The Counterfeiters XII : Edouard’s Journal: Laura’s Wedding

Nov. 2nd.—Long conversation with Douviers. We met at Laura’s parents’, and he left at the same time as I and walked across the Luxembourg Gardens with me. He is preparing a thesis on Wordsworth, but from the few words he let fall, I feel certain that he misses the most characteristic points of Wordsworth’s poetry; he had better have chosen Tennyson. There is something or other inadequate about Douviers—something abstract and simple-minded and credulous. He always takes everything—people and things—for what they set out to be. Perhaps because he himself never sets out to be anything but what he is.

“I know,” he said to me, “that you are Laura’s best friend. No doubt I ought to be a little jealous of you. But I can’t be. On the contrary, everything she has told me about you has made me understand her better herself and wish to become your friend. I asked her the other day if you didn’t bear me too much of a grudge for marrying her. She answered on the contrary, that you had advised her to.” (I really think he said it just as flatly as that.) “I should like to thank you for it, and I hope you won’t think it ridiculous, for I really do so most sincerely,” he added, forcing a smile but with a trembling voice and tears in his eyes.

I didn’t know what to answer him, for I felt far less moved than I should have been, and incapable of reciprocating his effusion. He must have thought me a little stony; but he irritated me. Nevertheless I pressed his hand as warmly as I could when he held it out to me. These scenes, when one of the parties offers more of his heart than the other wants, are always painful. No doubt he thought he should capture my sympathy. If he had been a little more perspicacious he would have felt he was being cheated; but I saw that he was both overcome by gratitude for his own nobility and persuaded that he had raised a response to it in me. As for me, I said nothing, and as my silence perhaps made him feel uncomfortable: “I count,” he added, “on her being transplanted to Cambridge, to prevent her from making comparisons which might be disadvantageous to me.”

What did he mean by that? I did my best not to understand. Perhaps he wanted me to protest. But that would only have sunk us deeper into the bog. He is one of those shy people who cannot endure silences and who think they must fill them by being exaggeratedly forthcoming—the people who say to you afterwards, “I have always been open with you.” The deuce they have! But the important thing is not so much to be open oneself as to allow the other person to be so. He ought to have realized that his openness was the very thing that prevented mine.

But if I cannot be a friend of his, at any rate I think he will make Laura an excellent husband; for in reality what I am reproaching him with are his qualities. We went on to talk of Cambridge, where I have promised to pay them a visit.

What absurd need had Laura to talk to him about me?

What an admirable thing in women is their need for devotion! The man they love is, as a rule, a kind of clothes-peg on which to hang their love. How easily and sincerely Laura has effected the transposition! I understand that she should marry Douviers; I was one of the first to advise it. But I had the right to hope for a little grief.

Some reviews of my book to hand. The qualities which people are the most willing to grant me are just the very ones I most detest. Was I right to republish this old stuff? It responds to nothing that I care for at present. But it is only at present that I see it does not. I don’t so much think that I have actually changed, as that I am only just beginning to be aware of myself. Up till now I did not know who I was. Is it possible that I am always in need of another being to act as a plate-developer? This book of mine had crystallized according to Laura; and that is why I will not allow it to be my present portrait.

An insight, composed of sympathy, which would enable us to be in advance of the seasons—is this denied us? What are the problems which will exercise the minds of to-morrow? It is for them that I desire to write. To provide food for curiosities still unformed, to satisfy requirements not yet defined, so that the child of to-day may be astonished to-morrow to find me in his path.

How glad I am to feel in Olivier so much curiosity, so much impatient want of satisfaction with the past.…

I sometimes think that poetry is the only thing that interests him. And I feel as I re-read our poets through his eyes, how few there are who have let themselves be guided by a feeling for art rather than by their hearts or minds. The odd thing is that when Oscar Molinier showed me some of Olivier’s verses, I advised the boy to let himself be guided by the words rather than force them into submission. And now it seems to me that it is I who am learning it from him.

How depressingly, tiresomely and ridiculously sensible everything that I have hitherto written seems to be to-day!

