Buddenbrooks Chapter Four

A week later there sat in Senator Buddenbrook’s private office, in the leather chair beside the writing-desk, a little smooth-shaven old man with snow-white hair falling over his brow and temples. He sat in a crouching position, supporting both hands on the white top of his crutch-cane, and his pointed chin on his hands; while he directed at the Senator a look of such malevolence, such a crafty, penetrating glance, that one wondered why the latter did not avoid contact with such a man as this. But the Senator sat apparently at ease, leaning back in his chair, talking to this baleful apparition as to a harmless ordinary citizen. Broker Siegismund Gosch and the head of the firm of Johann Buddenbrook were discussing the price of the Meng Street house.

It took a long time. The offer of twenty-eight thousand thaler made by Herr Gosch seemed too low to the Senator, and the broker called heaven to witness that it would be an act of madness to add a single groschen to the sum. Thomas Buddenbrook spoke of the central position and unusual extent of the property; but Herr Gosch, with picturesque gestures, in low and sibilant tones, expatiated upon the criminal risk he would be running. He waxed almost poetic. Ha! Could his honoured friend tell him when, to whom, for how much, he would be able to get rid of the house again? How often, in the course of the century, would there be a demand for such a house? Perhaps his friend and patron could assure him that to-morrow, on the train from Buchen, there was arriving an Indian nabob who wished to establish himself in the Buddenbrook mansion? He, Siegismund Gosch, would have it on his hands, simply on his hands, and it would be the ruin of him. He would be a beaten man, his race would be run, his grave dug—yes, it would be dug—and, as the phrase enchanted him, he repeated it, and added something more about chattering apes and clods of earth falling upon the lid of his coffin.

But the Senator was not satisfied. He spoke of the ease with which the property could be divided, emphasized his responsibility toward his sister, and remained by the sum of thirty thousand thaler. After which he had to listen, with a mixture of enjoyment and impatience, to a rejoinder from Herr Gosch, which lasted some two hours, during which the broker sounded, as it were, all the registers of his character. He played two rôles at once: first, the hypocritical villain, with a sweet voice, his head on one side, and a smile of open-hearted simplicity. Stretching out his large, white hand, with the long, trembling fingers, he said “Agree, my dear young patron: eighty-four thousand marks—it is the offer of an honest old man.” But a child could have seen that this was all lies and treachery—a deceiving mask, behind which the man’s deep villainy peeped forth.

Thomas Buddenbrook finally declared that he must take time to think, and that in any case he must consult his sister, before he accepted the twenty-eight thousand thaler—which was unlikely. Then he turned the conversation to indifferent topics and asked Herr Gosch about business and his health.

Things were going badly With Herr Gosch. He made a fine, sweeping gesture to wave away the imputation that he was a prosperous man. The burdens of old age approached, they were at hand even now; as aforesaid, his grave was dug. He could not even carry his glass of grog to his lips without spilling half of it, his arm trembled so like the devil. It did no good to curse. The will no longer availed. And yet—! He had his life behind him—not such a poor life, after all. He had looked at the world with his eyes open. Revolutions had thundered by, their waves had beat upon his heart—so to speak. Ha! Those were other times, when he had stood at the side of Consul Johann Buddenbrook, the Senator’s father, at that historic sitting, and defied the fury of the raging mob. A frightful experience! No, his life had not been poor, either outwardly or inwardly. Hang it—he had been conscious of powers—and as the power is, so is the ideal—as Feuerbach says. And even now—even now, his soul was not impoverished, his heart was still young: it had never ceased, and would never cease, to be capable of great emotions, to live fervently in and for his ideals. They would go with him to his grave.—But were ideals, after all, meant to be realized? No, a thousand times no! We might long for the stars, but should we ever reach them? No, hope, not realization, was the most beautiful thing in life: “L’espérance, tout trompeuse qu’elle est, sert au moins à nous mener à la fin de la vie par un chemin agréable.” La Rochefoucauld said that, and it was fine, wasn’t it? Oh, yes, his honoured friend and patron, of course, did not need to console himself with that sort of thing. The waves of life had lifted him high on their shoulders, and fortune played about his brow. But for the lonely and submerged, who dreamed alone in the darkness—

Suddenly—“You are happy,” he said, laying his hand on the Senator’s knee, and looking up at him with swimming eyes. “Don’t deny it—it would be sacrilege. You are happy. You hold fortune in your arms. You have reached out your strong arms and conquered her—your strong hands,” he corrected himself, not liking the sound of “arms” twice so close together. He was silent, and the Senator’s deprecating, patient reply went unheard. He seemed to be darkly dreaming for a moment; then he got up.

