Part 6 out of 10
time he ever talked to him about it: he was never sure that Braun had
understood him, for he talked disconnectedly, and it was very late, and,
in spite of his eager interest, Braun was nearly dead with sleep. At
last--(the clock struck two)--Christophe saw it and they said
From that time on Christophe's existence was reconstituted. He did not
maintain his condition of transitory excitement: he came back to his
sorrow, but it was normal sorrow which did not interfere with his life.
He could not help returning to life! Though he had just lost his dearest
friend in the world, though his grief had undermined him and Death had
been his most intimate companion, there was in him such an abundant,
such a tyrannical force of life, that it burst forth even in his
elegies, shining forth from his eyes, his lips, his gestures. But a
gnawing canker had crept into the heart of his force. Christophe had
fits of despair, transports rather. He would be quite calm, trying to
read, or walking: suddenly he would see Olivier's smile, his tired,
gentle face.... It would tug at his heart.... He would falter, lay his
hand on his breast, and moan. One day he was at the piano playing a
passage from Beethoven with his old zest.... Suddenly he stopped, flung
himself on the ground, buried his face in the cushions of a chair, and
Worst of all was the sensation of having "already lived" that was
constantly with him. He was continually coming across familiar gestures,
familiar words, the perpetual recurrence of the same experiences. He
knew everything, had foreseen everything. One face would remind him of a
face he had known and the lips would say--(as he was quite sure they
would)--exactly the same things as he had heard from the original:
beings similar to each other would pass through similar phases, knock up
against the same obstacles, suffer from them in exactly the same way. If
it is true that "nothing so much brings weariness of life as the new
beginning of love," how much more then the new beginning of everything!
It was elusive and delusive.--Christophe tried not to think of it, since
it was necessary to do so, if he were to live, and since he wished to
live. It is the saddest hypocrisy, such rejection of self-knowledge, in
shame or piety, it is the invincible imperative need of living hiding
away from itself! Knowing that no consolation is possible, a man invents
consolations. Being convinced that life has no reason, he forges reasons
for living. He persuades himself that he must live, even when no one
outside himself is concerned. If need be he will go so far as to pretend
that the dead man encourages him to live. And he knows that he is
putting into the dead man's mouth the words that he wishes him to say. O
Christophe set out on the road once more: his step seemed to have
regained its old assurance: the gates of his heart were closed upon his
sorrow: he never spoke of it to others: he avoided being left alone with
it himself: outwardly he seemed calm.
"_Real sorrows_," says Balzac, "_are apparently at peace in the deep bed
that they have made for themselves, where they seem to sleep, though all
the while they never cease to fret and eat away the soul_."
Any one knowing Christophe and watching him closely, seeing him coming
and going, talking, composing, even laughing--(he could laugh
now!)--would have felt that for all his vigor and the radiance of life
in his eyes, something had been destroyed in him, in the inmost depths
of his life.
* * * * *
As soon as he had regained his hold on life he had to look about him for
a means of living. There could be no question of his leaving the town.
Switzerland was the safest shelter for him: and where else could he have
found more devoted hospitality?--But his pride could not suffer the idea
of his being any further a burden upon his friend. In spite of Braun's
protestations, and his refusal to accept any payment, he could not rest
until he had found enough pupils to permit of his paying his hosts for
his board and lodging. It was not an easy matter. The story of his
revolutionary escapade had been widely circulated: and the worthy
families of the place were reluctant to admit a man who was regarded as
dangerous, or at any rate extraordinary, and, in consequence, not quite
"respectable," to their midst. However, his fame as a musician and
Braun's good offices gained him access to four or five of the less
timorous or more curious families, who were perhaps artistically
snobbish enough to desire to gain particularity. They were none the less
careful to keep an eye on him, and to maintain a respectable distance
between master and pupils.
The Braun household fell into a methodically ordered existence. In the
morning each member of it went about his business: the doctor on his
rounds, Christophe to his pupils, Madame Braun to the market and about
her charitable works. Christophe used to return about one, a little
before Braun, who would not allow them to wait for him; and he used to
sit down to dinner alone with the wife. He did not like that at all: for
she was not sympathetic to him, and he could never find anything to say
to her. She took no trouble to remove his impression, though it was
impossible for her not to be aware of it; she never bothered to put
herself out in dress or in mind to please him: she never spoke to
Christophe first: her notable lack of charm in movement and dress, her
awkwardness, her coldness, would have repelled any man who was as
sensitive as Christophe to the charm of women. When he remembered the
sparkling elegance of the Parisian women, he could not help thinking, as
he looked at Anna:
"How ugly she is!"
Yet that was unjust: and he was not slow to notice the beauty of her
hair, her hands, her mouth, her eyes,--on the rare occasions when he
chanced to meet her gaze, which she always averted at once. But his
opinion was never modified. As a matter of politeness he forced himself
to speak to her: he labored to find subjects of conversation: she never
gave him the smallest assistance. Several times he tried to ask her
about the town, her husband, herself: he could get nothing out of her.
She would make the most trivial answers: she would make an effort to
smile: but the effort was painfully evident; her smile was forced, her
voice was hollow: she drawled and dragged every word: her every sentence
was followed by a painful silence. At last Christophe only spoke to her
as little as possible; and she was grateful to him for it. It was a
great relief to both of them when the doctor came in. He was always in a
good humor, talkative, busy, vulgar, worthy. He ate, drank, talked,
laughed, plentifully. Anna used to talk to him a little: but they hardly
ever touched on anything but the food in front of them or the price of
things. Sometimes Braun would jokingly tease her about her pious works
and the minister's sermons. Then she would stiffen herself, and relapse
into an offended silence until the end of the meal. More often the
doctor would talk about his patients: he would delight in describing
repulsive cases, with a pleasant elaboration of detail which used to
exasperate Christophe. Then he would throw his napkin on the table and
get up, making faces of disgust which simply delighted the teller. Braun
would stop at once, and soothe his friend and laugh. At the next meal he
would begin again. His hospital pleasantries seemed to have the power to
enliven the impassive Anna. She would break her silence with a sudden
nervous laugh, which was something animal in quality. Perhaps she felt
no less disgust than Christophe at the things that made her laugh.
In the afternoon Christophe had very few pupils. Then, as a rule, he
would stay at home with Anna, while the doctor went out. They never saw
each other. They used to go about their separate business. At first
Braun had begged Christophe to give his wife a few lessons on the piano:
she was, he said, an excellent musician. Christophe asked Anna to play
him something. She did not need to be pressed, although she disliked
doing it: but she did it with her usual ungraciousness: she played
mechanically, with an incredible lack of sensibility: each note was like
another: there was no sort of rhythm or expression: when she had to turn
the page she stopped short in the middle of a bar, made no haste about
it, and went on with the next note. Christophe was so exasperated by it
that he was hard put to it to keep himself from making an insulting
remark: he could not help going out of the room before she had finished.
She was not put out, but went on imperturbably to the very last note,
and seemed to be neither hurt nor indignant at his rudeness: she hardly
seemed to have noticed it. But the matter of music was never again
mentioned between them. Sometimes in the afternoons when Christophe was
out and returned unexpectedly, he would find Anna practising the piano,
with icy, dull tenacity, going over and over one passage fifty times,
and never by any chance showing the least animation. She never played when
she knew that Christophe was at home. She devoted all the time that
was not consecrated to her religious duties to her household work. She
used to sew, and mend, and darn, and look after the servant: she had a
mania for tidiness and cleanliness. Her husband thought her a fine
woman, a little odd--"like all women," he used to say--but "like all
women," devoted. On that last point Christophe made certain reservations
_in petto_: such psychology seemed to him too simple; but he told
himself that, after all, it was Braun's affair; and he gave no further
thought to the matter.
They used to sit together after dinner in the evening. Braun and
Christophe would talk. Anna would sit working. On Braun's entreaty,
Christophe had consented to play the piano sometimes: and he would
occasionally play on to a very late hour in the big gloomy room looking
out on to the garden. Braun would go into ecstasies.... Who is there
that does not know the type that has a passionate love for things they
do not understand, or understand all wrong!--(which is why they love
them!)--Christophe did not mind: he had met so many idiots in the course
of his life! But when Braun gave vent to certain mawkish expressions of
enthusiasm, he would stop playing, and go up to his room without a word.
Braun grasped the truth at last, and put a stopper on his reflections.
Besides, his love for music was quickly sated: he could never listen
with any attention for more than a quarter of an hour on end: he would
pick up his paper, or doze off, and leave Christophe in peace. Anna
would sit back in her chair and say nothing: she would have her work in
her lap and seem to be working: but her eyes were always staring and her
hands never moved. Sometimes she would go out without a sound in the
middle of a piece, and be seen no more.
* * * * *
So the days passed. Christophe regained his strength. Braun's heavy but
kindly attentions, the tranquillity of the household, the restful
regularity of such a domestic life, the extremely nourishing German
food, restored him to his old robustness. His physical health was
repaired: but his moral machinery was still out of gear. His new vigor
only served to accentuate the disorder of his mind, which could not
recover its balance, like a badly ballasted ship which will turn turtle
on the smallest shock.
He was profoundly lonely. He could have no intellectual intimacy with
Braun. His relations with Anna were reduced, with a few exceptions, to
saying good-morning and good-night. His dealings with his pupils were
rather hostile than otherwise: for he hardly hid from them his opinion
that the best thing for them to do was to give up music altogether. He
knew nobody. It was not only his fault, though he had hidden himself
away since his loss. People held aloof from him.
He was living in an old town, full of intelligence and vitality, but
also full of patrician pride, self-contained, and self-satisfied. There
was a bourgeois aristocracy with a taste for work and the higher
culture, but narrow and pietistic, who were calmly convinced of their
own superiority and the superiority of their city, and quite content to
live in family isolation. There were enormous families with vast
ramifications. Each family had its day for a general gathering of the
clan. They were hardly at all open to the outside world. All these great
houses, with fortunes generations old, felt no need of showing their
wealth. They knew each other, and that was enough: the opinion of others
was a thing of no consequence. There were millionaires dressed like
humble shopkeepers, talking their raucous dialect with its pungent
expressions, going conscientiously to their offices, every day of their
lives, even at an age when the most industrious of men will grant
themselves the right to rest. Their wives prided themselves on their
domestic skill. No dowry was given to the daughters. Rich men let their
sons in their turn go through the same hard apprenticeship that they
themselves had served. They practised strict economy in their daily
lives. But they made a noble use of their fortune in collecting works of
art, picture galleries, and in social work: they were forever giving
enormous sums, nearly always anonymously, to found charities and to
enrich the museums. They were a mixture of greatness and absurdity, both
of another age. This little world, for which the rest of the world
seemed not to exist--(although its members knew it thoroughly through
their business, and their distant relationships, and the long and
extended voyages which they forced their sons to take,)--this little
world, for which fame and celebrity in another land only were esteemed
from the moment when they were welcomed and recognized by
itself,--practised the severest discipline upon itself. Every member of
it kept a watch upon himself and upon the rest. The result of all this
was a collective conscience which masked all individual differences
(more marked than elsewhere among the robust personalities of the place)
under the veil of religious and moral uniformity. Everybody practised
it, everybody believed in it. Not a single soul doubted it or would
admit of doubt. It were impossible to know what took place in the depths
of souls which were the more hermetically sealed against prying eyes
inasmuch as they knew that they were surrounded by a narrow scrutiny,
and that every man took upon himself the right to examine into the
conscience of other men. It was said that even those who had left the
country and thought themselves emancipated--as soon as they set foot in
it again were dominated by the traditions, the habits, the atmosphere of
the town: even the most skeptical were at once forced to practise and to
believe. Not to believe would have seemed to them an offense against
Nature. Not to believe was the mark of an inferior caste, a sign of bad
breeding. It was never admitted that a man of their world could possibly
be absolved of his religious duties. If a man did not practise their
religion, he was at once unclassed, and all doors were closed to him.
