Part 4 out of 12
treasures of an ingenuous and delicate tenderness. I kiss your flower with
tears in my eyes. It is there on my heart. I thrust it into my skin with
blows of my fist. I would that it could make me bleed, so that I might the
more feel your exquisite goodness and my own infamous folly!..."
But they began to weary of each other. It is false to pretend that little
quarrels feed friendship. Jean-Christophe was sore against Otto for the
injustice that Otto made him be guilty of. He tried to argue with himself;
he laid the blame upon his own despotic temper. His loyal and eager nature,
brought for the first time to the test of love, gave itself utterly, and
demanded a gift as utter without the reservation of one particle of the
heart. He admitted no sharing in friendship. Being ready to sacrifice all
for his friend, he thought it right and even necessary that his friend
should wholly sacrifice himself and everything for him. But he was
beginning to feel that the world was not built on the model of his own
inflexible character, and that he was asking things which others could not
give. Then he tried to submit. He blamed himself, he regarded himself as an
egoist, who had no right to encroach upon the liberty of his friend, and
to monopolize his affection. He did sincerely endeavor to leave him free,
whatever it might cost himself. In a spirit of humiliation he did set
himself to pledge Otto not to neglect Franz; he tried to persuade himself
that he was glad to see him finding pleasure in society other than his own.
But when Otto, who was not deceived, maliciously obeyed him, he could not
help lowering at him, and then he broke out again.
If necessary, he would have forgiven Otto for preferring other friends to
himself; but what he could not stomach was the lie. Otto was neither liar
nor hypocrite, but it was as difficult for him to tell the truth as for
a stutterer to pronounce words. What he said was never altogether true
nor altogether false. Either from timidity or from uncertainty of his own
feelings he rarely spoke definitely. His answers were equivocal, and, above
all, upon every occasion he made mystery and was secret in a way that set
Jean-Christophe beside himself. When he was caught tripping, or was caught
in what, according to the conventions of their friendship, was a fault,
instead of admitting it he would go on denying it and telling absurd
stories. One day Jean-Christophe, exasperated, struck him. He thought it
must be the end of their friendship and that Otto would never forgive him;
but after sulking for a few hours Otto came back as though nothing had
happened. He had no resentment for Jean-Christophe's violence--perhaps even
it was not unpleasing to him, and had a certain charm for him--and yet
he resented Jean-Christophe letting himself be tricked, gulping down all
his mendacities. He despised him a little, and thought himself superior.
Jean-Christophe, for his part, resented Otto's receiving blows without
They no longer saw each other with the eyes of those first days. Their
failings showed up in full light. Otto found Jean-Christophe's independence
less charming. Jean-Christophe was a tiresome companion when they went
walking. He had no sort of concern for correctness. He used to dress as he
liked, take off his coat, open his waistcoat, walk with open collar, roll
up his shirt-sleeves, put his hat on the end of his stick, and fling out
his chest in the air. He used to swing his arms as he walked, whistle, and
sing at the top of his voice. He used to be red in the face, sweaty, and
dusty. He looked like a peasant returning from a fair. The aristocratic
Otto used to be mortified at being seen in his company. When he saw a
carriage coming he used to contrive to lag some ten paces behind, and to
look as though he were walking alone.
Jean-Christophe was no less embarrassing company when he began to talk at
an inn or in a railway-carriage when they were returning home. He used to
talk loudly, and say anything that came into his head, and treat Otto with
a disgusting familiarity. He used to express opinions quite recklessly
concerning people known to everybody, or even about the appearance of
people sitting only a few yards away from him, or he would enter into
intimate details concerning his health and domestic affairs. It was useless
for Otto to roll his eyes and to make signals of alarm. Jean-Christophe
seemed not to notice them, and no more controlled himself than if he had
been alone. Otto would see smiles on the faces of his neighbors, and would
gladly have sunk into the ground. He thought Jean-Christophe coarse, and
could not understand how he could ever have found delight in him.
What was most serious was that Jean-Christophe was just as reckless
and indifferent concerning all the hedges, fences, inclosures, walls,
prohibitions of entry, threats of fines, _Verbot_ of all sorts, and
everything that sought to confine his liberty and protect the sacred rights
of property against it. Otto lived in fear from moment to moment, and all
his protests were useless. Jean-Christophe grew worse out of bravado.
One day, when Jean-Christophe, with Otto at his heels, was walking
perfectly at home across a private wood, in spite of, or because of, the
walls fortified with broken bottles which they had had to clear, they found
themselves suddenly face to face with a gamekeeper, who let fire a volley
of oaths at them, and after keeping them for some time under a threat of
legal proceedings, packed them off in the most ignominious fashion. Otto
did not shine under this ordeal. He thought that he was already in jail,
and wept, stupidly protesting that he had gone in by accident, and that he
had followed Jean-Christophe without knowing whither he was going. When
he saw that he was safe, instead of being glad, he bitterly reproached
Jean-Christophe. He complained that Jean-Christophe had brought him
into trouble. Jean-Christophe quelled him with a look, and called him
"Lily-liver!" There was a quick passage of words. Otto would have left
Jean-Christophe if he had known how to find the way home. He was forced to
follow him, but they affected to pretend that they were not together.
A storm was brewing. In their anger they had not seen it coming. The baking
countryside resounded with the cries of insects. Suddenly all was still.
They only grew aware of the silence after a few minutes. Their ears buzzed.
They raised their eyes; the sky was black; huge, heavy, livid clouds
overcast it. They came up from every side like a cavalry-charge. They
seemed all to be hastening towards an invisible point, drawn by a gap in
the sky. Otto, in terror, dare not tell his fears, and Jean-Christophe took
a malignant pleasure in pretending not to notice anything. But without
saying a word they drew nearer together. They were alone in the wide
country. Silence. Not a wind stirred,--hardly a fevered tremor that made
the little leaves of the trees shiver now and then. Suddenly a whirling
wind raised the dust, twisted the trees and lashed them furiously. And the
silence came again, more terrible than before. Otto, in a trembling voice,
spoke at last.
"It is a storm. We must go home."
"Let us go home."
But it was too late. A blinding, savage light flashed, the heavens roared,
the vault of clouds rumbled. In a moment they were wrapped about by the
hurricane, maddened by the lightning, deafened by the thunder, drenched
from head to foot. They were in deserted country, half an hour from the
nearest house. In the lashing rain, in the dim light, came the great red
flashes of the storm. They tried to run but, their wet clothes clinging,
they could hardly walk. Their shoes slipped on their feet, the water
trickled down their bodies. It was difficult to breathe. Otto's teeth
were chattering, and he was mad with rage. He said biting things to
Jean-Christophe. He wanted to stop; he declared that it was dangerous to
walk; he threatened to sit down on the road, to sleep on the soil in the
middle of the plowed fields. Jean-Christophe made no reply. He went on
walking, blinded by the wind, the rain, and the lightning; deafened by the
noise; a little uneasy, but unwilling to admit it.
And suddenly it was all over. The storm had passed, as it had come. But
they were both in a pitiful condition. In truth, Jean-Christophe was, as
usual, so disheveled that a little more disorder made hardly any difference
to him. But Otto, so neat, so careful of his appearance, cut a sorry
figure. It was as though he had just taken a bath in his clothes, and
Jean-Christophe, turning and seeing him, could not help roaring with
laughter. Otto was so exhausted that he could not even be angry.
Jean-Christophe took pity and talked gaily to him. Otto replied with a look
of fury. Jean-Christophe made him stop at a farm. They dried themselves
before a great fire, and drank hot wine. Jean-Christophe thought the
adventure funny, and tried to laugh at it; but that was not at all to
Otto's taste, and he was morose and silent for the rest of their walk. They
came back sulking and did not shake hands when they parted.
As a result of this prank they did not see each other for more than a week.
They were severe in their judgment of each other. But after inflicting
punishment on themselves by depriving themselves of one of their Sunday
walks, they got so bored that their rancor died away. Jean-Christophe made
the first advances as usual. Otto condescended to meet them, and they made
In spite of their disagreement it was impossible for them to do without
each other. They had many faults; they were both egoists. But their egoism
was naive; it knew not the self-seeking of maturity which makes it so
repulsive; it knew not itself even; it was almost lovable, and did not
prevent them from sincerely loving each other! Young Otto used to weep on
his pillow as he told himself stories of romantic devotion of which he was
the hero; lie used to invent pathetic adventures, in which he was strong,
valiant, intrepid, and protected Jean-Christophe, whom he used to imagine
that he adored. Jean-Christophe never saw or heard anything beautiful or
strange without thinking: "If only Otto were here!" He carried the image
of his friend into his whole life, and that image used to be transfigured,
and become so gentle that, in spite of all that he knew about Otto, it used
to intoxicate him. Certain words of Otto's which he used to remember long
after they were spoken, and to embellish by the way, used to make him
tremble with emotion. They imitated each other. Otto aped Jean-Christophe's
manners, gestures, and writing. Jean-Christophe was sometimes irritated
by the shadow which repeated every word that he said and dished up his
thoughts as though they were its own. But he did not see that he himself
was imitating Otto, and copying his way of dressing, walking, and
pronouncing certain words. They were under a fascination. They were infused
one in the other; their hearts were overflowing with tenderness. They
trickled over with it on every side like a fountain. Each imagined that his
friend was the cause of it. They did not know that it was the waking of
* * * * *
Jean-Christophe, who never distrusted any one, used to leave his papers
lying about. But an instinctive modesty made him keep together the drafts
of the letters which he scrawled to Otto, and the replies. But he did not
lock them up; he just placed them between the leaves of one of his
music-books, where he felt certain that no one would look for them. He
reckoned without his brothers' malice.
He had seen them for some time laughing and whispering and looking at
him; they were declaiming to each other fragments of speech which threw
them into wild laughter. Jean-Christophe could not catch the words, and,
following his usual tactics with them, he feigned utter indifference to
everything they might do or say. A few words roused his attention; he
thought he recognized them. Soon he was left without doubt that they had
read his letters. But when he challenged Ernest and Rodolphe, who were
calling each other "My dear soul," with pretended earnestness, he could
get nothing from them. The little wretches pretended not to understand,
and said that they had the right to call each other whatever they liked.
Jean-Christophe, who had found all the letters in their places, did not
Shortly afterwards he caught Ernest in the act of thieving; the little
beast was rummaging in the drawer of the chest in which Louisa kept her
money. Jean-Christophe shook him, and took advantage of the opportunity to
tell him everything that he had stored up against him. He enumerated, in
terms of scant courtesy, the misdeeds of Ernest, and it was not a short
catalogue. Ernest took the lecture in bad part; he replied impudently
that Jean-Christophe had nothing to reproach him with, and he hinted at
unmentionable things in his brother's friendship with Otto. Jean-Christophe
did not understand; but when he grasped that Otto was being dragged into
the quarrel he demanded an explanation of Ernest. The boy tittered; then,
when he saw Jean-Christophe white with anger, he refused to say any more.
Jean-Christophe saw that he would obtain nothing in that way; he sat down,
shrugged his shoulders, and affected a profound contempt for Ernest.
Ernest, piqued by this, was impudent again; he set himself to hurt his
brother, and set forth a litany of things each more cruel and more vile
than the last. Jean-Christophe kept a tight hand on himself. When at last
he did understand, he saw red; he leaped from his chair. Ernest had no time
to cry out. Jean-Christophe had hurled himself on him, and rolled with him
into the middle of the room, and beat his head against the tiles. On the
frightful cries of the victim, Louisa, Melchior, everybody, came running.
They rescued Ernest in a parlous state. Jean-Christophe would not loose his
prey; they had to beat and beat him. They called him a savage beast, and he
looked it. His eyes were bursting from his head, he was grinding his teeth,
and his only thought was to hurl himself again on Ernest. When they asked
him what had happened, his fury increased, and he cried out that he would
kill him. Ernest also refused to tell.