Nov. 5th.—The wedding ceremony is over. It took place in the little chapel in Rue Madame, to which I have not been for a long time past. The whole of the Vedel-Azaïs families were present—Laura’s grandfather, father and mother, her two sisters, her young brother, besides quantities of uncles, aunts and cousins. The Douviers family was represented by three aunts in deep mourning (they would have certainly been nuns if they had been Catholics). They all three live together, and Douviers, since his parents’ death, has lived with them. Azaïs’s pupils sat in the gallery. The rest of the chapel was filled with the friends of the family. From my place near the door I saw my sister with Olivier. George, I suppose, was in the gallery with his schoolfellows. Old La Pérouse was at the harmonium. His face has aged, but finer, nobler than ever—though his eye had lost that admirable fire and spirit I found so infectious in the days when he used to give me piano lessons. Our eyes met and there was so much sadness in the smile he gave me that I determined not to let him leave without speaking to him. Some persons moved and left an empty place beside Pauline. Olivier at once beckoned to me, and pushed his mother aside so that I might sit next to him; then he took my hand and held it for a long time in his. It is the first time he has been so friendly with me. He kept his eyes shut during the whole of the minister’s interminable address, so that I was able to take a long look at him; he is like the sleeping shepherd in a bas-relief in the Naples Museum, of which I have a photograph on my writing desk. I should have thought he was asleep himself, if it hadn’t been for the quivering of his fingers. His hand fluttered in mine like a captured bird.

The old pastor thought it his duty to retrace the whole of the Azaïs family history, beginning with the grandfather, with whom he had been at school in Strasbourg before the war, and who had also been a fellow-student of his later on at the faculty of theology. I thought he would never get to the end of a complicated sentence in which he tried to explain that in becoming the head of a school and devoting himself to the education of young children, his friend had, so to speak, never left the ministry. Then the next generation had its turn. He went on to speak with equal edification of the Douviers family, though he didn’t seem to know much about them. The excellence of his sentiments palliated the deficiency of his oratory and I heard several members of the congregation blowing their noses. I should have liked to know what Olivier was thinking; I reflected that as he had been brought up a Catholic, the Protestant service must be new to him and that this was probably his first visit to the chapel. The singular faculty of depersonalization which I possess and which enables me to feel other people’s emotions as if they were my own, compelled me, as it were, to enter into Olivier’s feelings—those that I imagined him to be experiencing; and though he kept his eyes shut, or perhaps for that very reason, I felt as if, like him, I were seeing for the first time the bare walls, the abstract and chilly light which fell upon the congregation, the relentless outline of the pulpit on the background of the white wall, the straightness of the lines, the rigidity of the columns which support the gallery, the whole spirit of this angular and colourless architecture and its repellent want of grace, its uncompromising inflexibility, its parsimony. It can only be because I have been accustomed to it since childhood, that I have not felt all this sooner.… I suddenly found myself thinking of my religious awakening and my first fervours; of Laura and the Sunday school where we used to meet and of which we were both monitors, of our zeal and our inability, in the ardour which consumed all that was impure in us, to distinguish the part which belonged to the other and the part that was God’s. And then I fell to regretting that Olivier had never known this early starvation of the senses which drives the soul so perilously far beyond appearances—that his memories were not like mine; but to feel him so distant from the whole thing helped me to escape from it myself. I passionately pressed the hand which he had left in mine, but which just then he withdrew abruptly. He opened his eyes to look at me, and then, with a boyish smile of roguish playfulness, which mitigated the extraordinary gravity of his brow, he leant towards me and whispered—while just at that moment the minister was reminding all Christians of their duties, and lavishing advice, precepts and pious exhortations upon the newly married couple:

“I don’t care a damn about any of it. I’m a Catholic.”

Everything about him is attractive to me—and mysterious.

At the sacristy door, I came across old La Pérouse. He said, a little sadly but without any trace of reproach: “You’ve almost forgotten me, I think.”

