The Counterfeiters X : Olivier’s Convalescence

Rien n’ est simple de ce qui s’offre à l’âme; et l’âme ne s’offre jamais simple à aucun sujet.


“I think he will be glad to see you,” said Edouard to Bernard next morning. “He asked me this morning if you hadn’t come yesterday. He must have heard your voice, at the time when I thought he was unconscious.… He keeps his eyes shut, but he doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t speak. He often puts his hand to his forehead, as if it were aching. Whenever I speak to him he frowns; but if I go away, he calls me back and makes me sit beside him.… No, he isn’t in the studio. I have put him in the spare room next to mine, so that I can receive visitors without disturbing him.”

They went into it.

“I’ve come to enquire after you,” said Bernard very softly.

Olivier’s features brightened at the sound of his friend’s voice. It was almost a smile already.

“I was expecting you.”

“I’ll go away if I tire you.”


But as he said the word, Olivier put his finger on his lips. He didn’t want to be spoken to. Bernard, who was going up for his viva voce in three days’ time, never moved without carrying in his pocket one of those manuals which contain a concentrated elixir of the bitter stuff which is the subject matter of examinations. He sat down beside his bed and plunged into his reading. Olivier, his face turned to the wall, seemed to be asleep. Edouard had gone to his own room, which communicated with Olivier’s; the door between them had been left open, and from time to time he appeared at it. Every two hours he made Olivier drink a glass of milk, but only since that morning. During the whole of the preceding day, the patient had been unable to take any food.

A long time went by. Bernard rose to go. Olivier turned round, held out his hand, and with an attempt at a smile:

“You’ll come back to-morrow?”

At the last moment he called him back, signed to him to stoop down, as if he were afraid of not making himself heard, and whispered:

“Did you ever know such an idiot?”

Then, as though to forestall Bernard’s protest, put his finger again to his lips.

“No, no; I’ll explain later.”

The next morning Edouard received a letter from Laura, when Bernard came, he gave it to him to read:

My dear friend,

I am writing to you in a great hurry to try and prevent an absurd disaster. You will help me, I am sure, if only this letter reaches you in time.

Felix has just left for Paris, with the intention of going to see you. His idea is to get from you the explanation which I refuse to give him; he wants you to tell him the name of the person, whom he wishes to challenge. I have done all I can to stop him, but nothing has any effect and all I say merely serves to make him more determined. You are the only person who will perhaps be able to dissuade him. He has confidence in you and will, I hope, listen to you. Remember that he has never in his life held a pistol or a foil in his hands. The idea that he may risk his life for my sake is intolerable to me; but—I hardly dare own it—I am really more afraid of his covering himself with ridicule.

Since I got back, Felix has been all that is attentive and tender and kind; but I cannot bring myself to show more love for him than I feel. He suffers from this; and I believe it is his desire to force my esteem, my admiration, that is making him take this step, which will no doubt appear to you unconsidered, but of which he thinks day and night, and which, since my return, has become an idée fixe with him. He has certainly forgiven me; but he bears … a mortal grudge.

Please, I beg of you, welcome him as affectionately as you would welcome myself; no proof of your friendship could touch me more. Forgive me for not having written to you sooner to tell you once more how grateful I am for all the care and kindness you lavished on me during our stay in Switzerland. The recollection of that time keeps me warm and helps me to bear my life.

Your ever anxious and ever confident friend


“What do you mean to do?” asked Bernard, as he gave the letter back.

“What can I do?” replied Edouard, slightly irritated, not so much by Bernard’s question, as by the fact that he had already put it to himself. “If he comes, I will receive him to the best of my abilities. If he asks my advice, I will give him the best I can; and try to persuade him that the most sensible thing he can do is to keep quiet. People like poor Douviers are always wrong to put themselves forward. You’d think the same if you knew him, believe me. Laura, on the other hand, was cut out for a leading rôle. Each of us assumes the drama that suits his measure, and is allotted his share of tragedy. What can we do about it? Laura’s drama is to have married a super. There’s no help for that.”

“And Douviers’ drama is to have married someone who will always be his superior, do what he may,” rejoined Bernard.

“Do what he may …” echoed Edouard, “—and do what Laura may. The admirable thing is that Laura, out of regret for her fault, out of repentance, wanted to humble herself before him; but he immediately prostrated himself lower still; so that all that each of them did merely served to make him smaller and her greater.”

“I pity him very much,” said Bernard. “But why won’t you allow that he too may become greater by prostrating himself?”

“Because he lacks the lyrical spirit,” said Edouard irrefutably.

“What do you mean?”

“He never forgets himself in what he feels, so that he never feels anything great. Don’t push me too hard. I have my own ideas; but they don’t lend themselves to the yard measure, and I don’t care to measure them. Paul-Ambroise is in the habit of saying that he refuses to take count of anything that can’t be put down in figures; I think he is playing on the words ‘take count’; for if that were the case, we should be obliged to leave God out of ‘the account.’ That of course is where he is tending and what he desires.… Well, for instance, I think I call lyrical the state of the man who consents to be vanquished by God.”

“Isn’t that exactly what the word enthusiasm means?”

“And perhaps the word inspiration. Yes, that is just what I mean: Douviers is a being who is incapable of inspiration. I admit that Paul-Ambroise is right when he considers inspiration as one of the most harmful things in art; and I am willing to believe that one can only be an artist on condition of mastering the lyrical state; but in order to master it, one must first of all experience it.”

“Don’t you think that this state of divine visitation can be physiologically explained by …”

“Much good that will do!” interrupted Edouard. “Such considerations as that, even if they are true, only embarrass fools. No doubt there is no mystical movement that has not its corresponding material manifestation. What then? Mind, in order to bear its witness, cannot do without matter. Hence the mystery of the incarnation.”

“On the other hand, matter does admirably without mind.”

“Oh, ho! we don’t know about that!” said Edouard, laughing.

Bernard was very much amused to hear him talk in this way. As a rule Edouard was more reserved. The mood he was in to-day came from Olivier’s presence. Bernard understood it.

“He is talking to me as he would like already to be talking to him,” thought he. “It is Olivier who ought to be his secretary. As soon as Olivier is well again, I shall retire. My place is not here.”

He thought this without bitterness, entirely taken up as he now was by Sarah, with whom he had spent the preceding night and whom he was to see that night too.

“We’ve left Douviers a long way behind,” he said, laughing in his turn. “Will you tell him about Vincent?”

“Goodness no! What for?”

“Don’t you think it’s poisoning Douviers’ life not to know whom to suspect?”

“Perhaps you are right. But you must say that to Laura. I couldn’t tell him without betraying her.… Besides I don’t even know where he is.”

“Vincent?… Passavant must know.”

A ring at the door interrupted them. Madame Molinier had come to enquire for her son. Edouard joined her in the studio.