Buddenbrooks Chapter Seven

Winter had come, Christmas had passed. It was January, 1875. The snow, which covered the foot-walks in a firm-trodden mass, mingled with sand and ashes, was piled on either side of the road in high mounds that were growing greyer and more porous all the time, for the temperature was rising. The pavements were wet and dirty, the grey gables dripped. But above all stretched the heavens, a cloudless tender blue, while millions of light atoms seemed to dance like crystal motes in the air.

It was a lively sight in the centre of the town, for this was Saturday, and market-day as well. Under the pointed arches of the Town Hall arcades the butchers had their stalls and weighed out their wares red-handed. The fish-market, however, was held around the fountain in the market-square itself. Here fat old women, with their hands in muffs from which most of the fur was worn off, warming their feet at little coal-braziers, guarded their slippery wares and tried to cajole the servants and housewives into making purchases. There was no fear of being cheated. The fish would certainly be fresh, for the most of them were still alive. The luckiest ones were even swimming about in pails of water, rather cramped for space, but perfectly lively. Others lay with dreadfully goggling eyes and labouring gills, clinging to life and slapping the marble slab desperately with their tails—until such time as their fate was at hand, when somebody would seize them and cut their throats with a crunching sound. Great fat eels writhed and wreathed about in extraordinary shapes. There were deep vats full of black masses of crabs from the Baltic. Once in a while a big flounder gave such a desperate leap that he sprang right off his slab and fell down upon the slippery pavement, among all the refuse, and had to picked up and severely admonished by his possessor.

Broad Street, at midday, was full of life. Schoolchildren with knapsacks on their backs came along the street, filling it with laughter and chatter, snowballing each other with the half-melting snow. Smart young apprentices passed, with Danish sailor caps or suits cut after the English model, carrying their portfolios and obviously pleased with themselves for having escaped from school. Among the crowd were settled, grey-bearded, highly respectable citizens, wearing the most irreproachable national-liberal expression on their faces, and tapping their sticks along the pavement. These looked across with interest to the glazed-brick front of the Town Hall, where the double guard was stationed; for the Senate was in session. The sentries trod their beat, wearing their cloaks, their guns on their shoulders, phlegmatically stamping their feet in the dirty half-melted snow. They met in the centre of their beat, looked at each other, exchanged a word, turned, and moved away each to his own side. Sometimes a lieutenant would pass, his coat-collar turned up, his hands in his pockets, on the track of some grisette, yet at the same time permitting himself to be admired by young ladies of good family; and then each sentry would stand at attention in front of his box, look at himself from head to foot, and present arms. It would be a little time yet before they would perform the same salute before the members of the Senate, the sitting lasted some three quarters of an hour; it would probably adjourn before that.

But one of the sentries suddenly heard a short, discreet whistle from within the building. At the same moment the entrance was illumined by the red uniform of Uhlefeld the beadle, with his dress sword and cocked hat. His air of preoccupation was simply enormous as he uttered a stealthy “Look out” and hastily withdrew. At the same moment approaching steps were heard on the echoing flags within.

The sentries front-faced, inflated their chests, stiffened their necks, grounded their arms, and then, with a couple of rapid motions, presented arms. Between them there had appeared, lifting his top hat, a gentleman of scarcely medium height, with one light eyebrow higher than the other and the pointed ends of his moustaches extending beyond his pallid cheeks. Senator Thomas Buddenbrook was leaving the Town Hall to-day long before the end of the sitting. He did not take the street to his own house, but turned to the right instead. He looked correct, spotless, and elegant as, with the rather hopping step peculiar to him, he walked along Broad Street, constantly saluting people whom he met. He wore white kid gloves, and he had his stick with the silver handle under his left arm. A white dress tie peeped forth from between the lapels of his fur coat. But his head and face, despite their careful grooming, looked rather seedy. People who passed him noticed that his eyes were watering and that he held his mouth shut in a peculiar cautious way; it was twisted a little to one side, and one could see by the muscles of his cheeks and temples that he was clenching his jaw. Sometimes he swallowed, as if a liquid kept rising in his mouth.

