Buddenbrooks Chapter Eight

Nowadays, when the family gathered at table on Thursdays, under the calmly smiling gaze of the immortals on the walls, they had a new and serious theme. It called out on the faces of the female Buddenbrooks, at least the Broad Street ones, an expression of cold restraint. But it highly excited Frau Permaneder, as her manner and gestures betrayed. She tossed back her head, stretched out her arms before her, or flung them above her head as she talked; and her voice showed by turns anger and dismay, passionate opposition and deep feeling. She would pass over from the particular to the general, and talk in her throaty voice about wicked people, interrupting herself with the little cough that was due to poor digestion. Or she would utter little trumpetings of disgust: Teary Trietschke, Grünlich, Permaneder! A new name had now been added to these, and she pronounced it in a tone of indescribable scorn and hatred: “The District Attorney!”

But when Director Hugo Weinschenk entered—late, as usual, for he was overwhelmed with work; balancing his two fists and weaving about more than ever at the waist of his frock-coat—and sat down at table, his lower lip hanging down with its impudent expression under his moustaches, then the conversation would come to a full stop, and heavy silence would brood over the table until the Senator came to the rescue by asking the Director how his affair was going on—as if it were an ordinary business dealing.

Hugo Weinschenk would answer that things were going very well, very well indeed, they could not go otherwise; and then he would blithely change the subject. He was much more sprightly than he used to be; there was a certain lack of restraint in his roving eye, and he would ask ever so many times about Gerda Buddenbrook’s fiddle without getting any reply. He talked freely and gaily—only it was a pity his flow of spirits prevented him from guarding his tongue; for he now and then told anecdotes which were not at all suited to the company. One, in particular, was about a wet-nurse who prejudiced the health of her charge by the fact that she suffered from flatulence. Too late, or not at all, he remarked that his wife was flushing rosy red, that Thomas, the Frau Consul and Gerda were sitting like statues, and the Misses Buddenbrook exchanging glances that were fairly boring holes in each other. Even Riekchen Severin was looking insulted at the bottom of the table, and old Consul Kröger was the single one of the company who gave even a subdued snort.

What was the trouble with Director Weinschenk? This industrious, solid citizen with the rough exterior and no social graces, who devoted himself with an obstinate sense of duty to his work alone—this man was supposed to have been guilty, not once but repeatedly, of a serious fault: he was accused of, he had been indicted for, performing a business maneuver which was not only questionable, but directly dishonest and criminal. There would be a trial, the outcome of which was not easy to guess. What was he accused of? It was this: certain fires of considerable extent had taken place in different localities, which would have cost his company large sums of money. Director Weinschenk was accused of having received private information of such accidents through his agents, and then, in wrongful possession of this information, of having transferred the back insurance to another firm, thus saving his own the loss. The matter was now in the hands of the State Attorney, Dr. Moritz Hagenström.

“Thomas,” said the Frau Consul in private to her son, “please explain it to me. I do not understand. What do you make of the affair?”

“Why, my dear Mother,” he answered, “what is there to say? It does not look as though things were quite as they should be—unfortunately. It seems unlikely to me that Weinschenk is as guilty as people think. In the modern style of doing business, there is a thing they call usance. And usance—well, imagine a sort of maneuver, not exactly open and above-board, something that looks dishonest to the man in the street, yet perhaps quite customary and taken for granted in the business world: that is usance. The boundary line between usance and actual dishonesty is extremely hard to draw. Well—if Weinschenk has done anything he shouldn’t, he has probably done no more than a good many of his colleagues who will not get caught. But—I don’t see much chance of his being cleared. Perhaps in a larger city he might be, but here everything depends on cliques and personal motives. He should have borne that in mind in selecting his lawyer. It is true that we have no really eminent lawyer in the whole town, nobody with superior oratorical talent, who knows all the ropes and is versed in dubious transactions. All our jurists hang together; they have family connections, in many cases; they eat together; they work together, and they are accustomed to considering each other. In my Opinion, it would have been clever to take a town lawyer. But what did Weinschenk do? He thought it necessary—and this in itself makes his innocence look doubtful—to get a lawyer from Berlin, a Dr. Breslauer, who is a regular rake, an accomplished orator and up to all the tricks of the trade. He has the reputation of having got so-and-so many dishonest bankrupts off scot-free. He will conduct this affair with the same cleverness—for a consideration. But will it do any good? I can see already that our town lawyers will band together to fight him tooth and nail, and that Dr. Hagenström’s hearers will already be prepossessed in his favour. As for the witnesses: well, Weinschenk’s own staff won’t be any too friendly to him, I’m afraid. What we indulgently call his rough exterior—he would call it that, himself, too—has not made him many friends. In short, Mother, I am looking forward to trouble. It will be a pity for Erica, if it turns out badly; but I feel most for Tony. You see, she is quite right in saying that Hagenström is glad of the chance. The thing concerns all of us, and the disgrace will fall on us too; for Weinschenk belongs to the family and eats at our table. As far as I am concerned, I can manage. I know what I have to do: in public, I shall act as if I had nothing whatever to do with the affair. I will not go to the trial—although I am sorry not to, for Breslauer is sure to be interesting. And in general I must behave with complete indifference, to protect myself from the imputation of wanting to use my influence. But Tony? I don’t like to think what a sad business a conviction will be for her. She protests vehemently against envious intrigues and calumniators and all that; but what really moves her is her anxiety lest, after all her other troubles, she may see her daughter’s honourable position lost as well. It is the last blow. She will protest her belief in Weinschenk’s innocence the more loudly the more she is forced to doubt it. Well, he may be innocent, after all. We can only wait and see, Mother, and be very tactful with him and Tony and Erica. But I’m afraid—”

