Buddenbrooks Chapter Two

Through the open door Frau Permaneder could be seen praying in the chamber of death. She knelt there alone, at a chair near the bed, with her mourning garments flowing about her on the floor. While she prayed, her hands folded before her on the seat of the chair, she could hear her brother and sister-in-law in the breakfast-room, where they stood and waited for the prayer to come to an end. But she did not hurry on that account. She finished, coughed her usual little dry cough, gathered her gown about her, and rose from the chair, then moved toward her relatives with a perfectly dignified bearing in which there was no trace of confusion.

“Thomas,” she said, with a note of asperity in her voice, “it strikes me, that as far as Severin is concerned, our blessed mother was cherishing a viper in her bosom.”

“What makes you think that?”

“I am perfectly furious with her. I shall try to behave with dignity, but—has the woman any right to disturb us at this solemn moment by her common ways?”

“What has she been doing?”

“Well in the first place, she is outrageously greedy. She goes to the wardrobe and takes out Mother’s silk gowns, folds them over her arm, and starts to retire. ‘Why, Riekchen,’ I say, ‘what are you doing with those?’ ‘Frau Consul promised me.’ ‘My dear Severin!’ I say, and show her, in a perfectly ladylike way, what I think of her unseemly haste. Do you think it did any good? She took not only the silk gowns, but a bundle of underwear as well, and went out. I can’t come to blows with her, can I? And it isn’t Severin alone. There are wash-baskets full of stuff going out of the house. The servants divide up things before my face—Severin has the keys to the cupboards. I said to her: ‘Fräulein Severin, I shall be much obliged for the keys.’ And she told me, in good set terms, that I’ve nothing to say to her, she’s not in my service, I didn’t engage her, and she will keep the keys until she leaves!”

“Have you the keys to the silver-chest? Good. Let the rest go. That sort of thing is inevitable when a household breaks up, especially when the rule has been rather lax already. I don’t want to make any scenes. The linen is old and worn. We can see what there is there. Have you the lists? Good. We’ll have a look at them.”

They went into the bed-chamber and stood a while in silence by the bed; Frau Antonie removed the white cloth from the face of the dead. The Frau Consul was arrayed in the silk garment in which she would that afternoon lie upon her bier in the hall. Twenty-eight hours had passed since she drew her last breath. The mouth and chin, without the false teeth, looked sunken and senile, and the pointed chin projected sharply. All three tried their best to recognize their mother’s face in this sunken countenance before them, with its eyelids inexorably closed. But under the old lady’s Sunday cap there showed, as in life, the smooth, reddish-brown wig over which the Misses Buddenbrook had so often made merry. Flowers were strewn on the coverlet.

“The most beautiful wreaths have come,” said Frau Permaneder. “From all the families in town, simply from everybody. I had everything carried up to the corridor. You must look at them afterwards, Gerda and Tom. They are heart-breakingly lovely.”

“How are they progressing down in the hall?” asked the Senator.

“They will soon be done. Tom. Jacobs has taken the greatest pains. And the—” she choked down a sob—“the coffin has come. But you must take off your things, my dears,” she went on, carefully replacing the white cloth over the face of the dead. “It is cold in here, but there is a little fire in the breakfast-room. Let me help you, Gerda. Such an elegant mantle, one must be careful with it. Let me give you a kiss—you know I love you, even if you have always despised me. No, I won’t make your hair untidy when I take off your hat—Your lovely hair! Such hair Mother had too, when she was young. She was never so splendid as you are, but there was a time, and since I was born, too, when she was really beautiful. How true it is, isn’t it, what your old Grobleben always says: we must all return to earth at last: such a simple man, too. Here, Tom. These are the most important lists.”

They returned to the next room and sat down at the round table, while the Senator took up the paper, on which was a list of objects to be divided among the nearest heirs. Frau Permaneder’s eyes never left her brother’s face, and her own wore a strained, excited look. There was something in her mind, a question hard to put, upon which, nevertheless, all her thoughts were bent, and which must, in the next few hours, come up for discussion.

“I think,” said the Senator, “we may as well keep to the usual rule, that presents go back; so—”

His wife interrupted him.

“Pardon me, Thomas. It seems to me—where is Christian?”

“Oh, goodness, yes, Christian!” cried Frau Permaneder. “We’ve forgotten him!”