“Well, Buddenbrook, so you are cutting the session? That is something new,” somebody said unexpectedly to him at the beginning of Mill Street. It was his friend and admirer Stephan Kistenmaker, whose opinion on all subjects was the echo of his own. Stephan Kistenmaker had a full greying beard, bushy eyebrows, and a long nose full of large pores. He had retired from the wine business a few years back with a comfortable sum, and his brother Edouard carried it on by himself. He lived now the life of a private gentleman; but, being rather ashamed of the fact, he always pretended to be overwhelmed with work. “I’m wearing myself out,” he would say, stroking his grey hair, which he curled with the tongs. “But what’s a man good for, but to wear himself out?” He stood hours on ’Change, gesturing imposingly, but doing no business. He held a number of unimportant offices, the latest one being Director of the city bathing establishments; but he also functioned as juror, broker, and executor, and laboured with such zeal that the perspiration dripped from his brow.

“There’s a session, isn’t there, Buddenbrook—and you are taking a walk?”

“Oh, it’s you,” said the Senator in a low voice, moving his lips cautiously. “I’m suffering frightfully—I’m nearly blind with pain.”

“Pain? Where?”

“Toothache. Since yesterday. I did not close my eyes last night. I have not been to the dentist yet, because I had business in the office this morning, and then I did not like to miss the sitting. But I couldn’t stand it any longer. I’m on my way to Brecht.”

“Where is it?”

“Here on the left side, the lower jaw. A back tooth. It is decayed, of course. The pain is simply unbearable. Good-bye, Kistenmaker. You can understand that I am in a good deal of a hurry.”

“Yes, of course—don’t you think I am, too? Awful lot to do. Good-bye. Good luck! Have it out—get it over with at once—always the best way.”

Thomas Buddenbrook went on, biting his jaws together, though it made the pain worse to do so. It was a furious burning, boring pain, starting from the infected back tooth and affecting the whole side of the jaw. The inflammation throbbed like red-hot hammers; it made his face burn and his eves water. His nerves were terribly affected by the sleepless night he had spent. He had had to control himself just now, lest his voice break as he spoke.

He entered a yellow-brown house in Mill Street and went up to the first storey, where a brass plate on the door said, “Brecht, Dentist.” He did not see the servant who opened the door. The corridor was warm and smelled of beefsteak and cauliflower. Then he suddenly inhaled the sharp odour of the waiting-room into which he was ushered. “Sit down! One moment!” shrieked the voice of an old woman. It was Josephus, who sat in his shining cage at the end of the room and regarded him sidewise out of his venomous little eyes.

The Senator sat down at the round table and tried to read the jokes in a volume of Fliegende Bl├Ątter, flung down the book, and pressed the cool silver handle of his walking-stick against his cheek. He closed his burning eyes and groaned. There was not a sound, except for the noise made by Josephus as he bit and clawed at the bars of his cage. Herr Brecht might not be busy; but he owed it to himself to make his patient wait a little.

Thomas Buddenbrook stood up precipitately and drank a glass of water from the bottle on the table. It tasted and smelled of chloroform. Then he opened the door into the corridor and called out in an irritated voice: if there were nothing very important to prevent it, would Herr Brecht kindly make haste—he was suffering.

And immediately the bald forehead, hooked nose, and grizzled moustaches of the dentist appeared in the door of the operating-room. “If you please,” he said. “If you please,” shrieked Josephus. The Senator followed on the invitation. He was not smiling. “A bad case,” thought Herr Brecht, and turned pale.

They passed through the large light room to the operating-chair in front of one of the two largest windows. It was an adjustable chair with an upholstered head-rest and green plush arms. As he sat down, Thomas Buddenbrook briefly explained what the trouble was. Then he leaned back his head and closed his eyes.

Herr Brecht screwed up the chair a bit and got to work on the tooth with a tiny mirror and a pointed steel instrument. His hands smelled of almond soap, his breath of cauliflower and beefsteak.

“We must proceed to extraction,” he said, after a while, and turned still paler.

