Part 5 out of 10
before very long had been caught, sentenced, and so disappeared from the
scene. She was left alone with the child, deserted by her family, and
devoted herself to the upbringing of the boy Emmanuel. She had
transferred to him all the love and hatred she had had for her lover.
She was a woman of a violent and jealous character, morbid to a degree.
She loved her child to distraction, brutally ill-treated him, and, when
he was ill, was crazed with despair. When she was in a bad temper she
would send him to bed without any dinner, without so much as a piece of
bread. When she was dragging him along through the streets, if he grew
tired and would not go on and slipped down to the ground, she would kick
him on to his feet again. She was amazingly incoherent in her use of
words, and she used to pass swiftly from tears to a hysterical mood of
gaiety. She died. The cobbler took the boy, who was then six years old.
He loved him dearly: but he had his own way of showing it, which
consisted in bullying the boy, battering him with a large assortment of
insulting names, pulling his ears, and clouting him over the head
from morning to night by way of teaching him his job: and at the same time
he grounded him thoroughly in his own social and anti-clerical catechism.
Emmanuel knew that his grandfather was not a bad man: but he was always
prepared to raise his arm to ward off his blows: the old fellow used to
frighten him, especially on the evenings when he got drunk. For Daddy la
Feuillette had not come by his nickname for nothing: he used to get
tipsy twice or thrice a month: then he used to talk all over the place,
and laugh, and act the swell, and always in the end he used to give the
boy a good thrashing. His bark was worse than his bite. But the boy
was terrified: his ill-health made him more sensitive than other children:
he was precociously intelligent, and he had inherited a fierce and
unbalanced capacity for feeling from his mother. He was overwhelmed by
his grandfather's brutality, and also by his revolutionary
harangues,--(for the two things went together: it was particularly when
the old man was drunk that he was inclined to hold forth).--His whole
being quivered in response to outside impressions, just as the booth
shook with the passing of the heavy omnibuses. In his crazy imagination
there were mingled, like the humming vibrations of a belfry, his
day-to-day sensations, the wretchedness of his childhood, his deplorable
memories of premature experience, stories of the Commune, scraps of
evening lectures and newspaper feuilletons, speeches at meetings, and
the vague, uneasy, and violent sexual instincts which his parents had
transmitted to him. All these things together formed a monstrous grim
dream-world, from the dense night, the chaos and miasma of which there
darted dazzling rays of hope.
The cobbler used sometimes to drag his apprentice with him to Amelie's
restaurant. There it was that Olivier noticed the little hunchback with
the voice of a lark. Sitting and never talking to the workpeople, he had
had plenty of time to study the boy's sickly face, with its jutting brow
and shy, humiliated expression: he had heard the coarse jokes that had
been thrown at the boy, jokes which were met with silence and a faint
shuddering tremor. During certain revolutionary utterances he had seen
the boy's soft brown eyes light up with the chimerical ecstasy of the
future happiness,--a happiness which, even if he were ever to realize
it, would make but small difference in his stunted life. At such moments
his expression would illuminate his ugly face in such a way as to make
its ugliness forgotten. Even the fair Berthe was struck by it; one day
she told him of it, and, without a word of warning, kissed him on the
lips. The boy started back: he went pale and shuddering, and flung away
in disgust. The young woman had no time to notice him: she was already
quarreling with Joussier. Only Olivier observed Emmanuel's uneasiness:
he followed the boy with his eyes, and saw him withdraw into the shadow
with his hands trembling, head down, looking down at the floor, and
darting glances of desire and irritation at the girl. Olivier went up to
him, spoke to him gently and politely and soothed him.... Who can tell
all that gentleness can bring to a heart deprived of all consideration?
It is like a drop of water falling upon parched earth, greedily to be
sucked up. It needed only a few words, a smile, for the boy Emmanuel in
his heart of hearts to surrender to Olivier, and to determine to have
Olivier for his friend. Thereafter, when he met him in the street and
discovered that they were neighbors, it seemed to him to be a mysterious
sign from Fate that he had not been mistaken. He used to watch for
Olivier to pass the booth, and say good-day to him: and if ever Olivier
were thinking of other things and did not glance in his direction, then
Emmanuel would be hurt and sore.
It was a great day for him when Olivier came into Daddy Feuillette's
shop to leave an order. When the work was done Emmanuel took it to
Olivier's rooms; he had watched for him to come home so as to be sure of
finding him in. Olivier was lost in thought, hardly noticed him, paid
the bill, and said nothing: the boy seemed to wait, looked from right to
left, and began reluctantly to move away. Olivier, in his kindness,
guessed what was happening inside the boy: he smiled and tried to talk
to him in spite of the awkwardness he always felt in talking to any of
the people. But now he was able to find words simple and direct. An
intuitive perception of suffering made him see in the boy--(rather too
simply)--a little bird wounded by life, like himself, seeking
consolation with his head under his wing, sadly huddled up on his perch,
dreaming of wild flights into the light. A feeling that was something
akin to instinctive confidence brought the boy closer to him: he felt
the attraction of the silent soul, which made no moan and used no harsh
words, a soul wherein he could take shelter from the brutality of the
streets; and the room, thronged with books, filled with bookcases
wherein there slumbered the dreams of the ages, filled him with an
almost religious awe. He made no attempt to evade Olivier's questions:
he replied readily, with sudden gasps and starts of shyness and pride:
but he had no power of expression. Carefully, patiently, Olivier
unswathed his obscure stammering soul: little by little he was able to
read his hopes and his absurdly touching faith in the new birth of the
world. He had no desire to laugh, though he knew that the dream was
impossible, and would never change human nature. The Christians also
have dreamed of impossible things, and they have not changed human
nature. From the time of Pericles to the time of M. Fallieres when has
there been any moral progress?... But all faith is beautiful: and when
the light of an old faith dies down it is meet to salute the kindling of
the new: there will never be too many. With a curious tenderness Olivier
saw the uncertain light gleaming in the boy's mind. What a strange mind
it was!... Olivier was not altogether able to follow the movement of his
thoughts, which were incapable of any sustained effort of reason,
progressing in hops and jerks, and lagging behind in conversation,
unable to follow, clutching in some strange way at an image called up by
a word spoken some time before, then suddenly catching up, rushing
ahead, weaving a commonplace thought or an ordinary cautious phrase into
an enchanted world, a crazy and heroic creed. The boy's soul, slumbering
and waking by fits and starts, had a puerile and mighty need of
optimism: to every idea in art or science thrown out to it, it would add
some complacently melodramatic tag, which would link it up with and
satisfy its own chimerical dreams.
As an experiment Olivier tried reading aloud to the boy on Sundays. He
thought that he was most likely to be interested by realistic and
familiar stories: he read him Tolstoy's _Memories of Childhood_.
They made no impression on the boy: he said:
"That's quite all right. Things are like that. One knows that."
And he could not understand why anybody should take so much trouble to
write about real things....
"He's just a boy," he would say disdainfully, "just an ordinary little
He was no more responsive to the interest of history: and science bored
him: it was to him no more than a tiresome introduction to a fairy-tale:
the invisible forces brought into the service of man were like terrible
genii laid low. What was the use of so much explanation? When a man
finds something it is no good his telling how he found it, he need
only tell what it is that he has found. The analysis of thought is a luxury
of the upper-classes. The souls of the people demand synthesis, ideas
ready-made, well or ill, or rather ill-made than well, but all tending
to action, and composed of the gross realities of life, and charged with
electricity. Of all the literature open to Emmanuel that which most
nearly touched him was the epic pathos of certain passages in Hugo and
the fuliginous rhetoric of the revolutionary orators, whom he did not
rightly understand, characters who no more understood themselves than
Hugo did. To him as to them the world was not an incoherent collection
of reasons or facts, but an infinite space, steeped in darkness and
quivering with light, while through the night there passed the beating
of mighty wings all bathed in the sunlight. Olivier tried in vain to
make him grasp his cultivated logic. The boy's rebellious and weary soul
slipped through his fingers: and it sank back with a sigh of comfort and
relief into the indeterminate haze and the chafing of its own sensation
and hallucinations, like a woman in love giving herself with eyes closed
to her lover.
Olivier was at once attracted and disconcerted by the qualities in the
child so much akin to his own:--loneliness, proud weakness, idealistic
ardor,--and so very different,--the unbalanced mind, the blind and
unbridled desires, the savage sensuality which had no idea of good and
evil, as they are defined in ordinary morality. He had only a partial
glimpse of that sensuality which would have terrified him had he known
its full extent. He never dreamed of the existence of the world of
uneasy passions stirring and seething in the heart and mind of his
little friend. Our bourgeois atavism has given us too much wisdom. We
dare not even look within ourselves. If we were to tell a hundredth part
of the dreams that come to an ordinary honest man, or of the desires
which come into being in the body of a chaste woman, there would be a
scandal and an outcry. Silence such monsters! Bolt and bar their cage!
But let us admit that they exist, and that in the souls of the young
they are insecurely fettered.--The boy had all the erotic desires and
dreams which we agree among ourselves to regard as perverse: they would
suddenly rise up unawares and take him by the throat: they would come in
gusts and squalls: and they only gained in intensity and heat through
the irritation set up by the isolation to which his ugliness condemned
him. Olivier knew nothing of all this. Emmanuel was ashamed in his
presence. He felt the contagion of such peace and purity. The example of
such a life was a taming influence upon him. The boy felt a passionate
love for Olivier. And his suppressed passions rushed headlong into
tumultuous dreams of human happiness, social brotherhood, fantastic
aviation, wild barbaric poetry--a whole heroic, erotic, childish,
splendid, vulgar world in which his intelligence and his will were
tossed hither and thither in mental loafing and fever.
He did not have much time for indulging himself in this way, especially
in his grandfather's booth, for the old man was never silent for a
minute on end, but was always whistling, hammering, and talking from
morning to night; but there is always room for dreams. How many voyages
of the mind one can make standing up with wide-open eyes in the space of
a second!--Manual labor is fairly well suited to intermittent thought.
The working-man's mind would be hard put to it without an effort of the
will to follow a closely reasoned chain of argument: if he does manage
to do so he is always certain to miss a link here and there: but in the
intervals of rhythmic movement ideas crop up and mental images come
floating to the surface: the regular movements of the body send them
flying upwards like sparks under the smith's bellows. The thought of the
people! It is just smoke and fire, a shower of glittering sparks fading
away, glowing, then fading away once more! But sometimes a spark will be
carried away by the wind to set fire to the dried forests and the fat
ricks of the upper-classes....
