Buddenbrooks Chapter Six

One Sunday at the beginning of July—Senator Buddenbrook had moved some four weeks before—Frau Permaneder appeared at her brother’s house toward evening. She crossed the cool ground floor, paved with flags and decorated with reliefs by Thorwaldsen, whence there was a door leading into the bureau; she rang at the vestibule door—it could be opened from the kitchen by pressing on a rubber bulb—and entered the spacious lobby, where, at the foot of the steps, stood the bear presented by Tiburtius and Clara. Here she learned from Anton that the Senator was still at work.

“Very good, Anton,” she said. “I will go to him.”

Yet she did not go at once into the office, but passed the door that led into it and stood at the bottom of the splendid staircase, which as far as the first storey had a cast-iron balustrade, but at the distance of the second storey became a wide pillared balcony in white and gold, with a great gilt chandelier hanging down from the skylight’s dizzy height.

“Very elegant,” said Frau Permaneder, softly, in a tone of great satisfaction, gazing up into this spacious magnificence. To her it meant, quite simply, the power, the brilliance, and the triumph of the Buddenbrook family. But now it occurred to her that she was not, in fact, come upon a very cheerful errand, and she slowly turned away and passed through the door into the office.

Thomas sat there quite alone, in his place by the window, writing a letter. He glanced up, raised an eyebrow, and put out his hand to his sister.

“’Evening, Tony. What’s the good word?”

“Oh, nothing very good, Tom. Oh, your staircase—it’s just too splendid! Why are you sitting here writing in the dark?”

“It was a pressing letter. Well—nothing very good, eh? Come into the garden, a little. It is pleasanter out there.”

As they crossed the entry, a violin adagio came trillingly down from the storey above.

“Listen,” said Tony, and paused a moment. “Gerda is playing. How heavenly! What a woman! She isn’t a woman, she’s a fairy. How is Hanno, Tom?”

“Just having his supper, with Jungmann. Too bad he is so slow about walking—”

“Oh, that will come, Tom, that will come. Are you pleased with Ida?”

“Why not?”

They crossed the flags at the back, leaving the kitchen on the right, went through a glass door and up two steps into the lovely, scented flower-garden.

“Well?” the Senator asked.

It was warm and still. The fragrance from the neat beds and borders hung in the evening air, and the fountain, surrounded by tall pale purple iris, sent its stream gently plashing heavenward, where the first stars began to gleam. In the background, an open flight of steps flanked by low obelisks, led up to a gravelled terrace, with an open wooden pavilion, a closed marquee, and some garden chairs. On the left hand was the property wall between them and the next garden; on the right the side wall of the next house was covered with a wooden trellis intended for climbing plants. There were a few currant and gooseberry bushes at the sides of the terrace steps, but there was only one tree, a large, gnarled walnut by the left-hand wall.

“The thing is this,” answered Frau Permaneder, with some hesitation, as the brother and sister began to pace the gravel path of the fore part of the garden. “Tiburtius has written—”

“Clara?” questioned Thomas. “Please don’t make a long story of it.”

“Yes. Tom. She is in bed; she is very bad—the doctor is afraid of tuberculosis—of the brain.—I can hardly speak the words. Here is the letter Tiburtius wrote me, and enclosed another for Mother, which we are to give her when we have prepared her a little. It tells the same story. And there is this second enclosure, to Mother, from Clara herself—written in pencil, in a shaky hand. And Tiburtius wrote that she herself said they were the last she should write, for it seems the sad thing is she makes no effort to live. She was always longing for Heaven—” finished Frau Permaneder, and wiped her eyes.

The Senator walked at her side, his hands behind his back, his head bowed.

“You are so quiet, Tom. But you are right—what is there to say? Just now, too, when Christian lies ill in Hamburg—”

For this was, in fact, the state of things. Christian’s “misery” in the left side had increased so much of late that it had become actual pain, severe enough to make him forget all smaller woes. He was quite helpless, and had written to his mother from London that he was coming home, for her to take care of him. He quit his situation in London and started off, but at Hamburg had been obliged to take to his bed; the doctor diagnosed his ailment as rheumatism of the joints, and he had been removed from his hotel to a hospital. Any further journey was for the time impossible. There he lay, and dictated to his attendant letters that betrayed extreme depression.

