Garman and Worse/Chapter XIX

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CHAPTER XIX.

Consul Garman was in bed, now three days after the fire. The left side was almost powerless; but the doctor said there was still a chance of recovery, since the patient had managed to get through the first few days. The Consul had not hitherto spoken a word, but the eyes moved occasionally, and especially the right one, for the left was half closed, and the mouth remained crooked.

Uncle Richard sat constantly by the bed, watching his brother, until their eyes happened to meet, when he would look away with an expression that was meant to be unconcerned, for the doctor had particularly said that the patient was not to be excited. When the attaché was alone with his brother, he was always anxious lest he should begin to speak, and it so happened that he began to do so one day just after the doctor had been, as if he had been waiting for him to leave the room.

"Richard," said he all at once, "there will have to be a great many changes."

"There, now he is off!" thought the attaché.

The Consul waited a little before he continued. "It was a heavy loss, which will affect us all. The ship was not insured."

"Yes; but, you see," answered Uncle Richard, in a tone that was most unbecoming in its frivolity, "it is extraordinary what may possibly happen; in the case of a ship, for instance."

The Consul regarded him expectantly.

"How shall I get on?" thought his brother, looking round vainly for assistance.

"What do you mean, Richard?" "Yes, he is a wonderful boy, Gabriel is," said the attaché, trying to smile. "I don't mean in school, but I mean—well, I hardly know; well, he knows a good deal about ship-building."

"What's the matter with Gabriel?" asked the Consul, quickly.

"Oh, nothing is the matter with Gabriel; he is all right—quite right. Did you think there was anything wrong?"

At this moment Rachel entered the room, and Uncle Richard gave a sigh of relief.

Rachel saw in a moment that her father had begun to talk, and went over to the bed.

"Tell me all about it, Rachel," said the invalid.

"I should like to tell you the whole story, father; everything has turned out so well. But I am not sure that you could bear the surprise—and such a joyful surprise, too." As she said these words she looked at him calmly.

The invalid began to get impatient, and Rachel took hold of his hand as she continued her story. "You see, the ship was ready for launching, quite ready, and so away she went just at the very nick of time—without being burnt, you understand—out into the fjord; and now she is quite safe, and everything is all right. Now, father, you know it all."

"But what about Gabriel?" said the Consul, looking at his brother.

"Oh, it was Gabriel who managed everything, because Tom Robson never came," said Rachel.

"Drunk, you know; drunk as a lord. In bed all the time. Dead drunk—don't you see?" said Uncle Richard, explaining his words with signs and gestures.

"There, now, father, you mustn't ask any more questions," said Rachel, decidedly. "Now we have told you the whole story."

Her father looked at her, and she could just feel the light pressure of his hand on hers. She then took Uncle Richard with her out of the sick-room, and gave him strict orders not to be there alone in future; an injunction which he found most unreasonable.

Miss Cordsen's time was fully occupied, both with the invalid, who would have none but her and Rachel near him, and also with getting everything into order again after the preparation for the ball. In those few days, however, the old lady formed a far higher opinion of Rachel than she had hitherto done.

Pastor Martens had not had an opportunity of speaking to Madeleine by herself since his proposal. But at this time of anxiety and excitement he came very frequently to Sandsgaard. Mrs. Garman kept her bed, for what reason it was not easy to know; and so it chanced that several times, when he came, no one but Madeleine happened to be in the room. At first she was very shy and timid, but when she found that he was not in the least offended with her, she could not help appreciating his conduct. Of all others, he was certainly the person who showed her the most attention; for her father's thoughts were entirely engrossed with her uncle's illness.

A few days after this, when the Consul had been quiet for some time, he said to Rachel, "Send Gabriel in here."

Mr. Garman gave Gabriel his right hand, which he was now able to move a little. "Thanks, my boy; you have saved us from a heavy loss, and shown yourself a man. If what I hear from Rachel is true, that you would prefer to give up your studies——"

"Not without you wish it, father," stammered the boy.

