Buddenbrooks Chapter Five

It grieved the Consul sorely that the grandfather had not lived to see the entry of his grandson into the business—an event which took place at Easter-time of the same year.

Thomas had left school at sixteen. He was grown strong and sturdy, and his manly clothes made him look still older. He had been confirmed, and Pastor Kölling, in stentorian tones, had enjoined upon him to practise the virtues of moderation. A gold chain, bequeathed him by his grandfather, now hung about his neck, with the family arms on a medallion at the end—a rather dismal design, showing on an irregularly hatched surface a flat stretch of marshy country with one solitary, leafless willow tree. The old seal ring with the green stone, once worn, in all probability, by the well-to-do tailor in Rostock, had descended to the Consul, together with the great Bible.

Thomas’s likeness to his grandfather was as strong as Christian’s to his father. The firm round chin was the old man’s, and the straight, well-chiselled nose. Thomas wore his hair parted on one side, and it receded in two bays from his narrow veined temples. His eyelashes were colourless by contrast, and so were the eyebrows, one of which he had a habit of lifting expressively. His speech, his movements, even his laugh, which showed his rather defective teeth, were all quiet and adequate. He already looked forward seriously and eagerly to his career.

It was indeed a solemn moment when, after early breakfast, the Consul led him down into the office and introduced him to Herr Marcus the confidential clerk, Herr Havermann the cashier, and the rest of the staff, with all of whom, naturally, he had long been on the best of terms. For the first time he sat at his desk, in his own revolving chair, absorbed in copying, stamping, and arranging papers. In the afternoon his father took him through the magazines on the Trave, each one of which had a special name, like the “Linden,” the “Oak,” the “Lion,” the “Whale.” Tom was thoroughly at home in every one of them, of course, but now for the first time he entered them to be formally introduced as a fellow worker.

He entered upon his tasks with devotion, imitating the quiet, tenacious industry of his father, who was working with his jaws set, and writing down many a prayer for help in his private diary. For the Consul had set himself the task of making good the sums paid out by the firm on the occasion of his father’s death. It was a conception … an ideal.… He explained the position quite fully to his wife late one evening in the landscape-room.

It was half-past eleven, and Mamsell Jungmann and the children were already asleep in the corridor rooms. No one slept in the second story now—it was empty save for an occasional guest. The Frau Consul sat on the yellow sofa beside her husband, and he, cigar in mouth, was reading the financial columns of the local paper. She bent over her embroidery, moving her lips as she counted a row of stitches with her needle. Six candles burned in a candelabrum on the slender sewing-table beside her, and the chandelier was unlighted.

Johann Buddenbrook was nearing the middle forties, and had visibly altered in the last years. His little round eyes seemed to have sunk deeper in his head, his cheek-bones and his large aquiline nose stood out more prominently than ever, and the ash-blond hair seemed to have been just touched with a powder-puff where it parted on the temples. The Frau Consul was at the end of her thirties, but, while never beautiful, was as brilliant as ever; her dead-white skin, with a single freckle here and there, had lost none of its splendour, and the candle-light shone on the rich red-blond hair that was as wonderfully dressed as ever. Giving her husband a sidelong glance with her clear blue eyes, she said:

“Jean, I wanted to ask you to consider something: if it would not perhaps be advisable to engage a man-servant. I have just been coming to that conclusion. When I think of my parents—”

The Consul let his paper drop on his knee and took his cigar out of his mouth. A shrewd look came into his eyes: here was a question of money to be paid out.

“My dear Betsy,” he said—and he spoke as deliberately as possible, to gain time to muster his excuses—“do you think we need a man-servant? Since my parents’ death we have kept on all three maids, not counting Mamsell Jungmann. It seems to me—”

“Oh, but the house is so big, Jean. We can hardly get along as it is. I say to Line, ‘Line it’s a fearfully long time since the rooms in the annexe were dusted’; but I don’t like to drive the girls too hard; they have their work cut out to keep everything clean and tidy here in the front. And a man-servant would be so useful for errands and so on. We could find some honest man from the country, who wouldn’t expect much. … Oh, before I forget it—Louise Möllendorpf is letting her Anton go. I’ve seen him serve nicely at table.”

