Part 5 out of 12
meagerness of their resources, and the payment of certain debts which had
been discovered after his father's death, forced them, whatever pain it
might cost, to seek another more lowly and less expensive dwelling.
They found a little flat,--two or three rooms on the second floor of a
house in the Market Street. It was a noisy district in the middle of the
town, far from the river, far from the trees, far from the country and all
the familiar places. But they had to consult reason, not sentiment, and
Christophe found in it a fine opportunity for gratifying his bitter creed
of self-mortification. Besides, the owner of the house, old registrar
Euler, was a friend of his grandfather, and knew the family: that was
enough for Louisa, who was lost in her empty house, and was irresistibly
drawn towards those who had known the creatures whom she had loved.
They got ready to leave. They took long draughts of the bitter melancholy
of the last days passed by the sad, beloved fireside that was to be left
forever. They dared hardly tell their sorrow: they were ashamed of it, or
afraid. Each thought that they ought not to show their weakness to the
other. At table, sitting alone in a dark room with half-closed shutters,
they dared not raise their voices: they ate hurriedly and did not look at
each other for fear of not being able to conceal their trouble. They parted
as soon as they had finished. Christophe went back to his work; but as soon
as he was free for a moment, he would come back, go stealthily home, and
creep on tiptoe to his room or to the attic. Then he would shut the door,
sit down in a corner on an old trunk or on the window-ledge, or stay there
without thinking, letting the indefinable buzzing and humming of the old
house, which trembled with the lightest tread, thrill through him. His
heart would tremble with it. He would listen anxiously for the faintest
breath in or out of doors, for the creaking of floors, for all the
imperceptible familiar noises: he knew them all. He would lose
consciousness, his thoughts would be filled with the images of the past,
and he would issue from his stupor only at the sound of St. Martin's clock,
reminding him that it was time to go.
In the room below him he could hear Louisa's footsteps passing softly to
and fro, then for hours she could not be heard; she made no noise.
Christophe would listen intently. He would go down, a little uneasy, as one
is for a long time after a great misfortune. He would push the door ajar;
Louisa would turn her back on him; she would be sitting in front of a
cupboard in the midst of a heap of things--rags, old belongings, odd
garments, treasures, which she had brought out intending to sort them. But
she had no strength for it; everything reminded her of something; she would
turn and turn it in her hands and begin to dream; it would drop from her
hands; she would stay for hours together with her arms hanging down, lying
back exhausted in a chair, given up to a stupor of sorrow.
Poor Louisa was now spending most of her life in the past--that sad past,
which had been very niggardly of joy for her; but she was so used to
suffering that she was still grateful for the least tenderness shown to
her, and the pale lights which had shone here and there in the drab days of
her life, were still enough to make them bright. All the evil that Melchior
had done her was forgotten; she remembered only the good. Her marriage had
been the great romance of her life. If Melchior had been drawn into it by a
caprice, of which he had quickly repented, she had given herself with her
whole heart; she thought that she was loved as much as she had loved; and
to Melchior she was ever most tenderly grateful. She did not try to
understand what he had become in the sequel. Incapable of seeing reality as
it is, she only knew how to bear it as it is, humbly and honestly, as a
woman who has no need of understanding life in order to be able to live.
What she could not explain, she left to God for explanation. In her
singular piety, she put upon God the responsibility for all the injustice
that she had suffered at the hands of Melchior and the others, and only
visited them with the good that they had given her. And so her life of
misery had left her with no bitter memory. She only felt worn out--weak as
she was--by those years of privation and fatigue. And now that Melchior was
no longer there, now that two of her sons were gone from their home, and
the third seemed to be able to do without her, she had lost all heart for
action; she was tired, sleepy; her will was stupefied. She was going
through one of those crises of neurasthenia which often come upon active
and industrious people in the decline of life, when some unforeseen event
deprives them of every reason for living. She had not the heart even to
finish the stocking she was knitting, to tidy the drawer in which she was
looking, to get up to shut the window; she would sit there, without a
thought, without strength--save for recollection. She was conscious of her
collapse, and was ashamed of it or blushed for it; she tried to hide it
from her son; and Christophe, wrapped up in the egoism of his own grief,
never noticed it. No doubt he was often secretly impatient with his
mother's slowness in speaking, and acting, and doing the smallest thing;
but different though her ways were from her usual activity, he never gave a
thought to the matter until then.
Suddenly on that day it came home to him for the first time when he
surprised her in the midst of her rags, turned out on the floor, heaped up
at her feet, in her arms, and in her lap. Her neck was drawn out, her head
was bowed, her face was stiff and rigid. When she heard him come in she
started; her white cheeks were suffused with red; with an instinctive
movement she tried to hide the things she was holding, and muttered with an
"You see, I was sorting...."
The sight of the poor soul stranded among the relics of the past cut to his
heart, and he was filled with pity. But he spoke with a bitter asperity and
seemed to scold, to drag her from her apathy:
"Come, come, mother; you must not stay there, in the middle of all that
dust, with the room all shut up! It is not good for you. You must pull
yourself together, and have done with all this."
"Yes," said she meekly.
She tried to get up to put the things back in the drawer. But she sat down
again at once and listlessly let them fall from her hands.
"Oh! I can't ... I can't," she moaned. "I shall never finish!"
He was frightened. He leaned over her. He caressed her forehead with his
"Come, mother, what is it?" he said. "Shall I help you? Are you ill?"
She did not answer. She gave a sort of stifled sob. He took her hands, and
knelt down by her side, the better to see her in the dusky room.
"Mother!" he said anxiously.
Louisa laid her head on his shoulder and burst into tears.
"My boy, my boy," she cried, holding close to him. "My boy!... You will not
leave me? Promise me that you will not leave me?"
His heart was torn with pity.
"No, mother, no. I will not leave you. What made you think of such a
"I am so unhappy! They have all left me, all...."
She pointed to the things all about her, and he did not know whether she
was speaking of them or of her sons and the dead.
"You will stay with me? You will not leave me?... What should I do, if you
"I will not go, I tell you; we will stay together. Don't cry. I promise."
She went on weeping. She could not stop herself. He dried her eyes with his
"What is it, mother dear? Are you in pain?"
"I don't know; I don't know what it is." She tried to calm herself and to
"I do try to be sensible. I do. But just nothing at all makes me cry....
You see, I'm doing it again.... Forgive me. I am so stupid. I am old. I
have no strength left. I have no taste for anything any more. I am no good
for anything. I wish I were buried with all the rest...."
He held her to him, close, like a child.
"Don't worry, mother; be calm; don't think about it...."
Gradually she grew quiet.
"It is foolish. I am ashamed.... But what is it? What is it?"
She who had always worked so hard could not understand why her strength had
suddenly snapped, and she was humiliated to the very depths of her being.
He pretended not to see it.
"A little weariness, mother," he said, trying to speak carelessly. "It is
nothing; you will see; it is nothing."
But he too was anxious. From his childhood he had been accustomed to see
her brave, resigned, in silence withstanding every test. And he was
astonished to see her suddenly broken: he was afraid.
He helped her to sort the things scattered on the floor. Every now and then
she would linger over something, but he would gently take it from her
hands, and she suffered him.
From that time on he took pains to be more with her. As soon as he had
finished his work, instead of shutting himself up in his room, as he loved
to do, he would return to her. He felt her loneliness and that she was not
strong enough to be left alone: there was danger in leaving her alone.
He would sit by her side in the evening near the open window looking on to
the road. The view would slowly disappear. The people were returning home.
Little lights appeared in the houses far off. They had seen it all a
thousand times. But soon they would see it no more. They would talk
disjointedly. They would point out to each other the smallest of the
familiar incidents and expectations of the evening, always with fresh
interest. They would have long intimate silences, or Louisa, for no
apparent reason, would tell some reminiscence, some disconnected story that
passed through her mind. Her tongue was loosed a little now that she felt
that she was with one who loved her. She tried hard to talk. It was
difficult for her, for she had grown used to living apart from her family;
she looked upon her sons and her husband as too clever to talk to her, and
she had never dared to join in their conversation. Christophe's tender care
was a new thing to her and infinitely sweet, though it made her afraid. She
deliberated over her words; she found it difficult to express herself; her
sentences were left unfinished and obscure. Sometimes she was ashamed of
what she was saying; she would look at her son, and stop in the middle of
her narrative. But he would press her hand, and she would be reassured. He
was filled with love and pity for the childish, motherly creature, to whom
he had turned when he was a child, and now she turned to him for support.
And he took a melancholy pleasure in her prattle, that had no interest for
anybody but himself, in her trivial memories of a life that had always been
joyless and mediocre, though it seemed to Louisa to be of infinite worth.
Sometimes he would try to interrupt her; he was afraid that her memories
would make her sadder than ever, and he would urge her to sleep. She would
understand what he was at, and would say with gratitude in her eyes:
"No. I assure you, it does one good; let us stay a little longer."
They would stay until the night was far gone and the neighbors were abed.
Then they would say good-night, she a little comforted by being rid of some
of her trouble, he with a heavy heart under this new burden added to that
which already he had to bear.
The day came for their departure. On the night before they stayed longer
than usual in the unlighted room. They did not speak. Every now and then
Louisa moaned: "Fear God! Fear God!" Christophe tried to keep her attention
fixed on the thousand details of the morrow's removal. She would not go to
bed until he gently compelled her. But he went up to his room and did not
go to bed for a long time. When leaning out of the window he tried to gaze
through the darkness to see for the last time the moving shadows of the
river beneath the house. He heard the wind in the tall trees in Minna's
garden. The sky was black. There was no one in the street. A cold rain was
just falling. The weathercocks creaked. In a house near by a child was
crying. The night weighed with an overwhelming heaviness upon the earth and
upon his soul. The dull chiming of the hours, the cracked note of the
halves and quarters, dropped one after another into the grim silence,
broken only by the sound of the rain on the roofs and the cobbles.
When Christophe at last made up his mind to go to bed, chilled in body and
soul, he heard the window below him shut. And, as he lay, he thought sadly
that it is cruel for the poor to dwell on the past, for they have no right
to have a past, like the rich: they have no home, no corner of the earth
wherein to house their memories: their joys, their sorrows, all their days,
are scattered in the wind.
Next day in beating rain they moved their scanty furniture to their new
dwelling. Fischer, the old furniture dealer, lent them a cart and a pony;
he came and helped them himself. But they could not take everything, for
the rooms to which they were going were much smaller than the old.
Christophe had to make his mother leave the oldest and most useless of
their belongings. It was not altogether easy; the least thing had its worth
for her: a shaky table, a broken chair, she wished to leave nothing behind.
Fischer, fortified by the authority of his old friendship with Jean Michel,
had to join Christophe in complaining, and, good-fellow that he was and
understanding her grief, had even to promise to keep some of her precious
rubbish for her against the day when she should want it again. Then she
agreed to tear herself away.
The two brothers had been told of the removal, but Ernest came on the night
before to say that he could not be there, and Rodolphe appeared for a
moment about noon; he watched them load the furniture, gave some advice,
and went away again looking mightily busy.
The procession set out through the muddy streets. Christophe led the horse,
which slipped on the greasy cobbles. Louisa walked by her son's side, and
tried to shelter him from the rain. And so they had a melancholy homecoming
in the damp rooms, that were made darker than ever by the dull light coming
from the lowering sky. They could not have fought against the depression
that was upon them had it not been for the attentions of their landlord and
his family. But, when the cart had driven away, as night fell, leaving the
furniture heaped up in the room; and Christophe and Louisa were sitting,
worn out, one on a box, the other on a sack; they heard a little dry cough
on the staircase; there was a knock at the door. Old Euler came in. He
begged pardon elaborately for disturbing his guests, and said that by way
of celebrating their first evening he hoped that they would be kind enough
to sup with himself and his family. Louisa, stunned by her sorrow, wished
to refuse. Christophe was not much more tempted than she by this friendly
gathering, but the old man insisted and Christophe, thinking that it would
be better for his mother not to spend their first evening in their new home
alone with her thoughts, made her accept.