“Very well, proceed, then,” said the Senator, and shut his eyes more tightly.

There was a pause. Herr Brecht prepared something at his chest of drawers and got out his instruments. Then he approached the chair again.

“I’ll paint it a little,” he said; and began at once to apply a strong-smelling liquid in generous quantities. Then he gently implored the patient to sit very still and open his mouth very wide—and then he began.

Thomas Buddenbrook clutched the plush arm-rests with both his hands. He scarcely felt the forceps close around his tooth; but from the grinding sensation in his mouth, and the increasingly painful, really agonizing pressure on his whole head, he was made amply aware that the thing was under way. Thank God, he thought, now it can’t last long. The pain grew and grew, to limitless, incredible heights; it grew to an insane, shrieking, inhuman torture, tearing his entire brain. It approached the catastrophe. ‘Here we are, he thought. Now I must just bear it.’

It lasted three or four seconds. Herr Brecht’s nervous exertions communicated themselves to Thomas Buddenbrook’s whole body, he was even lifted up a little on his chair, and he heard a soft, squeaking noise coining from the dentist’s throat. Suddenly there was a fearful blow, a violent shaking as if his neck were broken, accompanied by a quick cracking, crackling noise. The pressure was gone, but his head buzzed, the pain throbbed madly in the inflamed and ill-used jaw; and he had the clearest impression that the thing had not been successful: that the extraction of the tooth was not the solution of the difficulty, but merely a premature catastrophe which only made matters worse.

Herr Brecht had retreated. He was leaning against his instrument-cupboard, and he looked like death. He said: “The crown—I thought so.”

Thomas Buddenbrook spat a little blood into the blue basin at his side, for the gum was lacerated. He asked, half-dazed: “What did you think? What about the crown?”

“The crown broke off, Herr Senator. I was afraid of it.—The tooth was in very bad condition. But it was my duty to make the experiment.”

“What next?”

“Leave it to me, Herr Senator.”

“What will you have to do now?”

“Take out the roots. With a lever. There are four of them.”

“Four. Then you must take hold and lift four times.”


“Well, this is enough for to-day,” said the Senator. He started to rise, but remained seated and put his head back instead.

“My dear Sir, you mustn’t demand the impossible of me,” he said. “I’m not very strong on my legs, just now. I have had enough for to-day. Will you be so kind as to open the window a little?”

Herr Brecht did so. “It will be perfectly agreeable to me, Herr Senator, if you come in to-morrow or next day, at whatever hour you like, and we can go on with the operation. If you will permit me, I will just do a little more rinsing and pencilling, to reduce the pain somewhat.”

He did the rinsing and pencilling, and then the Senator went. Herr Brecht accompanied him to the door, pale as death, expending his last remnant of strength in sympathetic shoulder-shruggings.

“One moment, please!” shrieked Josephus as they passed through the waiting-room. He still shrieked as Thomas Buddenbrook went down the steps.

With a lever—yes, yes, that was to-morrow. What should he do now? Go home and rest, sleep, if he could. The actual pain in the nerve seemed deadened; in his mouth was only a dull, heavy burning sensation. Home, then. He went slowly through the streets, mechanically exchanging greetings with those whom he met; his look was absent and wandering, as though he were absorbed in thinking how he felt.

He got as far as Fishers’ Lane and began to descend the left-hand sidewalk. After twenty paces he felt nauseated. “I’ll go over to the public house and take a drink of brandy,” he thought, and began to cross the road. But just as he reached the middle, something happened to him. It was precisely as if his brain was seized and swung around, faster and faster, in circles that grew smaller and smaller, until it crashed with enormous, brutal, pitiless force against a stony centre. He performed a half-turn, fell, and struck the wet pavement, his arms outstretched.

As the street ran steeply down hill, his body lay much lower than his feet. He fell upon his face, beneath which, presently, a little pool of blood began to form. His hat rolled a little way off down the road; his fur coat was wet with mud and slush; his hands, in their white kid gloves, lay outstretched in a puddle.

Thus he lay, and thus he remained, until some people came down the street and turned him over.