“We have been chatting,” he said, “but we came together on business. Time is money. Let us not waste it in hesitation. Listen to me. Since it is you: since it is you, you understand—” here it almost looked as though Herr Gosch was about to give way again to another rhapsody; but he restrained himself. He made a wide, sweeping gesture, and cried: “Twenty-nine thousand thaler, eighty-seven thousand marks current, for your mother’s house! Is it a bargain?” And Senator Buddenbrook agreed.

Frau Permaneder, of course, found the sum ridiculously small. Considering the memories that clung about it, she would have thought a million down no more than an honest price for their old home. But she rapidly adjusted herself—the more readily that her thoughts and efforts were soon taken up by plans for the future.

She rejoiced from the bottom of her heart over all the good furniture that had fallen to her share. And though there was no idea of bustling her away from under the parental roof, she plunged at once, with the greatest zest, into the business of finding and renting a new home. The leave-taking would be hard—the very thought of it brought tears to her eyes. But the prospect of a change was not without its own charm too. It was almost like another setting-out—the fourth one! And so again she looked at houses and visited Jacob’s; again she bargained for portières and stair-carpets. And while she did all that, her heart beat faster—yes, even the heart of this old woman who was steeled by the misfortunes of life!

Weeks passed like this: four, five, six weeks. The first snow fell, the stoves crackled. Winter was here again; and the Buddenbrooks began to consider sadly what sort of Christmas feast they should have this year. But now something happened: something surprising and dramatic beyond all words, something that simply knocked you off your feet. Frau Permaneder paused in the midst of her business, like one paralyzed.

“Thomas,” she said, “am I crazy? Is Gosch dreaming? It is too absurd, too outlandish—” She held her temples with both her hands. The Senator shrugged his shoulders.

“My dear child, nothing at all is decided yet. But there is the possibility—and if you think it over quietly, you will see that there is nothing so extraordinary about it, after all. It is a little startling, I admit. It gave me a start when Gosch first told me. But absurd? What makes it absurd?”

“I should die,” said she. She sat down in a chair and stopped there without moving.

What was going on? Simply that a buyer had appeared for the house; or, rather, a possible purchaser showed a desire to go over it, with a view to negotiations. And this possible purchaser was—Hermann Hagenström, wholesale dealer and Consul for the Kingdom of Portugal.

When the first rumour reached Frau Permaneder, she was stunned, incredulous, incapable of grasping the idea. But when the rumour became concrete, when it actually took shape in the person of Consul Hermann Hagenström, standing, as it were, before the door, then she pulled herself together, and animation came back to her.

“This must not happen, Thomas. As long as I live, it must not happen. When one sells one’s house, one is bound to look out for the sort of master it gets. Our Mother’s house! Our house! The landscape-room!”

“But what stands in the way?”

“What stands in the way? Heavens, Thomas! Mountains stand in the way—or they ought to! But he doesn’t see them, this fat man with the snub nose! He doesn’t care about them. He has no delicacy and no feeling—he is like the beasts that perish. From time immemorial the Hagenströms and we have been rivals. Old Hinrich played Father and Grandfather some dirty tricks; and if Hermann hasn’t tripped you up yet, it is only because he hasn’t had a chance. When we were children, I boxed his ears in the open street, for very good reasons; and his precious little sister Julchen nearly scratched me to pieces for it. That was all childishness, then. But they have always looked on and enjoyed it whenever we had a piece of bad luck—and it was mostly I myself who gave them the pleasure. God willed it so. Whatever the Consul did to injure you or overreach you in a business way, that I can’t speak of, Tom. You must know better than I. But the last straw was when Erica made a good marriage and he wormed around and wormed around until he managed to spoil it and get her husband shut up, through his brother, who is a cat! And now they have the nerve—”

