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   Chapter 11 No.11

The Wisdom of Father Brown By G. K. Chesterton Characters: 8546

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


The eyes of the four women traveled to the lofty towers of the Frauenkirche. Its bells rang out a wild authoritative summons. Coincidentally the streets filled with women dressed uniformly in gray-big powerfully built women, sturdy products of the strong soil of Germany. They did not march, nor form in ranks, but stood silent, alert, shouldering rifles with fixed bayonets.

Involuntarily Gisela and her three lieutenants braced themselves against the pillars of the tower. An instant later the walls of the Maximilianeum rocked under the terrific impact of what sounded like a thousand explosions. The roar of parting walls, the shriek of shells and bombs bursting high in the air, the sharp short cry of shattered metal, the deep approaching voice of dynamite prolonging itself in echoes that seemed to reverberate among the distant Alps, shook the souls of even those inured to the murderous uproar of the battlefield.

Grotesquely combined with this terrific but majestic confusion of sound were the screams of innocent citizens hanging out of the windows, waving their arms, staring distraught at the sky, convinced, in so far as they could think at all, that a great enemy air fleet was bombarding Germany at last.

Masses of flame and smoke shot upward. The pale morning sky turned black, rent with darting crimson tongues and lit with prismatic stars. Other explosions followed in rapid succession, some coming down the light morning wind from a long distance. Blasts of heat swept audibly through the long galleries of the Maximilianeum.

"It is an inferno!" Marie von Erkel for the moment was almost hysterical. "Will Munich be destroyed? Oh, not that!"

"The fire brigades know their business." Gisela glanced up at the Marconi station. Even through the din she could hear the faint crackling of the wireless. "If all Germany-"

But her eyes were wild.... If the revolutionists in the rest of the empire had been as prompt and fearless as those of Bavaria, every munition and ammunition factory, every aerodrome and public hangar, save those taken possession of by powerfully armed squads of women, every arsenal, every warehouse for what gasoline and lubricating oils were left, every telegraph and telephone wire, every railway station near either frontier, with thousands of cars and miles of track had been destroyed simultaneously. The armies would be isolated, without arms or ammunition but what they had on hand or could manufacture in the invaded countries; no food but what they had in storage. They could not fight the enemy seven days longer; if the Enemy Allies heard immediately of the revolution through neutral channels and believed in it after so many false alarms, the finish of the German forces would come in two days.

But had the women of the other states been as prompt and ruthless as the women of Bavaria? Spandau, Essen, all the centers in the Rhine Valley for the manufacture of munitions on a grand scale ... the great Krupp factories ... unless they were in ruins the revolution was a failure....

She could not be everywhere at once. War and misery and starving children, the loss of the men and boys they loved, and a profound distrust of their rulers, had filled them with a cold and bitter hatred of an autocracy convicted of lying and aggressive purpose out of its own mouth; but would the iron in their souls carry them triumphantly past the final test? Women were women and Germans were not Russians. They had little fatalism in their make-up, and their brain cells were packed with the tradition of centuries of submission to man. True, their quiet revolt had begun long before the war, and this last year had wrought extraordinary changes, quickening their mental processes, forcing them to think and act for themselves; but their hearts might have turned to water during those last dispiriting hours before the dawn.

And how could it be possible that all traitors had been detected, exterminated, with millions in the secret? Troops might even now be in Prussia. Great Headquarters (Grosse Hauptquartier) were in Pless, and although the women of that city were not in the confidence of the revolutionaries, and it was to remain in ignorance as long as possible, the abrupt cessation of telephone and te

legraph communication would advise that group of alert brains that something was wrong. Moreover, even with interrupted communications they would soon learn of the blowing up of factories in other Silesian towns; no doubt hear them. It was true the railways and bridges between Pless and Berlin were-if they were!-destroyed, but there were always automobiles; enough for a small force.... And the police, the police of Berlin! They were still formidable in spite of the drain on men for the front. Mariette had written her grimly that she would "take care of 'the rats in the granary,'" meaning the police; but although Mariette was the most thorough and merciless person she knew, she doubted even her in this awful moment.

How could she have dreamed of accomplishing a universal revolution in a country possessing the most perfect secret service system in the world?... a country with eyes in the back of its head? True, the Socialists in her confidence had been noisy and bumptious of late in order to concentrate attention upon their sex, and at the same time careful to refrain from definite statements or overt acts.... It would never enter the stupid official head that German women could conceive, much less precipitate, a revolution; but there must be traitors, women who fundamentally were the slaves of men, weak spirits, spirits rotten with imperialism, militarism, but cunning in the art of dissimulation.... What an accursed fool and criminal she had been ... egotistical dreamer!... led on by the extraordinary power she had acquired over the women of her race....

For a moment she clung to the embrasure, so overwhelming was her impulse to hurl herself down into oblivion. In that dark and shrieking uproar she had the illusion that she was in hell, in hell with her miserable victims.

But although Gisela's long slumbering nerves had had their revenge last night, they had given up the fight when she had destroyed their only ally, and these last protesting vibrations were very brief. Her eyes fell on the ranks of women standing in the wide Maximilianstrasse,-a street a mile long and seventy-five feet across-undisturbed by the turmoil they had anticipated, calmly awaiting her orders. The obsession passed, and after a brief tribute of hatred to her imagination, which was, after all, one root of her power, she turned and glanced critically at her three companions. Marie, looking like a little gray gnome, was dancing about and waving her arms in ecstasy. Heloise, her long blonde hair hanging about her fine French face, was gazing out with rapt eyes and lips apart, as if every sense were drinking in the vision of a Germany delivered. Mimi was standing with her arms akimbo, nodding her head emphatically.

"Great work," she said as she met Gisela's stern eyes. "Better go up to the wireless."

They ran rapidly up to the roof and looked into the little room. The girl who sat there nodded but did not speak. Her face was gray and tense, but there was no evidence of despair. Gisela and Mimi stood motionless for what seemed to them a stifling hour, but at last the operator laid down the receiver.

"All," she said. "Every one."

"The Rhine Valley?"

The girl nodded, then rolled her jacket into a pillow, lay down before the door and immediately fell asleep. It had been a night of ghastly suspense. Another operator was already running up the stair to her relief.

"Fate!" cried Mimi. "The same fate that sank the Armada and drove Napoleon to Moscow. You had the vision-"

"I was the chosen instrument-" Gisela walked rapidly over to the biplane. A girl sat at the joy-stick looking as if carved out of wood. There was no more expression on her face than if she were sitting in the gallery at a rather dull play. Her lover and six brothers were dead in France. She had watched her little brother and her old grandmother die of malnutrition. Her sister was "officially pregnant" and under surveillance lest she kill herself. No more perfect machine was at the disposal of Gisela D?ring. Whether Germany were delivered or razed to the earth was all one to her, but she was more than willing, as a Bavarian with a traditional hatred of Prussia, to play her part in the downfall of a race that presumed to call itself German.

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