THE PILOT AND HIS WIFE
TRANSLATED FROM THE NORWEGIAN OF
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS EDINBURGH AND LONDON MDCCCLXXVII
THE PILOT AND HIS WIFE.
On the stern, pine-clad southern coast of Norway, off the picturesquely-situated town of Arendal, stand planted far out into the sea the white walls of the Great and Little Torungen Lighthouses, each on its bare rock-island of corresponding name, the lesser of which seems, as you sail past, to have only just room for the lighthouse and the attendant's residence by the side. It is a wild and lonely situation,—the spray, in stormy weather, driving in sheets against the walls, and eagles and sea-birds not unfrequently dashing themselves to death against the thick glass panes at night; while in winter all communication with the land is very often cut off, either by drift or patchy ice, which is impassable either on foot or by boat.
These, however, and others of the now numerous lights along that dangerous coast, are of comparatively recent erection. Many persons now living can remember the time when for long reaches the only lighting was the gleam of the white breakers themselves. And the captain who had passed the Oxoe light off Christiansand might think himself lucky if he sighted the distant Jomfruland up by Krageroe.
About a score of years before the lighthouse was placed on Little Torungen there was, however, already a house there, if it could be dignified by that name, with its back and one side almost up to the eave of the roof stuck into a heap of stones, so that it had the appearance of bending forward to let the storm sweep over it. The low entrance-door opened to the land, and two small windows looked out upon the sea, and upon the boat, which was usually drawn up in a cleft above the sea-weed outside.
When you entered, or, more properly speaking, descended into it, there was more room than might have been expected; and it contained sundry articles of furniture, such as a handsome press and sideboard, which no one would have dreamt of finding under such a roof. In one corner there stood an old spinning-wheel covered with dust, and with a smoke-blackened tuft of wool still hanging from its reel; from which, and from other small indications, it might be surmised that there had once been a woman in the house, and that tuft of wool had probably been her last spin.
There sat now on the bench by the hearth a lonely old man, of a flint-hard and somewhat gloomy countenance, with a mass of white hair falling over his ears and neck, who was generally occupied with some cobbling work, and who from time to time, as he drew out the thread, would make some remark aloud, as if he thought he still had the partner of his life for audience. The look askance over his brass spectacles with which he greeted any casual stranger who might come into the house had very little welcome in it, and an expression about his sunken mouth and sharp chin said plainly enough that the other might state his business at once and be gone. He sought no company; and the only time he had ever been seen at church was when he came rowing over to Tromoe with his wife's body in her coffin. When the pastor sprinkled earth upon it, it was observed that the tears streamed down his cheeks, and it was long after dark before he quitted the churchyard to return. He had become a proverb for obstinacy for miles beyond his own residence; and people who dealt with him for fish in the harbour, if they once began to bargain, were as likely as not to see him without a word just quietly row away.
All that was known further about "Old Jacob," as he was called, was that he had once been a pilot, and that he had had a son who had taken to drinking, through whose fault it had been eventually that the father had lost his certificate; and it was thought that on the occasion in question the father had taken the son's blame upon himself. Since then he had shunned society, and had retired with his wife to his present habitation, whither, after their son was drowned, they had brought their little orphan granddaughter, who now was his sole companion. His only ostensible means of living were by shoemaking, and by fishing, the produce of which he generally disposed of to passing ships, and, during the earlier period of his sojourn there, by shooting occasionally. But it was understood that he received a small regular contribution from several of the pilots, certificated or otherwise, of the district, for keeping a fire alight on his hearth during the dark autumn nights, and so giving them, by the light from his two windows, something to steer by when they arrived off the coast after nightfall. Whether the light was shown for their benefit particularly, or whether it was not rather intended for the guidance of smuggling vessels standing in under cover of the night to land their cargoes, it was not their business to inquire. Its friendly assistance was, at all events, not unacknowledged by these latter, and very acceptable presents, in the shape of kegs of spirits, bags of coffee, tobacco, meal, and so forth, would, from time to time, come rolling into the old man's room, so that upon the whole, he was well-to-do enough out there upon his rock.
Of late years he had fallen into feeble health, and found it not so easy to row the long distance over to land. Even in his best days he had, owing to an old injury to one of his legs, found some difficulty in getting down to the boat; and now, therefore, he sat during the greater part of the day over the hearth, in his woolen jacket and leather breeches, with his indoor work. Now and then, when his granddaughter—a child with a thick crop of hair falling about her ears, and a rough dog constantly at her heels—would burst into the house with all the freshness of the outside air blowing round her, as it were, and deliver herself of her intelligence, he might be drawn, perhaps, to the window to look out over the sea, and afterwards, like a growling bear disturbed from its lair, even follow her with some difficulty out of the door with the spyglass. There he would station himself, so as to use her shoulder as a rest for his shaking hand, and with his never-ceasing directions and growling going on behind her neck, she would do her best to fix the glass on the desired object. His crossness would then disappear, little by little, in their joint speculation as to what ship it could be, or in whatever remarks it might suggest; and after giving his decision, the old man would generally hobble in again.
He was really very proud of his granddaughter's cleverness. She could distinguish with her naked eye as clearly as he could through the glass. She never made a mistake about the craft, large or small, that belonged to that part of the coast, and could, besides, say to a nicety, what sort of master each had. Her superiority of sight she asserted, too, with a tyranny to which he made no resistance, although it might have tried a temper many degrees more patient than his was.
One day, however, she was at a loss. They made out a crescent on the flag, and this caused even the old man a moment's astonishment. But he declared then, for her information, shortly and decisively, that it was a "barbarian."
This satisfied her for a moment. But then she asked—
"What is a barbarian, grandfather?"
"It is a Turk."
"Yes, but a Turk?"
"Oh! it's—it's—a Mohammedan—"
"A what!—a Moham—"
"A Mohammedan—a robber on board ship."
"On board ship!"
He was not going to give up his ascendancy in the matter, hard as she pushed him; so he bethought him of a pack of old tales there-anent, and went on to explain drily—
"They go to the Baltic—to Russia—to salt human flesh."
"Yes, and sometimes, too, they seize vessels in the open sea and do their salting there."
She fixed a pair of large, terrified eyes on him, which made the old man continue—
"And it is especially for little girls they look. That meat is the finest, and goes by tons down to the Grand Turk."
Having played this last trump, he was going in again, but was stopped by her eager question—
"Do they use a glass there on board?" And when he said they did, she slipped quickly by him through the door, and kept cautiously within as long as the vessel was to be seen through the window-pane on the horizon.
The moods of the two were for once reversed. The old man looked very sly over his work, whilst she was quiet and cowed. Once only she broke out angrily—
"But why doesn't the king get rid of them? If I was captain of a man-of-war, I'd—"
"Yes, Elizabeth, if you were captain of a man-of-war!—what then?"
The child's conceptions apparently reached no further than such matters as these as yet. She had seen few human beings as she grew up, and in recent years, after her grandmother's death, she and her grandfather had been the only regular inhabitants of the island. Every now and then there might perhaps come a boat on one errand or another, and a couple of times she had paid a visit to her maternal aunt on land, at Arendal. Her grandfather had taught her to read and write, and with what she found in the Bible and psalm-book, and in 'Exploits of Danish and Norwegian Naval Heroes,' a book in their possession, she had in a manner lived pretty much upon the anecdotes which in leisure moments she could extract from that grandfather, so chary of his speech, about his sailor life in his youth.
They had besides, in the little inner room, a small print, without a frame, of the action near the Heather Islands, in which he had taken part. It represented the frigate Naiad, with the brigs Samso, Kiel, and Lolland, in furious conflict with the English ship of the line Dictator, which lay across the narrow harbour with the brig Calypso, and was pounding the Naiad to pieces. The names of the ships were printed underneath.
On the print there was little to be seen but mast-heads and cannon-mouths, and a confusion of smoke, but in this had the child lived whole years of her life; and many a time in fancy had she stood there and fought the Englishman. Men-of-war and their officers had become the highest conception of her fancy, and the dearest wish of her heart was that a man-of-war might some day pass so near to Torungen that she would be able to see distinctly everything on board.
After old Jacob had fallen into ill health, lighterman Kristiansen used to come out oftener to Torungen with provisions and other necessaries; and his visits now became periodical.
He was accompanied one autumn by his son Salve, a black-haired, dark-eyed, handsome lad, with a sharp, clever face, who had worked in the fishing-boats along the coast from his childhood almost, and had, in fact, been brought up amongst its sunken rocks and reefs and breakers. He was something small in stature, perhaps; but what he wanted in robustness he made up in readiness and activity—qualities which stood him in good stead in the many quarrels into which his too ready tongue was wont to bring him. He was eighteen years old at this time; had been already engaged as an able seaman; and was in great request at the Sandvigen and Vraangen dances,—a fact of which he was perfectly well aware. Old Jacob's granddaughter, being a little girl of only fourteen years of age, was of course altogether beneath his notice, and he didn't condescend to speak to her. He merely delivered himself of the witticism that she was like a heron; and with her thick, checked woollen handkerchief tied with the ends behind her waist, the resemblance was not so very far-fetched. At any rate, he declared on the way home that such a specimen of womankind he, for his part, had never come across before, and that he would give anything to see her dancing in the public room with her thin arms and legs—it would be like a grasshopper.
