Buddenbrooks Chapter Three

Consul Buddenbrook crossed his spacious ground floor in haste. Coming out into Bakers’ Alley, he heard steps behind him and saw Gosch the broker, a picturesque figure in his long cloak and Jesuit hat, also climbing the narrow street to the meeting. He lifted his hat with one thin long hand, and with the other made a deferential gesture, as he said, “Well, Herr Consul—how are you?” His voice sounded sinister.

This broker, Siegismund Gosch, a bachelor of some forty years, was, despite his demeanour, the best and most honest soul in the world; but he was a wit and an oddity. His smooth-shaven face was distinguished by a Roman nose, a protruding pointed chin, sharp features, and a wide mouth drooping at the corners, whose narrow lips he was in the habit of pressing together in the most taciturn and forbidding manner. His grey hair fell thick and sombre over his brow, and he actually regretted not being humpbacked. It was his whim to assume the rôle of a wild, witty, and reckless intrigant—a cross between Mephistopheles and Napoleon, something very malevolent and yet fascinating too; and he was not entirely unsuccessful in his pose. He was a strange yet attractive figure among the citizens of the old city; still, he belonged among them, for he carried on a small brokerage business in the most modest, respectable sort of way. In his narrow, dark little office, however, he had a large book-case filled with poetry in every language, and there was a story that he had been engaged since his twentieth year on a translation of Lope de Vega’s collected dramas. Once he had played the rôle of Domingo in an amateur performance of Schiller’s “Don Carlos”—this was the culmination of his career. A common word never crossed his lips; and the most ordinary business expressions he would hiss between his clenched teeth, as if he were saying “Curses on you, villain,” instead of some commonplace about stocks and commissions. He was, in many ways, the heir and successor to Jean Jacques Hoffstede of blessed memory, except that his character had certain elements of the sombre and pathetic, with none of the playful liveliness of that old 18th-century friend of Johann Buddenbrook. One day he lost at a single blow, on the Bourse, six and a half thaler on two or three papers which he had bought as a speculation. This was enough. He sank upon a bench; he struck an attitude which looked as though he had lost the Battle of Waterloo; he struck his clenched fist against his forehead and repeated several times, with a blasphemous roll of the eyes: “Ha, accursed, accursed!” He must have been, at bottom, cruelly bored by the small, safe business he did and the petty transfer of this or that bit of property; for this loss, this tragic blow with which Heaven had stricken him down—him, the schemer Gosch—delighted his inmost soul. He fed on it for weeks. Some one would say, “So you’ve had a loss, Herr Gosch, I’m sorry to hear.” To which he would answer: “Oh, my good friend, ‘uomo non educato dal dolore riman sempre bambino’!” Probably nobody understood that. Was it, possibly, Lope de Vega? Anyhow, there was no doubt that this Siegismund Gosch was a remarkable and learned man.

“What times we live in,” he said, limping up the street with the Consul, supported by his stick. “Times of storm and unrest.”

“You are right,” replied the Consul. “The times are unquiet. This morning’s sitting will be exciting. The principle of the estates—”

“Well, now,” Herr Gosch went on, “I have been about all day in the streets, and I have been looking at the mob. There are some fine fellows in it, their eyes flaming with excitement and hatred—”

Johann Buddenbrook began to laugh. “You like that, don’t you? But you have the right end of it after all, let me tell you. It is all childishness! What do these men want? A lot of uneducated rowdies who see a chance for a bit of a scrimmage.”

“Of course. Though I can’t deny—I was in the crowd when Berkemeyer, the journeyman butcher, smashed Herr Benthien’s window. He was like a panther.” Herr Gosch spoke the last word with his teeth particularly close together, and went on: “Oh, the thing has its fine side, that’s certain. It is a change, at least, you know; something that doesn’t happen every day. Storm, stress, violence—the tempest! Oh, the people are ignorant, I know—still, my heart, this heart of mine—it beats with theirs!” They were already before the simple yellow-painted house on the ground floor of which the sittings of the Assembly took place.

