A Diary of Revolution
VOLUME 158 NUMBER 5
BY MEGAN LAIRD1
Sunday, July 19, 10 A. M. — We are in the midst of Revolution. Or Hell. Or perhaps only a bad dream — a cruelly bad, unbelievable dream. I do not know. It is impossible to understand what is happening — what key has turned to release pandemonium upon our tranquil world.
I am here in our own living room, with my typewriter in its customary place on the bridge table before me. To the eye everything is as usual. My husband is trying to repair the radio, which has gone dead. The baby is playing with her blocks and cooing to herself. In the kitchen Ani is washing the breakfast dishes. The windows are open and the morning sunshine lies hot and shimmering across the floor.
To the eye everything is as usual, and this is just another peaceful Sunday morning in our pleasant apartment on the fifth floor of the big house at the corner of Calle Lauria and Calle Provenza.
But while I write I am shaken by salvo after salvo of gunfire, the reverberations repeated, overlapped, and intensified from every part of Barcelona at once. Directly beneath our windows a revolver snaps, and its sharp ping is at once enveloped in a volley of rifle shot. Cries and shouts rise sharply from the street, their distinctness suddenly blotted out in the crash and echoing rumble of a hurled grenade. They have brought out the cannon, evidently — from time to time the whole building sways and quivers with the distant rumble of a 75. The friendly clatter of my typewriter is inaudible beneath the mighty rodomontade of the guns.
This seems to have been going on forever. It is difficult to remember that there was ever a time when the streets of Barcelona were quiet — that there was ever a time when I could not have told the difference between a shot and a burst automobile tire. Yet twenty-four hours ago we were lying on the sands at Sitjes, listening to the wash of the Mediterranean at our feet and feeling the sunlight hot and kindly on our oiled bodies.
Copyright 1936, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.
I must force myself to think back to that time — back to yesterday — so that I may begin at the beginning and remember clearly and distinctly how all this began.
We were at Sitjes then, my husband and I, at peace on its white curved beach, twenty-four hours ago. We had been there for two weeks, coming back to Barcelona on Saturdays to see the baby, left behind with Ani, and to go to the Sunday bullfights. Yesterday then, at noon, we went back to our pension, to dress and pack and take the train for Barcelona. They had announced that morning, over the radio, that there had been an uprising of the troops in Melilla. Nothing more. The announcement did not worry us. It worried no one. Melilla must be in Africa — and Africa is very far away.
We reached Barcelona in time for lunch. The afternoon we spent shopping for things we wished to take back to Sitjes with us on Monday. The day was unbearably hot, and the Plaza Cataluna somnolent and lazy in the sun. People moved slowly across the Plaza, among the fountains and the fluttering pigeons and the babies playing in the graveled paths. Opposite the Hotel Colon, workmen were affixing an enormous poster — ‘Anti-War Week.’
That night we went to the movies — Rose Marie. The theatre was stifling, and when we came out we stopped at a cafe on the Pasco de Gracia for a glass of beer. It wras half-past one, and the aspect of the darkened streets was no different than usual. Scattered groups of people going home from the movies or the theatre — little knots of two or three saying good-night at apartmenthouse doors — an occasional cruising taxicab moving noiselessly along the Paseo — the people in the cafe sitting relaxed and comfortable, their conversation casual and light. Barcelona as usual, serene and peaceful beneath a small, high-riding moon.
I am awakened at five in the morning by a metallic crackling, spitting, crashing, that enters in a flood of sound through my open window and assails me on my bed. I run to the window and lean out head and shoulders. Calle Lauria stretches below, five stories down, tranquil and motionless, empty of any human being. The shops are all closed, the shutters on every window, as far as I can see, monotonously closed and barred. And yet from all around me, from the street below, from beneath the trees, from the roofs and neighboring windows, the metallic crackling and spitting continue. Try as I will, leaning from the window, I cannot see the source, and content myself with the only explanation that occurs to me. The booming and sputtering that I hear all over Barcelona are fireworks, and to-day must be another big fiesta — we have had so many lately.
Only (and very, very gradually this strikes me as being strange) it is curious that there is no one in the streets. No one on the roofs to be setting off the rockets and the crackers, no one in the windows leaning out to listen and to see. I alone in all the long stretch of Calle Lauria hear the fireworks and lean from my window to watch and listen. For perhaps twenty minutes I stay there (an inexplicably unnoticed target, as I know nowr) and only very gradually do I find it strange that no one else cares enough about the fiesta to look out on it as I am doing.
And all this time, beneath me, above me, closing in on every side, the spitting and crackling grow louder and louder.
The first sign of life is a private car coming rapidly up Calle Lauria. As it passes under my window I notice with surprise that from each of the two rear windows a rifle projects, its black snout pointing upwards. I run out through the living room to the roof terrace, leaving open behind me the French doors, to watch better the progress of this car. It stops in the next block, in front of the Church and Convent of the Carmelites. Two Assault Guards get out hurriedly, grasp the rifles in firing position, and station themselves behind a tree. At the same moment I see other Assault Guards running, rifles in their hands, down the Diagonal, another block away. They pass in a continuous stream, two or three hundred of them. Then they are gone and the Diagonal is sunlit emptiness again.
I look down Calle Lauria. Four mules dragging an empty and clattering gun carriage are plunging down the street. Behind them gallop four saddled but riderless horses, the stirrups bounding against their lathered sides. At the Carmelite Church a Civil Guard steps out and halts the mules. He is aided by a group of soldiers who emerge like unexpected apparitions from beneath the trees. The four horses come to a heaving, trembling stop.
There is a crackle, and a puff of smoke, from the tower of the Carmelite Church. In the street below an Assault Guard, sheltered behind a tree bole, raises his rifle and fires.
I know now what I am seeing. This is no fiesta. This is war. The rockets and crackers I have been hearing are the grim fireworks of destruction.
I run to my husband’s room. ‘Tino, Tino, wake up! There is shooting all over Barcelona. Something is happening. Wake up!’
He springs disheveled from bed and joins me at the window. But his comprehension is quicker than mine.
‘Are you crazy?’ he says. ‘Get back into the room. Call Ani. We must try and close the windows and the shutters.’
Ani appears in the kitchen doorway, pale and trembling.
‘It’s begun,’ she announces dramatically. ‘They’re firing on the house. We shall all be killed.’ And she bursts into hysterical tears.
Crouching, with our heads beneath the level of the window sills, we struggle to swing shut the heavy wooden blinds and close and bar the windows. The rooms are plunged at once into a thick obscurity, a twilight which intensifies the growing noise and uproar of the streets outside.
Through the slats of the shutters we can look out on the Carmelite Church and Calle Lauria. Beneath the church there is an assembling of Assault and Civil Guards. They are joined by soldiers, receive hurried orders, and disappear to take up stations in sheltered spots near by. Now again there are no human beings visible in the streets. Only, from time to time a puff of smoke rises from beneath a tree, and a minute later we hear the sharp ping of a revolver or the crack of a rifle.
They are evidently attacking the church. From the narrow pointed windows of the Campanile puffs of smoke issue whitely and float lazily away on the still air. Occasionally we see the dark gleam of a rifle barrel hurriedly thrust from one of the openings and as hurriedly withdrawn.
