JEAN-CHRISTOPHE JOURNEY'S END
LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP THE BURNING BUSH THE NEW DAWN
BY ROMAIN ROLLAND
Translated by GILBERT CANNAN
WITH PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR
LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP
THE BURNING BUSH
THE NEW DAWN
LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP
In spite of the success which was beginning to materialize outside France, the two friends found their financial position very slow in mending. Every now and then there recurred moments of penury when they were obliged to go without food. They made up for it by eating twice as much as they needed when they had money. But, on the whole, it was a trying existence.
For the time being they were in the period of the lean kine. Christophe had stayed up half the night to finish a dull piece of musical transcription for Hecht: he did not get to bed until dawn, and slept like a log to make up for lost time. Olivier had gone out early: he had a lecture to give at the other end of Paris. About eight o'clock the porter came with the letters, and rang the bell. As a rule he did not wait for them to come, but just slipped the letters under the door. This morning he went on knocking. Only half awake, Christophe went to the door growling: he paid no attention to what the smiling, loquacious porter was saying about an article in the paper, but just took the letters without looking at them, pushed the door to without closing it, went to bed, and was soon fast asleep once more.
An hour later he woke up with a start on hearing some one in his room: and he was amazed to see a strange face at the foot of his bed, a complete stranger bowing gravely to him. It was a journalist, who, finding the door open, had entered without ceremony. Christophe was furious, and jumped out of bed:
"What the devil are you doing here?" he shouted.
He grabbed his pillow to hurl it at the intruder, who skipped back. He explained himself. A reporter of the Nation wished to interview M. Krafft about the article which had appeared in the Grand Journal.
"Haven't you read it?"
The reporter began to tell him what it was about.
Christophe went to bed again. If he had not been so sleepy he would have kicked the fellow out: but it was less trouble to let him talk. He curled himself up in the bed, closed his eyes, and pretended to be asleep. And very soon he would really have been off, but the reporter stuck to his guns, and in a loud voice read the beginning of the article. At the very first words Christophe pricked up his ears. M. Krafft was referred to as the greatest musical genius of the age. Christophe forgot that he was pretending to be asleep, swore in astonishment, sat up in bed, and said:
"They are mad! Who has been pulling their legs?"
The reporter seized the opportunity, and stopped reading to ply Christophe with a series of questions, which he answered unthinkingly. He had picked up the paper, and was gazing in utter amazement at his own portrait, which was printed as large as life on the front page: but he had no time to read the article, for another journalist entered the room. This time Christophe was really angry. He told them to get out: but they did not comply until they had made hurried notes of the furniture in the room, and the photographs on the wall, and the features of the strange being who, between laughter and anger, thrust them out of the room, and, in his nightgown, took them to the door and bolted it after them.
But it was ordained that he should not be left in peace that day. He had not finished dressing when there came another knock at the door, a prearranged knock which was only known to a few of their friends. Christophe opened the door, and found himself face to face with yet another stranger, whom he was just about to dismiss in a summary fashion, when the man protested that he was the author of the article.... How are you to get rid of a man who regards you as a genius! Christophe had grumpily to submit to his admirer's effusions. He was amazed at the sudden notoriety which had come like a bolt from the blue, and he wondered if, without knowing it, he had had a masterpiece produced the evening before. But he had no time to find out. The journalist had come to drag him, whether he liked it or not, there and then, to the offices of the paper where the editor, the great Arsene Gamache himself, wished to see him: the car was waiting downstairs. Christophe tried to get out of it: but, in spite of himself, he was so naively responsive to the journalist's friendly protestations that in the end he gave way.
Ten minutes later he was introduced to a potentate in whose presence all men trembled. He was a sturdy little man, about fifty, short and stout, with a big round head, gray hair brushed up, a red face, a masterful way of speaking, a thick, affected accent, and every now and then he would break out into a choppy sort of volubility. He had forced himself on Paris by his enormous self-confidence. A business man, with a knowledge of men, naive and deep, passionate, full of himself, he identified his business with the business of France, and even with the affairs of humanity. His own interests, the prosperity of his paper, and the salus publica, all seemed to him to be of equal importance and to be narrowly associated. He had no doubt that any man who wronged him, wronged France also: and to crush an adversary, he would in perfectly good faith have overthrown the Government. However, he was by no means incapable of generosity. He was an idealist of the after-dinner order, and loved to be a sort of God Almighty, and to lift some poor devil or other out of the mire, by way of demonstrating the greatness of his power, whereby he could make something out of nothing, make and unmake Ministers, and, if he had cared to, make and unmake Kings. His sphere was the universe. He would make men of genius, too, if it so pleased him.
That day he had just "made" Christophe.
* * * * *
It was Olivier who in all innocence had belled the cat.
Olivier, who could do nothing to advance his own interests, and had a horror of notoriety, and avoided journalists like the plague, took quite another view of these things where his friend was in question. He was like those loving mothers, the right-living women of the middle-class, those irreproachable wives, who would sell themselves to procure any advantage for their rascally young sons.
Writing for the reviews, and finding himself in touch with a number of critics and dilettanti, Olivier never let slip an opportunity of talking about Christophe: and for some time past he had been surprised to find that they listened to him. He could feel a sort of current of curiosity, a mysterious rumor flying about literary and polite circles. What was its origin? Were there echoes of newspaper opinion, following on the recent performances of Christophe's work in England and Germany? It seemed impossible to trace it to any definite source. It was one of those frequent phenomena of those men who sniff the air of Paris, and can tell the day before, more exactly than the meteorological observatory of the tower of Saint-Jacques, what wind is blowing up for the morrow, and what it will bring with it. In that great city of nerves, through which electric vibrations pass, there are invisible currents of fame, a latent celebrity which precedes the actuality, the vague gossip of the drawing-rooms, the nescio quid majus nascitur Iliade, which, at a given moment, bursts out in a puffing article, the blare of the trumpet which drives the name of the new idol into the thickest heads. Sometimes that trumpet-blast alienates the first and best friends of the man whose glory it proclaims. And yet they are responsible for it.
So Olivier had a share in the article in the Grand Journal. He had taken advantage of the interest displayed in Christophe, and had carefully stoked it up with adroitly worded information. He had been careful not to bring Christophe directly into touch with the journalists, for he was afraid of an outburst. But at the request of the Grand Journal he had slyly introduced Christophe to a reporter in a cafe without his having any suspicion. All these precautions only pricked curiosity, and made Christophe more interesting. Olivier had never had anything to do with publicity before: he had not stopped to consider that he was setting in motion a machine which, once it got going, it was impossible to direct or control.
He was in despair when, on his way to his lecture, he read the article in the Grand Journal. He had not foreseen such a calamity. Above all, he had not expected it to come so soon. He had reckoned on the paper waiting to make sure and verify its facts before it published anything. He was too naive. If a newspaper takes the trouble to discover a new celebrity, it is, of course, for its own sake, so that its rivals may not have the honor of the discovery. It must lose no time, even if it means knowing nothing whatever about the person in question. But an author very rarely complains: if he is admired, he has quite as much understanding as he wants.
The Grand Journal, after setting out a few ridiculous stories about Christophe's struggles, representing him as a victim of German despotism, an apostle of liberty, forced to fly from Imperial Germany and take refuge in France, the home and shelter of free men,—(a fine pretext for a Chauvinesque tirade!)—plunged into lumbering praise of his genius, of which it knew nothing,—nothing except a few tame melodies, dating from Christophe's early days in Germany, which Christophe, who was ashamed of them, would have liked to have seen destroyed. But if the author of the article knew nothing at all about Christophe's work, he made up for it in his knowledge of his plans—or rather such plans as he invented for him. A few words let fall by Christophe or Olivier, or even by Goujart, who pretended to be well-informed, had been enough for him to construct a fanciful Jean-Christophe, "a Republican genius,—the great musician of democracy." He seized the opportunity to decry various contemporary French musicians, especially the most original and independent among them, who set very little store by democracy. He only excepted one or two composers, whose electoral opinions were excellent in his eyes. It was annoying that their music was not better. But that was a detail. And besides, his eulogy of these men, and even his praise of Christophe, was of not nearly so much account as his criticism of the rest. In Paris, when you read an article eulogizing a man's work, it is always as well to ask yourself:
"Whom is he decrying?"
Olivier went hot with shame as he read the paper, and said to himself:
"A fine thing I've done!"
He could hardly get through his lecture. As soon as he had finished he hurried home. What was his consternation to find that Christophe had already gone out with the journalists! He delayed lunch for him. Christophe did not return. Hours passed, and Olivier grew more and more anxious and thought:
"What a lot of foolish things they will make him say!"
About three o'clock Christophe came home quite lively. He had had lunch with Arsene Gamache, and his head was a little muzzy with the champagne he had drunk. He could not understand Olivier's anxiety, who asked him in fear and trembling what he had said and done.
"What have I been doing? I've had a splendid lunch. I haven't had such a good feed for a long time."
He began to recount the menu.
"And wine.... I had wine of every color."
Olivier interrupted him to ask who was there.
"Who was there?... I don't know. There was Gamache, a little round man, true as gold: Clodomir, the writer of the article, a charming fellow: three or four journalists whom I didn't know, very jolly, all very nice and charming to me—the cream of good fellows."
