Part 3 out of 12
proportions. He strode over all the world. He was like a mountain, and
storms raged within him--storms of wrath, storms of sorrow!... Ah, what
sorrow!... But they were nothing! He felt so strong!... To suffer--still to
suffer!... Ah, how good it is to be strong! How good it is to suffer when a
man is strong!...
He laughed. His laughter rang out in the silence of the night. His father
woke up and cried:
"Who is there?"
His mother whispered:
"Ssh! the boy is dreaming!"
All then were silent; round them all was silence. The music died away, and
nothing sounded but the regular breathing of the human creatures asleep in
the room, comrades in misery, thrown together by Fate in the same frail
barque, bound onwards by a wild whirling force through the night.
(Jean-Christophe's letter to the Grand Duke Leopold is inspired by
Beethoven's letter to the Prince Elector of Bonn, written when he was
THE DEATH OF JEAN MICHEL
Years have passed. Jean-Christophe is nearly eleven. His musical education
is proceeding. He is learning harmony with Florian Holzer, the organist of
St. Martin's, a friend of his grandfather's, a very learned man, who
teaches him that the chords and series of chords that he most loves, and
the harmonica which softly greet his heart and ear, those that he cannot
hear without a little thrill running down his spine, are bad and forbidden.
When he asks why, no reply is forthcoming but that it is so; the rules
forbid them. As he is naturally in revolt against discipline, he loves them
only the more. His delight is to find examples of them in the great and
admired musicians, and to take them to his grandfather or his master. His
grandfather replies that in the great musicians they are admirable, and
that Beethoven and Bach can take any liberty. His master, less
conciliatory, is angry, and says acidly that the masters did better things.
Jean-Christophe has a free pass for the concerts and the theater. He has
learned to play every instrument a little. He is already quite skilful with
the violin, and his father procured him a seat in the orchestra. He
acquitted himself so well there that after a few months' probation he was
officially appointed second violin in the _Hof Musik Verein_. He has begun
to earn his living. Not too soon either, for affairs at home have gone from
bad to worse. Melchior's intemperance has swamped him, and his grandfather
is growing old.
Jean-Christophe has taken in the melancholy situation. He is already as
grave and anxious as a man. He fulfils his task valiantly, though it does
not interest him, and he is apt to fall asleep in the orchestra in the
evenings, because it is late and he is tired. The theater no longer rouses
in him the emotion it used to do when he was little. When he was
little--four years ago--his greatest ambition had been to occupy the place
that he now holds. But now he dislikes most of the music he is made to
play. He dare not yet pronounce judgment upon it, but he does find it
foolish; and if by chance they do play lovely things, he is displeased by
the carelessness with which they are rendered, and his best-beloved works
are made to appear like his neighbors and colleagues in the orchestra, who,
as soon as the curtain has fallen, when they have done with blowing and
scraping, mop their brows and smile and chatter quietly, as though they had
just finished an hour's gymnastics. And he has been close to his former
flame, the fair barefooted singer. He meets her quite often during the
_entr'acte_ in the saloon. She knows that he was once in love with her, and
she kisses him often. That gives him no pleasure. He is disgusted by her
paint and scent and her fat arms and her greediness. He hates her now.
The Grand Duke did not forget his pianist in ordinary. Not that the small
pension, which was granted to him with this title was regularly paid--it
had to be asked for--but from time to time Jean-Christophe used to receive
orders to go to the Palace when there were distinguished guests, or simply
when Their Highnesses took it into their heads that they wanted to hear
him. It was almost always in the evening, at the time when Jean-Christophe
wanted to be alone. He had to leave everything and hurry off. Sometimes he
was made to wait in the anteroom, because dinner was not finished. The
servants, accustomed to see him, used to address him familiarly. Then he
would be led into a great room full of mirrors and lights, in which
well-fed men and women used to stare at him with horrid curiosity. He had
to cross the waxed floor to kiss Their Highnesses' hands, and the more he
grew the more awkward he became, for he felt that he was in a ridiculous
position, and his pride used to suffer.
When it was all done he used to sit at the piano and have to play for these
idiots. He thought them idiots. There were moments when their indifference
so oppressed him as he played that he was often on the point of stopping in
the middle of a piece. There was no air about him; he was near suffocation,
seemed losing his senses. When he finished he was overwhelmed with
congratulations and laden with compliments; he was introduced all round. He
thought they looked at him like some strange animal in the Prince's
menagerie, and that the words of praise were addressed rather to his master
than to himself. He thought himself brought low, and he developed a morbid
sensibility from which he suffered the more as he dared not show it. He saw
offense in the most simple actions. If any one laughed in a corner of the
room, he imagined himself to be the cause of it, and he knew not whether it
were his manners, or his clothes, or his person, or his hands, or his feet,
that caused the laughter. He was humiliated by everything. He was
humiliated if people did not talk to him, humiliated if they did,
humiliated if they gave him sweets like a child, humiliated especially when
the Grand Duke, as sometimes happened, in princely fashion dismissed him by
pressing a piece of money into his hand. He was wretched at being poor and
at being treated as a poor boy. One evening, as he was going home, the
money that he had received weighed so heavily upon him that he threw it
through a cellar window, and then immediately he would have done anything
to get it back, for at home there was a month's old account with the
butcher to pay.
His relatives never suspected these injuries to his pride. They were
delighted at his favor with the Prince. Poor Louisa could conceive of
nothing finer for her son than these evenings at the Palace in splendid
society. As for Melchior, he used to brag of it continually to his
boon-fellows. But Jean-Christophe's grandfather was happier than any. He
pretended to be independent and democratic, and to despise greatness, but
he had a simple admiration for money, power, honors, social distinction,
and he took unbounded pride in seeing his grandson, moving among those who
had these things. He delighted in them as though such glory was a
reflection upon himself, and in spite of all his efforts to appear calm and
indifferent, his face used to glow. On the evenings when Jean-Christophe
went to the Palace, old Jean Michel used always to contrive to stay about
the house on some pretext or another. He used to await his grandson's
return with childish impatience, and when Jean-Christophe came in he would
begin at once with a careless air to ply him with seeming idle questions,
"Well, did things go well to-night?"
Or he would make little hints like:
"Here's our Jean-Christophe; he can tell us some news."
Or he would produce some ingenious compliment by way of flattery:
"Here's our young nobleman!"
But Jean-Christophe, out of sorts and out of temper, would reply with a
curt "Good-evening!" and go and sulk in a corner. But the old man would
persist, and ply him with more direct questions, to which the boy replied
only "Yes," or "No." Then the others would join in and ask for details.
Jean-Christophe would look more and more thunderous. They had to drag the
words from his lips until Jean Michel would lose his temper and hurl
insults at him. Then Jean-Christophe would reply with scant respect, and
the end would be a rumpus. The old man would go out and slam the door. So
Jean-Christophe spoiled the joy of these poor people, who had no inkling of
the cause of his bad temper. It was not their fault if they had the souls
of servants, and never dreamed that it is possible to be otherwise.
Jean-Christophe was turned into himself, and though he never judged his
family, yet he felt a gulf between himself and them. No doubt he
exaggerated what lay between them, and in spite of their different ways of
thought it is quite probable that they could have understood each other if
he had been able to talk intimately to them. But it is known that nothing
is more difficult than absolute intimacy between children and parents, even
when there is much love between them, for on the one side respect
discourages confidence, and on the other the idea, often erroneous, of the
superiority of age and experience prevents them taking seriously enough the
child's feelings, which are often just as interesting as those of grown-up
persons, and almost always more sincere.
But the people that Jean-Christophe saw at home and the conversation that
he heard there widened the distance between himself and his family.
Melchior's friends used to frequent the house--mostly musicians of the
orchestra, single men and hard drinkers. They were not bad fellows, but
vulgar. They made the house shake with their footsteps and their laughter.
They loved music, but they spoke of it with a stupidity that was revolting.
The coarse indiscretion of their enthusiasm wounded the boy's modesty of
feeling. When they praised a work that he loved it was as though they were
insulting him personally. He would stiffen himself and grow pale, frozen,
and pretend not to take any interest in music. He would have hated it had
that been possible. Melchior used to say:
"The fellow has no heart. He feels nothing. I don't know where he gets it
Sometimes they used to sing German four-part songs--four-footed as
well--and these were all exactly like themselves--slow-moving, solemn and
broad, fashioned of dull melodies. Then Jean-Christophe used to fly to the
most distant room and hurl insults at the wall.
His grandfather also had friends: the organist, the furniture-dealer, the
watch-maker, the contra-bass--garrulous old men, who used always to pass
round the same jokes and plunge into interminable discussions on art,
politics, or the family trees of the countryside, much less interested in
the subjects of which they talked than happy to talk and to find an
As for Louisa, she used only to see some of her neighbors who brought her
the gossip of the place, and at rare intervals a "kind lady," who, under
pretext of taking an interest in her, used to come and engage her services
for a dinner-party, and pretend to watch over the religious education of
But of all who came to the house, none was more repugnant to
Jean-Christophe than his Uncle Theodore, a stepson of his grandfather's, a
son by a former marriage of his grandmother Clara, Jean Michel's first
wife. He was a partner in a great commercial house which did business in
Africa and the Far East. He was the exact type of one of those Germans of
the new style, whose affectation it is scoffingly to repudiate the old
idealism of the race, and, intoxicated by conquest, to maintain a cult of
strength and success which shows that they are not accustomed to seeing
them on their side. But as it is difficult at once to change the age-old
nature of a people, the despised idealism sprang up again in him at every
turn in language, manners, and moral habits and the quotations from Goethe
to fit the smallest incidents of domestic life, for he was a singular
compound of conscience and self-interest. There was in him a curious effort
to reconcile the honest principles of the old German _bourgeoisie_ with the
cynicism of these new commercial _condottieri_--a compound which forever
gave out a repulsive flavor of hypocrisy, forever striving to make of
German strength, avarice, and self-interest the symbols of all right,
justice, and truth.
Jean-Christophe's loyalty was deeply injured by all this. He could not tell
whether his uncle were right or no, but he hated him, and marked him down
for an enemy. His grandfather had no great love for him either, and was in
revolt against his theories; but he was easily crushed in argument by
Theodore's fluency, which was never hard put to it to turn into ridicule
the old man's simple generosity. In the end Jean Michel came to be ashamed
of his own good-heartedness, and by way of showing that he was not so much
behind the times as they thought, he used to try to talk like Theodore; but
the words came hollow from his lips, and he was ill at ease with them.
Whatever he may have thought of him, Theodore did impress him. He felt
respect for such practical skill, which he admired the more for knowing
himself to be absolutely incapable of it. He used to dream of putting one
of his grandsons to similar work. That was Melchior's idea also. He
intended to make Rodolphe follow in his uncle's footsteps. And so the whole
family set itself to flatter this rich relation of whom they expected help.
He, seeing that he was necessary to them, took advantage of it to cut a
fine masterful figure, He meddled in everything, gave advice upon
everything, and made no attempt to conceal his contempt for art and
artists. Rather, he blazoned it abroad for the mere pleasure of humiliating
his musicianly relations, and he used to indulge in stupid jokes at their
expense, and the cowards used to laugh.
Jean-Christophe, especially, was singled out as a butt for his uncle's
jests. He was not patient under them. He would say nothing, but he used to
grind his teeth angrily, and his uncle used to laugh at his speechless
rage. But one day, when Theodore went too far in his teasing,
Jean-Christophe, losing control of himself, spat in his face. It was a
fearful affair. The insult was so monstrous that his uncle was at first
paralyzed by it; then words came back to him, and he broke out into a flood
of abuse. Jean-Christophe sat petrified by the enormity of the thing that
he had done, and did not even feel the blows that rained down upon him; but
when they tried to force him down on his knees before his uncle, he broke
away, jostled his mother aside, and ran out of the house. He did not stop
until he could breathe no more, and then he was right out in the country.
