Part 11 out of 12
choked himself with his oaths. Never had she known him to be angry and to
stand out against her. She was aghast and surrendered her prize. But she
did not mince her words with him. She told him he was an old fool and said
that hitherto she had thought she had to do with a gentleman, but that now
she saw her mistake; that he said things which would make a plowman blush,
that his eyes were starting from his head, and if they had been pistols
would have killed her.... She would have gone on for a long time in that
strain if he had not got up furiously on his pillow and shouted at her:
"Go!" in so peremptory a voice that she went, slamming the door and
declaring that he might call her as much as he liked, only she would not
put herself out and would leave him alone to kick the bucket.
Then silence descended upon the darkening room. Once more the bells pealed
placidly and grotesquely through the calm evening. A little ashamed of his
anger, old Schulz was lying on his back, motionless, waiting, breathless,
for the tumult in his heart to die down. He was clasping the precious
_Lieder_ to his breast and laughing like a child.
* * * * *
He spent the following days of solitude in a sort of ecstasy. He thought no
more of his illness, of the winter, of the gray light, or of his
loneliness. Everything was bright and filled with love about him. So near
to death, he felt himself living again in the young soul of an unknown
He tried to imagine Christophe. He did not see him as anything like what
he was. He saw him rather as an idealized version of himself, as he would
have liked to be: fair, slim, with blue eyes, and a gentle, quiet voice,
soft, timid and tender. He idealized everything about him: his pupils,
his neighbors, his friends, his old servant. His gentle, affectionate
disposition and his want of the critical faculty--in part voluntary, so as
to avoid any disturbing thought--surrounded him with serene, pure images
like himself. It was the kindly lying which he needed if he were to live.
He was not altogether deceived by it, and often in his bed at night he
would sigh as he thought of a thousand little things which had happened
during the day to contradict his idealism. He knew quite well that old
Salome used to laugh at him behind his back with her gossips, and that
she used to rob him regularly every week. He knew that his pupils were
obsequious with him while they had need of him, and that after they had
received all the services they could expect from him they deserted him.
He knew that his former colleagues at the university had forgotten him
altogether since he had retired, and that his successor attacked him in his
articles, not by name, but by some treacherous allusion, and by quoting
some worthless thing that he had said or by pointing out his mistakes--(a
procedure very common in the world of criticism). He knew that his told
friend Kunz had lied to him that very afternoon, and that he would never
see again the books which his other friend, Pottpetschmidt, had borrowed
for a few days,--which was hard for a man who, like himself, was as
attached to his books as to living people. Many other sad things, old or
new, would come to him. He tried not to think of them, but they were there
all the same. He was conscious of them. Sometimes the memory of them would
pierce him like some rending sorrow.
"Oh! My God! My God!..."
He would groan in the silence of the night.--And then fee would discard
such hurtful thoughts; he would deny them; he would try to be confident,
and optimistic, and to believe in human truth; and he would believe.
How often had his illusions been brutally destroyed!--But always others
springing into life, always, always.... He could not do without them.
The unknown Christophe became a fire of warmth to his life. The first cold,
ungracious letter which he received from him would have hurt him--(perhaps
it did so)--but he would not admit it, and it gave him a childish joy. He
was so modest and asked so little of men that the little he received from
them was enough to feed his need of loving and being grateful to them. To
see Christophe was a happiness which he had never dared to hope for, for
he was too old now to journey to the banks of the Rhine, and as for asking
Christophe to come to him, the idea had never even occurred to him.
Christophe's telegram reached him in the evening, just as he was sitting
down to dinner. He did not understand at first. He thought he did not know
the signature. He thought there was some mistake, that the telegram was not
for him. He read it three times. In his excitement his spectacles would not
stay on his nose. The lamp gave a very bad light, and the letters danced
before his eyes. When he did understand he was so overwhelmed that he
forgot to eat. In vain did Salome shout at him. He could not swallow a
morsel. He threw his napkin on the table, unfolded,--a thing he never did.
He got up, hobbled to get his hat and stick, and went out. Old Schulz's
first thought on receiving such good news was to go and share it with
others, and to tell his friends of Christophe's coming.
He had two friends who were music mad like himself, and he had succeeded in
making them share his enthusiasm for Christophe. Judge Samuel Kunz and the
dentist, Oscar Pottpetschmidt, who was an excellent singer. The three old
friends had often talked about Christophe, and they had played all his
music that they could find. Pottpetschmidt sang, Schulz accompanied, and
Kunz listened. They would go into ecstasies for hours together. How often
had they said while they were playing:
"Ah! If only Krafft were here!"
Schulz laughed to himself in the street for the joy he had and was going to
give. Night was falling, and Kunz lived in a little village half an hour
away from the town. But the sky was clear; it was a soft April evening.
The nightingales were singing. Old Schulz's heart was overflowing with
happiness. He breathed without difficulty, he walked like a boy. He strode
along gleefully, without heeding the stones against which he kicked in the
darkness. He turned blithely into the side of the road when carts came
along, and exchanged a merry greeting with the drivers, who looked at him
in astonishment when the lamps showed the old man climbing up the bank of
Night was fully come when he reached Kunz's house, a little way out of the
village in a little garden. He drummed on the door and shouted at the top
of his voice. A window was opened and Kunz appeared in alarm. He peered
through the door and asked:
"Who is there? What is it?"
Schulz was out of breath, but he called gladly:
"Krafft--Krafft is coming to-morrow...." Kunz did not understand; but he
recognized the voice:
"Schulz!... What! At this hour? What is it?" Schulz repeated:
"To-morrow, he is coming to-morrow morning!...'
"What?" asked Kunz, still mystified.
"Krafft!" cried Schulz.
Kunz pondered the word for a moment; then a loud exclamation showed that he
"I am coming down!" he shouted.
The window was closed. He appeared on the steps with a lamp in his hand and
came down into the garden. He was a little stout old man, with a large gray
head, a red beard, red hair on his face and hands. He took little steps and
he was smoking a porcelain pipe. This good natured, rather sleepy little
man had never worried much about anything. For all that, the news brought
by Schulz excited him; he waved his short arms and his lamp and asked:
"What? Is it him? Is he really coming?"
"To-morrow morning!" said Schulz, triumphantly waving the telegram.
The two old friends went and sat on a seat in the arbor. Schulz took the
lamp. Kunz carefully unfolded the telegram and read it slowly in a whisper.
Schulz read it again aloud over his shoulder. Kunz went on looking at the
paper, the marks on the telegram, the time when it had been sent, the time
when it had arrived, the number of words. Then he gave the precious paper
back to Schulz, who was laughing happily, looked at him and wagged his head
"Ah! well ... Ah! well!..."
After a moment's thought and after drawing in and expelling a cloud of
tobacco smoke he put his hand on Schulz's knee and said:
"We must tell Pottpetschmidt."
"I was going to him," said Schulz.
"I will go with you," said Kunz.
He went in and put down his lamp and came back immediately. The two old men
went on arm in arm. Pottpetschmidt lived at the other end of the village.
Schulz and Kunz exchanged a few absent words, but they were both pondering
the news. Suddenly Kunz stopped and whacked on the ground with his stick:
"Oh! Lord!" he said.... "He is away!"
He had remembered that Pottpetschmidt had had to go away that afternoon for
an operation at a neighboring town where he had to spend the night and stay
a day or two. Schulz was distressed. Kunz was equally put out. They were
proud of Pottpetschmidt; they would have liked to show him off. They stood
in the middle of the road and could not make up their minds what to do.
"What shall we do? What shall we do?" asked Kunz.
"Krafft absolutely must hear Pottpetschmidt," said Schulz.
He thought for a moment and said:
"We must sent him a telegram."
They went to the post office and together they composed a long and excited
telegram of which it was very difficult to understand a word, Then they
went back. Schulz reckoned:
"He could be here to-morrow morning if he took the first train."
But Kunz pointed out that it was too late and that the telegram would not
be sent until the morning. Schulz nodded, and they said:
They parted at Kunz's door; for in spite of his friendship for Schulz it
did not go so far as to make him commit the imprudence of accompanying
Schulz outside the village, and even to the end of the road by which he
would have had to come back alone in the dark. It was arranged that Kunz
should dine on the morrow with Schulz. Schulz looked anxiously at the sky:
"If only it is fine to-morrow!"
And his heart was a little lighter when Kunz, who was supposed to have a
wonderful knowledge of meteorology, looked gravely at the sky--(for he was
no less anxious than Schulz that Christophe should see their little
countryside in all its beauty)--and said:
"It will be fine to-morrow."
* * * * *
Schulz went along the road to the town and came to it not without having
stumbled more than once in the ruts and the heaps of stones by the wayside.
Before he went home he called in at the confectioner's to order a certain
tart which was the envy of the town. Then he went home, but just as he was
going in he turned back to go to the station to find out the exact time
at which the train arrived. At last he did go home and called Salome and
discussed at length the dinner for the morrow. Then only he went to bed
worn out; but he was as excited as a child on Christmas Eve, and all night
he turned about and about and never slept a wink. About one o'clock in the
morning he thought of getting up to go and tell Salome to cook a stewed
carp for dinner; for she was marvelously successful with that dish. He did
not tell her; and it was as well, no doubt. But he did get up to arrange
all sorts of things in the room he meant to give Christophe; he took
a thousand precautions so that Salome should not hear him, for he was
afraid of being scolded. All night long he was afraid of missing the train
although Christophe could not arrive before eight o'clock. He was up very
early. He first looked at the sky; Kunz had not made a mistake; it was
glorious weather. On tiptoe Schulz went down to the cellar; he had not been
there for a long time, fearing the cold and the steep stairs; he selected
his best wines, knocked his head hard against the ceiling as he came up
again, and thought he was going to choke when he reached the top of the
stairs with his full basket. Then he went to the garden with his shears;
ruthlessly he cut his finest roses and the first branches of lilac in
flower. Then he went up to his room again, shaved feverishly, and cut
himself more than once. He dressed carefully and set out for the station.
It was seven o'clock. Salome had not succeeded in making him take so much
as a drop of milk, for he declared that Christophe would not have had
breakfast when he arrived and that they would have breakfast together when
they came from the station.
He was at the station three-quarters of an hour too soon. He waited and
waited for Christophe and finally missed him. Instead of waiting patiently
at the gate he went on to the platform and lost his head in the crowd of
people coming and going. In spite of the exact information of the telegram
he had imagined, God knows why, that Christophe would arrive by a different
train from that which brought him; and besides it had never occurred to
him that Christophe would get out of a fourth-class carriage. He stayed
on for more than half an hour waiting at the station, when Christophe,
who had long since arrived, had gone straight to his house. As a crowning
misfortune Salome had just gone out to do her shopping; Christophe found
the door shut. The woman next door whom Salome had told to say, in case
any one should ring, that she would soon be back, gave the message without
any addition to it. Christophe, who had not come to see Salome and did
not even know who she was, thought it a very bad joke; he asked if _Herr
Universitaets Musikdirektor_ Schulz was not at home. He was told "Yes," but
the woman could not tell him where he was. Christophe was furious and went
When old Schulz came back with a face an ell long and learned from Salome,
who had just come in too, what had happened he was in despair; he almost
wept. He stormed at his servant for her stupidity in going out while he was
away and not having even given instructions that Christophe was to be kept
waiting. Salome replied in the same way that she could not imagine that he
would be so foolish as to miss a man whom he had gone to meet. But the old
man did not stay to argue with her; without losing a moment he hobbled out
of doors again and went off to look for Christophe armed with the very
vague clues given him by his neighbors.