It was under these circumstances that the Christmas feast drew near, to which little Hanno was counting the days, with a beating heart and the help of a calendar manufactured by Ida Jungmann, with a Christmas tree on the last leaf.

The signs of festivity increased. Ever since the first Sunday in Advent a great gaily coloured picture of a certain Ruprecht had been hanging on the wall in grandmama’s dining-room. And one morning Hanno found his covers and the rug beside his bed sprinkled with gold tinsel. A few days later, as papa was lying with his newspaper on the living-room sofa, and Hanno was reading “The Witch of Endor” out of Gerock’s “Palm Leaves,” an “old man” was announced. This had happened every year since Hanno was a baby—and yet was always a surprise. They asked him in, this “old man,” and he came shuffling along in a big coat with the fur side out, sprinkled with bits of cotton-wool and tinsel. He wore a fur cap, and his face had black smudges on it, and his beard was long and white. The beard and the big, bushy eyebrows were also sprinkled with tinsel. He explained—as he did every year—in a harsh voice, that this sack (on his left shoulder) was for good children, who said their prayers (it contained apples and gilded nuts); but that this sack (on his right shoulder) was for naughty children. The “old man” was, of course, Ruprecht; perhaps not actually the real Ruprecht—it might even be Wenzel the barber, dressed up in Papa’s coat turned fur side out—but it was as much Ruprecht as possible. Hanno, greatly impressed, said Our Father for him, as he had last year—both times interrupting himself now and again with a little nervous sob—and was permitted to put his hand into the sack for good children, which the “old man” forgot to take away.

The holidays came, and there was not much trouble over the report, which had to be presented for Papa to read, even at Christmas-time. The great dining-room was closed and mysterious, and there were marzipan and ginger-bread to eat—and in the streets, Christmas had already come. Snow fell, the weather was frosty, and on the sharp clear air were borne the notes of the barrel-organ, for the Italians, with their velvet jackets and their black moustaches, had arrived for the Christmas feast. The shop-windows were gay with toys and goodies; the booths for the Christmas fair had been erected in the market-place; and wherever you went you breathed in the fresh, spicy odour of the Christmas trees set out for sale.

The evening of the twenty-third came at last, and with it the present-giving in the house in Fishers’ Lane. This was attended by the family only—it was a sort of dress rehearsal for the Christmas Eve party given by the Frau Consul in Meng Street. She clung to the old customs, and reserved the twenty-fourth for a celebration to which the whole family group was bidden; which, accordingly, in the late afternoon, assembled in the landscape-room.

The old lady, flushed of cheek, and with feverish eyes, arrayed in a heavy black-and-grey striped silk that gave out a faint scent of patchouli, received her guests as they entered, and embraced them silently, her gold bracelets tinkling. She was strangely excited this evening—“Why, Mother, you’re fairly trembling,” the Senator said when he came in with Gerda and Hanno. “Everything will go off very easily.” But she only whispered, kissing all three of them, “For Jesus Christ’s sake—and my blessed Jean’s.”

Indeed, the whole consecrated programme instituted by the deceased Consul had to be carried out to the smallest detail; and the poor lady fluttered about, driven by her sense of responsibility for the fitting accomplishment of the evening’s performance, which must be pervaded with a deep and fervent joy. She went restlessly back and forth, from the pillared hall where the choir-boys from St. Mary’s were already assembled, to the dining-room, where Riekchen Severin was putting the finishing touches to the tree and the tableful of presents, to the corridor full of shrinking old people—the “poor” who were to share in the presents—and back into the landscape-room, where she rebuked every unnecessary word or sound with one of her mild sidelong glances. It was so still that the sound of a distant hand-organ, faint and clear like a toy music-box, came across to them through the snowy streets. Some twenty persons or more were sitting or standing about in the room; yet it was stiller than a church—so still that, as the Senator cautiously whispered to Uncle Justus, it reminded one more of a funeral!

