Buddenbrooks Chapter Six

“We shall put Tony into Fräulein Weichbrodt’s boarding-school,” said the Consul. He said it with such decision that so it was.

Thomas was applying himself with talent to the business; Clara was a thriving, lively child; and the appetite of the good Clothilde must have pleased any heart alive. But Tony and Christian were hardly so satisfactory. It was not only that Christian had to stop nearly every afternoon for coffee with Herr Stengel—though even this became at length too much for the Frau Consul, and she sent a dainty missive to the master, summoning him to conference in Meng Street. Herr Stengel appeared in his Sunday wig and his tallest choker, bristling with lead-pencils like lance-heads, and they sat on the sofa in the landscape-room, while Christian hid in the dining-room and listened. The excellent man set out his views, with eloquence if some embarrassment: spoke of the difference between “line” and “dash,” told the tale of “The Forest Green” and the scuttle of coals, and made use in every other sentence of the phrase “in consequence.” It probably seemed to him a circumlocution suitable to the elegant surroundings in which he found himself. After a while the Consul came and drove Christian away. He expressed to Herr Stengel his lively regret that a son of his should give cause for dissatisfaction. “Oh, Herr Consul, God forbid! Buddenbrook minor has a wide-awake mind, he is a lively chap, and in consequence—Just a little too lively, if I might say so; and in consequence—” The Consul politely went with him through the hall to the entry, and Herr Stengel took his leave.… Ah, no, this was far from being the worst!

The worst, when it became known, was as follows: Young Christian Buddenbrook had leave one evening to go to the theatre in company with a friend. The performance was Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell; and the rôle of Tell’s son Walter was played by a young lady, a certain Mademoiselle Meyer-de-la-Grange. Christian’s worst, then, had to do with this young person. She wore when on the stage, whether it suited her part or not, a diamond brooch, which was notoriously genuine; for, as everybody knew, it was the gift of young Consul Döhlmann—Peter Döhlmann, son of the deceased wholesale dealer in Wall Street outside Holsten Gate. Consul Peter, like Justus Kröger, belonged to the group of young men whom the town called “fast.” His way of life, that is to say, was rather loose! He had married, and had one child, a little daughter; but he had long ago quarrelled with his wife, and he led the life of a bachelor. His father had left him a considerable inheritance, and he carried on the business, after a fashion; but people said he was already living on his capital. He lived mostly at the Club or the Rathskeller, was often to be met somewhere in the street at four o’clock in the morning; and made frequent business trips to Hamburg. Above all, he was a zealous patron of the drama, and took a strong personal interest in the caste. Mademoiselle Meyer-de-la-Grange was the latest of a line of young ladies whom he had, in the past, distinguished by a gift of diamonds.

Well, to arrive at the point, this young lady looked so charming as Walter Tell, wore her brooch and spoke her lines with such effect, that Christian felt his heart swell with enthusiasm, and tears rose to his eyes. He was moved by his transports to a course that only the very violence of emotion could pursue. He ran during the entr’acte to a flower-shop opposite, where, for the sum of one mark eight and a half shillings, he got at a bargain a bunch of flowers; and then this fourteen-year-old sprat, with his big nose and his deep-lying eyes, took his way to the green-room, since nobody stopped him, and came upon Fräulein Meyer-de-la-Grange, talking with Consul Peter Döhlmann at her dressing-room door. Peter Döhlmann nearly fell over with laughing when he saw Christian with the bouquet. But the new wooer, with a solemn face, bowed in his best manner before Walter Tell, handed her the bouquet, and, nodding his head, said in a voice of well-nigh tearful conviction: “Ah, Fräulein, how beautifully you act!”

“Well, hang me if it ain’t Krishan Buddenbrook!” Consul Döhlmann cried out, in his broadest accent. Fräulein Meyer-de-la-Grange lifted her pretty brows and asked: “The son of Consul Buddenbrook?” And she stroked the cheek of her young admirer with all the favour in the world.

Such was the story that Consul Peter Döhlmann told at the Club that night; it flew about the town like lightning, and reached the ears of the head master, who asked for an audience with Consul Buddenbrook. And how did the Father take this affair? He was, in truth, less angry than overwhelmed. He sat almost like a broken man, after telling the Frau Consul the story in the landscape-room.

“And this is our son,” he said. “So is he growing up—”

“But Jean! Good heavens, your Father would have laughed at it. Tell it to my Father and Mother on Thursday—you will see how Papa will enjoy it—”

But here the Consul rose up in anger. “Ah, yes, yes! I am sure he will enjoy it, Betsy. He will be glad to know that his light blood and impious desires live on, not only in a rake like Justus, his own son, but also in a grandson of his as well! Good God, you drive me to say these things!—He goes to this—person; he spends his pocket-money on flowers for this—lorette! I don’t say he knows what he is doing—yet. But the inclination shows itself—it shows itself, Betsy!”

Ah, yes, this was all very painful indeed. The Consul was perhaps the more beside himself for the added reason that Tony’s behaviour, too, had not been of the best. She had given up, it is true, shouting at the nervous stranger to make him dance; and she no longer rang the doorbell of the tiny old woman who sold worsted dolls. But she threw back her head more pertly than ever, and showed, especially after the summer visits with her grandparents, a very strong tendency to vanity and arrogance of spirit.

One day the Consul surprised her and Mamsell Jungmann reading together. The book was Clauren’s “Mimili”; the Consul turned over some of the leaves, and then silently closed it—and it was opened no more. Soon afterward it came to light that Tony—Antonie Buddenbrook, no less a person—had been seen walking outside the City wall with a young student, a friend of her brother. Frau Stuht, she who moved in the best circles, had seen the pair, and had remarked at the Möllendorpfs’, whither she had gone to buy some cast-off clothing, that really Mademoiselle Buddenbrook was getting to the age where—And Frau Senator Möllendorpf had lightly repeated the story to the Consul. The pleasant strolls came to an end. Later it came out that Fräulein Antonie had made a post-office of the old hollow tree that stood near the Castle Gate, and not only posted therein letters addressed to the same student, but received letters from him as well by that means. When these facts came to light, they seemed to indicate the need of a more watchful oversight over the young lady, now fifteen years old; and she was accordingly, as we have already said, sent to boarding-school at Fräulein Weichbrodt’s, Number seven, Millbank.