Part 12 out of 12
shoulder to make sure that he was still looking at her; and it amused her
to excite him; she coquetted with the young men of the village, laughing
the while with her wide mouth. She talked a great deal and said silly
things and was not very different from the girls of the polite world who
think they must laugh and move about and play to the gallery when anybody
looks at them, instead of keeping their foolishness to themselves. But they
are not so very foolish either; for they know quite well that the gallery
only looks at them and does not listen to what they say.--With his elbows
on the table and his chin in his hands Christophe watched the girl's tricks
with burning, furious eyes; his mind was free enough not to be taken in by
her wiles, but he was not enough himself not to be led on by them; and he
growled with rage and he laughed in silence and shrugged his shoulders in
falling into the snare.
Not only the girl was watching him; Lorchen's father also had his eyes
on him. Thick-set and short, bald-headed--a big head with a short
nose--sunburned skull with a fringe of hair that had been fair and hung in
thick curls like Duerer's St. John, clean-shaven, expressionless face, with
a long pipe in the corner of his mouth, he was talking very deliberately
to some other peasants while all the time he was watching Christophe's
pantomime out of the corner of his eye; and he laughed softly. After a
moment he coughed and a malicious light shone in his little gray eyes and
he came and sat at Christophe's table. Christophe was annoyed and turned
and scowled at him; he met the cunning look of the old man, who addressed
Christophe familiarly without taking his pipe from his lips. Christophe
knew him; he knew him for a common old man; but his weakness for his
daughter made him indulgent towards the father and even gave him a queer
pleasure in being with him; the old rascal saw that. After talking about
rain and fine weather and some chaffing reference to the pretty girls in
the room, and a remark on Christophe's not dancing he concluded that
Christophe was right not to put himself out and that it was much better to
sit at table with a mug in his hand; without ceremony he invited himself to
have a drink. While he drank the old man went on talking deliberately as
always. He spoke about his affairs, the difficulty of gaining a livelihood,
the bad weather and high prices. Christophe hardly listened and only
replied with an occasional grunt; he was not interested; he was looking at
Lorchen. Christophe wondered what had procured him the honor of the old
man's company and confidences. At last he understood. When the old man had
exhausted his complaints he passed on to another chapter; he praised the
quality of his produce, his vegetables, his fowls, his eggs, his milk, and
suddenly he asked if Christophe could not procure him the custom of the
Palace. Christophe started:
"How the devil did he know?... He knew him then?"
"Oh, yes," said the old man. "Everything is known ..." He did not add:
"... when you take the trouble to make enquiries."
But Christophe added it for him. He took a wicked pleasure in telling him
that although everything was known, he was no doubt unaware that he had
just quarreled with the Court and that if he had ever been able to flatter
himself on having some credit with the servants' quarters and butchers of
the Palace--(which he doubted strongly)--that credit at present was dead
and buried. The old man's lips twitched imperceptibly. However, he was
not put out and after a moment he asked if Christophe could not at least
recommend him to such and such a family. And he mentioned all those with
whom Christophe had had dealings; for he had informed himself of them at
the market, and there was no danger of his forgetting any detail that might
be useful to him. Christophe would have been furious at such spying upon
him had he not rather wanted to laugh at the thought that the old man would
be robbed in spite of all his cunning (for he had no doubt of the value of
the recommendation he was asking--a recommendation more likely to make him
lose his customers than to procure him fresh ones). So he let him empty
all his bag of clumsy tricks and answered neither "Yes" nor "No." But the
peasant persisted and finally he came down to Christophe and Louisa whom he
had kept for the end, and expressed his keen desire to provide them with
milk, butter and cream. He added that as Christophe was a musician nothing
was so good for the voice as a fresh egg swallowed raw morning and evening;
and he tried hard to make him let him provide him with these, warm from the
hen. The idea of the old peasant taking him for a singer made Christophe
roar with laughter. The peasant took advantage of that to order another
bottle. And then having got all he could out of Christophe for the time
being he went away without further ceremony.