The next time he came, she took out her grandfather's watch in its silver case and showed it to him, and some conversation passed between them. His first impression of her was that she was stupid. She asked questions about every sort of thing, and seemed to think that he must know everything. And finally, she wanted to know what it was like on shore among the great folk of Arendal, and particularly how the ladies behaved. It afforded him much amusement at the time to see with what simple credulity she took in everything he chose to invent on the subject; but after he had left he was not sure that he wasn't sorry for what he had done, and at the same time he made the discovery that the girl, in her way, was anything but silly.
His remorse was to be brought home to him presently, for old Jacob had had duly recounted to him over again all his cock-and-bull stories, and was in high dudgeon. When he came again the old man was very snappish to him, and he found it so unpleasant in the house that he made all the haste he could to get his business done. While he was thus occupied, the little girl told him all about the Naiad, and the part her grandfather had taken in the action. Salve, who was ruffled, and thought the old man had been an ill-mannered old dog, followed the relation from time to time with a sneering remark, which in her eagerness she didn't notice, or didn't understand. But when he had finished what he had to do, he gave vent to his feelings in a way she did understand,—he laughed incredulously.
"Old Jacob there on board the Naiad! This is the first time anybody ever heard of it."
The individual in question unfortunately came out at the moment to see the boat off, and turning, to him, red with anger, she cried—
"Grandfather! he doesn't believe you were on board the Naiad that time!"
The old man answered at first as if he didn't deign to enter upon any controversy on the subject—
"Oh, I suppose it's only little girls' prattle again."
But whether it was wounded vanity, or a sudden access of irritation against the lad, or that his eye fell upon his granddaughter standing there, so evidently incensed and resentful, he flared up the next moment, and thrusting his huge fist under the youngster's nose, burst out—
"If you want to know all about it, you young swabber, I may tell you I stood on the Naiad's gun-deck with better folk than you are ever likely to come across"—he stamped his foot here as if he had the deck under him—"when, with one broadside from the Dictator, the three masts and bowsprit were shot away, and the main deck came crashing down upon the lower;"—the last sentence was taken from 'Exploits of Danish and Norwegian Naval Heroes,' and the old man was as proud of these lines as he would have been of a medal.
"When the crash came," he pursued, always in the same posture, and in the manner of the sacred text, "he who stands here and tells the tale had but just time to save himself by leaping into the sea through a gun-port."
But he threw off then the trammels of the text, and continued in propria persona, violently gesticulating with his fists, and steadily advancing all the time, while Salve prudently retreated before his advance down to the boat.
"We don't deal in lies and fabricate stories out here like you, you young whipper-snapper of a ship's cub; and if it wasn't for your father, who has sense enough to rope's-end you himself, I'd lay a stick across your back till you hadn't a howl left in you."
With this finale of the longest speech to which he had given vent for thirty years perhaps, he turned with a short nod to the father, and went into the house again.
Elizabeth was miserable that Salve should go away like this, without so much as deigning to say good-bye to her. And her grandfather was cross enough himself; for he was afraid that he had done something foolish, and broken with the lighterman.
Salve came out to the rock again the next autumn, after a voyage to Liverpool and Havre.
At first he was rather shy, although his father and old Jacob Torungen had in the interval, in spite of that little affair of the previous year, been on the best of terms. The white bear, however, as he called him, seemed to have altogether forgotten what had passed; and with the girl he was very easily reconciled—she had learnt now not to tell everything to her grandfather.
Whilst the lighterman and old Jacob enjoyed a heart-warming glass together in the house, Salve carried the things up to the cellar, Elizabeth following him up and down every time, and the conversation meanwhile going round all the points of the compass, so to speak. After she had asked him about Havre de Grace, where he had been, and about America, where he had not been,—if his captain's wife was as fine as a man-of-war captain's; and then if he wouldn't like one day to marry a fine lady,—she wanted at last to know, from the laughing sailor lad, if the officers' wives were ever allowed to be with them in war.
Her face had of late acquired something wonderfully attractive in its expression—such a seriousness would come over it sometimes, although she continued as childlike as ever; and such eyes as hers were, at all events in Salve's experience, not common. At any rate, after this, he invariably accompanied his father upon these expeditions.
The last time he was out there he told her about the dances on shore at Sandvigen, and took care to give her to understand that the girls made much of him there—but he was tired now of dancing with them.
She was very curious on this subject, and extracted from him that he had had two tremendous fights that winter. She looked at him in terror, and asked rather hesitatingly—
"But had they done anything to you?"
"Oh, no! all dancing entertainments have a little extra dance like that to wind up with. They merely wanted to dance with the girl I had asked first."
"Is it so dangerous, then? What sort of a girl was she?—I mean, what was her name?"
"Oh, one was called Marie, and the other was Anne—Herluf Andersen's daughter. They were pretty girls, I can tell you. Anne had a white brooch and earrings, and danced more smoothly than ever you saw a cutter sail. Mate George said the same."
The upshot of this conversation was, that she found out that the girls in Arendal, and in the ports generally where he had touched, were all well dressed; and the next time he returned from Holland, he promised he would bring with him a pair of morocco-leather shoes with silver buckles for her.
With this promise they parted, after she had allowed him—and that there might be no mistake, twice over—to take the accurate measure of her foot; and there were roses of joy in her cheeks, as she called after him to be sure and not forget them.
The year after Salve came with the shoes. There were silver buckles in them, and they were very smart; but if they were, they had cost him more than half a month's pay.
Elizabeth was more carefully dressed now, and might almost be called grown up. She hesitated about accepting the shoes, and didn't ask questions about everything as she used to do. Nor was she so willing to stand and talk with him alone by the boat—she liked to have him up within hearing of the others.
"Don't you see how high the sea is running?" he said, and tried to persuade her that the boat would be dashed to pieces on the rocks. But she saw that it wasn't true, and went up with a little toss of her head alone. He followed her.
She must have learned all this in Arendal, where in the course of the autumn she had been confirmed, and where she had lived with her aunt. But she had grown marvellously handsome in that time—so much so, indeed, that Salve was almost taken aback when he saw her; and when they said good-bye, it was no longer in the old laughing tones, but with some slight embarrassment on his side—he didn't seem to know exactly how matters lay between them.
After that she filled his head so completely that he had not a thought for anything else.
The old Juno, to which Salve belonged, was lying at that time at Sandvigen, and was only waiting for a north-east wind to come out. She was a square-rigged vessel, with a crew of nineteen hands all told, which had plied for many years in American waters, and off and on in the North Sea, and was reckoned at the time one of Arendal's largest craft. Her arrival or departure was quite an event for the town and neighbourhood; and to have a berth in her was considered among the sailors of the district a very high honour indeed—the more so that her master and principal owner, Captain Beck, was a particularly good chief to serve under, and a lucky one to boot.
When at last, between ten and eleven o'clock one morning, she weighed anchor, and before a light north-westerly breeze, with her small sails set, glided out to sea, the quays were crowded with spectators, the majority of the crew belonging to the place, and it being generally known that they were bound on a longer voyage than usual. On board she had with her still the captain's son, Carl Beck, a smart young naval officer, with his sister and a small party of their friends, who meant to land out on the Torungens in the sailing-boat they had in tow. They wished to remain with her as long as possible, and for the purpose had made up a party to the islands, where the gentlemen proposed to shoot some of the sea-fowl, which are to be found out there on the rocks in swarms at the spring season of the year on their passage north along the coast.
It was about four o'clock when they passed Little Torungen; and as there were swells then bursting in white jets upon the reefs, and a line of dark fire-fringed clouds about the sunset, which looked like heavy weather coming up, the pleasure party determined to leave the vessel here, instead of going on, as they had intended, to the larger of the two islands.
As they went over the side Salve Kristiansen was standing out on the forecastle gazing eagerly over to where the barren mass of rock lay like a dipping hull in the distance, bathed in the evening sun, and with a fringe of foam round its base; and he could see old Jacob's granddaughter standing by the wall of the house with the glass. He had chosen on purpose a conspicuous place, and stood with his back against the stay, so heavy of heart and sad at having to go away, that it would have taken very little to make him burst into tears. It seemed to have dawned upon him all of a sudden that he was in love.
To try whether it was upon him that she was directing the glass, or at the unusual discharging of freight into the sail-boat, he waved his hat, and his whole face lighted up with joy as he saw her return his signal. He took off his hat again, and received another wave of the glass in reply.
He stood there then straining his eyes abstractedly in the direction of the rock until it disappeared behind them in the gathering twilight. He had been inspirited for the whole voyage; and the first thing he should do when they arrived at Boston would be to buy a dress and a ring; and when he came home he determined that his first business should be to make an expedition to the island, and put a certain question to a certain person whom he knew out there.
He was roused from his abstraction by the boatswain bawling out his name, and asking if he was going to sleep there, and whether he wanted something to wake him up. The order had been given to make all snug for the night, as the breeze was freshening.
