Part 7 out of 12
everything, and madly superstitious, and saw omens everywhere: at meals the
crossing of knives and forks, the number of the guests, the upsetting of a
salt-cellar: then there must be a whole ritual to turn aside misfortune.
Out walking she would count the crows, and never failed to watch which side
they flew to: she would anxiously watch the road at her feet, and when a
spider crossed her path in the morning she would cry out aloud: then she
would wish to go home and there would be no other means of not interrupting
the walk than to persuade her that it was after twelve, and so the omen was
one of hope rather than of evil. She was afraid of her dreams: she would
recount them at length to Christophe; for hours she would try to recollect
some detail that she had forgotten; she never spared him one; absurdities
piled one on the other, strange marriages, deaths, dressmakers' prices,
burlesque, and sometimes, obscene things. He had to listen to her and give
her his advice. Often she would be for a whole day under the obsession of
her inept fancies. She would find life ill-ordered, she would see things
and people rawly and overwhelm Christophe with her jeremiads; and it seemed
hardly worth while to have broken away from the gloomy middle-class people
with whom he lived to find once more the eternal enemy: the _"trauriger
But suddenly in the midst of her sulks and grumblings, she would become
gay, noisy, exaggerated: there was no more dealing with her gaiety than
with her moroseness: she would burst out laughing for no reason and seem as
though she were never going to stop: she would rush across the fields, play
mad tricks and childish pranks, take a delight in doing silly things, in
mixing with the earth, and dirty things, and the beasts, and the spiders,
and worms, in teasing them, and hurting them, and making them eat each
other: the cats eat the birds, the fowls the worms, the ants the spiders,
not from any wickedness, or perhaps from an altogether unconscious instinct
for evil, from curiosity, or from having nothing better to do. She seemed
to be driven always to say stupid things, to repeat senseless words again
and again, to irritate Christophe, to exasperate him, set his nerves on
edge, and make him almost beside himself. And her coquetry as soon as
anybody--no matter who--appeared on the road!... Then she would talk
excitedly, laugh noisily, make faces, draw attention to herself: she would
assume an affected mincing gait. Christophe would have a horrible
presentiment that she was going to plunge into serious discussion.--And,
indeed, she would do so. She would become sentimental, uncontrolledly, just
as she did everything: she would unbosom herself in a loud voice.
Christophe would suffer and long to beat her. Least of all could he forgive
her her lack of sincerity. He did not yet know that sincerity is a gift as
rare as intelligence or beauty and that it cannot justly be expected of
everybody. He could not bear a lie: and Ada gave him lies in full measure.
She was always lying, quite calmly, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
She had that astounding faculty for forgetting what is displeasing to
them--or even what has been pleasing to them--which those women possess who
live from moment to moment.
And, in spite of everything, they loved each other with all their hearts.
Ada was as sincere as Christophe in her love. Their love was none the less
true for not being based on intellectual sympathy: it had nothing in common
with base passion. It was the beautiful love of youth: it was sensual, but
not vulgar, because it was altogether youthful: it was naive, almost
chaste, purged by the ingenuous ardor of pleasure. Although Ada was not, by
a long way, so ignorant as Christophe, yet she had still the divine
privilege of youth of soul and body, that freshness of the senses, limpid
and vivid as a running stream, which almost gives the illusion of purity
and through life is never replaced. Egoistic, commonplace, insincere in her
ordinary life,--love made her simple, true, almost good: she understood in
love the joy that is to be found in self-forgetfulness. Christophe saw this
with delight: and he would gladly have died for her. Who can tell all the
absurd and touching illusions that a loving heart brings to its love! And
the natural illusion of the lover was magnified an hundredfold in
Christophe by the power of illusion which is born in the artist. Ada's
smile held profound meanings for him: an affectionate word was the proof of
the goodness of her heart. He loved in her all that is good and beautiful
in the universe. He called her his own, his soul, his life. They wept
together over their love.
Pleasure was not the only bond between them: there was an indefinable
poetry of memories and dreams,--their own? or those of the men and women
who had loved before them, who had been before them,--in them?... Without a
word, perhaps without knowing it, they preserved the fascination of the
first moments of their meeting in the woods, the first days, the first
nights together: those hours of sleep in each other's arms, still,
unthinking, sinking down into a flood of love and silent joy. Swift
fancies, visions, dumb thoughts, titillating, and making them go pale, and
their hearts sink under their desire, bringing all about them a buzzing as
of bees. A fine light, and tender.... Their hearts sink and beat no more,
borne down in excess of sweetness. Silence, languor, and fever, the
mysterious weary smile of the earth quivering under the first sunlight of
spring.... So fresh a love in two young creatures is like an April morning.
Like April it must pass. Youth of the heart is like an early feast of
* * * * *
Nothing could have brought Christophe closer to Ada in his love than the
way in which he was judged by others.
The day after their first meeting it was known all over the town. Ada made
no attempt to cover up the adventure, and rather plumed herself on her
conquest. Christophe would have liked more discretion: but he felt that the
curiosity of the people was upon him: and as he did not wish to seem to fly
from it, he threw in his lot with Ada. The little town buzzed with tattle.
Christophe's colleagues in the orchestra paid him sly compliments to which
he did not reply, because he would not allow any meddling with his affairs.
The respectable people of the town judged his conduct very severely. He
lost his music lessons with certain families. With others, the mothers
thought that they must now be present at the daughters' lessons, watching
with suspicious eyes, as though Christophe were intending to carry off the
precious darlings. The young ladies were supposed to know nothing.
Naturally they knew everything: and while they were cold towards Christophe
for his lack of taste, they were longing to have further details. It was
only among the small tradespeople, and the shop people, that Christophe was
popular: but not for long: he was just as annoyed by their approval as by
the condemnation of the rest: and being unable to do anything against that
condemnation, he took steps not to keep their approval: there was no
difficulty about that. He was furious with the general indiscretion.
The most indignant of all with him were Justus Euler and the Vogels. They
took Christophe's misconduct as a personal outrage. They had not made any
serious plans concerning him: they distrusted--especially Frau Vogel--these
artistic temperaments. But as they were naturally discontented and always
inclined to think themselves persecuted by fate, they persuaded themselves
that they had counted on the marriage of Christophe and Rosa; as soon as
they were quite certain that such a marriage would never come to pass, they
saw in it the mark of the usual ill luck. Logically, if fate were
responsible for their miscalculation, Christophe could not be: but the
Vogels' logic was that which gave them the greatest opportunity for finding
reasons for being sorry for themselves. So they decided that if Christophe
had misconducted himself it was not so much for his own pleasure as to give
offense to them. They were scandalized. Very religious, moral, and oozing
domestic virtue, they were of those to whom the sins of the flesh are the
most shameful, the most serious, almost the only sins, because they are the
only dreadful sins--(it is obvious that respectable people are never likely
to be tempted to steal or murder).--And so Christophe seemed to them
absolutely wicked, and they changed their demeanor towards him. They were
icy towards him and turned away as they passed him. Christophe, who was in
no particular need of their conversation, shrugged his shoulders at all the
fuss. He pretended not to notice Amalia's insolence: who, while she
affected contemptuously to avoid him, did all that she could to make him
fall in with her so that she might tell him all that was rankling in her.
Christophe was only touched by Rosa's attitude. The girl condemned him more
harshly even than his family. Not that this new love of Christophe's seemed
to her to destroy her last chances of being loved by him: she knew that she
had no chance left--(although perhaps she went on hoping: she always
hoped).--But she had made an idol of Christophe: and that idol had crumbled
away. It was the worst sorrow for her ... yes, a sorrow more cruel to the
innocence and honesty of her heart, than being disdained and forgotten by
him. Brought up puritanically, with a narrow code of morality, in which she
believed passionately, what she had heard about Christophe had not only
brought her to despair but had broken her heart. She had suffered already
when he was in love with Sabine: she had begun then to lose some of her
illusions about her hero. That Christophe could love so commonplace a
creature seemed to her inexplicable and inglorious. But at least that love
was pure, and Sabine was not unworthy of it. And in the end death had
passed over it and sanctified it.... But that at once Christophe should
love another woman,--and such a woman!--was base, and odious! She took upon
herself the defense of the dead woman against him. She could not forgive
him for having forgotten her.... Alas! He was thinking of her more than
she: but she never thought that in a passionate heart there might be room
for two sentiments at once: she thought it impossible to be faithful to the
past without sacrifice of the present. Pure and cold, she had no idea of
life or of Christophe: everything in her eyes was pure, narrow, submissive
to duty, like herself. Modest of soul, modest of herself, she had only one
source of pride: purity: she demanded it of herself and of others. She
could not forgive Christophe for having so lowered himself, and she would
never forgive him.
Christophe tried to talk to her, though not to explain himself--(what could
he say to her? what could he say to a little puritanical and naive
girl?).--He would have liked to assure her that he was her friend, that he
wished for her esteem, and had still the right to it He wished to prevent
her absurdly estranging herself from him.--But Rosa avoided him in stern
silence: he felt that she despised him.
He was both sorry and angry. He felt that he did not deserve such contempt;
and yet in the end he was bowled over by it: and thought himself guilty. Of
all the reproaches cast against him the most bitter came from himself when
he thought of Sabine. He tormented himself.
"Oh! God, how is it possible? What sort of creature am I?..."
But he could not resist the stream that bore him on. He thought that life
is criminal: and he closed his eyes so as to live without seeing it. He had
so great a need to live, and be happy, and love, and believe!... No: there
was nothing despicable in his love! He knew that it was impossible to be
very wise, or intelligent, or even very happy in his love for Ada: but what
was there in it that could be called vile? Suppose--(he forced the idea on
himself)--that Ada were not a woman of any great moral worth, how was the
love that he had for her the less pure for that? Love is in the lover, not
in the beloved. Everything is worthy of the lover, everything is worthy of
love. To the pure all is pure. All is pure in the strong and the healthy of
mind. Love, which adorns certain birds with their loveliest colors, calls
forth from the souls that are true all that is most noble in them. The
desire to show to the beloved only what is worthy makes the lover take
pleasure only in those thoughts and actions which are in harmony with the
beautiful image fashioned by love. And the waters of youth in which the
soul is bathed, the blessed radiance of strength and joy, are beautiful and
health-giving, making the heart great.
