Buddenbrooks Chapter Four

Every vacant seat in the Senate must, according to the Constitution, be filled within four weeks. Three of them have passed, and this is election-day—a day of thaw, at the end of February.

It is about one o’clock, and people are thronging into Broad Street. They are thronging before the Town Hall, with its ornamental glazed-brick façade, its pointed towers and turrets mounting toward a whitish grey sky, its covered steps supported on outstanding columns, its pointed arcades, through which there is a glimpse of the market place and the fountain. The crowd stands steadfastly in the dirty slush that melts beneath their feet; they look into each other’s faces and then straight ahead again, and crane their necks. For beyond that portal, in the Council Room, in fourteen armchairs arranged in a semicircle sit the electors, who have been chosen from the Senate and the Assembly and await the proposals of the voting chambers.

The affair has spun itself out. It appears that the debate in the chambers will not die down; the struggle is so bitter that up to now not one single unanimous choice has been put before the Council—otherwise the Burgomaster would at once announce an election. Extraordinary! Rumours—nobody knows whence, nobody knows how—come from within the building and circulate in the street. Perhaps Herr Kaspersen, the elder of the two beadles, who always refers to himself as a “servant of the State,” is standing inside there and telling what he hears, out of the corner of his mouth, through his shut teeth, with his eyes turned the other way! The story goes that proposals have been laid before the sitting, but that each of the three chambers has turned in a different name: namely Hagenström, Kistenmaker, and Buddenbrook. A secret ballot must now be taken, with ballot-papers—it is to be hoped that it will show a clear plurality! For people without overshoes are suffering, and stamping their feet to warm them.

The waiting crowd is made up of all sorts and conditions. There are sea-faring characters, with bare tattooed necks and their hands in the pockets of their sailor trousers; grain Porters with their incomparably respectable countenances, and their blouses and knee-breeches of black glazed calico; drivers who have clambered down from their wagons of piled-up sacks, and stand whip in hand to wait for the decision; servant-maids in neckerchiefs, aprons and thick striped petticoats with little white caps perched on the backs of their heads and market-baskets hanging on their bare arms; fish and vegetable women with their flat straw baskets—even a couple of pretty farm girls with Dutch caps, short skirts, and long flowing sleeves coming out from their gaily-embroidered stay-bodies. Mingled among these, burghers, shop-keepers who have come out hatless from neighbouring shops to exchange their views, sprucely-dressed young men who are apprentices in the business of their fathers or their fathers’ friends—and schoolboys with satchels and bundles of books.

Two labourers with bristling sailor beards, stand chewing their tobacco; behind them is an excited lady, craning her neck this way and that to get a glimpse of the Town Hall between their powerful shoulders. She wears a long evening cloak trimmed with brown fur, which she holds together from the inside with both hands. Her face is well covered with a thick brown veil. She shifts her feet about in the melting snow.

“Gawd! Kurz bain’t gettin’ it this time, nuther, be he?” says the one labourer to the other.

“Naw, ye mutton-head, ’tis certain he bain’t. There’s no more talk o’ him. Th’ votin’s between Hagenström, Buddenbrook, ’n’ Kistenmaker. ’Tis all about they,—now.”

“’Tis whether which one o’ th’ three be ahead o’ the others, eh?”

“So ’tis; yes, they do say so.”

“Then I’m minded they’ll be choosin’ Hagenström.”

“Eh, smarty—so they’ll be choosin’ Hagenström? Ye can tell that to yer grandmother!” And therewith. he spits his tobacco-juice on the ground close to his own feet, the crowd being too dense to admit of a trajectory. He takes hold of his trousers in both hands and pulls them up higher under his belt, and goes on: “Hagenström, he’s a great pig—he be so fat he can’t breathe through his own nose! If so be it’s all o’er wi’ Kurz then I’m fer Buddenbrook. ’Tis a very shrewd chap.”

“So ’tis, so ’tis. But Hagenström, he’s got the money.”

“That bain’t the question—’tis no matter o’ riches.”

“’n’ then this Buddenbrook—he be so devilish fine wi’ his cuffs ’n’ his silk tie ’n’ his stickin’-out moustaches; hast seen him walk? He hops along like a bird.”

“Ye ninny, that bain’t the question, no more’n th’ other.”