She went to ring the bell. But at the same moment Christian opened the door. He entered rather quickly, closed it behind him with a slight bang, and stood there frowning, his little deep round eyes not resting on anybody, but rolling from side to side. His mouth opened and shut under the bushy red moustaches. His mood seemed irritated and defiant.

“I heard you were here,” he said. “If the things are to be talked about, it is proper that I should be told.”

“We were just about to call you,” the Senator said indifferently. “Sit down.”

His eyes rested, as he spoke, on the white studs in Christian’s shirt. He himself was in irreproachable mourning: a black cloth coat, blinding white shirt set off at the collar with a black tie, and black studs instead of the gold ones he usually wore. Christian saw his glance. He drew up a chair to the table and sat down, saying as he did so, with a gesture toward his shirt, “I know I have on white studs. I haven’t got round to buying black—or rather, I haven’t bothered. In the last few years I’ve seen times when I had to borrow money for tooth-powder, and go to bed by the light of a match. I don’t know that I am altogether and entirely to blame. Anyhow, there are other things in the world more important than black studs. I don’t set much store by appearances—I never have.”

Gerda looked at him as he spoke, and now she gave a little laugh. The Senator remarked: “I doubt if you could bear out the truth of the last statement.”

“No? Perhaps you know better than I do, Thomas. I say I don’t set much store by them. I’ve seen too much of the world, and lived with too many different sorts of men, with too many different ways, to care what—and anyhow, I am a grown man”—his voice grew suddenly loud—“I am forty-three years old, and my own master and in a position to warn everybody not to mix in my affairs.”

The Senator was quite astonished. “It seems to me you have something on your mind, my friend,” he said. “As far as the studs go, I haven’t so much as mentioned them, if my memory serves me. Wear whatever mourning you choose, or none at all if that pleases you; but don’t imagine you make any impression on me with your cheap broadmindedness—”

“I am not trying to make an impression on you.”

“Tom—Christian!” said Frau Permaneder. “Don’t let us have any hard words—not to-day—when in the next room—Just go on, Thomas. Presents are to be returned? That is only right.”

And Thomas went on. He began with the large things, and wrote down for himself the articles he could use in his own house: the candelabra in the dining-room, the great carved chest that stood in the downstairs entry. Frau Permaneder paid extraordinarily close attention. No matter what the article was, the future possession of which was at the moment in question, she would say with an incomparable air, “Oh, well, I’m willing to take it”—as if the whole world owed her thanks for her act of self-sacrifice. She accepted for herself, her daughter, and her granddaughter far and away the largest share of the furnishings.

Christian had some pieces of furniture, an Empire table-clock and the harmonium. He seemed satisfied enough. But when they came to dividing the table-linen and silver and the sets of dishes, he displayed, to the great astonishment of the others, an eagerness that was almost avidity.

“What about me?” he would say. “I must ask you not to forget me, please.”

“Who is forgetting you? Look: I’ve put a whole tea-service and a silver tray down to you. I’ve taken the gilt Sunday service, as we are probably the only ones who would have a use for it.”

“I’m willing to take the every-day onion pattern,” said Frau Permaneder.

“And what about me?” cried Christian. He was possessed now by that excitement which sometimes seized him and sat so extraordinarily on his haggard cheek. “I certainly want a share in the dishes. And how many forks and spoons do I get? Almost none at all, it seems to me.”

“But, my dear man, what do you want of them? You have no use for them at all. I don’t understand. It is better the things should continue in the family—”

“But suppose I say I want them—if only in remembrance of Mother,” Christian cried defiantly.

To which the Senator impatiently replied, “I don’t feel much like making jokes; but am I to judge from your words that you would like to put a soup-tureen on your chest of drawers and keep it there in memory of Mother? Please don’t get the idea that we want to cheat you out of your share. If you get less of the effects, you will get more elsewhere. The same is true of the linen.”

“I don’t want the money. I want the linen and dishes.”

“Whatever for?”

Christian’s reply to this was one that made Gerda Buddenbrook turn and gaze at him with an enigmatic expression in her eyes. The Senator hastily donned his pince-nez to look the better, and Frau Permaneder simply folded her hands. He said: “Well, I am thinking of getting married, sooner or later.”