Night had fallen. The dancing had become more and more excited. Lorchen had
ceased to pay any attention to Christophe; she was too busy turning the
head of a young lout of the village, the son of a rich farmer, for whom all
the girls were competing. Christophe was interested by the struggle; the
young women smiled at each other and would have been only too pleased to
scratch each other. Christophe forgot himself and prayed for the triumph
of Lorchen. But when her triumph was won he felt a little downcast. He was
enraged by it. He did not love Lorchen; he did not want to be loved by her;
it was natural that she should love anybody she liked.--No doubt. But it
was not pleasant to receive so little sympathy himself when he had so much
need of giving and receiving. Here, as in the town, he was alone. All these
people were only interested in him while they could make use of him and
then laugh at him. He sighed, smiled as he looked at Lorchen, whom her joy
in the discomfiture of her rivals had made ten times prettier than ever,
and got ready to go. It was nearly nine. He had fully two miles to go to
He got up from the table when the door opened and a handful of soldiers
burst in. Their entry dashed the gaiety of the place. The people began to
whisper. A few couples stopped dancing to look uneasily at the new
arrivals. The peasants standing near the door deliberately turned their
backs on them and began to talk among themselves; but without seeming to do
so they presently contrived to leave room for them to pass. For some time
past the whole neighborhood had been at loggerheads with the garrisons of
the fortresses round it. The soldiers were bored to death and wreaked their
vengeance on the peasants. They made coarse fun of them, maltreated them,
and used the women as though they were in a conquered country. The week
before some of them, full of wine, had disturbed a feast at a neighboring
village and had half killed a farmer. Christophe, who knew these things,
shared the state of mind of the peasant, and he sat down again and waited
to see what would happen.
The soldiers were not worried by the ill-will with which their entry was
received, and went noisily and sat down at the full tables, jostling the
people away from them to make room; it was the affair of a moment. Most of
the people, went away grumbling. An old man sitting at the end of a bench
did not move quickly enough; they lifted the bench and the old man toppled
over amid roars of laughter. Christophe felt the blood rushing to his head;
he got up indignantly; but, as he was on the point of interfering, he saw
the old man painfully pick himself up and instead of complaining humbly
crave pardon. Two of the soldiers came to Christophe's table; he watched
them come and clenched his fists. But he did not have to defend himself.
They were two tall, strong, good-humored louts, who had followed sheepishly
one or two daredevils and were trying to imitate them. They were
intimidated by Christophe's defiant manner, and when he said curtly: "This
place is taken," they hastily begged his pardon and withdrew to their end
of the bench so as not to disturb him. There had been a masterful
inflection in his voice; their natural servility came to the fore. They saw
that Christophe was not a peasant.
Christophe was a little mollified by their submission, and was able to
watch things more coolly. It was not difficult to see that the gang were
led by a non-commissioned officer--a little bull-dog of a man with hard
eyes--with a rascally, hypocritical and wicked face; he was one of the
heroes of the affray of the Sunday before. He was sitting at the table next
to Christophe. He was drunk already and stared at the people and threw
insulting sarcasms at them which they pretended not to hear. He attacked
especially the couples dancing, describing their physical advantages or
defects with a coarseness of expression which made his companions laugh.
The girls blushed and tears came to their eyes; the young men ground their
teeth and raged in silence. Their tormentor's eyes wandered slowly round
the room, sparing nobody; Christophe saw them moving towards himself. He
seized his mug, and clenched his fist on the table and waited, determined
to throw the liquor at his head on the first insult. He said to himself:
"I am mad. It would be better to go away. They will slit me up; and then if
I escape they will put me in prison; the game is not worth the candle. I'd
better go before he provokes me."
But his pride would not let him, he would not seem to be running away from
such brutes as these. The officer's cunning brutal stare was fixed on him.
Christophe stiffened and glared at him angrily. The officer looked at him
for a moment; Christophe's face irritated him; he nudged his neighbor and
pointed out the young man with a snigger; and he opened his lips to insult
him. Christophe gathered himself together and was just about to fling his
mug at him.... Once more chance saved him. Just as the drunken man was
about to speak an awkward couple of dancers bumped into him and made him
drop his glass. He turned furiously and let loose a flood of insults. His
attention was distracted; he forgot Christophe. Christophe waited for a few
minutes longer; then seeing that his enemy had no thought of going on with
his remarks he got up, slowly took his hat and walked leisurely towards the
door. He did not take his eyes off the bench where the other was sitting,
just to let him feel that he was not giving in to him. But the officer had
forgotten him altogether; no one took any notice of him.