Even the weight of such discipline was apparently not enough for them.
The men of this little world were not closely bound enough within their
caste. Within the great _Verein_ they had formed a number of smaller
_Verein_ by way of binding their fetters fast. There were several hundred
of them: and they were increasing every year. There were _Verein_ for
everything: for philanthropy, charitable work, commercial work, work that
was both charitable and commercial, for the arts, for the sciences, for
singing, music, spiritual exercises, physical exercises, merely to provide
excuses for meeting and taking their amusement collectively: there were
_Verein_ for the various districts and the various corporations: there
were _Verein_ for men of the same position in the world, the same degree
of wealth, men of the same social weight, who wore the same handle to
their names. It was even said that an attempt had been made to form a
_Verein_ for the _Vereinlosen_ (those who did not belong to any _Verein_):
though not twelve such people had been forthcoming.
Within this triple bandage of town, caste, and union, the soul was
cramped and bound. Character was suppressed by a secret constraint. The
majority were brought up to it from childhood--had been for centuries:
and they found it good: they would have thought it improper and
unhealthy to go without these bandages. Their satisfied smiles gave no
indication of the discomfort they might be feeling. But Nature always
took her revenge. Every now and then there would arise some individual
in revolt, some vigorous artist or unbridled thinker who would brutally
break his bonds and set the city fathers by the ears. They were so
clever that, if the rebel had not been stifled in the embryo, and became
the stronger, they never troubled to fight him--(a fight might have
produced all sorts of scandalous outbreaks):--they bought him up. If he
were a painter, they sent him to the museum: if he were a thinker, to
the libraries. It was quite useless for him to roar out all sorts of
outrageous things: they pretended not to hear him. It was in vain for
him to protest his independence: they incorporated him as one of
themselves. So the effect of the poison was neutralized: it was the
homeopathic treatment.--But such cases were rare, most of the rebellions
never reached the light of day. Their peaceful houses concealed
unsuspected tragedies. The master of a great house would go quietly and
throw himself into the river, and leave no explanation. Sometimes a man
would go into retirement for six months, sometimes he would send his
wife to an asylum to restore her mind. Such things were spoken of quite
openly, as though they were quite natural, with that placidity which is
one of the great features of the town, the inhabitants of which are able
to maintain it in the face of suffering and death.
These solid burgesses, who were hard upon themselves because they knew
their own worth, were much less hard on others because they esteemed
them less. They were quite liberal towards the foreigners dwelling in
the town like Christophe, German professors, and political refugees,
because they had no sort of feeling about them. And, besides, they loved
intelligence. Advanced ideas had no terrors for them: they knew that
their sons were impervious to their influence. They were coldly cordial
to their guests, and kept them at a distance.
Christophe did not need to have these things underlined. He was in a
state of raw sensitiveness which left his feelings absolutely
unprotected: he was only too ready to see egoism and indifference
everywhere, and to withdraw into himself.
To make matters worse, Braun's patients, and the very limited circle to
which his wife belonged, all moved in a little Protestant society which
was particularly strict. Christophe was ill-regarded by them both as a
Papist by origin and a heretic in fact. For his part, he found many
things which shocked him. Although he no longer believed, yet he bore
the marks of his inherited Catholicism, which was more poetic than a
matter of reason, more indulgent towards Nature, and never suffered the
self-torment of trying to explain and understand what to love and what
not to love: and also he had the habits of intellectual and moral
freedom which he had unwittingly come by in Paris. It was inevitable
that he should come into collision with the little pious groups of
people in whom all the defects of the Calvinistic spirit were marked and
exaggerated: a rationalistic religion, which clipped the wings of faith
and left it dangling over the abyss: for it started with an _a
priori_ reason which was open to discussion like all mysticism: it
was no longer poetry, nor was it prose, it was poetry translated into
prose. They had pride of intellect, an absolute, dangerous faith in
reason--in _their_ reason. They could not believe in God or in
immortality: but they believed in reason as a Catholic believes in the
Pope, or as a fetish-worshiper believes in his idol. They never even
dreamed of discussing the matter. In vain did life contradict it; they
would rather have denied life. They had no psychology, no understanding
of Nature, or of the hidden forces, the roots of humanity, the "Spirit
of the Earth." They fashioned a scheme of life and nature that were
childish, silly, arbitrary figments. Some of them were cultured and
practical people who had seen and read much. But they never saw or read
anything as it actually was: they always reduced it to an abstraction.
They were poor-blooded: they had high moral qualities: but they were not
human enough: and that is the cardinal sin. Their purity of heart, which
was often very real, noble, and naive, sometimes comic, unfortunately,
in certain cases, became tragic: it made them hard in their dealings
with others, and produced in them a tranquil inhumanity, self-confident
and free from anger, which was quite appalling. How should they
hesitate? Had they not truth, right, virtue, on their side? Did they not
receive revelation direct from their hallowed reason? Reason is a hard
sun: it gives light, but it blinds. In that withering light, without
shade or mist, human beings grow pallid, the blood is sucked up from
Now, if there was one thing in the world that was utterly meaningless to
Christophe at that time it was reason. To his eyes its sun only lit up
the walls of the abyss, and neither showed him the means of escape nor
even enabled him to sound its depths.
As for the artistic world, Christophe had little opportunity and less
desire to mix with it. The musicians were for the most part worthy
conservatives of the neo-Schumann period and "Brahmins" of the type
against which Christophe had formerly broken many a lance. There were
two exceptions: Krebs, the organist, who kept a famous confectioner's
shop, an honest man and a good musician, who would have been an even
better one if, to adapt the quip of one of his fellow-countrymen, "he
had not been seated on a Pegasus which he overfed with hay,"--and a
young Jewish composer of an original talent, a man full of a vigorous
and turbid sap, who had a business in the Swiss trade: wood carvings,
chalets, and Berne bears. They were more independent than the others, no
doubt because they did not make a trade of their art, and they would
have been very glad to come in touch with Christophe: and at any other
time Christophe would have been interested to know them: but at this
period of his life, all artistic and human curiosity was blunted in him:
he was more conscious of the division between himself and other men than
of the bond of union.
His only friend, the confidant of his thoughts, was the river that ran
through the city--the same mighty fatherly river that washed the walls
of his native town up north. In the river Christophe could recover the
memory of his childish dreams.... But in his sorrow they took on, like
the Rhine itself, a darkling hue. In the dying day he would lean against
the parapet of the embankment and look down at the rushing river, the
fused and fusing, heavy, opaque, and hurrying mass, which was always
like a dream of the past, wherein nothing could be clearly seen but
great moving veils, thousands of streams, currents, eddies twisting into
form, then fading away: it was like the blurred procession of mental
images in a fevered mind: forever taking shape, forever melting away.
Over this twilight dream there skimmed phantom ferry-boats, like
coffins, with never a human form in them. Darker grew the night. The
river became bronze. The lights upon its banks made its armor shine with
an inky blackness, casting dim reflections, the coppery reflections of
the gas lamps, the moon-like reflections of the electric lights, the
blood-red reflections of the candles in the windows of the houses. The
river's murmur filled the darkness with its eternal muttering that was
far more sad than the monotony of the sea....
For hours together Christophe would stand drinking in the song of death
and weariness of life. Only with difficulty could he tear himself away:
then he would climb up to the house again, up the steep alleys with
their red steps, which were worn away in the middle: broken in soul and
body he would cling to the iron hand-rail fastened to the walls, which
gleamed under the light thrown down from the empty square on the hilltop
in front of the church that was shrouded in darkness....
He could not understand why men went on living. When he remembered the
struggles he had seen, he felt a bitter admiration for the undying faith
of humanity. Ideas succeeded the ideas most directly opposed to them,
reaction followed action:--democracy, aristocracy: socialism,
individualism: romanticism, classicism: progress, tradition:--and so on
to the end of time. Each new generation, consumed in its own heat in
less than ten years, believed steadfastly that it alone had reached the
zenith, and hurled its predecessors down and stoned them: each new
generation bestirred itself, and shouted, and took to itself the power
and the glory, only to be hurled down and stoned in turn by its
successors and so to disappear. Whose turn next?...
The composition of music was no longer a refuge for Christophe: it was
intermittent, irregular, aimless. Write? For whom? For men? He was
passing through an acute phase of misanthropy. For himself? He was only
too conscious of the vanity of art with its impotence to top the void of
death. Only now and then the blind force that was in him would raise him
on its mighty beating wing and then fall back, worn out by the effort.
He was like a storm cloud rumbling in the darkness. With Olivier gone,
he had nothing left. He hurled himself against everything that had
filled his life, against the feelings that he had thought to share with
others, against the thoughts which he had in imagination had in common
with the rest of humanity. It seemed to him now that he had been the
plaything of an illusion: the whole life of society was based upon a
colossal misunderstanding originating in speech. We imagine that one
man's thought can communicate with the thought of other men. In reality
the connection lies only in words. We say and hear words: not one word
has the same meaning in the mouths of two different men. Words outrun
the reality of life. We speak of love and hatred. There is neither love
nor hatred, friends nor enemies, no faith, no passion, neither good nor
evil. There are only cold reflections of the lights falling from
vanished suns, stars that have been dead for ages.... Friends? There is
no lack of people to claim that name. But what a stale reality is
represented by their friendship! What is friendship in the sense of the
everyday world? How many minutes of his life does he who thinks himself
a friend give to the pale memory of his friend? What would he sacrifice
to him, not of the things that are necessary, but of his superfluity,
his leisure, his waste time? What had Christophe sacrificed for
Olivier?--(For he made no exception in his own case: he excepted only
Olivier from the state of nothingness into which he cast all human
beings).--Art is no more true than love. What room does it really occupy
in life? With what sort of love do they love it, they who declare their
devotion to it?... The poverty of human feeling is inconceivable.
Outside the instincts of species, the cosmic force which is the lever of
the world, nothing exists save a scattered dust of emotion. The majority
of men have not vitality enough to give themselves wholly to any
passion. They spare themselves and save their force with cowardly
prudence. They are a little of everything and nothing absolutely. A man
who gives himself without counting the cost, to everything that he does,
everything that he suffers, everything that he loves, everything that he
hates, is a prodigy, the greatest that is granted to us here on earth.
Passion is like genius: a miracle, which is as much as to say that it
does not exist.
So thought Christophe: and life was on the verge of giving him the lie
in a terrible fashion. The miracle is everywhere, like fire in stone:
friction brings it forth. We have little notion of the demons who lie
slumbering within ourselves....
... _Pero non mi destar, deh! parla basso!_...
One evening when he was improvising at the piano, Anna got up and went
out, as she often did when Christophe was playing. Apparently his music
bored her. Christophe had ceased to notice it: he was indifferent to
anything she might think. He went on playing: then he had an idea which
he wished to write down, and stopped short and hurried up to his room
for the necessary paper. As he opened the door into the next room and,
with head down, rushed into the darkness, he bumped violently against a
figure standing motionless just inside. Anna.... The shock and the
surprise made her cry out. Christophe was anxious to know if he had hurt
her, and took her hands in his. Her hands were frozen. She seemed to
shiver,--no doubt from the shock. She muttered a vague explanation of
her presence there:
"I was looking in the dining-room...."
