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La forma de la espada (part 2)

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

"In that autumn of 1922 I had been holing up in the house of General Berkeley.  I had never laid eyes on the man; he was carrying out who knows what administrative job in Bengal.  The building was less than a century old and yet already decrepit and opaque, abounding in perplexing corridors and vain antechambers.  The museum and enormous library usurped the ground floor; controversial and incompatible books which in a way were the history of the nineteenth century; scimitars of Nishapur whose circular arcs seemed to capture the wind and war of battle.  We entered (I believe) through the lower level.  Moon, his mouth trembling and very dry, mumbled that the events of the evening were interesting.  I prepared a treatment for him and brought him a cup of tea.  I could determine that his 'wound' was superficial.  Soon enough he babbled confusedly:

"'Yet you took a sensible risk.  I told you not to worry.' (The habit of civil war impelled me to act as I acted.  Moreover, the incarceration of a single member of our allies would compromise our entire cause.)  

"The next day Moon had recovered his aplomb.  He accepted my offer of a cigarette and subjected me to a severe interrogation on the 'economic resources of our revolutionary party.'  His questions were very lucid; I told him (quite truthfully) that the situation was grave.  Profound gunfire rattled the South.  I told Moon that our comrades were waiting for us.  My overcoat and my revolver were in my room; when I returned I found Moon stretched out on the sofa with his eyes shut.  He conjectured that he probably had a fever, and  a doleful spasm in his shoulder cried out.

"It was then that I realized that his cowardice was irreparable.  I begged him clumsily to take care of himself and took my leave.  This man shamed me with fear as if it were I, not Vincent Moon, who was the coward.  When one man does something it is as if all men have done it.  For that reason it is not unjust to have a single disobedience in a garden contaminate the entire human race; nor for the same reason is it unjust that the crucifixion of a single Jew could be enough for its salvation.  Perhaps Schopenhauer was right: I am everyone else, every man is everyone else.  In a certain way, therefore, Shakespeare is the miserable John Vincent Moon.

"Nine days we spent in the general's enormous house.  I will say nothing of the agonies and victories of the war: my offer to you was in regard to the scar that so offends me.  These nine days in my memory form one single day, save for the penultimate day when our men broke into a barracks and we were able to avenge ourselves exactly for our sixteen comrades machine-gunned in Elphin.  I slipped out of the house around dawn, in the confusion of the morning light.  I returned at dusk.  My comrade was waiting for me on the first floor, as his wound did not allow him to descend the stairs.  I remember him with some book of strategy in his hand, E.N. Maude or Clausewitz.  'My weapon of choice is artillery,' he confessed to me one night.  He inquired as to our plans, which he would have loved to censure or reform.  So too would he denounce 'our deplorable economic base,' and foresee dogmatically and sombrely the ruinous end.  C'est une affaire flambée, he muttered.  He attempted, in other words, to magnify his intellectual arrogance as proof of his indifference to being a physical coward.  

"On the tenth day the city fell decisively into the power of the Black and Tans.  Tall, silent horsemen patrolled the streets; the wind was pockmarked with ashes and smoke; I saw a body flung aside on one corner, a less tenacious memory than that of the dummy on which soldiers forever practiced their marksmanship in the middle of the square ... I had left as the dawn's first rays burst into the sky and I returned before noon.  Moon was talking to someone in the library; his tone of voice led me to believe he was on the telephone.  Then I heard my name; then I heard that I would be returning at seven; then the order that I should be arrested as I crossed the garden.  My reasonable friend was so reasonably selling me out.  I heard him make some demands for personal security. 

"And here my story becomes confused and lost.  I know that I pursued the informer through the black hallways of a nightmare and vertiginously cascading stairways.  Moon knew the house very well, much better than I did.  Once or twice I lost him.  But I corralled him before the soldiers arrested me.  From the general's arsenal I pulled out a Spanish scimitar, the alfanje, and with this crescent of steel I carved in his face for all eternity a crescent of blood.  Borges, to you as a stranger I have made this confession.  Your contempt does not pain me greatly."

And here the narrator stopped.  I noticed that his hands were shaking.

"And Moon?" I asked.

"He charged the fee of Judas and fled to Brazil.  That night, in the square, he saw a dummy being shot by a bunch of drunks."

In vain I awaited the end of the story.  I told him he could continue.

Then a groan came over him, and with frail sweetness he showed me the curved whitish scar.

"You don't believe me?" he muttered.  "Don't you see that my very face bears the mark of my infamy?  I told the story in this way so you would listen until the end.  I have denounced the man who protected me: I am Vincent Moon.  So now, please, your disdain."         

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