Olivier procured Emmanuel a place in a printing house. It was the boy's
wish, and his grandfather did not oppose it; he was glad to see his
grandson better educated than himself, and he had a great respect for
printer's ink. In his new trade the boy found his work more exhausting
than in the old: but he felt more free to think among the throng of
workers than in the little shop where he used to sit alone with his
The best time of day was the dinner hour. He would escape and get right
away from the horde of artisans crowding round the little tables on the
pavement and into the wineshops of the district, and limp along to the
square hard by: and there he would sit astride a bench under a spreading
chestnut-tree, near a bronze dancing faun with grapes in his hands, and
untie his brown-paper parcel of bread and meat, and munch it slowly,
surrounded by a little crowd of sparrows. Over the green turf little
fountains spread the trickling web of their soft rain. Round-eyed,
slate-blue pigeons cooed in a sunlit tree. And all about him was the
perpetual hum of Paris, the roar of the carriages, the surging sea of
footsteps, the familiar street-cries, the gay distant whistle of a
china-mender, a navvy's hammer ringing out on the cobblestones, the
noble music of a fountain--all the fevered golden trappings of the
Parisian dream.--And the little hunchback, sitting astride his bench,
with his mouth full, never troubling to swallow, would drowse off into a
delicious torpor, in which he lost all consciousness of his twisted
spine and his craven soul, and was all steeped in an indeterminate
"... Soft warm light, sun of justice that art to shine for us to-morrow,
art thou not shining now? It is all so good, so beautiful! We are rich,
we are strong, we are hale, we love ... I love, I love all men, all men
love me.... Ah! How splendid it all is! How splendid it will be
* * * * *
The factory hooters would sound: the boy would come to his senses,
swallow down his mouthful, take a long drink at the Wallace fountain
near by, slip back into his hunchbacked shell, and go limping and
hobbling back to his place in the printing works in front of the cases
of magic letters which would one day write the _Mene, Mene, Tekel,
Upharsin_, of the Revolution.
Daddy Feuillet had a crony, Trouillot, the stationer on the other side
of the street. He kept a stationery and haberdashery shop, in the
windows of which were displayed pink and green bonbons in green bottles,
and pasteboard dolls without arms or legs. Prom either side of the
street, one standing on his doorstep, the other in his shop, the two old
men used to exchange winks and nods and a whole elaborate code of
pantomimic gesture. At intervals, when the cobbler was tired of
hammering, and had, as he used to say, the cramp in his buttocks, they
would hail each other, La Feuillette in his shrill treble, Trouillot
with a muffled roar, like a husky calf; and they would go off together
and take a nip at a neighboring bar. They were never in any hurry to
return. They were both infernally loquacious. They had known each other
for half a century. The stationer also had played a little walking-on
part in the great melodrama of 1871. To see the fat placid creature with
his black cap on his head and his white blouse, and his gray,
heavy-dragoon mustache, and his dull light-blue bloodshot eyes with
heavy pouches under the lids, and his flabby shining cheeks, always in a
perspiration, slow-footed, gouty, out of breath, heavy of speech, no one
would ever have thought it. But he had lost none of the illusions of the
old days. He had spent some years as a refugee in Switzerland, where he
had met comrades of all nations, notably many Russians, who had
initiated him in the beauties of anarchic brotherhood. On that point he
disagreed with La Feuillette, who was a proper Frenchman, an adherent of
the strong line and of absolutism in freedom. For the rest, they were
equally firm in their belief in the social revolution and the
working-class _salente_ of the future. Each was devoted to a leader
in whose person he saw incarnate the ideal man that each would have
liked to be. Trouillot was for Joussier, La Feuillette for Coquard. They
used to engage in interminable arguments about the points on which they
were divided, being quite confident that the thoughts upon which they
agreed were definitely decided;--(and they were so sure of their common
ground that they were never very far from believing, in their cups, that
it was a matter of hard fact).--The cobbler was the more argumentative
of the two. He believed as a matter of reason: or at least he flattered
himself that he did, for, Heaven knows, his reason was of a very
peculiar kind, and could have fitted the foot of no other man. However,
though he was less skilled in argument than in cobbling, he was always
insisting that other minds should be shod to his own measure. The
stationer was more indolent and less combative, and never worried about
proving his faith. A man only tries to prove what he doubts himself. He
had no doubt. His unfailing optimism always made him see things as he
wanted to see them, and not see things or forget them immediately when
they were otherwise. Whether he did so wilfully or from apathy he saved
himself from trouble of any sort: experience to the contrary slipped off
his hide without leaving a mark.--The two of them were romantic babies
with no sense of reality, and the revolution, the mere sound of the name
of which was enough to make them drunk, was only a jolly story they told
themselves, and never knew whether it would ever happen, or whether it
had actually happened. And the two of them firmly believed in the God of
Humanity merely by the transposition of the habits they had inherited
from their forbears, who for centuries had bowed before the Son of
Man.--It goes without saying that both men were anti-clerical.
The amusing part of it was that the honest stationer lived with a very
pious niece who did just what she liked with him. She was a very dark
little woman, plump, with sharp eyes and a gift of volubility spiced
with a strong Marseilles accent, and she was the widow of a clerk in the
Department of Commerce. When she was left alone with no money, with a
little girl, and received a home with her uncle, the common little
creature gave herself airs, and was more than a little inclined to think
that she was doing her shop-keeping relation a great favor by serving in
his shop: she reigned there with the airs of a fallen queen, though,
fortunately for her uncle's business and his customers, her arrogance
was tempered by her natural exuberance and her need of talking. As
befitted a person of her distinction, Madame Alexandrine was royalist
and clerical, and she used to parade her feelings with a zeal that was
all the more indiscreet as she took a malicious delight in teasing the
old miscreant in whose house she had taken up her abode. She had set
herself up as mistress of the house, and regarded herself as responsible
for the conscience of the whole household: if she was unable to convert
her uncle--(she had vowed to capture him _in extremis_),--she
busied herself to her heart's content with sprinkling the devil with
holy water. She fixed pictures of Our Lady of Lourdes and Saint Anthony
of Padua on the walls: she decorated the mantelpiece with little painted
images in glass cases: and in the proper season she made a little chapel
of the months of Mary with little blue candles in her daughter's
bedroom. It was impossible to tell which was the predominant factor in
her aggressive piety, real affection for the uncle she desired to
convert or a wicked joy in worrying the old man.
He put up with it apathetically and sleepily: he preferred not to run
the risk of rousing the tempestuous ire of his terrible niece: it was
impossible to fight against such a wagging tongue: he desired peace
above all things. Only once did he lose his temper, and that was when a
little Saint Joseph made a surreptitious attempt to creep into his room
and take up his stand above his bed: on this point he gained the day:
for he came very near to having an apoplectic fit, and his niece was
frightened: she did not try the experiment again. For the rest he gave
in, and pretended not to see: the odor of sanctity made him feel very
uncomfortable: but he tried not to think of it. On the other hand they
were at one in pampering the girl, little Reine, or Rainette.
She was twelve or thirteen, and was always ill. For some months past she
had been on her back with hip disease, with the whole of one side of her
body done up in plaster of Paris like a little Daphne in her shell. She
had eyes like a hurt dog's, and her skin was pallid and pale like a
plant grown out of the sun: her head was too big for her body, and her
fair hair, which was very soft and very tightly drawn back, made it
appear even bigger: but she had an expressive and sweet face, a sharp
little nose, and a childlike expression. The mother's piety had assumed
in the child, in her sickness and lack of interest, a fervid character.
She used to spend hours in telling her beads, a string of corals,
blessed by the Pope: and she would break off in her prayers to kiss it
passionately. She did next to nothing all day long: needlework made her
tired: Madame Alexandrine had not given her a taste for it. She did
little more than read a few insipid tracts, or a stupid miraculous
story, the pretentious and bald style of which seemed to her the very
flower of poetry,--or the criminal reports illustrated in color in the
Sunday papers which her stupid mother used to give her. She would
perhaps do a little crochet-work, moving her lips, and paying less
attention to her needle than to the conversation she would hold with
some favorite saint or even with God Himself. For it is useless to
pretend that it is necessary to be Joan of Are to have such visitations:
every one of us has had them. Only, as a rule, our celestial visitors
leave the talking to us as we sit by the fireside: and they say never a
word. Rainette never dreamed of taking exception to it: silence gives
consent. Besides, she had so much to tell them that she hardly gave them
time to reply: she used to answer for them. She was a silent chatterer:
she had inherited her mother's volubility: but her fluency was drawn off
in inward speeches like a stream disappearing underground.--Of course
she was a party to the conspiracy against her uncle with the object of
procuring his conversion: she rejoiced over every inch of the house
wrested by the spirit of light from the spirit of darkness: and on more
than one occasion she had sewn a holy medallion on to the inside of the
lining of the old man's coat or had slipped into one of his pockets the
bead of a rosary, which her uncle, in order to please her, had pretended
not to notice.--This seizure by the two pious women of the bitter foe of
the priests was a source of indignation and joy to the cobbler. He had
an inexhaustible store of coarse pleasantries on the subject of women
who wear breeches: and he used to jeer at his friend for letting himself
be under their thumb. As a matter of fact he had no right to scoff: for
he had himself been afflicted for twenty years with a shrewish
cross-grained wife, who had always regarded him as an old scamp and had
taken him down a peg or two. But he was always careful not to mention
her. The stationer was a little ashamed, and used to defend himself
feebly, and in a mealy voice profess a Kropotkinesque gospel of
Rainette and Emmanuel were friends. They had seen each other every day
ever since they were children. To be quite accurate, Emmanuel only
rarely ventured to enter the house. Madame Alexandrine used to regard
him with an unfavorable eye as the grandson of an unbeliever and a
horrid little dwarf. But Rainette used to spend the day on a sofa near
the window on the ground floor. Emmanuel used to tap at the window as he
passed, and, flattening his nose against the panes, he would make a face
by way of greeting. In summer, when the window was left open, he would
stop and lean his arms on the windowsill, which was a little high for
him;--(he fancied that this attitude was flattering to himself and that,
his shoulders being shrugged up in such a pose of intimacy, it might
serve to disguise his actual deformity);--and they would talk. Rainette
did not have too many visitors, and she never noticed that Emmanuel was
hunchbacked. Emmanuel, who was afraid and mortified in the presence of
girls, made an exception in favor of Rainette. The little invalid, who
was half petrified, was to him something intangible and far removed,
something almost outside existence. Only on the evening when the fair
Berthe kissed him on the lips, and the next day too, he avoided Rainette
with an instinctive feeling of repulsion: he passed the house without
stopping and hung his head: and he prowled about far away, fearfully and
suspiciously, like a pariah dog. Then he returned. There was so little
woman in her! As he was passing on his way home from the works, trying
to make himself as small as possible among the bookbinders in their long
working-blouses like nightgowns--busy merry young women whose hungry
eyes stripped him as he passed,--how eagerly he would scamper away to
Rainette's window! He was grateful for his little friend's infirmity:
with her he could give himself airs of superiority and even be a little
patronizing. With a little swagger he would tell her about the things
that happened in the street and always put himself in the foreground.
Sometimes in gallant mood he would bring Rainette a little present,
roast chestnuts in winter, a handful of cherries in summer. And she used
to give him some of the multi-colored sweets that filled the two glass
jars in the shop-window: and they would pore over picture postcards
together. Those were happy moments: they could both forget the pitiful
bodies in which their childish souls were held captive.
But sometimes they would begin to talk, like their elders, of politics
and religion. Then they would become as stupid as their elders. It put
an end to their sympathy and understanding. She would talk of miracles
and the nine days' devotion, or of pious images tricked out with paper
lace, and of days of indulgence. He used to tell her that it was all
folly and mummery, as he had heard his grandfather say. But when he in
turn tried to tell her about the public meetings to which the old man
had taken him, and the speeches he had heard, she would stop him
contemptuously and tell him that all such folk were drunken sots.