He did not hear what she was looking for: and perhaps she did not say
what it was. It seemed to him odd that she should go about looking for
something without a light. But he was used to Anna's singular ways and
paid no attention to it. An hour later he returned to the little parlor
where he used to spend the evening with Braun and Anna. He sat at the
table near the lamp, writing. Anna was on his right at the table,
sewing, with her head bent over her work. Behind them, in an armchair,
near the fire, Braun was reading a magazine. They were all three silent.
At intervals they could hear the pattering of the rain on the gravel in
the garden. To get away from her Christophe sat with his back turned to
Anna. Opposite him on the wall was a mirror which reflected the table,
the lamp, the two faces bending over their work. It seemed to Christophe
that Anna was looking at him. At first he did not pay much attention to
it; then, as he could not shake off the idea, he began to feel uneasy
and he looked up at the mirror and saw.... She was looking at him. And
in such a way! He was petrified with amazement, held his breath, watched
her. She did not know that he was watching her. The light of the lamp
was cast upon her pale face, the silent solemnity of which seemed now to
be fiercely concentrated. Her eyes--those strange eyes that he had never
been able squarely to see--were fixed upon him: they were dark blue,
with large pupils, and the expression in them was burning and hard: they
were fastened upon him, searching through him with dumb insistent ardor.
Her eyes? Could they be her eyes? He saw them and could not believe it.
Did he really see them? He turned suddenly.... Her eyes were lowered. He
tried to talk to her, to force her to look up at him. Impassively she
replied without raising her eyes from her work or from their refuge
behind the impenetrable shadow of her bluish eyelids with their short
thick lashes. If Christophe had not been quite positive of what he had
seen, he would have believed that he had been the victim of an illusion.
But he knew what he had seen, and he could not explain it away.
However, as his mind was engrossed in his work and he found Anna very
uninteresting, the strange impression made on him did not occupy him for
A week later Christophe was trying over a song he had just composed, on
the piano. Braun, who had a mania, due partly to marital vanity and
partly to love of teasing, for worrying his wife to sing and play, had
been particularly insistent that evening. As a rule Anna only replied
with a curt "No"; after which she would not even trouble to reply to his
requests, entreaties, and pleasantries: she would press her lips
together and seem not to hear. On this occasion, to Braun's and
Christophe's astonishment, she folded up her work, got up, and went to
the piano. She sang the song which she had never even read. It was a
sort of miracle:--_the_ miracle. The deep tones of her voice bore
not the faintest resemblance to the rather raucous and husky voice in
which she spoke. With absolute sureness from the very first note,
without a shade of difficulty, without the smallest effort, she endued
the melody with a grandeur that was both moving and pure: and she rose
to an intensity of passion which made Christophe shiver: for it seemed
to him to be the very voice of his own heart. He looked at her in
amazement while she was singing, and at last, for the first time, he saw
her as she was. He saw her dark eyes in which there was kindled a light
of wildness, he saw her wide, passionate mouth with its clear-cut lips,
the voluptuous, rather heavy and cruel smile, her strong white teeth,
her beautiful strong hands, one of which was laid on the rack of the
piano, and the sturdy frame of her body cramped by her clothes,
emaciated by a life of economy and poverty, though it was easy to divine
the youth, the vigor, and the harmony, that were concealed by her gown.
She stopped singing, and went and sat down with her hands folded in her
lap. Braun complimented her: but to his way of thinking there had been a
lack of softness in her singing. Christophe said nothing. He sat
watching her. She smiled vaguely, knowing that he was looking at her.
All the evening there was a complete silence between them. She knew
quite well that she had risen above herself, or rather, that she had
been "herself," for the first time. And she could not understand why.
* * * * *
From that day on Christophe began to observe Anna closely. She had
relapsed into her sullenness, her cold indifference, and her mania for
work, which exasperated even her husband, while beneath it all she
lulled the obscure thoughts of her troubled nature. It was in vain that
Christophe watched her, he never found her anything but the stiff
ordinary woman of their first acquaintance. Sometimes she would sit lost
in thought, doing nothing, with her eyes staring straight in front of
her. They would leave her so, and come back a quarter of an hour later
and find her just the same: she would never stir. When her husband asked
her what she was thinking of, she would rouse herself from her torpor
and smile and say that she was thinking of nothing. And she spoke the
There was nothing capable of upsetting her equanimity. One day when she
was dressing, her spirit-lamp burst. In an instant Anna was a mass of
flames. The maid rushed away screaming for help. Braun lost his head,
flung himself about, shouted and yelled, and almost fell ill. Anna tore
away the hooks of her dressing-gown, slipped off her skirt just as it
was beginning to burn, and stamped on it. When Christophe ran in
excitedly with a water-bottle which he had blindly seized, he found Anna
standing on a chair, in her petticoat with her arms bare, calmly putting
out the burning curtains with her hands. She got burnt, said nothing
about it, and only seemed to be put out at being seen in such a costume.
She blushed, awkwardly covered her shoulders with her arms, and with an
air of offended dignity ran away into the next room. Christophe admired
her calmness: but he could not tell whether it proved her courage or her
insensibility. He was inclined to the latter explanation. Indeed, Anna
seemed to take no interest in anything, or in other people, or in
herself. Christophe doubted even whether she had a heart.
He had no doubt at all after a little scene which he happened to
witness. Anna had a little black dog, with intelligent soft eyes, which
was the spoiled darling of the household. Braun adored it. Christophe
used to take it to his room when he shut himself up to work; and often,
when the door was closed, instead of working, he would play with it.
When he went out, the dog was always waiting for him at the door,
looking out for him, to follow at his heels: for he always wanted a
companion in his walks. She would run in front of him, pattering along
with her little paws moving so fast that they seemed to fly. Every now
and then she would stop in pride at walking faster than he: and she
would look at him and draw herself up archly. She used to beg, and bark
furiously at a piece of wood: but directly she saw another dog in the
distance she would tear away as fast as she could and tremblingly take
refuge between Christophe's legs. Christophe loved her and used to laugh
at her. Since he had held aloof from men he had come nearer to the
brutes: he found them pitiful and touching. The poor beasts surrender
with such absolute confidence to those who are kind to them! Man is so
much the master of their life and death that those who are cruel to the
weak creatures delivered into their hands are guilty of an abominable
abuse of power.
Affectionate though the pretty creature was with every one, she had a
marked preference for Anna. She did nothing to attract the dog: but she
liked to stroke her and let her snuggle down in her lap, and see that
she was fed, and she seemed to love her as much as she was capable of
loving anything. One day the dog failed to get out of the way of a
motor-car. She was run over almost under the very eyes of her masters.
She was still alive and yelping pitiably. Braun ran out of the house
bareheaded: he picked up the bleeding mass and tried to relieve the
dog's suffering. Anna came up, looked down without so much as stooping,
made a face of disgust, and went away again. Braun watched the little
creature's agony with tears in his eyes. Christophe was striding up and
down the garden with clenched fists. He heard Anna quietly giving orders
to the servant. He could not help crying out:
"It doesn't affect you at all?"
"There's nothing to be done. It is better not to think of it."
He felt that he hated her: then he was struck by the grotesqueness of
her reply: and he laughed. He thought it would be well if Anna could
give him her recipe for avoiding the thought of sad things, and that
life must be very easy for those who are lucky enough to have no heart.
He fancied that if Braun were to die, Anna would hardly be put out by
it, and he felt glad that he was not married. His solitude seemed less
sad to him than the fetters of habit that bind a man for life to a
creature to whom he may be an object of hatred, or worse still, nothing
at all. It was very certain that this woman loved no one. She hardly
existed. The atmosphere of piety had withered her.
She took Christophe by surprise one day at the end of October.--They
were at dinner. He was talking to Braun about a crime of passion which
was the sole topic in the town. In the country two Italian girls,
sisters, had fallen in love with the same man. They were both unable to
make the sacrifice with a good grace, and so they had drawn lots as to
who should yield. But when the lot was cast the girl who had lost showed
little inclination to abide by the decision. The other was enraged by
such faithlessness. From insult they came to blows, and even to fighting
with knives: then, suddenly, the wind changed: they kissed each other,
and wept, and vowed that they could not live without each other: and, as
they could not submit to sharing the lover, they made up their minds
that he should be killed. This they did. One night the two girls invited
the lover to their room, and he was congratulating himself upon such
twofold favor; and, while one girl clasped him passionately in her arms,
the other no less passionately stabbed him in the back. It chanced that
his cries were heard. People came and tore him in a pitiable condition
from the embraces of his charmers, and they were arrested. They
protested that it was no one's business, and that they alone were
interested in the matter, and that, from the moment when they had agreed
to rid themselves of their own property, it was no one else's concern.
Their victim was not a little inclined to agree with their line of
argument: but the law was unable to follow it. And Braun could not
understand it either.
"They are mad," he said. "They should be shut up in an asylum.
Beasts!... I can understand a man killing himself for love. I can even
understand a man killing the woman he loves if she deceives him.... I
don't mean that I would excuse his doing so: but I am prepared to admit
that there is a remnant of primitive savagery in us: it is barbarous,
but it is logical: you kill the person who makes you suffer. But for a
woman to kill the man she loves, without bitterness, without hatred,
simply because another woman loves him, is nothing but madness.... Can
you understand it, Christophe?"
"Peuh!" said Christophe. "I'm quite used to being unable to understand
things. Love is madness."
Anna, who had said nothing, and seemed not to be listening, said in her
"There is nothing irrational in it. It is quite natural. When a woman
loves, she wants to destroy the man she loves so that no one else may
Braun looked at his wife aghast, thumped on the table, folded his arms,
"Where on earth did you get that from?... What? So you must put your oar
in, must you? What the devil do you know about it?"
Anna blushed a little, and said no more. Braun went on:
"When a woman loves, she wants to destroy, does she? That's a nice sort
of thing to say! To destroy any one who is dear to you is to destroy
yourself.--On the contrary, when one loves, the natural feeling is to do
good to the person you love, to cherish him, to defend him, to be kind
to him, to be kind to everything and everybody. Love is paradise on
Anna sat staring into the darkness, and let him talk, and then shook her
head, and said coldly:
"A woman is not kind when she loves."
Christophe did not renew the experiment of hearing Anna sing. He was
afraid ... of disillusion, or what? He could not tell. Anna was just as
fearful. She would never stay in the room when he began to play.
But one evening in November, as he was reading by the fire, he saw Anna
sitting with her sewing in her lap, deep in one of her reveries. She was
looking blankly in front of her, and Christophe thought he saw in her
eyes the strangely burning light of the other evening. He closed his
book. She felt his eyes upon her, and picked up her sewing. With her
eyelids down she saw everything. He got up and said:
She stared at him, and there was still a little uneasiness in her eyes:
she understood, and followed him.
"Where are you going?" asked Braun.
"To the piano," replied Christophe.
He played. She sang. At once he found her just as she had been on the
first occasion. She entered the heroic world of music as a matter of
course, as though it were her own. He tested her yet further, and went
on to a second song, then to a third, more passionate, which let loose
in her the whole gamut of passion, uplifting both herself and him: then,
as they reached a very paroxysm, he stopped short and asked her, staring
straight into her eyes:
"Tell me, what woman are you?"
"I do not know."
He said brutally:
"What is there in you that makes you sing like that?"
"Only what you put there to make me sing."
"Yes? Well, it is not out of place. I'm wondering whether I created it
or you. How do you come to think of such things?"
"I don't know. I think I am no longer myself when I am singing."
"I think it is only then that you are yourself."
