Part 9 out of 10
"Bah! You learn much more that way than by staying at the lycee."
"And what does your mother say to that?"
"Mother is very reasonable. She does whatever I want."
"You bad boy!... You can thank your stars I am not your father...."
"You wouldn't have had a chance...."
It was impossible to resist his banter.
"Tell me, you traveler," said Christophe. "Do you know my country?"
"I bet you don't know a word of German."
"Yes, I do. I know it quite well."
"Let us see."
They began to talk German. The boy jabbered on quite ungrammatically
with the most droll coolness; he was very intelligent and wide awake,
and guessed more than he understood: often he guessed wrong; but he was
the first to laugh at his mistakes. He talked eagerly about his travels
and his reading. He had read a great deal, hastily, superficially,
skipping half the pages, and inventing what he had left unread, but he
was always urged on by a keen curiosity, forever seeking reasons for
enthusiasm. He jumped from one subject to another, and his face grew
animated as he talked of plays or books that had moved him. There was no
sort of order in his knowledge. It was impossible to tell how he could
read right through a tenth-rate book, and yet know nothing of the
"That is all very well," said Christophe. "But you will never do
anything if you do not work."
"Oh! I don't need to. We are rich."
"The devil! Then it is a very serious state of things. Do you want to be
a man who does nothing and is good for nothing?"
"No. I should like to do everything. It is stupid to shut yourself up
all your life in a profession."
"But it is the only means yet discovered of doing any good."
"So they say!"
"What do you mean? 'So they say!'... I say so. I've been working at my
profession for forty years, and I am just beginning to get a glimmer of
"Forty years, to learn a profession! When can you begin to practise it?"
Christophe began to laugh.
"You little disputatious Frenchman!"
"I want to be a musician," said Georges.
"Well, it is not too early for you to begin. Shall I teach you?"
"Oh! I should be so glad!"
"Come to-morrow. I'll see what you are worth. If you are worth nothing,
I shall forbid you ever to lay hands on a piano. If you have a real
inclination for it, we'll try and make something of you.... But, I warn
you, I shall make you work."
"I will work," said Georges delightedly.
They said good-by until the morrow. As he was going, Georges remembered
that he had other engagements on the morrow, and also for the day after.
Yes, he was not free until the end of the week. They arranged day and
But when the day and hour came, Christophe waited in vain. He was
disappointed. He had been looking forward with childlike glee to seeing
Georges again. His unexpected visit had brightened his life. It had made
him so happy, and moved him so much that he had not slept the night
after it. With tender gratitude he thought of the young friend who had
sought him out for his friend's sake. His natural grace, his malicious
and ingenuous frankness had delighted him: he sank back into the mute
intoxication, the buzzing of happiness, which had filled his ears and
his heart during the first days of his friendship with Olivier. It was
allied now with a graver and almost religious feeling which, through the
living, saw the smile of the past.--He waited all the next day and the
day after. Nobody came. Not even a letter of excuse. Christophe was very
mournful, and cast about for excuses for the boy. He did not know where
to write to him, and he did not know his address. Had he had it he would
not have dared to write. When the heart of an older man is filled with
love for a young creature, he feels a certain modesty about letting him
see the need he has of him: he knows that the young man has not the same
need: they are not evenly matched: and nothing is so much dreaded as to
seem to be imposing oneself on a person who cares not a jot.
The silence dragged on. Although Christophe suffered under it, he forced
himself to take no step to hunt up the Jeannins. But every day he
expected the boy, who never came. He did not go to Switzerland, but
stayed through the summer in Paris. He thought himself absurd, but he
had no taste for traveling. Only when September came did he decide to
spend a few days at Fontainebleau.
About the end of October Georges Jeannin came and knocked at his door.
He excused himself calmly, without being in the least put out by his
"I could not come," he said. "And then we went away to stay in
"You might have written to me," said Christophe.
"Yes. I did try. But I never had the time.... Besides," he said,
laughing, "I forgot all about it."
"When did you come back?"
"At the beginning of October."
"And it has taken you three weeks to come?... Listen. Tell me frankly:
Did your mother prevent you?... Does she dislike your seeing me?"
"No. Not at all. She told me to come to-day."
"The last time I saw you before the holidays I told her everything when
I got home. She told me I had done right, and she asked about you, and
pestered me with a great many questions. When we came home from
Brittany, three weeks ago, she made me promise to go and see you again.
A week ago she reminded me again. This morning, when she found that I
had not been, she was angry with me, and wanted me to go directly after
breakfast, without more ado."
"And aren't you ashamed to tell me that? Must you be forced to come and
"No. You mustn't think that.... Oh! I have annoyed you. Forgive me.... I
am a muddle-headed idiot.... Scold me, but don't be angry with me. I
love you. If I did not love you I should not have come. I was not forced
to come. I can't be forced to do anything but what I want to do."
"You rascal!" said Christophe, laughing in spite of himself. "And your
musical projects, what about them?"
"Oh! I am still thinking about it."
"That won't take you very far."
"I want to begin now. I couldn't begin these last few months. I have had
so much to do! But now you shall see how I will work, if you still want
to have anything to do with me...."
(He looked slyly at Christophe.)
"You are an impostor," said Christophe.
"You don't take me seriously."
"No, I don't."
"It is too dreadful. Nobody takes me seriously. I lose all heart."
"I shall take you seriously when I see you working."
"At once, then."
"I have no time now. To-morrow."
"No. To-morrow is too far off. I can't bear you to despise me for a
"You bore me."
Smiling at his weakness, Christophe made him sit at the piano, and
talked to him about music. He asked him many questions, and made him
solve several little problems of harmony. Georges did not know much
about it, but his musical instinct supplied the gaps of his ignorance;
without knowing their names, he found the chords Christophe wanted; and
even his mistakes in their awkwardness showed a curiosity of taste and a
singularly acute sensibility. He did not accept Christophe's remarks
without discussion; and the intelligent questions he asked in his turn
bore witness to the sincerity of a mind that would not accept art as a
devout formula to be repeated with the lips, but desired to live it for
its own sake.--They did not only talk of music. In reference to harmony
Georges would summon up pictures, the country, people. It was difficult
to hold him in check: it was constantly necessary to bring him back to
the middle of the road: and Christophe had not always the heart to do
so. It amused him to hear the boy's joyous chatter, so full of wit and
life. What a difference there was between his nature and Olivier's! With
the one life was a subterranean river that flowed silently; with the
other all was above ground: a capricious stream disporting itself in the
sun. And yet it was the same lovely, pure water, like their eyes. With a
smile, Christophe recognized in Georges certain instinctive antipathies,
likings and dislikings, which he well knew, and the naive intolerance,
the generosity of heart which gives itself entirely to whatsoever it
loves.... Only Georges loved so many things that he had no time to love
any one thing for long.
He came back the next day and the days following. He was filled with a
youthful passion for Christophe, and he worked enthusiastically at his
lessons....--Then his enthusiasm palled, his visits grew less frequent.
He came less and less often. Then he came no more, and disappeared for
He was light-hearted, forgetful, naively selfish, and sincerely
affectionate; he had a good heart and a quick intelligence which he
expended piecemeal day by day. People forgave him everything because
they were so glad to see him; he was happy....
Christophe refused to judge him. He did not complain. He wrote to
Jacqueline to thank her for having sent her son to him. Jacqueline
replied with a short letter filled with restrained emotion: she
expressed a hope that Christophe would be interested in Georges and help
him in his life. Through shame and pride she could not bring herself to
see him again. And Christophe thought he could not visit her without
being invited.--So they stayed apart, seeing each other at a distance at
concerts, bound together only by the boy's infrequent visits.
The winter passed. Grazia wrote but seldom. She was still faithful in
her friendship for Christophe. But, like a true Italian, she was hardly
at all sentimental, attached to reality, and needed to see people if she
were, perhaps not to think of them, but certainly to take pleasure in
talking to them. Her heart's memory needed to be supported by having her
sight's memory refreshed from time to time. Her letters became brief and
distant. She was as sure of Christophe as Christophe was of her. But
their security gave out more light than warmth.
Christophe did not feel his new disappointments very keenly. His musical
activity was enough to fill his life. When he reaches a certain age a
vigorous artist lives much more in his art than in his life; his life
has become the dream, his art the reality. His creative powers had been
reawakened by contact with Paris. There is no stronger stimulant in the
world than the sight of that city of work. The most phlegmatic natures
are touched by its fever. Christophe, being rested by years of healthy
solitude, brought to his work an enormous accumulation of force.
Enriched by the new conquests forever being made in the fields of
musical technique by the intrepid curiosity of the French, he hurled
himself in his turn along the road to discovery: being more violent and
barbarous than they, he went farther. But nothing in his new audacities
was left to the hazardous mercies of his instinct. Christophe had begun
to feel the need of clarity; all his life his genius had obeyed the
rhythm of alternate currents: it was its law to pass from one pole to
the other, and to fill everything between them. Having greedily
surrendered in his last period to _"the eyes of chaos shining through
the veil of order,"_ even to rending the veil so as to see them more
clearly, he was now striving to tear himself away from their
fascination, and once more to throw over the face of the sphinx the
magic net of the master mind. The imperial inspiration of Rome had
passed over him. Like the Parisian art of that time, by the spirit of
which he was infected, he was aspiring to order. But not--like the
reactionaries who spent what was left of their energies in protecting
their slumber--to order in Varsovia; the good people who are always
going back to Brahms--the Brahmses of all the arts, the thematics, the
insipid neo-classics, in search of solace! Might one not say that they
are enfeebled with passion! You are soon done for, my friends.... No, it
is not of your order that I speak. Mine has no kinship with yours. Mine
is the order in harmony of the free passions and the free will....
Christophe was studying how in his art to maintain the just balance
between the forces of life. These new chords, the new musical daimons
that he had summoned from the abyss of sounds, were used to build clear
symphonies, vast, sunlit buildings, like the Italian cupola'd basilicas.
These plays and battles of the mind occupied him all winter. And the
winter passed quickly, although, in the evening, as he ended his day's
work and looked behind him at the tale of days, he could not have told
whether it had been long or short, or whether he was still young or very
Then a new ray of human sunshine pierced the veil of his dreams, and
once more brought in the springtime. Christophe received a letter from
Grazia, telling him that she was coming to Paris with her two children.
For a long time she had planned to do so. Her cousin Colette had often
invited her. Her dread of the effort necessary to interrupt her habits
and to tear herself away from her careless tranquillity and the home she
loved in order to plunge into the Parisian whirligig that she knew so
well, had made her postpone the journey from year to year. This spring
she was filled with melancholy, perhaps with a secret
disappointment--(how many unspoken romances there are in the heart of a
woman, unknown to others, often unconfessed to herself!)--and she longed
to go right away from Rome. A threatened epidemic gave her an excuse for
hurrying on her children's departure. She followed her letter to
Christophe in a very few days.
