Buddenbrooks Chapter One

“Good evening, Justus,” said the Frau Consul. “How are you? Sit down.”

Consul Kröger embraced her tenderly and shook hands with his elder niece, who was also present in the dining-room. He was now about fifty-five years old, and wore a heavy round whisker as well as his moustache, leaving his chin free. It was quite grey. His scanty hair was carefully combed over the broad pink expanse of his skull. The sleeve of his elegant frock-coat had a broad mourning band.

“Do you know the latest, Betsy?” he asked. “Yes, Tony, this will particularly interest you. To put it briefly, our property outside the Castle Gate is sold—guess to whom? Not to one man, but to two: for the house is to be pulled down, and a hedge run through diagonally, and Benthien will build himself a dog-kennel on the right side, and Sorenson one on the left. God bless us!”

“Whoever heard the like?” said Frau Grünlich, folding her hands in her lap and gazing up at the ceiling. “Grandfather’s property! Well, now the estate is all haggled up. Its great charm was its extent: there was really too much of it, but that was what made it elegant. The large garden, all the way down to the Trave, the house set far back with the drive, and the chestnut avenue. So it is to be divided. Benthien will stand in front of one door and Sorenson in front of the other. I say, ‘God bless us,’ too, Uncle Justus! I suppose there is nobody grand enough these days to occupy the whole thing. It is good that Grandpapa is not here to see it.”

The sense of mourning still lay too heavily on the air for Tony to give expression to her outraged feelings in livelier or stronger terms. It was the day on which the will had been read, two weeks after the death of the Consul, at half-past five in the afternoon. Frau Consul Buddenbrook had invited her brother to Meng Street, in order that he might talk over the provisions made by the deceased with Thomas and with Herr Marcus the confidential clerk. Tony had announced her intention to be present at the settlements. This attention, she said, she owed to the firm as well as to the family, and she took pains to give the meeting the character of a family council. She had closed me curtains, and despite the two oil lamps on the green-covered dining-table, drawn out to its full extent, she had lighted all the candles in the great gilded candelabrum as well. And, though there was no particular need of them, she had put on the table a quantity of writing paper and sharpened pencils.

Tony’s black frock gave her figure a maidenly slimness. She, of them all, was perhaps most deeply moved by the death of the Consul, to whom she had drawn so close in the last months that even to-day the thought of him made her burst out twice in bitter weeping; yet the prospect of this family council, this solemn little conference in which she could bear a worthy part, had power to flush her pretty cheek, brighten her glance, and give her motions dignity and even joy. The Frau Consul, on the other hand, worn with anxiety and grief and the thousand formalities of the funeral and the mourning, looked ailing. Her face, framed in the black lace of her cap-strings, seemed paler, and her light blue eyes were tired and dull. But there was not a single white hair to be seen in her smooth red-blond coiffure. Was this still the Parisian tonic, or was it the wig? Mamsell Jungmann alone knew, and she would not have betrayed the secret even to the other ladies of the family.

They sat at the end of the table and waited for Herr Marcus and Thomas to come out of the office. The painted statues seemed to stand out white and proud on their pedestals against the sky-blue background.

The Frau Consul said: “The thing is—I bade you come, my dear Justus—in short, it is about Clara, the child. My beloved husband left to me the choice of a guardian for her—she will need one for three years. I know you do not want to be overburdened with responsibilities. You have duties to your wife and sons—”

“My son, Betsy.”

“Yes, yes, we must be Christlike and merciful, Justus. As we forgive our debtors, it says. Think of our gracious Father in Heaven.”

Her brother looked at her, a little aggrieved. Such turns of phrase had come in the past only from the mouth of the Consul.

“Enough,” she went on. “There are as good as no obligations connected with this service of love. I should like to ask you to accept it.”

“Gladly, Betsy; of course, I’ll do it with pleasure. May I not see my ward? A little too serious, isn’t she, the good child—?” Clara was called. She slowly appeared, all black and pallid, her movements melancholy and full of restraint. She had spent the time since her father’s death in her room praying almost without ceasing. Her dark eyes were immobile; she seemed frozen with grief and awe.

Uncle Justus the gallant stepped up to her, bowed as he pressed her hand, and murmured something appropriate. She went out, after receiving the Frau Consul’s kiss on her stiff lips.

“How is Jürgen?” began the Frau Consul again. Does it agree with him in Wismar?”