They said no more. Her cheeks were wet with a slight perspiration. Her
bosom heaved, but she spoke no word. She stared at the lighted candles,
and mechanically scratched away the wax that had trickled down the side
of the candlestick. He drummed on the keys as he sat looking at her.
They exchanged a few awkward remarks, brusquely and roughly, and then
they tried a commonplace remark or two, and finally relapsed into
silence, being fearful of probing any farther....
Next day they hardly spoke: they stole glances at each other in a sort
of dread. But they made it a habit to play and sing together in the
evening. Before long they began in the afternoon, giving a little more
time to it each day. Always the same incomprehensible passion would take
possession of her with the very first bars, and set her flaming from
head to foot, and, while the music lasted, make of the ordinary little
woman an imperious Venus, the incarnation of all the furies of the soul.
Braun was surprised at Anna's sudden craze for singing, but did not take
the trouble to discover any explanation for a mere feminine caprice: he
was often present at their little concerts, marked time with his head,
gave his advice, and was perfectly happy, although he would have
preferred softer, sweeter music: such an expenditure of energy seemed to
him exaggerated and unnecessary. Christophe breathed freely in the
atmosphere of danger: but he was losing his head: he was weakened by the
crisis through which he had passed, and could not resist, and lost
consciousness of what was happening to him without perceiving what was
happening to Anna. One afternoon, in the middle of a song, with all the
frantic ardor of it in full blast, she suddenly stopped, and left the
room without making any explanation. Christophe waited for her: she did
not return. Half an hour later, as he was going down the passage past
Anna's room, through the half-open door he saw her absorbed in grim
prayer, with all expression frozen from her face.
However, a slight, very slight, feeling of confidence cropped up between
them. He tried to make her talk about her past: only with great
difficulty could he induce her to tell him a few commonplace details.
Thanks to Braun's easy, indiscreet good nature, he was able to gain a
glimpse into her intimate life.
She was a native of the town. Her maiden name was Anna Maria Senfl. Her
father, Martin Senfl, was a member of an old commercial house, very old
and enormously rich, in whom pride of caste and religious strictness
were ingrained. Being of an adventurous temper, like many of his
fellow-countrymen, he had spent several years abroad in the East and in
South America: he had even made bold exploring expeditions in Central
Asia, whither he had gone to advance the commercial interests of his
house, for love of science, and for his own pleasure. By dint of rolling
through the world, he had not only gathered no moss, but had also rid
himself of that which covered him, the moss of his old prejudices. When,
therefore, he returned to his own country, being of a warm temper and an
obstinate mind, he married, in face of the indignant protests of his
family, the daughter of a farmer of the surrounding country, a lady of
doubtful reputation who had originally been his mistress. Marriage had
been the only available means of keeping the beautiful girl to himself,
and he could not do without her. After having exercised its veto in
vain, his family absolutely closed its doors to its erring member who
had set aside its sacrosanct authority. The town--all those, that is,
who mattered, who, as usual, were absolutely united in any matter that
touched the moral dignity of the community--sided bodily against the
rash couple. The explorer learned to his cost that it is no less
dangerous to traverse the prejudice of the people in a country inhabited by
the sectaries of Christ, than in a country inhabited by those of the
Grand Lania. He had not been strong enough to live without public
opinion. He had more than jeopardized his patrimony: he could find no
employment: everything was closed to him. He wore himself out in futile
wrath against the affronts of the implacable town. His health,
undermined by excess and fever, could not bear up against it. He died of
a flux of blood five months after his marriage. Four months later, his
wife, a good creature, but weak and feather-brained, who had never lived
through a day since her marriage without weeping, died in childbirth,
casting the infant Anna upon the shores which she was leaving.
Martin's mother was alive. Even when they were dying she had not
forgiven her son or the woman whom she had refused to acknowledge as her
daughter-in-law. But when the woman died--and Divine vengeance was
appeased--she took the child and looked after her. She was a woman of
the narrowest piety: she was rich and mean, and kept a draper's shop in
a gloomy street in the old town. She treated her son's daughter less as
a grandchild than as an orphan taken in out of charity, and therefore
occupying more or less the position of a servant by way of payment.
However, she gave her a careful education; but she never departed from
her attitude of suspicious strictness towards her; it seemed as though
she considered the child guilty of her parents' sin, and therefore set
herself to chasten and chastise the sin in her. She never allowed her
any amusement: she punished everything that was natural in her gestures,
words, thoughts, as a crime. She killed all joy in her young life. From
a very early age Anna was accustomed to being bored in church and
disguising the fact: she was hemmed in by the terrors of hell: every
Sunday the child's heavy-lidded eyes used to see them at the door of the
old _Munster_, in the shape of the immodest and distorted statues
with a fire burning between their legs, while round their loins crawled
toads and snakes. She became accustomed to suppressing her instincts and
lying to herself. As soon as she was old enough to help her grandmother,
she was kept busy from morning to night in the dark gloomy shop. She
assimilated the habits of those around her, the spirit of order, grim
economy, futile privations, the bored indifference, the contemptuous,
ungracious conception of life, which is the natural consequence of
religious beliefs in those who are not naturally religious. She was
so wholly given up to her piety as to seem rather absurd even to the old
woman: she indulged in far too many fasts and macerations: at one period
she even went so far as to wear corsets embellished with pins, which
stuck into her flesh with every movement. She was seen to go pale, but
no one knew what was the matter. At last, when she fainted, a doctor was
called in. She refused to allow him to examine her--(she would have died
rather than undress in the presence of a man)--but she confessed: and
the doctor was so angry about it that she promised not to do it again.
To make quite sure her grandmother thereafter took to inspecting her
clothes. In such self-torture Anna did not, as might have been supposed,
find any mystic pleasure: she had little imagination, she would never
have understood the poetry of saints like Francis of Assisi or Teresa.
Her piety was sad and materialistic. When she tormented herself, it was
not in any hope of advantage to be gained in the next world, but came
only from a cruel boredom which rebounded against herself, so that she
only found in it an almost angry pleasure in hurting herself. Singularly
enough, her hard, cold spirit was, like her grandmother's, open to the
influence of music, though she never knew how profound that influence
was. She was impervious to all the other arts: probably she had never
looked at a picture in her life: she seemed to have no sense of plastic
beauty, for she was lacking in taste, owing to her proud and wilful
indifference; the idea of a beautiful body only awoke in her the idea of
nakedness, that is to say, like the peasant of whom Tolstoy speaks, a
feeling of repugnance, which was all the stronger in Anna inasmuch as
she was dimly aware, in her relations with other people whom she liked,
of the vague sting of desire far more than of the calm impression of
esthetic judgment. She had no more idea of her own beauty than of her
suppressed instincts: or rather, she refused to have any idea of it: and
with her habitual self-deception she succeeded in deluding herself.
Braun met her at a marriage feast at which she was present, quite
unusually for her: for she was hardly ever invited because of the evil
reputation which clung to her from her improper origin. She was
twenty-two. He marked her out; not that she made any attempt to attract
attention. She sat next him at dinner: she was very stiff and badly
dressed, and she hardly ever opened her mouth. But Braun never stopped
talking to her, in a monologue, all through the meal, and he went away
in raptures. With his usual penetration, he had been struck by his
neighbor's air of original simplicity: he had admired her common sense
and her coolness: also he appreciated her healthiness and the solid
domestic qualities which she seemed to him to possess. He called on her
grandmother, called again, proposed, and was accepted. She was given no
dowry: Madame Senfl had left all the wealth of her family to the town to
encourage trade abroad.
At no point in her life had the young wife had any love for her husband;
the idea of such a thing never seemed to her to play any part in the
life of an honest woman, but rather to be properly set aside as guilty.
But she knew the worth of Braun's kindness: she was grateful to him,
though she never showed it, for having married her in spite of her
doubtful origin. Besides, she had a very strong feeling of honor between
husband and wife. For the first seven years of their married life
nothing had occurred to disturb their union. They lived side by side, as
it were, did not understand each other, and never worried about it: in
the eyes of the world they were a model couple. They went out very
little. Braun had a fairly practice, but he had never succeeded in
making his friends accept his wife. No one liked her: and the stigma of
her birth was not yet quite obliterated. Anna, for her part, never put
herself out in order to gain admission to society. She was resentful on
account of the scorn which had cast a cloud on her childhood. Besides,
she was never at her ease in society, and she was not sorry to be left
out of it. She paid and received a few inevitable calls, such as her
husband's interests made necessary. Her callers were inquisitive and
scandalous women of the middle-class. Anna had not the slightest
interest in their gossip, and she never took the trouble to conceal her
indifference. That is what such people never forgive. So her callers
grew fewer and more far between, and Anna was left alone. That was what
she wanted: nothing could then come and break in upon the dreams over
which she brooded, and the obscure thrill and humming of life that was
ever in her body. Meanwhile for some weeks Anna looked very unwell. Her
face grew thin and pale. She avoided both Christophe and Braun. She
spent her days in her room, lost in thought, and she never replied when
she was spoken to. Usually Braun did not take much notice of her
feminine caprices. He would explain them to Christophe at length. Like
all men fated to be deceived by women he flattered himself that he knew
them through and through. He did know something about them, as a matter
of fact, but a little knowledge is quite useless. He knew that women
often have fits of persistent moodiness and blindly sullen antagonism:
and it was his opinion that it was necessary at such times to leave them
alone, and to make no attempt to understand or, above all, to find out
what they were doing in the dangerous unconscious world in which their
minds were steeped. Nevertheless he did begin to grow anxious about
Anna. He thought that her pining must be the result of her mode of life,
always shut up, never going outside the town, hardly ever out of the
house. He wanted her to go for walks: but he could hardly ever go with
her: the whole day on Sunday was taken up with her pious duties, and on
the other days of the week he had consultations all day long. As for
Christophe, he avoided going out with her. Once or twice they had gone
for a short walk together, as far as the gates of the town: they were
bored to death. Their conversation came to a standstill. Nature seemed
not to exist for Anna: she never saw anything: the country was to her
only grass and stones: her insensibility was chilling. Christophe tried
once to make her admire a beautiful view. She looked, smiled coldly, and
said, with an effort towards being pleasant:
"Oh! yes, it is very mystic...."
She said it just as she might have said:
"The sun is very hot."
Christophe was so irritated that he dug his nails into the palms of his
hands. After that he never asked her anything: and when she was going
out he always made some excuse and stayed in his room.
In reality it was not true that Anna was insensible to Nature. She did
not like what are conventionally called beautiful landscapes: she could
see no difference between them and other landscapes. But she loved the
country whatever it might be like--just earth and air. Only she had no
more idea of it than of her other strong feelings: and those who lived
with her had even less idea of it.
Braun so far insisted as to induce his wife to make a day's excursion
into the outskirts of the town. She was so bored with him that she
consented for the sake of peace. It was arranged that they should go on
the Sunday. At the last moment, the doctor, who had been looking forward
to it with childlike glee, was detained by an urgent case of illness.
Christophe went with Anna.
It was a fine winter day with no snow: a pure cold air, a clear sky, a
flaming sun, and an icy wind. They went out on a little local railway
which took them to one of the lines of blue hills which formed a distant
halo round the town. Their compartment was full: they were separated.
They did not speak to each other. Anna was in a gloomy mood: the day
before she had declared, to Braun's surprise, that she would not go to
church on Sunday. For the first time in her life she missed a service.
Was it revolt?... Who could tell what struggles were taking place in
her? She stared blankly at the seat in front of her, she was pale: she
was eating her heart out.
