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Jean-Christophe Journey's End by Romain Rolland

Part 4 out of 10

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in a strange city, in a hotel bedroom, refusing to see anybody, or to
write to her friends, clenching her teeth, and waiting, alone, for

He was obsessed by these ideas and avoided the company present: and he
withdrew into a little room apart: he stood leaning against the wall in
a recess that was half in darkness, behind a curtain of evergreens and
flowers, listening to Philomela's lovely voice, with its elegiac warmth,
singing _The Lime-tree_ of Schubert: and the pure music called up
sad memories. Facing him on the wall was a large mirror which reflected
the lights and the life of the next room. He did not see it: he was
gazing in upon himself: and the mist of tears swam before his eyes....
Suddenly, like Schubert's rustling tree, he began to tremble for no
reason. He stood so for a few seconds, very pale, unable to move. Then
the veil fell from before his eyes, and he saw in the mirror in front of
him his "friend," gazing at him.... His "friend"? Who was she? He knew
nothing save that she was his friend and that he knew her: and he stood
leaning against the wall, his eyes meeting hers, and he trembled. She
smiled. He could not see the lines of her face or her body, nor the
expression in her eyes, nor whether she was tall or short, nor how she
was dressed. Only one thing he saw: the divine goodness of her smile of

And suddenly her smile conjured up in Christophe an old forgotten memory
of his early childhood.... He was six or seven, at school, unhappy: he
had just been humiliated and bullied by some older, stronger boys, and
they were all jeering at him, and the master had punished him unjustly:
he was crouching in a corner, utterly forlorn, while the others were
playing: and he wept softly. There was a sad-faced little girl who was
not playing with the others,--(he could see her now, though he had never
thought of her since then; she was short, and had a big head, fair,
almost white hair and eyebrows, very pale blue eyes, broad white cheeks,
thick lips, a rather puffy face, and small red hands),--and she came
close up to him, then stopped, with her thumb in her mouth and stood
watching him cry: then she laid her little hand on Christophe's head and
said hurriedly and shyly, with just the same smile of compassion:

"Don't cry! Don't cry!"

Then Christophe could not control himself any longer, and he burst into
sobs, and buried his face in the little girl's pinafore, while, in a
quavering, tender voice, she went on saying:

"Don't cry...."

She died soon afterwards, a few weeks perhaps: the hand of death must
have been upon her at the time of that little scene.... Why should he
think of her now? There was no connection between the child who was dead
and forgotten, the humble daughter of the people in a distant German
town, and the aristocratic young lady who was gazing at him now. But
there is only one soul for all: and although millions of human beings
seem to be all different one from another, different as the worlds
moving in the heavens, it is the same flash of thought or love which
lights up the hearts of men and women though centuries divide them.
Christophe had just seen once more the light that he had seen shining
upon the pale lips of the little comforter....

It was all over in a second. A throng of people filled the door and shut
out Christophe's view of the other room. He stepped back quickly into
the shade, out of sight of the mirror: he was afraid lest his emotion
should be noticed. But when he was calm again he wanted to see her once
more. He was afraid she would be gone. He went into the room and he
found her at once in the crowd, although she did not look in the least
like what he had seen in the mirror. Now he saw her in profile sitting
in a group of finely dressed ladies: her elbow was resting on the arm of
her chair, she was leaning forward a little, with her head in her hand,
and listening to what they were saying with an intelligent absent smile:
she had the expression and features of the young St. John, listening and
looking through half-closed eyes, and smiling at his own thoughts, of
_The Dispute_ of Raphael.... Then she raised her eyes, saw him, and
showed no surprise. And he saw that her smile was for himself. He was
much moved, and bowed, and went up to her.

"You don't recognize me?" she said.

He knew her again that very moment.

"Grazia".... he said. [Footnote: See "Jean-Christophe in Paris: The
Market Place."]

At the same moment the ambassador's wife passed by, and smiled with
pleasure to see that the long-sought meeting had at last come about: and
she introduced Christophe to "Countess Bereny." But Christophe was so
moved that he did not even hear her, and he did not notice, the new
name. She was still his little Grazia to him.

* * * * *

Grazia was twenty-two. She had been married for a year to a young
attache of the Austrian Embassy, a nobleman, a member of a great family,
related to one of the Emperor's chief ministers, a snob, a man of the
world, smart, prematurely worn out; with whom she had been genuinely in
love, while she still loved him, though she judged him. Her old father
was dead. Her husband had been appointed to the Embassy in Paris.
Through Count Bereny's influence, and her own charm and intelligence,
the timid little girl, whom the smallest thing used to set in a flutter,
had become one of the best-known women in Parisian society, though she
did nothing to procure that distinction, which embarrassed her not at
all. It is a great thing to be young and pretty, and to give pleasure,
and to know it. And it is a thing no less great to have a tranquil
heart, sound and serene, which can find happiness in the harmonious
coincidence of its desires and its fate. The lonely flower of her life
had unfolded its petals: but she had lost some of the calm music of her
Latin soul, fed by the light and the mighty peace of Italy. Quite
naturally she had acquired a certain influence in Parisian society: it
did not surprise her, and she was discreet and adroit in using it to
further the artistic or charitable movements which turned to her for aid:
she left the official patronage of these movements to others: for
although she could well maintain her rank, she had preserved a secret
independence from the days of her rather wild childish days in the
lonely villa in the midst of the fields, and society wearied while it
amused her, though she always disguised her boredom by the amiable smile
of a courteous and kind heart.

She had not forgotten her great friend Christophe. No doubt there was
nothing left of the child in whom an innocent love had burned in
silence. This new Grazia was a very sensible woman, not at all given to
romance. She regarded the exaggerations of her childish tenderness with
a gentle irony. And yet she was always moved by the memory of it. The
thought of Christophe was associated with the purest hours of her life.
She could not hear his name spoken without feeling pleasure: and each of
his successes delighted her as though she had shared in it herself: for
she had felt that they must come to him. As soon as she arrived in Paris
she tried to meet him again. She had invited him to her house, and had
appended her maiden name to her letter. Christophe had paid no attention
to it, and had flung the invitation into the waste-paper basket
unanswered. She was not offended. She had gone on following his doings
and, to a certain extent, his life, without his knowing it. It was she
whose helping hand had come to his aid in the recent campaign against
him in the papers. Grazia was in all things correct and had hardly
any connection with the world of the Press: but when it came to doing a
friend a service, she was capable of a malicious cunning in wheedling
the people whom she most disliked. She invited the editor of the paper
which was leading the snarling pack, to her house: and in less than no
time she turned his head: she skilfully flattered his vanity: and she
gained such an ascendancy over him, while she overawed him, that it
needed only a few careless words of contemptuous astonishment at the
attacks on Christophe for the campaign to be stopped short. The editor
suppressed the insulting article which was to appear next day: and when
the writer asked why it was suppressed he rated him soundly. He did
more: he gave orders to one of his factotums to turn out an enthusiastic
article about Christophe within a fortnight: the article was turned out
to order; it was enthusiastic and stupid. It was Grazia, too, who
thought of organizing performances of her friend's music at the Embassy,
and, knowing that he was interested in Cecile, helped her to make her
name. And finally, through her influence among the German diplomatists,
she began gently, quietly, and adroitly to awaken the interest of the
powers that be in Christophe, who was banished from Germany: and little
by little she did create a current of opinion directed towards obtaining
from the Emperor a decree reopening the gates of his country to a great
artist who was an honor to it. And though it was too soon to expect such
an act of grace, she did at least succeed in procuring an undertaking
that the Government would close its eyes to his two days' visit to his
native town.

And Christophe, who was conscious of the presence of his invisible
friend hovering about him without being able to find out who she was, at
last recognized her in the young St. John whose eyes smiled at him in
the mirror.

* * * * *

They talked of the past. Christophe hardly knew what they said. A man
hears the woman he loves just as little as he sees her. He loves her.
And when a man really loves he never even thinks whether he is loved or
no. Christophe never doubted it. She was there: that was enough. All the
rest had ceased to exist....

Grazia stopped speaking. A very tall young man, quite handsome,
well-dressed, clean-shaven, partly bald, with a bored, contemptuous
manner, stood appraising Christophe through his eye-glass, and then
bowed with haughty politeness.

"My husband," said she.

The clatter and chatter of the room rushed back to his ears. The inward
light died down. Christophe was frozen, said nothing, bowed, and
withdrew at once.

How ridiculous and consuming are the unreasonable demands of the souls
of artists and the childish laws which govern their passionate lives!
Hardly had he once more found the friend whom he had neglected in the
old days when she loved him, while he had not thought of her for years,
than it seemed to him that she was his, his very own, and that if
another man had taken her he had stolen her from him: and she herself
had no right to give herself to another. Christophe did not know clearly
what was happening to him. But his creative daimon knew it perfectly,
and in those days begat some of his loveliest songs of sorrowful love.

Some time passed before he saw her again. He was obsessed by thoughts of
Olivier's troubles and his health. At last one day he came upon the
address she had given him and he made up his mind to call on her.

As he went up the steps he heard the sound of workmen hammering. The
anteroom was in disorder and littered with boxes and trunks. The footman
replied that the Countess was not at home. But as Christophe was
disappointedly going away after leaving his card, the servant ran after
him and asked him to come in and begged his pardon. Christophe was shown
into a little room in which the carpets had been rolled up and taken
away. Grazia came towards him with her bright smile and her hand held
out impulsively and gladly. All his foolish rancor vanished. He took her
hand with the same happy impulsiveness and kissed it.

"Ah!" she said, "I am glad you came! I was so afraid I should have to go
away without seeing you again!"

"Go away? You are going away!"

Once more darkness descended upon him.

"You see...." she said, pointing to the litter in the room. "We are
leaving Paris at the end of the week."

"For long?"

She shrugged:

"Who knows?"

He tried to speak. But his throat was dry.

"Where are you going?"

"To the United States. My husband has been appointed first secretary to
the Embassy."

"And so, and so...." he said ... (his lips trembled) ... "it is all

"My dear friend!" she said, touched by his tone.... "No: it is not all

"I have found you again only to lose you?"

There were tears in her eyes.

"My dear friend," she said again.

He held his hand over his eyes and turned away to hide his emotion.

"Do not be so sad," she said, laying her hand on his.

Once more, just then, he thought of the little girl in Germany. They
were silent.

"Why did you come so late?" she asked at last, "I tried to find you. You
never replied."

"I did not know. I did not know," he said.... "Tell me, was it you who
came to my aid so many times without my guessing who it was?... Do I owe
it to you that I was able to go back to Germany? Were you my good angel,
watching over me?"

She said:

"I was glad to be able to do something for you. I owe you so much!"

"What do you owe?" he asked. "I have done nothing for you."

"You do not know," she said, "what you have been to me."

She spoke of the days when she was a little girl and met him at the
house of her uncle, Stevens, and he had given her through his music the
revelation of all that is beautiful in the world. And little by little,
with growing animation she told him with brief allusions, that were both
veiled and transparent, of her childish feeling for him, and the way in
which she had shared Christophe's troubles, and the concert at which he
had been hissed, and she had wept, and the letter she had written and he
had never answered: for he had not received it. And as Christophe
listened to her, in all good faith, he projected his actual emotion and
the tenderness he felt for the tender face so near his own into the

They talked innocently, fondly, and joyously. And, as he talked,
Christophe took Grazia's hand. And suddenly they both stopped: for
Grazia saw that Christophe loved her. And Christophe saw it too....

