Part 10 out of 10
boy who had so often deceived her. He had a suspicion that this time it
was serious, but he refused to believe it; and his eyes watched his
mother's eyes for the reproachful expression that had infuriated him
when he was lying. There came a time when there was no room for doubt.
Then it was terrible, both for him and his mother and sister: he did not
wish to die....
When at last Grazia saw him sinking to sleep, she gave no cry and made
no moan: she astonished those about her by her silence: she had no
strength left for suffering: she had only one desire, to sleep also.
However, she went about the business of her life with the same apparent
calm. After a few weeks her smile returned to her lips, but she was more
silent still. No one suspected her inward distress, Christophe least of
all. She had only written to tell him the news, without a word of
herself. She did not answer Christophe's anxiously affectionate letters.
He wanted to come to her: she begged him not to. At the end of two or
three months, she resumed her old grave, serene tone with him. She would
have thought it criminal to put upon him the burden of her weakness. She
knew how the echo of all her feelings reverberated in him, and how great
was his need to lean on her. She did not impose upon herself the
restraint of sorrow. This discipline was her salvation. In her weariness
of life only two things gave her life: Christophe's love, and the
fatalism, which, in sorrow as in joy, lay at the heart of her Italian
nature. There was nothing intellectual in her fatalism: it was the
animal instinct, which makes a hunted beast go on, with no consciousness
of fatigue, in a staring wide-eyed dream, forgetting the stones of the
road, forgetting its own body, until it falls. Her fatalism sustained
her body. Love sustained her heart. Now that her own life was worn out,
she lived in Christophe. And yet she was more scrupulous than ever never
in her letters to tell him of the love she had for him: no doubt because
her love was greater: but also because she was conscious of the
_veto_ of the dead boy, who had made her affection a crime. Then
she would relapse into silence, and refrain from writing for a time.
Christophe did not understand her silence. Sometimes in the composed and
tranquil tone of one of her letters he would be conscious of an
unexpected note that seemed to be quivering with passionate moaning.
That would prostrate him: but he dared not say anything: he hardly dared
to notice it: he was like a man holding his breath, afraid to breathe,
for fear of destroying an illusion. He knew almost infallibly that in
the next letter such notes as these would be atoned for by a deliberate
coldness. Then, once more, tranquillity ... _Meeresstille_....
* * * * *
Georges and Emmanuel met at Christophe's one afternoon. Both were
preoccupied with their own troubles: Emmanuel with his literary
disappointments, and Georges with some athletic failure. Christophe
listened to them good-humoredly and teased them affectionately. There
was a ring at the door. Georges went to open it. A servant had come with
a letter from Colette. Christophe stood by the window to read it. His
friends went on with their discussion, and did not see Christophe, whose
back was turned to them. He left the room without their noticing it. And
when they realized that he had done so, they were not surprised. But as
time passed and he did not return, Georges went and knocked at the door
of the next room. There was no reply. Georges did not persist, for he
knew his old friend's queer ways. A few minutes later Christophe
returned without a word. He seemed very calm, very kind, very gentle. He
begged their pardon for leaving them, took up the conversation where he
had left it, and spoke kindly about their troubles, and said many
helpful things. The tone of his voice moved them, though they knew not
They left him. Georges went straight to Colette's, and found her in
tears. As soon as she saw him she came swiftly to him and asked:
"How did our poor friend take the blow? It is terrible."
Georges did not understand. And Colette told him that she had just sent
Christophe the news of Grazia's death.
She was gone, without having had time to say farewell to anybody. For
several months past the roots of her life had been almost torn out of
the earth: a puff of wind was enough to lay it low. On the evening
before the relapse of influenza which carried her off she received a
long, kind letter from Christophe. It had filled her with tenderness,
and she longed to bid him come to her: she felt that everything else,
everything that kept them apart, was absurd and culpable. She was very
weary, and put off writing to him until the next day. On the day after
she had to stay in bed. She began a letter which she did not finish: she
had an attack of giddiness, and her head swam: besides, she was
reluctant to speak of her illness, and was afraid of troubling
Christophe. He was busy at the time with rehearsals of a choral symphony
set to a poem of Emmanuel's: the subject had roused them both to
enthusiasm, for it was something symbolical of their own destiny: _The
Promised Land_. Christophe had often mentioned it to Grazia. The
first performance was to take place the following week.... She must not
upset him. In her letter Grazia just spoke of a slight cold. Then that
seemed too much to her. She tore up the letter, and had no strength left
to begin another. She told herself that she would write in the evening.
When the evening came it was too late--too late to bid him come, too
late even to write.... How swiftly everything passes! A few hours are
enough to destroy the labor of ages.... Grazia hardly had time to give
her daughter a ring she wore and beg her to send it to her friend. Till
then she had not been very intimate with Aurora. Now that her life was
ebbing away, she gazed passionately at the face of the girl: she clung
to the hand that would pass on the pressure of her own, and, joyfully,
"Not all of me will pass away."
_"Quid? hic, inquam, quis est qui complet aures meas tantus et tam
dulcis sonus?..."--(The Dream of Scipio.)_
When he left Colette, on an impulse of sympathy Georges went back to
Christophe's. For a long time, through Colette's indiscretions, he had
known the place that Grazia filled in his old friend's heart: he had
even--(for youth is not respectful)--made fun of it. But now generously
and keenly he felt the sorrow that Christophe must be feeling at such a
loss; and he felt that he must go to him, embrace him, pity him. Knowing
the violence of his passions,--the tranquillity that Christophe had
shown made him anxious. He rang the bell. No answer. He rang once more
and knocked, giving the signal agreed between Christophe and himself. He
heard the moving of a chair and a slow, heavy tread. Christophe opened
the door. His face was so calm that Georges stopped still, just as he
was about to fling himself into his arms: he knew not what to say.
Christophe asked him gently:
"You, my boy. Have you forgotten something?"
Georges muttered uneasily:
Christophe went and sat in the chair he had left on Georges's arrival,
near the window, with his head thrown back, looking at the roofs
opposite and the reddening evening sky. He paid no attention to Georges.
The young man pretended to look about on the table, while he stole
glances at Christophe. His face was set: the beams of the setting sun
lit up his cheek-bones and his forehead. Mechanically Georges went into
the next room--the bedroom--as though he were still looking for
something. It was in this room that Christophe had shut himself up with
the letter. It was still there on the bed, which bore the imprint of a
body. On the floor lay a book that had slipped down. It had been left
open with a page crumpled. Georges picked it up, and read the story of
the meeting of the Magdalene and the Gardener in the Gospel.
He came back into the living-room, and moved a few things here and there
to gain countenance, and once more he looked at Christophe, who had not
budged. He longed to tell him how he pitied him. But Christophe was so
radiant with light that Georges felt that it was out of place to speak.
It was rather himself who stood in need of consolation. He said timidly:
"I am going."
Without turning his head, Christophe said:
"Good-by, my boy."
Georges went away and closed the door without a sound.
For a long time Christophe sat there. Night came. He was not suffering:
he was not thinking: he saw no definite image. He was like a tired man
listening to some vague music without making any attempt to understand
it. The night was far gone when he got up, cramped and stiff. He flung
himself on his bed and slept heavily. The symphony went on buzzing all
And now he saw _her_, the well-beloved.... She held out her hands
to him, and said, smiling:
"Now you have passed through the zone of fire."
Then his heart melted. An indescribable peace filled the starry spaces,
where the music of the spheres flung out its great, still, profound
sheets of water....
When he awoke (it was day), his strange happiness still endured, with
the distant gleam of words falling upon his ears. He got up. He was
exalted with a silent, holy enthusiasm.
"... _Or vedi, figlio,
tra Beatrice e te e questo muro...."_
Between Beatrice and himself, the wall was broken down. For a long time
now more than half his soul had dwelt upon the other side. The more a
man lives, the more a man creates, the more a man loves and loses those
whom he loves, the more does he escape from death. With every new blow
that we have to bear, with every new work that we round and finish, we
escape from ourselves, we escape into the work we have created, the soul
we have loved, the soul that has left us. When all is told, Rome is not
in Rome: the best of a man lies outside himself. Only Grazia had
withheld him on this side of the wall. And now in her turn.... Now the
door was shut upon the world of sorrow.
He lived through a period of secret exaltation. He felt the weight of no
fetters. He expected nothing of the things of this world. He was
dependent upon nothing. He was set free. The struggle was at an end.
Issuing from the zone of combat and the circle where reigned the God of
heroic conflict, _Dominus Deus Sabaoth_, he looked down, and in the
night saw the torch of the Burning Bush put out. How far away it was!
When it had lit up his path he had thought himself almost at the summit.
And since then, how far he had had to go! And yet the topmost pinnacle
seemed no nearer. He would never reach it (he saw that now), though he
were to march on to eternity. But when a man enters the circle of light
and knows that he has not left those he loves behind him, eternity is
not too long a space to be journeying on with them.
