Part 6 out of 9
to understand. He borrowed some money and made a little more by private
tuition and took an attic in which he stored all that he could preserve
of his sister's furniture: her bed, her table, and her armchair. He made
it the sanctuary of her memory. He took refuge there whenever he was
depressed. His friends thought he was carrying on an intrigue. He would
stay there for hours dreaming of her with his face buried in his hands:
unhappily he had no portrait of her except a little photograph, taken when
she was a child, of the two of them together. He would talk to her and
weep ... Where was she? Ah! if she had been at the other end of the world,
wherever she might be and however inaccessible the spot,--with what great
joy and invincible ardor he would have rushed forth in search of her,
though a thousand sufferings lay in wait for him, though he had to go
barefoot, though he had to wander for hundreds of years, if only it might
be that every step would bring him nearer to her!... Yes, even though there
were only one chance in a thousand of his ever finding her ... But there
was nothing ... Nowhere to go ... No way of ever finding her again ... How
utterly lonely he was now! Now that she was no longer there to love and
counsel and console him, inexperienced and childish as he was, he was
flung into the waters of life, to sink or swim!... He who has once had the
happiness of perfect intimacy and boundless friendship with another human
being has known the divinest of all joys,--a joy that will make him
miserable for the remainder of his life....
_Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi del tempo felice nella miseria_....
For a weak and tender soul it is the greatest of misfortunes ever to have
known the greatest happiness.
But though it is sad indeed to lose the beloved at the beginning of life,
it is even more terrible later on when the springs of life are running dry.
Olivier was young: and, in spite of his inborn pessimism, in spite of his
misfortune, he had to live his life. As often seems to happen after the
loss of those dear to us, it was as though when Antoinette passed away she
had breathed part of her soul into her brother's life. And he believed it
was so. Though he had not such faith as hers, yet he did arrive at a vague
conviction that his sister was not dead, but lived on in him, as she had
promised. There is a Breton superstition that those who die young are not
dead, but stay and hover over the places where they lived until they have
fulfilled the normal span of their existence.--So Antoinette lived out her
life in Olivier.
He read through the papers he had found in her room. Unhappily she had
burned most of them. Besides, she was not the sort of woman to keep notes
and tallies of her inner life. She was too modest to uncloak her inmost
thoughts in morbid babbling indiscretion. She only kept a little notebook
which was almost unintelligible to anybody else--a bare record in which she
had written down without remark certain dates, and certain small events in
her daily life, which had given her joys and emotions, which she had no
need to write down in detail to keep alive. Almost all these dates were
connected with some event in Olivier's life. She had kept every letter
he had ever written to her, without exception.--Alas! He had not been so
careful: he had lost almost all the letters she had written to him. What
need had he of letters? He thought he would have his sister always with
him: that dear fount of tenderness seemed inexhaustible: he thought that he
would always be able to quench his thirst of lips and heart at it: he had
most prodigally squandered the love he had received, and now he was eager
to gather up the smallest drops.... What was his emotion when, as he
skimmed through one of Antoinette's books, he found these words written in
pencil on a scrap of paper:
"Olivier, my dear Olivier!..."
He almost swooned. He sobbed and kissed the invisible lips that so spoke
to him from the grave.--Thereafter he took down all her books and hunted
through them page by page to see if she had not left some other words of
him. He found the fragment of the letter to Christophe, and discovered the
unspoken romance which had sprung to life in her: so for the first time he
happed upon her emotional life, that he had never known in her and never
tried to know: he lived through the last passionate days, when, deserted
by himself, she had held out her arms to the unknown friend. She had
never told him that she had seen Christophe before. Certain words in her
letter revealed the fact that they had met in Germany. He understood that
Christophe had been kind to Antoinette, in circumstances the details of
which were unknown to him, and that Antoinette's feeling for the musician
dated from that day, though she had kept her secret to the end.
Christophe, whom he loved already for the beauty of his art, now became
unutterably dear to him. She had loved him: it seemed to Olivier that it
was she whom he loved in Christophe. He moved heaven and earth to meet him.
It was not an easy matter to trace him. After his rebuff Christophe had
been lost in the wilderness of Paris: he had shunned all society and no
one gave a thought to him.--After many months it chanced that Olivier met
Christophe in the street: he was pale and sunken from the illness from
which he had only just recovered. But Olivier had not the courage to stop
him. He followed him home at a distance. He wanted to write to him, but
could not screw himself up to it. What was there to say? Olivier was not
alone: Antoinette was with him: her love, her modesty had become a part of
him: the thought that his sister had loved Christophe made him as bashful
in Christophe's presence as though he had been Antoinette. And yet how he
longed to talk to him of her!--But he could not. Her secret was a seal upon
He tried to meet Christophe again. He went everywhere where he thought
Christophe might be. He was longing to shake hands with him. And when he
saw him he tried to hide so that Christophe should not see him.
* * * * *
At last Christophe saw him at the house of some mutual friends where they
both happened to be one evening. Olivier stood far away from him and said
nothing: but he watched him. And no doubt the spirit of Antoinette was
hovering near Olivier that night: for Christophe saw her in Olivier's eyes:
and it was her image, so suddenly evoked, that made him cross the room and
go towards the unknown messenger, who, like a young Hermes, brought him the
melancholy greeting of the blessed dead.
I have a friend!... Oh! The delight of having found a kindred soul to which
to cling in the midst of torment, a tender and sure refuge in which to
breathe again while the fluttering heart beats slower! No longer to be
alone, no longer never to unarm, no longer to stay on guard with straining,
burning eyes, until from sheer fatigue he should fall into the hands of his
enemies! To have a dear companion into whose hands all his life should be
delivered--the friend whose life was delivered into his! At last to taste
the sweetness of repose, to sleep while the friend watches, watch while the
friend sleeps. To know the joy of protecting a beloved creature who should
trust in him like a little child. To know the greater joy of absolute
surrender to that friend, to feel that he is in possession of all secrets,
and has power over life and death. Aging, worn out, weary of the burden of
life through so many years, to find new birth and fresh youth in the body
of the friend, through his eyes to see the world renewed, through his
senses to catch the fleeting loveliness of all things by the way, through
his heart to enjoy the splendor of living.... Even to suffer in his
suffering.... Ah! Even suffering is joy if it be shared!
I have a friend!... Away from me, near me, in me always. I have my friend,
and I am his. My friend loves me. I am my friend's, the friend of my
friend. Of our two souls love has fashioned one.
* * * * *
Christophe's first thought, when he awoke the day after the Roussins'
party, was for Olivier Jeannin. At once he felt an irresistible longing to
see him again. He got up and went out. It was not yet eight o'clock. It was
a heavy and rather oppressive morning. An April day before its time: stormy
clouds were hovering over Paris.
Olivier lived below the hill of Sainte-Genevieve, in a little street
near the _Jardin des Plantes_. The house stood in the narrowest part of
the street. The staircase led out of a dark yard, and was full of divers
unpleasant smells. The stairs wound steeply up and sloped down towards the
wall, which was disfigured with scribblings in pencil. On the third floor a
woman, with gray hair hanging down, and in petticoat-bodice, gaping at the
neck, opened the door when she heard footsteps on the stairs, and slammed
it to when she saw Christophe. There were several flats on each landing,
and through the ill-fitting doors Christophe could hear children romping
and squalling. The place was a swarming heap of dull base creatures, living
as it were on shelves, one above the other, in that low-storied house,
built round a narrow, evil-smelling yard. Christophe was disgusted, and
wondered what lusts and covetous desires could have drawn so many creatures
to this place, far from the fields, where at least there is air enough for
all, and what it could profit them in the end to be in the city of Paris,
where all their lives they were condemned to live in such a sepulcher.
He reached Olivier's landing. A knotted piece of string was his bell-pull.
Christophe tugged at it so mightily that at the noise several doors on the
staircase were half opened. Olivier came to the door. Christophe was struck
by the careful simplicity of his dress: and the neatness of it, which at
any other time would have been little to his liking, was in that place an
agreeable surprise: in such an atmosphere of foulness there was something
charming and healthy about it. And at once he felt just as he had done the
night before when he gazed into Olivier's clear, honest eyes. He held out
his hand: but Olivier was overcome with shyness, and murmured:
"You.... You here!"
Christophe was engrossed in catching at the lovable quality of the man as
it was revealed to him in that fleeting moment of embarrassment, and he
only smiled in answer. He moved forward and forced Olivier backward, and
entered the one room in which he both slept and worked. An iron bedstead
stood against the wall near the window; Christophe noticed the pillows
heaped up on the bolster. There were three chairs, a black-painted table, a
small piano, bookshelves and books, and that was all. The room was cramped,
low, ill-lighted: and yet there was in it a ray of the pure light that
shone in the eyes of its owner. Everything was clean and tidy, as though
a woman's hands had dealt with it: and a few roses in a vase brought
spring-time into the room, the walls of which were decorated with
photographs of old Florentine pictures.
"So.... You.... You have come to see me?" said Olivier warmly.
"Good Lord, I had to!" said Christophe. "You would never have come to me?"
"You think not?" replied Olivier.
"Yes, you are right. But it would not be for want of thinking of it."
"What would have stopped you?"
"Wanting to too much."
"That's a fine reason!"
"Yes. Don't laugh. I was afraid you would not want it as much as I."
"A lot that's worried me! I wanted to see you, and here I am. If it bores
you, I shall know at once."
"You will have to have good eyes."
They smiled at each other.
Olivier went on:
"I was an ass last night. I was afraid I might have offended you. My
shyness is absolutely a disease: I can't get a word out."
"I shouldn't worry about that. There are plenty of talkers in your country:
one is only too glad to meet a man who is silent occasionally, even though
it be only from shyness and in spite of himself."
Christophe laughed and chuckled over his own gibe.
"Then you have come to see me because I can be silent?"
"Yes. For your silence, the sort of silence that is yours. There are all
sorts: and I like yours, and that's all there is to say."
"But how could you sympathize with me? You hardly saw me."
"That's my affair. It doesn't take me long to make up my mind. When I see a
face that I like in the crowd, I know what to do: I go after it; I simply
have to know the owner of it."
"And don't you ever make mistakes when you go after them?"
"Perhaps you have made a mistake this time."
"We shall see."
"Ah! In that case I'm done! You terrify me. If I think you are watching me,
I shall lose what little wits I have."
With fond and eager curiosity Christophe watched the sensitive, mobile
face, which blushed and went pale by turns. Emotion showed fleeting across
it like the shadows of clouds on a lake.
"What a nervous youngster it is!" he thought. "He is like a woman."
He touched his knee.
"Come, come!" he said. "Do you think I should come to you with weapons
concealed about me? I have a horror of people who practise their psychology
on their friends. I only ask that we should both be open and sincere, and
frankly and without shame, and without being afraid of committing ourselves
finally to anything or of any sort of contradiction, be true to what we
feel. I ask only the right to love now, and next minute, if needs must, to
be out of love. There's loyalty and manliness in that, isn't there?"
Olivier gazed at him with serious eyes, and replied:
"No doubt. It is the more manly part, and you are strong enough. But I
don't think I am."
"I'm sure you are," said Christophe; "but in a different way. And then,
I've come just to help you to be strong, if you want to be so. For what I
have just said gives me leave to go on and say, with more frankness than I
should otherwise have had, that--without prejudice for to-morrow--I love
Olivier blushed hotly. He was struck dumb with embarrassment, and could not
Christophe glanced round the room.
"It's a poor place you live in. Haven't you another room?"
"Only a lumber-room."