The watches had been set at noon, and the starboard and larboard watch told off, as customary on the first day a vessel goes to sea. Salve had the middle watch; and by that time the sea was running high, and they were plunging through the darkness under a double-reefed mainsail, the moon every now and then clearing an open space in the storm—clouds that were driving like smoke before it, so that he could fitfully distinguish objects over the deck, even to the look-out man's looming figure out upon the forecastle.
Upon the capstan bar sat a sailor in oilskin clothes, who had probably been on shore the previous night and not closed his eyes, and who was making great efforts to keep awake. His head, however, would still keep nodding; and from time to time he stood up and tried to keep himself warm by exercising his arms. He sang, or more often took up afresh upon each recovery of consciousness a verse of a half-Swedish ballad about a "girl so true," that he wished he then had by his side, for the time without her seemed so long. Now and then the spray of a sea would bring him more sharply to himself, but it did not last long; and so the ditty, which was melancholy to the last degree, would begin afresh.
Salve was far too restless to have any desire to sleep, and as he paced to and fro by the fore-hatch, lost in his dreams, and listened to the song, it seemed to him a most touching one.
The nodding sailor little thought that he was performing before a deeply-moved audience.
The party, meanwhile, that had left the ship, were passing the night with old Jacob on Torungen. They had tried first to beat out to the larger island, but the sea had risen, darkness had set in, and it had soon become evident that it was no longer pleasure-sailing for a boat with ladies in it. They had determined, therefore, rather than go about for home, and lose the whole sporting expedition, which was to have lasted for two or three days, to spend the night on Little Torungen and see what the morning would do for them.
Great was old Jacob's astonishment, it may readily be supposed, when there came in the late evening a knocking at the door, and he saw by the light from the hearth no less than six grand folk come streaming in, with two ladies amongst them. He shaded his eyes with his hand, and looked at them in mute amazement.
As for Elizabeth, if it had been a train of fairies that had suddenly appeared, they could not have occasioned her more terror and curiosity. It was getting near bedtime, and she had been sitting half-asleep over the fire, and perhaps her suddenly awakened excitement lent a more than usual animation and attraction to a pair of eyes and a face that would nowhere have passed unnoticed; for Carl Beck, who was at the head of the party, seemed positively fascinated, and could not take his eyes off her, until, reddening with confusion, she instinctively stretched out her hand for her bodice, that lay beside her on the bench.
"Good evening, Jacob, old boy," cried Carl, in the frank, off-hand manner that became him so well, going up to the old fellow, and laying his hand cordially on his shoulder. "I'm afraid we shall be very troublesome to you, such a large party; but we want you to let us stay here till morning, till we see if the weather moderates a bit. We daren't go driving out in the dark to Great Torungen, on account of these women folk that we have on board,"—and he pointed, jokingly, to his sister and her friend.
"I see you have to deal with womankind too, so you know what it is."
The old man was apparently not insensible to this genial way of dealing with him. He rose from his seat and made room at the fire, begging that they would put up with what accommodation he had to offer, and telling Elizabeth at the same time to go out for more wood.
While the party gathered round the fire, and made themselves as comfortable as they could, Carl Beck was outside with the boatmen, seeing about having the provisions brought up. He came in again with Elizabeth, also with an armful of wood. Throwing it down, laughing, he cried—
"Now for a 'bowl,' as our friends the Swedes have it. But first, out with the food."
There was no scarcity of eatables, which were discussed amid a running fire of conversation upon every kind of topic; and then came the "bowl," a composition of various strong and spicy ingredients, of which Carl had the secret, and which finally was lighted, and ladled into the glasses whilst the blue flame was burning.
Carl Beck was the life of the party; and very well he looked as he sat there astride over the bench, with his glass in his hand, and his officer's jacket with its anchor-buttons thrown open, and sang first one and then another of the rollicking drinking-songs that were then in vogue, the others joining in the chorus. He gave them, then, a cheery sailor-song, which brought in its train a series of anecdotes from the recent war.
Old Jacob, under the influence of the prevailing good-fellowship and the good cheer, had become uncommonly lively for him, and would even put in a word now and then. But every attempt to make him tell a story himself failed. Only when the action at the Heather Islands came up for discussion for a while did he come out with a bit of a yarn, as he called it.
"Yes," he said, putting carefully down the glass that was handed to him, "it was a great battle, was that. The country lost a fine ship there, and many a brave lad to boot. But God's curse hangs over the man that piloted the Englishman in to the Sand Islands—although none here, while he was alive, knew his name. It was said he soon after made an end of himself through remorse, like Judas Iscariot. However that may be, at the mouth of the channel there is a flat sunk rock that a man in his sea-boots can stand on at low water, and there they see him on moonlight nights making piteous signs for help, until the water at last comes over his head, and he disappears. God help the man that'll row out to him—it's always foul weather when he is to be seen."
"Have you ever seen him yourself, Jacob?" asked Carl Beck.
"I'll not say that I have, and I'll not say that I haven't. But I know that the last time I was off those islands, we had such tremendous weather that we thought ourselves lucky in making any port at all."
For a while every one was busied with the thoughts which Jacob's recital had suggested, and there was a solemn pause, which was broken by Carl Beck's striking up another song to keep off sleep:—
"Before the wind and a flowing sail, Vessels for every port! In letters of gold a dear girl's name On every stern inwrought! The vessel may sail the world around, But with her the girls will still be found! Hurrah! then, boys, for the one of your mind, That never, oh, never, you'll leave behind."
He repeated the last couplet with a gay inclination of his glass to the ladies, who were sitting now tired and huddled together on the bench, and over their heads to Elizabeth, who was standing in the background, awake enough for both of them. The light from the fire fell upon his handsome brown face, with the raven black curly hair, and the dark eyes that it was said he had inherited from his recently deceased mother, who was from Brest; and with his flow of animal spirits, that sufficed for the whole party almost, he certainly was as manly and handsome a lad as you would wish to meet.
The wind by this time had gone down considerably; and, as day was breaking, the whole party were in the boat once more and enjoying a quiet sleep as they sailed. It was long, though, before Elizabeth could get out of her thoughts the handsome young officer who had sat there by the fire. And many a time would she conjure up his form on the bench again—particularly as he looked when he held up his glass and glanced over to her while he sang—
"Hurrah! then, boys, for the one of your mind, That never, oh, never, you'll leave behind."
Subsequently to this, Carl Beck made repeated excursions out to Torungen to shoot sea-birds, and, by preference, alone in his sailing-boat. But, whether it was an instinct or not on her side, it happened somehow that he never had any further conversation with her without the old man being with them.
The Juno arrived in due course at Boston, where Salve invested a considerable portion of his wages in the material for a dress, a couple of silk handkerchiefs, and two massive rings with his own and Elizabeth's initials on them.
From Boston she proceeded to Grimsby with a Canadian cargo; then on a short trip to Liverpool; then back to Quebec; and some ten or eleven months after leaving Arendal, they were on a voyage from Memel in the Baltic to New York, with a cargo of timber, planks, and pipe-staves—the intention being to call in at the home port, for which she had some general cargo, to take in provisions.
During these voyages Salve, as one may say, had completed his apprenticeship to the sea; and in his blue shirt loosely knotted round the throat, his leather belt and canvas trousers, he had such a look of smartness and energy that it required no very great amount of discernment to perceive in him a sailor from top to toe. He had, sooner than most, risen superior to the dangers and temptations to which young sailor lads are exposed during the years of their novitiate, and with a break-neck recklessness of disposition he combined such a perfectly cat-like activity, that his superior smartness was recognised even among his comrades. His bearing, it is true, was rather arrogant, and his tongue not the most good-natured; but he was generally liked nevertheless, for he was kind-hearted, if he was only taken on the right side, and it did not seem to be his sailor-like qualities upon which he prided himself so much as upon the superior acuteness of his understanding, which he delighted to display in discussions with the red-bearded and somewhat consequential sailmaker, who had the reputation of being a well-read man, and who affected a proportionate importance.
Up at Memel they had had great difficulties to contend with, owing to the condition of the ice; and their bad luck seemed to be going to follow them, for in the Skager Rack they found themselves suddenly wedged into a field of drift-ice, with the prospect of having to remain where they were for weeks perhaps. The cold had been unusually severe that winter in the Baltic, and out over the plain of ice by which they were surrounded they could see flags of all nations sharing a similar fate. There was nothing for it but to wait and hope; and if the ice did not break up soon, short rations would become the order of the day.
It was wearisome; and to Salve above all, who was feverishly longing to get home, and whose temperament was little suited for the endurance of such agonies of Tantalus. He became the very embodiment of restlessness. A hundred times a-day he went aloft to look out for some prospect of a change, and to strain his eyes after the streak of land to the north which was to be made out on clear days from the maintop-gallant mast-head, and which of course would be the coast of Norway. The dress, the silk handkerchiefs, the rings, and what he should say to Elizabeth—whether he should formally request a private interview with her, or wait till an opportunity offered—were running incessantly in his head. And particularly what he should say to her seemed now, often as he had thought it over during the long voyage and settled it to his satisfaction, to present many points of difficulty. He must go down then to his seaman's chest and see if the things were still there all right, and whether the moths might not have got into them; the last inspection, when he unfolded the stuff in his bunk, being conducted with uncommon precautions.