Christophe hastened to her as soon as he heard she was at Colette's. He
found her still absorbed and distant. He was hurt, but did not show it.
By now he was almost rid of his egoism, and that gave him the insight of
affection. He saw that she had some grief which she wished to conceal,
and he suppressed his longing to know its nature. Only he strove to keep
her amused by giving her a gay account of his misadventures and sharing
with her his work and his plans, and he wrapped her round with his
affection. Her mournful heart rested in the heart of her friend, and he
spoke to her always of things other than that which was in both their
minds. And gradually he saw the shadow of melancholy fade from her eyes,
and their expression became nearly, and ever more nearly, intimate. So
much so, that one day, as he was talking to her, he stopped suddenly,
and in silence looked at her.
"What is it?" she asked.
"To-day," he said, "you have come back to me."
She smiled, and in a low voice she replied:
It was not easy for them to talk quietly together. They were very rarely
alone. Colette gave them the pleasure of her presence more often than
they wished. In spite of her eccentricities she was extremely kind and
sincerely attached to Grazia and Christophe; but she never dreamed that
she could be a nuisance to them. She had, of course, noticed--(for her
eyes saw everything)--what she was pleased to call Christophe's
flirtation with Grazia; flirtation was her element, and she was
delighted, and asked nothing better than to encourage it. But that was
precisely what she was not required to do; she was only desired not to
meddle with things that did not concern her. It was enough for her to
appear or to make an (indiscreet) discreet allusion to their friendship
to one of them, to make Christophe and Grazia freeze and turn the
conversation. Colette cast about among all the possible reasons, except
one, and that the true one, for their reserve. Fortunately for them, she
could never stay long. She was always coming and going, coming in, going
out, superintending everything in her house, doing a dozen things at a
time. In the intervals between her appearances Christophe and Grazia,
left alone with the children, would resume the thread of their innocent
conversation. They never spoke of the feelings that bound them together.
Unrestrainedly they confided to each other their little daily
happenings. Grazia, with feminine interest, inquired into Christophe's
domestic affairs. They were in a very bad way: he was always having
ruptures with his housekeepers; he was continually being cheated and
robbed by his servants. She laughed heartily but very kindly, and with
motherly compassion for the great child's small practical sense. One
day, when Colette left them after a longer visitation than usual, Grazia
"Poor Colette! I love her dearly.... But how she bores me!"
"I love her too," said Christophe, "if you mean by that that she bores
"Listen. Will you let me ... (it is quite impossible for us to talk in
peace here) ... will you let me come to your house one day?"
He could hardly speak.
"To my house! You will come?"
"If you don't mind?"
"Mind! Mercy, no!"
"Well, then, will you let me come on Tuesday?"
"Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, any day you like."
"Tuesday, at four. It is agreed?"
"How good of you! How good of you!"
"Wait. There is a condition."
"A condition? Why? Anything you like. You know that I will do it,
condition or no condition."
"I would rather make a condition."
"You don't know what it is."
"I don't care. I promise. Anything you like."
"But listen. You are so obstinate."
"The condition is that between now and then you make no change in your
rooms--none, you understand; everything must be left exactly as it is."
Christophe's face fell. He looked abject.
"Ah! That's not playing the game."
"You see, that's what comes of giving your word too hastily! But you
"But why do you want--?
"But I want to see you in your rooms as you are, every day, when you are
not expecting me."
"Surely you will let me--"
"Nothing at all. I shall allow nothing."
"No, no, no! I won't listen to you, or else I won't come, if you prefer
"You know I would agree to anything if you will only come."
"Then you promise."
"On your word of honor?"
"Yes, you tyrant."
"A good tyrant."
"There is no such thing as a good tyrant: there are tyrants whom one
loves and tyrants whom one detests."
"And I am both?"
"No. You are one of the first."
"It is very humiliating."
On the appointed day she came. With scrupulous loyalty Christophe had
not dared even to arrange the smallest piece of paper in his untidy
rooms: he would have felt dishonored had he done so. But he was in
torture. He was ashamed of what his friend would think. Anxiously he
awaited her arrival. She came punctually, not more than four or five
minutes after the hour. She climbed up the stairs with her light, firm
step. She rang. He was at the door and opened it. She was dressed with
easy, graceful elegance. Through her veil he could see her tranquil
eyes. They said "Good-day" in a whisper and shook hands; she was more
silent than usual: he was awkward and emotional and said nothing, to
avoid showing his feeling. He led her in without uttering the sentence
he had prepared by way of excusing the untidiness of his room. She sat
down in the best chair, and he sat near her.
"This is my work-room."
It was all he could find to say to her.
There was a silence. She looked round slowly, with a kindly smile, and
she, too, was much moved, though she would not admit it to herself.
(Later she told him that when she was a girl she had thought of coming
to him, but had been afraid as she reached the door.) She was struck by
the solitary aspect and the sadness of the place: the dark, narrow hall,
the absolute lack of comfort, the visible poverty, all went to her
heart: she was filled with affectionate pity for her old friend, who, in
spite of all his work and his sufferings and his celebrity, was unable
to shake free of material anxiety. And at the same time she was amused
at the absolute indifference revealed by the bareness of the room that
had no carpets, no pictures, no bric-a-brac, no armchair; no other
furniture than a table, three hard chairs, and a piano: and papers,
papers everywhere, mixed up with books, on the table, under the table,
on the floor, on the piano, on the chairs--(she smiled as she thought
how conscientiously he had kept his word).
After a minute or two she asked him, pointing to his place at the table:
"Is that where you work?"
"No," he said. "There."
He pointed to the darkest corner of the room, where there stood a low
chair with its back to the light. She went and sat in it quietly,
without a word. For a few minutes they were silent, for they knew not
what to say. He got up and went to the piano. He played and improvised
for half an hour; all around him he felt the presence of his beloved and
an immense happiness filled his heart; with eyes closed he played
marvelous things. Then she understood the beauty of the room, all
furnished with divine harmonies: she heard his loving, suffering heart
as though it were beating in her own bosom.
When the music had died away, he stopped for a little while, quite
still, at the piano; then he turned as he heard the breath of his
beloved and knew that she was weeping. She came to him.
"Thank you!" she murmured, and took his hand.
Her lips were trembling a little. She closed her eyes. He did the same.
For a few seconds they remained so, hand in hand; and time stopped; it
seemed to them that for ages, ages, they had been lying pressed close
She opened her eyes, and to shake off her emotion, she asked:
"May I see the rest of the flat?"
Glad also to escape from his emotions, he opened the door into the next
room; but at once he was ashamed. It contained a narrow, hard iron bed.
On the wall there was a cast of the mask of Beethoven, and near the bed,
in a cheap frame, photographs of his mother and Olivier. On the
dressing-table was another photograph: Grazia herself as a child of
fifteen. He had found it in her album in Rome, and had stolen it. He
confessed it, and asked her to forgive him. She looked at the face, and
"Can you recognize me in it?"
"I can recognize you, and remember you."
"Which of the two do you love best?" she asked, pointing to herself.
"You are always the same. I love you always just the same. I recognize
you everywhere. Even in the photograph of you as a tiny child. You do
not know the emotion I feel as in this chrysalis I discern your soul.
Nothing so clearly assures me that you are eternal. I loved you before
you were born, and I shall love you ever after...."
He stopped. She stood still and made no answer: she was filled with the
sweet sorrow of love. When she returned to the work-room, and he had
shown her through the window his little friendly tree, full of chattering
sparrows, she said:
"Now, do you know what we will do? We will have a feast. I brought tea
and cakes because I knew you would have nothing of the kind. And I
brought something else. Give me your overcoat."
"Yes. Give it me."
She took needles and cotton from her bag.
"What are you going to do?"
"There were two buttons the other day which made me tremble for their
fate. Where are they now?"
"True. I never thought of sewing them on. It is so tiresome!"
"Poor boy! Give it me."
"I am ashamed."
"Go and make tea."
He brought the kettle and the spirit-lamp into the room, so as not to
miss a moment of his friend's stay. As she sewed she watched his clumsy
ways stealthily and maliciously. They drank their tea out of cracked
cups, which she thought horrible, dodging the cracks, while he
indignantly defended them, because they reminded him of his life with
Just as she was going, he asked:
"You are not angry with me?"
"Why should I be?"
"Because of the litter here?"
"I will make it tidy."
As she reached the threshold and was just going to open the door, he
knelt and kissed her feet.
"What are you doing?" she said. "You foolish, foolish dear! Good-by!"
They agreed that she should come once a week on a certain day. She had
made him promise that there should be no more outbursts, no more
kneelings, no more kissing of her feet. She breathed forth such a gentle
tranquillity, that even when Christophe was in his most violent mood, he
was influenced by it; and although when he was alone, he often thought
of her with passionate desire, when they were together they were always
like good comrades. Never did word or gesture escape him which could
disturb his friend's peace.
On Christophe's birthday she dressed her little girl as she herself had
been when they first met in the old days; and she made the child play
the piece that Christophe used to make her play.
But all her grace and tenderness and sweet friendship were mingled with
contradictory feelings. She was frivolous, and loved society, and
delighted in being courted, even by fools; she was a coquette, except
with Christophe,--even with Christophe. When he was very tender with
her, she would be deliberately cold and reserved. When he was cold and
reserved she would become tender and tease him affectionately. She was
the most honest of women. But even in the most honest and the best of
women there is always a girl. She insisted on standing well with the
world, and conformed to the conventions. She had fine musical gifts, and
understood Christophe's work; but she was not much interested in
it--(and he knew it).--To a true Latin woman, art is of worth only in
proportion as it leads back to life, to life and love.... The love which
is forever seething, slumbering, in the depths of the voluptuous
body.... What has she to do with the tragic meditations, the tormented
symphonies, the intellectual passions of the North? She must have music
in which her hidden desires can unfold, with the minimum of effort, an
opera, which is passionate life without the fatigue of the passions, a
sentimental, sensual, lazy art.