“Very well,” answered Justus Kröger, sitting down again with a shrug of the shoulders. “I think he has found his place now. He is a good lad, Betsy, a lad of principle, but—after he had failed twice in the examination, it seemed best—He did not like the law himself, and the position in the post-office at Wismar is quite suitable. Tell me—I hear Christian is coming?”

“Yes, Justus, he is coming. May God watch over him on the seas! I wrote to him the next day after Jean’s death, but he hasn’t even had the letter yet, and then he will take about two months with the sailing-vessel after that. But he must come, Justus; I must see him. Tom says Jean would never have been willing for Christian to give up his position in Valparaiso; but I ask you—nearly eight years since I have seen him! And then, under the circumstances! No, I must have them all about me in this painful time—that is a natural feeling for a mother.”

“Surely, surely,” said Consul Kröger; for she had begun to weep.

“Thomas agrees with me now, too,” she went on; “for where will Christian be better off than in his own father’s business, in Tom’s business? He can stay here, work here. I have been in constant fear that the climate over there might be bad for him—”

Thomas Buddenbrook, accompanied by Herr Marcus, came into the room. Friederich Wilhelm Marcus, for years the dead Consul’s confidential clerk, was a tall man in a brown-skirted coat with a mourning band. He spoke softly, hesitatingly stammering a little and considering each word before he uttered it. He had a habit of slowly and cautiously stroking the red-brown moustache that grew over his mouth with the extended middle and index fingers of his left hand; or he would rub his hands together and let his round brown eyes wander so aimlessly about that he gave the impression of complete confusion and absent-mindedness, though he was always most watchfully bent on the matter in hand.

Thomas Buddenbrook, now the youthful head of the great house, displayed real dignity in manner and bearing. But he was pale. His hands in particular, on one of which shone the Consul’s signet ring with the green stone, were as white as the cuffs beneath his black sleeves—a frozen whiteness which showed that they were quite dry and cold. He had extraordinarily sensitive hands, with beautifully cared-for oval bluish fingernails. Sometimes, in a difficult situation, they would take positions or make little nervous movements that were indescribably expressive of shrinking sensibility and painful reserve. This was an individual trait strange heretofore to the rather broad, though finely articulated Buddenbrook hand.

Tom’s first care was to open the folding doors into the landscape-room in order to get the benefit of the warmth from the stove burning there behind the wrought-iron lattice. Then he shook hands with Consul Kröger and sat down at the table with Herr Marcus opposite him. He looked at his sister Tony, and his eyebrow went up in surprise. But she flung her head back and tucked in her chin in a way that warned him to suppress any comment on her presence.

“Well, and one may not say Herr Consul?” asked Justus Kröger. “The Netherlands hope in vain that you should represent them, Tom, my dear chap?”

“Yes, Uncle Justus, I thought it was better. You see, I could have taken over the Consulate along with so many other responsibilities, but in the first place I am a little too young—and then I spoke to Uncle Gotthold, and he was very pleased to accept it.”

“Very sensible, my lad; very politic. And very gentlemanly.”

“Herr Marcus,” said the Frau Consul, “my dear Herr Marcus!” And with her usual sweeping gesture she reached out her hand, which he took slowly, with a respectful side-glance: “I have asked you to come up—you know what the affair is; and I know that you are agreed with us. My beloved husband expressed in his final arrangements the wish that after his death you would put your loyal and well-tried powers at the service of the firm, not as an outsider but as partner.”

“Certainly, Frau Consul,” said Herr Marcus, “I must protest that I know how to value the honour your offer does me, being aware, as I am, that the resources I can bring to the firm are but small. In God’s name, I know nothing better to do than thankfully to accept the offer you and your son make me.”

“Yes, Marcus. And I thank you in my turn, most warmly, for your willingness to share with me the great responsibilities which would perhaps be too heavy for me alone.” Thomas Buddenbrook spoke quickly and whole-heartedly, reaching his hand across the table to his partner; for they were already long since agreed on the subject, and this was only the formal expression.

“Company is trumpery—you will spoil our chat, between you,” said Consul Kröger. “And now, shall we run through the provisions, my children? All I have to look out for is the dowry of my ward. The rest is not my affair. Have you a copy of the will here, Betsy? And have you made a rough calculation, Tom?”