He closed his doors. No one knocked. Georges had expended all his
compassion and sympathy in the one impulse; he was reassured by the time
he reached home, and forgot all about it by the next day. Colette had
gone to Rome. Emmanuel knew nothing, and hypersensitive as usual, he
maintained an affronted silence because Christophe had not returned his
visit. Christophe was not disturbed in his long colloquy with the woman
whom he now bore in his soul, as a pregnant woman bears her precious
burden. It was a moving intercourse, impossible to translate into words.
Even music could hardly express it. When his heart was full, almost
overflowing, Christophe would lie still with eyes closed, and listen to
its song. Or, for hours together, he would sit at his piano and let his
fingers speak. During this period he improvised more than he had done in
the whole of his life. He did not set down his thoughts. What was the
When, after several weeks, he took to going out again and seeing other
men, while none of his friends, except Georges, had any suspicion of
what had happened, the daimon of improvisation pursued him still. It
would take possession of Christophe just when he was least expecting it.
One evening, at Colette's, Christophe sat down at the piano and played
for nearly an hour, absolutely surrendering himself, and forgetting that
the room was full of strangers. They had no desire to laugh. His
terrible improvisations enslaved and overwhelmed them. Even those who
did not understand their meaning were thrilled and moved: and tears came
to Colette's eyes.... When Christophe had finished he turned away
abruptly: he saw how everybody was moved, and shrugged his shoulders,
He had reached the point at which sorrow also becomes a force--a
dominant force. His sorrow possessed him no more: he possessed his
sorrow: in vain it fluttered and beat upon its bars: he kept it caged.
From that period date his most poignant and his happiest works: a scene
from the Gospel which Georges recognized--
"_Mulier, quid ploras?"--"Quia tulerunt Dominium meum, et nescio ubi
Et cum hoec dixisset, conversa est retrorsum, et vidit Jesum stantem: et
non sciebat quia Jesus est_.
--a series of tragic _lieder_ set to verses of popular Spanish
_cantares_, among others a gloomy sad love-song, like a black
"_Quisiera ser el sepulcro
Donde a ti te han de enterrar,
Para tenerte en mis brazos
Por toda la eternidad_."
("Would I were the grave, where thou art to be buried, that I might hold
thee in my arms through all eternity.")
--and two symphonies, called _The Island of Tranquillity_ and
_The Dream of Scipio_, in which, more intimately than in any other
of the works of Jean-Christophe Krafft, is realized the union of the
most beautiful of the forces of the music of his time: the affectionate
and wise thought of Germany with all its shadowy windings, the clear
passionate melody of Italy, and the quick mind of France, rich in subtle
rhythms and variegated harmonies.
This "enthusiasm begotten of despair at the time of a great loss" lasted
for a few months. Thereafter Christophe fell back into his place in life
with a stout heart and a sure foot. The wind of death had blown away the
last mists of pessimism, the gray of the Stoic soul, and the
phantasmagoria of the mystic chiaroscura. The rainbow had shone upon the
vanishing clouds. The gaze of heaven, purer, as though it had been laved
with tears, smiled through them. There was the peace of evening on the
The fire smoldering in the forest of Europe was beginning to burst into
flames. In vain did they try to put it out in one place: it only broke
out in another: with gusts of smoke and a shower of sparks it swept from
one point to another, burning the dry brushwood. Already in the East
there were skirmishes as the prelude to the great war of the nations.
All Europe, Europe that only yesterday was skeptical and apathetic, like
a dead wood, was swept by the flames. All men were possessed by the
desire for battle. War was ever on the point of breaking out. It was
stamped out, but it sprang to life again. The world felt that it was the
mercy of an accident that might let loose the dogs of war. The world lay
in wait. The feeling of inevitability weighed heavily even upon the most
pacifically minded. And ideologues, sheltered beneath the massive shadow
of the cyclops, Proudhon, hymned in war man's fairest title of
This, then, was to be the end of the physical and moral resurrection of
the races of the West! To such butchery they were to be borne along by
the currents of action and passionate faith! Only a Napoleonic genius
could have marked out a chosen, deliberate aim for this blind, onward
rush. But nowhere in Europe was there any genius for action. It was as
though the world had chosen the most mediocre to be its governors. The
force of the human mind was in other things.--So there was nothing to be
done but to trust to the declivity down which they were moving. This
both governors and governed were doing. Europe looked like a vast armed
Christophe remembered a similar vigil, when he had had Olivier's anxious
face by his side. But then the menace of war had been only a passing
cloud. Now all Europe lay under its shadow. And Christophe's heart also
had changed. He could not share in the hatred of the nations. His state
of mind was like that of Goethe in 1813. How could a man fight without
hatred? And how could he hate without youth? He had passed through the
zone of hatred. Which of the great rival nations was the dearest to him?
He had learned to know all their merits, and what the world owed to
them. When a man has reached a certain stage in the development of the
soul _"he knows no nation, he feels the happiness or unhappiness of
the neighboring peoples as his own."_ The storm-clouds are at his
feet. Around him is nothing but the sky--_"the whole Heavens, the
kingdom of the eagle."_
And yet Christophe was sometimes embarrassed by this ambient hostility.
In Paris he was made to feel too clearly that he was of the hostile
race: even his friend Georges could not resist the pleasure of giving
vent, in his presence, to feelings about Germany which made him sad.
Then he rushed away, on the excuse that he wanted to see Grazia's
daughter: and he went and stayed for a time in Rome. But there the
atmosphere was no more serene. The great plague of national pride had
spread there, and had transformed the Italian character. The Italians,
whom Christophe had known to be indifferent and indolent, were now
thinking of nothing but military glory, battle, conquests, Roman eagles
flying over the sands of Libya: they believed they had returned to the
time of the Emperors. The wonderful thing was that this madness was
shared, with the best faith in the world, by the opposition parties,
socialists and clericals, as well as by the monarchists, and they had
not the least idea that they were being unfaithful to their cause. So
little do politics and human reason count when the great epidemic
passions sweep over the nations. Such passions do not even trouble to
suppress individual passions; they use them; and everything converges on
the one goal. In the great periods of action it was ever thus. The
armies of Henri IV., the Councils of Louis XIV., which forged the
greatness of France, numbered as many men of faith and reason as men of
vanity, interest, and enjoyment. Jansenists and libertines, Puritans and
gallants, served the same destiny in serving their instincts. In the
forthcoming wars no doubt internationalists and pacificists will kindle
the blaze, in the conviction, like that of their ancestors of the
Convention, that they are doing it for the good of the nations and the
triumph of peace.
With a somewhat ironical smile, Christophe, from the terrace of the
Janiculum, looked down on the disparate and harmonious city, the symbol
of the universe which it dominated; crumbling ruins, "baroque" facades,
modern buildings, cypress and roses intertwined--every age, every style,
merged into a powerful and coherent unity beneath the clear light. So
the mind should shed over the struggling universe the order and light
that are in it.
Christophe did not stay long in Rome. The impression made on him by the
city was too strong: he was afraid of it. Truly to profit by its harmony
he needed to hear it at a distance: he felt that if he stayed he would
be in danger of being absorbed by it, like so many other men of his
race.--Every now and then he went and stayed in Germany. But, when all
was told, and in spite of the imminence of a Franco-German war, Paris
still had the greatest attraction for him. No doubt this was because his
adopted son, Georges, lived there. But he was not only swayed by reasons
of affection. There were other reasons of an intellectual order that
were no less powerful. For an artist accustomed to the full life of the
mind, who generously shares in all the sufferings, all the hopes, and
all the passions of the great human family, it was difficult to grow
accustomed to life in Germany. There was no lack of artists there. But
the artists lacked air. They were isolated from the rest of the nation,
which took no interest in them: other preoccupations, social or
practical, absorbed the attention of the public. The poets shut
themselves up in disdainful irritation in their disdained art; it became
a point of honor with them to sever the last ties which bound them to
the life of the people: they wrote only for a few, a little aristocracy
full of talent, refined and sterile, being itself divided into rival
groups of jaded initiates, and they were stifled in the narrow room in
which they were huddled together: they were incapable of expanding it,
and set themselves to dig down; they turned the soil over until it was
exhausted. Then they drifted away into their archaic dreams, and never
even troubled to bring their dreams into the common stock. Each man
fought for his place in the mist. They had no light in common. Each man
had to look for light within himself.
Yonder, on the other hand, on the other side of the Rhine, among their
neighbors on the West, the great winds of collective passion, of public
turbulence and tribulation, swept periodically over art. And, high above
the plain, like their Eiffel Tower above Paris, shone afar off the
never-dying light of a classic tradition, handed down from generation to
generation, which, while it never enslaved nor constrained the mind,
showed it the road followed by past ages, and established the communion
of a whole nation in its light. Many a German spirit--like birds strayed
in the night--came winging towards the distant beacon. But who is there
in France can dream of the power of the sympathy which drives so many
generous hearts from the neighboring nation towards France! So many
hands stretched out: hands that are not responsible for the aims of the
politicians!... And you see no more of us, our brothers in Germany,
though we say to you: "Here are our hands. In spite of lies and hatred,
we will not be parted. We have need of you, you have need of us, to
build the greatness of our spirits and our people. We are the two wings
of the West. If one be broken, there is an end of flight! Let the war
come! It will not break the clasp of our hands or the flight of our
genius in brotherhood."
