The White Morning by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
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 telegraph 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 Doering. 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.
Gisela stepped into the machine and it glided downward and skimmed lightly over the great length of the Maximilianstrasse.
The compact ranks, which had listened unmoved to the roar of dynamite and the detonations of bursting shells, raised their faces at the humming of the machine and broke into harsh abrupt cheering. Then they leaned their rifles against their powerful bodies and unfurled their flags and waved them in the faces of the half paralyzed people in the windows. It was a white flag with a curious device sketched in crimson: a hen in successive stages of evolution. The final phase was an eagle. The body was modeled after the Prussian emblem of might, but the face, grim, leering, vengeful, pitiless, was unmistakably that of a woman. However humor may be lacking in the rest of that grandiose Empire it was grafted into the Bavarians by Satan himself.
Gisela nodded. "The hens are eagles--all over Germany," she announced in her full carrying voice. "Word has come through from every quarter."
She flew down the Leopoldstrasse. It was packed with women from the Feldherrnhalle to the Siegesthor, cheering women, waving their flags, armed to the teeth. So was the great Park of the Residenz, the Hofgarten, where the guards were either bound or dead. It took her but a few moments to fly all over Munich. The narrow streets were deserted, save for the prostrate policemen bound suddenly from ambush; but in all the beautiful squares, with their pompous statues, and in all the wider streets, and out in the wide Theresien Field before the colossal figure of Bavaria, the women were gathered; relapsing into phlegmatic calm as soon as she had given her message and passed.
But it was by no means a scene of unbroken dignity and silence. Here and there groups of men in uniform lay dead, sword or pistol in hand. Once Gisela flew low and discharged her revolver into the shoulder of a big officer, half dressed and barely recovered from his wounds, who was keeping off half a dozen women with magnificent sword play. The women gave one another first aid, then lifted and pitched him into his house.
There was sniping, of course, from the windows, but the women made a concerted rush and disposed of the terrified offender as remorselessly as their own men had punished the desperate civilians of the lands they had invaded. They had heard their men brag for too many years about their admirable policy of Schrecklichkeit to forget the lesson in this fateful hour.
The most exciting scenes and the only ones in which any of the women were killed were in the vicinity of the garrison. These interior garrisons of the country had been one of the long debated problems. As no women entered them and as it was not safe to attempt the corruption of any of the men, there were but two alternatives: blow them up and sacrifice the men wholesale or meet them with a superior force as they rushed out to ascertain the nature of the explosions, and fight them in open battle. Gisela had finally decided to give them a chance for their lives, as she had no mind to shed any more blood than was unavoidable; and these men, being no longer in their prime, must be overcome eventually, no matter what their fury.
When she hovered over the Marztplatz in front of the garrison a few moments after the last of the explosions, and while fire was still raging in this military quarter of magazines, arsenals and laboratories, men and women were mixed in a hideous confusion, shooting and slashing indiscriminately. But there were thousands of women and only a few hundred men, all of whom at one time or another had been wounded. Finally the captain of this regiment of women ordered a swift retreat, and simultaneously three machine guns opened fire from innocent looking windows, but on the garrison building, not on the square. They ceased after one round, and the captain of the women gave such men as were alive and unwounded their choice between death and surrender. They chose the sensible alternative, were driven within, and placed under a heavy guard.
It was not safe to venture too close to the still exploding and blazing structures, but it was quite apparent that the work had been done thoroughly. The fire brigades were busy, and there was little danger of Munich, one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world, falling a victim to the revolution. Many lives had been sacrificed, no doubt. The women night-workers in the factories, fifteen minutes before the signal from the Frauenkirche, had pretended to strike, seized all the hand arms available and shot down the men who attempted to control them. The men in the secret had gone with them and were already about their business.
The officers in charge of the Class of 1920 were too few in number to make any resistance, too dazed to grasp a situation for which there was no precedent; they had surrendered to the Amazons grimly awaiting their decision. The poor boys in the Kadettenkorps had run home to their mothers, and, finding them in the streets, had either taken refuge in the cellars, or joined those formidable warriors in gray, promising obedience and yielding their arms.
Other aeroplanes were darting about the city. The greater number were driven by women, directing the fire brigades, but now and again a man, whose monoplane had been in his private shed, flew upward primed for battle. After a few parleys he retired to await events, one only shooting a woman, and crashing to earth riddled with avenging bullets.
Such air men as were in Munich were too callous to danger of all sorts, too accustomed to the horrors of the battlefield, to take this outpouring of women and mere civilians seriously; even in spite of the explosions, which, to be sure, denoted an appalling amount of destruction. Any attempt to sally forth on foot and ascertain the extent of the damage was met by bayonets and pistols in the hands of brigades of women whose like they had never seen in Germany. They inferred they were Russians, who had managed to cross the frontier with the infernal subtlety of their race. At all events they would be exterminated with no effort of men lacking authority to act.
Several of the women flew out into the country, but except where people were gathered about smoking ruins the land was at peace; there was no sign of a rally to the blue and white flag of Bavaria, no sign of an avenging army. In the course of the morning there were hundreds of these aviators darting about Bavaria, descending to tell the peasants or shop-keepers of the small towns that Germany was in revolution, the armies deprived of all support, and that the Republic had been proclaimed in Berlin. The Social Democrats had possession of the Reichstaggebaeude, and every official head still affixed to its shoulders was as helpless--a fuming prisoner in its own house--as if those arrogant brains had turned to porridge. Every royal and official residence throughout the Empire was surrounded by an army of women with fixed bayonets, and before noon every unsubmissive member of the old regime would be in either a fortress or the common prison.
This news Gisela heard at ten o'clock when she returned to the wireless station on the Maximilianeum. The Berlin news came from Mariette.
In Munich the old King had been returned to the Red Palace which he had occupied during the long years of his father's regency, and it too was surrounded by an alert but silent army. The other royal palaces were guarded in a similar manner, but the women had no intention of killing these kindly Wittelsbachs if it could be avoided. All they asked of them was to keep quiet, and keep quiet they did. After all, they had reigned a thousand years. Perhaps they were tired. Certainly they always looked bored to the verge of dissolution.
The Munich Socialists had taken possession of the Residenz in which to proclaim their victory and the new Republic, and by this time were crowding the Hofgarten and adjoining streets. They were unarmed and many of the women moved constantly among them, ready at a second's notice to dispose summarily of any man who even scowled his antagonism to the downfall of monarchy.
Six hundred women, according to the prearranged program, and under Gisela's direct supervision, were turning such outlying buildings as commanded the highways leading toward the frontiers into fortifications. They had little apprehension that their sons and fathers, their husbands and lovers, would fire on the women to whom they had brought home food from their rations these two years past, or that the General Staff would risk the demolition of the cities of Germany. But they took no chances, knowing that an attempt might be made to rush them. In that case they were determined to remember only that their husbands and sons, fathers and lovers, were bent upon their final subjection. Moreover, the term "brain storm" had long since found its way from the United States to Germany, and the women thought it singularly applicable to their former masters when in a state of baffled rage.