Part 3 out of 10
unchanging smile. She was seeking for some one to love her and keep her
back from the edge of the abyss.... In vain, in vain, in vain. There was
nothing but silence in answer to her cry of despair.
She did not love Christophe: she could not bear his rough manner, his
painful frankness, and, above all, his indifference. She did not love
him: but she had a feeling that he at least was strong,--a rock towering
above death. And she tried to clutch hold of the rock, to cling to the
swimmer whose head rose above the waves, to cling to him or to drown
Besides, it was not enough for her to have cut her husband off from his
friends: now she was driven on to take them from him. Even the best of
women sometimes have an instinct which impels them to try and see how
far their power goes, and to go beyond it. In that abuse of their power
their weakness proves its strength. And when the woman is selfish and
vain she finds a malign pleasure in robbing her husband of the
friendship of his friends. It is easily done: she has but to use her
eyes a little. There is hardly a single man, honorable or otherwise, who
is not weak enough to nibble at the bait. Though the friend be never so
true and loyal, he may avoid the act, but he will almost always betray
his friend in thought. And if the other man sees it, there is an end of
their friendship: they no longer see each other with the same eyes.--The
woman who plays such a dangerous game generally stops at that and asks
no more: she has them both, disunited, at her mercy.
Christophe observed Jacqueline's new graces and charming treatment of
himself, but he was not surprised. When he had an affection for any one
he had a naive way of taking it as a matter of course that the affection
should be returned without any ulterior thought. He responded gladly to
Jacqueline's advances; he thought her charming, and amused himself
thoroughly with her: and he thought so well of her that he was not far
from thinking Olivier rather a bungler not to be able to be happy with
her and to make her happy.
He went with them for a few days' tour in a motor-car: and he was their
guest at the Langeais' country house in Burgundy--an old family mansion
which was kept because of its associations, though they hardly ever went
there. It was in a lovely situation, in the midst of vineyards and
woods: it was very shabby inside, and the windows were loose in their
frames: there was a moldy smell in it, a smell of ripe fruit, of cold
shadow, and resinous trees warmed by the sun. Living constantly in
Jacqueline's company for days together, a sweet insidious feeling crept
into Christophe's veins, without in the least disturbing his peace of
mind: he took an innocent, though by no means immaterial, delight in
seeing her, hearing her, feeling the contact of her beautiful body, and
sipping the breath of her mouth. Olivier was a little anxious and
uneasy, but said nothing. He suspected nothing: but he was oppressed by
a vague uneasiness which he would have been ashamed to admit to himself:
by way of punishing himself for it he frequently left them alone
together. Jacqueline saw what he was thinking, and was touched by it:
she longed to say to him:
"Come, don't be anxious, my dear. I still love you the best."
But she did not say it: and they all three went on drifting: Christophe
entirely unconscious, Jacqueline not knowing what she really wanted, and
leaving it to chance to tell her, and Olivier alone seeing and feeling
what was in the wind, but in the delicacy of vanity and love, refusing
to think of it. When the will is silent, instinct speaks: in the absence
of the soul, the body goes its own way.
One evening, after dinner, the night seemed to them so lovely--a
moonless, starry night,--that they proposed to go for a walk in the
garden. Olivier and Christophe left the house. Jacqueline went up to her
room to fetch a shawl. She did not come down. Christophe went to look
for her, fuming at the eternal dilatoriness of woman.--(For some time
without knowing it he had slipped into playing the part of the
husband.)--He heard her coming. The shutters of her room were closed and
he could not see.
"Come along, you dilly-dallying madam," cried Christophe gaily. "You'll
wear your mirror out if you look at yourself so much."
She did not reply. She had stopped still. Christophe felt that she was
in the room: but she did not stir.
"Where are you?" he said.
She did not reply. Christophe said nothing either, and began groping in
the dark, and suddenly his heart grew big and began to thump, and he
stood still. Near him he could hear Jacqueline breathing lightly. He
moved again and stopped once more. She was near him: he knew it, but he
could not move. There was silence for a second or two. Suddenly he felt
her hands on his, her lips on his. He held her close. They stood still
and spoke no word.--Their lips parted; they wrenched away from each
other. Jacqueline left the room. Christophe followed her, trembling. His
legs shook beneath him. He stopped for a moment to lean against the wall
until the tumult in his blood died down. At last he joined them again.
Jacqueline was calmly talking to Olivier. They walked on a few yards in
front. Christophe followed them in a state of collapse. Olivier stopped
to wait for him. Christophe stopped too. Olivier, knowing his friend's
temper and the capricious silence in which he would sometimes bar
himself, did not persist, and went on walking with Jacqueline. And
Christophe followed them mechanically, lagging ten yards behind them
like a dog. When they stopped, he stopped. When they walked on, he
walked on. And so they went round the garden and back into the house.
Christophe went up to his room and shut himself in. He did not light the
lamp. He did not go to bed. He could not think. About the middle of the
night he fell asleep, sitting, with his head resting in his arms on the
table. He woke up an hour later. He lit a candle, feverishly flung
together his papers and belongings, packed his bag, and then flung
himself on the bed and slept until dawn. Then he went down with his
luggage and left the house. They waited for him all morning, and spent
the day looking for him. Jacqueline hid her furious anger beneath a mask
of indifference, and sarcastically pretended to go over her plate. It
was not until the following evening that Olivier received a letter from
"_My dear Old Fellow_,
"_Don't lie angry with me for having gone away like a madman.
I am mad, you know. But what can I do? I am what I am. Thanks
for your dear hospitality. I enjoyed it much. But, you know, I
am not fit to live with other people. I'm not so sure either
that I am fit to live. I am only fit to stay in my corner and
love people--at a distance: it is wiser so. When I see them at
too close quarters, I become misanthropic. And I don't want to
be that. I want to love men and women, I want to love you all.
Oh! How I long to help you all! If I could only help you to
be--to be happy! How gladly would I give all the happiness I may
have in exchange!... But that is forbidden. One can only show
others the way. One cannot go their way in their stead. Each of
us must save himself. Save yourself! Save yourselves! I love
"_My respects to Madame Jeannin_."
"Madame Jeannin" read the letter with a smile of contempt and her lips
tightly pressed together, and said dryly:
"Well. Follow his advice. Save yourself."
But when Olivier held out his hand for the letter, Jacqueline crumpled
it up and flung it down, and two great tears welled up into her eyes.
Olivier took her hands.
"What's the matter?" he asked, with some emotion.
"Let me be!" she cried angrily.
She went out. As she reached the door she cried:
Christophe had contrived to make enemies of his patrons of the _Grand
Journal_, as was only likely. Christophe had been endowed by Heaven
with the virtue extolled by Goethe: _non-gratitude_.
_"The horror of showing gratitude,"_ wrote Goethe ironically, _"is rare,
and only appears in remarkable men who have risen from the poorest class,
and at every turn have been forced to accept assistance, which is almost
invariably poisoned by the churlishness of the benefactor...."_
Christophe was never disposed to think himself obliged to abase himself
in return for service rendered, nor--what amounted to the same thing--to
surrender his liberty. He did not lend his own benefactions at so much
per cent.: he gave them. His benefactors, however, were of a very
different way of thinking. Their lofty moral feeling of the duties of
their debtors was shocked by Christophe's refusal to write the music for
a stupid hymn for an advertising festivity organized by the paper. They
made him feel the impropriety of his conduct. Christophe sent them
packing. And finally he exasperated them by the flat denial which he
gave shortly afterwards to certain statements attributed to him by the
Then they began a campaign against him. They used every possible weapon.
They dragged out once more the old pettifogging engine of war which has
always served the impotent against creative men, and, though it has
never killed anybody, yet it never fails to have an effect upon the
simple-minded and the fools: they accused him of plagiarism. They went
and picked out artfully selected and distorted passages from his
compositions and from those of various obscure musicians, and they
proved that he had stolen his inspiration from others. He was accused of
having tried to stifle various young artists. It would have been well
enough if he had only had to deal with those whose business it is to
bark, with those critics, those mannikins, who climb on the shoulders of
a great man and cry;
"I am greater than you!"
But no: men of talent must be wrangling among themselves: each man does
his best to make himself intolerable to his colleagues: and yet, as
Christophe said, the world was large enough for all of them to be able
to work in peace: and each of them in his own talent had quite enough to
In Germany he found artists so jealous of him that they were ready to
furnish his enemies with weapons against him, and even, if need be, to
invent them. He found the same thing in France. The nationalists of the
musical press--several of whom were foreigners,--flung his nationality
in his teeth as an insult. Christophe's success had grown widely; and as
he had a certain vogue, they pretended that his exaggeration must
irritate even those who had no definite views--much more those who had.
Among the concert-going public, and among people in society and the
writers on the young reviews, Christophe by this time had enthusiastic
partisans, who went into ecstasies over everything he did, and were wont
to declare that music did not exist before his advent. Some of them
explained his music and found philosophic meanings in it which simply
astounded him. Others would see in it a musical revolution, an assault
on the traditions which Christophe respected more than anybody. It was
useless for him to protest. They would have proved to him that he did
not know what he had written. They admired themselves by admiring him.
And so the campaign against Christophe met with great sympathy among his
colleagues, who were exasperated by the "log-rolling" to which he was no
party. They did not need to rely on such reasons for not liking his
music: most of them felt with regard to it the natural irritation of the
man who has no ideas and no difficulty in expressing them according to
parrot-like formula, with the man who is full of ideas and employs them
clumsily in accordance with the apparent disorder of his creative
faculty. How often he had had to face the reproach of not being able to
write hurled at him by scribes, for whom style consisted in recipes
concocted by groups or schools, kitchen molds into which thought was
cast! Christophe's best friends, those who did not try to understand
him, and were alone in understanding him, because they loved him,
simply, for the pleasure he gave them, were obscure auditors who had no
voice in the matter. The only man who could have replied vigorously in
Christophe's name--Olivier--was at that time out of friends with him,
and had apparently forgotten him. Thus Christophe was delivered into the
hands of his adversaries and admirers, who vied with each other in doing
him harm. He was too disgusted to reply. When he read the
pronunciamentos directed against him in the pages of an important
newspaper by one of those presumptuous critics who usurp the sovereignty
of art with all the insolence of ignorance and impunity, he would shrug
his shoulders and say:
"Judge me. I judge you. Let us meet in a hundred years!"
But meanwhile the outcry against him took its course: and the public, as
usual, gulped down the most fatuous and shameful accusations.
As though his position was not already difficult enough, Christophe
chose that moment to quarrel with his publisher. He had no reason at all
to complain of Hecht, who published each new work as it was written, and
was honest in business. It is true that his honesty did not prevent his
making contracts disadvantageous to Christophe: but he kept his
contracts. He kept them only too well. One day Christophe was amazed to
see a septette of his arranged as a quartette, and a suite of piano
pieces clumsily transcribed as a duet, without his having been
consulted. He rushed to Heeht's office and thrust the offending music
under his nose, and said:
"Do you know these?"
"Of course," said Hecht.
"And you dared ... you dared tamper with my work without asking my
"What permission?" said Hecht calmly. "Your compositions are mine."
"Mine, too, I suppose?"
"No," said Hecht quietly.
"My own work does not belong to me?"
"They are not yours any longer. You sold them to me."
