THE CAMP OF THE SAINTS (Le Camp des Saints) By Jean Raspail CHAPTER TWELVE
Later, when the world learned that the fleet had sailed, and heard the circumstances surrounding the Consul’s death, not a single voice was raised to explain or defend his action. People talked about “Consul Himmans and his foolish heroics,” but without the slightest concern for the little man trampled by the mob until he was nothing but a puddle of blood on the Ganges shore. The word “pathetic,” which would have been far more fitting, never even so much as rose to the lips of the antiracists out beating the drum.
Yes, the fleet was pathetic. The passengers were pathetic. But the Consul was foolish. One journalist, and only one, came close to the truth, and then on a sadly humorous note. His article was entitled: “Last Popgun Blast from a Dying Regime.” It reviewed the major times that the West had sent its armies meddling in the lives of once-second-class nations, and traced its progressively weakening role down to that single symbolic shot from the Consul’s rifle, fired in the name of a superiority that was no more.
In its outward appearance, at least, the Consul’s heroic gesture was something of a prototype after the fact; an epitome, synthesis, conclusion all in one, as perfect and pure as the final creation of some terribly famous artist, who paints a single line on his canvas, or dabs one dot, and calls it his crowning achievement. The Consul, poor man, didn’t know what a pose he had struck. He had looked for no models to follow. He had felt no epic grandeur in his soul, no taste for theatrics. And yet, his death was theater at its best.
His army, for example, reduced to a single soldier—the faithful Sikh—was one of those comic theatrical symbols, the shabby, half-starved actor loping across the stage and awkwardly showing a sign with the words: “His Excellency the Western Consul’s Troops.” Worth noting, too, was the fact that the army in question respected the age-old tradition that, over the years, had cemented the power and might of the West beyond its borders: it was a native army, conditioned to abhor its own the way the white man’s dog abhors the black’s. More noteworthy still, the fact that this army—venal to the core, hired out to maintain the Western hold on a worldwide domain—was reduced to a single man. And so, with one soldier behind him, the Consul stepped forward, a wizened figure in his English shorts, his half-sleeve shirt flapping over a gaunt, gray chest, to confront a million flailing savages. Not that there really was, to be sure, in that crowd as we know it, a single wildly flailing savage, but simply because in all the glorious tales of Western conquerors—from Cortés and Pizarro to our own Bournazel and his African exploits—the white man is pictured alone (or almost), advancing against the unbridled, menacing hordes, and putting them all to flight by his imposing presence. The charm, however, had long since been broken. The poor little Consul looked rather like a tired old magician, who knows that he’s going to bungle his trick, and does, but who tries it on the audience all the same, not for his honor or anything of the sort, but because even a worn-out magician deserves an orderly end, however absurd,just as a worn-out hero of the Western World deserves to perform one last bizarre, eccentric feat for the public that used to applaud him.
Once admiration gives way to disdain, the bizarre, after all, is the only way out that makes much sense. And why not? Weren’t jesters always cleverer than their kings? So be it. In this new swarthy reign, the white man will be the jester. It’s as simple as that …
High noon, and there by the docks the little Western Consul appeared, at the head of his army. To say that the army’s morale was low would be ratheE an understatement; it was catastrophic. The army was in utter disarray. Its antique rifle trembled in time with its panic. But careful to refrain from introspection, and strutting, puppet like, close behind its cadaverous, knobby-kneed commander, it still caused enough of a stir—with its Belgian drill step, English style, head high and vacant stare (“Whatever you do, never look at a thing!”)—that it made the crowd give way and let them through. The mob was sizzling in the noonday sun, and the Consul sniffed. Then he took a big white kerchief from his pocket and tied it around his nose and mouth, like Marshal Bugeaud and his desert legionnaires. No doubt this act of instinctive revulsion, quite unintended, struck those up front as openly hostile. It was in that spirit that they described it to the ones behind them, who passed it down the line, and into the heart of the crowd. In no time a murderous cry had gone up. The army tightened ranks. That is to say, the Sikh guard tightened his rump, and felt a cold sweat trickling down his thighs, as his gun barrel trembled madly against a sky turned black with shaking fists. The Consul struggled to push his way through the mass of flesh, growing denser and denser, and managed to reach the pier. A big ship sat at her moorings, almost as high as the India Star. Three gangplanks connected her to land. Three teeming human anthills on the move. At the foot of one, with his back to the crowd and his face toward the sea, stood a mournful-looking white man, arms upraised.