We do not understand what is happening. There is no doubt that there is revolution. But who is revolting against whom? We cannot tell. By now it seems as though they were all firing against each other — the streets are a nightmare of crouching soldiers, Civil Guards, Assault Guards, firing, charging their rifles, firing again. At whom? At each other? Or at the unknown, mysterious occupants of the Church of the Carmelites?
We only know that Hell itself has opened in the streets beneath our windows. The noise of the guns, the bombs, the grenades, is deafening. And in the tiny lulls between one discharge and another we hear the same cacophonic echo sounding distantly from every other part of Barcelona. Occasionally the whole is blotted out in the long, hoarse roar of the cannon.
11.30 A. M. —The firing is still continuous, and we have given up our observation post behind the closed shutters. Whistling bullets have told us it is dangerous to approach the windows. We try to sit down, to talk, but constantly one or the other of us gets up to go to the window again. We have got out the field glasses, and through the cracks in the shutters can bring the church into our room.
Ani is in the kitchen preparing dinner. She is still frightened and sobbing from time to time. She has helped us move the baby’s bed into Tino’s room, away from the direct line of fire. We have put the baby to bed. It is not safe to let her stay in the living room. She is fascinated by the closed shutters and tries to play with them, moving the slats back and forth with her finger. And a movement of the shutters now is an invitation to a bullet.
Outside, in the hallway, clustered around the well of the stairs and elevator shaft, half of the terrified members of the apartment house are gathered. Many of them we have never seen before. But now we all greet each other with nervous recognition. Some of the women are sobbing. Señor Bartolí, of the floor below, is afraid for his art collection, should the house be bombed. He is of the opinion that the men should try to escape.
‘They won’t hurt the women,’ he insists. ‘We can leave the women. But if they break in they will shoot the men. We must get away.’
No one listens to him. It is impossible to escape anyway. From below we can hear someone banging on the door. ‘Open! Open!’ Salvador, the porter, hurries up the stairs, white and trembling.
‘I won’t open,’ he tells us. ‘I’ll open to no one. Not until they force the door.’
No one knows what is really happening. We imagine that the troops have revolted. But if there are troops concealed in the Carmelite Church there are certainly other troops firing on them from the street. The army must be divided. Some of it, anyway, must be loyal. It is surprising that the Civil Guards are against the soldiers. Their sympathies have never been with the popular government. It is impossible to understand.
Everyone is trying to make provision for food. Impossible to get to the grocery store next door, but from a court window on the second floor we can lower a basket with a cord. The cord is just long enough to reach the back window of the grocery. There is no bread, no milk, no eggs, no ice. We buy what we can. No one knows how many days this will last — how long it will be before we can venture out into the streets. We buy canned goods: sardines, tuna fish, tinned peaches, cheese. And candles. The lights may be cut off at any time. We have already filled the bathtub and all available jars with water. They say that in Madrid the water supply has already been cut off.
Something has happened to the telephones. Ours is the only one in the building which is still working. And many of the numbers that we try to call are dead.
We wander back and forth, restless, uncertain what to do. In the streets the uproar is continuous — but more intense now, louder, the air peppered with the crackling and spitting of the guns. Time has stopped. Tino is still puttering with the radio, trying to repair a broken part. Ani, sobbing, clatters dishes in the kitchen. In her bed the baby chortles with delight, and plays with her blue gingham cat.
2 p. M. — We are in the midst of the fiercest battle of the day. From all over Barcelona come the crash and boom of rifles, bombs, and cannon. There are shouts now from the street, but we do not dare look out. The bullets are whistling too close to our windows.
‘Open . . . fire!’ Volleys of rifle shot, and screams.
‘Hands . . . up!’ A pistol cracks, and a groan is choked off suddenly.
Gingerly we peer through the shutters. In the tower of the church they have stationed machine guns. From time to time the air is torn with their sharp pum-pum-pum.
Suddenly the drone of an airplane motor is heard directly above our heads. In a minute the plane itself dips into our line of vision, flying high and circling above the Carmelite Church. There is the sharp rattle of machine guns from the plane. They are firing at random on the streets and houses below.
Cars pass occasionally now in the street. Camions, for the most part, and private cars that have evidently been requisitioned. In an open truck that traverses Calle Provenza at high speed are five young boys crouched on the floor and firing rifles. Against a buttress of mattresses at the rear of the truck a machine gun is placed. But it is not being fired. The figure of a boy lies slumped and motionless on the floor beside it.
It is singular that there are no animals in the streets. Not a dog or cat ventures out into the sunny morning. But screaming all around our windows are birds — in panic-stricken, headlong flight. Their cries and agonized flutterings make a continual accompaniment to the guns that roar below.
On the roof opposite ours three Assault Guards appear, and take up their stations behind three projecting bits of the parapet. They lean out for a moment, take careful aim with their rifles, fire into the street below, and withdraw. They are there for perhaps half an hour, leaning out, aiming, firing, and withdrawing. Then we do not see them any more.
Cars are passing more frequently in the streets — beautiful cars, luxurious limousines and open sport models, polished and shining — the cars of the wealthy, filled now with men and soldiers in shirt sleeves, firing constantly as they careen wildly through the streets. Many of the cars have the tops protected with mattresses. All of them have letters painted on the sides — letters in spraw ling daubs, the white paint not yet dry. FAI the cars say (these are the letters of the Anarchists), CNT (the workers’ organization), and FAI again. In an open, shining Mercedes-Benz, a young girl works side by side with the men, tending a machine gun. As the car whirls around the corner she laughs, raising her clenched left fist in the Anarchist salute.
A voice somewhere cries ‘ Viva la Republica!’ It is answered by another voice. ‘Abajo la Republica!’ (‘Down with the Republic!’) ‘Viva Españal’
The firing breaks out again, fiercer and harsher than before. Once more the airplane dips above the church, closer this time. We can see the men inside. One of them feeds a machine gun, and the rain of the bullets showers down into the streets below. The pilot leans out to look, before the plane soars up again, and raises his fist for a moment.
We try to sit down and eat our lunch. But it is impossible. Ani has just brought the roast to the table when there is a deafening crash outside. We run to the windows to look through the slats of the shutters. A closed car, riddled with bullets, has just smashed against a tree on our corner. It smokes for a moment as though it would burst into flame, then the smoke drifts away and we are aware of what has happened. On the ground beside the car lies one of its occupants, a wounded Assault Guard. His waist and loins are in a pool of blood. Lying backwards across the radiator of the car is another guard, one hand clutching his throat, his head hanging down against the fender. He is silent, but the man on the pavement is groaning and calling aloud.
‘I am dying. I am dying! Open the doors! Take me in! Call an ambulance. I am dying. For the love of God, open the doors!’
But all down the street the doors and windows remain tight shut. It is certain death to emerge into the streets, even to save the wounded.
There is another now. Two doors down, in Calle Provenza, a young boy has dragged himself to one of the closed doors and is pounding against it with his fists. ‘Let me in! Let me in! Help! Open the door!’
