Part 2 out of 10
from Paris or shut up in their homes, and never met him. Even a vulgar
success does a certain amount of good: it makes the artist known to
thousands of good people in remote corners whom he could never have
reached without the stupid articles in the papers. Christophe entered
into correspondence with some of them. There were lonely young men,
living a life of hardship, their whole being aspiring to an ideal of which
they were not sure, and they came greedily to slake their thirst
at the well of Christophe's brotherly spirit. There were humble people
in the provinces who read his _lieder_ and wrote to him, like old
Schulz, and felt themselves one with him. There were poor artists,--a
composer among others,--who had not, and could not attain, not only
success, but self-expression, and it made them glad to have their ideas
realized by Christophe. And dearest of all, perhaps,--there were those
who wrote to him without giving their names, and, being thus more free
to speak, naively laid bare their touching confidence in the elder
brother who had come to their assistance. Christophe's heart would grow
big at the thought that he would never know these charming people whom
it would have given him such joy to love: he would kiss some of these
anonymous letters as the writers of them kissed his _lieder_; and
each to himself would think:
"Dear written sheets, what a deal of good you have done me!"
So, according with the unvaried rhythm of the universe, there was formed
about him the little family of genius, grouped about him, giving him
food and taking it from him, which grows little by little, and in the
end becomes one great collective soul, of which he is the central fire,
like a gleaming world, a moral planet moving through space, mingling its
chorus of brotherhood with the harmony of the spheres.
And as these mysterious links were forged between Christophe and his
unseen friends, a revolution took place in his artistic faculty: it
became larger and more human. He lost all interest in music which was a
monologue, a soliloquy, and even more so in music which was a scientific
structure built entirely for the interest of the profession. He wished
his music to be an act of communion with other men. There is no vital
art save that which is linked with the rest of humanity. Johann Sebastian
Bach, even in his darkest hours of isolation, was linked with the rest
of humanity by his religious faith, which he expressed in his art.
Handel and Mozart, by dint of circumstances, wrote for an audience, and
not for themselves. Even Beethoven had to reckon with the multitude. It
is salutary. It is good for humanity to remind genius every now and then:
"What is there for us in your art? If there is nothing, out you go!"
In such constraint genius is the first to gain. There are, indeed, great
artists who express only themselves. But the greatest of all are those
whose hearts beat for all men. If any man would see the living God face
to face, he must seek Him, not in the empty firmament of his own brain,
but in the love of men.
The artists of that time were far removed from that love. They wrote
only for a more or less anarchical and vain group, uprooted from the
life of the country, who preened themselves on not sharing the
prejudices and passions of the rest of humanity, or else made a mock of
them. It is a fine sort of fame that is won by self-amputation from
life, so as to be unlike other men! Let all such artists perish! We will
go with the living, be suckled at the breasts of the earth, and drink in
all that is most profound and sacred in our people, and all its love
from the family and the soil. In the greatest age of liberty, among the
people with the most ardent worship of beauty, the young Prince of the
Italian Renaissance, Raphael, glorified maternity in his transteverine
Madonnas. Who is there now to give us in music a _Madonna a la
Chaise?_ Who is there to give us music meet for every hour of life?
You have nothing, you have nothing in France. When you want to give your
people songs, you are reduced to bringing up to date the German masters
of the past. In your art, from top to bottom, everything remains to be
done, or to be done again....
Christophe corresponded with Olivier, who was now settled in a provincial
town. He tried to maintain in correspondence that collaboration which had
been so fruitful during the time when they had lived together. He wanted
him to write him fine poetic words closely allied with the thoughts and
deeds of everyday life, like the poems which are the substance of the old
German _lieder_. Short fragments from the Scriptures and the Hindoo poems,
and the old Greek philosophers, short religious and moral poems, little
pictures of Nature, the emotions of love or family life, the whole poetry
of morning, evening, and night, that is in simple, healthy people. Four
lines or six are enough for a _lied_: only the simplest expressions, and
no elaborate development or subtlety of harmony. What have I to do with
your esthetic tricks? Love my life, help me to love it and to live it.
Write me the _Hours of France_, my _Great_ and _Small Hours_. And let us
together find the clearest melody. Let us avoid like the plague any
artistic language that belongs to a caste like that of so many writers,
and especially of so many French musicians of to-day. We must have the
courage to speak like men, and not like "artists." We must draw upon the
common fund of all men, and unashamedly make use of old formulae, upon
which the ages have set their seal, formulas which the ages have filled
with their spirit. Look at what our forefathers have done. It was by
returning to the musical language of all men that the art of the German
classics of the eighteenth century came into being. The melodies of Gluck
and the creators of the symphony are sometimes trivial and commonplace
compared with the subtle and erudite phrases of Johann Sebastian Bach and
Rameau. It is their raciness of the soil that gives such zest to, and has
procured such immense popularity for the German classics. They began with
the simplest musical forms, the _lied_ and the _Singspiel_, the little
flowers of everyday life which impregnated the childhood of men like
Mozart and Weber.--Do you do the same. Write songs for all and sundry.
Upon that basis you will soon build quartettes and symphonies. What is
the good of rushing ahead? The pyramids were not begun at the top. Your
symphonies at present are trunkless heads, ideas without any stuffing.
Oh, you fair spirits, become incarnate! There must be generations of
musicians patiently and joyously and piously living in brotherhood with
these people. No musical art was ever built in a day.
Christophe was not content to apply these principles in music: he urged
Olivier to set himself at the head of a similar movement in literature:
"The writers of to-day," he said, "waste their energy in describing
human rarities, or cases that are common enough in the abnormal groups
of men and women living on the fringe of the great society of active,
healthy human beings. Since they themselves have shut themselves off
from life, leave them and go where there are men. Show the life of every
day to the men and women of every day: that life is deeper and more vast
than the sea. The smallest among you bears the infinite in his soul. The
infinite is in every man who is simple enough to be a man, in the lover,
in the friend, in the woman who pays with her pangs for the radiant
glory of the day of childbirth, in every man and every woman who lives
in obscure self-sacrifice which will never be known to another soul: it
is the very river of life, flowing from one to another, from one to
another, and back again and round.... Write the simple life of one of
these simple men, write the peaceful epic of the days and nights
following, following one like to another, and yet all different, all
sons of the same mother, from the dawning of the first day in the life
of the world. Write it simply, as simple as its own unfolding. Waste no
thought upon the word, and the letter, and the subtle vain researches in
which the force of the artists of to-day is turned to nought. You are
addressing all men: use the language of all men. There are no words
noble or vulgar; there is no style chaste or impure: there are only
words and styles which say or do not say exactly what they have to say.
Be sound and thorough in all you do: think just what you think,--and
feel just what you feel. Let the rhythm of your heart prevail in your
writings! The style is the soul."
Olivier agreed with Christophe, but he replied rather ironically:
"Such a book would be fine: but it would never reach the people who
would care to read it. The critics would strangle it on the way."
"There speaks my little French bourgeois!" replied Christophe. "Worrying
his mind about what the critics will or will not think of his work!...
The critics, my boy, are only there to register victory or defeat. The
great thing is to be victor.... I have managed to get along without
them! You must learn how to disregard them, too...."
* * * * *
But Olivier had learned how to disregard something entirely different!
He had turned aside from art, and Christophe, and everybody. At that
time he was thinking of nothing but Jacqueline, and Jacqueline was
thinking of nothing but him.
The selfishness of their love had cut them off from everything and
everybody: they were recklessly destroying all their future resources.
They were in the blind wonder of the first days, when man and woman,
joined together, have no thought save that of losing themselves in each
other.... With every part of themselves, body and soul, they touch and
taste and seek to probe into the very inmost depths. They are alone
together in a lawless universe, a very chaos of love, when the confused
elements know not as yet what distinguishes one from the other, and
strive greedily to devour each other. Each in other finds nothing save
delight: each in other finds another self. What is the world to them?
Like the antique Androgyne slumbering in his dream of voluptuous and
harmonious delights, their eyes are closed to the world, All the world
is in themselves....
O days, O nights, weaving one web of dreams, hours fleeting like the
floating white clouds in the heavens, leaving nought but a shimmering
wake in dazzled eyes, the warm wind breathing the languor of spring, the
golden warmth of the body, the sunlit arbor of love, shameless chastity,
embraces, and madness, and sighs, and happy laughter, happy tears, what
is there left of the lovers, thrice happy dust? Hardly, it seems, that
their hearts could ever remember to beat: for when they were one then
time had ceased to exist.
And all their days are one like unto another.... Sweet, sweet dawn....
Together, embracing, they issue from the abyss of sleep: they smile
and their breath is mingled, their eyes open and meet, and they kiss....
There is freshness and youth in the morning hours, a virgin air
cooling their fever.... There is a sweet languor in the endless day
still throbbing with the sweetness of the night.... Summer
afternoons, dreams in the fields, on the velvety sward, beneath the
rustling of the tall white poplars.... Dreams in the lovely evenings,
when, under the gleaming sky, they return, clasping each other, to the
house of their love. The wind whispers in the bushes. In the clear lake
of the sky hovers the fleecy light of the silver moon. A star falls and
dies,--hearts give a little throb--a world is silently snuffed out.
Swift silent shadows pass at rare intervals on the road near by. The
bells of the town ring in the morrow's holiday. They stop for a moment,
she nestles close to him, they stand so without a word.... Ah! if only
life could be so forever, as still and silent as that moment!... She
sighs and says:
"Why do I love you so much?..."
After a few weeks' traveling in Italy they had settled in a town in the
west of France, where Olivier had gained an appointment. They saw hardly
anybody. They took no interest in anything. When they were forced to pay
calls, their scandalous indifference was so open that it hurt some,
while it made others smile. Anything that was said to them simply made
no impression. They had the impertinently solemn manner common to young
married people, who seem to say:
"You people don't know anything at all...."
Jacqueline's pretty pouting face, with its absorbed expression,
Olivier's happy eyes that looked so far away, said only:
"If you knew how boring we find you!... When shall we be left alone?"
Even the presence of others could not embarrass them. It was hard not to
see their exchange of glances as they talked. They did not need to look
to see each other: and they would smile: for they knew that they were
thinking of the same things at the same time. When they were alone once
more, after having suffered the constraint of the presence of others,
they would shout for joy--indulge in a thousand childish pranks. They
would talk baby-language, and find grotesque nicknames for each other.
She used to call him Olive, Olivet, Olifant, Fanny, Mami, Mime, Minaud,
Quinaud, Kaunitz, Cosima, Cobourg, Panot, Nacot, Ponette, Naquet, and
Canot. She would behave like a little girl; but she wanted to be all
things at once to him, to give him every kind of love: mother, sister,
wife, sweetheart, mistress.
