Buddenbrooks Chapter Three

Little Johann was to go to take his farewell of his grandmother’s mortal remains. His father so arranged it, and, though Hanno was afraid, he made not a syllable of objection. At table, the day after the Fran Consul’s dying struggle, the Senator, in his son’s presence and apparently with design, had commented harshly upon the conduct of Uncle Christian, who had slipped away and gone to bed when the patient’s suffering was at its height. “That was his nerves, Thomas,” Gerda had answered. But with a glance at Hanno, which had not escaped the child, the Senator had severely retorted that an excuse was not in place. The agony of their departed mother had been so sore that one had felt ashamed even to be sitting there free from pain—not to mention entertaining the cowardly thought of trying to escape any suffering of mind called up by the sight. From which, Hanno had gathered that it would not be safe to object to the visit to the open coffin.

The room looked as strange to him as it had at Christmas, when, on the day before the funeral, between his father and his mother, he entered it from the hall There was a half-circle of potted plants, arranged alternately with high silver candelabra; and against the dark green leaves gleamed from a black pedestal the marble copy of Thorwaldsen’s Christ, which belonged in the corridor outside. Black crape hangings fluttered everywhere in the draught, hiding the sky-blue tapestries and the smiling immortals who had looked down from these walls upon so many festive dinner-tables. Little Johann stood beside the bier among his black-clad relatives. He had a broad mourning band on his own sailor suit, and his senses felt misty with the scent from countless bouquets and wreaths—and with another odour that came wafted now and then on a current of air, and smelled strange, yet somehow familiar.

He stood beside the bier and looked at the motionless white figure stretched out there severe and solemn, amid white satin. This was not Grandmamma. There was her Sunday cap with the white silk ribbons, and her red-brown hair beneath it. But the pinched nose was not hers, nor the drawn lips, nor the sharp chin, nor the yellow, translucent hands, whose coldness and stiffness one could see. This was a wax-doll—to dress it up and lay it out like that seemed rather horrible. He looked across to the landscape-room, as though the real Grandmamma might appear there the next minute. But She did not come: she was dead. Death had turned her for ever into this wax figure that kept its lids and lips so forbiddingly closed.

He stood resting on his left leg, the right knee bent, balancing lightly on the toe, and clutched his sailor knot with one hand, the other hanging down. He held his head on one side, the curly light-brown locks swaying over the temples, and looked with his gold-brown, blue-encircled eyes in brooding repugnance upon the face of the dead. His breath came long and shuddering, for he kept expecting that strange, puzzling odour which all the scent of the flowers sometimes failed to disguise. When the odour came, and he perceived it, he drew his brows still more together, his lip trembled, and the long sigh which he gave was so like a tearless sob that Frau Permaneder bent over and kissed him and took him away.

And after the Senator and his wife, and Frau Permaneder and Erica, had received for long hours the condolences of the entire town, Elisabeth Buddenbrook, born Kröger, was consigned to earth. The out-of-town families, from Hamburg and Frankfort, came to the funeral and, for the last time, received hospitality in Meng Street. And the hosts of the sympathizers filled the hall and the landscape-room, the corridor and the pillared hall; and Pastor Pringsheim of St. Mary’s, erect among burning tapers at the head of the coffin, turning his face up to heaven, his hands folded beneath his chin, preached the funeral sermon.

He praised in resounding tones the qualities of the departed: he praised her refinement and humility, her piety and cheer, her mildness and her charity. He spoke of the Jerusalem evenings and the Sunday-school; he gilded with matchless oratory the whole long rich and happy earthly course of her who had left them; and when he came to the end, since the word “end” needed some sort of qualifying adjective, he spoke of her “peaceful end.”

