Buddenbrooks Chapter Seven

Thomas Buddenbrook was, in his heart, far from pleased with the development of little Johann.

Long ago he had led Gerda Arnoldsen to the altar, and all the Philistines had shaken their heads. He had felt strong and bold enough then to display a distinguished taste without harming his position as a citizen. But now, the long-awaited heir, who showed so many physical traits of the paternal inheritance—did he, after all, belong entirely to the mother’s side? He had hoped that one day his son would take up the work of the father’s lifetime in his stronger, more fortunate hands, and carry it forward. But now it almost seemed that the son was hostile, not only to the surroundings and the life in which his lot was cast, but even to his father as well.

Gerda’s violin-playing had always added to her strange eyes, which he loved, to her heavy, dark-red hair and her whole exotic appearance, one charm the more. But now that he saw how her passion for music, strange to his own nature, utterly, even at this early age, possessed the child, he felt in it a hostile force that came between him and his son, of whom his hopes would make a Buddenbrook—a strong and practical-minded man, with definite impulses after power and conquest. In his present irritable state it seemed to him that this hostile force was making him a stranger in his own house.

He could not, himself, approach any nearer to the music practised by Gerda and her friend Herr Pfühl; Gerda herself, exclusive and impatient where her art was concerned, made it cruelly hard for him.

Never had he dreamed that music was so essentially foreign to his family as now it seemed. His grandfather had enjoyed playing the flute, and he himself always listened with pleasure to melodies that possessed a graceful charm, a lively swing, or a tender melancholy. But if he happened to express his liking for any such composition, Gerda would be sure to shrug her shoulders and say with a pitying smile, “How can you, my friend? A thing like that, without any musical value whatever!”

He hated this “musical value.” It was a phrase which had no meaning for him save a certain chilling arrogance. It drove him on, in Hanno’s presence, to self-assertion. More than once he remonstrated angrily, “This constant harping on musical values, my dear, strikes me as rather tasteless and opinionated.” To which she rejoined: “Thomas, once for all, you will never understand anything about music as an art, and, intelligent as you are, you will never see that it is more than an after-dinner pleasure and a feast for the ears. In every other field you have a perception of the banal—in music not. But it is the test of musical comprehension. What pleases you in music? A sort of insipid optimism, which, if you met with it in literature, would make you throw down the book with an angry or sarcastic comment. Easy gratification of each unformed wish, prompt satisfaction before the will is even roused—that is what pretty music is like—and it is like nothing else in the world. It is mere flabby idealism.”

He understood her; that is, he understood what she said. But he could not follow her: could not comprehend why melodies which touched or stirred him were cheap and worthless, while compositions which left him cold and bewildered possessed the highest musical value. He stood before a temple from whose threshold Gerda sternly waved him back—and he watched while she and the child vanished within.

He betrayed none of his grief over this estrangement, though the gulf seemed to widen between him and his little son. The idea of suing for his child’s favour seemed frightful to him. During the day he had small time to spare; at meals he treated him with a friendly cordiality that had at times a tonic severity. “Well, comrade,” he would say, giving him a tap or two on the back of the head and seating himself opposite his wife, “well, and how are you? Studying? And playing the piano, eh? Good! But not too much piano, else you won’t want to do your task, and then you won’t go up at Easter.” Not a muscle betrayed the anxious suspense with which he waited to see how Hanno took his greeting and what his reply would be. Nothing revealed his painful inward shrinking when the child merely gave him a shy glance of the gold-brown, shadowy eyes—a glance that did not even reach his father’s face—and bent again over his plate.

It was monstrous for him to brood over this childish awkwardness. It was his fatherly duty to occupy himself a little with the child: so, while the plates were changed, he would examine him and try to stimulate his sense for facts. How many inhabitants were there in the town? What streets led from the Trave to the upper town? What were the names of the granaries that belonged to the firm? Out with it, now; speak up! But Hanno was silent. Not with any idea of wounding or annoying his father! But these inhabitants, these streets and granaries, which were normally a matter of complete indifference to him, became positively hateful when they were made the subject of an examination. However lively he was beforehand, however gaily he had laughed and talked with his father, his mood would go down to zero at the first symptom of an examination, and his resistance would collapse entirely. His eyes would cloud over, his mouth take on a despondent droop, and he would be possessed by a feeling of profound regret at the thoughtlessness of Papa, who surely knew that such tests came to nothing and only spoiled the whole meal for everybody! With eyes swimming in tears he looked down at his plate. Ida would nudge him and whisper to him: the streets, the granaries. Oh, that was all useless, perfectly useless. She did not understand. He did know the names—at least some of them. It would have been easy to do what Papa asked—if only he were not possessed and prevented by an overpowering sadness! A severe word from his father and a tap with the fork against the knife rest brought him to himself with a start. He cast a glance at his mother and Ida and tried to speak. But the first syllables were already drowned in sobs. “That’s enough,” shouted the Senator, angrily. “Keep still—you needn’t tell me! You can sit there dumb and silly all the rest of your life!” And the meal would be finished in uncomfortable silence.