"Ugh! I can't breathe. How do you manage to live here?"
"One does it somehow."
Christophe unbuttoned his waistcoat and took a long breath.
Olivier went and opened the window wide.
"You must be very unhappy in a town, M. Krafft. But there's no danger of
my suffering from too much vitality. I breathe so little that I can live
anywhere. And yet there are nights in summer when even I am hard put to it
to get through. I'm terrified when I see them coming. Then I stay sitting
up in bed, and I'm almost stifled."
Christophe looked at the heap of pillows on the bed, and from them to
Olivier's worn face: and he could see him struggling there in the darkness.
"Leave it," he said. "Why do you stay?"
Olivier shrugged his shoulders and replied carelessly:
"It doesn't matter where I live."
Heavy footsteps padded across the floor above them. In the room below a
shrill argument was toward. And always, without ceasing, the walls were
shaken by the rumbling of the buses in the street.
"And the house!" Christophe went on. "The house reeking of filth, the hot
dirtiness of it all, the shameful poverty--how can you bring yourself to
come back to it night after night? Don't you lose heart with it all? I
couldn't live in it for a moment. I'd rather sleep under an arch."
"Yes. I felt all that at first, and suffered. I was just as disgusted as
you are. When I went for walks as a boy, the mere sight of some of the
crowded dirty streets made me ill. They gave me all sorts of fantastic
horrors, which I dared not speak of. I used to think: 'If there were an
earthquake now, I should be dead, and stay here for ever and ever'; and
that seemed to me the most appalling thing that could happen. I never
thought that one day I should live in one of them of my own free-will, and
that in all probability I shall die there. And then it became easier to put
up with: it had to. It still revolts me: but I try not to think of it. When
I climb the stairs I close my eyes, and stop my ears, and hold my nose, and
shut off all my senses and withdraw utterly into myself. And then, over the
roof there, I can see the tops of the branches of an acacia. I sit here in
this corner so that I don't see anything else: and in the evening when the
wind rustles through them I fancy that I am far away from Paris: and the
mighty roar of a forest has never seemed so sweet to me as the gentle
murmuring of those few frail leaves at certain moments."
"Yes," said Christophe. "I've no doubt that you are always dreaming; but
it's all wrong to waste your fancy in such a struggle against the sordid
things of life, when you might be using it in the creation of other lives."
"Isn't it the common lot? Don't you yourself waste energy in anger and
"That's not the same thing. It's natural to me: what I was born for. Look
at my arms and hands! Fighting is the breath of life to me. But you haven't
any too much strength: that's obvious."
Olivier looked sadly down at his thin wrists, and said:
"Yes. I am weak: I always have been. But what can I do? One must live?"
"How do you make your living?"
"Everything--Latin, Greek, history. I coach for degrees. And I lecture on
Moral Philosophy at the Municipal School."
"Lecture on what?"
"What in thunder is that? Do they teach morality in French schools?"
"Is there enough in it to keep you talking for ten minutes?"
"I have to lecture for twelve hours a week."
"Do you teach them to do evil, then?"
"What do you mean?"
"There's no need for so much talk to find out what good is."
"Or to leave it undiscovered either."
"Good gracious, yes! Leave it undiscovered. There are worse ways of doing
good than knowing nothing about it. Good isn't a matter of knowledge: it's
a matter of action. It's only your neurasthenics who go haggling about
morality: and the first of all moral laws is not to be neurasthenic. Rotten
pedants! They are like cripples teaching people how to walk."
"But they don't do their talking for such as you. You _know_: but there are
so many who do not know!"
"Well, let them crawl like children until they learn how to walk by
themselves. But whether they go on two legs or on all fours, the first
thing, the only thing you can ask is that they should walk somehow."
He was prowling round and round and up and down the room, though less than
four strides took him across it. He stopped in front of the piano, opened
it, turned over the pages of some music, touched the keys, and said:
"Play me something."
"I!" he said. "What an idea!"
"Madame Roussin told me you were a good musician. Come: play me something."
"With you listening? Oh!" he said, "I should die."
The sincerity and simplicity with which he spoke made Christophe laugh:
Olivier, too, though rather bashfully.
"Well," said Christophe, "is that a reason for a Frenchman?"
Olivier still drew back.
"But why? Why do you want me to?"
"I'll tell you presently. Play!"
"Anything you like."
Olivier sat down at the piano with a sigh, and, obedient to the imperious
will of the friend who had sought him out, he began to play the beautiful
_Adagio in B Minor_ of Mozart. At first his fingers trembled so that he
could hardly make them press down the keys: but he regained courage little
by little: and, while he thought he was but repeating Mozart's utterance,
he unwittingly revealed his inmost heart. Music is an indiscreet confidant:
it betrays the most secret thoughts of its lovers to those who love it.
Through the godlike scheme of the _Adagio_ of Mozart Christophe could
perceive the invisible lines of the character, not of Mozart, but of his
new friend sitting there by the piano: the serene melancholy, the timid,
tender smile of the boy, so nervous, so pure, so full of love, so ready
to blush. But he had hardly reached the end of the air, the topmost point
where the melody of sorrowful love ascends and snaps, when a sudden
irrepressible feeling of shame and modesty overcame Olivier, so that he
could not go on: his fingers would not move, and his voice failed him. His
hands fell by his side, and he said:
"I can't play any more...."
Christophe was standing behind him, and he stooped and reached over him and
finished the broken melody: then he said:
"Now I know the music of your soul."
He held his hands, and stayed for a long time gazing into his face. At last
"How queer it is!... I have seen you before.... I know you so well, and I
have known you so long!..."
Olivier's lips trembled: he was on the point of speaking. But he said
Christophe went on gazing at him for a moment or two longer. Then he smiled
and said no more, and went away.
* * * * *
He went down the stairs with his heart filled with joy. He passed two ugly
children going up, one with bread, the other with a bottle of oil. He
pinched their cheeks jovially. He smiled at the scowling porter. When he
reached the street he walked along humming to himself until he came to the
Luxembourg. He lay down on a seat in the shade, and closed his eyes. The
air was still and heavy: there were only a few passers-by. Very faintly he
could hear the irregular trickling of the fountain, and every now and then
the scrunching of the gravel as footsteps passed him by. Christophe was
overcome with drowsiness, and he lay basking like a lizard in the sun: his
face had been out of the shadow of the trees for some time: but he could
not bring himself to stir. His thoughts wound about and about: he made
no attempt to hold and fix them: they were all steeped in the light of
happiness. The Luxembourg clock struck: he did not listen to it: but, a
moment later, he thought it must have been striking twelve. He jumped up
to realize that he had been lounging for a couple of hours, had missed an
appointment with Hecht, and wasted the whole morning. He laughed, and went
home whistling. He composed a _Rondo_ in canon on the cry of a peddler.
Even sad melodies now took on the charm of the gladness that was in him. As
he passed the laundry in his street, as usual, he glanced into the shop,
and saw the little red-haired girl, with her dull complexion flushed with
the heat, and she was ironing with her thin arms bare to the shoulder and
her bodice open at the neck: and, as usual, she ogled him brazenly: for the
first time he was not irritated by her eyes meeting his. He laughed once
more. When he reached his room he was free of all the obsessions from which
he had suffered. He flung his hat, coat, and vest in different directions,
and sat down to work with an all-conquering zest. He gathered together all
his scattered scraps of music, which were lying all over the room, but his
mind was not in his work: he only read the script with his eyes: and a few
minutes later he fell back into the happy somnolence that had been upon him
in the Luxembourg Gardens; his head buzzed, and he could not think. Twice
or thrice he became aware of his condition, and tried to shake it off: but
in vain. He swore light-heartedly, got up, and dipped his head in a basin
of cold water. That sobered him a little. He sat down at the table again,
sat in silence, and smiled dreamily. He was wondering:
"What is the difference between that and love?"
Instinctively he had begun to think in whispers, as though he were ashamed.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"There are not two ways of loving.... Or, rather, yes, there are two ways:
there is the way of those who love with every fiber of their being, and the
way of those who only give to love a part of their superfluous energy. God
keep me from such cowardice of heart!"
He stopped in his thought, from a sort of shame and dread of following it
any farther. He sat for a long time smiling at his inward dreams. His heart
sang through the silence:
_Du bist mein, und nun ist das Meine Meiner als jemals..._ ("Thou art mine,
and now I am mine, more mine than I have ever been....")
He took a sheet of paper, and with tranquil ease wrote down the song that
was in his heart.
* * * * *
They decided to take rooms together. Christophe wanted to take possession
at once without worrying about the waste of half a quarter. Olivier was
more prudent, though not less ardent in their friendship, and thought it
better to wait until their respective tenancies had expired. Christophe
could not understand such parsimony. Like many people who have no money, he
never worried about losing it. He imagined that Olivier was even worse off
than himself. One day when his friend's poverty had been brought home to
him he left him suddenly and returned a few hours later in triumph with a
few francs which he had squeezed in advance out of Hecht. Olivier blushed
and refused. Christophe was put out and made to throw them to an Italian
who was playing in the yard. Olivier withheld him. Christophe went away,
apparently offended, but really furious with his own clumsiness to which he
attributed Olivier's refusal. A letter from his friend brought balm to his
wounds. Olivier could write what he could not express by word of mouth:
he could tell of his happiness in knowing him and how touched he was by
Christophe's offer of assistance. Christophe replied with a crazy, wild
letter, rather like those which he wrote when he was fifteen to his friend
Otto: it was full of _Gemueth_ and blundering jokes: he made puns in French
and German, and even translated them into music.
At last they went into their rooms. In the Montparnasse quarter, near the
_Place Denfert_, on the fifth floor of an old house they had found a flat
of three rooms and a kitchen, all very small, and looking on to a tiny
garden inclosed by four high walls. From their windows they looked out over
the opposite wall, which was lower than the rest, on to one of those large
convent gardens which are still to be found in Paris, hidden and unknown.
Not a soul was to be seen in the deserted avenues. The old trees, taller
and more leafy than those in the Luxembourg Gardens, trembled in the
sunlight: troops of birds sang: in the early dawn the blackbirds fluted,
and then there came the riotously rhythmic chorus of the sparrows: and
in summer in the evening the rapturous cries of the swifts cleaving the
luminous air and skimming through the heavens. And at night, under the
moon, like bubbles of air mounting to the surface of a pond, there came
up the pearly notes of the toads. Almost they might have forgotten the
surrounding presence of Paris but that the old house was perpetually
shaken by the heavy vehicles rumbling by, as though the earth beneath were
shivering in a fever.
One of the rooms was larger and finer than the rest, and there was a
struggle between the friends as to who should not have it. They had to toss
for it: and Christophe, who had made the suggestion, contrived not to win
with a dexterity of which he found it hard to believe himself capable.
* * * * *
Then for the two of them there began a period of absolute happiness. Their
happiness lay not in any one thing, but in all things at once: their every
thought, their every act, were steeped in it, and it never left them for a
During this honeymoon of their friendship, the first days of deep and
silent rejoicing, known only to him "who in all the universe can call
one soul his own" ... _Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele sein nennt auf dem
Erdenrund_... they hardly spoke to each other, they dared hardly breathe a
word; it was enough for them to feel each other's nearness, to exchange a
look, a word in token that their thoughts, after long periods of silence,
still ran in the same channel. Without probing or inquiring, without
even looking at each other, yet unceasingly they watched each other.