Christophe had been offended at finding nobody and not even a word of
excuse. Not knowing what to do until the next train he went and walked
about the town and the fields, which, he thought very pretty. It was
a quiet reposeful little town sheltered between gently sloping hills;
there were gardens round the houses, cherry-trees and flowers, green
lawns, beautiful shady trees, pseudo-antique ruins, white busts of bygone
princesses on marble columns in the midst of the trees, with gentle
and pleasing faces. All about the town were meadows, and hills. In the
flowering trees blackbirds whistled joyously, for many little orchestras
of flutes gay and solemn. It was not long before Christophe's ill-humor
vanished; he forgot Peter Schulz.
The old man rushed vainly through the streets questioning people; he went
up to the old castle on the hill above the town, and was coming back in
despair when, with his keen, far-sighted eyes, he saw some distance away a
man lying in a meadow in the shade of a thorn. He did not know Christophe;
he had no means of being sure that it was he. Besides, the man's back
was turned towards him and his face was half hidden in the grass. Schulz
prowled along the road and about the meadow with his heart beating:
"It is he ... No, it is not he..."
He dared not call to him. An idea struck him; he began to sing the last
bars of Christophe's _Lied_:
"_Auf! Auf!_..." (Up! Up!...)
Christophe rose to it like a fish out of the water and shouted the
following bars at the top of his voice. He turned gladly. His face was red
and there was grass in his hair. They called to each other by name and ran
together. Schulz strode across the ditch by the road; Christophe leaped the
fence. They shook hands warmly and went back to the house laughing and
talking loudly. The old man told how he had missed him. Christophe, who a
moment before had decided to go away without making any further attempt to
see Schulz, was at once conscious of his kindness and simplicity and began
to love him. Before they arrived they had already confided many things to
When they reached the house they found Kunz, who, having learned that
Schulz had gone to look for Christophe, was waiting quietly. They were
given _cafe au lait_. But Christophe said that he had breakfasted at an
inn. The old man was upset; it was a real grief to him that Christophe's
first meal in the place should not have been in his house; such small
things were of vast importance to his fond heart. Christophe, who
understood him, was amused by it secretly, and loved him the more for it.
And to console him he assured him that he had appetite enough for two
breakfasts; and he proved his assertion.
All his troubles had gone from his mind; he felt that he was among true
friends and he began to recover. He told them about his journey and his
rebuffs in a humorous way; he looked like a schoolboy on holiday. Schulz
beamed and devoured him with his eyes and laughed heartily.
It was not long before conversation turned upon the secret bond that
united the three of them: Christophe's music. Schulz was longing to hear
Christophe play some of his compositions; but he dared not ask him to do
so. Christophe was striding about the room and talking. Schulz watched him
whenever he went near the open piano; and he prayed inwardly that he might
stop at it. The same thought was in Kunz. Their hearts beat when they saw
him sit down mechanically on the piano stool, without stopping talking, and
then without looking at the instrument run his fingers over the keys at
random. As Schulz expected hardly had Christophe struck a few arpeggios
than the sound took possession of him; he went on striking chords and still
talking; then there came whole phrases; and then he stopped talking and
began to play. The old men exchanged a meaning glance, sly and happy.
"Do you know that?" asked Christophe, playing one of his _Lieder_.
"Do I know it?" said Schulz delightedly. Christophe said without stopping,
half turning his head:
"Euh! It is not very good. Your piano!" The old man was very contrite. He
"It is old," he said humbly. "It is like myself." Christophe turned round
and looked at the old man, who seemed to be asking pardon for his age, took
both his hands, and laughed. He looked into his honest eyes:
"Oh!" he said, "you are younger than I." Schulz laughed aloud and spoke of
his old body and his infirmities.
"Ta, ta, ta!" said Christophe, "I don't mean that; I know what I am saying.
It is true, isn't it, Kunz?"
(They had already suppressed the "_Herr_.")
Kunz agreed emphatically.
Schulz tried to find the same indulgence for his piano. "It has still some
beautiful notes," he said timidly.
And he touched them-four or five notes that were fairly true, half an
octave in the middle register of the instrument, Christophe understood that
it was an old friend and he said kindly,--thinking of Schulz's eyes:
"Yes. It still has beautiful eyes."
Schulz's face lit up. He launched out on an involved eulogy of his old
piano, but he dropped immediately, for Christophe had begun to play again.
_Lieder_ followed _Lieder_; Christophe sang them softly. With tears in
his eyes Schulz followed his every movement. With his hands folded on his
stomach Kunz closed his eyes the better to enjoy it. From time to time
Christophe turned beaming towards the two old men who were absolutely
delighted, and he said with a naive enthusiasm at which they never thought
"Hein! It is beautiful I... And this! What do you say about this?... And
this again!... This is the most beautiful of all.... Now I will play you
something which will make your hair curl...."
As he was finishing a dreamy fragment the cuckoo clock began to call.
Christophe started and shouted angrily. Kunz was suddenly awakened and
rolled his eyes fearfully. Even Schulz did not understand at first. Then
when he saw Christophe shaking his fist at the calling bird and shouting
to someone in the name of Heaven to take the idiot and throw it away, the
ventriloquist specter, he too discovered for the first time in his life
that the noise was intolerable; and he took a chair and tried to mount it
to take down the spoil-sport. But he nearly fell and Kunz would not let him
try again; he called Salome. She came without hurrying herself, as usual,
and was staggered to find the clock thrust into her hands, which Christophe
in his impatience had taken down himself.
"What am I to do with it?" she asked.
"Whatever you like. Take it away! Don't let us see it again!" said Schulz,
no less impatient than Christophe.
(He wondered how he could have borne such a horror for so long.)
Salome thought that they were surely all cracked.
The music went on. Hours passed. Salome came and announced that dinner was
served. Schulz bade her be silent. She came again ten minutes later, then
once again, ten minutes after that; this time she was beside herself and
boiling with rage while she tried to look unperturbed; she stood firmly
in, the middle of the room and in spite of Schulz's desperate gestures she
asked in a brazen voice:
"Do the gentlemen prefer to eat their dinner cold or burned? It does not
matter to me. I only await your orders."
Schulz was confused by her scolding and tried to retort; but Christophe
burst out laughing. Kunz followed his example and at length Schulz laughed
too. Salome, satisfied with the effect she had produced, turned on her
heels with the air of a queen who is graciously pleased to pardon her
"That's a good creature!" said Christophe, getting up from the piano. "She
is right. There is nothing so intolerable as an audience arriving in the
middle of a concert."
They sat at table. There was an enormous and delicious repast. Schulz had
touched Salome's vanity and she only asked an excuse to display her art.
There was no lack of opportunity for her to exercise it. The old friends
were tremendous feeders. Kunz was a different man at table; he expanded
like a sun; he would have done well as a sign for a restaurant. Schulz
was no less susceptible to good cheer; but his ill health imposed more
restraint upon him. It is true that generally he did not pay much heed to
that; and he had to pay for it. In that event he did not complain, if he
were ill at least he knew why. Like Kunz he had recipes of his own handed
down from father to son for generations. Salome was accustomed therefore
to work for connoisseurs. But on this occasion, she had contrived to
include all her masterpieces in one menu; it was like an exhibition of the
unforgettable cooking of Germany, honest and unsophisticated, with all
the scents of all the herbs, and thick sauces, substantial soups, perfect
stews, wonderful carp, sauerkraut, geese, plain cakes, aniseed and caraway
seed bread. Christophe was in raptures with his mouth full, and he ate like
an ogre; he had the formidable capacity of his father and grandfather,
who would have devoured a whole goose. But he could live just as well for
a whole week on bread and cheese, and cram when occasion served. Schulz
was cordial and ceremonious and watched him with kind eyes, and plied
him with all the wines of the Rhine. Kunz was shining and recognized him
as a brother. Salome's large face was beaming happily. At first she had
been deceived when Christophe came. Schulz had spoken about him so much
beforehand that she had fancied him as an Excellency, laden with letters
and honors. When she saw him she cried out:
"What! Is that all?"
But at table Christophe won her good graces; she had never seen anybody so
splendidly do justice to her talent. Instead of going back to her kitchen
she stayed by the door to watch Christophe, who was saying all sorts of
absurd things without missing a bite, and with her hands on her hips she
roared with laughter. They were all glad and happy. There vas only one
shadow over their joy: the absence of Pottpetschmidt. They often returned
"Ah! If he were here! How he would eat! How he would drink! How he would
Their praises of him were inexhaustible.
"If only Christophe could see him!... But perhaps he would be able to.
Perhaps Pottpetschmidt would return in the evening, on that night at
"Oh! I shall be gone to-night," said Christophe.
A shadow passed over Schulz's beaming face.
"What! Gone!" he said in a trembling voice. "But you are not going."
"Oh, yes," said Christophe gaily. "I must catch the train to-night."
Schulz was in despair. He had counted on Christophe spending the night,
perhaps several nights, in his house. He murmured:
"No, no. You can't go!..."
Christophe looked at the two of them; he was touched by the dismay on their
kind friendly faces and said:
"How good you are!... If you like I will go to-morrow morning."
Schulz took him by the hand.
"Ah!" he said. "How glad I am! Thank you! Thank you!"
He was like a child to whom to-morrow seems so far, so far, that it will
not bear thinking on. Christophe was not going to-day; to-day was theirs;
they would spend the whole evening together; he would sleep under his roof;
that was all that Schulz saw; he would not look further.
They became merry again. Schulz rose suddenly, looked very solemn, and
excitedly and slowly proposed the toast of their guest, who had given
him the immense joy and honor of visiting the little town and his humble
house; he drank to his happy return, to his success, to his glory, to every
happiness in the world, which with all his heart he wished him. And then
he proposed another toast "to noble music,"--another to his old friend
Kunz,--another to spring,--and he did not forget Pottpetschmidt. Kunz in
his turn drank to Schulz and the others, and Christophe, to bring the
toasts to an end, proposed the health of dame Salome, who blushed crimson.
Upon that, without giving the orators time to reply, he began a familiar
song which the two old men took up; after that another, and then another
for three parts which was all about friendship and music and wine; the
whole was accompanied by loud laughter and the clink of glasses continually
It was half-past three when they got up from the table. They were rather
drowsy. Kunz sank into a chair; he was longing to have a sleep. Schulz's
legs were worn out by his exertions of the morning and by standing for his
toasts. They both hoped that Christophe would sit at the piano again and go
on playing for hours. But the terrible boy, who was in fine form, first
struck two or three chords on the piano, shut it abruptly, looked out of
the window, and asked if they could not go for a walk until supper. The
country attracted him. Kunz showed little enthusiasm, but Schulz at once
thought it an excellent idea and declared that he must show their guest the
walk round the _Schoenbuchwaelder_. Kunz made a face; but he did not protest
and got up with the others; he was as desirous as Schulz of showing
Christophe the beauties of the country.