When the Senator felt troubled about Hanno’s passionate preoccupation with his music, it was this dreaminess, this weeping, this total lack of freshness and energy, that he fixed upon.

All his life the boy had been delicate. His teeth had been particularly bad, and had been the cause of many painful illnesses and difficulties. It had nearly cost him his life to cut his first set; the gums showed a constant tendency to inflammation, and there were abscesses, which Mamsell Jungmann used to open with a needle at the proper time. Now his second teeth were beginning to come in, and the suffering was even greater. He had almost more pain than he could bear, and he spent many sleepless, feverish nights. His teeth, when they came, were as white and beautiful as his mother’s; but they were soft and brittle, and crowded each other out of shape when they came in; so that little Hanno was obliged, for the correction of all these evils, to make the acquaintance early in life of a very dreadful man—no less than Herr Brecht, the dentist, in Mill Street.

Even this man’s name was significant: it suggested the frightful sensation in Hanno’s jaw when the roots of a tooth were pulled, lifted, and wrenched out; the sound of it made Hanno’s heart contract, just as it did when he cowered in an easy-chair in Herr Brecht’s waiting-room, with the faithful Jungmann sitting opposite, and looked at the pictures in a magazine, while he breathed in the sharp-smelling air of the room and waited for the dentist to open the door of the operating-room, with his polite and horrible “Won’t you come in, please?”

This operating-room possessed one strange attraction, a gorgeous parrot with venomous little eyes, which sat in a brass cage in the corner and was called, for unknown reasons, Josephus. He used to say “Sit down; one moment, please,” in a voice like an old fish-wife’s; and though the hideous circumstances made this sound like mockery, yet Hanno felt for the bird a curious mature of fear and affection. Imagine—a parrot, a big, bright-coloured bird, that could talk and was called Josephus! He was like something out of an enchanted forest; like Grimm’s fairy tales, which Ida read aloud to him. And when Herr Brecht opened the door, his invitation was repeated by Josephus in such a way that somehow Hanno was laughing when he went into the operating-room and sat down in the queer big chair by the window, next the treadle machine.

Herr Brecht looked a good deal like Josephus. His nose was of the same shape, above his grizzled moustaches. The bad thing about him was that he was nervous, and dreaded the tortures he was obliged to inflict. “We must proceed to extraction, Fräulein,” he would say, growing pale. Hanno himself was in a pale cold sweat, with staring eyes, incapable of protesting or running away; in short, in much the same condition as a condemned criminal. He saw Herr Brecht, with the forceps in his sleeve, bend over him, and noticed that little beads were standing out on his bald brow, and that his mouth was twisted. When it was all over, and Hanno, pale and trembling, spat blood into the blue basin at his side, Herr Brecht too had to sit down, and wipe his forehead and take a drink of water.

They assured little Johann that this man would do him good and save him suffering in the end. But when Hanno weighed his present pains against the positive good that had accrued from them, he felt that the former far outweighed the latter; and he regarded these visits to Mill Street as so much unnecessary torture. They removed four beautiful white molars which had just come in, to make room for the wisdom teeth expected later: this required four weeks of visits, in order not to subject the boy to too great a strain. It was a fearful time!—a long drawn-out martyrdom, in which dread of the next visit began before the last one, with its attendant exhaustion, was fairly over. When the last tooth was drawn, Hanno was quite worn out, and was ill in bed for a week.

This trouble with his teeth affected not only his spirits but also the functioning of all his other organs. What he could not chew he did not digest, and there came attacks of gastric fever, accompanied by fitful heart action, according as the heart was either weakened or too strongly stimulated. And there were spells of giddiness, while the pavor nocturnus, that strange affliction beloved of Dr. Grabow, continued unabated. Hardly a night passed that little Johann did not start up in bed, wringing his hands with every mark of unbearable anguish, and crying out piteously for help, as though some one were trying to choke him or some other awful thing were happening. In the morning he had forgotten it all. Dr. Grabow’s treatment consisted of giving fruit-juice before the child went to bed; which had absolutely no effect.