It is more than we can bear. In a tragic chorus now, from all over the street, come the groans and sobs of the wounded and the dying. Tino goes to the telephone and tries in vain to call an ambulance. He dials several hospitals, the Red Cross, the firemen. The answer is everywhere the same: the ambulances are all out; they will send one when they can, but there are none available now.
I look once more from the window. A priest runs out into the street in an effort to save the young boy huddled against the door. But the firing is at once directed upon the priest, and he is forced to disappear and give up his effort.
Across the way the guard on the motor of the smashed car has ceased to move. His hand has fallen down from his throat and lies limp and nerveless against one of the shattered headlights. But the other guard still writhes on the sidewalk, still calls out in accents that make my eyes smart with tears of pity: ‘I am dying! I am dying! For the love of God, open a door!’
Then cautiously, little by little, almost as though it were not really happening at all, the door of the little bread shop on the corner swings ajar. Miraculously, unscathed in a hail of bullets, the baker and his wife slip through the opening and in a low gliding crawl reach the wounded guard. Between them they lift him up and half drag, half carry him into the bakery. The door, pierced with bullets, swings to again behind them.
Where the guard has lain a puddle of blood darkens the sidewalk. Near it lies a magnificent pistol, out of its holster, gleaming and abandoned on the sidewalk, where it has slipped from the relaxed fingers of the dying guard. A boy of sixteen or seventeen slips out from nowhere and runs toward the pistol to seize it for his own. He is assailed by a volley of shot, and falls face down within a few feet of the pistol. He does not move again.
The screams are fewer now. Even our fingers plunged into our ears have not been able to shut them out.
At last an ambulance arrives. Two men in the uniform of the Red Cross, carrying a stretcher, dismount. They make several trips, up and down the street, putting body after body into the tiny ambulance. We hear one of them say: ‘No, not that one. He’s dead. Leave him for later.’
Lastly they go into the bakery and come out carrying the wounded guard. He is silent now, and lies beneath a blanket on the stretcher. The blanket is already drenched with blood. The Red Cross men push him hastily into the ambulance, climb up into the driver’s seat, and drive away.
The firing continues. We no longer approach the windows, but we know that many men are being killed in the street below. We can hear the voices: ‘ Hands up! ’ ‘ Open fire! ’ We hear the staccato reports of the machine guns in the tower of the church, and the riposte of rifles and revolvers from the streets. Then there are groans, and silence — and more shots and groans and silence. More and more frequently the sirens of the ambulances sound, and there is a little lull while the dying are gathered up and taken away. Then shots, and cries, and shots again. The afternoon wears on, interminable.
6.30 P. M. — Between 4.30 and 6 P. M. we have had a period of comparative calm. There is no more firing from the church. On a roof somewhere near our own (possibly it is our own) we hear at irregular intervals the sharp report of a pistol. Always this is answered by a round of firing from the street. Then the pistol is silent, to begin again, fifteen or twenty minutes later, mocking, reiterant, teasing the rifles of the guards below.
We have made several trips downstairs to listen to the radio of Señor Bartoli or of the portero. Around every radio in the house there is a constant group of excited people. The announcements are few and very sketchy. We know now that the military have uprisen all over Spain, but the trend of the battle is still unascertained. There is almost no information, but it is obvious that things are serious indeed. They announce that all pharmacies will remain open night and day, to care for the wounded. There has been an appeal for volunteers for blood transfusions.
Several of the occupants of the apartment house have come up to use our telephone. They call friends here and there, in different parts of the city. Most of the numbers called do not respond; the wires are down. But occasionally a call gets through. They say that the Plaza Cataluña is almost completely destroyed. The Hotel Colon is the headquarters of the insurgents, who have also taken over the building of the Telephone Company. But in Calle Muntaner, on the other hand, nothing has happened. They can hear the firing from other parts of the city, but that is all. They are beginning to burn the churches and the convents. At night, they say, we shall see the fires.
Everyone is nervous, excited. But there is nothing to do. Even hysteria is dying down. The electricity and water are still functioning, although the gas is bad — it takes over an hour to heat a tiny pot of water on the stove. It will go out altogether soon, we suppose.
7 P. M. — During the last hour’s lull in the firing, several people have appeared in the streets. Men, for the most part, walking slowly with an apprehensive eye directed to the closed windows about them, to the street intersections, and to the convent on the corner above. A few of the street doors have been opened, and the shopkeepers and occupants of the houses stand hesitantly on the thresholds, grateful for a breath of air. They all hold an unfolded white handkerchief in one hand, as a sign of innocent intentions.
At half-past six we go out on to the terrace. But things are not yet really calm. A man who has stooped down to gather bullets from the street is stopped by a sharp cry of ‘Hands up! Get back there! ’ His hands raised above his head, he darts back to the protection of an open door. There is no shot; but he does not venture out again.
A moment later four young people come slowly down Calle Lauria in the direction of the church. One is a young man who carries a fluttering white handkerchief in his hand. Three girls walk beside him, their hands loosely linked together. As they reach the corner a voice from somewhere cries, ‘Hands up!’ Startled, the three hesitate, then put up their arms and turn to seek safety. In the moment of their turning a series of shots is emptied into their group. One of the girls (she is dressed in white and wears the Red Cross on her sleeve) falls screaming to the ground. Immediately the street is filled with firing again. Doors bang shut and, as by magic, people disappear from view. The young man with the handkerchief has seized one of the girls by the waist and is edging down into Calle Provenza with her, bit by bit, taking shelter in one arched doorway after another.
But the girl in white lies where she was shot down in the street. We have run back into the house and shut the windows at the first sound of renewed firing, but we can see her through the slats of the shutters. The shoulder and the skirt of her dress are stained with blood. One of her friends has stayed with her and stoops now, crouched above her, in the middle of a rain of bullets, sheltering the stricken body in her arms. The firing continues and the friend, panic-stricken, drags her painfully along the sidewalk, seeking safety.
Three young men emerge suddenly into the street, bend and pick up the wounded girl, and carry her to a door which is quickly opened to let them in and closed behind them. They pass unscathed through the firing, but twenty minutes later, when they slip out again into the street, the guns are waiting for them. Two fall in front of the very doorway, one dead, one wounded. Even acts of rescue are not tolerated to-day in Spain.
It is getting too dark to see the streets now. A few moments ago four old people passed, terrorized spectres in black, carrying bundles and bags, evidently trying to escape from the harassed city. As they passed out of sight beneath our windows they were fired on, too. We did not see them fall. Perhaps they escaped unhurt. We try to believe that.
10 p. M. — We have just been up on the roof. Eight or nine of us, with the portero, unlocked the door and stole up in the darkness to look out on Barcelona by night. The firing has almost died down again, but there are scattered shots from time to time, and if we were seen on the roof we should be fired at.
The night air is very cold, and we shiver a little, partly through chill and partly through nervousness. Here and there, among the darkened buildings of the city, rises a column of white, heavy smoke. They are burning the churches. Off to the right, and elevated on a little hill, one church stands up like liquid gold against the night. It must be honeycombed with fire inside, but the walls rise up translucent and golden with the flames, each tiny pinnacle and turret bright against the sky.
