Part 1 out of 10
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, Juliet Sutherland,
Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP
THE BURNING BUSH
THE NEW DAWN
WITH PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR
LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP
THE BURNING BUSH
THE NEW DAWN
LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP
In spite of the success which was beginning to materialize outside
France, the two friends found their financial position very slow in
mending. Every now and then there recurred moments of penury when they
were obliged to go without food. They made up for it by eating twice as
much as they needed when they had money. But, on the whole, it was a
For the time being they were in the period of the lean kine. Christophe
had stayed up half the night to finish a dull piece of musical
transcription for Hecht: he did not get to bed until dawn, and slept
like a log to make up for lost time. Olivier had gone out early: he had
a lecture to give at the other end of Paris. About eight o'clock the
porter came with the letters, and rang the bell. As a rule he did not
wait for them to come, but just slipped the letters under the door. This
morning he went on knocking. Only half awake, Christophe went to the
door growling: he paid no attention to what the smiling, loquacious
porter was saying about an article in the paper, but just took the
letters without looking at them, pushed the door to without closing it,
went to bed, and was soon fast asleep once more.
An hour later he woke up with a start on hearing some one in his room:
and he was amazed to see a strange face at the foot of his bed, a
complete stranger bowing gravely to him. It was a journalist, who,
finding the door open, had entered without ceremony. Christophe was
furious, and jumped out of bed:
"What the devil are you doing here?" he shouted.
He grabbed his pillow to hurl it at the intruder, who skipped back. He
explained himself. A reporter of the Nation wished to interview M.
Krafft about the article which had appeared in the _Grand Journal_.
"Haven't you read it?"
The reporter began to tell him what it was about.
Christophe went to bed again. If he had not been so sleepy he would have
kicked the fellow out: but it was less trouble to let him talk. He
curled himself up in the bed, closed his eyes, and pretended to be
asleep. And very soon he would really have been off, but the reporter
stuck to his guns, and in a loud voice read the beginning of the
article. At the very first words Christophe pricked up his ears. M.
Krafft was referred to as the greatest musical genius of the age.
Christophe forgot that he was pretending to be asleep, swore in
astonishment, sat up in bed, and said:
"They are mad! Who has been pulling their legs?"
The reporter seized the opportunity, and stopped reading to ply
Christophe with a series of questions, which he answered unthinkingly.
He had picked up the paper, and was gazing in utter amazement at his own
portrait, which was printed as large as life on the front page: but he
had no time to read the article, for another journalist entered the
room. This time Christophe was really angry. He told them to get out:
but they did not comply until they had made hurried notes of the
furniture in the room, and the photographs on the wall, and the features
of the strange being who, between laughter and anger, thrust them out of
the room, and, in his nightgown, took them to the door and bolted it
But it was ordained that he should not be left in peace that day. He had
not finished dressing when there came another knock at the door, a
prearranged knock which was only known to a few of their friends.
Christophe opened the door, and found himself face to face with yet
another stranger, whom he was just about to dismiss in a summary
fashion, when the man protested that he was the author of the
article.... How are you to get rid of a man who regards you as a genius!
Christophe had grumpily to submit to his admirer's effusions. He was
amazed at the sudden notoriety which had come like a bolt from the blue,
and he wondered if, without knowing it, he had had a masterpiece
produced the evening before. But he had no time to find out. The
journalist had come to drag him, whether he liked it or not, there and
then, to the offices of the paper where the editor, the great Arsene
Gamache himself, wished to see him: the car was waiting downstairs.
Christophe tried to get out of it: but, in spite of himself, he was so
naively responsive to the journalist's friendly protestations that in
the end he gave way.
Ten minutes later he was introduced to a potentate in whose presence all
men trembled. He was a sturdy little man, about fifty, short and stout,
with a big round head, gray hair brushed up, a red face, a masterful way
of speaking, a thick, affected accent, and every now and then he would
break out into a choppy sort of volubility. He had forced himself on
Paris by his enormous self-confidence. A business man, with a knowledge
of men, naive and deep, passionate, full of himself, he identified his
business with the business of France, and even with the affairs of
humanity. His own interests, the prosperity of his paper, and the
_salus publica_, all seemed to him to be of equal importance and to
be narrowly associated. He had no doubt that any man who wronged him,
wronged France also: and to crush an adversary, he would in perfectly
good faith have overthrown the Government. However, he was by no means
incapable of generosity. He was an idealist of the after-dinner order,
and loved to be a sort of God Almighty, and to lift some poor devil or
other out of the mire, by way of demonstrating the greatness of his
power, whereby he could make something out of nothing, make and unmake
Ministers, and, if he had cared to, make and unmake Kings. His sphere
was the universe. He would make men of genius, too, if it so pleased
That day he had just "made" Christophe.
* * * * *
It was Olivier who in all innocence had belled the cat.
Olivier, who could do nothing to advance his own interests, and had a
horror of notoriety, and avoided journalists like the plague, took quite
another view of these things where his friend was in question. He was
like those loving mothers, the right-living women of the middle-class,
those irreproachable wives, who would sell themselves to procure any
advantage for their rascally young sons.
Writing for the reviews, and finding himself in touch with a number of
critics and dilettanti, Olivier never let slip an opportunity of talking
about Christophe: and for some time past he had been surprised to find
that they listened to him. He could feel a sort of current of curiosity,
a mysterious rumor flying about literary and polite circles. What was
its origin? Were there echoes of newspaper opinion, following on the
recent performances of Christophe's work in England and Germany? It
seemed impossible to trace it to any definite source. It was one of
those frequent phenomena of those men who sniff the air of Paris, and
can tell the day before, more exactly than the meteorological
observatory of the tower of Saint-Jacques, what wind is blowing up for
the morrow, and what it will bring with it. In that great city of
nerves, through which electric vibrations pass, there are invisible
currents of fame, a latent celebrity which precedes the actuality, the
vague gossip of the drawing-rooms, the _nescio quid majus nascitur
Iliade_, which, at a given moment, bursts out in a puffing article,
the blare of the trumpet which drives the name of the new idol into the
thickest heads. Sometimes that trumpet-blast alienates the first and
best friends of the man whose glory it proclaims. And yet they are
responsible for it.
So Olivier had a share in the article in the _Grand Journal_. He
had taken advantage of the interest displayed in Christophe, and had
carefully stoked it up with adroitly worded information. He had been
careful not to bring Christophe directly into touch with the
journalists, for he was afraid of an outburst. But at the request of the
_Grand Journal_ he had slyly introduced Christophe to a reporter in
a cafe without his having any suspicion. All these precautions only
pricked curiosity, and made Christophe more interesting. Olivier had
never had anything to do with publicity before: he had not stopped to
consider that he was setting in motion a machine which, once it got
going, it was impossible to direct or control.
He was in despair when, on his way to his lecture, he read the article
in the _Grand Journal_. He had not foreseen such a calamity. Above
all, he had not expected it to come so soon. He had reckoned on the
paper waiting to make sure and verify its facts before it published
anything. He was too naive. If a newspaper takes the trouble to discover
a new celebrity, it is, of course, for its own sake, so that its rivals
may not have the honor of the discovery. It must lose no time, even if
it means knowing nothing whatever about the person in question. But an
author very rarely complains: if he is admired, he has quite as much
understanding as he wants.
The _Grand Journal_, after setting out a few ridiculous stories
about Christophe's struggles, representing him as a victim of German
despotism, an apostle of liberty, forced to fly from Imperial Germany
and take refuge in France, the home and shelter of free men,--(a fine
pretext for a Chauvinesque tirade!)--plunged into lumbering praise of
his genius, of which it knew nothing,--nothing except a few tame
melodies, dating from Christophe's early days in Germany, which
Christophe, who was ashamed of them, would have liked to have seen
destroyed. But if the author of the article knew nothing at all about
Christophe's work, he made up for it in his knowledge of his plans--or
rather such plans as he invented for him. A few words let fall by
Christophe or Olivier, or even by Goujart, who pretended to be
well-informed, had been enough for him to construct a fanciful
Jean-Christophe, "a Republican genius,--the great musician of
democracy." He seized the opportunity to decry various contemporary
French musicians, especially the most original and independent among
them, who set very little store by democracy. He only excepted one or
two composers, whose electoral opinions were excellent in his eyes. It
was annoying that their music was not better. But that was a detail. And
besides, his eulogy of these men, and even his praise of Christophe, was
of not nearly so much account as his criticism of the rest. In Paris,
when you read an article eulogizing a man's work, it is always as well
to ask yourself:
"Whom is he decrying?"
Olivier went hot with shame as he read the paper, and said to himself:
"A fine thing I've done!"
He could hardly get through his lecture. As soon as he had finished he
hurried home. What was his consternation to find that Christophe had
already gone out with the journalists! He delayed lunch for him.
Christophe did not return. Hours passed, and Olivier grew more and more
anxious and thought:
"What a lot of foolish things they will make him say!"
About three o'clock Christophe came home quite lively. He had had lunch
with Arsene Gamache, and his head was a little muzzy with the champagne
he had drunk. He could not understand Olivier's anxiety, who asked him
in fear and trembling what he had said and done.
"What have I been doing? I've had a splendid lunch. I haven't had such a
good feed for a long time."
He began to recount the menu.
"And wine.... I had wine of every color."
Olivier interrupted him to ask who was there.
"Who was there?... I don't know. There was Gamache, a little round man,
true as gold: Clodomir, the writer of the article, a charming fellow:
three or four journalists whom I didn't know, very jolly, all very nice
and charming to me--the cream of good fellows."
Olivier did not seem to be convinced. Christophe was astonished at his
"Haven't you read the article?"
"Yes. I have. Have you read it?"
"Yes.... That is to say, I just glanced at it. I haven't had time."
"Well: read it."
Christophe took it up. At the first words he spluttered.
"Oh! The idiot!" he said.
He roared with laughter.
"Bah!" he went on. "These critics are all alike. They know nothing at
all about it."
But as he read farther he began to lose his temper: it was too stupid,
it made him look ridiculous. What did they mean by calling him "a
Republican musician"; it did not mean anything.... Well, let the fib
pass.... But when they set his "Republican" art against the "sacristy
art" of the masters who had preceded him,--(he whose soul was nourished
by the souls of those great men),--it was too much....
"The swine! They're trying to make me out an idiot!..."
And then, what was the sense of using him as a cudgel to thwack talented
French musicians, whom he loved more or less,--(though rather less than
more),--though they knew their trade, and honored it? And--worst of
all--with an incredible want of tact he was credited with odious
sentiments about his country!... No, that, that was beyond
"I shall write and tell them so," said Christophe.
