The Magic Mountain Mynheer Peeperkorn

MYNHEER PEEPERKORN, an elderly Dutchman, spent some time at House Berghof, that establishment which, in its prospectus, so correctly described itself as “international.” Pieter Peeperkorn—such was his name, so he called himself, as for instance, ‘Pieter Peeperkorn will now take unto himself a Hollands gin”—was a colonial Dutchman, a man from Java, a coffee-planter. His slightly faded nationality is scarcely sufficient ground for introducing him at this late day into our story. God knows we have had racial mixtures a-plenty in the famous cure conducted with such many-tongued efficiency by Herr Hofrat Behrens! There was the Egyptian princess who had given the Hofrat the extraordinary coffee-machine and sphinx cigarettes, a sensational person with cropped hair and beringed fingers yellow with nicotine, who went about—except at the main meal of the day, for which she made full Parisian toilet—in a sack coat and well-pressed trousers; and who scorned the world of men, to lay hot and heavy, though fitful siege to an insignificant little Roumanian Jewess called plain Frau Landauer, while Lawyer Paravant for her royal highness’s beaux yeux neglected his mathematics and altogether played the fool for love. This princess, in addition to her own colourful personality, had among her little suite a Moorish eunuch, a weak and sickly man, who yet, despite his basic and constitutional lack— upon which Caroline Stönr loved to dwell—clung to life more desperately than most, and was quite inconsolable over the conclusions Hofrat Behrens drew from the transparency they made of his dusky inside.

Mynheer Peeperkorn, then, compared with such phenomena, might seem well-nigh colourless. And it is true that this part of our story might, like an earlier chapter, bear the caption “A Newcomer.” But the reader need not fear that in him another occasion for pedagogic strife has arrived upon the scene. No, Mynheer Peeperkorn was not the man to be the bearer of logical confusion. He was quite a different man, as we shall see. Yet he brought sore dismay and perplexity upon the hero of our tale, as will shortly be very evident.

Mynheer Peeperkorn arrived at the Dorf station by the same evening train as Frau Chauchat. They drove up in the same sleigh to House Berghof, and supped together in the restaurant. The arrival, in short, was not only coincident but concurrent, and continued in that sense, Mynheer taking his place beside the returned wanderer at the

“good” Russian table, opposite the doctor’s seat—the place Popoff had occupied, what time he performed his wild and equivocal antics. The companionship troubled our good Hans Castorp—that it should turn out like this had never entered his mind. The Hofrat, after his own fashion, had announced the day and hour of Clavdia’s return. “Well, Castorp, old top,” he said, “there’s always a reward for faithful waiting. To-morrow the little puss will be slinking back—I’ve had a dispatch.” But not a word that she might not come alone. Perhaps he did not know that she and Peeperkorn were travelling together; at least, he showed surprise when Hans Castorp, the day after, as much as took him to task.

“Don’t know myself where she picked him up,” he declared. “I take it they met on the return from the Pyrenees. Alas, poor Strephon! Tut, my lad, you’ll have to put up with it, no use pulling a long face. They’re thick as thieves, it seems, have even their luggage in common. The man’s larded with money, from what I hear. Retired coffeeking, Malayan valet, plutocratic is no word for it. But he hasn’t come up here for fun. A catarrhal condition due to alcoholism—and from what I can see he is threatened with tropical fever, malignant, intermittent, you know; protracted, obstinate. You’ll have to be patient with him.”

“Don’t mention it,” replied Hans Castorp, loftily. “And what about you?” he said to himself. “I wonder what your feelings are; you didn’t come off scot-free either, or I miss my guess, you blue-in-the-face widower, with your oil-painting technique. Old dog in the manger! You needn’t tell me: so far as Peeperkorn is concerned, I’m certain we’re companions in misery.”—“Quaint creature,” he continued aloud, and shrugged. “An original, certainly. He’s so lean—yet he’s robust; that is the impression he makes, at least that’s the impression I got at breakfast. Lean, and robust, those are the adjectives, I think, though they aren’t commonly used together. He is certainly tall and broad, and likes to stand with his legs apart and his hands in his trouser pockets—

which, I observe, are put in running up and down, not like yours and mine and most people’s of our class. And when he stands there and talks, in his guttural Dutch voice, there’s something unmistakably robust about him. But he has a sparse whisker, you could almost count the hairs; and his eyes are very small and pale, hardly any colour to them at all. He keeps trying to open them wide, and has made a lot of wrinkles, regular corrugations, that turn up on the temples and run straight across his forehead, and his forehead is high and red, with long wisps of white hair. He wears a clerical waist-coat, but his tail-coat is check. These are the impressions I got this morning.”