"You're making fun of me! I sold you the paper. Make money out of that
if you like. But what is written on it is my life-blood; it is mine."
"You sold me everything. In exchange for these particular pieces, I gave
you a sum of three hundred francs in advance of a royalty of thirty
centimes on every copy sold of the original edition. Upon that
consideration, without any restriction or reserve, you have assigned to
me all your rights in your work."
"Even the right to destroy it?"
Hecht shrugged his shoulders, rang the bell, and said to a clerk.
"Bring me M. Kraff's account."
He gravely read Christophe the terms of the contract, which he had
signed without reading--from which it appeared, in accordance with the
ordinary run of contracts signed by music publishers in those very
distant times--"that M. Hecht was the assignee of all the rights,
powers, and property of the author, and had the exclusive right to edit,
publish, engrave, print, translate, hire, sell to his own profit, in any
form he pleased, to have the said work performed at concerts,
cafe-concerts, balls, theaters, etc., and to publish any arrangement of
the said work for any instrument and even with words, and also to change
the title ... etc., etc."
"You see," he said, "I am really very moderate."
"Evidently," said Christophe. "I ought to thank you. You might have
turned my septette into a cafe-concert song."
He stopped in horror and held his head in his hands.
"I have sold my soul," he said over and over again.
"You may be sure," said Hecht sarcastically, "that I shall not abuse
"And to think," said Christophe, "that your Republic authorizes such
practices! You say that man is free. And you put ideas up to public
"You have had your money," said Hecht.
"Thirty pieces of silver. Yes," said Christophe. "Take them back."
He fumbled in his pockets, meaning to give the three hundred francs back
to Hecht. But he had nothing like that sum. Hecht smiled a little
disdainfully. His smile infuriated Christophe.
"I want my work back," he said. "I will buy them back from you."
"You have no right to do so," said Hecht. "But as I have no desire to
keep a man against his will, I am quite ready to give them back to
you,--if you are in a position to pay the indemnity stated in the
"I will do it," said Christophe, "even if I have to sell myself."
He accepted without discussion the conditions which Hecht submitted to
him a fortnight later. It was an amazing act of folly, and he bought
back his published compositions at a price five times greater than the
sum they had brought him in, though it was by no means exorbitant: for
it was scrupulously calculated on the basis of the actual profits which
had accrued to Hecht. Christophe could not pay, and Hecht had counted on
it. He had no intention of squeezing Christophe, of whom he thought more
highly, both as a musician and as a man, than of any other young
musician: but he wanted to teach him a lesson: for he could not permit
his clients to revolt against what was after all within his rights. He
had not made the laws: they were those of the time, and they seemed to
him equitable. Besides, he was quite sincerely convinced that they were
to the benefit of the author as much as to the benefit of the publisher,
who knows better than the author how to circulate his work, and is not,
like the author, hindered by scruples of a sentimental, respectable
order, which are contrary to his real interests. He had made up his mind
to help Christophe to succeed, but in his own way, and on condition that
Christophe was delivered into his hands, tied hand and foot. He wanted
to make him feel that he could not so easily dispense with his services.
They made a conditional bargain: if, at the end of six months,
Christophe could not manage to pay, his work should become Hecht's
absolute property. It was perfectly obvious that Christophe would not be
able to collect a quarter of the sum requisite.
However, he stuck to it, said good-by to the rooms which were so full of
memories for him, and took a less expensive flat,--selling a number of
things, none of which, to his great surprise, were of any
value,--getting into debt, and appealing to Mooch's good nature, who,
unfortunately, was at that time very badly off and ill, being confined
to the house with rheumatism,--trying to find another publisher, and
everywhere finding conditions as grasping as Hecht's, and in some cases
a point-blank refusal.
It was just at the time when the attack on him in the musical press was
at its height. One of the leading Parisian papers was especially
implacable: he was like a red rag to a bull to one of the staff who did
not sign his name; not a week passed but there appeared in the column
headed _Echos_ a spiteful paragraph ridiculing him. The musical
critic completed the work of his anonymous colleague: the very smallest
pretext served him as an opportunity of expressing his animosity. But
that was only the preliminary skirmishing: he promised to return to the
subject and deal with it at leisure, and to proceed in due course to
execution. They were in no hurry, knowing that a definite accusation has
nothing like the same effect on the public as a succession of
insinuations repeated persistently. They played with Christophe like a
cat with a mouse. The articles were all sent to Christophe, and he
despised them, though they made him suffer for all that. However, he
said nothing: and, instead of replying--(could he have done so, even if
he had wanted to?)--he persisted in the futile and unequal fight with
his publisher, provoked by his own vanity. He wasted his time, his
strength, his money, and his only weapons, since in the lightness of his
heart he was rash enough to deprive himself of the publicity which his
music gained through Hecht.
Suddenly there was a complete change. The article announced in the paper
never appeared. The insinuations against him were dropped. The campaign
stopped short. More than that: a few weeks later, the critic of the
paper published incidentally a few eulogistic remarks which seemed to
indicate that peace was made. A great publisher at Leipzig wrote to
Christophe offering to publish his work, and the contract was signed on
terms very advantageous to him. A flattering letter, bearing the seal of
the Austrian Embassy, informed Christophe that it was desired to place
certain of his compositions on the programs of the galas given at the
Embassy. Philomela, whom Christophe was pushing forward, was asked to
sing at one of the galas: and, immediately afterwards, she was in great
demand in the best houses of the German and Italian colonies in Paris.
Christophe himself, who could not get out of going to one of the
concerts, was very well received by the Ambassador. However, a very
short conversation showed him that his host, who knew very little about
music, was absolutely ignorant of his work. How, then, did this sudden
interest come about? An invisible hand seemed to be protecting him,
removing obstacles, and making the way smooth for him. Christophe made
inquiries. The Ambassador alluded to friends of Christophe--Count and
Countess Bereny, who were very fond of him. Christophe did not even know
their name: and on the night of his visit to the Embassy he had no
opportunity of being introduced to them. He did not make any effort to
meet them. He was passing through a period of disgust with men, in which
he set as little store by his friends as by his enemies: friends and
enemies were equally uncertain: they changed with the wind: he would
have to learn how to do without them, and say, like the old fellow of
the seventeenth century:
"_God gave me friends: He took them from me. They have left me. I will
leave them and say no more about it_."
Since the day when he left Olivier's house, Olivier had given no sign of
life: all seemed over between them. Christophe had no mind to form new
friendships. He imagined Count and Countess Bereny to be like the rest
of the snobs who called themselves his friends: and he made no attempt
to meet them. He was more inclined to avoid them. He longed to be able
to escape from Paris. He felt an urgent desire to take refuge for a few
weeks in soothing solitude. If only he could have a few days, only a few
days, to refresh himself in his native country! Little by little that
idea became a morbid obsession. He wanted once more to see his dear
river, his own native sky, the land of his dead kinsfolk. He felt that
he must see them. He could not without endangering his freedom: he was
still subject to the warrant of arrest issued against him at the time of
his flight from Germany. But he felt that he was prepared to go to any
lengths if he could return, though it were only for one day.
As good luck would have it, he spoke of his longing to one of his new
patrons. A young attache of the German Embassy, whom he met at an At
Home where he was playing, happened to say to him that his country was
proud of so fine a musician as himself, to which Christophe replied
"Our country is so proud of me that she lets me die on her doorstep
rather than open to me."
The young diplomatist asked him to explain the situation, and, a few
days later, he came to see Christophe, and said:
"People in high places are interested in you. A very great personage who
alone has the power to suspend the consequence of the sentence which is
the cause of your wretchedness has been informed of your position: and
he deigns to be touched by it. I don't know how it is that your music
can have given him any pleasure: for--(between ourselves)--his taste is
not very good: but he is intelligent, and he has a generous heart.
Though he cannot, for the moment, remove the sentence passed upon you,
the police are willing to shut their eyes, if you care to spend
forty-eight hours in your native town to see your family once more. Here
is a passport. You must have it endorsed when you arrive and when you
leave. Be wary, and do not attract attention to yourself."
Once more Christophe saw his native land. He spent the two days which
had been granted him in communion with the earth and those who were
beneath it. He visited his mother's grave. The grass was growing over
it: but flowers had lately been laid on it. His father and grandfather
slept side by side. He sat at their feet. Their grave lay beneath the
wall of the cemetery. It was shaded by a chestnut-tree growing in the
sunken road on the other side of the low wall, over which he could see
the golden crops, softly waving in the warm wind: the sun was shining in
his majesty over the drowsy earth: he could hear the cry of the quails
in the corn, and the soft murmuring of the cypress-trees above the
graves. Christophe was alone with his dreams. His heart was at peace. He
sat there with his hands clasping his knees, and his back against the
wall, gazing up at the sky. He closed his eyes for a moment. How simple
everything was! He felt at home here with his own people. He stayed
there near them, as it were hand in hand. The hours slipped by. Towards
evening he heard footsteps scrunching on the gravel paths. The custodian
passed by and looked at Christophe sitting there. Christophe asked him
who had laid the flowers on the grave. The man answered that the
farmer's wife from Buir came once or twice a year.
"Lorchen?" said Christophe.
They began to talk.
"You are her son?" said the man.
"She had three," said Christophe.
"I mean the one at Hamburg. The other two turned out badly."
Christophe sat still with his head thrown back a little, and said
nothing. The sun was setting.
"I'm going to lock up," said the custodian.
Christophe got up and walked slowly round the cemetery with him. The
custodian did the honors of the place. Christophe stopped every now and
then to read the names carved on the gravestones. How many of those he
knew were of that company! Old Euler,--his son-in-law,--and farther off,
the comrades of his childhood, little girls with whom he had played,
--and there, a name which stirred his heart: Ada.... Peace be with all of
The fiery rays of the setting sun put a girdle round the calm horizon.
Christophe left the cemetery. He went for a long walk through the
fields. The stars were peeping....
Next day he came again, and once more spent the afternoon at his vigil.
But the fair silent calm of the day before was broken and thrilling with
life. His heart sang a careless, happy hymn. He sat on the curb of the
grave, and set down the song he heard in pencil in a notebook resting on
his knees. So the day passed. It seemed to him that he was working in
his old little room, and that his mother was there on the other side of
the partition. When he had finished and was ready to go--he had moved a
little away from the grave,--he changed his mind and returned, and
buried the notebook in the grass under the ivy. A few drops of rain were
beginning to fall. Christophe thought:
"It will soon be blotted out. So much the better!... For you alone. For
And he went to see the river once more, and the familiar streets where
so many things were changed. By the gates of the town along the
promenade of the old fortifications a little wood of acacia-trees which
he had seen planted had overrun the place, and they were stifling the
old trees. As he passed along the wall surrounding the Von Kerichs'
garden, he recognized the post on which he used to climb when he was a
little boy, to look over into the grounds: and he was surprised to see
how small the tree, the wall, and the garden had become.
He stopped for a moment before the front gateway. He was going on when a
carriage passed him. Mechanically he raised his eyes: and they met those
of a young lady, fresh, plump, happy-looking, who stared at him with a
puzzled expression. She gave an exclamation of surprise. She ordered the
carriage to stop, and said:
She said laughingly:
He ran to her almost as nervous as he had been on the day when he first
met her. [Footnote: See "Jean-Christophe: Morning."]
