Buddenbrooks Chapter Two

Herr Jean Jacques Hoffstede was the town poet. He undoubtedly had a few verses in his pocket for the present occasion. He was nearly as old as Johann Buddenbrook, and dressed in much the same style except that his coat was green instead of mouse-coloured. But he was thinner and more active than his old friend, with bright little greenish eyes and a long pointed nose.

“Many thanks,” he said, shaking hands with the gentlemen and bowing before the ladies—especially the Frau Consul, for whom he entertained a deep regard. Such bows as his it was not given to the younger generation to perform; and he accompanied them with his pleasant quiet smile. “Many thanks for your kind invitation, my dear good people. We met these two young ones, the Doctor and I”—he pointed to Tom and Christian, in their blue tunics and leather belts—“in King Street, coming home from school. Fine lads, eh, Frau Consul? Tom is a very solid chap. He’ll have to go into the business, no doubt of that. But Christian is a devil of a fellow—a young incroyable, hey? I will not conceal my engouement. He must study, I think—he is witty and brilliant.”

Old Buddenbrook used his gold snuff-box. “He’s a young monkey, that’s what he is. Why not say at once that he is to be a poet, Hoffstede?”

Mamsell Jungmann drew the curtains, and soon the room was bathed in mellow flickering light from the candles in the crystal chandelier and the sconces on the writing-desk. It lighted up golden gleams in the Frau Consul’s hair.

“Well, Christian,” she said, “what did you learn to-day?” It appeared that Christian had had writing, arithmetic, and singing lessons. He was a boy of seven, who already resembled his father to an almost comic extent. He had the same rather small round deep-set eyes and the same prominent aquiline nose; the lines of his face below the cheek-bones showed that it would not always retain its present child-like fulness.

“We’ve been laughing dreadfully,” he began to prattle, his eyes darting from one to another of the circle. “What do you think Herr Stengel said to Siegmund Kostermann?” He bent his back, shook his head, and declaimed impressively: “‘Outwardly, outwardly, my dear child, you are sleek and smooth; but inwardly, my dear child, you are black and foul.’ …” He mimicked with indescribably funny effect not only the master’s odd pronunciation but the look of disgust on his face at the “outward sleekness” he described. The whole company burst out laughing.

“Young monkey!” repeated old Buddenbrook. But Herr Hoffstede was in ecstasies. “Charmant!” he cried. “If you know Marcellus Stengel—that’s he, to the life. Oh, that’s too good!”

Thomas, to whom the gift of mimicry had been denied, stood near his younger brother and laughed heartily, without a trace of envy. His teeth were not very good, being small and yellowish. His nose was finely chiselled, and he strikingly resembled his grandfather in the eyes and the shape of the face.

The company had for the most part seated themselves on the chairs and the sofa. They talked with the children or discussed the unseasonable cold and the new house. Herr Hoffstede admired a beautiful Sèvres inkstand, in the shape of a black and white hunting dog, that stood on the escritoire. Doctor Grabow, a man of about the Consul’s age, with a long mild face between thin whiskers, was looking at the table, set out with cakes and currant bread and salt-cellars in different shapes. This was the “bread and salt” that had been sent by friends for the house warming; but the “bread” consisted of rich, heavy pastries, and the salt came in dishes of massive gold, that the senders might not seem to be mean in their gifts.

“There will be work for me here,” said the Doctor, pointing to the sweetmeats and threatening the children with his glance. Shaking his head, he picked up a heavy salt and pepper stand from the table.

“From Lebrecht Kröger,” said old Buddenbrook, with a grimace. “Our dear kinsman is always open-handed. I did not spend as much on him when he built his summer house outside the Castle Gate. But he has always been like that—very lordly, very free with his money, a real cavalier à-la-mode.…”

The bell had rung several times. Pastor Wunderlich was announced; a stout old gentleman in a long black coat and powdered hair. He had twinkling grey eyes set in a face that was jovial if rather pale. He had been a widower for many years, and considered himself a bachelor of the old school, like Herr Gratiens, the broker, who entered with him. Herr Gratjens was a tall man who went around with one of his thin hands up to his eye like a telescope, as if he were examining a painting. He was a well-known art connoisseur.

Among the other guests were Senator Doctor Langhals and his wife, both friends of many years’ standing; and Köppen the wine-merchant, with his great crimson face between enormous padded sleeves. His wife, who came with him, was nearly as stout as he.

It was after half past four when the Krögers put in an appearance—the elders together with their children; the Consul Krögers with their sons Jacob and Jürgen, who were about the age of Tom and Christian. On their heels came the parents of Frau Consul Kröger, the lumber-dealer Överdieck and his wife, a fond old pair who still addressed each other in public with nicknames from the days of their early love.

“Fine people come late,” said Consul Buddenbrook, and kissed his mother-in-law’s hand.

“But look at them when they do come!” and Johann Buddenbrook included the whole Kröger connection with a sweeping gesture, and shook the elder Kröger by the hand. Lebrecht Kröger, the cavalier à-la-mode, was a tall, distinguished figure. He wore his hair slightly powdered, but dressed in the height of fashion, with a double row of jewelled buttons on his velvet waistcoat. His son Justus, with his turned-up moustache and small beard, was very like the father in figure and manner, even to the graceful easy motions of the hands.

The guests did not sit down, but stood about awaiting the principal event of the evening and passing the time in casual talk. At length, Johann Buddenbrook the elder offered his arm to Madame Köppen and said in an elevated voice, “Well, mesdames et messieurs, if you are hungry …”

Mamsell Jungmann and the servant had opened the folding-doors into the dining-room; and the company made its way with studied ease to table. One could be sure of a good square meal at the Buddenbrooks’.