I mentioned some kind of occupation or other as an excuse for having been so long without going to see him and promised to go the day after to-morrow. I tried to persuade him to come back with me to the reception, which the Azaïses were giving after the ceremony and to which I was invited; but he said he was in too sombre a mood and was afraid of meeting too many people to whom he ought to speak, and would not be able to.

Pauline went away with George and left me with Olivier.

“I trust him to your care,” she said, laughing; but Olivier seemed irritated and turned away his face.

He drew me out into the street. “I didn’t know you knew the Azaïses so well.”

He was very much surprised when I told him that I had boarded with them for two years.

“How could you do that rather than live independently—anywhere else?”

“It was convenient,” I answered vaguely, for I couldn’t say that at that time Laura was filling my thoughts and that I would have put up with the worst disagreeables for the pleasure of bearing them in her company.

“And weren’t you suffocated in such a hole?” Then, as I didn’t answer: “For that matter, I can’t think how I bear it myself—nor why in the world I am there.… But I’m only a half-boarder. Even that’s too much.”

I explained to him the friendship that had existed between his grandfather and the master of the “hole,” and that his mother’s choice was no doubt guided by that.

“Oh well,” he went on, “I have no points of comparison; I dare say all these cramming places are the same, and, most likely, from what people say, the others are worse. I shouldn’t have gone there at all if I hadn’t had to make up the time I lost when I was ill. And now, for a long time past, I have only gone there for the sake of Armand.”

Then I learnt that this young brother of Laura’s was his schoolfellow. I told Olivier that I hardly knew him.

“And yet he’s the most intelligent and the most interesting of the family.”

“That’s to say the one who interests you most.”

“No, no, I assure you, he’s very unusual. If you like we’ll go and see him in his room. I hope he won’t be afraid to speak before you.”

We had reached the pension.

The Vedel-Azaïses had substituted for the traditional wedding breakfast a less costly tea. Pastor Vedel’s reception room and study had been thrown open to the guests. Only a few intimate friends were allowed into the pastoress’s minute private sitting-room; but in order to prevent it from being overrun, the door between it and the reception room had been locked—which made Armand answer, when people asked him how they could get to his mother: “Through the chimney!”

The place was crowded and the heat suffocating. Except for a few “members of the teaching body,” colleagues of Douviers’, the society was exclusively Protestant. The odour of Puritanism is peculiar to itself. In a meeting of Catholics or Jews, when they let themselves go in each other’s company, the emanation is as strong, and perhaps even more stifling; but among Catholics you find a self-appreciation, and among Jews a self-depreciation, of which Protestants seems to me very rarely capable. If Jews’ noses are too long, Protestants’ are bunged up; no doubt of it. And I myself, all the time I was plunged in their atmosphere, didn’t perceive its peculiar quality—something ineffably alpine and paradisaical and foolish.

At one end of the room was a table set out as a buffet; Rachel, Laura’s elder sister, and Sarah, her younger, were serving the tea with a few of their young lady friends to help them.…

As soon as Laura saw me, she drew me into her father’s study, where a considerable number of people had already gathered. We took refuge in the embrasure of a window, and were able to talk without being overheard. In the days gone by, we had written our two names on the window frame.

“Come and see. They are still there,” she said. “I don’t think anybody has ever noticed them. How old were you then?”

Underneath our names we had written the date. I calculated:


“And I was sixteen. Ten years ago.”

The moment was not very suitable for awakening these memories; I tried to turn the conversation, while she with a kind of uneasy insistence continually brought me back to it; then suddenly, as though she were afraid of growing emotional, she asked me if I remembered Strouvilhou?

Strouvilhou in those days was an independent boarder who was a great nuisance to her parents. He was supposed to be attending lectures, but when he was asked which ones, or what examinations he was studying for, he used to answer negligently:

“I vary.”