It was not enough for her to share his pleasures: as she had promised
herself, she shared his work: and that, too, was a game. At first she
brought to bear on it the amused ardor of a woman to whom work is
something new: she seemed really to take a pleasure in the most
ungrateful tasks, copying in the libraries, and translating dull books:
it was part of her plan of life, that it should be pure and serious, and
wholly consecrated to noble thoughts and work in common. And all went
well as long as the light of love was in them: for she thought only of
him, and not of what she was doing. The odd thing was that everything
she did in that way was well done. Her mind found no difficulty in
taking in abstract ideas, which at any other time of her life she would
have found it hard to follow: her whole being was, as it were, uplifted
from the earth by love; she did not know it; like a sleep-walker moving
easily over roofs, gravely and gaily, without seeing anything at all,
she lived on in her dream....
And then she began to see the roofs: but that did not give her any
qualms: only she asked what she was doing so high up, and became herself
again. Work bored her. She persuaded herself that it stood in the way of
her love: no doubt because her love had already become less ardent. But
there was no evidence of that. They could not bear to be out of each
other's sight. They shut themselves off from the world, and closed their
doors and refused all invitations. They were jealous of the affections
of other people, even of their occupations, of everything which
distracted them from their love. Olivier's correspondence with
Christophe dwindled. Jacqueline did not like it: he was a rival to her,
representing a part of Olivier's past life in which she had had no
share; and the more room he filled in Olivier's life, the more she
sought, instinctively, to rob him of it. Without any deliberate
intention, she gradually and steadily alienated Olivier from his friend:
she made sarcastic comments on Christophe's manners, his face, his way
of writing, his artistic projects: there was no malice in what she said,
nor slyness: she was too good-natured for that. Olivier was amused by
her remarks, and saw no harm in them: he thought he still loved
Christophe as much as ever, but he loved only his personality: and that
counts for very little in friendship: he did not see that little by
little he was losing his understanding of him, and his interest in his
ideas, and the heroic idealism in which they had been so united.... Love
is too sweet a joy for the heart of youth: compared with it, what other
faith can hold its ground? The body of the beloved and the soul that
breathes in it are all science and all faith. With what a pitying smile
does a lover regard the object of another's adoration and the things
which he himself once adored! Of all the might of life and its bitter
struggles the lover sees nothing but the passing flower, which he
believes must live forever.... Love absorbed Olivier. In the beginning
his happiness was not so great but it left him with the energy to
express it in graceful verse. Then even that seemed vain to him: it was
a theft of time from love. And Jacqueline also set to work to destroy
their every source of life, to kill the tree of life, without the
support of which the ivy of love must die. Thus in their happiness they
destroyed each other.
Alas! we so soon grow used to happiness! When selfish happiness is the
sole aim of life, life is soon left without an aim. It becomes a habit,
a sort of intoxication which we cannot do without. And how vitally
important it is that we should do without it.... Happiness is an instant
in the universal rhythm, one of the poles between which the pendulum of
life swings: to stop the pendulum it must be broken....
They knew the "boredom of well-being which sets the nerves on edge."
Their hours of sweetness dragged, drooped, and withered like flowers
without water. The sky was still blue for them, but there was no longer
the light morning breeze. All was still: Nature was silent. They were
alone, as they had desired.--And their hearts sank.
An indefinable feeling of emptiness, a vague weariness not without a
certain charm, came over them. They knew not what it was, and they were
darkly uneasy. They became morbidly sensitive. Their nerves, strained in
the close watching of the silence, trembled like leaves at the least
unexpected clash of life. Jacqueline was often in tears without any
cause for weeping, and although she tried hard to convince herself of
it, it was not only love that made them flow. After the ardent and
tormented years that had preceded her marriage the sudden stoppage of
her efforts as she attained--attained and passed--her end,--the sudden
futility of any new course of action--and perhaps of all that she had
done in the past,--flung her into a state of confusion, which she could
not understand, so that it appalled and crushed her. She would not allow
that it was so: she attributed it to her nerves, and pretended to laugh
it off: but her laughter was no less uneasy than her tears. She tried
bravely to take up her work again: but as soon as she began she could
not understand how she could ever have taken any interest in such stupid
things, and she flung them aside in disgust. She made an effort to pick
up the threads of her social life once more: but with no better success:
she had committed herself, and she had lost the trick of dealing with
the commonplace people and their commonplace remarks that are inevitable
in life: she thought them grotesque; and she flung back into her
isolation with her husband, and tried hard to persuade herself, as a
result of these unhappy experiences, that there was nothing good in the
world save love. And for a time she seemed really to be more in love
than ever. Olivier, being less passionate and having a greater store of
tenderness, was less susceptible to these apprehensions: only every now
and then he would feel a qualm of uneasiness. Besides, his love was
preserved in some measure by the constraint of his daily occupation, his
work, which was distasteful to him. But as he was highly strung and
sensitive, and everything that happened in the heart of the woman he
loved affected him also, Jacqueline's secret uneasiness infected him.
One fine afternoon they went for a walk together in the country. They
had looked forward to the walk eagerly and happily. All the world was
bright and gay about them. But as soon as they set out gloom and heavy
sadness descended upon them: they felt chilled to the heart. They could
find nothing to say to each other. However, they forced themselves to
speak, but every word they said rang hollowly, and made them feel the
emptiness of their lives at that moment. They finished their walk
mechanically, seeing nothing, feeling nothing. They returned home sick
at heart. It was twilight: their rooms were cold, black, and empty. They
did not light up at once, to avoid seeing each other. Jacqueline went
into her room, and, instead of taking off her hat and cloak, she sat in
silence by the window. Olivier sat, too, in the next room with his arms
resting on the table. The door was open between the two rooms; they were
so near that they could have heard each other's breathing. And in the
semi-darkness they both wept, in silence, bitterly. They held their
hands over their mouths, so that they should make no sound. At last, in
agony, Olivier said:
Jacqueline gulped down her sobs, and said:
"What is it?"
"Aren't you coming?"
"Yes, I'm coming."
She took off her hat and cloak, and went and bathed her eyes. He lit the
lamp. In a few minutes she came into the room. They did not look at each
other. Each knew that the other had been weeping. And they could not
console each other, for they knew not why it was.
Then came a time when they could no longer conceal their unhappiness.
And as they would not admit the true cause of it, they cast about for
another, and had no difficulty in finding it. They set it down to the
dullness of provincial life and their surroundings. They found comfort
in that. M. Langeais was informed of their plight by his daughter, and
was not greatly surprised to hear that she was beginning to weary of
heroism. He made use of his political friends, and obtained a post in
Paris for his son-in-law.
When the good news reached them, Jacqueline jumped for joy and regained
all her old happiness. Now that they were going to leave it, they found
that they were quite fond of the dull country: they had sown so many
memories of love in it! They occupied their last days in going over the
traces of their love. There was a tender melancholy in their pilgrimage.
Those calm stretches of country had seen them happy. An inward voice
"You know what you are leaving behind you. Do you know what lies before
Jacqueline wept the day before they left. Olivier asked her why. She
would not say. They took a sheet of paper, and as they always did when
they were fearful of the sound of words, wrote:
"My dear, dear Olivier...."
"My dear, dear Jacqueline...."
"I am sorry to be going away."
"Going away from what?"
"From the place where we have been lovers."
"To a place where we shall be older."
"To a place where we shall be together."
"But never so loving."
"Always more loving."
"Who can tell?"
"I will be."
Then they drew two circles at the bottom of the paper for kisses. And
then she dried her tears, laughed, and dressed him up as a favorite of
Henri III by putting her toque on his head and her white cape with its
collar turned up like a ruff round his shoulders.
In Paris they resumed all their old friendships, but they did not find
their friends just as they had left them. When he heard of Olivier's
arrival, Christophe rushed to him delightedly. Olivier was equally
rejoiced to see him. But as soon as they met they felt an unaccountable
constraint between them. They both tried to break through it, but in
vain. Olivier was very affectionate, but there was a change in him, and
Christophe felt it. A friend who marries may do what he will: he cannot
be the friend of the old days. The woman's soul is, and must be, merged
in the man's. Christophe could detect the woman in everything that
Olivier said and did, in the imperceptible light of his expression, in
the unfamiliar turn of his lips, in the new inflections of his voice and
the trend of his ideas. Olivier was oblivious of it: but he was amazed
to find Christophe so different from the man he had left. He did not go
so far as to think that it was Christophe who had changed: he recognized
that the change was in himself, and ascribed it to normal evolution, the
inevitable result of the passing years; and he was surprised not to find
the same progress in Christophe: he thought reproachfully that he had
remained stationary in his ideas, which had once been so dear to him,
though now they seemed naive and out of date. The truth was that they
did not sort well with the stranger soul which, unknown to himself, had
taken up its abode in him. He was most clearly conscious of it when
Jacqueline was present when they were talking: and then between
Olivier's eyes and Christophe there was a veil of irony. However, they
tried to conceal what they felt. Christophe went often to see them, and
Jacqueline innocently let fly at him her barbed and poisoned shafts. He
suffered her. But when he returned home he would feel sad and sorry.
Their first months in Paris were fairly happy for Jacqueline, and
consequently for Olivier. At first she was busy with their new house:
they had found a nice little flat looking on to a garden in an old
street at Passy. Choosing furniture and wallpapers kept her time full
for a few weeks. Jacqueline flung herself into it energetically, and
almost passionately and exaggeratedly: it was as though her eternal
happiness depended on the color of her hangings or the shape of an old
chest. Then she resumed intercourse with her father and mother and her
friends. As she had entirely forgotten them during her year of love, it
was as though she had made their acquaintance for the first time: just
as part of her soul was merged in Olivier's, so part of Olivier's soul was
merged in hers, and she saw her old friends with new eyes. They
seemed to her to have gained much. Olivier did not lose by it at first.
They were a set-off to each other. The moral reserve and the poetic
light and shade of her husband made Jacqueline find more pleasure in
those worldly people who only think of enjoying themselves, and of being
brilliant and charming: and the seductive but dangerous failings of
their world, which she knew so much better because she belonged to it,
made her appreciate the security of her lover's affection. She amused
herself with these comparisons, and loved to linger over them, the
better to justify her choice.--She lingered over them to such an extent
that sometimes she could not tell why she had made that choice. Happily,
such moments never lasted long. She would be sorry for them, and was
never so tender with Olivier as when they were past. Thereupon she would
begin again. By the time it had become a habit with her it had ceased to
amuse her: and the comparison became more aggressive: instead of
complementing each other, the two opposing worlds declared war on each
other. She began to wonder why Olivier lacked the qualities, if not some
of the failings, which she now admired in her Parisian friends. She did
not tell him so: but Olivier often felt his wife looking at him without
any indulgence in her eyes, and it hurt him and made him uneasy.