The room belonged to the beer-hall and dance-establishment of a widow named Suerkringel; but on certain days it was at the service of the gentlemen burgesses. The entrance was through a narrow whitewashed corridor opening into the restaurant on the right side, where it smelled of beer and cooking, and thence through a handleless, lockless green door so small and narrow that no one could have supposed such a large room lay behind it. The room was empty, cold, and barnlike, with a whitewashed roof in which the beams showed, and whitewashed walls. The three rather high windows had green-painted bars, but no curtains. Opposite them were the benches, rising in rows like an amphitheatre, with a table at the bottom for the chairman, the recording clerk, and the Committee of the Senate. It was covered with a green cloth and had a clock, documents, and writing-materials on it. On the wall opposite the door were several tall hat-racks with hats and coats.

The sound of voices met the Consul and his companion as they entered through the narrow door. They were the last to come. The room was filled with burgesses, hands in their trousers pockets, on their hips, or in the air, as they stood together in groups and discussed. Of the hundred and thirty members of the body at least a hundred were present. A number of delegates from the country districts had been obliged by circumstances to stop at home.

Near the entrance stood a group composed of two or three small business men, a high-school teacher, the orphan asylum “father,” Herr Mindermann, and Herr Wenzel, the popular barber. Herr Wenzel, a powerful little man with a black moustache, an intelligent face, and red hands, had shaved the Consul that very morning; here, however, he stood on an equality with him. He shaved only in the best circles; he shaved almost exclusively the Möllendorpfs, Langhals, Buddenbrooks, and Överdiecks, and he owed his vote in the Assembly to his omniscience in city affairs, his sociability and ease, and his remarkable power of decision at a division.

“Have you heard the latest, Herr Consul?” he asked with round-eyed eagerness as his patron came up.

“What is there to hear, my dear Wenzel?”

“Nobody knew it this morning. Well, permit me to tell you, Herr Consul, the latest is that the crowd are not going to collect before the Town Hall, or in the market—they are coming here to threaten the burgesses. Editor Rübsam has stirred them up.”

“Is it possible?” said the Consul. He pressed through the various groups to the middle of the room, where he saw his father-in-law with Senators Dr. Langhals and James Möllendorpf. “Is it true, gentlemen?” he asked, shaking hands with them.

But there was no need to answer. The whole assemblage was full of it: the peace-breakers were coming; they could be heard already in the distance.

“Canaille!” said Lebrecht Kröger with cold scorn. He had driven hither in his carriage. On an ordinary day the tall, distinguished figure of the once famous cavalier showed the burden of his eighty years; but to-day he stood quite erect with his eyes half closed, the corners of his mouth contemptuously drawn down, and the points of his white moustaches sticking straight up. Two rows of jewelled buttons sparkled on his black velvet waistcoat.

Not far from this group was Hinrich Hagenström, a square-built, fleshy man with a reddish beard sprinkled with grey, a heavy watch-chain across his blue-checked waistcoat, and his coat open over it. He was standing with his partner Herr Strunck, and did not greet the Consul.

Herr Benthien, the draper, a prosperous looking man, had a large group of gentlemen around him, to whom he was circumstantially describing what had happened to his show-window. “A brick, gentlemen, a brick, or at least half a brick—crack! through it went and landed on a roll of green rep. The rascally mob! Oh, the Government will have to take it up! It’s their affair!”

And in every corner of the room unceasingly resounded the voice of Herr Stuht from Bell-Founders’ Street. He had on a black coat over his woollen shirt; and he so deeply sympathized with the narrative of Herr Benthien that he never stopped saying, in outraged accents, “Infamous, un-heard-of!”

