Part 7 out of 10
despised him. She thought:
"He promised. But he is a man, he is an egoist and a liar. He has his
art. He will soon forget."
And then perhaps there was in her passionate heart that seemed so
inaccessible to kindness, room for a feeling of pity for her companion.
But she was too harsh and too passionate to admit it to herself.
Babi told Christophe that her mistress had bade her to make her excuses
as she was not very well and wished to rest. Christophe dined alone
under Babi's supervision, and she bored him with her chatter, tried to
make him talk, and protested such an extraordinary devotion to Anna,
that, in spite of his readiness to believe in the good faith of men,
Christophe became suspicious. He was counting on having a decisive
interview with Anna that night. He could no more postpone matters than
she. He had not forgotten the pledge they had given each other at the
dawn of that sad day. He was ready to keep it if Anna demanded it of
him. But he saw the absurdity of their dying together, how it would not
solve the problem, and how the sorrow of it and the scandal must fall
upon Braun's shoulders. He was inclined to think that the best thing to
do was to tear themselves apart and for him to try once more to go right
away,--to see at least if he were strong enough to stay away from her:
he doubted it after the vain attempt he had made before: but he thought
that, in case he could not bear it, he would still have time to turn to
the last resort, alone, without anybody knowing.
He hoped that after supper he would be able to escape for a moment to go
up to Anna's room. But Babi dogged him. As a rule she used to finish her
work early: but that night she seemed never to have done with scrubbing
her kitchen: and when Christophe thought he was rid of her, she took it
into her head to tidy a cupboard in the passage leading to Anna's room.
Christophe found her standing on a stool, and he saw that she had no
intention of moving all evening. He felt a furious desire to knock her
over with her piles of plates: but he restrained himself and asked her
to go and see how her mistress was and if he could say good-night to
her. Babi went, returned, and said, as she watched him with a malicious
joy, that Madame was better and was asleep and did not want anybody to
disturb her. Christophe tried irritably and nervously to read, but could
not, and went up to his room. Babi watched his light until it was put
out, and then went upstairs to her room, resolving to keep watch: she
carefully left her door open so that she could hear every sound in the
house. Unfortunately for her, she could not go to bed without at once
falling asleep and sleeping so soundly that not thunder, not even her
own curiosity, could wake her up before daybreak. Her sound sleep Was no
secret. The echo of it resounded through the house even to the lower
As soon as Christophe heard the familiar noise he went to Anna's room.
It was imperative that he should speak to her. He was profoundly uneasy.
He reached her door, turned the handle: the door was locked. He knocked
lightly: no reply. He placed his lips to the keyhole and begged her in a
whisper, then more loudly, to open: not a movement, not a sound.
Although he told himself that Anna was asleep, he was in agonies. And
as, in a vain attempt to hear, he laid his cheek against the door, a
smell came to his nostrils which seemed to be issuing from the room: he
bent down and recognised it; it was the smell of gas. His blood froze.
He shook the door, never thinking that he might wake Babi: the door did
not give.... He understood: in her dressing-room, which led out of her
room, Anna had a little gas-stove: she had turned it on. He must break
open the door: but in his anxiety Christophe kept his senses enough to
remember that at all costs Babi must not hear. He leaned against one of
the leaves of the door and gave an enormous shove as quietly as he
could. The solid, well-fitting door creaked on its hinges, but did not
yield. There was another door which led from Anna's room to Braun's
dressing-room. He ran to it. That too was locked: but the lock was
outside. He started to tug it off. It was not easy. He had to remove the
four big screws which were buried deep in the wood. He had only his
knife and he could not see: for he dared not light a candle; it would
have meant blowing the whole place up. Fumblingly he managed to fit his
knife, into the head of a screw, then another, breaking the blades and
cutting himself; the screws seemed to be interminably long, and he
thought he would never be able to get them out: and, at the same time,
in the feverish haste which was making big body break out into a cold
sweat, there came to his mind a memory of his childhood: he saw himself,
a boy of ten, shut up in a dark room as a punishment: he had taken off
the lock and run out of the house.... The last screw came out. The lock
gave with a crackling noise like the sawing of wood. Christophe plunged
into the room, rushed to the window, and opened it. A flood of cold air
swept in. Christophe bumped into the furniture in the dark and came to
the bed, groped with his hands, and came on Anna's body, tremblingly
felt her legs lying still under the clothes, and moved his hands up to
her waist: Anna was sitting up in bed, trembling. She had not had time
to feel the first effects of asphyxiation: the room was high: the air
came through the chinks in the windows and the doors, Christophe caught
her in his arms. She broke away from him angrily, crying:
"Go away!... Ah! What have you done?"
She raised her hands to strike him: but she was worn out with emotion:
she fell back on her pillow and sobbed:
"Oh! Oh! We've to go through it all over again!"
Christophe took her hands in his, kissed her, scolded her, spoke to her
tenderly and roughly:
"You were going to die, to die, alone, without me!"
"Oh! You!" she said bitterly.
Her tone was as much as to say:
"You want to live."
He spoke harshly to her and tried to break down her will.
"You are mad!" he said. "You might have blown the house to pieces!"
"I wanted to," she said angrily.
He tried to play on her religious fears: that was the right note. As
soon as he touched on it she began to scream and to beg him to stop. He
went on pitilessly, thinking that it was the only means of bringing her
back to the desire to live. She said nothing more, but lay sobbing
convulsively. When he had done, she said in a tone of intense hatred:
"Are you satisfied now? You've done your work well. You've brought me to
despair. And now, what am I to do?"
"Live," he said.
"Live!" she cried. "You don't know how impossible it is! You know
nothing! You know nothing!"
"What is it?"
She shrugged her shoulders:
In a few brief disconnected sentences she told him all that she had
concealed from him: Babi's spying on her, the ashes, the scene with
Sami, the carnival, the public insult that was before her. As she told
her story she was unable to distinguish between the figments of her fear
and what she had any reason to fear. He listened in utter consternation,
and was no more capable than she of discerning between the real and the
imaginary in her story. Nothing had ever been farther from his mind than
to suspect how they were being dogged. He tried to understand: he could
find nothing to say: against such enemies he was disarmed. Only he was
conscious of a blind fury, a desire to strike and to destroy. He said:
"Why didn't you dismiss Babi?"
She did not deign to reply. Babi dismissed would have been even more
venomous than Babi tolerated: and Christophe saw the idiocy of his
question. His thoughts were in a whirl: he was trying to discover a way
out, some immediate action upon which to engage. He clenched his fists
"I'll kill them?"
"Who?" she said, despising him for his futile words.
He lost all power of thought or action. He felt that he was lost in such
a network of obscure treachery, in which it was impossible to clutch at
anything since all were parties to it. He writhed.
"Cowards!" he cried, in sheer despair.
He slipped down on to his knees and buried his face against Anna.--They
were silent for a little. She felt a mixture of contempt and pity for
the man who could defend neither himself nor her. He felt Anna's limbs
trembling with cold against his cheek. The window had been left open,
and outside it was freezing: they could see the icy stars shivering in
the sky that was smooth and gleaming as a mirror.
When she had fully tasted the bitter joy of seeing him as broken as
herself, she said in a hard, weary voice:
"Light the candle."
He did so. Anna's teeth were chattering, she was sitting huddled up,
with her arms tight folded across her chest and her knees up to her
chin. He closed the window. Then he sat on the bed. He laid his hands on
Anna's feet: they were cold as ice, and he warmed them with his hands
and lips. She was softened.
"Christophe!" she said.
Her eyes were pitiful to see.
"Anna!" said he.
"What are we going to do?"
He looked at her and replied:
She gave a cry of joy.
"Oh! You will? You will?... I shall not be alone!"
She kissed him.
"Did you think I was going to let you?"
She replied in a whisper:
A few moments later he questioned her with his eyes. She understood.
"In the bureau," she said. "On the right. The bottom drawer."
He went and looked. At the back of the drawer he found a revolver. Braun
had bought it as a student. He had never made use of it. In an open box
Christophe found some cartridges. He took them to the bed. Anna looked
at them, and at once turned her eyes away to the wall.
Christophe waited, and then asked:
"You don't want to...?"
Anna turned abruptly:
"I will.... Quick!"
"Nothing can save me now from the everlasting pit. A little more or
less, it will be just the same."
Christophe awkwardly loaded the revolver.
"Anna," he said, and his voice trembled. "One of us will see the other
She wrenched the pistol out of his hands and said selfishly:
"I shall be the first."
They looked at each other once more.... Alas! At the very moment when
they were to die for each other they felt so far apart!... Each was
thinking in terror:
"What am I doing? What am I doing?"
And each was reading the other's eyes. The absurdity of the thing was
what struck Christophe most. All his life gone for nothing: vain his
struggles: vain his suffering: vain his hopes: all botched, flung to the
winds: one foolish act was to wipe all away.... In his normal state he
would have wrenched the revolver away from Anna and flung it out of the
window and cried:
"No, no! I will not."
But eight months of suffering, of doubt and torturing grief, and on top
of that the whirlwind of their crazy passion, had wasted his strength
and broken his will: he felt that he could do nothing now, that he was
no longer master of himself.... Ah! what did it matter, after all?
Anna, feeling certain that she was doomed to everlasting death,
stretched every nerve to catch and hold the last minute of her life:
Christophe's sorrowful face lit by the flickering candle, the shadows on
the wall, a footstep in the street, the cold contact of the steel in her
hand.... She clung to these sensations, as a shipwrecked man clings to
the spar that sinks beneath his weight. Afterwards all was terror. Why
not prolong the time of waiting? But she said to herself:
She said good-by to Christophe, with no tenderness, with the haste of a
hurried traveler fearful of losing the train: she bared her bosom, felt
for her heart, and laid the mouth of the revolver against it. Christophe
hid his face. Just as she was about to fire she laid her left hand on
Christophe's. It was the gesture of a child dreading to walk in the
Then a few frightful seconds passed.... Anna did not fire. Christophe
wanted to raise his head, to take her in his arms: and he was afraid
that his very movement might bring her to the point of firing. He heard
nothing more: he lost consciousness.... A groan from Anna pierced his
heart. He got up. He saw Anna with her face distorted in terror. The
revolver had fallen down on to the bed. She kept on saying plaintively;
"Christophe!... It has missed fire!..."
He took the pistol: it had lain long forgotten and had grown rusty: but
the trigger was in working order. Perhaps the cartridges had gone bad
with exposure to the air.--Anna held out her hand for the revolver.
"Enough! Enough!" he implored her.
She commanded him:
He gave them to her. She examined them, took one, loaded the pistol,
trembling, put the pistol to her breast, and fired.--Once more it missed
Anna flung the revolver out into the room.
"Oh! It is horrible, horrible!" she cried. "_He_ will not let me die!"
She writhed and sobbed: she was like a madwoman. He tried to touch her:
she beat him off, screaming. Finally she had a nervous attack.
