GARMAN AND WORSE
A Norwegian Novel
ALEXANDER L. KIELLAND
Authorized Translation by W. W. Kettlewell
London, Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1, Paternoster Square Printed by William Clows and Sons, Limited, London and Beccles.
Nothing is so boundless as the sea, nothing so patient. On its broad back it bears, like a good-natured elephant, the tiny mannikins which tread the earth; and in its vast cool depths it has place for all mortal woes. It is not true that the sea is faithless, for it has never promised anything; without claim, without obligation, free, pure, and genuine beats the mighty heart, the last sound one in an ailing world. And while the mannikins strain their eyes over it, the sea sings its old song. Many understand it scarce at all, but never two understand it in the same manner, for the sea has a distinct word for each one that sets himself face to face with it.
It smiles with green shining ripples to the barelegged urchin who catches crabs; it breaks in blue billows against the ship, and sends the fresh salt spray far in over the deck. Heavy leaden seas come rolling in on the beach, and while the weary eye follows the long hoary breakers, the stripes of foam wash up in sparkling curves over the even sand; and in the hollow sound, when the billows roll over for the last time, there is something of a hidden understanding—each thinks on his own life, and bows his head towards the ocean as if it were a friend who knows it all and keeps it fast.
But what the sea is for those who live along its strand none can ever know, for they say nothing. They live all their life with face turned to the ocean; the sea is their companion, their adviser, their friend and their enemy, their inheritance and their churchyard. The relation therefore remains a silent one, and the look which gazes over the sea changes with its varying aspect, now comforting, now half fearful and defiant. But take one of these shore-dwellers, and move him far landward among the mountains, into the loveliest valley you can find; give him the best food, and the softest bed. He will not touch your food, or sleep in your bed, but without turning his head he will clamber from hill to hill, until far off his eye catches something blue he knows, and with swelling heart he gazes towards the little azure streak that shines far away, until it grows into a blue glittering horizon; but he says nothing.
People in the town often said to Richard Garman, "How can you endure that lonely life out there in your lighthouse?" The old gentleman always answered, "Well, you see, one never feels lonely by the sea when once one has made its acquaintance; and besides, I have my little Madeleine."
And that was the feeling of his heart. The ten years he had passed out there on the lonely coast were among the best of his life, and that life had been wild and adventurous enough; so, whether he was now weary of the world, or whether it was his little daughter, or whether it was the sea that attracted him, or whether it was something of all three, he had quieted down, and never once thought of leaving the lighthouse of Bratvold. This was what no one could have credited; and when it was rumoured that Richard Garman, the attache, a son of the first commercial family of the town, was seeking the simple post of lighthouse-keeper, most people were inclined to laugh heartily at this new fancy of "the mad student." "The mad student" was a nickname in the town for Richard Garman, which was doubtless well earned; for although he had been but little at home since he had grown to manhood, enough was known of his wild and pleasure-seeking career to make folks regard him with silent wonder.
To add to this, too, the visits he paid to his home were generally coincident with some remarkable event or another. Thus it was when, as a young student, he was present at his mother's funeral; and even more so when he came at a break-neck pace from Paris to the death-bed of the old Consul, in a costume and with an air which took away the breath of the ladies, and caused confusion among the men. Since then Richard had been but little seen. Rumour, however, was busy with him. At one time some commercial traveller had seen him at Zinck's Hotel at Hamburg; now he was living in a palace; and now the story was that he was existing in the docks, and writing sailors' letters for a glass of beer.
One fine day Garman and Worse's heavy state carriage was seen on its way to the quay. Inside sat the head of the firm, Consul C.F. Garman, and his daughter Rachel, while little Gabriel, his younger son, was sitting by the side of the coachman. An unbearable curiosity agitated the groups on the quay.
The state carriage was seldom to be seen in the town, and now at this very moment the Hamburg steamer was expected. At length an employe of the firm came to the carriage window, and, after a few irrelevant remarks, ventured to ask who was coming.
"I am expecting my brother the attache, and his daughter," answered Consul Garman, while with a movement peculiar to himself he adjusted his smoothly shaven chin in his stiff neckcloth.
This information increased the excitement. Richard Garman was coming, "the mad student," "the attache" as he was sometimes called; and with a daughter, too! But how could they belong to each other? Could he ever have been really married? It was hardly likely.
The steamer came. Consul Garman went on board, and returned shortly after with his brother and a little dark-haired girl, who doubtless was the daughter.
Richard Garman was soon recognized, although he had grown somewhat stouter: but the upright, elegant bearing and the striking black moustache were still the same; while the hair, though crisp and curling as in the old days, was now slightly necked with grey at the temples. He greeted them all with a friendly smile as he passed to the carriage, and there was more than one lady who felt that the glance of his bright brown eye rested smilingly on her for a moment.
The carriage rolled off through the town, and away down the long avenue which led to the large family mansion of Sandsgaard.
The town gossipped itself nearly crazy, but without any satisfactory result. The house of Garman took good care of its secrets.
So much was, however, clear: that Richard Garman had dissipated the whole of his large fortune, or else he would never have consented to come home and eat the bread of charity in his brother's house.
On the other hand, the relation between the brothers was, at least as far as appearances went, a most cordial one. The Consul gave a grand dinner, at which he drank his brother's health, adding at the same time the hope that he might find himself happy in his old home.
There is nothing so irritating as a half-fulfilled scandal, and when Richard Garman a short time afterwards calmly received the post of lighthouse-keeper at Bratvold, and lived there year after year without a sign of doing anything worthy of remark, each one in the little town felt himself personally affronted, and it was a source of wonder to all how little the Garmans seemed to realize what they owed to society.
As far as that went, Richard himself was not perfectly clear how it had all come about; there was something about Christian Frederick he could not understand. Whenever he met his brother, or even got a letter from him, his whole nature seemed to change; things he would otherwise never have thought of attempting appeared all at once quite easy, and he did feats which afterwards caused him the greatest astonishment. When, in a state of doubt and uncertainty, he wrote home for the last time, to beg his brother to take charge of little Madeleine, his only thought was to make an end of his wasted life, the sooner the better, directly his daughter was placed in safety. But just then he happened to get a remittance enclosed in an extraordinary letter, in which occurred several puzzling business terms. There was something about "liquidation," and closing up an account which required his presence, and in the middle of it all there were certain expressions which seemed to have stumbled accidentally into the commercial style. For instance, in one place there was "brother of my boyhood;" and further on, "with sincere wishes for brotherly companionship;" and finally, he read, in the middle of a long involved sentence, "Dear Richard, don't lose heart." This stirred Richard Garman into action: he made an effort, and set off home. When he saw his brother come on board the steamer the tears came to his eyes, and he was on the point of opening his arms to embrace him. The Consul, however, held out his hand, and said quietly, "Welcome, Richard! Where are your things?"
Since then nothing had been said about the letter; once only had Richard Garman ventured to allude to it, when the Consul seemed to imagine that he wished to settle up the accounts that were therein mentioned. Nothing could have been further from the attache's thoughts, and he felt that the bare idea was almost an injury. "Christian Frederick is a wonderful man," thought Richard; "and what a man of business he is!"
One day Consul Garman said to his brother, "Shall we drive out to Bratvold, and have a look at the new lighthouse?"
Richard was only too glad to go. From his earliest days he had loved the lonely coast, with its long stretches of dark heather and sand, and the vast open sea; the lighthouse also interested him greatly.
When the brothers got into the carriage again to drive back to the town, the attache said, "Do you know, Christian Frederick, I can't imagine a position more suitable to such a wreck as myself than that of lighthouse-keeper out here."
"There is no reason you should not have it," answered his brother.
"Nonsense! How could it be managed?" answered Richard, as he knocked the ashes off his cigar.
"Now listen, Richard," replied the Consul, quickly. "If there is a thing I must find fault with you for, it is your want of self-reliance. Don't you suppose that, with your gifts and attainments, you could get a far higher post if you only chose to apply for it?"
"No; but, Christian Frederick—" exclaimed the attache, regarding his brother with astonishment.
"It's perfectly true," replied the Consul. "If you want the post, they must give it to you; and if there should be any difficulty, I feel pretty certain that a word from us to the authorities would soon settle it."
The matter was thus concluded, and Richard Garman was appointed lighthouse-keeper at Bratvold, either because of his gifts and attainments or by reason of a timely word to the authorities. The very sameness of his existence did the old cavalier good; the few duties he had, he performed with the greatest diligence and exactitude.
He passed most of his spare time in smoking cigarettes, and looking out to sea through the large telescope, which was mounted on a stand, and which he had got as a present from Christian Frederick. He was truly weary, and he could not but wonder how he had so long kept his taste for the irregular life he had led in foreign lands. There was one thing that even more excited his wonder, and that was how well he got on with his income. To live on a hundred a year seemed to him nothing less than a work of art, and yet he managed it. It must be acknowledged that he had a small private income, but his brother always told him it was as good as nothing; how much it was, and from what source it was really derived, he never had an idea. It is true that there came each year a current account from Garman and Worse, made out in the Consul's own hand, and he also frequently got business letters from his brother; but neither the one nor the other made things clearer to him. He signed his name to all papers which were sent to him, in what appeared the proper place. Sometimes he got a bill of exchange to execute, and this he did to the best of his ability; but everything still remained to him in the same state of darkness as before.
One thing, however, was certain: Richard got on capitally. He kept two assistants for the lanterns; he had his riding horse Don Juan, and a cart-horse as well. His cellar was well filled with wine; and he always had a little ready money at hand, for which he had no immediate use. Thus, when any one complained to him of the bad times, he recommended them to come into the country; it was incredible how cheaply one could live there.