Jean-Christophe could not eat nor sleep. He was shaking with fever,
and wept in his bed. It was not only for Otto that he was suffering. A
revolution was taking place in him. Ernest had no idea of the hurt that
he had been able to do his brother. Jean-Christophe was at heart of a
puritanical intolerance, which could not admit the dark ways of life, and
was discovering them one by one with horror. At fifteen, with his free life
and strong instincts, he remained strangely simple. His natural purity and
ceaseless toil had protected him. His brother's words had opened up abyss
on abyss before him. Never would he have conceived such infamies, and now
that the idea of it had come to him, all his joy in loving and being loved
was spoiled. Not only his friendship with Otto, but friendship itself was
It was much worse when certain sarcastic allusions made him think, perhaps
wrongly, that he was the object of the unwholesome curiosity of the
town, and especially, when, some time afterwards, Melchior made a remark
about his walks with Otto. Probably there was no malice in Melchior, but
Jean-Christophe, on the watch, read hidden meanings into every word, and
almost he thought himself guilty. At the same time Otto was passing through
a similar crisis.
They tried still to see each other in secret. But it was impossible for
them to regain the carelessness of their old relation. Their frankness was
spoiled. The two boys who loved each other with a tenderness so fearful
that they had never dared exchange a fraternal kiss, and had imagined that
there could be no greater happiness than in seeing each other, and in being
friends, and sharing each other's dreams, now felt that they were stained
and spotted by the suspicion of evil minds. They came to see evil even in
the most innocent acts: a look, a hand-clasp--they blushed, they had evil
thoughts. Their relation became intolerable.
Without saying anything they saw each other less often. They tried writing
to each other, but they set a watch upon their expressions. Their letters
became cold and insipid. They grew disheartened. Jean-Christophe excused
himself on the ground of his work, Otto on the ground of being too busy,
and their correspondence ceased. Soon afterwards Otto left for the
University, and the friendship which had lightened a few months of their
lives died down and out.
And also, a new love, of which this had been only the forerunner, took
possession of Jean-Christophe's heart, and made every other light seem pale
by its side.
Four or five months before these events Frau Josephs von Kerich, widow of
Councilor Stephan von Kerich, had left Berlin, where her husband's duties
had hitherto detained them, and settled down with her daughter in the
little Rhine town, in her native country. She had an old house with a
large garden, almost a park, which sloped down to the river, not far from
Jean-Christophe's home. From his attic Jean-Christophe could see the heavy
branches of the trees hanging over the walls, and the high peak of the red
roof with its mossy tiles. A little sloping alley, with hardly room to
pass, ran alongside the park to the right; from there, by climbing a post,
you could look over the wall. Jean-Christophe did not fail to make use of
it. He could then see the grassy avenues, the lawns like open meadows, the
trees interlacing and growing wild, and the white front of the house with
its shutters obstinately closed. Once or twice a year a gardener made the
rounds, and aired the house. But soon Nature resumed her sway over the
garden, and silence reigned over all.
That silence impressed Jean-Christophe. He used often stealthily to climb
up to his watch-tower, and as he grew taller, his eyes, then his nose, then
his mouth reached up to the top of the wall; now he could put his arms over
it if he stood on tiptoe, and, in spite of the discomfort of that position,
he used to stay so, with his chin on the wall, looking, listening, while
the evening unfolded over the lawns its soft waves of gold, which lit up
with bluish rays the shade of the pines. There he could forget himself
until he heard footsteps approaching in the street. The night scattered its
scents over the garden: lilac in spring, acacia in summer, dead leaves in
the autumn. When Jean-Christophe, was on his way home in the evening from
the Palace, however weary he might be, he used to stand by the door to
drink in the delicious scent, and it was hard for him to go back to the
smells of his room. And often he had played--when he used to play--in
the little square with its tufts of grass between the stones, before the
gateway of the house of the Kerichs. On each side of the gate grew a
chestnut-tree a hundred years old; his grandfather used to come and sit
beneath them, and smoke his pipe, and the children used to use the nuts for
missiles, and toys.
One morning, as he went up the alley, he climbed up the post as usual. He
was thinking of other things, and looked absently. He was just going to
climb down when he felt that there was something unusual about it. He
looked towards the house. The windows were open; the sun was shining into
them and, although no one was to be seen, the old place seemed to have been
roused from its fifteen years' sleep, and to be smiling in its awakening.
Jean-Christophe went home uneasy in his mind.
At dinner his father talked of what was the topic of the neighborhood: the
arrival of Frau Kerich and her daughter with an incredible quantity of
luggage. The chestnut square was filled with rascals who had turned up to
help unload the carts. Jean-Christophe was excited by the news, which, in
his limited life, was an important event, and he returned to his work,
trying to imagine the inhabitants of the enchanted house from his father's
story, as usual hyperbolical. Then he became absorbed in his work, and had
forgotten the whole affair when, just as he was about to go home in the
evening, he remembered it all, and he was impelled by curiosity to climb
his watch-tower to spy out what might be toward within the walls. He saw
nothing but the quiet avenue, in which the motionless trees seemed to be
sleeping in the last rays of the sun. In a few moments he had forgotten why
he was looking, and abandoned himself as he always did to the sweetness of
the silence. That strange place--standing erect, perilously balanced on the
top of a post--was meet for dreams. Coming from the ugly alley, stuffy and
dark, the sunny gardens were of a magical radiance. His spirit wandered
freely through these regions of harmony, and music sang in him; they lulled
him and he forgot time and material things, and was only concerned to miss
none of the whisperings of his heart.
So he dreamed open-eyed and open-mouthed, and he could not have told how
long he had been dreaming, for he saw nothing. Suddenly his heart leaped.
In front of him, at a bend in an avenue, were two women's faces looking at
him. One, a young lady in black, with fine irregular features and fair
hair, tail, elegant, with carelessness and indifference in the poise of her
head, was looking at him with kind, laughing eyes. The other, a girl of
fifteen, also in deep mourning, looked as though she were going to burst
out into a fit of wild laughter; she was standing a little behind her
mother, who, without looking at her, signed to her to be quiet. She covered
her lips with her hands, as if she were hard put to it not to burst out
laughing. She was a little creature with a fresh face, white, pink, and
round-cheeked; she had a plump little nose, a plump little mouth, a plump
little chin, firm eyebrows, bright eyes, and a mass of fair hair plaited
and wound round her head in a crown to show her rounded neck and her smooth
white forehead--a Cranach face.
Jean-Christophe was turned to stone by this apparition. He could not go
away, but stayed, glued to his post, with his mouth wide open. It was only
when he saw the young lady coming towards him with her kindly mocking smile
that he wrenched himself away, and jumped--tumbled--down into the alley,
dragging with him pieces of plaster from the wall. He heard a kind voice
calling him, "Little boy!" and a shout of childish laughter, clear and
liquid as the song of a bird. He found himself in the alley on hands and
knees, and, after a moment's bewilderment, he ran away as hard as he could
go, as though he was afraid of being pursued. He was ashamed, and his shame
kept bursting upon him again when he was alone in his room at home. After
that he dared not go down the alley, fearing oddly that they might be lying
in wait for him. When he had to go by the house, he kept close to the
walls, lowered his head, and almost ran without ever looking back. At the
same time he never ceased to think of the two faces that he had seen; he
used to go up to the attic, taking off his shoes so as not to be heard,
and to look his hardest out through the skylight in the direction of the
Kerichs' house and park, although he knew perfectly well that it was
impossible to see anything but the tops of the trees and the topmost
About a month later, at one of the weekly concerts of the _Hof Musik
Verein_, he was playing a concerto for piano and orchestra of his own
composition. He had reached the last movement when he chanced to see in
the box facing him Frau and Fraeulein Kerich looking at him. He so little
expected to see them that he was astounded, and almost missed out his
reply to the orchestra. He went on playing mechanically to the end of
the piece. When it was finished he saw, although he was not looking in
their direction, that Frau and Fraeulein Kerich were applauding a little
exaggeratedly, as though they wished him to see that they were applauding.
He hurried away from the stage. As he was leaving the theater he saw Frau
Kerich in the lobby, separated from him by several rows of people, and she
seemed to be waiting for him to pass. It was impossible for him not to see
her, but he pretended not to do so, and, brushing his way through, he left
hurriedly by the stage-door of the theater. Then he was angry with himself,
for he knew quite well that Frau Kerich meant no harm. But he knew that in
the same situation he would do the same again. He was in terror of meeting
her in the street. Whenever he saw at a distance a figure that resembled
her, he used to turn aside and take another road.
* * * * *
It was she who came to him. She sought him out at home.
One morning when he came back to dinner Louisa proudly told him that a
lackey in breeches and livery had left a letter for him, and she gave him
a large black-edged envelope, on the back of which was engraved the Kerich
arms. Jean-Christophe opened it, and trembled as he read these words:
"Frau Josepha von Kerich requests the pleasure of _Hof Musicus_
Jean-Christophe Krafft's company at tea to-day at half-past five."
"I shall not go," declared Jean-Christophe.
"What!" cried Louisa. "I said that you would go."
Jean-Christophe made a scene, and reproached his mother with meddling in
affairs that were no concern of hers.
"The servant waited for a reply. I said that you were free to-day. You have
nothing to do then."
In vain did Jean-Christophe lose his temper, and swear that he would not
go; he could not get out of it now. When the appointed time came, he got
ready fuming; in his heart of hearts he was not sorry that chance had so
done violence to his whims.
Frau von Kerich had had no difficulty in recognizing in the pianist at the
concert the little savage whose shaggy head had appeared over her garden
wall on the day of her arrival. She had made inquiries about him of her
neighbors, and what she learned about Jean-Christophe's family and the
boy's brave and difficult life had roused interest in him, and a desire to
talk to him.
Jean-Christophe, trussed up in an absurd coat, which made him look like a
country parson, arrived at the house quite ill with shyness. He tried to
persuade himself that Frau and Fraeulein Kerich had had no time to remark
his features on the day when they had first seen him. A servant led him
down a long corridor, thickly carpeted, so that his footsteps made no
sound, to a room with a glass-paneled door which opened on to the garden.
It was raining a little, and cold; a good fire was burning in the
fireplace. Near the window, through which he had a peep of the wet trees
in the mist, the two ladies were sitting. Frau Kerich was working and her
daughter was reading a book when Jean-Christophe entered. When they saw him
they exchanged a sly look.
"They know me again," thought Jean-Christophe, abashed.
He bobbed awkwardly, and went on bobbing.
Frau von Kerich smiled cheerfully, and held out her hand.
"Good-day, my dear neighbor," she said. "I am glad to see you. Since I
heard you at the concert I have been wanting to tell you how much pleasure
you gave me. And as the only way of telling you was to invite you here, I
hope you will forgive me for having done so."
In the kindly, conventional words of welcome there was so much cordiality,
in spite of a hidden sting of irony, that Jean-Christophe grew more at his
"They do not know me again," he thought, comforted.
Frau von Kerich presented her daughter, who had closed her book and was
looking interestedly at Jean-Christophe.
"My daughter Minna," she said, "She wanted so much to see you."
"But, mamma," said Minna, "it is not the first time that we have seen each
And she laughed aloud.
"They do know me again," thought Jean-Christophe, crestfallen.
"True," said Frau von Kerich, laughing too, "you paid us a visit the day we
At these words the girl laughed again, and Jean-Christophe looked so
pitiful that when Minna looked at him she laughed more than ever. She could
not control herself, and she laughed until she cried. Frau von Kerich tried
to stop her, but she, too, could not help laughing, and Jean-Christophe,
in spite of his constraint, fell victim to the contagiousness of it. Their
merriment was irresistible; it was impossible to take offense at it. But
Jean-Christophe lost countenance altogether when Minna caught her breath
again, and asked him whatever he could be doing on the wall. She was
tickled by his uneasiness. He murmured, altogether at a loss. Frau von
Kerich came to his aid, and turned the conversation by pouring out tea.
She questioned him amiably about his life. But he did not gain confidence.