However, he had not lost the ascendancy over Jacqueline which love had
given him: and they would have gone on quite happily living their life
of tender and hard-working intimacy for long enough had it not been for
circumstances which altered their material condition and destroyed its
_Quivi trovammo Pluto il gran nemico...._
A sister of Madame Langeais died. She was the widow of a rich
manufacturer, and had no children. Her whole estate passed to the
Langeais. Jacqueline's fortune was more than doubled by it. When she
came in for her legacy, Olivier remembered what Christophe had said
about money, and remarked:
"We were quite well off without it: perhaps it will be a bad thing for
Jacqueline laughed at him:
"Silly!" she said. "As though money could ever do any harm! We won't
make any change in our way of living just yet."
Their life remained the same to all appearances: so much the same that
after a certain time Jacqueline began to complain that they were not
well enough off: proof positive that there was a change somewhere. And,
in fact, although their income had been doubled or tripled, they spent
the whole of it without knowing how they did it. They began to wonder
how they had managed to live before. The money flew, and was swallowed
up by a thousand new expenses, which seemed at once to be habitual and
indispensable. Jacqueline had begun to patronize the great dressmakers:
she had dismissed the family sempstress who came by the day, a woman she
had known since she was a child. The days of the little fourpenny hats
made out of nothing, though they were quite pretty all the same, were
gone,--gone the days of the frocks which were not impeccably smart,
though they had much of her own grace, and were, indeed, a part of
herself! The sweet intimate charm which shone upon all about her grew
fainter every day. The poetry of her nature was lost. She was becoming
They changed their flat. The rooms which they had furnished with so much
trouble and pleasure seemed narrow and ugly. Instead of the cozy little
rooms, all radiant with her spirit, with a friendly tree waving its
delicate foliage against the windows, they took an enormous,
comfortable, well-arranged flat which they did not, could not, love,
where they were bored to death. Instead of their old friendly
belongings, they obtained furniture and hangings which were strangers to
them. There was no place left for memories. The first years of their
married life were swept away from their thoughts.... It is a great
misfortune for two people living together to have the ties which bind
them to their past love broken! The image of their love is a safeguard
against the disappointment and hostility which inevitably succeed the
first years of tenderness.... The power to spend largely had brought
Jacqueline, both in Paris and abroad--(for now that they were rich they
often traveled)--into touch with a class of rich and useless people,
whose society gave her a sort of contempt for the rest of mankind, all
those who had work to do. With her marvelous power of adaptation, she
very quickly caught the color of these sterile and rotten men and women.
She could not fight against it. At once she became refractory and
irritable, regarding the idea that it was possible--and right--to be
happy in her domestic duties and the _aurea mediocritus_ as mere
"vulgar manners." She had lost even the capacity to understand the
bygone days when she had so generously given herself in love.
Olivier was not strong enough to fight against it. He, too, had changed.
He had given up his work, and had no fixed and compulsory occupation. He
wrote, and the balance of his life was adjusted by it. Till then he had
suffered because he could not give his whole life to art. Now that he
could do so he felt utterly lost in the cloudy world. Art which is not also
a profession, and supported by a healthy practical life, art which
knows not the necessity of earning the daily bread, loses the best part
of its force and its reality. It is only the flower of luxury. It is
not--(what in the greatest, the only great, artists it is)--the sacred
fruit of human suffering.--Olivier felt a disinclination to work, a
desire to ask: "What is the good of it?" There was nothing to make him
write: he would let his pen run on, he dawdled about, he had lost his
bearings. He had lost touch with his own class of men and women
patiently plowing the hard furrow of their lives. He had fallen into a
different world, where he was ill at ease, though on the whole he did
not find it unpleasant. Weak, amiable, and curious, he fell complacently
to observing that world which was entirely lacking in consistency,
though it was not without charm; and he did not see that little by
little he was becoming contaminated by it: it was undermining his faith.
No doubt the transformation was not so rapid in him as it was in
Jacqueline.--Women have the terrible privilege of being able suddenly to
undergo a complete change. The way in which they suddenly die and then
as suddenly come to life again is appalling to those who love them. And
yet it is perfectly natural for a human being who is full of life
without the curb of the will not to be to-morrow what it is to-day. A
woman is like running water. The man who loves her must follow the
stream or divert it into the channel of his own life. In both cases
there must be change. But it is a dangerous experience, and no man
really knows love until he has gone through it. And its harmony is so
delicate during the first years of married life that often the very
smallest change in either husband or wife is enough to destroy their
whole relationship. How much more perilous, then, is a sudden change of
fortune or of circumstance! They must needs be very strong--or very
indifferent to each other--to withstand it.
Jacqueline and Olivier were neither indifferent nor strong. They began
to see each other in a new light: and the face of the beloved became
strange to them. When first they made the sad discovery, they hid it
from each other in loving pity: for they still loved each other. Olivier
took refuge in his work, and by applying himself to it regularly, though
with even less conviction than before, won through to tranquillity.
Jacqueline had nothing. She did nothing. She would stay in bed for
hours, or dawdle over her toilette, sitting idly, half dressed,
motionless, lost in thought: and gradually a dumb misery crept over her
like an icy mist. She could not break away from the fixed idea of
love.... Love! Of things human the most Divine when it is the gift of
self, a passionate and blind sacrifice. But when it is no more than the
pursuit of happiness, it is the most senseless and the most elusive....
It was impossible for her to conceive any other aim in life. In moments
of benevolence she had tried to take an interest in the sorrows of other
people: but she could not do it. The sufferings of others filled her
with an ungovernable feeling of repulsion: her nerves were not strong
enough to bear them. To appease her conscience she had occasionally done
something which looked like philanthropy: but the result had been tame
"You see," she would say to Christophe, "when one tries to do good one
does harm. It is much better not to try. I'm not cut out for it."
Christophe would look at her: and he would think of a girl he had met, a
selfish, immoral little grisette, absolutely incapable of real
affection, though, as soon as she saw anybody suffering, she was filled
with motherly pity for him, even though she had not cared a rap for him
before, even though he were a stranger to her. She was not abashed by
the most horrible tasks, and she would even take a strange pleasure in
doing those which demanded the greatest self-denial. She never stopped
to think about it: she seemed to find in it a use for her obscure,
hereditary, and eternally unexpressed idealism: her soul was atrophied
as far as the rest of her life was concerned, but at such rare moments
it breathed again: it gave her a sense of well-being and inward joy to
be able to allay suffering: and her joy was then almost misplaced.--The
goodness of that woman, who was selfish, the selfishness of Jacqueline,
who was good in spite of it, were neither vice nor virtue, but in both
cases only a matter of health. But the first was in the better case.
Jacqueline was crushed by the mere idea of suffering. She would have
preferred death to physical illness. She would have preferred death to
the loss of either of her sources of joy: her beauty or her youth. That
she should not have all the happiness to which she thought herself
entitled,--(for she believed in happiness, it was a matter of faith with
her, wholeheartedly and absurdly, a religious belief),--and that others
should have more happiness than herself, would have seemed to her the
most horrible injustice. Happiness was not only a religion to her; it
was a virtue. To be unhappy seemed to her to be an infirmity. Her whole
life gradually came to revolve round that principle. Her real character
had broken through the veils of idealism in which in girlish bashful
modesty she had enshrouded herself. In her reaction against the idealism
of the past she began to see things in a hard, crude light. Things were
only true for her in proportion as they coincided with the opinion of
the world and the smoothness of life. She had reached her mother's state
of mind: she went to church, and practised religion punctiliously and
indifferently. She never stopped to ask herself whether there was any
real truth in it: she had other more positive mental difficulties: and
she would think of the mystical revolt of her childhood with pitying
irony.--And yet her new positivism was no more real than her old
idealism. She forced it. She was neither angel nor brute. She was just a
poor bored woman.
She was bored, bored, bored: and her boredom was all the greater in that
she could not excuse herself on the score of not being loved, or by
saying that she could not endure Olivier. Her life seemed to be stunted,
walled up, with no future prospect: she longed for a new happiness that
should be perpetually renewed; her longing was utterly childish, for it
never took into account her indifferent capacity for happiness. She was
like so many women living idle lives with idle husbands, who have every
reason to be happy, and yet never cease torturing themselves. There are
many such couples, who are rich and blessed with health and lovely
children, and clever and capable of feeling fine things, and possessed
of the power to keep themselves employed and to do good, and to enrich
their own lives and the lives of others. And they spend their time in
moaning and groaning that they do not love each other, that they love
some one else, or that they do not love somebody else--perpetually taken
up with themselves, and their sentimental or sensual relations, and
their pretended right to happiness, their conflicting egoism, and
arguing, arguing, arguing, playing with their sham grand passion, their
sham great suffering, and in the end believing in it, and--suffering....
If only some one would say to them:
"You are not in the least interesting. It is indecent to be so sorry for
yourselves when you have so many good reasons for being happy!"
If only some one would take away their money, their health, all the
marvelous gifts of which they are so unworthy! If only some one would
once more lay the yoke of poverty and real suffering on these slaves who
are incapable of being free and are driven mad by their liberty! If they
had to earn their bread in the sweat of their brows, they would be glad
enough to eat it. And if they were to come face to face with grim
suffering, they would never dare to play with the sham....
But, when all is said and done, they do suffer. They are ill. How, then,
are they not to be pitied?--Poor Jacqueline was quite innocent, as
innocent in drifting apart from Olivier as Olivier was in not holding
her. She was what Nature had made her. She did not know that marriage is
a challenge to Nature, and that, when one has thrown down the gauntlet
to Nature, it is only to be expected that she will arise and begin
valiantly to wage the combat which one has provoked. She saw that she
had been mistaken, and she was exasperated with herself; and her
disillusion turned to hostility towards the thing she had loved,
Olivier's faith, which had also been her own. An intelligent woman has,
much more than a man, moments of an intuitive perception of things
eternal: but it is more difficult for her to maintain her grip on them.
Once a man has come by the idea of the eternal, he feeds it with his
life-blood. A woman uses it to feed her own life: she absorbs it, and
does not create it. She must always be throwing fresh fuel into her
heart and mind: she cannot be self-sufficing. And if she cannot believe
and love, she must destroy--except she possess the supreme virtue of
Jacqueline had believed passionately in a union based on a common faith,
in the happiness of struggling and suffering together in accomplishment.
But she had only believed in that endeavor, that faith, while they were
gilded by the sun of love: and as the sun died down she saw them as
barren, gloomy mountains standing out against the empty sky: and her
strength failed her, so that she could go no farther on the road: what
was the good of reaching the summit? What was there on the other side?
