Buddenbrooks Chapter Three

The extended summer trip which had once been customary with the Buddenbrooks had now been given up for some years. Indeed, when the Frau Senator, in the previous spring, had wished to make her old father in Amsterdam a visit and play a few duets with him, the Senator had given his consent rather curtly. But it had become the rule for Gerda, little Johann, and Fräulein Jungmann to spend the holidays at the Kurhouse, in Travemünde, for the sake of Hanno’s health.

Summer holidays at the seashore! Did anybody really understand the joy of that? After the dragging monotony and worry of the endless school terms came four weeks of peaceful, care-free seclusion, full of the good smell of sea-weed and the whispering of the gentle surf. Four weeks! At the beginning it seemed endless; you could not believe that it would end; it was almost indelicate to suggest such a thing! Little Johann could not comprehend the crudity of a master who could say: “After the holidays we shall take up our work at—” this or that point! After the holidays! He appeared to be already rejoicing in the thought, this strange man in the shiny worsted suit! After the holidays! What a thought! And how far, far off in the grey distance lay everything that was on the other side of the holidays, on the other side of those four weeks!

The inspection of the school report, with its record of examinations well or badly got through, would be at last over, and the journey in the overcrowded carriage. Hanno would wake the first morning in his room at the Kurhouse, in one of the Swiss cottages that were united by a small gallery to the main building and the pastry-shop. He would have a vague feeling of happiness that mounted in his brain and made his heart contract. He would open his eyes and look with eager pleasure at the old-fashioned furniture of the cleanly little room. A moment of dazed and sleepy bliss: then he would be conscious that he was in Travemünde—for four immeasurable weeks in Travemünde. He did not stir. He lay on his back in the narrow yellow wooden bed, the linen of which was extremely thin and soft with age. He even shut his eyes again and felt his chest rising in deep, slow breaths of happy anticipation.

The room lay in yellow daylight that came in through the striped blind. Everything was still—Mamma and Ida Jungmann were asleep. Nothing was to be heard but a measured, peaceful sound which meant that the man was raking the gravelled paths of the Kurgarten below, and the buzzing of a fly that had got between the blind and the window and was storming the pane—you could see his shadow shooting about in long zigzag lines. Peace! Only the sound of the rake and the dull buzzing noise. This gently animated quiet filled little Johann with a priceless sensation: the feeling of quiet, well-cared-for, elegant repose which was the atmosphere of the resort, and which he loved better than anything else. Thank God, none of the shiny worsted coats who were the chosen representatives of grammar and the rule of three on this earth was in the least likely to come here—for here it was rather exclusive and expensive.

An access of joy made him spring up and run barefoot to the window. He put up the blind and unfastened the white-painted hook of the window; and as he opened it the fly escaped and flew away over the flower-beds and the gravelled paths. The music pavilion, standing in a half-circle of beech-trees opposite the main building, was still empty and quiet. The Leuchtenfield, which took its name from the lighthouse that stood on it, somewhere off to the right, stretched its extent of short sparse grass under the pale sky, to a point where the grass passed into a growth of tall, coarse water-plants; and then came the sand, with its rows of little wooden huts and tall wicker beach-chairs looking out to the sea. It lay there, the sea, in peaceful morning light, striped blue and green; and a steamer came in from Copenhagen, between the two red buoys that marked its course, and one did not need to know whether it was the Naiad or the Friederike Överdieck. Hanno Buddenbrook drew in a deep, quiet, blissful breath of the spicy air from the sea and greeted her tenderly, with a loving, speechless, grateful look.

Then the day began, the first of those paltry twenty-eight days, which seemed in the beginning like an eternity of bliss, and which flew by with such desperate haste after the first two or three. They breakfasted on the balcony or under the great chestnut tree near the children’s playground, where the swing hung. Everything—the smell or the freshly washed table-cloth when the waiter shook it out, the tissue paper serviettes, the unaccustomed bread, the eggs they ate out of little metal cups, with ordinary spoons instead of bone ones like those at home—all this, and everything, enchanted little Johann.

