Buddenbrooks Chapter Eight

Frau Permaneder mounted the main staircase, holding up her gown in front of her with one hand and with the other pressing er muff to her cheek. She tripped and stumbled more man she walked; her cheeks were flushed, her capote sat crooked on her head, and little beads stood on her upper lip. … Though she met no one, she talked continually as she hurried up, in whispers out of which now and then a word rose clear and audible and emphasized her fear. “It’s nothing,” she said. “It doesn’t mean anything. God wouldn’t let anything happen. He knows what he’s doing, I’m very sure of that …. Oh, my God, I’ll pray every day—” She prattled senselessly in her fear, as she rushed up to the second storey and down the corridor.

The door of the ante-chamber opened, and her sister-in-law came toward her. Gerda Buddenbrook’s lovely white face was quite distorted with horror and disgust; and her close-set, blue-shadowed brown eyes opened and shut with a look of anger, distraction, and shrinking. As she recognized Frau Permaneder, she beckoned quickly with outstretched arms and embraced her, putting her head on her sister-in-law’s shoulder.

“Gerda! Gerda! What is it?” Frau Permaneder cried. “What has happened? What does it mean? They said he fell—unconscious? How is he?—God won’t let the worst happen, I know. Tell me, for pity’s sake!”

But the reply did not come at once. She only felt how Gerda’s whole form was shaken. Then she heard a whisper at her shoulder.

“How he looked,” she heard, “when they brought him! His whole life long, he never let any one see even a speck of dust on him.—Oh, it is insulting, it is vile, for the end to have come like that!”

Subdued voices came out to them. The dressing-room door opened, and Ida Jungmann stood in the doorway in a white apron, a basin in her hands. Her eyes were red. She looked at Frau Permaneder and made way, her head bent. Her chin was trembling.

The high flowered curtains stirred in the draught as Tony, followed by her sister-in-law, entered the chamber. The smell of carbolic, ether, and other drags met them. In the wide mahogany bed, under the red down coverlet, lay Thomas Buddenbrook, on his back, undressed and clad in an embroidered nightshirt. His half-open eyes were rolled up; his lips were moving under the disordered moustaches, and babbling, gurgling sounds came out. Young Dr. Langhals was bending over him, changing a bloody bandage for a fresh one, which he dipped into a basin at the bedside. Then he listened at the patient’s chest and felt his pulse.

On the bed-clothes at the foot of the bed sat little Johann, clutching his sailor’s knot and listening broodingly to the sounds behind him, which his father was making. The Senator’s bemired clothing hung over a chair.

Frau Permaneder cowered down at the bedside, seized one of her brother’s hands—it was cold and heavy—and stared wildly into his face. She began to understand that, whether God knew what he was doing or not, he was at all events bent on “the worst”!

“Tom!” she clamoured, “do you know me? How are you? You aren’t going to leave us? You won’t go away from us? Oh, it can’t be!”

Nothing answered her, that could be called an answer. She looked imploringly up at Dr. Langhals. He stood there with his beautiful eyes cast down; and his manner, not without a certain self-satisfaction, expressed the will of God.

Ida Jungmann came back into the room, to make herself useful if she could. Old Dr. Grabow appeared in person, looked at the patient with his long, mild face, shook his head, pressed all their hands, and then stood as Dr. Langhals stood. The news had gone like the wind through the whole town. The vestibule door rang constantly, and inquiries after the Senator’s condition came up into the sick-chamber. It was unchanged—unchanged. Every one received the same answer.

The two physicians were in favour of sending for a sister of charity—at least for the night. They sent for Sister Leandra, and she came. There was no trace of surprise or alarm in her face as she entered. Again she laid aside her leather bag, her outer hood and cloak, and again she set to work in her gentle way.

Little Johann sat hour after hour on the bed-clothes, watching everything and listening to the gurgling noises. He was to have gone to an arithmetic lesson; but he understood perfectly that what was happening here was something over which the worsted-coats had no jurisdiction. He thought of his lessons only for a moment, and with scorn. He wept, sometimes, when Frau Permaneder came up and pressed him to her; but mostly he sat dry-eyed, with a shrinking, brooding gaze, and his breath came irregularly and cautiously, as if he expected any moment to smell that strange and yet familiar smell.