Unconsciously the lover takes for model the soul of the beloved: so
great is his desire to give no hurt, to be in all things as the beloved,
that with mysterious and sudden intuition he marks the imp...erceptible
movements in the depths of his soul. One friend to another is
crystal-clear: they exchange entities. Their features are assimilated. Soul
imitates soul,--until that day comes when deep-moving force, the spirit of
the race, bursts his bonds and rends asunder the web of love in which he is
Christophe spoke in low tones, walked softly, tried hard to make no
noise in his room, which was next to that of the silent Olivier: he
was transfigured by his friendship: he had an expression of happiness,
confidence, youth, such as he had never worn before. He adored Olivier.
It would have been easy for the boy to abuse his power if he had not been
so timorous in feeling that it was a happiness undeserved: for he thought
himself much inferior to Christophe, who in his turn was no less humble.
This mutual humility, the product of their great love for each other,
was an added joy. It was a pure delight--even with the consciousness of
unworthiness--for each to feel that he filled so great a room in the heart
of his friend. Each to other they were tender and filled with gratitude.
Olivier had mixed his books with Christophe's: they made no distinction.
When he spoke of them he did not say "_my_ book," but "_our_ book." He kept
back only a few things from the common stock: those which had belonged to
his sister or were bound up with her memory. With the quick perception of
love Christophe was not slow to notice this: but he did not know the reason
of it. He had never dared to ask Olivier about his family: he only knew
that Olivier had lost his parents: and to the somewhat proud reserve of his
affection, which forbade his prying into his friend's secrets, there was
added a fear of calling to life in him the sorrows of the past. Though he
might long to do so, yet he was strangely timid and never dared to look
closely at the photographs on Olivier's desk, portraits of a lady and a
gentleman stiffly posed, and a little girl of twelve with a great spaniel
at her feet.
A few months after they had taken up their quarters Olivier caught cold and
had to stay in bed. Christophe, who had become quite motherly, nursed him
with fond anxiety: and the doctor, who, on examining Olivier, had found
a little inflammation at the top of the lungs, told Christophe to smear
the invalid's chest with tincture of iodine. As Christophe was gravely
acquitting himself of the task he saw a confirmation medal hanging from
Olivier's neck. He was familiar enough with Olivier to know that he was
even more emancipated in matters of religion than himself. He could not
refrain from showing his surprise. Olivier colored and said:
"It is a souvenir. My poor sister Antoinette was wearing it when she died."
Christophe trembled. The name of Antoinette struck him like a flash of
"Antoinette?" he said.
"My sister," said Olivier.
"Antoinette ... Antoinette Jeannin.... She was your sister?... But," he
said, as he looked at the photograph on the desk, "she was quite a child
when you lost her?"
Olivier smiled sadly.
"It is a photograph of her as a child," he said. "Alas! I have no other....
She was twenty-five when she left me."
"Ah!" said Christophe, who was greatly moved. "And she was in Germany, was
Christophe took Olivier's hands in his.
"I knew her," he said.
"Yes, I know," replied Olivier.
And he flung his arms round Christophe's neck.
"Poor girl! Poor girl!" said Christophe over and over again.
They were both in tears.
Christophe remembered then that Olivier was ill. He tried to calm him, and
made him keep his arms inside the bed, and tucked the clothes up round his
shoulders, and dried his eyes for him, and then sat down by the bedside and
looked long at him.
"You see," he said, "that is how I knew you. I recognized you at once, that
(It were hard to tell whether he was speaking of the present or the absent
"But," he went on a moment later, "you knew?... Why didn't you tell me?"
And through Olivier's eyes Antoinette replied:
"I could not tell you. You had to see it for yourself."
They said nothing for some time: then, in the silence of the night,
Olivier, lying still in bed, in a low voice told Christophe, who held
his hand, poor Antoinette's story:--but he did not tell him what he had
no right to tell; the secret that she had kept locked,--the secret that
perhaps Christophe knew already without needing to be told.
From, that time on the soul of Antoinette was ever near them. When they
were together she was with them. They had no need to think of her: every
thought they shared was shared with her too. Her love was the meeting-place
wherein their two hearts were united.
Often Olivier would conjure up the image of her: scraps of memory and brief
anecdotes. In their fleeting light they gave a glimpse of her shy, gracious
gestures, her grave, young smile, the pensive, wistful grace that was so
natural to her. Christophe would listen without a word and let the light of
the unseen friend pierce to his very soul. In obedience to the law of his
own nature, which everywhere and always drank in life more greedily than
any other, he would sometimes hear in Olivier's words depths of sound which
Olivier himself could not hear: and more than Olivier he would assimilate
the essence of the girl who was dead.
Instinctively he supplied her place in Olivier's life: and it was a
touching sight to see the awkward German hap unwittingly on certain of the
delicate attentions and little mothering ways of Antoinette. Sometimes
he could not tell whether it was Olivier that he loved in Antoinette or
Antoinette in Olivier. Sometimes on a tender impulse, without saying
anything, he would go and visit Antoinette's grave and lay flowers on it.
It was some time before Olivier had any idea of it. He did not discover it
until one day when he found fresh flowers on the grave: but he had some
difficulty in proving that it was Christophe who had laid them there. When
he tried bashfully to speak about it Christophe cut him short roughly and
abruptly. He did not want Olivier to know: and he stuck to it until one day
when they met in the cemetery at Ivry.
Olivier, on his part, used to write to Christophe's mother without letting
him know. He gave Louisa news of her son, and told her how fond he was
of him and how he admired him. Louisa would send Olivier awkward, humble
letters in which she thanked him profusely: she used always to write of her
son as though he were a little boy.
After a period of fond semi-silence--"a delicious time of peace and
enjoyment without knowing why,"--their tongues were loosed. They spent
hours in voyages of discovery, each in the other's soul.
They were very different, but they were both pure metal. They loved each
other because they were so different though so much the same.
Olivier was weak, delicate, incapable of fighting against difficulties.
When he came up against an obstacle he drew back, not from fear, but
something from timidity, and more from disgust with the brutal and coarse
means he would have to employ to overcome it. He earned his living by
giving classes, and writing art-books, shamefully underpaid, as usual, and
occasionally articles for reviews, in which he never had a free hand and
had to deal with subjects in which he was not greatly interested:--there
was no demand for the things that did interest him: he was never asked
for the sort of thing he could do best: he was a poet and was asked
for criticism: he knew something about music and he had to write about
painting: he knew quite well that he could only say mediocre things, which
was just what people liked, for there he could speak to mediocre minds in a
language which they could understand. He grew disgusted with it all and
refused to write. He had no pleasure except in writing for certain obscure
periodicals, which never paid anything, and, like so many other young men,
he devoted his talents to them because they left him a free hand. Only in
their pages could he publish what was worthy of publicity.
He was gentle, well-mannered, seemingly patient, though he was excessively
sensitive. A harsh word drew blood: injustice overwhelmed him: he suffered
both on his own account and for others. Certain crimes, committed ages ago,
still had the power to rend him as though he himself had been their victim.
He would go pale, and shudder, and be utterly miserable as he thought how
wretched he must have been who suffered them, and how many ages cut him off
from his sympathy. When any unjust deed was done before his eyes he would
be wild with indignation and tremble all over, and sometimes become quite
ill and lose his sleep. It was because he knew his weakness that he drew on
his mask of calmness: for when he was angry he knew that he went beyond all
limits and was apt to say unpardonable things. People were more resentful
with him than with Christophe, who was always violent, because it seemed
that in moments of anger Olivier, much more than Christophe, expressed
exactly what he thought: and that was true. He judged men and women without
Christophe's blind exaggeration, but lucidly and without his illusions. And
that is precisely what people do pardon the least readily. In such cases
he would say nothing and avoid discussion, knowing its futility. He had
suffered from this restraint. He had suffered more from his timidity, which
sometimes led him to betray his thoughts, or deprived him of the courage to
defend his thoughts conclusively, and even to apologize for them, as had
happened in the argument with Lucien Levy-Coeur about Christophe. He had
passed through many crises of despair before he had been able to strike
a compromise between himself and the rest of the world. In his youth and
budding manhood, when his nerves were not hopelessly out of order, he
lived in a perpetual alternation of periods of exaltation and periods of
depression which came and went with horrible suddenness. Just when he was
feeling most at his ease and even happy he was very certain that sorrow was
lying in wait for him. And suddenly it would lay him low without giving
any warning of its coming. And it was not enough for him to be unhappy: he
had to blame himself for his unhappiness, and hold an inquisition into his
every word and deed, and his honesty, and take the side of other people
against himself. His heart would throb in his bosom, he would struggle
miserably, and he would scarcely be able to breathe.--Since the death of
Antoinette, and perhaps thanks to her, thanks to the peace-giving light
that issues from the beloved dead, as the light of dawn brings refreshment
to the eyes and soul of those who are sick, Olivier had contrived, if
not to break away from these difficulties, at least to be resigned to
them and to master them. Very few had any idea of his inward struggles.
The humiliating secret was locked up in his breast, all the immoderate
excitement of a weak, tormented body, surveyed serenely by a free and keen
intelligence which could not master it, though it was never touched by
it,--"_the central peace which endures amid the endless agitation of the
Christophe marked it. This it was that he saw in Olivier's eyes. Olivier
had an intuitive perception of the souls of men, and a mind of a wide,
subtle curiosity that was open to everything, denied nothing, hated
nothing, and contemplated the world and things with generous sympathy: that
freshness of outlook, which is a priceless gift, granting the power to
taste with a heart that is always new the eternal renewal and re-birth. In
that inward universe, wherein he knew himself to be free, vast, sovereign,
he could forget his physical weakness and agony. There was even a certain
pleasure in watching from a great height, with ironic pity, that poor
suffering body which seemed always so near the point of death. So there was
no danger of his clinging to _his_ life, and only the more passionately did
he hug life itself. Olivier translated into the region of love and mind all
the forces which in action he had abdicated. He had not enough vital sap to
live by his own substance. He was as ivy: it was needful for him to cling.
He was never so rich as when he gave himself. His was a womanish soul with
its eternal need of loving and being loved. He was born for Christophe, and
Christophe for him. Such are the aristocratic and charming friends who are
the escorts of the great artists and seem to have come to flower in the
lives of their mighty souls: Beltraffio, the friend of Leonardo: Cavalliere
of Michael Angelo: the gentle Umbrians, the comrades of young Raphael: Aert
van Gelder, who remained faithful to Rembrandt in his poor old age. They
have not the greatness of the masters: but it is as though all the purity
and nobility of the masters in their friends were raised to a yet higher
spiritual power. They are the ideal companions for men of genius.
Their friendship was profitable to both of them. Love lends wings to the
soul. The presence of the beloved friend gives all its worth to life: a man
lives for his friend and for his sake defends his soul's integrity against
the wearing force of time.
Each enriched the other's nature. Olivier had serenity of mind and a sickly
body. Christophe had mighty strength and a stormy soul. They were in some
sort like a blind man and a cripple. Now that they were together they felt
sound and strong. Living in the shadow of Christophe Olivier recovered his
joy in the light: Christophe transmitted to him something of his abounding
vitality, his physical and moral robustness, which, even in sorrow, even in
injustice, even in hate, inclined to optimism. He took much more than he
gave, in obedience to the law of genius, which gives in vain, but in love
always takes more than it gives, _quia nominor leo_, because it is genius,
and genius half consists in the instinctive absorption of all that is great
in its surroundings and making it greater still. The vulgar saying has it
that riches go to the rich. Strength goes to the strong. Christophe fed on
Olivier's ideas: he impregnated himself with his intellectual calmness and
mental detachment, his lofty outlook, his silent understanding and mastery
of things. But when they were transplanted into him, the richer soil, the
virtues of his friend grew with a new and other energy.