He could not sit down; he could not hold his cup, which threatened to
upset; and whenever they offered him water, milk, sugar or cakes, he
thought that he had to get up hurriedly and bow his thanks, stiff, trussed
up in his frock-coat, collar, and tie, like a tortoise in its shell,
not daring and not being able to turn his head to right or left, and
overwhelmed by Frau von Kerich's innumerable questions, and the warmth of
her manner, frozen by Minna's looks, which he felt were taking in his
features, his hands, his movements, his clothes. They made him even more
uncomfortable by trying to put him at his ease--Frau von Kerich, by her
flow of words, Minna by the coquettish eyes which instinctively she made at
him to amuse herself.
Finally they gave up trying to get anything more from him than bows and
monosyllables, and Frau von Kerich, who had the whole burden of the
conversation, asked him, when she was worn out, to play the piano. Much
more shy of them than of a concert audience, he played an adagio of Mozart.
But his very shyness, the uneasiness which was beginning to fill his heart
from the company of the two women, the ingenuous emotion with which his
bosom swelled, which made him happy and unhappy, were in tune with the
tenderness and youthful modesty of the music, and gave it the charm of
spring. Frau von Kerich was moved by it; she said so with the exaggerated
words of praise customary among men and women of the world; she was none
the less sincere for that, and the very excess of the flattery was sweet
coming from such charming lips. Naughty Minna said nothing, and looked
astonished at the boy who was so stupid when he talked, but was so eloquent
with his fingers. Jean-Christophe felt their sympathy, and grew bold under
it. He went on playing; then, half turning towards Minna, with an awkward
smile and without raising his eyes, he said timidly:
"This is what I was doing on the wall."
He played a little piece in which he had, in fact, developed the musical
ideas which had come to him in his favorite spot as he looked into the
garden, not, be it said, on the evening when he had seen Minna and Frau von
Kerich--for some obscure reason, known only to his heart, he was trying to
persuade himself that it was so--but long before, and in the calm rhythm of
the _andante con moto_, there were to be found the serene impression of the
singing of birds, mutterings of beasts, and the majestic slumber of the
great trees in the peace of the sunset.
The two hearers listened delightedly. When he had finished Frau von Kerich
rose, took his hands with her usual vivacity, and thanked him effusively.
Minna clapped her hands, and cried that it was "admirable," and that to
make him compose other works as "sublime" as that, she would have a ladder
placed against the wall, so that he might work there at his case. Frau von
Kerich told Jean-Christophe not to listen to silly Minna; she begged him to
come as often as he liked to her garden, since he loved it, and she added
that he need never bother to call on them if he found it tiresome.
"You need never bother to come and see us," added Minna. "Only if you do
not come, beware!"
She wagged her finger in menace.
Minna was possessed by no imperious desire that Jean-Christophe should come
to see her, or should even follow the rules of politeness with regard to
herself, but it pleased her to produce a little effect which instinctively
she felt to be charming.
Jean-Christophe blushed delightedly. Frau von Kerich won him completely by
the tact with which she spoke of his mother and grandfather, whom she had
known. The warmth and kindness of the two ladies touched his heart; he
exaggerated their easy urbanity, their worldly graciousness, in his desire
to think it heartfelt and deep. He began to tell them, with his naive
trustfulness, of his plans and his wretchedness. He did not notice that
more than an hour had passed, and he jumped with surprise when a servant
came and announced dinner. But his confusion turned to happiness when Frau
von Kerich told him to stay and dine with them, like the good friends that
they were going to be, and were already. A place was laid for him between
the mother and daughter, and at table his talents did not show to such
advantage as at the piano. That part of his education had been much
neglected; it was his impression that eating and drinking were the
essential things at table, and not the manner of them. And so tidy Minna
looked at him, pouting and a little horrified.
They thought that he would go immediately after supper. But he followed
them into the little room, and sat with them, and had no idea of going.
Minna stifled her yawns, and made signs to her mother. He did not notice
them, because he was dumb with his happiness, and thought they were like
himself--because Minna, when she looked at him, made eyes at him from
habit--and finally, once he was seated, he did not quite know how to get up
and take his leave. He would have stayed all night had not Frau von Kerich
sent him away herself, without ceremony, but kindly.
He went, carrying in his heart the soft light of the brown eyes of Frau von
Kerich and the blue eyes of Minna; on his hands he felt the sweet contact
of soft fingers, soft as flowers, and a subtle perfume, which he had never
before breathed, enveloped him, bewildered him, brought him almost to
* * * * *
He went again two days later, as was arranged, to give Minna a
music-lesson. Thereafter, under this arrangement, he went regularly twice a
week in the morning, and very often he went again in the evening to play
Frau von Kerich was glad to see him. She was a clever and a kind woman. She
was thirty-five when she lost her husband, and although young in body and
at heart, she was not sorry to withdraw from the world in which she had
gone far since her marriage. Perhaps she left it the more easily because
she had found it very amusing, and thought wisely that she could not both
eat her cake and have it. She was devoted to the memory of Herr von Kerich,
not that she had felt anything like love for him when they married; but
good-fellowship was enough for her; she was of an easy temper and an
She had given herself up to her daughter's education; but the same
moderation which she had had in her love, held in check the impulsive and
morbid quality which is sometimes in motherhood, when the child is the only
creature upon whom the woman can expend her jealous need of loving and
being loved. She loved Minna much, but was clear in her judgment of her,
and did not conceal any of her imperfections any more than she tried to
deceive herself about herself. Witty and clever, she had a keen eye for
discovering at a glance the weakness, and ridiculous side, of any person;
she took great pleasure in it, without ever being the least malicious, for
she was as indulgent as she was scoffing, and while she laughed at people
she loved to be of use to them.
Young Jean-Christophe gave food both to her kindness and to her critical
mind. During the first days of her sojourn in the little town, when her
mourning kept her out of society, Jean-Christophe was a distraction
for her--primarily by his talent. She loved music, although she was no
musician; she found in it a physical and moral well-being in which thoughts
could idly sink into a pleasant melancholy. Sitting by the fire--while
Jean-Christophe played--a book in her hands, and smiling vaguely, she took
a silent delight in the mechanical movements of his fingers, and the
purposeless wanderings of her reverie, hovering among the sad, sweet images
of the past.
But more even than the music, the musician interested her. She was clever
enough to be conscious of Jean-Christophe's rare gifts, although she was
not capable of perceiving his really original quality. It gave her a
curious pleasure to watch the waking of those mysterious fires which she
saw kindling in him. She had quickly appreciated his moral qualities, his
uprightness, his courage, the sort of Stoicism in him, so touching in
a child. But for all that she did mot view him the less with the usual
perspicacity of her sharp, mocking eyes. His awkwardness, his ugliness, his
little ridiculous qualities amused her; she did not take him altogether
seriously; she did not take many things seriously. Jean-Christophe's antic
outbursts, his violence, his fantastic humor, made her think sometimes
that he was a little unbalanced; she saw in him one of the Kraffts, honest
men and good musicians, but always a little wrong in the head. Her light
irony escaped Jean-Christophe; he was conscious only of Frau von Kerich's
kindness. He was so unused to any one being kind to him! Although his
duties at the Palace brought him into daily contact with the world, poor
Jean-Christophe had remained a little savage, untutored and uneducated. The
selfishness of the Court was only concerned in turning him to its profit
and not in helping him in any way. He went to the Palace, sat at the
piano, played, and went away again, and nobody ever took the trouble to
talk to him, except absently to pay him some banal compliment. Since his
grandfather's death, no one, either at home or outside, had ever thought
of helping him to learn the conduct of life, or to be a man. He suffered
cruelly from his ignorance and the roughness of his manners. He went
through an agony and bloody sweat to shape himself alone, but he did not
succeed. Books, conversation, example--all were lacking. He would fain have
confessed his distress to a friend, but could not bring himself to do so.
Even with Otto he had not dared, because at the first words he had uttered,
Otto had assumed a tone of disdainful superiority which had burned into him
like hot iron.
And now with Frau von Kerich it all became easy. Of her own accord, without
his having to ask anything--it cost Jean-Christophe's pride so much!--she
showed him gently what he should not do, told him what he ought to do,
advised him how to dress, eat, walk, talk, and never passed over any fault
of manners, taste, or language; and he could not be hurt by it, so light
and careful was her touch in the handling of the boy's easily injured
vanity. She took in hand also his literary education without seeming to be
concerned with it; she never showed surprise at his strange ignorance, but
never let slip an opportunity of correcting his mistakes simply, easily, as
if it were natural for him to have been in error; and, instead of alarming
him with pedantic lessons, she conceived the idea of employing their
evening meetings by making Minna or Jean-Christophe read passages of
history, or of the poets, German and foreign. She treated him as a son of
the house, with a few fine shades of patronizing familiarity which he never
saw. She was even concerned with his clothes, gave him new ones, knitted
him a woolen comforter, presented him with little toilet things, and all so
gently that he never was put about by her care or her presents. In short,
she gave him all the little attentions and the quasi-maternal care which
come to every good woman instinctively for a child who is intrusted to
her, or trusts himself to her, without her having any deep feeling for
it. But Jean-Christophe thought that all the tenderness was given to him
personally, and he was filled with gratitude; he would break out into
little awkward, passionate speeches, which seemed a little ridiculous to
Frau von Kerich, though they did not fail to give her pleasure.
With Minna his relation was very different. When Jean-Christophe met her
again at her first lesson, he was still intoxicated by his memories of
the preceding evening and of the girl's soft looks, and he was greatly
surprised to find her an altogether different person from the girl he had
seen only a few hours before. She hardly looked at him, and did not listen
to what he said, and when she raised her eyes to him, he saw in them so
icy a coldness that he was chilled by it. He tortured himself for a long
time to discover wherein lay his offense. He had given none, and Minna's
feelings were neither more nor less favorable than on the preceding day;
just as she had been then, Minna was completely indifferent to him. If on
the first occasion she had smiled upon him in welcome, it was from a girl's
instinctive coquetry, who delights to try the power of her eyes on the
first comer, be it only a trimmed poodle who turns up to fill her idle
hours. But since the preceding day the too-easy conquest had already lost
interest for her. She had subjected Jean-Christophe to a severe scrutiny
and she thought him an ugly boy, poor, ill-bred, who played the piano well,
though he had ugly hands, held his fork at table abominably, and ate his
fish with a knife. Then he seemed to her very uninteresting. She wanted to
have music-lessons from him; she wanted, even, to amuse herself with him,
because for the moment she had no other companion, and because in spite of
her pretensions of being no longer a child, she had still in gusts a crazy
longing to play, a need of expending her superfluous gaiety, which was, in
her as in her mother, still further roused by the constraint imposed by
their mourning. But she took no more account of Jean-Christophe than of
a domestic animal, and if it still happened occasionally during the days
of her greatest coldness that she made eyes at him, it was purely out of
forgetfulness, and because she was thinking of something else, or simply
so as not to get out of practice. And when she looked at him like that,
Jean-Christophe's heart used to leap. It is doubtful if she saw it; she was
telling herself stories. For she was at the age when we delight the senses
with sweet fluttering dreams. She was forever absorbed in thoughts of love,
filled with a curiosity which was only innocent from ignorance. And she
only thought of love, as a well-taught young lady should, in terms of
marriage. Her ideal was far from having taken definite shape. Sometimes she
dreamed of marrying a lieutenant, sometimes of marrying a poet, properly
sublime, _a la_ Schiller. One project devoured another and the last
was always welcomed with the same gravity and just the same amount of
conviction. For the rest, all of them were quite ready to give way before
a profitable reality, for it is wonderful to see how easily romantic girls
forget their dreams, when something less ideal, but more certain, appears
As it was, sentimental Minna was, in spite of all, calm and cold. In spite
of her aristocratic name, and the pride with which the ennobling particle
filled her, she had the soul of a little German housewife in the exquisite
days of adolescence.