It was a gigantic phantom and a snare!... Jacqueline could not
understand how Olivier could go on being taken in by such fantastic
notions which consumed life: and she began to tell herself that he was
not very clever, nor very much alive. She was stifling in his
atmosphere, in which she could not breathe, and the instinct of
self-preservation drove her on to the attack, in self-defense. She
strove to scatter and bring to dust the injurious beliefs of the man she
still loved: she used every weapon of irony and seductive pleasure in
her armory: she trammeled him with the tendrils of her desires and her
petty cares: she longed to make him a reflection of herself, ...
herself who knew neither what she wanted nor what she was! She was
humiliated by Olivier's want of success: and she did not care whether it
were just or unjust; for she had come to believe that the only thing
which saves a man of talent from failure is success. Olivier was
oppressed by his consciousness of her doubts, and his strength was
sapped by it. However, he struggled on as best he could, as so many men
have struggled, and will struggle, for the most part vainly, in the
unequal conflict in which the selfish instinct of the woman upholds
itself against the man's intellectual egoism by playing upon his
weakness, his dishonesty, and his common sense, which is the name with
which he disguises the wear and tear of life and his own cowardice.--At
least, Jacqueline and Olivier were better than the majority of such
combatants. For he would never have betrayed his ideal, as thousands of
men do who drift with the demands of their laziness, their vanity, and
their loves, into renunciation of their immortal souls. And, if he had
done so, Jacqueline would have despised him. But, in her blindness, she
strove to destroy that force in Olivier, which was hers also, their common
safeguard: and by an instinctive strategical movement she undermined the
friendship by which that force was upheld.
Since the legacy Christophe had become a stranger in their household.
The affectation of snobbishness and a dull practical outlook on life
which Jacqueline used wickedly to exaggerate in her conversations with
him were more than he could bear. He would lash out sometimes, and say
hard things, which were taken in bad part. They could never have brought
about a rupture between the two friends: they were too fond of each
other. Nothing in the world would have induced Olivier to give up
Christophe. But he could not make Jacqueline feel the same about him;
and, his love making him weak, he was incapable of hurting her.
Christophe, who saw what was happening to him, and how he was suffering,
made the choice easy by a voluntary withdrawal. He saw that he could not
help Olivier in any way by staying, but rather made things worse. He was
the first to give his friend reasons for turning from him: and Olivier,
in his weakness, accepted those inadequate reasons, while he guessed
what the sacrifice must have cost Christophe, and was bitterly sorry for
Christophe bore him no ill-will. He thought that there was much truth in
the saying that a man's wife is his better half. For a man married is
but the half of a man.
He tried to reconstruct his life without Olivier. But it was all in
vain, and it was idle for him to pretend that the separation would only
be for a short time: in spite of his optimism, he had many hours of
sadness. He had lost the habit of loneliness. He had been alone, it is
true, during Olivier's sojourn in the provinces: but then he had been
able to pretend and tell himself that his friend was away for a time,
and would return. Now that his friend had come back he was farther away
than ever. His affection for him, which had filled his life for a number
of years, was suddenly taken from him: it was as though he had lost his
chief reason for working. Since his friendship for Olivier he had grown
used to thinking with him and bringing him into everything he did. His
work was not enough to supply the gap: for Christophe had grown used to
weaving the image of his friend into his work. And now that his friend
no longer took any interest in him, Christophe was thrown off his
balance: he set out to find another affection to restore it.
Madame Arnaud and Philomela did not fail him. But just then such
tranquil friendship as theirs was not enough. However, the two women
seemed to divine Christophe's sorrow, and they secretly sympathized with
him. Christophe was much surprised one evening to see Madame Arnaud come
into his room. Till then she had never ventured to call on him. She
seemed to be somewhat agitated. Christophe paid no heed to it, and set
her uneasiness down to her shyness. She sat down, and for some time said
nothing. To put her at her ease, Christophe did the honors of his room.
They talked of Olivier, with memories of whom the room was filled.
Christophe spoke of him gaily and naturally, without giving so much as
a hint of what had happened. But Madame Arnaud, knowing it, could not help
looking at him pityingly and saying:
"You don't see each other now?"
He thought she had come to console him, and felt a gust of impatience,
for he did not like any meddling with his affairs. He replied:
"Whenever we like."
She blushed, and said:
"Oh! it was not an indiscreet question!"
He was sorry for his gruffness, and took her hands:
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I am always afraid of his being blamed.
Poor boy! He is suffering as much as I.... No, we don't see each other
"And he doesn't write to you?"
"No," said Christophe, rather shamefacedly....
"How sad life is!" said Madame Arnaud, after a moment.
"No; life is not sad," he said. "But there are sad moments in it."
Madame Arnaud went on with veiled bitterness:
"We love, and then we love no longer. What is the good of it all?"
"It is good to have loved."
She went on:
"You have sacrificed yourself for him. If only our self-sacrifice could
be of any use to those we love! But it makes them none the happier!"
"I have not sacrificed myself," said Christophe angrily. "And if I have,
it is because it pleased me to do so. There's no room for arguing about
it. One does what one has to do. If one did not do it, one would be
unhappy, and suffer for it! There never was anything so idiotic as this
talk of sacrifice! Clergymen, in the poverty of their hearts, mix it up
with a cramped and morose idea of Protestant gloom. Apparently, if an
act of sacrifice is to be good, it must be besotted.... Good Lord! if a
sacrifice means sorrow to you, and not joy, then don't do it; you are
unworthy of it. A man doesn't sacrifice himself for the King of Prussia,
but for himself. If you don't feel the happiness that lies in the gift
of yourself, then get out! You don't deserve to live."
Madame Arnaud listened to Christophe without daring to look at him.
Suddenly she got up and said:
Then he saw that she had come to confide in him, and said:
"Oh! forgive me. I'm a selfish oaf, and can only talk about myself.
Please stay. Won't you?"
"No: I cannot.... Thank you...."
And she left him.
It was some time before they met again. She gave no sign of life; and he
did not go to see either her or Philomela. He was fond of both of them:
but he was afraid of having to talk to them about things that made him
sad. And, besides, for the time being, their calm, dull existence, with
its too rarefied air, was not suited to his needs. He wanted to see new
faces; it was imperative that he should find a new interest, a new love,
to occupy his mind.
By way of being taken out of himself he began to frequent the theaters
which he had neglected for a long time. The theater seemed to him to be
an interesting school for a musician who wishes to observe and take note
of the accents of the passions.
It was not that he had any greater sympathy with French plays than when
he first came to live in Paris. Outside his small liking for their
eternal stale and brutal subjects connected with the psycho-physiology
of love, it seemed to him that the language of the French theater,
especially in poetic drama, was ultra-false. Neither their prose nor
their verse had anything in common with the living language and the
genius of the people. Their prose was an artificial language, the
language of a polite chronicle with the best, that of a vulgar
feuilletonist with the worst. Their poetry justified Goethe's gibe:
"_Poetry is all very well for those who have nothing to say_."
It was a wordy and inverted prose: the profusion of metaphors clumsily
tacked on to it in imitation of the lyricism of other nations produced
an effect of utter falsity upon any sincere person. Christophe set no
more store by these poetic dramas than he did by the Italian operas with
their shrill mellifluous airs and their ornamental vocal exercises. He
was much more interested in the actors than the plays. And the authors
had tried hard to imitate them. "_It was hopeless to think that a play
could be performed with any success unless the author had looked to it
that his characters were modeled on the vices of the actors_." The
situation was hardly at all changed since the time when Diderot wrote
those lines. The actors had become the models of the art of the theater.
As soon as any one of them reached success, he had his theater, his
compliant tailor-authors, and his plays made to measure.
Among these great mannikins of literary fashions Francoise Oudon
attracted Christophe. Paris had been infatuated with her for a couple of
years or so. She, too, of course, had her theater and her purveyors of
parts: however, she did not only act in plays written for her: her mixed
repertory ranged from Ibsen to Sardou, from Gabriele d'Annunzio to Dumas
_fils_, from Bernard Shaw to the latest Parisian playwrights. Upon
occasion she would even venture into the Versailles' avenues of the
classic hexameter, or on to the deluge of images of Shakespeare. But she
was ill at ease in that galley, and her audience was even more so.
Whatever she played, she played herself, nothing but herself, always. It
was both her weakness and her strength. Until the public had been
awakened to an interest in her personality, her acting had had no
success. As soon as that interest was roused, everything she did
appeared marvelous. And, indeed, it was well worth while in watching her
to forget the usually pitiful plays which she betrayed by endowing and
adorning them with her vitality. The mystery of the woman's body, swayed
by a stranger soul, was to Christophe far more moving than the plays in
which she acted.
She had a fine, clear-cut, rather tragic profile. She had not the marked
heavy lines of the Roman style: on the contrary, her lines were delicate
and Parisian, _a la _Jean Goujon--as much like a boy's as a
woman's. A short, finely-modeled nose. A beautiful mouth, with thin
lips, curling rather bitterly. Bright cheeks, girlishly thin, in which
there was something touching, the light of inward suffering. A strong
chin. Pale complexion. One of those habitually impassive faces which are
transparent in spite of themselves, and reveal the soul quivering behind
it, as though it were exposed in its nakedness; one of those faces in
which the soul seems to be ever, in every part of it, just beneath the
skin. She had very fine hair and eyebrows, and her changing eyes were
gray and amber-colored, passing quickly from one light to another,
greenish and golden, like the eyes of a cat. And there was something
catlike in all her nature, in her apparent torpor, her semi-somnolence,
with eyes wide open, always on the watch, always suspicious, while
suddenly she would nervously and rather cruelly relax her watchfulness.
She was not so tall as she appeared, nor so slender; she had beautiful
shoulders, lovely arms, and fine, long hands. She was very neat in her
dress, and her coiffure, always trim and tasteful, with none of the
Bohemian carelessness or the exaggerated smartness of many artists--even
in that she was catlike, instinctively aristocratic, although she had
risen from the gutter. At bottom she was incurably shy and wild.
She must have been a little less than thirty. Christophe had heard
people speak of her at Gamache's with coarse admiration, as a woman of
great freedom, intelligence, and boldness, tremendous and inflexible
energy, and burning ambition, but bitter, fantastic, perplexing, and
violent, a woman who had waded through a deal of mud before she had
reached her present pinnacle of fame, and had since avenged herself.
