus gave forth their aromatic perfume, fostering the illusion that Delos was still the “island of balm”. On a terrace could be seen the enclosure of a temple. Higher up, a mysterious cave opened before them. The view from the summit was magnificent. Everything was glory and beauty: the island with its ruins, Mikonos, Rhenea close beside, and the other Cyclades gleaming farther away like ingots of gold, the crown of Delos.

Georges and Rudolf lay down on the dry grass of the slope. Silent and motionless they waited for the end of the day. They had no longer before them, as they had had at Rhamnontos, the severe goddesses of Justice and Vengeance. The naked foot of Apollo seemed to skim the mountain, and “Artemis was lightly on the way”.

The mountain---or hill---was as sublime as the Acropolis of Athens. Georges felt that there he had reached one of the peaks of his life, and he drank deeply of the joy of it. In this place of dreams, he dreamed of the time of his childhood, when there had awoken in him the love of Greek things, the desire for the light of Greece, and when, among so many beautiful Greek names, that of Cynthia had first sounded on his ear. Yes, this august place could lend itself only to noble and grand memories. Here one was no longer among the obscenities of museums and schools, but at the source of whatever had been pure in the world, even if men had soiled it with their impurity.

As Georges continued to muse, the memory suddenly came to him of a face whose beauty was worthy of this place: the face of the boy he had loved at school, who had died of that love. He wondered what his existence would have been, if he had had such a companion. He seldom thought of him; did he need to think of what was woven into the most intimate parts of his being? He was none the less glad to invoke his memory today, here on Mount Cynthus more gloriously than at Rhamnontos.

The pleasure of this daydream did not conceal from him the emptiness of his regrets. Could the friend of his first youth have been the friend of his whole life? What would it have meant, this life in common of which he had dreamed? He knew very well that it was chimerical, and that the world in which he lived did not admit such couples. Certain things could never leave the enchanted domain of childhood.

The moment had arrived when the sun was drowned in the waves: little by little the shadow blotted out the islands and spread across the sea. The softness of the dusk was as beautiful as the enchantment of the sunset: one felt nearer to oneself, nearer also, perhaps, to another.

Georges took Rudolf’s hand and shut his eyes. The contact seemed to prolong his dream. He seemed to breathe in his past and his future, as he breathed the air of the falling night and the air of the Cyclades. All that he had buried, rather than destroyed, now revived, and was insistent in demanding audience. But Rudolf gently took his hand away and said in grave tones:

“The friendship of two men is the friendship of two souls.”

 27 
 on: July 08, 2024, 11:53:58 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
THE Armenian and the Lebanese twitted their young French colleague with not knowing the “Wooden Baths”. “It’s affiliated to our club,” they said; “an annex of the Diplomatic Corps.” They went there nearly every day, between luncheon and the resumption of work.

“What!” said Georges. “You go bathing after a meal? Aren’t you afraid of congestion?”

They burst out laughing.

“The speciality of the Wooden Baths is that you don’t bathe there,” said the Armenian, “and the only congestion you need fear is the kind which finished off your president, Félix Faure. If you don’t know the Wooden Baths of Piraeus, you obviously don’t know the Lambs’ Baths in Bucharest, the Central Bath in Sofia, the Yildiz Hammam in Stamboul, the Kiraly Fürdö in Budapest, the Römer-Bad in Vienna, the Karls-Bad in Berlin, or the Imperatore Nero Baths in Rome.”

“You seem to have travelled a lot,” said Georges.

“I made my little tour of Europe before going into the Ministry; then I was sent to London before being sent to Athens. And I knew in advance that in New York I should go to the Millwall Baths. All over the world there is a secret civilization of baths and swimming-pools, but I’m afraid it is fading out in Paris. Yet there was a time when it flourished there as well. An old Parisian told me that before 1914, when he was asked where he was going to spend his holidays, he used to reply, ‘At the Rochechouart swimming-pool.’ It no longer exists. As for me, if I didn’t have to visit my relatives, I should spend all my leaves at the Wooden Baths.”

Georges accepted the invitation. If he patronized the house at Patissia, he could surely visit the Wooden Baths. It would not be for the same purpose, but it would be a pity to remain ignorant of an institution which was in the international class.

He left his car at Piraeus, in front of a respectable hotel, and, accompanied by the Lebanese and the Armenian, proceeded on foot to the famous establishment.

“We’re taking on a terrible responsibility in bringing you here,” said the Armenian jovially. “Such visits may change tastes and prevent good marriages.”

Georges assured them of his physical and moral equilibrium. The Wooden Baths were a large, square, boarded structure beside the shore, reached by a footbridge. Inside, a gallery, lined with cubicles, ran round the four sides. There were a great many people and very few bathers. They were gossiping and walking about. It was a sort of academy in bathing trunks, where youth pressed eagerly about the philosophers. Georges spotted one of the American secretaries, the Belgian, and the Pole. The American pretended not to see him, and the two others greeted him discreetly. He inquired whether the German Embassy was represented. “Not likely!” said the Armenian. “Our poor colleagues would have to be Nazi Party members to be allowed to come here. In Germany this would lead you straight to a concentration camp with a pink ticket.”

“And the military attachés, do they venture this far?”

“They haven’t the nerve. Still less need we fear the visits of the heads of missions. The Wooden Baths are reserved for young diplomats, and also, thank God, for young Greeks.”

Georges was undressing in his cubicle when there was a knock at the door. He thought it was one of his two friends and opened the door. It was a boy with an engaging smile, who asked him for a cigarette. Georges shut the door in his face. “Ah,” he said to himself, “that everlasting request! What the devil did the young Greeks ask Sophocles for in his time?”

The Armenian was waiting for him.

“I forgot to warn you that in this place we assume false identities. I am Italian; our friend is Swedish. Would you like to be Belgian?”

“It’s a good idea to be a neutral these days. But our other colleagues here, what nationalities do they take?”

“I’m sorry to say that the Pole passes for a Frenchman. Still, Poland is one of France’s allies. But take heart: the Belgian passes for a Rumanian.”

“And is the American an Armenian?”

“No; a Pole, which comes easily to him, for he is always half drunk.”

The boy Georges had turned out did not bear him any malice. Clearly he had had designs on him as a new client. Leaning against one of the gallery pillars, he was looking intently at Georges, and making gestures which his scanty costume rendered even more expressive than those of the urchins at the Zappeion. The Armenian commented on these manœuvres.

“The Wooden Baths are living up to their reputation,” said Georges.

“You haven’t seen everything yet,” said the Armenian, taking him by the arm.

At the corner of one of the galleries, on the sea side, they slipped out towards a floating stage, hidden from curious eyes. Here a number of entirely naked young men were supposed to be sun-bathing. The arrival of the two foreigners did not disturb them; on the contrary, their attitudes became more immodest. Just as nobody came to the Wooden Baths for sea-bathing, so one did not come for sun-bathing, either. The boy who had designs on Georges had joined this group. The theoretical sun-bath gave him an excuse to show himself off without his trunks. Such shamelessness made Georges blush. The idea that the boy was paying him tribute with his beauty stirred him pleasurably, but did not blind him to the fact that he would have done the same for anyone else. The proof was soon forthcoming: piqued at his failure, he turned his attention to the Armenian, an easy conquest, who beckoned to him to return to the cubicles.

“Excuse our Balkan simplicity,” said the Armenian to Georges, and beckoned to another boy.

“Long live simplicity!” said Georges.

“Your presence inspires me. In a cabaret in the happy Berlin of pre-Hitler times, there was a notice:

Französische Liebe, aristokratische Sensationen.

“French love, aristocratic sensations’. Which meant, roughly, that three’s company.”

Half amused and half disgusted, Georges returned to the galleries. They had become almost empty in his absence, and yet there were no more bathers. At least he would now be able to wait in peace until it was time to bathe.

He thought about the “civilization of baths and swimming-pools”. To excuse those who partook of it, he looked for the precedents, as Redouté would have said. He thought of the young Greeks of antiquity bathing after their exercises in the palaestra; of the young Romans, in the Roman baths, timorously hiding their precocious charms, like Juvenal’s little slave, or bathing naked in the Tiber under the gardens of some Roman beauty, who, as Cicero records of the sister of Clodius, would thus be given the opportunity of making her choice between them. He thought also of the heroes of Petronius at the baths of Puteoli, and the future St. Augustine at the baths of Tagasta. This civilization of baths seemed to have its best antecedents in antiquity. It had had its apogee then, precisely because it could not be accused of being a vice. Today nothing remained of it but a miserable counterfeit. Yet, to show the permanence of it as well, the Parthenon stood out on the landward horizon of the Wooden Baths and bestowed on them its Olympian benediction.

+++

Redouté had done all he could to palliate his blunder about the Steua Marina. The Havas correspondent had published in the Greek press some articles which told the story of the false shipwreck, and added that the diplomatic missions had been so much perturbed by the news that some of them had advised their governments. Thus Redouté appeared not to have been the only dupe. He had had these articles translated and sent in a memorandum, headed simply, “Apropos of the alleged torpedoing of the Steua Marina’.

None the less, his heart sank when he read the item about the torpedoing in Le Temps: “A report from Athens. . . .” Even “a report” seemed to him to point directly at himself. And, oddly, the denial was not published. Had the Ministry not wanted to retract its communiqué? Did it want to cover its representative or to stir up feeling? The Steua Marina, created by the French Embassy at Athens, had its existence confirmed by the discretion of the Quai d’Orsay. In any case, there had been no reaction from that quarter towards the chargé d’affaires, who was, indeed, glad enough of this, and yet also a little mortified.