He was just turning the handle of the door; in a few seconds he would have
been outside. But it was ordered that he should not leave so soon. An angry
murmur rose at the end of the room. When the soldiers had drunk they had
decided to dance. And as all the girls had their cavaliers they drove away
their partners, who submitted to it. But Lorchen was not going to put up
with that. It was not for nothing that she had her bold eyes and her firm
chin which so charmed Christophe. She was waltzing like a mad thing when
the officer who had fixed his choice upon her came and pulled her partner
away from her. She stamped with her foot, screamed, and pushed the soldier
away, declaring that she would never dance with such a boor. He pursued
her. He dispersed with his fists the people behind whom she was trying to
hide. At last she took refuge behind a table; and then protected from him
for a moment she took breath to scream abuse at him; she saw that all her
resistance would be useless and she stamped with rage and groped for the
most violent words to fling at him and compared his face to that of various
animals of the farm-yard. He leaned towards her over the table, smiled
wickedly, and his eyes glittered with rage. Suddenly he pounced and jumped
over the table. He caught hold of her. She struggled with feet and fists
like the cow-woman she was. He was not too steady on his legs and almost
lost his balance. In his fury he flung her against the wall and slapped her
face. He had no time to do it again; some one had jumped on his back, and
was cuffing him and kicking him back into the crowd. It was Christophe who
had flung himself on him, overturning tables and people without stopping to
think of what he was doing. Mad with rage, the officer turned and drew his
saber. Before he could make use of it Christophe felled him with a stool.
The whole thing had been So sudden that none of the spectators had time to
think of interfering. The other soldiers ran to Christophe drawing their
sabers. The peasants flung themselves at them. The uproar became general.
Mugs flew across the room; the tables were overturned. The peasants woke
up; they had old scores to pay off. The men rolled about on the ground and
bit each other savagely. Lorchen's partner, a stolid farm-hand, had caught
hold of the head of the soldier who had just insulted him and was banging
it furiously against the wall. Lorchen, armed with a cudgel, was striking
out blindly. The other girls ran away screaming, except for a few wantons
who joined in heartily. One of them--a fat little fair girl--seeing a
gigantic soldier--the same who had sat at Christophe's table--crushing in
the chest of his prostrate adversary with his boot, ran to the fire, came
back, dragged the brute's head backwards and flung a handful of burning
ashes into his eyes. The man bellowed. The girl gloated, abused the
disarmed enemy, whom the peasants now thwacked at their ease. At last the
soldiers finding themselves on the losing side rushed away leaving two of
their number on the floor. The fight went on in the village street. They
burst into the houses crying murder, and trying to smash everything. The
peasants followed them with forks, and set their savage dogs on them. A
third soldier fell with his belly cleft by a fork. The others had to fly
and were hunted out of the village, and from a distance they shouted as
they ran across the fields that they would fetch their comrades and come
The peasants, left masters of the field, returned to the inn; they were
exultant; it was a revenge for all the outrages they had suffered for so
long. They had as yet no thought of the consequences of the affray. They
all talked at once and boasted of their prowess. They fraternized with
Christophe, who was delighted to feel in touch with them. Lorchen came and
took his hand and held it for a moment in her rough paw while she giggled
at him. She did not think him ridiculous for the moment.
They looked to the wounded. Among the villagers there were only a few teeth
knocked out, a few ribs broken and a few slight bruises and scars. But it
was very different with the soldiers. They were seriously injured: the
giant whose eyes had been burned had had his shoulder half cut off with a
hatchet; the man whose belly had been pierced was dying; and there was the
officer who had been knocked down by Christophe. They were laid out by the
hearth. The officer, who was the least injured of the three, had just
opened his eyes. He took a long look at the ring of peasants leaning over
him, a look filled with hatred. Hardly had he regained consciousness of
what had happened than he began to abuse them. He swore that he would be
avenged and would settle their hash, the whole lot of them; he choked with
rage; it was palpable that if he could he would exterminate them. They
tried to laugh, but their laughter was forced. A young peasant shouted to
the wounded man:
"Hold your gab or I'll kill you."
The officer tried to get up, and he glared at the man who had just spoken
to him with blood-shot eyes:
"Swine!" he said. "Kill me! They'll cut your heads off."
