Buddenbrooks Chapter Two

Tony, coming back from a walk some days later, met Herr Grünlich at the corner of Meng Street. “I was most grieved to have missed you, Fräulein,” he said. “I took the liberty of paying my respects to your Mother the other day, and I regretted your absence more than I can say. How delightful that I should meet you like this!”

Fräulein Buddenbrook had paused as he began to speak; but her half-shut eyes looked no further up than the height of Herr Grünlich’s chest. On her lips rested the mocking, merciless smile with which a young girl measures and rejects a man. Her lips moved—what should she say? It must be something that would demolish this Herr Bendix Grünlich once and for all—simply annihilate him. It must be clever, witty, and effective, must at one and the same time wound him to the quick and impress him tremendously.

“The pleasure is not mutual, Herr Grünlich,” said she, keeping her gaze meanwhile levelled at his chest. And after she had shot this poisoned arrow, she left him standing there and went home, her head in the air, her face red with pride in her own powers of repartee—to learn that Herr Grünlich had been invited to dinner next Sunday.

And he came. He came in a not quite new-fashioned, rather wrinkled, but still handsome bell-shaped frock coat which gave him a solid, respectable look. He was rosy and smiling, his scant hair carefully parted, his whiskers curled and scented. He ate a ragout of shell-fish, julienne soup, fried soles, roast veal with creamed potatoes and cauliflower, maraschino pudding, and pumpernickel with roquefort; and he found a fresh and delicate compliment for each fresh course. Over the sweet he lifted his dessert-spoon, gazed at one of the tapestry statues, and spoke aloud to himself, thus: “God forgive me, I have eaten far too well already. But this pudding—! It is too wonderful! I must beg my good hostess for another slice.” And he looked roguishly at the Consul’s wife. With the Consul he talked business and politics, and spoke soundly and weightily. He discussed the theatre and the fashions with the Frau Consul, and he had a good word for Tom and Christian and Clothilde, and even for little Clara and Ida Jungmann. Tony sat in silence, and he did not undertake to engage her; only gazing at her now and then, with his head a little tilted, his face looking dejected and encouraged by turns.

When Herr Grünlich took his leave that evening, he had only strengthened the impressions left by his first visit. “A thoroughly well-bred man,” said the Frau Consul. “An estimable Christian gentleman,” was the Consul’s opinion. Christian imitated his speech and actions even better than before; and Tony said her good nights to them all with a frowning brow, for something told her that she had not yet seen the last of this gentleman who had won the hearts of her parents with such astonishing ease and rapidity.

And, sure enough, coming back one afternoon from a visit with some girl friends, she found Herr Grünlich cosily established in the landscape-room, reading aloud to the Frau Consul out of Sir Walter Scott’s “Waverley.” His pronunciation was perfect, for, as he explained, his business trips had taken him to England. Tony sat down apart with another book, and Herr Grünlich softly questioned: “Our book is not to your taste, Fräulein?” To which she replied, with her head in the air, something in a sarcastic vein, like “Not in the very least.”

But he was not taken aback. He began to talk about his long-dead parents and communicated the fact that his father had been a clergyman, a Christian, and at the same time a highly cosmopolitan gentleman.—After this visit, he departed for Hamburg. Tony was not there when he called to take leave. “Ida,” she said to Mamsell Jungmann, “Ida, the man has gone.” But Mamsell Jungmann only replied, “You’ll see, child.”

And eight days later, in fact, came that scene in the breakfast room. Tony came down at nine o’clock and found her father and mother still table. She let her forehead be kissed and sat down, fresh and hungry, her eyes still red with sleep, and helped herself to sugar, butter, and herb cheese.

“How nice to find you still here, for once, Papa,” she said as she held her egg in her napkin and opened it with her spoon.

“But to-day I have been waiting for our slug-a-bed,” said the Consul. He was smoking and tapping on the table with his folded newspaper. His wife finished her breakfast with her slow, graceful motions, and leaned back in the sofa.

“Tilda is already busy in the kitchen,” went on the Consul, “and I should have been long since at work myself, if your Mother and I had not been speaking seriously about a matter that concerns our little daughter.”

Tony, her mouth full of bread and butter, looked first at her father and then her mother, with a mixture of fear and curiosity.

“Eat your breakfast, my child,” said the Frau Consul. But Tony laid down her knife and cried, “Out with it quickly, Papa—please.” Her father only answered: “Eat your breakfast first.”

So Tony drank her coffee and ate her egg and bread and cheese silently, her appetite quite gone. She began to guess. The fresh morning bloom disappeared from her cheek, and she even grew a little pale. She said “Thank you” for the honey, and soon after announced in a subdued voice that she had finished.

“My dear child,” said the Consul, “the matter we desire to talk over with you is contained in this letter.” He was tapping the table now with a big blue envelope instead of the newspaper. “To be brief: Bendix Grünlich, whom we have learned, during his short stay here, to regard as a good and a charming man, writes to me that he has conceived a strong inclination for our daughter, and he here makes a request in form for her hand. What does my child say?”