At last there came a prospect of release in the shape of thick weather, and a southerly gale setting on the Norwegian coast. The ice too had for a day or two previously begun to show blue patches of water here and there, and when it was dark that evening they felt themselves free once more.
In spite of the salt water and the rain, which he had to wipe off his face every minute, Salve went to his look-out post forward that night, and stood there humming to himself, whilst the rest of the crew who were on duty slopped up and down on the deck-cargo below, in sea-boots and dripping oilskins, or sheltered themselves, as best they could, under the lee of the round-house or forecastle. They had been hard at work all day, making openings in the ice; and now the groaning and whistling among the blocks and ropes, that were increasing every minute, gave little promise of rest for the night.
The captain stood upon the poop in his thick overcoat and drenched fur cap, with his trumpet under his arm, looking anxiously through the night-glass from time to time, and his voice sounded unusually stern. There lay before him in the dark, blustering, winter night a veritable David's choice. The strong southerly current, aided by the gale, was fast carrying him in under the Norwegian coast; while on the other hand, if he tried to beat to windward, he risked coming into collision with the ice-floes. Added to that, he was not very clear as to his position; and as the gale increased, he began to pace restlessly backwards and forwards, addressing, every now and then, a word down to one of the helmsmen, whose forms could be seen by the gleam from the binnacle.
"How's her head, Jens?"
"Sou'-west, sir; she'll lay no higher."
"H'm! more and more on land!" he muttered, the perspiration coming out upon his forehead under his fur cap, which, in spite of the rain, he had to push back to get air. Both life and ship would soon be at stake.
"What says the look-out-man, mate?" he asked of the latter, who came up the steps at this moment from taking a turn forward.
"Black as pitch. If we stuck a lantern out on the flying jib-boom, we should see that far at any rate. But the lead gives deep water."
"Does it?" was the rather scornful rejoinder.
"The blockhead doesn't seem to know yet," growled the captain, as the other turned away, "that the lead will give you deep water here until your vessel has her nose upon the cliff."
There was no chance of a pilot on such a night as this promised to be; but still, in the hope that the wind might carry the sound in under land, a few shots were fired from the signal-gun.
At last there was no longer any choice left. If they were not to end upon the rocks that night, they must crowd on more sail, and try at all hazards to haul off the coast.
The order was accordingly given to shake a reef out, followed by "Haul in the topsail bow-lines—clap on the topsail halyards, and hoist away!" and in the darkness might be heard occasionally "halimen-oh!-oh hoi!" as the sailors worked at the tough and heavy sail, with the cordage all stiff and swollen with ice and slippery with the rain, the spray driving in their faces, and the vessel rolling so that sometimes they were hanging on by the ropes only, when the deck went from under their feet.
Under the fresh weight of sail the vessel careened over, and shot foaming forward with new life for a moment. The next, the topsail had burst away from the bolt-ropes with a report as of a cannon-shot, and she had fallen away into the trough of the sea. The mainstay-sail sheet parted at the same time, and a deluge of water carried overboard, with part of the bulwarks, a large portion of the deck cargo, which consisted of heavy timber, leaving the remainder tossed about in the wildest confusion, and much of it standing on end against the railings and capstan.
It was some time before she could be brought up in the wind again, and the old Juno had then to go through a trial such as her joints even in her younger days had never been equal to. She was like many another vessel that is a good sailor enough, a little broken-backed from the weight of the cargo amidships; and as she gave to the strain, the ladder that stood in the hold began to saw up and down in the coaming forward, while the water came oozing in through the staring bow timbers, and the pumps had to be kept continually going. The hatches were all battened down, and many of the crew had lashed themselves to the lower rigging as preferable now to the deck.
"Ready about!—tacks and sheets!" &c.; "luff now, and keep her close to the wind!"—the same monotonous words of command all through the night every time they lay over upon a new tack, while at the same time they would generally ship a heavy sea, and the vessel would shake through all her frame.
Day broke and passed in a fog, that left them in much the same uncertainty as before about their position. For one moment it had lifted, and they fancied they had seen "Homborgsund's Fald," a high landmark up the country above Arendal, and from its lowness and dimness on the horizon, they had been encouraged to hope that they had appreciably increased their distance from the coast. About noon they passed an English brig that had been through the same struggle as the Juno was now engaged upon, whose signals of distress they had already occasionally heard faintly upon the wind, and which now seemed on the point of foundering. The crew had climbed into the after-rigging, which was all that now remained standing, and they made despairing signs for help; but it was impossible to render any. They had enough to do to keep themselves afloat.
The gale showed no signs of moderating, and that night, as Salve Kristiansen and another were taking their turn at the wheel, there gleamed suddenly out of the pitchy darkness to leeward of the fore-rigging the white crest of a tremendous eddy wave, which a moment after came crashing down upon the deck, carrying clean away the round-house, binnacle, and long-boat, damaging the wheel, and leaving many of the drenched and half—suffocated sailors deposited in the most unexpected places, and only glad to find that they still had the deck under them.
"Ugly sea on the lee-bow!" was heard again from forward, and all in that direction seemed suddenly to have become a mass of white.
"Ready about!—hard a-lee!" and with a great lurch the old craft went about once more, the renewed shrieking in every kind of pitch in the rigging, and the blinding dash of spray, showing to what a hurricane the gale had risen.
Salve had been too much occupied with the damaged wheel at first to have a thought to spare for anything else; but it recurred to him very soon that when that first dark sea had broken over them so unexpectedly from leeward, he had seen for a moment the glimmer of two lights on its crest, and a world of associations was at once aroused in his mind: it seemed to the lad's romantic fancy that he was keeping an appointment with Elizabeth Raklev. As he glanced hurriedly back, the two light-dots again appeared. He had seen them too often before to be mistaken, and he shouted over his shoulder to the captain, who noticed them now for the first time, "Those lights behind to leeward are from old Jacob's hearth on Torungen!"
"Are you sure of that?" muttered Beck, coming nearer to him at the same time over the sloping deck with the help of a rope. "If they are, it will not be long before we are dashed to atoms on the rocks."
A conversation ensued between them, in which Salve declared that he had known the water under Torungen from childhood as well as he did his father's garden; and the upshot was that Beck, pale and hesitating, determined to go in under land with him as pilot.
"It is much that is being intrusted this night to two young shoulders," said he; "and see you think twice, young man, both for your own life's sake and ours."
They kept away then, and stood in under land with the least sail they could carry in the tremendous sea that was now breaking in their wake, and soon the thunder of the breakers became audible.
Salve was pale, but perfectly calm, as he stood there with the speaking-trumpet, after having taken over the command, and with the captain and mate by his side. But all of a sudden great beads of perspiration came out on his forehead. There was something curiously irregular about the light. It had become dim and red, and then seemed to go out altogether. Had he by any possibility made a mistake? and was he now sailing the Juno with all on board straight for the rocks?
The uncertainty lasted for a quarter of an hour, and never in his life had Salve seen so heavy a countenance as that with which Beck, whose expression discovered a trace of doubt, looked at him, evidently hesitating whether he should not take the command again himself.
But in the mean time the gleam of light shone forth again—whatever might have been the cause of its obscuration—and that night Salve Kristiansen brought the Juno safely into Merdoe.
Out on Little Torungen meanwhile noteworthy events had occurred, which were now the talk of the town.
Old Jacob had had a stroke the week before, and had died the same night the Juno had had her wrestle for life. In the preceding two days of fog and storm they had heard many signal-guns of distress, and his granddaughter had during that time kept up the fire alone at night. It was only as he was drawing his last breath, and she sat by his side and bent over him, forgetful of aught else, that it was for a while neglected; and it was this little moment that had caused Salve such a mauvais quart d'heure on board the Juno. On the following day, in her despair, she had attempted a perilous journey over the drift ice to bring people out to her assistance, and had been taken up by a boat and brought in by it to Arendal.
The poor girl was far too much occupied with her grief for the loss of her grandfather to think in the remotest degree of making her story interesting. But Carl Beck, in his enthusiasm, knew very well how to give the incident a colouring of romance, and she was very soon exalted into the heroine of the hour. It was talked of at the Amtmand's—a house with two handsome daughters, where Lieutenant Beck was a daily visitor—and it was in everybody's mouth how, all alone out on Torungen with her dying grandfather, she had been the means of saving the Juno, and had since risked her life on the ice. Every one could see by a glance at her that she must have a remarkable character; but as to her uncommon beauty there prevailed different opinions in feminine circles. It was, at all events, a pity that she was so forlorn; and the Becks, it was thought, were now morally bound to look after her.
For the present she had gone to live with her aunt up in one of the narrow streets at the back of the town, and there came pouring in, with and without the owners' names, all sorts of friendly advice, with black dress materials and ornaments from the young men and shop lads; and a couple of the bustling ladies of the town even came in person to see her aunt and talk over the girl's future. When Carl Beck, however, gave out that he looked upon these presents as slights upon himself, they ceased. He had only been up there once, and then his eldest sister was with him: but his manner on that occasion had been most attractive, he had sympathised with such winning sincerity, and at the same time so unassumingly, in Elizabeth's grief; and when leaving assured her, with emotion which he made no attempt to conceal, that they owed it to her that their father was still alive.