* * * * *
Naturally Jean-Christophe did not in the least understand the complicated
mechanism--more complicated in appearance than in reality--of the feminine
heart. He was often baffled by the ways of his friends, but he was so happy
in loving them that he credited them with all that disturbed and made him
sad with them, so as to persuade himself that he was as much loved by them
as he loved them himself. A word or an affectionate look plunged him in
delight. Sometimes he was so bowled over by it that he would burst into
Sitting by the table in the quiet little room, with Frau von Kerich a few
yards away sewing by the light of the lamp--Minna reading on the other
side of the table, and no one talking, he looking through the half-open
garden-door at the gravel of the avenue glistening under the moon, a soft
murmur coming from the tops of the trees--his heart would be so full of
happiness that suddenly, for no reason, he would leap from his chair, throw
himself at Frau von Kerich's feet, seize her hand, needle or no needle,
cover it with kisses, press it to his lips, his cheeks, his eyes, and sob.
Minna would raise her eyes, lightly shrug her shoulders, and make a face.
Frau von Kerich would smile down at the big boy groveling at her feet, and
pat his head with her free hand, and say to him in her pretty voice,
affectionately and ironically:
"Well, well, old fellow! What is it?"
Oh, the sweetness of that voice, that peace, that silence, that soft air
in which were no shouts, no roughness, no violence, that oasis in the
harsh desert of life, and--heroic light gilding with its rays people and
things--the light of the enchanted world conjured up by the reading of the
divine poets! Goethe, Schiller, Shakespeare, springs of strength, of
sorrow, and of love!...
Minna, with her head down over the book, and her face faintly colored by
her animated delivery, would read in her fresh voice, with its slight lisp,
and try to sound important when she spoke in the characters of warriors
and kings. Sometimes Frau von Kerich herself would take the book; then she
would lend to tragic histories the spiritual and tender graciousness of her
own nature, but most often she would listen, lying back in her chair, her
never-ending needlework in her lap; she would smile at her own thoughts,
for always she would come back to them through every book.
Jean-Christophe also had tried to read, but he had had to give it up; he
stammered, stumbled over the words, skipped the punctuation, seemed to
understand nothing, and would be so moved that he would have to stop in the
middle of the pathetic passages, feeling tears coming. Then in a tantrum he
would throw the book down on the table, and his two friends would burst out
laughing.... How he loved them! He carried the image of them everywhere
with him, and they were mingled with the persons in Shakespeare and Goethe.
He could hardly distinguish between them. Some fragrant word of the poets
which called up from the depths of his being passionate emotions could not
in him be severed from the beloved lips that had made him hear it for the
first time. Even twenty years later he could never read Egmont or Romeo, or
see them played, without there leaping up in him at certain lines the
memory of those quiet evenings, those dreams of happiness, and the beloved
faces of Frau von Kerich and Minna.
He would spend hours looking at them in the evening when they were reading;
in the night when he was dreaming in his bed, awake, with his eyes closed;
during the day, when he was dreaming at his place in the orchestra, playing
mechanically with his eyes half closed. He had the most innocent tenderness
for them, and, knowing nothing of love, he thought he was in love. But he
did not quite know whether it was with the mother or the daughter. He went
into the matter gravely, and did not know which to choose. And yet, as it
seemed to him he must at all costs make his choice, he inclined towards
Frau von Kerich. And he did in fact discover, as soon as he had made up
his mind to it, that it was she that he loved. He loved her quick eyes,
the absent smile upon her half-open lips, her pretty forehead, so young in
seeming, and the parting to one side in her fine, soft hair, her rather
husky voice, with its little cough, her motherly hands, the elegance of her
movements, and her mysterious soul. He would thrill with happiness when,
sitting by his side, she would kindly explain to him the meaning of some
passage in a book which he did not understand; she would lay her hand on
Jean-Christophe's shoulder; he would feel the warmth of her fingers, her
breath on his cheek, the sweet perfume of her body; he would listen in
ecstasy, lose all thought of the book, and understand nothing at all. She
would see that and ask him to repeat what she had said; then he would say
nothing, and she would laughingly be angry, and tap his nose with her book,
telling him that he would always be a little donkey. To that he would reply
that he did not care so long as he was _her_ little donkey, and she did not
drive him out of her house. She would pretend to make objections; then she
would say that although he was an ugly little donkey, and very stupid, she
would agree to keep him--and perhaps even to love him--although he was good
for nothing, if at the least he would be just _good_. Then they would both
laugh, and he would go swimming in his joy.
* * * * *
When he discovered that he loved Frau von Kerich, Jean-Christophe broke
away from Minna. He was beginning to be irritated by her coldness and
disdain, and as, by dint of seeing her often, he had been emboldened little
by little to resume his freedom of manner with her, he did not conceal his
exasperation from her. She loved to sting him, and he would reply sharply.
They were always saying unkind things to each other, and Frau von Kerich
only laughed at them. Jean-Christophe, who never got the better in such
passages of words, used sometimes to issue from them so infuriated that he
thought he detested Minna; and he persuaded himself that he only went to
her house again because of Frau von Kerich.
He went on giving her music lessons. Twice a week, from nine to ten in the
morning, he superintended the girl's scales and exercises. The room in
which they did this was Minna's studio--an odd workroom, which, with an
amusing fidelity, reflected the singular disorder of her little feminine
On the table were little figures of musical cats--a whole orchestra--one
playing a violin, another the violoncello--a little pocket-mirror, toilet
things and writing things, tidily arranged. On the shelves were tiny busts
of musicians--Beethoven frowning, Wagner with his velvet cap, and the
Apollo Belvedere. On the mantelpiece, by a frog smoking a red pipe, a paper
fan on which was painted the Bayreuth Theater. On the two bookshelves
were a few books--Luebke, Mommsen, Schiller, "Sans Famille," Jules Verne,
Montaigne. On the walls large photographs of the Sistine Madonna, and
pictures by Herkomer, edged with blue and green ribbons. There was also
a view of a Swiss hotel in a frame of silver thistles; and above all,
everywhere in profusion, in every corner of the room, photographs of
officers, tenors, conductors, girl-friends, all with inscriptions, almost
all with verse--or at least what is accepted as verse in Germany. In the
center of the room, on a marble pillar, was enthroned a bust of Brahms,
with a beard; and, above the piano, little plush monkeys and cotillion
trophies hung by threads.
Minna would arrive late, her eyes still puffy with sleep, sulky; she would
hardly reach out her hand to Jean-Christophe, coldly bid him good-day, and,
without a word, gravely and with dignity sit down at the piano. When she
was alone, it pleased her to play interminable scales, for that allowed her
agreeably to prolong her half-somnolent condition and the dreams which she
was spinning for herself. But Jean-Christophe would compel her to fix her
attention on difficult exercises, and so sometimes she would avenge herself
by playing them as badly as she could. She was a fair musician, but she did
not like music--like many German women. But, like them, she thought she
ought to like it, and she took her lessons conscientiously enough, except
for certain moments of diabolical malice indulged in to enrage her master.
She could enrage him much more by the icy indifference with which she set
herself to her task. But the worst was when she took it into her head that
it was her duty to throw her soul into an expressive passage: then she
would become sentimental and feel nothing.
Young Jean-Christophe, sitting by her side, was not very polite. He never
paid her compliments--far from it. She resented that, and never let any
remark pass without answering it. She would argue about everything that he
said, and when she made a mistake she would insist that she was playing
what was written. He would get cross, and they would go on exchanging
ungracious words and impertinences. With her eyes on the keys, she never
ceased to watch Jean-Christophe and enjoy his fury. As a relief from
boredom she would invent stupid little tricks, with no other object than
to interrupt the lesson and to annoy Jean-Christophe. She would pretend
to choke, so as to make herself interesting; she would have a fit of
coughing, or she would have something very important to say to the maid.
Jean-Christophe knew that she was play-acting; and Minna knew that
Jean-Christophe knew that she was play-acting; and it amused her, for
Jean-Christophe could not tell her what he was thinking.
One day, when she was indulging in this amusement and was coughing
languidly, hiding her mouth in her handkerchief, as if she were on the
point of choking, but in reality watching Jean-Christophe's exasperation
out of the corner of her eye, she conceived the ingenious idea of letting
the handkerchief fall, so as to make Jean-Christophe pick it up, which he
did with the worst grace in the world. She rewarded him with a "Thank you!"
in her grand manner, which nearly made him explode.
She thought the game too good not to be repeated. Next day she did it
again. Jean-Christophe did not budge; he was boiling with rage. She waited
a moment, and then said in an injured tone:
"Will you please pick up my handkerchief?"
Jean-Christophe could not contain himself.
"I am not your servant!" he cried roughly. "Pick it up yourself!"
Minna choked with rage. She got up suddenly from her stool, which fell
"Oh, this is too much!" she said, and angrily thumped the piano; and she
left the room in a fury.
Jean-Christophe waited. She did not come back. He was ashamed of what he
had done; he felt that he had behaved like a little cad. And he was at the
end of his tether; she made fun of him too impudently! He was afraid lest
Minna should complain to her mother, and he should be forever banished from
Frau von Kerich's thoughts. He knew not what to do; for if he was sorry for
his brutality, no power on earth would have made him ask pardon.
He came again on the chance the next day, although he thought that
Minna would refuse to take her lesson. But Minna, who was too proud to
complain to anybody--Minna, whose conscience was not shielded against
reproach--appeared again, after making him wait five minutes more than
usual; and she sat down at the piano, stiff, upright, without turning her
head or saying a word, as though Jean-Christophe no longer existed for her.
But she did not fail to take her lesson, and all the subsequent lessons,
because she knew very well that Jean-Christophe was a fine musician, and
that she ought to learn to play the piano properly if she wished to
be--what she wished to be--a well-bred young lady of finished education.
But how bored she was! How they bored each other!
* * * * *
One misty morning in March, when little flakes of snow were flying, like
feathers, in the gray air, they were in the studio. It was hardly daylight.
Minna was arguing, as usual, about a false note that she had struck, and
pretending that it "was written so." Although he knew perfectly well that
she was lying, Jean-Christophe bent over the book to look at the passage in
question closely. Her hand was on the rack, and she did not move it. His
lips were near her hand. He tried to read and could not; he was looking at
something else--a thing soft, transparent, like the petals of a flower.
Suddenly--he did not know what he was thinking of--he pressed his lips as
hard as he could on the little hand.
They were both dumfounded by it. He flung backwards; she withdrew her
hand--both blushing. They said no word; they did not look at each other.
After a moment of confused silence she began to play again; she was very
uneasy: her bosom rose and fell as though she were under some weight; she
struck wrong note after wrong note. He did not notice it; he was more
uneasy than she. His temples throbbed; he heard nothing; he knew not what
she was playing; and, to break the silence, he made a few random remarks in
a choking voice. He thought that he was forever lost in Minna's opinion.
He was confounded by what he had done, thought it stupid and rude. The
lesson-hour over, he left Minna without looking at her, and even forgot
to say good-bye. She did not mind. She had no thought now of deeming
Jean-Christophe ill-mannered; and if she made so many mistakes in playing,
it was because all the time she was watching him out of the corner of her
eye with astonishment and curiosity, and--for the first time--sympathy.
When she was left alone, instead of going to look for her mother as usual,
she shut herself up in her room and examined this extraordinary event. She
sat with her face in her hands in front of the mirror. Her eyes seemed to
her soft and gleaming. She bit gently at her lip in the effort of thinking.
And as she looked complacently at her pretty face, she visualized the
scene, and blushed and smiled. At dinner she was animated and merry. She
refused to go out at once, and stayed in the drawing-room for part of the
afternoon; she had some work in her hand, and did not make ten stitches
without a mistake, but what did that matter! In a corner of the room, with
her back turned to her mother, she smiled; or, under a sudden impulse to
let herself go, she pranced about the room and sang at the top of her
voice. Frau von Kerich started and called her mad. Minna flung her arms
round her neck, shaking with laughter, and hugged and kissed her.
In the evening, when she went to her room, it was a long time before
she went to bed. She went on looking at herself in the mirror, trying
to remember, and having thought all through the day of the same
thing--thinking of nothing. She undressed slowly; she stopped every moment,
sitting on the bed, trying to remember what Jean-Christophe was like. It
was a Jean-Christophe of fantasy who appeared, and now he did not seem
nearly so uncouth to her. She went to bed and put out the light. Ten
minutes later the scene of the morning rushed back into her mind, and she
burst out laughing. Her mother got up softly and opened the door, thinking
that, against orders, she was reading in bed. She found Minna lying quietly
in her bed, with her eyes wide open in the dim candlelight.