He heard voices calling him, and he debated within himself whether he had
not better throw himself into the river, since he could not do so with his
enemy. He spent the night in the fields. At dawn he went and knocked at his
grandfather's door. The old man had been so upset by Jean-Christophe's
disappearance--he had not slept for it--that he had not the heart to scold
him. He took him home, and then nothing was said to him, because it was
apparent that he was still in an excited condition, and they had to smooth
him down, for he had to play at the Palace that evening. But for several
weeks Melchior continued to overwhelm him with his complaints, addressed to
nobody in particular, about the trouble that a man takes to give an example
of an irreproachable life and good manners to unworthy creatures who
dishonor him. And when his Uncle Theodore met him in the street, he turned
his head and held his nose by way of showing his extreme disgust.
Finding so little sympathy at home, Jean-Christophe spent as little time
there as possible. He chafed against the continual restraint which they
strove to set upon him. There were too many things, too many people, that
he had to respect, and he was never allowed to ask why, and Jean-Christophe
did not possess the bump of respect. The more they tried to discipline him
and to turn him into an honest little German _bourgeois_, the more he felt
the need of breaking free from it all. It would have been his pleasure
after the dull, tedious, formal performances which he had to attend in the
orchestra or at the Palace to roll in the grass like a fowl, and to slide
down the grassy slope on the seat of his new trousers, or to have a
stone-fight with the urchins of the neighborhood. It was not because he was
afraid of scoldings and thwackings that he did not do these things more
often, but because he had no playmates. He could not get on with other
children. Even the little guttersnipes did not like playing with him,
because he took every game too seriously, and struck too lustily. He had
grown used to being driven in on himself, and to living apart from children
of his own age. He was ashamed of not being clever at games, and dared not
take part in their sport. And he used to pretend to take no interest in it,
although he was consumed by the desire to be asked to play with them. But
they never said anything to him, and then he would go away hurt, but
He found consolation in wandering with Uncle Gottfried when he was in the
neighborhood. He became more and more friendly with him, and sympathized
with his independent temper. He understood so well now Gottfried's delight
in tramping the roads without a tie in the world! Often they used to go out
together in the evening into the country, straight on, aimlessly, and as
Gottfried always forgot the time, they used to come back very late, and
then were scolded. Gottfried knew that it was wrong, but Jean-Christophe
used to implore, and he could not himself resist the pleasure of it. About
midnight he would stand in front of the house and whistle, an agreed
signal. Jean-Christophe would be in his bed fully dressed. He would slip
out with his shoes in his hand, and, holding his breath, creep with all the
artful skill of a savage to the kitchen window, which opened on to the
road. He would climb on to the table; Gottfried would take him on his
shoulders, and then off they would go, happy as truants.
Sometimes they would go and seek out Jeremy the fisherman, a friend of
Gottfried's, and then they would slip out in his boat under the moon. The
water dropping from the oars gave out little arpeggios, then chromatic
scales. A milky vapor hung tremulous over the surface of the waters. The
stars quivered. The cocks called to each other from either bank, and
sometimes in the depths of the sky they heard the trilling of larks
ascending from earth, deceived by the light of the moon. They were silent.
Gottfried hummed a tune. Jeremy told strange tales of the lives of the
beasts--tales that gained in mystery from the curt and enigmatic manner of
their telling. The moon hid herself behind the woods. They skirted the
black mass of the hills. The darkness of the water and the sky mingled.
There was never a ripple on the water. Sounds died down. The boat glided
through the night. Was she gliding? Was she moving? Was she still?... The
reeds parted with a sound like the rustling of silk. The boat grounded
noiselessly. They climbed out on to the bank, and returned on foot. They
would not return until dawn. They followed the river-bank. Clouds of silver
ablets, green as ears of corn, or blue as jewels, teemed in the first light
of day. They swarmed like the serpents of Medusa's head, and flung
themselves greedily at the bread thrown to them; they plunged for it as it
sank, and turned in spirals, and then darted away in a flash, like a ray of
light. The river took on rosy and purple hues of reflection. The birds woke
one after another. The truants hurried back. Just as carefully as when they
had set out, they returned to the room, with its thick atmosphere, and
Jean-Christophe, worn out, fell into bed, and slept at once, with his body
sweet-smelling with the smell of the fields.
All was well, and nothing would have been known, but that one day Ernest,
his younger brother, betrayed Jean-Christophe's midnight sallies. From that
moment they were forbidden, and he was watched. But he contrived to escape,
and he preferred the society of the little peddler and his friends to any
other. His family was scandalized. Melchior said that he had the tastes of
a laborer. Old Jean Michel was jealous of Jean-Christophe's affection for
Gottfried, and used to lecture him about lowering himself so far as to like
such vulgar company when he had the honor of mixing with the best people
and of being the servant of princes. It was considered that Jean-Christophe
was lacking in dignity and self-respect.
In spite of the penury which increased with Melchior's intemperance and
folly, life was tolerable as long as Jean Michel was there. He was the only
creature who had any influence over Melchior, and who could hold him back
to a certain extent from his vice. The esteem in which he was generally
held did serve to pass over the drunkard's freaks, and he used constantly
to come to the aid of the household with money. Besides the modest pension
which he enjoyed as retired _Kapellmeister_, he was still able to earn
small sums by giving lessons and tuning pianos. He gave most of it to his
daughter-in-law, for he perceived her difficulties, though she strove to
hide them from him. Louisa hated the idea that he was denying himself for
them, and it was all the more to the old man's credit in that he had always
been accustomed to a large way of living and had great needs to satisfy.
Sometimes even his ordinary sacrifices were not sufficient, and to meet
some urgent debt Jean Michel would have secretly to sell a piece of
furniture or books, or some relic that he set store by. Melchior knew that
his father made presents to Louisa that were concealed from himself, and
very often he would lay hands on them, in spite of protest. But when this
came to the old man's ears--not from Louisa, who said nothing of her
troubles to him, but from one of his grandchildren--he would fly into a
terrible passion, and there were frightful scenes between the two men. They
were both extraordinarily violent, and they would come to round oaths and
threats--almost it seemed as though they would come to blows. But even in
his most angry passion respect would hold Melchior in check, and, however
drunk he might be, in the end he would bow his head to the torrent of
insults and humiliating reproach which his father poured out upon him. But
for that he did not cease to watch for the first opportunity of breaking
out again, and with his thoughts on the future, Jean Michel would be filled
with melancholy and anxious fears.
"My poor children," he used to say to Louisa, "what will become, of you
when I am no longer here?... Fortunately," he would add, fondling
Jean-Christophe, "I can go on until this fellow pulls you out of the mire."
But he was out in his reckoning; he was at the end of his road. No one
would have suspected it. He was surprisingly strong. He was past eighty; he
had a full head of hair, a white mane, still gray in patches, and in his
thick beard were still black hairs. He had only about ten teeth left, but
with these he could chew lustily. It was a pleasure to see him at table. He
had a hearty appetite, and though, he reproached Melchior for drinking, he
always emptied his bottle himself. He had a preference for white Moselle.
For the rest--wine, beer, cider--he could do justice to all the good things
that the Lord hath made. He was not so foolish as to lose his reason in his
cups, and he kept to his allowance. It is true that it was a plentiful
allowance, and that a feebler intelligence must have been made drunk by it.
He was strong of foot and eye, and indefatigably active. He got up at six,
and performed his ablutions scrupulously, for he cared for his appearance
and respected his person. He lived alone in his house, of which he was sole
occupant, and never let his daughter-in-law meddle with his affairs. He
cleaned out his room, made his own coffee, sewed on his buttons, nailed,
and glued, and altered; and going to and fro and up and down stairs in his
shirt-sleeves, he never stopped singing in a sounding bass which he loved
to let ring out as he accompanied himself with operatic gestures. And then
he used to go out in all weathers. He went about his business, omitting
none, but he was not often punctual. He was to be seen at every street
corner arguing with some acquaintance or joking with some woman whose face
he had remembered, for he loved pretty women and old friends. And so he was
always late, and never knew the time. But he never let the dinner-hour slip
by. He dined wherever he might be, inviting himself, and he would not go
home until late--after nightfall, after a visit to his grandchildren. Then
he would go to bed, and before he went to sleep read a page of his old
Bible, and during the night--for he never slept for more than an hour or
two together--he would get up to take down one of his old books, bought
second-hand--history, theology, belles-lettres, or science. He used to read
at random a few pages, which interested and bored him, and he did not
rightly understand them, though he did not skip a word, until sleep came to
him again. On Sunday he would go to church, walk with the children, and
play bowls. He had never been ill, except for a little gout in his toes,
which used to make him swear at night while he was reading his Bible. It
seemed as though he might live to be a hundred, and he himself could see no
reason why he should not live longer. When people said that he would die a
centenarian, he used to think, like another illustrious old man, that no
limit can be appointed to the goodness of Providence, The only sign that he
was growing old was that he was more easily brought to tears, and was
becoming every day more irritable. The smallest impatience with him could
throw him into a violent fury. His red face and short neck would grow
redder than ever. He would stutter angrily, and have to stop, choking. The
family doctor, an old friend, had warned him to take care and to moderate
both his anger and his appetite. But with an old man's obstinacy he plunged
into acts of still greater recklessness out of bravado, and he laughed at
medicine and doctors. He pretended to despise death, and did not mince his
language when he declared that he was not afraid of it.
One summer day, when it was very hot, and he had drunk copiously, and
argued in the market-place, he went home and began to work quietly in his
garden. He loved digging. Bareheaded under the sun, still irritated by his
argument, he dug angrily. Jean-Christophe was sitting in the arbor with a
book in his hand, but he was not reading. He was dreaming and listening to
the cheeping of the crickets, and mechanically following his grandfather's
movements. The old man's back was towards him; he was bending and plucking
out weeds. Suddenly Jean-Christophe saw him rise, beat against the air with
his arms, and fall heavily with his face to the ground. For a moment he
wanted to laugh; then he saw that the old man did not stir. He called to
him, ran to him, and shook him with all his strength. Fear seized him. He
knelt, and with his two hands tried to raise the great head from the
ground. It was so heavy and he trembled so that he could hardly move it.
But when he saw the eyes turned up, white and bloody, he was frozen with
horror and, with a shrill cry, let the head fall. He got up in terror, ran
away and out of the place. He cried and wept. A man passing by stopped the
boy. Jean-Christophe could not speak, but he pointed to the house. The man
went in, and Jean-Christophe followed him. Others had heard his cries, and
they came from the neighboring houses. Soon the garden was full of people.
They trampled the flowers, and bent down over the old man. They cried
aloud. Two or three men lifted him up. Jean-Christophe stayed by the gate,
turned to the wall, and hid his face in his hands. He was afraid to look,
but he could not help himself, and when they passed him he saw through his
fingers the old man's huge body, limp and flabby. One arm dragged along the
ground, the head, leaning against the knee of one of the men carrying the
body, bobbed at every step, and the face was scarred, covered with mud,
bleeding. The mouth was open and the eyes were fearful. He howled again,
and took to flight. He ran as though something were after him, and never
stopped until he reached home. He burst into the kitchen with frightful
cries. Louisa was cleaning vegetables. He hurled himself at her, and hugged
her desperately, imploring her help. His face was distorted with his sobs;
he could hardly speak. But at the first word she understood. She went
white, let the things fall from her hands, and without a word rushed from
Jean-Christophe was left alone, crouching against a cupboard. He went on
weeping. His brothers were playing. He could not make out quite what had
happened. He did not think of his grandfather; he was thinking only of the
dreadful sights he had just seen, and he was in terror lest he should be
made to return to see them again.
