Buddenbrooks Chapter Nine

It was a day toward the end of November—a cold autumn day with a hazy sky. It looked almost as if there would be snow, and a mist was rising, pierced through every now and then by the sun. It was one of those days, common in a seaport town, when a sharp north-east wind whistled round the massive church corners and influenzas were to be had cheap.

Consul Thomas Buddenbrook entered the breakfast-room toward midday, to find his Mother, with her spectacles on her nose, bent over a paper on the table.

“Tom,” she said; and she looked at him, holding the paper with both hands, as if she hesitated to show it to him. “Don’t be startled. But it is not very good news. I don’t understand—It is from Berlin. Something must have happened.”

“Give it to me, please,” he said shortly. He lost colour, and the muscles stood out on his temples as he clenched his teeth. His gesture as he stretched out his hand was so full of decision that it was as if he said aloud: “Just tell me quickly. Don’t prepare me for it!”

He read the lines still standing; one of his light eyebrows went up, and he drew the long ends of his moustache through his fingers. It was a telegram, and it said: “Don’t be frightened. Am coming at once with Erica. All is over. Your unhappy Antonie.”

“‘At once … at once,’” he said, with irritation, looking at the Frau Consul and giving his head a quick shake. “What does she mean by ‘at once’?”

“That is just a way of putting it, Tom; it doesn’t mean anything particular. She means by the next train, or something like that”.

“And from Berlin! What is she doing in Berlin? How did she get to Berlin?”

“I don’t know, Tom; I don’t understand it. The dispatch only came ten minutes ago. But something must have happened, and we must just wait to see what it is. God in his mercy will turn it all to good. Sit down, my son, and eat your luncheon.”

He took his chair, and mechanically he poured out a glass of porter.

“‘All is over,’” he repeated. And then “‘Antonie.’ How childish!”

He ate and drank in silence.

After a while the Frau Consul ventured to say: “It must be something about Permaneder, don’t you think, Tom?”

He shrugged his shoulders without looking up.

As he went away he said, with his hand on the door-knob, “Well, we must wait and see. As She is not likely to burst into the house in the middle of the night, she will probably reach here some time to-morrow. You will let me know, won’t you?”

The Frau Consul waited from hour to hour. She had slept very badly, and in the night she rang for Ida Jungmann, who now slept in the back room of the entresol. She had Ida make her some eau sucrée; and she sat up in bed for a long time and embroidered. And now the forenoon passed in nervous expectancy. When the Consul came to second breakfast, he said that Tony could not arrive before the three-thirty-three train from Buchen. At that hour the Frau Consul seated herself in the landscape-room and tried to read, out of a book with a black leather cover decorated with a gold palm-leaf.

It was a day like its predecessor: cold, mist, wind. The stove crackled away behind its wrought iron screen. The old lady trembled and looked out of the window whenever she heard a wagon. At four o’clock, when she had stopped watching and almost stopped thinking about her daughter, there was a stir below in the house. She hastily turned toward the window and wiped away the damp with her handkerchief. Yes, a carriage had stopped below, and some one was coming up the steps.

She grasped the arms of her chair with both hands to rise. But then she thought better of it and sank back. She only turned her head as her daughter entered, and her face wore an almost defensive expression. Tony burst impetuously into the room: Erica remained outside at the glass door, with her hand in Ida Jungmann’s.

Frau Permaneder wore a fur wrap and a large felt hat with a veil. She looked very pale and ailing, and her upper lip trembled as it used to when the little Tony was about to weep. Her eyes were red. She raised her arms and let them drop, and then she fell on her knees at her Mother’s side, burying her face in the folds of her gown and sobbing bitterly. It was as though she had rushed straight hither from Munich all in one breath, and now lay there, having gained the goal of her headlong flight, exhausted but safe. The Frau Consul sat a moment quite still.

“Tony!” she said then, with gentle remonstrance. She drew the long hatpins out of Frau Permaneder’s hat and laid it on the window-seat; then she stroked gently and soothingly her daughter’s thick ash-blond hair.