He said this rather low and quickly, with a short gesture, as though he were tossing something to his brother across the table. Then he leaned back, avoiding their eyes, looking surly, defiant, and yet extremely embarrassed. There was a long pause. At last the Senator broke it by saying:

“I must say, Christian, your ideas come rather late. That is, of course, if this really is anything serious, and not the same kind of thing you proposed to Mother a while ago.”

“My intentions have remained what they were,” Christian said. He did not look at anybody or change his expression.

“That is impossible, I should think. Were you waiting for Mother’s death—?”

“I had that amount of consideration, yes. You seem to think, Thomas, that you have a monopoly of all the tact and feeling in the world—”

“I don’t know what justifies you in making remarks like that. And, moreover, I must admire the extent of your consideration. On the day after Mother’s death, you propose to display your lack of filial feeling by—”

“Only because the subject came up. But the point is that now Mother cannot be affected by any step I may take—no more today than she would be a year from now. Good Lord, Thomas, Mother couldn’t have any actual right—but I saw it from her point of view, and had consideration for that, as long as she lived. She was an old woman, a woman of a past generation, with different views about life—”

“I can only say that I concur with her absolutely in this particular view.”

“I cannot be bothered about that.”

“But you will be bothered about it, my dear sir.”

Christian looked at him.

“No,” he shouted. “I won’t! I can’t do it. Suppose I tell you I can’t? I must know what I have to do, mustn’t I? I am a grown man—”

“You don’t in the least know what you have to do. Your being what you call a grown man is only very external.”

“I know very well what I have to do. In the first place, I have to act like a man of honour! You don’t know how the thing stands. With Tony and Gerda here we can’t really talk—but I have already told you I have responsibilities—The last child, little Gisela—”

“I know nothing about any little Gisela—and I don’t care to. I am perfectly convinced they are making a fool of you. In any case, what sort of responsibility can you have toward a person like the one you have in mind—other than the legal one, which you can perform as before—?”

“Person, Thomas, person? You are making a mistake about her. Aline—”

“Silence!” roared Senator Buddenbrook in a voice like thunder. The two brothers glared across the table into each other’s faces. Thomas was pale and trembling with scorn; the rims of Christian’s deep little eyes had got suddenly red, his mouth and eyes spread wide open, his lean cheeks seemed nothing but hollows, and a pair of red patches showed just under the cheek-bones. Gerda looked rather disdainfully from one to the other, and Tony wrung her hands, imploring—“Tom, Christian! And Mother lying there in the next room!”

“You have no sense of shame,” went on the Senator. “How can you bring yourself—what must it cost you—to mention that name, on this spot, under these circumstances? You have a lack of feeling that amounts to a disease!”

“Will you tell me why I should not mention Aline’s name?” Christian was so beside himself that Gerda looked at him with increasing intentness. “I do mention it, as you hear, Thomas; I intend to marry her—for I have a longing for a home, and for peace and quiet—and I insist—you hear the word I use—I insist that you keep out of my affairs. I am free. I am my own master!”

“Oh, you fool, you! When you hear the will read, you will see just how much you are your own master! You won’t get the chance to squander Mother’s inheritance as you have run through with the thirty thousand marks already! I have been made the guardian of your affairs, and I will see to it that you never get your hands on more than a monthly sum at a time—that I swear!”

“Well, you know better than I who it was that instigated Mother to make such a will! But I am surprised, very much so, that Mother did not give the office to somebody that had a little more brotherly feeling for me than you have.” Christian no longer knew what he was saying; he leaned over the table, knocking on it all the while with his knuckle, glaring up, red-eyed, his moustaches bristling, at his brother, who, on his side, stood looking down at him, pale, and with half-closed lids.

Christian went on, and his voice was hollow and rasping. “Your heart is full of coldness and ill-will toward me, all the while. As far back as I can remember I have felt cold in your presence—you freeze me with a perfect stream of icy contempt. You may think that is a strange expression, but what I feel is just like that. You repulse me, just by looking at me—and you hardly ever even so much as look at me. How have you got a right to treat me like that? You are a man too, you have your own weaknesses. You have always been a better son to our parents; but if you really stood so much closer to them than I dö, you might have absorbed a little of their Christian charity. If you have no brotherly love to spare for me, you might have had some Christlike love. But you are entirely without affection. You never came near me in the hospital, when I lay there and suffered with rheumatism—”

“I have more serious things to think about than your illnesses. And my own health—”

“Oh, come, Thomas, your health is magnificent. You wouldn’t be sitting here for what you are, if your health weren’t far and away better than mine.”