When he was gone, his sister had proceeded to the real matter of her visit. She had come to propose to the aunt that Elizabeth should live with them for the present with the view of qualifying herself for a housekeeper's place, as she must not be exposed to the necessity of going out as a common servant-girl. It was her brother, she added, who had made this plan for Elizabeth's future.
The offer was a highly desirable one for persons in their position, and was accepted by the aunt with unmixed satisfaction. Over Elizabeth's face, however, there passed a momentary cloud. She felt, without knowing why, a sense of oppression at the prospect of coming into closer contact with the young lieutenant; but at the same time she would not for a great deal have refused the offer.
As for Salve, during the first few days after coming home he was a happy man. He was in love: he had received from his captain a hundred-daler note, accompanied by a promise that as soon as he had learnt navigation he should be third mate on board the Juno; and he heard himself admired on all sides by his equals and associates. There was so much work to be done, though, in discharging the cargo and getting the vessel into dock for repairs—they had managed to get her up as far as Arendal—that it would be Saturday evening before he could get his so longed-for home-leave.
On the day before, as he was sitting on watch in the early morning under the lee of the bulwark, he accidentally overheard a conversation going on upon the slip below that set his blood on fire.
The carpenters had just come to their work, and one of them was telling the story of old Jacob's death, and of the heroism which his granddaughter had displayed.
"They say," he went on, "that Captain Beck is to have him buried on Monday next, and that he is to provide for the granddaughter—the navy lieutenant has seen to that."
The noise and the clinking of the hammers that were now at work made Salve lose a good deal of the conversation here.
"There is good reason for that, mind you," was the next observation he caught, made in a somewhat lower tone, and accompanied by a doubtful laugh. "It is not for nothing that he has been out so constantly shooting sea-fowl about Torungen."
"Would she be a—sea-bird of that feather? Old Jacob, I should have thought, was not the kind of man—"
"Well, perhaps not that altogether; but the first thing she did was to come straight over here; and he has had her already taken into his own house. I have that from the aunt. The old woman had no suspicion of anything, but told me quite innocently that now she was to be a sort of housekeeper with the Becks."
A slight noise above him here caused the speaker to look up. A deadly pale young sailor was staring down at him over the ship's side with a pair of eyes that struck him as resembling those he had once seen in the head of a mad dog. Their owner turned away at once and crossed the deck.
"That must have been the lover!" he whispered over to the other, as he set to work with his adze upon the pencilled plank. Shortly after he muttered in a tone of compunction—
"If I saw that physiognomy aright, some one had better take care of himself when he gets leave ashore."
Salve had sprung to his feet in a fury when he heard about young Beck, but the desire to hear more had kept him spellbound. What further had been hinted of his relations with Elizabeth, and that the latter had even taken refuge in his house, seemed all only too probable. He knew both the men who had been speaking; they were respectable folks, and the one besides had had the news from the aunt herself.
There was hard work that day on board, but his hands were as if they had been benumbed. It was impossible for him to give any assistance, except in appearance, when any hauling was to be done;—he did everything mechanically.
"Are you sick, lad, or longing after your sweetheart?" said the mate to him in the course of the afternoon. He saw that there was something wrong with him.
That last, "after your sweetheart," had a wonderfully rousing influence. He felt himself all at once relieved of his heavy feeling of exhaustion, and worked now so hard that the perspiration poured down his face, joining in the hauling song from time to time with a wild, unnatural energy: he was afraid to leave himself a moment for thought. When the day was over, however, he took the anchor watch for a comrade, who was overjoyed at the unexpected prospect of getting a quiet night in his hammock, and at escaping from his turn of "ship's dog"—that watch consisting of one man only, whose business it is to keep the ship from harbour-thieves.
He paced up and down the deck alone in the pitchy darkness, that was only relieved by a lantern or two out in the harbour, and a light here and there up in the town—sometimes standing for long minutes together, with his cheek on his hand, leaning on the railing. He could, without the slightest scruple, murder young Beck—that he felt.
At two o'clock he crossed over to the boards that were sloped against the vessel's side, slid down them in the dark to the slip, and from there made his way ashore. Elizabeth's aunt lived in one of the small houses above; and he had determined to wake her and have a talk with her.
Widow Kirstine was a portly, somewhat worn perhaps, but otherwise strong-looking, old woman, with a good broad face, and thin grey hair drawn down behind her ears. She was not unused to being disturbed at night, one of her occupations being to nurse sick people; but she always grumbled whenever she was. When she held up the candle she had lit, and recognised Salve Kristiansen, she thought, from his paleness and general appearance, that he was drunk.
"Is that you, Salve?—and a pretty state to be in at this time of night!" she began, severely, in the doorway, not caring to let him in at first. "Is that the way you spend your wages?"
"No, mother, it's not. I've come off my watch; I wanted to have a word with you about Elizabeth."
His tone was so strangely low and sorrowful, that the old woman saw that there must be something unusual the matter; and she opened the door.
"About Elizabeth, you say?"
"Yes—where is she stopping now?"
"Where is she stopping?—why, with the Becks, of course. Is there anything the matter?"
"You ought to know that best, mother Kirstine," he said, earnestly.
She held up the light to his face, and looked at him in vague anxiety, but could make nothing out of it.
"If I ought to know it, tell me," she said, almost in a tone of entreaty.
"Young Beck, I hear, has been out about Torungen the whole year—shooting sea-birds—or—do you really think he means to marry her?" he broke out wildly, and raising his voice.
It was only now that she caught his full meaning; and setting down the candlestick hard upon the table, she dropped into the chair by the side herself.
"So—that is what they are saying, is it?" she cried at last. Her first fear was over; but anger had succeeded to it, and she rose now from her seat with arms akimbo and flashing eyes. She was not a woman to offend lightly.
"So they have fastened that lie upon Elizabeth, have they!—it's a shame for them, so it is! And you, Salve, can soil your lips with it? Let me just tell you, then, for your pains, that the Becks' house is as respectable a one as any in Arendal; and it isn't you, and such as you, that can take its character away. Never fear but Elizabeth shall hear every word of your precious story—ay, and the captain, and the lieutenant, and Madam Beck, too; and you'll be hunted from the Juno like a dripping cur. So you thought that Elizabeth was to be beholden to the lieutenant for a character—?"
"Dear mother Kirstine!" Salve cried, interrupting her in the full torrent of her indignation, "I didn't think about it—I couldn't think. Only, I heard Anders of the Crag down on the slip this morning say it all so confidently.
"Anders of the Crag? So it was from him you heard it?—the pitiful, wheedling rascal! That is his gratitude, I suppose, for my being with his wife last week!—I shall know where to find him. But the receiver in the like is no better than the stealer," she resumed, indignantly; "and I'd have you know, it was just Beck's own daughter who came here and offered Elizabeth a respectable place in a respectable house, and it was to me she talked, my lad," pointing self-consciously with quivering forefinger at her own bosom; "so Elizabeth has not begged herself in there at all. You didn't need to desert your watch to bring such tales here; and Elizabeth shall hear of it—that she shall," she repeated, excitedly, striking one hand into the other with a loud smack—"she shall hear what fine faith you have in her."
"Dear mother Kirstine! I didn't mean any harm," he said, entreatingly, feeling as if a weight had been taken off his heart—"only please don't tell Elizabeth."
"You may depend upon it I will."
"Mother Kirstine!" he said, in a low voice, and looking down, "I brought a dress with me for her that I had bought in Boston. And then I heard all this, and I couldn't contain myself." He said nothing about the rings.
"So!" rejoined the old woman after a pause, during which she had examined him through her half-closed eyes, and in a somewhat milder tone; "so you brought a dress for her! and at the same time you come running up here in the middle of the night to tell me that she has become a common baggage for the lieutenant,"—and her anger rose again.
"But, Mother Kirstine, I don't believe a word of it."
"It wasn't to tell me that, I suppose, you came up here in such haste, my lad."
"I was only mad to think such a thing could be said of her."
"Well, be off with you now! Anders of the Crag shall go farther with his lie—if I go with him before the Foged and the Maritime Court."
For the matter of that, she might as well have threatened to go with him to the moon; but Salve understood her to mean by the Maritime Court the bloodiest course she knew.
As she opened the door to let him out, she said with a certain confidential seriousness—"Tell me, Salve! has anything passed between you and Elizabeth?"
He seemed uncertain for a moment what reply he should make to this unexpected invitation of confidence. At length he said—
"I don't know, Mother Kirstine, for certain; two years ago, I made her a present of a pair of shoes."
"You did!—well, see now and get on board again without any one noticing you—that's my advice," she replied, without allowing herself to be brought any further into the matter, and pushed him then rather unceremoniously out of the door.
After he had gone she sat for a while with the light in her lap, staring at it and nodding her head reflectively.
"He's a good and a handsome lad that Salve," she said at last, aloud. "But on the whole it will be better to tell Elizabeth, and then she can be on her guard there in the house;" and having come to this decision she rose from her seat and prepared to go to bed again.
Salve, notwithstanding this interview, was far from being at ease next day, and he felt the courage he had mustered up, to go straight to Elizabeth with the dress and ring, altogether gone.
