The sea was quite placid for that time of year, just a broad swell of leisurely, crestless waves, good-naturedly nudging the pathetic fleet along. Among the frequent explanations we have seen fit to offer in the course of the present account, one, perhaps, is of greater importance than all the rest combined. Namely, the fact that the waters remained so incredibly calm throughout the nearly sixty days of the great ocean trek. One has to believe that God had taken the hundred ships in hand, let one (and only one) fall by the wayside—just to prove to His faithful the power of His dominion—and set the other ninety- nine down safely on the Western shore. And that, for one of two reasons: to prove to the whites of the world that they had triumphed long enough, or—perhaps we’ll find out in the next world, who knows?—to show them that the time had come to steel their souls once more, cast out all pity in a single night, if they wanted to merit the protection and favor rightfully due the chosen people.

Out in the middle of the Indian Ocean, between the Laccadive archipelago and the island of Socotra, the big river tugboat straggling along behind was suddenly sucked down into the calm blue water. Laboring under an impossible load, unfit for the surge of the open sea, she had struggled to keep pace since the fleet left the Ganges, always making the others slow down to let her catch up. Whenever the engines of the India Star would stop, whenever the shudder of her ancient turbines died, as they did each time the tug strayed from view, the monster child—whose ears were sharp despite his silent tongue and frozen gaze—would begin to fidget, his face and body alive with tics and twitches. The turd eater would grow anxious, and so would the rest of the armada’s high command, at their permanent posts on the bridge of the India Star. Too bad for the tug! Loaded down with the sorriest of the lot—the outcasts, the pariahs—she had already paid the sea a heavy toll. Her length and excess weight had turned her into a kind of driftwood wreck, barely rising from the surface of the water. Each time a giant wave came along, it would wash nonchalantly over her deck, from stem to stern, with no special fury, choosing its victims as it passed, and sweeping them off in the wake of the fleet. From time to time a foreign vessel would spot some of the corpses, circle them slowly at a cautious distance, and dash off, full speed ahead, as the shipping lines had ordered. Each day the tugboat’s rail had dipped deeper, in spite of a load growing lighter and lighter as more and more outcasts were served up to the sea. Until that moment, finally, when, heading through a wave scarcely bigger than the rest, she simply went under and never came up, strewing the surface with her only remains: some three thousand drowning wretches, flapping and flailing their arms and hands in a forest of brown. One by one, the ships flashed the message forward to the India Star, and one by one, they ground to a halt. But the pause was brief. On the bridge, when the turd eater went to turn around toward the distant disaster to see what he could see, the monster child, still perched on his shoulders, began to shake and quiver. Tears streamed from his eyes. His stumps came to life and thrashed at the air like the wings of a wounded bird gasping its last. His father turned back, facing the west, toward the prow of the ship and the corpse-free seas beyond. The monster stopped shaking. Twice more the same maneuver, twice more the same result. A clear command that the fleet was to proceed. Which it did … When the floundering castaways saw that they were being left behind to die in the middle of the ocean, the forest of arms and hands fell suddenly still in a gesture of submission. From then on, once rid of the poor little Hop-o’-my-thumb hanging on its coattails and begging it to wait, the fleet was able to make better time. In fact, it was this extra speed that saved it from disaster. On Easter Monday morning, the very day after the fleet had run aground along our southern shores, and the very moment that the last refugee, waist-deep in the water, was leaving the last ship and heading for the beach, a murderous storm blew up over the Mediterranean. A few hours later, and the whole armada would have gone down for sure, and everyone and everything on board along with it. Could that be one explanation? …