For some time Grazia had loved Christophe without Christophe knowing or
caring. Now Christophe loved Grazia: and Grazia had nothing for him but
calm friendship: she loved another man. As so often happens, one of the
two clocks of their lives was a little faster than the other, and it was
enough to have changed the course of both their lives....

Grazia withdrew her hand, and Christophe did not stay her. And they sat
there for a moment, mum, without a word.

And Grazia said:


Christophe said plaintively once more:

"And it is all over?"

"No doubt it is better that it should be so."

"We shall not meet again before you go."

"No," she said.

"When shall we meet again?"

She made a sad little gesture of doubt.

"Then," said Christophe, "what's the good, what's the good of our having
met again?"

Her eyes reproached him, and he said quickly:

"No. Forgive me. I am unjust."

"I shall always think of you," said she.

"Alas!" he replied, "I cannot even think of you. I know nothing of your

Very quietly she described her ordinary life in a few words and told him
how her days were spent. She spoke of herself and of her husband with
her lovely affectionate smile.

"Ah!" he said jealously. "You love him?"

"Yes," she said.
He got up.


She got up too. Then only he saw that she was with child. And in his
heart there was an inexpressible feeling of disgust, and tenderness, and
jealousy, and passionate pity. She walked with him to the door of the
little room. There he turned, bent over her hands, and kissed them
fervently. She stood there with her eyes half closed and did not stir.
At last he drew himself up, turned, and hurried away without looking at

... _E chi allora m'avesse domandalo di cosa alcuna, la mia
risponsione sarebbe stata solamente AMORE, con viso vestito

All Saints' Day. Outside, a gray light and a cold wind. Christophe was
with Cecile, who was sitting near the cradle, and Madame Arnaud was
bending over it. She had dropped in. Christophe was dreaming. He was
feeling that he had missed happiness: but he never thought of
complaining: he knew that happiness existed.... Oh! sun, I have no need
to see thee to love thee! Through the long winter days, when I shiver in
the darkness, my heart is full of thee: my love keeps me warm: I know
that thou art there....

And Cecile was dreaming too. She was pondering the child, and she had
come to believe that it was indeed her own. Oh, blessed power of dreams,
the creative imagination of life! Life.... What is life? It is not as
cold reason and our eyes tell us that it is. Life is what we dream, and
the measure of life is love.

Christophe gazed at Cecile, whose peasant face with its wide-set eyes
shone with the splendor of the maternal instinct,--she was more a mother
than the real mother. And he looked at the tender weary face of Madame
Arnaud. In it, as in books that moved him, he read the hidden sweetness
and suffering of the life of a married woman which, though none ever
suspects it, is sometimes as rich in sorrow and joy as the love of
Juliet or Ysolde: though it touches a greater height of religious
feeling ....

_Soda rei humana atque divina...._

And he thought that children or the lack of children has as much to do
with the happiness or unhappiness of those who marry and those who do
not marry as faith and the lack of faith. Happiness is the perfume of
the soul, the harmony that dwells, singing, in the depths of the heart.
And the most beautiful of all the music of the soul is kindness.

Olivier came in. He was quite calm and reposeful in his movements: a new
serenity shone in him. He smiled at the child, shook hands with Cecile
and Madame Arnaud, and began to talk quietly. He watched them with a
sort of surprised affection. He was no longer the same. In the isolation
in which he had shut himself up with his grief, like a caterpillar in
the nest of its own spinning, he had succeeded after a hard struggle in
throwing off his sorrow like an empty shell. Some day we shall tell how
he thought he had found a fine cause to which to devote his life, in
which he had no interest save that of sacrifice: and, as it is ordered,
on the very day when in his heart he had come to a definite renunciation
of life, it was kindled once more. His friends looked at him. They did
not know what had happened, and dared not ask him: but they felt that he
was free once more, and that there was in him neither regret nor
bitterness for anything or against anybody in the whole wide world.

Christophe got up and went to the piano, and said to Olivier:

"Would you like me to sing you a melody of Brahms?"

"Brahms?" said Olivier. "Do you play your old enemy's music nowadays?"

"It is All Saints' Day," said Christophe. "The day when all are

Softly, so as not to wake the child, he sang a few bars of the old
Schwabian folk-song:

_"... Fur die Zeit, wo du g'liebt mi hast,
Da dank' i dir schon,
Und i wunsch', dass dir's anders wo
Besser mag geh'n...."_

"... For the time when thou did'st love me,
I do thank thee well;
And I hope that elsewhere
Thou may'st better fare...."

"Christophe!" said Olivier.

Christophe hugged him close.

"Come, old fellow," he said. "We have fared well."

The four of them sat near the sleeping child. They did not speak. And if
they had been asked what they were thinking,--_with the countenance of
humility, they would have replied only:_




Came calmness to his heart. No wind stirred. The air was still....

Christophe was at rest: peace was his. He was in a certain measure proud
of having conquered it: but secretly, in his heart of hearts, he was
sorry for it. He was amazed at the silence. His passions were
slumbering: in all good faith he thought that they would never wake

The mighty, somewhat brutal force that was his was browsing listlessly
and aimlessly. In his inmost soul there was a secret void, a hidden
question: "What's the good?": perhaps a certain consciousness of the
happiness which he had failed to grasp. He had not force enough to
struggle either with himself or with others. He had come to the end of a
stage in his progress: he was reaping the fruits of all his former
efforts, cumulatively: too easily he was tapping the vein of music that
he had opened and while the public was naturally behindhand, and was
just discovering and admiring his old work, he was beginning to break
away from them without knowing as yet whether he would be able to make
any advance on them. He had now a uniform and even delight in creation.
At this period of his life art was to him no more than a fine instrument
upon which he played like a virtuoso. He was ashamedly conscious of
becoming a dilettante.

"_If_," said Ibsen, "_a man is to persevere in his art; he must
have something else, something more than his native genius: passions,
sorrows, which shall fill his life and give it a direction. Otherwise he
will not create, he will write books."_

Christophe was writing books. He was not used to it. His books were
beautiful. He would have rather had them less beautiful and more alive.
He was like an athlete resting, not knowing to what use to turn his
muscles, and, yawning in boredom like a caged wild beast, he sat looking
ahead at the years and years of peaceful work that awaited him. And as,
with his old German capacity for optimism, he had no difficulty in
persuading himself that everything was for the best, he thought that
such a future was no doubt the appointed inevitable end: he flattered
himself that he had issued from his time of trial and tribulation and
had become master of himself. That was not saying much.... Oh, well! A
man is sovereign over that which is his, he is what he is capable of
being.... He thought that he had reached his haven.

The two friends were not living together. After Jacqueline's flight,
Christophe had thought that Olivier would come back and take up his old
quarters with him. But Olivier could not. Although he felt keenly the
need of intimacy with Christophe, yet he was conscious of the
impossibility of resuming their old existence together. After the years
lived with Jacqueline, it would have seemed intolerable and even
sacrilegious to admit another human being to his most intimate
life,--even though he loved and were loved by that other a thousand
times more than Jacqueline.--There was no room for argument.

Christophe had found it hard to understand. He returned again and again
to the charge, he was surprised, saddened, hurt, and angry. Then his
instinct, which was finer and quicker than his intelligence, bade him
take heed. Suddenly he ceased, and admitted that Olivier was right.

But they saw each other every day: and they had never been so closely
united even when they were living under the same roof. Perhaps they did
not exchange their most intimate thoughts when they talked. They did not
need to do so. The exchange was made naturally, without need of words,
by grace of the love that was in their hearts.

They talked very little, for each was absorbed: one in his art, the other
in his memories. Olivier's sorrow was growing less: but he did
nothing to mitigate it, rather almost taking a pleasure in it: for a
long time it had been his only reason for living. He loved his child:
but his child--a puling baby--could occupy no great room in his life.
There are men who are more lovers than fathers, and it is useless to cry
out against them. Nature is not uniform, and it would be absurd to try
to impose identical laws upon the hearts of all men. No man has the
right to sacrifice his duty to his heart. At least the heart must be
granted the right to be unhappy where a man does his duty. What Olivier
perhaps most loved in his child was the woman of whose body it was made.

Until quite recently he had paid little attention to the sufferings of
others. He was an intellectual living too much shut up in himself. It
was not egoism so much as a morbid habit of dreaming. Jacqueline had
increased the void about him: her love had traced a magic circle about
Olivier to cut him off from other men, and the circle endured after love
had ceased to be. In addition he was a little aristocratic by temper.
From his childhood on, in spite of his soft heart, he had held aloof
from the mob for reasons rooted in the delicacy of his body and his
soul. The smell of the people and their thoughts were repulsive to him.

But everything had changed as the result of a commonplace tragedy which
he had lately witnessed.

* * * * *

He had taken a very modest lodging at the top of the Mont-rouge quarter,
not far from Christophe and Cecile. The district was rather common, and
the house in which he lived was occupied by little gentlepeople, clerks,
and a few working-class families. At any other time he would have suffered
from such surroundings in which he moved as a stranger: but now
it mattered very little to him where he was: he felt that he was a
stranger everywhere. He hardly knew and did not want to know who his
neighbors were. When he returned from his work--(he had gone into a
publishing-house)--he withdrew into his memories, and would only go out
to see his child and Christophe. His lodging was not home to him: it was
the dark room in which the images of the past took shape and dwelling:
the darker it was the more clearly did the inward images emerge. He
scarcely noticed the faces of those he passed on the stairs. And yet
unconsciously he was aware of certain faces that were impressed upon his
mind. There is a certain order of mind which only really sees things
after they have passed. But then, nothing escapes them, the smallest
details are graven on the plate. Olivier's was such a mind: he bore
within himself multitudes of the shadowy shapes of the living. With any
emotional shock they would come mounting up in crowds: and Olivier would
be amazed to recognize those whom he had never known, and sometimes he
would hold out his hands to grasp them.... Too late.

One day as he came out of his rooms he saw a little crowd collected in
front of the house-door round the housekeeper, who was making a
harangue. He was so little interested that he was for going his way
without troubling to find out what was the matter: but the housekeeper,
anxious to gain another listener, stopped him, and asked him if he knew
what had happened to the poor Roussels. Olivier did not even know who
"the poor Roussels" were, and he listened with polite indifference. When
he heard that a working-class family, father, mother, and five children,
had committed suicide to escape from poverty in the house in which he
lived, he stopped, like the rest, and looked up at the walls of the
building, and listened to the woman's story, which she was nothing loth
to begin again from the beginning. As she went on talking, old memories
awoke in him, and he realized that he had seen the wretched family: he
asked a few questions.... Yes, he remembered them: the man--(he used to
hear him breathing noisily on the stairs)--a journeyman baker, with a
pale face, all the blood drawn out of it by the heat of the oven, hollow
cheeks always ill shaven: he had had pneumonia at the beginning of the
winter: he had gone back to work only half cured: he had had a relapse:
for the last three weeks he had had no work and no strength. The woman
had dragged from childbirth to childbirth: crippled with rheumatism, she
had worn herself out in trying to make both ends meet, and had spent her
days running hither and thither trying to obtain from the Public Charity
a meager sum which was not readily forthcoming. Meanwhile the children
came, and went on coming: eleven, seven, three--not to mention two others
who had died in between:--and, to crown all, twins who had chosen
the very dire moment to make their appearance: they had been born only
the month before.

--On the day of their birth, a neighbor said, the eldest of the five, a
little girl of eleven, Justine--poor little mite!--had begun to cry and
asked how ever she could manage to carry both of them.

Olivier at once remembered the little girl,--a large forehead, with
colorless hair pulled back, and sorrowful, gray bulging eyes. He was
always meeting her, carrying provisions or her little sister: or she
would be holding her seven-year-old brother by the hand, a little
pinch-faced, cringing boy he was, with one blind eye. When they met on
the stairs Olivier used to say, with his absent courteous manner:

"Pardon, mademoiselle."

