Part 8 out of 9
Christophe used to borrow books from both of them and, with a want of
ceremony which shocked Olivier, he used to lend their books in turn to the
other. The Abbe Corneille was not at all scandalized: he had an intuitive
perception of the quality of a man: and, without seeming to do so, he had
marked the generous and even unconsciously religious nature of his young
neighbor. A book by Kropotkin, which had been borrowed from M. Watelet, and
for different reasons had given great pleasure to all three of them, began
the process of bringing them together. It chanced one evening that they met
in Christophe's room. At first Christophe was afraid that they might be
rude to each other: but, on the contrary, they were perfectly polite, They
discussed various sage subjects: their travels, and their experience of
men. And they discovered in each other a fund of gentleness and the spirit
of the Gospels, and chimerical hopes, in spite of the many reasons that
each had for despair, They discovered a mutual sympathy, mingled with a
little irony. Their sympathy was of a very discreet nature. They never
revealed their fundamental beliefs. They rarely met and did not try to
meet: but when they did so they were glad to see each other.
Of the two men the Abbe Corneille was not the least independent of mind,
though Christophe would never have thought it. He gradually came to
perceive the greatness of the religious and yet free ideas, the immense,
serene, and unfevered mysticism which permeated the priest's whole mind,
the every action of his daily life, and his whole outlook on the
world,--leading him to live in Christ, as he believed that Christ had lived
He denied nothing, no single element of life. To him the whole of
Scripture, ancient and modern, lay and religious, from Moses to Berthelot,
was certain, divine, the very expression of God. Holy Writ was to him only
its richest example, just as the Church was the highest company of men
united in the brotherhood of God: but in neither of them was the spirit
confined in any fixed, unchanging truth. Christianity was the living
Christ. The history of the world was only the history of the perpetual
advance of the idea of God. The fall of the Jewish Temple, the ruin of the
pagan world, the repulse of the Crusades, the humiliation of Boniface VIII,
Galileo flinging the world back into giddy space, the infinitely little
becoming more mighty than the great, the downfall of kingdoms, and the end
of the Concordats, all these for a time threw the minds of men out of their
reckoning. Some clung desperately to the passing order: some caught at a
plank and drifted. The Abbe Corneille only asked: "Where do we stand as
men? Where is that which makes us live?" For he believed: "Where life is,
there is God."--And that was why he was in sympathy with Christophe.
For his part, Christophe was glad once more to hear the splendid music of a
great religious soul. It awoke in him echoes distant and profound. Through
the feeling of perpetual reaction, which is in vigorous natures a vital
instinct, the instinct of self-preservation, the stroke which preserves
the quivering balance of the boat, and gives it a new drive onward,--his
surfeit of doubts and his disgust with Parisian sensuality had for the last
two years been slowly restoring God to his place in Christophe's heart. Not
that he believed in God. He denied God. But he was filled with the spirit
of God. The Abbe Corneille used to tell him with a smile, that like his
namesake, the sainted giant, he bore God on his shoulders without knowing
"How is it that I don't see it then?" Christophe would ask.
"You are like thousands of others: you see God every day, and never know
that it is He. God reveals Himself to all, in every shape,--to some He
appears in their daily life, as He did to Saint Peter in Galilee,--to
others (like your friend M. Watelet), as He did to Saint Thomas, in wounds
and suffering that call for healing,--to you in the dignity of your ideal:
_Noli me tangere_.... Some day you will know it."
"I will never surrender," said Christophe. "I am free. Free I shall
"Only the more will you live in God," replied the priest calmly.
But Christophe would not submit to being made out a Christian against his
will. He defended himself ardently and simply, as though it mattered in the
least whether one label more than another was plastered on to his ideas.
The Abbe Corneille would listen with a faint ecclesiastical irony, that was
hardly perceptible, while it was altogether kindly. He had an inexhaustible
fund of patience, based on his habit of faith. It had been tempered by the
trials to which the existing Church had exposed him: while it had made him
profoundly melancholy, and had even dragged him through terrible moral
crises, he had not really been touched by it all. It was cruel to suffer
the oppression of his superiors, to have his every action spied upon by
the Bishops, and watched by the free-thinkers, who were endeavoring to
exploit his ideas, to use him as a weapon against his own faith, and to
be misunderstood and attacked both by his co-religionists and the enemies
of his religion. It was impossible for him to offer any resistance: for
submission was enforced upon him. It was impossible for him to submit in
his heart: for he knew that the authorities were wrong. It was agony for
him to hold his peace. It was agony for him to speak and to be wrongly
interpreted. Not to mention the soul for which he was responsible, he had
to think of those, who looked to him for counsel and help, while he had to
stand by and see them suffer.... The Abbe Corneille suffered both for them
and for himself, but he was resigned. He knew how small a thing were the
days of trial in the long history of the Church.--Only, by dint of being
turned in upon himself in his silent resignation, slowly he lost heart, and
became timid and afraid to speak, so that it became more and more difficult
for him to do anything, and little by little the torpor of silence crept
over him. Meeting Christophe had given him new courage. His neighbor's
youthful ardor and the affectionate and simple interest which he took in
his doings, his sometimes indiscreet questions, did him a great deal of
good. Christophe forced him to mix once more with living men and women.
Aubert, the journeyman electrician, once met him in Christophe's room. He
started back when he saw the priest, and found it hard to conceal his
feeling of dislike. Even when he had overcome his first inclination, he was
uncomfortable and oddly embarrassed at finding himself in the company of a
man in a cassock, a creature to whom he could attach no exact definition.
However, his sociable instincts and the pleasure he always found in talking
to educated men were stronger than his anti-clericalism. He was surprised
by the pleasant relations existing between M. Watelet and the Abbe
Corneille: he was no less surprised to find a priest who was a democrat,
and a revolutionary who was an aristocrat: it upset all his preconceived
ideas. He tried vainly to classify them in any social category: for he
always had to classify people before he could begin to understand them. It
was not easy to find a pigeon-hole for the peaceful freedom of mind of a
priest who had read Anatole France and Renan, and was prepared to discuss
them calmly, justly, and with some knowledge. In matters of science the
Abbe Corneille's way was to accept the guidance of those who knew, rather
than of those who laid down the law. He respected authority, but in his
eyes it stood lower than knowledge. The flesh, the spirit, and charity:
the three orders, the three rungs of the divine ladder, the ladder of
Jacob.--Of course, honest Aubert was far, indeed, from understanding, or
even from dreaming, of the possibility of such a state of mind. The Abbe
Corneille used to tell Christophe that Aubert reminded him of certain
French peasants whom he had seen one day. A young Englishwoman had asked
them the way, in English. They listened solemnly, but did not understand.
Then they spoke in French. She did not understand. Then they looked at each
other pityingly, and wagged their heads, and went on with their work, and
"What a pity! What a pity! Such a pretty girl, too!..."
As though they had thought her deaf, or dumb, or soft in the head....
At first Aubert was abashed by the knowledge and distinguished manners of
the priest and M. Watelet, and sat mum, listening intently to what they
said. Then, little by little, he joined in the conversation, giving way to
the naive pleasure that he found in hearing himself speak. He paraded his
generous store of rather vague ideas. The other two would listen politely,
and smile inwardly. Aubert was delighted, and could not hold himself in:
he took advantage of, and presently abused, the inexhaustible patience of
the Abbe Corneille. He read his literary productions to him. The priest
listened resignedly; and it did not bore him overmuch, for he listened not
so much to the words as to the man. And then he would reply to Christophe's
"Bah! I hear so many of them!"
Aubert was grateful to M. Watelet and the Abbe Corneille: and, without
taking much trouble to understand each other's ideas, or even to find out
what they were, the three of them became very good friends without exactly
knowing why. They were very surprised to find themselves so intimate. They
would never have thought it.--Christophe was the bond between them.
He had other innocent allies in the three children, the two little
Elsbergers and M. Watelet's adopted daughter. He was great friends with
them: they adored him. He told each of them about the other, and gave them
an irresistible longing to know each other. They used to make signs to each
other from the windows, and spoke to each other furtively on the stairs.
Aided and abetted by Christophe, they even managed to get permission
sometimes to meet in the Luxembourg Gardens. Christophe was delighted with
the success of his guile, and went to see them there the first time they
were together: they were shy and embarrassed, and hardly knew what to make
of their new happiness. He broke down their reserve in a moment, and
invented games for them, and races, and played hide-and-seek: he joined in
as keenly as though he were a child of ten: the passers-by cast amused and
quizzical glances at the great big fellow, running and shouting and dodging
round trees, with three little girls after him. And as their parents were
still suspicious of each other, and showed no great readiness to let these
excursions to the Luxembourg Gardens occur very often--(because it kept
them too far out of sight)--Christophe managed to get Commandant Chabran,
who lived on the ground floor, to invite the children to play in the garden
belonging to the house.
Chance had thrown Christophe and the old soldier together:--(chance always
singles out those who can turn it to account).--Christophe's writing-table
was near his window. One day the wind blew a few sheets of music down into
the garden. Christophe rushed down, bareheaded and disheveled, just as he
was, without even taking the trouble to brush his hair. He thought he would
only have to see a servant. However, the daughter opened the door to him.
He was rather taken aback, but told her what he had come for. She smiled
and let him in: they went into the garden. When he had picked up his papers
he was for hurrying away, and she was taking him to the door, when they met
the old soldier. The Commandant gazed at his odd visitor in some surprise.
His daughter laughed, and introduced him.
"Ah! So you are the musician?" said the old soldier. "We are comrades."
They shook hands. They talked in a friendly, bantering tone of the concerts
they gave together, Christophe with his piano, the Commandant with his
flute. Christophe tried to go, but the old man would not let him: and he
plunged blindly into a disquisition on music. Suddenly he stopped short,
"Come and see my canons."
Christophe followed him, wondering how anybody could be interested in
anything he might think about French artillery. The old man showed him in
triumph a number of musical canons, amazing productions, compositions that
might just as well be read upside down, or played as duets, one person
playing the right-hand page, and the other the left. The Commandant was an
old pupil of the Polytechnic, and had always had a taste for music: but
what he loved most of all in it was the mathematical problem: it seemed
to him--(as up to a point it is)--a magnificent mental gymnastic: and
he racked his brains in the invention and solution of puzzles in the
construction of music, each more useless and extravagant than the last. Of
course, his military career had not left him much time for the development
of his mania: but since his retirement he had thrown himself into it with
enthusiasm: he expended on it all the energy and ingenuity which he had
previously employed in pursuing the hordes of negro kings through the
deserts of Africa, or avoiding their traps. Christophe found his puzzles
quite amusing, and set him a more complicated one to solve. The old soldier
was delighted: they vied with one another: they produced a perfect shower
of musical riddles. After they had been playing the game for some time,
Christophe went upstairs to his own room. But the very next morning his
neighbor sent him a new problem, a regular teaser, at which the Commandant
had been working half the night: he replied with another: and the duel went
on until Christophe, who was getting tired of it, declared himself beaten:
at which the old soldier was perfectly delighted. He regarded his success
as a retaliation on Germany. He invited Christophe to lunch. Christophe's
frankness in telling the old soldier that he detested his musical
compositions, and shouting in protest when Chabran began to murder an
_andante_ of Haydn on his harmonium, completed the conquest. From that time
on they often met to talk. But not about music. Christophe could not summon
up any great interest in his neighbor's crotchety notions about it, and
much preferred getting him to talk about military subjects. The Commandant
asked nothing better: music was only a forced amusement for the unhappy
man: in reality, he was fretting his life out.