Toward four o’clock Frau Permaneder took a sudden resolve. She asked Dr. Langhals to come with her into the next room; and there she folded her arms and laid back her head, with the chin dropped.

“Herr Doctor,” she said, “there is one thing you can do, and I beg you to do it. Tell me the truth. I am a woman steeled by adversity; I have learned to bear the truth. You may depend upon me. Please tell me plainly: Will my brother be alive to-morrow?”

Dr. Langhals turned his beautiful eyes aside, looked at his fingernails, and spoke of our human powerlessness, and the impossibility of knowing whether Frau Permaneder’s brother would outlive the night, or whether he would be called away the next minute.

“Then I know what I have to do,” said she; went out of the room; and sent for Pastor Pringsheim.

Pastor Pringsheim appeared, without his vestments or neckruff, in a long black gown. He swept Sister Leandra with an icy stare, and seated himself in the chair which they placed for him by the bedside. He asked the patient to recognize and hear him. Then, as this appeal was unsuccessful, he addressed himself at once to God and prayed in carefully modulated tones, with his Frankish pronunciation, with emphasis now solemn and now abrupt, while waves of fanaticism and sanctimony followed each other across his face. He pronounced his r in a sleek and oily way peculiar to himself alone, and little Johann received an irresistible impression that he had just been eating rolls and coffee.

He said that he and the family there present no longer importuned God for the life of this dear and beloved sufferer, for they saw plainly that it was God’s will to take him to Himself. They only begged Him for the mercy of a gentle death. And then he recited, appropriately and with effect, two of the prayers customary on such occasions. Then he got up. He pressed Gerda Buddenbrook’s hand, and Frau Permaneder’s, and held little Johann’s head for a moment between both his hands, regarding the drooping eyelashes with an expression of the most fervent pity. He saluted Ida Jungmann, stared again at Sister Leandra, and took his leave.

Dr. Langhals had gone home for a little. When he came back there had been no change. He spoke with the nurse, and went again. Dr. Grabow came once more, to see that everything was being done. Thomas Buddenbrook went on babbling and gurgling, with his eyes rolled up. Twilight was falling. There was a pale winter glow at sunset, and it shone through the window upon the soiled clothing lying across the chair.

At five o’clock Frau Permaneder let herself be carried away by her feelings, and committed an indiscretion. She suddenly began to sing, in her throaty voice, her hands folded before her.

“Come, Lord,”

she sang, quite loud, and they all listened without stirring.

“Come, Lord, receive his failing breath;

Strengthen his hands and feet, and lead him unto death.”

But in the devoutness of her prayer, she thought only of the words as they welled up from her heart, and forgot that she did not know the whole stanza; after the third line she was left hanging in the air, and had to make up for her abrupt end by the increased dignity of her manner. Everybody shivered with embarrassment. Little Johann coughed so hard that the coughs sounded like sobs. And then, in the sudden pause, there was no sound but the agonizing gurgles of Thomas Buddenbrook.

It was a relief when the servant announced that there was something to eat in the next room. But they had only begun, sitting in Gerda’s bedroom, to take a little soup, when Sister Leandra appeared in the doorway and quietly beckoned.

The Senator was dying. He hiccoughed gently two or three times, was silent, and ceased to move his lips. That was the only change. His eyes had been quite dead before.

Dr. Langhals, who was on the spot a few minutes later, put the black stethoscope to the heart, listened, and, after this scientific test, said “Yes, it is over.”

And Sister Leandra, with the forefinger of her gentle white hand, softly closed the eyes of the dead.

Then Frau Permaneder flung herself down on her knees by the bed, pressed her face into the coverlet, and wept aloud, surrendering herself utterly and without restraint to one of those refreshing bursts of feeling which her happy nature had always at its command. Her face still streamed with tears, but she was soothed and comforted and entirely herself as she rose to her feet and began straightway to occupy her mind with the announcements of the death—an enormous number of elegant cards, which must be ordered at once.

