Buddenbrooks Chapter Four

The outer bell rang, and Frau Grünlich appeared on the landing to look down into the court—a habit she had lately formed. The door was hardly opened below when she started, leaned over still more, and then sprang back with one hand pressing her handkerchief to her mouth and the other holding up her gown. She hurried upstairs.

On the steps to the second storey she met Ida Jungmann, to whom she whispered in a suffocated voice. Ida gave a joyous shriek and answered with some Polish gibberish.

The Frau Consul was sitting in the landscape room, crocheting a shawl or some such article with two large wooden needles. It was eleven o’clock in the morning.

The servant came through the hall, knocked on the glass door, and waddled in to bring the Frau Consul a visiting-card. She took the card, got out her sewing-glasses, and read it. Then she looked again at the girl’s red face; then read again; then looked up again at the girl. Finally she said calmly but firmly:

“What is this, my dear? What does it mean?”

On the card was printed: “X. Noppe and Company.” The “X. Noppe” and the “and” were crossed out with a lead-pencil, so that only the “Company” was left. “Oh, Frau Consul,” said the maid, “there’s a gentleman, but he doesn’t speak German, and he do go on so—”

“Ask the gentleman in,” said the Frau Consul; for she understood now that it was the “Company” who desired admittance. The maid went. Then the glass door was opened again to let in a stocky figure, who remained in the shadowy background of the room for a moment and said with a drawling pronunciation something that seemed as if it might have been: “I have the honour—”

“Good morning,” said the Frau Consul. “Will you not come in?” And she supported herself on the sofa-cushion and rose a little; for she did not know yet whether she ought to rise all the way or not.

“I take the liberty,” replied the gentleman in a pleasant sing-song; while he bowed in the politest manner, and took two steps forward. Then he stood still again and looked around as if searching for something—perhaps for a place to put his hat and stick, for he had brought both—the stick being a horn crutch with the top shaped like a claw and a good foot and a half long—into the room with him.

He was a man of forty years. Short-legged and chubby, he wore a wide-open coat of brown frieze and a light flowered waistcoat which covered the gentle protuberant curve of his stomach and supported a gold watch-chain with a whole bouquet of charms made of horn, bone, silver, and coral. His trousers were of an indefinite grey-green colour and too short. The material must have been extraordinarily stiff, for the edges stood out in a circle around the legs of his short, broad boots. He had a bullet head, untidy hair, and a stubby nose, and the light-blond curly moustache drooping over his mouth made him look like a walrus. By way of contrast, the imperial between his chin and his underlip stood out rather bristly. His cheeks were extremely fat and puffy, crowding his eyes into two narrow light-blue cracks with wrinkles at the corners. The whole face looked swollen and had a funny expression of fierceness, mingled with an almost touching good nature. Directly below his tiny chin a steep line ran into the white neck-cloth: his goiterous neck could not have endured a choker. In fact, the whole lower part of his face and his neck, the back of his head, his cheeks and nose, all ran rather formlessly in together. The whole skin of the face was stretched to an immoderate tightness and showed a roughness at the ear-joinings and the sides of the nose. In one of his short fat white hands the visitor held his stick; in the other his green Tyrolese hat, decorated with a chamois beard.

The Frau Consul had taken off her glasses and was still rising from her sofa-pillow.

“What can I do for you?” she asked politely but pointedly.

The gentleman, with a movement of decision, laid his hat and stick on the lid of the harmonium. He rubbed his free hands with satisfaction and looked at the Frau Consul out of his kindly, light-blue eyes. “I beg the gracious lady’s pardon for the card,” he said. “I had no other by me. My name is Permaneder—Alois Permaneder, from Munich. Perhaps you might have heard my name from your daughter.” He said all this in a puzzling dialect with a rather loud, coarse voice; but there was a confidential gleam from the cracks of his eyes, which seemed to say: “I’m sure we understand each other already.”

The Frau Consul had now risen entirely and went forward with her hand outstretched and her head inclined in greeting.

“Herr Permaneder! Is it you? Certainly my daughter has spoken of you. I know how much you contributed to make her visit in Munich pleasant and entertaining. And so some wind has blown you all the way up here?”

“That’s it; you’re just right there,” said Herr Permaneder. He sat down by the Frau Consul in the armchair which she gracefully indicated to him, and began to rub his short round thighs comfortably with both hands.

