Buddenbrooks Chapter One

When Herr Hugo Weinschenk—in his buttoned-up frock-coat, with his drooping lower lip and his narrow black moustaches, which grew, in the most masculine way imaginable, right into the corners of his mouth; with both his fists held out in front of him, and making little motions with his elbows at about the height of his waist—when Herr Hugo Weinschenk, now for some time Director of the City Fire Insurance Company, crossed the great entry in Meng Street and passed, with a swinging, pompous stride, from his front to his back office, he gave an impressive impersonation of an energetic and prosperous man.

And Erica Grünlich, on the other hand, was now twenty years old: a tall, blooming girl, fresh-coloured and pretty, full of health and strength. If chance took her up or down the stairs just as Herr Weinschenk passed that way—and chance did this not seldom—the Director took off his top-hat, displaying his short black hair, which was already greying at the temples, minced rather more than ever at the waist of his frockcoat, and greeted the young girl with an admiring glance from his bold and roving brown eye. Whereat Erica ran away, sat down somewhere in a window, and wept for hours out of sheer helpless confusion.

Fräulein Grünlich had grown up under Therese Weichbrodt’s care and correction: her thoughts did not fly far afield. She wept over Herr Weinschenk’s top-hat, the way he raised his eyebrows at sight of her and let them fall; over his regal bearing and his balancing fists. Her mother, Frau Permaneder, saw further.

Her daughter’s future had troubled her for years; for Erica was at a disadvantage compared with other young girls of her age. Frau Permaneder not only did not go into society, she was actually at war with it. The conviction that the “best people” thought slightingly of her because of her two divorces, had become almost a fixed idea; and she read contempt and aversion where probably there was only indifference. Consul Hermann Hagenström, for instance, simple and liberal-minded man that he was, would very likely have been perfectly glad to greet her on the street; his money had only increased his joviality and good nature. But she stared with her head flung back, past his “goose-liver-paté” face, which, to use her own strong language, she “hated like the plague”—and her look, of course, distinctly forbade him. So Erica grew up outside her uncle’s social circle; she frequented no balls, and had small chance of meeting eligible young gentlemen.

Yet it was Frau Antonie’s most ardent hope, especially after she herself had “failed in business,” as she said, that her daughter might realize her own unfulfilled dream of a happy and advantageous marriage, which should redound to the glory of the family and sink the mother’s failure in final oblivion. Tony longed for this beyond everything, and chiefly now for her brother’s sake, who had latterly shown so little optimism, as a sign to him that the luck of the family was not yet lost, that they were by no means “at the end of their rope.” Her second dowry, the eighteen thousand thaler so magnanimously returned by Herr Permaneder, lay waiting for Erica; and directly Frau Antonie’s practiced glance marked the budding tenderness between her daughter and the Director, she began to trouble Heaven with a prayer that Herr Weinschenk might be led to visit them.

He was. He appeared in the first storey, where he was received by the three ladies, mother, daughter, and granddaughter, talked for ten minutes, and promised to return another day for coffee and more leisurely conversation.

This too came to pass, and the acquaintance progressed. The Director was a Silesian by birth. His old father, in fact, still lived in Silesia; but the family seemed not to come into consideration, Hugo being, evidently, a “self-made man.” He had the self-consciousness of such men: a not quite native, rather insecure, mistrustful, exaggerated air. His grammar was not perfect, and his conversation was distinctly clumsy. And his countrified frock coat had shiny spots; his cuffs, with large jet cuff-buttons, were not quite fresh; and the nail on the middle finger of his left hand had been crushed in some accident, and was shrivelled and blackened. The impression, on the whole, was rather unpleasing; yet it did not prevent Hugo Weinschenk from being a highly worthy young man, industrious and energetic, with a yearly salary of twelve thousand marks current; nor from being, in Erica Grünlich’s eyes, handsome to boot.

Frau Permaneder quickly looked him over and summed him up. She talked freely with her mother and the Senator. It was clear to her that here was a case of two interests meeting and complementing each other. Director Weinschenk was, like Erica, devoid of every social connection: the two were thus, in a manner, marked out for each other—it was plainly the hand of God himself. If the Director, who was nearing the forties, his hair already sprinkled with grey, desired to found a family appropriate to his station and connections, here was an opening for him into one of the best circles in town, calculated to advance him in his calling and consolidate his position. As for Erica’s welfare, Frau Permaneder could feel confident that at least her own lot would be out of the question. Herr Weinschenk had not the faintest resemblance to Herr Permaneder; and he was differentiated from Bendix Grünlich by his position as an old-established official with a fixed salary—which, of course, did not preclude a further career.

In a word, much good will was shown on both sides. Herr Weinschenk’s visits followed each other in quick succession, and by January—January of the year 1867—he permitted himself to make a brief and manly offer for Erica Grünlich’s hand.