"No, no," he said, "not now! You are too excited. Tomorrow, when you are
Christophe stuck to it. When he had anything to say he could not wait
until the morrow. He promised Olivier to show him his letter. The
precaution was useful. The letter was duly revised, so as to be confined
practically to the rectification of the opinions about Germany with
which he had been credited, and then Christophe ran and posted it.
"Well," he said, when he returned, "that will save half the harm being
done: the letter will appear to-morrow."
Olivier shook his head doubtfully. He was still thoughtful, and he
looked Christophe straight in the face, and said:
"Christophe, did you say anything imprudent at lunch?"
"Oh no," said Christophe with a laugh.
"Yes, you coward."
Olivier was somewhat reassured. But Christophe was not. He had just
remembered that he had talked volubly and unguardedly. He had been quite
at his ease at once. It had never for a moment occurred to him to
distrust any of them: they seemed so cordial, so well-disposed towards
him! As, in fact, they were. We are always well-disposed to people when
we have done them a good turn, and Christophe was so frankly delighted
with it all that his joy infected them. His affectionate easy manners,
his jovial sallies, his enormous appetite, and the celerity with which
the various liquors vanished down his throat without making him turn a
hair, were by no means displeasing to Arsene Gamache, who was himself a
sturdy trencherman, coarse, boorish, and sanguine, and very contemptuous
of people who had ill-health, and those who dared not eat and drink, and
all the sickly Parisians. He judged a man by his prowess at table. He
appreciated Christophe. There and then he proposed to produce his
_Gargantua_ as an opera at the Opera.--(The very summit of art was reached
for these bourgeois French people in the production on the stage
of the _Damnation of Faust_, or the _Nine Symphonies_.)--Christophe, who
burst out laughing at the grotesqueness of the idea, had great difficulty
in preventing him from telephoning his orders to the directors of the
Opera, or the Minister of Fine Arts.--(If Gamache were to be believed, all
these important people were apparently at his beck and call.)--And, the
proposal reminding him of the strange transmutation which had taken place
in his symphonic poem, _David_, he went so far as to tell the story of the
performance organized by Deputy Roussin to introduce his mistress to the
public. Gamache, who did not like Roussin, was delighted: and Christophe,
spurred on by the generous wines and the sympathy of his hearers, plunged
into other stories, more or less indiscreet, the point of which was not
lost on those present. Christophe was the only one to forget them when the
party broke up. And now, on Olivier's question, they rushed back to his
memory. He felt a little shiver run down his spine. For he did not deceive
himself: he had enough experience to know what would happen: now that he
was sober again he saw it as clearly as though it had actually happened:
his indiscretions would be twisted and distorted, and scattered broadcast
as malicious blabbing, his artistic sallies would be turned into weapons
of war. As for his letter correcting the article, he knew as well as
Olivier how much that would avail him: it is a waste of ink to answer a
journalist, for he always has the last word.
Everything happened exactly to the letter as Christophe had foreseen it
would. His indiscretions were published, his letter was not. Gamache
only went so far as to write to him that he recognized the generosity of
his feelings, and that his scruples were an honor to him: but he kept
his scruples dark: and the falsified opinions attributed to Christophe
went on being circulated, provoking biting criticism in the Parisian
papers, and later in Germany, where much indignation was felt that a
German artist should express himself with so little dignity about his
Christophe thought he would be clever, and take advantage of an
interview by the reporter of another paper to protest his love for the
_Deutsches Reich_, where, he said, people were at least as free as
in the French Republic.--He was speaking to the representative of a
Conservative paper, who at once credited him with anti-Republican views.
"Better and better!" said Christophe. "But what on earth has my music to
do with politics?"
"It is usual with us," said Olivier. "Look at the battles that have
taken place over Beethoven. Some people will have it that he was a
Jacobin, others a mountebank, others still a Pere Duchesne, and others a
"He'd knock their heads together."
"Well, do the same."
Christophe only wished he could. But he was too amiable with people who
were friendly towards him. Olivier never felt happy when he left him
alone. For they were always coming to interview him: and it was no use
Christophe promising to be guarded: he could not help being confidential
and unreserved. He said everything that came into his head. Women
journalists would come and make a fuss of him, and get him to talk about
his sentimental adventures. Others would make use of him to speak ill of
such-an-one, or so-and-so. When Olivier came in he would find Christophe
"Another howler?" he would ask.
"Of course," Christophe would reply in despair.
"You are incorrigible!"
"I ought to be locked up.... But I swear that it is the last time."
"Yes, I know. Until the next...."
"No. This really is the last."
Next day Christophe said triumphantly to Olivier:
"Another one came to-day. I shut the door in his face."
"Don't go too far," said Olivier. "Be careful with them. 'This animal is
dangerous.' He will attack you if you defend yourself.... It is so easy
for them to avenge themselves! They can twist the least little thing you
may have said to their uses."
Christophe drew his hand across his forehead:
"Oh! Good Lord!"
"What's the matter?"
"When I shut the door in his face I told...."
"The Emperor's joke."
"Yes. His or one of his people's...."
"How awful! You'll see it to-morrow on the front page!"
Christophe shuddered. But, next day, what he saw was a description of
his room, which the journalist had not seen, and a report of a
conversation which he had not had with him.
The facts were more and more embellished the farther they spread. In the
foreign papers they were garnished out of all recognition. Certain
French articles having told how in his poverty he had transposed music
for the guitar, Christophe learned from an English newspaper that he had
played the guitar in the streets. He did not only read eulogies. Far
from it. It was enough for Christophe to have been taken up by the
_Grand Journal_, for him to be taken to task by the other papers.
They could not as a matter of dignity allow the possibility of a rival's
discovering a genius whom they had ignored. Some of them were rabid
about it. Others commiserated Christophe on his ill-luck. Goujart,
annoyed at having the ground cut away from under his feet, wrote an
article, as he said, to set people right on certain points. He wrote
familiarly of his old friend Christophe, to whom, when he first came to
Paris, he had been guide and comforter: he was certainly a highly gifted
musician, but--(he was at liberty to say so, since they were
friends)--very deficient in many ways, ill-educated, unoriginal, and
inordinately vain; so absurdly to flatter his vanity, as had been done,
was to serve him but ill at a time when he stood in need of a mentor who
should be wise, learned, judicious, benevolent, and severe, etc.--(a
fancy portrait of Goujart).--The musicians made bitter fun of it all.
They affected a lofty contempt for an artist who had the newspapers at
his back: and, pretending to be disgusted with the _vulgum pecus_,
they refused the presents of Artaxerxes, which were not offered them.
Some of them abused Christophe: others overwhelmed him with their
commiseration. Some of them--(his colleagues)--laid the blame on
Olivier.--They were only too glad to pay him out for his intolerance and
his way of holding aloof from them,--rather, if the truth were known,
from a desire for solitude than from scorn of any of them. But men are
least apt to pardon those who show that they can do without them.--Some
of them almost went so far as to hint that he had made money by the
articles in the _Grand Journal_. There were others who took upon
themselves to defend Christophe against him: they appeared to be
broken-hearted at Olivier's callousness in dragging a sensitive artist,
a dreamer, ill-equipped for the battle of life,--Christophe,--into the
turmoil of the market-place, where he could not but be ruined: for they
regarded Christophe as a little boy not strong enough in the head to be
allowed to go out alone. The future of this man, they said, was being
ruined, for, even if he were not a genius, such good intentions and such
tremendous industry deserved a better fate, and he was being intoxicated
with incense of an inferior brand. It was a great pity. Why could they
not leave him in his obscurity to go on working patiently for years?
Olivier might have had the answer pat:
"A man must eat to work. Who will give him his bread?"
But that would not have abashed them. They would have replied with their
"That is a detail. An artist must suffer. And what does a little
Of course, they were men of the world, quite well off, who professed
these Stoic theories. As the millionaire once said to the simple person
who came and asked him to help a poverty-stricken artist:
"But, sir, Mozart died of poverty."
They would have thought it very bad taste on Olivier's part if he had
told them that Mozart would have asked nothing better than to go on
living, and that Christophe was determined to do so.
* * * * *
Christophe was getting heartily sick of the vulgar tittle-tattle. He
began to wonder if it were going on forever.--But it was all over in a
fortnight. The newspapers gave up talking about him. However, he had
become known. When his name was mentioned, people said, not:
"The author of _David_ or _Gargantua_," but:
"Oh yes! The _Grand Journal_ man!..."
He was famous.
Olivier knew it by the number of letters that came for Christophe, and
even for himself, in his reflected glory: offers from librettists,
proposals from concert-agents, declarations of friendship from men who
had formerly been his enemies, invitations from women. His opinion was
asked, for newspaper inquiries, about anything and everything: the
depopulation of France, idealist art, women's corsets, the nude on the
stage,--and did he believe that Germany was decadent, or that music had
reached its end, etc., etc. They used to laugh at them all. But, though
he laughed, lo and behold! Christophe, that Huron, steadily accepted the
invitations to dinner! Olivier could not believe his eyes.
"You?" he said.
"I! Certainly," replied Christophe jeeringly. "You thought you were the
only man who could go and see the beautiful ladies? Not at all, my boy!
It's my turn now. I want to amuse myself!"
"You? Amuse yourself? My dear old man!"
The truth was that Christophe had for so long lived shut up in his own
room that he felt a sudden longing to get away from it. Besides, he took
a naive delight in tasting his new fame. He was terribly bored at
parties, and thought the people idiotic. But when he came home he used
to take a malicious pleasure in telling Olivier how much he had enjoyed
himself. He would go to people's houses once, but never again: he would
invent the wildest excuses, with a frightful want of tact, to get out of
their renewed invitations. Olivier would be scandalized, and Christophe
would shout with laughter. He did not go to their houses to spread his
fame, but to replenish his store of life, his collection of expressions
and tones of voice--all the material of form, and sound, and color, with
which an artist has periodically to enrich his palette. A musician does
not feed only on music. An inflection of the human voice, the rhythm of
a gesture, the harmony of a smile, contain more suggestion of music for
him that another man's symphony. But it must be said that the music of
faces and human souls is as stale and lacking in variety in polite
society as the music of polite musicians. Each has a manner and becomes
set in it. The smile of a pretty woman is as stereotyped in its studied
grace as a Parisian melody. The men are even more insipid than the
women. Under the debilitating influence of society, their energy is
blunted, their original characters rot away and finally disappear with a
frightful rapidity. Christophe was struck by the number of dead and
dying men he met among the artists: there was one young musician, full
of life and genius, whom success had dulled, stupefied, and wiped out of
existence: he thought of nothing but swallowing down the flattery in
which he was smothered, enjoying himself, and sleeping. What he would be
like twenty years later was shown in another corner of the room, in the
person of an old pomaded _maestro_, who was rich, famous, a member
of all the Academies, at the very height of his career, and, though
apparently he had nothing to fear and no more wires to pull, groveled
before everything and everybody, and was fearful of opinion, power, and
the Press, dared not say what he thought, and thought nothing at all--a
man who had ceased to exist, showing himself off, an ass saddled with
the relics of his own past life.