He went on shouting. The man who had been ripped up screamed like a
bleeding pig. The third was stiff and still like a dead man. A crushing
terror came over the peasants. Lorchen and some women carried the wounded
men to another room. The shouts of the officer and the screams of the dying
man died away. The peasants were silent; they stood fixed in the circle as
though the three bodies were still lying at their feet; they dared not
budge and looked at each other in panic. At last Lorchen's father said:
"You have done a fine piece of work!"
There was an agonized murmuring; their throats were dry. Then they began
all to talk at once. At first they whispered as though they were afraid of
eavesdroppers, but soon they raised their voices and became more vehement;
they accused each other; they blamed each other for the blows they had
struck. The dispute became acrid; they seemed to be on the point of going
for each other. Lorchen's father brought them to unanimity. With his arms
folded he turned towards Christophe and jerked his chin at him:
"And," he said, "what business had this fellow here?"
The wrath of the rabble was turned on Christophe:
"True! True!" they cried. "He began it! But for him nothing would have
Christophe was amazed. He tried to reply:
"You know perfectly that what I did was for you, not for myself."
But they replied furiously:
"Aren't we capable of defending ourselves? Do you think we need a gentleman
from the town to tell us what we should do? Who asked your advice? And
besides who asked you to come? Couldn't you stay at home?"
Christophe shrugged his shoulders and turned towards the door. But
Lorchen's father barred the way, screaming:
"That's it! That's it!" he shouted. "He would like to cut away now after
getting us all into a scrape. He shan't go!"
The peasants roared:
"He shan't go! He's the cause of it all. He shall pay for it all!"
They surrounded him and shook their fists at him. Christophe saw the circle
of threatening faces closing in upon him; fear had infuriated them. He said
nothing, made a face of disgust, threw his hat on the table, went and sat
at the end of the room, and turned his back on them.
But Lorchen was angry and flung herself at the peasants. Her pretty face
was red and scowling with rage. She pushed back the people who were
crowding round Christophe:
"Cowards! Brute beasts!" she cried. "Aren't you ashamed? You want to
pretend that he brought it all on you! As if they did not see you all! As
if there was a single one of you who had not hit out his hand as he
could!... If there had been a man who had stayed with his arms folded while
the others were fighting I would spit in his face and call him: Coward!
The peasants, surprised by this unexpected outburst, stayed for a moment in
silence; they began to shout again:
"He began it! Nothing would have happened but for him."
In vain did Lorchen's father make signs to his daughter. She went on:
"Yes. He did begin it! That is nothing for you to boast about. But for him
you would have let them insult you. You would have let them insult you. You
cowards! You funks!"
She abused her partner:
"And you, you said nothing. Your heart was in your mouth; you held out your
bottom to be kicked. You would have thanked them for it! Aren't you
ashamed?... Aren't you all ashamed? You are not men! You're as brave as
sheep with your noses to the ground all the time! He had to give you an
example!--And now you want to make him bear everything?... Well, I tell
you, that shan't happen! He fought for us. Either you save him or you'll
suffer along with him. I give you my word for it!"
Lorchen's father caught her arm. He was beside himself and shouted:
"Shut up! Shut up!... Will you shut up, you bitch!"
But she thrust him away and went on again. The peasants yelled. She shouted
louder than they in a shrill, piercing scream:
"What have you to say to it all? Do you think I did not see you just now
kicking the man who is lying half dead in the next room? And you, show me
your hands!... There's blood on them. Do you think I did not see you with
your knife? I shall tell everything I saw if you do the least thing against
him. I will have you all condemned."
The infuriated peasants thrust their faces into Lorchen's and bawled at
her. One of them made as though to box her ears, but Lorchen's lover seized
him by the scruff of the neck and they jostled each other and were on the
point of coming to blows. An old man said to Lorchen:
"If we are condemned, you will be too."
"I shall be too," she said, "I am not so cowardly as you."
And she burst out again.
They did not know what to do. They turned to her father:
"Can't you make her be silent?"
The old man had understood that it was not wise to push Lorchen too far. He
signed to them to be calm. Silence came. Lorchen went on talking alone;
then as she found no response, like a fire without fuel, she stopped. After
a moment her father coughed and said:
"Well, then, what do you want? You don't want to ruin us."
"I want him to be saved."