So thought Christophe. He felt the mutual completion which the two races
could give each other, and how lame and halting were the spirit, the
art, the action of each without the help of the other. For his own part,
born in the Rhine-lands where the two civilizations mingle in one
stream, from his childhood he had instinctively felt their inevitable
union; all through his life the unconscious effort of his genius had
been to maintain the balance and equilibrium of the two mighty wings.
The greater was his wealth of Germanic dreams, the more he needed the
Latin clarity of mind and order. It was for this reason that France was
so dear to him. In France he had the joy of better knowledge and mastery
of himself. Only in France was he wholly himself.
He turned to account all the elements that were or might be noxious to
him. He assimilated foreign energy in his own. A vigorous healthy mind
absorbs every kind of force, even that which is hostile to it, and makes
it bone and flesh of its bone and flesh. There even comes a time when a
man is most attracted by what least resembles him, for therein he finds
his most plentiful nourishment.
Christophe did in fact find more pleasure in the work of artists who
were set up as his rivals than in the work of his imitators:--for he had
imitators who called themselves his disciples, to his great despair.
They were honest, laborious, estimable, and altogether virtuous people
who were full of respect and veneration for him. Christophe would have
given much if he could have liked their music; but--(it was just his
luck!)--he could not do it: he found it meaningless. He was a thousand
times more pleased with the talent of musicians who were personally
antipathetic to him, and in art represented tendencies hostile to his
own.... Well! What did it matter? These men were at least alive! Life
is, in itself, such a virtue, that, if a man be deprived of it, though
he possess all the other virtues, he will never be a really good man,
for he cannot really be a man. Christophe used jokingly to say that the
only disciples he recognized were the men who attacked him. And when a
young artist came and talked to him about his musical vocation, and
tried to win his sympathy by flattering him, Christophe would say:
"So. My music satisfies you? That is how you would express your love, or
"Well. Don't. You have nothing to say."
His horror of the submissive temper of mind, of men born to obey, his
need of absorbing other ideas than his own, attracted him to circles
whose ideas were diametrically opposed to his own. He had friends among
men to whom his art, his idealistic faith, his moral conceptions, were a
dead letter: they had absolutely different ways of envisaging life,
love, marriage, the family, every social relationship:--but they were
good fellows, though they seemed to belong to another stage of moral
evolution: the anguish and the scruples that had consumed a part of
Christophe's life were incomprehensible to them. No doubt that was all
the better for them! Christophe had no desire to make them understand.
He did not ask others to confirm his ideas by thinking as he did: he was
sure of his own thoughts. He asked them to let him know their thoughts,
and to love their souls. He asked always to know and to love more, to
see and to learn how to see. He had reached the point not only of
admitting in others tendencies of mind that he had once combated, but
also of rejoicing in them, for they seemed to him to contribute to
the fecundity of the universe. He loved Georges the more because he did not
take life tragically, as he did. Humanity would be too poor and too gray
in color if it were to be uniformly clad in the moral seriousness, and
the heroic restraint with which Christophe was armed. Humanity needed
joy, carelessness, irreverent audacity in face of its idols, all its
idols, even the most holy. Long live "the Gallic salt which revives the
world"! Skepticism and faith are no less necessary. Skepticism, riddling
the faith of yesterday, prepares the way for the faith of to-morrow....
How clear everything becomes to the man who stands away from life, and,
as in a fine picture, sees the contrasting colors merge into a magical
harmony, where, when they were closely seen, they clashed.
Christophe's eyes had been opened to the infinite variety of the
material, as of the moral, world. It had been one of his greatest
conquests since his first visit to Italy. In Paris he especially sought
the company of painters and sculptors; it seemed to him that the best of
the French genius was in them. The triumphant audacity with which they
pursued and captured movement, vibrant color, and tore away the veils
that cover life, made his heart leap with delight. The inexhaustible
riches that he who has eyes to see can find in a drop of light, a second
of life! Against such sovereign delights of the mind what matters the
vain tumult of dispute and war?... But dispute and war also are a part
of the marvelous spectacle. We must embrace everything, and, valiantly,
joyously, fling into the crucible of our burning hearts both the forces
of denial and the forces of affirmation, enemies and friends, the whole
metal of life. The end of it all is the statue which takes shape in us,
the divine fruit of our minds; and all is good that helps to make it
more beautiful even at the cost of the sacrifice of ourselves. What does
the creator matter? Only that which is created is real.... You cannot
hurt us, ye enemies who seek to reach us with your hostility. We are
beyond the reach of your attacks.... You are rending the empty cloak. I
have been gone this many a day.
His music had found a more serene form. No longer did it show the storms
of spring, which gathered, burst, and disappeared in the old days, but,
instead, the white clouds of summer, mountains of snow and gold, great
birds of light, slowly soaring, and filling the sky.... Creation.
Ripening crops in the calm August sunlight....
At first a vague, mighty torpor, the obscure joy of the full grape, the
swollen ear of corn, the pregnant woman brooding over her ripe fruit. A
buzzing like the sound of an organ; the hive all alive with the hum of
the bees.... Such somber, golden music, like an autumn honeycomb, slowly
gives forth the rhythm which shall mark its path: the round of the
planets is made plain: it begins to spin....
Then the will appears. It leaps onto the back of the whinnying dream as
it passes, and grips it with its knees. The mind recognizes the laws of
the rhythm which guides it: it tames the disordered forces and fixes the
path they shall take, the goal towards which they shall move. The
symphony of reason and instinct is organized. The darkness grows bright.
On the long ribbon of the winding road, at intervals, there are
brilliant fires, which in their turn shall be in the work of creation
the nucleus of little planetary worlds linked up in the girdle of their
The main lines of the picture are henceforth fixed. Now it looms through
the uncertain light of dawn. Everything is becoming definite: the
harmony of the colors, the outline of the figures. To bring the work to
its close all the resources of his being are brought into requisition.
The scent-box of memory is opened and exhales its perfumes. The mind
unchains the senses: it lets them wax delirious and is silent: but,
crouching there, it watches them and chooses its prey....
All is ready: the team of workmen carries out, with the materials
snatched from the senses, the work planned by the mind. A great
architect must have good journeymen who know their trade and will not
spare themselves.--The cathedral is finished.
"And God looked down on his work. And He saw that _it was not yet
The Master's eyes take in the whole of His creation, and His hand
perfects its harmony....
* * * * *
The dream is ended. _Te Deum_....
The white clouds of summer, like great birds of light, slowly soar and
hover; and the heavens are filled with their widespread wings.
And yet his life was very far from being one with his art. A man of his
kind cannot do without love, not merely that equable love which the
spirit of an artist sheds on all things in the world, but a love that
knows _preference_: he must always be giving himself to the
creatures of his choice. They are the roots of the tree. Through them
his heart's blood is renewed.
Christophe's heart's blood was nothing like dried up. He was steeped in
a love which was the best part of his joy, a twofold love, for Grazia's
daughter and Olivier's son. He united them in thought, and was to unite
them in reality.
* * * * *
Georges and Aurora had met at Colette's: Aurora lived in her cousin's
house. She spent part of the year in Rome and the rest in Paris. She
was eighteen: Georges five years older. She was tall, erect, elegant,
with a small head, and an open countenance, fair hair, a dark
complexion, a slight down on her lips, bright eyes with a laughing
expression behind which lay busy thoughts, a rather plump chin, brown
hands, beautiful round strong arms, and a fine bust; and she always
looked gay, proud, and worldly. She was not at all intellectual, hardly
at all sentimental, and she had inherited her mother's careless
indolence. She would sleep eleven hours on end. The rest of the time she
spent in lounging and laughing, only half awake. Christophe called her
_Dornroschen_--the Sleeping Beauty. She reminded him of his old
love, Sabine. She used to sing as she went to bed, and when she got up,
and laugh for no reason at all, with merry childish laughter, and then
gulp it down with a sort of hiccough. It were impossible to tell how she
spent the time. All Colette's efforts to equip her with the brilliant
artificiality which is so easily imposed on the mind of a young girl,
like a kind of lacquered varnish, had been wasted: the varnish would not
hold. She learned nothing: she would take months to read a book, and
would like it immensely, though in a week she would forget both its
title and its subject: without the least embarrassment she would make
mistakes in spelling, and when she spoke of learned matters she would
fall into the most comical blunders. She was refreshing in her youth,
her gaiety, her lack of intellectuality, even in her faults, her
thoughtlessness which sometimes amounted to indifference, and her naive
egoism. She was always so spontaneous. Young as she was, and simple and
indolent, she could when she pleased play the coquette, though in all
innocence: then she would spread her net for young men and go sketching,
or play the nocturnes of Chopin, or carry books of poetry which she had
not read, and indulge in conversations and hats that were about equally
Christophe would watch her and laugh gently to himself. He had a
fatherly tenderness, indulgent and teasing, for Aurora. And he had also
a secret feeling of worship for the woman he had loved who had come
again with new youth for another love than his. No one knew the depth of
his affection. Only Aurora ever suspected it. From her childhood she had
almost always been used to having Christophe near her, and she used to
regard him as one of her family. In her old sorrow at being less loved
than her brother she had instinctively drawn near to Christophe. She
divined that he had a similar sorrow; he saw her grief: and though they
never exchanged confidences, they shared each other's feelings. Later,
when she discovered the feeling that united her mother and Christophe,
it seemed to her that she was in the secret, though they had never told
her. She knew the meaning of the message with which Grazia had charged
her as she lay dying, and of the ring which was now on Christophe's
hand. So there existed hidden ties between her and Christophe, ties
which she did not need to understand, to feel them in their complexity.