From now on he belonged to the family. He came on children’s day, and was received civilly by the relatives of his betrothed. He must soon have seen that he did not fit very well; but he concealed the fact under an increased assurance of manner, while the Frau Consul, Uncle Justus, and the Senator—though hardly the Broad Street Buddenbrooks—practised a tactful complaisance toward the socially awkward, hard-working official.

And tact was needed. For pauses would come at the family table, when Director Weinschenk tried to make conversation by asking if “orange marmalade” was a “pudden”; when he gave out the opinion that Romeo and Juliet was a piece by Schiller; when his manner with Erica’s cheek or arm became too roguish. He uttered his views frankly and cheerfully, rubbing his hands like a man whose mind is free from care, and leaning back sidewise against the arm of his chair. Some one always needed to fill in the pause by a sprightly or diverting remark.

He got on best with the Senator, who knew how to steer a safe course between politics and business. His relations with Gerda Buddenbrook were hopeless. This lady’s personality put him off to such a degree that he was incapable of finding anything to talk about with her for two minutes on end. The fact that she played the violin made a strong impression upon him; and he finally confined himself, on each Thursday afternoon encounter, to the jovial enquiry, “Well, how’s the fiddle?” After the third time, however, the Frau Senator refrained from reply.

Christian, on the other hand, used to look at his new relative down his nose, and the next day imitate him and his conversation with full details. The second son of the deceased Consul Buddenbrook had been relieved of his rheumatism in Öynhausen; but a certain stiffness of the joints was left, as well as the periodic misery in the left side, where all the nerves were too short, and sundry other ills to which he was heir, as difficulty in breathing and swallowing, irregularity of the heart action, and a tendency to paralysis—or at least to a fear of it. He did not look like a man at the end of the thirties. His head was entirely bald except for vestiges of reddish hair at the back of the neck and on the temples; and his small round roving eyes lay deeper than ever in their sockets. And his great bony nose and his lean, sallow cheeks were startlingly prominent above his heavy drooping red moustaches. His trousers, of beautiful and lasting English stuff, flapped about his crooked emaciated legs.

He had come back once more to his mother’s house, and had a room on the corridor of the first storey. But he spent more of his time at the club than in Meng Street, for life there was not made any too pleasant for him. Riekchen Severin, Ida Jungmann’s successor, who now reigned over the Frau Consul’s household and managed the servants, had a peasant’s instinct for hard facts. She was a thick-set country-bred creature, with coarse lips and fat red cheeks. She perceived directly that it was not worth while to put herself out for this idle story-teller, who was silly and ill by turns, whom his brother, the Senator—the real head of the family—ignored with lifted eyebrows. So she quite calmly neglected Christian’s wants. “Gracious, Herr Buddenbrook,” she would say, “you needn’t think as I’ve got time for the likes of you!” Christian would look at her with his nose all wrinkled up, as if to say “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” and go his stiff-kneed way.

“Do you think,” he said to Tony, “that I have a candle to go to bed by? Very seldom. I generally take a match.” The sum his mother could allow him was small. “Hard times,” he would say. “Yes, things were different once. Why, what do you suppose? Sometimes I’ve had to borrow money for tooth-powder!”

“Christian!” cried Frau Permaneder. “How undignified! And going to bed with a match!” She was shocked and outraged in her deepest sensibilities—but that did not mend matters.

The tooth-powder money Christian borrowed from his old friend Andreas Gieseke, Doctor of Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence. He was fortunate in this friendship, and it did him credit; for Dr. Gieseke, though as much of a rake as Christian, knew how to keep his dignity. He had been elected Senator the preceding winter, for Dr. Överdieck had sunk gently to his long rest, and Dr. Langhals sat in his place. His elevation did not affect Andreas Gieseke’s mode of life. Since his marriage with Fräulein Huneus, he had acquired a spacious house in the centre of the town; but as everybody knew, he also owned a certain comfortable little vine-clad villa in the suburb of St. Gertrude, which was charmingly furnished, and occupied quite alone by a still young and uncommonly pretty person of unknown origin. Above the house-door, in ornamental gilt lettering, was the word “Quisisana,” by which name the retired little dwelling was known throughout the town, where they pronounced it with a very soft s and a very broad a. Christian Buddenbrook, as Senator Gieseke’s best friend, had obtained entry into Quisisana, and been successful there, as formerly with Aline Puvogel in Hamburg, and on other occasions in London, Valparaiso, and sundry other parts of the world. He “told a few stories,” and was “a little friendly”; and now he visited the little vine-clad house on the same footing as Senator Gieseke himself. Whether this happened with the latter’s knowledge and consent, is of course doubtful. What is certain is, that Christian found there, without money and without price, the same friendly relaxation as Dr. Gieseke, who, however, had to pay for the same with his wife’s money.