There was really no danger that the solemnity of the feast would be rudely broken in upon by youthful high spirits. A glance showed that almost all the persons in the room were arrived at an age when the forms of expression are already long ago fixed. Senator Thomas Buddenbrook, whose pallor gave the lie to his alert, energetic, humorous expression; Gerda, his wife, leaning back in her chair, the gleaming, blue-ringed eyes in her pale face gazing fixedly at the crystal prisms in the chandelier; his sister, Frau Permaneder; his cousin, Jürgen Kröger, a quiet, neatly-dressed official; Friederike, Henriette, and Pfiffi, the first two more long and lean, the third smaller and plumper than ever, but all three wearing their stereotyped expression, their sharp, spiteful smile at everything and everybody, as though they were perpetually saying “Really—it seems incredible!” Lastly, there was poor, ashen-grey Clothilde, whose thoughts were probably fixed upon the coming meal.—Every one or these persons was past forty. The hostess herself, her brother Justus and his wife, and little Therese Weichbrodt were all well past sixty; while old Frau Consul Buddenbrook, Uncle Gotthold’s widow, born Stüwing, as well as Madame Kethelsen, now, alas almost entirely deaf, were already in the seventies.

Erica Weinschenk was the only person present in the bloom of youth; she was much younger than her husband, whose cropped, greying head stood out against the idyllic landscape behind him. When her eyes—the light blue eyes of Herr Grünlich—rested upon him, you could see how her full bosom rose and fell without a sound, and how she was beset with anxious, bewildered thoughts about usance and book-keeping, witnesses, prosecuting attorneys, defence, and judges. Thoughts like these, un-Christmaslike though they were, troubled everybody in the room. They all felt uncanny at the presence in their midst of a member of the family who was actually accused of an offence against the law, the civic weal, and business probity, and who would probably be visited by shame and imprisonment. Here was a Christmas family party at the Buddenbrooks’—with an accused man in the circle! Frau Permaneder’s dignity became majestic, and the smile of the Misses Buddenbrook more and more pointed.

And what of the children, the scant posterity upon whom rested the family hopes? Were they conscious too of the slightly uncanny atmosphere? The state of mind of the little Elisabeth could not be fathomed. She sat on her bonne’s lap in a frock trimmed by Frau Permaneder with satin bows, folded her small hands into fists, sucked her tongue, and stared straight ahead of her. Now and then she would utter a brief sound, like a grunt, and the nurse would rock her a little on her arm. But Hanno sat still on his footstool at his mother’s knee and stared up, like her, into the chandelier.

Christian was missing—where was he? At the last minute they noticed his absence. The Frau Consul’s characteristic gesture, from the corner of her mouth up to her temple, as though putting back a refractory hair, became frequent and feverish. She gave an order to Mamsell Severin, and the spinster went out through the hall, past the choir-boys and the “poor” and down the corridor to Christian’s room, where she knocked on the door.

Christian appeared straightway; he limped casually into the landscape-room, rubbing his bald brow. “Good gracious, children,” he said, “I nearly forgot the party!”

“You nearly forgot—” his mother repeated, and stiffened.

“Yes, I really forgot it was Christmas. I was reading a book of travel, about South America.—Dear me, I’ve seen such a lot of Christmases!” he added, and was about to launch out upon a description of a Christmas in a fifth-rate variety theatre in London—when all at once the church-like hush of the room began to work upon him, and he moved on tip-toe to his place, wrinkling up his nose.

“Rejoice, O Daughter of Zion!” sang the choir-boys. They had previously been indulging in such audible practical jokes that the Senator had to get up and stand in the doorway to inspire respect. But now they sang beautifully. The clear treble, sustained by the deeper voices, soared up in pure, exultant, glorifying tones, bearing all hearts along with them: softening the smiles of the spinsters, making the old folk look in upon themselves and back upon the past; easing the hearts of those still in the midst of life’s tribulations, and helping them to forget for a little while.

Hanno unclasped his hands from about his knees. He looked very pale, and cold, played with the fringe of his stool, and twisted his tongue about among his teeth. He had to draw a deep breath every little while, for his heart contracted with a joy almost painful at the exquisite bell-like purity of the chorale. The white folding doors were still tightly closed, but the spicy poignant odour drifted through the cracks and whetted one’s appetite for the wonder within. Each year with throbbing pulses he awaited this vision of ineffable, unearthly splendour. What would there be for him, in there? What he had wished for, of course; there was always that—unless he had been persuaded out of it beforehand. The theatre, then, the long-desired toy theatre, would spring at him as the door opened, and show him the way to his place. This was the suggestion which had stood heavily underlined at the top of his list, ever since he had seen Fidelio; indeed, since then, it had been almost his single thought.