In the evening, when all the crew were given leave from the ship for three weeks, he went off to his father instead, to see if he could learn more of the situation through inquiries from him; and on the following Monday both were present at old Jacob's interment in Tromoe churchyard.
All these events had come upon Elizabeth with overwhelming suddenness. It seemed to her like a confused dream. Yet the fact remained that there she was, dressed in black, an inmate of one of those handsome houses, the interiors of which she had so often pictured to herself out on Torungen.
Captain Beck was married to a second wife, a woman of stern principles, full of decision and respectability, who had brought him a considerable fortune, and, under her lynx-eyed rule, had restored that order in household matters which, during the period her husband was a widower, had been far too much neglected; and though his power might still be absolute on board the Juno, it had long since ceased to be so in his own house. By her grown-up step-children Madam Beck was in the highest degree respected, though not exactly loved, owing to the various unaccustomed restraints to which they now found themselves subjected; and as to Carl, his easy tact, notwithstanding the independent position which he enjoyed in his home as salaried member of a coast commission, enabled him to keep on the best of terms with his imperious stepmother. His duties would detain him about home for another year, to be still feted by the town, and idolised by his sisters, who were never tired of speculating upon eligible matches for him.
From the very first, Elizabeth, who, in her utter ignorance how to behave, committed one egregious blunder after another, had perceived with her strong sense that it would require all the cleverness and patience she possessed to enable her to maintain the situation; and she began by following Madam Beck about untiringly like a lamb. Many a painful scene had she to go through during the earlier period of their connection, and she bore them with a quiet gentleness which Madam Beck took for modest docility, but which had its real origin in a fixed determination to succeed. Every now and then, however, she would give it up as hopeless, and would seat herself disconsolately by the window with her cheek upon her hand, and gaze wistfully out over the harbour. She longed so for cold fresh air, and would end by throwing up the window and stretching herself with her heated face as far out of it as she possibly could, till Madam Beck would come in, and in a stern voice call her back. Madam Beck, in her irritation, used to say that it was almost as if they had taken a wild thing into the house.
Carl Beck understood very well what she was going through, and would occasionally throw her an encouraging look; but Elizabeth affected always not to understand it. On one occasion, however, when she was corrected in his presence, she hurriedly left the room, and throwing herself on her bed, lay there and sobbed as if her heart would break.
She had been trusted one afternoon, shortly after, to bring in the tea-tray, on which, without thinking what she was doing, she had placed the chafing-dish with the boiling teakettle. It fell as she was carrying it in; but although its hot side and the boiling water burnt and scalded her arm and hand, she carried the tray quite quietly out again without allowing a muscle of her face to change—she was not going to be corrected before him again.
Madam Beck herself bound up her hand in the kitchen, where she stood white with pain; while Carl, who had been sitting on the sofa, and had seen how the whole thing happened, forgetting his self-command, had jumped up in great excitement, and had shown such uncommon sympathy that his sister Mina, afterwards, when they were alone in the room together, said, with a look that was more searching than the joking words seemed to require, "It is not possible you are fond of the girl, Carl?"
"No fear, Mina," he answered quickly, in the same tone, chucking her under the chin as he spoke. "There are as handsome girls as her in Arendal; but you can see as well as I can that she is a girl in a hundred. That business with the tea-tray is what very few others would have been capable of; and we mustn't forget that if it had not been for her—"
"Oh yes," rejoined Mina, with a toss of her head, a little tired of the eternal repetition of this stock observation. "She didn't know all the same that it was papa who was out there."
It was a game of hypocrisy, thought out with no inconsiderable subtlety, that the handsome lieutenant was carrying on in this matter: under his apparently so entirely frank sailor-bearing there was hidden a real diplomatist. By trumpeting about the town the service which Elizabeth had rendered them in saving the Juno, he had, one may say, forced his family to take her up, though to them he made it appear that public opinion left them no alternative. On the other hand, he was uncommonly cautious in his attitude towards Elizabeth herself; for he knew he must win her without attracting the attention of his stepmother and sisters. He believed he had made a sort of impression upon her; but at the same time he felt that he had a wild swan to deal with, that might at any moment spread its wings and fly away—there was such a strong, independent individuality about her.
In his home, however, she had become a different creature, scarcely to be recognised as the same Elizabeth,—so quietly did she go about, hardly conscious of his presence apparently—and so slavishly did she follow the directions of the mistress of the house. This new aspect of her had put him in doubt for a while, but it was not very long before he satisfied himself that he understood what it meant; and that little affair with the tea-tray, that was set down to awkwardness by the others, had quite a different significance for him. He flattered himself that she subjected herself to all this restraint for his sake; and whatever the denouement might be, the situation was, at all events, an interesting one.
But there was, on the other hand, something in her manner that kept him at a certain distance, and left him in uncertainty as to what line exactly he should take. The same had been the case whenever they had been together out on the island, and had in fact been the principal cause of his becoming more deeply in love with her every day. He had once out there encountered a look in her steel-grey eyes which had given him the impression that the opinion she entertained of him could in a moment be reversed, and that least of all dare he allow her to feel that he was appearing in the character of a lover; and it was for this reason he had scarcely ever talked with her grandfather, and only casually with herself. The fact was, old Jacob had very well understood that the smart young navy-lieutenant did not come out there for his sake; and as he could not very well shut the door in his face, he had very sensibly warned his granddaughter against him. He explained to her that people of his class were not in the habit of marrying a common man's child, although it happened far too often that they might play at love with them. "Such a lad as Salve Kristiansen, now," he remarked, in conclusion, "that is the sort of stuff that will not disappoint you;" and he thought he had played the diplomatist there with some skill.
"I didn't understand you to mean that exactly, grandfather, that time you were going to beat him," she said.
The old man was rather nonplussed for the moment, but he growled out something about youngsters requiring correction occasionally, and went on, "He's a god lad, I tell you; and if he came and made up to you, he should have you without a moment's hesitation; and then I should be easy in my mind as to what would become of you when I'm gone."
Elizabeth made no further observation, but a certain expression about her mouth seemed to denote that she reserved to herself the liberty to have an opinion of her own in this matter. Salve Kristiansen had been very dear to her as the only friend and confidant she had ever had; but since she had seen the lieutenant, it had been he who had exclusively occupied her thoughts. All that had formed the ideal of her young enthusiasm had suddenly in his person appeared upon the rock; but whether it was his uniform, or the bravery of the fleet, or himself, that was the object of her admiration, she had never asked herself, until hurt and rendered thoughtful by that warning of her grandfather. Now, it was unmistakably himself, the handsome, brilliant embodiment of it all. But at the same time there sprang up in her nature an unconquerable feeling of pride, in obedience to the dictates of which she absolutely resigned him, though still retaining her enthusiastic admiration; and it was this double attitude of mind which her eyes expressed, and which puzzled her admirer. When she heard afterwards from her aunt in Arendal that people had been talking about them, she felt it deeply, and more than ever then had become sensible that there was an invisible barrier between them.
Carl's father meanwhile had been trudging daily over to the dry-dock to see after the Juno, which had had to have her bottom scraped, her gaping seams caulked, and to undergo a general repair: he was hardly at home to meals. It was a case of urgency, as the delivery of her cargo at its destination could not be delayed beyond a certain time.
About a month after Elizabeth had come into Captain Beck's house the Juno was ready for sea again; and Carl's sister came into the room smiling one day then, and said—
"Elizabeth, there is a young sailor out in the porch who wants to speak to you; he has a parcel under his arm. Perhaps it is a present."
Elizabeth, who was bringing in the tea-things at the time, turned red, and Carl Beck, who was standing by the window, a little pale. She knew very well that it was Salve, and for a moment she was almost frightened at his audacity. She had seen him a couple of times before, and had allowed him to feel that she was not particularly anxious for his company, in consequence of what her aunt had told her, and as she went out to see him now she trembled.
He looked at her for a moment or two without saying a word.
"Will you take this dress, Elizabeth?" he said at last, almost harshly.
"No, that I won't, Salve. Such things as you have been saying about me!"
"So you won't take it?" he said, slowly and dejectedly. "It is no use saying anything more, then, I suppose."
"No, Salve, it is no use saying anything more."
The desolate expression of his face as he stood and looked at her, while he asked, "Am I to take it to sea with me, Elizabeth?" went to her heart, and the tears rushed into her eyes. She shook her head negatively, but with an almost despairing look, and disappeared into the house.
They could see in the sitting-room that she had been crying. But Carl Beck was a cold-blooded man, and merely lay at the window and looked out after his rival, to see if he had the parcel under his arm as he went out of the gate.
That night Elizabeth lay awake. She had cried in her sleep, and had dreamed that she had seen Salve standing down at the quay so wretchedly clothed and so miserable, but too proud to ask assistance of any one, and that he had given her such a bitterly reproachful look; and she lay tossing about, unable to get the dream out of her head. Presently there came the noise of a riotous mob outside, and she got up and went to the window. The police were taking some one with them down the street. As they passed, she saw by the light of the street-lamp for a moment that it was Salve. He was resisting with all his might, pale and infuriated, with his blue shirt all torn open in the front, and there was an expression in his face that—at any rate, she slept no more that night.