Christophe stayed with her until morning. At last she was pacified: but
she lay still and breathless, with her eyes closed and the livid skin
stretched tight over the bones of her forehead and cheeks: she looked
like one dead.
Christophe repaired the disorder of her bed, picked up the revolver,
fastened on the lock he had wrenched away, tidied up the whole room.,
and went away: for it was seven o'clock and Babi might come at any
* * * * *
When Braun returned next morning he found Anna in the same prostrate
condition. He saw that something extraordinary had happened: but he
could glean nothing either from Babi or Christophe. All day long Anna
did not stir: she did not open her eyes: her pulse was so weak that he
could hardly feel it: every now and then it would stop, and, for a
moment, Braun would be in a state of agony, thinking that her heart had
stopped. His affection made him doubt his own knowledge: he ran and
fetched a colleague. The two men examined Anna and could not make up
their minds whether it was the beginning of a fever, or a case of
nervous hysteria: they had to keep the patient under observation. Braun
never left Anna's bedside. He refused to eat. Towards evening Anna's
pulse gave no signs of fever, but was extremely weak. Braun tried to
force a few spoonfuls of milk between her lips: she brought it back at
once. Her body lay limp in her husband's arms like a broken doll. Braun
spent the night with her, getting up every moment to listen to her
breathing. Babi, who was hardly at all put out by Anna's illness, played
the devoted servant and refused to go to bed and sat up with Braun.
On the Friday Anna opened her eyes. Braun spoke to her: she took no
notice of him. She lay quite still with her eyes staring at a mark on
the wall. About midday Braun saw great tears trickling down her thin
cheeks: he dried them gently: one by one the tears went on trickling
down. Once more Braun tried to make her take some food. She took it
passively. In the evening she began to talk: loose snatches of
sentences. She talked about the Rhine: she had tried to drown herself,
but there was not enough water. In her dreams she persisted in
attempting suicide, imagining all sorts of strange forms of death;
always death was at the back of her thoughts. Sometimes she was arguing
with some one, and then her face would take on an expression of fear and
anger: she addressed herself to God, and tried obstinately to prove that
it was all His fault. Or the flame of desire would kindle in her eyes,
and she would say shameless things which it seemed impossible that she
should know. Once she saw Babi, and gave precise orders for the morrow's
washing. At night she dozed. Suddenly she got up: Braun ran to her. She
looked at him strangely, and babbled impatient formless words. He asked
"My dear Anna, what do you want?"
She said harshly:
"Go and bring him."
"Who?" he asked.
She looked at him once more with the same expression and suddenly burst
out laughing: then she drew her hands over her forehead and moaned:
"Oh! my God! Let me forget!..."
Sleep overcame her. She was at peace until day. About dawn she moved a
little: Braun raised her head to give her to drink: she gulped down a
few mouthfuls, and, stooping to Braun's hands, she kissed them. Once more
she dozed off.
On the Saturday morning she woke up about nine o'clock. Without saying a
word, she began to slip out of bed. Braun went quickly to her and tried
to make her lie down again. She insisted. He asked her what she wanted
to do. She replied:
"Go to church."
He tried to argue with her and to remind her that it was not Sunday and
the church was closed. She relapsed into silence: but she sat in a chair
near the bed, and began to put on her clothes with trembling fingers.
Braun's doctor-friend came in. He joined Braun in his entreaties: then,
seeing that she would not give in, he examined her, and finally
consented. He took Braun aside, and told him that his wife's illness
seemed to be altogether moral, and that for the time being he must avoid
opposing her wishes, and that he could see no danger in her going out,
so long as Braun went with her. Braun told Anna that he would go with
her. She refused, and insisted on going alone. But she stumbled as soon
as she tried to walk across the room. Then, without a word, she took
Braun's arm, and they went out. She was very weak, and kept stopping.
Several times he asked her if she wanted to go home. She began to walk
on. When they reached the church, as he had told her, they found the
doors closed. Anna sat down on a bench near the door, and stayed,
shivering, until the clock struck twelve. Then she took Braun's arm
again, and they came home in silence. But in the evening she wanted to
go to church again. Braun's entreaties were useless. He had to go out
with her once more.
Christophe had spent the two days alone. Braun was too anxious to think
about him. Only once, on the Saturday morning, when he was trying to
divert Anna's mind from her fixed idea of going out, he had asked her if
she would like to see Christophe. She had looked at him with such an
expression of fear and loathing that he could not but remark it: and he
never pronounced Christophe's name again.
Christophe had shut himself up in his room. Anxiety, love, remorse, a
very chaos of sorrow was whirling in him. He blamed himself for
everything. He was overwhelmed by self-disgust. More than once he had
got up to go and confess the whole story to Braun--and each time he had
immediately been arrested by the thought of bringing wretchedness to yet
another human being by his self-accusation. At the same time he was
spared nothing of his passion. He prowled about in the passage outside
Anna's room; and when he heard footsteps inside coming to the door he
rushed away to his own room.
When Braun and Anna went out in the afternoon, he looked out for them
from behind his window-curtains. He saw Anna. She who had been so erect
and proud walked now with bowed back, lowered head, yellow complexion:
she was an old woman bending under the weight of the cloak and shawl her
husband had thrown about her: she was ugly. But Christophe did not see
her ugliness: he saw only her misery; and his heart ached with pity and
love. He longed to run to her, to prostrate himself in the mud, to kiss
her feet: her dear body so broken and destroyed by passion, and to
implore her forgiveness. And he thought as he looked after her:
"My work.... That is what I have done!"
But when he looked into the mirror and saw his own face, he was shown
the same devastation in his eyes, in all his features: he saw the marks
of death upon himself, as upon her, and he thought:
"My work? No. It is the work of the cruel Master who drives us mad and
The house was empty. Babi had gone out to tell the neighbors of the
day's events. Time was passing. The clock struck five. Christophe was
filled with terror as he thought of Anna's return and the coming of the
night. He felt that he could not bear to stay under the same roof with
her for another night. He felt his reason breaking beneath the weight of
passion. He did not know what to do, he did not know what he wanted,
except that he wanted Anna at all costs. He thought of the wretched face
he had just seen going past his window, and he said to himself:
"I must save her from myself!..."
His will stirred into life.
He gathered together the litter of papers on the table, tied them up,
took his hat and cloak, and went out. In the passage, near the door of
Anna's room, he hurried forward in a spasm of fear. Downstairs he
glanced for the last time into the empty garden. He crept away like a
thief in the night. An icy mist pricked his face and hands. Christophe
skirted the walls of the houses, dreading a meeting with any one he
knew. He went to the station, and got into a train which was just
starting for Lucerne. At the first stopping-place he wrote to Braun. He
said that he had been called away from the town on urgent business for a
few days, and that he was very sorry to have to leave him at such a
time: he begged him to send him news, and gave him an address. At
Lucerne he took the St. Gothard train. Late at night he got out at a
little station between Altorf and Goeschenen. He did not know the name,
never knew it. He went into the nearest inn by the station. The road was
filled with pools of water. It was raining in torrents: it rained all
night and all next day. The water was rushing and roaring like a
cataract from a broken gutter. Sky and earth were drowned, seemingly
dissolved and melted like his own mind. He went to bed between damp
sheets which smelt of railway smoke. He could not lie still. The idea of
the danger hanging over Anna was too much in his mind for him to feel
his own suffering as yet. Somehow he must avert public malignity from
her, somehow turn it aside upon another track. In his feverish condition
a queer idea came to him: he decided to write to one of the few
musicians with whom he had been acquainted in the little town, Krebs,
the confectioner-organist. He gave him to understand that he was off to
Italy upon an affair of the heart, that he had been possessed by the
passion when he first took up his abode with the Brauns, and that he had
tried to shake free of it, but it had been too strong for him. He put
the whole thing clearly enough for Krebs to understand, and yet so
veiled as to enable him to improve on it as he liked. Christophe
implored Krebs to keep his secret. He knew that the good little man
simply could not keep anything to himself, and--quite rightly--he
reckoned on Krebs hastening to spread the news as soon as it came into
his hands. To make sure of hoodwinking the gossips of the town
Christophe closed his letter with a few cold remarks about Braun and
about Anna's illness.
He spent the rest of the night and the next day absorbed by his fixed
Idea.... Anna.... Anna.... He lived through the last few months with
her, day by day: he did not see her as she was, but enveloped her with a
passionate atmosphere of illusion. From the very beginning he had
created her in the image of his own desire, and given her a moral
grandeur, a tragic consciousness which he needed to heighten his love
for her. These lies of passion gained in intensity of conviction now
that they were beyond the control of Anna's presence. He saw in her a
healthy free nature, oppressed, struggling to shake off its fetters,
reaching upwards to a wider life of liberty in the open air of the soul,
and then, fearful of it, struggling against her dreams, wrestling with
them, because they could not be brought into line with her destiny, and
made it only the more sorrowful and wretched. She cried to him: "Help
me." He saw once more her beautiful body, clasped it to him. His
memories tortured him: he took a savage delight in mortifying the wounds
they dealt him. As the day crept on, the feeling of all that he had lost
became so frightful that he could not breathe.
Without knowing what he was doing, he got up, went out, paid his bill,
and took the first train back to the town in which Anna lived. He
arrived in the middle of the night: he went straight to the house. There
was a wall between the alley and the garden next to Braun's. Christophe
climbed the wall, jumped down into the next-door garden, and then into
Braun's. He stood outside the house. It was in darkness save for a
night-light which cast a yellow glow upon a window--the window of Anna's
room. Anna was there. She was suffering. He had only to make one stride
to enter. He laid his hand on the handle of the door. Then he looked at
his hand, the door, the garden: suddenly he realized what he was doing:
and, breaking free of the hallucination which had been upon him for the
last seven or eight hours, he groaned, wrenched free of the inertia
which held him riveted to the ground whereon he stood, ran to the wall,
scaled it, and fled.
That same night he left the town for the second time: and next day he
went and buried himself in a mountain village, hidden from the world by
driving blizzards.--There he would bury his heart, stupefy his thoughts,
and forget, and forget!...
--"_Epero leva su, vinci l'ambascia
Con l'animo che vinea ogni battaglia,
Se col suo grave corpo non s'accascia.
"Leva'mi allor, mostrandomi fornito
Meglio di lena ch'io non mi sentia;
E dissi: 'Va, ch'io son forte edardito._'"
Oh! God, what have I done to Thee? Why dost Thou overwhelm me? Since I
was a little child Thou hast appointed misery and conflict to be my lot.
I have struggled without complaint. I have loved my misery. I have tried
to preserve the purity of the soul Thou gavest me, to defend the fire
which Thou hast kindled in me.... Lord, it is Thou, it is Thou who art
so furious to destroy what Thou hast created. Thou hast put out the
fire, Thou hast besmirched my soul. Thou hast despoiled me of all that
gave me life. I had but two treasurable things in the world: my friend
and my soul. Now I have nothing, for Thou hast taken everything from me.