They went out. Christophe took Schulz's arm and made him walk a little
faster than the old man liked. Kunz followed mopping his brow. They talked
gaily. The people standing at their doors watched them pass and thought
that _Herr Professor_ Schulz looked like a young man. When they left the
town they took to the fields. Kunz complained of the heat. Christophe was
merciless and declared that the air was exquisite. Fortunately for the two
old men, they stopped frequently to argue and they forgot the length of the
walk in their conversation. They went into the woods. Schulz recited verses
of Goethe and Moerike. Christophe loved poetry, but he could not remember
any, and while he listened he stepped into a vague dream in which music
replaced the words and made him forget them. He admired Schulz's memory.
What a difference there was between the vivacity of mind of this poor rich
old man, almost impotent, shut up in his room for a great part of the year,
shut up in his little provincial town almost all his life,--and Hassler,
young, famous, in the very thick of the artistic movement, and touring over
all Europe for his concerts and yet interested in nothing and unwilling to
know anything! Not only was Schulz in touch with every manifestation of the
art of the day that Christophe knew, but he knew an immense amount about
musicians of the past and of other countries of whom Christophe had never
heard. His memory was a great reservoir in which all the beautiful waters
of the heavens were collected. Christophe never wearied of dipping into it,
and Schulz was glad of Christophe's interest. He had sometime? found
willing listeners or docile pupils, but he had never yet found a young and
ardent heart with which he could share his enthusiasms, which sometimes so
swelled in him that he was like to choke.
They had become the best friends in the world when unhappily the old man
chanced to express his admiration for Brahms. Christophe was at once coldly
angry; he dropped Schulz's arm and said harshly that anyone who loved
Brahms could not be his friend. That threw cold water on their happiness.
Schulz was too timid to argue, too honest to lie, and murmured and tried to
explain. But Christophe stopped him:
It was so cutting that it was impossible to reply. There was an icy
silence. They walked on. The two old men dared not look at each other. Kunz
coughed and tried to take up the conversation again and to talk of the
woods and the weather; but Christophe sulked and would not talk and only
answered with monosyllables. Kunz, finding no response from him, tried to
break the silence by talking to Schulz; but Schulz's throat was dry, he
could not speak. Christophe watched him out of the corner of his eyes
and he wanted to laugh; he had forgiven him already. He had never been
seriously angry with him; he even thought it brutal to make the poor old
man sad; but he abused his power and would not appear to go back on what he
had said. They remained so until they left the woods; nothing was to be
heard but the weary steps of the two downcast old men; Christophe whistled
through his teeth and pretended not to see them. Suddenly he could bear it
no longer. He burst out laughing, turned towards Schulz and gripped his
"My dear good old Schulz!" he said, looking at him affectionately. "Isn't
it beautiful? Isn't it beautiful?"
He was speaking of the country and the fine day, but his laughing eyes
seemed to say:
"You are good. I am a brute. Forgive me! I love you much."
The old man's heart melted. It was as though the sun had shone again
after an eclipse. But a short time passed before he could utter a word.
Christophe took his arm and went on talking to him more amiably than ever;
in his eagerness he went faster and faster without noticing the strain upon
his two companions. Schulz did not complain; he did not even notice his
fatigue; he was so happy. He knew that he would have to pay for that day's
rashness; but he thought:
"So much the worse for to-morrow! When _he_ is gone I shall have plenty of
time to rest."
But Kunz, who was not so excited, followed fifteen yards behind and looked
a pitiful object. Christophe noticed it at last. He begged his pardon
confusedly and proposed that they should lie down in a meadow in the shade
of the poplars. Of course Schulz acquiesced without a thought for the
effect it might have on his bronchitis. Fortunately Kunz thought of it for
him; or at least he made it an excuse for not running any risk from the
moisture of the grass when he was in such a perspiration. He suggested that
they should take the train back to the town from a station close by. They
did so. In spite of their fatigue they had to hurry, so as not to be late,
and they reached the station just as the train came in.
At the sight of them a big man threw himself out of the door of a carriage
and roared the names of Schulz and Kunz, together with all their titles and
qualities, and he waved his arms like a madman. Schulz and Kunz shouted in
reply and also waved their arms; they rushed to the big man's compartment
and he ran to meet them, jostling the people on the platform. Christophe
was amazed and ran after them asking:
"What is it?"
And the others shouted exultantly:
"It is Pottpetschmidt!"
The name did not convey much to him. He had forgotten the toasts at
dinner. Pottpetschmidt in the carriage and Schulz and Kunz on the step were
making a deafening noise, they were marveling at their encounter. They
climbed into the train as it was going. Schulz introduced Christophe.
Pottpetschmidt bowed as stiff as a poker and his features lost all
expression; then when the formalities were over he caught hold of
Christophe's hand and shook it five or six times, as though he were trying
to pull his arm out, and then began to shout again. Christophe was able to
make out that he thanked God and his stars for the extraordinary meeting.
That did not keep him from slapping his thigh a moment later and crying out
upon the misfortune of having had to go away--he who never went away--just
when the _Herr Kapellmeister_ was coming. Schulz's telegram had only
reached him that morning an hour after the train went; he was asleep when
it arrived and they had not thought it worth while to wake him. He had
stormed at the hotel people all morning. He was still storming. He had sent
his patients away, cut his business appointments and taken the first train
in his haste to return, but the infernal train had missed the connection on
the main line; Pottpetschmidt had had to wait three hours at a station; he
had exhausted all the expletives in his vocabulary and fully twenty times
had narrated his misadventures to other travelers who were also waiting,
and a porter at the station. At last he had started again. He was fearful
of arriving too late ... But, thank God! Thank God!...
He took Christophe's hands again and crushed them in his vast paws with
their hairy fingers. He was fabulously stout and tall in proportion; he had
a square head, close cut red hair, a clean-shaven pock-marked face, big
eyes, large nose, thin lips, a double chin, a short neck, a monstrously
wide back, a stomach like a barrel, arms thrust out by his body, enormous
feet and hands; a gigantic mass of flesh, deformed by excess in eating and
drinking; one of those human tobacco-jars that one sees sometimes rolling
along the streets in the towns of Bavaria, which keep the secret of that
race of men that is produced by a system of gorging similar to that of the
Strasburg geese. He listened with joy and warmth like a pot of butter, and
with his two hands on his outstretched knees, or on those of his neighbors,
he never stopped talking, hurling consonants into the air like a catapult
and making them roll along. Occasionally he would have a fit of laughing
which made him shake all over; he would throw back his head, open his
mouth, snorting, gurgling, choking. His laughter would infect Schulz and
Kunz and when it was over they would look at Christophe as they dried their
eyes. They seemed to be asking him:
"Hein!... And what do you say?"
Christophe said nothing; he thought fearfully:
"And this monster sings my music?"
They went home with Schulz. Christophe hoped to avoid Pottpetschmidt's
singing and made no advances in spite of Pottpetschmidt's hints. He was
itching to be heard. But Schulz and Kunz were too intent oh showing their
friend off; Christophe had to submit. He sat at the piano rather
ungraciously; he thought:
"My good man, my good man, you don't know what is in store for you; have a
care! I will spare you nothing."
He thought that he would hurt Schulz and he was angry at that; but he
was none the less determined to hurt him rather than have this Falstaff
murdering his music. He was spared the pain of hurting his old friend: the
fat man had an admirable voice. At the first bars Christophe gave a start
of surprise. Schulz, who never took his eyes off him, trembled; he thought
that Christophe was dissatisfied; and he was only reassured when he saw his
face grow brighter and brighter as he went on playing. He was lit up by
the reflection of Christophe's delight; and when the song was finished and
Christophe turned round and declared that he had never heard any of his
songs sung so well, Schulz found a joy in all sweeter and greater than
Christophe's in his satisfaction, sweeter and greater than Pottpetschmidt's
in his triumph; for they had only their own pleasure, and Schulz had that
of his two friends. They went on with the music. Christophe cried aloud; he
could not understand how so ponderous and common a creature could succeed
in reading the idea of his _Lieder_. No doubt there were not exactly all
the shades of meaning, but there was the impulse and the passion which he
had never quite succeeded in imparting to professional singers. He looked
at Pottpetschmidt and wondered:
"Does he really feel that?"
But he could not see in his eyes any other light than that of satisfied
vanity. Some unconscious force stirred in that solid flesh. The blind
passion was like an army fighting without knowing against whom or why. The
spirit of the _Lieder_ took possession of it and it obeyed gladly, for it
had need of action; and, left to itself, it never would have known how.
Christophe fancied that on the day of the Creation the Great Sculptor
did not take very much trouble to put in order the scattered members of
his rough-hewn creatures, and that He had adjusted them anyhow without
bothering to find out whether they were suited to each other, and so every
one was made up of all sorts of pieces; and one man was scattered among
five or six different men; his brain was with one, his heart with another,
and the body belonging to his soul with yet another; the instrument was
on one side, the performer on the other. Certain creatures remained like
wonderful violins, forever shut up in their cases, for want of anyone with
the art to play them. And those who were fit to play them were found all
their lives to put up with wretched scraping fiddles. He had all the more
reason for thinking so as he was furious with himself for never having been
able properly to sing a page of music. He had an untuned voice and could
never hear himself without disgust.
However, intoxicated by his success, Pottpetschmidt began to "put
expression" into Christophe's _Lieder_, that is to say he substituted his
own for Christophe's. Naturally he did not think that the music gained by
the change, and he grew gloomy. Schulz saw it. His lack of the critical
faculty and his admiration for his friends would not have allowed him of
his own accord to set it down to Pottpetschmidt's bad taste. But his
affection for Christophe made him perceptive of the young man's finest
shades of thought; he was no longer in himself, he was in Christophe;
and he too suffered from Pottpetschmidt's affectations. He tried hard
to stop his going down that perilous slope. It was not easy to silence
Pottpetschmidt. Schulz found it enormously difficult, when the singer had
exhausted Christophe's repertory, to keep him from breaking out into the
lucubrations of mediocre compositions at the mention of whose names
Christophe curled up and bristled like a porcupine.
Fortunately the announcement of supper muzzled Pottpetschmidt. Another
field for his valor was opened for him; he had no rival there; and
Christophe, who was a little weary with his exploits in the afternoon, made
no attempt to vie with him.
It was getting late. They sat round the table and the three friends watched
Christophe; they drank in his words. It seemed very strange to Christophe
to find himself in the remote little town among these old men whom he had
never seen until that day and to be more intimate with them than if they
had been his relations. He thought how fine it would be for an artist if he
could know of the unknown friends whom his ideas find in the world,--how
gladdened his heart would be and how fortified he would be in his strength.
But he is rarely that; every one lives and dies alone, fearing to say what
he feels the more he feels and the more he needs to express it. Vulgar
flatterers have no difficulty in speaking. Those who love most have to
force their lips open to say that they love. And so he must be grateful
indeed to those who dare to speak; they are unconsciously collaborators
with the artist.--Christophe was filled with gratitude for old Schulz. He
did not confound him with his two friends; he felt that he was the soul
of the little group; the others were only reflections of that living fire
of goodness and love. The friendship that Kunz and Pottpetschmidt had for
him was very different. Kunz was selfish; music gave him a comfortable
satisfaction like a fat cat when it is stroked. Pottpetschmidt found in
it the pleasure of tickled vanity and physical exercise. Neither of them
troubled to understand him. But Schulz absolutely forgot himself; he loved.
It was late. The two friends went away in the night. Christophe was left
alone with Schulz. He said:
"Now I will play for you alone."