They both marveled at the things they discovered in each other. There were
so many things to share! Each brought vast treasures of which till then he
had never been conscious: the moral treasure of his nation: Olivier the
wide culture and the psychological genius of France: Christophe the innate
music of Germany and his intuitive knowledge of nature.
Christophe could not understand how Olivier could be a Frenchman. His
friend was so little like all the Frenchmen he had met! Before he found
Olivier he had not been far from taking Lucien Levy-Coeur as the type of
the modern French mind, Levy-Coeur who was no more than the caricature of
it. And now through Olivier he saw that there might be in Paris minds just
as free, more free indeed than that of Lucien Levy-Coeur, men who remained
as pure and stoical as any in Europe. Christophe tried to prove to Olivier
that he and his sister could not be altogether French.
"My poor dear fellow," said Olivier, "what do you know of France?"
Christophe avowed the trouble he had taken to gain some knowledge of the
country: he drew up a list of all the Frenchmen he had met in the circle
of the Stevens and the Roussins: Jews, Belgians, Luxemburgers, Americans,
Russians, Levantines, and here and there a few authentic Frenchmen.
"Just what I was saying," replied Olivier. "You haven't seen a single
Frenchman. A group of debauchees, a few beasts of pleasure, who are not
even French, men-about-town, politicians, useless creatures, all the fuss
and flummery which passes over and above the life of the nation without
even touching it. You have only seen the swarms of wasps attracted by a
fine autumn and the rich meadows. You haven't noticed the busy hives, the
industrious city, the thirst for knowledge."
"I beg pardon," said Christophe, "I've come across your intellectual elite
"What? A few dozen men of letters? They're a fine lot! Nowadays when
science and action play so great a part literature has become superficial,
no more than the bed where the thought of the people sleeps. And in
literature you have only come across the theater, the theater of luxury,
an international kitchen where dishes are turned out for the wealthy
customers of the cosmopolitan hotels. The theaters of Paris? Do you think
a working-man even knows what is being done in them? Pasteur did not go
to them ten times in all his life! Like all foreigners you attach an
exaggerated importance to our novels, and our boulevard plays, and the
intrigues of our politicians.... If you like I will show you women who
never read novels, girls in Paris who have never been to the theater,
men who have never bothered their heads about politics,--yes, even among
our intellectuals. You have not come across either our men of science or
our poets. You have not discovered the solitary artists who languish in
silence, nor the burning flame of our revolutionaries. You have not seen
a single great believer, or a single great skeptic. As for the people, we
won't talk of them. Outside the poor woman who looked after you, what do
you know of them? Where have you had a chance of seeing them? How many
Parisians have you met who have lived higher than the second or third
floor? If you do not know these people, you do not know France. You
know nothing of the brave true hearts, the men and women living in poor
lodgings, in the garrets of Paris, in the dumb provinces, men' and women
who, through a dull, drab life, think grave thoughts, and live in daily
sacrifice,--the little Church, which has always existed in France--small in
numbers, great in spirit, almost unknown, having no outward or apparent
force of action, though it is the very force of France, that might which
endures in silence, while the so-called elite rots away and springs to life
again unceasingly.... You are amazed when you find a Frenchman who lives
not for the sake of happiness, happiness at all costs, but to accomplish or
to serve his faith? There are thousands of men like myself, men more worthy
than myself, more pious, more humble, men who to their dying day live
unfailingly to serve an ideal, a God, who vouchsafes them no reply. You
know nothing of the thrifty, methodical, industrious, tranquil middle-class
living with a quenchless dormant flame in their hearts--the people betrayed
and sacrificed who in old days defended 'my country' against the selfish
arrogance of the great, the blue-eyed ancient race of Vauban. You do not
know the people, you do not know the elite. Have you read a single one of
the books which are our faithful friends, the companions who support us in
our lives? Do you even know of the existence of our young reviews in which
such great faith and devotion are expressed? Have you any idea of the men
of moral might and worth who are as the sun to us, the sun whose voiceless
light strikes terror to the army of the hypocrites? They dare not make
a frontal attack: they bow before them, the better to betray them. The
hypocrite is a slave, and there is no slave but he has a master. You know
only the slaves: you know nothing of the masters.... You have watched our
struggles and they have seemed to you brutish and unmeaning because you
have not understood their aim. You see the shadow, the reflected light of
day: you have never seen the inward day, our age-old immemorial spirit.
Have you ever tried to perceive it? Have you ever heard of our heroic deeds
from the Crusades to the Commune? Have you ever seen and felt the tragedy
of the French spirit? Have you ever stood at the brink of the abyss of
Pascal? How dare you slander a people who for more than a thousand years
have been living in action and creation, a people that has graven the world
in its own image through Gothic art, and the seventeenth century, and the
Revolution,--a people that has twenty times passed through the ordeal of
fire, and plunged into it again, and twenty times has come to life again
and never yet has perished!...--You are all the same. All your countrymen
who come among us see only the parasites who suck our blood, literary,
political, and financial adventurers, with their minions and their
hangers-on and their harlots: and they judge France by these wretched
creatures who prey on her. Not one of you has any idea of the real France
living under oppression, or of the reserve of vitality in the French
provinces, or of the great mass of the people who go on working heedless of
the uproar and pother made by their masters of a day.... Yes: it is only
natural that you should know nothing of all this: I do not blame you: how
could you? Why, France is hardly at all known to the French. The best of
us are bound down and held captive to our native soil.... No one will ever
know all that we have suffered, we who have guarded as a sacred charge the
light in our hearts which we have received from the genius of our race, to
which we cling with all our might, desperately defending it against the
hostile winds that strive blusteringly to snuff it out;--we are alone and
in our nostrils stinks the pestilential atmosphere of these harpies who
have swarmed about our genius like a thick cloud of flies, whose hideous
grubs gnaw at our minds and defile our hearts:--we are betrayed by those
whose duty it is to defend us, our leaders, our idiotic and cowardly
critics, who fawn upon the enemy, to win pardon for being of our race:--we
are deserted by the people who give no thought to us and do not even know
of our existence.... By what means can we make ourselves known to them? We
cannot reach them.... Ah! that is the hardest thing of all! We know that
there are thousands of men in France who all think as we do, we know that
we speak in their name, and we cannot gain a hearing! Everything is in the
hands of the enemy: newspapers, reviews, theaters.... The Press scurries
away from ideas or admits them only as an instrument of pleasure or a party
weapon. The cliques and coteries will only suffer us to break through on
condition that we degrade ourselves. We are crushed by poverty and
overwork. The politicians, pursuing nothing but wealth, are only interested
in that section of the public which they can buy. The middle-class is
selfish and indifferent, and unmoved sees us perish. The people know
nothing of our existence: even those who are fighting the same fight like
us are cut off by silence and do not know that we exist, and we do not know
that they exist.... Ill-omened Paris! No doubt good also has come of it--by
gathering together all the forces of the French mind and genius. But the
evil it has done is at least equal to the good: and in a time like the
present the good quickly turns to evil. A pseudo-elite fastens on Paris
and blows the loud trumpet of publicity and the voices of all the rest of
France are drowned. More than that: France herself is deceived by it: she
is scared and silent and fearfully locks away her own ideas.... There was a
time when it hurt me dreadfully. But now, Christophe, I can bear it calmly.
I know and understand my own strength and the might of my people. We must
wait until the flood dies down. It cannot touch or change the bed-rock of
France. I will make you feel that bed-rock under the mud that is borne
onward by the flood. And even now, here and there, there are lofty peaks
appearing above the waters...."
Christophe discovered the mighty power of idealism which animated the
French poets, musicians, and men of science of his time. While the
temporary masters of the country with their coarse sensuality drowned the
voice of the French genius, it showed itself too aristocratic to vie with
the presumptuous shouts of the rabble and sang on with burning ardor in
its own praise and the praise of its God. It was as though in its desire
to escape the revolting uproar of the outer world it had withdrawn to the
farthest refuge in the innermost depths of its castle-keep.
The poets--that is, those only who were worthy of that splendid name, so
bandied by the Press and the Academies and doled out to divers windbags
greedy of money and flattery--the poets, despising impudent rhetoric
and that slavish realism which nibbles at the surface of things without
penetrating to reality, had intrenched themselves in the very center of
the soul, in a mystic vision into which was drawn the universe of form
and idea, like a torrent falling into a lake, there to take on the color
of the inward life. The very intensity of this idealism, which withdrew
into itself to recreate the universe, made it inaccessible to the mob.
Christophe himself did not understand it at first. The transition was
too abrupt after the market-place. It was as though he had passed from a
furious rush and scramble in the hot sunlight into silence and the night.
His ears buzzed. He could see nothing. At first, with his ardent love of
life, he was shocked by the contrast. Outside was the roaring of the
rushing streams of passion overturning France and stirring all humanity.
And at the first glance there was not a trace of it in this art of theirs.
Christophe asked Olivier:
"You have been lifted to the stars and hurled down to the depths of hell by
your Dreyfus affair. Where is the poet in whose soul the height and depth
of it were felt? Now, at this very moment, in the souls of your religious
men and women there is the mightiest struggle there has been for centuries
between the authority of the Church and the rights of conscience. Where is
the poet in whose soul this sacred agony is reflected? The working classes
are preparing for war, nations are dying, nations are springing to new
life, the Armenians are massacred, Asia, awaking from its sleep of a
thousand years, hurls down the Muscovite colossus, the keeper of the keys
of Europe: Turkey, like Adam, opens its eyes on the light of day: the air
is conquered by man: the old earth cracks under our feet and opens: it
devours a whole people.... All these prodigies, accomplished in twenty
years, enough to supply material for twenty _Iliads_: but where are they,
where shall their fiery traces be found in the books of your poets? Are
they of all men unable to see the poetry of the world?"
"Patience, my friend, patience!" replied Olivier. "Be silent, say nothing,
Slowly the creaking of the axle-tree of the world died away and the
rumbling over the stones of the heavy car of action was lost in the
distance. And there arose the divine song of silence....
_The hum of bees, and the perfume of the limes....
With his golden lips kissing the earth of the plains...
The soft sound of the rain and the scent of the roses._
There rang out the hammer and chisel of the poets carving the sides of a
_The fine majesty of simple things,_
solemn, joyous life,
_With its flutes of gold and flutes of ebony,_
religious joy, faith welling up like a fountain of souls
_For whom the very darkness is clear,..._
and great sweet sorrow, giving comfort and smiling,
_With her austere face from which there shines
A clearness beyond nature,..._
_Death serene with her great, soft eyes._
A symphony of harmonious and pure voices. Not one of them had the full
sonorousness of such national trumpets as were Corneille and Hugo: but how
much deeper and more subtle in expression was their music! The richest
music in Europe of to-day.
Olivier said to Christophe, who was silent:
"Do you understand now?"
Christophe in his turn bade him be silent. In spite of himself, and
although he preferred more manly music, yet he drank in the murmuring of
the woods and fountains of the soul which came whispering to his ears. Amid
the passing struggles of the nations they sang the eternal youth of the
_Sweet goodness of Beauty._
_Screaming with terror and yelping its complaint
Marched round and round a barren gloomy field,_
while millions of men and women wore themselves out in wrangling for the
bloody rags of liberty, the fountains and the woods sang on:
"Free!... Free!... _Sanctus, Sanctus...._"
And yet they slept not in any dream selfishly serene. In the choir of the
poets there were not wanting tragic voices: voices of pride, voices of
love, voices of agony.