They got out of the train. The coldness and antagonism between them did
not disappear during the first part of their walk. They stepped out side
by side: she walked with a firm stride and looked at nothing: her hands
were free: she swung her arms: her heels rang out on the frozen
earth.--Gradually her face quickened into life. The swiftness of their
pace brought the color to her pale cheeks. Her lips parted to drink in
the keen air. At the turn of a zigzag path she began to climb straight
up the hillside like a goat; she scrambled along the edge of a quarry,
where she was in great danger of failing, clinging to the shrubs.
Christophe followed her. She climbed faster and faster, slipping,
stopping herself by clutching at the grass with her hands. Christophe
shouted to her to stop. She made no reply, but went on climbing on all
fours. They passed through the mists which hung above the valley like a
silvery gauze rent here and there by the bushes: and they stood in the
warm sunlight of the uplands. When she reached the summit she stopped:
her face was aglow: her mouth was open, and she was breathing heavily.
Ironically she looked down at Christophe scaling the slope, took off her
cloak, flung it at him, then without giving him time to take his breath,
she darted on. Christophe ran after her. They warmed to the game: the
air intoxicated them. She plunged down a steep slope: the stones gave
way under her feet: she did not falter, she slithered, jumped, sped down
like an arrow. Every now and then she would dart a glance behind her to
see how much she had gained on Christophe. He was close upon her. She
plunged into a wood. The dead leaves crackled under their footsteps: the
branches which she thrust aside whipped back into his face. She stumbled
over the roots of a tree. He caught her. She struggled, lunging out with
hands and feet, struck him hard, trying to knock him off: she screamed
and laughed. Her bosom heaved against him: for a moment their cheeks
touched: he tasted the sweat that lay on Anna's brow: he breathed the
scent of her moist hair. She pushed away from him and looked at him,
unmoved, with defiant eyes. He was amazed at her strength, which all
went for nothing in her ordinary life.
They went to the nearest village, joyfully trampling the dry stubble
crisping beneath their feet. In front of them whirled the crows who were
ransacking the fields. The sun was burning, the wind was biting. He held
Anna's arm. She had on a rather thin dress: through the stuff he could
feel the moisture and the tingling warmth of her body. He wanted her to
put on her cloak once more: she refused, and in bravado undid the hooks
at her neck. They lunched at an inn, the sign of which bore the figure
of a "wild man" (_Zum wilden Mann_). A little pine-tree grew in
front of the door. The dining-room was decorated with German quatrains,
and two chromolithographs, one of which was sentimental: _In the
Spring (Im Fruhling)_, and the other patriotic: _The Battle of
Saint Jacques_, and a crucifix with a skull at the foot of the cross.
Anna had a voracious appetite, such as Christophe had never known her to
have. They drank freely of the ordinary white wine. After their meal
they set out once more across the fields, in a blithe spirit of
companionship. In neither was there any equivocal thought. They were
thinking only of the pleasure of their walk, the singing in their blood,
and the whipping, nipping air. Anna's tongue was loosed. She was no
longer on her guard: she said just whatever came into her mind.
She talked about her childhood, and how her grandmother used to take her
to the house of an old friend who lived near the cathedral: and while the
old ladies talked they sent her into the garden over which there
hung the shadow of the _Munster_. She used to sit in a corner and
never stir: she used to listen to the shivering of the leaves, and watch
the busy swarming insects: and she used to be both pleased and
afraid.--(She made no mention of her fear of devils: her imagination was
obsessed by it: she had been told that they prowled round churches but
never dared enter: and she used to believe that they appeared in the
shape of animals: spiders, lizards, ants, all the hideous creatures that
swarmed about her, under the leaves, over the earth, or in the crannies
of the walls).--Then she told him about the house she used to live in,
and her sunless room: she remembered it with pleasure: she used to spend
many sleepless nights there, telling herself things....
She shook her head in refusal.
She blushed, then laughed, and added:
"In the daytime too, while I was at work."
She thought for a moment, laughed once more, and then said:
"They were silly things, bad things."
He said, jokingly:
"Weren't you afraid?"
"Of being damned?"
The expression in her eyes froze.
"You mustn't talk of that," she said.
He turned the conversation. He marveled at the strength she had shown a
short while before in their scuffle. She resumed her confiding
expression and told him of her girlish achievements--(she said "boyish,"
for, when she was a child she had always longed to join in the games and
rights of the boys).--On one occasion when she was with a little boy who
was a head taller than herself she had suddenly struck him with her
fist, hoping that he would strike her back. But he ran away yelling that
she was beating him. Once, again, in the country she had climbed on to
the back of a black cow as she was grazing: the terrified beast flung
her against a tree, and she had narrowly escaped being killed. Once she
took it into her head to jump out of a first-floor window because she
had dared herself to do it: she was lucky enough to get off with a
sprain. She used to invent strange, dangerous gymnastics when she was
left alone in the house: she used to subject her body to all sorts of
"Who would think it of you now, to see you looking so solemn?..."
"Oh!" she said, "if you were to see me sometimes when I am alone in my
"What! Even now?"
She laughed. She asked him--jumping from one subject to another--if he
were a shot.
He told her that he never shot. She said that she had once shot at a
blackbird with a gun and had wounded it. He waxed indignant.
"Oh!" she said. "What does it matter?"
"Have you no heart?"
"I don't know."
"Don't you ever think the beasts are living creatures like ourselves?"
"Yes," she said. "Certainly. I wanted to ask you: do you think the
beasts have souls?"
"Yes. I think so."
"The minister says not. But I think they have souls.... Sometimes," she
added, "I think I must have been an animal in a previous existence."
He began to laugh.
"There's nothing to laugh at," she said (she laughed too). "That is one
of the stories I used to tell myself when I was little. I used to
pretend to be a cat, a dog, a bird, a foal, a heifer. I was conscious of
all their desires. I wanted to be in their skins or their feathers for a
little while: and it used to be as though I really was. You can't
"You are a strange creature. But if you feel such kinship with the
beasts how can you bear to hurt them?"
"One is always hurting some one. Some people hurt me. I hurt other
people. That's the way of the world. I don't complain. We can't afford
to be squeamish in life! I often hurt myself for the pleasure of it."
"Myself. One day I hammered a nail into my hand, here."
"There wasn't any reason."
(She did not tell him that she had been trying to crucify herself.)
"Give me your hand," she said.
"What do you want it for?"
"Give it me."
He gave her his hand. She took it and crushed it until he cried out.
They played, like peasants, at seeing how much they could hurt each
other. They were happy and had no ulterior thought. The rest of the
world, the fetters of their ordinary life, the sorrows of the past, fear
of the future, the gathering storm within themselves, all had
They had walked several miles, but they were not at all tired. Suddenly
she stopped, flung herself down on the ground, and lay full length on
the stubble, and said no more. She lay on her back with her hands behind
her head and looked up at the sky. Oh! the peace of it, and the
sweetness!... A few yards away a spring came bubbling up in an
intermittent stream, like an artery beating, now faintly, now more
strongly. The horizon took on a pearly hue. A mist hung over the purple
earth from which the black naked trees stood out. The late winter sun
was shining, the little pale gold sun sinking down to rest. Like
gleaming arrows the birds cleft the air. The gentle voices of the
country bells called and answered calling from village to village....
Christophe sat near Anna and looked down at her. She gave no thought to
him. She was full of a heartfelt joy. Her beautiful lips smiled
silently. He thought:
"Is that you? I do not know you."
"Nor I. Nor I. I think I must be some one else. I am no longer afraid: I
am no longer afraid of Him.... Ah! How He stifled me, how He made me
suffer! I seemed to have been nailed down in my coffin.... Now I can
breathe: this body and this heart are mine. My body. My dear body. My
heart is free and full of love. There is so much happiness in me! And I
knew it not. I never knew myself! What have you done to me?..."
So he thought he could hear her softly sighing to herself. But she was
thinking of nothing, only that she was happy, only that all was well.
The evening had begun to fall. Behind the gray and lilac veils of mist,
about four o'clock, the sun, weary of life, was setting. Christophe got
up and went to Anna. He bent down to her. She turned her face to him,
still dizzy with looking up into the vast sky over which she seemed to
have been hanging. A few seconds passed before she recognized him. Then
her eyes stared at him with an enigmatic smile that told him of the
unease that was in her. To escape the knowledge of it he closed his eyes
for a moment. When he opened them again she was still looking at him:
and it seemed to him that for many days they had so looked into each
other's eyes. It was as though they were reading each other's soul. But
they refused to admit what they had read there.
He held out his hand to her. She took it without a word. They went back
to the village, the towers of which they could see shaped like the
pope's nose in the heart of the valley: one of the towers had an empty
storks' nest on the top of its roof of mossy tiles, looking just like a
toque on a woman's head. At a cross-roads just outside the village they
passed a fountain above which stood a little Catholic saint, a wooden
Magdalene, graciously and a little mincingly holding out her arms. With
an instinctive movement Anna responded to the gesture and held out her
arms also, and she climbed on to the curb and filled the arms of the
pretty little goddess with branches of holly and mountain-ash with such
of their red berries as the birds and the frost had spared.
On the road they passed little groups of peasants and peasant women in
their Sunday clothes: women with brown skins, very red cheeks, thick
plaits coiled round their heads, light dresses, and hats with flowers.
They wore white gloves and red cuffs. They were singing simple songs
with shrill placid voices not very much in tune. In a stable a cow was
mooing. A child with whooping-cough was coughing in a house. A little
farther on there came up the nasal sound of a clarionet and a cornet.
There was dancing in the village square between the little inn and the
cemetery. Four musicians, perched on a table, were playing a tune. Anna
and Christophe sat in front of the inn and watched the dancers. The
couples were jostling and slanging each other vociferously. The girls
were screaming for the pleasure of making a noise. The men drinking were
beating time on the tables with their fists. At any other time such
ponderous coarse joy would have disgusted Anna: but now she loved it:
she had taken off her hat and was watching eagerly. Christophe poked fun
at the burlesque solemnity of the music and the musicians. He fumbled in
his pockets and produced a pencil and began to make lines and dots on
the back of a hotel bill: he was writing dance music. The paper was soon
covered: he asked for more, and these too he covered like the first with
his big scrawling writing. Anna looked over his shoulder with her face
near his and hummed over what he wrote: she tried to guess how the
phrases would end, and clapped her hands when she guessed right or when
her guesses were falsified by some unexpected sally. When he had done
Christophe took what he had written to the musicians. They were honest
Suabians who knew their business, and they made it out without much
difficulty. The melodies were sentimental, and of a burlesque humor,
with strongly accented rhythms, punctuated, as it were, with bursts of
laughter. It was impossible to resist their impetuous fun: nobody's feet
could help dancing. Anna rushed into the throng; she gripped the first
pair of hands held out to her and whirled about like a mad thing; a
tortoise-shell pin dropped out of her hair and a few locks of it fell
down and hung about her face. Christophe never took his eyes off her: he
marveled at the fine healthy animal who hitherto had been condemned to
silence and immobility by a pitiless system of discipline: he saw her as
no one had ever seen her, as she really was under her borrowed mask: a
Bacchante, drunk with life. She called to him. He ran to her and put his
arms round her waist. They danced and danced until they whirled crashing
into a wall. They stopped, dazed. Night was fully come. They rested for
a moment and then said good-by to the company. Anna, who was usually so
stiff with the common people, partly from embarrassment, partly from
contempt, held out her hand to the musicians, the host of the inn, the
village boys with whom she had been dancing.