He was easily led on to yarn about his African campaigns. Gigantic
adventures worthy of the tales of a Pizarro and a Cortez! Christophe was
delighted with the vivid narrative of that marvelous and barbaric epic, of
which he knew nothing, and almost every Frenchman is ignorant: the tale of
the twenty years during which the heroism, and courage, and inventiveness,
and superhuman energy of a conquering handful of Frenchmen were spent far
away in the depths of the Black Continent, where they were surrounded
by armies of negroes, where they were deprived of the most rudimentary
arms of war, and yet, in the face of public opinion and a panic-stricken
Government, in spite of France, conquered for France an empire greater than
France itself. There was the flavor of a mighty joy, a flavor of blood in
the tale, from which, in Christophe's mind's eye, there sprang the figures
of modern _condottieri_, heroic adventurers, unlooked for in the France of
to-day, whom the France of to-day is ashamed to own, so that she modestly
draws a veil over them. The Commandant's voice would ring out bravely
as he recalled it all: and he would jovially recount, with learned
descriptions--(oddly interpolated in his epic narrative)--of the geological
structure of the country, in cold, precise terms, the story of the
tremendous marches, and the charges at full gallop, and the man-hunts, in
which he had been hunter and quarry, turn and turn about, in a struggle to
the death.--Christophe would listen and watch his face, and feel a great
pity for such a splendid human animal, condemned to inaction, and forced to
spend his time in playing ridiculous games. He wondered how he could ever
have become resigned to such a lot. He asked the old man how he had done
it. The Commandant was at first not at all inclined to let a stranger
into his confidence as to his grievances. But the French are naturally
loquacious, especially when they have a chance of pitching into each other:
"What on earth should I do," he said, "in the army as it is to-day? The
marines write books. The infantry study sociology. They do everything but
make war. They don't even prepare for it: they prepare never to go to war
again: they study the philosophy of war.... The philosophy of war! That's
a game for beasts of burden wondering how much thrashing they are going to
get!... Discussing, philosophizing, no, that's not my work. Much better
stay at home and go on with my canons!"
He was too much ashamed to air the most serious of his grievances: the
suspicion created among the officers by the appeal to informers, the
humiliation of having to submit to the insolent orders of certain crass and
mischievous politicians, the army's disgust at being put to base police
duty, taking inventories of the churches, putting down industrial strikes,
at the bidding of capital and the spite of the party in power--the petty
burgess radicals and anti-clericals--against the rest of the country. Not
to speak of the old African's disgust with the new Colonial Army, which was
for the most part recruited from the lowest elements of the nation, by way
of pandering to the egoism and cowardice of the rest, who refuse to share
in the honor and the risks of securing the defense of "greater
France"--France beyond the seas.
Christophe was not concerned with these French quarrels: they were no
affair of his: but he sympathized with the old soldier. Whatever he might
think of war, it seemed to him that an army was meant to produce soldiers,
as an apple-tree to produce apples, and that it was a strange perversion to
graft on to it politicians, esthetes, and sociologists. And yet he could
not understand how a man of such vigor could give way to his adversaries.
It is to be his own worst enemy for a man not to fight his enemies. In
all French people of any worth at all there was a spirit of surrender, a
strange temper of renunciation.--To Christophe it was even more profound,
and even more touching as it existed in the old soldier's daughter.
Her name was Celine. She had beautiful hair, plaited and braided so as
to set off her high, round forehead and her rather pointed ears, her
thin cheeks, and her pretty chin: she was like a country girl, with fine
intelligent dark eyes, very trustful, very soft, rather short-sighted: her
nose was a little too large, and she had a tiny mole on her upper lip by
the corner of her mouth, and she had a quiet smile which made her pout
prettily and thrust out her lower lip, which was a little protruding. She
was kind, active, clever, but she had no curiosity of mind. She read very
little, and never any of the newest books, never went to the theater, never
traveled,--(for traveling bored her father, who had had too much of it
in the old days),--never had anything to do with any polite charitable
work,--(her father used to condemn all such things),--made no attempt to
study,--(he used to make fun of blue stockings),--hardly ever left her
little patch of garden inclosed by its four high walls, so that it was like
being at the bottom of a deep well. And yet she was not really bored. She
occupied her time as best she could, and was good-tempered and resigned.
About her and about the setting which every woman unconsciously creates
for herself wherever she may be, there was a Chardinesque atmosphere: the
same soft silence, the same tranquil expression, the same attitude of
absorption--(a little drowsy and languid)--in the common task: the poetry
of the daily round, of the accustomed way of life, with its fixed thoughts
and actions, falling into exactly the same place at exactly the same
time--thoughts and actions which are cherished none the less with an
all-pervading tranquil gentleness: the serene mediocrity of the fine-souled
women of the middle-class: honest, conscientious, truthful, calm--calm in
their pleasures, unruffled in their labors, and yet poetic in all their
qualities. They are healthy and neat and tidy, clean in body and mind: all
their lives are sweetened with the scent of good bread, and lavender, and
integrity, and kindness. There is peace in all that they are and do, the
peace of old houses and smiling souls....
Christophe, whose affectionate trustfulness invited trust, had become very
friendly with her: they used to talk quite frankly: and he even went so far
as to ask her certain questions, which she was surprised to find herself
answering: she would tell him things which she had not told anybody, even
her most intimate friends.
"You see," Christophe would say, "you're not afraid of me. There's no
danger of our falling in love with each other: we're too good friends for
"You're very polite!" she would answer with a laugh.
Her healthy nature recoiled as much as Christophe's from philandering
friendship, that form of sentimentality dear to equivocal men and women,
who are always juggling with their emotions. They were just comrades one to
He asked her one day what she was doing in the afternoons, when he saw her
sitting in the garden with her work on her knees, never touching it, and
not stirring for hours together. She blushed, and protested that it was not
a matter of hours, but only a matter of a few minutes, perhaps a quarter of
an hour, during which she "went on with her story."
"The story I am always telling myself."
"You tell yourself stories? Oh, tell them to me!"
She told him that he was too curious. She would only go so far as to
intimate that they were stories of which she was not the heroine.
He was surprised at that:
"If you are going to tell yourself stories, it seems to me that it would be
more natural if you told your own story with embellishments, and lived in a
"I couldn't," she said. "If I did that, I should become desperate."
She blushed again at having revealed even so much of her inmost thoughts:
and she went on:
"Besides, when I am in the garden and a gust of wind reaches me, I am
happy. Then the garden becomes alive for me. And when the wind blusters and
comes from a great distance, he tells me so many things!"
In spite of her reserve, Christophe could see the hidden depths of
melancholy that lay behind her good-humor, and the restless activity which,
as she knew perfectly well, led nowhere. Why did she not try to break away
from her condition and emancipate herself? She would have been so well
fitted for a useful and active life!--But she alleged her affection for her
father, who would not hear of her leaving him. In vain did Christophe tell
her that the old soldier was perfectly vigorous and energetic, and had no
need of her, and that a man of his stamp could quite well be left alone,
and had no right to make a sacrifice of her. She would begin to defend her
father: by a pious fiction she would pretend that it was not her father
who was forcing her to stay, but she herself who could not bear to leave
him.--And, up to a point, what she said was true. It seemed to have been
accepted from time immemorial by herself, and her fatter, and all their
friends that their life had to be thus and thus, and not otherwise. She
had a married brother, who thought it quite natural that she should devote
her life to their father in his stead. He was entirely wrapped up in his
children. He loved them jealously, and left them no will of their own. His
love for his children was to him, and especially to his wife, a voluntary
bondage which weighed heavily on their life, and cramped all their
movements: his idea seemed to be that as soon as a man has children, his
own life comes to an end, and he has to stop short in his own development:
he was still young, active, and intelligent, and there he was reckoning up
the years he would have still to work before he could retire.--Christophe
saw how these good people were weighed down by the atmosphere of family
affection, which is so deep-rooted in France--deep-rooted, but stifling and
destructive of vitality. And it has become all the more oppressive since
families in France have been reduced to the minimum: father, mother, one
or two children, and here and there, perhaps, an uncle or an aunt. It is
a cowardly, fearful love, turned in upon itself, like a miser clinging
tightly to his hoard of gold.
A fortuitous circumstance gave Christophe a yet greater interest in the
girl, and showed him the full extent of the suppression of the emotions
of the French, their fear of life, of letting themselves go, and claiming
Elsberger, the engineer, had a brother ten years younger than himself,
likewise an engineer. He was a very good fellow, like thousands of others,
of the middle-class, and he had artistic aspirations: he was one of those
people who would like to practise an art, but are afraid of compromising
their reputation and position. As a matter of fact, it is not a very
difficult problem, and most of the artists of to-day have solved it
without any great danger to themselves. But it needs a certain amount of
will-power: and not everybody is capable of even that much expenditure of
energy: such people are not sure enough of wanting what they really want:
and as their position in life grows more assured, they submit and drift
along, without any show of revolt or protest. They cannot be blamed if they
become good citizens instead of bad artists. But their disappointment too
often leaves behind it a secret discontent, a _qualis artifex pereo_, which
as best it can assumes a crust of what is usually called philosophy, and
spoils their lives, until the wear and tear of daily life and new anxieties
have erased all trace of the old bitterness. Such was the case of Andre
Elsberger. He would have liked to be a writer: but his brother, who was
very self-willed, had made him follow in his footsteps and enter upon a
scientific career. Andre was clever, and quite well equipped for scientific
work--or for literature, for that matter: he was not sure enough of
being an artist, and he was too sure that he was middle-class: and so,
provisionally at first,--(one knows what that means)--he had bowed to his
brother's wishes: he entered the _Centrale_, high up in the list, and
passed out equally high, and since then he had practised his profession as
an engineer conscientiously, but without being interested in it. Of course,
he had lost the little artistic quality that he had possessed, and he never
spoke of it except ironically.
"And then," he used to say--(Christophe recognized Olivier's pessimistic
tendency in his arguments)--"life is not good enough to make one worry
about a spoiled career. What does a bad poet more or less matter!..."
The brothers were fond of one another: they were of the same stamp morally:
but they did not get on well together. They had both been Dreyfus-mad. But
Andre was attracted by syndicalism, and was an anti-militarist: and Elie
was a patriot.
From time to time Andre would visit Christophe without going to see his
brother: and that astonished Christophe: for there was no great sympathy
between himself and Andre, who used hardly ever to open his mouth except
to gird at something or somebody,--which was very tiresome: and when
Christophe said anything, Andre would not listen. Christophe made no effort
to conceal the fact that he found his visits a nuisance: but Andre did not
mind, and seemed not to notice it. At last Christophe found the key to the
riddle one day when he found his visitor leaning out of the window, and
paying much more attention to what was happening in the garden below than
to what he was saying. He remarked upon it, and Andre was not reluctant to
admit that he knew Mademoiselle Chabran, and that she had something to do
with his visits to Christophe. And, his tongue being, loosed, he confessed
that he had long been attached to the girl, and perhaps something more than
that: the Elsbergers had long ago been in close touch with the Chabrans:
but, though they had been very intimate, politics and recent events
had separated them: and thereafter they saw very little of each other.