She was weak and changing: she could only apply herself intermittently
to any serious study: she must have amusement; rarely did she do on the
morrow what she had decided to do the night before. She had so many
childish ways, so many little disconcerting caprices! The restless
nature of woman, her morbid and periodically unreasonable character. She
knew it and then tried to isolate herself. She knew her weaknesses, and
blamed herself for her failure to resist them, since they distressed her
friend; sometimes, without his knowing it, she made real sacrifices for
him; but, when all was told, her nature was the stronger. For the rest,
Grazia could not bear Christophe to seem to be commanding her; and, once
or twice, by way of asserting her independence, she did the opposite of
what he asked her. At once she regretted it; at night she would be
filled with remorse that she could not make Christophe happier; she
loved him more than she would let him see; she felt that her friendship
with him was the best part of her life. As usually happens with two very
different people, they were more united when they were not together. In
truth, if they had been thrust apart by a misunderstanding, the fault
was not altogether Christophe's, as he honestly believed. Even when in
the old days Grazia most dearly loved Christophe, would she have married
him? She would perhaps have given him her life; but would she have so
given herself as to live all her life with him? She knew (though she did
not confess it to Christophe) that she had loved her husband, and, even
now, after all the harm he had done her, loved him as she had never
loved Christophe.... The secrets of the heart, the secrets of the body,
of which one is not very proud, and hides from those dear to one, as
much out of respect for them, as in complacent pity for oneself....
Christophe was too masculine to divine them: but every now and then, in
flashes, he would see how little the woman he most dearly loved, who
truly loved him, belonged to him--and that he could not wholly count on
any one, on any one, in life. His love was not quenched by this
perception. He even felt no bitterness. Grazia's peace spread over him.
He accepted everything. O life why should I reproach thee for that which
thou canst not give? Art thou not very beautiful and very blessed as
thou art? I must fain love thy smile, Gioconda....
Christophe would gaze at his beloved's beautiful face, and read in it
many things of the past and the future. During the long years when he
had lived alone, traveling, speaking little but seeing much, he had
acquired, almost unconsciously, the power of reading the human face,
that rich and complex language formed by the ages. It is a thousand
times richer and more complex than the spoken language. The spirit of
the race is expressed in it.... There are perpetual contrasts between
the lines of the face and the words that come from it. Take the profile
of a girl, clear-cut, a little hard, in the Burne-Jones style, tragic,
consumed by a secret passion, jealousy, a Shakespearian sorrow.... She
speaks: and, behold, she is a little bourgeois creature, as stupid as an
owl, a selfish, commonplace coquette, with no idea of the terrible
forces inscribed upon her body. And yet such passion, such violence are
in her. In what shape will they one day spring forth? Will it be in the
lust of gain, conjugal jealousy, or splendid energy, or morbid
wickedness? There is no knowing. It may be that she will transmit them
to another creature of her blood before the time comes for the eruption.
But it is an element with which we have to reckon as, like a fatality,
it hovers above the race.
Grazia also bore the weight of that uneasy heritage, which, of all the
patrimony of ancient families, is the least in danger of being
dissipated in transit. She, at least, was aware of it. It is a great
source of strength to know our weakness, to make ourselves, if not the
masters, the pilots of the soul of the race to which we are bound, which
bears us like a vessel upon its waters,--to make fate our instrument, to
use it as a sail which we furl or clew up according to the wind. When
Grazia closed her eyes, she could hear within herself more than one
disturbing voice, of a tone familiar to her. But in her healthy soul
even the dissonances were blended to form a profound, soft music, under
the guiding hand of her harmonious reason.
Unhappily it is not within our power to transmit the best of our blood
to the creatures of our blood.
Of Grazia's two children, the little girl, Aurora, who was eleven years
old, was like her mother; she was not so pretty, being a little coarser
in fiber; she had a slight limp; she was a good little girl,
affectionate and gay, with splendid health, abundant good nature, few
natural gifts, except idleness, a passion for doing nothing. Christophe
adored her. When he saw her with Grazia he felt the charm of a twofold
creature, seen at two ages of life, two generations together.... Two
flowers upon one stem; a Holy Family of Leonardo, the Virgin and Saint
Anne, different shades of the same smile. With one glance he could take
in the whole blossoming of a woman's soul; and it was at once fair and
sad to see: he could see whence it came and whither it was going. There
is nothing more natural than for an ardent, chaste heart to love two
sisters at one and the same time, or mother and daughter. Christophe
would have loved the woman of his love through all her descendants, just
as in her he loved the stock of which she came. Her every smile, her
every tear, every line in her face, were they not living beings, the
memories of a life which was before her eyes opened to the light, the
forerunners of a life which was to come, when he! eyes should be forever
The little boy, Lionello, was nine. He was much handsomer than his
sister, of a finer stock, too fine, worn out and bloodless, wherein he
was like his father. He was intelligent, well-endowed with bad
instincts, demonstrative, and dissembling. He had big blue eyes, long,
girlish, fair hair, a pale complexion, a delicate chest, and was
morbidly nervous, which last, being a born comedian and strangely
skilled in discovering people's weaknesses, he upon occasion turned to
good account. Grazia was inclined to favor him, with the natural
preference of a mother for her least healthy child,--and also through
the attraction which all kindly, good women feel for the sons who are
neither well nor ill (for in them a part of their life which they have
suppressed finds solace). In such attraction there is something of the
memory of the husbands who have made them suffer, whom they loved even
while they despised them, or the strange flora of the soul, which wax
strong in the dark, humid hot-house of conscience.
In spite of Grazia's care equally to bestow her tenderness upon her
children, Aurora felt the difference, and was a little hurt by it.
Christophe divined her feeling, and she divined Christophe's: they came
together instinctively; while between Christophe and Lionello there was
an antipathy which the boy covered up with exaggerated, lisping,
charming ways,--and Christophe thrust from him as a shameful feeling. He
wrestled with himself and forced himself to cherish this other man's
child as though he were the child whom it would have been ineffably
sweet for him to have had by the beloved. He would not allow himself to
see Lionello's bad nature or anything that could remind him of the
"other man": he set himself to find in him only Grazia. She, more
clear-sighted, was under no illusions about her son, and she only loved
him the more.
However, the disease which for years had been lying dormant in the boy
broke out. Consumption supervened. Grazia resolved to go and shut
herself up in a sanatorium in the Alps with Lionello, Christophe begged
to be allowed to go with her. To avoid scandal she dissuaded him. He was
hurt by the excessive importance which she attached to the conventions.
She went away and left her daughter with Colette. It was not long before
she began to feel terribly lonely among the sick people who talked of
nothing but their illness, surrounded by the pitiless mountains rising
above the rags and tatters of men. To escape from the depressing
spectacle of the invalids with their spittoons spying upon each other
and marking the progress of death over each one of them, she left the
Palace hospital, and took a chalet, where she lived aloof with her own
little invalid. Instead of improving Lionello's condition, the high
altitude aggravated it. His fever waxed greater. Grazia spent nights of
anguish. Christophe knew it by his keen intuition, although she told him
nothing: for she was growing more and more rigid in her pride; she
longed for Christophe to be with her, but she had forbidden him to
follow her, and she could not bring herself to confess: "I am too weak,
I need you...."
One evening, as she stood in the veranda of the chalet in the twilight
hour, which is so bitter for hearts in agony, she saw ... she thought she
saw coming up from the station of the funicular railway ... a man walking
hurriedly: he stopped, hesitating, with his back a little bowed. She
went indoors to avoid his seeing her: she held her hands over her heart,
and, quivering with emotion, she laughed. Although she was not at all
religious she knelt down, hid her face in her hands; she felt the need
of thanking some one.... But he did not come. She went back to the
window, and, hiding behind the curtains, looked out. He had stopped,
leaning against a fence round a field, near the gate of the chalet. He
dared not enter. And, even more perturbed than he, she smiled, and said
in a low voice:
At last he made up his mind and rang the bell. Already she was at the
door, and she opened it. His eyes looked at her like the eyes of a
faithful dog, who is afraid of being beaten. He said:
"I came.... Forgive me...."
Then she confessed how she had expected him. Christophe helped her to
nurse the boy, whose condition was growing worse. His heart was in the
task. The boy treated him with irritable animosity: he took no pains now
to conceal it: he said many malicious things to him. Christophe put it
all down to his illness. He was extraordinarily patient. He passed many
painful days by the boy's bedside, until the critical night, on passing
through which, Lionello, whom they had given up for lost, was saved. And
they felt then such pure happiness--watching hand in hand over the
little invalid--that suddenly she got up, took her cloak and hood, and
led Christophe out of doors, along the road, in the snow, the silence
and the night, under the cold stars. Leaning on his arm, excitedly
breathing in the frozen peace of the world, they hardly spoke at all.
They made no allusion to their love. Only when they returned, on the
threshold, she said: "My dear, dear friend!..."
And her eyes were lit up by the happiness of having saved her child.
That was all. But they felt that the bond between them had become
On her return to Paris after Lionello's long convalescence, she took a
little house at Passy, and did not worry any more about "avoiding
scandal": she felt brave enough to dare opinion for her friend's sake.
Their life henceforth was so intimately linked that it would have seemed
cowardly to her to conceal the friendship which united them at
the--inevitable--risk of having it slandered. She received Christophe at
all hours of the day, and was seen with him out walking and at the
theater: she spoke familiarly to him in company. Colette thought they
were making themselves too conspicuous. Grazia would stop her hints with
a smile, and quietly go her way.
And yet she had given Christophe no new right over her. They were
nothing more than friends: he always addressed her with the same
affectionate respect. But they hid nothing from each other: they
consulted each other about everything: and insensibly Christophe assumed
a sort of paternal authority in the house: Grazia listened to and
followed his advice. She was no longer the same woman since the winter
she had spent in the sanatorium; the anxiety and fatigue had seriously
tried her health, which, till then, had been sturdy. Her soul was
affected by it. In spite of an occasional lapse into her old caprices,
she had become mysteriously more serious, more reflective, and was more
constantly desirous of being kind, of learning and not hurting any one.
Every day saw her more softened by Christophe's affection, his
disinterestedness, and the purity of his heart: and she was thinking of
one day giving him the great happiness of which he no longer dared to
dream, that of becoming his wife.
He had never broached the subject again after her first refusal, for he
thought he had no right to do so. But regretfully he clung to his
impossible hope. Though he respected what his friend had said, he was
not convinced by her disillusioned attitude towards marriage: he
persisted in believing that the union of two people who love each other,
profoundly and devotedly, is the height of human happiness.--His regrets
were revived by coming in contact once more with the Arnauds.
Madame Arnaud was more than fifty. Her husband was sixty-five or
sixty-six. Both seemed to be older. He had grown stout: she was very
thin and rather shrunken: spare though she had been in the old days, she
was now just a wisp of a woman. After Arnaud's retirement they had gone
to live in a house in the country. They had no link with the life of the
time save the newspaper, which in the torpor of their little town and
their drowsy life brought them the tardy echo of the voice of the world.