A blind hurricane, mad, intoxicated
_With its own rough force or gentleness profound,_
tumultuous forces, the epic of the illusions of those who sing the wild
fever of the crowd, the conflicts of human gods, the breathless toilers,
_Faces inky black and golden peering through darkness and mist,
Muscular backs stretching, or suddenly crouching
Round mighty furnaces and gigantic anvils..._
forging the City of the Future.
In the flickering light and shadow falling on the glaciers of the mind
there was the heroic bitterness of those solitary souls which devour
themselves with desperate joy.
* * * * *
Many of the characteristics of these idealists seemed to the German more
German than French. But all of them had the love for the "fine speech of
France" and the sap of the myths of Greece ran through their poetry. Scenes
of France and daily life were by some hidden magic transformed in their
eyes into visions of Attica. It was as though antique souls had come to
life again in these twentieth-century Frenchmen, and longed to fling off
their modern garments to appear again in their lovely nakedness.
Their poetry as a whole gave out the perfume of a rich civilization that
has ripened through the ages, a perfume such as could not be found anywhere
else in Europe. It were impossible to forget it once it had been breathed.
It attracted foreign artists from every country in the world. They became
French poets, almost bigotedly French: and French classical art had no more
fervent disciples than these Anglo-Saxons and Flemings and Greeks.
Christophe, under Olivier's guidance, was impregnated with the pensive
beauty of the Muse of France, while in his heart he found the aristocratic
lady a little too intellectual for his liking, and preferred a pretty girl
of the people, simple, healthy, robust, who thinks and argues less, but is
more concerned with love.
* * * * *
The same _odor di bellezza_ arose from all French art, as the scent of ripe
strawberries and raspberries ascends from autumn woods warmed by the sun.
French music was like one of those little strawberry plants, hidden in
the grass, the scent of which sweetens all the air of the woods. At first
Christophe had passed it by without seeing it, for in his own country
he had been used to whole thickets of music, much fuller and bearing
more brilliant fruits. But now the delicate perfume made him turn: with
Olivier's help among the stones and brambles and dead leaves which usurped
the name of music, he discovered the subtle and ingenuous art of a handful
of musicians. Amid the marshy fields and the factory chimneys of democracy,
in the heart of the Plaine-Saint-Denis, in a little magic wood fauns were
dancing blithely. Christophe was amazed to hear the ironic and serene notes
of their flutes which were like nothing he had ever heard:
"_A little reed sufficed for me
To make the tall grass quiver,
And all the meadow,
The willows sweet.
And the singing stream also:
A little reed sufficed, for me
To make the forest sing._"
Beneath the careless grace and the seeming dilettantism of their little
piano pieces, and songs, and French chamber-music, which German art
never deigned to notice, while Christophe himself had hitherto failed to
see the poetic accomplishment of it all, he now began to see the fever
of renovation, and the uneasiness,--unknown on the other side of the
Rhine,--with which French musicians were seeking in the unfilled fields
of their art the germs from which the future might grow. While German
musicians sat stolidly in the encampments of their forebears, and
arrogantly claimed to stay the evolution of the world at the barrier of
their past victories, the world was moving onwards: and in the van the
French plunged onward to discovery: they explored the distant realms of
art, dead suns and suns lit up once more, and vanished Greece, and the Far
East, after its age-long slumber, once more opening its slanting eyes, full
of vasty dreams, upon the light of day. In the music of the West, run off
into channels by the genius of order and classic reason, they opened up the
sluices of the ancient fashions: into their Versailles pools they turned
all the waters of the universe: popular melodies and rhythms, exotic and
antique scales, new or old beats and intervals. Just as, before them, the
impressionist painters had opened up a new world to the eyes,--Christopher
Columbuses of light,--so the musicians were rushing on to the conquest of
the world of Sound; they pressed on into mysterious recesses of the world
of Hearing: they discovered new lands in that inward ocean. It was more
than probable that they would do nothing with their conquests. As usual the
French were the harbingers of the world.
Christophe admired the initiative of their music born of yesterday and
already marching in the van of art. What valiance there was in the elegant
tiny little creature! He found indulgence for the follies that he had
lately seen in her. Only those who attempt nothing never make mistakes.
But error struggling on towards the living truth is more fruitful and more
blessed than dead truth.
Whatever the results, the effort was amazing. Olivier showed Christophe the
work done in the last thirty-five years, and the amount of energy expended
in raising French music from the void in which it had slumbered before
1870: no symphonic school, no profound culture, no traditions, no masters,
no public: the whole reduced to poor Berlioz, who died of suffocation and
weariness. And now Christophe felt a great respect for those who had been
the laborers in the national revival: he had no desire now to jeer at their
esthetic narrowness or their lack of genius. They had created something
much greater than music: a musical people. Among all the great toilers who
had forged the new French music one man was especially dear to him: Cesar
Franck, who died without seeing the victory for which he had paved the way,
and yet, like old Schuetz, through the darkest years of French art, had
preserved intact the treasure of his faith and the genius of his race. It
was a moving thing to see: amid pleasure-seeking Paris, the angelic master,
the saint of music, in a life of poverty and work despised, preserving the
unimpeachable serenity of his patient soul, whose smile of resignation lit
up his music in which is such great goodness.
* * * * *
To Christophe, knowing nothing of the depths of the life of France, this
great artist, adhering to his faith in the midst of a country of atheists,
was a phenomenon, almost a miracle.
But Olivier would gently shrug his shoulders and ask if any other country
in Europe could show a painter so wholly steeped in the spirit of the Bible
as Francois Millet;--a man of science more filled with burning faith and
humility than the clear-sighted Pasteur, bowing down before the idea of the
infinite, and, when that idea possessed his mind, "in bitter agony"--as he
himself has said--"praying that his reason might be spared, so near it was
to toppling over into the sublime madness of Pascal." Their deep-rooted
Catholicism was no more a bar in the way of the heroic realism of the first
of these two men, than of the passionate reason of the other, who, sure of
foot and not deviating by one step, went his way through "the circles of
elementary nature, the great night of the infinitely little, the ultimate
abysses of creation, in which life is born." It was among the people of the
provinces, from which they sprang, that they had found this faith, which is
for ever brooding on the soil of France, while in vain do windy demagogues
struggle to deny it. Olivier knew well that faith: it had lived in his own
heart and mind.
He revealed to Christophe the magnificent movement towards a Catholic
revival, which had been going on for the last twenty-five years, the mighty
effort of the Christian idea in France to wed reason, liberty, and life:
the splendid priests who had the courage, as one of their number said, "to
have themselves baptized as men," and were claiming for Catholicism the
right to understand everything and to join in every honest idea: for "every
honest idea, even when it is mistaken, is sacred and divine": the thousands
of young Catholics banded by the generous vow to build a Christian
Republic, free, pure, in brotherhood, open to all men of good-will: and, in
spite of the odious attacks, the accusations of heresy, the treachery on
all sides, right and left,--(especially on the right),--which these great
Christians had to suffer, the intrepid little legion advancing towards the
rugged defile which leads to the future, serene of front, resigned to all
trials and tribulations, knowing that no enduring edifice can be built,
except it be welded together with tears and blood.
The same breath of living idealism and passionate liberalism brought new
life to the other religions in France. The vast slumbering bodies of
Protestantism and Judaism were thrilling with new life. All in generous
emulation had set themselves to create the religion of a free humanity
which should sacrifice neither its power for reason, nor its power for
This religious exaltation was not the privilege of the religious: it
was the very soul of the revolutionary movement. There it assumed a
tragic character. Till now Christophe had only seen the lowest form of
socialism,--that of the politicians who dangled in front of the eyes of
their famished constituents the coarse and childish dreams of Happiness,
or, to be frank, of universal Pleasure, which Science in the hands of
Power could, according to them, procure. Against such revolting optimism
Christophe saw the furious mystic reaction of the elite arise to lead the
Syndicates of the working-classes on to battle. It was a summons to "war,
which engenders the sublime," to heroic war "which alone can give the dying
worlds a goal, an aim, an ideal." These great Revolutionaries, spitting
out such "bourgeois, peddling, peace-mongering, English" socialism, set up
against it a tragic conception of the universe, "whose law is antagonism,"
since it lives by sacrifice, perpetual sacrifice, eternally renewed.--If
there was reason to doubt that the army, which these leaders urged on to
the assault upon the old world, could understand such warlike mysticism,
which applied both Kant and Nietzsche to violent action, nevertheless it
was a stirring sight to see the revolutionary aristocracy, whose blind
pessimism, and furious desire for heroic life, and exalted faith in war and
sacrifice, were like the militant religious ideal of some Teutonic Order or
the Japanese Samurai.
And yet they were all Frenchmen: they were of a French stock whose
characteristics have endured unchanged for centuries. Seeing with
Olivier's eyes Christophe marked them in the tribunes and proconsuls of
the Convention, in certain of the thinkers and men of action and French
reformers of the _Ancien Regime_. Calvinists, Jansenists, Jacobins,
Syndicalists, in all there was the same spirit of pessimistic idealism,
struggling against nature, without illusions and without loss of
courage:--the iron bands which uphold the nation.
Christophe drank in the breath of these mystic struggles, and he began to
understand the greatness of that fanaticism, into which France brought
uncompromising faith and honesty, such as were absolutely unknown to
other nations more familiar with _combinazioni_. Like all foreigners
it had pleased him at first to be flippant about the only too obvious
contradiction between the despotic temper of the French and the magic
formula which their Republic wrote up on the walls of their buildings. Now
for the first time he began to grasp the meaning of the bellicose Liberty
which they adored as the terrible sword of Reason. No: it was not for
them, as he had thought, mere sounding rhetoric and vague ideology. Among
a people for whom the demands of reason transcend all others the fight for
reason dominated every other. What did it matter whether the fight appeared
absurd to nations who called themselves practical? To eyes that see deeply
it is no less vain to fight for empire, or money, or the conquest of the
world: in a million years there will be nothing left of any of these
things. But if it is the fierceness of the fight that gives its worth to
life, and uplifts all the living forces to the point of sacrifice to a
superior Being, then there are few struggles that do more honor life than
the eternal battle waged in France for or against reason. And for those who
have tasted the bitter savor of it the much-vaunted apathetic tolerance
of the Anglo-Saxons is dull and unmanly. The Anglo-Saxons paid for it by
finding elsewhere an outlet for their energy. Their energy is not in their
tolerance, which is only great when, between factions, it becomes heroism.
In Europe of to-day it is most often indifference, want of faith, want of
vitality. The English, adapting a saying of Voltaire, are fain to boast
that "diversity of belief has produced more tolerance in England" than the
Revolution has done in France.--The reason is that there is more faith in
the France of the Revolution than in all the creeds of England.
* * * * *
From the circle of brass of militant idealism and the battles of
Reason,--like Virgil leading Dante, Olivier led Christophe by the hand to
the summit of the mountain where, silent and serene, dwelt the small band
of the elect of France who were really free.