Christophe did not disguise his opinion that it was an idiotic state of
things. Was it impossible for people to think differently, and yet to
retain their mutual esteem? Andre said he thought it was, and protested
that he was very broad-minded: but he would not admit the possibility of
tolerance in certain questions, concerning which, he said, he could not
admit any opinion different from his own: and he instanced the famous
Affair. On that, as usual, he became wild. Christophe knew the sort of
thing that happened in that connection, and made no attempt to argue: but
he; asked whether the Affair was never going to come to an end, or whether
its curse was to go on and on to the end of time, descending even unto the
third and fourth generation. Andre began to laugh: and without answering
Christophe, he fell to tender praise of Celine Chabran, and protested
against her father's selfishness, who thought it quite natural that she
should be sacrificed to him.
"Why don't you marry her," asked Christophe, "if you love her and she loves
Andre said mournfully that Celine was clerical. Christophe asked what he
meant by that. Andre replied that he meant that she was religious, and had
vowed a sort of feudal service to God and His bonzes.
"But how does that affect you?"
"I don't want to share my wife with any one."
"What! You are jealous even of your wife's ideas? Why, you're more selfish
even than the Commandant!"
"It's all very well for you to talk: would you take a woman who did not
"I have done so."
"How can a man and a woman live together if they don't think the same?"
"Don't you worry about what you think! Ah! my dear fellow, ideas count for
so little when one loves. What does it matter to me whether the woman I
love cares for music as much as I do? She herself is music to me! When a
man has the luck, as you have, to find a dear girl whom he loves, and she
loves him, she must believe what she likes, and he must believe what he
likes! When all is said and done, what do your ideas amount to? There is
only one truth in the world, there is only one God: love."
"You speak like a poet. You don't see life as it is. I know only too many
marriages which have suffered from such a want of union in thought."
"Those husbands and wives did not love each other enough. You have to know
what you want."
"Wanting does not do everything in life. Even if I wanted to marry
Mademoiselle Chabran, I couldn't."
"I'd like to know why."
Andre spoke of his scruples: his position was not assured: he had no
fortune and no great health. He was wondering whether he had the right to
marry in such circumstances. It was a great responsibility. Was there not a
great risk of bringing unhappiness on the woman he loved, and himself,--not
to mention any children there might be?... It was better to wait--or give
up the idea.
Christophe shrugged his shoulders.
"That's a fine sort of love! If she loves you, she will be happy in her
devotion to you. And as for the children, you French people are absurd. You
would like only to bring them into the world when you are sure of turning
them out with comfortable private means, so that they will have nothing to
suffer and nothing to fear.... Good Lord! That's nothing to do with you:
your business is only to give them life, love of life, and courage to
defend it. The rest ... whether they live or die ... is the common lot. Is
it better to give up living than to take the risks of life?"
The sturdy confidence which emanated from Christophe affected Andre, but
did not change his mind. He said:
"Yes, perhaps, that is true...."
But he stopped at that. Like all the rest, his will and power of action
seemed to be paralyzed.
* * * * *
Christophe had set himself to fight the inertia which he found In most
of his French friends, oddly coupled with laborious and often feverish
activity. Almost all the people he met in the various middle-class houses
which he visited were discontented. They had almost all the same disgust
with the demagogues and their corrupt ideas. In almost all there was the
same sorrowful and proud consciousness of the betrayal of the genius of
their race. And it was by no means the result of any personal rancor nor
the bitterness of men and classes beaten and thrust out of power and active
life, or discharged officials, or unemployed energy, nor that of an old
aristocracy which has returned to its estates, there to die in hiding like
a wounded lion. It was a feeling of moral revolt, mute, profound, general:
it was to be found everywhere, in a greater or less degree, in the army, in
the magistracy, in the University, in the officers, and in every vital
branch of the machinery of government. But they took no active measures.
They were discouraged in advance: they kept on saying:
"There is nothing to be done:"
"Let us try not to think of it."
Fearfully they dodged anything sad in their thoughts and conversation: and
they took refuge in their home life.
If they had been content to refrain only from political action! But even
in their daily lives these good people had no interest in doing anything
definite. They put up with the degrading, haphazard contact with horrible
people whom they despised, because they could not take the trouble to fight
against them, thinking that any such revolt must of necessity be useless.
Why, for instance, should artists, and, in particular, the musicians
with whom Christophe was most in touch, unprotestingly put up with the
effrontery of the scaramouches of the Press, who laid down the law for
them? There were absolute idiots among them, whose ignorance _in omni re
scibili_ was proverbial, though they were none the less invested with
a sovereign authority _in omni re scibili_. They did not even take the
trouble to write their articles and books: they had secretaries, poor
starving creatures, who would have sold their souls, if they had had such
things, for bread or women. There was no secret about it in Paris. And
yet they went on riding their high horse and patronizing the artists.
Christophe used to roar with anger sometimes when he read their articles.
"They have no heart!" he would say. "Oh! the cowards!"
"Who are you screaming at?" Olivier would ask. "The idiots of the
"No. The honest men. These rascals are plying their trade: they lie, they
steal, they rob and murder. But it is the others--those who despise them
and yet let them go on--that I despise a thousand times more. If their
colleagues on the Press, if honest, cultured critics, and the artists on
whose backs these harlequins strut and poise themselves, did not put up
with it, in silence, from shyness or fear of compromising themselves, or
from some shameful anticipation of mutual service, a sort of secret pact
made with the enemy so that they may be immune from their attacks,--if they
did not let them preen themselves in their patronage and friendship, their
upstart power would soon be killed by ridicule. There's the same weakness
in everything, everywhere. I've met twenty honest men who have said to me
of so-and-so: 'He is a scoundrel.' But there is not one of them who would
not refer to him as his 'dear colleague,' and, if he met him, shake hands
with him.--'There are too many of them!' they say.--Too many cowards. Too
many flabby honest men."
"Eh! What do you want them to do?"
"Be every man his own policeman! What are you waiting for? For Heaven to
take your affairs in hand? Look you, at this very moment. It is three days
now since the snow fell. Your streets are thick with it, and your Paris is
like a sewer of mud. What do you do? You protest against your Municipal
Council for leaving you in such a state of filth. But do you yourselves do
anything to clear it away? Not a bit of it! You sit with your arms folded.
Not one of you has energy enough even to clean the pavement in front of
his house. Nobody does his duty, neither the State nor the members of the
State: each man thinks he has done as much as is expected of him by laying
the blame on some one else. You have become so used, through centuries of
monarchical training, to doing nothing for yourselves that you all seem to
spend your time in star-gazing and waiting for a miracle to happen. The
only miracle that could happen would be if you all suddenly made up your
minds to do something. My dear Olivier, you French people have plenty of
brains and plenty of good qualities: but you lack blood. You most of all.
There's nothing the matter with your mind or your heart. It's your life
that's all wrong. You're sputtering out."
"What can we do? We can only wait for life to return to us."
"You must want life to return to you. You must want to be cured. You must
_want_, use your will! And if you are to do that you must first let in some
pure air into your houses. If you won't go out of doors, then at least
you must keep your houses healthy. You have let the air be poisoned by
the unwholesome vapors of the market-place. Your art and your ideas are
two-thirds adulterated. And you are so dispirited that it hardly occasions
you any surprise, and rouses you to no sort of indignation. Some of these
good people--(it is pitiful to see)--are so cowed that they actually
persuade themselves that they are wrong and the charlatans are right.
Why--even on your _Esope_ review, in which you profess not to be taken in
by anything,--I have found unhappy young men persuading themselves that
they love an art and ideas for which they have not a vestige of love. They
get drunk on it, without any sort of pleasure, simply because they are told
to do so: and they are dying of boredom--boredom with the monstrous lie of
the whole thing!"
* * * * *
Christophe passed through these wavering and dispirited creatures like a
wind shaking the slumbering trees. He made no attempt to force them to his
way of thinking: he breathed into them energy enough to make them think for
themselves. He used to say:
"You are too humble. The grand enemy is neurasthenia, doubt. A man can and
must be tolerant and human. But no man may doubt what he believes to be
good and true. A man must believe in what he thinks. And he should maintain
what he believes. Whatever our powers may be, we have no right to forswear
them. The smallest creature in the world, like the greatest, has his duty.
And--(though he is not sufficiently conscious of it)--he has also a power.
Why should you think that your revolt will carry so little weight? A sturdy
upright conscience which dares assert itself is a mighty thing. More than
once during the last few years you have seen the State and public opinion
forced to reckon with the views of an honest man, who had no other weapons
but his own moral force, which, with constant courage and tenacity, he had
dared publicly to assert....
"And if you must go on asking what's the good of taking so much trouble,
what's the good of fighting, _what's the good of it all?_... Then, I will
tell you:--Because France is dying, because Europe is perishing--because,
if we did not fight, our civilization, the edifice so splendidly
constructed, at the cost of centuries of labor, by our humanity, would
crumble away. These are not idle words. The country is in danger, our
European mother-country,--and more than any, yours, your own native
country, France. Your apathy is killing her. Your silence is killing her.
Each of your energies as it dies, each of your ideas as it accepts and
surrenders, each of your good intentions as it ends in sterility, every
drop of your blood as it dries up, unused, in your veins, means death to
her.... Up! up! You must live! Or, if you must die, then you must die
fighting like men!"
* * * * *
But the chief difficulty lay not in getting them to do something, but in
getting them to act together. There they were quite unmanageable. The best
of them were the most obstinate, as Christophe found in dealing with the
tenants in his own house: M. Felix Weil, Elsberger, the engineer, and
Commandant Chabran, lived on terms of polite and silent hostility. And yet,
though Christophe knew very little of them, he could see that, underneath
their party and racial labels, they all wanted the same thing.
There were many reasons particularly why M. Weil and the Commandant should
have understood each other. By one of those contrasts common to thoughtful
men, M. Weil, who never left his books and lived only in the life of the
mind, had a passion for all things military. "_We are all cranks_," said
the half-Jew Montaigne, applying to mankind in general what is perfectly
true of certain types of minds, like the type of which M. Weil was an
example. The old intellectual had the craze for Napoleon. He collected
books and relics which brought to life in him the terrible dream of the
Imperial epic. Like many Frenchmen of that crepuscular epoch, he was
dazzled by the distant rays of that glorious sun. He used to go through the
campaigns, fight the battles all over again, and discuss operations: he
was one of those chamber-strategists who swarm in the Academies and the
Universities, who explain Austerlitz and declare how Waterloo should have
been fought. He was the first to make fun of the "Napoleonite" in himself:
it tickled his irony: but none the less he went on reading the splendid
stories with the wild enthusiasm of a child playing a game: he would weep
over certain episodes: and when he realized that he had been weak enough to
shed tears, he would roar with laughter, and call himself an old fool. As a
matter of fact, he was a Napoleonite not so much from patriotism as from
a romantic interest and a platonic love of action. However, he was a good
patriot, and much more attached to France than many an actual Frenchman.
The French anti-Semites are stupid and actively mischievous in casting
their insulting suspicions on the feeling for France of the Jews who have
settled in the country. Outside the reasons by which any family does of
necessity, after a generation or two, become attached to the land of its
adoption, where the blood of the soil has become its own, the Jews have
especial reason to love the nation which in the West stands for the most
advanced ideas of intellectual and moral liberty. They love it because
for a hundred years they have helped to make it so, and its liberty is in
part their work. How, then, should they not defend it against every menace
of feudal reaction? To try--as a handful of unscrupulous politicians and
a herd of wrong-headed people would like--to break the bonds which bind
these Frenchmen by adoption to France, is to play into the hands of that
Commandant Chabran was one of those wrong-headed old Frenchmen who are
roused to fury by the newspapers, which make out that every immigrant
into France is a secret enemy, and, in a human, hospitable spirit, force
themselves to suspect and hate and revile them, and deny the brave destiny
of the race, which is the conflux of all the races. Therefore, he thought
it incumbent on him not to know the tenant of the first floor, although he
would have been glad to have his acquaintance. As for M. Weil, he would
have been very glad to talk to the old soldier: but he knew him for a
nationalist, and regarded him with mild contempt.
