Buddenbrooks Chapter Seven

Consul Johann Buddenbrook arrived at the villa at two o’clock in the afternoon. He entered the Grünlich salon in a grey travelling-cloak and embraced his daughter with painful intensity. He was pale and seemed older. His small eyes were deep in their sockets, his large pointed nose stuck out between the fallen cheeks, his lips seemed to have grown thinner, and the beard under his chin and jaws half covered by his stiff choker and high neck-band—he had lately ceased to wear the two locks running from the temples half-way down the cheeks—was as grey as the hair on his head.

The Consul had hard, nerve-racking days behind him. Thomas had had a hemorrhage; the Father had learned of the misfortune in a letter from Herr van der Kellen. He had left his business in the careful hands of his clerk and hurried off to Amsterdam. He found nothing immediately dangerous about his son’s illness, but an open-air cure was necessary, in the South, in Southern France; and as it fortunately happened that a journey of convalescence had been prescribed for the young son of the head of the firm, the two young men had left for Pau as soon as Thomas was able to travel.

The Consul had scarcely reached home again when he was attacked by a fresh misfortune, which had for the moment shaken his firm to its foundations and by which it had lost eighty thousand marks at one blow. How? Discounted cheques drawn on Westfall Brothers had come back to the firm, liquidation having begun. He had not failed to cover them. The firm had at once showed what it could do, without hesitation or embarrassment. But that could not prevent the Consul from experiencing all the sudden coldness, the reserve, the mistrust at the banks, with “friends,” and among firms abroad, which such an event, such a weakening of working capital, was sure to bring in its train.

Well, he had pulled himself together, and had reviewed the whole situation; had reassured, reinforced, made head. And then, in the midst of the struggle, among telegrams, letters, and calculations, this last blow broke upon him as well: B. Grünlich, his daughter’s husband, was insolvent. In a long, whining, confused letter he had implored, begged, and prayed for an assistance of a hundred to a hundred and twenty thousand marks. The Consul replied curtly and non-committally that he would come to Hamburg to meet Herr Grünlich and Kesselmeyer the banker, made a brief, soothing explanation to his wife, and started off.

Tony received him in the salon. She was fond of receiving visits in her brown silk salon, and she made no exception now; particularly as she had a very profound impression of the importance of the present occasion, without comprehending in the least what it was about. She looked blooming and yet becomingly serious, in her pale grey frock with its laces at breast and wrists, its bell-shaped sleeves and long train, and little diamond clasp at the throat. “How are you, Papa? At last you have come to see us again. How is Mamma? Is there good news from Tom? Take off your things, Father dear. Will you dress? The guest-room is ready for you. Grünlich is dressing.”

“Don’t call him, my child. I will wait for him here. You know I have come for a talk with your husband—a very, very serious talk, my dear Tony. Is Herr Kesselmeyer here?”

“Yes, he is in the pensée-room looking at the album.”

“Where is Erica?”

“Up in the nursery with Tinka. She is very well. She is bathing her doll—of course, not in real water; I mean—she is a wax-doll, she only—”

“Of course.” The Consul drew a deep breath and went on: “Evidently you have not been informed as to—to the state of affairs with your husband.”

He had sat down in an arm-chair near the large table, and Tony placed herself at his feet on a little seat made of three cushions on top of one another. The finger of her right hand toyed gently with the diamond at her throat.

“No, Papa,” answered Tony. “I must confess I know nothing. Heavens, I am a goose!—I have no understanding at all. I heard Kesselmeyer talking lately to Grünlich—at the end it seemed to me he was just joking again—he always talks so drolly. I heard your name once or twice—”

“You heard my name? In what connection?”

“Oh, I know nothing of the connection, Papa. Grünlich has been insufferably sulky ever since that day, I must say. Until yesterday—yesterday he was in a good mood, and asked me a dozen times if I loved him, and if I would put in a good word for him with you if he had something to ask you.”


“Yes, he told me he had written you and that you were coming here. It is good you have come. Everything is so queer. Grünlich had the card-table put in here. There are a lot of paper and pencils on it—for you to sit at, and hold a council together.”

“Listen, my dear child,” said the Consul, stroking her hair. “I want to ask you something very serious. Tell me: you love your husband with your whole heart, don’ you?”

“Of course, Papa,” said Tony with a face of child-like hypocrisy—precisely the face of the child Tony when she was asked: “You won’t tease the old doll-woman again, Tony?” The Consul was silent a minute.