“Yes,” said the Senator, quietly. “It seems as if one thing just followed on another.

She put her arm for an instant across his shoulders.

“But you mustn’t give way, Tom. This is no time for you to be down-hearted. You need all your courage—”

“Yes, God knows I need it.”

“What do you mean, Tom? Tell me, why were you so quiet Thursday afternoon at dinner, if I may ask?”

“Oh—business, my child. I had to sell no very small quantity of grain not very advantageously—or, rather, I had to sell a large quantity very much at a loss.”

“Well, that happens, Tom. You sell at a loss to-day, and to-morrow you make it good again. To get discouraged over a thing of that kind—”

“Wrong, Tony,” he said, and shook his head. “My courage does not go down to zero because I have a piece of bad luck. It’s the other way on. I believe in that, and events show it.”

“But what is the matter with it, then?” she asked, surprised and alarmed. “One would think you have enough to make you happy, Tom. Clara is alive, and with God’s help she will get better. And as for everything else—here we are, walking about, in your own garden, and it all smells so sweet—and yonder is your house, a dream of a house—Hermann Hagenström’s is a dog-kennel beside it! And you have done all that—”

“Yes, it is almost too beautiful, Tony. I’ll tell you—it is too new. It jars on me a little—perhaps that is what is the matter with me. It may be responsible for the bad mood that comes over me and spoils everything. I looked forward immensely to all this; but the anticipation was the best part of it—it always is. Everything gets done too slowly—so when it is finished the pleasure is already gone.”

“The pleasure is gone, Tom? At your age?”

“A man is as young, or as old, as he feels. And when one gets one’s wish too late, or works too hard for it, it comes already weighted with all sorts of small vexatious drawbacks—with all the dust of reality upon it, that one did not reckon with in fancy. It is so irritating—so irritating—”

“Oh yes.—But what do you mean by ‘as old as you feel’?”

“Why, Tony—it is a mood, certainly. It may pass. But just now I feel older than I am. I have business cares. And at the Directors’ meeting of the Buchen Railway yesterday, Consul Hagenström simply talked me down, refuted my contentions, nearly made me appear ridiculous. I feel that could not have happened to me before. It is as though something had begun to slip—as though I haven’t the firm grip I had on events.—What is success? It is an inner, and indescribable force, resourcefulness, power of vision; a consciousness that I am, by my mere existence, exerting pressure on the movement of life about me. It is my belief in the adaptability of life to my own ends. Fortune and success lie with ourselves. We must hold them firmly—deep within us. For as soon as something begins to slip, to relax, to get tired, within us, then everything without us will rebel and struggle to withdraw from our influence. One thing follows another, blow after blow—and the man is finished. Often and often, in these days, I have thought of a Turkish proverb; it says, ‘When the house is finished, death comes.’ It doesn’t need to be death. But the decline, the falling-off, the beginning of the end. You know, Tony,” he went on, in a still lower voice, putting his arm underneath his sister’s, “when Hanno was christened, you said: ‘It looks as if quite a new life would dawn for us all!’ I can still hear you say it, and I thought then that you were right, for I was elected Senator, and was fortunate in my business, and this house seemed to spring up out of the ground. But the ‘Senator’ and this house are superficial after all. I know, from life and from history, something you have not thought of: often, the outward and visible material signs and symbols of happiness and success only show themselves when the process of decline has already set in. The outer manifestations take time—like the light of that star up there, which may in reality be already quenched, when it looks to us to be shining its brightest.”

He ceased to speak, and they walked for a while in silence, while the fountain gently murmured, and a whispering sounded from the top of the walnut tree. Then Frau Permaneder breathed such a heavy sigh that it sounded like a sob.

“How sadly you talk, Tom. You never spoke so sadly before. But it is good to speak out, and it will help you to put all that kind of thoughts out of your mind.”

“Yes, Tony, I must try to do that, I know, as well as I can. And now give me the enclosures from Clara and the Pastor. It will be best, won’t it, for me to take over the matter, and speak to-morrow morning with Mother? Poor Mother! If it is really tuberculosis, one may as well give up hope.”