At first people pretended to take his insolences for jokes, in an attempt to make them appear less cutting, and he would himself accompany them by a loud laugh; but his laugh soon became more sarcastic, and his witticisms more aggressive, and I could never understand why or how the pastor could put up with such an individual as boarder, unless it were for financial reasons, or because he had a feeling that was half affection, half pity, for Strouvilhou, and perhaps a vague hope that he might end by persuading—I mean converting—him. I couldn’t understand either why Strouvilhou stayed on at the pension, when he might so easily have gone elsewhere; for he didn’t appear to have any sentimental reason, like me; perhaps it was because of the evident pleasure he took in his passages with the poor pastor, who defended himself badly and always got the worst of it.

“Do you remember one day when he asked Papa if he kept his coat on underneath his gown, when he preached?”

“Yes, indeed. He asked him so insinuatingly that your poor father was completely taken in. It was at table. I can remember it all as if …”

“And Papa ingenuously answered that his gown was rather thin and that he was afraid of catching cold without his coat.”

“And then Strouvilhou’s air of deep distress! And how he had to be pressed before he ended by saying, that of course it was of ‘very little importance,’ but that when your father gesticulated in preaching, the sleeves of his coat showed underneath his gown and that it had rather an unfortunate effect on some of the congregation.”

“And after that, poor Papa preached a whole sermon with his arms glued to his sides, so that none of his oratorical effects came off.”

“And the Sunday after that he came home with a bad cold, because he had taken his coat off. Oh! and the discussion about the barren fig-tree in the Gospel and about trees that don’t bear fruit.… ‘I’m not a fruit-tree. What I bear is shade. Monsieur le Pasteur, I cast you into the shade.’ ”

“He said that too at table.”

“Of course. He never appeared except at meals.”

“And he said it in such a spiteful way too. It was that that made grandfather turn him out. Do you remember how he suddenly rose to his feet, though he usually sat all the time with his nose in his plate, and pointed to the door with his outstretched arm, and shouted: ‘Leave the room!’ ”

“He looked enormous—terrifying; he was enraged. I really believe Strouvilhou was frightened.”

“He flung his napkin on to the table and disappeared. He went off without paying us; we never saw him again.”

“I wonder what has become of him.”

“Poor grandfather!” Laura went on rather sadly. “How I admired him that day! He’s very fond of you, you know. You ought to go up and pay him a little visit in his study. I am sure you would give him a great deal of pleasure.”

I write down the whole of this at once, as I know by experience how difficult it is to recall the tone of a dialogue after any interval. But from that moment I began to listen to Laura less attentively. I had just noticed—some way off, it is true—Olivier, whom I had lost sight of when Laura drew me into her father’s study. His eyes were shining and his face extraordinarily animated. I heard afterwards that Sarah had been amusing herself by making him drink six glasses of champagne, in succession. Armand was with him, and they were both following Sarah and an English girl of the same age as Sarah, who has been boarding with the family for over a year—pursuing them from group to group. At last Sarah and her friend left the room, and through the open door I saw the two boys rush upstairs after them. In my turn, I was on the point of leaving the room in response to Laura’s request, when she made a movement towards me:

“Wait, Edouard, there’s one thing more …” and her voice suddenly became very grave. “It’ll probably be a long time before we see each other again. I should like you to say … I should like to know whether I may still count on you … as a friend.”

Never did I feel more inclined to embrace her than at that moment—but I contented myself with kissing her hand tenderly and impetuously, and with murmuring: “Come what come may.” And then, to hide the tears which I felt rising to my eyes, I hurried off to find Olivier.

He was sitting on the stairs with Armand, watching for me to come out. He was certainly a little tipsy. He got up and pulled me by the arm:

“Come along,” he said. “We’re going to have a cigarette in Sarah’s room. She’s expecting you.”

“In a moment. I must first go up and see Monsieur Azaïs. But I shall never be able to find the room.”

“Oh, yes. You know it very well. It’s Laura’s old room,” cried Armand. “As it was one of the best rooms in the house, it was given to the parlour-boarder, but as she doesn’t pay much, she shares it with Sarah. They put in two beds for form’s sake—not that there, was much need.… ”

“Don’t listen to him,” said Olivier, laughing and giving him a shove, “he’s drunk.”

“And what about you?” answered Armand. “Well then, you’ll come, won’t you? We shall expect you.”