Bitterness would creep into their talk. They would get talking about
their relations: they would recount the insulting things that her mother
and his grandfather had said of each other respectively. Then they would
talk about themselves. They tried to say disagreeable things to each
other. They managed that without much difficulty. They indulged in
coarse gibes. But she was always the more malicious of the two. Then he
would go away: and when he returned he would tell her that he had been
with other girls, and how pretty they were, and how they had joked and
laughed, and how they were going to meet again next Sunday. She would
say nothing to that: she used to pretend to despise what he said: and
then, suddenly, she would grow angry, and throw her crochet-work at his
head, and shout at him to go, and declare that she loathed him: and she
would hide her face in her hands. He would leave her on that, not at all
proud of his victory. He longed to pull her thin little hands away from
her face and to tell her that it was not true. But his pride would not
suffer him to return.
One day Rainette had her revenge.--He was with some of the other boys at
the works. They did not like him because he used to hold as much aloof
from them as possible and never spoke, or talked too well, in a naively
pretentious way, like a book, or rather like a newspaper article--(he
was stuffed with newspaper articles).--That day they had begun to talk
of the revolution and the days to come. He waxed enthusiastic and made a
fool of himself. One of his comrades brought him up sharp with these
"To begin with, you won't be wanted, you're too ugly. In the society of
the future, there won't be any hunchbacks. They'll be drowned at birth."
That brought him toppling down from his lofty eloquence. He stopped
short, dumfounded. The others roared with laughter. All that afternoon
he went about with clenched teeth. In the evening he was going home,
hurrying back to hide away in a corner alone with his suffering. Olivier
met him: he was struck by his downcast expression: he guessed that he
"You are hurt. Why?"
Emmanuel refused to answer. Olivier pressed him kindly. The boy
persisted in his silence: but his jaw trembled as though he were on the
point of weeping. Olivier took his arm and led him back to his rooms.
Although he too had the cruel and instinctive feeling of repulsion from
ugliness and disease that is in all who are not born with the souls of
sisters of charity, he did not let it appear.
"Some one has hurt you?"
"What did they do?"
The boy laid bare his heart. He said that he was ugly. He said that his
comrades had told him that their revolution was not for him.
"It is not for them, either, my boy, nor for us. It is not a single
day's affair. It is all for those who will come after us."
The boy was taken aback by the thought that it would be so long
"Don't you like to think that people are working to give happiness to
thousands of boys like yourself, to millions of human beings?"
Emmanuel sighed and said:
"But it would be good to have a little happiness oneself."
"My dear boy, you mustn't be ungrateful. You live in the most beautiful
city, in an age that is most rich in marvels; you are not a fool, and
you have eyes to see. Think of all the things there are to be seen and
loved all around you."
He pointed out a few things.
The boy listened, nodded his head, and said:
"Yes, but I've got to face the fact that I shall always have to live in
this body of mine!"
"Not at all. You will quit it."
"And that will be the end."
"How do you know that?"
The boy was aghast. Materialism was part and parcel of his grandfather's
creed: he thought that it was only the priest-ridden prigs who believed
in an eternal life. He knew that his friend was not such a one: and he
wondered if Olivier could be speaking seriously. But Olivier held his
hand and expounded at length his idealistic faith, and the unity of
boundless life, that has neither beginning nor end, in which all the
millions of creatures and all the million million moments of time are
but rays of the sun, the sole source of it all. But he did not put it to
him in such an abstract form. Instinctively, when he talked to the boy,
he adapted himself to his mode of thought;--ancient legends, the
material and profound fancies of old cosmogonies were called to mind:
half in fun, half in earnest, he spoke of metempsychosis and the
succession of countless forms through which the soul passes and flows,
like a spring passing from pool to pool. All this was interspersed with
reminiscences of Christianity and images taken from the summer evening,
the light of which was cast upon them both. He was sitting by the open
window, and the boy was standing by his side, and their hands were
clasped. It was a Saturday evening. The bells were ringing. The earliest
swallows, only just returned, were skimming the walls of the houses. The
dim sky was smiling above the city, which was wrapped in shadow. The boy
held his breath and listened to the fairy-tale his man friend was
telling him. And Olivier, warmed by the eagerness of his young hearer,
was caught up by the interest of his own stories.
There are decisive moments in life when, just as the electric lights
suddenly flash out in the darkness of a great city, so the eternal fires
flare up in the darkness of the soul. A spark darting from another soul
is enough to transmit the Promethean fire to the waiting soul. On that
spring evening Olivier's calm words kindled the light that never dies in
the mind hidden in the boy's deformed body, as in a battered lantern. He
understood none of Olivier's arguments: he hardly heard them. But the
legends and images which were only beautiful stories and parables to
Olivier, took living shape and form in his mind, and were most real. The
fairy-tale lived, moved, and breathed all around him. And the view
framed in the window of the room, the people passing in the street, rich
and poor, the swallows skimming the walls, the jaded horses dragging
their loads along, the stones of the houses drinking in the cool shadow
of the twilight, and the pale heavens where the light was dying--all the
outside world was softly imprinted on his mind, softly as a kiss. It was
but the flash of a moment. Then the light died down. He thought of
Rainette, and said;
"But the people who go to Mass, the people who believe in God, are all
cracked, aren't they?"
"They believe," he said, "as we do. We all believe the same thing. Only
their belief is less than ours. They are people who have to shut all the
shutters and light the lamp before they can see the light. They see God
in the shape of a man. We have keener eyes. But the light that we love
is the same."
The boy went home through the dark streets in which the gas-lamps were
not yet lit. Olivier's words were ringing in his head. He thought that
it was as cruel to laugh at people because they had weak eyes as because
they were hunchbacked. And he thought that Rainette had very pretty
eyes: and he thought that he had brought tears into them. He could not
bear that. He turned and went across to the stationer's. The window was
still a little open: and he thrust his head inside and called in a
She did not reply.
"Rainette. I beg your pardon."
From the darkness came Rainette's voice, saying:
"Beast! I hate you."
"I'm sorry," he said.
He stopped. Then, on a sudden impulse, he said in an even softer
whisper, uneasily, rather shamefacedly:
"You know, Rainette, I believe in God just as you do."
He said it only out of generosity. But, as soon as he had said it, he
began to believe it.
They stayed still and did not speak. They could not see each other.
Outside the night was so fair, so sweet!... The little cripple murmured:
"How good it will be when one is dead!"
He could hear Rainette's soft breathing.
"Good-night, little one."
Tenderly came Rainette's voice:
He went away comforted. He was glad that Rainette had forgiven him. And,
in his inmost soul, the little sufferer was not sorry to think that he
had been the cause of suffering to the girl.
* * * * *
Olivier had gone into retirement once more. It was not long before
Christophe rejoined him. It was very certain that their place was not
with the syndicalist movement: Olivier could not throw in his lot with
such people. And Christophe would not. Olivier flung away from them in
the name of the weak and the oppressed; Christophe in the name of the
strong and the independent. But though they had withdrawn, one to the
bows, the other to the stern, they were still traveling in the vessel
which was carrying the army of the working-classes and the whole of
society. Free and self-confident, Christophe watched with tingling
interest the coalition of the proletarians: he needed every now and then
to plunge into the vat of the people: it relaxed him: he always issued
from it fresher and jollier. He kept up his relation with Coquard, and
he went on taking his meals from time to time at Amelie's. When he was
there he lost all self-control, and would whole-heartedly indulge his
fantastic humor: he was not afraid of paradox: and he took a malicious
delight in pushing his companions to the extreme consequences of their
absurd and wild principles. They never knew whether he was speaking in
jest or in earnest: for he always grew warm as he talked, and always in
the end lost sight of the paradoxical point of view with which he had
begun. The artist in him was carried away by the intoxication of the rest.
In one such moment of esthetic emotion in Amelie's back-shop, he
improvised a revolutionary song, which was at once tried, repeated, and
on the very next day spread to every group of the working-classes. He
compromised himself. He was marked by the police. Manousse, who was in
touch with the innermost chambers of authority, was warned by one of his
friends, Xavier Bernard, a young official in the police department, who
dabbled in literature and expressed a violent admiration for
Christophe's music:--(for dilettantism and the spirit of anarchy had
spread even to the watchdogs of the Third Republic).
"That Krafft of yours is making himself a nuisance," said Bernard to
Manousse. "He's playing the braggart. We know what it means: but I tell
you that those in high places would be not at all sorry to catch a
foreigner--what's more, a German--in a revolutionary plot: it is the
regular method of discrediting the party and casting suspicion upon its
doings. If the idiot doesn't look out we shall be obliged to arrest him.
It's a bore. You'd better warn him."
Manousse did warn Christophe: Olivier begged him to be careful.
Christophe did not take their advice seriously.
"Bah!" he said. "Everybody knows there's no harm in me. I've a perfect
right to amuse myself. I like these people. They work as I do, and they
have faith, and so have I. As a matter of fact, it isn't the same faith;
we don't belong to the same camp.... Very well! We'll fight. Not that I
don't like fighting. What would you? I can't do as you do, and stay
curled up in my shell. I must breathe. I'm stifled by the comfortable
Olivier, whose lungs were not so exacting, was quite at his ease in his
small rooms with the tranquil society of his two women friends, though
one of them, Madame Arnaud, had flung herself into charitable work, and
the other, Cecile, was entirely taken up with looking after the baby, to
such an extent that she could talk of nothing else and to nobody else,
in that twittering, beatific tone which is an attempt to emulate the
note of a little bird, and to mold its formless song into human speech.
His excursion into working-class circles had left him with two
acquaintances. Two men of independent views, like himself. One of them,
Guerin, was an upholsterer. He worked when he felt so disposed,
capriciously, though he was very skilful. He loved his trade. He had a
natural taste for artistic things, and had developed it by observation,
work, and visits to museums. Olivier had commissioned him to repair an
old piece of furniture: it was a difficult job, and the upholsterer had
done it with great skill: he had taken a lot of time and trouble over
it: he sent in a very modest bill to Olivier because he was so delighted
with his success. Olivier became interested in him, questioned him about
his life, and tried to find out what he thought of the working-class
movement. Guerin had no thought about it: he never worried about it. At
bottom he did not belong to the working-class, or to any class. He read
very little. All his intellectual development had come about through his
senses, eyes, hands, and the taste innate in the true Parisian. He was a
happy man. The type is by no means rare among the working people of the
lower middle-class, who are one of the most intelligent classes in the
nation: for they realize a fine balance between manual labor and healthy
Olivier's other acquaintance was a man of a more original kind. He was a
postman, named Hurteloup. He was a tall, handsome creature, with bright
eyes, a little fair beard and mustache, and an open, merry expression.
One day he came with a registered letter, and walked into Olivier's
room. While Olivier was signing the receipt, he wandered round, looking
at the books, with his nose thrust close up to their backs:
"Ha! Ha!" he said. "You have the classics...."
"I collect books on history. Especially books about Burgundy."
"You are a Burgundian?" asked Olivier.