But she never said anything: she used to go stiffly by, hardly moving
aside: but his illusory courtesy used to give her a secret pleasure.
Only the evening before, at six o'clock, as he was going downstairs, he
had met her for the last time: she was carrying up a bucket of charcoal.
He had not noticed it, except that he did remark that the burden seemed
to be very heavy. But that is merely in the order of things for the
children of the people. Olivier had bowed, as usual, without looking at
her. A few steps lower down he had mechanically looked up to see her
leaning over the balustrade of the landing, with her little pinched
face, watching him go down. She turned away at once, and resumed her
climb upstairs. Did she know whither she was climbing?--Olivier had no
doubt that she did, and he was obsessed by the thought of the child
bearing death in the load that was too heavy for her, death the
deliverer--the wretched children for whom to cease to be meant an end of
suffering! He was unable to continue his walk. He went back to his room.
But there he was conscious of the proximity of the dead.... Only a few
thin walls between him and them.... To think that he had lived so near
to such misery!

He went to see Christophe. He was sick at heart: he told himself that it
was monstrous for him to have been so absorbed as he had been in vain
regrets for love while there were so many creatures suffering
misfortunes a thousand times more cruel, and it was possible to help and
save them. His emotion was profound: there was no difficulty In
communicating it. Christophe was easily impressionable, and he in his
turn was moved. When he heard Olivier's story he tore up the page of
music he had just been writing, and called himself a selfish brute to be
amusing himself with childish games. But, directly after, he picked up
the pieces. He was too much under the spell of his music. And his
instinct told him that a work of art the less would not make one happy
man the more. The tragedy of want was no new thing to him: from his
childhood on he had been used to treading on the edge of such abysmal
depths, and contriving not to topple over. But he was apt to judge
suicide harshly, being conscious as he was of such a fullness of force,
and unable to understand how a man, under the pressure of any suffering
whatsoever, could give up the struggle. Suffering, struggling, is there
anything more normal? These things are the backbone of the universe.

Olivier also had passed through much the same sort of experience: but he
had never been able to resign himself to it, either on his own account
or for others. He had a horror of the poverty in which the life of his
beloved Antoinette had been consumed. After his marriage with
Jacqueline, when he had suffered the softening influence of riches and
love, he had made haste to thrust back the memory of the sorrowful years
when he and his sister had worn themselves out each day in the struggle
to gain the right to live through the next, never knowing whether they
would succeed or no. The memories of those days would come to him now
that he no longer had his youthful egoism to preserve. Instead of flying
before the face of suffering he set out to look for it. He did not need
to go far to find it. In the state of mind in which he was he was prone
to find it everywhere. The world was full of it, the world, that
hospital.... Oh, the agony, the sorrow! Pains of the wounded body,
quivering flesh, rotting away in life. The silent torture of hearts
under gnawing grief. Children whom no one loves, poor hopeless girls,
women seduced or betrayed, men deceived in their friends, their loves,
their faith, the pitiable herd of the unfortunates whom life has broken
and forgotten!... Not poverty and sickness were the most frightful
things to see, but the cruelty of men one to another. Hardly had Olivier
raised the cover of the hell of humanity than there rose to his ears the
plaint of all the oppressed, the exploited poor, the persecuted peoples,
massacred Armenians, Finland crushed and stifled, Poland rent in pieces,
Russia martyred, Africa flung to the rapacious pack of Europe, all the
wretched creatures of the human race. It stifled him: he heard it
everywhere, he could no longer close his ears to it, he could no longer
conceive the possibility of there being people with any other thought.
He was for ever talking about it to Christophe. Christophe grew anxious,
and said:

"Be quiet! Let me work."

And as he found it hard to recover his balance he would lose his temper
and swear.

"Damnation! My day is wasted! And you're a deal the better for it,
aren't you?"

Olivier would beg his pardon.

"My dear fellow," said Christophe, "it's no good always looking down
into the pit. It stops your living."

"One must lend a hand to those who are in the pit."

"No doubt. But how? By flinging ourselves down as well? For that is what
you want. You've got a propensity for seeing nothing but the sad side of
life. God bless you! Your pessimism is charitable, I grant you, but it
is very depressing. Do you want to create happiness? Very well, then, be

"Happy! How can one have the heart to be happy when one sees so much
suffering? There can only be happiness in trying to lessen it and
fighting the evil."

"Very good. But I don't help the unfortunate much by lashing out blindly
in all directions. It means only one bad soldier the more. But I can
bring comfort by my art and spread force and joy. Have you any idea how
many wretched beings have been sustained in their suffering by the
beauty of an idea, by a winged song? Every man to his own trade! You
French people, like the generous scatterbrains that you are, are always
the first to protest against the injustice of, say, Spain or Russia,
without knowing what it is all about. I love you for it. But do you
think you are helping things along? You rush at it and bungle it and the
result is nil,--if not worse.... And, look you, your art has never been
more weak and emaciated than now, when your artists claim to be taking
part in the activities of the world. It is the strangest thing to see so
many little writers and artists, all dilettante and rather dishonest,
daring to set themselves up as apostles! They would do much better if
they were to give the people wine to drink that was not so
adulterated.--My first duty is to do whatever I am doing well, and to
give you healthy music which shall set new blood coursing in your veins
and let the sun shine in upon you."

* * * * *

If a man is to shed the light of the sun upon other men, he must first
of all have it within himself. Olivier had none of it. Like the best man
of to-day, he was not strong enough to radiate force by himself. But in
unison with others he might have been able to do so. But with whom could
he unite? He was free in mind and at heart religious, and he was
rejected by every party political and religious. They were all
intolerant and narrow and were continually at rivalry. Whenever they
came into power they abused it. Only the weak and the oppressed
attracted Olivier. In this at least he agreed with Christophe's opinion,
that before setting out to combat injustice in distant lands, it were as
well to fight injustice close at hand, injustice everywhere about,
injustice for which each and every man is more or less responsible.
There are only too many people who are quite satisfied with protesting
against the evil wrought by others, without ever thinking of the evil
that they do themselves.

At first he turned his attention to the relief of the poor. His friend,
Madame Arnaud, helped to administer a charity. Olivier got her to allow
him to help. But at the outset he had more than one setback: the poor
people who were given into his charge were not all worthy of interest,
or they were unresponsive to his sympathy, distrusted him, and shut
their doors against him. Besides, it is hard for a man of intellect to
be satisfied with charity pure and simple: it waters such a very small
corner of the kingdom of wretchedness! Its effects are almost always
piecemeal, fragmentary: it seems to move by chance, and to be engaged
only in dressing wounds as fast as it discovers them: generally it is
too modest and in too great a hurry to probe down to the roots of the
evil. Now it was just this probing that Olivier's mind found

He began to study the problem of social poverty. There was no lack of
guides to point the way. In those days the social question had become a
society question. It was discussed in drawing-rooms, in the theater, in
novels. Everybody claimed some knowledge of it. Some of the young men
were expending the best part of their powers upon it.

Every new generation needs to have some splendid mania or other. Even
the most selfish of young people are endowed with a superfluity of life,
a capital sum of energy which has been advanced to them and cannot be
left idle and unproductive: they are for ever seeking to expend it on a
course of action, or--(more prudently)--on a theory. Aviation or
Revolution, a muscular or intellectual exercise. When a man is young he
needs to be under the illusion that he is sharing in some great movement
of humanity and is renewing the life of the world. It is a lovely thing
when the senses thrill in answer to every puff of the winds of the
universe! Then a man is so free, so light! Not yet is he laden with the
ballast of a family, he has nothing, risks next to nothing. A man is
very generous when he can renounce what is not yet his. Besides, it is
so good to love and to hate, and to believe that one is transforming the
earth with dreams and shouting! Young people are like watch-dogs: they
are for ever howling and barking at the wind. An act of injustice
committed at the other end of the world will send them off their heads.

Dogs barking through the night. From one farm to another in the heart of
the forest they were yelping to one another, never ceasing. The night
was stormy. It was not easy to sleep in those days. The wind bore
through the air the echoes of so many acts of injustice!... The tale of
injustice is unnumbered: in remedying one there is danger of causing
others. What is injustice?--To one man it means a shameful peace, the
fatherland dismembered. To another it signifies war. To another it means
the destruction of the past, the banishment of princes: to another, the
spoliation of the Church: to yet another the stifling of the future to
the peril of liberty. For the people, injustice lies in inequality: for
the upper ten, in equality. There are so many different kinds of
injustice that each age chooses its own,--the injustice that it fights
against, and the injustice that it countenances.

At the present time the mightiest efforts of the world were directed
against social injustice,--and unconsciously were tending to the
production of fresh injustice.

And, in truth, such injustice had waxed great and plain to see since the
working-classes, growing in numbers and power, had become part of the
essential machinery of the State. But in spite of the declamations of
the tribunes and bards of the people, their condition was not worse, but
rather better than it had ever been in the past: and the change had come
about not because they suffered more, but because they had grown
stronger. Stronger by reason of the very power of the hostile ranks of
Capital, by the fatality of economic and industrial development which
had banded the workers together in armies ready for the fight, and, by
the use of machinery, had given weapons into their hands, and had turned
every foreman into a master with power over light, lightning, movement,
all the energy of the world. From this enormous mass of elementary
forces, which only a short time ago the leaders of men were trying to
organize, there was given out a white heat, electric waves gradually
permeating the whole body of human society.

It was not by reason of its justice, or its novelty, or the force of the
ideas bound up in it that the cause of the people was stirring the minds
of the intelligent middle-class, although they were fain to think so.
Its appeal lay in its vitality.

Its justice? Justice was everywhere and every day violated thousands of
times without the world ever giving a thought to it. Its ideas? Scraps
of truth, picked up here and there and adjusted to the interests and
requirements of one class at the expense of the other classes. Its creed
was as absurd as every other creed,--the Divine Right of Kings, the
Infallibility of the Popes, Universal Suffrage, the Equality of
Man,--all equally absurd if one only considers them by their rational
value and not in the light of the force by which they are animated. What
did their mediocrity matter? Ideas have never conquered the world as
ideas, but only by the force they represent. They do not grip men by
their intellectual contents, but by the radiant vitality which is given
off from them at certain periods in history. They give off as it were a
rich scent which overpowers even the dullest sense of smell. The
loftiest and most sublime idea remains ineffective until the day when it
becomes contagious, not by its own merits, but by the merits of the
groups of men in whom it becomes incarnate by the transfusion of their
blood. Then the withered plant, the rose of Jericho, comes suddenly to
flower, grows to its full height, and fills all the air with its
powerful aroma.--Some of the ideas which were now the flaming standard
under which the working-classes were marching on to the assault upon the
capitalistic citadel, emanated from the brains of dreamers of the
comfortable classes. While they had been left in their comfortable
books, they had lain dead: items in a museum, mummies packed away in
glass cases with no one to look at them. But as soon as the people laid
hands on them, they had become part and parcel of the people, they had
been given their feverish reality, which deformed them while it gave
them life, breathing into such abstract reason, their hallucinations,
and their hopes, like a burning wind of Hegira. They were quickly spread
from man to man. Men succumbed to them without knowing from whom they
came or how they had been brought. They were no respecters of persons.
The moral epidemic spread and spread: and it was quite possible for
limited creatures to communicate it to superior men. Every man was
unwittingly an agent in the transmission.

