Contrary to what he had told the minister, Machefer didn’t write a word in his paper the next morning, or, indeed, any of the mornings that followed, throughout those endless days while the armada inched its way toward the entrance to the Mediterranean. On that morning and not before, when the danger is real, and close at hand, Machefer will wake from his self-imposed slumber. But we’ll have to wait patiently till then to hear, at last, the first discordant notes in the great altruistic revel. … It was while listening to the radio that night that he made up his mind to keep quiet. He was tuned to the evening’s early editorials, presented by a pair of talented reporters, each one the permanent holder of a daily ticket to ride the prime-time kilocycles from the two main commercial stations just over the border. In the war of the wavelengths, an event must always be couched in commentary, according to the principle that a listener hanging on his mind master’s every word, convinced that he’s deep in meaningful thought, is much easier to sway in the long run than the one left to think for himself. Result: the commercials plunge in through the breach, and sweep over his poor, feeble brain. Which is why the sponsors paid exorbitant prices for the precious seconds just before and after the editorials in question, aired by two of the monster’s obedient servants: Albert Durfort, at 7:30, and Boris Vilsberg, at 7:45. Machefer had time to switch from one to the other and catch them both.

Albert Durfort was full of the milk of human kindness. (Machefer would have used a rather more vulgar expression. He always said the professional do-gooders turned his stomach. A little too harsh, perhaps, for Durfort, not a bad sort, really.) Constant crusader, he would gallop through radioland to the rescue, looking for supposedly desperate causes, barely taking the time to change horses between two campaigns, always panting for breath as he came on the scene just in time to deliver the downtrodden victim, expose a scandal, and lash out at injustice. A Zorro of the airwaves. And the public adored it. So much so, in fact, that some—the most obtuse—saw each nightly editorial as a serial installment: Durfort on skid row, Durfort and the Arabs, Durfort vs. the racists, Durfort and the police, Durfort against brutality, Durfort for prison reform, Durfort and capital punishment, etc., etc. But no one, not even Durfort himself, could see that our Zorro was flogging dead horses, flying off to the rescue ‘of issues long since won. Something else, strange but true: he was looked on as the model of the free, objective thinker. He would have been shocked and surprised to learn that he was, in fact, a captive of fashion, bound by all the new taboos, conditioned by thirty years of intellectual terrorism; and that, if the owner and general manager of the station that employed him entrusted ten million good Frenchmen to his care each night, it certainly wasn’t to use his talents to tell them the opposite of what they supposed they believed in. As for the plush publicity that surrounded Durfort and flanked his little gems of moral indignation, it brought truly awesome results, though no one was awed in the slightest anymore, so long had the public soul steeped in this system of self-contradiction, like a turd in a toilet bowl, rotting away. All the press, or almost, played this curious poker, and won every hand. And Dio’s paper led the pack, with its glossy, full-color spreads. … Men, get into the swing, wear suede this season! Your banker is your friend, invest with confidence! For a whole new art of living, Trianon Towers, five rooms, patio, barbecue, 480,000 francs! Vacation club, private beach, pool, 10,000 francs a share … Enough to make you suspect the capitalists of abysmal stupidity, or make you wonder if their show of good will was a payoff in advance to some Mafia of the future! It all paid for the inserts in those catalogues called newspapers, whose editors, decked out in suede, and barbecue-fed, with their Riviera tans, cried out for human liberation through an end to profits, preached rejection of money, that enslaver and corrupter of souls, called for doing away with all social constraints and for abject equality, all lines and bars down. It hit the spot. It sold. Whereas nothing else did. Why stand on ceremony? Go along with the times and sell out your conscience! In this world of ours, clearly, opinion-mongers the likes of Durfort, Dio, Orelle, Vilsberg and Co. have to live on their ideas since that’s all they have. But if they seem to be sawing the limbs where they’re sitting, egged on for some senseless reason by the man who owns the tree, please don’t worry! They’ve already got their eyes on another nearby branch, one they’ll grab at the very last moment, because surely you don’t think the new world can come into being without them, after all! Their kind doesn’t work for nothing. In the stew they’re churning up before our eyes, you can bet they’ll keep afloat, decked out in leather, with their Riviera tans. … And so, as he spoke of the armada, sitting astride his branch already sawed more than halfway through, Durfort was his most convincing self, finding just the right words to hit home, to sink into the muck of each heart with a soft little plop. With appropriate variations, he played out the same master hands that had made him famous: the case of the Greek deportees, and the more recent one of the Algerian laborer accused of the rape and murder of a little girl, and victim—perhaps—of a miscarriage of justice. With relish and talent, Durfort reenlisted his Greeks, and pressed the miscarriage of justice back into active service. And he made no bones about it:

“You, my faithful supporters and listeners, know that I never mince words. There’s no compromise with despair. There’s no compromise with evil. So I’m sure you won’t mind if my talk gets rough. Don’t forget, if I did my bit, with your help, to change the fate of the Greek deportees, and if I saved us all from putting an innocent man to death—the most odious crime a society can commit—it’s only because I talked rough when I had to. Well, friends, the time has come now for me to bring into your homes, with the sound of my voice, a million more deported, exiled souls, exiled this time of their own free will, but victims no less of the worst, most heinous miscarriage of justice since the world began. So I’m going to talk straight from the shoulder again, and let the chips fall where they may. If you want to eat supper in peace, good friends, I suggest you turn your radios off for the next five minutes!” 