“I beg your pardon?” asked the Frau Consul. She had not understood a single word of his remark.

“You’ve guessed it, that’s the point,” answered Herr Permaneder, as he stopped rubbing his knees.

“How nice!” said the Frau Consul blankly. She leaned back in her chair with feigned satisfaction and folded her hands. Actually, she was quite as much at sea as before, and inly wondering if Antonie were really able to follow the windings of the Bavarian tongue. But Herr Permaneder—though his appearance hardly led one to expect that he possessed acute sensibilities—saw through her at once. He bent forward, making—God knows why—circles in the air with his hand, and, struggling after clarity, enunciated the words: “The gracious lady is surprised?”

“Yes, Herr Permaneder, yes!” she cried, with disproportionate joy, for she had really understood him. Perhaps they could manage after all! But now there came a pause. To fill it out, Herr Permaneder gave a sort of groan, and followed it up by an exclamation in the broadest of dialect: something that shocked the Frau Consul because it sounded so like swearing, though it probably wasn’t—at least, she hoped not! Should she ask him to repeat it?

“Ah—what did you say?” she ventured, turning her light eyes a little away, that he might not see the bewilderment they expressed.

Herr Permaneder obliged by repeating, with extraordinary loudness and coarseness. Surely it was something about a crucifix! Horrors!

“How nice!” she stammered again, with desperate finality; and thus this subject also was disposed of. It might be better to talk a little oneself. “May one ask,” she went on, “what brings you so far, Herr Permaneder? It is a good long journey from Munich.”

“A little business,” said Herr Permaneder, as before, and waved his broad hand in the air. It was really touching, the efforts he made “A little business, my dear lady, with the brewery at Walk-mill.”

“Oh, yes—you are hop merchants, of course, my dear Herr Permaneder: Noppe and Company, isn’t it? I am sure I have heard good things of your firm from my son,” said the Frau Consul cordially. Again she felt as if she were almost upon firm ground. Herr Permaneder waved away the compliment. That was nothing to mention. No, the main thing was, he wanted to pay his respects to the Frau Consul and—see Frau Grünlich again. That was enough to make the journey repay the trouble it cost.

The Frau Consul did not understand it all, but she got the general drift, and was glad. “Oh, thank you,” she said, with the utmost heartiness, and again offered him her hand, with the palm outstretched.

“But we must call my daughter,” she added, and stood up and went toward the embroidered bell-pull near the glass door.

“Oh, Lord, yes, I’ll be glad to see her!” cried the hop merchant, and turned his chair and himself toward the door at one and the same time.

The Frau Consul said to the servant: “Ask Madame Grünlich to come down, my dear.”

Then she went back to her sofa, and Herr Permaneder turned himself and his chair around again.

“Lord, yes, I’ll be glad!” he repeated, while he stared at the hangings and the furniture and the great Sèvres inkstand on the escritoire. But then he sighed heavily, several times over, rubbed his knees, and gave vent to his favourite outlandish phrase. The Frau Consul thought it more discreet not to inquire again into his meaning; besides, he muttered it under his breath, with a sort of groan, though his mood, otherwise, appeared to be anything but despondent.

And now Frau Grünlich appeared. She had made a little toilette, put on a light blouse, and dressed her hair. Her face looked fresher and prettier than ever, and the tip of her tongue played in the corner of her mouth.

Scarcely had she entered when Herr Permaneder sprang up and went to meet her with tremendous enthusiasm. He vibrated all over. He seized both her hands, shook them and cried: “Well, Frau Grünlich! Well, well, grüss Gott! Well, and how’s it been going with you? What you been doing up here? Yes, yes! Grüss Gott! Lord, I’m just silly glad to see you. Do you think sometimes of little old Munich and what a gay time we had? Oh, my, oh, my! And here we are again. Who would ’a’ thought it?”

Tony, on her side, greeted him with great vivacity, drew up a chair, and began to chat with him about her weeks in Munich. Now the conversation went on without hitches, and the Frau Consul followed it, smiling and nodding encouragingly at Herr Permaneder. She would translate this or that expression into her own tongue, and then lean back into the sofa again, well pleased with her own intelligence.