The world learned about the lost tugboat some ten days later. Indeed, it need never have learned at all, since the fleet, without radios, was utterly silent. (Besides, it wasn’t about to ask anyone for help, or anything else for that matter.) The story would never have come to light, were it not for a drunken Greek sailor talking to himself at a table in a waterfront bar in Marseille, and an overly eager reporter, back from his daily cat-up-a-tree. The reporter spoke Greek, for the simple reason that he too was a Greek, living in selfimposed exile since the days of the colonels’ coup, along with a number of musicians, actors, and writers, now all but forgotten. He had had his moment of glory. Then Greece went out of style, replaced on page one by other victims of oppression. (Because the important thing about oppression, if you’re going to keep it panting in the public eye without killing it outright, is to make sure there’s plenty of variety.) And so, he had a score to settle, which he did that very day, worth noting, because the results must also be counted among our explanations … “There were thousands of them in the water,” the sailor sniveled, eyes riveted to the bottom of his glass. “All black, and dressed in white … So many … And lots of them still alive, take my word! … And we plowed right through them, twenty knots, just like that!” A sudden sweep of his arm across the table sent his glass smashing to the ground. The reporter had plucked his remarks out of the general hubbub. He went over to sound out more details. Shocked by the enormity of what the sailor told him, he took him home, sobered him up, fed him some supper, and got him to tell all he knew. No doubt his officers had given the strictest orders not to breathe a word. But he gave in, more than likely, to a sizable offer of cash, not to mention the pangs of his conscience, staggered by the hideous spectacle he had witnessed, and in which he had played a part.

What came out of his story was this: the Greek freighter Isle of Naxos, skippered by Captain Notaras, was en route from Colombo to Marseille through the Suez Canal, with a cargo of precious wood. She had crossed the tenth parallel, halfway between Ceylon and Socotra—the sailor, a qualified helmsman, had just taken his turn at the wheel—when she came across a first half-dead victim, who seemed to come back to life as the ship approached, waving a feeble hand out of the water. The sea was calm, there was no wind. The captain ordered the engines cut, and called for a boat to be lowered. At just that moment, the officer on watch, spotting the poor devil in his glasses, noticed that the water all around him was teeming with corpses, just below the surface. The captain grabbed his binoculars. There, spread out before him, far as the eye could see, was an ocean of bodies, some floating on top, some slightly submerged, depending on whether they were living or dead. “The mob from the Ganges!” he exclaimed. And he called back the lifeboat, already being lowered, and gave orders to start up the engines, easy astern. The drowning man, seeing the ship pull away, closed his eyes without a murmur, and let himself sink. “Captain!” the officer shouted. “Are you just going to leave them to drown?” He was a very young man, pale with shock and on the verge of tears. “You know the orders,” Captain Notaras replied, “they’re pretty damn clear. Besides, what if I took on that crowd, what then? What would we do with them all? My job is to haul a load of wood, not to help that mob invade Europe!” By now the officer was openly weeping: “But you’re sending them to their death! You don’t have the right!” “Oh, don’t I?” the captain answered. “Well, that’s where you’re wrong!” And, turning the pointer to “Full Speed Ahead,” he called down to the engine room: “Give me all you’ve got!” And he snapped at the helmsman, “Steady as she goes! Haifa degree, to the left or right, and I’ll have you tossed in irons for mutiny at sea!”

“Steady as she goes” meant straight ahead. And straight ahead stretched the seascape of black, white-petaled flowers, some dead, more alive, bobbing like human seaweed on the surging, swelling tide. At twenty-five knots, the Greek freighter Isle of Naxos, thanks to its captain’s will and the passive complicity of its crew, cut down a thousand souls in the space of five minutes. Probably the greatest one-man crime since the world began, except for acts of war. And it was precisely as an act of war that Captain Notaras, rightly or wrongly, envisioned his crime, driven on, no doubt, by the name he bore and its long, noble history. In Greece, the Notaras family prided itself on belonging to an ancient and honorable clan, though they may well have merely been namesakes. A portrait in the captain’s cabin pictured a dark-eyed, deep-gazed giant of a man, in a suit of tooled armor, with a tuft of white plumes streaming from his helmet’s golden crest: Luke Notaras, archduke and admiral of the Byzantine fleet, commander in chief of the last Christian galleons just before the fall of Constantinople to the Grand Turk, Mahomet. Escaping from the massacre and captured by the janissaries, he was brought to Mahomet with two of his sons, two young boys of unusual beauty, “that Grecian beauty,” wrote the historian Doukas, “that inspired so many centuries of artistS and poets.” Now, the Grand Turk had a liking for young boys in general, and the two sons of Notaras in particular. But for some strange reason, in the midst of the carnage, he wanted them willing, and brought to his great silk bed by their father. An aesthete’s whim? The ultimate refinement of voluptuary pleasure? Be that as it may, the Notaras trio, standing proud and erect among their captors, were quick to refuse. The two boys were beheaded on the spot, while their father looked on, and the admiral himself laid his head on the block. Since then, every Greek with the name of Notaras—and a goodly number they are—is fiercely proud of the memory of that tragic triple murder. Oddly enough, the name was far more common outside of Greece than within its borders, in the Hellenic colonies of Smyrna, Damascus, Alexandria, Istanbul, or on Cyprus and along the Black Sea coast, as if the Notaras clan—of disputable ancestry—still clung to its taste for a life in the farfiung outposts of Christendom. One finds a Colonel Notaras in the Greek armies of Asia Minor, during the war against the Turks in 1922, and an urban guerrilla named Notaras on Cyprus, both of them guilty of their share of atrocities. Captain Luke Notaras, skipper of the Greek freighter Isle of Naxos, simply added his name to the list …