L'epee au cote,
La barbe au menton,
replied the postman with a laugh. "I come from the Avallon country. I
have family papers going back to 1200 and something...."
Olivier was intrigued, and tried to find out more about him. Hurteloup
asked nothing better than to be allowed to talk. He belonged, in fact,
to one of the oldest families in Burgundy. One of his ancestors had been
on crusade with Philippe Auguste: another had been secretary of State
under Henri II. The family had begun to decay in the seventeenth
century. At the time of the Revolution, ruined and despairing, they had
taken the plunge into the ocean of the people. Now they were coming to
the surface again as the result of honest work and the physical and
moral vigor of Hurteloup the postman, and his fidelity to his race. His
greatest hobby had been collecting historical and genealogical documents
relating to his family and their native country. In off hours he used to
go to the Archives and copy out old papers. Whenever he did not
understand them he would go and ask one of the people on his beat, a
Chartist or a student at the Sorbonne, to explain. His illustrious
ancestry did not turn his head: he would speak of it laughingly, with
never a shade of embarrassment or of indignation at the hardness of
fate. His careless sturdy gaiety was a delightful thing to see. And when
Olivier looked at him he thought of the mysterious ebb and flow of the
life of human families, which for centuries flows burningly, for
centuries disappears under the ground, and then comes bubbling forth
again, having gathered fresh energy from the depths of the earth. And
the people seemed to him to be an immense reservoir into which the
rivers of the past plunge, while the rivers of the future spring forth
again, and, though they bear a new name, are sometimes the same as those
He was in sympathy with both Guerin and Hurteloup: but it is obvious
that they could not be company for him: between him and them there was
no great possibility of conversation. The boy Emmanuel took up more of
his time: he came now almost every evening. Since their magical talk
together a revolution had taken place in the boy. He had plunged into
reading with a fierce desire for knowledge. He would come back from his
books bewildered and stupefied. Sometimes he seemed even less
intelligent than before: he would hardly speak: Olivier could only get
him to answer in monosyllables: the boy would make fatuous replies to
his questions. Olivier would lose heart: he would try not to let it be
seen: but he thought he had made a mistake, and that the boy was
thoroughly stupid. He could not see the frightful fevered travail in
incubation that was going on in the inner depths of the boy's soul.
Besides, he was a bad teacher, and was more fitted to sow the good seed
at random in the fields than to weed the soil and plow the furrows.
Christophe's presence only served to increase the difficulty. Olivier
felt a certain awkwardness in showing his young protege to his friend:
he was ashamed of Emmanuel's stupidity, which was raised to alarming
proportions when Jean-Christophe was in the room. Then the boy would
withdraw into bashful sullenness. He hated Christophe because Olivier
loved him: he could not bear any one else to have a place in his
master's heart. Neither Christophe nor Olivier had any idea of the love
and jealousy tugging at the boy's heart. And yet Christophe had been
through it himself in old days. But he was unable to see himself in the
boy who was fashioned of such different metal from that of which he
himself was made. In the strange obscure combination of inherited
taints, everything, love, hate, and latent genius, gave out an entirely
* * * * *
The First of May was approaching. A sinister rumor ran through Paris.
The blustering leaders of the C.G.T. were doing their best to spread it.
Their papers were announcing the coming of the great day, mobilizing the
forces of the working-classes, and directing the word of terror upon the
point in which the comfortable classes were mostly sensitive--namely,
upon the stomach.... _Feri ventrem_.... They were threatening them
with a general strike. The scared Parisians were leaving for the country
or laying in provisions as against a siege. Christophe had met Canet, in
his motor, carrying two hams and a sack of potatoes: he was beside
himself: he did not in the least know to which party he belonged: he was
in turn an old Republican, a royalist, and a revolutionary. His cult of
violence was like a compass gone wrong, with the needle darting from
north to south and from south to north. In public he still played the
part of chorus to the wild speeches of his friends: but he would have
taken _in petto_ the first dictator who came along and swept away
the red spectre.
Christophe was tickled to death by such universal cowardice. He was
convinced that nothing would come of it all. Olivier was not so sure.
His birth into the burgess-class had given him something of the
inevitable and everlasting tremulation which the comfortable classes
always feel upon the recollection or the expectation of Revolution.
"That's all right!" said Christophe. "You can sleep in peace. Your
Revolution isn't going to happen to-morrow. You're all afraid. Afraid of
being hurt. That sort of fear is everywhere. In the upper-classes, in
the people, in every nation, in all the nations of the West. There's not
enough blood in the whole lot of them: they're afraid of spilling a
little. For the last forty years all the fighting has been done in words,
in newspaper articles. Just look at your old Dreyfus Affair. You
shouted loud enough: 'Death! Blood! Slaughter!'... Oh! you Gascons!
Spittle and ink! But how many drops of blood?"
"Don't you be so sure," said Olivier. "The fear of blood is a secret
instinctive feeling that on the first shedding of it the beast in man
will see red, and the brute will appear again under the crust of
civilization: and God knows how it will ever be muzzled! Everybody
hesitates to declare war: but when the war does come it will be a
Christophe shrugged his shoulders and said that it was not for nothing
that the heroes of the age were lying heroes, Cyrano the braggart and
the swaggering cock, Chantecler.
Olivier nodded. He knew that in France bragging is the beginning of
action. However, he had no more faith than Christophe in an immediate
movement: it had been too loudly proclaimed, and the Government was on
its guard. There was reason to believe that the syndicalist strategists
would postpone the fight for a more favorable opportunity.
During the latter half of April Olivier had an attack of influenza: he
used to get it every winter about the same time, and it always used to
develop into his old enemy, bronchitis. Christophe stayed with him for a
few days. The attack was only a slight one, and soon passed. But, as
usual, it left Olivier morally and physically worn out, and he was in
this condition for some time after the fever had subsided. He stayed in
bed, lying still for hours without any desire to get up or even to move:
he lay there watching Christophe, who was sitting at his desk, working,
with his back towards him.
Christophe was absorbed in his work. Sometimes, when he was tired of
writing, he would suddenly get up and walk over to the piano: he would
play, not what he had written, but just whatever came into his mind.
Then there came to pass a very strange thing. While the music he had
written was conceived in a style which recalled that of his earlier
work, what he played was like that of another man. It was music of a
world raucous and uncontrolled. There were in it a disorder and a
violence, and incoherence which had no resemblance at all to the
powerful order and logic which were everywhere present in his other
music. These unconsidered improvizations, escaping the scrutiny of his
artistic conscience, sprang, like the cry of an animal, from the flesh
rather than from the mind; and seemed to reveal a disturbance of the
balance of his soul, a storm brewing in the depths of the future.
Christophe was quite unconscious of it: but Olivier would listen, look
at Christophe, and feel vaguely uneasy. In his weak condition he had a
singular power of penetration, a far-seeing eye: he saw things that no
other man could perceive.
Christophe thumped out a final chord and stopped all in a sweat, and
looking rather haggard: he looked at Olivier, and there was still a
troubled expression in his eyes; then he began to laugh, and went back
to his desk. Olivier asked him:
"What was that, Christophe?"
"Nothing," replied Christophe. "I'm stirring the water to attract my
"Are you going to write that?"
"That? What do you mean?"
"What you've just said."
"What did I say? I don't remember."
"What were you thinking of?"
"I don't know," said Christophe, drawing his hand across his forehead.
He went on writing. Silence once mere filled the room. Olivier went on
looking at Christophe. Christophe felt that he was looking, and turned.
Olivier's eyes were upon him with such a hunger of affection!
"Lazy brute!" he said gaily.
"What's the matter?" asked Christophe.
"Oh! Christophe! To think there are so many things in you, sitting
there, close at hand, treasures that you will give to others, and I
shall never be able to share!..."
"Are you mad? What's come to you?"
"I wonder what your life will be. I wonder what peril and sorrow you
have still to go through.... I would like to follow you. I would like to
be with you.... But I shan't see anything of it all. I shall be left
stuck stupidly by the wayside."
"Stupid? You are that. Do you think that I would leave you behind even
if you wanted to be left?"
"You will forget me," said Olivier.
Christophe got up and went and sat on the bed by Olivier's side: he took
his wrists, which were wet with a clammy sweat of weakness. His
nightshirt was open at the neck, showing his weak chest, his too
transparent skin, which was stretched and thin like a sail blown out by
a puff of wind to rending point. Christophe's strong fingers fumbled as
he buttoned the neckband of Olivier's nightshirt. Olivier suffered him.
"Dear Christophe!" he said tenderly. "Yet I have had one great happiness
in my life!"
"Oh! what on earth are you thinking of?" said Christophe. "You're as
well as I am."
"Yes," said Olivier.
"Then why talk nonsense?"
"I was wrong," said Olivier, ashamed and smiling. "Influenza is so
"Pull yourself together, though! Get up."
"Not now. Later on."
He stayed in bed, dreaming. Next day he got up. But he was only able to
sit musing by the fireside. It was a mild and misty April. Through the
soft veil of silvery mist the little green leaves were unfolding their
cocoons, and invisible birds were singing the song of the hidden sun.
Olivier wound the skein of his memories. He saw himself once more as a
child, in the train carrying him away from his native town, through the
mist, with his mother weeping. Antoinette was sitting by herself at the
other end of the carriage.... Delicate shapes, fine landscapes, were
drawn in his mind's eye. Lovely verses came of their own accord, with
every syllable and charming rhythm in due order. He was near his desk:
he had only to reach out his hand to take his pen and write down his
poetic visions. But his will failed him: he was tired: he knew that the
perfume of his dreams would evaporate so soon as he tried to catch and
hold them. It was always so: the best of himself could never find
expression: his mind was like a little valley full of flowers: but
hardly a soul had access to it: and as soon as they were picked the
flowers faded. No more than just a few had been able languidly to
survive, a few delicate little tales, a few pieces of verse, which all
gave out a fragrant, fading scent. His artistic impotence had for a long
time been one of Olivier's greatest griefs. It was so hard to feel so
much life in himself and to be able to save none of it!...--Now he was
resigned. Flowers do not need to be seen to blossom. They are only the
more beautiful in the fields where no hand can pluck them. Happy, happy
fields with flowers dreaming in the sun!--Here in the little valley
there was hardly any sun; but Olivier's dreams flowered all the better
for it. What stories he wove for his own delight in those days, stories
sad and tender and fantastic! They came he knew not whence, sailing like
white clouds in a summer sky, melted into thin air, and others followed
them: he was full of them. Sometimes the sky was clear: in the light of
it Olivier would sit drowsily until once more, with all sail set, there
would come gliding the silent ships of dreams.
In the evening the little hunchback would come in. Olivier was so full
of stories that he told him one, smiling, eager and engrossed in the
tale. Often he would go on talking to himself, with the boy breathing
never a word. In the end he would altogether forget his presence....
Christophe arrived in the middle of the story, and was struck by its
beauty, and asked Olivier to begin all over again. Olivier refused:
"I am in the same position as yourself," he said. "I don't know anything
"That is not true," said Christophe. "You're a regular Frenchman, and
you always know exactly what you are doing and saying. You never forget
"Alas!" said Olivier.
"Begin again, then."
"I'm too tired. What's the good?"