Behind all these artists and men of intellect who had been great, or
might have been great, there was certain to be some woman preying upon
them. They were all dangerous, both the fools and those who were by no
means fools: both those who loved and those who loved themselves: the
best of them were the worst: for they were all the more certain to snuff
out the artist with their immoderate affection, which made them in all
good faith try to domesticate genius, turn it to their own uses, drag it
down, prune it, pare it down, scent it, until they had brought it into
line with their sensibility, their petty vanity, their mediocrity, and
the mediocrity of the world they lived in.
Although Christophe only passed through that section of society, he saw
enough of it to feel its danger. More than one woman, of course, tried
to take possession of him for her circle, to press him into her service:
and, of course, Christophe nibbled at the hook baited with friendly
words and alluring smiles. But for his sturdy common sense and the
disquieting spectacle of the transformations already effected in the men
about them by these modern Circes, he would not have escaped
uncontaminated. But he had no mind to swell the herd of these lovely
goose-girls. The danger would have been greater for him if there had not
been so many of them angling for him. Now that everybody, men and women,
were properly convinced that they had a genius in their midst, as usual,
they set to work to stifle him. Such people, when they see a flower,
have only one idea: to put it in a pot,--a bird: to put it in a cage,--
a free man: to turn him into a smooth lackey.
Christophe was shaken for a moment, pulled himself together, and sent
them all packing.
Fate is ironical. Those who do not care slip through the meshes of the
net: but those who are suspicious, those who are prudent, and
forewarned, are never suffered to escape. It was not Christophe who was
caught in the net of Paris, but Olivier.
He had benefited by his friend's success: Christophe's fame had given
him a reflected glory. He was better known now, for having been
mentioned in a few papers as the man who had discovered Christophe, than
for anything he had written during the last six years. He was included
in many of the invitations that came for Christophe: and he went with
him, meaning carefully and discreetly to look after him. No doubt he was
too much absorbed in doing so to look after himself. Love passed by and
She was a little fair girl, charmingly slender, with soft hair waving in
little ripples about her pure narrow forehead: she had fine eyebrows and
rather heavy eyelids, eyes of a periwinkle blue, a delicately carved
nose with sensitive nostrils; her temples were slightly hollowed: she
had a capricious chin, and a mobile, witty, and rather sensual mouth,
turning up at the corners, and the _Parmigianninesque_ smile of a
pure faun. She had a long, delicate throat, a pretty waist, a slender,
elegant figure, and a happy, pensive expression in her girlish face, in
every line of which there was the disturbing poetic mystery of the
waking spring,--_Fruhlingserwachen_. Her name was Jacqueline Langeais.
She was not twenty. She came of a rich Catholic family, of great
distinction and broad-mindedness. Her father was a clever engineer, a
man of some invention, clear-headed and open to new ideas, who had made
a fortune, thanks to his own hard work, his political connections, and
his marriage. He had married both for love and money--(the proper
marriage for love for such people)--a pretty woman, very Parisian, who
was bred in the world of finance. The money had stayed: but love had
gone. However, he had managed to preserve a few sparks of it, for it had
been very ardent on both sides: but they did not stickle for any
exaggerated notion of fidelity. They went their ways and had their
pleasures: and they got on very well together, as friends, selfishly,
Their daughter was a bond between them, though she was the object of an
unspoken rivalry between them: for they both loved her jealously. They
both saw themselves in her with their pet faults idealized by the grace
of childhood: and each strove cunningly to steal her from the other. And
the child had in due course become conscious of it, with the artful
candor of such little creatures, who are only too ready to believe that
the universe gravitates round themselves: and she turned it to good
account. She had them perpetually outbidding each other for her
affection. She never had a whim but she was sure that one of them would
indulge it if the other refused: and the other would be so vexed at
being outdone that she would at once be offered an even greater
indulgence than the first. She had been dreadfully spoiled: and it was
very fortunate for her that there was no evil in her nature,--outside
the egoism common to almost all children, though in children who are too
rich and too much pampered it assumes various morbid shapes, due to the
absence of difficulties and the want of any goal to aim at.
Though they adored her, neither M. nor Madame Langeais ever thought of
sacrificing their own personal convenience to her. They used to leave
the child alone, for the greater part of the day, to gratify her
thousand and one fancies. She had plenty of time for dreaming, and she
wasted none of it. She was precocious and quick to grasp at incautious
remarks let fall in her presence--(for her parents were never very
guarded in what they said),--and when she was six years old she used to
tell her dolls love-stories, the characters in which were husband, wife,
and lover. It goes without saying that she saw no harm in it. Directly
she began to perceive a shade of feeling underlying the words it was all
over for the dolls: she kept her stories to herself. There was in her a
strain of innocent sensuality, which rang out in the distance like the
sound of invisible bells, over there, over there, on the other side of
the horizon. She did not know what it was. Sometimes it would come
wafted on the wind: it came she did not know from whence, and wrapped
her round and made the blood mount to her cheeks, and she would lose her
breath in the fear and pleasure of it. She could not understand it. And
then it would disappear as strangely as it had come. There was never
another sound. Hardly more than a faint buzzing, an imperceptible
resonance, fainter and fainter, in the blue air. Only she knew that it
was yonder, on the other side of the mountain, and thither she must go,
go as soon as possible: for there lay happiness. Ah! If only she could
In the meanwhile, until she should reach that land of happiness, she
wove strange dreams of what she would find there. For the chief
occupation of the child's mind was guessing at its nature. She had a
friend of her own age, Simone Adam, with whom she used often to discuss
these great subjects. Each brought to bear on them the light of her
twelve years' experience, conversations overheard and stolen reading. On
tip-toe, clinging to the crannies in the stones, the two little girls
strained to peer over the old wall which hid the future from them. But
it was all in vain, and it was idle for them to pretend that they could
see through the chinks: they could see nothing at all. They were both a
mixture of innocence, poetic salaciousness, and Parisian irony. They
used to say the most outrageous things without knowing it, and they were
always making mountains out of molehills. Jacqueline, who was always
prying, without anybody to find fault with her, used to burrow in all
her father's books. Fortunately, she was protected from coming to any
harm by her very innocence and her own young, healthy instincts: an
unduly described scene or a coarse word disgusted her at once: she would
drop the book at once, and she passed through the most infamous company,
like a frightened cat through puddles of dirty water,--without so much
as a splash.
As a rule, novels did not attract her: they were too precise, too dry.
But books of poetry used to make her heart flutter with emotion and hope
of finding the key to the riddle,--love-poems, of course. They coincided
to a certain extent with her childish outlook on things. The poets did
not see things as they were, they imagined them through the prism of
desire or regret: they seemed, like herself, to be peering through the
chinks of the old wall. But they knew much more, they knew all the
things which she was longing to know, and clothed them with sweet,
mysterious words, which she had to unravel with infinite care to find
... to find ... Ah! She could find nothing, but she was always sure that
she was on the very brink of finding it....
Their curiosity was indomitable. They would thrill as they whispered
verses of Alfred de Musset and Sully Prudhomme, into which they read
abyss on abyss of perversity: they used to copy them out, and ask each
other about the hidden meanings of passages, which generally contained
none. These little women of thirteen, who knew nothing of love, used, in
their innocent effrontery, to discuss, half in jest, half in earnest,
love and the sweets of love: and, in school, under the fatherly eye of
the master--a very polite and mild old gentleman--verses like the
following, which he confiscated one day, when they made him gasp:
"Let, oh! let me clasp you in my arms,
And in your kisses drink insensate love
Drop by drop in one long draught...."
They attended lectures at a fashionable and very prosperous school, the
teachers of which were Masters of Art of the University. There they
found material for their sentimental aspirations. Almost all the girls
were in love with their masters. If they were young and not too ugly,
that was quite enough for them to make havoc of their pupils'
hearts--who would work like angels to please their sultan. And they
would weep when he gave them bad marks in their examinations: though
they did not care when anybody else did the same. If he praised them,
they would blush and go pale by turns, and gaze at him coquettishly in
gratitude. And if he called them aside to give them advice or pay them a
compliment, they were in Paradise. There was no need for him to be an
eagle to win their favor. When the gymnastic instructor took Jacqueline
in his arms to lift her up to the trapeze, she would be in ecstasies.
And what furious emulation there was between them! How coaxingly and
with what humility they would make eyes at the master to attract his
attention from a presumptuous rival! At lectures, when he opened his
lips to speak, pens and pencils would be hastily produced to take down
what he said. They made no attempt to understand: the chief thing was
not to lose a syllable. And while they went on writing and writing
without ceasing, with stealthy glances to take in their idol's play of
expression and gestures, Jacqueline and Simone would whisper to each
"Do you think he would look nice in a tie with blue spots?"
Then they had a chromo-lithographic ideal, based on romantic and
fashionable books of verses, and poetic fashion-plates,--they fell in
love with actors, virtuosi, authors, dead and alive--Mounet-Sully,
Samain, Debussy,--they would exchange glances with young men at concerts,
or in a drawing-room, or in the street, and at once begin to weave
fanciful and passionate love-affairs,--they could not help always
wanting to fall in love, to have their lives filled with a love-affair,
to find some excuse for being in love. Jacqueline and Simone used to
confide everything to each other: proof positive that they did not feel
anything much: it was the best sort of preventive to keep them from ever
having any deep feeling. On the other hand, it became a sort of chronic
illness with them: they were the first to laugh at it, but they used
lovingly to cultivate it. They excited each other. Simone was more
romantic and more cautious, and used to invent wilder stories. But
Jacqueline, being more sincere and more ardent, came nearer to realizing
them. She was twenty times on the brink of the most hopeless
folly.--However, she did not commit herself, as is the way with young
people. There are times when these poor little crazy creatures--(such as
we have all been)--are within an ace, some of suicide, others of
flinging themselves into the arms of the first man who comes along.
Only, thank God, almost all of them stop short at that. Jacqueline wrote
countless rough drafts of passionate letters to men whom she hardly knew
by sight: but she never sent any of them, except one enthusiastic
letter, unsigned, to an ugly, vulgar, selfish critic, who was as
cold-hearted as he was narrow-minded. She fell in love with him over a
few lines in which she had discovered a rare wealth of sensibility. She
was fired also by a great actor, who lived near her: whenever she passed
his door she used to say to herself:
"Shall I go in?"