He had been taken to the opera as compensation for a particularly painful visit to Herr Brecht; sitting beside his mother, in the dress circle, he had followed breathless a performance of Fidelio, and since that time he had heard nothing, seen nothing, thought of nothing but opera, and a passion for the theatre filled him and almost kept him sleepless. He looked enviously at people like Uncle Christian, who was known as a regular frequenter and might go every night if he liked: Consul Döhlmann, Gosch the broker—how could they endure the joy of seeing it every night? He himself would ask no more than to look once a week into the hall, before the performance: hear the voices of the instruments being tuned, and gaze for a while at the curtain! For he loved it all, the seats, the musicians, the drop-curtain—even the smell of gas.

Would his theatre be large? What sort of curtain would it have? A tiny hole must be cut in it at once—there was a peephole in the curtain at the theatre. Had Grandmamma, or rather had Mamsell Severin—for Grandmamma could not see to everything herself—been able to find all the necessary scenery for Fidelio? He determined to shut himself up to-morrow and give a performance all by himself, and already in fancy he heard his little figures singing: for he was approaching the theatre by way of his music.

“Exult, Jerusalem!” finished the choir; and their voices, following one another in fugue form, united joyously in the last syllable. The clear accord died away; deep silence reigned in the pillared hall and the landscape-room. The elders looked down, oppressed by the pause; only Director Weinschenk’s eyes roved boldly about, and Frau Permaneder coughed her dry cough, which she could not suppress. Now the Frau Consul moved slowly to the table and sat among her family. She turned up the lamp and took in her hands the great Bible with its edges of faded gold-leaf. She stuck her glasses on her nose, unfastened the two great leather hasps of the book, opened it to the place where there was a bookmark, took a sip of eau sucrée, and began to read, from the yellowed page with the large print, the Christmas chapter.

She read the old familiar words with a simple, heart-felt accent that sounded clear and moving in the pious hush. “‘And to men good-will,’” she finished, and from the pillared hall came a trio of voices: “Holy night, peaceful night!” The family in the landscape-room joined in. They did so cautiously, for most of them were unmusical, as a tone now and then betrayed. But that in no wise impaired the effect of the old hymn. Frau Permaneder sang with trembling lips; it sounded sweetest and most touching to the heart of her who had a troubled life behind her, and looked back upon it in the brief peace of this holy hour. Madame Kethelsen wept softly, but comprehended nothing.

Now the Frau Consul rose. She grasped the hands of her grandson Johann and her granddaughter Elisabeth, and proceeded through the room. The elders of the family fell in behind, and the younger brought up the rear; the servants and poor joined in from the hall; and so they marched, singing with one accord “Oh, Evergreen”—Uncle Christian sang “Oh, Everblue,” and made the children laugh by lifting up his legs like a jumping-jack—through the wide-open, lofty folding doors, and straight into Paradise.

The whole great room was filled with the fragrance of slightly singed evergreen twigs and glowing with light from countless tiny flames. The sky-blue hangings with the white figures on them added to the brilliance. There stood the mighty tree, between the dark red window-curtains, towering nearly to the ceiling, decorated with silver tinsel and large white lilies, with a shining angel at the top and the manger at the foot. Its candles twinkled in the general flood of light like far-off stars. And a row of tiny trees, also full of stars and hung with comfits, stood on the long white table, laden with presents, that stretched from the window to the door. All the gas-brackets on the wall were lighted too, and thick candles burned in all four of the gilded candelabra in the corners of the room. Large objects, too large to stand upon the table, were arranged upon the floor, and two smaller tables, likewise adorned with tiny trees and covered with gifts for the servants and the poor, stood on either side of the door.

Dazzled by the light and the unfamiliar look of the room, they marched once around it, singing, filed past the manger where lay the little wax figure of the Christ-child, and then moved to their places and stood silent.

Hanno was quite dazed. His fevered glance had soon sought out the theatre, which, as it stood there upon the table, seemed larger and grander than anything he had dared to dream of. But his place had been changed—it was now opposite to where he had stood last year, and this made him doubtful whether the theatre was really his. And on the floor beneath it was something else, a large, mysterious something, which had surely not been on his list; a piece of furniture, that looked like a commode—could it be meant for him?