That his friends misunderstood him filled him with bitterness. But the
worst trial of all was that his mother was beginning to be unhappy about
The good creature was far from sharing the narrow views of the Vogels. She
had seen real sorrows too near ever to try to invent others. Humble, broken
by life, having received little joy from it, and having asked even less,
resigned to everything that happened, without even trying to understand it,
she was careful not to judge or censure others: she thought she had no
right. She thought herself too stupid to pretend that they were wrong when
they did not think as she did: it would have seemed ridiculous to try to
impose on others the inflexible rules of her morality and belief. Besides
that, her morality and her belief were purely instinctive: pious and pure
in herself she closed her eyes to the conduct of others, with the
indulgence of her class for certain faults and certain weaknesses. That had
been one of the complaints that her father-in-law, Jean Michel, had lodged
against her: she did not sufficiently distinguish between those who were
honorable and those who were not: she was not afraid of stopping in the
street or the market-place to shake hands and talk with young women,
notorious in the neighborhood, whom a respectable woman ought to pretend to
ignore. She left it to God to distinguish between good and evil, to punish
or to forgive. From others she asked only a little of that affectionate
sympathy which is so necessary to soften the ways of life. If people were
only kind she asked no more.
But since she had lived with the Vogels a change had come about in her. The
disparaging temper of the family had found her an easier prey because she
was crushed and had no strength to resist. Amalia had taken her in hand:
and from morning to night when they were working together alone, and Amalia
did all the talking, Louisa, broken and passive, unconsciously assumed the
habit of judging and criticising everything. Frau Vogel did not fail to
tell her what she thought of Christophe's conduct. Louisa's calmness
irritated her. She thought it indecent of Louisa to be so little concerned
about what put him beyond the pale: she was not satisfied until she had
upset her altogether. Christophe saw it. Louisa dared not reproach him: but
every day she made little timid remarks, uneasy, insistent: and when he
lost patience and replied sharply, she said no more: but still he could see
the trouble in her eyes: and when he came home sometimes he could see that
she had been weeping. He knew his mother too well not to be absolutely
certain that her uneasiness did not come from herself.--And he knew well
whence it came.
He determined to make an end of it. One evening when Louisa was unable to
hold back her tears and had got up from the table in the middle of supper
without Christophe being able to discover what was the matter, he rushed
downstairs four steps at a time and knocked at the Vogels' door. He was
boiling with rage. He was not only angry about Frau Vogel's treatment of
his mother: he had to avenge himself for her having turned Rosa against
him, for her bickering against Sabine, for all that he had had to put up
with at her hands for months. For months he had borne his pent-up feelings
against her and now made haste to let them loose.
He burst in on Frau Vogel and in a voice that he tried to keep calm, though
it was trembling with fury, he asked her what she had told his mother to
bring her to such a state.
Amalia took it very badly: she replied that she would say what she pleased,
and was responsible to no one for her actions--to him least of all. And
seizing the opportunity to deliver the speech which she had prepared, she
added that if Louisa was unhappy he had to go no further for the cause of
it than his own conduct, which was a shame to himself and a scandal to
Christophe was only waiting for her onslaught to strike out, He shouted
angrily that his conduct was his own affair, that he did not care a rap
whether it pleased Frau Vogel or not, that if she wished to complain of it
she must do so to him, and that she could say to him whatever she liked:
that rested with her, but he _forbade_ her--(did she hear?)--_forbade_ her
to say anything to his mother: it was cowardly and mean so to attack a poor
sick old woman.
Frau Vogel cried loudly. Never had any one dared to speak to her in such a
manner. She said that she was not to be lectured fey a rapscallion,--and in
her own house, too!--And she treated him with abuse.
The others came running up on the noise of the quarrel,--except Vogel, who
fled from anything that might upset, his health. Old Euler was called to
witness by the indignant Amalia and sternly bade Christophe in future to
refrain from speaking to or visiting them. He said that they did not need
him to tell them what they ought to do, that they did their duty and would
always do it.
Christophe declared that he would go and would never again set foot in
their house. However, he did not go until he had relieved his feelings by
telling them what he had still to say about their famous Duty, which had
become to him a personal enemy. He said that their Duty was the sort of
thing to make him love vice. It was people like them who discouraged good,
by insisting on making it unpleasant. It was their fault that so many find
delight by contrast among those who are dishonest, but amiable and
laughter-loving. It was a profanation of the name of duty to apply it to
everything, to the most stupid tasks, to trivial things, with a stiff and
arrogant severity which ends by darkening and poisoning life. Duty, he
said, was exceptional: it should be kept for moments of real sacrifice, and
not used to lend the lover of its name to ill-humor and the desire to be
disagreeable to others. There was no reason, because they were stupid
enough or ungracious enough to be sad, to want everybody else to be so too
and to impose on everybody their decrepit way of living.... The first of
all virtues is joy. Virtue must be happy, free, and unconstrained. He who
does good must give pleasure to himself. But this perpetual upstart Duty,
this pedagogic tyranny, this peevishness, this futile discussion, this
acrid, puerile quibbling, this ungraciousness, this charmless life, without
politeness, without silence, this mean-spirited pessimism, which lets slip
nothing that can make existence poorer than it is, this vainglorious
unintelligence, which finds it easier to despise others than to understand
them, all this middle-class morality, without greatness, without largeness,
without happiness, without beauty, all these things are odious and hurtful:
they make vice appear more human than virtue.
So thought Christophe: and in his desire to hurt those who had wounded him,
he did not see that he was being as unjust as those of whom he spoke.
No doubt these unfortunate people were, almost as he saw them. But it was
not their fault: it was the fault of their ungracious life, which had made
their faces, their doings, and their thoughts ungracious. They had suffered
the deformation of misery--not that great misery which swoops down and
slays or forges anew--but the misery of ever recurring ill-fortune, that
small misery which trickles down drop by drop from the first day to the
last.... Sad, indeed! For beneath these rough exteriors what treasures in
reserve are there, of uprightness, of kindness, of silent heroism!... The
whole strength of a people, all the sap of the future.
Christophe was not wrong in thinking duty exceptional. But love is so no
less. Everything is exceptional. Everything that is of worth has no worse
enemy--not the evil (the vices are of worth)--but the habitual. The mortal
enemy of the soul is the daily wear and tear.
Ada was beginning to weary of it. She was not clever enough to find new
food for her love in an abundant nature like that of Christophe. Her senses
and her vanity had extracted from it all the pleasure they could find in
it. There was left her only the pleasure of destroying it. She had that
secret instinct common to so many women, even good women, to so many men,
even clever men, who are not creative either of art, or of children, or of
pure action,--no matter what: of life--and yet have too much life in apathy
and resignation to bear with their uselessness. They desire others to be as
useless as themselves and do their best to make them so. Sometimes they do
so in spite of themselves: and when they become aware of their criminal
desire they hotly thrust it back. But often they hug it to themselves: and
they set themselves according to their strength--some modestly in their own
intimate circle--others largely with vast audiences--to destroy everything
that has life, everything that loves life, everything that deserves life.
The critic who takes upon himself to diminish the stature of great men and
great thoughts--and the girl who amuses herself with dragging down her
lovers, are both mischievous beasts of the same kind.--But the second is
the pleasanter of the two.
Ada then would have liked to corrupt Christophe a little, to humiliate him.
In truth, she was not strong enough. More intelligence was needed, even in
corruption. She felt that: and it was not the least of her rankling
feelings against Christophe that her love could do him no harm. She did not
admit the desire that was in her to do him harm: perhaps she would have
done him none if she had been able. But it annoyed her that she could not
do it. It is to fail in love for a woman not to leave her the illusion of
her power for good or evil over her lover: to do that must inevitably be to
impel her irresistibly to the test of it. Christophe paid no attention to
it. When Ada asked him jokingly:
"Would you leave your music for me?"
(Although she had no wish for him to do so.)
He replied frankly:
"No, my dear: neither you nor anybody else can do anything against that. I
shall always make music."
"And you say you love?" cried she, put out.
She hated his music--the more so because she did not understand it, and it
was impossible for her to find a means of coming to grips with this
invisible enemy and so to wound Christophe in his passion. If she tried to
talk of it contemptuously, or scornfully to judge Christophe's
compositions, he would shout with laughter; and in spite of her
exasperation Ada would relapse into silence: for she saw that she was being
But if there was nothing to be done in that direction, she had discovered
another weak spot in Christophe, one more easy of access: his moral faith.
In spite of his squabble with the Vogels, and in spite of the intoxication
of his adolescence, Christophe had preserved an instinctive modesty, a need
of purity, of which he was entirely unconscious. At first it struck Ada,
attracted and charmed her, then made her impatient and irritable, and
finally, being the woman she was, she detested it. She did not make a
frontal attack. She would ask insidiously:
"Do you love me?"
"How much do you love me?"
"As much as it is possible to love."
"That is not much ... after all!... What would you do for me?"
"Whatever you like."
"Would you do something dishonest."
"That would be a queer way of loving."
"That is not what I asked. Would you?"
"It is not necessary."
"But if I wished it?"
"You would be wrong."
"Perhaps.... Would you do it?"
He tried to kiss her. But she thrust him away.
"Would you do it? Yes or no?"
"No, my dear."
She turned her back on him and was furious.
"You do not love me. You do not know what love is."
"That is quite possible," he said good-humoredly. He knew that, like
anybody else, he was capable in a moment of passion of committing some
folly, perhaps something dishonest, and--who knows?--even more: but he
would have thought shame of himself if he had boasted of it in cold blood,
and certainly it would be dangerous to confess it to Ada. Some instinct
warmed him that the beloved foe was lying in ambush, and taking stock of
his smallest remark; he would not give her any weapon against him.
She would return to the charge again, and ask him:
"Do you love me because you love me, or because I love you?"
"Because I love you."
"Then if I did not love you, you would still love me?"
"And if I loved some one else you would still love me?"
"Ah! I don't know about that.... I don't think so.... In any case you would
be the last person to whom I should say so."
"How would it be changed?"
"Many things would be changed. Myself, perhaps. You, certainly."
"And if I changed, what would it matter?"
"All the difference in the world. I love you as you are. If you become
another creature I can't promise to love you."
"You do not love, you do not love! What is the use of all this quibbling?
You love or you do not love. If you love me you ought to love me just as I
am, whatever I do, always."
"That would be to love you like an animal."
"I want to be loved like that."
"Then you have made a mistake," said he jokingly. "I am not the sort of man
you want. I would like to be, but I cannot. And I will not."
"You are very proud of your intelligence! You love your intelligence more
than you do me."
"But I love you, you wretch, more than you love yourself. The more
beautiful and the more good you are, the more I love you."
"You are a schoolmaster," she said with asperity.
"What would you? I love what is beautiful. Anything ugly disgusts me."
"Even in me?"
"Especially in you."
She drummed angrily with her foot.
"I will not be judged."
"Then complain of what I judge you to be, and of what I love in you," said
he tenderly to appease her.
She let him take her in his arms, and deigned to smile, and let him kiss
her. But in a moment when he thought she had forgotten she asked uneasily:
"What do you think ugly in me?"
He would not tell her: he replied cowardly:
"I don't think anything ugly in you."
She thought for a moment, smiled, and said:
"Just a moment, Christli: you say that you do not like lying?"