And once she made so bold as to go up to the door of his flat. When she
found herself there, she turned and fled. What could she have talked to
him about? She had nothing, nothing at all to say to him. She did not
love him. And she knew it. In the greater part of her folly she was
deceiving herself. And for the rest it was the old, old, delicious,
stupid need of being in love. As Jacqueline was naturally intelligent,
she knew that quite well, and it kept her from making a fool of herself.
A fool who knows his folly is worth two who don't.
She went out a good deal. There were many young men who felt her charm,
and more than one of them was in love with her. She did not care what
harm she did. A pretty girl makes a cruel game of love. It seems to her
quite natural that she should be loved, and never considers that she
owes anything to those who love her: she is apt to believe that her
lover is happy enough in loving her. It must be said, by way of excuse,
that she has no idea of what love is, although she thinks of nothing
else all day long. One is inclined to think that a young girl in
society, brought up in the hot-house atmosphere of a great town, would
be more precocious than a country girl: but the opposite is the case.
Her reading and conversation have made her obsessed by love, so obsessed
that in her idle life it often borders on mania: and sometimes it
happens that she has read the play beforehand, and knows it word for
word by heart. But she never feels it. In love, as in art, it is useless
to read what others have said: we can but say what we feel: and those
who make haste to speak before they have anything to say are as likely
as not to say nothing.
Jacqueline, like most young people, lived in an atmosphere clouded by
the dust of the feelings of others, which, while it kept her in a
perpetual fever, with her hands burning, and her throat dry, and her
eyes sore, prevented her seeing anything. She thought she knew
everything. It was not that she lacked the wish to know. She read and
listened. She had picked up a deal of information, here and there, in
scraps, from conversation and books. She even tried to read what was
written in herself. She was much better than the world in which she
lived, for she was more sincere.
There was one woman who had a good influence--only too brief--over her.
This was a sister of her father's, a woman of between forty and fifty,
who had never married. Tall, with regular features, though sad and
lacking in beauty, Marthe Langeais was always dressed in black: she had
a sort of stiff distinction of feature and movement: she spoke very
little, and she had a deep voice, almost like a man's. But for the clear
light in her intelligent gray eyes and the kind smile on her sad lips
she would have passed unnoticed.
She only appeared at the Langeais' on certain days, when they were
alone. Langeais had a great respect for her, though she bored him.
Madame Langeais made no attempt to disguise from her husband how little
pleasure his sister's visits gave her. However, they faced their duty,
and had her to dinner once a week, and they did not let it appear too
glaringly that they regarded it as a duty. Langeais used to talk about
himself, which she always found interesting. Madame Langeais would think
of something else, and, as a matter of habit, smile affably when she was
spoken to. The dinner always went off very well, and she was invariably
polite. Sometimes, even, she would be effusively affectionate when her
tactful sister-in-law went away earlier than she had hoped: and Madame
Langeais's charming smile would be most radiant when she had any
particularly pleasant memories to think of. Marthe saw through it all:
very little escaped her eyes: and she saw many things in her brother's
house which shocked and distressed her. But she never let it appear:
what was the good? She loved her brother, and had been proud of his
cleverness and success, like the rest of the family, who had not thought
the triumph of the eldest son too dear a price to pay for their poverty.
She, at least, had preserved her independence of opinion. She was as
clever as he was, and of a finer moral fiber, more virile--(as the women
of France so often are; they are much superior to the men),--and she knew
him through and through: and when he asked her advice she used to give
it frankly. But for a long time he had not asked it of her! He found it
more prudent not to know, or--(for he knew the truth as much as she
did),--to shut his eyes. She was proud, and drew aside. Nobody ever
troubled to look into her inward life, and it suited the others to
ignore her. She lived alone, went out very little, and had only a few
not very intimate friends. It would have been very easy to her to turn
her brother's influence and her own talents to account: but she did not
do so. She had written a few articles for the leading reviews in Paris,
historical and literary portraits, which had attracted some attention by
their sober, just, and striking style. But she had gone no farther. She
might have formed interesting friendships with certain distinguished men
and women, who had shown a desire to know her, whom also she would,
perhaps, have been glad to know. She did not respond to their advances.
Though she had a reserved seat for a theater when the program contained
music that she loved, she did not go: and though she had the opportunity
of traveling to a place where she knew that she would find much
pleasure, she preferred to stay at home. Her nature was a curious
compound of stoicism and neurasthenia, which, however, in no wise
impaired the integrity of her ideas. Her life was impaired, but not her
mind. An old sorrow, known only to herself, had left its mark on her
heart. And even more profound, even less suspected--unknown to herself,
was the secret illness which had begun to prey upon her. However, the
Langeais saw only the clear expression of her eyes, which sometimes made
them feel embarrassed.
Jacqueline used to take hardly any notice of her aunt in the days when
she was careless and gay--which was her usual condition when she was a
child. But when she reached the age at which there occurs a mysterious
change and growth in body and soul, which bring agony, disgust, terror,
and fearful moments of depression in their train, and moments of absurd,
horrible dizziness, which, happily, do not last, though they make their
victim feel at the point of death,--the child, sinking and not daring to
cry for help, found only her Aunt Marthe standing by her side and
holding out her hand. Ah! the others were so far away! Her father and
mother were as strangers to her, with their selfish affection, too
satisfied with themselves to think of the small troubles of a doll of
fourteen! But her aunt guessed them, and comforted her. She did not say
anything. She only smiled: across the table she exchanged a kindly
glance with Jacqueline, who felt that her aunt understood her, and she
took refuge by her side. Marthe stroked Jacqueline's head and kissed
her, and spoke no word.
The little girl trusted her. When her heart was heavy she would go and
see her friend, who would know and understand as soon as she arrived;
she would be met always with the same indulgent eyes, which would infect
her with a little of their own tranquillity. She told her aunt hardly
anything about her imaginary love-affairs: she was ashamed of them, and
felt that there was no truth in them. But she confessed all the vague,
profound uneasiness that was in her, and was more real, her only real
"Aunt," she would sigh sometimes, "I do so long to be happy!"
"Poor child!" Marthe would say, with a smile.
Jacqueline would lay her head in her aunt's lap, and kiss her hands as
they caressed her face:
"Do you think I shall be happy? Aunt, tell me; do you think I shall be
"I don't know, my dear. It rather depends on yourself.... People can
always be happy if they want to be."
Jacqueline was incredulous.
"Are you happy?"
Marthe smiled sadly: "Yes."
"No? Really? Are you happy?"
"Don't you believe it?"
Jacqueline stopped short.
"What is it?"
"I want to be happy, but not like you."
"Poor child! I hope so, too!" said Marthe.
"No." Jacqueline went on shaking her head decisively. "But I couldn't
"I should not have thought it possible, either. Life teaches one to be
able to do many things."
"Oh! But I don't want to learn," protested Jacqueline anxiously. "I want
to be happy in the way I want."
"You would find it very hard to say how!"
"I know quite well what I want."
She wanted many things. But when it came to saying what they were, she
could only mention one, which recurred again and again, like a refrain:
"First of all, I want some one to love me."
Marthe went on sewing without a word. After a moment she said:
"What good will it be to you if you do not love?"
Jacqueline was taken aback, and exclaimed:
"But, aunt, of course I only mean some one I loved! All the rest don't
"And suppose you did not love anybody?"
"The idea! One loves always, always."
Marthe shook her head doubtfully.
"No," she said. "We don't love. We want to love. Love is the greatest
gift of God. Pray to Him that He may grant it you."
"But suppose my love is not returned?"
"Even if your love is not returned, you will be all the happier."
Jacqueline's face fell: she pouted a little:
"I don't want that," she said. "It wouldn't give me any pleasure."
Marthe laughed indulgently, looked at Jacqueline, sighed, and then went
on with her work.
"Poor child!" she said once more.
"Why do you keep on saying: 'Poor child'?" asked Jacqueline uneasily. "I
don't want to be a poor child. I want--I want so much to be happy!"
"That is why I say: 'Poor child!'"
Jacqueline sulked for a little. But it did not last long. Marthe laughed
at her so kindly that she was disarmed. She kissed her, pretending to be
angry. But in their hearts children of that age are secretly flattered
by predictions of suffering in later life, which is so far away. When it
is afar off there is a halo of poetry round sorrow, and we dread nothing
so much as a dull, even life.
Jacqueline did not notice that her aunt's face was growing paler and
paler. She observed that Marthe was going out less and less, but she
attributed it to her stay-at-home disposition, about which she used
often to tease her. Once or twice, when she called, she had met the
doctor coming out. She had asked her aunt:
"Are you ill?"
But now she had even given up her weekly dinner at the Langeais'.
Jacqueline was hurt, and went and reproached her bitterly.
"My dear," said Marthe gently, "I am rather tired."
But Jacqueline would not listen to anything. That was a poor sort of
"It can't be very exhausting for you to come to our house for a couple
of hours a week! You don't love me," she would say. "You love nothing
but your own fireside."
But when at home she proudly told them how she had scolded her aunt,
Langeais cut her short with:
"Let your aunt be! Don't you know that the poor creature is very ill!"
Jacqueline grew pale: and in a trembling voice she asked what was the
matter with her aunt. They tried not to tell her. Finally, she found out
that Marthe was dying of cancer: she had had it for some months.
For some days Jacqueline lived in a state of terror. She was comforted a
little when she saw her aunt. Marthe was mercifully not suffering any
great pain. She still had her tranquil smile, which in her thin
transparent face seemed to shine like the light of an inward lamp.
Jacqueline said to herself:
"No. It is impossible. They must be mistaken. She would not be so
She went on with the tale of her little confidences, to which Marthe
listened with more interest than heretofore. Only, sometimes, in the
middle of a conversation, her aunt would leave the room, without giving
any sign to show that she was in pain: and she would not return until
the attack was over, and her face had regained its serenity. She did not
like anybody to refer to her condition, and tried to hide it: she had a
horror of the disease that held her in its grip, and would not think of
it: all her efforts were directed towards preserving the peace of her
last months. The end came sooner than it was expected. Very soon she saw
nobody but Jacqueline. Then Jacqueline's visits had to be curtailed.
Then came the day of parting. Marthe was lying in her bed, which she had
not left for some weeks, when she took a tender farewell of her little
friend with a few gentle, comforting words. And then she shut herself
up, to die.