“Hear that, Marcel? Durfort is onto something else!” “Josiane, tell the kid to keep quiet!” In the low-rent flats a quick shot of red wine washed down the news, since the heart’s mawkish pleasure goes sliding down better with something to chase it. It was washed down with Scotch in the salon nooks of the patio suites, but ever so more subtly; that is, instead of a few quick gulps to help swill down the food for thought, the glass will be poised with a well-planned gesture, long enough to listen, holding back to let the tastebuds build to exquisite heights of thirst, then letting go all at once in a crowning orgasmic burst between mind and event. … Three thousand two hundred sixty-seven priests started frantically scribbling with an eye toward the following Sunday—ready-made sermon, delivered to the door, nothing to do with the gospel for the day, but who worries anymore about such minor details? (Among the cast of thousands we should note the presence of a certain married priest, Catholic and cuckold, wearing a pair of Christian horns, and aware of the fact—a situation so utterly new to the poor man, and muddling his mind into such disarray, that for over a month his Sunday sermons seemed to leave him at a loss. Durfort’s strong dose saved him from total silence. The therapy worked so well, in fact, that the antlered, oilfingered gent forgot all about his sanctified horns and recovered that gift of thunderous fire and brimstone that made him the shepherd of the largest flock of masochists in the diocese. Perhaps we’ll see him again bye and bye …) At the very same moment thirty-two thousand seven hundred forty-two schoolteachers hit on the subject for the next day’s theme: “Describe the life of the poor, suffering souls on board the ships, and express your feelings toward their plight in detail, by imagining, for example, that one of the desperate families comes to your home and asks you to take them in.” Irresistible, really! And the dear little angel—all simple, childish soul and tender heart—will spread four pages’ worth of infantile pathos, enough to melt a concierge to tears, and his paper will be the best, the teacher will read it in class, and all his little friends will kick themselves for having been much too stingy with their whines and whimpers. That’s how we mold our men nowadays. Because even the tough, hardhearted little brat, the one with all he needs to succeed in this life, is forced to take part, since children abhor standing out from the crowd. So he’ll have to play along too, and work himself into a hypocritical sweat over the same philanthropic rubbish. And he’ll probably write just as brilliant a theme, clever child that he is, and he may even wind up believing what he writes, because youngsters like this are never really bad, just different, that’s all, just untapped potential. Then he’ll go home, like his classmate, both of them proud of their fine compositions. And father, who knows what life is all about, will read the A-plus masterpiece, terrified (if he has the slightest imagination) at the notion of that foreign family of eight coming to live in his three rooms and kitchen, but he’ll sit back and keep his big mouth shut. Mustn’t frustrate the little angels, mustn’t shock them, mustn’t sully their innocent thoughts and risk turning them later into hopeless prigs. No, he’ll wallow, ensnared, in his gutless affection, and chuck his little angel on a cheek flushed with pleasure, telling himself that he’s really a dear, and besides, “out of the mouths of babes,” isn’t that what they say? … The mother will snivel in her handkerchief, eye moist with maternal affection rewarded. But let the famished Ganges horde show up some morning at their door—assuming, of course, that such a thing could happen—and there’s one damn family that’s bloody well had it! Perhaps instead of an open-armed welcome, despite the prophetic prose of the little remote-controlled angel, they’ll take to their heels. The Western heart, down deep, is all sham. In any event, they’ll have lost the strength and the will to say no! Now, multiply that by a million mindless themes, applauded by a million milksop fathers, and you get some idea of the climate of total decay. Could that be one explanation? … At the very same instant, some seven thousand two hundred and twelve lycée professors decided to begin their next day’s classes with a discussion of racism. It didn’t make the slightest difference what they taught: math, English, chemistry, geography, even Latin. After all, whatever his field, isn’t the professor’s role to develop his students’ minds and force them to think? And so, they would have them speak their piece. The subject was there, ideal, made to order, too good to pass up: the fleet and its mission to cleanse and redeem the capitalist West! A fine topic, politically charged, with something for everyone, a limitless script in that ongoing cinema of the masses, spontaneous and unrehearsed, whose feeble and trite ideas, hashed over again and again, swallowed up any sense of reality, any notion of personal obligation. Here too, we need keep in mind only the negative side of these vapid and fuzzy debates. Let the Ganges invader finally set foot on the Côte d’Azur, and except for the warped, misguided few whom we’ll see dashing south, like pyromaniacs to a fire, the brawling little robot brats will be more than content to pull down their pants, like daddy, howling, according to their imbecilic logic, that they’ve needed a kick in the ass for a good long time, and they really deserve what they get! The beast’s obedient servants were counting on just such delightful results. … Well, there’s no need to go through and count up the millions and millions of Durfort’s faithful listeners. The whole of France gulped down the narcotic: when the time would come to cut off her legs, she was sure to be ready for the operation. 