"I despise it."
"You are right," she said. "I despise it too. I am of a good conscience. I
He stared at her: she was sincere. Her unconsciousness disarmed him.
"Then," she went on, putting her arms about his neck, "why would you be
cross with me if I loved some one else and told you so?"
"Don't tease me."
"I'm not teasing: I am not saying that I do love some one else: I am saying
that I do not.... But if I did love some one later on...."
"Well, don't let us think of it."
"But I want to think of it.... You would not be angry, with me? You could
not be angry with me?"
"I should not be angry with you. I should leave you. That is all."
"Leave me? Why? If I still loved you ...?"
"While you loved some one else?"
"Of course. It happens sometimes."
"Well, it will not happen with us."
"Because as soon as you love some one else, I shall love you no longer, my
dear, never, never again."
"But just now you said perhaps.... Ah! you see you do not love me!"
"Well then: all the better for you."
"Because if I loved you when you loved some one else it might turn out
badly for you, me, and him."
"Then!... Now you are mad. Then I am condemned to stay with you all my
"Be calm. You are free. You shall leave me when you like. Only it will not
be _au revoir_: it will be good-bye."
"But if I still love you?"
"When people love, they sacrifice themselves to each other."
"Well, then ... sacrifice yourself!"
He could not help laughing at her egoism: and she laughed too.
"The sacrifice of one only," he said, "means the love of one only."
"Not at all. It means the love of both. I shall not love you much longer if
you do not sacrifice yourself for me. And think, Christli, how much you
will love me, when you have sacrificed yourself, and how happy you will
They laughed and were glad to have a change from the seriousness of the
He laughed and looked at her. At heart, as she said, she had no desire to
leave Christophe at present: if he irritated her and often bored her she
knew the worth of such devotion as his: and she loved no one else. She
talked so for fun, partly because she knew he disliked it, partly because
she took pleasure in playing with equivocal and unclean thoughts like a
child which delights to mess about with dirty water. He knew this. He did
not mind. But he was tired of these unwholesome discussions, of the silent
struggle against this uncertain and uneasy creature whom he loved, who
perhaps loved him: he was tired from the effort that he had to make to
deceive himself about her, sometimes tired almost to tears. He would think:
"Why, why is she like this? Why are people like this? How second-rate life
is!"... At the same time he would smile as he saw her pretty face above
him, her blue eyes, her flower-like complexion, her laughing, chattering
lips, foolish a little, half open to reveal the brilliance of her tongue
and her white teeth. Their lips would almost touch: and he would look at
her as from a distance, a great distance, as from another world: he would
see her going farther and farther from him, vanishing in a mist.... And
then he would lose sight of her. He could hear her no more. He would fall
into a sort of smiling oblivion, in which he thought of his music, his
dreams, a thousand things foreign, to Ada.... Ah! beautiful music!... so
sad, so mortally sad! and yet kind, loving.... Ah! how good it is!... It is
that, it is that.... Nothing else is true....
She would shake his arm. A voice would cry:
"Eh, what's the matter with you? You are mad, quite mad. Why do you look at
me like that? Why don't you answer?"
Once more he would see the eyes looking at him. Who was it?... Ah! yes....
He would sigh.
She would watch him. She would try to discover what he was thinking of. She
did not understand: but she felt that it was useless: that she could not
keep hold of him, that there was always a door by which he could escape.
She would conceal her irritation.
"Why are you crying?" she asked him once as he returned from one of his
strange journeys into another life.
He drew his hands across his eyes. He felt that they were wet.
"I do not know," he said.
"Why don't you answer? Three times you have said the same thing."
"What do you want?" he asked gently.
She went back to her absurd discussions. He waved his hand wearily.
"Yes," she said. "I've done. Only a word more!" And off she started again.
Christophe shook himself angrily.
"Will you keep your dirtiness to yourself!"
"I was only joking."
"Find cleaner subjects, then!"
"Tell me why, then. Tell me why you don't like it."
"Why? You can't argue as to why a dump-heap smells. It does smell, and that
is all! I hold my nose and go away."
He went away, furious: and he strode along taking in great breaths of the
But she would begin again, once, twice, ten times. She would bring forward
every possible subject that could shock him and offend his conscience.
He thought it was only a morbid jest of a neurasthenic girl, amusing
herself by annoying him. He would shrug his shoulders or pretend not to
hear her: he would not take her seriously. But sometimes he would long to
throw her out of the window: for neurasthenia and the neurasthenics were
very little to his taste....
But ten minutes away from her were enough to make him forget everything
that had annoyed him. He would return to Ada with a fresh store of hopes
and new illusions. He loved her. Love is a perpetual act of faith. Whether
God exist or no is a small matter: we believe, because we believe. We love
because we love; there is no need of reasons!...
* * * * *
After Christophe's quarrel with the Vogels it became impossible for them to
stay in the house, and Louisa had to seek another lodging for herself and
One day Christophe's younger brother Ernest, of whom they had not heard for
a long time, suddenly turned up. He was out of work, having been dismissed
in turn from all the situations he had procured; his purse was empty and
his health ruined; and so he had thought it would be as well to
re-establish himself in his mother's house.
Ernest was not on bad terms with either of his brothers: they thought very
little of him and he knew it: but he did not bear any grudge against them,
for he did not care. They had no ill-feeling against him. It was not worth
the trouble. Everything they said to him slipped off his back without
leaving a mark. He just smiled with his sly eyes, tried to look contrite,
thought of something else, agreed, thanked them, and in the end always
managed to extort money from one or other of them. In spite of himself
Christophe was fond of the pleasant mortal who, like himself, and more than
himself, resembled their father Melchior in feature. Tall and strong like
Christophe, he had regular features, a frank expression, a straight nose, a
laughing mouth, fine teeth, and endearing manners. When even Christophe saw
him he was disarmed and could not deliver half the reproaches that he had
prepared: in his heart he had a sort of motherly indulgence for the
handsome boy who was of his blood, and physically at all events did him
credit. He did not believe him to be bad: and Ernest was not a fool.
Without culture, he was not without brains: he was even not incapable of
taking an interest in the things of the mind. He enjoyed listening to
music: and without understanding his brother's compositions he would listen
to them with interest. Christophe, who did not receive too much sympathy
from his family, had been glad to see him at some of his concerts.
But Ernest's chief talent was the knowledge that he possessed of the
character of his two brothers, and his skill in making use of his
knowledge. It was no use Christophe knowing Ernest's egoism and
indifference: it was no use his seeing that Ernest never thought of his
mother or himself except when he had need of them: he was always taken in
by his affectionate ways and very rarely did he refuse him anything. He
much preferred him to his other brother Rodolphe, who was orderly and
correct, assiduous in his business, strictly moral, never asked for money,
and never gave any either, visited his mother regularly every Sunday,
stayed an hour, and only talked about himself, boasting about himself, his
firm, and everything that concerned him, never asking about the others, and
taking mo interest in them, and going away when the hour was up, quite
satisfied with having done his duty. Christophe could not bear him. He
always arranged to be out when Rodolphe came. Rodolphe was jealous of him:
he despised artists, and Christophe's success really hurt him, though he
did not fail to turn his small fame to account in the commercial circles in
which he moved: but he never said a word about it either to his mother or
to Christophe: he pretended to ignore it. On the other hand, he never
ignored the least of the unpleasant things that happened to Christophe.
Christophe despised such pettiness, and pretended not to notice it: but it
would really have hurt him to know, though he never thought about it, that
much of the unpleasant information that Rodolphe had about him came from
Ernest. The young rascal fed the differences between Christophe and
Rodolphe: no doubt he recognized Christophe's superiority and perhaps even
sympathized a little ironically with his candor. But he took good care to
turn it to account: and while he despised Rodolphe's ill-feeling he
exploited it shamefully. He flattered his vanity and jealousy, accepted his
rebukes deferentially and kept him primed with the scandalous gossip of the
town, especially with everything concerning Christophe,--of which he was
always marvelously informed. So he attained his ends, and Rodolphe, in
spite of his avarice, allowed Ernest to despoil him just as Christophe did.
So Ernest made use and a mock of them both, impartially. And so both of
them loved him.
In spite of his tricks Ernest was in a pitiful condition when he turned up
at his mother's house. He had come from Munich, where he had found and, as
usual, almost immediately lost a situation. He had had to travel the best
part of the way on foot, through storms of rain, sleeping God knows where.
He was covered with mud, ragged, looking like a beggar, and coughing
miserably. Louisa was upset and Christophe ran to him in alarm when they
saw him come in. Ernest, whose tears flowed easily, did not fail to make
use of the effect he had produced: and there was a general reconciliation:
all three wept in each other's arms.
Christophe gave up his room: they warmed the bed, and laid the invalid in
it, who seemed to be on the point of death. Louisa and Christophe sat by
his bedside and took it in turns to watch by him. They called in a doctor,
procured medicines, made a good fire in the room, and gave him special
Then they had to clothe him from head to foot: linen, shoes, clothes,
everything new. Ernest left himself in their hands. Louisa and Christophe
sweated to squeeze the money from their expenditure. They were very
straitened at the moment: the removal, the new lodgings, which were dearer
though just as uncomfortable, fewer lessons for Christophe and more
expenses. They could just make both ends meet. They managed somehow. No
doubt Christophe could have applied to Rodolphe, who was more in a position
to help Ernest, but he would not: he made it a point of honor to help his
brother alone. He thought himself obliged to do so as the eldest,--and
because he was Christophe. Hot with shame he had to accept, to declare his
willingness to accept an offer which he had indignantly rejected a
fortnight before,--a proposal from an agent of an unknown wealthy amateur
who wanted to buy a musical composition for publication under his own name.
Louisa took work out, mending linen. They hid their sacrifice from each
other: they lied about the money they brought home.
When Ernest was convalescent and sitting huddled up by the fire, he
confessed one day between his fits of coughing that he had a few
debts.--They were paid. No one reproached him. That would not have been
kind to an invalid and a prodigal son who had repented and returned home.
For Ernest seemed to have been changed by adversity and sickness. With
tears in his eyes he spoke of his past misdeeds: and Louisa kissed him and
told him to think no more of them. He was fond: he had always been able to
get round his mother by his demonstrations of affection: Christophe had
once been a little jealous of him. Now he thought it natural that the
youngest and the weakest son should be the most loved. In spite of the
small difference in their ages he regarded him almost as a son rather than
as a brother. Ernest showed great respect for him: sometimes he would
allude to the burdens that Christophe was taking upon himself, and to his
sacrifice of money: but Christophe would not let him go on, and Ernest
would content himself with showing his gratitude in his eyes humbly and
affectionately. He would argue with the advice that Christophe gave him:
and he would seem disposed to change his way of living and to work
seriously as soon as he was well again.