Midnight. — We went to bed at eleven-thirty, undressing without lights and moving silently. Shortly afterward we heard the changing of the guard beneath our window. They talked a long time in the street, giving and receiving advice. Then the old guard went away. Almost immediately there was a volley of furious shooting, and for half an hour the street was loud again with shots and cries. The street lights were shot out almost at once. When there was no more shooting there were the groans of the wounded, and through the shutters we could distinguish several bodies lying motionless or writhing in the streets. Presently the whistles of the ambulances began, and after a while all was quiet once more. We shall go back to bed and try to sleep.
Monday, July 20, 9 A. M. — We are awakened at eight o’clock by firing again. The shooting is sharp and violent, but stops in half an hour, and there is another period of calm.
Salvador knocks at our door to tell us to open the shutters and the windows. They have announced over the radio that all windows must be open. Closed shutters will be instantly fired at. We open the windows, swinging back and fastening the heavy shutters.
We can still hear shooting in distant parts of Barcelona, but our own quarter seems to have quieted down.
12.30 P. M.—The early morning quiet was the lull before the storm. Between nine and eleven we experienced the heaviest firing we have yet undergone. It began from the church tower of the Carmelites, where the insurgents are still strong. They have trained machine guns on the street below, and command Calle Lauria, Calle Rosellon, and the Diagonal.
There is an answering fire in every direction — from the streets, from the houses, from the roofs. The airplanes are out again, flying high and circling down above the church tower, machinegunning the buildings and the streets. The fire is incessant. The forces in the church have been increased somehow during the night, and certainly they have more arms and ammunition.
But at eleven o’clock the firing stops. There is a great assemblage of Civil and Assault Guards in the street beside the church. In Calle Bruch the mob has brought up a cannon and trained it against the tower of the church. If the insurgents have no more ammunition, they must surrender now. Presently, in the top of the Campanile, the white flag is run up. Instantly the streets are filled with cheering mobs. The police are powerless to hold them back; they surge against the church, shaking their fists, dancing with rage. Many carry lighted torches.
There is a consultation of the guards. Finally a group of Assault Guards enter the church. In twenty minutes they come out again. Evidently the insurgents refuse to give themselves over to the Assault Guards, because their places in the church are taken by a group of Civil Guards, who in their turn are gone for ten or fifteen minutes. Meanwhile the mob of civilians in the street increases. There must be two or three thousand now, pressed close against the walls of the church, menacing and angry. Let the insurgents come out!
The Assault Guards have retired to a distance, and the Civil Guards are too few to restrain the mob. They succeed at last in clearing a little open space before the church doors.
At eleven-thirty they begin taking out the wounded and the dead. The ambulances of the Red Cross have stopped several blocks away, unable to pass the civilian mob, and the stretcher bearers approach the church slowly, on foot, preceded by a uniformed officer with the Red Cross flag.
The first body brought out from the church is that of a dead officer. He is covered with a blanket, and we cannot see his face as he is carried under our windows, but his rigid, stiffly shaken arms stick out from beneath the blanket, and we see the gilt stripes on the sleeve. The mob hails the corpse with applause. The stretcher bearers pass slowly to the distant ambulance, deposit their burden inside, and return to the church for the next body. One after another they bring them out, the wounded and the dead. There is always applause for the dead, and blasphemy and shouts against those officers who are only wounded.
One by one they carry them beneath our windows. One man is delirious, and writhes back and forth on the stretcher, trying to get down, to fight again. There are not enough stretchers, and they are bringing the wounded out now in chairs, or carrying them pickaback on their shoulders. The stretchers are spotted with blood, and the white blankets used to cover them are stained with red.
They bring out a dead priest, and the mob shouts and dances in the streets; for the priests have sheltered the insurgents in the church. Against the common soldiers the mob bears no malice; they are released at once and even aided to their homes — they were forced to fight, and only acted under orders. But against the priests and officers the hatred of the people is implacable.
They spit on the dead officers, and snatch the stretchers from under the wounded. One stretcher, tossed aside to a corner of the street, is seized by five or six civilians in turn, flung viciously into the air, stamped upon, and finally smashed to kindling wood.
At last they bring out a wounded captain. The Civil Guards cannot hold back the mob. They press upon him, men and women, beating at him with their fists, flinging stones. It is useless to attempt to carry him as far as the ambulances. Instead, the stretcher bearers rush him into the corner pharmacy. The people assail the doors. They will break their way in to kill him if they can. The pharmacist, in his white apron, stands against the closed doorway. ‘You cannot kill a wounded man,’ he insists, again and again. There is the crash of shattered glass, cries and shouts, and the steady, pleading iteration of the pharmacist. ‘This is a dying man!‘ he cries. ‘ You cannot kill a dying man. Let him be!’ At last the guards disperse the crowd.
Suddenly, miraculously, the mob is armed. Not a man who is not flourishing a pistol or a gun, or even a sharp kitchen knife. The guards are powerless to restrain the people now. They are setting fire to the church, shattering the windows with incendiary bombs, and flinging lighted torches into the dark interior. A slender column of black smoke begins to rise, wavering, uncertain, from beside the tower. Next door to the Carmelites is a garage, and the people are bringing out the cars now, rolling them into the street. Those who can, climb inside them, appropriating them for their own. Twenty or more have now been brought into the street; some of them are being used to carry home the wounded soldiers.
The church is burning well now. The black smoke billows up in larger and larger clouds. Someone has pulled down the white flag in the tower and hoisted in its stead the red flag. The smoke and flames lick up toward it. But the mob does not withdraw. The people are waiting for something. All the soldiers and the officers have been taken out. But the mob is waiting — because the priests remain. They must still be in the church. The mob is waiting for the fire to drive them out.
The first one escapes. He emerges suddenly, running, from an unattended side door, and is helped into a car which speeds instantly away. He has been wounded in the head, and his entire face is covered with a gleaming liquid mask of scarlet blood.
And now the other priests come out, one by one. They are dressed in ordinary shirts and trousers, and keep their hands held high above their heads, asking for mercy. The first ones are protected by the Civil Guards and disappear into side streets. Although the mob is restive and murmurs against them, it lets them pass.
But now the humor changes. The Civil Guards are pushed aside, and the mob takes control. A machine gun is placed opposite the church door, and as the priests come out they are shot down one by one against the wall.
Across a bench, in the Diagonal, lies the crumpled body of another priest — one of those the people had at first let pass.
They must be all out now. The mob has begun to disperse. Flames are crackling in high, singing ribbons around the tower of the church. The door opens once again and a Civil Guard comes out, holding up his hands to ward off attack on the priest beside him. This is an old priest, very fat, dressed in a yellow shirt, rolled up at the elbows, and black trousers. He walks close at the side of the guard, his head bent down. He is set upon and beaten with the stock end of a gun, but the guard begs the populace for mercy, and they let the priest go on. They direct him out into the wide stretch of the Diagonal, and make him set off down it, alone, under the arching branches of the trees.
The priest walks slowly, with a staggering, uncertain gait. He is on the point of collapse, but when he tries to lean against a wall to rest himself the people force him on. He staggers slowly down the Diagonal, his palms joined before his breast, praying. When he has covered perhaps a hundred paces they shoot him from behind, and he falls down. They let the body lie.