“True enough,” Durfort’s voice rang out over the air, sharp and clear, and so sure of itself, “the exile we’re witnessing now is selfimposed. True too, the miscarriage of justice stems from no courtroom verdict. But the first is the offspring of poverty and neglect. And I’m sorry to have to tell you, my friends, that we all share the blame for the second. You see, we wealthy nations-condemned our Third World brothers. We set up our walls, walls of every description—political, moral, economic. We sentenced three-quarters of the earth’s population, imprisoned them, put them away, not for life, but for lives. Yes, for countless lives on end. Now, all at once, this gigantic prison is rising up in peaceful revolt. Our captives have begun to escape. A million strong, they’re on their way, bearing no arms, no malice, and seeking just one thing: justice! So long as this planet of ours, this speck of a planet, shrunken to nothing by a hundred years of incredible progress, still bears two kinds of men, a scant five hours apart by plane, one whose average yearly income is no more than fifty dollars, and the other, some fifteen or twenty thousand—so long as that’s the case, my friends, nothing will convince me, with all due respect, that one isn’t an exploiter, and the other, his victim …”

“Exploiter, my ass!” Marcel exclaimed to Josiane. “That’s a good one! What’s for supper tonight?” (He squinted toward the oilcloth on the table, proletarian throne in the middle of what passed for a living room.) “Noodles, headcheese, a few scrambled eggs. What’s that to brag about? And the TV payment? And the payment on the car? And how about my shoes? Look, nothing but goddamn holes!”

“Oh, not you,” said Josiane. “He means all the ones with money.”

“Oh yeah? Then let ‘em shove some of it my way, why don’t they! I don’t go around barefoot. I work for a living …”

Let’s give ear, in passing, to this discordant note. Good, canny common sense, a little uncouth and harsh—in other words, healthy— draws itself up to its dignified height and kicks up a fuss. Just a bit more effort and it could save the day. Marcel is no fugitive from the Ganges. He works, he wears shoes. He’s a hundred percent man, and make no mistake! With some prodding you could get him to admit that he’s part of a civilized country, that he’s proud of it too, and why not? Peekaboo, it’s our little white friend again, our foot-slogging soldier of the Western World, hero and victim of all its battles, whose sweat and flesh seep through all the joys of Western life. But he’s hardly the man he used to be. He only goes through the motions now. This volley won’t hit the mark. And there won’t be another. When the time comes, he’ll sit back and watch, as if none of it makes any difference to him. When he suddenly finds that it does, it will be too late. They’ll have made him believe it’s no skin off his nose, and that only the others—all the ones with money—will cough up and pay, in the name of equality, and brotherhood, and justice, or some such nonsense that no one dares question. And of course, in the name of the beast. But that’s something they won’t tell Marcel. Would he know what they meant? … In the name of the beast, Durfort stood guard, manning the ramparts of radioland. Nothing escaped his watchful eye. Soon he was at it again, sharpening up his aim: 

“I believe in premonitions,” the oracle’s voice continued. “And it seems I’m not the only one. Like all of you just now, I heard Monsieur Jean Orelle. Well, something tells me that this warmhearted man has the same feeling I have, the same premonition, though he can’t come out and say so. The feeling, my friends, that the refugee fleet is heading for Europe, for France. Yes, our very own paradise. And I don’t mind admitting that I hope I’m right. … Let me read the official communiqué once more, the finest document France has given the world since the Declaration of the Rights of Man. I quote: ‘Since nothing on earth could give us the right to stand in the way of this pathetic fleet, the government of France has decided to work out, with its Western partners, an appropriate welcome in a framework of international cooperation, socialistically structured …’ End of quote … And there we are! Yes, there we are, my friends, with hope and justice for all mankind! At long, long last! The earth’s most dispossessed and wretched souls begin to stir, and finally the mighty West takes note. Finally she turns a willing eye and looks despair and misery square in the face. Ah yes, my friends, what a day this is! What a wonderful day! For all mankind! Because who can believe—with our talk of welcome, our plans for cooperation—who can believe that the time hasn’t come for our own victims, too? Time to give our poor, numberless masses a share in that affluent life that they see being lived all around them, while they barely survive? No, clearly, we’re going to be forced to revise our thinking, reexamine the ties that bind us, man to man. We’re going to have to share our profits, invest them in the social good, conceive our economy in terms of love, not personal gain, so that each one among us, even the lowliest outcast from the Ganges shore, can finally claim his right to a rich, full life. There’s more to be said, my friends, and we’ll say it in all good time. For the moment I’ll only say this: we’re all from the Ganges now, and let’s not forget it! … Good night, until tomorrow.” 

“You’ve been listening to Albert Durfort and his nightly view of the news … And now, men, a word of advice. For those weekends in the country, those hunting trips, those long romantic walks through the woods … Or just for those quiet evenings by the fire, crackling and dancing on a fine old hearth … It’s suede for the well-dressed man! Yes, suede. More than just for your casual wear, more than just to relax in, suede lifts you up to the heights of fashion …”