They began to think. Christophe had not moved from where he sat; he was
stiff and proud and seemed not to understand that they were discussing him;
but he was touched by Lorchen's intervention. Lorchen seemed not to be
aware of his presence; she was leaning against the table by which he was
sitting, and glaring defiantly at the peasants, who were smoking and
looking down at the ground. At last her father chewed his pipe for a little
"Whether we say anything or not,--if he stays he is done for. The sergeant
major recognized him; he won't spare him. There is only one thing for him
to do--to get away at once to the other side of the frontier."
He had come to the conclusion it would be better for them all If Christophe
escaped; in that way he would admit his guilt, and when he was no longer
there to defend himself it would not be difficult to put upon him the
burden of the affair. The others agreed. They understood each other
perfectly.--Now that they had come to a decision they were all in a hurry
for Christophe to go. Without being in the least embarrassed by what they
had been saying a moment before they came up to him and pretended to be
deeply interested in his welfare.
"There is not a moment to lose, sir," said Lorchen's father. "They will
come back. Half an hour to go to the fortress. Half an hour to come
back.... There is only just time to slip away."
Christophe had risen. He too had been thinking. He knew that if he stayed
he was lost. But to go, to go without seeing his mother?... No. It was
impossible. He said that he would first go back to the town and would still
have time to go during the night and cross the frontier. But they protested
loudly. They had barred the door just before to prevent his going; now they
wanted to prevent his not going. If he went back to the town he was certain
to be caught; they would know at the fortress before he got there; they
would await him at home.--He insisted. Lorchen had understood him:
"You want to see your mother?... I will go instead of you."
"Really! You will do that?"
"I will go."
She took her shawl and put it round her head.
"Write a letter. I will take it to her. Come with me. I will give you some
She took him into the inner room. At the door she turned, and addressing
"And do you get ready," she said. "You must take him. You must not leave
him until you have seen him over the frontier."
He was as eager as anybody to see Christophe over into France and farther
Lorchen went into the next room with Christophe. He was still hesitating.
He was torn by grief at the thought that he would not be able to embrace
his mother. When would he see her again? She was so old, so worn out, so
lonely! This fresh blow would be too much for her. What would become of her
without him?... But what would become of him if he stayed and were
condemned and put in prison for years? Would not that even more certainly
mean destitution and misery for her? If he were free, though far away, he
could always help her, or she could come to him.--He had not time to see
clearly in his mind. Lorchen took his hands--she stood near him and looked
at him; their faces were almost touching; she threw her arms round his neck
and kissed his mouth:
"Quick! Quick!" she whispered, pointing to the table, He gave up trying to
think. He sat down. She tore a sheet of squared paper with red lines from
an account book.
"My DEAR MOTHER: Forgive me. I am going to hurt you much. I cannot do
otherwise. I have done nothing wrong. But now I must fly and leave the
country. The girl who brings you this letter will tell you everything. I
wanted to say good-bye to you. They will not let me. They say that I should
be arrested. I am so unhappy that I have no will left. I am going over the
frontier but I shall stay near it until you have written to me; the girl
who brings you my letter will bring me your reply. Tell me what to do. I
will do whatever you say. Do you want me to come back? Tell me to come
back! I cannot bear the idea of leaving you alone. What will you do to
live? Forgive me! Forgive me! I love you and I kiss you...."
"Be quick, sir, or we shall be too late," said Lorchen's swain, pushing the
Christophe wrote his name hurriedly and gave the letter to Lorchen.
"You will give it to her yourself?"
"I am going," she said.
She was already ready to go.
"To-morrow," she went on, "I will bring you her reply; you must wait for me
at Leiden,--(the first station beyond the German frontier)--on the
(She had read Christophe's letter over his shoulder as he wrote.)
"You will tell me everything and how she bore the blow and everything she
says to you? You will not keep anything from me?" said Christophe
"I will tell you everything."
They were not so free to talk now, for the young man was at the door
"And then, Herr Christophe," said Lorchen, "I will go and see her sometimes
and I will send you news of her; do not be anxious."
She shook hands with him vigorously like a man.
"Let us go!" said the peasant.
"Let us go!" said Christophe.