6 P. M. — Another day is nearly ended. The radio reports are more frequent now. Everything is calm again, they announce. The rebels have all surrendered. With the capture of the Carmelite Church the revolt in Barcelona is ended. The rumors that private cars may not circulate freely in the streets are absolutely false.
We cannot too well credit these reports. Certainly the firing has considerably diminished, but if we listen at all we can still hear it, now here, now there; in one part of Barcelona or another, always there is firing going on.
In the early afternoon Tino and I issued gingerly out of doors. We went to the grocery store next door to get a little tinned milk for the baby. Inside, an armed man was requisitioning food for the wounded. He was gaunt and haggard, with a two days’ growth of beard, and a ribbon of dried blood across his forehead. He rested his rifle on the counter and supervised Juanito, the grocery clerk, while he filled a basket with cheese, sausages, sardines, and bottles of red wine. There was, of course, no payment made, but the man was not unreasonable in his demands. When he had what he wanted he turned and went out, slinging the rifle carelessly across his shoulder.
In spite of the radio announcement, the only cars circulating in the streets are those of the FAI and the CNT. True, they are private cars, but in the hands of the populace now. They are all marked with big initials, indicating the group which is driving them, and from their windows guns and revolvers are pointed at the houses. Many of the guns have bits of red cloth tied about the barrel.
At three o’clock Salvador came to tell us it had been requested over the radio that all those loyal to the Republic should spread white sheets from their windows and balconies. Disloyal houses would be fired upon. I unfold three sheets against the terrace railing, fastening them with safety pins. All up and down the street the houses are being splotched with pieces of white cloth, flapping against the balconies and windows.
At five o’clock the cars of the FAI and CNT begin to pause before the houses, ordering the sheets to be taken in. They may conceal snipers. There are still many untraced pistol shots, and the roofs and balconies are all suspect. I hurry upstairs, unpin the sheets, and put them away.
We venture out once more, to the pharmacy. The pharmacist has not rested for more than thirty hours, and is groggy with sleep. He tells us that the captain menaced by the mob escaped at last, in civilian clothes, through a back door.
We go up once on to the roof. All Barcelona seems afire; from nearly every block a billowing column of smoke rises thickly. But we are forced to abandon our post on the roof. An airplane swoops low above us, and we dodge in just in time to escape a little hail of bullets spattering on the tiles.
We eat in the kitchen, rather than turn on the dining-room lights, which can be seen from the street. When we cross the front rooms we are careful not to show ourselves before the windows, and we reach the bedroom in a crouching glide across the floor, because there is still a sniper on one of the neighboring roofs (perhaps our own), and his irregular shots are always answered by rifle fire from the streets below.
Tuesday, July 21. — This has been a curious day. In Barcelona everything is apparently calm, although there was another sharp salvo of firing at eight this morning. But the sensation of fear and panic, dulled during the excitement of the first two days, is stronger now. We know now that what has taken place in Barcelona is also taking place all over Spain.
We have borrowed the radio from the apartment across the hall. Our neighbors are in the country for the summer, and Salvador let us have the key. Now we are in constant touch with the reports.
Hundreds of cars are in the streets to-day — all of them filled with soldiers or armed civilians, many of them heavily protected with mattresses, and all of them with rifles, revolvers, and machine guns menacing the people. Most of the drivers are evidently having their first experience in a car. They careen by at a terrific pace, rounding corners on two wheels, bumping over obstacles, applying screaming brakes. Some cars have ‘Doctor’ painted on them, others carry the Red Cross, still others say ‘Ambulance,’ ‘Police,’ or ‘Emergency.’
We go out to look at the smashed car across the way. It is riddled by more than thirty bullet holes,. and the interior is a mass of splintered fragments. The upholstery is torn to ribbons. On the pavement beside it the pool of blood has dried to a dull dark crust.
There is not a house that has escaped the guns. In many cases the windows are shattered as high up as the fifth floor, and the stone walls are seared and furrowed with the marks of the bullets. The ironwork of the entrance gates is bent and dented out of shape.
The few people passing in the streets are for the most part the workers, armed. There is no well-dressed person to be seen. The rich who venture out have dressed themselves in the clothes of their servants, but by their walk and bearing they are ridiculously obvious in their disguise.
We attempt to get through to Calle Claris, the next street, where they say a cannon ball has ploughed through a bedroom wall. But halfway down the block we are stopped by a series of shots from the roofs above us. We plunge into the nearest doorway for shelter and wait there half an hour, along with a group of six or seven others, until the streets are calm again and we dare scurry home.
The radio continues to issue warnings and reports. We can get Madrid now, although the programme is constantly interrupted by static improvised by the rebels. It is difficult to hear clearly. A speech is often cut short by mocking cries of ‘Liar!’ ‘Trickster!’ ‘Liar!’
We are warned not to go up on to the roofs; not to believe the rebel radio reports from Seville; not to show ourselves in the windows.
There are repeated requests for volunteers for blood transfusions; for volunteer nurses; for volunteers to remove the stinking carcases of horses and mules from the streets.
Sheets and towels are being requisitioned from private houses for the hospitals. The grocery stores are asked to surrender to any armed man whatever food he asks.
The situation is in hand, the radio assures us again and again. The situation is calm, and completely in hand.
The rebel radio from Seville asks us not to believe the reports from Madrid and Barcelona. The insurgents are gaining, they tell us; do not believe Madrid and Barcelona.
Barcelona says that everything is calm.
And at five o’clock the air is rent again with the sound of firing, and we crouch beneath the open windows, listening to the battle which continues until dark. Then the noise of shooting slowly dies away.
The radio says that everything is calm.
Static tears the message to bits, and a mocking voice shrills out of the ether: ‘Liar! Liar!’
Wednesday, July 22, 9 P. M. — We were awakened last night at one o’clock by the noise of quarreling in the street below. There was no shooting and we edged at last to the window to look out. A company of Civil Guards were lined up against the wall of the little movie theatre in Calle Lauria, and a group of a dozen or more other guards were accusing them of treachery. It was difficult to catch the words. Evidently the lined-up company had been missing during the battle, and had now been found by the others and were being questioned as to their activities. The accusations were loud and vigorous.
‘Where have you been these three days? Why are you all so clean and well fed? Have you been in hiding?’
And the accused replying: ‘We are telling you the truth. We were surrounded. We could n’t stir. For three days we were surrounded by the insurgents. We could n’t fight.’
The accusation: ‘We order you to come at once to headquarters to be tried for treason.’
The accused: ‘We refuse to go. We are innocent. We were surrounded, we tell you. We refuse to go unless a higher officer commands.’
And one voice suddenly, breaking into an hysterical whimper: ‘For the love of the good God, believe us! We are innocent. You can’t kill us. We have been innocent.’
For two hours the quarrel went on: accusation and defense, defense and accusation; an informal tribunal beneath our windows, the voices resonant and sharp in the night. Occasionally the frightened, sobbing whimper: ‘I tell you we are innocent! For the love of God, don’t shoot us!’
At three o’clock a truck comes and takes the accused company away. We sleep again.