Behrens answered: “I see you’ve taken his number—you’re right, too, for you will have to come to terms with his being here.”

“Yes, I expect we shall,” said Hans Castorp. We have left it to him to describe the unlooked-for guest, and he has not come badly off—we could scarcely add anything essential to the picture. He had a good view; as we know, he had in Clavdia’s absence moved closer to the “good” Russian table; the one where he now sat stood parallel with hers, only rather farther away from the verandah door. Both he and Peeperkorn were on the inner and narrow side of their respective tables, and thus, in a way, neighbours, Hans Castorp being slightly in the Dutchman’s rear, very advantageously placed to observe him, as also to look at the three-quarter view which Frau Chauchat’s profile presented. We might round out Hans Castorp’s description by a few notes: as, that the Dutchman’s nose was large and fleshy, his mouth large too, and bare of moustaches, the lips of irregular shape, as though chapped. His hands were fairly broad, with long, pointed nails; he used them freely as he talked, and he talked almost continuously, though Hans Castorp failed to get his drift. Those adequate, compelling, cleanly attitudes of the hands—so varied, so full of subtle nuances—possessed a technique like that of an orchestral conductor. He would curve forefinger and thumb to a circle; extend the palm, that was so broad, with nails so pointed, to hush, to caution, to enjoin attention—and then, having by such means led up to some stupendous utterance, produce an anticlimax by saying something his audience could not quite grasp. Yet this, perhaps, was less a disappointment than it was a conversion of expectancy into ecstatic amaze; for the speaking gesture made good what he did not say, and was of itself alone vastly satisfying and diverting. Sometimes, indeed, after leading up to his climax, he left it out altogether. He would lay his hand tenderly on the arm of the young Bulgarian scholar next him, or on Frau Chauchat’s on the other side; then lift it obliquely for silence, create suspense for what he was about to say, wrinkling high his brows, so that the lines running upwards from the outer corners of his eyes were deepened like those on a mask; he would look down on the cloth before his neighbour’s place, and from his thick, distorted lips words of the highest import seemed about to issue then, after more pause, he would breathe an outward breath, give up the struggle, nod, as though to say “As you were,” and return undelivered to his coffee, which was served to him of extra strength, in his own machine.

After the draught he would proceed thus, choking off with one hand the conversation, making a silence round him, as a conductor hushes the confused sounds of tuning instruments and collects his orchestra to begin a number; mastering at will any situation, for could anything resist that regal head, with its aureole of white hair and its pallid eyes, the great folds of the brows, the long whisker and shaven raw upper lip? They were silent, they looked at him and smiled, they waited, anticipatorily nodding. He spoke.

In rather a low voice he said: “Ladies and gentlemen. Very well. Very well indeed. Very. Settled. But will you keep in mind, and—not for one moment—not one moment—lose sight of the fact—but no more. On this point not another word. What is incumbent upon me to say is not so much—it is in the first place simply this: it is our duty—we lie under a solemn—an inviolable No! No, ladies and gentlemen! It was not thus—it was not thus that I—how mistaken to imagine that I—quite right, ladies and gentlemen! Set—tled. Let us drop the subject. I feel we understand each other, and now—to the point!”

He had said absolutely nothing. But look, manner, and gestures were so peremptory, perfervid, pregnant, that all, even Hans Castorp, were convinced they had heard something of high moment; or, if aware of the total lack of matter and sequence in the speech, certainly never missed it. We wonder how it might appear to a deaf person. Perhaps the impressiveness of what he saw would make him draw an altogether wrong conclusion as to what he might have heard but for his infirmity— and cause him to suffer accordingly. Such people incline to mistrust and bitterness. On the other hand, a young Chinaman at the other end of the table, who possessed too little of the language to understand what had been said, but had yet assiduously listened and looked, clapped his hands and called out: “Très bien, très bien.”

And Mynheer Peeperkorn came “to the point.” He drew himself up, swelled his broad chest, buttoned the check frock-coat over the clerical waistcoat; the pose of his white head was regal. He beckoned to a “dining-room girl”—it was the dwarf—and though busily engaged, she at once obeyed his weighty summons, and stood, milk jug and coffee-pot in hand, by his chair. She too felt drawn to look at him with an ingratiating smile on her large, old face; she too was rapt by the pallid gaze beneath the deep-wrinkled brow; by the lifted hand, whose thumb and forefinger were joined in an O, while the other three with their lanceolate nails stood stiffly up.