In the ten years they had passed at Bratvold, Madeleine had grown to womanhood, and had thriven beyond general expectation; and when she had got quite at home in the language (her mother had been a Frenchwoman), she soon got on the best of terms with all their neighbours. She did not remain much in the house, but passed most of her time at the farmhouses, or by the sea, or the little boat haven.
A whole regiment of governesses had attempted to teach Madeleine, but the task was a difficult one; and when the governesses were ugly her father could not abide them, and when one came who was pretty there were other objections. Richard paid frequent visits to Sandsgaard, either on Don Juan or in the Garmans' dogcart, which was sent to fetch him. The chilly, old-fashioned house, and the reserved and polished manners of its inmates, had made a repellant impression on Madeleine. For her cousin Rachel, who was only a few years her elder, she had no liking. She preferred, therefore, to remain at home, and her father was never absent for more than a few days at a time. She spent most of her time on the shore or in the neighbouring cottages, in the society of fishermen and pilots. Merry and fearless as she was, these men were glad to take her out in fine weather in their boats. She thus learnt to fish, to handle a sail, or to distinguish the different craft by their rig.
Madeleine had one particular friend whose name was Per, who was three or four years older than herself, and who lived in the cottage nearest to the lighthouse. Per was tall and strongly built, with a crop of stiff, sandy hair, and a big hand as hard as horn from constant rowing; his eyes were small and keen, as is often seen among those who from their childhood are in the habit of peering out to sea through rain and fog.
Per's father had been a widower, and Per his only child, but he managed to get married again, and now the family increased year after year. The neighbours were always urging Per to get his father to divide the property with him, but Per preferred to wait the turn of events. The longer he waited the more brothers and sisters he had to share with. His friends laughed at him, and somebody one day called him "Wait Per," a joke which caused great amusement at the time, and the nickname stuck to him ever afterwards. Beyond this, Per was not a lad to be laughed at; he was one of the most active boatmen of the community, and at the same time the most peaceable creature on earth. He did not trouble to distinguish himself, but he had a kind of natural love for work, and, as he was afraid of nothing, the general feeling was that Per was a lad that would get on.
The friendship between Per and Madeleine was very cordial on both sides. At first some of the other young fellows tried to take her from him, but one day it so happened that when she was out with Per, a fresh north-westerly breeze sprang up. Per's boat and tackle were always of the best, so that there was no real danger; but nevertheless her father, who had seen the boat through the big telescope, came in all haste down to the shore, and went out on to the little pier to meet them.
"There's father," said Madeleine; "I wonder if he is anxious about us?"
"I think he knows better than that," said Per, thoughtfully.
All the same the attache could not help feeling a little uneasy as he stood watching the boat; but when Per with a steady hand steered her in through the fairway, and swung her round the point of the pier, so that she glided easily into the smooth water behind it, the old gentleman could not help being impressed by his skill. "He knows what he's about," he muttered, as he helped up his daughter; and instead of the lecture he had prepared, he only said, "You are a smart lad, Per; but I never gave you permission to sail with her alone."
There was no one near enough to hear the old gentleman's words, but when the spectators who were standing near saw that Per shook hands with both Madeleine and her father in a friendly manner, they could all perceive that Per was in the lighthouse-keeper's good books for the future, and from that day it was taken for granted that Per alone had the right to escort the young lady.
Per thought over and over whom he should take with him in the boat. He saw well enough that the whole pleasure would be spoilt if one of his friends came with them. At length he hit upon a poor half-witted lad, who was also hard of hearing into the bargain. No one could make out what Per wanted with "Silly Hans" in his boat; but there! Per always was an obstinate fellow. Both he and Madeleine were well contented with his choice; and when, a few days after, she put her head in at the door, and called to her father, "I'm just going for a little sail with Per," she was able to add with a good conscience, "Of course, he has got some one with him, since you really make such a point of it." She could not help laughing to herself as she ran down the slope.
Richard, in the mean time, betook himself to the big telescope. Right enough: Per was sitting aft, and he saw Madeleine jump down into the boat. On the forward thwart there sat a male creature, dressed in homespun, with a yellow sou'wester on its head.
"Bien!" said the old gentleman, with a sigh of relief. "It is well they have got some one with them—in every respect."
The highest point on the seven miles of flat, sandy coast was the headland of Bratvold, where the lighthouse was built just on the edge of the slope, which here fell so steeply off towards the sea as to make the descent difficult and almost dangerous, while in ascending it was necessary to take a zigzag course. The sheep, which had grazed here from time out of mind, had cut out a network of paths on the side of the hill, so that from a distance these paths seemed to form a pattern of curves and projections on its face.
From the highest and steepest point, on which the lighthouse was built, the coast made a slight curve to the southward, and at the other end of this curve was the large farm of Bratvold, which, with its numerous and closely packed buildings, appeared like a small village.
On the shore below the farm lay the little boat harbour, sheltered by a breakwater of heavy stone.
The harbour was commanded by the windows of the lighthouse, so that Madeleine could always keep her eye on Per's boat, which was as familiar to her as their own sitting-room. This was a large and cheerful room, and into its corner was built the tower of the lighthouse itself, which was not higher than the rest of the building. The room had thus two windows, one of which looked out to sea, while from the other was a view to the northward over the sandy dunes, which were dotted with patches of heather and bent grass. In the sitting-room Madeleine's father had his books and writing-table, and last, but not least, the large telescope. This was made to turn on its stand, so that it commanded both the view to the north and that out to sea. Here also Madeleine had her flowers and her work-table; and the tasteful furniture which Uncle Garman had ordered from Copenhagen, and which was always a miracle of cheapness to her father, gave the room a bright and comfortable appearance.
In the long evenings when the winter storms came driving in on the little lighthouse, father and daughter sat cosy and warm behind the shelter of their thick walls and closed shutters, while the light fell in regular and well-defined rays over the billows, which raged and foamed on the shore below. The ever-changing ocean, which washed under their very windows, seemed to give a freshness to their whole life, while its never-ceasing murmur mingled in their conversation and their laughter, and in her music.
Madeleine had inherited much of her father's lively nature; but she had also a kind of impetuosity, which one of her governesses had called defiance. When she grew up she showed, therefore, the stronger nature of the two, and her father, as was his wont, gave way. He laughed at his little tyrant, whose great delight was to ruffle his thick curling hair. When, in his half-abstracted way, the old gentleman would tell her stones which threatened to end unpleasantly, she would scold him well; but when, from some cause or other, he was really displeased with her, it affected her so much that the impression remained for a long time. Her nature was bright and joyous, but she yearned for the sunshine, and when her father was out of spirits she could not help fancying that it was her fault, and became quite unhappy.
Madeleine had also her father's eyes, dark and sparkling, but otherwise her only resemblance to him lay in her slight figure and graceful carriage. Her mouth was rather large, and her complexion somewhat dark. None could deny that she was an attractive girl, but no one would have called her pretty; some of the young men had even decided that she was plain.
One fine afternoon early in spring, Per lay waiting with his boat off the point of the Mole. Silly Hans was not with him, for both he and Madeleine had agreed that it was not necessary when they were going only for a row; and to-day all there was to do was to provide the lobster-pots with fresh bait for the night.
One after another the fishermen rowed out through the narrow entrance. Each one had some mischievous joke to throw on board Per's boat, and more than once the annoying "Wait" was heard. He began to lose his temper as he lay on his oars, gazing expectantly up at the lighthouse.
But there all was still. The solid little building looked so quiet and well cared for in the bright sunshine, which shone on the polished window-panes and on the bright red top of the lantern, where he could see the lamp-trimmer going round on his little gallery, polishing the prisms.
At last, after what seemed endless waiting, she came out on to the steps, and in another moment she was across the yard, over the enclosure which belonged to the lighthouse, out through the little gate in the fence, and now she came in full career down the slope. "Have you been waiting?" she cried, as she came on to the extreme point of the breakwater. He was just going to tell her not to jump, but it was too late; without lessening her speed, she had already sprung from the pier down into the boat. Her feet slipped from her, and she fell in a sitting posture on the bottom of the boat, while part of her dress hung in the water.
"Bother the women!" cried Per, who had told her at least a hundred times not to jump; "now you have hurt yourself."
"No," answered she.
"Yes, you have."
"Well, just a little," she replied, looking stubbornly at him as the tears came into her eyes; for she really had bruised her leg severely.
"Let me see," said Per.
"No, you shan't!" she answered, arranging her dress over her.
Per began to make for the shore.
"What are you going to do?"
"Going to get some brandy to rub your foot."
"That you certainly shan't."
"Well, then, you shan't go with me," answered Per.
"Very well, then; let me get out."
And before the boat quite touched the ground, she sprang on to the shore, climbed on to the breakwater, and went hurriedly off homewards. She clenched her teeth with the pain as she went, but still without raising her eyes from the ground she followed the well-known path. As she passed in front of the boat-houses, she had to step over oars, tar-barrels, old swabs, and all sorts of rubbish, which was scattered among the boats. All around lay the claws of crabs and the half-decayed heads of codfish, in which the gorged and sleepy flies were crawling in and out of the eye-sockets.