And as it turned out in the evening, when the other children, tired of
doing every sort of mischief in the house, were beginning to feel wearied
and hungry, Louisa rushed in again, took them by the hand, and led them to
their grandfather's house. She walked very fast, and Ernest and Rodolphe
tried to complain, as usual; but Louisa bade them be silent in such a tone
of voice that they held their peace. An instinctive fear seized them, and
when they entered the house they began to weep. It was not yet night. The
last hours of the sunset cast strange lights over the inside of the
house--on the door-handle, on the mirror, on the violin hung on the wall in
the chief room, which was half in darkness. But in the old man's room a
candle was alight, and the flickering flame, vying with the livid, dying
day, made the heavy darkness of the room more oppressive. Melchior was
sitting near the window, loudly weeping. The doctor, leaning over the bed,
hid from sight what was lying there. Jean-Christophe's heart beat so that
it was like to break. Louisa made the children kneel at the foot of the
bed. Jean-Christophe stole a glance. He expected something so terrifying
after what he had seen in the afternoon that at the first glimpse he was
almost comforted. His grandfather lay motionless, and seemed to be asleep.
For a moment the child believed that the old man was better, and that all
was at an end. But when he heard his heavy breathing; when, as he looked
closer, he saw the swollen face, on which the wound that he had come by in
the fall had made a broad scar; when he understood that here was a man at
point of death, he began to tremble; and while he repeated Louisa's prayer
for the restoration of his grandfather, in his heart he prayed that if the
old man could not get well he might be already dead. He was terrified at
the prospect of what was going to happen.
The old man had not been conscious since the moment of his fall. He only
returned to consciousness for a moment, enough to learn his condition, and
that was lamentable. The priest was there, and recited the last prayers
over him. They raised the old man on his pillow. He opened his eyes slowly,
and they seemed no longer to obey his will. He breathed noisily, and with
unseeing eyes looked at the faces and the lights, and suddenly he opened
his mouth. A nameless terror showed on his features.
"But then ..." he gasped--"but I am going to die!"
The awful sound of his voice pierced Jean-Christophe's heart. Never, never
was it to fade from his memory. The old man said no more. He moaned like a
little child. The stupor took him once more, but his breathing became more
and more difficult. He groaned, he fidgeted with his hands, he seemed to
struggle against the mortal sleep. In his semi-consciousness he cried once:
Oh, the biting impression that it made, this mumbling of the old man,
calling in anguish on his mother, as Jean-Christophe would himself have
done--his mother, of whom he was never known to talk in life, to whom he
now turned instinctively, the last futile refuge in the last terror!...
Then he seemed to be comforted for a moment. He had once more a flicker of
consciousness. His heavy eyes, the pupils of which seemed to move
aimlessly, met those of the boy frozen in his fear. They lit up. The old
man tried to smile and speak. Louisa took Jean-Christophe and led him to
the bedside. Jean Michel moved his lips, and tried to caress his head with
his hand, but then he fell back into his torpor. It was the end.
They sent the children into the next room, but they had too much to do to
worry about them, and Jean-Christophe, under the attraction of the horror
of it, peeped through the half-open door at the tragic face on the pillow;
the man strangled by the firm, clutch that had him by the neck; the face
which grew ever more hollow as he watched; the sinking of the creature into
the void, which seemed to suck it down like a pump; and the horrible
death-rattle, the mechanical breathing, like a bubble of air bursting on
the surface of waters; the last efforts of the body, which strives to live
when the soul is no longer. Then the head fell on one side on the pillow.
All, all was silence.
A few moments later, in the midst of the sobs and prayers and the confusion
caused by the death, Louisa saw the child, pale, wide-eyed, with gaping
mouth, clutching convulsively at the handle of the door. She ran to him. He
had a seizure in her arms. She carried him away. He lost consciousness. He
woke up to find himself in his bed. He howled in terror, because he had
been left alone for a moment, had another seizure, and fainted again. For
the rest of the night and the next day he was in a fever. Finally, he grew
calm, and on the next night fell into a deep sleep, which lasted until the
middle of the following day. He felt that some one was walking in his room,
that his mother was leaning over his bed and kissing him. He thought he
heard the sweet distant sound of bells. But he would not stir; he was in a
When he opened his eyes again his Uncle Gottfried was sitting at the foot
of his bed. Jean-Christophe was worn out, and could remember nothing. Then
his memory returned, and: he began to weep. Gottfried got up and kissed
"Well, my boy--well?" he said gently.
"Oh, uncle, uncle!" sobbed the boy, clinging to him.
"Cry, then ..." said Gottfried. "Cry!"
He also was weeping.
When he was a little comforted Jean-Christophe dried his eyes and looked at
Gottfried. Gottfried understood that he wanted to ask something.
"No," he said, putting a finger to his lips, "you must not talk. It is good
to cry, bad to talk."
The boy insisted.
"It is no good."
"Only one thing--only one!..."
"Oh, uncle!" he asked, "where is he now?"
"He is with the Lord, my boy."
But that was not what Jean-Christophe had asked.
"No; you do not understand. Where is he--he _himself_?" (He meant the
He went on in a trembling voice:
"Is _he_ still in the house?"
"They buried the good man this morning," said Gottfried. "Did you not hear
Jean-Christophe was comforted. Then, when he thought that he would never
see his beloved grandfather again, he wept once more bitterly.
"Poor little beast!" said Gottfried, looking pityingly at the child.
Jean-Christophe expected Gottfried to console him, but Gottfried made no
attempt to do so, knowing that it was useless.
"Uncle Gottfried," asked the boy, "are not you afraid of it, too?"
(Much did he wish that Gottfried should not have been afraid, and would
tell him the secret of it!)
"'Ssh!" he said, in a troubled voice....
"And how is one not to be afraid?" he said, after a moment. "But what can
one do? It is so. One must put up with it."
Jean-Christophe shook his head in protest.
"One has to put up with it, my boy," said Gottfried. "_He_ ordered it up
yonder. One has to love what _He_ has ordered."
"I hate Him!" said Jean-Christophe, angrily shaking his fist at the sky.
Gottfried fearfully bade him be silent. Jean-Christophe himself was afraid
of what he had just said, and he began to pray with Gottfried. But blood
boiled, and as he repeated the words of servile humility and resignation
there was in his inmost heart a feeling of passionate revolt and horror of
the abominable thing and the monstrous Being who had been able to create
Days passed and nights of rain over the freshly-turned earth under which
lay the remains of poor old Jean Michel. At the moment Melchior wept and
cried and sobbed much, but the week was not out before Jean-Christophe
heard him laughing heartily. When the name of the dead man was pronounced
in his presence, his face grew longer and a lugubrious expression came into
it, but in a moment he would begin to talk and gesticulate excitedly. He
was sincerely afflicted, but it was impossible for him to remain sad for
Louisa, passive and resigned, accepted the misfortune as she accepted
everything. She added a prayer to her daily prayers; she went regularly to
the cemetery, and cared for the grass as if it were part of her household.
Gottfried paid touching attention to the little patch of ground where the
old man slept. When he came to the neighborhood, he brought a little
souvenir--a cross that he had made, or flowers that Jean Michel had loved.
He never missed, even if he were only in the town for a few hours, and he
did it by stealth.
Sometimes Louisa took Jean-Christophe with her on her visits to the
cemetery. Jean-Christophe revolted in disgust against the fat patch of
earth clad in its sinister adornment of flowers and trees, and against the
heavy scent which mounts to the sun, mingling with the breath of the
sonorous cypress. But he dared not confess his disgust, because he
condemned it in himself as cowardly and impious. He was very unhappy. His
grandfather's death haunted him incessantly, and yet he had long known what
death was, and had thought about it and been afraid of it. But he had never
before seen it, and he who sees it for the first time learns that he knew
nothing, neither of death nor of life. One moment brings everything
tottering. Reason is of no avail. You thought you were alive, you thought
you had some experience of life; you see then that you knew nothing, that
you have been living in a veil of illusions spun by your own mind to hide
from your eyes the awful countenance of reality. There is no connection
between the idea of suffering and the creature who bleeds and suffers.
There is no connection between the idea of death and the convulsions of
body and soul in combat and in death. Human language, human wisdom, are
only a puppet-show of stiff mechanical dolls by the side of the grim charm
of reality and the creatures of mind and blood, whose desperate and vain
efforts are strained to the fixing of a life which crumbles away with every
Jean-Christophe thought of death day and night. Memories of the last agony
pursued him. He heard that horrible breathing; every night, whatever he
might be doing, he saw his grandfather again. All Nature was changed; it
seemed as though there were an icy vapor drawn over her. Round him,
everywhere, whichever way he turned, he felt upon his face the fatal
breathing of the blind, all-powerful Beast; he felt himself in the grip of
that fearful destructive Form, and he felt that there was nothing to be
done. But, far from crushing him, the thought of it set him aflame with
hate and indignation. He was never resigned to it. He butted head down
against the impossible; it mattered nothing that he broke his head, and was
forced to realize that he was not the stronger. He never ceased to revolt
against suffering. From that time on his life was an unceasing struggle
against the savagery of a Fate which he could not admit.
The very misery of his life afforded him relief from the obsession of his
thoughts. The ruin of his family, which only Jean Michel had withheld,
proceeded apace when he was removed. With him the Kraffts had lost their
chief means of support, and misery entered the house.
Melchior increased it. Far from working more, he abandoned himself utterly
to his vice when he was free of the only force that had held him in check.
Almost every night he returned home drunk, and he never brought back his
earnings. Besides, he had lost almost all his lessons. One day he had
appeared at the house of one of his pupils in a state of complete
intoxication, and, as a consequence of this scandal, all doors were closed
to him. He was only tolerated in the orchestra out of regard for the memory
of his father, but Louisa trembled lest he should he dismissed any day
after a scene. He had already been threatened with it on several evenings
when he had turned up in his place about the end of the performance.
Twice or thrice he had forgotten altogether to put in an appearance. And of
what was he not capable in those moments of stupid excitement when he was
taken with the itch to do and say idiotic things! Had he not taken it into
his head one evening to try and play his great violin concerto in the
middle of an act of the _Valkyrie_? They were hard put to it to stop him.
Sometimes, too, he would shout with laughter in the middle of a performance
at the amusing pictures that were presented on the stage or whirling in his
own brain. He was a joy to his colleagues, and they passed over many things
because he was so funny. But such indulgence was worse than severity, and
Jean-Christophe could have died for shame.
The boy was now first violin in the orchestra. He sat so that he could
watch over his father, and, when necessary, beseech him, and make him be
silent. It was not easy, and the best thing was not to pay any attention
to him, for if he did, as soon as the sot felt that eyes were upon
him, he would take to making faces or launch out into a speech. Then
Jean-Christophe would turn away, trembling with fear lest he should commit
some outrageous prank. He would try to be absorbed in his work, but he
could not help hearing Melchior's utterances and the laughter of his
colleagues. Tears would come into his eyes. The musicians, good fellows
that they were, had seen that, and were sorry for him. They would hush
their laughter, and only talk about his father when Jean-Christophe was not
by. But Jean-Christophe was conscious of their pity. He knew that as soon
as he had gone their jokes would break out again, and that Melchior was the
laughing-stock of the town. He could not stop him, and he was in torment.