She was with a tall, stout, bald gentleman, with mustachios brushed up
belligerently, whom she introduced as "Herr Reichsgerichtsrat von
Brombach"--her husband. She wanted Christophe to go home with her. He
tried to excuse himself. But Minna exclaimed:
"No, no. You must come; come and dine with us."
She spoke very loud and very quickly, and, without waiting to be asked,
began to tell him her whole life. Christophe was stupefied by her
volubility and the noise she made, and only heard half what she said,
and stood looking at her. So that was his little Minna. She looked
blooming, healthy, well-fed: she had a pretty skin and pink complexion,
but her features were rather coarse, and her nose in particular was
thick and heavy. Her gestures, manners, pretty little ways, were just
the same; but her size was greatly altered.
However, she never stopped talking: she told Christophe all the stories
of her past; her whole private history, and how she had come to love her
husband and her husband her. Christophe was embarrassed. She was an
uncritical optimist, who found everything belonging to herself perfect
and superior to other people's possessions--(at least, when she was with
other people)--her town, her house, her family, her husband, her
cooking, her four children, and herself. She said of her husband in his
presence that he was "the most splendid man she had even seen," and that
there was in him "a superhuman force." "The most splendid man" pinched
Minna's cheeks laughingly, and assured Christophe that she "was a very
It seemed that _Herr Reichsgerichtsrat_ was informed of
Christophe's position, and did not exactly know whether he ought to
treat him with or without respect, having regard on the one hand to the
warrant out against him, and on the other to the august protection which
shielded him: he solved the difficulty by affecting a compromise between
the two manners. As for Minna, she went on talking. When she had talked
her fill about herself to Christophe, she began to talk about him: she
battered him with questions as intimate as her answers had been to the
supposititious questions which he had never asked. She was delighted to
see Christophe again: she knew nothing about his music: but she knew
that he was famous: it flattered her to think that she had loved
him,--(and that she had rejected him).--She reminded him of it jokingly
without much delicacy. She asked him for his autograph for her album.
She pestered him with questions about Paris. She showed a mixture of
curiosity and contempt for that city. She pretended that she knew it,
having been to the Folies-Bergere, the Opera, Montmartre, and
Saint-Cloud. According to her, the women of Paris were all _cocottes_, bad
mothers, who had as few children as possible, and did not look after them,
and left them at home while they went to the theater or the haunts of
pleasant vice. She did not suffer contradiction. In the course of the
evening she asked Christophe to play the piano. She thought it charming.
But at bottom she admired her husband's playing just as much, for she
thought him as superior all round as she was herself.
Christophe had the pleasure of meeting Minna's mother once more, Frau
von Kerich. He still had a secret tenderness for her because she had
been kind to him. She had not lost any of her old kindness, and she was
more natural than Minna: but she still treated Christophe with that
ironical affection which used to irritate him in the old days. She had
stayed very much where he had left her: she liked the same things; and
it did not seem possible for her to admit that any one could do better
or differently: she set the Jean-Christophe of the old days against the
new Jean-Christophe, and preferred the former.
Of those about her no one had changed in mind save Christophe. The
rigidity of the little town, and its narrowness of outlook, were painful
to him. His hosts spent part of the evening in talking scandal about
people he did not know. They picked out the ridiculous points of their
neighbors, and they decreed everything ridiculous which was different
from themselves or their own way of doing things. Their malicious
curiosity, which was perpetually occupied with trifles, at last made
Christophe feel quite sick. He tried to talk about his life abroad. But
at once he became conscious of the impossibility of making them
understand French civilization which had made him suffer, and now became
dear to him when he stood for it in his own country--the free Latin
spirit, whose first law is understanding: to understand as much as possible
of life and mind, at the risk of cheapening moral codes. In his
hosts, especially in Minna, he found once more the arrogant spirit with
which he had come into such violent contact in the old days, though he
had almost forgotten it since,--the arrogance of weakness as much as of
virtue,--honesty without charity, pluming itself on its virtue, and
despising the weaknesses which it could not understand, a worship of the
conventional, and a shocked disdain of "irregular" higher things. Minna
was calmly and sententiously confident that she was always right. There
were no degrees in her judgment of others. For the rest, she never made
any attempt to understand them, and was only occupied with herself. Her
egoism was thinly coated with a blurred metaphysical tinge. She was
always talking of her "ego" and the development of her "ego." She may
have been a good woman, one capable of loving. But she loved herself too
much. And, above all, her respect for herself was too great. She seemed
to be perpetually saying a _Paternoster_ and an _Ave_ to her "ego." One
felt that she would have absolutely and forever ceased to love the man she
might have loved the best, if for a single instant he had failed--(even
though he were to regret it a thousand times when it was done)--to show a
due and proper respect for the dignity of her "ego."... Hang your "ego"!
Think a little of the second person singular!...
However, Christophe did not regard her severely. He who was ordinarily
so irritable listened to her chatter with the patience of an archangel.
He would not judge her. He surrounded her, as with a halo, with the
religious memory of his childish love, and he kept on trying to find in
her the image of his little Minna. It was not impossible to find her in
certain of her gestures: the quality of her voice had certain notes
which awoke echoes that moved him. He was absorbed in them, and said
nothing, and did not listen to what she was saying, though he seemed to
listen and always treated her with tender gentle respect. But he found
it hard to concentrate his thoughts: she made too much noise, and
prevented his hearing Minna. At last he got up, and thought a little
"Poor little Minna! They would like me to think that you are there, in
that comely, stout woman, shouting at the top of her voice, and boring
me to death. But I know that it is not so. Come away, Minna. What have
we to do with these people?"
He went away, giving them to understand that he would return on the
morrow. If he had said that he was going away that very night, they
would not have let him go until it was time to catch the train. He had
only gone a few yards in the darkness when he recovered the feeling of
well-being which he had had before he met the carriage. The memory of
his tiresome evening was wiped out as though a wet sponge had been over
it: nothing was left of it: it was all drowned in the voice of the
Rhine. He walked along its banks by the house where he was born. He had
no difficulty in recognizing it. The shutters were closed: all were
asleep in it. Christophe stopped in the middle of the road: and it
seemed to him that if he knocked at the door, familiar phantoms would
open to him. He went into the field round the house, near the river, and
came to the place where he used to go and talk to Gottfried in the
evening. He sat down. And the old days came to life again. And the dear
little girl who had sipped with him the dream of first love was conjured
up. Together they lived through their childish tenderness again, with
its sweet tears and infinite hopes. And he thought with a simple smile:
"Life has taught me nothing. All my knowledge is vain.... All my
knowledge is vain.... I have still the same old illusions."
How good it is to love and to believe unfailingly! Everything that is
touched by love is saved from death.
"Minna, you are with me,--with me, not with _the other_,--Minna,
you will never grow old!..."
The veiled moon darted from her clouds, and made the silver scales on
the river's back gleam in her light. Christophe had a vague feeling that
the river never used to pass near the knoll where he was sitting. He
went near it. Yes. Beyond the pear-tree there used to be a tongue of
sand, a little grassy slope, where he had often played. The river had
swept them away: the river was encroaching, lapping at the roots of the
pear-tree. Christophe felt a pang at his heart: he went back towards the
station. In that direction a new colony--mean houses, sheds half-built,
tall factory chimneys--was in course of construction. Christophe thought
of the acacia-wood he had seen in the afternoon, and he thought:
"There, too, the river is encroaching...."
The old town, lying asleep in the darkness, with all that it contained
of the living and the dead, became even more dear to him: for he felt
that a menace hung over it....
_Hostis habet muros...._
Quick, let us save our women and children! Death is lying in wait for
all that we love. Let us hasten to carve the passing face upon eternal
bronze. Let us snatch the treasure of our motherland before the flames
devour the palace of Priam.
Christophe scrambled into the train as it was going, like a man fleeing
before a flood. But, like those men who saved the gods of their city
from the wreck, Christophe bore away within his soul the spark of life
which had flown upwards from his native land, and the sacred spirit of
Jacqueline and Olivier had come together again for a time. Jacqueline
had lost her father, and his death had moved her deeply. In the presence
of real misfortune she had felt the wretched folly of her other sorrows:
and the tenderness which Olivier showed towards her had revived her
affection for him. She was taken back several years to the sad days
which had followed on the death of her Aunt Marthe--days which had been
followed by the blessed days of love. She told herself that she was
ungrateful to life, and that she ought to be thankful that the little it
had given her was not taken from her. She hugged that little to herself
now that its worth had been revealed to her. A short absence from Paris,
ordered by her doctor to distract her in her grief, travel with Olivier,
a sort of pilgrimage to the places where they had loved each other
during the first year of her marriage, softened her and filled her with
tenderness. In the sadness of seeing once more at the turn of the road
the dear face of the love which they thought was gone forever, of seeing
it pass and knowing that it would vanish once more,--for how long?
perhaps forever?--they clutched at it passionately and desperately....
"Stay, stay with us!"
But they knew that they must lose it....
When Jacqueline returned to Paris she felt a little new life, kindled by
love, thrilling in her veins. But love had gone already. The burden
which lay so heavy upon her did not bring her into sympathy with Olivier
again. She did not feel the joy she expected. She probed herself
uneasily. Often when she had been so tormented before she had thought
that the coming of a child might be her salvation. The child had come,
but it brought no salvation. She felt the human plant rooted in her
flesh growing, and sucking up her blood and her life. She would stay for
days together lost in thought, listening with vacant eyes, all her being
exhausted by the unknown creature that had taken possession of her. She
was conscious of a vague buzzing, sweet, lulling, agonizing. She would
start suddenly from her torpor--dripping with sweat, shivering, with a
spasm of revolt. She fought against the meshes in which Nature had
entrapped her. She wished to live, to live freely, and it seemed to her
that Nature had tricked her. Then she was ashamed of such thoughts, and
seemed monstrous in her own eyes, and asked herself if she were more
wicked than, or made differently from, other women. And little by little
she would grow calm again, browsing like a tree over the sap, and the
dream of the living fruit ripening in her womb. What was it? What was it
going to be?...
When she heard its first cry to the light, when she saw its pitiable
touching little body, her heart melted. In one dazzling moment she knew
the glorious joy of motherhood, the mightiest in all the world: in her
suffering to have created of her own flesh a living being, a man. And
the great wave of love which moves the universe, caught her whole body,
dashed her down, rushed over her, and lifted her up to the heavens.... O
God, the woman who creates is Thy equal: and thou knowest no joy like
unto hers: for thou hast not suffered....
Then the wave rolled back, and her soul dropped back into the depths.
Olivier, trembling with emotion, stooped over the child: and, smiling at
Jacqueline, he tried to understand what bond of mysterious life there
was between themselves and the wretched little creature that was as yet
hardly human. Tenderly, with a little feeling of disgust, he just
touched its little yellow wrinkled face with his lips. Jacqueline
watched him: jealously she pushed him away: she took the child and
hugged it to her breast, and covered it with kisses. The child cried and
she gave it back, and, with her face turned to the wall, she wept.
