Joseph Kessel: War’s ultimate fratricide, killed for not killing
From The Medici Fountain (1950)
Translated by Herma Briffault
Richard drew near the lieutenant and spoke in a lower voice.
“Do you know what we’re hearing about mutinies on this sector?”
“One more reason for my program! No such thing will happen in my company. Besides, the Senegalese are not far off.”
“Bernan, for the last time, I ask you to give up the part you are playing.” Richard’s voice became suddenly very firm. “There are Senegalese troops in the nearby village. And your father will not come to your rescue.”
Etienne’s ashen and bearded face was momentarily convulsed with wild laughter.
“My father! Why, I loathe and detest him now! He’s the friend of all the parlor-generals who hung up those corpses of our buddies on the barbed wire. Don’t you worry, I’ll die without appealing to him. Die like the others. Can’t you see, Dalleau, that nothing matters to us now?”
Two truckloads of Senegalese sharpshooters had arrived in front of the house. They jumped down on the grass, guns at the ready, while some officers set up a battery of machine guns. The officer in command of the detachment was no older than Richard. He coolly saluted Béliard.
“At your orders!”
Béliard scratched his head, looked at Richard, then considered his pipe.
“No hurry, now,” he said. “Come into my office.”
Once there, he took his canteen from its hook on the wall and swallowed a big draught of red wine before speaking.
“I’ve bothered you for nothing, my man,” he muttered. “There was more smoke than fire, and we put it out all by ourselves.”
The face of the young officer cleared.
“We’ve shot quite a number these days,” he said in a low voice. “And among them, married men with families…”