A telegram came from Paris. It was signed “Yvon Delbos”, and was therefore an important communication. The usual signature was “Diplomacy”, or, one grade higher, “Léger”. Redouté was greatly excited. He came down to the chancellery to be present at the deciphering, with all the anxiety of one consulting an oracle. He breathed again: it asked him to invite the Greek Government, together with his British colleague, to take part in a conference to be held at Nyon on September the 10th, to “study means of restoring the safety of shipping in the Mediterranean”. He could have fallen on the cipher clerk’s neck, as the latter, with his head in his hand, sat stolidly waiting for any further instructions.

Redouté was radiant with pride and joy. Here he was entrusted with a mission: simple enough, no doubt, yet flattering. He concluded that the Steua Marina affair was finally buried.

“If I were in disgrace, the Quai d’Orsay would have sent the invitation to the Greek Embassy in Paris.”

Better still, he calculated that, so far from having done him harm, the Steua Marina had helped him. It was not the first time that he had contradicted himself.

“My telegram reminded them of my existence and showed that the Mediterranean question is, here, the question of the hour. It may even have been one of the minor causes leading up to the Nyon Conference. In fact, the biggest blunder of my career will have had the happiest results, and earned me the honour of a telegram signed by the Minister.”

“I wonder,” said the cipher clerk, “why the Quai d’Orsay is so keen on sending messages of this kind in code. Really, it is gratuitous torture of the cipherer and even sometimes of the chargé d’affaires.”

“You misunderstand the principles of the Service. It must send all its telegrams in code, to match its traditions, its spirit, its very reason for existence.”

“Its spirit, certainly,” said the cipher clerk ironically. “But if that corresponds with its reason for existence, it is as much as to say that it has none. In all countries, besides the ciphering and deciphering services, there are ‘code-breaking’ services. Our telegram has hardly been handed in at the Post Office in Athens before they send a copy of it to the Greek Foreign Ministry, and an hour later the text of it is duly translated. It is sitting on Metaxas’s desk before it is on Delbos’s.”

“You’re overdoing that a bit. In the first place, there are such things as unbreakable codes----”

“Excuse me if I interrupt: you know very well that the only unbreakable codes are those that are used only once. If we were determined that our telegrams should never be read by third parties, we should have to change the code each time; at least this would have the advantage of cutting down the number of telegrams.”

“It may be that codes are not much use in hiding secrets from governments, but they do hide them from the public.”

“My favourite of those we hide from the public is the ritual Fourteenth of July telegram, which is the shortest of the lot. The simple hieroglyphic ‘X 1326’ means ‘The French community, being met at the Embassy on the occasion of the national holiday, desires me to transmit on its behalf to M. the President of the Republic its assurances of respect, loyalty, and devotion’.”

“You must admit,” said Redouté, “that, though we may be lavish with our telegram expenses, We send one per annum which is a masterpiece of economy.”

He took up the code book to re-read it, and threw it angrily on the table. He had seen the embellishments the former clerk had added to it.

“He was lacking in respect for the Service,” he said.

“That was the result of the abuse of codes, Monsieur le Chargé d’ Affaires,” replied the cipher clerk.

Redouté went out, followed by Georges.

“That buffoon exaggerated, with his graffiti,” he said, “but I wouldn’t say he was altogether wrong in attacking codes. He was not so much a victim of the war as a victim of the rules governing reserved occupations, which compel the Minister to engage a certain number of men wounded in the head as cipher clerks, and, of course, the cipher drives them completely mad.”

He got in touch by telephone with his British colleague, who had just received the same instructions. Before going to the Ministry he lay down on the sofa. “I must have a rest, if I am to be presentable. That telegram gave me a bad shock, and yet there was no harm in it. But there are times when the mere arrival of a telegram can produce such effects. The formula ‘to be deciphered by yourself’, with which they sometimes begin, and which I was expecting to see in this one, is the most extreme refinement of sadism the Quai d’Orsay has ever invented. It goes without saying that the head of a mission never knows how to decipher, and you can imagine his embarrassment, not to mention his terror, when this instruction stops the deciphering in the chancellery and they bring him the tables and the telegram. He already knows it is a personal communication---state secrets are hardly ever sent in this fashion, and, besides, there are no such things as state secrets any more. So he calls in one of his close colleagues, who ordinarily doesn’t know how to decipher either, and in the end the cipher clerk does the translation. Just imagine the unfortunate chief . . .”

To do so was easy for Georges: he had only to think of Redouté.

“Imagine this unfortunate man. At the best, he watches emerging, bit by bit, that other equally sacred formula: ‘By reason of the eminent services which you have rendered to France in the course of a particularly exacting career . . .’ Don’t let yourself think that at this point he brightens up, preens himself, and calls for champagne. No. If he dared, he would call for sal volatile, for he knows well that this pompous phrase is double-edged. It heralds promotion or decapitation; a better post, or retirement. So imagine him hanging on the comma which the cipher clerk has just put after the word ‘career’. That comma is capable of killing a man. In vain do some try to bolster themselves up: ‘If it is the Holy See, I refuse,’ said X, magnificently. He was Minister at Belgrade and hoped to be posted to the Quirinal. Alas! Instead of reading, ‘I have decided to ask the consent of the Italian Government to your nomination as Ambassador of the Republic in Rome’, he reads the supreme formula, the supreme masterpiece of irony: ‘I have decided to authorize you to benefit from your rights to a retiring pension.’ ”

+++

Georges thought insistently about Francoise. He would not have believed that he would have missed her so much. He was worried by this and asked himself if he were in love with her. To ask this was to ask whether love could be born in the conditions in which they had begun. They had begun with the end. The pleasures of which they had partaken were those which a man dares only to ask of his mistress after the lapse of some time. A young girl who admitted them at the outset and who seemed to find them natural, was as rare as she was adorable. Judging her at a distance, Georges did not think the climate of Athens the only cause of her readiness. He supposed now that it arose from the life she led. By turns Japanese, Lithuanian, Greek, she had been caressed by the glances and the desires of too many races. That sensuality which travel awakes, that intoxication which a change of scene, of décor, and of company induces, had been multiplied by the atmosphere of luxury in which principles mattered less than privileges. The Service had given to Francoise, born in it, the aptitudes which Georges thought belonged to those forcing-grounds of love, the religious colleges. Was the colonel not right to accuse the majority of diplomats of erotic mania?

It was not because he had the illusion of knowing Francoise better that Georges felt himself less enamoured; but it was, however, that which reassured him. Their affinities were the bounds which separated them: they were too much alike to esteem one another. Georges, at any rate, had the classic conception of love founded on esteem; and though he saw a thousand reasons for delighting in this pretty girl, he saw none for loving her. Did he esteem himself, when he did certain things? Could he esteem Francoise for having allowed him to do them? With the poet, he anathematized those who

    “Mix modesty with matters of love”.

Yet he was none the less convinced that love---real love---and modesty go together. The one time in his life that he had loved had been in childhood, and, because that love had remained unsatisfied, all the others, including Francoise, were the delights of animals and not of angels.

This time, Redouté studied deeply the communiqué in Le Temps. His name, even his Christian name, adorned the account of the démarche which he and his British colleague had made in connexion with the Nyon Conference. These communiqués are the delight of diplomats and the landmarks of their career. This one was to Redouté a sign that his future was not compromised. True, the colonel, irritated by anything which brought the Service into prominence, did not conceal from Georges how grotesque he thought this publicity.

“Is the planet itching to be told that the French chargé d’affaires in Athens is called Redouté and that his Christian name is Roland? If he will allow me to say so, to be a Redouté is nothing.”

“You must not despise his ancestor the painter.”

“It is a recommendation for a painter, but not for a representative. As for the name Roland, if it is that of a paladin, you must admit we might have been spared it.”

“The Quai d’Orsay cultivates Christian names because the great names no longer flourish there.”

“And then there is the mania for double-barrelled names, another of their absurdities. The André Francois-Poncets, the Francoise Charles-Roux’s---do they think that all those names help us to remember the real one?”

“The Service, my dear Colonel, is the only profession which flatters itself that it can create a society man. Its members draw what profit they can from this.”

Out of earshot of all this comment, Redouté was still basking in the enjoyment of his communiqué when he heard a piece of news which set him lamenting again. The International Surgical Congress was going to meet in Athens. It had been forgotten about, what with all the fuss of the Guillaume Budé cruise and the torpedoings, but it seemed that it had lost nothing in the keeping. The Service des Œuvres had sent the list of members of the French delegation: fifteen persons, including the delegates’ wives.

The chargé d’affaires was determined to be even more economical in regard to the congress than he had been with the cruise. He had worked it out and decided that he would succeed in just balancing his budget with his expense allowance. But after all these lamentations and resolves, he gave in, as always. Willy-nilly, he would give a lunch of twenty covers. He thought it wise, in fact, to beware of travelling doctors: he declared that they were more dangerous than men of letters.

“Every more or less well-known doctor,” he said, “has some sort of a hold over a politician, and I must not offend anybody, on the eve of my promotion.”

In the end, terrified as he was of doctors, he did not flinch even from going to the Piraeus to welcome the delegates. Georges followed in his own car. Between them they could not give lifts to fifteen people, but at least they would show that the Embassy was on its toes.

They were surprised to see the colonel’s car on the quay. He came to meet them with affected politeness.

“You're expecting somebody?” Redouté asked.

“I am expecting the Surgical Congress.”

“Are you, indeed? We are expecting only the French delegation.”

“That is just what I mean. For me, the French delegation is the Surgical Congress.”

“We must draw lots, then.”