“They say his sister’ve put away two men a’ready.” The lady in the fur cloak trembles visibly.

“Eh, that soart o’ thing—what do we know about it? Likely the Consul he couldn’t help it hisself.”

The lady in the veil thinks to herself, “He couldn’t, indeed! Thank God for that,” and presses her hands together, inside her cloak.

“’n’ then,” adds the Buddenbrook partisan, “didn’t the Burgomaster his own self stan’ godfeyther to his son? Can’t ye tell somethin’ by that?”

“Yes, can’t you indeed?” thinks the lady. “Thank heaven, that did do some good.” She starts. A fresh rumour from the Town Hall, running zig-zag through the crowd, has reached her ears. The balloting, it seems, has not been decisive. Eduard Kistenmaker, indeed, has received fewer votes than the other two candidates, and his name has been dropped. But the struggle goes on between Buddenbrook and Hagenström. A sapient citizen remarks that if the voting continues to be even, it will be necessary to appoint five arbitrators.

A voice, down in front at the entrance steps, shouts suddenly: “Heine Seehas is ’lected—’rah for Heine Seehas!” Heine Seehas, be it known, is an habitual drunkard, who peddles hot bread on a little wagon through the streets. Everybody roars with laughter, and stands on tip-toe to see the wag who is responsible for the joke. The lady in the veil is seized with a nervous giggle; her shoulders shake for a moment, and then give a shrug which expresses as plainly as words: “Is this the time for tom-foolery like that?” She collects herself again, and stares with intensity between the two labourers at the Town Hall. But almost at the same moment her hands slip from her cloak, so that it opens in front, her figure relaxes, her shoulders droop, she stands there entirely crushed.

Hagenström!—The word seems to have come from nobody knows where—down from the sky, or up from the earth. It is everywhere at once. There is no contradiction. So it is decided. Hagenström! Hagenström it is, then. One may as well go home. The lady in the veil might have known. It was ever thus. She will go home—she feels the tears rising in her throat.

This state of things has lasted a second or so, when there occurs a shouting and a backward jostling of the throng. It runs through the whole assemblage, as those in front press back those behind, and at the same time something red appears in the doorway. It is the coats of the beadles Kaspersen and Uhlefeldt. They are in full-dress uniform, with white riding breeches, three-cornered hats, yellow gauntlet gloves, and short dress swords. They appear side by side, and make their way through the crowd, which falls back before them.

They move like fate: silent, resolved, inexorable, not looking to right or left, with gaze directed toward the ground. They take, according to instructions, the route marked out by the election. And it is not in the direction of Sand Street! They have turned to the right—they are going down Broad Street!

The lady in the veil cannot believe her eyes. However, all about her, people are seeing just what she sees; they are pushing on after the beadles, and saying to each other: “It isn’t Hagenström, it’s Buddenbrook!” And a group of gentlemen emerge from the portal, in excited conversation, and hurry with rapid steps down Broad Street, to be the first to offer congratulations.

Then the lady holds her cloak together and runs for it. She runs, indeed, as seldom lady runs. Her veil blows up, revealing her flushed face—no matter for that; and one of her furred goloshes keeps flapping open in the sloppy snow and hindering her frightfully: yet she outruns them all! She gains the house at the corner of Bakers’ Street, she rings the alarm-bell at the vestibule-door—fire, murder, thieves!—she shouts at the maid who opens: “They’re coming, Kathrin, they’re coming,” takes the stairs, and storms into the living-room. Her brother himself sits there, certainly a little pale. He puts down his paper and makes a gesture, almost as if to ward her off. But she puts her arms about him, and repeats: “They’re coming, Tom, they’re coming! You are the man—and Hermann Hagenström is out!”

That was Friday. On the following day, Senator Buddenbrook stood in the Council Hall, in the seat of the deceased James Möllendorpf, and in the presence of the City Fathers there assembled, and the Delegation of Burgesses, he took the oath: “I will conscientiously perform the duties of my office, strive with all my power for the good of the State, faithfully obey the Constitution, honourably pursue the public weal, and in the discharge of my office, regard neither my own advantage nor that of my relatives and friends. I will support the laws of the State and do justice on all alike, whether rich or poor. In all things where secrecy is needful, I will not speak, and especially will I not reveal what is given me to keep silent. So help me God!”