All three went out. On the road they parted. Lorchen went one way and
Christophe, with his guide, the other. They did not speak. The crescent
moon veiled in mists was disappearing behind the woods. A pale light
hovered over the fields. In the hollows the mists had risen thick and milky
white. The shivering trees were bathed in the moisture of the air.--They
were not more than a few minutes gone from the village when the peasant
flung back sharply and signed to Christophe to stop. They listened. On the
road in front of them they heard the regular tramp of a troop of soldiers
coming towards them. The peasant climbed the hedge into the fields.
Christophe followed him. They walked away across the plowed fields. They
heard the soldiers go by on the road. In the darkness the peasant shook his
fist at them. Christophe's heart stopped like a hunted animal that hears
the baying of the hounds. They returned to the road again, avoiding the
villages and isolated farms where the barking of the dogs betrayed them to
the countryside. On the slope of a wooded hill they saw in the distance the
red lights of the railway. They took the direction of the signals and
decided to go to the first station. It was not easy. As they came down into
the valley they plunged into the fog. They had to jump a few streams. Soon
they found themselves in immense fields of beetroot and plowed land; they
thought they would never be through. The plain was uneven; there were
little rises and hollows into which they were always in danger of falling.
At last after walking blindly through the fog they saw suddenly a few yards
away the signal light of the railway at the top of an embankment. They
climbed the bank. At the risk of being run over they followed the rails
until they were within a hundred yards of the station; then they took to
the road again. They reached the station twenty minutes before the train
went. In spite of Lorchen's orders the peasant left Christophe; he was in a
hurry to go back to see what had happened to the others and to his own
Christophe took a ticket for Leiden and waited alone in the empty
third-class waiting room. An official who was asleep on a seat came and
looked at Christophe's ticket and opened the door for him when the train
came in. There was nobody in the carriage. Everybody in the train was
asleep. In the fields all was asleep. Only Christophe did not sleep in
spite of his weariness. As the heavy iron wheels approached the frontier he
felt a fearful longing to be out of reach. In an hour he would be free. But
till then a word would be enough to have him arrested.... Arrested! His
whole being revolted at the word. To be stifled by odious force!... He
could not breathe. His mother, his country, that he was leaving, were no
longer in his thoughts. In the egoism of his threatened liberty he thought
only of that liberty of his life which he wished to save. Whatever it might
cost! Even at the cost of crime. He was bitterly sorry that he had taken
the train instead of continuing the journey to the frontier on foot. He had
wanted to gain a few hours. A fine gain! He was throwing himself into the
jaws of the wolf. Surely they were waiting for him at the frontier station;
orders must have been given; he would be arrested.... He thought for a
moment of leaving the train while it was moving, before it reached the
station; he even opened the door of the carriage, but it was too late; the
train was at the station. It stopped. Fire minutes. An eternity. Christophe
withdrew to the end of the compartment and hid behind the curtain and
anxiously watched the platform on which a gendarme was standing motionless.
The station master came out of his office with a telegram in his hand and
went hurriedly up to the gendarme. Christophe had no doubt that it was
about himself. He looked for a weapon. He had only a strong knife with two
blades. He opened it in his pocket. An official with a lamp on his chest
had passed the station master and was running along the train. Christophe
saw him coming. His fist closed on the handle of the knife in his pocket
and he thought:
"I am lost."
He was in such a state of excitement that he would have been capable of
plunging the knife into the man's breast if he had been unfortunate enough
to come straight to him and open his compartment. But the official stopped
at the next carriage to look at the ticket of a passenger who had just
taken his seat. The train moved on again. Christophe repressed the
throbbing of his heart. He did not stir. He dared hardly say to himself
that he was saved. He would not say it until he had crossed the
frontier.... Day was beginning to dawn. The silhouettes of the trees were
starting out of the night. A carriage was passing on the road like a
fantastic shadow with a jingle of bells and a winking eye.... With his face
close pressed to the window Christophe tried to see the post with the
imperial arms which marked the bounds of his servitude. He was still
looking for it in the growing light when the train whistled to announce its
arrival at the first Belgian station.
