Part 9 out of 9
in the mist, plunged its two arches, like the halves of the wheels of a
colossal chariot, into the gray waters. In the distance, fading into the
mist, were ships sailing through the meadows along the river's windings. It
was like a dream, and Christophe was lost in it. Olivier brought him back
to his senses, and, taking his arm, led him back to the station. Christophe
submitted: he was like a man walking in his sleep. Olivier put him into the
train as it was just starting, and they arranged to meet next day at the
first French station, so that Christophe should not have to go back to
The train went, and Olivier returned to the house, where he found two
policemen stationed at the door, waiting for Christophe to come back. They
took Olivier for him, and Olivier did not hurry to explain a mistake so
favorable to Christophe's chances of escape. On the other hand, the police
were not in the least discomfited by their blunder, and showed no great
zest in pursuing the fugitive, and Olivier had an inkling that at bottom
they were not at all sorry that Christophe had gone.
Olivier stayed until the next morning, when Louisa was buried. Christophe's
brother, Rodolphe, the business man, came by one train and left by the
next. That important personage followed the funeral very correctly, and
went immediately it was over, without addressing a single word to Olivier,
either to ask him for news of his brother or to thank him for what he had
done for their mother. Olivier spent a few hours more in the town, where he
did not know a soul, though it was peopled for him with so many familiar
shadows: the boy Christophe, those whom he had loved, and those who had
made him suffer;--and dear Antoinette.... What was there left of all those
human beings, who had lived in the town, the family of the Kraffts, that
now had ceased to be? Only the love for them that lived in the heart of a
* * * * *
In the afternoon Olivier met Christophe at the frontier station as they had
arranged. It was a village nestling among wooded hills. Instead of waiting
for the next train to Paris, they decided to go part of the way on foot, as
far as the nearest town. They wanted to be alone. They set out through the
silent woods, through which from a distance there resounded the dull thud
of an ax. They reached a clearing at the top of a hill. Below them, in a
narrow valley, in German territory, there lay the red roof of a forester's
house, and a little meadow like a green lake amid the trees. All around
there stretched the dark-blue sea of the forest wrapped in cloud. Mists
hovered and drifted among the branches of the pines. A transparent veil
softened the lines and blurred the colors of the trees. All was still.
Neither footsteps nor voices were to be heard. A few drops of rain rang
out on the golden copper leaves of the beeches, which had turned to autumn
tints. A little stream ran tinkling over the stones. Christophe and Olivier
stood still and did not stir. Each was dreaming of those whom he had lost.
Olivier was thinking:
"Antoinette, where are you?"
"What is success to me, now that she is dead?"
But each heard the comforting words of the dead:
"Beloved, weep not for us. Think, not of us. Think of Him...."
They looked at each other, and each ceased to feel his own sorrow, and was
conscious only of that of his friend. They clasped their hands. In both
there was sad serenity. Gently, while no wind stirred, the misty veil was
raised: the blue sky shone forth again. The melting sweetness of the earth
after rain.... So near to us, so tender!... The earth takes us in her arms,
clasps us to her bosom with a lovely loving smile, and says to us:
"Rest. All is well...."
The ache in Christophe's heart was gone. He was like a little child.
For two days he had been living wholly in the memory of his mother, the
atmosphere of her soul: he had lived over again her humble life, with its
days one like unto another, solitary, all spent in the silence of the
childless house, in the thought of the children who had left her: the poor
old woman, infirm but valiant in her tranquil faith, her sweetness of
temper, her smiling resignation, her complete lack of selfishness.... And
Christophe thought also of all the humble creatures he had known. How near
to them he felt in that moment! After all the years of exhausting struggle
in the burning heat of Paris, where ideas and men jostle in the whirl
of confusion, after those tragic days when there had passed over them
the wind of the madness which hurls the nations, cozened by their own
hallucinations, murderously against each other, Christophe felt utterly
weary of the fevered, sterile world, the conflict between egoisms and
ideas, the little groups of human beings deeming themselves above humanity,
the ambitious, the thinkers, the artists who think themselves the brain of
the world, and are no more than a haunting evil dream. And all his love
went out to those thousands of simple souls, of every nation, whose lives
burn away in silence, pure flames of kindness, faith, and sacrifice,--the
heart of the world.
"Yes," he thought, "I know you; once more I have come to you; you are blood
of my blood; you are mine. Like the prodigal son, I left you to pursue the
shadows that passed by the wayside. But I have come back to you; give me
welcome. We are one; one life is ours, both the living and the dead; where
I am there are you also. Now I bear you in my soul, O mother, who bore me.
You, too, Gottfried, and you Schulz, and Sabine, and Antoinette, you are
all in me, part of me, mine. You are my riches, my joy. We will take the
road together. I will never more leave you. I will be your voice. We will
join forces: so we shall attain the goal."
A ray of sunlight shot through the dripping branches of the trees. From the
little field down below there came up the voices of children singing an Old
German folk-song, frank and moving: the singers were three little girls
dancing round the house: and from afar the west wind brought the chiming of
the bells of France, like a perfume of roses....
"O peace, Divine harmony, serene music of the soul set free, wherein are
mingled joy and sorrow, death and life, the nations at war, and the nations
in brotherhood. I love you, I long for you, I shall win you...."
* * * * *
"The night drew down her veil. Starting from his dream, Christophe saw the
faithful face of his friend by his side. He smiled at him and embraced him.
Then they walked on through the forest in silence: and Christophe showed
Olivier the way.
"_Taciti, soli e senza compagnia,
N'andavan I' un dinnanzi, e I' altro dopo,
Come i frati minor vanno per via...._"