And all that followed was so easy and care-free—such a wonderfully idle and protected life. There was the forenoon on the beach, while the Kurhouse band gave its morning programme; the lying and resting at the foot of the beach-chair, the delicious, dreamy play with the soft sand that did not make you dirty, while you let your eyes rove idly and lose themselves in the green and blue infinity beyond. There was the air that swept in from that infinity—strong, free, wild, gently sighing and deliciously scented; it seemed to enfold you round, to veil your hearing and make you pleasantly giddy, and blessedly submerge all consciousness of time and space. And the bathing here was a different affair altogether from that in Herr Asmussen’s establishment. There was no duck-weed here, and the light green water foamed away in crystalline clearness when you stirred it up. Instead of a slimy wooden floor there was soft sand to caress the foot—and Consul Hagenström’s sons were far away, in Norway or the Tyrol. The Consul loved to make an extended journey in the holidays, and—why shouldn’t he?

A walk followed, to warm oneself up, along the beach to Seagull Rock or Ocean Temple, a little lunch by the beach-chair; then the time came to go up to one’s room for an hour’s rest, before making a toilette for the table-d’hôte. The table-d’hôte was very gay, for this was a good season at the baths, and the great dining-room was filled with acquaintances of the Buddenbrooks, Hamburg families, and even some Russians and English people. A black-clad gentleman sat at a tiny table and served the soup out of a silver tureen. There were four courses, and the food tasted nicer and more seasoned than that at home, and many people drank champagne. These were the single gentlemen who did not allow their business to keep them chained in town all the week, and who got up some little games of roulette after dinner: Consul Peter Döhlmann, who had left his daughter at home, and told such extremely funny stories that the ladies from Hamburg laughed till their sides ached and they begged him for mercy; Senator Dr. Cremer, the old Superintendent of Police; Uncle Christian, and his friend Dr. Gieseke, who was also without his family, and paid everything for Uncle Christian. After dinner, the grown-ups drank coffee under the awnings of the pastry-shop, and the band played, and Hanno sat on a chair close to the steps of the pavilion and listened unwearied. He was settled for the afternoon. There was a shooting-gallery in the Kurgarten, and at the right of the Swiss cottage were the stables, with horses and donkeys, and the cows whose foaming, fragrant milk one drank warm every evening. One could go walking in the little town or along the front; one could go out to the Prival in a boat and look for amber on the beach, or play croquet in the children’s playground, or listen to Ida Jungmann reading aloud, sitting on a bench on the wooded hillside where hung the great bell for the table-d’hôte. But best of all was it to go back to the beach and sit in the twilight on the end of the breakwater, with your face turned to the open horizon. Great ships passed by, and you signalled them with your handkerchief; and you listened to the little waves slapping softly against the stones; and the whole space about you was filled with a soft and mighty sighing. It spoke so benignly to little Johann! it bade him close his eyes, it told him that all was well. But just then Ida would say, “ Come, little Hanno. It’s supper-time. We must go. If you were to sit here and go to sleep, you’d die.” How calm his heart felt, how evenly it beat, after a visit to the sea! Then he had his supper in his room—for his mother ate later, down in the glass verandah—and drank milk or malt extract, and lay down in his little bed, between the soft old linen sheets, and almost at once sleep overcame him, and he slept, to the subdued rhythm of the evening concert and the regular pulsations of his quiet heart.

On Sunday the Senator appeared, with the other gentlemen who had stopped in town during the week, and remained until Monday morning. Ices and champagne were served at the table-d’hôte, and there were donkey-rides and sailing-parties out to the open sea. Still, little Johann did not care much for these Sundays. The peaceful isolation of the bathing-place was broken in upon. A crowd of townsfolk—good middle-class trippers, Ida Jungmann called them—populated the Kurgarten and crowded the beach, drank coffee and listened to the music. Hanno would have liked to stay in his room until these kill-joys in their Sunday clothes went away again. No, he was glad when everything returned to its regular course on Monday—and he felt relieved to feel his father’s eyes no more upon him.