“In any case, may I thank you for the manner in which the Embassy keeps me informed.”

“But since you know everything . . . ! Besides, I should not have thought that an international surgical congress would interest you.”

“You would have thought so if you had remembered that among the delegation there is a medical colonel of the first grade.”

“Yes, of course.”

“You have arranged a lunch at the Palace Hotel. I do not think you invited me. But I should be very much honoured if you would be of the company this evening, at the same hotel, where I have ordered a supper for a hundred people. That should show you how much interest a military attaché takes in surgery.”

“Good! I hope you have more success with congresses than with cruises.”

“Perhaps you are unaware, M. le Chargé d’ Affaires, that you have come to welcome both a congress and a cruise. How many delegates are you expecting, may I ask?”

“Fifteen, provided that the Service des Œuvres counted them correctly.”

“That is what comes of trusting in the Service des Œuvres. The delegation consists of fifty-five people, Monsieur Roland Redouté.”

“What are you talking about?”

“What my Minister talked about, and he talks very often to better purpose than the Quai d’Orsay. You were sent the list of official delegates; but they did not say a word to you about the others who are always much more numerous---the non-official participants or free members. Very often they include the most important people, who don’t want all the trouble of being official representatives. Even when they are not invited to lunch, these people are sensitive to the attention paid them.”

With an expansive gesture, the colonel indicated two chars-a-bancs which were standing ready. Georges felt like laughing at such a deployment of forces, but seeing Redouté’s downcast expression he held his peace.

“I think, gentlemen,” he said by way of breaking the ice, “that it is time you announced yourselves on board.”

The chargé d’affaires, defeated by the colonel, walked sadly with him onto the gangway.

They came back soon, followed by a flock of travellers, like two guides leading tourists. The men had beards, corporations, and Legion of Honour rosettes; the women had double chins and were stoutly corseted. It was the same banal exterior as that of the Guillaume Budé cruise---“a French exterior”, M. Laurent would have called it. The colonel was talking to a person in a white suit, doubtless the first-grade military doctor. Redouté was divided between a voluminous man and an equally voluminous woman, doubtless the president of the delegation and his wife. In the bad humour which was afflicting him, he forgot all about Georges and went off with this couple. The colonel, taking with him his chosen guest, had directed the rest towards the chars-à-bancs.

Georges was no longer thinking of offering his services: he was gossiping with the English secretary, who had also come to meet someone.

A traveller came running down the gangway and made vain signals to the drivers of the chars-à-bancs. He was evidently a belated member of the French delegation. Finding himself alone on the quay, he looked very lost. His air of desperation was comic. He had not the solemnity of a surgeon who cuts open the stomachs of heads of states, but a rubicund face and a debonair, but slightly gauche, expression which attracted sympathy. Some worthy provincial surgeon, no doubt. Another sign told of the provinces: he wore academic palms. Georges felt the chord of nationality and of professional duty vibrate within him. He was sorry for this compatriot who had taken the trouble to come to Greece for love of surgery. He approached and introduced himself. The man shook hands with him as with a veritable saviour.

“You are in the International Surgical Congress?” said Georges, to make sure he was not mistaken.

“Naturally. I am M. Ventre, of Bordeaux.”

M. Ventre did not boast the title of doctor nor that of professor. No doubt he thought that his name was enough, embellished by a magnificent accent. “In spite of appearances and palms, he’s probably a surgical celebrity,” thought Georges, congratulating himself all the more on his own generosity. He led the Bordeaux surgeon towards his car.

“Aha!” said the latter. “A nice car! I haven’t had bad service for arriving last. It’s like in the Gospel. Congresses and Embassies always do things well.”

On the way, Georges asked him whether it was his first visit to Athens.

“Yes. I am so busy. It is hard to leave one’s clientéle. But I give myself a holiday each year, and I am particularly glad that this year, through the Surgical Congress, I am able to take it in Greece. Besides, I have many Greeks among my clients: the Greek Consul at Bordeaux, for example.”

M. Ventre was surely a specialist physician, rather than a surgeon.

“May I ask what is your speciality?”

The other seemed shocked at such ignorance.

“So you can never have come to Bordeaux, Mr. Secretary? If you had, you would know my house and my speciality.”

Looking at the violet ribbon out of the corner of his eye, Georges risked a fresh approach.

“I seem to remember that you have written a treatise, a manual----”

“Some articles, quite a few; but I have never gathered them together.”

“Do you hold a chair?”

M. Ventre laughed.

“I educate some pupils, indeed, but to call that having a chair. . . . In any case, no one could say that my courses were neither fish nor flesh.”

M. Ventre clearly liked his little joke. Like Rabelais, he must use laughter to treat his patients. But he still eluded Georges’s inquiries. Finally, Georges asked him:

“Have you a clinic?”

“A clinic! Good Heavens! I’m not in the habit of poisoning people. I tell you that I am M. Ventre: I am the proprietor of the Bec-Fin. My surgical instruments are the chopping-knife and the skewer, my clinic that of good wine and good food, my speciality canard à l’orange.”

His rich voice seemed to roll round mouthfuls of duck. Georges was flabbergasted: he had not thought to find this vaudeville character in an international surgical congress.

“Now you’re asking yourself,” went on M. Ventre, “what I’m doing in this congress. I am fond of going abroad and I have discovered that the most comfortable way of doing it, as well as the cheapest, is by attending congresses. For some years this is the only way I have travelled. I join some congress as a free member---sometimes it’s not too easy, but I have clients in every walk of life and all doors open to me. I have been to Sweden for child welfare, to Holland with the medicinal herbalists, I did England on Biblical studies, Poland on Esperanto, Egypt with the town planners, Sicily with the ophthalmologists. The whole thing is delightful. One is received everywhere with open arms. One goes from banquet to banquet. One meets sovereigns and heads of states. Tomorrow we have an audience with the King of Greece. Do you think I would have got that as a tourist, even as the proprietor of the Bec-Fin? Besides, it is enormously instructive and as amusing as it is instructive. The lectures, the debates, and the heads of these savants are irresistibly comic to me. And in my profession it gives me great distinction: I am the man who goes to the scientific congresses. And you see the result of my application: I have been awarded the academic palms.”

+++

These performances often involved Georges in taking round travellers whom his friends or colleagues had recommended to him. He had been given the reputation of a good cicerone as an excuse for laying him under contribution. Almost every week, in this holiday season, he received letters which ran like this:

“Dear friend,---Two of my cousins, charming girls, X and Y, will be arriving in Athens on the ----. May I entrust them to the best-informed of our young secretaries, the most agreeable of companions, and consequently the person best qualified to tell them about the past, the present, and perhaps also the future? . . .”

The cousins were not always as charming as they were alleged to be, but he had to put a good face on it. It was the same with the wives or daughters of ambassadors, who had personal letters of introduction to the chargé d’affaires. He, too, entrusted them to Georges.

Every time it was a drive to the Piraeus or the station, a visit to the Acropolis or the Museum, a luncheon and a drive in the car round the neighbourhood. Even when these meetings were not devoid of charm, they were spoilt for Georges by their servile character. One of them, however, was entirely agreeable: Francoise proved that she had not forgotten him by recommending a girl-friend who was passing on a yachting cruise.

There were various ways of showing people the Acropolis. Taking his inspiration from the formulae of politeness fixed by the protocol of the Service, he treated people according to its nuances, which ranged from “distinguished greetings” to “assurances of the highest consideration”. It was either the perfunctory visit, with some gross historical over-simplifications designed to be more easily understood---a free version of the paid guide’s performance; or else the detailed, boring, learned visit such as a member of the Institute of Art would do; or perhaps the languid, dawdling visit of the aesthete, complete with quotation from Valéry’s poem: “Douces colonnes . . .”

Though he had to bear his part of the Embassy’s burdens, he had at least lightened one of his own: his correspondence. He had made drastic cuts in the number of his “intimate friends”. But those in the Quai d’Orsay needed more consideration. He had been rash enough to send them his first impressions in a lively style which made them anxious to hear more. Proud of his success, he had half-killed himself to send ten letters or so every Bag. He hastened to curb this untimely zeal after he had kept it up longer than he had foreseen. Nevertheless, on the principle that it is as well to nourish one’s reputation from afar, he sent little presents instead of letters: cigarettes, objects in filigree-work, terra-cotta statuettes which would pass for Tanagras in a Parisian flat.

On the other hand, he kept up a very active correspondence in a purely sporting pursuit of decorations. He had decided that this was one of the amusements of the Service and his aim was to become one of the most decorated of diplomats as quickly as possible. He had taken the trouble to find out which of the colonial honours he was entitled to solicit and was disappointed to learn that only one was allowed every three years, from the age of twenty-nine onwards.

“Count yourself happy, lucky mortal, in being too young,” one of his colleagues in the Protocol section wrote to him. “But remember, when you do come to choose among the list, that you must go for the Cambodge and none other: the jewel is ravishing.” This colleague prided himself on being able to get it for Georges before the stipulated age, by counting his foreign service as double, which is done in certain cases for the colonies. He added that his son was collecting stamps and would be very glad to receive from Greece the “last royal issue”. Georges hastened to acquire credit with the King of Cambodia by sending Greek stamps to a young French boy.

These negotiations reminded him of what experience had already taught him, that there is always a way of getting round the rules. But he was not looking for the miserable satisfactions of vanity: these baubles pleased him simply as trophies of the chase. He did not regard them, as Stendhal did, as “certificates of baseness and black treason”, nor, as did Casanova, as a veil to be thrown over corrupted morals. He did not deceive himself about the importance of possessing them, any more than he thought himself demeaned in asking for them.