I promised to rejoin them.

Now that he has cut his hair en brosse, old Azaïs doesn’t look like Walt Whitman any more. He has handed over the first and second floors of the house to his son-in-law. From the windows of his study (mahogany, rep and horse-hair furniture) he can look over the play-ground and keep an eye on the pupils’ goings and comings.

“You see how spoilt I am,” he said, pointing to a huge bouquet of chrysanthemums which was standing on the table, and which a mother of one of the pupils—an old friend of the family’s—had just left for him. The atmosphere of the room was so austere that it seemed as if any flower must wither in it at once. “I have left the party for a moment. I’m getting old and all this noisy talk tires me. But these flowers will keep me company. They have their own way of talking and tell the glory of God better than men” (or some such stuff).

The worthy man has no conception how much he bores his pupils with remarks of this kind; he is so sincere in making them, that one hasn’t the heart to be ironical. Simple souls like his are certainly the ones I find it most difficult to understand. If one is a little less simple oneself, one is forced into a kind of pretence; not very honest, but what is one to do? It is impossible either to argue or to say what one thinks; one can only acquiesce. If one’s opinions are the least bit different from his, Azaïs forces one to be hypocritical. When I first used to frequent the family, the way in which his grandchildren lied to him made me indignant. I soon found myself obliged to follow suit.

Pastor Prosper Vedel is too busy; Madame Vedel, who is rather foolish, lives plunged in a religio-poetico day-dream, in which she loses all sense of reality; the young people’s moral bringing-up, as well as their education, has been taken in hand by their grandfather. Once a month at the time when I lived with them, I used to assist at a stormy scene of explanations, which would end up by effusive and pathetic appeals of this kind:

“Henceforth we will be perfectly frank and open with one another.” (He likes using several words to say the same thing—an odd habit, left him from the time of his pastorship.) “There shall be no more concealments, we won’t keep anything back in the future, will we? Everything is to be above board. We shall be able to look each other straight in the face. That’s a bargain, isn’t it?”

After which they sank deeper than ever into their bog—he of blindness—and the children of deceit.

These remarks were chiefly addressed to a brother of Laura’s, a year younger than she; the sap of youth was working in him and he was making his first essays of love. (He went out to the colonies and I have lost sight of him.) One evening when the old man had been talking in this way, I went to speak to him in his study; I tried to make him understand that the sincerity which he demanded from his grandson was made impossible by his own severity. Azaïs almost lost his temper:

“He has only to do nothing of which he need be ashamed,” he exclaimed in a tone of voice which allowed of no reply.

All the same he is an excellent man—a paragon of virtue, and what people call a heart of gold; but his judgments are childish. His great esteem for me comes from the fact that, as far as he knows, I have no mistress. He did not conceal from me that he had hoped to see me marry Laura; he is afraid Douviers may not be the right husband for her, and he repeated several times: “I am surprised at her choice”; then he added, “Still he seems to me an excellent fellow.… What do you think? …”

To which I answered, “Certainly.”

The deeper the soul plunges into religious devotion, the more it loses all sense of reality, all need, all desire, all love for reality. I have observed the same thing in Vedel upon the few occasions that I have spoken to him. The dazzling light of their faith blinds them to the surrounding world and to their own selves. As for me, who care for nothing so much as to see the world and myself clearly, I am amazed at the coils of falsehood in which devout persons take delight.

I tried to get Azaïs to speak of Olivier, but he takes more interest in George.