Tony was leaning back in her seat, her head bent, her right hand slowly twirling the silver napkin-ring round and round. But suddenly she looked up, and her eyes had grown quite dark with tears. She said, her voice full of distress: “What does this man want of me? What have I done to him?” And she burst into weeping.

The Consul shot a glance at his wife and then regarded his empty cup, embarrassed.

“Tony dear,” said the Frau Consul gently, “why this—échauffement? You know quite well your parents can only desire your good. And they cannot counsel you to reject forthwith the position offered you. I know you feel so far no particular inclination for Herr Grünlich, but that will come; I assure you it comes, with time. Such a young thing as you is never sure what she wants. The mind is as confused as the heart. One must just give the heart time—and keep the mind open to the advice of experienced people who think and plan only for our good.”

“I don’t know him the least little bit,” Tony said in a dejected tone, wiping her eyes on the little white batiste serviette, stained with egg. “All I know is, he has a yellow beard, like a goat’s, and a flourishing business—” Her upper lip, trembling on the verge of tears, had an expression that was indescribably touching.

With a movement of sudden tenderness the Consul jerked his chair nearer hers and stroked her hair, smiling.

“My little Tony, what should you like to know of him? You are still a very young girl, you know. You would know him no better if he had been here for fifty-two weeks instead of four. You are a child, with no eyes yet for the world, and you must trust other people who mean well by you.”

“I don’t understand—I don’t understand,” Tony sobbed helplessly, and put down her head as a kitten does beneath the hand that strokes it. “He comes here and says something pleasant to everybody, and then goes away again; and then he writes to you that he—that I—I don’t understand. What made him? What have I done to him?”

The Consul smiled again. “You said that once before, Tony; and it illustrates so well your childish way of reasoning. My little daughter must not feel that people mean to urge or torment her. We can consider it all very quietly; in fact, we must consider it all very quietly and calmly, for it is a very serious matter. Meanwhile I will write an answer to Herr Grünlich’s letter, without either consenting or refusing. There is much to be thought of.—Well, is that agreed? What do you say?—And now Papa can go back to his work, can’t he?—Adieu, Betsy.”

“Au revoir, dear Jean.”

“Do take a little more honey, Tony,” said the Frau Consul to her daughter, who sat in her place motionless, with her head bent. “One must eat.”

Tony’s tears gradually dried. Her head felt hot and heavy with her thoughts. Good gracious, what a business! She had always known, of course, that she should one day marry, and be the wife of a business man, and embark upon a solid and advantageous married life, commensurate with the position of the family and the firm. But suddenly, for the first time in her life, somebody, some actual person, in serious earnest, wanted to marry her. How did people act? To her, her, Tony Buddenbrook, were now applicable all those tremendous words and phrases which she had hitherto met with only in books: her “hand,” her “consent,” “as long as life shall last!” Goodness gracious, what a step to take, all at once!

“And you, Mamma? Do you too advise me to—to—to yield my consent?” She hesitated a little before the “yield my consent.” It sounded high-flown and awkward. But then, this was the first occasion in her life that was worthy of fine language. She began to blush for her earlier lack of self-control. It seemed to her now not less unreasonable than it had ten minutes ago that she should marry Herr Grünlich; but the dignity of her situation began to fill her with a sense of importance which was satisfying indeed.

“I advise you to accept, my child? Has Papa advised you to do so? He has only not advised you not to, that is all. It would be very irresponsible of either of us to do that. The connection offered you is a very good one, my dear Tony. You would go to Hamburg on an excellent footing and live there in great style.”

Tony sat motionless. She was having a sort of vision of silk portières, like those in grandfather’s salon. And, as Madame Grünlich, should she drink morning chocolate? She thought it would not be seemly to ask.

“As your Father says, you have time to consider,” the Frau Consul continued. “But we are obliged to tell you that such an offer does not come every day, that it would make your fortune, and that it is exactly the marriage which duty and vocation prescribe. This, my child, it is my business to tell you. You know yourself that the path which opens before you to-day is the prescribed one which your life ought to follow.”

“Yes,” Tony said thoughtfully. She was well aware of her responsibilities toward the family and the firm, and she was proud of them. She was saturated with her family history—she, Tony Buddenbrook, who, as the daughter of Consul. Buddenbrook, went about the town like a little queen, before whom Matthiesen the porter took off his hat and made a low bow! The Rostock tailor had been very well off, to begin with; but since his time, the family fortunes had advanced by leaps and bounds. It was her vocation to enhance the brilliance of family and firm in her allotted way, by making a rich and aristocratic marriage. To the same end, Tom worked in the office. Yes, the marriage was undoubtedly precisely the right one. But—but—She saw him before her, saw his gold-yellow whiskers, his rosy, smiling face, the wart on his nose, his mincing walk. She could feel his woolly suit, hear his soft voice. …

“I felt sure,” the Consul’s wife said, “that we were accessible to quiet reason. Have we perhaps already made up our mind?”

“Oh, goodness, no!” cried Tony, suddenly. She uttered the “Oh” with an outburst of irritation. “What nonsense! Why should I marry him? I have always made fun of him. I never did anything else. I can’t understand how he can possibly endure me The man must have some sort of pride in his bones!” She began to drip honey upon a slice of bread.