Garman and Worse/Chapter VI

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CHAPTER VI.

The first acquaintance Madeleine made in her new home was with the sewing-maid, for naturally there were a good many repairs of various kinds to be seen to. She had already made some acquaintance with the family by previous short visits to Sandsgaard, and the same impression of coldness which she had hitherto received from her relations still oppressed her. Not that Madeleine was of a timid nature—far from it; but the change from a free and open-air life to the regularity of a well-ordered house was too abrupt. She tried in vain to adapt herself to her new surroundings, and during the first few weeks she fretted herself quite out of health. For a reason she could scarcely define, she concealed this fact from her father when writing to him.

Her cousin Gabriel was the only person who seemed to have a friendly word for Madeleine; the others were so reserved that she could not help thinking they were selfish. With Rachel she could never get on friendly terms, and the two cousins had but little in common. Although Rachel was only a few years the elder, she was greatly superior to her cousin in knowledge and experience. Whilst Madeleine was bright and radiant as sunshine, there was something in Rachel's cold and commanding nature which be tokened an uneasy longing for employment, and a desire to take an active part in whatever she could find to occupy her.

Not long previously Rachel had had a sharp dispute with her father. She came one day into the office, and desired him to give her some employment in the business. Consul Garman never lost his self-command, but on this occasion he was on the very point of doing so. The dispute was short, it is true, and soon ended, like every other conflict that was carried on against the father's principles, in a decided victory for his side; but from that time the daughter became still more cold and reserved in her manner.

It was a light task for Rachel to read her little country cousin through and through, and when she made up her mind that Madeleine had nothing in her except perhaps some undefined longings, but at the same time no real desire for work, she let her go her own way, and the relation between them became almost that of a child to a grown person—friendly, but without intimacy.

Mrs. Garman was not particularly well disposed towards her new guest, because she had not been originally consulted as to her visit; and even the good-natured Miss Cordsen frightened Madeleine at first, with her tall, spare figure and well-starched cap-strings.

The sewing-maid was a pale, weakly creature, with large wondering eyes which wore a deprecatory expression. She was still pretty, but the first look told that her face had once been still prettier, and there was something stunted and faded about her appearance. Her cheeks were somewhat sunken, and it could be seen that she had lost some of her teeth.

During the first few days Madeleine had to spend much of her time with the sewing-maid, for Mrs. Garman was anxious that her dress should be in keeping with the rest of the establishment, and the Consul had given Miss Cordsen strict orders on the subject. It was a great relief to Madeleine, in her loneliness, to show herself kindly and almost affectionately disposed towards the timid girl. One evening when she had gone, Madeleine asked Miss Cordsen who she was, and the old lady, after scrutinizing her sharply, answered, "that Marianne was a grand daughter of old Anders Begmand, and that some years before she had had a baby. Her sweetheart," said Miss Cordsen, fixing her eyes again sharply on Madeleine, "had gone to America, and the child was dead, and as she had been in service at Sandsgaard, the Garmans had had her taught dressmaking, so that now she had constant employment in the house."

This was all Madeleine found out, and she did not ask any more questions on the subject, which was a relief to Miss Cordsen.

The old lady's story was, however, not strictly correct in its details; a secret of the Garman family was hid in the sempstress's history—a secret which Miss Cordsen concealed with the greatest jealousy.