Christophe had much less reason than the Commandant for being interested in
M. Weil. But he could not bear to hear ill spoken of anybody unjustly. And
he broke many a lance in defence of M. Weil when he was attacked in his
One day, when the Commandant, as usual, was railing against the prevailing
state of things, Christophe said to him:
"It is your own fault. You all shut yourselves up inside yourselves. When
things in France are not going well, to your way of thinking, you submit to
it and send in your resignation. One would think it was a point of honor
with you to admit yourselves beaten. I've never seen anybody lose a cause
with such absolute delight. Come, Commandant, you have made war; is that
fighting, or anything like it?"
"It is not a question of fighting," replied the Commandant. "We don't fight
against France. In such struggles as these we have to argue, and vote, and
mix with all sorts of knaves and low blackguards: and I don't like it."
"You seem to be profoundly disgusted! I suppose you had to do with knaves
and low blackguards in Africa!"
"On my honor, that did not disgust me nearly so much. Out there one could
always knock them down! Besides, if it's a question of fighting, you need
soldiers. I had my sharpshooters out there. Here I am all alone."
"It isn't that there is any lack of good men."
"Where are they?"
"Everywhere. All round us."
"Well: what are they doing?"
"Just what you're doing. Nothing. They say there's nothing to be done."
"Give me an instance."
"Three, if you like, in this very house."
Christophe mentioned M. Weil,--(the Commandant gave an exclamation),--and
the Elsbergers,--(he jumped in his seat):
"That Jew? Those Dreyfusards?"
"Dreyfusards?" said Christophe. "Well: what does that matter?"
"It is they who have ruined France."
"They love France as much as you do."
"They're mad, mischievous lunatics."
"Can't you be just to your adversaries?"
"I can get on quite well with loyal adversaries who use the same weapons.
The proof of that is that I am here talking to you, Monsieur German. I can
think well of the Germans, although some day I hope to give them back with
interest the thrashing we got from them. But it is not the same thing with
our enemies at home: they use underhand weapons, sophistry, and unsound
ideas, and a poisonous humanitarianism...."
"Yes. You are in the same state of mind as that of the knights of the
Middle Ages, when, for the first time, they found themselves faced with
gunpowder. What do you want? There is evolution in war too."
"So be it. But then, let us be frank, and say that war is war."
"Suppose a common enemy were to threaten Europe, wouldn't you throw in your
lot with the Germans?"
"We did so, in China."
"Very well, then: look about you. Don't you see that the heroic idealism
of your country and every other country in Europe is actually threatened?
Don't you see that they are all, more or less, a prey to the adventurers of
every class of society? To fight that common enemy, don't you think you
should join with those of your adversaries who are of some worth and moral
vigor? How can a man like you set so little store by the realities of life?
Here are people who uphold an ideal which is different from your own! An
ideal is a force, you cannot deny it: in the struggle in which you were
recently engaged, it was your adversaries' ideal which defeated you.
Instead of wasting your strength in fighting against it, why not make use
of it, side by side with your own, against the enemies of all ideals, the
men who are exploiting your country and your wealth of ideas, the men who
are bringing European civilization to rottenness?"
"For whose sake? One must know where one is. To make our adversaries
"When you were in Africa, you never stopped to think whether you were
fighting for the King or the Republic. I fancy that not many of you ever
gave a thought to the Republic."
"They didn't care a rap."
"Good! And that was well for France. You conquered for her, as well as for
yourselves, and for the honor and the joy of it. Why not do the same here?
Why not widen the scope of the fight? Don't go haggling over differences in
politics and religion. These things are utterly futile. What does it matter
whether your nation is the eldest daughter of the Church or the eldest
daughter of Reason? The only thing that does matter is that it should
live! Everything that exalts life is good. There is only one enemy,
pleasure-seeking egoism, which fouls the sources of life and dries them up.
Exalt force, exalt the light, exalt fruitful love, the joy of sacrifice,
action, and give up expecting other people to act for you. Do, act,
And he laughed and began to bang out the first bars of the march in _B
minor_ from the _Choral Symphony_.
"Do you know," he said, breaking off, "that if I were one of your
musicians, say Charpentier or Bruneau (devil take the two of them!),
I would combine in a choral symphony _Aux armes, citoyens!_,
_l'Internationale_, _Vive Henri IV_, and _Dieu Protege la France!_,--(You
see, something like this.)--I would make you a soup so hot that it would
burn your mouth! It would be unpleasant,--(no worse in any case than what
you are doing now):--but I vow it would warm your vitals, and that you
would have to set out on the march!"
And he roared with laughter.
The Commandant laughed too:
"You're a fine fellow, Monsieur Krafft. What a pity you're not one of us!"
"But I am one of you! The fight is the same everywhere. Let us close up the
The Commandant quite agreed: but there he stayed. Then Christophe pressed
his point and brought the conversation back to M. Weil and the Elsbergers.
And the old soldier no less obstinately went back to his eternal arguments
against Jews and Dreyfusards, and nothing that Christophe had said seemed
to have had the slightest effect on him.
Christophe grew despondent. Olivier said to him:
"Don't you worry about it. One man cannot all of a sudden change the whole
state of mind of a nation. That's too much to expect! But you have done a
good deal without knowing it."
"What have I done?" said Christophe.
"You are Christophe."
"What good is that to other people?"
"A great deal. Just go on being what you are, my dear Christophe. Don't you
worry about us."
But Christophe could not surrender. He went on arguing with Commandant
Chabran, sometimes with great vehemence. It amused Celine. She was
generally present at their discussions, sitting and working in silence. She
took no part in the argument: but it seemed to make her more lively: and
quite a different expression would come into her eyes: it was as though it
gave her more breathing-space. She began to read, and went out a little
more, and found more things to interest her. And one day, when Christophe
was battling with her father about the Elsbergers, the Commandant saw her
smile: he asked her what she was thinking, and she replied calmly:
"I think M. Krafft is right."
The Commandant was taken aback, and said:
"You ... you surprise me!... However, right or wrong, we are what we are.
And there's no reason why we should know these people. Isn't it so, my
"No, father," she replied. "I would like to know them."
The Commandant said nothing, and pretended that he had not heard. He
himself was much less insensible of Christophe's influence than he cared to
appear. His vehemence and narrow-mindedness did not prevent his having a
proper sense of justice and very generous feelings. He loved Christophe, he
loved his frankness and his moral soundness, and he used often bitterly to
regret that Christophe was a German. Although he always lost his temper in
these discussions, he was always eager for more, and Christophe's arguments
did produce an effect on him though he would never have been willing to
admit it. But one day Christophe found him absorbed in reading a book which
he would not let him see. And when Celine took Christophe to the door and
found herself alone with him, she said:
"Do you know what he was reading? One of M. Weil's books."
Christophe was delighted.
"What does he say about it?"
"He says: 'Beast!'... But he can't put it down."
Christophe made no allusion to the fact with the Commandant. It was he who
"Why have you stopped hurling that blessed Jew at my head?"
"Because I don't think there's any need to," said Christophe. "Why?" asked
the Commandant aggressively.
Christophe made no reply, and went away laughing.
* * * * *
Olivier was right. It is not through words that a man can influence other
men: but through his life. There are people who irradiate an atmosphere
of peace from their eyes, and in their gestures, and through the silent
contact with the serenity of their souls. Christophe irradiated life.
Softly, softly, like the moist air of spring, it penetrated the walls and
the closed windows of the somnolent old house: it gave new life to the
hearts of men and women, whom sorrow, weakness, and isolation had for years
been consuming, so that they were withered and like dead creatures. What
a power there is in one soul over another! Those who wield that power and
those who feel it are alike ignorant of its working. And yet the life of
the world is in the ebb and flow controlled by that mysterious power of
On the second floor, below Christophe and Olivier's room, there lived,
as we have seen, a young woman of thirty-five, a Madame Germain, a widow
of two years' standing, who, the year before, had lost her little girl,
a child of seven. She lived with her mother-in-law, and they never saw
anybody. Of all the tenants of the house, they had the least to do with
Christophe. They had hardly met, and they had never spoken to each other.
She was a tall woman, thin, but with a good figure; she had fine brown
eyes, dull and rather inexpressive, though every now and then there glowed
in them a hard, mournful light. Her face was sallow and her complexion
waxy: her cheeks were hollow and her lips were tightly compressed. The
elder Madame Germain was a devout lady, and spent all her time at church.
The younger woman lived in jealous isolation in her grief. She took no
interest in anything or anybody. She surrounded herself with portraits and
pictures of her little girl, and by dint of staring at them she had ceased
to see her as she was: the photographs and dead presentments had killed the
living image of the child. She had ceased to see her as she was, but she
clung to it: she was determined to think of nothing but the child: and so,
in the end, she reached a point at which she could not even think of her:
she had completed the work of death. There she stopped, frozen, with her
heart turned to stone, with no tears to shed, with her life withered.
Religion was no aid to her. She went through the formalities, but her heart
was not in them, and therefore she had no living faith: she gave money for
Masses, but she took no active part in any of the work of the Church: her
whole religion was centered in the one thought of seeing her child again.
What did the rest matter? God? What had she to do with God? To see her
child again, only to see her again.... And she was by no means sure that
she would do so. She wished to believe it, willed it hardly, desperately:
but she was in doubt.... She could not bear to see other children, and used
"Why are they not dead too?"
In the neighborhood there was a little girl who in figure and manner was
like her own. When she saw her from behind, with her little pigtails down
her back, she used to tremble. She would follow her, and, when the child
turned round and she saw that it was not _she_, she would long to strangle
her. She used to complain that the Elsberger children made a noise
below her, though they were very quiet, and even very subdued by their
up-bringing: and when the unhappy children began to play about their
room, she would send her maid to ask her neighbors to make them be quiet.
Christophe met her once as he was coming in with the little girls, and was
hurt and horrified by the hard way in which she looked at them.
One summer evening when the poor woman was sitting in the dark in the
self-hypnotized condition of the utter emptiness of her living death, she
heard Christophe playing. It was his habit to sit at the piano in the
half-light, musing and improvising. His music irritated her, for it
disturbed the empty torpor into which she had sunk. She shut the window
angrily. The music penetrated through to her room. Madame Germain was
filled with a sort of hatred for it. She would have been glad to stop
Christophe, but she had no right to do so. Thereafter, every day at the
same time she sat waiting impatiently and irritably for the music to begin:
and when it was later than usual her irritation was only the more acute. In
spite of herself, she had to follow the music through to the end, and when
it was over she found it hard to sink back into her usual apathy.--And one
evening, when she was curled up in a corner of her dark room, and, through
the walls and the closed window, the distant music reached her, that
light-giving music ... she felt a thrill run through her, and once more
tears came to her eyes. She went and opened the window, and stood there
listening and weeping. The music was like rain drop by drop falling upon
her poor withered heart, and giving it new life. Once more she could see
the sky, the stars, the summer night: within herself she felt the dawning
of a new interest in life, as yet only a poor, pale light, vague and
sorrowful sympathy for others. And that night, for the first time for many
months, the image of her little girl came to her in her dreams.--For the
surest road to bring us near the beloved dead, the best means of seeing
them again, is not to go with them into death, but to live. They live in
our lives, and die with us.