One day, when Christophe was going by train to see Philomela at Meudon,
as he opened the door of a compartment, he saw the actress sitting
there. She seemed to be agitated and perturbed, and Christophe's
appearance annoyed her. She turned her back on him, and looked
obstinately out of the opposite window. But Christophe was so struck by
the changed expression in her face, that he could not stop gazing at her
with a naive and embarrassing compassion. It exasperated her, and she
flung an angry look at him which he did not understand. At the next
station she got out and went into another compartment. Then for the
first time it occurred to him--rather late in the day--that he had
driven her away: and he was greatly distressed. A few days later, at a
station on the same line, he was sitting on the only seat in the
platform, waiting for the train back to Paris. She appeared, and came
and sat by his side. He began to move, but she said:
They were alone. He begged her pardon for having forced her to go to
another compartment the other day, saying that if he had had any idea
that he was incommoding her he would have got out himself. She smiled
ironically, and only replied:
"You were certainly unbearable with your persistent staring."
"I begged your pardon: I could not help it.... You looked so unhappy."
"Well, what of it?" she said.
"It was too strong for me. If you saw a man drowning, wouldn't you hold
out your hand to him?"
"I? Certainly not," she said. "I would push him under water, so as to
get it over quickly."
She spoke with a mixture of bitterness and humor: and, when he looked at
her in amazement, she laughed.
The train came in. It was full up, except for the last carriage. She got
in. The porter told them to hurry up. Christophe, who had no mind to
repeat the scene of a few days before, was for finding another
compartment, but she said:
He got in, and she said:
"To-day I don't mind."
They began to talk. Christophe tried very seriously to prove to her that
it was not right not to take an interest in others, and that people
could do so much for each other by helping and comforting each other....
"Consolation," she said, "is not much in my line...."
And as Christophe insisted:
"Yes," she said, with her impertinent smile; "the part of comforter is
all very well for the man who plays it."
It was a moment or two before he grasped her meaning. When he
understood, when he fancied that she suspected him of seeking his own
interest, while he was only thinking of her, he got up indignantly and
opened the door, and made as though to climb out, although the train was
moving. She prevented him, though not without difficulty. He sat down
again angrily, and shut the door just as the train shot into a tunnel.
"You see," she said, "you might have been killed."
"I don't care," he said.
He refused to speak to her again.
"People are so stupid," he said. "They make each other suffer, they
suffer, and when a man goes to help another fellow-creature, he is
suspected. It is disgusting. People like that are not human."
She laughed and tried to soothe him. She laid her gloved hand on his:
she spoke to him gently, and called him by his name.
"What?" he said. "You know me?"
"As if everybody didn't know everybody in Paris! We're all in the same
boat. But it was horrid of me to speak to you as I did. You are a good
fellow. I can see that. Come; calm yourself. Shake hands! Let us make
They shook hands, and went on talking amicably. She said:
"It is not my fault, you know. I have had so many experiences with men
that I have become suspicious."
"They have deceived me, too, many a time," said Christophe. "But I
always give them credit for something better."
"I see; you were born to be gulled."
He began to laugh:
"Yes; I've been taken in a good many times in my life; I've gulped down
a good many lies. But it does me no harm. I've a good stomach. I can put
up with worse things, hardship, poverty, and, if necessary, I can gulp
down with their lies the poor fools who attack me. It does me good, if
"You're in luck," she said. "You're something like a man."
"And you. You're something like a woman."
"That's no great thing."
"It's a fine thing," he said, "and it may be a good thing, too!"
"To be a woman!" she said. "But what does the world make of women?"
"You have to defend yourself."
"But goodness never lasts long."
"Then you can't have much of it."
"Possibly. And then, I don't think one ought to suffer too much. There
is a point beyond which suffering withers you up."
He was just about to tell her how he pitied her, but he remembered how
she had received it a short while before....
"You'll only talk about the advantages of the part of comforter...."
"No," she said, "I won't say it again. I feel that you are kind and
sincere. Thank you. Only, don't say anything. You cannot know.... Thank
They had reached Paris. They parted without exchanging addresses or
inviting each other to call.
* * * * *
A few months later she came of her own accord and knocked at
"I came to see you. I want to talk to you. I have been thinking of you
sometimes since our meeting."
She took a seat.
"Only for a moment. I shan't disturb you for long."
He began to talk to her. She said:
"Wait a moment, please."
They sat in silence. Then she said with a smile:
"I couldn't bear it any longer. I feel better now."
He tried to question her.
"No," she said. "Not that!"
She looked round the room, examined and appraised the things in it, and
saw the photograph of Louisa:
"Your mother?" she said.
She took it and looked at it sympathetically.
"What a good old woman!" she said. "You are lucky!"
"Alas! she is dead."
"That is nothing. You have had the luck to have her for your mother."
"Yes. And you?"
But she turned the subject with a frown. She would not let him question
her about herself.
"No; tell me about yourself. Tell me.... Something about your life...."
"How can it be of any interest to you?"
"Tell me, all the same...."
He would not tell her: but he could not avoid answering her questions,
for she cross-examined him very skilfully: so much so, that he told her
something of what he was suffering, the story of his friendship, and how
Olivier had left him. She listened with a pitying ironical smile....
Suddenly she asked:
"What time is it? Oh! good Heavens! I've been here two whole hours!...
Please forgive me.... Ah! what a rest it has been!..."
"Will you let me come again?... Not often.... Sometimes.... It would do
me good. But I wouldn't like to bore you or waste your time.... Only a
minute or two every now and then...."
"I'll come and see you," said Christophe.
"No, don't do that. I would much rather come to see you...."
But she did not come again for a long time. One evening he heard by
accident that she was seriously ill, and had not been acting for some
weeks. He went to see her, although she had forbidden it. She was not at
home: but when she heard who it was, she sent and had him brought back
as he was going down the stairs. She was in bed, but much better: she
had had pneumonia, and looked altered: but she still had her ironical
manner and her watchful expression, which there was no disarming.
However, she seemed to be really pleased to see Christophe. She made him
sit by her bedside, and talked about herself in a mocking, detached way,
and said that she had almost died. He was much moved, and showed it.
Then she teased him. He reproached her for not having let him know.
"Let you know? And have you coming to see me? Never!"
"I bet you never even thought of me."
"You've won," she said, with her sad little mocking smile. "I didn't
think of you for a moment while I was ill. To be precise, I never
thought of you until to-day. There's nothing to be glum about, come.
When I am ill I don't think of anybody. I only ask one thing of people;
to be left alone in peace. I turn my face to the wall and wait: I want
to be alone. I want to die alone, like a rat in a hole."
"And yet it is hard to suffer alone."
"I'm used to it. I have been unhappy for years. No one ever came to my
assistance. Now it has become a habit.... Besides, it is better so. No
one can do anything for you. A noise in the room, worrying attentions,
hypocritical jeremiads.... No; I would rather die alone."
"You are very resigned!"
"Resigned? I don't even know what the word means. No: I set my teeth and
I hate the illness which makes me suffer."
He asked her if she had no one to see her, no one to look after her. She
said that her comrades at the theater were kind enough,--idiots,--but
obliging and compassionate (in a superficial sort of way).
"But I tell you, I don't want to see them. I'm a surly sort of
"I would put up with it," he said.
She looked at him pityingly:
"You, too! You're going to talk like the rest?"
"Pardon, pardon.... Good Heavens! I'm becoming a Parisian! I am
ashamed.... I swear that I didn't even think what I was saying...."
He buried his face in the bedclothes. She laughed frankly, and gave him
a tap on the head!
"Ah! that's not Parisian! That's something like! I know you again. Come,
show your face. Don't weep all over my bed."
"Do you forgive me?"
"I forgive you. But don't do it again."
She talked to him a little more, asked him what he was doing, and was
then tired, bored, and dismissed him.
He had arranged to go and see her again the following week. But just as
he was setting out he received a telegram from her telling him not to
come: she was having a bad day.--Then, the next day but one, she sent
for him. He went, and found her convalescent, sitting by the window,
with her feet up. It was early spring, with a sunny sky and the young
buds on the trees. She was more gentle and affectionate than he had yet
seen her. She told him that she could not see anybody the other day, and
would have detested him as much as anybody else.
"To-day I feel young and fresh, and I feel fond of everything else about
me that feels young and fresh--as you do."
"And yet I am neither very young nor very fresh."
"You will be both until the day of your death."
They talked about what he had been doing since their last meeting, and
about the theater in which she was going to resume her work soon: and on
that she told him what she thought of the theater, which disgusted her,
while it held her in its grip.
She did not want him to come again, and promised to resume her visits to
his flat. He told her the times when she would be least likely to
disturb his work. They arranged a countersign. She was to knock at the
door in a certain way, and he was to open or not as he felt inclined....
She did not go beyond bounds at first. But once, when she was going to a
society At Home, where she was to recite, the idea of it bored her at
the last moment: she stopped on the way and telephoned to say that she
could not come, and she told her man to drive to Christophe's. She only
meant to say good-night to him as she passed. But, as it turned out, she
began to confide in him that night, and told him all her life from her
A sad childhood! An accidental father whom she had never known. A mother
who kept an ill-famed inn in a suburb of a town in the north of France:
the carters used to go and drink there, use the proprietress, and bully
her. One of them married her because she had some small savings: he used
to beat her and get drunk. Francoise had an elder sister who was a
servant in the inn: she was worked to death; the proprietor made her his
mistress in the sight and knowledge of her mother; she was consumptive,
and had died. Francoise had grown up amid scenes of violence and
shameful things. She saw her mother and sister weep, suffer, accept,
degrade themselves, and die. And desperately she made up her mind not to
submit to it, and to escape from her infamous surroundings: she was a
rebel by instinct: certain acts of injustice would set her beside
herself: she used to scratch and bite when she was thrashed. Once she
tried to hang herself. She did not succeed: she had hardly set about it
than she was afraid lest she might succeed only too well; and, even
while she was beginning to choke and desperately clutching at the rope
and trying to loosen it with stiff fumbling fingers, there was writhing
in her a furious desire to live. And since she could not escape by
death,--(Christophe smiled sadly, remembering his own experiences,)--she
swore that she would win, and be free, rich, and trample under foot all
those who oppressed her. She had made it a vow in her lair one evening,
when in the next room she could hear the oaths of the man, and the cries
of her mother as he beat her, and her sister's sobs. How utterly
wretched she felt! And yet her vow had been some solace. She clenched
her teeth and thought:
"I will crush the lot of you."