Jacqueline passed through months of despair. Marthe's death came at the
same time as the very worst hours of her moral distress, against which
Marthe had been the only person who could help her. She was horribly
deserted and alone. She needed the support of a religion. There was
apparently no reason why she should have lacked that support: she had
always been made to practise the duties of religion: her mother
practised them regularly. But that was just the difficulty: her mother
practised them, but her Aunt Marthe did not. And how was she to avoid
comparison? The eyes of a child are susceptible to many untruths, to
which her elders never give a thought, and children notice many
weaknesses and contradictions. Jacqueline noticed that her mother and
those who said that they believed had as much fear of death as though
there had been no faith in them. No: religion was not a strong enough
support.... And in addition there were certain personal experiences,
feelings of revolt and disgust, a tactless confessor who had hurt
her.... She went on practising, but without faith, just as she paid
calls, because she had been well brought up. Religion, like the world,
seemed to her to be utterly empty. Her only stay was the memory of the
dead woman, in which she was wrapped up. She had many grounds for
self-reproach in her treatment of her aunt, whom in her childish
selfishness she had often neglected, while now she called to her in
vain. She idealized her image: and the great example which Marthe had
left upon her mind of a profound life of meditation helped to fill her
with distaste for the life of the world, in which there was no truth or
serious purpose. She saw nothing but its hypocrisy, and those amiable
compromises, which at any other time would have amused her, now revolted
her. She was in a condition of moral hypersensitiveness, and everything
hurt her: her conscience was raw. Her eyes were opened to certain facts
which hitherto had escaped her in her heedlessness.
One afternoon she was in the drawing-room with her mother. Madame
Langeais was receiving a caller,--a fashionable painter, a good-looking,
pompous man, who was often at the house, but not on terms of intimacy.
Jacqueline had a feeling that she was in the way, but that only made her
more determined to stay. Madame Langeais was not very well; she had a
headache, which made her a little dull, or perhaps it was one of those
headache preventives which the ladies of to-day eat like sweets, so that
they have the result of completely emptying their pretty heads, and she
was not very guarded in what she said. In the course of the conversation
she thoughtlessly called her visitor:
She noticed the slip at once. He did not flinch any more than she, and
they went on talking politely. Jacqueline, who was pouring out tea, was
so amazed that she almost dropped a cup. She had a feeling that they
were exchanging a meaning smile behind her back. She turned and
intercepted their privy looks, which were immediately disguised.--The
discovery upset her completely. Though she had been brought up with the
utmost freedom, and had often heard and herself laughed and talked about
such intrigues, it hurt her so that she could hardly bear it when she
saw that her mother.... Her mother: no, it was not the same thing!...
With her habitual exaggeration she rushed from one extreme to the
other. Till then she had suspected nothing. Thereafter she suspected
everything. Implacably she read new meanings into this and that detail
of her mother's behavior in the past. And no doubt Madame Langeais's
frivolity furnished only too many grounds for her suppositions: but
Jacqueline added to them. She longed to be more intimate with her
father, who had always been nearer to her, his quality of mind having a
great attraction for her. She longed to love him more, and to pity him.
But Langeais did not seem to stand in much need of pity: and a
suspicion, more dreadful even than the first, crossed the girl's heated
imagination,--that her father knew nothing, but that it suited him to
know nothing, and that, so long as he were allowed to go his own way, he
did not care.
Then Jacqueline felt that she was lost. She dared not despise them. She
loved them. But she could not go on living in their house. Her
friendship with Simone Adam was no help at all. She judged severely the
foibles of her former boon companion. She did not spare herself:
everything that was ugly and mediocre in herself made her suffer
terribly: she clung desperately to the pure memory of Marthe. But that
memory was fading: she felt that the stream of time, one day following
another, would cover it up and wash away all trace of it. And then there
would be an end of everything: she would be like the rest, sunk deep in
the mire.... Oh! if she could only escape from, such a world, at any
cost! Save me! Save me!...
It was just when she was in this fever of despair, feeling her utter
destitution, filled with passionate disgust and mystic expectancy,
holding out her arms to an unknown saviour, that she met Olivier.
Madame Langeais, of course, invited Christophe, who, that winter, was
the musician of the hour. Christophe accepted, and, as usual, did not
take any trouble to make himself pleasant. However, Madame Langeais
thought him charming;--he could do anything he liked, as long as he was
the fashion: everybody would go on thinking him charming, while the
fashion ran its allotted course of a few months.--Jacqueline, who, for
the time being, was outside the current, was not so charmed with him:
the mere fact that Christophe was belauded by certain people was enough
to make her diffident about him. Besides, Christophe's bluntness, and
his loud way of speaking, and his noisy gaiety, offended her. In her
then state of mind the joy of living seemed a coarse thing to her: her
eyes were fixed on the twilight melancholy of the soul, and she fancied
that she loved it. There was too much sunlight in Christophe.
But when she talked to him he told her about Olivier: he always had to
bring his friend into every pleasant thing that happened to him: it
would have seemed to him a selfish use of a new friendship if he had not
set aside a part of it for Olivier. He told Jacqueline so much about
him, that she felt a secret emotion in thus catching a glimpse of a soul
so much in accordance with her ideas, and made her mother invite him
too. Olivier did not accept at first, so that Christophe and Jacqueline
were left to complete their imaginary portrait of him at their leisure,
and, of course, he was found to be very like it when at last he made up
his mind to go.
He went, but hardly spoke a word. He did not need to speak. His
intelligent eyes, his smile, his refined manners, the tranquillity that
was in and inundated by his personality, could not but attract
Jacqueline. Christophe, by contrast, stood as a foil to Olivier's
shining qualities. She did not show anything, for she was fearful of the
feeling stirring in her: she confined herself to talking to Christophe,
but it was always about Olivier. Christophe was only too happy to talk
about his friend, and did not notice Jacqueline's pleasure in the
subject of their conversation. He used to talk about himself, and she
would listen agreeably enough, though she was not in the least
interested: then, without seeming to do so, she would bring the
conversation round to those episodes in his life which included Olivier.
Jacqueline's pretty ways were dangerous for a man who was not on his
guard. Without knowing it Christophe fell in love with her: it gave him
pleasure to go to the house again: he took pains with his dress: and a
feeling, which he well knew, began to tinge all his ideas with its
tender smiling languor. Olivier was in love with her too, and had been
from their first meeting: he thought she had no regard for him, and
suffered in silence. Christophe made his state even worse by telling him
joyously, as they left the Langeais' house, what he had said to
Jacqueline and what she had said to him. The idea never occurred to
Olivier that Jacqueline should like him. Although, by dint of living
with Christophe, he had become more optimistic, he still distrusted
himself: he could not believe that any woman would ever love him, for he
saw himself too clearly, and with eyes that saw too truthfully:--what
man is there would be worthy to be loved; if it were for his merits, and
not by the magic and indulgence of love?
One evening when he had been invited to the Langeais', he felt that it
would make him too unhappy to feel Jacqueline's indifference: he said
that he was too tired and told Christophe to go without him. Christophe
suspected nothing, and went off in high delight. In his naive egoism he
thought only of the pleasure of having Jacqueline all to himself. He was
not suffered to rejoice for long. When she heard that Olivier was not
coming, Jacqueline at once became peevish, irritable, bored, and
dispirited: she lost all desire to please: she did not listen to
Christophe, and answered him at random: and he had the humiliation of
seeing her stifle a weary yawn. She was near tears. Suddenly she went
away in the middle of the evening, and did not appear again.
Christophe went home discomfited. All the way home he tried to explain
this sudden change of front: and the truth began dimly to dawn on him.
When he reached his rooms he found Olivier waiting for him, and then,
with a would-be indifferent air, Olivier asked him about the party.
Christophe told him of his discomfiture, and he saw Olivier's face
brighten as he went on.
"Still tired?" he asked. "Why didn't you go to bed?"
"Oh! I'm much better," said Olivier. "I'm not the least tired now."
"Yes," said Christophe slyly, "I fancy it has done you a lot of good not
He looked at him affectionately and roguishly, and went away into his
own room: and then, when he was alone, he began to laugh quietly, and
laughed until he cried:
"Little minx!" he thought. "She was making a game of me! And he was
deceiving me, too. What a secret they made of it!"
From that moment he plucked out every personal thought of Jacqueline
from his heart: and, like a broody hen hatching her eggs, he hatched the
romance of the young lovers. Without seeming to know their secret, and
without betraying either to the other, he helped them, though they never
He thought it his solemn duty to study Jacqueline's character to see if
Olivier could be happy with her. And, being very tactless, he horrified
Jacqueline with the ridiculous questions he put to her about her tastes,
her morality, etc., etc.
"Idiot! What does he mean?" Jacqueline would think angrily, and refuse
to answer him, and turn her back on him.
And Olivier would be delighted to see Jacqueline paying no more
attention to Christophe. And Christophe would be overjoyed at seeing
Olivier's happiness. His joy was patent, and revealed itself much more
obstreperously than Olivier's. And as Jacqueline could not explain it,
and never dreamed that Christophe had a much clearer knowledge of their
love than she had herself, she thought him unbearable: she could not
understand how Olivier could be so infatuated with such a vulgar,
cumbersome friend. Christophe divined her thoughts, and took a malicious
delight in infuriating her: then he would step aside, and say that he
was too busy to accept the Langeais' invitations, so as to leave
Jacqueline and Olivier alone together.
However, he was not altogether without anxiety concerning the future. He
regarded himself as responsible in a large measure for the marriage that
was in the making, and he worried over it, for he had a fair insight
into Jacqueline's character, and he was afraid of many things: her
wealth first of all, her up-bringing, her surroundings, and, above all,
her weakness. He remembered his old friend Colette, though, no doubt, he
admitted that Jacqueline was truer, more frank, more passionate: there
was in the girl an ardent aspiration towards a life of courage, an
almost heroic desire for it.
"But desiring isn't everything," thought Christophe, remembering a jest
of Diderot's: "the chief thing is a straight backbone."
He would have liked to warn Olivier of the danger. But when he saw him
come back from being with Jacqueline, with his eyes lit with joy, he had
not the heart to speak, and he thought:
"The poor things are happy. I won't disturb their happiness."