Marcel felt reassured. Drill-press machinist at the Citroën plant, he never wore suede; he never went hunting; he never took walks with his pals in the woods, only sat by the highway, feeding his face, watching the cars and waiting to see whether one would crack up; he couldn’t care less about sitting by the fire, finding all his aesthetic delights in the beauties of the four-burner stove. Still, he wasn’t the sort to turn up his nose at fancy slogans. In fact, he enjoyed them. That suede to relax in, to lift you up to the heights of fashion … Well, that stuff wasn’t for him, but it gave him a good-natured chuckle. And somehow he felt better knowing that such things existed. Straightforward radical, barroom debater when the spirit moved him, he blew up the system left and right with his verbal blasts. But have a few honest-to-goodness crises, and all of a sudden, deep down inside, he began to get worried, wondering if maybe the crumbs that fell from the hands of the bosses and profiteers, decked out in their suede, weren’t better than no crumbs at all. He wouldn’t admit it, not even to himself, but the idea had struck him that, as long as the bosses are rolling in money, and killing themselves to make more— between two hunting trips, of course, or two elegant evenings by that fine old hearth—the people manage to get their share, even if, sometimes, it may take a little squawking. … Yes, in his heart of hearts Marcel adored the suede way of life. You could think what you wanted about it and no one could stop you. But blow it to pieces? Bring it toppling down, if the chance ever came? No, never! At least, not Marcel! Then defend it, maybe? No, not damn likely! You don’t defend social injustice, not even when you’re much better off than the ones who have justice to spare. There it is in a nutshell. Could that be one explanation? Marcel is the people, his mind is their mind, half Durfort and half suede, not exactly the most compatible couple, but getting along by and large. And the people won’t lift a finger to help. Not in either direction. We’re not still back in the Middle Ages, when the poor exploited serfs would take cover behind His Lordship’s walls the minute the tocsin pealed its warning that bands of marauders were loose in the land. If the boss—sorry, I mean the seigneur—didn’t have enough troops, then the workers themselves—excuse me, the serfs—would take to the ramparts, while their wives went bustling about, preparing the cauldrons of boiling pitch. When you worked for His Lordship, you may have lived badly, but at least you lived. Not so when the lawless bands came plundering through, and left you with nothing to do but starve. Marcel isn’t any less bright than his forebear the serf. But the monster has eaten away his brain, and he never even felt it. No, Marcel won’t go running to man the ramparts against the Ganges horde, the latest marauders to pillage Fortress West. Let the troops fight it out by themselves. That’s their job! And if they retreat, if they turn tail and run, it’s not up to Marcel to bring up the rear and rush into the breach! He’ll sit by and watch today’s forts being sacked, watch them loot today’s castles: the steel and concrete walls; the cellars, stuffed to the rafters with food; the storerooms, crammed with supplies; the workrooms, never idle; the parapet walks, the drawbridges, thundering under the constant tread of feet; the fertile lands; the tower strongholds, filled with gold and silver. Yes, he’ll let them all go. He can’t think anymore. They’ve gelded his will of its instinct for self-preservation. … That night, having heard his Durfort, Marcel would fall asleep with an easy mind. “You see,” said Josiane, “like I told you, it’s the bosses who’ll pay for that gang. All the ones with money. Besides, so they’re heading this way in their boats, all million of them. What’s the fuss? They’re not going to get here so quick, don’t worry! Take my word, that … that armada, like they call it, won’t come anywhere near us. And even if they do, if they’re such poor things, like everyone says, well …” And on, and on, and on. … Hook, line, and sinker. Thank you, Durfort!

At one point, however, there was almost a chance that Durfort might lose his program. Of course, the chance was muffed. We’ll go through it in detail, though, and add it to our list of bungled opportunities, along with all the others. What happened was this. Right after his famous “We’re all fiom the Ganges now!,” Durfort got a call in the studio. The owner and general manager of Radio-East asked him into his office:

“Really, my friend, don’t you think you’ve gone just a little too far? I appreciate your eloquence, and your generosity certainly is admirable … (“And generously admired!” he added, to himself. “A million a month for five minutes a day! Talk about generosity!”) … But this time it’s not some trivial issue, like the Ben Mohammed trial. It’s not even off at the end of the world, like another Biafra. No, it’s big, it’s close to home. Just think. Once you bring us your million Indians, once they move in to stay—I mean, assuming their ships could get here, and assuming I don’t take you off the air first!—why, the country will never be the same.”

“Exactly what I have in mind! Do you think I’m talking to hear myself talk, or just to make a living?”

“Perish the thought, my friend? … (“Self-righteous bastard!” he said to himself. “I think he may even believe what he’s saying!”) But don’t you ever ask yourself what something like this would mean? The mixture of races, and cultures, and life-styles. The different levels of ability, different standards of education. Why, it would mean the end of France as we know it, the end of the French as a nation…

“Yes, the rebirth of man.”

“Don’t give me that rubbish! The rebirth of man! Do you really believe that? For almost two years I’ve had you do the seven-thirty broadcast, right? Now seriously, in all that time, do you think your noble thoughts have done the least little bit to make man any better? Not damn likely, believe me!”

“Then why keep me on?” 

“All right, I’ll tell you, if you really want to know. I keep you on to amuse the crowd. After the psychics, the faith healers, the confessors, psychiatrists, advisers to the lovelorn, and all that bunch, what the public likes best are the great white knights, the righters of wrongs. Your type, that is. Well, right all the wrongs you want, we’ve got more than enough. A good ten years’ worth, if you’re smart and space them out. And as long as the public doesn’t suddenly fall for some other kind of clown. But hands off the country, you hear? And hands off the economy that manages somehow to run it. They may not be perfect, but they’re made for each other, those two. …

And as long as I’m at it, I’ll tell you something else. You live damn well yourself, much better than any of the downtrodden masses you serve up over the air every night. So take my advice. Be satisfied to expose our vices. That’s enough. Maybe one day, if we can wait that long, it will do us some good.” 