Such phenomena of intellectual contagion are to be observed in all times
and in all countries: they make themselves felt even in aristocratic
States where there is the endeavor to maintain castes hermetically
sealed one against the other. But nowhere are they more electric than in
democracies which preserve no sanitary barrier between the elect and the
mob. The elect are contaminated at once whatever they do to fight
against it. In spite of their pride and intelligence they cannot resist
the contagion; for the elect are much weaker than they think.
Intelligence is a little island fretted by the tides of humanity,
crumbling away and at last engulfed. It only emerges again on the ebb of
the tide.--One wonders at the self-denial of the French privileged
classes when on the night of August 4 they abdicated their rights. Most
wonderful of all, no doubt, is the fact that they could not do
otherwise. I fancy a good many of them when they returned home must have
said to themselves: "What have I done? I must have been drunk...." A
splendid drunkenness! Blessed be wine and the vine that gives it forth!
It was not the privileged classes of old France who planted the vine
whose blood brought them to drunkenness. The wine was extracted, they
had only to drink it. He who drank must lose his wits. Even those who
did not drink turned dizzy only from the smell of the vat that caught
them as they passed. The vintages of the Revolution!... Hidden away in
the family vaults there are left only a few empty bottles of the wine of
'89: but our grandchildren's children will remember that their
great-grandfathers had their heads turned by it.

It was a sourer wine but a wine no less strong that was mounting to the
heads of the comfortable young people of Olivier's generation. They were
offering up their class as a sacrifice to the new God, _Deo
ignoto_:--the people.

* * * * *

To tell the truth, they were not all equally sincere. Many of them were
only able to see in the movement an opportunity of rising above their
class by affecting to despise it. For the majority it was an
intellectual pastime, an oratorical enthusiasm which they never took
altogether seriously. There is a certain pleasure in believing that you
believe in a cause, that you are fighting, or will fight, for it,--or
at least could fight. There is a by no means negligible satisfaction in the
thought that you are risking something. Theatrical emotions.

They are quite innocent so long as you surrender to them simply without
any admixture of interested motive.--But there were men of a more
worldly type who only played the game of set purpose: the popular
movement was to them only a road to success. Like the Norse pirates,
they made rise of the rising tide to carry their ships up into the land:
they aimed at reaching the innermost point of the great estuaries so as
to be left snugly ensconced in the conquered cities when the sea fell
back once more. The channel was narrow and the tide was capricious:
great skill was needed. But two or three generations of demagogy have
created a race of corsairs who know every trick and secret of the trade.
They rushed boldly in with never even so much as a glance back at those
who foundered on the way.

This piratical rabble is made up of all parties: thank Heaven, no party
is responsible for it. But the disgust with which such adventurers had
inspired the sincere and all men of conviction had led some of them to
despair of their class. Olivier came in contact with rich young men of
culture who felt very strongly that the comfortable classes were
moribund and that they themselves were useless. He was only too much
inclined to sympathize with them. They had begun by believing in the
reformation of the people by the elect, they had founded Popular
Universities, and taken no account of the time and money spent upon
them, and now they were forced to admit the futility of their efforts:
their hopes had been pitched too high, their discouragement sank too
low. The people had either not responded to their appeal or had run away
from it. When the people did come, they understood everything all wrong,
and only assimilated the vices and absurdities of the culture of the
superior classes. And in the end more than one scurvy knave had stolen
into the ranks of the burgess apostles, and discredited them by
exploiting both people and apostles at the same time. Then it seemed to
honest men that the middle-class was doomed, that it could only infect
the people who, at all costs, must break free and go their way alone. So
they were left cut off from all possibility of action, save to predict
and foresee a movement which would be made without and against
themselves. Some of them found in this the joy of renunciation, the joy
of deep disinterested human sympathy feeding upon itself and the
sacrifice of itself. To love, to give self! Youth is so richly endowed
that it can afford to do without repayment: youth has no fear of being
left despoiled. And it can do without everything save the art of
loving.--Others again found in it a pleasurable rational satisfaction, a
sort of imperious logic: they sacrificed themselves not to men so much
as to ideas. These were the bolder spirits. They took a proud delight in
deducing the fated end of their class from their reasoned arguments. It
would have hurt them more to see their predictions falsified than to be
crushed beneath the weight of circumstance. In their intellectual
intoxication they cried aloud to those outside: "Harder! Strike harder!
Let there be nothing left of us!"--They had become the theorists of

Of the violence of others. For, as usual, these apostles of brute force
were almost always refined and weakly people. Many of them were
officials of the State which they talked of destroying, industrious,
conscientious, and orderly officials.

Their theoretical violence was the throwback from their weakness, their
bitterness, and the suppression of their vitality. But above all it was
an indication of the storms brewing all around them. Theorists are like
meteorologists: they state in scientific terms not what the weather will
be, but what the weather is. They are weathercocks pointing to the
quarter whence the wind blows. When they turn they are never far from
believing that they are turning the wind.

The wind had turned.

Ideas are quickly used up in a democracy, and the more quickly they are
propagated, the more quickly are they worn out. There are any number of
Republicans in France who in less than fifty years have grown disgusted
with the Republic, with Universal Suffrage, with all the manifestations
of liberty won with such blind intoxication! After the fetish worship of
numbers, after the gaping optimism which had believed in the sanctity of
the majority and had looked to it for the progress of humanity, there
came the wind of brute force: the inability of the majority to govern
themselves, their venality, their corruption, their base and fearful
hatred of all superiority, their oppressive cowardice, raised the spirit
of revolt: the minorities of energy--every kind of minority--appealed
from the majority to force. A queer, yet inevitable alliance was brought
about between the royalists of the _Action Francaise_ and the
syndicalists of the C. G. T. Balzac speaks somewhere of the men of his
time who _"though aristocrats by inclination, yet became Republicans
in spite, of themselves, only to find many inferiors among their
equals."_--A scant sort of pleasure. Those who are inferior must be
made to accept themselves as such: and to bring that about there is
nothing to be done but to create an authority which shall impose the
supremacy of the elect--of either class, working or burgess--upon the
oppressive majority. Our young intellectuals, being proud and of the
better class, became royalists or revolutionaries out of injured vanity
and hatred of democratic equality. And the disinterested theorists, the
philosophers of brute force, like good little weathercocks, reared their
heads above them and were the oriflammes of the storm.

Last of all there was the herd of literary men in search of
inspiration--men who could write and yet knew not what to write: like
the Greeks at Aulis, they were becalmed and could make no progress, and
sat impatiently waiting for a kindly wind from any quarter to come and
belly out their sails.--There were famous men among them, men who had
been wrenched away from their stylistic labors and plunged into public
meetings by the Dreyfus affair. An example which had found only too many
followers for the liking of those who had set it. There was now a mob of
writing men all engrossed in politics, and claiming to control the
affairs of the State. On the slightest excuse they would form societies,
issue manifestoes, save the Capitol. After the intellectuals of the
advance guard came the intellectuals of the rear: they were much of a
muchness. Each of the two parties regarded the other as intellectual and
themselves as intelligent. Those who had the luck to have in their veins
a few drops of the blood of the people bragged about it: they dipped
their pens into it, wrote with it.--They were all malcontents of the
burgess class, and were striving to recapture the authority which that
class had irreparably lost through its selfishness. Only in rare
instances were these apostles known to keep up their apostolic zeal for
any length of time. In the beginning the cause meant a certain amount of
success to them, success which in all probability was in no wise due to
their oratorical gifts. It gave them a delicious flattery for their
vanity. Thereafter they went on with less success and a certain secret
fear of being rather ridiculous. In the long-run the last feeling was
apt to dominate the rest, being increased by the fatigue of playing a
difficult part for men of their distinguished tastes and innate
skepticism. But they waited upon the favor of the wind and of their
escort before they could withdraw. For they were held captive both by
wind and escort. These latter-day Voltaires and Joseph de Maistres,
beneath their boldness in speech and writing, concealed a dread
uncertainty, feeling the ground, being fearful of compromising
themselves with the young men, and striving hard to please them and to
be younger than the young. They were revolutionaries or
counter-revolutionaries merely as a matter of literature, and in the end
they resigned themselves to following the literary fashion which they
themselves had helped to create.

The oddest of all the types with which Olivier came in contact in the
small burgess advance guard of the Revolution was the revolutionary who
was so from timidity.

The specimen presented for his immediate observation was named Pierre
Canet. He was brought up in a rich, middle-class, and conservative
family, hermetically sealed against any new idea: they were magistrates
and officials who had distinguished themselves by crabbing authority or
being dismissed: thick-witted citizens of the Marais who flirted with
the Church and thought little, but thought that little well. He had
married, for want of anything better to do, a woman with an aristocratic
name, who had no great capacity for thought, but did her thinking no
less well than he. The bigoted, narrow, and retrograde society in which
he lived, a society which was perpetually chewing the cud of its own
conceit and bitterness, had finally exasperated him,--the more so as his
wife was ugly and a bore. He was fairly intelligent and open-minded, and
liberal in aspiration, without knowing at all clearly in what liberalism
consisted: there was no likelihood of his discovering the meaning of
liberty in his immediate surroundings. The only thing he knew for
certain was that liberty did not exist there: and he fancied that he had
only to leave to find it. On his first move outwards he was lucky enough
to fall in with certain old college friends, some of whom had been
smitten with syndicalistic ideas. He was even more at sea in their
company than in the society which he had just quitted: but he would not
admit it: he had to live somewhere: and he was unable to find people of
his own cast of thought (that is to say, people of no cast of thought
whatever), though, God knows, the species is by no means rare in France!
But they are ashamed of themselves: they hide themselves, or they take
on the hue of one of the fashionable political colors, if not of
several, all at once. Besides, he was under the influence of his