“Listen, Tony. In the first place, we have nothing more to say in the matter. We made our bargain with Gosch, and he has the right to deal with whomever he likes. But there is a sort of irony about it, after all—”

“Irony? Well, if you like to call it that—but what I call it is a disgrace, a slap in the face; because that is just what it would be. You don’t realize what it would be like, in the least. But it would mean to everybody that the Buddenbrook family are finished and done for: they clear out, and the Hagenströms squeeze into their place, rattlety-bang! No, Thomas, never will I consent to sit by while this goes on. I will never stir a finger in such baseness. Let him come here if he dares. I won’t receive him, you may be sure of that. I will sit in my room with my daughter and my granddaughter, and turn the key in the door, and forbid him to enter.—That is just what I will do.”

“I know, Tony, you will do what you think best; and you will probably consider well beforehand if it will be wise not to preserve the ordinary social forms. For of course you don’t imagine that Consul Hagenström would feel wounded by your conduct? Not in the least, my child. It would neither please nor displease him—he would simply be mildly surprised, that is all. The trouble is, you imagine he has the same feelings toward you that you have toward him. That is a mistake, Tony. He does not hate us in the least. He doesn’t hate anybody. He is highly successful and extremely good-natured. As I’ve told you more than ten times already, he would speak to you on the street with the utmost cordiality if you didn’t put on such a belligerent air. I’m sure he is surprised at it—for two minutes; of course not enough to upset the equilibrium of a man to whom nobody can do any harm. What is it you reproach him with? Suppose he has outstripped me in business, and even now and then got ahead of me in some public affair? That only means he is a better business man and a cleverer politician than I am.—There’s no reason at all for you to laugh in that scornful way.—But to come back to the house. The truth is, it has lost most of its old significance for us—that has gradually passed over to mine. I say this to console you in advance; on the other hand, it is plain why Consul Hagenström is thinking of buying. These people have come up in the world, their family is growing, they have married into the Möllendorpf family, and become equal to the best in money and position. But so far, there has been something lacking, the outward sign of their position, which they were evidently willing to do without: the historic consecration—the legitimization, so to speak. But now they seem to have made up their minds to have that too; and some of it they will get by moving into a house like this one. You wait and see: mark my words, the Consul will preserve everything as much as possible as it is, he will even keep the ‘Dominus providebit’ over the door—though, to do him justice, it hasn’t been the Lord at all, but Hermann Hagenström himself, single-handed, that has put the family and the firm where they are!”

“Bravo, Tom! Oh, it does me good to hear you say something spiteful about them once in a while! That’s really all I want! Oh, if I only had your head! Wouldn’t I just give it to him! But there you stand—”

“You see, my head doesn’t really do me much good.”

“There you stand, I say, with that awful calmness, which I simply don’t understand at all, and tell me how Hermann Hagenström does things. Ah, you may talk as you like, but you have a heart in your body, the same as I have myself, and I simply don’t believe you feel as calm inside as you make out. All the things you say are nothing but your own efforts to console yourself.”

“Now, Tony, you are getting pert. What I do is all you have anything to do with—what I think is my own affair.”

“Tell me one thing, Tom: wouldn’t it be like a nightmare to you?”


“Like something you dreamed in a fever?”

“Why not?”

“Like the most ridiculous kind of farce?”

“There, there, now, that’s enough!”

And Consul Hagenström appeared in Meng Street, accompanied by Herr Gosch, who held his Jesuit hat in his hand, crouched over like a conspirator, and peered past the maid into the landscape-room even while he handed her his card.

Hermann Hagenström looked the City man to the life: an imposing Stock Exchange figure, in a coat the fur of which seemed a foot long, standing open over an English winter suit of good fuzzy yellow-green tweed. He was so uncommonly fat that not only his chin, but the whole lower part of his face, was double—a fact which his full short-trimmed blond beard could not disguise. When he moved his forehead or eyebrows, deep folds came even in the smoothly shorn skin of his skull. His nose lay flatter upon his upper lip than ever, and breathed down into his moustaches. Now and then his mouth had to come to the rescue and fly open for a deep breath. When it did this it always made a little smacking noise, as the tongue came away from the roof of his mouth.