The physical arrests and the pains which Hanno suffered made him old for his age; he was what is called precocious; and though this was not very obvious, being restrained in him, as it were, by his own unconscious good taste, still it expressed itself at times in the form of a melancholy superiority. “How are you, Hanno?” somebody would ask: his grandmother or one of the Broad Street Buddenbrooks. A little resigned curl of the lip, or a shrug of the shoulders in their blue sailor suit, would be the only answer.

“Do you like to go to school?”

“No,” answered Hanno, with quiet candour—he did not consider it worth while to try to tell a lie in such cases.

“No? But one has to learn writing, reading, arithmetic—”

“And so on,” said little Johann.

No, he did not like going to school—the old monastic school with its cloisters and vaulted classrooms. He was hampered by his illnesses, and often absent-minded, for his thoughts would linger among his harmonic combinations, or upon the still unravelled marvel of some piece which he had heard his mother and Herr Pfühl playing; and all this did not help him on in the sciences. These lower classes were taught by assistant masters and seminarists, for whom he entertained mingled feelings: a dread of possible future punishments and a secret contempt for their social inferiority, their spiritual limitations, and their physical unkemptness. Herr Tietge, a little grey man in a greasy black coat, who had taught in the school even in the time of the deceased Marcellus Stengel; who squinted abominably and sought to remedy this defect by wearing glasses as thick and round as a ship’s port-holes—Herr Tietge told little Johann how quick and industrious his father had been at figures. Herr Tietge had severe fits of coughing, and spat all over the floor of his platform.

Hanno had, among his schoolmates, no intimates save one. But this single bond was very close, even from his earliest school days. His friend was a child of aristocratic birth but neglected appearance, a certain Count Mölln, whose first name was Kai.

Kai was a lad of about Hanno’s height, dressed not in a sailor suit, but in shabby clothes of uncertain colour, with here and there a button missing, and a great patch in the seat. His arms were too long for the sleeves of his coat, and his hands seemed impregnated with dust and earth to a permanent grey colour; but they were unusually narrow and elegant, with long fingers and tapering nails. His head was to match: neglected, uncombed, and none too clean, but endowed by nature with all the marks of pure and noble birth. The carelessly parted hair, reddish-blond in colour, waved back from a white brow, and a pair of light blue eyes gleamed bright and keen from beneath. The cheek bones were slightly prominent: while the nose, with its delicate nostrils and slightly aquiline curve, and the mouth, with its short upper lip, were already quite unmistakable and characteristic.

Hanno Buddenbrook had seen the little count once or twice, even before they met at school, when he took his walks with Ida northward from the Castle Gate. Some distance outside the town, nearly as far as the first outlying village, lay a small farm, a tiny, almost valueless property without even a name. The passer-by got the impression of a dunghill, a quantity of chickens, a dog-hut, and a wretched, kennel-like building with a sloping red roof. This was the manor-house, and therein dwelt Kai’s father, Count Eberhard Mölln.

He was an eccentric, hardly ever seen by anybody, busy on his dunghill with his dogs, his chickens, and his vegetable-patch: a large man in top-boots, with a green frieze jacket. He had a bald head and a huge grey beard like the tail of a turnip; he carried a riding-whip in his hand, though he had no horse to his name, and wore a monocle stuck into his eye under the bushy eyebrow. Except him and his son, there was no Count Mölln in all the length and breadth of the land any more: the various branches of a once rich, proud, and powerful family had gradually withered off, until now there was only an aunt, with whom Kai’s father was not on terms. She wrote romances for the family story-papers, under a dashing pseudonym. The story was told of Count Eberhard that when he first withdrew to his little farm, he devised a means of protecting himself from the importunities of peddlers, beggars, and busy-bodies. He put up a sign which read: “Here lives Count Mölln. He wants nothing, buys nothing, and gives nothing away.” When the sign had served its purpose, he removed it.

Motherless—for the Countess had died when her child was born, and the housework was done by an elderly female—little Kai grew up like a wild animal, among the dogs and chickens; and here Hanno Buddenbrook had looked at him shyly from a distance, as he leaped like a rabbit among the cabbages, romped with the dogs, and frightened the fowls by turning somersaults.