One only creature was mine in the wilderness of the world: Thou hast
taken him from me. Our hearts were one. Thou hast torn them asunder:
Thou hast made us know the sweetness of being together only to make us
know the horror of being lost to each other. Thou hast created emptiness
all about me. Thou hast created emptiness within me. I was broken and
sick, unarmed and robbed of my will. Thou hast chosen that hour to
strike me down. Thou hast come stealthily with silent feet from behind
treacherously, and Thou hast stabbed me: Thou hast let loose upon me Thy
fierce dogs of passion; I was weak, and Thou knewest it, and I could not
struggle: passion has laid me low, and thrown me into confusion, and
befouled me, and destroyed all that I had.... I am left only in
self-disgust. If I could only cry aloud my grief and my shame! or forget
them in the rushing stream of creative force! But my strength is broken,
and my creative power is withered up. I am like a dead tree.... Would I
were dead! O God, deliver me, break my body and my soul, tear me from
this earth, leave me not to struggle blindly in the pit, leave me not in
this endless agony! I cry for mercy.... Lord, make an end!
* * * * *
So in his sorrow Christophe cried upon a God in whom his reason did not
* * * * *
He had taken refuge in a lonely farm in the Swiss Jura Mountains. The
house was built in the woods tucked away in the folds of a high humpy
plateau. It was protected from the north winds by crags and boulders. In
front of it lay a wide stretch of fields, and long wooded slopes: the
rock suddenly came to an end in a sheer precipice: twisted pines hung on
the edge of it; behind were wide-spreading beeches. The sky was blotted
out. There was no sign of life. A wide stretch of country with all its
lines erased. The whole place lay sleeping under the snow. Only at night
in the forest foxes barked. It was the end of the winter. Slow dragging
winter. Interminable winter. When it seemed like to break up, snow would
fall once more, and it would begin again.
However, for a week now the old slumbering earth had felt its heart slow
beating to new birth. The first deceptive breath of spring crept into
the air and beneath the frozen crust. From the branches of the
beech-trees, stretched out like soaring wings, the snow melted. Already
through the white cloak of the fields there peered a few thin blades of
grass of tender green: around their sharp needles, through the gaps in
the snow, like so many little mouths, the dank black earth was
breathing. For a few hours every day the voice of the waters, sleeping
beneath their robe of ice, murmured. In the skeleton woods a few birds
piped their shrill clear song.
Christophe noticed nothing. All things were the same to him. He paced up
and down, up and down his room. Or be would walk outside. He could not
keep still. His soul was torn in pieces by inward demons. They fell upon
and rent each other. His suppressed passion never left off beating
furiously against the walls of the house of its captivity. His disgust
with passion was no less furiously in revolt: passion and disgust flew
at each other's throats, and, in their conflict, they lacerated his
heart. And at the same time he was delivered up to the memory of
Olivier, despair at his death, the hunger to create which nothing could
satisfy, and pride rearing on the edge of the abyss of nothingness. He
was a prey to all devils. He had no moment of respite. Or, if there came
a seeming calm, if the rushing waves did fall back for a moment, it was
only that he might find himself alone, and nothing in himself: thought,
love, will, all had been done to death.
To create! That was the only loophole. To abandon the wreck of his life
to the mercy of the waves! To save himself by swimming in the dreams of
art!... To create! He tried.... He could not.
Christophe had never had any method of working. When he was strong and
well he had always rather suffered from his superabundance than been
disturbed at seeing it diminish: he followed his whim: he used to work
first as the fancy took him, as circumstances chanced, with no fixed
rule. As a matter of fact, he was always working everywhere: his brain
was always busy. Often and often Olivier, who was less richly endowed
and more reflective, had warned him:
"Take care. You are trusting too much to your force. It is a mountain
torrent. Full to-day, perhaps dry to-morrow. An artist must coax his
genius: he must not let it scatter itself at random. Turn your force
into a channel. Train yourself in habits of mind and a healthy system of
daily work, at fixed hours. They are as necessary to the artist as the
practice of military movements and steps to a man who is to go into
battle. When moments of crisis come--(and they always do come)--the
bracing of steel prevents the soul from destruction. I know. It is just
that that has saved me from death."
But Christophe used to laugh and say:
"That's all right for you, my boy I There's no danger of my losing my
taste for life. My appetite's too good."
Olivier would shrug his shoulders:
"Too much ends in too little. There are no worse invalids than the men
who have always had too much health."
And now Olivier's words had come true. After the death of his friend the
source of his inward life had not all at once dried up: but it had
become strangely intermittent: it flowed in sudden gushes, then stopped,
then disappeared under the earth. Christophe had paid no heed to it:
what did it matter to him? His grief and his budding passion had
absorbed his mind.--But after the storm had passed, when once more he,
turned to the fountain to drink, he could find no trace of it. All was
barren. Not a trickle of water. His soul was dried up. In vain did he
try to dig down into the sand, and force the water up from the
subterranean wells, and create at all costs: the machine of his mind
refused to obey. He could not invoke the aid of habit, the faithful
ally, which, when we have lost every reason for living, alone, constant
and firmly loyal, stays with us, and speaks no word, and makes no sign,
but with eyes fixed, and silent lips, with its sure unwavering hand
leads us by the hand through the dangerous chasm until the light of day
and the joy of life return. Christophe was helpless: and his hand could
find no guiding hand in the darkness. He could not find his way back to
the light of day.
It was the supreme test. Then he felt that he was on the verge of
madness. Sometimes he would wage an absurd and crazy battle with his own
brain, maniacal obsessions, a nightmare of numbers: he would count the
boards on the floor, the trees in the forest: figures and chords, the
choice of which was beyond his reason. Sometimes he would lie in a state
of prostration, like one dead.
Nobody worried about him. He lived apart in one wing of the house. He
tidied his own room--or left it undone, every day. His meals were laid
for him downstairs: he never saw a human face. His host, an old peasant,
a taciturn, selfish creature, took no interest in him. Whether
Christophe ate or did not eat was his affair. He hardly ever noticed
whether Christophe came in at night. Once he was lost in the forest,
buried up to his hips in the snow: he was very near never returning. He
tried to wear himself out to keep himself from thinking. He could not
succeed. Only now and then could he snatch a few hours of troubled
Only one living creature seemed to take any notice of his existence:
this was an old St. Bernard, who used to come and lay his big head with
its mournful eyes on Christophe's knees when Christophe was sitting on
the seat in front of the house. They would look long at each other.
Christophe would not drive him away. Unlike the sick Goethe, the dog's
eyes had no uneasiness for him. Unlike him, he had no desire to cry:
"Go away!... Thou goblin, thou shalt not catch me, whatever thou doest!"
He asked nothing better than to be engrossed by the dog's suppliant
sleepy eyes and to help the beast: he felt that there must be behind
them an imprisoned soul imploring his aid.
In those hours when he was weak with suffering, torn alive away from
life, devoid of human egoism, he saw the victims of men, the field of
battle in which man triumphed in the bloody slaughter of all other
creatures: and his heart was filled with pity and horror. Even in the
days when he had been happy he had always loved the beasts: he had never
been able to bear cruelty towards them: he had always had a detestation
of sport, which he had never dared to express for fear of ridicule:
perhaps even he had never dared to admit it to himself: but his feeling
of repulsion had been the secret cause of the apparently inexplicable
feeling of dislike he had had for certain men: he had never been able to
admit to his friendship a man who could kill an animal for pleasure. It
was not sentimentality: no one knew better than he that life is based on
suffering and infinite cruelty: no man can live without making others
suffer. It is no use closing our eyes and fobbing ourselves off with
words. It is no use either coming to the conclusion that we must
renounce life and sniveling like children. No. We must kill to live, if,
at the time, there is no other means of living. But the man who kills
for the sake of killing is a miscreant. An unconscious miscreant, I
know. But, all the same, a miscreant. The continual endeavor of man
should be to lessen the sum of suffering and cruelty: that is the first
duty of humanity.
In ordinary life those ideas remained buried in Christophe's inmost heart.
He refused to think of them. What was the good? What could he do?
He had to be Christophe, he had to accomplish his work, live at all
costs, live at the cost of the weak.... It was not he who had made the
universe.... Better not think of it, better not think of it.... But when
unhappiness had dragged him down, him, too, to the level of the
vanquished, he had to think of these things Only a little while ago he
had blamed Olivier for plunging into futile remorse and vain compassion
for all the wretchedness that men suffer and inflict. Now he went even
farther: with all the vehemence of his mighty nature he probed to the
depths of the tragedy of the universe: he suffered all the sufferings of
the world, and was left raw and bleeding. He could not think of the
animals without shuddering in anguish. He looked into the eyes of the
beasts and saw there a soul like his own, a soul which could not speak;
but the eyes cried for it:
"What have I done to you? Why do you hurt me?"
He could not bear to see the most ordinary sights that he had seen
hundreds of times--a calf crying in a wicker pen, with its big,
protruding eyes, with their bluish whites and pink lids, and white
lashes, its curly white tufts on its forehead, its purple snout, its
knock-kneed legs:--a lamb being carried by a peasant with its four legs
tied together, hanging head down, trying to hold its head up, moaning
like a child, bleating and lolling its gray tongue:--fowls huddled
together in a basket:--the distant squeals of a pig being bled to
death:--a fish being cleaned on the kitchen-table.... The nameless
tortures which men inflict on such innocent creatures made his heart
ache. Grant animals a ray of reason, imagine what a frightful nightmare
the world is to them: a dream of cold-blooded men, blind and deaf,
cutting their throats, slitting them open, gutting them, cutting them
into pieces, cooking them alive, sometimes laughing at them and their
contortions as they writhe in agony. Is there anything more atrocious
among the cannibals of Africa? To a man whose mind is free there is
something even more intolerable in the sufferings of animals than in the
sufferings of men. For with the latter it is at least admitted that
suffering is evil and that the man who causes it is a criminal. But
thousands of animals are uselessly butchered every day without a shadow
of remorse. If any man were to refer to it, he would be thought
ridiculous.--And that is the unpardonable crime. That alone is the
justification of all that men may suffer. It cries vengeance upon all
the human race. If God exists and tolerates it, it cries vengeance upon
God. If there exists a good God, then even the most humble of living
things must be saved. If God is good only to the strong, if there is no
justice for the weak and lowly, for the poor creatures who are offered
up as a sacrifice to humanity, then there is no such thing as goodness,
no such thing as justice....
