Garman and Worse/Chapter XVIII

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CHAPTER XVIII.

After Uncle Richard had been driven from the roof of the storehouse, and could see that all hope was over, he went off to take his turn at the engines. He worked at the pumps with all his might and main, as if to deaden his sorrow; but now and again he looked towards the house and thought, "Poor Christian Frederick!"

Jacob Worse was directing the operations, and had had the planking, which surrounded the building-yard on the side where the warehouses lay, pulled down in order to get room for the engines. He managed to get some order among the men who were handing the water, and drove the idle spectators up into the yard near the house. As he happened to pass Uncle Richard, the latter asked him, "Do you think there is any hope, Worse?"

"No!" answered Worse, in a low tone; "I am working in sheer desperation."

"So am I," said the attaché, with a nod; "but think of poor Christian Frederick."

Just then a murmur went through the crowd, who could read the name of the vessel—Morten W. Garman.

"Why, that's the old Consul's name," said several voices.

Uncle Richard had already heard the name from his brother, and, looking up, he saw the name of their father standing out in its gold letters amidst the flames, which were curling up the vessel's side. Jacob Worse seized the nozzle of the hose, and with one sweep forced the water to such a height that the fire was quenched for the moment.

But now it was plain to all that the ship's fate was sealed, and even if there were some among the spectators who might owe Garman and Worse a grudge, still they could not but feel that it was a pity for the proud ship to be thus doomed to destruction.

Morten had returned after his interview with his father, and was standing close by Uncle Richard. Every eye was fixed on the ship. The fire increased every second, and with a loud roar the flames burst out above the roof of the storehouse, and at each blast of wind the conflagration waxed higher and higher, until the heat by the engines became almost intolerable. The more furiously the fire raged, the more silent grew the crowd. No orders were heard, and the shouts of encouragement from the seamen died away; while the strokes of the pump no longer fell with the same determined regularity. Even Jacob Worse lost heart.

But now a shout is heard from a small boy belonging to the West End, who had climbed up into the rigging of a coaster which lay off one of the warehouses. "She's giving way! She's off! Hurrah! She's off!"

A murmur of disapproval went through the crowd at this ill-timed joke. But see! it almost seems as if the joke were a reality. The excitement increases every moment, and with it are heard cries of hope and fear. Yes!—no!—yes! she really is moving. She's off! The pumps are deserted amidst breathless expectation, while the sound of voices waxes higher and higher, not only in the yard itself, but among the crowd who surround it, till it becomes a cheer, a joyous cry of hundreds; men, women, boys, all shouting they know not what, till all is mingled in one tumultuous roar.

For see! she's starting. The huge dark mass begins to move; and inch by inch, with ever-increasing speed, the massive hull glides out through the flames; her shining sides disappear foot by foot through the smoke; the golden band flashes in the glare, and high as if in triumph does the bow rear itself heaven-wards, while the stern dives deep into the waves. Then is heard a hissing and a crackling as if a hundred glowing irons had been cast into the water, as the burning stern cleaves its way into the billows, which come foaming up over the sides, and in under the counter, while the tiny flames which were flickering along the seams are quenched by the rush of air.

The wind, which got more power now that the ship was away, swept down on to the still burning buildings, and, spreading out over the ground, hid from view the vessel, which was gliding out into the harbour, by a curtain of dark smoke fringed with flame; and in the midst of the place where she had stood, which looked vast indeed now she was gone, stood a little band of bent and tar-stained men, fanning their faces with their caps. In the midst of the band was seen the form of a tall and slender youth, his face glowing red in the light of the fire.

"Gabriel!" shouted Uncle Richard. "Gabriel!" was repeated by a hundred voices. The attaché elbowed his way towards him, followed by some of the crowd, who, however, stopped and formed a respectful ring round the hero of the day. Uncle Richard gave Gabriel a hearty embrace, and then turning round to the crowd he cried, "Three cheers for Gabriel Garman! Hurrah!" He was about to wave his hat, when he discovered that he was bare-headed.

"Hurrah!" shouted the spectators with a mighty cheer; they were just in the humour for cheering.

"Three cheers for the carpenters!" shouted Gabriel; but his boy's voice broke into a discordant scream in the effort. But it did not matter; a wild hurrah was given for the shipwrights, another for the ship, and another for the firm. There was cheering and rejoicing without end.

"Come with me," said Gabriel to the workmen.

"Father was going to give you a breakfast, but now it will have to be a supper."

The shipwrights laughed heartily at this joke, but the laughter was even louder when Uncle Richard added, "I think you have earned your breakfast as well." They thought the remark so wonderfully witty, that they laughed as if they would never stop, and the joke about "Uncle Richard's breakfast" was a proverb both with them and their successors ever after.

In the mean time, the storehouse, and everything the yard contained which was burnable, was on fire. The flames began stealing down the ways, but no one took any notice of them. The ship was saved. Nothing else was of much consequence, and fortunately the wind was blowing off the land. Morten was busy setting a watch for the night, and the engines were kept ready in case the wind might change.