A short time after the betrothal of Hugo Weinschenk and Erica Grünlich, the Director proposed to his relative that he should enter the Insurance office; and Christian actually worked for two weeks in the service of the Company. But the misery in his side began to get worse, and his other, indefinable ills as well; and the Director proved to be a domineering superior, who did not hesitate, on the occasion of a little misunderstanding, to call his relative a booby. So Christian felt constrained to leave this post too.

Madame Permaneder, at this period of the family’s history, was in such a joyful mood that her happiness found vent in shrewd observations about life: how, when all was said and done, it had its good side. Truly, she bloomed anew in these weeks; and their invigorating activity, the manifold plans, the search for suitable quarters, and the feverish preoccupation with furnishings brought back with such force the memories of her first betrothal that she could not but feel young again—the young and boundlessly hopeful. Much of the graceful high spirits of girlhood returned to her ways, and movements; indeed, she profaned the mood of one entire Jerusalem evening by such uncontrollable hilarity that even Lea Gerhardt let the book of her ancestor fall in her lap and stared about the room with the great, innocent, startled eyes of the deaf.

Erica was not to be parted from her mother. The Director agreed—nay, it was even his wish,—that Frau Antonie should live with the Weinschenks, at least at first, and help the inexperienced Erica with her housekeeping. And it was precisely this which called up in her the most priceless feeling, as though no Bendix Grünlich or Alois Permaneder had ever existed, and all the trials, disappointments, and sufferings of her life were as nothing, and she might begin anew and with fresh hopes. She bade Erica be grateful to God, who bestowed upon her the one man of her desire, whereas the mother had been obliged to offer up her first and dearest choice on the altar of duty and reason. It was Erica’s name which, with a hand trembling with joy, she inscribed in the family book next the Director’s. But the, Tony Buddenbrook, was the real bride. It was she who might once more ransack furniture and upholstery shops and test hangings and carpets with a practised hand; she who once more found and rented a truly “elegant” apartment. It was she who was once more to leave the pious and roomy parental mansion and cease to be a divorced wife; she who might once more lift her head and begin a new life, calculated to arouse general remark and enhance the prestige of the family. Even—was it a dream?—dressing-gowns appeared upon the horizon: two dressing-gowns, for Erica and herself, of soft, woven stuff, with close rows of velvet trimming from neck to hem!

The weeks fled by—the last weeks of Erica Grünlich’s maidenhood. The young pair had made calls in only a few houses; for the Director, a serious and preoccupied man, with no social experience, intended to devote what leisure he had to intimate domesticity. There was a betrothal dinner in the great salon of the house in Fishers’ Lane, at which, besides Thomas and Gerda, there were present the bridal pair and Henriette, Friederike and Pfiffi Buddenbrook, and some close friends of the Senator; and the Director continually pinched the bare shoulders of his fiancée, rather to the disgust of the other guests. And the wedding day drew near.

The marriage was solemnized in the columned hall, as on that other occasion when it was Frau Grünlich who wore the myrtle. Frau Stuht from Bell-Founders’ Street, the same who moved in the best circles, helped to arrange the folds of the bride’s white satin gown and pin on the decorations. The Senator gave away the bride, supported by Christian’s friend Senator Gieseke, and two school friends of Erica’s acted as bridesmaids. Director Hugo Weinschenk looked imposing and manly, and only trod once on Erica’s flowing veil on the way to the improvised altar. Pastor Pringsheim held his hands clasped beneath his chin, and performed the service with his accustomed air of sweet exaltation; and everything went off with dignity and according to rule. When the rings were exchanged, and the deep and the treble “yes” sounded in the hush (both a trifle husky), Frau Permaneder, overpowered by the past, the present, and the future, burst into audible sobs: just the unthinking, unembarrassed tears of her childhood. And the sisters Buddenbrook—Pfiffi, in honour of the day, was wearing a gold chain to her pince-nez—smiled a little sourly, as always on such occasions. But Mademoiselle Weichbrodt, who had grown shorter with the lengthening years, and had the oval brooch with the miniature of her mother around her thin neck—Sesemi said, with the disproportionate solemnity which hides deep emotion: “Be happy, you good che-ild!”

Followed a banquet, as solemn as solid, beneath the eyes of the white Olympians, looking down composedly from their blue background. As it drew toward its end, the newly wedded pair disappeared, to begin their wedding journey, which was to include visits to several large cities. All this was at the middle of April; and in the next two weeks, Frau Permaneder, assisted by the upholsterer Jacobs, accomplished one of her masterpieces: she moved into and settled the spacious first storey which she had rented in a house halfway down Baker Alley. There, in a bower of flowers, she welcomed the married pair on their return.

And thus began Tony Buddenbrook’s third marriage.