"What is it?" she asked. "What is amusing you?"
"Nothing," said Minna gravely. "I was thinking."
"You are very lucky to find your own company so amusing. But go to sleep."
"Yes, mamma," replied Minna meekly. Inside herself she was grumbling; "Go
away! Do go away!" until the door was closed, and she could go on enjoying
her dreams. She fell into a sweet drowsiness. When she was nearly asleep,
she leaped for joy:
"He loves me.... What happiness! How good of him to love me!... How I love
She kissed her pillow and went fast asleep.
* * * * *
When next they were together Jean-Christophe was surprised at Minna's
amiability. She gave him "Good-day," and asked him how he was in a very
soft voice; she sat at the piano, looking wise and modest; she was an angel
of docility. There were none of her naughty schoolgirl's tricks, but she
listened religiously to Jean-Christophe's remarks, acknowledged that they
were right, gave little timid cries herself when she made a mistake and set
herself to be more accurate. Jean-Christophe could not understand it. In a
very short time she made astounding progress. Not only did she play better,
but with musical feeling. Little as he was given to flattery, he had to pay
her a compliment. She blushed with pleasure, and thanked him for it with a
look tearful with gratitude. She took pains with her toilet for him; she
wore ribbons of an exquisite shade; she gave Jean-Christophe little smiles
and soft glances, which he disliked, for they irritated him, and moved him
to the depths of his soul. And now it was she who made conversation, but
there was nothing childish in what she said; she talked gravely, and quoted
the poets in a pedantic and pretentious way. He hardly ever replied; he was
ill at ease. This new Minna that he did not know astonished and disquieted
Always she watched him. She was waiting.... For what?... Did she know
herself?... She was waiting for him to do it again. He took good care not
to; for he was convinced that he had behaved like a clod; he seemed never
to give a thought to it. She grew restless, and one day when he was sitting
quietly at a respectful distance from her dangerous little paws, she was
seized with impatience: with a movement so quick that she had no time to
think of it, she herself thrust her little hand against his lips. He was
staggered by it, then furious and ashamed. But none the less he kissed it
very passionately. Her naive effrontery enraged him; he was on the point of
leaving her there and then.
But he could not. He was entrapped. Whirling thoughts rushed in his mind;
he could make nothing of them. Like mists ascending from a valley they rose
from the depths of his heart. He wandered hither and thither at random
through this mist of love, and whatever he did, he did but turn round and
round an obscure fixed idea, a Desire unknown, terrible and fascinating as
a flame to an insect. It was the sudden eruption of the blind forces of
* * * * *
They passed through a period of waiting. They watched each other, desired
each other, were fearful of each other. They were uneasy. But they did not
for that desist from their little hostilities and sulkinesses; only there
were no more familiarities between them; they were silent. Each was busy
constructing their love in silence.
Love has curious retroactive effects. As soon as Jean-Christophe discovered
that he loved Minna, he discovered at the same time that he had always
loved her. For three months they had been seeing each other almost every
day without ever suspecting the existence of their love. But from the day
when he did actually love her, he was absolutely convinced that he had
loved her from all eternity.
It was a good thing for him to have discovered at last _whom_ he loved.
He had loved for so long without knowing whom! It was a sort of relief to
him, like a sick man, who, suffering from a general illness, vague and
enervating, sees it become definite in sharp pain in some portion of his
body. Nothing is more wearing than love without a definite object; it eats
away and saps the strength like a fever. A known passion leads the mind to
excess; that is exhausting, but at least one knows why. It is an excess; it
is not a wasting away. Anything rather than emptiness.
Although Minna had given Jean-Christophe good reason to believe that she
was not indifferent to him, he did not fail to torture himself with the
idea that she despised him. They had never had any very clear idea of each
other, but this idea had never been more confused and false than it was
now; it consisted of a series of strange fantasies which could never be
made to agree, for they passed from one extreme to the other, endowing each
other in turn with faults and charms which they did not possess--charms
when they were parted, faults when they were together. In either case they
were wide of the mark.
They did not know themselves what they desired. For Jean-Christophe his
love took shape as that thirst for tenderness, imperious, absolute,
demanding reciprocation, which had burned in him since childhood,
which he demanded from others, and wished to impose on them by will or
force. Sometimes this despotic desire of full sacrifice of himself and
others--especially others, perhaps--was mingled with gusts of a brutal
and obscure desire, which set him whirling, and he did not understand it.
Minna, curious above all things, and delighted to have a romance, tried
to extract as much pleasure as possible from it for her vanity and
sentimentality; she tricked herself whole-heartedly as to what she was
feeling. A great part of their love was purely literary. They fed on the
books they had read, and were forever ascribing to themselves feelings
which they did not possess.
But the moment was to come when all these little lies and small egoisms
were to vanish away before the divine light of love. A day, an hour, a few
seconds of eternity.... And it was so unexpected!...
* * * * *
One evening they were alone and talking. The room was growing dark. Their
conversation took a serious turn. They talked of the infinite, of Life, and
Death. It made a larger frame for their little passion. Minna complained of
her loneliness, which led naturally to Jean-Christophe's answer that she
was not so lonely as she thought.
"No," she said, shaking her head. "That is only words. Every one lives for
himself; no one is interested in you; nobody loves you."
"And I?" said Jean-Christophe suddenly, pale with emotion.
Impulsive Minna jumped to her feet, and took his hands.
The door opened. They flung apart. Frau von Kerich entered. Jean-Christophe
buried himself in a book, which he held upside down. Minna bent over her
work, and pricked her finger with her needle.
They were not alone together for the rest of the evening, and they were
afraid of being left. When Frau von Kerich got up to look for something in
the next room, Minna, not usually obliging, ran to fetch it for her, and
Jean-Christophe took advantage of her absence to take his leave without
saying goodnight to her.
Next day they met again, impatient to resume their interrupted
conversation. They did not succeed. Yet circumstances were favorable to
them. They went a walk with Frau von Kerich, and had plenty of opportunity
for talking as much as they liked. But Jean-Christophe could not speak, and
he was so unhappy that he stayed as far away as possible from Minna. And
she pretended not to notice his discourtesy; but she was piqued by it, and
showed it. When Jean-Christophe did at last contrive to utter a few words,
she listened icily; he had hardly the courage to finish his sentence. They
were coming to the end of the walk. Time was flying. And he was wretched at
not having been able to make use of it.
A week passed. They thought they had mistaken their feeling for each other.
They were not sure but that they had dreamed the scene of that evening.
Minna was resentful against Jean-Christophe. Jean-Christophe was afraid of
meeting her alone. They were colder to each other than ever.
A day came when it had rained all morning and part of the afternoon. They
had stayed in the house without speaking, reading, yawning, looking out of
the window; they were bored and cross. About four o'clock the sky cleared.
They ran into the garden. They leaned their elbows on the terrace wall,
and looked down at the lawns sloping to the river. The earth was steaming;
a soft mist was ascending to the sun; little rain-drops glittered on
the grass; the smell of the damp earth and the perfume of the flowers
intermingled; around them buzzed a golden swarm of bees. They were side by
side, not looking at each other; they could not bring themselves to break
the silence. A bee came up and clung awkwardly to a clump of wistaria heavy
with rain, and sent a shower of water down on them. They both laughed, and
at once they felt that they were no longer cross with each other, and were
friends again. But still they did not look at each other. Suddenly, without
turning her head, she took his hand, and said:
She led him quickly to the little labyrinth with its box-bordered paths,
which was in the middle of the grove. They climbed up the slope, slipping
on the soaking ground, and the wet trees shook out their branches over
them. Near the top she stopped to breathe.
"Wait ... wait ..." she said in a low voice, trying to take breath.
He looked at her. She was looking away; she was smiling, breathing hard,
with her lips parted; her hand was trembling in Jean-Christophe's. They
felt the blood throbbing in their linked hands and their trembling fingers.
Around them all was silent. The pale shoots of the trees were quivering in
the sun; a gentle rain dropped from the leaves with silvery sounds, and in
the sky were the shrill cries of swallows.
She turned her head towards him; it was a lightning flash. She flung her
arms about his neck; he flung himself into her arms.
"Minna! Minna! My darling!..."
"I love you, Jean Christophe! I love you!"
They sat on a wet wooden seat. They were filled with love, sweet, profound,
absurd. Everything else had vanished. No more egoism, no more vanity, no
more reservation. Love, love--that is what their laughing, tearful eyes
were saying. The cold coquette of a girl, the proud boy, were devoured with
the need of self-sacrifice, of giving, of suffering, of dying for each
other. They did not know each other; they were not the same; everything was
changed; their hearts, their faces, their eyes, gave out a radiance of the
most touching kindness and tenderness. Moments of purity, of self-denial,
of absolute giving of themselves, which through life will never return!
After a desperate murmuring of words and passionate promises to belong to
each other forever, after kisses and incoherent words of delight, they saw
that it was late, and they ran back hand in hand, almost falling in the
narrow paths, bumping into trees, feeling nothing, blind and drunk with the
joy of it.
When he left her he did not go home; he could not have gone to sleep. He
left the town, and walked over the fields; he walked blindly through the
night. The air was fresh, the country dark and deserted. A screech-owl
hooted shrilly. Jean-Christophe went on like a sleep-walker. The little
lights of the town quivered on the plain, and the stars in the dark sky. He
sat on a wall by the road and suddenly burst into tears. He did not know
why. He was too happy, and the excess of his joy was compounded of sadness
and delight; there was in it thankfulness for his happiness, pity for
those who were not happy, a melancholy and sweet feeling of the frailty of
things, the mad joy of living. He wept for delight, and slept in the midst
of his tears. When he awoke dawn was peeping. White mists floated over the
river, and veiled the town, where Minna, worn out; was sleeping, while in
her heart was the light of her smile of happiness.
* * * * *
They contrived to meet again in the garden next morning and told their love
once more, but now the divine unconsciousness of it all was gone. She was a
little playing the part of the girl in love, and he, though more sincere,
was also playing a part. They talked of what their life should be. He
regretted his poverty and humble estate. She affected to be generous, and
enjoyed her generosity. She said that she cared nothing for money. That was
true, for she knew nothing about it, having never known the lack of it. He
promised that he would become a great artist; that she thought fine and
amusing, like a novel. She thought it her duty to behave really like a
woman in love. She read poetry; she was sentimental. He was touched by the
infection. He took pains with his dress; he was absurd; he set a guard upon
his speech; he was pretentious. Frau von Kerich watched him and laughed,
and asked herself what could have made him so stupid.
But they had moments of marvelous poetry, and these would suddenly burst
upon them out of dull days, like sunshine through a mist. A look, a
gesture, a meaningless word, and they were bathed in happiness; they had
their good-byes in the evening on the dimly-lighted stairs, and their eyes
would seek each other, divine each other through the half darkness, and the
thrill of their hands as they touched, the trembling in their voices, all
those little nothings that fed their memory at night, as they slept so
lightly that the chiming of each hour would awake them, and their hearts
would sing "I am loved," like the murmuring of a stream.
They discovered the charm of things. Spring smiled with a marvelous
sweetness. The heavens were brilliant, the air was soft, as they had never
been before. All the town--the red roofs, the old walls, the cobbled
streets--showed with a kindly charm that moved Jean-Christophe. At night,
when everybody was asleep, Minna would get up from her bed, and stand by
the window, drowsy and feverish. And in the afternoon, when he was not
there, she would sit in a swing, and dream, with a book on her knees,
her eyes half closed, sleepy and lazily happy, mind and body hovering
in the spring air. She would spend hours at the piano, with a patience
exasperating to others, going over and over again scales and passages which
made her turn pale and cold with emotion. She would weep when she heard
Schumann's music. She felt full of pity and kindness for all creatures, and
so did he. They would give money stealthily to poor people whom they met in
the street, and would then exchange glances of compassion; they were happy
in their kindness.