He used to bring his father home after the play. He would take his arm, put
up with his pleasantries, and try to conceal the stumbling in his walk. But
he deceived no one, and in spite of all his efforts it was very rarely that
he could succeed in leading Melchior all the way home. At the corner of the
street Melchior would declare that he had an urgent appointment with some
friends, and no argument could dissuade him from keeping this engagement.
Jean-Christophe took care not to insist too much, so as not to expose
himself to a scene and paternal imprecations which might attract the
neighbors to their windows.
All the household money slipped away in this fashion. Melchior was not
satisfied with drinking away his earnings; he drank away all that his wife
and son so hardly earned. Louisa used to weep, but she dared not resist,
since her husband had harshly reminded her that nothing in the house
belonged to her, and that he had married her without a sou. Jean-Christophe
tried to resist. Melchior boxed his ears, treated him like a naughty child,
and took the money out of his hands. The boy was twelve or thirteen. He was
strong, and was beginning to kick against being beaten; but he was still
afraid to rebel, and rather than expose himself to fresh humiliations of
the kind he let himself be plundered. The only resource that Louisa and
Jean-Christophe had was to hide their money; but Melchior was singularly
ingenious in discovering their hiding-places when they were not there.
Soon that was not enough for him. He sold the things that he had inherited
from his father. Jean-Christophe sadly saw the precious relics go--the
books, the bed, the furniture, the portraits of musicians. He could say
nothing. But one day, when Melchior had crashed into Jean Michel's old
piano, he swore as he rubbed his knee, and said that there was no longer
room to move about in his own house, and that he would rid the house of
all such gimcrackery. Jean-Christophe cried aloud. It was true that the
rooms were too full, since all Jean Michel's belongings were crowded
into them, so as to be able to sell the house, that dear house in which
Jean-Christophe had spent the happiest hours of his childhood. It was true
also that the old piano was not worth much, that it was husky in tone, and
that for a long time Jean-Christophe had not used it, since he played on
the fine new piano due to the generosity of the Prince; but however old and
useless it might be, it was Jean-Christophe's best friend. It had awakened
the child to the boundless world of music; on its worn yellow keys he had
discovered with his fingers the kingdom of sounds and its laws; it had been
his grandfather's work (months had gone to repairing it for his grandson),
and he was proud of it; it was in some sort a holy relic, and
Jean-Christophe protested that his father had no right to sell it. Melchior
bade him be silent. Jean-Christophe cried louder than ever that the piano
was his, and that he forbade any one to touch it; but Melchior looked at
him with an evil smile, and said nothing.
Next day Jean-Christophe had forgotten the affair. He came home tired, but
in a fairly good temper. He was struck by the sly looks of his brothers.
They pretended to be absorbed in their books, but they followed him with
their eyes, and watched all his movements, and bent over their books
again when he looked at them. He had no doubt that they had played some
trick upon him, but he was used to that, and did not worry about it, but
determined, when he had found it out, to give them a good thrashing, as he
always did on such occasions. He scorned to look into the matter, and he
began to talk to his father, who was sitting by the fire, and questioned
him as to the doings of the day with an affectation of interest which
suited him but ill; and while he talked he saw that Melchior was exchanging
stealthy nods and winks with the two children. Something caught at his
heart. He ran into his room. The place where the piano had stood was empty!
He gave a cry of anguish. In the next room he heard the stifled laughter of
his brothers. The blood rushed to his face. He rushed in to them, and
Melchior raised his head with an air of calm bewilderment which made
the children roar with laughter. He could not contain himself when he
saw Jean-Christophe's piteous look, and he turned aside to guffaw.
Jean-Christophe no longer knew what he was doing. He hurled himself like
a mad thing on his father. Melchior, lolling in his chair, had no time to
protect himself. The boy seized him by the throat and cried:
It was only for a moment. Melchior shook himself, and sent Jean-Christophe
rolling down on to the tile floor, though in his fury he was clinging
to him like grim death. The boy's head crashed against the tiles.
Jean-Christophe got upon his knees. He was livid, and he went on saying in
a choking voice:
"Thief, thief!... You are robbing us--mother and me.... Thief!... You are
selling my grandfather!"
Melchior rose to his feet, and held his fist above Jean-Christophe's head.
The boy stared at him with hate; in his eyes. He was trembling with rage.
Melchior began to tremble, too.
He sat down, and hid his face in his hands. The two children had run away
screaming. Silence followed the uproar. Melchior groaned and mumbled.
Jean-Christophe, against the wall, never ceased glaring at him with
clenched teeth, and he trembled in every limb. Melchior began to blame
"I am a thief! I rob my family! My children despise me! It were better if
I were dead!"
When he had finished whining, Jean-Christophe did not budge, but asked him
"Where is the piano?"
"At Wormser's," said Melchior, not daring to look at him.
Jean-Christophe took a step forward, and said:
Melchior, crushed, took the money from his pocket and gave it to his son.
Jean-Christophe turned towards the door. Melchior called him:
Jean-Christophe stopped. Melchior went on in a quavering voice:
"Dear Jean-Christophe ... do not despise me!"
Jean-Christophe flung his arms round his neck and sobbed:
"No, father--dear father! I do not despise you! I am so unhappy!"
They wept loudly. Melchior lamented:
"It is not my fault. I am not bad. That's true, Jean-Christophe? I am not
He promised that he would drink no more. Jean-Christophe wagged his head
doubtfully, and Melchior admitted that he could not resist it when he had
money in his hands. Jean-Christophe thought for a moment and said:
"You see, father, we must..."
"I am ashamed..."
"Of whom?" asked Melchior naively.
Melchior made a face and said:
Jean-Christophe explained that they would have to put all the family money,
even Melchior's contribution, into the hands of some one else, who would
dole it out to Melchior day by day, or week by week, as he needed it.
Melchior, who was in humble mood--he was not altogether starving--agreed
to the proposition, and declared that he would then and there write a
letter to the Grand Duke to ask that the pension which came to him should
be regularly paid over in his name to Jean-Christophe. Jean-Christophe
refused, blushing for his father's humiliation. But Melchior, thirsting
for self-sacrifice, insisted on writing. He was much moved by his own
magnanimity. Jean-Christophe refused to take the letter, and when Louisa
came in and was acquainted with the turn of events, she declared that she
would rather beg in the streets than expose her husband to such an insult.
She added that she had every confidence in him, and that she was sure he
would make amends out of love for the children and herself. In the end
there was a scene of tender reconciliation and Melchior's letter was left
on the table, and then fell under the cupboard, where it remained
But a few days later, when she was cleaning up, Louisa found it there, and
as she was very unhappy about Melchior's fresh outbreaks--he had forgotten
all about it--instead of tearing it up, she kept it. She kept it for
several months, always rejecting the idea of making use of it, in spite of
the suffering she had to endure. But one day, when she saw Melchior once
more beating Jean-Christophe and robbing him of his money, she could bear
it no longer, and when she was left alone with the boy, who was weeping,
she went and fetched the letter, and gave it him, and said:
Jean-Christophe hesitated, but he understood that there was no other way
if they wished to save from the wreck the little that was left to them.
He went to the Palace. He took nearly an hour to walk a distance that
ordinarily took twenty minutes. He was overwhelmed by the shame of what
he was doing. His pride, which had grown great in the years of sorrow and
isolation, bled at the thought of publicly confessing his father's vice.
He knew perfectly well that it was known to everybody, but by a strange
and natural inconsequence he would not admit it, and pretended to notice
nothing, and he would rather have been hewn in pieces than agree. And now,
of his own accord, he was going!... Twenty times he was on the point of
turning back. He walked two or three times round the town, turning away
just as he came near the Palace. He was not alone in his plight. His mother
and brothers had also to be considered. Since his father had deserted them
and betrayed them, it was his business as eldest son to take his place and
come to their assistance. There was no room for hesitation or pride; he
had to swallow down his shame. He entered the Palace. On the staircase he
almost turned and fled. He knelt down on a step; he stayed for several
minutes on the landing, with his hand on the door, until some one coming
made him go in.
Every one in the offices knew him. He asked to see His Excellency the
Director of the Theaters, Baron de Hammer Langbach. A young clerk, sleek,
bald, pink-faced, with a white waistcoat and a pink tie, shook his hand
familiarly, and began to talk about the opera of the night before.
Jean-Christophe repeated his question. The clerk replied that His
Excellency was busy for the moment, but that if Jean-Christophe had a
request to make they could present it with other documents which were to
be sent in for His Excellency's signature. Jean-Christophe held out his
letter. The clerk read it, and gave a cry of surprise.
"Oh, indeed!" he said brightly. "That is a good idea. He ought to have
thought of that long ago! He never did anything better in his life! Ah, the
old sot! How the devil did he bring himself to do it?"
He stopped short. Jean-Christophe had snatched the paper out of his hands,
and, white with rage, shouted:
"I forbid you!... I forbid you to insult me!"
The clerk was staggered.
"But, my dear Jean-Christophe," he began to say, "whoever thought of
insulting you? I only said what everybody thinks, and what you think
"No!" cried Jean-Christophe angrily.
"What! you don't think so? You don't think that he drinks?"
"It is not true!" said Jean-Christophe.
He stamped his foot.
The clerk shrugged his shoulders.
"In that case, why did he write this letter?"
"Because," said Jean-Christophe (he did not know what to say)--"because,
when I come for my wages every month, I prefer to take my father's at the
same time. It is no good our both putting ourselves out.... My father is
He reddened at the absurdity of his explanation. The clerk looked at him
with pity and irony in his eyes. Jean-Christophe crumpled the paper in his
hands, and turned to go. The clerk got up and took him by the arm.
"Wait a moment," he said. "I'll go and fix it up for you."
He went into the Director's office. Jean-Christophe waited, with the eyes
of the other clerks upon him. His blood boiled. He did not know what he was
doing, what to do, or what he ought to do. He thought of going away before
the answer was brought to him, and he had just made up his mind to that
when the door opened.
"His Excellency will see you," said the too obliging clerk.
Jean-Christophe had to go in.
His Excellency Baron de Hammer Langbach, a little neat old man with
whiskers, mustaches, and a shaven chin, looked at Jean-Christophe over his
golden spectacles without stopping writing, nor did he give any response to
the boy's awkward bow.
"So," he said, after a moment, "you are asking, Herr Krafft ...?"
"Your Excellency," said Jean-Christophe hurriedly, "I ask your pardon. I
have thought better of it. I have nothing to ask."
The old man sought no explanation for this sudden reconsideration. He
looked more closely at Jean-Christophe, coughed, and said:
"Herr Krafft, will you give me the letter that is in your hand?"
Jean-Christophe saw that the Director's gaze was fixed on the paper which
he was still unconsciously holding crumpled up in his hand.
"It is no use, Your Excellency," he murmured. "It is not worth while now."
"Please give it me," said the old man quietly, as though he had not heard.
Mechanically Jean-Christophe gave him the crumpled letter, but he plunged
into a torrent of stuttered words while he held out his hand for the
letter. His Excellency carefully smoothed out the paper, read it, looked at
Jean-Christophe, let him flounder about with his explanations, then checked
him, and said with a malicious light in his eyes:
"Very well, Herr Krafft; the request is granted."
He dismissed him with a wave of his hand and went on with his writing.
Jean-Christophe went out, crushed.