To begin with, he by-passed the Quai d’Orsay and wrote directly to the African protectorates: one of his contemporaries was in a post at Rabat, and another at Tunis. They undertook to get him the Ouissam and the Nicham very shortly. He laughed already to think what the colonel would say. As for the Cambodge itself, he had great hopes of one of his friends, attached to the Governor-General of Indo-China: if he could obtain this ribbon without the help of the Protocol section, he would be able to use his dispatches of postage stamps in favour of the Black Star of Benin.

He next set himself to collect some foreign decorations. Two former colleagues, in whom he could trust, promised him that they would not forget him: one at Bangkok, in the next exchange of decorations, the other at Monaco, in the distribution of the St. Charles on the first of January. From another friend, a member of the committee of the International Exhibition, he had a similar promise of the Eagle of Mexico. Lastly, in Athens, the Armenian and the Lebanese were confident that they would bring him back some sort of pendant when they went on leave. In short, if he received this avalanche of decorations, he would have the additional pleasure of being able to say, like Melbourne when he received the Garter, that he had done nothing to deserve it.

The collector’s enthusiasm which had seized him was not peculiar to himself. He had seen and still saw it reigning all around him. In Paris the International Exhibition, from which he also would benefit, had started it. The visits of foreign ministers to open pavilions had been the occasion of a prodigious shower of every sort of ribbon. At the Quai d’Orsay, boxes of crosses and plaques littered the desks of heads of departments who had quite lost their heads over them. If the cases carried no inscriptions and if someone had mislaid the diplomas, how was one to know that this pendant without oak-leaves was that of the Crown of Oak? how distinguish the Order of the Grand-Duke Gediminas from that of Vytautus the Great? or the head of Pablo Duarte from the Bust of Bolivar? This had a singular result: to reverse the scale of values. The invasion of unknown orders put them at a premium: they were welcomed, they were sought after as a poet searches for a rare word, and people were prouder of having obtained the White Rose without being posted to Helsinki, than of getting the Victorian Order for having been posted to London.

This manna, which the central administration reserved for its higher ranks, excited the desires of everyone, even those abroad. Redouté, for all his pose of detachment, was none the less conducting his own little intrigue. He had heard from his Dutch colleague that the medal of the Sultan of Soulou was easily come by. So he had it discreetly asked for by the French Consulate in the Dutch East Indies. As the former secretary of the Embassy had been posted to Java, this seemed a promising line of approach.

The Ambassador, for his part, had declared his intention of not coming back empty-handed. The plan which he had unfolded to his colleagues seemed to Georges the height of diplomatic subtlety. “I must,” he had said, “bring back the Grand Order of Benin. This is not only because its ribbon is the same shade of blue as the Saint-Esprit, but also to encourage the Greeks to give me the Grand Ribbon of the Saviour, which it also resembles. Having given me the Phoenix, I’m sure they’ll try to palm me off with the George I when I leave, as they did my predecessor. But I don’t want it. To rehabilitate the Saviour, which the republican régime distributed wholesale, they make a point of never giving it at all. That’s the one I mean to have. To make it clear to them, I shall stop wearing the Phoenix and wear the Benin instead. The blue will say to them: ‘Note well! I like blue, I am devoted to blue; blue attracts blue.’ And if the language of colour means nothing to them, their own self-esteem will. To prevent a French colonial order from being mistaken for the most exalted of their own, they will hasten to give me the Saviour.”

“But don’t you think,” Redouté had said, “that on the contrary, your one blue ribbon will make the Greeks even less disposed to give you another?”

“That is what ordinary common sense would say, but that is not the sense by which we must be guided. Laroche did exactly as I am doing to get the White Eagle at Warsaw. He had already been given the Polonia Restituta and was obsessed with the idea that he might miss the White Eagle. So he asked Paris for the Benin and wore it instead of his Polonia. He told the Poles that it was the second French order, as it is, and that according to the protocol he was obliged to sacrifice the second Polish order for it. When he presented his letters of recall, he was given his White Eagle. ‘I’ve got the White Eagle!’ he shouted when he returned to the Embassy. I hope, for his sake, that people will still know what the White Eagle is in ten years’ time.”


 28 
 on: July 08, 2024, 07:36:44 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
THE reverberations of the Spanish War were tolerably muffled by the time they reached Greece. However, one morning, the correspondent of the Havas Agency, obedient to his orders, brought a brand-new piece of sensational intelligence: the Rumanian steamer Steua Marina---Star of the Sea---had been torpedoed in the Euripus during the night by an unknown submarine.

At this time, unknown submarines were much talked about in the Mediterranean; on behalf of one side or the other they were watching the Spanish supply routes and they had already sunk a number of foreign ships. But this was the first time that one of their exploits had been reported from Greek waters. There was no doubt but that the Steua Marina was bound for Spain. It was equally probable that, coming from such a country as Rumania, it was towards Franco’s Spain that she was bound. The cargo must have been of great importance for the ship to be sunk right in the Euboic Sound.

The chargé d’affaires was highly excited at the news; at last he would have a telegram worth sending. He made the correspondent promise not to telegraph for three hours and to say nothing to the colonel, who, at the moment, was discharging the functions of naval attaché also.

He seized his taper-pointed pen, dipped it several times in the ink, and wrote with a triumphant air: Diplomacy, Paris. He paused to think. He never asked Georges for advice in his work; he made a rule of doing everything out of his own head, when he could not do it all out of the files. Sometimes this took some time. Today, no doubt his lucidity was disturbed by personal feelings: he had in his possession not only a good telegram, but the key to his own promotion.

It would bring him to the notice, not only of the Ministry, but of the Minister. Everyone knows that the Minister never reads reports, but willingly reads telegrams. Now, a telegram like this would certainly be shown to him. It was a political telegram of the first importance, a telegram of international significance: the torpedoed ship belonged to a country allied to France.

Excitedly he took up the pen again and, with an unwonted fluency, he wrote in one breath: “The Rumanian steamer Steua Marina, sailing towards Spain, has been sunk this night in the Euripus by an unknown submarine.” He contemplated this text, struck out the word “sailing’---no doubt as being too literary---and then, deliberately, struck out the dependent clause in its entirety.

“One should not state anything of which one is not certain,” he said.

Thus lightened, the sentence ran to barely a line and a half. It was a pity not to be able to say more, when one was appending one’s signature to news of such importance. But the brevity of the text made it only the more striking. Redouté turned to Georges, who had been watching him write it.

“It’s lapidary, isn’t it?”

For the finishing touch he added the word “Secret”, the magic word which ensures an attentive reading. When Georges pointed out that his secret would very shortly become public property, he cancelled it and wrote instead “Very Urgent”. He sat tapping for a minute, making sure that the message was perfectly clear, then sent for the cipher clerk to warn him to cipher “Euripus” properly. When he found that this name did not appear in the cipher tables and would have to be specially composed, he dotted the “i” as a precaution.

“I’m sure,” he said, “that the Euripus has never figured in a telegram before: the decipherers at the Quai d’Orsay are quite capable of mistaking it for Europe.”

He was in such a good temper that even this prospect did not daunt him.

“The news is a bomb in the middle of Europe rather than in the middle of the Euripus,” he added.

Georges, who had established the right to chaff him on his harmless enthusiasms, asked him whether he realized why he was in such a good temper.

“It’s because you have written a line---in fact, a line and a half, without using either Littré or the precedents.”

“Littré, my dear fellow, I carry in my head; I don’t always have to consult the copy on the desk. For precedents one must search in history: this torpedoing in the Euripus is the firing of the Eshina on the Sirena in the Bay of Navarino, which started the Greek War of Liberation: it is the blowing-up of the Maine in the Bay of Havana, which started the Spanish-American War; it is the Dogger Bank incident, which nearly started a war between England and Russia.”

“It’s lucky that in the sinking of the Steua Marina, though we can clearly see Rumania on one side, we don’t know who is on the other. You can’t make war against an unknown power.”

“We shall leave the business of discovering it to our friend the colonel. Really, the more I think about this piece of news which I have just launched over the ether, the more I see in it a combination of  circumstances which I do not hesitate to describe as marvellous. The very name Steua Marina is redolent of tragedy, of mystery.

    ‘The Euboic rocks girt round with foundered ships.’

The Euripus . . . I see myself avenging the memory of Aristotle, who drowned himself in its waters, in despair at not being able to account for the currents.”

He rang up his friend---a thing he had never done in front of Georges. The torpedoing had put him in a mood simultaneously learned and gallant. He addressed the poetess as Stella Maris, and reminded her that they were meeting that evening at the Golf Club.

“Well,” he said to Georges, “let’s go and lunch at the Nautical Club. The circumstances clearly indicate it. You shall lunch with me.”

An invitation! He must be out of his mind. Georges pondered on a profession which so completely destroyed a man’s human qualities that he regarded such a disaster as an occasion to enhance his own prestige.

It happened that there were no other diplomats in the club. Redouté was delighted at this. It meant that France would enjoy so much the longer her monopoly of such a highly diplomatic piece of news. He was still mulling over his telegram.

“I'm afraid,” he said suddenly, “that the Minister may not know what the Euripus is.’

“Somebody will tell him,” said Georges.

“Of course! But we should have told him ourselves. One cannot be too precise in communicating with a Foreign Minister, even if he has been a professor, as Delbos was. Briand was unimaginably ignorant. He used to make speeches about the Teschen plebiscite without knowing where Teschen was. He talked about the ‘Concile des Trente’. He used to say ‘We shall not go to Canova’! He used his famous violoncello voice to gloss over his bulls and blunders.”

