Buddenbrooks Chapter Three

She mounted the stairs to the second storey, left the little balcony on her right, went along the white-and-gold balustrade and through an ante-chamber, the door of which stood open on the corridor, and from which a second exit to the left led into the Senator’s dressing-room. Here she softly turned the handle of the door opposite and went in.

It was an unusually large chamber, the windows of which were draped with flowered curtains. The walls were rather bare: aside from a large black-framed engraving above Ida’s bed, representing Giacomo Meyerbeer surrounded by the characters in his operas, there was nothing but a few English coloured prints of children with yellow hair and little red frocks, pinned to the window hangings. Ida Jungmann sat at the large extension-table in the middle of the room, darning Hanno’s stockings. The faithful Prussian was now at the beginning of the fifties. She had begun early to grow grey, but her hair had never become quite white, having remained a mixture of black and grey; her erect bony figure was as sturdy, and her brown eyes as bright, clear, and unwearied as twenty years ago.

“Well, Ida, you good soul,” said Frau Permaneder, in a low but lively voice, for her brother’s little story had put her in good spirits, “and how are you, you old stand-by, you?”

“What’s that, Tony—stand-by, is it? And how do you come to be here so late?”

“I’ve been with my brother—on pressing business. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out.—Is he asleep?” she asked, and gestured with her chin toward the little bed on the left wall, its head close to the door that led into the parents’ sleeping chamber.

“Sh-h!” said Ida. “Yes, he is asleep.” Frau Permaneder went on her tip-toes toward the little bed, cautiously raised the curtain, and bent to look down at her sleeping nephew’s face.

The small Johann Buddenbrook lay on his back, his little face, in its frame of long light-brown hair, turned toward the room. He was breathing softly but audibly into the pillow. Only the fingers showed beneath the too long, too wide sleeves of his nightgown: one of his hands lay on his breast, the other on the coverlet, with the bent fingers jerking slightly now and then. The half-parted lips moved a little too, as if forming words. From time to time a pained expression mounted over the little face, beginning with a trembling of the chin, making the lips and the delicate nostrils quiver and the muscles of the narrow forehead contract. The long dark eyelashes did not hide the blue shadows that lay in the corners of the eyes.

“He is dreaming,” said Frau Permaneder, moved.

She bent over the child and gently kissed his slumbering cheek; then she composed the curtains and went back to the table, where Ida, in the golden light from the lamp, drew a fresh stocking over her darning-ball, looked at the hole, and began to fill it in.

“You are darning, Ida—funny, I can’t imagine you doing anything else.”

“Yes, yes, Tony. The boy tears everything, now he has begun to go to school.”

“But he is such a quiet, gentle child.”

“Ye-s, he is. But even so—”

“Does he like going to school?”

“Oh, no-o, Tony. He would far rather have gone on here with me. And I should have liked it better too. The masters haven’t known him since he was a baby, the way I have—they don’t know how to take him, when they are teaching him. It is often hard for him to pay attention, and he gets tired so easily—”

“Poor darling! Have they whipped him yet?”

“No, indeed. Sakes alive, how could they have the heart, if the boy once looked at them—?”

“How was it the first time he went? Did he cry?”

“Yes, indeed, he did. He cries so easily—not loud, but sort of to himself. And he held your brother by the coat and begged to be allowed to stop at home—”

“Oh, my brother took him, did he?—Yes, that is a hard moment, Ida. I remember it like yesterday. I howled. I do assure you. I howled like a chained-up dog; I felt dreadfully. And why? Because I had had such a good time at home. I noticed at once that all the children from the nice houses wept, and the others not at all—they just stared and grinned at us.—Goodness, what is the matter with him, Ida?”

She turned in alarm toward the little bed, where a cry had interrupted her chatter. It was a frightened cry, and it repeated itself in an even more anguished tone the next minute; and then three, four, five times more, one after another. “Oh, oh, oh! ” It became a loud, desperate protest against something which he saw or which was happening to him. The next moment little Johann sat upright in bed, stammering incomprehensibly, and staring with wide-open, strange golden-brown eyes into a world which he, and he alone, could see.