“I knew you were callous, contemptuous, heartless …”

“Thanks! You mean ‘realistic.’”

“… but I never dreamed you were so disgusting! When I think it’s a handful of men like you who pull all the strings, and run the whole show, I know it’s damn well time to change our society!”

“Yes, well, you’ll have to go change it on somebody else’s station, not mine. That is, unless you cut out this crusade for your refugee friends from the Ganges.”

“Not a chance.”

“All right, then. Let’s get out your contract. It’ll cost me the usual arm and a leg to break it. You’re good with figures! But never mind, we’ll pay …”

“You won’t pay a thing. I’m staying. You’ve forgotten the most important part. Read the contract through, if you please. … You see? The big suede promotion, the investment funds, Horizon Vacations, Pertal Gas and Oil, Tip Watches, Joie de Vivre Condominiums, the National Bank, et cetera, et cetera. … I know my accounts. And I know that every last one of those sponsors signed with you to get air time just before or after my broadcast. I got you each one of them, and don’t you forget it. Tens and tens of millions of francs! You think you can afford it? Things aren’t too hot right now …”

“I’ll get someone else. You’re not the only one in the business.”

“No, that’s true. But my name is the only one on the contract. And anyway, when it comes to our famous armada, every one of my colleagues worth his salt will sing the same tune.”

“I’ll hire Pierre Senconac.”

“Senconac! That reactionary? My dear friend, learn your business! You know that in advertising, today, it’s only the Left that sells. The Right is finished. The sponsors aren’t crazy, they all know it too. … So Senconac takes my place. What do you suppose he’ll say? I can hear him now! Save the race, save the country. Whatever the price, inhuman or not. Ship them back where they came from, back to their wastelands. Or sink them to the bottom. Or put them all in camps. Pretty words! Not quite what times like ours want to hear! And great for your competition! You’ll see, your sales will hit rock bottom. 

No, there’s a moral to all this: nothing pays like generosity. If you don’t believe me, pick up the phone. Call the National Bank, or Horizon Vacations. See what they say …”

The owner and general manager didn’t make any calls. He didn’t have to. He knew Durfort was right.

“In other words,” he mused, “you’re kind of a Trojan horse. You and all the rest. We’ve let in a whole damn cavalry of you. Including that bunch of first-class nags trying to run the government. I called the Élysée just before you came. They confirmed Orelle’s communiqué. It’s the official position, all right. But I still have hope. First, that my country can be saved, and second, that I’ll send you packing, now that I finally see you for what you are. The press secretary stressed the word ‘official.’ Subtly, of course. But I think it’s safe to assume that there’s an unofficial position too. The President’s, probably. Of course, it’s hard to hear it over all the neighs and whinnies. Who knows, when all is said and done, maybe the sensible people will come out on top. If there are any left. God help us, there aren’t very many … As for you, Durfort, stay out of my sight. I don’t want to see you. But be careful, I’ll be listening to every word you say. Step one inch out of line, one hair beyond the official position, and you’re out on your ear, sponsors or no! For the moment, you’re right, I can’t touch you. You’ve got a reprieve. My board wants money, and they want it in a hurry. It’s true, they’ve sold out to the Left. They’re a slimy bunch, but maybe when they get good and scared they’ll start thinking. And maybe the government will change its mind, and ask us to spread the word. The minute they do, you’re out and Senconac is in, believe me! And the sooner the better!”

Yes, maybe. But it would be too late. France wasn’t to hear a change of tune until the Ganges million were stieaming off their ships. Even then the countercurrent had little or no effect on the drug-deadened brains. The capitalists themselves were no better off. Having lined their pockets hawking the drug, they had finally succumbed to it too. That could be one explanation … 

At the end of Durfort’s broadcast, Machefer heaved a sigh: 

“Ah, gentlemen, ten more minutes and we get an earful of Boris Vilsberg on RTZ! … Someone go get the Juliénas. Only a good Beaujolais will help! … You’re all too young to remember, but once upon a time we used to take care of guys like that!” 

