Garman and Worse/Chapter IX

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CHAPTER IX.

Gustaf Torpander was still consumed by his silent passion. Every penny he could save he devoted either to heightening his personal attractions or to treating Marianne's brother; for hitherto he had never had the courage to offer her any presents personally. The circuitous course he was thus driven to follow in his courtship, was not altogether agreeable to the Swede, and the drinking bouts at Begmand's cottage, in which he was obliged to take part in order to get a glimpse of his sweetheart, he found particularly distasteful.

At first Marianne was greatly annoyed by the attentions of the journeyman printer. From her earliest childhood, the knowledge of her exceptional beauty had made her careful to be on her guard against any advances from the other sex; but since her misfortune, she had come to regard every attention as a kind of persecution. But her shyness was generally received with an incredulous smile or a coarse joke. What shocked her most was, that men seemed no longer to believe that she really meant to shun them in earnest, and she was therefore quite nervous if any of them approached her. When, however, she saw that Torpander did not presume on his acquaintance, and preserved his polite and even respectful manner, she became at last used to his society, and had even a kind of sympathetic feeling for him. For Tom Robson she had always an unconquerable aversion. It is true that she saw Tom only from his worst side, when he was drinking. In the morning, when Robson was sober, there was something of the gentleman about him. He was always neatly dressed in a blue serge suit, coloured shirt, and in dry weather wore canvas shoes. It was a great pleasure for the young Consul to go his morning round in the ship-yard with Mr. Robson. The work went on bravely, and the ship bid fair to be both handsome and well built. Mr. Garman knew Tom's weakness as well as any one, but as long as he attended to his work he was free to use his leisure as he liked. The firm had always worked on the principle that the less the workpeople were interfered with the better. They worked all the better for it, and gave far less trouble generally.

"I think she ought to be ready next spring," said the Consul one day in the beginning of July.

"In about eight or nine months, if the winter is not too wet," answered Tom.

"I should be very pleased if we could manage to launch her on the 15th of May," said the Consul, in a low tone; "but you must not mention the day to any one; you understand, Mr. Robson?"

"All right, sir," answered Tom.

Tom did not betray the day, even to his friend Master Gabriel; he only said it was to be some time in the spring, and with that Gabriel had to be content: but he still showed great curiosity as to what the name of the ship was to be. Tom swore that he knew nothing about it, and Morten answered that it was "a thing which did not concern school boys." From which Gabriel inferred that neither of them knew much about it, and, at all events, not Morten.

During the summer Gabriel got on but poorly at school; it seemed really too hard that he should have to pore over his books, while the work was going on with all its noise and bustle in the ship-yard. His character-book showed a sad spectacle, and each month when he had to take it in to his father, he made up his mind to make a little speech, of which the burden was to be, that he did not wish to continue his studies, but to be employed in the office, or be allowed to go to sea, or anywhere his father chose to send him. But each time when he stood before those cold blue eyes, every word seemed to vanish from his memory, and he looked so helpless and confused that his father shook his head as he left the room, and said—

"I can't make the boy out. I don't think he will ever grow into a man."

When first Madeleine came to Sandsgaard, Gabriel had found it a great relief to confide his woes to her. But now she had got too clever for him, and refused to be frightened by his threats of running away to sea, or giving his master, Mr. Aalbom, some rat poison in his toddy, and he ended by feeling jealous of Delphin.

Fanny had for some time remarked that Delphin was openly paying his attentions to Madeleine, and the more plainly her sharp eyes took in the situation, the more clearly did she perceive that she had been relegated to the unenviable position of third person. She knew that Delphin had been used to the society of Christiania; he was neither so young nor so green as most of her father's assistants, and she therefore found his society agreeable. But when she found that, as usual, he began at once to show his admiration for her, she thought to herself he was no different to the rest. But now she began to take a little more notice of him; perhaps it was hardly worth while to let him slip entirely out of her hands; and when she looked at herself in the glass, she could not help laughing and thinking how absurd it was for any one, with her pretensions to beauty, to be contented to accept her present humiliating position.

Fanny had arranged that Madeleine should take music lessons in the town, and Delphin had got to know exactly when these music lessons took place. Madeleine met him very frequently, and they generally managed to go a little out of the way on her return, either in the streets, or in the park. Madeleine found these meetings rather amusing, and talked gaily and openly with her admirer.

"Now, Mr. Delphin," she said to him one day, "how is it you are so sarcastic and critical when you are in society? When we are alone you are much more agreeable."

"The reason is, Miss Madeleine, that when I am talking alone with you, I show more of my natural character; when I am in conversation with other people, I rather prefer to conceal my opinions."