Herr Permaneder had to explain to Frau Antonie in her turn the reason of his appearance. But he laid small stress on the “little business” with the brewery, and it was obviously not the occasion of his visit at all. He asked with interest after the second daughter and the sons of the Frau Consul, and regretted loudly the absence of Clara and Christian, as he had always wanted to get acquainted with the whole family.

He said his stay in the town was of indefinite length, but when the Frau Consul said: “I am expecting my son for second breakfast at any moment, Herr Permaneder. Will you give us the pleasure of your company?” he accepted the invitation almost before she gave it, with such alacrity that it was plain he had expected it.

The Consul came. He had found the breakfast-room empty, and appeared in his office coat, tired and preoccupied, to take a hasty bite. But when he saw the strange guest with the frieze jacket and the fantastic watch-chain, he became all charm. He had heard his name often enough from Frau Antonie, and he threw a quick glance at his sister as he greeted Herr Permaneder in his most fascinating manner. He did not sit down. They went directly down to the entresol, where Mamsell Jungmann had laid the table and set the samovar—a real samovar, a present from Pastor Tiburtius and Clara.

“You’ve got it good here,” said Herr Permaneder, as he let himself down in his chair and looked at the variety of cold meats on the table. His grammar, now and then, was of the most artless and disarming quality.

“It isn’t Munich beer, of course, Herr Permaneder, but still it is better than our domestic brew.” And the Consul poured him a glass of the brown foaming porter, which he was accustomed to drink himself at midday.

“Thank you kindly, neighbour,” said Herr Permaneder, quite unaware of the outraged look Mamsell Jungmann cast at him. But he drank so moderately of the porter that the Frau Consul had a bottle of red wine brought up; whereat he grew visibly gayer and began to talk with Frau Grünlich again. He sat, on account of his prominent stomach, well away from the table, with his legs far apart, and one of his arms, with the plump white hand, hanging down over the chair-back. He put his round head with its walrus moustache on one side and blinked out of the cracks of his eyes naïvely as he listened to Tony’s conversation. He looked offensively comfortable. As he had had no experience with sprats, she daintily dismembered them for him, commenting the while on life in general.

“Oh, Heavens, how sad it is, Herr Permaneder, that everything good and lovely in this world is so fleeting,” she said, referring to her Munich visit. She laid down her knife and fork a moment and looked earnestly up at the ceiling. She made charming if unsuccessful efforts to speak Bavarian.

During the meal there was a knock at the door, and the office boy brought in a telegram. The Consul read it, letting the long ends of his moustache run through his fingers. He was plainly preoccupied with the contents of the message; but, even as he read it, he asked in the easiest tone: “Well, how is business, Herr Permaneder?—That will do,” he said immediately to the apprentice, who disappeared.

“Oh, well, neighbour,” answered Herr Permaneder, turning himself about toward the Consul’s side with the awkwardness of a man who has a thick, stiff neck, and letting his other arm hang over the chair-back. “There’s naught to speak of—it’s a fair plague. You see, Munich”—he pronounced the name of his native city in such a way that one could only guess what he meant—“Munich is no commercial town. Everybody wants his peace and quiet and his beer—nobody gets despatches while he’s eating; not there. You’re a different cut up here—Holy Sacrament! Yes, thank you kindly, I’ll take another glass. Tough luck, that’s what it is; tough luck. My partner, Noppe, wanted to go to Nuremberg, because they have a Bourse there and are keen on business, but I won’t forsake my Munich. Not me! That would be a fine thing to do! You see, there’s no competition, and the export trade is just silly. Even in Russia they’ll be beginning soon to plant and build for themselves.”

Then he suddenly threw the Consul a quick, shrewd look and said: “Oh, well, neighbour, ’tain’t so bad as it sounds. Yon’s a fair little business. We make money with the joint-stock brewery, that Niederpaur is director of. That was just a small affair, but we’ve put it on its legs and lent it credit—cash too, four per cent on security—and now we can do business at a profit, and we’ve collared a blame good trade already.” Herr Permaneder declined cigars and cigarettes and asked leave to smoke his pipe. He drew the long horn bowl out of his pocket, enveloped himself in a reek of smoke, and entered upon a business conversation with the Consul, which glided into politics, and Bavaria’s relations with Prussia, and King Max, and the Emperor Napoleon. He garnished his views with disjointed sighs and some perfectly unintelligible Munich phrases.