He recovered: but had a long convalescence. The doctor declared that his
health, which he had abused, needed to be fostered. So he stayed on in his
mother's house, sharing Christophe's bed, eating heartily the bread that
his brother earned, and the little dainty dishes that Louisa prepared, for
him. He never spoke of going. Louisa and Christophe never mentioned it
either. They were too happy to have found again the son and the brother
Little by little in the long evenings that he spent with Ernest Christophe
began to talk intimately to him. He needed to confide in somebody. Ernest
was clever: he had a quick mind and understood--or seemed to understand--on
a hint only. There was pleasure in talking to him. And yet Christophe dared
not tell him about what lay nearest to his heart: his love. He was kept
back by a sort of modesty. Ernest, who knew all about it, never let it
appear that he knew.
One day when Ernest was quite well again he went in the sunny afternoon and
lounged along the Rhine. As he passed a noisy inn a little way out of the
town, where there were drinking and dancing on Sundays, he saw Christophe
sitting with Ada and Myrrha, who were making a great noise. Christophe saw
him too, and blushed. Ernest was discreet and passed on without
Christophe was much embarrassed by the encounter: it made him more keenly
conscious of the company in which he was: it hurt him that his brother
should have seen him then: not only because it made him lose the right of
judging Ernest's conduct, but because he had a very lofty, very naive, and
rather archaic notion of his duties as an elder brother which would have
seemed absurd to many people: he thought that in failing in that duty, as
he was doing, he was lowered in his own eyes.
In the evening when they were together in their room, he waited for Ernest
to allude to what had happened. But Ernest prudently said nothing and
waited also. Then while they were undressing Christophe decided to speak
about his love. He was so ill at ease that he dared not look at Ernest: and
in his shyness he assumed a gruff way of speaking. Ernest did not help him
out: he was silent and did not look at him, though he watched him all the
same: and he missed none of the humor of Christophe's awkwardness and
clumsy words. Christophe hardly dared pronounce Ada's name: and the
portrait that he drew of her would have done just as well for any woman who
was loved. But he spoke of his love: little by little he was carried away
by the flood of tenderness that filled his heart: he said how good it was
to love, how wretched he had been before he had found that light in the
darkness, and that life was nothing without a dear, deep-seated love. His
brother listened gravely: he replied tactfully, and asked no questions: but
a warm handshake showed that he was of Christophe's way of thinking. They
exchanged ideas concerning love and life. Christophe was happy at being so
well understood. They exchanged a brotherly embrace before they went to
Christophe grew accustomed to confiding his love to Ernest, though always
shyly and reservedly. Ernest's discretion reassured him. He let him know
his uneasiness about Ada: but he never blamed her: he blamed himself: and
with tears in his eyes he would declare that he could not live if he were
to lose her.
He did not forget to tell Ada about Ernest: he praised his wit and his good
Ernest never approached Christophe with a request to be introduced to Ada:
but he would shut himself up in his room and sadly refuse to go out, saying
that he did not know anybody. Christophe would think ill of himself on
Sundays for going on his excursions with Ada, while his brother stayed at
home. And yet he hated not to be alone with his beloved: he accused himself
of selfishness and proposed that Ernest should come with them.
The introduction took place at Ada's door, on the landing. Ernest and Ada
bowed politely. Ada came out, followed by her inseparable Myrrha, who when
she saw Ernest gave a little cry of surprise. Ernest smiled, went up to
Myrrha, and kissed her: she seemed to take it as a matter of course.
"What! You know each other?" asked Christophe in astonishment.
"Why, yes!" said Myrrha, laughing.
"Oh, a long time!"
"And you knew?" asked Christophe, turning to Ada. "Why, did you not tell
"Do you think I know all Myrrha's lovers?" said Ada, shrugging her
Myrrha took up the word and pretended in fun to be angry. Christophe could
not find out any more about it. He was depressed. It seemed to him that
Ernest and Myrrha and Ada had been lacking in honesty, although indeed he
could not have brought any lie up against them: but it was difficult to
believe that Myrrha, who had no secrets from Ada, had made a mystery of
this, and that Ernest and Ada were not already acquainted with each other.
He watched them. But they only exchanged a few trivial words and Ernest
only paid attention to Myrrha all the rest of the day. Ada only spoke to
Christophe: and she was much more amiable to him than usual.
From that time on Ernest always joined them. Christophe could have done
without him: but he dared not say so. He had no other motive for wanting to
leave his brother out than his shame in having him for boon companion. He
had no suspicion of him. Ernest gave him no cause for it: he seemed to be
in love with Myrrha and was always reserved and polite with Ada, and even
affected to avoid her in a way that was a little out of place: it was as
though he wished to show his brother's mistress a little of the respect he
showed to himself. Ada was not surprised by it and was none the less
They went on long excursions together. The two brothers would walk on in
front. Ada and Myrrha, laughing and whispering, would follow a few yards
behind. They would stop in the middle of the road and talk. Christophe and
Ernest would stop and wait for them. Christophe would lose patience and go
on: but soon he would turn back annoyed and irritated, by hearing Ernest
talking and laughing with the two young women. He would want to know what
they were saying: but when they came up with him their conversation would
"What are you three always plotting together?" he would ask.
They would reply with some joke. They had a secret understanding like
thieves at a fair.
* * * * *
Christophe had a sharp quarrel with Ada. They had been cross with each
other all day. Strange to say, Ada had not assumed her air of offended
dignity, to which she usually resorted in such cases, so as to avenge
herself, by making herself as intolerably tiresome as usual. Now she simply
pretended to ignore Christophe's existence and she was in excellent spirits
with the other two. It was as though in her heart she was not put out at
all by the quarrel.
Christophe, on the other hand, longed to make peace: he was more in love
than ever. His tenderness was now mingled with a feeling of gratitude for
all the good things love had brought him, and regret for the hours he had
wasted in stupid argument and angry thoughts--and the unreasoning fear, the
mysterious idea that their love was nearing its end. Sadly he looked at
Ada's pretty face and she pretended not to see him while she was laughing
with the others: and the sight of her woke in him so many dear memories, of
great love, of sincere intimacy.--Her face had sometimes--it had now--so
much goodness in it, a smile so pure, that Christophe asked himself why
things were not better between them, why they spoiled their happiness with
their whimsies, why she would insist on forgetting their bright hours, and
denying and combating all that was good and honest in her--what strange
satisfaction she could find in spoiling, and smudging, if only in thought,
the purity of their love. He was conscious of an immense need of believing
in the object of his love, and he tried once more to bring back his
illusions. He accused himself of injustice: he was remorseful for the
thoughts that he attributed to her, and of his lack of charity.
He went to, her and tried to talk to her; she answered him with a few curt
words: she had no desire for a reconciliation with him. He insisted: he
begged her to listen to him for a moment away from the others. She followed
him ungraciously. When they were a few yards away so that neither Myrrha
nor Ernest could see them, he took her hands and begged her pardon, and
knelt at her feet in the dead leaves of the wood. He told her that he could
not go on living so at loggerheads with her: that he found no pleasure in
the walk, or the fine day: that he could enjoy nothing, and could not even
breathe, knowing that she detested him: he needed her love. Yes: he was
often unjust, violent, disagreeable: he begged her to forgive him: it was
the fault of his love, he could not bear anything second-rate in her,
nothing that was altogether unworthy of her and their memories of their
dear past. He reminded her of it all, of their first meeting, their first
days together: he said that he loved her just as much, that he would always
love her, that she should not go away from him! She was everything to
Ada listened to him, smiling, uneasy, almost softened. She looked at him
with kind eyes, eyes that said that they loved each other, and that she
was no longer angry. They kissed, and holding each other close they went
into the leafless woods. She thought Christophe good and gentle, and was
grateful to him for his tender words: but she did not relinquish the
naughty whims that were in her mind. But she hesitated, she did not cling
to them so tightly: and yet she did not abandon what she had planned to do.
Why? Who can say?... Because she had vowed what she would do?--Who knows?
Perhaps she thought it more entertaining to deceive her lover that day, to
prove to him, to prove to herself her freedom. She had no thought of losing
him: she did not wish for that. She thought herself more sure of him than
They reached a clearing in the forest. There were two paths. Christophe
took one. Ernest declared that the other led more quickly to the top of the
hill whither they were going. Ada agreed with him. Christophe, who knew the
way, having often been there, maintained that they were wrong. They did not
yield. Then they agreed to try it: and each wagered that he would arrive
first. Ada went with Ernest. Myrrha accompanied Christophe: she pretended
that she was sure that he was right: and she added, "As usual." Christophe
had taken the game seriously: and as he never liked to lose, he walked
quickly, too quickly for Myrrha's liking, for she was in much less of a
hurry than he.
"Don't be in a hurry, my friend," she said, in her quiet, ironic voice, "we
shall get there first."
He was a little sorry.
"True," he said, "I am going a little too fast: there is no need."
He slackened his pace.
"But I know them," he went on. "I am sure they will run so as to be there
Myrrha burst out laughing.
"Oh! no," she said. "Oh! no: don't you worry about that."
She hung on his arm and pressed close to him. She was a little shorter
than Christophe, and as they walked she raised her soft eyes to his. She
was really pretty and alluring. He hardly recognized her: the change was
extraordinary. Usually her face was rather pale and puffy: but the smallest
excitement, a merry thought, or the desire to please, was enough to make
her worn expression vanish, and her cheeks go pink, and the little wrinkles
in her eyelids round and below her eyes disappear, and her eyes flash, and
her whole face take on a youth, a life, a spiritual quality that never was
in Ada's. Christophe was surprised by this metamorphosis, and turned his
eyes away from hers: he was a little uneasy at being alone with her. She
embarrassed him and prevented him from dreaming as he pleased: he did not
listen to what she said, he did not answer her, or if he did it was only at
random: he was thinking--he wished to think only of Ada. He thought of the
kindness in her eyes, her smile, her kiss: and his heart was filled with
love. Myrrha wanted to make him admire the beauty of the trees with their
little branches against the clear sky.... Yes: it was all beautiful: the
clouds were gone, Ada had returned to him, he had succeeded in breaking the
ice that lay between them: they loved once more: near or far, they were
one. He sighed with relief: how light the air was! Ada had come back to him
... Everything brought her to mind.... It was a little damp: would she not
be cold?... The lovely trees were powdered with hoar-frost: what a pity she
should not see them!... But he remembered the wager, and hurried on: he was
concerned only with not losing the way. He shouted joyfully as they reached
"We are first!"
He waved his hat gleefully. Myrrha watched him and smiled.