Olivier did not seem to be convinced. Christophe was astonished at his small enthusiasm.
"Haven't you read the article?"
"Yes. I have. Have you read it?"
"Yes.... That is to say, I just glanced at it. I haven't had time."
"Well: read it."
Christophe took it up. At the first words he spluttered.
"Oh! The idiot!" he said.
He roared with laughter.
"Bah!" he went on. "These critics are all alike. They know nothing at all about it."
But as he read farther he began to lose his temper: it was too stupid, it made him look ridiculous. What did they mean by calling him "a Republican musician"; it did not mean anything.... Well, let the fib pass.... But when they set his "Republican" art against the "sacristy art" of the masters who had preceded him,—(he whose soul was nourished by the souls of those great men),—it was too much....
"The swine! They're trying to make me out an idiot!..."
And then, what was the sense of using him as a cudgel to thwack talented French musicians, whom he loved more or less,—(though rather less than more),—though they knew their trade, and honored it? And—worst of all—with an incredible want of tact he was credited with odious sentiments about his country!... No, that, that was beyond endurance....
"I shall write and tell them so," said Christophe.
"No, no," he said, "not now! You are too excited. Tomorrow, when you are cooler...."
Christophe stuck to it. When he had anything to say he could not wait until the morrow. He promised Olivier to show him his letter. The precaution was useful. The letter was duly revised, so as to be confined practically to the rectification of the opinions about Germany with which he had been credited, and then Christophe ran and posted it.
"Well," he said, when he returned, "that will save half the harm being done: the letter will appear to-morrow."
Olivier shook his head doubtfully. He was still thoughtful, and he looked Christophe straight in the face, and said:
"Christophe, did you say anything imprudent at lunch?"
"Oh no," said Christophe with a laugh.
"Yes, you coward."
Olivier was somewhat reassured. But Christophe was not. He had just remembered that he had talked volubly and unguardedly. He had been quite at his ease at once. It had never for a moment occurred to him to distrust any of them: they seemed so cordial, so well-disposed towards him! As, in fact, they were. We are always well-disposed to people when we have done them a good turn, and Christophe was so frankly delighted with it all that his joy infected them. His affectionate easy manners, his jovial sallies, his enormous appetite, and the celerity with which the various liquors vanished down his throat without making him turn a hair, were by no means displeasing to Arsene Gamache, who was himself a sturdy trencherman, coarse, boorish, and sanguine, and very contemptuous of people who had ill-health, and those who dared not eat and drink, and all the sickly Parisians. He judged a man by his prowess at table. He appreciated Christophe. There and then he proposed to produce his Gargantua as an opera at the Opera.—(The very summit of art was reached for these bourgeois French people in the production on the stage of the Damnation of Faust, or the Nine Symphonies.)—Christophe, who burst out laughing at the grotesqueness of the idea, had great difficulty in preventing him from telephoning his orders to the directors of the Opera, or the Minister of Fine Arts.—(If Gamache were to be believed, all these important people were apparently at his beck and call.)—And, the proposal reminding him of the strange transmutation which had taken place in his symphonic poem, David, he went so far as to tell the story of the performance organized by Deputy Roussin to introduce his mistress to the public. Gamache, who did not like Roussin, was delighted: and Christophe, spurred on by the generous wines and the sympathy of his hearers, plunged into other stories, more or less indiscreet, the point of which was not lost on those present. Christophe was the only one to forget them when the party broke up. And now, on Olivier's question, they rushed back to his memory. He felt a little shiver run down his spine. For he did not deceive himself: he had enough experience to know what would happen: now that he was sober again he saw it as clearly as though it had actually happened: his indiscretions would be twisted and distorted, and scattered broadcast as malicious blabbing, his artistic sallies would be turned into weapons of war. As for his letter correcting the article, he knew as well as Olivier how much that would avail him: it is a waste of ink to answer a journalist, for he always has the last word.
Everything happened exactly to the letter as Christophe had foreseen it would. His indiscretions were published, his letter was not. Gamache only went so far as to write to him that he recognized the generosity of his feelings, and that his scruples were an honor to him: but he kept his scruples dark: and the falsified opinions attributed to Christophe went on being circulated, provoking biting criticism in the Parisian papers, and later in Germany, where much indignation was felt that a German artist should express himself with so little dignity about his country.
Christophe thought he would be clever, and take advantage of an interview by the reporter of another paper to protest his love for the Deutsches Reich, where, he said, people were at least as free as in the French Republic.—He was speaking to the representative of a Conservative paper, who at once credited him with anti-Republican views.
"Better and better!" said Christophe. "But what on earth has my music to do with politics?"
"It is usual with us," said Olivier. "Look at the battles that have taken place over Beethoven. Some people will have it that he was a Jacobin, others a mountebank, others still a Pere Duchesne, and others a prince's lackey."
"He'd knock their heads together."
"Well, do the same."
Christophe only wished he could. But he was too amiable with people who were friendly towards him. Olivier never felt happy when he left him alone. For they were always coming to interview him: and it was no use Christophe promising to be guarded: he could not help being confidential and unreserved. He said everything that came into his head. Women journalists would come and make a fuss of him, and get him to talk about his sentimental adventures. Others would make use of him to speak ill of such-an-one, or so-and-so. When Olivier came in he would find Christophe utterly downcast.
"Another howler?" he would ask.
"Of course," Christophe would reply in despair.
"You are incorrigible!"
"I ought to be locked up.... But I swear that it is the last time."
"Yes, I know. Until the next...."
"No. This really is the last."
Next day Christophe said triumphantly to Olivier:
"Another one came to-day. I shut the door in his face."
"Don't go too far," said Olivier. "Be careful with them. 'This animal is dangerous.' He will attack you if you defend yourself.... It is so easy for them to avenge themselves! They can twist the least little thing you may have said to their uses."
Christophe drew his hand across his forehead:
"Oh! Good Lord!"
"What's the matter?"
"When I shut the door in his face I told...."
"The Emperor's joke."
"Yes. His or one of his people's...."
"How awful! You'll see it to-morrow on the front page!"
Christophe shuddered. But, next day, what he saw was a description of his room, which the journalist had not seen, and a report of a conversation which he had not had with him.
The facts were more and more embellished the farther they spread. In the foreign papers they were garnished out of all recognition. Certain French articles having told how in his poverty he had transposed music for the guitar, Christophe learned from an English newspaper that he had played the guitar in the streets. He did not only read eulogies. Far from it. It was enough for Christophe to have been taken up by the Grand Journal, for him to be taken to task by the other papers. They could not as a matter of dignity allow the possibility of a rival's discovering a genius whom they had ignored. Some of them were rabid about it. Others commiserated Christophe on his ill-luck. Goujart, annoyed at having the ground cut away from under his feet, wrote an article, as he said, to set people right on certain points. He wrote familiarly of his old friend Christophe, to whom, when he first came to Paris, he had been guide and comforter: he was certainly a highly gifted musician, but—(he was at liberty to say so, since they were friends)—very deficient in many ways, ill-educated, unoriginal, and inordinately vain; so absurdly to flatter his vanity, as had been done, was to serve him but ill at a time when he stood in need of a mentor who should be wise, learned, judicious, benevolent, and severe, etc.—(a fancy portrait of Goujart).—The musicians made bitter fun of it all. They affected a lofty contempt for an artist who had the newspapers at his back: and, pretending to be disgusted with the vulgum pecus, they refused the presents of Artaxerxes, which were not offered them. Some of them abused Christophe: others overwhelmed him with their commiseration. Some of them—(his colleagues)—laid the blame on Olivier.—They were only too glad to pay him out for his intolerance and his way of holding aloof from them,—rather, if the truth were known, from a desire for solitude than from scorn of any of them. But men are least apt to pardon those who show that they can do without them.—Some of them almost went so far as to hint that he had made money by the articles in the Grand Journal. There were others who took upon themselves to defend Christophe against him: they appeared to be broken-hearted at Olivier's callousness in dragging a sensitive artist, a dreamer, ill-equipped for the battle of life,—Christophe,—into the turmoil of the market-place, where he could not but be ruined: for they regarded Christophe as a little boy not strong enough in the head to be allowed to go out alone. The future of this man, they said, was being ruined, for, even if he were not a genius, such good intentions and such tremendous industry deserved a better fate, and he was being intoxicated with incense of an inferior brand. It was a great pity. Why could they not leave him in his obscurity to go on working patiently for years?
Olivier might have had the answer pat:
"A man must eat to work. Who will give him his bread?"
But that would not have abashed them. They would have replied with their magnificent serenity:
"That is a detail. An artist must suffer. And what does a little suffering matter?"
Of course, they were men of the world, quite well off, who professed these Stoic theories. As the millionaire once said to the simple person who came and asked him to help a poverty-stricken artist:
"But, sir, Mozart died of poverty."
They would have thought it very bad taste on Olivier's part if he had told them that Mozart would have asked nothing better than to go on living, and that Christophe was determined to do so.
* * * * *
Christophe was getting heartily sick of the vulgar tittle-tattle. He began to wonder if it were going on forever.—But it was all over in a fortnight. The newspapers gave up talking about him. However, he had become known. When his name was mentioned, people said, not:
"The author of David or Gargantua," but:
"Oh yes! The Grand Journal man!..."