She reached the lighthouse without turning her head; she was determined not to look back at him. At the top, however, she was obliged to pause to get her breath; she surely might look and see how far he got. Madeleine knew that the other fishermen had had a long start, and expected, therefore, to find Per's boat far behind, between the others and the shore. But it was not to be seen, neither there nor in the harbour. All at once her eye caught the well-known craft, which was not, however, far behind, but almost level with the others. Per must have rowed like a madman. She was well able to estimate the distance, and could appreciate such a feat of oarsmanship, and, entirely forgetting her pain and that she was alone, she turned round as if to a crowd of spectators, and pointing at the boats she said, with sparkling eyes, "Look at him! that's the boy to row!"
Meanwhile Per sat in his boat, tearing at his oars till all cracked again. It was as though he wished to punish himself by his gigantic efforts. Her form grew smaller and smaller as he rowed out to sea, till at length she was out of sight; but he had deserved it all. "Deuce take the women!" and each time he repeated the words he sprang to his oars and rowed as if for bare life.
The next day the same lovely weather continued, and the sea lay as smooth as oil in the bright sunshine. An English lobster-cutter was in the offing, with sails flapping against the mast, and the slack in the taut rigging could be seen as the craft heaved lazily to and fro on the gentle swell. Madeleine sat by the window; she did not care to go out. Her eye followed the lobster-cutter, which she knew well: it was the Flying Fish, Captain Crab, of Hull.
So Per must have been out with lobsters that morning: she wondered if he had caught many. Perhaps he might have done himself harm by his efforts of yesterday. She went out on to the slope, and looked down into the harbour. Per's boat was there; it was quite likely he was not well.
Suddenly Madeleine made up her mind to run down and ask a man whom she saw by the boat-houses, but half-way down the slope she met some one who was coming upwards. She could not possibly have seen him sooner, because he was below her at the steepest part of the hill, but now she recognized him, and slackened her pace.
Per must also have seen her, although he was looking down, for at a few paces from her he left the main path, and took one that was a little lower. When therefore they were alongside each other, she was a little above him. Per had a basket on his back, and Madeleine could see there was seaweed in it.
Neither of them spoke, but both of them felt as if they were half choking. When he had got a pace beyond her, she turned round and asked, "What have you got in the basket, Per?"
"A lobster," answered he, as he swung the basket off his back and put it down upon the path.
"Let me see it," said Madeleine.
He hastily drew aside the seaweed, and took out a gigantic lobster, which was flapping its broad, scaly tail.
"That is a splendid great lobster!" she cried.
"Yes, it isn't a bad un!"
"What are you going to do with it?"
"Ask your father if he would like to have it."
"What do you want for it?" she asked, although she knew perfectly well that it was a present.
"Nothing," answered Per, curtly.
"That is good of you, Per."
"Oh, it's nothing," he answered, as he laid the seaweed back in the basket; and now, when the moment came to say good-bye, he said, "How's your foot?"
"Thanks, all right. I got the brandy."
"Did it hurt much?" asked Per.
"No, not very much."
"I am glad you did that," he said, as he ventured to lift his eyes to the level of her chin.
Now they really must separate, for there was nothing more to be said, but Madeleine could not help thinking that Per was a helpless creature.
"Good-bye," he answered, and both took a few steps apart.
"Per, where are you going when you have been up with the lobster?"
"Nowhere particular," answered Per.
He really was too stupid, but all the same she turned round and called after him, "I am going to the sand-hills on the other side of the lighthouse, the weather is so lovely;" and away she ran.
"All right," answered Per, springing like a cat up the slope.
As he ran he threw away the seaweed so as to have the lobster ready, and when he got to the kitchen door he flung the monster down on the bench, and cried, "This is for you!" as he disappeared. The maid had recognized his voice, and ran after him to order fresh fish for Friday, but he was already far away. She gazed after him in amazement, and muttered, "I declare, I think Per is wrong in his head."
Northward stretched the yellow sand-hills with their tussocks of bent grass as far as the eye could reach. The coast-line curved in bights and promontories, with here and there a cluster of boats, while the gulls and wild geese were busy on the shore, and the waves rolled in in small curling ripples which glistened in the' clear sunshine. Per soon caught up Madeleine, for she went slowly that day. She had pulled a few young stalks of the grass, which, as she went, she was endeavouring to arrange in her hat.
The difference of the preceding day hung heavily over both of them. It was really the first time that anything of the sort had occurred between them. Perhaps it was that they felt instinctively that they stood on the brink of a precipice. They therefore took the greatest pains to avoid the subject which really occupied their thoughts. The conversation was thus carried on in a careless and desultory tone, and in short and broken sentences. At last she made an effort to bring him to the point, and asked him if he had caught many lobsters that night.
"Twenty-seven," answered Per.
That was neither many nor few, so there was no more to be said about that.
"You did row hard yesterday," said she, looking down, for now she felt that they were nearing the point.
"It was because—because I was alone in the boat," returned he, stammering. He saw at once that it was a stupid remark, but it was said and could not be mended.
"Perhaps you prefer to be alone in the boat?" she asked hastily, fixing her eyes upon him. But when she saw the long helpless creature standing before her in such a miserable state of confusion, strong and handsome as he was, she sprang up, threw her arms round his neck, and said, half laughing, half crying, "Oh, Per! Per!"
Per had not the faintest idea how he ought to behave when a lady had her arms round his neck, and so stood perfectly still. He looked down upon her long dark hair and slender figure, and, trembling at his own audacity, he put his heavy arm limply round her.
They were now out on the dunes, and she sat down behind one of the largest tussocks, on the warm sand. He ventured to place himself by her side, and looked vacantly around him. Every now and then he cast his eye upon her, but still doubtfully. It was clear that he did not grasp the situation, and at length he appeared to her so absurd that she sprang up, and cried, "Come, Per, let's have a run!"
Away they went, now running, now at a foot's pace. His heavy sea-boots made a broad impression upon the sand, and the mark of her shoe looked so tiny by the side of it that they could not help turning round and laughing. They jested and laughed as if they knew not that they were no longer children, and she made Per promise to give up chewing tobacco.
Away along the curving shore, with the salt breath of ocean fresh upon them, went these young hearts, rejoicing in their existence, while the sea danced in sparkling wavelets at their feet.
The attache had just finished a letter to his brother; it was one of these wearisome business letters, enclosing some papers he had had to sign. He never could make out where the proper place was for him to put his name on these tiresome, long-winded documents. But, wonderful to relate, his brother always told him that it was perfectly correct, and Christian Frederick was most particular in such matters. The old gentleman had just sent off the letter, and was beginning to breathe more easily, when he went to the window and looked out. He discovered two forms going in a northerly direction over the sand-hills.
Half abstractedly, he went to the other window and directed the large telestope upon them.
"Humph!" said he, "I declare, they're there again."
Suddenly he took his eye from the telescope.
"Hulloa! the girl must be mad."
He put his eye down again to the telescope, and threw away his cigarette. There was no doubt about it—there was his own Madeleine hanging round Per's neck. He rubbed the glass excitedly with his pocket-handkerchief. They were now going respectably enough side by side; now they were among the grassy knolls, and behind one of them they disappeared from his sight. He thoughtfully directed the telescope to the other side of the hillock and waited. "What now?" muttered he, giving the glass another rub. They had not yet come from behind the hillock. For a few minutes the father was quite nervous. At last he saw one form raise itself, and immediately after another.
The telescope was perfect, and the old gentleman took in the situation just as well as if he had himself been sitting by their side.
"Ah! it's well it's no worse," he murmured; "but it's bad enough as it is. I shall have to send her off to the town."
When they were at dinner, he said, "You know, Madeleine, we have long been talking about your staying a little while at Sandsgaard."
"Oh no, father," broke in Madeleine, looking beseechingly at him.
"Yes, child; it's quite time now in my opinion." He spoke in an unusually determined tone.
Madeleine could see that he knew everything, and all at once the events of the morning stood in their true light before her. As she sat there, in their well-appointed room, opposite her father, who looked so refined and stately, Per and the shore, and everything that belonged to it, bore quite a different aspect, and instead of the joyful confession she had pictured to herself as she went homewards, she looked down in confusion and blushed to the very roots of her hair.
The visit was thus arranged, and Madeleine was delighted that her father had not observed her confusion; and he was glad enough to escape any further explanation on the subject, for it was just in such matters that the old gentleman showed his weakest point. The next day he rode into the town.
"Avoir, avant, avu—that's how it goes! That's right, my boy; avoir, avant."
The whole class could see clearly that the master was lost in thought. He was pacing up and down, with long steps and half-closed eyes, gesticulating from time to time, as he kept repeating the ill-used auxiliary. On the upper benches the boys began to titter, and those on the lower ones, who had not such a fine ear for the French verbs, soon caught the infection; while the unhappy wretch who was undergoing examination, sat trembling lest the master should notice his wonderful method of conjugating the verb. This unfortunate being was Gabriel Garman, the Consul's younger son. He was a tall, slender boy of about fifteen or sixteen, with a refined face, prominent nose, and upright bearing.
Gabriel was sitting in the lower half of the class, which was, in the opinion of the master, a great disgrace for a boy of his ability. He was, however, a curious, wayward boy. In some things, such as arithmetic and mathematics generally, he distinguished himself; but in Greek and Latin, which were considered the most important part of his education, he showed but little proficiency, although he was destined for a university career.
At last the general mirth of the class burst out in sundry half-stifled noises, which roused the master from his reverie, and he again resumed the book, to continue the examination. As ill luck would have it, he once more repeated, "Avoir, avant," and then half abstractedly, "avu." "Ah, you young idiot!" cried he, in a discordant voice, "can't you manage avoir yet? Whatever is to become of you?"