There had been a general melee, she heard next morning, among the sailors over in Mother Andersen's, on the other side of the harbour. It was said that knives had been used, and that Salve Kristiansen had been the originator of the whole disturbance—without a shadow of protest, Carl Beck said; and proceeded then to put various interpretations of his own upon the affair. Elizabeth left the room, and for some days after was pale and worn-looking, and more than usually reserved, Carl thought, in her attitude towards himself.
Captain Beck had paid Salve's fine and procured his release, and the afternoon before the Juno was to sail his father and younger brother came on board to say good-bye to him. There was something strange in his manner that struck them both; it was as if he thought he would never see them again. He offered his father his hundred-daler note, and when the latter would not take it, made him promise, at all events, to keep it for him. The father attributed his unusual manner to distress of mind and depression on account of his recent adventure with the police; but as he was going ashore he said, in rather a husky voice—
"Remember, Salve, that you have an old father expecting you at home!"
That evening and a great part of the night Salve passed in the Juno's maintop, gazing over at Beck's house as long as there was a light in the attic window. And when that went out it seemed as if something had been extinguished in himself with it.
The outer side of Tromoe, which lies off the entrance to Arendal, has only the ordinary barren stone-grey appearance of the rest of the islands along the coast; a wooden church, with a little belfry like a sentry-box and serving as a landmark, which lies drearily down by the sea, and under which on Sundays a pilot-boat or two may be seen lying-to while service is going on, is the only feature for the eye to rest upon. The land side of the island, on the contrary, presents a scene all the richer and livelier for the contrast. The narrow Tromoe Sound, with its swarm of small coasters, lighters, pilot-boats, and vessels of larger build, suns itself there between fertile or wooded slopes and ridges, over which are scattered in every direction the red cottages of the sailor population, skippers' houses, and villas; and in every available spot, in every creek or bay where there is barely room for a vessel, the white timbers of ships in course of construction come into view. It is an idyllic dockyard, a very beautiful and very appropriate approach to Norway's principal seaport town; and whoever steams up it on a still summer's day must enjoy a surprise that will not easily be effaced from his recollection.
At the period of our story, indeed, the picture was far from being so complete or rich: but even then were becoming manifest the germs of the bustle and life which now pervade the place.
On one of the most beautiful points of the Sound peeped into view a small one-storeyed house with two small-paned attic windows projecting from its steep tiled roof, and with a pine-wood climbing the hillside behind, which was the property of Captain Beck; and here, until, as he proposed to do in a couple of years' time, he retired from the sea and invested his fortune in the shipbuilding yard which he had in view, his family generally took up their residence during the summer months. Hither in the early part of this summer, too, they had repaired.
It was no life of idleness, though, which they lived out there: Madam Beck always made work for everybody, and had her own spinning-wheel in the sitting-room. Her step-son had his occupation on land, and as much as he could do, as member of the coast commission. But he used generally to come over on Saturdays in his pretty sail-boat and remain over Sunday; and on that day, too, some one or other family of their acquaintance in the town would make them an object for a pleasure party, and would usually spend the afternoon with them.
Carl Beck was always in great force on these occasions. His brown face and frank sailor bearing and good looks would have been sufficient in themselves to make him a favourite with the ladies. But, in addition to these claims upon their interest, he had been known to most of the younger ones among them from his schoolboy days, when he used to come home on leave as a cadet, and he seemed to enjoy particular confidential relations with nearly every one of them, or, at all events, to be in possession of some secret or other which only they two knew. They had all kinds of jokes and expressions from their younger days which were unintelligible to the rest; and what is vulgarly called "chaff" formed, perhaps, the staple of his conversation with them, varied now and then by a touch of sentiment, which was intended, by chance as it were, to open up to them for a moment the real deeper nature which they might not have suspected him of possessing. They used to twit him about his inclination to stoutness, and he used to joke about it too, and say he had too good a time of it.
Among the Becks' most frequent visitors out there was postmaster Forstberg's family, which included, besides the parents, a hobbledehoy son and their daughter Marie, a fair-haired girl some eighteen years of age, of quiet manners, and with an uncommonly clever face. Nobody said that she was pretty, but nearly every one who knew her had the impression that she was; and there was a certain indefinable harmony and grace, not only about her perhaps rather small figure, but about everything she did. But if she was not considered pretty, it was agreed on all sides that she had great sense; and among her friends she was always the one they elected to confide in, whenever they had anything on their minds. That she never confided anything to them in return had, curiously enough, never struck them; and for that matter, she was too correct and proper, they imagined, to have any heart affairs herself. She was a confidential friend of Carl Beck's sisters, and especially of Mina, who declared that she put her before all the rest of her acquaintance, and thought in her own heart that she was exactly the match for her brother.
The only one of the young girls in the circle with whom Carl Beck had had no youthful acquaintance was Marie Forstberg; and it had been some time before he discovered that the quiet girl was worth talking to. He used to be secretly annoyed then that the conversation when she was present should lapse so easily into empty trifling; her mind was so clear and true, and she had such a beautiful smile for whatever she approved. Before her, therefore, he always displayed now the broad, manly side of his character—which he could do with so much grace—and the coquetry which was at the bottom of this was not without its effect. She had always made rather a hero of him in her own mind, and he had created the flattering impression now that the light and flirting manner which he adopted towards young ladies, and which had rather qualified her admiration of him, had been due to his not having before found among them any one that was worthy of a man's serious attention. He had begun consequently to occupy a much larger share of her thoughts than she would herself have been willing to acknowledge; and many of the confidences of which she was the recipient at this time would, if her friends had had a little more penetration, have been brought last of all to her.
Marie Forstberg's attention had very soon been attracted to Elizabeth; and knowing her history, she tried very often to help her, and put her in the right way of doing things. At first she found her rather short and unapproachable, and could get nothing but "yes" or "no" from her; and there was something almost offensive in the brusque way in which she would turn with an impatient flush from her mentor when she sometimes didn't understand what was meant, and would do the thing in her own way. She wouldn't see at first the various little good turns which the other did her in her quiet, considerate way; but they were acknowledged at last with a look that made amends for all her former obtuseness; and in spite of their different natures and unequal social position, these two women soon came to feel, if not exactly drawn to one another, mutually interested in each other. At the same time, as Elizabeth was not blind to the diplomacy of the house, she had soon perceived that of all the young ladies who came there, Marie Forstberg was the one who had the best chance, and who indeed best deserved to be the young lieutenant's bride; and although she tried to believe that she was merely a resigned looker-on herself, she seemed to feel every Sunday, when Marie Forstberg came, that a certain disagreeable impression had grown up in her mind about her during the week which it took some time to thaw. When it did thaw, however, which in time it always did, she would feel attracted to her with redoubled warmth; and though their conversation might be ostensibly occupied only with such subjects as laying the table or dishing the dinner, she would contrive to introduce into it anything and everything concerning the lieutenant which she thought might interest or recommend him to her friend. Marie Forstberg couldn't help sometimes fixing her clear blue eyes searchingly upon her, to ascertain if there was not some object underlying this communicativeness; but Elizabeth would look so unconscious, as she stood there with her sleeves tucked up, busy with her work, that she dismissed the idea from her mind.
In this country life, although without a moment to call her own, Elizabeth felt freer at all events than she had done in the town; and she had made such rapid progress under Madam Beck's tuition, that the latter's supervision was in many things no longer required. One part in particular, the one which she might have been expected to find the most difficult of all—that of parlour-maid—she filled to perfection; and her upright figure and expressive face attracted many an admiring glance on Sundays, when in her becoming striped chintz dress and white apron, and with her luxuriant hair turned up in the simplest manner, she carried the tea or coffee things out to the guests in the summer-house. She could feel that Carl Beck's eyes were never off her as long as she was in sight, and she seemed to know that it was she whom his eye wandered in search of first whenever he came home. In a hundred small ways he made her conscious of the interest which he felt in her; and whenever there was a commission to be particularly remembered, he never gave it to his sisters alone, but to her also.
His pretty pleasure-boat—a long, light, sharp-built yawl, with a red stripe along its black side, and two sloping masts—which he had lately had built, lay often the whole week through moored in the bay under the house. He was very particular about the boat, and during his absence it was to Elizabeth's sole care that she was intrusted. There was always something or other to be looked after; and when he came home he would generally subject her, in a jokingly harsh tone, to an examination, which he called holding a summary court-martial.
Sometimes on Saturdays he would come up the path waving in his hand a letter covered with post-marks. It would be from his father to his stepmother; and Madam Beck would generally read it by herself first, and then it would be read aloud, Elizabeth listening with strained attention—she was always so afraid that there might be something bad about Salve.
One Sunday she remarked that Carl wore in the buttonhole of his uniform a wild flower which she had thrown away. It might have been the purest accident; but she knew that he had seen her with it in her hand. The same day they had wild strawberries at dinner, and there were no strangers, and he broke out all in a moment, "Yes, I'd sooner ten thousand times have wild strawberries than garden ones. They have quite another taste and smell."
It was a natural remark for any one to make. But she thought he had looked with peculiar earnestness at her as he made it, and afterwards he had fixed his eyes upon his plate for a long while without raising them. She felt that the remark had been meant for her, and altogether that day there was something about him that made her uneasy—he gazed at her so often.