As Marianne went home that evening this event came into her thoughts; it was, in fact, never entirely absent from them. The bright and friendly manner of Madeleine, who was so unlike the rest of her family, had awoke in her many reminiscences. She felt quite sure that Madeleine did not as yet know all her history; it was impossible that she could know it, for she seemed so kindly disposed towards her, and Marianne dreaded that any one should tell her. There were, indeed, plenty of people who could tell her story, but none knew what she had suffered. As she went on her way all the sad events of her life's misfortune seemed to pass in review before her. Her first thought was, how handsome he looked when he came home from abroad, before there was any talk about his marriage with the magistrate's daughter! how long he had prayed and tormented her, and how long she had striven against him; and then came the dreadful day, when she had been called into the Consul's private office. She never could imagine how any one had found it out; the only one who could know any thing was Miss Cordsen: but still less could she now understand how she had allowed herself to be talked over, and compelled to agree to what had since been arranged. There must be truth in what people said, that it was impossible to resist the young Consul, and so she allowed herself to be betrothed to Christian Kusk, one of the worst men she knew, who shortly after went to America; then the child was born, and was christened Christian. Then again she recalled that night when the child died; but all further impressions became indistinct and hazy as mist. She had hoped that her shame might kill her, but it had only tortured her. To Sandsgaard, where she had vowed never again to set her foot, she now went daily. Whenever she chanced to meet one of the family, and especially Fanny, her heart seemed to cease beating; but they passed her with as much unconcern as if they knew nothing, or as if she had nothing to do with them.

Many a time also she had met him. At first they passed each other hurriedly, but after a time he also seemed to have forgotten, and now he greeted her with a friendly nod, and the well-known voice said, "How are you, Marianne?"

It was as if these people lived surrounded by a thick wall of indifference, against which her tiny existence was shattered like fragile glass.

Marianne took a short cut through the ship-yard, where the carpenters were busy dividing the shavings and putting them into sacks. She found her grand-father, who had finished his work in the pitch-house, and they set off homewards together.

Anders Begmand lived in the last of the little red painted cottages which lay below the steep slope on the western side of the bay of Sandsgaard. The road along the shore was only a footpath leading to the door of each cottage, and then on to the next. Sea-weed and half-decayed fish refuse lay on the shore, while at the back of the houses were heaps of kitchen refuse, and other abominations. The path itself consisted of a row of large stones, on which people had to walk if they wished to keep out of the accumulation of dirt. The houses were mostly crowded, but especially so in the winter, when the sailors were home from sea.

They were all in the employ of Garman and Worse, and the firm owned everything they possessed, even to their boats, their houses, and the very ground under their feet. When the boys grew old enough, they went to sea in one of the vessels belonging to the firm, and the brightest of the girls were taken into service, either at the house or at the farm. Otherwise the cottagers were left pretty much to themselves. They paid no rent, and there was no interference on the part of the firm with the "West End," which was the name by which the little row of cottages was generally known amongst the workpeople.

Anders Begmand's house was both the last and the smallest, but now that he was alone with his two grandchildren, Marianne and Martin, he did not require much room. Before, when his wife was alive and they had three grown-up sons at home, one of whom was married, it was often close work enough; but now all were dead and gone. The wife lay in the churchyard, and the sons in the deep sea.

Anders was an old man, bent by age. His curly white hair covered his head like a mop, and stood out under his flat cap, which looked more like the clot of pitch it really almost was, than anything else. In his youth Anders had made one voyage to the Mediterranean, in the Family Hope, but he had then been discharged; for he had a failing, and that was—he stammered. Sometimes he could talk away without any hesitation, but if the stammering once began, there was nothing for it but to give up the attempt for that time. There he would stand, gasping and gasping, till he got so enraged that he nearly had a fit. When he was young it was dangerous to go near him at such times, for the angrier he got the more he stammered, and the more he stammered the more his anger increased. There was only one way out of it, and that was by singing; and so whenever anything of more than usual importance refused to come out, he was obliged to sing his intelligence, which he did to a merry little air he always used on these occasions. It was said that he had to sing when he proposed to his wife, but whether there was any truth in the statement is not quite clear. It was certain, however, that he did not often have to sing, and woe to any one who dared to say, "Sing, Anders." This was, of course, when he was young; he was now so broken down that any one could say what they liked to him. There was, therefore, no longer any pleasure in teasing him, and he was allowed to go in peace. Among the workmen he was held in the greatest respect, not only because he had been in the shop for more than fifty years, but because he had had so much sorrow in his old age, and especially because of the misfortune of Marianne, who was the apple of his eye and the light of his life. Martin, too, had brought him nothing but trouble: he was quite hopeless, and the captain with whom he had returned on his last voyage had complained of him, and refused to take him out again; so now he stayed at home, drinking and getting into mischief.