Christian appeared. He had heard the news of the Senator’s stroke in the club, which he had left at once. But he was so afraid of seeing some awful sight that he went instead for a long walk outside the walls, and was not to be found. Now, however, he came in, and on the threshold heard of his brother’s death.

“It isn’t possible,” he said, and limped up the stairs, his eyes rolling wildly.

He stood at the bedside between his sister and his sister-in-law; with his bald head, his sunken cheeks, his drooping moustaches, and his huge beaked nose, he stood there on his bent legs, looking a little like an interrogation-point, and gazed with his little round deep eyes into his brother’s face, as it lay so silent, so cold, so detached and inaccessible. The corners of Thomas’s mouth were drawn down in an expression almost scornful. Here he lay, at whom once Christian had flung the reproach that he was too heartless to weep at a brother’s death. He was dead now himself: he had simply withdrawn, silent, elegant, and irreproachable, into the hereafter. He had, as so often in his life, left it to others to feel put in the wrong. No matter now, whether he had been right or wrong in his cold and scornful indifference toward his brother’s afflictions, the “misery,” the nodding man, the spirit bottle, the open window. None of that mattered now; for death, with arbitrary and incomprehensible partiality, had singled him out, and taken him up, and given him an awesome dignity and importance. And yet Death had rejected Christian, had held him off, and would not have him at any price—would only keep on making game of him and mocking him with all these tricks and antics which nobody took seriously. Never in his life had Thomas Buddenbrook so impressed his brother as at this hour. Success is so definite, so conclusive! Death alone can make others respect our sufferings; and through death the most pitiable sufferings acquire dignity. “You have won—I give in,” Christian thought. He knelt on one knee, with a sudden awkward gesture, and kissed the cold hand on the coverlet. Then he stepped back and moved about the room, his eyes darting back and forth.

Other visitors came—the old Krögers, the Misses Buddenbrook, old Herr Marcus. Poor Clothilde, lean and ashen, stood by the bed; her face was apathetic, and she folded her hands in their worsted gloves. “You must not think, Tony and Gerda,” said she, and her voice dragged very much, “that I’ve no feeling because I don’t weep. The truth is, I have no more tears.” And as she stood there, incredibly dry and withered, it was evident that she spoke the truth.

Then they all left the room to make way for an elderly female, an unpleasant old creature with a toothless, mumbling jaw, who had come to help Sister Leandra wash and dress the corpse.

Gerda Buddenbrook, Frau Permaneder, Christian, and little Johann sat under the big gas-lamp around the centre-table in the living-room, and worked industriously until far on into the evening. They were addressing envelopes and making a list of people who ought to receive announcements. Now and then somebody thought of another name. Hanno had to help, too; his handwriting was plain, and there was need of haste.

It was still in the house and in the street. The gas-lamp made a soft hissing noise; somebody murmured a name; the papers rustled. Sometimes they looked at each other and remembered what had happened.

Frau Permaneder scratched busily. But regularly once every five minutes she would put down her pen, lift her clasped hands up to her mouth, and break out in lamentations. “I can’t realize it!” she would cry—meaning that she was gradually beginning to realize. “It is the end of everything,” she burst out another time, in sheer despair, and flung her arms around her sister-in-law’s neck with loud weeping. After each outburst she was strengthened, and took up her work again.

With Christian it was as with poor Clothilde. He had not shed a tear—which fact rather mortified him. It was true, too, that his constant preoccupation with his own condition had used him up emotionally and made him insensitive. Now and then he would start up, rub his hand over his bald brow, and murmur, “Yes, it’s frightfully sad.” He said it to himself, with strong self-reproach, and did his best to make his eyes water.

Suddenly something happened to startle them all: little Johann began to laugh. He was copying a list of names, and had found one with such a funny sound that he could not resist it. He said it aloud and snorted through his nose, bent over, sobbed, and could not control himself. The grown people looked at him in bewildered incredulity; and his mother sent him up to bed.