As always happens, he had particularly attached himself to the very man
who was most different from himself. This Frenchman, French, burgess and
provincial to his very soul, had become the _fidus Achates_ of a
young Jewish doctor named Manousse Heimann, a Russian refugee, who, like
so many of his fellow-countrymen, had the twofold gift of settling at
once among strangers and making himself at home, and of being so much at
his ease in any sort of revolution as to rouse wonder as to what it was
that most interested him in it: the game or the cause. His experiences
and the experiences of others were a source of entertainment to him. He
was a sincere revolutionary, and his scientific habit of mind made him
regard the revolutionaries and himself as a kind of madmen. His excited
dilettantism and his extreme instability of mind made him seek the
company of men the most opposite. He had acquaintances among those in
authority and even among the police: he was perpetually prying and
spying with that morbid and dangerous curiosity which makes so many
Russian revolutionaries seem to be playing a double game, and sometimes
reduces the appearance to reality. It is not treachery so much as
versatility, and it is thoroughly disinterested. There are so many men
of action to whom action is a theater into which they bring their
talents as comedians, quite honestly prepared at any moment to change
their part! Manousse was as faithful to the revolutionary part as it was
possible for him to be: it was the character which was most in accord
with his natural anarchy, and his delight in demolishing the laws of the
countries through which he passed. But yet, in spite of everything, it
was only a part. It was always impossible to know how much was true and
how much invented in what he said, and even he himself was never very
sure. He was intelligent and skeptical, endowed with the psychological
subtlety of his twofold nationality, could discern quite marvelously the
weaknesses of others, and his own, and was extremely skilful in playing
upon them, so that he had no difficulty in gaining an ascendancy over
Canet. It amused him to drag this Sancho Panza into Quixotic pranks. He
made no scruple about using him, disposing of his will, his time, his
money,--not for his own benefit, (he needed none, though no one knew how
or in what way he lived),--but in the most compromising demonstrations
of the cause. Canet submitted to it all: he tried to persuade himself
that he thought like Manousse. He knew perfectly well that this was not
the case: such ideas scared him: they were shocking to his common sense.
And he had no love for the people. And, in addition, he had no courage.
This big, bulky, corpulent young man, with his clean-shaven pinkish face,
his short breathing, his pleasant, pompous, and rather childish way of
speaking, with a chest like the Farnese Hercules, (he was a fair hand at
boxing and singlestick), was the most timid of men. If he took a certain
pride in being taken for a man of a subversive temper by his own people,
in his heart of hearts he used to tremble at the boldness of his
friends. No doubt the little thrill they gave him was by no means
disagreeable as long as it was only in fun. But their fun was becoming
dangerous. His fervent friends were growing aggressive, their hardy
pretensions were increasing: they alarmed Canet's fundamental egoism,
his deeply rooted sense of propriety, his middle-class pusillanimity. He
dared not ask: "Where are you taking me to?" But, under his breath, he
fretted and fumed at the recklessness of these young men who seemed to
love nothing so much as breaking their necks, and never to give a
thought as to whether they were not at the same time running a risk of
breaking other people's.--What was it impelled him to follow them? Was
he not free to break with them? He had not the courage. He was afraid of
being left alone, like a child who gets left behind and begins to
whimper. He was like so many men: they have no opinions, except in so
far as they disapprove of all enthusiastic opinion: but if a man is to
be independent he must stand alone, and how many men are there who are
capable of that? How many men are there, even amongst the most clear
sighted, who will dare to break free of the bondage of certain
prejudices, certain postulates which cramp and fetter all the men of the
same generation? That would mean setting up a wall between themselves
and others. On the one hand, freedom in the wilderness, on the other,
mankind. They do not hesitate: they choose mankind, the herd. The herd
is evil smelling, but it gives warmth. Then those who have chosen
pretend to think what they do not in fact think. It is not very
difficult for them: they know so little what they think!... _"Know
thyself!"_... How could they, these men who have hardly a _Me_
to know? In every collective belief, religious or social, very rare are
the men who believe, because very rare are the men who are men. Faith is
an heroic force: its fire has kindled but a very few human torches, and
even these have often flickered. The apostles, the prophets, even Jesus
have doubted. The rest are only reflections,--save at certain hours when
their souls are dry and a few sparks falling from a great torch set
light to all the surface of the plain: then the fire dies down, and
nothing gleams but the glowing embers beneath the ashes. Not more than a
few hundred Christians really believe in Christ. The rest believe that
they believe, or else they only try to believe.

Many of these revolutionaries were like that. Our friend Canet tried
hard to believe that he was a revolutionary: he did believe it. And he
was scared at his own boldness.

All these comfortable people invoked divers principles: some followed
the bidding of their hearts, others that of their reason, others again
only their interests: some associated their way of thinking with the
Gospel, others with M. Bergson, others, again, with Karl Marx, with
Proudhon, with Joseph de Maistre. with Nietzsche, or with M. Sorel.
There were men who were revolutionaries to be in the fashion, some who
were so out of snobbishness, and some from shyness: some from hatred,
others from love: some from a need of active, hot-headed heroism: and
some in sheer slavishness, from the sheeplike quality of their minds.
But all, without knowing it, were at the mercy of the wind. All were no
more than those whirling clouds of dust which are to be seen like smoke
in the far distance on the white roads in the country, clouds of dust
foretelling the coming of the storm.

Olivier and Christophe watched the wind coming. Both of them had strong
eyes. But they used them in different ways. Olivier, whose clear gaze,
in spite of himself, pierced to the very inmost thoughts of men, was
saddened by their mediocrity: but he saw the hidden force that sustained
them: he was most struck by the tragic aspect of things. Christophe was
more sensible of their comic aspect. Men interested him, ideas not at
all. He affected a contemptuous indifference towards them. He laughed at
Socialistic Utopias. In a spirit of contradiction and out of instinctive
reaction against the morbid humanitarianism which was the order of the
day, he appeared to be more selfish than he was: he was a self-made man,
a sturdy upstart, proud of his strength of body and will, and he was a
little too apt to regard all those who had not his force as shirkers. In
poverty and alone he had been able to win through: let others do the
same! Why all this talk of a social question? What question? Poverty?

"I know all about that," he would say. "My father, my mother, I myself,
we have been through it. It's only a matter of getting out of it."

"Not everybody can," Olivier would reply. "What about the sick and the

"One must help them, that's all. But that is a very different thing from
setting them on a pinnacle, as people are doing nowadays. Only a short
while ago people were asserting the odious doctrine of the rights of the
strongest man. Upon my word, I'm inclined to think that the rights of
the weakest are even more detestable: they're sapping the thought of
to-day, the weakest man is tyrannizing over the strong, and exploiting
them. It really looks as though it has become a merit to be diseased,
poor, unintelligent, broken,--and a vice to be strong, upstanding, happy
in righting, and an aristocrat in brains and blood. And what is most
absurd of all is this, that the strong are the first to believe it....
It's a fine subject for a comedy, my dear Olivier!"

"I'd rather have people laugh at me than make other people weep."

"Good boy!" said Christophe. "But, good Lord, who ever said anything to
the contrary? When I see a hunchback, my back aches for him.... We're
playing the comedy, we won't write it."

He did not suffer himself to be bitten by the prevalent dreams of social
justice. His vulgar common sense told him and he believed that what had
been would be.

"But if anybody said that to you about art you'd be up in arms against

"May be. Anyhow, I don't know about anything except art. Nor do you.
I've no faith in people who talk about things without knowing anything
about them."

Olivier's faith in such people was no greater. Both of them were
inclined to push their distrust a little too far: they had always held
aloof from politics. Olivier confessed, not without shame, that he could
not remember ever having used his rights as an elector: for the last ten
years he had not even entered his name at the _mairie_.

"Why," he asked, "should I take part in a comedy which I know to be
futile? Vote? For whom should I vote? I don't see any reason for
choosing between two candidates, both of whom are unknown to me, while I
have only too much reason to expect that, directly the election is over,
they will both be false to all their professions of faith. Keep an eye
on them? Remind them of their duty? It would take up the whole of my
life, with no result. I have neither time, nor strength, nor the
rhetorical weapons, nor sufficient lack of scruple, nor is my heart
steeled against all the disgust that action brings. Much better to keep
clear of it all. I am quite ready to submit to the evil. But at least I
won't subscribe to it."

But, in spite of his excessive clear-sightedness, Olivier, to whom the
ordinary routine of politics was repulsive, yet preserved a chimerical
hope in a revolution. He knew that it was chimerical: but he did not
discard it. It was a sort of racial mysticism in him. Not for nothing
does a man belong to the greatest destructive and constructive people of
the Western world, the people who destroy to construct and construct to
destroy,--the people who play with ideas and life, and are for ever
making a clean sweep so as to make a new and better beginning, and shed
their blood in pledge.

Christophe was endowed with no such hereditary Messianism. He was too
German to relish much the idea of a revolution. He thought that there
was no changing the world. Why all these theories, all these words, all
this futile uproar?

"I have no need," he would say, "to make a revolution--or long speeches
about revolution--in order to prove to my own satisfaction that I am
strong. I have no need, like these young men of yours, to overthrow the
State in order to restore a King or a Committee of Public Safety to
defend me. That's a queer way of proving your strength! I can defend
myself. I am not an anarchist: I love all necessary order and I revere
the laws which govern the universe. But I don't want an intermediary
between them and myself. My will knows how to command, and it knows also
how to submit. You've got the classics on the tip of your tongue. Why
don't you remember your Corneille: _'Myself alone, and that is
enough.'_ Your desire for a master is only a cloak for your weakness.
Force is like the light: only the blind can deny it. Be strong, calmly,
without all your theories, without any act of violence, and then, as
plants turn to the sun, so the souls of the weak will turn to you."

But even while he protested that he had no time to waste on political
discussions, he was much less detached from it all than he wished to
appear. He was suffering, as an artist, from the social unrest. In his
momentary dearth of strong passion he would sometimes pause to look
around and wonder for what people he was writing. Then he would see the
melancholy patrons of contemporary art, the weary creatures of the
upper-classes, the dilettante men and women of the burgess-class, and he
would think:

"What profits it to work for such people as these?" In truth there was
no lack of men of refinement and culture, men sensitive to skill and
craft, men even who were not incapable of appreciating the novelty
or--(it is all the same)--the archaism of fine feeling. But they were
bored, too intellectual, not sufficiently alive to believe in the
reality of art: they were only interested in tricks,--tricks of sound,
or juggling with ideas; most of them were distraught by other worldly
interests, accustomed to scattering their attention over their
multifarious occupations, none of which was "necessary." It was almost
impossible for them to pierce the outer covering of art, to feel its
heart deep down: art was not flesh and blood to them; it was literature.
Their critics built up their impotence to issue from dilettantism into a
theory, an intolerant theory. When it happened that a few here and there
were vibrant enough to respond to the voice of art, they were not strong
enough to bear it, and were left disgruntled and nerve-ridden for life.
They were sick men or dead. What could art do in such a hospital?--And
yet in modern society he was unable to do without these cripples: for
they had money, and they ruled the Press: they only could assure an
artist the means of living. So then he must submit to such humiliation:
an intimate and sorrowful art, music in which is told the secret of the
artist's inmost life, offered up as an amusement--or rather as a
palliative of boredom, or as another sort of boredom--in the theaters or
in fashionable drawing-rooms, to an audience of snobs and worn-out

Christophe was seeking the real public, the public which believes in the
emotions of art as in those of life, and feels them with a virgin soul.
And he was vaguely attracted by the new promised world--the people. The
memories of his childhood, Gottfried and the poor, who had revealed to
him the living depths of art, or had shared with him the sacred bread of
music, made him inclined to believe that his real friends were to be
found among such people. Like many another young man of a generous heart
and simple faith, he cherished great plans for a popular art, concerts,
and a theater for the people, which he would have been hard put to it to
define. He thought that a revolution might make it possible to bring
about a great artistic renascence, and he pretended that he had no other
interest in the social movement. But he was hoodwinking himself: he was
much too alive not to be attracted and drawn onward by the sight of the
most living activity of the time.

In all that he saw he was least of all interested in the middle-class
theorists. The fruit borne by such trees is too often sapless: all the
juices of life are wasted in ideas. Christophe did not distinguish
between one idea and another. He had no preference even for ideas which
were his own when he came upon them congealed in systems. With
good-humored contempt he held aloof from the theorists of force as from
the theorists of weakness. In every comedy the one ungrateful part is
that of the _raisonneur_. The public prefers not only the
sympathetic characters to him, but the unsympathetic characters also.
Christophe was like the public in that. The _raisonneurs_ of the
social question seemed tiresome to him. But he amused himself by
watching the rest, the simple, the men of conviction, those who believed
and those who wanted to believe, those who were tricked and those who
wanted to be tricked, not to mention the buccaneers who plied their
predatory trade, and the sheep who were made to be fleeced. His sympathy
was indulgent towards the pathetically absurd little people like fat
Canet. Their mediocrity was not offensive to him as it was to Olivier.
He watched them all with affectionate and mocking interest: he believed
that he was outside the piece they were playing: and he did not see that
little by little he was being drawn into it. He thought only of being a
spectator watching the wind rush by. But already the wind had caught
him, and was dragging him along into its whirling cloud of dust.

* * * * *

The social drama was twofold. The piece played by the intellectuals was
a comedy within a comedy; the people hardly heeded it. The real drama
was that of the people. It was not easy to follow it: the people
themselves did not always know where they were in it. It was all
unexpected, unforeseen.