“What are you doing here?” the Consul asked the bishop. “Do you think it’s time for us relics to die? … On different sides, of course! …”
The bishop smiled and completed his blessing.
“You remind me of Christ,” the Consul went on, “but a dead Christ at that. I’ve lost my job, but I’m willing to admit it. That’s where we’re different, you and I. You want to keep fooling yourself in the name of some meaningless God. A God that’s in your head, and nowhere else … Well, take a good look at the rabble around us, then draw your own conclusions. You’re nothing to them. Just a broken- down padre spreading a useless gospel. Whereas I … Well, at least for a moment they’ll know I exist, and sooner than they think! … No, Your Grace, I’m afraid you’re all alone. They don’t have the vaguest idea what you’re up to. But you go ahead and bless them all the same. That was what I saw you doing, wasn’t it? You were actually giving that mob your blessing …”
“Quite so,” said the bishop. “As prefect apostolic to the entire Ganges region, I’m wishing my flock a bon voyage, and praying for God’s help to speed them on their way.”
“What meaningless mumbo jumbo!” the Consul replied. “Bishop or not, you’re still a simple priest at heart! Time was when bishops were born, not made, and priests were just priests. Now nobody draws any lines anymore, and it’s all mixed up. … Really, who do you think will fall for such talk? A bishop for this Ganges scum! That’s just what they needed! And you think God will bother to help the likes of them? Maybe yours, but not mine. I’m damn sure of that!”
The Sikh had turned a deathly green, twitching and squirming about, convulsed with fear. He looked toward the two men having their calm salon chat in the midst of the crowd, then pivoted around in a flash, like a tank’s revolving turret in a slapstick film, his gun barrel grazing the wall of faces huddling thick about them. Then, completing his turn, he faced the Consul again, like a dervish whirling in a circle of fear, hoping that the next time around his master would finally listen:
“Consul Sahib! Please, let’s go! They’re not afraid of me anymore. They’re almost on top of us. A few seconds, and they won’t be afraid of you either. Then we’ll never get out of here alive! Please, Consul Sahib! I’ve served your country all these years. Now save me! Please, for Heaven’s sake, save me!”
“Is your rifle loaded?”
“No, Consul Sahib. What good would it do?”
“Well then, load it, you idiot!”
Shame on the Sikh guards, glory and pride of empires past! After four fruitless tries, the order was carried out, finally, by a warrior fallen from grace, beard and turban atremble, who looked like a drunkard struggling to find the keyhole with his key. It was then that the bishop replied to the Consul’s remarks:
“God won’t help them, you say? … Well, listen. He’s doing just that! Impossible, but true. See? They’re on their way!”
The whistle on the India Star gave out such a mournful wail that it would have brought a shudder to even the most mildly superstitious of captains. It was like the orgasmic groaning of some deaf-mute colossus, some giant in heat, unaware of the frenzy of sounds he was forcing from his throat. First a few short blasts, some high, some low. Then all of them blending into one immense gasp, each note of the scale scraping against the next without snuffing it out. The great organ pipe of the India Star, rusted through here and there in holes of various sizes, booming out the chant of its last divine office. After which, it proceeded to burst, just as the monster totem, up on the bridge, was closing his toothless mouth … The Calcutta Star sat at dockside—decayed, once-shining symbol of a decaying city. Her captain had draped himself in a kind of pilgrim cloak, but still had on his braided cap. He looked for all the world like a glove puppet, standing there on board, arms waving at the sailors hauling up the gangplanks. Two of them were up already. The Western Consul and his army had taken their positions at the foot of the third. At the top, a small patch of empty deck appeared to the waiting hordes on the pier quite able to hold them all. And so they began to edge forward, slowly at first, in a single, solid mass, like some gigantic beast with a million legs and a hundred heads, the closest of which was a handsome young man’s, the picture of sublime inspiration, whose face seemed consumed by a pair of shining eyes, and who found himself suddenly barrel to brow with the Western artillery, such as it was.