The place where they stood was a high, steep rock in the middle of the
woods. From this flat summit with its fringe of nut-trees and little
stunted oaks they could see, over the wooded slopes, the tops of the pines
bathed in a purple mist, and the long ribbon of the Rhine in the blue
valley. Not a bird called. Not a voice. Not a breath of air. A still, calm
winter's day, its chilliness faintly warmed by the pale beams of a misty
sun. Now and then in the distance there came the sharp whistle of a train
in the valley. Christophe stood at the edge of the rock and looked down at
the countryside. Myrrha watched Christophe.
He turned to her amiably:
"Well! The lazy things. I told them so!... Well: we must wait for them...."
He lay stretched out in the sun on the cracked earth.
"Yes. Let us wait...." said Myrrha, taking off her hat.
In her voice there was something so quizzical that he raised his head and
looked at her.
"What is it?" she asked quietly.
"What did you say?"
"I said: Let us wait. It was no use making me run so fast."
They waited lying on the rough ground. Myrrha hummed a tune. Christophe
took it up for a few phrases. But he stopped every now and then to listen.
"I think I can hear them."
Myrrha went on singing.
"Do stop for a moment."
"No. It is nothing."
She went on with her song.
Christophe could not stay still.
"Perhaps they have lost their way."
"Lost? They could not. Ernest knows all the paths."
A fantastic idea passed through Christophe's mind.
"Perhaps they arrived first, and went away before we came!"
Myrrha was lying on her back and looking at the sun. She was seized with
a wild burst of laughter in the middle of her song and all but choked.
Christophe insisted. He wanted to go down to the station, saying that their
friends would be there already. Myrrha at last made up her mind to move.
"You would be certain to lose them!... There was never any talk about the
station. We were to meet here."
He sat down by her side. She was amused by his eagerness. He was conscious
of the irony in her gaze as she looked at him. He began to be seriously
troubled--to be anxious about them: he did not suspect them. He got up once
more. He spoke of going down into the woods again and looking for them,
calling to them. Myrrha gave a little chuckle: she took from her pocket a
needle, scissors, and thread: and she calmly undid and sewed in again the
feathers in her hat: she seemed to have established herself for the day.
"No, no, silly," she said. "If they wanted to come do you think they would
not come of their own accord?"
There was a catch at his heart. He turned towards her: she did not look at
him: she was busy with her work. He went up to her.
"Myrrha!" he said.
"Eh?" she replied without stopping. He knelt now to look more nearly at
"Myrrha!" he repeated.
"Well?" she asked, raising her eyes from her work and looking at him with a
smile. "What is it?"
She had a mocking expression as she saw his downcast face.
"Myrrha!" he asked, choking, "tell me what you think...."
She shrugged her shoulders, smiled, and went on working.
He caught her hands and took away the hat at which she was sewing.
"Leave off, leave off, and tell me...."
She looked squarely at him and waited. She saw that Christophe's lips were
"You think," he said in a low voice, "that Ernest and Ada ...?"
He started back angrily.
"No! No! It is impossible! You don't think that!... No! No!"
She put her hands on his shoulders and rocked with laughter.
"How dense you are, how dense, my dear!"
He shook her violently.
"Don't laugh! Why do you laugh? You would not laugh if it were true. You
She went on laughing and drew him to her and kissed him. In spite of
himself he returned her kiss. But when he felt her lips on his, her lips,
still warm with his brother's kisses, he flung her away from him and held
her face away from his own: he asked:
"You knew it? It was arranged between you?"
She said "Yes," and laughed.
Christophe did not cry out, he made no movement of anger. He opened his
mouth as though he could not breathe: he closed his eyes and clutched at
his breast with his hands: his heart was bursting. Then he lay down on the
ground with his face buried in his hands and he was shaken by a crisis of
disgust and despair like a child.
Myrrha, who was not very soft-hearted, was sorry for him: involuntarily
she was filled with motherly compassion, and leaned over him, and spoke
affectionately to him, and tried to make him sniff at her smelling-bottle.
But he thrust her away in horror and got up so sharply that she was afraid.
He had neither strength nor desire for revenge. He looked at her with his
face twisted with grief.
"You drab," he said in despair. "You do not know the harm you have
She tried to hold him back. He fled through the woods, spitting out his
disgust with such ignominy, with such muddy hearts, with such incestuous
sharing as that to which they had tried to bring him. He wept, he trembled:
he sobbed with disgust. He was filled with horror, of them all, of himself,
of his body and soul. A storm of contempt broke loose in him: it had long
been brewing: sooner or later there had to come the reaction against the
base thoughts, the degrading compromises, the stale and pestilential
atmosphere in which he had been living for months: but the need of loving,
of deceiving himself about the woman he loved, had postponed the crisis as
long as possible. Suddenly it burst upon him: and it was better so. There
was a great gust of wind of a biting purity, an icy breeze which swept away
the miasma. Disgust in one swoop had killed his love for Ada.
If Ada thought more firmly to establish her domination over Christophe by
such an act, that proved once more her gross inappreciation of her lover.
Jealousy which binds souls that are besmirched could only revolt a nature
like Christophe's, young, proud, and pure. But what he could not forgive,
what he never would forgive, was that the betrayal was not the outcome of
passion in Ada, hardly even of one of those absurd and degrading though
often irresistible caprices to which the reason of a woman is sometimes
hard put to it not to surrender. No--he understood now,--it was in her a
secret desire to degrade him, to humiliate him, to punish him for his moral
resistance, for his inimical faith, to lower him to the common level, to
bring him to her feet, to prove to herself her own power for evil. And he
asked himself with horror: what is this impulse towards dirtiness, which
is in the majority of human beings--this desire to besmirch the purity of
themselves and others,--these swinish souls, who take a delight in rolling
in filth, and are happy when not one inch of their skins is left clean!...
Ada waited two days for Christophe to return to her. Then she began to be
anxious, and sent him a tender note in which she made no allusion to what
had happened. Christophe did not even reply. He hated Ada so profoundly
that no words could express his hatred. He had cut her out of his life. She
no longer existed for him.
* * * * *
Christophe was free of Ada, but he was not free of himself. In vain did
he try to return into illusion and to take up again the calm and chaste
strength of the past. We cannot return to the past. We have to go onward:
it is useless to turn back, save only to see the places by which we have
passed, the distant smoke from the roofs under which we have slept, dying
away on the horizon in the mists of memory. But nothing so distances us
from the soul that we had as a few months of passion. The road takes
a sudden turn: the country is changed: it is as though we were saying
good-bye for the last time to all that we are leaving behind.
Christophe could not yield to it. He held out his arms to the past: he
strove desperately to bring to life again the soul that had been his,
lonely and resigned. But it was gone. Passion itself is not so dangerous as
the ruins that it heaps up and leaves behind. In vain did Christophe not
love, in vain--for a moment--did he despise love: he bore the marks of its
talons: his whole being was steeped in it: there was in his heart a void
which must be filled. With that terrible need of tenderness and pleasure
which devours men and women when they have once tasted it, some other
passion was needed, were it only the contrary passion, the passion of
contempt, of proud purity, of faith in virtue.--They were not enough, they
were not enough to stay his hunger: they were only the food of a moment.
His life consisted of a succession of violent reactions--leaps from
one extreme to the other. Sometimes he would bend his passion to rules
inhumanly ascetic: not eating, drinking water, wearing himself out with
walking, heavy tasks, and so not sleeping, denying himself every sort of
pleasure. Sometimes he would persuade himself that strength is the true
morality for people like himself: and he would plunge into the quest of
joy. In either case he was unhappy. He could no longer be alone. He could
no longer not be alone.
The only thing that could have saved him would have been to find a true
friendship,--Rosa's perhaps: he could have taken refuge in that. But the
rupture was complete between the two families. They no longer met. Only
once had Christophe seen Rosa. She was just coming out from Mass. He had
hesitated to bow to her: and when she saw him she had made a movement
towards him: but when he had tried to go to her through the stream of the
devout walking down the steps, she had turned her eyes away: and when he
approached her she bowed coldly and passed on. In the girl's heart he felt
intense, icy contempt. And he did not feel that she still loved him and
would have liked to tell him so: but she had come to think of her love as a
fault and foolishness: she thought Christophe bad and corrupt, and further
from her than ever. So they were lost to each other forever. And perhaps
it was as well for both of them. In spite of her goodness, she was not
near enough to life to be able to understand him. In spite of his need of
affection and respect he would have stifled in a commonplace and confined
existence, without joy, without sorrow, without air. They would both have
suffered. The unfortunate occurrence which cut them apart was, when all was
told, perhaps, fortunate as often happens--as always happens--to those who
are strong and endure.
But at the moment it was a great sorrow and a great misfortune for them.
Especially for Christophe. Such virtuous intolerance, such narrowness of
soul, which sometimes seems to deprive those who have the most of them of
all intelligence, and those who are most good of kindness, irritated him,
hurt him, and flung him back in protest into a freer life.
During his loafing with Ada in the beer gardens of the neighborhood he had
made acquaintance with several good fellows--Bohemians, whose carelessness
and freedom of manners had not been altogether distasteful to him. One
of them, Friedemann, a musician like himself, an organist, a man of
thirty, was not without intelligence, and was good at his work, but he was
incurably lazy and rather than make the slightest effort to be more than
mediocre, he would have died of hunger, though not, perhaps, of thirst.
He comforted himself in his indolence by speaking ill of those who lived
energetically, God knows why; and his sallies, rather heavy for the most
part, generally made people laugh. Having more liberty than his companions,
he was not afraid,--though timidly, and with winks and nods and suggestive
remarks,--to sneer at those who held positions: he was even capable of not
having ready-made opinions about music, and of having a sly fling at the
forged reputations of the great men of the day. He had no mercy upon women
either: when he was making his jokes he loved to repeat the old saying of
some misogynist monk about them, and Christophe enjoyed its bitterness just
then more than anybody:
_"Femina mors animae."_
In his state of upheaval Christophe found some distraction in talking
to Friedemann. He judged him, he could not long take pleasure in this
vulgar bantering wit: his mockery and perpetual denial became irritating
before long and he felt the impotence of it all: but it did soothe his
exasperation with the self-sufficient stupidity of the Philistines. While
he heartily despised his companion, Christophe could not do without him.
They were continually seen together sitting with the unclassed and doubtful
people of Friedemann's acquaintance, who were even more worthless than
himself. They used to play, and harangue, and drink the whole evening.
Christophe would suddenly wake up in the midst of the dreadful smell of
food and tobacco: he would look at the people about him with strange eyes:
he would not recognize them: he would think in agony:
"Where am I? Who are these people? What have I to do with them?"
Their remarks and their laughter would make him sick. But he could not
bring himself to leave them: he was afraid of going home and of being left
alone face to face with his soul, his desires, and remorse. He was going to
the dogs: he knew it: he was doing it deliberately,--with cruel clarity he
saw in Friedemann the degraded image of what he was--of what he would be
one day: and he was passing through a phase of such disheartenedness and
disgust that instead of being brought to himself by such a menace, it
actually brought him low.