He was famous.
Olivier knew it by the number of letters that came for Christophe, and even for himself, in his reflected glory: offers from librettists, proposals from concert-agents, declarations of friendship from men who had formerly been his enemies, invitations from women. His opinion was asked, for newspaper inquiries, about anything and everything: the depopulation of France, idealist art, women's corsets, the nude on the stage,—and did he believe that Germany was decadent, or that music had reached its end, etc., etc. They used to laugh at them all. But, though he laughed, lo and behold! Christophe, that Huron, steadily accepted the invitations to dinner! Olivier could not believe his eyes.
"You?" he said.
"I! Certainly," replied Christophe jeeringly. "You thought you were the only man who could go and see the beautiful ladies? Not at all, my boy! It's my turn now. I want to amuse myself!"
"You? Amuse yourself? My dear old man!"
The truth was that Christophe had for so long lived shut up in his own room that he felt a sudden longing to get away from it. Besides, he took a naive delight in tasting his new fame. He was terribly bored at parties, and thought the people idiotic. But when he came home he used to take a malicious pleasure in telling Olivier how much he had enjoyed himself. He would go to people's houses once, but never again: he would invent the wildest excuses, with a frightful want of tact, to get out of their renewed invitations. Olivier would be scandalized, and Christophe would shout with laughter. He did not go to their houses to spread his fame, but to replenish his store of life, his collection of expressions and tones of voice—all the material of form, and sound, and color, with which an artist has periodically to enrich his palette. A musician does not feed only on music. An inflection of the human voice, the rhythm of a gesture, the harmony of a smile, contain more suggestion of music for him that another man's symphony. But it must be said that the music of faces and human souls is as stale and lacking in variety in polite society as the music of polite musicians. Each has a manner and becomes set in it. The smile of a pretty woman is as stereotyped in its studied grace as a Parisian melody. The men are even more insipid than the women. Under the debilitating influence of society, their energy is blunted, their original characters rot away and finally disappear with a frightful rapidity. Christophe was struck by the number of dead and dying men he met among the artists: there was one young musician, full of life and genius, whom success had dulled, stupefied, and wiped out of existence: he thought of nothing but swallowing down the flattery in which he was smothered, enjoying himself, and sleeping. What he would be like twenty years later was shown in another corner of the room, in the person of an old pomaded maestro, who was rich, famous, a member of all the Academies, at the very height of his career, and, though apparently he had nothing to fear and no more wires to pull, groveled before everything and everybody, and was fearful of opinion, power, and the Press, dared not say what he thought, and thought nothing at all—a man who had ceased to exist, showing himself off, an ass saddled with the relics of his own past life.
Behind all these artists and men of intellect who had been great, or might have been great, there was certain to be some woman preying upon them. They were all dangerous, both the fools and those who were by no means fools: both those who loved and those who loved themselves: the best of them were the worst: for they were all the more certain to snuff out the artist with their immoderate affection, which made them in all good faith try to domesticate genius, turn it to their own uses, drag it down, prune it, pare it down, scent it, until they had brought it into line with their sensibility, their petty vanity, their mediocrity, and the mediocrity of the world they lived in.
Although Christophe only passed through that section of society, he saw enough of it to feel its danger. More than one woman, of course, tried to take possession of him for her circle, to press him into her service: and, of course, Christophe nibbled at the hook baited with friendly words and alluring smiles. But for his sturdy common sense and the disquieting spectacle of the transformations already effected in the men about them by these modern Circes, he would not have escaped uncontaminated. But he had no mind to swell the herd of these lovely goose-girls. The danger would have been greater for him if there had not been so many of them angling for him. Now that everybody, men and women, were properly convinced that they had a genius in their midst, as usual, they set to work to stifle him. Such people, when they see a flower, have only one idea: to put it in a pot,—a bird: to put it in a cage,— a free man: to turn him into a smooth lackey.
Christophe was shaken for a moment, pulled himself together, and sent them all packing.
Fate is ironical. Those who do not care slip through the meshes of the net: but those who are suspicious, those who are prudent, and forewarned, are never suffered to escape. It was not Christophe who was caught in the net of Paris, but Olivier.
He had benefited by his friend's success: Christophe's fame had given him a reflected glory. He was better known now, for having been mentioned in a few papers as the man who had discovered Christophe, than for anything he had written during the last six years. He was included in many of the invitations that came for Christophe: and he went with him, meaning carefully and discreetly to look after him. No doubt he was too much absorbed in doing so to look after himself. Love passed by and caught him.
She was a little fair girl, charmingly slender, with soft hair waving in little ripples about her pure narrow forehead: she had fine eyebrows and rather heavy eyelids, eyes of a periwinkle blue, a delicately carved nose with sensitive nostrils; her temples were slightly hollowed: she had a capricious chin, and a mobile, witty, and rather sensual mouth, turning up at the corners, and the Parmigianninesque smile of a pure faun. She had a long, delicate throat, a pretty waist, a slender, elegant figure, and a happy, pensive expression in her girlish face, in every line of which there was the disturbing poetic mystery of the waking spring,—Fruhlingserwachen. Her name was Jacqueline Langeais.
She was not twenty. She came of a rich Catholic family, of great distinction and broad-mindedness. Her father was a clever engineer, a man of some invention, clear-headed and open to new ideas, who had made a fortune, thanks to his own hard work, his political connections, and his marriage. He had married both for love and money—(the proper marriage for love for such people)—a pretty woman, very Parisian, who was bred in the world of finance. The money had stayed: but love had gone. However, he had managed to preserve a few sparks of it, for it had been very ardent on both sides: but they did not stickle for any exaggerated notion of fidelity. They went their ways and had their pleasures: and they got on very well together, as friends, selfishly, unscrupulously, warily.
Their daughter was a bond between them, though she was the object of an unspoken rivalry between them: for they both loved her jealously. They both saw themselves in her with their pet faults idealized by the grace of childhood: and each strove cunningly to steal her from the other. And the child had in due course become conscious of it, with the artful candor of such little creatures, who are only too ready to believe that the universe gravitates round themselves: and she turned it to good account. She had them perpetually outbidding each other for her affection. She never had a whim but she was sure that one of them would indulge it if the other refused: and the other would be so vexed at being outdone that she would at once be offered an even greater indulgence than the first. She had been dreadfully spoiled: and it was very fortunate for her that there was no evil in her nature,—outside the egoism common to almost all children, though in children who are too rich and too much pampered it assumes various morbid shapes, due to the absence of difficulties and the want of any goal to aim at.
Though they adored her, neither M. nor Madame Langeais ever thought of sacrificing their own personal convenience to her. They used to leave the child alone, for the greater part of the day, to gratify her thousand and one fancies. She had plenty of time for dreaming, and she wasted none of it. She was precocious and quick to grasp at incautious remarks let fall in her presence—(for her parents were never very guarded in what they said),—and when she was six years old she used to tell her dolls love-stories, the characters in which were husband, wife, and lover. It goes without saying that she saw no harm in it. Directly she began to perceive a shade of feeling underlying the words it was all over for the dolls: she kept her stories to herself. There was in her a strain of innocent sensuality, which rang out in the distance like the sound of invisible bells, over there, over there, on the other side of the horizon. She did not know what it was. Sometimes it would come wafted on the wind: it came she did not know from whence, and wrapped her round and made the blood mount to her cheeks, and she would lose her breath in the fear and pleasure of it. She could not understand it. And then it would disappear as strangely as it had come. There was never another sound. Hardly more than a faint buzzing, an imperceptible resonance, fainter and fainter, in the blue air. Only she knew that it was yonder, on the other side of the mountain, and thither she must go, go as soon as possible: for there lay happiness. Ah! If only she could reach it!...
In the meanwhile, until she should reach that land of happiness, she wove strange dreams of what she would find there. For the chief occupation of the child's mind was guessing at its nature. She had a friend of her own age, Simone Adam, with whom she used often to discuss these great subjects. Each brought to bear on them the light of her twelve years' experience, conversations overheard and stolen reading. On tip-toe, clinging to the crannies in the stones, the two little girls strained to peer over the old wall which hid the future from them. But it was all in vain, and it was idle for them to pretend that they could see through the chinks: they could see nothing at all. They were both a mixture of innocence, poetic salaciousness, and Parisian irony. They used to say the most outrageous things without knowing it, and they were always making mountains out of molehills. Jacqueline, who was always prying, without anybody to find fault with her, used to burrow in all her father's books. Fortunately, she was protected from coming to any harm by her very innocence and her own young, healthy instincts: an unduly described scene or a coarse word disgusted her at once: she would drop the book at once, and she passed through the most infamous company, like a frightened cat through puddles of dirty water,—without so much as a splash.
As a rule, novels did not attract her: they were too precise, too dry. But books of poetry used to make her heart flutter with emotion and hope of finding the key to the riddle,—love-poems, of course. They coincided to a certain extent with her childish outlook on things. The poets did not see things as they were, they imagined them through the prism of desire or regret: they seemed, like herself, to be peering through the chinks of the old wall. But they knew much more, they knew all the things which she was longing to know, and clothed them with sweet, mysterious words, which she had to unravel with infinite care to find ... to find ... Ah! She could find nothing, but she was always sure that she was on the very brink of finding it....