“That’s nothing,” said Ida. “It is the pavor. It is sometimes much worse than that.” She put her work down calmly and crossed the room, with her long heavy stride, to Hanno’s bed. She spoke to him in a low, quieting voice, laid him down, and covered him again.

“Oh, I see—the pavor,” repeated Frau Permaneder. “What will he do now? Will he wake up?”

But Hanno did not waken at all, though his eyes were wide and staring, and his lips still moved.

“‘In my—little—garden—go—,’”

said Hanno, mumblingly,


“He is saying his piece,” explained Ida Jungmann, shaking her head. “There, there, little darling—go to sleep now.”

“‘Little man stands—stands there—

He begins—to—sneeze—’”

He sighed. Suddenly his face changed, his eyes half closed; he moved his head back and forth on the pillow and said in a low, plaintive sing-song:

“‘The moon it shines,

The baby cries,

The clock strikes twelve,

God help all suff’ring folk to close their eyes.’”

But with the words came so deep a sob that tears rolled out from under his lashes and down his cheeks and wakened him. He put his arms around Ida, looked about him with tear-wet eyes, murmured something in a satisfied tone about “Aunt Tony,” turned himself a little in his bed, and then went quietly off to sleep.

“How very strange,” said Frau Permaneder, as Ida sat down at the table once more. “What was all that?”

“They are in his reader,” answered Fraulein Jungmann. “It says underneath ‘The Boys’ Magic Horn.’ They are all rather queer. He has been having to learn them, and he talks a great deal about that one with the little man. Do you know it? It is really rather frightening. It is a little dwarf that gets into everything: eats up the broth and breaks the pot, steals the wood, stops the spinning-wheel, teases everybody—and then, at the end, he asks to be prayed for! It touched the child very much. He has thought about it day in and day out; and two or three times he said: ‘You know, Ida, he doesn’t do that to be wicked, but only because he is unhappy, and it only makes him more unhappy still. … But if one prays for him, then he does not need to do it any more!’ Even to-night, when his Mama kissed him good night before she went to the concert, he asked her to ‘pray for the little man.’”

“And did he pray too?”

“Not aloud, but probably to himself.—He hasn’t said much about the other poem—it is called ‘The Nursery Clock’—he has only wept. He weeps so easy, poor little lad, and it is so hard for him to stop.”

“But what is there so sad about it?”

“How do I know? He has never been able to say any more than the beginning of it, the part that makes him cry in his sleep. And that about the waggoner, who gets up at three from his bed of straw—that always made him weep too.”

Frau Permaneder laughed emotionally, and then looked serious.

“I’ll tell you, Ida, it’s no good. It isn’t good for him to feel everything so much. ‘The waggoner gets up at three from his bed of straw’—why, of course he does! That’s why he is a waggoner. I can see already that the child takes everything too much to heart—it consumes him, I feel sure. We must speak seriously with Grabow. But there, that is just what it is,” she went on, folding her arms, putting her head on one side, and tapping the floor nervously with her foot. “Grabow is getting old; and aside from that, good as he is—and he really is a very good man, a perfect angel—so far as his skill is concerned, I have no such great opinion of it, Ida, and may God forgive me if I am wrong. Take this nervousness of Hanno’s, his starting up at night and having such frights in his sleep. Grabow knows what it is, and all he does is to tell us the Latin name of it—pavor nocturnus. Dear knows, that is very enlightening, of course! No, he is a dear good man, and a great friend of the family and all that—but he is no great light. An important man looks different—he shows when he is young that there is something in him. Grabow lived through the ’48. He was a young man then. Do you imagine he was the least bit thrilled over it—over freedom and justice, and the downfall of privilege and arbitrary power? He is a cultivated man; but I am convinced that the unheard-of laws concerning the press and the universities did not interest him in the least. He has never behaved even the least little bit wild, never jumped over the traces. He has always had just the same long, mild face, and always prescribed pigeon and French bread, and when anything is serious, a teaspoon of tincture of althaea.—Good night, Ida. No, I think there are other doctors in the world! Too bad I have missed Gerda. Yes, thanks, there is a light in the corridor. Good night.”

When Frau Permaneder opened the dining-room door in passing, to call a good night to her brother in the living-room, she saw that the whole storey was lighted up, and that Thomas was walking up and down with his hands behind his back.