Buddenbrooks Chapter Seven

Amsterdam, July 30th, 1856



I have just received your important letter, and hasten to thank you for the consideration you snow me in asking for my consent in the affair under discussion. I send you, of course, not only my hearty agreement, but add my warmest good-wishes, being thoroughly convinced that you and Clara have made a good choice. The fine name Tiburtius is known to me, and I feel sure that Papa had business relations with the father. Clara comes into pleasant connections, in any case, and the position as pastor’s wife will be very suited to her temperament.

And Tiburtius has gone back to Riga, and will visit his bride again in August? Well, it will be a gay time then with us in Meng Street—gayer than you realize, for you do not know the reason why I was so joyfully surprised by Mademoiselle Clara’s betrothal, nor what a charming company it is likely to be. Yes, my dear good Mother: I am complying with the request to send my solemn consent to Clara’s betrothal from the Amstel to the Baltic. But I do so on condition that you send me a similar consent by return of post! I would give three solid gulden to see your face, and even more that of our honest Tony, when you read these lines. But I will come to the point.

My clean little hotel is in the centre of the town with a pretty view of the canal. It is not far from the Bourse; and the business on which I came here—a question of a new and valuable connection, which you know I prefer to look after in person—has gone successfully from the first day. I have still considerable acquaintance here from the days of my apprenticeship; so, although many families are at the shore now, I have been invited out a good deal. I have been at small evening companies at the Van Henkdoms and the Moelens, and on the third day after my arrival I had to put on my dress clothes to go to a dinner at the house of my former chief, van der Kellen, which he had arranged out of season in my honour. Whom did I take in to dinner? Should you like to guess? Fräulein Arnoldsen, Tony’s old school-fellow. Her father, the great merchant and almost greater violin artist, and his married daughter and her husband were also of the party.

I well remember that Gerda—if I may call her so—from the beginning, even when she was a young girl at school at Fräulein Weichbrodt’s on the Millbrink, made a strong impression on me, never quite obliterated. But now I saw her again, taller, more developed, lovelier, more animated. Please spare me a description, which might so easily sound overdrawn—and you will soon see each other face to face.

You can imagine we had much to talk about at the table, but we had left the old memories behind by the end of the soup, and went on to more serious and fascinating matters. In music I could not hold my own with her, for we poor Buddenbrooks know all too little of that, but in the art of the Netherlands I was more at home, and in literature we were fully agreed.

Truly the time flew. After dinner I had myself presented to old Herr Arnoldsen, who received me with especial cordiality. Later, in the salon, he played several concert pieces, and Gerda also performed. She looked wonderful as she played, and although I have no notion of violin playing, I know that she knew how to sing upon her instrument (a real Stradivarius) so that the tears nearly came into my eyes. Next day I went to call on the Arnoldsens. I was received at first by an elderly companion, with whom I spoke French, but then Gerda came, and we talked as on the day before for perhaps an hour, only that this time we drew nearer together and made still more effort to understand and know each other. The talk was of you, Mamma, of Tony, of our good old town, and of my work.

And on that day I had already taken the firm resolve: this one or no one, now or never! I met her again by chance at a garden party at my friend van Svindren’s, and I was invited to a musical evening at the Arnoldsens’, in the course of which I sounded the young lady by a half-declaration, which was received encouragingly. Five days ago I went to Herr Arnoldsen to ask for permission to win his daughter’s hand. He received me in his private office. “My dear Consul,” he said, “you are very welcome, hard as it will be for an old widower to part from his daughter. But what does she say? She has already held firmly to her resolve never to marry. Have you a chance?” He was extremely surprised when I told him that Fräulein Gerda had actually given me ground for hope.

He left her some time for reflection, and I imagine that out of pure selfishness he dissuaded her. But it was useless. She had chosen me—since yesterday evening the betrothal is an accomplished fact.

No, my dear Mother, I am not asking a written answer to this letter, for I am leaving to-morrow. But I am bringing with me the Arnoldsens’ promise that father, daughter, and married sister will visit us in August, and then you will be obliged to confess that she is the very wife for me. I hope you see no objection in the fact that Gerda is only three years younger than I? I am sure you never thought I would marry a chit out of the Möllendorpf-Langhals, Kistenmaker-Hagenström circle.

And now for the dowry. I am almost frightened to think how Stephan Kistenmaker and Hermann Hagenström and Peter Döhlmann and Uncle Justus and the whole town will blink at me when they hear of the dowry. For my future father-in-law is a millionaire. Heavens, what is there to say? We are such complex, contradictory creatures! I deeply love and respect Gerda Arnoldsen; and I simply will not delve deep down enough in myself to find out how much the thought of the dowry, which was whispered into my ear that first evening, contributed to my feeling. I love her: but it crowns my happiness and pride to think that when she becomes mine, our firm will at the same time gain a very considerable increase of capital.

I must close this letter, dear Mother; considering that in a few days, we shall be talking over my good fortune together, it is already too long. I wish you a pleasant and beneficial stay at the baths, and beg you to greet all the family most heartily for me. Your loving and obedient son,