Buddenbrooks Chapter Eleven

It rained in streams. Heaven, earth, and sea were in flood, while the driving wind took the rain and flung it against the panes as though not drops but brooks were flowing down and making them impossible to see through. Complaining and despairing voices sounded in the chimney.

When Morten Schwarzkopf went out into the verandah with his pipe shortly after dinner to look at the sky, he found there a gentleman with a long, narrow yellow-checked ulster and a grey hat. A closed carriage, its top glistening with wet, its wheels clogged with mud, was before the door. Morten stared irresolutely into the rosy face of the gentleman. He had mutton-chop whiskers that looked as though they had been dressed with gold paint.

The gentleman in the ulster looked at Morten as one looks at a servant, blinking gently without seeing him, and said in a soft voice: “Is Herr Pilot-Captain Schwarzkopf at home?”

“Yes,” stammered Morten, “I think my Father—”

Hereupon the gentleman fixed his eyes upon him; they were as blue as a goose’s.

“Are you Herr Morten Schwarzkopf?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” answered Morten, trying to keep his face straight.

“Ah—indeed!” remarked the gentleman in the ulster, and went on, “Have the goodness to announce me to your Father, young man. My name is Grünlich.”

Morten led the gentleman through the verandah, opened for him the right-hand door that led into the office, and went back into the sitting-room to tell his Father. Then the youth sat down at the round table, resting his elbow on it, and seemed, without noticing his Mother, who was sitting at the dark window mending stockings, to busy himself with the “wretched news-sheet” which had nothing in it except the announcements of the silver wedding of Consul So-and-So. Tony was resting in her room.

The pilot-captain entered his office with the air of a man satisfied with his meal. His uniform-coat stood open over the usual white waistcoat. His face was red, and his ice-grey beard coldly set off against it; his tongue travelled about agreeably among his teeth, making his good mouth take the most extraordinary shapes. He bowed shortly, jerkily, with the air of one conforming to the conventions as he understood them.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “At your service.”

Herr Grünlich, on his side, bowed with deliberation, although one corner of his mouth seemed to go down. He said softly: “Ahem!”

The office was rather a small room, the walls of which had wainscoting for a few feet and then simple plaster. Curtains, yellow with smoke, hung before the window, on whose panes the rain beat unceasingly. On the right of the door was a rough table covered with papers, above it a large map of Europe, and a smaller one of the Baltic Sea fastened to the wall. From the middle of the ceiling hung the well-cut model of a ship under full sail.

The Captain made his guest take the sloping sofa, covered with cracked oil-cloth, that stood opposite the door, and made himself comfortable in a wooden arm-chair, folding his hands across his stomach; while Herr Grünlich, his ulster tightly buttoned up, his hat on his knees, sat bolt upright on the edge of the sofa.

“My name is, I repeat, Grünlich,” he said; “from Hamburg. I may say by way of introduction that I am a close business friend of Herr Buddenbrook.”

“Servant, Herr Grünlich; pleased to make your acquaintance. Won’t you make yourself comfortable? Have a glass of grog after your journey? I’ll send right into the kitchen.”

“I must permit myself to remark that my time is limited, my carriage is waiting, and I am really obliged to ask for the favour of a few words with you.”

“At your service,” repeated Herr Schwarzkopf, taken aback. There was a pause.

“Herr Captain,” began Herr Grünlich, wagging his head with determination and throwing himself back on his seat. After this he was silent again; and by way of enhancing the effect of his address he shut his mouth tight, like a purse drawn together with strings.

“Herr Captain,” he repeated, and went on without further pause, “The matter about which I have come to you directly concerns the young lady who has been for some weeks stopping in your house.”

“Mademoiselle Buddenbrook?” asked the Consul.

“Precisely,” assented Herr Grünlich. He looked down at the floor, and spoke in a voice devoid of expression. Hard lines came out at the corners of his mouth.

“I am obliged to inform you,” he went on in a sing-song tone, his sharp eyes jumping from one point in the room to another and then to the window, “that some time ago I proposed for the hand of Mademoiselle Buddenbrook. I am in possession of the fullest confidence of both parents, and the young lady herself has unmistakably given me a claim to her hand, though no betrothal has taken place in form.”