Two weeks had passed; and Hanno said to himself, and to every one who would listen to him, that there was still as much time left as the whole of the Michaelmas holidays amounted to. It consoled him to say this, but after all it was a specious consolation, for the crest of the holidays had been reached, and from now on they were going downhill—so quickly, so frightfully quickly, that he would have liked to cling to every moment, not to let it escape, to lengthen every breath he drew of the sea-air; to taste every second of his joy.

But the time went on, relentless: in rain and sun, sea-wind and land-wind, long spells of brooding warmth and endless noisy storms that could not get away out to sea and went on for ever so long. There were days on which the north-east wind filled the bay with dark green floods, covered the beach with seaweed, mussels, and jelly-fish, and threatened the bathing-huts. The turbid, heavy sea was covered far and wide with foam. The mighty waves came on in awful, awe-inspiring calm, and the under side of each was a sharp metallic green; then they crashed with an ear-splitting roar, hissing and thundering along the sand. There were other days when the west wind drove back the sea for a long distance, exposing a gently rolling beach and naked sand-banks everywhere, while the rain came down in torrents. Heaven, earth, and sea flowed into each other, and the driving wind carried the rain against the panes so that not drops but rivers flowed down, and made them impossible to see through. Then Hanno stayed in the salon of the Kurhouse and played on the little piano that was used to play waltzes and schottisches for the balls and was not so good for improvising on as the piano at home: still one could sometimes get amusing effects out of its muffled and clacking keys. And there were still other days, dreamy, blue, windless, broodingly warm, when the blue flies buzzed in the sun above the Leuchtenfield, and the sea lay silent and like a mirror, without stir or breath. When there were only three days left Hanno said to himself, and to everybody else, that the time remaining was just as long as Whitsuntide holiday; but, incontestable as this reckoning was, it did not convince even himself. He knew now that the man in the worsted coat was right, and that they would, in very truth, begin again where they had left off, and go on to this and that.

The laden carriage stood before the door. The day had come. Early in the morning Hanno had said good-bye to sea and strand. Now he said it to the waiters as they received their fees, to the music pavilion, the rose-beds, and the whole long summer as well. And amid the bows of the hotel servants the carriage drove off.

They passed the avenue that led to the little town, and rolled along the front. Ida Jungmann sat, white-haired, bright-eyed, and angular, opposite Hanno on the back seat, and he squeezed his head into the corner and looked past her out of the window. The morning sky was overcast; the Trave was full of little waves that hurried before the wind. Now and then rain-drops spattered the pane. At the farther end of the front, people sat before their house doors and mended nets; barefoot children ran past, and stared inquisitively at the occupants of the carriage. They did not need to go away!

As they left the last houses behind, Hanno bent forward once more to look after the lighthouse; then he leaned back and closed his eyes. “We’ll come back again next year, darling,” Ida Jungmann said in her grave, soothing voice. It needed only that to make Hanno’s chin tremble and the tears run down beneath his long dark lashes.

His face and hands were brown from the sea air. But if his stay at the baths had been intended to harden him, to give him more resistance, more energy, more endurance, then it had failed of its purpose; and Hanno himself was aware of this lamentable fact. These four weeks of sheltered peace and adoration of the sea had not hardened him: they had made him softer than ever, more dreamy and more sensitive. He would be no better able to endure the rigours of Herr Tietge’s class. The thought of the rules and history dates which he had to get by heart had not lost its power to make him shudder; he knew the feeling too well, and how he would fling them away in desperation and go to bed, and suffer next day the torments of the unprepared. And he would be exactly as much afraid of catastrophes at the recitation hour, of his enemies the Hagenströms, and of his father’s injunctions not to be faint-hearted whatever else he was.

But he felt cheered a little by the fresh morning drive through flooded country roads, amid the twitterings of birds. He thought of seeing Kai again, and Herr Pfühl; of his music lessons, the piano and his harmonium. And as the morrow was Sunday, a whole day still intervened between him and the first lesson-hour. He could feel a few grains of sand from the beach, still inside his buttoned boot—how lovely! He would ask old Grobleben to leave them there. Let it all begin again—the worsted-coats, the Hagenströms, and the rest. He had what he had. When the waves of tribulation went over him once more he would think of the sea and of the Kurgarten, and of the sound made by the little waves, coming hither out of the mysterious slumbering distance. One single memory of the sound they made as they splashed against the breakwater could make him oppose an invincible front to all the pains and penalties of his life.