Olivier came to her and kissed her, and drank her tears: she kissed him
too, and forced herself to smile: then she asked to be left alone to
rest with the child by her side.... Alas! what is to be done when love
is dead? The man who gives more than half of himself up to intelligence
never loses a strong feeling without preserving a trace, an idea, of it
in his brain. He cannot love any more, but he cannot forget that he has
loved. But the woman who has loved wholly and without reason, and
without reason ceases wholly to love, what can she do? Will? Take refuge
in illusions? And what if she be too weak to will, too true to take
refuge in illusions?...
Jacqueline, lying on her side with her head propped up by her hand,
looked down at the child with tender pity. What was he? Whatever he was,
he was not entirely hers. He was also something of "the other." And she
no longer loved "the other." Poor child! Dear child! She was exasperated
with the little creature who was there to bind her to the dead past: and
she bent over him and kissed and kissed him....
It is the great misfortune of the women of to-day that they are too free
without being free enough. If they were more free, they would seek to
form ties, and would find charm and security in them. If they were less
free, they would resign themselves to ties which they would not know how
to break: and they would suffer less. But the worst state of all is to
have ties which do not bind, and duties from which it is possible to
If Jacqueline had believed that her little house was to be her lot for
the whole of her life, she would not have found it so inconvenient and
cramped, and she would have devised ways of making it comfortable: she
would have ended as she began, by loving it. But she knew that it was
possible to leave, it, and it stifled her. It was possible for her to
revolt, and at last she came to think it her duty to do so.
The present-day moralists are strange creatures. All their qualities
have atrophied to the profit of their faculties of observation. They
have given up trying to see life, hardly attempt to understand it, and
never by any chance WILL it. When they have observed and noted down the
facts of human nature, they seem to think their task is at an end, and
"That is a fact."
They make no attempt to change it. In their eyes, apparently, the mere
fact of existence is a moral virtue. Every sort of weakness seems to
have been inserted with a sort of Divine right. The world is growing
democratic. Formerly only the King was irresponsible. Nowadays all men,
preferably the basest, have that privilege. Admirable counselors! With
infinite pains and scrupulous care they set themselves to prove to the
weak exactly how weak they are, and that it has been decreed that they
should be so and not otherwise from all eternity. What can the weak do
but fold their arms? We may think ourselves lucky if they do not admire
themselves! By dint of hearing it said over and over again that she is a
sick child, a woman soon takes a pride in being so. It is encouraging
cowardice, and making it spread. If a man were to amuse himself by
telling children complacently that there is an age in adolescence when
the soul, not yet having found its balance, is capable of crimes, and
suicide, and the worst sort of physical and moral depravity, and were to
excuse these things--at once these offenses would spring into being. And
even with men it is quite enough to go on telling them that they are not
free to make them cease to be so and descend to the level of the beasts.
Tell a woman that she is a responsible being, and mistress of her body
and her will, and she will be so. But you moralists are cowards, and
take good care not to tell her so: for you have an interest in keeping
such knowledge from her!...
The unhappy surroundings in which Jacqueline found herself led her
astray. Since she had broken with Olivier she had returned to that
section of society which she despised when she was a girl. About her and
her friends, among married women, there gathered a little group of
wealthy young men and women, smart, idle, intelligent, and licentious.
They enjoyed absolute liberty of thought and speech, tempered only by
the seasoning of wit. They might well have taken for their motto the
device of the Rabelaisian abbey:
_"Do what thou wilt."_
But they bragged a little: for they did not will anything much: they
were like the enervated people of Thelema. They would complacently
profess the freedom of their instincts: but their instincts were faded
and faint; and their profligacy was chiefly cerebral. They delighted in
feeling themselves sink into the great piscina of civilization, that
warm mud-bath in which human energy, the primeval and vital forces,
primitive animalism, and its blossom of faith, will, duties, and
passions, are liquefied. Jacqueline's pretty body was steeped in that
bath of gelatinous thought. Olivier could do nothing to keep her from
it. Besides, he too was touched by the disease of the time: he thought
he had no right to tamper with the liberty of another human being: he
would not ask anything of the woman he loved that he could not gain
through love. And Jacqueline did not in the least resent his
non-interference, because she regarded her liberty as her right.
The worst of it was that she went into that amphibious section of
society with a wholeness of heart which made anything equivocal
repulsive to her: when she believed she gave herself: in the generous
ardor of her soul, even in her egoism, she always burned her boats; and,
as a result of living with Olivier, she had preserved a moral inability
to compromise, which she was apt to apply even in immorality.
Her new friends were too cautious to let others see them as they were.
In theory they paraded absolute liberty with regard to the prejudices of
morality and society, though in practice they so contrived their affairs
as not to fall out with any one whose acquaintance might be useful to
them: they used morality and society, while they betrayed them like
unfaithful servants, robbing their masters. They even robbed each other
for want of anything better to do, and as a matter of habit. There was
more than one of the men who knew that his wife had lovers. The wives
were not ignorant of the fact that their husbands had mistresses. They
both put up with it. Scandal only begins when one makes a noise about
these things. These charming marriages rested on a tacit understanding
between partners--between accomplices. But Jacqueline was more frank,
and played to win or lose. The first thing was to be sincere. Again, to
be sincere. Again and always, to be sincere. Sincerity was also one of
the virtues extolled by the ideas of that time. But herein it is proved
once again that everything is sound for the sound in heart, while
everything is corrupt for the corrupt. How hideous it is sometimes to be
sincere! It is a sin for mediocre people to try to look into the depths
of themselves. They see their mediocrity: and their vanity always finds
something to feed on.
Jacqueline spent her time in looking at herself in her mirror: she saw
things in it which it were better she had never seen: for when she saw
them she could not take her eyes off them: and instead of struggling
against them she watched them grow: they became enormous and in the end
captured her eyes and her mind.
The child was not enough to fill her life. She had not been able to
nurse it: the baby pined with her. She had to procure a wet nurse. It
was a great grief to her at first.... Soon it became a solace. The child
became splendidly healthy: he grew lustily, and became a fine little
fellow, gave no trouble, spent his time in sleeping, and hardly cried at
all at night. The nurse--a strapping Nivernaise who had fostered many
children, and always had a jealous and embarrassing animal affection for
each of them in turn--was like the real mother. Whenever Jacqueline
expressed an opinion, the woman went her own way: and if Jacqueline
tried to argue, in the end she always found that she knew nothing at all
about it. She had never really recovered from the birth of the child: a
slight attack of phlebitis had dragged her down, and as she had to lie
still for several weeks she worried and worried: she was feverish, and
her mind went on and on indefinitely beating out the same monotonous
"I have not lived, I have not lived: and now my life is finished...."
For her imagination was fired: she thought herself crippled for life:
and there rose in her a dumb, harsh, and bitter rancor, which she did
not confess to herself, against the innocent cause of her illness, the
child. The feeling is not so rare as is generally believed: but a veil
is drawn over it: and even those who feel it are ashamed to submit to it
in their inmost hearts. Jacqueline condemned herself: there was a sharp
conflict between her egoism and her mother's love. When she saw the
child sleeping so happily, she was filled with tenderness: but a moment
later she would think bitterly:
"He has killed me."
And she could not suppress a feeling of irritation and revolt against
the untroubled sleep of the creature whose happiness she had bought at
the price of her suffering. Even after she had recovered, when the child
was bigger, the feeling of hostility persisted dimly and obscurely. As
she was ashamed of it, she transferred it to Olivier. She went on
fancying herself ill: and her perpetual care of her health, her
anxieties, which were bolstered up by the doctors, who encouraged the
idleness which was the prime cause of it all,--(separation from the
child, forced inactivity, absolute isolation, weeks of emptiness spent
in lying in bed and being stuffed with food, like a beast being fatted
for slaughter),--had ended by concentrating all her thoughts upon,
herself. The modern way of curing neurasthenia is very strange, being
neither more nor less than the substitution of hypertrophy of the ego
for a disease of the ego! Why not bleed their egoism, or restore the
circulation of the blood from head to heart, if they do not have too
much, by some violent, moral reagent!
Jacqueline came out of it physically stronger, plumper, and
rejuvenated,--but morally she was more ill than ever. Her months of
isolation had broken the last ties of thought which bound her to
Olivier. While she lived with him she was still under the ascendancy of
his idealism, for, in spite of all his failings, he remained constant to
his faith: she struggled in vain against the bondage in which she was
held by a mind more steadfast than her own, against the look which
pierced to her very soul, and forced her sometimes to condemn herself,
however loath she might be to do so. But as soon as chance had separated
her from her husband--as soon as she ceased to feel the weight of his
all-seeing love--as soon as she was free--the trusting friendship that
used to exist between them was supplanted by a feeling of anger at
having broken free, a sort of hatred born of the idea that she had for
so long lived beneath the yoke of an affection which she no longer
felt.--Who can tell the hidden, implacable, bitter feelings that seethe
and ferment in the heart of a creature he loves, by whom he believes
that he is loved? Between one day and the next, all is changed. She
loved the day before, she seemed to love, she thought she loved. She
loves no longer. The man she loved is struck out from her thoughts. She
sees suddenly that he is nothing to her: and he does not understand: he
has seen nothing of the long travail through which she has passed: he
has had no suspicion of the secret hostility towards himself that has
been gathering in her: he does not wish to know the reasons for her
vengeful hatred. Reasons often remote, complex, and obscure,--some
hidden deep in the mysteries of their inmost life,--others arising from
injured vanity, secrets of the heart surprised and judged,--others....
What does she know of them herself? It is some hidden offense committed
against her unwittingly, an offense which she will never forgive. It is
impossible to find out, and she herself is not very sure what it is: but
the offense is marked deep in her flesh: her flesh will never forget it.
To fight against such an appalling stream of disaffection called for a
very different type of man from Olivier--one nearer nature, a simpler
man and a more supple one not hampered with sentimental scruples, a man
of strong instincts, capable, if need be, of actions which his reason
would disavow. He lost the fight before ever it began, for he had lost
heart: his perception was too clear, and he had long since recognized in
Jacqueline a form of heredity which was stronger than her will, her
mother's soul reappearing in her: he saw her falling like a stone down
to the depths of the stock from which she sprang: and his weak and
clumsy efforts to stay her only accelerated her downfall. He forced
himself to be calm. She, from an unconsciously selfish motive, tried to
break down his defenses and make him say violent, brutal, boorish things
to her so as to have a reason for despising him. If he gave way to
anger, she despised him. If at once he were ashamed and became
apologetic, she despised him even more. And if he did not, would not,
give way to anger--then she hated him. And worst of all was the silence
which for days together would rise like a wall between them. A
suffocating, crushing, maddening silence which brings even the gentlest
creatures to fury and exasperation, and makes them have moments when
they feel a savage desire to hurt, to cry out, or make the other cry
out. The black silence in which love reaches its final stage of
disintegration, and the man and the woman, like the worlds, each
following its own orbit, pass onward into the night.... They had reached
a point at which everything they did, even an attempt to come together
again, drove them farther and farther apart. Their life became
intolerable. Events were precipitated by an accident.
During the past year Cecile Fleury had often been to the Jeannins'.