The radio reports to-day have been more frequent, but still unsatisfactory. There are constant interruptions and blottings-out of the words. We know that Saragossa is in the hands of the insurgents. The report that two regiments from there are marching on Barcelona is denied. But they say that six thousand men from Barcelona are setting out against Saragossa.
There is still no milk, no eggs, no butter. The grocery stores are open, but their stock has been sadly depleted. Big trucks with ‘Milk’ daubed on their sides pass through the streets from time to time, under armed escort, but they are going to the hospitals.
We go out for a few minutes to look at the Carmelite Church. The interior is completely burned out now, although the walls still stand. We pause for a moment in the gaping doorway and look in. The heat is intense. From the great vault of the dome, bits of twisted ironwork and writhen window frames hang down. The floor is thick with feathery ashes and bits of broken, blackened glass. On the high altar and in one of the little chapels flames are still alight, licking up into the gloom.
On the outer walls of the church someone has written with chalk: ‘Be careful. Danger of falling walls. There is still fire in the basement.’
All through the streets the smell of smoke is heavy and stifling. They say that every church in Barcelona is on fire. Occasionally there is a sharper, more pungent smell drifting with that of the smoke. In the Plaza Cataluña they are burning the bodies of the dead horses and the mules.
We have tried for three days to send a telegram. Our families in Italy and in America must be desperate. To-day for the first time it was possible to get the cable office. To-morrow, they say, perhaps to-morrow the service will be resumed. It is not possible to wire to-day.
All up and down the streets, according to the orders we have received, shutters and windows stand open. Here and there, on house doors, placards have been affixed. We read one or two of them. ‘The occupants of the fifth floor front are away for the summer. I cannot open the windows because I do not have the keys.’ ‘Third floor left is unoccupied. Do not fire.’
We do not stay long in the streets; they are too dangerous. This morning two of the speeding cars crashed on our corner and rolled over and over in a metallic locked embrace. One dead, four wounded, and the siren of the ambulance again.
This afternoon there were two more accidents on our corner. All over the city the same thing must be going on.
To-day for the first time we have had a newspaper. Only two sheets, poorly printed and almost without news. ‘Order has been restored,’ it says. ‘The insurgents have all surrendered and their general, Goded, is a prisoner.’ Follow partial lists of the identified dead and wounded. The percentage of women and children among them is amazingly high.
To-night they have begun radio announcements in all languages. The German, Italian, French, American, and British consulates are broadcasting. They reiterate that the situation is well in hand and that there is no cause for alarm. Every half hour or so there is a new announcement. ‘Attention.’ ‘Attenzione.’ ‘Achtung. Achtung.’ ‘To all British subjects in Spain.’ ‘Notice to all American citizens.’
11 p. M. — The radio messages are growing more alarming in character. British subjects are told that they may leave if they so desire. A British warship is anchored in the harbor to receive them.
Later still: ‘All British subjects who can do so are advised to leave Spain at once. Proceed on foot to the harbor, where His Majesty’s ship London is at anchor. Take with you only one suitcase, and food. Food!’
And later still: ‘All British subjects are urgently advised to leave at once. ’ There are evidently several boats in the harbor. The Italian Consulate announces that to-morrow a ship will arrive to take all foreigners, of whatsoever nationality, who wish to leave. The French have already been picked up by two ships. The British are assembling on His Majesty’s ship London. The American Consulate announces that arrangements are being made to take Americans on the Italian ship.
Only when the messages grow urgent do we think of leaving. It seems ridiculous to go. We have been so comfortable, so peaceful here. What of our apartment, our clothes, our possessions? Ridiculous to be scared out now, when everything is over. Only — if the warnings continue to be more and more urgent — everything cannot be over. There must be worse to come. Barcelona is in hand, it is true, but we know that Saragossa at least has fallen to the insurgents. If they should gain force to return and attack Barcelona . . .
I telephone the house of the American Consul. ‘Officially we can advise no one to leave. But if it is possible for you to do so, perhaps you had better go. Notify any Americans you know that the Italian ship will take them to-morrow.’
In the doorway of the house we talk with a man who has just come into the city from the outlying district of Bonanova. He says that the sacking and robbing of private homes there have begun. Within the city limits the police protection is still strong, but outside already there can be no guarantee of surety.
And everyone is armed. They have even opened the jails, released the prisoners, and given them guns.
As we are making ready to go to bed we notice through the open window a blinding light on the roof of an unfinished building down the street. We lean out to examine it. It is the new apartment house on Calle Lauria, in emergency use now as a hospital, and the light on the roof is the Red Cross illuminated — a warning for attacking planes.
We decide to leave.
I pack two suitcases. It does not take long. One for the baby and one for Tino and me. There is little enough that we can take: my jewelry, a change of underclothing, a dressing gown. How little one suitcase holds! We do not dare take more.
Thursday, July 23. — We have sent two telegrams to-day, one to Tino’s family in Italy, and one to mine in America. ‘All safe.’ We do not say that we are trying to leave. If by some chance we should not get away . . .
It is impossible to communicate by telephone with the American or the Italian Consulate. The lines are up now, but are always busy. We go down to the Italian Consulate ourselves. Outside there is a seething mob — terrified Germans, Italians, Americans, clustered anxiously about, waiting for information as to when they can sail. The civilian mob, heavily armed, moves back and forth before the doors, restless to attack this stronghold of the hated Fascism. Fifteen or twenty Assault Guards protect the Consulate. We pass slowly through the crowd, raising our arms constantly in the salute of the Anarchists — the clenched left fist. It is a gesture that everyone must learn these days. From every car that passes, the clenched fist is raised, and if the signal is not answered at once the car slows down, and guns and revolvers are pointed at the delinquent until he responds.
The Consulate can tell us nothing definite. The boat is expected late in the afternoon. There will be no provision for getting to the quay. Everyone must fend for himself. Take little or no luggage. Food will be provided. No charge for transportation will be made. All foreigners who wish to go will be taken, provided that their passports are in order.
But my passport is not in order. It expired on the tenth of July, and I had not yet troubled to renew it. There is no help now. We must go down to the Plaza Cataluña, to the American Consulate.
It is ordinarily not a long walk, but it takes us more than an hour to-day. We go very slowly, wary of the madly plunging cars along the streets, stopping when bidden to give the Anarchist salute. We keep close to the doorways of the houses, scurrying a little in the open, unprotected places. A stray shot may fill the streets with firing at any time, and we must be ready to dodge into the nearest doorway. It is a little like the old children’s game of ‘Going to Jerusalem.’
I am without a hat, and wearing a sleeveless cotton tennis dress. No woman in the whole city dares to go out with a hat on now. It is the symbol of wealth in Spain — the sign and stamp of the hated aristocracy.
The aspect of the streets is indescribable. Everywhere telephone and trolley wires are down, many of them marked with bits of red cloth to indicate their danger. The streets are strewn with the lopped-off branches of trees, and in some places the fallen leaves are heaped knee-high. Here and there we see an entire tree trunk blasted by the force of a bomb. Even an iron lamp post has been sliced in two so that the top half lies flat on the pavement.
There is not a house that does not bear the traces of the battle. The facades are seared and furrowed with the traces of projectiles, the lower windows riddled with bullet holes or smashed to bits by some grenade. Against some of the walls and on the ground we can see the black stains of dried blood that has not yet been washed away.