"So you conceal your opinions?" said she, laughing.

"Yes. What I mean is, I don't care for every passer-by to pry into my mind. I generally keep the blinds down."

"Yes, now I understand," she answered seriously; not that she remarked the preference shown her, but she could not help thinking how much of her own life was also concealed by a curtain.

In one of the small streets near the sea they had to pass through a crowd of fishermen, who had been out all night, and were carrying home their lines, tarpaulins, and large baskets full of fish.

"Bah!" said Delphin, when they had passed, "I can't bear that smell of fish. But I forgot, Miss Garman; you must have had plenty of it when you lived at Bratvold."

"Oh yes!" answered Madeleine, with some confusion.

"Well, for my part," he continued, in a merry tone, "I can say with truth that I am a friend of the people, but I must confess that when the dear creatures come too near my nose my affection for them somewhat cools. There is something about that mixture of fish, tobacco, tar, and wet woollen clothes that I can't get over."

Madeleine could not but feel what a vivid description this was of the people among whom she had lived, and of him to whom she had so nearly—— Ah, it was well she had not betrayed the secret to any one.

As they were crossing the market Delphin pointed to someone going in the direction of Sandsgaard.

"I declare, there is Mr. Johnsen going to Sandsgaard again to-day. Do you know, Miss Garman, he has gone a little wrong in his head?" But Madeleine had heard nothing about it.

"Yes, he is quite wrong in his head," continued her companion; "but it is not yet perfectly clear whether he is in love or whether it is religious mania. In favour of the first theory, that he is in love, we have the fact that he rushes over to Sandsgaard nearly every day, and is seen talking téte-à-téte with Miss Rachel. In favour of the other theory, that he has gone wrong on the subject of religion, it is said that he intends to give us no end of a sermon one of these Sundays. Won't you go to hear him?"

"Well, I don't know; but if the others go, I dare say I may go too."

"No! now promise me you will go to church that Sunday," said he, looking at her imploringly.

There was no time for an answer; they were close to the door, and Madeleine had caught a glimpse of Fanny behind the curtains of the sitting-room.

In the mean time Mr. Johnsen went on his way. It was quite true that he was going to Sandsgaard, but Delphin's statement that he was there every day was an exaggeration. Since that Sunday, when the conversation had waxed so warm, he had not been at Sandsgaard; but his thoughts had been occupied ever since by the recollection of his last conversation with Rachel in the garden.

Eric Johnsen came, as he often said, of a poor family. At the Garmans' he was first brought into contact with that luxury which he had hitherto despised, and he had made up his mind beforehand that he would not allow himself to be dazzled by it, and therefore on his first introduction had made his best endeavour to put on an air of severity, and to show himself superior to its attractions. But now he was not only astonished by the well-ordered and unpretentious comfort of the house, but he was also shaken in his preconceived notions about the rich, when he came to make the acquaintance of the Garmans. Johnsen had expected to find something more ostentatious, especially at table; but the solid tone of the household, and the easy and polished manners of the family, perhaps most of all the presence of Rachel, finally caused him to change his original ideas. He regarded with suspicion the satisfaction he felt, after having been at Sandsgaard a few times. He was on his guard against everything that tended to draw him away from his calling. There was one point which he felt of the highest importance, which was, since he had his origin from the poor and indigent, it was among them his work ought to lie, among paupers and in pauper schools.

One day Johnsen actually found himself hesitating before the door of his school, shrinking from going into its tainted atmosphere, when it was not actually necessary for him to do so. The discovery caused him at first the greatest uneasiness. Now, however, Rachel's society was beginning to have more influence over him. It was no longer the comfort of Sandsgaard which attracted him—of that he was quite certain; neither had he any feeling for the young lady except interest, a deep, earnest interest, after all the stirring impressions he had received through her. She had a wonderful power over him. Her words seemed to shed a ray of light over much which he had hitherto overlooked. He had, like the rest of us, the germs of doubt in his heart, and he was still so young and fresh that his aspirations were but loosely covered, and had not yet had time to wither entirely in his heart. When, therefore, he was suddenly thrown into the society of a woman of such intellectual power, his mind seemed as it were to awake, and her influence and his own reviving energies kindled within him a desire for action which increased with each day that passed. The tiresome and uninteresting work of his daily life seemed aimless to him. He must find some other means of publishing his convictions—this was now clear to him. He went, therefore, to his adviser, ready to engage in any combat into which she might think fit to send him.