They met again in the schoolroom, where Hanno probably felt again his first alarm at the little Count’s unkempt exterior. But not for long. A sure instinct had led him to pay no heed to the outward negligence; had shown him instead the white brow, the delicate mouth, the finely shaped blue eyes, which looked with a sort of resentful hostility into his own; and Hanno felt sympathy for this one alone among all his fellows. But he would never, by himself, have taken the first steps; he was too timid for that. Without the ruthless impetuosity of little Kai they might have remained strangers, after all. The passionate rapidity of his approach even frightened Hanno, at first. The neglected little count sued for the favour of the quiet, elegantly dressed Hanno with a fiery, aggressive masculinity impossible to resist. Kai could not, it is true, help Hanno with his lessons. His untamed spirits were as hostile to the “tables” as was little Buddenbrook’s dreamy abstractedness. But he gave him everything he had: glass bullets, wooden tops, even a broken lead pistol which was his dearest treasure. During the recess he told him about his home and the puppies and chickens, and walked with him at midday as far as he dared, though Ida Jungmann, with a packet of sandwiches, was always waiting for her fledgling at the school gate. It was from Ida that Kai heard little Buddenbrook’s nickname; he took it up, and never called him henceforth by anything else.

One day he demanded that Hanno, instead of going to the Mill-wall, should take a walk with him to his father’s house to see the baby guinea-pigs. Fräulein Jungmann finally yielded to the teasing of the two children. They strolled out to the noble domain, viewed the dunghill, the vegetables, the fowls, dogs, and guinea-pigs, and even went into the house, where in a long low room on the ground floor, Count Eberhard sat in defiant isolation, reading at a clumsy table. He asked crossly what they wanted.

Ida Jungmann could not be brought to repeat the visit. She insisted that, if the two children wished to be together, Kai could visit Hanno instead. So for the first time, with honest admiration, but no trace of shyness, Kai entered Hanno’s beautiful home. After that he went often. Soon nothing but the deep winter snows prevented him from making the long way back again for the sake of a few hours with his friend.

They sat in the large play-room in the second storey and did their lessons together. There were long sums that covered both sides of the slate with additions, subtractions, multiplications, and divisions, and had to come out to zero in the end; otherwise there was a mistake, and they must hunt and hunt till they had found the little beast and exterminated him. Then they had to study grammar, and learn the rules of comparison, and write down very neat, tidy examples underneath. Thus: “Horn is transparent, glass is more transparent, light is most transparent.” They took their exercise-books and conned sentences like the following: “I received a letter, saying that he felt aggrieved because he believed that you had deceived him.” The fell intent of this sentence, so full of pitfalls, was that you should write ei where you ought to write ie, and contrariwise. They had, in fact, done that very thing, and now it must be corrected. But when all was finished they might put their books aside and sit on the window-ledge while Ida read to them.

The good soul read about Cinderella, about the prince who could not shiver and shake, about Rumpelstiltskin, about Rapunzel and the Frog Prince—in her deep, patient voice, her eyes half-shut, for she knew the stories by heart, she had read them so often. She wet her finger and turned the page automatically.

But after a while Kai, who possessed the constant craving to do something himself, to have some effect on his surroundings, would close the book and begin to tell stories himself. It was a good idea, for they knew all the printed ones, and Ida needed a rest sometimes, too. Kai’s stories were short and simple at first, but they expanded and grew bolder and more complicated with time. The interesting thing about them was that they never stood quite in the air, but were based upon a reality which he presented in a new and mysterious light. Hanno particularly liked the one about the Wicked enchanter who tortured all human beings by his malignant art; who had captured a beautiful prince named Josephus and turned him into a green-and-red parrot, which he kept in a gilded cage. But in a far distant land the chosen hero was growing up, who should one day fearlessly advance at the head of an invincible army of dogs, chickens, and guinea-pigs and slay the base enchanter with a single sword-thrust, and deliver all the world—in particular, Hanno Buddenbrook—from his clutches. Then Josephus would be restored to his proper form and return to his kingdom, in which Kai and Hanno would be appointed to high offices.

Senator Buddenbrook saw the two friends together now and then, as he passed the door of the play-room. He had nothing against the intimacy, for it was clear that the two lads did each other good. Hanno gentled, tamed, and ennobled Kai, who loved him tenderly, admired his white hands, and, for his sake, let Ida Jungmann wash his own with soap and a nail-brush. And if Hanno could absorb some of his friend’s wild energy and spirits, it would be welcome, for the Senator realized keenly the constant feminine influence that surrounded the boy, and knew that it was not the best means for developing his manly qualities.