He sat at the piano and played,--as he knew how to play when he had some
one dear to him by his side. He played his latest compositions. The old
man was in ecstasies. He sat near Christophe and never took his eyes from
him and held his breath. In the goodness of his heart he was incapable of
keeping the smallest happiness to himself, and in spite of himself he said:
"Ah! What a pity Kunz is not here!"
That irritated Christophe a little.
An hour passed; Christophe was still playing; they had not exchanged a
word. When Christophe had finished neither spoke a word. There was silence,
the house, the street, was asleep. Christophe turned and saw that the
old man was weeping; he got up and went and embraced him. They talked in
whispers in the stillness of the night. The clock ticked dully in the next
room. Schulz talked in a whisper, with his hands clasped, and leaning
forward; he was telling Christophe, in answer to his questions, about his
life and his sorrow; at every turn he was ashamed of complaining and had to
"I am wrong ... I have no right to complain ... Everybody has been very
good to me...."
And indeed he was not complaining; it was only an involuntary melancholy
emanating from the dull story of his lonely life. At the most sorrowful
moments he wove into it professions of faith vaguely idealistic and very
sentimental which amazed Christophe, though it would have been too cruel to
contradict him. At bottom there was in Schulz not so much a firm belief as
a passionate desire to believe--an uncertain hope to which he clung as to
a buoy. He sought the confirmation of it in Christophe's eyes. Christophe
understood the appeal in the eyes of his friend, who clung to him with
touching confidence, imploring him,--and dictating his answer. Then he
spoke of the calm faith or strength, sure of itself, words which the old
man was expecting, and they comforted him. The old man and the young had
forgotten the years that lay between, them; they were near each other, like
brothers of the same age, loving and helping each other; the weaker sought
the support of the stronger; the old man took refuge in the young man's
They parted after midnight; Christophe had to get up early to catch the
train by which he had come. And so he did not loiter as he undressed. The
old man had prepared his guests room as though for a visit of several
months. He had put a bowl of roses on the table and a branch of laurel. He
had put fresh blotting paper on the bureau. During the morning he had had
an upright piano carried up. On the shelf by the bed he had placed books
chosen from among his most precious and beloved. There was no detail that
he had not lovingly thought out. But it was a waste of trouble: Christophe
saw nothing. He flung himself on his bed and went sound asleep at once.
Schulz could not sleep. He was pondering the joy that he had had and the
sorrow he must have at the departure of his friend. He was turning over
in his mind the words that had been spoken. He was thinking that his dear
Christophe was sleeping near him on the other side of the wall against
which his bed lay. He was worn out, stiff all over, depressed; he felt that
he had caught cold during the walk and that he was going to have a relapse;
but he had only one thought:
"If only I can hold out until he has gone!" And he was fearful of having a
fit of coughing and waking Christophe. He was full of gratitude to God, and
began to compose verses to the song of old Simeon: "_Nunc dimittis ..._"
He got up in a sweat to write the verses down and sat at his desk until
he had carefully copied them out with an affectionate dedication, and his
signature, and the date and hour. Then he lay down again with a shiver and
could not get warm all night.
Dawn came. Schulz thought regretfully of the dawn of the day before. But he
was angry with himself for spoiling with such thoughts the few minutes of
happiness left to him; he knew that on the morrow he would regret the time
fleeting then, and he tried not to waste any of it. He listened, eager
for the least sound in the next room. But Christophe did not stir. He lay
still just as he had gone to bed; he had not moved. Half-past six rang and
he still slept. Nothing would have been easier than to make him miss the
train, and doubtless he would have taken it with a laugh. But the old man
was too scrupulous to use a friend so without his consent. In vain did he
say to himself:
"It will not be my fault. I could not help it. It will be enough to say
nothing. And if he does not wake in time I shall have another whole day
He answered himself:
"No, I have no right."
And he thought it his duty to go and wake him. He knocked at his door.
Christophe did not hear at first; he had to knock again. That made the old
man's heart thump as he thought: "Ah! How well he sleeps! He would stay
like that till mid-day!..."
At last Christophe replied gaily through the partition. When he learned the
time he cried out; he was heard bustling about his room, noisily dressing
himself, singing scraps of melody, while he chattered with Schulz through
the wall and cracked Jokes while the old man laughed in spite of his
sorrow. The door opened; Christophe appeared, fresh, rested, and happy; he
had no thought of the pain he was causing. In reality there was no hurry
for him to go; it would have cost him nothing to stay a few days longer;
and it would have given Schulz so much pleasure! But Christophe could not
know that. Besides, although he was very fond of the old man, he was glad
to go; he was worn out by the day of perpetual conversation, by these
people who clung to him in desperate fondness. And then he was young, he
thought there would be plenty of time to meet again; he was not going to
the other ends of the earth!--The old man knew that he would soon be much
farther than the other ends of the earth, and he looked at Christophe for
In spite of hit extreme weariness he took him to the station. A fine cold
rain was falling noiselessly. At the station when he opened his purse
Christophe found that he had not enough money to buy his ticket home. He
knew that Schulz would gladly lead him the money, but he would not ask him
for it.... Why? Why deny those who love you the opportunity--the happiness
of doing you a service?... He would not out of discretion--perhaps out of
vanity. He took a ticket for a station on the way, saying that he would do
the rest of the journey on foot.
The time for leaving came. They embraced on the footboard of the carriage.
Schulz slipped the poem he had written during the night into Christophe's
hand. He stayed on the platform below the compartment. They had nothing
more to say to each other, as usual when good-byes are too long drawn out,
but Schulz's eyes went on speaking, they never left Christophe's face until
the train went.
The carriage disappeared round a curve. Schulz was left alone. He went back
by the muddy path; he dragged along; suddenly he felt all his weariness,
the cold, the melancholy of the rainy day. He was hardly able to reach home
and to go upstairs again. Hardly had he reached his room than he was seized
with an attack of asthma and coughing. Salome came to his aid. Through his
involuntary groans, he said:
"What luck!... What luck that I was prepared for it...." He felt very ill.
He went to bed. Salome fetched the doctor. In bed he became as limp as a
rag. He could not move; only his breast was heaving and panting like a
million billows. His head was heavy and feverish. He spent the whole day in
living through the day before, minute by minute; he tormented himself, and
then was angry with himself for complaining after so much happiness. With
his hands clasped and his heart big with love he thanked God.
* * * * *
Christophe was soothed by his day and restored to confidence in himself by
the affection that he had left behind him,--so he returned home. When he
had gone as far as his ticket would take him he got out blithely and took
to the road on foot. He had sixty kilometers to do. He was in no hurry and
dawdled like a school-boy. It was April. The country was not very far on.
The leaves were unfolding like little wrinkled hands at the ends of the
Hack branches; the apple trees were in flower, and along the hedges the
frail eglantine smiled. Above the leafless forest, where a soft greenish
down was beginning to appear, on the summit of a little hill, like a trophy
on the end of a lance, there rose an old Romanic castle. Three black clouds
sailed across the soft blue sky. Shadows chased over the country in spring,
showers passed, then the bright sun shone forth again and the birds sang.
Christophe found that for some time he had been thinking of Uncle
Gottfried. He had not thought of the poor man for a long time, and he
wondered why the memory of him should so obstinately obsess him now; he was
haunted by it as he walked along a path along a canal that reflected the
poplars; and the image of his uncle was so actual that as he turned a great
wall he thought he saw him coming towards him.
The sky grew dark. A heavy downpour of rain and hail fell, and thunder
rumbled in the distance. Christophe was near a village; he could see its
pink walls and red roofs among the clumps of trees. He hurried and took
shelter under the projecting roof of the nearest house. The hail-stones
came lashing down; they rang out on the tiles and fell down into the street
like pieces of lead. The ruts were overflowing. Above the blossoming
orchards a rainbow flung its brilliant garish scarf over the dark blue
On the threshold a girl was standing knitting. She asked Christophe to
enter. He accepted the invitation. The room into which he stepped was used
as a kitchen, a dining-room, and a bed-room. At the back a stew-pot hung
over a great fire. A peasant woman who was cleaning vegetables wished
Christophe good-day, and bade him go near the fire to dry himself. The girl
fetched a bottle of wine and gave him to drink. She sat on the other side
of the table and went on knitting, while at the same time she looked after
two children who were playing at testing each other's eyes with those
grasses which are known in the country as "thiefs" or "sweeps." She began
to talk to Christophe. It was only after a moment that he saw that she was
blind. She was not pretty. She was a big girl, with red cheeks, white
teeth, and strong arms, but her features were irregular; she had the
smiling, rather expressionless air of many blind people, and also their
mania for talking of things and people as though they could see them. At
first Christophe was startled and wondered if she were making fun of him
when she said that he looked well and that the country was looking very
pretty. But after looking from the blind girl to the woman who was cleaning
the vegetables, he saw that nobody was surprised and that it was no
joke--(there was nothing to joke about indeed).--The two women asked
Christophe friendly questions as to whither he was going and whence he had
come. The blind girl joined in the conversation with a rather exaggerated
eagerness; she agreed with, or commented on, Christophe's remarks about the
road and the fields. Naturally her observations were often wide of the
mark. She seemed to be trying to pretend that she could see as well as he.
Other members of the family came in: a healthy peasant of thirty and his
young wife. Christophe talked to them all, and watched the clearing sky,
waiting for the moment to set out again. The blind girl hummed an air while
she plied her knitting needles. The air brought back all sorts of old
memories to Christophe.
"What!" he said. "You know that." (Gottfried had taught her it.)
He hummed the following notes. The girl began to laugh. She sang the first
half of the phrases and he finished them. He had just got up to go and look
at the weather and he was walking round the room, mechanically taking stock
of every corner of it, when near the dresser he saw an object which made
him start. It was a long twisted stick, the handle of which was roughly
carved to represent a little bent man bowing. Christophe knew it well, he
had played with it as a child. He pounced on the stick and asked in a
"Where did you get this?... Where did you get it?" The man looked up and
"A friend left it here--an old friend who is dead."
They all turned and asked:
"How do you know ...?"
And when Christophe told them that Gottfried was his uncle, they were all
greatly excited. The blind girl got up; her ball of wool rolled across the
room; she stopped her work and took Christophe's hands and said in a great
state of emotion:
"You are his nephew?"
They all talked at once. Christophe asked:
"But how ... how do you come to know him?" The man replied:
"It was here that he died."
They sat down again, and when the excitement had gone down a little, the
mother told, as she went on with her work, that Gottfried used to go to the
house for many years; he always used to stay there on his way to and fro
from his journeys. The last time he came--(it was in last July)--he seemed
very tired, and when he took off his pack it was some time before he could
speak a word, but they did not take any notice of it because they were used
to seeing him like that when he arrived and knew that he was short of
breath. He did not complain either. He never used to complain; he always
used to find some happiness in the most unpleasant things. When he was
doing some exhausting work he used to be glad thinking how good it would be
in bed at night, and when he was ill he used to say how good it would be
when he was not ill any longer....
"And, sir, it is wrong to be always content," added the woman, "for if you
axe not sorry for yourself, nobody will pity you. I always complain...."