The evening was dull and rainy, and a light already shone in the cottage as Begmand and Marianne approached.

"There they are, drinking again," said she.

"I believe they are," answered Begmand.

She went to the window, the small panes of which were covered with dew, but she knew one which had a crack in it, through which she could look.

"There they are, all four of them," whispered Marianne. "You'll have to sit there, in front of the kitchen door, grandfather."

"Yes, child; yes!" answered the old man.

When they entered the room, there was a pause in the conversation, which was carried on by four men who sat drinking round the table. They had not long begun, and were only in the first stage of harmless elevation.

Martin greeted them in a cheerful tone, which he thought would hide his guilty conscience. "Good evening, grandfather. Good evening, Marianne. Come, let me offer you a drop of beer."

The thick smoke from the freshly lighted pipes still lay curling over the table, and round the little paraffin lamp without a globe. On the table were tobacco, glasses, matches, and half-empty bottles, while on the bench stood several full ones awaiting their fate.

Tom Robson, who sat opposite the door, lifted the large mug which had been standing between him and his friend Martin, and, with his hand on his heart, began to sing—

"Oh, my darling! are you here,
Marianne I love so dear?"

He had composed this couplet himself, in honour of Marianne, to the great annoyance of the hungry looking journeyman printer who sat in the corner close by him.

Gustaf Oscar Carl Johan Torpander was a most remarkable Swede, inasmuch as he did not drink; but otherwise there was about him that exaggerated air of politeness, and that imitation of French manners, which seems generally to attach to the shady individuals of that nation. He had risen when Marianne came into the room, and was now making a low bow, with his shoulders, and especially the left one, well over his ears. His head was on one side, and he kept his eyes the whole time fixed on the young girl. While Tom Robson was singing his poetry, the Swede shook his head with a sympathetic smile to Marianne, by which he meant to express his regret that they met in such bad company.

The fourth person of the group was sitting with his back to the door, and did not move, for he was deaf; but when at length the Swede, who was still bowing, attracted his attention, he turned round heavily on his chair and nodded deafly to the new-comers. This person's real name had almost disappeared from the memory of man, for he had been nicknamed "Woodlouse" among his acquaintance. Mr. Woodlouse passed his time in a dingy den in the magistrate's office, where he either slept or occupied himself in sorting documents and papers. But there he had grown to be almost a necessity, for he had the special gift of knowing the contents of every paper, and the name of every single person who for years had sought information at the office. He could stand in the middle of the room and point to the different shelves, and say, apparently without effort, what each contained, and what was missing. He had thus gone down as a kind of living inventory from magistrate to magistrate, and as his special knowledge increased he endeavoured to get his salary raised, so that he might give himself up recklessly to his two ruling passions, which were drinking beer and reading novels at night.

As Marianne went through the room she moved her grandfather's chair close to the kitchen door, and gave him a meaning look. He nodded to show that he understood her wishes. She then said good night to the old man, and went into the kitchen, from whence a little dark staircase led upstairs to her room.

Marianne locked her door and went to bed. She was so tired every night that she could scarcely keep her eyes open while she undressed, and she fell asleep the moment she got into bed. Under her the noise of voices continued, varied by quarrelling and cursing, which mingled with the dreams of her heavy and broken slumber. In the morning her hair and pillow were damp with perspiration; she was chilled with cold, and was even more tired than when she went to rest.

The talking soon went on again as briskly as ever. Martin related how he had been up to the office that morning, intending to speak to the young Consul personally. He wished to complain of the captain who had told tales about him.