“I may be perhaps worse off than you are!”

“Worse than I am—come, that’s too much! Gerda, Tony! He says he is worse off than I am. Perhaps it was you that came near dying, in Hamburg, of rheumatism. Perhaps you have had to endure torments in your left side, perfectly indescribable torments, for every little trifling irregularity! Perhaps all your nerves are short on the left side! All the authorities say that is what is the matter with me. Perhaps it happens to you that you come into your room when it is getting dark and see a man sitting on the sofa, nodding at you, when there is no man there?”

“Christian!” Frau Permaneder burst out in horror. “What are you saying? And, my God! what are you quarrelling about? Is it an honour for one to be worse off than the other? If it were, Gerda and I might have something to say, too.—And with Mother lying in there! How can you?”

“Don’t you realize, you fool,” cried Thomas Buddenbrook, in a passion, “that all these horrors are the consequence and effect of your vices, your idleness, and your self-tormenting? Go to work! Stop petting your condition and talking about it! If you do go crazy—and I tell you plainly I don’t think it at all unlikely—I shan’t be able to shed a tear; for it will be entirely your own fault.”

“No, and when I die you won’t shed any tears either.”

“You won’t die,” said the Senator bitingly.

“I shan’t die? Very good, I shan’t die, then. We’ll see who dies first. Work! Suppose I can’t work? My God! I can’t do the same thing long at a time! It kills me. If you have been able to, and are able to, thank God for it, but don’t sit in judgment on others, for it isn’t a virtue. God gives strength to one, and not to another. But that is the way you are made, Thomas. You are self-righteous. Oh, wait, that is not what I am going to say, nor what I accuse you of. I don’t know where to begin, and however much I can say is only a millionth part of the feeling I have in my heart against you. You have made a position for yourself in life; and there you stand, and push everything away which might possibly disturb your equilibrium for a moment—for your equilibrium is the most precious thing in the world to you. But it isn’t the most precious thing in life, Thomas—no, before God, it is not. You are an egotist, that is what you are. I am still fond of you, even when you are angry, and tread on me, and thunder me down. But when you get silent: when somebody says something and you are suddenly dumb, and withdraw yourself, quite elegant and remote, and repulse people like a wall and leave the other fellow to his shame, without any chance of justifying himself—! Yes, you are without pity, without love, without humility.—Oh,” he cried, and stretched both arms in front of him, palms outward, as though pushing everything away from him, “Oh, how sick I am of all this tact and propriety, this poise and refinement—sick to death of it!”

The outburst was so genuine, so heart-felt, it sounded so full of loathing and satiety, that it was actually crushing. Thomas shrank a little and looked down in front of him, weary and without a word.

At last he said, and his voice had a ring of feeling, “I have become what I am because I did not want to become what you are. If I have inwardly shrunk from you, it has been because I needed to guard myself—your being, and your existence, are a danger to me—that is the truth.”

There was another pause, and then he went on, in a crisper tone: “Well, we have wandered far away from the subject. You have read me a lecture on my character—a somewhat muddled lecture, with a grain of truth in it. But we are not talking about me, but about you. You are thinking of marrying; and I should like to convince you that it is impossible for you to carry out your plan. In the first place, the interest I shall be able to pay you on your capital will not be a very encouraging sum—”

“Aline has put some away.”

The Senator swallowed, and controlled himself. “You mean you would mingle your mother’s inheritance with the—savings of this lady?”

“Yes. I want a home, and somebody who will be sympathetic when I am ill. And we suit each other very well. We are both rather damaged goods, so to speak—”

“And you intend, further, to adopt the existing children and legitimize them?”


“So that after your death your inheritance would pass to them?” As the Senator said this, Frau Permaneder laid her hand on his arm and murmured adjuringly, “Thomas! Mother is lying in the next room!”

“Yes,” answered Christian. “That would be the way it would be.”

“Well, you shan’t do it, then,” shouted the Senator, and sprang up. Christian got behind his chair, which he clutched with one hand. His chin went down on his breast; he looked apprehensive as well as angry.