Well, nobody had paid any attention to him. They had even chaffed him about
looking so well and Modesta--(that was the blind girl's name)--who had just
relieved him of his pack had asked him if he was never going to be tired of
running like a young man. He smiled in reply, for he could not speak. He
sat on the seat by the door. Everybody went about their work, the men to
the fields, the woman to her cooking. Modesta went near the seat, she stood
leaning against the door with her knitting in her hands and talked to
Gottfried. He did not reply; she did not ask him for any reply and told
him everything that had happened since his last visit. He breathed with
difficulty and she heard him trying hard to speak. Instead of being anxious
about him she said:
"Don't speak. Just rest. You shall talk presently.... How can people tire
themselves out like that!..."
And then he did not talk or even try to talk. She went on with her story
thinking that he was listening. He sighed and said nothing. When the
mother came a little later she found Modesta still talking and Gottfried
motionless on the seat with his head flung back facing the sky; for some
minutes Modesta had been talking to a dead man. She understood then that
the poor man had been trying to say a few words before he died but had not
been able to; then with his sad smile he had accepted that and had closed
his eyes in the peace of the summer evening....
The rain had ceased. The daughter-in-law went to the stables, the son took
his mattock and cleared the little gutter in front of the door which the
mud had obstructed. Modesta had disappeared at the beginning of the story.
Christophe was left alone in the room with the mother, and was silent
and much moved. The old woman, who was rather talkative, could not bear
a prolonged silence; and she began to tell him the whole history of her
acquaintance with Gottfried. It went far back. When she was quite young
Gottfried loved her. He dared not tell her, but it became a joke; she made
fun of him, everybody made fun of him,--(it was; the custom wherever he
went)--Gottfried used to come faithfully every year. It seemed natural
to him that people should make fun of him, natural that she should have
married and been happy with another man. She had been too happy, she had
boasted too much of her happiness; then unhappiness came. Her husband
died suddenly. Then his daughter,--a fine strong girl whom everybody
admired, who was to be married to the son of the richest farmer of the
district,--lost her sight as the result of an accident. One day when she
had climbed to the great pear tree behind the house to pick the fruit the
ladder slipped; as she fell a broken branch struck a blow near the eye.
At first it was thought that she would escape with a scar, but later, she
had had unceasing pains in her forehead; one eye lost its sight, then the
other; and all their remedies had been useless. Of course the marriage was
broken off; her betrothed had vanished without any explanation, and of all
the young men who a month before had actually fought for a dance with her,
not one had the courage--(it is quite comprehensible)--to take a blind girl
to his arms. And so Modesta, who till then had been careless and gay, had
fallen into such despair that she wanted to die. She refused to eat; she
did nothing but weep from morning to evening, and during the night they
used to hear her still moaning in her bed. They did not know what to do,
they could only join her in her despair; and she only wept the more.
At last they lost patience with her moaning; then they scolded her and
she talked of throwing herself into the canal. The minister would come
sometimes; he would talk of the good God, and eternal things, and the merit
she was gaining for the next world by bearing her sorrows, but that did not
console her at all. One day Gottfried came. Modesta had never been very
kind to him. Not that she was naturally unkind, but she was disdainful,
and besides she never thought; she loved to laugh, and there was no malice
in what she said or did to him. When he heard of her misfortune he was as
overwhelmed by it as though he were a member of the family. However he did
not let her see it the first time he saw her. He went and sat by her side,
made no allusion to her accident and began to talk quietly as he had always
done before. He had no word of pity for her; he even seemed not to notice
that she was blind. Only he never talked to her of things she could not
see; he talked to her about what she could hear or notice in her blindness;
and he did it quite simply as though it were a natural thing; it was as
though he too were blind. At first she did not listen and went on weeping.
But next day she listened better and even talked to him a little....
"And," the woman went on, "I do not know what he can have said to her. For
we were hay-making and I was too busy to notice her. But in the evening
when we came in from the fields we found her talking quietly. And after
that she went on getting better. She seemed to forget her affliction. But
every now and then she would think of it again; she would weep alone or try
to talk to Gottfried of sad things; but he seemed not to hear, or he would
not reply in the same tone; he would go on talking gravely or merrily of
things which soothed and interested her. At last he persuaded her to go
out of the house, which she had never left since her accident. He made her
go a few yards round the garden at first, and then for a longer distance
in the fields. And at last she learned to find her way everywhere and to
make out everything as though she could see. She even notices things to
which we never pay any attention, and she is interested in everything,
whereas before she was never interested in much outside herself. That
time Gottfried stayed with us longer than usual. We dared not ask him to
postpone his departure, but he stayed of his own accord until he saw that
she was calmer. And one day--she was out there in the yard,--I heard her
laughing. I cannot tell you what an effect that had on me. Gottfried looked
happy too. He was sitting near me. We looked at each other, and I am not
ashamed to tell you, sir, that I kissed him with all my heart. Then he said
"'Now I think I can go. I am not needed any more.'
"I tried to keep him. But he said:
"'No. I must go now. I cannot stay any longer.'
"Everybody knew that he was like the Wandering Jew: he could not stay
anywhere; we did not insist. Then he went, but he arranged to come here
more often, and every time it was a great joy for Modesta; she was always
better after his visits. She began to work in the house again; her brother
married; she looks after the children; and now she never complains and
always looks happy. I sometimes wonder if she would be so happy if she had
her two eyes. Yes, indeed, sir, there are days, when I think that it would
be better to be like her and not to see certain ugly people and certain
evil things. The world is growing very ugly, it grows worse every day....
And yet I should be very much afraid of God taking me at my word, and for
my part I would rather go on seeing the world, ugly as it is...."
Modesta came back and the conversation changed. Christophe wished to go
now that the weather was fair again, but they would not let him. He had to
agree to stay to supper and to spend the night with them. Modesta sat near
Christophe and did not leave him all the evening. He would have liked to
talk intimately to the girl whose lot filled him with pity. But she gave
him no opportunity. She would only try to ask him about Gottfried. When
Christophe told her certain things she did not know, she was happy and a
little jealous. She was a little unwilling to talk of Gottfried herself;
it was apparent that she did not tell everything, and when she did tell
everything she was sorry for it at once; her memories were her property,
she did not like sharing them with another; in her affection she was as
eager as a peasant woman in her attachment to her land; it hurt her to
think that anybody could love Gottfried as much as she. It is true that
she refused to believe it; and Christophe, understanding, left her that
satisfaction. As he listened to her he saw that, although she had seen
Gottfried and had even seen him with indulgent eyes, since her blindness
she had made of him an image absolutely different from the reality, and she
had transferred to the phantom of her mind all the hunger for love that was
in her. Nothing had disturbed her illusion. With the bold certainty of the
blind, who calmly invent what they do not know, she said to Christophe:
"You are like him."
He understood that for years she had grown used to living in a house with
closed shutters through which the truth could not enter. And now that
she had learned to see in the darkness that surrounded her, and even to
forget the darkness, perhaps she would have been afraid of a ray of light
filtering through the gloom. With Christophe she recalled a number of
rather silly trivialities in a smiling and disjointed conversation in which
Christophe could not be at his ease. He was irritated by her chatter; he
could not understand how a creature who had suffered so much had not become
more serious in her suffering, and he could not find tolerance for such
futility; every now and then he tried to talk of graver things, but they
found no echo; Modesta could not--or would not--follow him.
They went to bed. It was long before Christophe could sleep. He was
thinking of Gottfried and trying to disengage him from the image of
Modesta's childish memories. He found it difficult and was irritated. His
heart ached at the thought that Gottfried had died there and that his body
had no doubt lain in that very bed. He tried to live through the agony
of his last moments, when he could neither speak nor make the blind girl
understand, and had closed his eyes in death. He longed to have been able
to raise his eyelids and to read the thoughts hidden under them, the
mystery of that soul, which had gone without making itself known, perhaps
even without knowing itself! It never tried to know itself, and all its
wisdom lay in not desiring wisdom, or in not trying to impose its will on
circumstance, but in abandoning itself to the force of circumstance, in
accepting it and loving it. So he assimilated the mysterious essence of
the world without even thinking of it. And if he had done so much good to
the blind girl, to Christophe, and doubtless to many others who would be
forever unknown, it was because, instead of bringing the customary words of
the revolt of man against nature, he brought something of the indifferent
peace of Nature, and reconciled the submissive soul with her. He did good
like the fields, the woods, all Nature with which he was impregnated.
Christophe remembered the evenings he had spent with Gottfried in the
country, his walks as a child, the stories and songs in the night. He
remembered also the last walk he had taken with his uncle, on the hill
above the town, on a cold winter's morning, and the tears came to his eyes
once more. He did not try to sleep, so as to remain with his memories. He
did not wish to lose one moment of that night in the little place, filled
with the soul of Gottfried, to which he had been led as though impelled by
some unknown force. But while he lay listening to the irregular trickling
of the fountain and the shrill cries of the bats, the healthy fatigue of
youth mastered his will, and he fell asleep.
When he awoke the sun was shining: everybody on the farm was already at
work. In the hall he found only the old woman and the children. The young
couple were in the fields, sand Modesta had gone to milk. They looked for
her in vain. She was nowhere to be found. Christophe said he would not wait
for her return. He did not much want to see her, and he said that he was in
a hurry. He set out after telling the old woman to bid the others good-bye
As he was leaving the village at a turn of the road he the blind girl
sitting on a bank under a hawthorn hedge. She got up as she heard him
coming, approached him smiling, took his hand, and said:
They climbed up through meadows to a little shady flowering field filled
with tombstones, which looked down on the village. She led him to a grave
"He is there."
They both knelt down. Christophe remembered another grave by which he had
knelt with Gottfried, and he thought:
"Soon it will be my turn."
But there was no sadness in his thought. A great peace was ascending from
the earth. Christophe leaned over the grave and said, in a whisper to
"Enter into me!..."
Modesta was praying, with her hands clasped and her lips moving in silence.
Then she went round the grave on her knees, feeling the ground and the
grass and the flowers with her hands. She seemed to caress them, her quick
fingers seemed to see. They gently plucked the dead stalks of the ivy and
the faded violets. She laid her hand on the curb to get up. Christophe saw
her fingers pass furtively over Gottfried's name, lightly touching each
letter. She said:
"The earth is sweet this morning."
She held out her hand to him. He gave her his. She made him touch the moist
warm earth. He did not loose her hand. Their locked fingers plunged into
the earth. He kissed Modesta. She kissed him, too.
They both rose to their feet. She held out to him a few fresh violets she
had gathered, and put the faded ones into her bosom. They dusted their
knees and left the cemetery without a word. In the fields the larks were
singing. White butterflies danced about their heads. They sat down in a
meadow a few yards away from each other. The smoke of the village was
ascending direct to the sky that was washed by the rain. The still canal
glimmered between the poplars. A gleaming blue mist wrapped the meadows and
woods in its folds.
Modesta broke the silence. She spoke in a whisper of the beauty of the day
as though she could see it. She drank in the air through her half-open
lips; she listened for the sounds of creatures and things. Christophe also
knew the worth of such music. He said what she was thinking and could not
have said. He named certain of the cries and imperceptible tremors that
they could hear in the grass, in the depths of the air. She said:
"Ah! You see that, too?"
He replied that Gottfried had taught him to distinguish them.
"You, too?" she said a little crossly.
He wanted to say to her:
"Do not be jealous."
But he saw the divine light smiling all about them: he looked at her blind
eyes and was filled with pity.
"So," he asked, "it was Gottfried taught you?"