In that dark childhood there had been one ray of light:
One day, one of the little grubby boys with whom she used to lark in the
gutter, the son of the stage-door keeper of the theater, got her in to
the rehearsal, although it was strictly forbidden. They stole to the
very back of the building in the darkness. She was gripped by the
mystery of the stage, gleaming in the darkness, and by the magnificent
and incomprehensible things that the actors were saying, and by the
queenly bearing of the actress,--who was, in fact, playing a queen in a
romantic melodrama. She was chilled by emotion: and at the same time her
heart thumped.... "That--that is what I must be some day!" ... Oh! if
she could ever be like that!...--When it was over she wanted at all
costs to see the evening performance. She let her companion go out, and
pretended to follow him: and then she turned back and hid herself in the
theater: she cowered away under a seat, and stayed there for three hours
without stirring, choked by the dust: and when the performance was about
to begin and the audience was arriving, just as she was creeping out of
her hiding-place, she had the mortification of being pounced on,
ignominiously expelled amid jeers and laughter, and taken home, where
she was whipped. She would have died that night had she not known now
what she must do later on to master these people and avenge herself on
Her plan was made. She took a situation as a servant in the _Hotel et
Cafe du Theatre_, where the actors put up. She could hardly read or
write: and she had read nothing, for she had nothing to read. She wanted
to learn, and applied herself to it with frantic energy. She used to
steal books from the guests' rooms, and read them at night by moonlight
or at dawn, so as not to use her candle. Thanks to the untidiness of the
actors, her larcenies passed unnoticed or else the owners put up with
cursing and swearing. She used to restore their books when she had read
them,--except one or two which had moved her too much for her to be able
to part with them;--but she did not return them intact. She used to tear
out the pages which had pleased her. When she took the books back, she
used carefully to slip them under the bed or the furniture, so as to
make the owners of them believe that they had never left the room. She
used to glue her ears to the door to listen to the actors going over
their parts. And when she was alone, sweeping the corridor, she would
mimic their intonations in a whisper and gesticulate. When she was
caught doing so she was laughed at and jeered at. She would say nothing,
and boil with rage.--That sort of education might have gone on for a
long time had she not on one occasion been imprudent enough to steal the
script of a part from the room of an actor. The actor stamped and swore.
No one had been to his room except the servant: he accused her. She
denied it boldly: he threatened to have her searched: she threw herself
at his feet and confessed everything, even to her other pilferings and
the pages she had torn out of the books: the whole boiling. He cursed
and swore frightfully: but he was not so angry as he seemed. He asked
why she had done it. When she told him that she wanted to become an
actress he roared with laughter. He questioned her, and she recited
whole pages which she had learned by heart: he was struck by it, and
"Look here, would you like me to give you lessons?"
She was in the highest heaven of delight, and kissed his hands.
"Ah!" she said to Christophe, "how I should have loved him!"
But at once he added:
"Only, my dear, you know you can't have anything for nothing...."
She was chaste, and had always been scared and modest with those who had
pursued her with their overtures. Her absolute chastity, her ardent need
of purity, her disgust with things unclean and ignoble loveless
sensuality, had been with her always from her childhood on, as a result
of the despair and nausea of the sad sights which she saw about her on
all sides at home:--and they were with her still.... Ah! unhappy
creature! She had borne much punishment!... What a mockery of Fate!...
"Then," asked Christophe, "you consented?"
"Ah!" she said, "I would have gone through fire to get out of it. He
threatened to have me arrested as a thief. I had no choice.--That was
how I was initiated into art--and life."
"The blackguard!" said Christophe.
"Yes, I hated him. But I have met so many men since that he does not
seem to me to be one of the worst. He did at least keep his word. He
taught me what he knew--(not much!)--of the actor's trade. He got me
into his company. At first I was everybody's servant, I played little
scraps of parts. Then one night, when the soubrette was ill, they risked
giving me her part. I went on from that. They thought me impossible,
grotesque, uncouth. I was ugly then. I remained ugly until I was
decreed,--if not 'divine' like the other Woman,--the highest, the ideal
type of woman, ... 'Woman.' ... Idiots! As for my acting, it was thought
extravagant and incorrect. The public did not like me. The other players
used to make fun of me. I was kept on because I was useful in spite of
everything, and was not expensive. Not only was I not expensive, but I
paid! Ah! I paid for every step, every advance, rung by rung, with my
suffering, with my body. Fellow-actors, the manager, the impresario, the
She stopped: her face was very pale, her lips were pressed together,
there was a hard stare in her eyes: no tears came, but it was plain to
see that her soul was shedding tears of blood. In a flash she was living
through the shameful past, and the consuming desire to conquer which had
upheld her--a desire that burned the more with every fresh stain and
degradation that she had had to endure. She would sometimes have been
glad to die: but it would have been too abominable to succumb in the
midst of humiliation and to go no farther. Better to take her life
before--if so it must be--or after victory. But not when she had
degraded herself and not enjoyed the price of it....
She said no more. Christophe was pacing up and down the room in anger:
he was in a mood to slay these men who had made this woman suffer and
besmirched her. Then he looked at her with the eyes of pity: and he
stood near her and took her face in his hands and pressed it fondly, and
"Poor little woman!"
She made to thrust him away. He said:
"You must not be afraid of me. I love you."
Then the tears trickled down her pale cheeks. He knelt down by her and
"_La lunga man d'ogni bellezza piena_...."
--the long delicate hands on which two tears had fallen.
He sat down again, and she recovered herself and calmly went on with her
An author had at last launched her. He had discovered in the strange
little creature a daimon, a genius,--and, even better for his purpose,
"a dramatic type, a new woman, representative of an epoch." Of course,
he made her his mistress after so many others had done the same. And she
let him take her, as she had suffered the others, without love, and even
with the opposite of love. But he had made her famous: and she had done
the same for him.
"And now," said Christophe, "the others cannot do anything to you: you
can do what you like with them."
"You think so?" she said bitterly.
Then she told him of Fate's other mockery,--her passion for a knave whom
she despised: a literary man who had exploited her, had plucked out the
most sorrowful secrets of her soul, and turned them into literature, and
then had left her.
"I despise him," she said, "as I despise the dirt on my boots: and I
tremble with rage when I think that I love him, that he has but to hold
up his finger, and I should go running to him, and humble myself before
such a cur. But what can I do? I have a heart that will never love what
my mind desires. And I am compelled alternately to sacrifice and
humiliate one or the other. I have a heart: I have a body. And they cry
out and cry out and demand their share of happiness. And I have nothing
to curb them with, for I believe in nothing. I am free.... Free? I am
the slave of my heart and my body, which often, almost always, in spite
of myself, desire and have their will. They carry me away, and I am
ashamed. But what can I do?..."
She stopped for a moment, and mechanically moved the cinders in the fire
with the tongs.
"I have read in books," she said, "that actors feel nothing. And,
indeed, those whom I meet are nearly all conceited, grown-up children
who are never troubled by anything but petty questions of vanity. I do
not know if it is they who are not true comedians, or myself. I fancy it
must be I. In any case, I pay for the others."
She stopped speaking. It was three in the morning. She got up to go.
Christophe told her to wait until the morning before she went home, and
proposed that she should go and lie down on his bed. She preferred to
stay in the arm-chair by the dead fire, and went on talking quietly
while all the house was still.
"You will be tired to-morrow."
"I am used to it. But what about you?... What are you doing to-morrow?"
"I am free. I have a lesson to give about eleven.... Besides, I am
"All the more reason why you should sleep soundly."
"Yes; I sleep like a log. Not even pain can stand out against it. I am
sometimes furious with myself for sleeping so well. So many hours
wasted!... I am delighted to be able to take my revenge on sleep for
once in a way, and to cheat it of a night."
They went on talking in low tones, with long intervals of silence. And
Christophe went to sleep. Francoise smiled and supported his head to
keep him from falling.... She sat by the window dreaming and looking
down into the darkness of the garden, which presently was lit up. About
seven o'clock she woke Christophe gently, and said good-by.
In the course of the month she came at times when Christophe was out,
and found the door shut. Christophe sent her a key to the flat, so that
she could go there when she liked. She went more than once when
Christophe was away, and she would leave a little bunch of violets on
the table, or a few words scribbled on a sheet of paper, or a sketch, or
a caricature--just to show that she had been.
And one evening, when she left the theater, she went to the flat to
resume their pleasant talk. She found him at work, and they began to
talk. But at the very outset they both felt that the friendly
comfortable mood of the last occasion was gone. She tried to go: but it
was too late. Not that Christophe did anything to prevent her. It was
her own will that failed her and would not let her go. They stayed there
with the gathering consciousness of the desire that was in them.
Following on that night she disappeared for some weeks. In him there had
been roused a sensual ardor that had lain dormant for months before, and
he could not live without her. She had forbidden him to go to her house:
he went to see her at the theater. He sat far back, and he was aflame
with love and devotion: every nerve in his body thrilled: the tragic
intensity which she brought to her acting consumed him also in its fire.
At last he wrote to her:
"My Dear,--Are you angry with me? Forgive me if I have hurt you."
When she received his humble little note she hastened to him and flung
herself into his arms.
"It would have been better to be just friends, good friends. But since
it is impossible, it is no good holding out against the inevitable. Come
They lived together. They kept on in their separate flats, and each of
them was free. Francoise could not have submitted to living openly with
Christophe. Besides, her position would not allow it. She used to go to
Christophe's flat and spend part of the day and night with him; but she
used to return to her own place every day and also sleep there.
During the vacation, when the theater was closed, they took a house
together outside Paris, near Gif. They had many happy days there, though
there were clouds of sadness too. They were days of confidence and work.
They had a beautiful light room, high up, with a wide view over the
fields. At night through the window they could see the strange shadows
of the clouds floating across the clear, dull darkness of the sky. Half
asleep, they could hear the joyous crickets chirping and the showers
falling; the breath of the autumn earth--honeysuckle, clematis, glycine,
and new-mown hay--filled the house and soothed their senses. The silence
of the night. In the distance dogs barked. Cocks crowed. Dawn comes. The
tinkling angelus rings in the distant belfry, through the cold, gray
twilight, and they shiver in the warmth of their nest, and yet more
lovingly hold each other close. The voices of the birds awake in the
trellis on the wall. Christophe opens his eyes, holds his breath, and
his heart melts as he looks down at the dear tired face of his sleeping
beloved, pale with the paleness of love....
Their love was no selfish passion. It was a profound love in
comradeship, in which the body also demanded its share. They did not
hinder each other. They both went on with their work. Christophe's
genius and kindness and moral fiber were dear to Francoise. She felt
older than he in many ways, and she found a maternal pleasure in the
relation. She regretted her inability to understand anything he played:
music was a closed book to her, except at rare moments, when she would
be overcome by a wild emotion, which came less from the music than from
her own inner self, from the passion in which she was steeped at that
time, she and everything about her, the country, people, color, and
sound. But she was none the less conscious of Christophe's genius,
because it was expressed in a mysterious language which she did not
understand. It was like watching a great actor playing in a foreign
language. Her own genius was rekindled by it. Christophe, thanks to
love, could project his ideas and body forth his passions in the mind of
the woman and her beloved person: they seemed to him more beautiful
there than they were in himself--endowed with an antique and seemingly
eternal beauty. Intimacy with such a soul, so feminine, so weak and kind
and cruel, and genial in flashes, was a source of boundless wealth. She
taught him much about life, and men--about women, of whom he knew very
little, while she judged them with swift, unerring perception. But
especially he was indebted to her for a better understanding of the
theater; she helped him to pierce through to the spirit of that
admirable art, the most perfect of all arts, the fullest and most sober.