"No offense, Jean-Christophe!" said the clerk kindly, when the boy came
into the office again. Jean-Christophe let him shake his hand without
daring to raise his eyes. He found himself outside the Palace. He was cold
with shame. Everything that had been said to him recurred in his memory,
and he imagined that there was an insulting irony in the pity of the people
who honored and were sorry for him. He went home, and answered only with a
few irritable words Louisa's questions, as though he bore a grudge against
her for what he had just done. He was racked by remorse when he thought of
his father. He wanted to confess everything to him, and to beg his pardon.
Melchior was not there. Jean-Christophe kept awake far into the night,
waiting for him. The more he thought of him the more his remorse quickened.
He idealized him; he thought of him as weak, kind, unhappy, betrayed by his
own family. As soon as he heard his step on the stairs he leaped from his
bed to go and meet him, and throw himself in his arms; but Melchior was in
such a disgusting state of intoxication that Jean-Christophe had not even
the courage to go near him, and he went to bed again, laughing bitterly at
his own illusions.
When Melchior learned a few days later of what had happened, he was in a
towering passion, and, in spite of all Jean-Christophe's entreaties, he
went and made a scene at the Palace. But he returned with his tail between
his legs, and breathed not a word of what had happened. He had been
very badly received. He had been told that he would have to take a very
different tone about the matter, that the pension had only been continued
out of consideration for the worth of his son, and that if in the
future there came any scandal concerning him to their ears, it would be
suppressed. And so Jean-Christophe was much surprised and comforted to see
his father accept his living from day to day, and even boast about having
taken, the initiative in the _sacrifice_.
But that did not keep Melchior from complaining outside that he had been
robbed by his wife and children, that he had put himself out for them all
his life, and that now they let him want for everything. He tried also to
extract money from Jean-Christophe by all sorts of ingenious tricks and
devices, which often used to make Jean-Christophe laugh, although he was
hardly ever taken in by them. But as Jean-Christophe held firm, Melchior
did not insist. He was curiously intimidated by the severity in the eyes
of this boy of fourteen who judged him. He used to avenge himself by some
stealthy, dirty trick. He used to go to the cabaret and eat and drink as
much as he pleased, and then pay nothing, pretending that his son would
pay his debts. Jean-Christophe did not protest, for fear of increasing
the scandal, and he and Louisa exhausted their resources in discharging
Melchior's debts. In the end Melchior more and more lost interest in his
work as violinist, since he no longer received his wages, and his absence
from the theater became so frequent that, in spite of Jean-Christophe's
entreaties, they had to dismiss him. The boy was left to support his
father, his brothers, and the whole household.
So at fourteen Jean-Christophe became the head of the family.
* * * * *
He stoutly faced his formidable task. His pride would not allow him to
resort to the charity of others. He vowed that he would pull through alone.
From his earliest days he had suffered too much from seeing his mother
accept and even ask for humiliating charitable offerings. He used to argue
the matter with her when she returned home triumphant with some present
that she had obtained from one of her patronesses. She saw no harm in it,
and was glad to be able, thanks to the money, to spare Jean-Christophe a
little, and to bring another meager dish forth for supper. But
Jean-Christophe would become gloomy, and would not talk all evening, and
would even refuse, without giving any reason, to touch food gained in this
way. Louisa was vexed, and clumsily urged her son to eat. He was not to be
budged, and in the end she would lose her temper, and say unkind things to
him, and he would retort. Then he would fling his napkin on the table and
go out. His father would shrug his shoulders and call him a _poseur_; his
brothers would laugh at him and eat his portion.
But he had somehow to find a livelihood. His earnings from the orchestra
were not enough. He gave lessons. His talents as an instrumentalist, his
good reputation, and, above all, the Prince's patronage, brought him a
numerous _clientele_ among the middle classes. Every morning from nine
o'clock on he taught the piano to little girls, many of them older than
himself, who frightened him horribly with their coquetry and maddened him
with the clumsiness of their playing. They were absolutely stupid as far
as music went, but, on the other hand, they had all, more or less, a keen
sense of ridicule, and their mocking looks spared none of Jean-Christophe's
awkwardnesses. It was torture for him. Sitting by their side on the edge of
his chair, stiff, and red in the face; bursting with anger, and not daring
to stir; controlling himself so as not to say stupid things, and afraid of
the sound of his own voice, so that he could hardly speak a word; trying
to look severe, and feeling that his pupil was looking at him out of the
corner of her eye, he would lose countenance, grow confused in the middle
of a remark; fearing to make himself ridiculous, he would become so, and
break out into violent reproach. But it was very easy for his pupils to
avenge themselves, and they did not fail to do so, and upset him by a
certain way of looking at him, and by asking him the simplest questions,
which made him blush up to the roots of his hair; or they would ask him to
do them some small service, such as fetching something they had forgotten
from a piece of furniture, and that was for him a most painful ordeal, for
he had to cross the room under fire of malicious looks, which pitilessly
remarked the least awkwardness in his movements and his clumsy legs, his
stiff arms, his body cramped by his shyness.
From these lessons he had to hasten to rehearsal at the theater. Often he
had no time for lunch, and he used to carry a piece of bread and some cold
meat in his pocket to eat during the interval. Sometimes he had to take
the place of Tobias Pfeiffer, the _Musik Direktor_, who was interested in
him, and sometimes had him to conduct the orchestra rehearsals instead of
himself. And he had also to go on with his own musical education. Other
piano lessons filled his day until the hour of the performance, and very
often in the evening after the play he was sent for to play at the Palace.
There he had to play for an hour or two. The Princess laid claim to a
knowledge of music. She was very fond of it, but had never been able
to perceive the difference between good and bad. She used to make
Jean-Christophe play through strange programmes, in which dull rhapsodies
stood side by side with masterpieces. But her greatest pleasure was to make
him improvise, and she used to provide him with heartbreakingly sentimental
Jean-Christophe used to leave about midnight, worn out, with his hands
burning, his head aching, his stomach empty. He was in a sweat, and outside
snow would be falling, or there would be an icy fog. He had to walk across
half the town to reach home. He went on foot, his teeth chattering, longing
to sleep and to cry, and he had to take care not to splash his only evening
dress-suit in the puddles.
He would go up to his room, which he still shared with his brothers, and
never was he so overwhelmed by disgust and despair with his life as at the
moment when in his attic, with its stifling smell, he was at last permitted
to take off the halter of his misery. He had hardly the heart to undress
himself. Happily, no sooner did his head touch the pillow than he would
sink into a heavy sleep which deprived him of all consciousness of his
But he had to get up by dawn in summer, and before dawn in winter. He
wished to do his own work. It was all the free time that he had between
five o'clock and eight. Even then he had to waste some of it by work to
command, for his title of _Hof Musicus_ and his favor with the Grand Duke
exacted from him official compositions for the Court festivals.
So the very source of his life was poisoned. Even his dreams were not free,
but, as usual, this restraint made them only the stronger. When nothing
hampers action, the soul has fewer reasons for action, and the closer the
walls of Jean-Christophe's prison of care and banal tasks were drawn about
him, the more his heart in its revolt felt its independence. In a life
without obstacles he would doubtless have abandoned himself to chance and
to the voluptuous sauntering of adolescence. As he could be free only for
an hour or two a day, his strength flowed into that space of time like a
river between walls of rock. It is a good discipline for art for a man to
confine his efforts between unshakable bounds. In that sense it may be said
that misery is a master, not only of thought, but of style; it teaches
sobriety to the mind as to the body. When time is doled out and thoughts
measured, a man says no word too much, and grows accustomed to thinking
only what is essential; so he lives at double pressure, having less time
This had happened in Jean-Christophe's case. Under his yoke he took
full stock of the value of liberty and he never frittered away the
precious minutes with useless words or actions. His natural tendency
to write diffusely, given up to all the caprice of a mind sincere but
indiscriminating, found correction in being forced to think and do as much
as possible in the least possible time. Nothing had so much influence on
his artistic and moral development--not the lessons of his masters, nor the
example of the masterpieces. During the years when the character is formed
he came to consider music as an exact language, in which every sound has a
meaning, and at the same time he came to loathe those musicians who talk
without saying anything.
And yet the compositions which he wrote at this time were still far from
expressing himself completely, because he was still very far from having
completely discovered himself. He was seeking himself through the mass of
acquired feelings which education imposes on a child as second nature. He
had only intuitions of his true being, until he should feel the passions
of adolescence, which strip the personality of its borrowed garments as a
thunder-clap purges the sky of the mists that hang over it. Vague and great
forebodings were mingled in him with strange memories, of which he could
not rid himself. He raged against these lies; he was wretched to see how
inferior what he wrote was to what he thought; he had bitter doubts of
himself. But he could not resign himself to such a stupid defeat. He longed
passionately to do better, to write great things, and always he missed
fire. After a moment of illusion as he wrote, he saw that what he had done
was worthless. He tore it up; he burned everything that he did; and, to
crown his humiliation, he had to see his official works, the most mediocre
of all, preserved, and he could not destroy them--the concerto, _The
Royal Eagle_, for the Prince's birthday and the cantata, _The Marriage
of Pallas_, written on the occasion of the marriage of Princess
Adelaide--published at great expense in _editions de luxe_, which
perpetuated his imbecilities for posterity; for he believed in posterity.
He wept in his humiliation.
Fevered years! No respite, no release--nothing to create a diversion from
such maddening toil; no games, no friends. How should he have them? In the
afternoon, when other children played, young Jean-Christophe, with his
brows knit in attention, was at his place in the orchestra in the dusty and
ill-lighted theater; and in the evening, when other children were abed, he
was still there, sitting in his chair, bowed with weariness.
No intimacy with his brothers. The younger, Ernest, was twelve. He was a
little ragamuffin, vicious and impudent, who spent his days with other
rapscallions like himself, and from their company had caught not only
deplorable manners, but shameful habits which good Jean-Christophe, who
had never so much as suspected their existence, was horrified to see one
day. The other, Rodolphe, the favorite of Uncle Theodore, was to go into
business. He was steady, quiet, but sly. He thought himself much superior
to Jean-Christophe, and did not admit his authority in the house, although
it seemed natural to him to eat the food that he provided. He had espoused
the cause of Theodore and Melchior's ill-feeling against Jean-Christophe
and used to repeat their absurd gossip. Neither of the brothers cared for
music, and Rodolphe, in imitation of his uncle, affected to despise it.
Chafing against Jean-Christophe's authority and lectures--for he took
himself very seriously as the head of the family--the two boys had tried to
rebel; but Jean-Christophe, who had lusty fists and the consciousness of
right, sent them packing. Still they did not for that cease to do with him
as they liked. They abused his credulity, and laid traps for him, into
which he invariably fell. They used to extort money from him with barefaced
lies, and laughed at him behind his back. Jean-Christophe was always taken
in. He had so much need of being loved that an affectionate word was enough
to disarm his rancor. He would have forgiven them everything for a little
love. But his confidence was cruelly shaken when he heard them laughing at
his stupidity after a scene of hypocritical embracing which had moved him
to tears, and they had taken advantage of it to rob him of a gold watch, a
present from the Prince, which they coveted. He despised them, and yet went
on letting himself be taken in from his unconquerable tendency to trust and
to love. He knew it. He raged against himself, and he used to thrash his
brothers soundly when he discovered once more that they had tricked him.
That did not keep him from swallowing almost immediately the fresh hook
which it pleased them to bait for him.
A more bitter cause of suffering was in store for him. He learned from
officious neighbors that his father was speaking ill of him. After having
been proud of his son's successes, and having boasted of them everywhere,
Melchior was weak and shameful enough to be jealous of them. He tried to
decry them. It was stupid to weep; Jean-Christophe could only shrug his
shoulders in contempt. It was no use being angry about it, for his father
did not know what he was doing, and was embittered by his own downfall. The
boy said nothing. He was afraid, if he said anything, of being too hard;
but he was cut to the heart.