“You love him so much,” he asked again, “that you could not live without him, under any circumstances, even if by God’s will your situation should alter so that he could no longer surround you with all these things?” And his hand described a quick movement over the furniture and portières, over the gilt clock on the étagère, and finally over her own frock.

“Certainly, Papa,” repeated Tony, in the soothing tone she nearly always used when any one spoke seriously to her. She looked past her father out of the window, where a heavy veil of rain was silently descending. Her face had the expression children wear when some one tells them a fairy story and then tactlessly introduces a generalization about conduct and duty—a mixture of embarrassment and impatience, piety and boredom.

The Consul looked at her without speaking for a minute. Was he satisfied with her response? He had weighed everything thoroughly, at home and during the journey.

It is comprehensible that Johann Buddenbrook’s first impulse was to refuse his son-in-law any considerable payment. But when he remembered how pressing—to use a mild word—he had been about this marriage; when he looked back into the past, and recalled the words: “Are you satisfied with me?” with which his child had taken leave of him after the wedding, he gave way to a burdensome sense of guilt against her and said to himself that the thing must be decided according to her feelings. He knew perfectly that she had not made the marriage out of love, but he was obliged to reckon with the possibility that these four years of life together and the birth of the child had changed matters; that Tony now felt bound body and soul to her husband and would be driven by considerations both spiritual and worldly to shrink from a separation. In such a case, the Consul argued, he must accommodate himself to the surrender of whatever sum was necessary. Christian duty and wifely feeling did indeed demand that Tony should follow her husband into misfortune; and if she actually took this resolve, he did not feel justified in letting her be deprived of all the ease and comfort to which she had been accustomed since childhood. He would feel himself obliged to avert the catastrophe, and to support B. Grünlich at any price. Yet the final result or his considerations was the desire to take his daughter and her child home with him and let Grünlich go his own way. God forbid that the worst should happen!

In any case, the Consul invoked the pronouncement of the law that a continued inability to provide for wife and children justified a separation. But, before everything, he must find out his daughter’s real feelings.

“I see,” he said, “my dear child, that yon are actuated by good and praiseworthy motives. But—I cannot believe that you are seeing the thing as, unhappily, it really is—namely, as actual fact. I have not asked what you would do in this or that case, but what you to-day, now, will do. I do not know how much of the situation you know or suspect. It is my painful duty to tell you that your husband is obliged to call his creditors together; that he cannot carry on his business any longer. I hope you understand me.”

“Grünlich is bankrupt?” Tony asked under her breath, half rising from the cushions and seizing the Consul’s hand quickly.

“Yes, my child,” he said seriously. “You did not know it?”

“My suspicions were not definite,” she stammered. “Then Kesselmeyer was not joking?” she went on, staring before her at the brown carpet. “Oh, my God!” she suddenly uttered, and sank back on her seat.

In that minute all that was involved in the word “bankrupt” rose clearly before her: all the vague and fearful hints which she had heard as a child. “Bankrupt—that was more dreadful than death, that was catastrophe, ruin, shame, disgrace, misery, despair. “He is bankrupt,” she repeated. She was so cast down and shaken by the fatal word that the idea of escape, of assistance from her father, never occurred to her. He looked at her with raised eyebrows, out of his small deep-set eyes, which were tired and sad and full of an unusual suspense. “I am asking you,” he said gently, “my dear Tony, if you are ready to follow your husband into misery?” He realized at once that he had used the hard word instinctively to frighten her, and he added: “He can work himself up again, of course.”

“Certainly, Papa,” answered she. But it did not prevent her from bursting into tears. She sobbed into her batiste handkerchief, trimmed with lace and with the monogram A. G. She still wept just like a child; quite unaffectedly and without embarrassment. Her upper lip had the most touching expression.

Her father continued to probe her with his eyes. “That is your serious feeling, my child?” he asked. He was as simple as she.

“I must, mustn’t I?” she sobbed. “Don’t I have to—?”

“Certainly not,” he said. But with a guilty feeling he added: “I would not force you to it, my dear Tony. If it should be the case that your feelings did not bind you indissolubly to your husband—”

She looked at him with uncomprehending, tear-streaming eyes. “How, Papa?”

The Consul twisted and turned, and found a compromise. “My dear child, you can understand how painful it would be for me to have to tell you all the hardships and suffering that would come about through the misfortune of your husband, the breaking-up of the business and of your household. I desire to spare you these first unpleasantnesses by taking you and little Erica home with me. You would be glad of that, I think?”

Tony was silent a moment, drying her tears. She carefully breathed on her handkerchief and pressed it against her eyes to heal their inflammation. Then she asked in a firm tone, without lifting her voice: “Papa, is Grünlich to blame? Is it his folly and lack of uprightness that has brought him to this?”