She made no attempt to meet Christophe. Bather she avoided him. But she
used to hear him go by on the stairs with the children: and she would stand
in hiding behind her door to listen to their babyish prattle, which so
moved her heart.
One day, as she was going out, she heard their little padding footsteps
coming down the stairs, rather more noisily than usual, and the voice of
one of the children saying to her sister:
"Don't make so much noise, Lucette. Christophe says you mustn't because of
the sorrowful lady."
And the other child began to walk more quietly and to talk in a whisper.
Then Madame Germain could not restrain herself: she opened the door, and
took the children in her arms, and hugged them fiercely. They were afraid:
one of the children began to cry. She let them go, and went back into her
After that, whenever she met them, she used to try to smile at them, a poor
withered smile,--(for she had grown unused to smiling);--she would speak to
them awkwardly and affectionately, and the children would reply shyly in
timid, bashful whispers. They were still afraid of the sorrowful lady, more
afraid than ever: and now, whenever they passed the door, they used to run
lest she should come out and catch them. She used to hide to catch sight
of them as they passed. She would have been ashamed to be seen talking to
the children. She was ashamed in her own eyes. It seemed to her that she
was robbing her own dead child of some of the love to which she only was
entitled. She would kneel down and pray for her forgiveness. But now that
the instinct for life and love was newly awakened in her, she could not
resist it: it was stronger than herself.
One evening, as Christophe came in, he saw that there was an unusual
commotion in the house. He met a tradesman, who told him that the tenant
of the third floor, M. Watelet, had just died suddenly of angina pectoris.
Christophe was filled with pity, not so much for his unhappy neighbor as
for the child who was left alone in the world. M. Watelet was not known to
have any relations, and there was every reason to believe that he had left
the girl almost entirely unprovided for. Christophe raced upstairs, and
went into the flat on the third floor, the door of which was open. He
found the Abbe Corneille with the body, and the child in tears, crying
to her father: the housekeeper was making clumsy efforts to console her.
Christophe took the child in his arms and spoke to her tenderly. She clung
to him desperately: he could not think of leaving her: he wanted to take
her away, but she would not let him. He stayed with her. He sat near the
window in the dying light of day, and went on rocking her in his arms and
speaking to her softly. The child gradually grew calmer, and went to sleep,
still sobbing. Christophe laid her on her bed, and tried awkwardly to
undress her and undo the laces of her little shoes. It was nightfall. The
door of the flat had been left open. A shadow entered with a rustling of
skirts. In the fading light Christophe recognized the fevered eyes of the
sorrowful lady. He was amazed. She stood by the door, and said thickly:
"I came.... Will you ... will you let me take her?"
Christophe took her hand and pressed it. Madame Germain was in tears. Then
she sat by the bedside. And, a moment later, she said:
"Let me stay with her...."
Christophe went up to his own room with the Abbe Corneille. The priest was
a little embarrassed, and begged Ms pardon for coming up. He hoped, he
said, humbly, that the dead man would have nothing to reproach him with: he
had gone, not as a priest, but as a friend. Christophe was too much moved
to speak, and left him with an affectionate shake of the hand.
Next morning, when Christophe went down, he found the child with her arms
round Madame Germain's neck, with the naive confidence which makes children
surrender absolutely to those who have won their affection. She was glad to
go with her new friend.... Alas! she had soon forgotten her adopted father.
She showed just the same affection for her new mother. That was not very
comforting. Did Madame Germain, in the egoism of her love, see it?...
Perhaps. But what did it matter? The thing is to love. That way lies
A few weeks after the funeral Madame Germain took the child into the
country, far away from Paris. Christophe and Olivier saw them off. The
woman had an expression of contentment and secret joy which they had never
known in her before. She paid no attention to them. However, just as they
were going, she noticed Christophe, and held out her hand, and said:
"It was you who saved me."
"What's the matter with the woman?" asked Christophe in amazement, as they
were going upstairs after her departure.
A few days later the post brought him a photograph of a little girl whom he
did not know, sitting on a stool, with her little hands sagely folded in
her lap, while she looked up at him with clear, sad eyes. Beneath it were
written these words:
"With thanks from my dear, dead child."
* * * * *
Thus it was that the breath of life passed into all these people. In the
attic on the fifth floor was a great and mighty flame of humanity, the
warmth and light of which were slowly filtered through the house.
But Christophe saw it not. To him the process was very slow.
"Ah!" he would sigh, "if one could only bring these good people together,
all these people of all classes and every kind of belief, who refuse to
know each other! Can't it be done?"
"What do you want?" said Olivier. "You would need to have mutual tolerance
and a power of sympathy which can only come from inward joy,--the joy of a
healthy, normal, harmonious existence,--the joy of having a useful outlet
for one's activity, of feeling that one's efforts are not wasted, and that
one is serving some great purpose. You would need to have a prosperous
country, a nation at the height of greatness, or--(better still)--on the
road to greatness. And you must also have--(the two things go together)--a
power which could employ all the nation's energies, an intelligent and
strong power, which would be above party. Now, there is no power above
party save that which finds its strength in itself--not in the multitude,
that power which seeks not the support of anarchical majorities,--as it
does nowadays when it is no more than a well-trained dog in the hands
of second-rate men, and bends all to its will by service rendered: the
victorious general, the dictatorship of Public Safety, the supremacy of the
intelligence... what you will. It does not depend on us. You must have the
opportunity and the men capable of seizing it: you must have happiness and
genius. Let us wait and hope! The forces are there: the forces of faith,
knowledge, work, old France and new France, and the greater France.... What
an upheaval it would be, if the word were spoken, the magic word which
should let loose these forces all together! Of course, neither you nor I
can say the word. Who will say it? Victory? Glory?... Patience! The chief
thing is for the strength of the nation to be gathered together, and not
to rust away, and not to lose heart before the time comes. Happiness and
genius only come to those peoples who have earned them by ages of stoic
patience, and labor, and faith."
"Who knows?" said Christophe. "They often come sooner than we think--just
when we expect them least. You are counting too much on the work of ages.
Make ready. Gird your loins. Always be prepared with your shoes on your
feet and your staff in your hand.... For you do not know that the Lord will
not pass your doors this very night."
* * * * *
The Lord came very near that night. His shadow fell upon the threshold of
* * * * *
Following on a sequence of apparently insignificant events, relations
between France and Germany suddenly became strained: and, in a few days,
the usual neighborly attitude of banal courtesy passed into the provocative
mood which precedes war. There was nothing surprising in this, except to
those who were living under the illusion that the world is governed by
reason. But there were many such in France: and numbers of people were
amazed from day to day to see the vehement Gallophobia of the German
Press becoming rampant with the usual quasi-unanimity. Certain of those
newspapers which, in the two countries, arrogate to themselves a monopoly
of patriotism, and speak in the nation's name, and dictate to the State,
sometimes with the secret complicity of the State, the policy it should
follow, launched forth insulting ultimatums to France. There was a dispute
between Germany and England; and Germany did not admit the right of France
not to interfere: the insolent newspapers called upon her to declare for
Germany, or else threatened to make her pay the chief expenses of the war:
they presumed that they could wrest alliance from her fears, and already
regarded her as a conquered and contented vassal,--to be frank, like
Austria. It only showed the insane vanity of German Imperialism, drunk with
victory, and the absolute incapacity of German statesmen to understand
other races, so that they were always applying the simple common measure
which was law for themselves: Force, the supreme reason. Naturally, such a
brutal demand, made of an ancient nation, rich in its past ages of a glory
and a supremacy in Europe, such as Germany had never known, had had exactly
the opposite effect to that which Germany expected. It had provoked their
slumbering pride; France was shaken from top to base; and even the most
diffident of the French roared with anger.
The great mass of the German people had nothing at all to do with the
provocation: they were shocked by it: the honest men of every country
ask only to be allowed to live in peace: and the people of Germany are
particularly peaceful, affectionate, anxious to be on good terms with
everybody, and much more inclined to admire and emulate other nations than
to go to war with them. But the honest men of a nation are not asked for
their opinion: and they are not bold enough to give it. Those who are not
virile enough to take public action are inevitably condemned to be its
pawns. They are the magnificent and unthinking echo which casts back the
snarling cries of the Press and the defiance of their leaders, and swells
them into the _Marseillaise_, or the _Wacht am Rhein_.
It was a terrible blow to Christophe and Olivier. They were so used to
living in mutual love that they could not understand why their countries
did not do the same. Neither of them could grasp the reasons for the
persistent hostility, which was now so suddenly brought to the surface,
especially Christophe, who, being a German, had no sort of ground for
ill-feeling against the people whom his own people had conquered.
Although he himself was shocked by the intolerable vanity of some of his
fellow-countrymen, and, up to a certain point, was entirely with the French
against such a high-handed Brunswicker demand, he could not understand
why France should, after all, be unwilling to enter into an alliance with
Germany. The two countries seemed to him to have so many deep-seated
reasons for being united, so many ideas in common, and such great tasks to
accomplish together, that it annoyed him to see them persisting in their
wasteful, sterile ill-feeling. Like all Germans, he regarded France as the
most to blame for the misunderstanding: for, though he was quite ready to
admit that it was painful for her to sit still under the memory of her
defeat, yet that was, after all, only a matter of vanity, which should be
set aside in the higher interests of civilization and of France herself.
He had never taken the trouble to think out the problem of Alsace and
Lorraine. At school he had been taught to regard the annexation of those
countries as an act of justice, by which, after centuries of foreign
subjection, a German province had been restored to the German flag. And so,
he was brought down with a run, and he discovered that his friend regarded
the annexation as a crime. He had never even spoken to him about these
things, so convinced was he that they were of the same opinion: and now he
found Olivier, of whose good faith and broad-mindedness he was certain,
telling him, dispassionately, without anger and with profound sadness, that
it was possible for a great people to renounce the thought of vengeance for
such a crime, but quite impossible for them to subscribe to it without
They had great difficulty in understanding each other. Olivier's historical
argument, alleging the right of France to claim Alsace as a Latin country,
made no impression on Christophe: there were just as good arguments to the
contrary: history can provide politics with every sort of argument in every
sort of cause. Christophe was much more accessible to the human, and not
only French, aspect of the problem. Whether the Alsatians were or were not
Germans was not the question. They did not wish to be Germans: and that
was all that mattered. What nation has the right to say: "These people are
mine: for they are my brothers"? If the brothers in question renounce that
nation, though they be a thousand times in the wrong, the consequences of
the breach must always be borne by the party who has failed to win the
love of the other, and therefore has lost the right to presume to bind the
other's fortunes up with his own. After forty years of strained relations,
vexations, patent or disguised, and even of real advantage gained from the
exact and intelligent administration of Germany, the Alsatians persist in
their refusal to become Germans: and, though they might give in from sheer
exhaustion, nothing could ever wipe out the memory of the sufferings of the
generations, forced to live in exile from their native land, or, what is
even more pitiful, unable to leave it, and compelled to bend under a yoke
which was hateful to them, and to submit to the seizure of their country
and the slavery of their people.