She revealed to him the beauty of that magic instrument of the human
dream,--and made him see that he must write for it and not for himself,
as he had a tendency to do,--(the tendency of too many artists, who,
like Beethoven, refuse to write "_for a confounded violin when the
Spirit speaks to them_").--A great dramatic poet is not ashamed to
work for a particular theater and to adapt his ideas to the actors at
his disposal: he sees no belittlement in that: but he knows that a vast
auditorium calls for different methods of expression than those
necessary for a smaller space, and that a man does not write
trumpet-blares for the flute. The theater, like the fresco, is art
fitted to its place. And therefore it is above all else the human art,
the living art.
Francoise's ideas were in accordance with Christophe's, who, at that
stage in his career, was inclined towards a collective art, in communion
with other men. Francoise's experience helped him to grasp the
mysterious collaboration which is set up between the audience and the
actor. Though Francoise was a realist, and had very few illusions, yet
she had a great perception of the power of reciprocal suggestion, the
waves of sympathy which pass between the actor and the multitude, the
great silence of thousands of men and women from which arises the single
voice of their interpreter. Naturally she could only feel it in
intermittent flashes, very, very rare, which were hardly ever reproduced
at the same passages in the same play. For the rest her work was a
soulless trade, an intelligent and coldly mechanical routine. But the
interest of it lay in the exception--the flash of light which pierced
the darkness of the abyss, the common soul of millions of men and women
whose living force was expressed in her for the space of a second of
It was this common soul which it was the business of the great artist to
express. His ideal should be a living objectivism, in which the poet
should throw himself into those for whom he sings, and denude himself of
self, to clothe the collective passions which are blown over the world
like a mighty wind. Francoise was all the more keenly conscious of the
necessity, inasmuch as she was incapable of such disinterestedness, and
always played herself.--For the last century and a half the disordered
efflorescence of individual lyricism has been tinged with morbidity.
Moral greatness consists in feeling much and controlling much, in being
sober in words and chaste in thought, in not making a parade of it, in
making a look speak and speak profoundly, without childish exaggeration
or effeminate effusiveness, to those who can grasp the half-spoken
thought, to men. Modern music, which is so loquaciously introspective,
dragging in indiscreet confidences at every turn, is immodest and
lacking in taste. It is like those invalids who can think of nothing but
their illnesses, and never weary of discussing them with other people
and going into repulsive petty details. This travesty of art has been
growing more and more prevalent for the last century. Francoise, who was
no musician, was disposed to see a sign of decadence in the development
of music at the expense of poetry, like a polypus sucking it dry.
Christophe protested: but, upon reflection, he began to wonder whether
there might not be some truth in it. The first _lieder_ written to
poems of Goethe were sober and apt: soon Schubert came and infused his
romantic sentimentality into them and gave them a twist: Schumann
introduced his girlish languor: and, down to Hugo Wolf, the movement had
gone on towards more stress in declamation, indecent analysis, a
presumptuous endeavor to leave no smallest corner of the soul unlit.
Every veil about the mysteries of the heart was rent. Things said in all
earnestness by a man were now screamed aloud by shameless girls who
showed themselves in their nakedness.
Christophe was rather ashamed of such art, by which he was himself
conscious of being contaminated: and, without seeking to go back to the
past,--(an absurd, unnatural desire),--he steeped himself in the spirit
of those of the masters of the past who had been haughtily discreet in
their thought and had possessed the sense of a great collective art:
like Handel, who, scorning the tearful piety of his time and country,
wrote his colossal _Anthems_ and his oratorios, those heroic epics
which are songs of the nations for the nations. The difficulty was to
find inspiring subjects, which, like the Bible in Handel's time, could
arouse emotions common to all the nations of modern Europe. Modern
Europe had no common book: no poem, no prayer, no act of faith which was
the property of all. Oh! the shame that should overwhelm all the
writers, artists, thinkers, of to-day! Not one of them has written, not
one of them has thought, for all. Only Beethoven has left a few pages of
a new Gospel of consolation and brotherhood: but only musicians can read
it, and the majority of men will never hear it. Wagner, on the hill at
Bayreuth, has tried to build a religious art to bind all men together.
But his great soul had too little simplicity and too many of the
blemishes of the decadent music and thought of his time: not the fishers
of Galilee have come to the holy hill, but the Pharisees.
Christophe felt sure what he had to do: but he had no poet, and he was
forced to be self-sufficing and to confine himself to music. And music,
whatever people say, is not a universal language: the bow of words is
necessary to send the arrow of sound into the hearts of all men.
Christophe planned to write a suite of symphonies inspired by everyday
life. Among others he conceived a Domestic Symphony, in his own manner,
which was very different from that of Richard Strauss. He was not
concerned with materializing family life in a cinematograph picture, by
making use of a conventional alphabet, in which musical themes expressed
arbitrarily the various characters whom, if the auditor's eyes and ears
could stand it, were presently to be seen going through divers
evolutions together. That seemed to him a pedantic and childish game for
a great contrapuntist. He did not try to describe characters or actions,
but only to express emotions familiar to every man and woman, in which
they could find the echo of their own souls, and perhaps comfort and
relief. The first movement expressed the grave and simple happiness of a
loving young couple, with its tender sensuality, its confidence in the
future, its joy and hopes. The second movement was an elegy on the death
of a child. Christophe had avoided with horror any effort to depict
death, and realistic detail in the expression of sorrow: there was only
the utter misery of it,--yours, mine, everybody's, of being face to face
with a misfortune which falls or may fall to the lot of everybody. The
soul, prostrate in its grief, from which Christophe had banned the usual
effects of sniveling melodrama, recovered bit by bit, in a sorrowful
effort, to offer its suffering as a sacrifice to God. Once more it set
bravely out on the road, in the next movement, which was linked with the
second,--a headstrong fugue, the bold design and insistent rhythm of
which captivated, and, through struggles and tears, led on to a mighty
march, full of indomitable faith. The last movement depicted the evening
of life. The themes of the opening movement reappeared in it with their
touching confidence and their tenderness which could not grow old, but
riper, emerging from the shadow of sorrow, crowned with light, and, like
a rich blossoming, raising a religious hymn of love to life and God.
Christophe also rummaged in the books of the past for great, simple,
human subjects speaking to the best in the hearts of all men. He chose
two such stories: _Joseph_ and _Niobe_. But then Christophe
was brought up not only against his need of a poet, but against the
vexed question, which has been argued for centuries and never solved, of
the union of poetry and music. His talks with Francoise had brought him
back to his idea, sketched out long ago with Corinne, of a form of
musical drama, somewhere between recitative opera and the spoken
drama,--the art of the free word united with free music,--an art of
which hardly any artist of to-day has a glimmering, an art also which
the routine critics, imbued with the Wagnerian tradition, deny, as they
deny every really new work: for it is not a matter of following in the
footsteps of Beethoven, Weber, Schumann, Bizet, although they used the
melodramatic form with genius: it is not a matter of yoking any sort of
speaking voice to any sort of music, and producing, at all costs, with
absurd tremolos, coarse effects upon coarse audiences: it is a matter of
creating a new form, in which musical voices will be wedded to
instruments attuned to those voices, discreetly mingling with their
harmonious periods the echo of dreams and the plaintive murmur of music.
It goes without saying that such a form could only be applied to a
narrow range of subjects, to intimate and introspective moments of the
soul, so as to conjure up its poetic perfume. In no art should there be
more discretion and aristocracy of feeling. It is only natural,
therefore, that it should have little chance of coming to flower in an
age which, in spite of the pretensions of its artists, reeks of the
deep-seated vulgarity of upstarts.
Perhaps Christophe was no more suited to such an art than the rest: his
very qualities, his plebeian force, were obstacles in the way. He could
only conceive it, and with the aid of Francoise realize a few rough
In this way he set to music passages from the Bible, almost literally
transcribed,--like the immortal scene in which Joseph makes himself
known to his brothers, and, after so many trials, can no longer contain
his emotion and tender feeling, and whispers the words which have wrung
tears from old Tolstoy, and many another:
"_Then Joseph could not refrain himself.... I am Joseph; doth my
father yet live? I am Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. I
Their beautiful and free relation could not last. They had moments
splendid and full of life: but they were too different. They were both
strong-willed, and then often clashed. But their differences were never
of a vulgar character: for Christophe had won Francoise's respect. And
Francoise, who could sometimes be so cruel, was kind to those who were
kind to her; no power on earth could have made her do anything to hurt
them. And besides, both of them had a fund of gay humor. She was always
the first to laugh at herself. She was still eating her heart out: for
the old passion still had its grip on her: she still thought of the
blackguard she loved: and she could not bear to be in so humiliating a
position or, above all, to have Christophe suspecting what she was
Christophe would sometimes find her for days together silent and
restless and given up to melancholy, and could not understand how she
could be unhappy. She had achieved her end: she was a great artist,
"Yes," she would say; "that would be all very well if I were one of
those famous actresses, with, no soul above shopkeeping, who run the
theater just as they would run any other business. They are quite happy
when they have 'realized' a good position, a commonplace, wealthy
marriage, and--the _ne plus ultra_--been decorated. I wanted more
than that. Unless one is a fool, success is even more empty than
failure. You must know that!"
"I know," said Christophe. "Ah! Dear God, that is not what I imagined
fame to be when I was a child. How I longed for it, and what a shining
thing it seemed to be! It was almost a religion to me then.... No
matter! There is one divine virtue in success: the good it gives one the
power to do."
"What good? One has conquered. But what's the good of it? Nothing is
altered. Theaters, concerts, everything is just the same. A new fashion
succeeds the old: that is all. They do not understand one, or only
superficially: and they begin to think of something else at once.... Do
you yourself understand other artists? In any case, they don't
understand you. The people you love best are so far away from you! Look
at your Tolstoy...."
Christophe had written to him: he had been filled with enthusiasm for
him, and had wept over his books: he wanted to set one of the peasant
tales to music, and had asked for his authority, and had sent him his
_lieder_. Tolstoy did not reply, any more than Goethe replied to
Schubert or Berlioz when they sent him their masterpieces. He had had
Christophe's music played to him, and it had irritated him: he could
make nothing of it. He regarded Beethoven as a decadent, and Shakespeare
as a charlatan. On the other hand, he was infatuated with various little
pretty-pretty masters, and the harpsichord music which used to charm the
_Roi-Perruque_: and he regarded _La Confession d'une Femme de
Chambre_ as a Christian book....