Once more they were alone under the brilliant frozen sky retracing the
paths across the fields by which they had come in the morning. Anna was
still excited. She talked less and less, and then ceased altogether, as
though she had succumbed to fatigue or to the mysterious emotion of the
night. She leaned affectionately on Christophe. As they were going down
the slope up which they had so blithely scrambled a few hours before,
she sighed. They approached the station. As they came to the first house
he stopped and looked at her. She looked up at him and smiled sadly. The
train was just as crowded as it had been before, and they could not
talk. He sat opposite her and devoured her with his eyes. Her eyes were
lowered: she raised them and looked at him when she felt his eyes upon
her: then she glanced away and he could not make her look at him again.
She sat gazing out into the night. A vague smile hovered about her lips
which showed a little weariness at the corners. Then her smile
disappeared. Her expression became mournful. He thought her mind must be
engrossed by the rhythm of the train and he tried to speak to her. She
replied coldly, without turning her head, with a single word. He tried
to persuade himself that her fatigue was responsible for the change: but
he knew that it was for a very different reason. The nearer they came to
the town the more he saw Anna's face grow cold, and life die down in
her, and all her beautiful body with its savage grace drop back into its
casing of stone. She did not make use of the hand he held out to her as
she stepped out of the carriage. They returned home in silence.
A few days later, about four o'clock in the evening, they were alone
together. Braun had gone out. Since the day before the town had been
shrouded in a pale greenish fog. The murmuring of the invisible river
came up. The lights of the electric trams glared through the mist. The
light of day was dead, stifled: time seemed to be wiped out: it was one
of those hours when men lose all consciousness of reality, an hour which
is outside the march of the ages. After the cutting wind of the
preceding days, the moist air had suddenly grown warmer, too damp and
too soft. The sky was filled with snow, and bent under the load.
They were alone together in the drawing-room, the cold cramped taste of
which was the reflection of that of its mistress. They said nothing. He
was reading. She was sewing. He got up and went to the window: he
pressed his face against the panes, and stood so dreaming: he was
stupefied and heavy with the dull light which was cast back from the
darkling sky upon the livid earth: his thoughts were uneasy: he tried in
vain to fix them: they escaped him. He was filled with a bitter agony:
he felt that he was being engulfed: and in the depths of his being, from
the chasm of the heap of ruins came a scorching wind in slow gusts. He
turned his back on Anna: she could not see him, she was engrossed in her
work; but a faint thrill passed through her body: she pricked herself
several times with her needle, but she did not feel it. They were both
fascinated by the approaching danger.
He threw off his stupor and took a few strides across the room. The
piano attracted him and made him fearful. He looked away from it. As he
passed it his hand could not resist it, and touched a note. The sound
quivered like a human voice. Anna trembled, and let her sewing fall.
Christophe, was already seated and playing. Without seeing her, he knew
that Anna had got up, that she was coming towards him, that she was by
his side. Before he knew what he was doing, he had begun the religious
and passionate melody that she had sung the first time she had revealed
herself to him: he improvised a fugue with variations on the theme.
Without his saying a word to her, she began to sing. They lost all sense
of their surroundings. The sacred frenzy of music had them in its
O music, that openest the abysses of the soul! Thou dost destroy the
normal balance of the mind. In ordinary life, ordinary souls are closed
rooms: within, there droop the unused forces of life, the virtues and
the vices to use which is hurtful to us: sage, practical wisdom,
cowardly common sense, are the keepers of the keys of the room. They let
us see only a few cupboards tidily and properly arranged. But music
holds the magic wand which drives back every lock. The doors are opened.
The demons of the heart appear. And, for the first time, the soul sees
itself naked.--While the siren sings, while the bewitching voice
trembles on the air, the tamer holds all the wild beasts in check with
the power of the eye. The mighty mind and reason of a great musician
fascinates all the passions that he set loose. But when the music dies
away, when the tames is no longer there, then the passions he has
summoned forth are left roaring in their tottering cage, and they seek
The melody ended. Silence.... While she was singing she had laid her
hand on Christophe's shoulder. They dared not move: and each felt the
other trembling. Suddenly--in a flash--she bent down to him, he turned
to her: their lips met: he drank her breath....
She flung away from him and fled. He stayed, not stirring in the dark.
Braun returned. They sat down to dinner. Christophe was incapable of
thought. Anna seemed absent-minded: she was looking "elsewhere." Shortly
after dinner she went to her room. Christophe found it impossible to
stay alone with Braun, and went upstairs also.
About midnight the doctor was called from his bed to a patient.
Christophe heard him go downstairs and out. It had been snowing ever
since six o'clock. The houses and the streets were under a shroud. The
air was as though it were padded with cotton-wool. Not a step, not a
carriage could be heard outside. The town seemed dead. Christophe could
not sleep. He had a feeling of terror which grew from minute to minute.
He could not stir. He lay stiff in his bed, on his back, with his eyes
wide open. A metallic light cast up from the white earth and roofs fell
upon the walls of the room.... An imperceptible noise made him tremble.
Only a man at a feverish tension could have heard it. Came a soft
rustling on the floor of the passage. Christophe sat up in bed. The
faint noise came nearer, stopped; a board creaked. There was some one
behind the door: some one waiting.... Absolute stillness for a few
seconds, perhaps for several minutes.... Christophe could not breathe,
he broke out into a sweat. Outside flakes of snow brushed the window as
with a wing. A hand fumbled with the door and opened it. There appeared
a white form, and it came slowly forward: it halted a few yards away
from him. Christophe could see nothing clearly: but he could hear her
breathing: and he could hear his own heart thumping. She came nearer to
him; once more she halted. Their faces were so near that their breath
mingled. Their eyes sought each other vainly in the darkness.... She
fell into his arms. In silence, without a word, they hugged each other
* * * * *
An hour, two hours, a century later, the door of the house was opened.
Anna broke from the embrace in which they were locked, slipped away, and
left Christophe without a word, just as she had come. He heard her bare
feet moving away, just skimming the floor in her swift flight. She
regained her room, and there Braun found her in her bed, apparently
asleep. So she lay through the night, with eyes wide open, breathless,
still, in her narrow bed near the sleeping Braun. How many nights had
she passed like that!
Christophe could not sleep either. He was utterly in despair. He had
always regarded the things of love, and especially marriage, with tragic
seriousness. He hated the frivolity of those writers whose art uses
adultery as a spicy flavoring. Adultery roused in him a feeling of
repulsion which was a combination of his vulgar brutality and high
morality. He had always felt a mixture of religious respect and physical
disgust for a woman who belonged to another man. The doglike promiscuity
in which some of the rich people in Europe lived appalled him. Adultery
with the consent of the husband is a filthy thing: without the husband's
knowledge it is a base deceit only worthy of a rascally servant hiding
away to betray and befoul his master's honor. How often had he not
piteously despised those whom he had known to be guilty of such
cowardice! He had broken with some of his friends who had thus
dishonored themselves in his eyes.... And now he too was sullied with
the same shameful thing! The circumstances of the crime only made it the
more odious. He had come to the house a sick, wretched man. His friend
had welcomed him, helped him, given him comfort. His kindness had never
flagged. Nothing had been too great a demand upon it. He owed him his
very life. And in return he had robbed the man of his honor and his
happiness, his poor little domestic happiness! He had basely betrayed
him, and with whom? With a woman whom he did not know, did not
understand, did not love.... Did he not love her? His every drop of
blood rose up against him. Love is too faint a word to express the river
of fire that rushed through him when he thought of her. It was not love,
it was a thousand times a greater thing than love.... He was in a whirl
all through the night. He got up, dipped his face in the icy water,
gasped, and shuddered. The crisis came to a head in an attack of fever.
When he got up, aching all over, he thought that she, even more than he,
must be overwhelmed with shame. He went to the window. The sun was
shining down upon the dazzling snow. In the garden Anna was hanging out
the clothes on a line. She was engrossed in her work, and seemed to be
in no wise put out. She had a dignity in her carriage and her gesture
which was quite new to him, and made him, unconsciously, liken her to a
* * * * *
They met again at lunch. Braun was away for the whole day. Christophe
could not have borne meeting him. He wanted to speak to Anna. But they
were not alone: the servant kept going and coming: they had to keep
guard on themselves. In vain did Christophe try to catch Anna's eye. She
did not look at him or at anything. There was no indication of inward
ferment: and always in her smallest movement there was the unaccustomed
assurance and nobility. After lunch he hoped they would have an
opportunity of speaking: but the servant dallied over clearing away; and
when they went into the next room she contrived to follow them: she
always had something to fetch or to bring: she stayed bustling in the
passage near the half-open door which Anna showed no hurry to shut: it
looked as though she were spying on them. Anna sat by the window with
her everlasting sewing. Christophe leaned back in an armchair with his
back to the light, and a book on his knee which he did not attempt to
read. Anna could only see his profile, and she noticed the torment in
his face as he looked at the wall: and she gave a cruel smile. From the
roof of the house and the tree in the garden the melting snow trickled
down into the gravel with a thin tinkling noise. Some distance away was
the laughter of children chasing each other in the street and
snowballing. Anna seemed to be half-asleep. The silence was torture to
Christophe: it hurt him so that he could have cried out.
At last the servant went downstairs and left the house. Christophe got
up, turned to Anna, and was about to say:
"Anna! Anna! what have we done?"
Anna looked at him: her eyes, which had been obstinately lowered, had
just opened: they rested on Christophe, and devoured him hotly,
hungrily. Christophe felt his own eyes burn under the impact, and he
reeled; everything that he wanted to say was brushed aside. They came
together, and once more they were locked in an embrace....
The shades of the evening were falling. Their blood was still in
turmoil. She was lying down, with her dress torn, her arms outstretched.
He had buried his face in the pillow, and was groaning aloud. She turned
towards him and raised his head, and caressed his eyes and his lips with
her fingers: she brought her face close to his, and she stared into his
eyes. Her eyes were deep, deep as a lake, and they smiled at each other
in utter indifference to pain. They lost consciousness. He was silent.
Mighty waves of feeling thrilled through them....
That night, when he was alone in his room, Christophe thought of killing
Next day, as soon as he was up, he went to Anna. Now it was he whose
eyes avoided hers. As soon as he met their gaze all that he had to say
was banished from his mind. However, he made an effort, and began to
speak of the cowardice of what they had done. Hardly had she understood
than she roughly stopped his lips with her hand. She flung away from him
with a scowl, and her lips pressed together, and an evil expression upon
her face. He went on. She flung the work she was holding down on the
ground, opened the door, and tried to go out. He caught her hands,
closed the door, and said bitterly that she was very lucky to be able to
banish from her mind all idea of the evil they had done. She struggled
like an animal caught in a trap, and cried angrily:
"Stop!... You coward, can't you see how I am suffering?... I won't let
you speak! Let me go!"
Her face was drawn, her expression was full of hate and fear, like a
beast that has been hurt: her eyes would have killed him, if they
could.--He let her go. She ran to the opposite corner of the room to
take shelter. He had no desire to pursue her. His heart was aching with
bitterness and terror. Braun came in. He looked at them, and they stood
stockishly there. Nothing existed for them outside their own suffering.
Christophe went out. Braun and Anna sat down to their meal. In the
middle of dinner Braun suddenly got up to open the window. Anna had
Christophe left the town for a fortnight on the pretext of having been
called away. For a whole week Anna remained shut up in her room except
for meal-times. She slipped back into consciousness of herself, into her
old habits, the old life from which she had thought she had broken away,
from which we never break away. In vain did she close her eyes to what
she had done. Every day anxiety made further inroads into her heart, and
finally took possession of it. On the following Sunday she refused once
more to go to church. But the Sunday after that she went, and never
omitted it again. She was conquered, but not submissive. God was the
enemy,--an enemy from whose power she could not free herself. She went
to Him with the sullen anger of a slave who is forced into obedience.