Rachel generally did at home pretty much as she liked. She disdained all the hundred restraints which are generally considered so necessary for a young girl; they plainly did not apply in her case—she was so different to others. As soon, therefore, as Johnsen had exchanged a few words with old Mrs. Garman, she said, without further ado, "Come, Mr. Johnsen, let us take a turn in the garden," without her mother being in the least astonished. Rachel had grown up quite beyond her power of restraint, and if it came to the worst, thought Mrs. Garman, this unusual penchant for a clergyman was not the worst one Rachel could have hit upon.

The two went down into the garden, where they walked as usual up and down the central path. He found it rather difficult to lead the conversation in the direction he wished. His tone was therefore somewhat doubtful, as he said, "I have thought a great deal about our last conversation; in fact, I have hardly thought of anything else since, and, with your permission, I should like to say a few more words on the same subject."

"I am always glad to talk with you," answered Rachel, fixing her eyes upon him. Rachel had the same clear blue eyes as her father, to whom, in fact, she bore considerable resemblance, even in the slight projection of her under jaw. Her dark hair was faintly tinged with red, especially at the temples, and her tall and well-built figure rendered her appearance rather more imposing than attractive. The young men generally were absolutely afraid of her, and she had the reputation of being terribly learned and sarcastic, which was considered to be a great pity, as in other respects she was a most desirable parti. Mr. Johnsen did not notice any of these peculiarities: all he thought of was leading the conversation into the direction he desired. At length he was successful. He spoke with ever-increasing earnestness on the change that had taken place in him; how that she had not only roused him to meditation, but had also imparted to him a desire for work, for which he must now find vent. He had come to her to be told how and where he was to begin.

Rachel seemed somewhat embarrassed. "It is not so easy for me," she answered, "who as a woman am debarred from a life of action, if even I had the wish for it, to advise you how you ought to begin."

"I am ready for anything," cried he, excitedly. "I am ready to write or speak against the abuses I see everywhere around me. I am ready to cut myself adrift from the calling I have adopted, if it must be. I will not leave a single corner of my innermost heart concealed, but will lay open my convictions as a man ought to do."

His young friend was too wary to allow herself to be carried away by this sudden outburst, which she could not but regard with some misgiving.

"I think you ought to consider," she began, "that what we have hitherto been speaking of is a mere matter of scattered detail; there is scarcely any irreconcilable want of agreement between your ideas and those of Christianity in general."

"But Christianity requires either an entire belief or else none at all, and I do not care to continue in my doubtful position any longer."

"Yes; and besides," she continued, "I am quite willing to confess that I consider these forms and dogmas of but very slight importance. Our conversation has only turned particularly on these points from the fact that you hold a position in the Church."

"But that is not what we have been talking about," answered he, excitedly; "the real gist of the matter is, that you have been trying to rouse in me a consciousness of the personal responsibility which follows conviction."

"Yes," answered she, "you are quite right; that is exactly what I was aiming at."

"Whether I am in the Church or not, then, is not the question. What is really important is to be a man—man enough to have a conviction, and man enough to stand by it."

His vehemence and honesty overcame Rachel's scruples, and she answered hastily, and almost with a feeling of relief, "Yes, that is the point; it is exactly sincerity which is so rarely met with. This is the principle which I can myself scarcely hope to carry out to its full extent. What weight does the conviction of a woman carry with it, in a society like ours? But my whole sympathy is excited whenever I see sincerity struggling to the light. And that is why I believe that you are on the right path now, that you have entered upon this combat with falsehood. It is better to be utterly beaten in the battle than to lead a peaceful but insincere life."

Her clear blue eyes sparkled as she spoke. He looked at her with rapture, and with a sudden change of manner that was characteristic of him, he said in a calm, quiet voice:

"I will live a life of falsehood no longer!" He took a few steps, and said slowly and with emphasis, "I will ask the provost's permission to preach in the church next Sunday; I have, in fact, already said something to him about it. I want to tell the congregation——"

"It would, perhaps, be scarcely worth while," said Rachel, "to go too much into details."

"No, that was not my intention. I wish to bring forward the importance of sincerity. I will tell them plainly that I have my doubts, and that God is to be found in truthfulness, and not in mere forms; and I wish especially to examine the position of those of my own calling, who even more than others are fettered by forms and ceremonies."

"It may cost you your future; and in any case you will make many enemies."

"But perhaps I may make one friend."

"You shall have my friendship," said she, giving him her hand, "if you find any support in that. You can count upon me, even if all others turn their backs upon you."

"Thank you," said he, with solemnity, as he let go her hand. He left the garden hastily, but without going through the house; he took a side path, and went through the little wicket gate.

Rachel stood gazing after him as he went down the avenue. At last she had met a man who dared to state his convictions. This was more than ever Jacob Worse would have the courage to do.