“I have it in my head,” said Thomas; and he began, leaning back, looking into the landscape-room, and moving his gold pencil back and forth on the table, to explain how matters stood. The truth was that the Consul’s estate was more considerable than any one had supposed. The dowry of his oldest daughter, indeed, was gone, and the losses which the firm had suffered in the Bremen failure in 1851 had been a heavy blow. And the year ’48, as well as the present year ’55, with their unrest and interval of war, had brought losses. But the Buddenbrook share of the Kröger estate of four hundred thousand current marks had been full three hundred thousand, for Justus had already had much of his beforehand. Johann Buddenbrook had continually complained, as a merchant will; but the losses of the firm had been made good by the accrued profits of some fifteen years, amounting to thirty thousand thaler, and thus the property, aside from real estate, amounted in round figures, to seven hundred thousand marks.

Thomas himself, with all his knowledge of the business, had been left in ignorance by his father of this total. The Frau Consul took the announcement with discreet calm; Tony put on an adorable expression of pride and ignorance, and then could not repress an anxious mental query: Is that a lot? Are we very rich now? Herr Marcus slowly rubbed his hands, apparently in absence of mind, and Consul Kröger was obviously bored. But the sum filled Tom himself, as he stated it, with such a rush of excited pride that the effort at self-control made him seem dejected. “We must have already passed the million,” he said. He controlled his voice, but his hands trembled. “Grandfather could command nine hundred thousand marks in his best time; and we’ve made great efforts since then, and had successes, and made fine coups here and there. And Mamma’s dowry, and Mamma’s inheritance! There was the constant breaking up—well, good heavens, that lay in the nature of things! Please forgive me if I speak just now in the sense of the firm and not of the family. These dowries and payments to Uncle Gotthold and to Frankfort, these hundreds or thousands which had to be drawn out of the business—and then there were only two heirs beside the head of the firm. Good; we have our work cut out for us, Marcus.” The thirst for action, for power and success, the longing to force fortune to her knees, sprang up quick and passionate in his eyes. He felt all the world looking at him expectantly, questioning if he would know how to command prestige for the firm and the family and protect its name. On exchange he had been meeting measuring side-looks out of jovial, mocking old eyes, that seemed to be saying “So you’re taking it on, my son!” “I am!” he thought.

Friederich Wilhelm Marcus rubbed his hands circumspectly, and Justus Kröger said: “Quietly, quietly, my dear chap. Times aren’t what they were when your grandfather was a Prussian army contractor.”

There began now a detailed conversation upon the provisions of the will, in which they all joined, and Consul Kröger took a lighter tone, referring to Thomas as “his Highness the reigning Prince” and saying, “The warehouses will go with the crown, according to tradition.” In general, of course, it was decided that as far as possible everything should be left together, that Frau Elizabeth Buddenbrook should be considered the sole heir, and that the entire property should remain in the business. Herr Marcus announced that as partner he should be able to strengthen the working capital by a hundred and twenty thousand marks current. A sum of fifty thousand marks was set aside as a private fortune for Thomas, and the same for Christian, in case he wished to establish himself separately. Justus Kröger paid close attention to the passage that ran: “The fixing of the dowry of my beloved daughter Clara I leave to the discretion of my dear wife.” “Shall we say a hundred thousand?” he suggested, leaning back, one leg crossed over the other, and turning up his short grey moustache with both hands. He was affability itself. But the sum was fixed at eighty thousand. “In case of a second marriage of my dearly loved older daughter Antonie, in view of the fact that eighty thousand marks have already been applied to her first marriage, the sum of seventeen thousand thaler current must not be exceeded.” Frau Antonie waved her arm with a graceful but excited gesture which tossed back her flowing sleeve; she looked at the ceiling and said loudly: “Grünlich, indeed!” It sounded like a challenge, like a little trumpet-call. “You know, Herr Marcus,” she said, “about that man. We are sitting, one fine afternoon, perfectly innocent, in the garden, in front of the door—you know the portal, Herr Marcus. Well! Who appears? a person with gold-coloured whiskers—the scoundrel!”

“Yes,” Thomas said. “We will talk about Herr Grünlich afterward.”

“Very well; but you are a clever creature, and you will admit, Tom, that in this life things don’t always happen fairly and squarely. That’s been my experience, though a short time ago I was too simple to realize it.”

“Yes,” Tom said. They went into detail, noting the Consul’s instructions about the great family Bible, about his diamond buttons, and many, many other matters.

Justus Kröger and Herr Marcus stopped for supper.