He did not, however, get so far as the Consul, but one of the clerks, a stupid lout with an eyeglass, had come out and told him that he would get no employment on a ship belonging to the firm, until he had been to the Seamen's school, and gave up drinking. As he told his story there was an evil glare in his eyes, which were large and bright like Marianne's, but piercing and cruel. In the pale face there was also the same trace of weakness as in his sister's; but Martin was tall and bony, and his arms were strong and powerful, and he gesticulated with them as he talked, and gave force to his words by striking the table with his fist. He became every moment more violent, as he got heated by drink and argument.

He was not going to the school to please Garman and Worse; and as to his drinking, what had the young Consul got to do with that? But they should see what he would do. And with a mighty oath, he shook his clenched fist in the direction of Sandsgaard.

"Right you are, my boy!" cried Tom Robson, laughing; "good again. Let us see what you are made of."

Robson was never so happy as when he could get Martin to talk himself into a fury, which was not a very difficult task.

Ever since his childhood Martin had shown himself of a worthless and cross-grained nature. His character at school was, that he was one of the cleverest and at the same time the most quarrelsome among the boys, and since then he had done nothing but fall foul of everything and everybody he came in contact with. Martin did most of the talking of the four, who already began to be excited by drink. It would perhaps be more correct to say, of the three, for Torpander was not there to drink, but only to be near Marianne. Woodlouse did not say much, for he heard but little; and when Mr. Robson, who had taken on himself the duty of chairman, gave him an opportunity of speaking, Woodlouse used so many strange expressions that the others did not understand him.

Neither did Torpander do much of the talking: for him the event of the evening was Marianne's return, after which he preferred to sit in silent rapture. This afternoon, however, Torpander joined Martin in his attack on the Garmans, whom he also hated, and poured forth a lot of newspaper tirade about the tyranny of capital, and such like.

"Oh, stop that infernal Swedish jargon!" cried the chairman, "and let us hear what Woodlouse is mumbling about."

"You see, gentlemen," began Woodlouse, eagerly, "the right of the proletariat——"

"What does he mean?" shouted Martin.

Woodlouse did not hear the remark, and paused in his speech, as his eyes wandered inquiringly from one to another to see if they were listening.

But Martin could not keep silent any longer, and broke out into a volley of oaths and curses against Garman and Worse, capital, captain, and the whole world, only interrupting himself occasionally to take a drink or light his pipe over the lamp.

Old Anders had at first taken his place by the kitchen door, but that evening they seemed to be pretty quiet, and he was always anxious to hear what they said when the conversation turned upon the firm. He therefore left the door and came up to the table, where Tom Robson made room for him, and at the same time offered him a drink from his mug.

"Thanks, Mr. Robson," said Begmand, as he put the mug to his lips.

Tom Robson was not only the chairman, but at the same time the host of the company, for it was he who paid for the liquor. By his side on the bench he kept a bottle of rum, from which he every now and then poured out a glass for each. He generally put a good drop of rum into his own beer, "to kill the insects," he said. He was now occupied in cutting up some cake tobacco to fill his pipe.

"Beautiful tobacco that, Mr. Robson," said Begmand.

"Take a bit," answered Tom, good naturedly.

"Thanks, Mr. Robson," said the old man, overjoyed, as he took out his pipe, the stem of which was not more than half an inch long, while the whole was as black as everything else which belonged to Anders.

He pressed down the moist tobacco as hard as he could, in the hope of getting as much as would last for a day or two; he then picked up a burning ember from the turf fire, which he applied to the bowl.

It was no easy matter to get the tobacco to light, but the smoke, when it began to draw, seemed warm and comforting to the old man. He sat there, crouching on the edge of the bench, eagerly watching Tom each time he passed him the mug, and not forgetting to say "Thank you, Mr. Robson," before he took his drink.

Martin grew more and more violent. "Isn't it enough," he yelled, "for us to work ourselves to death for these creatures? Are they going to watch every bit we eat, and every drop we drink? Just look at their houses! look how they live up there! Who has got all that for them? We, I tell you, grandfather; we who have been toiling here fishing, and going to sea year after year, son after father, in storm and tempest, watching night after night in wind and snow, so as to bring back wealth for these wretches! Just look what we get for it all! What a pig-stye we live in! And even that does not belong to us. Nothing does! It all belongs to them—clothes, food, and drink, body and soul, house and home, every bit!"