She was sincerely attached to her old friend, although she could never
have made the effort necessary to play or to read his work. Though she
was a fairly good musician, she had never even had the curiosity to cut
the pages of a score he had dedicated to her. She loved to come and have
an intimate talk with him.--She came more often when she found out that
she might meet Georges Jeannin in his rooms.
And Georges, too, found an extraordinary interest in Christophe's
However, the two young people were slow to realize their real feelings.
They had at first looked at each other mockingly. They were hardly at
all alike. He was quicksilver, she was still water. But it was not long
before quicksilver tried to appear more at rest, and sleeping water
awoke. Georges would criticise Aurora's clothes, and her Italian
taste--a slight want of feeling for modulation and a certain preference
for crude colors. Aurora used to delight in teasing Georges, and
imitating his rather hurried and precious way of speaking. And while
they laughed at each other, they both took pleasure ... in laughing, or
in entertaining each other? They used to entertain Christophe too, and,
far from gainsaying them, he would maliciously transpose these little
poisoned darts from one to the other. They pretended not to care: but
they soon discovered that they cared only too much; and both, especially
Georges, being incapable of concealing their annoyance, as soon as they
met they would begin sparring. Their wounds were slight: they were
afraid of hurting each other: and the hand which dealt the blow was so
dear to the recipient of it that they both found more pleasure in the
hurts they received than in those they gave. They used to watch each
other curiously, and their eyes, seeking defects, would find only
attractions. But they would not admit it. Each, to Christophe, would
declare that the other was unbearable, but, for all that, they were not
slow to seize every opportunity of meeting that Christophe gave them.
One day when Aurora was with her old friend to tell him that she would
come and see him on the following Sunday in the morning, Georges rushed
in, like a whirlwind as usual, to tell Christophe that he was coming on
Sunday afternoon. On Sunday morning Christophe waited in vain for
Aurora. At the hour mentioned by Georges she appeared, and asked him to
forgive her because it had been impossible for her to come in the
morning: she embroidered her excuses with a circumstantial story.
Christophe was amused by her innocent roguery, and said:
"It is a pity. You would have seen Georges: he came and lunched with me;
but he would not stay this afternoon."
Aurora was discomfited, and did not listen to anything Christophe said.
He went on talking good-humoredly. She replied absently, and was not far
from being cross with him. Came a ring at the bell. It was Georges.
Aurora was amazed. Christophe looked at her and laughed. She saw that he
had been making fun of her, and laughed and blushed. He shook his finger
at her waggishly. Suddenly she ran and kissed him warmly. He whispered
_"Biricchina, ladroncella, furbetta...."_
And she laid her hand on his lips to silence him.
Georges could make nothing of their kissing and laughter. His expression
of astonishment, almost of vexation, added to their joy.
So Christophe labored to bring the two young people together. And when
he had succeeded he was almost sorry. He loved them equally; but he
judged Georges more hardly: he knew his weakness: he idolized Aurora,
and thought himself responsible for her happiness even more than for
Georges's; for it seemed to him that Georges was as a son to him, a part
of himself, and he wondered whether it was not wrong to give Aurora in
her innocence a companion who was very far from sharing it.
But one day as he passed by an arbor where the two young people were
sitting--(a short time after their betrothal)--his heart sank as he
heard Aurora laughingly questioning Georges about one of his past
adventures, and Georges telling her, nothing loth. Other scraps of
conversation, which they made no attempt to disguise, showed him that
Aurora was far more at home than himself with Georges's moral ideas.
Though they were very much in love with each other it was clear that
they did not regard themselves as bound forever; into their discussions
of questions relating to love and marriage, they brought a spirit of
liberty, which might have a beauty of its own, though it was singularly
at variance with the old ideal of mutual devotion _usque ad mortem._ And
Christophe would look at them a little sadly.... How far they were from
him already! How swiftly does the ship that bears our children speed
on!... Patience! A day will come when we shall all meet in harbor.
Meanwhile the ship paid no heed to the way marked out for it: it trimmed
its sails to every wind.--It would have seemed natural for the spirit of
liberty, which was then tending to modify morality, to take up its stand
also in the other domains of thought and action. But it did nothing of
the kind: human nature cares little for contradiction. While morality
was becoming more free, the mind was becoming less so; it was demanding
that religion should restore its yoke. And this twofold movement in
opposite directions was, with a magnificent defiance of logic, taking
place in the same souls. Georges and Aurora had been caught up by the
new current of Catholicism which was conquering many people of fashion
and many intellectuals. Nothing could be more curious than the way in
which Georges, who was naturally critical and perfectly irreligious,
skepticism being to him as easy as breathing, Georges, who had never
cared for God or devil--a true Frenchman, laughing at
everything--suddenly declared that there lay the truth. He needed truth
of some sort, and this sorted well with his need of action, his
atavistic French bourgeois characteristics, and his weariness of
liberty. The young fool had wandered long enough, and he returned of his
own accord to be harnessed to the plow of his race. The example of a
number of his friends was enough for him. Georges was hypersensitive to
the least atmospheric pressure of the ideas that surrounded him, and he
was one of the first to be caught. And Aurora followed him, as she would
have followed him anywhere. At once they felt sure of themselves, and
despised everybody who did not think as they did. The irony of it! These
two frivolous children were sincerely devout, while the moral purity,
the serious and ardent efforts of Grazia and Olivier had never helped
them to be so, in spite of their desire.
Christophe watched their spiritual evolution with sympathetic curiosity.
He did not try to fight against it, as Emmanuel would have done, for
Emmanuel's free idealism was up in arms against this return of the
ancient foe. It is vain to fight against the passing wind. One can only
wait for it to go. The reason of humanity was exhausted. It had just
made a gigantic effort. It was overcome with sleep, and, like a child
worn out by a long day, before going to sleep, it was saying its
prayers. The gate of dreams had reopened; in the train of religion came
little puffs of theosophy, mysticism, esoteric faiths, occultism to
visit the chambers of the Western mind. Even philosophy was wavering.
Their gods of thought, Bergson and William James, were tottering. Even
science was attainted, even science was showing the signs of the fatigue
of reason. We have a moment's respite. Let us breathe. To-morrow the
mind will awake again, more alert, more free.... Sleep is good when a
man has worked hard. Christophe, who had had little time for it, was
happy that these children of his should enjoy it in his stead, and
should have rest for the soul, security of faith, absolute, unshakable
confidence in their dreams. He would not nor could he have exchanged his
lot for theirs. But he thought that Grazia's melancholy and Olivier's
distress of mind had found solace in their children, and that it was
"All that we have suffered, I, my friends, and so many others whom I
never knew, others who lived before us, all has been, that these two
might attain joy.... The joy, Antoinette, for which thou wast made, the
joy that was refused thee!... Ah! If only the unhappy could have a
foretaste of the happiness that will one day spring forth from the
sacrifice of their lives!"
What purpose could be served by his trying to dispute their happiness?
We must not try to make others happy in our way, but in their own. At
most he only asked Georges and Aurora not to be too contemptuous of
those who, like himself, did not share their faith.
They did not even take the trouble to argue with him. They seemed to say
to each other:
"He cannot understand...."
In their eyes he belonged to the past. And, to be frank, they did not
attach much importance to the past. When they were alone they used often
to talk innocently of the things they would do when Christophe "was no
longer with them."...--However, they loved him well.... How terrible
are the children who grow up over us like creepers! How terrible is the
force of Nature, hurrying, hurrying, driving us out....
"Go! Go! Remove thyself! It is my turn now!..."
Christophe, overhearing their thoughts, longed to say to them:
"Don't be in such a hurry! I am quite happy here. Please regard me still
as a living being."
He was amused by their naive impertinence.
"You may as well say straight out," he observed one day when they had
crushed him with their disdainful manner. "You may as well say that I am
a stupid old man."
"No, no, my dear old friend," said Aurora, laughing heartily. "You are
the best of men, but there are some things that you do not know."
"And that you do know, my girl? You are very wise!"
"Don't laugh at me. I know nothing much. But Georges knows."
"Yes. You are right, my dear. The man you love always knows."
It was much more difficult for him to tolerate their music than to put
up with their intellectual superiority. They used to try his patience
severely. The piano was given no rest when they were in his rooms. It
seemed that love had roused them to song, like the birds. But they were
by a long way not so skilled in singing. Aurora had no illusions as to
her talent, but she was quite otherwise about her fiance: she could see
no difference between Georges's playing and Christophe's. Perhaps she
preferred Georges's style, and Georges, in spite of his ironic subtlety,
was never far from being convinced by his sweetheart's belief in him.