Johann Buddenbrook found and greeted his old friend G. F. Köppen, and then Köppen’s rival, Consul Kistenmaker. He moved about in the crowd, pressed Dr. Grabow’s hand, and exchanged a few words with Herr Gieseke the Fire Commissioner, Contractor Voigt, Dr. Langhals, the Chairman, brother of the Senator, and several merchants, lawyers, and teachers.

The sitting was not yet opened, but debate was already lively. Everybody was cursing that pestilential scribbler, Editor Rübsam; everybody knew he had stirred up the crowd—and what for? The business in hand was to decide whether they were to go on with the method of selecting representatives by estates, or whether there was to be universal and equal franchise. The Senate had already proposed the latter. But what did the people want? They wanted these gentlemen by the throats—no more and no less. It was the worst hole they had ever found themselves in, devil take it! The Senatorial Committee was surrounded, its members’ opinion eagerly sought. They approached Consul Buddenbrook, as one who should know the attitude of Burgomaster Överdieck; for since Senator Doctor Överdieck, Consul Justus Kröger’s brother-in-law, had been made President last year, the Buddenbrooks were related to the Burgomaster; which had distinctly enhanced the regard in which they were held.

All of a sudden the tumult began outside. Revolution had arrived under the windows of the Sitting. The excited exchange of opinions inside ceased simultaneously. Every man, dumb with the shock, folded his hands upon his stomach and looked at his fellows or at the windows, where fists were being shaken in the air and the crowd was giving vent to deafening and frantic yelling. But then, most astonishingly, as though the offenders themselves had suddenly grown aghast at their own behaviour, it became just as still outside as in the hall; and in that deep hush, one word from the neighbourhood of the lowest benches, where Lebrecht Kröger was sitting, was distinctly audible. It rang through the hall, cold, emphatic, and deliberate—the word “Canaille!” And, like an echo, came the word “Infamous,” in a fat, outraged voice from the other corner of the hall. Then the hurried, trembling, whispering utterance of the draper Benthien: “Gentlemen, gentlemen! Listen! I know the house. There is a trap door on to the roof from the attic. I used to shoot cats through it when I was a lad. We can climb on to the next roof and get down safely.”

“Cowardice,” hissed Gosch the broker between his teeth. He leaned against the table with his arms folded and head bent, directing a blood-curdling glance through the window.

“Cowardice, do you say? How cowardice? In God’s name, sir, aren’t they throwing bricks? I’ve had enough of that.”

The noise outside had begun again, but without reaching its former stormy height. It sounded quieter and more continuous, a prolonged, patient, almost comfortable hum, rising and falling; now and then one heard whistles, and sometimes single words like “principle” and “rights of citizens.” The assembly listened respectfully.

After a while the chairman, Herr Dr. Langhals, spoke in a subdued tone: “Gentlemen, I think we could come to some agreement if we opened the meeting.”

But this humble suggestion did not meet with the slightest support from anybody.

“No good in that,” somebody said, with a simple decisiveness that permitted no appeal. It was a peasant sort of man, named Pfahl, from the Ritzerau district, deputy for the village of little Schretstaken. Nobody remembered ever to have heard his voice raised before in a meeting, but its very simplicity made it weighty at the present crisis. Unafraid and with sure political insight, Herr Pfahl had voiced the feeling of the entire assemblage.

“God keep us,” Herr Benthien said despondently. “If we six on the benches we can be seen from outside. They’re throwing stones—I’ve had enough of that.”

“And the cursed door is so narrow,” burst out Köppen the wine-merchant, in despair. “If we start to go out, we’ll probably get crushed.”

“Infamous, un-heard-of,” Herr Stuht intoned.

“Gentlemen,” began the Chairman urgently once more. “I have to put before the Burgomaster in the next three days a draft of to-day’s protocol, and the town expects its publication through the press. I should at least like to get a vote on that subject, if the sitting would come to order—”

But with the exception of a few citizens who supported the chairman, nobody seemed ready to come to the consideration of the agenda. A vote would have been useless anyhow—they must not irritate the people. Nobody knew what they wanted, so it was no good to offend them by a vote, in whatever direction. They must wait and control themselves. The clock of St. Mary’s struck half past four.