Christophe was annoyed.
"That's all wrong," he said. "What's the good of your having ideas? You
throw away what you have. It's an utter waste." "Nothing is ever lost,"
The little hunchback started from the stillness he had maintained during
Olivier's story--sitting with his face towards the window, with eyes
blankly staring, and a frown on his face and a fierce expression so that
it was impossible to tell what he was thinking. He got up and said:
"It will be fine to-morrow."
"I bet," said Christophe to Olivier, "that he didn't even listen."
"To-morrow, the First of May," Emmanuel went on, while his morose
expression lighted up.
"That is his story," said Olivier. "You shall tell it me tomorrow."
"Nonsense!" said Christophe.
Next day Christophe called for Olivier to take him for a walk in Paris.
Olivier was better: but he still had the same strange feeling of
exhaustion: he did not want to go out, he had a vague fear, he did not
like mixing with the crowd. His heart and mind were brave: but the flesh
was weak. He was afraid of a crush, an affray, brutality of all sorts:
he knew only too well that he was fated to be a victim, that he could
not, even would not, defend himself: for he had as great a horror of
giving pain as of suffering it himself. Men who are sick in body shudder
away from physical suffering more readily than others, because they are
more familiar with it, because they have less power to resist, and
because it is presented more immediately and more poignantly to their
heated imagination. Olivier was ashamed of this physical cowardice of
his which was in entire contradiction to the stoicism of his will: and
he tried hard to fight it down. But this morning the thought of human
contact of any sort was painful to him, and he would gladly have
remained indoors all day long. Christophe scolded him, rallied him,
absolutely insisted on his going out and throwing off his stupor: for
quite ten days he had not had a breath of air. Olivier pretended not to
pay any attention. Christophe said:
"Very well. I'll go without you. I want to see their First of May. If I
don't come back to-night, you will know that I have been locked up."
He went out. Olivier caught him up on the stairs. He would not leave
Christophe to go alone.
There were very few people in the streets. A few little work-girls
wearing sprays of lily-of-the-valley. Working-people in their Sunday
clothes were walking about rather listlessly. At the street corners, and
near the Metro stations were groups of policemen in plain clothes. The
gates of the Luxembourg were closed. The weather was still foggy and
damp. It was a long, long time since the sun had shown himself!... The
friends walked arm in arm. They spoke but little, but they were very
glad of each other. A few words were enough to call up all their tender
memories of the intimate past. They stopped in front of a _mairie_
to look at the barometer, which had an upward tendency.
"To-morrow," said Olivier, "I shall see the sun."
They were quite near the house where Cecile lived. They thought of going
in and giving the baby a hug.
"No. We can do it when we come back."
On the other side of the river they began to fall in with more people.
Just ordinary peaceful people taking a walk, wearing their Sunday
clothes and faces; poor people with their babies: workmen loafing. A few
here and there wore the red eglantine in their buttonholes: they looked
quite inoffensive: they were revolutionaries by dint of self-persuasion:
they were obviously quite benevolent and optimistic at heart, well
satisfied with the smallest opportunities for happiness: whether it were
fine or merely passable for their holiday, they were grateful for it ...
they did not know exactly to whom ... to everything and everybody about
them. They walked along without any hurry, expansively admiring the new
leaves of the trees and the pretty dresses of the little girls who went
by: they said proudly:
"Only in Paris can you see children so well dressed as that."
Christophe made fun of the famous upheaval that had been predicted....
Such nice people!... He was quite fond of them, although a little
As they got farther along the crowd thickened. Men with pale hangdog
faces and horrible mouths slipped into the stream of people, all on the
alert, waiting for the time to pounce on their prey. The mud was stirred
up. With every inch the river grew more and more turbid. Now it flowed
slowly thick, opaque, and heavy. Like air-bubbles rising from the depths
to the greasy surface, there came up calling voices, shrill whistles,
the cries of the newsboys, piercing the dull roar of the multitude, and
made it possible to take the measure of its strata. At the end of a
street, near Amelie's restaurant, there was a noise like that of a
mill-race. The crowd was stemmed up against several ranks of police and
soldiers. In front of the obstacles a serried mass was formed, howling,
whistling, singing, laughing, and eddying this way and that.... The
laughter of the people is the only means they have of expressing a
thousand obscure and yet deep feelings which cannot find an outlet in
The multitude was not hostile. The people did not know what they wanted.
Until they did know they were content to amuse themselves--after their
own nervous, brutal fashion, still without malice--to amuse themselves
with pushing and being pushed, insulting the police and each other. But
little by little, they lost their ardor. Those who came up from behind
got tired of being able to see nothing, and were the more provocative
inasmuch as they ran little risk behind the shelter of the human
barricade in front of them. Those in front, being crushed between those
who were pushing and those who were offering resistance, grew more and
more exasperated as their position became more and more intolerable: the
force of the current pushing them on increased their own force an
hundredfold. And all of them, as they were squeezed closer and closer
together, like cattle, felt the warmth of the whole herd creeping
through their breasts and their loins: and it seemed to them then that
they formed a solid block: and each was all, each was a giant with the
arms of Briareus. Every now and then a wave of blood would surge to the
heart of the thousand-headed monster: eyes would dart hatred, murderous
cries would go up. Men cowering away in the third and fourth row began
to throw stones. Whole families were looking down from the windows of
the houses: it was like being at the play: they excited the mob and
waited with a little thrill of agonized impatience for the troops to
Christophe forced his way through the dense throng with elbows and
knees, like a wedge. Olivier followed him. The living mass parted for a
moment to let them pass and closed again at once behind them. Christophe
was in fine fettle. He had entirely forgotten that only five minutes ago
he had denied the possibility of an upheaval of the people. Hardly had
he set foot inside the stream than he was swept along: though he was a
foreigner in this crowd of Frenchmen and a stranger to their demands,
yet he was suddenly engulfed by them: little he cared what they wanted:
he wanted it too: little he cared whither they were going: he was going
too, drinking in the breath of their madness.
Olivier was dragged along after him, but it was no joy to him; he saw
clearly, he never lost his self-consciousness, and was a thousand times
more a stranger to the passions of these people who were his people than
Christophe, and yet he was carried away by them like a piece of
wreckage. His illness, which had weakened him, had also relaxed
everything that bound him to life. How far removed he felt from these
people!... Being free from the delirium that was in them and having all
his wits at liberty, his mind took in the minutest details. It gave him
pleasure to gaze at the bust of a girl standing in front of him and at
her pretty, white neck. And at the same time he was disgusted by the
sickly, thick smell that was given off from the close-packed heap of
"Christophe!" he begged.
Christophe did not hear him.
"Let's go home."
"You're afraid?" said Christophe.
He pushed on. Olivier followed him with a sad smile.
A few rows in front of them, in the danger zone where the people were so
huddled together as to form a solid barricade, he saw his friend the
little hunchback perched on the roof of a newspaper kiosk. He was
clinging with both hands, and crouching in a most uncomfortable
position, and laughing as he looked over the wall of soldiers: and then
he would turn again and look back at the crowd with an air of triumph.
He saw Olivier and beamed at him: then once more he began to peer across
the soldiers, over the square, with his eyes wide staring in hope and
expectation ... of what?--Of the thing which was to come to pass.... He
was not alone. There were many, many others all around him waiting for
the miracle! And Olivier, looking at Christophe, saw that he too was
He called to the boy and shouted to him to come down. Emmanuel pretended
not to hear and looked away. He had seen Christophe. He was glad to be
in a position of peril in the turmoil, partly to show his courage to
Olivier, partly to punish him for being with Christophe.
Meanwhile they had come across some of their friends in the
crowd,--Coquard, with his golden beard, who expected nothing more than a
little jostling and crushing, and with the eye of an expert was watching
for the moment when the vessel would overflow. Farther on they met the
fair Berthe, who was slanging the people about her and getting roughly
mauled. She had succeeded in wriggling through to the front row, and she
was hurling insults at the police. Coquard came up to Christophe. When
Christophe saw him he began to chaff him:
"What did I tell you? Nothing is going to happen."
"That remains to be seen!" said Coquard. "Don't you be too sure. It
won't be long before the fun begins."
"Rot!" said Christophe.
At that very moment the cuirassiers, getting tired of having stones
flung at them, marched forward to clear the entrances to the square: the
central body came forward at a double. Immediately the stampede began.
As the Gospel has it, the first were last. But they took good care not
to be last for long. By way of covering their confusion the runaways
yelled at the soldiers following them and screamed: "Assassins!" long
before a single blow had been struck. Berthe wriggled through the crowd
like an eel, shrieking at the top of her voice. She rejoined her
friends; and taking shelter behind Coquard's broad back, she recovered
her breath, pressed close up against Christophe, gripped his arm, in
fear or for some other reason, ogled Olivier, and shook her fist at the
enemy, and screeched. Coquard took Christophe's arm and said:
"Let's go to Amelie's,"
They had very little way to go. Berthe had preceded them with Graillot
and a few workmen. Christophe was on the point of entering followed by
Olivier. The street had a shelving ridge. The pavement, by the creamery,
was five or six steps higher than the roadway. Olivier stopped to take a
long breath after his escape from the crowd. He disliked the idea of
being in the poisoned air of the restaurant and the clamorous voices of
these fanatics. He said to Christopher:
"I'm going home."
"Very well, then, old fellow," said Christophe. "I'll rejoin you in an
hour from now."
"Don't run any risks, Christophe!"
"Coward!" said Christophe, laughing.
He turned into the creamery.
Olivier walked along to the corner of the shop. A few steps more and he
would be in a little by-street which would take him out of the uproar.
The thought of his little protege crossed his mind. He turned to look
for him. He saw him at the very moment when Emmanuel had slipped down
from his coign of vantage and was rolling on the ground being trampled
underfoot by the rabble: the fugitives were running over his body: the
police were just reaching the spot. Olivier did not stop to think: he
rushed down the steps and ran to his aid. A navvy saw the danger, the
soldiers with drawn sabers. Olivier holding out his hand to the boy to
help him up, the savage rush of the police knocked them both over. He
shouted out, and in his turn rushed in. Some of his comrades followed at
a run. Others rushed down from the threshold of the restaurant, and, on
their cries, came those who had already entered. The two bodies of men
hurled themselves at each other's throats like dogs. And the women,
standing at the top of the steps, screamed and yelled.--So Olivier, the
aristocrat, the essentially middle-class nature, released the spring of
the battle, which no man desired less than he.
Christophe was swept along by the workmen and plunged into the fray
without knowing who had been the cause of it. Nothing was farther from
his thoughts than that Olivier had taken part in it. He thought him far
away in safety. It was impossible to see anything of the fight. Every
man had enough to do in keeping an eye on his opponent. Olivier had
disappeared in the whirlpool like a foundered ship. He had received a
jab from a bayonet, meant for some one else, in his left breast: he
fell: the crowd trampled him underfoot. Christophe had been swept away
by an eddy to the farthest extremity of the field of battle. He did not
fight with any animosity: he jostled and was jostled with a fierce zest
as though he was in the throng at a village fair. So little did he think
of the serious nature of the affair that when he was gripped by a huge,
broad-shouldered policeman and closed with him, he saw the thing in
grotesque and said:
"My waltz, I think."