“What is it, my child? What has happened?”

But she saw that patience was her only weapon; for it was long before her question drew out any reply.

“Mother!” uttered Frau Permaneder. “Mamma!” But that was all.

The Frau Consul looked toward the glass door and, still embracing her daughter, stretched out her hand to her grandchild, who stood there shyly with her finger to her mouth.

“Come, child; come here and say how do you do. You have grown so big, and you look so strong and well, for which God be thanked. How old are you now, Erica?”

“Thirteen, Grandmamma.”

“Good gracious! A young lady!” She kissed the little maiden over Tony’s head and told her: “Go up with Ida now—we shall soon have dinner. Just now Mamma and I want to talk.”

They were alone.

“Now, my dear Tony? Can you not stop crying? When God sends us a heavy trial, we must bear it with composure. ‘Take your cross upon you,’ we are told. Would you like to go up first and rest a little and refresh yourself, and then come down to me again? Our good Jungmann has your room ready. Thanks for your telegram—of course, it shocked us a good deal—”

She stopped. For Tony’s voice came, all trembling and smothered, out of the folds of her gown: “He is a wicked man—a wicked man! Oh, he is—”

Frau Permaneder seemed not able to get away from this dreadful phrase. It possessed her altogether. She buried her face deeper and deeper in the Frau Consul’s lap and clenched her fist beside the Frau Consul’s chair.

“Do you mean your husband, my child?” asked the old lady, after a pause. “It ought not to be possible for me to have such a thought in my mind, I know; but you leave me nothing else to think, Tony. Has Herr Permaneder done you an injury? Are you making a complaint of him?”

“Babette,” Frau Permaneder brought out. “Babette—”

“Babette?” repeated the Frau Consul, inquiringly. Then she leaned back in her chair, and her pale eyes wandered toward the window. She understood now. There was a pause, broken by Tony’s gradually decreasing sobs.

“Tony,” said the Frau Consul after a little space, “I see now that there has been an injury done you—that you have cause to complain. But was it necessary to give the sense of injury such violent expression? Was it necessary to travel here from Munich, with Erica, and to make it appear—for other people will not be so sensible as we are—that you have left him permanently; that you will not go back to him?”

“But I won’t go back to him—never!” cried Frau Permaneder, and she lifted up her head with a jerk and looked at her Mother wildly with tear-stained eyes, and then buried her face again. The Frau Consul affected not to have heard.

“But now,” she went on, in a louder key, slowly nodding her head from one side to the other, “now that you are here, I am glad you are. For you can unburden your heart, and tell me everything, and then we shall see how we can put things right, by taking thought, and by mutual forbearance and affection.”

“Never,” Tony said again. “Never!” And then she told her story. It was not all intelligible, for she spoke into the folds of her Mother’s stuff gown, and broke into her own narrative with explosions of passionate anger. But what had happened was somewhat as follows:

On the night of the twenty-fourth of the month, Madame Permaneder had gone to sleep very late, having been disturbed during the day by the nervous digestive trouble to which she was subject. She had been awakened about midnight, out of a light slumber, by a Confused and continuous noise outside on the landing—a half-suppressed, mysterious noise, in which one distinguished the creaking of the stairs, a sort of giggling cough, smothered, protesting words, and, mixed with these, the most singular snarling sounds. But there was no doubt whence they proceeded. Frau Permaneder had hardly, with her sleepy senses, taken them in before she interpreted them as well, in such a way that she felt the blood leave her cheeks and rush to her heart, which contracted and then went on beating with heavy, oppressed pulsations. For a long, dreadful minute she lay among the pillows as if stunned, as if paralysed. Then, as the shameless disturbance did not stop, she had with trembling hands kindled a light, had left her bed, thrilling with horror, repulsion, and despair, had opened the door and hurried out on to the landing in her slippers, the light in her hand—to the top of the “ladder” that went straight up from the house door to the first storey. And there, on the upper steps, in all its actuality, was indeed the very scene she had pictured in her mind’s eye as she listened to the compromising noises. It was an unseemly and indecent scuffle, a sort of wrestling match between Babette the cook and Herr Permaneder. The girl most have been busied late about the house, for she had her bunch of keys and her candle in her hand as she swayed back and forth in the effort to fend her master off. He, with his hat on the back of his head, held her round the body and kept making essays, now and then successfully, to press his face, with its great walrus moustache, against hers. As Antonie appeared, Babette exclaimed something that sounded like “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”—and “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” echoed Herr Permaneder likewise, as he let go. Almost in the same second the girl vanished, and there was Herr Permaneder left standing before his wife, with drooping head, drooping arms, drooping moustaches too; and all he could get out was some idiotic remark like “Holy Cross, what a mess!” When he ventured to lift his eyes, she was no longer there. She was in the bed-chamber, half-sitting, half-lying on the bed, repeating over and over again with frantic sobbing, “Shame, shame!” He leaned rather flabbily in the doorway and jerked his shoulder in her direction—had he been closer, the gesture would have been a nudge in the ribs. “Hey, Tonerl—don’t be a fool, you know. Say—you know Franz, the Ramsau Franz, he had his name-day to-day, and we’re all half-seas over.” Strong alcoholic fumes pervaded the room as he spoke; and they brought Frau Permaneder’s excitement to a climax. She sobbed no more, she was no longer weak and faint. Carried away by frenzy, incapable of measuring her words, she poured out her disgust, her abhorrence, her complete and utter contempt and loathing of him and all his ways. Herr Permaneder did not take it meekly. His head was hot; for he had treated his friend Franz not only to many beers, but to “champagne wine” as well. He answered and answered wildly—the quarrel reached a height far greater than the one that had signalized Herr Permaneder’s retirement into private life, and it ended in Frau Antonie gathering her clothes together and withdrawing into the living-room for the night. And at the end he had flung at her a word—a word which she would not repeat—a word that should never pass her lips—a word …

This was the major content of the confession which Frau Permaneder had sobbed into the folds of her mother’s gown. But the “word,” the word that in that fearful night had sunk into her very depths—no, she would not repeat it; no, she would not, she asseverated,—although her mother had not in the least pressed her to do so, but only nodded her head, slowly, almost imperceptibly, as she looked down on Tony’s lovely ash-blond hair.

“Yes, yes,” she said; “this is very sad, Tony. And I understand it all, my dear little one, because I am not only your Mamma, but I am a woman like you as well. I see now how fully your grief is justified, and how completely your husband, in a moment of weakness, forgot what he owed to you and—”

“In a moment—?” cried Tony. She sprang up. She made two steps backward and feverishly dried her eyes. “A moment, Mamma! He forgot what he owed to me and to our name? He never knew it, from the very beginning! A man that quietly sits down with his wife’s dowry—a man without ambition or energy or will-power! A man that has some kind of thick soup made out of hops in his veins instead of blood—and I verily believe he has! And to let himself down to such common doings as this with Babette—and when I reproached him with his good-for-nothingness, to answer with a word that—a word—”

And, arrived once more at the word, the word she would not repeat, quite suddenly she took a step forward and said, in a completely altered, a quieter, milder, interested tone: “How perfectly sweet! Where did you get that Mamma?” She motioned with her chin toward a little receptacle, a charming basket-work stand woven out of reeds and decorated with ribbon bows, in which the Frau Consul kept her fancy-work.

“I bought it, some time ago,” answered the old lady. “I needed it.”

“Very smart,” Tony said, looking at it with her head on one side. The Frau Consul looked at it too, but without seeing it, for she was in deep thought.

“Now, my dear daughter,” she said at last, putting out her hand again, “however things are, you are here, and welcome a hundred times to your old home. We can talk everything over when we are calmer. Take your things off in your room and make yourself comfortable. Ida!” she called into the dining-room, lifting her voice, “lay a place for Madame Permaneder, and one for Erica, my dear.”