Buddenbrooks Chapter Five

A year and two months later, on a misty, snowy morning in January of the year 1850, Herr and Madame Grünlich sat at breakfast with their little three-year-old daughter, in the brown wainscoted dining-room, on chairs that cost twenty-five marks apiece.

The panes of both windows were opaque with mist; behind them one had vague glimpses of bare trees and bushes. A red glow and a gentle, scented warmth came from the low, green-tiled stove standing in a corner. Through the open door next it one could see the foliage-plants in the “pensée-room.” On the other wall, half-drawn green stuff portières gave a view of the brown satin salon and of a lofty glass door leading on to a little terrace beyond. The cracks in this door were carefully stopped with cotton-wool, and there was nothing to be seen through its panes but the whitish-grey mist beyond.

The snow-white cloth of woven damask on the round table had an embroidered green runner across it, laid with gold-bordered porcelain so translucent that it gleamed like mother-of-pearl. The tea-kettle was humming. There was a finely worked silver bread-basket in the shape of a curling leaf, with slices and rolls of fine bread; under one crystal bell were little balls of butter, under another different sorts of cheese, white, yellow, and green. There was even a bottle of wine standing before the master of the house; for Herr Grünlich had a full breakfast every morning.

His whiskers were freshly curled, and at this early hôur his rosy face was rosier than ever. He sat with his back to the salon, already arrayed in a black coat and light trousers with a pattern of large checks, eating a grilled chop, in the English manner. His wife thought this very elegant, but also very disgusting—she had never brought herself to take it instead of her usual breakfast of bread and butter and an egg.

Tony was in her dressing-gown. She adored dressing-gowns. Nothing seemed more elegant to her than a handsome negligée, and as she had not been allowed to indulge this passion in the parental house she was the more given to it as a wife. She had three of these dainty clinging garments, to the fashioning of which can go so much more taste and fantasy than to a ball-gown. Today she wore her dark red one. Its colour toned beautifully with the paper above the wainscoting, and its large-flowered stuff, of a beautiful soft texture, was embroidered all over with sprays of tiny glass beads of the same colour, while row after row of red velvet ribbons ran from neck to hem.

Her thick ash-blond hair, with its dark red velvet band, curled about her brows. She had now, as she was herself well aware, reached the highest point of her physical bloom; yet her pretty, pouting upper lip retained just the naïve, provocative expression of her childhood. The lids of her grey-blue eyes were reddened with cold water. Her hands, the white Buddenbrook hands, finely shaped if a little stumpy, their delicate wrists caressed by the velvet cuffs of her dressing-gown, handled her knife and fork and tea-cup with motions that were to-day, for some reason or other, rather jerky and abrupt. Her little daughter Erica sat near her in a high chair. She was a plump child with short blond hair, in a funny shapeless, knitted frock of pale blue wool. She held a large cup in both tiny hands, entirely concealing her face, and drank her milk with little sighs of satisfaction.

Frau Grünlich rang, and Tinka, the housemaid, came from the entry to take the child from her high chair and carry her upstairs into the play-room. “You may take her walking outside for a half-hour, Tinka,” said Tony. “But not longer; and put on her thick jacket. It is very damp and foggy.” She remained alone with her husband.

“You only make yourself seem absurd,” she said then, after a silence, obviously continuing an interrupted conversation. “What are your objections? Give me some reason. I can’t be always attending to the child.”

“You are not fond of children, Antonie.”

“Fond of children, indeed! I have no time. I am taken up with the housekeeping. I wake up with twenty things that must be done, and I go to bed with forty that have not been done.”

“There are two servants. A young woman like you—”

“Two servants. Good. Tinka has to wash up, to clean, to serve. The cook is busy all the time. You have chops early in the morning. Think it over, Grünlich. Sooner or later, Erica must have a bonne, a governess.”

“But to get a governess for her so soon is not suited to our means.”

“Our means! Goodness, you are absurd! Are we beggars? Are we forced to live within the smallest limits we can? I think I brought you in eighty thousand marks—”

“Oh, you and your eighty thousand marks—!”

“Yes, I know you like to make light of them. They were of no importance to you because you married me for love! Good. But do you still love me? You deliberately disregard my wishes. The child is not to have a governess. And I don’t even speak any more of the coupé, which we need quite as much as we need food and drink. And why do you insist on our living out here in the country, if it isn’t in accordance with our means to keep a carriage so that we can go into society respectably? Why do you never like it when I go in to town? You would always rather just have me bury myself out here, so I should never see a living soul. I think you are very ill-tempered.”

Herr Grünlich poured some wine into his glass, lifted up one of the crystal bells, and began on the cheese. He made no reply.

“Don’t you love me any more?” repeated Tony. “Your silence is so insulting, it drives me to remind you of a certain day when you entered our landscape-room. You made a fine figure of yourself! But from the very first day after our marriage you have sat with me only in the evening, and that only to read the paper. Just at first you showed some little regard for my wishes. But that’s been over with for a long while now. You neglect me.”

“And you? You are ruining me.”

“I? I am ruining you?”

“Yes, you are ruining me with your indolence, your extravagance, and love of luxury.”

“Oh, pray don’t reproach me with my good upbringing! In my parents’ house I never had to lift a finger. Now I have hard work to get accustomed to the housekeeping; but I have at least a right to demand that you do not refuse me the ordinary assistance. Father is a rich man; he would never dream that I could lack for service.”

“Then wait for this third servant until we get hold of some of those riches.”

“Oh, you are wishing for my Father’s death. But I mean that we are well-to-do people in our own right. I did not come to you with empty hands.”

Herr Grünlich smiled an embarrassed and dejected smile, although he was in the act of chewing his breakfast. He made no other reply, and his silence bewildered Tony.

“Grünlich,” she said more quietly, “why do you smile and talk about our ‘means’? Am I mistaken? His business been bad? Have you—?”

Just then somebody drummed on the corridor door, and Herr Kesselmeyer walked in.