He would have gone to the dogs, if he could. Fortunately, like all
creatures of his kind, he had a spring, a succor against destruction which
others do not possess: his strength, his instinct for life, his instinct
against letting himself perish, an instinct more intelligent than his
intelligence, and stronger than his will. And also, unknown to himself,
he had the strange curiosity of the artist, that passionate, impersonal
quality, which is in every creature really endowed with creative power. In
vain did he love, suffer, give himself utterly to all his passions: he saw
them. They were in him but they were not himself. A myriad of little souls
moved obscurely in him towards a fixed point unknown, yet certain, just
like the planetary worlds which are drawn through space into a mysterious
abyss. That perpetual state of unconscious action and reaction was shown
especially in those giddy moments when sleep came over his daily life, and
from the depths of sleep and the night rose the multiform face of Being
with its sphinx-like gaze. For a year Christophe had been obsessed with
dreams in which in a second of time he felt clearly with perfect illusion
that he _was_ at one and the same time several different creatures, often
far removed from each other by countries, worlds, centuries. In his waking
state Christophe was still under his hallucination and uneasiness, though
he could not remember what had caused it. It was like the weariness left by
some fixed idea that is gone, though traces of it are left and there is no
understanding it. But while his soul was so troublously struggling through
the network of the days, another soul, eager and serene, was watching
all his desperate efforts. He did not see it: but it cast over him the
reflection of its hidden light. That soul was joyously greedy to feel
everything, to suffer everything, to observe and understand men, women, the
earth, life, desires, passions, thoughts, even those that were torturing,
even those that were mediocre, even those that were vile: and it was enough
to lend them a little of its light, to save Christophe from destruction. It
made him feel--he did not know how--that he was not altogether alone. That
love of being and of knowing everything, that second soul, raised a rampart
against his destroying passions.
But if it was enough to keep his head above water, it did not allow him
to climb out of it unaided. He could not succeed in seeing clearly into
himself, and mastering himself, and regaining possession of himself. Work
was impossible for him. He was passing through an intellectual crisis: the
most fruitful of his life: all his future life was germinating in it: but
that inner wealth for the time being only showed itself in extravagance:
and the immediate effect of such superabundance was not different from that
of the flattest sterility. Christophe was submerged by his life. All his
powers had shot up and grown too fast, all at once, suddenly. Only his will
had not grown with them: and it was dismayed by such a throng of monsters.
His personality was cracking in every part. Of this earthquake, this inner
cataclysm, others saw nothing. Christophe himself could see only his
impotence to will, to create, to be. Desires, instincts, thoughts issued
one after another like clouds of sulphur from the fissures of a volcano:
and he was forever asking himself: "And now, what will come out? What will
become of me? Will it always be so? or is this the end of all? Shall I be
And now there sprang up in him his hereditary fires, the vices of those who
had gone before him.--He got drunk. He would return home smelling of wine,
laughing, in a state of collapse.
Poor Louisa would look at him, sigh, say nothing, and pray.
But one evening when he was coming out of an inn by the gates of the town
he saw, a few yards in front of him on the road, the droll shadow of his
uncle Gottfried, with his pack on his back. The little man had not been
home for months, and his periods of absence were growing longer and longer.
Christophe hailed him gleefully. Gottfried, bending under his load, turned
round: he looked at Christophe, who was making extravagant gestures, and
sat down on a milestone to wait for him. Christophe came up to him with
a beaming face, skipping along, and shook his uncle's hand with great
demonstrations of affection. Gottfried took a long look at him and then he
Christophe thought his uncle had made a mistake, and burst out laughing.
"The poor man is breaking up," he thought; "he is losing his memory."
Indeed, Gottfried did look old, shriveled, shrunken, and dried: his
breathing came short and painfully. Christophe went on talking. Gottfried
took his pack on his shoulders again and went on in silence. They went home
together, Christophe gesticulating and talking at the top of his voice,
Gottfried coughing and saying nothing. And when Christophe questioned him,
Gottfried still called him Melchior. And then Christophe asked him:
"What do you mean by calling me Melchior? My name is Christophe, you know.
Have you forgotten my name?"
Gottfried did not stop. He raised his eyes toward Christophe and looked at
him, shook his head, and said coldly:
"No. You are Melchior: I know you."
Christophe stopped dumfounded. Gottfried trotted along: Christophe followed
him without a word. He was sobered. As they passed the door of a cafe he
went up to the dark panes of glass, in which the gas-jets of the entrance
and the empty streets were reflected, and he looked at himself: he
recognized Melchior. He went home crushed.
He spent the night--a night of anguish--in examining himself, in
soul-searching. He understood now. Yes: he recognized the instincts and
vices that had come to light in him: they horrified him. He thought of that
dark watching by the body of Melchior, of all that he had sworn to do, and,
surveying his life since then, he knew that he had failed to keep his vows.
What had he done in the year? What had he done for his God, for his art,
for his soul? What had he done for eternity? There was not a day that had
not been wasted, botched, besmirched. Not a single piece of work, not a
thought, not an effort of enduring quality. A chaos of desires destructive
of each other. Wind, dust, nothing.... What did his intentions avail him?
He had fulfilled none of them. He had done exactly the opposite of what
he had intended. He had become what he had no wish to be: that was the
balance-sheet of his life.
He did not go to bed. About six in the morning it was still dark,--he heard
Gottfried getting ready to depart.--For Gottfried had had no intentions of
staying on. As he was passing the town he had come as usual to embrace his
sister and nephew: but he had announced that he would go on next morning.
Christophe went downstairs. Gottfried saw his pale face and his eyes hollow
with a night of torment. He smiled fondly at him and asked him to go a
little of the way with him. They set out together before dawn. They had
no need to talk: they understood each other. As they passed the cemetery
"Shall we go in?"
When he came to the place he never failed to pay a visit to Jean Michel and
Melchior. Christophe had not been there for a year. Gottfried knelt by
Melchior's grave and said:
"Let us pray that they may sleep well and not come to torment us."
His thought was a mixture of strange superstitions and sound sense:
sometimes it surprised Christophe: but now it was only too dear to him.
They said no more until they left the cemetery.
When they had closed the creaking gate, and were walking along the wall
through the cold fields, waking from slumber, by the little path which led
them under the cypress trees from which the snow was dropping, Christophe
began to weep.
"Oh! uncle," he said, "how wretched I am!"
He dared not speak of his experience in love, from an odd fear of
embarrassing or hurting Gottfried: but he spoke of his shame, his
mediocrity, his cowardice, his broken vows.
"What am I to do, uncle? I have tried, I have struggled: and after a year
I am no further on than before. Worse: I have gone back. I am good for
nothing. I am good for nothing! I have ruined my life. I am perjured!..."
They were walking up the hill above the town. Gottfried said kindly:
"Not for the last time, my boy. We do not do what we will to do. We will
and we live: two things. You must be comforted. The great thing is, you
see, never to give up willing and living. The rest does not depend on us."
Christophe repeated desperately:
"I have perjured myself."
"Do you hear?" said Gottfried.
(The cocks were crowing in all the countryside.)
"They, too, are crowing for another who is perjured. They crow for every
one of us, every morning."
"A day will come," said Christophe bitterly, "when, they will no longer
crow for me ... A day to which there is no to-morrow. And what shall I have
made of my life?"
"There is always a to-morrow," said Gottfried.
"But what can one do, if willing is no use?"
"Watch and pray."
"I do not believe."
"You would not be alive if you did not believe. Every one believes. Pray."
"Pray to what?"
Gottfried pointed to the sun appearing on the horizon, red and frozen.
"Be reverent before the dawning day. Do not think of what will be in a
year, or in ten years. Think of to-day. Leave your theories. All theories,
you see, even those of virtue, are bad, foolish, mischievous. Do not abuse
life. Live in to-day. Be reverent towards each day. Love it, respect it,
do not sully it, do not hinder it from coming to flower. Love it even when
it is gray and sad like to-day. Do not be anxious. See. It is winter now.
Everything is asleep. The good earth will awake again. You have only to be
good and patient like the earth. Be reverent. Wait. If you are good, all
will go well. If you are not, if you are weak, if you do not succeed, well,
you must be happy in that. No doubt it is the best you can do. So, then,
why _will_? Why be angry because of what you cannot do? We all have to do
what we can.... _Als ich kann._"
"It is not enough," said Christophe, making a face.
Gottfried laughed pleasantly.
"It is more than anybody does. You are a vain fellow. You want to be a
hero. That is why you do such silly things.... A hero!... I don't quite
know what that is: but, you see, I imagine that a hero is a man who does
what he can. The others do not do it."
"Oh!" sighed Christophe. "Then what is the good of living? It is not worth
while. And yet there are people who say: 'He who wills can!'"...
Gottfried laughed again softly.
"Yes?... Oh! well, they are liars, my friend. Or they do not will anything
They had reached the top of the hill. They embraced affectionately. The
little peddler went on, treading wearily. Christophe stayed there, lost in
thought, and watched him go. He repeated his uncle's saying:
"_Als ich kann_ (The best I can)."
And he smiled, thinking:
"Yes.... All the same.... It is enough."
He returned to the town. The frozen snow crackled under his feet. The
bitter winter wind made the bare branches of the stunted trees on the hill
shiver. It reddened his cheeks, and made his skin tingle, and set his blood
racing. The red roofs of the town below were smiling under the brilliant,
cold sun. The air was strong and harsh. The frozen earth seemed to rejoice
in bitter gladness. And Christophe's heart was like that. He thought:
"I, too, shall wake again."
There were still tears in his eyes. He dried them with the back of his
hand, and laughed to see the sun dipping down behind a veil of mist. The
clouds, heavy with snow, were floating over the town, lashed by the squall.
He laughed at them. The wind blew icily....
"Blow, blow!... Do what you will with me. Bear me with you!... I know now
where I am going."
Free! He felt that he was free!... Free of others and of himself! The
network of passion in which he had been enmeshed for more than a year had
suddenly been burst asunder. How? He did not know. The filaments had given
before the growth of his being. It was one of those crises of growth in
which robust natures tear away the dead casing of the year that is past,
the old soul in which they are cramped and stifled.
Christophe breathed deeply, without understanding what had happened. An icy
whirlwind was rushing through the great gate of the town as he returned
from taking Gottfried on his way. The people were walking with heads
lowered against the storm. Girls going to their work were struggling
against the wind that blew against their skirts: they stopped every now
and then to breathe, with their nose and cheeks red, and they looked
exasperated, and as though they wanted to cry. He thought of that other
torment through which he had passed. He looked at the wintry sky, the town
covered with snow, the people struggling along past him: he looked about
him, into himself: he was no longer bound. He was alone!... Alone! How
happy to be alone, to be his own! What joy to have escaped from his bonds,
from his torturing memories, from the hallucinations of faces that he loved
or detested! What joy at last to live, without being the prey of life, to
have become his own master!...