Then came the ferry, and Israelsdorfer Avenue, Jerusalem Hill, and the Castle Field, on the right side of which rose the walls of the prison where Uncle Weinschenk was. Then the carriage rolled along Castle Street and over the Koberg, crossed Broad Street, and braked down the steep decline of Fishers’ Lane. There was the red house-front with the bow-window and the white caryatides; and as they went from the midday warmth of the street into the coolness of the stone-flagged entry the Senator, with his pen in his hand, came out of the office to greet them.

Slowly, slowly, with secret tears, little Johann learned to live without the sea; to lead an existence that was frightened and bored by turns; to keep out of the way of the Hagenströms; to console himself with Kai and Herr Pfühl and his music.

The Broad Street Buddenbrooks and Aunt Clothilde, directly they saw him again, asked him how he liked school after the holidays. They asked it teasingly, with that curiously superior and slighting air which grown people assume toward children, as if none of their affairs could possibly be worthy of serious consideration; but Hanno was proof against their questions.

Three or four days after the home-coming, Dr. Langhals, the family physician, appeared in Fishers’ Lane to observe the results of the cure. He had a long consultation with the Frau Senator, and then Hanno was summoned and put, half undressed, through a long examination of his “status praesens,” as Dr. Langhals called it, looking at his fingernails. He tested Hanno’s heart action and measured his chest and his lamentable muscular development. He inquired particularly after all his functions, and lastly, with a hypodermic syringe, took a drop of blood from Hanno’s slender arm to be tested at home. He seemed, in general, not very well satisfied.

“We’ve got rather brown,” he said, putting his arm around Hanno as he stood before him. He arranged his small black-felled hand upon the boy’s shoulder, and looked up at the Frau Senator and Ida Jungmann. “But we still look very down in the mouth.”

“He is homesick for the sea,” said Gerda Buddenbrook.

“Oh, so you like being there?” asked Dr. Langhals, looking with his shallow eyes into Hanno’s face. Hanno coloured. What did Dr. Langhals mean by his question, to which he plainly expected an answer? A fantastic hope rose up in him, inspired by the belief that nothing was impossible to God—despite all the worsted-coated men there were in the world.

“Yes,” he brought out, with his wide eyes full upon Dr. Langhals’ face. But after all, it seemed, the physician had nothing particular in mind when he asked the question.

“Well, the effect of the bathing and the good air is bound to show itself in time,” Dr. Langhals said. He tapped little Johann on the shoulder and then put him away, with a nod toward the Frau Senator and Ida Jungmann—a superior, benevolent nod, the nod of the omniscient physician, used to have people hanging on his lips. He got up, and the consultation was at an end.

It was Aunt Antonie who best understood his yearning for the sea, and the wound in his heart that healed so slowly and was so likely to bleed afresh under the strain of everyday life. Aunt Antonie loved to hear him talk about Travemünde, and entered freely into his longings and enthusiasm.

“Yes, Hanno,” she said, “the truth is the truth, and Travemünde is and always will be a beautiful spot. Till I go down to my grave I shall remember the weeks I spent there when I was a slip of a girl—and such a silly young girl! I lived with people I was fond of, and who seemed to care for me; I was a pretty young thing in those days,—though I’m an old woman now—and full of life and high spirits. They were splendid people, I can tell you, respectable and kind-hearted and straight-thinking; and they were cleverer and better educated, too, than any I’ve Known since, and they had more enthusiasm. Yes, my life seemed very full when I lived with them, and I learned a great deal which I’ve never forgotten—information, beliefs, opinions, ways of looking at things. If other things hadn’t interfered—as all sorts of things did, the way life does, you know—I might have learned a great deal more from them. Shall I tell you how silly I was in those days? I thought I could get the pretty star out of the jelly-fish, and I carried a quantity home with me and spread them in the sun on the balcony to dry. But when I looked at them again, of course there was nothing but a big wet spot, and a smell of rotten sea-weed.”