Nowhere in the world are there men more free. They have the serenity of a
bird soaring in the still air. On such a height the air was so pure and
rarefied that Christophe could hardly breathe. There he met artists who
claimed the absolute and limitless liberty of dreams,--men of unbridled
subjectivity, like Flaubert, despising "the poor beasts who believe in
the reality of things":--thinkers, who, with supple and many-sided minds,
emulating the endless flow of moving things, went on "ceaselessly trickling
and flowing," staying nowhere, nowhere coming in contact with stubborn
earth or rock, and "depicted not the essence of life, but the _passage_,"
as Montaigne said, "the eternal passage, from day to day, from minute to
minute";--men of science who knew the emptiness and void of the universe,
wherein man has builded his idea, his God, his art, his science, and went
on creating the world and its laws, that vivid day's dream. They did not
demand of science either rest, or happiness, or even truth:--for they
doubted whether it were attainable: they loved it for itself, because it
was beautiful, because it alone was beautiful, and it alone was real.
On the topmost pinnacles of thought these men of science, passionately
Pyrrhonistic, indifferent to all suffering, all deceit, almost indifferent
to reality, listened, with closed eyes, to the silent music of souls,
the delicate and grand harmony of numbers and forms. These great
mathematicians, these free philosophers,--the most rigorous and positive
minds in the world,--had reached the uttermost limit of mystic ecstasy:
they created a void about themselves, they hung over the abyss, they were
drunk with its dizzy depths: into the boundless night with joy sublime they
flashed the lightnings of thought.
Christophe leaned forward and tried to look over as they did: and his head
swam. He who thought himself free because he had broken away from all laws
save those of his own conscience, now became fearfully conscious of how
little he was free compared with these Frenchmen who were emancipated from
every absolute law of mind, from every categorical imperative, from every
reason for living. Why, then, did they live?
"For the joy of being free," replied Olivier.
But Christophe, who was unsteadied by such liberty, thought regretfully of
the mighty spirit of discipline and German authoritarianism: and he said:
"Your joy is a snare, the dream of an opium-smoker. You make yourselves
drunk with liberty, and forget life. Absolute liberty means madness to the
mind, anarchy to the State ... Liberty! What man is free in this world?
What man in your Republic is free?--Only the knaves. You, the best of the
nation, are stilled. You can do nothing but dream. Soon you will not be
able even to dream."
"No matter!" said Olivier. "My poor dear Christophe, you cannot know the
delight of being free. It is worth while paying for it with so much danger,
and suffering, and even death. To be free, to feel that every mind about
you--yes, even the knave's--is free, is a delicious pleasure which it is
impossible to express: it is as though your soul were soaring through
the infinite air. It could not live otherwise. What should I do with the
security you offer me, and your order and your impeccable discipline,
locked up in the four walls of your Imperial barracks? I should die of
suffocation. Air! give me air, more and more of it! Liberty, more and more
"There must be law in the world," replied Christophe. "Sooner or later the
But Olivier laughed and reminded Christophe of the saying of old Pierre de
_It is as little in the power of all the
dominions of the earth to curb the French
liberty of speech, as
to bury the sun in the earth
or to shut it up
* * * * *
Gradually Christophe grew accustomed to the air of boundless liberty. From
the lofty heights of French thought, where those minds dream that are all
light, he looked down upon the slopes of the mountain at his feet, where
the heroic elect, fighting for a living faith, whatever faith it be,
struggle eternally to reach the summit:--those who wage the holy war
against ignorance, disease, and poverty: the fever of invention, the mental
delirium of the modern Prometheus and Icarus conquering the light and
marking out roads in the air: the Titanic struggle between Science and
Nature, being tamed;--lower down, the little silent band, the men and women
of good faith, those brave and humble hearts, who, after a thousand
efforts, have climbed half-way, and can climb no farther, being held bound
in a dull and difficult existence, while in secret they burn away in
obscure devotion:--lower still, at the foot of the mountain, in a narrow
gorge between rocky crags, the endless battle, the fanatics of abstract
ideas and blind instincts, fiercely wrestling, with never a suspicion that
there may be something beyond, above the wall of rocks which hems them
in:--still lower, swamps and brutish beasts wallowing in the mire.--And
everywhere, scattered about the sides of the mountain, the fresh flowers of
art, the scented strawberry-plants of music, the song of the streams and
the poet birds.
And Christophe asked Olivier:
"Where are your people? I see only the elect, all sorts, good and bad."
"The people? They are tending their gardens. They never bother about us.
Every group and faction among the elect strives to engage their attention.
They pay no heed to any one. There was a time when it amused them to listen
to the humbug of the political mountebanks. But now they never worry about
it. There are several millions who do not even make use of their rights as
electors. The parties may break each other's heads as much as they like,
and the people don't care one way or another so long as they don't trample
the crops in their wrangling: if that happens then they lose their tempers,
and smash the parties indiscriminately. They do not act: they react in one
way or another against all the exaggerations which disturb their work and
their rest. Kings, Emperors, republics, priests, Freemasons, Socialists,
whatever their leaders may be, all that they ask of them is to be protected
against the great common dangers: war, riots, epidemics,--and, for the
rest, to be allowed to go on tending their gardens. When all is said and
done they think:
"'Why won't these people leave us in peace?'
"But the politicians are so stupid that they worry the people, and won't
leave off until they are pitched out with a fork,--as will happen some day
to our members of Parliament. There was a time when the people were
embarked upon great enterprises. Perhaps that will happen again, although
they sowed their wild oats long ago: in any case their embarkations are
never for long: very soon they return to their age-old companion: the
earth. It is the soil which binds the French to France, much more than the
French. There are so many different races who for centuries have been
tilling that brave soil side by side, that it is the soil which unites
them, the soil which is their love. Through good times and bad they
cultivate it unceasingly: and it is all good to them, even the smallest
scrap of ground."
Christophe looked down. As far as he could see, along the road, around the
swamps, on the slopes of rocky hills, over the battlefields and ruins of
action, over the mountains and plains of France, all was cultivated and
richly bearing: it was the great garden of European civilization. Its
incomparable charm lay no less in the good fruitful soil than in the blind
labors of an indefatigable people, who for centuries have never ceased to
till and sow and make the land ever more beautiful.
A strange people! They are always called inconstant: but nothing in them
changes. Olivier, looking backward, saw in Gothic statuary all the types of
the provinces of to-day: and so in the drawings of a Clouet and a
Dumoustier, the weary ironical faces of worldly men and intellectuals: or
in the work of a Lenain the clear eyes of the laborers and peasants of
Ile-de-France or Picardy. And the thoughts of the men of old days lived in
the minds of the present day. The mind of Pascal was alive, not only in the
elect of reason and religion, but in the brains of obscure citizens or
revolutionary Syndicalists. The art of Corneille and Racine was living for
the people even more than for the elect, for they were less attainted by
foreign influences: a humble clerk in Paris would feel more sympathy with a
tragedy of the time of Louis XIV than with a novel of Tolstoi or a drama of
Ibsen. The chants of the Middle Ages, the old French _Tristan_, would be
more akin to the modern French than the _Tristan_ of Wagner. The flowers of
thought, which since the twelfth century have never ceased to blossom in
French soil, however different they may be, were yet kin one to another,
though utterly different from all the flowers about them.
Christophe knew too little of France to be able to grasp how these
characteristics had endured. What struck him most of all in all the wide
expanse of country was the extremely small divisions of the earth. As
Olivier said, every man had his garden: and each garden, each plot of land,
was separated from the rest by walls, and quickset hedges, and inclosures
of all sorts. At most there were only a few woods and fields in common, and
sometimes the dwellers on one side of a river were forced to live nearer to
each other than to the dwellers on the other. Every man shut himself up in
his own house: and it seemed that this jealous individualism, instead of
growing weaker after centuries of neighborhood, was stronger than ever.
"How lonely they all are!"
* * * * *
In that sense nothing could have been more characteristic than the house in
which Christophe and Olivier lodged. It was a world in miniature, a little
France, honest and industrious, without any bond which could unite its
divers elements. A five-storied house, a shaky house, leaning over to one
side, with creaking floors and crumbling ceilings. The rain came through
into the rooms under the roof in which Christophe and Olivier lived: they
had had to have the workmen in to botch up the roof as best they could:
Christophe could hear them working and talking overhead. There was one man
in particular who amused and exasperated him: he never stopped talking to
himself, and laughing, and singing, and babbling nonsense, and whistling
inane tunes, and holding long conversations with himself all the time he
was working: he was incapable of doing anything without proclaiming exactly
what it was:
"I'm going to put in another nail. Where's my hammer? I'm putting in a
nail, two nails. One more blow with the hammer! There, old lady, that's
When Christophe was playing he would stop for a moment and listen, and then
go on whistling louder than ever: during a stirring passage he would beat
time with his hammer on the roof. At last Christophe was so exasperated
that he climbed on a chair, and poked his head through the skylight of the
attic to rate the man. But when he saw him sitting astride the roof, with
his jolly face and his cheek stuffed out with nails, he burst out laughing,
and the man joined in. And not until they had done laughing did he remember
why he had come to the window:
"By the way," he said, "I wanted to ask you: my playing doesn't interfere
with your work?"
The man said it did not: but he asked Christophe to play something faster,
because, as he worked in time to the music, slow tunes kept him back. They
parted very good friends. In a quarter of an hour they had exchanged more
words than in six months Christophe had spoken to the other inhabitants of
There were two flats on each floor, one of three rooms, the other of only
two. There were no servants' rooms: each household did its own housework,
except for the tenants of the ground floor and the first floor, who
occupied the two flats thrown into one.
On the fifth floor Christophe and Olivier's next-door neighbor was the Abbe
Corneille, a priest of some forty years old, a learned man, an independent
thinker, broad-minded, formerly a professor of exegesis in a great
seminary, who had recently been censured by Rome for his modernist
tendency. He had accepted the censure without submitting to it, in silence:
he made no attempt to dispute it and refused every opportunity offered to
him of publishing his doctrine: he shrank from a noisy publicity and would
rather put up with the ruin of his ideas than figure in a scandal.
Christophe could not understand that sort of revolt in resignation. He had
tried to talk to the priest, who, however, was coldly polite and would not
speak of the things which most interested him, and seemed to prefer as a
matter of dignity to remain buried alive.
* * * * *
On the floor below in the flat corresponding to that of the two friends
there lived a family of the name of Elie Elsberger: an engineer, his wife,
and their two little girls, seven and ten years old: superior and
sympathetic people who kept themselves very much to themselves, chiefly
from a sort of false shame of their straitened means. The young woman who
kept her house most pluckily was humiliated by it: she would have put up
with twice the amount of worry and exhaustion if she could have prevented
anybody knowing their condition: and that too was a feeling which
Christophe could not understand. They belonged to a Protestant family and
came from the East of France. Both man and wife, a few years before, had
been bowled over by the storm of the Dreyfus affair: both of them had taken
the affair passionately to heart, and, like thousands of French people,
they had suffered from the frenzy brought on by the turbulent wind of that
exalted fit of hysteria which lasted for seven years. They had sacrificed
everything to it, rest, position, relations: they had broken off many dear
friendships through it: they had almost ruined their health. For months at
a time they did not sleep nor act, but went on bringing forward the same
arguments over and over again with the monotonous insistence of the insane:
they screwed each other up to a pitch of excitement: in spite of their
timidity and their dread of ridicule, they had taken part in demonstrations
and spoken at meetings, from which they returned with minds bewildered and
aching hearts, and they would weep together through the night. In the
struggle they had expended so much enthusiasm and passion that when at last
victory was theirs they had not enough of either to rejoice: it left them
dry of energy and broken for life. Their hopes had been so high, their
eagerness for sacrifice had been so pure, that triumph when it came had
seemed a mockery compared with what they had dreamed. To such single-minded
creatures for whom there could exist but one truth, the bargaining of
politics, the compromises of their heroes had been a bitter disappointment.