Christophe naively confessed that he had never seen the matter in that
light: and he was considerably perturbed by it. And honest Germans always
bring to a discussion an integrity which does not always go with the
passionate self-esteem of a Latin, however sincere he may be. It never
occurred to Christophe to support his argument by the citation of similar
crimes perpetrated by all nations all through the history of the world. He
was too proud to fall back upon any such humiliating excuse: he knew that,
as humanity advances, its crimes become more odious, for they stand in a
clearer light. But he knew also that if France were victorious in her turn
she would be no more moderate in the hour of victory than Germany had been,
and that yet another link would be added to the chain of the crimes of the
nations. So the tragic conflict would drag on for ever, in which the best
elements of European civilization were in danger of being lost.
Though the subject was terribly painful for Christophe, it was even more so
for Olivier. It meant for him, not only the sorrow of a great fratricidal
struggle between the two nations best fitted for alliance together. In
France the nation was divided, and one faction was preparing to fight the
other. For years pacific and anti-militarist doctrines had been spread and
propagated both by the noblest and the vilest elements of the nation. The
Government had for a long time held aloof, with the weak-kneed dilettantism
with which it handled everything which did not concern the immediate
interests of the politicians: and it never occurred to it that it might
be less dangerous frankly to maintain the most dangerous doctrines than
to leave them free to creep into the veins of the people and ruin their
capacity for war, while armaments were being prepared. These doctrines
appealed to the Free Thinkers who were dreaming of founding a European
brotherhood, working all together to make the world more just and human.
They appealed also to the selfish cowardice of the rabble, who were
unwilling to endanger their skins for anything or anybody.--These ideas had
been taken up by Olivier and many of his friends. Once or twice, in his
rooms, Christophe had been present at discussions which had amazed him. His
friend Mooch, who was stuffed full of humanitarian illusions, used to say,
with eyes blazing, quite calmly, that war must be abolished, and that the
best way of setting about it was to incite the soldiers to mutiny, and, if
necessary, to shoot down their leaders: and he would insist that it was
bound to succeed. Elie Elsberger would reply, coldly and vehemently, that,
if war were to break out, he and his friends would not set out for the
frontier before they had settled their account with the enemy at home.
Andre Elsberger would take Mooch's part.... One day Christophe came in for
a terrible scene between the two brothers. They threatened to shoot each
other. Although their bloodthirsty words were spoken in a bantering tone,
he had a feeling that neither of them had uttered a single threat which he
was not prepared to put into action. Christophe was amazed when he thought
of a race of men so absurd as to be always ready to commit suicide for the
sake of ideas.... Madmen. Crazy logicians. And yet they are good men. Each
man sees only his own ideas, and wishes to follow them through to the end,
without turning aside by a hair's breadth. And it is all quite useless: for
they crush each other out of existence. The humanitarians wage war on the
patriots. The patriots wage war on the humanitarians. And meanwhile the
enemy comes and destroys both country and humanity in one swoop.
"But tell me," Christophe would ask Andre Elsberger, "are you in touch with
the proletarians of the rest of the nations?"
"Some one has to begin. And we are the people to do it. We have always been
the first. It is for us to give the signal!"
"And suppose the others won't follow!"
"Have you made treaties, and drawn up a plan?"
"What's the good of treaties? Our force is superior to diplomacy."
"It is not a question of ideas: it's a question of strategy. If you are
going to destroy war, you must borrow the methods of war. Draw up your plan
of campaign in the two countries. Arrange that on such and such a date in
France and Germany your allied troops shall take such and such a step. But,
if you go to work without a plan, how can you expect any good to come of
it? With chance on the one hand, and tremendous organized forces on the
other--the result would never be in doubt: you would be crushed out of
Andre Elsberger did not listen. He shrugged his shoulders and took refuge
in vague threats: a handful of sand, he said, was enough to smash the whole
machine, if it were dropped into the right place in the gears.
But it is one thing to discuss at leisure, theoretically, and quite another
to have to put one's ideas into practice, especially when one has to make
up one's mind quickly.... Those are frightful moments when the great tide
surges through the depths of the hearts of men! They thought they were free
and masters of their thoughts! But now, in spite of themselves, they are
conscious of being dragged onwards, onwards.... An obscure power of will is
set against their will. Then they discover that it is not they who exist
in reality, not they, but that unknown Force, whose laws govern the whole
ocean of humanity....
Men of the firmest intelligence, men the most secure in their faith, now
saw it dissolve at the first puff of reality, and stood turning this way
and that, not daring to make up their minds, and often, to their immense
surprise, deciding upon a course of action entirely different from any
that they had foreseen. Some of the most eager to abolish war suddenly
felt a vigorous passionate pride in their country leap into being in their
hearts. Christophe found Socialists, and even revolutionary syndicalists,
absolutely bowled over by their passionate pride in a duty utterly foreign
to their temper. At the very beginning of the upheaval, when as yet
he hardly believed that the affair could be serious, he said to Andre
Elsberger, with his usual German want of tact, that now was the moment to
apply his theories, unless he wanted Germany to take France. Andre fumed,
and replied angrily:
"Just you try!... Swine, you haven't even guts enough to muzzle your
Emperor and shake off the yoke, in spite of your thrice-blessed Socialist
Party, with its four hundred thousand members and its three million
electors. We'll do it for you! Take us? We'll take you...."
And as they were held on and on in suspense, they grew restless and
feverish. Andre was in torment. He knew that his faith was true, and yet
he could not defend it! He felt that he was infected by the moral epidemic
which spreads among the people of a nation the collective insanity of their
ideas, the terrible spirit of war! It attacked everybody about Christophe,
and even Christophe himself. They were no longer on speaking terms, and
kept themselves to themselves.
But it was impossible to endure such suspense for long. The wind of action
willy-nilly sifted the waverers into one group or another. And one day,
when it seemed that they must be on the eve of the ultimatum,--when, in
both countries, the springs of action were taut, ready for slaughter,
Christophe saw that everybody, including the people in his own house, had
made up their minds. Every kind of party was instinctively rallied round
the detested or despised Government which represented France. Not only
the honest men of the various parties: but the esthetes, the masters of
depraved art, took to interpolating professions of patriotic faith in their
work. The Jews were talking of defending the soil of their ancestors. At
the mere mention of the flag tears came to Hamilton's eyes. And they were
all sincere: they were all victims of the contagion. Andre Elsberger and
his syndicalist friends, just as much as the rest, and even more: for,
being crushed by necessity and pledged to a party that they detested, they
submitted with a grim fury and a stormy pessimism which made them crazy for
action. Aubert, the artisan, torn between his cultivated humanitarianism
and his instinctive chauvinism, was almost beside himself. After many
sleepless nights he had at last found a formula which could accommodate
everything: that France was synonymous with Humanity. Thereafter he never
spoke to Christophe. Almost all the people in the house had closed their
doors to him. Even the good Arnauds never invited him. They went on playing
music and surrounding themselves with art; they tried to forget the general
obsession. But they could not help thinking of it. When either of them
alone happened to meet Christophe alone, he or she would shake hands
warmly, but hurriedly and furtively. And if, the very same day, Christophe
met them together, they would pass him by with a frigid bow. On the
other hand, people who had not spoken to each other for years now rushed
together. One evening Olivier beckoned to Christophe to go near the window,
and, without a word, he pointed to the Elsbergers talking to Commandant
Chabran in the garden below.
Christophe had no time to be surprised at such a revolution in the minds of
his friends. He was too much occupied with his own mind, in which there had
been an upheaval, the consequences of which he could not master. Olivier
was much calmer than he, though he had much more reason to be upset. Of
all Christophe's acquaintance, he seemed to be the only one to escape the
contagion. Though he was oppressed by the anxious waiting for the outbreak
of war, and the dread of schism at home, which he saw must happen in spite
of everything, he knew the greatness of the two hostile faiths which sooner
or later would come to grips: he knew also that it is the part of France to
be the experimental ground in human progress, and that all new ideas need
to be watered with her blood before they can come to flower. For his own
part, he refused to take part in the skirmish. While the civilized nations
were cutting each other's throats he was fain to repeat the device of
Antigone: "_I am made for love, and not for hate_."--For love and for
understanding, which is another form of love. His fondness for Christophe
was enough to make his duty plain to him. At a time when millions of human
beings were on the brink of hatred, he felt that the duty and happiness of
friends like himself and Christophe was to love each other, and to keep
their reason uncontaminated by the general upheaval. He remembered how
Goethe had refused to associate himself with the liberation movement of
1813, when hatred sent Germany to march out against France.
Christophe felt the same: and yet he was not easy in his mind. He who in a
way had deserted Germany, and could not return thither, he who had been fed
with the European ideas of the great Germans of the eighteenth century, so
dear to his old friend Schulz, and detested the militarist and commercial
spirit of New Germany, now found himself the prey of gusty passions: and he
did not know whither they would lead him. He did not tell Olivier, but he
spent his days in agony, longing for news. Secretly he put his affairs in
order and packed his trunk. He did not reason the thing out. It was too
strong for him. Olivier watched him anxiously, and guessed the struggle
which was going on in his friend's mind: and he dared not question him.
They felt that they were impelled to draw closer to each other than ever,
and they loved each other more: but they were afraid to speak: they
trembled lest they should discover some difference of thought which might
come between them and divide them, as their old misunderstanding had done.
Often their eyes would meet with an expression of tender anxiety, as
though they were on the eve of parting for ever. And they were silent and
* * * * *
But still on the roof of the house that was being built on the other side
of the yard, all through those days of gloom, with the rain beating down on
them, the workmen were putting the finishing touches: and Christophe's
friend, the loquacious slater, laughed and shouted across:
"There! The house is finished!"
* * * * *
Happily, the storm passed as quickly as it had come. The chancelleries
published bulletins announcing the return of fair weather, barometrically
as it were. The howling dogs of the Press were despatched to their kennels.
In a few hours the tension was relieved. It was a summer evening, and
Christophe had rushed in breathless to convey the good news to Olivier. He
was happy, and could breathe again. Olivier looked at him with a little sad
smile. And he dared not ask him the question that lay next his heart. He
"Well: you have seen them all united, all these people who could not
understand each other."
"Yes," said Christophe good-humoredly, "I have seen them united. You're
such humbugs! You all cry out upon each other, but at bottom you're all of
the same mind."
"You seem to be glad of it," remarked Olivier.
"Why not? Because they were united at my expense?... Bah! I'm strong enough
for that ... Besides, it's a fine thing to feel the mighty torrent rushing
you along, and the demons that were let loose in your hearts...."
"They terrify me," said Olivier. "I would rather have eternal solitude than
have my people united at such a cost."
They relapsed into silence: and neither of them dared approach the subject
which was troubling them. At last Olivier pulled himself together, and, in
a choking voice, said:
"Tell me frankly, Christophe: you were going away?"
Olivier was sure that he would say it. And yet his heart ached for it. He
"Tell me, Christophe: could you ... could you ...?"
Christophe drew his hand over his forehead and said:
"Don't let's talk of it. I don't like to think of it."
Olivier went on sorrowfully:
"You would have fought against us?"
"I don't know. I never thought about it."
"But, in your heart, you had decided?"
"Never against you. You are mine. Where I am, you are too."
"But against my country?"
"For my country."
"It is a terrible thing," said Olivier. "I love my country, as you do. I
love France: but could I slay my soul for her? Could I betray my conscience
for her? That would be to betray her. How could I hate, having no hatred,
or, without being guilty of a lie, assume a hatred that I did not feel? The
modern State was guilty of a monstrous crime--a crime which will prove its
undoing--when it presumed to impose its brazen laws on the free Church of
those spirits the very essence of whose being is to love and understand.