“But that didn’t prevent him from speaking out the truth,” said Georges.

“I can tell you; I heard him, Briand and his truth. Before I was sent to Persia I was in the League of Nations section. I remember a meeting when he ended one of his speeches like this: ‘As our famous fabulist says, “Let us render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s”.’ Somebody passed him a little note saying, ‘Yes, and render to Jesus Christ the things which are Jesus Christ’s.’ It makes me laugh every time I think of it.”

They drove back to Athens. Redouté seemed in better spirits than ever: the pleasure of telling his stories was nothing to what he promised himself at the Embassy.

+++

Since the André H---- lecture, the colonel had been keeping quiet. But Redouté was convinced that if he had known anything in the morning, he would have said something. One had to admit, in fact, that the military attaché had some sense of discipline, besides his desire to demonstrate the superiority of his own sources of information.

Georges went to fetch him to the first floor.

“My dear Colonel,” said Redouté in a bantering tone, “here is a telegram for you to read.”

The colonel read it impassively and handed it back.

“Is that all?” he said coldly.

“Yes,” said Redouté, who had been expecting a different reaction.

“Telegrams are like jokes: the shortest are always the best.”

“You didn’t know of this incident?”

“I still don’t know it. I have only read your telegram.”

“You are being rather irritating, Colonel.”

“It is I who should feel irritated. It says here that this message was sent at eleven in the morning and you are telling me about it at four in the afternoon.”

Redouté mumbled some excuses.

“I shall inform myself,” said the colonel. “I know that annoys you, but you have your sources of information and I have mine. Very well. Experience has taught me to trust only my own. If you will allow me, I will keep you informed of what I find out.”

He saluted briefly, and went out. They guessed that this time he was not going to seek information from the evzones, and that if he had gone in search of sailors, they were not the sailors of the Zappeion. The chargé d’affaires was worried; the comedy which he had been bent on acting had recoiled on himself; he had not played the beau rôle in it. But self-esteem was not his only preoccupation.

“Our friend has given me a flea in the ear,” he said.

He looked fixedly at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, as though expecting the Tiber to reveal the secrets of the Euripus. He came out of his daydream to ask for the Havas correspondent to be got on the telephone. The journalist’s wife replied that she did not expect him in till dinner. They rang up the Foreign Ministry. The political director was away; his assistant had heard some talk of the torpedoing, but did not know the details. Redouté ordered the clerk of the chancellery to go through the evening newspapers immediately. They only mentioned the Euripus to announce the Chalcis regatta. Georges had never seen his colleague looking more anxious.

The latter, however, clung to one hope: the Rumanian Embassy telephone was still engaged. This was a sign of abnormal activity, which it was natural to ascribe to the story. Besides, it was easy to explain the silence of the Press and the caution of the Ministry. Such an important event, happening in Greek territorial waters, was no matter for satisfaction to the Greek authorities. Who knows what diplomatic complications would follow? Metaxas was probably playing for time; busy arranging things behind the scenes before publication.

But still the Rumanian Embassy remained inaccessible. If he had dared, Redouté would have nipped over in his car.

“To think,” he said, “that we went to lunch at the Nautical Club, where we found nothing but old cats, instead of lunching at the International, where we would have seen our Rumanian friend!”

He had stopped congratulating himself on having met no diplomats at the Nautical Club. So far from wanting to keep the news of the torpedoing to himself, he wished the whole world would talk about it. He decided to telephone to the Turkish Ambassador: he had called to apologize after the André H---- lecture, and considered himself on good terms with the Ambassador. What was more, the latter was on even better terms with Metaxas; he would certainly be au fait with the drama of the Euripus. The Ambassador said that, indeed, he had been told about it in the morning, but as an unverified rumour, and had heard nothing since.

Redouté began to be seriously worried. As the Rumanians were still unobtainable on the telephone, Georges suggested that he should telephone the English: everything naval was their business. The British chargé d’affaires replied to the same effect as the Turkish Ambassador, but added a detail which left Redouté dumbfounded: the Rumanian Lloyd’s Register contained no ship of the name of the Steua Marina.

“Did you think it worth while to telegraph London?” asked Redouté in a trembling voice.

Laughingly, the Englishman replied that he did not think it worth while to telegraph that, according to rumours of unknown origin, an unknown ship had been torpedoed, perhaps in the Euripus, by an unknown submarine. Never was the expression of “hollow laughter” better illustrated than by the laughter of the French chargé d’affaires.

“I am lost! Lost!” he groaned.

If the Euripus had been under the windows of the Embassy, Redouté would have followed the example of Aristotle. Instead, he pulled out his handkerchief to wipe his forehead, as he had done on the platform in the School of Athens.

“What am I to do?” he said. “If he weren’t on leave I should ask Laforcade’s advice. He’s an old hand who has seen other crises.”

Georges tried to restore his morale.

“A bit of false news isn’t the end of the world. You’re not dead yet. I have heard that Paléologue was a specialist in false news: he used it to pour oil on the fire.”

“When you’re an ambassador you’re allowed to make blunders; only the country suffers.”

He drew himself up with the pride of an important official, who thinks of dignity rather than of interest.

“I know that this blunder will not harm my career, but it reduces me in my own opinion. I shall reproach myself all my life with having failed in the first of our duties, which is to be prudent. I who, as you reminded me, love to consult dossiers and dictionaries, forgot that one should consult people. I swallowed a report which admittedly was not in itself incredible, and which, on top of that, had the charm of flattering me by its importance. Remember that to know where the Euripus is, is not the same thing as to know what goes on there.”

The colonel was announced. His stony countenance gave promise of disastrous news. Redouté asked him to sit down. He declined with thanks, saying that he had only a few words to say. Standing with one hand in his pocket, he then delivered himself:

“Here is the result of my inquiry. It has been quick. Firstly, there is no Rumanian ship called the Steua Marina.”

‘I have known that for an hour,” said Redouté dryly, and added, perhaps to prevent the colonel from saying it, “It is a pity, clearly, that I did not know it sooner.”

The colonel went on:

“Secondly, there has been no torpedoing in the Euripus or anywhere else in Greek waters. Thirdly, some smugglers, among whom were some Rumanians, were arrested this morning at Chalcis and told this story to get themselves out of trouble. Fourthly, the telephone line of the Rumanian Embassy is out of order.”

“Thank you, Colonel.”

This time it was the colonel’s turn to be surprised that his report did not provoke a different reaction. He retired.

The chargé d’affaires, thinking that he had accused himself enough, was venting his spleen against the journalist who had misled him. He sent the kavas to his house, with orders to discover his whereabouts.

His anger did not prevent him from thinking of ways to undo the damage. It would do him harm to send a disclaimer, to admit that he had made an ass of himself, but he could not leave the department to make an ass of itself in turn. Tomorrow, this false report would be splashed all over the French press, with various commentaries about the unknown submarine. In the present state of people’s minds, false reports had even more consequences than true ones. Would Redouté, like Paléologue, have poured oil on the fire? He had at least the slight consolation of sharing the responsibility with the Havas correspondent. But he considered himself the more blameworthy: it was his own telegram which had preceded and authenticated the other.

Taking his courage in both hands, he composed a new telegram:

“Very Urgent. Further to my telegram. The report of the torpedoing, founded on inaccurate data, was incorrect.”

He read and re-read it. It was not much longer than the former, but it seemed to him even more grave.

“I am signing my death-warrant,” he said. “The death-warrant of my promotion.”

A fit of rage seized him and, throwing down his pen, he tore the piece of paper to shreds.

“It’s impossible,” he said. “One cannot give the lie to a telegram. A telegram is sacred.”

Georges noticed that, in a good diplomat, dignity always speaks first, but does not always have the last say. Redouté ran through all the arguments which might excuse his mistake, but these contradicted his original remarks. His telegram, he said, was too short to be noticed. It would leave no mark on the Minister’s mind. In any case, if it went any further, one torpedoing more or less was not going to change the destiny of Europe or of Spain.

He thought of a middle course, which was to write to M. Laurent to ask him to patch up the business. But he abandoned this idea: he no longer desired to attract anyone’s attention, even his chief’s. None the less he counted on M. Laurent’s voluntary intervention in case of need: they were linked by the petty complicities of the Service, by little trade secrets, and they owed one another succour in difficult moments.

“After all,” said Redouté, “it’s a mere nothing. The most annoying thing that can happen to me is that I may have to pay the cost of the telegram, a penalty which the Ministry used to inflict in Poincaré’s time. Happy Claudel, who had Berthelot to be the first to read his telegrams! It is said that sometimes Berthelot sent them back to him, asking him to modify them in one way or another. One wonders which is more to be admired: the master’s complaisance or the pupil’s.”

Thinking of the subterfuges of the Quai d’Orsay, perhaps to muffle his own troubled conscience, the chargé d’affaires had recovered his gaiety.

At last the Havas correspondent appeared, looking very shamefaced. He underwent a dressing-down from Redouté and told his tale. He had first of all used the three hours’ delay to pay a visit in the suburbs; then, before telegraphing, he had gone to the Foreign Ministry to hear the latest news. Surprised that nothing was known there of the torpedoing, he had sped to the Ministry of the Interior to see the official who had shown him the message from Chalcis. But this man had already left his office and there was nobody in his place, nobody who knew about the affair! As office hours in Athens did not resume till nearly four o’clock, he had to resign himself to waiting till then and had to wait still longer for his informant. His haggard face testified to the agonies he had been through. He had, naturally, delayed sending his own telegram. But to what purpose could he have warned the Embassy any sooner? Nothing could bring back the message already sent to the Quai d’Orsay.

