Garman and Worse/Chapter II

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CHAPTER II.

The highest point on the seven miles of flat, sandy coast was the headland of Bratvold, where the light house was built just on the edge of the slope, which here fell so steeply off towards the sea as to make the descent difficult and almost dangerous, while in ascending it was necessary to take a zigzag course. The sheep, which had grazed here from time out of mind, had cut out a network of paths on the side of the hill, so that from a distance these paths seemed to form a pattern of curves and projections on its face.

From the highest and steepest point, on which the lighthouse was built, the coast made a slight curve to the southward, and at the other end of this curve was the large farm of Bratvold, which, with its numerous and closely packed buildings, appeared like a small village.

On the shore below the farm lay the little boat harbour, sheltered by a breakwater of heavy stone.

The harbour was commanded by the windows of the lighthouse, so that Madeleine could always keep her eye on Per's boat, which was as familiar to her as their own sitting-room. This was a large and cheerful room, and into its corner was built the tower of the lighthouse itself, which was not higher than the rest of the building. The room had thus two windows, one of which looked out to sea, while from the other was a view to the northward over the sandy dunes, which were dotted with patches of heather and bent grass. In the sitting-room Madeleine's father had his books and writing-table, and last, but not least, the large telescope. This was made to turn on its stand, so that it commanded both the view to the north and that out to sea. Here also Madeleine had her flowers and her work-table; and the tasteful furniture which Uncle Garman had ordered from Copenhagen, and which was always a miracle of cheapness to her father, gave the room a bright and comfortable appearance.

In the long evenings when the winter storms came driving in on the little lighthouse, father and daughter sat cosy and warm behind the shelter of their thick walls and closed shutters, while the light fell in regular and well-defined rays over the billows, which raged and foamed on the shore below. The ever-changing ocean, which washed under their very windows, seemed to give a freshness to their whole life, while its never ceasing murmur mingled in their conversation and their laughter, and in her music.

Madeleine had inherited much of her father's lively nature; but she had also a kind of impetuosity, which one of her governesses had called defiance. When she grew up she showed, therefore, the stronger nature of the two, and her father, as was his wont, gave way. He laughed at his little tyrant, whose great delight was to ruffle his thick curling hair. When, in his half-abstracted way, the old gentleman would tell her stories which threatened to end unpleasantly, she would scold him well; but when, from some cause or other, he was really displeased with her, it affected her so much that the impression remained for a long time. Her nature was bright and joyous, but she yearned for the sunshine, and when her father was out of spirits she could not help fancying that it was her fault, and became quite unhappy.

Madeleine had also her father's eyes, dark and sparkling, but otherwise her only resemblance to him lay in her slight figure and graceful carriage. Her mouth was rather large, and her complexion somewhat dark. None could deny that she was an attractive girl, but no one would have called her pretty; some of the young men had even decided that she was plain.

One fine afternoon early in spring, Per lay waiting with his boat off the point of the Mole. Silly Hans was not with him, for both he and Madeleine had agreed that it was not necessary when they were going only for a row; and to-day all there was to do was to provide the lobster-pots with fresh bait for the night.

One after another the fishermen rowed out through the narrow entrance. Each one had some mischievous joke to throw on board Per's boat, and more than once the annoying "Wait" was heard. He began to lose his temper as he lay on his oars, gazing expectantly up at the lighthouse.

But there all was still. The solid little building looked so quiet and well cared for in the bright sunshine, which shone on the polished window-panes and on the bright red top of the lantern, where he could see the lamp-trimmer going round on his little gallery, polishing the prisms.

At last, after what seemed endless waiting, she came out on to the steps, and in another moment she was across the yard, over the enclosure which belonged to the lighthouse, out through the little gate in the fence, and now she came in full career down the slope. "Have you been waiting?" she cried, as she came on to the extreme point of the breakwater. He was just going to tell her not to jump, but it was too late; without lessening her speed, she had already sprung from the pier down into the boat. Her feet slipped from her, and she fell in a sitting posture on the bottom of the boat, while part of her dress hung in the water.

"Bother the women!" cried Per, who had told her at least a hundred times not to jump; "now you have hurt yourself."

"No," answered she.

"Yes, you have."

"Well, just a little," she replied, looking stubbornly at him as the tears came into her eyes; for she really had bruised her leg severely.

"Let me see," said Per.

"No, you shan't!" she answered, arranging her dress over her.

Per began to make for the shore.

"What are you going to do?"

"Going to get some brandy to rub your foot."

"That you certainly shan't."

"Well, then, you shan't go with me," answered Per.