The faithful devotion of the good Ida could not be repaid with gold. She had been in the family now for more than thirty years. She had cared for the previous generations with self-abnegation; but Hanno she carried in her arms, lapped him in tender care, and loved him to idolatry. She had a naïve, unshakable belief in his privileged station in life, which sometimes went to the length of absurdity. In whatever touched him she showed a surprising, even an unpleasant effrontery. Suppose, for instance, she took him with her to buy cakes at the pastry-shop: she would poke among the sweets on the counter and select a piece for Hanno, which she would coolly hand him without paying for it—the man should feel himself honoured, indeed! And before a crowded show-window she would ask the people in front, in her west-Prussian dialect, pleasantly enough, but with decision, to make a place for her charge. He was so uncommon in her eyes that she felt there was hardly another child in the world worthy to touch him. In little Kai’s case, the mutual preference of the two children had been too strong for her. Possibly she was a little taken by his name, too. But if other children came up to them on the Mill-wall, as she sat with Hanno on a bench, Fräulein Jungmann would get up almost at once, make some excuse or other—it was late, or there was a draught—and take her charge away. The pretexts she gave to little Johann would have led him to believe that all his contemporaries were either scrofulous or full of “evil humours,” and that he himself was a solitary exception; which did not tend to increase his already deficient confidence and ease of manner.

Senator Buddenbrook did not know all the details; but he saw enough to convince him that his son’s development was not taking the desired course. If he could only take his upbringing in his own hands, and mould his spirit by daily and hourly contact! But he had not the time. He perceived the lamentable failure of his occasional efforts: he knew they only strained the relations between father and son. In his mind was a picture which he longed to reproduce: it was a picture of Hanno’s great-grandfather, whom he himself had known as a boy: a clear-sighted man, jovial, simple, sturdy, humorous—why could not little Johann grow up like that? If only he could suppress or forbid the music, which was surely not good for the lad’s physical development, absorbed his powers, and took his mind from the practical affairs of life! That dreamy nature—did it not almost, at times, border on irresponsibility?

One day, some three quarters of an hour before dinner, Hanno had gone down alone to the first storey. He had practised for a long time on the piano, and now was idling about in the living-room. He half lay, half sat, on the chaise-longue, tying and untying his sailor’s knot, and his eyes, roving aimlessly about, caught sight of an open portfolio on his mother’s nut-wood writing-table. It was the leather case with the family papers. He rested his elbow on the sofa-cushion, and his chin in his hand, and looked at the things for a while from a distance. Papa must have had them out after second breakfast, and left them there because he was not finished with them. Some of the papers were sticking in the portfolio, some loose sheets lying outside were weighted with a metal ruler, and the large gilt-edged notebook with the motley paper lay there open.

Hanno slipped idly down from the sofa and went to the writing-table. The book was open at the Buddenbrook family tree, set forth in the hand of his various forbears, including his father; complete, with rubrics, parentheses, and plainly marked dates. Kneeling with one knee on the desk-chair, leaning his head with its soft waves of brown hair on the palm of his hand, Hanno looked at the manuscript sidewise, carelessly critical, a little contemptuous, and supremely indifferent, letting his free hand toy with Mamma’s gold-and-ebony pen. His eyes roved all over these names, masculine and feminine, some of them in queer old-fashioned writing with great flourishes, written in faded yellow or thick black ink, to which little grains of sand were sticking. At the very bottom, in Papa’s small, neat handwriting that ran so fast over the page, he read his own name, under that of his parents: Justus, Johann, Kasper, born April 15, 1861. He liked looking at it. He straightened up a little, and took the ruler and pen, still rather idly; let his eye travel once more over the whole genealogical host; then, with absent care, mechanically and dreamily, he made with the gold pen a beautiful, clean double line diagonally across the entire page, the upper one heavier than the lower, just as he had been taught to embellish the page of his arithmetic book. He looked at his work with his head on one side, and then moved away.

After dinner the Senator called him up and surveyed him with his eyebrows drawn together.

“What is this? Where did it come from? Did you do it?”

Hanno had to think a minute, whether he really had done it; and then he answered “Yes.”

“What for? What is the matter with you? Answer me! What possessed you, to do such a mischievous thing?” cried the Senator, and struck Hanno’s cheek lightly with the rolled-up notebook.

And little Johann stammered, retreating, with his hand to his cheek, “I thought—I thought—there was nothing else coming.”