They confirmed themselves and each other in this resolve of patient waiting. They began to get used to the noise that rose and fell outside, to feel quieter; to make themselves more comfortable, to sit down on the lower benches and chairs. The natural instinct toward industry, common to all these good burghers, began to assert itself: they ventured to bargain a little, to pick up a little business here and there. The brokers sat down by the wholesale dealers. These beleaguered gentlemen talked together like people shut in by a sudden storm, who speak of other things, and now and then pause to listen with respectful faces to the thunder. It was five o’clock—half-past five. It was getting dark. Now and then somebody sighed and said that the wife would be waiting with the coffee—and then Herr Benthien would venture to mention the trap-door. But most of them were like Herr Stuht, who said fatalistically, shaking his head, “I’m too fat.”

Mindful of his wife’s request Johann Buddenbrook had kept an eye on his father-in-law. He said to him: “This little adventure isn’t disturbing you, is it, Father?”

Lebrecht Kröger’s forehead showed two swollen blue veins under his white wig. He looked ill. One aristocratic old hand played with the opalescent buttons on his waistcoat; the other, with its great diamond ring, trembled on his knee.

“Fiddlesticks, Buddenbrook,” he said; but his: voice showed extreme fatigue. “I am sick of it, that’s all.” Then he betrayed himself by suddenly hissing out: “Parbleu, Jean, this infamous rabble ought to be taught some respect with a little powder and shot. Canaille! Scum!”

The Consul hummed assent. “Yes, yes, you are right; it is a pretty undignified affair. But what can we do? We must keep our tempers. It’s getting late. They’ll go away after a bit.”

“Where is my carriage? I desire my carriage,” said the old man in a tone of command, suddenly quite beside himself. His anger exploded; he trembled all over. “I ordered it for five o’clock: where is it? This sitting will never be held. Why should I stop any longer? I don’t care about being made a fool of. My carriage! What are they doing to my coachman? Go see after it, Buddenbrook.”

“My dear Father-in-Law, for heaven’s sake be calm. You are getting excited. It will be bad for you. Of course I will go and see after the carriage. I think myself we have had enough of this. I will speak to the people and tell them to go home.”

Close by the little green door he was accosted by Siegismund Gosch, who grasped his arm with a bony hand and asked in a gruesome whisper: “Whither away, Herr Consul?”

The broker’s face was furrowed with a thousand lines. His pointed chin rose almost up to his nose, his face expressed the most desperate resolution; his grey hair streamed distractedly over brow and temples; his head was so drawn in between his shoulders that he really almost achieved his ambition of looking like a dwarf—and he rapped out: “You behold me resolved to speak to the people.”

The Consul said: “No, let me do it, Gosch. I really know more of them than you do.”

“Be it so,” answered the broker tonelessly. “You are a bigger man than I.” And, lifting his voice, he went on: “But I will accompany you, I will stand at your side, Consul Buddenbrook. Let the wrath of the outraged people tear me in pieces—”

“What a day, what a night!” he said as they went out. There is no doubt he had never felt so happy before in his life. “Ha, Herr Consul! Here are the people.”

They had gone down the corridor and outside the outer door, where they stood at the top of three little steps that went down to the pavement. The street was indeed a strange sight. It was as Still as the grave. At the open and lighted windows of the houses round, stood the curious, looking down upon the black mass of the insurgents before the Burgesses’ House. The crowd was not much bigger than that inside the hall. It consisted of young labourers from the harbour and granaries, servants, school pupils, sailors from the merchant ships, and other people from the little streets, alleys, courts, and rabbit-hutches round about. There were even two or three women—who had probably promised themselves the same millennium as the Buddenbrooks’ cook. A few of the insurrectionists, weary of standing, had sat down with their feet in the gutter and were eating sandwiches.