"Merchant," answered Gabriel, bluntly.
"What do you say? You dare to answer your master? Are you going to be impertinent? I'll teach you! Where's the persuader?" and the master strode up to his seat, and, diving down into his desk, began routing about in it.
At this moment the passage door opened, and an extraordinary and most unscholarly looking head intruded itself into the room. The head had a red nose, and wore a long American goat's-beard and a blue seaman's cap. "Are you there?" said the head, addressing Master Gabriel in a half-drunken voice. "Is that where you are, poor boy? Bah! what an atmosphere! I only just came in to tell you to come down to the ship-yard when you get out of school; we are just beginning the planking."
He did not get any further, for at the sight of the long-legged master, who stalked down from the desk, quite scandalized at this disturbance of order, the head suddenly stopped in its harangue, and with a hearty, "Well, I'm blest! what a ghost!" disappeared, closing the door after it.
It did not take very much to provoke the laughter of the boys, and when at the same moment the bell rang to announce that the school-hour was over, the class broke up in confusion, and the master hastened, fuming with rage, to complain to the rector.
Gabriel hurried off as fast as he could, in hopes of catching up his friend who had caused the disturbance, but he had already disappeared; he had probably gone down to the town to continue his libations. This friend was a foreman shipwright, who, since his return from America, had borne the name of Tom Robson. His real name when he left home was Thomas Robertsen, but it had got changed somehow in America, and he kept to it as it was.
Tom Robson was the cleverest foreman on the whole west coast, but his drinking propensities tried to the utmost both the patience and the firmness of his employers. He had already built several vessels for Garman and Worse, but he was determined that the one he was now superintending at Sandsgaard should be his masterpiece.
This vessel was of about nine hundred tons burden, and was the largest craft that had been built at that port up to the present time, and Consul Garman had given orders that nothing should be spared to make it a model of perfection.
Tom Robson was thus only able to get drunk by fits and starts, which he did when they came to any important epoch in the building. On that day, for instance, the time had just arrived for beginning to lay the planking upon the timbers.
As Gabriel neither found his friend nor saw anything of the carriage from Sandsgaard, which generally met him on his way from school, he set off to walk homewards, down the long avenue which led to the family property. It was a good half-hour's walk, and while he sauntered along, swinging his heavy burden of the books he so cordially hated, he was lost in gloomy thought. Every day, on his way from school, he met the younger clerks going to their dinner in the town. They looked tired and weary, it is true; still, he envied them their permission to sit working the whole day in the office—a paradise with which he, although his father's son, had no connection whatever. He was obliged to confine his energy to the building-yard, where there were plenty of hiding-places, and where the Consul was seldom seen of an afternoon. The ship on the stocks was at once his joy and his pride; he crept all over her, inside and out, above and below, scrutinizing every plank and every nail. At length he had begun to have quite a knowledge of the art of ship-building, and had gained the friendship of Tom Robson, Anders Begmand, and the other shipwrights. The ship was to be the finest the town had yet produced, and when this fact came into his thoughts it almost enabled him to forget his burden of Greek and Latin.
From conversations he had partly overheard at home, Gabriel knew that there had been a difference of opinion between his father and Morten, the eldest son, who was a partner in the firm, ever since the building of this ship was first mentioned.
Morten maintained that they ought to buy an iron steamer in England, either on their own account or in partnership with some of the other houses of the town. He insisted, particularly, that the time could not be far distant when sailing ships would be entirely superseded by steamers. But the father held by sailing ships on principle; and, moreover, the idea that Garman and Worse should have anything in common with the mushroom houses of the town was to him quite unbearable. In the end, the will of the elder prevailed; the ship was built of their own materials, in their own ship-yard, and by the workmen who from generation to generation had worked for Garman and Worse.
When Gabriel reached the point from which he could see down into the bay on which lay the property of Sandsgaard, the ship was the first thing which caught his eye. She stood on the slip below the house, and he could not help remarking the beauty of her bow, and the elegant rake of her stern. It was the dinner-hour, and all the workmen were either at home, in the cottages which stretched along the west side of the bay, or lay asleep among the shavings. As he stood on the crest of the rising ground, which sloped gradually down towards the buildings, and gazed at all these dominions, which from time out of mind had belonged to Garman and Worse, Gabriel became more and more out of spirits.
There lay the old-fashioned house, with white painted walls, and its blue slate roof, which was adorned by dormers and gables. In front of the house, on its southern side, lay the garden, with its paths and clipped hedges, and the little pond half overgrown by sedge and thick bushes. On the northern side, towards the sea, he could discern the carriage drive, and the extensive level yard with the ancient lime tree standing in the middle of it. Beyond that came four warehouses standing in a row, all painted yellow, with brown doors; and further on still, close down to the innermost curve of the bay, was the building-yard. Higher up, on the road which led to the southward along the coast, lay the farm, as it was called. This consisted of a byre, the bailiff's house, and other buildings; for the property of Sandsgaard was extensive, and comprised a mill, a dairy, and such like.
That part of the property had never had much interest for Gabriel, but all the same, if he had only been allowed to be a farmer, he could have turned his attention to agriculture, and still have been near the counting-house, the ships, and the sea; but he was destined for the university, and there was no possibility of escape.
It was not easy to persuade Consul Garman. His father had brought up his elder son to the business, and sent the younger to the university, and he was determined to do the same. The thought sometimes occurred to the wilful Gabriel, that Uncle Richard had had but a poor return from his university career, but he did not dare to express his thoughts openly.
Mrs. Garman believed firmly that it was most desirable, as a cure for self-will, that a young man should battle against his inclinations; nothing could be more baneful than pampering the flesh. No help, then, was to be expected from any quarter.
Gabriel was sauntering down the alley, quite crestfallen under his heavy burden of books, when at some distance his eye caught sight of some one on horseback, whom he soon recognized, and who was coming along the road behind the farm. It was Uncle Richard on Don Juan.
Gabriel started off at once, forgetting in a moment his heavy burden of books and care, and thinking only on the merriment and good cheer which Uncle Richard always brought with him. He determined to hasten off to the kitchen to tell Miss Cordsen, and then to go in to his father; for Gabriel knew well that the bearer of the news of his uncle's arrival was always welcome.
"Lord save us!" cried Miss Cordsen. "Make up the fire, Martha;" and off she ran to get a clean cap.
"All right, my boy!" said Consul Garman, giving Gabriel a friendly nod.
Gabriel was well pleased at the effect of his intelligence. He had actually surprised Miss Cordsen into an impropriety, in which he seldom succeeded; and his father, who was generally undemonstrative, had greeted him with more than usual warmth.
The young Consul, as he was generally called from the time when his father, the old Consul, was alive, was not so tall as his younger brother, and while the latter had grown stouter in the course of years, the former seemed to have got thinner and smaller. His hair was smooth, thin, and slightly grey, carefully brushed so as to make the most of it. His eyes were keen, and of a light blue colour; and his lower jaw was somewhat prominent. Smoothly shaved and well brushed, with stiff white neckcloth, shining boots, and silver-headed cane, there was something about his whole appearance which told of prosperity. Every word, every movement, even the peculiarly characteristic one with which he adjusted his chin in his stiff neckcloth, was the picture of propriety and precision. Precision was, in fact, a word which seemed made for the young Consul; both his appearance and his career reflected it to the uttermost fibre.
With his extensive business and large fortune, Consul Garman had also inherited a boundless admiration and respect for his father, Morten W. Garman, the old Consul, who had come into the property of Sandsgaard at a time when it was of little value, and considerably encumbered by debts, and when the business itself was in rather a confused condition. In order to keep the business afloat during the disastrous years of the war, Morten W. Garman took into partnership a rich old skipper, by name Jacob Worse, from whence sprang the name of the firm. Thanks to old Worse's money, life came again into the tottering business, and Garman's great ability made the firm, in a few years, one of the most important on the west coast. But when old Worse died, and his son took his place in the firm, it was soon evident that Morten Garman and young Worse would not be able to work together. Under a friendly arrangement, therefore, Worse retired with a considerable fortune, while Garman retained the business and the old family property of Sandsgaard.
It was from that time that the great wealth of the Garmans really dated, while Worse in a few years squandered his money and died insolvent.
It was whispered that Worse had left the business rather hastily, just as the good times were beginning, but that was the usual luck of the Garmans.
At first it looked as if Worse's widow and son, who carried on a small business in the town, would work themselves up again, and this was especially the case in recent years. Whatever might be the opinion as to the arrangement between Garman and Worse, no one could ever accuse Morten Garman of any want of straightforwardness in his business arrangements; and his son Christian Frederick followed closely in his steps, observing always the maxim, "What would father have done under the circumstances?"
All went on thus prosperously and uniformly, until the young Consul began to get old, and his elder son Morten came home from abroad and became a partner in the firm. From that time many changes showed themselves. The son had his head full of new foreign ideas; he was all for rushing about, writing and telegraphing, ordering and counter-ordering—a course of action that was quite foreign to Garman and Worse's mode of procedure.
"Let them come to us," said the Consul.
"No, my dear father," answered Morten. "Don't you see that the times are leaving you behind? It's of no use in these days to sit still; you must keep your eyes open, or else run the risk of losing the best of the business, and get nothing but just the residue."
Morten so far prevailed that the Consul was at length obliged to let him set up an office in the town, but under his own name; for Garman and Worse were still to be found only at Sandsgaard, and there those who wished to do business with the firm had to betake themselves.