On our way we pass ten or fifteen churches and convents; there is one on nearly every corner in this part of Barcelona. All of them, without exception, are in ruins. The blackened walls rise up in fragile majesty, mere empty shells of crumbling stone. Through the gaping doorways we can look into the charred interiors, where marble and gilt tracery alike have tumbled into sooty trash. In many places smoke still eddies fitfully and little flames spring up and die along the window ledges.
The Ritz Hotel, scarred by the battle, bears a huge placard on one of its lower balconies: ‘Emergency Blood Hospital.’
Garbage is burning in the streets. There has, of course, been no collection of it for five days. Occasionally we get a sudden nauseating whiff of burnt hair and flesh — the horses and the mules again.
The American Consulate is on the other side of the Plaza Cataluña. As we start to cross the square a shot sounds from a near-by roof, and all the passers in the street stop short, frozen to immobility. A moment later there is another shot, from nearer by, and the frozen people dissolve into motion and dart into the doorways for cover.
When things seem calm we venture on, but not across the Plaza this time. We skirt through the back streets, coming out on the far side of the square, a block away from the Consulate. Directly above us towers the shattered wreck of the Telephone Building, the insurgents’ first captured stronghold. It seems impossible that solid stone could be so marked and scarred. Not one of the hundreds of small-paned high windows is entire. Our feet, as we walk, raise a little tinkling sound among the bits of fallen, shivered glass.
Across the Plaza we can see the Hotel Colon, another captured stronghold of the rebel forces. The great stone building has been reduced to a shambles. Before it heaps of fallen masonry and broken glass cumber the sidewalks. On the second floor the facade is pierced with a gigantic hole where a cannon ball plunged through wood and stone and iron.
We do not stay to look, but hurry on. In front of the Consulate the ‘AntiWar Week’ poster is pocked with bullets — a too obvious, too patent irony.
Inside the Consulate all is bustle and confusion. No one knows when the Italian boat is going to arrive — perhaps not to-day at all. We must get all such information direct from the Italian Consulate. As for my passport, it will be difficult to issue me a new one. I have not the necessary photographs. We finally manage to talk to the Consul. In emergency, he says, we can break the rules, and orders that the photograph be torn out of the old passport and pasted on the new one. I set about filling in the interminable printed forms for the United States Government: father’s full name; date of last departure from America. I have to struggle to recall the facts.
We wait in the Consulate two hours and a half. At last the passport is ready. We take it and go home, the slow, hesitating route through the tragic, silent streets, dodging carefully from doorway to doorway, raising clenched fists to every car and every gun that passes.
Ani is terrified when she learns that we are going. She keeps the baby with her all the afternoon, crying over her and moaning. What will become of her without us? Cannot we take her too?
We wish we could, but no Spaniard can leave the country. She will be safer when we are gone, we tell her. Hatred is already turning against the foreigners, especially the Italians — the Fascists. It will be better when we are away. We give her money, arrange to pay the rent for the next month, charge her to keep the house in order, close up the packed suitcases, and sit down to wait.
At three o’clock they announce that the Italian ship will not arrive until to-morrow. For the first time I feel sheer panic. Perhaps it has arrived and they will not let it enter the port. Perhaps there is no escape for us now!
The radio is calling on the workmen for volunteers to march against Saragossa. Arm yourselves, the radio insists, arm yourselves with what you can — guns, bombs, hatchets, knives. On to Saragossa! The first columns will leave at midnight from the Plaza Cataluña.
The radio is horrible now in its reiterated assurances that everything is calm, in its constant calls for volunteers, for blood transfusions, for nurses, for medicines. ‘Attention. Much attention. Cataluña is speaking to you. To all the cities and towns of Spain. Attention. Much attention.’ We shut it off at last. We cannot bear to hear it any more.
The afternoon drags on. We eat in darkness again, rather than risk showing lights at night. Our windows are already suspect, we have been told. The police think that the scattered firing from the roofs came from our house. A passing car shot at one of our swinging shutters this afternoon.
At ten o’clock the Red Cross on the roof of the emergency hospital down the street is illuminated. It stands out glaring, beseeching, in the night. We undress in the darkness and go to bed.
Friday, July 24. — The boat will leave this afternoon. We are ready. Our suitcases are packed, our passports stamped by the Italian Consulate. We have nothing to do now but wait.
We go out into the streets. In the Paseo de Gracia the second group of volunteers is forming to go on to Saragossa. We walk over to watch them. For nearly a mile down the long street the camions and heavy trucks are drawn up in single file. They are sheathed with mattresses and filled with the worker-soldiers. Even on the roofs of the cars the men are sitting, naked to the waist for the most part, handkerchiefs knotted around their heads to ward off the glare of the sun.
They sit in silence, their faces drawn and gaunt, with anxiety, their eyes glittering and restless. Those who have guns slide the barrels nervously back and forth between their fingers. Many have no guns, but wear a knife thrust through their belts, or a little axe suspended by a bit of cord.
There are thousands of them here in the trucks and camions, waiting, waiting. They are going to their death, of course; but perhaps they do not know it. It is heartbreaking to see them. No one apparently is in charge. No one has come to speak to them encouragingly, or give them food or water, or wish them well. All those who can fight and who are loyal are in the camions. Only the women and children, or the wealthy, the un-loyal, remain in Barcelona.
We try to talk to the men, but they are silent, suspicious, and will not answer. We ask them if they have tobacco. They look at us and laugh. Not for three days, one of them says. So you want tobacco?
We hasten to correct him. No, no. We have tobacco. If they want cigarettes, will one of them come with us? We will give him what we have.
There is a moment of hesitation, then one of the men swings himself down over the side of the truck. He puts his gun back inside, leaning against the seat.
‘Take it,’ a friend warns him. ‘It may be a trick.’
He shrugs his shoulders. ‘No,’ he says. ‘I don’t need my gun.’ And he sets out beside us, walking with an easy swinging stride.
At our apartment I go upstairs to get the cigarettes. Fifteen packages — all but two of those we have. He has asked for matches, too. I find four boxes and bring those. He takes the cigarettes and matches with the simple pride of the true Spaniard — this workingman who is going out to die for his Republic. ‘Thank you,’he says. ‘For me and my companions, thank you.’
He has a wife and four children, who do not know that he is leaving. But he has already put them into the background. His future lies now on the dusty road to Saragossa.
He has not eaten for two days, he says. He has no money to buy food. Tino offers him twenty-five pesetas, but he shakes his head. ‘We do not need money now,’ he says, ‘only cigarettes.’
‘What is your name?’ we ask him. ‘ Give us your name and your address. If— ’ But we do not finish the sentence.
He shakes his head. ‘My name is the name of every man,’ he says. ‘ I have no longer any name that is my own.’
We wish him good luck. He shakes hands with each of us in turn and then is gone, back to the waiting camion, walking with his easy swinging stride.
We walk back and forth again beside the line of trucks. We have still a few cigarettes in our pockets; we give them to the men. Apathetic, dazed, they take them from us without a word, light them immediately and begin to smoke. They have scarcely noticed us, and forget us before we are out of sight. They see only the dusty road that stretches before them to the plains of Saragossa.