Alas! The slaughter accomplished by man is so small a thing of itself in
the carnage of the universe! The animals devour each other. The peaceful
plants, the silent trees, are ferocious beasts one to another. The
serenity of the forests is only a commonplace of easy rhetoric for the
literary men who only know Nature through their books!... In the forest
hard by, a few yards away from the house, there were frightful struggles
always toward. The murderous beeches flung themselves upon the pines
with their lovely pinkish stems, hemmed in their slenderness with
antique columns, and stifled them. They rushed down upon the oaks and
smashed them, and made themselves crutches of them. The beeches were
like Briareus with his hundred arms, ten trees in one tree! They dealt
death all about them. And when, failing foes, they came together, they
became entangled, piercing, cleaving, twining round each other like
antediluvian monsters. Lower down, in the forest, the acacias had left
the outskirts and plunged into the thick of it and attacked the
pinewoods, strangling and tearing up the roots of their foes, poisoning
them with their secretions. It was a struggle to the death in which the
victors at once took possession of the room and the spoils of the
vanquished. Then the smaller monsters would finish the work of the
great. Fungi, growing between the roots, would suck at the sick tree,
and gradually empty it of its vitality. Black ants would grind exceeding
small the rotting wood. Millions of invisible insects were gnawing,
boring, reducing to dust what had once been life.... And the silence of
the struggle!... Oh! the peace of Nature, the tragic mask that covers
the sorrowful and cruel face of Life! Christophe was going down and
down. But he was not the kind of man to let himself drown without a
struggle, with his arms held close to his sides. In vain did he wish to
die: he did everything in his power to remain alive. He was one of those
men of whom Mozart said: _"They must act until at last they have no
means of action."_ He felt that he was sinking, and in his fall he
cast about, striking out with his arms to right and left, for some
support to which to cling. It seemed to him that he had found it. He had
just remembered Olivier's little boy. At once he turned on him all his
desire for life: he clung to him desperately. Yes: he must go and find
him, claim him, bring him up, love him, take the place of his father,
bring Olivier to life again in his son. Why had he not thought of it in
the selfishness of his sorrow? He wrote to Cecile, who had charge of the
boy. He waited feverishly for her reply. His whole being was bent upon
the one thought. He forced himself to be calm: he still had reason for
hope. He was quite confident about it: he knew how kind Cecile was.
Her answer came. Cecile said that three months after Olivier's death, a
lady in black had come to her house and said:
"Give me back my child!"
It was Jacqueline, who had deserted her child and Olivier,--Jacqueline,
but so changed that she had hardly recognized her. Her mad love affair
had not lasted. She had wearied of her lover more quickly than her lover
had done of her. She had come back broken, disgusted, aged. The too
flagrant scandal of her adventure had closed many doors to her. The
least scrupulous had not been the least severe. Even her mother had been
so offensive and so contemptuous that Jacqueline had found it impossible
to stay with her. She had seen through and through the world's
hypocrisy. Olivier's death had been the last blow. She seemed so utterly
sorrowful that Cecile had not thought it right to refuse to let her have
her boy. It was hard for her to have to give up the little creature,
whom she had grown so used to regarding as her own. But how could she
make things even harder for a woman who had more right than herself, a
woman who was further more unhappy? She had wanted to write to
Christophe to ask his advice. But Christophe had never answered the
letters she had written him, she did not know his address, she did not
even know whether he was alive or dead.... Joy comes and goes. What
could she do? Only resign herself to the inevitable. The main thing was
for the child to be happy and to be loved....
The letter reached him in the evening. A belated gust of winter brought
back the snow. It fell all night. In the forest, where already the young
leaves had appeared, the trees cracked and split beneath the weight of
it. They went off like a battery of artillery. Alone in his room,
without a light, surrounded only by the phosphorescent darkness,
Christophe sat listening to the tragic sounds of the forest, and started
at every crack: and he was like one of the trees bending beneath its
load and snapping. He said to himself:
"Now the end has come."
Night passed. Day came. The tree was not broken. All through the new day
and the following night the tree went on bending and cracking: but it
did not break. Christophe had no reason for living left: and he went on
living. He had no motive for struggling; and he struggled, body to body,
foot to foot, with the invisible enemy who was bending his back. He was
like Jacob with the angel. He expected nothing from the fight, he
expected nothing now but the end, rest; and he went on fighting. And he
"Break me and have done! Why dost thou not throw me down?"
* * * * *
Days passed. Christophe issued from the fight, utterly lifeless. Yet he
would not lie down, and insisted on going out and walking. Happy are
those men who are sustained by the fortitude of their race in the hours
of eclipse of their lives! Though the body of the son was near
breaking-point, the strength of the father and the grandfather held him
up: the energy and impetus of his robust ancestors sustained his broken
soul, like a dead knight being carried along by his horse.
* * * * *
Along a precipitous road he went with a ravine on either hand: he went
down the narrow path, thick with sharp stones, among which coiled the
gnarled roots of the little stunted oaks: he did not know where he was
going, and yet he was more surefooted than if he had been moving under
the lucid direction of his will. He had not slept, he had hardly eaten
anything for several days. He saw a mist in front of his eyes. He walked
down towards the valley.--It was Easter-week. A cloudy day. The last
assault of winter had been overcome. The warmth of spring was brooding.
From the villages far down the sound of bells came up: first from a
village nestling in a hollow at the foot of the mountain, with its
dappled thatched roofs, dark and light in patches, covered with thick,
velvety moss. Then from another, out of sight, on the other slope of the
hill. Then, others down on the plain beyond the river. And the distant
hum of a town seen hazily in the mist. Christophe stopped. His heart
almost stopped beating. Their voices seemed to be saying:
"Come with us. Here is peace. Here sorrow is dead. Dead, and thought is
dead too. We croon so sweetly to the soul that it sleeps in our arms,
Come, and rest, and thou shalt not wake again."
He felt so worn out! He was so fain to sleep! But he shook his head and
"It is not peace that I seek, but life."
He went on his way. He walked for miles without noticing it. In his
state of weakness and hallucination the simplest sensations came to him
with unexpected resonance. Over earth and air his mind cast fantastic
lights. A shadow, with nothing to cause it that he could see, going
before him on the white and sunless road, made him tremble.
As he emerged from a wood he found himself near a village. He turned
back: the sight of men hurt him. However, he could not avoid passing by
a lonely house above the hamlet: it was built on the side of the
mountain, and looked like a sanatorium: it was surrounded by a large
garden open to the sun; a few men were wandering with faltering
footsteps along the gravel paths. Christophe did not look at it
particularly: but at a turn of the path he came face to face with a man
with pale eyes and a fat, yellow face, staring blankly, who had sunk
down on a seat at the foot of two poplar trees. Another man was sitting
by his side: they were both silent. Christophe walked past them. But, a
few yards on, he stopped: the man's eyes had seemed familiar to him. He
turned. The man had not stirred: he was still staring fixedly at
something in front of him. But his companion looked at Christophe, who
beckoned to him. He came up.
"Who is he?" asked Christophe.
"A patient in the asylum," said the man, pointing to the house.
"I think I know him," said Christophe.
"Possibly," replied the man. "He was a well-known writer in Germany."
Christophe mentioned a name.--Yes. That was the name.--He had met him
once in the days when he was writing for Mannheim's review. Then, they
were enemies: Christophe was only just beginning, and the other was
already famous. He had been a man of considerable power, very
self-confident, very contemptuous of other men's work, a novelist whose
realistic and sensual writings had stood out above the mediocrity of the
productions of his day. Christophe, who detested the man, could not help
admiring the perfection of his materialistic art, which was sincere,
"He went mad a year ago," said the keeper. "He was treated, regarded as
cured, and sent home. Then he went mad again. One evening he threw
himself out of the window. At first, when he came here, he used to fling
himself about and shout. But now he is quite quiet. He spends his days
sitting there, as you see."
"What is he looking at?" asked Christophe.
He went up to the seat, and looked pitifully at the pale face of the
madman, with his heavy eyelids drooping over his eyes: one of them
seemed to be almost shut. The madman seemed to be unaware of
Christophe's presence. Christophe spoke to him by name and took his
hand--a soft, clammy hand, which lay limp in his like a dead thing: he
had not the courage to keep it in his: the man raised his glazing eyes
to Christophe for a moment, then went on staring straight in front of
him with his besotted smile. Christophe asked:
"What are you looking at?"
The man said, without moving, in a whisper:
"I am waiting."
Christophe started back. He walked hurriedly away. The word had burnt
into his very soul.
He plunged into the forest, and climbed up the hillside in the direction
of his own house. In his confusion he missed his way, and found himself
in the middle of an immense pine-wood. Darkness and silence. A few
patches of sunlight of a pale, ruddy gold, come it was impossible to
tell whence, fell aslant the dense shadows. Christophe was hypnotized by
these patches of light. Round him everything seemed to be in darkness.
He walked along over the carpet of pine-needles, tripping over the roots
which stood out like swollen veins. At the foot of the trees were
neither plants nor moss. In the branches was never the song of a bird.
The lower branches were dead. All the life of the place had fled upwards
to meet the sun. Soon even the life overhead would be gone. Christophe
passed into a part of the wood which was visited by some mysterious
pestilence. A kind of long, delicate lichen, like spiders' webs, had
fastened upon the branches of the red pines, and wrapped them about with
its meshes, binding them from hand to foot, passing from tree to tree,
choking the life out of the forest. It was like the deep-sea alga with
its subtle tentacles. There was in the place the silence of the depths
of the ocean. High overhead hung the pale sun. Mists which had crept
insidiously through the forest encompassed Christophe. Everything
disappeared: there was nothing to be seen. For half an hour Christophe
wandered at random in the web of the white mist, which grew slowly
thicker, black, and crept down into his throat: he thought he was going
straight: but he was walking in a circle beneath the gigantic spiders'
webs hanging from the stifled pines: the mist, passing through them,
left them enriched with shivering drops of water. At last the meshes
were rent asunder, a hole was made, and Christophe managed to make his
way out of the submarine forest. He came to living woods and the silent
conflict of the pines and the beeches. But everywhere there was the same
stillness. The silence, which had been brooding for hours, was
agonizing. Christophe stopped to listen....
Suddenly, in the distance, there came a storm. A premonitory gust of
wind blew up from the depths of the forest. Like a galloping horse it
rushed over the swaying tree-tops. It was like the God of Michael Angelo
passing in a water-spout. It passed over Christophe's head. The forest
rustled, and Christophe's heart quivered. It was the Annunciation....
Silence came again. In a state of holy terror Christophe walked quickly
home, with his legs giving way beneath him. At the door of the house he
glanced fearfully behind him, like a hunted man. All Nature seemed dead.
The forests which covered the sides of the mountain were sleeping, lying
heavy beneath a weight of sadness. The still air was magically clear and
transparent. There was never a sound. Only the melancholy music of a
stream--water eating away the rock--sounded the knell of the earth,
Christophe went to bed in a fever. It the stable hard by the beasts
stirred as restlessly and uneasily as he....
Night. He had dozed off. In the silence the distant storm arose once
more. The wind returned, like a hurricane now,--the _foehn_ of the
spring, with its burning breath warming the still sleeping, chilly
earth, the _foehn_ which melts the ice and gathers fruitful rains.