“Very probably,” said the Consul. “That is—no, I don’t know, my child. The explanation with him and the banker has not taken place yet.”

She seemed not to be listening. She sat crouched on her three silk cushions, her elbow on her knee, her chin in her hand, and with her head bowed looked dreamily into the room.

“Ah, Papa,” she said softly, almost without moving her lips, “wouldn’t it have been better—?”

The Consul could not see her face—but it had the expression it often wore those summer evenings at Travemünde, as she leaned at the window of her little room. One arm rested on her Father’s knee, the hand hanging down limply. This very hand was expressive of a sad and tender abandonment, a sweet, pensive longing, travelling back into the past.

“Better?” asked Consul Buddenbrook. “If what, my child?”

He was thoroughly prepared for the confession that it would have been better had this marriage not taken place; but Tony only answered with a sigh: “Oh, nothing.”

She seemed rapt by her thoughts, which had borne her so far away that she had almost forgotten the “bankrupt.” The Consul felt himself obliged to utter what he would rather only have confirmed.

“I think I guess your thoughts, Tony,” he said, “and I don’t on my side hesitate to confess that in this hour I regret the step that seemed to me four years ago so wise and advisable. I believe, before God, I am not responsible. I think I did my duty in trying to give you an existence suitable to your station. Heaven has willed otherwise. You will not believe that your Father played lightly and unreflectingly with your happiness in those days! Grünlich came to us with the best recommendations, a minister’s son, a Christian and a cosmopolitan man. Later I made business inquiries, and it all sounded as favourable as possible. I examined the connections. All that is still very dark; and the explanation is yet to come. But you don’t blame me—?”

“No, Papa—how can you say such a thing? Come, don’t take it to heart, poor Papa! You look pale. Shall I give you a little cordial?” She put her arm around his neck and kissed his cheek.

“Thank you, no,” he said. “There, there! It is all right. Yes, I have bad days behind me. I have had much to try me. These are all trials sent from God. But that does not help my feeling a little guilty toward you, my child. Everything depends on the question I have already asked you. Speak openly, Tony. Have you learned to love your husband in these years of marriage?”

Tony wept afresh; and covering her eyes with both hands, in which she held the batiste handkerchief, she sobbed out: “Oh, what are you asking me, Papa? I have never loved him—he has always been repulsive to me. You know that.”

It would be hard to say what went on in Johann Buddenbrook. His eyes looked shocked and sad; but he bit his lips hard together, and great wrinkles came in his cheeks, as they aid when he had brought a piece of business to a successful conclusion. He said softly: “Four years—”

Tony’s tears ceased suddenly. With her damp handkerchief in her hand, she sat up straight on her seat and said angrily: “Four years! Yes! Sometimes, in those four years, he sat with me in the evening and read the paper.”

“God gave you a child,” said the Father, moved.

“Yes, Papa. And I love Erica very much, although Grünlich says I am not fond of children. I would not be parted from her, that is certain. But Grünlich—no! Grünlich, no. And now he is bankrupt. Ah, Papa, if you will take Erica and me home—oh, gladly.”

The Consul compressed his lips again. He was extremely well satisfied. But the main point had yet to be touched upon; though, by the decision Tony snowed, he did not risk much by asking.

“You seem not to have thought it might be possible to do something, to get help. I have already said to you that I do not feel myself altogether innocent of the situation, and—in case you should expect—hope—I might intervene, to prevent the failure and cover your husband’s debts, the best I could, and float his business—”

He watched her keenly, and her bearing filled him with satisfaction. It expressed disappointment.

“How much is it?” she asked.

“What is that to the point, my child? A very large sum.” And Consul Buddenbrook nodded several times, as though the weight of the very thought of such a sum swung his head back and forth. “I should not conceal from you,” he went on, “that the firm has suffered losses already quite apart from this affair, and that the surrender of a sum like this would be a blow from which it would recover with difficulty. I do not in any way say this to—”

He did not finish. Tony had sprung up, had even taken a few steps backward, and with the wet handkerchief still in her hand she cried: “Good! Enough! Never!” She looked almost heroic. The words “the firm” had struck home. It is highly probable that they had more effect than even her dislike of Herr Grünlich. “You shall not do that, Papa,” she went on, quite beside herself. “Do you want to be bankrupt too? Never, never!”

At this moment the hall door opened a little uncertainly and Herr Grünlich entered.

Johann Buddenbrook rose, with a movement that meant: “That’s settled.”