They went down to the floor below, where they found the whole family
collected: the old man, his daughter, his son-in-law, Vogel, and his
grandchildren, a boy and a girl, both a little younger than Christophe.
They clustered around their guests, bade them welcome, asked if they were
tired, if they were pleased with their rooms, if they needed anything;
putting so many questions that Christophe in bewilderment could make
nothing of them, for everybody spoke at once. The soup was placed on the
table; they sat down. But the noise went on. Amalia, Euler's daughter, had
set herself at once to acquaint Louisa with local details: with the
topography of the district, the habits and advantages of the house, the
time when the milkman called, the time when she got up, the various
tradespeople and the prices that she paid. She did not stop until she had
explained everything. Louisa, half-asleep, tried hard to take an interest
in the information, but the remarks which she ventured showed that she had
understood not a word, and provoked Amalia to indignant exclamations and
repetition of every detail. Old Euler, a clerk, tried to explain to
Christophe the difficulties of a musical career. Christophe's other
neighbor, Rosa, Amalia's daughter, never stopped talking from the moment
when they sat down,--so volubly that she had no time to breathe; she lost
her breath in the middle of a sentence, but at once she was off again.
Vogel was gloomy and complained of the food, and there were embittered
arguments on the subject. Amalia, Euler, the girl, left off talking to take
part in the discussion; and there were endless controversies as to whether
there was too much salt in the stew or not enough; they called each other
to witness, and, naturally, no two opinions were the same. Each despised
his neighbor's taste, and thought only his own healthy and reasonable. They
might have gone on arguing until the Last Judgment.
But, in the end, they all joined in crying out upon the bad weather. They
all commiserated Louisa and Christophe upon their troubles, and in terms
which moved him greatly they praised him for his courageous conduct. They
took great pleasure in recalling not only the misfortunes of their guests,
but also their own, and those of their friends and all their acquaintance,
and they all agreed that the good are always unhappy, and that there is joy
only for the selfish and dishonest. They decided that life is sad, that it
is quite useless, and that they were all better dead, were it not the
indubitable will of God that they should go on living so as to suffer. All
these ideas came very near to Christophe's actual pessimism, he thought the
better of his landlord, and closed his eyes to their little oddities.
When he went upstairs again with his mother to the disordered rooms, they
were weary and sad, but they felt a little less lonely; and while
Christophe lay awake through the night, for he could not sleep because of
his weariness and the noise of the neighborhood, and listened to the heavy
carts shaking the walls, and the breathing of the family sleeping below, he
tried to persuade himself that he would be, if not happy, at least less
unhappy here, with these good people--a little tiresome, if the truth be
told--who suffered from like misfortunes, who seemed to understand him, and
whom, he thought, he understood.
But when at last he did fall asleep, he was roused unpleasantly at dawn by
the voices of his neighbors arguing, and the creaking of a pump worked
furiously by some one who was in a hurry to swill the yard and the stairs.
* * * * *
Justus Euler was a little bent old man, with uneasy, gloomy eyes, a red
face, all lines and pimples, gap-toothed, with an unkempt beard, with which
he was forever fidgeting with his hands. Very honest, quite able,
profoundly moral, he had been on quite good terms with Christophe's
grandfather. He was said to be like him. And, in truth, he was of the same
generation and brought up with the same principles; but he lacked Jean
Michel's strong physique, that is, while he was of the same opinion on many
points, fundamentally he was hardly at all like him, for it is temperament
far more than ideas that makes a man, and whatever the divisions,
fictitious or real, marked between men by intellect, the great divisions
between men and men are into those who are healthy and those who are not.
Old Euler was not a healthy man. He talked morality, like Jean Michel, but
his morals were not the same as Jean Michel's; he had not his sound
stomach, his lungs, or his jovial strength. Everything in Euler and his
family was built on a more parsimonious and niggardly plan. He had been an
official for forty years, was now retired, and suffered from that
melancholy that comes from inactivity and weighs so heavily upon old men,
who have not made provision in their inner life for their last years. All
his habits, natural and acquired, all the habits of his trade had given him
a meticulous and peevish quality, which was reproduced to a certain extent
in each of his children.
His son-in-law, Vogel, a clerk at the Chancery Court, was fifty years old.
Tall, strong, almost bald, with gold spectacles, fairly good-looking, he
considered himself ill, and no doubt was so, although obviously he did not
have the diseases which he thought he had, but only a mind soured by the
stupidity of his calling and a body ruined to a certain extent by his
sedentary life. Very industrious, not without merit, even cultured up to a
point; he was a victim of our ridiculous modern life, or like so many
clerks, locked up in their offices, he had succumbed to the demon of
hypochondria. One of those unfortunates whom Goethe called "_ein trauriger,
ungriechischer Hypochondrist_"--"a gloomy and un-Greek hypochondriac,"--and
pitied, though he took good care to avoid them.
Amalia was neither the one nor the other. Strong, loud, and active, she
wasted no sympathy on her husband's jeremiads; she used to shake him
roughly. But no human strength can bear up against living together, and
when in a household one or other is neurasthenic, the chances are that in
time they will both be so. In vain did Amalia cry out upon Vogel, in vain
did she go on protesting either from habit or because it was necessary;
next moment she herself was lamenting her condition more loudly even than
he, and, passing imperceptibly from scolding to lamentation, she did him no
good; she increased his ills tenfold by loudly singing chorus to his
follies. In the end not only did she crush the unhappy Vogel, terrified by
the proportions assumed by his own outcries sent sounding back by this
echo, but she crushed everybody, even herself. In her turn she caught the
trick of unwarrantably bemoaning her health, and her father's, and her
daughter's, and her son's. It became a mania; by constant repetition she
came to believe what she said. She took the least chill tragically; she was
uneasy and worried about everybody. More than that, when they were well,
she still worried, because of the sickness that was bound to come. So life
was passed in perpetual fear. Outside that they were all in fairly good
health, and it seemed as though their state of continual moaning and
groaning did serve to keep them well. They all ate and slept and worked as
usual, and the life of this household was not relaxed for it all. Amalia's
activity was not satisfied with working from morning to night up and down
the house; they all had to toil with her, and there was forever a moving of
furniture, a washing of floors, a polishing of wood, a sound of voices,
footsteps, quivering, movement.
The two children, crushed by such loud authority, leaving nobody alone,
seemed to find it natural enough to submit to it. The boy, Leonard, was
good looking, though insignificant of feature, and stiff in manner. The
girl, Rosa, fair-haired, with pretty blue eyes, gentle and affectionate,
would have been pleasing especially with the freshness of her delicate
complexion, and her kind manner, had her nose not been quite so large or so
awkwardly placed; it made her face heavy and gave her a foolish expression.
She was like a girl of Holbein, in the gallery at Basle--the daughter of
burgomaster Meier--sitting, with eyes cast down, her hands on her knees,
her fair hair falling down to her shoulders, looking embarrassed and
ashamed of her uncomely nose. But so far Rosa had not been troubled by it,
and it never had broken in upon her inexhaustible chatter. Always her
shrill voice was heard in the house telling stories, always breathless, as
though she had no time to say everything, always excited and animated, in
spite of the protests which she drew from her mother, her father, and even
her grandfather, exasperated, not so much because she was forever talking
as because she prevented them talking themselves. For these good people,
kind, loyal, devoted--the very cream of good people--had almost all the
virtues, but they lacked one virtue which is capital, and is the charm of
life: the virtue of silence.
Christophe was in tolerant mood. His sorrow had softened his intolerant and
emphatic temper. His experience of the cruel indifference of the elegant
made him more conscious of the worth of these honest folk, graceless and
devilish tiresome, who had yet an austere conception of life, and because
they lived joylessly, seemed to him to live without weakness. Having
decided that they were excellent, and that he ought to like them, like the
German that he was, he tried to persuade himself that he did in fact like
them. But he did not succeed; he lacked that easy Germanic idealism, which
does not wish to see, and does not see, what would be displeasing to its
sight, for fear of disturbing the very proper tranquillity of its judgment
and the pleasantness of its existence. On the contrary, he never was so
conscious of the defects of these people as when he loved them, when he
wanted to love them absolutely without reservation; it was a sort of
unconscious loyalty, and an inexorable demand for truth, which, in spite of
himself, made him more clear-sighted, and more exacting, with what was
dearest to him. And it was not long before he began to be irritated by the
oddities of the family. They made no attempt to conceal them. Contrary to
the usual habit they displayed every intolerable quality they possessed,
and all the good in them was hidden. So Christophe told himself, for he
judged himself to have been unjust, and tried to surmount his first
impressions, and to discover in them the excellent qualities which they so
He tried to converse with old Justus Euler, who asked nothing better. He
had a secret sympathy with him, remembering that his grandfather had liked
to praise him. But good old Jean Michel had more of the pleasant faculty of
deceiving himself about his friends than Christophe, and Christophe soon
saw that. In vain did he try to accept Euler's memories of his grandfather.
He could only get from him a discolored caricature of Jean Michel, and
scraps of talk that were utterly uninteresting. Euler's stories used
invariably to begin with: "As I used to say to your poor grandfather..." He
could remember nothing else. He had heard only what he had said himself.
Perhaps Jean Michel used only to listen in the same way. Most friendships
are little more than arrangements for mutual satisfaction, so that each
party may talk about himself to the other. But at least Jean Michel,
however naively he used to give himself up to the delight of talking, had
sympathy which he was always ready to lavish on all sides. He was
interested in everything; he always regretted that he was no longer
fifteen, so as to be able to see the marvelous inventions of the new
generations, and to share their thoughts. He had the quality, perhaps the
most precious in life, a curiosity always fresh, sever changing with the
years, born anew every morning. He had not the talent to turn this gift to
account; but how many men of talent might envy him! Most men die at twenty
or thirty; thereafter they are only reflections of themselves: for the rest
of their lives they are aping themselves, repeating from day to day more
and more mechanically and affectedly what they said and did and thought and
loved when they were alive.
It was so long since old Euler had been alive, and he had been such a small
thing then, that what was left of him now was very poor and rather
ridiculous. Outside his former trade and his family life he knew nothing,
and wished to know nothing. On every subject he had ideas ready-made,
dating from his youth. He pretended to some knowledge of the arts, but he
clung to certain hallowed names of men, about whom he was forever
reiterating his emphatic formulae: everything else was naught and had never
been. When modern interests were mentioned he would not listen, and talked
of something else. He declared that he loved music passionately, and he
would ask Christophe to play. But as soon as Christophe, who had been
caught once or twice, began to play, the old fellow would begin to talk
loudly to his daughter, as though the music only increased his interest in
everything but music. Christophe would get up exasperated in the middle of
his piece, so one would notice it. There were only a few old airs--three or
four--some very beautiful, others very ugly, but all equally sacred, which
were privileged to gain comparative silence and absolute approval. With the
very first notes the old man would go into ecstasies, tears would come to
his eyes, not so much for the pleasure he was enjoying as for the pleasure
which once he had enjoyed. In the end Christophe had a horror of these
airs, though some of them, like the _Adelaide_ of Beethoven, were very dear
to him; the old man was always humming the first bars of them, and never
failed to declare, "There, that is music," contemptuously comparing it with
"all the blessed modern music, in which there is no melody." Truth to tell,
he knew nothing whatever about it.
His son-in-law was better educated and kept in touch with artistic
movements; but that was even worse, for in his judgment there was always a
disparaging tinge. He was lacking neither in taste nor intelligence; but he
could not bring himself to admire anything modern. He would have disparaged
Mozart and Beethoven, if they had been contemporary, just as he would have
acknowledged the merits of Wagner and Richard Strauss had they been dead
for a century. His discontented temper refused to allow that there might be
great men living during his own lifetime; the idea was distasteful to him.