Gradually his affection for Olivier made him share his friend's
confidence. He took heart of grace, and at last began to believe that
Jacqueline was just as Olivier saw her and as she wished to appear in
her own eyes. She meant so well! She loved Olivier for all the qualities
which made him different from herself and the world she lived in:
because he was poor, because he was uncompromising in his moral ideas,
because he was awkward and shy in society. Her love was so pure and so
whole that she longed to be poor too, and, sometimes, almost ... yes,
almost to be ugly, so that she might be sure that he loved her for
herself, and for the love with which her heart was so full, the love for
which her heart was so hungry.... Ah! Sometimes, when he was not with
her, she would go pale and her hands would tremble. She would seem to
scoff at her emotion, and pretend to be thinking of something else, and
to take no notice of it. She would talk mockingly of things. But
suddenly she would break off, and rush away and shut herself up in her
room: and then, with the doors locked, and the curtains drawn over the
window, she would sit there, with her knees tight together, and her
elbows close against her sides, and her arms folded across her breast,
while she tried to repress the beating of her heart: she would sit there
huddled together, never stirring, hardly breathing: she dared not move
for fear lest her happiness should escape if she so much as lifted a
finger. She would sit holding her love close, close to her body in
And now Christophe was absolutely determined that Olivier should succeed
in his wooing. He fussed round him like a mother, supervised his
dressing, presumed to give him advice as to what he should wear, and
even--(think of it!)--tied his tie for him. Olivier bore with him
patiently at the cost of having to retie his tie on the stairs when
Christophe was no longer present. He smiled inwardly, but he was touched
by such great affection. Besides, his love had made him timid, and he
was not sure of himself, and was glad of Christophe's advice. He used to
tell him everything that happened when he was with Jacqueline, and
Christophe would be just as moved by it as himself, and sometimes at
night he would lie awake for hours trying to find the means of making
the path of love smoother for his friend.
It was in the garden of the Langeais' villa, near Paris, on the
outskirts of the forest of Isle-Adam, that Olivier and Jacqueline had
the interview which was the turning-point in their lives.
Christophe had gone down with his friend, but he had found a harmonium
in the house, and sat playing so as to leave the lovers to walk about
the garden in peace.--Truth to tell, they did not wish it. They were
afraid to be left alone. Jacqueline was silent and rather hostile. On
his last visit Olivier had been conscious of a change in her manner, a
sudden coldness, an expression in her eyes which was strange, hard, and
almost inimical. It froze him. He dared not ask her for an explanation,
for he was fearful of hearing cruel words on the lips of the girl he
loved. He trembled whenever he saw Christophe leave them, for it seemed
to him that his presence was his only safeguard against the blow which
threatened to fall upon him.
It was not that Jacqueline loved Olivier less. Rather she was more in
love with him, and it was that that made her hostile. Love, with which
till then she had only played, love, to which she had so often called,
was there, before her eyes: she saw it gaping before her like an abyss,
and she flung back in terror: she could not understand it, and wondered:
"Why? Why? What does it mean?"
Then she would look at Olivier with the expression which so hurt him,
"Who is this man?"
And she could not tell. He was a stranger.
"Why do I love him?"
She could not tell.
"Do I love him?"
She could not tell.... She did not know: and yet she knew that she was
caught: she was in the toils of love: she was on the point of losing
herself in love, losing herself utterly; her will, her independence, her
egoism, her dreams of the future, all were to be swallowed up by the
monster. And she would harden herself in anger, and sometimes she would
feel that she almost hated Olivier.
They went to the very end of the garden, into the kitchen-garden, which
was cut off from the lawns by a hedge of tall trees. They sauntered down
the paths bordered on either side with gooseberry bushes, with their
clusters of red and golden fruit, and beds of strawberries, the
fragrance of which scented the air. It was June: but there had been
storms, and the weather was cold. The sky was gray and the light dim:
the low-hanging clouds moved in a heavy mass, drifting with the wind,
which blew only in the higher air, and never touched the earth; no leaf
stirred: but the air was very fresh. Everything was shrouded in
melancholy, even their hearts, swelling with the grave happiness that
was in them. And from the other end of the garden, through the open
windows of the villa, out of sight, there came the sound of the
harmonium, grinding out the Fugue in E Flat Minor of Johann Sebastian
Bach. They sat down on the coping of a well, both pale and silent. And
Olivier saw tears trickling down Jacqueline's cheeks.
"You are crying?" he murmured, with trembling lips.
And the tears came to his own eyes.
He took her hand. She laid her head on Olivier's shoulder. She gave up
the struggle: she was vanquished, and it was such sweet comfort to her!
... They wept silently as they sat listening to the music under the
moving canopy of the heavy clouds, which in their noiseless flight
seemed to skim the tops of the trees. They thought of all that they had
suffered, and perhaps--who knows?--of all that they were to suffer in
the future. There are moments when music summons forth all the sadness
woven into the woof of a human being's destiny....
After a moment or two Jacqueline dried her eyes and looked at Olivier.
And suddenly they kissed. O boundless happiness! Religious happiness!
So sweet and so profound that it is almost sorrow!
[Illustration: Musical notation]
"Was your sister like you?"
Olivier felt a sudden pang. He said:
"Why do you ask me about her? Did you know her?"
"Christophe told me.... You have suffered?"
Olivier nodded: he was too much moved to speak.
"I have suffered too," she said.
She told him of the friend who had been taken from her, her beloved
Marthe and with her heart big with emotion she told him how she had
wept, wept until she thought she was going to die.
"You will help me?" she said, in a beseeching tone. "You will help me
to live, and be good, and to be a little like her? Poor Marthe, you will
love her too?"
"We will love them both, as they both love each other."
"I wish they were here."
"They are here."
They sat there locked in each other's arms: they hardly breathed, and
could feel heart beating to heart. A gentle drizzle was falling,
falling. Jacqueline shivered.
"Let us go in," she said.
Under the trees it was almost dark. Olivier kissed Jacqueline's wet
hair: she turned her face up to him, and, for the first time, he felt
loving lips against his, a girl's lips, warm and parted a little. They
were nigh swooning.
Near the house they stopped once more:
"How utterly alone we were!" he said.
He had already forgotten Christophe.
They remembered him at length. The music had stopped. They went in.
Christophe was sitting at the harmonium with his head in his hands,
dreaming, he too, of many things in the past. When he heard the door
open, he started from his dream, and turned to them affectionately with
a solemn, tender smile lighting up his face. He saw in their eyes what
had happened, pressed their hands warmly, and said:
"Sit down, and I'll play you something."
They sat down, and he played the piano, telling in music all that was in
his heart, and the great love he had for them. When he had done they all
three sat in silence. Then he got up and looked at them. He looked so
kind, and so much older, so much stronger than they! For the first time
she began to appreciate what he was. He hugged them both, and said to
"You will love him dearly, won't you? You will love him dearly?"
They were filled with gratitude towards him. But at once he turned the
conversation, laughed, went to the window, and sprang out into the
* * * * *
During the days following he kept urging Olivier to go and propose his
suit to Jacqueline's parents. Olivier dared not, dreading the refusal
which he anticipated. Christophe also insisted on his setting about
finding work, for even supposing the Langeais accepted him, he could not
take Jacqueline's fortune unless he were himself in a position to earn
his living. Olivier was of the same opinion, though he did not share his
violent and rather comic distrust of wealthy marriages. It was a rooted
idea in Christophe's mind that riches are death to the soul. It was on
the tip of his tongue to quote the saying of a wise beggar to a rich
lady who was worried in her mind about the next life:
"What, madame, you have millions, and you want to have an immortal soul
into the bargain?"
"Beware of women," he would say to Olivier--half in jest, half in
earnest--"beware of women, but be twenty times more wary of rich women.
Women love art, perhaps, but they strangle the artist. Rich women poison
both art and artists. Wealth is a disease. And women are more
susceptible to it than men. Every rich man is an abnormal being.... You
laugh? You don't take me seriously? Look you: does a rich man know what
life is? Does he keep himself in touch with the raw realities of life?
Does he feel on his face the stinging breath of poverty, the smell of
the bread that he must earn, of the earth that he must dig? Can he
understand, does he even see people and things as they are?... When I
was a little boy I was once or twice taken for a drive in the Grand
Duke's landau. We drove through fields in which I knew every blade of
grass, through woods that I adored, where I used to run wild all by
myself. Well: I saw nothing at all. The whole country had become as
stiff and starched as the idiots with whom I was driving. Between the
fields and my heart there was not only the curtain of the souls of those
formal people. The wooden planks beneath my feet, the moving platform
being rolled over the face of Nature, were quite enough. To feel that
the earth is my mother, I must have my feet firmly planted on her womb,
like a newborn child issuing to the light. Wealth severs the tie which
binds men to the earth, and holds the sons of the earth together. And
then how can you expect to be an artist? The artist is the voice of the
earth. A rich man cannot be a great artist. He would need a thousand
times more genius to be so under such unfavorable conditions. Even if he
succeeds his art must be a hot-house fruit. The great Goethe struggled
in vain: parts of his soul were atrophied, he lacked certain of the
vital organs, which were killed by his wealth. You have nothing like the
vitality of a Goethe, and you would be destroyed by wealth, especially
by a rich woman, a fate which Goethe did at least avoid. Only the man
can withstand the scourge. He has in him such native brutality, such a
rich deposit of rude, healthy instincts binding him to the earth, that
he alone has any chance of escape. But the woman is tainted by the
poison, and she communicates the taint to others. She acquires a taste
for the reeking scent of wealth, and cannot do without it. A woman who
can be rich and yet remain sound in heart is a prodigy as rare as a
millionaire who has genius.... And I don't like monsters. Any one who
has more than enough to live on is a monster--a human cancer preying
upon the lives of the rest of humanity."
"What do you want?" he said. "I can't stop loving Jacqueline because she
is not poor, or force her to become poor for love of me."
"Well, if you can't save her, at least save yourself. That's the best
way of saving her. Keep yourself pure. Work."
Olivier did not need to go to Christophe for scruples. He was even more
nicely sensitive than he in such matters. Not that he took Christophe's
diatribes against money seriously: he had been rich himself, and did not
loathe riches, and thought them a very good setting for Jacqueline's
pretty face. But it was intolerable to think that his love might in any
way be contaminated with an imputation of interest. He applied to have
his name restored to the University list. For the time being he could
not hope for anything better than a moderate post in a provincial
school. It was a poor wedding-present to give to Jacqueline. He told her
about it timidly. Jacqueline found it difficult at first to see his
point of view: she attributed it to an excessive pride, put into his
head by Christophe, and she thought it ridiculous: was it not more
natural between lovers to set no store by riches or poverty, and was it
not rather shabby to refuse to be indebted to her when it would give her
such great joy?... However, she threw herself in with Olivier's plans:
their austerity and discomfort were the very things that brought her
round, for she found in them an opportunity of gratifying her desire for
moral heroism. In her condition of proud revolt against her surroundings
which had been induced by the death of her aunt, and was exalted by her
love, she had gone so far as to deny every element in her nature which
was in contradiction to her mystic ardor: in all sincerity her whole
being was strained, like a bow, after an ideal of a pure and difficult
life, radiant with happiness.... The obstacles, the very smallness and
dullness of her future condition in life, were a joy to her. How good
and beautiful it would all be!...