“Come here, my dear child,” said the Frau Consul, “and look at this.” She lifted the lid. “I know you like to play chorals. Herr Pfühl will show you how. You must tread all the time, sometimes more and sometimes less; and then, not lift up the hands, but change the fingers so, peu à peu.”

It was a harmonium—a pretty little thing of polished brown wood, with metal handles at the sides, gay bellows worked with a treadle, and a neat revolving stool. Hanno struck a chord. A soft organ tone released itself and made the others look up from their presents. He hugged his grandmother, who pressed him tenderly to her, and then left him to receive the thanks of her other guests.

He turned to his theatre. The harmonium was an overpowering dream—which just now he had no time to indulge. There was a superfluity of joy; and he lost sight of single gifts in trying to see and notice everything at once. Ah, here was the prompter’s box, a shell-shaped one, and a beautiful red and gold curtain rolled up and down behind it. The stage was set for the last act of Fidelio. The poor prisoners stood with folded hands. Don Pizarro, in enormous puffed sleeves, was striking a permanent and awesome attitude, and the minister, in black velvet, approached from behind with hasty strides, to turn all to happiness. It was just as in the theatre, only almost more beautiful. The Jubilee chorus, the finale, echoed in Hanno’s ears, and he sat down at the harmonium to play a fragment which stuck in his memory. But he got up again, almost at once, to take up the book he had wished for, a mythology, in a red binding with a gold Pallas Athene on the cover. He ate some of the sweetmeats from his plate full of marzipan, gingerbread, and other goodies, looked through various small articles like writing utensils and school-bag—and for the moment forgot everything else, to examine a penholder with a tiny glass bulb on it: when you held this up to your eye, you saw, like magic, a broad Swiss landscape.

Mamsell Severin and the maid passed tea and biscuits; and while Hanno dipped and ate, he had time to look about. Every one stood talking and laughing; they all showed each other their presents and admired the presents of others. Objects of porcelain, silver, gold, nickel, wood, silk, cloth, and every other conceivable material lay on the table. Huge loaves of decorated gingerbread, alternating with loaves of marzipan, stood in long rows, still moist and fresh. All the presents made by Frau Permaneder were decorated with huge satin bows.

Now and then some one came up to little Johann, put an arm across his shoulders, and looked at his presents with the overdone, cynical admiration which people manufacture for the treasures of children. Uncle Christian was the only person who did not display this grown-up arrogance. He sauntered over to his nephew’s place, with a diamond ring on his finger, a present from his mother; and his pleasure in the toy theatre was as unaffected as Hanno’s own.

“By George, that’s fine,” he said, letting the curtain up and down, and stepping back for a view of the scenery. “Did you ask for it? Oh, so you did ask for it!” he suddenly said after a pause, during which his eyes had roved about the room as though he were full of unquiet thoughts. “Why did you ask for it? What made you think of it? Have you been in the theatre? Fidelio, eh? Yes, they give that well. And you want to imitate it, do you? Do opera yourself, eh? Did it make such an impression on you? Listen, son—take my advice: don’t think too much about such things—theatre, and that sort of thing. It’s no good. Believe your old uncle. I’ve always spent too much time on them, and that is why I haven’t come to much good. I’ve made great mistakes, you know.”

Thus he held forth to his nephew, while Hanno looked up at him curiously. He paused, and his bony, emaciated face cleared up as he regarded the little theatre. Then he suddenly moved forward one of the figures on the stage, and sang, in a cracked and hollow tremolo, “Ha, what terrible transgression!” He sat down on the piano-stool, which he shoved up in front of the theatre, and began to give a performance, singing all the rôles and the accompaniment as well, and gesticulating furiously. The family gathered at his back, laughed, nodded their heads, and enjoyed it immensely. As for Hanno, his pleasure was profound. Christian broke off, after a while, very abruptly. His face clouded, he rubbed his hand over his skull and down his left side, and turned to his audience with his nose wrinkled and his face quite drawn.

“There it is again,” he said. “I never have a little fun without having to pay for it. It is not an ordinary pain, you know, it is a misery, down all this left side, because the nerves are too short.”

But his relatives took his complaints as little seriously as they had his entertainment. They hardly answered him, but indifferently dispersed, leaving Christian sitting before the little theatre in silence. He blinked rapidly for a bit and then got up.

“No, child,” said he, stroking Hanno’s head: “amuse yourself with it, but not too much, you know: don’t neglect your work for it, do you hear? I have made a great many mistakes.—I think I’ll go over to the club for a while,” he said to the elders. “They are celebrating there to-day, too. Good-bye for the present.” And he went off across the hall, on his stiff, crooked legs.