Yes, this was really the right way to put it. The Senator himself, one Thursday afternoon when the Weinschenks were not present, had called it that, and Frau Permaneder quite relished the joke. All the cares of the new household fell upon her, but she reaped her reward in pride and pleasure. One day she happened to meet on the street Frau Consul Julchen Möllendorpf, born Hagenström, into whose face she looked with a challenging, triumphant glance; it actually dawned upon Frau Möllendorpf that she had better speak first, and she did. Tony waxed so important in her pride and joy, when she showed off the new house to visiting relatives, that little Erica, beside her, seemed but a guest herself.

Frau Antonie displayed the house to their guests, the train of her morning gown dragging behind her, her shoulders up and her head thrown back, carrying on her arm the key-basket with its bow of satin ribbon. She displayed the furniture, the hangings, the translucent porcelain, the gleaming silver, the large oil paintings. These last had been purchased by the Director, and were nearly all still-lifes of edibles or nude figures of women, for such was Hugo Weinschenk’s taste. Tony’s every movement seemed to say: “See, I have managed all this for the third time in my life! It is almost as fine as Grünlich’s, and much finer than Permaneder’s!”

The old Frau Consul came, in a black and grey striped silk, giving out a discreet odour of patchouli. She surveyed everything with her pale, calm eyes and, without any loud expressions of admiration, professed herself pleased with the effect. The Senator came, with his wife and child; he and Gerda hugely enjoyed Tony’s blissful self-satisfaction, and with difficulty prevented her from killing her adored little Johann with currant bread and port wine. The Misses Buddenbrook came, and were unanimously of opinion that it was all very fine—of course, being modest people themselves, they would not care to live in it. Poor, lean, grey, patient, hungry Clothilde came, submitted to the usual teasing, and drank four cups of coffee, praising everything the while, in her usual friendly drawl. Even Christian appeared now and then, when there was nobody at the club, drank a little glass of Benedictine, and talked about a project he had of opening an agency for champagne and brandy. He knew the business, and it was a light, agreeable job, in which a man could be his own master, write now and then in a note-book, and make thirty thaler by turning over his hand. Then he borrowed a little money from Frau Permaneder to buy a bouquet for the leading lady at the theatre; came, by God knows what train of thought, to Maria and the depravity in London; and then lighted upon the story of the mangy dog that travelled all the way from Valparaiso to San Francisco in a hand-satchel. By this time he was in full swing, and narrated with such gusto, verve, and irresistible drollery that he would have held a large audience spell-bound.

He narrated like one inspired; he possessed the gift of tongues. He narrated in English, Spanish, low German, and Hamburgese; he depicted stabbing affrays in Chile and pickpocketings in Whitechapel. He drew upon his repertory of comic songs, and half sung, half recited, with incomparable pantomime and highly suggestive gesture:

“I sauntered out one day.

In an idle sort o’ way,

And chanced to see a maid, ahead o’ me.

She’d such a charmin’ air,

Her—behind—was French, I’d swear,

And she wore her ’at as rakish as could be.

I says, ‘My pretty dear,

Since you an’ I are ’ere,

Perhaps you’d take me arm and walk along?’

She turned her pretty ’ead,

And looked—at me—and said,

‘You just get on, my lad, and hold your tongue!’”

From this he went off on an account of a performance at the Renz Circus, in Hamburg, and reproduced a turn by a troupe of English vaudeville artists, in such a way that you felt you were actually present. There was the usual hubbub behind the curtain, shouts of “Open the door, will you!” quarrels with the ringmaster; and then, in a broad, lugubrious English-German, a whole string of stories: the one about the man who swallowed a mouse in his sleep, and went to the vet., who advised him to swallow a cat; and the one about “my grandmother—lively old girl, she was”—who, on her way to the railway station, encounters all sorts of adventures, ending with the train pulling out of the station in front of the nose of the “lively old girl.” And then Christian broke off with a triumphant “Orchestra!” and made as if he had just waked up and was very surprised that no music was forthcoming.

But, quite suddenly, he stopped. His face changed, his motions relaxed. His little deep round eyes began to stray moodily about; he rubbed his left side with his hand, and seemed to be listening to uncanny sounds within himself. He drank another glass of liqueur, which relieved him a little. Then he tried to tell another story, but broke down in a fit of depression.

Frau Permaneder, who in these days was uncommonly prone to laugh and had enjoyed the performance hugely, accompanied her brother to the door, in rather a prankish mood. “Adieu, Herr Agent,” said she. “Minnesinger—Ninnysinger! Old goose! Come again soon!” She laughed full-throatedly behind him and went back into her house.

But Christian did not mind. He did not even hear her, so deep was he in thought. “Well,” he said to himself, “I’ll go over to Quisisana for a bit.” His hat a little awry, leaning on his stick with the nun’s bust for a handle, he went slowly and stiffly down the steps.