Olivier had met her at Christophe's: then Jacqueline had invited her to
the house; and Cecile went on seeing them even after Christophe had
broken with them. Jacqueline had been kind to her: although she was
hardly at all musical and thought Cecile a little common, she felt the
charm of her singing and her soothing influence. Olivier liked playing
with her, and gradually she became a friend of the family. She inspired
confidence: when she came into the Jeannins' drawing-room with her
honest eyes and her air of health and high spirits, and her rather loud
laugh which it was good to hear, it was like a ray of sunlight piercing
the mist. She brought a feeling of inexpressible relief and solace to
Olivier and Jacqueline. When she was leaving they longed to say to her:
"No. Stay, stay a little while longer, for I am cold!"
During Jacqueline's absence Olivier saw Cecile more often: he could not
help letting her see something of his troubles. He did it quite
unthinkingly, with the heedlessness of a weak and tender creature who is
stifling and has need of some one to confide in, with an absolute
surrender. Cecile was touched by it: she soothed him with motherly words
of comfort. She pitied both of them, and urged Olivier not to lose
heart. But whether it was that she was more embarrassed than he by his
confidences, or that there was some other reason, she found excuses for
going less often to the house. No doubt it seemed to her that she was
not acting loyally towards Jacqueline, for she had no right to know her
secrets. At least, that was how Olivier interpreted her estrangement:
and he agreed with her, for he was sorry that he had spoken. But the
estrangement made him feel what Cecile had become to him. He had grown
used to sharing his ideas with her, and she was the only creature who
could deliver him from the pain he was suffering. He was too much
skilled in reading his own feelings to have any doubt as to the name of
what he felt for her. He would never have said anything to Cecile. But
he could not resist the imperative desire to write down what he felt.
For some little time past he had returned to the dangerous habit of
communing with his thoughts on paper. He had cured himself of it during
the years of love: but now that he found himself alone once more, his
inherited mania took possession of him: it was a relief from his
sufferings, and it was the artist's need of self-analysis. So he
described himself, and set his troubles down in writing, as though he
were telling them to Cecile--more freely indeed; since she was never to
read it. And as luck would have it the manuscript came into Jacqueline's
hands. It happened one day when she was feeling nearer Olivier than she
had been for years. As she was clearing out her cupboard she read once
more the old love-letters he had sent her: she had been moved to tears
by them. Sitting in the shadow of the cupboard, unable to go on with her
tidying, she lived through the past once more: and then was filled with
sorrow and remorse to think that she had destroyed it. She thought of
the grief it must be to Olivier; she had never been able to face the
idea of it calmly: she could forget it: but she could not bear to think
that he had suffered through her. Her heart ached. She longed to throw
herself into his arms and say:
"Oh! Olivier, Olivier, what have we done? We are mad, we are mad! Don't
let us ever again hurt each other!"
If only he had come in at that moment!
And it was exactly at that moment that she found his letters to
Cecile.... It was the end.--Did she think that Olivier had really
deceived her? Perhaps. But what does it signify? To her the betrayal was
not so much in the act as in the thought and intention. She would have
found it easier to forgive the man she loved for taking a mistress than
for secretly giving his heart to another woman. And she was right.
"A pretty state of things!" some will say....--(They are poor creatures
who only suffer from the betrayal of love when it is consummated!...
When the heart remains faithful, the sordid offenses of the body are of
small account. When the heart turns traitor, all the rest is
Jacqueline did not for a moment think of regaining Olivier's love. It
was too late! She no longer cared for him enough. Or perhaps she cared
for him too much. All her trust in him crumbled away, all that was left
in her secret heart of her faith and hope in him. She did not tell
herself that she had scorned him, and had discouraged him, and driven
him to his new love, or that his love was innocent: and that after all
we are not masters of ourselves sufficiently to choose whether we will
love or not. It never occurred to her to compare his sentimental impulse
with her flirtation with Christophe: she did not love Christophe, and so
he did not count! In her passionate exaggeration she thought that
Olivier was lying to her, and that she was nothing to him. Her last stay
had failed her at the moment when she reached out her hand to grasp
it.... It was the end.
Olivier never knew what she had suffered that day. But when he next saw
her he too felt that it was the end.
From that moment on they never spoke to each other except in the
presence of strangers. They watched each other like trapped beasts
fearfully on their guard. Jeremias Gotthelf somewhere describes, with
pitiless simplicity, the grim situation of a husband and a wife who no
longer love each other and watch each other, each carefully marking the
other's health, looking for symptoms of illness, neither actually
thinking of hastening or even wishing the death of the other, but
drifting along in the hope of some sudden accident: and each of them
living in the flattering thought of being the healthier of the two.
There were moments when both Jacqueline and Olivier almost fancied that
such thoughts were in the other's mind. And they were in the mind of
neither: but it was bad enough that they should attribute them to each
other, as Jacqueline did at night when she would lie feverishly awake
and tell herself that her husband was the stronger, and that he was
wearing her down gradually, and would soon triumph over her.... The
monstrous delirium of a crazy heart and brain!--And to think that in
their heart of hearts, with all that was best in them, they loved each
Olivier bent beneath the weight of it, and made no attempt to fight
against it; he held aloof and dropped the rudder of Jacqueline's soul.
Left to herself with no pilot to steer her, her freedom turned her
dizzy: she needed a master against whom to revolt: if she had no master
she had to make one. Then she was the prey of a fixed idea. Till then,
in spite of her suffering, she had never dreamed of leaving Olivier.
From that time on she thought herself absolved from every tie. She
wished to love, before it was too late:--(for, young as she was, she
thought herself an old woman).--She loved, she indulged in those
imaginary devouring passions, which fasten on the first object they
meet, a face seen in a crowd, a reputation, sometimes merely a name,
and, having laid hold of it cannot let go, telling the heart that it
cannot live without the object of its choice, laying it waste, and
completely emptying it of all the memories of the past that filled it;
other affections, moral ideas, memories, pride of self, and respect for
others. And when the fixed idea dies in its time for want of anything to
feed it, after it has consumed everything, who can tell what the new
nature may be that will spring from the ruins, a nature often without
kindness, without pity, without youth, without illusions, thinking of
nothing but devouring life as grass smothers and devours the ruins of
In this case, as usual, the fixed idea fastened on a creature of the
type that most easily tricks the heart. Poor Jacqueline fell in love
with a philanderer, a Parisian writer, who was neither young nor
handsome, a man who was heavy, red-faced, dissipated, with bad teeth,
absolutely and terribly heartless, whose chief merit was that he was a man
of the world and had made a great many women unhappy. She had not
even the excuse that she did not know how selfish he was: for he paraded
it in his art. He knew perfectly what he was doing: egoism enshrined in
art is like a mirror to larks, like a candle to moths. More than one
woman in Jacqueline's circle had been caught: quite recently one of her
friends, a young, newly-married woman, whom he had had no great
difficulty in seducing, had been deserted by him. Their hearts were not
broken by it, though they found it hard to conceal their discomfiture
from the delight of the gossips. Even those who were most cruelly hurt
were much too careful of their interests and their social interests not
to keep their perturbation within the bounds of common sense. They made
no scandal. Whether they deceived their husbands or their lovers, or
whether they were themselves deceived and suffered, it was all done in
silence. They were the heroines of scandalous rumors.
But Jacqueline was mad: she was capable not only of doing what she said,
but also of saying what she did. She brought into her folly an absolute
lack of selfish motive, and an utter disinterestedness. She had the
dangerous merit of always being frank with herself and of never shirking
the consequences of her own actions. She was a better creature than the
people she lived with: and for that reason she did worse. When she
loved, when she conceived the idea of adultery, she flung herself into
it headlong with desperate frankness.
* * * * *
Madame Arnaud was alone in her room, knitting with the feverish
tranquillity with which Penelope must have woven her famous web. Like
Penelope, she was waiting for her husband's return. M. Arnaud used to
spend whole days away from home. He had classes in the morning and
evening. As a rule he came back to lunch. Although he was a slow walker
and his school was at the other end of Paris, he forced himself to take
the long walk home, not so much from affection, as from habit, and for
the sake of economy. But sometimes he was detained by lectures, or he
would take advantage of being in the neighborhood of a library to go and
work there. Lucile Arnaud would be left alone in the empty flat. Except
for the charwoman who came from eight to ten to do the cleaning, and the
tradesmen who came to fetch and bring orders, no one ever rang the bell.
She knew nobody in the house now. Christophe had removed, and there were
newcomers in the lilac garden. Celine Chabran had married Andre
Elsberger. Elie Elsberger had gone away with his family to Spain, where
he had been appointed manager of a mine. Old Weil had lost his wife and
hardly ever lived in his flat in Paris. Only Christophe and his friend
Cecile had kept up their relations with Lucile Arnaud: but they lived
far away, and they were busy and hard at work all day long, so that they
often did not come to see her for weeks together. She had nothing
She was not bored. She needed very little to keep her interest in things
alive: the very smallest daily task was enough, or a tiny plant, whose
delicate foliage she would clean with motherly care every morning. She
had her quiet gray cat, who had lost something of his manners, as is apt
to happen with domestic animals who are loved by their masters: he used
to spend the day, like herself, sitting by the fire, or on the table
near the lamp watching her fingers as she sewed, and sometimes gazing at
her with his strange eyes, which watched her for a moment and then
closed again. Even the furniture was company to her. Every piece was
like a familiar face. She took a childlike pleasure in looking after
them, in gently wiping off the dust which settled on their sides, and in
carefully replacing them in their usual corners. She would hold silent
conversations with them. She would smile at the fine Louis XVI.
round-topped bureau, which was the only piece of old furniture she had.
Every day she would feel the same joy in seeing it. She was always
absorbed in going over her linen, and she would spend hours standing on
a chair, with her hands and arms deep in the great country cupboard,
looking and arranging, while the cat, whose curiosity was roused, would
spend hours watching her.
But her real happiness came when, after her work was done and she had
lunched alone, God knows how--(she never had much of an appetite)--and
had gone the necessary errands, and her day was at an end, she would
come in about four and sit by the window or the fire with her work and
her cat. Sometimes she would find some excuse for not going out at all;
she was glad when she could stay indoors, especially in the winter when
it was snowing. She had a horror of the cold, and the wind, and the mud,
and the rain, for she was something of a cat herself, very clean,
fastidious, and soft. She would rather not eat than go and procure her
lunch when the tradespeople forgot to bring it. In that case she would
munch a piece of chocolate or some fruit from the sideboard. She was
very careful not to let Arnaud know. These were her escapades. Then
during the days when the light was dim, and also sometimes on lovely
sunny days,--(outside the blue sky would shine, and the noise of the
street would buzz round the dark silent rooms; like a sort of mirage
enshrouding the soul),--she would sit in her favorite corner, with her
feet on her hassock, her knitting in her hands, and go off into
day-dreams while her fingers plied the needles. She would have one of
her favorite books by her side: as a rule one of those humble,
red-backed volumes, a translation of an English novel. She would read
very little, hardly more than a chapter a day; and the book would lie on
her knees open at the same page for a long time together, or sometimes
she would not even open it: she knew it already, and the story of it
would be in her dreams. So the long novels of Dickens and Thackeray
would be drawn out over weeks, and in her dreams they would become
years. They wrapped her about with their tenderness. The people of the
present day, who read quickly and carelessly, do not know the marvelous
vigor irradiated by those fine books which must be taken in slowly.