Christophe never contradicted them: maliciously he would concur in the
girl's opinion (except when, as sometimes happened, he could bear it no
longer, and would rush away, banging the doors). With an affectionate,
pitying smile he would listen to Georges playing _Tristan_ on the
piano. The unhappy young man would conscientiously apply himself to the
transcription of the formidable pages with all the amiable sweetness of
a young girl, and a young girl's tender feeling. Christophe used to
laugh to himself. He would never tell the boy why he laughed. He would
kiss him. He loved him as he was. Perhaps he loved him the more for
it.... Poor boy!... Oh! the vanity of art!...
He used often to talk about "his children"--(for so he called them)--to
Emmanuel. Emmanuel, who was fond of Georges, used jokingly to say that
Christophe ought to hand him aver to him. He had Aurora, and it was not
fair. He was grabbing everything.
Their friendship had become almost legendary in Parisian society, though
they lived apart from it. Emmanuel had grown passionately devoted to
Christophe, though his pride would not let him show it. He covered it up
with his brusque manners, and sometimes used to be absolutely rude to
Christophe. But Christophe was not deceived. He knew how deeply attached
to him Emmanuel was, and he knew the worth of his affection. No week
went by but they met two or three times. When they were prevented by
ill-health from going out, they used to write to each other. Their
letters might have been written from places far removed from Paris. They
were less interested in external happenings than in the progress of the
mind in science and art. They lived in their ideas, pondering their art,
or beneath the chaos of facts perceiving the little undistinguished
gleam which reveals the progress of the history of the human mind.
Generally it was Christophe who visited Emmanuel. Although, since a
recent illness, he was not much better in health than his friend, he had
grown used to thinking that Emmanuel's health called for more
consideration than his own. Christophe could not now ascend Emmanuel's
six flights of stairs without difficulty, and when he reached the top he
had to wait a moment to recover his breath. They were both incapable of
taking care of themselves. In defiance of their weak throats and their
fits of despondency, they were inveterate smokers. That was one of the
reasons why Christophe preferred that they should meet in Emmanuel's
rooms rather than in his own, for Aurora used to declare war on his
habit of smoking, and he used to hide away from her. Sometimes they
would both break out coughing in the middle of their conversation, and
then they would break off and look at each other guiltily like
schoolboys, and laugh: and sometimes one would lecture the other while
he was coughing; but as soon as he had recovered his breath the other
would vigorously protest that smoking had nothing to do with it.
On Emmanuel's table, in a clear space among the papers, a gray cat would
sit and gravely look at the smokers with an air of reproach. Christophe
used to say that it was their living conscience, and, by way of stifling
it, he would cover it up with his hat. It was a wretched beast, of the
commonest kind, that Emmanuel had picked up half-dead in the street; it had
never really recovered from the brutal handling it had received, and
ate very little, and hardly ever played, and never made any noise: it
was very gentle, and used to follow its master about with its
intelligent eyes, and be unhappy when he was absent, and quite content
to sit on the table by his side, only breaking off its musing
ecstatically, for hours together, to watch the cage where the
inaccessible birds fluttered about, purring politely at the least mark
of attention, patiently submitting to Emmanuel's capricious, and
Christophe's rough, attentions, and always being very careful not to
scratch or bite. It was very delicate, and one of its eyes was always
weeping: it used to cough: and if it had been able to speak it would
certainly not have had the effrontery, like the two men, to declare that
"the smoke had nothing to do with it"; but it accepted everything at
their hands, and seemed to think:
"They are men. They know what they are doing." Emmanuel was fond of the
beast because he saw a certain similarity between its lot and his own.
Christophe used to declare that the resemblance was even extended to the
expression in their eyes.
"Why not?" Emmanuel would say.
Animals reflect their surroundings. Their faces grow refined or the
reverse according to the people with whom they live. A fool's cat has a
different expression from that of a clever man's cat. A domestic animal
will become good or bad, frank or sly, sensitive or stupid, not only
according to what its master teaches it, but also according to what its
master is. And this is true not only of the influence of men. Places
fashion animals in their own image. A clear, bright landscape will light
up the eyes of animals.--Emmanuel's gray cat was in harmony with the
stuffy garret and its ailing master, who lived under the Parisian sky.
Emmanuel had grown more human. He was not the same man that he had been
at the time of his first acquaintance with Christophe. He had been
profoundly shaken by a domestic tragedy. His companion, whom, in a
moment of exasperation, he had made too clearly feel how tiresome the
burden of her affection was to him, had suddenly disappeared. Frantic
with anxiety, he spent a whole night looking for her, and at last he
found her in a police station where she was being retained. She had
tried to throw herself into the Seine; a passer-by had caught hold of
her by the clothes, and pulled her back just as she was clambering over
the parapet of the bridge; she had refused to give her name and address,
and made another attempt on her life. The sight of her grief had
overwhelmed Emmanuel; he could not bear the thought that, having
suffered so much at the hands of others, he, in his turn, was causing
suffering. He brought the poor crazed creature back to his rooms, and
did his best to heal the wound he had dealt her, and to win her back to
the confidence in his affection she so sorely needed. He suppressed his
feeling of revolt, and resigned himself to her absorbing love, and
devoted to her the remainder of his life. The whole sap of his genius
had rushed back to his heart. The apostle of action had come to the
belief that there was only one course of action that was really
good--not to do evil. His part was played. It seemed that the Force
which raises the great human tides had used him only as an instrument,
to let loose action. Once his orders were carried out, he was nothing:
action pursued its way without him. He watched it moving on, almost
resigned to the injustice which touched him personally, though not
altogether to that which concerned his faith. For although, as a
free-thinker, he claimed to be free of all religion and used humorously
to call Christophe a clerical in disguise, like every sturdy spirit, he
had his altar on which he deified the dreams to which he sacrificed
himself. The altar was deserted now, and Emmanuel suffered. How could he
without suffering see the blessed ideas, which he had so hardly led to
victory, the ideas for which, during the last hundred years, all the
finest men had suffered such bitter torment--how could he see them
tramped underfoot by the oncoming generation? The whole magnificent
inheritance of French idealism--the faith in Liberty, which had its
saints, martyrs, heroes, the love of humanity, the religious aspiration
towards the brotherhood of nations and races--all, all was with blind
brutality pillaged by the younger generation! What madness is it in them
that makes them sigh for the monsters we had vanquished, submit to the
yoke that we had broken, call back with great shouts the reign of Force,
and kindle Hatred and the insanity of war in the heart of my beloved
"It is not only in France," Christophe would say laughingly, "it is
throughout the entire world. From Spain to China blows the same keen
wind. There is not a corner anywhere for a man to find shelter from the
wind! It is becoming a joke: even in my little Switzerland, which is
"You find that comforting?"
"Certainly. It shows that such waves of feeling are not due to the
ridiculous passions of a few men, but to a hidden God who controls the
universe. And I have learned to bow before that God. If I do not
understand Him, that is my fault, not His. Try to understand Him. But
how many of you take the trouble to do that? You live from day to day,
and see no farther than the next milestone, and you imagine that it
marks the end of the road. You see the wave that bears you along, but
you do not see the sea! The wave of to-day is the wave of yesterday; it
is the wave of our souls that prepared the way for it. The wave of
to-day will plow the ground for the wave of to-morrow, which will wipe
out its memory as the memory of ours is wiped out. I neither admire nor
dread the naturalism of the present time. It will pass away with the
present time: it is passing, it has already passed. It is a rung in the
ladder. Climb to the top of it! It is the advance-guard of the coming
army. Hark to the sound of its fifes and drums!..."
(Christophe drummed on the table, and woke the cat, which sprang away.)
"... Every nation now feels the imperious necessity of gathering its
forces and making up its balance-sheet. For the last hundred years all
the nations have been transformed by their mutual intercourse and the
immense contributions of all the brains of the universe, building up new
morality, new knowledge, new faith. Every man must examine his
conscience, and know exactly what he is and what he has, before he can
enter with the rest into the new age. A new age is coming. Humanity is
on the point of signing a new lease of life. Society is on the point of
springing into new vigor with new laws. It is Sunday to-morrow. Every
one is making up his accounts for the week, setting his house in order,
making it clean and tidy, that, with other men, we may go into the
presence of our common God and make a new compact of alliance with Him."
Emmanuel looked at Christophe, and his eyes reflected the passing
vision. He was silent for some time after Christophe had finished
speaking, and then he said:
"You are lucky, Christophe! You do not see the night!"
"I can see in the dark," said Christophe. "I have lived in it enough. I
am an old owl."
About this time his friends noticed a change in his manner. He was often
distracted and absent-minded. He hardly listened to what was said to
him. He had an absorbed, smiling expression. When his absent-mindedness
was commented upon he would gently excuse himself. Sometimes he would
speak of himself in the third person:
"Krafft will do that for you...."
"Christophe will laugh at that...."
People who did not know him said:
"What extraordinary self-infatuation!"