“This is the end!” wailed Redouté. “Only my telegram went off, then?”

He stopped, as though stricken by the enormity of his own disaster. Then he added:

“It’s terrifying; the Steua Marina affair rests on me alone.”

“Oh, yes,” said the correspondent, with an expression which made Georges and even Redouté laugh.

“I should inflict a penance on you,” said the latter, “to telegraph to Paris that the sea-serpent has been seen in the Euripus.”

“Unfortunately,” said Georges, “we’re the ones who fished it out.”


 29 
 on: July 07, 2024, 11:04:16 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
GOING one day to consult the precedents at the chancellery, Georges found nobody there. Seeing some reference books on a shelf he picked up one and opened it. The margin of the page was covered with drawings. And what drawings! Swooning women, monstrous couples, rutting animals. Georges came into this room every day, but he had never thought of examining the books and he had not been able to see these scribblings. The Petite Larousse, which was lying open, had a drawing of the same kind opposite the word Chat. Georges looked through this dictionary, which was the Littré of the chancellery. The infernal pen had illustrated all the words which lent themselves to equivocal uses: grand, gros, petit . . . and all these illustrations had been done with so fine a point that one would have taken them for the work of a Japanese miniaturist. After seeing such work one would no longer dare to pronounce or write a single word.

Georges’s first impulse was to go and tell Redouté about his discovery. But he thought that perhaps Redouté would be too serious a person to share it with. The ideal person would be the colonel.

Both the promise he had made, and his own prudence, prevented Georges from asking the colonel for any explanation of what his ward had said to Francoise. But if the thing were to get back to him from another source, he would act differently. In the meantime, he realized, he ought to be grateful to the colonel for the effect his remarks had produced on Francoise.

The colonel was busy rubber-stamping the backs of some photographs. He showed them to his visitor: they were of sailors and evzones.

“Those are my secret agents,” he said.

“You diplomats,” he went on. “How do you get your information? From other diplomats, who make it their business never to tell the truth; from the newspapers, which publish any old thing; and from the correspondent of the Havas Agency, who gets a little rake-off for bringing news to you before he sends it by wire. It’s not very brilliant, is it?

“You cannot win peace, any more than you can win a battle, without a good information service. Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo because the inn-keeper who was guiding him forgot to point out the sunken road at Ohain. Von Kluck lost the battle of the Marne because he gave a premature order of retreat on the strength of a faulty appreciation of the strength of our defence. Venizelos’s coup d' état failed because the telephone line to the Lycabettus battery, which the conspirators had cut, was repaired without their knowledge, and so at the first attempt of the fleet, the alert could be given to the garrison of the capital.”

The colonel put his photographs in an envelope, rose, took a bunch of keys out of his pocket, opened his safe, and put the precious collection in. He slammed the steel door: his secret agents were well guarded.

“As a relief from serious matters,” he said, “I have done some little drawings, on which I’d very much like your opinion.”

He took from a drawer some cards illustrated with pictures of the various Greek uniforms, with a legend underneath each.

“The Greek army is missing from my collection of lead soldiers. I have made these sketches, with all the details, and I shall have the figures cast in Paris. It’s only in France that you can find people who can do that work properly.”

Georges lingered long over the illustration of the evzones, thinking thus to ingratiate himself with the colonel.

“You can see,” said the colonel, “that, contrary to the belief of simple folk, the evzones do wear drawers.”

He planted himself in his arm-chair in his familiar attitude.

“But you didn’t come here to talk about all that. What brings you, eh?”

“Drawings, as a matter of fact,” said Georges. And he told the colonel what he had found.

“Well, well,” said the colonel, “so you didn’t know the Embassy’s Petite Larousse? It’s the work of a former clerk who left the Embassy some years ago; probably he’s now in an asylum. But I should be ashamed of speaking ill of a war victim, with a plate in his skull and a useless right hand. Just think what he would be if he had the use of both hands! Happily, his aberrations were restricted to graphic form. Mostly he was quite normal, but when his drawing mania was on him, he sowed phalluses even over the dispatches: a full-stop, a comma, a dash, or an acute, grave, or circumflex accent, instantly became a phallus.”

“He should have been cipher clerk to the French Regent, who used obscene words for his code.”

“Failing that, he was formerly cipher clerk in Washington. He had a grievance against his chief, so to get his own back he ciphered these words, above the signature of a telegram: ‘The buffoon who represents France in Washington’. Of course he was recalled. But he escaped the sack, being a disabled ex-serviceman, and vegetated in Paris for a while till M. Laurent took pity on his affliction and bore him off to Athens. What with the former clerk and the former secretary, the Embassy was well fitted out. In my report in favour of the suppression of ambassadors, there is a chapter of great general interest concerning erotic mania among diplomats.”

This expression set Georges laughing.

“You may laugh, young man! But I know what I’m talking about. Just lately, Giletière showed me, in strict confidence, a little bronze head found at Delos, which has a phallus stuck on to the occiput and another on the sinciput. ‘It’s a diplomat!’ I cried. ‘No,’ said our learned director, ‘it is an erotomaniac’.”

“Oh, come,” protested Georges. “I don’t feel these protuberances growing on my skull, nor do I see them growing on the Ambassador, nor on Redouté.”

“Nor could they actually be seen on the last secretary’s skull, either. The profession files them down and they grow inwards, instead. We may admit that in certain cases they atrophy. That is how we get those languid, precious, mincing, ‘repressed’ diplomats, or the other kind, the gruff and silent ones, who are always dying to go walking at night in the Allée de la Longue-Queue in the Bois de Boulogne, or in the corresponding parts of Hyde Park, Unter den Linden, the Pincio, or the Zappeion.”

“Perhaps it’s better that diplomats should go walking elsewhere.”

“No; that is not so desirable. When erotic mania is suppressed in them, it breaks out in their wives.”

“But you must admit there’s no sign of it in Mme. Laurent.”

“You may consider yourself lucky that our Ambassador’s wife is a quiet type. Your unfortunate colleague at ---- has a very different row to hoe, as I have just heard in the latest Bag. His ambassador’s wife has fallen madly, but insanely, in love with him. As he was not interested, she pursued him right into his office, throwing herself at his feet and threatening suicide. Lately, in the salon of the Embassy, she was entertaining some ladies and regaling them with stories of the cruelty of the young diplomat. Then she opened her handbag and took out her knickers, saying, ‘You see, I’m all ready for the moment when he decides to take the plunge’.”

“I think you’re entitled to the credit for that story.”

“You'll believe me when you see that your colleague has asked to be recalled. The Quai d’Orsay would do better to recall the ambassador. But they didn’t recall X, when his wife threw herself out of one of the Embassy windows after hearing of the marriage of the lover who was betraying her, nor did they recall Y, whose wife claims she has the most beautiful navel in the Service and invites all comers to inspect it.”

“Are you quite sure that there is not some tincture of erotomania in the imaginations of military attachés who circulate such tales?”

“God forbid! Unfortunately the testimony of a bookseller at the Palais-Royal is conclusive. It proves that the majority of pornographic manuscripts which he has copied for his clients come from Government departments---except one department, mark you, the Ministry of War. Our emotions are at the service of our country; those of the Quai d’Orsay, I’m sorry to have to tell you, are at the service of the Palais-Royal.”

“But even if all that is true, it does not belittle in any way the merits of these officials and the services which they perform. I need not give you the list of great generals whose dossier is to be found in the moral police department of history.”

“Great men have their own moral codes, which it is not our business to discuss. But ministries do not produce great men, and we are talking about ministries. I laugh in my beard when I walk along the railings which protect from vulgar contact the palace which Napoleon III provided for your Ministers, or when I pass the lofty facade which shelters your offices on the Esplanade des Invalides. Have you ever noticed that, whereas passers-by practically never look at the other ministries, they nearly always look at the Foreign Ministry? They imagine it is busy with grandiose plans for preventing war and maintaining peace. Yes, I laugh in my beard, I do, when I think of these more or less marble halls full of people like the former secretary and former cipher clerk hard at it.”

Georges protested: “I spent two years in the offices and corridors of the Quai d’Orsay, and I never saw anything like what you are able to see through the walls.”

“You’d have me believe that you live in blinkers. Must you be one of those people who never see anything anywhere? Just as in schools, there are masters, and even some pupils, who see nobody around them but little saints.”

“Perhaps that is better for everybody.”

“Haven't you observed that there are women at the Quai d’Orsay?”

“I do know that some of our typists have entered the Service by way of marriage and that those in the Secretariat-General are often very influential.”

“But how many others are merely your victims! It is true that when they make a fuss they are paid hush-money out of the secret funds. I’m very fond of the ritual formula which for a long time covered this class of payments: ‘To cover labour in handling filing-cabinets.’ I am well aware that you have nearly a hundred thousand filing-cabinets in the Foreign Ministry, but the typists do not shift this enormous mass of material about every day.”

“Your account of the morals of the Quai d’Orsay is about as accurate as those of the pamphleteers who denounced the morals of the court of France without ever setting foot inside Versailles.”

“Pardon me! I have seen the memorandum of a complaint which the Sureté lodged about one of the love affairs of ---- who ruled for years over your establishment. I have seen it because he is no longer there to have it destroyed as he destroyed the dossiers of the other scandals he was involved in when he was in office. It was about one of his former mistresses who had been convicted of espionage. The inquiry revealed that he had given her historic documents abstracted from the ministerial archives, among others von Schoen’s letter announcing the declaration of war in August 1914. So you see that the General Staff has good reason to be wary of the Quai d’Orsay.”

“I should say rather that diplomats should beware of military attachés.”