She said "Yes," and that they gave her more delight than ever before....
She did not say before "what." She never mentioned the words "eyes" or
They were silent for a moment. Christophe looked at her in pity. She felt
that he was looking at her. He would have liked to tell her how much he
pitied her. He would have liked her to complain, to confide in him. He
"You have been very unhappy?"
She sat dumb and unyielding. She plucked the blades of grass and munched
them in silence. After a few moments,--(the song of a lark was going
farther and farther from them in the sky),--Christophe told her how he
too had been unhappy, and how Gottfried had helped him. He told her all
his sorrows, his trials, as though he were thinking aloud or talking to
a sister. The blind girl's face lit up as he told his story, which she
followed eagerly. Christophe watched her and saw that she was on the point
of speaking. She made a movement to come near him and hold his hand. He
moved, too--but already she had relapsed into her impassiveness, and when
he had finished, she only replied with a few banal words. Behind her broad
forehead, on which there was not a line, there was the obstinacy of a
peasant, hard as a stone. She said that she must go home to look after her
brothers children. She talked of them with a calm smile.
He asked her:
"You are happy?"
She seemed to be more happy to hear him say the word. She said she was
happy and insisted on the reasons she had for being so: she was trying to
persuade herself and him that it was so. She spoke of the children, and the
house, and all that she had to do....
"Oh! yes," she said, "I am very happy!" Christophe did not reply. She rose
to go. He rose too. They said good-bye gaily and carelessly. Modesta's hand
trembled a little in Christophe's. She said:
"You will have fine weather for your walk to-day." And she told him of
a crossroads where he must not go wrong. It was as though, of the two,
Christophe were the blind one.
They parted. He went down the hill. When he reached the bottom he
turned. She was standing at the summit in the same place. She waved her
handkerchief and made signs to him as though she saw him.
There was something heroic and absurd in her obstinacy in denying her
misfortune, something which touched Christophe and hurt him. He felt how
worthy Modesta was of pity and even of admiration,--and he could not have
lived two days with her. As he went his way between flowering hedges he
thought of dear old Schulz, and his old eyes, bright and tender, before
which so many sorrows had passed which they refused to see, for they would
not see hurtful realities.
"How does he see me, I wonder?" thought Christophe. "I am so different from
his idea of me! To him I am what he wants me to be. Everything is in his
own image, pure and noble like himself. He could not bear life if he saw it
as it is."
And he thought of the girl living in darkness who denied the darkness, and
tried to pretend that what was was not, and that what was not was.
Then he saw the greatness of German idealism, which he had so often loathed
because in vulgar souls it is a source of hypocrisy and stupidity. He saw
the beauty of the faith which Begets a world within the world, different
from the world, like a little island in the ocean.--But he could not bear
such a faith for himself, and refused to take refuge upon such an Island
of the Dead. Life! Truth! He would not be a lying hero. Perhaps that
optimistic lie which a German Emperor tried to make law for all his
people was indeed necessary for weak creatures if they were to live. And
Christophe would have thought it a crime to snatch from such poor wretches
the illusion which upheld them. But for himself he never could have
recourse to such subterfuges. He would rather die than live by illusion.
Was not Art also an illusion? No. It must not be. Truth! Truth! Byes wide
open, let him draw in through every pore the all-puissant breath of life,
see things as they are, squarely face his misfortunes,--and laugh.
* * * * *
Several months passed. Christophe had lost all hope of escaping from the
town. Hassler, the only man who could have saved him, had refused to help
him. And old Schulz's friendship had been taken from him almost as soon as
it had been given.
He had written once on his return, and he had received two affectionate
letters, but from sheer laziness, and especially because of the difficulty
he had expressing himself in a letter, he delayed thanking him for his kind
words. He put off writing from day to day. And when at last he made up
his mind to write he had a word from Kunz announcing the death of his old
friend. Schulz had had a relapse of his bronchitis which had developed
into pneumonia. He had forbidden them to bother Christophe, of whom he was
always talking. In spite of his extreme weakness and many years of illness,
he was not spared a long and painful end. He had charged Kunz to convey
the tidings to Christophe and to tell him that he had thought of him up to
the last hour; that he thanked him for all the happiness he owed him, and
that his blessing would be on Christophe as long as he lived. Kunz did not
tell him that the day with Christophe had probably been the reason of his
relapse and the cause of his death.
Christophe wept in silence, and he felt them all the worth of the friend
he had lost, and how much he loved him, and he was grieved not to have
told him more of how he loved him. It was too late now. And what was left
to him? The good Schulz had only appeared enough to make the void seem
more empty, the night more black after he ceased to be. As for Kunz and
Pottpetschmidt, they had no value outside the friendship they had for
Schulz and Schulz for them. Christophe valued them at their proper worth.
He wrote to them once and their relation ended there. He tried also to
write to Modesta, but she answered with a commonplace letter in which she
spoke only of trivialities. He gave up the correspondence. He wrote to
nobody and nobody wrote to him.
Silence. Silence. From day to day the heavy cloak of silence descended upon
Christophe. It was like a rain of ashes falling on him. It seemed already
to be evening, and Christophe was losing his hold on life. He would not
resign himself to that. The hour of sleep was not yet come. He must live.
And he could not live in Germany. The sufferings of his genius cramped by
the narrowness of the little town lashed him into injustice. His nerves
were raw: everything drew blood. He was like one of those wretched wild
animals who perished of boredom in the holes and cages in which they were
imprisoned in the _Stadtgarten_ (town gardens). Christophe used often to go
and look at them in sympathy. He used to look at their wonderful eyes, in
which there burned--or every day grew fainter--a fierce and desperate fire.
Ah! How they would have loved the brutal bullet which sets free, or the
knife that strikes into their bleeding hearts! Anything rather than the
savage indifference of those men who prevented them from either living or
Not the hostility of the people was the hardest for Christophe to bear, but
their inconsistency, their formless, shallow natures. There was no knowing
how to take them. The pig-headed opposition of one of those stiff-necked,
bard races who refuse to understand any new thought were much better.
Against force it is possible to oppose force--the pick and the mine
which hew away and blow up the hard rock. But what can be done against
an amorphous mass which gives like a jelly, collapses under the least
pressure, and retains no imprint of it? All thought and energy and
everything disappeared in the slough. When a stone fell there were hardly
more than a few ripples quivering on the surface of the gulf: the monster
opened and shut its maw, and there was left no trace of what had been.
They were not enemies. Dear God! if they only had been enemies! They
were people who had not the strength to love or hate, or believe or
disbelieve,--in religion, in art, in politics, in daily life; and all
their energies were expended in trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.
Especially since the German victories they had been striving to make a
compromise, a revolting intrigue between their new power and their old
principles. The old idealism had not been renounced. There should have been
a new effort of freedom of which they were incapable. They were content
with a forgery, with making it subservient to German interests. Like the
serene and subtle Schwabian, Hegel, who had waited until after Leipzig
and Waterloo to assimilate the cause of his philosophy with the Prussian
State--their interests having changed, their principles had changed too.
When they were defeated they said that Germany's ideal was humanity. Now
that they had defeated others, they said that Germany was the ideal of
humanity. When other countries were more powerful, they said, with Lessing,
that "_patriotism is a heroic weakness which it is well to be without_" and
they called themselves "_citizens of the world_." Now that they were in the
ascendant, they could not enough despise the Utopias "_a la Francaise_."
Universal peace, fraternity, pacific progress, the rights of man, natural
equality: they said that the strongest people had absolute rights against
the others, and that the others, being weaker, had no rights against
themselves. It was the living God and the Incarnate Idea, the progress of
which is accomplished by war, violence, and oppression. Force had become
holy now that it was on their side. Force had become the only idealism and
the only intelligence.
In truth, Germany had suffered so much for centuries from having idealism
and no fame that she had every excuse after so many trials for making
the sorrowful confession that at all costs Force must be hers. But what
bitterness was hidden in such a confession from the people of Herder and
Goethe! And what an abdication was the German victory, what a degradation
of the German ideal! Alas! There were only too many facilities for such an
abdication in the deplorable tendency even of the best Germans to submit.
"_The chief characteristic of Germany_," said Moser, more than a century
ago, "_is obedience_." And Madame de Stael:
"_They have submitted doughtily. They find philosophic reasons for
explaining the least philosophic theory in the world: respect for power
and the chastening emotion of fear which changes that respect into
Christophe found that feeling everywhere in Germany, from the highest
to the lowest--from the William Tell of Schiller, that limited little
bourgeois with muscles like a porter, who, as the free Jew Boerne says, "_to
reconcile honor and fear passes before the pillar of dear Herr Gessler,
with his eyes down so as to be able to say that he did not see the hat;
did not disobey_,"--to the aged and respectable Professor Weisse, a man of
seventy, and one of the most honored mea of learning in the town, who, when
he saw a _Herr Lieutenant_ coming, would make haste to give him the path
and would step down into the road. Christophe's blood boiled whenever he
saw one of these small acts of daily servility. They hurt him as much as
though he had demeaned himself. The arrogant manners of the officers whom
he met in the street, their haughty insolence, made him speechless with
anger. He never would make way for them. Whenever he passed them he
returned their arrogant stare. More than once he was very near causing a
scene. He seemed to be looking for trouble. However, he was the first to
understand the futility of such bravado; but he had moments of aberration,
the perpetual constraint which he imposed on himself and the accumulation
of force in him that had no outlet made him furious. Then he was ready to
go any length, and he had a feeling that if he stayed a year longer in the
place he would be lost. He loathed the brutal militarism which he felt
weighing down upon him, the sabers clanking on the pavement, the piles of
arms, and the guns placed outside the barracks, their muzzles gaping down
on the town, ready to fire. Scandalous novels, which were then making a
great stir, denounced the corruption of the garrisons, great and small:
the officers were represented as mischievous creatures, who, outside
their automatic duties, were only idle and spent their time in drinking,
gambling, getting into debt, living on their families, slandering one
another, and from top to bottom of the hierarchy they abused their
authority at the expense of their inferiors. The idea that he would one
day have to obey them stuck in Christophe's throat. He could not, no, he
could never bear it, and lose his own self-respect by submitting to their
humiliations and injustice.... He had no idea of the moral strength in some
of them, or of all that they might be suffering themselves: lost illusions,
so much strength and youth and honor and faith, and passionate desire for
sacrifice, turned to ill account and spoiled,--the pointlessness of a
career, which, if it is only a career, if it has not sacrifice as its end,
is only a grim activity, an inept display, a ritual which is recited
without belief in the words that are said....
His country was not enough for Christophe. He felt in himself that unknown
force which wakes suddenly, irresistibly, in certain species of birds, at
definite times, like the ebb and flow of the tides:--the instinct of the
great migrations. As he read the volumes of Herder and Fichte which old
Schulz had left him, he found souls like his own, not "_sons of the soil_"
slavishly bound to the globe, but "_spirits, sons of the sun_" turning
invincibly to the light wheresoever it comes.