They were melancholy gatherings at the family evening meal round the lamp,
with a spotted cloth, with all the stupid chatter and the sound of the jaws
of these people whom he despised and pitied, and yet loved in spite of
everything. Only between himself and his brave mother did Jean-Christophe
feel a bond of affection. But Louisa, like himself, exhausted herself
during the day, and in the evening she was worn out and hardly spoke, and
after dinner used to sleep in her chair over her darning. And she was so
good that she seemed to make no difference in her love between her husband
and her three sons. She loved them all equally. Jean-Christophe did not
find in her the trusted friend that he so much needed.
So he was driven in upon himself. For days together he would not speak,
fulfilling his tiresome and wearing task with a sort of silent rage. Such
a mode of living was dangerous, especially for a child at a critical age,
when he is most sensitive, and is exposed to every agent of destruction
and the risk of being deformed for the rest of his life. Jean-Christophe's
health suffered seriously. He had been endowed by his parents with a
healthy constitution and a sound and healthy body; but his very healthiness
only served to feed his suffering when the weight of weariness and too
early cares had opened up a gap by which it might enter. Quite early in
life there were signs of grave nervous disorders. When he was a small boy
he was subject to fainting-fits and convulsions and vomiting whenever he
encountered opposition. When he was seven or eight, about the time of the
concert, his sleep had been troubled. He used to talk, cry, laugh and weep
in his sleep, and this habit returned to him whenever he had too much to
think of. Then he had cruel headaches, sometimes shooting pains at the base
of his skull or the top of his head, sometimes a leaden heaviness. His eyes
troubled him. Sometimes it was as though red-hot needles were piercing his
eyeballs. He was subject to fits of dizziness, when he could not see to
read, and had to stop for a minute or two. Insufficient and unsound food
and irregular meals ruined the health of his stomach. He was racked by
internal pains or exhausted by diarrhea. But nothing brought him more
suffering than his heart. It beat with a crazy irregularity. Sometimes it
would leap in his bosom, and seem like to break; sometimes it would hardly
beat at all, and seem like to stop. At night his temperature would vary
alarmingly; it would change suddenly from fever-point to next to nothing.
He would burn, then shiver with cold, pass through agony. His throat would
go dry; a lump in it would prevent his breathing. Naturally his imagination
took fire. He dared not say anything to his family of what he was going
through, but he was continually dissecting it with a minuteness which
either enlarged his sufferings or created new ones. He decided that he had
every known illness one after the other. He believed that he was going
blind, and as he sometimes used to turn giddy as he walked, he thought that
he was going to fall down dead. Always that dreadful fear of being stopped
on his road, of dying before his time, obsessed him, overwhelmed him, and
pursued him. Ah, if he had to die, at least let it not be now, not before
he had tasted victory!...
Victory ... the fixed idea which never ceases to burn within him without
his being fully aware of it--the idea which bears him up through all his
disgust and fatigues and the stagnant morass of such a life! A dim and
great foreknowledge of what he will be some day, of what he is already!...
What is he? A sick, nervous child, who plays the violin in the orchestra
and writes mediocre concertos? No; far more than such a child. That is no
more than the wrapping, the seeming of a day; that is not his Being. There
is no connection between his Being and the existing shape of his face and
thought. He knows that well. When he looks at himself in the mirror he does
not know himself. That broad red face, those prominent eyebrows, those
little sunken eyes, that short thick nose, that sullen mouth--the whole
mask, ugly and vulgar, is foreign to himself. Neither does he know himself
in his writings. He judges, he knows that what he does and what he is are
nothing; and yet he is sure of what he will be and do. Sometimes he falls
foul of such certainty as a vain lie. He takes pleasure in humiliating
himself and bitterly mortifying himself by way of punishment. But his
certainty endures; nothing can alter it. Whatever he does, whatever he
thinks, none of his thoughts, actions, or writings contain him or express
him, He knows, he has this strange presentiment, that the more that he is,
is not contained in the present but is what he _will be_, what he _will be
to-morrow. He will be!_... He is fired by that faith, he is intoxicated by
that light! Ah, if only _To-day_ does not block the way! If only he does
not fall into one of the cunning traps which _To-day_ is forever laying for
So he steers his bark across the sea of days, turning his eyes neither to
right nor left, motionless at the helm, with his gaze fixed on the bourne,
the refuge, the end that he has in sight. In the orchestra, among the
talkative musicians, at table with his own family, at the Palace, while he
is playing without a thought of what he is playing, for the entertainment
of Royal folk--it is in that future, that future which a speck may bring
toppling to earth--no matter, it is in that that he lives.
* * * * *
He is at his old piano, in his garret, alone. Night falls. The dying light
of day is cast upon his music. He strains his eyes to read the notes until
the last ray of light is dead. The tenderness of hearts that are dead
breathed forth from the dumb page fills him with love. His eyes are filled
with tears. It seems to him that a beloved creature is standing behind him,
that soft breathing caresses his cheek, that two arms are about his neck.
He turns, trembling. He feels, he knows, that he is not alone. A soul that
loves and is loved is there, near him. He groans aloud because he cannot
perceive it, and yet that shadow of bitterness falling upon his ecstasy
has sweetness, too. Even sadness has its light. He thinks of his beloved
masters, of the genius that is gone, though its soul lives on in the music
which it had lived in its life. His heart is overflowing with love; he
dreams of the superhuman happiness which must have been the lot of these
glorious men, since the reflection only of their happiness is still so much
aflame. He dreams of being like them, of giving out such love as this, with
lost rays to lighten his misery with a godlike smile. In his turn to be a
god, to give out the warmth of joy, to be a sun of life!...
Alas! if one day he does become the equal of those whom he loves, if he
does achieve that brilliant happiness for which he longs, he will see the
illusion that was upon him....
One Sunday when Jean-Christophe had been invited by his _Musik Direktor_
to dine at the little country house which Tobias Pfeiffer owned an hour's
journey from the town, he took the Rhine steamboat. On deck he sat next to
a boy about his own age, who eagerly made room for him. Jean-Christophe
paid no attention, but after a moment, feeling that his neighbor had never
taken his eyes off him, he turned and looked at him. He was a fair boy,
with round pink cheeks, with his hair parted on one side, and a shade of
down on his lip. He looked frankly what he was--a hobbledehoy--though he
made great efforts to seem grown up. He was dressed with ostentatious
care--flannel suit, light gloves, white shoes, and a pale blue tie--and he
carried a little stick in his hand. He looked at Jean-Christophe out of
the corner of his eye without turning his head, with his neck stiff, like
a hen; and when Jean-Christophe looked at him he blushed up to his ears,
took a newspaper from his pocket, and pretended to be absorbed in it, and
to look important over it. But a few minutes later he dashed to pick up
Jean-Christophe's hat, which had fallen. Jean-Christophe, surprised at
such politeness, looked once more at the boy, and once more he blushed.
Jean-Christophe thanked him curtly, for he did not like such obsequious
eagerness, and he hated to be fussed with. All the same, he was flattered
Soon it passed from his thoughts; his attention was occupied by the view.
It was long since he had been able to escape from the town, and so he had
keen pleasure in the wind that beat against his face, in the sound of the
water against the boat, in the great stretch of water and the changing
spectacle presented by the banks--bluffs gray and dull, willow-trees half
under water, pale vines, legendary rocks, towns crowned with Gothic towers
and factory chimneys belching black smoke. And as he was in ecstasy over it
all, his neighbor in a choking voice timidly imparted a few historic facts
concerning the ruins that they saw, cleverly restored and covered with ivy.
He seemed to be lecturing to himself. Jean-Christophe, roused to interest,
plied him with questions. The other replied eagerly, glad to display his
knowledge, and with every sentence he addressed himself directly to
Jean-Christophe, calling him "_Herr Hof Violinist_."
"You know me, then?" said Jean-Christophe.
"Oh yes," said the boy, with a simple admiration that tickled
They talked. The boy had often seen Jean-Christophe at concerts, and his
imagination had been touched by everything that he had heard about him. He
did not say so to Jean-Christophe, but Jean-Christophe felt it, and was
pleasantly surprised by it. He was not used to being spoken to in this tone
of eager respect. He went on questioning his neighbor about the history
of the country through which they were passing. The other set out all the
knowledge that he had, and Jean-Christophe admired his learning. But that
was only the peg on which their conversation hung. What interested them was
the making of each other's acquaintance. They dared not frankly approach
the subject; they returned to it again and again with awkward questions.
Finally they plunged, and Jean-Christophe learned that his new friend was
called Otto Diener, and was the son of a rich merchant in the town. It
appeared, naturally, that they had friends in common, and little by little
their tongues were loosed. They were talking eagerly when the boat arrived
at the town at which Jean-Christophe was to get out. Otto got out, too.
That surprised them, and Jean-Christophe proposed that they should take
a walk together until dinner-time. They struck out across the fields.
Jean-Christophe had taken Otto's arm familiarly, and was telling him his
plans as if he had known him from his birth. He had been so much deprived
of the society of children of his own age that he found an inexpressible
joy in being with this boy, so learned and well brought up, who was in
sympathy with him.
Time passed, and Jean-Christophe took no count of it. Diener, proud of the
confidence which the young musician showed him, dared not point out that
the dinner-hour had rung. At last he thought that he must remind him of
it, but Jean-Christophe, who had begun the ascent of a hill in the woods,
declared that they most go to the top, and when they reached it he lay down
on the grass as though he meant to spend the day there. After a quarter
of an hour Diener, seeing that he seemed to have no intention of moving,
"And your dinner?"
Jean-Christophe, lying at full length, with his hands behind his head, said
Then he looked at Otto, saw his scared look, and began to laugh.
"It is too good here," he explained. "I shan't go. Let them wait for me!"
He half rose.
"Are you in a hurry? No? Do you know what we'll do? We'll dine together. I
know of an inn."
Diener would have had many objections to make--not that any one was waiting
for him, but because it was hard for him to come to any sudden decision,
whatever it might be. He was methodical, and needed to be prepared
beforehand. But Jean-Christophe's question was put in such a tone as
allowed of no refusal. He let himself be dragged off, and they began to
At the inn their eagerness died down. Both were occupied with the question
as to who should give the dinner, and each within himself made it a point
of honor to give it--Diener because he was the richer, Jean-Christophe
because he was the poorer. They made no direct reference to the matter,
but Diener made great efforts to assert his right by the tone of authority
which he tried to take as he asked for the menu. Jean-Christophe understood
what he was at and turned the tables on him by ordering other dishes of a
rare kind. He wanted to show that he was as much at his ease as anybody,
and when Diener tried again by endeavoring to take upon himself the choice
of wine, Jean-Christophe crushed him with a look, and ordered a bottle of
one of the most expensive vintages they had in the inn.
When they found themselves seated before a considerable repast, they were
abashed by it. They could find nothing to say, ate mincingly, and were
awkward and constrained in their movements. They became conscious suddenly
that they were strangers, and they watched each other. They made vain
efforts to revive the conversation; it dropped immediately. Their first
half-hour was a time of fearful boredom. Fortunately, the meat and drink
soon had an effect on them, and they looked at each other more confidently.
Jean-Christophe especially, who was not used to such good things, became
extraordinarily loquacious. He told of the difficulties of his life, and
Otto, breaking through his reserve, confessed that he also was not happy.