Frau Permaneder coloured when she heard this once well-known sound. A vision of lemon buns with truffled sausage on top, almost threatened, for a moment, the stony dignity of her bearing. She sat on the sofa, her arms crossed and her shoulders lifted, in an exquisitely fitting black gown with flounces up to the waist, and a dainty mourning cap on her smooth hair. As the two gentlemen entered, she made a remark to her brother the Senator, in a calm, indifferent tone. He had not had the heart to leave her in the lurch at this hour; and he now walked to the middle of the room to meet their guests, while Tony remained on the sofa. He exchanged a hearty greeting with Herr Gosch and a correct and courteous one with the Consul; then Tony rose of her own accord, performed a measured bow to both of them at once, and, without any excess of zeal, associated herself with her brother’s invitation to the two gentlemen to be seated.

They all sat down, and the Consul and the broker talked by turns for the next few minutes. Herr Gosch’s voice was offensively obsequious as he begged them to pardon the intrusion on their privacy—you could hear a malign undercurrent in it none the less—but Herr Consul Hagenström was anxious to go through the house with a view to possible purchase. And the Consul, in a voice that again called up visions of lemon-bun and goose-liver, said the same thing in different words. Yes, in fact, this was the idea he had in mind and hoped to be able to carry out—provided the broker did not try to drive too hard a bargain with him, ha, ha! He did not doubt but the matter could be settled to the satisfaction of everybody concerned.

His manner was free and easy and like a man of the world’s, which did not fail to make a certain impression on Madame Permaneder; the more so that he nearly always turned to her as he spoke. His tone was almost apologetic when he went into detail upon the grounds for his desire to purchase. “Room!” he said. “We need more room. My house in Sand Street—you wouldn’t believe it, my dear madam, nor you, Herr Senator, but in fact, it is getting so small we can’t turn round in it. I’m not speaking of company. It only takes the family, and the Huneus, and the Möllendorpfs and my brother Moritz’s family, and there we are—in fact, packed in like sardines. So, then—well, why should we, you know!”

He spoke in an almost fretful tone, while manner and gestures expressed: “You see for yourselves, there’s no reason why I should put up with that sort of thing, when there is plenty of money to do what we like!”

“I thought of waiting,” he went on, “till Zerline and Bob should want a house. Then they could take mine, and I could find something larger for myself. But in fact—you know,” he interrupted himself, “my daughter Zerline has been engaged to Bob, my brother the attorney’s eldest, for years. The wedding won’t be put off much longer—two years at most. They are young—so much the better. Well—in fact—why should I wait for them and let slip a good chance when it offers? There would be no sense in that.”

Everybody agreed. The conversation paused for a while on the subject of the approaching wedding. Marriages—advantageous marriages—between first cousins were not uncommon in the town, and this one excited no disapproval. The plans of the young pair were inquired into—with reference to the wedding journey. They thought of going to the Riviera, to Nice and so on. That was what they seemed to want to do—and why shouldn’t they, you know? The younger children were mentioned, and the Consul spoke of them with easy satisfaction, shrugging his shoulders. He himself had five children, and his brother Moritz had four sons and daughters. Yes, they were all flourishing, thanks. Why shouldn’t they be,—you know? In fact, they were all very well. And he came back to the growing up of the family, and to their narrow quarters. “Yes, this is something else entirely,” he said. “I’ve seen that already, on the way upstairs. This house is a pearl, certainly a pearl—if you can compare anything so large with anything so small, ha, ha! Why, even the hangings here—I own up to having had my eye on the hangings all the time I’ve been talking. A most charming room—in fact. When I think that you have passed all your life in these surroundings—in fact—”

“With some interruptions,” said Frau Permaneder, in that extraordinarily throaty voice of which she sometimes availed herself.