He was talking to three young men, huddled in his minuscule office. The sum total of his staff. Three literature students, very talented, earnest, and badly paid. Most of the time, not paid at all. What with rent for the office—three garret rooms on the rue du Sentier—and the cost of paper, typesetting, printing, distribution, and the telephone, the receipts from the sales of La Pensée Nationale didn’t go very far. Ten thousand copies printed, four thousand sold, if that. For a daily, the brink of despair. What few ads there were barely paid for the Juliénas. As for food, old Machefer lived on noodles, or got himself invited to the Medical School canteen … The four lower floors housed the offices and presses of La Grenoujile a satirical weekly of the altruistic Left, whose company owned the building. Late in the evening, when no one else was on the stairs, and when a little too much Juliénas inspired him to heights of derringdo, Machefer would make it a rule to empty the contents of his bladder on the mat in front of their office. A ritual, of sorts, and hardly a well- kept secret. The managing editor would shake his head, have someone clean up the landing, and send the office boy hiking to the garret with a pro forma complaint. And that would be that. His forbearance appeared to defy comprehension Not only did he pass off Machefer’s little prank with a stoical sniff; not only did he give his paper a roof over its head; but he actually printed La Pensée Nationale on his very own presses—title and opinions notwithstanding, and in spite of a rather capricious way with unpaid bills! Such tolerance from a doctrinaire thinker, even one with a sense of humor, might well cause a few jaws to drop. But not Machefer’s. He wasn’t taken in. One day, with more Juliénas than usual under his belt, he had given the mat an especially copious soaking—and in midafternoon, to boot!—only to find himself suddenly cornered by the managing editor of La Grenouille: “Ah, no, Monsieur Machefer!” he had shouted. “This time I’ve had enough!” “How’s that?” Machefer had answered, with a none-too-agile tongue. “I can’t see why you’re complaining! It’s the same old smell your rag always has, isn’t it? Now it stinks as bad outside as in. What’s the difference?” The editor had replied in his surliest of tones, “Now look here! You know you have no lease, no press. I could throw you out tonight if I wanted! …Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t already!” And Machefer, his mind much steadier than his legs, jibed back: “Well I’ll tell you why, old chum! It’s because, thanks to freedom of the press, you can print any trash you want, and poison the heads of a million damn fools. It’s because, thanks to freedom of the press, you can go your merry way, sapping the strength of the nation, quietly tearing it down brick by brick, behind your convenient satirical mask. Well, the fact is, old friend, the people aren’t all blind just yet, no matter how low they’ve sunk. To get them to swallow what you feed them, you need something vaguely resembling an opposition. For the moment, as long as you and your kind haven’t won hands down, you can’t let me go. I’m your excuse. Without me and a handful of other survivors not much better off, poof!, no more difference of opinion, no more freedom of the press! When the time comes, you won’t think twice. But you still have a while to wait. Why, I bet you a case of Moulin-à-Vent, the best there is, that if I decided to fold up today, and stick the keys under your door, you’d buy up my paper on the sly, and keep it running yourself, just to make sure you had something to sneer at! It wouldn’t be the first time. To ‘hold the line against fascism,’ or some bullshit like that, you’ve got to be sure there are still a few good pseudofascists handy. You have no kick! As demagogues go, you couldn’t do better. I’m a pretty good buy—efficient, convincing, cheap. And I save you doing the job yourself. That’s the price I pay for my innocent little whim. So leave me alone and let me piss on your mat in peace! You know damn well, when the time comes, you won’t have to make a move to shut me down, except maybe walk up the three flights to tell me. And even then, you’ll send your boy … Good day, Monsieur, it’s been a pleasure!”

Worth noting, simply, was the rather surprised and thoughtful look on the editor’s face as he went back inside. Buy up La Pensée Nationale?As a matter of fact, the idea had crossed his mind. … Worth noting, too, that on D Day, when the Ganges masses begin to leave their ships, run aground on the beach, and come streaming off by the hundreds of thousands, the office boy from La Grenouille will, indeed, climb up the three flights, and inform La Pensée Nationale that its days are over, and that its editor has ten minutes to get his ass out of the building and go jump in the lake. Because, throughout this dark and seamy tale of often hidden motives, we should call attention, as we go along, to any perceptible chain of events that meets the eye. When a mole shows his presence by burrowing close to the surface, we mustn’t fail to track him down. Of course, it won’t do any good. Still, maybe it will help us understand …

“No,” Machefer went on, still sighing, “no chance that Vilsberg or Durfort will find a hired killer or two in their bedrooms tonight. No such luck. The Right has no killers anymore. We lost all we had defending our last few colonies. What a pity! And besides, you can’t touch the bastards nowadays. The Left is so full of traitors, packed in so tight, that no one can tell how they’re selling us out, lock, stock, and barrel. I guess the goddamn jig is up. Gentlemen, we’re screwed! … Well, it’s time to hear Vilsberg, and find out how hopeless things really are …”

Boris Vilsberg was no Zorro. Unlike Durfort, who had no doubts as he pondered the world, Vilsberg had doubts about everything in sight. Which made both men very typical of the times, since dogmatic, relentless doubt, these days, has the strength of assertion. From the moment he took up the thinking profession, Vilsberg—a man of vast culture, unmatched curiosity, and a clever, discerning mind— bore his doubts like a cross of redemption. He moved his audiences all the more, as they sensed a kind of personal anguish each time he was forced to give up certain basic ideas that he seemed to hold dear. Much too subtle to deal in such standard clichés as: “We have no choice. … Times change, we have to change with them, no matter how it hurts. … We have to find new modes of thought, more in tune with the times etc., etc.—still, when all was said and done, this sort of thing was precisely what most of his listeners inferred. Many of them saw themselves reflected, especially those who thought they were clever (or wished they were), which, in this day and age, is a rather fair number. In private, Vilsberg complained that he was misunderstood, that he only meant to voice his doubts. Strange type, this man whom no one understood, and who nonetheless persisted in his mind master’s role! Shrewd servant of the monster, prisoner of the sin against the intellect, drugged with his own narcotic doubt, but probably not to blame. Day by day, month by month, doubt by doubt, law and order became fascism; education, constraint; work, alienation; revolution, mere sport; leisure, a privilege of class; marijuana, a harmless weed; family, a stifling hothouse; affluence, oppression; success, a social disease; sex, an innocent pastime; youth, a permanent tribunal; maturity, the new senility; discipline, an attack on personality; Christianity … and the West … and white skin … Boris Vilsberg probed. Boris Vilsberg doubted. For years on end. And heaped at his feet, an ancient country, lying in rubble. Could that be one explanation? …