We go back to the apartment.
They are beginning to sack and burn the private houses. On the hill of Tibidabo we can see smoke rising here and there. With the field glasses we distinguish factories and villas wreathed in smoke and flame. At three o’clock we start for the boat. Pepe, a friend of Tino’s, has come to help us with the bags. Ani comes too, carrying the baby. It will be difficult to reach the port on foot. Perhaps if we stop one of the cars . . . We signal several, but they disregard us, speeding on along the streets. For fifteen or twenty minutes we stand on the corner, uncertain, doubtful. It is dangerous to raise the hand to stop a car. The signal might be misinterpreted.
At last Salvador, the porter, summons one that draws to a grinding, screeching stop. It is a large green Mercedes, and FAI has been painted roughly on its sides and hood. Two young men are in the driver’s seat. Each of them levels his rifle at us and waits to hear what it is we want.
Salvador explains. We are foreigners, trying to get to the port. With the baby and the bags it is difficult on foot. Would the FAI take us in their car?
They shake their heads. They are in a hurry. But then they relent. ‘Get in,’ they say. ‘We’ll take you to the port.’ They get out and help us with the bags. Ani, still holding the baby, climbs into the back seat between Tino and me. Pepe sits in front with the men. Tino and I lean forward to protect the baby with our bodies. There may be shots. We set off, our guns pointing menacingly at the people in the street, our fists raised in the Anarchist salute.
At the port they stop the car and we get out. We offer them money, but they refuse. We give them cigarettes. They take them and thank us. We wish them luck, they thank us again, and they are gone.
We wait three hours to get through the customs. There are nearly two thousand of us, crowded into the stonefloored waiting room — Italians, Germans, Swiss, French, Czechoslovaks. I am, I think, the only American. At the last moment an American ship has come to the port. The British are already on the London, riding at anchor in the harbor. The customs inspection is thorough. They are looking for money being smuggled out of the country. But no one has money. We are all leaving as we are, with little more than the clothes on our backs. None of the women are wearing hats. I have not even brought one with me.
We must say good-bye to Ani now — only the foreigners may pass the door. She and Pepe are almost torn from us by the surging crowd. They wave at us once. Ani is crying. We do not see them again.
At last we pass out into the air once more, and the embarkation on the Principessa Maria begins. It is a horrible, chaotic jam. There is no order, no one to enforce order. Men elbow aside women and children in a wild plunge up the swinging stairway. Each one must carry his own baggage. There is no one to help. The stairway creaks and groans under the weight of the surging crowd. A woman faints, and her suitcase drops into the water below. Another woman, carrying two little children, lets one fall. Her screams pierce through the hubbub of the crowd. They save the child; it is only bruised. The press and crush on the stairs continue.
On the boat the women and men are at once separated from each other. I, carrying the baby, pass with the other women and children down stairway after stairway, into the lowest reaches of the ship. This is no passenger vessel, the Principessa Maria, but an army transport that for seven months has been carrying Italian soldiers to and from Ethiopia. There are no cabins and no beds, only row after row of bunks, in double tiers, — hundreds of them, all alike, touching each other on three sides, — bare wooden planks with a soiled mattress flung atop; no blankets.
The air is foul. No one can find a toilet, and women are relieving themselves wherever they can. I take the baby and make my way to the top deck.
An hour later I find Tino. How he has done it I don’t know, but he has persuaded the Italian Consul to give me a cabin — one of those belonging to the officers or special passengers. There are perhaps a dozen cabins, and thankfully we are ushered to our own.
After the stench and closeness of the crowded hold this is Paradise. There are two narrow bunks, one on top of the other, but clean, and even boasting sheets. We have a chair, and a washbasin with running water; and a porthole for air. I drop on the lower bunk with a sigh of thankfulness. I can imagine no finer luxury in life.
Saturday, July 25. — We have all the aspects of a shipload of immigrants. Here we are, nearly two thousand of us, of every country and class, every type and variety of the human species, huddled together in all-too-close proximity for the space of thirty-six hours, on a free boat trip between the ports of Barcelona and Genoa.
There is a young West Indian boy; a German countess with her two maids; two nuns, awkward and ill at ease in ill-fitting, ugly lay clothes; a very old Spanish priest who does not understand where he is going or why, and weeps silently from time to time, crouched shivering in a corner of the deck. There are children of every size, age, and disposition; men who have seen their stores and businesses destroyed in flames before their eyes; tired mothers who dare not sleep but must sit heavy-eyed and watchful on the decks, shepherding their children.
The ship’s hospital is built to accommodate forty beds if necessary. There are forty-seven people in it now, with one doctor to attend them. Mattresses are spread on the floor. Many of the refugees were brought to the boat in ambulances, from hospitals or clinics in Barcelona. One man is paralyzed from the waist down. Two women are expecting babies at any moment. Another baby has already been born, five hours after the ship set sail. There are several wounded, some seriously.
Three times a day the kitchens are prepared to serve us food. We stand in line for it, the women at one door, the men at another. For an hour and a half we stand in line, three times a day, to receive a dry meat sandwich, or a tin of sardines and a piece of bread. They try to serve the women in the tiny officers’ dining room, but it is not easy. For those who can brave the crush at the door there is even hot soup, macaroni, a slab of fresh-killed meat, and perhaps an orange. But the pushing and the shoving are unbearable. We are like a shipment of savages who know no courtesy, no least restraint. The stronger push the weaker out of line. But the sea is calm and the air cool and still. We are alive, and safe and together. To-morrow we shall be in Genoa. Tino and I go below to our cabin with the baby, and try to sleep.
Sunday, July 26. — We reached Genoa at eight o’clock this morning. As we entered the harbor a giant hydroplane circled low above us, dipping in salute after salute to the now-famous refugees.
The quays are crowded with those who have come to look at us. As we slide slowly to our mooring a tremendous cheer goes up from every throat: ’Viva l’Italia!‘ ‘ Viva il Duce! ’
The crowd on the quays surges nearer. They have brought newspapers for us to read, and they throw them down to us on the ship. Women toss carnations and dahlias to the women passengers, and bonbons to the children. The bitterness and resentment of yesterday have vanished. We are safe now, in another happier land, and there are few of the passengers whose eyes are not wet with emotion at this strange coming into harbor at the last.
Some of those on shore are awaiting friends and relatives on the boat. There are sobs and cries of recognition. But one tall, lean man stands on the pier crying out again and again: ‘Where is my wife? Did n’t she come with you? Annetta! Annetta! Where is my wife?’
A friend on the boat answers him at last. ‘I don’t know. She did n’t come with us. We don’t know where she is.’ Another, gentler voice suggests: ‘Perhaps she will come to-morrow. They say that they will send another boat to-morrow.’
Then the colloquy is drowned out in the great roar that rises from all throats once again, Italian and alien alike: ’Viva l’Italia!‘ Those on the ship join with those on shore, and, as the gangplank is slowIy lowered, the shout of thankfulness seems to rise and shiver into echoes against the sky.
‘ Viva l’Italia!‘
‘ Viva il Duce! ’
- The author, American-born, is married to an Italian and has resided for some years in Barcelona. — EDITOR↩