Begmand sat rocking himself to and fro, and drawing hard at his pipe. Woodlouse saw that there was a pause, and so began again.

"Property is robbery——"

But Martin would not let him continue. "There is no one in the whole world," he shouted, "who puts up with what we do! Why don't we go up and say, 'Share with us, we who have done all the work'?

There has been enough of this blood-sucking! But no; we are not a bit better than a lot of old women; not one of us! They would never put up with that sort of thing in America."

"Ha! ha! good again!" laughed Tom Robson. "I dare say you think people are willing to share like brothers in America? No, my boy; you would soon find out you were wrong."

"Do you mean to tell me that workmen in America live like we do?" asked Martin, somewhat abashed.

"No; but they do what you can't do," answered Tom.

"What do they do?" asked Martin.

"They work; and that is what you and no one else does here!" shouted Tom, bringing his fist down heavily on the table. He was beginning to feel the effects of the rum.

"What's that about work? Do you mean to say——?" began the Swede.

"Hold your jaw!" cried Tom. "Let the old un have his say!"

You are quite wrong, Martin," said Begmand, and this time without stammering. The watery look of his old eyes told that the beer was beginning to work. "It's shameful of you to talk like that about the firm. They have given both your father and your grand-father certain employment; and you might have had the same if you had behaved yourself. The old Consul was the first man in the whole world, and the young Consul is a glorious fellow too. Here's his health!"

"Oh!" broke in Martin, "I don't know what you are talking about, grandfather. I don't see that you have got much to boast of. What about my father, and Uncle Svend, and Uncle Reinert,—every one lost in the Consul's ships; and what have you got by it all? Two empty hands, and just as much food as will keep body and soul together. Or perhaps you think," continued he, with a fiendish laugh, "that we have some connection with the family because of Marianne!"

"Martin, it's—it's——" began the old man, his face crimsoning up to the very roots of his hair, and struggling vainly with his infirmity.

"Have a drink, old un," said Tom, good naturedly, handing Begmand the mug.

The old man paused for breath. "Thanks, Mr. Robson," said he, taking a long breath.

Tom Robson made signs to the others to leave him alone. Begmand put his pipe into his waistcoat pocket, got up, and went into the little room by the kitchen, where he slept. The unwonted drink had roused again the fire of his youth, and never had he felt his helplessness so keenly as he did that evening.

The others still sat drinking till there was no more, and the lamp began to grow dim as the oil gave out. Then they staggered off; Woodlouse away through West End, while Tom clambered up a steep path that led over the hill at the back of Begmand's cottage. He lived with a widow in a small house near the farm buildings of Sandsgaard.

Torpander went with Robson, because he was afraid to go through West End alone, and because he wanted to have a last glance at Marianne's window, which looked on to the hillside.

Martin shut the door after them, and managed to lift up the lid of a sort of locker in which he was going to sleep. He did not see that there were some empty bottles on the locker, and they rolled down on the floor, and one of them was broken against the spittoon. The lid slipped out of his hand, and, without trying to undress, he let himself fall just as he was into the bedclothes.

The last remaining drop of oil in the lamp was now gone, and the last blue flame flickered up through the chimney and was quenched. Then followed a thick grey smoke, which came curling up from the still glowing wick, and wreathed itself in graceful spirals through the glass and glided out into the room, until it looked like a maze of fairy threads in the faint light from the window.

Nothing was heard but the sound of heavy breathing. The old man's respiration was short and broken, while Martin, after turning over a few times, lay quiet, and at length began to snore. Before long he started up again uneasily, heated as he was by drink and passion.

Still a little longer smouldered the red glow of the wick, while the smoke wreathed up thinner and thinner through the glass and spread itself in the darkness.