“My child,” said he, “very well. Very well indeed—very. You are small—what is that to me? On the contrary. I find it a positive good, I thank God, that you are as you are; I thank God you are so small and full of character. What I want of you is also small and full of character. But in the first place, what is your name?”

She said, smiling and stammering, that her name was Emerentia.

“Splendid,” cried Peeperkorn, throwing himself back in his chair and stretching out his arm toward her. He cried it in the tone of one who would say “Wonderful! Is not everything wonderful?”—“My child,” he went on, with a perfectly serious face, almost sternly, “you surpass all my expectations. Emerentia! You utter it so modestly—yet, taken with your person, it holds out such boundless possibilities. Beautiful. Worth dwelling upon, communing with in the depths of one’s—in order to—understand me, my child: as a term of endearment—the pet name. It might be Rentia. Though Emchen would equally warm and fortify the heart—in short, for the moment, I will abide by Emchen. Emchen, then, ‘Emchen my child, attend. A little bread, my love. But hold! Let no misunderstanding come between us—for in your somewhat over life-size face I seem to read—bread, Renzchen, bread; yet not baker’s bread, of which in this place we have enough and to spare, in all conceivable forms. Not corn that is baked, my angel, but corn that is burnt—in other words, distilled. Bread of God, bread of sunshine, little pet name; bread for the laving of man’s weary spirit. But I still have misgivings—whether the sense of this word I would even consider substituting for it another, the beautiful word cordial—if here we did not encounter a new danger, that it might be understood in the ordinary thoughtless sense—No more, Rentia. Settled. Set—tled, and out of the question. Rather would I, in consideration of the debt of honour I acknowledge, right cordially to rejoice your characteristic smallness—a gin, love, and haste thee. A Schiedamer, Emerentia. Bring me one hither.”

“A geneva, sir,” repeated the dwarf, and spun three times round on herself, seeking a place for her jugs, which she finally deposited on Hans Castorp’s table, quite near him, obviously not wishing to burden Herr Peeperkorn with the same. She put wings to her feet, and he soon received his desire. The little glass was so full that the “bread”

overflowed and bedewed the plate. He took the grain distillation between thumb and middle finger, and held it toward the light. “Pieter Peeperkorn,” he declared, “will now take unto himself a glass of Hollands.” He appeared to chew the liquid somewhat, then swallowed it down; “And now,” he said, “I look on you all with new eyes.”

He lifted Frau Chauchat’s hand from the cloth, carried it to his lips and laid it back, letting his own rest for some while upon it.

An odd man, and of great personal weight, though incoherent. The population of the Berghof were enthusiastic over him. It was reported that he had only lately retired from his colonial interests and transferred them to the continent. He was said to have a magnificent house at The Hague, and another at Scheveningen. Frau Stöhr called him a money magnet (the unhappy woman meant magnate) and indicated the string of pearls Frau Chauchat had worn in the evening since her return to the Berghof. These pearls, Frau Stöhr considered, were scarcely a token of affection from the transCaucasian husband; more likely they came out of the common travelling-trunk. She winked and jerked her head in the direction of Hans Castorp, whose discomfiture she parodied with her mouth drawn down—no, illness and affliction had had no power to refine Caroline Stöhr; her jeers over the young man’s disappointment positively went beyond bounds. He preserved his composure, and corrected her blunder, not unadroitly. It was magnate, not magnet she had meant to say, he told her. Moneymagnate. But magnet was not so bad after all—certainly Herr Peeperkorn had a good deal that was attractive about him. The schoolmistress, Fräulein Engelhart, with a wry smile, flushing dully, but not looking at him as she spoke, asked how he liked the new guest. He replied, quite calmly, that he found Mynheer Peeperkorn a “blurred personality”; a personality, that is, undoubtedly, though blurred. The precision of the characterization showed objectivity and poise; it dislodged the schoolmistress from her position. Ferdinand Wehsal, too, made oblique reference to the unexpected circumstances of Frau Chauchat’s return; and got from Hans Castorp proof that a look may be every whit as telling and unequivocal as the articulate word. “You paltry wretch,” said the stare with which Hans Castorp measured the Mannheimer—said it without the shadow of a doubt of its meaning. Wehsal understood that look, and pocketed it up; even nodded and showed his bad teeth; but from that time forward he ceased to carry Hans Castorp’s overcoat, when they went their walks with Naphta, Settembrini, and Ferge. But dear me, Hans Castorp could carry his own coat, couldn’t he—and much preferred to; he had only let the poor creature take it now and then out of sheer good feeling. However, there was no doubt everybody in the circle knew that Hans Castorp was hard hit by the wholly unforeseen circumstance, which frustrated all the hopes he had cherished against the return of his carnival partner. It would be putting it even better to say that she had rendered nugatory all his hopes; that, precisely, was the mortifying fact.