He was weak and timid, and his schoolfellows put upon him. They laughed
at him, and could not forgive him for despising their vulgar manners.
They played all sorts of tricks on him. Jean-Christophe clenched his
fists, and said they had better not try it in his presence. Otto also was
misunderstood by his family. Jean-Christophe knew the unhappiness of that,
and they commiserated each other on their common misfortunes. Diener's
parents wanted him to become a merchant, and to step into his father's
place, but he wanted to be a poet. He would be a poet, even though he had
to fly the town, like Schiller, and brave poverty! (His father's fortune
would all come to him, and it was considerable.) He confessed blushingly
that he had already written verses on the sadness of life, but he could not
bring himself to recite them, in spite of Jean-Christophe's entreaties.
But in the end he did give two or three of them, dithering with emotion.
Jean-Christophe thought them admirable. They exchanged plans. Later on they
would work together; they would write dramas and song-cycles. They admired
each other. Besides his reputation as a musician, Jean-Christophe's
strength and bold ways made an impression on Otto, and Jean-Christophe was
sensible of Otto's elegance and distinguished manners--everything in this
world is relative--and of his ease of manner--that ease of manner which he
looked and longed for.
Made drowsy by their meal, with their elbows on the table, they talked and
listened to each other with softness in their eyes. The afternoon drew
on; they had to go. Otto made a last attempt to procure the bill, but
Jean-Christophe nailed him to his seat with an angry look which made it
impossible for him to insist. Jean-Christophe was only uneasy on one
point--that he might be asked for more than he had. He would have given his
watch and everything that he had about him rather than admit it to Otto.
But he was not called on to go so far. He had to spend on the dinner almost
the whole of his month's money.
They went down the hill again. The shades of evening were beginning to fall
over the pine-woods. Their tops were still bathed in rosy light; they swung
slowly with a surging sound. The carpet of purple pine-needles deadened the
sound of their footsteps. They said no word. Jean-Christophe felt a strange
sweet sadness welling through his heart. He was happy; he wished to talk,
but was weighed down with his sweet sorrow. He stopped for a moment, and
so did Otto. All was silence. Flies buzzed high above them in a ray of
sunlight; a rotten branch fell. Jean-Christophe took Otto's hand, and in a
trembling voice said:
"Will you be my friend?"
They shook hands; their hearts beat; they dared hardly look at each other.
After a moment they walked on. They were a few paces away from each other,
and they dared say no more until they were out of the woods. They were
fearful of each other, and of their strange emotion. They walked very fast,
and never stopped until they had issued from the shadow of the trees; then
they took courage again, and joined hands. They marveled at the limpid
evening falling, and they talked disconnectedly.
On the boat, sitting at the bows in the brilliant twilight, they tried to
talk of trivial matters, but they gave no heed to what they were saying.
They were lost in their own happiness and weariness. They felt no need to
talk, or to hold hands, or even to look at each other; they were near each
When they were near their journey's end they agreed to meet again on the
following Sunday, Jean-Christophe took Otto to his door. Under the light
of the gas they timidly smiled and murmured _au revoir_. They were glad to
part, so wearied were they by the tension at which they had been living for
those hours and by the pain it cost them to break the silence with a single
Jean-Christophe returned alone in the night. His heart was singing: "I have
a friend! I have a friend!" He saw nothing, he heard nothing, he thought of
He was very sleepy, and fell asleep as soon as he reached his room; but he
was awakened twice or thrice during the night, as by some fixed idea. He
repeated, "I have a friend," and went to sleep again at once.
Next morning it seemed to be all a dream. To test the reality of it, he
tried to recall the smallest details of the day. He was absorbed by this
occupation while he was giving his lessons, and even during the afternoon
he was so absent during the orchestra rehearsal that when he left he could
hardly remember what he had been playing.
When he returned home he found a letter waiting for him. He had no need to
ask himself whence it came. He ran and shut himself up in his room to read
it. It was written on pale blue paper in a labored, long, uncertain hand,
with very correct flourishes:
DEAR HERR JEAN-CHRISTOPHE--dare I say HONORED FRIEND?--
I am thinking much of our doings yesterday, and I do thank you tremendously
for your kindness to me. I am so grateful for all that you have done, and
for your kind words, and the delightful walk and the excellent dinner! I am
only worried that you should have spent so much money on it. What a lovely
day! Do you not think there was something providential in that strange
meeting? It seems to me that it was Fate decreed that we should meet. How
glad I shall be to see you again on Sunday! I hope you will not have had
too much unpleasantness for having missed the _Hof Musik Direktor's_
dinner. I should be so sorry if you had any trouble because of me.
Dear Herr Jean-Christophe, I am always
Your very devoted servant and friend,
P.S.--On Sunday please do not call for me at home. It would be better, if
you will, for us to meet at the _Schloss Garten_.
Jean-Christophe read the letter with tears in his eyes. He kissed it; he
laughed aloud; he jumped about on his bed. Then he ran to the table and
took pen in hand to reply at once. He could not wait a moment. But he was
not used to writing. He could not express what was swelling in his heart;
he dug into the paper with his pen, and blackened his fingers with ink; he
stamped impatiently. At last, by dint of putting out his tongue and making
five or six drafts, he succeeded in writing in malformed letters, which
flew out in all directions, and with terrific mistakes in spelling:
"How dare you speak of gratitude, because I love you? Have I not told you
how sad I was and lonely before I knew you? Your friendship is the greatest
of blessings. Yesterday I was happy, happy!--for the first time in my life.
I weep for joy as I read your letter. Yes, my beloved, there is no doubt
that it was Fate brought us together. Fate wishes that we should be friends
to do great things. Friends! The lovely word! Can it be that at last I have
a friend? Oh! you will never leave me? You will be faithful to me? Always!
always!... How beautiful it will be to grow up together, to work together,
to bring together--I my musical whimsies, and all the crazy things that go
chasing through my mind; you your intelligence and amazing learning! How
much you know! I have never met a man so clever as you. There are moments
when I am uneasy. I seem to be unworthy of your friendship. You are so
noble and so accomplished, and I am so grateful to you for loving so coarse
a creature as myself!... But no! I have just said, let there be no talk of
gratitude. In friendship there is no obligation nor benefaction. I would
not accept any benefaction! We are equal, since we love. How impatient
I am to see you! I will not call for you at home, since you do not
wish it--although, to tell the truth, I do not understand all these
precautions--but you are the wiser; you are surely right....
"One word only! No more talk of money. I hate money--the word and the thing
itself. If I am not rich, I am yet rich enough to give to my friend, and it
is my joy to give all I can for him. Would not you do the same? And if I
needed it, would you not be the first to give me all your fortune? But that
shall never be! I have sound fists and a sound head, and I shall always be
able to earn the bread that I eat. Till Sunday! Dear God, a whole week
without seeing you! And for two days I have not seen you! How have I been
able to live so long without you?
"The conductor tried to grumble, but do not bother about it any more than I
do. What are others to me? I care nothing what they think or what they may
ever think of me. Only you matter. Love me well, my soul; love me as I love
you! I cannot tell you how much I love you. I am yours, yours, yours, from
the tips of my fingers to the apple of my eye.
Jean-Christophe was devoured with impatience for the rest of the week. He
would go out of his way, and make long turns to pass by Otto's house. Not
that he counted on seeing him, but the sight of the house was enough to
make him grow pale and red with emotion. On the Thursday he could bear it
no longer, and sent a second letter even more high-flown than the first.
Otto answered it sentimentally.
Sunday came at length, and Otto was punctually at the meeting-place. But
Jean-Christophe had been there for an hour, waiting impatiently for the
walk. He began to imagine dreadfully that Otto would not come. He trembled
lest Otto should be ill, for he did not suppose for a moment that Otto
might break his word. He whispered over and over again, "Dear God, let him
come--let him come!" and he struck at the pebbles in the avenue with his
stick, saying to himself that if he missed three times Otto would not come,
but if he hit them Otto would appear at once. In spite of his care and
the easiness of the test, he had just missed three times when he saw Otto
coming at his easy, deliberate pace; for Otto was above all things correct,
even when he was most moved. Jean-Christophe ran to him, and with his
throat dry wished him "Good-day!" Otto replied, "Good-day!" and they found
that they had nothing more to say to each other, except that the weather
was fine and that it was five or six minutes past ten, or it might be ten
past, because the castle clock was always slow.
They went to the station, and went by rail to a neighboring place which was
a favorite excursion from the town. On the way they exchanged not more than
ten words. They tried to make up for it by eloquent looks, but they were
no more successful. In vain did they try to tell each other what friends
they were; their eyes would say nothing at all. They were just playacting.
Jean-Christophe saw that, and was humiliated. He did not understand how
he could not express or even feel all that had filled his heart an hour
before. Otto did not, perhaps, so exactly take stock of their failure,
because he was less sincere, and examined himself with more circumspection,
but he was just as disappointed. The truth is that the boys had, during
their week of separation, blown out their feelings to such a diapason that
it was impossible for them to keep them actually at that pitch, and when
they met again their first impression must of necessity be false. They had
to break away from it, but they could not bring themselves to agree to it.
All day they wandered in the country without ever breaking through the
awkwardness and constraint that were upon them. It was a holiday. The inns
and woods were filled with a rabble of excursionists--little _bourgeois_
families who made a great noise and ate everywhere. That added to their
ill-humor. They attributed to the poor people the impossibility of again
finding the carelessness of their first walk. But they talked, they
took great pains to find subjects of conversation; they were afraid of
finding that they had nothing to say to each other. Otto displayed his
school-learning; Jean-Christophe entered into technical explanations of
musical compositions and violin-playing. They oppressed each other; they
crushed each other by talking; and they never stopped talking, trembling
lest they should, for then there opened before them abysses of silence
which horrified them. Otto came near to weeping, and Jean-Christophe was
near leaving him and running away as hard as he could, he was so bored and
Only an hour before they had to take the train again did they thaw. In the
depths of the woods a dog was barking; he was hunting on his own account.
Jean-Christophe proposed that they should hide by his path to try and see
his quarry. They ran into the midst of the thicket. The dog came near them,
and then went away again. They went to right and left, went forward and
doubled. The barking grew louder: the dog was choking with impatience in
his lust for slaughter. He came near once more. Jean-Christophe and Otto,
lying on the dead leaves in the rut of a path, waited and held their
breath. The barking stopped; the dog had lost the scent. They heard his yap
once again in the distance; then silence came upon the woods. Not a sound,
only the mysterious hum of millions of creatures, insects, and creeping
things, moving unceasingly, destroying the forest--the measured breathing
of death, which never stops. The boys listened, they did not stir. Just
when they got up, disappointed, and said, "It is all over; he will not
come!" a little hare plunged out of the thicket. He came straight upon
them. They saw him at the same moment, and gave a cry of joy. The hare
turned in his tracks and jumped aside. They saw him dash into the brushwood
head over heels. The stirring of the rumpled leaves vanished away like a
ripple on the face of waters. Although they were sorry for having cried
out, the adventure filled them with joy. They rocked with laughter as they
thought of the hare's terrified leap, and Jean-Christophe imitated it
grotesquely. Otto did the same. Then they chased each other. Otto was the
hare, Jean-Christophe the dog. They plunged through woods and meadows,
dashing through hedges and leaping ditches. A peasant shouted at them,
because they had rushed over a field of rye. They did not stop to hear him.
Jean-Christophe imitated the hoarse barking of the dog to such perfection
that Otto laughed until he cried. At last they rolled down a slope,
shouting like mad things. When they could not utter another sound they sat
up and looked at each other, with tears of laughter in their eyes. They
were quite happy and pleased with themselves. They were no longer trying to
play the heroic friend; they were frankly what they were--two boys.