It rumbled like thunder in the forests on the other side of the ravine.
It came nearer, swelled, charged up the slopes: the whole mountain
roared. In the stable a horse neighed and the cows lowed. Christophe's
hair stood on end, he sat up in bed and listened. The squall came up
screaming, set the shutters banging, the weather-cocks squeaking, made
the slates of the roof go crashing down, and the whole house shake. A
flower-pot fell and was smashed. Christophe's window was insecurely
fastened, and was burst open with a bang, and the warm wind rushed in.
Christophe received its blast full in his face and on his naked chest.
He jumped out of bed gaping, gasping, choking. It was as though the
living God were rushing into his empty soul. The Resurrection!... The
air poured down his throat, the flood of new life swelled through him
and penetrated to his very marrow. He felt like to burst, he wanted to
shout, to shout for joy and sorrow: and there would only come
inarticulate sounds from his mouth. He reeled, he beat on the walls with
his arms, while all around him were sheets of paper flying on the wind.
He fell down in the middle of the room and cried:
"O Thou, Thou! Thou art come back to me at last!"
"Thou art come back to me, Thou art come back to me! O Thou, whom I had
lost!... Why didst Thou abandon me?"
"To fulfil My task, that thou didst abandon."
"What need hast Thou to fight? Art Thou not master of all?"
"I am not the master."
"Art Thou not All that Is?"
"I am not all that is. I am Life fighting Nothingness. I am not
Nothingness, I am the Fire which burns in the Night. I am not the Night.
I am the eternal Light; I am not an eternal destiny soaring above the
fight. I am free Will which struggles eternally. Struggle and burn with
"I am conquered. I am good for nothing."
"Thou art conquered? All seems lost to thee? Others will be conquerors.
Think not of thyself, think of My army."
"I am alone. I have none but myself. I belong to no army."
"Thou art not alone, and thou dost not belong to thyself. Thou art one
of My voices, thou art one of My arms. Speak and strike for Me. But if
the arm be broken, or the voice be weary, then still I hold My ground: I
fight with other voices, other arms than thine. Though thou art
conquered, yet art thou of the army which is never vanquished. Remember
that and thou wilt fight even unto death."
"Lord, I have suffered much!"
"Thinkest thou that I do not suffer also? For ages death has hunted Me
and nothingness has lain in wait for Me. It is only by victory in the
fight that I can make My way. The river of life is red with My blood."
"Fighting, always fighting?"
"We must always fight. God is a fighter, even He Himself. God is a
conqueror. He is a devouring lion. Nothingness hems Him in and He hurls
it down. And the rhythm of the fight is the supreme harmony. Such
harmony is not for thy mortal ears. It is enough for thee to know that
it exists. Do thy duty in peace and leave the rest to the Gods."
"I have no strength left."
"Sing for those who are strong."
"My voice is gone."
"My heart is foul."
"Pluck it out. Take Mine."
"Lord, it is easy to forget myself, to cast away my dead soul. But how
can I cast out the dead? how can I forget those whom I have loved?"
"Abandon the dead with thy dead soul. Thou wilt find them alive with My
"Thou hast left me once: wilt Thou leave me again?"
"I shall leave thee again. Never doubt that. It is for thee never to
leave Me more."
"But if the flame of my life dies down?"
"Then do thou kindle others."
"And if death is in me?"
"Life is otherwhere. Go, open thy gates to life. Thou insensate man, to
shut thyself up in thy ruined house! Quit thyself. There are other
"O Life, O Life! I see ... I sought thee in myself, in my own empty
shut-in soul. My soul is broken: the sweet air pours in through the
windows of my wounds: I breathe again, I have found Thee once more, O
"I have found thee again.... Hold thy peace, and listen."
* * * * *
And like the murmuring of a spring, Christophe heard the song of life
bubbling up in him. Leaning out of his window, he saw the forest, which
yesterday had been dead, seething with life under the sun and the wind,
heaving like the Ocean. Along the stems of the trees, like thrills of
joy, the waves of the wind passed: and the yielding branches held their
arms in ecstasy up to the brilliant sky. And the torrent rang out
merrily as a bell. The countryside had risen from the grave in which
yesterday it had been entombed: life had entered it at the time when
love passed into Christophe's heart. Oh! the miracle of the soul touched
by grace, awaking to new life! Then everything comes to life again all
round it. The heart begins to beat once more. The eye of the spirit is
opened. The dried-up fountains begin once more to flow.
And Christophe returned to the Divine conflict.... How his own fight,
how all the conflicts of men were lost in that gigantic battle, wherein
the suns rain down like flakes of snow tossing on the wind!... He had
laid bare his soul. And, just as in those dreams in which one hovers in
space, he felt that he was soaring above himself, he saw himself from
above, in the general plan of the world; and the meaning of his efforts,
the price of his suffering, were revealed to him at a glance. His
struggles were a part of the great fight of the worlds. His overthrow
was a momentary episode, immediately repaired. Just as he fought for
all, so all fought for him. They shared his trials, he shared their
* * * * *
"Companions, enemies, walk over me, crush me, let me feel the cannons
which shall win victory pass over my body! I do not think of the iron
which cuts deep into my flesh, I do not think of the foot that tramples
down my head, I think of my Avenger, the Master, the Leader of the
countless army. My blood shall cement the victory of the future...."
God was not to him the impassive Creator, a Nero from his tower of brass
watching the burning of the City to which he himself has set fire. God
was fighting. God was suffering. Fighting and suffering with all who
fight and for all who suffer. For God was Life, the drop of light fallen
into the darkness, spreading out, reaching out, drinking up the night.
But the night is limitless, and the Divine struggle will never cease:
and none can know how it will end. It was a heroic symphony wherein the
very discords clashed together and mingled and grew into a serene whole!
Just as the beech-forest in silence furiously wages war, so Life carries
war into the eternal peace.
The wars and the peace rang echoing through Christophe. He was like a
shell wherein the ocean roars. Epic shouts passed, and trumpet calls,
and tempestuous sounds borne upon sovereign rhythms. For in that
sonorous soul everything took shape in sound. It sang of light. It sang
of darkness, sang of life and death. It sang for those who were
victorious in battle. It sang for himself who was conquered and laid
low. It sang. All was song. It was nothing but song.
It was so drunk with it that it could not hear its own song. Like the
spring rains, the torrents of music disappeared into the earth that was
cracked by the winter. Shame, grief, bitterness now revealed their
mysterious mission: they had decomposed the earth and they had
fertilized it. The share of sorrow, breaking the heart, had opened up
new sources of life. The waste land had once more burst into flower. But
they were not the old spring flowers. A new soul had been born.
Every moment it was springing into birth. For it was not yet shaped and
hardened, like the souls that have come to the end of their belief, the
souls which are at the point of death. It was not the finished statue.
It was molten metal. Every second made a new universe of it. Christophe
had no thought of setting bounds upon himself. He gave himself up to the
joy of a man leaving behind him the burden of his past and setting out
on a long voyage, with youth in his blood, freedom in his heart, to
breathe the sea air, and think that the voyage will never come to an
end. Now that he was caught up again by the creative force which flows
through the world, he was amazed to the point of ecstasy at the world's
wealth. He loved, he _was_, his neighbor as himself. And all things
were "neighbors" to him, from the grass beneath his feet to the man
whose hand he clasped. A fine tree, the shadow of a cloud on the
mountain, the breath of the fields borne upward on the wind, and, at
night, the hive of heaven buzzing with the swarming suns ... his blood
raced through him ... he had no desire to speak or to think, he desired
only to laugh and to cry, and to melt away into the living marvel of it
all. Write? Why should he write? Can a man write the inexpressible?...
But whether it were possible or no, he had to write. It was his law.
Ideas would come to him in flashes, wherever he might be, most often
when he was out walking. He could not wait. Then he would write with
anything, on anything that came to hand: and very often he could not
have told the meaning of the phrases which came rushing forth from him
with irresistible impetuosity: and, as he wrote, more ideas would come,
more and more: and he would write and write, on his shirt cuffs, in the
lining of his hat. Quickly though he wrote, yet his thoughts would leap
ahead, and he had to use a sort of shorthand.
They were only rough notes. The difficulty began when he tried to turn
his ideas into the ordinary musical forms: he discovered that none of
the conventional molds were in the least suitable: if he wanted to fix
his visions with any sort of fidelity, he had to begin by forgetting all
the music he had ever heard, everything he had ever written, make a
clean sweep of all the formulae he had ever learned, and the traditional
technique; fling away all such crutches of the impotent mind, the
comfortable bed made for the indolence of those who lie back on the
thoughts of other men to save themselves the trouble of thinking for
themselves. A short while ago, when he thought that he had reached
maturity in life and art--(as a matter of fact he had only been at the
end of one of his lives and one of his incarnations in art),--he had
expressed himself in a preexisting language: his feelings had submitted
without revolt to the logic of a pre-established development, which
dictated a portion of his phrases in advance, and had led him, docilely
enough, along the beaten track to the appointed spot where the public
was awaiting him. Now there was no road marked out, and his feelings had
to carve out their own path: his mind had only to follow. It was no
longer appointed to describe or to analyze passion: it had to become
part and parcel of it, and seek to wed its inward law.
At the same time he shed all the contradictions in which he had long
been involved, though he had never willingly submitted to them. For,
although he was a pure artist, he had often incorporated in his art
considerations which are foreign to art: he had endowed it with a social
mission. And he had not perceived that there were two men in him: the
creative artist who never worried himself about any moral aim, and the
man of action, the thinker, who wanted his art to be moral and social.
The two would sometimes bring each other to an awkward pass. But now
that he was subject to every creative idea, with its organic law, like a
reality superior to all reality, he had broken free of practical reason.
In truth, he shed none of his contempt for the flabby and depraved
immorality of the age: in truth, he still thought that its impure and
unwholesome art was the lowest rung of art, because it is a disease, a
fungus growing on a rotting trunk: but if art for pleasure's sake is the
prostration of art, Christophe by no means opposed to it the
short-sighted utilitarianism of art for morality's sake, that winged
Pegasus harnessed to the plow. The highest art, the only art which is
worthy of the name, is above all temporary laws: it is a comet sweeping
through the infinite. It may be that its force is useful, it may be that
it is apparently useless and dangerous in the existing order of the
workaday world: but it is force, it is movement and fire: it is the
lightning darted from heaven: and, for that very reason, it is sacred,
for that very reason it is beneficent. The good it does may be of the
practical order: but its real, its Divine benefits are, like faith, of
the supernatural order. It is like the sun whence it is sprung. The sun
is neither moral nor immoral. It is that which Is. It lightens the
darkness of space. And so does art.
And Christophe, being delivered up to art, was amazed to find unknown
and unsuspected powers teeming in himself: powers quite apart from his
passions, his sorrows, his conscious soul, a stranger soul, indifferent
to all his loves and sufferings, to all his life, a joyous, fantastic,
wild, incomprehensible soul. It rode him and dug its spurs into his
sides. And, in the rare moments when he could stop to take breath, he
wondered as he read over what he had written:
"How could such things have come out of me?"