It was not only that there was much more talk in it than action. Every
Frenchman, be he burgess or of the people, is as great an eater of speeches
as he is of bread. But all men do not eat the same sort of
bread. There is the speech of luxury for delicate palates, and the more
nourishing sort of speech for hungry gullets. If the words are the same,
they are not kneaded into the same shape: taste, smell, meaning, all are

The first time Olivier attended a popular meeting and tasted of the fare
he lost his appetite: his gorge rose at it, and he could not swallow. He
was disgusted by the platitudinous quality of thought, the drab and
uncouth clumsiness of expression, the vague generalizations, the
childish logic, the ill-mixed mayonnaise of abstractions and
disconnected facts. The impropriety and looseness of the language were
not compensated by the raciness and vigor of the vulgar tongue. The
whole thing was compounded of a newspaper vocabulary, stale tags picked
up from the reach-me-downs of middle-class rhetoric. Olivier was
particularly amazed at the lack of simplicity. He forgot that literary
simplicity is not natural, but acquired: it is a thing achieved by the
people of the elect. Dwellers in towns cannot be simple: they are rather
always on the lookout for far-fetched expressions.

Olivier did not understand the effect such turgid phrases might have on
their audience. He had not the key to their meaning. We call foreign the
languages of other races, and it never occurs to us that there are
almost as many languages in our nation as there are social grades. It is
only for a limited few that words retain their traditional and age-old
meaning: for the rest they represent nothing more than their own
experience and that of the group to which they belong. Many of such
words, which are dead for the select few and despised by them, are like
an empty house, wherein, as soon as the few are gone, new energy and
quivering passion take up their abode. If you wish to know the master of
the house, go into it.

That Christophe did.

* * * * *

He had been brought into touch with the working-classes by a neighbor of
his who was employed on the State Railways. He was a little man of
forty-five, prematurely old, with a pathetically bald head, deep-sunken
eyes, hollow cheeks, a prominent nose, fleshy and aquiline, a clever
mouth, and malformed ears with twisted lobes: the marks of degeneracy.
His name was Alcide Gautier. He was not of the people, but of the lower

He came of a good family who had spent all they had on the education of
their only son, but, for want of means, had been unable to let him go
through with it. As a very young man he had obtained one of those
Government posts which seem to the lower middle-class a very heaven, and
are in reality death,--living death.--Once he had gone into it, it had
been impossible for him to escape. He had committed the offense--(for it
is an offense in modern society)--of marrying for love a pretty
workgirl, whose innate vulgarity had only increased with time. She gave
him three children and he had to earn a living for them. This man, who
was intelligent and longed with all his might to finish his education,
was cramped and fettered by poverty. He was conscious of latent powers
in himself which were stifled by the difficulties of his existence: he
could not take any decisive step. He was never alone. He was a
bookkeeping clerk and had to spend his days over purely mechanical work
in a room which he had to share with several of his colleagues who were
vulgar chattering creatures: they were for ever talking of idiotic
things and avenged themselves for the absurdity of their existence by
slandering their chiefs and making fun of him and his intellectual point
of view which he had not been prudent enough to conceal from them. When
he returned home it was to find an evil-smelling charmless room, a noisy
common wife who did not understand him and regarded him as a humbug or a
fool. His children did not take after him in anything: they took after
their mother. Was it just that it should be so? Was it just? Nothing but
disappointment and suffering and perpetual poverty, and work that took
up his whole day from morning to night, and never the possibility of
snatching an hour for recreation, an hour's silence, all this had
brought him to a state of exhaustion and nervous
irritability.--Christophe, who had pursued his acquaintance with him,
was struck by the tragedy of his lot: an incomplete nature, lacking
sufficient culture and artistic taste, yet made for great things and
crushed by misfortune. Gautier clung to Christophe as a weak man
drowning grasps at the arm of a strong swimmer. He felt a mixture of
sympathy and envy for Christophe. He took him to popular meetings, and
showed him some of the leaders of the syndicalist party to which he
belonged for no other reason than his bitterness against society. For he
was an aristocrat gone wrong. It hurt him terribly to mix with the

Christophe was much more democratic than he--the more so as nothing
forced him to be so--and enjoyed the meetings. The speeches amused him.
He did not share Olivier's feeling of repulsion: he was hardly at all
sensible of the absurdities of the language. In his eyes a windbag was
as good as any other man. He affected a sort of contempt for eloquence
in general. But though he took no particular pains to understand their
rhetoric, he did feel the music which came through the man who was
speaking and the men who were listening. The power of the speaker was
raised to the hundredth degree by the echo thrown back from hie hearers.
At first Christophe only took stock of the speakers, and he was
interested enough to make the acquaintance of some of them.

The man who had the most influence on the crowd was Casimir Joussier,--a
little, pale, dark man, between thirty and thirty-five, with a Mongolian
cast of countenance, thin, puny, with cold burning eyes, scant hair, and
a pointed beard. His power lay not so much in his gesture, which was
poor, stilted, and rarely in harmony with the, words,--not so much in
his speech, which was raucous and sibilant, with marked pauses for
breathing,--as in his personality and the emphatic assurance and force
of will which emanated from it. He never seemed to admit the possibility
of any one thinking differently from himself: and as what he thought was
what his audience wanted to think they had no difficulty in
understanding one another. He would go on saying thrice, four times, ten
times, the things they expected him to say: he never stopped hammering
the same nail with a tenacious fury: and his audience, following his
example, would hammer, hammer, hammer, until the nail was buried deep in
the flesh.--Added to this personal ascendancy was the confidence
inspired by his past life, the _prestige_ of many terms in prison,
largely deserved by his violent writings. He breathed out an indomitable
energy: but for the seeing eye there was revealed beneath it all an
accumulated fund of weariness, disgust with so much continual effort,
anger against fate. He was one of those men who every day spend more
than their income of vitality. From his childhood on he had been ground
down by work and poverty. He had plied all sorts of trades: journeyman
glass-blower, plumber, printer: his health was ruined: he was a prey to
consumption, which plunged him into fits of bitter discouragement and
dumb despair of the cause and of himself: at other times it would raise
him up to a pitch of excitement. He was a mixture of calculated and
morbid violence, of policy and recklessness. He was educated up to a
certain point: he had a good knowledge of many things, science,
sociology, and his various trades: he had a very poor knowledge of many
others: and he was just as cocksure with both: he had Utopian notions,
just ideas, ignorance in many directions, a practical mind, many
prejudices, experience, and suspicion and hatred of burgess society.
That did not prevent his welcoming Christophe. His pride was tickled by
being sought out by a well-known artist. He was of the race of leaders,
and, whatever he did, he was brusque with ordinary workmen. Although in
all good faith he desired perfect equality, he found it easier to
realize with those above than with those beneath him.

Christophe came across other leaders of the working-class movement.
There was no great sympathy between them. If the common fight--with
difficulty--produced unity of action, it was very far from creating
unity of feeling. It was easy to see the external and purely transitory
reality to which the distinction between the classes corresponded. The
old antagonisms were only postponed and marked: but they continued to
exist. In the movement were to be found men of the north and men of the
south with their fundamental scorn of each other. The trades were
jealous of each other's wages, and watched each other with an
undisguised feeling of superiority to all others in each. But the great
difference lay--and always will lie--in temperament. Foxes and wolves
and horned beasts, beasts with sharp teeth, and beasts with four
stomachs, beasts that are made to eat, and beasts that are made to be
eaten, all sniffed at each other as they passed in the herd that had been
drawn together by the accident of class and common interest: and
they recognized each other: and they bristled.

Christophe sometimes had his meals at a little creamery and restaurant
kept by a former colleague of Gautier's, one Simon, a railway clerk who
had been dismissed for taking part in a strike. The shop was frequented
by syndicalists. There were five or six of them who used to sit in a
room at the back, looking on to an inclosed courtyard, narrow and
ill-lit, from which there arose the never-ceasing desperate song of two
caged canaries straining after the light. Joussier used to come with
his mistress, the fair Berthe, a large coquettish young woman, with a pale
face, and a purple cap, and merry, wandering eyes. She had under her
thumb a good-looking boy, Leopold Graillot, a journeyman mechanic, who
was clever and rather a _poseur_: he was the esthete of the
company. Although he called himself an anarchist, and was one of the
most violent opponents of the burgess-class, his soul was typical of
that class at its very worst. Every morning for years he had drunk in
the erotic and decadent news of the halfpenny literary papers. His
reading had given him a strongly addled brain. His mental subtlety in
imagining the pleasures of the senses was allied in him with an absolute
lack of physical delicacy, indifference to cleanliness, and the
comparative coarseness of his life. He had acquired a taste for an
occasional glass of such adulterated wine--the intellectual alcohol of
luxury, the unwholesome stimulants of unhealthy rich men. Being unable
to take these pleasures in the flesh, he inoculated his brain with them.
That means a bad tongue in the morning and weakness in the knees. But it
puts you on an equality with the rich. And you hate them.

Christophe could not bear him. He was more in sympathy with Sebastien
Coquard, an electrician, who, with Joussier, was the speaker with the
greatest following. He did not overburden himself with theories. He did
not always know where he was going. But he did go straight ahead. He was
very French. He was heavily built, about forty, with a big red face, a
round head, red hair, a flowing beard, a bull neck, and a bellowing
voice. Like Joussier, he was an excellent workman, but he loved drinking
and laughter. The sickly Joussier regarded his superabundant health with
the eyes of envy: and, though they were friends, there was always a
simmering secret hostility between them.

Amelie, the manageress of the creamery, a kind creature of forty-five,
who must have been pretty once, and still was, in spite of the wear of
time, used to sit with them, with some sewing in her hands, listening to
their talk with a jolly smile, moving her lips in time to their words:
every now and then she would drop a remark into the discussion, and she
would emphasize her words with a nod of her head as she worked. She had
a married daughter and two children of seven and ten--a little girl and
a boy--who used to do their home lessons at the corner of a sticky
table, putting out their tongues, and picking up scraps of conversations
which were not meant for their ears.

On more than one occasion Olivier tried to go with Christophe. But he
could not feel at ease with these people. When these working-men were
not tied down by strict factory hours or the insistent scream of a
hooter, they seemed to have an incredible amount of time to waste,
either after work, or between jobs, in loafing or idleness. Christophe,
being in one of those periods when the mind has completed one piece of
work and is waiting until a new piece of work presents itself, was in no
greater hurry than they were: and he liked sitting there with his elbows
on the table, smoking, drinking, and talking. But Olivier's respectable
burgess instincts were shocked, and so were his traditional habits of
mental discipline, and regular work, and scrupulous economy of time: and
he did not relish such a waste of so many precious hours. Besides that,
he was not good at talking or drinking. Above all there was his physical
distaste for it all, the secret antipathy which raises a physical
barrier between the different types of men, the hostility of the senses,
which stands in the way of the communion of their souls, the revolt of
the flesh against the heart. When Olivier was alone with Christophe he
would talk most feelingly about the duty of fraternizing with the
people: but when he found himself face to face with the people, he was
impotent to do anything, in spite of his good will. Christophe, on the
other hand, who laughed at his ideas, could, without the least effort,
meet any workman he chanced to come across in brotherhood. It really
hurt Olivier to find himself so cut off from these men. He tried to be
like them, to think like them, to speak like them. He could not do it.
His voice was dull, husky, had not the ring that was in theirs. When he
tried to catch some of their expressions the words would stick in his
throat or sound queer and strange. He watched himself; he was
embarrassed, and embarrassed them. He knew it. He knew that to them he
was a stranger and suspect, that none of them was in sympathy with him,
and then, when he was gone, everybody would sigh with relief: "Ouf!" As
he passed among them he would notice hard, icy glances, such hostile
glances as the working-classes, embittered by poverty, cast at any
comfortable burgess. Perhaps Christophe came in for some of it too: but
he never noticed it.