Their curiosity was indomitable. They would thrill as they whispered verses of Alfred de Musset and Sully Prudhomme, into which they read abyss on abyss of perversity: they used to copy them out, and ask each other about the hidden meanings of passages, which generally contained none. These little women of thirteen, who knew nothing of love, used, in their innocent effrontery, to discuss, half in jest, half in earnest, love and the sweets of love: and, in school, under the fatherly eye of the master—a very polite and mild old gentleman—verses like the following, which he confiscated one day, when they made him gasp:
"Let, oh! let me clasp you in my arms, And in your kisses drink insensate love Drop by drop in one long draught...."
They attended lectures at a fashionable and very prosperous school, the teachers of which were Masters of Art of the University. There they found material for their sentimental aspirations. Almost all the girls were in love with their masters. If they were young and not too ugly, that was quite enough for them to make havoc of their pupils' hearts—who would work like angels to please their sultan. And they would weep when he gave them bad marks in their examinations: though they did not care when anybody else did the same. If he praised them, they would blush and go pale by turns, and gaze at him coquettishly in gratitude. And if he called them aside to give them advice or pay them a compliment, they were in Paradise. There was no need for him to be an eagle to win their favor. When the gymnastic instructor took Jacqueline in his arms to lift her up to the trapeze, she would be in ecstasies. And what furious emulation there was between them! How coaxingly and with what humility they would make eyes at the master to attract his attention from a presumptuous rival! At lectures, when he opened his lips to speak, pens and pencils would be hastily produced to take down what he said. They made no attempt to understand: the chief thing was not to lose a syllable. And while they went on writing and writing without ceasing, with stealthy glances to take in their idol's play of expression and gestures, Jacqueline and Simone would whisper to each other:
"Do you think he would look nice in a tie with blue spots?"
Then they had a chromo-lithographic ideal, based on romantic and fashionable books of verses, and poetic fashion-plates,—they fell in love with actors, virtuosi, authors, dead and alive—Mounet-Sully, Samain, Debussy,—they would exchange glances with young men at concerts, or in a drawing-room, or in the street, and at once begin to weave fanciful and passionate love-affairs,—they could not help always wanting to fall in love, to have their lives filled with a love-affair, to find some excuse for being in love. Jacqueline and Simone used to confide everything to each other: proof positive that they did not feel anything much: it was the best sort of preventive to keep them from ever having any deep feeling. On the other hand, it became a sort of chronic illness with them: they were the first to laugh at it, but they used lovingly to cultivate it. They excited each other. Simone was more romantic and more cautious, and used to invent wilder stories. But Jacqueline, being more sincere and more ardent, came nearer to realizing them. She was twenty times on the brink of the most hopeless folly.—However, she did not commit herself, as is the way with young people. There are times when these poor little crazy creatures—(such as we have all been)—are within an ace, some of suicide, others of flinging themselves into the arms of the first man who comes along. Only, thank God, almost all of them stop short at that. Jacqueline wrote countless rough drafts of passionate letters to men whom she hardly knew by sight: but she never sent any of them, except one enthusiastic letter, unsigned, to an ugly, vulgar, selfish critic, who was as cold-hearted as he was narrow-minded. She fell in love with him over a few lines in which she had discovered a rare wealth of sensibility. She was fired also by a great actor, who lived near her: whenever she passed his door she used to say to herself:
"Shall I go in?" And once she made so bold as to go up to the door of his flat. When she found herself there, she turned and fled. What could she have talked to him about? She had nothing, nothing at all to say to him. She did not love him. And she knew it. In the greater part of her folly she was deceiving herself. And for the rest it was the old, old, delicious, stupid need of being in love. As Jacqueline was naturally intelligent, she knew that quite well, and it kept her from making a fool of herself. A fool who knows his folly is worth two who don't.
She went out a good deal. There were many young men who felt her charm, and more than one of them was in love with her. She did not care what harm she did. A pretty girl makes a cruel game of love. It seems to her quite natural that she should be loved, and never considers that she owes anything to those who love her: she is apt to believe that her lover is happy enough in loving her. It must be said, by way of excuse, that she has no idea of what love is, although she thinks of nothing else all day long. One is inclined to think that a young girl in society, brought up in the hot-house atmosphere of a great town, would be more precocious than a country girl: but the opposite is the case. Her reading and conversation have made her obsessed by love, so obsessed that in her idle life it often borders on mania: and sometimes it happens that she has read the play beforehand, and knows it word for word by heart. But she never feels it. In love, as in art, it is useless to read what others have said: we can but say what we feel: and those who make haste to speak before they have anything to say are as likely as not to say nothing.
Jacqueline, like most young people, lived in an atmosphere clouded by the dust of the feelings of others, which, while it kept her in a perpetual fever, with her hands burning, and her throat dry, and her eyes sore, prevented her seeing anything. She thought she knew everything. It was not that she lacked the wish to know. She read and listened. She had picked up a deal of information, here and there, in scraps, from conversation and books. She even tried to read what was written in herself. She was much better than the world in which she lived, for she was more sincere.
There was one woman who had a good influence—only too brief—over her. This was a sister of her father's, a woman of between forty and fifty, who had never married. Tall, with regular features, though sad and lacking in beauty, Marthe Langeais was always dressed in black: she had a sort of stiff distinction of feature and movement: she spoke very little, and she had a deep voice, almost like a man's. But for the clear light in her intelligent gray eyes and the kind smile on her sad lips she would have passed unnoticed.
She only appeared at the Langeais' on certain days, when they were alone. Langeais had a great respect for her, though she bored him. Madame Langeais made no attempt to disguise from her husband how little pleasure his sister's visits gave her. However, they faced their duty, and had her to dinner once a week, and they did not let it appear too glaringly that they regarded it as a duty. Langeais used to talk about himself, which she always found interesting. Madame Langeais would think of something else, and, as a matter of habit, smile affably when she was spoken to. The dinner always went off very well, and she was invariably polite. Sometimes, even, she would be effusively affectionate when her tactful sister-in-law went away earlier than she had hoped: and Madame Langeais's charming smile would be most radiant when she had any particularly pleasant memories to think of. Marthe saw through it all: very little escaped her eyes: and she saw many things in her brother's house which shocked and distressed her. But she never let it appear: what was the good? She loved her brother, and had been proud of his cleverness and success, like the rest of the family, who had not thought the triumph of the eldest son too dear a price to pay for their poverty. She, at least, had preserved her independence of opinion. She was as clever as he was, and of a finer moral fiber, more virile—(as the women of France so often are; they are much superior to the men),—and she knew him through and through: and when he asked her advice she used to give it frankly. But for a long time he had not asked it of her! He found it more prudent not to know, or—(for he knew the truth as much as she did),—to shut his eyes. She was proud, and drew aside. Nobody ever troubled to look into her inward life, and it suited the others to ignore her. She lived alone, went out very little, and had only a few not very intimate friends. It would have been very easy to her to turn her brother's influence and her own talents to account: but she did not do so. She had written a few articles for the leading reviews in Paris, historical and literary portraits, which had attracted some attention by their sober, just, and striking style. But she had gone no farther. She might have formed interesting friendships with certain distinguished men and women, who had shown a desire to know her, whom also she would, perhaps, have been glad to know. She did not respond to their advances. Though she had a reserved seat for a theater when the program contained music that she loved, she did not go: and though she had the opportunity of traveling to a place where she knew that she would find much pleasure, she preferred to stay at home. Her nature was a curious compound of stoicism and neurasthenia, which, however, in no wise impaired the integrity of her ideas. Her life was impaired, but not her mind. An old sorrow, known only to herself, had left its mark on her heart. And even more profound, even less suspected—unknown to herself, was the secret illness which had begun to prey upon her. However, the Langeais saw only the clear expression of her eyes, which sometimes made them feel embarrassed.
Jacqueline used to take hardly any notice of her aunt in the days when she was careless and gay—which was her usual condition when she was a child. But when she reached the age at which there occurs a mysterious change and growth in body and soul, which bring agony, disgust, terror, and fearful moments of depression in their train, and moments of absurd, horrible dizziness, which, happily, do not last, though they make their victim feel at the point of death,—the child, sinking and not daring to cry for help, found only her Aunt Marthe standing by her side and holding out her hand. Ah! the others were so far away! Her father and mother were as strangers to her, with their selfish affection, too satisfied with themselves to think of the small troubles of a doll of fourteen! But her aunt guessed them, and comforted her. She did not say anything. She only smiled: across the table she exchanged a kindly glance with Jacqueline, who felt that her aunt understood her, and she took refuge by her side. Marthe stroked Jacqueline's head and kissed her, and spoke no word.
The little girl trusted her. When her heart was heavy she would go and see her friend, who would know and understand as soon as she arrived; she would be met always with the same indulgent eyes, which would infect her with a little of their own tranquillity. She told her aunt hardly anything about her imaginary love-affairs: she was ashamed of them, and felt that there was no truth in them. But she confessed all the vague, profound uneasiness that was in her, and was more real, her only real trouble.