He got up, opened the door wide, and drank in the icy air. Free! His whole
life before him! The joy of life!... And at once there came upon him
suddenly all the sadness of what he was leaving, all the sadness of what he
was going to meet; and he was overwhelmed by the fatigue of that night of
emotion. He sank down on the seat. He had hardly been in the station a
minute. When a minute later an official opened the door of the carriage he
found Christophe asleep. Christophe awoke, dazed, thinking he had been
asleep an hour; he got out heavily and dragged himself to the customs, and
when he was definitely accepted on foreign territory, having no more to
defend himself, he lay down along a seat in the waiting room and dropped
off and slept like a log.
* * * * *
He awoke about noon. Lorchen could hardly come before two or three o'clock.
While he was waiting for the trains he walked up and down the platform of
the little station. Then he went straight on into the middle of the fields;
It was a gray and joyless day giving warning of the approach of winter. The
light was dim. The plaintive whistle of a train stopping was all that broke
the melancholy silence. Christophe stopped a few yards away from the
frontier in the deserted country. Before him was a little pond, a clear
pool of water, in which the gloomy sky was reflected. It was inclosed by a
fence and two trees grew by its side. On the right, a poplar with leafless
trembling top. Behind, a great walnut tree with black naked branches like a
monstrous polypus. The black fruit of it swung heavily on it. The last
withered leaves were decaying and falling one by one upon the still
It seemed to him that he had already seen them, the two trees, the pond
...--and suddenly he had one of those moments of giddiness which open great
distances in the plain of life. A chasm in Time. He knew not where he was,
who he was, in what age he lived, through how many ages he had been so.
Christophe had a feeling that it had already been, that what was, now, was
not, now, but in some other time. He was no longer himself. He was able to
see himself from outside, from a great distance, as though it were some one
else standing there in that place. He heard the buzzing of memory and of an
unknown creature within himself; the blood boiled in his veins and roared:
"Thus ... Thus .. Thus ..."
The centuries whirled through him.... Many other Kraffts had passed through
the experiences which were his on that day, and had tasted the wretchedness
of the last hour on their native soil. A wandering race, banished
everywhere for their independence and disturbing qualities. A race always
the prey of an inner demon that never let it settle anywhere. A race
attached to the soil from which it was torn, and never, never ceasing to
Christophe in his turn was passing through these same sorrowful
experiences; and he was finding on the way the footsteps of those who had
gone before him. With tears in his eyes he watched his native land
disappear in the mist, his country to which he had to say farewell.--Had he
not ardently desired to leave it?--Yes; but now that he was actually
leaving it he felt himself racked by anguish. Only a brutish heart can part
without emotion from the motherland. Happy or unhappy he had lived with
her; she was his mother and his comrade; he had slept in her, he had slept
on her bosom, he was impregnated with her; in her bosom she held the
treasure of his dreams, all his past life, the sacred dust of those whom he
had loved. Christophe saw now in review the days of his life, and the dear
men and women whom he was leaving on that soil or beneath it. His
sufferings were not less dear to him than his joys. Minna, Sabine, Ada, his
grandfather, Uncle Gottfried, old Schulz--all passed before him in the
space of a few minutes. He could not tear himself away from the dead--(for
he counted Ada also among the dead)--the idea of his mother whom he was
leaving, the only living creature of all those whom he loved, among these
phantoms was intolerable to him.
He was almost on the point of crossing the frontier again, so cowardly did
his flight seem to him. He made up his mind that if the answer Lorchen was
to bring him from his mother betrayed too great grief he would return at
all costs. But if he received nothing? If Lorchen had not been able to
reach Louisa, or to bring back the answer? Well, he would go back.
He returned to the station. After a grim time of waiting the train at last
appeared. Christophe expected to see Lorchen's bold face in the train; for
he was sure she would keep her promise; but she did not appear. He ran
anxiously from one compartment to another; he said to himself that if she
had been in the train she would have been one of the first to get out. As
he was plunging through the stream of passengers coming from the opposite
direction he saw a face which he seemed to know. It was the face of a
little girl of thirteen or fourteen, chubby, dimpled, and ruddy as an
apple, with a little turned-up nose and a large mouth, and a thick plait
coiled around her head. As he looked more closely at her he saw that she
had in her hand an old valise very much like his own. She was watching him
too like a sparrow; and when she saw that he was looking at her she came
towards him; but she stood firmly in front of Christophe and stared at him
with her little mouse-like eyes, without speaking a word. Christophe knew
her; she was a little milkmaid at Lorchen's farm. Pointing to the valise he
"That is mine, isn't it?"