During service her face showed nothing but cold hostility: but in the
depths of her soul the whole of her religious life was a fierce, dumbly
exasperated struggle against the Master whose reproaches persecuted her.
She pretended not to hear. She had to hear: and bitterly, savagely, with
clenched teeth, hard eyes, and a deep frowning furrow in her forehead,
she would argue with God. She thought of Christophe with hatred. She
could not forgive him for having delivered her for one moment from the
prison of her soul, only to let her fall back into it again, to be the
prey of its tormentors. She could not sleep; day and night she went over
and over the same torturing thoughts: she did not complain: she went on
obstinately doing her household work and all her other duties, and
throughout maintaining the unyielding and obstinate character of her
will in her daily life, the various tasks of which she fulfilled with
the regularity of a machine. She grew thin, and seemed to be a prey to
some internal malady. Braun questioned her fondly and anxiously: he
wanted to sound her. She repulsed him angrily. The greater her remorse
grew for what she had done to him, the more harshly she spoke to him.
Christophe had determined not to return. He wore himself out. He took
long runs and violent exercise, rowed, walked, climbed mountains.
Nothing was able to quench the fire in him.
He was more the victim of passion than an ordinary man. It is the
necessity of the nature of men of genius. Even the most chaste, like
Beethoven and Burchner, must always be in love: every human capacity is
raised to a higher degree in them, and as, in them, every human capacity
is seized on by their imagination, their minds are a prey to a continual
succession of passions. Most often they are only transitory fires: one
destroys another, and all are absorbed by the great blaze of the
creative spirit. But if the heat of the furnace ceases to fill the soul,
then the soul is left defenseless against the passions without which it
cannot live: it must have passion, it creates passion: and the passions
will devour the soul ...--and then, besides the bitter desire that
harrows the flesh, there is the need of tenderness which drives a man
who is weary and disillusioned of life into the mothering arms of the
comforter, woman. A great man is more of a child than a lesser man: more
than any other, he needs to confide in a woman, to lay his head in the
soft hands of the beloved, in the folds of the lap of her gown.
But Christophe could not understand.... He did not believe in the
inevitability of passion--the idiotic cult of the romantics. He believed
that a man can and must fight with all the force of his will.... His
will! Where was it? Not a trace of it was left. He was possessed. He was
stung by the barbs of memory, day and night. The scent of Anna's body
was with him everywhere. He was like a dismantled hulk, rolling
rudderless, at the mercy of the winds. In vain did he try to escape, he
strove mightily, wore himself out in the attempt: he always found
himself brought back to the same place, and he shouted to the wind:
"Break me, break me, then! What do you want of me?"
Feverishly he probed into himself. Why, why this woman?... Why did he
love her? It was not for her qualities of heart or mind. There were any
number of better and more intelligent women. It was not for her body. He
had had other mistresses more acceptable to his senses. What was
it?...--"We love because we love."--Yes, but there is a reason, even if
it be beyond ordinary human reason. Madness? That means nothing. Why
Because there is a hidden soul, blind forces, demons, which every one of
us bears imprisoned in himself. Our every effort, since the first
existence of humanity, has been directed towards the building up against
this inward sea of the dykes of our reason and our religions. But a
storm arises (and the richest souls are the most subject to storms), the
dykes are broken, the demons have free play, they find themselves in the
presence of other souls uptorn by similar powers.... They hurl
themselves at each other. Hatred or love? A frenzy of mutual
destruction?--Passion is the soul of prey.
The sea has burst its bounds. Who shall turn it back into its bed? Then
must a man appeal to a mightier than himself. To Neptune, the God of the
* * * * *
After a fortnight of vain efforts to escape, Christophe returned to
Anna. He could not live away from her. He was stifled.
And yet he went on struggling. On the evening of his return, they found
excuses for not meeting and not dining together: at night they locked
their doors in fear and dread.--But love was stronger than they. In the
middle of the night she came creeping barefooted, and knocked at his
door. She wept silently. He felt the tears coursing down her cheeks. She
tried to control herself, but her anguish was too much for her and she
sobbed. Under the frightful burden of her grief Christophe forgot his
own: he tried to calm her and gave her tender, comfortable words. She
"I am so unhappy. I wish I were dead...."
Her plaint pierced his heart. He tried to kiss her. She repulsed him:
"I hate you!... Why did you ever come?"
She wrenched herself away from him. She turned her back on him and shook
with rage and grief. She hated him mortally. Christophe lay still,
appalled. In the silence Anna heard his choking breathing: she turned
suddenly and flung her arms round his neck:
"Poor Christophe!" she said. "I have made you suffer...."
For the first time he heard pity in her voice.
"Forgive me," she said.
"We must forgive each other."
She raised herself as though she found it hard to breathe. She sat
there, with bowed back, overwhelmed, and said:
"I am ruined.... It is God's will, He has betrayed me.... What can I do
She stayed for a long time like that, then lay down again and did not
stir. A faint light proclaimed the dawn. In the half-light he saw her
sorrowful face so near his. He murmured:
She made no movement.
"So be it. What does it matter?"
She opened her eyes and left him with an expression of utter weariness.
She sat for a moment looking down at the floor. In a dull, colorless
voice she said:
"I thought of killing him last night."
He gave a start of terror:
"Anna!" he said.
She was staring gloomily at the window.
"Anna!" he said again. "In God's name!... Not him!... He is the best of
"Not him. Very well."
They looked at each other.
They had known it for a long time. They had known where the only way out
lay. They could not bear to live a lie. And they had never even
considered the possibility of eloping together. They knew perfectly well
that that would not solve the problem: for the bitterest suffering came
not from the external Obstacles that held them apart, but in themselves,
in their different souls. It was as impossible for them to live together
as to live apart. They were driven into a corner.
From that moment on they never touched each other: the shadow of death
was upon them: they were sacred to each other.
But they put off appointing a time for their decision. They kept on
saying: "To-morrow, to-morrow..." And they turned their eyes away from
their to-morrow, Christophe's mighty soul had Wild spasms Of revolt: he
would not consent to his defeat: he despised suicide, and he could not
resign himself to such a pitiful and abrupt conclusion of his splendid
life. As for Anna, how could she, unless she were forced, accept the
idea of a death which must lead to eternal death? But ruthless necessity
was at their heels, and the circle was slowly narrowing about them.
* * * * *
That morning, for the first time since the betrayal, Christophe was left
alone with Braun. Until then he had succeeded in avoiding him. He found
it intolerable to be with him. He had to make an excuse to avoid eating
at the same table: the food stuck in his throat. To shake the man's
hand, to eat his bread, to give the kiss of Judas!... Most odious for
him to think of was not the contempt he had for himself so much as the
agony of suffering that Braun must endure if he should come to know....
The idea of it crucified him. He knew, only too well that poor Braun
would never avenge himself, that perhaps he would not even have the
strength to hate them: but what an utter wreck of all his life!... How
would he regard him! Christophe felt that he could not face the reproach
in his eyes.--And it was inevitable that sooner or later Braun would be
warned. Did he not already suspect something? Seeing him again after his
fortnight's absence Christophe was struck by the change in him: Braun
was not the same man. His gaiety had disappeared, or there was something
forced in it. At meals he would stealthily glance at Anna, who talked
not at all, ate not at all, and seemed to be burning away like the oil
in a lamp. With timid, touching kindness he tried to look after her: she
rejected his attentions harshly: then he bent his head over his plate
and relapsed into silence. Anna could bear it no longer, and flung her
napkin on the table in the middle of the meal and left the room. The two
men finished their dinner in silence, or pretended to do so, for they
ate nothing: they dared not raise their eyes. When they had finished,
Christophe was on the point of going when Braun suddenly clasped his arm
with both hands and said:
Christophe looked at him uneasily.
"Christophe," said Braun again--(his voice was shaking),--"do you know
what's the matter with her?"
Christophe stood transfixed: for a moment or two he could find nothing
to say. Braun stood looking at him timidly: very quickly he begged
"You see a good deal of her, she trusts you...."
Christophe was very near taking Braun's hands and kissing them and
begging his forgiveness. Braun saw Christophe's downcast expression,
and, at once, he was terrified, and refused to see: he cast him a
beseeching look and stammered hurriedly and gasped:
"No, no. You know nothing? Nothing?"
Christophe was overwhelmed and said:
Oh! the bitterness of not being able to lay bare his offense, to humble
himself, since to do so would be to break the heart of the man he had
wronged! Oh! the bitterness of being unable to tell the truth, when he
could see in the eyes of the man asking him for it, that he could not,
would not know the truth!...
"Thanks, thank you. I thank you...." said Braun.
He stayed with his hands plucking at Christophe's sleeve as though there
was something else he wished to ask, and yet dared not, avoiding his
eyes. Then he let go, sighed, and went away.
Christophe was appalled by this new lie. He hastened to Anna. Stammering
in his excitement, he told her what had happened. Anna listened gloomily
"Oh, well. He knows. What does it matter?"
"How can you talk like that?" cried Christophe. "It is horrible! I will
not have him suffer, whatever it may cost us, whatever it may cost."
Anna grew angry.
"And what if he does suffer? Don't I have to suffer? Let him suffer
They said bitter things to each other. He accused her of loving only
herself. She reproached him with thinking more of her husband than of
But a moment later, when he told her that he could not go on living like
that, and that he would go and tell the whole story to Braun, then she
cried out on him for his selfishness, declaring that she did not care a
bit about Christophe's conscience, but was quite determined that Braun
should never know.
In spite of her hard words she was thinking as much of Braun as of
Christophe. Though she had no real affection for her husband she was
fond of him. She had a religious respect for social ties and the duties
they involve. Perhaps she did not think that it was the duty of a wife
to be kind and to love her husband: but she did think that she was
compelled scrupulously to fulfil her household duties and to remain
faithful. It seemed to her ignoble to fail in that object as she herself
And even more surely than Christophe she knew that Braun must know
everything very soon. It was something to her credit that she concealed
the fact from Christophe, either because she did not wish to add to his
troubles or more probably because of her pride.
Secluded though the Braun household was, secret though the tragedy might
remain that was being enacted there, some hint of it had trickled away
to the outer world.
In that town it was impossible for any one to flatter himself that the
facts of his life were hidden. This was strangely true. No one ever
looked at anybody in the streets: the doors and shutters of the houses
were closed. But there were mirrors fastened in the corners of the
windows: and as one passed the houses one could hear the faint creaking
of the Venetian shutters being pushed open and shut again. Nobody took
any notice of anybody else: everything and everybody were apparently
ignored: but it was not long before one perceived that not a single
word, not a single gesture had been unobserved: whatever one did,
whatever one said, whatever one saw, whatever one ate was known at once:
even what one thought was known, or, at least, everybody pretended to
know. One was surrounded by a universal, mysterious watchfulness.
Servants, tradespeople, relations, friends, people who were neither
friends nor enemies, passing strangers, all by tacit agreement shared in
this instinctive espionage, the scattered elements of which were
gathered to a head no one knew how. Not only were one's actions
observed, but they probed into one's inmost heart. In that town no man
had the right to keep the secrets of his conscience, and everybody had
the right to rummage amongst his intimate thoughts, and, if they were
offensive to public opinion, to call him to account. The invisible
despotism of the collective mind dominated the individual: all his life
he remained like a child in a state of tutelage: he could call nothing
his own: he belonged to the town.