But it was just the opposite. He saw himself from the outside, as a
stranger. He had reached the stage when a man loses interest even in the
struggle for the beautiful, because, when a man has done his work, he is
inclined to believe that others will do theirs, and that, when all is
told, as Rodin says, "the beautiful will always triumph." The
malevolence and injustice of men did not repel him.--He would laugh and
tell himself that it was not natural, that life was ebbing away from
In fact, he had lost much of his old vigor. The least physical effort, a
long walk, a fast drive, exhausted him. He quickly lost his breath, and
he had pains in his heart. Sometimes he would think of his old friend
Schulz. He never told anybody what he was feeling. It was no good. It
was useless to upset his friends, and he would never get any better.
Besides he did not take his symptoms seriously. He far more dreaded
having to take care of himself than being ill.
He had an inward presentiment and a desire to see his country once more.
He had postponed going from year to year, always saying--"next year...."
Now he would postpone it no longer.
He did not tell any one, and went away by stealth. The journey was
short. Christophe found nothing that he had come to seek. The changes
that had been in the making on his last visit were now fully
accomplished: the little town had become a great industrial city. The
old houses had disappeared. The cemetery also was gone. Where Sabine's
farm had stood was now a factory with tall chimneys. The river had
washed away the meadows where Christophe had played as a child. A street
(and such a street!) between black buildings bore his name. The whole of
the past was dead, even death itself.... So be it! Life was going on:
perhaps other little Christophes were dreaming, suffering, struggling,
in the shabby houses in the street that was called after him.--At a
concert in the gigantic _Tonhalle_ he heard some of his music
played, all topsy-turvy: he hardly recognized it.... So be it! Though it
were misunderstood it might perhaps arouse new energy. We sowed the
seed. Do what you will with it: feed on us.--At nightfall Christophe
walked through the fields outside the city; great mists were rolling
over them, and he thought of the great mists that should enshroud his
life, and those whom he had loved, who were gone from the earth, who had
taken refuge in his heart, who, like himself, would be covered up by the
falling night.... So be it! So be it! I am not afraid of thee, O night,
thou devourer of suns! For one star that is put out, thousands are lit up.
Like a bowl of boiling milk, the abysm of space is overflowing with
light. Thou shalt not put me out. The breath of death will set the flame
of my life flickering up once more....
On his return from Germany, Christophe wanted to stop in the town where
he had known Anna. Since he had left it, he had had no news of her. He
had never dared to ask after her. For years her very name was enough to
upset him....--Now he was calm and had no fear. But in the evening, in
his room in the hotel looking out on the Rhine, the familiar song of the
bells ringing in the morrow's festival awoke the images of the past.
From the river there ascended the faint odor of distant danger, which he
found it hard to understand. He spent the whole night in recollection.
He felt that he was free of the terrible Lord, and found sweet sadness
in the thought. He had not made up his mind what to do on the following
day. For a moment--(the past lay so far behind!)--he thought of calling
on the Brauns. But when the morrow came his courage failed him: he dared
not even ask at the hotel whether the doctor and his wife were still
alive. He made up his mind to go....
When the time came for him to go an irresistible force drove him to the
church which Anna used to attend: he stood behind a pillar from which he
could see the seat where in old days she used to come and kneel. He
waited, feeling sure that, if she were still alive, she would come.
A woman did come, and he did not recognize her. She was like all the
rest, plump, full-faced, with a heavy chin, and an indifferent, hard
expression. She was dressed in black. She sat down in her place, and did
not stir. There was nothing in the woman to remind Christophe of the
woman he was expecting. Only once or twice she made a certain queer
little gesture as though to smooth out the folds of her skirt about her
knees. In old days, _she_ had made such a gesture,... As she went
out she passed slowly by him, with her head erect and her hands holding
her prayer-book, folded in front of her. For a moment her somber, tired
eyes met Christophe's. And they looked at each other. And they did not
recognize each other. She passed on, straight and stiff, and never
turned her head. It was only after a moment that suddenly, in a flash of
memory, beneath the frozen smile, he recognized the lips he had kissed
by a certain fold in them.... He gasped for breath and his knees
trembled. He thought:
"Lord, is that the body in which she dwelt whom I loved? Where is she?
Where is she? And where am I, myself? Where is the man who loved her?
What is there left of us and the cruel love that consumed us?--Ashes.
Where is the fire?"
And his God answered and said:
Then he raised his eyes and saw her for the last time in the crowd
passing through the door into the sunlight.
* * * * *
It was shortly after his return to Paris that he made peace with big old
enemy, Levy-Coeur, who had been attacking him for a long time with equal
malicious talent and bad faith. Then, having attained the highest
success, glutted with honors, satiated, appeased, he had been clever
enough secretly to recognize Christophe's superiority, and had made
advances to him. Christophe pretended to notice neither attacks nor
advances. Levy-Coeur wearied of it. They lived in the same neighborhood
and used often to meet. As they passed each other Christophe would look
through Levy-Coeur, who was exasperated by this calm way of ignoring his
He had a daughter between eighteen and twenty, a pretty, elegant girl,
with a profile like a lamb, a cloud of curly fair hair, soft coquettish
eyes, and a Luini smile. They used to go for walks together, and
Christophe often met them in the Luxembourg Gardens; they seemed very
intimate, and the girl would walk arm-in-arm with her father.
Absent-minded though he was, Christophe never failed to notice a pretty
face, and he had a weakness for the girl. He would think of Levy-Coeur:
But then he would add proudly:
"But I too have a daughter."
And he used to compare the two. In the comparison his bias was all in
favor of Aurora, but it led him to create in his mind a sort of
imaginary friendship between the two girls, though they did not know
each other, and even, without his knowing it, to a certain feeling for
When he returned from Germany he heard that "the lamb" was dead. In his
fatherly selfishness his first thought was:
"Suppose it had been mine!"
And he was filled with an immense pity for Levy-Coeur. His first impulse
was to write to him: he began two letters, but was not satisfied, was
ashamed of them, and did not send either. But a few days later when he
met Levy-Coeur with a weary, miserable face, it was too much for him: he
went straight up to the poor wretch and held out both hands to him.
Levy-Coeur, with a little hesitation, took them in his. Christophe said:
"You have lost her!..."
The emotion in his voice touched Levy-Coeur. It was so unexpected! He
felt inexpressibly grateful.... They talked for a little sadly and
confusedly. When they parted nothing was left of all that had divided
them. They had fought: it was inevitable, no doubt: each man must fulfil
the law of his nature! But when men see the end of the tragi-comedy
coming, they put off the passions that masked them, and meet face to
face,--two men, of whom neither is of much greater worth than the other,
who, when they have played their parts to the best of their ability,
have the right in the end to shake hands.
The marriage of Georges and Aurora had been fixed for the early spring.
Christophe's health was declining rapidly. He had seen his children
watching him anxiously. Once he heard them whispering to each other.
Georges was saying:
"How ill he looks! He looks as though he might fall ill at any moment."
And Aurora replied:
"If only he does not delay our marriage!"
He did not forget it. Poor children! They might be sure that he would
not disturb their happiness!
But he was inconsiderate enough on the eve of the marriage--(he had been
absurdly excited as the day drew near: as excited as though it were he
who was going to be married)--he was stupid enough to be attacked by his
old trouble, a recurrence of pneumonia, which had first attacked him in
the days of the Market-Place. He was furious with himself, and dubbed
himself fool and idiot. He swore that he would not give in until the
marriage had taken place. He thought of Grazia as she lay dying, never
telling him of her illness because of his approaching concert, for fear
lest he should be distracted from his work and pleasure. Now he loved
the idea of doing for her daughter--for her--what she had done for him.
He concealed his condition, but he found it hard to keep himself going.
However, the happiness of his children made him so happy that he managed
to support the long ordeal of the religious ceremony without disaster.
But he had hardly reached Colette's house than his strength gave out: he
had just time enough to shut himself up in a room, and then he fainted.
He was found by a servant. When he came to himself Christophe forbade
them to say anything to the bride and bridegroom, who were going off on
their honeymoon in the evening. They were too much taken up with
themselves to notice anything else. They left him gaily, promising to
write to him to-morrow, and afterwards....
As soon as they were gone, Christophe took to his bed. He was feverish,
and could not shake off the fever. He was alone. Emmanuel was ill too,
and could not come. Christophe did not call in a doctor. He did not
think his condition was serious. Besides, he had no servant to go for a
doctor. The housekeeper who came for two hours in the morning took no
interest in him, and he dispensed with her services. He had a dozen
times begged her not to touch any of his papers when she was dusting his
room. She would do it: she thought she had a fine opportunity to do as
she liked, now that he was confined to his bed. In the mirror of his
wardrobe door he saw her from his bed turning the whole room upside
down. He was so furious--(no, assuredly the old Adam was not dead in
him!)--that he jumped out of bed, snatched a packet of papers out of her
hands, and showed her the door. His anger cost him a bout of fever and
the departure of the servant, who lost her temper and never returned,
without even taking the trouble to tell the "old madman," as she called
him. So he was left, ill, with no one to look after him. He would get up
in the morning to take in the jug of milk left at the door, and to see
if the portress had not slipped under the door the promised letter from
the lovers. The letter did not come: they had forgotten him in their
happiness. He was not angry with them, and thought that in their place
he would have done the same. He thought of their careless joy, and that
it was he had given it to them.