“Oh, yes, interruptions,” repeated the Consul, with a civil smile. Then he glanced at Senator Buddenbrook and the broker; and, as those gentlemen were in conversation together, he drew up his chair to Frau Permaneder’s sofa and leaned toward her, so that she felt his heavy breathing close under her nose. Being too polite to turn away, she sat as stiff and erect as possible and looked down at him under her drooping lids. But he was quite unconscious of her discomfort.

“Let me see, my dear Madame Permaneder,” he said. “Seems to me we’ve done business together before now. In fact—what was it we were dickering over then? Sweetmeats, wasn’t it, or tit-bits of some sort—and now a whole house!”

“I don’t remember,” said Frau Permaneder. She held her neck as stiff as she could, for his face was really disgustingly, indecently near.

“You don’t remember?”

“No, really, I don’t remember anything at all about sweetmeats. I have a sort of hazy recollection of lemon-buns, with sausage on top—some disgusting sort of school luncheon—I don’t know whether it was yours or mine. We were all children then.—But this matter of the house is entirely Herr Gosch’s affair. I have nothing to do with it.”

She gave her brother a quick, grateful look, for he had seen her need and come to her rescue by asking if the gentlemen were ready to make the round of the house. They were quite ready, and took temporary leave of Frau Permaneder, expressing the hope of seeing her again when they had finished. The Senator led the two gentlemen out through the dining-room.

He took them upstairs and down, and showed them the rooms in the second storey as well as those on the corridor of the first, and the ground floor, including the kitchen and cellars. As the visit fell in business hours, they, refrained from visiting the offices of the Insurance Company. But the new Director was mentioned, and Consul Hagenström declared him to be a very honest chap—a remark which was received by the Senator in silence.

They went through the garden, lying bare and wretched under half-melting snow, looked at the Portal, and returned to the laundry, in the front courtyard; and thence by the narrow paved walk that led between walls to the back courtyard with the oak-tree, and the “back building.” Here there was nothing but old age, neglect, and dilapidation. Grass and moss grew between the paving-stones, the steps were in a state of advanced decay, and they could only look into the billiard-room without entering,—the floor was so bad—so the family of cats that lived there rent-free was not disturbed.

Consul Hagenström said very little—he was obviously planning. “Well, yes,” he kept saying, as he looked and turned away, suggesting by his manner that in case he bought the house all this would of course be different. He stood, with the same air, on the ground-floor of the back building and looked up at the empty attic. “Yes, well,” he repeated, and set in motion the thick, rotting cable with a rusty iron hook on the end that had been hanging there for years. Then he turned on his heel.

“Best thanks for your trouble, Herr Senator,” he said. “We’re at the end, I suppose.” He scarcely uttered a word on the rapid return to the front building, or later when the two gentlemen paid their respects to Frau Permaneder in the landscape-room and the Senator accompanied them down the steps and across the entry. But hardly had they said good-bye and Consul Hagenström turned with his companion to walk down the street, when it was seen that a very lively conversation began at once between the two.

The Senator returned to the room where Frau Permaneder, with her severest manner, sat bolt upright in the window, knitting with two huge wooden needles a black worsted frock for her granddaughter Elisabeth, and now and then casting a glance into the gossip’s glass. Thomas walked up and down a while in silence, with his hands in his trousers pockets.

“Yes, we have put it in the broker’s hands,” he said at length. “We must wait and see what comes of it. My opinion is that he will buy the whole property, live here in the front, and utilize the back part in some other way.”

She did not look at him, or change her position, or cease to knit. On the contrary, the needles flew back and forth faster than ever.

“Oh, certainly—of course he’ll buy it. He’ll buy the whole thing,” she said, and it was her throaty voice she used. “Why shouldn’t he buy it—you know? In fact, there would be no sense in that at all!”

She raised her eyebrows and looked severely through her pince-nez—which she now used for sewing, but never managed to put on straight—at her knitting-needles. They flew like lightning round and round each other, clacking all the while.