Meanwhile a considerable amount of business passed through Morten's office in the town. This did not altogether please the Consul, but he felt bound to uphold his son, which was what his father had always done, and the firm thus became mixed up in many transactions which the father would never have cared to enter upon.
To the clerks the young Consul was a being of quite another sphere. Every head was bowed to him whenever he passed through the office, and each one seemed to feel that the cold blue eyes penetrated everything and everywhere—books, accounts, and letters, even into their own private secrets. It was believed that he knew every page in the ledger, and that he could quote intricate accounts, column by column, and if there was even the slightest irregularity to be found anywhere, they would wager that it could not escape the young Consul's eye. The general conviction was, that if every creditor of the firm, or even the devil himself, should some day take it into his head to come into the office, there would not be found even the slightest error in one of the ponderous and well-bound account books.
There was, however, one account which was a sealed book to them all, and that was the one of Richard Garman. No mortal eye had ever seen it. Some thought it might possibly be in the Consul's own red book; others thought that no such thing existed. True it was undoubtedly, that the chief carried on personally all the correspondence with his brother; and, wonderful to relate, these letters were never copied. This was food for much speculation among the clerks, and at last they came to the conclusion that the young Consul did not wish any one to know in what relation Richard Garman stood to the firm.
One thing was plain, and confirmed by long experience, and that was, that the Consul attached great importance to the letters that came from his brother. He read them before the rest of the post, and if any one happened to come in when he was thus engaged, he always covered the correspondence with a sheet of paper. One of the younger clerks once asserted that he had seen a bill of exchange in one of the aforesaid letters, but the statement found but little credence in the office; for it was a recognized fact that not one single paper existed which bore Richard Garman's signature. Another story, which was even less worthy of credit, was one told by the office messenger, who stated that one day he had brought a letter from Bratvold, and that as he came in with the portfolio he had found the young Consul standing by the key-drawer, with a letter in one hand and two bills of exchange in the other, quite red in the face, and apparently bent double, as if he was on the point of choking. The messenger thought at first that it was a fit, but it was plain to the meanest understanding that there was not a word of truth in the story, for the messenger had the audacity to aver that he had heard the young Consul give vent to a short but unmistakable laugh. There was plainly a misapprehension somewhere; every one knew that the young Consul was unable to laugh.
When Gabriel had shut the door after announcing his uncle's arrival, the Consul got up and went off to the key-drawer, from whence he took a gigantic key, to which was attached a wooden label black with age. He then brushed his coat, and, after adjusting his chin in his neckcloth and arranging his scanty locks, left the office.
The house was large and old fashioned, with long passages and broad staircases. In the western wing were the offices, having a separate entrance on the side towards the sea. On the southern side, and overlooking the garden, were the bedrooms of the family, and the apartments which were generally used as sitting-rooms.
The second floor consisted entirely of reception-rooms, which were so arranged as to have the large ballroom in the middle, with salons at the side. In one of these rooms the family generally dined on Sunday, or when they had guests, and it was the small salon at the north-west corner, looking over the building-yard and the sea, in which the dinner was usually served.
On the third floor, or, more correctly, in the garrets, was an endless number of spare rooms, whose windows looked out of the quaint dormers which embellished the roof.
The furniture was mostly of mahogany, now dark with age, while chairs and sofas were covered with horsehair. Against the walls stood tall dark presses, and mirrors with the glass in two pieces, and having their gilded frames adorned with urns and garlands. The rooms were lit by old-fashioned chandeliers and girandoles.
The Consul met one of the servants in the passage. "Has Mr. Garman arrived?"
"Yes, sir; and he has gone upstairs, to my mistress," answered the girl.
When the weather was warm, Mrs. Garman usually preferred one of the airy rooms upstairs. She was a very fat lady, who lived in a continual state of strife with dyspepsia. From whatever side you looked at her, she presented a succession of smoothly rounded curves covered with shining black silk.
It was wonderful that Mrs. Garman got so stout; it must have been, as she herself said, "a cross" she had to bear. She seemed to eat very little at her meals, and could not control her astonishment at the appetites of the rest of the company. Only at times, when she was alone in her room, she seemed to have a fancy for some little delicacy, and Miss Cordsen used to bring her a little bit of just what happened to be handy.
When the Consul entered her room, his wife was sitting on the sofa, engaged in conversation with her brother-in-law.
"How are you? how are you, Christian Frederick?" said Richard, gaily. "Here I am again!"
"You are welcome, Richard. I am charmed to see you," answered the Consul, keeping his hands behind his back.
Richard seemed quite confused, as he generally was when he met his brother, who sometimes could be as gay and cheerful as when they were boys, and at others would put on his business manner, and be cold, repellant, and so abominably precise.
"Is any one coming to dinner to-day, Caroline?" asked Consul Garman.
"Pastor Martens has announced his kind intention of introducing the new school inspector to us," answered the lady.
"Yes, I dare say, another of your parson friends," said the Consul, drily; "then, I'll just send the coachman with the carriage for Morten and Fanny, and ask them to bring some young people with them: they might find Jacob Worse, perhaps."
"What for?" answered the lady, in a tone which showed an inclination to dispute the proposition.
"Because neither Richard nor I care to have our dinner with nothing but a lot of parsons," answered the Consul, in a tone which brought his wife to her senses. "And will you be so kind as to arrange with Miss Cordsen about the dinner?"
"Oh! the dinner, the dinner!" sighed Mrs. Garman, as she left the room. "I cannot understand how people can think so much about such trifles."
Uncle Richard followed his sister-in-law to the door, and when he turned round after making his most polite bow, he saw his brother standing in the middle of the room, with his legs far apart, and one hand behind his back. With the other he held up the monster key like an eyeglass before his eye, and through it he regarded his brother with a knowing look.
"Do you know that?" asked the Consul.
"Mais oui!" answered Richard, in a tone which showed his delight at finding his brother in a mood which betokened a visit to the wine-cellar.
The two old gentlemen went off arm-in-arm, until they reached the top of the kitchen stairs. At the kitchen door they stopped, and the Consul called for the lights. A commotion was heard inside, and in a few seconds Miss Cordsen appeared with two ancient candlesticks.
Each took his own light—they never made any mistake as to which was which—and descended the stairs which led to the dark cellar. They first arrived at a large outer cellar, where it was comparatively light, in which were stored the wines which were in ordinary use, such as St. Julien, Rhine wine, Graves, and brandy. This was all under the charge of Miss Cordsen, who, in accordance with the regime which had come down from the old Consul's time, produced the different wines according to the number and importance of the guests. In the darkest corner of the cellar there was an old keyhole, only known to the Consul, but he could find it in the dark. All the same, both of them held out their lights to look for it, and the young Consul never omitted to remark upon the clever way in which his father had concealed the secret door.
The key turned twice in the lock with a rusty sound, which the brothers could distinguish from any other sound in the world, and an atmosphere redolent of wine and mould met them as they entered. The Consul shut the door, and said, "There now, the world will have to get on without us for a little while." The inner wine-cellar looked as if it were considerably older than the house itself, and the groined roof had a resemblance to the cloister of an old monastery. It was so low that Richard had to bend his head a little, and even the Consul felt inclined to stoop when he was down there.
In the old bins lay bottles of different shapes covered with dust and cobwebs, and in the recess of what had been a grated window, but was now walled up on the outside, there stood two old long-stemmed Dutch glasses, while in one corner there lay a large wine-cask. In front of the cask was placed an empty tub, between an armchair without a back, and from the seat of which the horsehair was protruding, and an ancient rocking-horse that had lost its rockers.
The brothers put down their lights on the bottom of the tub, and took off their coats, which they hung each on their own peg.
"Well, what's it to be to-day?" said Christian Frederick, rubbing his hands.
"Port wouldn't be bad," suggested Richard, examining the bin.
"Port wine would be first-rate," answered the Consul, holding out his light. "But look, there's a row of bottles lying in here that we have never tried. I should like to know what they are."
"I dare say it is some of my grandmother's raspberry vinegar," suggested Richard.
"Nonsense! Do you suppose father would have hidden away raspberry vinegar in this cellar?"
"Perhaps he was as fond of old things as some other people I know," answered Richard.
"You always are so sarcastic," muttered the Consul. "I wish we could get at these bottles."
"You'll have to creep in after them, Christian Frederick. I am too stout."
"All right," answered his brother, taking off his watch and heavy bunch of seals. And the old gentleman crept into the bin with the utmost care. "Now I've got one," he cried.
"Take two while you are about it."
"Yes; but you will have to take hold of my legs and pull me out."
"Avec plaisir!" answered Richard. "But won't you have a drop of Burgundy before you come out?"
There must have been some joke hidden in the question, for the Consul began to laugh; but before long he stammered out, "I am choking, Dick; will you pull me out, you fiend?"
The joke about the Burgundy was as follows. Once when the young Consul had crept in among the bottles, to look for something very particular, he managed to knock his head against one which lay in the rack above so hard that it broke, and the whole bottle of Burgundy ran down his neck. Every time any allusion was made to this mishap, a meaning smile passed between the brothers, and Richard was even so careless as sometimes to allude to it when others were present. For instance, if they were sitting at dinner, and the conversation turned upon red wines, he would say, "Well, my brother has his own peculiar way of drinking Burgundy;" and then would follow a series of mysterious allusions and laughter between the two, which usually ended in a fit of coughing.
The young people had several times tried to get at this joke about the Burgundy, but always in vain. Miss Cordsen, who had been obliged that day to get a clean shirt for the Consul, was the only one in the secret; but Miss Cordsen could hold her tongue about more serious matters than that.