The girl did not move and replied cunningly:
"I'm not sure. Where do you come from, first of all?"
"And who sent it you?"
"Lorchen. Come. Give it me."
The little girl held out the valise.
"There it is."
And she added:
"Oh! But I knew you at once!"
"What were you waiting for then?"
"I was waiting for you to tell me that it was you."
"And Lorchen?" asked Christophe. "Why didn't she come?"
The girl did not reply. Christophe understood that she did not want to say
anything among all the people. They had first to pass through the customs.
When that was done Christophe took the girl to the end of the platform:
"The police came," said the girl, now very talkative. "They came almost
as soon as you had gone. They went into all the houses. They questioned
everybody, and they arrested big Sami and Christian and old Kaspar. And
also Melanie and Gertrude, though they declared they had done nothing, and
they wept; and Gertrude scratched the gendarmes. It was not any good then
saying that you had done it all."
"I?" exclaimed Christophe.
"Oh! yes," said the girl quietly. "It was no good as you had gone. Then
they looked for you everywhere and hunted for you in every direction."
"Lorchen was not there. She came back afterwards after she had been to the
"Did she see my mother?"
"Yes. Here is the letter. And she wanted to come herself, but she was
"How did you manage to come?"
"Well, she came back to the village without being seen by the police, and
she was going to set out again. But Irmina, Gertrude's sister, denounced
her. They came to arrest her. Then when she saw the gendarmes coming she
went up to her room and shouted that she would come down in a minute, that
she was dressing. I was in the vineyard behind the house; she called to me
from the window: 'Lydia! Lydia!' I went to her; she threw down your valise
and the letter which your mother had given her, and she explained where I
should find you. I ran, and here I am."
"Didn't she say anything more?"
"Yes. She told me to give you this shawl to show you that I came from her."
Christophe recognized the white shawl with red spots and embroidered
flowers which Lorchen had tied round her head when she left him on the
night before. The naive improbability of the excuse she had made for
sending him such a love-token did not make him smile.
"Now," said the girl, "here is the return train. I must go home.
"Wait," said Christophe. "And the fare, what did you do about that?"
"Lorchen gave it me."
"Take this," said Christophe, pressing a few pieces of money into her hand.
He held her back as she was trying to go.
"And then...." he said.
He stooped and kissed her cheeks. The girl affected to protest.
"Don't mind," said Christophe jokingly. "It was not for you."
"Oh! I know that," said the girl mockingly. "It was for Lorchen."
It was not only Lorchen that Christophe kissed as he kissed the little
milkmaid's chubby cheeks; it was all Germany.
The girl slipped away and ran towards the train which was just going. She
hung out of the window and waved her handkerchief to him until she was out
of sight. He followed with his eyes the rustic messenger who had brought
him for the last time the breath of his country and of those he loved.
When she had gone he found himself utterly alone, this time, a stranger
in a strange land. He had in his hand his mother's letter and the shawl
love-token. He pressed the shawl to his breast and tried to open the
letter. But his hands trembled. What would he find in it? What suffering
would be written in it?--No; he could not bear the sorrowful words of
reproach which already he seemed to hear; he would retrace his steps.
At last he unfolded the letter and read: "My poor child, do not be anxious
about me. I will be wise. God has punished me. I must not be selfish and
keep you here. Go to Paris. Perhaps it will be better for you. Do not worry
about me. I can manage somehow. The chief thing is that you should be
happy. I kiss you. MOTHER.
"Write to me when you can."
Christophe sat down on his valise and wept.
* * * * *
The porter was shouting the train for Paris.
The heavy train was slowing down with a terrific noise. Christophe dried
his tears, got up and said:
"I must go."
He looked at the sky in the direction in which Paris must be. The sky, dark
everywhere, was even darker there. It was like a dark chasm. Christophe's
heart ached, but he said again:
"I must go."
He climbed into the train and leaning out of the window went on looking at
the menacing horizon:
"O, Paris!" he thought, "Paris! Come to my aid! Save me! Save my thoughts!"
The thick fog grew denser still. Behind Christophe, above the country he
was leaving, a little patch of sky, pale blue, large, like two eyes--like
the eyes of Sabine--smiled sorrowfully through the heavy veil of clouds and
then was gone. The train departed. Rain fell. Night fell.