Clutching the bridge rail and looking out over the water, the young officer on watch had gazed in horror at the dismembered bodies, tossed like balls against the hull of the ship by the swift- churning water. “I felt like I was hypnotized,” said the helmsman. “It was like driving a great big tank, rolling over a bunch of bodies, lying on the ground, and crushing them to death. I only hope they all died quick, before they got caught on the propellers in back. I didn’t get a look in back, but I heard from some of the others that it was full of chunks of flesh, all bloody. … And the whole time, the whole five minutes it lasted, she didn’t go an inch off course. Not an inch. I can’t explain it. All I know is, I did my damnedest to keep her heading straight. It was awful. … Once in a while I’d look over at the captain, thinking maybe he’d yell out, ‘All right, that’s enough!’ But he didn’t! He just stood there, with his eyes wide open, and a smile on his face … As might be expected, the affair caused a stir. Shipwreck and massacre, both at once? Too much for the fragile Western World to bear! Published by a Marseille daily, picked up next morning by the whole French press, and by every major paper in the West, the sailor’s story circled the globe. The least one can say is that it ravaged public opinion. Convinced that it was guilty of everything in general—having had it drummed home for so long—the West now saw itself guilty in particular, and with a good, concrete reason to boot. The beast had a new, unhoped-for symbol—Captain Luke Notaras—and it trumpeted the name far and wide. Luke Notaras took his place on the infamous roll of current events, in the chapter on the cutthroat whites, a chapter kept zealously up to date by the lackeys of the beast, who never missed a chance to spout out all the most evil names, wholesale and en masse, like a threat, a warning, a hideous reminder. No Dreyfus case here, with its violent pros and cons. Arrested in Marseille and thrown into prison, Captain Notaras had everyone against him. In this day and age, let a rapist hack a little girl to bits, let a murderer bash in an old man’s skull for a hundred francs, or any such horrible crime of the sort, and modern justice will always trot out psychiatry to the rescue, or at least the excuse that our nasty, perverted society is really the culprit. But not so in the case of Captain Notaras and his dastardly deed. No one bothered to delve for profound explanations. Captain Notaras was the white race incarnate, convicted of blind racist hatred. Period, new paragraph. Why that hatred? Yes, that was the question, and the psychiatrists might have asked it, had there been a real inquest and trial. (But the inquest, thanks to public pressure, was rushed through, one two three. And the trial, scheduled for Aix-en-Provence, the Tuesday after Easter, never got to take place, for obvious reasons. Besides, on Easter Sunday evening, the captain had already escaped, just after his guards had gone running off themselves …) What memories, what forebodings could have shed light on such a crime? A crime so hard to fathom, in fact, that a whole new understanding, a whole new mentality would be needed to assess it. Instead, there was talk about making an “exception,” and bringing back the death penalty just for Luke Notaras! The staunchest enemies of capital punishment supported the suggestion in their papers. And heading the list, Clément Dio, of course; the same Clément Dio who had been so vocal in defending many a no less heinous crime committed in the name of this Third World cause or that, by countless “guerrilla liberation units” of any and every kind. Clearly, it never occurred to anyone that perhaps Captain Notaras, gripped by some bloodthirsty madness or other, had “liberated” himself from something too. Even Machefer kept quiet. Yes, even Machefer! For a moment he had toyed with the thought of heading a column with Talleyrand’s celebrated mot on the murder of the Duc d’Enghien: “Worse than a crime, a blunder!” But he dropped the idea. Who would have understood? It was far too subtle, and public opinion had only one thing in mind now: to bay with the wolves.