He was a prey to that delirium of the mind which is known to every man
of genius, that will which is independent of the will, _"the ineffable
enigma of the world and life"_ which Goethe calls _"the demoniac,"_
against which he was always armed, though it always overcame him.
And Christophe wrote and wrote. For days and weeks. There are times when
the mind, being impregnated, can feed upon itself and go on producing
almost indefinitely. The faintest contact with things, the pollen of a
flower borne by the wind were enough to make the inward germs, the
myriads of germs put forth and come to blossom. Christophe had no time
to think, no time to live. His creative soul reigned sovereign over the
ruins of his life.
* * * * *
And suddenly it stopped. Christophe came out of that state broken,
scorched, older by ten years--but saved. He had left Christophe and gone
over to God.
Streaks of white hair had suddenly appeared in his black mane, like
those autumn flowers which spring up in the fields in September nights.
There were fresh lines on his cheeks. But his eyes had regained their
calm expression, and his mouth bore the marks of resignation. He was
appeased. He understood now. He understood the vanity of his pride, the
vanity of human pride, under the terrible hand of the Force which moves
the worlds. No man is surely master of himself. A man must watch. For if
he slumbers that Force rushes into him and whirls him headlong ... into
what dread abysses? or the torrent which bears him along sinks and
leaves him on its dry bed. To fight the fight it is not enough to will.
A man must humiliate himself before the unknown God, who _fiat ubi
vult_, who blows where and when He listeth, love, death, or life.
Human will can do nothing without God's. One second is enough for Him to
obliterate the work of years of toil and effort. And, if it so please
Him, He can cause the eternal to spring forth from dust and mud. No man
more than the creative artist feels at the mercy of God: for, if he is
truly great, he will only say what the Spirit bids him.
And Christophe understood the wisdom of old Haydn who went down on his
knees each morning before he took pen in hand.... _Vigila et ora_.
Watch and pray. Pray to God that He may be with you. Keep in loving and
pious communion with the Spirit of life.
* * * * *
Towards the end of summer a Parisian friend of Christophe's, who was
passing through Switzerland, discovered his retreat. He was a musical
critic who in old days had been an excellent judge of his compositions.
He was accompanied by a well-known painter, who was avowedly a
whole-hearted admirer of Christophe's. They told him of the very
considerable success of his work, which was being played all over
Europe. Christophe showed very little interest in the news: the past was
dead to him, and his old compositions did not count. At his visitors'
request he showed them the music he had written recently. The critic
could make nothing of it. He thought Christophe had gone mad.
"No melody, no measure, no thematic workmanship: a sort of liquid core,
molten matter which had not hardened, taking any shape, but possessing
none of its own: it is like nothing on earth: a glimmering of light in
"It is quite like that," he said. "The eyes of chaos shining through the
veil of order...."
But the critic did not understand Novalis' words:
("He is cleaned out," he thought.)
Christophe did not try to make him understand.
When his visitors were ready to go he walked with them a little, so as
to do the honors of his mountain. But he did not go far. Looking down at
a field, the musical critic called to mind the scenery of a Parisian
theater: and the painter criticised the colors, mercilessly remarking on
the awkwardness of their combination, and declaring that to him they had
a Swiss flavor, sour, like rhubarb, musty and dull, _a la_ Hodler;
further, he displayed an indifference to Nature which was not altogether
affectation. He pretended to ignore Nature.
"Nature! What on earth is Nature? I don't know. Light, color, very well!
But I don't care a hang for Nature!"
Christophe shook hands with them and let them go. That sort of thing had
no effect on him now. They were on the other side of the ravine. That
was well. He said to nobody in particular:
"If you wish to come up to me, you must take the same road."
The creative fire which had been burning for months had died down. But
its comfortable warmth was still in Christophe's heart. He knew that the
fire would flare up again: if not in himself, then around him. Wherever
it might be, he would love it just the same: it would always be the same
fire. On that September evening he could feel it burning throughout all
* * * * *
He climbed up to the house. There had been a storm. The sun had come out
again. The fields were steaming. The ripe fruit was falling from the
apple-trees into the wet grass. Spiders' webs, hanging from the branches
of the trees, still glittering with the rain, were like the ancient
wheels of Mycenaean chariots. At the edge of the dripping forest the
green woodpecker was trilling his jerky laughter; and myriads of little
wasps, dancing in the sunbeams, filled the vault of the woods with their
deep, long-drawn organ note.
Christophe came to a clearing, in the hollow of a shoulder of the
mountain, a little valley shut in at both ends, a perfect oval in shape,
which was flooded with the light of the setting sun: the earth was red:
in the midst lay a little golden field of belated crops, and
rust-colored rushes. Round about it was a girdle of the woods with their
ripe autumn tints: ruddy copper beeches, pale yellow chestnuts, rowans
with their coral berries, flaming cherry-trees with their little tongues
of fire, myrtle-bushes with their leaves of orange and lemon and brown
and burnt tinder. It was like a burning bush. And from the heart of the
flaring cup rose and soared a lark, drunk with the berries and the sun.
And Christophe's soul was like the lark. It knew that it would soon come
down to earth again, and many times. But it knew also that it would
unwearyingly ascend in the fire, singing its "tirra-lirra" which tells
of the light of the heavens to those who are on earth below.
THE NEW DAWN
HERE, AT THE END OF THIS BOOK,
I DEDICATE IT:
TO THE FREE SPIRITS--OF ALL NATIONS--
WHO SUFFER, FIGHT, AND
PREFACE TO THE LAST VOLUME
I have written the tragedy of a generation which is nearing its end. I
have sought to conceal neither its vices nor its virtues, its profound
sadness, its chaotic pride, its heroic efforts, its despondency beneath
the overwhelming burden of a superhuman task, the burden of the whole
world, the reconstruction of the world's morality, its esthetic
principles, its faith, the forging of a new humanity.--Such we have
You young men, you men of to-day, march over us, trample us under your
feet, and press onward. Be ye greater and happier than we.
For myself, I bid the soul that was mine farewell. I cast it from me
like an empty shell. Life is a succession of deaths and resurrections.
We must die, Christophe, to be born again,
[Illustration: Musical notation with caption: Du holde Kunst, in wie
viel grauen Stunden]
Life passes. Body and soul flow onward like a stream. The years are
written in the flesh of the ageing tree. The whole visible world of form
is forever wearing out and springing to new life. Thou only dost not
pass, immortal music. Thou art the inward sea. Thou art the profound
depths of the soul. In thy clear eyes the scowling face of life is not
mirrored. Far, far from thee, like the herded clouds, flies the
procession of days, burning, icy, feverish, driven by uneasiness,
huddling, moving on, on, never for one moment to endure. Thou only dost
not pass. Thou art beyond the world. Thou art a whole world to thyself.
Thou hast thy sun, thy laws, thy ebb and flow. Thou hast the peace of
the stars in the great spaces of the field of night, marking their
luminous track-plows of silver guided by the sure hand of the invisible
Music, serene music, how sweet is thy moony light to eyes wearied of the
harsh brilliance of this world's sun! The soul that has lived and turned
away from the common horse-pond, where, as they drink, men stir up the
mud with their feet, nestles to thy bosom, and from thy breasts is
suckled with the clear running water of dreams. Music, thou virgin
mother, who in thy immaculate womb bearest the fruit of all passions,
who in the lake of thy eyes, whereof the color is as the color of
rushes, or as the pale green glacier water, enfoldest good and evil,
thou art beyond evil, thou art beyond good; he that taketh refuge with
thee is raised above the passing of time: the succession of days will be
but one day; and death that devours everything on such an one will never
close its jaws.
Music, thou who hast rocked my sorrow-laden soul; music, thou who hast
made me firm in strength, calm and joyous,--my love and my treasure,--I
kiss thy pure lips, I hide my face in thy honey-sweet hair. I lay my
burning eyelids upon the cool palms of thy hands. No word we speak, our
eyes are closed, and I see the ineffable light of thine eyes, and I
drink the smile of thy silent lips: and, pressed close to thy heart, I
listen to the throb of eternal life.
Christophe loses count of the fleeting years. Drop by drop life ebbs
away. But _his_ life is elsewhere. It has no history. His history
lies wholly in his creative work. The unceasing buzzing song of music
fills his soul, and makes him insensible to the outward tumult.
Christophe has conquered. His name has been forced upon the world. He is
ageing. His hair is white. That is nothing to him, his heart is ever
young: he has surrendered none of his force, none of his faith. Once
more he is calm, but not as he was before he passed by the Burning Bush.
In the depths of his soul there is still the quivering of the storm, the
memory of his glimpse into the abyss of the raging seas. He knows that
no man may boast of being master of himself without the permission of
the God of battle. In his soul there are two souls. One is a high
plateau swept by winds and shrouded with, clouds. The other, higher
still, is a snowy peak bathed in light. There it is impossible to dwell;
but, when he is frozen by the mists on the lower ground, well he knows
the path that leads to the sun. In his misty soul Christophe is not
alone. Near him he ever feels the presence of an invisible friend, the
sturdy Saint Cecilia, listening with wide, calm eyes to the heavens;
and, like the Apostle Paul,--in Raphael's picture,--silent and
dreaming, leaning on his sword, he is beyond exasperation, and has no
thought of fighting: he dreams, and forges his dreams into form.
During this period of his life he mostly wrote piano and chamber music.
In such work he was more free to dare and be bold: it necessitated fewer
intermediaries between his ideas and their realization; his ideas were
less in danger of losing force in the course of their percolation.
Frescobaldi, Couperin, Schubert, and Chopin, in their boldness of
expression and style, anticipated the revolutionaries in orchestral
music by fifty years. Out of the crude stuff shaped by Christophe's
strong hands came strange and unknown agglomerations of harmony,
bewildering combinations of chords, begotten of the remotest kinships of
sounds accessible to the senses in these days; they cast a magical and
holy spell upon the mind.--But the public must have time to grow
accustomed to the conquests and the trophies which a great artist brings
back with him from his quest in the deep waters of the ocean. Very few
would follow Christophe in the temerity of his later works. His fame was
due to his earlier compositions. The feeling of not being understood,
which is even more painful in success than in the lack of it, because
there seems to be no way out of it, had, since the death of his only
friend, aggravated in Christophe his rather morbid tendency to seek
isolation from the world.