At last the Consul came out again, laughing and sputtering, his waistcoat covered with dust, and his hair full of cobwebs. When they had had a good laugh over their joke—it was well the walls were so thick—Richard, on whom the duty always devolved, uncorked the first bottle with the greatest care and skill.
"H'm! h'm!" said the Consul, "that is a curious bouquet."
"I declare, the wine has gone off," said Richard, spluttering.
"Bah! right you are, Dick," said Christian Frederick, spluttering in his turn.
Uncle Richard opened the second bottle, put his nose to it, and said approvingly, "Madeira!" and in a moment the golden wine was sparkling in the old-fashioned Dutch glasses.
"Ah! that's quite another thing," said the young Consul, taking his usual place astride of the old rocking-horse.
The rocking-horse was a relic of their childhood. "They used to make everything more solid in those days," said Christian Frederick; and when some years previously the horse had been found amongst a lot of rubbish, the Consul had had it brought down to the cellar. For many a long year he had sat on this horse, drinking the old wine out of the same old glasses with his brother, who sat in the rickety armchair, which cracked under his weight, laughing and telling anecdotes of their boyhood. He never got such wine anywhere else, and no room ever appeared so brilliant in his eyes as the low-vaulted cellar with its two smoky lights.
"I declare, it's a shame," said the young Consul, "that you have never had your half of that cask of port. However, I will send you some wine out to Bratvold one of these days, so that you may have some, till we can get it tapped."
"But you are always sending me wine, Christian Frederick. I am sure I have had my half, and more too, long ago."
"Nonsense, Dick! I declare, I believe you keep a wine account."
"No, I am sure I don't."
"Well, if you don't, I do; and I dare say you've remarked that in your account for last year—"
"Yes; that's enough of that. Here's to your health, Christian Frederick," broke in Uncle Richard, hastily. He was always nervous when his brother began about business.
"That's a great big cask."
"Yes, it is a very big one."
And the two old gentlemen held out their lights towards it, and each of them thought, "I am glad my brother does not know that the cask is nearly empty;" for it returned a most unpromising sound when it was struck, and the patch of moisture beneath it showed that it had evidently been leaking for many years.
At the end of the bottle, they got up and clinked their glasses together. They then took each his bottle of Burgundy for dinner, hung their coats on their arms, and went up into the daylight. It was strictly forbidden for any one to meet them when they came out of the cellar, and Miss Cordsen had trouble enough to keep the way clear. They presented a most extraordinary spectacle, especially the precise Christian Frederick, coming up red and beaming, in their shirtsleeves, covered with dust, and each carrying his bottle and his light.
An hour later they met at the dinner-table—Richard, trim and smart as usual, with his conventional diplomatic smile; the Consul precise, haughty, and correct to the very tips of his fingers.
Dinner was served in the small room on the north side of the house, and the company assembled in the two so-called Sunday-rooms, which looked over the garden.
Mrs. Garman always dressed in black silk, but to-day she was more shining and ponderous than usual. She had been looking forward to a nice quiet little dinner with Pastor Martens and the new school inspector; and now here came a whole posse of worldly minded people. Mrs. Garman was thus not in the best of tempers, and Miss Cordsen had to display all her tact. But Miss Cordsen had had long practice, for Mrs. Garman had always been difficult to manage, especially of late years since "religion had come into fashion," as the careless Uncle Richard declared.
Mrs Garman did not really manage her own house; everything went on without change, according to the immutable rules which had come down from the old Consul's time, and she very soon gave up the attempt to bring in new ideas, according to her own pleasure. But now, since she was as it were without any positive influence, she contented herself with saying "No" to everything that she observed the others wished to do. In this way she acquired a kind of negative authority, for although her "No" did not always prevail, it still seemed to give her a right to show her annoyance, by meeting it with an expression full of unmerited suffering and Christian forbearance.
It was thus, with this expression, that Mrs. Garman was listening to Mr. Aalbom, the tall assistant master, who was holding forth about the delicacy and effeminacy of the rising generation. Mrs. Aalbom sat by the window, pretending to listen to the Consul, who was describing with great clearness, and in carefully chosen language, how the garden had been arranged in his late father's time. But the lady was in reality listening to her husband, for whom she had a most unbounded admiration. Mrs. Aalbom was extremely tall, lean, bony, and angular; her lips were thin, and her teeth long and yellow.
The pastor and the carriage from the town had not yet arrived. The Consul's only daughter, Rachel, was standing by the old-fashioned stove, talking merrily with Uncle Richard, and as the door opened, and the pastor and the new inspector entered the room, she was laughing still more gaily, and her mother gave her a reproving look.
As this was Mr. Johnsen's first visit to Sandsgaard, Mr. Martens took him round and introduced him to each guest in succession, beginning with the ladies. When they came to the fireplace, Uncle Richard received them with his usual affability; but Rachel only gave a momentary glance at the new acquaintance, and, almost without turning her head, continued her conversation with her uncle. To her astonishment, however, she remarked that the strange gentleman still remained standing by her side, and, raising her calm blue eyes, she looked fixedly at him. What followed was for her most unusual: she was obliged to withdraw her glance, for, contrary to her expectation, she did not find Mr. Johnsen shy, awkward, and impressed with the strange surroundings. It was plain, however, that he was conscious that his behaviour was unconventional, but he did not therefore desist. This caused Rachel to lose somewhat of her usual self-possession.
"Have you been on the west coast before?" said Uncle Richard, coming to her assistance.
"Never," replied the young man; "all I have as yet seen of the sea has been Christiana Fjord."
"And what do you think of our scenery?" continued the old gentleman. "I have no doubt that you have already seen some of the finest views in the neighbourhood."
"It has made a deep impression on me," answered Mr. Johnsen; "but Nature here is so grand and so impressive as to make one feel insignificant in its presence."
"Perhaps you find it too dull here?" said Rachel, a little disappointed.
"Oh no, not exactly that," replied he, quietly. "The idea I wished to convey is that Nature here has something—how shall I express it?—something exacting about it, by which one seems, as it were, impelled to activity, to perform some deed which will make a mark in the world."
She looked at him with astonishment; but her uncle said good-humouredly—
"For my part, I find our desolate and weather-beaten coast tends rather to lead the mind to meditation and thought than to excite it to activity."
"When I come to your years," answered Mr. Johnsen, "and have done something in the world, I dare say I shall look upon life as you do."
"I hope not," sighed Uncle Richard, half smilingly and half sadly. "As to having done anything, I—"
At that moment the door opened and young Mrs. Garman entered the room. She looked so lovely that all eyes were turned upon her. Her French grey silk with its pink trimmings had a cut quite foreign to those parts, and it was difficult to look at her or her toilette without feeling that both were out of the common in that society.
But the first glance told that the beautifully fitting dress, and the graceful and bright-eyed woman who wore it, were well suited to each other; and as she stepped lightly across the room and gave a sprightly nod to her uncle, there was a natural ease about her gait and manner which contrasted favourably with the self-consciousness with which young ladies exhibit themselves and their smart dresses when first entering into society.
"I declare, she has got another new one!" muttered Mrs. Aalbom.
"Mais, mon Dieu, comme elle est belle!" whispered Uncle Richard, enchanted.
After Fanny followed the short but active-looking Mr. Delphin, secretary to the resident magistrate, then Jacob Worse, and lastly Morten Garman.
Morten was tall and stoutly built. It would appear that he had inherited something of his mother's "cross," which did not, however, seem to oppress him. He had a good-looking face, which was, however, rather weak; and his eyes were too prominent and slightly bloodshot.
George Delphin had been about six months in the town, as secretary to the magistrate, and since Fanny Garman was the magistrate's daughter, Delphin soon got an entree into the Garmans' house, and was a frequent guest at Sandsgaard. Morten had picked him up at his father-in-law's office, when the carriage was sent to the town to find the young people; they had met Jacob Worse accidentally, and Fanny had called to him when they were already seated in the carriage.
Morten had no great liking for Jacob Worse, although they had been much thrown together in their boyhood. Consul Garman, on the other hand, was particularly well disposed towards him, and there were some who maintained that the young Consul would gladly have the name of Worse back in the firm, perhaps as his son-in-law; who could tell?
But those who had an opportunity of closer observation declared that there was no truth in the story. Rachel herself appeared to dislike Jacob Worse, and Mrs. Garman could not bear the sight of him, since Pastor Martens had assured her that he was a freethinker.
The Consul took in Mrs. Aalbom, and George Delphin was so fortunate as to get Fanny Garman. Rachel, to his astonishment, turned to her uncle and said, "I beg pardon, but I am going to ask you to-day to give me up to our new acquaintance. Mr. Johnsen, will you be so kind?"
He offered her his arm stiffly, but not awkwardly, and they followed the others into the dining-room.
"What can be up with Rachel?" muttered Morten to Worse; "she generally can't bear these parsons of mother's."
Jacob Worse made no reply, but, with a polite bow, gave his arm to Miss Cordsen.
For the habitues of the house, it was not difficult to foresee what the menu would be. It consisted of Julienne soup, ham, and pork cutlets with sauer kraut; then roast lamb and roast veal, served with chervil and beet-root; and lastly, meringues and Vanilla cream.