“To tell you the truth,” said the Consul, and shuffled about a little uneasily, “it is a new idea to me. We aren’t either entertaining or going out just now—”

“No, but we have visitors very often—for which I am not responsible, Jean, as you know, though of course I am always glad to see them. You have a business friend from somewhere, and you invite him to dinner. Then he has not taken a room at a hotel, so we ask him to stop the night. A missionary comes, and stops the week with us. Week after next, Pastor Mathias is coming from Kannstadt. And the wages amount to so little—”

“But they mount up, Betsy! We have four people here in the house—and think of the pay-roll the firm has!”

“So we really can’t afford a man-servant?” the Frau Consul asked. She smiled as she spoke, and looked at her husband with her head on one side. “When I think of all the servants my Father and Mother had—”

“My dear Betsy! Your parents—I really must ask you if you understand our financial position?”

“No, Jean, I must admit I do not. I’m afraid I have only a vague idea—”

“Well, I can tell you in a few words,” the Consul said. He sat up straight on the sofa, with one knee crossed over the other, puffed at his cigar, knit his brows a little, and marshalled his figures with wonderful fluency.

“To put it briefly, my Father had, before my sister’s marriage, a round sum of nine hundred thousand marks net, not counting, of course, real estate, and the stock and good will of the firm. Eighty thousand went to Frankfort as dowry, and a hundred thousand to set Gotthold up in business. That leaves seven hundred and twenty thousand. The price of this house, reckoning off what we got for the little one in Alf Street, and counting all the improvements and new furnishings, came to a good hundred thousand. That brings it down to six hundred and twenty thousand. Twenty-five thousand to Frankfort, as compensation on the house, leaves five hundred and ninety-five thousand—which is what we should have had at Father’s death if we hadn’t partly made up for all these expenses through years, by a profit of some two hundred thousand marks current. The entire capital amounted to seven hundred and ninety-five thousand marks, of which another hundred thousand went to Gotthold, and a few thousand marks for the minor legacies that Father left to the Holy Ghost Hospital, the Fund for Tradesmen’s Widows, and so on. That brings us down to around four hundred and twenty thousand, or another hundred thousand with your own dowry. There is the position, in round figures, aside from small fluctuations in the capital. You see, my dear Betsy, we are not rich. And while the capital has grown smaller, the running expenses have not; for the whole business is established on a certain scale, which it costs about so much to maintain. Have you followed me?”

The Consul’s wife, her needle-work in her lap, nodded with some hesitation. “Quite so, my dear Jean,” she said, though she was far from having understood everything, least of all what these big figures had to do with her engaging a man-servant.

The Consul puffed at his cigar till it glowed, threw back his head and blew out the smoke, and then went on:

“You are thinking, of course, that when God calls your dear parents unto Himself, we shall have a considerable sum to look forward to—and so we shall. But we must not reckon too blindly on it. Your Father has had some heavy losses, due, we all know, to your brother Justus. Justus is certainly a charming personality, but business is not his strong point, and he has had bad luck too. According to all accounts he has had to pay up pretty heavily, and transactions with bankers make dear money. Your Father has come to the rescue several times, to prevent a smash. That sort of thing may happen again—to speak frankly, I am afraid it will. You will forgive me, Betsy, for my plain speaking, but you know that the style of living which is so proper and pleasing in your Father is not at all suitable for a business man. Your Father has nothing to do with business any more; but Justus—you know what I mean—he isn’t very careful, is he? His ideas are too large, he is too impulsive. And your parents aren’t saving anything. They live a lordly life—as their circumstances permit them to.”

The Frau Consul smiled forbearingly. She well knew her husband’s opinion of the luxurious Kröger tastes.

“That’s all,” he said, and put his cigar into the ash-receiver. “As far as I’m concerned, I live in the hope that God will preserve my powers unimpaired, and that by His gracious help I may succeed in reëstablishing the firm on its old basis. … I hope you see the thing more clearly now, Betsy?”

“Quite, quite, my dear Jean,” the Frau Consul hastened to reply; for she had given up the man-servant, for the evening. “Shall we go to bed? It is very late—”

A few days later, when the Consul came in to dinner in an unusually good mood, they decided at the table to engage the Möllendorpfs’ Anton.