Buddenbrooks Chapter Four

In the beginning of the year 1873 the Senate pardoned Hugo Weinschenk, and the former Director left prison, six months before his time was up.

Frau Permaneder, if she had told the truth, would have admitted that she was not so very glad. She had been living peacefully with her daughter and granddaughter in Linden Place, and had for society the house in Fishers’ Lane and her friend Armgard von Maiboom, who had lived in the town since her husband’s death. Frau Antonie had long been aware that there was no place for her outside the walls of her native city. She had her Munich memories, her weak digestion, and an increasing need of quiet and repose; and she felt not the least inclination to move to a large city of the united Fatherland, still less to migrate to another country.

“My dear child,” she said to her daughter, “I must ask you something very serious. Do you still love your husband with your whole heart? Would you follow him with your child wherever he went in the wide world—as, unfortunately, it is not possible for him to remain here?”

And Frau Erica Weinschenk, amid tears that might have meant anything at all, replied just as dutifully as Tony herself, in similar circumstances, had once replied to the same question, in the villa outside Hamburg. So it was necessary to contemplate a parting in the near future.

On a day almost as dreadful as the day when he had been arrested, Frau Permaneder brought her son-in-law from the prison, in a closed carriage, to her house in Linden Place. And there he stayed, after he had greeted his wife and child in a dazed, helpless way, in the room that had been prepared for him, smoking from early to late, without going out, without even taking his meals with his family—a broken grey-haired man.

He had always had a very strong constitution, and the prison life could hardly have impaired his physical health. But his condition was, none the less, pitiable in the extreme. This man had in all probability done no more than his business colleagues did every day and thought nothing of; if he had not been caught, he would have gone on his way with head erect and conscience clear. Yet it was dreadful to see how his ruin as a citizen, the judicial correction, and the three years’ imprisonment, had operated to break down his morale. His testimony before the court had been given with the most sincere conviction; and people who understood the technicalities of the case supported his contention that he had merely executed a bold maneuver for the credit of his firm and himself—a maneuver known in the business world as usance. The lawyers who had convicted him knew, in his opinion, nothing whatever about such things and lived in quite a different world. But their conviction, endorsed by the governing power of the state, had shattered his self-esteem to such a degree that he could not look anybody in the face. Gone was his elastic tread, the way he had of wriggling at the waist of his frock-coat and balancing with his fists and rolling his eyes about. Gone was the ignorant self-assurance with which he had delivered his uninformed opinions and put his questions. The change was such that his family shuddered at it—and indeed it was frightful to see such cowardice, dejection, and lack of self-respect.

Herr Hugo Weinschenk spent eight or ten days doing nothing but smoking: then he began to read the papers and write letters. The consequence of the letters was that after another eight or ten days he explained vaguely that there seemed to be a position for him in London, whither he wished to travel alone to arrange matters personally, and then to send for wife and child.

Accompanied by Erica, he drove to the station in a closed carriage and departed without having once seen any other members of the family.

Some days later a letter addressed to his wife arrived from Hamburg. It said that he had made up his mind not to send for his wife and child, or even to communicate with them, until such time as he could offer them a life fitting for them to live. And this letter was the very last sign of life from Hugo Weinschenk. No one from then henceforward heard anything from him. The experienced Frau Permaneder made several energetic attempts to get into touch with him, in order, as she importantly explained, to get evidence upon which to sue him for divorce on the ground of wilful desertion. But he was, and remained, missing. And thus it came about that Erica Weinschenk and her small daughter Elisabeth remained now, as before, with Erica’s mother, in the light and airy apartment in Linden Place.