Madame Arnaud had no doubt that the lives of the characters in the
novels were not as real as her own. There were some for whom she would
have laid down her life: the tender jealous creature, Lady Castlewood,
the woman who loved in silence with her motherly virginal heart, was a
sister to her: little Dombey was her own dear little boy: she was Dora,
the child-wife, who was dying: she would hold out her arms to all those
childlike souls which pass through the world with the honest eyes of
purity: and around her there would pass a procession of friendly beggars
and harmless eccentrics, all in pursuit of their touchingly preposterous
cranks and whims,--and at their head the fond genius of dear Dickens,
laughing and crying together at his own dreams. At such times, when she
looked out of the window, she would recognize among the passers-by the
beloved or dreaded figure of this or that personage in that imaginary
world. She would fancy similar lives, the same lives, being lived behind
the walls of the houses. Her dislike for going out came from her dread
of that world with its moving mysteries. She saw around her hidden
dramas and comedies being played. It was not always an illusion. In her
isolation she had come by the gift of mystical intuition which in the
eyes of the passers-by can perceive the secrets of their lives of
yesterday and to-morrow, which are often unknown to themselves. She
mixed up what she actually saw with what she remembered of the novels
and distorted it. She felt that she must drown in that immense universe.
And she would have to go home to regain her footing.
But what need had she to read or to look at others? She had but to gaze
in upon herself. Her pale, dim existence--seeming so when seen from
without--was gloriously lit up within. There was abundance and fullness
of life in it. There were memories, and treasures, the existence of
which lay unsuspected.... Had they ever had any reality?--No doubt they
were real, since they were real to her.... Oh! the wonder of such lowly
lives transfigured by the magic wand of dreams!
Madame Arnaud would go back through the years to her childhood: each of
the little frail flowers of her vanished hopes sprang silently into life
again.... Her first childish love for a girl, whose charm had fascinated
her at first sight: she loved her with the love which is only possible
to those who are infinitely pure: she used to think she would die at the
touch of her: she used to long to kiss her feet, to be her little girl,
to marry her: the girl had married, had not been happy, had had a child
which died, and then she too had died.... Another love, when she was
about twelve years old, for a little girl of her own age, who tyrannized
over her: a fair-haired mad-cap, gay and imperious, who used to amuse
herself by making her cry, and then would devour her with kisses: she
laid a thousand romantic plans for their future together: then,
suddenly, the girl became a Carmelite nun, without anybody knowing why:
she was said to be happy.... Then there had been a great passion for a
man much older than herself. No one had ever known anything about it,
not even the object of it. She had given to it a great and ardent
devotion and untold wealth of tenderness.... Then another passion: this
time she was loved. But from a strange timidity, and mistrust of
herself, she had not dared to believe that she was loved, or to let the
man see that she loved him. And happiness passed without her grasping
it.... Then.... But what is the use of telling others what only has a
meaning for oneself? So many trivial facts which had assumed a profound
significance: a little attention at the hands of a friend: a kind word
from Olivier, spoken without his attaching any importance to it:
Christophe's kindly visits, and the enchanted world evoked by his music:
a glance from a stranger: yes, and even in that excellent woman, so
virtuous and pure, certain involuntary infidelities in thought, which
made her uneasy and feel ashamed, while she would feebly thrust them
aside, though all the same--being so innocent--they brought a little
sunshine into her heart.... She loved her husband truly, although he was
not altogether the husband of her dreams. But he was kind, and one day
when he said to her: "My darling wife, you do not know all you are to
me; you are my whole life," her heart melted: and that day she felt that
she was one with him, wholly and forever, without any possibility of
going back on it. Each year brought them closer to each other, and
tightened the bond between them. They had shared lovely dreams: of work,
traveling, children. What had become of them?... Alas!... Madame Arnaud
was still dreaming them. There was a little boy of whom she had so often
and so profoundly dreamed, that she knew him almost as well as though he
really existed. She had slowly begotten him through the years, always
adorning him with all the most beautiful things she saw, and the things
she loved most dearly.... Silence!...
That was all. It meant worlds to her. There are so many tragedies
unknown, even the most intimate, in the depths of the most tranquil and
seemingly most ordinary lives! And the greatest tragedy of all perhaps
is:--_that nothing happens_ in such lives of hope crying for what
is their right, their just due promised, and refused, by Nature--wasting
away in passionate anguish--showing nothing of it all to the outside
world! Madame Arnaud, happily for herself, was not only occupied with
herself. Her own life filled only a part of her dreams. She lived also
in the lives of those she knew, or had known, and put herself in their
place: she thought much of Christophe and his friend Cecile. She was
thinking of them now. The two women had grown fond of one another. The
strange thing was that of the two it was the sturdy Cecile who felt most
need to lean on the frail Madame Arnaud. In reality the healthy,
high-spirited young woman was not so strong as she seemed to be. She was
passing through a crisis. Even the most tranquil hearts are not immune
from being taken by surprise. Unknown to herself, a feeling of
tenderness had crept into her heart: she refused to admit it at first:
but it had grown so that she was forced to see it:--she loved Olivier.
His sweet and affectionate disposition, the rather feminine charm of his
personality, his weakness and inability to defend himself, had attracted
her at once:--(a motherly nature is attracted by the nature which has
need of her).--What she had learned subsequently of his marital troubles
had inspired her with a dangerous pity for Olivier. No doubt these
reasons would not have been enough. Who can say why one human being
falls in love with another? Neither counts for anything in the matter,
but often it merely happens that a heart which is for the moment of its
guard is taken by surprise, and is delivered up to the first affection
it may meet on the road,--As soon as she had no room left for doubt as
to her state of mind, Cecile bravely struggled to pluck out the barb of
a love which she thought wicked and absurd: she suffered for a long time
and did not recover. No one would have suspected what was happening to
her: she strove valiantly to appear happy. Only Madame Arnaud knew what
it must have cost her. Not that Cecile had told her her secret. But she
would sometimes come and lay her head on Madame Arnaud's bosom. She
would weep a little, without a word, kiss her, and then go away
laughing. She adored this friend of hers, in whom, though she seemed so
fragile, she felt a moral energy and faith superior to her own. She did
not confide in her. But Madame Arnaud could guess volumes on a hint. The
world seemed to her to be a sad misunderstanding. It is impossible to
dissolve it. One can only love, have pity, and dream.
And when the swarm of her dreams buzzed too loudly, when her thoughts
stopped, she would go to her piano and let her hands fall lightly on the
keys, at random, and play softly to wreathe the mirage of life about
with the subdued light of music....
But the good little creature would not forget to perform her everyday
duties: and when Arnaud came home he would find the lamp lit, the supper
ready, and his wife's pale, smiling face waiting for him. And he would
have no idea of the universe in which she had been living.
The great difficulty was to keep the two lives going side by side
without their clashing: her everyday life and that other, the great life
of the mind, with its far-flung horizons. It was not always easy.
Fortunately Arnaud also lived to some extent in an imaginary life, in
books, and works of art, the eternal fire of which fed the flickering
flames of his soul. But during the last few years he had become more and
more preoccupied with the petty annoyances of his profession, injustice
and favoritism, and friction with his colleagues or his pupils: he was
embittered: he began to talk politics, and to inveigh against the
Government and the Jews: and he made Dreyfus responsible for his
disappointments at the university. His mood of soreness infected Madame
Arnaud a little. She was at an age when her vital force was upset and
uneasy, groping for balance. There were great gaps in her thoughts. For
a time they both lost touch with life, and their reason for existence: for
they had nothing to which to bind their spider's web, which was left
hanging in the void. Though the support of reality be never so weak, yet
for dreams there must be one. They had no sort of support. They could
not contrive any means of propping each other up. Instead of helping
her, he clung to her. And she knew perfectly well that she was not
strong enough to hold him up, for she could not even support herself.
Only a miracle could save her. She prayed for it to come. It came from
the depths of her soul. In her solitary pious heart Madame Arnaud felt
the irony of the sublime and absurd hunger for creation in spite of
everything, the need of weaving her web in spite of everything, through
space, for the joy of weaving, leaving it to the wind, the breath of
God, to carry her whithersoever it was ordained that she should go. And
the breath of God gave her a new hold on life, and found her an
invisible support. Then the husband and wife both set patiently to work
once more to weave the magnificent and vain web of their dreams, a web
fashioned of their purest suffering and their blood.
Madame Arnaud was alone in her room.... It was near evening.
The door-bell rang. Madame Arnaud, roused from her reverie before the
usual time, started and trembled. She carefully arranged her work and
went to open the door. Christophe came in. He was in a great state of
emotion. She took his hands affectionately.
"What is it, my dear?" she asked.
"Ah!" he said. "Olivier has come back."
"He came this morning and said: 'Christophe, help me!' I embraced him.
He wept. He told me: I have nothing but you now. She has gone."
Madame Arnaud gasped, and clasped her hands and said:
"She has gone," said Christophe. "Gone with her lover."
"And her child?" asked Madame Arnaud.
"Husband, child--she has left everything."
"Poor thing!" said Madame Arnaud again.
"He loved her," said Christophe. "He loved her, and her alone. He will
never recover from the blow. He keeps on saying: 'Christophe, she has
betrayed me.... My dearest friend has betrayed me.' It is no good my
saying to him, 'Since she has betrayed you, she cannot have been your
friend. She is your enemy. Forget her or kill her!'"
"Oh! Christophe, what are you saying! It is too horrible!"
'Yes, I know. You all think it barbaric and prehistoric to kill! It is
jolly to hear these Parisians protesting against the brutal instincts
which urge the male to kill the female if she deceives him, and
preaching indulgence and reason! They're splendid apostles! It is a fine
thing to see the pack of mongrel dogs waxing wrath against the return to
animalism. After outraging life, after having robbed it of its worth,
they surround it with religious worship.... What! That heartless,
dishonorable, meaningless life, the mere physical act of breathing, the
beating of the blood in a scrap of flesh, these are the things which
they hold worthy of respect! They are never done with their niceness
about the flesh: it is a crime to touch it. You may kill the soul if you
like, but the body is sacred...."
"The murderers of the soul are the worst of all: but one crime is no
excuse for another. You know that."
"I know it. Yes. You are right. I did not think what I was saying....
Who knows? I should do it, perhaps."
"No. You are unfair to yourself. You are so kind."
"If I am roused to passion, I am as cruel as the rest. You see how I had
lost control of myself!... But when you see a friend brought to tears,
how can you not hate the person who has caused them? And how can one be
too hard on a woman who leaves her child to run after her lover?"
"Don't talk like that, Christophe. You don't know."
"What! You defend her?"
"I pity her, too."
"I pity those who suffer. Not those who cause suffering."
"Well! Do you think she hasn't suffered too? Do you think she has left
her child and wrecked her life out of lightness of heart? For her life
is wrecked too. I hardly know her, Christophe. I have only seen her a
few times, and that only in passing: she never said a friendly word to
me, she was not in sympathy with me. And yet I know her better than you.
I am sure she is not a bad woman. Poor child! I can guess what she has
had to go through...."
"You.... You whose life is so worthy and so right and sensible!..."