"Aunt," she would sigh sometimes, "I do so long to be happy!"
"Poor child!" Marthe would say, with a smile.
Jacqueline would lay her head in her aunt's lap, and kiss her hands as they caressed her face:
"Do you think I shall be happy? Aunt, tell me; do you think I shall be happy?"
"I don't know, my dear. It rather depends on yourself.... People can always be happy if they want to be."
Jacqueline was incredulous.
"Are you happy?"
Marthe smiled sadly: "Yes."
"No? Really? Are you happy?"
"Don't you believe it?"
Jacqueline stopped short.
"What is it?"
"I want to be happy, but not like you."
"Poor child! I hope so, too!" said Marthe.
"No." Jacqueline went on shaking her head decisively. "But I couldn't be."
"I should not have thought it possible, either. Life teaches one to be able to do many things."
"Oh! But I don't want to learn," protested Jacqueline anxiously. "I want to be happy in the way I want."
"You would find it very hard to say how!"
"I know quite well what I want."
She wanted many things. But when it came to saying what they were, she could only mention one, which recurred again and again, like a refrain:
"First of all, I want some one to love me." Marthe went on sewing without a word. After a moment she said:
"What good will it be to you if you do not love?"
Jacqueline was taken aback, and exclaimed:
"But, aunt, of course I only mean some one I loved! All the rest don't count."
"And suppose you did not love anybody?"
"The idea! One loves always, always."
Marthe shook her head doubtfully.
"No," she said. "We don't love. We want to love. Love is the greatest gift of God. Pray to Him that He may grant it you."
"But suppose my love is not returned?"
"Even if your love is not returned, you will be all the happier."
Jacqueline's face fell: she pouted a little:
"I don't want that," she said. "It wouldn't give me any pleasure."
Marthe laughed indulgently, looked at Jacqueline, sighed, and then went on with her work.
"Poor child!" she said once more.
"Why do you keep on saying: 'Poor child'?" asked Jacqueline uneasily. "I don't want to be a poor child. I want—I want so much to be happy!"
"That is why I say: 'Poor child!'"
Jacqueline sulked for a little. But it did not last long. Marthe laughed at her so kindly that she was disarmed. She kissed her, pretending to be angry. But in their hearts children of that age are secretly flattered by predictions of suffering in later life, which is so far away. When it is afar off there is a halo of poetry round sorrow, and we dread nothing so much as a dull, even life.
Jacqueline did not notice that her aunt's face was growing paler and paler. She observed that Marthe was going out less and less, but she attributed it to her stay-at-home disposition, about which she used often to tease her. Once or twice, when she called, she had met the doctor coming out. She had asked her aunt:
"Are you ill?"
But now she had even given up her weekly dinner at the Langeais'. Jacqueline was hurt, and went and reproached her bitterly.
"My dear," said Marthe gently, "I am rather tired."
But Jacqueline would not listen to anything. That was a poor sort of excuse!
"It can't be very exhausting for you to come to our house for a couple of hours a week! You don't love me," she would say. "You love nothing but your own fireside."
But when at home she proudly told them how she had scolded her aunt, Langeais cut her short with:
"Let your aunt be! Don't you know that the poor creature is very ill!"
Jacqueline grew pale: and in a trembling voice she asked what was the matter with her aunt. They tried not to tell her. Finally, she found out that Marthe was dying of cancer: she had had it for some months.
For some days Jacqueline lived in a state of terror. She was comforted a little when she saw her aunt. Marthe was mercifully not suffering any great pain. She still had her tranquil smile, which in her thin transparent face seemed to shine like the light of an inward lamp. Jacqueline said to herself:
"No. It is impossible. They must be mistaken. She would not be so calm...."
She went on with the tale of her little confidences, to which Marthe listened with more interest than heretofore. Only, sometimes, in the middle of a conversation, her aunt would leave the room, without giving any sign to show that she was in pain: and she would not return until the attack was over, and her face had regained its serenity. She did not like anybody to refer to her condition, and tried to hide it: she had a horror of the disease that held her in its grip, and would not think of it: all her efforts were directed towards preserving the peace of her last months. The end came sooner than it was expected. Very soon she saw nobody but Jacqueline. Then Jacqueline's visits had to be curtailed. Then came the day of parting. Marthe was lying in her bed, which she had not left for some weeks, when she took a tender farewell of her little friend with a few gentle, comforting words. And then she shut herself up, to die.
Jacqueline passed through months of despair. Marthe's death came at the same time as the very worst hours of her moral distress, against which Marthe had been the only person who could help her. She was horribly deserted and alone. She needed the support of a religion. There was apparently no reason why she should have lacked that support: she had always been made to practise the duties of religion: her mother practised them regularly. But that was just the difficulty: her mother practised them, but her Aunt Marthe did not. And how was she to avoid comparison? The eyes of a child are susceptible to many untruths, to which her elders never give a thought, and children notice many weaknesses and contradictions. Jacqueline noticed that her mother and those who said that they believed had as much fear of death as though there had been no faith in them. No: religion was not a strong enough support.... And in addition there were certain personal experiences, feelings of revolt and disgust, a tactless confessor who had hurt her.... She went on practising, but without faith, just as she paid calls, because she had been well brought up. Religion, like the world, seemed to her to be utterly empty. Her only stay was the memory of the dead woman, in which she was wrapped up. She had many grounds for self-reproach in her treatment of her aunt, whom in her childish selfishness she had often neglected, while now she called to her in vain. She idealized her image: and the great example which Marthe had left upon her mind of a profound life of meditation helped to fill her with distaste for the life of the world, in which there was no truth or serious purpose. She saw nothing but its hypocrisy, and those amiable compromises, which at any other time would have amused her, now revolted her. She was in a condition of moral hypersensitiveness, and everything hurt her: her conscience was raw. Her eyes were opened to certain facts which hitherto had escaped her in her heedlessness.
One afternoon she was in the drawing-room with her mother. Madame Langeais was receiving a caller,—a fashionable painter, a good-looking, pompous man, who was often at the house, but not on terms of intimacy. Jacqueline had a feeling that she was in the way, but that only made her more determined to stay. Madame Langeais was not very well; she had a headache, which made her a little dull, or perhaps it was one of those headache preventives which the ladies of to-day eat like sweets, so that they have the result of completely emptying their pretty heads, and she was not very guarded in what she said. In the course of the conversation she thoughtlessly called her visitor:
She noticed the slip at once. He did not flinch any more than she, and they went on talking politely. Jacqueline, who was pouring out tea, was so amazed that she almost dropped a cup. She had a feeling that they were exchanging a meaning smile behind her back. She turned and intercepted their privy looks, which were immediately disguised.—The discovery upset her completely. Though she had been brought up with the utmost freedom, and had often heard and herself laughed and talked about such intrigues, it hurt her so that she could hardly bear it when she saw that her mother.... Her mother: no, it was not the same thing!... With her habitual exaggeration she rushed from one extreme to the other. Till then she had suspected nothing. Thereafter she suspected everything. Implacably she read new meanings into this and that detail of her mother's behavior in the past. And no doubt Madame Langeais's frivolity furnished only too many grounds for her suppositions: but Jacqueline added to them. She longed to be more intimate with her father, who had always been nearer to her, his quality of mind having a great attraction for her. She longed to love him more, and to pity him. But Langeais did not seem to stand in much need of pity: and a suspicion, more dreadful even than the first, crossed the girl's heated imagination,—that her father knew nothing, but that it suited him to know nothing, and that, so long as he were allowed to go his own way, he did not care.
Then Jacqueline felt that she was lost. She dared not despise them. She loved them. But she could not go on living in their house. Her friendship with Simone Adam was no help at all. She judged severely the foibles of her former boon companion. She did not spare herself: everything that was ugly and mediocre in herself made her suffer terribly: she clung desperately to the pure memory of Marthe. But that memory was fading: she felt that the stream of time, one day following another, would cover it up and wash away all trace of it. And then there would be an end of everything: she would be like the rest, sunk deep in the mire.... Oh! if she could only escape from, such a world, at any cost! Save me! Save me!...
It was just when she was in this fever of despair, feeling her utter destitution, filled with passionate disgust and mystic expectancy, holding out her arms to an unknown saviour, that she met Olivier.
Madame Langeais, of course, invited Christophe, who, that winter, was the musician of the hour. Christophe accepted, and, as usual, did not take any trouble to make himself pleasant. However, Madame Langeais thought him charming;—he could do anything he liked, as long as he was the fashion: everybody would go on thinking him charming, while the fashion ran its allotted course of a few months.—Jacqueline, who, for the time being, was outside the current, was not so charmed with him: the mere fact that Christophe was belauded by certain people was enough to make her diffident about him. Besides, Christophe's bluntness, and his loud way of speaking, and his noisy gaiety, offended her. In her then state of mind the joy of living seemed a coarse thing to her: her eyes were fixed on the twilight melancholy of the soul, and she fancied that she loved it. There was too much sunlight in Christophe.