“You shan’t do it,” repeated Thomas, almost senseless with anger; pale, trembling, jerking convulsively. “As long as I am alive it won’t happen. I swear it—so take care! There’s enough money gone already, what with bad luck and foolishness and rascality, without your throwing a quarter of Mother’s inheritance into this creature’s lap—and her bastards’—and that after another quarter has been snapped up by Tiburtius! You’ve brought enough disgrace on the family already, without bringing us home a courtesan for a sister-in-law, and giving our name to her children. I forbid it, do you hear? I forbid it!” he shouted, in a voice that made the room ring, and Frau Permaneder squeeze herself weeping into the corner of the sofa. “And I advise you not to attempt to defy me! Up to now I have only despised you and ignored you: but if you try any tricks, if you bring the worse to the worst, we’ll see who will come out ahead! You can look out for yourself! I shan’t have any mercy! I’ll have you declared incompetent, I’ll get you shut up, I’ll ruin you—I’ll rain you, you understand?”

“And I tell you—” Thus it all began over again, and went on and on: a battle of words, destructive, futile, lamentable, without any purpose other than to insult, to wound, to cut one another to the quick. Christian came back to his brother’s character and cited examples of Thomas’s egotism—painful anecdotes out of the distant past, which he, Christian, had never forgotten, but carried about with him to feed his bitterness. And the Senator retorted with scorn, and with threats which he regretted a moment later. Gerda leaned her head on her hand and watched them, with an expression in her eyes impossible to read. Frau Permaneder repeated over and over again, in her despair: “And Mother lying there in the next room!”

Christian, who at the end had been walking up and down in the room, at last forsook the field.

“Very good, we shall see!” he shouted. With his eyes red, his moustaches ruffled, his handkerchief in his hand, his coat wide open, hot and beside himself, he went out of the door and slammed it behind him.

In the sudden stillness the Senator stood for a moment upright and gazed after his brother. Then he sat down without a word and took up the papers jerkily. He went curtly through the remaining business, then leaned back and twisted his moustaches through his fingers, lost in thought.

Frau Permaneder’s anxiety made her heart beat loudly. The question, the great question, could now not be put off any longer. It must come up, and he must answer; but was her brother now in a mood to be governed by gentleness and filial piety? Alas, she feared not.

“And—Tom—,” she began, looking down into her lap, and then up, as she made a timid effort to read his thoughts. “The furniture—you have taken everything into consideration of course—the things that belong to us, I mean to Erica and me and the little one, they remain here with us? In short, the house—what about it?” she finished, and furtively wrung her hands.

The Senator did not answer at once. He went on for a while twisting his moustaches and drearily meditating. Then he drew a deep breath and sat up.

“The house?” he said. “Of course it belongs to all of us, to you and me, and Christian—and, queerly enough, to Pastor Tiburtius too. I can’t decide anything about it by myself. I have to get your consent. But obviously the thing to do is to sell as soon as possible,” he concluded, shrugging his shoulders. Yet something crossed his face, after all, as though he were startled by his own words.

Frau Permaneder’s head sank deep on her breasts; her hands stopped pressing themselves together; she relaxed all over.

“Our consent,” she repeated after a pause, sadly, and rather bitterly as well. “Dear me, Tom, you know you will do whatever you think best—the rest of us are not likely to withhold our consent for long. But if we might put in a word—to beg you,” she went on, almost dully, but her lip was trembling too—“the house—Mother’s house—the family home, in which we have all been so happy! We must sell it—?”

The Senator shrugged his shoulders again. “Child, you will believe me when I tell you that I feel everything you can say, as much as you do yourself. But those are only our feelings; they aren’t actual objections. What has to be done, remains the problem. Here we have this great piece of property—what shall we do with it? For years back, ever since Father’s death, the whole back part has been going to pieces. A family of cats is living rent-free in the billiard-room, and you can’t walk there for fear of going through the floor. Of course, if I did not have my house in Fishers’ Lane—But I have, and what should I do with it? Do you think I might sell that instead? Tell me yourself, to whom? I should lose half the money I put into it. We have property enough, Tony; we have far too much, in fact. The granary buildings, and two great houses. The invested capital is out of all proportion to the value of the property. No, no, we must sell.”

But Frau Permaneder was not listening. She was sitting bent over on the sofa, withdrawn into herself with her own thoughts.