Whither should he go? He did not know. But instinctively his eyes turned to
the Latin South. And first to France--France, the eternal refuge of Germany
in distress. How often had German thought turned to France, without ceasing
to slander her! Even since seventy, what an attraction emanated from the
town which had been shattered and smoking under the German guns! The most
revolutionary and the most reactionary forms of thought and art had found
alternately and sometimes at once example and inspiration there. Like so
many other great German musicians in distress, Christophe turned towards
Paris.... What did he know of the French? Two women's faces and some chance
reading. That was enough for him to imagine a country of light, of gaiety,
of courage, and even of a little Gallic boasting, which does not sort ill
with the bold youth of the heart. He believed it all, because he needed to
believe it all, because, with all his soul, he would have liked it to be
* * * * *
He made up his mind to go. But he could not go because of his mother.
Louisa was growing old. She adored her son, who was her only joy, and she
was all that he most loved on earth. And yet they were always hurting each
other. She hardly understood Christophe, and did not try to understand him.
She was only concerned to love him. She had a narrow, timid, dull mind, and
a fine heart; an immense need of loving and being loved in which there was
something touching and sad. She respected her son because he seemed to her
to be very learned; but she did all she could to stifle his genius. She
thought he would stay all his life with her in their little town. They
had lived together for years, and she could not imagine that he would not
always be the same. She was happy: why should he not be happy, too? All her
dreams for him soared no higher than seeing him married to some prosperous
citizen of the town, hearing him play the organ at church on Sundays, and
never having him leave her. She regarded her son as though he were still
twelve years old. She would have liked him never to be more than that.
Innocently she inflicted torture on the unhappy man who was suffocated in
that narrow world.
And yet there was much truth--moral greatness--in that unconscious
philosophy of the mother, who could not understand ambition and saw all the
happiness of life in the family affections and the accomplishment of humble
duties. She was a creature who wished to love and only to love. Sooner
renounce life, reason, logic, the material world, everything, rather
than love! And that love was infinite, suppliant, exacting: it gave
everything--it wished to be given everything; it renounced life for love,
and it desired that renunciation from others, from the beloved. What a
power is the love of a simple soul! It makes it find at once what the
groping reasoning of an uncertain genius like Tolstoy, or the too refined
art of a dying civilization, discovers after a lifetime--ages--of bitter
struggle and exhausting effort! But the imperious world which was seething
in Christophe had very different laws and demanded another wisdom.
For a long time he had been wanting to announce his determination to his
mother. But he was fearful of the grief it would bring to her, and just
as he was about to speak he would lose his courage and put it off. Two or
three times he did timidly allude to his departure, but Louisa did not take
him seriously:--perhaps she preferred not to take him seriously, so as to
persuade him that he was talking in jest. Then he dared not go on; but he
would remain gloomy and thoughtful, or it was apparent that he had some
secret burden upon his soul. And the poor woman, who had an intuition as to
the nature of that secret, tried fearfully to delay the confession of it.
Sometimes in the evening, when they were sitting, silent, in the light of
the lamp, she would suddenly feel that he was going to speak, and then in
terror she would begin to talk, very quickly, at random, about nothing in
particular. She hardly knew what she was saying, but at all costs she must
keep him from speaking. Generally her instinct made her find the best means
of imposing silence on him: she would complain about her health, about
the swelling of her hands and feet, and the cramps in her legs. She would
exaggerate her sickness: call herself an old, useless, bed-ridden woman. He
was not deceived by her simple tricks. He would look at her sadly in dumb
reproach, and after a moment he would get up, saying that he was tired, and
go to bed.
But all her devices could not save Louisa for long. One evening, when she
resorted to them once more, Christophe gathered his courage and put his
hand on his mother's and said:
"No, mother. I have something to say to you." Louisa was horrified, but she
tried to smile and say chokingly:
"What is it, my dear?"
Christophe stammered out his intention of going. She tried to take it as a
joke and to turn the conversation as usual, but he was not to be put off,
and went on so deliberately and so seriously that there was no possibility
of doubt. Then she said nothing. Her pulse stopped, and she sat there dumb,
frozen, looking at him with terror in her eyes. Such sorrow showed in her
eyes as he spoke that he too stopped, and they sat, both speechless. When
at last she was able to recover her breath, she said--(her lips
"It is impossible.... It is impossible...."
Two large tears trickled down her cheeks. He turned his head away in
despair and hid his face in his hands. They wept. After some time he went
to his room and shut himself up until the morrow. They made no reference to
what had happened, and as he did not speak of it again she tried to pretend
that he had abandoned the project. But she lived on tenterhooks.
There came a time when he could hold himself in no longer. He had to speak
even if it broke his heart: he was suffering too much. The egoism of his
sorrow mastered the idea of the suffering he would bring to her. He spoke.
He went through with it, never looking at his mother, for fear of being too
greatly moved. He fixed the day for his departure so as to avoid a second
discussion--(he did not know if he could again win the sad courage that was
in him that day). Louisa cried:
"No, no! Stop, stop!..."
He set his teeth and went on implacably. When he had finished (she was
sobbing) he took her hands and tried to make her understand how it was
absolutely necessary for his art and his life for him to go away for some
time. She refused to listen. She wept and said:
"No, no!... I will not...."
After trying to reason with her, in vain, he left her, thinking that the
night would bring about a change in her ideas. But when they met next day
at breakfast he began once more to talk of his plans. She dropped the piece
of bread she was raising to her lips and said sorrowfully and
"Why do you want to torture me?"
He was touched, but he said:
"Dear mother, I must."
"No, no!" she replied. "You must not.... You want to hurt me.... It is a
They tried to convince each other, but they did not listen to each other.
He saw that argument was wasted; it would only make her suffer more, and he
began ostentatiously to prepare for his departure.
When she saw that no entreaty would stop him, Louisa relapsed into a gloomy
stupor. She spent her days locked up in her room and without a light, when
evening came. She did not speak or eat. At night he could hear her weeping.
He was racked by it. He could have cried out in his grief, as he lay all
night twisting and turning in his bed, sleeplessly, a prey to his remorse.
He loved her so. Why must he make her suffer?... Alas! She would not be the
only one: he saw that clearly.... Why had destiny given him the desire and
strength of a mission which must make those whom he loved suffer?
"Ah!" he thought. "If I were free, if I were not drawn on by the cruel need
of being what I must be, or else of dying in shame and disgust with myself,
how happy would I make you--you whom I love! Let me live first; do, fight,
suffer, and then I will come hack to you and love you more than ever. How I
would like only to love, love, love!..."
He never could have been strong enough to resist the perpetual reproach
of the grief-stricken soul had that reproach been strong enough to remain
silent. But Louisa, who was weak and rather talkative, could not keep the
sorrow that was stifling her to herself. She told her neighbors. She told
her two other sons. They could not miss such a fine opportunity of putting
Christophe in the wrong. Rodolphe especially, who had never ceased to be
jealous of his elder brother, although there was little enough reason for
it at the time--Rodolphe, who was cut to the quick by the least praise
of Christophe, and was secretly afraid of his future success, though he
never dared admit so base a thought--(for he was clever enough to feel
his brother's force, and to be afraid that others would feel it, too),
Rodolphe was only too happy to crush Christophe beneath the weight of his
superiority. He had never worried much about his mother, though he knew her
straitened circumstances: although he was well able to afford to help her,
he left it all to Christophe. But when he heard of Christophe's intention
he discovered at once hidden treasures of affection. He was furious at
his proposing to leave his mother and called it monstrous egoism. He was
impudent enough to tell Christophe so. He lectured him loftily like a child
who deserves smacking: he told him stiffly of his duty towards his mother
and of all that she had sacrificed for him. Christophe almost burst with
rage. He kicked Rodolphe out and called him a rascal and a hypocrite.
Rodolphe avenged himself by feeding his mother's indignation. Excited by
him, Louisa began to persuade herself that Christophe was behaving like a
bad son. She tried to declare that he had mo right to go, and she was only
too willing to believe it. Instead of using only her tears, which were her
strongest weapon, she reproached Christophe bitterly and unjustly, and
disgusted him. They said cruel things to each other: the result was that
Christophe, who, till then, had been hesitating, only thought of hastening
his preparations for his departure. He knew that the charitable neighbors
were commiserating his mother and that in the opinion of the neighborhood
she was regarded as a victim and himself as a monster. He set his teeth and
would not go back on his resolve.
The days passed. Christophe and Louisa hardly spoke to each other. Instead
of enjoying to the last drop their last days together, these two who loved
each other wasted the time that was left--as too often happens--in one of
those sterile fits of sullenness in which so many affections are swallowed
up. They only met at meals, when they sat opposite each other, not looking
at each other, never speaking, forcing themselves to eat a few mouthfuls,
not so much for the sake of eating as for the sake of appearances.
Christophe would contrive to mumble a few words, but Louisa would not
reply; and when she tried to talk he would be silent. This state of things
was intolerable to both of them, and the longer it went on the more
difficult it became to break it. Were they going to part like that? Louisa
admitted that she had been unjust and awkward, but she was suffering too
much to know how to win back her son's love, which she thought she had
lost, and at all costs to prevent his departure, the idea of which she
refused to face. Christophe stole glances at his mother's pale, swollen
face and he was torn by remorse; but he had made up his mind to go, and
knowing that he was going forever out of her life, he wished cowardly to be
gone to escape his remorse.
His departure was fixed for the next day but one. One of their sad meals
had just come to an end. When they finished their supper, during which they
had not spoken a word, Christophe withdrew to his room; and sitting at his
desk, with his head in his hands--he was incapable of working--he became
lost in thought. The night was drawing late: it was nearly one o'clock in
the morning. Suddenly he heard a noise, a chair upset in the next room. The
door opened and his mother appeared in her nightgown, barefooted, and threw
her arms round his neck and sobbed. She was feverish. She kissed her son
and moaned through her despairing sobs:
"Don't go! Don't go! I implore you! I implore you! My dear, don't go!... I
shall die.... I can't, I can't bear it!..."
He was alarmed and upset. He kissed her and said: "Dear mother, calm
yourself, please, please!"
But she went on:
"I can't bear it ... I have only you. If you go, what will become of me? I
shall die if you go. I don't want to die away from you. I don't want to die
alone. Wait until I am dead!..."
Her words rent his heart. He did not know what to say to console her. What
arguments could hold good against such an outpouring of love and sorrow!
He took her on his knees and tried to calm her with kisses and little
affectionate words. The old woman gradually became silent and wept softly.
When she was a little comforted, he said:
"Go to bed. You will catch cold."
She repeated: "Don't go!"
He said in a low voice: "I will not go."
She trembled and took his hand. "Truly?" she said. "Truly?"
He turned his head away sadly. "To-morrow," he answered, "I will tell you
to-morrow.... Leave me now, please!..."
She got up meekly and went back to her room. Next morning she was ashamed
of her despairing outburst which had come upon her like a madness in the
middle of the night, and she was fearful of what her son would say to her.
She waited for him, sitting in a corner of the room. She had taken up some
knitting for occupation, but her hands refused to hold it. She let it fall.
Christophe entered. They greeted each other in a whisper, without looking
at each other. He was gloomy, and went and stood by the window, with his
back to his mother, and he stayed without speaking. There was a great
struggle in him. He knew the result of it already, and was trying to delay
the issue. Louisa dared not speak a word to him and provoke the answer
which she expected and feared. She forced herself to take up her knitting
again, but she could not see what she was doing, and she dropped her
stitches. Outside it was raining. After a long silence Christophe came to
her. She did not stir, but her heart was beating. Christophe stood still
and looked at her, then, suddenly, he went down on his knees and hid his
face in his mother's dress, and without saying a word, he wept. Then she
understood that he was going to stay, and her heart was filled with a
mortal agony of joy--but at once she was seized by remorse, for she felt
all that her son was sacrificing for her, and she began to suffer all that
Christophe had suffered when it was she whom he sacrificed. She bent over
him and covered his brow and his hair with kisses. In silence their tears
and their sorrow mingled. At last he raised his head, and Louisa took his
face in her hands and looked into his eyes. She would have liked to say to
But she could not.
