The Counterfeiters XV : Bernard Visits Edouard

About ten o’clock, Bernard turned up at Edouard’s with a hand bag which was sufficient to contain the few clothes and books that he possessed. He had taken leave of Aza├»s and of Madame Vedel, but had not attempted to see Sarah.

Bernard was grave. His struggle with the angel had matured him. He no longer resembled the careless youth who had stolen the suit-case and who thought that all that is needed in this world is to be daring. He was beginning to understand that boldness is often achieved at the expense of other people’s happiness.

“I have come to ask for shelter,” said he to Edouard. “Here I am again without a roof.”

“Why are you leaving the Vedels’?”

“For private reasons … forgive me for not telling you.”

Edouard had observed Bernard and Sarah on the evening of the dinner enough to guess at the meaning of this silence.

“All right,” he said smiling. “The couch in my studio is at your service. But I must first tell you that your father came to see me yesterday.” And he repeated the part of their conversation which he thought likely to touch him. “It is not in my house that you ought to spend the night, but in his. He is expecting you.”

Bernard, however, kept silent.

“I will think about it,” he said at last. “Allow me in the mean time to leave my things here. May I see Olivier?”

“The weather is so fine, that I advised him to go out. I wanted to go with him, for he is still very weak, but he wouldn’t let me. But it’s more than an hour since he left and he will be back soon. You had better wait for him.… But I’ve just thought.… Your examination?”

“I’ve passed; but it’s of no importance; the important thing is to know what I’m to do now. Do you know the chief reason that prevents me from going back to my father’s? It’s because I don’t want to take his money. You’ll think me absurd to fling away such an opportunity; but I made a vow that I would make my way without it. I feel I must prove to myself that I am a man of my word—someone I can count on.”

“It strikes me as pride more than anything else.”

“Call it by any name you please—pride, presumption, conceit … it’s a feeling you won’t succeed in cheapening in my eyes. But at the present moment, what I should like to know is this—is it necessary to fix one’s eyes on a goal in order to guide oneself in life?”

“Explain.”

“I wrestled over it all last night. What am I to do with the strength I feel I possess? To what use am I to put it? How am I to get out of myself the best that’s in me? Is it by aiming at a goal? But how choose such a goal? How know what it is before reaching it?”

“To live without a goal, is to give oneself up to chance.”

“I am afraid you don’t understand. When Columbus discovered America did he know towards what he was sailing? His goal was to go ahead, straight in front of him. Himself was his goal, impelling him to go ahead.… ”

“I have often thought,” interrupted Edouard, “that in art, and particularly in literature, the only people who count are those who launch out on to unknown seas. One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. But our writers are afraid of the open; they are mere coasters.”

“Yesterday, when I came out from my examination,” Bernard said, without hearing him, “some demon or other urged me into a hall where there was a public meeting going on. The talk was all about national honour, devotion to one’s country, and a whole lot of things that made my heart beat. I came within an ace of signing a paper by which I pledged myself on my honour to devote my energies to the service of a cause, which certainly seemed to me a fine and noble one.”

“I am glad you didn’t sign, but what prevented you?”

“No doubt some secret instinct.… ” Bernard reflected a few moments, and then added, laughing: “I think it was chiefly the looks of the audience—starting with my brother, whom I recognized among them. It seemed to me all the young men I saw there, were animated by the best of sentiments, and that they were doing quite right to abdicate their initiative (for it wouldn’t have led them far) and their judgment (for it was inadequate) and their independence of mind (for it was still-born). I said to myself too, that it was a good thing for the country to count among its citizens a large number of these well-intentioned individuals with subservient wills, but that my will would never be of that kind. It was then that I began to ask myself how to establish a rule, since I did not accept life without a rule and yet would not accept a rule from anyone else.”

“The answer seems to me simple: to find the rule in oneself; to have for goal the development of oneself.”

“Yes … that, as a matter of fact, is what I said to myself. But I wasn’t much further on. If I were certain of preferring what is best in myself, I might develop that rather than the rest. But I can’t even find out what is best in myself.… I wrestled over it all night, I tell you. Towards morning I was so tired that I thought of enlisting—before I was called up.”

“Running away from the question doesn’t solve it.”

“That’s what I said to myself, and that even if I put the question off now, it would come up again more seriously than ever after my service. So I came to ask you your advice.”

“I have none to give you. You can only find counsel in yourself; you can only learn how you ought to live by living.”

“And if I live badly, whilst I’m waiting to decide how to live?”

“That in itself will teach you. It’s a good thing to follow one’s inclination, provided it leads up hill.”

“Are you joking?… No; I think I understand you, and I accept your formula. But while I am developing myself, as you say, I shall have to earn my living. What do you say to an alluring advertisement in the papers: ‘Young man of great promise requires a job. Could be employed in any capacity’?”

Edouard laughed.

“No job is so difficult to find as any job. Better be a little more explicit.”

“Perhaps one of the innumerable little wheels in the organization of a big newspaper would do? Oh! I’d accept any post however subordinate—proof-reader—printer’s devil—anything. I need so little.”

He spoke with hesitation. In reality, it was a secretaryship he wanted; but he did not dare say so to Edouard, because of their mutual dissatisfaction with each other on this score. After all, it wasn’t his, Bernard’s, fault, that this trial of theirs had failed so lamentably.

“I might perhaps,” said Edouard, “get you into the Grand Journal; I know the editor.… ”

• • •

While Bernard and Edouard were conversing in this manner, Sarah was having an extremely painful explanation with Rachel. Sarah had suddenly understood that Rachel’s remonstrances were the cause of Bernard’s abrupt departure; and she was indignant with her sister, who, she said, was a kill-joy. She had no right to impose upon others a virtue which her example was enough to render odious.

Rachel, who was terribly upset by these accusations, for she had always sacrificed herself, turned very white, and protested with trembling lips:

“I can’t let you go to perdition.”

But Sarah sobbed and cried out:

“I don’t believe in your heaven. I don’t want to be saved.”

She decided on the spot to return to England, where she would go and stay with her friend. For, after all, she was free and claimed the right to live in any way she pleased. This melancholy quarrel left Rachel shattered.