However, the gates of Germany were open to him once more. In France the
tragic brawl had been forgotten. He was free to go whithersoever he
pleased. But he was afraid of the memories that would lie in wait for
him in Paris. And, although he had spent a few months in Germany and
returned there from time to time to conduct performances of his work, he
did not settle there. He found too many things which hurt him. They were
not particular to Germany: he found them elsewhere. But a man expects
more of his own country than any other, and he suffers more from its
foibles. It was true, too, that Germany was bearing the greatest burden
of the sins of Europe. The victor incurs the responsibility of his
victory, a debt towards the vanquished: tacitly the victor is pledged to
march in front of them to show them the way. The conquests of Louis XIV.
gave Europe the splendor of French reason. What light has the Germany of
Sedan given to the world? The glitter of bayonets? Thought without
wings, action without generosity, brutal realism, which has not even the
excuse of being the realism of healthy men; force and interest: Mars
turned bagman. Forty years ago Europe was led astray into the night, and
the terrors of the night. The sun was hidden beneath the conqueror's
helmet. If the vanquished are too weak to raise the extinguisher, and
can claim only pity mingled with contempt, what shall be given to the
victor who has done this thing?
A little while ago, day began to peep: little shafts of light shimmered
through the cracks. Being one of the first to see the rising of the sun,
Christophe had come out of the shadow of the helmet: gladly he returned
to the country in which he had been a sojourner perforce, to
Switzerland. Like so many of the spirits of that time, spirits thirsting
for liberty, choking in the narrowing circle of the hostile nations, he
sought a corner of the earth in which he could stand above Europe and
breathe freely. Formerly, in the days of Goethe, the Rome of the free
Popes was the island upon which all the winged thought of divers nations
came to rest, like birds taking shelter from the storm. Now what refuge
is there? The island has been covered by the sea. Rome is no more. The
birds have fled from the Seven Hills.--The Alps only are left for them.
There, amid the rapacity of Europe, stands (for how long?) the little
island of twenty-four cantons. In truth it has not the poetic radiance
and glamor of the Eternal City: history has not filled its air with the
breath of gods and heroes; but a mighty music rises from the naked
Earth; there is an heroic rhythm in the lines of the mountains, and
here, more than anywhere else, a man can feel himself in contact with
elemental forces. Christophe did not go there in search of romantic
pleasure. A field, a few trees, a stream, the wide sky, were enough to
make him feel alive. The calm aspect of his native country was sweeter
and more companionable to him than the gigantic grandeur of the Alps.
But he could not forget that it was here that he had renewed his
strength: here God had appeared to him in the Burning Bush; and he never
returned thither without a thrill of gratitude and faith. He was not the
only one. How many of the combatants of life, ground beneath life's
heel, have on that soil renewed their energy to turn again to the fight,
and believe once more in its purpose!
Living in that country he had come to know it well. The majority of
those who pass through it see only its excrescences: the leprosy of the
hotels which defiles the fairest features of that sturdy piece of earth,
the stranger cities, the monstrous marts whither all the fatted people
of the world come to browse, the _table d'hote_ meals, the masses
of food flung into the trough for the nosing beasts: the casino bands
with their silly music mingling with the noise of the little horses, the
Italian scum whose disgusting uproar makes the bored wealthy idiots
wriggle with pleasure, the fatuous display of the shops--wooden bears,
chalets, silly knick-knacks, always the same, repeated time and again,
over and over again, with no freshness or invention; the worthy
booksellers with their scandalous pamphlets,--all the moral baseness of
those places whither every year the idle, joyless millions come who are
incapable of finding amusement in the smallest degree finer than that of
the multitude, or one tithe as keen.
And they know nothing of the people in whose land they stay. They have
no notion of the reserves of moral force and civic liberty which for
centuries have been hoarded up in them, coals of the fires of Calvin and
Zwingli, still glowing beneath the ashes; they have no conception of the
vigorous democratic spirit which will always ignore the Napoleonic
Republic, of the simplicity of their institutions, or the breadth of
their social undertakings, or the example given to the world by these
United States of the three great races of the West, the model of the
Europe of the future. Even less do they know of the Daphne concealed
beneath this rugged bark, the wild, flashing dreams of Boecklin, the
raucous heroism of Hodler, the serene vision and humor of Gottfried
Keller, the living tradition of the great popular festivals, and the sap
of springtime swelling the trees,--the still young art, sometimes
rasping to the palate, like the hard fruits of wild pear-trees,
sometimes with the sweetish insipidity of myrtles black and blue, but at
least something smacking of the earth, is the work of self-taught men
not cut off from the people by an archaic culture, but, with them,
reading in the same book of life.
Christophe was in sympathy with these men who strive less to seem than
to be, and, under the recent veneer of an ultramodern industrialism,
keep clearly marked the most reposeful features of the old Europe of
peasants and townsmen. Among them he had found a few good friends,
grave, serious, and faithful, who hold isolated and immured in them
regrets for the past; they were looking on at the gradual disappearance
of the old Switzerland with a sort of religious fatalism and Calvinistic
pessimism; great gray souls. Christophe seldom saw them. His old wounds
were apparently healed: but they had been too deep wholly to be cured.
He was fearful of forming new ties with men. It was something for this
reason that he liked to dwell in a country where it was easy to live
apart, a stranger amid a throng of strangers. For the rest he rarely
stayed long in any one place; often he changed his lair: he was like an
old migratory bird which needs space, and has its country in the air ...
_"Mein Reich ist in der Luft."_
An evening in summer.
He was walking in the mountains above a village. He was striding along
with his hat in his hand, up a winding road. He came to a neck where the
road took a double turn, and passed into shadow between two slopes; on
either side were nut-trees and pines. It was like a little shut-in
world. On either hand the road seemed to come to an end, cut off at the
edge of the void. Beyond were blue distance and the gleaming air. The
peace of evening came down like a gentle rain.
They came together each at the same moment turning the bend at either
end of the neck. She was dressed in black, and stood out against the
clear sky: behind her were two children, a boy and a girl, between six
and eight, who were playing and picking flowers. They recognized each
other at a distance of a few yards. Their emotion was visible in their
eyes; but neither brought it into words; each gave only an imperceptible
movement. He was deeply moved: she ... her lips trembled a little. They
stopped. Almost in a whisper:
They held out their hands and stood without a word. Grazia was the first
to make an effort to break the silence. She told him where she lived,
and asked him where he was staying. Question and answer were mechanical,
and they hardly listened, heard later, when their hands had parted: they
were absorbed in gazing at each other. The children came back to her.
She introduced them. He felt hostile towards them, and looked at them
with no kindness, and said nothing: he was engrossed with her, occupied
only in studying her beautiful face that bore some marks of suffering
and age. She was embarrassed by his gaze, and said:
"Will you come, this evening?"
And she gave the name of her hotel.
He asked her where her husband was. She pointed to her black dress. He
was too much moved to say more, and left her awkwardly. But when he had
taken a few strides he came back to the children, who were picking
strawberries, and took them roughly in his arms and kissed them, and
In the evening he went to the hotel, and found her on the veranda, with
the blinds drawn. They sat apart. There were very few people about, only
two or three old people. Christophe was irritated by their presence.
Grazia looked at him, and he looked at her, and murmured her name over
and over again.
"Don't you think I have changed?" she asked.
His heart grew big.
"You have suffered," he said.
"You too," she answered pityingly, scanning the deep marks of agony and
passion in his face.
They were at a loss for words.
"Please," he said, a moment later, "let us go somewhere else. Could we
not find somewhere to be alone and talk?"
"No, my dear. Let us stay here. It is good enough here. No one is
heeding us at all."
"I cannot talk freely here."
"That is all the better."
He could not understand why. Later, when in memory he went over their
conversation, he thought she had not trusted him. But she was
instinctively afraid of emotional scenes: unconsciously she was seeking
protection from any surprise of their hearts: the very awkwardness of
their intimacy in a public room, so sheltering the modesty of her secret
emotions, was dear to her.
In whispers, with long intervals of silence, they sketched their lives
in outline. Count Bereny had been killed in a duel a few months ago; and
Christophe saw that she had not been very happy with him. Also, she had
lost a child, her first-born. She made no complaint, and turned the
conversation from herself to question Christophe, and, as he told her of
his tribulations, she showed the most affectionate compassion. Bells
rang. It was Sunday evening. Life stood still.
She asked him to come again next day but one. He was hurt that she
should be so little eager to see him again. In his heart happiness and
sorrow were mingled.
Next day, on some pretext, she wrote and asked him to come. He was
delighted with her little note. This time she received him in her
private room. She was with her two children. He looked at them, still a
little uneasily, but very tenderly. He thought the little girl--the
elder of the two--very like her mother: but he did not try to match the
boy's looks. They talked about the country, the times, the books lying
open on the table:--but their eyes spoke of other things. He was hoping
to be able to talk more intimately when a hotel acquaintance came in. He
marked the pleasure and politeness with which Grazia received the
stranger: she seemed to make no difference between her two visitors. He
was hurt by it, but could not be angry with her. She proposed that they
should all go for a walk and he accepted; the presence of the other woman,
though she was young and charming, paralyzed him: his day was spoiled.
He did not see Grazia again for two days. During that time he lived but
for the hours he was to spend with her.--Once more his efforts to speak
to her were doomed to failure. While she was very gentle and kind with
him, she could not throw off her reserve. All unconsciously Christophe
added to her difficulty by his outbursts of German sentimentality, which
embarrassed her and forced her instinct into reaction.
He wrote her a letter which touched her, saying that life was so short!
Their lives were already so far gone! Perhaps they would have only a
very little time in which to see each other, and it was pitiful, almost
criminal, not to employ it in frank converse.
She replied with a few affectionate words, begging him to excuse her for
her distrust, which she could not avoid, since she had been so much hurt
by life: she could not break her habitual reserve: any excessive
display, even of a genuine feeling, hurt and terrified her. But well she
knew the worth of the friendship that had come to her once more: and she
was as glad of it as he. She asked him to dine with her that evening.
His heart was brimming with gratitude. In his room, lying on his bed, he
sobbed. It was the opening of the flood-gates of ten years of solitude:
for, since Olivier's death, he had been utterly alone. Her letter gave
the word of resurrection to his heart that was so famished for
tenderness. Tenderness!... He thought he had put it from him: he had
been forced to learn how to do without it! Now he felt how sorely he
needed it, and the great stores of love that had accumulated in him....
It was a sweet and blessed evening that they spent together.... He
could only speak to her of trivial subjects, in spite of their intention
to hide nothing from each other. But what goodly things he told her
through the piano, which with her eyes she invited him to use to tell
her what he had to say! She was struck by the humility of the man whom
she had known in his violence and pride. When he went away the silent
pressure of their hands told them that they had found each other, and
would never lose what they had regained.--It was raining, and there was
not a breath of wind. His heart was singing.
She was only able to stay a few days longer, and she did not postpone
her departure for an hour. He dared not ask her to do so, nor complain.
On their last day they went for a walk with the children; there came a
moment when he was so full of love and happiness that he tried to tell
her so: but, with a very gentle gesture, she stopped him and smiled:
"Hush! I feel everything that you could say."