Once they saw Christophe's name. Madame Arnaud wrote him a few
affectionate, rather ceremonious words, to tell him how glad they were
of his fame. He took the train at once without letting them know.
He found them in the garden, dozing under the round canopy of an ash, on
a warm summer afternoon. They were like Boecklin's old couple, sleeping
hand in hand, in an arbor. Sun, sleep, old age overwhelm them: they are
falling, they are already half-buried in the eternal dream. And, as the
last gleam of their life, their tenderness persists to the end. The
clasp of their hands, the dying warmth of their bodies....--They were
delighted to see Christophe, for the sake of all the memories of the
past he brought with him. They talked of the old days, which at that
distance seemed brilliant and full of light.
Arnaud loved talking, but he had lost his memory for names. Madame
Arnaud whispered them to him. She liked saying nothing and preferred
listening to talking: but the image of the old times had been kept alive
and clear in her silent heart: in glimmers they would appear sharply
before her like shining pebbles in a stream. There was one such memory
that Christophe more than once saw reflected in her eyes as she looked
at him with affectionate compassion: but Olivier's name was not
pronounced. Old Arnaud plied his wife with touching, awkward little
attentions; he was fearful lest she should catch cold, or be too hot; he
would gaze hungrily with anxious love at her dear, faded face, and with
a weary smile she would try to reassure him. Christophe watched them
tenderly, with a little envy.... To grow old together. To love in the
dear companion even the wear of time. To say: "I know those lines round
her eyes and nose. I have seen them coming. I know when they came. Her
scant gray hair has lost its color, day by day, in my company, something
because of me, alas! Her sweet face has swollen and grown red in the
fires of the weariness and sorrow that have consumed us. My soul, how
much better I love thee for that thou hast suffered and grown old with
me. Every one of thy wrinkles is to me as music from the past...." The
charm of these old people, who, after the long vigil of life, spent side
by side, go side by side to sleep in the peace of the night! To see them
was both sweet and profitable and sorrowful for Christophe. Oh! How
lovely had life and death been thus!...
When he next saw Grazia, he could not help telling her of his visit. He
did not tell her of the thoughts roused in him by his visit. But she
divined them. He was tender and wistful as he spoke. He turned his eyes
away from her and was silent every now and then. She looked at him and
smiled, and Christophe's unease infected her.
That evening, when she was alone in her room, she lay dreaming. She went
over the story Christophe had told her; but the image she saw through it
was not that of the old couple sleeping under the ash: it was the shy,
ardent dream of her friend. And her heart was filled with love for him.
She lay in the dark and thought:
"Yes. It is absurd, criminal and absurd, to waste the opportunity for
such happiness. What joy in the world can equal the joy of making the
man you love happy?... What! Do I love him?..."
She was silent, deeply moved, listening to the answer of her heart.
"I love him."
Just then a dry, hard, hasty cough came from the next room where the
children were sleeping. Grazia pricked her ears: since the boy's illness
she had always been anxious. She called out to him. He made no reply,
and went on coughing. She sprang from her bed and went to him. He was
irritated, and moaned, and said that he was not well, and broke out
"What is the matter?"
He did not reply, but only groaned that he was ill.
"My darling, please tell me what is the matter?"
"I don't know."
"Is it here?"
"Yes. No. I don't know. I am ill all over."
On that he had a fresh fit of coughing, violent and exaggerated. Grazia
was alarmed: she had a feeling that he was forcing himself to cough: but
she was ashamed of her thought, as she saw the boy sweating and choking
for breath. She kissed him and spoke to him tenderly: he seemed to grow
calmer; but as soon as she tried to leave him he broke out coughing
again. She had to stay shivering by his bedside, for he would not even
allow her to go away to dress herself, and insisted on her holding his
hand; and he would not let her go until he fell asleep again. Then she
went to bed, chilled, uneasy, harassed. And she found it impossible to
gather up the threads of her dreams.
The boy had a singular power of reading his mother's thoughts. This
instinctive genius is often--though seldom in such a high degree--to be
found in creatures of the same stock: they hardly need to look at each
other to know each other's thoughts: they can guess them by the
breathing, by a thousand imperceptible signs. This natural aptness,
which is fortified by living together, was in Lionello sharpened and
refined by his ever wakeful malevolence. He had the insight of the
desire to hurt. He detested Christophe. Why? Why does a child take a
dislike to a person who has never done him any harm? It is often a
matter of chance. It is enough for a child to have begun by persuading
himself that he detests some one, for it to become a habit, and the more
he is argued with the more desperately he will cling to it. But often,
again, there are deeper reasons for it, which pass the child's
understanding: he has no idea of them.... From the first moment when he
saw Christophe, the son of Count Bereny had a feeling of animosity
towards the man whom his mother had loved. It was as though he had
instinctively felt the exact moment when Grazia began to think of
marrying Christophe. From that moment on he never ceased to spy upon
them. He was always between them, and refused to leave the room whenever
Christophe came; or he would manage to burst in upon them when they were
sitting together. More than that, when his mother was alone, thinking of
Christophe, he seemed to divine her thoughts. He would sit near her and
watch her. His gaze would embarrass her and almost make her blush. She
would get up to conceal her unease.--He would take a delight in saying
unkind things about Christophe in her presence. She would bid him be
silent, but he would go on. And if she tried to punish him, he would
threaten to make himself ill. That was the strategy he had always used
successfully since he was a child. When he was quite small, one day when
he had been scolded, he had, out of revenge, undressed himself and lain
naked on the floor so as to catch cold.--Once, when Christophe brought a
piece of music that he had composed for Grazia's birthday, the boy took
the manuscript and hid it. It was found in tatters in a wood-box. Grazia
lost her patience and scolded him severely. Then he wept and howled, and
stamped his feet, and rolled on the ground, and had an attack of nerves.
Grazia was terrified, and kissed and implored him, and promised to do
whatever he wanted.
From that day on he was the master: for he knew it: and very frequently
he had recourse to the weapon with which he had succeeded. There was
never any knowing how far his attacks were natural and how far
counterfeit. Soon he was not satisfied with using them vengefully when
he was opposed in any way, but took to using them out of spite whenever
his mother and Christophe planned to spend the evening together. He even
went so far as to play his dangerous game out of sheer idleness, or
theatricality, to discover the extent of his power. He was
extraordinarily ingenious in inventing strange, nervous accidents;
sometimes in the middle of dinner he would be seized with a convulsive
trembling, and upset his glass or break his plate; sometimes, as he was
going upstairs, he would clutch at the banisters with his hand: his
fingers would stiffen: he would pretend that he could not open them
again; or he would have a sharp pain in his side and roll about,
howling; or he would choke. Of course, in the end he developed a genuine
nervous illness. Christophe and Grazia were at their wits' end. Their
peaceful meetings--their quiet talks, their readings, their music, which
were as a festival to them--all their humble happiness was henceforth
Every now and then, however, the little imp would, give them a respite,
partly because he was tired of his play-acting, partly because his
child's nature took possession of him again, and made him think of
something else. (He was sure now that he had won the day.)
Then, quickly, quietly, they would seize their opportunity. Every hour
that they could steal in this way was the more precious to them as they
could never be sure of enjoying it to the end. How near they felt to
each other! Why could they not always be so!... One day Grazia herself
confessed to her regret. Christophe took her hand.
"Yes. Why?" he asked.
"You know why, my dear," she said, with a miserable smile.
Christophe knew. He knew that she was sacrificing their happiness to her
son: he knew that she was not deceived by Lionello's lies, that she
still adored him: he knew the blind egoism of such domestic affections
which make the best pour out their reserves of devotion to the advantage
of the bad or mediocre creatures of their blood, so that there is
nothing left for them to give to those who would be more worthy, whom
they love best, but who are not of their blood. And although he was
irritated by it, although there were times when he longed to kill the
little monster who was destroying their lives, yet he bowed his head in
silence, and understood that Grazia could not do otherwise.
So they renounced their life without vain recrimination. But if the
happiness which was their right could be snatched from them, nothing
could prevent the union of their hearts. Their very renunciation, their
common sacrifice, held them by bonds stronger than those of the flesh.
Each confided the sorrow of it all to the other, passed over the burden
of it, and took on the other's suffering: so even their sorrow became
joy. Christophe called Grazia "his confessor." He did not hide from her
the weaknesses from which his pride had to suffer: rather he accused
himself with too great contrition, and she would smilingly soothe his
boyish scruples. He even confessed to her his material poverty; but he
could only bring himself to do that after it had been agreed between
them that she should neither offer him, nor he accept from her, any
help. It was the last barrier of pride which he upheld and she
respected. In place of the well-being which she could not bring into her
friend's life, she found many ways of filling it with what was
infinitely more precious to him--namely, her tenderness. He felt the
breath of it all about him, during every hour of the day: he never
opened his eyes in the morning, never closed them at night, without a
prayer of love and adoration. And when she awoke, or at night, as often
happened, lay for hours without sleeping, she thought:
"My dear is thinking of me."
And a great peace came upon them and surrounded them.
* * * * *
However, her health had given way. Grazia was constantly in bed, or had
to spend the day lying on a sofa. Christophe used to go every day and
read to her, and show her his new work. Then she would get up from the
chair, and limp to the piano, for her feet were swollen. She would play
the music he had brought. It was the greatest joy she could give him. Of
all his pupils she and Cecile were the most gifted. But while Cecile had
an instinctive feeling for music, with hardly any understanding of it,
to Grazia it was a lovely harmonious language full of meaning for her.
The demoniac quality in life and art escaped her altogether: she brought
to bear on it the clarity of her intelligence and heart. Christophe's
genius was saturated with her clarity. His friend's playing helped him
to understand the obscure passions he had expressed. With closed eyes he
would listen, and follow her, and hold her by the hand, as she led him
through the maze of his own thoughts. By living in his music through
Grazia's soul, he was wedded to her soul and possessed it. Prom this
mysterious conjugation sprang music which was the fruit of the mingling
of their lives. One day, as he brought her a collection of his works,
woven of his substance and hers, he said:
Theirs was an unbroken communion whether they were together or apart;
sweet were the evenings spent in the peace and quiet of the old house,
which was a fit setting for the image of Grazia, where the silent,
cordial servants, who were devoted to Christophe, extended to him a
little of the respectful affection they had for their mistress. Joyous
was it to listen to the song of the fleeting hours, and to see the tide
of life ebbing away.... A shadow of anxiety was thrown on their
happiness by Grazia's failing health. But, in spite of her little
infirmities, she was so serene that her hidden sufferings did but
heighten her charm. She was his _"liebe, leidende, und doch so
ruhrende, heitre Freundin"_ ("his dear, suffering, touching friend,
always so bright and cheerful"). And sometimes, in the evening, when he
left her with his heart big with love so that he could not wait until
the morrow, he would write:
"Liebe, liebe, liebe, liebe, liebe Grazia...."