But when another policeman pounced on to his back, he shook himself like
a wild boar, and hammered away with his fists at the two of them: he had
no intention of being taken prisoner. One of his adversaries, the man
who had seized him from behind, rolled down on the ground. The other
lost his head and drew his sword. Christophe saw the point of the saber
come within a hand's breadth of his chest: he dodged, and twisted the
man's wrist and tried to wrench his weapon from him. He could not
understand it: till then it had seemed to him just a game. They went on
struggling and battering at each other's faces. He had no time to stop
to think. He saw murder in the other man's eyes: and murderous desire
awoke in him. He saw that the man would slit him up like a sheep. With a
sudden movement he turned the man's hand and sword against himself: he
plunged the sword into his breast, felt that he was killing him, and
killed him. And suddenly the whole thing was changed: he was mad,
intoxicated, and he roared aloud.
His yells produced an indescribable effect. The crowd had smelt blood.
In a moment it became a savage pack. On all sides swords were drawn. The
red flag appeared in the windows of the houses. And old memories of
Parisian revolutions prompted them to build a barricade. The stones were
torn up from the street, the gas lamps were wrenched away, trees were
pulled up, an omnibus was overturned. A trench that had been left open
for months in connection with work on the _Metropolitain_ was
turned to account. The cast-iron railings round the trees were broken up
and used as missiles. Weapons were brought out of pockets and from the
houses. In less than an hour the scuffle had grown into an insurrection:
the whole district was in a state of siege. And, on the barricade, was
Christophe, unrecognizable, shouting his revolutionary song, which was
taken up by a score of voices. Olivier had been carried to Amelie's. He
was unconscious. He had been laid on a bed in the dark back-shop. At the
foot of the bed stood the hunchback, numbed and distraught. At first
Berthe had been overcome with emotion: at a distance she had thought it
was Graillot who had been wounded, and, when she recognized Olivier, her
first exclamation had been:
"What a good thing! I thought it was Leopold."
But now she was full of pity.. And she kissed Olivier and held his head
on the pillow. With her usual calmness Amelie had undone his clothes and
dressed his wound. Manousse Heimann was there, fortunately, with his
inseparable Canet. Like Christophe they had come out of curiosity to see
the demonstration: they had been present at the affray and seen Olivier
fall. Canet was blubbering like a child: and at the same time he was
"What on earth am I doing here?"
Manousse examined Olivier: at once he saw that it was all over. He had a
great feeling for Olivier: but he was not a man to worry about what
can't be helped: and he turned his thoughts to Christophe. He admired
Christophe though he regarded him as a pathological case. He knew his
ideas about the Revolution: and he wanted to deliver him from the
idiotic danger he was running in a cause that was not his own. The risk
of a broken head in the scuffle was not the only one: if Christophe were
taken, everything pointed to his being used as an example and getting
more than he bargained for. Manousse had long ago been warned that the
police had their eye on Christophe: they would saddle him not only with
his own follies but with those of others. Xavier Bernard, whom Manousse
had just encountered, prowling through the crowd, for his own amusement
as well as in pursuit of duty, had nodded to him as he passed and said:
"That Krafft of yours is an idiot. Would you believe that he's putting
himself up as a mark on the barricade! We shan't miss him this time.
You'd better get him out of harm's way."
That was easier said than done. If Christophe were to find out that
Olivier was dying he would become a raging madman, he would go out to
kill, he would be killed. Manousse said to Bernard:
"If he doesn't go at once, he's done for. I'll try and take him away."
"In Canet's motor. It's over there at the corner of the street."
"Please, please...." gulped Canet.
"You must take him to Laroche," Manousse went on. "You will get there in
time to catch the Pontarlier express. You must pack him off to
"He won't go."
"He will. I'll tell him that Jeannin will follow him, or has already
Without paying any attention to Canet's objections Manousse set out to
find Christophe on the barricade. He was not very courageous, he started
every time he heard a shot: and he counted the cobble-stones over which
he stepped--(odd or even), to make out his chances of being killed. He
did not stop, but went through with it. When he reached the barricade he
found Christophe, perched on a wheel of the overturned omnibus, amusing
himself by firing pistol-shots into the air. Round the barricade the
riff-raff of Paris, spewed up from the gutters, had swollen up like the
dirty water from a sewer after heavy rain. The original combatants were
drowned by it. Manousse shouted to Christophe, whose back was turned to
him. Christophe did not hear him. Manousse climbed up to him and plucked
at his sleeve. Christophe pushed him away and almost knocked him down.
Manousse stuck to it, climbed up again, and shouted:
In the uproar the rest of the sentence was lost. Christophe stopped
short, dropped his revolver, and, slipping down from his scaffolding, he
rejoined Manousse, who started pulling him away.
"You must clear out," said Manousse.
"Where is Olivier?"
"You must clear out," repeated Manousse.
"Why?" said Christophe.
"The barricade will be captured in an hour. You will be arrested
"What have I done?"
"Look at your hands.... Come!... There's no room for doubt, they won't
spare you. Everybody recognized you. You've not got a moment to lose."
"Where is Olivier?"
"I'll go and join him."
"You can't do that. The police are waiting for you at the door. He sent
me to warn you. You must cut and run."
"Where do you want me to go?"
"To Switzerland. Canet will take you out of this in his car."
"There's no time to talk...."
"I won't go without seeing him."
"You'll see him there. He'll join you to-morrow. He'll go by the first
train. Quick! I'll explain."
He caught hold of Christophe. Christophe was dazed by the noise and the
wave of madness that had rushed through him, could not understand what
he had done and what he was being asked to do, and let himself be
dragged away. Manousse took his arm, and with his other hand caught hold
of Canet, who was not at all pleased with the part allotted to him in
the affair: and he packed the two of them into the car. The worthy Canet
would have been bitterly sorry if Christophe had been caught, but he
would have much preferred some one else to help him to escape. Manousse
knew his man. And as he had some qualms about Canet's cowardice, he
changed his mind just as he was leaving them and the car was getting
into its stride and climbed up and sat with them.
Olivier did not recover consciousness. Amelie and the little hunchback
were left alone in the room. Such a sad room it was, airless and gloomy!
It was almost dark.... For one instant Olivier emerged from the abyss.
He felt Emmanuel's tears and kisses on his hand. He smiled faintly, and
painfully laid his hand on the boy's head. Such a heavy hand it was!...
Then he sank back once more....
By the dying man's head, on the pillow, Amelie had laid a First of May
nosegay, a few sprays of lily-of-the-valley. A leaky tap in the
courtyard dripped, dripped into a bucket. For a second mental images
hovered tremblingly at the back of his mind, like a light flickering and
dying down ... a house in the country with glycine on the walls: a
garden where a child was playing: a boy lying on the turf: a little
fountain plashing in its stone basin: a little girl laughing....
They drove out of Paris. They crossed the vast plains of France shrouded
in mist. It was an evening like that on which Christophe had arrived in
Paris ten years before. He was a fugitive then, as now. But then his
friend, the man who loved him, was alive: and Christophe was fleeing
During the first hour Christophe was still under the excitement of the
fight: he talked volubly in a loud voice: in a breathless, jerky fashion
he kept on telling what he had seen and heard: he was proud of his
achievement and felt no remorse. Manousse and Canet talked too, by way
of making him forget. Gradually his feverish excitement subsided, and
Christophe stopped talking: his two companions went on making
conversation alone. He was a little bewildered by the afternoon's
adventures, but in no way abashed. He recollected the time when he had
come to France, a fugitive then, always a fugitive. It made him laugh.
No doubt he was fated to be so. It gave him no pain to be leaving Paris:
the world is wide: men are the same everywhere. It mattered little to
him where he might be so long as he was with his friend. He was counting
on seeing him again next day. They had promised him that.
They reached Laroche. Manousse and Canet did not leave him until they
had seen him into the train. Christophe made them say over the name of
the place where he was to get out, and the name of the hotel, and the
post-office where he would find his letters. In spite of themselves, as
they left him, they both looked utterly dejected. Christophe wrung their
"Come!" he shouted, "don't look so like a funeral Good Lord, we shall
meet again! Nothing easier! We'll write to each other to-morrow."
The train started. They watched it disappear.
"Poor devil!" said Manousse.
They got back into the car. They were silent. After a short time Canet
said to Manousse:
"Bah! the dead are dead. We must help the living."
As night fell Christophe's excitement subsided altogether. He sat
huddled in a corner of the carriage, and pondered. He was sobered and
icy cold. He looked down at his hands and saw blood on them that was not
his own. He gave a shiver of disgust. The scene of the murder came
before him once more. He remembered that he had killed a man: and now he
knew not why. He began to go over the whole battle from the very
beginning; but now he saw it in a very different light. He could not
understand how he had got mixed up in it. He went back over every
incident of the day from the moment when he had left the house with
Olivier: he saw the two of them walking through Paris until the moment
when he had been caught up by the whirlwind. There he lost the thread:
the chain of his thoughts was snapped: how could he have shouted and
struck out and moved with those men with whose beliefs he disagreed? It
was not he, it was not he!... It was a total eclipse of his will!... He
was dazed by it and ashamed. He was not his own master then? Who was his
master?... He was being carried by the express through the night: and
the inward night through which he was being carried was no less dark,
nor was the unknown force less swift and dizzy.... He tried hard to
shake off his unease: but one anxiety was followed by another. The
nearer he came to his destination, the more he thought of Olivier; and
he was oppressed by an unreasoning fear.
As he arrived he looked through the window across the platform for the
familiar face of his friend.... There was no one. He got out and still
went on looking about him. Once or twice he thought he saw.... No, it
was not "he." He went to the appointed hotel. Olivier was not there.
There was no reason for Christophe to be surprised: how could Olivier
have preceded him?... But from that moment on he was in an agony of
It was morning. Christophe went up to his room. Then he came down again,
had breakfast, sauntered through the streets. He pretended to be free of
anxiety and looked at the lake and the shop-windows, chaffed the girl in
the restaurant, and turned over the illustrated papers.... Nothing
interested him. The day dragged through, slowly and heavily. About seven
o'clock in the evening, Christophe having, for want of anything else to
do, dined early and eaten nothing, went up to his room, and asked that
as soon as the friend he was expecting arrived, he should be brought up
to him. He sat down at the desk with his back turned to the door. He had
nothing to busy himself with, no baggage, no books: only a paper that he
had just bought: he forced himself to read it: but his mind was
wandering: he was listening for footsteps in the corridor. All his
nerves were on edge with the exhaustion of a day's anxious waiting and a
Suddenly he heard some one open the door. Some indefinable feeling made
him not turn around at once. He felt a hand on his shoulder. Then he
turned and saw Olivier smiling at him. He was not surprised, and said:
"Ah, here you are at last!"
The illusion vanished.
Christophe got up suddenly, knocking over chair and table. His hair
stood on end. He stood still for a moment, livid, with his teeth
At the end of that moment--(in vain did he shut his eyes to it and tell
himself: "I know nothing")--he knew everything: he was sure of what he
was going to hear.