Madame Langeais was too much taken up with herself to pay much attention
to what was going on about her. For some time past she had been thinking
of little outside her health: she spent her whole time in treating
imaginary illnesses, and trying one doctor after another: each of them
in turn was her saviour, and went on enjoying that position for a
fortnight: then it was another's turn. She would stay away from home for
months in expensive sanatoria, where she religiously carried out all
sorts of preposterous prescriptions to the letter. She had forgotten her
husband and daughter.
M. Langeais was not so indifferent, and had begun to suspect the existence
of the affair. His paternal jealousy made him feel it. He had
for Jacqueline that strange pure affection which many fathers feel for
their daughters, an elusive, indefinable feeling, a mysterious,
voluptuous, and almost sacred curiosity, in living once more in the
lives of fellow-creatures who are of their blood, who are themselves,
and are women. In such secrets of the heart there are many lights and
shadows which it is healthier to ignore. Hitherto it had amused him to
see his daughter making calfish young men fall in love with her: he
loved her so, romantic, coquettish, and discreet--(just as he was
himself).--But when he saw that this affair threatened to become more
serious, he grew anxious. He began by making fun of Olivier to
Jacqueline, and then he criticised him with a certain amount of
bitterness. Jacqueline laughed at first, and said:
"Don't say such hard things, father: you would find it awkward later on,
supposing I wanted to marry him."
M. Langeais protested loudly, and said she was mad: with the result that
she lost her head completely. He declared that he would never let her
marry Olivier. She vowed that she would marry him. The veil was rent. He
saw that he was nothing to her. In his fatherly egoism it had never
occurred to him, and he was angry. He swore that neither Olivier nor
Christophe should ever set foot inside his house again. Jacqueline lost
her temper, and one fine morning Olivier opened the door to admit a
young woman, pale and determined looking, who rushed in like a
whirlwind, and said:
"Take me away with you! My father and mother won't hear of it. I _will_
marry you. You must compromise me."
Olivier was alarmed though touched by it, and did not even try to argue
with her. Fortunately Christophe was there. Ordinarily he was the least
reasonable of men, but now he reasoned with them. He pointed out what a
scandal there would be, and how they would suffer for it. Jacqueline bit
her lip angrily, and said:
"Very well. We will kill ourselves."
So far from frightening Olivier, her threat only helped to make up his
mind to side with her. Christophe had no small difficulty in making the
crazy pair have a little patience: before taking such desperate measures
they might as well try others: let Jacqueline go home, and he would go
and see M. Langeais and plead their cause.
A queer advocate! M. Langeais nearly kicked him out on the first words
he said: but then the absurdity of the situation struck him, and it
amused him. Little by little the gravity of his visitor and his
expression of honesty and absolute sincerity began to make an
impression: however, he would not fall in with his contentions, and went
on firing ironical remarks at him. Christophe pretended not to hear:
but every now and then as a more than usually biting shaft struck home he
would stop and draw himself up in silence; then he would go on again.
Once he brought his fist down on the table with a thud, and said:
"I beg of you to believe that it has given me no pleasure to call on
you: I have to control myself to keep from retaliating on you for
certain things you have said: but I think it my duty to speak to you,
and I am doing so. Forget me, as I forget myself, and weigh well what I
am telling you."
M. Langeais listened: and when he heard of the project of suicide, he
shrugged his shoulders and pretended to laugh: but he was shaken. He was
too clever to take such a threat as a joke: he knew that he had to deal
with the insanity of a girl in love. One of his mistresses, a gay,
gentle creature, whom he had thought incapable of putting her boastful
threat into practice, had shot herself with a revolver before his eyes:
she did not kill herself at once, but the scene lived in his memory....
No, one can never be sure with women. He felt a pang at his heart....
"She wishes it? Very well: so be it, and so much the worse for her,
little fool!..." He would have granted anything rather than drive his
daughter to extremes. In truth he might have used diplomacy, and
pretended to give his consent to gain time, gently to wean Jacqueline
from Olivier. But doing so meant giving himself more trouble than he
could or would be bothered with. Besides, he was weak: and the mere fact
that he had angrily said "No!" to Jacqueline, now inclined him to say
"Yes." After all, what does one know of life? Perhaps the child was
right. The great thing was that they should love each other. M. Langeais
knew quite well that Olivier was a serious young man, and perhaps had
talent.... He gave his consent.
* * * * *
The day before the marriage the two friends sat up together into the
small hours. They did not wish to lose the last hours of their dear life
together.--But already it was in the past. It was like those sad
farewells on the station platform when there is a long wait before the
train moves: one insists on staying, and looking and talking. But one's
heart is not in it: one's friend has already gone.... Christophe tried
to talk. He stopped in the middle of a sentence, seeing the absent look
in Olivier's eyes, and he said, with a smile:
"You are so far away!"
Olivier was confused and begged his pardon. It made him sad to realize
that his thoughts were wandering during the last intimate moments with
his friend. But Christophe pressed his hand, and said:
"Come, don't constrain yourself. I am happy. Go on dreaming, my boy."
They stayed by the window, leaning out side by side, and looking through
the darkness down into the garden. After some time Christophe said to
"You are running away from me. You think you can escape me? You are
thinking of your Jacqueline. But I shall catch you up. I, too, am
thinking of her."
"Poor old fellow," said Olivier, "and I was thinking of you! And
Christophe laughed and finished the sentence for him.
"... And even taking a lot of trouble over it!..."
* * * * *
Christophe turned out very fine, almost smart, for the wedding. There
was no religious ceremony: neither the indifferent Olivier nor the
rebellious Jacqueline had wished it. Christophe had written a symphonic
fragment for the ceremony at the _mairie_, but at the last moment
he gave up the idea when he realized what a civil marriage is: he
thought such ceremonies absurd. People need to have lost both faith and
liberty before they can have any belief in them. When a true Catholic
takes the trouble to become a free-thinker he is not likely to endow a
functionary of the civil State with a religious character. Between God
and his own conscience there is no room for a State religion. The State
registers, it does not bind man and wife together.
The marriage of Olivier and Jacqueline was not likely to make Christophe
regret his decision. Olivier listened with a faintly ironical air of
aloofness to the Mayor ponderously fawning upon the young couple, and
the wealthy relations, and the witnesses who wore decorations.
Jacqueline did not listen: and she furtively put out her tongue at
Simone Adam, who was watching her: she had made a bet with her that
being "married" would not affect her in the least, and it looked as
though she would win it: it hardly seemed to occur to her that it was
she who was being married: the idea of it tickled her. The rest were
posing for the onlookers: and the onlookers were taking them all in. M.
Langeais was showing off: in spite of his sincere affection for his
daughter, he was chiefly occupied in taking stock of the guests to find
out whether he had left any gaps in his list of invitations. Only
Christophe was moved: not one of the rest, relations, bride, and
bridegroom, or the Mayor officiating, showed any emotion: he stood
gazing hungrily at Olivier, who did not look at him.
In the evening the young couple left for Italy. Christophe and M.
Langeais went with them to the station. They seemed happy, not at all
sorry to be going, and did not conceal their impatience for the train to
move. Olivier looked like a boy, and Jacqueline like a little girl....
What a tender, melancholy charm is in such partings! The father is a
little sad to see his child taken away by a stranger, and for what!...
and to see her go away from him forever. But they feel nothing but a new
intoxicating sense of liberty. There are no more hindrances to life:
nothing can stop them ever again: they seem to have reached the very
summit: now might they die readily, for they have everything, and
nothing to fear.... But soon they see that it was no more than a stage
in the journey. The road still lies before them, and winds round the
mountain: and there are very few who reach the second stage....
The train bore them away into the night. Christophe and M. Langeais went
home together. Christophe said with naive archness:
"Now we are both widowed!"
M. Langeais began to laugh. He liked Christophe now that he knew him
better. They said good-by, and went their ways. They were both unhappy,
with an odd mixture of sadness and sweetness. Sitting alone in his room
"The best of my soul is happy."
Nothing had been altered in Olivier's room. They had arranged that until
Olivier returned and settled in a new house his furniture and belongings
should stay with Christophe. It was as though he himself was still
present. Christophe looked at the portrait of Antoinette, placed it on
his desk, and said to it:
"My dear, are you glad?"
He wrote often--rather too often--to Olivier. He had a few vaguely
written letters, which were increasingly distant in tone. He was
disappointed, but not much affected by it. He persuaded himself that it
must be so, and he had no anxiety as to the future of their friendship.
His solitude did not trouble him. Far from it: he did not have enough of
it to suit his taste. He was beginning to suffer from the patronage of
the _Grand Journal_. Arsene Gamache had a tendency to believe that
he had proprietary rights in the famous men whom he had taken the
trouble to discover: he took it as a matter of course that their fame
should be associated with his own, much as Louis XIV. grouped Moliere,
Le Brun, and Lulli about his throne. Christophe discovered that the
author of the _Hymn to Aegis_ was not more imperial or more of a
nuisance to art than his patron of the _Grand Journal_. For the
journalist, who knew no more about art than the Emperor, had opinions no
less decided about it: he could not tolerate the existence of anything
he did not like: he decreed that it was bad and pernicious: and he would
ruin it in the public interest. It is both comic and terrible to see
such coarse-grained uncultivated men of affairs presuming to control not
only politics and money, but also the mind, and offering it a kennel
with a collar and a dish of food, or, if it refuses, having the power to
let loose against it thousands of idiots whom they have trained into a
docile pack of hounds!--Christophe was not the sort of man to let
himself be schooled and disciplined. It seemed to him a very bad thing
that an ignoramus should take upon himself to tell him what he ought and
ought not to do in music: and he gave him to understand that art needed
a much more severe training than politics. Also, without any sort of
polite circumlocution, he declined a proposal that he should set to
music a libretto, which the author, a leading member of the staff of the
paper, was trying to place, while it was highly recommended by his
chief. It had the effect of cooling his relations with Gamache.
Christophe did not mind that in the least. Though he had so lately risen
from his obscurity, he was longing to return to it. He found himself
"exposed to that great light in which a man is lost among the many."