But when she talked to him he told her about Olivier: he always had to bring his friend into every pleasant thing that happened to him: it would have seemed to him a selfish use of a new friendship if he had not set aside a part of it for Olivier. He told Jacqueline so much about him, that she felt a secret emotion in thus catching a glimpse of a soul so much in accordance with her ideas, and made her mother invite him too. Olivier did not accept at first, so that Christophe and Jacqueline were left to complete their imaginary portrait of him at their leisure, and, of course, he was found to be very like it when at last he made up his mind to go.
He went, but hardly spoke a word. He did not need to speak. His intelligent eyes, his smile, his refined manners, the tranquillity that was in and inundated by his personality, could not but attract Jacqueline. Christophe, by contrast, stood as a foil to Olivier's shining qualities. She did not show anything, for she was fearful of the feeling stirring in her: she confined herself to talking to Christophe, but it was always about Olivier. Christophe was only too happy to talk about his friend, and did not notice Jacqueline's pleasure in the subject of their conversation. He used to talk about himself, and she would listen agreeably enough, though she was not in the least interested: then, without seeming to do so, she would bring the conversation round to those episodes in his life which included Olivier.
Jacqueline's pretty ways were dangerous for a man who was not on his guard. Without knowing it Christophe fell in love with her: it gave him pleasure to go to the house again: he took pains with his dress: and a feeling, which he well knew, began to tinge all his ideas with its tender smiling languor. Olivier was in love with her too, and had been from their first meeting: he thought she had no regard for him, and suffered in silence. Christophe made his state even worse by telling him joyously, as they left the Langeais' house, what he had said to Jacqueline and what she had said to him. The idea never occurred to Olivier that Jacqueline should like him. Although, by dint of living with Christophe, he had become more optimistic, he still distrusted himself: he could not believe that any woman would ever love him, for he saw himself too clearly, and with eyes that saw too truthfully:—what man is there would be worthy to be loved; if it were for his merits, and not by the magic and indulgence of love?
One evening when he had been invited to the Langeais', he felt that it would make him too unhappy to feel Jacqueline's indifference: he said that he was too tired and told Christophe to go without him. Christophe suspected nothing, and went off in high delight. In his naive egoism he thought only of the pleasure of having Jacqueline all to himself. He was not suffered to rejoice for long. When she heard that Olivier was not coming, Jacqueline at once became peevish, irritable, bored, and dispirited: she lost all desire to please: she did not listen to Christophe, and answered him at random: and he had the humiliation of seeing her stifle a weary yawn. She was near tears. Suddenly she went away in the middle of the evening, and did not appear again.
Christophe went home discomfited. All the way home he tried to explain this sudden change of front: and the truth began dimly to dawn on him. When he reached his rooms he found Olivier waiting for him, and then, with a would-be indifferent air, Olivier asked him about the party. Christophe told him of his discomfiture, and he saw Olivier's face brighten as he went on.
"Still tired?" he asked. "Why didn't you go to bed?"
"Oh! I'm much better," said Olivier. "I'm not the least tired now."
"Yes," said Christophe slyly, "I fancy it has done you a lot of good not going."
He looked at him affectionately and roguishly, and went away into his own room: and then, when he was alone, he began to laugh quietly, and laughed until he cried:
"Little minx!" he thought. "She was making a game of me! And he was deceiving me, too. What a secret they made of it!"
From that moment he plucked out every personal thought of Jacqueline from his heart: and, like a broody hen hatching her eggs, he hatched the romance of the young lovers. Without seeming to know their secret, and without betraying either to the other, he helped them, though they never knew it.
He thought it his solemn duty to study Jacqueline's character to see if Olivier could be happy with her. And, being very tactless, he horrified Jacqueline with the ridiculous questions he put to her about her tastes, her morality, etc., etc.
"Idiot! What does he mean?" Jacqueline would think angrily, and refuse to answer him, and turn her back on him.
And Olivier would be delighted to see Jacqueline paying no more attention to Christophe. And Christophe would be overjoyed at seeing Olivier's happiness. His joy was patent, and revealed itself much more obstreperously than Olivier's. And as Jacqueline could not explain it, and never dreamed that Christophe had a much clearer knowledge of their love than she had herself, she thought him unbearable: she could not understand how Olivier could be so infatuated with such a vulgar, cumbersome friend. Christophe divined her thoughts, and took a malicious delight in infuriating her: then he would step aside, and say that he was too busy to accept the Langeais' invitations, so as to leave Jacqueline and Olivier alone together.
However, he was not altogether without anxiety concerning the future. He regarded himself as responsible in a large measure for the marriage that was in the making, and he worried over it, for he had a fair insight into Jacqueline's character, and he was afraid of many things: her wealth first of all, her up-bringing, her surroundings, and, above all, her weakness. He remembered his old friend Colette, though, no doubt, he admitted that Jacqueline was truer, more frank, more passionate: there was in the girl an ardent aspiration towards a life of courage, an almost heroic desire for it.
"But desiring isn't everything," thought Christophe, remembering a jest of Diderot's: "the chief thing is a straight backbone."
He would have liked to warn Olivier of the danger. But when he saw him come back from being with Jacqueline, with his eyes lit with joy, he had not the heart to speak, and he thought:
"The poor things are happy. I won't disturb their happiness."
Gradually his affection for Olivier made him share his friend's confidence. He took heart of grace, and at last began to believe that Jacqueline was just as Olivier saw her and as she wished to appear in her own eyes. She meant so well! She loved Olivier for all the qualities which made him different from herself and the world she lived in: because he was poor, because he was uncompromising in his moral ideas, because he was awkward and shy in society. Her love was so pure and so whole that she longed to be poor too, and, sometimes, almost ... yes, almost to be ugly, so that she might be sure that he loved her for herself, and for the love with which her heart was so full, the love for which her heart was so hungry.... Ah! Sometimes, when he was not with her, she would go pale and her hands would tremble. She would seem to scoff at her emotion, and pretend to be thinking of something else, and to take no notice of it. She would talk mockingly of things. But suddenly she would break off, and rush away and shut herself up in her room: and then, with the doors locked, and the curtains drawn over the window, she would sit there, with her knees tight together, and her elbows close against her sides, and her arms folded across her breast, while she tried to repress the beating of her heart: she would sit there huddled together, never stirring, hardly breathing: she dared not move for fear lest her happiness should escape if she so much as lifted a finger. She would sit holding her love close, close to her body in silence.
And now Christophe was absolutely determined that Olivier should succeed in his wooing. He fussed round him like a mother, supervised his dressing, presumed to give him advice as to what he should wear, and even—(think of it!)—tied his tie for him. Olivier bore with him patiently at the cost of having to retie his tie on the stairs when Christophe was no longer present. He smiled inwardly, but he was touched by such great affection. Besides, his love had made him timid, and he was not sure of himself, and was glad of Christophe's advice. He used to tell him everything that happened when he was with Jacqueline, and Christophe would be just as moved by it as himself, and sometimes at night he would lie awake for hours trying to find the means of making the path of love smoother for his friend.
It was in the garden of the Langeais' villa, near Paris, on the outskirts of the forest of Isle-Adam, that Olivier and Jacqueline had the interview which was the turning-point in their lives.
Christophe had gone down with his friend, but he had found a harmonium in the house, and sat playing so as to leave the lovers to walk about the garden in peace.—Truth to tell, they did not wish it. They were afraid to be left alone. Jacqueline was silent and rather hostile. On his last visit Olivier had been conscious of a change in her manner, a sudden coldness, an expression in her eyes which was strange, hard, and almost inimical. It froze him. He dared not ask her for an explanation, for he was fearful of hearing cruel words on the lips of the girl he loved. He trembled whenever he saw Christophe leave them, for it seemed to him that his presence was his only safeguard against the blow which threatened to fall upon him.
It was not that Jacqueline loved Olivier less. Rather she was more in love with him, and it was that that made her hostile. Love, with which till then she had only played, love, to which she had so often called, was there, before her eyes: she saw it gaping before her like an abyss, and she flung back in terror: she could not understand it, and wondered:
"Why? Why? What does it mean?"
Then she would look at Olivier with the expression which so hurt him, and think:
"Who is this man?"
And she could not tell. He was a stranger.
"Why do I love him?"
She could not tell.
"Do I love him?"
She could not tell.... She did not know: and yet she knew that she was caught: she was in the toils of love: she was on the point of losing herself in love, losing herself utterly; her will, her independence, her egoism, her dreams of the future, all were to be swallowed up by the monster. And she would harden herself in anger, and sometimes she would feel that she almost hated Olivier.
They went to the very end of the garden, into the kitchen-garden, which was cut off from the lawns by a hedge of tall trees. They sauntered down the paths bordered on either side with gooseberry bushes, with their clusters of red and golden fruit, and beds of strawberries, the fragrance of which scented the air. It was June: but there had been storms, and the weather was cold. The sky was gray and the light dim: the low-hanging clouds moved in a heavy mass, drifting with the wind, which blew only in the higher air, and never touched the earth; no leaf stirred: but the air was very fresh. Everything was shrouded in melancholy, even their hearts, swelling with the grave happiness that was in them. And from the other end of the garden, through the open windows of the villa, out of sight, there came the sound of the harmonium, grinding out the Fugue in E Flat Minor of Johann Sebastian Bach. They sat down on the coping of a well, both pale and silent. And Olivier saw tears trickling down Jacqueline's cheeks.