They came back arm-in-arm, singing senseless songs, and yet, when they were
on the point of returning to the town, they thought they had better resume
their pose, and under the last tree of the woods they carved their initials
intertwined. But then good temper had the better of their sentimentality,
and in the train they shouted with laughter whenever they looked at
each other. They parted assuring each other that they had had a "hugely
delightful" (_kolossal entzueckend_) day, and that conviction gained with
them when they were alone once more.
* * * * *
They resumed their work of construction more patient and ingenious even
than that of the bees, for of a few mediocre scraps of memory they
fashioned a marvelous image of themselves and their friendship. After
having idealized each other during the week, they met again on the Sunday,
and in spite of the discrepancy between the truth and their illusion, they
got used to not noticing it and to twisting things to fit in with their
They were proud of being friends. The very contrast of their natures
brought them together. Jean-Christophe knew nothing so beautiful as Otto.
His fine hands, his lovely hair, his fresh complexion, his shy speech,
the politeness of his manners, and his scrupulous care of his appearance
delighted him. Otto was subjugated by Jean-Christophe's brimming strength
and independence. Accustomed by age-old inheritance to religious respect
for all authority, he took a fearful joy in the company of a comrade in
whose nature was so little reverence for the established order of things.
He had a little voluptuous thrill of terror whenever he heard him decry
every reputation in the town, and even mimic the Grand Duke himself.
Jean-Christophe knew the fascination that he exercised over his friend,
and used to exaggerate his aggressive temper. Like some old revolutionary,
he hewed away at social conventions and the laws of the State. Otto would
listen, scandalized and delighted. He used timidly to try and join in, but
he was always careful to look round to see if any one could hear.
Jean-Christophe never failed, when they walked together, to leap the fences
of a field whenever he saw a board forbidding it, or he would pick fruit
over the walls of private grounds. Otto was in terror lest they should be
discovered. But such feelings had for him an exquisite savor, and in the
evening, when he had returned, he would think himself a hero. He admired
Jean-Christophe fearfully. His instinct of obedience found a satisfying
quality in a friendship in which he had only to acquiesce in the will of
his friend. Jean-Christophe never put him to the trouble of coming to a
decision. He decided everything, decreed the doings of the day, decreed
even the ordering of life, making plans, which admitted of no discussion,
for Otto's future, just as he did for his own family. Otto fell in
with them, though he was a little put aback by hearing Jean-Christophe
dispose of his fortune for the building later on of a theater of his own
contriving. But, intimidated by his friend's imperious tones, he did not
protest, being convinced also by his friend's conviction that the money
amassed by _Commerzienrath_ Oscar Diener could be put to no nobler use.
Jean-Christophe never for a moment had any idea that he might be violating
Otto's will. He was instinctively a despot, and never imagined that his
friend's wishes might be different from his own. Had Otto expressed a
desire different from his own, he would not have hesitated to sacrifice his
own personal preference. He would have sacrificed even more for him. He was
consumed by the desire to run some risk for him. He wished passionately
that there might appear some opportunity of putting his friendship to the
test. When they were out walking he used to hope that they might meet some
danger, so that he might fling himself forward to face it. He would have
loved to die for Otto. Meanwhile, he watched over him with a restless
solicitude, gave him his hand in awkward places, as though he were a girl.
He was afraid that he might be tired, afraid that he might be hot, afraid
that he might be cold. When they sat down under a tree he took off his coat
to put it about his friend's shoulders; when they walked he carried his
cloak. He would have carried Otto himself. He used to devour him with his
eyes like a lover, and, to tell the truth, he was in love.
He did not know it, not knowing yet what love was. But sometimes, when they
were together, he was overtaken by a strange unease--the same that had
choked him on that first day of their friendship in the pine-woods--and the
blood would rush to his face and set his cheeks aflame. He was afraid. By
an instinctive unanimity the two boys used furtively to separate and run
away from each other, and one would lag behind on the road. They would
pretend to be busy looking for blackberries in the hedges, and they did not
know what it was that so perturbed them.
But it was in their letters especially that their feelings flew high. They
were not then in any danger of being contradicted by facts, and nothing
could check their illusions or intimidate them. They wrote to each other
two or three times a week in a passionately lyric style. They hardly ever
spoke of real happenings or common things; they raised great problems in an
apocalyptic manner, which passed imperceptibly from enthusiasm to despair.
They called each other, "My blessing, my hope, my beloved, my Self." They
made a fearful hash of the word "Soul." They painted in tragic colors the
sadness of their lot, and were desolate at having brought into the
existence of their friend the sorrows of their existence.
"I am sorry, my love," wrote Jean-Christophe, "for the pain which I bring
you. I cannot bear that you should suffer. It must not be. _I will not have
it_." (He underlined the words with a stroke of the pen that dug into the
paper.) "If you suffer, where shall I find strength to live? I have no
happiness but in you. Oh, be happy! I will gladly take all the burden of
sorrow upon myself! Think of me! Love me! I have such great need of being
loved. From your love there comes to me a warmth which gives me life. If
you knew how I shiver! There is winter and a biting wind in my heart. I
embrace your soul."
"My thought kisses yours," replied Otto.
"I take your face in my hands," was Jean-Christophe's answer, "and what I
have not done and will not do with my lips I do with all my being. I kiss
you as I love you, Prudence!",
Otto pretended to doubt him.
"Do you love me as much as I love you?"
"O God," wrote Jean-Christophe, "not as much, but ten a hundred, a thousand
times more! What! Do you not feel it? What would you have me do to stir
"What a lovely friendship is ours!" sighed Otto. "Was, there ever its like
in history? It is sweet and fresh as a dream. If only it does not pass
away! If you were to cease to love me!"
"How stupid you are, my beloved!" replied Jean-Christophe. "Forgive me, but
your weakling fear enrages me. How can you ask whether I shall cease to
love you! For me to live is to love you. Death is powerless against my
love. You yourself could do nothing if you wished to destroy it. Even if
you betrayed me, even if you rent my heart, I should die with a blessing
upon you for the love with which you fill me. Once for all, then, do not be
uneasy, and vex me no more with these cowardly doubts!"
But a week later it was he who wrote:
"It is three days now since I heard a word fall from your lips. I tremble.
Would you forget me? My blood freezes at the thought.... Yes, doubtless....
The other day only I saw your coldness towards me. You love me no longer!
You are thinking of leaving me!... Listen! If you forget me, if you ever
betray me, I will kill you like a dog!"
"You do me wrong, my dear heart," groaned Otto. "You draw tears from me. I
do not deserve this. But you can do as you will. You have such rights over
me that, if you were to break my soul, there would always be a spark left
to live and love you always!"
"Heavenly powers!" cried Jean-Christophe. "I have made my friend weep!...
Heap insults on me, beat me, trample me underfoot! I am a wretch! I do not
deserve your love!"
They had special ways of writing the address on their letters, of placing
the stamp--upside down, askew, at bottom in a corner of the envelope--to
distinguish their letters from those which they wrote to persons who did
not matter. These childish secrets had the charm of the sweet mysteries of
* * * * *
One day, as he was returning from a lesson, Jean-Christophe saw Otto
in the street with a boy of his own age. They were laughing and talking
familiarly. Jean-Christophe went pale, and followed them with his eyes
until they had disappeared round the corner of the street. They had not
seen him. He went home. It was as though a cloud had passed over the sun;
all was dark.
When they met on the following Sunday, Jean-Christophe said nothing at
first; but after they had been walking for half an hour he said in a
"I saw you on Wednesday in the _Koeniggasse_."
"Ah!" said Otto.
And he blushed.
Jean-Christophe went on:
"You were not alone."
"No," said Otto; "I was with some one."
Jean-Christophe swallowed down his spittle and asked in a voice which he
strove to make careless:
"Who was it?"
"My cousin Franz."
"Ah!" said Jean-Christophe; and after a moment: "You have never said
anything about him to me."
"He lives at Rheinbach."
"Do you see him often?"
"He comes here sometimes."
"And you, do you go and stay with him?"
"Ah!" said Jean-Christophe again.
Otto, who was not sorry to turn the conversation, pointed out a bird who
was pecking at a tree. They talked of other things. Ten minutes later
Jean-Christophe broke out again:
"Are you friends with him?"
"With whom?" asked Otto.
(He knew perfectly who was meant.)
"With your cousin."
Otto did not like his cousin much, for he used to bother him with bad
jokes; but a strange malign instinct made him add a few moments later:
"He is very nice."
"Who?" asked Jean-Christophe.
(He knew quite well who was meant.)
Otto waited for Jean-Christophe to say something, but he seemed not to have
heard. He was cutting a switch from a hazel-tree. Otto went on:
"He is amusing. He has all sorts of stories."
Jean-Christophe whistled carelessly.
Otto renewed the attack:
"And he is so clever ... and distinguished!..."
Jean-Christophe shrugged his shoulders as though to say:
"What interest can this person have for me?"
And as Otto, piqued, began to go on, he brutally cut him short, and pointed
out a spot to which to run.
They did not touch on the subject again the whole afternoon, but they were
frigid, affecting an exaggerated politeness which was unusual for them,
especially for Jean-Christophe. The words stuck in his throat. At last he
could contain himself no longer, and in the middle of the road he turned to
Otto, who was lagging five yards behind. He took him fiercely by the hands,
and let loose upon him:
"Listen, Otto! I will not--I will not let you be so friendly with Franz,
because ... because you are my friend, and I will not let you love any one
more than me! I will not! You see, you are everything to me! You cannot ...
you must not!... If I lost you, there would be nothing left but death. I do
not know what I should do. I should kill myself; I should kill you! No,
Tears fell from his eyes.
Otto, moved and frightened by the sincerity of such grief, growling out
threats, made haste to swear that he did not and never would love anybody
so much as Jean-Christophe, that Franz was nothing to him, and that he
would not see him again if Jean-Christophe wished it. Jean-Christophe drank
in his words, and his heart took new life. He laughed and breathed heavily;
he thanked Otto effusively. He was ashamed of having made such a scene, but
he was relieved of a great weight. They stood face to face and looked at
each other, not moving, and holding hands. They were very happy and very
much embarrassed. They became silent; then they began to talk again, and
found their old gaiety. They felt more at one than ever.
But it was not the last scene of the kind. Now that Otto felt his power
over Jean-Christophe, he was tempted to abuse it. He knew his sore spot,
and was irresistibly tempted to place his finger on it. Not that he had
any pleasure in Jean-Christophe's anger; on the contrary, it made him
unhappy--but he felt his power by making Jean-Christophe suffer. He was not
bad; he had the soul of a girl.
In spite of his promises, he continued to appear arm in arm with Franz or
some other comrade. They made a great noise between them, and he used to
laugh in an affected way. When Jean-Christophe reproached him with it,
he used to titter and pretend not to take him seriously, until, seeing
Jean-Christophe's eyes change and his lips tremble with anger, he would
change his tone, and fearfully promise not to do it again, and the next day
he would do it. Jean-Christophe would write him furious letters, in which
he called him:
"Scoundrel! Let me never hear of you again! I do not know you! May the
devil take you and all dogs of your kidney!"
But a tearful word from Otto, or, as he ever did, the sending of a flower
as a token of his eternal constancy, was enough for Jean-Christophe to be
plunged in remorse, and to write:
"My angel, I am mad! Forget my idiocy. You are the best of men. Your little
finger alone is worth more than all stupid Jean-Christophe. You have the