“The Quai d’Orsay set up a commission to inquire into the origins of the Great War: I doubt if it took account of a case of mania which, even if it was not erotic, had the gravest consequences. On the eve of the war, the French Minister in Belgrade went mad: he didn’t reply to telegrams, refused to allow the cipher tables to be used, and sat on them, flourishing a revolver.”

“Clearly, we must substitute this for the Serajevo assassination as a cause of the World War.”

“What worries me about the next war---which is just round the corner---is that the direction of French diplomacy is in the hands of a man who is afflicted with another kind of mania: poetic mania.”

“What it boils down to is that you won’t allow diplomats to make verses or to make love, either.”

“I only reproach them for making the soldiers bear the consequences of their follies and their blunders. Defeated soldiers are loaded with obloquy, but the diplomats are always winners. We are supposed to need them to patch up all the damage they have caused.”

As though in reply to Mme. Laurent’s eulogy of the title of ambassador, the colonel concluded:

“When I listen to society people babbling the words, ‘Monsieur l'Ambassadeur, I seem to hear something quite different:

     ‘The gun-butts rapping on the floor.’

But, alas, though some ambassadors have been arrested, imprisoned, or murdered, not one has ever been executed. I demand that M. Laurent be shot, because I know very well that he never will be shot.”

+++

Once again, Roland Redouté was groaning: the liner Guillaume Budé was making a cruise to Athens. There were to be two French cruises to Greece that year: one, smart and fashionable, distinguished by pretty women and witty men, was organized by the Greeks and chaperoned by Bedel; the other, shabby and boring, consisted mostly of intellectuals or those who claimed to be such. The first, which came in the spring, was entertained by the Ambassador; the second arrived in the dog-days and was taken care of by the chargé d’affaires. He considered it the heaviest burden that he had to bear as French representative, though it involved giving only one reception of the Fourteenth of July type. This year, to add to his misery, he had been told that a famous academician was arriving under the banner of Hellenism.

“An academician! That puts the lid on it! It means a lunch-party: a whole week’s expense allowance!”

“You're exaggerating,” said Georges. “Surely an academician hasn’t all that appetite?”

“But I shall have to invite a dozen people to meet him. You can’t give just anything to that kind of guest. They have to have an audience, to hold court. A diplomat’s idea of his own importance is nothing beside that of a man of letters. We are proud of our caste, whereas he is proud of himself. If he’s famous, he thinks the eyes of the universe are upon him. If he’s not, he parades the pretensions of unrecognized genius and is only the more touchy. They’re a terrible bunch!”

In a loud voice the chargé d’affaires re-read the last sentences of the dispatch which had just arrived:

“I am to inform you that M. André H----, Member of the Académie Goncourt, is taking part in the cruise, and that this eminent writer has offered to give a lecture under the auspices of the Franco-Hellenic League. I shall be obliged if you will do everything in your power to facilitate this project, which can only enhance our prestige in the capital of Greece. And it’s signed Léger.”

The soothing and bureaucratic formula, “I shall be obliged”, was, in fact, an order, as Redouté very well knew. It was equivalent to the phrase used in the First Republic: “Citizen, I beg you, and in so far as need may be, I require you. . . .”

“What jargon!” said Redouté. “ ‘M. André H---- has offered to give a lecture’! You’d think he was going to give us his blood, or his life, or at least a dinner. A dinner? Heaven forbid! But he wants to give us the one thing we didn’t ask him. I see the way the Quai d’Orsay works. Marx made Léger sign it himself, to flatter his taste for literature, so that he will have the feeling of patronizing the Académie Francaise, as though he were the Cardinal de Richelieu. And Léger, who I’m quite sure thinks nothing of André H----, signs with a grand flourish as though he were sending us Corneille.”

To pour oil on the troubled waters, Georges pointed out that this event, though it might be devoid of literary, was of political interest. The Left-wing Government in France did not prevent the Ministry from patronizing a Right-wing writer. This gesture would be appreciated by the Greeks, who did not like the Popular Front, and Léger’s recommendation was an act of high diplomacy.

Redouté’s frown disappeared, but not as a result of Georges’s remarks.

“We are saved! They have forgotten that it is quite impossible to give lectures in Athens in August.”

He was delighted at escaping from this additional burden and was happy enough to shoulder that of the luncheon-party. Nevertheless, for form’s sake, he notified the president of the League: thus, when replying to the Ministry he would be able to lean on an opinion which he knew would be the same as his own.

He was not mistaken: the president was surprised that, contrary to custom, the Quai d’Orsay had not taken the advice of the Embassy (that is to say, that of the League) before arranging for anyone to speak under their auspices. He thought that the choice of lecturer made the omission all the more unfortunate. In any case, no matter who the lecturer might be, the business was settled in advance because the League’s hall was closed the whole summer.

But the chargé d’affaires and the president had reckoned without their guest. The colonel, who knew all about it, came to ask, haughtily, by what right they presumed to prevent André H---- from delivering a lecture in Athens.

“For once,” he said, “we have a moral writer available. Are we not to profit by this? An academician, a Commander of the Legion of Honour: what could be better for prestige?”

“I did not know that military attachés were interested in André H----,” said Redouté.

“Military attachés are interested in everything which serves the idea of France as a sober and honourable country.”

To the practical objections urged, he retorted that there was a room available, in the French School, and that the evening would be comfortably cool. With an ill grace the chargé d’affaires gave in. The president of the League protested that his funds were exhausted. He recalled that last season’s lecturers had milked the sacred cow pretty exhaustively: one of them had considered his wife as invited in her own right; another had indented for books, flowers, aperitifs, and the tips he had given, even the very stamps and post-cards; another, less expensive, but more sordid, had indented for shoe repairs. The colonel replied that if M. André H----’s shoes were in bad repair, M. Giletière and himself would compete for the honour of having them repaired, and that if the Quai d’Orsay was not rich enough to pay for the lecture, the expenses would be borne by the departments of Education and of War.

“Gentlemen,” he concluded, “be reassured; it will cost you nothing to hear André H----”

“Actually,” replied Redouté, “we would have paid quite a lot not to have to.”

+++

There was a large gathering at the School. The gardens were illuminated and the plaster statues looked as though they were marble. On the staircase the Giletières were dancing attendance on André H----. The academician was examining Mme. Giletiére’s medals; as always on grand occasions, she was arrayed in her uniform. He lingered over the Dardanelles medal, which is not often seen on a woman’s chest.

A platform, adorned with the tricolour flag, had been erected in the great hall. The director, the colonel, and Redouté installed themselves on it. All three were smiling: M. Giletière because he was playing the part of ambassador; Redouté because he was saving so much money; the colonel because he was asserting the supremacy of the sword.

Finally, André H---- climbed on to the platform and his melodious voice was heard: “Ladies and gentlemen. . . .”

First words, first blunder, thought Georges: the illustrious academician had forgotten that he had in front of him the head of the Government, the King’s representative, and a whole floorful of ministers and ambassadors. Did he think he was talking in a parish guild or a town hall? Even so, he should have said “Reverend Father . . .” or “Mr. Mayor.”

“It is a long time, my friends of Athens, since I last saw you,” he went on, “a very long time, indeed, because it was during the Balkan wars. I was then a correspondent for a newspaper. Just before I embarked I remembered that, and I thought it would be a good idea to look out the note-books which I kept at the time, and which I have published only in part. It seemed to me that what I wrote in them, though long ago, would have a freshness which might appeal to you. It will recall a past now happily distant, and show you, I hope, that our friendship is not a recent growth.”

This time the blunder looked like being a diplomatic incident. To talk here about the wars which had ravaged the Balkans was to talk about ropes in the hanged man’s house. It was all the more ill-timed, in that six months earlier Greece had been celebrating the anniversary of the Balkan Pact, to which Turkey was a party. André H---- had never stopped to think that Greece might have other friends besides himself. Georges was sorry for the unfortunate Redouté, who had ceased to smile and was looking anxiously at the front rows of the audience. Neither the military attaché nor the director had yet woken from the trance into which the enchanting voice of the speaker seemed to have thrown them.

The latter had opened a brief-case, from which he took some note-books. He put them on the table and announced the title in a loud voice: “War Note-books.” The colonel became still more ecstatic, and abandoned himself to the music of the words “War Note-books”. So charmed was he by them that he did not think to reflect upon their meaning. M. Giletière, who was paying a little more attention to the audience, noted with slight surprise a certain restlessness among them. As for the chargé d’affaires, he could only look at the ceiling.

The lecturer shuffled his terrifying note-books. It was obvious that he had not prepared his lecture, and one might well have asked why he ever wanted to give it. He went on shuffling, and from time to time announced the title of a series of notes, then began to read, only to stop after a few sentences. “No,” he would say, “that is not interesting enough,” or, “I have already published this part.” And then he would go on shuffling. “Ah!” he said at last, “here is a chapter which will make your blood run cold, and has the advantage of being completely unpublished. The Bulgarian and Turkish Atrocities.”

This was the climax. The Prime Minister and one of his Cabinet exchanged glances. Doubtless they were wondering whether André H----’s war note-books were on the point of starting another Balkan war. But worse was to happen. The Turkish Ambassador and the Bulgarian Minister got up and left. M. Giletière stared at them wide-eyed. His innocence was enviable. Apart from him and André H----, the platform was a pitiable sight: the colonel, who had at last come to his senses, was turkey-cock red; Redouté was mopping his brow. Their attitude saved the situation; it proved that the distinguished writer had been left to his own inspiration and had no official brief. The audience entered into a tacit conspiracy to listen to this strange lecture as to a farce. The Prime Minister’s shoulders could be seen shaking. Never, perhaps, was André H---- received with more applause than on that memorable evening.