"I should wish you to go to the commercial school in Dresden, and then take your place in the firm, when you have gained sufficient instruction."

"Father! father!" cried Gabriel, bending down over the Consul's hand.

"There, my boy, let me see that you are able to work, and then you may turn out good for something after all. And now will you do me the favour of finding another name for the ship? For I wish her to have a new one," said the Consul, calmly.

This great honour was almost too much for Gabriel, but with a sudden inspiration he cried, "Phœnix!"

A faint smile flitted over the right side of the Consul's face. "Very well; we will call her Phœnix. And will you see the name painted on her stern?"

As Gabriel left the room he met Miss Cordsen. He threw his arms round her neck, and began hugging and kissing her, repeating all the time, incoherently, the words, "Phœnix—Dresden—the firm."

Miss Cordsen scolded and struggled. She was afraid to scream; but he was too strong for her, and the old lady had to resign herself to her fate. At length he ran off, and Miss Cordsen was left, arranging her cap-strings, and saying to herself, "They are all alike, one and all." But when Gabriel ran across the yard, and, meeting the fat kitchen-maid Bertha, gave her a friendly slap on the back, the old lady clapped her hands together, and exclaimed, "Well, I declare, he is the worst of the whole lot!"

The Consul had several long interviews with Morten, who put on an air of importance before the clerks and workpeople. But his feelings, when he took his father's place in the old armchair in the office, are not easily described.

Fanny saw little of her husband, and noticed him even less. Her connection with Delphin had obtained a power over her, which she could not previously have believed possible, and she strove by every means at her command to keep him fast. But since the day on which Delphin had discovered that Madeleine knew of his intimacy with Fanny, his position became almost unbearable. He would gladly have done with it, but had not the will, and he lacked the courage to leave the place, and be quit of it all for ever. And so deeper and deeper he fell into the snare. He was weary of lying and living a life of shame, but the effort required was more than he could command. And often, when conversation flagged, he felt instinctively that she knew what was passing in his mind; as if their secret was determined to make its voice heard, although Fanny kissed him, and went on talking and laughing incessantly in order to deafen it.

One thing was a source of wonder to every one, and that was, how lukewarm the authorities were in endeavouring to discover how the fire had arisen; for that it was malicious no one doubted for a moment. It is true there were a few inquiries made at long intervals, but nothing came to light. This was not, however, much to be wondered at, considering that it was only a pack of old women and children from the West End who were questioned, while those to whom suspicion really attached were allowed to go unexamined.

Anders Begmand had been brought up, but the magistrate stated that his evidence could not be received, on the ground of his mental deficiency and general infirmity. So there the matter ended.

Woodlouse's expectation was not fulfilled; neither he, nor the Swede, nor Martin were examined, and after a few ill-natured remarks in the papers, the affair died out and was forgotten. But in the West End, and indeed also in the town amongst the lower orders, people would smile and shake their heads mysteriously when the matter was mentioned. They might say what they liked about Garman and Worse in other ways, but the firm must be allowed the credit generally of not placing their people in an uncomfortable position. And since the ship had so fortunately been saved, there was no more use in raking up the matter any further. Every one knew the story about Marianne, so now the best thing for both parties was to cry quits, and start fair for the future. It was all very well for the police magistrate to sit there looking so serious, bullying and questioning as if he meant to get at the point; but this was really only for the sake of appearances. One thing was perfectly plain—that it must all end as the grand folks chose it should; and when Garman and Worse were determined that nothing should come out, the magistrate might do whatever he liked, but he would certainly never discover anything.

This kind of thing might be unpleasant enough sometimes, but in this particular instance it was most fortunate, and the lesson to be learnt from it all was—if, indeed, there was any one who did not know it already—that it is as well to be on good terms with grand folks, even if it does cost something.

But no one would have anything to do with Martin. He had escaped scot-free from those common enemies of mankind, the law and the police, but he was a marked man, even among his own friends, and they did not scruple to let him know plainly, that the sooner he packed himself off out of the country the better.