At the head of the table the conversation was mostly carried on between Mr. Aalbom and Delphin, both of whom came from the neighbourhood of Christiania, and Aalbom tried his best to induce the other to say something disparaging of the west coast and its surroundings. This he did in the hope that it would cause annoyance to the Consul and his brother, and also that it would put the speaker, as a new guest at Sandsgaard, in an unfavourable light. Delphin was, however, too quick for him. Either he noticed his intention, or else he really meant what he said. The scenery, he declared, was most interesting, and he was particularly pleased with the acquaintances he had hitherto made in the neighbourhood.
Richard Garman had his usual place on the left of the Consul, who sat at the head of the table, and, leaning over beyond Rachel and Mr. Aalbom, who sat next to him, and raising his glass to the new school inspector, he said—
"As you are of the same opinion as Mr. Delphin with regard to our scenery, I hope you will also receive the same favourable opinion of our society. May I have the honour of drinking your health?"
The Consul regarded his brother with some astonishment. It was seldom that he took much notice of the young people who came to the house, especially if they belonged to the Church.
"Well, you see," whispered Uncle Richard, "I don't think this one's so bad."
Fanny also noticed the attention that was shown to the new guest, who sat opposite to her, and, glancing at him, thought he might prove not interesting. True, he was not so refined as Delphin, nor so good looking as Worse, but still her eyes often wandered in his direction. Neither Worse, who sat on her right hand, nor Delphin, who was on her left, had much attraction for her. Worse, although perfectly polite, paid her but little attention; and that Delphin was at her feet was only natural—it was a fate that, without exception, had befallen all her father's secretaries since her girlhood.
Mr. Johnsen was now drawn into the conversation. Delphin met him at first with an air of superiority, but after receiving a few cutting answers, he was glad to draw in his horns and become more affable. Aalbom, on the contrary, did not change his manner so readily. He was annoyed that Delphin had not fallen into the trap he had laid for him, and was now eager to break a lance with the new guest. He began his attack on the inspector in a half-respectful, half-jesting tone, and with the greater gusto because he knew the aversion which the two Mr. Garmans had to the clergy generally, and Mrs. Carman was deep in conversation with Pastor Martens, who was sitting beside her at the other end of the table.
"I dare say you expect a rich harvest out here, now that there is so much religious excitement," said Aalbom, with a grin to the others.
"Harvest?" asked Johnsen, shortly.
"Or draught of fishes; I don't know under which simile you prefer to regard your calling," replied Aalbom.
"I regard my calling very much in the same light as you do yours. We are both here to teach the young, and I prefer to see my duty plain before my eyes without any simile," answered Johnsen, quietly; but there was something in his voice which rather disconcerted his opponent.
Fanny and Delphin could not restrain a slight laugh; and Mrs. Aalbom muttered, "To think of answering a man in my husband's position in that way!"
The Consul now endeavoured to give a peaceable direction to the conversation, by consulting Johnsen on several matters relating to the National School. Mr. Garman had been for some years chairman of the school committee; for Sandsgaard was included within the limits of the town, although it was situated at a considerable distance from it.
Rachel heard with pleasure the terse and forcible answers which her neighbour gave to the Consul's questions. She was especially pleased to hear the new inspector insist upon certain changes being made in the school, and upon an increase of expenditure, which her father thought unnecessary and altogether too lavish.
It was not often Rachel had met a man who showed such power and energy as their young guest, and each time he spoke as to the necessity of something or another being done for the school, she could not help looking half disdainfully at Delphin, who was now quite taken up with teaching Fanny a trick with a piece of cork and two forks. But when her eye fell on Jacob Worse, an inquiring expression seemed to come over her face, to which, however, he appeared to pay little attention. He was quite occupied in talking half jestingly with old Miss Cordsen.
Ever since Jacob Worse had begun to be a constant guest at Sandsgaard, quite a friendship had sprung up between him and the old lady. She was usually cold and reserved in her manner, but he had a particular knack of getting her into conversation, so that he became quite a favourite of hers.
Aalbom was so annoyed that he ate nearly all the beet-root, and Uncle Richard was amusing himself by quietly working him up. Gabriel, too, devoted all the time that he could spare from his dinner to staring at the master; and every time the latter looked over to that part of the table where Gabriel was sitting, by the side of Miss Corsden, the young scapegrace took up his glass and emptied it with a careless, grown-up air, which he knew would irritate his natural enemy.
Morten, who sat between Mr. Johnsen and Pastor Martens, amused himself by keeping both their glasses well filled. He paid otherwise but little attention to what went on at the table, especially as he had managed to get one of the bottles of Burgundy close by his side.
It was a still, warm day in spring, and at dessert the sun, which shone in obliquely through the two open windows, just reached as far as the table. First it was reflected from Mrs. Garman's black silk, and then shed a faint halo around Pastor Martens's blond head. The rays fell on those of the company who were sitting with their backs to the light, and, casting their shadows over the white cloth, sparkled in the polished decanters. Morten held up his glass to the light, and enjoyed its brilliancy.
"See how lovely your sister-in-law looks in the sunlight!" whispered Delphin to Fanny.
"Oh! do you really think so?" she answered.
Shortly after she told one of the maid-servants, who was waiting, to pull down the blind a little, as she did not like the glare in her eyes.
The conversation now became lively at the upper end of the table. The subject on which it turned was education. Aalbom held forth on his hobby, which was, that it was quite impossible for young people to get a proper insight into learning without the use of corporal punishment, and maintained that there would be an end of all intellectual cultivation if a limit were not placed to modern humanitarianism, which he preferred to call indulgence. His wife took the same side from conviction, and Richard Garman from mischief, while the Consul was impartial. He set the greatest store by the good old times, but still he could not help thinking that they might get on with a little less of the stick than he had experienced. Johnsen was very strong on the importance of religious instruction and home influence.
"As to home influence," broke in Mrs. Aalbom, "school and home ought to go hand-in-hand."
"Of course they ought," rejoined her husband. "If a boy is punished at school, he ought to be punished also at home."
"But then, homes are so different," said Johnsen. This was the first time he had made a remark that Rachel found rather feeble.
"Well, I don't know," cried Mrs. Aalbom, putting her head on one side and looking up to the ceiling. "It is possible to have too much of natural affection, mother's influence, home feeling, and that sort of thing."
"It entirely depends what sort of home it is, Mrs. Aalbom," broke in Jacob Worse, suddenly.
Every eye was turned upon him. He had drawn himself up, and his face was red and his eyes gleaming.
There came a slight pause in the conversation, of which the Consul availed himself, and, taking up his glass, he said, with a smile, "Now we must mind what we are about. This is not the first time I have seen Jacob Worse join in a conversation like this; and if we do not want him to make it too warm for us, we had better change the scene of action to another room, where we can carry on the conflict in the shade. So if the ladies and gentlemen are of the same opinion as myself, we had better retire."
The company broke up. Uncle Richard laughed heartily as he thanked Worse, while they were going downstairs, for having joined in so opportunely. Worse himself could not help a laugh, in which all joined, except Aalbom and his wife, who were too much annoyed to do so.
Rachel was quite astonished at the anxiety displayed by her father when Worse began to speak. She had herself once or twice heard him take part in a discussion, and had been surprised at the way in which his feelings suddenly seemed to get the better of him. There was, it is true, an originality in his views; but for all that there was no reason why he should be silent, and she thought it mean of Jacob Worse to allow himself to be put down so easily.
During dinner Pastor Martens had made several attempts to state his views on the subject, but hitherto without success. The others were too much taken up with their new and interesting guest, and besides, his neighbour fully engrossed his attention. After dinner was over, he had again to take his place beside Mrs. Garman on the sofa, while the young people went down to the croquet lawn, which was shaded by the dense avenue of limes.
Mr. Aalbom was walking up and down the broad path in front of the house, encircled by his wife's bony arm, as Mr. Delphin kindly put it, while they were waiting for coffee. He was still annoyed at his failure, and at the slights he had endured, and his wife was doing her utmost to pacify him.
"How can a man of your standing bother about such nonsense? These young upstarts will only be here for a time. They will soon make themselves unwelcome in some way or another. There is no doubt that we are considered superior to the rest. You must have noticed that the Consul took me in to dinner."
"Nonsense!" answered her husband. "What have I in common with these tradesmen and their moneybags? But for a man of my intelligence, and of my attainments in literature and education, to have to put up with such impertinent answers from a set of youngsters, from such—" and from his rich repertoire of abuse the master poured out a choice stream of invective, which afforded some relief to his feelings.
The Aalboms lived about half-way between Sandsgaard and the town, which had been the original cause of their being invited to the Garmans' house.
Since then they had shown themselves such good neighbours that the Garmans were generally glad to fall back upon them when they wanted to get a few people together in a hurry. Mr. Garman had also assisted the master in some unexpected difficulties he had encountered in writing a short paper on the origin of the French language, and its connection with history. The pamphlet was headed "For Use in Schools," but from want of perception and appreciation on the part of the authorities, this pearl of literature had not been taken into use in a single school in the country.
Both the elder Garmans were in the habit of retiring to their rooms and taking a short nap after dinner; but on this occasion they did not sleep long, as they were engaged in talking over Madeleine's projected visit to the town. It was arranged that she was to come in two or three days, and have a room upstairs, close by Miss Cordsen's.
Gabriel, having annexed a cigar, had wandered off to the ship-yard, in a happy and contented mood, to make an inspection of the vessel and talk English with Mr. Robson.