He was so embittered by his wasted life that he insisted on pretending that
every life was wasted, that it could not be otherwise, and that those who
thought the opposite, or pretended to think so, were one of two things:
fools or humbugs.
And so he never spoke of any new celebrity except in a tone of bitter
irony, and as he was not stupid he never failed to discover at the first
glance the weak or ridiculous sides of them. Any new name roused him to
distrust; before he knew anything about the man he was inclined to
criticise him--because he knew nothing about him. If he was sympathetic
towards Christophe it was because he thought that the misanthropic boy
found life as evil as he did himself, and that he was not a genius. Nothing
so unites the small of soul in their suffering and discontent as the
statement of their common impotence. Nothing so much restores the desire
for health or life to those who are healthy and made for the joy of life as
contact with the stupid pessimism of the mediocre and the sick, who,
because they are not happy, deny the happiness of others. Christophe felt
this. And yet these gloomy thoughts were familiar to him; but he was
surprised to find them on Vogel's lips, where they were unrecognizable;
more than that, they were repugnant to him; they offended him.
He was even more in revolt against Amalia's ways. The good creature did no
more than practise Christophe's theories of duty. The word was upon her
lips at every turn. She worked unceasingly, and wanted everybody to work as
she did. Her work was never directed towards making herself and others
happier; on the contrary. It almost seemed as though it Was mainly intended
to incommode everybody and to make life as disagreeable as possible so as
to sanctify it. Nothing would induce her for a moment to relinquish her
holy duties in the household, that sacro-sanct institution which in so many
women takes the place of all other duties, social and moral. She would have
thought herself lost had she not on the same day, at the same time,
polished the wooden floors, washed the tiles, cleaned the door-handles,
beaten the carpets, moved the chairs, the cupboards, the tables. She was
ostentatious about it. It was as though it was a point of honor with her.
And after all, is it not in much the same spirit that many women conceive
and defend their honor? It is a sort of piece of furniture which they have
to keep polished, a well waxed floor, cold, hard--and slippery.
The accomplishment of her task did not make Frau Vogel more amicable. She
sacrificed herself to the trivialities of the household, as to a duty
imposed by God. And she despised those who did not do as she did, those who
rested, and were able to enjoy life a little in the intervals of work. She
would go and rouse Louisa in her room when from time to time she sat down
in the middle of her work to dream. Louisa would sigh, but she submitted to
it with a half-shamed smile. Fortunately, Christophe knew nothing about it;
Amalia used to wait until he had gone out before she made these irruptions
into their rooms, and so far she had not directly attacked him; he would
not have put up with it. When he was with her he was conscious of a latent
hostility within himself. What he could least forgive her was the noise she
made. He was maddened by it. When he was locked in his room--a little low
room looking out on the yard--with the window hermetically sealed, in spite
of the want of air, so as not to hear the clatter in the house, he could
not escape from it. Involuntarily he was forced to listen attentively for
the least sound coming up from below, and when the terrible voice which
penetrated all the walls broke out again after a moment of silence he was
filled with rage; he would shout, stamp with his foot, and roar insults at
her through the wall. In the general uproars no one ever noticed it; they
thought he was composing. He would consign Frau Vogel to the depths of
hell. He had no respect for her, nor esteem to check him. At such times it
seemed to him that he would have preferred the loosest and most stupid of
women, if only she did not talk, to cleverness, honesty, all the virtues,
when they make too much noise.
His hatred of noise brought him in touch with Leonard. In the midst of the
general excitement the boy was the only one to keep calm, and never to
raise his voice more at one moment than another. He always expressed
himself correctly and deliberately, choosing his words, and never hurrying.
Amalia, simmering, never had patience to wait until he had finished; the
whole family cried out upon his slowness. He did not worry about it.
Nothing could upset his calm, respectful deference. Christophe was the more
attracted to him when he learned that Leonard intended to devote his life
to the Church, and his curiosity was roused.
With regard to religion, Christophe was in a queer position; he did not
know himself how he stood towards it. He had never had time to think
seriously about it. He was not well enough educated, and he was too much
absorbed by the difficulties of existence to be able to analyze himself and
to set his ideas in order. His violence led him from one extreme to the
other, from absolute facts to complete negation, without troubling to find
out whether in either case he agreed with himself. When he was happy he
hardly thought of God at all, but he was quite ready to believe in Him.
When he was unhappy he thought of Him, but did not believe; it seemed to
him impossible that a God could authorize unhappiness and, injustice. But
these difficulties did not greatly exercise him. He was too fundamentally
religious to think much about God. He lived in God; he had no need to
believe in Him. That is well enough for the weak and worn, for those whose
lives are anaemic. They aspire to God, as a plant does to the sun. The dying
cling to life. But he who bears in his soul the sun and life, what need has
he to seek them outside himself?
Christophe would probably never have bothered about these questions had he
lived alone. But the obligations of social life forced him to bring his
thoughts to bear on these puerile and useless problems, which occupy a
place out of all proportion in the world; it is impossible not to take them
into account since at every step they are in the way. As if a healthy,
generous creature, overflowing with strength and love, had not a thousand
more worthy things to do than to worry as to whether God exists or no!...
If it were only a question of believing in God! But it is needful to
believe in _a_ God, of whatever shape or size and color and race. So far
Christophe never gave a thought to the matter. Jesus hardly occupied his
thoughts at all. It was not that he did not love him: he loved him when
he thought of him: but he never thought of him. Sometimes he reproached
himself for it, was angry with himself, could not understand why he did not
take more interest in him. And yet he professed, all his family professed;
his grandfather was forever reading the Bible; he went regularly to Mass;
he served it in a sort of way, for he was an organist; and he set about
his task conscientiously and in an exemplary manner. But when he left the
church he would have been hard put to it to say what he had been thinking
about. He set himself to read the Holy Books in order to fix his ideas,
and he found amusement and even pleasure in them, just as in any beautiful
strange books, not essentially different from other books, which no
one ever thinks of calling sacred. In truth, if Jesus appealed to him,
Beethoven did no less. And at his organ in Saint Florian's Church, where
he accompanied on Sundays, he was more taken up with his organ than with
Mass, and he was more religious when he played Bach than when he played
Mendelssohn, Some of the ritual brought him to a fervor of exaltation. But
did he then love God, or was it only the music, as an impudent priest said
to him one day in jest, without thinking of the unhappiness which his quip
might cause in him? Anybody else would not have paid any attention to it,
and would not have changed his mode of living--(so many people put up with
not knowing what they think!) But Christophe was cursed with an awkward
need for sincerity, which filled him with scruples at every turn. And when
scruples came to him they possessed him forever. He tortured himself; he
thought that he had acted with duplicity. Did he believe or did he not?...
He had no means, material or intellectual--(knowledge and leisure are
necessary)--of solving the problem by himself. And yet it had to be solved,
or he was either indifferent or a hypocrite. Now, he was incapable of being
either one or the other.
He tried timidly to sound those about him. They all seemed to be sure
of themselves. Christophe burned to know their reasons. He could not
discover them. Hardly did he receive a definite answer; they always talked
obliquely. Some thought him arrogant, and said that there is no arguing
these things, that thousands of men cleverer and better than himself had
believed without argument, and that he needed only to do as they had done.
There were some who were a little hurt, as though it were a personal
affront to ask them such a question, and yet they were of all perhaps the
least certain of their facts. Others shrugged their shoulders and said with
a smile: "Bah! it can't do any harm." And their smile said: "And it is so
useful!..." Christophe despised them with all his heart.
He had tried to lay his uncertainties before a priest, but he was
discouraged by the experiment. He could not discuss the matter seriously
with him. Though his interlocution was quite pleasant, he made Christophe
feel, quite politely, that there was no real equality between them; he
seemed to assume in advance that his superiority was beyond dispute, and
that the discussion could not exceed the limits which he laid down for
it, without a kind of impropriety; it was just a fencing bout, and was
quite inoffensive. When Christophe wished to exceed the limits and to ask
questions which the worthy man was pleased not to answer, he stepped back
with a patronizing smile, and a few Latin quotations, and a fatherly
objurgation to pray, pray that God would enlighten him. Christophe
issued from the interview humiliated and wounded by his love of polite
superiority. Wrong or right, he would never again for anything in the world
have recourse to a priest. He admitted that these men were his superiors in
intelligence or by reason of their sacred calling; but in argument there is
neither superiority, nor inferiority, nor title, nor age, nor name; nothing
is of worth but truth, before which all men are equal.
So he was glad to find a boy of his own age who believed. He asked no
more than belief, and he hoped that Leonard would give him good reason
for believing. He made advances to him. Leonard replied with his usual
gentleness, but without eagerness; he was never eager about anything. As
they could not carry on a long conversation in the house without being
interrupted every moment by Amalia or the old man, Christophe proposed that
they should go for a walk one evening after dinner. Leonard was too polite
to refuse, although he would gladly have got out of it, for his indolent
nature disliked walking, talking, and anything that cost him an effort.
Christophe had some difficulty in opening up the conversation. After two or
three awkward sentences about trivialities he plunged with a brusqueness
that was almost brutal. He asked Leonard if he were really going to be a
priest, and if he liked the idea. Leonard was nonplussed, and looked at him
uneasily, but when he saw that Christophe was not hostilely disposed he was
"Yes," he replied. "How could it be otherwise?"
"Ah!" said Christophe. "You are very happy." Leonard was conscious of a
shade of envy in Christophe's voice and was agreeably flattered by it. He
altered his manner, became expansive, his face brightened.
"Yes," he said, "I am happy." He beamed.
"What do you do to be so?" asked Christophe.
Before replying Leonard proposed that they should sit down, on a quiet seat
in the cloisters of St. Martin's. From there they could see a corner of the
little square, planted with acacias, and beyond it the town, the country,
bathed in the evening mists. The Rhine flowed at the foot of the hill. An
old deserted cemetery, with graves lost under the rich grass, lay in
slumber beside them behind the closed gates.
Leonard began to talk. He said, with his eyes shining with contentment, how
happy he was to escape from life, to have found a refuge, where a man is,
and forever will be, in shelter. Christophe, still sore from his wounds,
felt passionately the desire for rest and forgetfulness; but it was mingled
with regret. He asked with a sigh:
"And yet, does it cost you nothing to renounce life altogether?"
"Oh!" said Leonard quietly. "What is there to regret? Isn't life sad and
"There are lovely things too," said Christophe, looking at the beautiful
"There are some beautiful things, but very few."
"The few that there are are yet many to me."
"Oh, well! it is simply a matter of common sense. On the one hand a little
good and much evil; on the other neither good nor evil on earth, and after,
infinite happiness--how can one hesitate?"
Christophe was not very pleased with this sort of arithmetic. So economic a
life seemed to him very poor. But he tried to persuade himself that it was
"So," he asked a little ironically, "there is no risk of your being seduced
by an hour's pleasure?"
"How foolish! When you know that it is only an hour, and that after it
there is all eternity!"
"You are quite certain of eternity?"
Christophe questioned him. He was thrilled with hope and desire. Perhaps
Leonard would at last give him impregnable reasons for believing. With what
a passion he would himself renounce all the world to follow him to God.