It was nearly six o’clock. Though twilight was well advanced, the oil lamps hung unlighted above the street. This fact, this open and unheard-of interruption of the regular order, was the first thing that really made Consul Buddenbrook’s temper rise, and was responsible for his beginning to speak in a rather short and angry tone and the broadest of pronunciations:

“Now then, all of you, what is the meaning of this foolishness?”

The picnickers sprang up from the sidewalk. Those in the back ranks, beyond the foot-pavement, stood on their tiptoes. Some navvies, in the service of the Consul, took off their caps. They stood at attention, nudged each other, and muttered in low tones, “’Tis Consul Buddenbrook. He be goin’ to talk. Hold yer jaw, there, Chrishan; he can jaw like the devil himself! Ther’s Broker Gosch—look! What a monkey he is! Isn’t he gettin’ o’erwrought!”

“Carl Smolt!” began the Consul again, picking out and fastening his small, deep-set eyes upon a bow-legged young labourer of about two-and-twenty, with his cap in his hand and his mouth full of bread, standing in front of the steps. “Here, speak up, Carl Smolt! Now’s the time! I’ve been here the whole afternoon—”

“Yes, Herr Consul,” brought out Carl Smolt, chewing violently.

“The thing is—ower—it’s a soart o’—we’re makin’ a rivolution.”

“What kind of nonsense is that, then?”

“Lord, Herr Consul, ye knaw what that is. We’re not satisfied wi’ things as they be. We demand another order o’ things; tain’t any more’n that—that’s what it is.”

“Now, listen, Carl Smolt and the rest of you. Whoever’s got any sense will go home and not bother himself over any revolutions, disturbing the regular order of things—”

“The sacred order,” interrupted Herr Gosch dramatically.

“The regular order, I say,” finished the Consul. “Why, even the lamps aren’t lighted. That’s going too far with the revolution.”

Carl Smolt had swallowed his mouthful by now, and, with the people at his back, stood his ground and made some objections.

“Well, Herr Consul, ye may say that. But we’re only agin the principle of the voate—”

“God in heaven, you ninny,” shouted the Consul, forgetting, in his excitement, to speak dialect. “You’re talking the sheerest nonsense—”

“Lord, Herr Consul,” said Carl Smolt, somewhat abashed, “thet’s oall as it is. Rivolution it has to be. Ther’s rivolution iverywheer, in Berlin, in Paris—”

“But, Smolt, what do you want? Just tell me that, if you can.”

“Lord, Herr Consul, I say we wants a republic; that’s wat I be sayin’.”

“But, you fool, you’ve got one already.”

“Well, Herr Consul, then we wants another.”

Some of the bystanders, who understood the matter better, began to laugh rudely and heartily; and although few even heard Carl’s answer, the laughter spread until the whole crowd of republicans stood shaking good-naturedly. Some of the gentlemen from inside the hall appeared at the window with curious faces and beer-mugs in their hands. The only person disappointed and painted by this turn of affairs was Siegismund Gosch.

“Now, people,” shouted Consul Buddenbrook finally, “I think the best thing for you all to do is to go home.”

Carl Smolt, quite crestfallen over the result he had brought about, answered: “That’s right, Herr Consul. Then things’ll be quieted down. And Herr Consul doesn’t take it ill of me, do’e, now? Good-bye, Herr Consul!”

The crowd began to disperse, in the best of humours.

“Wait a minute, Smolt,” shouted the Consul. “Have you seen the Kröger carriage? the calèche from outside the Castle Gate?”

“Yes, sir, Herr Consul. He’s here; he be driven up in some court somewhere.”

“Then run quick and say he’s to come at once; his master wants to go home.”

“Servant, Herr Consul,” and, throwing his cap on his head and pulling the leather visor well down over his brows, Carl Smolt ran with great swinging strides down the street.