Yes indeed, a blunder … Two notions essential to any spirit of Western resistance were torn down that day, or at least badly shaken. The first, the notion of attack, of invasion—beginning to make some headway in a few minds here and there, despite the obvious nonviolence of the Ganges fleet, and the constant bludgeoning by the press—sank to the bottom with the ill-fated tug. Such pathos, such weakness would never be a threat. After all, how could it! As for the second, the notion of self-defense—even less acceptable to Western opinion, bound up in its complexes—it was nipped in the bud, having found only one antichampion for its cause, in the person of Luke Notaras, the man with the red hands, dripping with the blood of his innocent victims. At his microphone, Albert Durfort summed it up: “There’s no Luke Notaras among us, my friends! And there never will be, believe me!” Marcel and Josiane were convinced. That could well be one explanation …

The Notaras affair had at least two practical results. For one thing, it permitted the world to locate the fleet, last spotted as it passed through the Straits of Ceylon. (Hundreds of little flags, stuck into hundreds of maps, made a leap of two thousand kilometers westward. In all of Third World officialdom, hands were rubbed with glee—except for the Arab world, that is, where exultation froze aborning, the moment it was plain that the fleet was heading for the Red Sea and Suez …) For another, it prompted the International Ganges Refugee Commission—having moved its headquarters to Rome in the meantime, where the winters are warmer—to start showing signs of life. From the first stage of droning discussions and Platonic hopes and dreams, it moved to the second, the on-site inspection; which, besides giving the impression of action, often provides for a pleasant vacation at UN expense, and never matters in the slightest, since so much time goes by between inspection and report, that the problem in question has already changed shape many times over. But this time, no pleasant vacation for the members of the commission. The Ganges armada—with no de luxe hotels, no pools, no beaches—clearly had little to attract these good folk. And so, the inspection was assigned to a wing of the French air force, based in Djibouti, and pompously dubbed for the occasion the “I.G.R.C. Friendship Flight,” with UN markings, and the whole shooting match. Plenty to fill out the numerous press releases that were bound to follow … The pilots of the “Friendship Flight” returned to their base, perplexed, to say the least. They had never seen anything like it. After several low passes over the fleet, looping and dipping their wings as a sign of good will, they were finally obliged to accept the facts: not a single face had looked up, not a single arm had been waved, not a single fluttering handkerchief or scrap of cloth had displayed the slightest interest. “And yet,” the wing commander radioed, “they’re alive, I’m sure of that! I can see them from here … Eating, moving around, cooking … Some walking up and down on deck, some … Yes, that too! But not so much as a look in our direction! They couldn’t give less of a damn if we’re here or not!” No doubt the monster child had set the proud example. The Last Chance Armada intended to go it alone. Some saw that as all the more of a threat. But for most, that pride in the midst of despair shone forth with epic grandeur. “They’re not coming here as beggars, but as men,” noted Boris Vilsberg on “Armada Special.” And he went on to ask: “How will we respond to this splendid example of human dignity?”

The communiqué from the I.G.R.C. was a model of tact: “It would seem, for the moment, that there need be no concern for the fate of the Ganges armada. The ships have been located at such-and-such latitude and such-and-such longitude, sailing in calm waters, at a speed of ten knots, with no apparent difficulty. Conditions on board appear perfectly normal. No request for aid or assistance was received by our planes, which flew over the fleet throughout the day. The long-range forecast for that part of the globe predicts an extended period of clement weather. Reconnaissance missions will continue to be flown at regular intervals, to be ready to offer immediate help should the need arise. At this time no precise information is available regarding the ultimate destination of the fleet, inasmuch as no government spokesmen, attaches, or representatives have as yet set foot on any of the ships of the fleet, nor will they do so, pending an express request. The governments participating in the International Ganges Relief Commission have decided to respect the sovereign will of the refugees, in accordance with the right of all peoples to self-determination, as set forth in the charter of the United Nations.”

Damn hypocrites! What government in its right mind would have dared lay a hand on such a deadly gift, except, of course, to pass it on to its neighbor! And then, what a diplomatic battle, what sordid maneuvers, what pleas of poverty, while blessed opinion would watch and weep! The West was nothing but a game of roulette, with a little black ball in the middle, bobbing and bouncing, still waiting to make its choice. And all those who understood gazed at the ball in terror …


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