Buddenbrooks Chapter Four

When the consul and Siegismund Gosch returned to the hall, the scene was a more comfortable one than it had been a quarter of an hour before. It was lighted by two large oil lamps standing on the Committee table, in whose yellow light the gentlemen sat or stood together, pouring out beer into shining tankards, touching glasses and talking loudly, in the gayest of humours. Frau Suerkringel, the widow, had consoled them. She had loyally taken on her enforced guests and given them good advice, recommending that they fortify themselves for the siege, which might endure some while yet. And thus she had profitably employed the time by selling a considerable quantity of her light yet exhilarating beer. As the others entered, the house-boy, in shirt-sleeves and good-natured grin, was just bringing in a fresh supply of bottles. While it was certainly late, too late to consider further the revision of the Constitution, nobody seemed inclined to interrupt the meeting and go home. It was too late for coffee, in any case.

After the Consul had received congratulatory handshakes on his success, he went up to his father-in-law. Lebrecht Kröger was the only man in the room whose mood had not improved. He sat in his place, cold, remote, and lofty, and answered the information that the carriage would be around at once by saying scornfully, in a voice that trembled more with bitterness than age: “Then the mob permits me to go home?”

With stiff movements that no longer had in them anything of the charm that had been his, he had his fur mantle put about his shoulders, and laid his arm, with a careless “Merci,” on that of the Consul, who offered to accompany him home. The majestic coach, with two large lanterns on the box, stood in the street, where, to the Consul’s great satisfaction, the lamps were now being lighted. They both got in. Silent and stiffly erect, with his eyes half-closed, Lebrecht Kröger sat with the rug over his knees, the Consul at his right hand, while the carriage rolled through the streets. Beneath the points of the old man’s white moustaches two lines ran down perpendicularly from the corners of his mouth to his chin. He was gnawed by chagrin at the insult that had been offered him, and he stared, weary and chilled, at the cushions opposite.

There was more gaiety in the streets than on a Sunday evening. Obviously a holiday temper reigned. The people, delighted at the successful outcome of the revolution, were out in the gayest mood. There was singing. Here and there youngsters shouted “Hurrah!” as the carriage drove past, and threw their caps into the air.

“I really think, Father, you let the matter affect you too much,” the Consul said. “When one thinks of it, what a tom-fool business the whole thing was—simply a farce.” In order to get some reply from the old man he went on to talk about the revolution in lively tones. “When the propertyless class begin to realize how little they serve their own ends—why, good heavens, it’s the same everywhere. I was talking this afternoon with Gosch the broker, a wonderful man, looking at everything with the eyes of a poet and writer. You see, Father, this revolution was made at the aesthetic tea-tables of Berlin. Then the people take their own skin to market—for, of course, they will be the ones to pay for it!”

“It would be a good thing if you would open the window on your side,” said Herr Kröger.

Johann Buddenbrook gave him a quick glance and let the glass down hastily.

“Aren’t you feeling well, dear Father?” he asked anxiously.

“Not at all,” answered Lebrecht Kröger severely.

“You need food and rest,” the Consul said; and in order to be doing something he drew up the fur rug closer about his father-in-law’s knees.

Suddenly—the carriage was rolling through Castle Street—a wretched thing happened. Fifteen paces from the Castle Gate, in the half-dark, they passed a group of noisy and happy street urchins, and a stone flew through the open window. It was a harmless little stone, the size of a hen’s egg, flung by the hand of some Chris Snut or Heine Voss to celebrate the revolution; certainly not with any bad intent, and probably not directed toward the carriage at all. It came noiselessly through the window and struck Lebrecht Kröger in his chest, which was covered with the thick fur rug. Then it rolled down over the cover and fell upon the floor of the coach.

“Clumsy fools!” said the Consul angrily. “Is everybody out of their senses this evening? It didn’t hurt you, did it?”

Old Kröger was silent—alarmingly silent. It was too dark in the carriage to see his expression. He sat straighter, higher, stiffer than ever, without touching the cushions. Then, from deep within him, slowly, coldly, dully, came the single word: “Canaille.”

For fear of angering him further, the Consul made no answer. The carriage clattered through the gate, and three minutes later was in the broad avenue before the gilt-tipped railings that bounded the Kröger domain. A drive bordered with chestnut trees went from the garden gate up to the terrace; and on either side of the gate a gilt-topped lantern was burning brightly. The Consul saw his father-in-law’s face by this light—it was yellow and wrinkled; the firm, contemptuous set of the mouth had given way: it had changed to the lax, silly, distorted expression of a very old man. The carriage stopped before the terrace.

“Help me out,” said Lebrecht Kröger; but the Consul was already out, had thrown back the rug, and offered his arm and shoulder as a support. He led the old man slowly for a few paces across the gravel to the white stone steps that went up to the dining-room. At the foot of these, the old man bent at the knee-joints. His head fell so heavily on his breast that the lower jaw clashed against the upper. His eyes rolled—grew dim; Lebrecht Kröger, the gallant, the cavalier à-la-mode, had joined his fathers.