At first Leonard, proud of his role of apostle, and convinced that
Christophe's doubts were only a matter of form, and that they would of
course give way before his first arguments, relied upon the Holy Books, the
authority of the Gospel, the miracles, and traditions. But he began to grow
gloomy when, after Christophe had listened for a few minutes, he stopped
him and said that he was answering questions with questions, and that he
had not asked him to tell exactly what it was that he was doubting, but to
give some means of resolving his doubts. Leonard then had to realize that
Christophe was much more ill than he seemed, and that he would only allow
himself to be convinced by the light of reason. But he still thought that
Christophe was playing the free thinker--(it never occurred to him that
he might be so sincerely).--He was not discouraged, and, strong in his
recently acquired knowledge, he turned back to his school learning:
he unfolded higgledy, piggledy, with more authority than order, his
metaphysical proofs of the existence of God and the immortality of the
soul. Christophe, with his mind at stretch, and his brow knit in the
effort, labored in silence, and made him say it all over again; tried
hard to gather the meaning, and to take it to himself, and to follow the
reasoning. Then suddenly he burst out, vowed that Leonard was laughing at
him, that it was all tricks, jests of the fine talkers who forged words
and then amused themselves with pretending that these words were things.
Leonard was nettled, and guaranteed the good faith of his authors.
Christophe shrugged his shoulders, and said with an oath that they were
only humbugs, infernal writers; and he demanded fresh proof.
Leonard perceived to his horror that Christophe was incurably attainted,
and took no more interest in him. He remembered that he had been told not
to waste his time in arguing with skeptics,--at least when they stubbornly
refuse to believe. There was the risk of being shaken himself, without
profiting the other. It was better to leave the unfortunate fellow to the
will of God, who, if He so designs, would see to it that the skeptic was
enlightened: or if not, who would dare to go against the will of God?
Leonard did not insist then on carrying on the discussion. He only said
gently that for the time being there was nothing to be done, that no
reasoning could show the way to a man who was determined not to see it, and
that Jean-Christophe must pray and appeal to Grace: nothing is possible
without that: he must desire grace and the will to believe.
"The will," thought Christophe bitterly. "So then, God will exist because
I will Him to exist? So then, death will not exist, because it pleases me
to deny it!... Alas! How easy life is to those who have no need to see the
truth, to those who can see what they wish to see, and are forever forging
pleasant dreams in which softly to sleep!" In such a bed, Christophe knew
well that be would never sleep....
Leonard went on talking. He had fallen back on his favorite subject, the
sweets of the contemplative life, and once on this neutral ground, he was
inexhaustible. In his monotonous voice, that shook with the pleasure in
him, he told of the joys of the life in God, outside, above the world,
far from noise, of which he spoke in a sudden tone of hatred (he detested
it almost as much as Christophe), far from violence, far from frivolity,
far from the little miseries that one has to suffer every day, in the
warm, secure nest of faith, from which you can contemplate in peace the
wretchedness of a strange and distant world. And as Christophe listened,
he perceived the egoism of that faith. Leonard saw that. He hurriedly
explained: the contemplative life was not a lazy life. On the contrary,
a man is more active in prayer than in action. What would the world be
without prayer? You expiate the sins of others, you bear the burden of
their misdeeds, you offer up your talents, you intercede between the world
Christophe listened in silence with increasing hostility. He was conscious
of the hypocrisy of such renunciation in Leonard. He was not unjust enough
to assume hypocrisy in all those who believe. He knew well that with a
few, such abdication of life comes from the impossibility of living, from
a bitter despair, an appeal to death,--that with still fewer, it is an
ecstasy of passion.... (How long does it last?).... But with the majority
of men is it not too often the cold reasoning of souls more busied with
their own ease and peace than with the happiness of others, or with truth?
And if sincere men are conscious of it, how much they must suffer by such
profanation of their ideal!...
Leonard was quite happy, and now set forth the beauty and harmony of the
world, seen from the loftiness of the divine roost: below all was dark,
unjust, sorrowful; seen from on high, it all became clear, luminous,
ordered: the world was like the works of a clock, perfectly ordered....
Now Christophe only listened absently. He was asking himself: "Does he
believe, or does he believe that he believes?" And yet his own faith, his
own passionate desire for faith was not shaken. Not the mediocrity of soul,
and the poverty of argument of a fool like Leonard could touch that....
Night came down over the town. The seat on which they were sitting was in
darkness: the stars shone out, a white mist came up from the river, the
crickets chirped under the trees in the cemetery. The bells began to ring:
first the highest of them, alone, like a plaintive bird, challenging the
sky: then the second, a third lower, joined in its plaint: at last came
the, deepest, on the fifth, and seemed to answer them. The three voices
were merged in each other. At the bottom of the towers there was a buzzing,
as of a gigantic hive of bees. The air and the boy's heart quivered.
Christophe held his breath, and thought how poor was the music of musicians
compared with such an ocean of music, with all the sounds of thousands of
creatures: the former, the free world of sounds, compared with the world
tamed, catalogued, coldly labeled by human intelligence. He sank and sank
into that sonorous and immense world without continents or bounds....
And when the great murmuring had died away, when the air had ceased at last
to quiver, Christophe woke up. He looked about him startled.... He knew
nothing. Around him and in him everything was changed. There was no God....
As with faith, so the loss of faith is often equally a flood of grace, a
sudden light. Reason counts for nothing: the smallest thing is enough--a
word, silence, the sound of bells. A man walks, dreams, expects nothing.
Suddenly the world crumbles away. All about him is in ruins. He is alone.
He no longer believes.
Christophe was terrified, and could not understand how it had come about.
It was like the flooding of a river in the spring....
Leonard's voice was still sounding, more monotonous than the voice of a
cricket. Christophe did not hear it: he heard nothing. Night was fully
come. Leonard stopped. Surprised to find Christophe motionless, uneasy
because of the lateness of the hour, he suggested that they should go home.
Christophe did not reply. Leonard took his arm. Christophe trembled, and
looked at Leonard with wild eyes.
"Christophe, we must go home," said Leonard.
"Go to hell!" cried Christophe furiously.
"Oh! Christophe! What have I done?" asked Leonard tremulously. He was
Christophe came to himself.
"Yes. You are right," he said more gently. "I do not know what I'm saying.
Go to God! Go to God!"
He was alone. He was in bitter distress.
"Ah! my God! my God!" he cried, wringing his hands, passionately raising
his face to the dark sky. "Why do I no longer believe? Why can I believe no
more? What has happened to me?..."
The disproportion between the wreck of his faith and the conversation that
he had just had with Leonard was too great: it was obvious that the
conversation had no more brought it about than that the boisterousness of
Amalia's gabble and the pettiness of the people with whom he lived were not
the cause of the upheaval which for some days had been taking place in his
moral resolutions. These were only pretexts. The uneasiness had not come
from without. It was within himself. He felt stirring in his heart
monstrous and unknown things, and he dared not rely on his thoughts to face
the evil. The evil? Was it evil? A languor, an intoxication, a voluptuous
agony filled all his being. He was no longer master of himself. In vain he
sought to fortify himself with his former stoicism. His whole being crashed
down. He had a sudden consciousness of the vast world, burning, wild, a
world immeasurable.... How it swallows up God!
Only for a moment. But the whole balance of his old life was in that moment
* * * * *
There was only one person in the family to whom Christophe paid no
attention: this was little Rosa. She was not beautiful: and Christophe, who
was far from beautiful himself, was very exacting of beauty in others. He
had that calm, cruelty of youth, for which a woman does not exist if she be
ugly,--unless she has passed the age for inspiring tenderness, and there is
then no need to feel for her anything but grave, peaceful, and
quasi-religious sentiments. Rosa also was not distinguished by any especial
gift, although she was not without intelligence: and she was cursed with a
chattering tongue which drove Christophe from her. And he had never taken
the trouble to know her, thinking that there was in her nothing to know;
and the most he ever did was to glance at her.
But she was of better stuff than most girls: she was certainly better than
Minna, whom he had so loved. She was a good girl, no coquette, not at all
vain, and until Christophe came it had never occurred to her that she was
plain, or if it had, it had not worried her: for none of her family
bothered about it. Whenever her grandfather or her mother told her so out
of a desire to grumble, she only laughed: she did not believe it, or she
attached no importance to it; nor did they. So many others, just as plain,
and more, had found some one to love them! The Germans are very mildly
indulgent to physical imperfections: they cannot see them: they are even
able to embellish them, by virtue of an easy imagination which finds
unexpected qualities in the face of their desire to make them like the most
illustrious examples of human beauty. Old Euler would not have needed much
urging to make him declare that his granddaughter had the nose of the Juno
Ludovisi. Happily he was too grumpy to pay compliments: and Rosa,
unconcerned about the shape of her nose, had no vanity except in the
accomplishment, with all the ritual, of the famous household duties. She
had accepted as Gospel all that she had been taught. She hardly ever went
out, and she had very little standard of comparison; she admired her family
naively, and believed what they said. She was of an expansive and confiding
nature, easily satisfied, and tried to fall in with the mournfulness of her
home, and docilely used to repeat the pessimistic ideas which she heard.
She was a creature of devotion--always thinking of others, trying to
please, sharing anxieties, guessing at what others wanted; she had a great
need of loving without demanding anything in return. Naturally her family
took advantage of her, although they were kind and loved her: but there is
always a temptation to take advantage of the love of those who are
absolutely delivered into your hands. Her family were so sure of her
attentions that they were not at all grateful for them: whatever she did,
they expected more. And then, she was clumsy; she was awkward and hasty;
her movements were jerky and boyish; she had outbursts of tenderness which
used to end in disaster: a broken glass, a jug upset, a door slammed to:
things which let loose upon her the wrath of everybody in the house. She
was always being snubbed and would go and weep in a corner. Her tears did
not last long. She would soon smile again, and begin to chatter without a
suspicion of rancor against anybody.
Christophe's advent was an important event in her life. She had often heard
of him. Christophe had some place in the gossip of the town: he was a sort
of little local celebrity: his name used often to recur in the family
conversation, especially when old Jean Michel was alive, who, proud of his
grandson, used to sing his praises to all of his acquaintance. Rosa had
seen the young musician once or twice at concerts. When she heard that he
was coming to live with them, she clapped her hands. She was sternly
rebuked for her breach of manners and became confused. She saw no harm in
it. In a life so monotonous as hers, a new lodger was a great distraction.
She spent the last few days before his arrival in a fever of expectancy.
She was fearful lest he should not like the house, and she tried hard to
make every room as attractive as possible. On the morning of his arrival,
she even put a little bunch of flowers on the mantelpiece to bid him
welcome. As to herself, she took no care at all to look her best; and one
glance was enough to make Christophe decide that she was plain, and
slovenly dressed. She did not think the same of him, though she had good
reason to do so: for Christophe, busy, exhausted, ill-kempt, was even more
ugly than usual. But Rosa, who was incapable of thinking the least ill of
anybody, Rosa, who thought her grandfather, her father, and her mother, all
perfectly beautiful, saw Christophe exactly as she had expected to see him,
and admired him with all her heart. She was frightened at sitting next to
him at table; and unfortunately her shyness took the shape of a flood of
words, which at once alienated Christophe's sympathies. She did not see
this, and that first evening remained a shining memory in her life. When
she was alone in her room, after, they had all gone upstairs, she heard the
tread of the new lodgers as they walked over her head; and the sound of it
ran joyously through her; the house seemed to her to taken new life.