To tell the truth, they were kind only by fits and starts. Minna suddenly
discovered how sad was the humble life of devotion of old Frida, who had
been a servant in the house since her mother's childhood, and at once she
ran and hugged her, to the great astonishment of the good old creature, who
was busy mending the linen in the kitchen. But that did not keep her from
speaking harshly to her a few hours later, when Frida did not come at once
on the sound of the bell. And Jean-Christophe, who was consumed with love
for all humanity, and would turn aside so as not to crush an insect, was
entirely indifferent to his own family. By a strange reaction he was
colder and more curt with them the more affectionate he was to all other
creatures; he hardly gave thought to them; he spoke abruptly to them, and
found no interest in seeing them. Both in Jean-Christophe and Minna their
kindness was only a surfeit of tenderness which overflowed at intervals to
the benefit of the first comer. Except for these overflowings they were
more egoistic than ever, for their minds were filled only with the one
thought, and everything was brought back to that.
How much of Jean-Christophe's life was filled with the girl's face! What
emotion was in him when he saw her white frock in the distance, when he was
looking for her in the garden; when at the theater, sitting a few yards
away from their empty places, he heard the door of their box open, and the
mocking voice that he knew so well; when in some outside conversation the
dear name of Kerich cropped up! He would go pale and blush; for a moment or
two he would see and hear nothing. And then there would be a rush of blood
over all his body, the assault of unknown forces.
The little German girl, naive and sensual, had odd little tricks. She would
place her ring on a little pile of flour, and he would have to get it again
and again with his teeth without whitening his nose. Or she would pass a
thread through a biscuit, and put one end of it in her mouth and one in
his, and then they had to nibble the thread to see who could get to the
biscuit first. Their faces would come together; they would feel each
other's breathing; their lips would touch, and they would laugh forcedly,
while their hands would turn to ice. Jean-Christophe would feel a desire to
bite, to hurt; he would fling back, and she would go on laughing forcedly.
They would turn away, pretend indifference, and steal glances at each
These disturbing games had a disquieting attraction for them; they wanted
to play them, and yet avoided them. Jean-Christophe was fearful of them,
and preferred even the constraint of the meetings when Frau von Kerich or
some one else was present. So outside presence could break in upon the
converse of their loving hearts; constraint only made their love sweeter
and more intense. Everything gained infinitely in value; a word, a
movement of the lips, a glance were enough to make the rich new treasure
of their inner life shine through the dull veil of ordinary existence.
They alone could see it, or so they thought, and smiled, happy in their
little mysteries. Their words were no more than those of a drawing-room
conversation about trivial matters; to them they were an unending song of
love. They read the most fleeting changes in their faces and voices as in
an open book; they could have read as well with their eyes closed, for they
had only to listen to their hearts to hear in them the echo of the heart
of the beloved. They were full of confidence in life, in happiness, in
themselves. Their hopes were boundless. They loved, they were loved, happy,
without a shadow, without a doubt, without a fear of the future. Wonderful
serenity of those days of spring! Not a cloud in the sky. A faith so fresh
that it seems that nothing can ever tarnish it. A joy so abounding that
nothing can ever exhaust it. Are they living? Are they dreaming? Doubtless
they are dreaming. There is nothing in common between life and their
dream--nothing, except in that moment of magic: they are but a dream
themselves; their being has melted away at the touch of love.
* * * * *
It was not long before Frau von Kerich perceived their little intrigue,
which they thought very subtly managed, though it was very clumsy. Minna
had suspected it from the moment when her mother had entered suddenly one
day when she was talking to Jean-Christophe, and standing as near to him as
she could, and on the click of the door they had darted apart as quickly
as possible, covered with confusion. Frau von Kerich had pretended to see
nothing. Minna was almost sorry. She would have liked a tussle with her
mother; it would have been more romantic.
Her mother took care to give her no opportunity for it; she was too clever
to be anxious, or to make any remark about it. But to Minna she talked
ironically about Jean-Christophe, and made merciless fun of his foibles;
she demolished him in a few words. She did not do it deliberately; she
acted upon instinct, with the treachery natural to a woman who is defending
her own. It was useless for Minna to resist, and sulk, and be impertinent,
and go on denying the truth of her remarks; there was only too much
justification for them, and Frau von Kerich had a cruel skill in flicking
the raw spot. The largeness of Jean-Christophe's boots, the ugliness of his
clothes, his ill-brushed hat, his provincial accent, his ridiculous way of
bowing, the vulgarity of his loud-voicedness, nothing was forgotten which
might sting Minna's vanity. Such remarks were always simple and made by the
way; they never took the form of a set speech, and when Minna, irritated,
got upon her high horse to reply, Frau von Kerich would innocently be off
on another subject. But the blow struck home, and Minna was sore under it.
She began to look at Jean-Christophe with a less indulgent eye. He was
vaguely conscious of it, and uneasily asked her:
"Why do you look at me like that?"
And she answered:
But a moment after, when he was merry, she would harshly reproach him for
laughing so loudly. He was abashed; he never would have thought that he
would have to take care not to laugh too loudly with her: all his gaiety
was spoiled. Or when he was talking absolutely at his ease, she would
absently interrupt him to make some unpleasant remark about his clothes,
or she would take exception to his common expressions with pedantic
aggressiveness. Then he would lose all desire to talk, and sometimes would
be cross. Then he would persuade himself that these ways which so irritated
him were a proof of Minna's interest in him, and she would persuade herself
also that it was so. He would try humbly to do better. But she was never
much pleased with him, for he hardly ever succeeded.
But he had no time--nor had Minna--to perceive the change that was taking
place in her. Easter came, and Minna had to go with her mother to stay with
some relations near Weimar.
During the last week before the separation they returned to the intimacy of
the first days. Except for little outbursts of impatience Minna was more
affectionate than ever. On the eve of her departure they went for a long
walk in the park; she led Jean-Christophe mysteriously to the arbor, and
put about his neck a little scented bag, in which she had placed a lock of
her hair; they renewed their eternal vows, and swore to write to each other
every day; and they chose a star out of the sky, and arranged to look at it
every evening at the same time.
The fatal day arrived. Ten times during the night he had asked himself,
"Where will she be to-morrow?" and now he thought, "It is to-day. This
morning she is still here; to-night she will be here no longer." He went
to her house before eight o'clock. She was not up; he set out to walk in
the park; he could not; he returned. The passages were full of boxes and
parcels; he sat down in a corner of the room listening for the creaking of
doors and floors, and recognizing the footsteps on the floor above him.
Frau von Kerich passed, smiled as she saw him and, without stopping, threw
him a mocking good-day. Minna came at last; she was pale, her eyelids were
swollen; she had not slept any more than he during the night. She gave
orders busily to the servants; she held out her hand to Jean-Christophe,
and went on talking to old Frida. She was ready to go. Frau von Kerich came
back. They argued about a hat-box. Minna seemed to pay no attention to
Jean-Christophe, who was standing, forgotten and unhappy, by the piano. She
went out with her mother, then came back; from the door she called out to
Frau von Kerich. She closed the door. They were alone. She ran to him, took
his hand, and dragged him into the little room next door; its shutters were
closed. Then she put her face up to Jean-Christophe's and kissed him
wildly. With tears in her eyes she said:
"You promise--you promise that you will love me always?"
They sobbed quietly, and made convulsive efforts to choke their sobs down
so as not to be heard. They broke apart as they heard footsteps
approaching. Minna dried her eyes, and resumed her busy air with the
servants, but her voice trembled.
He succeeded in snatching her handkerchief, which she had let fall--her
little dirty handkerchief, crumpled and wet with her tears.
He went to the station with his friends in their carriage. Sitting opposite
each other Jean-Christophe and Minna hardly dared look at each other for
fear of bursting into tears. Their hands sought each other, and clasped
until they hurt. Frau von Kerich watched them with quizzical good-humor,
and seemed not to see anything. The time arrived. Jean-Christophe was
standing by the door of the train when it began to move, and he ran
alongside the carriage, not looking where he was going, jostling against
porters, his eyes fixed on Minna's eyes, until the train was gone. He went
on running until it was lost from sight. Then he stopped, out of breath,
and found himself on the station platform among people of no importance. He
went home, and, fortunately, his family were all out, and all through the
morning he wept.
* * * * *
For the first time he knew the frightful sorrow of parting, an intolerable
torture for all loving hearts. The world is empty; life is empty; all is
empty. The heart is choked; it is impossible to breathe; there is mortal
agony; it is difficult, impossible, to live--especially when all around you
there are the traces of the departed loved one, when everything about you
is forever calling up her image, when you remain in the surroundings in
which you lived together, she and you, when it is a torment to try to live
again in the same places the happiness that is gone. Then it is as though
an abyss were opened at your feet; you lean over it; you turn giddy; you
almost fall. You fall. You think you are face to face with Death. And so
you are; parting is one of his faces. You watch the beloved of your heart
pass away; life is effaced; only a black hole is left--nothingness.
Jean-Christophe went and visited all the beloved spots, so as to suffer
more. Frau von Kerich had left him the key of the garden, so that he could
go there while they were away. He went there that very day, and was like
to choke with sorrow. It seemed to him as he entered that he might find
there a little of her who was gone; he found only too much of her; her
image hovered over all the lawns; he expected to see her appear at all
the corners of the paths; he knew well that she would not appear, but he
tormented himself with pretending that she might, and he went over the
tracks of his memories of love--the path to the labyrinth, the terrace
carpeted with wistaria, the seat in the arbor, and he inflicted torture on
himself by saying: "A week ago ... three days ago ... yesterday, it was
so. Yesterday she was here ... this very morning...." He racked his heart
with these thoughts until he had to stop, choking, and like to die. In his
sorrow was mingled anger with himself for having wasted all that time, and
not having made use of it. So many minutes, so many hours, when he had
enjoyed the infinite happiness of seeing her, breathing her, and feeding
upon her. And he had not appreciated it! He had let the time go by without
having tasted to the full every tiny moment! And now!... Now it was too
late.... Irreparable! Irreparable!
He went home. His family seemed odious to him. He could not bear their
faces, their gestures, their fatuous conversation, the same as that of the
preceding day, the same as that of all the preceding days--always the same.
They went on living their usual life, as though no such misfortune had come
to pass in their midst. And the town had no more idea of it than they.
The people were all going about their affairs, laughing, noisy, busy; the
crickets were chirping; the sky was bright. He hated them all; he felt
himself crushed by this universal egoism. But he himself was more egoistic
than the whole universe. Nothing was worth while to him. He had no
kindness. He loved nobody.
He passed several lamentable days. His work absorbed him again
automatically: but he had no heart for living.
One evening when he was at supper with his family, silent and depressed,
the postman knocked at the door and left a letter for him. His heart knew
the sender of it before he had seen the handwriting. Four pairs of eyes,
fixed on him with undisguised curiosity, waited for him to read it,
clutching at the hope that this interruption might take them out of their
usual boredom. He placed the letter by his plate, and would not open it,
pretending carelessly that he knew what it was about. But his brothers,
annoyed, would not believe it, and went on prying at it; and so he was in
tortures until the meal was ended. Then he was free to lock himself up in
his room. His heart was beating so that he almost tore the letter as he
opened it. He trembled to think what might be in it; but as soon as he had
glanced over the first words he was filled with joy.
A few very affectionate words. Minna was writing to him by stealth. She
called him "Dear _Christlein_" and told him that she had wept much, had
looked at the star every evening, that she had been to Frankfort, which was
a splendid town, where there were wonderful shops, but that she had never
bothered about anything because she was thinking of him. She reminded him
that he had sworn to be faithful to her, and not to see anybody while she
was away, so that he might think only of her. She wanted him to work all
the time while she was gone, so as to make himself famous, and her too. She
ended by asking him if he remembered the little room where they had said
good-bye on the morning when she had left him: she assured him that she
would be there still in thought, and that she would still say good-bye to
him in the same way. She signed herself, "Eternally yours! Eternally!..."
and she had added a postscript bidding him buy a straw hat instead of his
ugly felt--all the distinguished people there were wearing them--a coarse
straw hat, with a broad blue ribbon.