They had seen their comrades in arms, men whom they had thought inspired
with the same single passion for justice,--once the enemy was overcome,
swarming about the loot, catching at power, carrying off honors and
positions, and, in their turn, trampling justice underfoot. Only a mere
handful of men held steadfast to their faith, and, in poverty and
isolation, rejected by every party, rejecting every party, they remained in
obscurity, cut off one from the other, a prey to sorrow and neurasthenia,
left hopeless and disgusted with men and utterly weary of life. The
engineer and his wife were among these wretched victims.
They made no noise in the house: they were morbidly afraid of disturbing
their neighbors, the more so as they suffered from their neighbors' noises,
and they were too proud to complain. Christophe was sorry for the two
little girls, whose outbursts of merriment, and natural need of shouting,
jumping about and laughing, were continually being suppressed. He adored
children, and he made friendly advances to his little neighbors when he met
them on the stairs. The little girls were shy at first, but were soon on
good terms with Christophe, who always had some funny story to tell them or
sweetmeats in his pockets: they told their parents about him: and, though
at first they had been inclined to look askance at his advances, they were
won over by the frank open manners of their noisy neighbor, whose
piano-playing and terrific disturbance overhead had often made them
curse:--(for Christophe used to feel stifled in his room and take to pacing
up and down like a caged bear).--They did not find it easy to talk to him.
Christophe's rather boorish and abrupt manners sometimes made Elie
Elsberger shudder. But it was all in vain for the engineer to try to keep
up the wall of reserve, behind which he had taken shelter, between himself
and the German: it was impossible to resist the impetuous good humor of the
man whose eyes were so honest and affectionate and so free from any
ulterior motive. Every now and then Christophe managed to squeeze a little
confidence out of his neighbor. Elsberger was a queer man, full of courage,
yet apathetic, sorrowful, and yet resigned. He had energy enough to bear a
life of difficulty with dignity, but not enough to change it. It was as
though he took a delight in justifying his own pessimism. Just at that time
he had been offered a post in Brazil as manager of an undertaking: but he
had refused as he was afraid of the climate and fearful of the health of
his wife and children.
"Well, leave them," said Christophe. "Go alone and make their fortune."
"Leave them!" cried the engineer. "It's easy to see that you have no
"I assure you that, if I had, I should be of the same opinion."
"Never! Never!... Leave the country!... No. I would rather suffer here."
To Christophe it seemed an odd way of loving one's country and one's wife
and children to sit down and vegetate with them. Olivier understood.
"Just think," he said, "of the risk of dying out there, in a strange
unknown country, far away from those you love! Anything is better than the
horror of that. Besides, it isn't worth while taking so much trouble for
the few remaining years of life!..."
"As though one had always to be thinking of death!" said Christophe with a
shrug. "And even if that does happen, isn't it better to die fighting for
the happiness of those one loves than to flicker out in apathy?"
* * * * *
On the same landing in the smaller flat on the fourth floor lived a
journeyman electrician named Aubert.--If he lived entirely apart from the
other inhabitants of the house it was not altogether his fault. He had
risen from the lower class and had a passionate desire not to sink back
into it. He was small and weakly-looking; he had a harsh face, and his
forehead bulged over his eyes, which were keen and sharp and bored into you
like a gimlet: he had a fair mustache, a satirical mouth, a sibilant way of
speaking, a husky voice, a scarf round his neck, and he had always
something the matter with his throat, in which irritation was set up by his
perpetual habit of smoking: he was always feverishly active and had the
consumptive temperament. He was a mixture of conceit, irony, and
bitterness, cloaking a mind that was enthusiastic, bombastic, and naive,
while it was always being taken in by life. He was the bastard of some
burgess whom he had never known, and was brought up by a mother whom it was
impossible to respect, so that in his childhood he had seen much that was
sad and degrading. He had plied all sorts of trades and had traveled much
in France. He had an admirable desire for education, and had taught himself
with frightful toil and labor: he read everything: history, philosophy,
decadent poets: he was up-to-date in everything: theaters, exhibitions,
concerts: he had a touching veneration for art, literature, and
middle-class ideas: they fascinated him. He had imbibed the vague and
ardent ideology which intoxicated the middle-classes in the first days of
the Revolution. He had a definite belief in the infallibility of reason, in
boundless progress,--_quo non ascendam?_--in the near advent of happiness
on earth, in the omnipotence of science, in Divine Humanity, and in France,
the eldest daughter of Humanity. He had an enthusiastic and credulous sort
of anti-clericalism which made him lump together religion--especially
Catholicism--and obscurantism, and see in priests the natural foe of light.
Socialism, individualism, Chauvinism jostled each other in his brain. He
was a humanitarian in mind, despotic in temperament, and an anarchist in
fact. He was proud and knew the gaps in his education, and, in
conversation, he was very cautious: he turned to account everything that
was said in his presence, but he would never ask advice: that humiliated
him; now, though he had intelligence and cleverness, these things could not
altogether supply the defects of his education. He had taken it into his
head to write. Like so many men in France who have not been taught, he had
the gift of style, and a clear vision: but he was a confused thinker. He
had shown a few pages of his productions to a successful journalist in whom
he believed, and the man made fun of him. He was profoundly humiliated, and
from that time on never told a soul what he was doing. But he went on
writing: it fed his need of expansion and gave him pride and delight. In
his heart he was immensely pleased with his eloquent passages and
philosophic ideas, which were not worth a brass farthing. And he set no
store by his observation of real life, which was excellent. It was his
crank to fancy himself as a philosopher, and he wished to write
sociological plays and novels of ideas. He had no difficulty in solving all
sorts of insoluble questions, and at every turn he discovered America. When
in due course he found that America was already discovered, he was
disappointed, humiliated, and rather bitter: he was never far from scenting
injustice and intrigue. He was consumed by a thirst for fame and a burning
capacity for devotion which suffered from finding no means or direction of
employment: he would have loved to be a great man of letters, a member of
that literary elite, who in his eyes were adorned with a supernatural
prestige. In spite of his longing to deceive himself he had too much good
sense and was too ironical not to know that there was no chance of its
coming to pass. But he would at least have hiked to live in that atmosphere
of art and middle-class ideas which at a distance seemed to him so
brilliant and pure and chastened of mediocrity. This innocent longing had
the unfortunate result of making the society of the people with whom his
condition in life forced him to live intolerable to him. And as the
middle-class society which he wished to enter closed its doors to him, the
result was that he never saw anybody. And so Christophe had no difficulty
in making his acquaintance. On the contrary he had very soon to bolt and
bar against him: otherwise Aubert would more often have been in
Christophe's rooms, than Christophe in his. He was only too happy to find
an artist to whom he could talk about music, plays, etc. But, as one would
imagine, Christophe did not find them so interesting: he would rather have
discussed the people with a man who was of the people. But that was just
what Aubert would not and could not discuss.
In proportion as he went lower in the house relations between Christophe
and the other tenants became naturally more distant. Besides, some secret
magic, some _Open Sesame_, would have been necessary for him to reach the
inhabitants of the third floor.--In the one flat there lived two ladies who
were under the self-hypnotism of grief for a loss that was already some
years old: Madame Germain, a woman of thirty-five who had lost her husband
and daughter, and lived in seclusion with her aged and devout
mother-in-law.--On the other side of the landing there dwelt a mysterious
character of uncertain age, anything between fifty and sixty, with a little
girl of ten. He was bald, with a handsome, well-trimmed beard, a soft way
of speaking, distinguished manners, and aristocratic hands. He was called
M. Watelet. He was said to be an anarchist, a revolutionary, a foreigner,
from what country was not known, Russia or Belgium. As a matter of fact he
was a Northern Frenchman and was hardly at all revolutionary: but he was
living on his past reputation. He had been mixed up with the Commune of '71
and condemned to death: he had escaped, how he did not know: and for ten
years he had lived for a short time in every country in Europe. He had seen
so many ill-deeds during the upheaval in Paris, and afterwards, and also in
exile, and also since his return, ill-deeds done by his former comrades now
that they were in power, and also by men in every rank of the revolutionary
parties, that he had broken with them, peacefully keeping his convictions
to himself useless and untarnished. He read much, wrote a few mildly
incendiary books, pulled--(so it was said)--the wires of anarchist
movements in distant places, in India or the Far East, busied himself with
the universal revolution, and, at the same time, with researches no less
universal but of a more genial aspect, namely with a universal language, a
new method of popular instruction in music. He never came in contact with
anybody in the house: when he met any of its inmates he did no more than
bow to them with exaggerated politeness. However, he condescended to tell
Christophe a little about his musical method. Christophe was not the least
interested in it: the symbols of his ideas mattered very little to him: in
any language he would have managed somehow to express them. But Watelet was
not to be put off, and went on explaining his system gently but firmly:
Christophe could not find out anything about the rest of his life. And so
he gave up stopping when he met him on the stairs and only looked at the
little girl who was always with him: she was fair, pale, anemic: she had
blue eyes, rather a sharp profile, a thin little figure--she was always
very neatly dressed--and she looked sickly and her face was not very
expressive. Like everybody else he thought she was Watelet's daughter. She
was an orphan, the daughter of poor parents, whom Watelet had adopted when
she was four or five, after the death of her father and mother in an
epidemic. He had an almost boundless love for the poor, especially for poor
children. It was a sort of mystic tenderness with him as with Vincent de
Paul. He distrusted official charity, and knew exactly what philanthropic
institutions were worth, and therefore he set about doing charity alone: he
did it by stealth, and took a secret joy in it. He had learned medicine so
as to be of some use in the world. One day when he went to the house of a
working-man in the district and found sickness there, he turned to and
nursed the invalids: he had some medical knowledge and turned it to
account. He could not bear to see a child suffer: it broke his heart. But,
on the other hand, what a joy it was when he had succeeded in tearing one
of these poor little creatures from the clutches of sickness, and the first
pale smile appeared on the little pinched face! Then Watelet's heart would
melt. Those were his moments of Paradise. They made him forget the trouble
he often had with his proteges: for they very rarely showed him much
gratitude. And the housekeeper was furious at seeing so many people with
dirty boots going up her stairs, and she would complain bitterly. And the
proprietor would watch uneasily these meetings of anarchists, and make
remarks. Watelet would contemplate leaving his flat: but that hurt him: he
had his little whimsies: he was gentle and obstinate, and he put up with
the proprietor's observations.
Christophe won his confidence up to a certain point by the love he showed
for children. That was their common bond. Christophe never met the little
girl without a catch at his heart: for, though he did not know why, by one
of those mysterious similarities in outline, which the instinct perceives
immediately and subconsciously, the child reminded him of Sabine's little
girl. Sabine, his first love, now so far away, the silent grace of whose
fleeting shadow had never faded from his heart. And so he took an interest
in the pale-faced little girl whom he never saw romping, or running, whose
voice he hardly ever heard, who had no little friend of her own age, who
was always alone, mum, quietly amusing herself with lifeless toys, a doll
or a block of wood, while her lips moved as she whispered some story to
herself. She was affectionate and a little offhanded in manner: there was a
foreign and uneasy quality in her, but her adopted father never saw it: he
loved her too much. Alas! Does not that foreign and uneasy quality exist
even in the children of our own flesh and blood?... Christophe tried to
make the solitary little girl friends with the engineer's children. But
with both Elsberger and Watelet he met with a polite but categorical
refusal. These people seemed to make it a point of honor to bury themselves
alive, each in his own mausoleum. If it came to a point each would have
been ready to help the other: but each was afraid of it being thought that
he himself was in need of help: and as they were both equally proud and
vain,--and the means of both were equally precarious,--there was no hope of
either of them being the first to hold out his hand to the other.