Their tranquillity lasted for months. They thought it would last
forever. The boy seemed to have forgotten them: his attention was
distracted by other things. But after this respite he returned to them
and never left them again. The horrible little boy had determined to
part his mother and Christophe. He resumed his play-acting. He did not
set about it upon any premeditated plan, but, from day to day, followed
the whimsies of his spite. He had no idea of the harm he might be doing:
he only wanted to amuse himself by boring other people. He never relaxed
his efforts until he had made Grazia promise to leave Paris and go on a
long journey. Grazia had no strength to resist him. Besides, the doctors
advised her to pay a visit to Egypt. She had to avoid another winter in
the northern climate. Too many things had tried her health: the moral
upheaval of the last few years, the perpetual anxiety about her son's
health, the long periods of uncertainty, the struggle that had taken
place in her without her giving any sign of it, the sorrow of sorrows
that she was inflicting on her friend. To avoid adding to the trouble he
divined in her, Christophe hid his own grief at the approach of the day
of parting: he made no effort to postpone it; and they were outwardly
calm, and, though inwardly they were very far from it, yet they
succeeded in forcing it upon each other.
The day came. A September morning. They had left Paris together in the
middle of July, and spent their last weeks in Switzerland in a mountain
hotel, near the place where they had met again six years ago.
They were unable to go out the last five days: the rain came down in
unceasing torrents: they were almost alone in the hotel, for all the
other travelers had fled. The rain stopped on their last morning, but
the mountains were still covered with clouds. The children went on ahead
with the servants in another carriage. She drove off. He accompanied her
to the place where the road began to descend in steep windings to the
plain of Italy. The mist came in under the hood of the carriage. They
were very close together, and they said no word: they hardly looked at
each other. A strange light, half-day, half-night, wrapped them
round.... Grazia's breath left little drops of water on her veil. He
pressed her little hand, warm under her cold glove. Their faces came
together. Through her wet veil he kissed her dear lips.
They came to the turn of the road. He got down, and the carriage plunged
on into the mist and disappeared. For a long time he could hear the
rumbling of the wheels and the horses' hoofs. Great masses of white mist
rolled over the fields. Through the close tracery of the branches the
dripping trees dropped water. Not a breath of wind. The mist was
stifling life. Christophe stopped, choking.... There was nothing now.
Everything had gone....
He took in a long breath, filling his lungs with the mist, and walked
on. Nothing passes for him who does not pass.
Absence adds to the power of those we love. The heart retains only what
is dear to us in them. The echo of each word coming through space from
the distant friend, rings out in the silence, faithfully answering.
The correspondence of Christophe and Grazia took on the serious and
restrained tone of a couple who are no longer in the dangerous period of
trial of love, but, having passed it, feel sure of the road and march on
hand in hand. Each was strong to sustain and direct the other, weak and
yielding to the other's support and direction.
Christophe returned to Paris. He had vowed never to go there again. But
what are such vows worth? He knew that he would find there the shade of
Grazia. And circumstances, conspiring with his secret desires against
his will, showed him a new duty to fulfil in Paris. Colette, well
informed as to society gossip, told Christophe that his young friend
Jeannin was making a fool of himself. Jacqueline, who had always been
weak in her dealings with her son, could not hold him in check. She
herself was passing through a strange crisis, and was too much occupied
with herself to pay much heed to him.
Since the unhappy adventure which had destroyed Olivier's marriage and
life, Jacqueline had lived a very worthy life. She withdrew from
Parisian society, which, after imposing on her a hypocritical sort of
quarantine, had made fresh advances to her, which she had rejected. She
was not at all ashamed of what she had done as far as these people were
concerned: she thought she had no reason to account to them for it, for
they were more worthless than she: what she had done openly, half the
women she knew did by stealth, under cover of their homes. She suffered
only from the thought of the wrong she had done her nearest and dearest,
the only man she had loved. She could not forgive herself for having, in
so poor a world, lost an affection like his.
Her regrets, and her sorrow, grew less acute with time. There were left
only a sort of mute suffering, a humiliated contempt for herself and
others, and the love of her child. This affection, into which she poured
all her need of love, disarmed her before him; she could not resist
Georges's caprices. To excuse her weakness she persuaded herself that
she was paying for the wrong she had done Olivier. She had alternate
periods of exalted tenderness and weary indifference: sometimes she
would worry Georges with her exacting, anxious love, and sometimes she
would seem to tire of him, and she let him do as he liked. She admitted
to herself that she was bringing him up badly, and she would torment
herself with the admission; but she made no change. When, as she rarely
did, she tried to model her principles of conduct on Olivier's way of
thinking, the result was deplorable. At heart she wished to have no
authority over her son save that of her affection. And she was not
wrong: for between these two, however similar they might be, there were
no bonds save those of the heart. Georges Jeannin was sensible of his
mother's physical charm: he loved her voice, her gestures, her
movements, her grace, her love. But in mind he was conscious of
strangerhood to her. She only saw it as he began to grow into a man,
when he turned from her. Then she was amazed and indignant, and
attributed the estrangement to other feminine influences: and, as she
tried awkwardly to combat them, she only estranged him more. In reality,
they had always lived, side by side, each preoccupied with totally
different interests, deceiving themselves as to the gulf that lay
between them, with the aid of their common surface sympathies and
antipathies, which disappeared when the man began to spring forth from
the boy (that ambiguous creature, still impregnated with the perfume of
womanhood). And bitterly Jacqueline would say to her son:
"I don't know whom you take after. You are not like your father or me."
So she made him feel all that lay between them; and he took a secret
pride that was yet feverish and uneasy.
The younger generation has always a keener sense than the elder of the
things that lie between them; they need to gain assurance of the
importance of their existence, even at the cost of injustice or of lying
to themselves. But this feeling varies in its acuteness from one period
to another. In the classic ages when, for a time, the balance of the
forces of a civilization are realized,--those high plateaux ending on
all sides with steep slopes--the difference in level is not so great
from one generation to another. But in the ages of renascence or
decadence, the young men climbing or plunging down the giddy slopes,
leave their predecessors far behind.--Georges, like the other young men
of his time, was ascending the mountain.
He was superior neither in character nor in mind: he had many aptitudes,
none of which rose above the level of elegant mediocrity. And yet,
without any effort on his part, he found himself at the outset of his
career several grades higher than his father, who, in his short life,
had expended an incalculable amount of intellect and energy.
Hardly were the eyes of his mind opened upon the light of day than he
saw all round him the heaped-up darkness, pierced by luminous gleams,
the masses of knowledge and ignorance, warring truths, contradictory
errors, in which his father and the men of his father's generation had
feverishly groped their way. But at the same time he became conscious of
a weapon in his power which they had never known: his force....
Whence did he have it?... Who can tell the mystery of the resurrections
of a race, sleeping, worn out, which suddenly awakes brimming like a
mountain torrent in the spring!... What would he do with his force? Use
it in his turn to explore the inextricable thickets of modern thought?
They had no attraction for him. He was oppressed by the menacing dangers
which lurked in them. They had crushed his father. Rather than renew
that experience and enter the tragic forest he would have set fire to
it. He had only to glance at the books of wisdom or sacred folly which
had intoxicated Olivier: the Nihilist pity of Tolstoi, the somber
destructive pride of Ibsen, the frenzy of Nietzsche, the heroic, sensual
pessimism of Wagner. He had turned away from them in anger and terror.
He hated the realistic writers who, for half a century, had killed the
joy of art. He could not, however, altogether blot out the shadows of
the sorrowful dream in which he had been cradled. He would not look
behind him, but he well knew that the shadow was there. He was too
healthy to seek a counter-irritant to his uneasiness in the lazy
skepticism of the preceding epoch: he detested the dilettantism of men
like Renan and Anatole France, with their degradation of the free
intellect, their joyless mirth, their irony without greatness: a
shameful method, fit for slaves, playing with the chains which they are
impotent to break.
He was too vigorous to be satisfied with doubt, too weak to create the
conviction which, with all his soul, he desired. He asked for it, prayed
for it, demanded it. And the eternal snappers-up of popularity, the
great writers, the sham thinkers at bay, exploited this imperious and
agonized desire, by beating the drums and shouting the clap-trap of
their nostrum. From trestles, each of these Hippocrates bawled that his
was the only true elixir, and decried all the rest. Their secrets were
all equally worthless. None of these pedlars had taken the trouble to
find a new recipe. They had hunted about among their old empty bottles.
The panacea of one was the Catholic Church: another's was legitimate
monarchy: yet another's, the classic tradition. There were queer fellows
who declared that the remedy for all evils lay in the return to Latin.
Others seriously prognosticated, with an enormous word which imposed on
the herd, the domination of the Mediterranean spirit. (They would have
been just as ready at some other time to talk of the Atlantic spirit.)
Against the barbarians of the North and the East they pompously set up
the heirs of a new Roman Empire.... Words, words, all second-hand. The
refuse of the libraries scattered to the winds.--Like all his comrades,
young Jeannin went from one showman to another, listened to their
patter, was sometimes taken in by it, and entered the booth, only to
come out disappointed and rather ashamed of having spent his time and
his money in watching old clowns buffooning in shabby rags. And yet,
such is youth's power of illusion, such was his certainty of gaining
certainty, that he was always taken in by each new promise of each new
vendor of hope. He was very French, of a hypercritical temper, and an
innate lover of order. He needed a leader and could bear none; his
pitiless irony always riddled them through and through.
While he was waiting for the advent of a leader who should give him the
key to the riddle ... he had no time to wait. He was not the kind of
man, like his father, to be satisfied with the lifelong search for
truth. With or without a motive, he needed always to make up his mind,
to act, to turn to account, to use his energy. Traveling, the delight of
art, and especially of music, with which he had gorged himself, had at
first been to him an intermittent and passionate diversion. He was
handsome, ardent, precocious, beset with temptations, and he early
discovered the outwardly enchanting world of love, and plunged into it
with an unbridled, poetic, greedy joy. Then this impertinently naive and
insatiable cherub wearied of women: he needed action, so he gave himself
up uncontrollably to sport. He tried everything, practised everything.