Of all the people in that place the only ones who showed any inclination
to be friendly with Olivier were Amelie's children. They were much more
attracted by their superior in station than disposed to hate him. The
little boy was fascinated by the burgess mode of thought: he was clever
enough to love it, though not clever enough to understand it: the little
girl, who was very pretty, had once been taken by Olivier to see Madame
Arnaud, and she was hypnotized by the comfort and ease of it all: she
was silently delighted to sit in the fine armchairs, and to feel the
beautiful clothes, and to be with lovely ladies: like the little
simpleton she was, she longed to escape from the people and soar upwards
to the paradise of riches and solid comfort. Olivier had no desire or
taste for the cultivation of these inclinations in her: and the simple
homage she paid to his class by no means consoled him for the silent
antipathy of her companions. Their ill-disposition towards him pained
him. He had such a burning desire to understand them! And in truth he
did understand them, too well, perhaps: he watched them too closely, and
he irritated them. It was not that he was indiscreet in his curiosity,
but that he brought to bear on it his habit of analyzing the souls of
men and his need of love.

It was not long before he perceived the secret drama of Joussier's life:
the disease which was undermining his constitution, and the cruelty of
his mistress. She loved him, she was proud of him: but she had too much
vitality: he knew that she was slipping away from him, would slip away
from him: and he was aflame with jealousy. She found his jealousy
diverting: she was for ever exciting the men about her, bombarding them
with her eyes, flinging around them her sensual provocative atmosphere:
she loved to play with him like a cat. Perhaps she deceived him with
Graillot. Perhaps it pleased her to let him think so. In any case if she
were not actually doing so, she very probably would. Joussier dared not
forbid her to love whomsoever she pleased: did he not profess the woman's
right to liberty equally with the man's? She reminded him of
that slyly and insolently one day when he was upbraiding her. He was
delivered up to a terrible struggle within himself between his theories
of liberty and his violent instincts. At heart he was still a man like
the men of old, despotic and jealous: by reason he was a man of the
future, a Utopian. She was neither more nor less than the woman of
yesterday, to-morrow, and all time.--And Olivier, looking on at their
secret duel, the savagery of which was known to him by his own
experience, was full of pity for Joussier when he realized his weakness.
But Joussier guessed that Olivier was reading him: and he was very far
from liking him for it.

There was another interested witness, an indulgent spectator of this
game of love and hate. This was the manageress, Amelie. She saw
everything without seeming to do so. She knew life. She was an honest,
healthy, tranquil, easy-going woman, and in her youth had been free
enough. She had been in a florist's shop: she had had a lover of the
class above her own: she had had other lovers. Then she had married a
working-man. She had become a good wife and mother. But she understood
everything, all the foolish ways of the heart, Joussier's jealousy, as
well as the young woman's desire for amusement. She tried to help them
to understand each other with a few affectionate words:

"You must make allowances: it is not worth while creating bad blood
between you for such a trifle...."

She was not at all surprised when her words produced no result....

"That's the way of the world. We must always be torturing ourselves...."

She had that splendid carelessness of the people, from which misfortune
of every sort seems harmlessly to glide. She had had her share of
unhappiness. Three months ago she had lost a boy of fifteen whom she
dearly loved: it had been a great grief to her: but now she was once
more busy and laughing. She used to say:

"If one were to think of these things one could not live."

So she ceased to think of it. It was not selfishness. She could not do
otherwise: her vitality was too strong: she was absorbed by the present:
it was impossible for her to linger over the past. She adapted herself
to things as they were, and would adapt herself to whatever happened. If
the revolution were to come and turn everything topsy-turvy she would
soon manage to be standing firmly on her feet, and do everything that
was there to do; she would be in her place wherever she might be set
down. At heart she had only a modified belief in the revolution. She had
hardly any real faith in anything whatever. It is hardly necessary to
add that she used to consult the cards in her moments of perplexity, and
that she never failed to make the sign of the cross when she met a
funeral. She was very open-minded and very tolerant, and she had the
skepticism of the people of Paris, that healthy skepticism which doubts,
as a man breathes, joyously. Though she was the wife of a revolutionary,
nevertheless she took up a motherly and ironical attitude towards her
husband's ideas and those of his party--and those of the other
parties,--the sort of attitude she had towards the follies of youth--and
of maturity. She was never much moved by anything. But she was
interested in everything. And she was equally prepared for good and bad
luck. In fine, she was an optimist.

"It's no good getting angry.... Everything settles itself so long as
your health is good...."

That was clearly to Christophe's way of thinking. They did not need much
conversation to discover that they belonged to the same family. Every
now and then they would exchange a good-humored smile, while the others
were haranguing and shouting. But, more often, she would laugh to
herself as she looked at Christophe, and saw him being caught up by the
argument to which he would at once bring more passion than all the rest
put together.

* * * * *

Christophe did not observe Olivier's isolation and embarrassment. He
made no attempt to probe down to the inner workings of his companions.
But he used to eat and drink with them, and laugh and lose his temper.
They were never distrustful of him, although they used to argue heatedly
enough. He did not mince his words with them. At bottom he would have
found it very hard to say whether he was with or against them. He never
stopped to think about it. No doubt if the choice had been forced upon
him he would have been a syndicalist as against Socialism and all the
doctrines of the State--that monstrous entity, that factory of
officials, human machines. His reason approved of the mighty effort of
the cooperative groups, the two-edged ax of which strikes at the same
time at the dead abstractions of the socialistic State, and at the
sterility of individualism, that corrosion of energy, that dispersion of
collective force in individual frailties,--the great source of modern
wretchedness for which the French Revolution is in part responsible.

But Nature is stronger than reason. When Christophe came in touch with
the syndicates--those formidable coalitions of the weak--his vigorous
individuality drew back. He could not help despising those men who
needed to be linked together before they could march on--to the fight;
and if he admitted that it was right for them to submit to such a law,
he declared that such a law was not for him. Besides, if the weak and
the oppressed are sympathetic, they cease altogether to be so when they
in their turn become oppressors. Christophe, who had only recently been
shouting out to the honest men living in isolation: "Unite! Unite!" had
a most unpleasant sensation when for the first time he found himself in
the midst of such unions of honest men, all mixed up with other men who
were less honest, and yet were endowed with their force, their rights,
and only too ready to abuse them. The best people, those whom Christophe
loved, the friends whom he had met in The House, on every floor, drew no
sort of profit from these fighting combinations. They were too sensitive
at heart and too timid not to be scared: they were fated to be the first
to be crushed out of existence by them. Face to face with the
working-class movement they were in the same position as Olivier and the
most warmly generous of the young men of the middle-class. Their
sympathies were with the workers organizing themselves. But they had
been brought up in the cult of liberty: now liberty was exactly what the
revolutionaries cared for least of all. Besides, who is there nowadays
that cares for liberty? A select few who have no sort of influence over
the world. Liberty is passing through dark days. The Popes of Rome
proscribe the light of reason. The Popes of Paris put out the light of
the heavens. And M. Pataud puts out the lights of the streets.
Everywhere imperialism is triumphant: the theocratic imperialism of the
Church of Rome: the military imperialism of the mercantile and mystic
monarchies: the bureaucratic imperialism of the republics of Freemasonry
and covetousness: the dictatorial imperialism of the revolutionary
committees. Poor liberty, thou art not in this world!... The abuse of
power preached and practised by the revolutionaries revolted Christophe
and Olivier. They had little regard for the blacklegs who refuse to
suffer for the common cause. But it seemed abominable to them that the
others should claim the right to use force against them.--And yet it is
necessary to take sides. Nowadays the choice in fact lies not between
imperialism and liberty, but between one imperialism and another.
Olivier said:

"Neither. I am for the oppressed."

Christophe hated the tyranny of the oppressors no less. But he was
dragged into the wake of force in the track of the army of the
working-classes in revolt.

He was hardly aware that it was so. He would tell his companions in the
restaurant that he was not with them.

"As long as you are only out for material interests," he would say, "you
don't interest me. The day when you march out for a belief then I shall
be with you. Otherwise, what have I to do with the conflict between one
man's belly and another's? I am an artist; it is my duty to defend art;
I have no right to enroll myself in the service of a party. I am
perfectly aware that recently certain ambitious writers, impelled by a
desire for an unwholesome popularity, have set a bad example. It seems
to me that they have not rendered any great service to the cause which
they defended in that way: but they have certainly betrayed art. It is
our, the artists', business to save the light of the intellect. We have
no right to obscure it with your blind struggles. Who shall hold the
light aloft if we let it fall? You will be glad enough to find it still
intact after the battle. There must always be workers busy keeping up
the fire in the engine, while there is fighting on the deck of the ship.
To understand everything is to hate nothing. The artist is the compass
which, through the raging of the storm, points steadily to the north."

They regarded him as a maker of phrases, and said that, if he were
talking of compasses, it was very clear that he had lost his: and they
gave themselves the pleasure of indulging in a little friendly contempt
at his expense. In their eyes an artist was a shirker who contrived to
work as little and as agreeably as possible.

He replied that he worked as hard as they did, harder even, and that he
was not nearly so afraid of work. Nothing disgusted him so much as
_sabotage_, the deliberate bungling of work, and skulking raised to
the level of a principle.

"All these wretched people," he would say, "afraid for their own
skins!... Good Lord! I've never stopped working since I was eight. You
people don't love your work; at heart you're just common men.... If only
you were capable of destroying the Old World! But you can't do it. You
don't even want to. No, you don't even want to. It is all very well for
you to go about shrieking menace and pretending you're going to
exterminate the human race. You have only one thought: to get the upper
hand and lie snugly in the warm beds of the middle-classes. Except for a
few hundred poor devils, navvies, who are always ready to break their
bones or other people's bones for no particular reason,--just for
fun--or for the pain, the age-old pain with which they are simply
bursting, the whole lot of you think of nothing but deserting the camp
and going over to the ranks of the middle-classes on the first
opportunity. You become Socialists, journalists, lecturers, men of
letters, deputies, Ministers.... Bah! Bah! Don't you go howling about
so-and-so! You're no better. You say he is a traitor?... Good. Whose
turn next? You'll all come to it. There is not one of you who can resist
the bait. How could you? There is not one of you who believes in the
immortality of the soul. You are just so many bellies, I tell you. Empty
bellies thinking of nothing but being filled."

Thereupon they would all lose their tempers and all talk at once. And in
the heat of the argument it would often happen that Christophe, whirled
away by his passion, would become more revolutionary than the others. In
vain did he fight against it: his intellectual pride, his complacent
conception of a purely esthetic world, made for the joy of the spirit,
would sink deep into the ground at the sight of injustice. Esthetic, a
world in which eight men out of ten live in nakedness and want, in
physical and moral wretchedness? Oh! come! A man must be an impudent
creature of privilege who would dare to claim as much. An artist like
Christophe, in his inmost conscience, could not but be on the side of
the working-classes. What man more than the spiritual worker has to
suffer from the immorality of social conditions, from the scandalously
unequal partition of wealth among men? The artist dies of hunger or
becomes a millionaire for no other reason than the caprice of fashion
and of those who speculate on fashion. A society which suffers its best
men to die or gives them extravagant rewards is a monstrous society: it
must be swept and put in order. Every man, whether he works or no, has a
right to a living minimum.