The first acquaintance Madeleine made in her new home was with the sewing-maid, for naturally there were a good many repairs of various kinds to be seen to. She had already made some acquaintance with the family by previous short visits to Sandsgaard, and the same impression of coldness which she had hitherto received from her relations still oppressed her. Not that Madeleine was of a timid nature—far from it; but the change from a free and open-air life to the regularity of a well-ordered house was too abrupt. She tried in vain to adapt herself to her new surroundings, and during the first few weeks she fretted herself quite out of health. For a reason she could scarcely define, she concealed this fact from her father when writing to him.
Her cousin Gabriel was the only person who seemed to have a friendly word for Madeleine; the others were so reserved that she could not help thinking they were selfish. With Rachel she could never get on friendly terms, and the two cousins had but little in common. Although Rachel was only a few years the elder, she was greatly superior to her cousin in knowledge and experience. Whilst Madeleine was bright and radiant as sunshine, there was something in Rachel's cold and commanding nature which betokened an uneasy longing for employment, and a desire to take an active part in whatever she could find to occupy her.
Not long previously Rachel had had a sharp dispute with her father. She came one day into the office, and desired him to give her some employment in the business. Consul Garman never lost his self-command, but on this occasion he was on the very point of doing so. The dispute was short, it is true, and soon ended, like every other conflict that was carried on against the father's principles, in a decided victory for his side; but from that time the daughter became still more cold and reserved in her manner.
It was a light task for Rachel to read her little country cousin through and through, and when she made up her mind that Madeleine had nothing in her except perhaps some undefined longings, but at the same time no real desire for work, she let her go her own way, and the relation between them became almost that of a child to a grown person—friendly, but without intimacy.
Mrs. Garman was not particularly well disposed towards her new guest, because she had not been originally consulted as to her visit; and even the good-natured Miss Cordsen frightened Madeleine at first, with her tall, spare figure and well-starched cap-strings.
The sewing-maid was a pale, weakly creature, with large wondering eyes which wore a deprecatory expression. She was still pretty, but the first look told that her face had once been still prettier, and there was something stunted and faded about her appearance. Her cheeks were somewhat sunken, and it could be seen that she had lost some of her teeth.
During the first few days Madeleine had to spend much of her time with the sewing-maid, for Mrs. Garman was anxious that her dress should be in keeping with the rest of the establishment, and the Consul had given Miss Cordsen strict orders on the subject. It was a great relief to Madeleine, in her loneliness, to show herself kindly and almost affectionately disposed towards the timid girl. One evening when she had gone, Madeleine asked Miss Cordsen who she was, and the old lady, after scrutinizing her sharply, answered, "that Marianne was a granddaughter of old Anders Begmand, and that some years before she had had a baby. Her sweetheart," said Miss Cordsen, fixing her eyes again sharply on Madeleine, "had gone to America, and the child was dead, and as she had been in service at Sandsgaard, the Garmans had had her taught dressmaking, so that now she had constant employment in the house."
This was all Madeleine found out, and she did not ask any more questions on the subject, which was a relief to Miss Cordsen.
The old lady's story was, however, not Strictly correct in its details; a secret of the Garman family was hid in the sempstress's history—a secret which Miss Cordsen concealed with the greatest jealousy.
As Marianne went home that evening this event came into her thoughts; it was, in fact, never entirely absent from them. The bright and friendly manner of Madeleine, who was so unlike the rest of her family, had awoke in her many reminiscences. She felt quite sure that Madeleine did not as yet know all her history; it was impossible that she could know it, for she seemed so kindly disposed towards her, and Marianne dreaded that any one should tell her. There were, indeed, plenty of people who could tell her story, but none knew what she had suffered. As she went on her way all the sad events of her life's misfortune seemed to pass in review before her. Her first thought was, how handsome he looked when he came home from abroad, before there was any talk about his marriage with the magistrate's daughter! how long he had prayed and tormented her, and how long she had striven against him; and then came the dreadful day, when she had been called into the Consul's private office. She never could imagine how any one had found it out; the only one who could know anything was Miss Cordsen: but still less could she now understand how she had allowed herself to be talked over, and compelled to agree to what had since been arranged. There must be truth in what people said, that it was impossible to resist the young Consul, and so she allowed herself to be betrothed to Christian Kusk, one of the worst men she knew, who shortly after went to America; then the child was born, and was christened Christian. Then again she recalled that night when the child died; but all further impressions became indistinct and hazy as mist. She had hoped that her shame might kill her, but it had only tortured her. To Sandsgaard, where she had vowed never again to set her foot, she now went daily. Whenever she chanced to meet one of the family, and especially Fanny, her heart seemed to cease beating; but they passed her with as much unconcern as if they knew nothing, or as if she had nothing to do with them.
Many a time also she had met him. At first they passed each other hurriedly, but after a time he also seemed to have forgotten, and now he greeted her with a friendly nod, and the well-known voice said, "How are you, Marianne?"
It was as if these people lived surrounded by a thick wall of indifference, against which her tiny existence was shattered like fragile glass.
Marianne took a short cut through the ship-yard, where the carpenters were busy dividing the shavings and putting them into sacks. She found her grandfather, who had finished his work in the pitch-house, and they set off homewards together.
Anders Begmand lived in the last of the little red-painted cottages which lay below the steep slope on the western side of the bay of Sandsgaard. The road along the shore was only a footpath leading to the door of each cottage, and then on to the next. Seaweed and half-decayed fish refuse lay on the shore, while at the back of the houses were heaps of kitchen refuse, and other abominations. The path itself consisted of a row of large stones, on which people had to walk if they wished to keep out of the accumulation of dirt. The houses were mostly crowded, but especially so in the winter, when the sailors were home from sea.
They were all in the employ of Garman and Worse, and the firm owned everything they possessed, even to their boats, their houses, and the very ground under their feet. When the boys grew old enough, they went to sea in one of the vessels belonging to the firm, and the brightest of the girls were taken into service, either at the house or at the farm. Otherwise the cottagers were left pretty much to themselves. They paid no rent, and there was no interference on the part of the firm with the "West End," which was the name by which the little row of cottages was generally known amongst the workpeople.
Anders Begmand's house was both the last and the smallest, but now that he was alone with his two grandchildren, Marianne and Martin, he did not require much room. Before, when his wife was alive, and they had three grown-up sons at home, one of whom was married, it was often close work enough; but now all were dead and gone. The wife lay in the churchyard, and the sons in the deep sea.
Anders was an old man, bent by age. His curly white hair covered his head like a mop, and stood out under his flat cap, which looked more like the clot of pitch it really almost was, than anything else. In his youth Anders had made one voyage to the Mediterranean, in the Family Hope, but he had then been discharged; for he had a failing, and that was—he stammered. Sometimes he could talk away without any hesitation, but if the stammering once began, there was nothing for it but to give up the attempt for that time. There he would stand, gasping and gasping, till he got so enraged that he nearly had a fit. When he was young it was dangerous to go near him at such times, for the angrier he got the more he stammered, and the more he stammered the more his anger increased. There was only one way out of it, and that was by singing; and so whenever anything of more than usual importance refused to come out, he was obliged to sing his intelligence, which he did to a merry little air he always used on these occasions. It was said that he had to sing when he proposed to his wife, but whether there was any truth in the statement is not quite clear. It was certain, however, that he did not often have to sing, and woe to any one who dared to say, "Sing, Anders." This was, of course, when he was young; he was now so broken down that any one could say what they liked to him. There was, therefore, no longer any pleasure in teasing him, and he was allowed to go in peace. Among the workmen he was held in the greatest respect, not only because he had been in the shop for more than fifty years, but because he had had so much sorrow in his old age, and especially because of the misfortune of Marianne, who was the apple of his eye and the light of his life. Martin, too, had brought him nothing but trouble: he was quite hopeless, and the captain with whom he had returned on his last voyage had complained of him, and refused to take him out again; so now he stayed at home, drinking and getting into mischief.
The evening was dull and rainy, and a light already shone in the cottage as Begmand and Marianne approached.
"There they are, drinking again," said she.
"I believe they are," answered Begmand.
She went to the window, the small panes of which were covered with dew, but she knew one which had a crack in it, through which she could look.
"There they are, all four of them," whispered Marianne. "You'll have to sit there, in front of the kitchen door, grandfather."
"Yes, child; yes!" answered the old man.
When they entered the room, there was a pause in the conversation, which was carried on by four men who sat drinking round the table. They had not long begun, and were only in the first stage of harmless elevation.
Martin greeted them in a cheerful tone, which he thought would hide his guilty conscience. "Good evening, grandfather. Good evening, Marianne. Come, let me offer you a drop of beer."
The thick smoke from the freshly lighted pipes still lay curling over the table, and round the little paraffin lamp without a globe. On the table were tobacco, glasses, matches, and half-empty bottles, while on the bench stood several full ones awaiting their fate.
Tom Robson, who sat opposite the door, lifted the large mug which had been standing between him and his friend Martin, and, with his hand on his heart, began to sing—
"Oh, my darling! are you here, Marianne I love so dear?"
He had composed this couplet himself, in honour of Marianne, to the great annoyance of the hungry-looking journeyman printer who sat in the corner close by him.
Gustaf Oscar Carl Johan Torpander was a most remarkable Swede, inasmuch as he did not drink; but otherwise there was about him that exaggerated air of politeness, and that imitation of French manners, which seems generally to attach to the shady individuals of that nation. He had risen when Marianne came into the room, and was now making a low bow, with his shoulders, and especially the left one, well over his ears. His head was on one side, and he kept his eyes the whole time fixed on the young girl. While Tom Robson was singing his poetry, the Swede shook his head with a sympathetic smile to Marianne, by which he meant to express his regret that they met in such bad company.