He was a little better and was able to get up when at last a letter came
from Aurora. Georges had been content to add his signature. Aurora asked
very little about Christophe and told very little, but, to make up for
it, she gave him a commission, begging him to send her a necktie she had
left at Colette's. Although it was not at all important--(Aurora had
only thought of it as she sat down to write to Christophe, and then only
because she wanted something to say),--Christophe was only too delighted
to be of use, and went out at once to fetch it. The weather was cold and
gusty. The winter had taken an unpleasant turn. Melting snow, and an icy
wind. There were no carriages to be had. Christophe spent some time in a
parcels' office. The rudeness of the clerks and their deliberate
slowness made him irritable, which did not help his business on. His
illness was partly responsible for his gusts of anger, which the
tranquillity of his mind repudiated; they shook his body, like the last
tremors of an oak falling under the blows of an ax. He returned chilled
and trembling. As he entered, the portress handed him a cutting from a
review. He glanced at it. It was a spiteful attack upon himself. They
were growing rare in these days. There is no pleasure in attacking a man
who never notices the blows dealt him. The most violent of his enemies
were reduced to a feeling of respect for him, which exasperated them,
for they still detested him.
_"We believe,"_ said Bismarck, almost regretfully, _"that nothing
is more involuntary than love. Respect is even more so...."_
But the writer of the article was one of those strong men, who, being
better armed than Bismarck, escape both respect and love. He spoke of
Christophe in insulting terms, and announced a series of attacks during
the following fortnight: Christophe began to laugh, and said as he went
to bed again:
"He will be surprised! He won't find me at home!"
They tried to make him have a nurse, but he refused obstinately, saying
that he had lived alone so much that he thought he might at least have
the benefit of his solitude at such a time.
He was never bored. During these last years he had constantly been
engrossed in dialogues with himself; it was as though his soul was
twofold; and for some months past his inward company had been
considerably augmented: not two souls, but ten, now dwelt in him. They
held converse among themselves, though more often they sang. He would
take part in their conversation, or he would hold his peace and listen
to them. He had always on his bed, or on the table, within reach of his
hand, music-paper on which he used to take down their remarks and his
own, and laugh at their rejoinders. It was a mechanical habit: the two
actions, thinking and writing, had become almost simultaneous with him;
writing was thinking out loud to him. Everything that took him away from
the company of his many souls exhausted and irritated him, even the
friends he loved best, sometimes. He tried hard not to let them see it,
but such constraint induced an extreme lassitude. He was very happy when
he came to himself again, for he would lose himself: it was impossible
to hear the inward voices amid the chattering of human beings. Divine
He would only allow the portress or one of her children to come three
or four times a day to see if he needed anything. He used to give them the
notes which, up to the last, he exchanged with Emmanuel. They were
almost equally ill, and were under no illusion as to their condition. By
different ways the free religious genius of Christophe and the free
irreligious genius of Emmanuel had reached the same brotherly serenity.
In their wavering handwriting, which they found it more and more
difficult to read, they discoursed, not of their illness, but of the
perpetual subject of their conversations, their art, and the future of
This went on until the day when, with his failing hand, Christophe wrote
the words of the King of Sweden, as he lay dying on the field of battle:
_"Ich habe genug, Bruder: rette dich!"_
[FOOTNOTE: "I have had my fill, brother: save thyself!"]
* * * * *
As a succession of stages he looked back over the whole of his life: the
immense effort of his youth to win self-possession, his desperate struggles
to exact from others the bare right to live, to wrest himself
from the demons of his race. And even after the victory, the forced
unending vigil over the fruits of conquest, to defend them against
victory itself. The sweetness, the tribulation of friendship opening up
the great human family through conflict to the isolated heart. The
fullness of art, the zenith of life. His proud dominion over his
conquered spirit. His belief that he had mastered his destiny. And then,
suddenly at the turn of the road, his meeting with the knights of the
Apocalypse, Grief, Passion, Shame, the vanguard of the Lord. Then laid
low, trampled underfoot by the horses, dragging himself bleeding to the
heights, where, in the midst of the clouds, flames the wild purifying
fire. His meeting face to face with God. His wrestling with Him, like
Jacob with the Angel. His issue, broken from the fight. His adoration of
his defeat, his understanding of his limitations, his striving to fulfil
the will of the Lord, in the domain assigned to him. Finally, when the
labors of seed-time and harvest, the splendid hard work, were at an end,
having won the right to rest at the feet of the sunlit mountains, and to
say to them:
"Be ye blessed! I shall not reach your light, but very sweet to me is
Then the beloved had appeared to him: she had taken him by the hand; and
death, breaking down the barrier of her body, had poured the pure soul
of the beloved into the soul of her lover. Together they had issued from
the shadow of days, and they had reached the happy heights where, like
the three Graces, in a noble round, the past, the present, and the
future, clasped hands, where the heart at rest sees griefs and joys in
one moment spring to life, flower, and die, where all is Harmony....
He was in too great a hurry. He thought he had already reached that
place. The vise which gripped his panting bosom, and the tumultuous
whirl of images beating against the walls of his burning brain, reminded
him that the last stage and the hardest was yet to run.... Onward!...
* * * * *
He lay motionless upon his bed. In the room above him some silly woman
would go on playing the piano for hours. She only knew one piece, and
she would go on tirelessly repeating the same bars; they gave her so
much pleasure! They were a joy, an emotion to her; every color, every
kind of form was in them. And Christophe could understand her happiness,
but she made him weep with exasperation. If only she would not hit the
keys so hard! Noise was as odious to Christophe as vice.... In the end
he became resigned to it. It was hard to learn not to hear. And yet it
was less difficult than he thought. He would leave his sick, coarse
body. How humiliating it was to have been shut up in it for so many
years! He would watch its decay and think:
"It will not go on much longer."
He would feel the pulse of his human egoism and wonder:
"Which would you prefer? To have the name and personality of Christophe
become immortal and his work disappear, or to have his work endure and
no trace be left of his personality and name?"
Without a moment's hesitation he replied:
"Let me disappear and my work endure! My gain is twofold: for only what
is most true of me, the real truth of myself will remain. Let Christophe
But very soon he felt that he was becoming as much a stranger to his
work as to himself. How childish was the illusion of believing that his
art would endure! He saw clearly not only how little he had done, but
how surely all modern music was doomed to destruction. More quickly than
any other the language of music is consumed by its own heat; at the end
of a century or two it is understood only by a few initiates. For how
many do Monteverdi and Lully still exist? Already the oaks of the
classic forest are eaten away with moss. Our buildings of sound, in
which our passions sing, will soon be empty temples, will soon crumble
away into oblivion.--And Christophe was amazed to find himself gazing at
the ruins untroubled.
"Have I begun to love life less?" he wondered.
But at once he understood that he loved it more.... Why weep over the
ruins of art? They are not worth it. Art is the shadow man casts upon
Nature. Let them disappear together, sucked up by the sun's rays! They
prevent my seeing the sun.--The vast treasure of Nature passes through
our fingers. Human intelligence tries to catch the running water in the
meshes of a net. Our music is an illusion. Our scale of sounds is an
invention. It answers to no living sound. It is a compromise of the mind
between real sounds, the application of the metric system to the moving
infinite. The mind needs such a lie as this to understand the
incomprehensible, and the mind has believed the lie, because it wished
to believe it. But it is not true. It is not alive. And the delight
which the mind takes in this order of its own creation has only been
obtained by falsifying the direct intuition of what is. From time to time,
a genius, in passing contact with the earth, suddenly perceives
the torrent of reality, overflowing the continents of art. The dykes
crack for a moment. Nature creeps in through a fissure. But at once the
gap is stopped up. It must be done to safeguard the reason of mankind.
It would perish if its eyes met the eyes of Jehovah. Then once more it
begins to strengthen the walls of its cell, which nothing enters from
without, except it have first been wrought upon. And it is beautiful,
perhaps, for those who will not see.... But for me, I will see Thy face,
Jehovah! I will hear the thunder of Thy voice, though it bring me to
nothingness. The noise of art is an hindrance to me. Let the mind hold
its peace! Let man be silent!...
* * * * *
But a few minutes after this harangue he groped for one of the sheets of
paper that lay scattered on his bed, and he tried to write down a few
more notes. When he saw the contradiction of it, he smiled and said:
"Oh, my music, companion of all my days, thou art better than I. I am an
ingrate: I send thee away from me. But thou wilt not leave me: thou wilt
not be repulsed at my caprice. Forgive me. Thou knowest these are but
whimsies. I have never betrayed thee, thou hast never betrayed me; and
we are sure of each other. We will go home together, my friend. Stay
with me to the end."
_Bleib bei uns...._
[Illustration: Musical notation]
He awoke from a long torpor, heavy with fever and dreams. Strange dreams
of which he was still full. And now he looked at himself, touched
himself, sought and could not find himself. He seemed to himself to be
"another." Another, dearer than himself.... Who?... It seemed to him
that in his dreams another soul had taken possession of him. Olivier?
