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« La forma de la espada (part 2) | Main | Schakale und Araber »

La forma de la espada (part 1)

The first part of a story ("The shape of the sword") by this Argentine.  You can read the original here.

A resentful scar crossed his face, an ashen, almost perfect arc that creased his temple on one side and on the other his cheek.  His real name does not matter to us: everyone in Tacuarembó called him the Englishman of La Colorada hotel.  The owner of the lands, Cardoso, did not want to sell; but I heard that the Englishman resorted to an unforeseeable argument: namely, he confided to the owner the secret origin of the scar.  The Englishman came from the frontier region, from Río Grande del Sur, and there was no shortage of those who said that in Brazil he had been a smuggler.  The fields were muddy, water-logged and bitter; to correct these deficiencies the Englishman worked alongside his laborers.  They say he was strict to the point of cruelty, but scrupulously fair.  They also say he was a drinker: a couple of times a year he would lock himself into the room with a view and emerge two or three days later as if from battle or vertigo – pale, trembling, and astonished, yet as authoritarian as before.  I recall the icy eyes, the energetic leanness, the grey moustache.  He would not socialize with anyone; true, his Spanish was rudimentary and Brazilianized.  Apart from the occasional advertisement or brochure, he received no correspondence.

The last time I passed through the Northern districts, a flooding of the Caraguatá obliged me to spend the night at the Colorada.  After but a few minutes I understood that my appearance was inopportune; I tried to ingratiate myself with the Englishman, and I leaned on that least perspicacious of passions, patriotism.  I told him that a country with the spirit of England was invincible.  My interlocutor agreed, but added with a smile that he was not English.  He was an Irishman, from Dungarvan.  Having said this, he stopped, as if he had revealed a secret.

After dinner we went out to gaze at the sky.  It had stopped raining but the South, cracking and lightning  behind blades of firmament, was devising another storm.  In the stripped-down dining room the laborer who had served our meal now brought in a bottle of rum.  We drank for a long time in silence.

I do not know at what time I realized I was drunk; nor do I recall what inspiration, what joy or what tedium drove me to mention the scar.  The expression on the Englishman's face changed.  For a few seconds I thought that he was about to throw me out of his house.  But at length he spoke in his usual voice:

"I will tell you the story behind my wound on one condition: that you allow it in no way to mitigate the dishonor or any detail of infamy."

I consented.  This is the story that he related, switching between English, Spanish and Portuguese:

"In about 1922, in one of the towns of Connaught, I was one of many who conspired towards the independence of Ireland.  From among my co-conspirators some survived to devote themselves to peaceful tasks; others, paradoxically, are still fighting on the seas or in the desert beneath the Union Jack; another, in fact the one who mattered most, died in the courtyard of a barracks at dawn, shot by men aching for sleep; still others (not the most ill-fated) gave themselves to the anonymous and almost secret battles of the Civil War.  We were Republicans and Catholics; we were also, I suspect, Romantics.  For us Ireland was not only the utopic future and the intolerable present, but also a bitter and affectionate mythology, circular towers, and red swamps, the reputation of Parnell and the enormous epic poems that sang of the theft of bulls, which in another incarnation were heroes and in others fish and mountains ... One twilight which I shall never forget, an ally from Munster arrived, John Vincent Moon.     

"He was barely twenty years old.  He was at once both thin and flabby; he gave you the uncomfortable impression of being an invertebrate.  He had studied with fervor and vanity all the pages of I don't know what communist handbook, and dialectical materialism aided him in obstructing any dispute.  The reasons one man may have to detest or love another are infinite: Moon reduced world history to a sordid economic conflict.  He affirmed that the revolution was destined to triumph.  I told him that only a gentleman could be interested in lost causes ... It was already night and we continued our disagreements in the corridor, on the stairs, then in the idle streets.  The opinions presented by Moon impressed me less than his indisputable apodictic tone.  My new colleague did not really discuss matters, so much as judge them with disdain and certain wrath.

"Having reached up the last row of houses, we were taken aback by a sudden spate of gunfire (Sooner or later, we passed the blind wall of a factory or barracks).  We advanced onto a dirt road; a soldier, enormous in the glare, came out of a burning cabin.  Shouting, he ordered us to stop.  I hastened my pace, but my comrade did not follow.  I turned around: John Vincent Moon was standing perfectly still, fascinated as if frozen for all of eternity in terror.  Then I turned, flattened the soldier with one blow, shook Vincent Moon, insulted him and ordered him to follow me.  I had to take him by the arm as the passion of fear had rendered him an invalid.  And we fled in the night pierced with fires.  A salvo of artillery sought us out; one bullet grazed Moon's right shoulder.  And he, as we fled amongst the pine trees, broke into a feeble sob.

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