Silent Shadows

An excerpt from Andre Malraux's Man's Estate, set in 1926

At the end of the street were machine-guns, almost as grey as the puddles and a bright barrier of bayonets, carried by silent shadows. It was the picket which showed where the French Concession began. The taxi went no farther. Chen showed his faked passport, passing himself off as an electrician at work in the Concession. The official just glanced at it ('It certainly doesn't show what I've just done'), and let him pass. In front of him rose up the Avenue des Deux-Republiques, which marked the boundary of the Chinese town. Alone in the silence. Laden with all the noises of the largest town in China, waves of sound came rumbling up and died away, like vibrations coming from the depths of the earth, to lose themselves at the bottom of a well: the noises of men in arms, and the last fretful tossings of a multitude which has no wish to sleep. But men were far away; the world made no contact here. There was only the night, and Chen gave himself up to it instinctively, as if to a sudden offer of friendship. Murder was quite in keeping with that restless world of the night; a world in which men played no part, a timeless world. Would there ever be another dawn? Would those crumbling tiles ever see the light again, or all those passages in whose depths lanterns gave a glimpse of windowless walls, mazes of telegraph wires?

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