It was enough for Anna to have stayed away from church two Sundays
running to arouse suspicion. As a rule no one seemed to notice her
presence at service: she lived outside the life of the place, and the
town seemed to have forgotten her existence.--On the evening of the
first Sunday when she had stayed away her absence was known to everybody
and docketed in their memory. On the following Sunday not one of the
pious people following the blessed words in their Bibles or on the
minister's lips seemed to be distracted from their solemn attention: not
one of them had failed to notice as they entered, and to verify as they
left, the fact that Anna's place was empty. Next day Anna began to
receive visits from women she had not seen for many months: they came on
various pretexts, some fearing that she was ill, others assuming a new
interest in her affairs, her husband, her house: some of them showed a
singularly intimate knowledge of the doings of her household: not one of
them--(with clumsy ingenuity)--made any allusion to her absence from
church on two Sundays running. Anna said that she was unwell and
declared that she was very busy. Her visitors listened attentively and
applauded her: Anna knew that they did not believe a word she said.
Their eyes wandered round the room, prying, taking notes, docketing.
They did not for a moment drop their cold affability or their noisy
affected chatter: but their eyes revealed the indiscreet curiosity which
was devouring them. Two or three with exaggerated indifference inquired
after M. Krafft.
A few days later--(during Christophe's absence),--the minister came
himself. He was a handsome, good-natured creature, splendidly healthy,
affable, with that imperturbable tranquillity which comes to a man from
the consciousness of being in sole possession of the truth, the whole
truth. He inquired anxiously after the health of the members of his
flock, politely and absently listened to the excuses she gave him, which
he had not asked for, accepted a cup of tea, made a mild joke or two,
expressed his opinion on the subject of drink that the wine referred to
in the Bible was not alcoholic liquor, produced several quotations, told
a story, and, as he was leaving, made a dark allusion to the danger of
bad company, to certain excursions in the country, to the spirit of
impiety, to the impurity of dancing, and the filthy lusts of the flesh.
He seemed to be addressing his remarks to the age in general and not to
Anna. He stopped for a moment, coughed, got up, bade Anna give his
respectful compliments to M. Braun, made a joke in Latin, bowed, and
took his leave.--Anna was left frozen by his allusion. Was it an
allusion? How could he have known about her excursion with Christophe?
They had not met a soul of their acquaintance that day. But was not
everything known in the town? The musician with the remarkable face and
the young woman in black who had danced at the inn had attracted much
attention: their descriptions had been spread abroad; and, as the story
was bandied from mouth to mouth, it had reached the town where the
watchful malice of the gossips had not failed to recognize Anna. No
doubt it amounted as yet to no more than a suspicion, but it was
singularly attractive, and it was augmented by information supplied by
Anna's maid. Public curiosity had been a-tip-toe, waiting for them to
compromise each other, spying on them with a thousand invisible eyes.
The silent crafty people of the town were creeping close upon them, like
a cat lying in wait for a mouse.
In spite of the danger Anna would in all probability not have given in:
perhaps her consciousness of such cowardly hostility would have driven
her to some desperate act of provocation if she had not herself been
possessed by the Pharisaic spirit of the society which was so
antagonistic to her. Her education had subjugated her nature. It was in
vain that she condemned the tyranny and meanness of public opinion: she
respected it: she subscribed to its decrees even when they were directed
against herself: if they had come into conflict with her conscience, she
would have sacrificed her conscience. She despised the town: but she
could not have borne the town to despise herself.
Now the time was coming when the public scandal would be afforded an
opportunity of discharging itself. The carnival was coming on.
* * * * *
In that city, the carnival had preserved up to the time of the events
narrated in this history--(it has changed since then)--a character of
archaic license and roughness. Faithfully in accordance with its origin,
by which it had been a relaxation for the profligacy of the human mind
subjugated, wilfully or involuntarily, by reason, it nowhere reached
such a pitch of audacity as in the periods and countries in which custom
and law, the guardians of reason, weighed most heavily upon the people.
The town in which Anna lived was therefore one of its most chosen
regions. The more moral stringency paralyzed action and gagged speech,
the bolder did action become and speech the more untrammeled during
those few days. Everything that was secreted away in the lower depths of
the soul, jealousy, secret hate, lewd curiosity, the malicious instincts
inherent in the social animal, would burst forth with all the vehemence
and joy of revenge. Every man had the right to go out into the streets,
and, prudently masked, to nail to the pillory, in full view of the
public gaze, the object of his detestation, to lay before all and sundry
all that he had found out by a year of patient industry, his whole hoard
of scandalous secrets gathered drop by drop. One man would display them
on the cars. Another would carry a transparent lantern on which were
pasted in writings and drawings the secret history of the town. Another
would go so far as to wear a mask in imitation of his enemy, made so
easily recognizable that the very gutter-snipes would point him out by
name. Slanderous newspapers would appear during the three days. Even the
very best people would craftily take part in the game of _Pasquino_. No
control was exercised except over political allusions,--such coarse
liberty of speech having on more than one occasion produced fierce
conflict between the authorities of the town and the representatives of
foreign countries. But there was nothing to protect the citizens against
the citizens, and this cloud of public insult, constantly hanging over
their heads, did not a little help to maintain the apparently impeccable
morality on which the town prided itself.
Anna felt the weight of that dread--which was quite unjustified. She had
very little reason to be afraid. She occupied too small a place in the
opinion of the town for any one to think of attacking her. But in the
absolute isolation in which of her own choice she lived, in her state of
exhaustion and nervous excitement brought on by several weeks of
sleepless nights and moral suffering, her imagination was apt to welcome
the most unreasoning terrors. She exaggerated the animosity of those who
did not like her. She told herself that suspicion was on her track: the
veriest trifle was enough to ruin her: and there was nothing to assure
her that it was not already an accomplished fact. It would mean insult,
pitiless exposure, her heart laid bare to the mockery of the passers-by:
dishonor so cruel that Anna was near dying of shame at the very thought
of it. She called to mind how, a few years before, a girl, who had been
the victim of such persecution, had had to fly the country with her
family.... And she could do nothing, nothing to defend herself, nothing
to prevent it, nothing even to find out if it was going to happen. The
suspense was even more maddening than the certainty. Anna looked
desperately about her like an animal at bay. In her own house she knew
that she was hemmed in.
* * * * *
Anna's servant was a woman of over forty: her name was Babi: she was
tall and strong: her face was narrow and bony round her brow and
temples, wide and long in the lower part, fleshy under the jaw, roughly
pear-shaped: she had a perpetual smile and eyes that pierced like
gimlets, sunken, as though they had been sucked in, beneath red eyelids
with colorless lashes. She never put off her expression of coquettish
gaiety: she was always delighted with her superiors, always of their
opinion, worrying about their health with tender interest: smiling when
they gave her orders: smiling when they scolded her. Braun believed that
she was unshakably devoted. Her gushing manner was strongly in contrast
with Anna's coldness. However, she was like her in many things: like her
she spoke little and dressed in a severe neat style: like her she was
very pious, and went to service with her, scrupulously fulfilling all
her religious duties and nicely attending to her household tasks: she
was clean, methodical, and her morals and her kitchen were beyond
reproach. In a word she was an exemplary servant and the perfect type of
domestic foe. Anna's feminine instinct was hardly ever wrong in her
divination of the secret thoughts of women, and she had no illusions
about her. They detested each other, knew it, and never let it appear.
On the night of Christophe's return, when Anna, torn by her desire and
her emotion, went to him once more in spite of her resolve never to see
him again, she walked stealthily, groping along the wall in the
darkness: just as she reached Christophe's door, instead of the ordinary
cold smooth polished floor, she felt a warm dust softly crunching under
her bare feet. She stooped, touched it with her hands, and understood: a
thin layer of ashes had been spread for the space of a few yards across
the passage. Without knowing it Babi had happed on the old device
employed in the days of the old Breton songs by Frocin the dwarf to
catch Tristan on his way to Yseult: so true it is that a limited number
of types, good and bad, serve for all ages. A remarkable piece of
evidence in favor of the wise economy of the universe!--Anna did not
hesitate; she did not stop or turn, but went on in a sort of
contemptuous bravado: she went to Christophe, told him nothing, in spite
of her uneasiness: but when she returned she took the stove brush and
carefully effaced every trace of her footsteps in the ashes, after she
had crossed over them.--When Anna and Babi met next day it was with the
usual coldness and the accustomed smile.
Babi used sometimes to receive a visit from a relation who was a little
older than herself: he fulfilled the function of beadle of the church:
during _Gottesdienst_ (Divine service) he used to stand sentinel at
the church door, wearing a white armlet with black stripes and a silver
tassel, leaning on a cane with a curved handle. By trade he was an
undertaker. His name was Sami Witschi. He was very tall and thin, with a
slight stoop, and he had the clean-shaven solemn face of an old peasant.
He was very pious and knew better than any one all the tittle-tattle of
the parish. Babi and Sami were thinking of getting married: they
appreciated each other's serious qualities, and solid faith and malice.
But they were in no hurry to make up their minds: they prudently took
stock of each other,--Latterly Sami's visits had become more frequent.
He would come in unawares. Every time Anna went near the kitchen and
looked through the door, she would see Sami sitting near the fire, and
Babi a few yards away, sewing. However much they talked, it was
impossible to hear a sound. She could see Babi's beaming face and her
lips moving: Sami's wide hard mouth would stretch in a grin without
opening: not a sound would come up from his throat: the house seemed to
be lost in silence. Whenever Anna entered the kitchen, Sami would rise
respectfully and remain standing, without a word, until she had gone out
again. Whenever Babi heard the door open, she would ostentatiously break
off in the middle of a commonplace remark, and turn to Anna with an
obsequious smile and wait for her orders. Anna would think they were
talking about her: but she despised them too much to play the
The day after Anna had dodged the ingenious trap of the ashes, as she
entered the kitchen, the first thing she saw in Sami's hand was the
little broom she had used the night before to wipe out the marks of her
bare feet. She had taken it out of Christophe's room, and that very
minute, she suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to take it back
again; she had left it in her own room, where Babi's sharp eyes had seen
it at once. The two gossips had immediately put two and two together.
Anna did not flinch. Babi followed her mistress's eyes, gave an
exaggerated smile, and explained:
"The broom was broken: I gave it to Sami to mend."
Anna did not take the trouble to point out the gross falsehood of the
excuse: she did not seem even to hear it: she looked at Babi's work,
made a few remarks, and went out again impassively. But when the door
was closed she lost all her pride: she could not help hiding behind the
corner of the passage and listening--(she was humiliated to the very
depths of her being at having to stoop to such means: but fear mastered
her).--She heard a dry chuckle of laughter. Then whispering, so low that
she could not make out what was said. But in her desperation Anna
thought she heard: her terror breathed into her ears the words she was
afraid of hearing: she imagined that they were speaking of the coming
masquerades and a charivari. There was no doubt: they would try to
introduce the episode of the ashes. Probably she was wrong: but in her
state of morbid excitement, having for a whole fortnight been haunted by
the fixed idea of public insult, she did not stop to consider whether
the uncertain could be possible: she regarded it as certain.
From that time on her mind was made up.
* * * * *
On the evening of the same day--(it was the Wednesday preceding the
carnival)--Braun was called away to a consultation twenty miles out of
the town: he would not return until the next morning. Anna did not come
down to dinner and stayed in her room. She had chosen that night to
carry out the tacit pledge she had made with herself. But she had
decided to carry it out alone, and to say nothing to Christophe. She