He was always going to fencing and boxing matches: he was the French
champion runner and high-jumper, and captain of a football team. He
competed with a number of other crazy, reckless, rich young men like
himself in ridiculous, wild motor races. Finally he threw up everything
for the latest fad, and was drawn into the popular craze for flying
machines. At the Rheims meetings he shouted and wept for joy with three
hundred thousand other men; he felt that he was one with the whole
people in a religious jubilation; the human birds flying over their
heads bore them upwards in their flight: for the first time since the
dawn of the great Revolution the vast multitude had raised their eyes to
the heavens and seen them open.--To his mother's terror young Jeannin
declared that he was going to throw in his lot with the conquerors of
the air. Jacqueline implored him to give up his perilous ambition. She
ordered him to do so. He took the bit between his teeth. Christophe, in
whom Jacqueline thought she had found an ally, only gave the boy a
little prudent advice, which he felt quite sure Georges would not follow
(for, in his place, he would not have done so). He did not deem that he
had any right,--even had he been able to do so--to fetter the healthy
and normal expansion of the boy's vitality, which, if it had been forced
into inaction, would have been perverted to his destruction.
Jacqueline could not reconcile herself to seeing her son leave her. She
had vainly thought that she had renounced love, for she could not do
without the illusion of love; all her affections, all her actions were
tinged with it. There are so many mothers who expend on their sons all
the secret ardor which they have been unable to give forth in
marriage--or out of it! And when they see how easily their sons do
without them, when suddenly they understand that they are not necessary
to them, they go through the same kind of crisis as befalls them upon
the betrayal of a lover, or the disillusion of love.--Once more
Jacqueline's whole existence crumbled away. Georges saw nothing. Young
people never have any idea of the tragedies of the heart going on around
them: they have no time to stop and see them: and they do not wish to
see: a selfish instinct bids them march straight on without looking to
right or left.
Jacqueline was left alone to gulp down this new sorrow. She only emerged
from it when her grief was worn out, worn out like her love. She still
loved her son, but with a distant, disillusioned affection, which she
knew to be futile, and she lost all interest in herself and him. So she
dragged through a wretched, miserable year, without his paying her any
heed. And then, poor creature, since her heart could neither live nor
die without love, she was forced to find something to love. She fell
victim to a strange passion, such as often takes possession of women,
and especially, it would seem, of the noblest and most inaccessible,
when maturity comes and the fair fruit of life has not been gathered.
She made the acquaintance of a woman who, from their first meeting,
gained an ascendancy over her through her mysterious power of
This woman was about her own age, and she was a nun. She was always busy
with charitable works. A tall, fine, rather stout woman, dark, with
rather bold, handsome features, sharp eyes, a big, sensitive,
ever-smiling mouth, and a masterful chin. She was remarkably
intelligent, and not at all sentimental; she had the malice of a
peasant, a keen business sense, and a southern imagination, which saw
everything in exaggeration, though always exactly to scale when
necessary: she was a strangely enticing mixture of lofty mysticism and
lawyer's cunning. She was used to domination, and the exercise of it was
a habit with her. Jacqueline was drawn to her at once. She became
enthusiastic over her work, or, at least, believed herself to be so.
Sister Angele knew perfectly what was the object of her passion: she was
used to provoking them; and without seeming to notice them, she used
skilfully to turn them to account for her work and the glory of God.
Jacqueline gave up her money, her will, her heart. She was charitable,
so she believed, through love.
It was not long before her infatuation was observed. She was the only
person not to realize it. Georges's guardian became anxious. Georges was
too generous and too easy to worry about money matters, though he saw
his mother's subjection, and was shocked by it. He tried, too late in
the day, to resume his old intimacy with her, and saw that a veil was
drawn between them; he blamed the occult influence for it, and, both
against his mother and the nun, whom he called an intriguer, he
conceived a feeling of irritation which he made no attempt to disguise:
he could not admit a stranger to his place in a heart that he had
regarded as his natural right. It never occurred to him that his place
was taken because he had left it. Instead of trying patiently to win it
back, he was clumsy and cruel. Quick words passed between mother and
son, both of whom were hasty and passionate, and the rupture grew
marked. Sister Angele established her ascendancy over Jacqueline, and
Georges rushed away and kicked over the traces. He plunged into a
restless, dissipated life; gambled, lost large sums of money; he put a
certain amount of exaggeration into his extravagances, partly for his
own pleasure and partly to counterbalance his mother's
extravagances.--He knew the Stevens-Delestrades. Colette had marked down
the handsome boy, and tried the effect on him of her charms, which she
never wearied of using. She knew of all Georges's freaks, and was vastly
entertained by them. But her sound common sense and the real kindness
concealed beneath her frivolity, helped her to see the danger the young
idiot was running. And, being well aware that it was beyond her to save
him, she warned Christophe, who came at once.
Christophe was the only person who had any influence over young Jeannin.
His influence was limited and very intermittent, but all the more
remarkable in that it was difficult to explain. Christophe belonged to
the preceding generation against which Georges and his companions were
violently in reaction. He was one of the most conspicuous
representatives of that period of torment whose art and ideas rouse in
them a feeling of suspicion and hostility. He was unmoved by the new
Gospels and the charms of the minor prophets and the old cheapjacks who
were offering the young men an infallible recipe for the salvation of
the world, Rome and France. He was faithful to the free faith, free of
all religion, free of all parties, free of all countries, which was no
longer the fashion--or had never been fashionable. Finally, though he
was altogether removed from national questions, he was a foreigner in
Paris at a time when all foreigners were regarded by the natives of the
country as barbarians.
And yet, young Jeannin, joyous, easy-going, instinctively hostile to
everything that might make him sad or uneasy, ardent in pursuit of
pleasure, engrossed in violent sports, easily duped by the rhetoric of
his time, in his physical vigor and mental indolence inclined to the
brutal doctrines of French action, nationalist, royalist,
imperialist--(he did not exactly know)--in his heart reflected only one
man: Christophe. His precocious experience and the delicate tact he had
inherited from his mother made him see (without being in the least
disturbed by it) how little worth was the world that he could not live
without, and how superior to it was Christophe. From Olivier he had
inherited a vague uneasiness, which visited him in sudden fits that
never lasted very long, a need of finding and deciding on some definite
aim for what he was doing. And perhaps it was from Olivier that he had
also inherited the mysterious instinct which drew him towards the man whom
Olivier had loved.
He used to go and see Christophe. He was expansive by nature, and of a
rather chattering temper, and he loved indulging in confidences. He
never troubled to think whether Christophe had time to listen to him.
But Christophe always did listen, and never gave any sign of impatience.
Only sometimes he would be rather absent-minded when Georges had
interrupted him in his work, but never for more than a few minutes, when
his mind would be away putting the finishing touches to its work: then
it would return to Georges, who never noticed its absence. He used to
laugh at the evasion, and come back like a man tiptoeing into the room,
so as not to be heard. But once or twice Georges did notice it, and then
he said indignantly:
"But you are not listening!"
Then Christophe was ashamed: and docilely he would listen to Georges's
story, and try to win his forgiveness by redoubled attention. The
stories were often very funny: and Christophe could not help laughing at
the tale of some wild freak: for Georges kept nothing back: his
frankness was disarming.
Christophe did not always laugh. Georges's conduct sometimes pained him.
Christophe was no saint: he knew he had no right to moralize over
anybody. Georges's love affairs, and the scandalous waste of his fortune
in folly, were not what shocked him most. What he found it most hard to
forgive was the light-mindedness with which Georges regarded his sins:
they were no burden to him: he thought them very natural. His conception
of morality was very different from Christophe's. He was one of those
young men who are fain to see in the relation of the sexes nothing more
than a game that has no moral aspect whatever. A certain frankness and a
careless kindliness were all that was necessary for an honest man. He
was not troubled with Christophe's scruples. Christophe would wax wrath.
In vain did he try not to impose his way of feeling upon others: he
could not be tolerant, and his old violence was only half tamed. Every
now and then he would explode. He could not help seeing how dirty were
some of Georges's intrigues, and he used bluntly to tell him so. Georges
was no more patient than he, and they used to have angry scenes, after
which they would not see each other for weeks. Christophe would realize
that his outbursts were not likely to change Georges's conduct, and that
it was perhaps unjust to subject the morality of a period to the moral
ideas of another generation. But his feeling was too strong for him, and
on the next opportunity he would break out again. How can one renounce
the faith for which one has lived? That were to renounce life. What is
the good of laboring to think thoughts other than one's own, to be like
one's neighbor or to meddle with his affairs? That leads to
self-destruction, and no one is benefited by it. The first duty is to be
what one is, to dare to say: "This is good, that bad." One profits the
weak more by being strong than by sharing their weakness. Be indulgent,
if you like, towards weakness and past sins. But never compromise with
Yes: but Georges never by any chance consulted Christophe about anything
he was going to do:--(did he know himself?).--He only told him about
things when they were done.--And then?... Then, what could he do but
look in dumb reproach at the culprit, and shrug his shoulders and smile,
like an old uncle who knows that he is not heeded?
On such occasions they would sit for several minutes in silence. Georges
would look up at Christophe's grave eyes, which seemed to be gazing at
him from far away. And he would feel like a little boy in his presence.
He would see himself as he was, in that penetrating glance, which was
shot with a gleam of malice: and he was not proud of it.
Christophe hardly ever made use of Georges's confidences against him; it
was often as though he had not heard them. After the mute dialogue of
their eyes, he would shake his head mockingly, and then begin to tell a
story without any apparent bearing on the story he had just been told,
some story about his life, or some one else's life, real or fictitious.
And gradually Georges would see his double (he recognized it at once)
under a new light, grotesquely, ridiculously postured, passing through
vagaries similar to his own. Christophe never added any commentary. The
extraordinary kindliness of the story-teller would produce far more
effect than the story. He would speak of himself just as he spoke of
others, with the same detachment, the same jovial, serene humor. Georges
was impressed by his tranquillity. It was for this that he came. When he
had unburdened himself of his light-hearted confession, he was like a
man stretching out his limbs and lying at full length in the shade of a
great tree on a summer afternoon. The dazzling fever of the scorching
day would fall away from him. Above him he would feel the hovering of
protecting wings. In the presence of this man who so peacefully bore the
heavy burden of his life, he was sheltered from his own inward
restlessness. He found rest only in hearing him speak. He did not always
listen: his mind would wander, but wheresoever it went, it was
surrounded by Christophe's laughter.
However, he did not understand his old friend's ideas. He used to wonder
how Christophe could bear his soul's solitude, and dispense with being
bound to any artistic, political, or religious party, or any group of
men. He used to ask him: "Don't you ever want to take refuge in a camp
of some sort?"
"Take refuge?" Christophe would say with a laugh. "It is much too good
outside. And you, an open-air man, talk of shutting yourself up?"
"Ah!" Georges would reply. "It is not the same thing for body and soul.