He could not stay in his room. He went down into the street and walked
about for an hour. When he returned the porter met him in the hall of
the hotel and gave him a letter. _The_ letter. He was quite sure it
would be there. His hand trembled as he took it. He opened it, saw that
Olivier was dead, and fainted.
The letter was from Manousse. It said that in concealing the disaster
from him the day before, and hurrying him off, they had only been
obeying Olivier's wishes, who had desired to insure his friend's
escape,--that it was useless for Christophe to stay, as it would mean
the end of him also,--that it was his duty to seek safety for the sake
of his friend's memory, and for his other friends, and for the sake of
his own fame, etc., etc.... Amelie had added three lines in her big,
scrawling handwriting, to say that she would take every care of the poor
When Christophe came back to himself he was furiously angry. He wanted
to kill Manousse. He ran to the station. The hall of the hotel was
empty, the streets were deserted: in the darkness the few belated
passers-by did not notice his wildly staring eyes or his furious
breathing. His mind had fastened as firmly as a bulldog with its fangs
on to the one fixed idea: "Kill Manousse! Kill!..." He wanted to return
to Paris. The night express had gone an hour before. He had to wait
until the next morning. He could not wait. He took the first train that
went in the direction of Paris, a train which stopped at every station.
When he was left alone in the carriage Christophe cried over and over
"It is not true! It is not true!"
At the second station across the French frontier the train stopped
altogether: it did not go any farther. Shaking with fury, Christophe got
out and asked for another train, battering the sleepy officials with
questions, and only knocking up against indifference. Whatever he did he
would arrive too late. Too late for Olivier. He could not even manage to
catch Manousse. He would be arrested first. What was he to do? Which way
to turn? To go on? To go back? What was the use? What was the use?... He
thought of giving himself up to a gendarme who went past him. He was
held back by an obscure instinct for life which bade him return to
Switzerland. There was no train in either direction for a few hours.
Christophe sat down in the waiting-room, could not keep still, left the
station, and blindly followed the road on through the night. He found
himself in the middle of a bare countryside--fields, broken here and
there with clumps of pines, the vanguard of a forest. He plunged into
it. He had hardly gone more than a few steps when he flung himself down
on the ground and cried:
He lay across the path and sobbed.
A long time afterwards a train whistling in the distance roused him and
made him get up. He tried to go back to the station, but took the wrong
road. He walked on all through the night. What did it matter to him
where he went? He went on walking to keep from thinking, walking,
walking, until he could not think, walking on in the hope that he might
fall dead. Ah! if only he might die!...
At dawn he found himself in a French village a long way from the
frontier. All night he had been walking away from it. He went into an
inn, ate a huge meal, set out once more, and walked on and on. During
the day he sank down in the middle of a field and lay there asleep until
the evening. When he woke up it was to face another night. His fury had
abated. He was left only with frightful grief that choked him. He
dragged himself to a farmhouse, and asked for a piece of bread and a
truss of straw for a bed. The farmer stared hard at him, cut him a slice
of bread, led him into the stable, and locked it. Christophe lay in the
straw near the thickly-smelling cows, and devoured his bread. Tears were
streaming down his face. Neither his hunger nor his sorrow could be
appeased. During the night sleep once more delivered him from his agony
for a few hours. He woke up next day on the sound of the door opening.
He lay still and did not move. He did not want to come back to life. The
farmer stopped and looked down at him for a long time: he was holding in
his hand a paper, at which he glanced from time to time. At last he
moved forward and thrust his newspaper in front of Christophe. His
portrait was on the front page.
"It is I," said Christophe. "You'd better give me up."
"Get up," said the farmer.
Christophe got up. The man motioned to him to follow. They went behind
the barn and walked along a winding path through an orchard. They came
to a cross, and then the farmer pointed along a road and said to
"The frontier is over there."
Christophe walked on mechanically. He did not know why he should go on.
He was so tired, so broken in body and soul, that he longed to stop with
every stride. But he felt that if he were to stop he would never be able
to go on again, never budge from the spot where he fell. He walked on
right through the day. He had not a penny to buy bread. Besides, he
avoided the villages. He had a queer feeling which entirely baffled his
reason, that, though he wished to die, he was afraid of being taken
prisoner: his body was like a hunted animal fleeing before its captors.
His physical wretchedness, exhaustion, hunger, an obscure feeling of
terror which was augmented by his worn-out condition, for the time being
smothered his moral distress. His one thought was to find a refuge where
he could in safety be alone with his distress and feed on it.
He crossed the frontier. In the distance he saw a town surmounted with
towers and steeples and factory chimneys, from which the thick smoke
streamed like black rivers, monotonously, all in the same direction
across the gray sky under the rain. He was very near a collapse. Just
then he remembered that he knew a German doctor, one Erich Braun, who
lived in the town, and had written to him the year before, after one of
his successes, to remind him of their old acquaintance. Dull though
Braun might be, little though he might enter into his life, yet, like a
wounded animal, Christophe made a supreme effort before he gave in to
reach the house of some one who was not altogether a stranger.
Under the cloud of smoke and rain, he entered the gray and red city. He
walked through it, seeing nothing, asking his way, losing himself, going
back, wandering aimlessly. He was at the end of his tether. For the last
time he screwed up his will that was so near to breaking-point to climb
up the steep alleys, and the stairs which went to the top of a stiff
little hill, closely overbuilt with houses round a gloomy church. There
were sixty red stone steps in threes and sixes. Between each little
flight of steps was a narrow platform for the door of a house. On each
platform Christophe stopped swaying to take breath. Far over his head,
above the church tower, crows were whirling.
At last he came upon the name he was looking for. He knocked.--The alley
was in darkness. In utter weariness he closed his eyes. All was dark
within him.... Ages passed.
The narrow door was opened. A woman appeared on the threshold. Her face
was in darkness: but her outline was sharply shown against the
background of a little garden which could be clearly seen at the end of
a long passage, in the light of the setting sun. She was tall, and stood
very erect, without a word, waiting for him to speak. He could not see
her eyes: but he felt them taking him in. He asked for Doctor Erich
Braun and gave his name. He had great difficulty in getting the words
out. He was worn out with fatigue, hunger, and thirst. Without a word
the woman went away, and Christophe followed her into a room with closed
shutters. In the darkness he bumped into her: his knees and body brushed
against her. She went out again and closed the door of the room and left
him in the dark. He stayed quite still, for fear of knocking something
over, leaning against the wall with his forehead against the soft
hangings: his ears buzzed: the darkness seemed alive and throbbing to
Overhead he heard a chair being moved, an exclamation of surprise, a
door slammed. Then came heavy footsteps down the stairs.
"Where is he?" asked a voice that he knew.
The door of the room was opened once more.
"What! You left him in the dark! Anna! Good gracious! A light!"
Christophe was so weak, he was so utterly wretched, that the sound of
the man's loud voice, cordial as it was, brought him comfort in his
misery. He gripped the hand that was held out to him. The two men looked
at each other. Braun was a little man: he had a red face with a black,
scrubby and untidy beard, kind eyes twinkling behind spectacles, a
broad, bumpy, wrinkled, worried, inexpressive brow, hair carefully
plastered down and parted right down to his neck. He was very ugly: but
Christophe was very glad to see him and to be shaking hands with him.
Braun made no effort to conceal his surprise.
"Good Heavens! How changed he is! What a state he is in!"
"I'm just come from Paris," said Christophe, "I'm a fugitive."
"I know, I know. We saw the papers. They said you were caught. Thank
God! You've been much in our thoughts, mine and Anna's."
He stopped and made Christophe known to the silent creature who had
She had stayed in the doorway of the room with a lamp in her hand. She
had a taciturn face with a firm chin. The light fell on her brown hair
with its reddish shades of color, and on her pallid cheeks. She held out
her hand to Christophe stiffly with the elbow close against her side: he
took it without looking at her. He was almost done.
"I came...." he tried to explain. "I thought you would be so kind ... if
it isn't putting you out too much ... as to put me up for a day--"
Braun did not let him finish.
"A day!... Twenty days, fifty, as long as you like. As long as you are
in this country you shall stay in our house: and I hope you will stay
for a long time. It is an honor and a great happiness for us."
Christophe was overwhelmed by his kind words. He flung himself into
"My dear Christophe, my dear Christophe!" said Braun.... "He is
weeping.... Well, well what is it?... Anna! Anna!... Quick, he has
Christophe had collapsed in his host's arms. He had succumbed to the
fainting fit which had been imminent for several hours.
When he opened his eyes again he was lying in a great bed. A smell of
wet earth came up through the open window. Braun was bending over him.
"Forgive me," murmured Christophe, trying to get up.
"He is dying of hunger!" cried Braun.
The woman went out and returned with a cup and gave him to drink. Braun
held his head. Christophe was restored to life: but his exhaustion was
stronger than his hunger: hardly was his head laid back on the pillow
than he went to sleep. Braun and his wife watched over him: then, seeing
that he only needed rest, they left him.
He fell into the sort of sleep that seems to last for years, a heavy
crushing sleep, dropping like a piece of lead to the bottom of a lake.
In such a sleep a man is a prey to his accumulated weariness and the
monstrous hallucinations which are forever prowling at the gates of his
will. He tried to wake up, burning, broken, lost in the impenetrable
darkness: he heard the clocks striking the half hours: he could not
breathe, or think, or move: he was bound and gagged like a man flung
into water to drown: he tried to struggle, but only sank down
again.--Dawn came at length, the tardy gray dawn of a rainy day. The
intolerable heat that consumed him grew less: but his body was pinned
under the weight of a mountain. He woke up. It was a terrible awakening.
"Why open my eyes? Why wake up? Rather stay, like my poor friend, who is
lying under the earth...."
He lay on his back and never moved, although he was cramped by his
position in the bed: his legs and arms were heavy as stone. He was in a
grave. A dim pale light. A few drops of rain dashed against the windows.
A bird in the garden was uttering a little plaintive cry. Oh! the misery
of life! The cruel futility of it all!...
The hours crept by. Braun came in. Christophe did not turn his head.
Seeing his eyes open, Braun greeted him joyfully: and as Christophe went
on grimly staring at the ceiling he tried to make him shake off his
melancholy: he sat down on the bed and chattered noisily. Christophe
could not bear the noise. He made an effort, superhuman it seemed to
him, and said:
"Please leave me alone."
The good little man changed his tone at once.
"You want to be alone? Why, of course. Keep quiet. Rest, don't talk,
we'll bring you up something to eat, and no one shall say a word."
But it was impossible for him to be brief. After endless explanations he
tiptoed from the room with his huge slippers creaking on the floor.
