Buddenbrooks Chapter Nine

Frau Permaneder was going along Broad Street in a great hurry. There was something abandoned about her air: she showed almost none of the impressive bearing usual to her on the street. Hunted and harassed, in almost violent haste, she had as it were been able to save only a remnant of her dignity—like a beaten king who gathers what is left of his army about him to seek safety in the arms of flight.

She looked pitiable indeed. Her upper lip, that arched upper lip that had always done its share to give charm to her face, was quivering now, and the eyes were large with apprehension. They were very bright and stared fixedly ahead of her, as though they too were hurrying onward. Her hair came in disorder from under her close hat, and her face showed the pale yellow tint which it always had when her digestion took a turn for the worse.

Her digestion was obviously worse in these days. The family noticed that on Thursdays. And no matter how hard every one tried to keep off the rocks, the conversation always made straight for them and stuck there: on the subject of Hugo Weinschenk’s trial. Frau Permaneder herself led up to it. She would call on God and her fellow men to tell her how Public Prosecutor Moritz Hagenström could sleep of nights. For her part, she could not understand it—she never would! Her agitation increased with every word. “Thank you, I can’t eat,” she would say, and push away her plate. She would elevate her shoulders, toss her head, and in the height of her passion fall back upon the practice, acquired in her Munich years, of taking nothing but beer, cold Bavarian beer, poured into an empty stomach, the nerves of which were in rebellion and would revenge themselves bitterly. Toward the end of the meal she always had to get up and go down to the garden or the court, where she suffered the most dreadful fits of nausea, leaning upon Ida Jungmann or Riekchen Severin. Her stomach would finally relieve itself of its contents, and contract with spasms of pain, which sometimes lasted for minutes and would continue at intervals for a long time.

It was about three in the afternoon, a windy, rainy January day. Frau Permaneder turned the corner at Fishers’ Lane and hurried down the steep declivity to her brother’s house. After a hasty knock she went from the court straight into the bureau, her eye flying across the desks to where the Senator sat in his seat by the window. She made such an imploring motion with her head that he put down his pen without more ado and went to her.

“Well?” he said, one eyebrow lifted.

“A moment, Thomas—it’s very pressing; there’s no time to waste.”

He opened the baize door of his private office, closed it behind him when they were both inside, and looked at his sister inquiringly.

“Tom,” she said, her voice quavering, wringing her hands inside her muff, “you must give it to us—lay it out for us—you will, won’t you?—the money for the bond, I mean. We haven’t it—where should we get twenty-five thousand marks from, I should like to know? You will get them back—you’ll get them back all too soon, I’m afraid. You understand—the thing is this: in short, they have reached a point where Hagenström demands immediate arrest or else a bond of twenty-five thousand marks. And Weinschenk will give you his word not to stir from the spot—”

“Has it really come to that?” the Senator said, shaking his head.

“Yes, they have succeeded in getting that far, the villains!” Frau Permaneder sank upon the sofa with an impotent sob. “And they will go on; they will go on to the end, Tom.”

“Tony,” he said, and sat down sidewise by his mahogany desk, crossing one leg over the other and leaning his head on his hand, “tell me straight out, do you still have faith in his innocence?”

She sobbed once or twice before she answered, hopelessly: “Oh, no, Tom. How could I? I’ve seen so much evil in the world. I haven’t believed in it from the beginning, even, though I tried my very best. Life makes it so very hard, you know, to believe in any one’s innocence. Oh, no—I’ve had doubts of his good conscience for a long time, and Erica has not known what to make of him—she confessed it to me, with tears—on account of his behaviour at home. We haven’t talked about it, of course. He got ruder and ruder, and kept demanding all the time that Erica should be lively and divert his mind and make him forget his troubles. And he broke the dishes when she wasn’t. You can’t imagine what it was like, when he shut himself up evenings with his papers: when anybody knocked, you could hear him jump up and shout ‘Who’s there?’”

They were silent.

“But suppose he is guilty, Tom. Suppose he did do it,” began Frau Permaneder afresh, and her voice gathered strength. “He wasn’t working for his own pocket, but for the company—and then—good Heavens, in this life, people have to realize—there are other things to be taken into consideration. He married into our family—he is one of us, now. They can’t just go and stick him into prison like that!”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“What are you shrugging your shoulders for, Tom? Do you mean that you are willing to sit down under the last and crowning insult these adventurers think they can offer us? We must do something! He mustn’t be convicted! Aren’t you the Burgomaster’s right hand? My God, can’t the Senate just pardon him if it likes? You know, before I came to you, I nearly went to Cremer, to get him—to implore him to intervene and take a stand in the matter—he is Chief of Police—”

“Oh, child, that is all just nonsense.”

“Nonsense, Tom? And Erica? And the child?” said she, lifting up her muff, with her two imploring hands inside. She was still a moment, she let her arms fall, her chin began to quiver, and two great tears ran down from under her drooping lids. She added softly, “And me?”

“Oh, Tony, be brave,” said the Senator. Her helplessness went through him. He pushed his chair up to hers and stroked her hair, in an effort to console her. “Everything isn’t over, yet. Perhaps it will come out all right. Of course I will give you the money—that goes without saying—and Breslauer’s very clever.”

She shook her head, weeping.

“No, Tom, it will not come out all right. I’ve no hope that it will. They will convict him, and put him in prison—and then the hard time will come for Erica and me. Her dowry is gone: it all went to the setting-out, the furniture and pictures; we sha’n’t get a quarter of it back by selling. And the salary was always spent. We never put a penny by. We will go back to Mother, if she will take us, until he is free. And then where can we go? We’ll just have to sit on the rocks.” She sobbed.

“On the rocks?”

“Oh, that’s just an expression—a figure. What I mean is, it won’t turn out all right. I’ve had too much to bear—I don’t know how I came to deserve it all—but I can’t hope any more. Erica will be like me—with Grünlich and Permaneder. But now you can see just how it is—and how it all comes over you! Could I help it? Could any one help it, I ask you, Tom?” she repeated drearily, and looked at him with her tear-swimming eyes. “Everything I’ve ever undertaken has gone wrong and turned to misfortune—and I’ve meant everything so well. God knows I have! And now this too—This is the last straw—the very last.”

She wept, leaning on the arm which he gently put about her: wept over her ruined life and the quenching of this last hope.

A week later, Herr Director Hugo Weinschenk was sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment, and arrested at once.

There was a very large crowd at the final session. Lawyer Breslauer of Berlin made a speech for the defence the like of which had never been heard before. Gosch the broker went about for weeks afterwards bursting with enthusiasm for the masterly pathos and irony it displayed. Christian Buddenbrook heard it too, and afterward got behind a table at the club, with a pile of newspapers in front of him, and reproduced the whole speech. At home he declared that jurisprudence was the finest profession there was, and he thought it would just have suited him. The Public Prosecutor himself, Dr. Moritz Hagenström, who was a great connoisseur, said in private that the speech had been a genuine treat to him. But the famous advocate’s talents did not prevent his colleagues from thumping him on the back and telling him he had not pulled the wool over their eyes.

The necessary sale followed upon the disappearance of the Director; and when it was over, people in town began gradually to forget about Hugo Weinschenk. But the Misses Buddenbrook, sitting on Thursday at the family table, declared that they had known the first moment, from the man’s eyes, that he was not straight, that his conscience was bad, and that there would be trouble in the end. Certain considerations, which they wished now they had not regarded, had led them to suppress these painful observations.