The mind needs certainty: it needs to think with others, to adhere to
the principles admitted by all the men of the time. I envy the men of
old days, the men of the classic ages. My friends are right in their
desire to restore the order of the past."
"Milksop!" said Christophe. "What have I to do with such disheartened
"I am not disheartened," protested Georges indignantly. "None of us is
"But you must be," said Christophe, "to be afraid of yourselves. What!
You need order and cannot create it for yourselves? You must always be
clinging to your great-grandmother's skirts! Dear God! You must walk
"One must take root," said Georges, proudly echoing one of the pontiffs
of the time.
"But do you think the trees need to be shut up in a box to take root?
The earth is there for all of us. Plunge your roots into it. Find your
own laws. Look to yourself."
"I have no time," said Georges.
"You are afraid," insisted Christophe.
Georges indignantly denied it, but in the end he agreed that he had no
taste for examining his inmost soul: he could not understand what
pleasure there could be in it: there was the danger of falling over if
you looked down into the abyss.
"Give me your hand," said Christophe.
He would amuse himself by opening the trap-door of his realistic, tragic
vision of life. Georges would draw away from it, and Christophe would
shut it down again, laughing:
"How can you live like that?" Georges would ask.
"I am alive, and I am happy," Christophe would reply.
"I should die if I were forced to see things like that always."
Christophe would slap him on the shoulder:
"Fine athlete you are!... Well, don't look, if your head is not strong
enough. There is nothing to make you, after all. Go ahead, my boy. But
do you need a master to brand your shoulder, like a sheep? What is the
word of command you are waiting for? The signal was given long ago. The
signal to saddle has sounded, and the cavalry is on the march. Don't
worry about anything but your horse. Take your place! And gallop!"
"But where to?" asked Georges.
"With your regiment to the conquest of the world. Conquer the air,
master the elements, dig the last entrenchment of Nature, set back
space, drive back death....
"_Expertus vacuum Dadalus aera_...."
"... Do you know that, you champion of Latin? Can you even tell me what
"That is your lot, you happy _conquistadores_!"
So clearly did he show the duty of heroic action that had devolved upon
the new generation, that Georges was amazed, and said:
"But if you feel that, why don't you come with us?"
"Because I have a different task. Go, my boy, do your work. Surpass me,
if you can. But I stay here and watch.... Have you read the Arabian
Night in which a genii, as tall as a mountain, is imprisoned in a bottle
sealed with the seal of Solomon?... The genii is here, in the depths of
our soul, the soul into which you are afraid to look down. I and the men
of my time spent our lives in struggling with him: we did not conquer
him: he conquered us. At present we are both recovering our breath, and,
with no rancor nor fear, we are looking at each other, satisfied with
the struggles in which we have been engaged, waiting for the agreed
armistice to expire. You are profiting by the armistice to gather your
strength and cull the world's beauty. Be happy. Enjoy the lull. But
remember that one day, you or your children, on your return from your
conquests, will have to come back to the place where I stand and resume
the combat, with new forces, against the genii by whose side I watch and
wait. And the combat will endure with intervals of armistice until one
of the two (perhaps both) will be laid low. It is your duty to be
stronger and happier than we!...--Meanwhile, indulge in your sport if
you like: stiffen your muscles and strengthen your heart: and do not be
so foolish as to waste your impatient vigor upon silly trifles: you
belong to an age that, if you are patient, will find a use for it."
* * * * *
Georges did not remember much of what Christophe said to him. He was
open-minded enough to grasp Christophe's ideas, but they escaped him at
once. He forgot everything before he reached the bottom of the stairs.
But all the same, he had a feeling of well-being, which endured when the
memory of the words that had produced it had long been wiped out. He had
a real veneration for Christophe. He believed in nothing that Christophe
believed in (at heart he laughed at everything and had no belief). But
he would have broken the head of any man who took upon himself to speak
ill of his old friend.
Fortunately, no one did speak ill of him in his presence, otherwise he
would have been kept busy.
* * * * *
Christophe had accurately forecast the next change of the wind. The new
ideal of the new French music was very different from his own; but while
that was a reason the more for Christophe to sympathize with it, its
exponents had no sympathy with him. His vogue with the public was not
likely to reconcile the most hungry for recognition of these young men
to him; they were meagerly fed, and their teeth were long, and they bit.
Christophe was not put out by their spite.
"How thoroughly they do it!" he would say. "These boys are cutting their
He was inclined to prefer them to the other puppies who fawned on him
because of his success--those people of whom D'Aubigne writes, who
"_when a mastiff plunges his nose into a butter-pot, come and lick his
whiskers by way of congratulation._"
He had a piece accepted at the Opera. Almost at once it was put into
rehearsal. Through a newspaper attack Christophe learned that a certain
young composer's piece had been postponed for it. The writer of the
article waxed indignant over such abuse of power, and made Christophe
responsible for it.
Christophe went to see the manager, and said:
"Why didn't you tell me? You must not do it. You must put on the opera
you accepted before mine."
The manager protested, began to laugh, refused, covered Christophe's
character, work, genius, with flattery, and said that the other man's
work was beneath contempt, and assured him that it was worthless and
would not make a sou.
"Why did you accept it then?"
"One can't always do as one likes. Every now and then one has to throw a
sop to public opinion. Formerly these young men could shout as much as
they pleased. And no one listened to them. But now they are able to let
loose on us the nationalist Press, which roars 'Treason' and calls you a
disloyal Frenchman because you happen to have the misfortune to be
unable to go into ecstasies over the younger school. The younger school!
Let's look at it!... Shall I tell you what I think of it? I'm sick of
it! So is the public. They bore us with their _Oremus!_... There's
no blood in their veins; they're like sacristans chanting Mass: their
love ducts are like the _De Profundis_.... If I were fool enough to
put on the pieces I am compelled to accept, I should ruin my theater. I
accept them: that is all they can ask.--Let us talk of something
serious. Your work means a full house...."
And he went on with his compliments.
Christophe cut him short, and said angrily:
"I am not taken in. Now that I am old and have 'arrived,' you are using
me to suppress the young men. When I was a young man you would have
suppressed me in just the same way. You must play this boy's piece, or I
shall withdraw my own."
The manager threw up his hands, and said:
"But don't you see that if we did what you want, it would look as if we
were giving in to these newspaper attacks?"
"What do I care?" said Christophe.
"As you please! You will be their first victim."
They put the young musician's piece into rehearsal without interrupting
the preparation of Christophe's. One was in three acts, the other in
two: it was arranged to include them both in one program. Christophe
went to see the young man, for he wanted to be the first to give him the
news. The musician was loud in his promises of eternal gratitude.
Naturally Christophe could not make the manager not devote all his
attention to his piece. The interpretation and the scenery of the other
were rather scamped. Christophe knew nothing about it. He asked to be
allowed to be present at a few rehearsals of the young man's opera: he
thought it very mediocre, as he had been told: he ventured to give a
little advice which was ill-received: he gave it up then, and did not
interfere again. On the other hand, the manager had made the young man
admit the necessity for a little cutting to have his piece produced in
time. Though the sacrifice was easily consented to at first, it was not
long before the author regretted it.
On the evening of the performance the beginner's piece had no success,
and Christophe's caused a sensation. Some of the papers attacked
Christophe: they spoke of a trick, a plot to suppress a great young
French artist: they said that his work had been mutilated to please the
German master, whom they represented to be basely jealous of the coming
fame of all the new men. Christophe shrugged his shoulders and thought:
"He will reply."
"He" did not reply. Christophe sent him one of the paragraphs with these
"Have you read this?"
The other replied:
"How sorry I am! The writer of it has always been so well disposed
towards me! Really, I am very sorry. The best thing is to pay no
attention to it."
Christophe laughed and thought: "He is right! The little sneak."
And he decided to forget all about it.
But chance would have it that Georges, who seldom read the papers, and
that hastily, except for the sporting articles, should light on the most
violent attacks on Christophe. He knew the writer. He went to the cafe
where he knew he would meet him, found him, struck him, fought a duel
with him, and gave him a nasty scratch on the shoulder with his rapier.
Next day, at breakfast, Christophe had a letter from a friend telling
him of the affair. He was overcome. He left his breakfast and hurried to
see Georges. Georges himself opened the door. Christophe rushed in like
a whirlwind, seized him by the arms, and shook him angrily, and began to
overwhelm him with a storm of furious reproaches.
"You little wretch!" he cried. "You have fought a duel for me! Who gave
you leave! A boy, a fly-by-night, to meddle in my affairs! Do you think
I can't look after myself? What good have you done? You have done this
rascal the honor of fighting him. He asked no more. You have made him a
hero. Idiot! And if it had chanced ... (I am sure you rushed at it like
a madman as usual) ... if you had been wounded, killed perhaps!... You
wretch! I should never have forgiven you as long as you lived!..."
Georges laughed uproariously at this last threat, and was so overcome
with merriment, that he cried:
"My dear old friend, how funny you are! Ah! You're unique! Here are you
insulting me for having defended you! Next time I shall attack you.
Perhaps you'll embrace me then."
Christophe stopped and hugged Georges, and kissed him on both cheeks,
and then once more he said:
"My boy!... Forgive me. I am an old idiot.... But my blood boiled when I
heard the news. What made you think of fighting? You don't fight with
such people. Promise me at once that you will never do it again."
"I'll promise nothing of the kind," said Georges. "I shall do as I
"I forbid it. Do you hear? If you do it again, I'll never see you again.
I shall publicly disown you in the newspapers I shall...."
"You will disinherit me, you mean."
"Come, Georges. Please. What's the good of it?"
"My dear old friend, you are a thousand times a better man than I am,
and you know infinitely more: but I know these people better than you
do. Make yourself easy. It will do some good. They will think a little
now before they let loose their poisonous insults upon you."
"But what can these idiots do to me? I laugh at anything they may say."
"But I don't. And you must mind your own business."
Thereafter Christophe lived on tenterhooks lest some fresh article might
rouse Georges's susceptibilities. It was quite comic to see him during
the next few days going to a cafe and devouring the newspapers, which he
never read as a rule, ready to go to all lengths (even to trickery) if
he found an insulting article, to prevent it reaching Georges. After a
week he recovered his equanimity. The boy was right. His action had
given the yelping curs food for a moment's reflection.--And, though
Christophe went on grumbling at the young lunatic who had made him waste
eight working days, he said to himself that, after all, he had no right
to lecture him. He remembered a certain day, not so very long ago, when
he himself had fought a duel for Olivier's sake. And he thought he heard
Olivier's voice saying:
"Let be, Christophe. I am giving you back what you lent me!"