“At the tone, the time will be seven forty-five, brought to you on RTZ by Alpha, the watch that sets the tone for the times … And now, Boris Vilsberg and his nightly opinion…”

“Juliénas,” said Machefer simply, holding out his glass.

Out of the radio, slow and calm, came Vilsberg’s voice:

“As I read and listen to the first reports and comments on the Ganges armada, and its staggering exodus westward, I’m struck by the depth of human feeling that seems to pervade them all, and the candid appeals for a wholehearted welcome. Indeed, have we time for a choice? But through it all, one thing appalls me: the fact that nobody yet has pointed to the danger, the risk inherent in the white man’s meager numbers, and his utter vulnerability as a result. I’m white. White and Western. So are you. But what do we amount to in the aggregate? Some seven hundred million souls, most of us packed into Europe, as against the billions and billions of nonwhites, so many we can’t even keep up the count. In the past we could manage some kind of a balance, more precarious daily. But now, as this fleet heads toward our shores, it seems to be saying that, like it or not, the time for ignoring the Third World is past. How will we answer?

What will we do? Are these the questions you’re asking yourselves? I hope so. It’s high time you did!”

“There, the work’s cut out!” Machefer broke in, over Vilsberg’s voice. “The usual bear hug! Nice and clear. Right up close. Enough to scare their pants off. Now, if only he’d go the next step, and tell them to shoot, tell them to blast the crowd to hell! But no! Not our Vilsberg!”

“I can tell,” Vilsberg continued, “that you really don’t believe how serious the situation is. After all, we lived side by side with the Third World, convinced that our hermetic coexistence, our global segregation, would last forever. What a deadly illusion! Now we see that the Third World is a great unbridled mass, obeying only those impulsive urges that well up when millions of hapless wills come together in the grip of despair. More than once in the past, from Bandung to Addis Ababa, attempts to organize and mobilize that mass had failed. But today, since morning, we’re witnessing a mighty surge, seeing it take shape, for once, and roll on. And nothing—nothing, take my word—is going to stop it! We’re going to have to come to terms … But again, I can tell, you don’t really believe me. You’d rather not think. It’s a long, long way from the Ganges to Europe. Maybe our country won’t get involved. Maybe the Western nations will come up with a miracle just in time. … Well, you’re welcome to close your eyes and hope. But later, when you open them up, if you find a million dark-skinned refugees swarming ashore, tell me, what will you do? Of course, we’re merely supposing, granted. All right then, let’s suppose some more.

“Now watch, kiddies,” Machefer interjected, “here comes the pirouette!”

“As long as we’re at it, let’s assume that we’re going to take in these wanderers. Yes, like it or not, cordial or begrudging, we’re going to take them in. We have no choice. Unless, that is, we want to kill them all, or put them away in camps. Perhaps we have forty days left, perhaps two months at best, before their peaceful and bloodless invasion. That’s why I want to suggest, in this time for conjecture, that we all do our utmost to accept the idea, to grow used to the thought of living side by side with human beings who seem to be so different from ourselves. And so, I’m inviting you all to join us here on RTZ, beginning tomorrow, at this same time each day, for our new, forty-five-minute feature, ‘Armada Special.’ We’ll try to answer your questions frankly, all the questions you’ll be asking yourselves—and us—about how a million refugees, fresh from the Ganges, can live together, in harmony and understanding, with fiftytwo million Frenchmen. I say ‘we,’ because, happily, Rosemonde Real has agreed to join me in this staggering task. You know her well for her perceptive thinking, her passion for life, her trust in mankind, her profound awareness of the human soul and its innermost workings …”

“Good God, not her again!” Machefer exclaimed. “Isn’t there anything that hag won’t do to get on the air?”

“Needless to say, we won’t be alone. Rosemonde and I have spared no effort to bring in specialists from every field to answer your questions: doctors, sociologists, teachers, economists, anthropologists, priests, historians, journalists, industrialists, administrators … Of course, I don’t claim that we’ll have all the answers. Certain more delicate problems—perhaps in the sexual or psychological realms— certain problems that strike at the heart of that lingering racism present in us all, may demand more thought and more specialized experts. But we promise to strive for the truth, as the sensible, clearheaded people we hope we are, and we trust that we’ll find the truth worthy of you, and of us. Later, when all is said and done, at the end of the gripping adventure begun this morning on the banks of the Ganges, if not one single hopeless wretch has come our way, then we, the public, will simply have played in the greatest radio game in history: the antiracism game. And believe me, we won’t have been playing in vain! At least we’ll have played for the honor of mankind. Then too, who knows but what, in some dim, distant future, we may have to play it again, and for keeps? … And now, until tomorrow, good night …” 