Let Caesar be Caesar, but let him not assume the Godhead! Let him take our
money and our lives: over our souls he has no rights: he shall not stain
them with blood. We are in this world to give it light, not to darken it:
let each man fulfil his duty! If Caesar desires war, then let Caesar have
armies for that purpose, armies as they were in olden times, armies of
men whose trade is war! I am not so foolish as to waste my time in vainly
moaning and groaning in protest against force. But I am not a soldier in
the army of force. I am a soldier in the army of the spirit: with thousands
of other men who are my brothers-in-arms I represent France in that army.
Let Caesar conquer the world if he will! We march to the conquest of truth."
"To conquer," said Christophe, "you must vanquish, you must live. Truth is
no hard dogma, secreted by the brain, like a stalactite by the walls of
a cave. Truth is life. It is not to be found in your own head, but to be
sought for in the hearts of others. Attach yourself to them, be one with
them. Think as much as you like, but do you every day take a bath of
humanity. You must live in the life of others and love and bow to destiny."
"It is our fate to be what we are. It does not depend on us whether we
shall or shall not think certain things, even though they be dangerous. We
have reached such a pitch of civilization that we cannot turn back."
"Yes, you have reached the farthest limit of the plateau of civilization,
that dizzy height to which no nation can climb without feeling an
irresistible desire to fling itself down. Religion and instinct are
weakened in you. You have nothing left but intelligence. You are machines
grinding out philosophy. Death comes rushing in upon you."
"Death comes to every nation: it is a matter of centuries."
"Have done with your centuries! The whole of life is a matter of days and
hours. If you weren't such an infernally metaphysical lot, you'd never
go shuffling over into the absolute, instead of seizing and holding the
"What do you want? The flame burns the torch away. You can't both live and
have lived, my dear Christophe."
"You must live."
"It is a great thing to have been great."
"It is only a great thing when there are still men who are alive enough and
great enough to appreciate it."
"Wouldn't you much rather have been the Greeks, who are dead, than any of
the people who are vegetating nowadays?"
"I'd much rather be myself, Christophe, and very much alive."
Olivier gave up the argument. It was not that he was without an answer.
But it did not interest him. All through the discussion he had only been
thinking of Christophe. He said, with a sigh:
"You love me less than I love you."
Christophe took his hand and pressed it tenderly:
"Dear Olivier," he said, "I love you more than my life. But you must
forgive me if I do not love you more than Life, the sun of our two races. I
have a horror of the night into which your false progress drags me. All
your sentiments of renunciation are only the covering of the same Buddhist
Nirvana. Only action is living, even when it brings death. In this world
we can only choose between the devouring flame and night. In spite of the
sad sweetness of dreams in the hour of twilight, I have no desire for that
peace which is the forerunner of death. The silence of infinite space
terrifies me. Heap more fagots upon the fire! More! And yet more! Myself
too, if needs must. I will not let the fire dwindle. If it dies down, there
is an end of us, an end of everything."
"What you say is old," said Olivier; "it comes from the depths of the
He took down from his shelves a book of Hindoo poetry, and read the sublime
apostrophe of the God Krishna:
"_Arise, and fight with a resolute heart. Setting no store by pleasure or
pain, or gain or loss, or victory or defeat, fight with all thy might...._"
Christophe snatched the book from his hands and read:
"_... I have nothing in the world to bid me toil: there is nothing that is
not mine: and yet I cease not from my labor. If I did not act, without a
truce and without relief, setting an example for men to follow, all men
would perish. If for a moment I were to cease from my labors, I should
plunge the world in chaos, and I should he the destroyer of life._"
"Life," repeated Olivier,--"what is life?"
"A tragedy," said Christophe. "Hurrah!"
* * * * *
The panic died down. Every one hastened to forget, with a hidden fear in
their hearts. No one seemed to remember what had happened. And yet it was
plain that it was still in their thoughts, from the joy with which they
resumed their lives, the pleasant life from day to day, which is never
truly valued until it is endangered. As usual when danger is past, they
gulped it down with renewed avidity.
Christophe flung himself into creative work with tenfold vigor. He dragged
Olivier after him. In reaction against their recent gloomy thoughts they
had begun to collaborate in a Rabelaisian epic. It was colored by that
broad materialism which follows on periods of moral stress. To the
legendary heroes--Gargantua, Friar John, Panurge--Olivier had added, on
Christophe's inspiration, a new character, a peasant, Jacques Patience,
simple, cunning, sly, resigned, who was the butt of the others, putting up
with it when he was thrashed and robbed,--putting up with it when they made
love to his wife, and laid waste his fields,--tirelessly putting his house
in order and cultivating his land,--forced to follow the others to war,
bearing the burden of the baggage, coming in for all the kicks, and still
putting up with it,--waiting, laughing at the exploits of his masters and
the thrashings they gave him, and saying, "They can't go on for ever,"
foreseeing their ultimate downfall, looking out for it out of the corner of
his eye, and silently laughing at the thought of it, with his great mouth
agape. One fine day it turned out that Gargantua and Friar John were
drowned while they were away on a crusade. Patience honestly regretted
their loss, merrily took heart of grace, saved Panurge, who was drowning
also, and said:
"I know that you will go on playing your tricks on me: you don't take me
in: but I can't do without you: you drive away the spleen, and make me
Christophe set the poem to music with great symphonic pictures, with soli
and chorus, mock-heroic battles, riotous country fairs, vocal buffooneries,
madrigals a la Jannequin, with tremendous childlike glee, a storm at sea,
the Island of Bells, and, finally, a pastoral symphony, full of the air
of the fields, and the blithe serenity of the flutes and oboes, and the
clean-souled folk-songs of Old France.--The friends worked away with
boundless delight. The weakly Olivier, with his pale cheeks, found new
health in Christophe's health. Gusts of wind blew through their garret. The
very intoxication of Joy! To be working together, heart to heart with one's
friend! The embrace of two lovers is not sweeter or more ardent than such
a yoking together of two kindred souls. They were so near in sympathy
that often the same ideas would flash upon them at the same moment. Or
Christophe would write the music for a scene for which Olivier would
immediately find words. Christophe impetuously dragged Olivier along in his
wake. His mind swamped that of his friend, and made it fruitful.
The joy of creation was enhanced by that of success. Hecht had just made up
his mind to publish the _David_: and the score, well launched, had had an
instantaneous success abroad. A great Wagnerian _Kapellmeister_, a friend
of Hecht's, who had settled in England, was enthusiastic about it: he had
given it at several of his concerts with considerable success, which,
with the _Kapellmeister's_ enthusiasm, had carried it over to Germany,
where also the _David_ had been played. The _Kapellmeister_ had entered
into correspondence with Christophe, and had asked him for more of his
compositions, offered to do anything he could to help him, and was engaged
in ardent propaganda in his cause. In Germany, the _Iphigenia_, which
had originally been hissed, was unearthed, and it was hailed as a work
of genius. Certain facts in Christophe's life, being of a romantic
nature, contributed not a little to the spurring of public interest. The
_Frankfurter Zeitung_ was the first to publish an enthusiastic article.
Others followed. Then, in France, a few people began to be aware that they
had a great musician in their midst. One of the Parisian conductors asked
Christophe for his Rabelaisian epic before it was finished: and Goujart,
perceiving his approaching fame, began to speak mysteriously of a friend
of his who was a genius, and had been discovered by himself. He wrote a
laudatory article about the admirable _David_,--entirely forgetting that
only the year before he had decried it in a short notice of a few lines.
Nobody else remembered it either or seemed to be in the least astonished
at his sudden change. There are so many people in Paris who are now loud
in their praises of Wagner and Cesar Franck, where formerly they roundly
abused them, and actually use the fame of these men to crush those new
artists whom to-morrow they will be lauding to the skies!
Christophe did not set any great store on his success. He knew that he
would one day win through: but he had not thought that the day could be so
near at hand: and he was distrustful of so rapid a triumph. He shrugged
his shoulders, and said that he wanted to be left alone. He could have
understood people applauding the _David_ the year before, when he wrote it:
but now he was so far beyond it; he had climbed higher. He was inclined to
say to the people who came and talked about his old work:
"Don't worry me with that stuff. It disgusts me. So do you." And he plunged
into his new work again, rather annoyed at having been disturbed. However,
he did feel a certain secret satisfaction. The first rays of the light of
fame are very sweet. It is good, it is healthy, to conquer. It is like
the open window and the first sweet scents of the spring coming into a
house.--Christophe's contempt for his old work was of no avail, especially
with regard to the _Iphigenia_: there was a certain amount of atonement for
him in seeing that unhappy production, which had originally brought him
only humiliation, belauded by the German critics, and in great request
with the theaters, as he learned from a letter from Dresden, in which the
directors stated that they would be glad to produce the piece during their
* * * * *
The very day when Christophe received the news, which, after years of
struggling, at last opened up a calmer horizon, with victory in the
distance, he had another letter from Germany.
It was in the afternoon. He was washing his face and talking gaily to
Olivier in the next room, when the housekeeper slipped an envelope under
the door. His mother's writing.... He had been just on the point of writing
to her, and was happy at the thought of being able to tell her of his
success, which would give her so much pleasure. He opened the letter. There
were only a few lines. How shaky the writing was!
_"My dear boy, I am not very well. If it were possible, I
should like to see you again. Love.
Christophe gave a groan. Olivier, who was working in the next room, ran to
him in alarm. Christophe could not speak, and pointed to the letter on the
table. He went on groaning, and did not listen to what Olivier said, who
took in the letter at a glance, and tried to comfort him. He rushed to his
bed, where he had laid his coat, dressed hurriedly, and without waiting to
fasten his collar,--(his hands were trembling too much)--went out. Olivier
caught him up on the stairs: what was he going to do? Go by the first
train? There wasn't one until the evening. It was much better to wait there
than at the station. Had he enough money?--They rummaged through their
pockets, and when they counted all that they possessed between them, it
only amounted to thirty francs. It was September. Hecht, the Arnauds, all
their friends, were out of Paris. They had no one to turn to. Christophe
was beside himself, and talked of going part of the way on foot. Olivier
begged him to wait for an hour, and promised to procure the money somehow.
Christophe submitted: he was incapable of a single idea himself. Olivier
ran to the pawnshop: it was the first time he had been there: for his own
sake, he would much rather have been left with nothing than pledge any of
his possessions, which were all associated with some precious memory: but
it was for Christophe, and there was no time to lose. He pawned his watch,
for which he was advanced a sum much smaller than he had expected. He
had to go home again and fetch some of his books, and take them to a
bookseller. It was a great grief to him, but at the time he hardly thought
of it: his mind could grasp nothing but Christophe's trouble. He returned,
and found Christophe just where he had left him, sitting by his desk, in
a state of collapse. With their thirty francs the sum that Olivier had
collected was more than enough. Christophe was too upset to think of asking
his friend how he had come by it, or whether he had kept enough to live
on during his absence. Olivier did not think of it either: he had given
Christophe all he possessed. He had to look after Christophe, just like a
child, until it was time for him to go. He took him to the station, and
never left him until the train began to move.
In the darkness into which he was rushing Christophe sat wide-eyed, staring
straight in front of him and thinking:
"Shall I be in time?"
He knew that his mother must have been unable to wait for her to write to
him. And in his fevered anxiety he was impatient of the jolting speed of
the express. He reproached himself bitterly for having left Louisa. And
at the same time he felt how vain were his reproaches: he had no power to
change the course of events.