The larger flat on the second floor was almost always empty. The proprietor
of the house reserved it for his own use: and he was never there. He was a
retired merchant who had closed down his business as soon as he had made a
certain fortune, the figure of which he had fixed for himself. He spent the
greater part of the year in some hotel on the Riviera, and the summer at
some watering-place in Normandy, living as a gentleman with private means
who enjoys the illusion of luxury cheaply by watching the luxury of others,
and, like them, leading a useless existence.
* * * * *
The smaller flat was let to a childless couple: M. and Madame Arnaud. The
husband, a man of between forty and forty-five, was a master at a school.
He was so overworked with lectures, and correcting exercises, and giving
classes, that he had never been able to find time to write his thesis: and
at last he had given it up altogether. The wife was ten years younger,
pretty, and very shy. They were both intelligent, well read, in love with
each other: they knew nobody, and never went out. The husband had no time
for it. The wife had too much time: but she was a brave little creature,
who fought down her fits of depression when they came over her, and hid
them, by occupying herself as best she could, trying to learn, taking notes
for her husband, copying out her husband's notes, mending her husband's
clothes, making frocks and hats for herself. She would have liked to go to
the theater from time to time: but Arnaud did not care about it: he was too
tired in the evening. And she resigned herself to it.
Their great Joy was music. They both adored it. He could not play, and she
dared not although she could: when she played before anybody, even before
her husband, it was like a child strumming. However, that was good enough
for them: and Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, whom they stammered out, were as
friends to them: they knew their lives in detail, and their sufferings
filled them with love and pity. Books, too, beautiful, fine books, which
they read together, gave them happiness. But there are few such books in
the literature of to-day: authors do not worry about those people who can
bring them neither reputation, nor pleasure, nor money, such humble readers
who are never seen in society, and do not write in any journal, and can
only love and say nothing. The silent light of art, which in their upright
and religious hearts assumed almost a supernatural character, and their
mutual affection, were enough to make them live in peace, happy enough,
though a little sad--(there is no gainsaying that),--very lonely, a little
bruised in spirit. They were both much superior to their position in life.
M. Arnaud was full of ideas: but he had neither the time nor enough courage
left to write them down. It meant such a lot of trouble to get articles and
books published: it was not worth it: futile vanity! Anything he could do
was so small in comparison with the thinkers he loved! He had too true a
love for the great works of art to want to produce art himself: it would
have seemed to him pretentious, impertinent, and ridiculous. It seemed to
be his lot to spread their influence. He gave his pupils the benefit of his
ideas: they would turn them into books later on,--without mentioning his
name of course.--Nobody spent more money than he in subscribing to various
publications. The poor are always the most generous: they do buy their
books: the rich would take it as a slur upon themselves if they did not
somehow manage to get them for nothing. Arnaud ruined himself in buying
books: it was his weakness--his vice. He was ashamed of it, and concealed
it from his wife. But she did not blame him for it: she would have spent
just as much.--And with it all they were always making fine plans for
saving, with a view to going to Italy some day--though, as they knew quite
well, they never would go: and they were the first to laugh at their
incapacity for keeping money. Arnaud would console himself. His dear wife
was enough for him, and his life of work and inward joys. Was it not also
enough for her?--She said it was. She dared not say how dear it would have
been to her if her husband could have some reputation, which would in some
sort be reflected upon herself, and brighten her life, and give her ease
and comfort: inward joys are beautiful: but a little ray of light from
without shining in from time to time is sweet, and does so much good!...
But she never said anything, because she was timid: and besides, she knew
that even if he wished to make a reputation it was by no means certain that
he would succeed: it was too late!... Their greatest sorrow was that they
had no children. Each hid that sorrow from the other: and they were only
the more tender with each other: it was as though the poor creatures were
striving to win one another's forgiveness. Madame Arnaud was kind and
affectionate: she would gladly have been friends with Madame Elsberger. But
she dared not: she was never approached. As for Christophe, husband and
wife would have asked nothing better than to know him: they were fascinated
by the music that they could hear faintly when he was playing. But nothing
in the world could have induced them to make the first move: they would
have thought it indiscreet.
* * * * *
The whole of the first floor was occupied by M. and Madame Felix Weil. They
were rich Jews, and had no children, and they spent six months of the year
in the country near Paris. Although they had lived in the house for twenty
years--(they stayed there as a matter of habit, although they could easily
have found a flat more in keeping with their fortune)--they were always
like passing strangers. They had never spoken a word to any of their
neighbors, and no one knew any more about them than on the day of their
arrival. But that was no reason why the other tenants should not pass
judgment on them: on the contrary. They were not liked. And no doubt they
did nothing to win popularity. And yet they were worthy of more
acquaintance: they were both excellent people and remarkably intelligent.
The husband, a man of sixty, was an Assyriologist, well known through his
famous excavations in Central Asia: like most of his race he was
open-minded and curious, and did not confine himself to his special
studies: he was interested in an infinite number of things: the arts,
social questions, every manifestation of contemporary thought. But these
were not enough to occupy his mind: for they all amused him, and none of
them roused passionate interest. He was very intelligent, too intelligent,
too much emancipated from all ties, always ready to destroy with one hand
what he had constructed with the other: for he was constructive, always
producing books and theories: he was a great worker: as a matter of habit
and spiritual health he was always patiently plowing his deep furrow in the
field of knowledge, without having any belief in the utility of what he was
doing. He had always had the misfortune to be rich, so that he had never
had the interest of the struggle for life, and, since his explorations in
the East, of which he had grown tired after a few years, he had not
accepted any official position. Outside his own personal work, however, he
busied himself with clairvoyance, contemporary problems, social reforms of
a practical and pressing nature, the reorganization of public education in
France: he flung out ideas and created lines of thought: he would set great
intellectual machines working, and would immediately grow disgusted with
them. More than once he had scandalized people, who had been converted to a
cause by his arguments, by producing the most incisive and discouraging
criticisms of the cause itself. He did not do it deliberately: it was a
natural necessity for him: he was very nervous and ironical in temper, and
found it hard to bear with the foibles of things and people which he saw
with the most disconcerting clarity. And, as there is no good cause, nor
any good man, who, seen at a certain angle or with a certain distortion,
does not present a ridiculous aspect, there was nothing that, with his
ironic disposition, he could go on respecting for long. All this was not
calculated to make him friends. And yet he was always well-disposed towards
people, and inclined to do good: he did much good: but no one was ever
grateful to him: even those whom he had helped could not in their hearts
forgive him, because they had seen that they were ridiculous in his eyes.
It was necessary for him not to see too much of men if he were to love
them. Not that he was a misanthrope. He was not sure enough of himself to
be that. Face to face with the world at which he mocked, he was timid and
bashful: at heart he was not at all sure that the world was not right and
himself wrong: he endeavored not to appear too different from other people,
and strove to base his manners and apparent opinions on theirs. But he
strove in vain: he could not help judging them: he was keenly sensible of
any sort of exaggeration and anything that was not simple: and he could
never conceal his irritation. He was especially sensible of the foibles of
the Jews, because he knew them best: and as, in spite of his intellectual
freedom, which did not admit of barriers between races, he was often
brought up sharp against those barriers which men of other races raised
against him,--as, in spite of himself, he was out of his element among
Christian ideas, he retired with dignity into his ironic labors and the
profound affection he had for his wife.
Worst of all, his wife was not secure against his irony. She was a kindly,
busy woman, anxious to be useful, and always taken up with various
charitable works. Her nature was much less complex than that of her
husband, and she was cramped by her moral benevolence and the rather
rigidly intellectual, though lofty, idea of duty that she had begotten. Her
whole life, which was sad enough, without children, with no great joy nor
great love, was based on this moral belief of hers, which was more than
anything else the will to believe. Her husband's irony had, of course,
seized on the element of voluntary self-deception in her faith, and--(it
was too strong for him)--he had made much fun at her expense. He was a mass
of contradictions. He had a feeling for duty no less lofty than his wife's,
and, at the same time, a merciless desire to analyze, to criticize, and to
avoid deception, which made him dismember and take to pieces his moral
imperative. He could not see that he was digging away the ground from under
his wife's feet: he used cruelly to discourage her. When he realized that
he had done so, he suffered even more than she: but the harm was done. It
did not keep them from loving each other faithfully, and working and doing
good. But the cold dignity of the wife was not more kindly judged than the
irony of the husband: and as they were too proud to publish abroad the good
they did, or their desire to do good, their reserve was regarded as
indifference, and their isolation as selfishness. And the more conscious
they became of the opinion that was held of them, the more careful were
they to do nothing to dispute it. Reacting against the coarse indiscretion
of so many of their race they were the victims of an excessive reserve
which covered a vast deal of pride.
* * * * *
As for the ground floor, which was a few steps higher than the little
garden, it was occupied by Commandant Chabran, a retired officer of the
Colonial Artillery: he was still young, a man of great vigor, who had
fought brilliantly in the Soudan and Madagascar: then suddenly, he had
thrown the whole thing up, and buried himself there: he did not even want
to hear the army mentioned, and spent his time in digging his flower-beds,
and practising the flute without making any progress, and growling about
politics, and scolding his daughter, whom he adored: she was a young woman
of thirty, not very pretty, but quite charming, who devoted herself to him,
and had not married so as not to leave him. Christophe used often to see
them leaning out of the window: and, naturally, he paid more attention to
the daughter than the father. She used to spend part of the afternoon in
the garden, sewing, dreaming, digging, always in high good humor with her
grumbling old father. Christophe could hear her soft clear voice laughingly
replying to the growling tones of the Commandant, whose footsteps ground
and scrunched on the gravel-paths: then he would go in, and she would stay
sitting on a seat in the garden, and sew for hours together, never
stirring, never speaking, smiling vaguely, while inside the house the bored
old soldier played flourishes on his shrill flute, or, by way of a change,
made a broken-winded old harmonium squeal and groan, much to Christophe's
amusement--or exasperation--(which, depended on the day and his mood).
* * * * *
All these people went on living side by side in that house with its
walled-in garden sheltered from all the buffets of the world, hermetically
sealed even against each other. Only Christophe, with his need of expansion
and his great fullness of life, unknown to them, wrapped them about with
his vast sympathy, blind, yet all-seeing. He could not understand them. He
had no means of understanding them. He lacked Olivier's psychological
insight and quickness. But he loved them. Instinctively he put himself in
their place. Slowly, mysteriously, there crept through him a dim
consciousness of these lives so near him and yet so far removed, the
stupefying sorrow of the mourning woman, the stoic silence of all their
proud thoughts, the priest, the Jew, the engineer, the revolutionary: the
pale and gentle flame of tenderness and faith which burned in silence in
the hearts of the two Arnauds: the naive aspirations towards the light of
the man of the people: the suppressed revolt and fertile activity which
were stifled in the bosom of the old soldier: and the calm resignation of
the girl dreaming in the shade of the lilac. But only Christophe could
perceive and hear the silent music of their souls: they heard it not: they
were all absorbed in their sorrow and their dreams.
They all worked hard, the skeptical old scientist, the pessimistic
engineer, the priest, the anarchist, and all these proud or dispirited
creatures. And on the roof the mason sang.
* * * * *
In the district round the house among the best of the people Christophe
found the same moral solitude--even when the people were banded together.
Olivier had brought him in touch with a little review for which he wrote.
It was called _Esope_, and had taken for its motto this quotation from