“Don’t let him see that you know what I am going to tell you,” he began; “for that matter, it’s entirely to his credit. Just fancy! your nephew with a few of his schoolfellows has started a kind of little society—a little mutual emulation league; the ones who are allowed into it must show themselves worthy and furnish proofs of their virtue—a kind of children’s Legion of Honour. Isn’t it charming? They all wear a little ribbon in their button hole—not very noticeable, certainly, but all the same I noticed it. I sent for the boy to my study and when I asked him the meaning of this badge, he began by being very much embarrassed. The dear little chap thought I was going to reprove him. Then with a great deal of confusion and many blushes, he told me about the starting of this little club. It’s the kind of thing, you see, one must be very careful not to smile at; one might hurt all sorts of delicate feelings.… I asked him why he and his friends didn’t do it openly, in the light of day? I told him what a wonderful power of propaganda, or proselytism, they would have, what fine things they might do!… But at that age, one likes mysteries.… To encourage his confidence, I told him that in my time—that’s to say, when I was his age—I had been a member of a society of the same kind, and that we went by the grand name of Knights of Duty; the President of the society gave us each a note-book, in which we set down with absolute frankness our failures and our shortcomings. He smiled and I could see that the story of the note-books had given him an idea; I didn’t insist, but I shouldn’t be surprised if he introduced the system of note-books among his companions. You see, these children must be taken in the right way; and in the first place, they must see that one understands them. I promised him not to breathe a word of all this to his parents; though, at the same time, I advised him to tell his mother all about it, as it would make her so happy. But it seems that the boys had given their word of honour to say nothing about it. It would have been a mistake to insist. But before he left me we joined together in a prayer for God to bless their society.”

Poor, dear old Azaïs! I am convinced the little rascal was pulling his leg and that there wasn’t a word of truth in the whole thing. But what else could he have said?… I must try and find out what it’s all about.

I did not at first recognize Laura’s room. It has been repapered; its whole atmosphere is changed. And Sarah too seemed to me unrecognizable. Yet I thought I knew her. She has always been exceedingly confidential with me. All her life I have been a person to whom one could say anything. But I had let a great many months go by without seeing the Vedels. Her neck and arms were bare. She seemed taller, bolder. She was sitting on one of the two beds beside Olivier and right up against him; he was lying down at full length and seemed to be asleep. He was certainly drunk; and as certainly I suffered at seeing him so, but I thought him more beautiful than ever. In fact they were all four of them more or less drunk. The English girl was bursting with laughter at Armand’s ridiculous remarks—a shrill laughter which hurt my ears. Armand was saying anything that came into his head; he was excited and flattered by the girl’s laughter and trying to be as stupid and vulgar as she was; he pretended to light his cigarette at the fire of his sister’s and Olivier’s flaming cheeks, and to burn his fingers, when he had the effrontery to seize their heads and pull them together by force. Olivier and Sarah lent themselves to his tomfoolery, and it was extremely painful to me. But I am anticipating.…

Olivier was still pretending to be asleep when Armand abruptly asked me what I thought of Douviers. I had sat down in a low arm-chair, and was feeling amused, excited and, at the same time, embarrassed to see their tipsiness and their want of restraint; and for that matter, flattered too, that they had invited me to join them, when it seemed so evident that it was not my place to be there.

“The young ladies here present …” he continued, as I found nothing to answer and contented myself with smiling blandly, so as to appear up to the mark. Just then, the English girl tried to prevent him from going on and ran after him to put her hand over his mouth. He wriggled away from her and called out: “The young ladies are indignant at the idea of Laura’s going to bed with him.”

The English girl let go of him and exclaimed in pretended fury:

“Oh, you mustn’t believe what he says. He’s a liar!”

“I have tried to make them understand,” went on Armand, more calmly, “that with only twenty thousand francs for a dot, one could hardly look for anything better, and that, as a true Christian, she ought first of all to take into account his spiritual qualities, as our father the pastor would say. Yes, my children. And then, what would happen to the population, if nobody was allowed to marry who wasn’t an Adonis … or an Olivier, shall we say? to refer to a more recent period?”

“What an idiot!” murmured Sarah. “Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know what he is saying.”

“I’m saying the truth.”

I had never heard Armand speak in this way before. I thought him—I still think him—a delicate, sensitive nature; his vulgarity seemed to me entirely put on—due in part to his being drunk, and still more to his desire to amuse the English girl. She was pretty enough, but must have been exceedingly silly to take any pleasure in such fooling; what kind of interest could Olivier find in all this?… I determined not to hide my disgust, as soon as we should be alone.