The next morning for the first time in her life she looked at herself in
the mirror carefully and: uneasily, and without exactly knowing the extent
of her misfortune she began to be conscious of it. She tried to decide
about her features, one by one; but she could not. She was filled with
sadness and apprehension. She sighed deeply, and thought of introducing
certain changes in her toilet, but she only made herself look still more
plain. She conceived the unlucky idea of overwhelming Christophe with her
kindness. In her naive desire to be always seeing her new friends, and
doing them service, she was forever going up and down the stairs, bringing
them some utterly useless thing, insisting on helping them, and always
laughing and talking and shouting. Her zeal and her stream of talk could
only be interrupted by her mother's impatient voice calling her. Christophe
looked grim; but for his good resolutions he must have lost his temper
quite twenty times. He restrained himself for two days; on the third, he
locked his door. Rosa knocked, called, understood, went downstairs in
dismay, and did not try again. When he saw her he explained that he was
very busy and could not be disturbed. She humbly begged his pardon. She
could not deceive herself as to the failure of her innocent advances: they
had accomplished the opposite of her intention: they had alienated
Christophe. He no longer took the trouble to conceal his ill-humor; he did
not listen when she talked, and did not disguise his impatience. She felt
that her chatter irritated him, and by force of will she succeeded in
keeping silent for a part of the evening: but the thing was stronger than
herself: suddenly she would break out again and her words would tumble over
each other more tumultuously than ever. Christophe would leave her in the
middle of a sentence. She was not angry with him. She was angry with
herself. She thought herself stupid, tiresome, ridiculous: all her faults
assumed enormous proportions and she tried to wrestle with them: but she
was discouraged by the check upon her first attempts, and said to herself
that she could not do it, that she was not strong enough. But she would try
But there were other faults against which she was powerless: what could she
do against her plainness? There was no doubt about it. The certainty of her
misfortune had suddenly been revealed to her one day when she was looking
at herself in the mirror; it came like a thunderclap. Of course she
exaggerated the evil, and saw her nose as ten times larger than it was; it
seemed to her to fill all her face; she dared not show herself; she wished
to die. But there is in youth such a power of hope that these fits of
discouragement never lasted long: she would end by pretending that she had
been mistaken; she would try to believe it, and for a moment or two would
actually succeed in thinking her nose quite ordinary and almost shapely.
Her instinct made her attempt, though very clumsily, certain childish
tricks, a way of doing her hair so as not so much to show her forehead and
so accentuate the disproportion of her face. And yet, there was no coquetry
in her; no thought of love had crossed her mind, or she was unconscious of
it. She asked little: nothing but a little friendship: but Christophe did
not show any inclination to give her that little. It seemed to Rosa that
she would have been perfectly happy had he only condescended to say
good-day when they met. A friendly good-evening with a little kindness. But
Christophe usually looked so hard and so cold! It chilled her. He never
said anything disagreeable to her, but she would rather have had cruel
reproaches than such cruel silence.
One evening Christophe was playing his piano. He had taken up his quarters
in a little attic at the top of the house so as not to be so much disturbed
by the noise. Downstairs Rosa was listening to him, deeply moved. She loved
music though her taste was bad and unformed. While her mother was there,
she stayed in a corner of the room and bent over her sewing, apparently
absorbed in her work; but her heart was with the sounds coming from
upstairs, and she wished to miss nothing. As soon as Amalia went out for a
walk in the neighborhood, Rosa leaped to her feet, threw down her sewing,
and went upstairs with her heart beating until she came to the attic door.
She held her breath and laid her ear against the door. She stayed like that
until Amalia returned. She went on tiptoe, taking care to make no noise,
but as she was not very sure-footed, and was always in a hurry, she was
always tripping upon the stairs; and once while she was listening, leaning
forward with her cheek glued to the keyhole, she lost her balance, and
banged her forehead against the door. She was so alarmed that she lost her
breath. The piano stopped dead: she could not escape. She was getting up
when the door opened. Christophe saw her, glared at her furiously, and then
without a word, brushed her aside, walked angrily downstairs, and went out.
He did not return until dinner time, paid no heed to the despairing looks
with which she asked his pardon, ignored her existence, and for several
weeks he never played at all. Rosa secretly shed many tears; no one noticed
it, no one paid any attention to her. Ardently she prayed to God ... for
what? She did not know. She had to confide her grief in some one. She was
sure that Christophe detested her.
And, in spite of all, she hoped. It was enough for her if Christophe seemed
to show any sign of interest in her, if he appeared to listen to what she
said, if he pressed her hand with a little more friendliness than usual....
A few imprudent words from her relations set her imagination off upon a
* * * * *
The whole family was filled with sympathy for Christophe. The big boy of
sixteen, serious and solitary, who had such lofty ideas of his duty,
inspired a sort of respect in them all. His fits of ill-temper, his
obstinate silences, his gloomy air, his brusque manner, were not surprising
in such a house as that. Frau Vogel, herself, who regarded every artist as
a loafer, dared not reproach him aggressively, as she would have liked to
do, with the hours that he spent in star-gazing in the evening, leaning,
motionless, out of the attic window overlooking the yard, until night fell;
for she knew that during the rest of the day he was hard at work with his
lessons; and she humored him--like the rest--for an ulterior motive which
no one expressed though everybody knew it.
Rosa had seen her parents exchanging looks and mysterious whisperings when
she was talking to Christophe. At first she took no notice of it. Then she
was puzzled and roused by it; she longed to know what they were saying, but
dared not ask.
One evening when she had climbed on to a garden seat to untie the
clothes-line hung between two trees, she leaned on Christophe's shoulder to
jump down. Just at that moment her eyes met her grandfather's and her
father's; they were sitting smoking their pipes, and leaning against the
wall of the house. The two men winked at each other, and Justus Euler said
"They will make a fine couple."
Vogel nudged him, seeing that the girl was listening, and he covered his
remark very cleverly--(or so he thought)--with a loud "Hm! hm!" that could
have been heard twenty yards away. Christophe, whose back was turned, saw
nothing, but Rosa was so bowled over by it that she forgot that she was
jumping down, and sprained her foot. She would have fallen had not
Christophe caught her, muttering curses on her clumsiness. She had hurt
herself badly, but she did not show it; she hardly thought of it; she
thought only of what she had just heard. She walked to her room; every step
was agony to her; she stiffened herself against it so as not to let it be
seen. A delicious, vague uneasiness surged through her. She fell into a
chair at the foot of her bed and hid her face in the coverlet. Her cheeks
were burning; there were tears in her eyes, and she laughed. She was
ashamed, she wished to sink into the depths of the earth, she could not fix
her ideas; her blood beat in her temples, there were sharp pains in her
ankle; she was in a feverish stupor. Vaguely she heard sounds outside,
children crying and playing in the street, and her grandfather's words were
ringing in her ears; she was thrilled, she laughed softly, she blushed,
with her face buried in the eiderdown: she prayed, gave thanks, desired,
Her mother called her. She tried to get up. At the first step she felt a
pain so unbearable that she almost fainted; her head swam. She thought she
was going to die, she wished to die, and at the same time she wished to
live with all the forces of her being, to live for the promised happiness.
Her mother came at last, and the whole household was soon excited. She was
scolded as usual, her ankle was dressed, she was put to bed, and sank into
the sweet bewilderment of her physical pain and her inward joy. The night
was sweet.... The smallest memory of that dear evening was hallowed for
her. She did not think of Christophe, she knew not what she thought. She
The next day, Christophe, who thought himself in some measure responsible
for the accident, came to make inquiries, and for the first time he made
some show of affection for her. She was filled with gratitude, and blessed
her sprained ankle. She would gladly have suffered all her life, if, all
her life, she might have such joy.--She had to lie down for several days
and never move; she spent them in turning over and over her grandfather's
words, and considering them. Had he said:
"They would ...?"
But it was possible that he had never said anything of this kind?--Yes. He
had said it; she was certain of it.... What! Did they not see that she was
ugly, and that Christophe could not bear her?... But it was so good to
hope! She came to believe that perhaps she had been wrong, that she was not
as ugly as she thought; she would sit up on her sofa to try and see herself
in the mirror on the wall opposite, above the mantelpiece; she did not know
what to think. After all, her father and her grandfather were better judges
than herself; people cannot tell about themselves.... Oh! Heaven, if it
were possible!... If it could be ... if, she never dared think it, if ...
if she were pretty!... Perhaps, also, she had exaggerated Christophe's
antipathy. No doubt he was indifferent, and after the interest he had shown
in her the day after the accident did not bother about her any more; he
forgot to inquire; but Rosa made excuses for him, he was so busy! How
should he think of her? An artist cannot be judged like other men....
And yet, resigned though she was, she could not help expecting with beating
heart a word of sympathy from him when he came near her. A word only, a
look ... her imagination did the rest. In the beginning love needs so
little food! It is enough to see, to touch as you pass; such a power of
dreams flows from the soul in such moments, that almost of itself it can
create its love: a trifle can plunge it into ecstasy that later, when it is
more satisfied, and in proportion more exacting, it will hardly find again
when at last it does possess the object of its desire.--Rosa lived
absolutely, though no one knew it, in a romance of her own fashioning,
pieced together by herself: Christophe loved her secretly, and was too shy
to confess his love, or there was some stupid reason, fantastic or
romantic, delightful to the imagination of the sentimental little ninny.
She fashioned endless stories, and all perfectly absurd; she knew it
herself, but tried not to know it; she lied to herself voluptuously for
days and days as she bent over her sewing. It made her forget to talk: her
flood of words was turned inward, like a river which suddenly disappears
underground. But then the river took its revenge. What a debauch of
speeches, of unuttered conversations which no one heard but herself!
Sometimes her lips would move as they do with people who have to spell out
the syllables to themselves as they read so as to understand them.
When her dreams left her she was happy and sad. She knew that things were
not as she had just told herself: but she was left with a reflected
happiness, and had greater confidence for her life. She did not despair of
She did not admit it to herself, but she set about doing it. With the
sureness of instinct that great affection brings, the awkward, ignorant
girl contrived immediately to find the road by which she might reach her
beloved's heart. She did not turn directly to him. But as soon as she was
better and could once more walk about the house she approached Louisa. The
smallest excuse served. She found a thousand little services to render her.
When she went out she never failed to undertake various errands: she spared
her going to the market, arguments with tradespeople, she would fetch water
for her from the pump in the yard; she cleaned the windows and polished the
floors in spite of Louisa's protestations, who was confused when she did
not do her work alone; but she was so weary that she had not the strength
to oppose anybody who came to help her. Christophe was out all day. Louisa
felt that she was deserted, and the companionship of the affectionate,
chattering girl was pleasant to her. Rosa took up her quarters in her room.
She brought her sewing, and talked all the time. By clumsy devices she
tried to bring conversation round to Christophe. Just to hear of him, even
to hear his name, made her happy; her hands would tremble; she would sit
with downcast eyes. Louisa was delighted to talk of her beloved Christophe,
and would tell little tales of his childhood, trivial and just a little
ridiculous; but there was no fear of Rosa thinking them so: she took a
great joy, and there was a dear emotion for her in imagining Christophe as
a child, and doing all the tricks and having all the darling ways of
children: in her the motherly tenderness which lies in the hearts of all
women was mingled deliciously with that other tenderness: she would laugh
heartily and tears would come to her eyes. Louisa was touched by the
interest that Rosa took in her. She guessed dimly what was in the girl's
heart, but she never let it appear that she did so; but she was glad of it;
for of all in the house she only knew the worth of the girl's heart.
Sometimes she would stop talking to look at her. Rosa, surprised by her
silence, would raise her eyes from her work. Louisa would smile at her.
Rosa would throw herself into her arms, suddenly, passionately, and would
hide her face in Louisa's bosom. Then they would go on working and talking,
as if nothing had happened.
In the evening when Christophe came home, Louisa, grateful for Rosa's
attentions, and in pursuance of the little plan she had made, always
praised the girl to the skies. Christophe was touched by Rosa's kindness.
He saw how much good she was doing his mother, in whose face there was more
serenity: and he would thank her effusively. Rosa would murmur, and escape
to conceal her embarrassment: so she appeared a thousand times more
intelligent and sympathetic to Christophe than if she had spoken. He looked
at her less with a prejudiced eye, and did not conceal his surprise at
finding unsuspected qualities in her. Rosa saw that; she marked the
progress that she made in his sympathy and thought that his sympathy would
lead to love. She gave herself up more than ever to her dreams. She came
near to believing with the beautiful presumption of youth that what you
desire with all your being is always accomplished in the end. Besides, how
was her desire unreasonable? Should not Christophe have been more sensible
than any other of her goodness and her affectionate need of self-devotion?
But Christophe gave no thought to her. He esteemed her; but she filled no
room in his thoughts. He was busied with far other things at the moment.
