Buddenbrooks Chapter Nine

Senator Buddenbrook had died of a bad tooth. So it was said in the town. But goodness, people don’t die of a bad tooth! He had bad a toothache; Herr Brecht had broken off the crown; and thereupon the Senator had simply fallen in the street. Was ever the like heard?

But however it had happened, that was no longer the point. What had next to be done was to send wreaths—large, expensive wreaths which would do the givers credit and be mentioned in the paper: wreaths which showed that they came from people with sympathetic hearts and long purses. They were sent. They poured in from all sides, from organizations, from families and individuals: laurel wreaths, wreaths of heavily-scented flowers, silver wreaths, wreaths with black bows or bows with the colours of the City on them, or dedications printed in heavy black type or gilt lettering. And palms—simply quantities of palms.

The flower-shops did an enormous business, not least among them being Iwersen’s, opposite the Buddenbrook mansion. Frau Iwersen rang many times in the day at the vestibule door, and handed in arrangements in all shapes and styles, from Senator This or That, or Consul So-and-So, from office staffs and civil servants. On one of these visits she asked if she might go up and see the Senator a minute. Yes, of course, she was told; and she followed Frau Permaneder up the main staircase, gazing silently at its magnificence.

She went up heavily, for she was, as usual, expecting. Her looks had grown a little common with the years; but the narrow black eyes and the Malay cheek-bones had not lost their charm. One could still see that she must once have been exceedingly pretty. She was admitted into the salon, where Thomas Buddenbrook lay upon his bier.

He lay in the centre of the large, light room, the furniture of which had been removed, amid the white silk linings of his coffin, dressed in white silk, shrouded in white silk, in a thick and stupefying mingling of odours from the tuberoses, violets, roses, and other flowers with which he was surrounded. At his head, in a half-circle of silver candelabra, stood the pedestal draped in mourning, supporting the marble copy of Thorwaldsen’s Christ. The wreaths, garlands, baskets, and bunches stood or lay along the walls, on the floor, and on the coverlet. Palms stood around the bier and drooped over the feet of the dead. The skin of his face was abraded in spots, and the nose was bruised. But his hair was dressed with the tongs, as in life, and his moustache, too, had been drawn through the tongs for the last time by old Herr Wenzel, and stuck out stiff and straight beyond his white cheeks. His head was turned a little to one side, and an ivory cross was stuck between the folded hands.

Frau Iwersen remained near the door, and looked thence, blinking, over to the bier. Only when Frau Permaneder, in deep black, with a cold in her head from much weeping, came from the living-room through the portières and invited Frau Iwersen to come nearer, did she dare to venture a little farther forward on the parquetry floor. She stood with her hands folded across her prominent abdomen, and looked about her with her narrow black eyes: at the plants, the candelabra, the bows and the wreaths, the white silk, and Thomas Buddenbrook’s face. It would be hard to describe the expression on the pale, blurred features of the pregnant woman. Finally she said “Yes—” sobbed just once, a brief inarticulate sound, and turned away.

Frau Permaneder loved these visits. She never stirred from the house, but superintended with tireless zeal the homage that pressed about the earthly husk of her departed brother. She read the Newspaper articles aloud many times in her throaty voice: those same newspapers which at the time of the jubilee had paid tribute to her brother s merits, now mourned the irreparable loss of his personality. She stood at Gerda’s side to receive the visits of condolence in the living-room and there was no end of these; their name was legion. She held conferences with various people about the funeral, which must of course be conducted in the most refined manner. She arranged farewells: she had the office staff come in a body to bid their chief good-bye. The workmen from the granaries came too. They shuffled their huge feet along the parquetry floor, drew down the corners of their mouths to show their respect, and emanated an odour of chewing tobacco, spirits, and physical exertion. They looked at the dead lying in his splendid state, twirled their caps, first admired and then grew restive, until at length one of them found courage to go, and the whole troop followed shuffling on his heels. Frau Permaneder was enchanted. She asserted that some of them had tears running down into their beards. This simply was not the fact; but she saw it, and it made her happy.

The day of the funeral dawned. The metal casket was hermetically sealed and covered with flowers, the candles burned in their silver holders, the house filled with people, and, surrounded by mourners from near and far, Pastor Pringsheim stood at the head of the coffin in upright majesty, his impressive head resting upon his ruff as on a dish.

A high-shouldered functionary, a brisk intermediate something between a waiter and a major-domo, had in charge the outward ordering of the solemnity. He ran with the softest speed down the staircase and called in a penetrating whisper across the entry, which was filled to overflowing with tax-commissioners in uniform and grain-porters in blouses, Knee-breeches, and tall hats: “The rooms are lull, but there is a little room left in the corridor.”

Then everything was hushed. Pastor Pringsheim began to speak. He filled the whole house with the rolling periods of his exquisitely modulated, sonorous voice. He stood there near the figure of Thorwaldsen’s Christ and wrung his hands before his face or spread them out in blessing; while below in the street, before the house door, beneath a white wintry sky, stood the hearse drawn by four black horses, with the other carriages in a long row behind it A company of soldiers with grounded arms stood in two rows opposite the house door, with Lieutenant von Throta at their head. He held his drawn sword on his arm and looked up at the bow-window with his brilliant eyes. Many people were craning their necks from windows nearby or standing on the pavements to look.

At length there was a stir in the vestibule, the lieutenant’s muffled word of command sounded, the soldiers presented arms with a rattle of weapons, Herr von Throta let his sword sink, and the coffin appeared. It swayed cautiously forth of the house door, borne by the four men in black cloaks and cocked hats, and a gust of perfume came with it, wafted over the heads of bystanders. The breeze ruffled the black plumes on top of the hearse, tossed the manes of the horses standing in line down to the river, and dishevelled the mourning hat-scarves of the coachman and grooms. Enormous single flakes of snow drifted down from the sky in long slanting curves.

The horses attached to the hearse, all in black trappings so that only their restless rolling eyeballs could be seen, now slowly got in motion. The hearse moved off, led by the four black servants. The company of soldiers fell in behind, and one after another the coaches followed on. Christian Buddenbrook and the pastor got into the first; little Johann sat in the second, with a well-fed Hamburg relative. And slowly, slowly, with mournful long-drawn pomp, Thomas Buddenbrook’s funeral train wound away, while the flags at half-mast on all the houses flapped before the wind. The office staff and the grain-porters followed on foot.

The casket, with the mourners behind, followed the well-known cemetery paths, past crosses and statues and chapels and bare weeping-willows, to the Buddenbrook family lot, where the military guard of honour already stood, and presented arms again. A funeral march sounded in subdued and solemn strains from behind the shrubbery.

Once more the heavy gravestone, with the family arms in relief, had been moved to one side; and once more the gentlemen of the town stood there, on the edge of the little grove, beside the abyss walled in with masonry into which Thomas Buddenbrook was now lowered to join his fathers. They stood there with bent heads, these worthy and well-to-do citizens: prominent among them were the Senators, in white gloves and cravats. Beyond them was the throng of officials, clerks, grain-porters, and warehouse labourers.

The music stopped. Pastor Pringsheim spoke. While his voice, raised in blessing, still lingered on the air, everybody pressed round to shake hands with the brother and son or the deceased.

The ceremony was long and tedious. Christian Buddenbrook received all the condolences with his usual absent, embarrassed air. little Johann stood by his side, in his heavy reefer jacket with the gilt buttons, and looked at the ground with his blue-shadowed eyes. He never looked up, but bent his head against the wind with a sensitive twist of all his features.