Frau Permaneder was quite aware of the dignity, the representative bearing, which she owed to herself and the community in this hour. She, her daughter Erica, and her granddaughter Elisabeth occupied the most conspicuous places of honour, close to the pastor at the head of the coffin; while Thomas, Gerda, Clothilde, and little Johann, as likewise old Consul Kröger, who had a chair to sit in, were content, as were the relatives of the second class, to occupy less prominent places. Frau Permaneder stood there, very erect, her shoulders elevated, her black-bordered handkerchief between her folded hands; and her pride in the chief rôle which it fell to her lot to perform was so great as sometimes entirely to obscure her grief. Conscious of being the focus of all eyes, she kept her own discreetly cast down; yet now and again she could not resist letting them stray over the assembly, in which she noted the presence of Julchen Möllendorpf, born Hagenström, and her husband. Yes, they had all had to come: Möllendorpfs, Kistenmakers, Langhals, Överdiecks—before Tony Buddenbrook left her parental roof for ever, they had all gathered here, to offer her, despite Grünlich, despite Permaneder, despite Hugo Weinschenk, their sympathy and condolences.

Pastor Pringsheim’s sermon went on, turning the knife in the wound that death had made: he caused each person present to remember his own dead, he knew how to make tears flow where none would have flowed of themselves—and for this the weeping ones were grateful to him. When he mentioned the Jerusalem evenings, all the old friends of the dead began to sob—excepting Madame Kethelsen, who did not hear a word he said, but stared straight before her with the remote air of the deaf, and the Gerhardt sisters, the descendants of Paul, who stood hand in hand in a corner, their eyes glowing. They were glad for the death of their friend, and could have envied her but that envy and unkindness were foreign to their natures.

Poor Mademoiselle Weichbrodt blew her nose all the time, with a short, emphatic sound. The Misses Buddenbrook did not weep. It was not their habit. Their bearing, less angular than usual, expressed a mild satisfaction with the impartial justice of death.

Pastor Pringsheim’s last “amen” resounded, and the four bearers, in their black three-cornered hats, their black cloaks billowing out behind them with the swiftness of their advance, came softly in and put their hands upon the coffin. They were four lackeys, known to everybody, who were engaged to hand the heavy dishes at every large dinner in the best circles, and who drank Möllendorpf’s claret out of the carafes, between the courses. But, also, they were indispensable at every funeral of the first or second class, being of large experience in this kind of work. They knew that the harshness of this moment, when the coffin was laid hold upon by strange hands and borne away from the survivors, must be ameliorated by tact and swiftness. Their movements were quick, agile, and noiseless; hardly had any one time to be sensible of the pain of the situation, before they had lifted the burden from the bier to their shoulders, and the flower-covered casket swayed away smoothly and with decorum through the pillared hall.

The ladies pressed tenderly about Frau Permaneder and her daughter to offer their sympathy. They took her hand and murmured, with drooping eyes, precisely no more and no less than what on such occasions must be murmured; while the gentlemen made ready to go down to the carriages.

Then came, in a long, black procession, the slow drive through the grey, misty streets out through the Burg Thor, along the leafless avenue in a cold driving rain, to the cemetery, where the funeral march sounded behind half-bare shrubbery on the edge of the little grove, and the great sandstone cross marked the Buddenbrook family lot. The stone lid of the grave, carven with the family arms, lay close to the black hole framed in dripping greens.

A place had been prepared down below for the new-comer. In the last few days, the Senator had supervised the work of pushing aside the remains of a few early Buddenbrooks. The music sounded, the coffin swayed on the ropes above the open depth of masonry; with a gentle commotion it glided down. Pastor Pringsheim, who had put on pulse-warmers, began to speak afresh, his voice ringing fervid and emotional above the open grave. He bent over the grave and spoke to the dead, calling her by her full name, and blessed her with the sign of the cross. His voice ceased; all the gentlemen held their top-hats in front of their faces with their black-gloved hands; and the sun came out a little. It had stopped raining, and into the sound of the single drops that fell from the trees and bushes there broke now and then the short, fine, questioning twitter of a bird.

All the gentlemen turned a moment to press the hands of the sons and brother of the dead once more.

Thomas Buddenbrook, as the others filed by, stood between his brother Christian and his uncle Justus. His thick dark woollen overcoat was dewed with fine silver drops. He had begun of late to grow a little stout, the single sign of age in his carefully preserved exterior, and his cheeks, behind the pointed protruding ends of his moustaches, looked rounder than they used; but it was a pale and sallow roundness, without blood or life. He held each man’s hand a moment in his own, and his slightly reddened eyes looked them all, with weary politeness, in the face.