"Great men have no need of us," said Christophe. "We must think of the
"Who? The dull public, the shadows who hide life from us? Act, write for
such people? Give your life for them? That would be bitter indeed!"
"Bah!" said Christophe. "I see them as they are just as you do: but I
don't let it make me despondent. They are not as bad as you say."
"Dear old German optimist!"
"They are men, like myself. Why should they not understand me?...--And
suppose they don't understand me, why should I despair? Among all the
thousands of people there will surely be one or two who will be with me:
that is enough for me, and gives me window enough to breathe the outer
air.... Think of all the simple playgoers, the young people, the old
honest souls, who are lifted out of their tedious everyday life by your
appearance, your voice, your revelation of tragic beauty. Think of what
you were yourself when you were a child! Isn't it a fine thing to give
to others--perhaps even only to one other--the happiness that others
gave you, and to do to them the good that others did to you?"
"Do you really believe that there is one such in the world? I have come
to doubt it.... Besides, what sort of love do we get from the best of
those who love us? How do they see us? They see so badly! They admire
you while they degrade you: they get just as much pleasure out of
watching any old stager act: they drag you down to the level of the
idiots you despise. In their eyes all successful people are exactly the
"And yet, when all is told, it is the greatest of all who go down to
posterity with the greatest."
"It is only the backward movement of time. Mountains grow taller the
farther you go away from them. You see their height better: but you are
farther away from them.... And besides, who is to tell us who are the
greatest? What do you know of the men who have disappeared?"
"Nonsense!" said Christophe. "Even if nobody were to feel what I think
and what I am, I think my thoughts and I am what I am just the same. I
have my music, I love it, I believe in it: it is the truest thing in my
"You are free in your art,--you can do what you like. But what can I do?
I am forced to act in the plays they give me, and go on acting until I
am sick of it. We are not yet, in France, such beasts of burden as those
American actors who play _Rip_ or _Robert Macaire_ ten thousand times, and
for twenty-five years of their lives go on grinding out and grinding out
an idiotic part. But we are on the road to it. Our theaters are so
poverty-stricken! The public will only stand genius in infinitesimal
doses, sprinkled with mannerisms and fashionable literature.... A
'fashionable genius'! Doesn't that make you laugh?... What waste of power!
Look at what they have made of a Mounet. What has he had to play the whole
of his life? Two or three parts that are worth the struggle for life: the
_Oedipus_ and _Polyeucte_. The rest has been rot! Isn't that enough to
disgust one? And just think of all the great and glorious things he might
have had to do!... Things are no better outside France? What have they
made of a Duse? What has her life been given up to? Think of the futile
parts she has played?"
"Your real task," said Christophe, "is to force great works of art on
"We should exhaust ourselves in a vain endeavor. It isn't worth it. As
soon as a great work of art is brought into the theater it loses its
great poetic quality. It becomes a hollow sham. The breath of the public
sullies it. The public consists of people living in stifling towns and
they have lost all knowledge of the open air, and Nature, and healthy
poetry: they must have their poetry theatrical, glittering, painted,
reeking.--Ah! And besides ... besides, even suppose one did succeed ...
no, that would not fill one's life, it would not fill my life...."
"You are still thinking of him."
"You know. That man."
"Even if you could have him and he loved you, confess that you would not
be happy even then: you would still find some means of tormenting
"True.... Ah! What is the matter with me?... I think I have had too hard
a fight. I have fretted too much: I can't ever be calm again: there is
always an uneasiness in me, a sort of fever...."
"It must have been in you even before your struggles."
"Possibly. Yes. It was in me when I was a little girl, as far back as I
can remember.... It was devouring me then."
"What do you want?"
"How do I know? More than I can have."
"I know that," said Christophe. "I was like that when I was a boy."
"Yes, but you have become a man. I shall never be grown-up as long as I
live. I am an incomplete creature."
"No one is complete. Happiness lies in knowing one's limitations and
"I can't do that. I've lost it. Life has cheated me, tricked me,
crippled me. And yet I fancy that I could never have been a normal and
healthy and beautiful woman without being like the rest of the gang."
"There's no reason why you shouldn't be all these things. I can see you
being like that!"
"Tell me how you can see me."
He described her, in conditions under which she might have developed
naturally and harmoniously, and been happy, loved, and loving. And it
did her good to hear it. But when he had done, she said:
"No. It is impossible now."
"Well," he said, "in that case you must say to yourself, like dear old
Handel when he went blind:
[Illustration: Musical notation with caption: _What ever is, is right."_]
He went to the piano and sang it for her. She kissed him and called him
her dear, crazy optimist. He did her good. But she did him harm: or at
least, she was afraid of him. She had violent fits of despair, and could
not conceal them from him: her love made her weak. At night she would
try to choke down her agony, he would guess, and beg the beloved
creature who was so near and yet so far, to share with him the burden
which lay so heavy on her: then she could not hold out any longer, and
she would turn weeping to his arms; and he would spend hours in
comforting her, kindly, without a spark of anger: but in the long-run
her perpetual restlessness was bound to tell on him. Francoise trembled
lest the fever that was in her should infect him. She loved him too much
to be able to bear the idea that he should suffer because of her. She
was offered an engagement in America, and she accepted it, so as to tear
herself away from him. She left him a little humiliated. She was as
humiliated as he, in the knowledge that they could not make each other
"My poor dear," she said to him, smiling sadly and tenderly. "Aren't we
stupid? We shall never have such a friendship again, never such a
glorious opportunity. But it can't be helped, it can't be helped. We are
They looked at each other mournfully and shamefacedly. They laughed to
keep themselves from weeping, kissed, and parted with tears in their
eyes. Never had they loved so well as when they parted.
And after she was gone he returned to art, his old companion.... Oh, the
peace of the starry sky!
It was not long before Christophe received a letter from Jacqueline. It
was only the third time she had written to him, and her tone was very
different from that to which she had accustomed him. She told him how
sorry she was not to have seen him for so long, and very nicely invited
him to come and see her, unless he wished to hurt two friends who loved
him. Christophe was delighted, but not greatly surprised. He had been
inclined to think that Jacqueline's unjust disposition towards him would
not last. He was fond of quoting a jest of his old grandfather's:
"Sooner or later women have their good moments: one only needs the
patience to wait for them."
He went to see Olivier, and was welcomed with delight. Jacqueline was
most attentive to him: she avoided the ironical manner which was natural
to her, took care not to say anything that might hurt Christophe, showed
great interest in what he was doing, and talked intelligently about
serious subjects. Christophe thought her transformed. But she was only
so to please him. Jacqueline had heard of Christophe's affair with the
popular actress, the tale of which had gone the rounds of Parisian
gossip: and Christophe had appeared to her in an altogether new light:
she was filled with curiosity about him. When she met him again she
found him much more sympathetic. Even his faults seemed to her to be not
without attraction. She realized that Christophe had genius, and that it
would be worth while to make him love her.
The position between the young couple was no better, but rather worse.
Jacqueline was bored, bored, bored: she was bored to death.... How
utterly lonely a woman is! Except children, nothing can hold her: and
children are not enough to hold her forever: for when she is really a
woman, and not merely a female, when she has a rich soul and an
abounding vitality, she is made for so many things which she cannot
accomplish alone and with none to help her!... A man is much less
lonely, even when he is most alone: he can people the desert with his
own thoughts: and when he is lonely in married life he can more easily
put up with it, for he notices it less, and can always live in the
soliloquy of his own thoughts. And it never occurs to him that the sound
of his voice going on imperturbably babbling in the desert, makes the
silence more terrible and the desert more frightful for the woman by his
side, for whom all words are dead that are not kindled by love. He does
not see it: he has not, like the woman, staked his whole life on love:
his life has other occupations.... What man is there can fill the life
of a woman and satisfy her immense desire, the millions of ardent and
generous forces that, through the forty thousand years of the life of
humanity, have burned to no purpose, as a holocaust offered up to two
idols: passing love and motherhood, that sublime fraud, which is refused
to thousands of women and never fills more than a few years in the lives
of the rest?
Jacqueline was in despair. She had moments of terror that cut through
her like swords. She thought:
"Why am I alive? Why was I ever born?" And her heart would ache and
throb in agony.
"My God, I am going to die! My God, I am going to die!"
That idea haunted her, obsessed her through the night. She used to dream
that she was saying:
"It is 1889."
"No," the answer would come. "It is 1909." And the thought that she was
twenty years older than she imagined would make her wretched.
"It will all be over, and I have never lived! What have I done with
these twenty years? What have I made of my life?"
She would dream that she was _four_ little girls, all four lying in
the same room in different beds. They were all of the same figure and
the same face: but one was eight, one was fifteen, one was twenty, and
the fourth was thirty. There was an epidemic. Three of them had died.
The fourth looked at herself in the mirror, and she was filled with
terror: she saw herself with the skin drawn tight over her nose, and her
features pinched and withered... she was going to die too--and then it
would be all over....
"... What have I done with my life?..." She would wake up in tears; and
the nightmare would not vanish with the day: the nightmare was real.
What had she done with her life? Who had robbed her of it?... She would
begin to hate Olivier, the innocent accomplice--(innocent! What did it
matter if the harm done was the same!)--of the blind law which was
crushing her. She would be sorry for it at once, for she was kind of
heart: but she was suffering too much: and she could not help wreaking
her vengeance on the man who was bound to her and was stifling her life,
by making him suffer more than he was indeed suffering. Then she would
be more sorry than ever: she would loathe herself and feel that if she
did not find some way of escape she would do things even more evil. She
groped blindly about to find some way of escape: she clutched at
everything like a drowning woman: she tried to take an interest in
something, work, or another human being, that might be in some sort her
own, her work, a creature belonging to herself. She tried to take up
some intellectual work, and learned foreign languages: she began an
article, a story: she began to paint, to compose.... In vain: she grew
tired of everything, and lost heart the very first day. They were too
difficult. And then, "books, works of art! What are they? I don't know
whether I love them, I don't even know whether they
exist...."--Sometimes she would talk excitedly and laugh with Olivier,
and seem to be keenly interested in the things they talked about, or in
what he was doing: she would try to bemuse and benumb herself.... In
vain: suddenly her excitement would collapse, her heart would go icy
cold, she would hide away, with never a tear, hardly a breath, utterly
prostrate.--She had in some measure succeeded in destroying Olivier. He
was growing skeptical and worldly. She did not mind: she found him as
weak as herself. Almost every evening they used to go out: and she would
go in an agony of suffering and boredom from one fine house to another,
and no one would ever guess the feeling that lay behind the irony of her