"Yes, Christophe, I. You do not know. You are kind, but you are a man
and, like all men, you are hard, in spite of your kindness--a man hard
and set against everything which is not in and of yourself. You have no
real knowledge of the women who live with you. You love them, after your
fashion; but you never take the trouble to understand them. You are so
easily satisfied with yourselves! You are quite sure that you know
us.... Alas! If you knew how we suffer sometimes when we see, not that
you do not love us, but how you love us, and that that is all we are to
those we love the best! There are moments, Christophe, when we clench
our fists so that the nails dig into our hands to keep ourselves from
crying to you: 'Oh! Do not love us, do not love us! Anything rather than
love us like that!'... Do you know the saying of a poet: 'Even in her
home, among her children, surrounded with sham honors, a woman endures a
scorn a thousand times harder to bear than the most utter misery'? Think
of that, Christophe. They are terrible words."
"What you say has upset me. I don't rightly understand. But I am
beginning to see.... Then, you yourself...."
"I have been through all these torments."
"Is it possible?... But, even so, you will never make me believe that
you would have done the same as that woman."
"I have no child, Christophe. I do not know what I should have done in
"No. That is impossible. I believe in you. I respect you too much. I
swear that you could not."
"Swear nothing! I have been very near doing what she has done.... It
hurts me to destroy the good idea you had of me. But you must learn to
know us a little if you do not want to be unjust. Yes, I have been
within an ace of just such an act of folly. And you yourself had
something to do with my not going on with it. It was two years ago. I
was going through a period of terrible depression, that seemed to be
eating my life away. I kept on telling myself that I was no use in the
world, that nobody needed me, that even my husband could do without me,
that I had lived for nothing.... I was on the very point of running
away, to do Heaven knows what! I went up to your room.... Do you
remember?... You did not understand why I came. I came to say good-bye
to you.... And then, I don't know what happened, I can't remember
exactly ... but I know that something you said ... (though you had no
idea of it....) ... was like a flash of light to me.... Perhaps it was
not what you said.... Perhaps it was only a matter of opportunity; at
that moment the least thing was enough to make or mar me.... When I left
you I went back to my own room, locked myself in, and wept the whole day
through.... I was better after that: the crisis had passed."
"And now," asked Christophe, "you are sorry?"
"Now?" she said. "Ah! If I had been so mad as to do it I should have
been at the bottom of the Seine long ago. I could not have borne the
shame of it, and the injury I should have done to my poor husband."
"Then you are happy?"
"Yes. As happy as one can be in this life. It is so rare for two people
to understand each other, and respect each other, and know that they are
sure of each other, not merely with a simple lover's belief, which is
often an illusion, but as the result of years passed together, gray,
dull, commonplace years even--especially with the memory of the dangers
through which they have passed together. And as they grow older their
trust grows greater and finer."
She stopped and blushed suddenly.
"Oh, Heavens! How could I tell you that?... What have I done?... Forget
it, Christophe, I beg of you. No one must know."
"You need not be afraid," said Christophe, pressing her hand warmly. "It
shall be sacred to me."
Madame Arnaud was unhappy at what she had said, and turned away for a
Then she went on:
"I ought not to have told you.... But, you see, I wanted to show you
that even in the closest and best marriages, even for the women ... whom
you respect, Christophe ... there are times, not only of aberration, as
you say, but of real, intolerable suffering, which may drive them to
madness, and wreck at least one life, if not two. You must not be too
hard. Men and women make each other suffer terribly even when they love
each other dearly."
"Must they, then, live alone and apart?"
"That is even worse for us. The life of a woman who has to live alone,
and fight like men (and often against men), is a terrible thing in a
society which is not ready for the idea of it, and is, in a great
measure, hostile to it...."
She stopped again, leaning forward a little, with her eyes fixed on the
fire in the grate; then she went on softly, in a rather hushed tone,
hesitating every now and then, stopping, and then going on:
"And yet it is not our fault when a woman lives like that, she does not
do so from caprice, but because she is forced to do so; she has to earn
her living and learn how to do without a man, since men will have
nothing to do with her if she is poor. She is condemned to solitude
without having any of its advantages, for in France she cannot, like a
man, enjoy her independence, even in the most innocent way, without
provoking scandal: everything is forbidden her. I have a friend who is a
school-mistress in the provinces. If she were shut up in an airless
prison she could not be more lonely and more stifled. The middle-classes
close their doors to women who struggle to earn their living by their
work; they are suspected and contemned; their smallest actions are spied
upon and turned to evil. The masters at the boys' school shun them,
either because they are afraid of the tittle-tattle of the town, or from
a secret hostility, or from shyness, and because they are in the habit
of frequenting cafes and consorting with low women, or because they are
too tired after the day's work and have a dislike, as a result of their
work, for intellectual women. And the women themselves cannot bear each
other, especially if they are compelled to live together in the school.
The head-mistress is often a woman absolutely incapable of understanding
young creatures with a need of affection, who lose heart during the
first few years of such a barren trade and such inhuman solitude; she
leaves them with their secret agony and makes no attempt to help them;
she is inclined to think that they are only vain and haughty. There is
no one to take an interest in them. Having neither fortune nor
influence, they cannot marry. Their hours of work are so many as to
leave them no time in which to create an intellectual life which might
bind them together and give them some comfort. When such an existence is
not supported by an exceptional religious or moral feeling,--(I might
say abnormal and morbid; for such absolute self-sacrifice is not
natural),--it is a living death....--In default of intellectual work,
what resources does charity offer to women? What great disappointments
it holds out for those women who are too sincere to be satisfied with
official or polite charity, philanthropic twaddle, the odious mixture of
frivolity, beneficence, and bureaucracy, the trick of dabbling in
poverty in the intervals of flirtation! And if one of them in disgust
has the incredible audacity to venture out alone among the poor or the
wretched, whose life she only knows by hearsay, think of what she will
see! Sights almost beyond bearing! It is a very hell. What can she do to
help them? She is lost, drowned in such a sea of misfortune. However,
she struggles on, she tries hard to save a few of the poor wretches, she
wears herself out for them, and drowns with them. She is lucky if she
succeeds in saving one or two of them! But who is there to rescue her?
Who ever dreams of going to her aid? For she, too, suffers, both with
her own and the suffering of others: the more faith she gives, the less
she has for herself; all these poor wretches cling desperately to her,
and she has nothing with which to stay herself. No one holds out a hand
to her. And sometimes she is stoned.... You knew, Christophe, the
splendid woman who gave herself to the humblest and most meritorious
charitable work; she took pity on the street prostitutes who had just
been brought to child-bed, the wretched women with whom the Public Aid
would have nothing to do, or who were afraid of the Public Aid; she
tried to cure them physically and morally, to look after them and their
children, to wake in them the mother-feeling, to give them new homes and
a life of honest work. She taxed her strength to the utmost in her grim
labors, so full of disappointment and bitterness--(so few are saved, so
few wish to be saved! And think of all the babies who die! Poor innocent
little babies, condemned in the very hour of their birth!...)--That
Woman who had taken upon herself the sorrows of others, the blameless
creature who of her own free will expiated the crimes of human
selfishness--how do you think she was judged, Christophe? The
evil-minded public accused her of making money out of her work, and even
of making money out of the poor women she protected. She had to leave
the neighborhood, and go away, utterly downhearted....--You cannot
conceive the cruelty of the struggles which independent women have to
maintain against the society of to-day, a conservative, heartless
society, which is dying and expends what little energy it has left in
preventing others from living."
"My dear creature, it is not only the lot of women. We all know these
struggles. And I know the refuge."
"What is it?"
"All very well for you, but not for us. And even among men, how many are
there who can take advantage of it?"
"Look at your friend Cecile. She is happy."
"How do you know? Ah! You have jumped to conclusions! Because she puts a
brave face on it, because she does not stop to think of things that make
her sad, because she conceals them from others, you say that she is
happy! Yes. She is happy to be well and strong, and to be able to fight.
But you know nothing of her struggles. Do you think she was made for
that deceptive life of art? Art! Just think of the poor women who long
for the glory of being able to write or play or sing as the very summit
of happiness! Their lives must be bare indeed, and they must be so hard
pressed that they can find no affection to which to turn! Art! What have
we to do with art, if we have all the rest with it? There is only one
thing in the world which can make a woman forget everything else,
everything else: and that is the child." "And when she has a child, you
see, even that is not enough."
"Yes. Not always.... Women are not very happy. It is difficult to be a
woman. Much more difficult than to be a man. You men never realize that
enough. You can be absorbed in an intellectual passion or some outside
activity. You mutilate yourselves, but you are the happier for it. A
healthy woman cannot do that without suffering for it. It is inhuman to
stifle a part of yourself. When we women are happy in one way, we regret
that we are not happy in another. We have several souls. You men have
but one, a more vigorous soul, which is often brutal and even monstrous.
I admire you. But do not be too selfish. You are very selfish without
knowing it. You hurt us often, without knowing it."
"What are we to do? It is not our fault."
"No, it is not your fault, my dear Christophe. It is not your fault, nor
is it ours. The truth is, you know, that life is not a simple thing.
They say that there we only need to live naturally. But which of us is
"True. Nothing is natural in our way of living. Celibacy is not natural.
Nor is marriage. And free love delivers the weak up to the rapaciousness
of the strong. Even our society is not a natural thing: we have
manufactured it. It is said that man is a sociable animal. What
nonsense! He was forced to be so to live. He has made himself sociable
for the purposes of utility, and self-defence, and pleasure, and the
rise to greatness. His necessity has led him to subscribe to certain
compacts. Nature kicks against the constraint and avenges herself.
Nature was not made for us. We try to quell her. It is a struggle, and
it is not surprising that we are often beaten. How are we to win through
it? By being strong."
"By being kind."
"Heavens! To be kind, to pluck off one's armor of selfishness, to
breathe, to love life, light, one's humble work, the little corner of
the earth in which one's roots are spread. And if one cannot have
breadth to try to make up for it in height and depth, like a tree in a
cramped space growing upward to the sun."
"Yes. And first of all to love one another. If a man would feel more
that he is the brother of a woman, and not only her prey, or that she
must be his! If both would shed their vanity and each think a little
less of themselves, and a little more of the other!... We are weak: help
us. Let us not say to those who have fallen: 'I do not know you.' But:
'Courage, friend. We'll pull through.'"
They sat there in silence by the hearth, with the cat between them, all
three still, lost in thought, gazing at the fire It was nearly out; but
a little flame flickered up, and with its wing lightly touched Madame
Arnaud's delicate face, which was suffused with the rosy light of an
inward exaltation which was strange to her. She was amazed at herself
for having been so open. She had never said so much before, and she
would never say so much again.
She laid her hand on Christophe's and said:
"What will you do with the child?"
She had been thinking of that from the outset. She talked and talked and
became another woman, excited and exalted. But she was thinking of that
and that only. With Christophe's first words she had woven a romance in
her heart. She thought of the child left by its mother, of the happiness
of bringing it up, and weaving about its little soul the web of her
dreams and her love. And she thought:
"No. It is wicked of me: I ought not to rejoice in the misfortunes of
But the idea was too strong for her. She went on talking and talking,
and her silent heart was flooded with hope.
"Yes, of course we have thought it over. Poor child! Both Olivier and I
are incapable of rearing it. It needs a woman's care. I thought perhaps
one of our friends would like to help us...."
Madame Arnaud could hardly breathe.