Christophe was no longer Christophe. He did not know himself. He was in a
mighty travail that was like to sweep everything away, a complete upheaval.
* * * * *
Christophe was conscious of extreme weariness and great uneasiness. He was
for no reason worn out; his head was heavy, his eyes, his ears, all his
senses were dumb and throbbing. He could not give his attention to
anything. His mind leaped from one subject to another, and was in a fever
that sucked him dry. The perpetual fluttering of images in his mind made
him giddy. At first he attributed it to fatigue and the enervation of the
first days of spring. But spring passed and his sickness only grew worse.
It was what the poets who only touch lightly on things call the unease of
adolescence, the trouble of the cherubim, the waking of the desire of love
in the young body and soul. As if the fearful crisis of all a man's being,
breaking up, dying, and coming to full rebirth, as if the cataclysm in
which everything, faith, thought, action, all life, seems like to be
blotted out, and then to be new-forged in the convulsions of sorrow and
joy, can be reduced to terms of a child's folly!
All his body and soul were in a ferment. He watched them, having no
strength to struggle, with a mixture of curiosity and disgust. He did not
understand what was happening in himself. His whole being was
disintegrated. He spent days together in absolute torpor. Work was torture
to him. At night he slept heavily and in snatches, dreaming monstrously,
with gusts of desire; the soul of a beast was racing madly in him. Burning,
bathed in sweat, he watched himself in horror; he tried to break free of
the crazy and unclean thoughts that possessed him, and he wondered if he
were going mad.
The day gave him no shelter from his brutish thoughts. In the depths of his
soul he felt that he was slipping down and down; there was no stay to
clutch at; no barrier to keep back chaos. All his defenses, all his
citadels, with the quadruple rampart that hemmed him in so proudly--his
God, his art, his pride, his moral faith, all was crumbling away, falling
piece by piece from him. He saw himself naked, bound, lying unable to move,
like a corpse on which vermin swarm. He had spasms of revolt: where was his
will, of which he was so proud? He called to it in vain: it was like the
efforts that one makes in sleep, knowing that one is dreaming, and trying
to awake. Then one succeeds only in falling from one dream to another like
a lump of lead, and in being more and more choked by the suffocation of the
soul in bondage. At last he found that it was less painful not to struggle.
He decided not to do so, with, fatalistic apathy and despair.
The even tenor of his life seemed to be broken up. Now he slipped down a
subterranean crevasse and was like to disappear; now he bounded up again
with a violent jerk. The chain of his days was snapped. In the midst of the
even plain of the hours great gaping holes would open to engulf his soul.
Christophe looked on at the spectacle as though it did not concern him.
Everything, everybody,--and himself--were strange to him. He went about his
business, did his work, automatically: it seemed to him that the machinery
of his life might stop at any moment: the wheels were out of gear. At
dinner with his mother and the others, in the orchestra with the musicians
and the audience, suddenly there would be a void and emptiness in his
brain; he would look stupidly at the grinning faces about him; and he could
not understand. He would ask himself:
"What is there between these creatures and ...?"
He dared not even say:
"... and me."
For he knew not whether he existed. He would speak and his voice would seem
to issue from another body. He would move, and he saw his movements from
afar, from above--from the top of a tower. He would pass his hand over his
face, and his eyes would wander. He was often near doing crazy things.
It was especially when he was most in public that he had to keep guard on
himself. For example, on the evenings when he went to the Palace or was
playing in public. Then he would suddenly be seized by a terrific desire to
make a face, or say something outrageous, to pull the Grand Duke's nose, or
to take a running kick at one of the ladies. One whole evening while he was
conducting the orchestra, he struggled against an insensate desire to
undress himself in public; and he was haunted by the idea from the moment
when he tried to check it; he had to exert all his strength not to give way
to it. When he issued from the brute struggle he was dripping with sweat
and his mind was blank. He was really mad. It was enough for him to think
that he must not do a thing for it to fasten on him with the maddening
tenacity of a fixed idea.
So his life was spent in a series of unbridled outbreaks and of endless
falls into emptiness. A furious wind in the desert. Whence came this wind?
From what abyss came these desires that wrenched his body and mind? He was
like a bow stretched to breaking point by a strong hand,--to what end
unknown?--which then springs back like a piece of dead wood. Of what force
was he the prey? He dared not probe for it. He felt that he was beaten,
humiliated, and he would not face his defeat. He was weary and broken in
spirit. He understood now the people whom formerly he had despised: those
who will not seek awkward truth. In the empty hours, when he remembered
that time was passing, his work neglected, the future lost, he was frozen
with terror. But there was no reaction: and his cowardice found excuses in
desperate affirmation of the void in which he lived: he took a bitter
delight in abandoning himself to it like a wreck on the waters. What was
the good of fighting? There was nothing beautiful, nor good; neither God,
nor life, nor being of any sort. In the street as he walked, suddenly the
earth would sink away from him: there was neither ground, nor air, nor
light, nor himself: there was nothing. He would fall, his head would drag
him down, face forwards: he could hardly hold himself up; he was on the
point of collapse. He thought he was going to die, suddenly, struck down.
He thought he was dead....
Christophe was growing a new skin. Christophe was growing a new soul. And
seeing the worn out and rotten soul of his childhood falling away he never
dreamed that he was taking on a new one, young and stronger. As through
life we change our bodies, so also do we change our souls: and the
metamorphosis does not always take place slowly over many days; there are
times of crisis when the whole is suddenly renewed. The adult changes his
soul. The old soul that is cast off dies. In those hours of anguish we
think that all is at an end. And the whole thing begins again. A life dies.
Another life has already come into being.
One night he was alone in his room, with his elbow on his desk under the
light of a candle. His back was turned to the window. He was not working.
He had not been able to work for weeks. Everything was twisting and turning
in his head. He had brought everything under scrutiny at once: religion,
morals, art, the whole of life. And in the general dissolution of his
thoughts was no method, no order: he had plunged into the reading of books
taken haphazard from his grandfather's heterogeneous library or from
Vogel's collection of books: books of theology, science, philosophy, an odd
lot, of which he understood nothing, having everything to learn: he could
not finish any of them, and in the middle of them went off on divagations,
endless whimsies, which left him weary, empty, and in mortal sorrow.
So, that evening, he was sunk in an exhausted torpor. The whole house was
asleep. His window was open. Not a breath came up from the yard. Thick
clouds filled the sky. Christophe mechanically watched the candle burn away
at the bottom of the candlestick. He could not go to bed. He had no thought
of anything. He felt the void growing, growing from moment to moment. He
tried not to see the abyss that drew him to its brink: and in spite of
himself he leaned over and his eyes gazed into the depths of the night. In
the void, chaos was stirring, and faint sounds came from the darkness.
Agony filled him: a shiver ran down his spine: his skin tingled: he
clutched the table so as not to fall. Convulsively he awaited nameless
things, a miracle, a God....
Suddenly, like an opened sluice, in the yard behind him, a deluge of water,
a heavy rain, large drops, down pouring, fell. The still air quivered. The
dry, hard soil rang out like a bell. And the vast scent of the earth,
burning, warm as that of an animal, the smell of the flowers, fruit, and
amorous flesh rose in a spasm of fury and pleasure. Christophe, under
illusion, at fullest stretch, shook. He trembled.... The veil was rent. He
was blinded. By a flash of lightning, he saw, in the depths of the night,
he saw--he was God. God was in himself; He burst the ceiling of the room,
the walls of the house; He cracked the very bounds of existence. He filled
the sky, the universe, space. The world coursed through Him, like a
cataract. In the horror and ecstasy of that cataclysm, Christophe fell too,
swept along by the whirlwind which brushed away and crushed like straws the
laws of nature. He was breathless: he was drunk with the swift hurtling
down into God ... God-abyss! God-gulf! Fire of Being! Hurricane of life!
Madness of living,--aimless, uncontrolled, beyond reason,--for the fury of
* * * * *
When the crisis was over, he fell into a deep sleep and slept as he had not
done for long enough. Next day when he awoke his head swam: he was as
broken as though he had been drunk. But in his inmost heart he had still a
beam of that somber and great light that had struck him down the night
before. He tried to relight it. In vain. The more he pursued it, the more
it eluded him. From that time on, all his energy was directed towards
recalling the vision of a moment. The endeavor was futile. Ecstasy does not
answer the bidding of the will.
But that mystic exaltation was not the only experience that he had of it:
it recurred several times, but never with the intensity of the first. It
came always at moments when Christophe was least expecting it, for a second
only, a time so short, so sudden,--no longer than a wink of an eye or a
raising of a hand--that the vision was gone before he could discover that
it was: and then he would wonder whether he had not dreamed it. After that
fiery bolt that had set the night aflame, it was a gleaming dust, shedding
fleeting sparks, which the eye could hardly see as they sped by. But they
reappeared more and more often: and in the end they surrounded Christophe
with a halo of perpetual misty dreams, in which his spirit melted.
Everything that distracted him in his state of semi-hallucination was an
irritation to him. It was impossible to work; he gave up thinking about it.
Society was odious to him; and more than any, that of his intimates, even
that of his mother, because they arrogated to themselves more rights over
He left the house: he took to spending his days abroad, and never returned
until nightfall. He sought the solitude of the fields, and delivered
himself up to it, drank his fill of it, like a maniac who wishes not to be
disturbed by anything in the obsession of his fixed ideas.--But in the
great sweet air, in contact with the earth, his obsession relaxed, his
ideas ceased to appear like specters. His exaltation was no less: rather it
was heightened, but it was no longer a dangerous delirium of the mind but a
healthy intoxication of his whole being: body; and soul crazy in their
He rediscovered the world, as though he had never seen it. It was a new
childhood. It was as though a magic word had been uttered. An "Open
Sesame!"--Nature flamed with gladness. The sun boiled. The liquid sky ran
like a clear river. The earth steamed and cried aloud in delight. The
plants, the trees, the insects, all the innumerable creatures were like
dazzling tongues of flame in the fire of life writhing upwards. Everything
sang aloud in joy.
And that joy was his own. That strength was his own. He was no longer cut
off from the rest of the world. Till then, even in the happy days of
childhood, when he saw nature with ardent and delightful curiosity, all
creatures had seemed to him to be little worlds shut up, terrifying and
grotesque, unrelated to himself, and incomprehensible. He was not even sure
that they had feeling and life. They were strange machines. And sometimes
Christophe had even, with the unconscious cruelty of a child, dismembered
wretched insects without dreaming that they might suffer--for the pleasure
of watching their queer contortions. His uncle Gottfried, usually so calm,
had one day indignantly to snatch from his hands an unhappy fly that he was
torturing. The boy had tried to laugh at first: then he had burst into
tears, moved by his uncle's emotion: he began to understand that his victim
did really exist, as well as himself, and that he had committed a crime.
But if thereafter nothing would have induced him to do harm to the beasts,
he never felt any sympathy for them: he used to pass them by without ever
trying to feel what it was that worked their machinery: rather he was
afraid to think of it: it was something like a bad dream.--And now
everything was made plaint These humble, obscure creatures became in their
turn centers of light.
Lying on his belly in the grass where creatures swarmed, in the shade of
the trees that buzzed with insects, Christophe would watch the fevered
movements of the ants, the long-legged spiders, that seemed to dance as
they walked, the bounding grasshoppers, that leap aside, the heavy,
bustling beetles, and the naked worms, pink and glabrous, mottled with
white, or with his hands under his head and his eyes dosed he would listen
to the invisible orchestra, the roundelay of the frenzied insects circling
in a sunbeam about the scented pines, the trumpeting of the mosquitoes, the
organ, notes of the wasps, the brass of the wild bees humming like bells in
the tops of the trees, and the godlike whispering of the swaying trees, the
sweet moaning of the wind in the branches, the soft whispering of the
waving grass, like a breath of wind rippling the limpid surface of a lake,
like the rustling of a light dress and lovers footsteps coming near, and
passing, then lost upon the air.