“But you,” went on Armand, turning suddenly towards me, “you, who don’t care about money and who have enough to indulge in fine sentiments, will you consent to tell us why you didn’t marry Laura?—when it appears you were in love with her, and when, to common knowledge, she was pining away for you?”

Olivier, who up to that moment had been pretending to be asleep, opened his eyes; they met mine and if I did not blush, it must certainly have been that not one of the others was in a fit state to observe me.

“Armand, you’re unbearable,” said Sarah, as though to put me at my ease, for I found nothing to answer. She had hitherto been sitting on the bed, but at that point she lay down at full length beside Olivier, so that their two heads were touching. Upon which, Armand leapt up, seized a large screen which was standing folded against the wall, and with the antics of a clown spread it out so as to hide the couple; then, still clowning, he leant towards me and said without lowering his voice:

“Perhaps you didn’t know that my sister was a whore?”

It was too much. I got up and pushed the screen roughly aside. Olivier and Sarah immediately sat up. Her hair had come down. Olivier rose, went to the washhand stand and bathed his face.

“Come here,” said Sarah, taking me by the arm, “I want to show you something.”

She opened the door of the room and drew me out on the landing.

“I thought it might be interesting to a novelist. It’s a notebook I found accidentally—Papa’s private diary. I can’t think how he came to leave it lying about. Anybody might have read it. I took it to prevent Armand from seeing it. Don’t tell him about it. It’s not very long. You can read it in ten minutes and give it back to me before you go.”

“But, Sarah,” said I, looking at her fixedly, “it’s most frightfully indiscreet.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, if that’s what you think, you’ll be disappointed. There’s only one place in which it gets interesting—and even that— Look here; I’ll show it you.”

She had taken out of her bodice a very small memorandum book, about four years old. She turned over its pages for a moment, and then gave it to me, pointing to a passage as she did so.

“Read it quickly.”

Under the date and in quotation marks, I first of all saw the Scripture text: “He who is faithful in small things will be faithful also in great.” Then followed: “Why do I always put off till to-morrow my resolution to stop smoking? If only not to grieve Mélanie” (the pastor’s wife). “Oh, Lord! give me strength to shake off the yoke of this shameful slavery.” (I quote it, I think exactly.) Then came notes of struggles, beseeching, prayers, efforts—which were evidently all in vain, as they were repeated day after day. Then I turned another page and there was no more mention of the subject.

“Rather touching, isn’t it?” asked Sarah with the faintest touch of irony, when I had done reading.

“It’s much odder than you think,” I couldn’t help saying, though I reproached myself for it. “Just think, I asked your father only ten days ago if he had ever tried to give up smoking. I thought I was smoking a good deal too much myself and … Anyway, do you know what he answered? First of all he said that the evil effects of tobacco were very much exaggerated, and that as far as he was concerned he had never felt any; and as I insisted: ‘Yes,’ said he, at last. ‘I have made up my mind once or twice to give it up for a time.’ ‘And did you succeed?’ ‘Naturally,’ he answered, as if it followed as a matter of course—‘since I made up my mind to.’—It’s extraordinary! Perhaps, after all, he didn’t remember,” I added, not wishing to let Sarah see the depths of hypocrisy I suspected.

“Or perhaps,” rejoined Sarah, “it proves that ‘smoking’ stood for something else.”

Was it really Sarah who spoke in this way? I was struck dumb. I looked at her, hardly daring to understand.… At that moment Olivier came out of the room. He had combed his hair, arranged his collar and seemed calmer.

“Suppose we go,” he said, paying no attention to Sarah, “it’s late.”

“I am afraid you may mistake me,” he said, as soon as we were in the street. “You might think that I’m in love with Sarah. But I’m not.… Oh! I don’t detest her … only I don’t love her.”

I had taken his arm and pressed it without speaking.

“You mustn’t judge Armand either from what he said today,” he went on. “It’s a kind of part he acts … in spite of himself. In reality he’s not in the least like that.… I can’t explain. He has a kind of desire to spoil everything he most cares for. He hasn’t been like that long. I think he’s very unhappy and that he jokes in order to hide it. He’s very proud. His parents don’t understand him at all. They wanted to make a pastor of him.”