Christophe was left alone once more, and sank back into his mortal
weariness. His thoughts were veiled by the mist of suffering. He wore
himself out in trying to understand.... "Why had he known him? Why had
he loved him? What good had Antoinette's devotion been? What was the
meaning of all the lives and generations,--so much experience and
hope--ending in that life, dragged down with it into the void?"... Life
was meaningless. Death was meaningless. A man was blotted out, shuffled
out of existence, a whole family disappeared from the face of the earth,
leaving no trace. Impossible to tell whether it is more odious or more
grotesque. He burst into a fit of angry laughter, laughter of hatred and
despair. His impotence in the face of such sorrow, his sorrow in the
face of such impotence, were dragging him down to death. His heart was
There was not a sound in the house, save the doctor's footsteps as he
went out on his rounds. Christophe had lost all idea of the time, when
Anna appeared. She brought him some dinner on a tray. He watched her
without stirring, without even moving his lips to thank her: but in his
staring eyes, which seemed to see nothing, the image of the young woman
was graven with photographic clarity. Long afterwards, when he knew her
better, it was always thus that he saw her: later impressions were never
able to efface that first memory of her. She had thick hair done up in a
heavy knob, a bulging forehead, wide cheeks, a short, straight nose,
eyes perpetually cast down, and when they met the eyes of another, they
would turn away with an expression in which there was little frankness
and small kindness: her lips were a trifle thick, and closely pressed
together, and she had a stubborn, rather hard expression. She was tall,
apparently big and well made, but her clothes were very stiff and tight,
and she was cramped in her movements. She came silently and noiselessly
and laid the tray on the table by the bed and went out again with her
arms close to her sides and her head down. Christophe felt no surprise
at her strange and rather absurd appearance: he did not touch his food
and relapsed into his silent suffering.
The day passed. Evening came and once more Anna with more food. She
found the meal she had brought in the morning still untouched: and she
took it away without a remark. She had none of those fond observations
which all women seem instinctively to produce for the benefit of an
invalid. It was as though Christophe did not exist for her, as though
she herself hardly existed. This time Christophe felt a sort of dumb
hostility as impatiently he followed her awkward hasty movements.
However, he was grateful to her for not trying to talk.--He was even
more grateful to her when, after she had gone, he had to put up with the
doctor's protestations, when he observed that Christophe had not touched
the earlier meal. He was angry with his wife for not having forced
Christophe to eat, and now tried to compel him to do so. For the sake of
peace, Christophe had to gulp down a little milk. After that he turned
his back on him.
The next night was more tranquil. Heavy sleep once more drew Christophe
into its state of nothingness. Not a trace of hateful life was
left.--But waking up was even more suffocating than before. He went on
turning over and over all the details of the fateful day, Olivier's
reluctance to leave the house, his urgent desire to go home, and he said
to himself in despair:
"It was I who killed him...."
He could not bear to stay there any longer, shut up in that room, lying
motionless beneath the claws of the fierce-eyed sphinx that went on
battering him with its dizzy rain of questions and its deathlike breath.
He got up all in a fever: he dragged himself out of the room and went
downstairs: in his instinctive fear he was driven to cling to other
human creatures. And as soon as he heard another voice he felt a longing
to rush away.
Braun was in the dining-room. He received Christophe with his usual
demonstrations of friendship and at once began to ply him with questions
as to what had happened in Paris. Christophe seized him by the arm:
"No," he said. "Don't ask me. Later on.... You mustn't mind. I can't,
now. I'm dead tired, worn out...."
"I know, I know," said Braun kindly. "Your nerves are shaken. The
emotions of the last few days. Don't talk. Don't put yourself out in any
way. You are free, you are at home here. No one will worry about you."
He kept his word. By way of sparing his guest he went to the opposite
extreme: he dared not even talk to his wife in Christophe's presence: he
talked in whispers and walked about on tiptoe: the house became still
and silent. Exasperated by the whispering and the silence and the
affectation of it all, Christophe had to beg Braun to go on living just
as he usually did.
For some days no one paid any attention to Christophe. He would sit for
hours together in the corner of a room, or he would wander through the
house like a man in a dream. What were his thoughts? He hardly knew. He
hardly had even strength enough to suffer. He was crushed. The dryness
of his heart was a horror to him. He had only one desire: to be buried
with "him" and to make an end.--One day he found the garden-door open
and went out. But it hurt him so much to be in the light of day that he
returned hurriedly and shut himself up in his room with all the shutters
closed. Fine days were torture to him. He hated the sun. The brutal
serenity of Nature overwhelmed him. At meals he would eat in silence the
food that Braun laid before him, and he would sit with never a word
staring down at the table. One day Braun pointed to the piano in the
drawing-room: Christophe turned from it in terror. Noise of any sort was
detestable to him. Silence, silence, and the night!... There was
nothing in him save an aching void, and a need of emptiness. Gone was
his joy in life, gone the splendid bird of joy that once used to soar
blithely, ecstatically upwards, pouring out song. There were days when,
sitting in his room, he had no more feeling of life than the halting
tic-tac of the clock in the next room, that seemed to be beating in his
own brain. And yet, the wild bird of joy was still in him, it would
suddenly take flight, and flutter against the bars of its cage: and in
the depths of his soul there was a frightful tumult of sorrow--"the
bitter cry of one living in the wilderness...."
The world's misery lies in this, that a man hardly ever has a companion.
Women perhaps, and chance friendships. We are reckless in our use of the
lovely word, friend. In reality we hardly have a single friend all
through our lives. Rare, very rare, are those men who have real friends.
But the happiness of it is so great that it is impossible to live when
they are gone. The friend filled the life of his friend, unbeknown to
him, unmarked. The friend goes: and life is empty. Not only the beloved
is lost, but every reason for loving, every reason for having loved. Why
had he lived? Why had either lived?
The blow of Olivier's death was the more terrible to Christophe in that
it fell just at a time when his whole nature was in a state of upheaval.
There are in life certain ages when there takes place a silently working
organic change in a man: then body and soul are more susceptible to
attack from without; the mind is weakened, its power is sapped by a
vague sadness, a feeling of satiety, a sort of detachment from what it
is doing, an incapacity for seeing any other course of action. At such
periods of their lives when these crises occur, the majority of men are
bound by domestic ties, forming a safeguard for them, which, it is true,
deprives them of the freedom of mind necessary for self-judgment, for
discovering where they stand, and for beginning to build up a healthy
new life. For them so many sorrows, so much bitterness and disgust
remain concealed!... Onward! Onward! A man must ever be pressing on....
The common round, anxiety and care for the family for which he is
responsible, keep a man like a jaded horse, sleeping between the shafts,
and trotting on and on.--But a free man has nothing to support him in
his hours of negation, nothing to force him to go on. He goes on as a
matter of habit: he knows not whither he is going. His powers are
scattered, his consciousness is obscured. It is an awful thing for him
if, just at the moment when he is most asleep, there comes a thunderclap
to break in upon his somnambulism! Then he comes very nigh to
A few letters from Paris, which at last reached him, plucked Christophe
for a moment out of his despairing apathy. They were from Cecile and
Madame Arnaud. They brought him messages of comfort. Cold comfort.
Futile condolence. Those who talk about suffering know it not. The
letters only brought him an echo of the voice that was gone.... He had
not the heart to reply: and the letters ceased. In his despondency he
tried to blot out his tracks. To disappear.... Suffering is unjust: all
those who had loved him dropped out of his existence. Only one creature
still existed: the man who was dead. For many weeks he strove to bring
him to life again: he used to talk to him, write to him:
"My dear, I had no letter from you to-day. Where are you? Come back,
come back, speak to me, write to me!..."
But at night, hard though he tried, he could never succeed in seeing him
in his dreams. We rarely dream of those we have lost, while their loss
is still a pain. They come back to us later on when we are beginning to
However, the outside world began gradually to penetrate to the sepulcher
of Christophe's soul. At first he became dimly conscious of the
different noises in the house and to take an unwitting interest in them.
He marked the time of day when the front door opened and shut, and how
often during the day, and the different ways in which it was opened for
the various visitors. He knew Braun's step: he used to visualize the
doctor coming back from his rounds, stopping in the hall, hanging up his
hat and cloak, always with the same meticulous fussy way. And when the
accustomed noises came up to him out of the order in which he had come
to look for them, he could not help trying to discover the reason for
the change. At meals he began mechanically to listen to the
conversation. He saw that Braun almost always talked single-handed. His
wife used only to give him a curt reply. Braun was never put out by the
want of anybody to talk to: he used to chat pleasantly and verbosely
about the houses he had visited and the gossip he had picked up. At
last, one day, Christophe looked at Braun while he was speaking: Braun
was delighted, and laid himself out to keep him interested.
Christophe tried to pick up the threads of life again.... It was utterly
exhausting! He felt old, as old as the world!... In the morning when he
got up and saw himself in the mirror he was disgusted with his body, his
gestures, his idiotic figure. Get up, dress, to what end?... He tried
desperately to work: it made him sick. What was the good of creation,
when everything ends in nothing? Music had become impossible for Mm.
Art--(and everything else)--can only be rightly judged in unhappiness.
Unhappiness is the touchstone. Only then do we know those who can stride
across the ages, those who are stronger than death. Very few bear the
test. In unhappiness we are struck by the mediocrity of certain souls
upon whom we had counted--(and of the artists we had loved, who had been
like friends to our lives).--Who survives? How hollow does the beauty of
the world ring under the touch of sorrow!
But sorrow grows weary, the force goes from its grip. Christophe's
nerves were relaxed. He slept, slept unceasingly. It seemed that he
would never succeed in satisfying his hunger for sleep.
At last one night he slept so profoundly that he did not wake up until
well on into the afternoon of the next day. The house was empty. Braun
and his wife had gone out. The window was open, and the smiling air was
quivering with light. Christophe felt that a crushing weight had been
lifted from him. He got up and went down into the garden. It was a
narrow rectangle, inclosed within high walls, like those of a convent.
There were gravel paths between grass-plots and humble flowers; and an
arbor of grape-vines and climbing roses. A tiny fountain trickled from a
grotto built of stones: an acacia against the wall hung its
sweet-scented branches over the next garden. Above stood the old tower
of the church, of red sandstone. It was four o'clock in the evening. The
garden was already in shadow. The sun was still shining on the top of
the tree and the red belfry. Christophe sat in the arbor, with his back
to the wall, and his head thrown back, looking at the limpid sky through
the interlacing tendrils of the vine and the roses. It was like waking
from a nightmare. Everywhere was stillness and silence. Above his head
nodded a cluster of roses languorously. Suddenly the most lovely rose of
all shed its petals and died: the snow of the rose-leaves was scattered
on the air. It was like the passing of a lovely innocent life. So
simply!... In Christophe's mind it took on a significance of a rending
sweetness. He choked: he hid his face in his hands, and sobbed....
The bells in the church tower rang out. From one church to another
called answering voices.... Christophe lost all consciousness of the
passage of time. When he raised his head, the bells were silent and the
sun had disappeared. Christophe was comforted by his tears: they had
washed away the stains from his mind. Within himself he heard a little
stream of music well forth and he saw the little crescent moon glide
into the evening sky. He was called to himself by the sound of footsteps
entering the house. He went up to his room, locked the door, and let the
fountain of music gush forth. Braun summoned him to dinner, knocked at
the door, and tried to open it: Christophe made no reply. Anxiously
Braun looked through the keyhole and was reassured when he saw
Christophe lying half over the table surrounded with paper which he was
blackening with ink.
A few hours later, worn out, Christophe went downstairs and found the
doctor reading, impatiently waiting for him in the drawing-room. He
embraced the little man, asked him to forgive him for his strange
conduct since his arrival, and, without waiting to be asked, he began to
tell Braun about the dramatic events of the past weeks. It was the only