As Uncle Richard and Gabriel were walking back arm-in-arm to the house, the latter had to relate how it had all happened. Gabriel told his uncle how he had found the shipwrights all beginning to assemble under the ship, and so he had thought he had better take command.

"Take command!" cried Uncle Richard; "why, what a boy you are, Gabriel!" And then Gabriel went on to explain how they got the ways in their places, loosened the cradle, and wedged up the fore part of the vessel; then the stays were hastily removed; it was Begmand who had taken away the last from the stern amidst the fire and smoke, and so away went the ship just in the nick of time. Tom Robson ought really to have all the praise, since everything was ready to hand, and in the most perfect order.

Rachel came to meet them on the steps; she went straight up to Uncle Richard and whispered in his ear, "Be calm, uncle; don't let us spoil Gabriel's evening. Father has had a stroke. He is in bed, and the doctor is here."

The attaché entered without saying a word, and Rachel threw her arms round her brother's neck and said, "Who would have thought of your being such a clever boy, Gabriel?"

"Boy!" said Gabriel.

"Or man, I shall have to say in future," answered Rachel, with a smile. "But what have you done with your workmen?"

They were not far behind; and Rachel distributed among them beer, wine, sausages, bacon, white bread, and other delicacies, until Gabriel remarked, "You are much more liberal than Miss Cordsen; but had you not got some chickens for the ball?"

Yes, indeed! She had forgotten the ball. Rachel's feelings were so pained by seeing Gabriel in such high spirits, that she could not contain them any longer, so she said quietly, "Gabriel, there will be no ball to-morrow. Father is ill."

Gabriel had not to ask why. He saw it was something serious. The workmen were standing by the steps, laden with the good things, and uncertain where they should take them.

"Come, let us go back to the ship-yard," said Gabriel; "we shall be all to ourselves there, and besides, it will be nice and warm."

Rachel could hear from his voice that there were tears in his eyes, and the thought occurred to her, how he had grown from a boy to a man in the last few hours.

The storehouse had now fallen in, and the ruins were still burning on the ground. The yard, thanks to Mr. Robson, had been so well cleared, that the watchmen had but little difficulty in keeping the fire isolated. After midnight the wind lulled, and the thick clouds of smoke soared up into the air, and were driven slowly over the fjord.

As the ship took the water, she drove across the wind a little way from the shore, and fouled an old brig belonging to the firm; and for the rest of the night was heard the shouting and singing of the numerous volunteers, who were hard at work clearing the vessels, and mooring the newly launched one.

The shipwrights sat comfortably in the yard, just near enough to the fire to feel its warmth. They had got far more than they could fairly take on board, and, every now and then, they treated one of the watchmen to something as he passed.

The only flaw in their pleasure was that Gabriel could not be with them. He had been obliged to tell them that the Consul was ill, and that he must, therefore, remain in the house. No one thought of accusing Gabriel of pride, and they all drank his health, and as many other healths as they could find an excuse for, in bumpers of the wine to which they were so little accustomed. Of the food which had been given to them, they ate as much as they could, and when they could eat no more, they divided the remainder by lot, just as they shared the shavings for their fires, laughing the whole time heartily at the sport. Then away they all wandered homewards to the West End, carrying sausages, chickens, bottles of wine, and other delicacies. The sun was just rising over the corner of the mountain to the east of the town, and lit up the window-panes of the cottages, till it looked as if the whole West End was illuminated.

That morning there was not a wife who had the heart to find fault with her husband because he had had a little drop too much. Eating and drinking went on merrily, combined with gossiping and running from house to house. The children sat up in bed, blinking at the sunlight, and stuffing themselves with sausages, still half in doubt whether it was real tangible sausage they were eating, or whether it was not one of those lovely dreams which sometimes visit the hungry.

The sun was shining over the bay of Sandsgaard, where the new ship now lay securely moored with hawsers both ahead and astern. The sounds of activity from West End could be heard far out into the fjord.

In Begmand's cottage Marianne lay raving in delirium, and the neighbour who attended her said she had the fever. Anders, who had burnt himself on the side of the face at the fire, was sitting with her, a handkerchief tied round his head.

The townspeople managed to get home by degrees. Some pretended that they did not see the sun, and went to bed. Others stayed up, and went yawning about all day. More than half the town had been at Sandsgaard that night, or else on the heights above the house, looking on the fire.

One of the few people who had not been at the fire was our friend Woodlouse. When he and the Swede parted, after the fight between Martin and Robson, he went straight off to his home in the town. As he passed the first house, he met some people who were running, and deaf as he was, he heard the two cannon shots which gave warning of a fire. When he got to the church, he saw that the door was open, and that there was a light in the place from whence the bells were pulled. Woodlouse looked in and saw a pair of legs, now bending, now straightening again, now going up, and now down. From what he saw, he drew the conclusion that some one was tolling the big bell. He observed carefully what time it was by the church clock, and as he went along, he was already making up his mind how he should answer the inquiries of the police, for he fully expected the cause of the fire would be the subject for investigation.