Memo.—Motto for a chapter of The Counterfeiters:

“La famille … cette cellule sociale.”

PAUL BOURGET (passim).

Title of the chapter: THE CELLULAR SYSTEM.

True, there exists no prison (intellectual, that is) from which a vigorous mind cannot escape; and nothing that incites to rebellion is definitively dangerous—although rebellion may in certain cases distort a character—driving it in upon itself, turning it to contradiction and stubbornness, and impiously prompting it to deceit; moreover the child who resists the influence of his family, wears out the first freshness of his energy in the attempt to free himself. But also the education which thwarts a child strengthens him by the very fact of hampering. The most lamentable victims of all are the victims of adulation. What force of character is needed to detest the things that flatter us! How many parents I have seen (the mother in especial) who delight in encouraging their children’s silliest repugnances, their most unjust prejudices, their failures to understand, their unreasonable antipathies.… At table: “You’d better leave that; can’t you see, it’s a bit of fat? Don’t eat that skin. That’s not cooked enough.… ” Out of doors, at night: “Oh, a bat!… Cover your head quickly; it’ll get into your hair.” Etc., etc.… According to them, beetles bite, grasshoppers sting, earthworms give spots … and such-like absurdities in every domain, intellectual, moral, etc.

In the suburban train the day before yesterday, as I was coming back from Auteuil, I heard a young mother whispering to a little girl of ten, whom she was petting:

“You and me, darling, me and you—the others may go hang!”

(Oh, yes! I knew they were working people, but the people too have a right to our indignation. The husband was sitting in the corner of the carriage reading the paper—quiet, resigned, not even a cuckold, I dare say.)

Is it possible to conceive a more insidious poison?

It is to bastards that the future belongs. How full of meaning is the expression “a natural child”! The bastard alone has the right to be natural.

Family egoism … hardly less hideous than personal egoism.

Nov. 6th.—I have never been able to invent anything. But I set myself in front of reality like a painter, who should say to his model: “Take up such and such an attitude; put on such and such an expression.” I can make the models which society furnishes me act as I please, if I am acquainted with their springs; or at any rate I can put such and such problems before them to solve in their own way, so that I learn my lesson from their reactions. It is my novelist’s instinct that is constantly pricking me on to intervene—to influence the course of their destiny. If I had more imagination, I should be able to spin invention intrigues; as it is, I provoke them, observe the actors, and then work at their dictation.

Nov. 7th.—Nothing that I wrote yesterday is true. Only this remains—that reality interests me inasmuch as it is plastic, and that I care more—infinitely more—for what may be than for what has been. I lean with a fearful attraction over the depths of each creature’s possibilities and weep for all that lies atrophied under the heavy lid of custom and morality.

Here Bernard was obliged to pause. His eyes were blurred. He was gasping as if the eagerness with which he read had made him forget to breathe. He opened the window and filled his lungs before taking another plunge. His friendship for Olivier was no doubt very great; he had no better friend and there was no one in the world he loved so much, now that he could no longer love his parents; and indeed he clung to this affection in a manner that was almost excessive; but Olivier and he did not understand friendship quite in the same way. Bernard, as he progressed in his reading, felt with more and more astonishment and admiration, though with a little pain too, what diversity this friend he thought he knew so well, was capable of showing. Olivier had never told him anything of what the journal recounted. He hardly knew of the existence of Armand and Sarah. How different Olivier was with them to what he was with him!… In that room of Sarah’s, on that bed, would Bernard have recognized his friend? There mingled with the immense curiosity which drove him on to read so precipitately, a queer feeling of discomfort—disgust or pique. He had felt a little of this pique a moment before, when he had seen Olivier on Edouard’s arm—pique at being out of it. This kind of pique may lead very far and may make one commit all sorts of follies—like every kind of pique for that matter.

Well, we must go on. All this that I have been saying is only to put a little air between the pages of this journal. Now that Bernard has got his breath back again, we will return to it. He dives once more into its pages.