“Fire!” the Consul ordered.
He had never used that word before in similar context, and it startled him a little to hear himself utter it now for the very first time. It was then, on the threshold of death, that the poor little man discovered the joy of personal contact with soldierly lore. … Fire!
One more colony falls at your feet, Sir! Fire! Tahiti surrenders, run up the colors! Fire! The Sultan of Patakahuet implores the Republic’s protection! Fire! Fire! Fire! The Arab rebel bastards bite the dust of the desert stockades. … We’re a great and generous people, after all, but still … So ready, aim, fire! …
The Consul emerged from his daydream, jarred awake as the army drew back without a shot.
“What are you waiting for? Fire, you idiot!”
At which point the army deserted. It did so in the disarray of utter defeat, in its usual cowardly manner. Will God ever show us a conquering army turn tail and desert? No doubt, especially if the shabby lot that pretend to speak in His name ever get their way. … The Sikh thrust his rifle into the Consul’s hands, and dove into the Ganges.
“You’re not really going to shoot!” said the bishop.
“Oh yes I am! And I’m going to shoot to kill,” said the Consul, leveling his gun at the doe-eyed multi-beast before him. “But what on earth for?”
The Consul was staring right into the eyes of the handsome, dark young man at the end of his rifle. The crowd paused a moment before the final push.
“What do you want me to say?” the Consul answered. “For glory? Honor? Some principle or other? For Christian civilization, or nonsense like that? Well, not at all! I’m going to turn off those bright, shining eyes just for the pleasure it gives me! I have no brothers in this mob of Martians. They’re nothing to me. And now, finally, I’m going to prove it!”
He fired. One of the beast’s hundred heads disappeared, a bloody hole between its eyes. But it grew right back in the shape of a square, black face, with massive jaws and a hate-filled look. The Consul was thrown to the ground in a frenzy of blows. The bishop bent over his scrawny, prostrate form.
“In the name of the Lord, I forgive you,” he said.
“In the name of the Lord, eat shit!” the Consul gasped.
Then the hundred heads plunged forward, as the surging beast, compressed within the confines of the gangplank, climbed on its thousands of legs to the deck of the Calcutta Star. Swept along in the tide, absorbed and digested, the bishop found himself lifted aboard and dropped down in place by the great human wave, alive but inert, like a shipwrecked sailor who, by some miracle, washes ashore on the sands of an unknown island. In that crushing welter of flesh, however, that horde exuding its mystic fervor through each of its pores, he had lost almost all sense of who and what he was. And when, in turn, the Calcutta Star sailed out of port, the bishop thought he saw, there on the deserted dock by the Ganges, a score of stray dogs lapping up a shining pool of blood, with a hundred others racing through the empty streets to join in the feast. “Really! Is that all that’s left of the Consul?” he wondered—the only coherent idea that managed to muddle its way through his head. He even thought he saw one of the dogs spelling words in the blood with his tongue. But the ship was already out too far, and he couldn’t read what they said, or even be sure that they really were words (though it seemed for a moment he could make out a few Latin syllables). For days on end he would sit transfixed on deck, in the stench of a yogi-style squat, racking his brain to the rhythmic swish of the water along the hull, trying to recall what his eyes had dimly seen. So doing, he soon took leave of his senses.