They had all eaten the midday meal earlier than usual to-day, and been hungry for the tea and biscuits. But they had scarcely finished when great crystal bowls were handed round full of a yellow, grainy substance which turned out to be almond cream. It was a mixture of eggs, ground almonds, and rose-water, tasting perfectly delicious; but if you ate even a tiny spoonful too much, the result was an attack of indigestion. However, the company was not restrained by fear of consequences—even though Frau Consul begged them to “leave a little corner for supper.” Clothilde, in particular, performed miracles with the almond cream, and lapped it up like so much porridge, with heart-felt gratitude. There was also wine jelly in glasses, and English plum-cake. Gradually they all moved over to the landscape-room, where they sat with their plates round the table.

Hanno remained alone in the dining-room. Little Elisabeth Weinschenk had already been taken home; but he was to stop up for supper, for the first time in his life. The servants and the poor folk had had their presents and gone; Ida Jungmann was chattering with Riekchen Severin in the hall—although generally, as a governess, she preserved a proper distance between herself and the Frau Consul’s maid.—The lights of the great tree were burnt down and extinguished, the manger was in darkness. But a few candles still burned on the small trees, and now and then a twig came within reach of the flame and crackled up, increasing the pungent smell in the room. Every breath of air that stirred the trees stirred the pieces of tinsel too, and made them give out a delicate metallic whisper. It was still enough to hear the hand-organ again, sounding through the frosty air from a distant street.

Hanno abandoned himself to the enjoyment of the Christmas sounds and smells. He propped his head on his hand and read in his mythology book, munching mechanically the while, because that was proper to the day: marzipan, sweet-meats, almond cream, and plum-cake; until the chest-oppression caused by an over-loaded stomach mingled with the sweet excitation of the evening and gave him a feeling of pensive felicity. He read about the struggles of Zeus before he arrived at the headship of the gods; and every now and then he listened into the other room, where they were going at length into the future of poor Aunt Clothilde.

Clothilde, on this evening, was far and away the happiest of them all. A smile lighted up her colourless face as she received congratulations and teasing from all sides; her voice even broke now and then out of joyful emotion. She had at last been made a member of the Order of St. John. The Senator had succeeded by subterranean methods in getting her admitted, not without some private grumblings about nepotism, on the part of certain gentlemen. Now the family all discussed the excellent institution, which was similar to the homes in Mecklenburg, Dobberthien, and Ribnitz, for ladies from noble families. The object of these establishments was the suitable care of portionless women from old and worthy families. Poor Clothilde was now assured of a small but certain income, which would increase with the years, and finally, when she had succeeded to the highest class, would secure her a decent home in the cloister itself.

Little Hanno stopped awhile with the grown-ups, but soon strayed back to the dining-room, which displayed a new charm now that the brilliant light did not fairly dazzle one with its splendours. It was an extraordinary pleasure to roam about there, as if on a half-darkened stage after the performance, and see a little behind the scenes. He touched the lilies on the big fir-tree, with their golden stamens; handled the tiny figures of people and animals in the manger, found the candles that lighted the transparency for the star of Bethlehem over the stable; lifted up the long cloth that covered the present-table, and saw quantities of wrapping-paper and pasteboard boxes stacked beneath.

The conversation in the landscape-room was growing less and less agreeable. Inevitably, irresistibly, it had arrived at the one dismal theme which had been in everybody’s mind, but which they had thus far avoided, as a tribute to the festal evening. Hugo Weinschenk himself dilated upon it, with a wild levity or manner and gesture. He explained certain details of the procedure—the examination of witnesses had now been interrupted by the Christmas recess—condemned the very obvious bias of the President, Dr. Philander, and poured scorn on the attitude which the Public Prosecutor, Dr. Hagenström, thought it proper to assume toward himself and the witnesses for the defence. Breslauer had succeeded in drawing the sting of several of his most slanderous remarks; and he had assured the Director that, for the present, there need be no fear of a conviction. The Senator threw in a question now and then, out of courtesy; and Frau Permaneder, sitting on the sofa with elevated shoulders, would utter fearful imprecations against Dr. Moritz Hagenström. But the others were silent: so profoundly silent that the Director at length fell silent too. For little Hanno, over in the dining-room, the time sped by on angels’ wings; but in the landscape-room there reigned an oppressive silence, which dragged on till Christian came back from the club, where he had celebrated Christmas with the bachelors and good fellows.

The cold stump of a cigar hung between his lips, and his haggard cheeks were flushed. He came through the dining-room and said, as he entered the landscape-room, “Well, children, the tree was simply gorgeous. Weinschenk, we ought to have had Breslauer come to see it. He has never seen anything like it, I am sure.”