There were too many people bothering their heads about him. He pondered
these words of Goethe:
_"When a writer has attracted attention by a good piece of work, the
public tries to prevent his producing another.... The brooding talent is
dragged out into the hurly-burly of the world, in spite of itself,
because every one thinks he will be able to appropriate a part of
He shut his door upon the outside world, and began to seek the company
of some of his old friends in his own house. He revisited the Arnauds,
whom he had somewhat neglected. Madame Arnaud, who was left alone for
part of the day, had time to think of the sorrows of others. She thought
how empty Christophe's life must be now that Olivier was gone: and she
overcame her shyness so far as to invite him to dinner. If she had
dared, she would even have offered to go in from time to time and tidy
his rooms: but she was not bold enough: and no doubt it was better so:
for Christophe did not like to have people worrying about him. But he
accepted the invitation to dinner, and made a habit of going in to the
Arnauds' every evening.
He found them just as united, living in the same atmosphere of rather
sad, sorrowful tenderness, though it was even grayer than before, Arnaud
was passing through a period of depression, brought on by the wear and
tear of his life as a teacher,--a life of exhausting labor, in which one
day is like unto another, and each day's work is like that of the next,
like a wheel turning in one place, without ever stopping, or ever
advancing. Though he was very patient, the good man was passing through
a crisis of discouragement. He let certain acts of injustice prey upon
him, and was inclined to think that all his zeal was futile. Madame
Arnaud would comfort him with kind words: she seemed to be just as calm
and peaceful as in the old days: but her face was thinner. In her
presence Christophe would congratulate Arnaud on having such a sensible
"Yes," Arnaud would say, "she is a good little creature; nothing ever puts
her out. She is lucky: so am I. If she had suffered in this cursed
life, I don't see how I could have got through."
Madame Arnaud would blush and say nothing. Then in her even tones she
would talk of something else.--Christophe's visits had their usual good
effect: they brought light in their train: and he, for his part, found
it very pleasant to feel the warmth of their kind, honest hearts.
Another friend, a girl, came into his life. Or rather he sought her out:
for though she longed to know him, she could not have made the effort to
go and see him. She was a young woman of a little more than twenty-five,
a musician, and she had taken the first prize at the Conservatoire: her
name was Cecile Fleury. She was short and rather thick-set. She had
heavy eyebrows, fine, large eyes, with a soft expression, a short,
broad, turned-up nose, inclined to redness, like a duck's beak, thick
lips, kind and tender, an energetic chin, heavy and solid, and her
forehead was broad, but not high. Her hair was done up in a large bun at
the back of her neck. She had strong arms and a pianist's hands, very
long, with a splayed thumb and square finger-tips. The general
impression she gave was one of a rather sluggish vitality and of rude
rustic health. She lived with her mother, who was very dear to her: a
good, kind woman, who took not the smallest interest in music though she
used to talk about it, because she was always hearing about it, and knew
everything that happened in Musicopolis. She had a dull, even life, gave
lessons all day long, and sometimes concerts, of which nobody took any
notice. She used to go home late at night, on foot or in an omnibus,
worn out, but quite good-tempered: and she used to practise her scales
bravely and trim her own hats, talking a great deal, laughing readily,
and often singing for nothing.
She had not been spoiled by life. She knew the value of a little comfort
when she had earned it by her own efforts,--the joy of a little
pleasure, or a little scarcely perceptible advance in her position or
her work. Indeed, if one month she could only earn five francs more than
in the last, or if she could at length manage to play a certain passage
of Chopin which she had been struggling with for weeks,--she would be
quite happy. Her work, which was not excessive, exactly fitted her
aptitude for it, and gave her a healthy satisfaction. Playing, singing,
giving lessons gave her a pleasant feeling of satisfied activity, normal
and regular, and at the same time a modest competence and a comfortable
placid success. She had a healthy appetite, ate much, slept well, and
was never ill.
She was clear-headed, sensible, modest, perfectly balanced, and never
worried about anything: for she always lived in and for the present,
without bothering her head about what had happened or what was going to
happen in the future. And as she was always well, and as her life was
comparatively secure from the sudden turns of fate, she was almost
always satisfied. She took the same pleasure in practising her piano as
in keeping house, or talking about things domestic, or doing nothing.
She had the art of living, not from day to day--(she was economical and
provident)--but from minute to minute. She was not possessed of any sort
of idealism: the only ideal she had, if it could be called so, was
bourgeois, and was unostentatiously expressed in her every action, and
evenly distributed through every moment of the day: it consisted in
peacefully loving everything she was doing, whatever it might be. She
went to church on Sundays: but the feeling of religion had practically
no place in her life. She admired enthusiasts, like Christophe, who had
faith or genius: but she did not envy them: what could she have done
with their uneasiness and their genius?
How came it, then, that she could feel their music? She would have found
it hard to say. But it was very certain that she did feel it. She was
superior to other virtuosi by reason of her sturdy quality of balance,
physical and moral: in her abounding vitality, in the absence of
personal passion, the passions of others found a rich soil in which to
come to flower. She was not touched by them. She could translate in all
their energy the terrible passions which had consumed the artist without
being tainted by their poison: she only felt their force and the great
weariness that came after its expression. When it was over, she would be
all in a sweat, utterly exhausted: she would smile calmly and feel very
Christophe heard her one evening, and was struck by her playing. He went
and shook hands with her after the concert. She was grateful to him for
it: there were very few people at the concert, and she was not so used
to compliments as to take no delight in them. As she had never been
clever enough to throw in her lot with any musical coterie, or cunning
enough to surround herself with a group of worshipers, and as she never
attempted to make herself particular, either by technical mannerisms or
by a fantastic interpretation of the hallowed compositions, or by
assuming an exclusive right to play some particular master, such as
Johann Sebastian Bach, or Beethoven, and as she had no theories about
what she played, but contented herself with playing simply what she
felt--nobody paid any attention to her, and the critics ignored her: for
nobody told them that she played well, and they were not likely to find
it out for themselves.
Christophe saw a good deal of Cecile. Her strength and tranquillity
attracted him as a mystery. She was vigorous and apathetic. In his
indignation at her not being better known he proposed that he should get
his friends of the _Grand Journal_ to write about her. But although
she would have liked to be praised, she begged him not to do anything to
procure it. She did not want to have the struggle or the bother or the
jealousies it would entail: she wanted to be left in peace. She was not
talked about: so much the better! She was not envious, and she was the
first to be enthusiastic about the technique of other virtuosi. She had
no ambition, and no desire for anything. She was much too lazy in mind!
When she had not any immediate and definite work to do, she did nothing,
nothing; she did not even dream, not even at night, in bed: she either
slept or thought of nothing. She had not the morbid preoccupation with
marriage, which poisons the lives of girls who shiver at the thought of
dying old maids. When she was asked if she would not like to have a
husband, she would say:
"Why not throw in fifty thousand a year? One has to take what comes. If
any one offers, so much the better! If not, one goes without. Because
one can't have cake, I don't see why one shouldn't be glad of honest
bread. Especially when one has had to eat stale bread for so long!"
"Besides," her mother would say, "there are plenty of people who never
get any bread to eat at all!"
Cecile had good reason to fight shy of men. Her father, who had been
dead some years, was a weak, lazy creature: he had wronged his wife and
his family. She had also a brother who had turned out badly and did not
know what had become of him: every now and then he would turn up and ask
for money: she and her mother were afraid of him and ashamed of him, and
fearful of what they might hear about him any day: and yet they loved
him. Christophe met him once. He was at Cecile's house: there was a ring
at the door: and her mother answered it. He heard a conversation being
carried on in the next room, and the voices were raised every now and
then. Cecile seemed ill at ease, and went out also, leaving Christophe
alone. The discussion went on, and the stranger's voice assumed a
threatening tone: Christophe thought it time to intervene, and opened
the door. He hardly had time to do more than catch a glimpse of a young
and slightly deformed man, whose back was turned towards him, for Cecile
rushed towards him and implored him to go back. She went with him, and
they sat in silence. In the next room the visitor went on shouting for a
few minutes longer, and then took his leave and slammed the door. Then
Cecile sighed, and said to Christophe:
"Yes.... He is my brother."
"Ah!" he said.... "I know.... I have a brother, too...."
Cecile took his hand with an air of affectionate commiseration:
"Yes," he said.... "These are the joys of a family."
Cecile laughed, and they changed the conversation. No, the joys of a
family had no enchantment for her, nor had the idea of marriage any
fascination: men were rather a worthless lot on the whole. Her
independent life had many advantages: her mother had often sighed after
her liberty: she had no desire to lose it. The only day-dream in which
she indulged was that some day--Heaven knows when!--she would not have
to give lessons any more, and would be able to live in the county. But
she did not even take the trouble to imagine such a life in detail: she
found it too fatiguing to think of anything so uncertain: it was better
to sleep,--or do her work....
In the meanwhile, in default of her castle in Spain, she used to hire a
little house in the outskirts of Paris for the summer, and lived there
with her mother. It was twenty minutes' journey by train. The house was
some distance away from the station, standing alone in the midst of a
stretch of waste lands which were called "fields," and Cecile used often
to return late at night. But she was not afraid, and did not believe
there was any danger. She had a revolver, but she always used to leave
it at home. Besides, it was doubtful if she would have known how to use
Sometimes, when he went to see her, Christophe would make her play. It
amused him to see her keen perception of the music, especially when he
had dropped a hint which put her on the track of a feeling that called
for expression. He had discovered that she had an excellent voice, but
she had no idea of it. He made her practise it, and would give her old
German _lieder_ or his own music to sing: it gave her pleasure, and
she made such progress as to surprise herself as much as him. She was
marvelously gifted. The fire of music had miraculously descended upon
this daughter of Parisian middle-class parents who were utterly devoid
of any artistic feeling. Philomela--(for so he used to call her)--used
sometimes to discuss music with Christophe, but always in a practical,
never in a sentimental, way: she seemed only to be interested in the
technique of singing and the piano. Generally, when they were together
and were not playing music, they talked of the most commonplace things,
and Christophe, who could not for a moment have tolerated such
conversations with an ordinary woman, would discuss these subjects as a
matter of course with Philomela.
They used to spend whole evenings alone together, and were genuinely
fond of each other, though their affection was perfectly calm and even
almost cold. One evening, when he had dined with her, and had stayed
talking longer than usual, a violent storm came on: she said:
"You can't go now! Stay until to-morrow morning."
He was fitted up with an improvised bed in the little sitting-room. Only
a thin partition was between it and Cecile's bedroom, and the doors were
not locked. As he lay there he could hear her bed creaking and her soft,
regular breathing. In five minutes she was asleep: and very soon he
followed her example without either of them having had the faintest
shadow of an uneasy thought.
At the same time there came into his life a number of other unknown
friends, drawn to him by reading his works. Most of them lived far away