“Rabble!” Machefer snarled. “It serves you all right. You’ve got the kind of radio you deserve! Hear that? A game! That’s what they come up with! ‘Bread and Circuses!’ But who remembers Juvenal’s contempt? No, antiracism is right in style, but they know it’s not much fun to hear, they know it won’t pay, so they make it a game! The way they’ve done so long with all the important issues. So long, that the people are used to it already. The fight against cancer? A game. Biafra? A game. Pollution? A game. Famine? A game. I could go on and on. You’re incredible, all of you! You take the peons, bored to tears, and drag them out into the streets to buy their tickets and support the cause. You have them blink their lights to show they’ve got the spirit. You turn whole neighborhoods, whole towns into teams, competing to see who can get the most pledges. Then the monster telethon, day and night, flashing the results, with plenty of songs and show to liven it up … At midnight it’s over. That’s that. A good time was had by all. And what did it all accomplish? You dangled the fish on the line, frittered the issue away with fuss and fanfare. Over and done with. Then on to the next. And nothing ever changed. But no one was any the wiser. Well, this time the issue is us. We’re the issue. But you’ll see, no one will bother to notice. Just another game, that’s all, only longer, because this time the fish is much bigger, and we’ll have to keep him dangling for weeks and weeks. And when playtime is over, suddenly we’ll come out f our daze and realize that it’s too damn late, that nothing can save us. Too late! You should have been thinking, and not playing games! … Well, kiddies, don’t miss the ‘Armada Special,’ it’s going to be a ball! A whole army of fathead assholes, streaming out over the air, and drowning the country in a flood of their drivel! Oh yes, they know what they’re doing, all right!”

“But Monsieur Machefer,” piped up one of the students, “we’ve got to speak out and expose the conspiracy! We’ve got to do something to smash it, dismantle it piece by piece, display it piece by piece for all to see, to warn those who haven’t rolled over and played dead yet. We’ve got to fight this thing tooth and nail …”

“With a sale of four thousand copies? You’ve got to be joking!”

Just then the telephone rang.

“Hello, La Pensée Nationale? This is the news office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs …” Machefer couldn’t place the voice, although in fact, it belonged to Jean Perret, our little undersecretary friend, disguising it as best he could. 

“This is Machefer, editor in chief. What can I do for you?”

“We’re taking a survey of the press,” the voice continued. “Not to influence anyone, of course. But we’re anxious to get some idea of the growing reactions to the fleet from the Ganges …”

“I see,” said Machefer. “What you mean is, you’re shaking in your boots!”

The undersecretary choked back a laugh. Maybe so. But Machefer didn’t really see at all. The fact is, there was no survey, only one solitary call to one solitary man, Machefer.

“Just an informal poll,” Jean Perret replied, straining to sound offhand. “Could you give us some idea, Monsieur Machefer, what position La Pensée Nationale intends to take?”

At the Élysée Palace, the President of the Republic was waiting for the answer. He had run the gamut in a single day: the Council of Ministers meeting, which he had deplored; the press conference of Monsieur Jean Orelle; and finally, the Durfort and Vilsberg broadcasts, heard in the privacy of his own apartment, where he vented his rage to his heart’s content. He had judged, with horror, the terrifying disproportion in the views presented. He had expected it, of course, but not to that degree. All on one side, nothing on the other. It was then that he had called Jean Perret, dialing his personal number himself: “Monsieur Perret,” he had told him, “you’re probably surprised to hear from me, and I’ll ask you to keep my call in the strictest confidence. Frankly, in this whole Ganges business, you’re the only one I trust. No need to tell you why, I’m sure. … What I want you to do is to call Machefer—discreetly, on some pretext or other, I’ll let you decide—and try to find out if his paper is planning to take a position. It’s simply inconceivable that certain things shouldn’t be said, and I think, the way things stand, that he’s the only one with the courage to say them …”

“It’ll be an honor,” Machefer answered, in a tone that suggested a sneaking suspicion. “Do I gather that your question is serious?” “You do indeed,” the voice replied. “Well then?”

“Well then, no position at all,” said Machefer. “Not a word. There’s only one of me, and there are lots of them. I’m weak and they’re strong. I only have one round to fire, and it won’t carry very far at that, I’m sorry to say! If I want it to hit the mark, I’ll have to wait for the moment of truth, and then shoot last.”

“And nothing until then? Really?” asked the voice, a little disappointed.

“Nothing … No, I take that back. Each day there’ll be a front-page map—Asia, Africa, Europe—with a dotted line showing their probable route to France, and a heavy line showing how far they’ve come. No text. Just a caption: ‘Only x more kilometers to the moment of truth.’ That’s all.”

“Thank you,” the voice said, simply.

The next day, just before noon, a messenger came rushing into the garret offices of La Pensée Nationale, and asked to speak to Jules Machefer in person. “I’m Machefer,” the editor answered, surprised. “Just a minute,” the messenger told him. And he took out a photo from his pocket, and compared the face with Machefer’s. “All right,” he said. Then he placed a package on the desk, and left without a word. In the package Machefer found two hundred thousand francs, in worn hundred-franc notes, and a sheet of white paper, unsigned, with these simple typewritten words: “Don’t wait too long.”


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