Madame Beck happened to have just then a long list of household necessaries required from Arendal, and Carl said that if some one would go with him in the boat the next morning to help him with the parcels, he would execute her commissions himself. When Madame Beck suggested Elizabeth he eagerly assented; but the colour rushed into Elizabeth's cheeks, and with an angry toss of her head, which she didn't make any attempt to conceal, she left the room.
As he was standing alone outside some little time after, she came up to him, and said, looking him straight in the face—
"I don't go into Arendal with you, Herr Beck."
"No?—and why not, Elizabeth?" he asked, with affected indifference, and trying to meet her look.
"I don't go," she repeated, her voice trembling with pride and anger—"that is all I have to say;" and she turned from him, and left him gazing after her, partly in confusion, and partly in admiration of the magnificently proud way in which she crossed the turf to the house again.
The expedition was given up; and in spite of Carl's finesse, it came out inadvertently that it was on account of Elizabeth having refused to go alone in the boat with him, which Madam Beck found very commendable on her part. Indeed she ought to have known herself, she said, that it was scarcely proper; but at the same time, she was decidedly of opinion that the more becoming course for Elizabeth would have been to speak to her mistress first.
The house in the town was undergoing repairs this year, which kept the family out in the country until rather late in the autumn. But the glorious September days prolonged the summer, and they could still sit out on the steps in the evening and enjoy the beauty and the sentiment of the season, and the rich variety of the autumn tints reflected on the still waters of the Sound.
The members of Carl's commission, with their president, were invited out there one day, and it was made a great occasion, all the resources of the house being brought into requisition to do them honour.
Carl, although the youngest member of the Commission, and really only included in it to make up the required number, had been fortunate enough to distinguish himself upon it; and his sisters even thought that there might be a question of an order for him—that distinction so coveted in Norway—if they made love sufficiently to the president. Carl professed to be quite superior to a mere external decoration of the kind, though longing for it in his heart; and Marie Forstberg, whom he had not taken into his confidence in the matter, was highly indignant with his sisters for supposing that it should depend upon the president, and not upon Carl's own merit, whether he received it or not. Mina, however, had declared, with a great air of knowledge of the world, that people couldn't trust to merit alone, and that, besides (and here she had laid her hand flatteringly on her friend's shoulder), they were not all so strict and high-principled as Marie Forstberg; and so she paid her court to the president accordingly.
In the evening, when the gentlemen were sitting together out in the wood, and Elizabeth came out to them with a fresh supply of hot water for their toddy, the said president thought proper to make a joke that brought the colour to her cheeks. She made no reply, but the water-jug trembled in her hands as she put it down, and as she did so she gave the speaker such a look that for a moment he felt cowed.
"'Sdeath, Beck!" he broke out, "did you see the look she gave me?"
"She is a proud girl," said Carl, who was highly incensed, but who had his reasons for restraining himself before his superior.
"A proud girl indeed!" returned the other, in a tone which implied very clearly that in his opinion impudent hussy would have been the more correct description.
"A good-looking girl, I mean," said Carl, evasively, by way of correction, and laughed constrainedly.
Elizabeth had heard what he said. She was hurt, and for the first time instituted a comparison between him and Salve. If Salve had been in his place, he would not have got out of it in that way.
Later on in the evening Carl met her alone, as she was putting things to rights out on the steps after the departed guests, and he said half-anxiously—
"I hope you didn't mind what that blustering old brute said, Elizabeth. He is a very good fellow really, and doesn't mean anything by his nonsense."
Elizabeth was silent, and tried to avoid answering by going in with what she had in her hands.
"Come, I won't stand your being offended, Elizabeth," he broke out suddenly, firing up in a moment, and trying to catch her by the arm. "That hand you work with is dearer to me than the hands of all the fine ladies put together."
"Herr Beck!" she exclaimed wildly, and with tears in her eyes, "I leave this house—this very night—if you say a word more."
She disappeared into the hall, but he followed her.
"Elizabeth," he whispered, "I mean it in earnest." She tore herself hastily from him, and went into the kitchen, where his sisters were talking together over the fire.
Carl went out for a solitary walk over the island in the glorious starlight night, and didn't come in till past midnight.
He had not meant what he said quite so decidedly in earnest; but now after seeing her standing before him so wondrously beautiful, with tears in her eyes—now he meant it in real earnest. He was prepared to engage himself, if necessary, in spite of every consideration.
The next morning he left in his boat for Arendal, having whispered to her, however, in passing, before he left, "I mean it in earnest."
The repetition of these words threw Elizabeth into dire perplexity. She had lain and thought over them the night before, and had thrust them from her with indignation, for they could mean nothing else than that he had brought himself to dare to tell her that he had conceived a passion for her, and she had quite determined to execute her threat and leave the house.
But now, repeated in this tone!
Did he really mean to ask for her hand and heart—to ask her to be his—an officer's wife? There lay before her fancy a glittering expanse of earlier dreams that almost made her giddy; and the whole week she was absent and pale, thinking anxiously of Sunday, when he was to return. What would he say then?
And—what should she answer?
He didn't come, however, his duties having required him to make another journey that he had not reckoned upon.
On the other hand Marie Forstberg did appear, and felt at once that some change or other must have come over Elizabeth, as she pointedly declined all assistance from her; and in the look which Marie Forstberg intercepted by chance, there was something even hard and unfriendly. She laid her hand once gently upon Elizabeth's shoulder, but it produced, apparently, absolutely no impression—she might as well have caressed a piece of wood; and when she returned to the sitting-room again, she couldn't help asking, "What has happened to Elizabeth?" But the others had not observed anything unusual.
Carl Beck, contrary to his custom, came not on the following Saturday, but before it, in the middle of the week; and he strode with hasty steps through the rooms when he didn't see Elizabeth.
He found her at last up-stairs. She was standing gazing out of the window on the landing, out of which all that was to be seen was the wooded slope of the hill and the sky above it. She heard his step—she knew that he was coming up-stairs—and felt a sudden indefinable sense of apprehension—a sort of panic almost—as if she could have jumped out of the window. What should she answer?
When he came and put his arm round her waist, and asked in a low voice, "Elizabeth, will you be mine?" she felt, for the first time in her life, on the point of fainting. She hardly knew what she did, but pushed him involuntarily away from her.
He seized her hand afresh, and asked, "Elizabeth, will you be my wife?"
She was very pale, as she answered—"Yes!"
But when he wanted again to take her by the waist, she sprang suddenly back, and looked at him with an expression of terror.
"Elizabeth!" he said, tenderly, and tried again to approach her, "what is the matter with you? If you only knew how I have longed for this moment."
"Not now—no more now!" she pleaded, holding out her hand to him. "Another time."
"But you say 'Yes,' Elizabeth—that you are my—?" But he felt that she wanted him to go now.
After he had gone, she sat there on a box for a long time in silence, gazing straight before her.
So it had actually come to pass! Her heart beat so that she could hear it herself, and she seemed to feel a dull pain there. Her face, little by little, acquired a fixed, cold expression: she was thinking that he was then telling his stepmother of their engagement, and fortifying himself for her reception of the announcement.
She expected to be called down. But no summons came; and at last she decided to go without being called.
In the sitting-room they were all quietly intent upon their several occupations. Carl was pretending to read a book; but he threw her a stolen, tenderly anxious look over the top of it when she entered.
Supper was brought in, and everything went on as quietly as usual, even to his customary banter. To Elizabeth it seemed as if there was a mist over them all; and when Mina once asked if there was anything the matter with her, she could only answer mechanically, 'No.' The question was repeated later on, and received the same answer. She brought the supper things in and took them out, as usual, and it seemed as if she could not feel the floor under her feet, or what she carried in her hand.
The evening passed, and they went to bed without anything happening. But in the partial darkness of the stair-landing, he seized her hand passionately, and said—"Good-night, my Elizabeth, my—my Elizabeth!"
She was not in a condition to return the pressure of his hand, and when he approached his lips to her forehead, she hastily drew herself away.
"I came out here alone to tell you this, dear, dearest Elizabeth," he whispered, with passion trembling in his voice, and making an effort to draw her to him. "I must be on land again to-morrow. Must I go without one sign that you care for me?"
She bent her forehead slowly towards him, and he kissed it, and she then immediately left him.
"Good-night, my beloved one!" he whispered after her.
Elizabeth lay for a long while awake. She would have given anything to have been able to cry, but the tears would not come; and she felt as if she was freezing internally. When at last she did fall asleep, it was not of him she dreamt, but of Salve—the whole time of Salve. She saw him gazing at her with that earnest face—it was so heavy with grief, and she stood like a criminal before him. He said something that she could not hear, but she understood that he condemned her, and that he had thrown the dress overboard.
She rose early, and tried to occupy her thoughts with other dreams—with her future as an officer's lady. But it was as if all that had before seemed to be pure gold was now changed to brass. She felt unhappy and restless; and it was a long time before she could make up her mind to go into the sitting-room.
Carl Beck did not leave that morning. He had perceived that there was something on Elizabeth's mind.
During the forenoon, when his sisters were out, and his stepmother was occupied, he found an opportunity to speak with her alone: she was in a fever, always waiting for him to have spoken to Madam Beck.