"You are crying?" he murmured, with trembling lips.
And the tears came to his own eyes.
He took her hand. She laid her head on Olivier's shoulder. She gave up the struggle: she was vanquished, and it was such sweet comfort to her! ... They wept silently as they sat listening to the music under the moving canopy of the heavy clouds, which in their noiseless flight seemed to skim the tops of the trees. They thought of all that they had suffered, and perhaps—who knows?—of all that they were to suffer in the future. There are moments when music summons forth all the sadness woven into the woof of a human being's destiny....
After a moment or two Jacqueline dried her eyes and looked at Olivier. And suddenly they kissed. O boundless happiness! Religious happiness! So sweet and so profound that it is almost sorrow!
"Was your sister like you?"
Olivier felt a sudden pang. He said:
"Why do you ask me about her? Did you know her?"
"Christophe told me.... You have suffered?"
Olivier nodded: he was too much moved to speak.
"I have suffered too," she said.
She told him of the friend who had been taken from her, her beloved Marthe and with her heart big with emotion she told him how she had wept, wept until she thought she was going to die.
"You will help me?" she said, in a beseeching tone. "You will help me to live, and be good, and to be a little like her? Poor Marthe, you will love her too?"
"We will love them both, as they both love each other."
"I wish they were here."
"They are here."
They sat there locked in each other's arms: they hardly breathed, and could feel heart beating to heart. A gentle drizzle was falling, falling. Jacqueline shivered.
"Let us go in," she said.
Under the trees it was almost dark. Olivier kissed Jacqueline's wet hair: she turned her face up to him, and, for the first time, he felt loving lips against his, a girl's lips, warm and parted a little. They were nigh swooning.
Near the house they stopped once more:
"How utterly alone we were!" he said.
He had already forgotten Christophe.
They remembered him at length. The music had stopped. They went in. Christophe was sitting at the harmonium with his head in his hands, dreaming, he too, of many things in the past. When he heard the door open, he started from his dream, and turned to them affectionately with a solemn, tender smile lighting up his face. He saw in their eyes what had happened, pressed their hands warmly, and said:
"Sit down, and I'll play you something."
They sat down, and he played the piano, telling in music all that was in his heart, and the great love he had for them. When he had done they all three sat in silence. Then he got up and looked at them. He looked so kind, and so much older, so much stronger than they! For the first time she began to appreciate what he was. He hugged them both, and said to Jacqueline:
"You will love him dearly, won't you? You will love him dearly?"
They were filled with gratitude towards him. But at once he turned the conversation, laughed, went to the window, and sprang out into the garden.
* * * * *
During the days following he kept urging Olivier to go and propose his suit to Jacqueline's parents. Olivier dared not, dreading the refusal which he anticipated. Christophe also insisted on his setting about finding work, for even supposing the Langeais accepted him, he could not take Jacqueline's fortune unless he were himself in a position to earn his living. Olivier was of the same opinion, though he did not share his violent and rather comic distrust of wealthy marriages. It was a rooted idea in Christophe's mind that riches are death to the soul. It was on the tip of his tongue to quote the saying of a wise beggar to a rich lady who was worried in her mind about the next life:
"What, madame, you have millions, and you want to have an immortal soul into the bargain?"
"Beware of women," he would say to Olivier—half in jest, half in earnest—"beware of women, but be twenty times more wary of rich women. Women love art, perhaps, but they strangle the artist. Rich women poison both art and artists. Wealth is a disease. And women are more susceptible to it than men. Every rich man is an abnormal being.... You laugh? You don't take me seriously? Look you: does a rich man know what life is? Does he keep himself in touch with the raw realities of life? Does he feel on his face the stinging breath of poverty, the smell of the bread that he must earn, of the earth that he must dig? Can he understand, does he even see people and things as they are?... When I was a little boy I was once or twice taken for a drive in the Grand Duke's landau. We drove through fields in which I knew every blade of grass, through woods that I adored, where I used to run wild all by myself. Well: I saw nothing at all. The whole country had become as stiff and starched as the idiots with whom I was driving. Between the fields and my heart there was not only the curtain of the souls of those formal people. The wooden planks beneath my feet, the moving platform being rolled over the face of Nature, were quite enough. To feel that the earth is my mother, I must have my feet firmly planted on her womb, like a newborn child issuing to the light. Wealth severs the tie which binds men to the earth, and holds the sons of the earth together. And then how can you expect to be an artist? The artist is the voice of the earth. A rich man cannot be a great artist. He would need a thousand times more genius to be so under such unfavorable conditions. Even if he succeeds his art must be a hot-house fruit. The great Goethe struggled in vain: parts of his soul were atrophied, he lacked certain of the vital organs, which were killed by his wealth. You have nothing like the vitality of a Goethe, and you would be destroyed by wealth, especially by a rich woman, a fate which Goethe did at least avoid. Only the man can withstand the scourge. He has in him such native brutality, such a rich deposit of rude, healthy instincts binding him to the earth, that he alone has any chance of escape. But the woman is tainted by the poison, and she communicates the taint to others. She acquires a taste for the reeking scent of wealth, and cannot do without it. A woman who can be rich and yet remain sound in heart is a prodigy as rare as a millionaire who has genius.... And I don't like monsters. Any one who has more than enough to live on is a monster—a human cancer preying upon the lives of the rest of humanity."
"What do you want?" he said. "I can't stop loving Jacqueline because she is not poor, or force her to become poor for love of me."
"Well, if you can't save her, at least save yourself. That's the best way of saving her. Keep yourself pure. Work."
Olivier did not need to go to Christophe for scruples. He was even more nicely sensitive than he in such matters. Not that he took Christophe's diatribes against money seriously: he had been rich himself, and did not loathe riches, and thought them a very good setting for Jacqueline's pretty face. But it was intolerable to think that his love might in any way be contaminated with an imputation of interest. He applied to have his name restored to the University list. For the time being he could not hope for anything better than a moderate post in a provincial school. It was a poor wedding-present to give to Jacqueline. He told her about it timidly. Jacqueline found it difficult at first to see his point of view: she attributed it to an excessive pride, put into his head by Christophe, and she thought it ridiculous: was it not more natural between lovers to set no store by riches or poverty, and was it not rather shabby to refuse to be indebted to her when it would give her such great joy?... However, she threw herself in with Olivier's plans: their austerity and discomfort were the very things that brought her round, for she found in them an opportunity of gratifying her desire for moral heroism. In her condition of proud revolt against her surroundings which had been induced by the death of her aunt, and was exalted by her love, she had gone so far as to deny every element in her nature which was in contradiction to her mystic ardor: in all sincerity her whole being was strained, like a bow, after an ideal of a pure and difficult life, radiant with happiness.... The obstacles, the very smallness and dullness of her future condition in life, were a joy to her. How good and beautiful it would all be!...
Madame Langeais was too much taken up with herself to pay much attention to what was going on about her. For some time past she had been thinking of little outside her health: she spent her whole time in treating imaginary illnesses, and trying one doctor after another: each of them in turn was her saviour, and went on enjoying that position for a fortnight: then it was another's turn. She would stay away from home for months in expensive sanatoria, where she religiously carried out all sorts of preposterous prescriptions to the letter. She had forgotten her husband and daughter.
M. Langeais was not so indifferent, and had begun to suspect the existence of the affair. His paternal jealousy made him feel it. He had for Jacqueline that strange pure affection which many fathers feel for their daughters, an elusive, indefinable feeling, a mysterious, voluptuous, and almost sacred curiosity, in living once more in the lives of fellow-creatures who are of their blood, who are themselves, and are women. In such secrets of the heart there are many lights and shadows which it is healthier to ignore. Hitherto it had amused him to see his daughter making calfish young men fall in love with her: he loved her so, romantic, coquettish, and discreet—(just as he was himself).—But when he saw that this affair threatened to become more serious, he grew anxious. He began by making fun of Olivier to Jacqueline, and then he criticised him with a certain amount of bitterness. Jacqueline laughed at first, and said:
"Don't say such hard things, father: you would find it awkward later on, supposing I wanted to marry him."
M. Langeais protested loudly, and said she was mad: with the result that she lost her head completely. He declared that he would never let her marry Olivier. She vowed that she would marry him. The veil was rent. He saw that he was nothing to her. In his fatherly egoism it had never occurred to him, and he was angry. He swore that neither Olivier nor Christophe should ever set foot inside his house again. Jacqueline lost her temper, and one fine morning Olivier opened the door to admit a young woman, pale and determined looking, who rushed in like a whirlwind, and said:
"Take me away with you! My father and mother won't hear of it. I will marry you. You must compromise me."
Olivier was alarmed though touched by it, and did not even try to argue with her. Fortunately Christophe was there. Ordinarily he was the least reasonable of men, but now he reasoned with them. He pointed out what a scandal there would be, and how they would suffer for it. Jacqueline bit her lip angrily, and said:
"Very well. We will kill ourselves."
So far from frightening Olivier, her threat only helped to make up his mind to side with her. Christophe had no small difficulty in making the crazy pair have a little patience: before taking such desperate measures they might as well try others: let Jacqueline go home, and he would go and see M. Langeais and plead their cause.