Jean-Christophe read the letter four times before he could quite take it
all in. He was so overwhelmed that he could not even be happy; and suddenly
he felt so tired that he lay down and read and re-read the letter and
kissed it again and again. He put it under his pillow, and his hand was
forever making sure that it was there. An ineffable sense of well-being
permeated his whole soul. He slept all through the night.
His life became more tolerable. He had ever sweet, soaring thoughts of
Minna. He set about answering her; but he could not write freely to her;
he had to hide his feelings: that was painful and difficult for him. He
continued clumsily to conceal his love beneath formulae of ceremonious
politeness, which he always used in an absurd fashion.
When he had sent it he awaited Minna's reply, and only lived in expectation
of it. To win patience he tried to go for walks and to read. But his
thoughts were only of Minna: he went on crazily repeating her name over and
over again; he was so abject in his love and worship of her name that he
carried everywhere with him a volume of Lessing, because the name of Minna
occurred in it, and every day when he left the theater he went a long
distance out of his way so as to pass a mercery shop, on whose signboard
the five adored letters were written.
He reproached himself for wasting time when she had bid him so urgently to
work, so as to make her famous. The naive vanity of her request touched
him, as a mark of her confidence in him. He resolved, by way of fulfilling
it, to write a work which should be not only dedicated, but consecrated,
to her. He could not have written any other at that time. Hardly had the
scheme occurred to him than musical ideas rushed in upon him. It was like
a flood of water accumulated in a reservoir for several months, until it
should suddenly rush down, breaking all its dams. He did not leave his room
for a week. Louisa left his dinner at the door; for he did not allow even
her to enter.
He wrote a quintette for clarionet and strings. The first movement was
a poem of youthful hope and desire; the last a lover's joke, in which
Jean-Christophe's wild humor peeped out. But the whole work was written for
the sake of the second movement, the _larghetto_, in which Jean-Christophe
had depicted an ardent and ingenuous little soul, which was, or was meant
to be, a portrait of Minna. No one would have recognized it, least of all
herself; but the great thing was that it was perfectly recognizable to
himself; and he had a thrill of pleasure in the illusion of feeling that he
had caught the essence of his beloved. No work had ever been so easily or
happily written; it was an outlet for the excess of love which the parting
had stored up in him; and at the same time his care for the work of art,
the effort necessary to dominate and concentrate his passion into a
beautiful and clear form, gave him a healthiness of mind, a balance in his
faculties, which gave him a sort of physical delight--a sovereign enjoyment
known to every creative artist. While he is creating he escapes altogether
from the slavery of desire and sorrow; he becomes then master in his turn;
and all that gave him joy or suffering seems then to him to be only the
fine play of his will. Such moments are too short; for when they are done
he finds about him, more heavy than ever, the chains of reality.
While Jean-Christophe was busy with his work he hardly had time to think
of his parting from Minna; he was living with her. Minna was no longer in
Minna; she was in himself. But when he had finished he found that he was
alone, more alone than before, more weary, exhausted by the effort; he
remembered that it was a fortnight since he had written to Minna and that
she had not replied.
He wrote to her again, and this time he could not bring himself altogether
to exercise the constraint which he had imposed on himself for the
first letter. He reproached Minna jocularly--for he did not believe it
himself--with having forgotten him. He scolded her for her laziness and
teased her affectionately. He spoke of his work with much mystery, so as to
rouse her curiosity, and because he wished to keep it as a surprise for her
when she returned. He described minutely the hat that he had bought; and he
told how, to carry out the little despot's orders--for he had taken all her
commands literally--he did not go out at all, and said that he was ill as
an excuse for refusing invitations. He did not add that he was even on bad
terms with the Grand Duke, because, in excess of zeal, he had refused to
go to a party at the Palace to which he had been invited. The whole letter
was full of a careless joy, and conveyed those little secrets so dear to
lovers. He imagined that Minna alone had the key to them, and thought
himself very clever, because he had carefully replaced every word of love
with words of friendship.
After he had written he felt comforted for a moment; first, because the
letter had given him the illusion of conversation with his absent fair, but
chiefly because he had no doubt but that Minna would reply to it at once.
He was very patient for the three days which he had allowed for the post
to take his letter to Minna and bring back her answer; but when the fourth
day had passed he began once more to find life difficult. He had no energy
or interest in things, except during the hour before the post's arrival.
Then he was trembling with impatience. He became superstitious, and looked
for the smallest sign--the crackling of the fire, a chance word--to give
him an assurance that the letter would come. Once that hour was passed he
would collapse again. No more work, no more walks; the only object of his
existence was to wait for the next post, and all his energy was expended in
finding strength to wait for so long. But when evening came, and all hope
was gone for the day, then he was crushed; it seemed to him that he could
never live until the morrow, and he would stay for hours, sitting at his
table, without speaking or thinking, without even the power to go to bed,
until some remnant of his will would take him off to it; and he would sleep
heavily, haunted by stupid dreams, which made him think that the night
would never end.
This continual expectation became at length a physical torture, an actual
illness. Jean-Christophe went so far as to suspect his father, his brother,
even the postman, of having taken the letter and hidden it from him. He was
racked with uneasiness. He never doubted Minna's fidelity for an instant.
If she did not write, it must be because she was ill, dying, perhaps dead.
Then he rushed to his pen and wrote a third letter, a few heartrending
lines, in which he had no more thought of guarding his feelings than of
taking care with his spelling. The time for the post to go was drawing
near; he had crossed out and smudged the sheet as he turned it over,
dirtied the envelope as he closed it. No matter! He could not wait until
the next post. He ran and hurled his letter into the box and waited in
mortal agony. On the next night but one he had a clear vision of Minna,
ill, calling to him; he got up, and was on the point of setting out on foot
to go to her. But where? Where should he find her?
On the fourth morning Minna's letter came at last--hardly a
half-sheet--cold and stiff. Minna said that she did not understand what
could have filled him with such stupid fears, that she was quite well, that
she had no time to write, and begged him not to get so excited in future,
and not to write any more.
Jean-Christophe was stunned. He never doubted Minna's sincerity. He blamed
himself; he thought that Minna was justly annoyed by the impudent and
absurd letters that he had written. He thought himself an idiot, and beat
at his head with his fist. But it was all in vain; he was forced to feel
that Minna did not love him as much as he loved her.
The days that followed were so mournful that it is impossible to describe
them. Nothingness cannot be described. Deprived of the only boon that made
living worth while for him--his letters to Minna--Jean-Christophe now only
lived mechanically, and the only thing which interested him at all was when
in the evening, as he was going to bed, he ticked off on the calendar,
like a schoolboy, one of the interminable days which lay between himself
and Minna's return. The day of the return was past. They ought to have
been at home a week. Feverish excitement had succeeded Jean-Christophe's
prostration. Minna had promised when she left to advise him of the day and
hour of their arrival. He waited from moment to moment to go and meet them;
and he tied himself up in a web of guesses as to the reasons for their
One evening one of their neighbors, a friend of his grandfather, Fischer,
the furniture dealer, came in to smoke and chat with Melchior after dinner
as he often did. Jean-Christophe, in torment, was going up to his room
after waiting for the postman to pass when a word made him tremble. Fischer
said that next day he had to go early in the morning to the Kerichs' to
hang up the curtains. Jean-Christophe stopped dead, and asked:
"Have they returned?"
"You wag! You know that as well as I do," said old Fischer roguishly. "Fine
weather! They came back the day before yesterday."
Jean-Christophe heard no more; he left the room, and got ready to go out.
His mother, who for some time had secretly been watching him without his
knowing it, followed him into the lobby, and asked him timidly where he was
going. He made no answer, and went out. He was hurt.
He ran to the Kerichs' house. It was nine o'clock in the evening. They were
both in the drawing-room and did not appear to be surprised to see him.
They said "Good-evening" quietly. Minna was busy writing, and held out her
hand over the table and went on with her letter, vaguely asking him for
his news. She asked him to forgive her discourtesy, and pretended to be
listening to what he said, but she interrupted him to ask something of her
mother. He had prepared touching words concerning all that he had suffered
during her absence; he could hardly summon a few words; no one was
interested in them, and he had not the heart to go on--it all rang so
When Minna had finished her letter she took up some work, and, sitting a
little away from him, began to tell him about her travels. She talked about
the pleasant weeks she had spent--riding on horseback, country-house life,
interesting society; she got excited gradually, and made allusions to
events and people whom Jean-Christophe did not know, and the memory of
them made her mother and herself laugh. Jean-Christophe felt that he was
a stranger during the story; he did not know how to take it, and laughed
awkwardly. He never took his eyes from Minna's face, beseeching her to look
at him, imploring her to throw him a glance for alms. But when she did look
at him--which was not often, for she addressed herself more to her mother
than to him--her eyes, like her voice, were cold and indifferent. Was she
so constrained because of her mother, or was it that he did not understand?
He wished to speak to her alone, but Frau von Kerich never left them
for a moment. He tried to bring the conversation round to some subject
interesting to himself; he spoke of his work and his plans; he was dimly
conscious that Minna was evading him, and instinctively he tried to
interest her in himself. Indeed, she seemed to listen attentively enough;
she broke in upon his narrative with various interjections, which were
never very apt, but always seemed to be full of interest. But just as
he was beginning to hope once more, carried off his feet by one of her
charming smiles, he saw Minna put her little hand to her lips and yawn. He
broke off short. She saw that, and asked his pardon amiably, saying that
she was tired. He got up, thinking that they would persuade him to stay,
but they said nothing. He spun out his "Good-bye," and waited for a word to
ask him to come again next day; there was no suggestion of it. He had to
go. Minna did not take him to the door. She held out her hand to him--an
indifferent hand that drooped limply in his--and he took his leave of them
in the middle of the room.
He went home with terror in his heart. Of the Minna of two months before,
of his beloved Minna, nothing was left. What had happened? What had become
of her? For a poor boy who has never yet experienced the continual change,
the complete disappearance, and the absolute renovation of living souls,
of which the majority are not so much souls as collections of souls in
succession changing and dying away continually, the simple truth was too
cruel for him to be able to believe it. He rejected the idea of it in
terror, and tried to persuade himself that he had not been able to see
properly, and that Minna was just the same. He decided to go again to the
house next morning, and to talk to her at all costs.
He did not sleep. Through the night he counted one after another the chimes
of the clock. From one o'clock on he was rambling round the Kerichs' house;
he entered it as soon as he could. He did not see Minna, but Frau von
Kerich. Always busy and an early riser, she was watering the pots of
flowers on the veranda. She gave a mocking cry when she saw
"Ah!" she said. "It is you!... I am glad you have come. I have something to
talk to you about. Wait a moment...."
She went in for a moment to put down her watering can and to dry her hands,
and came back with a little smile as she saw Jean-Christophe's
discomfiture; he was conscious of the approach of disaster.
"Come into the garden," she said; "we shall be quieter."
In the garden that was full still of his love he followed Frau von Kerich.
She did not hasten to speak, and enjoyed the boy's uneasiness.
"Let us sit here," she said at last. They were sitting on the seat in the
place where Minna had held up her lips to him on the eve of her departure.
"I think you know what is the matter," said Frau von Kerich, looking
serious so as to complete his confusion. "I should never have thought it of
you, Jean-Christophe. I thought you a serious boy. I had every confidence
in you. I should never have thought that you would abuse it to try and
turn my daughter's head. She was in your keeping. You ought to have shown
respect for her, respect for me, respect for yourself."
There was a light irony in her accents. Frau von Kerich attached not the
least importance to this childish love affair; but Jean-Christophe was not
conscious of it, and her reproaches, which he took, as he took everything,
tragically, went to his heart.
"But, Madam ... but, Madam ..." he stammered, with tears in his eyes, "I
have never abused your confidence.... Please do not think that.... I am not
a bad man, that I swear!... I love Fraeulein Minna. I love her with all my
Soul, and I wish to marry her."
Frau von Kerich smiled.
"No, my poor boy," she said, with that kindly smile in which was so much
disdain, as at last he was to understand, "no, it is impossible; it is just
a childish folly."