His designs had been of the most discreet and delicate, he had meant nothing clumsy or abrupt. He would not even fetch her from the station—what a mercy, indeed, he had not thought of doing so! Uncertain whether a woman—upon whom illness had conferred such a degree of freedom—uncertain whether she would even admit the fantastic adventures of a dream dreamed on carnival night, in a foreign tongue to boot! Whether she would even wish in the first instance to be reminded of them. No, there would be no exigence, no clumsy pressing of claims. Admitted that his relations with the slant-eyed sufferer went beyond the limits prescribed by the traditions of the Occident; the uttermost formality of civilization, even for the moment apparent forgetfulness—was indicated as the suitable procedure. A respectful greeting from table to table—only that, for the time, no more. A courtly approach as occasion indicated, an easy inquiry after the health of the traveller. The actual meeting would follow in good time, as a reward for his chivalrous reserve.

All this fine feeling, now, had become null and void—Hans Castorp’s conduct being deprived of choice, and therewith of merit. The presence of Mynheer

Peeperkorn effectively disposed of any tactics save utter aloofness. On the evening of the arrival, Hans Castorp had seen from his loge the sleigh come up the winding drive. On the box next the coachman sat the Malayan valet, a yellow little man with a fur collar to his overcoat, and a bowler hat. At the back, his hat over his brows, sat the stranger, beside Clavdia. That night Hans Castorp got little sleep. Next morning he heard for the asking the name of the mysterious new arrival; heard likewise that the two travellers occupied neighbouring suites on the first floor. He was early at breakfast, and sat in his place erect but pale, awaiting the slamming of the glass door. It did not come. Clavdia’s entrance was noiseless; for Mynheer Peeperkorn closed the door behind her—tall and broad, his white hair flaring above his lofty brow, he followed the familiar gliding tread of his companion, as with head stuck out before her she slipped to her chair. Yes, she was unchanged. Regardless of his programme, Hans Castorp devoured her, with his sleep-weary eyes. There was the red-blond hair, no more elaborately dressed than of yore, wound in the same simple braid about her head; there were the “prairie-wolf’s eyes,” the rounding neck, the lips that seemed fuller than they actually were, thanks to the prominent cheek-bones, which gave the cheeks that exquisite flat or slightly concave look.—Clavdia! he thought, and thrilled. He fixed his eyes on the unexpected guest; not without a toss of the head for the splendid masklike impression the person made; not without summoning a sneer at pretensions which, however justified by present possession, were invalidated by the past—by certain very definite events in the past—for instance in the field of amateur portraiture. Hans Castorp knew, for had not those events visited himself with justifiable pangs?—Even her way of turning, before she sat down, to present herself, as it were, to the room, she had as of yore. Mynheer Peeperkorn assisted at the little ceremony, standing behind her while it took place, and then seating himself at Clavdia’s side.

As for that courtly salute from table to table—nothing came of it. Clavdia’s eyes, when she presented herself, had passed over Hans Castorp’s person and his whole vicinity, and rested upon the far corner of the room. At the next meal it was the same. And the more meals passed without any response to his gaze than this blank and indifferent passing-over, the more impracticable became the project of the courtly salute. After supper the two travelling-companions sat in the small salon, on the sofa together, surrounded by their table-mates; and Peeperkorn, his magnificent visage flaming against the flashing white of hair and beard, drank out the bottle of red wine he had ordered at table. At each of the main meals he drank one, or two, or two and a half bottles, in addition to the “bread” which he took even at early breakfast. Obviously the system of this kingly man stood in more than common need of moistening. He took in fluid likewise in the form of extra-strong coffee, many times a day, drinking it out of a large cup, even after dinner—or rather, he drank it during dinner, along with the wine. Wine and coffee, Hans Castorp heard him say, were both good for fever—quite aside from their cordial and refreshing properties—very good against the intermittent tropical fever which had kept him in bed for several hours the second day after he arrived. The Hofrat called it quartan fever: it took the Dutchman about every fourth day, first with a chill, then with a fever, then with a mighty sweat. He was said to have also an inflamed spleen, from the same cause.