“Our house,” she murmured. “I remember the house-warming. We were no bigger than that. The whole family was there. And Uncle Hoffstede read a poem. It is in the family papers. I know it by heart. Venus Anadyomene. The landscape-room. The dining-hall! And strange people—!”

“Yes, Tony. They must have felt the same—the family of whom Grandfather bought the house. They had lost their money and had to give up their home, and they are all dead and gone now. Everything has its time. We ought to be grateful to God that we are better off than the Ratenkamps, and are not saying good-bye to the house under such sorry circumstances as theirs.”

Sobs, long, painful sobs, interrupted him. Frau Permaneder so abandoned herself to her grief that she did not even dry the tears that ran down her cheeks. She sat bent over, and the warm drops fell unheeded upon the hands lying limp in her lap.

“Tom,” said she, and there was a gentle, touching decision in her voice, which, a moment before her sobs had threatened to choke, “you can’t understand how I feel at this hour—you cannot understand your sister’s feelings! Things have not gone well with her in this life.—I have had everything to bear that fate could think of to inflict upon me. But I have borne it all without flinching, Tom: all my troubles with Grünlich and Permaneder and Weinschenk. For, however my life seemed to go awry, I was never quite lost. I had always a safe haven to fly to. Even this last time, when everything came to an end, when they took away Weinschenck to prison, ‘Mother,’ I said, ‘may we come to you?’ And she said, ‘Yes, my children, come!’ Do you remember, Tom, when we were little, and played war, there was always a little spot marked off for us to run to, where we could be safe and not be touched until we were rested again? Mother’s house, this house, was my little spot, my refuge in life, Tom. And now—it must be sold—”

She leaned back, buried her face in her handkerchief, and wept unrestrainedly.

He drew down one of her hands and held it in his own.

“I know, dear Tony, I know it all. But we must be sensible. Our dear good Mother is gone. We cannot bring her back. And so—It is madness to keep the house as dead capital. Shall we turn it into a tenement-house? I know it is painful to think of strangers living here; but after all it is better you should not see it. You must take a nice, pretty little house or flat somewhere for yourself and your family—outside the Castle Gate, for example. Or would you rather stop on here and let out floors to different families? And you still have the family: Gerda and me, and the Buddenbrooks in Broad Street, and the Krögers, and Therese Weichbrodt, and Clothilde—that is, if Clothilde will condescend to associate with us, now that she’s become a lady of the Order of St. John—it’s so very exclusive, you know!”

She gave a sigh that was already partly a laugh, and mopped her eyes with her handkerchief, looking like a hurt child whom somebody is helping, with a jest, to forget its pain. Then she resolutely cleared her face and put herself to rights, tossing her head with the characteristic gesture and bringing her chin down on her breast.

“Yes, Tom,” she said, and blinked with her tear-reddened eyes, “I’ll be good now; I am already. You must forgive me—and you too, Gerda—for breaking down like that. But it may happen to any one, you know. It is a weakness. But, believe me, it is only outward. I am a woman steeled by misfortunes. And that about the dead capital is very convincing to me, Tom—I’ve enough intelligence to understand that much, anyhow. I can only repeat that you must do what you think best. You must think and act for us all; for Gerda and I are only women, and Christian—well, God help him, poor soul! We cannot oppose you, for whatever we could say would be only sentiment, not real objections, it is very plain. To whom will you sell it, Tom? Do you think it will go off right away?”

“Ah, child—how do I know? But I talked a little this morning with old Gosch the broker; he did not seem disinclined to undertake the business.”

“That is a good idea, Tom. Siegismund Gosch has his weaknesses, of course. That thing about his translation from the Spanish—I can’t remember the man’s name, but it is very odd, one must admit. However, he was Father’s friend, and he is an honest man through and through.—What shall you ask? A hundred thousand marks would be the least, I should think.”

And “A hundred thousand marks would be the least, wouldn’t it, Tom?” she was still asking, the door-knob in her hand, as the Senator and his wife went down the steps. Then she was alone, and stood there in the middle of the room with her hands clasped palms down in front of her, looking all around with large, helpless eyes. Her head, heavy with the weight of her thoughts, adorned with the little black lace cap, sank slowly, shaking all the while, deeper and deeper on one shoulder.