He would have liked to say to her:
"I am glad to stay."
But he could not.
The situation was hopeless; neither of them could alter it. She sighed in
her sorrow and love:
"Ah! if we could all be born and all die together!" Her simple way filled
him with tenderness; he dried his tears and tried to smile and said:
"We shall all die together."
"Truly you will not go?"
He got up:
"I have said so. Don't let us talk about it. There is nothing more to be
Christophe kept his word; he never talked of going again, but he could not
help thinking of it. He stayed, but he made his mother pay dearly for his
sacrifice by his sadness and bad temper. And Louisa tactlessly--much more
tactlessly than she knew, never failing to do what she ought not to have
done--Louisa, who knew only too well the reason of his grief, insisted on
his telling her what it was. She worried him with her affection, uneasy,
vexing, argumentative, reminding him every moment that they were very
different from each other--and that he was trying to forget. How often
he had tried to open his heart to her! But just as he was about to speak
the Great Wall of China would rise between them, and he would keep his
secrets buried in himself. She would guess, but she never dared invite his
confidence, or else she could not. When she tried she would succeed only in
flinging back in him those secrets which weighed so sorely on him and which
he was so longing to tell.
A thousand little things, harmless tricks, cut her off from him and
irritated Christophe. The good old creature was doting. She had to talk
about the local gossip, and she had that nurse's tenderness which will
recall all the silly little things of the earliest years, and everything
that is associated with the cradle. We have such difficulty in issuing
from it and growing into men and women! And Juliet's nurse must forever
be laying before us our duty-swaddling clothes, commonplace thoughts,
the whole unhappy period in which the growing soul struggles against the
oppression of vile matter or stifling surroundings!
And with it all she had little outbursts of touching tenderness--as though
to a little child--which used to move him greatly and he would surrender to
them--like a little child.
The worst of all to bear was living from morning to night as they did,
together, always together, isolated from the rest of the world. When two
people suffer and cannot help each other's suffering, exasperation is
fatal; each in the end holds the other responsible for the suffering; and
each in the end believes it. It were better to be alone; alone in
It was a daily torment for both of them. They would never have broken free
if chance had not come to break the cruel indecision, against which they
were struggling, in a way that seemed unfortunate--but it was really
It was a Sunday in October. Four o'clock in the afternoon. The weather was
brilliant. Christophe had stayed in his room all day, chewing the cud of
He could bear it no longer; he wanted desperately to go out, to walk, to
expend his energy, to tire himself out, so as to stop thinking.
Relations with his mother had been strained since the day before. He was
just going out without saying good-bye to her; but on the stairs he thought
how it would hurt her the whole evening when she was left alone. He went
back, making an excuse of having left something in his room. The door of
his mother's room was ajar. He put his head in through the aperture. He
watched his mother for a, few moments.... (What a place those two seconds
were to fill in his life ever after!)...
Louisa had just come in from vespers. She was sitting in her favorite
place, the recess of the window. The wall of the house opposite, dirty
white and cracked, obstructed the view, but from the corner where she sat
she could see to the right through the yards of the next houses a little
patch of lawn the size of a pocket-handkerchief. On the window-sill a
pot of convolvulus climbed along its threads and over this frail ladder
stretched its tendrils which were caressed by a ray of sunlight. Louisa was
sitting in a low chair bending over her great Bible which was open on her
lap, but she was not reading. Her hands were laid flat on the book--her
hands with their swollen veins, worker's nails, square and a little
bent--and she was devouring with loving eyes the little plant and the patch
of sky she could see through it. A sunbeam, basking on the green gold
leaves, lit up her tired face, with its rather blotchy complexion, her
white, soft, and rather thick hair, and her lips, parted in a smile. She
was enjoying her hour of rest. It was the best moment of the week to her.
She made use of it to sink into that state so sweet to those who suffer,
when thoughts dwell on nothing, and in torpor nothing speaks save the heart
and that is half asleep.
"Mother," he said, "I want to go out. I am going by Buir. I shall be rather
Louisa, who was dozing off, trembled a little. Then she turned her head
towards him and looked at him with her calm, kind eyes.
"Yes, my dear, go," she said. "You are right; make use of the fine
She smiled at him. He smiled at her. They looked at each other for a
moment, then they said good-night affectionately, nodding and smiling with
He closed the door softly. She slipped back into her reverie, which her
son's smile had lit up with a bright ray of light like the sunbeam on the
pale leaves of the convolvulus.
So he left her--forever.
* * * * *
An October evening. A pale watery sun. The drowsy country is sinking to
sleep. Little village bells are slowly ringing in the silence of the
fields. Columns of smoke rise slowly in the midst of the plowed fields. A
fine mist hovers in the distance. The white fogs are awaiting the coming of
the night to rise.... A dog with his nose to the ground was running in
circles in a field of beet. Great flocks of crows whirled against the gray
Christophe went on dreaming, having no fixed object, but yet instinctively
he was walking in a definite direction. For several weeks his walks round
the town had gravitated whether he liked it or not towards another village
where he was sure to meet a pretty girl who attracted him. It was only an
attraction, but it was very vivid and rather disturbing. Christophe could
hardly do without loving some one; and his heart was rarely left empty;
it always had some lovely image for its idol. Generally it did not matter
whether the idol knew of his love; his need was to love, the fire must
never be allowed to go out; there must never be darkness in his heart.
The object of this new flame was the daughter of a peasant whom he had met,
as Eliezer met Rebecca, by a well; but she did not give him to drink; she
threw water in his face. She was kneeling by the edge of a stream in a
hollow in the bank between two willows, the roots of which made a sort of
nest about her; she was washing linen vigorously; and her tongue was not
less active than her arms; she was talking and laughing loudly with other
girls of the village who were washing opposite her or the other side of the
stream. Christophe was lying in the grass a few yards away, and, with his
chin resting in his hands, he watched them. They were not put out by it;
they went on chattering in a style which sometimes did not lack bluntness.
He hardly listened; he heard only the sound of their merry voices, mingling
with the noise of their washing pots, and with the distant lowing of the
cows in the meadows, and he was dreaming, never taking his eyes off the
beautiful washerwoman. A bright young face would make him glad for a whole
day. It was not long before the girls made out which of them he was looking
at; and they made caustic remarks to each other; the girl he preferred was
not the least cutting in the observations she threw at him. As he did not
budge, she got up, took a bundle of linen washed and wrung, and began to
lay it out on the bushes near him so as to have an excuse for looking at
him. As she passed him she continued to splash him with her wet clothes
and she looked at him boldly and laughed. She was thin and strong: she had
a fine chin, a little underhung, a short nose, arching eyebrows, deep-set
blue eyes, bold, bright and hard, a pretty mouth with thick lips, pouting a
little like those of a Greek maid, a mass of fair hair turned up in a knot
on her head, and a full color. She carried her head very erect, tittered at
every word she said and even when she said nothing, and walked like a man,
swinging her sunburned arms. She went on laying out hey linen while she
looked at Christophe with a provoking smile--waiting for him to speak.
Christophe stared at her too; but he had no desire to talk to her. At last
she burst out laughing to his face and turned back towards her companions.
He stayed lying where he was until evening fell and he saw her go with her
bundle on her back and her bare arms crossed, her back bent under her load,
still talking and laughing.
He saw her again a few days later at the town market among heaps of carrots
and tomatoes and cucumbers and cabbages. He lounged about watching the
crowd of women, selling, who were standing in a line by their baskets
like slaves for sale. The police official went up to each of them with
his satchel and roll of tickets, receiving a piece of money and giving a
paper. The coffee seller went from row to row with a basket full of little
coffee pots. And an old nun, plump and jovial, went round the market with
two large baskets on her arms and without any sort of humility begged
vegetables, or talked of the good God. The women shouted: the old scales
with their green painted pans jingled and clanked with the noise of their
chains; the big dogs harnessed to the little carts barked loudly, proud of
their importance. In the midst of the rabble Christophe saw Rebecca.--Her
real name was Lorchen (Eleanor).--On her fair hair she had placed a large
cabbage leaf, green and white, which made a dainty lace cap for her. She
was sitting on a basket by a heap of golden onions, little pink turnips,
haricot beans, and ruddy apples, and she was munching her own apples one
after another without trying to sell them. She never stopped eating. From
time to time she would dry her chin and wipe it with her apron, brush back
her hair with her arm, rub her cheek against her shoulder, or her nose with
the back of her hand. Or, with her hands on her knees, she would go on and
on throwing a handful of shelled peas from one to the other. And she would
look to right and left idly and indifferently. But she missed nothing of
what was going on about her. And without seeming to do so she marked every
glance cast in her direction. She saw Christophe. As she talked to her
customers she had a way of raising her eyebrows and looking at her admirer
over their heads. She was as dignified and serious as a Pope; but inwardly
she was laughing at Christophe. And he deserved it; he stood there a few
yards away devouring her with his eyes, then he went away without speaking
to her. He had not the least desire to do so.
He came back more than once to prowl round the market and the village where
she lived. She would be about the yard of the farm; he would stop on the
road to look at her. He did not admit that he came to see her, and indeed
he did so almost unconsciously. When, as often happened, he was absorbed by
the composition of some work he would be rather like a somnambulist: while
his conscious soul was following its musical ideas the rest of him would be
delivered up to the other unconscious soul which is forever watching for
the smallest distraction of the mind to take the freedom of the fields. He
was often bewildered by the buzzing of his musical ideas when he was face
to face with her; and he would go on dreaming as he watched her. He could
not have said that he loved her; he did not even think of that; it gave him
pleasure to see her, nothing more. He did not take stock of the desire
which was always bringing him back to her.
His insistence was remarked. The people at the farm joked about it, for
they had discovered who Christophe was. But they left him in peace; for he
was quite harmless. He looked silly enough in truth; but he never bothered
* * * * *
There was a holiday in the village. Little boys were crushing crackers
between stones and shouting "God save the Emperor!" ("_Kaiser lebe!
Hoch!_"). A cow shut up in the barn and the men drinking at the inn were
to be heard. Kites with long tails like comets dipped and swung in the air
above the fields. The fowls were scratching frantically in the straw and
the golden dung-heap; the wind blew out their feathers like the skirts of
an old lady. A pink pig was sleeping voluptuously on his side in the sun.
Christophe made his way towards the red roof of the inn of the _Three
Kings_ above which floated a little flag. Strings of onions hung by the
door, and the windows were decorated with red and yellow flowers. He went
into the saloon, filled with tobacco smoke, where yellowing chromos hung on
the walls and in the place of honor a colored portrait of the Emperor-King
surrounded with a wreath of oak leaves. People were dancing. Christophe was
sure his charmer would be there. He sat in a corner of the room from which
he could watch the movement of the dancers undisturbed. But in spite of all
this care to pass unnoticed Lorchen spied him out in his corner. While she
waltzed indefatigably she threw quick glances at him over her partner's