He encountered one of his mother’s quiet, reproachful side-glances, and returned it with an easy, unembarrassed questioning look. At nine o’clock the party sat down to supper.

It was laid, as always on these occasions, in the pillared hall. The Frau Consul recited the ancient grace with sincere conviction:

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,

And bless the bread thou gavest us”

—to which, as usual on the holy evening, she added a brief prayer, the substance of which was an admonition to remember those who, on this blessed night, did not fare so well as the Buddenbrook family. This accomplished, they all sat down with good consciences to a lengthy repast, beginning with carp and butter sauce and old Rhine wine.

The Senator put two fish-scales into his pocket, to help him save money during the coming year. Christian, however, ruefully remarked that he hadn’t much faith in the prescription; and Consul Kröger had no need of it. His pittance had long since been invested securely, beyond the reach of fluctuations in the exchange. The old man sat as far away as possible from his wife, to whom he hardly ever spoke nowadays. She persisted in sending money to Jacob, who was still roaming about, nobody knew where, unless his mother did. Uncle Justus scowled forbiddingly when the conversation, with the advent of the second course, turned upon the absent members of the family, and he saw the foolish mother wipe her eyes. They spoke of the Frankfort Buddenbrooks and the Duchamps in Hamburg, and of Pastor Tiburtius in Riga, too, without any ill-will. And the Senator and his sister touched glasses in silence to the health of Messrs. Grünlich and Permaneder—for, after all, did they not in a sense belong to the family too?

The turkey, stuffed with chestnuts, raisins, and apples, was universally praised. They compared it with other years, and decided that this one was the largest for a long time. With the turkey came roast potatoes and two kinds of compote, and each dish held enough to satisfy the appetite of a family all by itself. The old red wine came from the firm of Möllendorpf.

Little Johann sat between his parents and choked down with difficulty a small piece of white meat with stuffing. He could not begin to compete with Aunt Tilda, and he felt tired and out of sorts. But it was a great thing none the less to be dining with the grown-ups, and to have one of the beautiful little rolls with poppy-seed in his elaborately folded serviette, and three wine-glasses in front of his place. He usually drank out of the little gold mug which Uncle Justus gave him. But when the red, white, and brown meringues appeared, and Uncle Justus poured some oily, yellow Greek wine into the smallest of the three glasses, his appetite revived. He ate a whole red ice, then half a white one, then a little piece of the chocolate, his teeth hurting horribly all the while. Then he sipped his sweet wine gingerly and listened to Uncle Christian, who had begun to talk.

He told about the Christmas celebration at the club, which had been very jolly, it seemed. “Good God!” he said, just as if he were about to relate the story of Johnny Thunderstorm, “those fellows drank Swedish punch just like water.”

“Ugh!” said the Frau Consul shortly, and cast down her eyes.

But he paid no heed. His eyes began to wander—and thought and memory became so vivid that they flickered like shadows across his haggard face.

“Do any of you know,” he asked, “how it feels to drink too much Swedish punch? I don’t mean getting drunk: I mean the feeling you have the next day—the after-effects. They are very queer and unpleasant; yes, queer and unpleasant at the same time.”

“Reason enough for describing them,” said the Senator.

“Assez, Christian. That does not interest us in the least,” said the Frau Consul. But he paid no attention. It was his peculiarity that at such times nothing made any impression on him. He was silent awhile, and then it seemed that the thing which moved him was ripe for speech.

“You go about feeling ghastly,” he said, turning to his brother and wrinkling up his nose. “Headache, and upset stomach—oh, well, you have that with other things, too. But you feel filthy ”—here he rubbed his hands together, his face entirely distorted. “You wash your hands, but it does no good; they feel dirty and clammy, and there is grease under the nails. You take a bath: no good, your whole body is sticky and unclean. You itch all over, and you feel disgusted with yourself. Do you know the feeling, Thomas? you do know it, don’t you?”

“Yes, yes,” said the Senator, making a gesture of repulsion with his hand. But Christian’s extraordinary tactlessness had so increased with the years that he never perceived how unpleasant he was making himself to the company, nor how out of place his conversation was in these surroundings and on this evening. He continued to describe the evil effects of too much Swedish punch; and when he felt that he had exhausted the subject, he gradually subsided.

Before they arrived at the butter and cheese, the Frau Consul found occasion for another little speech to her family. If, she said, not quite everything in the course of the years had gone as we, in our short-sightedness, desired, there remained such manifold blessings as should fill our hearts with gratitude and love. For it was precisely this mingling of trials with blessings which showed that God never lifted his hand from the family, but ever guided its destinies according to His wise design, which we might not seek to question. And now, with hopeful hearts, we might drink together to the family health and to its future—that future when all the old and elderly of the present company would be laid to rest; and to the children, to whom the Christmas feast most properly belonged.