They sat down at the turn of the road where they had met. Still smiling
she looked down into the valley below: but it was not the valley that
she saw. He looked at the gentle face marked with the traces of bitter
suffering: a few white tresses showed in her thick black hair. He was
filled with a pitying, passionate adoration of this beloved creature who
had travailed and been impregnated with the suffering of the soul. In
every one of the marks of time upon her the soul was visible.--And, in a
low, trembling voice, he craved, as a precious favor, which she granted
him, a white hair from her head.
* * * * *
She went away. He could not understand why she would not have him
accompany her. He had no doubt of her feeling for him, but her reserve
disconcerted him. He could not stay alone in that place, and set out in
another direction. He tried to occupy his mind with traveling and work.
He wrote to Grazia. She answered him, two or three week later, with
very brief letters, in which she showed her tranquil friendship, knowing
neither impatience nor uneasiness. They hurt him and he loved them. He
would not admit that he had any right to reproach her; their affection
was too recent, too recently renewed. He was fearful of losing it. And
yet every letter he had from her breathed a calm loyalty which should
have made him feel secure. But she was so different from him!...
They had agreed to meet in Rome, towards the end of the autumn. Without
the thought of seeing her, the journey would have had little charm for
Christophe. His long isolation had made him retiring: he had no taste
for that futile hurrying from place to place which is so dear to the
indolence of modern men and women. He was fearful of a change of habit,
which is dangerous to the regular work of the mind. Besides, Italy had
no attractions for him. He knew it only in the villainous music of the
Verists and the tenor arias to which every now and then the land of
Virgil inspires men of letters on their travels. He felt towards Italy
the hostility of an advanced artist, who has too often heard the name of
Rome invoked by the worst champions of academic routine. Finally, the
old leaven of instinctive antipathy which ever lies fermenting in the
hearts of the men of the North towards the men of the South, or at least
towards the legendary type of rhetorical braggart which, in the eyes of
the men of the North, represents the men of the South. At the mere
thought of it Christophe disdainfully curled his lip.... No, he had no
desire for the more acquaintance of the musicless people--(for, in the
music of modern Europe, what is the place of their mandolin tinkling and
melodramatic posturing declamation?).--And yet Grazia belonged to this
people. To join her again, whither and by what devious ways would
Christophe not have gone? He would win through by shutting his eyes
until he came to her.
* * * * *
He was used to shutting his eyes. For so many years the shutters of his
soul had been closed upon his inward life. Now, in this late autumn, it
was more necessary than ever. For three weeks together it had rained
incessantly. Then a gray pall of impenetrable mists had hung over the
valleys and towns of Switzerland, dripping and wet. His eyes had
forgotten the sunlight. To rediscover in himself its concentrated energy
he had to begin by clothing himself in night, and, with his eyes closed,
to descend to the depths of the mine, the subterranean galleries of his
dreams. There in the seams of coal slept the sun of days gone by. But as
the result of spending his life crouching there, digging, he came out
burned, stiff in back and knees, with limbs deformed, half petrified,
dazed eyes, that, like a bird's, could see keenly in the night. Many a
time Christophe had brought up from the mine the fire he had so
painfully extracted to warm the chill of heart. But the dreams of the
North smack of the warmth of the fireside and the closed room. No man
notices it while he lives in it: dear is that heavy air, dear the
half-light and the soul's dreams in the drowsy head. We love the things
we have. We must be satisfied with them!...
When, as he passed the barrier of the Alps, Christophe, dozing in a
corner of the carriage, saw the stainless sky and the limpid light
falling upon the slopes of the mountains, he thought he must be
dreaming. On the other side of the wall he had left a darkened sky and a
fading day. So sudden was the change that at first he felt more surprise
than joy. It was some time before his drowsy soul awoke and began slowly
to expand and burst the crust that was upon it, and his heart could free
itself from the shadows of the past. But as the day wore on, the mellow
light took his soul into its arms, and, wholly forgetting all that had
been, he drank greedily of the delight of seeing.
Through the plains of Milan. The eye of day mirrored in the blue canals,
a network of veins through the downy rice fields. Mountains of Vinci,
snowy Alps soft in their brilliance, ruggedly encircling the horizon,
fringed with red and orange and greeny gold and pale blue. Evening
falling on the Apennines. A winding descent by little sheer hills,
snakelike curving, in a repeating, involved rhythm like a
farandole.--And suddenly, at the bottom of the slope, like a kiss, the
breath of the sea and the smell of orange-trees. The sea, the Latin sea
and its opal light, whereon, swaying, were the sails of little boats
like wings folded back....
By the sea, at a fishing-village, the train stopped for a while. It was
explained to the passengers that there had been a landslip, as a result
of the heavy rains, in a tunnel between Genoa and Pisa: all the trains
were several hours late. Christophe, who was booked through to Rome,
was delighted by the accident which provoked the loud lamentations of
his fellow-passengers. He jumped down to the platform and made use of
the stoppage to go down to the sea, which drew him on and on. The sea
charmed him so that when, a few hours later, the engine whistled as it
moved on, Christophe was in a boat, and, as the train passed, shouted:
"Good-by!" In the luminous night, on the luminous sea, he sat rocking in
the boat, as it passed along the scented coast with its promontories
fringed with tiny cypress-trees. He put up at a village and spent there
five days of unbroken joy. He was like a man issuing from a long fast,
hungrily eating. With all his famished senses he gulped down the
splendid light.... Light, the blood of the world, that flows in space
like a river of life, and through our eyes, our lips, our nostrils,
every pore of our skins, filters through to the depths of our bodies,
light, more necessary to life than bread,--he who sees thee stripped of
thy northern veils, pure, burning, naked, marvels how ever he could have
lived without knowing thee, and deeply feels that he can never live more
without possessing thee....
For five days Christophe was drunk with the sun. For five days he
forgot--for the first time--that he was a musician. The music of his
soul was merged into light. The air, the sea, the earth: the brilliant
symphony played by the sun's orchestra. And with what innate art does
Italy know how to use that orchestra! Other peoples paint from Nature:
the Italians collaborate with her: they paint with sunlight. The music
of color. All is music, everything sings. A wall by the roadside, red,
fissured with gold: above it, two cypress-trees with their tufted
crests: and all around the eager blue of the sky. A marble staircase,
white, steep, narrow, climbing between pink walls against the blue front
of a church. Any one of their many-colored houses, apricot, lemon,
cedrate, shining among the olive-trees, has the effect of a marvelous
ripe fruit among the leaves. In Italy seeing is sensual: the eyes enjoy
color, as the palate and the tongue delight in a juicy, scented fruit.
Christophe flung himself at this new repast with eager childlike greed:
he made up for the asceticism of the gray visions to which till then he
had been condemned. His abounding nature, stifled by Fate, suddenly
became conscious of powers of enjoyment which he had never used: they
pounced on the prey presented to them; scents, colors, the music of
voices, bells and the sea, the kisses of the air, the warm bath of light
in which his ageing, weary soul began to expand.... Christophe had no
thought of anything. He was in a state of beatific delight, and only
left it to share his joy with those he met: his boatman, an old
fisherman, with quick eyes all wrinkled round, who wore a red cap like
that of a Venetian senator;--his only fellow-boarder, a Milanese, who
ate macaroni and rolled his eyes like Othello: fierce black eyes filled
with a furious hatred; an apathetic, sleepy man;--the waiter in the
restaurant, who, when he carried a tray, bent his neck, and twisted his
arms and his body like an angel of Bernini;--the little Saint John, with
sly, winking eyes, who begged on the road, and offered the passers-by an
orange on a green branch. He would hail the carriage-drivers, sitting
huddled on their seats, who every now and then would, in a nasal,
droning, throaty voice, intone the thousand and one couplets. He was
amazed to find himself humming _Cavalleria Rusticana_. He had
entirely forgotten the end of his journey. Forgotten, too, was his haste
to reach the end and Grazia....
Forgotten altogether was she until the day when the beloved image rose
before him. Was it called up by a face seen on the road or a grave,
singing note in a voice? He did not know. But a time came when, from
everything about him, from the circling, olive-clad hills, from the
high, shining peaks of the Apennines, graven by the dense shadows and
the burning sun, and from the orange-groves heavy with flowers and
fruit, and the deep, heaving breath of the sea, there shone the smiling
face of the beloved. Through the countless eyes of the air, her eyes
were upon him. In that beloved earth she flowered, like a rose upon a
Then he regained possession of himself. He took the train for Rome and
never stopped. He had no interest in the old memories of Italy, or the
cities of the art of past ages. He saw nothing of Rome, nor wanted to:
and what he did see at first, in passing, the styleless new districts,
the square blocks of buildings, gave him no desire to see more.
As soon as he arrived he went to see Grazia. She asked him:
"How did you come? Did you stop at Milan or Florence?"
"No," he said. "Why should I?"
"That's a fine thing to say! And what do you think of Rome?"
"Nothing," he said. "I haven't seen it!"
"Nothing. Not a single monument. I came straight to you from my hotel."
"You don't need to go far to see Rome.... Look at that wall opposite....
You only need to see its light."
"I only see you," he said.
"You are a barbarian. You only see your own ideas. When did you leave
"A week ago."
"What have you been doing since then?"
"I don't know. I stopped, by chance, at a place by the sea. I never
noticed its name. I slept for a week. Slept, with my eyes open. I do not
know what I have seen, or what I have dreamed. I think I was dreaming of
you. I know that it was very beautiful. But the most lovely part of it
all is that I forgot everything...."
"Thank you!" she said.
(He did not listen.)
"... Everything," he went on. "Everything that was then, everything that
had been before. I am a new man. I am beginning to live again."
"It is true," she said, looking into his laughing eyes. "You have
changed since we last met."
He looked at her, too, and found her no less different from his memory
of her. Not that she had changed in two months, but he was seeing her
with new eyes. Yonder, in Switzerland, the image of old days, the faint
shadow of the girl Grazia, had flitted between his gaze and this new
actual beloved. Now, in the sun of Italy, the dreams of the North had
melted away: in the clear light of day he saw her real soul and body.
How far removed she was from the little, wild, imprisoned girl of Paris,
how far from the woman with the smile like Saint John, whom he had met
one evening, shortly after her marriage, only to lose her again! Out of
the little Umbrian Madonna had flowered a lovely Roman lady:
_Color verus, corpus solidum et succi plenum._
Her figure had taken on an harmonious fullness: her body was bathed in a
proud languor. The very genius of tranquillity hovered in her presence.
She had that greed of sunny silence, and still contemplation, the
delightful joy in the peace of living which the people of the North will
never really know. What especially she had preserved out of the past was
her great kindness which inspired all her other feelings. But in her
luminous smile many new things were to be read: a melancholy indulgence,
a little weariness, much knowledge of the ways of men, a fine irony, and
tranquil common sense. The years had veiled her with a certain coldness,
which protected her against the illusions of the heart; rarely could she
surrender herself; and her tenderness was ever on the alert, with a
smile that seemed to know and tell everything, against the passionate
impulses that Christophe found it hard to suppress. She had her