He heard all these sounds and cries within himself. Through all these
creatures from the smallest to the greatest flowed the same river of life:
and in it he too swam. So, he was one of them, he was of their blood, and,
brotherly, he heard the echo of their sorrows and their joys: their
strength was merged is his like a river fed with thousands of streams. He
sank into them. His lungs were like to burst with the wind, too freely
blowing, too strong, that burst the windows and forced its way, into the
closed house of his suffocating heart. The change was too abrupt: after
finding everywhere a void, when he had been buried only in his own
existence, and had felt it slipping from him and dissolving like rain, now
everywhere he found infinite and unmeasured Being, now that he longed to
forget himself, to find rebirth in the universe. He seemed to have issued
from the grave. He swam voluptuously in life flowing free and full: and
borne on by its current he thought that he was free. He did not know that
he was less free than ever, that no creature is ever free, that even the
law that governs the universe is not free, that only death--perhaps--can
But the chrysalis issuing from its stifling sheath, joyously, stretched its
limbs in its new shape, and had no time as yet to mark the bounds of its
* * * * *
There began a new cycle of days. Days of gold and fever, mysterious,
enchanted, like those of his childhood, when by one he discovered things
for the first time. From dawn to set of sun he lived in one long mirage. He
deserted all his business. The conscientious boy, who for years had never
missed a lesson, or an orchestra rehearsal, even when he was ill, was
forever finding paltry excuses for neglecting his work. He was not afraid
to lie. He had no remorse about it. The stoic principles of life, to which
he had hitherto delighted to bend his will, morality, duty, now seemed to
him to have no truth, nor reason. Their jealous despotism was smashed
against Nature. Human nature, healthy, strong, free, that alone was virtue:
to hell with all the rest! It provoked pitying laughter to see the little
peddling rules of prudence and policy which the world adorns with the name
of morality, while it pretends to inclose all life within them. A
preposterous mole-hill, an ant-like people! Life sees to it that they are
brought to reason. Life does but pass, and all is swept away....
Bursting with energy Christophe had moments when he was consumed with a
desire to destroy, to burn, to smash, to glut with actions blind and
uncontrolled the force which choked him. These outbursts usually ended in a
sharp reaction: he would weep, and fling himself down on the ground, and
kiss the earth, and try to dig into it with his teeth and hands, to feed
himself with it, to merge into it: he trembled then with fever and desire.
One evening he was walking in the outskirts of a wood. His eyes were
swimming with the light, his head was whirling: he was in that state of
exaltation when all creatures and things were transfigured. To that was
added the magic of the soft warm light of evening. Bays of purple and gold
hovered in the trees. From the meadows seemed to come a phosphorescent
glimmer. In a field near by a girl was making hay. In her blouse and short
skirt, with her arms and neck bare, she was raking the hay and heaping it
up. She had a short nose, wide cheeks, a round face, a handkerchief thrown
over her hair. The setting sun touched with red her sunburned skin, which,
like a piece of pottery, seemed to absorb the last beams of the day.
She fascinated Christophe. Leaning against a beech-tree he watched her come
towards the verge of the woods, eagerly, passionately. Everything else had
disappeared. She took no notice of him. For a moment she looked at him
cautiously: he saw her eyes blue and hard in her brown face. She passed so
near to him that, when she leaned down to gather up the hay, through her
open blouse he saw a soft down on her shoulders and back. Suddenly the
vague desire which was in him leaped forth. He hurled himself at her from
behind, seized her neck and waist, threw back her head and fastened his
lips upon hers. He kissed her dry, cracked lips until he came against her
teeth that bit him angrily. His hands ran over her rough arms, over her
blouse wet with her sweat. She struggled. He held her tighter, he wished to
strangle her. She broke loose, cried out, spat, wiped her lips with her
hand, and hurled insults at him. He let her go and fled across the fields.
She threw stones at him and went on discharging after him a litany of
filthy epithets. He blushed, less for anything that she might say or think,
but for what he was thinking himself. The sudden unconscious act filled him
with terror. What had he done? What should he do? What he was able to
understand of it all only filled him with disgust. And he was tempted by
his disgust. He fought against himself and knew not on which side was the
real Christophe. A blind force beset him: in vain did he fly from it: it
was only to fly from himself. What would she do about him? What should he
do to-morrow ... in an hour ... the time it took to cross the plowed field
to reach the road?... Would he ever reach it? Should he not stop, and go
back, and run back to the girl? And then?... He remembered that delirious
moment when he had held her by the throat. Everything was possible. All
things were worth while. A crime even.... Yes, even a crime.... The turmoil
in his heart made him breathless. When he reached the road he stopped to
breathe. Over there the girl was talking to another girl who had been
attracted by her cries: and with arms akimbo, they were looking at each
other and shouting with laughter.
He went home. He shut himself up in his room and never stirred for several
days. He only went out even into the town, when he was compelled. He was
fearful of ever going out beyond the gates and venturing forth into the
fields: he was afraid of once more falling in with the soft, maddening
breath that had blown upon him like a rushing wind during a calm in a
storm. He thought that the walls of the town might preserve him from it. He
never dreamed that for the enemy to slip within there needed be only the
smallest crack in the closed shutters, no more than is needed for a peep
In a wing of the house, on the other side of the yard, there lodged on the
ground floor a young woman of twenty, some months a widow, with a little
girl. Frau Sabine Froehlich was also a tenant of old Euler's. She occupied
the shop which opened on to the street, and she had as well two rooms
looking on to the yard, together with a little patch of garden, marked off
from the Eulers' by a wire fence up which ivy climbed. They did not often
see her: the child used to play down in the garden from morning to night
making mud pies: and the garden was left to itself, to the great distress
of old Justus, who loved tidy paths and neatness in the beds. He had tried
to bring the matter to the attention of his tenant: but that was probably
why she did not appear: and the garden was not improved by it.
Frau Froehlich kept a little draper's shop which might have had customers
enough, thanks to its position in a street of shops in the center of the
town: but she did not bother about it any more than about her garden.
Instead of doing her housework herself, as, according to Frau Vogel, every
self-respecting woman ought to do--especially when she is in circumstances
which do not permit much less excuse idleness--she had hired a little
servant, a girl of fifteen, who came in for a few hours in the morning to
clean the rooms and look after the shop, while the young woman lay in bed
or dawdled over her toilet.
Christophe used to see her sometimes, through his windows, walking about
her room, with bare feet, in her long nightgown, or sitting for hours
together before her mirror: for she was so careless that she used to forget
to draw her curtains: and when she saw him, she was so lazy that she could
not take the trouble, to go and lower them. Christophe, more modest than
she, would leave the window so as not to incommode her: but the temptation
was great. He would blush a little and steal a glance at her bare arms,
which were rather thin, as she drew them languidly around her flowing hair,
and with her hands, clasped behind her head, lost herself in a dream, until
they were numbed, and then she would let them fall. Christophe would
pretend that he only saw these pleasant sights inadvertently as he happened
to pass the window, and that they did not disturb him in his musical
thoughts; but he liked it, and in the end he wasted as much time in
watching Frau Sabine, as she did over her toilet. Not that she was a
coquette: she was rather careless, generally, and did not take anything
like the meticulous care with her appearance that Amalia or Rosa did. If
she dawdled in front of her dressing table it was from pure laziness; every
time she put in a pin she had to rest from the effort of it, while she made
little piteous faces at herself in the mirrors. She was never quite
properly dressed at the end of the day.
Often her servant used to go before Sabine was ready: and a customer would
ring the shop-bell. She would let him ring and call once or twice before
she could make up her mind to get up from her chair. She would go down,
smiling, and never hurrying,--never hurrying would look for the article
required,--and if she could not find it after looking for some time, or
even (as happened sometimes) if she had to take too much trouble to reach
it, as for instance, taking the ladder from one end of the shop to the
other,--she would say calmly that she did not have it in stock: and as she
never bothered to put her stock in order, or to order more of the articles
of which she had run out, her customers used to lose patience and go
elsewhere. But she never minded. How could you be angry with such a
pleasant creature who spoke so sweetly, and was never excited about
anything! She did not mind what anybody said to her: and she made this so
plain that those who began to complain never had the courage to go on: they
used to go, answering her charming smile with a smile: but they never came
back. She never bothered about it. She went on smiling.
She was like a little Florentine figure. Her well marked eyebrows were
arched: her gray eyes were half open behind the curtain of her lashes. The
lower eyelid was a little swollen, with a little crease below it. Her
little, finely drawn nose turned up slightly at the end. Another little
curve lay between it and her upper lip, which curled up above her half-open
mouth, pouting in a weary smile. Her lower lip was a little thick: the
lower part of her face was rounded, and had the serious expression of the
little virgins of Filippo Lippi. Her complexion was a little muddy, her
hair was light brown, always untidy, and done up in a slovenly chignon. She
was slight of figure, small-boned. And her movements were lazy. Dressed
carelessly--a gaping bodice, buttons missing, ugly, worn shoes, always
looking a little slovenly--she charmed by her grace and youth, her
gentleness, her instinctively coaxing ways. When she appeared to take the
air at the door of her shop, the young men who passed used to look at her
with pleasure: and although she did not bother about them, she noticed it
none the less. Always then she wore that grateful and glad expression which
is in the eyes of all women when they know that they have been seen with
sympathetic eyes. It seemed to say:
"Thank you!... Again! Look at me again!" But though it gave her pleasure to
please, her indifference would never let her make the smallest effort to
She was an object of scandal to the Euler-Vogels. Everything about her
offended them: her indolence, the untidiness of her house, the carelessness
of her dress, her polite indifference to their remarks, her perpetual
smile, the impertinent serenity with which she had accepted her husband's
death, her child's illnesses, her straitened circumstances, the great and
annoyances of her daily life, while nothing could change one jot of her
favorite habits, or her eternal longing,--everything about her offended
them: and the worst of all was that, as she was, she did give pleasure.
Frau Vogel could not forgive her that. It was almost as though Sabine did
it on purpose, on purpose, ironically, to set at naught by her conduct the
great traditions, the true principles, the savorless duty, the pleasureless
labor, the restlessness, the noise, the quarrels, the mooning ways, the
healthy pessimism which was the motive power of the Euler family, as it is
that of all respectable persons, and made their life a foretaste of
purgatory. That a woman who did nothing but dawdle about all the blessed
day should take upon herself to defy them with her calm insolence, while
they bore their suffering in silence like galley-slaves,--and that people
should approve of her into the bargain--that was beyond the limit, that was
enough to turn you against respectability!... Fortunately, thank God, there
were still a few sensible people left in the world. Frau Vogel consoled
herself with them. They exchanged remarks about the little widow, and spied
on her through her shutters. Such gossip was the joy of the family when
they met at supper. Christophe would listen absently. He was so used to
hearing the Vogels set themselves up as censors of their neighbors that he
never took any notice of it. Besides he knew nothing of Frau Sabine except
her bare neck and arms, and though they were pleasing enough, they did not
justify his coming to a definite opinion about her. However, he was
conscious; of a kindly feeling towards her: and in a contradictory spirit
he was especially grateful to her for displeasing Frau Vogel.
* * * * *
After dinner in the evening when it was very hot it was impossible to stay
in the stifling yard, where the sun shone the whole afternoon. The only
place in the house where it was possible to breathe was the rooms looking
into the street, Euler and his son-in-law used sometimes to go and sit on
the doorstep with Louisa. Frau Vogel and Rosa would only appear for a
moment: they were kept by their housework: Frau Vogel took a pride in
showing that she had no time for dawdling: and she used to say, loudly
enough to be overheard, that all the people sitting there and yawning on
their doorsteps, without doing a stitch of work, got on her nerves. As she
could not--(to her sorrow)--compel them to work, she would pretend not to
see them, and would go in and work furiously. Rosa thought she must do
likewise. Euler and Vogel would discover draughts everywhere, and fearful
of catching cold, would go up to their rooms: they used to go to bed early,
and would have thought themselves ruined had they changed the least of
their habits. After nine o'clock only Louisa and Christophe would be left.