As Director Weinschenk’s small daughter was no longer present, little Johann had to make the round of the table alone and drink severally with all the company, from Grandmamma to Mamsell Severin. When he came to his father, the Senator touched the child’s glass with his and gently lifted Hanno’s chin to look into his eyes. But his son did not meet his glance: the long, gold-brown lashes lay deep, deep upon the delicate bluish shadows beneath his eyes.

Therese Weichbrodt took his head in both her hands, kissed him explosively on both cheeks, and said with such a hearty emphasis that surely God must have heeded it, “Be happy, you good che-ild!”

An hour later Hanno lay in his little bed, which now stood in the ante-chamber next to the Senator’s dressing-room. He lay on his back, out of regard for his stomach, which was feeling far from pleasant over all the things he had put into it that evening. Ida came out of her room in her dressing-gown, waving a glass about in circles in the air in order to dissolve its contents. He drank the carbonate of soda down quickly, made a wry face, and fell back again.

“I think I’ll just have to give it all up, Ida,” he said.

“Oh, nonsense, Hanno. Just lie still on your back. You see, now: who was it kept making signs to you to stop eating, and who was it that wouldn’t do it?”

“Well, perhaps I’ll be all right. When will the things come, Ida?”

“To-morrow morning, first thing, my dearie.”

“I wish they were here—I wish I had them now.”

“Yes, yes, my dearie—but just have a good sleep now.” She kissed him, put out the light, and went away.

He lay quietly, giving himself up to the operation of the soda he had taken. But before his eyes gleamed the dazzling brilliance of the Christmas tree. He saw his theatre and his harmonium, and his book of mythology; he heard the choir-boys singing in the distance: “Rejoice, Jerusalem!” Everything sparkled and glittered. His head felt dull and feverish; his heart, affected by the rebellious stomach, beat strong and irregularly. He lay for long, in a condition of mingled discomfort, excitement, and reminiscent bliss, and could not fall asleep.

Next day there would be a third Christmas party, at Fräulein Weichbrodt’s. He looked forward to it as to a comic performance in the theatre. Therese Weichbrodt had given up her pensionnat in the past year. Madame Kethelsen now occupied the first storey of the house on the Mill Brink, and she herself the ground floor, and there they lived alone. The burden of her deformed little body grew heavier with the years, and she concluded, with Christian humility and submission, that the end was not far off. For some years now she had believed that each Christmas was her last; and she strove with all the powers at her command to give a departing brilliance to the feast that was held in her small overheated rooms. Her means were very narrow, and she gave away each year a part of her possessions to swell the heap of gifts under the tree: knick-knacks, paper-weights, emery-bags, needle-cushions, glass vases, and fragments of her library, miscellaneous books of every shape and size. Books like “The Secret Journal of a Student of Himself,” Hebel’s “Alemannian Poems,” Krummacher’s “Parables”—Hanno had once received an edition of the “Pensées de Blaise Pascal,” in such tiny print that it had to be read with a glass.

Bishop flowed in streams, and Sesemi’s ginger-bread was very spicy, But Fräulein Weichbrodt abandoned herself with such trembling emotion to the joys of each Christmas party that none of them ever went off without a mishap. There was always some small catastrophe or other to make the guests laugh and enhance the silent fervour of the hostess’ mien. A jug of bishop would be upset and overwhelm everything in a spicy, sticky red flood. Or the decorated tree would topple off its wooden support just as they solemnly entered the room. Hanno fell asleep with the mishap of the previous year before his eyes. It had happened just before the gifts were given out. Therese Weichbrodt had read the Christmas chapter, in such impressive accents that all the vowels got inextricably commingled, and then retreated before her guests to the door, where she made a little speech. She stood upon the threshold, humped and tiny, her old hands clasped before her childish bosom, the green silk cap-ribbons falling over her fragile shoulders. Above her head, over the door, was a transparency, garlanded with evergreen, that said “Glory to God in the Highest.” And Sesemi spoke of God’s mercy; she mentioned that this was her last Christmas, and ended by reminding them that the words of the apostle commended them all to joy—wherewith she trembled from head to foot, so much did her whole poor little body share in her emotions. “Rejoice!” said she, laying her head on one side and nodding violently: “and again I say unto you, rejoice!” But at this moment the whole transparency, with a puffing, crackling, spitting noise, went up in flames, and Mademoiselle Weichbrodt gave a little shriek and a side-spring of unexpected picturesqueness and agility, and got herself out of the way of the rain of flying sparks.

As Hanno recalled the leap which the old spinster performed, he giggled nervously for several minutes into his pillow.