+++

Georges had not seen Rudolf for a fortnight. The German, weighed down with work and constraints, had not been able to get away for dinner, nor for an excursion, nor even for André H----. He had excused himself by telephone.

One Sunday, Georges rounded off his evening with a visit to the house in Patissia. He reflected bitterly that he was again reduced to following in the path of his less reputable colleagues. It was a way of beguiling the melancholy which sometimes overcame him when he was alone. The circle he lived in satisfied neither his mind nor his soul, and he sought escape from it by these perfunctory bodily embraces. He was like a young soldier who seeks oblivion rather than pleasure from prostitutes.

The madame divined his secret reticences and used all her art to conquer them. She spoke glowingly to him of the resources of the town in which hardly any limit was set to desire, where pleasure was dispensed while energy subsided, where from earliest youth mankind seemed to exist only for love-making. Reminding him that “green fruit” was her speciality, she urged him to taste one, or even two. It sickened him to see thus degraded the youth and grace which he had loved elsewhere in other forms.

As he was getting back into his car, he saw the door of the house open again and Rudolf come out. He saw Georges when he signed to him, and blushed vividly. He got into the car.

“I was there, too,” said Georges.

He put on a gay manner, to set Rudolf at his ease and cover up his own embarrassment.

Rudolf murmured something in German.

“What are you saying?” asked Georges.

“That I am ashamed.”

 30 
 on: July 07, 2024, 09:13:53 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
ONE Sunday, Georges had invited Rudolf Schwartz to go on an excursion with him. He went to pick him up at his lodgings near the Ilissus.

The room was furnished in the Greek fashion: a divan, little tables of carved wood, little chairs with rope seats, large copper trays. The windows opened towards Hymettus.

“We have shared out the capital of Greece between us,” said the German, “as our two countries should share a world. You have the view of the sea and I that of the mountain.”

“Political allusions already! Have a heart, Monsieur Schwartz!”

“You realize that a German diplomat does not lightly accept the invitation of a French colleague. There was a meeting of the Nazi Party of Athens, which spent a long time debating to what extent I could accept. In the end I was allowed to go, on the express condition that every alternate remark I make should be a political allusion.” He laughed a fine Teutonic laugh, while Georges stood silently.

“So you believed that story? That shows that even the shrewdest Frenchmen have the same idea of the Germans, as always calculating, always pressing their point---the point of their old helmet. Your chief, fortunately, thinks otherwise, and even M. Redouté, in spite of his cold manner, has always behaved correctly towards us; but your military attaché is an odd type. Our own is the same, except that he knows how to control himself. The moment Colonel Grondin sees Prince von Erbach his features become rigid, his lips go white, and his ears prick up, like a leopard facing a lion. If it is me he sees, he puts on a different expression. He is no longer on his guard; he would like to terrify me; his brows knit, his bald pate gleams, his cheeks blaze, and I almost expect to see flames coming out of his mouth. He might be the dragon of that garden of the Hesperides which is France. You have, of course, good reason to guard it well.”

Georges had had nothing but social intercourse with his German colleague; he was glad to see that their more intimate relationship was beginning on this footing of trusting and playful friendliness. Schwartz maintained that he loved and admired France, where he had done part of his studies, but he complained that he had found there more than one Colonel Grondin.

“You know what all these Grondins threw up at you,” said Georges. “France twice invaded in less than half a century, etc. . . .”

“Don’t let’s go over the number of invasions on both sides, but try not to invade one another again.”

“That is just what I feel. When Briand died I was a pupil at the School of Political Science in Paris. I went to the Ministry to ask for the honour of taking part in his lying-in-state in the Salon de l’Horloge, and I was surprised that it was granted me. I learned later that it was because there were very few people, even at the Quai d’Orsay, who were willing to pay him that homage.”

“The coincidence is so poignant that it’s almost comic: when I was a student, I went to Stresemann’s funeral.”

Georges had proposed that they should go rather off the beaten track, to the ruins of Rhamnontos. It was an inaccessible site, of which he had heard an enthusiastic account from a member of the School of Athens.

They followed the Marathon road. Georges remembered the visit he had made to this region in honour of the boy-statue in the Museum.

“Do you know what I envy you, M. de Sarre? It is not your car, nice though it is: it is that you have been able to decide freely to go today to Rhamnontos.”

“So the story you told me about the Nazi conference was true?”

“I exaggerated a little, but not much. The party is not very terrifying in this town, but it is deadly tiresome. Nobody in the Embassy is a member, except the chauffeur. But we have a Nazi restaurant, where I am supposed to spend my money. That is why you hardly ever see me at the International Club. And on top of that, every Sunday there is a gathering in the party’s house at which the Embassy has to be represented. As in your song, the Petit Navire, the lot falls on the youngest: it always does when it is anything tiresome. To keep this Sunday free, I didn’t have to give precise details, but I had to fight hard for my point.”

“I suppose that, unhappily, our expeditions together will be rare.”

“It is for me to say ‘unhappily’.”

They discussed Greek society, of which they held the same opinion: they made fun of its mania for being not Greek, but Byzantine.

“We may add,” said Schwartz, “that it does not want to be Athenian, but apes Paris or London or Berlin. It is because they feel themselves to be a little of every nationality that you find the same people belonging to different Graeco-foreign Leagues. You attract them by the lure of decorations; we have none to offer, but we try to make up for it by the quality of our biscuits.”

This surprised Georges: he did not know that the same people figured in the Franco-Hellenic League as in the Graeco-German League. But, after all, they were only anticipating the wishes of the two ambassadors.

After crossing the plain of Marathon, the car entered a track alongside the mountains. The great works begun early in the century to make this region habitable had been abandoned: the swamp where the Persians were drowned was still there. Farther on, they followed a narrow valley, in which the road became gradually impassable. Georges stopped the car. From the map, he judged that they were near Rhamnontos. He took the basket of provisions, locked the car, and left it to the protection of the gods, who were surely present in this fastness.

A hundred yards or so away, beyond a ridge, the terrace of temples appeared in all its glory. Nothing remained of it but the platforms and stumps of columns, but the site dominated a landscape of wild grandeur, of hills and sea bounded by the hazy lines of Euboea.

“I have read in my Baedeker,” said Rudolf, “that the two temples of Rhamnontos were dedicated to Justice and Vengeance. You must admit that, for somebody who dislikes political allusions, you have made an unfortunate choice.”

“I came for Themis and not for Nemesis. I was impressed by the statue of Justice in the Athens Museum, which was found here.”

“The statue of Vengeance must certainly have been more beautiful, because it was the work of Pheidias, and its temple was twice as large as that of Justice, as we can see for ourselves.”

“I prefer to observe that it is no less ruinous than the other one.”

“They were probably destroyed together.”

“That’s a striking image! The lightning of heaven and the rage of mankind striking down both Nemesis and Themis with one blow! But let’s talk of something more cheerful, or I will indeed think that I made a bad choice.”

They sat under the trees to lunch. The hamper, supplied by the club, was excellent. In this desolate place, between earth, sky, and sea, the refinements of lobster sandwiches, cold jellied chicken, and iced coffee took on their full value. Coatless, with bare arms and an open collar, Rudolf looked younger than ever. Georges had the feeling of being in the company of an undergraduate, not of a diplomat.

“Have you any brothers or sisters?” he asked.

“Two younger brothers.”

He added in a sombre tone: “Poor unfortunates!”

Georges asked why they were unfortunate.

“They’re unfortunate,” said Rudolf, “and don’t know that they are. The finest thing about youth is its freedom. German youth was, perhaps, the finest in the world because it had the most freedom. And you know very well what has become of that.”

His words revealed a train of thought which could not often have the chance of being expressed. But Georges thought it tactful to make no comment.

“A few years ago,” Rudolf went on, “German youth had taken for its name and symbol the Wandervögel. They spent their holidays in outings which gave everyone scope to exercise his ingenuity. When I wasn’t making comfortable journeys abroad with my parents, I roamed all over Germany with one or two comrades and a few marks in my pocket. We learned to live and to love, and we didn’t escape from the family just to put ourselves under another yoke. That is the happy time that I knew: my brothers will never know it. Now that politics governs everything in Germany, the Wandervögel have lost their wings and even their name. They live in the herd, obey words of command, and learn to hate.”

Out of courtesy, Georges felt he should say something to mitigate this condemnation of the Hitler Youth.

“Do you think that youth changes because it has been baptized with this name or that, because it is made to go in the herd, or left at liberty? It is inner liberty that matters, more than the fact of marching in step. Liberty can be defended and preserved against everything---against a régime, a society, or a career.”

“The art of marching in step has been pushed to great lengths in Germany.”

“I’m glad that you talk to me like this. It’s not that I take any foolish pleasure in hearing a German criticize Germany: I am thinking only of your regrets.”

“Thank you, my dear Georges,” said Rudolf. “We can use Christian names, can’t we?”

“Yes, Rudolf. Our friendship shall date from Rhamnontos.”

The chirping of the cicadas added an overtone of eternal joy to their conversation: from time to time the humming of bees could be heard, or a long breath would come from the sea and gently shake the branches. Everything spoke of friendship and of youth---of a youth devoted to other cults than those of Justice and Vengeance, a youth lavishing its treasures of love upon the world, like the statue of the Water-carrier. Was it not under the open sky that youth, friendship, and love had best been mingled? Georges had already tasted this intoxicating blend in another land and in the flower of his youth, and nothing could efface the memory from his mind.


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