He went home white with snow. He shook himself gaily like a dog. As he
passed his mother, who was sweeping the passage, he lifted her up, giving
little inarticulate cries of affection such as one makes to a tiny child.
Poor old Louisa struggled in her son's arms: she was wet with the melting
snow: and she called him, with a jolly laugh, a great gaby.
He went up to his room three steps at a time.--He could hardly see himself
in his little mirror it was so dark. But his heart was glad. His room
was low and narrow and it was difficult to move in it, but it was like a
kingdom to him. He locked the door and laughed with pleasure. At last he
was finding himself! How long he had been gone astray! He was eager to
plunge into thought like a bather into water. It was like a great lake afar
off melting into the mists of blue and gold. After a night of fever and
oppressive heat he stood by the edge of it, with his legs bathed in the
freshness of the water, his body kissed by the wind of a summer morning. He
plunged in and swam: he knew not whither he was going, and did not care: it
was joy to swim whithersoever he listed. He was silent, then he laughed,
and listened for the thousand thousand sounds of his soul: it swarmed with
life. He could make out nothing: his head was swimming: he felt only a
bewildering happiness. He was glad to feel in himself such unknown forces:
and indolently postponing putting his powers to the test he sank back into
the intoxication of pride in the inward flowering, which, held back for
months, now burst forth like a sudden spring.
His mother called him to breakfast. He went down: he was giddy and
light-headed as though he had spent a day in the open air: but there was
such a radiance of joy in him that Louisa asked what was the matter. He
made no reply: he seized her by the waist and forced her to dance with him
round the table on which the tureen was steaming. Out of breath Louisa
cried that he was mad: then she clasped her hands.
"Dear God!" she said anxiously. "Sure, he is in love again!"
Christophe roared with laughter. He hurled his napkin into the air.
"In love?..." he cried. "Oh! Lord!... but no! I've had enough! You can be
easy on that score. That is done, done, forever!... Ouf!"
He drank a glassful of water.
Louisa looked at him, reassured, wagged her head, and smiled.
"That's a drunkard's pledge," she said. "It won't last until to-night."
"Then the day is clear gain," he replied good-humoredly.
"Oh, yes!" she said. "But what has made you so happy?"
"I am happy. That is all."
Sitting opposite her with his elbows on the table he tried to tell her all
that he was going to do. She listened with kindly skepticism and gently
pointed out that his soup was going cold. He knew that she did not hear
what he was saying: but he did not care: he was talking for his own
They looked at each other smiling: he talking: she hardly listening.
Although she was proud of her son she attached no great importance to
his artistic projects: she was thinking: "He is happy: that matters
most."--While he was growing more and more excited with his discourse he
watched his mother's dear face, with her black shawl tightly tied round her
head, her white hair, her young eyes that devoured him lovingly, her sweet
and tranquil kindliness. He knew exactly what she was thinking. He said to
"It is all one to you, eh? You don't care about what I'm telling you?"
She protested weakly:
"Oh, no! Oh, no!"
He kissed her.
"Oh, yes! Oh, yes! You need not defend yourself. You are right. Only love
me. There is no need to understand me--either for you or for anybody else.
I do not need anybody or anything now: I have everything in myself...."
"Oh!" said Louisa. "Another maggot in his brain!... But if he must have one
I prefer this to the other."
* * * * *
What sweet happiness to float on the surface of the lake of his
thoughts!... Lying in the bottom of a boat with his body bathed in sun, his
face kissed by the light fresh wind that skims over the face of the waters,
he goes to sleep: he is swung by threads from the sky. Under his body lying
at full length, under the rocking boat he feels the deep, swelling water:
his hand dips into it. He rises: and with his chin on the edge of the boat
he watches the water flowing by as he did when he was a child. He sees the
reflection of strange creatures darting by like lightning.... More, and yet
more.... They are never the same. He laughs at the fantastic spectacle that
is unfolded within him: he laughs at his own thoughts: he has no need to
catch and hold them. Select? Why select among So many thousands of dreams?
There is plenty of time!... Later on!... He has only to throw out a line at
will to draw in the monsters whom he sees gleaming in the water. He lets
them pass.... Later on!...
The boat floats on at the whim of the warm wind and the insentient stream.
All is soft, sun, and silence.
* * * * *
At last languidly he throws out his line. Leaning out over the lapping
water he follows it with his eyes until it disappears. After a few moments
of torpor he draws it in slowly: as he draws it in it becomes heavier: just
as he is about to fish it out of the water he stops to take breath. He
knows that he has his prey: he does not know what it is: he prolongs the
pleasure of expectancy.
At last he makes up his mind: fish with gleaming, many-colored scales
appear from the water: they writhe like a nest of snakes. He looks at them
curiously, he stirs them with his finger: but hardly has he drawn them from
the water than their colors fade and they slip between his fingers. He
throws them back into the water and begins to fish for others. He is more
eager to see one after another all the dreams stirring in him than to catch
at any one of them: they all seem more beautiful to him when they are
freely swimming in the transparent lake....
He caught all kinds of them, each more extravagant than the last. Ideas had
been heaped up in him for months and he had not drawn upon them, so that he
was bursting with riches. But it was all higgledy-piggledy: his mind was
a Babel, an old Jew's curiosity shop in which there were piled up in the
one room rare treasures, precious stuffs, scrap-iron, and rags. He could
not distinguish their values: everything amused him. There were thrilling
chords, colors which rang like bells, harmonies which buzzed like bees,
melodies smiling like lovers' lips. There were visions of the country,
faces, passions, souls, characters, literary ideas, metaphysical ideas.
There were great projects, vast and impossible, tetralogies, decalogies,
pretending to depict everything in music, covering whole worlds. And, most
often there were obscure, flashing sensations, called forth by a trifle,
the sound of a voice, a man or a woman passing in the street, the pattering
of rain. An inward rhythm.--Many of these projects advanced no further
than their title: most of them were never more than a note or two: it was
enough. Like all very young people, he thought he had created what he
dreamed of creating.
* * * * *
But he was too keenly alive to be satisfied for long with such fantasies.
He wearied of an illusory possession: he wished to seize his dreams.--How
to begin? They seemed to him all equally important. He turned and turned
them: he rejected them, he took them up again.... No, he never took them up
again: they were no longer the same, they were never to be caught twice:
they were always changing: they changed in his hands, under his eyes, while
he was watching them. He must make haste: he could not: he was appalled by
the slowness with which he worked. He would have liked to do everything in
one day, and he found it horribly difficult to complete the smallest thing.
His dreams were passing and he was passing himself: while he was doing
one thing it worried him not to be doing another. It was as though it was
enough to have chosen one of his fine subjects for it to lose all interest
for him. And so all his riches availed him nothing. His thoughts had life
only on condition that he did not tamper with them: everything that he
succeeded in doing was still-born. It was the torment of Tantalus: within
reach were fruits that became stones as soon as he plucked them: near his
lips was a clear stream which sank away whenever he bent down, to drink.
To slake his thirst lie tried to sip at the springs that he had conquered,
his old compositions.... Loathsome in taste! At the first gulp, he spat it
out again, cursing. What! That tepid water, that insipid music, was that
his music?--He read through all his compositions: he was horrified: he
understood not a note of them, he could not even understand how he had come
to write them. He blushed. Once after reading through a page more foolish
than the rest he turned round to make sure that there was nobody in the
room, and then he went and hid his face in his pillow like a child ashamed.
Sometimes they seemed to him so preposterously silly that they were quite
funny, and he forgot that they were his own....
"What an idiot!" he would cry, rocking with laughter.
But nothing touched him more than those compositions in which he had set
out to express his own passionate feelings: the sorrows and joys of love.
Then he would bound in his chair as though a fly had stung him: he would
thump on the table, beat his head, and roar angrily: he would coarsely
apostrophize himself: he would vow himself to be a swine, trebly a
scoundrel, a clod, and a clown--a whole litany of denunciation. In the end
he would go and stand before his mirror, red with shouting, and then he
would take hold of his chin and say:
"Look, look, you scurvy knave, look at the ass-face that is yours! I'll
teach you to lie, you blackguard! Water, sir, water."
He would plunge his face into his basin, and hold it under water until he
was like to choke. When he drew himself up, scarlet, with his eyes starting
from his head, snorting like a seal, he would rush to his table, without
bothering to sponge away the water trickling down him: he would seize the
unhappy compositions, angrily tear them in pieces, growling:
"There, you beast!... There, there, there!..."
Then he would recover.
What exasperated him most in his compositions was their untruth. Not
a spark of feeling in them. A phraseology got by heart, a schoolboy's
rhetoric: he spoke of love like a blind man of color: he spoke of it from
hearsay, only repeating the current platitudes. And it was not only love:
it was the same with all the passions, which had been used for themes and
declamations.--And yet he had always tried to be sincere.--But it is not
enough to wish to be sincere: it is necessary to have the power to be so:
and how can a man be so when as yet he knows nothing of life? What had
revealed the falseness of his work, what had suddenly digged a pit between
himself and his past was the experience which he had had during the last
six months of life. He had left fantasy: there was now in him a real
standard to which he could bring all the thoughts for judgment as to their
truth or untruth.
The disgust which his old work, written without passion, roused in him,
made him decide with his usual exaggeration that he would write no more
until he was forced to write by some passionate need: and leaving the
pursuit of his ideas at that, he swore that he would renounce music
forever, unless creation were imposed upon him in a thunderclap.
* * * * *
He made this resolve because he knew quite well that the storm was coming.
Thunder falls when it will, and where it will. But there are peaks which
attract it. Certain places--certain souls--breed storms: they create them,
or draw them from all points of the horizon: and certain ages of life,
like certain months of the year, are so saturated with electricity, that
thunderstorms are produced in them,--if not at will--at any rate when they
The whole being of a man is taut for it. Often the storm lies brooding for
days and days. The pale sky is hung with burning, fleecy clouds. No wind
stirs. The still air ferments, and seems to boil. The earth lies in a
stupor: no sound comes from it. The brain hums feverishly: all nature
awaits the explosion of the gathering forces, the thud of the hammer which
is slowly rising to fall back suddenly on the anvil of the clouds. Dark,
warm shadows pass: a fiery wind rises through the body, the nerves quiver
like leaves.... Then silence falls again. The sky goes on gathering
In such expectancy there is voluptuous anguish. In spite of the discomfort
that weighs so heavily upon you, you feel in your veins the fire which is
consuming the universe. The soul surfeited boils in the furnace, like wine
in a vat. Thousands of germs of life and death are in labor in it. What
will issue from it? The soul knows not. Like a woman with child, it is
silent: it gazes in upon itself: it listens anxiously for the stirring in
its womb, and thinks: "What will be born of me?"...