"I wanted to talk to you about it. And then Cecile came in just as we
were talking about it. When she heard of our difficulty, when she saw
the child, she was so moved, she seemed so delighted, she said:
Madame Arnaud's heart stopped; she did not hear what else he said: there
was a mist in front of her eyes. She was fain to cry out:
"No, no. Give him to me...."
Christophe went on speaking. She did not hear what he was saying. But
she controlled herself. She thought of what Cecile had told her, and she
"Her need is greater than mine. I have my dear Arnaud ... and ... and
everything ... and besides, I am older...."
And she smiled and said:
"It is well."
But the flame in the dying fire had flickered out: so too had the rosy
light in her face. And her dear tired face wore only its usual
expression of kindness and resignation.
* * * * *
"My wife has betrayed me."
Olivier was crushed by the weight of that idea. In vain did Christophe
try affectionately to shake him out of his torpor.
"What would you?" he said. "The treachery of a friend is an everyday
evil like illness, or poverty, or fighting the fools. We have to be
armed against it. It is a poor sort of man that cannot bear up against
"That's just what I am. I'm not proud of it ... a poor sort of man: yes:
a man who needs tenderness, and dies if it is taken from him."
"Your life is not finished: there are other people to love."
"I can't believe in any one. There are none who can be friends."
"I beg your pardon. I don't doubt you, although there are moments when
I doubt everybody--myself included.... But you are strong: you don't need
anybody: you can do without me."
"So can she--even better."
"You are cruel, Christophe."
"My dear fellow. I'm being brutal to you just to make you lash out. Good
Lord! It is perfectly shameful of you to sacrifice those who love you,
and your life, to a woman who doesn't care for you."
"What do I care for those who love me? I love her."
"Work. Your old interests...."
"... Don't interest me any longer. I'm sick of it all. I seem to have
passed out of life altogether. Everything seems so far away.... I see,
but I don't understand.... And to think that there are men who never
grow tired of winding up their clockwork every day, and doing their dull
work, and their newspaper discussions, and their wretched pursuit of
pleasure, men who can be violently for or against a Government, or a
book, or an actress.... Oh! I feel so old! I feel nothing, neither
hatred, nor rancor against anybody. I'm bored with everything. I feel
that there is nothing in the world.... Write? Why write? Who understands
you? I used to write only for one person: everything that I did was for
her.... There is nothing left: I'm worn out, Christophe, fagged out. I
want to sleep."
"Sleep, then, old fellow. I'll sit by you."
But sleep was the last thing that Olivier could have. Ah! if only a
sufferer could sleep for months until his sorrow is no more and has no
part in his new self; if only he could sleep until he became a new man!
But that gift can never be his: and he would not wish to have it. The
worst suffering of all were to be deprived of suffering. Olivier was
like a man in a fever, feeding on his fever: a real fever which came in
regular waves, being at its height in the evening when the light began
to fade. And the rest of the day it left him shattered, intoxicated by
love, devoured by memory, turning the same thought over and over like an
idiot chewing the same mouthful again and again without being able to
swallow it, with all the forces of his brain paralyzed, grinding slowly
on with the one fixed idea.
He could not, like Christophe, resort to cursing his injuries and
honestly blackguarding the woman who had dealt them. He was more
clear-sighted and just, and he knew that he had his share of the
responsibility, and that he was not the only one to suffer: Jacqueline
also was a victim:--she was his victim. She had trusted herself to him:
how had he dealt with his trust? If he was not strong enough to make her
happy, why had he bound her to himself? She was within her rights in
breaking the ties which chafed her.
"It is not her fault," he thought. "It is mine. I have not loved her
well. And yet I loved her truly. But I did not know how to love since I
did not know how to win her love."
So he blamed himself: and perhaps he was right. But it is not much use
to hold an inquest on the past: if it were all to do again, it would be
just the same, inquiry or no inquiry: and such probing stands in the way
of life. The strong man is he who forgets the injury that has been done
him--and also, alas! that which he has done himself, as soon as he is
sure that he cannot make it good. But no man is strong from reason, but
from passion. Love and passion are like distant relations: they rarely
go together. Olivier loved: he was only strong against himself. In the
passive state into which he had fallen he was an easy prey to every kind
of illness. Influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia, pounced on him. He was ill
for part of the summer. With Madame Arnaud's assistance, Christophe
nursed him devotedly: and they succeeded in checking his illness. But
against his moral illness they could do nothing: and little by little
they were overcome by the depression and utter weariness of his
perpetual melancholy, and were forced to run away from it.
Illness plunges a man into a strange solitude. Men have an instinctive
horror of it. It is as though they were afraid lest it should be
contagious: and at the very least it is boring, and they run away from
it. How few people there are who can forgive the sufferings of others!
It is always the old story of the friends of Job. Eliphaz the Temanite
accuses Job of impatience. Bildad the Shuhite declares that Job's
afflictions are the punishment of his sins. Sophar of Naamath charges
him with presumption. _"Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu, the son
of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath
kindled, because he justifieth himself, rather than God."_--Few men
are really sorrowful. Many are called, but few are chosen. Olivier was
one of these. As a misanthrope once observed: "He seemed to like being
maltreated. There is nothing to be gained by playing the part of the
unhappy man. You only make yourself detested."
Olivier could not tell even his most intimate friends what he felt. He
saw that it bored them. Even his friend Christophe lost patience with
such tenacious and importunate grief. He knew that he was clumsy and
awkward in remedying it. If the truth must be told, Christophe, whose
heart was generous, Christophe who had gone through much suffering on
his own account, could not feel the suffering of his friend. Such is the
infirmity of human nature. You may be kind, full of pity, understanding,
and you may have suffered a thousand deaths, but you cannot feel the
pain of your friend if he has but a toothache. If illness goes on for a
long time, there is a temptation to think that the sufferer is
exaggerating his complaint. How much more, then, must this be so when
the illness is invisible and seated in the very depths of the soul! A
man who is outside it all cannot help being irritated by seeing his
friend moaning and groaning about a feeling which does not concern him
in the very least. And in the end he says: by way of appeasing his
"What can I do? He won't listen to reason, whatever I say."
To reason: true. One can only help by loving the sufferer, by loving him
unreasoningly, without trying to convince him, without trying to cure
him, but just by loving and pitying him. Love is the only balm for the
wounds of love. But love is not inexhaustible even with those who love
the best: they have only a limited store of it. When the sick man's
friends have once written all the words of affection they can find, when
they have done what they consider their duty, they withdraw prudently,
and avoid him like a criminal. And as they feel a certain secret shame
that they can help him so little, they help him less and less: they try
to let him forget them and to forget themselves. And if the sick man
persists in his misfortune and, indiscreetly, an echo of it penetrates
to their ears, then they judge harshly his want of courage and inability
to bear up against his trials. And if he succumbs, it is very certain
that lurking beneath their really genuine pity lies this disdainful
"Poor devil! I had a better opinion of him."
Amid such universal selfishness what a marvelous amount of good can be
done by a simple word of tenderness, a delicate attention, a look of
pity and love! Then the sick man feels the worth of kindness. And how
poor is all the rest compared with that!... Kindness brought Olivier
nearer to Madame Arnaud than anybody else, even his friend Christophe.
However, Christophe most meritoriously forced himself to be patient, and
in his affection for him, concealed what he really thought of him. But
Olivier, with his natural keenness of perception sharpened by suffering,
saw the conflict in his friend, and what a burden he was upon him with
his unending sorrow. It was enough, to make him turn from Christophe,
and fill him with a desire to cry:
"Go away. Go."
So unhappiness often divides loving hearts. As the winnower sorts the
grain, so sorrow sets on one side those who have the will to live, and
on the other those who wish to die. It is the terrible law of life,
which is stronger than love! The mother who sees her son dying, the
friend who sees his friend drowning,--if they cannot save them, they do
not cease their efforts to save themselves: they do not die with them.
And yet, they love them a thousand times better than their lives....
In spite of his great love, there were moments when Christophe had to
leave Olivier. He was too strong, too healthy, to be able to live and
breathe in such airless sorrow. He was mightily ashamed of himself! He
would feel cold and dead at heart to think that he could do nothing for
his friend: and as he needed to avenge himself on some one, he visited
his wrath upon Jacqueline. In spite of Madame Arnaud's words of
understanding and sympathy, he still judged her harshly, as a young,
ardent, and whole-hearted man must, until he has learned enough of life
to have pity on its weaknesses.
He would go and see Cecile and the child who had been entrusted to her.
That refreshed his soul. Cecile was transfigured by her borrowed
motherhood: she seemed to be young again, and happy, more refined and
tender. Jacqueline's departure had not given her any unavowed hope of
happiness. She knew that the memory of Jacqueline must leave her farther
away from Olivier than her presence. Besides, the little puff of wind
that had set her longing had passed: it had been a moment of crisis,
which the sight of poor Jacqueline's frenzied mistake had helped to
dissipate: she had returned to her normal tranquillity, and she could
not rightly understand what it was that had dragged her out of it. All
that was best in her need of love was satisfied by her love for the
child. With the marvelous power of illusion--of intuition--of women, she
found the man she loved in the little child: in that way she could have
him, weak and utterly dependent, utterly her own: he belonged to her:
and she could love him, love him passionately, with a love as pure as
the heart of the innocent child, and his dear blue eyes, like little
drops of light.... True, there was mingled with her tenderness a
regretful melancholy. Ah! It could never be the same thing as a child of
her own blood!... But it was good, all the same.
Christophe now regarded Cecile with very different eyes. He remembered
an ironic saying of Francoise Oudon:
"How is it that you and Philomela, who would do so well as husband and
wife, are not in love with each other?"
But Francoise knew the reason better than Christophe: it is very rarely
that a man like Christophe loves those who can do him good: rather he is
apt to love those who can do him harm. Opposites meet: his nature seeks
its own destruction, and goes to the burning and intense life rather
than to the cautious life which is sparing of itself. And a man like
Christophe is quite right, for his law is not to live as long as
possible, but as mightily as possible.
However, Christophe, having less penetration than Francoise, said to
himself that love is a blind, inhuman force, throwing those together who
cannot bear with each other. Love joins those together who are like each
other. And what love inspires is very small compared with what it
destroys. If it be happy it dissolves the will. If unhappy it breaks
hearts. What good does it ever do?
And as he thus maligned love he saw its ironic, tender smile saying to
* * * * *
Christophe had been unable to get out of going to one of the At Homes
given at the Austrian Embassy. Philomela was to sing _lieder_ by
Schumann, Hugo Wolf, and Christophe. She was glad of her success and
that of her friend, who was now made much of by a certain set.
Christophe's name was gaining ground from day to day, even with the
great public: it had become impossible for the Levy-Coeurs to ignore him
any longer. His works were played at concerts: and he had had an opera
accepted by the Opera Comique. The sympathies of some person unknown
were enlisted on his behalf. The mysterious friend, who had more than
once helped him, was still forwarding his claims. More than once
Christophe had been conscious of that fondly helping hand in everything
he did: some one was watching over him and jealously concealing his or
her identity. Christophe had tried to discover it: but it seemed as
though his friend were piqued by his not having attempted sooner to find
out who he was, and he remained unapproachable. Besides, Christophe was
absorbed by other preoccupations: he was thinking of Olivier, he was
thinking of Francoise: that very morning he had just read in the paper
that she was lying seriously ill at San Francisco: he imagined her alone