Every kind of work, good or mediocre, should be rewarded, not according
to its real value--(who can be the infallible judge of that?)--but
according to the normal legitimate needs of the worker. Society can and
should assure the artist, the scientist, and the inventor an income
sufficient to guarantee that they have the means and the time yet
further to grace and honor it. Nothing more. The _Gioconda_ is not
worth a million. There is no relation between a sum of money and a work
of art: a work of art is neither above nor below money: it is outside
it. It is not a question of payment: it is a question of allowing the
artist to live. Give him enough to feed him, and allow him to work in
peace. It is absurd and horrible to try to make him a robber of
another's property. This thing must be put bluntly: every man who has
more than is necessary for his livelihood and that of his family, and
for the normal development of his intelligence, is a thief and a robber.
If he has too much, it means that others have too little. How often have
we smiled sadly to hear tell of the inexhaustible wealth of France, and
the number of great fortunes, we workers, and toilers, and
intellectuals, and men and women who from our very birth have been given
up to the wearying task of keeping ourselves from dying of hunger, often
struggling in vain, often seeing the very best of us succumbing to the
pain of it all,--we who are the moral and intellectual treasure of the
nation! You who have more than your share of the wealth of the world are
rich at the cost of our suffering and our poverty. That troubles you not
at all: you have sophistries and to spare to reassure you: the sacred
rights of property, the fair struggle for life, the supreme interests of
that Moloch, the State and Progress, that fabulous monster, that
problematical Better to which men sacrifice the Good,--the Good of other
men.--But for all that, the fact remains, and all your sophistries will
never manage to deny it: "You have too much to live on. We have not
enough. And we are as good as you. And some of us are better than the
whole lot of you put together."

* * * * *

So Christophe was affected by the intoxication of the passions with
which he was surrounded. Then he was astonished at his own bursts of
eloquence. But he did not attach any importance to them. He was amused
by such easily roused excitement, which he attributed to the bottle. His
only regret was that the wine was not better, and he would belaud the
wines of the Rhine. He still thought that he was detached from
revolutionary ideas. But there arose the singular phenomenon that
Christophe brought into the discussion, if not the upholding of them, a
steadily increasing passion, while that of his companions seemed in
comparison to diminish.

As a matter of fact, they had fewer illusions than he. Even the most
violent leaders, the men who were most feared by the middle-classes,
were at heart uncertain and horribly middle-class. Coquard, with his
laugh like a stallion's neigh, shouted at the top of his voice and made
terrifying gestures: but he only half believed what he was saying: it
was all for the pleasure of talking, giving orders, being active: he was
a braggart of violence. He knew the cowardice of the middle-classes
through and through, and he loved terrorizing them by showing that he
was stronger than they: he was quite ready to admit as much to
Christophe, and to laugh over it. Graillot criticized everything, and
everything anybody tried to do: he made every plan come to nothing.
Joussier was for ever affirming, for he was unwilling ever to be in the
wrong. He would be perfectly aware of the inherent weakness of his line
of argument, but that would make him only the more obstinate in sticking
to it: he would have sacrificed the victory of his cause to his pride of
principle. But he would rush from extremes of bullet-headed faith to
extremes of ironical pessimism, when he would bitterly condemn the lie
of all systems of ideas and the futility of all efforts.

The majority of the working-classes were just the same. They would
suddenly relapse from the intoxication of words into the depths of
discouragement. They had immense illusions: but they were based upon
nothing: they had not won them in pain or forged them for themselves:
they had received them ready-made, by that law of the smallest effort
which led them for their amusements to the slaughter-house and the
blatant show. They suffered from an incurable indolence of mind for
which there were only too many excuses: they were like weary beasts
asking only to be suffered to lie down and in peace to ruminate over
their end and their dreams. But once they had slept off their dreams
there was nothing left but an even greater weariness and the doleful
dumps. They were for ever flaring up to a new leader: and very soon they
became suspicious of him and spurned him. The sad part of it all was
that they were never wrong: one after another their leaders were dazzled
by the bait of wealth, success, or vanity: for one Joussier, who was
kept from temptation by the consumption under which he was wasting away,
a brave crumbling to death, how many leaders were there who betrayed the
people or grew weary of the fight! They were victims of the secret sore
which was devouring the politicians of every party in those days:
demoralization through women and money, women and money,--(the two
scourges are one and the same).--In the Government as in the ministry
there were men of first-rate talent, men who had in them the stuff of
which great statesmen are made--(they, might have been great statesmen
in the days of Richelieu, perhaps);--but they lacked faith and
character: the need, the habit, the weariness of pleasure, had sapped
them: when they were engaged upon vast schemes they fumbled into
incoherent action, or they would suddenly fling up the whole thing,
while important business was in progress, desert their country or their
cause for rest and pleasure. They were brave enough to meet death in
battle: but very few of the leaders were capable of dying in harness, at
their posts, never budging, with their hands upon the rudder and their
eyes unswervingly fixed upon the invisible goal.

The revolution was hamstrung by the consciousness of the fundamental
weakness. The leaders of the working-classes spent part of their time in
blaming each other. Their strikes always failed as a result of the
perpetual dissensions between the leaders and the trades-unions, between
the reformers and the revolutionaries--and of the profound timidity
that underlay their blustering threats--and of the inherited
sheepishness that made the rebels creep once more beneath the yoke upon
the first legal sentence,--and of the cowardly egoism and the baseness
of those who profited by the revolt of others to creep a little nearer
the masters, to curry favor and win a rich reward for their
disinterested devotion. Not to speak of the disorder inherent in all
crowds, the anarchy of the people. They tried hard to create corporate
strikes which should assume a revolutionary character: but they were not
willing to be treated as revolutionaries. They had no liking for
bayonets. They fancied that it was possible to make an omelette without
eggs. In any case, they preferred the eggs to be broken by other people.

Olivier watched, observed, and was not surprised. From the very outset
he had recognized the great inferiority of these men to the work which
they were supposed to be accomplishing: but he had also recognized the
inevitable force that swept them on: and he saw that Christophe, unknown
to himself, was being carried on by the stream. But the current would
have nothing to do with himself, who would have asked nothing better
than to let himself be carried away.

It was a strong current: it was sweeping along an enormous mass of
passions, interest, and faith, all jostling, pushing, merging into each
other, boiling and frothing and eddying this way and that. The leaders
were in the van; they were the least free of all, for they were pushed
forward, and perhaps they had the least faith of all: there had been a
time when they believed: they were like the priests against whom they
had so loudly railed, imprisoned by their vows, by the faith they once
had had, and were forced to profess to the bitter end. Behind them the
common herd was brutal, vacillating, and short-sighted. The great
majority had a sort of random faith, because the current had now set in
the direction of Utopia: but a little while, and they would cease to
believe because the current had changed. Many believed from a need of
action, a desire for adventure, from romantic folly. Others believed
from a sort of impertinent logic, which was stripped of all common
sense. Some believed from goodness of heart. The self-seeking only made
use of ideas as weapons for the fight: their eye was for the main
chance: they were fighting for a definite sum as wages for a definite
number of hours' work. The worst of all were nursing a secret hope of
wreaking a brutal revenge for the wretched lives they had led.

But the current which bore them all along was wiser than they: it knew
where it was going. What did it matter that at any moment it might dash
up against the dyke of the Old World! Olivier foresaw that a social
revolution in these days would be squashed. But he knew also that
revolution would achieve its end through defeat as well as through
victory: for the oppressors only accede to the demands of the oppressed
when the oppressed inspire them with fear. And so the violence of the
revolutionaries was of no less service to their cause than the justice
of that cause. Both violence and justice were part and parcel of the
plan of that blind and certain force which moves the herd of human

_"For consider what you are, you whom the Master has summoned. If the
body be considered there are not many among you who are wise, or strong,
or noble. But He has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound
the wise; and He has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the
strong: and He has chosen the vile things of the world and the despised
things, and the things that are not, to the destruction of those things
that are...."_

And yet, whatever may be the Master who orders all things,--(Reason or
Unreason),--and although the social organization prepared by syndicalism
might constitute a certain comparative stage in progress for the future,
Olivier did not think it worth while for Christophe and himself to
scatter the whole of their power of illusion and sacrifice in this
earthy combat which would open no new world. His mystic hopes of the
revolution were dashed to the ground. The people seemed to him no better
and hardly any more sincere than the other classes: there was not enough
difference between them and others. In the midst of the torrent of
interests and muddy passions, Olivier's gaze and heart were attracted by
the little islands of independent spirits, the little groups of true
believers who emerged here and there like flowers on the face of the
waters. In vain do the elect seek to mingle with the mob: the elect
always come together,--the elect of all classes and all parties,--the
bearers of the fire of the world. And it is their sacred duty to see to
it that the fire in their hands shall never die down.

Olivier had already made his choice.

A few houses away from that in which he lived was a cobbler's booth,
standing a little below the level of the street,--a few planks nailed
together, with dirty windows and panes of paper. It was entered by three
steps down, and you had to stoop to stand up in it. There was just room
for a shelf of old shoes, and two stools. All day long, in accordance
with the classic tradition of cobbling, the master of the place could be
heard singing. He used to whistle, drum on the soles of the boots, and
in a husky voice roar out coarse ditties and revolutionary songs, or
chaff the women of the neighborhood as they passed by. A magpie with a
broken wing, which was always hopping about on the pavement, used to
come from a porter's lodge and pay him a visit. It would stand on the
first step at the entrance to the booth and look at the cobbler. He
would stop for a moment to crack a dirty joke with the bird in a piping
voice, or he would insist on whistling the _Internationale_. The
bird would stand with its beak in the air, listening gravely: every now
and then it would bob with its beak down by way of salutation, and it
would awkwardly flap its wings in order to regain its balance: then it
would suddenly turn round, leaving the cobbler in the middle of a
sentence, and fly away with its wing and a bit on to the back of a
bench, from whence it would hurl defiance at the dogs of the quarter.
Then the cobbler would return to his leather, and the flight of his
auditor would by no means restrain him from going through with his

He was fifty-six, with a jovial wayward manner, little merry eyes under
enormous eyebrows, with a bald top to his head rising like an egg out of
the nest of his hair, hairy ears, a black gap-toothed mouth that gaped
like a well when he roared with laughter, a very thick dirty beard, at
which he used to pluck in handfuls with his long nails that were always
filthy with wax. He was known in the district as Daddy Feuillet, or
Feuillette, or Daddy la Feuillette--and to tease him they used to call
him La Fayette: for politically the old fellow was one of the reds: as a
young man he had been mixed up in the Commune, sentenced to death, and
finally deported: he was proud of his memories, and was always
rancorously inclined to lump together Badinguet, Galliffet, and
Foutriquet. He was a regular attendant at the revolutionary meetings,
and an ardent admirer of Coquard and the vengeful idea that he was
always prophesying with much beard-wagging and a voice of thunder. He
never missed one of his speeches, drank in his words, laughed at his
jokes with head thrown back and gaping mouth, foamed at his invective,
and rejoiced in the fight and the promised paradise. Next day, in his
booth, he would read over the newspaper report of the speeches: he would
read them aloud to himself and his apprentice: and to taste their full
sweetness he would have them read aloud to him, and used to box his
apprentice's ears if he skipped a line. As a consequence he was not
always very punctual in the delivery of his work when he had promised
it: on the other hand, his work was always sound: it might wear out the
user's feet, but there was no wearing out his leather....

The old fellow had in his shop a grandson of thirteen, a hunchback, a
sickly, rickety boy, who used to run his errands, and was a sort of
apprentice. The boy's mother had left her family when she was seventeen
to elope with a worthless fellow who had sunk into hooliganism, and

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