"Why? Why?" he asked.
He took her hands, not believing that she could be speaking seriously, and
almost reassured by the new softness in her voice. She smiled still, and
He insisted. With ironical deliberation--she did not take him altogether
seriously--she told him that he had no fortune, that Minna had different
tastes. He protested that that made no difference; that he would be rich,
famous; that he would win honors, money, all that Minna could desire. Frau
von Kerich looked skeptical; she was amused by his self-confidence, and
only shook her head by way of saying no. But he stuck to it.
"No, Jean-Christophe," she said firmly, "no. It is not worth arguing. It is
impossible. It is not only a question of money. So many things! The
She had no need to finish. That was a needle that pierced to his very
marrow. His eyes were opened. He saw the irony of the friendly smile, he
saw the coldness of the kindly look, he understood suddenly what it was
that separated him from this woman whom he loved as a son, this woman who
seemed to treat him like a mother; he was conscious of all that was
patronizing and disdainful in her affection. He got up. He was pale. Frau
von Kerich went on talking to him in her caressing voice, but it was the
end; he heard no more the music of the words; he perceived under every word
the falseness of that elegant soul. He could not answer a word. He went.
Everything about him was going round and round.
When he regained his room he flung himself on his bed, and gave way to a
fit of anger and injured pride, just as he used to do when he was a little
boy. He bit his pillow; he crammed his handkerchief into his mouth, so that
no one should hear him crying. He hated Frau von Kerich. He hated Minna. He
despised them mightily. It seemed to him that he had been insulted, and he
trembled with shame and rage. He had to reply, to take immediate action. If
he could not avenge himself he would die.
He got up, and wrote an idiotically violent letter:
"I do not know if, as you say, you have been deceived in me. But I do know
that I have been cruelly deceived in you. I thought that you were my
friends. You said so. You pretended to be so, and I loved you more than my
life. I see now that it was all a lie, that your affection for me was only
a sham; you made use of me. I amused you, provided you with entertainment,
made music for you. I was your servant. Your servant: that I am not! I am
no man's servant!
"You have made me feel cruelly that I had no right to love your daughter.
Nothing in the world can prevent my heart from loving where it loves, and
if I am not your equal in rank, I am as noble as you. It is the heart that
ennobles a man. If I am not a Count, I have perhaps more honor than many
Counts. Lackey or Count, when a man insults me, I despise him. I despise as
much any one who pretends to be noble, and is not noble of soul.
"Farewell! You have mistaken me. You have deceived me. I detest you!
"He who, in spite of you, loves, and will love till death, Fraeulein Minna,
_because she is his_, and nothing can take her from him."
Hardly had he thrown his letter into the box than he was filled with terror
at what he had done. He tried not to think of it, but certain phrases
cropped up in his memory; he was in a cold sweat as he thought of Frau von
Kerich reading those enormities. At first he was upheld by his very
despair, but next day he saw that his letter could only bring about a final
separation from Minna, and that seemed to him the direst of misfortunes. He
still hoped that Frau von Kerich, who knew his violent fits, would not take
it seriously, that she would only reprimand him severely, and--who
knows?--that she would be touched perhaps by the sincerity of his passion.
One word, and he would have thrown himself at her feet. He waited for five
days. Then came, a letter. She said:
"Since, as you say, there has been a misunderstanding between us, it would
be wise not any further to prolong it. I should be very sorry to force upon
you a relationship which has become painful to you. You will think it
natural, therefore, that we should break it off. I hope that you will in
time to come have no lack of other friends who will be able to appreciate
you as you wish to be appreciated. I have no doubt as to your future, and
from a distance shall, with sympathy, follow your progress in your musical
career. Kind regards.
"JOSEPHA VON KERICH."
The most bitter reproaches would have been less cruel. Jean-Christophe saw
that he was lost. It is possible to reply to an unjust accusation. But what
is to be done against the negativeness of such polite indifference? He
raged against it. He thought that he would never see Minna again, and he
could not bear it. He felt how little all the pride in the world weighs
against a little love. He forgot his dignity; he became cowardly; he wrote
more letters, in which he implored forgiveness. They were no less stupid
than the letter in which he had railed against her. They evoked no
response. And everything was said.
* * * * *
He nearly died of it. He thought of killing himself. He thought of murder.
At least, he imagined that he thought of it. He was possessed by incendiary
and murderous desires. People have little idea of the paroxysm of love or
hate which sometimes devours the hearts of children. It was the most
terrible crisis of his childhood. It ended his childhood. It stiffened his
will. But it came near to breaking it forever.
He found life impossible. He would sit for hours with his elbows on the
window-sill looking down into the courtyard, and dreaming, as he used to
when he was a little boy, of some means of escaping from the torture of
life when it became too great. The remedy was there, under his eyes.
Immediate ... immediate? How could one know?... Perhaps after
hours--centuries--horrible sufferings!... But so utter was his childish
despair that he let himself be carried away by the giddy round of such
Louisa saw that he was suffering. She could not gauge exactly what was
happening to him, but her instinct gave her a dim warning of danger. She
tried to approach her son, to discover his sorrow, so as to console him.
But the poor woman had lost the habit of talking intimately to
Jean-Christophe. For many years he had kept his thoughts to himself, and
she had been too much taken up by the material cares of life to find time
to discover them or divine them. Now that she would so gladly have come to
his aid she knew not what to do. She hovered about him like a soul in
torment; she would gladly have found words to bring him comfort, and she
dared not speak for fear of irritating him. And in spite of all her care
she did irritate him by her every gesture and by her very presence, for she
was not very adroit, and he was not very indulgent. And yet he loved her;
they loved each other. But so little is needed to part two creatures who
are dear to each other, and love each other with all their hearts! A too
violent expression, an awkward gesture, a harmless twitching of an eye or a
nose, a trick of eating, walking, or laughing, a physical constraint which
is beyond analysis.... You say that these things are nothing, and yet they
are all the world. Often they are enough to keep a mother and a son, a
brother and a brother, a friend and a friend, who live in proximity to each
other, forever strangers to each other.
Jean-Christophe did not find in his mother's grief a sufficient prop in the
crisis through which he was passing. Besides, what is the affection of
others to the egoism of passion preoccupied with itself?
One night when his family were sleeping, and he was sitting by his desk,
not thinking or moving, he was engulfed in his perilous ideas, when a sound
of footsteps resounded down the little silent street, and a knock on the
door brought him from his stupor. There was a murmuring of thick voices. He
remembered that his father had not come in, and he thought angrily that
they were bringing him back drunk, as they had done a week or two before,
when they had found him lying in the street. For Melchior had abandoned all
restraint, and was more and more the victim of his vice, though his
athletic health seemed not in the least to suffer from an excess and a
recklessness which would have killed any other man. He ate enough for four,
drank until he dropped, passed whole nights out of doors in icy rain, was
knocked down and stunned in brawls, and would get up again next day, with
his rowdy gaiety, wanting everybody about him to be gay too.
Louisa, hurrying up, rushed to open the door. Jean-Christophe, who had not
budged, stopped his ears so as not to hear Melchior's vicious voice and the
tittering comments of the neighbors....
... Suddenly a strange terror seized him; for no reason he began to
tremble, with his face hidden in his hands. And on the instant a piercing
cry made him raise his head. He rushed to the door....
In the midst of a group of men talking in low voices, in the dark passage,
lit only by the flickering light of a lantern, lying, just as his
grandfather had done, on a stretcher, was a body dripping with water,
motionless. Louisa was clinging to it and sobbing. They had just found
Melchior drowned in the mill-race.
Jean-Christophe gave a cry. Everything else vanished; all his other sorrows
were swept aside. He threw himself on his fathers body by Louisa's side,
and they wept together.
Seated by the bedside, watching Melchior's last sleep, on whose face was
now a severe and solemn expression, he felt the dark peace of death enter
into his soul. His childish passion was gone from him like a fit of fever;
the icy breath of the grave had taken it all away. Minna, his pride, his
love, and himself.... Alas! What misery! How small everything showed by the
side of this reality, the only reality--death! Was it worth while to suffer
so much, to desire so much, to be so much put about to come in the end to
He watched his father's sleep, and he was filled with an infinite pity. He
remembered the smallest of his acts of kindness and tenderness. For with
all his faults Melchior was not bad; there was much good in him. He loved
his family. He was honest. He had a little of the uncompromising probity of
the Kraffts, which, in all questions of morality and honor, suffered no
discussion, and never would admit the least of those small moral impurities
which so many people in society regard not altogether as faults. He was
brave, and whenever there was any danger faced it with a sort of enjoyment.
If he was extravagant himself, he was so for others too; he could not bear
anybody to be sad, and very gladly gave away all that belonged to him--and
did not belong to him--to the poor devils he met by the wayside. All his
qualities appeared to Jean-Christophe now, and he invented some of them, or
exaggerated them. It seemed to him that he had misunderstood his father. He
reproached himself with not having loved him enough. He saw him as broken
by Life; he thought he heard that unhappy soul, drifting, too weak to
struggle, crying out for the life so uselessly lost. He heard that
lamentable entreaty that had so cut him to the heart one day:
"Jean-Christophe! Do not despise me!"
And he was overwhelmed by remorse. He threw himself on the bed, and kissed
the dead face and wept. And as he had done that day, he said again:
"Dear father, I do not despise you. I love you. Forgive me!"
But that piteous entreaty was not appeased, and went on:
"De not despise me! Do not despise me!" And suddenly Jean-Christophe saw
himself lying in the place of the dead man; he heard the terrible words
coming from his own lips; he felt weighing on his heart the despair of a
useless life, irreparably lost. And he thought in terror: "Ah! everything,
all the suffering, all the misery in the world, rather than come to
that!..." How near he had been to it! Had he not all but yielded to the
temptation to snap off his life himself, cowardly to escape his sorrow? As
if all the sorrows, all betrayals, were not childish griefs beside the
torture and the crime of self-betrayal, denial of faith, of self-contempt
He saw that life was a battle without armistice, without mercy, in which he
who wishes to be a man worthy of the name of a man must forever fight
against whole armies of invisible enemies; against the murderous forces of
Nature, uneasy desires, dark thoughts, treacherously leading him to
degradation and destruction. He saw that he had been on the point of
falling into the trap. He saw that happiness and love were only the friends
of a moment to lead the heart to disarm and abdicate. And the little
puritan of fifteen heard the voice of his God:
"Go, go, and never rest."
"But whither, Lord, shall I go? Whatsoever I do, whithersoever I go, is not
the end always the same? Is not the end of all things in that?"
"Go on to Death, you who must die! Go and suffer, you who must suffer! You
do not live to be happy. You live to fulfil my Law. Suffer; die. But be
what you must be--a Man."
Christofori faciem die quaeunque tueris, Illa nempe die non morte mala
THE HOUSE OF EULER
The house was plunged in silence. Since Melchior's death everything seemed
dead. Now that his loud voice was stilled, from morning to night nothing
was heard but the wearisome murmuring of the river.
Christophe hurled himself into his work. He took a fiercely angry pleasure
in self-castigation for having wished to be happy. To expressions of
sympathy and kind words he made no reply, but was proud and stiff. Without
a word he went about his daily task, and gave his lessons with icy
politeness. His pupils who knew of his misfortune were shocked by his
insensibility. But, those who were older and had some experience of sorrow
knew that this apparent coldness might, in a child, be used only to conceal
suffering: and they pitied him. He was not grateful for their sympathy.
Even music could bring him no comfort. He played without pleasure, and as a
duty. It was as though he found a cruel joy in no longer taking pleasure in
anything, or in persuading himself that he did not: in depriving himself of
every reason for living, and yet going on.
His two brothers, terrified by the silence of the house of death, ran away
from it as quickly as possible. Rodolphe went into the office of his uncle
Theodore, and lived with him, and Ernest, after trying two or three trades,
found work on one of the Rhine steamers plying between Mainz and Cologne,
and he used to come back only when he wanted money. Christophe was left
alone with his mother in the house, which was too large for them; and the