Louisa spent the day in her room: and, In the evening, Christophe used to
take pains to be with her, whenever he could, to make her take the air. If
she were left alone she would never go out: the noise of the street
frightened her. Children were always chasing each other with shrill cries.
All the dogs of the neighborhood took it up and barked. The sound of a
piano came up, a little farther off a clarinet, and in the next street a
cornet a piston. Voices chattered. People came and went and stood in groups
in front of their houses. Louisa would have lost her head if she had been
left alone in all the uproar. But when her son was with her it gave her
pleasure. The noise would gradually die down. The children and the dogs
would go to bed first. The groups of people would break up. The air would
become more pure. Silence would descend upon the street. Louisa would tell
in her thin voice the little scraps of news that she had heard from Amalia
or Rosa. She was not greatly interested in them. But she never knew what to
talk about to her son, and she felt the need of keeping in touch with him,
of saying something to him. And Christophe, who felt her need, would
pretend to be interested in everything she said: but he did not listen. He
was off in vague dreams, turning over in his mind the doings of the day.
One evening when they were sitting there--while his mother Was talking he
saw the door of the draper's shop open. A woman came out silently and sat
in the street. Her chair was only a few yards from Louisa. She was sitting
in the darkest shadow. Christophe could not see her face: but he recognized
her. His dreams vanished. The air seemed sweeter to him. Louisa had not
noticed Sabine's presence, and went on with her chatter in a low voice.
Christophe paid more attention to her, and, he felt impelled to throw out a
remark here and there, to talk, perhaps to be heard. The slight figure sat
there without stirring, a little limp, with her legs lightly crossed and
her hands lying crossed in her lap. She was looking straight in front of
her, and seemed to hear nothing. Louisa was overcome with drowsiness. She
went in. Christophe said he would stay a little longer.
It was nearly ten. The street was empty. The people were going indoors. The
sound of the shops being shut was heard. The lighted windows winked and
then were dark again. One or two were still lit: then they were blotted
out. Silence.... They were alone, they did not look at each other, they
held their breath, they seemed not to be aware of each other. From the
distant fields came the smell of the new-mown hay, and from a balcony in a
house near by the scent of a pot of cloves. No wind stirred. Above their
heads was the Milky Way. To their right red Jupiter. Above a chimney
Charles' Wain bent its axles: in the pale green sky its stars flowered like
daisies. From the bells of the parish church eleven o'clock rang out and
was caught up by all the other churches, with their voices clear or
muffled, and, from the houses, by the dim chiming of the clock or husky
They awoke suddenly from their dreams, and got up at the same moment. And
just as they were going indoors they both bowed without speaking.
Christophe went up to his room. He lighted his candle, and sat down by his
desk with his head in his hands, and stayed so for a long time without a
thought. Then he sighed and went to bed.
Next day when he got up, mechanically he went to his window to look down
into Sabine's room. But the curtains were drawn. They were drawn the whole
morning. They were drawn ever after.
* * * * *
Next evening Christophe proposed to his mother that they should go again to
sit by the door. He did so regularly. Louisa was glad of it: she did not
like his shutting himself up in his room immediately after dinner with the
window and shutters closed.--The little silent shadow never failed to come
and sit in its usual place. They gave each other a quick nod, which Louisa
never noticed. Christophe would talk to his mother. Sabine would smile at
her little girl, playing in the street: about nine she would go and put her
to bed and would then return noiselessly. If she stayed a little Christophe
would begin to be afraid that she would not come back. He would listen for
sounds in the house, the laughter of the little girl who would not go to
sleep: he would hear the rustling of Sabine's dress before she appeared on
the threshold of the shop. Then he would look away and talk to his mother
more eagerly. Sometimes he would feel that Sabine was looking at him. In
turn he would furtively look at her. But their eyes would never meet.
The child was a bond between them. She would run about in the street with
other children. They would find amusement in teasing a good-tempered dog
sleeping there with his nose in his paws: he would cock a red eye and at
last would emit a growl of boredom: then they would fly this way and that
screaming in terror and happiness. The little girl would give piercing
shrieks, and look behind her as though she were being pursued; she would
throw herself into Louisa's lap, and Louisa would smile fondly. She would
keep the child and question her: and so she would enter into conversation
with Sabine. Christophe never joined in. He never spoke to Sabine. Sabine
never spoke to him. By tacit agreement they pretended to ignore each other.
But he never lost a word of what they said as they talked over him. His
silence seemed unfriendly to Louisa. Sabine never thought it so: but it
would make her shy, and she would grow confused in her remarks. Then she
would find some excuse for going in.
For a whole week Louisa kept indoors for a cold. Christophe and Sabine were
left alone. The first time they were frightened by it. Sabine, to seem at
her ease, took her little girl on her knees and loaded her with caresses.
Christophe was embarrassed and did not know whether he ought to go on
ignoring what was happening at his side. It became difficult: although they
had not spoken a single word to each other, they did know each other,
thanks to Louisa. He tried to begin several times: but the words stuck in
his throat. Once more the little girl extricated them from their
difficulty. She played hide-and-seek, and went round Christophe's chair. He
caught her as she passed and kissed her. He was not very fond of children:
but it was curiously pleasant to him to kiss the little girl. She struggled
to be free, for she was busy with her game. He teased her, she bit his
hands: he let her fall. Sabine laughed. They looked at the child and
exchanged a few trivial words. Then Christophe tried--(he thought he
must)--to enter into conversation: but he had nothing very much to go upon:
and Sabine did not make his task any the easier: she only repeated what he
"It is a fine evening."
"Yes. It is a very fine evening."
"Impossible to breathe in the yard."
"Yes. The yard was stifling."
Conversation became very difficult. Sabine discovered that it was time to
take the little girl in, and went in herself: and she did not appear again.
Christophe was afraid she would do the same on the evenings that followed
and that she would avoid being left alone with him, as long as Louisa was
not there. But on the contrary, the next evening Sabine tried to resume
their conversation. She did so deliberately rather than for pleasure: she
was obviously taking a great deal of trouble to find subjects of
conversation, and bored with the questions she put: questions and answers
came between heartbreaking silences. Christophe remembered his first
interviews with Otto: but with Sabine their subjects were even more limited
than then, and she had not Otto's patience. When she saw the small success
of her endeavors she did not try any more: she had to give herself too much
trouble, and she lost interest in it. She said no more, and he followed her
And then there was sweet peace again. The night was calm once more, and
they returned to their inward thoughts. Sabine rocked slowly in her chair,
dreaming. Christophe also was dreaming. They said nothing. After half an
hour Christophe began to talk to himself, and in a low voice cried out with
pleasure in the delicious scent brought by the soft wind that came from a
cart of strawberries. Sabine said a word or two in reply. Again they were
silent. They were enjoying the charm of these indefinite silences, and
trivial words. Their dreams were the same, they had but one thought: they
did not know what it was: they did not admit it to themselves. At eleven
they smiled and parted.
Next day they did not even try to talk: they resumed their sweet silence.
At long intervals a word or two let them know that they were thinking of
the same things.
Sabine began to laugh.
"How much better it is," she said, "not to try to talk! One thinks one
must, and it is so tiresome!"
"Ah!" said Christophe with conviction, "if only everybody thought the
They both laughed. They were thinking of Frau Vogel.
"Poor woman!" said Sabine; "how exhausting she is!"
"She is never exhausted," replied Christophe gloomily.
She was tickled by his manner and his jest.
"You think it amusing?" he asked. "That is easy for you. You are
"So I am," said Sabine. "I lock myself in." She had a little soft laugh
that hardly sounded. Christophe heard it with delight in the calm of the
evening. He snuffed the fresh air luxuriously.
"Ah! It is good to be silent!" he said, stretching his limbs.
"And talking is no use!" said she.
"Yes," returned Christophe, "we understand each other so well!"
They relapsed into silence. In the darkness they could not see each other.
They were both smiling.
And yet, though they felt the same, when they were together--or imagined
that they did--in reality they knew nothing of each other. Sabine did not
bother about it. Christophe was more curious. One evening he asked her:
"Do you like music?"
"No," she said simply. "It bores me, I don't understand it."
Her frankness charmed him. He was sick of the lies of people who said that
they were mad about music, and were bored to death when they heard it: and
it seemed to him almost a virtue not to like it and to say so. He asked if
"So. She had no books."
He offered to lend her his.
"Serious books?" she asked uneasily.
"Not serious books if she did not want them. Poetry."
"But those are serious books."
"They don't interest you?"
"Yes. She was interested in them: but they were always too long: she never
had the patience to finish them. She forgot the beginning: skipped chapters
and then lost the thread. And then she threw the book away."
"Fine interest you take!"
"Bah! Enough for a story that is not true. She kept her interest for better
things than books."
"For the theater, then?"
"Didn't she go to the theater?"
"No. It was too hot. There were too many people. So much better at home.
The lights tired her eyes. And the actors were so ugly!"
He agreed with her in that. But there were other things in the theater: the
play, for instance.
"Yes," she said absently. "But I have no time."
"What do you do all day?"
"There is so much to do."
"True," said he. "There is your shop."
"Oh!" she said calmly. "That does not take much time."
"Your little girl takes up your time then?"
"Oh! no, poor child! She is very good and plays by herself."
He begged pardon for his indiscretion. But she was amused by it.
"There are so many things."
"She could not say. All sorts of things. Getting up, dressing, thinking of
dinner, cooking dinner, eating dinner, thinking of supper, cleaning her
room.... And then the day was over.... And besides you must have a little
time for doing nothing!"
"And you are not bored?"
"Even when you are doing nothing?"
"Especially when I am doing nothing. It is much worse doing something: that
They looked at each other and laughed.
"You are very happy!" said Christophe. "I can't do nothing."
"It seems to me that you know how."
"I have been learning lately."
"Ah! well, you'll learn."
When he left off talking to her he was at his ease and comfortable. It was
enough for him to see her. He was rid of his anxieties, and irritations,
and the nervous trouble that made him sick at heart. When he was talking to
her he was beyond care: and so when he thought of her. He dared not admit
it to himself: but as soon as he was in her presence, he was filled with a
delicious soft emotion that brought him almost to unconsciousness. At night
he slept as he had never done.
* * * * *
When he came back from his work he would look into this shop. It was not
often that he did not see Sabine. They bowed and smiled. Sometimes she was
at the door and then they would exchange a few words: and he would open the
door and call the little girl and hand her a packet of sweets.
One day he decided to go in. He pretended that he wanted some waistcoat
buttons. She began to look for them: but she could not find them. All the
buttons were mixed up: it was impossible to pick them out. She was a little
put out that he should see her untidiness. He laughed at it and bent over
the better to see it.
"No," she said, trying to hide the drawers with her hands. "Don't look! It
is a dreadful muddle...."
She went on looking. But Christophe embarrassed her. She was cross, and as
she pushed the drawer back she said:
"I can't find any. Go to Lisi, in the next street. She is sure to have
them. She has everything that people want."
He laughed at her way of doing business.
"Do you send all your customers away like that?"
"Well. You are not the first," said Sabine warmly.
And yet she was a little ashamed:
"It is too much trouble to tidy up," she said. "I put off doing it from day
to day.... But I shall certainly do it to-morrow."
"Shall I help you?" asked Christophe.
She refused. She would gladly have accepted: but she dared not, for fear of
gossip. And besides it humiliated her.
They went on talking.
"And your buttons?" she said to Christophe a moment later. "Aren't you
going to Lisi?"
"Never," said Christophe. "I shall wait until you have tidied up."