A queer advocate! M. Langeais nearly kicked him out on the first words he said: but then the absurdity of the situation struck him, and it amused him. Little by little the gravity of his visitor and his expression of honesty and absolute sincerity began to make an impression: however, he would not fall in with his contentions, and went on firing ironical remarks at him. Christophe pretended not to hear: but every now and then as a more than usually biting shaft struck home he would stop and draw himself up in silence; then he would go on again. Once he brought his fist down on the table with a thud, and said:
"I beg of you to believe that it has given me no pleasure to call on you: I have to control myself to keep from retaliating on you for certain things you have said: but I think it my duty to speak to you, and I am doing so. Forget me, as I forget myself, and weigh well what I am telling you."
M. Langeais listened: and when he heard of the project of suicide, he shrugged his shoulders and pretended to laugh: but he was shaken. He was too clever to take such a threat as a joke: he knew that he had to deal with the insanity of a girl in love. One of his mistresses, a gay, gentle creature, whom he had thought incapable of putting her boastful threat into practice, had shot herself with a revolver before his eyes: she did not kill herself at once, but the scene lived in his memory.... No, one can never be sure with women. He felt a pang at his heart.... "She wishes it? Very well: so be it, and so much the worse for her, little fool!..." He would have granted anything rather than drive his daughter to extremes. In truth he might have used diplomacy, and pretended to give his consent to gain time, gently to wean Jacqueline from Olivier. But doing so meant giving himself more trouble than he could or would be bothered with. Besides, he was weak: and the mere fact that he had angrily said "No!" to Jacqueline, now inclined him to say "Yes." After all, what does one know of life? Perhaps the child was right. The great thing was that they should love each other. M. Langeais knew quite well that Olivier was a serious young man, and perhaps had talent.... He gave his consent.
* * * * *
The day before the marriage the two friends sat up together into the small hours. They did not wish to lose the last hours of their dear life together.—But already it was in the past. It was like those sad farewells on the station platform when there is a long wait before the train moves: one insists on staying, and looking and talking. But one's heart is not in it: one's friend has already gone.... Christophe tried to talk. He stopped in the middle of a sentence, seeing the absent look in Olivier's eyes, and he said, with a smile:
"You are so far away!"
Olivier was confused and begged his pardon. It made him sad to realize that his thoughts were wandering during the last intimate moments with his friend. But Christophe pressed his hand, and said:
"Come, don't constrain yourself. I am happy. Go on dreaming, my boy."
They stayed by the window, leaning out side by side, and looking through the darkness down into the garden. After some time Christophe said to Olivier:
"You are running away from me. You think you can escape me? You are thinking of your Jacqueline. But I shall catch you up. I, too, am thinking of her."
"Poor old fellow," said Olivier, "and I was thinking of you! And even...."
Christophe laughed and finished the sentence for him.
"... And even taking a lot of trouble over it!..."
* * * * *
Christophe turned out very fine, almost smart, for the wedding. There was no religious ceremony: neither the indifferent Olivier nor the rebellious Jacqueline had wished it. Christophe had written a symphonic fragment for the ceremony at the mairie, but at the last moment he gave up the idea when he realized what a civil marriage is: he thought such ceremonies absurd. People need to have lost both faith and liberty before they can have any belief in them. When a true Catholic takes the trouble to become a free-thinker he is not likely to endow a functionary of the civil State with a religious character. Between God and his own conscience there is no room for a State religion. The State registers, it does not bind man and wife together.
The marriage of Olivier and Jacqueline was not likely to make Christophe regret his decision. Olivier listened with a faintly ironical air of aloofness to the Mayor ponderously fawning upon the young couple, and the wealthy relations, and the witnesses who wore decorations. Jacqueline did not listen: and she furtively put out her tongue at Simone Adam, who was watching her: she had made a bet with her that being "married" would not affect her in the least, and it looked as though she would win it: it hardly seemed to occur to her that it was she who was being married: the idea of it tickled her. The rest were posing for the onlookers: and the onlookers were taking them all in. M. Langeais was showing off: in spite of his sincere affection for his daughter, he was chiefly occupied in taking stock of the guests to find out whether he had left any gaps in his list of invitations. Only Christophe was moved: not one of the rest, relations, bride, and bridegroom, or the Mayor officiating, showed any emotion: he stood gazing hungrily at Olivier, who did not look at him.
In the evening the young couple left for Italy. Christophe and M. Langeais went with them to the station. They seemed happy, not at all sorry to be going, and did not conceal their impatience for the train to move. Olivier looked like a boy, and Jacqueline like a little girl.... What a tender, melancholy charm is in such partings! The father is a little sad to see his child taken away by a stranger, and for what!... and to see her go away from him forever. But they feel nothing but a new intoxicating sense of liberty. There are no more hindrances to life: nothing can stop them ever again: they seem to have reached the very summit: now might they die readily, for they have everything, and nothing to fear.... But soon they see that it was no more than a stage in the journey. The road still lies before them, and winds round the mountain: and there are very few who reach the second stage....
The train bore them away into the night. Christophe and M. Langeais went home together. Christophe said with naive archness:
"Now we are both widowed!"
M. Langeais began to laugh. He liked Christophe now that he knew him better. They said good-by, and went their ways. They were both unhappy, with an odd mixture of sadness and sweetness. Sitting alone in his room Christophe thought:
"The best of my soul is happy."
Nothing had been altered in Olivier's room. They had arranged that until Olivier returned and settled in a new house his furniture and belongings should stay with Christophe. It was as though he himself was still present. Christophe looked at the portrait of Antoinette, placed it on his desk, and said to it:
"My dear, are you glad?"
He wrote often—rather too often—to Olivier. He had a few vaguely written letters, which were increasingly distant in tone. He was disappointed, but not much affected by it. He persuaded himself that it must be so, and he had no anxiety as to the future of their friendship.
His solitude did not trouble him. Far from it: he did not have enough of it to suit his taste. He was beginning to suffer from the patronage of the Grand Journal. Arsene Gamache had a tendency to believe that he had proprietary rights in the famous men whom he had taken the trouble to discover: he took it as a matter of course that their fame should be associated with his own, much as Louis XIV. grouped Moliere, Le Brun, and Lulli about his throne. Christophe discovered that the author of the Hymn to Aegis was not more imperial or more of a nuisance to art than his patron of the Grand Journal. For the journalist, who knew no more about art than the Emperor, had opinions no less decided about it: he could not tolerate the existence of anything he did not like: he decreed that it was bad and pernicious: and he would ruin it in the public interest. It is both comic and terrible to see such coarse-grained uncultivated men of affairs presuming to control not only politics and money, but also the mind, and offering it a kennel with a collar and a dish of food, or, if it refuses, having the power to let loose against it thousands of idiots whom they have trained into a docile pack of hounds!—Christophe was not the sort of man to let himself be schooled and disciplined. It seemed to him a very bad thing that an ignoramus should take upon himself to tell him what he ought and ought not to do in music: and he gave him to understand that art needed a much more severe training than politics. Also, without any sort of polite circumlocution, he declined a proposal that he should set to music a libretto, which the author, a leading member of the staff of the paper, was trying to place, while it was highly recommended by his chief. It had the effect of cooling his relations with Gamache.
Christophe did not mind that in the least. Though he had so lately risen from his obscurity, he was longing to return to it. He found himself "exposed to that great light in which a man is lost among the many." There were too many people bothering their heads about him. He pondered these words of Goethe:
"When a writer has attracted attention by a good piece of work, the public tries to prevent his producing another.... The brooding talent is dragged out into the hurly-burly of the world, in spite of itself, because every one thinks he will be able to appropriate a part of it."
He shut his door upon the outside world, and began to seek the company of some of his old friends in his own house. He revisited the Arnauds, whom he had somewhat neglected. Madame Arnaud, who was left alone for part of the day, had time to think of the sorrows of others. She thought how empty Christophe's life must be now that Olivier was gone: and she overcame her shyness so far as to invite him to dinner. If she had dared, she would even have offered to go in from time to time and tidy his rooms: but she was not bold enough: and no doubt it was better so: for Christophe did not like to have people worrying about him. But he accepted the invitation to dinner, and made a habit of going in to the Arnauds' every evening.
He found them just as united, living in the same atmosphere of rather sad, sorrowful tenderness, though it was even grayer than before, Arnaud was passing through a period of depression, brought on by the wear and tear of his life as a teacher,—a life of exhausting labor, in which one day is like unto another, and each day's work is like that of the next, like a wheel turning in one place, without ever stopping, or ever advancing. Though he was very patient, the good man was passing through a crisis of discouragement. He let certain acts of injustice prey upon him, and was inclined to think that all his zeal was futile. Madame Arnaud would comfort him with kind words: she seemed to be just as calm and peaceful as in the old days: but her face was thinner. In her presence Christophe would congratulate Arnaud on having such a sensible wife.
"Yes," Arnaud would say, "she is a good little creature; nothing ever puts her out. She is lucky: so am I. If she had suffered in this cursed life, I don't see how I could have got through."
Madame Arnaud would blush and say nothing. Then in her even tones she would talk of something else.—Christophe's visits had their usual good effect: they brought light in their train: and he, for his part, found it very pleasant to feel the warmth of their kind, honest hearts.