"Very well, then; let me get out."

And before the boat quite touched the ground, she sprang on to the shore, climbed on to the breakwater, and went hurriedly off homewards. She clenched her teeth with the pain as she went, but still without raising her eyes from the ground she followed the well-known path. As she passed in front of the boat-houses, she had to step over oars, tar-barrels, old swabs, and all sorts of rubbish, which was scattered among the boats. All around lay the claws of crabs and the half-decayed heads of codfish, in which the gorged and sleepy flies were crawling in and out of the eye-sockets.

She reached the lighthouse without turning her head; she was determined not to look back at him. At the top, however, she was obliged to pause to get her breath; she surely might look and see how far he got. Madeleine knew that the other fishermen had had a long start, and expected, therefore, to find Per's boat far behind, between the others and the shore. But it was not to be seen, neither there nor in the harbour. All at once her eye caught the well-known craft, which was not, however, far behind, but almost level with the others. Per must have rowed like a madman. She was well able to estimate the distance, and could appreciate such a feat of oarsmanship, and, entirely forgetting her pain and that she was alone, she turned round as if to a crowd of spectators, and pointing at the boats she said, with sparkling eyes, "Look at him! that's the boy to row!"

Meanwhile Per sat in his boat, tearing at his oars till all cracked again. It was as though he wished to punish himself by his gigantic efforts. Her form grew smaller and smaller as he rowed out to sea, till at length she was out of sight; but he had deserved it all. "Deuce take the women!" and each time he repeated the words he sprang to his oars and rowed as if for bare life.

The next day the same lovely weather continued, and the sea lay as smooth as oil in the bright sunshine. An English lobster-cutter was in the offing, with sails flapping against the mast, and the slack in the taut rigging could be seen as the craft heaved lazily to and fro on the gentle swell. Madeleine sat by the window; she did not care to go out. Her eye followed the lobster-cutter, which she knew well: it was the Flying Fish, Captain Crab, of Hull.

So Per must have been out with lobsters that morning: she wondered if he had caught many. Perhaps he might have done himself harm by his efforts of yesterday. She went out on to the slope, and looked down into the harbour. Per's boat was there; it was quite likely he was not well.

Suddenly Madeleine made up her mind to run down and ask a man whom she saw by the boat-houses, but half-way down the slope she met some one who was coming upwards. She could not possibly have seen him sooner, because he was below her at the steepest part of the hill, but now she recognized him, and slackened her pace.

Per must also have seen her, although he was looking down, for at a few paces from her he left the main path, and took one that was a little lower. When therefore they were alongside each other, she was a little above him. Per had a basket on his back, and Madeleine could see there was seaweed in it.

Neither of them spoke, but both of them felt as if they were half choking. When he had got a pace beyond her, she turned round and asked, "What have you got in the basket, Per?"

"A lobster," answered he, as he swung the basket off his back and put it down upon the path.

"Let me see it," said Madeleine.

He hastily drew aside the seaweed, and took out a gigantic lobster, which was flapping its broad, scaly tail.

"That is a splendid great lobster!" she cried.

"Yes, it isn't a bad un!"

"What are you going to do with it?"

"Ask your father if he would like to have it."

"What do you want for it?" she asked, although she knew perfectly well that it was a present.

"Nothing," answered Per, curtly.

"That is good of you, Per."

"Oh, it's nothing," he answered, as he laid the seaweed back in the basket; and now, when the moment came to say good-bye, he said, "How's your foot?"

"Thanks, all right. I got the brandy."

"Did it hurt much?" asked Per.

"No, not very much."

"I am glad you did that," he said, as he ventured to lift his eyes to the level of her chin.

Now they really must separate, for there was nothing more to be said, but Madeleine could not help thinking that Per was a helpless creature.

"Good-bye, Per."

"Good-bye," he answered, and both took a few steps apart.

"Per, where are you going when you have been up with the lobster?"

"Nowhere particular," answered Per.

He really was too stupid, but all the same she turned round and called after him, "I am going to the sand-hills on the other side of the lighthouse, the weather is so lovely;" and away she ran.

"All right," answered Per, springing like a cat up the slope.

As he ran he threw away the seaweed so as to have the lobster ready, and when he got to the kitchen door he flung the monster down on the bench, and cried, "This is for you!" as he disappeared. The maid had recognized his voice, and ran after him to order fresh fish for Friday, but he was already far away. She gazed after him in amazement, and muttered, "I declare, I think Per is wrong in his head."