* * * * *
Though Christophe took the attacks on himself lightly, there was one
other man who was very far from such disinterestedness. This was
The evolution of European thought was progressing swiftly. It was as
though it had been accelerated by mechanical inventions and the new
motors. The stock of prejudices and hopes which in old days were enough
to feed humanity for twenty years was now exhausted in five years. The
generations of the mind were galloping ahead, one behind the other,
often one trampling the other down, with Time sounding the
charge.--Emmanuel had been left behind.
The singer of French energy had never denied the idealism of his master,
Olivier. Passionate as was his national feeling, he identified himself
with his worship of moral greatness. If in his poetry he loudly
proclaimed the triumph of France, it was because in her, by an act of
faith, he adored the loftiest ideas of modern Europe, the Athena Nike,
the victorious Law which takes its revenge on Force.--And now Force had
awakened in the very heart of Law, and it was springing up in all its
savage nakedness. The new generation, robust and disciplined, was
longing for combat, and, before its victory was won, had the attitude of
mind of the conqueror. This generation was proud of its strength, its
thews, its mighty chest, its vigorous senses so thirsting for delight,
its wings like the wings of a bird of prey hovering over the plains,
waiting to swoop down and try its talons. The prowess of the race, the
mad flights over the Alps and the sea, the new crusades, not much less
mystic, not much less interested than those of Philip Augustus and
Villehardouin, had turned the nation's head. The children of the nation
who had never seen war except in books had no difficulty in endowing it
with beauty. They became aggressive. Weary of peace and ideas, they
hymned the anvil of battle, on which, with bloody fists, action would
one day new-forge the power of France. In reaction against the
disgusting abuse of systems of ideas, they raised contempt of the idea
to the level of a profession of faith. Blusteringly they exalted narrow
common sense, violent realism, immodest national egoism, trampling
underfoot the rights of others and other nations, when it served the
turn of their country's greatness. They were xenophobes, anti-democrats,
and--even the most skeptical of them--set up the return to Catholicism,
in the practical necessity for "digging channels for the absolute," and
shutting up the infinite under the surveillance of order and authority.
They were not content to despise--they regarded the gentle dotards of
the preceding generation, the visionary idealists, the humanitarian
thinkers of the preceding generation, as public malefactors. Emmanuel
was among them in the eyes of the young men. He suffered cruelly and was
The knowledge that Christophe was, like himself,--more than himself--the
victim of their injustice, made him sympathetic. His ungraciousness had
discouraged Christophe's visits. He was too proud to show his regret by
seeking him out. But he contrived to meet him, as if by chance, and
forced Christophe to make the first advances. Thereafter his umbrageous
susceptibilities were at rest, and he did not conceal the pleasure he
had in Christophe's company. Thereafter they often met in each other's
Emmanuel confided his bitterness to Christophe. He was exasperated by
certain criticisms, and, thinking that Christophe was not sufficiently
moved by them, he made him read some of the newspaper appreciations of
himself. Christophe was accused of not knowing the grammar of his work,
of being ignorant of harmony, of having stolen from other musicians,
and, generally, of dishonoring music. He was called: "This old
toss-brain...." They said: "We have had enough of these convulsionaries.
We are order, reason, classic balance...."
Christophe was vastly entertained.
"It is the law," he said. "The young bury the old.... In my day, it is
true, we waited until a man was sixty before we called him an old man.
They are going faster, nowadays.... Wireless telegraphy, aeroplanes....
A generation is more quickly exploded.... Poor devils! They won't last
long! Let them despise us and strut about in the sun!"
But Emmanuel had not his sanity. Though he was fearless in thought, he
was a prey to his diseased nerves; with his ardent soul in his rickety
body, he was driven on to the fight and was unfitted for it. The
animosity of certain opinions of his work drew blood.
"Ah!" he would say. "If the critics knew the harm they do artists by the
unjust words they throw out so recklessly, they would be ashamed of
"But they do know, my friend. That is the justification of their
existence. Everybody must live."
"They are butchers. One is drenched with the blood of life, worn out by
the struggle we have to wage with art. Instead of holding out their
hands to us, and compassionately telling us of our faults, and brotherly
helping us to mend them, they stand there with their hands in their
pockets and watch you dragging your burden up the slope, and say: 'You
can't do it!' And when you reach the top, some of them say: 'Yes, but
that is not the way to climb up.' While the others go on blandly saying:
'You couldn't do it!...' You're lucky if they don't send great stones
rolling down on you to send you flying!"
"Bah! There are plenty of good men among them, and think of the good
they can do! There are bad men everywhere. They're not peculiar to
criticism. Do you know anything worse than an ungenerous, vain, and
embittered artist, to whom the world is only loot, that he is furious
because he cannot grab? You must don patience for your protection. There
is no evil but it may be of good service. The worst of the critics is
useful to us; he is a trainer: he does not let us loiter by the way.
Whenever we think we have reached the goal, the pack hound us on. Get
on! Onward! Upward! They are more likely to weary of running after me
than I am of marching ahead of them. Remember the Arabian proverb:
_'It is no use flogging sterile trees. Only those are stoned whose
front is crowned with golden fruit....'_ Let us pity the artists who
are spared. They will stay half-way, lazily sitting down. When they try
to get up their legs will be so stiff that they will be unable to walk.
Long live my friend the enemy! They do me more good in my life than the
enemy, my friend!"
Emmanuel could not help smiling. Then he said:
"All the same, don't you think it hard for a veteran like you to be
taken to task by recruits who are just approaching their first battle?"
"They amuse me," said Christophe. "Such arrogance is the mark of young,
hot blood tingling to be up and doing. I was like that once. They are
like the showers of March falling on the new-born soil.... Let them take
us to task! They are right, after all. Old people must learn from the
young! They have profited by us, and are ungrateful: that is in the
order of things. But, being enriched by our efforts, they will go
farther than we, and will realize what we attempted. If we still have
some youth left, let us learn in our turn, and try to rejuvenate
ourselves. If we cannot, if we are too old, let us rejoice in them. It
is fine to see the perpetual new-flowering of the human soul that
seemed, exhausted, the vigorous optimism of these young men, their
delight in action and adventures, the races springing to new life for
the conquest of the world."
"What would they be without us? Their joy is the fruit of our tears.
Their proud force is the flower of the sufferings of a whole generation.
_Sic vos non nobis_...."
"The old saying is wrong. It is for ourselves that we worked, and our
reward lies in the creation of a race of men who shall surpass us. We
amassed their treasury, we hoarded it in a wretched hovel open to all
the winds of Heaven: we had to strain every nerve to keep the doors
closed against death. Our arms carved out the triumphal way along which
our sons shall march. Our sufferings have saved the future. We have
borne the Ark to the threshold of the Promised Land. It will reach that
Land with them, and through us."
"Will they ever remember those who crossed the wilderness, bearing the
sacred fire, the gods of our race, and them, those children, who now are
men? For our share we have had tribulation and ingratitude."
"Do you regret it?"
"No. There is a sort of intoxication in the tragic grandeur of the
sacrifice of a mighty epoch like ours to the epoch that it has brought
into being. The men of to-day would not be more capable of tasting the
sovereign joy of renunciation."
"We have been the happier. We have scaled Mount Nebo, at whose feet lie
stretched the countries that we shall never enter. But we enjoy them
more than those who will enter them. When you descend to the plain, you
lose sight of the plain's immensity and the far horizon."
* * * * *
The soothing influence that Christophe exercised over Georges and
Emmanuel had the source of its power in Grazia's love. It was through
this love that he felt himself so near to all young things, and had an
inexhaustible fund of sympathy for every new form of life. Whatever the
forces might be that rekindled the earth, he was always with them, even
when they were against him: he had no fear for the immediate future of
the democracies, that future which caused such an outcry against the
egoism of a handful of privileged men: he did not cling desperately to
the paternosters of an old art: he felt quite sure that from the
fabulous visions, the realized dreams of science and action, a new art,
more puissant than the old, would spring forth: he hailed the new dawn
of the world, even though the beauty of the old world were to die with
Grazia knew the good that her love did for Christophe: and this
consciousness of her power lifted her out of herself. Through her
letters she exercised a controlling power over her friend. She was not
so absurdly pretentious as to try to control his art: she had too much
tact, and knew her limitations. But her true, pure voice was the
diapason to which he attuned his soul. Christophe had only to hear her
voice echoing his thought to think nothing that was not just, pure, and
worthy of repetition. The sound of a beautiful instrument is to a
musician like a beautiful body in which his dream at once becomes
incarnate. Mysterious is the fusion of two loving spirits: each takes
the best from the other, but only to give it back again enriched with
love. Grazia was not afraid to tell Christophe that she loved him.
Distance gave her more freedom of speech, and also, the certain
knowledge that she would never be his. Her love, the religious fervor of
which was communicated to Christophe, was a fountain of force and peace
Grazia gave to others more of such force and peace than she had herself.
Her health was shattered, her moral balance seriously affected. Her
son's condition did not improve. For the last two years she had lived in
a perpetual state of anxiety, aggravated by Lionello's fatal skill in
playing on it. He had acquired a consummate mastery of the art of
keeping those who loved him on tenterhooks: his idle mind was most
fertile in inventing ways of rousing interest in himself and tormenting
others: it had become a mania with him. And the tragedy of it was, that,
while he aped the ravages of disease, the disease did make real inroads
upon him, and death peeped forth. Then the expected happened: Grazia,
having been tortured by her son for years with his imaginary illness,
ceased to believe in it when the illness really came. The heart has its
limitations. She had exhausted her store of pity over his lies. She
thought Lionello was still a comedian when he spoke the truth. And when
the truth was revealed to her, the rest of her life was poisoned by
Lionello's malice had not laid aside its weapons. Having no love for any
one in the world, he could not bear any of those near him to feel love
for any one else: jealousy was his only passion. It was not enough for
him to have separated his mother and Christophe: he tried to force her
to break off the intimacy which subsisted between them. Already he had
employed his usual weapon--his illness--to make Grazia swear that she
would not marry again. He was not satisfied with her promise. He tried
to force his mother to give up writing to Christophe. On this she
rebelled; and, being delivered by such an attempted abuse of power, she
spoke harshly and severely to Lionello about his habit of lying, and,
later on, regarded herself as a criminal for having done so: for her
words flung Lionello into a fit of fury which made him really ill. His
illness grew worse as he saw that his mother did not believe in it.
Then, in his fury, he longed to die so as to avenge himself. He never
thought that his wish would be granted.
When the doctor told Grazia that there was no hope for her son, she was
dumfounded. But she had to disguise her despair in order to deceive the