Christmas came: the first Christmas without the Frau Consul. They spent the evening of the twenty-fourth at the Senator’s house, without the old Krögers and without the Misses Buddenbrook; for the old children’s day had now ceased to exist, and Thomas Buddenbrook did not feel like making presents to everybody who used to attend the Frau Consul’s celebration. Only Frau Permaneder and Erica, with little Elisabeth, Christian, Clothilde, and Mademoiselle Weichbrodt, were invited. The latter insisted on holding the customary present-giving on the twenty-fifth, in her own stuffy little rooms, where it was attended with the usual mishap.

There was no troop of poor retainers to receive shoes and woollen underwear, and there were no choir-boys, when they assembled in Fishers’ Lane on the twenty-fourth. They joined quite simply together in “Holy Night,” and Therese Weichbrodt read the Christmas chapter instead of the Frau Senator, who did not particularly care for such things. Then they went through the suite of rooms into the hall, singing in a subdued way the first stanza of “O Evergreen.”

There was no special ground for rejoicing. Nobody’s face was beaming with joy, there was no lively conversation. What was there to talk about? They thought of the departed mother, discussed the sale of the house and the well-lighted apartment which Frau Permaneder had rented in a pleasant house outside Holsten Gate, with a view on the green square of Linden Place, and what would happen when Hugo Weinschenk came out of prison. At intervals little Johann played on the piano something which he had been learning with Herr Pfühl, or accompanied his mother, not faultlessly, but with a lovely singing tone, in a Mozart sonata. He was praised and kissed, but had to be taken off to bed by Ida Jungmann, for he was pale and tired on account of a recent stomach upset.

Even Christian was disinclined to talk or joke. After the violent altercation in the breakfast-room he had not let fall another syllable about getting married. He lived on in the old way, on terms with his brother which were not very honourable to himself. He made a brief effort, rolling his eyes about, to awaken sympathy in the company for the misery in his side; went early to the club; and came back to supper, which was held after the prescribed traditions. And then the Buddenbrooks had this Christmas too behind them, and were glad of it.

In the beginning of the year 1872, the household of the deceased Frau Consul was broken up. The servants went, and Frau Permaneder thanked God to see the last of Mamsell Severin, who had continued to question her authority in the most unpleasant manner, and now departed with the silk gowns and linen which she had accumulated. Furniture wagons stood before the door, and the old house was emptied of its contents. The great carved chest, the gilt candelabra, and the other things that had fallen to his share, the Senator took to his house in Fishers’ Lane; Christian moved with his into a three-room bachelor apartment near the club; and the little Permaneder-Weinschenk family took possession with theirs of the well-lighted flat in Linden Place, which was after all not without some claims to elegance. It was a pretty little apartment, and the front door of it had a bright copper plate with the name A. Permaneder-Buddenbrook, Widow, in ornamental lettering.

The house in Meng Street was hardly emptied when a host of workmen appeared and began to tear down the back-building; the dust from the old mortar darkened the air. The property had passed into the hands of Consul Hermann Hagenström. He had set his heart upon it, and had outbid an offer which Siegismund Gosch received for it from Bremen. He immediately began to turn it to the best advantage, in the ingenious way for which he had been so long admired. In the spring he moved with his family into the front house, where he left everything almost untouched, save for the necessary renovations and certain very modern improvements. For instance, he had the old bell-pulls taken out and the house fitted throughout with electric bells. And hardly had the back-building been demolished when a new, neat, and airy structure rose in its place, which fronted on Bakers’ Alley and was intended for shops and warehouses.

Frau Permaneder had frequently sworn to her brother that no power on earth could bring her ever to look at the parental home again. But it was hardly possible to carry out this threat. Her way sometimes led her of necessity past the shops which had been quickly and advantageously rented, and past the show-windows of the back-building, or the dignified gable front on the other side, where now, beneath the “Dominus Providebit,” was to be read the name of Consul Hermann Hagenström. When she saw that, Frau Permaneder, on the open street, before ever so many people, simply began to weep aloud. She put back her head like a bird beginning to sing, pressed her handkerchief to her eyes, uttered a wail of mingled protest and lament, and, giving no heed to the passers-by or to the remonstrances of her daughter, gave her tears free vent.

They were the unashamed, refreshing tears of her childhood, which she still retained despite all the storms and shipwrecks of her life.