Northward stretched the yellow sand-hills with their tussocks of bent grass as far as the eye could reach. The coast-line curved in bights and promontories, with here and there a cluster of boats, while the gulls and wild geese were busy on the shore, and the waves rolled in in small curling ripples which glistened in the clear sunshine. Per soon caught up Madeleine, for she went slowly that day. She had pulled a few young stalks of the grass, which, as she went, she was endeavouring to arrange in her hat.

The difference of the preceding day hung heavily over both of them. It was really the first time that anything of the sort had occurred between them. Perhaps it was that they felt instinctively that they stood on the brink of a precipice. They therefore took the greatest pains to avoid the subject which really occupied their thoughts. The conversation was thus carried on in a careless and desultory tone, and in short and broken sentences. At last she made an effort to bring him to the point, and asked him if he had caught many lobsters that night.

"Twenty-seven," answered Per.

That was neither many nor few, so there was no more to be said about that.

"You did row hard yesterday," said she, looking down, for now she felt that they were nearing the point.

"It was because—because I was alone in the boat," returned he, stammering. He saw at once that it was a stupid remark, but it was said and could not be mended.

"Perhaps you prefer to be alone in the boat?" she asked hastily, fixing her eyes upon him. But when she saw the long helpless creature standing before her in such a miserable state of confusion, strong and handsome as he was, she sprang up, threw her arms round his neck, and said, half laughing, half crying, "Oh, Per! Per!"

Per had not the faintest idea how he ought to behave when a lady had her arms round his neck, and so stood perfectly still. He looked down upon her long dark hair and slender figure, and, trembling at his own audacity, he put his heavy arm limply round her.

They were now out on the dunes, and she sat down behind one of the largest tussocks, on the warm sand. He ventured to place himself by her side, and looked vacantly around him. Every now and then he cast his eye upon her, but still doubtfully. It was clear that he did not grasp the situation, and at length he appeared to her so absurd that she sprang up, and cried, "Come, Per, let's have a run!"

Away they went, now running, now at a foot's pace. His heavy sea-boots made a broad impression upon the sand, and the mark of her shoe looked so tiny by the side of it that they could not help turning round and laughing. They jested and laughed as if they knew not that they were no longer children, and she made Per promise to give up chewing tobacco.

Away along the curving shore, with the salt breath of ocean fresh upon them, went these young hearts, rejoicing in their existence, while the sea danced in sparkling wavelets at their feet.

The attaché had just finished a letter to his brother; it was one of these wearisome business letters, enclosing some papers he had had to sign. He never could make out where the proper place was for him to put his name on these tiresome, long-winded documents. But, wonderful to relate, his brother always told him that it was perfectly correct, and Christian Frederick was most particular in such matters. The old gentle man had just sent off the letter, and was beginning to breathe more easily, when he went to the window and looked out. He discovered two forms going in a northerly direction over the sand-hills.

Half abstractedly, he went to the other window and directed the large telescope upon them.

"Humph!" said he, "I declare, they're there again."

Suddenly he took his eye from the telescope.

"Hulloa! the girl must be mad."

He put his eye down again to the telescope, and threw away his cigarette. There was no doubt about it—there was his own Madeleine hanging round Per's neck. He rubbed the glass excitedly with his pocket handkerchief. They were now going respectably enough side by side; now they were among the grassy knolls, and behind one of them they disappeared from his sight. He thoughtfully directed the telescope to the other side of the hillock and waited. "What now?" muttered he, giving the glass another rub. They had not yet come from behind the hillock. For a few minutes the father was quite nervous. At last he saw one form raise itself, and immediately after another.

The telescope was perfect, and the old gentleman took in the situation just as well as if he had himself been sitting by their side.

"Ah! it's well it's no worse," he murmured; "but it's bad enough as it is. I shall have to send her off to the town."

When they were at dinner, he said, "You know, Madeleine, we have long been talking about your staying a little while at Sandsgaard."

"Oh no, father," broke in Madeleine, looking beseechingly at him.

"Yes, child; it's quite time now in my opinion." He spoke in an unusually determined tone.

Madeleine could see that he knew everything, and all at once the events of the morning stood in their true light before her. As she sat there, in their well appointed room, opposite her father, who looked so refined and stately, Per and the shore, and everything that belonged to it, bore quite a different aspect, and instead of the joyful confession she had pictured to herself as she went homewards, she looked down in confusion and blushed to the very roots of her hair.

The visit was thus arranged, and Madeleine was delighted that her father had not observed her confusion; and he was glad enough to escape any further explanation on the subject, for it was just in such matters that the old gentleman showed his weakest point. The next day he rode into the town.