Mamsell Jungmann, out of sheer astonishment, continually forgot to chew, even when she had food in her mouth. She blinked speechlessly at the guest out of her bright brown eyes, standing her knife and fork perpendicularly on the table and swaying them back and forth. This room had never before beheld Herr Permaneder’s like. Never had it been filled by such reeking pipe-smoke; such unpleasantly easy manners were foreign to it. The Frau Consul abode in cordial miscomprehension, after she had made inquiries and received information as to the sufferings of the little protestant oasis among the Munich papists. Tony seemed to grow somewhat absent and restive in the course of the meal. But the Consul was highly entertained, asked his mother to order up another bottle of wine, and cordially invited Herr Permaneder to a visit in Broad Street—his wife would be charmed. A good three hours after his arrival the hop dealer began to show signs of leaving—emptied his glass, knocked out his pipe, called something or other “bad luck,” and got up.

“I have the honour, madame. Good day, Frau Grünli’ and Herr Consul—servant, servant.” At this Ida Jungmann actually shivered and changed colour. “Good day, Freilein,” he said to her, and he repeated “Good day” at the door.

The Frau Consul and her son exchanged a glance. Herr Permaneder had announced his intention of stopping at the modest inn on the Trave whither he had gone on arrival. The Frau Consul went toward him again. “My daughter’s Munich friend,” she began, “lives so far away that we shall have no opportunity to repay her hospitality. But if you, my dear sir, would give us the pleasure of your company while you are in town—you would be very welcome.” She held her hand out to him; and lo! Herr Permaneder accepted this invitation as blithely as he had the one to dinner. He kissed the hands of both ladies—and a funny sight he was as he did so—fetched his hat and stick from the landscape room, and promised to have his trunk brought at once and to be on the spot at four o’clock, after transacting his business. Then he allowed the Consul to convoy him down the stairs. But even at the vestibule door he turned again and shook hands violently. “No offence, neighbour,” he said—“your sister is certainly a great girl—no doubt about it. Good day,” and he disappeared, still wagging his head.

The Consul felt an irresistible drawing to go up again and see the ladies. Ida Jungmann had gone to look after the linen for the guest-room. The Frau Consul still sat at the breakfast table, her light eyes fixed on a spot on the ceiling. She was lightly drumming with her white fingers on the cloth. Tony sat at the window, her arms folded, gazing straight ahead of her with a severe air. Silence reigned.

“Well?” said Thomas, standing in the door and taking a cigarette out of the box ornamented with the troika. His shoulders shook with laughter.

“A pleasant man,” commented the Frau Consul innocently.

“Quite my opinion.” The Consul made a quick, humorous turn toward Tony, as if he were asking her in the most respectful manner for her opinion as well. She was silent, and looked neither to the right nor to the left.

“But I think, Tom, he ought to stop swearing,” went on the Frau Consul with mild disapproval. “If I understood him correctly, he kept using the words Sacrament and Cross.”

“Oh, that’s nothing, Mother—he doesn’t mean anything by that.”

“And perhaps a little too easy-mannered, Tom?”

“Oh, yes; that is south-German,” said the Consul, breathing the smoke slowly out into the room. He smiled at his mother and stole glances at Tony. His mother saw the glances not at all.

“You will come to dinner to-day with Gerda. Please do me the favour, Tom.”

“Certainly, Mother, with the greatest of pleasure. To tell the truth, I promise myself much pleasure from this guest, don’t you? He is something different from your ministers, in any case.”

“Everybody to his taste, Tom.”

“Of course. I must go now.—Oh, Tony,” he said, the door-handle in his hand, “you have made a great impression on him. No, no joke. Do you know what he called you down there just now? A great girl! Those were his very words.”

But here Frau Grünlich turned around and said clearly: “Very good, Tom. You are repeating his words—and I don’t know that he would mind; but even so I am not sure it was just the nicest thing to do. But this much I do know: and this much I am going to say: that in this life it does not depend on how things are said and expressed, but on how they are felt and meant in the heart; and if you make fun of Herr Permaneder’s language and find him ridiculous—”

“Who? Why? Tony, what an idea! Why are you getting excited—?”

“Assez,” said the Frau Consul, casting an imploring glance at her son. It meant “Spare her!”

“Please don’t be angry, Tony,” he said. “I didn’t mean to provoke you. And now I will go and see that somebody from the warehouse brings Herr Permaneder’s trunk. Au revoir.”