Sometimes such waiting is in vain. The storm passes without breaking: but
you wake heavy, cheated, enervated, disheartened. But it is only postponed:
the storm will break: if not to-day, then to-morrow: the longer it is
delayed, the more violent will it be....
Now it comes!... The clouds have come up from all corners of the soul.
Thick masses, blue and black, torn by the frantic darting of the lightning:
they advance heavily, drunkenly, darkening the soul's horizon, blotting out
light. An hour of madness!... The exasperated Elements, let loose from
the cage in which they are held bound by the Laws which hold the balance
between the mind and the existence of things, reign, formless and colossal,
in the night of consciousness. The soul is in agony. There is no longer the
will to live. There is only longing for the end, for the deliverance of
And suddenly there is lightning!
Christophe shouted for joy.
* * * * *
Joy, furious joy, the sun that lights up all that is and will be, the
godlike joy of creation! There is no joy but in creation. There are no
living beings but those who create. All the rest are shadows, hovering
over the earth, strangers to life. All the joys of life are the joys of
creation: love, genius, action,--quickened by flames issuing from one and
the same fire. Even those who cannot find a place by the great fireside:
the ambitious, the egoists, the sterile sensualists,--try to gain warmth in
the pale reflections of its light.
To create in the region of the body, or in the region of the mind, is to
issue from the prison of the body: it is to ride upon the storm of life: it
is to be He who Is. To create is to triumph over death.
Wretched is the sterile creature, that man or that woman who remains alone
and lost upon the earth, scanning their withered bodies, and the sight of
themselves from which no flame of life will ever leap! Wretched is the soul
that does not feel its own fruitfulness, and know itself to be big with
life and love, as a tree with blossom in the spring! The world may heap
honors and benefits upon such a soul: it does but crown a corpse.
* * * * *
When Christophe was struck by the flash of lightning, an electric fluid
coursed through his body: he trembled under the shock. It was as though
on the high seas, in the dark night, he had suddenly sighted land. Or it
was as though in a crowd he had gazed into two eyes saluting him. Often it
would happen to him after hours of prostration when his mind was leaping
desperately through the void. But more often still it came in moments
when he was thinking of something else, talking to his mother, or walking
through the streets. If he were in the street a certain human respect kept
him from too loudly demonstrating his joy. But if he were at home nothing
could keep him back. He would stamp. He would sound a blare of triumph: his
mother knew that well, and she had come to know what it meant. She used to
tell Christophe that he was like a hen that has laid an egg.
He was permeated with his musical imagination. Sometimes it took shape in
an isolated phrase complete in itself: more often it would appear as a
nebula enveloping a whole work: the structure of the work, its general
lines, could be perceived through a veil, torn asunder here and there
by dazzling phrases which stood out from the darkness with the clarity
of sculpture. It was only a flash: sometimes others would come in quick
succession: each lit up other corners of the night. But usually, the
capricious force haying once shown itself unexpectedly, would disappear
again for several days into its mysterious retreats, leaving behind it a
This delight in inspiration was so vivid that Christophe was disgusted by
everything else. The experienced artist knows that inspiration is rare and
that intelligence is left to complete the work of intuition: he puts his
ideas under the press and squeezes out of them the last drop of the divine
juices that are in them--(and if need be sometimes he does not shrink from
diluting them with clear water)--Christophe was too young and too sure of
himself not to despise such contemptible practices. He dreamed impossibly
of producing nothing that was not absolutely spontaneous. If he had not
been deliberately blind he would certainly have seen the absurdity of his
aims. Ho doubt he was at that time in a period of inward abundance in which
there was no gap, no chink, through which boredom or emptiness could creep.
Everything served as an excuse to his inexhaustible fecundity: everything
that his eyes saw or his ears heard, everything with which he came in
contact in his daily life: every look, every word, brought forth a crop of
dreams. In the boundless heaven of his thoughts he saw circling millions
of milky stars, rivers of living light.--And yet, even then, there were
moments when everything was suddenly blotted out. And although the night
could not endure, although he had hardly time to suffer from these long
silences of his soul, he did not escape a secret terror of that unknown
power which came upon him, left him, came again, and disappeared.... How
long, this time? Would it ever come again?--His pride rejected that thought
and said: "This force is myself. When it ceases to be, I shall cease to be:
I shall kill myself."--He never ceased to tremble: but it was only another
But, if, for the moment, there was no danger of the spring running dry,
Christophe was able already to perceive that it was never enough to
fertilize a complete work. Ideas almost always appeared rawly: he had
painfully to dig them out of the ore. And always they appeared without any
sort of sequence, and by fits and starts: to unite them he had to bring to
bear on them an element of reflection and deliberation and cold will, which
fashioned them into new form. Christophe was too much of an artist not to
do so: but he would not accept it: he forced himself to believe that he
did no more than transcribe what was within himself, while he was always
compelled more or less to transform it so as to make it intelligible.--More
than that: sometimes he would absolutely forge a meaning for it. However
violently the musical idea might come upon him it would often have been
impossible for him to say what it meant. It would come surging up from the
depths of life, from far beyond the limits of consciousness: and in that
absolutely pure Force, which eluded common rhythms, consciousness could
never recognize in it any of the motives which stirred in it, none of the
human feelings which it defines and classifies: joys, sorrows, they were
all merged in one single passion which was unintelligible, because it
was above the intelligence. And yet, whether it understood or no, the
intelligence needed to give a name to this form, to bind it down to
one or other of the structures of logic, which man is forever building
indefatigably in the hive of his brain.
So Christophe convinced himself--he wished to do so--that the obscure power
that moved him had an exact meaning, and that its meaning was in accordance
with his will. His free instinct, risen from the unconscious depths, was
willy-nilly forced to plod on under the yoke of reason with perfectly clear
ideas which had nothing at all in common with it. And work so produced was
no more than a lying juxtaposition of one of those great subjects that
Christophe's mind had marked out for itself, and those wild forces which
had an altogether different meaning unknown to himself.
* * * * *
He groped his way, head down, borne on by the contradictory forces warring
in him, and hurling into his incoherent works a fiery and strong quality
of life which he could not express, though he was joyously and proudly
conscious of it.
The consciousness of his new vigor made him able for the first time to
envisage squarely everything about him, everything that he had been taught
to honor, everything that he had respected without question: and he judged
it all with insolent freedom. The veil was rent: he saw the German lie.
Every race, every art has its hypocrisy. The world is fed with a little
truth and many lies. The human mind is feeble: pure truth agrees with it
but ill: its religion, its morality, its states, its poets, its artists,
must all be presented to it swathed in lies. These lies are adapted to the
mind of each race: they vary from one to the other: it is they that make it
so difficult for nations to understand each other, and so easy for them to
despise each other. Truth is the same for all of us: but every nation has
its own lie, which it calls its idealism: every creature therein breathes
it from birth to death: it has become a condition of life: there are only
a few men of genius who can break free from it through heroic moments of
crisis, when they are alone in the free world of their thoughts.
It was a trivial thing which suddenly revealed to Christophe the lie of
German art. It was not because it had not always been visible that he had
not seen it: he was not near it, he had not recoiled from it. Now the
mountain appeared to his gaze because he had moved away from it.
He was at a concert of the _Staedtische Townhalle_. The concert was given
in a large hall occupied by ten or twelve rows of little tables--about two
or three hundred of them. At the end of the room was a stage where the
orchestra was sitting. All round Christophe were officers dressed up in
their long, dark coats,--with broad, shaven faces, red, serious, and
commonplace: women talking and laughing noisily, ostentatiously at their
ease: jolly little girls smiling and showing all their teeth: and large men
hidden behind their beards and spectacles, looking like kindly spiders with
round eyes. They got up with every fresh glass to drink a toast: they did
this almost religiously: their faces, their voices changed: it was as
though they were saying Mass: they offered each other the libations, they
drank of the chalice with a mixture of solemnity and buffoonery. The music
was drowned under the conversation and the clinking of glasses. And yet
everybody was trying to talk and eat quietly. The _Herr Konzertmeister_, a
tall, bent old man, with a white beard hanging like a tail from his chin,
and a long aquiline nose, with spectacles, looked like a philologist.--All
these types were familiar to Christophe. But on that day he had an
inclination--he did not know why--to see them as caricatures. There are
days like that when, for no apparent reason, the grotesque in people and
things which in ordinary life passes unnoticed, suddenly leaps into view.
The programme of the music included the _Egmont_ overture, a valse of
Waldteufel, _Tannhaeuser's Pilgrimage to Rome_, the overture to the _Merry
Wives_ of Nicolai, the religious march of _Athalie_, and a fantasy on the
_North Star_. The orchestra played the Beethoven overture correctly, and
the valse deliciously. During the _Pilgrimage of Tannhaeuser_, the uncorking
of bottles was heard. A big man sitting at the table next to Christophe
beat time to the _Merry Wives_ by imitating Falstaff. A stout old lady, in
a pale blue dress, with a white belt, golden pince-nez on her flat nose,
red arms, and an enormous waist, sang in a loud voice _Lieder_ of Schumann
and Brahms. She raised her eyebrows, made eyes at the wings, smiled with
a smile that seemed to curdle on her moon-face, made exaggerated gestures
which must certainly have called to mind the _cafe-concert_ but for the
majestic honesty which shone in her: this mother of a family played the
part of the giddy girl, youth, passion: and Schumann's poetry had a faint
smack of the nursery. The audience was in ecstasies.--But they grew solemn
and attentive when there appeared the Choral Society of the Germans of the
South (_Sueddeutschen Maenner Liedertafel_), who alternately cooed and roared
part songs full of feeling. There were forty and they sang four parts: it
seemed as though they had set themselves to free their execution of every
trace of style that could properly be called choral: a hotch-potch of
little melodious effects, little timid puling shades of sound, dying
_pianissimos_, with sudden swelling, roaring _crescendos_, like some one
heating on an empty box: no breadth or balance, a mawkish style: it was
"Let me play the lion. I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove. I
will roar you as it were a nightingale."
Christophe listened: foam the beginning with growing amazement. There was
nothing new in it all to him. He knew these concerts, the orchestra, the
audience. But suddenly it all seemed to him false. All of it: even to
what he most loved, the _Egmont_ overture, in which the pompous disorder
and correct agitation hurt him in that hour like a want of frankness. No
doubt it was not Beethoven or Schumann that he heard, but their absurd
interpreters, their cud-chewing audience whose crass stupidity was spread
about their works like a heavy mist.--No matter, there was in the works,
even the most beautiful of them, a disturbing quality which Christophe had
never before felt.--What was it? He dared not analyze it, deeming it a