However, the monotonous rocking of the wheels and springs of the carriage
soothed him gradually, and took possession of his mind, like tossing waves
of music dammed back by a mighty rhythm. He lived through all his past
life again from the far-distant days of his childhood: loves, hopes,
disillusion, sorrows,--and that exultant force, that intoxication of
suffering, enjoying, and creating, that delight in blotting out the light
of life and its sublime shadows, which was the soul of his soul, the living
breath of the God within him. Now as he looked back on it all was clear.
His tumultuous desires, his uneasy thoughts, his faults, mistakes, and
headlong struggles, now seemed to him to be the eddy and swirl borne on
by the great current of life towards its eternal goal. He discovered the
profound meaning of those years of trial: each test was a barrier which was
burst by the gathering waters of the river, a passage from a narrow to a
wider valley, which the river would soon fill: always he came to a wider
view and a freer air. Between the rising ground of France and the German
plain the river had carved its way, not without many a struggle, flooding
the meadows, eating away the base of the hills, gathering and absorbing
all the waters of the two countries. So it flowed between them, not to
divide, but to unite them: in it they were wedded. And for the first time
Christophe became conscious of his destiny, which was to carry through the
hostile peoples, like an artery, all the forces of life of the two sides of
the river.--A strange serenity, a sudden calm and clarity, came over him,
as sometimes happens in the darkest hours.... Then the vision faded, and he
saw nothing but the tender, sorrowful face of his old mother.
It was hardly dawn when he reached the little German town. He had to take
care not to be recognized, for there was still a warrant of arrest out
against him. But nobody at the station took any notice of him: the town was
asleep: the houses were shut up and the streets deserted: it was the gray
hour when the lights of the night are put out and the light of day is not
yet come,--the hour when sleep is sweetest and dreams are lit with the pale
light of the east. A little servant-girl was taking down the shutters of
a shop and singing an old German folk-song. Christophe almost choked with
emotion. O Fatherland! Beloved!... He was fain to kiss the earth as he
heard the humble song that set his heart aching in his breast; he felt how
unhappy he had been away from his country, and how much he loved it.... He
walked on, holding his breath. When he saw his old house he was obliged
to stop and put his hand to his lips to keep himself from crying out. How
would he find his mother, his mother whom he had deserted?... He took a
long breath and almost ran to the door. It was ajar. He pushed it open. No
one there ... The old wooden staircase creaked under his footsteps. He went
up to the top floor. The house seemed to be empty. The door of his mother's
room was shut.
Christophe's heart thumped as he laid his hand on the doorknob. And he had
not the strength to open it....
* * * * *
Louisa was alone, in bed, feeling that the end was near. Of her two other
sons, Rodolphe, the business man, had settled in Hamburg, the other,
Ernest, had emigrated to America, and no one knew what had become of him.
There was no one to attend to her except a woman in the house, who came
twice a day to see if Louisa wanted anything, stayed for a few minutes, and
then went about her business: she was not very punctual, and was often late
in coming. To Louisa it seemed quite natural that she should be forgotten,
as it seemed to her quite natural to be ill. She was used to suffering, and
was as patient as an angel. She had heart disease and palpitations, during
which she would think she was going to die: she would lie with her eyes
wide open, and her hands clutching the bedclothes, and the sweat dripping
down her face. She never complained. She knew that it must be so. She was
ready: she had already received the sacrament. She had only one anxiety:
lest God should find her unworthy to enter into Paradise. She endured
everything else in patience.
In a dark corner of her little room, near her pillow, on the wall of the
recess, she had made a little shrine for her relics and trophies: she had
collected the portraits of those who were dear to her: her three children,
her husband, for whose memory she had always preserved her love in its
first freshness, the old grandfather, and her brother, Gottfried: she was
touchingly devoted to all those who had been kind to her, though it were
never so little. On her coverlet, close to her eyes, she had pinned the
last photograph of himself that Christophe had sent her: and his last
letters were under her pillow. She had a love of neatness and scrupulous
tidiness, and it hurt her to know that everything was not perfectly in
order in her room. She listened for the little noises outside which marked
the different moments of the day for her. It was so long since she had
first heard them! All her life had been spent in that narrow space.... She
thought of her dear Christophe. How she longed for him to be there, near
her, just then! And yet she was resigned even to his absence. She was sure
that she would see him again on high. She had only to close her eyes to see
him. She spent days and days, half-unconscious, living in the past....
She would see once more the old house on the banks of the Rhine.... A
holiday.... A superb summer day. The window was open: the white road lay
gleaming under the sun. They could hear the birds singing. Melchior and the
old grandfather were sitting by the front-door smoking, and chatting and
laughing uproariously. Louisa could not see them: but she was glad that
her husband was at home that day, and that grandfather was in such a good
temper. She was in the basement, cooking the dinner: an excellent dinner:
she watched over it as the apple of her eye: there was a surprise: a
chestnut cake: already she could hear the boy's shout of delight.... The
boy, where was he? Upstairs: she could hear him practising at the piano.
She could not make out what he was playing, but she was glad to hear the
familiar tinkling sounds, and to know that he was sitting there with his
grave face.... What a lovely day! The merry jingling bells of a carriage
went by on the road.... Oh! good heavens! The joint! Perhaps it had
been burned while she was looking out of the window! She trembled lest
grandfather, of whom she was so fond, though she was afraid of him,
should be dissatisfied, and scold her.... Thank Heaven! there was no harm
done. There, everything was ready, and the table was laid. She called
Melchior and grandfather. They replied eagerly. And the boy?... He had
stopped playing. His music had ceased a moment ago without her noticing
it....--"Christophe!"... What was he doing? There was not a sound to be
heard. He was always forgetting to come down to dinner: father was going
to scold him. She ran upstairs....--"Christophe!"... He made no sound.
She opened the door of the room where he was practising. No one there.
The room was empty, and the piano was closed.... Louisa was seized with
a sudden panic. What had become of him? The window was open. Oh, Heaven!
Perhaps he had fallen out! Louisa's heart stops. She leans out and looks
down....--"Christophe!"... He is nowhere to be found. She rushes all over
the house. Downstairs grandfather shouts to her: "Come along; don't worry;
he'll come back." She will not go down: she knows that he is there: that
he is hiding for fun, to tease her. Oh, naughty, naughty boy!... Yes, she
is sure of it now: she heard the floor creak: he is behind the door. She
tries to open the door. But the key is gone. The key! She rummages through
a drawer, looking for it in a heap of keys. This one, that.... No, not
that....Ah, that's it!... She cannot fit it into the lock, her hand is
trembling so. She is in such haste: she must be quick. Why? She does not
know, but she knows that she must be quick, and that if she doesn't hurry
she will be too late. She hears Christophe breathing on the other side of
the door.... Oh, bother the key!... At last! The door is opened. A cry of
joy. It is he. He flings his arms round her neck.... Oh, naughty, naughty,
good, darling boy!...
She has opened her eyes. He is there, standing by her.
For some time he had been standing looking at her; so changed she was, with
her face both drawn and swollen, and her mute suffering made her smile of
recognition so infinitely touching: and the silence, and her utter
loneliness.... It rent his heart....
She saw him. She was not surprised. She smiled all that she could not say,
a smile of boundless tenderness. She could not hold out her arms to him,
nor utter a single word. He flung his arms round her neck and kissed her,
and she kissed him: great tears were trickling down her cheeks. She said in
He saw that she could not breathe.
Neither stirred. She stroked his head with her hands, and her tears went on
trickling down her cheeks. He kissed her hands and sobbed, with his face
hidden in the coverlet.
When her attack had passed she tried to speak. But she could not find
words: she floundered, and he could hardly understand her. But what did
it matter? They loved each other, and were together, and could touch each
other: that was the main thing.--He asked indignantly why she was left
alone. She made excuses for her nurse:
"She cannot always be here: she has her work to do...."
In a faint, broken voice,--she could hardly pronounce her words,--she made
a little hurried request about her burial. She told Christophe to give her
love to her two other sons who had forgotten her. And she seat a message
to Olivier, knowing his love for Christophe. She begged Christophe to tell
him that she sent him her blessing--(and then, timidly, she recollected
herself, and made use of a more humble expression),--"her affectionate
Once more she choked. He helped her to sit up in her bed. The sweat dripped
down her face. She forced herself to smile. She told herself that she had
nothing more to wish for in the world, now that she had her son's hand
clasped in hers.
And suddenly Christophe felt her hand stiffen in his. Louisa opened her
lips. She looked at her son with infinite tenderness:--so the end came.
In the evening of the same day Olivier arrived. He had been unable to bear
the thought of leaving Christophe alone in those tragic hours of which he
had had only too much experience. He was fearful also of the risks his
friend was running in returning to Germany. He wanted to be with him, to
look after him. But he had no money for the journey. When he returned from
seeing Christophe off he made up his mind to sell the few family jewels
that he had left: and as the pawnshop was closed at that hour, and he
wanted to go by the next train, he was just going out to look for a
broker's shop in the neighborhood when he met Mooch on the stairs. When the
little Jew heard what he was about he was genuinely sorry that Olivier had
not come to him: he would not let Olivier go to the broker's, and made him
accept the necessary money from himself. He was really hurt to think that
Olivier had pawned his watch and sold his books to pay Christophe's fare,
when he would have been only too glad to help them. In his zeal for doing
them a service he even proposed to accompany Olivier to Christophe's home,
and Olivier had great difficulty in dissuading him.
Olivier's arrival was a great boon to Christophe. He had spent the day,
prostrated with grief, alone by his mother's body. The nurse had come,
performed certain offices, and then had gone away and had never come back.
The hours had passed in the stillness of death. Christophe sat there,
as still as the body: he never took his eyes from his mother's face: he
did not weep, he did not think, he was himself as one dead.--Olivier's
wonderful act of friendship brought him back to tears and life.
"_Getrost! Es ist der Schmerzen werth dies haben,
So lang ... mit uns ein treues Auge weint._"
("Courage! Life; is worth all its suffering as long as there are faithful
friends to weep with us.")
* * * * *
They clasped each other in a long embrace, and then sat by the dead woman's
side and talked in whispers. Night had fallen. Christophe, with his arms on
the foot of the bed, told random tales of his childhood's memories, in
which his mother's image ever recurred. He would pause every now and then
for a few minutes, and then go on again, until there came a pause when he
stopped altogether, and his face dropped into his hands: he was utterly
worn out: and when Olivier went up to him, he saw that he was asleep. Then
he kept watch alone. And presently he, too, was overcome by sleep, with his
head leaning against the back of the bed. There was a soft smile on
Louisa's face, and she seemed happy to be watching over her two children.
* * * * *
In the early hours of the morning they were awakened by a knocking at the
door. Christophe opened it. It was a neighbor, a joiner, who had come to
warn Christophe that his presence in the town had been denounced, and
that he must go, if he did not wish to be arrested. Christophe refused to
fly: he would not leave his mother before he had taken her to her last
resting-place. But Olivier begged him to go, and promised that he would
faithfully watch over her in his stead: he induced him to leave the house:
and, to make sure of his not going back on his decision, went with him to
the station. Christophe refused point-blank to go without having a sight
of the great river, by which he had spent his childhood, the mighty echo
of which was preserved for ever within his soul as in a sea-shell. Though
it was dangerous for him to be seen in the town, yet for his whim he
disregarded it. They walked along the steep bank of the Rhine, which
was rushing along in its mighty peace, between its low banks, on to its
mysterious death in the sands of the North. A great iron bridge, looming