“You don’t say—God keep us!” said Herr Schwarzkopf, in a sprightly tone. “I never heard that before! Congratulations, Herr—er—Grünlich. She’s a good girl—genuine good stuff.”

“Thank you for the compliment,” said Herr Grünlich, coldly. He went on in his high sing-song: “What brings me to you on this occasion, my good Herr Captain, is the circumstance that certain difficulties have just arisen—and these difficulties—appear to have their source in your house—?” He spoke the last words in a questioning tone, as if to say, “Can this disgraceful state of things be true, or have my ears deceived me?”

Herr Schwarzkopf answered only by lifting his eyebrows as high as they would go, and clutching the arms of his chair with his brown, blond-felled fisherman’s hands.

“Yes. This is the fact. So I am informed,” Herr Grünlich said, with dreary certitude. “I hear that your son—studiosus medicinae, I am led to understand—has allowed himself—of course unconsciously—to encroach upon my rights. I hear that he has taken advantage of the present visit of the young lady to extract certain promises from her.”

“What?” shouted the pilot-captain, gripping the arms of his chair and springing up. “That we shall soon—we can soon see—!” With two steps he was at the door, tore it open, and shouted down the corridor in a voice that would have outroared the wildest seas: “Meta, Morten! Come in here, both of you.”

“I shall regret it exceedingly if the assertion of my prior rights runs counter to your fatherly hopes, Herr Captain.”

Diederich Schwarzkopf turned and stared, with his sharp blue eyes in their wrinkled setting, straight into the stranger’s face, as though he strove in vain to comprehend his words.

“Sir!” he said. Then, with a voice that sounded as though he had just burnt his throat with hot grog, “I’m a simple sort of a man, and don’t know much about landlubber’s tricks and skin games; but if you mean, maybe, that—well, sir, you can just set it down right away that you’ve got on the wrong tack, and are making a pretty bad miscalculation about my fatherly hopes. I know who my son is, and I know who Mademoiselle Buddenbrook is, and there’s too much respect and too much pride in my carcase to be making any plans of the sort you’ve mentioned.—And now,” he roared, jerking his head toward the door, “it’s your turn to talk, boy. You tell me what this affair is; what is this I hear—hey?”

Frau Schwarzkopf and her son stood in the doorway, she innocently arranging her apron, he with the air of a hardened sinner. Herr Grünlich did not rise at their entrance. He waited, erect and composed, on the edge of the sofa, buttoned up tight in his ulster.

“So you’ve been behaving like a silly fool?” bellowed the captain to Morten.

The young man had his thumb stuck between the buttons of his jacket. He scowled and puffed out his cheeks defiantly.

“Yes, Father,” he said, “Fräulein Buddenbrook and I—”

“Well, then, I’ll just tell you you’re a perfect Tom-fool, a young ninny, and you’ll be packed off to-morrow for Göttingen—to-morrow, understand? It’s all damned childish nonsense, and rascality into the bargain.”

“Good heavens, Diederich,” said Frau Schwarzkopf, folding her hands, “you can’t just say that, you know. Who knows—?” She stopped, she said no more; but it was plain from her face that a mother’s beautiful dream had been shattered in that moment.

“Would the gentleman like to see the young lady?” Schwarzkopf turned to Herr Grünlich and spoke in a harsh voice.

“She is upstairs in her room asleep,” Frau Schwarzkopf said with feeling.

“I regret,” said Herr Grünlich, and he got up, obviously relieved. “But I repeat that my time is limited, and the carriage waits. I permit myself,” he went on, describing with his hat a motion in the direction of Herr Schwarzkopf, “to acknowledge to you, Herr Captain, my entire recognition of your manly and high-principled bearing. I salute you. Good-bye.”

Diederich Schwarzkopf did not offer to shake hands with him. He merely gave a jerky bow with the upper part of his heavy figure, that had an air or saying: “This is the proper thing, I suppose.”

Herr Grünlich, with measured tread, passed between Morten and his mother and went out the door.