Grazia?... His heart and his head were so weak! He could not distinguish
between his loved ones. Why should he distinguish between them? He loved
them all equally.
He lay bound in a sort of overwhelming beatitude. He made no attempt to
move. He knew that sorrow lay in ambush for him, like a cat waiting for
a mouse. He lay like one dead. Already.... There was no one in the room.
Overhead the piano was silent. Solitude. Silence. Christophe sighed.
"How good it is to think, at the end of life, that I have never been
alone even in my greatest loneliness!... Souls that I have met on the
way, brothers, who for a moment have held out their hands to me,
mysterious spirits sprung from my mind, living and dead--all living.--O
all that I have loved, all that I have created! Ye surround me with your
warm embrace, ye watch over me. I hear the music of your voices. Blessed
be destiny, that has given you to me! I am rich, I am rich.... My heart
He looked out through the window.... It was one of those beautiful
sunless days, which, as old Balzac said, are like a beautiful blind
woman.... Christophe was passionately absorbed in gazing at the branch
of a tree that grew in front of the window. The branch was swelling, the
moist buds were bursting, the little white flowers were expanding; and
in the flowers, in the leaves, in the whole tree coming to new life,
there was such an ecstasy of surrender to the new-born force of spring,
that Christophe was no longer conscious of his weariness, his
depression, his wretched, dying body, and lived again in the branch of
the tree. He was steeped in the gentle radiance of its life. It was like
a kiss. His heart, big with love, turned to the beautiful tree, smiling
there upon his last moments. He thought that at that moment there were
creatures loving each other, that to others this hour, that was so full
of agony for him, was an hour of ecstasy, that it is ever thus, and that
the puissant joy of living never runs dry. And in a choking voice that
would not obey his thoughts--(possibly no sound at all came from his
lips, but he knew it not)--he chanted a hymn to life.
An invisible orchestra answered him. Christophe said within himself:
"How can they know? We did not rehearse it. If only they can go on to
the end without a mistake!"
He tried to sit up so as to see the whole orchestra, and beat time with
his arms outstretched. But the orchestra made no mistake; they were sure
of themselves. What marvelous music! How wonderfully they improvised the
responses! Christophe was amused.
"Wait a bit, old fellow! I'll catch you out."
And with a tug at the tiller he drove the ship capriciously to left and
right through dangerous channels.
"How will you get out of that?... And this? Caught!... And what about
But they always extricated themselves: they countered all his audacities
with even bolder ventures.
"What will they do now?... The rascals!..."
Christophe cried "bravo!" and roared with laughter.
"The devil! It is becoming difficult to follow them! Am I to let them
beat me?... But, you know, this is not a game! I'm done, now.... No
matter! They shan't say that they had the last word...."
But the orchestra exhibited such an overpoweringly novel and abundant
fancy that there was nothing to be done but to sit and listen
open-mouthed. They took his breath away.... Christophe was filled with
pity for himself.
"Idiot!" he said to himself. "You are empty. Hold your peace! The
instrument has given all that it can give. Enough of this body! I must
But his body took its revenge. Violent fits of coughing prevented his
"Will you hold your peace?"
He clutched his throat, and thumped his chest, wrestled with himself as
with an enemy that he must overthrow. He saw himself again in the middle
of a great throng. A crowd of men were shouting all around him. One man
gripped him with his arms. They rolled down on the ground. The other man
was on top of him. He was choking.
"Let me go. I will hear!... I will hear! Let me go, or I'll kill
He banged the man's head against the wall, but the man would not let him
"Who is it, now? With whom am I wrestling? What is this body that I hold
in my grasp, this body warm against me?..."
A crowd of hallucinations. A chaos of passions. Fury, lust, murderous
desires, the sting of carnal embraces, the last stirring of the mud at
the bottom of the pond....
"Ah! Will not the end come soon? Shall I not pluck you off, you leeches
clinging to my body?... Then let my body perish with them!"
Stiffened in shoulders, loins, knees, Christophe thrust back the
invisible enemy.... He was free.... Yonder, the music was still playing,
farther and farther away. Dripping with sweat, broken in body,
Christophe held his arms out towards it:
"Wait for me! Wait for me!"
He ran after it. He stumbled. He jostled and pushed his way.... He had
run so fast that he could not breathe. Has heart beat, his blood roared
and buzzed in his ears, like a train rumbling through a tunnel....
"God! How horrible!"
He made desperate signs to the orchestra not to go on without him.... At
last! He came out of the tunnel!... Silence came again. He could hear
"How lovely it is! How lovely! Encore! Bravely, my boys!... But who
wrote it, who wrote it?... What do you say? You tell me that
Jean-Christophe Krafft wrote it? Oh! come! Nonsense! I knew him. He
couldn't write ten bars of such music as that!... Who is that coughing?
Don't make such a noise!... What chord is that?... And that?... Not so
Christophe uttered inarticulate cries; his hand, clutching the quilt,
moved as if it were writing: and his exhausted brain went on
mechanically trying to discover the elements of the chords and their
consequents. He could not succeed: his emotion made him drop his prize.
He began all over again.... Ah! This time it was too difficult....
"Stop, stop.... I can no more...."
His will relaxed utterly. Softly Christophe closed his eyes. Tears of
happiness trickled down from his closed lids. The little girl who was
looking after him, unknown to him, piously wiped them away. He lost all
consciousness of what was happening. The orchestra had ceased playing,
leaving him on a dizzy harmony, the riddle of which could not be solved.
His brain went on saying:
"But what chord is that? How am I to get out of it? I should like to
find the way out, before the end...."
Voices were raised now. A passionate voice. Anna's tragic eyes.... But a
moment and it was no longer Anna. Eyes now so full of kindness....
"Grazia, is it thou?... Which of you? Which of you? I cannot see you
clearly.... Why is the sun so long in coming?"
Then bells rang tranquilly. The sparrows at the window chirped to remind
him of the hour when he was wont to give them the breakfast crumbs....
In his dream Christophe saw the little room of his childhood.... The
bells. Now it is dawn! The lovely waves of sound fill the light air.
They come from far away, from the villages down yonder.... The murmuring
of the river rises from behind the house.... Once more Christophe stood
gazing down from the staircase window. All his life flowed before his
eyes, like the Rhine. All his life, all his lives, Louisa, Gottfried,
"Mother, lovers, friends.... What are these names?... Love.... Where are
you? Where are you, my souls? I know that you are there, and I cannot
"We are with thee. Peace, O beloved!"
"I will not lose you ever more. I have sought you so long!"
"Be not anxious. We shall never leave thee more."
"Alas! The stream is bearing me on."
"The river that bears thee on, bears us with thee."
"Whither are we going?"
"To the place where we shall be united once more."
"Will it be soon?"
"Look." And Christophe, making a supreme effort to raise his head--(God!
How heavy it was!)--saw the river overflowing its banks, covering the
fields, moving on, august, slow, almost still. And, like a flash of
steel, on the edge of the horizon there seemed to be speeding towards
him a line of silver streams, quivering in the sunlight. The roar of the
ocean.... And his heart sank, and he asked:
"Is it He?"
And the voices of his loved ones replied:
"It is He!"
And his brain dying, said to itself:
"The gates are opened.... That is the chord I was seeking!... But it is
not the end! There are new spaces!...--We will go on, to-morrow."
O joy, the joy of seeing self vanish into the sovereign peace of God,
whom all his life he had so striven to serve!...
"Lord, art Thou not displeased with Thy servant? I have done so little.
I could do no more.... I have struggled, I have suffered, I have erred,
I have created. Let me draw breath in Thy Father's arms. Some day I
shall be born again for a new fight."
And the murmuring of the river and the roaring of the sea sang with him:
"Thou shalt be born again. Rest. Now all is one heart. The smile of the
night and the day entwined. Harmony, the august marriage of love and
hate. I will sing the God of the two mighty wings. Hosanna to life!
Hosanna to death!
_"Christofori faciem die quacunque tueris,
Illa nempe die non morte mala morieris."_
Saint Christophe has crossed the river. All night long he has marched
against the stream. Like a rock his huge-limbed body stands above the
water. On his shoulders is the Child, frail and heavy. Saint Christophe
leans on a pine-tree that he has plucked up, and it bends. His back also
bends. Those who saw him set out vowed that he would never win through,
and for a long time their mockery and their laughter followed him. Then
the night fell and they grew weary. Now Christophe is too far away for
the cries of those standing on the water's brink to reach him. Through
the roar of the torrent he hears only the tranquil voice of the Child,
clasping a lock of hair on the giant's forehead in his little hand, and
crying: "March on."--And with bowed back, and eyes fixed straight in
front of him on the dark bank whose towering slopes are beginning to
gleam white, he marches on.
Suddenly the Angelus sounds, and the flock of bells suddenly springs
into wakefulness. It is the new dawn! Behind the sheer black cliff rises
the golden glory of the invisible sun. Almost falling Christophe at last
reaches the bank, and he says to the Child:
"Here we are! How heavy thou wert! Child, who art thou?"
And the Child answers:
"I am the day soon to be born."